Plus, K. picks MadKap Productions’ Next to Normal at the Skokie Theatre, and Guardians at Mary-Arrchie, while J. picks The Producers at Knight Blue Performing Arts Company.
MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre (a movie house turned into a legit stage) is giving Tony- and Pulitzer-Prizewinning musical Next to Normal a strong if far too brief production. Hard as it may be to imagine a musical about a woman with bipolar disorder, Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics and Tom Kitt’s music provide this portrait of family dysfunction with honesty and poetry in equal measure. And under the direction of Andrew Park (music direction by Gary Powell), this version of the show is as moving and funny as the one I saw several years ago at Drury Lane Oakbrook, a bigger house with significantly greater resources. The performance (and especially the singing) of Whitney Morse as Diana, the mother whose illness threatens to wreck her family as well as her own life, suggests much bigger things in her future: she’s rueful but free of self-pity, funny without resorting to stereotype, and all-around engaging. Try to make time to see the show before it closes on September 27. And don’t be fooled by the faint air of community theater which somehow attaches to the location: this is the second show I’ve seen there, and the second one about which I’ve raved.
Meanwhile, BoHo Theatre presents Dogfight, a musical based on a film about Marines who while away their hours before deployment betting who can find the ugliest woman to date. From this unpromising source, playwright Peter Duchan constructs a love story: Eddie (the charming Garrett Lutz) chooses Rose (Emily Goldberg, both sweet and strong) as a joke and unexpectedly finds himself liking her. But before he can follow through, Rose has learned about the game and stormed away. Eventually he tracks her down and what ensues is as romantic as Before Sunrise: a final night spent together falling in love. The show manages to maintain the romance without falling into sentimentality, and to attract our sympathy for everyone on the stage: the Marines whose toughness conceals terror (but not very well) and the women they mistreat as casually as if they were pieces of gum to be chewed and spit out. The music and lyrics by Benu Pasek and Justin Paul suggest the mid-1960s but steer clear of falling into period pastiche, and the cast’s voices are up to the challenge. Kudos to director Peter Marston Sullivan and music director Ellen K. Morris. Through October 18 at Theatre Wit in Lakeview.
Sarah Hoch stars in Sweet Charity, MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theater. Photo by Kevin Mell.
The Coward (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit) is cute. I realize how much that sounds like damning with faint praise, but two things interfere with a more enthusiastic assessment: Stage Left’s own history of producing political work, and an inherent weakness in Nick Jones’s script which parodies Restoration comedy–itself a satire of the affectations and delusions of the privileged class.
To take these in order: while The Coward is faintly political–its plot involves the surviving son of a lord who resists dueling as the waste of time, effort and blood that it is, and said son’s efforts to maintain his anti-dueling principles in the face of social pressure–it hardly measures up to the powerful work the company has done in the past. The Coward comforts the comfortable too much–we, the 21st Century audience, would never be so foolish!
More significantly, as a parody of a satire, The Coward puts us at double remove from the characters. This not only encourages the audience to feel itself above the [literal] fray but encourages the actors to ham it up. Ham is fine–especially that of Kate Black-Spence, as the vain ingenue, and Spenser David as one of the anti-hero’s chums–but I like some bread with my meal. But the thing looks spectacular: kudos to costume and effects designer Aly Renee Amidei for her gorgeous 18th-Century duds. Through October 5.
MadKap Productions makes an astonishingly assured debut with Sweet Charity, the first production of its first subscription season at the Skokie Theatre. Under Andrew Park’s direction, this show–an early effort from Neil Simon–moves almost fast enough to conceal what a clunker the script is. Charity Hope Valentine, a dance-hall hostess, dreams of getting out of that business and finding true love. She has a series of adventures which don’t coalesce into an actual plot until late in Act One, and finally resolve unhappily. There are a couple of good songs–“If They Could See Me Now,” “Hey Big Spender”–but the show is mostly known, and revered, for having launched Gwen Verdon on the world dancing Bob Fosse’s steps. Likewise, this production should mostly be known and appreciated for launching Sara Hoch on Chicago theater dancing Robin Lehtman’s steps. Actually, everyone’s dancing is really strong, and the voices are really exceptional under Gary Powell’s music direction.
Opening night featured some microphone-related catastrophe which caused squeaking and thumping every time Charity moved (that’s the risk with body mikes); and, in a space the size of an old high-school auditorium, I don’t understand why the cast needs to be miked at all. If the orchestra is too loud (and it sometimes is), quiet it down, and let the singers go au naturel. Yes, I know that’s not what that means. Through September 28 at the Skokie Theatre–take Lincoln Avenue north until it dead-ends; the theater, an old movie-house, will be to your right about 100 paces.
Tony Fitzpatrick is both a visual artist and a monologuist who’s about to leave his native Chicago for New Orleans, and his friend Stan Klein is a tri-a-loguist, by which I mean he has three personas each of which reflects on itself and the others. As woven together smoothly by adapter-director Ann Filmer (artistic director of 16th Street Theater), with hypnotic video by Kristin Reeves and guitar and vocals by John Rice and Anna Fermin, the men’s meditations on how Chicago has changed as they have aged (or is it they who have changed?), lumped together under the title The Midnight City, are generally charming and occasionally hilarious. Fitzpatrick particularly has the gift of the superb insult: he refers to unpleasant people as “guys who use Preparation H for Chap-Stick.” The show is custom-designed to make us miss Fitzpatrick now that he’s going and wonder why we haven’t paid more attention to him up until now. I predict–as does Stan–that Tony will be back. Meanwhile, catch The Midnight City in the Steppenwolf Garage through October 19.