Thursday, May 31, 2012

[ title of show ] Isn't What I'd Call Terrific -- Theater Review

Theater Review

[ title of show ]
a recent musical
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Thru June 9

[ title of show ] is an intimate musical with a somewhat intriguing premise and interesting origins, which are directly intertwined. But ultimately the material itself is too slight for the show to feel truly consequential. It's OK, but not essential.

I had seen it early in its brief mid-2008 Broadway run, when the show starred its creators--Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen--as two friends who decide to write a musical, and wind up writing a musical about writing a musical. Entirely self-referential, [ title of show ] reveals its course of initially being created for submission to a theater festival, which was followed by a successful Off-Broadway run and an eventual Broadway transfer. This trajectory resulted in additional material being added along with way, but alas, [ title of show ] has not been updated to reflect a transition to post-Broadway local productions with other actors now playing Hunter, Jeff and their friends, Susan and Heidi.

Although I found the show beguiling if well short of brilliant on Broadway, and reviews for the Northlight rendition--both from the press and relatives--have been lukewarm, I was curious about how it would translate to a regional rendition, with other performers taking the place of those who wrote it.

Of course, my interest was abetted by being able to buy a day-of-show $20 discount ticket five minutes before curtain at a theater five minutes from where I live.

While [ title of show ] retains certain charms in providing an inside perspective on the world of theater, and the actors in Skokie--Matthew Crowle (Hunter), Stephen Schellhardt (Jeff), McKinley Carter (Susan), Christine Sherrill (Heidi) plus on-stage pianist/musical director Doug Peck--are all talented, tuneful performers, the end result at Northlight is rather middling.

I'm not suggesting that regional productions of this show employing non-biographical casts are impractical, at least in theory. While I didn't sense that the audience loved the show--which may have been rather profane for the preferences of Northlight's mostly mature audiences--I doubt many left thinking, "That was OK, even cute at times, but would've been better with the real Hunter, Jeff, Susan, Heidi and Larry (the original pianist, who is named in the show)."

But given the metadramatic (a word I've borrowed from the Tribune's Chris Jones) conceit, having the real creators onstage added a sense of "this really happened to them," which served to make the off-the-cuff songs and lame jokes more acceptable as true-to-life banter among friends.

Yet while Crowle, Schellhardt and the women play their parts engagingly, at Northlight [ title of show ] feels more like any other show--necessitating genuine entertainment value--and not just a fun gimmick featuring real-life dreamers who wind up aping their real lives on Broadway.

So with a sparsity of memorable songs--"Die Vampire Die," a wry number about battling insecurities and other self-imposed obstacles, is the best of the bunch--along with some lackluster dialogue and several dated or obscure cultural references, one is left with the feeling that there is nothing particularly special about this show, especially with the non-fictional elements a step less pronounced.

If you're a Northlight subscriber, there's no reason to skip [ title of show ] and with very reasonable discount tickets available through the box office and HotTix, I wouldn't dissuade anyone so inclined from checking it out. Though the set design is intentionally minimal, Northlight does a typically stellar job in staging a production. But especially given the litany of other options at stages throughout Chicagoland, this [ show ] seems best in [ title ] only.

Note to Northlight: Before the performance, it was announced that there would be a post-show discussion. I and about 20 other patrons waited around, only to be informed that the person who was to lead the discussion was called away on an emergency. This is understandable, and I hope things have worked out, but couldn't you find anyone else to substitute? Why not have one of the actors talk to us, or even an usher who's seen it multiple times? I was tempted to go up front and lead the discussion myself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Seth:

Thanks so much for your interest in Northlight Theatre and our production of [title of show]! In response to the cancellation of the post-show discussion: because of the urgency and the gravity of the situation a substitute moderator was not able to be located without further detaining the audience or the artists. We felt the cancelation was the best course of action for the integrity of future conversations and our audience. We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience. We are pleased to mention the emergency was speedily and effectively addressed. Thank you for your concern!


Members of the Northlight Theatre Artistic Team