Monday, November 08, 2010

'Departure Lounge' Never Quite Takes Flight -- Theatre Review

Theatre Review

Departure Lounge
a new musical by Dougal Irvine
Presented by Bailiwick Chicago
at the Royal George Theatre
Through December 12

There is nothing I would like more than to tell you that Departure Lounge is an outstanding new musical, one that demands your timely arrival.

For it is a show that represents much of what I think the theater world could use these days. It is a original story with book, music and lyrics by a young Brit named Dougal Irvine, unlike most modern musicals derived from popular movies or featuring a jukebox of popular songs. Other then playing at a couple of festivals (in Edinburgh and New York), it is a brand new work being introduced to Chicagoans on the heels of its first fully-staged London production. Revolving around four 18-year-old English boys awaiting a long-delayed flight home from a Spanish holiday, it is a show that clearly aims for a younger, somewhat atypical theater audience. Plus, I've long had an affinity for the overtly British--from the Kinks to Blur to Billy Elliot (movie and musical)--so I expected a good bit of cheeky wit. 

It is also a show I chose to see knowing almost nothing about it, not even as much as I put in the above paragraph. Just the other day, I saw a brief mention of Departure Lounge on and bought a cheap ticket on HotTix for Opening Night on Sunday, hoping to be among the first to see and review a fantastic new musical.

Although well-intentioned and with hints that the source material may be a bit stronger than showcased in this rendition (at least on opening night), unfortunately, Departure Lounge is not a first-class musical.

It's certainly not dreadful, and I applauded the effort, found a few songs rather engaging, laughed a bit and was glad I took a chance on something new (although I would much rather have been at The Lion King if any tickets were available).

Though I had seen one stellar review of Departure Lounge's London run, others were more middling, so I think I'm safe in my presumption that this is a show that at best is only slightly beyond "okay." And despite impressive scenery (basically a believable departure lounge) in the Royal George's cabaret theater, this production had deficiencies that detracted from what might have been a fun 90-minute show to catch in London.

Intended as a rite-of-passage, coming-of-age comedy about four British friends, the show opened with an enjoyable song called "Brits On Tour." Otherwise, aside from some references throughout, there wasn't much that was overtly British and I was bothered enough by four twenty-something Americans doing a pale imitation of British teens to wonder why they didn't just Americanize the whole thing (as flying in British actors probably wasn't in the budget). I think the essence--how the four friends relate to each other and to girls, including one in particular--would have translated well enough to be preferable to having the acting and accents tarnish much of the tone and believability. I can't effectively explain why, but the four main actors and one actress just didn't feel convincingly British (even the Beatles songs played before and after the performance were cover versions, not the real thing).

All photos and graphic from
While I won't single out any of the performances as being particularly bad, none were particularly great either, with the singing merely passable.

Irvine, who was in town for the opening, does provide a few shrewd insights in songs like "Why Do We Say Gay?", "Spanish Hospitality"--which featured the night's best production number by far--and "Do You Know What I Think Of You," a nice duet between two of the friends.

As produced by Bailiwick Chicago, a collective formed after the demise of Bailiwick Repertory Theater and which, if nothing else, created the most inventive theater program (shaped like a boarding pass envelope) I've ever seen, Departure Lounge isn't a complete failure. It just doesn't appear destined to soar above the clouds.

Thus, although it is a work I would very much wish to support, I can't really advise anyone other than those devoutly curious about new musicals to get on board.

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