Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maybe Next Time -- Brief Reviews of Two Shows Recently Seen But No Longer Running

Theater Reviews

Passing Strange
a recent musical
presented by Bailiwick Chicago at
Chicago Center for the Performing Arts
Run Ended

I was really hoping, and even expecting, to like Passing Strange a good bit more than I did. I was aware of the show--an autobiographical rock musical written by and originally starring an African-American musician named Stew--when it received raves on Broadway in 2008...and even had a ticket only to have it close before I got to NYC. The movie by Spike Lee, which essentially just captures a performance of the Broadway production, remains the only movie I've ever ordered through Comcast, and I remember liking it.

The Broadway show never toured, but I took note of Bailiwick Theater's local production, the first in Chicago. I didn't know how well the show would play without Stew, but JC Brooks was certainly adequate in his stead. In fact, the entire cast was quite strong, but not enough songs really caught me (even on the original cast recording). "Keys," which I've always liked, is a clear highlight and "We Just Had Sex" is prurient fun, but little else really stood out. And though Brooks was fine in his own right, perhaps Stew's story lost a little edge without him telling it.

If you have a chance to see the movie, it's probably worth your while more so than this production, but that's OK since the run has now ended.


42nd Street
a classic musical
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
Run Ended

Although I have seen numerous excellent productions at Marriott Theatre, tickets are a bit pricey--and seemingly never discounted due to a huge subscriber base--so I was obvious to 42nd Street playing there until its last performance. Which I attended because it was what my sister Allison wanted to do for her birthday.

And once again, I was extremely impressed with the quality at this north suburban, theater-in-the-round venue. With a full Equity cast, including performers with Broadway credits, the singing and particularly the frequent tap dancing were truly first-rate.

Based on a 1933 movie musical of the same name, 42nd Street has a somewhat hokey narrative, with songs that seem out of place. Although it has quality material, it isn't near the top tier of my favorite musicals (I'd seen a touring version some years ago). And while the performers at Marriott were universally great, I think the production values necessitated by in-the-round staging suffered a bit.

But it was still 2-1/2 hours of excellent entertainment, performed quite splendidly. The "Lullaby of Broadway" is alive and well in Lincolnshire, although this production has reached the end of its road.

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