The first national tour of the MEAN GIRLS musical has arrived in Chicago, and it’s totally fetch. Original screenwriter Tina Fey has partnered with composer Jeff Richmond (her husband), lyricist Nell Benjamin, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw to create a show in line with its pop musical contemporaries. MEAN GIRLS has an unabashedly pop score, filled with a combination of big belty numbers and upbeat tunes. Benjamin’s lyrics cleverly recreate many iconic moments from the original 2003 film through music, while Fey’s book also introduces many new jokes—particularly when it comes to the use of social media. Cady Heron’s initiation into the vicious halls of North Shore High, and her encounter with reigning clique The Plastics, will surely delight fans of the movie.
Month: December 2019
2019 was officially declared the Year of Chicago Theatre…and it did not disappoint. After reviewing more than 50 productions this year, I’m sharing some of my favorites from the past calendar year (listed in chronological order).
The Chicago premiere of Clare Barron’s DANCE NATION, now at Steppenwolf with direction and choreography from Lee Sunday Evans (who also helmed the original production at Playwrights Horizons), is alternately wild, messy, and confusing—much like the experience of early adolescence for the play’s characters. Some moments of Barron’s script beautifully capture the growing pains of what it’s like to be 12 or 13 years and learning how to navigate the terrain of changing bodies and the shifting dynamics of pre-teen friendships. Stylistically, DANCE NATION is all over the place. The play’s opening scene features the cast tap dancing in sailor suits, transporting audiences to the fierce world of competitive pre-teen dance. It’s heightened and satirical, seemingly a mockery of shows like DANCE MOMS.
Scenario Two’s production of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, one of the few contemporary musicals written in a style that harkens back to the Golden Age, is beautifully sung with the composer’s complicated and melodious score performed by a superb orchestra. The production has arrived at Lyric Opera for a special holiday engagement. The musical focuses on Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara, who take a vacation to Florence, Italy in the summer of 1953-and find their lives forever changed after Clara has a chance encounter with Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young Italian man. It should come as little surprise that Renèe Fleming has a radiant turn as Margaret. Vocally, Fleming’s take on the role is pristine, but she also plays out the tension between Margaret’s fiercely protective instincts when it comes to her child and her yearning to empower Clara to lead her own life as a young adult. While I wish to avoid spoilers, it’s key to share that the musical has a twist that includes a revelation about Clara that shines light on precisely why Margaret feels so compelled to keep watch over her daughter.
The ceaselessly cynical Crumpet the Elf has returned to Goodman Theatre for the second year in a row. This year Steven Strafford takes the lead in David Sedaris’s THE SANTALAND DIARIES under the direction of Steve Scott. While Strafford’s take on David/Crumpet remains as foul-mouthed and blunt as ever, the actor’s take on the role has some real vulnerability. Strafford gives us the sense that Crumpet wears his cynicism like armor, using it as a defense mechanism to combat his loneliness and discontentment with his current career status (Crumpet’s declaration that being an elf seems like a “terrifying” job opportunity rings especially true here). Although Strafford’s Crumpet has a deft emotional center, he still never compromises on the humor—but his delivery is smartly such that audiences may land on different moments as the funniest in Sedaris’s text (adapted by Joe Mantello for the stage).
The Q Brothers Collective puts a highly inventive and endlessly delightful twist on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale with Q BROTHERS CHRISTMAS CAROL. While the production’s narrative follows the traditional story of the greedy Ebenezer Scrooge and the four spirits that haunt him on Christmas Eve as a harbinger to change his miserly ways, the Q Brothers Collective finds creative ways to breathe new life into their staging at every turn. This hip hop musical, deemed an “ad-rap-tation” of the original CHRISTMAS CAROL, incorporates more modern music influences into the story—as well as contemporary stylings when it comes to the show’s sense of humor.