You swore off musicals after Cats. With a resurgence of quality “tuners” on local stages, it may be time to rethink that vow. “Companies are discovering that, if you take away the fuss and the feathers, a lot of musicals work even better,” says Sheldon Patinkin, chair of Columbia College’s theatre department. Here are four local theatre companies putting their own spin on the genre.
Thrill Me runs Aug. 30th through Oct. 8th; 773-883-1090 or www.baili
Bailiwick Repertory Theatre
Backstory: This two-man show shines a speculative light on real-life Chicago thrill killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb and their attempt to commit the perfect crime. “It’s not so much about the murder case per se, but about the relationship between Leopold and Loeb,” says director Lee Peters.
On taking the gamble: “It’s a challenge to work with such a rich topic,” Peters says. “There’s a lot to digest.”
Bells and whistles: One musician, since author-composer Stephen Dolginoff wrote the score entirely for piano
“Musical haters” will love it because . . . despite the grim subject matter, the show proved aptly named in New York, winning raves during its Off Broadway run. The Chicago theatre hive is already abuzz.
Raisin runs Sept. 14th to Oct. 22nd; 773-753-4472 or www.court
Backstory: A song-and-dance adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun. Most theatres opt to do the play-not Court. “There’s some great music in here,” says artistic director Charles Newell.
On taking the gamble: Explains Newell: “A theatre that’s classic, doing musicals-people start asking questions: ‘Well, are musicals classic?’ ‘Should a classic theatre be doing musicals?’ I love that.”
Bells and whistles: Four musicians onstage. “I met with the original composer, Judd Woldin,” Newell says, “and talked about how we could bring this musical to its more rightful place. He was totally supportive.”
“Musical haters” will love it because . . . of its Chicago setting and Gospel touches.
Keep Ishmael runs Aug. 18th through Sept. 16th; 773-327-5252 or www.whitehorse
Backstory: After several revivals, this up-and-coming non-Equity ensemble chose to produce its first original musical. Written by local artists Mat Smart and Ethan Deppe, Keep Ishmael follows four friends who flee Naperville for the Pacific Ocean. “It’s an absurd exploration of the themes of Moby Dick,” says White Horse executive director Danny Sama.
On taking the gamble: “It’s pretty hard to find a good original musical, but if you do, maybe it’s time to go for it,” Sama says.
Showstopper: “The act two opener is ‘Tuna!’ That’s with an exclamation point.”
“Musical haters” will love it because . . . with potential to score with the under-35 crowd, Ishmael could earn both a late-night following and a coveted open-ended run.
Clay starts Sept. 5th; 312-337-0665 or www.looking
Backstory: Two years ago, while still a student at Northwestern, Matt Sax wrote a genre-defying one-man musical, complete with Shakespeare references, about a teen who finds redemption in hip-hop after his mom’s suicide. Eric Rosen, About Face’s artistic director, helped Sax hone the show, which inaugurates the Lookingglass’s new studio space.
On taking the gamble: When Rosen and Tony-winning director Frank Galati saw Sax’s first version of Clay, they were moved to tears. Sax is “a total wunderkind,” says Rosen. “He’s the most original, intense performer I’ve seen in years.”
“Musical haters” will love it because . . . if Clay could win Rosen’s and Galati’s praise on sheer fringe talent, this refined iteration should be a hot prime-time ticket.
Illustration: Wes Duvall