Chicago Theatre Review
35mm at 200dB
Ryan Scott Oliver’s 35MM – A Musical Exhibition with Circle Theatre at Flat Iron Arts Building.
By Lazlo Collins
I was excited to see this Chicago premiere at the Flat Iron Arts Building. The premise of this review seemed promising and energetic. The interpretation of photos with music and mood, seemed engaging, and vehicle to think and feel a little more deeply.
A photo appears on the gallery-like set, and the actors sing an interpretation of what is on the screen. There are group numbers, solos, and couple songs. Each song and photo showcased has a unique theme, and not always what you think the photo may be about. I liked the point of view of many of the songs.
From the first moments of this musical review, the mood was manic with movement and vocal expression. The opening number (Stop Time) was a whirling trip of lights and sound. It was VERY hard to hear anyone’s vocals. The band, although so great, was way too loud. I realized the balance was off. I chalked up this oversight to opening night energy, and hoping the balance gets fixed.
The energy of the actors was through the roof, and walls of the black box space. The three men and two woman that make up the cast bring a well seasoned resume to this production. Each member of the cast had their moment in various songs throughout the show. Ryan Brewster pulled some great vocal treats from the cast.
Although each performer brought their particular songs and stories to life, there were stand outs to be sure. Caleb Baze, as the “narrator”, story agitator”, ” or “art guide” is superb. His voice and nuanced moves through this largely loud experience, were great. I could understand him the most, and enjoyed his more moving acting moments. Mr. Baze is lovely and watchable, a blonde breath of fresh air.
While the ladies brought their brassy “A” game to the photo interpretations, I enjoyed their softer moments the best. Michelle Lauto and Liz Boller as the “rotating woman” in the story lines were pleasant and held up the energy through the end. With emotions high, they moved through the female song moments with abandon.
Neil Stratman sang well and moved through the stories as the fun loving jokester. He infused a sense of playfulness with a bit of straight boy sexual fun and games.
If I had to pick the leading male role in this musical, it would be Tony Carter. His voice and delivery were pleasant. His interpretation of the “male lead” served the stories well.
Some of the numbers that stood out were, ” Leave Lunanne”, “On Monday” and “The Ballad of Sara Berry.” The slower songs resonated with me more as the pace of the show slowed down for breathing and reflection.
I was bothered that this “groundbreaking new concept in musical theatre” seemed rooted a few decades back. It reminded me of a louder Maltby and Shire review with all the depictions of love, rejection and confusion among lovers. Why not two men? Or two women? Thinking maybe Instagram for inspiration? I was not sure the photos featured to inspire the songs were clear to me. Don’t get me wrong, I liked and appreciated Matthew Murphy’s photos, I personally wanted to relate to them more.
Sometimes the photos were the focal point of the songs and referred to often, and other times they seemed not as important.
The band was tight, flawless and supported this talented cast. The gallery set design (Jimmy Jargoas) and lighting (Chazz Malott) establishes the tone for the proceedings.
I think Circle is, just hitting its stride with an uptick, bringing this work to the Chicago stage. With a sound fix or two, and some calming shows under their belts, I think it this show will find its stride. The actors bring a youthful truthfulness to the show.
35MM – A Musical Exhibition runs through April 10 at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N Milwaukee in Room 300, Wicker Park, Chicago.
For more information for tickets go to www.circletheatrechicago.org
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visitingwww.theatreinchicago.com.