Chicago Theatre Review
Not Ready for Prime Time
TAPPED: a Treasonous Musical Comedy – Forth Story Productions
Molly Todd Madison writes in the program’s Director’s Notes that due to the turbulent climate of this year’s political race, including one candidate who’s in favor of expanding our country’s powers of surveillance, much humor can be derived from the absurdity of recent events. She states that “we are truly living in farcical times,” and, while that’s probably an accurate assessment of America, this dreadful musical farce fails to live up to its ambition.
To be fair, there’s probably a story worth telling about the National Security Agency buried somewhere inside this sloppy, excessive, lengthy production. Press materials declare that the musical has been in development for more than two years, but more effort is still needed to make this show work. It definitely could’ve profited by another pair of objective eyes and ears willing to help Jed Levine (book) and Brad Kemp (music) cut through all the cutesiness and focus on the story they want to tell. Less is almost always more. There’s a need to scale back the number of cartoonish characters, trim away some of the contrived plot, tone down the offensive humor and simply fix the choppy overall construction of this play.
Ms. Madison’s production provides even more problems. While the 16-member ensemble certainly requires a lot of room to perform, the staging is far too spread out. It’s all over the place. During the production numbers, dancers are blocked up against the front row of the audience. Some of the scenes take place in the aisles, down which most of the audience can’t even see. The musical is played entirely for the benefit of the audience in the larger seating section, while the poor patrons at the far end of the room can only view the sides and backs of the cast. Then there’s the really annoying problem of so many scene changes. Is it really necessary to roll out these property-laden desks so often? Again, less is more. Lighting could’ve been used to create a small office scene, instead of hauling out all the furniture, applying the brakes and using that set for only three lines. Then all the furniture rolls away and other pieces trundle into place. A sofa is rolled out or a dozen folding chairs are set in place, all of which takes up far too much time. Ms. Madison’s production turns into a play about moving furniture instead of a satire about the NSA.
The large cast, however, is not without talent. They just seem often misguided. Lauren Siciliano as Mary, the main character, is strong as a whistleblower with a heart, but she could’ve been even stronger with stronger guidance. Brittny Congleton is smart, sassy and appealing as Mary’s best friend and co-worker, Lisa, although the actress often sounds as if she’s channeling Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker with her line delivery and flirtation. Tina Arfaee is especially endearing as Fatima. Max Hinders’ Steve isn’t as fully developed a character as the two women, but he has a comfortable demeanor and a pleasant singing voice. Jenna Steege is over-the-top and far too obnoxious as the “Swiss Bitch,” Juliana, as is David Dritsas in the role of the office dweeb, Patrick. Kudos to choreographic captain Heather Scholl and the dancing ensemble, although, for the size of the venue, it feels too crowded.
This musical might’ve succeeded better at this stage as a work in progress. The script needs more adjustment for it to be ready for a paying audience. Brad Kemp’s six-member musical combo provides nice accompaniment, if sometimes a bit too overpowering. Holly Gombita’s choreography is, like Levine and Kemp’s play, too big and ambitious for this intimate space. And Molly Todd Madison’s direction needs more focus, a more modest, flexible scenic design that doesn’t demand as many set changes and a simple economy of movement. Characters need to be much more specific, as well. Congratulations, however, to this fledgling group for attempting a new work, but more previews or staged readings might’ve helped prepare this production. Right now, these players are simply not ready for prime time.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Produced June 9-July 3 by Forth Story Productions at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the theater box office, by contacting 773-975-8150 or at www.tappedthemusical.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.