Chicago Theatre Review
Voodoo and Medea Combine
Marie Christine – Boho Theatre
BoHo Theatre is fast becoming one of the finest, most respected companies in Chicago. With every show, Artistic Director Peter Marsten Sullivan’s company offers some of the finest, often least-produced jewels of from the world of drama, comedy and musical theatre. In this stellar production of Michael John LaChiusa’s 1999 musical, that originally featured Audra McDonald in the title role, a melding of New Orleans history, voodoo practice, Chicago politics and the Greek myth of Medea, produces a breathtaking, provocative musical that grips the audience from the very beginning and never lets go until the final musical notes.
Under the astutely dynamic direction of talented Lili-Anne Brown, with gorgeous opera-inspired musical direction by the gifted Aaron Benham and brilliantly executed choreography by Breon Arzell, this production is the perfect, ghostly offering for the pre-holiday season. Creating a mid-1800’s heroine, loosely based on New Orleans’ voodoo queen Marie Laveau, LaChuisa has cleverly combined her with elements from Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy of love and revenge, Medea. Seasoned with magical powers and mad revenge this operatic musical is peopled with the shadows, ghosts and haunted spirits of the past. The musical is completely sung-through, and features a score that’s far grander and more demanding than most. The challenging characters and difficult melodies and harmonies are handled extremely well by Ms. Brown’s talented cast. The story is sketchy and, unless theatergoers are familiar with the source material, they may not fully follow the plot. However, there’s no denying the show’s powerful, dramatic impact and the eerie mood of this piece, which needs no explanation.
The musical opens in a New Orleans prison cell in 1899. A beautiful, young, racially-mixed woman is facing a death sentence. In Greek dramatic style, a women’s chorus introduces us to Marie’s crimes and to her mother, who was also a high priestess of black magic. The story then flashes back five years to when a younger Marie Christine first chances to meet Dante Keyes, the enterprising captain of a sailing ship. Dante, while handsome, successful and charming, is also poor, rude and given to acts of violence. In spite of the warnings by all who know her, Marie falls in love with the rugged young adventurer. Dante seduces and beds Marie and, because she’s infatuated with him, gives Dante the money left for her dowry.
Marie’s two brothers, Paris and Jean, are the caretakers of the family estate, after the death of her parents. Since their mother was also African American, and their father was Caucasian, the brothers disapprove of Marie’s love for Dante. They recall how, after their mother’s death, their father forced Jean and Paris to become servants in his home until his death. They also become wise to Dante’s ambitious machinations and attempt to warn Marie about his true character. Marie refuses to listen and a fight breaks out at her brother’s engagement party that results in a death.
A unmarried Marie Christine, now the mother of two sons, sails along the Eastern coast with Dante. After his gambling debts force him out of New York City, he relocates everyone to Chicago. Marie reveals to Dante how she used her magic to kill his enemies. Afraid of her power and embarrassed by his association with a woman of mixed lineage, Dante commands Marie to leave Chicago, but tells her to leave their sons in is care. He now has aspirations in Chicago’s government and decides to marry Helena, the lovely daughter of political boss, Charles Gates. Marie’s jealousy, anger and revenge grow and consume her until, before this story ends, she’s haunted by everyone in her past and becomes responsible for many more deaths. As the curtain falls, Marie Christine is told by the ghost of her mother that, at her hands, innocence has died; and the doomed young woman bravely walks toward her fate at the gallows.
Although not new to Chicago audiences, talented Kyrie Courter makes her BoHo debut as Marie Christine. She mesmerizes as the young beauty with magical powers of voodoo and witchcraft. Ms. Courter convinces as the woman for whom love and magic ultimately proves her undoing. Seen at Theo Ubique as Joe in their production of “The Most Happy Fella,” Ken Singleton once again proves himself to be one of Chicago’s most talented young leading men, as Dante. In supporting roles, Katherine Bourne, Neala Barron, Emily Goldberg and Nicole Michelle are absolutely excellent as Lisette, Magdalena, Helena and Marie Christine’s Mother. Other noteworthy cast members include Averis I. Anderson, as Paris; Curtis Bannister, as Jean; Pavi Proczko, as Charles Gates; Patrick Byrnes and Kevin Webb as Gentlemen 1 and 2; and Teresa Lagama and Shantel Cribbs as members of the Greek Chorus.
Arnel Sancianco’s gorgeous scenic design is moody and malleable, especially as lit by Heather Gilberti’s atmospheric lighting. Talented costumer Izumi Inaba has designed a wardrobe of sensual, period pieces and accessories that tell the audience everything they need to know about these characters. And Aaron Benham’s shining six-member backstage orchestra caresses LaChiusa’s score and helps it sing.
Although this isn’t the kind of show that proffers tunes that send the audience out into the street humming afterward, it is a play that’s steeped in magic, mayhem and moodiness, and features characters that won’t soon be forgotten. And while perhaps not to every theatergoer’s taste, Michael John LaChiusa’s cult musical is a haunting story of love and revenge, with a beautiful score that ranks up there with his other Broadway works, such as “The Wild Party,” “Hello Again,” “Little Fish” and “First Lady Suite.” It’s most certainly another feather in BoHo Theatre’s cap.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 28-December 10 by BoHo Theatre Company at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 773-975-8150 or by going to www.BoHoTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.