Chicago Theatre Review
Cue the Orchestra, Light the Lights!
The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival
Presented February 5, 2018, at the Greenhouse Theater Center, Underscore Theatre Company offered a preview of the 4th Annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. Performing 5-10 minute snippets from seven original shows, each musical’s book writer, composer and lyricist kicked off their respective segment by introducing themselves, their cast and providing a short synopsis of the show. The entire evening lasted only an hour, with every selection offering insight and a tantalizing preview of the new musicals, each of which will be presented several times during the following three weeks. This Festival is a thrilling opportunity to showcase and support the growing field of emerging new theatre artists. The three weeks will conclude with an Awards Ceremony at 7:30 on February 25.
The Butcher’s Son, with book, music and lyrics by Vi Nhan H. Tran, tells the autobiographical story of a family of Vietnamese refugees. This folk musical memoir, alternately poignant and humorous, relates the Tran family’s escape from the Killing Fields of Vietnam, their imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge and their settlement among the wheat fields of Kansas. It’s a thrilling tale of survival and assimilation into a new home.
The Butcher’s Son will perform February 10 at 3:00; February 14 at 8:00; February 18 at 6:00; and February 23 at 7:30.
GRINDR, the Opera, features a book, music and lyrics by Erik Ransom. It tells about four horny men, each seeking different kinds of sexual satisfaction, whose stories ultimately intersect. The gay hookup site is parodied through this exaggerated, adult, sung-through work that features musical styles from contemporary to Baroque. It’s a humorous view of the ever-changing gay dating scene.
GRINDR, the Opera will perform February 9 at 10:00 pm; February 13 at 8:00; February 17 at noon; and February 23 at 10:00 pm.
Iron Irene: A Musical Fable, with a book by Liz Falstreau, music by Ashely Flanagan and lyrics by both Falstreau and Flanagan, is a post Civil War story. It tells about two sisters struggling to survive in their fight for equality and a better world. Following the death of their parents, Cass DeLanie is sent from her family home in Wisconsin to live in Wyoming with her sister Irene. Through their lives we learn how Wyoming became the first U.S. territory to grant women’s suffrage.
Iron Irene: A Musical Fable will be presented February 6 at 8:00; February 11 at noon; February 16 at 7:30; and February 25 at 3:00.
Liberators: An American Musical, with book and lyrics by Eric C. Jones and music by Bradley Dean Whyte and Alex Winkler, is a rock musical about family and making a difference. Moving back and forth throughout 70 years, this musical tells a story from the viewpoints, religious and ethnic backgrounds of three different men. Connected by an heirloom pocket watch, the saga begins in WWII and travels to post 9-ll, focusing on the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau. The musical strives to show how even the most unlikely person can always make a difference.
Liberators: An American Musical will be presented February 8 at 8:00; February 11 at noon; February 17 at 8:00; and February 24 at 3:00.
Musical Therapy, featuring a book by Dan Hass and music and lyrics by Joey Katsiroubas, focuses on Theresa, a young Chicago couples counselor. Although she’s pretty good at working with other couples, Theresa isn’t having much luck with love herself. When a hunky guy named Will moves into the adjoining office, Theresa discovers she’ll do anything to arrange her own happily-ever-after.
Musical Therapy will be presented February 11 at 6:00; February 16 at 10:00 pm; February 22 at 8:00; and February 24 at 8:00.
The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe, with a book by Brian Huther, Ben Auxier and Seth Macchi and music and lyrics also by Auxier and Huther, takes place in the 1920’s, during the decline of Vaudeville and the rise of the motion picture industry. The story follows Lefty and Crabbe, a comedy team, as they strive for success in a changing world of entertainment.
The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe will be presented February 7 at 8:00; February 9 at 7:30; February 17 at 3:00; and February 18 at noon.
Tru, features a book, music and lyrics by David Gosz and Leo Fotos, is a celebration of the beauty of life, as seen through the various relationships of several individuals. We see a father and son, a grandmother and her granddaughter, an artist and her art, a student and his teacher and, finally a man and himself.
Tru will be presented February 10, both at noon and 8:00; February 15 at 8:00; February 18 at 3:00; February 20 at 8:00; February 21 at 8:00; February 24 at noon.
In addition to these seven fully-staged productions, the Musical Theatre Festival will also introduce two new Workshop performances. They include Murderous Innocent, with a book by Tommy Jamerson and music and lyrics by Mark Contorno. This musical is about a successful novelist whose past comes back to haunt him and how long-buried secrets start to resurface. This workshop presentation can be seen on February 12 at 8:00.
The second workshop offering will be Notes and Letters, with book, music and lyrics by Annabelle Revak. As WWI breaks out in Europe, a young man immigrates to Chicago in 1917, where he’s employed at a piano company. There he makes friends with three of his fellow employees and their real-life relationships are set to the jazz score of the Windy City’s own music. This workshop performance will be presented February 19 at 8:00.
All performances will be presented at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets for all seven productions and the two staged readings are available at the box office or by going to www.cmtf.org.
Reviewed and reported by Colin Douglas