Coraline

By Stephen Merritt & David Greenspanblack button eyes productions

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman

Directed by Ed Rutherford

Musical Direction by Nick Sula

Produced by Black Button Eyes Productions

At City Lit Theatre, Chicago

Weird musical adaptation of a beloved fantasy novel falls flat

I had no knowledge of Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel nor the acclaimed film before I attended Ed Rutherford’s Chicago stage production of Coraline.  Unfortunately, I had to both read the press notes and do a Wikipedia search to find out what Coraline, the musical was about. After sitting through 90 excruciating minutes of uneven, slowly paced, disjointed action that was both confusing, unintelligible, and poorly sung moments, I left the theatre bewildered.

black button eyes productions

Upon thought, I realized that decisions by director Ed Rutherford (a talented actor/director whose work I mostly admire) doomed the production for me. Casting decisions that fund Sheridan Singleton, an adult, playing a nine year old with a heavy British accent and speaking too fast and singing off key troubling. We must empathize with Coraline’s adventure for the piece to work. Singleton came off as an adult playing a bratty child.

Next, if your going to do a musical have songs that don’t all sound alike and cast singers. Merritt and Greenspan’s piano oriented music and lame lyrics added little to the production since many songs seemed out of place and many lyrics were difficult to understand as sung in strange accents.

Also, the weird tone of the piece was perplexing. Why play a dark adult children’s story with camp and men in drag? And why wasn’t lighting and set design better used to convey the parallel apartments that Coraline visits as she strains to find a more accepting family?

black button eyes productions

The poor enunciation of the various British dialects hurt my understanding of what was going on and why. After my early confusion and the lack of early empathy with Coraline, I quickly lost interest in the show.  For me, most of the show was an exercise in gimmicks, strangely staged songs and campy showmanship. The audience the night I attended the show seemed bored and disinterested as few laughs were heard and little applause.

I must say that the production was innovative, ambitious, as the cast worked hard to land the material. Too bad it mostly fell flat.  Tone problems, poor lighting,  over-the-top camp interruptions lost any resemblance to fantasy. One patron upon leaving the theatre was extremely upset at the production stating that she thought it was nothing like the novel or the film. I can’t comment on that but I can state that as a musical, Coraline was flat and tedious.  I’d skip this one.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: August 12, 2014

For more info checkout the Coraline page at theatreinchicago.com

At City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL,  http://coralinechicago.brownpapertickets.com, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through September 6, 2014

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