Lyrics & Music by Paul Scott Goodman
Directed by Benjamin Brownson
Music Direction by Austin Cook
The Chicago Premiere
At the Flat iron Building, Chicago
A near miss due to technical problems and questionable casting for Rooms: A Rock Romance
The strongest thing about Rooms: A Rock Musical is the terrific music from the on-stage band featuring music direction and steady keyboard/piano work by Austin Cook. This band rocks! Unfortunately, the Chicago premiere of the Goodman & Gordon’s rock musical ( a rock opera or operetta really) is marred by several directorial decisions by Benjamin Brownson and the lighting design by Mac Vaughey as well as the sound design by Russell Gooddard. The folks at Broken Nose Theater have ambitiously attempted to make Rooms a most stage worthy musical but the following tech oriented flaws hurt the production.
Set in Glasgow, London & NYC, Monica gets Ian to write rock/punk music for her as she struggles to make it as a rock stat in 1977-80. Ian only wants to stay in his room and compose; Monica drives him to help her reach her goal. Along the way, they become an item but the music is still the thing here.
First, the runway staging hurt the sight lines for much of the audience. Often when Ian (Matt Deitchman0 and especially Monica (Hillary Marren), move about the stage there are using the fringe of the stage that effectively has Monica (and sometimes Ian) with their backs to from 1/2 to 3/4 of the audience. I’d advise using a proscenium-style stage floor-level with the band on the actual stage.
Secondly, the follow-spots effectively blinded one or the other side of the audience as it followed the movement of one of the characters. I was constantly needing to put my hand up to block the piercing light. Alternately, a man sitting opposite of me had to do the same quite often. Constantly shining a light into the face of much of your audience is a major flaw and an irritation.
Thirdly, both cast members wear equipped with body mics but they were seldom turned on making much of the sung dialogue too soft to be heard. I’d also put those plastic barriers around the percussion so as to lower the volume a tad.
Next, dialect coach Kendra Kargenian did such an accurate job getting both players to sport a thick, authentic Scottish accent that they became almost unintelligible since both players, and especially Hillary Marren spoke so fast and ran her words together that I couldn’t understand 95% of what was said. Better to speak slower and articulate your words and better to just give the hint of a Scottish accent in the interest of being able to be understood. Nothing is gained with using an authentic accent that is incomprehensible. I’d add that singing rock lyrics, at best, is hard to understand but when a thick Scottish accent is employed little comes across. When the brogue is so thick that we miss important story items, better to tone it down in the interest of clarity. I believe that both players strained during their singing to maintain the brogue. That possibly hurt their singing?
Lastly, both players worked quite hard to land both the story and their songs (and their recitative- sung dialogue) but Matt Deitchman’s voice was too weak (especially with little amplification) to be heard and his emotional shifts were too wooden to be believable. Also, there was little spark or stage chemistry between him and Hillary Marren so a romantic involvement seemed a stretch. A stronger singer with some charisma is need for the role of Ian.
As hard as Hillary Marren worked, her heavy accented too fast speech patterns and her poor singing accented by her shouting several of her tunes rendered her totally miscast for the role of a determined woman dedicated to becoming a ‘rock star.’ Better diction (sans the brogue) and a more skilled singer is need to navigate through Goodman’s tricky score.
With all the above, still the music and the band carry us through Rooms: A Rock Romance. Lovers of punk rock music will enjoy this show. The folks at Broken Nose Theatre have mounted a passable show that was a near miss hit. If only…
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 19, 2013
For more info checkout the Rooms; A Rock Romance page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Flat iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, www.brokennosetheatre.com, tickets $15 – $30, Thursdays thru Sundays at 8 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through August 11, 2013