Music & Lyrics by Philip LaZebnik
Directed by Sheldon Patinkin
Music Direction by Kingsley Day
Choreography by Amy Uhl
At City :Lit, Chicago
World premiere yet traditional musical comedy, State Street, shows potential
Despite limited budget and lack of adequate stage space, the creative folks at City Lit Theater have the chutzpah to mount a full-blown 2 hour, 30 minute musical in the grand tradition of shows like The Music Man, Tenderloin, Guys and Dolls with hints of Showboat and winks to Gilbert & Sullivan. Yes, I applaud Kingsley Day and Philip LaZebnik for creating an original musical in the best traditions of classical Broadway musicals. No need for contemporary pop/rock scramming or talk-songs. State Street is, indeed, a ‘throw-back’ musical comedy with an excellent book, smart lyrics and a potential fine score. In City Lit’s low budget, non-Equity production with only a rehearsal piano (deftly played by Kingsley Day), this initial production offers enough to merit a remount from producing companies with the budget to give the work the needed resources.
It is most refreshing to see a new classical styled Broadway musical with a clever and funny book; smart lyrics on a varied melodic score that begs an orchestra. In a era that lacks musicals with hum-able music and understandable lyrics, LaBebnik and Day offer a refreshingly tuneful and often funny original musical.
Set in Chicago just before the Great Fire of 1871 and loosely based on historical facts, State Street is a fable of early Chicago life peopled by pillars of the community like Potter Palmer, Marshall Field, and Cyrus McCormick with soon-to-be-famous Drake and Sherman of hotel fame. When Jennie Comstock (Diane Mair) arrives in Chicago see searches for her aunt. The entire ensemble sings the opening number, “State Street,” in the best tradition of classic Broadway. This rousing number musically sets the tone of fun and light-halfheartedness that finds all the players not taking themselves too seriously. Next, we meet the charismatic con-man, Uranus Crosby ( the empathetic Matthew Keffer) who explains to doorman John Drake (Matt Edmonds) how he ‘sells’ dreams to the rubes. Jennie is courted by John but she is mesmerized by Uranus’ charm.
We meet the whores at Aunt Annie’s house and their john’s and we see how naive Jennie really is. Add the gangsters and the harmonious four businessmen and we have the ingredients of a 1870’s musical. Crosby acquires $700, 000 from the locals to build an opera house but he plans on running away to San Francisco until he meets and falls for Jennie and the locals threaten him unless he actually builds the opera house – which he does. Act one ends with a clever patter song spook on opera expertly landed by the entire cast using Verdi’s music.
Act Two finds Crosby desperately trying to make enough money to payback his investors but Chicago isn’t ready for grand opera so Uranus brings in a burlesque act – “Sinbad and the Sailor” but that is too little too late. Crosby then offers a lottery for $10 per ticket and the grand prize is the opera house. He raises $900,000 and he rigs the drawing in order to abscond with most of the cash. But his fraud is detected and zany happenings lead to both tragedy (the Chicago Fire) and happy endings for most; John and Jennie and Uranus each gets their due.
This smart show presents a challenge for most of the cast. Some voices were adequate; the dancing seemed labored; and the tone was a tad too whimsical bordering on cartoonist. Unfortunately, the score was obscured but the lack of an orchestra. Yet, this enjoyable production has enough moments of laughter, charm and wackiness to be worth seeing. I’m challenging major producers like folks from Drury Lane Oakbrook, Marriott Theatre, and Theatre at the Center to take in State Street to see that is has all the elements of a fine new Broadway musical comedy. It only lacks producers with vision and the cash necessary to mount the show to its full potential. City Lit’s production is a fine showcase for LaZebnik & Day’s State Street.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 29, 2012
For more info checkout the State Street page at theatreinchicago.com
At City Lit Theater, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue Chicago, IL, www.citylit.org, call 773-293-3682, tickets $30, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through June 24, 2012