Book by Joesph Stein
Music & Lyrics by Marc Blitzstein
Based on the play Juno and the Paycock
by Sean O’Casey
Directed by Nick Bowling
Music direction by Doug peck & Elizabeth Doran
Choreographed by Katie Spelman
At TimeLine Theatre, Chicago
Wonderful Chicago premiere of Juno deftly presents the essential characteristic if the Irish -the balance of pain and laughter
After a miserable failure (only 16 performances before it closed) on Broadway, few attempted to remount Stein & Blitzstein’s Juno until Nick Bowling and the creatives at TimeLine Theatre passionately believed in the material. They did what no one else had, they mounted a funny, sad, and heart felt chamber musical that Stein, Blitstein and O’Casey would have admired.
This refreshingly engrossing and compelling musical contains all the humor, pain and tragedy of the 1922 O’Casey masterpiece, Juno and the Paycock while effectively presenting the music and lyrics of Blitzstein and Stein with a first class cast of actor/singers who add layers of heart and humanity to the story’s emotional range. Nick Bowling proved that terrific source material together with honest performances from skilled players with smart staging and fine music is a winning formula. Bowling’s Juno is a masterful theatrical gem – a true art piece!
Juno, from O’Casey’s 1924 Juno and the Paycock, tells the story of the Boyle family—a poor family living in a Dublin tenement. These ‘shabby genteel’ folks struggle to survive as Juno Boyle (Marya Grandy) is the only working member of the family. Captain Jack Boyle (Ron Rains) is the unemployed father who has a taste for whiskey and an aversion to work. He spends his time drinking and strutting about like a ‘paycock.’ His pal “Joxer” Daley (the hilarious James Houton ) never met a drink they didn’t enjoy. The two love to tell stories. We get hooked from the rousing opening ensemble number “We’re Alive” as the poor Irish celebrate life.
Mary Boyle (Emily Glick) is the educated single daughter on strike in sympathy for a fellow worker. She is determined to have a better life as she sings “I Wish It So” with Juno and later “For Love.” Mary is dating Charles Bentham ( the charming Peter Oyloe), a solicitor. She is the family’s hope since her brother Johnny (Jonny Stein) lost his arm in the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and got shot in an Irish Civil War action as an IRA operative. He is despondent over his injury. He has guilt for betraying a fellow IRA agent. He fears being held accountable by the IRA.
Act one is filled with funny scenes depicting the dysfunctional Irish family dominated by drink and sloth. We learn about each of the Boyle’s and their neighbors empathetic presented in song.
Juno contains the laughter and hope that the poor cling to to sustain life. Juno sings the “Song of Ma” as she comments on motherhood while the men drink to “We Can Be Proud,” an ode to Irish patriotism. Juno and Boyle sing a telling duet in “Old Sayin’s.” The four neighboring gossips (Caron Buinis, Kelli Harrington, Anne Sheridan Smith, and Kathleen Gibson), a sort of Greek chorus who comments on events in the shanty, host a gathering to see who among them should be pitted most as each suffers from life by singing “Poor Thing.”
We see Jerry Devine ( the golden tenor Jordan Brown) sing “One Kind Word” as he vigorously courts Mary. But Mary and Bentham confess their love in “My True Heart.” The act closing with “On a Day like This” as fun, hope.
Act two opens with Juno and Mary sing a terrific harmony filled with an Irish folk tune-like feel. Things look up for the poor Boyle’s as a cousin of Jack Boyle left him 3-4,000 Pounds Sterling in his will. Charles Bentham brings the good news. The Boyle’s celebrate with a party that contains thrilling and funny “Music in the House” celebratory sung and danced from “The Liffey Waltz” nicely choreographed by Katie Spelman. The Boyle’s by buying furniture on credit. Jack Boyle aggressively borrows money all around the neighborhood in anticipation of receiving his inheritance. The drinks flow. The family celebration is interrupted by the funeral of the Tancred boy killed in the Civil War by anti-IRA forces.
As act two continues, the Boyle family’s fate turns ugly as Charles Bentham leaves Ireland for England when he learns that the Boyle’s will not receive any money for the will. Mary learns she is pregnant by Bentham. Johnny is taken by the IRA and shot for betraying Tancred. The Boyle’s have their furniture repossessed as Jack is drinking the last few coins he possesses. Juno and Mary decide to leave Jack who has disowned Mary for embarrassing the family. Juno strength allows her to state that the baby may not have a father “but it will have two mothers!”
The TimeLine Theatre production works on its intimate runway stage that sure gives us a close up of the joy, humor and deeply felt emotions. The glorious voices and the rich harmonies from the ensemble numbers together wonderful vocals from Emily Gilick, Marya Grady and Jordan Brown made the musical soar-all without being amplified. It is so refreshing to hear natural voices project and sing in fine Irish brogues that were authentic and understandable! Among the terrific performances, James Houton’s drunken Joxer and Ron Rain’s obnoxious, staggeringly boisterous Captain Jack Boyle were particularly impressive. Ron Rains give his finest performance I’ve seen yet as Boyle the ‘paycock.’
This heartfelt musical, Juno, depicts the Irish foibles through an artistically theatrical blend of a powerful play, Juno and the Paycock with the genius of Joesph Stein and Marc Blitzstein that conveys the pain and laughter, with tragedy thrown in, to truthfully capture the essence of the poor Irish. Juno is a likable show that will grab you and keep you living with the Boyle’s until the end. Your visit to Dublin in 1922 will leave moved. Kudos to Nick Bowling for championing this beautiful musical. Don’t miss this show.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 2, 2014
For more info checkout the Juno page at theatreinchicago.com
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $35 – $45, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through July 27, 2014