By Adam Whiteman
Directed by Stefan Brun
produced by Chicago Treasures, Inc
in cooperation with Prop Theater
At Chief O ‘Neill’s Pub, Chicago
Tuneful celebration of the life and times of Francis O’ Neill is funny, informative and entertaining
I discovered a gem of a show that features authentic rural Irish music that immigrants brought to Chicago in thee late 19th Century. Told in a contemporary interview format, Music Mad; How Chief O’ Neill Saved the Soul of Ireland, tells Chicago police chief Francis O’ Neill’s story of how he worked tirelessly to preserve the music from his homeland- Ireland that was beginning to go out of fashion on the late 19th Century Chicago. O’ Neill’s obsession with the rural traditional music forced him to chronicle in book form with sheet music all the songs average farmers and villagers sang. While acting as the Police Chief in Chicago (1901-05), O’ Neill hired many Irish musicians a police officers thus keeping them together to play and keep alive traditional music off their homeland.
Composer/playwright Adam Whiteman, a lawyer by trade, and a recording producer by interest became enamored with traditional Irish musics while producing the CD “Irish Music in Chicago.” Whiteman’s research lead him to Francis O’Neill and his amazing life story that featured world traveling, police work and Irish music. With the help of director Stefan Brun, Whiteman created Music Mad which includes terrific music by a band consisting of world-class Irish musicians from Chicago. As we hear Chief O “Neill ( played with zest by Brett Tewell) tell his story, the band plays transitional tunes to either underscore the mood and emotion of the story or to exemplify actual Irish traditions.
This wonderful drama with music is rich in storytelling (who knew about Chief O’ Neill?); terrific toe-tapping tunes as well as vivid characters that populated Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th Century Chicago. We get a taste of life in Ireland in the 1860’s that drove O’ Neill from Ireland. We also see why music was so important to O’Neill and his countrymen. The blend of history, music and the story of a man’s life give us a glimpse into the soul of an Irishman who became a fine American as well as a preserver of hiss homeland’s music traditions.
Containing Irish humor, Irish sentimentality, and wonderful authentic Irish music (reels, jigs, waltzes and ditties), Music Mad is one hour and forty minutes of nostalgia, history and interesting storytelling. The music is amazing as it is the truthful expression of a people’s life. You’ll hear tunes that are seldom played but express the essence of Ireland. This is a wonderful show that appeals to folk music lovers and history and cultural buffs alike.
Adam Whiteman wrote anew tune – “A Harvest Saved” in the grand tradition of the Irish. Listen to this song, then get tickets to see this fine show.
Date Reviewed: June 7, 2012
At Chief O’Neill Pub & Restaurant, 3471 N. Elston, Chicago