The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, now in its second year, is a new-works festival produced by Underscore Theatre company. We created CMTF for one reason: there’s a wealth of musical theatre creators and performers in Chicago, but the high risks of producing new musicals means that few companies are willing to take a chance, especially on new authors. CMTF is designed from the ground up to showcase Chicago’s emerging musical theatre creator community, and this year’s festival features 13 brand-spankin new musicals!
How well can you come to know a person you never meet? A mother sings a lullaby to her child. A teacher imparts “wordly wisdom” upon a student. A man recounts his emotional journey on his wedding day. These and more seemingly disparate lives are bound together by a common thread of recurrence; they have all been touched and impacted in some way by the same person. This contemporary and unique conceptual take on the song cycle aims to explore the impact of one life through presenting seven chronological vignettes of individuals affected by a man named John, who never appears to the audience.
Recurring John is the other production that was mentored by Underscore Theatre Company’s creative team besides American Smoothie, and if what is being shown at the current festival is the show in its final form, it should be good to go. John’s life isn’t particularly amazing, but his long journey out of the closet in middle-age provides enough drama for seven other people to perform classical Broadway-style ballads about how much he impacted them. The singers here are very strong; the British accent-affecting teacher’s advice that the young John act “manlier” to avoid being bullied transitions from alto jazz to gospel, and a jealous co-worker with a comic tenor rattles off many witty rhymes. The later songs are more serious, but for the most part retain a sense of optimism. In between songs are chorus numbers which establish the mood of what is to come, and comment on John’s choices. The music is soothing and introspective without being slow or boring, and director David Lipshutz managed the black-box style transitions seamlessly, so that the show could easily be remounted.
Reviewed July 7, 2015
For more information, see CMTF’s page.
Playing at The Den Theatre, 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. Performances are July 11 at 4:00 pm, July 14 at 6:00 pm, and July 19 at 8:00 pm. Running time is one hour.