REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams


Music, lyrics and book andstalk by Stephan Gawrit

music direction by Stephan Gawrit

Directed by James Wagoner

Produced by La Costa Theatre, Chicago

Dark musical version of Jack and the Bean Stalk not stage worthy

stalk by Stephan Gawrit

Playwright/composer Stephan Gawrit says his new play, Stalk, started off as a dream – probably a nightmare because Stalk is a dark, drab, woefully grim musical  that will leave you wanting to either have a few stiff drinks or slit your throat. I have never seen a more depressing, negative and worthless musical, ever!

stalk by Stephan Gawrit

Stalk is a concoction of a dysfunctional family musical that finds Jack (Jordan Phelps) being beaten by his cruel, unloving father, Gregory (Scott Danielson)  while is zombie-like pill-popping mother, Lily (Meghan Phillipp) announces that she no longer loves her son. The early scenes are filled with foul language including the F-word–so between the language and the violence, Stalk definitely isn’t a family or children’s show.

stalk by Stephan Gawrit

The story borrows from Into the Woods (here Milky White isn’t a cow but an electric guitar) and The Snow Queen as well as a rewrite of the original Jack and the Bean Stalk fable.  From the start, Stalk plays like a nightmare with poor Jack suffering physical and mental abuse as he is thrown into one nasty experience after another. He sings his angst and pain.

stalk by Stephan Gawrit

The show is a complete downer that is a true “feel-bad” show – the first such show for me.  Director James Wagoner lets the scenes drag on and on and he has too many blackouts, mostly to move the boxes on the set. The use of prerecorded music and the amazingly poor singing from the entire cast only added to the misery.  Gimmicks like surrealism, hyper-realism, large puppets and shadows changed the tone of the show in act two but by then the damage was fatal.

Try as hard as Jordan Phelps did to make Jack empathetic, he had such a terrible script and bland songs that he never garnered our interest. Unfortunately, Phelps’ singing voice was much too weak to be effective. Meghan Phillipp screamed her songs while Helen Alter-Dyche howled her tunes incomprehensibly.  Most of the lyrics were not to be understood mainly due to the poor voices singing in a pop/rock style. If your going to mount a musical, please cast singers and write memorable songs that don’t sound generically alike.   I can’t see why such a negative, melancholy and depressing  show was produced? Who could enjoy a downer?

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

At La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL

6 thoughts on “Stalk

  • Noel Nicoletti

    I attended opening night of Stalk and thoroughly enjoyed this show. While I agree that the material in this show is dark and at times hard to handle from an emotional standpoint, the message that is delivered is quite powerful.Using a classic tale like Jack and the Beanstalk to convey social commentary on a topic like child abuse was a unique device. The cast and crew make wonderful use of the space and the music moves the narrative forward in a way that didn’t feel forced in the way that music in musicals sometimes feels. I WOULD recommend Stalk for anyone looking for a unique musical theater experience.

  • Also, the press releases and the poster clearly state that the show is for ages 14 and up which gives you the idea that it is not a show suitable for young children.

  • I didn’t find any info age warning in the press release and I didn’t get a poster in my press package. You must be involved with the show – too bad you didn’t have the guts to identify yourself.

  • The reviewer must have seen a different play from the one I saw. Stalk is powerful and engaging on the darkness of human nature and of abusive families. The use of puppetry was innovative and effective. Jordan Phelps was spectacular in the role of Jack, portraying a wide range of emotion from terror to child-like hope. The rest of the cast was good, too.

    This is the rewiewer’s first “feel-bad” show? He’s never seen a Tennessee Williams play?

  • Simon Pruitt

    Having read all of the available reviews for the play – and the mysterious Hank Perritt’s appearance in the comment section on all of them (shill, anyone?) – I have to agree with the critical assessments offered. I, too, saw Stalk on opening night, and, by the time of the Dreamland sequence at the top of Act 2, I was hoping that the cast was merely having a rough night. To say that this piece is merely “feel-bad” does little to convey how laborious it is to endure. I hope the folks behind the scenes take heed of their criticism and not just find their fire in their bellies reduced to responding to online reviews.

  • I am shocked and appalled that Mr. Pruitt would suggest Hank is a shill for the production. Who would even do that? People can’t leave responses? I thought this was the purpose of a blog/comments. Yes, I am the playwright, and I take all information and critiques with a discerning eye. There certainly is room for improvement and perhaps this show was not everyone’s cup of tea. However, that being said, there have been plenty of people who have enjoyed the show. Theater does not have to “feel-good.” Certainly there have been very successful movements of theater such as Theatre of Cruelty, Grand Guignol…etc, that do not prescribe to this idea. Child abuse does not have a happy ending, it is not happy thing to endure. It is painful, and thousands upon thousands of children in Chicago alone endure similar situationist at home; hence our partnership with the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center. Clearly the main theme was not reached by certain individuals.

    There are no laws to art, and if there were, I wouldn’t feel obliged to fulfill them. I am extremely proud of my cast and crew for their contributions to this new work. I would ask that Simon think before making such strong accusations that people cannot have their own opinions to share without it being some grand conspiracy.

Leave a Reply