REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

White Noise

A Cautionary Musical

Music and Lyrics by Robert Morris,

Steven Morris and Joe Shanewhite noise chicago

Book by Matte O’Brien

Directed & choreographed by Sergio Trujillo

At the Royal George Theatre, Chicago

White Noise is a controversial rock musical that ends as a downer

The press notes say that the Chicago production that opened on April 8, 2011 was a “World Premiere” but I found that it was produced in New Orleans at the LePetit Theatre in July, 2009.  So the Chicago production is a retooled shortened version that became a 100 minutes one act. The rock musical is a cautionary tale about the lingering racism that still permeates in America.

white noise chicago

The show’s book demonstrates problems with  conventional notions of free speech and the influence of media and the power of pop culture in today’s society.

This over-produced glitzy, over-amplified show features a blend of pop-rock, hip-hop, R & B,  and rap tunes with a few rock ballads thrown-in. The sound mixed that had the percussion dominate made the guitars inaudible and it forced the singers to scream to be heard. The lyrics became unintelligible for the most part. The choreography consisted of  sexy groping  and Nazi-styled stiff-legged marches.

white noise chicago

The story centers around Max (Douglas Sills) who is a amoral music producer who’ll do anything to makes his acts successful. We see him have his assistant, Jake (Eric William Morris) write racist tunes for his African-American act with lyrics such as “N. G. S.” (Niggers Gonna Shoot The White Boy). We see the two African-American singers, Dion (Wallace Smith) and Tyler (Rodney Hicks) sing a collection of racist and misogynistic hip-hop, R & B and rap tunes. Max micromanages them.

white noise chicago

Opposite to that act, we see Max as he finds a trio of white singers – two girls and a boy. The girls are blonds, the boy, a skin-head. They’re  white supremacists and their songs contain slurs  on  Blacks, Jews, Mexicans and gays. They are a pop-rock group that Max sees as another meal ticket. He signs and manipulates the group by putting Jake into the group to rewrite and soften their lyrics.  Jake changes their song “Niggers Suck” into “Monday Sucks” – it becomes a major hit.  Eva (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Duke (Patrick Murney) are simmering racists only going along with Max as long as they are achieving success.  Eden (Emily Padgett) isn’t so sure that being a bigot is the right thing to do. She becomes an item with Jake.

white noise chicago

Tension grows as both the ‘Blood Brothers’ -Dion & Tyler and ‘White Noise’ -Eva, Eden,Duke & Jake move up the music charts. We hear a mixture of pop-rock tunes in this 17 song one act musical. The Blood Brothers try to change their image from gangster-rap into more of a mainstream act with their clever worded and danced tune – “Hip-Hop Country.”

white noise chicago

Eva and Duke’s suppressed racists beliefs win out as they decide to challenge their audience to hear their racist message while doing a shared show with the Blood Brothers. White Noise infuriates Dion & Tyler with their song “Master Race.”  Racial fighting ensues onstage ending with the shooting of Eden. The show ends with Eva singing “I Am America” – her rock anthem that expresses her white supremacist views. The show clearly ends with a pessimistic message that white racism dominates America. I reject that notion and I believe this show will only fuel black and white racism.   I believe that the election of Barack Obama is proof that we are a more tolerant nation. I’m amazed that Whoopi Goldberg is involved as a producer of the controversial show.

At $54.50 to $74.50 per ticket, I’m not sure who the audience is for this show since it clearly appeals to a younger audience. There are a number of $20 student (with ID) tickets available in person. If you enjoy pop-rock and hip-hop, R & B and rap tunes – the White Noise is your show.  Since I don’t particularly like pop-rock music, especially with a strong percussion, so take my views in stride. I also have a problem with the pessimistic ending of the show.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 8, 2011

At Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-988-9000, Tuesday thru Thursday at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 5 pm, running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission, through May 15, 2011

8 thoughts on “White Noise

  • Terry Giltch

    How exactly was this reviewer able to string together this plebeian, shortsighted synopsis if all that was audible was “the percussion”?  The artistic and cultural ignorance displayed herein is saddening.  Here’s what this reviewer apparently slept through (or had his ears plugged during):

    The size of the production elements is a vital part of the show’s narrative.  Many songs start out with just piano or guitar and evolve before the audience’s eyes into the enormous (and mind-blowingly well-performed and technically produced) pop/rock/hip-hop behemoths that dazzle today’s youth on a regular basis.  If the songs didn’t achieve the epic (though well-balanced) magnitude that often characterizes the artforms on which this show aims to comment, the piece would fall flat.  Of course, the dialogue and lyrics are vital to this end and are brilliantly crafted in their own right.

    As for this reviewer’s cultural ignorance, I went to the White Noise website after seeing the show and browsed my way to an anti-hate organization’s site, which then led me to a white supremacist hate forum.  All I can say is that I honestly had no idea these hate groups were so vocal.  Chicago is a demographically diverse city whose Caucasian residents celebrate minority culture and whose heterosexual residents support one of the most thriving gay districts in the country.  Apparently this reviewer takes Chicago for granted.  There is an appalling amount of hate more than “lingering” in other parts of the country.  And perhaps nearer to our Yankee utopia than we’d care to admit…

    The genius of White Noise is that it actually creates the art of which it warns us to be wary.  “Mondays Suck” could EASILY be featured on a Disney compilation if it stemmed from a different artistic context.  The show is groundbreaking in its metatheatricality.  Which songs and which characters we choose to cheer for is a barometer of our own morals… and its hard to know where even the most tolerant of us stands!  I wanted to applaud and holler for the cast and creative team after White Trash Fairytale and Mondays Suck melted my face, but then had to ask myself “am I cheering for Mondays Suck or N*****s Suck?”.  And therein we realize just how real this problem could be.

    Too bad Tom was apparently distracted by his inaccurate and grammatically corrupt note-taking.  I would recommend he see the production again, after reading up on the current state of hate and bigotry in America, and skimming Wikipedia’s page on Bertolt Brecht.

  • Several theatre folks I know who also attended the opening night performance with me spoke about the drums drowning out both the singers and the guitars. They also spoke about the lyrics being very hard to understand which is a typical problem with rock music. Why you choose to insult me just shows your ignorance. I simply reported what I heard and saw and I was not the only one. I did say that young rock music fans will like the show. To equate this show with Bertolt Brecht is completely wrong. I wonder how many Brecht you have seen? Last, to insult me,the messenger, just shows your bigotry.

  • I agree with Terry. I saw the show. While I’ve no reason to insult the critic, this subject matter and the messages it contains, or lacks, takes a more sophisticated critic. “White Noise” could be to racism and hate, what “Rent” is to the artistic bohemian. I say COULD be, it isn’t there yet. With such a complex message being delivered in such a complex medium and show structure, this show needs much more fine-tuning. But, having said that, this show is entertaining as is, it just has far more potential. And agreed, if you are going to give exposition in song, we have to understand the lyrics. The hip hop rap, and the rock sound has to be distilled aurally so we can hear the lyrics…there was so much I must have missed just by not understanding the lyrics. But I say…keep going White Noise…you have something here.

  • Lynn Hodak

    I actually loved the show..and I do agree that at times the musicians were too loud for the vocalists and sometimes, I couldn’t understand the words; however, I was in the second row and sometimes the sound bounces towards the back….and this is a technical sound mixing problem and nothing about the lyrics or the writing of the show.

    I loved the show…it is a bit of rent (rock), spring awakenings (choreography), and In the Heights mixed (rap) in one. The choreography had a lot of hip hop in it – not just gyration and hitler stepping and I thought they utilized the small stage very well.

    I have been to broadway numerous times and I have seen most shows in Chicago – and besides wanting the soundtrack, I thought it was the best show I have ever seen in Chicago and it is worthy of a Broadway opening..Perhaps there the sound mixer will find the right balance there.

    I plan to go and see it again because I know i missed stuff and I think you learn about hate in America when you thought that our generations have become so much more tolerant – it is educational and entertaining, and I can’t wait for my daughter to get home from college so I can take her..

  • I guess you like rock shows? If you think this show is the best show you ever saw, then you need to get tomarriott Theatre and take in 42nd Street.

  • Jacob Juntunen

    Regarding your thought that the election of Obama represents a less racist US, here are some despicable comments from Fox News readers reacting to the President’s visit to storm-damaged Alabama:

    “I pray for America while this teleprompter reading chimp is turned lose”

    “im surprised he did’nt give a campaign speech, and why did he bring the gorrila women with him, was she bored taking care of the kids?”

    “So how much an hour you make libatroll? Must be bl@ck and in the ghetto, only way you have the time to troll this much.”

    “Mr Blue Lips must have a real short memory. Didn’t he tour New Orleans, after both their disasters?(Katrina and FEMA)”

    It goes on. And this is regarding a relatively uncontroversial article: the president visiting a disaster site. Unfortunately, bigotry is alive and well in the US. Does this play address it properly? Viewers can make their own judgment.

    Here’s my source if you want to check it:

  • I think many commenters are missing the point. This musical isn’t about racism in the US; it proclaims to be about how racist messages are watered down and distilled through the mainstream media in a way that tricks folks who don’t know better into buying into political and economic beliefs which work against them. In that sense, White Noise fails on every level with its obvious target skewering and faulty juxtapositions. Really, trying to compare “Nigga Gonna Shoot the White Boy” to white power sentiment? Cracker please. That puts White Noise on the same level intellectually as Rush Limbaugh, and sadly (unintentionally?) firmly in his camp, despite the producers’ obvious intentions. Its tone is so condescending and smug that I couldn’t help rolling my eyes every two minutes, and the dialog makes David Mamet’s tongue swallowing seem really complex. And frankly the songs sound like they were written by Rebecca Black after listening to NWA and Taylor Swift backwards at the same time for two weeks straight.

    What the US needs is a REAL discussion of subtle, institutionalized racism that pervades every aspect of public life, from political rhetoric down to entertainment. To focus on the blatant hysteria of neo-Nazis as White Noise does is a cop-out, irrelevant at best and counterproductive at worst. If White Noise makes it to Broadway in the first place, and I can’t imagine it will in a million years, it may do more harm than good.

  • I saw the show inNew Orleans. It was a mess then. Now that it has been retooled it Sounds like now it’s a shorter mess!

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