By Ian Rigg
We’re all on the run. We carry our baggage with us everywhere, pining to abandon it.
BoHo Theatre’s Fugitive Songs examines that renegade spirit within us all. Can you run from your past? Can you escape your life? Do you even want to?
Fugitive Songs, written by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, the team behind The Burnt Part Boys, is more understated but containing the same caliber of roaring, soaring folk melodies. That makes it as meandering as it is meaningful. It’s introspective, impressionistic and paints portraits of lives running away from themselves.
The BoHo production takes place anywhere, everywhere, and nowhere. The characters are out of place and out of time. Intriguingly, the songs section of the program lists the performers’ names; these characters lack even a name. They are together, and they are not together at all. They are solitary in solidarity. All that they have are the subtle costumes of Emma Cullimore on their backs, a suitcase in their hands and a song in their hearts.
Scenic designer Anthony Churchill has devised a rest stop, perhaps even a limbo, made almost entirely out of suitcases, in all manner of color and wear and tear, where the characters sit and observe one another. Suitcases form walls, archways, and even staircases to build with. Massive maps line the walls, lines leading nowhere, and a tree and streetlight loom over either side of the stage. Under the smart direction of Zachary L. Gray, items from the characters’ suitcases are symbolically left pinned to the tree and about the rest of the set. Their baggage literally creates the space in which they would reside, were it not for the fact they’re just passing through.
It’s regrettable that this cast is just passing through, because they’re incredible. Justin Adair is the first face we see, the first voice we hear, and it’s a tremendous, tremulous and tender voice with immense power and richness. In his first song, “Getting There,” he is a portrait photographer sick of capturing others’ lives and yearning to capture his own. Adair is a traveling troubadour, playing the guitar and his own vocal chords with immense skill and gusto. He is equally standout sensational in his duets and trios, perfectly blending and elevating the music with his excellent castmates.
On a folk-rock scale, Greg Foster could belong in “The Decemberists.” He carries much of the comedy in this show, embodying a disenfranchised, fed-up-with-feeding-people Subway employee, as well as a drug-addled driver singing a song about his passenger from hell, the titular “Wilson.” Foster is hilarious, making Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas seem like a pleasant Sunday drive. But in stark contrast to his adroit and droll comedy is the tender song “Growing Up,” where the comedic walls come down singing about his father.
Charlotte Morris is the love child of Judy Collins, deftly playing the violin, the guitar and our heartstrings. With curled platinum hair and a dress from a Bob Dylan protest, she floats through the show, haunting us with her excellent, ethereal voice. Morris clearly has fun in duets with her castmates, like the silly “Poor Little Patty” about wanting to be like Patty Hearst, and the wonderful “Wildflowers” with Adair. Her first solo number, “Break A Branch,” is truly a highlight of the show. Her delivery of the lyric “First you tell the story of the earth” will haunt theatregoers long after they leave the theatre.
Elissa Newcorn is the anti-Gladys Knight, having backup dancers but singing about how she’s metaphorically going away on a midnight train, not going with her loser husband. Newcorn’s acting is a joy to behold, her jitters a perfect portrait of a jilted ex-cheerleader, now ex-wife. Her delivery is divine, whether she’s her primary characters, a Patty Hearst fanatic, a fantasy in a yellow scarf or a figment in the head of a drug addict robbing a convenience store.
Of equal joy to watch is Julian Terrell Otis. He is raw charisma and expressive eyebrows, with interesting moves and vivacious spirit. He is clearly moved by the words he sings, whether he’s screaming “get me the hell out of Washington Heights” or stuck in existential dread as he beholds the stars on a motorcycle ride. He is a beating, bleeding heart of this show.
Last, but certainly not least, is the powerful Demi Zaino. Interestingly, her character runs from a life of privilege, for one doesn’t have to have a despondent life for it to be deplorable and worthy of wanting to run. “Annie’s Party” is a riot, as is “Lost.” Her belt is a thing to behold.
All of the company members are phenomenal singers, their harmonies gaining, fading and snapping sensationally under Jeffrey Poindexter’s superb vocal direction.
A final piece of directorial genius at the musical’s end features the constant of Fugitive Songs onstage wildflowers used as a powerful metaphor in the show’s final numbers.
We are all wildflowers scattered by the wind, capable of growing anywhere, even in places we are not supposed to. We will one day be plucked, but until then, we can grow, we can grow freely, turning up toward the sun.
Run to see BoHo’s Fugitive Songs.
“Fugitive Songs” is presented by BoHo Theatre at the Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 North Glenwood, Chicago, Thursday through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, through March 13. More information and tickets ($25) available by calling (866) 811-4111 or online here.