By George Costanza (aka Barry Reszel)
Sometime prior to 1993, I invented the “It’s not you; it’s me” routine. So believe me when I say, if it’s anybody, it’s me. If you need proof, see the clip here.
I say this because, by all rights, Lookingglass Theatre Company’s world premiere of Thaddeus and Slocum, a Vaudeville Adventure deserves to be a sure-fire hit.
Quite frankly, it has all the elements.
First, it’s produced by a renowned company whose work generally leaves patrons’ and Jeff nominators’ mouths agape. In its 27 prior seasons, the company founded in 1988 by eight Northwestern University students has staged 62 world premieres, earned 101 Jeff nominations and has had its work produced in pretty much every theatre-loving city in the United States
Second, this new work features an exceptionally talented group of performers. They are led by Travis Turner (Thaddeus) and Samuel Taylor (Slocum) as a bi-racial best friends and Vaudeville act partners fighting against the color barrier of the industry in 1908 Chicago. The physical acrobatics and strength of these two are alone outstanding; their quick wit, perfect timing and outstanding singing voices only add to the enjoyment of their performances. They are joined by delicious Monica Raymund as singer Isabella, glorious all-everything Sharisse Hamilton as performer Nellie, multi-talented musician and actor Adam Wesley Brown and others in an impeccable ensemble.
Third, the intimate setting, creative staging and the full use use of Lookingglass’ entire theatre space inside the Chicago Water Tower Water Works makes Thaddeus and Slocum truly full-immersion theatre. The entire creative team is an award-worthy ensemble in and of itself, starting with Directors J. Nicole Brooks and Krissy Vanderwarker and including Scenic Designer Collette Pollard; Costume Designer Samantha Jones; Lighting Designer Christine A. Binder; Choreographers Katie Spelman, Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (circus) and Ryan Borque (fight); Props Manager Sarah Burnham; Stage Managers Narda Alcorn and Tess Golden (assistant); and others.
Fourth, the book by Lookingglass ensemble member Kevin Douglas is dramatic, humorous, thoughtful, important and (sadly) timely. Yes, perhaps this piece shows that we have come a long way in our racial relations since the days of black face performers, but it certainly calls attention to the current state and the reminder that society has a long, long way to go. Adding to this insightful book is a truly delightful songbook by Rick Sims and its excellent execution by Sound Designer Josh Horvath.
So, why am I unable to gush about the whole of this musical production instead of just over its individual elements?
The truth is, the totality of Thaddeus and Slocum just left me wanting. Wanting what and why? I can’t say for sure. Perhaps because the first act drags a bit, with too much Vaudeville getting in the way of necessary elements of plot connection, it was hard for me to embrace the whole. If that’s the reason, perhaps the piece would be better presented honed to a 90-minute/no intermission show.
Maybe my brain finds the ultimate harshness of the dramatic (which is perfectly legitimate) clashes with the lighter elements of song and dance. Douglas would have every right to say that’s the whole point.
The most likely reason, though, it’s that it’s not you, Thaddeus and Slocum; it’s me.
And for that reason…particularly for this one, but truly for all reviews posted at ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com, readers’ comments (below) are encouraged.
Lookingglass Theatre presents “Thaddeus and Slocum, A Vaudeville Adventure” through August 14 at 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. More information and tickets ($40 – $75 with $20 cabaret seats for patrons under 35 years old) are available by calling (312) 337-0665 or online here.