By Barry Reszel
Barrel of Monkeys kicked off its month-long, 14-song, in-house tour Monday to a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Neo Futurist Theatre on North Ashland.
The concert That’s Weird, Grandma: Rise of the Rock Spectacular began with a rocking rendition of “Why I Think Kids Should Be Able to Go Buckwild and Horse Play for 5 Hours Straight” and closed with the harmonious “One Day Washing Clothes.”
In between, highlights across the subject spectrum included an earnest ode, “I Love You Candy;” the ornithologial “Monica’s Dream;” yearnful “Wanting Meatloaf;” canine philosophical “The Dog Who Loved Water;” insightfully exploratory “The Blue Universe;” and lovingly short (the song, that is) “Wearing a Pink Dress.”
Band members performing opening night, all of whom sang quite well, thank you very much, included: Nick Hart, Barry Irving, Jen Johnson, Mari Marroquinn, Spencer Meeks, Krista Mickelson, Lee Peters, Geoff Rice, Jon Schneidman, Joseph Schupbach, Kelan Smith, Kate Staiger, Gwen Tulin and Rachel Wilson.
It would be disingenuous to review That’s Weird, Grandma: Rise of the Rock Spectacular in the same way one might analyze, say, Theo Ubique’s or BoHo’s or Porchlight’s latest offering. Because while the performers are talented enough to appear on many stages throughout Chicagoland, this particular stage is an extension of their classroom, and the book writers and lyricists for the show are students in Chicago Public Schools.
Barrel of Monkeys is a 20-year-old nonprofit providing arts education programs for 7-13-year-olds, focusing on storytelling, theater and social-emotional skills. Beyond putting on an enjoyable show for the public, Barrel of Monkeys is concerned with lasting relationships by teaching creative writing skills; giving consistent and nurturing attention to each of their students over a sustained period of time; and building confidence in self-expression, self-esteem and writing.
Their three levels of programming include Barrel of Monkeys’ in-school residency program (the core work of the organization), an after-school program and public performances. Each speaks to the mission of empowering the youth of Chicago with their creative voices.
The band members label themselves actor/educators, though the order might be argued because of their educational mission. This group is led by a vision for a “radically kind” Chicago championing children’s ideas and supporting of the visions of children through public performances of their work.
Amid the realities of today’s world, let that sink in just a moment.
A Radically Kind Chicago.
Rock on, Barrel of Monkeys! And patrons, click on the link in the details paragraph below to learn more about how to support this terrific band.
Barrel of Monkeys presents, “That’s Weird, Grandma: Rise of the Rock Spectacular,” at Neo Futurists Theatre, 5153 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago, through March 27. More information and details are available here.