By Barry Reszel
“Smashing Pumpkins” front man Billy Corgan‘s entry in a quintet of 15-minute(ish) musicals headlines The Music Theatre Company’s 48-Hour Musicals: ENCORE!, through Dec. 14 in Highland Park.
The world premiere of Corgan’s Pretty Persephone, presented last of the five, is a strange, techno-infused romp through the Eleusinian Mysteries and the myth of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, lord of the underworld. A famous author and terrific performances together don’t make this the strongest presentation in an overall enjoyable visit to the ground floor of musical production.
The other four musicals, each of which was originally written and rehearsed in just 48 hours, are in various stages of development.
To one observer, the strongest is Postcards from Paris, written by Diana Lawrence in 2012. It involves two homesick Americans (terrifically played by Patrick Martin and Emily Berman) swapping stories in a Parisian café while an all-seeing waitress (Victoria Blade) looks on. Reception, written by J. Oconer Navarro in 2009, features a stunning one-woman performance by Rachel Klippel as both bride-to-be and her mother-of-the-bride on the night of the wedding, their first family event since the father-of-the-bride has passed away. Navarro notes the piece is inspired by the imagined last words of businessman Peter Griffith by his daughter, actress Melanie Griffith.
Chase, a funny, quirky piece by Michael Mahler, penned in 2008, features an adorably neurotic Chase Bank employee (Blade), who stamps “DENIED” and “REJECTED” on loans, claims and the men in her life. Finally, Tereshkova, written by Scotty Arnold in 2013, inspired by a smartphone autocorrection, is a tale of two Russian men discussing their relationship in code at the foot of the statue of the father of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
Performance highlights come from Klippel in Reception and Berman, showing off her tremendous range as the title role in Corgan’s Pretty Persephone and tender acting chops along with Martin in Postcards from Paris.
More significant than the individual entries and performances is the concept and execution of 48-Hour Musicals, for which emerging and established musical theatre writers create and rehearse 15-minute musicals in just 48 hours. The process has been an annual mainstay of The Music Theatre’s Company since 2008.
“The 48-Hour Musicals were devised as a way to challenge musical theatre artists to trust their instincts and introduce audiences to emerging writers and the creative process,” said Co-Artistic Director Jess McLeod. “What began as an experiment in 2008 quickly became a season favorite for TMTC patrons, resulting in the creation of a new art form – the 15-minute musical – and an annual showcase for the innovation and artistry TMTC is known for.”
Directed by Co-Artistic Director Jess McLeod, with choreography by Founding Artistic Director Jessica Beth Redish and music direction by Aaron Benham, “48-Hour Musicals: ENCORE!” plays through Dec. 14at The Music Theatre Company, 1850 Green Bay Rd. in Highland Park, IL. Tickets, $40 ($35 for groups of 10 or more) are available at www.themusictheatrecompany.org or by calling 847- 579-4900.