By Jane Recker
Every Cubs fan can tell you exactly where they were on the evening of November 2, 2016. A lucky few were in Cleveland watching the impossible happen. Many were far from their Chicago homeland glued to their TV sets. I was among the many around Wrigley Field. Standing en pointe to glimpse a view of the television set through the windows of the Cubby Bear, I witnessed Bryant whip the ball to Rizzo to make history.
For many, that night was just another footnote in the history books, an exciting event that would one day make an easy question in Trivial Pursuit. But for Cubs fans, that night was a religious experience. Over a century’s worth of hopeful North Siders had waited and prayed for the day the ultimate underdogs would be crowned kings of the MLB; getting to watch their dreams actualized was nothing short of miraculous.
Miracle lets Cub-loving audience members relive the emotions of that magical night, and lets even fans of that other Chicago baseball team experience the rollercoaster and wonder of Game 7. Written by Michael Mahler, the new musical tells the story of a group of die-hard Cubs fans looking for a miracle in their own lives.
Charlie had dreams of becoming a professional pitcher, but those all changed when he had to take over the family’s Wrigleyville bar when his mom got sick. Now a husband and father, he’s become jaded and cynical about his life and the Cubbies. When he realizes the bar is in serious financial trouble, he has to hope for a miracle to save his family’s business that depends on the Cubs making it all the way.
If it sounds a little “Hallmark Classic,” that’s because it is. The first act, while delightfully Red, White and Cubbie Blue, is a little hokey. The characters feel one-dimensional, the musical numbers somewhat forced and the plot predictable. But, much like the 2016 World Series, things pick up in the back half of the show. Once true conflict and higher stakes arrive, there’s a sudden infusion of depth and nuance to the characters that wasn’t there before. There isn’t so much “good and evil” as there are the harsh realities of life and the small acts of god that can save unsuspecting mortals from sure downfall.
In the second half Charlie (Brandon Dahlquist) is consoled by his daughter Dani (Elise Wolf) as she sings the title number, reminding her dad that there are still possibilities for the impossible, angels in the outfield if you will, for both the Cubs and the rest of us trying our best to get through the day. It’s a deeply moving number, watching a father be incredibly vulnerable with his surprisingly sage daughter.
The second act is what allows the true talent of this stacked cast to shine. Allison Sill has a warm presence and clarion soprano as Sofia, Veronica Garza skrelts her socks off as Babs and Jonathan Bulter-Duplessis brings a dynamic range to the role of Larry.
But nobody quite lives up to Gene Weygandt as Pops. A classic Chicago patriarch, Pops is the nasal-voweled, wisecracking, meat-loving old-timer that every Chicagoan knows, if not grew up with. It’s a tough role to play well: there’s a danger of going too overboard and becoming one of “Bill Swerki’s superfans” ala SNL, and there’s a genuine amount of depth to the seemingly one-dimensional swaggering sports fan. Weygandt knocks it out of the park (pun intended). He’s able to effortlessly switch from comedy to drama, and shows a heartwarming tenderness in the scenes reminiscing at his late wife’s grave.
Book Writer Jason Brett was meticulous in ensuring Pops’ old-time Chicago authenticity, and Set Designer Collette Pollard stepped up to the plate as well (someone please stop me). Her gracefully transforming set is grounded with what looks like a freshly transported slice of any North Side neighborhood bar. There are the pictures of the family on the walls, the sticky floors and rickety barstools and a range of regional delicacies like Hamm’s and Goose Island (although there was a conspicuous lack of Old Style).
By and far the most enjoyable part of the show comes at the very end when the audience gets to watch the family go through the trials and terrors of watching the World Series without knowing the outcome. When the final out is finally made the audience – many of them decked in the garb they wore that night – gets to celebrate along with the family. And Pops looking heavenward for his late wife and belting out Harry Caray’s beloved “Hoooooly Cow!,” well, talk about the waterworks.
For that’s why the night was so magical for Cubs fans. The win wasn’t just for them, it was for their spouses, parents, grandparents and other loved ones who were watching on the big screen in the sky. It was the years of listening to crackling transistor radios, of crunching Jewel peanuts in the sticky July heat, of being ridiculed almost as much as Mets fans that made that win so indescribably transcendent. In that moment, lifetimes of memories and love created by America’s favorite pastime flooded back to everyone flying the W. In Miracle, Cubs fans get to live that night all over again, and everyone else gets a taste of what it felt like on November 2, 2016 to be a fan of the right Chicago baseball team.
The Royal George Theatre hosts “Miracle” through September 1 at at 1641 N Halsted Street, Chicago. Tickets and more information are available here.