By Jori Waldron
Remember back when people had parties in their parents’ basements and someone would tell jokes and a couple friends thought they were in love then someone else found an instrument and began to play? The Quest Theater Project’s production of By Special reQuest—A Musical Revue feels a bit like that.
The theatre is located in a basement lined with candles and Christmas lights along with a fog machine adding to the smoky ambiance. The performance features several songs from many of the company’s past original productions, which makes it somewhat disjointed. But it does give those who may never have experienced Quest’s productions before a sense of what the group is like.
The actors have a Bohemian feel with eclectic costumes and a wide range of ages in the performance. They also employ the use of puppets; this doesn’t mean sock puppets or muppets. Generally, these people carry huge flats onstage with faces on them or don enormous masks over their heads. Occasionally, the puppets include smaller animals attached to sticks. In that case actors often begin the song behind the puppet then emerge to sing to the audience part way through.
From the revue, it is evident Quest’s productions cover a wide range of topics, as some songs feature nature, some foreign lands, a few are Bible stories, and many focus on love. The best songs are those sung by a group of performers since the harmonies in this show are outstanding.
Some highlights include a barbershop quartet of Nate Buursma, Kent Joseph, Brett Taylor and Aaron Verbrigghe singing the “Star Stangled Banner” and two trios by Darcie Bender Hubber, Taylor Keenan and Molly LeCaptain, whose voices mix together like chocolate and peanut butter to create a wonderful, enjoyable combination. They also show off some of the best choreography, especially in their cutesy number “Say Si, Si.”
One unique aspect of the show, aside from the puppets, is the audience participation. As people enter the theater, they are offered a tambourine, sticks, maracas or a djembe drum. The actors give quick lessons at the start of the show and ask that the audience contribute to the opening and closing numbers.
From the onset opening night, the actors claimed that the show would run 75 minutes with no intermission, but over 90 minutes later the audience continued to rock out on their instruments until their hands ached.
What is most incredible, however, is that this production is absolutely free. The Quest Theater Prjoect has been putting on free performances for the past 13 years with the assistance of donors, thus taking away any reason not to venture out to see a show. By Special reQuest is an interesting evening of unique entertainment.
Performances of “By Special Request” run on Saturdays at 8pm through March 28 at The Blue Theatre, 1609 W. Gregory Ave., Chicago. More information is found and and reservations may be made on the Quest website here.