By Barry Reszel
TimeLine Theatre Company’s Juno is an exquisitely-performed, intimate musical production for patrons who really prefer plays.
That’s no putdown.
With a host of talented actors literally in the audience’s laps, Juno tells a haunting story illustrating a poor Dublin family’s stark realities that include violence, alcoholism, horror and distrust in the days the Irish Civil War. (The musical has no connection to the 2007 movie of the same title, but is adapted from Sean O’Casey’s play, Juno and the Paycock; a full plot summary may be read here.)
Juno was staged on Broadway in 1959, starring Shirley Booth and Melvyn Douglas, but lasted just 16 performances. It was produced off-Broadway in 1992 and again in 2008, but TimeLine’s is Chicagoland’s first professional production of the work.
Perhaps the reason for lack of critical success or interest in this musical is the story’s envelopment of the despair and negativity of the family and the time. With little focus on hope, it’s fair to say, despite some terrific music and lyrics from Marc Blitzstein, no one leaves whistling a happy tune.
That said, TimeLine’s Juno is Chicagoland musical theatre of the highest quality. John Culbert‘s lush set and Alex Wren Meadows‘ superb period costuming surround and dress the fine cast led by Marya Grandy (Juno Boyle), Emily Glick (Mary Boyle) and Ron Rains (“Captain” Jack Boyle).
National and Chicagoland stage veteran Grandy seizes the lead role as the fearless matriarch who holds her family together in the face of her husbands carousing and her son’s involvement with the Irish Republican Army. Rains is perfect as the alcoholic father, and Glick shines as the desperate-to-be-loved daughter.
These three leads are supported by an ensemble of 13 who together bring terrific characterization and immense vocal strength to this great house for singing. Matt Keffer as Mary’s suitor Charlie Bentham, James Houton as drunken pal Joxer Daly and Kelli Harrington as townswoman Mrs. Coyne are particular standouts.
Musical highlights include the two duets by Grandy and Glick, “I Wish it Were So” and “Bird Upon a Tree,” Glick and Oyole’s, “My True Heart,” Glick’s heart-wrenching, “For Love” and the spirited cast number, “On a Day Like This.”
As noted on its website, TimeLine’s mission is to present “stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues” while its artistic team produces provocative theatre that engages, entertains and enlightens.
Juno does all that.
Juno will run through July 27 at the TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago. Information and tickets ($35 – $48 with student discounts) are available at www.timelinetheatre.com or by phone at (773) 281-8463.