By Barry Reszel
There’s good reason Underscore Theatre Company’s Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera is presented in 95 minutes with no intermission—the producers want their cast to have an audience for the second half of the show.
Based on the title itself, any musical theatre aficionado walks into the theatre thinking this will either be a hilarious parody, an insightful biopic or an absolute train wreck. Sad to say, emergency crews are still on the scene.
The plot is indeed a retelling of the real-life figure skating rivalry of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in the early 1990s. The story of two American skaters from different sides of the tracks burst into the stuff of National Enquirer headlines when Harding’s husband (and Harding?) conspired to eliminate Kerrigan from competition by whacking her on the knee with a blunt object. The cast of characters, particularly those surrounding Harding, are laughable and pathetic.
Then again, so is the musical that attempts to tell the story without having a clue what it wants to be.
It’s difficult to poke fun at these real-life human beings, flawed as they are, never mind that any patron under age 30 has but a vague recollection of the sordid tale, and no one of any age is enthralled by the reminder. There’s nothing creatively added to the already well-worn stereotypes of the coddled, rich princess and the pitiable trailer park daughter of the chain smoking probable alcoholic single-mother whose ex is adored by their daughter. Add to that an absolute ear-splitting score with very few highlights and overall uninspired scenery, lighting and staging.
Of the book, only the character deftly playing both skaters’ mothers is given something to legitimately work with—and she does it well.
That said, there’s good reason this review purposefully fails to specifically name members of the cast (fine performances) and creative team involved in this production—none of them wants a Google search connecting them to this abject failure of a show. Each of them is hereby officially banned from using the phrase “artistic integrity” through the remainder of 2016.
While the show’s production company touts its dedication “to exploring stories of power and resonance through a musical lens,” there’s just so little here to justify this particular staging. And that cannot be underscored enough.
Underscore Theatre Company presents “Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera” through December 30 at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.