During the Middle Ages (actually 2003), I rushed back to Chicago from wherever I was commuting to at that time for work (New Jersey, which was and continues to be seemingly stuck in the Middle Ages) in order to see the world premiere production of Stephen Sondheim’s and John Weidman’s Bounce at the Goodman Theater. This was Sondheim’s first show since 1990’s Assassins (also co-written with Weidman) and for theater geeks everywhere who worship at the shrine of Steve (where else would we be at?), this world premiere was equivalent to a new commandment being handed down from the mountaintop. Unfortunately, Bounce, which told the story of real life brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner who embarked on a variety of get-rich-quick schemes in the early 20th century, was less sacrosanct tablet and more broken ceremonial vessel. The Goodman production of Bounce, directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator Hal Prince, was a mess: despite some undeniably lovely Sondheim tunes here and there, it was boring, chaotic, filled with an air of desperation and incompleteness. So when Chicago Shakespeare announced that Road Show, a revised and supposedly final version of Bounce that was originally seen at the Public Theater in 2008, would be part of its double bill of Gary Griffin-directed Sondheim musicals in spring 2014 (together with Gypsy), I was intrigued like I’m sure all Chicagoans who saw that musical theater equivalent of a disaster movie in 2003 were. As a lifelong Sondheim aficionado, I’m thrilled to say then that Road Show, which opened last week, is a vast improvement from its earlier incarnation, thoroughly enjoyable, and in Griffin’s warm, intimate staging displays flashes of brilliance. But it is still imperfect Sondheim with a still-unsatisfying book, never achieving the perfection of Sweeney Todd or Follies or A Little Night Music, or, especially, Gypsy. However, I will take imperfect Sondheim over perfect any-other-theater-composer any time.
There was a brief tease earlier this week that this winter of 2014, the harshest one I’ve experienced in my 16 years of living in Chicago, would finally leave us alone. As I write this blog post though, snow blankets my condo building’s courtyard, and that glorious 60 degree Monday seemed to be nothing but a cruel trick from the cosmos. But Chicagoans are a hearty theatergoing lot and we’ve been giving the big middle finger to the cosmos throughout this winter- all of the shows I’ve been to in the past several weeks have been packed, ice, snow, tundra temperatures, potholes, and swimming-pool like puddles of melting ice notwithstanding. Here are some impressions on a couple of shows I’ve recently seen: