Saturday November 18th 2017

“Eastland:A New Musical”

Highly Recommended*****One of the attractions at Lookingglass Theatre is their ability to redesign the entire auditorium in order to fit the production, and the uniqueness of their choices of plays. Currently, they are doing  “Eastland:A New Musical” which is in fact closer to a “folk opera” written by Andrew White with music by Ben Sussman and Andre Pluess ( two well known names in town for music and sound). For those of you not aware of The Eastland, it is a part of Chicago history. The year was 1915 and the S.S. Eastland is sitting on the Chicago River between Clark Street and LaSalle ( not very far from where we sat in the Historic Water Tower that is now the home of Lookingglass), ready to take off on a voyage. It turns out that the Ship had more passengers than ever before and with some work they had done to improve the ship, the weight of the ship had been increased- this ship was no Titanic, but instead a “working man’s boat”

What we experience during this 90 minutes of history and mystical folk music is a story that many Chicagoans are not even aware of. People who had traveled from other parts of the world to begin a new life in Chicago, many of whom came to work at The Hawthorn Plant of Western Electric ( the Telephone was still new), perished in what was to have been a day out with the family. The heavier weight of the ship and the extra large crowd caused the ship to tilt and tilt until it turned over on its side, tossing the passengers into the depths of the river, where entire famil;ies perished. This is a story that is meant to revive the ghosts of those who drowned and their lives before and after. Directed by Amanda Dehnert ( who also did the musical arrangements)on a set designed by Dan Ostling, which gives the appearance of a ship. Trap doors are used as well as curtains and dynamic lighting effects (Christine A. Binder) and costumes that appear to be authentic of the times(Mara Blumenfeld). The sound by Ray Nardelli and Josh Horvath truly allows the music to flow through the theater with no words ever lost.

While specific characters are of great import, this is truly an ensemble piece, where each actor takes on  many other roles and at times it appears that the cast is much larger than the dozen listed in the cast. The musicians are on the stage and play roles throughout the 90 minutes. What makes this show even more special is Chicagoan Michael Barrow Smith who many know from his “Snow Queen” that played at Victory Gardens for several years as their holiday show as well as many other productions. Having Smith in a “folk opera” about Chicago, is perfect!. He also takes on many roles. Jeanne T. Arrigo, Lawrence Distasi,Christine Mary Dunford, the very athletic Doug Hara ( who plays Reggie, a man who brought up many bodies during this ordeal, holding his breath ala Houdini), Erik Hellman ( who continues to show his versatility), Derek Hasenstab, Malcolm Ruhl ( who also serves as Musical Director), Scott Stangland, Clair Wellin, Tiffany Topol and the amazing Monica West- this ensemble does a masterful job of bringing this amazing story to the intimate stage of The Lookingglass.       


For those of you who frequent this theater you know that the unexpected is the expected and this production stays with their promise of giving us inventive,collaborative and transformative theater. While it is based on the book”The Sinking of The Eastland”America’s Forgotten Tragedy” by Jay Bonansinga, this script is fiction. The event did happen and some of the names inWhite’s script are actual, the story we see is a view of  the date in history, using a series of flashbacks to create some back story to the days prior to the day in question. This gives us some feeling for the characters and allows us to know more about them and  their existence, before this tragedy. I found this to be clever theater and suggest that you put this on your MUST SEE List! I also want to say that the stagehands and technicians who handled the special effects were brilliant in creating the visuals that make this show so special.

“Eastland” will continue through July 29th ( I am hopeful they can extend this so both tourists and Chicago natives can experience this production) with performances as follows:

Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays,Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m.  NO PERFORMANCE ON JULY 4th

Matinees:Thursdays,Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $34 and can be purchased at the theater box office- 821 N. Michigan ( at Pearson, which is where the doors are) in the Historic Water Tower, by phone at 312-337-0665 or online at

Special TARGET Saturday Matinees have some buy one get one free  and a limited amount of student $20 tickets are available ( with ID)

Want to learn more about Eastland? visit and to read the original book, visit

for other reviews, visit the Eastland page at


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