Recommended *** I must start by congratulating Michael Weber and Porchlight Music Theatre on bringing us a variety of work to view on their intimate stage at Stage 773. Most smaller companies take the “tried and true” path of doing the old standby musicals to fill their seats. However, the board of Porchlight feels that developing new works and re-imagining classics while giving young talent of Chicago the opportunity to be seen by their followers is the path they want to take. Their current production, a Chicago Premiere by the way, is “Far From Heaven”, a musical version of the Award-winning motion picture. Richard Greenberg (who brought us “Take Me Out”, an amazingly strong coming-out story) has adapted this film to a musical play with the music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. Unlike most musicals, this is for the most part, the telling of the story through musical phrasing versus songs you will be humming on the way home.
For those of you familiar with the film, which starred Julianne Moore, director Rob Lindley ( who truly gets to the heart of the story in every detail) has cast Summer Naomi Smart in the role of Cathy Whitaker, a Connecticut homemaker who in the late 1950’s discovers hidden secrets about her “perfect” husband Frank (deftly handled by Brandon Springman), her small perfect suburban community and her own longings. It is a story about romance, betrayal and intolerance. For Cathy, who is forced to deal with things that upset her ideal suburban life, it is a man of color, Raymond Deagan (brilliantly portrayed by Evan Tyrone Martin) that changes her life and allows her to deal with the events that take place.
This is not a typical musical! It is more of a dramatic “soap opera” that is propelled by music performed by amazing voices. Ms Smart has a range that is powerful and continues to show her talent in every theater where she performs- large or small. She is a treasure in our community. Lindley uses double- decker, doll-house set (Grant Sabin) to keep the action moving fluidly. This is a two and a half hour (with an intermission) story that with the actors helping to move set pieces about, never loses the audience. This could be a problem, but under Lindley’s care, it moves well.
The ensemble of players, who take on a multitude of roles is one of great vocal ability, Candace C. Edwards (as Sybil, the Whitaker’s maid), Bri Sudia, Nick Hyland, Rosalind Hurwitz, Mary-Margaret Roberts, Brian Zane, Amanda Horvath, Jerry Mills, Anne Sheridan Smith, Patrick Byrnes, Angela Alise and Jos N. Banks.. There are kids in the show who also shine (Chicago has some great young talent). Opening night, the Whitaker kids were played by Aaron Stone as David and Tori Whaples as Janice (on other dates, these roles will be played by Peyton Shaffer/Janice and Nate Becker/David. Sarah Deagan, Raymond’s daughter was portrayed by Sidra Henderson (her alternate is Princess Isis Z Lang). These kids are very talented!
While the story seems to be about the breaking apart of a family, the deep seated story, the one that will stand out is that back in the 1950’s, in Connecticut, being a homosexual was like having a disease and the underlying story is that of racial inequality. This is much deeper than one might think it is, and when we look at our world today, even though great strides have been made in these areas, our world is still far from perfect. This is a solid story, told with great class. There may be some of you who will have a problem with the music of this saga , as it seems to be the same melody over and over, but this is more of a story with music than a musical. The music and lyrics propel the telling of the story ,and that my friends is what they were hoping for. They succeeded!
The costuming (Bill Morey) was very 1959, lighting (William Kirkham) flawless, sound (Robert Hornbostel) perfect, and the props (Mealah Heidenreich), wigs (Kevin Barthel) and projections (Michael Stanfill) all added to making this a solid piece of art. The choreography (by William Carlos Angulo) and the music direction by Chuck Larkin (conducter/piano) and his musicians (Mike Matlock (reeds), Desiree Miller (cello), Simeon Tsanev (violin), Ben Dillinger (bass) and Reuben Garza (percussion) are the finishing touches to a pleasant evening of entertainment. Thank you Porchlight for taking on this intimate and beautiful production.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $35- $48 ( open seating) and can be purchased at the box office located at 1225 West Belmont Avenue, by calling 773-327-5252 or online at www.porchlightmusictheatre.org.
There is $10 valet parking at Stage 773, and if you have dinner at Cooper’s they offer parking in their lot. Street parking is available, some metered, some not.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Far From Heaven”