Tuesday May 30th 2017

“Little Miss Sunshine”

Somewhat Recommended ** Over the years, I have learned that every hit movie does not translate into a solid stage presentation, which is also true on the reverse. Many very talented people have attempted this, and failed. There have been some exceptions, but I am sorry to say that the conversion of the film “Little Miss Sunshine” to a staged musical needs some help. It is enjoyable in places and Director/Choreographer Maggie Portman, in her first major production shows that she has “the stuff”, to take on this role. It is this script (based on the film by Michael Arndt) with a book written by James Lapine and music by William Finn, that seems to have let us down. It is possible that had LaPine asked for Sondheim assistance, some of the words would have worked better, but this is what they wrote and Portman and her cast did the most with what they had to work with.

If you are unfamiliar with the film/story, it is a fairly easy one to explain. Our main characters are the Hoover family. Dad, Richard ( Greg Foster, who has a great voice ,but no great songs) is a motivational speaker with no forum. In other words, no one is hiring him to “spread his words”. Mom, Sheryl ( Sharyon A. Culbertson, who seems to be a bit young for the role) works and takes care of two children, a son, Dwayne (Kyle Klein II, who spends most of the play speechless, but for good reason) and daughter Olive (Sophie Kaegi, who will steal your heart aways-she is a charmer!).

Olive has entered a regional children’s “beauty pageant” that will take them to sunny California, and perhaps a change in their destiny. To make the trip even more challenging,  Richard’s dad, Grandpa (played by Ken Rubenstein) and Sheryl’s brother, Uncle Frank ( Chicago favorite George Keating) are to join them. Grandpa is retired, but still a “dirty old man” who was asked to leave the retirement community where he resided and has moved in with the “kids”. Uncle Frank has just been released from a Psych center after attempting suicide when his “lover” left him for another professor. Oh, by the way, he is a homosexual.

Money being tight, they are going to make the trek from New Mexico to California in Grandpa’s ancient VW Microbus, which has many problems along the way. Along the way, as it happens, Uncle Frank runs into his ex and his new flame and other things that I won’t share so I will not spoil the story. There is a “Greek Chorus” during the first act, composed of three young girls, who later will portray the competition for Little Miss Sunshine. These girls are Chelsea (Chayce Davis), Tracee ( Jersie Joniak ) and D’Borah (Tatum Pearlman)- all adorable and talented. The ensemble players, who take on the other roles are Jennifer Ledesma, David Besky and Connor Baty. These three actors just go to show how important it is for ensemble players to make each character a bit different. I do wish that Besky would not have a pony tail in all three roles though.

Not to spoil anything (if you know the film, you already know), I will only tell you that on their trek for this coveted award and the life changes it will (or might bring), fate does not give them the best poker hand, but they do learn from the experience and the family does find some happiness from the events that follow them on this trek. As I said earlier, this is not a “Tony Award Winner” and probably will not earn many Jeff nominations (although I do see some potential), but it is entertaining, and it is only 90 minutes in duration (shorter than the film and with some wonderful voices). When Olive does her “talent competition” number, you will find yourself truly glad that you bought the ticket- she is amazing! There is a band to bring the music to life. Under the direction of Nick Sula (at the keyboards), we have Ethan Deppe (drums) and TJ Anderson (on the second keyboard). The set is made up of many different boxes that are used in many ways and a fancy curtain that is impressive for the Beauty Contest. The Micro-bus that came down from the ceiling was clever, but was used a few too many times. A little smaller model might have been more effective for making sure all the riders in the bus were seen. However, it was a great idea and I am happy to see a production try new things and be innovative.

The set also has a unique backdrop (Robert Goth) indicating all the different stops in their lives and each one is lit to perfection (Jennifer Kules and Collin Helou) when they are there. Martha Shuford’s costumes were fairly simple and knowing that this is a newer theater with very little budget for fanciness, I was impressed at what they were able to put on the stage.I also want to acknowledge William Allen for his props (never an easy task). I congratulate The Chicago Theatre Workshop for moving forward in their quest to bring works that challenge our perception of art and music. Their home, by the way, is a very comfortable venue called The Edge, located at 5451 N. Broadway in Edgewater that is easy to get to and parking is not a major problem (just make sure you read the meters-some are 6 p.m., others 9 p.m. and some are 10 p.m.) This show being 90 minutes makes it easy to figure out.

One of the things I look for, for my readers in mind, is “value”. Is the theater experience worth the cost of the ticket? In this case, I think it is. “Little Miss Sunshine” will continue at The Edge Theatre through June 4th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  8 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets range from $32.50- $42.50, which is not a lot for live theater. Tickets can be ordered by calling 773-999-9541 or online at www.chicagotheatreworkshop.org

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Little Miss Sunshine”


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