Highly Recommended ***** The life of a musician is far different than the average American can even contemplate. Musicians who work outside of an actual orchestra or band have some very special talents and abilities. They must be able to work with many different groups and fit in as quickly as they can. These are the men known as side-men, who always stay with the group they are working with on this date, but never outshining or standing out from the group. In this wonderful story written by Warren Leight (a Tony Award winning drama) and smoothly directed by Jonathan Berry, we first meet a young man, Clifford (Michael Mahler, who most of us are used to seeing as a musician, showing us a much wider view of his many talents) who is the son of a “Side Man”, Gene ( Deftly handled by Michael Ehlers). We get to meet his fellow musicians, all side-men, and his mother, Terry (a sensational and powerful character brought to life by Kate Buddeke).
The play covers a span of time from 1985 back to 1953 and takes place in New York City, where the world of Jazz exploded during these years. While we get into the love of the music that these men had, the play is more about the importance that the music had over their lives. Relationships were secondary to the “gig”. In this case, Clifford is attempting , as a grown man, to bring his parents back together so that he can leave New York for his own life and destiny. As he tells his story, taking us back to how his parents met, fell in love and created him, we also see that his mother became an alcoholic and his father along with his buddies, did a great deal of drugs.The strength of this production is the solid work of Mahler, Buddeke and Ehlers, who truly get deep into the relationships, limited as they are, of this family.
Life was not easy for any of these men or their relationships. It was their music that kept them going. Despite being bums and not taking responsibility in life, when they took the horn to their lips and began to “blow”, their world was secure and safe and they were the best! During this two hours (one intermission) of music and story we watch the decline of the jazz era, thus the work for these men as well as the story of a broken family where the child becomes the parent until he can no longer take it!
This is a play filled with tense moments and a great number of F word references, mostly with the attached Mother added on, but there are also some very comical moments to go along with the drama, making it an easy story to understand. There are even moments when Terry yells at her son, “Who are you talking to?”, which might seem out of place, but in this production works!
The set by Sarah Ross, is a multi practical apartment and smoky jazz club. The lighting (Heather Gilbert), sound (Rick Sims), costumes (Emily McConnell) and props (Christopher Neville) all add to make this show as tight as a director would want it to be. The music that we hear was prerecorded by Art Davis (trumpet), Phil Gratteau (drums), Dennis Luxion (piano) and Kirk Garrison (trumpet). When the doors to the theater opened for seating, tonight we had Art Davis on the stage playing. Each performance will have featured player bringing us some great jazz of the times.
Speaking about jazz players, the other members of this powerful cast are as follows:
Joe Foust as Jonesy, John Gawlick as Al, Ed Kross as Ziggy and the lady that most of them knew and knew, Patsy was handled with great style by Gail Rastorfer. I grew up with jazz and had an uncle who was a “Side Man”. Uncle Danny was very akin to some of the things I saw in this very slick production that takes us into the lives of people we might never have known, but from whom we can learn a great deal. You will get your opportunity to see for yourselves at The Greenhouse Theater Center as American Blues Theater brings “Side man” to its stage through May 24th, with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m.
On May 16th and 23rd, there will be added matinee performances at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $29-$39 and are available at the theater box office located at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., by phone at 773-404-7336 or online at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com
Parking is available on the street (some metered, some not) and limited free spaces at the old Children’s Hospital Parking Garage just a block north of the theater.
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Side Man”