It is not often that one sees a play in development that is not ready for “prime time” , but the new show, now on the stage at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater( NOT a Victory Gardens production, but an outside rental), “Signs of Life” needs some major landscaping if it is to become a story telling device that will help educate our future about some of the events of The Holocaust. Based on fact, the book by Peter Ullian, tells us about the Czech ghetto Theresienstadt, where artists and academic Jews of Europe were sent to deceive the Red Cross- The Nazis plan was to show the world that they were in fact creating a Jewish city. This is a story that I myself had never heard about and now will do more research on, but the adding of music (lyrics by Len Schiff and music by Joel Derfner), in many ways detracted from the story telling as the lyrics were almost insulting to not only Jews, but to theater audiences in general.
The cast, directed by Lisa Portes is energetic with some wonderful voices, but it is the overall material that detracts from their talent, which I would give. Some of the cast members were part of this show in other performances and others, local actors have been added to this production as it makes its Chicago premiere. Jason Collins, Nathan Cooper, Brennan Dougherty, Matt Edmonds, Lara Filip, Megan Long, Michael Joseph Mitchell, Doug Pawlik and James Rank
The story details how the captives of this town were able to survive and tell the world about the town through their art ( and music, which is not detailed in this story). Writing a musical about captives during this period of history is not an easy task and perhaps they should look back and recreate this as a drama with music, cutting many of the song and dance numbers while better telling the story of the what the daily struggles were like not knowing what tomorrow will bring and the fear of being sent to the East.
“Never Again” is a statement that all Jews have learned to say. This is to let others know that what took place during the Holocaust can never happen again. That is the purpose of telling these stories, in order to make sure that generations to follow will know that these were real and that people suffered and perished. Here is another story that needs to be told, but I would much rather see this pared down to under two hours and more about the people and their personal lives with less music ( or just music to accentuate a point, here and there).
This is a story about “survival” and how people cope with the tyranny that they cannot control; a story about art and how it played an important part in keeping the story alive, but of most importance it is about people and their ability to hold on to their beliefs despite what they saw around them. It is a story about what people must do to survive and the choices they must make. We also see a love story; one where one lover is willing to die for the other.
The technical aspects of the production are really quite simple- Brian Sidney Bembridge ( set and lighting) allowing us to focus on the actors and the action. Mike Pettry and his two musicians made who I think were under the stage did a great job of making the music audible. The costumes (Elsa Hiltner were of the times and of course the yellow Jewish Star was highly visible ( on almost all the coats),Mikhail Fiskel handles the sound and we had no problem hearing the dialogue and songs, and the choreography/fight scenes were handled by Julia Neary.
“Signs of Life” will continue at The Biograph Theater (again, this is NOT a Victory Gardens production) through October 27th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 5 and 8:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets start at $45 ( to $65) and are available at the box office- 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, by phone at 773-871-3000 or online at www.victorygardens.org
There is valet parking as well as discounted parking in the lot just down the street ( former Childrens Memorial Hospital lot) as well as metered street parking.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click as “Signs of Life”
To see some of the artwork and learn more, visit www.signsoflifethemusical.com