Highly Recommended **** “Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure” is a certified hit in my book! Although the new production at Lookingglass might seem light and frivolous at first glance, it actually deals with some serious and provocative topics. “Thaddeus and Slocum” is a show that makes classification difficult. It has music, but it’s not a musical; slapstick humor, but it’s not a comedy. At any rate, it is an insightful and thoroughly delightful glimpse at vaudeville in 1908. There are lots of Chicago specific references, even a scene where happy fans cheer because the Cubs won the World Series. “Thaddeus and Slocum’ got to me, so I give it 4 Spotlights.
Thaddeus (Travis Turner), who is black, and Slocum (Samuel Taylor), who is white, are street performers who dream of making it in vaudeville, specifically at the Majestic. Although they are talented and never quit trying, they never even get in the door for an audition. At the time, most vaudeville houses would allow just one black or blackface act. In one telling scene, they decide to go and see the show at the Majestic. Thaddeus leaves early because he knows he’ll have to wait in line at “his” door. During the performance, which features a second-rate comic and a beautiful soprano, Isabella (Monica Raymond), Thaddeus sits in a segregated section of the balcony while Slocum is in the cabaret pit.
After the show at the Majestic, Thaddeus goes to the blacks-only Pekin Theatre where his friend, Zeke (Tosin Morohunfola), pushes him onstage for a solo performance. Zeke also introduces him to Isabella who asks him to keep the fact that she’s passing as white a secret.
When he gets home, Slocum, who is a closet racist – he doesn’t really intend to be offensive – has come up with what he thinks is a brilliant idea – they’ll do their act in blackface. Although Thaddeus objects, ultimately he agrees.
Soon they try out their new act at a small, not-too-successful theater. They are a hit, but when Thaddeus inadvertently takes off his wig and reveals his race, theater management reacts with violence. They get away, but the owner vows to get them, which ultimately leads to disaster.
Kudos to the talented ensemble, Molly Brennan, Adam Wesley Brown, Lawrence E. Distasi, Raymond Fox and Sharriese Hamilton. By the way, Christina Nieves will be stepping into the part of Isabella after July 17th.
As I’ve said many times, I love going to Lookingglass, the most flexible theater space in the city! You never know what to expect; as everything from stage location to seating changes for every production. I can remember sitting in baseball bleachers for one play, and rough, wooden Chautauqua pews for another. The entire stage was a pool for “Metamorphosis” while a ship’s deck took center stage for “Treasure Island”. For “Thaddeus and Slocum”, Scenic Designer Collette Pollard and her crew built a vaudeville stage complete with a red velvet curtain and cornice, footlights on the Michigan Avenue side of the theater.
For this production only, Lookingglass has added a “cabaret pit” with old-fashioned wooden chairs and tables. If you sit in the cabaret pit, you are part of the show. I thought it would be fun to sit there until a friend who did told me they were darned uncomfortable. My seat was in the balcony, which gave me a bird’s eye view of the action. For this reason, I recommend sitting in the one of the higher rows or in the balcony.
Any behind the scenes vaudeville or theater production must include a ghost lamp – a floor lamp with a single bulb which is lit whenever a theater is dark. Whenever, Thaddeus and/or Slocum are in their “room”, he/they put a fringed shade on the ghost lamp.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm
Thursdays at 2:00 and 7:30 pm
Fridays at 7:30 pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:30 pm. Check with the Box Office for specific dates for matinees and Sunday evenings. Tickets range from $40-$75. If you’re under 35 (I.D. required), your cabaret seat will be just $20.
Discounted parking is now available at 4 venues: John Hancock Center Self Park; Olympia Centre Self Park; Asbury Plaza; Water Tower Place. Be sure to get your ticket validated at the box office. FYI (312) 337-0656 or www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure”