Saturday November 18th 2017

“Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera” reviewed by Carol Moore

tonyanancy-finale Recommended ***  Can you remember “the whack heard ‘round the world”?  Do the names Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan help?  According to my own scientifically conducted poll – I asked my husband and my daughter – I got a fifty-fifty on name recognition.  At any rate, if you watched ice skating and/or the Olympics in the ‘90s – or read the tabloids – you might remember the headlines.  “Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera” is a campy dramatization of the whole Tonya-Nancy rivalry – start to finish.  Even though the scandal has faded, I had a lot of fun, so I’m giving “Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera” 3 Spotlights.

Although I’ve heard good things about Underscore Theatre Company, I hadn’t seen one of their productions before.  After seeing “Tonya and Nancy”, I moved Underscore to the top of my list of must-see theater companies.  In this performance, however, I think the sound engineer needed to make some major adjustments.  The band was way too loud a lot of the time, overpowering the singers.  Otherwise, kudos to Underscore!

Lady figure skaters are divas on ice.  There’s always drama – international rivalries, judges’ scores, ability to land a jump, routines, choice of music for said routines, costumes – but usually not enough drama to land in the tabloids, until Tonya and Nancy.  Their story could have been designed for the tabloids.

People in the know were predicting that Nancy Kerrigan, an elegant, graceful skater from Massachusetts, would be the next American champion and go on to win in the Olympics.  It was in the cards – Nancy looked like America’s sweetheart, after all – and her white skating dress reinforced that illusion.  Tonya Harding, an athletic upstart from Portland, Oregon, burst this bubble by landing a triple axel (the first ever by a woman).  Brash, out-spoken and sometimes vulgar, she just didn’t have the ‘right look’ – and her costumes were downright tacky.

OK, enough history!  “Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera” includes it all – from those early head-to-head competitions to the tragedy of the broken skate lace – as covered by a snarky, frenetic Fan Reporter (Caleb Blaze).  He leads a media horde (the Ensemble) that follows the skaters relentlessly.  The Fan Reporter is irritating as all get out, but he grows on you.

Amanda Horvath plays Tonya to perfection.  She has Tonya’s ‘white trash’ look down pat – attitude, uncontrolled hair, heavy makeup and tacky clothes.  She even did the French braid Tonya wore for the Olympics.  Horvath’s also got a voice that just won’t quit.

Courtney Mack was an equally good choice to play Nancy.  She can spread her fingers into Nancy’s trademark star.  She has the ‘perfect’ dark hair, the toothy smile and the whine!  She has a song, in which she sings/whines lyrics which seems to consist of “Why, why, why, why me?” multiple times, is hilarious.tonyanancy-npress

In my opinion, Veronica Garza, who played both mothers, stole the show.  Although both were pushy stage-mother types, they were very different.  Tonya’s mother who always had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, wore glasses, and loved to screech at Tonya.  “You will never land that triple axel!” was a frequent refrain.  Nancy’s mother was refined but repressed and buttoned up, but still pushing Nancy to win.  I was in awe during one song watching her switch voices (from fairly normal to high and screechy) while putting on/pulling off the glasses without even hesitating.

Jeff Gillooly (Justin Adair), who saw Tonya Harding as his meal ticket, apparently got the idea that Nancy Kerrigan might stop the money train.  After hiring dumb-as-a-post Shawn Eckhardt (Vasily Deris) as Tonya’s bodyguard, he brought in Shane Stant (Graham Hawley), a guy who was rumored to have ‘connections’.  Adair, who has a wonderful voice, showed an unexpected talent, when Gillooly grabbed a guitar muttering that he’d accompany himself – and he did!

Kudos to Costume Designer Virginia Varland who recreated fashions from the ‘90s, including the multi-colored, geometric patterned, shiny synthetic nylon warm-up suits.  As I watched, I thought I was looking at the costumes the skaters actually wore.  When I looked up pictures from the ‘90s, I could tell they were darn close.  She almost duplicated Tonya’s competition costumes with too much – too much bling, too many ruffles, too much braid, too many sequins, too much glitter – not to mention Nancy’s costumes understated navy ‘Vera Wang’ and Oksana Baiul’s pink dress trimmed with faux-fur – bits of which kept floating off!

The talented ensemble played lots of different parts: Genevieve Perrino (Oksana Baiul), Graham Hawley (Shane Stant), Mari Uchida (Kristi Yamaguchi), Tyler Smonè Franklin (Surya Bonaly), Vasily Deris (Shawn Eckhardt).  By the way, whenever Tonya or Nancy needed to make a jump, Hawley would lift her through it.

The Band included Aaron Benham (Music Director/Conductor/Keyboard), Jon Levitt (Percussion), Robert Campbell (Guitar), Connor Foley (Guitar) and Matt Ulm (Bass).

“Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera” runs through December 30th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago.

Running time is 1 hour, 30 minutes, with an intermission.

tonyanancy-tpressPerformances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm

Sundays at 4:00 pm.

There will be added performances on Wednesdays, December 14, 21st and 28th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, December 17th at 3:00 pm.

There are no performances on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (December 24th and 25th).

Tickets range from $22-$30.  FYI (773) 975-8150 or www.theaterwit.org.

Valet Parking is available as well as street parking, some metered, some not (but watch residential parking zones rules)

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Tonya and Nancy:The Rock Opera”.

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