My great grandma survived three of Chicago’s legendary tragedies: the Great Fire (1871), the Iroquois theatre fire (1903), and the Eastland Disaster (1915). In its unplanned commemoration to my nanny, the 2011/2012 theatre season showcases these three catastrophes. This is the year of cataclysms. This fall, Lookingglass Theatre mounted the Great Fire. In Spring 2012, Lookingglass will premiere the Eastland Disaster musical. Meanwhile, The Neo-Futurists are producing this winter’s historic fiasco.
On December 30, 1903, over six hundred people perished in Chicago’s downtown theatre inferno. Without Today’s fire codes, exits were hidden and often locked. Audiences flowed over into the aisles and ‘standing areas.‘ It was a *full house* …more like way-over capacity. During Act 2 of the musical “Mr. Bluebeard”, six stories of rafter scenery ignite into a bonfire. When someone opens the stage freight doors, frigid winter temps create a cyclonic blast sending an enormous fireball into the audience.
The Neo-Futurists present BURNING BLUEBEARD. Six surviving performers decide to recreate the intended “Mr. Bluebeard” as an apologetic memorial to the Iroquois victims. The misfit cast includes a stagehand, an aerialist, a clown, comedian Eddie Foy, the actor playing Bluebeard and a fairy. Snippets of history are interspersed with clowning around and magical twinkling. It’s the funny aftermath of a serial killer musical that turned deadly on its audience. BURNING BLUEBEARD is pure priceless pageantry.
Under the direction of Halena Kays, this theatrical production of theatrics balances the drama with the burlesque. The show starts with a surreal foggy ambiance. Body bags litter the floor. There is a deadly quiet. And then moments later, the performers are all high-energy, hi-jinx to high volume tunes. Much like the real 1903 “Mr. Bluebeard,” the subject matter may be serious but the show is frolicsome. The talented cast is ready to entertain in their ode-to-the-Iroquois! Delivering delicious deadpan, Dean Evans is dressed in the standard blousey white attire of a Pierrot-style clown. Perfectly monotone with just a hint of malice, Evans is hysterical worming his way into a bigger part. As the fairy, Molly Plunk endears with her constant radiating smile and chip-eating. Leading the synchronized line dancing, a spirited Leah Rose Urzendowski has a little extra zing in her dance and her lines. Her mugging is a crowd-pleaser. In a whimsical murdering spree choreographed by Kurt Chiang, Anthony Courser engages with a creepy fascination. Courser dances and stabs his wives with zest. There is a vulnerable sadness attached to knowing the ending! And Ryan Waters powerfully reenacts Eddie Foy’s address to the audience. Foy had encouraged the audience to remain seated.
Clever creator and narrator Jay Torrence says it best with the statement, ‘we theatre people love our stories within stories.‘ It’s true! I love when shows take a creative angle in telling a true tale. Inspired by real people and events, Torrence pens a loving and comical tribute to an American horror story. It’s been nearly 118 years. It’s not ‘too soon’ to laugh… and heartily. BURNING BLUEBEARD is a big fireball of entertainment. You’ll only get burned if you don’t see it!
Running Time: One hundred minutes with no intermission
At the Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland
Written by Jay Torrence
Directed by Halena Kays
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Added shows on Tuesday (12/20) and Wednesdays (12/21, 12/28)
Closing on December 30th, the 118th anniversary of the fateful Iroquois fire.
Buy Tickets at www.neofuturists.org
Production photography courtesy of Maggie Fullilove-Nugen