“White Noise” pulled out all the bells and whistles for its April 9th premiere at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre with a Red Carpet extravaganza for celebrities including producer Whoopi Goldberg. The highly-anticipated new musical has been creating a loud noise among artsy types since the announcement of its’ Second City coming.
The hype centers around its controversial subject matter, its activist producer, Whoopi, its accomplished director/choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys and Memphis), its comparisons to “Rent”; and the expectations that the show is Broadway-bound.
All the elements of a big Broadway musical were intact for opening night. Flashing strobe lights, mirrors, high scaffoldings by set designer, Robert Brill; the dazzling costumes by Paul Tazewell; and the plusating sounds of the onstage band directed by Jesse Vargas all spelled show-stopper.
But does “White Noise” live up to its hype? In bits and pieces yes, overall not so much. It wants to be revolutionary and ground-breaking but the ground has already been broken. Goldberg wants it to be a springboard to open up a serious dialogue on human rights, racism and hate. Her message as posed in a “Teaching Tolerance” guide in conjunction with “White Noise” is that “Messages of hate aren’t confined to the radical fringes of our society. They can be encoded in popular music. They can be threaded into political rhetoric.” But the message comes out fuzzy in this production.
A money-making obsessed record producer, Max played by Tony nominee Douglas Sills pits a pair of blonde haired blue-eyed white supremacist sisters, Eden (Emily Padgett) and Eva (Mackenzie Mauzy) and their skinhead brother Duke (Patrick Murney) against an African-American singing act featuring the clean-cut, rugby wearing Dion (Wallace Smith) and Tyler (Rodney Hicks)–repackaging both groups to into blockbuster stars set on a collision course.
The morally corrupt producer Max pressures his assistant Jake (Eric William Morris) to do the dirty work convincing the neo-Nazi supremacist group, “White Noise” to code the rhetoric in their messages including changing their original “Niggers Suck” to “Mondays Suck”, then turns the African American duo into “Bloodbrothas,” a hip-hop-turned-gangsta rap duo churning out hits including “Nigger Gonna’ Shoot the Whiteboy.”
The show is meant to shock and awe but it takes a lot more to shock and awe today’s audiences then it did in 2003 when two blonde-haired white supremacist sisters formed Prussian Blue, the group on which “White Noise” is loosely based, that stirred up heated controversy at that time.
I hope that “White Noise” does go to Broadway, but it will need some heavy-duty nips and tucks before it makes the cut. That said, with the talented and energetic cast, the gifted director Trujillo, involved producers including a very determined Whoopi Goldberg, the production staff, plus a healthy injection of cash, I wouldn’t bet against it.
Location: Royal George Theatre, 1641 North Halsted Street.
Tickets: $49.50 to $64.50 online at Royal George Theatre or by phone at 312 988 9000.
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