Dreams of Defiance | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dreams of Defiance 

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DREAMS OF DEFIANCE, Music Theatre Workshop, at the Theatre Building. If sheer heart could excuse a lack of spine (not to mention brains), this sweet-tempered down-home musical about the good folks who love or leave Defiance, a small town in northwest Ohio, would be Pulitzer all the way. Created by Chicago playwright Meade Palidofsky and composer Claudia Howard Queen (formerly of Defiance), this world premiere is well shaped by Palidofsky as director and a sterling cast of 15 and authentically conveyed by Robert G. Smith's painted flats. Radiantly sincere and warmhearted in its 21 songs (especially the lilting country ballad "If I Never Left Defiance, Ohio"), Dreams nonetheless succumbs to a cluttered, soap-operatic story that leaves no cliche unexploited and no bromide unsung.

The plot, sort of an Our Town on uppers, hurls together a sister who covets her first cousin, another sister (the composer's surrogate) who defies Defiance and heads for Chicago, the closing of a local foundry, and an idiotic motorcycle suicide by the town's juvenile delinquent. The workaholic pot boileth over with crises and complications right up to the end, though some of these plot lines are forgotten, seemingly introduced merely for effect.

Essentially a showcase for its talented singers, Dreams of Defiance is enriched by Helen Merrier's solid portrayal of the matriarch who holds her fractured family together, Stef Tovar as the rebel without a clue, Christy Watson as his stir-crazy lover, and an ensemble so wholesome they could sell moral tonic water in the lobby. The songs work overtime to justify the plot; most don't. Worse, the goodness celebrated is just generic.

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