Musical! The Musical | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Musical! The Musical 

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Musical! The Musical, at the Royal George Theatre Center Gallery. The name of this entirely improvised musical changes nightly; I saw Moby!, a version of Melville's classic novel complicated by a pair of stowaway Greenpeacers (with their own reasons for saving the whales), a first mate (with his own reasons for standing by his captain), and a runaway daughter disguised as a crewman named--you guessed it--Ishmael. During this 90-minute spoof, however, we were served not only the usual salty ballads and pantheistic contemplations but honky-tonk commentary by dockside whores, choral editorials by Moby-Dick's finned friends, and a plea for sympathy by the "family mammal" himself. The whole was neatly finished off with an inspirational hymn calling for tolerance among all nature's children.

Despite the last two decades of recitative-dense scores for musicals, the prospect of ad-libbing in rhyme and melody is still daunting. But director Nancy Howland Walker's ensemble has a sharp ear for the cliches of the genre--no sooner does one player utter the word "gale" than Luke Nelson's accompaniment changes from robust agilmente to sea-breeze legato. And the cast usually comes up with ditties no more inharmonious or lead-footed than you'd find at New Tuners Theatre. The subject is supplied by the audience--previous titles include Jaws!, Papillon!, and Busy! (based on the life of Alexander Graham Bell)--so the possibilities for a tuneful good time are almost limitless.

--Mary Shen Barnidge


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