Something in the Game is more than a musical tribute to Knute Rockne: it’s hagiography | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Something in the Game is more than a musical tribute to Knute Rockne: it’s hagiography 

It does, however, feature some excellent Equity actors and extraordinary Northwestern students.

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Justin Barbin

To say that book writer Buddy Farmer and composer Michael Mahler's newish biomusical respects its subject, legendary 1920's Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, would be downplaying the sheer extent to which it venerates the guy. No doubt his contributions to university athletics and Hoosier pride at large are worthy of song, but sweet Jesus, this painfully earnest and often schlocky tribute plays out like the sort of show an autocrat in a banana republic would commission about himself.

Over the course of two hours plus, Something in the Game chronicles Rockne's journey from young, hard-working inspiration to everyone around him to older, harder-working inspiration to everyone around him. ("Slow down, don't be a jerk," sing his lazy colleagues at the post office. "Screw that," sings back a precollege Rockne. "I'm here to work!") The stakes aren't exactly ESPN 30 for 30 material, but there's some conflict in the difficulty Rockne (played by Stef Tovar, who originated the role a decade ago) has managing time between his star player, George "the Gipper" Gipp (Adrian Aguilar); an unamused university official (James Rank); and his own neglected wife (Dara Cameron in a thankless role, though her extraordinary voice elicits goosebumps no matter the material).

As a product of Northwestern's American Music Theatre Project, director, choreographer and lyricist David H. Bell's production showcases Equity actors alongside some truly extraordinary Northwestern University student talent, which is more evident in the few numbers that escape the locker- and dorm-room boys' club. In particular, when Mahler's score moves away from a gentle Americana-like sound to jazzier numbers at the Jimmy the Goat nightclub, Something achieves the vitality that in so many other scenes feels bronzed over.   v


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