Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi 

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This new musical comedy about a fictional romance between the silent-movie sex goddess and a morality-mongering film censor is brash, goofy, and sweetly comic--and more clearly focused thanks to some judicious postopening trimming by authors Jeff Hochhauser and Robert L. Johnston. Beneath its surface breeziness, Theda Bara also boasts some remarkably subtle and complex music by Johnston. Despite occasional ragtime flourishes (nods to the story's World War I-era setting), the score is grounded in the pop and rock styles of the last two decades, with a glossy texture, an energetic pulse, and playful melodies that recall the work of such eccentrics as August "Kid Creole" Darnell, Lene Lovich, Wazmo Nariz, and cowboy-music ironist Dan Hicks. Johnston's also fond of Mozart, and it shows in some fairly dazzling light-operatic contrapuntal writing. Happily, the superb cast is up to the musical challenge; so is choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett, whose dance staging ingeniously physicalizes the musical patterns. Wellington Theater, through April 26 (750 W. Wellington, 975-7171). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5:30 and 9 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM; additional matinee selected Wednesdays, 2 PM. $27.50-$32.50.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Bryan-Brown Photography.

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