Friday, May 26, 2017

Review of Chicago Theater Workshop's Little Miss Sunshine

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Little Miss Sunshine. It was based on the film by Michael Arndt. The book was by James Lapine and the music was by William Finn. It was directed and choreographed by Maggie Portman and the music direction was by Nick Sula. It was about the Hoover family: Olive (Sophie Kaegi); Sheryl (Sharyon A. Culberson), her mother; Richard (Greg Foster), her father; her grandpa (Ken Rubenstein); her brother Dwayne (Kyle Klein II); and her uncle Frank (George Keating). They are going on a road trip so Olive can participate in a beauty pageant, but they don't always get along that well together. They are all trapped in a van together with nothing to do but think about their problems: drug addiction, depression, marital problems, teen problems, and self-doubt. It is about family, resilience, and accepting life. I think this show has a really interesting concept. I've never seen the movie before, so I don't know how many of its strengths and weaknesses were in this show. The script didn't feel like a completely intelligible musical for someone who hadn't seen the movie, but it certainly had some enjoyable moments.

There was a repeated visual moment of the family pushing the bus and struggling to get on it again. The bus was represented by a few character blocks, but the outside of the bus, which they would occasionally lower down, wasn't used in these scenes. They would use strobe lights and the family would lift each other up in slow motion, which was very cool to watch, but I feel like they might have used this too many times. Each sequence being a minute or two, it got slightly boring after you'd already seen it. This sequence is kind of like a metaphor for their family being broken but they all have to push hard and work together to make it work again. I think that is a good lesson to learn.

"I Can't Stand it Anymore" was a repeating song that the mother, father, and brother Dwayne sang. Each of the three sections of this song were about how life was terrible and things needed to change. This isn't the only song about how everything sucks, but I think it was the most well-orchestrated one. When the mother and the father sing it, it is about marital problems. But when it gets to the brother, it is about losing all of his dreams. The character Dwayne never talks until he finds out some terrible news. So he sings the third section of "I Can't Stand it Anymore" to express his unhappiness. It is surprising and interesting to see him talk for the first time in the show and for it to be such a display of anger and sadness. I've worked with Kyle before, so I knew he had an amazing voice, and I was afraid they weren't going to let him sing or talk in this show, so I was very very thankful that they did give him a song and he did a great job with it.

The very last song, "Shake Your Bandonkadonk," was sure a toe-tapper. It was sung by Olive during her pageant. It was not the most appropriate of songs for a young girl and that made it hilarious. She absolutely rocked this song. I thought it was super sweet how at the end of the song her entire family started to sing and dance with her, even though she was being kicked off for singing an inappropriate song. That shows you that even if something goes wrong, the whole family will stand up for each other, and that is what they have learned throughout the course of this road trip. It was also super weird to hear that the grandpa had helped choreograph this entire dance, but you know that the grandpa really did love Olive and was just trying to do what was going to make her win the pageant. He doesn't understand the rules of the pageant, but he does understand what the pageant is actually about that people don't want to admit: putting a bunch of young girls on display for people to judge their bodies. He doesn't really object to it like I do, or find it as creepy, he just knows what it actually is.

People who would like this show are people who like dark family comedies, slo-mo jumping onto buses, and shaking your badonkadonk. This show had a lot of fun parts and there were some good performances. The audience seemed to really enjoy it.

Photos: Joel Maisonet

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