April 19, 2011

A Bold White Noise

Across from the Steppenwolf Theatre on Halstead St. is a very bold and promising musical produced by Whoopi Goldberg called White Noise. I saw it with Barb and Tom Sunday night (4/17). The musical, which has aspirations for a Broadway run, is here until June 5, 2011.

Subtitled, A Cautionary Musical, it's about a girl band comprised of sisters Eva and Eden raised with Neo-Nazi ideology seeking to infiltrate the music world with their message of supremacy. This is fueled by Eva's skinhead boyfriend, Duke who plays lead guitar. The band is discovered by a scrupulous music producer, Max who seeks to water down their lyrics in order to get them more mainstream. What results is a collaboration with a song writer/producer, Jake who is forced to join the band even though he doesn't agree with their views. Jake manages to help them write a more palatable song to break into the market with WTF (White Trash Fairytale) and it becomes a hit. Max, in the meantime, manages another group called Blood Brothers, a black rap duo from Connecticut (yes not from the projects). They initially had a great message about liberty and happiness but was later marketed to be more of gangsta rap by Max to be more "saleable". It all comes to a high point when Max orchestrates a concert with the two polar opposite bands performing together at a concert in Central Park.

The cast is composed of uber talented actors lead by Douglas Sills who plays Max. He does the sleazy really well. And he actually reminds me of a less tanned George Hamilton during the show but I digress. Playing sisters Eva and Eden were Mackenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett (she has a gorgeous voice). Both played their roles well with what they were given. I feel that their characters need further development for the audience to be really drawn in to their story. Patrick Murney plays Duke with relentless and uncompromising intensity. He is one scary dude. I am very much intimidated from my third row seat. Jake played by Eric William Morris is the moral center of the band but also reveals his human flaws. Luba Mason plays Mrs. Siller, mother to the girls. She isn't given much to do but she does have a beautiful song with the two girls called Not Your Enemy. Rodney Hicks and Wallace Smith plays Tyler and Dion of the Blood Brothers. They are an excellent contrast to the White Noise crew.

Set in a concert atmosphere, complete with the band's posters in the theatre lobby, it immediately sets the landscape of the musical. The stage is comprised of multilevel tiers with speakers and video screens throughout. Band members are dispersed through various tiers of the set. Oh, I do have to mention that it's pretty cool that the drummer in the show is female (Hannah Ford). She's incredible, particularly at the end of the show when she gets to show off.

The musical deals with themes of hate and hate speech, selling out and even has a commentary about the media and our current celebrity obsession. Much like The Scottsboro Boys, it's quite a shocking musical to sit through. I couldn't believe that I was hearing lyrics such as N**ger gonna shoot a white boy, N**ger sucks or Welcome to Auschwitz. Having said that, the pop rock music is very tuneful and hummable. But that would be it, one could never sing the lyrics or at least I wouldn't even dare. Our audience that day actually didn't know whether to applaud or not in some numbers but I think that was the intention of the creators of the musical. There is hate in the lyrics or in the dialogue which may be difficult to hear and you cringe when the characters actually say them. But it does make you think, make you feel and make you see where you really stand. It's very brazen, very bold and I applaud the creative team for even attempting it. I have to say that I actually did enjoy this musical more than I expected I would. Go see it before it leaves Chicago!

Some photos I took:

Royal George on Halstead St.

White Noise playbill and window card plus a guitar pick signed by bass player Ben Mason who threw it to the crowd after the show and I happen to grab it.


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