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Chicago by John Olson

Shout! The Mod Musical
Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place

Also see John's review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Shout
Lauren Fijol, Danielle Plisz, Maggie Portman, Amy Steele and Megan Long
Why, amid the social upheaval of the 1960s U.S., did we Americans suddenly, for possibly the first time in 200 years, find Great Britain so cool? Maybe because they, lacking our involvement in an unpopular foreign war and avoiding the painful racial tensions present in our country, were more able to have fun? While our arts and entertainment of the era in the U.S. consisted of political commentary on issues of gut-wrenching importance, the Brits were far freer to deal with topics like sex, love and rock and roll. Much of the British revolution shown in pop culture of the time concerned the increase in freedom of sexual expression and a more open and varied cultural scene in fashion and entertainment. This is the sixties dealt with in Shout! The Mod Musical. More a revue than a musical, it follows the lives five young women in 1960s set to the tunes of songs popularized by female singers of the period. In between the 29 songs, their narratives are revealed largely through monologues representing letters to an offstage advice columnist and the responses from the columnist, who clearly represents the less-feminist mores of an earlier time.

Shout! is far more concerned with having fun with the songs than it is with social history. And fun they are, including a top-shelf selection of tunes made popular by the likes of Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, and Lulu. Especially well-represented are songs written by Tony Hatch for Petula Clark, which total a full nine of the show's musical numbers. Shout resembles nothing so much as an extended episode of the 1960's network TV variety shows "Shindig!" and "Hullabaloo," thanks to the go-go and frug dance steps created by director/choreographer Jay Falzone in front of David Gallo's delightful set of pastel-colored vinyl and the Carnaby Street-inspired costumes by Philip Heckman. It's all at pretty much the same energy level throughout, though, and wears a little thin even at 90 minutes without intermission.

The musical interpretations are mostly appropriate but sometime fail to deliver the nuances inherent in the songs as originally recorded. "Downtown" as sung by Ms. Clark began with a quiet section suggesting a loneliness the singer defies through the course of the song. "Don't Sleep in the Subway," a song about a couple's reconciliation after a fight, acknowledges some painful moments. These shadings are ignored here, and when one of the monologues ventures into some intense emotions near the end, the audience is unprepared for it. It wraps up nicely, though, with the five women appearing at later ages, reuniting to sing "Those Were the Days," the odd, but touching folky, polka-beated Top 40 hit of Mary Hopkins. The producers of this piece probably knew a good thing when they saw one, and I'm thinking of Menopause, the Musical, at whose demographic Shout! is clearly aimed.

Shout! showcases five terrific performers in Lauren Fijol, Megan Long, Danielle Plisz, Amy Steele and Maggie Portman. Ms. Plisz is the most convincingly British in her portrayal of a sexually liberal East-ender. Maggie Portman, who's been impressive in comic roles for Porchlight Chicago such as Squeaky Fromme in Assassins and Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime, has a great vehicle in which to show her comic and vocal skills. Playing an American stalker of Paul McCartney, she also has nice little comic touches as a James Bond girl in a parody of "Goldfinger," and a good bit where her character is stoned on marijuana. It's a fitting trip "downtown" for her Loop debut.

Shout! The Mod Musical will play the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place through July 20, 2008. The performance schedule is Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m, 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices and through Ticketmaster.


Photo: Michael Brosilow

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-- John Olson



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