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Chicago by John Olson

The Glorious Ones
Bohemian Theatre Company

Also see John's review of Calls to Blood

The Glorious Ones
John Taflan, Katie Siri, Danni Smith, Eric Damon Smith, Dana Tretta, Tom Weber
and Courtney Crouse

Chicago is a great place for seeing the musicals of Flaherty and Ahrens. In just the last few years, we've had local productions of Ragtime, Seussical, My Favorite Year, A Man of No Importance and just last spring, Porchlight Theatre's innovative take on Once on This Island. Bohemian got the pair's most recent effort, The Glorious Ones, which opened at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater just two years ago. It's a must for fans of that writing pair, but not only for fans. The ninety-minute intermissionless musical is a bright, fast-paced and funny affair that ought to entertain all but the most prudish audiences.

The Glorious Ones is a study of the dramatic form of commedia dell'arte, popular in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries, and is told in that form. Ouch! That already sounds much more academic and artsy than the show is. For those unfamiliar with commedia dell'arte (like me), the show explains it well enough. It was improvised comedy for the masses—physical, sexual and graphic—performed in public squares for free, though the hat was passed to compensate the performers. The form is credited as the first improvisation (the performers worked from a plotline and made up dialogue as physical business as they performed) and a precursor of slapstick and other physical comedy. The sexual content in this show will offend few and there's only enough of it to suggest what commedia dell'arte performers would do. Lynn Ahrens' book for The Glorious Ones is based on a novel by Francine Prose, a fictional account of the adventures of the real-life commedia actor-manager Flaminio Scala and his troupe. It takes a while to orient oneself to the conventions of the show, but after that acclimation, it's a breezy and good time.

More importantly, BoHo's Glorious Ones is an opportunity to enjoy seven quite terrific performers. Courtney Crouse and Dana Tretta are probably the best known to local audiences. Mr. Crouse gained attention and acclaim in the title roles of Jekyll and Hyde for BoHo a while back. He's not the central figure here—that would be Eric Damon Smith as Flaminio—but Crouse has ample opportunity to use his powerful baritone and do some gymnastics as the romantic lead, Francesco. Ms. Tretta, so effective in generating pathos as the heroine of Bailiwick's Hunchback of Notre Dame and Theo Ubique's Cabaret, gets to play entirely for laughs here as the midget Armanda, even imitating a little dog at one point.

Smith has a commanding presence that makes him a believable Flaminio—charismatic, egotistical and utterly committed to the commedia. His wife Columbina is played by Danni Smith and, while she like Mr. Smith is cast older than her real age, she conveys a maturity that makes her believable in the part. Katie Siri is Isabella, the younger performer who eventually replaces Isabella as the romantic lead and is lovably goofy. Tom Weber is Pantalone, the performer-tailor of the group who carries a torch for her, but doesn't lose his sense of humor over it. John Taflan is charming and funny as the Dottore, a stock character of commedia dell-arte.

Stephen M. Genovese directed and designed the set, a platform of wooden planks as might have been used been used by the troupe, and a series of painted backdrops. His cast, wardrobed in simple but colorful period costumes designed by Theresa Ham, is in constant motion, making the stage seem much bigger than it actually is. I'd have to guess his direction gets everything out of this piece that there to be gotten. Ahrens' book doesn't stop too long into between laughs to involve us too deeply in the characters. I suppose she might have made it a longer show, with more plot, but doing so would have lost the sense of the show as commedia dell'arte itself. Her lyrics, as always, have heart and wit. Flaherty's fans might admit he's written better scores, but they'll enjoy his distinctive style here, and non-fans won't even think to compare this score to his work on Ragtime or Island. Music director/conductor Nick Sula and cast give the music a full-bodied reading of it.

The Glorious Ones may be a minor work in the Flaherty and Ahrens canon, but it's a glorious and perfectly polished showcase for Genovese and his cast.

The Glorious Ones will be performed at the BoHo Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood, Chicago, through Saturday, November 21, 2009. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 866-811-4111.


Photo: Brandon Dahlquist

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-- John Olson



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