Chicago Theater Review: WICKED CITY (Chicago Theatre Workshop at Edge Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 10, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


It’s not as original a burlesque of film noir as City of Angels, but in less than 90 minutes Wicked City, a musical parody by bookwriter/lyricist Chad Beauelin and composer Matthew Sklar (creators of Elf and The Wedding Singer), delivers tough-talking, if overly clever, hilarity. Even better, the merry travesty shrewdly stuffs Raymond Chandler into Sophocles. A promising debut by Chicago Theatre Workshop (CTW), this madcap Chicago premiere–dynamically staged by Christopher Pazdernik–is a four-star charmer, grabbing guffaws without outstaying its welcome.

lauren-roesner-rashada-dawan-in-wicked-city lauren-roesner-javier-ferrera-in-wicked-city

Narrated by a street seer named Madame Theresa (Rashada Dawan), who the police have brought in to explain a suspicious suicide, the harrowing, pell-mell plot centers on a doomed seeker of truth, a private eye named Eddie Cain (Javier Ferreira). Spouting the obligatory hard-boiled, metaphor-laden, Sam Spade-style dialogue, Eddie falls hard for a sizzling older dame named Jo Van Cleave (Lauren Roesner). Married to a corrupt and jealous pol (Jason Richards), a Mr. Big soon to be Mr. Dead, this scrumptious femme fatale asks Eddie to track down her long lost son, possibly stolen by a Chinese white-slaver.

javier-ferrera-in-wicked-cityGetting in the way until she gets her way, Eddie’s control-freak mom Mira (Dana Tretta) is trouble on two feet. By the bloody end this in-over-his-head dick discovers more than Eddie wanted or needed to know. But then, as the opener puts it, “Love Makes Fools of All of Us.” Or the closer, “Look Before You Love.”

Heavy with rapid-fire references to Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Maltese Falcon, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, as well as a take-off on Salome and courtroom showdowns, CTW’s richly mined pastiche hangs a classically familiar plot onto Sklar’s deftly nostalgic tunes (well-coached by music director Dustin L. Struhall and orchestrated by Nick Sula). Brock Alter’s splendid video backdrop brings out the “film” as much as the “noir.” Bill Morey’s 40s costumes and Jake Young’s rolling props are post-war precise.

gabriel-fries-lauren-roesner-javier-ferrera-jason-richards-in-wicked-cityStilted and stylized, the performers’ rhapsodic Method acting oozes manufactured urgency, no less than Sklar’s serviceable score. A Marilyn Monroe in the making, Roesner belts the stuffings out of her signature ballad “It Ain’t So Bad Bein’ Bad” and Ferreira wails woe in “Just a Dame.” Dawan’s spitfire psychic can turn the slightest prophecy into a production number. A lethal ensemble, the nine-member troupe hoof up hysterics in “On The Case” and “The Wedding.”

An incestuous delight, it’s deadpan delicious, this menacing montage of attitude and angst. Taut and cute, Wicked City doesn’t take a minute more than it needs, earning cynical payoffs with every dirty deed. It’s also a fit inagural for Edge Theater’s spacious 100-seat storefront stage. This audience-friendly Andersonville venue is just one more happy excuse for our wicked city.


dana-tretta-foreground-javier-ferrera-in-wicked-cityphotos by Jay Kennedy

Wicked City
Chicago Theatre Workshop
Edge Theatre, 5451 N. Broadway
Thurs and Fri at 7:30; Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on October 30, 2016
for tickets, visit CTW

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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