3 out of 4 stars
Most folks don’t attempt a full blown musical in a tiny black box storefront, but the Cuckoo’s Theater Project lives up to its name, by mounting a full out Moby Dick the Musical in the minute Heartland Studio Theatre. Its 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound bag, and this energetic cast is a triple threat, in this musical supposedly designed to fit in a swimming pool.
The plot of the show is that a Catholic girls school is going under and needs a fundraiser. The Headmistress, played delightfully over the top by Peter Ruger, settles on creating a musical version of Melville’s epic tale of a whale, and even the janitor, played as long suffering by Thomas Tong, joins in the cast of girls playing men. Director Donald Kolakowski keeps the pace moving with choreography that is logistically masterful on the petite stage. There are spot on stage pictures capping the numbers, giving a Broadway feel to a show that is only ten feet from your seat. There is wit aplenty in this show. It is a formulaic script, feeling quite Disney on Broadway with its overuse of conventions, but that’s what makes it so tongue in cheek silly. Of course a school musical would gloss over and candy coat much of the deep tragedy of the book:I feel like this show was written as a drunken party dare where they pulled book titles out of hat, or it got written because a down and out playwright heard you could get paid for turning the English mandatory reading list into musicals. It’s definitely a set up where The Music Theatre Kids de- and re-construct Eighteenth Century American Lit….. so of course the show is fast becoming a cult classic. It’s entertainment with a capital E, and more musical theatre per square foot than anywhere else in town.
Special mention goes to Alexandra Cross who plays Ahab’s wife Esta, mostly wandering about with green maribou trimmed netting swathed about her head as a drowned ghost. And to music director Anthony Benz, crammed with his piano into a corner keeping tune after tune, number after big number, spinning out like the seafaring yarn this is meant to be.
Moby Dick The Musical is playing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (with special Thursday shows on November 1 and 29)at the Heartland Studio Theater at 7016 N Glenwood Ave, Chicago, IL until December 1, 2018h.For tickets and information go to https://www.thecuckoostheaterproject.com/ or https://www.theatreinchicago.com/moby-dick-the-musical/10104/