Speakeasy: A Reliving the Roaring 20's with Booze, Broads and Books
Playing at Obsidian Theatre through April 16th.
Review By H.G.Welch
Speakeasy is Standing Room Only tribute to the gin joints of Prohibition. Set in a single room of the Reading Room, a Chicago underground bar, the musical showcases the attempts of its employees to save their establishment from the mob. As a wise man once said, alcohol is the cause and solution to all of our problems. Speakeasy embraces that mantra with gusto. The play, while filled with fairly stock characters, more than makes up for it with snappy musical numbers and choreography that will make your head spin.
Tamara Roberts plays Texas, the bar owner. Texas' only concern is keeping her bar open, and dips a little into chronic backstabbing syndrome as she plays all sides off each other. While the primary protagonist, she does seem overshadowed by her employees.
Ryan Patrick Smith is Clarence, the nervous accountant. He comes across as the only sane man in the room, even while he tries to keep his mismatched fiancé happy. He is constantly flustered, and you will feel sorry for him at the end.
Simone Gundy is the sassy Samantha, one of the singers at the Reading Room. She is the most strong willed of the singers, though the character itself is a bit stereotypical.
Sarah Konkel is Gret, a German refugee from Munich. Konkel plays the part like a Teutonic Wednesday Addams, completely devoid of happiness, at least until the alcohol kicks in. The character was a refreshing change from the Marlene Dietrich clones common in settings like this, and even the shots at Cabaret and the smattering of German in her dialogue was wunderbar.
Ragan Richardson shows again she's destined for greater things as the eternally hopeful Lucie, who goes from cigarette girl to headliner in a single night. Her ability to motor mouth are matched only by her vocal range and dance moves. Her character takes the focus away from Texas as she seems to get all the stage time, if only in your mind.
Kiefer Slaton is Jake, one of the mobsters sent to collect the money owed. He is pure comedy relief, and enjoying every minute of it. While his role is primarily to be the mook with a heart of gold and one of the three romances in the story, his ability to cut a rug with the best of them can't be denied.
Justin White plays Vince, the villain of the piece. He comes across as a less than bright James Cagney type, though he is uncharacteristically duped in front of a mike for his first musical number. He plays the role well, and his solo number “Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes” is one of the best numbers of the show. His romantic subplot does seem a little forced.
Alli Villines is Helen, Clarence's fiancée . She serves as a foil and the obvious deus ex machina when she appears. She plays the overbearing fiancée wonderfully, often drifting into villain territory. The character's ability to go from stumbling drunk to financial shark at the drop of a hat would be envied by most barflies.
Darry Hearon rounds out the cast as Eugene the doorman. His time on stage is fairly limited, though he does get his chance to scat with the number Diga Diga Doo.
The plot itself is a fairly typical for a period piece of its type. But SRO is known for its musicals and this one shines in that regard. Funny, quick and catchy, everyone gets their chance to ham it up with a solo number. Even the audience gets in the act for the mandatory Charleston performance. The choreography gets its own special mention, as Liz Tinder manages to capture insanity in a bottle with the moves she has to coordinate. From the mapcap dance number of Red Hot Momma with every character in motion at once, Simone, Sarah and Ragan pulling off a full kick line with a full rotation, to Happy Feet with Ragan, Sarah, Kiefer and Ryan tripping the light fantastic with a feverish tap dance.
Speakeasy is an audience participation event, and coming in period costumes is highly encouraged. Brushing up on your dance moves is also recommended. For fans of the roaring 20's this will live up to all your expectations.
Speakeasy runs through April 16th, tickets are $37.50 for floor tables and $30 for reserved. Arrive early as the parking on White Oak is becoming a serious issue