When all the members of an ensemble cast pull their own weight and play off their characters' personality differences, they create a pleasure for the audience to watch. The four actors in [title of show] nailed it on that count.
Yes, [title of show] is the title of the show. It's a bit confusing until you learn the characters are writing a show to enter into a theater festival, and they don't have a ready answer for the part of the entry form that says [title of show].
So-- in this show about writing a show, Matthew Krowle lets his demons and his creative juices all hang out as he plays Hunter, the main scribe, and that's balanced nicely by the way Stephen Schellhardt plays Jeff, his composer-collaborator, as a sometimes calming influence and a sometimes fussbudget with a penchant for correcting other people's grammar.
The two men bring in two women friends, both creative types, to help write the play, and they function to provide more color and personality. McKinley Carter supplies a sharp-witted edge to the sophisticate Susan, who's bored with her office day job and thrives among the theater lovers. She's balanced by Christine Sherrill, who brings approachable warmth to the character of Heidi, an actress dreaming of landing a starring role, or at least a role bigger than understudy.
With only three weeks to write a play to submit to a theater festival, the four of them--backed up by bravura pianist (and musical director of the production) Doug Peck--start an almost stream-of-consciousness creative endeavor, in which everything they say becomes part of the show.
It's a pretty fascinating exercise, because, as the cast proposed ideas, shot them down and made witty asides, I almost felt I was there in the moment as the play was being written. It's a kind of spontaneity most theater doesn't achieve, and it draws you in.
At an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission, the show is compact. Even so, it starts to drag at one point. The characters realize their grand ambition of getting into the theater festival, we feel like cheering for them, and then--that should be it, right? Wasn't that the dramatic climax? Instead, the show continues, but it loses its footing for awhile, with Hunter hellbent on his new goal of taking the show from theater festival to Broadway.
It takes a while to build momentum again, but the show does it, revealing tensions among the characters and choices to be made as the show within a show goes on to higher professional stakes.
Along the way, we're treated to Broadway-worthy music and lyrics, with very able voices in the cast. Carter has a lovely, silvery voice, and Sherrill can belt out songs with bring-down-the-house star quality.
With its many pop culture references, theater insider jokes and references to other shows, the theater-obsessed will especially appreciate all the wink-winks in [title of show].
But almost everyone can relate to the four actors' ambitions and dreams of Broadway, even as they take temp and waiter jobs to keep their bank accounts alive. And if you've got a creative idea inside of you trying to get out, this show just might resonate with you on that level.
If You Go:
What: [title of show] opened May 11, runs through June 10.
Where: Northlight Theatre at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie.
When: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. ad 7 p.m. (no shows May 20 and June 10); also Tuesday May 29 at 7:30 p.m., and Wednesdays at 1 p.m. (no show May 23) and 7:30 p.m. (no show May 30).
Price: $25-$60. Young adults 25 and under are $10 with valid ID.
Contact: northlight.org or (847) 673-6300.