Chicago Theater Review: MOTHERHOOD THE MUSICAL® (Royal George Theatre in Chicago)

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by Dan Zeff on April 13, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

MUSICAL STRIKES AN UMBILICAL CHORD

Motherhood the Musical doesn’t break any new ground in taking on the joys and tribulations of motherhood, nor does the 100-minute revue deliver any surprises, but that doesn’t lessen its entertainment value. This is one clever and witty show. Granted, the maternity material is aimed at the ladies, but menfolk should find the evening a hoot (and possibly informative), even as the women portray husbands as lazy and insensitive. But overall men are a minor target. The show’s 20 musical numbers concentrate on problems of more immediate female concern, like leaking bladders, diminished sex drives, bratty kids, saggy bosoms, and excess poundage – issues that remain inextricably linked to the heritage of child bearing.

The Royal George Theatre stage has been converted into a living room where young Amy (her stomach distended like she swallowed a medicine ball) is being feted at a baby shower; she is eager and innocent, agog over the imminent arrival of her first child and sublimely naïve about the stresses that lie ahead. Her hostesses are Tasha, Barb, and Brooke, three older women who have been there/done that when it comes to motherhood; they take it upon themselves to disabuse Amy of her idealism over approaching motherhood. Fasten your seatbelt, they warn, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

What elevates Motherhood beyond a formula ladies night out show (think Menopause the Musical) is the cunning and satiric score composed by Sue Fabisch. There are a handful of touchy-feely songs in the revue but most of the numbers explore the state of existence known as motherhood with an exceedingly sharp musical scalpel. Fabisch’s lyrics are comic mini-essays on the maternal condition, with excursions into such homemaking institutions as a shopping trip to the local Costco (a particularly amusing visual number) and the consumerism that accompanies the arrival of a child, especially the first one.

All the songs are Fabisch originals (with supplementary contributions by Jesse Goldberg, Bill Flowerree, Ilene Angel, and Johnny Rodgers). The hilarious exception is the appropriation of the pop hit The Way We Were into a lamentation about sagging breasts and the glory days when those breasts pointed upward instead of straight down.

The show doesn’t go in heavily for character development, but each of the four women on stage does establish a distinct personality: Tasha (Melody Betts) is the single mother with a blast furnace voice; Brooke (Kimberly Vanbiesbrouck) is the working mom; Barb (Jennifer Chada) is the cynic, and Amy (Madeline Duffy-Feins) is the perky new kid on the motherhood block.

They are all good but I’d keep my eye on Duffy-Feins as a performer with a bright future in musical theater. She is a local talent, graduating from Northwestern University and the Second City Conservatory, but more to the point Duffy-Feins is attractive, a fine dancer, a solid singer, and cute without being cutesy.

This is not a dancing show but director/choreographer Lisa Shriver has created some amusing bits of hoofing that give the show visual energy without making excessive demands on the performers. The musical accompaniment is taped, but the live performers mesh smoothly with the recorded rock-tinged sounds. Motherhood doesn’t overwhelm the audience with production values, judging properly that a talented cast and Fabisch’s lyrics and dialogue will carry the day. The technical credits belong to Michael Schweikardt (scenic design), Jennifer Caprio (costume design), David Fowler (sound design), and Ryan Patridge (lighting design).

The revue has successfully toured throughout the United States, with local casts performing at each stop. Judging from opening night reaction from the female attendees at the Royal George, the revue was hitting one bull’s-eye after another, like when shots were being fired at husbands for their defects in the childrearing process. Even as the satire is more in wry resignation than in anger, let’s face it, guys, the women may have a point.

Motherhood the Musical has a good chance of establishing itself as a long running hit at the Royal George. This is a perfect show for groups of women who want to attend a bright and funny revue that showcases their domestic experiences with humor and some insight. The revue avoids the twin pitfalls of cloying sentimentality and anything-for-a-laugh low comedy. It knows its audience and that audience, at least on opening night, responded with laughter and recognition.

photos by Peter Coombs

Motherhood the Musical®
Royal George Theatre in Chicago
scheduled to end on June 16. 2012
for tickets, call 312.423.6612 or visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

 

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