Chicago Theater Review: MUSIC FROM A SPARKLING PLANET (Eclectic Theatre Company)

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by Sally Jo Osborne on November 1, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

HERE. THEN. NOW. WHEN? WHAT? WHY?

Which 1970’s TV show had the nicest Nazi’s—was it Wonder Woman or Hogan’s Heroes? Which cartoon character is stoned most of the time—was it Shaggy from Scooby Doo? Why did the Howells pack so many clothes when they were only going on a three hour tour?  As three grown men—Hoagie (Adam Kander), Miller (Patrick Tierney), and Wags (Michael Wood)—play their version of Trivial Pursuit in the local pub, they ponder upon these questions and more.  Life, as it is now, seems to suck.  With responsibility and accountability slowly creeping in, things certainly are not as they once were for this Philadelphia trio.

Sally Jo Osborne’s Stage and Cinema review of Eclectic Theatre Company’s Music from a Sparkling Planet at the Athenaeum in Chicago

Which leads to the big question:  What in the world ever happened to Tamara Tomorrow?  Their childhood superstar from local television who could predict the future?  She was sexy, happy and positive and every little boy’s first love interest.  As a last ditch effort to escape the present, the boys decide to take a wild and impetuous outing to find Tamara, and relive the happiness of their innocent youth, no matter what the cost of finding their muse.  “See you in the future,” Tamara always said, and, well, the future is now and the boys hit the road.

Sally Jo Osborne’s Stage and Cinema review of Eclectic Theatre Company’s Music from a Sparkling Planet at the Athenaeum in Chicago

The script is on two separate planes and jump-cuts; while the men look for Tamara in 2001, we meet the former community theater actress-turned children’s superhero in 1973. Tamara (Lisa Savegnago) has a lot of charisma and is quite the charmer, but deep inside yearns for more.  When she falls for the sweet talking TV producer Andy (Andrew J. Pond), it only leads her down a path of doom and self-destruction.

Sally Jo Osborne’s Stage and Cinema review of Eclectic Theatre Company’s Music from a Sparkling Planet at the Athenaeum in ChicagoBut after much investigative research the boys do find Tamara, who has clearly given up show business, living a life of regret and remorse because of the many hurdles she encountered during her rise and fall from fame.  The “old fashioned girl from the year 3005” who shielded small children from the forces of evil has lost all joy and hope along the way.

Douglas Carter Beane’s Music from a Sparkling Planet: A Comedy is indeed humorous, even as it navigates through darker territory. But is also slight, and needs a rapidly paced production to make it fly like a superhero in space. Eclectic Theatre Company’s production, directed by David Belew, starts off somewhat plodding as there is no sense of urgency from the boys. But while Act I needed to move more quickly with intention, the self-worth and vulnerability the guys lack in their present life make them far more believable and stronger while they search for a better tomorrow—that is, Tamara Tomorrow—in Act II.  Rarely do we really get to know the emotions of the players in the first act, although Savegnago is very likable and focused, and the very funny Kander made the best effort at showing true emotion as Hoagie.

Sally Jo Osborne’s Stage and Cinema review of Eclectic Theatre Company’s Music from a Sparkling Planet at the Athenaeum in Chicago

With a very simple set, no scene changes, and, save for Tamara, unexceptional costumes, the time periods could be a bit confusing (What? No bellbottoms?).  Once the show gets going, the script’s genuine optimism and sentimentality shine through; this is a story of hope and also a reminder that it is not too late to change and that there is no time like the present to do what can be done.  All things are possible when you are living in the here and now and not in the past and not in the future.   We must take responsibility for our own actions and sometimes it takes a friend to help us along the way.

This is the inaugural season of The Eclectic Theatre Company, which believes in connecting with the audience while exploring and focusing on beliefs that are relatable to the audience. While this first outing is a slow-to-build hit-and-miss affair that ultimately succeeds, there is enough earnestness and talent for them to declare they have made a footprint in Chicago. Now, to really sparkle, they need to up the ante by being bolder, urgent, and more daring in both design and direction. Then one day, they can get their own theatre other than the Athenaeum, where dancers hoofed upstairs during the show.

Sally Jo Osborne’s Stage and Cinema review of Eclectic Theatre Company’s Music from a Sparkling Planet at the Athenaeum in Chicagophotos courtesy Eclectic Theatre

The Eclectic Theatre Company
Athenaeum Theatre, 936 N Southport Ave.
ends on November 18, 2012
for tickets, call 773.935.6875 or visit Athenaeum Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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