This noir-Greek musical mashup doesn't fully land punches on either side of its parody targets.
Chicago Theatre Workshop, a new company devoted to the development and production of new musicals, makes its debut with this film-noir spoof by Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar, the team behind the musicalizations of Elf and The Wedding Singer. Certainly the creative team that granted CTW this Chicago premiere comprises a pair of artists on the rise (separately from Sklar, Beguelin also earned twin Tony nominations in 2014 for Disney's Aladdin).
But Wicked City, a spoof combining elements of film noir and Greek tragedy, feels a little haphazard—not necessarily in director Christopher Pazdernik's competent staging, but in its interweaving of influences.
The show begins with a curvy femme fatale named Jo Van Cleave (Lauren Roesner) jumping to her death from a rooftop. From there, the show jumps back to the beginning of the story, as blind seer Madame Theresa (Rashada Dawan) tells the cops about Jo's hiring of a handsome young private dick named Eddie Cain (Javier Ferreira) to find her long-lost son. Let's just say the story owes as much to Oedipus as it does The Big Sleep.
Beguelin and Sklar stir in some clever references to both Greek and noir, but the mix gets muddy between the two. The divine Dana Tretta, asked to play Eddie's mother as a pastiche of both Oedipus's Merope and Joan Crawford, has to try and land jokes on both sides—a split that asks an audience for a lot of disparate foreknowledge. Maybe if Sklar's score was more memorable, the dichotomy wouldn't feel so tough to get past. As a new Equity company launching a season of intriguing musical works new to Chicago audiences, CTW has our attention. But Wicked City needs more workshopping.
Chicago Theatre Workshop at Edge Theatre. Directed by Christopher Pazdernik. With Javier Ferreira, Lauren Roesner, Rashada Dawan, Dana Tretta. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.