With an audience of some of America’s foremost theatre critics, Lookingglass Theatre premiered their newest offering “Eastland , an original musical” Written by Artistic Director , Andrew White, the show tells the story of the nautical disaster. In 1915, the SS Eastland sat on the Chicago River and managed to tilt on its side. The show tells the tales of the victims and heroes of the event.
The music by Ben Sussman and Andre Pluess lent a folksy edge to the musical saga. Amanda Dehnert uses this show to demonstrate both vocal and instrumental talents of the cast. Musicals are indeed a rarity on the Lookingglass stage due to the small performing space. This allows the music to be more central to the plot , rather than utilizing a huge stage with elaborate dance numbers . Dehnert was wise to cast a varied group of performers , with ages ranging from teens to more mature actors. This gives the story a more humanistic approach. Demonstrating their instrumental talents, several of the cast doubled as members of the ships crew as they played their instruments. Most notably was favorite Michael Barrow Smith who played an instrument as well as portraying Capt Harry Pederson . Smith’s portrayal gave the audience a portrayal who showed remorse for the incident but didnt’ welcome the blame placed upon him. Lookingglass has a wealth of actors that can show their range and this show was no exception. Derek Hasenstab doubled in the roles of the husband of one of the victims and Houdini. His “Houdini ” reminded me a lot of the way that Che taunts Eva in “Evita” as he taunted Reggie to dive longer so his record would stand. Doug Hahn played “the Human Frog” with a macho enthusiasm as he prided himself on each dive he made. His portrayal of the unsung hero endeared the audience who cheered along with him as he saved another victim or rescued another body. The young heroine , “Bobbie” portrayed by Claire Wellin used her lilting voice to enchant the audience of the perils of this young girl . She showed perseverance and courage as she waited for her imminent rescue . One of the comic moments of the musical tale was when Lawrence DiStaci sang about his job as the Undertaker. What would have been seen as a morbid moment of the show was actually made funny. The Undertaker actually sang about “dining with the worms.” and even though it was gross, it made the audience laugh. Romance was included when the Grocer “took a shine” to one of his lady customers. Erik Hellman made this man romantic, yet at the same time , didnt make him out to be a cad . The romance had a sweet and innocent quality to it
For a historical, yet entertaining evening see “Eastland”. If you would like to know more about this little known disaster , there is a display of articles in the Visitors Center next to the theatre. The show runs until July 29 at the 2011 Tony Award winning theatre on Michigan Avenue. Call the box office at 312-337-0685 or go online at wwwlookingglasstheatre.org .