BWW Reviews: CORALINE: THE MUSICAL

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BWW Reviews: CORALINE: THE MUSICAL The eyes have it. Or should I say "the button eyes" have it.

Black Button Eyes Production's Midwest premiere of "Coraline: The Musical," through Sept. 6 at City Lit Theater (1012 W. Bryn Mawr), is one creepy, kooky and mysteriously ooky affair.

Much in the same way Stephen King did with clowns in the novel It, in "Coraline," Neil Gaiman managed to take the Celtic concept of the hag (aka the beldam) and turn it into something that is truly the stuff of nightmares.

They eyes are windows to the soul. Replace those eyes with buttons and you have one heck of a scary antagonist. And in Black Button Eyes Production of the 2009 off-Broadway musical "Coraline," there are plenty of chills to be had.

Sheridan Singleton stars as our heroine, a precoucious, nine year-old English girl quite upset with her parents for moving the family to a large house in the middle of nowhere that has been split into seperate apartments on each floor. As required in much of pantimime, Coraline is a bit bratty at first. It's only until she discovers the alternative version of her world, ruled over by a button-eyed creature known as The Other Mother (played to gender-bending perfection by Bailiwick ensemble member Ryan Lanning who has never sounded more vocally in contol then he does her) that she begins to realize just how good she has it.

It's worth noting with her razor sharp, blood-red nails, white gloves and those button eyes, the Other Mother --along with the rest of the button-eyed denizens of the other world --might just haunt you a few nights or two after seeing the production..

Of course, seeing these creatures a scant ten feet from the comforts of your theater seat (and the intimate City Lit theater is a fine space for this show) no doubt helps with creating a lingering image or two.

Not to say the show is completely dark and disturbing. There are some fine comedic moments by Kevin Webb (as Cat, a feline who practically can't even be bothered with helping Caroline out of the mess she finds herself in). Without spoiling too much, his performance of the song "When You're a Cat" will surely bring to mind any cat you've ever known.

As both Father and Other Father, Justin Kimrey is delightfully charming, if not occassionally clueless.

Also amusing are Kevin Bishop and Caitlin Jackson as a pair of retired actresses who live in the basement flat (Miss Forcible and Miss Spink respectively). In their self-titled introduction song, the pair perfectly sum up the leap of faith you'll need to take to fully enjoy the pantimime "You simply say/I'm in Hawaii/And you're there/You can be Antigone/Or Cher!"

The show's biggest challenge remains its unconventional score by Stephin Merritt. Performed on toy pianos, a baby grand that has been altered so lower keys do not produce regular tones, and an upright piano, the aural landscape of "Coraline: The Musical" is unfortunately fairly flat. It would have been nice if Mr. Merritt had, for instance, kept the wildly unconventional toy piano orchestrations limited to the other world (further setting it apart from the real world). An audience might have preferred to hear some of the songs in a traditional piano arrangment.

The whole affair manages to capture the "other worldness" of Gaimen's novel quite nicely, though.

"Coraline: The Musical" runs through Sept. 6 at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr. Tickets, $25, are available at http://coralinechicago.brownpapertickets.com.

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Misha Davenport Misha Davenport is a Chicago-based freelance writer, blogger, critic and singer. He studied playwriting at Michigan State University under the late Arthur Athanason. He has been covering theater in the Windy City for more than a decade at the Chicago Sun-Times and currently as a contributor to BroadwayWorld.com. He sits on the board of the not-for-profit arts group Chicago Gay Men's Chorus and resides in Rogers Park, just steps away from the emerging theater district located there. He is a fierce advocate and lover of live theater from shows in 50-seat storefronts to big Broadway blockbusters.


 
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