Review: BAKED! THE MUSICAL at Theo Ubique

Theo Ubique's production has heart

By: Sep. 27, 2023
Review: BAKED! THE MUSICAL at Theo Ubique

Clever and heartfelt, BAKED! THE MUSICAL has been mixing around in various workshop performances since 2019 and Theo Ubique’s production is the fullest one yet of the show by emerging new talents Deepak Kumar and Jord Liu.

It’s rare that Chicago theater audiences have an opportunity to see a show through all the periods of production and while the current production still has a few things in need of work, overall the show is worth your time –particularly if you have seen any of its previous workshop incarnations.

Jane (a smart and charming Sunnie Eraso) is an overachieving high school senior juggling the demands of keeping her grades up, getting into her top choice of Harvard and working in the small bakery that has been in the family for generations. Her hair is half black and half blonde, symbolizing in some ways how she is trying to straddle the traditions of her Chinese American culture and her need to embrace what she feels it means to be an all-American teen (namely, blonde).

Her mom Yunzhou (Mariel Saavadra in a touching performance) is mourning the death of her father back in Asia after realizing she can either fly out to China for the funeral or keep the bakery open another few months. Her supportive husband Mingli (Nick Joe) is a bit of a dreamer. He’s not quite ready to let go of the failing business and thinks a few paper lanterns and the upcoming Moon Festival will be enough to change the bakery’s fortunes.

Jane’s best friend is Kasey (Devon Hayakawa in the role she has previously played in one of the show’s workshop performances). She is a bit of a hanger-on, never really emerging from the shadow of her best friend.

Hayakawa and Eraso’s vocal work on “Last Hurrah” is a highlight of the first act. Their voices blend exceptionally well and the song manages to capture that joyous excitement when high school seniors are on the cusp of graduation and transitioning into adulthood.

Jane’s last hurrah is soon thrown a wrench when she does not get the full-ride scholarship to Harvard she was expecting. She partners with the high school degenerate and would-be drug king Z (a very funny and likeable Reilly Oh) to infuse her family’s recipes with pot and sell the edibles to fund her first year at the very expensive Ivy League school.

The first act is tight, but the second act needs a bit more work and could use the addition of a few more songs. In particular, Z is virtually unseen for most of the second act and, without spoiling too much, the show could use a number from him where he reacts to the situation he finds himself in.

Additionally, Jane’s parents, who once had such high hopes for their daughter, are surprisingly quick to accept the show’s resolution. This just doesn’t ring true to me. A reprise of  the second act song “Know You The Most” with the parents both realizing they didn’t fully know their daughter might fix this.  

Finally, it’s still unclear (at least to me) the nature of Jane and Kasey’s relationship. Z at one point asks if they are lesbians, but the show doesn’t really answer that question in any sort of satisfying way.

Grace Dolezal-Ng’s direction moves at a brisk pace, but the dialogue-heavy second act sometimes slows things down. Again, editing the book to include singing and showing us more instead of telling us would go a long way here, but that is by no means the fault of Dolezal-Ng (who does the best with what she is given).

Tyler Miles’ musical direction is limited to the amount of instruments  and he does the best with what he is working with (Noel Streaker on percussion and Miles on keyboard). The show’s sound would be better served in future productions with adding additional instruments to the arrangement, but, again, given this is still a show very much in progress, the score is fine.

Mara Ishihara Zinky’s set design hits all the right notes. You have a very realistic bakery set and Jane’s bedroom contains a painting of a monkey and an elephant that’s a bit of an easter egg (depending on which Asian culture, the monkey either symbolizes intelligence or mischievousness and the elephant symbolizes strength or intelligence; either interpretation of each animal fits Jane’s personality to a tee).

Overall, it’s refreshing to be able to see a work such as BAKED! be nurtured and grow thanks to the input and reactions from a Chicago audience.

Finally, with so few musicals offering any Asian representation (let alone what it means to try and blend the traditional with modern that is, after all, supposed to be the promise of the “great American melting pot”), BAKED! succeeds in creating an engaging story that is accessible to all audiences.

BAKED! THE MUSICAL runs through Oct. 8 at Theo Ubique, 721 Howard Street, Evanston. Tickets $40. Pre-fixe dinner available for an additional $33.

Photo courtesy of Time Stops Photography

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