REVIEW: You Took Away My Flag (Modofac Productions)

Take away these lyrics

 

253_FINAL-YOU_TOOK_AWAY_MY_FLAG-wo_strawdog

 
Modofac Productions, LLC presents
 
You Took Away My Flag: a Musical About Kosovo
 
Book, music and lyrics by Henry H. Perritt Jr.
Directed by
G. J. Cederquist; musical direction by Jeremy Ramey
At
Theatre Building Chicago, Lakeview
Through May 23 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Henry H. Perritt Jr., the Chicago-Kent College of Law professor who authored and produced You Took Away My Flag: a Musical About Kosovo knows a lot about his play’s subject — he authored two books about the disputed Balkan territory and spent 10 years working toward its redevelopment as an independent state — and something about writing music.

What he doesn’t know is the first rule of drama: Show. Don’t tell.

There’s so much exposition in this musical, it could be a textbook. And it doesn’t help a bit that it’s a sung-through format, so all this explication comes at us in recitative form. Even worse, the lyrics often jar against the music with too many feet per beat, poor scansion and bad rhymes, in awful couplets like these:

 

"Your kind heart will keep you from ever
Using that AK47."

"Must we endure the Serbians’ yoke un-
Til our backs are truly broken?"

"Talk all you want. I don’t care.
Successful insurgencies are really rare."

The exposition begins with the opening song, in which the narrator, a trench-coated American reporter (Brian Birch), gives us some history of the conflict in Kosovo between the occupying, Serbs and the "proud Albanians" — the story is unabashedly 253_FINAL-YOU_TOOK_AWAY_MY_FLAG-wo_strawdogpro-Albanian — and sets us up to meet 18-year-old Arian (Jordan Phelps), his best friend, Fahri (Ethan Saks), and Arian’s older sister, Vjosa (Amy Steele). The three all work in a cafe run by the siblings’ father, Fatmir (Joshua Harris).

Arian chafes under Serbian military law, but Vjosa is just as bothered by the strictures of Albanian society, and longs for the freedom of America. She is secretly in love with a Serbian officer, Dragan (Shaun Nathan Baer), an unheard-of miscegeny. The boys enrage some Serbian soldiers by taunting them with the Albanian flag. While Dragan protects Arian, one of his men kills Fahri. Vowing revenge, Arian goes off to join the Kosovo Liberation Army, a band of guerrillas led by Driton (Patrick Cannon).

Meanwhile, Dragan drunkenly asks Vjosa if she still loves him. She does, but she’s not above stealing secret Serbian plans from him to give to her brother. Fatmir and the reporter try unsuccessfully to get the U.N. to intervene in Kosovo. The fighting goes on, the passage of time symbolized by the reporter’s increasingly blood-stained trench coat, and the purloined plans make no difference.

253_FINAL-YOU_TOOK_AWAY_MY_FLAG-wo_strawdog Guilt-stricken Dragan gives the reporter compromising photos of Serbian atrocities that bring international aid at last, and NATO bombs the Serbs out of Kosovo. The proud Albanian Kosovars next struggle with international authorities, ultimately declaring independence but never getting back their Albanian flag.

Parts of the plot seem unlikely, yet not more so than in other musicals. But there’s way too much of it — too many complexities and too many scenes covering too long a time period.

The young cast, all beautiful singers and fine actors, do a heroic job with the material. The music, if not always melodious, is pleasant enough, and sometimes stirring, with a contemporary pop sound. Music director Jeremy Ramey and his musicians (David Orlicz, Nick Anderson and Nick Boettcher) give the score everything they can, but the tunes and the performances have no chance at all against the relentless horribleness of all those words.

 

Rating: ★½

 

 

 

Cast

 

Jordan Phelps (Arian)

Jordan Phelps is honored to make his Chicago Theater debut as part of the YTAMF cast. Native to Northwest Washington, he attended Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University majoring in Musical Theater. Jordan most recently played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, which received national recognition in USA Today’s Best High School Musicals of 2008. Other credits at Bellingham High include West Side Story (Riff), Scapino! (Scapino), Anthing Goes (Billy Crocker) and Our Town (George Gibbs). He also performed in five seasons at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center and numerous productions at the Bellingham Theater Guild, Firehouse Theater and even an original work at the Theatre du Rocher in Toulon, France. An acclaimed vocalist, he was selected to the All Northwest Regional Music Convention, and awarded at Washington State solo and ensemble competitions. Jordan is currently enrolled at Act One and Lou Conte Dance Studios in Chicago.

 

Ethan Saks (Fahri and Ensemble)

Ethan Saks is excited to be a part of YTAMF,  Previous productions include The History Boys (Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theater),Othello and The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Utah Shakespearean Festival), The Merry Wives of Windsor (The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey), and Ghosts, Scapin, Bubble Boy: The Musical and The Father at Carnegie Mellon University where he recently received his BFA in acting.  His most recent Chicago credits include Another Time Undone and Simple Way Cafe with Ruckus Theater Company.

 

Amy Steele (Vjosa)

Amy Steele is grateful to be a part of this new show. She graduated from Indiana University with her degree in vocal performance. Chicago credits include Shout, the Mod Musical at Drury Lane Watertower, Madame X at Chicago Center for Performing Arts, Little Women at Jedlicka Performing Arts Center, The American Girl Revue at the American Girl Place, and Urinetown at the Mercury Theatre. She has also worked with Chicago Kids Company, Metropolis, Noble Fool Theatre, and Steel Beam Theatre. Love and thanks!

 

 

Shaun Nathan Baer (Dragan)

Shaun Nathan Baer (Dragan) is thrilled to be working on YTAMF with Modofac Productions. Since moving back to Chicago from Minneapolis a year ago, Shaun has worked with Noble Fool Theatricals and Hell in a Handbag Productions. Favorite roles include: Homer – Floyd Collins (Theater Latte Da); Bat Boy – Bat Boy: The Musical, Jonny Warner – Zombie Prom, Arbiter – Chess, Dwight/God – Jerry Springer – The Opera (Minneapolis Musical Theatre); Jack – Into the Woods (Paul Bunyan Playhouse) Matt – The Fantasticks (Whitney Fine Arts Center); Arpad – She Loves Me (Little Theatre on the Square). Love to JRO.

 

Joshua Harris (Fatmir)

Joshua Harris is honored and grateful to be a part of You Took Away My Flag, his first endeavor in musical theatre. After growing up in Texas and Oklahoma, he received an M.A. in Theatre from Oklahoma City University. He moved to Chicago in the Summer of 2008 to pursue acting and has since worked with companies such as Tympanic Theatre Company and Attic Playhouse. Having taken on characters such as Joe Keller in All My Sons, Lloyd in Noises Off, and Azdak in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Joshua is proud to add Fatmir to the list. Joshua would like to thank Hank, George, and Jeremy for this opportunity, as well as his friends and family for their unending support.

 

Brian Birch (American Reporter)

Brian Birch is very excited to join the cast of the upcoming production of YTAMF. He has just finished an understudy role in The Castle of Otranto at First Folio Theatre. Previously he had appeared as Biff in The 1940’s Radio Hour with Citadel Theatre. Other Chicago area credits include Night of the Living Dead: The Musical, Rehearsal For Murder, and An Actors Nightmare. He recently graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Theatre and Music Education. There, he appeared in The Blue Bird, The Medium, Marat/Sade, Die Flëdermaus, West Side Story, and Secret Garden: The Musical. Brian would like to thank his family and friends for their continuous love and support.

 

Patrick Cannon (Driton)

Patrick Cannon is grateful to be a part of the YTAMF cast.  Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his professional credits include A Lyrical Christmas Carol (Narrator/Fred), West Side Story (Gladhand), Cinderella (Steward) High School Musical (ensemble u.s Jack Scott).  Other credits include Chicago (Billy Flinn), Oklahoma! (Curly), Honk! (Cat), The Civil War, Awesome 80’s Prom.  Patrick would like to thank his wonderful Mom and Dad, his brothers, Jeremy, George, and Hank.

 

 

Hillary Marren (Maltese Diplomat)

Hillary is thrilled to be a brand new resident of Chicago, and excited to be getting her feet wet in this great city’s theatre scene. Originally from Ohio, she just arrived from New Zealand where she spent a year working in Auckland and befriending sheep, as well as re-igniting her passion for theatre, which had taken a brief hiatus after she received her BFA in musical theatre from Otterbein College. She would like to thank Hank for this great opportunity and her parents, friends and Kevin for their love and support.

 

 

 

Daniel Spagnuolo (ZZtop, Ensemble) 

Daniel Spagnuolo studied Music Theatre Performance at Western Michigan University and currently studies classical voice in Chicago with Deborah Bulgrin. Chicago-area credits include "The Pirates of Penzance" with Light Opera Works and "Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: a Musical" with Chamber Opera Chicago. Other credits include "A Chorus Line" (Mark), "Barnum", "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (Dance Captain), "Spinning Into Butter" (Patrick), and several productions of "West Side Story". Daniel also performs with Opera on Tap, and “A Little R & R,” a musical theatre cabaret hosted by his friends Aimee Radics and Robin Rotela. Upcoming credits include "Carousel" and "Hello, Dolly!" with Light Opera Works.

 

Michael Carey (Ensemble)

Michael Carey’s Chicago-area credits include Len in "Book of Days" (Evergreen Theatre Ensemble) and The Announcer in "The Cat’s Meow: A Vaudeville" (Prologue Theater Company).  He is currently a student in the Annoyance Theater’s Improv training program.  Some favorite Indiana (his until-recently home) roles: Michael Douglas in "Fatal Attraction:  A Greek Tragedy" (Bloomington Playwrights Project), Captain Smollett in "Treasure Island" (Cardinal Stage Company), Will in "Cowboyily" (Bloomington Playwrights Project), Judas in "Godspell" (Shawnee Summer Theatre) and Fred in "Fred" (IndyFringe).  He is thrilled to be a part of the production.

 

Raymond Havey (Ensemble)

Raymond Havey just recently graduated from Denison University in Granville, OH with a B.A. in Vocal Music and Theatre. His professional credits include Fredrick in Pirates of Penzance at the Showboat Majestic in Cincinnati, OH, Multiple roles at the Weathervane Playhouse in Newark, OH, including Jack in Into the Woods and also has been appearing in Kid’s Musicals at the Theatre Building Chicago this past fall and spring. He is very excited to be working on this production of You Took Away My Flag.

 

Teresa Scalise (Ensemble, Music Captain)

Teresa Scalise has appeared in Emerald City Children‘s productions of Hansel and Gretel (Gretel), Frosty (Samantha), Seussical the Musical (Mrs. Mayor and Mayzie/Kangaroo understudy–performed), and Cinderalla (Temperance, the stepsister). She is delighted to return to Theatre Building Chicago for You Took Away My Flag. She has performed at TBC in Fairy Stories (Polly Van Dorsen), a part of the Stages New Musical Festival, and Neferiti (Mekitaten), and Children of the Night (Miss Craig/Missy). She holds a bachelors degree in musical theatre from The Catholic University of America.

 

Damien Rivalland (Ensemble)

Damian Rivalland is a native of France, where he received a Degree of Fine Art Design from the University of Paris. He has attended ERAC (a national drama school in the south of France) and the Theatre School at Depaul. He has appeared in Andromaque, The Trojan Women, Ruy Blas, Phaedra, La Deuxieme Ligne, and St. Joan of the Stockyards. He is thrilled to be in this musical, which portrays a conflict very much on his mind as he was growing up.

 

Corey L. Mills (Swing)

Corey Mills is excited to be a part of this new show. Originally from Indiana, He attended Ball State University.  His most recent Chicago productions include RENT (ensemble, marks performing understudy), A Chorus Line (Paul), and The Rocky Horror Show (Brad). Corey has worked on The M.S. Scotia Prince as entertainer, and cruise director, also industrials, print work, theme parks, and a few documentaries. He would like to thank his friends and family for their constant love and support! Huzzah.

 

 

Creative Personnel

BOOK – Henry H. Perritt, Jr
MUSIC & LYRICS – Henry H. Perritt, Jr.
DIRECTOR – G. J. Cederquist
MUSIC DIRECTION – Jeremy Ramey
LIGHTING – Greg Horman
SOUND – Miles Polaski
SCENIC DESIGN – Roger Wykes
COSTUME DESIGN – Chelsey Batson
FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER – Joey de Bettencourt
STAGE MANAGER – Rose Kruger

 

    

3 Responses

  1. You Took Away My Flag re-opened on Friday night, April 2 at the Theater Building Chicago 1225 W. Belmont Avenue. Revamped from last year’s performances with the addition of several new songs and new lead singers, this rock opera is that real treat in the Chicago theater scene that mostly focuses on drama. With over 50 songs penned by IIT Professor Henry Perritt jr who also produces, the performance is filled with music which soars on several occasions with sparkling duets and choral harmonies. You Took Away My Flag succeeds at combining entertainment with political commentary.

    The casting is strong with the voices of Jordan Phelps as Arian, Patrick Cannon as Driton and Brian Birch as American Reporter being particularly outstanding. This is the Chicago debut for Phelps and he can look forward to many more roles based on this strong performance. His rendition of “Deadly Prank” is one of the highlights of the rock opera. The staging is effective including an outstanding scene where the Kosovar guerrillas shoot it out with the Serbian forces. Scenes seamlessly range from intimate cafe settings to offices to camps in the mountains.

    Politics in Kosovo and the Balkans in general is perhaps not something that most of us in America know much about, but this story shows that wholehearted commitment to the cause is what it takes to succeed. For Kosovo, the will of the younger generation to stop compromising with the Serbians led to guerrilla fighting and Serbian massacres and ultimately the involvement of the United Nations and the United States in forcing out Serbia and establishing a new country. The rock opera’s title refers to the refusal of the international community to recognize the traditional Albanian flag as that of Kosovo and to substitute one that was invented overnight. What the Kosovar’s got in return was independence.

    As with any performance, one can point to things that did not always come off just right — occasional issues with lyrics being hard to hear spring to mind, but these are overshadowed by the many things that worked very well. With the wide range of music, there are songs that will appeal to some and not to others. However, as I left the theater at the end of the performance I was inspired by the sacrifice the young men and women of Kosovo made, was warmed by an evening of interesting music, and committed to remembering that Albanians pronounce the name of their country Ko-SOH-vo and Serbians pronounce it KOH-soh-vo.

    Find the opportunity to attend a performance during the run through May 23rd. You won’t regret it.

  2. Wow, Joe must be on the payroll of the play’s producer.
    This was one of the worst productions I’ve ever sat through. The only redeeming value there was involved some very attractive boys getting shirtless. It had nothing to do with the plot, and as with many elements was thrown in. “Hey, their playing basket ball and 2 random people join, shirts off” Followed by “we’re going to beat up this bar kid, here, rip his shirt off too!”

    I must say, the band was tight, talented, and Jeremy did an amazing job of trying to smooth the awful, well, transitions between character lines that were written with a Peter and the Wolf feeling, intention? Maybe I’m reaching now. It came off more like music ADD. It was as if 2 or more completely different songs were cut and pasted each time a different singer sang. The performers were some of the better actors I’ve watched in a while and impressed me with their stamina and ability to maintain their energy the whole show. Vocals were clear and had great pitch and balance on the harmony’s. I felt so sorry for them.

    If the show didn’t almost 3 hours I’d recommend loosing the intermission so people don’t walk out. It’s last 45 minutes was a never ending waltz that was unclear why they did anything after the war, but lets slowly sing about it. It didn’t help that the lines were almost comical during really serious events. The previously mentioned “Your kind heart will keep you from ever Using that AK47.” made people laugh out loud with the absurdity. I made a valiant effort to pay attention to the plot, story, and direction. I came out knowing little more about Kosovo then when I started, and was so distracted by the musical hail storm and lyrical diarrhea that the whole show’s point was pointless.

  3. […] wrote that there’s good theater beyond the city limits, and so there is. And there’s bad and uneven theater in the city. Yet unsuccessful urban and suburban Chicagoland productions typically show distinct […]

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