REVIEW: Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir (Ruckus)


To get out, you’ll need to use ‘em…or lose ‘em


Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir - Ruckus Theatre. Photo by Lucas Gerald

The Ruckus Theater presents
Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir
Book/Lyrics by Aaron Dean
Music/Lyrics by
Jason Rico
Directed by
Daniel Caffrey
Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

The Emperor requests a performance by the up and coming boys choir. The royal attention spearheads strategies to keep the vocal stylings intact. What wouldn’t a choirmaster do to cash in on his established prepubescent harmonies? (Imagine Michael Jackson’s dad in 18th century Austria.) The Ruckus presents the world-premiere musical Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir. Originally conceived as a fable based on the Vienna Boys Choir, The Ruckus moved the setting to the fictional town of Haltsburg after a cease-and-desist letter from the VBC. The story centers around the questionable recruitment and retention practices of a boys choir. Back in the day, star performers would retain their position by being castrated. To maintain the higher cherubic quality, it was off with his balls. Motivated by the threat of castration, four boys skip choir practice to flee captivity. Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir promotes the tagline ‘to get out, you’ll need to use ‘em…or lose ‘em.’

Jeffrey Fauver as choir director in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' - Ruckus Theater. Photo by Lucas GeraldThe Ruckus is staging its world-premiere musical at Side Project Theatre.  It’s a 35 seat theatre with a 13 member cast plus a 4-piece band off-stage. The ambitious undertaking is ballsy! Playwright Aaron Dean has written a fable that chronicles the fugitives’ interactions with a witch, a dragon, a talking rock and a dancing penis. In a small venue, it’s a lot to take in. The Medieval choir torture is an intriguing horrific tale in itself. The puppet pageantry and ancillary characters could be snipped to focus on the real action, though the superfluous pieces do add fantasy elements. But instead of an orgy for the senses, it’s gets clunky, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying – a pleasurable experience is all about one solid thing probed deeper (pun intended?).

Under the direction of Daniel Caffrey, the cast works energetically to escape disaster. The quartet of runaways crawl, croon and create an exit plan. Kate Black (Johanne) leads the singers with an enthusiastic chipper. Alyse Kittner (Nils) brings the sass as a rambunctious sidekick. Liz Goodson (Arthur) anchors the foursome as the stalwart quiet one. Heather Moats (Sebastian) endears as the timid lost boy. Megan Gotz (Victors) connives as the jealous wannabe soloist. These gals don’t need balls to hit the right melody. With the talented he-shes and a tighter script, Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir will take flight. Snip-snip! “It’s easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3…”


Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes with a fifteen minute intermission

One of the choirboys in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' at Ruckus Theater. Timo Aker as choir director in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' - Ruckus Theater. Photo by Lucas Gerald

Production photography by Lucas Gerald.





Kate Black as Johanne; Liz Goodson as Arthur; Alyse Kittner as Nils; Heather Moats as Sebastian; Megan Gotz as Victors; Susan Steinke as Weiss; Timo Aker as Father/Rhinestadt; Beth Allin as Mother; Sarah Bockel as Elsa/Witch; Kevin Crispin as Ingles; Joshua Davis as Gnome; Jeffrey Fauver as Choirmaster; and Kevin Murray as Oskar/Puppeteer.

Creative/Production Team

The creative team includes Music Director Charles Worth, Set Designer Nick Shaw, Costume Designer Kristen Ahern, Lighting Designer Christine Grodecki, assisted by Sarah Mikrut, Sound Designer Palmer Jankens, Props Designers Brian Ruby and Allison Shoemaker, Puppet Designer Lizi Breit, Casting Director Timo Aker and Stage Manager Elizabeth Powers, assisted by Melissa Evbuoma.

Creative Team Bios

Aaron Dean (Book & Lyrics) is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he studied theater and dabbled in Sociology and History. He has worked as a screenwriter, actor, nanny, janitor, musician, salesman, groundskeeper, canvasser for Greenpeace, baker, dishwasher, little league concession guy, tutor, cook, playwright, has unloaded many, many semi-trucks and co-hosted shows displaying patio furniture. His work as a playwright has been produced by The Ruckus and Brain Surgeon Theater. He is proud to serve as the literary manager of The Ruckus.

Jason Rico (Music & Lyrics) is an American composer of instrumental, vocal and theater music. He has created a body of work in multiple genres including symphonic, wind ensemble, choral, art song, chamber music and opera. Rico studied composition with Michael Schelle at Butler University and with Andrey Kasparov and Adolphus Hailstork at Old Dominion University. His compositions have been praised for their complex and truly American style. His ability to pair the musical line with text was highlighted in his work “This Land of Heroes” for chorus, assorted instruments and electronics, for which he was awarded the Old Dominion University Honors Grant. He also received several other awards for his “Viola Concerto,” “Three American Elegies” and the song cycle “Nature Is Never Spent.” Jason is currently Music Director for Quixotic, a sketch comedy troupe based in Chicago. Escape from the Haltsburg Boys’ Choir is his first musical.

Daniel Caffrey (Director) is the Artistic Director of Tympanic Theatre Company, which he founded in 2006 after arriving in Chicago. He has directed for Tympanic, iO, the side project, and is thrilled to be back with The Ruckus after directing his own short play Pogo for Tell It & Speak It & Think It & Breathe It in 2009. As a playwright, his work has been produced by ARFTCO, Chicago Dramatists, Dramatis Personae, Dream Theatre, Hobo Junction, Infusion Theatre, MOB Productions, The Rough House, Tympanic and WildClaw Theatre. He occasionally acts, and is also a Staff Writer for the music publication Consequence Of Sound (

Jeffrey Fauver as choir director in 'Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir' - Ruckus Theater. Photo by Lucas Gerald



A block down the street from Side Project Theatre is a cozy dining option, Gruppo di Amici, 1508 W. Jarvis. When we arrive, the storefront Italian restaurant is inviting, dimly lit with whiffs of baking pizzas. We are just one of a few tables at 6pm on a Friday. Our friendly server recommends a bottle of the Syrah as a full-bodied red option. As we debate the order, the restaurant starts to fill up. Despite the disclaimer

Gruppo di Amici - 1508 W. Jarvis, Chicago

that it needs fifteen minutes, we chance it and order the Risotto Cake to start. It’s risotto stuffed with buffalo mozzarella served over vegetables. It arrives with an enticing presentation. Although the temperature is tepid and I abstain due to a cauliflower scare, the guys finish it in delight. Our server is doubling as the bartender and becomes less attentive as the restaurant fills up. We forgot to tell her that we have a curtain. And because we have an overwhelming sense the appetizer temperature was a result of her delay, we try to flag our server down. We end up conversing with an alternative server. He checks in and our Margherita (basil, tomato sauce, mozzarella) and Salsiccia (Red bell pepper, mild Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese) pizzas arrive at the table hot and delicious. Our timing continues to be challenging and we flag down the server so we can escape to the show.

3 WORDS: A man who uses ‘em daily, Shawn says, “ ’props’ or ‘puppets’!?!?”


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