REVIEW: Neverwhere (Lifeline Theatre)

‘Wicked’ isn’t the only dark Oz

 

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Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Neverwhere
 
Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric from the novel by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
Through June 20  |  Tickets: $30  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Alice fell through the rabbit hole. Dorothy was swept up by a tornado.

For good-hearted, mild-mannered Richard Mayhew, unlikely hero of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy Neverwhere, now in a world-premiere adaptation at Rogers Park’s Neverwhere1always innovative Lifeline Theatre, it’s stumbling on and aiding an injured girl that propels him into a strange new world — London Below – a grimmer, underground  version of the city he knows, a place of sewers and magic and people who fell through cracks … and from which there can be no return. Like Wicked, the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel from which the lighter, happier Broadway musical was adapted, Neverwhere, gives us an upended and blackly humorous view of a familiar place.

Directed by Paul S. Holmquist, Kauzlaric’s adaptation, ten years in the making, sticks closely to Gaiman’s 1996 novel, which was in turn based on a teleplay Gaiman did for a BBC miniseries.  Gaiman’s storyline leaves unanswered questions, and so does this play, but his creatively imagined world overcomes the hanging threads. Kauzlaric’s trimming removes some of the most gruesome and ugly bits, retaining most of the action.

The hapless Richard (guilelessly portrayed by Robert Kauzlaric, the playwright) journeys through the bizarre and deadly London Below with the hunted girl, Lady Door (plucky Katie McLean), and her companions, the dodgy, sardonic Marquis de Carabas (a wonderfully dry and laconic Chris Hainsworth) and the enigmatic bodyguard Hunter (Kyra Morris, in fighting trim). They’re off to see the angel Islington (somewhat over-deliberately played by Phil Timberlake) in an effort to find out who ordered Door’s whole family murdered and how Richard can, like Dorothy, go home again. The wizard … er, angel … sends them on a quest to bring back a mysterious key.

 

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Lifeline does its usual beautifully inventive job of bringing the written word to the stage, with just a few minor flaws. Here and there, unexplained lines leftover from the book may be puzzling to those who haven’t read it. Mikhail Fiksel‘s eerie original music fits the mood quite well, but in several places underlying music or sound-effects distract from the dialogue. A few longish monologues slow the action (and add up to a 2½-hour-long production).

Alan Donahue’s multi-level set, full of doors and tunnels and ladders, goes a long way toward evoking the forbidding London Below, aided by puppets created by Kimberly G. Morris and rich performances from Patrick Blashill, Christopher M. Walsh and Elise Kauzlaric as a series of creepy, colorful, underworld characters. Sean Sinitski is spine-chillingly funny as the loquacious and sinister Mr. Croup.

Gaiman fans should be thrilled, but you needn’t know the novel to enjoy this lively fantasy adventure on stage.

 
 
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

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Note: Not suitable for young children. Free parking available in the lot at the northeast corner of Morse and Ravenswood avenues, with free shuttle-van service before and after shows.

A scene from the BBC’s Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman on Neverwhere, Naperville, Feb. 2010

  
   

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“Wicked” – Final weekend!!

 

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It’s hard to believe, but after nearly 4 years, Wicked is finally closing (making it the longest-running Broadway-touring play in Chicago’s history).  I have to admit that I saw it 3 times (once during previews, once with a visiting friend, and once more with my niece), and I enjoyed it each time – mostly because it’s such a delightfully clever story. 

Anyway…

Farmhouse Only this weekend remain for Chicagoans to see WICKED, the musical phenomenon that has changed Chicago “for good”.  The WICKED drawing will continue to take place for all performances. WICKED will take its final bow in Chicago on January 25, 2009.

WICKED has helped Broadway In Chicago stand as the fifth most popular tourist attraction in the City of Chicago and has spurred interest in theatre both locally and nationally.  When surveyed, over 70 percent of the WICKED theatre patrons said that they had plans to see another show in Chicago within the year.  

GlindaGoodWitch Called “Broadway’s biggest blockbuster” by The New York Times and “a cultural phenomenon” by Variety, WICKED continues to cast a spell on all of Chicagoland and its many visitors – over 2.9 million people have attended WICKED in Chicago with audience members representing all 50 U.S. states and all seven continents. WICKED is now the longest running Broadway musical in Chicago ’s theater history. The Chicago company of WICKED took the stage on June 24, 2005 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre.

WickedWitch WICKED is produced by Marc Platt , Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt and David Stone . Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, WICKED has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman. Directed by Joe Mantello, with musical staging by Wayne Cilento, WICKED is currently presented in Chicago; a US National Tour; on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre; in Stuttgart, Germany; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; and in London at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. WICKED will be opening in San Francisco on January 27, 2009 at the Orpheum Theatre.

WICKED is now playing through January 25, 2009 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre ( 24 W. Randolph St .).

For more information, visit www.WickedTheMusical.com/Chicago or www.BroadwayInChicago.com

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