Review: Cubicle! An Office Space Musical (New Millennium)

  
  

A contemporary classic becomes a mangled musical

 
 

New Millennium Theatre presents "Cubicle! An Office Space Musical"

    
New Millennium Theatre presents
   
   
Cubicle! An Office Space Musical
   
  
Adapted by Ian McPhaden and Steven D. Attanasie Jr.
Original music by Megan Piccochi
Directed by Laura Coleman & Sean Harklerode
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $17-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The musical theatre landscape of today is riddled with the picked over remains of derivative ideas. It’s not that the genre doesn’t have the ability to be new and fresh (see The Book of Mormon or Next to Normal). It’s just that it’s perceived to be easier and less risky to take a previously successful work, abridge it and insert some songs to fill the gaps. The problem is that this method results in such monstrosities as Spiderman Turn Off the Dark.

New Millennium Theatre presents "Cubicle! An Office Space Musical"In 2005, New Millennium Theatre Company took this formula and applied it to the movie “Office Space”, the hilarious 1999 Mike Judge comedy about the ironies of office life. The company has revived its musical—christened Cubicle! An Office Space Musical. Although I can’t speak for the original production, the current production is a play that only a true hardcore fan of the movie could love. And even then, this might be pushing it. For though the script is a very close adaptation of the movie, the caliber of talent is lacking. This is a musical sung by non-singers who do not have the luxury of proper technical tools to lift their voices above the muffling canned score.

The play is about everyman Peter (Joseph H. White), a white-collar cubicle dweller who can’t stand the rat race. His office features all the common annoyances of contemporary work life, from a confusing hierarchy of middle managers to unexpected weekend workdays. After a hypnotherapy session goes awry, Peter is awoken to life’s zest and decides to seize the day by becoming an utter and complete slacker. Fortuitously, this attitude ends up benefiting him in his work life.

Other plot elements include Peter’s love interest Rachel (Kelly Parker), a disgruntled waitress at a TGI Friday’s style restaurant; Peter’s friends Michael Bolton (Michael James Graf) and Samir (Rafael Torres), who help him execute a plan to embezzle thousands of dollars from the company; and Milton (Guy Schingoethe), the meek and mentally unstable employee who threatens to burn the building to the ground if he doesn’t get his red stapler back.

New Millennium is working with a solid script. The adaptation, penned by Ian McPhaden and Steven D. Attanasie Jr., rips much of the movie’s famous dialogue word for word right down to the famous "O face" scene. You would think it’s too identical to the film to fail.

But it does fail. And it has everything to do with the musical part of this musical. The singing is just atrocious. Much of the songs are spoken with a singsong affect. And even the rap numbers, which don’t require a gift for melody, are executed with a disappointing lack of passion and commitment. The performers, whose vocal strength can be likened to a light breeze, lack microphones, which makes it all the more impossible to hear the lyrics over the pre-recorded tracks. Speaking of which, the music is also problematic. Musical director Megan Piccochi has created a cacophonous and rather uncatchy series of songs that fail to stick. Rather than rely on clear and straightforward instrumentation, she has spliced pre-existing songs with digital samples to create a tangle of audio.

There are two saving graces to this show. The number "Flair" is by far and away the musical’s best. Much of this can be credited to performer Adam Rosowicz, who gives a dynamic performance and sports a strong voice. The other high point is Schingoethe, whose portrayal of Milton is captivating. His powerful pipes eclipse the majority of the cast.

If you’re a giant fan of “Office Space”, you may derive pleasure out of Cubicle! If you are a fan of musicals, prepare to be disappointed. And if you like to go to bed early, drink some coffee (the show runs from about 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.).

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

New Millennium Theatre presents "Cubicle! An Office Space Musical"

Cubicle! An Office Space Musical will run Friday and Saturday nights May 6th through June 4th at 11:00pm at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont Ave.). Tickets are $20 at the door or $17 in advance. There will be a limited number of half price tickets available through goldstar.com and hottix. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit www.nmtchicago.org.

  
 

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REVIEW: The Living Canvas – Demons (National Pastime)

Across space and time in the Autistic Mind

 

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National Pastime Theater presents
   
The Living Canvas – Demons
       
Developed by Peter Guither
Directed by Lisa Adams
Written by Lisa Adams and Don Alsafi
at
National Pastime Theater, address (map)
through July 31st  |  tickets: $20 |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

livingcanvas5The Living Canvas is a perennial performance art piece that has been commandeered by photographer Peter Guither since 2001. Each year Guither works with a cast of actors and dancers to develop a story or theme using music, dance and movement under a collection of images and designs that are projected onto their  naked bodies. Far from being art for the prurient, The Living Canvas provokes a dreamlike, near-hallucinatory state for the theatergoer. Naked bodies of all shapes and sizes take on the moods and meanings invoked by the images that are projected upon them—even to the point of questioning whether these are human forms at all.

So, naturally, this year’s theme, produced by National Pastime Theater as part of its Naked July Series, fits like a glove. The Living Canvas – Demons is a pretty telling impression of the creatures that captivate and propel this year’s storyline, which involves taking a journey into the mind of a mentally handicapped young woman. Young Lilly sees figures that only become apparent to her sister once some sort of mind-meld takes place between them, drawing her from the so-called real world into the world that Lilly sees. Lilly’s world may indeed be filled with capricious, mischievous, and dangerous demons. However, it might be better to call them daemons, the ancient Greek term from which “demons” is derived. For the ancient Greeks, daemons were simply spirits–and those spirits can be either bad or good; their motives are not always certain or obvious.

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That concept for the beings in Lilly’s inner world fits far better than our Judeo-Christian construct of evil, otherworldly creatures. Lilly’s sister must try to determine whether Lilly’s daemons mean her harm or good; whether they draw her into maddening misery or whether they open her up to fresh perspectives; destroy her connection to reality or give her alternatives to reality that truly liberate. It’s a journey filled with fear and uncertainty, but it is also conceptually broadening and emotionally inspiring. It’s a dreamscape that Lilly may be unwilling to leave and, frankly, the audience may not want to leave it either.

livingcanvas9What is truly fascinating for me is that The Living Canvas – Demons seems to take the audience on a journey, not just through Lilly’s mind, but also through time and art in Western Civilization. The naked vulnerability of Lilly’s body, coupled with the appearance of the daemons when they seem truly demonic, brings to mind medieval imagery—in particular, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Likewise, the psychedelic floral images projected onto the cast bring a strong flavor of 1960s Flower Power, but they can also evoke Bosch’s happier imagery in his “The Garden of Earthly Delights”.

It’s clear now that The Living Canvas is not just a performance piece but also a Chicago performance tradition. The community formed by the performers and  audience around each new story or theme evokes a “happening” in the style of the 60s. At the end of the show, performers talk about their personal evolution in body consciousness after performing under Guither’s projections in the nude and then audience members are invited onstage to partake of the experience. It’s nice to see so many in the audience take up the invitation and allow their human bodies to have a greater range of expression than most art usually permits.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

livingcanvas3 All photos by Peter Guither

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