At the Marriott Theatre by Dan Zeff
Chicago – The miracle in the musical “Miracle” at the Royal George Theatre is the Chicago Cubs winning the 2016 World Series after 108 years of futility that made the team the lovable losers of the American sports scene. The team’s drive to the World Series triumph still has plenty of sizzle even for a hometown audience that knows how it all transpired. Unfortunately, to fill out a full evening’s performance time the show involves itself in formulaic domestic conflicts that end in multiple and predictable happy endings.
“Miracle” takes place inside a venerable sports bar in the Wrigleyville area near the ballpark on Chicago’s north side. The bar is now operated by Charlie Delaney (Brian Dahlquist), the second generation in his family to run the bar. Charlie’s father Pops (Gene Weygandt) is the bar’s first operator (with his now deceased wife Maggie), now in grumbling retirement yearning for the good old days of Chicago baseball and mourning the loss of his wife Maggie, a die-hard Cubs fan and the driving force in the family. Charlie’s wife Sofia (Allison Sill) is a Chicago public schools teacher and together they raise their pepperpot 11 year old daughter Dani, a Cubs zealot and the musical’s scene stealer (she alternates in the role with Elise Wolf). The cast of character completed by bartender/lawyer Larry (Jonathan Butler-Duplesis) and frequent customers Babs (Veronica Garza) and Weslowski (Michael Kingston). There is a lot of Cubs and baseball nostalgia in “Miracle” (Babs and Weslowski lead the audience in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to start the second act). But the script doesn’t play the nostalgia card strongly enough. The show bogs down in family discords over whether Charlie should sell the unprofitable bar to an outsider who wants to replace the building with a bar more in keeping with the gentrification that now envelopes the actual Wrigleyville area. There are stresses between Charlie and Sofia and Charlie and his father. At the same time Dani has become a rebellious handful. The main discord centers on an outside offer to buy the bar, an action Charlie’s father considers a betrayal of the family heritage. After several scenes worth hard feelings and quarrels, the show concludes with a set of touchy feely happy endings.
The show’s main positive is Michael Mahler’s score, filled with spritely and often humorous and satirical songs, many anchored on blue collar Chicago’s love affair with the Cubs and its history of futility. The show maybe was trying to reach for the comfy neighborhood humor of a “Cheers” and the raucous fan zealotry of “Bleacher Bums,” that 1977 hit comedy about what it means to be devoted to the Cubbies. “Miracle” book writer Jason Brett isn’t afraid to push the nostalgia button., and audiences should nod in happy recognition at the mention of Vince Lloyd, Jack Brickhouse, and Harry Caray. The nostalgia trip is enhanced by Mike Tutaj’s film projections that capture the face of the Cubs through the decades right up to the Word Series triumph. The projections provide the most delightful moments of the evening.
The storyline does recognize the changing face of professional sports, with tradition seemingly endangered by the big money tossed around by the sports industry. This is a major social and economic issue that deserves exploration, but “Miracle” touches on the controversial subject essentially as a plot device. The man who wants to buy out Charlie is treated as a greedy destroyer (he is actually named Sleaze) but character is actually represents a new order in American society that pays individual athletes hundreds of millions of dollars. Has baseball and similar entertainments been diminished from sports into business? It’s a worthwhile question better addressed in another format.
The Royal George production gets good marks for its professionalism. Collette Pollard’s set is a detailed realistic evocation of a sports bar, though I wondered why were not multiple TV sets to serve the customers while they consumed their beer and hot dogs? The production team is headed by Damon Kiely as director and Kory Danielson as music director. Izumi Inaba designed the costumes, Christine Binder the lighting, and Ray Nardelli the sound plan.
For me, the star of the evening is 13-year old Amaris Sanchez, who sings and acts and dances with gusto and savvy, blessedly without those cutesy flourishes that can make child characters so irritating on stage. The lass seems poised to be a major player on the Chicagoland scene and beyond for decades ahead.
“Miracle” needs to decide whether it is a trip down Cubbie memory lane or a documentary-style examination of blue collar characters caught in a changing world they may resent but must live with. Right now the two themes coexist uneasily. But there is much to enjoy in Michael Mahler’s lively musical score and the high quality of the production. And nearly three years after the fact who will not get a frisson of pleasure watching repeats of the final out that brings the World Series title to the city. In such moments “Miracle” does indeed play ball!
The show gets a rating of.
“Miracle” is playing an open run at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 North Halsted Street. Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $59 to $69. Call (312) 988-9000 or visit www.miraclethemusical.com.