Back in 1982, a group of talented Evanston tweens who shared a close friendship and a mutual love for creating music, formed their own punk rock band.
For the most part, the four youngsters just enjoyed writing songs and playing them in their basement for each other. But then things changed. Suddenly, they were performing at a bar.
It was the Cubby Bar on Clark Street near Wrigley Field, and it was, for this Evanston band of preteens, the Big Time. They continued playing together for a while, but after they were asked to perform on a Chicago children’s TV show called “Kidding Around,” the band broke up.
The band was named Verboten, a German term for anything that’s forbidden by the authorities. It’s a fitting name since, as young people are prone to do, the four kids were rebelling against everything that was part of the establishment, particularly their parents.
The band was comprised of Tracey, an adopted child, the lead singer and the oldest member of the band; Chris, a bass player who was constantly embarrassed by his well-meaning dad; Zack, the band’s drummer, who also had his own parental issues; and Jason, the composer of the band’s music, lead guitarist and the unhappy product of divorce.
“Verboten” a musical about the band is now at the House Theatre. Sparked by an HBO TV show several years ago, it was written by prolific Evanston playwright, Brett Neveu.
With a punk rock musical score by Verboten’s original guitarist, Jason Narducy and directed by Nathan Allen, the show features a talented cast of actor/singer/musicians who portray these real-life characters.
Choreography by Kasey Foster enlivens the production, while the 80’s costumes by Izumi Inaba are spot-on. The show’s fragmented, two-story scenic design and brilliant concert lighting are the contribution of Lee Keenan and Grover Hollway provides the musical’s sound design.
The story isn’t new but in this collaboration between director and playwright, it feels fresh and inspired as it tells the story of real youngsters who enjoyed each other’s company, but would bicker over music, lyrics, whether or not to rehearse, and even over playing their first professional gig.
The kids have issues with their parents, particularly Jason (beautifully portrayed by Kieran McCabe). He lives with his frustrated, divorced sad (played with sadness by Ray Rehberg) who, despite attempting to show his love and communicate verbally with his son, ends up using his fists and showering him with abuse.
Jason’s stepdad is played with genuine affection by Jimmy Chung. Tracey (the mega talented Krystal Ortiz) is adopted. Her Mom and Dad (the hilarious Jenni M. Hadley and Paul Brian Fagen) are so overly enthusiastic in their love and support of their musician daughter that their words and actions become comical.
Chris’ dad is long gone and his mother is never around. So his older sister (powerfully portrayed by Marika Mashburn), despite her own emotional problems, becomes the only “adult” in Chris’ life. She provides advice and some semblance of order.
Zack’s dad (amiably played by Marc A. Rogers) is the father we’d all like to have had. He truly loves and understands his son’s passion for music, but he seems so enthusiastic in his encouragement that Zack, unlike his three friends, can’t see him as the great father he is.
This production is loud—so loud that the music often feels like just so much noise.
Sometimes the balance between the instrumental and the repetitive lyrics makes it impossible to understand what the song is saying. But the songs in which the accompaniment is toned down a tad, are treasures.
The entire cast is multitalented. They sing and play—sometimes several different instruments. But it’s the story of a group of preteens with their individual problems, a need to create their own “family” with each other, and a passion to make music that hits home and makes this another must-see show by the House Theatre.
DETAILS: “Verboten” is a House Theatre of Chicago production at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago. through March 8, 2020. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information call (773) 769-3832 or visit The House Theatre.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.