The 90s music scene pitted the grunge verses the coiffed. Playwright Carrie Sullivan plops us smack dab into the industry feud. Alex’s (played by a formidable Mary Jo Bolduc) studio is in the camp of promoting independent singer/songwriters like Kurt Cobain. Clive (played by deliciously smug Tim Newell) believes the money is in the synthesized invention of groups like the Spice Girls. Bolduc champions small town songstress Beth (played by a radiant Allison Grischow). Newell is pushing for Monica (played by hilariously self-absorbed Kiayla Ryabb). ‘The label’ has one spot open. The chase is on!
Director Robyn Coffin facilitates this with authenticity. We know these people and care about them almost immediately. Sullivan has created a distinct, if not familiar, cast of characters. Beneath Bolduc’s crusty and hardened facade is an idealist. Newell, on the other hand, is motivated by greed. Although their match-up is the very essences of a lot of plots, it still engages. Grischow is plunged into this new world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. She is trying to assimilate to the industry without losing herself. In contrast, Ryabb has morphed into what she needs to be for success. Her superficial diva act is a perfect storm of “Clueless” meets “Mean Girls.” Her interaction with an ostentatious Jake Szczpaniak (Evan and Beck) is comedy gold.
This show reminded of a John Hughes’ movie. Everyone is rooting for the heroine, Grischow, to find success and love without comprising her identity. We also want Bolduc to win the bet and have her faith restored in the music industry. Meanwhile, we get to hang out with the put-upon earnest Raj Bond (Toby), the cooky confidant Blake Dalzin (Mike), and the steadfast resigned Nick Freed (Steve). And we get to do it on Scenic Designer Alan Donahue’s multi-functional set that transforms from studio to bar to dorm room by pulling a knob.
Although THE NEXT BIG THING might not be the next big thing, it IS a heart-felt, comedic tribute to 90s music.
Running Time: One hour and fifty minutes includes an intermission
At the Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard St.
Written by Carrie J. Sullivan
Directed by Robyn Coffin.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Thru April 21, 2018
Tickets may be purchased by visiting TheFactoryTheater.com
Production photos by Michael Courier
For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.