As a cinema buff, I traffic almost solely in divas. Thus, there is nothing like the joy I feel when speeding down the filmography-highway of some long forgotten jazz singer or hungry B-Movie starlet.
Chicago theater has their share of celluloid worthy powerhouses, as well. A majority of them are estimable, of course. But, in my humble opinion, there is only one Caitlin Jackson! Over the past several years, Jackson has majestically brought such ball busting deities as Bette Midler and Sally Bowles to life on various stages throughout our (rarely) fair Windy City. This fall she added Sweeney Todd’s iconic Mrs. Lovett to her repertoire, as well, and her incisive take on the role first made famous by Angela Lansbury has had audiences committing acts of rampant standing applause, willfully and en mass.
That she has brought out the romanticism and sexuality of Lovett so surgically is especially impressive as this version of the show, produced by Kokandy Productions, imaginatively forgoes props and relies heavily on symbolic objects to push the proceedings forward. Derek Van Barham’s direction, meanwhile, emphasizes both the dark comedy of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and the ghoulish Gothicism inherent within the play’s themes of slaughter for profit and deep madness.
That troubling midland is felt most keenly in the fine performances of Brittney Brown and Isabel Cecilia Garcia, whose roles are mirrored reflections of each other. On the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Stajmiger brings such sweet beauty to his take on the show’s premium ballad Johanna that he is likely to bring tears to your eyes. He did to mine.
Sweeney Todd runs at The Chopin Theatre until Sunday, December 18th. More information is available at http://www.kokandyproductions.com.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!