MCL Chicago is a year-old space in Lakeview, great for improv comedy. It’s an intimate setting with little cafe tables interspersed throughout the audience for a BYOB beverage-of-choice, but like every space, this one has a few down sides. J. Lindsay Brown’s fully improvised dance and song extravaganza with The Glitter Island Gang, Spectacle Spectacular, suffered a bit in this space, which is not ideal for dancing.
Aside from a structural beam downstage right (which was actually a really nice foot rest for the guy who scored the chair right behind it), for me, it was a regrettable decision to sit in a section of audience seating positioned stage right. I generally found myself staring at the performers in profile, as though I’d opted for the “cheap seats;” the only person who truly acknowledged us was Neil Figuracion, the sole man in the cast and illustrious leader of The Glitter Island Gang, a new comedy improv group in town.
The only time the cramped space and masonite floor really mattered was the “dream ballet” in the second act of the completely made-up musical. In this segment, the six dancers in Brown’s company took on some big jumps and partnering. Remember, this was all improvised, and the whole sequence made me cringe a bit – not because the dancing was bad, but because it felt like any second somebody was going to get whacked in the face. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
In just over an hour, we got a fully developed plot, interesting and surprisingly complex characters, catchy tunes and a couple of belted ballads, and a whole lot of laugh-out-loud moments that, admittedly, I didn’t expect going into the evening. Even within this totally unpredictable ridiculousness, some profound moments occurred. The protagonist, played by Glitter Island’s Mel Bee, and her dog Marigold (played by JLB dancer Helen Zoerhof) were residents of “Splendid City,” a town in which beauty is placed in the highest regard by the local “pretty committee.” By the end of the performance, we were reminded of the importance of being ourselves, following our passions, and that people are good enough just the way they are. Good triumphed over evil, as it tends to do in musicals.
Knowing that the whole thing was made up on the spot yields a certain forgiveness when a song was out of tune, or a dancer was not in her light. To put it bluntly, it takes a lot of balls to put on a full-length musical production, with lights and live musical accompaniment, based on one adjective shouted out 10 seconds before it begins. So, the fact that anything happened at all is pretty incredible, and last Sunday’s final iteration based on the word “splendid” lived up to its inspiration.
The dancers were stretched maybe a tiny bit further, singing and acting alongside actors who were not so inclined to dance. For J. Lindsay Brown, Spectacle Spectacular is a win. As a relatively new choreographer in town, Brown is right where she should be, and refuses to take herself too seriously. I can only hope that this is a collaboration that goes on and continues to gel; it’s a pearl that needs a tiny bit more time in the oyster.