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Theatre Review: The Sparrow

By Peter Mavrik in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 4, 2007 6:26PM

2007_10_sparrow1.jpgWhen a theatrical production in Chicago receives seven Jeff Awards, there's definitely something buzz-worthy about it. Picking up the awards for Outstanding New Work, Production, Director, Ensemble, Original Music, Projection Design and Choreography, The House Theatre's production of The Sparrow was the must-see show earlier this year. Everyone around town was trying to get tickets. When the show extended its run another six-weeks, seats sold out in a matter of days, setting box office records as the fastest selling off-Loop show.

Broadway In Chicago, the company that has brought many excellent productions to us, once again shines their light on a winner. And if you aren't a theatre person, this is the one show we recommend you get out of your shell and go see. If you are enamored with the stage, as we tend to be, then The Sparrow is nothing short of bliss.

Playing now through the end of the year at The Apollo Theater, The Sparrow tells the story of Emily Book (Carolyn Defrin), a girl who returns to her small town home ten years after an accident claimed the lives of her classmates. Although that sounds like a depressing introduction to the story, the play is hardly balanced on any one single emotion.

Writers Chris Matheew, Jake Minton, and Nathan Allen weave together a story of an entire town, once devastated by a school bus accident but now ready to accept the sole surviving member of the class with open arms. Allen also directed the piece, which speaks miles about the complete and total use of the theater space. There's never a moment where the show is being done for you, or at you. You're involved the entire time.

2007_10_sparrow2.jpgAt the homecoming basketball game, cheering for the home team, who with a flip of their shirts changes into the opposing team, as part of the town meeting where they decide who will take in Emily, even in biology class—you're there dissecting fetal pigs with the students as a Fred Astaire dance number spontaneously occurs.

The well-knit ensemble dances, sings, and runs the emotional gamut throughout the show. A cast of 13 actors plays 25 distinct characters, with some actors tripling up on roles. A quick costume change and a group grieving adults transform into teenagers. Teachers become students, coaches become townsfolk, yet you never lose track of who is who in the show.

Emily isn't just a regular girl either, but she tries her best to hide her powers and seem normal. She can make things happen when she puts her mind to it. Defrin's performance as a girl struggling with superpowers is right on the money, metered out with precise steps and vulnerable eyes behind Emily's black framed glasses.

The Sparrow will no doubt continue its former success in this new space. A strong cast, interestingly real material, and a score that will clench your emotions all combine to make a truly outstanding theatrical experience.

The Sparrow is running now through December 31st at The Apollo Theater at 2450 N. Lincoln Ave. 773.935.6100. Performances run Wed & Thu at 7:30, Fri at 8:00, Sat at 5:30 & 8:30, Sun at 3:30 & 6:30.

Images via Margie Korshak PR