Verböten House Theatre of Chicago

EXTENDED TO MARCH 29th.  Highly Recommend by critics & audiences.

Chicago Reader 1/14/20  - What turns kids punk? 4 page preview here

WTTW TV (1/21/20) - New Punk Rock Musical ‘Verboten' Tells True Story of ‘80s Chicago Band

Chicago Suntimes (1/27/20) - "Narducy's songs find a nearly perfect balance between the anarchic spirit of early punk and the narrative-moving character work of musical theater." - Kris Vire

Chicago Tribune (1/29/20) - "A better original score than plenty of the shows I've seen of late on Broadway." - Chris Jones

ChicagoStageStandard.com - "I cannot recommend this show enough...stirring and cathartic..music is spectacular"

 

Tix $25-50.  Group discounts. 773-769-3832

BoxOffice@thehousetheatre.com.

Shows:

8p Thu-Sat until March 8th

7p Sun (1/19 and 1/26)

3p Sat (2/1, 2/8, 2/15, 2/22, 2/29)
3p Sun (2/2, 2/9, 2/16, 2/23, 3/1, 3/7)


 

buy tickets

January 16, 2020 - March 8, 2020


What turns kids punk? Leor Galil, Chicago Reader 1/14/20 - "In fall 2014, Evanston-based playwright Brett Neveu was watching the first episode of the Foo Fighters' HBO miniseries, Sonic Highways, when he was surprised to see a new acquaintance interviewed onscreen. Neveu had met musician Jason Narducy a couple months earlier at Narducy's Evanston home; their children went to the same elementary school, and Neveu had volunteered to work with Narducy's wife, Emily Steadman, on a PTA fund-raiser.

 

"He just came walking up the stairs from his practice space," Neveu says. "I'd been in bands for 20 years, and if a guy has a practice space in his basement, I think it's pretty awesome." When Neveu went home after that visit, he listened to Split Single, a power-pop solo project Narducy launched in 2012 and whose recordings have been filled out by the likes of Wilco bassist John Stirratt, Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, and Spoon front man Britt Daniel. He was impressed by the music, not just by the star-studded roster, and when he saw Narducy again on TV, he had an idea: within a week, he'd asked his new friend for permission to write a musical about him.

 

Narducy, 48, has built a remarkable rock pedigree over the past 25 years. In the early 90s, he teamed up with cellist Alison Chesley (who now performs as Helen Money) to form the acoustic indie-rock duo Jason & Alison. After releasing 1994's Woodshed on local label Whitehouse, they turned their duo into a four-piece, christened it Verbow, and signed to Epic. Their 1997 major-label debut, Chronicles, was produced by punk elder Bob Mould. Verbow broke up in 2003, and two years later Mould invited Narducy to play bass in his band, which also includes Wurster on drums-a gig that's lasted almost 15 years so far. When Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance announced in 2013 that she could no longer play live because she suffered from a hearing disorder called hyperacusis, the band hired Narducy as their touring bassist. He's a rocker's rocker, respected for his sharp songwriting skills and expert musicianship.

 

But none of that is why Dave Grohl interviewed Narducy for Sonic Highways. The series documents the Foo Fighters recording eight songs in eight different cities for their eighth album, also titled Sonic Highways. In a voice-over that opens the series, Grohl says that this conceit provided the band with a creative challenge-they hoped to make music that spoke to the history of each city, taking inspiration at every stop from artists important to their members or to the culture at large (if not both). Grohl also interviewed musicians, producers, and other experts about the musical DNA of the eight cities, which often meant digging into his own past. In Chicago, for instance, where the series starts, Grohl went to his first concert in summer 1982. A teenage cousin, Tracey Bradford, took him to the Cubby Bear to see Rights of the Accused and Naked Raygun. Bradford also introduced Grohl to a punk band she'd started earlier that year with a few friends: they were called Verböten, and their youngest member was 11-year-old guitarist Jason Narducy.

 

Verböten opened Grohl's eyes to the reality that he could create his own kind of music, and he's talked about them publicly at least as far back as a 1996 Tribune interview with Greg Kot. But Sonic Highways brought the teen punk band to a whole new audience-including Neveu. He'd grown up a half hour outside Des Moines in Newton, Iowa, and moved to Chicago in his 20s, where he broke into the theater scene in the mid-90s with crass, fringy puppet shows. By the time he moved to Los Angeles in 2007, he'd become a prolific and successful playwright, known for dark stage shows underscored with quick wit-he'd already been hired by London's Royal Court Theatre, New York's Manhattan Theatre Club, and Chicago's Steppenwolf and Goodman theaters. Neveu moved back here in 2012 to take a teaching position at Northwestern, which he juggles with stage plays and TV screenplays at various stages of development. For the past five years or so, one of those scripts has been for Verböten, inspired by the footage he'd seen on HBO of a preteen Narducy playing in a short-lived punk band.

 

As Neveu developed a story about four kids navigating their messy lives while preparing for their big show at the Cubby Bear, Narducy got involved writing the music, giving Verböten an early-80s punk edge (something that could improve a lot of musicals). The script is heavily fictionalized, but the real Verböten were also using the band to work though the hardships of growing up. "My ability to play guitar and write songs gave me power and self-worth," Narducy says. "I was proud of my band. I think we all were, and we all found a sense of identity by being in our little gang. Beyond the confidence gained from creating songs and playing them, thanks to Tracey, we were also accepted into a community. It felt good to be welcomed by teenage punk musicians and fans."

 

Narducy's dad was big into music, but not into his music. "Rock was a huge part of our household and our world, but punk rock was mine," he says. "That was something that he didn't understand, and every kid wants to find that thing that their parents don't understand. Punk rock was that for us."

Verböten debuts at the Chopin Theatre on Thursday, January 16, and runs through early March.

 

The show has also awakened the real-life Verböten: though the band didn't put out any music before breaking up in 1983, they did make a few professional recordings, and this week they're finally releasing them as their self-titled debut EP. They'll have seven-inches for sale at the Chopin on opening night.

 

To understand what made Verböten unique requires a little knowledge of early Chicago punk history. In the late 70s, when London, New York, and Los Angeles seemed to be generating definitive punk bands faster than Malcolm McLaren generated bullshit, Chicago supposedly had no scene to speak of-though the people who say that tend to be the same people who eventually gave it one, as small and isolated as it was.

 

The first nucleus for Chicago's scene was north-side gay bar La Mere Vipere, which in spring 1977 started hosting punk dance parties where DJs spun imported seven-inches. After La Mere mysteriously burned down the following year, the scene dispersed to several clubs, including O'Banions, Oz, and later Club C.O.D. and the Cubby Bear. They played host to a growing but still tiny network of Chicago bands, among them stupid-like-a-fox smart-asses Tutu & the Pirates, prickly antagonists Silver Abuse, and dark postpunks Da. Outside the clubs they had a champion in Terry Nelson, who broadcast their music on Northeastern Illinois University's free-form radio station, WZRD. He also managed Da and co-owned Autumn Records, which in 1981 put out definitive early Chicago punk compilation Busted at Oz-it's the first release to feature music by the era's most celebrated band, Naked Raygun.

 

Even in the early 80s, punk only barely existed in Chicago, with bands struggling to find even a couple regular venues. But the scene's signal did reach the north suburbs. Verböten bassist Chris Kean got a taste for punk from the LPs that came into Evanston shop Record Exchange, then managed by future Shake, Rattle & Read proprietor Ric Addy. To find punk shows, he'd consult the Reader. "That was local for us-there was Maximum RocknRoll and Flipside, there was other things, but the Reader was the first place where we found out about all the stuff," Kean says.

 

To find bandmates, Kean didn't have to look far. He lived in the same Evanston apartment building as drummer Zack Kantor. Shortly before Verböten formed in early 1982, Kean met Narducy on a nearby basketball court. They lived a couple blocks apart, and after Narducy told Kean he was learning to play guitar, Kean invited him to his apartment to check out his brother's gear. Kean also extended an invitation to Kantor, who was just picking up the drums. "I remember some of the first times I started playing with Zack, he would set up cardboard boxes and just play cardboard," Narducy says. As a trio, the youngsters didn't go further than playing short sets for parties that Kean and Kantor's parents threw-until they met Bradford.

 

Narducy's father had gotten him a scholarship to an Evanston college preparatory called Roycemore School, which his family wouldn't otherwise have been able to afford (his parents had divorced when he was four). There he met Bradford, four years his senior. "When I was 11 years old, you could walk into a schoolroom and find your people based on their clothing-like, 'Oh, there's the goth kids, there's the punk-rock kids,'" Narducy says. "It was easy to find your people, and Tracey was that. She dressed the part and was all in." So were Narducy, Kean, and Kantor, once Bradford joined the band. Narducy doesn't remember if they'd even had a name before, but when they became a four-piece, they became Verböten.

Bradford had already made crucial connections in the Chicago punk scene, which gave the group opportunities that weren't available to any other local band with a preteen guitarist. In January 1983, Verböten opened for Rights of the Accused and Naked Raygun at the Cubby Bear. Narducy's dad was there to capture it on his camcorder.

"How does something like that happen? Well, it's Tracey," Narducy says. "Everybody fell in love with Tracey. She was just this lightning bolt, and opened a lot of doors for us."

Verböten also played basement parties, a dance at Roycemore, and a battle of the bands at New Trier overloaded with Rush cover bands. "I know there was one gig where I was grounded, and Jay [Yuenger] from Rights of the Accused, who went on to be in White Zombie, sat in for me," Narducy says. Their highest-profile gig was in May 1983, when they appeared on a local Saturday morning children's TV show called Kidding Around.

Kantor's dad wanted to get his son's band on the show, so he booked a two-hour session for them at Evanston's Studiomedia Recording Company-Verböten needed something presentable on tape to submit to the program's producers. "He told us, 'You can record four songs,'" Narducy says. "We combined two songs so that we sort of recorded five. There's a song called 'Work' and a song called 'Let It Out,' and we called it 'Work to Let It Out.' It's hilarious, 'cause it just totally stops in the middle and starts another song."

Unfortunately, Verböten broke up early in 1983, even before they appeared on Kidding Around. The band members and their families had gathered at Kantor's apartment to talk about Verböten's future. "Tracey, at this point, was 16-she was like, 'We need to release a 45 with the songs we have recorded, get in a van, and tour,'" Narducy says. "I was 12. And my dad said, 'No. Jason's gonna finish sixth grade.'" The band didn't practice again, and only regrouped for the TV performance. "The interviewer asked me, 'So are you guys gonna do more gigs?' And I think I said, 'Yeah, if things turn out right,'" Narducy says. "It just kind of fell apart, but there were no hard feelings."

In the musical Verböten, fictionalized versions of Kantor, Kean, Bradford, and Narducy deal with teen angst, alcoholism, domestic violence, youthful insecurity, divorce, and clueless parents, all while trying to hold it together in band practice and make it to their gig. It's similar to the direction that Narducy initially proposed when Neveu asked to make a musical about Verböten.

 

"I suggested to him not trying to tell an audience what punk rock was like in 1983-so many TV commercials try to do that and fail, and it's been co-opted," Narducy says. "I felt like there was a better story in 'Why did these kids from Evanston form a band, and why did they play punk rock?' Our friends didn't understand punk rock-we weren't impressing our friends with this. People didn't get famous playing punk rock in 1983. What drew these four people together, who are still great friends?"

Kean and Kantor still live in Evanston-Kean's house is close to Neveu's-which meant that once Narducy gave his approval, it was easy for all three to meet with Neveu at Prairie Moon (Bradford lives in Florida). Once Neveu got the band members' stories and secured their life rights, he set off to write the script-and while revising drafts and workshopping the story, he ended up considering his own past. "It's a little bit of a 'going back in time' fantasy for me-that I could be there for the incubation of something dynamic that I wish I could've been a part of when I was Jason's age at the time," Neveu says. "That's the great thing about creating these sort of pieces-the 'what if' factor. I can insert myself that way, and that helps too."

 

In 2011, House Theatre of Chicago had staged a play of Neveu's called Odradek at the Chopin, and he figured the same company and venue would work well with his punk musical. "The characters all need to play instruments, and I'd seen a lot of shows where that had happened over there," Neveu says. "The Chopin, it looks like some place you might go see a punk show back in the day." Neveu also has two decades of history with House artistic director Nathan Allen-who not only said yes to the show but also came on to direct.

 

Neveu had known Narducy could write great songs for a musical from the first time he listened to Split Single. "He does something that works so well with a musical," Neveu says. "That clarity of intention when it comes to his lyrics, clarity of emotion-getting on the inside of the character he's playing when he's singing. And also his heart's on his sleeve when he's writing." In his first draft, Neveu left space for Narducy to insert his music, and suggested bands whose work could provide the tone for a scene. The rest he left to Narducy.

 

"My goal was to have the songs the kids play be punk-rock songs that are influenced by '83," Narducy says. "Anybody who's familiar with that music will be like, 'OK, that sounds like Articles of Faith, that one's Naked Raygun, that one's the Ramones, Circle Jerks.' People who are familiar with that era will hear my points of reference with those songs." The melodic, brooding ripper "I'm Not Coming Home" not only taps into the punk era's sound and energy but also achieves the kind of larger-than-life expression that's baked into musical theater. When writing music for the band members' parents and siblings, Narducy drew on 60s and 70s rock, which he says balances out the punk fury.

 

When it came time to cast the show, House Theatre chose an actor named Kieran McCabe to play Narducy. "The audition was basically, like, 'Come in and show us how you rock and how you lose yourself in the music,'" McCabe says. He played the Against Me! song "Black Me Out." While working on Verböten, McCabe talked to Narducy about what he'd been through and tapped into his own experience figuring out music and friendship in his high school band. The two of them have become friends, and when Superchunk played SPACE in Evanston this past summer, Narducy put McCabe on the guest list.


Narducy and Neveu have gotten close as well. Neveu says the musical nearly fell apart four times, but working with Narducy helped him see Verböten through to the stage. "It's for Jason," Neveu says. "And the rest of the band too. But the guy is a hero of mine. As a young kid, and also as a friend."

The Verböten cast began learning the music this past fall, with Narducy guiding them through the tougher passages. Once they had a handle on the material, the actors decided they wanted to play a concert of the songs from the musical. Narducy got them a gig at SPACE on Monday, December 9, and played with the band-slash-cast throughout the night. "That made me feel so much more confident in myself," McCabe says. "That was the first time I played electric guitar in front of people. And to share the stage with Jason, that was awesome. We didn't shred back-to-back, but it felt that way."

Bradford flew in for the occasion, and she and Kean joined Narducy onstage for a partial Verböten reunion. They played three songs, which took less than five minutes. "I was nervous-it's been a long time since I performed in front of people," Kean says. "I screwed up the first song, but Jason saved the day." Kean regularly takes his two sons to see Nora O'Connor perform-she's a member of the Flat Five as well as a close collaborator with the Decemberists, Iron & Wine, and Neko Case, and she's his wife and the kids' mother. At SPACE the tables were turned: O'Connor brought their sons to see Kean. "They had never known me to be a performer," he says. "They got a kick out of watching me thrash the bass for a few minutes. It's quite clear who the talented musician in the family is-quite clear."

For Kean, the renewed interest in Verböten and the mounting of a musical inspired by their story have felt surreal. When he started the band, it meant nothing to anyone outside the small Chicago punk scene, despite the lasting, life-changing effect it had on all four members. "I've always been proud of what we did in Verböten," Kean says. "I still have my bass, I still have our recordings, and I have a couple gig flyers. It was the highlight of my musical career, which is kind of funny-that I peaked when I was 12. That's very cool. I'm very comfortable with that."

 

 

Evanston teen band revisited in compelling, rockin' ‘Verböten'

Punk rock, like so many subcultures, was about finding a chosen family when you couldn't relate to the family you were given. The play suggests the rear-view perspective of those who've grown old enough to recognize that you need both kinds. By Kris Vire, Chicago Sun Times 1/27/20 - "It may be hard to imagine a preteen punk band playing a set at the Cubby Bear, if one is only familiar with the fancied-up, upscaled Wrigleyville of the Ricketts era.

 

But in 1983, the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field was the epicenter of Chicago's punk-rock scene. The Cubs were still exclusively playing day baseball; it would be five more years before the team installed lights at the park. At night, young punk fans streamed in from the suburbs to hang out around Clark and Belmont, at The Alley and the "Punkin' Donuts" (now replaced by a Target store). The Cubby Bear, just across the street from Wrigley, hosted all-ages shows.


And at one of those shows, opening for Naked Raygun, was a four-piece band of Evanston middle-schoolers who called themselves Verböten.

 

"With an umlaut over the ‘O,'" the 14-year-old lead singer tells her parents, huffily, in the House Theatre of Chicago's sweet and sardonic new musical of the same name. "Like Hüsker Dü, but with one umlaut instead of two."

 

It's possible that Brett Neveu, the prolific local playwright who penned the book for "Verböten" (enjoying its world premiere at the Chopin Theatre) inserted the Hüsker Dü reference as a bit of an Easter egg for those in the know. His co-writer is Jason Narducy, who became Verböten's original guitarist at the age of 10, and has spent much of his grown-up music career playing and touring with Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould, who produced the 1997 major-label debut of one of Narducy's later bands, Verbow.


Narducy, who still makes his home in Evanston, also plays regularly these days with the band Superchunk and with his own project, Split Single. He wrote all of the songs for "Verböten" the show, just as he wrote all the songs for Verböten the band back in the day. And he's the central character in the play's semi-fictionalized narrative, which has young Jason (played by Kieran McCabe) and his bandmates dealing with all sorts of fraught family situations in the run-up to their Cubby Bear gig.

 

Jason's parents have divorced, and he's chosen to live with his dad (Ray Rehberg) so he can stay in the same school, but he's also bottling up more resentment than he can long contain. (Curiously, we don't meet Jason's mom, but we do get a few glimpses of his new stepfather, played by Jimmy Chung as a well-meaning mensch.)

 

Tracey (Krystal Ortiz), the lead singer, is mildly embarrassed by her own well-meaning parents (Paul Brian Fagen and Jenni M. Hadley), and possibly dealing with some stronger angst about being adopted. Bass player Chris (Matthew Lunt) doesn't see much of either of his parents, but has a depressive older sister (Marika Mashburn) who's doing her best to turn her teenage brother into an alcoholic. And drummer Zack (Jeff Kurysz) seems to be taking out his feelings about his missing mother on his loving father (Marc A. Rogers).


Neveu's script, written with input from and the blessing of Narducy and his real-life former bandmates Tracey Bradford, Chris Kean and Zack Kantor, smartly supports and subverts its young characters' points of view. You can recognize the gentle absurdity of the kids' outsized suburban ennui - the real-life adult versions of these young musicians are probably a little embarrassed by how embarrassed they were of their own parents at this age.

 

But it's also easy to remember, as adults, that time in your life when it wasn't cool to like your own parents, but you might have really needed a hug from your friends' parents.

 

Punk rock, like so many subcultures, was about finding a chosen family when you couldn't relate to the family you were given. Neveu and Narducy's play suggests the rear-view perspective of those who've grown old enough to recognize that you need both kinds.

 

Narducy's songs find a nearly perfect balance between the anarchic spirit of early punk and the narrative-moving character work of musical theater. It's among the rare "rock musicals" that genuinely sounds like rock music, instead of a theater composer's shiny approximation of rock (looking at you, "Rent").

 

Nearly every actor (including those playing the parents and siblings) plays multiple instruments, which fits nicely into the House Theatre's artifice-free aesthetic; if an actor is needed onstage to play an instrument, they simply show up out of character, and it all makes sense in the world director Nathan Allen has constructed.

It helps that said universe has been imagined by scenic and lighting designer Lee Keenan as a multi-level universe of infinite shag-carpet basements. And if this cast were to go into the studio to record a cast album? I would be there to buy the first pressing".

 

In ‘Verböten,' Jason Narducy dares to create a punk musical set in 1980s Chicago - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 1/29/20 - "Just as "Hamilton" is not entirely a hip-hop musical, so "Verböten," the very sweet and promising new musical at the House Theatre of Chicago with clear off-Broadway prospects, is not entirely a punk show.

That's not to say its composer lacks punk bonafides - Jason Narducy went on to front the band Split Single and played bass with Superchunk and Bob Mould of Husker Du fame. Nor is to say that "Verböten," which happens to be the name of the band that Narducy founded during his school days in Evanston, lacks numbers filled with thrashy, distorted guitar sounds in the vein of the Ramones or Naked Raygun. It's fair to say that a healthy portion of the movement you will be watching at the Chopin Theatre consists of teenagers jumping up and down in their basements, irritating their parents upstairs.


But Narducy - who proves himself here to be a very effective theatrical songwriter - has been smart enough to offer a broader musical palette. In essence, the teenage members of "Verböten" play and sing, ahem, within the punk penumbra while their parents, who are a pretty big part of the story, sing the kind of classic stuff that a music-loving middle-aged person would have been listening to in the early 1980s. Take it all together and "Verböten" already has a better original score than plenty of the shows I've seen of late on Broadway. Plus it has a rare calling card, the sheer audacity of trying to create a musical rooted not in Sid and Nancy, but in all-American, Midwestern punk. Assuming we can all settle on what that means.

The simple story involves Jason (Kieran McCabe), Tracey (Krystal Ortiz), Chris (Matthew Lunt) and Zack (Jeff Kurysz), otherwise known as Verböten, spilling out their teenage angst. This hardly is the first musical about using a rock band as a means of escape from being misunderstood by your parents ("School of Rock" and so on), but it's a perennially appealing narrative. The book, written by Brett Neveu, is a kind of quest: Will our heroes make it through their big Wrigleyville gig at the Cubby Bear without (a) losing their teenage minds; (b) beating up their parents; (c) being beaten up by their parents; or (d) imploding internally? That is the order of musical business, not that any of the characters in the show would think of their precious musical expression in such mercenary terms.

Let us first all agree that premiering a new musical is very difficult, especially when your book is from from scratch, notwithstanding the Narducy autobiographical underpinnings. And let's further stipulate that task is especially hard at a midsized Chicago theater, without enhancement money from Broadway producers and the like. "Verböten" still needs a lot of work, but it's already well worth seeing (and developing), especially if you are a fan of Narducy's music or, really, any of the aforementioned bands. For a show only just up on its feet, it holds together remarkably well. And it's touching, a crucial asset for a punk musical.

That's partly due to a blistering central performance from McCabe, who here does the kind of work that makes the argument that wherever "Verböten" might go next, McCabe certainly should be along for that ride. Most of the kids in "Verböten" come from complex families, at least in their own minds, and the show deals with three of the omnipresent and timeless states of teenage-parent relationships: embarrassment, alienation and love. I know whereof I speak here and full disclosure requires me revealing that I saw the show with my own 16-year-old who, at various telling moments, turned from the stage and stared directly at me, as if ensuring that whatever Jason or Tracey or Chris or Zack were saying/feeling had sufficiently imprinted itself on my limited consciousness. For better or worse, this is very much a show about the relationships between fathers and sons, and you can imagine demographic combos like mine finding food here for post-show discussion, especially those dads who really were in a punk band and now have kids who cannot quite believe that ever was even possible.

As the angsty lead Tracey, though, Ortiz makes sure it's not an all-male desert out there, singing the bejesus out of the role and articulating one of the most fascinating things about teenage culture - the constant search for an organizer who, when found, doesn't relish dealing with the problems of everyone else.

Tracey has loving parents (they're played by Paul Brian Fagen and Jenni M. Hadley), making the intergenerational role-playing symmetrical, in its way. You got one angry dad (quite well played by Ray Rehberg), one kind but unappreciated pop (Marc A. Rogers), a weird sister (Marika Mashburn), a ready and willing stepdad (Jimmy Chung) and, well, regular decent folks. Sound to you like the sociology of Evanston in the early 1980s?

Neveu's writing is witty and sweet throughout, although for such a localized show he should add more neighborhood references beyond one bar. The book could use more specificity. More importantly, some of the other relationships are underwritten, especially between Jason and his stepdad and, it seems to me, if you're doing a punk musical, you might as well ponder more of the place of the genre in the American psyche, then and now.

Director Nathan Allen's enthusiastic staging is very aptly toned to the material, employing a talented cast that plays multiple instruments and never falling into the trap of overstaging characters who would have hated to be so controlled. On opening night, there were some sound issues with head mics: Allen would be better off finding ways to employ hand-held microphones throughout (as in "Spring Awakening"), not only to focus on the performative aspect of the material but to showcase his powerful young singers.

All that said, "Verböten" is like the yin to the yang of the Green Day musical "American Idiot," an indictment of youth lethargy. By contrast, Neveu and Narducy see punk as a kind of rite of passage, a meeting point and a temporary escape valve for adolescents going through stuff at home. Unlike most musicals about the biz, we never even get to the agents and the other stultifying suits. The Cubby Bear is all.

And, frankly, that is the far more common story"


House Theatre of Chicago Presents VERBÖTEN - Music Sharp and Sweet. www.PicturethisPost.com

A two-hour whirlwind of nostalgia, and foot-tapping, head-banging music begins with the few chords of a solemn Jason (Kieran McCabe). After a few more chords, the entirety of the cast joins him on stage-violin, bass guitar, and rhythmic bodies all in unison.


The early life and times of the Chicago-based punk rock band Verböten-its members including Jason, Tracey (Krystal Ortiz), Chris (Matthew Lunt), and Zack (Jeff Kurysz)-isn't necessarily a difficult story to tell, in this writer's opinion, but it is one fully realized through similarities, contrasts, and the all important music that bonded them.


The complexity of this production doesn't start and stop with the character's moral and social strife. It extends into the way the story is physically brought to the stage. Scenes between Jason and his step-father (Jimmy Chung) bleed into dialogue and action between him and his real father (Ray Rehberg). In the midst of a jam session, Tracey's dad (Paul Brian Fagen) and Zack's dad (Marc A. Rogers) illuminate a disco ball in the middle of the stage.


The scenes work, in this writer's view, largely because, ultimately, the characters are not afraid to make the show work for us by any means necessary. This includes breaking the fourth wall, bringing us in with a buddy-buddy handshake or giving us the peculiar stare, as if something just wasn't sitting right with them, be it for comedic or dramatic effect. Or, and in the grandest of cases, cast members, nay musicians, use their versatility to switch between instruments-some playing between three to four throughout the course of the show, with a spotlight on Tracey's mother (Jenni M. Hadley) who could even have her own one-woman-band.


"I wanna to write a new song ... I wanna find out where I belong."


Themes of human commonality, such as the growing pains we all experience-tiffs with parents, pining for our dreams, desiring to be what we are not, or may never be-are fluently expressed via song in this production. So much so, that this writer would find it hard to imagine that anyone, of any age, familiar with punk rock or estranged from it, would turn away from this production in all of its delight. This extends beyond the aptly timed jokes or the tough-to-swallow truths about the emergence into adulthood. Because what is entirely apparent to us- the laughing, sighing, smirking audience- is that this tale does not exist for those in the now, but for those who are looking to control their future narrative.


"Be people who matter"

 

And while we sit and soak in the youthful-punk-aura of those in front of us, we must be mindful of those who helped put them in their respective situations. We meet the rock'n'roll nostalgic father, the average Chicago parents, the homes of broken families where there is both nowhere and anywhere else to go. It's these archetypes that pivot the storyline from local kids trying to make it big, to the rounded-out image of young artists defying odds in the city of Chicago.


With awareness, but never fear, of the corny or the stereotypical, VERBÖTEN knows when we need our funny bone to be struck and when our heart strings need to be played. Whether you purchase your ticket because you love punk music, or maybe because you love the nostalgia of ‘80s Chicago, it's the universal themes of growing and learning that will enthrall . VERBÖTEN is an absolute must see".


VERBOTEN - Punk Musical at The House Theatre. www.ChicagoStageStandard.com

"Everything about Verboten, the world premiere punk musical unveiled this week by the House Theatre is compelling-teen angst and rebellion amplified by driving guitar/percussion accompaniment and the epiphanies of youth screamed at high volume (don't be afraid of grabbing the ear plugs the box office offers!) in frenetic paeans physicalized by kinetic pumping and jumping-the show will have you wanting to leap from your seat to be lifted and carried in a mosh pit. Prolific local playwright and Bard of our time Brett Neveu has teamed up with Evanston musician Jason Narducy to create a deeply touching work based on real life on the Chopin Theatre stage.


The plot loosely follows the story of the actual pre-teen/teen band Verboten that formed in a suburban Evanston basement in the 80's and made their debut at The Cubby Bear. The show traces the coming of age of a group of 4 kids on the cusp of growing up in a world they don't feel comfortable in. Keiran McCabe's Jason is torn between his stepdad, also a musician, and his gruff and uncomfortable father whose attempts to connect often end in domestic violence. Krystal Ortiz plays the perennially furious Tracey, the lead singer, and adopted daughter of goofy and sincere Paul Brian Fagen as Dad, and Jenni M. Hadley as Psychology Today reading mom. Drummer Zach, played by sullen Jeff Kurysz has a supportive dad, played by Marc A. Rogers, who proves you can hate your parents even if all the other kids think they are cool. And Matthew Lunt's Chris is "parented" by his disillusioned older sister, played as loving but hardbitten and bitter by Marika Mashburn. Director Nathan Allen has assembled an extremely talented and unified ensemble which must play multiple instruments and create this band and their hormonal moods as we drive through to the sweet climax of actually making it to the performance.


Punk music is uniquely suited to expressing the existential discomfort and outright visceral pain of growing up and away from home. The score of this show intimately traces the difficulty of actually attempting to communicate with imperfect and scarred humans, and the immense psychic effort required to survive broken homes and the mounting losses that mark human life. And through it all these kids attempt to connect and create family where they can: adopting someone else's parents and each other when the people in their lives can't or don't show up the way they need them to. This is a play about getting through. And getting better.

There are some stellar one liners in this show, like "You mean the Shit Barge of Life has a Battering Ram????" Not for nothing was this play supported in its development by the Poetry Foundation-the words are as striking as the music. And there are some songs I would like on my Spotify playlist like New Song, about singing a new song that might be anthem about finding where I belong. I cannot recommend this show enough as a beacon of truth and hope in a current time of lies and despair. It is stirring and cathartic. And the music is spectacular".


Review: House Theatre's Verböten Adds a Lot of Heart to "Three Chords and the Truth". www.ChicagoStageReview.com


The old rock trope says that punk music is "three chords and the truth." That holds true for the fact-based story about a kid punk band from Evanston in the 1980s, which just opened in a world premiere by House Theatre. Verböten is the name of the play and the band, fronted by Jason Narducy (12 years old at the time and 16ish in the play). Narducy created music and lyrics for the script written by Brett Neveu. Nathan Allen's direction gives the play a lot of heart as it tells the story of outsider teens with parents who just don't understand


There was no CBGB in Chicago for Verböten to aim for, but a chance to play at the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville was pretty much a dream gig for a band that started out a year earlier playing in an Evanston basement. As they gear up to play at the Cubby Bear, the teen musicians come to realize that although they may have family problems, the band is their family too. Can the gig at the Cubby Bear change their lives forever?

Kieran McCabe plays Jason, whose parents have split up. He lives with his dad (Ray Rehberg), who doesn't appreciate Jason's musical goals. His stepfather (Jimmy Chung) plays bluegrass guitar; he and Jason connect through music. Bass player Chris (Matthew Lunt) rarely sees his parents and spends time iwth his older sister (Marika Mashburn).


Vocalist Tracey (Krystal Ortiz) seems to have a good teenager relationship with her adoptive parents (Jenni M. Hadley and Paul Brian Fagen). Drummer Zack (Jeff Kurysz) doesn't get along with his dad (Marc A. Rogers), who tries to be supportive.

The entire cast of 11 actors and musicians join in several full-cast musical numbers throughout the 130-minute production, including the final number, "Goodnight." Jason, the band's songwriter, performs the heartbreaking "Broken Home," "Set Me Free" and "I'm Not Coming Home." Ortiz as Tracey uses her powerful voice in "Breaking Out," "You Belong" and "Do I Belong" with her parents, plus her own version of "Broken Home." If you remember punk songs as those two-minute numbers like "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones, you'll find that the Verböten songs use warmer lyrics to tell personal stories. Also, although earplugs are available on request, the music really isn't especially loud.

At the beginning of the Cubby Bear performance scene, a screen rolls down to show a grainy video of the actual Verböten performance in 1983. The real Tracey and the real Jason sing "He's a Panther."


The House Theatre production is performed with a talented and diverse cast; Marika Mashburn is casting director. The four band members are all convincingly teenagers (although hardly tweens) and Ortiz as Tracey is particularly compelling. Her speech on the importance of being alive and angry is a high point of act two.

Lee Keenan designed the multilevel set and the lighting. Matthew Muniz is arranger and music director, supported by Grover Holloway's sound design. Choreography is by Kasey Foster and costume design by Izumi Inaba.

Verböten by House Theatre continues at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., through March 8. Tickets are $30-$50 for performances Thursday-Sunday. Student and industry same-day discounted tickets are $20, for all dates, based on availability.













 

Author
Book by Brett Neveu. Music and Lyrics by Jason Narducy

Director
Nathan Allen

Performers
Kieran McCabe (Jason); Krystal Ortiz (Tracey); Matthew Lunt (Chris); Jeff Kurysz (Zack); Jimmy Chung (Jason's Stepdad); Paul Brian Fagen (Jason's Dad); Jenni M. Hadley (Tracey's Mom); Marika Mashburn (Chris Sister); and Mar. A. Rogers (Zack's Dad)

Production
Lee Keenan (Scenic/Lighting Designer); Grover Hollway (Sound Designer); Eleanor Kahn (Props Designer); Matthew Muniz (Arrangements/Music Director); Kasey Foster (Choreographer); Amalie Vega (Stage Manager); Izumi Inaba (Costume Designer); Marika Mashburn (Casting Director); Elyse Estes (Technical Director); Jerica Hucke (Costume Manager); Liz GOmez (Master Electrician); Jordan Affeldt (Asst Stage Manager); Kenny Cole (Audio Engineer); Elura Rogers (Wardrobe Supervisor). Photography Michael Brosilow

Tags: Theater, , 2020