It is the outbreak of World War I. Johnny Johnson is a staunch believer in peace and believes he must know the purpose of the fight before enlisting in the war himself. After pressure from his fiancée and hearing that this will be the “war to end all wars” he enlists. The show follows his journey through training, battle and life after war.
Kurt Weill, the composer of this piece, was of German-Jewish descent. Like many others, he was forced out of Germany in the 1930s with the coming of the Third Reich. This piece, written in 1936, is clearly anti-war. Although times have changed, the subject of questioning authority and desperately needing answers when none are given remains relevant.
Haunting and Eerie Atmosphere
The set is simple. The result of this choice keeps the focus on the story. Light changes give an otherworldly glow and resonance to pivotal scenes. Dreamy sequences are engulfed in light haze and warm yellow lights give rise to warmth in bleakness. Erik S. Barry, the man behind the lighting design, creates moods that would stand alone to illustrate the feeling of each scene.
Chicago Folks Operetta Attracts Talent
The music throughout the show is sweeping and leaves the audience in awe. A 15-piece orchestra in such a small venue is a force to be enjoyed. The vocals carry all the necessary weight needed to rise over the music. Kaitlin Galetti’s mezzo-soprano voice is exquisite. When the ensemble sings as one, it is difficult to not get caught up in the sheer beauty of the sound.
Gabriel di Gennaro gives life to the titular Johnny Johnson. He gives Johnny a youthful innocence while never making him seem naive and unbelievable. Despite his pacifist nature, di Gennaro’s performance gives strength and depth to the character.
Chicago Folks Operetta gives us a haunting and atmospheric portrayal of war in the Chicago premiere of JOHNNY JOHNSON. The grand stage of war is brought to this intimate production giving us a peek inside the minutiae of what life is like during war time. Paired with beautiful operatic singing, this is a sweeping journey of a man who never stops seeking answers.
As a whole, the show has weight. There are light moments, but those seem unnecessary at times. The strength of the show lies within its message of knowledge and understanding. The cast and creative team create a world for the audience to step into. The audience is even encouraged to review the United States Army’s psychological test for enlistment. Although not a specifically true story, the production certainly captures the time period and seeks to enlighten.
Photos by Aaron Syler
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Top Pick For: History buffs who love theatre
Not recommended for: Those seeking escape
June 24 - July 9, 2017
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30PM
Sundays at 2:00PM
1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago