Wednesday June 20 8:58 am

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"Flies! The Musical!" - Review by Jeffrey Leibham

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The drama kids from Lovely Valley Performing Arts Magnet High School are doing a musical production of "The Lord of the Flies." However, this is an unauthorized version of the novel as the estate of the late British author, William Golding, won't release the rights to have his work turned into a musical. This issue was addressed in a very funny moment late in the show with the zany song "The Lord of the [Blank]."

Undaunted, the students plan a retreat to the local abandoned forest preserve to rehearse in the wilderness, to give their efforts a sense of verisimilitude and bring them closer to nature to better connect with the savagery inherent in their story.

The empty-headed cheerleader Rhonda (Jayla Williams-Craig) told her mom, who is a beautician, to pick the students up hours ago but it doesn't seem that she will be able to find them. Natural leader Pigtails (Missy Wise) and pragmatic Rick (Mario Alvazian) take it upon themselves to try to calm and guide the group. Gay pacifist/vegan Stephen (Nicky Mendelsohn), football player/jock Jake (Jeff Meyer), Shy Girl (Christea Parent) and two adorable look-a-likes, simply referred to as Young'un 1 (Joey Fontanetta) and Young'un 2 (Ryan Armstrong) complete the cast.

Realizing that they are truly stranded and lost the students start to panic and random alliances are formed. Details that took place with some of the boys who survived the plane crash on the deserted island in the book start to come into play within our musical parody as well. Stephen goes foraging for food, primarily nuts and berries ("The Flora and the Fauna") while some of the others find an old vending machine with Twinkies that are past their "best by" date. In an attempt to save her fellow students, Shy Girl sees a passing van speeding through the woods but is sadly killed while chasing it. Not to fear, Parent returns as the Ranger Pat character, a show-tune loving employee of the park who just might be able to save the kids and teach them a thing or two -- in song, of course.

One of the things that makes "Flies! The Musical!" so much fun is how it lovingly but slightly irreverently alludes to many other, very popular musicals. Take, for example, the song "Conch'a Hear It?" which has a driving calypso beat and could be right out of "The Little Mermaid." Also, "Eat Me, Stephen" brilliantly mimics Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors." Most telling of all is the Young'un's number "We're Not Actually Twins." The vamp which leads into this number sounds very similar to Kander and Ebb's "Nowadays" from "Chicago, The Musical." Conceptually, the number plays out as an updated version of "Two Ladies" from "Cabaret."

Guiding all of the mayhem, under the solid musical direction of JD Caudill, is Missy Wise as Pigtails. A major talent, Wise has impeccable comedic timing and strong vocal chops to boot. She nails both of her big, solo numbers ("The Only One Who Sees" and "I Won't Be Left Out Again").

Also, even though Parent has no lines of dialogue as the Shy Girl, keep a vigilant eye on her character. Not to be lost in the background, her facial expressions and reactions are priceless. As Ranger Pat, she gets to sing the show's most lyrically demanding song but also its crowning achievement, the uproarious "Everyone's Inherently Good." In this musical number, which seems to last nearly ten minutes, Cousineau has referenced well over a dozen other great American musicals, half of them by Stephen Sondheim alone.

You certainly don't have to be a musical theater guru to appreciate this rollicking romp of a show. Nor do you need to be familiar with the novel upon which it is based. Just go and have many good and hearty laughs. "Flies! The Musical!" is the perfect show to welcome this summer of fun.

“Flies! The Musical!” runs through June 17th in The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago. Street parking is hard to find in this neighborhood. The best option is a metered lot at Belle Plaine and Clarendon (about 2 ½ blocks from the Pride Center). Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; Sunday at 5:00 pm. Tickets range from $20-$25. FYI (866) 811-4111, (773) 857-0222 or www.pridefilmsandplays.com.