Here in Chicago, we love theater. We love improv (hello, Second City), we love Broadway musical tours, and we love when the Steppenwolf puts up shows so emotionally wrought that Death of a Salesman starts to seem like it’s missing a laugh track. A huge part of Chicago theater, though – essential if you’re looking for a true Chicago travel experience – is the series of smaller niche companies putting up shows all over the city. However, attending storefront or fringe theater is kind of like randomly choosing a movie from Woody Allen’s repertoire: you’re either in for a treat, or you’re bound to be left feeling confused about humanity in general.
If that’s the case, then Six Hours Short’s The Lockout: A Musical is analagous to Scoop: an unabashedly goofy gem in which the earnestness is balanced by acutely self-aware humor. Based on the 2011 NBA lockout, it’s a West Side (of Wichita) Story of bromance and basketball that does what all good parodies do best: impart a message in spite of itself. The simplicity of the premise belies the musical ingenuity – from the classically big opening number “Game 6” to the Yazbek-esque “More to This Man” and “LeBron’s Stupid,” the stylistic range makes for an unfailingly engaging show (just a bit on the long side at two and a half hours).
In most shows, one or two players stand out above a good but not necessarily remarkable company; in true sports spirit, The Lockout cast comprises a seamless team. PSEN’s (read: ESPN's) two resident anchors are the most delightfully unprofessional pair since Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins in Pitch Perfect, and the Wichita Water is truly a team of characters rather than a series of faces in jerseys. Ben Harpe plays coach and owner Phil Goodman just enough on this side of oblivious to impart the sense that he came into the position by accident, and watching the acerbic but good-hearted manager (Sarah Lynn Robinson) trying to deal with him is like watching Phoebe Buffay attempting to teach Joey Tribbiani French. Just is satisfying is his relationship with Macon Jones, played by Patrick Poulin – a bromance for the record books. Poulin is endearingly naïve as the would-be superstar, like a kid who got stuck in a pro athlete’s body and is mothered as much as represented by his sassy agent (Sheridan Singleton). As the lockout escalates, the big question is whether Goodman and Jones will be able to defeat archetypically evil NBA commissioner David Stern (Doug Reed), who is clearly missing a fluffy white cat and a swivel chair.
The cast operates with a cohesion most basketball teams can only hope to achieve, and the result is a show with heart bigger than its performance space. It’s probably not for kids (again, it’s got a Broadway-length running time) but if you’re looking for a quintessential Chicago theater experience, it’s a fun choice – minimal NBA knowledge required.
And it’s a lot less neurotic than Woody Allen.
The Lockout runs through September 15th. Check out www.lockoutmusical.com for times and tickets.