“The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” Review – Termagant Tale

As the audience settles into their seats they see "Little Voice" (Scarlet Sheppard) in her orderly room above the disarray and squalor below, tending to her records. Set design: Grant Sabin


It’s not so much “Little Voice” (title role, played by Scarlet Sheppard) as much as her overbearing mother, Mari Hoff (played by Rebecca Sohn) that will sear “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” in your memory banks as a theater night well spent.   Within her very first lines and full frontal entrance we are repelled by Mari’s sloth, vulgarity, and cruelty to her daughter. 


Ever confrontational, Mari Hoff (Rebecca Sohn) has a non-stop harangue of her daughter "Little Voice" (Scarlet Sheppard)


Yet, the brilliance of Sohn’s performance (and one imagines the direction by Erin Shea Brady) is that we simultaneously feel her vulnerability and are curiously drawn to her almost as much as we are revolted by her behavior--- almost.


Rebecca Sohn gives a commanding performance as Mari Hoff, mother of "Little Voice"


“Little Voice” has a hard road to hoe.   She lives in a chaotic environment where the corn flakes are moldy and whatever is in the fridge gives off a horrible stench every time someone opens the door.  Worse, her mother is ever on a LOUD, LOUD, LOUD tear, with favorite topics of how “Little Voice”’s father was a ne’er do well who ruined her life and how “Little Voice” is his apple not far from the tree. 


The one comfort that “Little Voice” enjoys, or rather, clings to, is her father’s collection of vinyl records of sultry chanteuses.  “Little Voice” learns to mimic these singers such as Judy Garland and Edith Piaf and finds her life-saving escape from her dreary home life by channeling them.  


Mari Hoff (Rebecca Sohn) sees Ray Say (Will Casey) as her almost husband, while he clearly does everything he can to manipulate all around him


By chance, her mother takes up with a would-be talent scout Ray Say (played ably by Will Casey) who is both bowled over by “Little Voice”’s talents and rapaciously eager to turn it into his own profit. 


When "Little Voice" (Scarlet Sheppard) switches into vampy chanteuse mode, here accompanied by Mr Boo (Greg Mills) in his nightclub, the transformation of her character is startling


The tug of war between the morbidly shy “Little Voice” and the adults who would use her is the story of this rise and fall. 


Ray Say (Will Casey) barges in on Little Voice (Scarlet Sheppard) to try to coax her to perform while Mari Hoff (Rebecca Sohn) listens in


In this fine cast, we also meet a quirky next door neighbor,


marssie Mancotti as the barely there neighbor Sadie evokes laughter at almost every turn


Sadie (played by marssie Mencotti),


Evoking Romeo and Juliet, offbeat Billy (Johnathan Wallace) comes to woo "Little Voice" (Scarlet Sheppard) from the alley below


a young man as misfit as “Little Voice” who immediately takes a shine to her, Billy (played by Johnathan Wallace)


We become the nightclub crowd that Mr. Boo (Greg Mills) tries his best to warm up before "Little Voice" does her act


and a local club owner, Mr. Boo (played by Greg Mills) who works the crowd and also plays a loud piano accompaniment to “Little Voice” when she publicly sings that serves to remind you that no matter how vampy her persona becomes when she performs she is still a quaking shy girl at heart.


We know almost as soon as the story begins that “Little Voice” will ultimately have the soliloquy that is loudest of all, even if she whispers it.   That doesn’t spoil your time getting there. 


Produced earlier by Steppenwolf and also made into a film starring Michael Caine, this is a script (playwright:  Jim Cartwright) that seems in need of some liposuction to help it move more quickly to its conclusion.   The standout performances that Brady helped bring to the stage allow you to tune this out for the most part, but not entirely. 


This was the world debut for No Stakes Theater Project, which aims to give newbie directors a venue where they can experiment.  Their production of “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” is a strong opener that suggests this new theater group is one to watch.


Now through September 5.


Theater Wit

1229 West Belmont, Chicago


Tickets are available by calling the Theater Wit box office at 773 975 8150 or visiting the Theater Wit website.




Photos:  Liz Scheiner 



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