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LaunchingFWD: Season 2 Review - An Exciting First Look at Works in Progress

By Jessie Bond

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FWD Theatre Project, an up-and-coming theatre group dedicated to fostering new musicals in Chicago, held its second sneak preview concert last Monday at City Winery. Hosted by local legend Felicia Fields, this event featured song selections from five musicals in progress, chosen from over 170 submissions and performed by a veritable slew of Chicago talent.


Felicia Fields and Amber Mak hosting the event


City Winery is a fantastic venue, featuring high ceilings, exposed brick, and a wide selection of food and beverage for its audiences to enjoy. The house was packed despite the threat of snow, and Fields welcomed the audience to the event with down-to-earth charm. The first show highlighted was Code Name: CYNTHIA, the story of a World War Two spy based on true events. Featuring an upbeat group number set in D.C., a heartfelt ballad sung with glamor and poise by Samantha Pauly, and a superbly written love song, this show started the evening off on a promising note.


Samantha Pauly sings "I Want This Life" from Code Name: CYNTHIA


Code Name: CYNTHIA was followed by selections from FWD Theatre Project’s next show, Neurosis, which tells the story of a man and his anthropomorphized neurosis. Patrick Tierney and Wade Elkins set the tone for the production with a quirky duet outlining the dynamic between Frank and his neurosis. Sarah Bockdel then rocked the house with Make Him Mine, a comically sincere ballad about a woman longing for a Jewish boy to call her own. The show wrapped up with Real Deal Therapy, which featured Hillary Marren as a brutally honest therapist with a wicked belt. If this preview is any indication, this show’s upcoming staged reading should be spectacular.


Sarah Bockel sings "Make Him Mine" from Neurosis


The next performance, La Révolution Française, is the work of Les Misérables composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, as well as Raymond Jeannot and Jean-Max Riviere. This “French rock opera,” presented as a staged reading this fall by FWD Theatre Project in conjunction with American Theatre Project, takes place during the French Revolution and follows an unlikely romance between a shopkeeper’s son and a countess. With star Roberta Duchak falling ill at the last minute, the cast had about an hour and a half to learn their music, and it showed. While the music showed great potential, the performance was rough around the edges and thus less engaging than it might have been.


Gilbert Domally and male ensemble sing "Valmy" from La Révolution Française


After a brief intermission, we returned to our seats for a preview of Coyote, a story of “love and immigration,” as described by its tagline. What exactly that entailed was not entirely clear from the preview, but the program synopsis described the musical as the story of a young couple making the journey from Mexico to the United States, guided by magical trickster Coyote. The ensemble number “Under an Open Sky,” sung, apparently, by a mirage, was laid-back to the point of becoming uninteresting. The second number, “Song of Coyote,” which introduced the title character, had a certain dark charm, heightened by strong performances by Rodrigo Ignacio Cruz and Yando Lopez. The final ballad, “If You Are Not Free,” performed by Janelle Villas, was as slow and predictable as the opening number, though to be fair to Villas, this seemed more of a flaw in the writing than in her performance.


Janelle Villas sings "If You Are Not Free" from Coyote


Fortunately, the night was pulled out of its slump by a performance from Felicia Fields herself, whose rendition of the bluesy number “Woke Up Dead This Morning” filled the room with gorgeous tones and grandiose energy. With this number, the final show was introduced. Central Avenue Breakdown follows two brothers during the height of the jazz scene in Los Angeles in the 1940s. A sultry duet between Laura Stuart Obenauf and Jaymes Osborne followed; Osborne put his vocal talent to good use as an alluring would-be seducer, and Obenauf held her own against him with an earthy strength both of character and voice.


Jaymes Osborne and Laura Stuart Obenauf sing "Black Monday" from Central Avenue Breakdown


Before the final number, FWD Board Member Kyle Dougan auctioned off items such as “performers for one show” and “a band for one show” as fundraising effort for the organization and enjoyed great success from a responsive and generous audience. The evening concluded with an up-tempo group number from Central Avenue Breakdown, “Hollywood Slumming,” and finally, an encore by Fields, who led a sing-along of “Sweet Home Chicago,” leaving her audience filled with a spirit of camaraderie and joy.


Felicia Fields. All photos by Brett Beiner


Code Name: CYNTHIA, Neurosis, Coyote, and Central Avenue Breakdown will all receive staged readings as part of FWD Theatre Project’s Season 2.  LaunchingFWD: Season 2 was undeniably a smash hit event, and this young organization promises many exciting new things to come.


The Board of FWD Theatre Project


FWD’s next staged reading, Neurosis, will take place on February 29, 2016 at 7:30pm at Uptown Underground, 4713 N. Broadway in Chicago. Visit FWD's website for tickets and more information about FWD Theatre Project.

Published on Feb 16, 2016

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