Burning Bluebeard is a crowd-pleaser despite taking a scattergun approach
From the outset, we know we’re doomed. As soon as the Edison lights dim, a cast of singed spectres inform us that we’ve left the galvanized confines of The Roxy behind and are now sitting in the charred remains of the Chicago Iroquois Theatre. They want us to enjoy the show (God, do they ever), but consistently remind us that by Act Two, we’re all going to die.
It’s a great pitch, to say the least: threatening to kill your audience with fire in the first five minutes is a brilliant way to get us invested—truly Burning Bluebeard’s greatest attribute. But, beyond this macabre opening, it struggles to find any real meaning within its loose structure.
The play—billed as a Christmas pantomime—centres around ghosts from Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre, home to one of the deadliest fires in American History (at least 600 dead). Each year, these ghosts remerge in the dilapidated framework of the Iroquois to showcase the musical that started the deadly blaze in 1903, each desperately attempting to make it right and avoid catastrophe.
It’s a curious little production that provides audiences with a mélange of performance artistry and historical tidbits—mild clowning, Vaudevillian one-liners, lip-syncing Amy Winehouse, and even a rap about turn-of-the-century fire codes.
Three days later, I’m still left grasping for words when discussing it. At first glance, it seems to take a scattergun approach to entertainment, blasting the audience with a range of performances in the hopes that one might hit the mark.
However, in the same breath, I find myself considering that maybe it’s just meta—a vaudevillian show about a vaudevillian show. In that case, it’s brilliant. Possibly.
It’s somewhat vexing that Burning Bluebeard has been marketed as a Christmas show. It certainly isn’t one in the traditional sense, and that’s fine. But there’s nothing, aside from the calendrical proximity to December 25, that screams “Christmas,” or any other seasonal holiday for that matter. It would be just as at home before Lent or Groundhog Day.
But, perhaps I’m overthinking it. Perhaps Burning Bluebeard finds its holiday spirit in the effect that it has on audiences. Though it should come as no great surprise that I won’t personally be tub-thumping for “Bluebeard” any time soon, I’m in a minority (albeit a vocal one). My fellow theatre-goers were all smiles as they filed out in awe at the creative spectacle they had just witnessed.
There was a real feeling of shared joy in the experience, and I think that’s something that is unique to the holidays: a common feeling of happiness that permeates throughout society, and brings people together. It’s a great feeling knowing that other people are finding the same joy in something that you do; it rings of collective understanding and peace.
At the very least, Dave Horak and the admittedly talented cast can pride themselves in delivering something that makes people happy—just as long as they don’t overthink it too much.
Until Sun., Dec. 24
The Roxy on Gateway, $22