Let’s face it: getting through Wisconsin winters is pretty rough. Most days I come home from work in the dark and cold and am in my pajamas by 6:00 sharp. That is, if I don’t lie down for a “little nap” first. I find my lottery ticket purchases skyrocketing, and I watch way too many episodes of House Hunters: Bargain Beachfront Bargain Hunt.
So when I saw that Dear John Hughes, a musical celebrating (what else?) the incredible music featured in John Hughes’ teen flicks of the mid 80’s was coming to Chicago, I jumped online and ordered tickets. What better way to pull me out of my winter funk than listening to the soothing sounds of Psychedelic Furs, Oingo Boingo and The Smiths? Truth be told, I had no idea if there was even a plot to this show, but it also starred Rumer Willis…and if there’s one thing I am, it’s a celebrity whore. Sold! (At about a hundred bucks a ticket – ouch!)
My fellow celebrity whore/pop culture-loving friend Becky and I took the train to Chicago, scarfed down a quick lunch, then high-tailed it to the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Despite the 2:00 pm start time, the crowd was already enjoying some pre-entertainment beers, which is always a good sign.
I immediately loved the pre-show music selection, featuring lots of new-wave and lesser-known 80’s music, along with some songs clearly from Hughes’ movies but not featured in the performance. So far so good.
So now – on to the details.
The set was simple: several risers with compartments/room for the live band, with one single “framework” piece along the top for different characters to pose in front of (for the whole silhouette effect). This particular theater also had two very high balconies on both side of the stage and two little mini platforms as well, which were well-used by the cast. Cast members also often used the aisles in the theater, which made it extra exciting when Rumor Willis was nearby (sorry – the whole celebrity whore thing again).
So basically the show is divided into five chapters: The Princess and the Athlete, A Criminal and a Basket Case, The Geek, Prom, and Detention. Each chapter uses lines and characters from Hughes’ most-loved teenage films: Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Weird Science. (The latter is used the very least.) In order to maximize the use of the most classic Hughes’ movie lines, the themes may use a Sixteen Candles line one moment and then a Pretty in Pink line the next. I’ll admit it took a little getting used to, but in the end it just worked…largely because Hughes distinctly understood the different personas of the teenage world, and these movies all had recurring character types. You’ll see just how easily these characters could cross into each other’s worlds.
It was also difficult when a particular actor would deliver a line with a totally different inflection than the original Hughes’ movie actor. Let’s face it: When you’ve seen Sixteen Candles as many times as I have, you’re expecting Farmer Ted’s lines to be delivered just exactly like Anthony Michael Hall. One actor had the unenviable task of doing Stef from Pretty in Pink…and didn’t come close. But honestly, it’s pretty hard to top James Spader’s brilliant rich kid smarminess…because Spader is just so good. The one notable exception to this was Ruby Lewis, who could do a very convincing Edie McClurg as Grace (“They think he’s a righteous dude”) as well as Annie Potts as Iona (“Applause. Applause. APPLAUSE.”) Lewis probably had the strongest voice in the bunch, but Michael Thomas Grant was a close second when he really did a fantastic Ducky singing Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness.
As for Rumer Willis, I was pleasantly surprised that the girl can sing…and I liked her impressions of both Watts and Ally Sheedy’s “Basket Case” as well as Jeannie from Ferris Bueller. In fact, her biggest song of the show, Turn to the Sky by The March Violets, was one of my favorite moments. (By the way, this show just made me love the music of Some Kind of Wonderful even more – not to mention this movie was highly underrated and must be seen by more people. Please. Just do it. You won’t regret it.)
The show keeps a good balance of feel-good songs that everyone knows (Twist and Shout) along with some lesser-known ones that resonate with die-hard Hughes fans. I was particularly happy to hear Left of Center by Suzanne Vega, Young Americans by David Bowie, Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths, and We Are Not Alone by Nik Kershaw. If You Were Here by The Thompson Twins is also one of my all-time favorites (although there is another version of the song by Cary Brothers that just blows me away).
Overall, the show was fun and sentimental-packed. You’ll wish it was 1985 again and you were popping in that VHS tape of Breakfast Club that just came out. I know I am.