Fahrenheit 451 | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Fahrenheit 451



FAHRENHEIT 451, Bailiwick Repertory. Written and published in the early days of the McCarthy era, Ray Bradbury's dystopic 1953 novel is a sharp, angry, elegantly written screed against the media-inspired stupefaction of our culture and the fascist preference for strict order and conformity over the preservation of civil rights.

Fahrenheit 451 the musical--cobbled together some 30 years later by Bradbury, composer David Mettee, and lyricist Georgia Bogardus Holof--attempts to cover the same ground. But thanks to a host of problems that begin with Bradbury's flat, undramatic adaptation, Mettee's annoying, forgettable tunes, and Holof's hokey lyrics, the show ends up exemplifying the dumbed-down culture it's trying to lampoon. It doesn't help that David Zak's low-budget production is flecked with lots of the little flaws I've come to expect from Bailiwick's less successful projects: ugly sets, cheap costumes, awkward staging, amateurish acting, tone-deaf singing, and halfhearted attempts to win us over with sentimental imagery. Zak ends the show with a ceremony in which all the actors choose not to curse the darkness but to light one candle as they sing Mettee and Holof's Les Miz-like anthem to freedom, or the indomitable human spirit, or whatever.

The show does feature one superb performance, by 14-year-old Cecily Strong. Unfortunately, her energy and natural magnetism only make it clear how many of the other actors in the show--including the leaden lead, Rob Hatzenbeller--are just sleepwalking through it. --Jack Helbig

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