Ghost Quartet offers four musical “sides” to love, loss, and friendship | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Ghost Quartet offers four musical “sides” to love, loss, and friendship

Black Button Eyes gives Dave Malloy’s gleefully haunting song cycle an absorbing production.



Black Button Eyes Productions presents the Chicago premiere of Dave Malloy's 2014 song cycle, which gleefully compels four friends to shape-shift through centuries of haunted evocations of love, longing, loss, and friendship. In a brisk 90 minutes presenting more than 24 numbers introduced as tracks on four "sides" (like a double LP), this utterly absorbing show (directed by Ed Rutherford) manages to name-check Edgar Allan Poe, Thelonious Monk, Little Red Riding Hood, the Arabian Nights, and untold other poetics of the human condition while hardly breaking a sweat.

Amanda Raquel Martinez and Rachel Guth ably carry most of the lead vocal duties, while T.J. Anderson and Alex Ellsworth hold their own on a variety of instruments and provide complementary backup singing. But all four performers are constantly required to shift gears without breaking the momentum of the songs, which pile up at a dizzying clip. It's an often astonishing tightrope walk that manages to be heartfelt, hilarious, and deceptively resonant for our overstimulated ADD age.

The combination of Jeremy Hollis's curio-shop set and G. "Max" Maxin IV's cheeky, often charmingly outdated video projections lend an odd retro/out-of-time backdrop, but it would all fall flat if Malloy's songs didn't measure up. Fortunately, his pastiches of jazz, folk, and show tunes perfectly meld the tones and textures that give these four time-skipping apparitions flight. You don't have to believe in ghosts to be utterly moved by their plight, and a half dozen of the catchier refrains will haunt even the most jaded materialist long after they've left the theater.   v

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