Hans Brinker | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Hans Brinker


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New Tuners Theatre, at the Theatre Building.

It's very much the gooey holiday confection it was last year, but there's still something to recommend in this incarnation of Mary Mapes Dodge's 1867 classic about the young speed-skating demon whose honesty and Puritan work ethic enable his family to prosper. Visually stunning, this production has been designed with all the precision and artistry of a State Street Christmas window. Shannon McKinney's lighting creates a wonderfully icy December atmosphere, and Patricia Hart's costumes make all the actors seem perfectly cast, even in the few cases where they're not.

The captivating Peggy Sullivan's poor but proud Brinker matriarch provides one of the few show-stopping moments in "Surely You Remember," a heartrending tribute to her ailing husband. The affable George Keating is appropriately innocent and good-hearted as Hans, and Marnie Nicolella, Sharon Daw, Meg Weldon, and Stephen Rader give able support as Hans's sister and his love-struck pals. Less effective is Roy Cepero as the comatose Mr. Brinker: his unconvincing performance as a man much older than himself robs the musical of what could have been a profoundly moving climax.

What really makes Brinker more a thawed Ice Capades than the holiday classic it aims to be, however, are John Sparks's simplistic, often saccharine lyrics ("You're so happy being you, you make others happy too") and Philip Seward's pleasant but uncomplicated music, which grows even more monotonous on a second listening. If you have a crabby child, you might hear the same complaints as those uttered by the witty seven-year-old girl next to me, who interrupted a key mushy moment by whining, "I think I'm gonna hurl."

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