Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

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Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Despite the rich tradition of children's theater in Chicago, shows like this one are rare. With brisk pacing, a handful of can't-miss musical numbers, and a strong emphasis on storytelling, Eric Lane Barnes's adaptation of Virginia Lee Burton's 1939 children's classic never gets bogged down in moral pronouncements. Instead it offers its lessons on multiple levels: the nondidactic approach encourages children to recognize the power of positive thinking and perseverance, while some quirky cultural references--to frivolous technology, Ralph Nader, and 60s hippie-speak--allows adults to laugh at outdated mores in general. Perhaps the show's strongest selling point, however, is the five cast members' ensemble work, as they reprise their roles from Lifeline's production last winter. Larry Dahlke in particular is exceptional as the happy-go-lucky steam shovel operator: true to the show's opening number, his Mike Mulligan is "the kind of guy you can't help but like." Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel hasn't undergone any drastic changes since its initial staging, but it remains a gratifying piece of original musical theater. Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, 773-761-4477. Through August 16: Saturdays-Sundays, 1 PM. $7 with advance reservations; "pay what you can" at the door on the day of the show. --Nick Green

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Suzanne Plunkett.

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