The Ballad of Little Mikey | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Ballad of Little Mikey



The Ballad of Little Mikey, Bailiwick Repertory.

Composer-librettist Mark Savage's one-act musical hews close to the familiar format of gay coming-out shows: a few flashes of skin interspersed among heartfelt reminiscences of high school hypocrisy, college crushes, and midlife crises. But Savage's tuneful, spirited songs and detailed story--about a young man's search for love and his evolution as a political activist, from managing his university's gay union to leading a televised protest against the notorious movie Cruising--elevate this funny, thoughtful show above generic status.

Told in flashback as the eponymous hero weighs whether or not to give up his activist law practice for a career as a Hollywood entertainment attorney (don't worry, he doesn't), Mikey is buoyed by the supple voice and eager grin of lead actor Mark W. Smith, who starred in the show's ten-month Los Angeles-area run last year. (Smith leaves the cast May 28, to be replaced by the reliable George B. Smart.) Kerry Riffle's Pride Performance Series staging also features a strong supporting cast, including Page Hearn as a veteran activist, Marc Foster as a would-be Oscar Wilde, and Robert Cooner, whose superb tenor adds dimension to the work's weakest element, the cardboard role of Mikey's conservative conformist lover. Pianist Chuck Larkin's solid accompaniment bolsters some fine choral singing from the all-male ensemble.

Only at the too-abrupt end does Savage's score falter, climaxing with a "Ballad for Americans"-style anthem whose sweeping praise of the activist spirit, though well deserved, lacks the personal specificity that makes the rest of the work so engaging.

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