The Magic Banjo | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Magic Banjo

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THE MAGIC BANJO, Pegasus Players. Part demonstration, part lecture on music history, part lesson in general American cultural history, Michael Miles's one-man show is more interesting than it is entertaining. Some sections of this information-packed revue are fascinating: it consists of classic banjo tunes interspersed with short stories about the history of the banjo and minstrel shows and short biographies of such folkies as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.

Unfortunately, Miles makes even obscure material--such as the tale about white culture co-opting an African instrument--seem obvious and repetitive in a lame, classroom kind of way. He seems to feel he has to begin every discussion of a luminary in the arts with his or her year of birth, a habit that made me feel as if I were sitting through two hours of sixth-grade book reports. To make matters worse, Miles doesn't have the larger-than-life personality a performer needs to fill the huge Pegasus Players space. Nor is his show structured to build in intensity and power; for the wilted audience, the last half hour of the show is pretty much like the first.

Given the show's title, I was hoping for a little magic. Or at least a second banjo player. What I got was a cheapo outreach program pretending to be a theater event.

--Jack Helbig

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