Black Button Eyes Productions continues to build on their reputation of producing well-realized, off-kilter, and slightly spooky musicals with their presentation of Mary Rose. A world premiere musical, Mary Rose manages the neat trick of adapting J.M. Barrie’s 1920 era play into a delightfully clever ninety-minute production. J.M. Barrie of course is the creator of Peter Pan. This adaptation (a collaboration between Ed Rutherford and Jeff Bouthiette) begins with a chaplain attempting an exploration of a supposedly haunted house. Is the house indeed haunted? Yes. Very much so. I usually do not like giving away key plot details, but we do rather quickly meet a ghost (although her exact nature is a little less clear).
That “ghost”, Mary Rose (Stephanie Stockstill), quickly assumes the role of narrator with her story effectively fleshed out by the supporting cast members. Characters on stage include Mary Rose’s parents as well as a young suitor named Simon (played exceedingly well by Maxel Schingen). Together they tell a haunted tale involving mysterious disappearances perhaps orchestrated by the still folk (the Scottish equivalent to fairies).
Mary Rose works especially well as a ghost story with its opening scene appearing almost as a shout out to the works of Shirley Jackson. The story then shifts ever so subtly to a more menacing version of Peter Pan, with the characters quickly realizing that it might not be so great never growing old. The production also works quite well as a musical with the music mostly effective at propelling the story forward while keeping consistent with the story’s creepy undertow. Singing these songs is a very talented cast that always appear in sync with one another. Adding another winning layer is the live orchestra directed by Nick Sula.
There were, however, a few numbers, mostly the ones devoid of anything ghostlike, that did not quite fit in with the overall gestalt of the work. It is not that the music itself failed, it just felt out of place. Regardless, Mary Rose is a very impressive new musical. That it was so effectively staged within the ever-tightening grips of this pandemic makes it even more so. Noel Schecter
Mary Rose at the Edge Theater, 5451 North Broadway Avenue. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here. Performances run through February 12th. Must show card proving that you are fully vaccinated. Patrons also must be masked at all times. Seating is kept at 60% percent capacity. For more reviews go to theaterinchicago.