Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
(front, center) Rawson Vint with (back, left to right) Nick Hart, Rachel Wilson, Kate Staiger, Linsey Falls, Mary Tilden, Jeff Trainor, Elisa Carlson and Brad Stevens perform “The Ten Dimends and Sisters”. Photo by Beth Bullock.
Say it ain’t so! Did I laugh uncontrollably and have untimely outbursts of snickering? I did! I did, and I wanted more!
This iteration of the show that is now in its 15th year is the once-a-year musicalized version, and it’s a fantastic voyage of gratifying fun. The hour-long performance is created by the skillful Barrel of Monkeys ensemble, who transform short stories written by Chicago Public School students into wild, silly, funny, goofy, memorable, heartfelt, magical songs.
The manner in which the ensemble crafted the student stories into musical sketches is to be applauded. Each sketch is neatly threaded into the next student story. The show is a constant rotation of movement and singing. Stories dazzle us with fairy-tale like humor, some make perfect sense, others appeal to our imagination, while a few made us take heed to the message behind the story. I was awestruck by the vocal range and talent of each Barrel of Monkeys actor. Each cast member stayed in tune and on beat in the midst of running across the stage, leaping into the air, rolling all over the ground while holding long falsetto notes in between crazy wig changes. It is a true ensemble – each actor was completely and equally invested in delivering a stellar performance. The cast uses the type of costumes that are commonly found in the family fun box of old dress-up clothes – Halloween costumes and the like – that they can quickly throw over their jeans and t-shirts, adding to the insane energy of the cast.
On this night, I witnessed how passionate a company of actors is for unlocking the gifts inside of young writers. I saw an audience filled with young people laughing and having a great night out with classmates, friends, and family. It is clear that Barrel of Monkeys is committed to creating an artistic outlet that not only showcases the works of young students but clearly teaches them how to give life to their ideas and imagination. This variety musical will have you humming each song on the ride back home and silently giggling to yourself as you recall your favorite stories.
I confess – I’m an adult, and I laughed from beginning to end of THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: THE MUSICAL, and I didn’t want to leave this night filled with simple, silly, family fun.