Chicago has been a major theater town for a long time, dating back to the early 20th century Vaudeville Era when dozens of theaters were scattered around the city, with the largest boasting seating for 2,000 patrons. One of the most influential vaudeville theaters was the Majestic, (now called the PrivateBank Theatre on West Monroe) which serves as the lively setting for Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure.
The year is 1908 and Thaddeus (Travis Turner) and Slocum (Samuel Taylor) are a pair of street performers determined to break into the big time and perform at the Majestic Theatre on the vaudeville circuit.
The two can do jokes, acrobatics, song and dance, the only thing holding them back is the little matter of race. Thaddeus is African American, Slocum is white, and integrated acts were not a thing in vaudeville. So the pair decide to adopt the popular gimmick of blackface, hiding their real identities and stirring up the complex issues of racism, cultural appropriation and identity.
Despite the subject matter, Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure isn't a heavy production, there's much more focus on the adventure part of the title, with cabaret seating and actors moving and sitting among the audience. There are contortionists, burlesque dancers, slapstick performers and singers woven throughout the storyline, which also includes a duo who performs at the historic black theater, The Pekin and a classical singer who is "passing" as white. It's a dynamic two hours that supplies an adventure indeed.
The REFLECT Series, post show panel discussions, are scheduled after the 2:00PM Sunday Matinee on July 17, 24, 31 and August 7.
Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure
Lookingglass Theatre Company
- Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan
- Tickets: $40-$75 ($20 for patrons under 35)
- Shows running now through August 14
Photo courtesy of Lookingglass Theatre