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Transit-themed cabaret makes all stops to hilarious and inappropriate

by John Skelly Jr.
Nov 15, 2011


CT-HEY advertisement

To see Friday's show

Call 773-327-5252 or go to Tickets are $18.

If you had to set your morning commute to music, what might you title the numbers?

How about Stuck on the Red Line, Please Don't Touch Me, and Coffee in a Cardboard Cup? That's what the Chicago Cabaret Project came up with in their production of CT-HEY, a cabaret performance that dissects an experience all commuting Chicagoans love and hate, and love to hate -- riding the train.

Chicago has been the backdrop for many musicals, including the most aptly named, Chicago. But the city has offered so much more to musical theater than just the critically acclaimed. Off-Broadway productions such as Bleacher Bums, which first appeared in 1977 and was revived in 2009, portrayed the denizens of Wrigley Field, a motley crew of overly enthusiastic, often distracted fans.

CT-HEY is of a similar fashion, a more contemporary illustration of the diverse crowd of Chicagoans who rely on the CTA to get around. It premiered over the summer but is back by popular demand for two performances in November, the second of which will be Friday.

Chicago has a unique way of laughing at itself. It bonds over embracing the quirks and eccentricities of the the city and its inhabitants. It doesn't hide or ignore its ugly, it celebrates them. In doing so, a stronger sense of community develops.

"I really believe that the best theater, the shows that sell and get people talking, are the ones that people can relate to and sometimes find humor in their situations. So that was my goal," Kyle Russell, director, producer, and stage actor of CT-HEY said.

CT-HEY is an amalgamation of Russell and his colleagues' experiences riding the train.

"I've seen the woman in the velvet Juicy Couture track suit with rhinestone sunglasses, and I've seen the woman breaking up with her boyfriend over the phone," Russell said. "The scenes that resonate well with the audience are definitely the 'What the [eff] is this?' instances."

As a result of these unexpected surprises on the train or elsewhere in the city, Chicagoans possess a kinship unlike most other cities.

"People love this city even after eight months of winter. I think it's the idea of gallows humor. We're all stuck in the trenches together so we might as well make fun of it together," Russell said. "Chicago is such a culturally and artistically sound and nurturing community; saturated with every type of person, culture and walk of life. It offers everything from the mundane to the absurd, an endless supply of artistic fodder."

CT-HEY pokes fun at a variety of Chicago life -- game day at Wrigley Field, unsuspecting tourists traveling through Boystown and the mass of commuters piling onto trains with their morning coffee.

CT-HEY actor, Olin Eargle, finds humor in the accuracy of the show's musical numbers.

“‘Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,’ as everyone starts their day off with that ole cup o' joe, is such a true stereotype. ‘Gay or European,’ we've all seen that guy who we're not quite sure about. ‘Storm's a Brewin,’ no one likes riding the train on Cubs game days, when the train is packed with smelly, loud, drunk fans who all pour off at Addison," Eargle said.

The show resonated with audience members Justin Reynolds and Rachel Jermann.

"The whole atmosphere of the show, down to the inappropriate CTA announcer, was perfect," Reynolds said.

The Chicago Cabaret Project is working on new projects set to debut next year, including another show about Chicago, titled "Chicago: Bright Lights, Dark City."