Four Chords and a Gun, the not-so-musical play about the Ramones' music, premiered at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago over the weekend with lots of spunk and little punk.
I attended the opening night of Four Chords and a Gun. It was written by actor John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory and Speechless) and directed by Richard Ouzounian. It reveals the drama-filled 1979 recording session that led to the Ramones' album, "End of the Century," produced by Phil Spector. This production came from a run of shows in Toronto. The play was originally produced by the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.
As the play's motto goes, it's "not a f***ing musical," and I was mentally ready for that. Upon entering the theatre, the stage was set in a grungy room with an enormous backdrop against the wall with the words "Gabba Gabba Hey" (a catchphrase associated with the band) and a plethora of guitars, amps and microphones.
I sat down and perused the Playbill that lists the six actors who encapsulate this performance. The Ramones are Joey (Justin Goodhand), Johnny (Cyrus Lane), Dee Dee (Paulo Santalucia) and Marky (James Smith). Linda Danielle (Vanessa Smythe) was the sole female in the cast and then there was the very wacky Phil Spector (Ron Pederson).
The lights dimmed, the actors came out on stage, and it was surprisingly quiet. None of the performers were equipped with microphones and I was in the fifth row out of seventeen. Although you could hear them well when they were facing the audience, whenever they'd turn any other way, it was difficult to hear and I have average hearing. In between set changes incredibly loud music plays overhead, and when you come from quiet banter to loud music, my ears were irritated.
Despite the non-miked actors, their acting was great and you could feel the audience connect with the performers with sad silence during the somber scenes and loud laughs during the more lighthearted times. The play portrayed the spunk that the Ramones had toward their musical career and just how funky Phil Spector was back then.
I have to hand it to Ron Pederson, who played Spector, for nailing his performance. He was a hoot to watch. I felt the Dee Dee Ramone actor, Paulo Santalucia, was the most believable character to me whether he was a gentle guy gabbing or a drugged out dude. Cyrus Lane, who played Johnny, really shined during his angrily passionate scenes. Justin Goodhand, did a good job handling the iconic role of Joey. Marky, as depicted by James Smith, totally fun to see and even went most of the show without wearing a t-shirt under his leather coat and was comedic. Vanessa Smythe, who played Linda was lovely and was the love interest of Joey, then later fell for Johnny.
I am a huge music-lover and attended this play not really knowing much about the Ramones. I went in with an open mind and learned a lot about the band and their struggles behind the scenes during this 90-minute history lesson. It felt like a live version of VH1's "Behind the Music," however, I felt something was missing, and that was the punk music of the Ramones during the show. Perhaps the production was not granted access to use their tunes.
At the end of the play, Smith who plays Marky makes a narrative of what happened to his band mates and Spector. Marky is the only surviving member from that studio session.
The stage went dark and there was a brief scramble of stagehands and out came a Ramones tribute band, who look nothing like the Ramones, to play covers for about twenty minutes. The band was decent, but after seeing such a serious story, it was a trying transition to get back into the punk mood to rock out and it was awful seeing the audience seated during the band's performance.
Four Chords and a Gun
- Broadway Playhouse
- Now Playing - Through June 2, 2019
- 90 minutes with no intermission
- A digital lottery for twenty-six (26) $25 seats will be held for every performance of Four Chords and a Gun. Seat locations and the number of tickets awarded by the lottery are always subject to availability. Click here for details and to enter.
For tickets and more information, click HERE.