It has all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster: history, catastrophe and drama. But Lookingglass Theatre?s Eastland: An Original Musical (tickets $24 to $68) isn?t a sales-boosting stretch of the imagination; it?s the true saga of a Titanic-scale maritime disaster that happened right here on the Chicago River.
On the morning of July 24, 1915, thousands of workers employed by a Cicero-based electric company boarded the Eastland on the river between Clark and LaSalle streets with their families, bound for a picnic in Michigan. The overloaded ship rolled onto its side and 844 passengers were trapped and drowned within feet of the shore. (Oprah?s soundstage and the current Excalibur nightclub were both makeshift morgues that day.)
Lookingglass?s intimate take on this oft-overlooked event is dark and mesmerizing, a tribute in song to ordinary lives lost and forgotten. The ingenious set is more tent than boat, and the acrobatic stagecraft is stunning, while the voices and acting that tell the passengers? stories are strong and emotionally compelling.
If it sounds like a gloomy reason to leave the sunny retail paradise of Michigan Avenue on a June afternoon to plunge yourself into a watery abyss, we can say only this: It?s a tale worth this riveting telling.
Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-337-0665 or lookingglasstheatre.org