In 2009, Silk Road Theatre Project took their mission of exploring stories from people of the Silk Road (the trade route that ran from the Far East to the Mediterranean) and gave it a cunning musical spin. "Silk Road Cabaret: Broadway Sings the Silk Road" combined songs penned by Westerners with autobiographical anecdotes from the diverse cast on the difficulties of carving out show-biz careers in the face of sparse — and insulting — roles for performers of Asian and Middle Eastern descent.
The company, which rechristened itself Silk Road Rising recently in recognition of its forays into multimedia as well as theater, picks up a similar map in "Re-Spiced: A Silk Road Cabaret." This time the journey detours from the Great White Way to visit rock, pop, punk, hip-hop and country (and
It's a high-minded exercise — devised by Jamil Khoury and directed by
The material is intertwined geographically and stylistically, allowing for ironic pairings, such as Philip Pullman's wry meditation from "The Amber Spyglass" that "being in love was like
But the eight-member cast and musical director Ryan Brewster bring sardonic lightness to a tongue-in-cheek medley of pop anthems exploiting the exotic other — from "Walk Like an Egyptian" to "Turning Japanese" to "Kung Fu Fighting." Brenda Didier's high-spirited choreography makes the most of the small proscenium space, and if you grab a seat at one of the front-row tables, you're likely to be on the receiving end of extra attention from the performers.
The headiness of the material and the intricacies of the music don't always mesh successfully, and I found myself missing some of the personal stories from the first show. But this is the rare cabaret evening that allows you to both enjoy and examine the cultural assumptions underpinning some well-loved songs — and the prose sections in "Re-Spiced" may send you on a mission to add some intriguing new flavors to your reading list.
When: Through May 6
Where: Silk Road Rising, Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes