The late film director John Hughes (1950-2009) was a director, writer and producer of television shows and films that not only gained considerable commercial successes, but were also masterpieces of “teen speak.” As an adult, Hughes understood and brilliantly recreated the world of those decades younger than he. He spent his formative years in Illinois and set many of his famous films in our north suburbs. Now, the music that he used so skillfully as background and momentary interludes to punctuate his stories has been collected for performance on the live stage in Dear John Hughes at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse.
Hughes was a native of Lansing, Mich., but by age thirteen—just in time for high school—the family moved to Northbrook, Ill., and Hughes would receive his high school diploma from Glenbrook North High School. He returned to these north suburban roots many times for such films as
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone. After 1994, when his close friend John Candy died, Hughes went into semi-retirement and moved to Lake Forest. He died of a heart attack at age 59 as he walked down west 55th Street in New York. He is buried at Lake Forest Cemetery. He claimed that his years at Glenbrook North inspired his writing and film career, and his mastery of “teen speak.”
After dropping out of the University of Arizona, he began a career in writing and advertising, and by the late 1970’s was working at National Lampoon magazine where his stories led to his first screenplays.
Their film Class Reunion (1982) is Hughes’ first credited screenplay. From then to 2008, he would write, produce or direct (sometimes all three) almost 35 films. Dear John Hughes focuses mostly on the films he directed, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science.
Co-creator Anderson Davis, who also adapted and directed this production, has selected a solidly representative set of musical numbers from Hughes’ films and his youthful cast sings them well. Davis’ ensemble, which will change slightly during the run, has great energy and often displays considerable vocal range and talent. However, these fine voices are electronically enhanced to the point where the lyrics are difficult to understand and the decibel levels can reach a near deafening level.
Spencer Liff’s choreography works well at the high energy level, with such numbers as “Twist and Shout,” but there is almost no attempt to introduce some subtlety into the constant high energy. Some delicacy with this talent could have produced some wonderfully subdued shades. Yet, the biggest drawback here is what passes for the narrative.
Hughes badly wanted to pull teen age films away from the Porky’s-inspired teen comedies. He largely succeeded with better and deeper characters and more intelligent writing that did not dwell on crude sexual jokes.
Here though, the narrative, as adapted from elements of Hughes’ scripts, portrays a world of high school students who are largely sex-obsessed, dead beats, slackers, or all three. Even giving director and adapter Davis some license to make his characters more interesting, these characters resemble more of the ensemble from Porky’s, then those from John Hughes’ films.
The younger element in the audience seemed to find a good deal to cheer about in this and maybe this is a generational thing. You have until March 15 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place on Chicago’s near north side to make your decision. It is located along the Miracle Mile at 175 East Chestnut. For further information go to: www.broadwayinchicago.com, or call—800-775-2000.