Valparaiso actress Kyrie Anderson is just one of the many reasons to see the world premiere new Leo Schwartz stage musical "Under A Rainbow Flag."
Now playing until April 21, it's based on the real-life story of World War II Navy corpsman Jon Philips, set to the tone of a colorful and creative high-energy two and half hour musical about a group of troops who meet on a transport train heading west from Chicago, and about the choices they make during and after the war.
Wonderfully directed by David Zak, with musical direction by Robert Ollis, it's at the intimate Main Stage at 4139 North Broadway in Chicago, just a stone's throw from Wrigley Field.
Anderson is a talented and versatile actress, who most recently performed as Lucy in "Dracula" at Chicago Street Theatre and as Princess Leonide in "Triumph of Love" at Memorial Opera House, both audience favorite spaces in Valparaiso.
"Under the Rainbow Flag" is an important story, a reason Anderson was drawn to audition. It's set during a time well before the military rule of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," when sexual orientation was not discussed.
Best of all, it's a true story. And when I caught the performance Saturday night, there in the front row, was the real Jon Phillips, the man depicted by the central character of the same name. Soon to be 92, Phillips lives in Evanston and for decades before retirement, started the Chicago Mayor's Office of Special Events, beginning his duties under Mayor Martin H. Kennelly, and then Mayor Richard J. Daley for 21 years, in addition to serving under subsequent mayors Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne, Harold Washington, David Orr and Eugene Sawyer.
But this is the same man who started out from the tiny farm town of Steator, Ill. and in September 1942, enlisted in the Navy serving during World War II. Prior to getting on the military train leaving Chicago, he had never the word "gay."
The story opens with Phillips, played by bright-eyed Sam Button-Harrison, boarding and meeting a group of buddies: Gibbs played nicely complex by Nicholas Stockwell, the cut-loose silly Russell, played letter perfect by James Nedrud and the slightly more serious Stefano, a solid portrayal by Jordan Phelps. Stefano is an Army surgeon headed to the Pacific, while Russell is an auto mechanic stationed stateside. Phillips quickly loses his heart to Gibbs, who then meets Donna, played by Anderson, and decides to marry. Schwartz' script, full of humor and surprise, explores all types of love with satisfactions and heartbreak.
In addition to the fun 1940s choreography Tracy Strimple, the song in the musical numbers are so well-done, they stay in the brain long after the audience leaves the theater, with favorites being "Why Can't The Army?," "Would You Rather?," "The Army's Handing Out Medals," "Here Goes" and "Queens." The production also features other talents like Kevin Webb, David Besky, Luis Herrera, Donterrio Johnson and Bobby Arnold. Ashley Ann Woods has designed a cozy and very adaptable set which serves the story perfectly.
"Under the Rainbow Flag" is presented by the non-profit Pride Films and Plays Series. Curtain times are always at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with the option of a special 7:30 p.m. performances on Wednesday April 10 and 17. Tickets are $20 for Wednesday and Thursday and $25 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with discounts for veterans, students, and seniors. FYI: BrownPaperTickets.com or (800) 838-3006 or pridefilmsandplays.com.