Ready to feel old? The Matrix—a movie that, upon its release at the cusp of the new millennium, was lauded by critics and fans as the harbinger of a new era of style and futuristic filmmaking—is now the stuff of retrospective think pieces and anniversary screenings. Book writer and lyricist Laura Marsh honors the film’s 20-year milestone with this lovingly janky “D.I.Y. style” musical parody that riffs on and pays homage to the Wachowskis’ iconic sci-fi action classic and all its green-lit, leather-duster-clad glory.
Chicago comedy clubs like the Annoyance and Second City have a long and proud history of producing lo-fi, low-budget musicals that marry sketch and improv sensibility with earwormy, keyboard-accompanied, better-than-they-need-to-be original tunes. At first glance, director C.J. Tuor’s production at the Den would seem to be in a similar vein, especially when it comes to clever, scrappy visual effects, like flapper-dress fringe standing in for falling crypto-code letters, handheld Saran Wrap “glass” windows, and rolling-chair-assisted flying kicks.
But neither the voices here nor Jon Monteverde’s score—a MIDI file-sounding, melodically nonexistent assemblage of loose parodies—really deliver on the musical requisite of musical parody. Bruce Phillips earns some legitimate laughs as Agent Smith, and Mike Gospel is a vocally strong outlier as Cypher, but the rest of the show’s songs and gags wear thin well before the end of its 90-minute run time. v