Credit: Anthony Aicardi

The house music scene that dominated Chicago in the 80s comes alive again at the Chopin Theatre, which the Urban Theater Company has transformed into a nightclub with neon lights, jungle juice, and battling dance crews. Based on José “Gringo” Echeverria’s memoir The Real Dance Fever: Book One, The Beginning and written by UTC artistic director Miranda González, who codirected with Raquel Torre, Back in the Day follows the north-side dance crew the All-Stars and their frenemies the Culitos and Imported Taste as they use dance as a means of finding family and acceptance.

The play, still a work in progress, begins with Gringo deciding to start a dance crew with some of his friends from school. What follows is a series of dance sequences and nonsensical scenes in which the teenagers navigate the rough neighborhoods of Chicago and grapple with the onset of early adulthood. Yet despite González’s best efforts to bring nuance to certain topics such as the AIDS epidemic and gang violence, the scenes all felt rushed and the dialogue felt juvenile. More than anything, the seriousness of these issues was undermined by more dance numbers.

As someone who grew up listening to house music and hearing stories from my parents about how great the night scene was in the 80s, I thought the play captured the soul of the period perfectly. Every song made me feel nostalgic for a time I’ve only ever experienced through stories, which is what is expected from a period piece. I only wish UTC had placed as much emphasis on the topics that deserved more modulation as it did on the dance numbers.   v

Correction: An earlier version of this review failed to mention that this production is a work-in-progress. The final version will premiere in the fall at Destinos, the third annual Chicago International Latino Theater Festival (CLATA).