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What's more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys? Milton Bradley has asked this question for decades and now a Chicago-based arts education theater ensemble, aptly named “Barrel of Monkeys,” begs the same question of their audiences. After seeing their newest performance of “That’s Weird Grandma: Behind the [Monkey] Music,” I think you will be inclined to admit that there is indeed nothing more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys.

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Barrel of Monkeys is first and foremost an arts-education group that conducts creative writing workshops for 3rd-5th grade students in underserved Chicago Public Schools. The group then becomes a theater ensemble, turning the children’s stories into performances performed at the school for the children and for general audiences at various venues around the city. The performances have a “Whose Line is it Anyway?” quality, only the shots are called by kids which is an amazing feat for this ensemble of actor-educators. If you aren’t impressed yet, Barrel of Monkeys’ performance of “That’s Weird Grandma” takes children’s stories and turns them into musical numbers, creating the first all musical performance by Barrel of Monkeys.

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With such adorably written pieces as “Flower Argument,” an argumentative piece debating whether or not a flower should be picked from the point of view of the flower, to “Not So Much Pressure,” about Batman needing a break from saving the world, “Barrel of Monkeys” ensemble cast takes these pieces and turns them into musically hilarious gold. The audience, made up of adults, teenagers, and adults who act like children, was in stiches. The clean humor, awww worthy moments, incredible musical talent of the cast, and the honest and touching children’s’ stories was a perfect storm of perfection. What’s even more extraordinary is the show is never the same. Audience members vote on their favorite pieces from the hour-long show (roughly 12-14 pieces) and the most popular make the cut and are included in the next week, the rest of the showed being filled with new pieces.

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This is a fantastic organization to support. Arts, music, and theater programs are typically the first to get cut in school budgets and the CPS system is no exception. The benefits of having a creative outlet for kids can be infinite. “That’s Weird Grandma: Behind the [Monkey] Music” runs through March 31st at the Neo-Futurist Theater (5100 block of N Ashland Ave.). I double-dog-dare you to not enjoy this Barrel of Monkeys.

Published in Theatre Reviews