Musical thriller reveals murder, mystery and romance
By Kevinisha Walker
“What you see may not be what it seems,” is the resounding theme throughout the Chicago College of Performing Arts’ recent production of “Ripper.”
Set at the PennyWise Music Hall in London’s East End circa 1888, “Ripper” explores sex, mystery, murder and romance.
Assistant Director and Associate Professor of Theatre Ray Frewen directed the musical thriller.
From the show’s start, it was unclear whether it was beginning or not.
Initially, many of the characters interact with the audience. One character even asked an audience member if he wanted something to drink, but he later jokes that he’ll get it to him in about two hours—the duration of the play.
But once the actors got back on stage and started singing, the musical actually began.
While Mrs. Ratkin and her prostitutes, Lucy and Nelly, magically cut Mary’s body in half, a real murder mystery occurs in the backdrop.
Then the four-person chorus, dressed in black from head to toe, sing, and the lights turn red.
The chorus is a good way to highlight the murder theme and the color black, which is associated with death. Thus, it introduces Polly’s murder, the first of the mysterious murders.
Those mysterious murders were supposedly done by Jack the Ripper, where the musical thriller gets its name.
Historians say that Jack the Ripper, an unidentified serial killer, killed multiple female prostitutes in impoverished areas around London’s Whitechapel District.
But “Ripper” does not go into detail about Jack the Ripper at all. In fact, one can see this musical without even knowing about him.
It focuses on some of the victims and the mystery surrounding their deaths. Back in 1888, no one knew about Jack the Ripper. That wasn’t even his real name. Supposedly the name came about in a letter from someone claiming to be the murderer, but that was largely viewed as a hoax.
Much like the mysterious speculation surrounding Jack the Ripper’s true identity in 1888, “Ripper” is very mysterious in its speculations about the prostitutes’ murders, as well.
Before each murder occurs, the chorus enters the stage, and the band plays suspenseful music.
But that’s not the only time the band plays.
The band complements the actors as they belt out songs of mystery, love and infidelity.
The singing was very impressive, as well as the speaking. All of the characters spoke with English dialects.
When the actors weren’t amazing me with their singing and speaking, they were making me laugh hysterically. The writer did a great job of balancing death and comedy.
There were also scenes that made me smile — specifically, the ones that revealed the budding romance between Mary and Chester.
Amid fearing for her safety, dealing with her fate and crying after her friend’s murder, Mary had the courage to fall in love.
If I feared for my life, I’m not so sure I’d be concerned with anything other than my safety, but Mary opened her heart to Chester and I thought their scenes were sweet.
Aside from Mary and Chester’s romance, the musical also heavily featured journalism and its importance to the murder-mystery and relationships with sources.
In an age where the journalism industry is in flux, journalists and writers of today could see the value in their work from “Ripper.” In 1888, there was certainly a need for accuracy and sources, and those needs are relevant today, too.
Overall, this musical was fresh and impressive. If one can look past the weird introduction with the characters interacting with the audience, this musical is sure to please.