“Aftermath” certainly makes you wonder why there hasn’t been a flurry of Rolling Stones jukebox musicals. If all the early Beatles stories are well worn, the obscure Signal Ensemble Theater in Chicago proves the Stones still have stories that haven’t gathered the same dramatic moss. In under 90 minutes, writer-director Ronan Marra presents a complete narrative — this mostly feels like a play, although it does include six songs performed by the cast — with a successfully narrow focus and an appropriate balance of history and dramatic license.
“Aftermath” follows Stones founding member Brian Jones (Aaron Snook) roughly between 1966 and 1969, around the time he began to feel his own creation slipping away from him — to the point where he was finally booted from the band and died mysteriously soon after, at the age of 27.
The show is not a pack-it-up and ship-it-out production, although it is a genuine local hit. This is true storefront Chicago stuff, non-Equity work on a shoestring budget, with ensemble members strutting but also stretching their gifts. The leads all demonstrate acting chops, but some fit their roles far better than others, and they’re not all on the same level as musicians as they play such Stones’ favorites as “Paint It Black,” “Lady Jane,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Marra impressively creates characters and not just caricatures, a particularly difficult challenge when dealing with exaggerated figures like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
Nick Vidal captures a slightly snotty young Jagger, still experimenting with a flamboyant stage presence and oblivious to the fact that turning around during a song and pretending to conduct his bandmates might come across to them as condescending. And as Richards, Joseph Stearns delivers his lines with an offbeat, laissez-faire style that hints at the rocker’s future comical incoherence.
Snook’s Jones, who also narrates, is the visionary teetering on the brink of genius and drug-induced insanity, ultimately descending into paranoia. “Aftermath” depicts his self-destruction while paying tribute to his incorporation of exotic instruments like the sitar and the dulcimer into rock and roll.
While it has its adolescent blemishes, the show has good bones. “Aftermath” smartly, and without pretension, explores the early battles over what rock ‘n’ roll could and should be — an art form constantly seeking new sounds and inspiration, or a commercial brand representing rebellion?