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Racy Chicago Musical Comes to Wilmette

After 23 years, the Annoyance Theatre debuts prison production in the North Shore.

It’s nothing if not sensational. With a name like Co-Ed Prison Sluts, it has to be. But for Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre, that’s business as usual, and now the playhouse is partnering with the  to bring the 23-year-old performance to the suburbs on Oct. 12.

Styled as a “bawdy musical,” event organizers hope it will stir things up in “sedate Wilmette.”

“I would love a little controversy,” said Nili Yelin, who is producing the show at the Wilmette Theatre. “We shouldn’t all just stay in our comfort zones. And it’s a clever show. It doesn’t matter if it’s shocking or disturbing; to me, what matters is whether it’s good quality.”

Earlier:

The Annoyance Theatre debuted its first run of Co-Ed Prison Sluts in April 1988, which lasted until June 2000. Eight years later, it re-opened for a special 20th anniversary show and has been going ever since.

The show focuses on Alice, the newest inmate, who quickly learns the jail’s cardinal requirement: fear the Clown. Hit songs include: “Hey, We’re In Prison,” “Sh—t, Motherf—ker” and “The Dog Is Eating My Hamster Now.”

Organizers stress that the show is “definitely not for children or the easily offended.”

However, in Yelin’s opinion, sensibilities have changed. When she asked a cast member to sing a few lines from the show, she was amused.

“I said, ‘Sing me the dirtiest, most shocking song from it,’ ” Yelin recalled about the request. “He did it, and I laughed. Because what used to be so offensive…you get to a point where you just laugh.”

So far, Yelin said she hasn’t heard much of an uproar.

“The only thing we've had is one local newspaper that said they cannot run it in the calendar because the name is too provocative,” Yelin said. “But other than that, I’m amazed. Maybe it’s a new era in the suburbs. I think there will be a lot of curiosity to see: How shocking is it?”

For the directors at the Annoyance Theatre, it’s an opportunity to take Chicago’s longest-running musical to an audience who may not have had access previously.

“A lot of people may have seen this when they were kids in Chicago but can’t get back down here,” said Jennifer Estlin, president of the Annoyance.

Back then, feathers were a little more easily ruffled.

“Peoples’ sensibilities aren’t quite as easily offended as they used to be,” Estlin said.

“It was met with a bit of shock [when it premiered],” added Mick Napier, the show’s director. “It started as an idea I had where I could see a circus clown fighting a drag queen.”

It’s that plot line that drives the entire show.

“The only plot to ‘Co-ed Prison Sluts’ is that the clown is coming,” Napier said. “So when the clown does come, it’s fireworks.”

Despite its edgy content, Napier sees the show mostly as a way for people to get away from society’s conventions, even if it’s just for an evening.

“There’s some abrasive language, but it’s also quite innocent in its demeanor,” Napier said. “We do enjoy pushing the envelope, but we love to create subversive context that our audience can enjoy and be part of.

"For an evening, they’re allowed to be a little naughty and enjoy that within a safe place,” he added.

At the very least, it creates dialogue.

Co-ed Prison Sluts runs for one night only in Wilmette, at 8 p.m. Oct. 12. The Annoyance and s are also partnering Messing With A Friend, an improv show starring comedian Susan Messing. Tickets for both performances are $15 and can be purchased at www.wilmettetheatre.com or the box office at 847-251-7424.

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