The Ramones had released four albums by the time the punk band worked with Phil Spector in 1979 for the fifth album, “End of the Century.”
The stories that came out of the studio recording ranged from Spector’s demand for perfection and need to threaten the artists with a gun to the drug and alcohol use by the band.
John Ross Bowie (Barry Kripke on The Big Bang Theory and dad Jimmy DiMeo on Speechless), penned “Four Chords and a Gun,” which takes the audience through the making of “End of the Century,” the Ramones’ fifth and most commercially successful album. The play opened its run at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place with the tag line “Not a f****** musical,” and a reminder that the production is not endorsed by Phil Spector or the Ramones.
At its heart, “Four Chords and a Gun” is a love story: a love of music, a desire for success and the added flavor of a love triangle. It clearly came from a place of love from Bowie, who was a teenager when he discovered the Ramones.
Fans of the Ramones and punk rock fans will love the Easter egg trivia that abounds the script, Bowie’s first. Casual fans of music and theater will be impressed with the smart dialogue and cast’s chemistry that comes from a previous stint in Toronto before heading to Chicago.
No, it’s not a musical in the sense that there will be humming from fresh tunes as the theater lights come up. But, the Ramones’ musical successes — from “Blitzkrieg Bop” (“Hey, Ho, Let’s Go!”) to “Rock and Roll Radio” — are highlighted.
Compiling the band’s history – and histrionics – into one recording session makes for a mash-up that turns true-life events into the fictionalized story. As the cast shines, Paolo Santalucia is spellbinding as drug-addicted bass player Dee Dee, whose hopped-up antics grip the audience. Santalucia has the innate actor’s ability to capture attention, even when his role is just to be passed out on a couch.
Thanks to excessive use of words not suitable for network television, and some gunplay, it’s best to make “Four Chords and a Gun” a date night endeavor, but worth the babysitter fees. Punk fans can enjoy a short, 15-minute concert after the curtain of Ramones covers played by the Four Chords Band.
If you go
Through June 2
Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
Tickets $36.45 and up
Find more information at broadwayinchicago.com.
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