As any music lover knows, Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer by whom all others are measured, spent the second half of his life at St. Thomas’ Church and School in Leipzig, where he lived the most dull life imaginable while composing unparalleled masterpieces. Underappreciated, underpaid and overworked to the point where his duties included school dormitory checks and giving music and catechism lessons as well as composing music and supervising performances for weekly church services for two town churches, few realized that Bach was laying the cornerstone for all of Western music in the process. When the Leipzig town council hired him as their third choice for the job, it noted in an infamous citation from its minutes that since the best candidates were not available, a “mediocrity” must be hired instead. Thankfully, this fresh new play by young Stoppardesque playwright Itamar Moses does not immortalize that boneheaded town council, but rather, the applicants vying for the position along with their squabbles, jealousies, intrigues and family lives. What we end up with is a humorous, poignant and all too real look at eighteenth-century life, warts and all, and how life becomes transformed by an accidental intersection with a bland man who just happens to be the greatest musical genius of all time. When composer Johann Friedrich Fasch demonstrates, for instance, what a conventional fugue of the time is capable of doing, it sets up a hearing of how Bach transforms the form through the ears of the era, and their wonder and awe becomes our own. Yes, the writing is exquisite, but the chemistry and ensemble of this first-class all-male cast of veteran and young actors that director Nick Bowling has assembled and the fact that the cast wears and moves in the garb of the time convincingly transports us to another age. (Dennis Polkow)
“Bach in Leipzig” plays at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (847)242-6000, through April 1. This production is now closed.