Black Button Eyes Productions deserve credit for presenting the Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow musical “Whisper House.” This is the first time the musical, which was created shortly after “Spring Awakening,” has been produced in Chicago. Narrated largely by two ghosts, “Whisper House” tells the tale of a young boy (Leo Spiegel, an impressive young actor) who recently lost his father in World War II, and then his mother to mental illness. With nowhere else to turn, the boy is forced to live with his set-in-her-ways Aunt (Kate Nawrocki) who tends a lighthouse in Maine. Helping her in this endeavor is the proud Yashuhiro (Karmann Bajuyo) who becomes the subject of attention for a local sheriff, who is charged with ridding the coastline of all possible spies and saboteurs.
There is something deliciously unsettling about any musical that begins with two ghosts singing in a near whisper about how a young, orphaned boy would be better off dead. Equally jarring is a plot point about keeping a gentle Japanese man hidden from a prying U.S. official for no other reason than his ethnicity. For the most part, the production delivers on all its multiple moods and does a good job of keeping the audience off-balance with what is, at times, a ghost tale within a ghost tale.
The cast also showcases serious musical talents, most notably Nawrocki. At the same time, however, I question the direction of the two ghosts, as well as the sheriff, who too often deliver their lines with more schmaltz than finesse. Together they lack the sinister quality needed to convince the audience that everything here is being played for keeps. Along with the sometimes leaden choreography, this production may be better to whisper rather than shout about. (Noel Schecter)
Black Button Eyes Productions at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, (773)935-6875, blackbuttoneyes.com, $30. Through February 15.