Combine equal parts family drama and youthful enthusiasm with a dash of stoner comedy and you get “Baked! The Musical,” delivered piping hot at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. This relatively new work features book, music and lyrics by Deepak Kumar and Jord Liu and has earned rave reviews and awards for previous performances—in 2020, “Baked!” was the highest-grossing show in the history of the Chicago Music Theatre Festival.
The Huang Family Bakery has been in business for three generations. Patriarch Mingli (Nick Joe) considers selling the business due to low sales, and to pay toward college for daughter Jane (Sunnie Eraso) and plane tickets for wife Yunzhou (Mariel Saavedra) to visit her family in China after the death of her father.
To keep the business alive, Mingli confers onto Jane his generational wealth of baking knowledge—custard-filled dàntà, pineapple buns and springy mooncakes. After learning that local drug dealer Z (Reilly Oh) makes $1,000 per week selling dope, Jane and best friend Kasey (Devon Hayakawa) hatch a plan to combine traditional Chinese pastries with THC, a venture that produces high profits (and high customers).
The money is good and business is booming. Problem solved! That is, until a cop comes sniffing around. With Jane’s families’ future at stake, will she take responsibility or sell her friends down the river?
Director Grace Dolezal-Ng and choreographer Shanna VanDerwerker use the entire floorspace of the cabaret-style theater. Actors thread themselves between small tables, lean on the bar beside theatergoers and spend as much time in the back of the house as they do in the front—try to get a seat in the center, or else do some serious neck stretching beforehand.
The space is tight, and actors may be one or two feet away, so prepare to keep your knees in, protect your drinks from the occasional bump and dodge the occasional glob of spit during sections of vocal intensity.
The music has a contemporary sheen, fun tunes with pop hooks. Songs “Get Baked” and “Two World’s Collide” have catchy choruses that stick with you after the show. When the singers are on pitch, the vocals are satisfying, especially during group harmony on “Know You The Most.”
Saavedra as Yunzhou gives the most polished vocal performance. Her solo “Wai Mama” is a highlight.
What works surprisingly well is the small band—Tyler Miles on keyboard and Noel Streacker on percussion—who produce a big, full sound from their tiny corner, aided by solid vocal backup by the ensemble.
“Baked! The Musical” at Theo Ubique has all the ingredients of a great show—energetic cast, delightful songs and more depth than your typical trope-filled love story. It’s a sure recipe for success that just needs a little bit more time in the oven to rise.
“Baked! The Musical” runs through October 8 at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 721 Howard Street, Evanston. Tickets are $49-$79 and are available at theo-u.com.