'Cheers' stage show a pale facsimile of beloved sitcom

 
 
Updated 9/23/2016 6:12 AM
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  • Sam Malone (Grayson Powell) confronts Diane Chambers (Jillian Louis) in "Cheers Live on Stage," which continues at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago through Sunday, Oct. 23.

    Sam Malone (Grayson Powell) confronts Diane Chambers (Jillian Louis) in "Cheers Live on Stage," which continues at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago through Sunday, Oct. 23. Courtesy of John Halbach

  • Sarah Sirota stars as Carla, Jillian Louis as Diane, Barry Pearl as Coach and Buzz Roddy as Cliff in "Cheers Live on Stage" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago.

    Sarah Sirota stars as Carla, Jillian Louis as Diane, Barry Pearl as Coach and Buzz Roddy as Cliff in "Cheers Live on Stage" at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago. Courtesy of John Halbach

  • The cast of "Cheers Live on Stage" poses for a group shot. The tour continues at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago through Sunday, Oct. 23.

    The cast of "Cheers Live on Stage" poses for a group shot. The tour continues at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago through Sunday, Oct. 23. Courtesy of John Halbach

"Cheers Live on Stage" is a puzzlement. Why would audiences shell out big bucks to see actors imitating beloved characters who can easily be seen on TV at home? After all, the award-winning sitcom, which ran on NBC from 1982 to 1993, is available in reruns, and via DVD and streaming services.

Perhaps "Cheers Live on Stage" came into being to offer a communal theatrical experience in nostalgia. There must be joy for audiences to know that every time actor Paul Vogt enters as George Wendt's wry accountant character they'll be free to shout out "Norm!"

With no stage curtain, audiences are given ample opportunity to marvel at designer Michael Carnahan's meticulously precise stage recreation of TV's famed Boston basement bar. The social media opportunity to share surreptitious selfies with this famous backdrop is another likely allure.

But once "Cheers Live on Stage" starts, it can feel like you're watching a theme park show rather than a legitimate piece of theater.

The dramatic patterns of a long-running TV sitcom come into stark relief in Erik Forrest Jackson's listless stage adaptation. Hence Act I is the "Cheers" pilot that explains how brainy Diane Chambers (originally Shelley Long, now Jillian Louis) became a waitress at the title bar owned by former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Sam Malone (originally Ted Danson, here Grayson Powell). Grafted on for Act II is another episode from a later "Cheers" season when Sam gets jealous of Diane's new beau.

Since the talented performers have to stick so closely to the character templates and vocal mannerisms laid out by the original stars, there's little room for spontaneity or individuality. Hence "Cheers Live on Stage" can devolve into a game of compare/contrast.

Sarah Sirota does a great job channeling Rhea Pearlman as tough-talking waitress Carla. Credible work is also offered up by Buzz Roddy nattering on as John Ratzenberger's postal worker Cliff Clavin and Barry Pearl as he tries not to slip up as the absent-minded bartender Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (played on TV by the late Nicholas Colasanto).

Another TV-to-theater adaptation -- "I Love Lucy Live on Stage," which appeared at the same venue in 2012 -- offered something more with the theatrical conceit of being a studio taping complete with commercial jingle production numbers spliced in. With "Cheers Live on Stage," however, there just isn't as much on offer to lure audiences away from their screens at home.

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