Musical tells story of 1980s Evanston punk band


Molly Lubbers/The Daily Northwestern

Jason Narducy plays guitar in his home practice space. Narducy wrote the score for the musical Verböten, which is based on his childhood band.

Max Lubbers, Assistant City Editor

Professional musician Jason Narducy is no stranger to the stage. But for the past few months, he’s stepped off it to watch “Verböten,” a musical inspired by a band he formed in the 1980s.

At about age 11, Narducy started Verböten, which means “forbidden” in German, with three other Evanston kids. Now, he’s written the score for the musical, which The House Theatre of Chicago will perform at the Chopin Theatre until March 29.

Narducy said seeing the musical has been an emotional experience.

“Sometimes you can’t help it,” Narducy said. “It’s just like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna cry right now.’ I’m still trying to get my head around it honestly. That’s how crazy it is.”

The project started when Communication senior lecturer Brett Neveu watched a documentary show featuring Verböten. After realizing he knew Narducy, Neveu wanted to write about the band.

He met with some of the original members still living in Evanston. Although singer Tracey Bradford moved to Florida, he was able to see the dynamic between Narducy, bassist Chris Kean and drummer Zack Kantor.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is a family; I’m meeting a family who love each other,” Neveu said. “And so how did that begin? And if we can watch a show where we’re seeing that happen, then maybe we’ll feel that way about some stuff in our own lives.”

To hear more about the original band members, listen below.

Neveu developed the book for Verböten over the past few years. He said he tried to keep the written scenes compact to let the songs carry a lot of the emotion. In general, Narducy said he wrote punk songs for the young characters and rock ones for the adults.

Instead of a pit, cast members play their own instruments, which artistic director Nathan Allen said is important for a story about musicians.

“So much of the expression of the character is through the performance of music,” he said. “And so we had to find actors that not only fit the role, but then are also musicians in that character’s particular instrument.”

That meant the casting process took some time, but many people involved with the musical said the end result was worth it.

Krystal Ortiz, who plays Bradford, said the cast has bonded over playing together.

“It’s cool because we’re not so much like pretending,” Ortiz said. “We’re actually in the band right now for the rest of the play and getting to play a gig every night together. It’s super fun.”

Just like the characters in the musical, the cast has become a family, said Kieran McCabe, the actor for Narducy.

He said their connection makes the show more authentic.

“We have to be so vulnerable to perform Verböten,” McCabe said. “If we didn’t really love each other, and if we weren’t really taking care of one another, then it would show and the play would have less heart and you would care less as an audience member.”

As for the real-life Narducy, he said the musical is darker than the true story.

However, he said that both in the musical and in reality, Verböten had a significant impact on his identity.

“It was sort of everything to me and and continues to be,” he said. “I’m still very passionate about it and it is absolutely surreal to sit down and watch a musical about that band.”

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