Review: Theo Ubique’s Baked! The Musical Cooks Up Something Funny and Tender

I have always said that there is no real American culture because we are a country of immigrants. The one thing that is a common denominator is the striving to succeed and pass something of value to the next generation. Baked! The Musical explores the Asian-American experience of hard work, success, and the family bond above all. Baked! is seven years in the making and a labor of love with the book, music, and lyrics by Deepak Kumar and Jord Liu, with good direction by Grace Dolezal Ng.

The story centers around a bakery owned by the Huang family. Jane (Sunnie Eraso) is the apple of her father Mingli’s (Nick Joe) eye. He is teaching Jane the family business with recipes passed down and others he has developed for years. Jane’s mother Yunzhou (Mariel Saavedra) is more open to letting Jane experiment a bit to follow her own dreams that include adding cinnamon to the danta custard.

Nick Joe and Mariel Saavedra. Photo by Time Stop Photography.

Eraso plays Jane as energetic and driven to please her parents as well as realize her dream of going to Harvard on a merit scholarship. Eraso is wonderfully expressive showing how her character holds the burdens of parental and cultural expectations. When she doesn’t get the scholarship, she has to come up with a way to pay for school without her parents sacrificing the bakery. Devon Hayakawa as Jane’s friend Kasey has a killer voice and great acting chops as her character emerges from a supportive and sacrificing bestie to making her own decisions. As the women brainstorm, they see the class stoner Z (Reilly Oh) applying a side trade in weed. Oh is fantastic as the kid that everyone considers to be a slacker but he also has a head for business—the cannabis business. His portrayal of a kid who is underestimated by everyone stands out in a roster of good performances.

Kumar and Liu give the characters snappy and funny lines to throw shade at each other. The chemistry between Jane, Kasey, and Z is quite good as they form an underground edibles business. Z comes up with a custard spiked with “Indica-granate” which is then put into the mooncakes for the Lunar Autumn Festival. Jane uses the family bakery to bake mooncakes under the guise of practicing for her final test in baking.

Sunnie Eraso and Devon Hayakawa. Photo by Time Stop Photography.

Jane’s parents are completely unaware of what is happening as they struggle to come up with the funds for Yunzhou to go to China and support her mother in the wake of her father’s death. Joe and Saavedra give wonderful and nuanced performances as they try to keep their financial troubles secret from Jane. Their storyline is a perfect balance to the comedy of a good girl gone wild for tuition. Saavedra gives a wonderful performance as a daughter feeling guilt, pressure, and grief from her feelings of failure. Joe gives a stellar performance as a heartbroken father watching his little girl turn away from his dreams for her.

The lyrics in Baked! are on point and the melodies have great hooks. The cast all have great voices and the harmonies between Jane and Kasey are pure and pitch-perfect. Music director Tyler TM Miles is flawless on the keyboards. The set design by Mara Ishihara Zinky is deceptively simple but is in perfect harmony with the props designed by Isa Noe. The very authentic-looking buns and custard tarts actually made me hungry.

Baked! The Musical is a good exploration of Chinese-American culture, familial responsibilities, and the non-blood relationships that become deeply important in life. I found that I missed the Lunar Autumn Festival in Chicago, but it is something that I would like to experience. Also, mooncakes have an interesting history and more meaning than is portrayed in the play. Authentic savory mooncakes are not allowed in America and are seized by customs regularly. The good news is that they are available as a confection with red bean paste or lotus paste for mid-autumn moon gazing. They are given as gifts to family and friends as an expression of deep love.

I recommend Baked! The Musical as part of your fall theater gazing. Good music, a great plot, fun dialogue, and a tug at the heartstrings. You might want to eat a little something before you go or even better, reserve a week in advance for a pre-theater meal from Koi. Three Stars

Baked! The Musical is playing at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 1751 N. Howard Street (the Evanston side). The show is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission and runs through October 8. Tickets and more information are available at

For more information on this and other plays, see

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.