BCS Spotlight

If you are a passionate fan of the original "Phantom of the Opera" musical, its sequel "Love Never Dies" will surely peak your curiosity and is a 'must see'.

The continuation to one of the greatest love stories of our time takes place in 1907, ten years later after the Paris Opera House fire. The Phantom fled at that time, escaping tragedy, but not before releasing Christine and Raoul, so moved by his love for her. Christine now resurfaces after receiving an invitation to travel from Paris to make her singing debut in New York and the Phantom is determined to win back her love. After so many years have gone by, we finally see a life changing reunion between the Phantom, Christine and other ghosts from the past.

Magnificently directed by Simon Phillips, the stunning musical includes a new set and costume designs by Gabriela Tylesova, choreography by 2011 Astaire Awards winner Graeme Murphy, lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Mick Potter. Together they produce what can be described no less than an enchanting theatre experience that is as haunting as it is seductive.

A handful of characters return from the first musical, including the Phantom portrayed with fierceness by Cardar Thor Cortes who was born in Iceland and is making his debut in the United States in this performance. Cardar Thor Cortes comes directly off the heels of a successful run of Love Never Dies in Hamburg, Germany. Christine is beautifully acted by Chicago native Meghan Picerno. The music and lyrics created by Andrew-Lloyd-Webber and Glenn Slater seem personally written for these two amazing singers who held the audience in awe.  Other return characters were Raoul (Sean Thompson), Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and Meg Giry (Mary Patterson).

The musical number impress one after another and are in many ways as powerful than those in the original “Phantom”. "Once Upon Another Time" will touch your heart while offering meaning to the story line of this play. Meghan Picerno, (Christine) and Gardar Cortes mesmerize the audience singing beautifully together, their words enhanced by every powerful note. "Love Never Dies", without question reveals Meghan's emotionally charged and extremely talented voice.  

Applause, applause and more applause...

“I have the great joy of being able to say that I think this production is probably the finest one I could ever, ever hope for,” said Andrew Lloyd Webber just minutes after seeing the musical’s first run through.

One of the play’s nice surprises was 13-year-old Casey Lyons native of Lake Forest who was a joy to watch sing and perform. Casey is a natural and has a wonderful gift of song.  

The Coney Island atmosphere freed the stage up to every kind of performer singing and dancing together to present a mystical, delightful and creative wonderland. The fluid stage changes were excellently done and the orchestra gets an A-plus in every way.

Not to give the plot away, I can say the story line is unique, a little unexpected, and keeps you wondering until the very end. "Love Never Dies" is well worth attending.  

“Love Never Dies” has a running time of two hours and twenty-five minutes with one intermission and is being performed at Cadillac Palace Theatre through March 4th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Sunday, 04 February 2018 19:31

Marriott's "Ragtime" Well Worth the Wait

Marriott Theatre’s Ragtime might just be one of the best adaptations to make its way through the Greater Chicago Area - ever. E.L. Dotorow wrote the novel in 1975, which has stormed theatre stages since 1996, snagging thirteen Tony Awards in 1996.

With lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and a book by Terrence McNally, the highly-acclaimed musical follows three very dissimilar families beginning in 1906 New York. One family is a white, advantaged and wealthy, one consists of an immigrant Jewish father and his young daughter while the other is a young African-American couple following the birth of their new child. Throughout the story, the families become intertwined with each other as the story paints a vivid picture of privilege versus the struggles of those less fortunate. Ragtime is a moving story of hard times, prejudices and the will to survive by those who have been dealt a much tougher hand in life and also the understanding – and lack of understanding – that is had by those more prosperous. It is also the ultimate story of determination.

Beautifully directed by Nick Bowling, the story includes several colorful characters that really make a strong impact such as Tateh, the Jewish immigrant from Latvia, played impeccably with much intensity by Benjamin Magnusun. Tateh, a portrait artist, is inspired to succeed in America after watching the great Harry Houdini (Alexander Aguilar), another immigrant, make his rise to fame. Marriott Theatre veteran and actor/singer extraordinaire Nathanial Stampley once again rises to the challenge this time as Colehouse Walker Jr. the show’s champion and pioneer of “ragtime” piano-driven music. Katherine Thomas compliments Stampley well as Walker’s fiancé, Sarah, her role as powerful as any in the story that holds such a political relevance in today’s current state.

Ragtime was a long time coming for Marriott and this staging is well-worth the wait. Bowling decides to change the play’s ending, a decision for audience members to take home and ponder.

Chicago favorites Larry Adams and James Earl Jones II this time find themselves leading a highly gifted ensemble, adding even more punch to this influential musical. Brilliant performances run rampant in this production with riveting work from Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as Booker T. Washington and Kirsten Hodgens, known only as “Sarah’s Friend” in the program. Hodgens has show-stopping vocals that are certainly highlighted in this production.

With a running time of two hours and forty minutes, the production’s high engagement level from beginning to end without lull is testament to its quality. For those who have seen the musical before, just seeing it from another perspective, that of its in-the-round staging, is entertaining in itself. With spot on costume and set design, moving musical numbers and tremendous acting and vocal efforts, Marriott’s Ragtime should be in line for a Jeff Award nomination.

Highly recommended - a perfect piece of musical theatre.

Ragtime is being performed at Marriott Theatre through March 18th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Having seen the Donny Osmond and even the Patrick Cassidy productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's colorful telling of the Joseph story years ago, I remember really enjoying them in a children's theater sort of way. The characters are colorful, the story has a good lesson and the songs catchy. Upon seeing Drury Lane’s spectacular re-imagining of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I couldn't even remember what the original story line was about. Which turns out to be a good thing! I got to relive the adventure all over again, and this time with several big changes to the traditional production.
 
The pyramids of Egypt are replaced with the pyramid of The Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas and much of the "dreamer’s dreams” dreamt by Joseph are played out with much talent right there in his decidedly low luxury level Luxor hotel room, complete with an overlooking view of The Strip.
 
The narrator has been replaced with the amazing singular talent of Christina Bianco, a world renown singer and impersonator of our generations greatest singers. Bianco blows the audience away with technically difficult and spot on - sometimes hilarious - impersonations of Britney Spears, Cher, Liza Minelli, Shania Twain, Bernadette Peters and even Edith Piaf! Having a woman narrator with such brilliant singing skills that she becomes literally "everywoman" is a very refreshing and funny delight throughout the show. 
 
Directed with ballsy style by Alan Souza with choreography by Grady M. Bowman, the dance numbers, which include Vegas style showgirls and Joseph’s brothers who double as "showgirls in drag" at one point, are absolutely fantastic! 
 
The effect of the many complicated and energetic dance numbers all dressed up in Ryan Park’s modern silk and Vegas-style costumes and Claire Moore's deliciously designed wigs is one of bewildering entertainment with almost too many great dancers to take in all at once. 
 
In another break from the traditional production, Elvis Presley was also replaced in this show with Elton John - perhaps a contemporary nod to the LGBTQ community. 
 
Evan Alexander Smith who plays Joseph as a nerdy, confused young man fell short for me. Although Smith has a great singing voice in general, his lackluster, befuddled portrayal of Joseph left me wanting someone with more star quality at any age in that role. Unfortunately for Smith, it would probably take someone with Donny Osmond's level of sex appeal and onstage charisma to have been be able to play the essential lead role in a way that wasn't dwarfed so completely by Christine Bianco's many talents. 
 
The musical is based on the Biblical story in Genesis of Joseph’s who receives nothing but jealously from his eleven brothers after their father, Jacob, gifts him with a colorful coat. Beaten and left for dead by his own siblings, Joseph is kidnapped up by slave traders and taken to Egypt. It is after his ability to translate dreams reaches the pharaoh, that his life takes an unexpected turn.
 
This production is absolutely nothing like the "Technicolor Dream Coat" Chicagoan's have been taking their kids to for decades, and at times is a bit confusing while following the quickly moving lyrics as they are now delivered in such a unique way especially by Bianco. But as an adult wanting to see a fresh, fun and sexy version of the Joseph story, I was really blown away by the blast of color, powerful sound and spectacle delivered by the entire cast and design team. 
 
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, currently being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through March 25th, is a lively musical that dazzles visually and includes all around excellent performances from its gifted cast. For more show information visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Once upon a winter’s glow,

I did venture to see a show,

A show so dark and oddly brooding, filled with misery and woe.

A new musical did appear,

At the Edge Theater it did premiere,

Nevermore:

The imaginary life and death of Edgar Allen Poe.

 

Upon the stage seven players did regale,

A musical rendition of the troubled poet’s tale,

With songs on pointe in pitch and scale,

Depicting Poe’s tragic life,

Filled with sadness, death, drunkenness, and strife

His countenance and will, through hardships made frail.

 

The cast of players did their thing,

Though some fell short when they tried to sing,

While others, like Poe! What a talent was he! whose heart and soul he did bring,

To the characters of a man both fascinating and strange,

He conveyed happiness, sadness, and showed a great range,

To the moon- which he reached- he did swing.

 

The music was ominous, and lyrics were dark,

The storyline has substance and hit the mark,

And covered all aspects of a story, that was anything but stark.

This well written piece was an enjoyable jaunt,

On a mystery of death that continues to haunt,

Their endeavor was clearly not just a lark.

 

Against many a theater I am willing to measure,

This piece and its cast did bring the audience pleasure,

It stands on its own and with some casting changes, could make a piece Chicago could treasure.

Poe is a topic du jour, many plays and stories are being written,

Of the man and his Raven whom the world still is smitten,

You’d do well to see this young play at your leisure.


Go to the theater I do implore!

To see this musical with an artistic score,

And be dazzled and delighted, by a life immortalized in lore.

This is a play I think you must see,

To the Edge Theater you must flee,

Before this play is…nevermore!

 

Nevermore- The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe! Runs through January 28th at

The Edge Theater

5451 N Broadway, Chicago

http://nevermorechicago.brownpapertickets.com

On Friday, January 19, in honor of Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, audience members are invited to join us after the show for a complementary Prosecco toast to the great author and poet!

Published in Theatre Reviews
Friday, 08 December 2017 17:32

Beautiful: The Story of a Natural Woman

While I’d yet to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical since it premiered to much acclaim (and a U.S. tour) a couple years ago, I entered the Cadillac Palace Theatre for its latest Chicago debut a lifelong Carole King fanboy. I knew her songs. I knew her story. But for a couple hours on Wednesday night, the cast of this latest touring production made me feel like I knew her.

But first, those songs. The audience, young and old, knew them all. The older ones, the ones who’d been there the first time around, giggled with nostalgia. And the rest of us – who know them from parents, from oldies radio, from YouTube, from simply being alive – were every bit as thrilled. From John Michael Dias’ mugging Neil Sedaka singing “Oh Carol” on national TV to his former high school flame, Carole Klein, to the ensemble’s medley of Brill Building tunes love-potioning and splish-splashing and yakkity-yakking, we were all Boomer kids taken back to a not-simpler time.

The real standouts of this jukebox time machine were two vocal quartets. Playing the parts of The Shirelles, Little Eva and her backing singers, and Janelle Woods and her own group, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Traci Elaine Lee, Marla Louissaint, and Alexis Tidwell were magic as they brought classic takes on King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “One Fine Day.” The dresses, the elegant moves, the wedding chapel harmonies, and those songs. Wow. They were only equaled by their male counterparts – Josh Dawson, Jay McKenzie, Avery Smith, and Kristopher Stanley Ward – whose coiffed hairdos, satin suits, and smooth moves as The Drifters made it look so easy as they doo-wopped and stepped to “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Up on the Roof.” But Ms. King’s songs weren’t the only ones on display. While The Drifters did a nifty walk down Weil and Mann’s “On Broadway,” the rival songwriting duo’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was retaken from Tom Cruise’s boozy Top Gun barroom ballad by Matt Faucher and Dias again as The Righteous Brothers. Faucher’s baritone filled the Cadillac, and Dias’ high harmonies brought it home. Again, wow. Wish I’d been there the first time around, but this cast showed off their chops while paying quite a tribute to the classic songs and their songwriters who the story’s about.

And about that story. Again, as a fan, I knew the outline: NYC kids slave away in a Times Square hit-making sweatshop, soundtrack a generation, and one of them makes it big herself later on. But the main cast fleshed out the story’s characters. They took them from characters to people. James Clow’s gum-chewing, contract-signing Don Kushner was intimidating but encouraging. Sarah Goecke’s witty, Cole-Porter-wannabe wordsmith, Cynthia Weil, was a woman ahead of her time. Jacob Heimer’s neurotic lady’s man, Barry Mann, made you root for him. And Andrew Brewer’s smoldering but sensitive Gerry Goffin made you swoon, even as you knew the dirty dog was sneaking around on his Carole.

And Carole. Oh, Carole. As Neil Sedaka sang, “there will never be another.” And throughout the show, lead Sarah Bockel not only proved Sedaka right, giving us Carole King’s look and playing and voice, she gave us Carole Klein, the person. Many talented performers could probably approximate King’s hair or her vocals. But Bockel went beyond that, giving us the perky and precocious 16-year-old writing those hits and falling for that hunk. She gave us the broken but devoted young mother finding out not just who she’s married to – Bockel and Brewer’s chemistry was very sweet and seemed very real – but who she herself is. And she gave us that self, finally confident to write her own words, to tell her own story, to sing it loud, for a crowd, for us. And that story, of a woman claiming her soul from the lost and found and using it to give voice to not just a generation, but many generations to come, was what wowed the Cadillac’s crowd the most. The voices will make you applaud. The songs will make you nostalgic. But the story this cast and their show tell of this natural woman, this national treasure, will make you feel. It made me feel.

For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 23 November 2017 21:10

TATC's A Wonderful Life is Wonderful Fun

The classic film It’s A Wonderful Life, based on the story The Greatest Gift, is brought to life by Theatre At The Center just in time for the holidays with their latest presentation A Wonderful Life: The Musical. In TATC’s adaptation, the story is intertwined with many big song and dance numbers, one of which stands out is the high school dance scene that includes an enlivened choreographed Charleston competition.

The story takes place in Bedford Falls, where George is met with a series of challenges while a series of incidents keeps him in the quaint town where he reluctantly takes over his father’s building and loans business rather than exploring the world and going to college to become an architect. As with any good story, we have a nemesis, in this case the nefarious Mr. Potter who claims ownership to the town’s largest bank where he can hold residents to high interest and rental rates in his slums. George aims to give the townsfolk a better option. Why should people have to wait until they are old and tired to have a home to raise their family, he asks.

George finds love with his longtime crush Mary, eventually building a family of his own. George might be scrapping by, but he has a loving family and is a source of easy loans for Bedford residents, which enables them to purchase homes with little or no collateral – many deals based on trust rather than the stringent criteria that Potter would require. Thus, he becomes a thorn in Potter’s side.
When the bank calls a loan (on Christmas Eve?) on the building and loans and his Uncle Billy misplaces a hefty deposit, his world quickly comes crashing down. Fraud, imprisonment or worse, he fears. Crawling to Potter, he is denied a loan to bail himself out. It is when he realizes that he is worth more dead than alive, only $500 in equity on a $15,000 life insurance policy, he thinks the unthinkable and (in this adaptation) heads for the train tracks to end it all. Of course, Clarence, his guardian angel, has other plans.

It is when Clarence saves him and George states he wishes he was never born at all, that such a wish is granted. In doing so, George sees the positive affects he has on so very many people and realizes what a “wonderful life” he really has, after all.

David Sajewich plays George Bailey in this classic tale of hope, goodwill and the human spirit. Sajawich, who was last seen at TATC in All Shook Up, does an admirable job as Bailey. It takes a bit of time to warm up to Sajawich as Bailey, though he really cements himself into the role during the scene at building and loans after his father passes and the board is looking for solutions and new leadership. That’s when we really get a feel for George Bailey and his caring nature for the townspeople and animosity towards Potter.

Mary Hatch (soon to be Mary Bailey) is wonderfully played by Allison Sill who so beautifully captures the heart of gold spirit in the character also wowing the audience on many occasions with her accomplished vocal range. James Harms as the evil Henry Potter really gives the second act a powerful punch as his character becomes more and more sinister, while David Perkovich is excellently cast as George’s lovable guardian angel, Clarence. As most every TATC production, we are offered a strong ensemble that can sing and dance with the best of them.

The set, though minimal, is creatively worked to provide (with a bit of audience imagination) the several different locations for the story’s many scenes. Gordon Schmidt lights up the stage with his dazzling choreography, perhaps one of the show’s brightest contributions.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical is the perfect holiday treat whether a fan of the classic film or not. There are plenty of moments in this production that capture the film’s magic and several flashes of wonderment that are created with its own musical numbers.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical is being performed at Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN. For more show information visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

As I entered the Cadillac Palace Theatre – originally the Orpheum Circuit’s lavish vaudeville flagship before keeping up with the times to become a golden age movie palace – the simple, classy screen that hung over the stage gave me hope for the evening’s entertainment. There was the show’s title and logo, red and white on a bright blue backing, all nostalgia, all sheen, all promise of a combination of the silver screen, of classic composition, of live theatrical talent. I could hardly wait for the screen to rise and the show to start.

But first, in full disclosure, I’ve never watched the movie straight through. Sure, I’ve seen the whole thing in fits and starts and bits and pieces through the years (married, as I am, to one of its biggest fangirls). But I’m more of a fan of the rock and rollers – the Little Richards, the Orbisons, the Chucks and Jerry Lees and Buddies with something a little randier and a little rowdier and a little more real – who came along and did away with the post-war schmaltz. What I mean is, while I appreciate, no, adore, earlier Hollywood musicals like The Wizard of Oz or even Berlin’s Easter Parade, as well as later ones like The Music Man, I have no real sentimental attachment to Bing and Rosemary. I figured I’d be an objective audience, a fresh set of eyes and ears for this production.

The show began and these eyes and ears weren’t impressed. The sets were bright and looked the part – the scene with the song “Snow” on a train car was beautiful, a real mid-century-modern knockout – but they weren’t the 1950's real thing. The actors, too, were talented and pleasant as they played their parts, but they weren’t Bing or Rosemary or Danny or Vera. Nobody could be.

So, as the first act progressed, I remained unimpressed. The story (and the music, and the sets, and the cast) were fine, but the show needed some charisma, it needed some pizazz, it needed something.

Where that something did come up was when the show added tunes by Berlin that weren’t in the movie. These songs hadn’t been staked out by the film’s icons, and the current production’s cast wasn’t forced to approximate the ideal they’d set. They were fresher. They gave this cast room to show their talents, to show themselves, and not just takes on someone else. An example was “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.” Throughout the night, the female lead, Kerry Conte, had Rosemary Clooney’s shoes to fill, a task I did not envy. But during this number, she fit right into an Andrews-esque trio, her vocals polished, her moves authentic. The lead singer in said number, Karen Ziemba’s Martha, stood out not just here, but in her own featured piece earlier that also strayed from the film and added to the show. Other standouts included: young Makayla Joy Connolly, who had a fine feature of her own; Kristyn Pope, who lit up the stage as recurring Rita and part of the ensemble; and Conrad John Schuck, whose General Waverly/Innkeeper Hank was equal parts Patton and grandpa.

And as I said, while the first act dragged, the second act moved at a much better pace, better utilized the cast, and ended the night with some holiday cheer (spoiler alert: the show is called White Christmas). So if it’s an exact reproduction of the Technicolor glow and the old-microphone glisten of the film you’re after, stay in and watch it on TV. But if you’re just looking for a feel-good family jumpstart to the holiday season, then this might be the show to see.

White Christmas is being performed at Cadillac Palace Theatre through December 3rd. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

In reviewing Jimmy Buffett’s new musical Escape to Margaritaville I was seated in the last row of the Oriental Theatre but since the row was reserved and nearly empty, I settled in for a nice relaxing show with no one coughing on me or knocking my elbow off the armrest. The show began and a few minutes later two smiling, enthusiastic, knee tapping men came in and sat next to me on the aisle.
They were whispering excitedly back and forth and one of the men, who was small-framed with glasses, took out his cellphone and began typing into it every few minutes.


They seemed like such excited fans, as the phone activity continued. I didn't want to say anything but finally buckled and leaned over and gently brushed his hand, smiling like "Hey, that's a no- no." But he just smiled at me and moments later kept typing. After another ten minutes or so, I again leaned over and said, "Darlin', I know you're super excited to be here (and I pointed to my Press Kit), but I'm trying to review this show." The bouncy, Larry David lookalike laughed and said, "Darlin', I’m Jimmy Buffett!" I didn’t recognize him in the dark! 

We laughed together and naturally I told Jimmy to take as many notes as he needed! And thus began a wonderful night of celebrating this Broadway bound production based on Jimmy Buffett's life. 
The script written by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley (with book also by Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia) tells a classic story of romance between Tully, a handsome singer/songwriter living the island life, and drifting from one cute tourist to another without falling in love. Tully's world is changed however when a beautiful, intelligent, but over worked, scientist named Rachel visits the resort with her best friend Tammy who is about to be married - to the wrong man. On this island the word “work” is identified as a " dirty word" and Rachel is warned gleefully by Tully that if she says it too often her mouth will be "rinsed out with tequila!" 

The book includes original music and at least twenty-seven of Buffett's classic hits including "Come Monday", "Volcano", "Cheeseburger in Paradise", and a hilarious PG-rated version of "Let's Get Drunk (And Screw)”. 

The two youthful leads, Tully played by Paul Alexander Nolan - and Rachel (Alison Luff), have very nice chemistry, rich voices and give the rowdy, drunken fun of the play a real love story to ground it and make you care about the characters despite the constant joking around. 

Parrotheads will love the free living, take it easy on yourself moral of the story, which simply put echoes Buffett's own successful take on "living life in the moment to the fullest, and loving the one you are with.

I really love the way Rachel's character is written as both very intelligent and nature loving. The entire audience loved the way her best friend Tammy is encouraged to go ahead and EAT "the cheeseburger she desires whether she fits into her wedding dress or not and then has her literally flying across the stage (Peter Pan style) when she frees herself from the critical and unappreciative man she was about to marry before being rescued by Tully's funny, free living, best friend. 

Walt Spangler created a beautiful sparkling set full of water and sunny blue skies. The only thing I wanted to see more of in this wonderful, constantly changing island paradise set was palm trees and green. But this already winter-weary Chicago audience was delighted by the many hues of clear blue water, colorfully lit Tiki Huts and cloudless skies, nonetheless. 

The lesser known, but deeply touching Buffett songs “We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About”, “Love and Luck”, “He Went to Paris” and “License to Chill” were used to nice effect to deepen and round out the overall feelgood, life's a party feeling of the show, especially when the audience realizes even the seemingly shallow Tully understands there is something very important missing from his idyllic island lifestyle when he meets Rachel and finally feels true love for the first time. 

Opening night attendees were treated to a real Buffett experience when Jimmy joined the cast for the show’s final few numbers.

After the show I got to speak with Buffett and his fans a little more in depth at the Maragaritaville-themed after party. We laughed again at my own "work, work, work" uptightness even as Jimmy apologized profusely for having to take notes on his phone during the show and he asked me if I noticed his mature adult fans gleefully swaying and dancing in their seats. 

I DID come to the realization after talking with Parrotheads from twenty to eighty-years-old at the party, that although I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, I had no idea how vast and successful the Jimmy Buffett brand has become and stayed over past decades. I really got a sense of how happily devoted his fans are to him as a musical artist and his never give up - do it yourself lifestyle guru, if you will.  

I know the play needs to move along and stay fictional to a degree, but I would have loved to have seen a few scenes about Buffett's real-life tales of trying and failing at a music career in NY and Los Angeles. Those years of being rejected while trying to find his niche which caused him to say, "Screw You" to record execs and move his whole life to the "the farthest key in Florida", finally building his own internationally loved and recognized brand in true maverick style with his own fans from Key West. These true tales of overcoming small-minded criticisms and his so-called failures along the way are so inspirational I wish they had been addressed in this production. 

Since there is still time to tweak this fun-tastic production before it moves on to Broadway and on tour, I have to say I agree with other reviewers who were put off by the dance numbers by the dead insurance salespeople, the "LSD flashbacks" dreamt up by Tully's sidekick during stressful moments. The choreography in these dance numbers was great but the creepy, scary, gray and white ash covered insurance salespeople (whom he was told died in a volcanic eruption on the island) would have been better spent on dance numbers for the main cast members or more of the bikini and swimsuit clad vacationers to keep the fun, psychedelic friendly mood coming without interruption. 

Loved it. I highly recommend this fun loving, musically delightful production to remind everyone to SLOW DOWN, and stop towing the line at "work, work, work!" thereby letting their dreams of love and romance die a slow, painful death. Buffett's philosophy of living and acting spontaneously reminds the audience in a wonderful way that life changing chances at love (like the one when he met his wife) come and go which might never come again. 

Once I realized I was seated next to Jimmy Buffett himself during the show, I couldn't help noticing the touching way he sang along quietly to himself with his own music, these are his babies after all, and the foundation of a hugely successful $500 million dollar plus industry of restaurants, vacation cruises and music, etc., that his devoutly loyal fans, the Parrotheads, have enjoyed for thirty years. As I watched Jimmy Buffett's fans dance around their "leader in paradise" at the after party and the screams of laughter and joy during the show as beach balls came raining down on them from above, I became certain that they will continue to honor Buffet's legacy and frequent his now very real "Margaritaville" for the rest of their lives. 

Escape to Margaritaville is being performed at Oriental Theatre through December 2nd. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

It only takes a few moments into Lizzie’s opening number that audience members realize they are in for quite the unusual theatre experience. Haunting, yet beautiful, the creepiness quickly sets in as Lizzie’s four Victorian-clad characters solemnly sing the tale of the infamous Lizzie Borden who was accused of butchering her father and stepmother in August of 1892.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Based on true accounts of the double murder that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, the grim tale reimagined by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner is told by Lizzie, her sister Emma, her neighbor Alice and the family’s maid, Bridget. Presented by Firebrand Theatre, whose claim is that of being the first feminist musical theatre company, Lizzie is a detailed account of the legendary crime that is one of the most talked about grisly murders in our Nation’s history.

Firebrand hits a homerun with their first ever production by delivering a deliciously enticing story that engrosses from beginning to end thanks to its strong acting performances and punchy soundtrack that is both powerful and, when called for, dreamlike.

The play offers great insight to Lizzie herself and speculates the heinous crime may have been prodded by the home’s maid while also suggesting she may have been lovers with her neighbor Alice. Liz Chidester is Lizzie Borden and dominates in the role. Chidester so well captures the essence of a girl who loses her grip on reality after years of being abused by her father and is subjected to a newly introduced stepmother who has manipulated her way into inheriting the family wealth.

Ingeniously directed by Victoria Bussert, Lizzie is stacked with commanding performances. Leah Davis fiercely takes the reigns as the mischievous housemaid Bridget, injecting well-timed humor and velvety smooth vocals that make her character a powerhouse. Camille Robinson as Emma and Jacquelyne Jones as Alice round out what makes for an excellent cast. Our four characters deliver amazing vocal performances, each as unique as the other while smartly straying from the standard Broadway-esque sounds we are used to hearing in so many big musicals. No. These women truly rock. 

Instead we get a conceptual rock concert. Hypnotic, sexy and plot-rich, Lizzie is presented by a female-fronted rock group heading a talented band that sits rear stage. As engrossing as the music is the show’s often pithy dialogue exchanges, it’s costumes and creative effects (hint - ponchos are available for those who choose to sit in the first row).

Lizzie is a fun show that has it all – murder, treachery, sex and scorching music.

It is with high recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to see the story of Lizzie Borden that is presented in the most imaginative way. If such a brilliantly inventive production such as Lizzie is an example of what Firebrand has in store for theatre goers in the future, we can only look forward to what the young theatre company will bring us next time around.

Lizzie is being performed at The Den Theatre through December 17th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firebrandtheatre.org.

*Now extended January 3rd-14th with Broadway's Ciara Renee joining the production.

Published in Theatre in Review

The current production of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theater left me breathless! With book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, the newly updated and improved 42nd Street blends different periods of dance from the sixties to the present including some of the best tap dancers (don't call them hoofers) I have seen assembled for one show. 

Telling the age-old fantasy of Broadway performers everywhere as newcomer to New York, Peggy Sawyer, gets her chance at stardom and saving the show when the star falls during rehearsals and breaks her ankle. But this version is sympathetic to both the aging star, Suzzanne Douglas as Dorothy Brock, who has worked a long time and entertained the advances of a sexist producer just to finally have her stage time. Douglas has a beautiful rich, soulful singing voice and is very beautiful in this role. 

Kimberly Immanuel as Peggy Sawyer is also seen more realistically as a starving artist who just wants a break instead of a conniving backstabber out to hurt the leading lady. She is cute and unassuming as the newcomer who really has flying feet. Immanuel does a great job staying likable in her singing and acting and then dazzles the audience with some "out of this world" tap dancing which truly pleases the ears and eyes.  

Gene Weygandt as Julian Marsh, a Broadway director with the power to make stars and break them, also turns in a lovely performance with top-notch vocals, which make the character of Marsh more concerned with the dream world of Broadway life and less scary and sexist than I have seen director portrayals in other productions. 

This spectacularly energetic, colorful and sparkly, yes sparkly, production is directed artfully by Michael Heitzman, with choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Roberta Duchak, scenic design by Collette Pollard, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Ray Nardelli, and music arrangements by Everett Bradley.

The set and lighting changes and costume design really do satisfy Chicago audiences’ need to see productions that dazzle just as much as the run on Broadway on every level and leaves the audience energized and happy to have seen this show. 

I want to name the other stars and the ensemble because every single character was fully drawn in this wonderful production with Phillip Attmore as Billy Lawler, Justin Brill as Bert Barry, Donica Lynn as Maggie Jones, Brandon Springman as Pat/Ensemble, Cedric Young as Abner Dillon, Erica Evans as Andy Lee/Ensemble, and Sierra Schnack as Annie/Ensemble. The cast also includes Bret Tuomi, Time Brickey, Lamont Brown, Tristan Bruns, Joe Capstick, Joel Chambers, Andrea Collier, Gabriela Delano, Annie Jo Ermel, Rachel Marie LaPorte, Mandy Modic, Thomas Ortiz, Allie Pizzo, Marisa Reigle, Anthony Sullivan Jr., and Davon Suttles.

Full of fun hits such as “We’re in the Money”, this is a show that doesn’t stop. One of the most memorable scenes I have ever witnessed is a highly complex, mind blowingly and highly difficult six person tap piece that eventually turns into a full cast number worthy of anything I have seen in Broadway productions or at larger theaters in downtown Chicago or New York.

I highly recommend this run of 42nd Street at The Drury Lane for an exciting, feel good, upbeat Holiday spectacle about the joy of showbiz as we used to all envision it unfolding for a young star in the making. 

42nd Street is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through January 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
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