BCS Spotlight

Lookingglass Theatre Company opens its 30th Anniversary Season with the return of the award-winning “Hard Times”, adapted from Charles Dickens and directed by Artistic Director and Ensemble Member Heidi Stillman , in association with The Actors Gymnasuim. It was first produced at Lookingglass in 2001, and some of the artists involved this season were part of the original production.

The story takes place in post-Industrial Revolution England. In a gloomy fictional small town dominated by mills and factories, art has very little presence. When a travelling circus comes to town, the circus clown manages to get his daughter Sissy (played Audrey Anderson; this is both her Lookingglass and professional debut) admitted to the best school in town. The school headmaster, Mr. Gradgrind (injecting his role with a very precise old-British flare, Raymond Fox is excellent), soon realizes that Sissy doesn’t belong in his school and makes it his business to notify her father in person. But the clown had skipped town, leaving his daughter behind. Mr. Gradgrind kindly offers her a place in his home and his school, alongside his two children, Louisa and Tom. But Sissy is from a different world, the world where imagination rules, the right words are ones that come from the heart, and mathematics is just an abstract subject that can’t be applied to life. Not exactly cut out for school, she’s left to stay home and care for Mr. Gradgrind’s wheelchair-bound wife while he spends increasingly more time out of town as a newly elected member of the Parliament.

The most important person in town is the mill-owner and banker Mr. Bounderby (the bombastic Troy West), a self-proclaimed self-made man. He has an eye on Louisa, so when she reaches an appropriate age [of twenty], he asks her hand in marriage. Mostly joyless Louisa (Cordelia Dewdney), whose only passion is her brother Tom (JJ Phillips), agrees, hoping that this will help advance her brother’s carrier in banking. Some of Dickens’ characters are quite difficult to relate to in part because of their excessive wordiness and overly dramatic demeanor, and Louisa is certainly one of them. Nevertheless, all characters are very well developed, the most entertaining of them being Mrs. Sparsit, Mr. Bounderby’s paid companion. Played by Amy J. Carle, who also plays Drunk Woman and Pufflerumpus, she’s manipulative and sarcastic and infuses her role with just the right amount of drama.

The circus performances are effortlessly woven into the plot (Circus Choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi), and are like a breath of fresh air in town’s otherwise utilitarian existence. The circus is colorful and joyful, and it’s easy to see the stark contrast between the worlds of art and creativity versus business and hard menial work. Even Louisa starts dreaming of circus in her lowest moments.
Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling created a highly mobile set that’s both imaginative and practical; it provides ever-changing scenery, and the whimsically painted back wall is capable of becoming magically translucent to allow “dreams and memories” to enter the stage.

While the well-to-do townspeople are being bored with their lives, majority of the town’s inhabitants, the poor miners and factory workers, “work day and night with nothing to look forward to but a little rest”. Struggling to stay alive leaves little room for anything else, much less romance, so when miner Stephen Blackpool (David Catlin, who also plays Sleary) asks his workmate Rachael (Atra Asdou, who also plays Mrs. Gradgrind) to spend time with him, she’s far too hopeless to be interested.

All in all, things are as expected: the wealthy run things, the poor have nothing, and a travelling circus is a refuge from it all. If running away with the circus was ever a good option, Tom, who finds himself in trouble with law, doesn’t hesitate for a moment.

“Hard Times” is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through January 14th. For more information visit www.lookingglass.org.

Published in Theatre in Review
Monday, 16 October 2017 12:08

BLUE MAN GROUP CELEBRATES 20th BIRTHDAY!

With two decades in its home at Lakeview’s Briar Street Theater under its belt, Blue Man Group is still going strong. The show can best be described as a bizarre, performance-arty take on STOMP, with both running about 90 minutes without an intermission, both featuring silent performers, both utilizing homemade percussion instruments, and both inciting audiences to go, “What the hell did I just see?”

Blue Man Group was founded in New York in 1991 by three friends: Chris Wink, an artist and drummer, Phil Stanton, a DIY designer and builder, and Matt Goldman, an entrepreneur and software developer. All three have been nominated for Grammys for their musical work on Blue Man Group.

Even after twenty years, Blue Man Group’s uniqueness keeps people coming back. For a show that has become such a staple, it is still unlike any of its theatrical peers, i.e. musicals, plays, operas. And for good reason. What other mainstream theatrical production features paintings created live onstage, quirky feats like seeing a performer catch dozens of marshmallows in his mouth, surprisingly funny, albeit silent, sketches with deer-in-the-headlights audience participants, and tons of cool, otherwordly, Pink Floyd-esque music being played live right in front of you?

A rundown of the materials used for each show should give some idea (or not) as to what a BMG audience is in for. Each week the three Blue Men go through the following materials: 32 pounds of Jell-O, 8 boxes of Cap'n Crunch, 385 marshmallows, 40 pieces of white chocolate Toblerone, 44 boxes of Twinkie Lights, 60 drum heads, 64 drumsticks, and 28 cakes of blue makeup made specially for BMG -- they even have their own proprietary color called "Blue Man Blue."

The 20th birthday performance featured some minor add-ons from the regular BMG show. One of the pieces of art created live onstage during the show via paint being spit out of one of the Blue Men’s mouths revealed “20!” in big white text, while there were lots of treats for the audience like tote-bags, various SWAG, and custom Sprinkles cupcakes.

It's clear why the indefinable show has continued to dazzle audiences across the country for twenty years, and as long as this city remains a vibrant hub for entertainment, Blue Man Group will have a welcome home in Chicago.

You can catch Blue Man Group at Briar Street Theater at 3133 N Halsted St on Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets on Ticketmaster.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Hell in a Handbag rings in its fifteenth-anniversary season with real magic in this hilarious spoof of the 60's and 70's TV shows we all grew up loving with its hocus-pocus focus on the show Bewitched

In this tale, Bewildered, by Aaron Benham (music and lyrics) and Ron Weaver (book and lyrics) Gladys Kravitz, the nosey neighbor of the magical family finally gets her due when she stops spying on the witch-filled household and is invited to have dinner with them. Caitlin Jackson as Gladys is splendid as she has both the musical chops to belt out every note with ease and turn the obnoxious neighbor into a sympathetic "every- woman" who feels unloved as a wife and disrespected as a person. As Gladys discovers in the surprise ending that she is magical too, her song "Leading Lady" reminds everyone in the audience to be true to themselves no matter who they are because in the end, we are ALL the leading ladies in our own lives. 

David Cerda, Hell in a Handbag, artistic director as Endora is truly at his best in this FABULOUSLY funny portrayal of Samantha's mother and steals every scene under his wig with a bat of his eyelashes and a twirl of the spectacular multi-faceted bejeweled caftans designed by Rachel Sypniewski with spot on funny as hell period wigs by Keith Ryan. Cerda as Endorra also reminds us of the ongoing plot line in the original series wherein she tries to get Samantha to leave her straight laced, sexually uninterested husband and choose from among thousands of eligible warlocks where she could live a life of magic and freedom! Instead Samantha chooses the daily humdrum dimension of the limited earth life with all its cold rules and regulations for women and men which don’t include the use of magic.

Elizabeth Morgan is adorable as Samantha and has a nice voice but needs to step out a little more with her nose twitching delightfully -  in order to keep up with the shine and glamour of wit coming full blast out of the regular cast members of Hell in a Handbag. 

As always, Ed Jones' highly anticipated presence in the show does not disappoint as Uncle Arthur and absolutely brings down the house while setting up the main story line with his wonderful rendition of "Let Yourself be a Little Gay!" Ed Jones and  David Cerda really seem to have studied their characters minute mannerisms and trademark funny bits to a tee and several times I squint my eyes and could have sworn they were channeling the original brilliant actors and actresses who played these roles on TV.  

The production handles the magic wielded by Samantha and company in a unique fashion that adds yet another jolt of humor to its audience. Bewildered also has fun with the mystery of the two Darrins who play Samantha's husbands on Bewitched in a very clever way that just has to be seen to be appreciated. 

The great thing about the superbly camp productions put on year after year by Hell in a Handbag is that no matter how bawdy they are, or how many lines of individuality they cross, they always have a positive moral underlying each show that makes you feel "pretty oh, so pretty!" in the skin that you are in!

I highly recommend seeing this fun-tastic, fast-flying production for everyone who needs a good jolt of laughter and positive affirmation about the life you are leading in these strange and hostile times.

Bewildered is being performed at Stage 773 through November 11th. For more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org.  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Set in the 18th century French countryside, First Folio Theatre vividly brings to life Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast”, a romantic, yet frightening, tale just in time for the Halloween season. The final installment of Zettelmaier’s horror trilogy, “The Man-Beast” follows first works “The Gravedigger” and “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” and, staying true to form, steadily builds in suspense from its first scene to the story’s climactic ending. Staged ever so appropriately inside the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, theatre goers are in for a spooky treat that is as sexy as it is haunting.

When a werewolf ravages the countryside, no one is safe. A trail of blood leaves local villagers dead along with an escalating amount of livestock. It is then that King Louis XVI puts a bounty on the beast in the hopes the threat can be eliminated once and for all. The villagers believe the beast to be Loup-Garou, the legendary werewolf who has terrorized the countryside in the past.

The story begins when trapper Jean Chastel bangs on the door of Virginia Allard. He is hurt having suffered a bite from the beast that he believes he has killed, though the animal seems to have vanished. Allard lives alone in the forest, her house decorated with dead animals that she herself had stuffed, her kitchen shelves cluttered with bottles of herbs, wood burns in her fireplace creating a flickering glow throughout the room. The “Witch of the Woods” as she jokingly calls herself is not one to take chances as she carries a large hunting knife on her person.

After Allard tends to Chastel’s wounds we see a tumultuous relationship between the two develop, as well as a plan to cash in on the large reward. But both are cautious and struggle to trust each other, having been betrayed in the past. We wonder if either will hold true to their word.

Filled with mystery, suspense and mounting sexual tension, “The Man-Beast” works well thanks to its powerful cast of two, Elizabeth Laidlaw as Virginia Allard and Aaron Christensen as Jean Chastel. Laidlaw, whose theatre credits include Steppenwolf, The Goodman and many others, is nothing short of sensational offering several scenes filled with an electricity that would be hard to match. Laidlaw’s counterpart, Christensen, also puts forth a fierce performance and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Hayley Rice skillfully directs this classic piece, strategically getting the most in the play’s finishing touches from a talented artistic team that includes Angela Weber Miller (Scenic Design), Christopher Kriz (Sound Design), Rachel Lambert (Costume Design) Vivian Knouse (Properties Design), Rachel Flesher (Violence Design) and Julia Zayas-Melendez (Stage Manager).

Played with much ferocity and passion, the performances we get from Laidlaw and Christensen are alone well worth the price of admission. When you add a story that is sure to engage even the most casual of horror fans from beginning to end and a creative set that visually takes us miles away and so easily nudges our imagination in just the right way, we are presented with a production that has all the ingredients needed to promise a thoroughly entertaining theatrical Halloween event.

Highly recommended. *Parental discretion is advised due to a handful of racy scenes.

First Folio’s “The Man-Beast” is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through November 5th. For tickets and/or more production information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Court jester Rigoletto prefers to hide his misery behind jokes and mockery of others. But it’s not the only thing he hides; his beloved daughter Gilda lives with him unbeknownst to the world; he selfishly keeps her locked away in fear of losing his only joy.

This famous Juiseppe Verdi’s three-act opera is new to Chicago. Directed by E. Loren Meeker, this production brings many great stars to the Lyric Opera’s stage. Quinn Kelsey’s powerful baritone skillfully conveys a wide spectrum of emotions: anger at the world and his character’s disfigurement, despise for the world, yet tender love for his daughter. A Ryan Opera Center alumnus and 2015 winner of the Metropolitan Opera Beverly Sills award, Kelsey’s solemn looks combined with the brassy voice is the perfect fit for the role of the hardened hunchback fighting for his happiness. But the real magic happens when Rigoletto and Gilda first appear together in Act I. The Italian soprano Rosa Feola is divine; the beautiful quality of her voice brings something special to every scene she is in. But it’s the supreme blend of the two voices of the father/daughter duets that create divine auditory harmony. Feola’s character Gilda is innocent and loving; isolated and hidden away in the house by her father, she’s desperate to love romantically. So, when she is encountered by the Duke of Mantua pretending to be a penniless student, she falls in love immediately and fatally.

Tenor Matthew Polennzani is spectacular as Rigoletto’s handsome master, Duke of Mantua. Encouraged by his sharp-tongued court jester, he lusts after every pretty woman in town. Pleasing his master by making fun of the courtiers whose wives and daughters Duke wants to seduce, Rigoletto has no real friends yet many enemies. One of such courtiers, Count Monterone, whose daughter the Duke of Mantua deflowered, gets angry at Rigoletto and places a curse on him. Superstitious Rigoletto takes the curse very seriously; pre-occupied with the old man’s words, he can think of nothing else. The opera’s original title was La maledizione (The Curse); based on Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse, Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

Elegant and rather minimalist, the cleverly designed set has modern feel to it. Set designer Michael Yeargan created clean lines of buildings unburdened by embellishments or much color. Reflective floor surfaces in Acts II and III run into the back wall transforming half the stage into an endlessly large body of water. Seamlessly moving walls and buildings quietly encroach onto Rigolettos’ world as events make turn for the worst.

While we expect operas to be very colorful and the performers extravagantly dressed, the costumes of the current production are disappointedly modest and monochromatic, less Rigolettos’ bright outfit (costume designer Constance Hoffman); it’s sometimes challenging to distinguish characters from one another, especially from far away.

When lonely Gilda is encountered by the Duke of Mantua pretending to be a penniless student, she falls in love with the charming, albeit deceitful, Duke immediately and fatally. The Duke has Gilda abducted and subsequently dishonored. Ashamed, she confesses to Rigoletto, and her vengeful father hires an Assassin in order to kill the Duke. Ukrainian born very capable bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk, though lacking certain viciousness one would expect from an assassin, is nevertheless very good; and together with mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede who plays his accomplice sister Maddalena in the opera, they make a splendid team. Duke of Mantua’s life is spared when Gilda, dressed in mans clothing, sacrifices her life for love. Rigoletto is devastated and realizes that the ‘curse” came true.

Orchestra led by Conductor Marco Armilliato provides live score.

Playing through November 3rd - for more show information visit www.lyricopera.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 23:33

Review: "Piaf: The Show!"

Darn those French and their "musical spectaculars." There are few things Americans do with more flare than the French, and musical theater is one of them. "Piaf: The Show!" is billed somewhat differently than what it actually is.

That is not to say we've been misled. Those who have spent time in Paris or Montreal know that "musical spectacular" means something a little different than "a new musical." Think Cirque du Soleil. Quirky, but charming, and yet still somewhat disappointing to an American audience who appreciates narrative.

"Piaf" was conceived by Gil Marsalla and ran in Paris for a few years. The show was a hit so they decided to take it on the road. Luckily, they got their original Piaf, Anne Carrere, to come along. The show would likely be a wash without her endearing performance.

Divided into two acts, "Piaf" spends the first half interpreting Edith Piaf's early career through her iconic songs. There is no dialogue. Each song fades into the next with only minimal set re-arrangements. Miss Carrere is accompanied by a lively jazz trio who occasionally join in the play. The second half of the show is a reimagining of Piaf's triumphant final performance at Carnegie Hall. The second half is surely where "Piaf's" more emotional numbers reside.

Anne Carrere is a dead ringer for Edith Piaf. She's prettier than the real-life Piaf, but then again, Marion Cotillard is stunningly gorgeous and won an Oscar for her portrayal. The important thing is that Carrere can sing, and not only can she sing, but mimic Edith Piaf perfectly. If you close your eyes you would swear you were listening to a record. She employs Piaf's playful nature and through charm and song truly creates a "musical spectacular."

This one-night only stop in Chicago is an enjoyable evening but in the end, it's probably closer to a tribute band than a traditional play. Audiences will not leave knowing anything more about the French icon than they came with.

Awesome Company at the Anthenaeum Theatre. 2936 N Southport Ave. One-Night Only.

Published in Theatre in Review
Monday, 09 October 2017 18:06

Review: The Crucible at Steppenwolf Theatre

It’s the season of Arthur Miller in Chicago. It appears Miller is enjoying a renaissance right now with three of our major companies reviving his work this season. The Steppenwolf takes on "The Crucible" as their Young Adult show. Calling upon Jonathan Berry (one of the city's foremost storefront theatre directors), Steppenwolf bids for a younger audience's attention.

Berry doesn't disappoint. His vision for this show is more like MTV than stuffier productions of yore. The first act begins with hip-hop flavored choreography combined with Izumi Inaba's stylish costumes that create a sort of "sexy Halloween costume" version of "The Crucible". The alternative staging helps guide a younger, perhaps less engaged audience through the multi-cast roles and quick on-stage character changes. Berry also makes a distinct stylistic choice to gender and colorblind cast all of the roles. Performances are convincing enough that it never feels like a gimmick. Instead, it underscores Miller's theme that these characters are all of us.

The only misstep is Naimi Hebrail Kidjo's tepid Abigail. Arthur Miller's scenes between Proctor and Abigail are some of the most electrifying in modern American drama, but somehow, they rarely reach a boil here. Perhaps an underplayed Abigail helps bring the relationship between Proctor and his wife Elizabeth into sharper focus. The scenes between John (Travis A. Knight) and Elizabeth Proctor (Kirstina Valada-Viars) are gripping. Valada-Viars gives a feisty performance, making Elizabeth a stronger heroine than typically played. Knight's John Proctor is youthful and naive, but not without a quick temper and imposing figure.

The ensemble wears many hats, quite literally in some cases. Stephanie Shum swiftly moves through characters without faltering. It's hard to figure why some actors played more roles than others, but the moral backbone of the play is sufficiently taken up by Taylor Blim's Mary Warren.

For many of us, "The Crucible" occupies a greyish area of high school that we'd like to forget. The old timey language and belabored scenes are hard to get into. Even still, this is a show the Steppenwolf is aiming at school groups. Berry's version is cool. It may take some effort to get generation Snapchat into it, but for those who invest, this is a worthwhile production. "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman" are essential theater experiences. So much more is defined in a live performance versus a moldy permabound high school book.

Miller is hot right now because his themes are forever relevant. "The Crucible" tells us not to be sheep, but to look around and develop our own code of ethics. Jonathan Berry's modernish version of this classic work is sure to attract audiences without much theater-going experience, and what a cool introduction this would be. The key to instilling the values of Arthur Miller onto another generation is make it seem new, and this production feels fresh.

Through October 21 at Steppenwolf Theatre. 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650

Published in Theatre in Review

The first time I went to the opera was in elementary school to see La Triviata. It was a school sponsored field trip that took kids to Los Angeles to see the opera, the symphony, museums, and the ballet, exposing them to the arts at an early age. Though I had no idea what was being said, or what I was really watching, I loved it, and not just because I wasn’t in class on a school day. The orchestra, the singers, the theater itself, it was all so grand for a child. Though I didn’t have the same reaction to the Lyric Opera on Friday, it was nonetheless that childhood experience that helped to shape my appreciation and love for the opera.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2017 season with Orphée et Eurydice. The plot centers on Orphée (Dmitry Korchak), whose singing was so beautiful that it could charm the fierce guardians of the Underworld. Encouraged by the god of love, Amour (Lauren Snouffer), Orphée travels to Hades to bring his dead wife, Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman), back to earth. This opera was a powerhouse of talent with 60 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, 47 members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, and 43 dancers of The Joffrey Ballet all working to put on this production; not to mention the ushers, the ticket agents, the janitors, and more, just to stage this opera with a run time of a little more than 2 hours.

There wasn’t much to this opera lyric-wise. There are many repetitious lines to accompany the score, but very little substance despite being such an enthralling mythological story line. What made this opera worth seeing was the Joffrey Ballet. Their performance was one of the best I have seen from the company. They added movement and beauty to the opera, bringing visual clarity to the mythical worlds of Hades and Elysium. Overall, it was a spectacular engagement of the fine arts. A performance that should be enjoyed by the masses.

Unfortunately, the opera is inherently old and doesn’t attract the masses. It’s target audience is old. The theater it performs in is old. The Lyric Opera is currently fundraising in order to renovate its theater, but it hasn’t had much luck. Tickets prices are exorbitant and the people who can afford to go are old. Like any passing of the guard, the opera needs to focus on reaching out to the next generation of opera-lovers, otherwise their primary patrons will be gone within the next decade or so with few people left to appreciate, or afford, the opera. And that’s why exposure at a young age is so vital. You’ll be hard pressed to find many millennials who say “I love the opera” or even “I’m going to the opera!” Just in my immediate circle of friends and co-workers, very few people had even seen the opera. What the Lyrics Opera should do is work with local school districts; bus kids in from all area of the city and the surrounding area to see performances throughout their season. They should offer discount nights in order to attract new audiences, or play the show live in the park for discounted tickets or free; anything to increase opera’s fan base and expose the art to different audiences the most important of those being youths. I was lucky as a child to have had the opportunity to see the opera, and I’ve been lucky to have gotten to see shows as an adult. I only hope the Lyric Opera of Chicago does community outreach like this, or increases its outreach or I fear, like Eurydice, it will die, only there might not be an Orphée around to save it.

Remaining performance dates for Orphée et Eurydice are Oct. 12th and 15th at 2pm. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org/orphee.

Published in Theatre Reviews
Tuesday, 03 October 2017 19:43

Foxfinder is vaguely relevant

The most depressing thing about the Foxfinder’s premise of “near future” is that it looks remarkably like somewhat distant past, as in late 1800’s A.D. past. Gloom and doom, enhanced by the haunting music (by Jesse Case) and nearly constant rain, abounds in this Midwest premiere of Dawn King’s British drama Foxfinder, directed by Margaret Knapp. A four member ensemble, clad in Amish-like clothes (costume design by Melissa Perkins) acts out a scenario in which a rural farm owned by married couple Judith (Alexandra Fisher) and Samuel Covey (David Anthony Marshall) gets visited by a 19-year-old inspector (Jack Olin) sent by the state to find out why their farm is under performing. The economy is in bad shape, and most people either work at the factory and get their food severely rationed, or live in the cities where food supply is very limited. The most fortunate citizens are farmers who have access to fresh vegetables, eggs and meat, their job being “to secure England’s food supply”. There’s complete lack of technology as well and everything is done the old-fashioned way.

Obviously, there’s a reason for human misfortunes in this joyless place, a common enemy: foxes that have supernatural powers. Right. The confused masses are brainwashed by the government to look for this Enemy to be held responsible for their problems: poor harvest, illness, death of a child, anything and everything. It’s the inspector’s job to investigate presence of such foxes on the farm, destroy them and help the farmers get back to producing, or else be sent to work at the factory. Fear is a good strategy, so everyone gets on board. There’s also resistance movement in the village represented by the neighbor (Alanna Rogers).

But doesn’t every government have “The Enemy” to point the finger at: Hitler had Jews, Russia had America, and America has terrorists, global warming, and racism?
Fortunately, in the play, the farmer eventually figures out who the real fox is. Good for him.

Foxfinder won the Royal National Theatre Foundation Playwright Award 2013, the Papatango New Writing Competition 2011 and Most Promising Playwright, Off West End awards 2012.
*Due to nudity and strong language, not recommended for all ages. Performance lasts 90 minutes without intermission.

Foxfinder is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre through November 5th. For more show information, go to http://athenaeumtheatre.org/.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

As my sidekick for the evening – himself a theater and sketch comedy guy – and I entered Stage 773’s Cab Theater on Saturday to see Cupid Has a Heart On, we were greeted by smiley, bubbly folks who I guessed were cast members of the show. I turned out to be right. I said to my pal, “Looks like we’ll be spending an evening with grown-up theater kids, huh?” I’d turn out to be right about that, too.
The venue’s got a cabaret feel – black all around; red Naugahyde, too; swanky and dark like a Saturday night. We crossed the stage and found seats in the far corner, back behind the accompanist and his keyboard. Turns out the pianist was also the show’s director, Brian Posen. His playing throughout the show was rollicking and rambunctious – very much an old-timey lounge feel to fit the surroundings – and Posen even took part in a number about himself, as the lonely piano player, later in the evening. The music he and the cast have written and performed was really something, bouncing from one genre to the next and always played with absolute musicianship. But a bit of advice for those who see the show – while the red pleather booth behind the piano was plenty comfortable and afforded a nice view, the sound of the keys often drowned out the performers’ vocals.

The songs and sketches that made up the show were fun, though I’m still not sure who the target audience was. The baby boomers in the crowd laughed the loudest, while much of the content seemed to be about those much younger than middle age, about the age of the millennials who are the show’s actors and singers. Some material was timeless, while some felt like it had been written more recently to update this, Chicago’s longest running comedy show. I, myself, did not feel like I was the target audience. Perhaps I’m too jaded or too cynical, unable to be shocked by much in these frenetic and chaotic days. Or maybe I just needed more than the one drink I had at the bar to loosen me up enough to be shocked.

Because the content of the show was meant to shock. The songs were mostly about the things we don’t speak of – the sexual taboos, the not-so-sexy urges, the bad relationships gone worse, the crap that makes life so sexy sometimes and so crappy at others. From UTIs to lactose intolerance, from failed attempts at self-pleasure to failed attempts to resist booty calls, from the fact that even our parents do it to a duet about booty, the songs hit on the stuff we think and feel and maybe even talk about, but very rarely drag onstage. But once onstage, the show’s performers didn’t hold back.
And that was the real pleasure of the evening – seeing these really gifted singers and comedians give it their all. Most all of them accompanied themselves or others with guitars or ukuleles at some point (one tune found SIX guitars being strummed while the logistics of a sixsome were discussed). And all of them can sing their booties off, both as lead vocalists and harmonists. But it was the ensemble’s willingness to leave it all onstage that impressed me most. Clothes were removed. Bodies were contorted. Audience members were dragged onstage, or made a part of the show where they sat. While this audience member might not have been shocked, he had a smile on his face the whole time, impressed by the job the cast did.

Individual talents that made an impression on me were many, even as the cast worked well together. Di Billick – one of the pre-show greeters – stole most scenes she was in. Jake Feeny and Alex Madda added spunk to their fine vocals. Andy Orscheln was often found with a guitar in-hand, and always radiated how much he enjoyed performing. Katie Maggart’s girl-next-door charm nicely complimented the show’s more risqué moments. Chad Michael Innis was a standout – hilarious and insistent, all over the place. But the star, for me, was Marco Braun – another cast member milling around the audience before the show. A burly and bawdy Jonah Hill type, Braun captured our focus whenever he was onstage with his beaming smile, his (oft-unclothed) physique, and his irresistible presence.
So, no matter my personal reaction to the material, I had a good time watching a troupe of gifted entertainers deliver it. For those who are more easily shocked than I am, then you’ll love letting these folks shock. And for those who want to support our city’s gifted entertainers, you can find them in the Cab theater at Stage 773 every Saturday at 8pm.

It turns out I did spend my Saturday evening learning what happens when those eager, energetic, and talented theater kids we all knew in school turn into grownups. They become eager, energetic, and talented performers who put on a hell of a show. And Chicago’s theater and comedy communities – and those who enjoy the shows they put on – are lucky to have them.

Published in Theatre in Review
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