AstonRep Theatre Company is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, kicking off this fall with 1984, a chilling view of a world controlled by a totalitarian government, based on George Orwell’s classic novel, adapted for the stage by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles and directed by Artistic Director Robert Tobin. This winter, the season continues with a FESTIVAL OF ONE ACTS BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, celebrating one of the 20th century's greatest writers. AstonRep's season concludes next summer with THE LARAMIE PROJECT, a community's deeply-moving response to the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, written by Moisés Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project and directed by Associate Artistic Director Derek Bertelsen. The 2017-18 season will also include the 9th ANNUAL WRITERS’ SERIES, a daylong festival of workshops from talented local and regional writers. 
 
1984 and THE LARAMIE PROJECT will be staged at AstonRep’s artistic home, The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St. in Chicago. Venues for the FESTIVAL ONE ACTS BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS and WRITER’S SERIES will be announced shortly. Tickets for all productions will go on sale at a later date. For additional information, visit www.astonrep.com.
 
September 14 – October 8, 2017
1984
Adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. & William A. Miles Jr. 
From the novel by George Orwell
Directed by Artistic Director Robert Tobin 
at The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St. in Chicago
 
Based on the novel by George Orwell, 1984 is a terrifying and breathtaking view of a world controlled by a totalitarian government. Orwell asks what is left when freedom of speech, the press, love, and even the past are subject to authoritarian whims? Big Brother is watching. A theatrical event that is both powerful and disturbingly provocative.
 
Fall 2017
9TH ANNUAL WRITERS’ SERIES
Location to be announced.
 
A festival of talented local and regional writers who have an opportunity to workshop near-finished plays and works in development. Over the course of a day, five to seven new works are read by professional actors followed by focused talkback sessions – a time-honored celebration of artistic collaboration.
 
Winter 2018
FESTIVAL OF ONE ACTS BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
Location to be announced.
 
AstonRep presents classic favorites and rarely seen works by one of the 20th Century’s greatest writers.
 
June 7 – July 8, 2018
THE LARAMIE PROJECT
at The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St. in Chicago
 
The Laramie Project presents a deeply complex portrait of a community’s response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man living in Laramie, Wyoming. In a series of poignant reflections, the residents of Laramie react to the hate crime and surrounding media storm with anger, bewilderment and sorrow. The play portrays the seismic and deeply personal impact Matthew’s death had on this small town while also demonstrating the power of the human spirit to triumph over bigotry and violence. As we near the twentieth anniversary, Matthew Shepard’s story still reverberates, urging us on with its clarion call to confront the destructive power of bullying and hate, in all forms.
 
About the Directors
 
Robert Tobin (1984) is the Artistic Director of AstonRep Theatre Company and has been involved in some capacity with every one of AstonRep’s 19 productions. Recent directing credits with AstonRep include the Chicago Premieres of The Women of Lockerbie and The Water’s Edge, The Dumbwaiter/In The Moment, The Lover and The Erpingham Camp. In Chicago, Robert has worked as an actor, playwright and/or director with companies including Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, First Folio, Oak Park Festival Theatre and Redtwist, among many others. Regionally, he has worked with the Utah, Colorado and Montana Shakespeare Festivals, Festival 56, The MET Theatre (Los Angeles) and the Geffen Playhouse (Los Angeles), among others. As a playwright, he has had several critically acclaimed plays produced in Chicago, Los Angeles and regionally and recently won Best Literary Adaptation as part of the City Lit Theatre’s “Art of Adaptation” Festival.
 
Derek Bertelsen (The Laramie Project) currently serves as Associate Artistic Director for AstonRep Theatre Company. Previous directing credits with AstonRep include Eleemosynary (co-director with Jeremiah Barr), The Black Slot, The Lyons, Lieutenant of Inishmore, Wit, Next Fall and Doubt. Other Chicago directing credits include Prelude To A Kiss, Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love (The Comrades, where is serves as Artistic Director), Design for Living, The Children’s Hour (Pride Films & Plays), God of Carnage, The Dinner Party (BrightSide Theater). Regional credits include Brighton Beach Memoirs (Festival 56), The Wizard of Oz (Shawnee Summer Theater), and five seasons at Timber Lake Playhouse including Rumors, Boeing-Boeing, and Monty Python’s Spamalot. Assistant directing credits include RACE (Goodman), Angry Fags (Steppenwolf Garage), and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Bailiwick Chicago).
 
About AstonRep Theatre Company:
AstonRep Theatre Company was formed in the summer of 2008. Since then, the company has produced 19 full-length productions and sevn annual Writers’ Series. AstonRep Theatre Company is an ensemble of artists committed to creating exciting, intimate theatrical experiences that go beyond the front door to challenge audiences and spark discussion where the show is not the end of the experience: it is just the beginning.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

After a delay in touring due to singer Bruce Dickinson’s bout with cancer, Iron Maiden has finally returned to the Chicago area in tour of their 2015 release, The Book of Souls. Now, fully recovered, Dickinson and company performed in front of a packed crowd at Tinley Park’s Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre along with opening act Ghost.


The concert itself was a mixed bag. It was exceptional in the sense that Dickinson’s vocals were crisp, strong and delivered us to vintage Maiden-dom as only the signature sound of the collective band can possibly do. The 58-year-old Dickinson seemed in prime form vocally and even physically. Guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith were riffing as though it were 1985 and madman bassist Steve Harris plucked away at his instrument while channeling the energy of an eleven-year-old kid. Nicko McBrain was still Nicko McBrain, bashing the cans with complexity and power laying down the foundation for each song along with fellow rhythm-mate Harris. Yes, the band was on. So…what was the problem?


Two things.


Janick Gers (whom I have the utmost respect for his musical ability) doesn't really fit in with an Iron Maiden progressive metal live show – at all. Joining the band in 1990 to help finish No Prayer for the Dying after Smith’s brief departure over musical differences, Gers can no doubt play the part musically, but his stage presence makes us think that we may have entered a Poison concert by mistake. While energy-filled Dickinson and Murray run around the stage, it’s just that – running around the stage from end to end, Harris’ head thrashing about and Dickinson just being the cool front man we associate with a serious metal band like Iron Maiden. Gers side-to-side hair flinging, goofy high steps, kicks (reminiscent to the band Kix), guitar spins and cheesy dance moves would have been great – if Iron Maiden was a 1980’s hair band, but they’re not. They’re Iron Maiden. (Sorry Gers fans, I know he's talented but do they even need three guitar players?)


The other issue with The Book of Souls concert (at least the one in Tinley Park) was that the set list. Though The Book of Souls sold well and gave Iron Maiden their highest boost in some time, the band’s current set list was far too dependent on their latest studio release. With six of the fifteen songs coming from The Book of Souls album, fans who went in the hopes of hearing as many Maiden classics as possible were shorted. Left to the wayside were greats such as “Two Minutes to Midnight”, “Aces High”, “Run to the Hills”, “Flight of Icarus”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “Running Free”, “Can I Play with Madness”, “The Wicker Man”, “Flash of the Blade” and so many more. Now, naturally a band that has spanned for five decades that has produced so many amazing songs cannot be expected to cram every hit into a two-hour set, but playing just two or three songs from The Book of Souls would allow for a few more greats that Iron Maiden loyals would certainly appreciate jamming along with.


So that was the disappointing. Now for the good.


As stated prior, musically Iron Maiden was on top of their game. As expected (and always hoped for), the band’s mascot Eddie made a couple appearances, one as he walked across the stage dwarfing over Murray, Smith and Harris while Gers ran between his legs eluding the creature’s grasp until Dickinson fought and defeated the beast parading his severed heart high into the air for the crowd to see, meeting his victory with bloodthirsty cheers. Later an even larger Eddie peered from behind the drums as the band went into “Iron Maiden”.


Iron Maiden classics were sprinkled in throughout the set as Dickinson donned a British coat from the Revolutionary war while waving the flag of his homeland during “The Trooper”. The singer also surveyed the crowd to see how many fans were born after 1982, the year “Children of the Damned” was released, nearly half the hands in attendance being raised as the band went into the song.


Dickinson also made a heartfelt tribute to late actor Adam West, who he called a childhood hero and an inspiration.


Iron Maiden finished strong with a three-encore power play starting off with “The Number of the Beast” before going into “Blood Brothers” and delivering the knockout blow with “Wasted Years”.


Make no mistake. Iron Maiden still rocks and can deliver a fully entertaining arena show infused with enough metal to satisfy the most hard core of fans. Hopefully, the band’s set will have more songs that truly define Iron Maiden as most know their next time around. And there will be a next time around, as Dickinson altered the lyrics in “Number of the Beast” to “We will return (Chicago)!”.


Iron Maiden set list at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park June 15th 2017


If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
Wrathchild
Children of the Damned
Death or Glory
The Red and the Black
The Trooper
Powerslave
The Great Unknown
The Book of Souls
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Encore:
The Number of the Beast
Blood Brothers
Wasted Years

 

Published in In Concert

“You were always on my mind …You were always on my mind”
 
Summer warmth and clear skies are finally here. It is time for summer concerts. Highland Park’s Ravinia was the setting for an amazing show. Willie Nelson and Family were in town and the show was spectacular to say the least.

The beautiful lawns we're decorated up with concert-goers that were excited about the show. Happiness and anticipation could be seen within each fan. The weather predictions were calling for rain and they couldn’t be more wrong; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Coolers were filled with beverages and the heat was starting to fade into the evening. It was time for a high-class concert, and, with that, Willie Nelson and his family brought several masterpieces to the stage for a nostalgic musical journey.

Ages of the fans in attendance greatly varied as it was a family friendly show. A young girl by the name of Sienna was attending her first concert. She was just learning to walk and was being corralled in by her family with the help of a few others in the lawn. It was a delight to see the smile on her young face and she quite possibly the youngest person there. With pretzel in hand and baby curls in her hair, she was the preshow entertainment with her cute chubby cheeks.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real were the opening act for the evening and without a doubt talent runs through the veins of this young man. His voice, writing style, and guitar ability was like seeing a young Willie Nelson. They were nothing less than incredible.

The song “Find Yourself” was a highlight in Lukas’ show. “Find Yourself” is a funky reggae style song that has a groove and feeling to it that just runs through deep into your soul. A ballad type song singing to a love with disappointment with a blues feel that just tore it up. Lukas undeniably has his father’s genes.

The time came for the main act Willie Nelson. A feeling of joy instantly took over the crowd that glazed their faces when the first lyric was sung; “Whiskey river, take my mind”. The opening three songs, “Whiskey River”, “Still is Still Moving to Me” and “Beer for My Horses” were just amazing choices to kick off this Friday evening show. Everyone sang along with every word.

The band was on fire, following the lead of the country genius as he jam-packed his show with a no nonsense approach. “You Were Always on my Mind” was played while the words were coming out of the mouths of the sea of people in attendance. A lady in the audience had tears in her eyes. She said with a joyful heart, “We can go now.” She was truly happy.

“Mamas’ Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, “Crazy”, “On the Road Again”, and “Georgia” were among the set list prompting one sing-a-long after another. “It’s All Going to Pot”, “Shoeshine Man”, and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” were played so well that everyone had to be impressed with the overall performance of each.

Lukas plays with Willie’s band as well and the most powerful moment of the show was during their performance of “Texas Flood”. Lukas took the lead vocal and the pipes were like a gift from the heavens above. The song wasn’t just another cover of a song. He became the song and he did as good if not better than anyone else had ever done. It came time for his guitar solo and the man’s entire body twitched with convulsions with every note played, his soulful rendition seen, heard, and felt. If anyone didn’t enjoy this masterful jam, they’re probably not a fan of music.

Bobbie Nelson, Willie’s older sister, graced the stage on piano. She is always referred to as “little sister” by the band leader and for this show it was no different. She really can just tickle the keys and did so in a dim light to one side of the stage.

Since the early seventies Mickey Raphael has been in the band. It just wouldn’t be a Willie Nelson concert without the man. Some of the greatest moments in music history involved him playing harmonica. Raphael is son entertaining, most people could probably have listened to this man just stand there and play by himself. All the members within the band are stand-alone musicians, each as impressive as the next.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The show was highly engaging and the atmosphere just perfect. Every note was flawless and carried with it the perfect sentiment. It was priceless to see one of the musical greats of the twentieth century. Ravinia is an incredible setting for a show as always. Having Willie Nelson and Family just goes to show the high caliber of talented acts brought in by the famous concert grounds in Highland Park. The weather cooperated and it was a great start to the summer concert season. It’s a time that will not be forgotten. To see a list of upcoming musical acts appearing at Ravinia, visit www.Ravinia.org.

 

Published in In Concert

Pat Metheny is one of the few jazz guitar players out there that can play a bigger place and fill it. He almost has Rock Star status. The reason? Maybe it’s the horizontal striped shirt? The leather pants? The hair? The smile? Hmmm…what I really think it is…is the music.

Pat seems to have a Pop sensibility to his compositions. His songs are very melodic. They’re Jazz but they sure are not BeBop. There are interesting rhythms found in each song. Along with that you get a variety of textures. The fact that he doesn’t seem to follow a formula per se adds that extra bit of appeal.

Metheny has changed his sound through the years. Different timbres not only coming from him, but his supporting cast. Pat does seem to have a signature sound, but since he has been putting out music for over forty years the signature has many variations. The band played a lot of his earlier material the other night at Ravinia Festival.

The first piece was a solo piece called “Into the Dream”. I highly suggest looking up the video, if you haven’t seen Pat play this song live. During the song he uses a guitar with a standard guitar neck plus a fretless/harp neck. In addition, there are two more courses of strings going across the body of the guitar. I’m just glad I wasn’t the person who had to tune the instrument. Each course was tuned differently, making the song sound like the title. You were in his dream.

After an impressive opening number, the rest of the band then arrived on the stage. Linda May Han Oh handled upright and electric bass. What a solid player this Malaysian-born young lady is. She held it down throughout the show and performed some very tasty solos.

Antonio Sanchez has been in Pat’s band for a while now on drums. I love Jazz drummers myself. The rhythmic interplay between guitar and drums has long been a part of the music in Metheny’s bands through the years. Hailing from Mexico, Sanchez fit the bill as well as anyone ever in his group.

Longtime collaborator Lyle Mays’ seat at piano was filled by Gwilym Simcock, a British musician. I personally missed Mays’ presence but the music didn’t really suffer any loss. Simcock played very well, perfectly complimenting Metheny.

The show went over two hours with THREE, yes three encores…again…Rock Star status. After what we thought was the last encore, he asked the audience if they wanted to hear one more. So, it made it a four-song finale. The second to last was “And I Love Her” by The Beatles done Pat’s way. There were also three duet sections performed that night. Metheny did one with each of the other group members. Standing out the most was the one he did with Sanchez.

The timbres he got from the different instruments was a big part of what kept the show from ever slowing down. Standard Jazz guitar, guitar synth, classical, plus a guitar with a bizarre tailpiece…that almost sounded like a fuzz tone acoustic…very non-traditional.

Other classic Metheny songs included “Better Days Ahead”, “The Red One”, “Phase Dance”, “James” and “Offramp”, giving the audience a wide spectrum of his work.

I felt lucky to see him. The show was almost rained out. For me, it was 32 years since I saw him last. I will not wait that long until I see him again (that would make him somewhere in his mid 90’s by then anyway). But you never know with this guy. The way he literally runs on and off the stage makes me think he might still be playing then…with hair, the striped shirt and of course the signature grin. Pat is almost always smiling.

Published in In Concert

As soon as I saw the warm, rich lighting of a luxurious futuristic bedroom on the Space Ship Destiny lit and decorated by designers Heather Gilbert and Christopher Kriz and the set design by Arnel Sancianco, where the entire action of the play takes place, I thought this is going to be an interesting show. To the right of the set was a spaceship departure board with the names and photos of the passengers, along with their assigned room number, as they were headed to a planet three months away from Earth. The other ships had names like Fortune, Kismet, Prospect and Horizon suggesting that the people leaving earth are doing so willingly and must have enough money to do so. Smooch Medina’s spaceship flight calendar and wall projection also counts down the number of days the passengers have spent locked on this room together, which is a great tension builder as well. 

There are just three characters in the play. One a soldier who is suffering from PTSD from a previous mission in which he witnessed the killing of civilians that haunts him still in a variety of deep emotional ways. He has requested a private room because he cannot sleep well while struggling with his inner demons but somehow an attractive young woman passenger has been placed in the room with him, much to his disapproval. Ed Flynn portrays this sensitive, journal-writing soldier (previously referred to as “Grant”) who is also prone to violent mood changes and outbursts with great feeling and a sweaty intensity that is frightening at times. 

When you consider that he is locked into this “hotel room" for three full months due to a quarantine placed on certain sick members aboard the ship with a petite young female to whom he objects, it’s not difficult to imagine the strain that gradually surmounts. Janelle Villas does a wonderful job of showing the audience her fresh-faced bubbly enthusiasm while hiding a dark past that includes at least one rape, which has also left her in a state of PTSD. 


Co-directed by artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton and guest artist Jessica Thebus, the “Pilgrims” moves along quickly yet with subtle changes in the characters that seem very satisfying and real with a lot of emotional suspense and tension. We the audience wonder if these two characters will ever bond, or even reach their destination safely. We also ponder what will become of their edgy, ever-changing relationship once they are finally released from this artificial and close-quartered isolation into the general population of the new planet.  

The third character is a robot named Jasmine played with a great sense of humor and also an eerie, smiling menace by Brittany Burch. Jasmine has been programmed not only to answer all their questions and provide all their meals and cleaning services. She is also one of the older forms of “human-like robots” known for their ability to satisfy without any compunction - either member, male or female, with oral sex or intercourse if the human need arises.

The universality of two people meeting for the first time, learning about each other's baggage and foibles and being forced to overcome them in order to at least be friends if not lovers cannot be denied. This is a love story set in outer space plain and simple, even though it is suggested in the play that couples may have been placed together purposely to repopulate the new planet. 

I highly recommend this production for its unique retelling of a tale as old as time, when Fate meets Destiny and two very "human" human beings struggle to please each other while being true to their own individual dreams of the future but must in the end reveal the dark, undesirable places of their souls in order to overcome them and move into a deeper union free of mistakes or tragedies of the past.

Excellent performances and an imaginative script make Pilgrims a compelling and often humorous sci-fi love story that resonates. Pilgrims is being performed at Gift Theatre through July 30th. For more show information or to purchase tickets visit www.thegifttheatre.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

In Native Gardens, an ambitious young couple moves into a fixer-upper in an affluent DC neighborhood. Husband Pablo (Gabriel Ruiz) is a lawyer, his pregnant wife Tania (Paloma Nozicka) is working on her doctorate dissertation. Their nice and lively, albeit politically incorrect, neighbors are a defense contractor Virginia (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and her retired gardening-loving husband Frank (Patrick Clear). Shortly after moving in, Pablo has a bright idea to invite his entire law firm (all sixty people) to a barbeque in their embarrassingly unfinished yard, so the young couple gets to work. The old wire fence separating the neighbors’ properties (very nice design set by William Boles) has to go, but it soon becomes evident that Frank has been gardening on extra 23 inches of land that actually belongs to the new couple, according to the property plans.


Upon further calculations Pablo realizes that those 23 inches along the old fence translate into extra 80 sq feet of land which goes for “about $15,000 at a current market price”. Well, it’s a war then! Frank refuses to let go of his lovingly raised flowers right up against the ill-placed fence, while the young couple is on a mission to re-claim what’s rightfully theirs.


Who knew that an incorrectly placed fence would cause so much commotion? We all did, we saw it coming before the play even started. But despite its predictability, this comedy is still entertaining and somewhat thought provoking. Written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Marti Lyons, Native Gardens is more about generation clash, stereotypes, ageism and racism rather than the property lines. The older couple is from the pre-self-censorship era, and in their ignorance, they don’t always choose words carefully; they say what’s on their minds rather than hide behind politically correct words and ideas. But those words are often offensive to the delicate ears of Tania, whose proper opinions, frankly, make for sterile conversation, enough to put one to sleep. All in all, the two couples can’t effectively communicate, so they threaten each other instead. Will their peace be restored?


Native Gardens runs through July 2nd at Victory Gardens Theater. To find out more about this show visit www.VictoryGardens.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

The producers at Steppenwolf describe Pass Over as a “riff on Waiting for Godot” – and that’s true - except for this: Pass Over is not boring. In fact it is gripping and entertaining for every one of its 80 minutes of run time.

Written by Antoinette Nwandu and premiering under the direction of Danya Taymor, Pass Over is at once funny, alarming, sickening, and frightening. With shades of Master Harold & the Boys and Miss Margarita’s Way, it portrays two young inner city black men – Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker)  hanging out under a street lamp, hoping to get off “the block.” To say these two give knock out performances is an understatement.

Like Groundhog Day, each morning they resume the wait, their hours punctuated periodically by gunfire, and the appearance of the menacing policeman Ossifer (Ryan Hallahan in a searing performance; he also plays the white-suited Mister) whose role is to dispel their hope, and keep them in their place.

Moses and Kitch are condemned, suggests Nwandu, to be “waiting for Godot” their whole lives. Unlike Beckett’s duo, Moses and Kitch are not abstract constructs, but real people. The warmth and mutual fealty of these two young men captures your heart through their amusing word games and youthful horseplay.

Nwandu also plumbs the depths of the emotional link between Moses and Kitch, and we bear witness to their bond. As in Beckett’s play, these characters form a suicide pact, but cannot do it.  

They survive, somehow, and hope returns repeatedly – even against all odds. But the two never escape, either, and Pass Over faces us with our contemporary social challenge. By making Moses and Kitch so accessible to us, by humanizing them, Nwandu brings a fresh immediacy to the lament, that Black Lives Matter.   

Pass Over is both timeless, and a powerful commentary on contemporary conditions. Into this piece, Nwandu has squeezed a book. Fully deconstructed, it could easily fill a college semester of study.

Part of the vaunted excellence of Beckett’s 1953 Waiting for Godot - an existentialist reverie on the seemingly endless insufferableness of life, and perhaps the meaningless of that suffering – is that the audience also experiences the ennui of that endless wait, in real time. Frankly it’s a bore.

Not so with Pass Over. It is fully realized in this production. I might quibble with the end of the play – it seemed heavy handed from a first viewing. But I am going to have to trust and respect the playwright's and director’s judgements, given the excellence of all that comes before. The performances by Hill and Parker in fact are so perfectly delivered, hopefully it is exactly what the playwright intended – because it is tremendous. It runs through July 9 at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Published in Theatre in Review

Let’s welcome in summer and enjoy the history of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater with a collection of eight dances of varying styles and intriguing music. Pieces old and new, reworked and original amazed one after another including Lucas Crandall’s (Imprint - Duet), William Forsythe’s (reproduction of One Flat Thing), Alejandro Cerrudo’s (One Thousand Pieces - Water Section), Jim Vincent’s (Palladio), Crystal Pite’s (A Picture of You Falling), Twyla Tharp’s (The Golden Section), and Lou Conte’s (Georgia and the 40’s).

This historical glance 40-year glance at the iconic dance company brings forth a walk through time and the growth of Hubbard Dance. Lou Conte’s romantic summer love of ‘Georgia’ was originally premiered in 1987 as part of “Rose from the Blues” and makes you ache for the loss of summer love. Even more history is bestowed upon the crowd with the happiness, creativity of the 40’s, also by Conte. Infusing big band music, 40’s style dance, jitterbug moves and the feeling of the celebrations of old Hollywood, the piece is truly a joy to watch.

“The Golden Section” choreographed by Twyla Tharp/Tharp Project, in its golden velour and unabashed 80’s energy that had originally been performed on Broadway in 1981, brought a liveliness and fun to the stage. The enthusiasm and vibrancy had audience members bobbing their heads and giggling along with the sheer fun of the dancer’s movement and energy.

Something for everyone, Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 will truly grab your attention with the loving duet of “Imprint” by Lucas Crandall and romantic “Palladio” by Jim Vincent. Theater goers will fall under the mesmerizing spell of the smokiness and ethereal beauty of ghostlike figures and sounds of water in “One Thousand Pieces” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Children and adults alike will be enthralled with the chaotic energy of “One Flat Thing”, in awe of the dancer’s abilities to move between, over, under and through the flat things with such speed, grace and fluidity.

Beautiful and graceful, “A Picture of You Falling” by Crystal Pite will capture the audiences’ attention from start to finish, leaving you out of breath, and wondering, if this is how it really will be in the end.

Through a night of innumerable feelings and experiences, this historical journey into the past of “Hubbard Street Dance at 40”, was a thrill for all families and fans of dance. So very few places can provide such a complete feeling of history and nostalgia while also inspiring all of us to see what the future will bring.

Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 was performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on this amazing dance company and to see future events, visit www.HubbardStreetDance.com.

 

Published in Dance in Review
Saturday, 10 June 2017 21:14

Robben Ford at SPACE

“If you would shut off your phones, you might enjoy it more……”

This is the day of the cell phone, and in being so, there really needs to be some type of etiquette applied from time to time. I have also been guilty of this myself. When you are watching someone perform ANYTHING, turn off your phone. And the guy on stage shouldn’t have to tell you that either. That happened. I messaged my friend mid set, too.

Okay, but what about Ford's recent show at SPACE in Evanston? Robben Ford is one monster guitar player and hasn’t lost a step. He has played with people ranging from Miles Davis to Kiss. His solo work is very Blues based. Before you even hear a solo, you’ll notice that Ford is also a solid rhythm player. His singing falls right in there, too. Robben is a very precise musician in terms of rhythm. It’s easy to see how he got a lot of the work he has through the years.

Guitar players tend to get judged on their soloing abilities. No problem there. Ford was stepping out on an early 50’s Gibson Les Paul Gold Top. He had his classic Dumble amplifier and tone for days. I know, it’s not the guitar. I know, it’s not the amp. It’s that solid phrasing and the respect for what he is playing. The effects he used were completely unnecessary. He could have easily plugged straight in.

Bassist Brian Allen did his fair share of soloing throughout the set. I would also say he didn’t overplay. Bass players who overplay lose their role from time to time. I didn’t hear that.

Wes Little finished off the trio on drums. Little is a powerhouse type of drummer. A heavy hitter, he also gets a great jazz vibe when needed. He stepped forward for a couple solos, one longer than the others that really showed his chops. I think it takes some seasoning to play like that, to be able to hit hard and yet just right. Even the loudest crashes were musical. Ford even sat behind his amp while Wes took his solo. He may have been in a safe place there.

With an amazing song repertoire that includes “Worried Life Blues”, “High Heels and Throwing Things”, “Can’t Let Her Go”, “When I Leave Here” and so many more, it was surreal at times watching this legend play in such an intimate setting. Ford included a songs from his latest release Into the Sun, which I recommend picking up.

Other than Robben Ford having to tell the people watching to shut off their phones, it was a great show. His calling out cell phone abusers was actually kind of funny, anyway. On second thought, using your phone during a performance might be more sad than anything. When you are watching a musician playing at the top of their game…right in front of you - Pay Attention!

 

Published in In Concert

Shannon McNally is a singer, song writer and guitar player. Black Irish is her seventh release, if I heard correctly last night at City Winery. There, at City Winery, McNally headlined with Big Sadie playing the first set.

Big Sadie is a Bluegrass quartet from Chicago? Yes, you heard correctly…a Bluegrass quartet from Chicago. A lot of people tend to think this is either a Blues town or cover band town, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found. You either gotta look or get lucky.

Big Sadie is led by a husband (Collin Moore) and wife (Elise Bergman) team who handle most of the vocals, as well. Bergman plays upright bass and Moore plays guitar. Andy Malloy on banjo and Matt Brown on fiddle complete the quartet.

There were two things I really liked about seeing this group live. Number one were their harmonies. Moore and Bergman have a really sweet blend. Harmonies executed so well make such a difference - getting voices to blend like that. The second thing was they played and sang in front of ONE microphone. I loved it! Very reminiscent of the Grand Old Opry days. They did have the upright going direct but they had everything else going through one mic. With this method, you get your “mix” by your proximity to the microphone. Also, dynamics used by the other players is important. My only criticism of their set up is that the guitar gets buried. The guitar should go direct along with the upright. Moore was playing some hot licks, but they were fighting to be heard.

McNally was accompanied by Brett Hughes on guitars, mandolin and vocals. I see a lot of people playing without drummers lately, which tends to keep a nice volume in clubs sometimes. That way you can just dig into the songs. You can also hear the vocals, a lot of which are lost in the heavy mixes of the bass and drums that dominate a lot of times.

She played a short set, mostly originals. I would honestly have to describe her as seeming uncomfortable. I will admit, I am not familiar with her work at all. She had some nice bluesy moments and I did like her singing and playing. Her songs were good, but easy to forget. In between songs, she just seemed awkward. I understand some people are more creatures of the studio or the writing table and am guessing she’d be in that category. I did really enjoy her last song, a cover of “It Makes No Difference” by The Band.

It’s always a great night at City Winery Chicago. Great food, wine and music. The volume is always adjusted just right in the room, too. You always walk away with happy ears.

Published in In Concert

 

 

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