Let's cut to the chase on this review: Queen is the best show in town. 

Having its world premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, in Queen, Madhuri Shekar has delivered a knockout script, deftly directed by Joanie Schultz, and brought to life by a strong cast. 

Two PhD students - Sanam Shah (Priya Mohanty) and Ariel Spiegel (Darci Nalepa) - have spent six years examining a true-life dilemma: why honey bees are dying – a real-world environmental crisis.

Ariel does the field research, and Sanam – a highly regarded math wonder - crunches numbers for the data, which point to a farm chemical from Monsanto as the culprit. Or so five years of data have shown. But something is amiss.

Queen is a gripping account of academic intrigue laced with ethical challenges, along the lines of David Auburn’s provocative Proof, but with a much livelier pace.

The two are working under Dr. Philip Hayes (Stephen Spencer) who is to deliver within a few days a presentation on their work to an influential scientific group. The paper based on their research has been accepted for the journal Science. Dr. Hayes is gleeful about the prospects for his program, and promising access to big funding for the University.

A crisis looms as the latest research data does not support the earlier findings. Believing it stems from a glitch in the programming, Sanam searches desperately through the code. The pressure is on to bring the numbers in line with expectations.

If this sounds drab, it is anything but. Shekar lays out the science, and describes the culture of academia, in digestible bites. The human side of the drama comes to the fore in the relationship between the two women researchers, Sanam and Ariel, as the pressure mounts to get the results required by their academic overseer. BFFs, the two struggle through this growing professional chasm.

But it is the side-story about Sanam and a potential mate, Arvind Patel (Adam Poss) that leads to some exceptionally well-played scenes that steal the show – at least for me. Sanam’s diffidence about a date with Arvind (set up by her parents back in India) eventually leads to an unexpected romance.

Patel plays Arvind with a smooth, purring, throwaway manliness of that on-the-make single guy everyone knows. Sanam, who parries Arvind’s advances with vigor as he helps her puzzle out the math (he’s a math guy too, an investment manager who works in quant theory), and debate the ethical issues. To see the chemistry between Mohanty and Poss is worth a trip to the converted Biograph Theater.

Queen has been portrayed as an Earth Day oriented story, and a story of friendship among women. But it's also a showcase of great writing and acting.  Don’t miss Queen. It runs through May 14th and it's very highly recommended. 

For more show information click here

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 28 April 2017 17:06

Pat Martino - Zen-Like Precision

I had the great fortune of seeing a true living Legend of Jazz Thursday night at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase and was able to speak to him before the first set. Pat Martino is one amazing man. He is also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I sat and asked him a somewhat unrehearsed collection of questions. I did know a bit about him so the questions were not exactly random.

 

One of the first things we talked about was his approach to taking words and turning them into melodies. Martino explains there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, seven notes in the major scale. That’s three groups of seven and one of five. You repeat the notes after you get to the seventh degree of the scale. Any word can become a melody. This tells you right away that you are not dealing with a traditional thinker here.

 

A word that popped up more than once in the conversation was precision. This is the way he seems to approach all aspects of life, not just music. Another key word was awareness. Awareness is a highly-overlooked concept for most people. Musicians who are tuned into what they are playing and the people they are playing with are going to end up on another level entirely. I consider Pat’s thinking to be extremely Zen in nature. “All there is, is now” was my favorite quote of his. It is very eye opening, really. The idea that the past and future do not truly exist is a reality most of us cannot accept. There is so much truth in that statement.

 

Another thing that struck me was how he talked about not being obsessed with music. That is another strong statement. This at first might seem a bit too casual for a musician to accept. How can a serious musician follow this? It is easy to get so caught up in your music that the rest of your life suffers. The rest of your life should be incorporated into your music. Balance is key to everything, another Zen like concept.

 

Now, let’s talk about the music. Pat currently plays in an organ trio. For those of you unfamiliar, that is organ, guitar and drums. There is no bass player. The organist handles the bass role most of the time. I personally love this type of trio. I am a huge fan of the Hammond B-3, an instrument that gives off one amazing sound - truly hard to duplicate. Pat Bianchi was the man behind the keyboard. He was Martino’s perfect compliment. He traded solos with Pat and provided superb accompaniment. 

 

Carmine Intorre completed the trio on drums. Jazz drummers are amazing creatures. The way they think of rhythm is off the hook. Rhythm is probably the most overlooked piece of the musical puzzle. Nothing grooves without the groove. I have heard the quote that a live band is only as good as the drummer. Intorre kept it going without a bass to lock in with, great job.

 

Pat’s own playing was flawless. I don’t remember hearing a bad note. His solos were highly creative. The rhythm of his phrasing brings back that word precision. Here is a guy pushing seventy-three-years-old that can out play people in the prime of their life. Actually, he may still be in the prime of his life. This guy is using strings on his guitar that most guitar players could not use. I am talking some heavy strings, even for Jazz players. I think a lot of it is due to how the man approaches life. Most people his age are shot, just not much left. He seems to really value a healthy lifestyle. I think being, as he described it, “mostly vegetarian” helps a lot. A lot of artists sacrifice their own health in pursuit if their art. Your body and mind are truly your instrument, not your guitar. The Zen concept again comes to mind.

 

Jazz can seem to be a bit self indulgent at times, all the soloing and all. What it really is a conversation between musicians. That is not always easy to see. However, when musicians are of this caliber, it is. I’m sure a lot of people who go to see a guy like Martino go to see an amazing guitarist. I can count myself on that list but after talking to Pat, I felt like I understood the scene a whole lot more. He talked about how the scene was back in the hey day. It was a community, not just the musicians. Jazz is a very social environment. In some ways, it is musician’s music. The fans are certainly another element. It is an environment for thinking people. An outsider might consider this a snobbish line of thinking. What it really is, is an escape. Jazz is a way of diving into a pool of joy. A lot of intelligent people find it difficult to exist in the world. They need a place to escape. Jazz clubs were at one time filled with people like this. I find it kind of sad in a lot of ways that there really is a very small Jazz scene left. That to me tells you a lot about our society today. 

 

I don’t want to end this on a downer. What I will say is don’t be afraid to think. Think outside the box. My conversation with Pat Martino was a bit of an epiphany to me. It’s okay to think and have your own ideas. You can live your life with a level of precision. This can be a pattern in your life, your music. Incorporating your life into your music is as important as bringing music into your life. I saw an amazing guitar player Thursday night, but I also met an amazing person. Thank You, Mr. Martino.

 

Published in BCS Spotlight

The Joffrey Ballet closes its 2016-2017 Season with Global Visionaries featuring works of international ballet visionaries: Russian born choreographer Yuri Possokhov with The Miraculous Mandarin, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman with Joy, and Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa with Mammatus.

The show opens with sexy, dark The Miraculous Mandarin. It’s a disturbing tale of a girl forced to act as a decoy by thugs, luring men into her room, only to be robbed and kicked out. The girl (immensely talented dancer Victoria Jaiani who moves with otherworldly grace and can possibly express just about any emotion with her body or even a subtle turn of the head) seduces men with her beauty, and then turns them over to her “friends” who finish the job. The wealthy mandarin (wonderfully performed by Yoshihisa Arai) is her last victim. He is cool and composed, like a Kung Fu master, but falls hard for the girl, and refuses to let go of her even when her deceitful nature is reveled to him. There’s nothing abstract about this performance: there’s an engaging plot, and all seven characters are extremely well developed; the brutality of the Chinese man’s murder is quite uncomfortable. Set to Bela Bartok’s score composed in 1918-1919, this “pantomime grotesque” was based on a magazine story of that time. Premiered November 27, 1926 in Cologne, Germany, it caused a scandal and was subsequently banned on moral grounds. Yuri Possokhov has created this work specifically for The Joffrey Ballet in collaboration with Cleveland Orchestra, which premiered in March 2016 in Cleveland. This is the Chicago premiere with Chicago’s own Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck providing live accompaniment on stage.

Here comes Joy! Alexander Ekman’s piece is original and playful, its delightful silliness reminiscent of a circus show. It opens with the stage brightly lit and slippery, crowded with dancers acting like happy children on a playground: they run and slide around, walk upside down, dance and act out while wearing suits. When prompted, everyone strips down to flesh colored underwear and things get even less serious. There’s a pack of gorgeous female ballerinas dropping their shoes on the floor in unison, like some bratty toddlers. They are childish and gracefully feminine, all at the same time. A very young audience member sitting next to me (she was around four-years-old) found the sketch very entertaining: she laughed the entire time. Joy is a ballet/ mixed media of sorts, with voice narration and the dancers having speaking parts. It’s unexpected, whimsical and energetic; a pure joy. Set to a mix of modern music featuring selections from Grammy-nominated Brad Meldau Trio, experimental rock band Django Django, Tiga’s pop hit Shoes, and Moby.

The final part of the event, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa‘s Mammatus, is a stimulating twenty-minute abstract piece featuring twenty dancers in a series of ensembles and duets. Right away, there’s a thunder on the stage, then the music begins ("Weather One" by composer Michael Gordon). The music is sharp and urgent, the frantic forceful strings giving it that old world quality. The costumes (designed by Dieuweke Van Reij) are stylishly black, enveloping dancers’ hands and making them look animal or bird-like. The dancers’ movements are precise and fast, there isn’t much emotion here, just breathtaking fluidity of ever changing shapes and positions. Towards the end, a dance pair clad in all white comes in; their dance is sensual and full of grace. Is it possible that the contrast between the colors and the styles of dancers allude to the duality of our reality: the good and evil, the light and darkness, the emotion and thought?

Joffrey’s Global Visionaries is being performed at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University: April 26-May 7, 2017. For more show information, or to purchase tickets, click here.  

 

Published in Dance in Review

Of the many Andrew Lloyd Webber hits, Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a personal favorite of mine. It rocks, it moves and…it’s back. After a lengthy absence, the award-winning musical has returned to the Chicago area, this time with a bit of a twist as, unlike past productions, the show features an all African American cast. This, opposed to the nearly all white cast complete with a black Judas that we are accustomed to seeing. And, the tremendously gifted cast works so very well in this revival piece. The change is bold and should be commended. And the execution is nearly flawless. 

With one of the greatest rock operas of all time currently finding its temporary home at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, we know by the end of the production’s first number, “Heaven on Their Minds”, that Mykal Kilgore, who takes on the demanding role of “Judas”, is a special talent. We also get an idea within the next few numbers (“What’s the Buzz?”, “Strange Thing, Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”) how deep the talent pool goes in this one-of-a-kind production.  

Reliving the last days of Jesus Christ leading up to the crucifixion, the timeless musical, which premiered on Broadway on October 12th, 1971, is set to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, in what began as a rock opera concept album by the two in 1970. Since, it has been one of the most successful musicals of all time gathering a loyal fan-base from all over the world. In Jesus Christ Superstar, we visit Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and Mary Magdalene, as he performs miracles and brings hope to the world while claiming he is the son of God, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees and scribes who see him as a threat to their teachings – a threat they would like removed so much they ask the Romans for help.

In Paramount’s current production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a fifteen-piece orchestra paves the way for the talented performers who leave their mark in one number after another. Kilgore goes on to navigate through each song with skilled precision and sings with amazing depth. And while Kilgore impresses more and more as the show progresses by staying true (and then some) to the “Judas” that both Murray Head and Carl Anderson made famous, Felicia Boswell is also quick to excite the audience with her moving interpretation of Mary Magdalene, particularly in the popular “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Beautiful, graceful and vocally dynamic, Boswell brings a gentle warmth to the role, wonderfully capturing the love that Mary had for Jesus. Throughout the production, remarkable performances are abundant with Rufus Bonds Jr. taking the reins in a very commanding depiction of Pontius Pilate, so well delivering the message of his conflict to have Jesus crucified at the request of the mob that is influenced by the religious law makers or to set him free since no Roman law has been broken. Lorenzo Rush Jr. also leaves a strong presence as the baritone-wielding Caiaphas who leads the charge against Jesus, fearing that he will revolutionize Jewish law. 

Jesus of Nazareth is commendably played Evan Tyrone Martin. Martin aptly captures the virtue and charisma needed for the role of and is convincing while conveying just how tiring it can be to be the son of God. Martin’s voice is strong and he has little trouble carrying the many challenging melodies that come with playing Jesus, though the patented screams that both Ted Neeley (film version) and Ian Gillan (concept album) had incorporated into the role were absent, leaving a couple prime crescendo moments to the wayside. Still, Martin holds his own, even getting a much-deserved extended applause after his riveting performance of “Gethsemane”, a powerful number where Jesus questions why it is that he must die. 

The show’s ensemble is nothing short of amazing, the actors changing back and forth from disciples, to Pharisees to lepers to soldiers ever so efficiently. At one point, Mark J.P. Hood breaks rank from the ensemble as Simon and superbly performs one of the show’s highlight numbers “Simon Zealotes”, where he praises Jesus and urges him to build an army to fight the powers of Rome. Another crowd-pleasing moment (among the countless others) occurs when Jesus is brought forth to Herod (Avionce Hoyles) in a glittery display that dazzles in the somewhat jazzy “Herod’s Song”. Kudos to Hoyles who thrusts the role of Herod into another stratosphere.     

Paramount’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a fascinating production that entertains nonstop from its opening overture to its near-finale number “Superstar”. Featuring a wealth of acting and singing talent and a rockin’ orchestra that does the soundtrack right, this could possibly be one of the most polished, expressive and enjoyable musicals to come our way in some time.  

Superb. This beautiful production is super recommended.

Magnificently directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum with music direction by Tom Vendafreddo, Jesus Christ Superstar is being performed at Paramount Theatre through May 28th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.       

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I have to admit Aladdin is one of my all-time favorite Disney films so I was very optimistic upon entering Cadillac Palace to see the stage version. Turned into a live musical in 2011, Disney’s Aladdin has landed in Chicago for a five-month run with over three million people having already experienced the production worldwide. My hopes were high. I wanted so much to enjoy it. I entered the musical knowing the characters and creative team had a lot to deliver in order to please me - and deliver they did! Bringing to life the classic tale of Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, Genie and the villainous Jafar, I am happy to say the stage adaptation of the popular musical is a full-on magical adventure that exceeds expectations.

 

Adam Jacobs in the lead role of Aladdin has a wonderful voice, excellent dance skills and a charming, bright white smile that reaches all the way to the audience members in the back balcony much to their delight. Jacobs has some real star quality developing, which is a pleasure to see. Adam Jacobs as the poor thief trying to win Princess Jasmine’s heart with three wishes from a genie, really resembles a young Matt Dillon for those who remember the handsome, spirited hustler in the popular film "The Flamingo Kid."

 

Perfectly paired with Jacobs, Isabelle McCalla plays Princess Jasmine with a sassy, feminist air that was both endearing and inspiring to young girls without seeming cloying or coy. McCalla also has a lovely, yet strong stage presence and a wonderful singing voice. Yet the key to a successful production of Aladdin depends on the strength of the wish-giving imp and in this case Anthony Murphy nails the role of Genie. Murphy is deliciously saucy and upbeat in his interpretation of Genie and has great physical comedy timing and brings with him some impressive dance instincts. 

 

The fabulous tunes of Aladdin penned by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice are brought to life by this talented ensemble directed by Devanand Janki with an abundance of energy and infectious joy! 

 

The magic flying carpet scene is every bit as enchanting as in the film when Aladdin posing as a prince offers to free Jasmine from her castle tower where she has been isolated from seeing the daily life of the real world. Aladdin finally shows her “A Whole NEW World" with a stunning backdrop of night stars, which create an effective and truly romantic flying carpet special effect that makes both adult couples and children alike say, “Wow, that's beautiful!" 

 

I loved the way the book has been altered to include the idea that an arranged marriage is politically incorrect even if it is an arranged marriage to a prince. This is a very serious problem in other countries and I was very pleased that the writers made it clear to the young women watching the show that in the end even Jasmines' father, The King, was forced to change the law in order to make sure his daughter was married to someone she loved, regardless of his social standing - that it was her choice, not his. 

 

Brian Sidney Bembridge (sets), Jesse Klug (lighting) and Debbie Baer (costumes) each deserve their own round of applause for their amazing accomplishment in creating the truly golden treasure room and flying carpet effects along with the colorful, rich designs that captured and dazzled the eye in every scene.

 

I highly recommend this show for adults who’d like to go on a romantic date as it dreamy and fun while reminding us of the innocence of love. Aladdin is, of course, also a great production for young ones to see because, unlike in some children's theater, the characters are fully rounded and the entire spirited cast really delivers on their opening number, “Arabian Nights”, successfully projecting the feelings associated with the magic and destiny of Love that is caused by such wonder and delight! 

 

Disney’s Aladdin is running at Cadillac Palace through September 10th. For tickets and show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s been quite a year in Chicagoland for Karen Zacarías, and it’s not over yet. One year after her The Book Club Play graced the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, a month after Destiny of Desire opened at the Goodman, and a month before Native Gardens plays at Victory Gardens, her new play Into the Beautiful North is receiving a rolling world premiere back at 16th Street. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Naperville resident Luis Alberto Urrea, Into the Beautiful North is a hilarious, bitingly satirical, and occasionally terrifying and disturbing adventure story about a group of young Mexicans going on a quest to the distant, fabled city of Kankakee. The dangers awaiting them will change how they see everything.

The small Mexican town of Tres Camarones doesn’t have much. There’s just one internet-capable computer, owned by Tacho (Esteban Andres Cruz), the gay proprietor of the internet café. There’s a shuttered movie theatre where people used to escape into wild flights of fancy. And recently, nearly all the men seem to have deserted for the United States. This makes Tres Camarones easy prey to the evil narcos, who steal and abuse the town’s inhabitants as they please. But the town still successfully holds a mayoral election, which is won by Irma Cervantes (Laura Crotte) on a platform of boosting female employment by holding a Yul Brenner festival (though the cinema owner insists on a Steve McQueen festival).

While the town watches The Magnificent Seven, Irma’s niece, Nayeli (Ilse Zacharias), has a bold idea: why not go to the United States and gather seven brave Mexican men to fight off the narcos? They could even start with her father, who sent her a postcard once from Kankakee claiming he had done well. Irma supports the idea and contributes a lead of her own, while Nayeli gathers Tacho and her goth friend, Vampi (Allyce Torres), to make the journey to Tijuana, and then, illegally cross the border and go onward to Illinois, with stops for sight-seeing in Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

All does not go well. The band of friends is subjected to harassment and assault by federal troops searching for illegal Central American immigrants while still deep within Mexico. At Tijuana, they are joined by the dump-dwelling garbage warrior, Atomiko (Brandon Rivera), but their first crossing attempt is a disaster. The friends soon realize they have no idea what they will do even if they do get across, but this only proves to Nayeli that only the braves heroes can survive going to the United States.

Directed by Ann Filmer and cast member Miguel Nuñez, Into the Beautiful North rides the peaks of absurdity and valleys of real life horror like a roller coaster. Though we may be chuckling at Nayeli’s silhouetted Jack Sparrow-fantasy-lover one minute and cringing at an all-too-real incident of homophobia or xenophobia the next, the play is very much a coherent whole. Partly that’s because of a brilliant design by Joanna Iwanicka (set), Cat Wilson (lighting), Rachel Sypniewski (costumes) and Barry Bennett (sound/music), which capture the look of a Technicolor Western. We’re half-in the land of myth, where good and evil, love, and coming of age journeys are all outsized, so, of course, anything can happen.

But we’re also in the realm of shrewd political commentary, and that’s where the eight-person ensemble really shines. Zacharias, Crotte, Cruz, Nuñez, Torres, Rivera, and Andrés Enriquez and Juan Munoz go through a whirlwind of character changes as they perform this epic, each moving between larger-than-life performance styles and brief, but fascinating portraits of people from a massive swath of North America. Nayeli is so optimistic it’s impossible not to love her, and Tacho likewise emerges as a true hero in the face of the crap he is subjected to.

Filmer’s pre-show announcement hails the Mexican pride in this play, and that’s certainly present in abundance. Despite the outward simplicity of the presentation, we feel as though we are going on this journey with these characters as they learn about their own country and the United States. Atomiko the garbage warrior is amusing, but we are pointedly reminded that people really do live and die in such dumps. That’s an indictment of both countries’ social structures as well as a tribute to ordinary peoples’ courage, resourcefulness, and determination to survive. As is often the case with 16th Street, the play was extended before it even opened. As fine as this story is, it works especially well in an intimate setting. Don’t wait to get your tickets.

Highly Recommended

Into the Beautiful North is playing at the 16th St Theater in the Berwyn Cultural Center, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, Il. Performances run Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays at 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm through June 3rd. Running time is two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Free parking is available in the parking lot at 16th St and Gunderson.

To order, call 708-795-6704 or visit 16thstreettheater.org.

*Extended through June 17th

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Scapegoat; Or (Why the Devil Always Loved Us) a satirical political drama now playing at the Den Theatre, takes the audience on a wild ride through a rather unusual family affair. But the play rapidly bogs down with its own complexity.

The curtain rises mid-action, and we gradually piece together that the six members of the Porter family are career politicians: patriarch Senator Anse Porter and his son, Congressman Coyote “Coy” Porter, represent Ohio as Democrats. The Senator’s Chief of Staff John Schuler is married to his daughter Leza, who is in the final weeks of her pregnancy. Matriarch Eleanor Porter and the Senator’s adopted daughter Margaret, are lobbyists for the United American Muslims.

The plot centers on the passage of a bill that would favor Christianity over other religions in the U.S. This bill is supported by Congressman Coy Porter, who is courted by the Religious Freedom Caucus, comprised of three Republican Senators: Frank Mason, Texas; Mary Colbourn, Illinois; and Perry Allen, Arizona.

Plans go awry when Congressman Porter’s father Anse, the senator, is outed as a Satanic Priest. He decides he will filibuster the bill. To dissuade him, so the bill can pass, the Religious Freedom Caucus hints they will award him a judgeship.

While it took a while to figure out what was going on, once I did, I loved the concept. And the play delivers some strong social commentary on religious freedom – a topic of great social currency. It also  scores some comedic points – Senator Porter delivers a complete Black Mass in downstage while the political drama unfolds upstage in convincingly delivered press conferences.

Jeffrey Freelon Jr. gives a strong performance as the put-upon Chief of Staff John Schuler. Likewise for Echaka Agba (Margaret), John Kelly Connolly (Frank), Barbara Figgins (Eleanor Porter), Jack McCabe (Perry), Cassidy Slaughter-Mason (Leza), Kelli Strickland (Mary) and Norm Woodel (Anse).

Scapegoat is needlessly layered, starting with its grammatically suspect title, through characters whose background and details have little bearing on the main action on stage: That Margaret is the Senator’s adopted daughter is revealed in the second act – along with the fact that she chose to keep her birth mother’s last name (so she is Okafor-Porter). So? Coy Porter is widowed, and occasionally has seizures. Um, did we need to know that? This made Evan Linder’s job playing Coy a challenge, but he rose to it.

Scapegoat is by and large a sentimental comedy. The script by Connor McNamara, a Chicago actor, brought to mind those fast-paced 1930’s screwball comedies loaded with mayhem. But the play is probably closer to You Can't Take It With You, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1936 Pulitzer prize-winning satire. 

There are some rich moments here: Deciding to filibuster anyway, Anse reads chapter and verse from the satanic scriptures, driving the believing Caucus senators from the chamber floor. This intelligent script which renders the political processes and dynamics with veracity, is, is fast paced and strong at its core. The direction by Kristina Valada-Viars is very well done. Scapegoat plays through May 7. www.thenewcolony.org

Published in Theatre in Review

It was an interesting pairing of solo singer/guitar players last night at City Winery. I often check out artists I review that I don’t know before I go and see them. Often, I end up finding they can be quite different than the usual Youtube videos you see. This can be good or bad. A couple reasons for this. There is the energy of the room that cannot be captured on video or sometimes you end up checking out the videos that do not exemplify the band as much. In this case, both artists were better in person than video.

 

First up was Edward David Anderson. I would call him a bit of a story teller type of writer and singer. Most of his songs had entertaining introductions and good story lines. I found it interesting that he sat down and played bass drum while he sang and played guitar - a one-man band. His left foot seemed to be getting something like a tambourine sound. I could not see how he did that, exactly. After opening with a nylon string guitar that looked like it had survived a war, he switched over to banjo for a few songs. After that, he played slide on one of those cigar box guitars. He killed it on the cigar box playing a great version of Bill Preston’s “Go ‘Round In Circles”. I really liked that. 

 

Edward was a very funny guy between songs as well. His own songs were great. I really liked one called “That’s My Dog”. He was not too serious and very down to Earth. I thought his music was very accessible, and the crowd was in agreement. He got a great response. He even did some Dylan-esque harp work and, believe it or not, some kazoo while plying guitar and bass drum.

 

After a short intermission, Seth Walker took the stage. He was sporting and old Gibson hollow body guitar at first. He plugged into a little tube amplifier. He was a little more Blues based, but not a bunch of twelve bar repetition. He had some really good songs, too. He was a switch from Anderson but it was a smooth transition, either one could have been headliner. 

 

He switched to a steel string acoustic after a few songs, joking it was a borrowed guitar. His version of “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain” was just amazing. Willie Nelson would surely approve. He switched back to the old Gibson for the rest of his set. He also seemed to put a little humor in his delivery. This tends to work rather well in a club this size. The crowd was very relaxed. There was a lot of clapping on two and four during Walker’s set.

 

Anderson came up and joined Walker for the last couple songs. “Ophelia” was a knockout song I first heard The Band do years ago. It had that kind of Levon Helm vibe. 

 

It was yet another great show at City Winery, which is a real nice place to see a show. The wine is excellent and so is the food. They also have a top-notch staff. The crowd was a nice mix too. I would highly recommend both the venue and the two artists highly. It was a great way to spend a Thursday evening.

 

Published in In Concert
Thursday, 20 April 2017 11:05

Review: "Marry Me A Little" at Stage 773

How nice that even songs Stephen Sondheim cut from his own musicals can still find a home. “Marry Me a Little” is a 1981 songbook musical assembled by Sondheim. It’s a review of songs he wrote for various musicals in the 60's and 70's but were cut or unfinished. “Marry Me a Little” is a show performed without dialogue. The plot is pretty simple: a man (Austin Cook) and a woman (Bethany Thomas) are two artists who live a floor apart in a New York City apartment building. A chance meeting sends them down a standard relationship path. Or does it? 

 

You may already be asking yourself, why see this show? To be fair, it’s not a great script and like its sister Sondheim review “Putting it Together” – opinions are generally mixed. The script isn’t the point though. “Marry Me a Little” is a great chance to glean some insight into Sondheim’s creative process and hear some strong voices singing great songs you may not otherwise be familiar with. 

 

Director Jess McLeod’s vision for this semi-modernized “Marry Me a Little” is sleek and cool. The décor in both apartments looks directly out of a West Elm catalog. Costumes by Stephanie Cluggish fit right in, you’ll definitely want a pair of the cool shoes The Woman struts around in. 

 

What will certainly resonate after an hour and a half of continuous singing are these two voices. It would difficult for any co-star to match the vocal talents of Bethany Thomas, but Austin Cook holds his own. Cook is also the music director here and spends a great deal of the show parked at the piano. It’s nice to see the usual music director on stage and killing the piano. Without speaking a single word, these two are selling the magic of romance, all its ups and downs. If there’s one number worth coming for it has to be “Can That Boy Foxtrot” originally written for “Follies.” Bethany Thomas’ playful and sexy interpretation will bring a smile to your face. 

 

“Marry Me a Little” may not be the opus “Sunday in the Park with George” but it’s a great way to spend some time with Sondheim’s lyrical genius. With a short run time and overly romantic plotline, this stylish production would surely make for a charming first date. 

 

Through May 21 at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Following the lives of Charlotte and Jonny, The Mystery of Love and Sex cleverly explores a variety of subjects including sexual identity, race, political correctness and family undercurrents. Charlotte and Jonny have grown up together and have become the very best of friends. Charlotte is a white girl who had lived with her parents, her father Jewish and her mother converted, while Jonny, an African American had lived with his mother just next door. 

The story starts off with Charlotte and Jonny living together while attending college. They wonder if their longtime friendship can develop into something more. The two are stressed when Charlotte’s parents, Howard and Lucinda, come by for dinner unsure of what they might think of their living relationship and their possible future together. Howard, a  successful crime novelist accused of writing with racist and sexist overtones by Jonny ("Why are all black men able to dance? Why are most found victims women with no clothes on?"), is direct, concerned and, at times, a bit skeptical. “What is this? Like Bohemian?” He says referring to the couple’s table setting. It doesn’t help matters that Charlotte and Jonny are serving just salad and bread. But we quickly see how much Howard cares for both his daughter Charlotte and Jonny, who he considers his son, despite his oft coarse exterior. 

As the story progresses, Charlotte and Jonny show trepidation in pursuing a future together even questioning their own sexuality. Howard and Lucinda, who consider themselves liberal parents, just want their daughter to be happy. We are then taken on several plot twists and turns in both Howard and Lucinda’s marriage and the lives of Jonny and Charlotte that keep the story highly engaging.

Keenly directed by Marti Lyons and smartly written by Bathsheba Doran, The Mystery of Love and Sex provides four main characters that are each appealing in their own ways. The interactions between the four is fulfilling, as it is humorous, touching and true to life. Doran’s story is that of love, whether it be unconditional or the lengths taken to find it. It is a journey into life’s most sought after desire and a tribute to accepting those for who they are.  

"I have had the pleasure of following the impressive rising careers of playwright Bash Doran and Director Marti Lyons for the past few years and I am delighted to find a project that suited both their considerable talents so perfectly," says Artistic Director Michael Halberstam.

Hayley Burgess leads the way as Charlotte with a bold performance in her Writers Theatre debut. Charlotte has many layers that are revealed throughout the play and Burgess gently takes the audience by the hand into her character’s depth one step at a time. Best friend and confidant Jonny is well-played by Travis Turner who is also able to play up to the complexities in his role with much aplomb. Lia Mortensen is just fantastic as Lucinda, delivering her witty lines to perfection and getting several laughs in the way her character struggles to quit smoking. Cast in the role of Howard is Keith Kupferer. However, Kupferer had taken ill and was unavailable for the performance I had attended thrusting Mark David Kaplan into the role, who is simply remarkable. Kaplan steers his role with grit and finesse offering the clear predictability of Howard’s stereotype, but is also able to throw in a handful of surprising moments filled with a genuineness than can catch us off guard. Kaplan and Mortensen are terrific as Charlotte’s parents, bringing forth plenty of funny exchanges and throwing several well-timed darts at each other.

There is a lot to like in Doran’s The Mystery of Love and Sex from its tantalizing script to its well-executed performances. The play delivers a solid message in a uniquely crafty way that is entertaining from beginning to end. 

Recommended. 

The Mystery of Love and Sex is currently running at Writers Theatre (325 Tudor Court, Glenview) through July 2nd. For tickets and/or more show information click here

*This play contains frontal nudity.

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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