It’s so easy to make comparisons with artists these days. He/she sounds like so and so, etc. My expectation before seeing Becca Stevens was to find a folk singer along the lines of the clichéd variety. I was surprised at what I found. I guess Stevens does somewhat fit into the folk category only because the industry likes to file music into genres. However, the folkie title is a bit too generic for her music.

 

Stevens is the singer/songwriter type for sure. That being said, I would consider her music to be more along the lines of eclectic pop sprinkled with some folk and almost Medieval overtones. During her recent performance in support of her latest release Regina at City Winery, I sat back, unsure of what to expect live. As l listened to Stevens’ set, I heard some very catchy melodies including those in “Queen Mab” off her latest album. Steven’s voice I might compare with someone like a Joni Mitchell, at least in terms of range, though her songs were quite different than Joni’s. I really liked the band she had, as well. Three musicians backed her up - drums, keys and bass. Stevens also played guitar – and well.

 

Steven’s ability to play guitar with such heart and technical prowess was jaw-dropping at times. I couldn’t help but notice several interesting chord voiceings and it sounded to me like she might have ventured in to some open tunings. Stevens did not perform any guitar solos. She is not that kind of player, and her music did not lack anything because of that.

 

Liam Robinson was the man on keys. He also contributed backing vocals. He played a grand piano, electric keys and accordion depending on the song. Robinson adds a very melodic element to the fold. The accordion was a nice touch and Steven’s performance had me wondering if it was not also used as a midi controller due to some of the timbres I heard.

 

Jordan Perlson played drums. A very solid pocket guy, he did not over or underplay either. He was part of what I would consider a very solid rhythm section. I consider dynamics a huge part of performing and he led the musicians in that direction very well. He knew just when to pull back when the time called. The balance of sounds has a lot to do with the man behind the kit. A live band can’t really be any better than their drummer, and in this case, they have a solid one in Perlson. 

 

My favorite part of her band was bass player Chris Tordini. He also sang along with Stevens and even pitched in with some short lead vocal lines of his own. His style was very diverse. Pick and finger styles were used along with some almost classical guitar style right hand work. Tordini complimented the dynamic drums and never overpowered the vocals.

 

The City Winery has a great system. I am not sure if the person running the board was the house guy or not. The mix was flawless, very unlike a lot of the clubs I hear in Chicago were all you hear is the bass and drums. I don’t care to much for that. I like hearing the vocals myself. I was not disappointed.

 

Becca seemed to have quite a following at City Winery, as many people were singing along with her songs. I may need to dive into some more listening from her catalog. I also thought it was very cool that she did some work with a band I highly respect, Snarky Puppy. Talented people do seem to attract one another’s attention so I shouldn’t be all that surprised. The surprise to me was that Stevens was billed as some type of roots musician. I didn’t hear that at all. I found the songs to never really sound dated. I think that title should be dismissed. I don’t like categories anyway. That always narrows the focus of the artist and the mind of the listener. Music should expand your mind, and Becca Stevens is a fine example of that notion.

 

For more info on Becca Stevens visit http://www.beccastevens.com/.

 

To check out the upcoming schedule at City Winery, visit http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/

 

Published in In Concert

King of the Yees, now playing at the Goodman Theatre through April 30, is full of laughs and wisdom. Both touching and endearing, the play - with themes of family, community and tradition - takes a look at one Chinese-American family’s attempt to bridge the generation gap.

 

Written by Lauren Yee and directed by Joshua Kahan Brody, King of the Yees features Lauren and her father Larry Yee as central characters in this off-beat, quirky, yet totally relevant production that explores the history of patriarchal family groups like the Yee Fung Toy association in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

 

King of the Yees is only kind of true—just like the stories your father once told you as a child,” said Lauren. “Growing up, I never understood what the Yee Fung Toy – a club of Yees – was, or why people were a part of it. With this play, I’ve been able to explore not only my own self-consciousness within my community, but it’s also shed light on how that is a universal experience. With every generation, there is a feeling of being unworthy and being unprepared to take up the cultural mantle. In a way, this play is a hero’s quest that celebrates those feelings of inadequacy.”

 

Established hundreds of years ago, family associations were a way to provide resources and community in the face of the discrimination that so many Chinese-American families experienced. These mainly men’s clubs became very powerful over the years. However, as a new generation began to take its place in world, these groups that limited the roles of women among other things, were often viewed as obsolete and unappealing.

 

King of the Yees examines that waning influence and the emotional impact on families in a performance that is infectious, interactive, metaphysical but always heartfelt.

 

Larry Yee, brilliantly played by Francis Jue, is the gregarious and engaging head of the Yee family association, which is dedicated to the preservation of the Yee line. Lauren (Stephenie Soohyun Park) is dismissive of the purpose and necessity of such a club and to the surprise and dismay of her father plans to move to Berlin with her Jewish husband. A disappointed Larry suddenly goes missing and Lauren’s frantic search for him takes her to an abstract world full of symbolism from the past with lessons for the future. That journey leads her not only to her father but to a better understanding of the family association and the community and traditions he is trying to preserve.

 

King of the Yees is filled with a small but versatile cast (Daniel Smith, Angel Lin and Rammel Chan) who capably play a variety of roles during the two-act production.

 

The set design is simple but effective, mainly consisting of a large ceremonial door that is very significant to the storyline. Also, the use of projections on the back wall of the stage was very creative. The design team includes William Boles (set), Izumi Inaba (costumes), Heather Gilbert (lighting), Mikhail Fiksel (sound) and Mike Tutaj (projections).  

 

Recommended.

 

King of the Yees runs through April 30 in the Owen Theatre at the Goodman. Tickets are available online at GoodmanTheatre.org/Yees.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 12 April 2017 14:27

The? Unicorn Hour? Come and Get Your Joy!

Leah Urzendowski and Anthony Courser have created a show that is part comedy, part play therapy that is truly a joy to behold. Don't skip the opening steps. When you enter the lobby, you will be asked to write down one of your fears and place it in an envelope. Then you will be asked to think of something that brings you Joy and bring that thought with you as you enter "The Joy Womb". The Neo Futurium has been cleverly lined with mismatched sheets, colored lights beneath to create a lovely, cozy joy womb effect. 

 

The? Unicorn? Hour? begins with an awesome light show in the "womb" accompanied by terrific music and sound effects to which Leah and Anthony (who are a couple in real life) enter wearing dark capes and much smoke, which is soon thrown off to show that they are actually dressed in beautifully crafted, silvery unitards as Unicorns of Joy! 

 

"The mighty rumpus that defeats the evil!" They cry out then ask if we are feeling scared, defeated etc. by what's going on in the world, inviting the audience to join them in their journey to transform fear into real joy. 

 

Both actors are fantastic physical comedians (having been creators together on the popular play "Burning Bluebeard", the unique show in which actors from the deathly 1903 Iroquois Theater fire where over 600 audience members were killed), and try to get through the show without killing their audience this time, as well. But Leah Urzendowski is a real dancer in every sense of the word, expressive, muscular, sensitive and flexible. Her dancing as the Unicorn takes the show into another realm of professionalism and put of pure clowning. 

 

There is a special guest from another show, I won't reveal because there will be a new special guest each week but this Eeyore-like character enters to the music "Lonely Boy" and the audience sees clearly that joy is a choice, as the pair tries to get him to cheer up using a bubble machine. He keeps insisting over and over, "Those bubbles are just gonna pop. There goes another one and another one, they are all popping!" 

 

There is a "swear square" where tensions are released by letting out swear words, but when Courser gets too carried away after starting off with innocent words like “dang” and “darn it” and the swearing turns mean and scary i.e. "I've got a bag of dicks and I'm going to stir it in a pot to make myself a dickwich to…," she eventually stops him. It's a tiny little feminist statement that many miss because in today's anything goes type of political correctness sometimes things just go too far in that dark "pornographic" way and women and children end up feeling threatened instead of empowered to express their own anger however gentle it may be. 

 

There is a fabulous physical bit where Courser pantomimes a journey to the top of a mountain that includes horseback riding, to flying, to parachuting to snow climbing among other fun-tastic feats. But as they both reach the top, the audience is suddenly enveloped in darkness and fear again. 

 

This is where the cast members come around and start asking us to name our fears and if we’d like to give them to the players to take away from us. Some of the fears in our audience were loneliness, fear of being alone in the dark, a pet or loved one dying, failure, never being more than I am now and drowning in cold water. But by the end of the show we are all asked to shout out our joys - the sound of a dog drinking water, a fresh piece of buttered toast, easy money, cuddling in bed all day, etc. and the room is restored to feelings of Joyous Surrender to the music and dancing these two have created. 

 

Their dance numbers really are both comical and extraordinarily demanding and professional, with the two winding about each other like seahorses made to fit as one beautiful, silvery creature with Leah's legs wrapped around Courser’s waist or even his neck as she peers out between his knees to whisper "JOY!" 

 

I have to say this is the MOST fun and joy I have had in recent years at any comedy in Chicago and promising an audience as stressed out as Chicago audience members are now by the political disasters and death unfolding around us every day, delivering a dose of real JOY in the theater world, is a REAL achievement! 

 

I highly recommend this hilarious, thought-provoking and most of all FUN, delightful, refreshing, exciting, comforting and colorful piece of work to anyone who is seeking to remember how to have a little joy in their lives right NOW. 

 

The? Unicorn? Hour? Runs just over an hour and is currently being performed at the Neo Futurium in Andersonville through May 13th (hopefully an extension will take place). For tickets and more show information visit www.neofuturist.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

If you’ve followed Netflix’s big 2016 hit Stranger Things, this play will make all kinds of sense. You’ll get the jokes, the 80’s references and will easily follow the story line. If you haven’t seen the series, it would be recommended that you do before checking out Random Acts and Greenhouse Theater’s collaboration, Strangest Things! The Musical

Spoofing one of the most talked about sci-fi series to hit the airwaves over the past few years, Strangest Things! follows the disappearance of Will Byers, a young boy in Hawkins, Indiana. Set in the 1980’s, his mother Joyce Byers, brother Johnathan and a group of Will’s friends search everywhere to no avail, eventually enlisting the help of Police Chief, David Harbour. When a young girl known as “Eleven” appears from seemingly nowhere dressed in only a hospital gown, it is soon discovered she has psychokinetic abilities and things start to get weird. 

Befriended by Will’s friends, Eleven is able to contact Will from the other side and it becomes apparent that things are not at all what they seem. Joyce believes Will is contacting her from another dimension, his energy channeled through the radio and a string of Christmas lights, confident he is alive but trapped in another world. Of course, this sounds crazy – or is it? And with every good sci-fi thriller there needs to be a villain, so it’s soon discovered an experimental laboratory, led by scientist Martin Brenner, may have a hand in Will’s disappearance. Suspicious, the snooping begins and the plot gets deeper and deeper as the story progresses.  

The series won its popularity not only with its engaging storyline, but with the heavy use of 80’s music and sound effects, making it prime parody material.

That’s where Strangest Things! comes in. 

While Strangest Things! The Musical hits on some of the 80’s silliness and occasionally finds success in its over-the-top lampooning of the series’ characters, it struggles to hold onto its momentum. Taking popular 80’s hits like “Xanadu”, “I’m A Virgin”, “Sweet Dreams” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”, writers Bryan Renaud and Emily Schmidt change the lyrics to accommodate the storyline in the play. While the lyrics are, at times, funny, the execution falls a bit flat, the harmonies weak and the vocals often lacking strength, excluding Molly Lecaptain as “Juice” (Joyce) Byers who can flat out belt. We almost wonder if the play would have been better without the musical numbers, the dialogue exchanges drawing the most laughs along with the character exaggerations of each.

Lecaptain does a good job in taking on Winona Ryders’ character, over-amplifying her panic-stricken, bewildered and frenzied traits at just the right intensity, while Kevin O’Connell as “Sheriff Hopper” (Police Chief David Harbour) also takes his role and runs with it. Will’s best friend Mike is played by Jenna Fawcett, who doesn’t have to do much more than wear a goofy wig to get a chuckle but also delivers plenty of funny lines and loopy expressions. Older brother “Johnathan” is played by Ben F. Locke, who doubles as hunky high school heart throb Steve. Locke’s performance offers some of the best camp-dom in the musical, leaving more “Johnathan” scenes to be highly desired. Their comedic ability is only limited by the play’s script.

The play starts strong as we meet our characters the first time around (especially “Barb” played by Christian Sibert), but the humor becomes predictable, the character’s freshness soon overplayed and the jokes often coming off as contrived or overdone, a perfect example being Hopper’s mention of T.J. Hooker – which was funny – until he points out to the audience that we should laugh because he made an obscure 80’s reference. We know.    

If you enjoyed the Netflix series, there might be just enough in Strangest Things! to like despite its many missed opportunities for witty, comedic growth. The idea is there but the play could use a reworking to give its audience the most bang for their buck.            

Lukewarm, the play has severe hits and misses, some jokes really creative while others falling flat. As a whole, the story might be a bit tough to piece together without having seen the series, as it is presented somewhat scattered without full explanation, so again, it is recommended you watch Stranger Things first.  

Strangest Things! The Musical is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through May 13th. For more information on this production, visit www.greenhousetheater.org.

*This show has now been extended through July 8th.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Maybe we can chalk it up to a mid-life crisis…or, maybe, Wheeler is just a self-loathing man who’d just assume sabotage his own happiness rather opting to wallow in self-pity. In Steppenwolf’s Linda Vista, a new play debut by Tracy Letts and directed by Dexter Bullard, we get a very funny, and highly realistic, account of a man who has seemingly given up on life and love.

Wheeler (Ian Bradford) has moved from a cot in his wife’s garage to his own apartment in the Linda Vista apartment complex. With a soured marriage and an estranged relationship with his son coming to an end, Wheeler has the opportunity to start fresh, but that’s much more difficult than it sounds – at least it is for him. As we get to know Wheeler, a former Sun-Times photographer with promise who now holds onto a routine job as a camera repairman, we see someone who has been riddled with repercussions that have stemmed from a series of poor choices. Wheeler resents his soon-to-be-ex-wife for having him leave his Chicago life for California to be closer to her family. He resents his son for - well, just getting in the way of his life. He resents happy people. Hell, he resents Radiohead. But Wheeler has accepted his current situation – a cynical alcoholic that shoots down other people’s hopes and dreams, believing he is a “piece of shit” who “doesn’t deserve to be happy”. 

Wheeler’s best friend Paul (Tim Hopper) and his wife Margaret (Sally Murphy), friends from their college days, haven’t given up on him. They want to find him a partner who can bring out the old Wheeler who once had dreams and ambitions himself. When Paul and Margaret set Wheeler up with a friend of theirs, Jules (Cora Vander Broek), who is bright and bouncy, Wheeler reluctantly accepts and, as you can probably imagine, he has a few skeptical things to say after finding out she is a life coach. This, of course, threatens a man who wants a simple, joyless existence. Complicating matters for Wheeler, he takes in Minnie (Kahyun Kim), a twenty-four-year old rockabilly enthusiast recently kicked out of her own apartment in the same complex by her abusive boyfriend. 

The play is very truthful. It is about regret, wrecked opportunities and the consequences of unfortunate decisions. It is about letting oneself spin out of control, essentially giving up, and the struggle to choose happiness - a challenge when becoming so distant. But is also about hope and the chance to change for the better. In Wheeler, we are given a lovable “asshole” that we must root for. 

Ian Barford is tremendous as Wheeler. Barford quickly draws in the audience, grabs them and never lets go. Convincing, humorous and often decidedly heartfelt, Barford captures the essence of his self-deprecating character so well, we can’t help but think of a few “Wheeler’s” we know ourselves. Tim Hopper does fine work and is believable as Wheeler’s tolerable, but supportive, best friend as does Sally Murphy, both nicely adding to the play’s humor (I’ll just say karaoke bar scene). 

While Kahyun Kim is brassy and nails the too-cool-for-school attitude as Minnie, Cora Vander Broek is sparkles as Jules, perfectly pairing with Barford as his counterpart in a true positive/negative kind of relationship. We are also taken to the camera shop where Wheeler plugs away all day fixing one camera after another under the supervision of his crass boss Michael (Troy West), who is just waiting for a sexual harassment lawsuit to be filed against him as he repeatedly gawks and spews inappropriate comments at his clerk, Anita (Caroline Neff).

A revolving set takes us inside Wheeler’s California apartment, his workplace and to a bar. He lives simply, and that’s all he wants, DVDs of Stanley Kubrick littering his media stand and a refrigerator most likely only filled with a couple six-packs and a box of Arm & Hammer.   

Linda Vista is a well-acted ride into Wheeler’s uncertainties on turning fifty with the realization that his best years have long since passed. It is a play equipped with a stellar cast, a very funny script that is also genuine and even moving at times and direction that is so precise we can easily identify with each of Letts’ characters. 

Very highly recommended. 

Linda Vista is being performed at Steppenwolf Theatre through May 21st. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org

*Note – This play does contain full frontal nudity and sexual simulation. 

*Extended through May 28th 

Published in Theatre in Review

Not cool enough to join “Tinder Select”? Gorilla Tango Originals has got you covered with its late-night offering that gets hot and heavy about the good, the bad, and the down-right dirty sides of dating apps: “Love Me Tinder: Swipe Right.”

“Love Me Tinder: Swipe Right,” by J. Joseph Cox and directed by Taylor Pasche, performs Wednesdays at 8:00pm in April and 9:30pm in May, April 5-May 24, 2017 at Gorilla Tango Theatre (1919 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago IL 60647). Tickets are $20. Please visit www.gorillatango.com or call 773-598-4549 for tickets and more information. 

Scruff, Grindr, Tinder, OkCupid... one goal: find a connection, whether that be through a good f&*k or a sweet date.  “Love Me Tinder: Swipe Right” follows a group of well-seasoned dating app-ers educating a newbie on the finer points of app-based dating. Raunchy hook-ups? Fee-for-service sexual favors? Flirting on CB radio? Check, check, and check. Who needs “love at first sight?” Just be wary of kitten-of-the-month calendars. This series of salaciously hilarious vignettes, based on real life stories, explores the good, the bad, and the creepy in what has become dating life’s new normal. Definitely for mature audiences!

Playwright J. Joseph Cox has had work produced across the U.S. as well as in the U.K. and Canada. He is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America and has been named a Finalist for both the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference as well as the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship. In speaking about the origin of the show, Cox says, “All of the stories are based on real life situations gathered from friends, acquaintances, and co-workers, as well as a few gems from Reddit subgroups. Truth is stranger than fiction, especially in the world of app-based dating. We’re all creeps - embrace it.”

Director Taylor Pasche continues, “The show is bawdy, candid, and up-close-and-personal about sex. You’ll laugh at the absurdity. You’ll laugh at the relatability. You'll leave contemplating what it means to have a relationship face-to-face versus screen-to-screen.”

Gorilla Tango Theatre (GTT) exists to provide entertainment people actually want to see. GTT believes that every theatre person is a business person; it seeks to educate, foster, and provide resources to theatre practitioners so that each theatre production is treated as an entrepreneurial venture. GTT is conveniently located at the intersection of Western and Milwaukee in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood and is easily accessible by public transportation (just steps away from the Western Blue Line stop and the #49 Western, #73 Armitage and #56 Milwaukee buses). Street parking is also readily available. GTT offers a variety of affordable beer and wine for purchase. Consult the website for show rating information, tickets, and details.

www.gorillatango.com | 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 | 773-598-4549

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre welcomes back one of Chicago’s own, Sarah Ruhl.  “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” is a new play making its Midwestern debut at Theater Wit. Ms. Ruhl is one of the country’s foremost playwrights right now. She has another new play, “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,” currently running at the Lincoln Center in New York. Her work is often produced in Chicago usually directed by her friend Jessica Thebus. This is an especially personal production for Ruhl as it stars her own mother (Kathleen Ruhl) in the title role. 

 

No, this is not another warmed over incantation of the JM Barrie fairy tale. While somewhat influenced by the source material, “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” is a very realistic story of five siblings grappling with the death of their father. What begins in a depressing hospital room, moves to a whiskey-soaked conversation between siblings that eventually turns into a make-believe version of Peter Pan. 

 

At its core, this is a play about love. There are plenty of plays about dysfunctional families, and this isn’t one of them. What it boils down to are five adult children trying to pinpoint a time when they felt their father’s love. These siblings have differing political beliefs and Ruhl’s apt commentary about our current climate is especially sharp, without being polarizing. There’s a great deal of truth in the courtesy her characters show for one another’s opinions. She also spends a great deal of the play dissecting the role of Catholicism and whether or not there is an afterlife. Despite the volley of bittersweet and at times painful memories of their childhood, these characters love each other and that is felt in the dialogue and performances. 

 

Kathleen Ruhl is adorable as the oldest sister and former Peter Pan star, Ann. Perhaps it’s her relation to the playwright, or her commitment to character, but Kathleen Ruhl makes the audience question how much of this work is fiction and how much is fact? Eileen Niccolai, a Shattered Globe ensemble member, provides a lot of the humor, but also some of the more heartfelt moments as youngest sister Wendy. All the siblings are named for Peter Pan characters, which underscores Sarah Ruhl’s point that with their parents gone, they are orphans now and need to grow up. 

 

Like any Sarah Ruhl work, there is a great deal of whimsy. With each new work, Ruhl continues to keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds. “For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” is both prolific in its subject matter and also aesthetically striking it its presentation. The reality of the situation and the poignancy of the lines allows the audience to trust their narrator and fly when the time comes. 

 

Shattered Globe’s “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday is being performed at Theater Wit at 1229 W Belmont (773.975.8150) and has been extended through May 27th. 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 06 April 2017 18:41

The Magical Splendor of Cavalia’s Odysseo

One might be unsure of what to expect from a show featuring 65 horses and 48 artists, but the mystical grandeur of Odysseo by Cavalia leaves one feeling awe and in disbelief of the athletic feats and performance they have just witnessed. Set to live musical performances of a band and live singers, Odysseo takes the audience on a journey through different lands, cultures, seasons, and across land, water and air to display the astonishing talents of the horses, riders and acrobats. Hailed as “The Best Show Ever”, Cavalia is a performance like no other seen in the past. 

 

Sitting under a Big Top as large as a football field, everyone is anxious to see the first horses enter the scene, and once that happens the crowd is giddy with delight as they gallop across the stage. It is wonderful to be in the presence of such beautiful horses and one can’t help but feel lucky enough to be near them and imagine brushing their beautiful manes. An incredible amount of talent is demonstrated through each routine. The horses also display their personalities through their interactions together, sometimes even picking on each other in the middle of the act as if to say, “Hey! That’s where I’m supposed to stand!” 

 

Some of the most daring parts of the show establish the bond between the artists and horses. This bond is very apparent throughout each act as they work together to perform many stunts and dances in unison. Riders often appear hanging from the side, underneath, or standing on top of a galloping horse. The timing alone is so crucial for the stunts and the trust between the horse and performer is palpable. 

 

The acrobatic feats of the performers is one, no, two steps beyond what one might have seen from other troupes. Angel-like Aerialists are kept grounded via their flowing aerial silks to horses and riders below who are guiding them in a circle while they float, spin and wrap themselves in a dance that could only be done in the air. Phenomenal acrobats flip across the stage, across each other, and often on top of each other forming human steeples and pyramids that look like one person is entirely supporting at the bottom of the steeple. Performers wearing spring-legs are human kangaroos often jumping as high and as far as the horses. The strength and agility of the performers during the act "Carosello" is breathtaking, the piece completely unique to Cavalia. Incorporating a spinning carousel suspended from the top of the set, acrobats are dancing together on the moving poles demonstrating immense strength and teamwork that is disguised with graceful, flowing moves, sometimes looking effortless.

The set by Guillaume Lord is magnificent and plays like a main character throughout the show. The depth that is created through use of video screens, lighting, and a stage that slopes down from the height of three stories, creates a vast landscape that is used to tell stories with a cinema-like quality. Horses and riders arrive from distant mountains and are most stunning in the act "Travellers". Water is brought to the set through creating rain and a pond that helps highlight the very talented prancing horse, accentuating the performance of acrobats and the stunts riders perform on the galloping horses. The large screens display video creating a layered backdrop and the use of lighting helps to fashion different textures on the ground that takes us to many different landscapes, producing a mystical world where horses, riders and acrobats live in harmony while creating art. 

 

Under the Artistic Direction of Normand Latourelle and the Direction of Wayne Fowkes, Odysseo by Cavalia will transform your expectations of shows of similar caliber. It is an inimitable experience that gives the audience the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular performance like no other that demonstrates agility and grace through cooperation and trust. It is a must see along with anything that Cavalia creates in the future. 

The horses in Cavalia are used from all parts of the world including Spain, France, Germany, Australia, The United States and Canada with breeds ranging from Arabian, Appaloosa, Lustitano and Holsteiner to name a few. Well cared for, a 20-person team comprised of trainers, veterinarians, groomers and health technicians travel with the show. To stay in tip-top shape, the horses go through a daily stretching and gymnastic routine daily. And no need to worry as the horses are well fed, receiving eight healthy meals per day with special treats (carrots and apples) given to each on Sunday evenings. In fact, each horse has a diet based on its individual needs. 

 

The human performers are also well-traveled, coming from Italy, Brazil, the United States, Russia, France, Guinea, Poland, Canada and Ukraine as nine languages are spoken at Odysseo.

 

Visually stimulating, adventurous, spectacular and one of the most original shows to come through Chicago in years, Cavalia is a family-friendly show that people will be talking about for some time. 

 

Odysseo by Cavalia will be performing under the Big Top located in the South Lot of Soldier Field through April 23rd (now extended to June 3rd). Tickets are available at www.cavalia.com or calling 866.999.8111. Special pricing and packages are available or groups. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Some of us are born with a passion, a passion for music or art or math. In the case of First Folio’s Silent Sky, one woman gives up almost everything in her personal life because she senses furiously, in her heart, that HER passion is going to lead to a discovery that will help all of humankind. This special woman, Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), turns out be absolutely correct. 

 

Like the popular film "Hidden Figures", the 2011 play Silent Sky by playwright Lauren Gunderson, now making it's Chicago Premiere, tells a very important real life example of how women have been making significant contributions to Science and the Arts against almost impossible odds due to sexism in the work place. Leavitt is wonderfully played with a great zesty and nerdy enthusiasm by Cassandra Bissell who adds just the right amount of seditious touch to the headstrong and very determined character. She is one of the women termed "computers" by their male employers who has been given the great "honor" of painstakingly cataloging all the stars in the sky captured on glass plates by a telescope. As a new employee, she is never allowed to operate the high-powered telescope or use privately her own ideas to validate her own discoveries while earning a whopping $.25 an hour. 

 

Leavitt is a proud, brilliant Radcliffe graduate. She jokes with her male supervisor Peter Shaw (keenly played by Wardell Julius Clark) that she and he are in fact "colleagues" that "Radcliffe is basically Harvard in skirts." As they fall in love with each other, he begins to soften on some of his more sexist behaviors including "borrowing" ideas from Leavitt to give to the professor (to whom she will never directly report) her discoveries by trying to claim them as his own. Leavitt is hired as one of Harvard astronomer Dr. Edward Charles Pickering's "computers" or, as they were referred to as "Pickering's Harem”.

 

Leavitt's work came at a time when we as earthlings had no idea where we were located in the Milky Way nor did we know how far away the billions of stars and galaxies made visible by the super powerful new telescope really are from our planet. Leavitt observes closely the luminosity of a class of stars known as Cepheid variables. Others had thought their flashes of light completely random, but through years of study and an epiphany provided by her musically inclined sister, Margaret (Haley Rice), who is composing a symphony in between giving birth to multiple children, Leavitt discovers that the stars are actually making sounds, a music of the stars. This eventually provided the ONLY key to measuring the distance between Earth and other galaxies. Creating the standard to measure the distance of stars from Earth, many male astronomers like Edwin Hubble greedily feasted on her published work to make names for themselves but poor Henrietta dies of cancer before one of them finally realizes she deserves to be nominated for, and win, the Nobel Prize - but the Nobel is not given posthumously and so she was never even nominated for it. 

 

Annie Cannon (Jeannie Affelder) and Willamina Fleming (Belinda Bremner) play her fellow "computers" with a lusty, strong intelligence. The three characters develop a genuine family, a sisterhood, believing in Henrietta and encouraging her to take her work home with her (the glass plates are not allowed to leave the observatory) even when she is forced to move home to Wisconsin to take care of her dying father. 

 

In the end, Henrietta gives up a promising offer of marriage to Shaw, the chance to have children of her own, and even her dream of traveling the world in order to complete her work. 

 

Although I thought the gray monotone set in the chapel at Mayslake Peabody Estate was awfully depressing and didn't change enough to give us the sense of her whole life passing through it's dull indistinguishable doors, we are finally rewarded with the lighting display and music at the end of the show thanks to John "Smooch" Medina's projections, combined with Michael McNamara's lights and Christopher Kriz's musical score. The entire effect was spectacular, almost as if we are finally able to see the universe through Henrietta's passionate, intelligent eyes.   

 

There really needs to be more biographical plays like this one written with respect and sympathy about women who have changed our place in the world for the better - forever. It is a terrible waste of human intelligence and a dirty shame that if you mention the name Henrietta Swan Leavitt to anyone girl child or even adult today that her life will ring no bells, her name strike no sense of recognition, gratefulness ignored for the contributions she made and the doors she broke down for female scientists to come. 

 

Touching, beautiful and inspiring.

 

I highly recommend this thoughtful, poetic and understanding production for showing that some women will give up everything for the love of their work and dedication to humanity. Remembering theses outstanding individuals inspires and empowers us all, male or female, to chase our dreams to the end. 

Superbly directed by Melanie Keller, Silent Sky is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 30th. For more information on this wonderful show or to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Giordano dance Chicago has opened its 2017 season with its Spring Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Divided into six distinct pieces, the show is a high energy celebration of jazz dance; it’s well polished, exciting and expressive. Not a word is spoken, but each piece tells a story so vividly that one might wonder why we would need the spoken language after all.  Opening with ‘’Grusin Suite’’, featuring former Giordano Dance Chicago dancer and River North Dance Chicago Artistic Director Frank Chaves, it’s a 1993 re-staging set to the soundtrack for the film “The Firm”. Fluidity of the dance is complemented by the flowing fabrics of the uniform - like costumes of the dancers (costume design by Branimira Ivanova). The costumes are kept very simple throughout the show, and so nothing detracts from the dancers often moving in unison, always with intention and precision, and there’s always a story being unwrapped. After Grusin Suite comes dark Divided Against - A place painted is decidedly hostile with male dancers wearing robes and acting subservient to the female dancers, who are erect and unemotional. Choreographed by Peter Chu, music by Djeff Houle. Next comes blissfully tribal A Ritual Dynamic. Deeply satisfying both visually and auditorily, it’s Avatar-like in its feel. Choreographed by Jon Lwhrer, music by White Derbakeh and DJ Disse. 

After intermission we’re treated to Sneaky Pete, choreographed by Brock Clawson, music by Kerry Muzzey, Abel Korzeniowski, and Adam Crystal. A lot going on here: mating game between two dancers with the girl pursing the boy, while the rest of the troupe is “living their normal life”, a.k.a., dancing beautifully, of course. It ends with the boy upsetting the girl and suffering the consequences by getting ostracized by the rest of the troupe (the “society”?). Or, at least, that was my interpretation. I invite the reader to make their own impression. Next piece is a gorgeous The Man That Got Away, a 1990 classic. The girl wants a man, but he’s is indifferent. She tries many things: affection, seduction, reason, arguing, but nothing will melt his heart.  Set to Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin music performed by Judy Garland, it’s choreographed by Sherry Zunker. Featuring dancer Ashley Downs. Fun Fact: Sherry Zunker has gifted The Man That Got Away to Giordano Dance Chicago in honor of legendary Gus Giordano. It’s sexy and compelling; an absolute delight!

Last, but not least, is a world premiere of a dance called Lost in this World. Choreographed by Liz Imperio, who is hailed as choreographer to the stars. Her credits include the staging and choreography for Jennifer Lopez’s world tour “Dance Again” and directing/choreographing of three of Gloria Estefan’s world concert tours and two world tours for Madonna. Set to music by Ed Sheeran/Steve Mac/Johnny McDaid, and Raury Tullis, Lost in this World is very youthful.  Beautifully danced by the lead woman Maeghan McHale and lead men Devin Buchanan and Adam Houston.

The Giordano Dance Chicago Spring Series is performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on Giordano Dance Chicago visit http://giordanodance.org/.  

 

Published in Dance in Review

 

 

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