Haven Theatre is pleased to continue its 2017-18 Season with Bertolt Brecht’s unsettling and unflinching drama FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH, translated by Eric Bentley and directed by Artistic Director Josh Sobel, playing February 8 – March 11, 2018 at The Den Theatre's Janet Bookspan Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently availale at haventheatrechicago.com
 
FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH features Joe Bianco, Amanda De La Guardia, Alys Dickerson, Elizabeth Dowling, Simon Hedger, Niko Kourtis, Kyla Norton, Siddhartha Rajan, Alexis Randolph and Jessica Dean Turner.
 
As Germany careens toward war, an entire society begins to crack, and the seeds of chaos and tragedy take root in the minds of its citizens. Josh Sobel (We're Gonna Die) helms an ensemble-driven production of Brecht's 1938 classic with a contemporary eye – a warning of how insidiously a culture can make space for atrocity, and a call to never allow it to happen again. 
 
Comments Artistic Director Josh Sobel, "As the world finds itself in the midst of its next great cultural shift, Brecht's examination of the common citizen and how a society can be led to accept the inhumane feels strikingly immediate. Brecht wrote this play reflecting and pulling back the curtain on the news of the day as it was happening around him, providing an unnerving and – in our current moment – all too important call to confront injustice as it happens and to firmly and proudly say: No. With this production we seek to serve one of Haven's core values – the Future – through an intimate and personal look at our past and how such fatal mistakes were allowed to take place."
 
The production team for FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH includes Yu Shibagaki (scenic design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design), Sarah D. Espinoza (sound design), Jeffrey Levin (original music), Sasha Smith (movement design), Abhi Shrestha (dramaturg, associate movement director), Angela Salinas (production manager), Madisen Dempsey (assistant director), Anna Sung-En Medill (assistant director) and Corbin Paulino (stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: FEAR AND MISERY IN THE THIRD REICH
Playwright: Bertolt Brecht
Translator: Eric Bentley
Director: Artistic Director Josh Sobel
Cast: Joe Bianco (Ensemble), Amanda De La Guardia (Ensemble), Alys Dickerson (Ensemble), Elizabeth Dowling (Ensemble), Simon Hedger (Ensemble), Niko Kourtis (Ensemble), Kyla Norton (Ensemble), Siddhartha Rajan (Ensemble), Alexis Randolph (Ensemble) and Jessica Dean Turner (Ensemble).
 
Location: The Den Theatre's Bookspan Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Dates: Previews: Thursday, February 8 at 8 pm, Friday, February 9 at 8 pm, Saturday, February 10 at 8 pm and Monday, February 12 at 8 pm
Regular run: Thursday, February 15 – Sunday, March 11, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm
Tickets: Previews: pay-what-you-can. Regular run $18. Tickets are currently available at haventheatrechicago.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Porchlight Music Theatre and Artistic Director Michael Weber are proud to announce the second production in its 2017 – 2018 season of Chicago’s hit musical revue series, New Faces Sing Broadway 1959, hosted by Gene Weygandt, directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo with music direction by David Fiorello, Monday, Feb. 26 at Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave in Skokie at 7:30 p.m.  In tribute to the original New Faces series that ran on Broadway and on film from 1934 – 1968, Porchlight Music Theatre created the Chicago musical revue series, New Faces Sing Broadway as a showcase for the best emerging music talent now performing on Chicago stages. Each edition is a “time–machine” journey from the start to the finish of an entire musical season from the classic days of Broadway, peppered with photos and films of the era in an exciting multimedia presentation with a favorite Chicago theatre veteran hosting and introducing the next generation of music theatre artists while acting as your guide through a vintage year on the Great White Way. Seating is general admission; tickets are $22 and are available at porchlightmusictheatre.org or from the Porchlight Music Theatre box office, 773.777.9884.

In addition to the performances on stage, the host engages the audience to sing along as the “Broadway chorus” of some of the best-known production numbers from that classic musical season and challenges them to “Name that Showtune,” a fun and fast-moving music theatre trivia game where participants win Porchlight prizes.

New Faces Sings Broadway’s spring edition celebrates the start to the finish of the year 1959 on Broadway, peppered with photos and films of the era in an exciting multimedia presentation with, Gene Weygandt, a favorite Chicago theatre veteran hosting and introducing the next generation of music theatre artists and acting as your guide through a past season on the Great White Way.
Featuring songs from A Party With Comden and Green, Destry Rides Again, Fiorello!, First Impressions, Flower Drum Song, Goldilocks, Gypsy, Juno, The Most Happy Fella, The Nervous Set, Once Upon a Mattress, Redhead, Saratoga, The Sound of Music, Take Me Along, Whoop-Up and others.

The original New Faces series via Broadway and movies was instrumental in introducing the public to emerging talent such as June Carroll, Robert Clary, Imogene Coca, Jane Connell, “Professor” Irwin Corey, Henry Fonda, Alice Ghostley, Ronny Graham, Tiger Haynes, Van Johnson, Madeline Kahn, Eartha Kitt, Robert Klein, Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde, Virginia Martin, John Reardon, Maggie Smith, Inga Swenson and many, many others.

The cast of New Faces Sing Broadway 1959 includes: Anastasia Arnold, last seen in Gypsy at Music Theatre Works; Curtis Bannister, who recently appeared in Marie Christine at BoHo Theatre; Katherine Bourne, also seen in Marie Christine;  Roy Brown, just seen in Porchlight’s Billy Elliot the Musical; Charlie Ingram, recently seen in Les Miserables at The Muny; Jacquelyne Jones, who appeared in Honky Tonk Angels at Theo Ubique; Bernell Lassai III, who is also appeared in Billy Elliot; Mallory Maedke, recently seen in Hair at The Mercury Theatre; Jeff Pierpoint, last seen in Newsies at Marriott Theatre and Maisie Rose, who appeared in Lysistrata Jones with Refuge Theatre Project. The stage manager is Joaquin Gomez.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Flying Elephant Productions is pleased to launch its inaugural season with the world premiere of WE THE PEOPLE – SONGS OF THE RESISTANCE, a political musical song cycle about the turbulent 2016 election, with six actors playing 55 characters. This powerful new musical features a book by Sean Chandler, music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz, direction by Derek Van Barham and music direction by Ty Miles. WE THE PEOPLE will play January 26 – February 10, 2018 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at stage773.com, by calling (773) 327-5252 or in person at the Stage 773 box office. 
 
WE THE PEOPLE features Dwayne Everett, Bradley Halverson, Elizabeth Rentfro, Carmen Fisher Risi, Alyssa Soto and Timothy Swaim.
 
The election of 2016: Disappointment, Chaos, Intrigue, Anger, Response! This new political musical song cycle takes audiences from the party conventions through election night and its immediate aftermath into the realization of “Trump’s America.” It all culminates with a call to action from “We The People.”
 
Comments Flying Elephant Productions Executive Director Leo Schwartz, “Often, an artist’s job is to light dark corners and elucidate a way to a new understanding of the world. We see life differently and we passionately express our vision. Whether it’s to expose the workhouses of Victorian London in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, or the ravages of the Spanish Civil War in Picasso’s Guernica, or the social upheaval of the ‘60s with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, art inspires us to reconsider, to act, to challenge. We the People is a call to action to save those things which we hold most dear, our country and our freedom.”
 
The production team to date includes: Theron Wineinger (scenic design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), G. Max Maxin IV (projections design) and Neill Kelly (stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: WE THE PEOPLE – SONGS OF THE RESISTANCE
Book: Sean Chandler
Music and Lyrics: Leo Schwartz
Director: Derek Van Barham
Music Director: Ty Miles
Cast: Dwayne Everett, Bradley Halverson, Elizabeth Rentfro, Carmen Fisher Risi, Alyssa Soto and Timothy Swaim.
 
Location: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Dates: Preview: Friday, January 26 at 8 pm
Regular run: Sunday, January 28 – Saturday, February 10, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3:30 pm. 
Tickets: Preview $30. Regular run $40. Thursdays “Industry Night” $10 with headshot/resume.
Tickets are currently available at stage773.com, by calling (773) 327-5252 or in person at the Stage 773 box office.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Tuesday, 16 January 2018 03:42

Review: Five Mile Lake at Theater Wit

With the homecoming and family-visit season safely in the rear-view, Shattered Globe presents a new play by Rachel Bonds about the places we come from. “Five Mile Lake” is directed by Cody Estle, his first production with the company.

Bonds writes about a feeling that many city transplants can relate to all too well. “I can’t believe I managed to spend 18 years there,” she says of her small hometown in the stage notes. Though Bonds seems to have escaped small town life at a young age, her script is not a snobby look down her nose at small town America, in fact, it’s almost the opposite. There’s a longing for a perceived simplicity in this play. The irony is that no matter where you live, complexity is unavoidable.

‘Five Mile Lake’ is about five characters in a town outside Scranton, at the edge a frozen lake. The symbolism is not lost. Local coffee shop coworkers Mary (Daniela Colucci) and Jamie (Steve Peebles) live fairly uneventful lives until Jamie’s older brother returns with a new girlfriend and an open-ended visit.

In many ways, this is a retelling of Chekhov’s masterpiece ‘Uncle Vanya’. Mary and Jamie seem to toil endlessly in their dismal lives. Jamie works on a lake house his brother Rufus (Joseph Wiens) and girlfriend Peta (Aila Peck) are suddenly interested in when their impressive city-life turns to shambles. Mary is bogged down by a shell-shocked brother Danny (Drew Schad), all the while dreaming of a life outside Five Mile Lake. Between these desires for other circumstances are subtle, but wholly palpable, moments of truth.

Shattered Globe is an ensemble theater and most of their productions feature familiar faces. The result is a sense of intimacy between actors that translates to an audience. There’s a naturalistic cadence to Rachel Bonds’ dialogue too. Sometimes inside-jokes or silliness between characters seems contrived on stage. Whenever Daniela Colucci is in a scene, you feel like you’ve known her all your life. There’s something really authentic going on here. Estle gets great performances out of even the smallest, non-verbal moments of the play. A scene in which Rufus and Mary’s older brother Danny run into each other after years of estrangement is so fraught that just a searching look from Drew Schad is enough to break your heart.

“Five Mile Lake” is a prime example of why you should see new work. Sometimes it’s a gamble, but other times in the middle of an ordinary Sunday you find yourself completely invested in the problems fictional characters. You take them with you, because they are you.

Through February 24th at Shattered Globe Theatre. Theater Wit. 773-975-8150

Published in Theatre in Review

Following its hit production of FOXFINDER, Interrobang Theatre Project is pleased to continue its 2017-18 Season, exploring the urgent question “What is Truth?,” with Lee Blessing's shocking and thought-provoking new play FOR THE LOYAL, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost*. FOR THE LOYAL will play January 6 – February 4, 2018 at The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 1), 2936 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.interrobangtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office. The press opening is Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm.
 
FOR THE LOYAL features ensemble members Sarah Gise* as Mia and Matthew Nerber* as Toby with Rob Frankel as Carlson, Richard Hatcher as The Boy and Josh Zagoren as Hale.
 
For Toby and Mia, college football and family are one and the same; he has a new coaching job for a top team, and they are happily expecting their first born. But when Toby gets Mia enmeshed in an unseemly team secret, she is forced to decide where her loyalties truly lie. Inspired by the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, FOR THE LOYAL takes an unconventional and provocative look at how one woman traverses a no-win situation. 
 
FOR THE LOYAL is presented as part of Interrobang's RAW Series. Think of it a bit like theatrical sashimi. Big ideas, bold flavors – everything you’ve come to expect from Interrobang Theatre Project – without the trimmings. We’ve stripped down the classic stage elements to put the story front and center. The RAW Series features passion-projects and bucket-list productions spearheaded by our talented ensemble. In addition to our regularly scheduled plays, the RAW Series aims to bring concise, actor-driven theater to the Chicago stage. 
 
In Conversation with The Playwright
Interrobang Theatre Project with host a talkback with playwright Lee Blessing on Saturday, January 6, 2018 from 4 – 5 pm. Tickets cost $10 (discussion only) or $20 (discussion plus 7:30 pm performance. For additional information, visit www.interrobangtheatre.org.
 
The production team for FOR THE LOYAL includes: Pauline Olesky (scenic design), Rebecca Bartle (lighting design), Christopher Aaron Knarr* (original music), Hannah Wolff (asst. director) and Devonte Washington (stage manager).
 
*Denotes Interrobang Theatre Project Company Member. 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: FOR THE LOYAL
Playwright: Lee Blessing
Director: Co-Artistic Director James Yost
Cast: Sarah Gise (Mia) and Matthew Nerber (Toby) with Rob Frankel (Carlson), Richard Hatcher (The Boy) and Josh Zagoren (Hale).
 
Location: The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 1), 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Dates: Previews: Saturday, January 6 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, January 7 at 2 pm
Press opening: Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Thursday, January 11 – Sunday, February 4, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm & 7:30 pm: Sundays at 2 pm. 
Tickets: Previews: $17. Regular run: $32. Students $17 with ID. (Ticket prices include $2 Athenaeum Theatre restoration fee). 
In Conversation with Playwright Lee Blessing: Saturday, January 6 from 4 – 5 pm $10 (discussion only) or $20 (discussion plus 7:30 pm performance).
Tickets are currently available at www.interrobangtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

This is Hell in a Handbag’s 15th Season and yet every year I look forward more than ever to seeing a Christmas show that's as irreverent and funny as "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer". This year Handbag's Artistic Director and writer of the original, and yearly refreshed, Christmas production, David Cerda, delivers not only his much beloved impression of Gladys Dasher with ruby red lips, jet black bouffant and commanding personality reminiscent of Joan Crawford, he also delights the audience with a spot-on characterization of Ivanka Trump (pronounced Iwanka). Cerda is a delight in this new role playing the mush-mouthed, often victimized, blonde wife of Santa Claus.

There is a wonderful rewrite of the entire opening of " Rudolph" this year regarding Trump and Iwanka and how they have affected the Gay community that resounded well with the audience and got huge laughs of recognition and applause. 

"Rudolph” is a fabulous LGBT version of the old tale where Rudolph is left out of playing reindeer games and is bullied mercilessly because he is too effeminate to pull Santa's sleigh. Along the way we meet many other characters who've been marginalized as well, like the toys banished to the island of badly built toys and even Rudolph's girlfriend Clarice who is secretly a bi-sexual feminist who is perfectly happy with Rudolph as her friend no matter what he likes to wear out in the snow, red hose and heels notwithstanding. 

There was a mix of old and new faces from Hell in a Handbag’s extremely talented singers and dancers from their  revolving base of performers and I really felt like I was seeing the finest lineup and the most energetic, funny cast of this production in past years with Graham Thomas Heacock as Rudolph, Kristopher Bottrall as Herbie, Allison Petrillo as Jane Donner, Chase Wheaton-Werle as Tom Donner, Michael Hampton as Santa, Tommy Bullington as Mrs. Claus, Sydney Genco as Elfina, Colin Funk as Spike, Michael Rawls as Score, Josh Kemper as Coach Comet, Lori Lee as Yukon Cornelia, Terry McCarthy as Connie Blitzen, David Cerda as Gladys Dasher, Christea Parent as Clarice and Matthew Sergot as Sam the Snowman.

Given that this year full of Trump's insane negativity and lawlessness is without a doubt the most frightening, turbulent New Year’s and Christmas ever for all unique individuals, from little girls to grown men and women of every race, gender and religion. Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer is the type of heart lifting entertainment full of really great laughs and gags from beginning to end that Chicago audiences need more than ever!

I highly recommend this classic hilarious tale about being who you really are and fighting back against evil that conspires to divide and punish people based on their perceived frailties for EVERYONE. If you've seen it before you must see it again because this year’s script and cast of Rudolph really delivers the heart and the funny with a comic ferocity like never before.

With a hilarious script and songs that are as relevant to our current political climate as they are funny, "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer" is being performed at Mary’s Attic through January 1st. More information on this great Chicago holiday tradition can be found at www.handbagproductions.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 08 December 2017 17:44

Review: 'Turandot' at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Finding love is hard. What someone else wants can sometimes be a riddle, but in the case of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ it’s quite literal. The Lyric Opera of Chicago welcomes back the classic Eastern-flavored piece that is new to Chicago but has previously been seen in a few other American cities. Directed by Rob Kearley, this quick opera is an intellectual alternative to the scads of warmed-over holiday specials offered by most other theaters in December.

‘Turandot’ is a somewhat culturally insensitive Chinese fairy tale. In it, Princess Turandot (sung by Amber Wagner) is a mysterious princess who asks her suitors to answer three riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in death. She goes through suitors quickly until a non-noble, Calaf (Stefano La Colla), is able to correctly guess the answers. Calaf is beloved by his father’s slave Liu (Maria Agresta), but he blindly persists in his conquest of Turandot.

While Amber Wagner is a vocal sensation, there’s something missing in her performance. Stefano La Colla on the other hand is both a fantastic vocalist as well as a convincing actor, something not exactly mutually exclusive in opera. Though, the evening’s real stand out may well be Maria Agresta who will be singing Liu for the December performance dates. Her Liu is very moving.

Puccini’s score is stunning. This is a more modern opera in that it was first presented in 1926. The rich choral arrangements and individual songs with melodies and harmonies make this sound like a traditional musical. It’s not hard to hear ‘Les Miserables’ in the large cast choruses. The music is strong enough to overshadow the none-too-subtle themes of Orientalism and misogyny.

Thankfully, the set pieces and costumes (which are mostly very tasteful) are the only uses of what some would call “yellow face.” The intricate sets designed by Allen Charles Klein are beautiful. The colors and contrasting layers are dazzling and the perfect companion to the soaring music.

‘Turandot’ was Puccini’s final work and he died before completing it. There’s a well-accepted conclusion written by Alfano based on sketches left behind. Some productions simply end where Puccini ended, but that seems a bit disappointing. Kearley opts for the Alfano conclusion. Operas can feel a little endless for the uninitiated. Have no fear, ‘Turandot’ is a swift and engrossing three hours. This is a great beginner opera for those looking to culture themselves this holiday season.

Through January 27th at Lyric Opera Chicago. 20 N Upper Wacker Dr. 312-332-2244

 

 

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

Beautiful: The Story of a Natural Woman

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

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

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

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

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

For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s fitting that the opening tune of Gobsmacked! declares, “Turn up the radio, blast your stereo right,” because the show is essentially a live jukebox. The seven performers sing and beat-box their way through songs that span the decades, from The Beatles to David Bowie to Duffy to The Black-Eyed Peas.

Hailing from the UK on its first American tour, Gobsmacked! both is and isn’t your typical a cappella show. The range of song choices is certainly wider than, say, a high school or even college a cappella show. I, for one, did not expect to hear a soulful rendition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and a boppy “Let’s Get It Started” in the same night, much less the same hour. But, the wide range of songs notwithstanding, what the show doesn’t do is go deeper.

The hour and forty-five minute performance tried have some sort of linking theme – all the performers held paper hearts at one point except for one guy's whose was cut in half and this was never explained or brought up ever again? – but ultimately failed at being something more than just a musical showcase. Which would be fine with me, I am honestly just there for the music. I would rather see that than performers awkwardly trying to act during these non-musical transitions between songs.

Related image

The cast are all incredibly talented, to be sure. The beatboxer, Ball Zee, was amazing at single-handedly holding down the backbeat of every single song as well as providing transitional sound effects. The guy can do anything, noise-wise. While all six singers sounded fantastic and on-point, I was most impressed by the redheaded Joanne Evans. The most emotive of the vocalists, I found my eye - and ear - drawn to her frequently. Everyone onstage had the chops, but Evans was the only one I actually believed. She owned her “…Man’s World” solo, and I was shook.

All in all, if you like live music, pop tunes, and a some healthy cheesiness, like moi, Gobsmacked! will fit the bill just right.

Gobsmacked is playing at the Broadway Playhouse at 175 E. Chestnut St. through Sunday. Tickets at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

A delightful winter holiday ballet staple, Joffrey’s The Nutcracker gets a make-over by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Joffrey’s Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. The all-American all-Chicago version that premiered last December at The Auditorium Theatre takes us to a very exciting time in our history: 1892, five months before the World’s Fair in Chicago is set to open (story by Brian Selznick). Though the circumstances are different, creators of the ballet kept many elements of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and most importantly, the spirit of Christmas, intact. No more rich children and their fancy Christmas party with expensive presents - we’re back to the real world. Marie is from a poor immigrant family; she lives with her widowed mother, who is a sculptress working on the golden Statue of the Republic for the Columbian Exposition, and a younger brother Franz. The construction is in full swing and employs mostly immigrants from around the world.

In Act I the workers come to Marie’s house bearing food and drink for a lively Christmas celebration. Three musicians [from the orchestra] are invited on stage to accompany the dancing, much like it would be in those days. Marie is performed by very talented Amanda Assucena, a remarkably expressive ballerina; her gestures are all we need to understand what’s happening in the story. When a mysterious man who designed The World Fair and is known as The Great Impresario (Miguel Angel Blanco), shows up at the party, he captures everyone’s imagination with his visions of the completed Fair and gives out Christmas gifts. Marie receives a toy Nutcracker, and she couldn’t be happier. When she goes to bed that night she dreams that her new favorite toy leads an army of soldiers against a pack of rats who invade their shack and are always around in the streets (doesn't that sound painfully familiar, at least to Chicago city dwellers?). After she saves her Nutcracker from being eaten by The Rat King, he promptly turns into a handsome Prince. Whimsical costumes, gorgeous set and wonderful puppetry make for very enjoyable ballet experience  and a long cast of characters danced by children adds even more charm to the ballet.

Joffrey Ballet dancers are unquestionably world class masters, and this production showcases its many talented members. Victoria Jaiani who dances the parts of both Marie’s mother and The Queen of the Fair couldn’t be any more graceful and is always quite marvelous.

In Act II Marie, the Prince and The Great Impresario sail to the World Fair in a gondola where the Queen of the Fair (Victoria Jaiani) takes them to different pavilions where countries are represented by their dances – exotic Chinese and Spanish Dances are great, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is really fun too, but then there’s the sexy Arabian Dance. Here Weeldon’s brilliant choreography is masterfully executed by Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels ; watching them dance is like eating some exquisite dessert that you wish would never end. It’s that good.

Somewhere towards the end of Second Act the drama of Tchaikovsky’s music gets lost in the romantic love dance of The Great Impresario and The Queen of Fair and leaves us longing for something else, but that’s easy to get over.

Live score is provided by Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra under Conductor/ Music Director Scott Speck.

The performance can be seen at Auditorium Theatre and runs two hours and twenty minutes and includes a twenty-minute intermission. For more information on Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker visit www.joffrey.org

Published in Dance in Review
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