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Ken Payne

Ken Payne

With back-to-back sold out performances, Steely Dan triumphantly returned to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where their smooth, jazzy and blues influenced rock echoed through the park, causing even the farthest picnickers from the stage to get up and sway to the music. Fronted now by just Donald Fagen (keys and vocals) and Walter Becker (guitar), the two co-founders who met at Bard College and put Steely Dan into action in 1972, the "the perfect musicalantiheroesfor the Seventies", as Rolling Stone Magazine once called them, rolled through each song with expected precision and the same good time feel that fans have become ever familiar with over the years.

Accompanied by what Becker proudly hailed as his “all-time favorite Steely Dan forever band”, the ensemble included a complete horn section, additional keys and guitar, a trio of background singers who impressed more and more with each number, drummer Keith Carlock and Freddie Washington (no, not the one from Welcome Back, Kotter) on bass. The highly talented Carlock and Washington kept the rhythm flowing at a perfect pace allowing the other members to effortlessly glide in and out over their rock-solid foundation. Becker and Fagen allowed band members to highlight their skills, not only during a full on introduction but also in many of the songs. For example, saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, amongst others, would occasionally walk from their designated area to front center stage and rip out some amazing riffs.  

The band started the night out with the Oliver Nelson cover “Teenie’s Blues” before Becker and Fagen walked onto the stage to the loud cheers of the pavilion audience and joined in for their first crowd pleaser “Black Cow”. As the show progressed, Steely Dan went on to play many of their classics including “Hey Nineteen”, “Godwhacker” “Babylon Sisters”, the Joe Tex cover “I Want To (Do Everything for You)” and “Peg”. Fagen’s vocals and keys were as sharp as ever – even his occasional piano flute thingy playing was entertaining. The band also played a very inspired version of “Dirty Work” with backup singer Carolyn Leonhart taking over on leads vocals on the track made famous by former member David Palmer.

Trying to enhance the mood of the evening even more so, Becker interrupted the music to address the crowd for several minutes, rambling on about this and that and encouraging everyone to grab their partners on the way home and pull over in the woods for some after show romancing.  

Closing out the set, Steely Dan went into what might be considered the band’s biggest hit “Reelin’ in the Years” where Carlock added to the song by going into a blazing drum solo. After a two minute absence the band returned to the stage to finish the night off with “Kid Charlemagne” with Fagen and Becker walking off immediately afterward, Fagen waving and Becker in an exaggerated strut, where the remainder of the musicians provided exit music to the tune of Nelson Riddle’s “The Untouchables”.

With the night was a clear and balmy seventy-eight or so degrees and the music sending fans on a mellow journey down memory lane, Steely Dan provided a night of memorable entertainment that fans can only hope will return next season.    

For upcoming Ravinia show information, visit www.ravinia.org

Throughout the years, we have seen all kinds of homages to Elvis Presley whether it be Elvis impersonators, biographical films, Elvis night at U.S. Cellular Field and, of course, theatrical productions. Of these few tribute samples, some are serious and sensitive while others more tongue-in-cheek. “All Shook Up”, a musical using the music of Elvis, is definitely the latter. Now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, “All Shook Up” is a story about an Elvis-alike roustabout who comes across a square town where the tightly-wound mayor has unjustly imparted laws against innocent activities such as kissing in public and dancing or the interracial mixing of partners. Though the plot line is as silly as it gets with unlikely, but still predictable love stories breaking out everywhere, it is hard not to be entertained by the music alone.

David Sajewich plays our hero Chad, the leather jacket clad bad-boy drifter with greased back hair who hops from town to town via his motorcycle with the purpose of challenging authority by infusing fun and excitement into boring and restricted communities. Sajewich is very funny in the role, ever so naturally delivering spot on physical comedy and one hilarious line after another. He also sings several Elvis classics with a good deal of enthusiasm, his vocals finding suitable range for each number despite not having the most powerful of voice. In the show’s opening number, “Jailhouse Rock” we quickly realize Sajewich will not be attempting to sound like Elvis Presley opting to use his own singing voice (writer or director’s choice?), leaving a small amount of disappointment for those who had hoped the story’s character so obviously designed around Elvis would kind of sound like him, if even in a comical way.

Like Abba’s music in Mamma Mia! or Green Day’s in American Idiot, the music of Elvis Presley is transformed into massive stage numbers with changing leads, large choruses and big time dance choreography. It was also refreshing to see such an obscure choice of Elvis Presley songs used for this production rather than only the obvious choices. “All Shook Up” included favorites like “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, Can’t Help Falling in Love”, "A Little Less Conversation” and “It’s Now or Never” but also added lesser known songs (at least outside the Elvis world) such as “Follow that Dream”, “C’mon Everybody”, “Devil in Disguise” and a heartfelt rendition of “If I Can Dream”.

Outside of the campy over-the-top story that is on the borderline of ridiculousness, despite its borrowed storylines from Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night," "As You Like It" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream", “All Shook Up” includes several likeable characters that are fun to watch and listen to, especially Bethany Thomas (Sylvia) with her gutsy and very impressive singing voice. Callie Johnson also shows off her comic and singing ability as tomboy motorcycle mechanic Natalie Hallow who is crushing hard on Chad while Justin Brill as the geeky, love stricken Dennis is also enjoyable to watch. Matthias Austin gets some of the biggest laughs as Natalie’s square turned rocker father Jim, as deserved, but Sharriese Hamilton (Lorraine) might just have the best comic timing of the bunch.

Cheesy story and all, “All Shook Up” is a very entertaining show with great music, charm and lots of very funny moments. It’s always nice to see the music of Elvis passed on to new generations and this show is a perfect tool for doing so, as it is a production suitable for all ages alike.    

The rock n’ roll hit Broadway musical “All Shook Up” is being performed at Theatre at the Center through August 16th Wednesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.theatreatthecenter.com

Set beneath the stars on the beautiful grounds that encompass the ever-impressive Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, Illinois, First Folio Theatre Company continues its rich tradition in bringing engaging, well-acted and provocative stage performances to life that can be enjoyed by most every type of theatre goer. This year’s summer production is no less entertaining as William Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale” takes to the outdoor stage - the story of a king who pays the consequences for being too quick to judge others.

Just a short walk from the mansion itself, the stage sits affront a handful of chairs and plenty of green to throw down a blanket in order to enjoy a picnic beforehand and then lie back and take in the show. Outdoor plays on the grounds have been taking place since 1997 and as one employee quotes, “It’s like Ravinia, only with closer parking.” And as for pesky mosquitos – not to worry – complimentary bug spray is available if needed along with insect repelling candles strategically placed around the lawn.

“The Winter’s Tale” begins when King Leonetes, in a fit of paranoid jealousy, wrongfully alleges his wife of having an affair with the visiting King of Bohemia, Polixenes. Standing true to his misguided accusations, his life slowly unravels as be becomes responsible for the death of his wife after deporting their newborn child to which he believes is a bastard and, in the process, also loses Camillo, his closest friend, advisor and confidant. When a shepherd stumbles upon Leonetes’ daughter, a new life in a new kingdom awaits her – that Kingdom being Bohemia. Fate takes an unpredicted turn. As she, now named Perdita, gets older, love blossoms between she and a Bohemian prince, Florizel, son of Polixenes. It is much later and with much regret for his wrongful actions that Leonetes tries to find redemption for the things he has done. Though we ask ourselves if it is too late for the remorseful king.

Kevin McKillip is powerful as the wayward king, Leonetes. With a very strong stage presence and Shakespearean dialogue delivered with such emphatic passion to the letter, McKillip is a true pleasure to watch. Kyle Haden as Camillo and Diana Coates as the queen’s trustful aide, Paulina, also give hard-hitting, jaw-dropping performances as does Ryan Czerwonko (Florizel), Kevin Theis (Polixenes) and Melissa Carlson (Queen Hermoine). Thankfully, the entire cast pulls their weight and then some.

Finely directed by Jeff Award-nominee Alison C. Vesely, “The Winter’s Tale” is the perfect outdoor treat as the story is intriguing from beginning to end, the set elaborate, the costumes colorful and the acting par for the course.

First Folio Theatre’s “The Winter’s Tale” is being performed through August 9th during its annual outdoor Shakespearean Under the Stars series on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Mansion. For tickets and/or more event information visit www.firstfolio.org

Tuesday, 07 July 2015 00:00

Brian Wilson Brings History to Ravina

It’s always nice to watch a legend perform, especially when that legend is considered a revolutionary force in the music industry as we now know it. This was the case last evening when Brian Wilson, co-founder of the surf rock band, The Beach Boys, took the stage at Ravinia. Complimented by original Beach Boys’ member Al Jardine and a large band that included more recent writing partner Scott Bennett on keyboards and even Blondie Chaplin on a handful of songs, Wilson’s sound was full and the peachy keen harmonies ever so familiar done to perfection.  

Planted behind a large white grand piano, Wilson and friends immediately kicked it into high gear with “Heroes and Villains”. Though Wilson has long since abandoned the high voice synonymous with The Beach Boys sound, he was still able to carry a tune and did get a lot of help from band members when it came to harmonies and surrendered a handful of leads throughout the evening.

SAM 0382One brilliant piece of music history was performed after another. “California Girls”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “I Get Around”, “In My Room” – so simplistic, yet so genius. In all, over thirty songs were played, mostly Beach Boys’ songs but also a couple Wilson had comprised for his own solo career, including “One Kind of Love”. Wilson also admirably handled leads on a few songs done by former Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Mike Love. 

Interestingly enough, just before playing “Surf’s Up”, a classic ballad about guess what – surfing, Wilson stated to the crowd that the song was his least favorite to play live, leaving us fans thinking, “Well, why are you playing the song then? You have a million to choose from.” Kind of a weird moment, but what would a Brian Wilson show be without one. Nonetheless, each song was played inspired and with vigor and that’s all you can really ask for when someone has been performing the same songs for nearly fifty years.

The set continued with greats like “Darlin’” (dedicated to the late Carl Wilson), “Sloop John B”, “Don’t Worry Baby” and a beautiful version of “God Only Knows”. “Since you loved that song so much, we’re going to give you some “Good Vibrations”, Wilson declared as they went into the song.  

After a brief departure from the stage, the band returned to knock out five hits without pause – “All Summer Long”, Help Me, Rhonda”, “Barbara Ann”, Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. The energy on stage was at its highest during the multitude of encore numbers, as Wilson raised his hands to simulate surfing and band members ran back and forth from one end to the other. It was certainly a high note to end the show with when Wilson opted to rather end the night with the much lower-keyed “Love and Mercy” in promotion of the latest film on Brian Wilson – Love and Mercy.         

All in all, Brian Wilson and band played an enthusiastic set, each song as polished and youthful as ever. What is better than sitting back on a balmy summer night and listening to Beach Boys classics sung by Brian Wilson himself?

Even the opening act was inspiring as the night began with Rodriguez, the musician featured in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Rodriguez is an amazing musician who became huge in other parts of the country, particularly South Africa, and never even knew he had achieved any fame at all. In fact, most presumed he was dead. Rodriguez, aided by just his trusty guitar, warmed the crowd nicely, tapping into “Sugar Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and a peppy cover of “Fever”. With little words Rodriguez preached against violence towards women and reminded us that hate is too much of a powerful emotion to be wasted on those we do not like.

For upcoming events at Ravinia, visit www.Ravinia.org.

   

When first looking at the Ravinia double bill of Blondie and Melissa Ethridge, one might have asked, “What are they thinking?” “How can those two so very different genres of music be paired together?” Well, they were - and it was somehow perfect. Each playing somewhere in the neighborhood of a ninety-minute set, the two bands each provided their own energetic performance not to be soon forgotten.

ethridgeMelissa Ethridge took to the stage first with her raspy vocals and guitar driven rock to the tune of “If I Wanted To” followed without pause into “No Souvenirs”. Ethridge’s energy matched her immense talent leaving little doubt her place in the world of pop-based folk-rock. The two-time Grammy Award winner (she received fifteen nominations) worked the crowd with a band behind her that was nothing short of amazing. Never a dull moment, Ethridge made her way from one end of the stage to the other with much charisma and command, effortlessly strumming her guitar and being the consummate professional she always has been. Nearing her set's end’ Ethridge dove into to “I’m the Only One”, a fan favorite and staple anthem in her career before “ending” with “Bring Some Water” and then coming back for an encore with “Like the Way I Do”. Ethridge is a hard working performer who certainly gains a lot more respect after seeing her live.

After a thirty or so minute intermission, a drastic stage transformation had taken place. Whereas Melissa Ethridge relied solely on her band, house lighting and a large dark curtain as a backdrop, the stage had soon become equipped with a large projection screen as a background, futuristic props scattered about and rotating laser lights. Soon after, the lights drop and Blondie confidently walks from side stage to their marked positions. Debbie Harry, wearing dark wayfarer sunglasses and a hot pink ensemble nods to the screaming crowd and just like that the new wave punkers kick into “One Way of Another”. Harry, now seventy-years-old, is as cool as ever, still wielding the voice that made the band an influential giant in the music industry.

Harry joined by original members Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Blondie went on to knock out one hit after another including “Atomic”, “Heart of Glass” “Maria”, “Call Me”, “Dreaming”, “Hanging on the Telephone” and threw in a few more recent songs, “Euphoria”, for one. Projections in the background displayed classic Blondie videos and swirling imagery that seemed to go perfectly with each song. Tapping into their reggae side, the band played an inspired version of “The Tide is High” before igniting into one of the first ever songs featuring rapping,  “Rapture”. Blondie also threw the crowd a curveball with a raging rendition of The Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)”.

Harry and company performed brilliantly, proving Blondie still can put on one hell of a show. There is little doubt that Blondie would be highly entertaining no matter where the venue, but watching them play at Ravinia surrounded by the stars accompanied by a gentle outdoor breeze (even if it was 63 degrees on a July evening) was simply magical. Here’s hoping they make their way back to the Chicagoland area very soon.

Be sure to visit www.ravinia.org for upcoming summer events.

Friday, 03 July 2015 00:00

CMTF Continues with One Thousand Words

Underscore Theatre Company is in the midst of their second annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival at The Den Theatre where it is host to thirteen brand new musicals submitted by a slew of local theatre companies. Though some musicals presented come from theatre companies more polished than others, the event is a fantastic passage for the development of new, creative theatre productions in the Chicago area. A handful of submitted plays are production-ready while some are completed works. Some of the theatre companies involved include the New American Folk Theatre (“Dirty Girl”), American Demigods (“Fanatical”), Duplicity Ensemble (“Marble, GA”).

Day two of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival introduced “One Thousand Words”, a musical with the book and lyrics by Michael Braud and music by Curran Latas. When a reporter, Richard Hanks, is assigned to write a thousand words about two men in love during World War II, he is at first disappointed because he’d rather be in Pakistan covering the current tension in the area. After his editor dangles a carrot in front of the horse-drawn carriage by semi-promising she would send him on the overseas assignment once he successfully handles the task at hand, Hanks decides to write the story of the year and delves into the lives of these two men whose story comes from an intimate photo of the two while in World War II. After tracking down Warren, now eighty-years-old, he is taken back to the 1940s where he hears the story of two men who hid their love for each other before, during and after wartime and the circumstances and obstacles that they had to face. Hanks becomes transfixed by Warren’s story and possibly affected much more than he expected.

The story is simple enough. It flows well without confusion and the dialogue is fairly engaging. Its songs are not likely to be remembered afterwards for their melody though they did strengthen certain points in the show by capturing the appropriate tone of the moment despite singing that is best described as hit or miss. The set is as minimalistic as they come furnished with only a couple crates, leaving much to the imagination, as the space it used for each and every production in the festival and requires a quick turnaround.  

Joe Hornberger does give a strong performance as “Warren” and is one of the better singers in the cast, while Justin Stevens pairs up with him nicely as “Daniel”, his lover. At first one might think the two a bit miscast and unlikely as lovers, but the pair begins to make more and more sense as the story progresses and become quite believable. One needs to keep in mind that thirteen musicals are sharing the same space for multiple performances in a few weeks’ time, so there might be missed spotlight marks, minor production tweaking per show and somewhat barren sets. The main purpose is for Chicagoans to experience and support local theatre in development and hopefully be entertained while doing so. One Thousand Words contains enough positives to keep it interesting.   

One Thousand Words can be seen at The Den Theatre:                                    

Tuesday, July 07, 2015 9:30 PM
Saturday, July 11, 2015 2:00 PM
Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:00 PM
Saturday, July 18, 2015 5:30 PM

For more information on the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, visit www.cmtf.org

Lasting imagery, profound acting and exciting characters set the stage for Lookingglass Theatre Company’s latest production, Moby Dick, the classic tale of the monomaniacal plight of Caption Ahab who is hell bent on destroying a fierce sperm whale who cost him his leg, even at the expense of his own crew. As the story goes, a crew is assembled for a whaling expedition only to find out their captain has another agenda – revenge. Though the play successfully conveys a sense of unity we also feel a dark loneliness that feels foreboding from the story’s beginning.

Lookingglass Theatre is brilliantly transformed to effectively capture the essence of the ocean with the use of flowing fabrics and strategic lighting and uses more than a touch of creative genius in order to pull off a believable whale. As the story unfolds, three stoic red-headed women become part of the set sometimes enhancing the dialogue with their ghostly words of warning and at other times representing the stormy waters or the whale itself. The three are as haunting as they are graceful, dreamily heightening the story’s focus at just the right moments.

Still, it would be difficult to present a plausible production of Moby Dick without a fiery Captain Ahab, but, thankfully, Lookingglass has found their man in Christopher Donahue. Donahue, seemingly born for the role, is as blistering as they come and brings the doomed captain to life with the vigor and fervor deserved for such a classic character.  

mobydick-magnum 

Jamie Abelson excels as character/narrator Ishmael. A seasoned sailor who has served on a number of merchant ships, Ishmael finds himself aboard a whaling ship for the first time and plunged in the midst of Ahab’s quest.  Also, outstanding is Anthony Fleming III as Ishmael’s faithful companion, Queequeg, a South Pacific Ocean native whose loyalty is to truly be admired.

Along with the tremendous acting performances and scenic bliss that thrusts us into an imaginative world of high seas adventure, several acrobatics feats also play large in creating such a high level of excitement in this play. Actors are able to utilize the large stage area as they scurry up the walls, balancing high above the crowd, or performs stunts on the enormous whale skeleton that envelops the theatre’s interior.

Splendidly adapted and directed by ensemble member David Caitlin, Moby Dick is a true homage to the classic tale of revenge written by Herman Melville in 1851. A production for the entire family to enjoy, Moby Dick is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through August 28th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.LookingglassTheatre.org.

What do you do when you receive a call from God? How do you even know if in fact it was a call from God? Could such a happening be a figment of the imagination stemming from one’s ego or a desire wanted so badly that a sign is unconsciously created? In Body and Blood now, currently running at Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park, Dan shocks his live-in girlfriend, Leah, when what she hopes is the beginning of a marriage proposal is instead an announcement that he is leaving her to become a priest. Dan, who has a history of not following through on most anything he does and is fortunate to even have a job at his brother-in-law’s luggage store, claims God appeared to him in an oak tree finally filling him with the purpose he so desperately needs to find fulfillment in life.

Of course Leah, hurt and stunned, suspects this is just another one of Dan’s misinterpreted impulses and possibly just a way of ending their relationship. It gets even better when Dan’s sister, Monica, and her husband, Mick, join the two on their backyard deck for an evening of dinner and drinks. Two devout Catholics, both Monica and Mick are also skeptical of Dan’s new “epiphany”, his sister absolutely livid thinking Dan is copping out on responsibility once again. The play gets even more interesting when the father of Dan’s parish stops by and breaks down the possibilities of Dan’s vision, leaving the available option that such a happening may have certainly happened and that only time will tell. Ultimately, we wonder – is Dan following his heart or creating a new excuse to shirk his current obligations.

Body and Blood is a thought-provoking story that also explores blind devotion to a faith and the hypocrisies, or contradictions, of Catholicism. How much are gays really accepted in the church even though so many priests have been outed in recent times?

The cast puts forth a well-rounded effort. Lynda Newton, one of The Gift Theatre’s founding members, is strong as Monica, dishing out the appropriate humor in her character when necessary and also very believable as one who is experiencing such conflict. In his first performance at The Gift, Nicholas Harazin also delivers a heartfelt performance as Dan and Cyd Blackwell as Leah compliments him well as his girlfriend, Leah.

There are plenty of moments in this play that will make you laugh and many that will make you really feel for the struggle each character is going through. The story moves with ease, the dialogue smooth as silk, and there is just enough intrigue to keep one wondering what will happen next. However, playwright William Nedved’s ending is somewhat flat and anti-climactic, leaving a bit to be desired after such a build up. Still, with solid acting performances, flowing interchanges with bite, emotion and humor and topic matter that might be found thought-provoking by some, there are enough reasons to make this a show worth checking out.

Soundly directed by Marti Lyons and aptly presented in an intimate storefront playhouse Body and Blood is being performed at The Gift Theatre through August 9th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.thegifttheatre.org or call 773.283.7071.

     

Cor Theatre this time brings its latest production, “Love and Human Remains”, to the intimate Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater. A psychological thriller that made waves in the 1990s for its daring and gutty material, “Love and Human Remains” is a story that revolves around a handful of Chicago couples amidst a serial killer on the loose.

It takes a good part of the first act before we get a good feel of who’s who in this play. Beginning with a dominatrix who tales the tale many of us have heard at some point about Cuba Road where a young man is murdered in the woods while trying to get help after car trouble strands he and his girlfriend, we are soon introduced to roommates David and Candy to which are the main focus in the story. David is gay and is quick to use biting sarcasm every chance he gets. A former child actor now turned waiter, he is unattached and willing and able to find quick sex anywhere he can. Candy is looking for love and though attractive and seemingly kind-hearted, she doesn’t seem to have much luck. As the story progresses David’s tall and good looking friend Bernie is introduced, he often appears drunk and bloody, chalking it up to bar room fights due to his propensity to hit on unavailable women. Meanwhile the bodies are adding up.

Written by Brad Fraser and directed by Ernie Nolan, this is a play with much crotch grabbing and excessive nudity as the lesser known worlds of S&M and underground gay hook ups are also explored. It is a story of instant gratification, obsessions, guilt and consequence. It is also a story of hopefulness and finding companionship.

Andrew Goetten as David and Kate Black-Spence really steal the show with their electrifying performances. Goetten delivers Jeff Goldblum-like musings and over-analyzed histrionics, hitting perfectly called for tone inflection and sentiment on cue to project his feelings ever so effortlessly. At the same time, Black-Spence is able to channel her emotions in just the right way so that we can really feel for her character’s sadness, guilt, loneliness and hope.

The first act moves a bit slowly and we kind of wonder if the ever present ensemble chants and comments in the background are necessary or detracting from the play’s story. By the second act it becomes apparent the play would probably be better if acted out as a traditional presentation piece rather than being an ensemble piece whereas surrounding characters in the background are constantly chiming in along or around the main scenes. Still, the play does come together enough in the second act to where its intrigue becomes the focal point and we crave to see the outcome for each character.   

It’s dark, sexual and is funny in more places than one would expect. In time, it even becomes rather absorbing as a thriller.

“Love and Human Remains” is being performed at Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater through July 11th. For tickets and/or more information visit ww.CorTheatre.org.  

Hell in a Handbag Productions tests the boundaries of morality once again as only they can, this time kicking off its 2015-16 season with “Miracle!”, the hilarious lampoon of The Miracle Worker. Instead of Helen Keller, we meet Helen Stellar, a deaf and blind 20-year-old drag queen who is thrust into performing at The Brass Connection, otherwise known as The Ass Infection. Written by Dan Savage, a well-known authority and activist on sexuality and GLBTQ issues, “Miracle!” doesn’t hold any punches, unapologetically injecting its braised humor into its audience with rapid fire speed and pinpoint accuracy.

Artistic Director David Cerda is brilliant (as always) as Helen Stellar’s protective drag queen mother and biological father, Crystal Pain, owner and show coordinator of The Brass Connection. Cerda, a true master of satire, takes the role of Crystal and knocks it out of the park with his deadpan delivery, stark remarks and physical comedy. In “Miracle!” we also get a deluge of tremendously funny performances from Handbag favorites Ed Jones, Elizabeth Lesinski, Sydney Genco and Steve Love as well as newcomer Kristopher Bottrall who is very impressive as Bailey Legal.

Everything is going smoothly at The Brass Connection, or so it seems. Gloria Blaze (Jones), Sissy Jizzmore (Jamie Smith) and the girls perform in the club’s nightly revue while Helen Stellar stumbles her way through an awkward dance routine with the help of a shock collar that “protects” her from falling off the stage. But when Bailey Legal gets jealous of the attention that Helen receives, a call is made to Child Protective Services and an investigation ensues as to the child’s well-being. After assessing the situation, caseworker Annie Sullivan (Lesinski) determines that Helen’s environment is unfit for tapping into her true potential. It is soon agreed that Annie take Helen for a period of three weeks so that she can work with her one on one. This proves more difficult than anticipated as Annie tries to connect with Helen by pressing sign language into her hands in relation to surrounding objects. Of course this process, as done by Handbag is also brutally droll.

Still, Annie’s persistence pays off as we begin to see a transformation occur in Helen. As part of her therapy, Annie takes Helen to a lesbian bar (opening up another world to which Savage is able to find the humor) to work out her performance kinks in an attempt to show a shock collar is not needed. Performing with Helen during the bar’s Bearded Slam event is also therapeutic for Annie as she reaches deep inside herself to conquer her own stage insecurities. Before too long, it is time for Annie to return Helen to Crystal as we, the audience, wonder what the outcome will be.  

The humor is offensive, but tasty. It’s campy dialogue gutty and unforgiving yet we relate to it so easily. Perhaps we are looking at something in the neighborhood of Helen Keller meets The Birdcage on crack, and that would be putting it mildly.

As funny as “Miracle!” is, whether a dance and song routine with attitude and pizazz (“Stop in the Name of Love”, for one) or in its multitude of hilarious character interactions, there is actually a heartwarming story taking place with plenty of feel good moments. I’m not going to go as far to say that one might get teary-eyed, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. The show triumpantly ends with a big finale number that has audience members clapping to the beat and cheering for the show’s wonderfully colorful characters.  

As a longtime fan of Cerda, Jones and Lesinski, I am happy to say that this Handbag nucleus of comic wunderkinds have once again hit their stride in what is a fully entertaining story that generates laughs as quickly as its many wig changes.   

“Miracle!” is being performed through July 10th at Mary’s Attic, a cozy upstairs theatre located at 5400 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.handbagproductions.org. If you are looking for a night of memorable comedy in a fun atmosphere, this is a summer event that you will not want to miss. Hell in a Handbag Productions – the king, or queen, of parody done right. 

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