Upcoming Dance

Michelle Reidy

Michelle Reidy

Friday, 31 July 2015 00:00

No Doubt; Pippin is Thrilling Chicago

Over 40 years ago, Pippin made its debut on Broadway and now it is back and in Chicago for the next few weeks. Pippin is the story of a young prince on his somewhat Faustian journey to find purpose in life, as told through the mysterious performance troupe lead by the Lead Player as our narrator.  In this touring revival, the performance troupe is set in a circus which brings the magic of the big top to the show.  

Overall, I found the show truly a spectacular, spectacular with the chaotic excitement on stage befitting a Baz Luhrmann film (of which I am also a fan!).  The combination of acrobatics by Gypsy Snider, Fosse style choreography by Chet Walker and stunning costumes designed by Dominque Lemieux all in the circus tent set by Scott Pask creates a production that will be sure to wow everyone in the audience.

The original production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and it was wonderful to still see his stylistic influences throughout this show. Appreciating the difficulty of Fosse choreography, I was impressed with the dancing in the show. It was taken to a whole new level with the choreographic updates and addition of high flying and jaw dropping acrobatics and stunts which you have to see to believe.

This show breaks down the 4th wall with the actors addressing the audience directly, and calling out the fact that they are in a show. Sasha Allen in the role of the Lead Player was fantastic and her powerful singing gave me chills more than once during the show.  In the role of Pippin, Sam Lips was a star. He was a strong lead with a fantastic voice and personality that drew the audience in. My favorite actor of the show was hands down Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe, Pippin sassy grandmother.  In the song “No Time as All” she will thrill and truly shock and surprise you – a surprise which I will not ruin for those who are heading out to see the show!

The show is funny and thrilling with plenty of good one-liners and jokes that get the audience laughing and (warning parents!) some scenes that get a pretty racy! At the same time, it has a much deeper and darker plot that speaks more to real life than your typical happy go lucky musical.  In an all around well-executed show, the performance troupe takes us on a journey of seeking greatness and meaning in a world where there is no clear path. Through a series of compromises shrouded in doubt and confused all the more by the influence of the Leading Player we watch Pippin settle for ordinary over extraordinary in the end, seemingly happy with his ultimate decision.

I can highly recommend this show as a great breakaway from your traditional Broadway production that will thrill you, give you the chills, and also make you stop and reflect on the challenges of real life.  It is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theater through August 9th.  Get your tickets before the final curtain falls and the lights are all turned off on Pippin in Chicago!

This year is the 15th anniversary of New Dances, a series brought to life by Thodos Dance Chicago.  New Dances is forum designed to foster and support dance artists in the creation of new works, an often challenging and expensive ordeal. In addition to providing support for dancers and choreographers, it also incorporates upcoming lighting and costume designers, all from the Chicago area, bringing together a comprehensive line up from emerging talent in the Chicago dance community. Over the past 14 years, New Dances has lead to artists receiving fellowships for graduate dance studies, starting their own companies and having their work commissioned across many professional settings.

With 9 pieces, this 15th anniversary show had a great variety that could entertain even the most dance illiterate. There were two performances of New Dances at the Atheneum Theater, July 18th and 19th.  With a small cast of dancers, the curtain dropped after each piece and the house lights came on, giving the audience a chance to discuss their thoughts on each piece throughout the show.

A few of the earlier pieces, heavily rooted in the contemporary style of the Thodos Dance Chicago company, shared many common characteristics (even a few of the same exact moves) which made me a little nervous about potentially seeing 9 pieces that were all too similar. While each was extremely well executed and beautifully performed, it felt like too much of the same for my tastes.

Luckily things took a huge stylistic turn with “All You Need Is”, choreographed by Taylor Mitchell.  The cast of 8 dancers, adorned in simple black pants and black and white striped tops performed a French inspired piece centered on the theme of love. The work was visually stunning, combining great staging and strong choreography with hundreds of small red paper hearts being strewn around the stage in coordination with the movement and music.  It combined very traditional, ballet inspired moves with a quirky twist that reminded me of watching an old silent movie. It brought the audience to life with laughter and love.

Another of my favorites was “Miriam” choreographed by Brian McGinnis. Set to original music, this piece was made up of a solo and two duets each unique but flowing together wonderfully. The first duet portrayed a couple in the midst of an affair but with a charmingly hilarious story. The song features singers who couldn’t stop laughing, and their silliness translated into the dances with great eccentric elements to the movement. The second duet seemed to ebb and flow around the stage with an effortless grace that made your heart feel light; an excellent contrast to the other duet and it rounded out the piece nicely.

The final of my top list was “Something To Do With Five”; a smooth, mellow, contemporary performance by 5 male dancers choreographed by Jessica Miller Tomlinson. The lighting, costumes, music and movement all elicited this thought of molasses, sweet tea and summer nights.  The piece used creative lighting, and interesting staging as a compliment to the dancers and the movement. Throughout, there were great moments but the ending was so original, it left a great final impression. With the five men lined up at the front of the stage, the red velvet curtain fell to just inches over their head, the lights dropped to a simple backlight and the a hush fell for the final moments of the piece.

While there were some great dancers and excellent choreography, a surprising standout of the whole performance was the lighting design. The unique lighting added an amazing dimension to all of pieces and really brought it all together.

For fans of dance, or those interested in expanding their scope of dance performances, New Dances is a great show. And who knows, you may catch the first time showing of a piece destined to international fame!

While you may have missed New Dances this year, you can still catch Thodos Dance Chicago at other performance this year. For more on Thodos Dance Chicago and future performances by the company check out thodosdancechicago.org.

Bard Fiction retells the cult classic Pulp Fiction, transplanting the story in time and space to London 1614. Cool cars become carriages, motorcycles become stallions, guns become swords, a quarter pounder becomes cottage pie and drugs…. well they stay drugs! Written in Shakespearean prose by Ben Tallen, Aaron Greer, Brian Watson-Jones, and the members of the Pulp Bard Wiki, it recreates the Quentin Tarantino hit a truly creative way.

Presented by Commedia Beauregard at the City Lit Theater, the play follows the unconventional and somewhat disjointed storyline of Pulp Fiction very closely.  If you are not familiar with Pulp Fiction, this may make the play hard to follow.  Similar to watching a Shakespeare play, it can be tough to really catch all of the intricate dialogue but if you listen closely it will be sure to have you laughing as you catch the inspired translation from the original. 

The acting was well executed all around with Julius (Steven Royce) and Vincenzio (Josh Zagoren) being true standouts and really channeling the original roles played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. Accents were a bit all over the place but everyone was committed to their characters. The costumes by Jackie Davies, based on the original design by kClare Kemock, took modern textiles like jeans and terrycloth bathrobes, and converted them into Elizabethan era designs. My initial impression was that it was a cheap, budget version of proper Shakespearian costumes, but they grew on me as the show went on and I started to appreciate the homage to the early 90’s fashion of the original.

City Lit Theater is a small black box style theater and the play was staged with very limited set pieces. Produced as 16 scenes, they used a few tables, benches and chairs to set the stage. The original movie had no score but instead used an eclectic mix of music, with a particular focus on surf music. For Bard Fiction, Joe Griffen brings back some of the iconic songs of the movie that sound like they are being played on a harpsichord and a lute, helping to transition us from scene to scene.

Before seeing this show, I re-watched Pulp Fiction. Thanks to that, I was able to pick up on some more subtle jokes and appreciate the unique “translation”. It was an entertaining show and will be sure to please fans of the movie. Those who have not seen the original, or did not like the original, I would recommend either skip this or better yet watch the movie on Netflix before catching the show. It will certainly heighten the experience.

Bard Fiction will be playing in Chicago at the City Lit Theater through August 2nd.  Purchase your tickets at www.cbtheatre.org or by calling the box office at (312) 487-1893.

Kinky Boots, based on the 2005 British dramedy film, was written for the stage by Harvey Fierstein with music by Cyndi Lauper. It tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Charlie Price, who inherits his fathers failing shoe company, and Lola, a drag queen from London who inspires Charlie and helps him save the company. On a trip to London, Charlie takes a blow to the head trying to protect Lola from men accosting her on the street. He recovers backstage at Lola’s show and in talking with Lola about her busted heel gets an ingenious idea that just may save the factory. With the help of Lola and her Angels, they design a new line of shoes with the sparkly, sexiness befitting a drag queen and the stability to support a man and manage to convince the team at the factory on board with production for a fashion show in Milan.

The set design was inspired. Elaborate set pieces transformed from the dark and dull shoe store in Northampton to the glittery set of the Angel’s Drag Show before your eyes. Creative sets and staging combined with exciting choreography for some unforgettable scenes. One of my favorites was “Everybody Say Yeah” where Charlie and Lola pump up the factory workers and the Angels as they start producing Kinky Boots. With 4 operational conveyor belts on stage, people are flying left and right, flipping around the handles of the belts and it all was seamless! Another amazing scene is the fight scene where people sub in for sets in such a creative and unique way.

The costumes were the next standout of the show, designed by Gregg Barnes. There is a great dichotomy between the glitz and glamor of Lola and the Angels, and the plainness of the factory workers that helped you appreciate the tensions the two groups need to work through. And the boots!! What can’t you say about these boots! In the final scene we are dazzled with dozens of fantastic thigh high, rhinestone covered, 6 inch heeled boots that made my choice of flats for the evening seem very uninspired.

The showstopper of the entire show is most definitely Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola. His singing is phenomenal, his portrayal of Lola will make you laugh, cry, and want to be a better person, and he does it all in 6 inch stilettos. Steven Booth is great as Charlie, and there was a great chemistry between him and Lola on stage as their friendship develops, is challenged and comes out even stronger in the end. Another highlight for me was Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren. One of my favorite songs of the night was her song – “The History of the Wrong Guys”. Her comedic style on stage and powerhouse voice was a perfect combo.

Overall, the show wows with a great mix of characters, fabulous costumes, catchy music, exciting choreography that plays well with a creative set and of course incredible shoes! Kinky Boots will be in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through July 26th and it is a must see! 

The Chicago Musical Theater Festival is produced by the Underscore Theater Company as a forum for musical theater creators and artists to bring new musicals to the stage in a more low risk environment. In its second year, the fest features thirteen new works all sharing the stage in over 60 performances at The Den Theater.

Dirty Girl is presented by the New American Folk Theater, and was written by Anthony Whitaker. It is a retelling of the classic Cinderella story set in a fictitious trailer park in Georgia, 1987. Jennifer dreams of going to her prom, but has no date, no dress and no support from her step aunt or step cousins, Tami and Tammy, who lovingly refer to her as Dirty Girl. Lucky for her, her fairy god cousin by marriage comes to her rescue with a delightfully 80’s prom dress and a date with the most popular high school jock. But the prom is not the happily ever after Jennifer dreamed of and she learns that in real life there are no magical solutions to your problems and you have to find your own happy ending.

As the show shares the stage with thirteen other musicals during this festival, the set is very minimal. It is a black box style theater and they creatively maneuver a few chairs, a bench and a table to transport us from the trailer, to the school cafeteria, to the mall and of course the prom! The commitment of the actors to their over the top characters helps to fill the otherwise simple space.  

The show entertains with witty humor in both the dialog and songs, boasting more 1980’s references than you can count. The strongest singers are definitely the two main characters, Jennifer (Sarah Gise) and Randy/Troy (Kirk Jackson). Overall the acting was good, embracing the caricatures of the trailer park friends and family. Grant Drager’s portrayal of Tami is fantastic and just what you would want the trailer trash version of an ugly stepsister to be, while Coco Kasperowicz’s Tammy seemed to fluctuate in and out of character. The choreography was pretty kitschy with moves more commonly seen in an elementary school dance recital but somehow it seemed to work with the exaggerated stereotypes of the show. The costumes were colorful and just a bit tacky (as they should be!) with a bit of rebellious goth punk fashion tossed in for good measure.

Amidst all the overblown characters and silly songs, the show still draws you in and makes you care. When Jennifer takes ownership of her happy ending and reunites with Troy, the nerd who adores her, for a quiet night in watching a recording of the Dukes of Hazard special, it will warm your heart.

It may not be the clean and polished musical many are used to, but Dirty Girl is funny and full of characters that you will love or love to hate. If you grew up in the 80’s it will be especially entertaining, bringing back memories of neon spandex, taffeta prom dresses and big hair and sure to get a few laughs out of you.

Catch an upcoming performance Dirty Girl at The Den Theater as part of the Chicago Musical Theater Festival:

Wednesday, July 8th @ 9:30pm

Saturday, July 11th @ 5:30pm

Thursday, July 16th @6:00 pm

Sunday, July 19th @ noon

Friday, 19 June 2015 00:00

"On Your Feet!" Lives Up To Its Name

Aptly named, “On Your Feet!” is on its way to Broadway and officially launched their World Premier right here in Chicago at the Oriental Theater. The show tells the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan through music and dance, laughter and tears. There were so many things that I enjoyed about this show it is hard to figure out where to start!

Written by Alexander Dinelaris (most recent credits include the screenplay for the Oscar winning “Birdman”), the story moves fast, initiated as a flashback from the tragic tour bus accident that landed Gloria in the hospital with a spinal cord injury. We are introduced to a young Gloria, played by the Alexandria Suarez, on laundry day in Miami. In a flurry of dancing, singing and swirling pastel sheets, Glorita grows from a young girl to a teenage Gloria, played by Ana Villafane, who wows us with a powerhouse voice that will blow you away.

My favorite character of the show is Consuelo, Gloria’s spunky grandmother played by Alma Cuervo. She is the catalyst that brings Emilio and Gloria together, supports her shy granddaughter to follow her dreams, and delights the audience with her quirky one-liners - my favorite being “terrible shorts, great culo!” after our first introduction to a young, short-short wearing Emilio, played by the handsome Josh Seggara.

Gloria Estefan on the red carpet for the World Premier of "On Your Feet!" Photo by Michelle Reidy

Hit after musical hit carries us through the first act as we watch Gloria break out of her shell and take the spotlight while her and Emilio quietly fall in love. As their lives move forward, we learn more about her father’s time in the Cuban police force and then the American military and her mother’s lost dream of singing.  The entire story is supported by energetic dancing, effortlessly changing set design and costumes that transport you from Cuba to Vietnam to Miami.

While first act ends on a high note as Gloria successfully crosses over into the English speaking market with a performance of “Conga” that gets everyone in the theater dancing, the second act deals with more serious challenges as the relationship between Gloria and her mother is broken and rebuilt, and the family deals with the aftermath of the horrific bus accident.  In scenes that will bring tears to your eyes, we learn more about Emilio’s escape from Cuba and say goodbye to family members who have passed and witness Gloria’s triumphant rise back to stardom.

Villafane and Seggara are fantastic as Gloria and Emilio. Villafane’s incredible singing and dancing makes you believe it was actually Gloria Estefan you are watching. Seggara is spot on in his acting and his lovable Cuban accent, which makes up for his singing that is not his strongest asset.  The use of projected images and sets that slide on and off the stage with ease, created a wonderful backdrop for spot on dancing by a core ensemble. The choreography, by Sergio Trujillo, was rooted in Latin dance, with impressive moves that were performed completed in sync with style and flair.

Overall, I can whole-heartedly recommend this show to anyone looking for an exciting, fast paced show that will have you dancing in your seat and on your feet! The show is running at the Oriental Theater through July 5th so grab your tickets soon – you will not want to miss this!

“Chicago Rhythm Fest” at the Auditorium Theatere was the culminating performance of the STOMPING GROUND event that included five programs across Chicago neighborhoods, bringing together five amazing percussive dance groups from around the world including The Trinity Irish Dance Company, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Mexican Dance Ensemble and Chicago Human Rhythm Project. 

This was my first time in the Auditorium Theatre and to be honest, I would have been happy just sitting and enjoying that space for the next two hours. The gilded theater is an icon of Chicago, hosting culturally diverse shows since 1889 and it was such a treat to be there.

On hand to MC the vent was Lane Alexander, the artistic director and co-founder of Chicago Human Rhythm Project. His introductions of each company and performance tied together the diversity of each performance, bringing everything back to the universal language of rhythm.

Many pieces were performed a cappella, or to the simplicity of a single instrument letting the dancing provide most of the music. The stage was simple with no set, and basic lighting to set the mood while allowing all of your focus to be on the dancers. At times the lighting felt a bit off with bright white light coming from the wings but overall it was kept simple and unobtrusive.

Performances ranged from the fun, grounded rhythms of the Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, to the lighthearted and at times comical performances of the Mexican Dance Ensemble that transported you to Mexico, to a wonderful throwback to classic American Tap by Chicago Human Rhythm Project. With all the variety, the common theme of rhythm held it all together well.

A few standout performances for me were by the Trinity Irish Dancers and Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. The Trinity Irish Dancers performed a series of three pieces – starting with a traditional soft shoe piece which was well executed, and fast paced, followed by two hard shoe pieces. The real magic for me was at the start of their second piece. The stage went black and two small overhead spotlights shone on the feet of a single male dancer. His hard shoe footwork started out simple and clean but quickly built up in speed and complexity making the audience erupt in cheers.

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater got off to a slow start for me with a single female performer dancing to a drum and vocal performance. However, it quickly picked up next going to a unique piece featuring the men of the group, performed entirely sitting down with an interesting mix of flamenco footwork and drumming on their stools. Finally it all came together in a piece featuring the entire company that had so much power and precision the whole audience was transfixed.

Throughout the show, you could feel the audience tapping their feet to the rhythm and I found myself tapping at the bus stop after the show proving the rhythm really will get you! This was a one night only performance but I can recommend seeing any and all of these dance companies!

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