Dance

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.

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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 Reviews

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

The McAninch Arts Center (The MAC) located at the College of Dupage kicked off the holiday season with one of the most entertaining Christmas shows one could hope for. Actor/singer Craig A. Meyer, who was featured in last year’s sold out event “The Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel”, reprised his role as recording artist Elton John in a holiday event to remember, “Almost Elton John and the Rocket Band: A Very Elton Christmas”.

Meyer, whose vast array of credits include Broadway’s Meet Me in St. Louis, a national tour of Cats and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, has also worked with both Elton John and Tim Rice on The Lion King. After the hard-working actor was approached numerous times about his likeness and his capability to sound like the legendary singer who brought us such greats as “Yellow Brick Road” and “Your Song”, Meyer formed Almost Elton John and went on to take his act around the world, giving fans another outlet to experience the excitement of an Elton John concert.

The positive response Meyer received at The MAC was proof positive that this Elton tribute act might just be one of the best around.

“Almost Elton John and the Rocket Band: A Very Elton Christmas” was divided into two sets, the first being that of Elton classics and the second a wide variety of Christmas songs.

Donned in glittery pants and high-heeled- silver boots, big sunglasses and a studded top hat, the caped singer quickly won over the crowd the first few songs in his set including “Bitch is Back”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Yellow Brick Road”. The first act went on to include “Crocodile Rock” and “Bennie and the Jets”. Meyer’s likeness to Elton was uncanny, but the similarity in voice even more impressive.

Throughout the show, Meyer quipped with the crowd, even delivering often misinterpreted lyrics in song. As a fan, and having seen Elton perform in Singapore, I couldn’t help but be awestruck at the way Meyer captured the essence of Elton.

As the second act began, Meyer returned to the stage, this time in a red glittered outfit, sequined Santa hat and all. Meyer again delivered. Rolling through Christmas faves that included “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “White Christmas”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, and a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” there was no shortage of Christmas spirit in the acoustic friendly theatre. Meyer even managed to take “Jingle Bells”, a holiday song I could do without, and turn it into a fun, energetic number that bounced and was decorated with unique and enjoyable harmonies. He ended the set with his encore medley of “Another Hallelujah / O Holy Night”, a medley that was as moving as it was celebratory of the reason for the season.

Almost Elton John is an electrifying concert experience that I would recommend checking out whenever in performing in the Chicagoland area. Charismatic and able to reach his audience, Meyer is exceptional as Elton and carries along with him a talented band and back up singers that make the entire package the next best thing to the real deal. Concert dates and more information on this very fun band can be found at www.almosteltonjohn.com.

The MAC is also an impressive theater. Comfortable seating (not a bad seat in the house) and fantastic acoustics highlight this modern theater that also includes a full snack and drink bar and an art gallery to check out before or after the show. Home of the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, The MAC will also be host in December and January to “Presley, Perkins and Cash: A Million Dollar Christmas”, National Theatre Live’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” with Daniel Radcliff and Joshua McGuire, “The Nutcracker” National Theatre Live’s “Obsession” with Jude Law, “Moscow Festival Ballet: Cinderella” and famed trumpeter Chris Botti. For show dates and to see other upcoming events, visit www.atthemac.org.

 

Published in In Concert

As a theater critic who used to travel to Las Vegas twice a year to review some of the most unusual shows, I have seen a lot of amazing Cirque De Soleil productions. Crystal, now being performed at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, is the first Cirque show I have seen incorporating ice skating as well as the acrobatics and great dancing I have come to expect from Cirque de Soleil performance. Cirque shows are unique in that they include performers from all over the world and include some of the most imaginative acts ever seen.  

Crystal was no exception. I was thoroughly impressed with this unique show's high production value, up to date personal, empowering story line and superbly multi-talented performers. 

Crystal is a family friendly show that will also appeal to adults with its seductively yet tastefully clad dancer/skaters aerialists and powerful live music. In fact, some of the musicians actually take to the ice while playing their instruments!

Crystal tells the story of a young girl who is very sensitive to the negativity she faces all around her in everyday life including the monotony of school days, the threat of bullying because of her own uniqueness and the sadness that comes from watching her parents also crushed by the difficulties of daily life and simply "going through the motions" of love. 

Crystal wishes she could skate away from it all and doing so gets her wish when she falls through the ice and into a parallel universe where she meets another wiser version of herself and receives a great gift to help her through life by expressing her deepest thoughts and feelings - the gift of writing!

Crystal's delightfully rebellious and complex character is played by a few different dancers and with the help of stunning lighting effects, breathtaking stunts and a soaring musical score, the audience gets to see Crystal's magical journey similar to that in Alice in Wonderland in three never before seen dimensions. 

The audience I was with gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation. The show includes amazing ice skating stunts along beautifully choreographed Olympics-caliber performances. There are also high-flying acts by talented aerialists that are breathtaking, stunning acrobatics, colorful costumes and a good amount of humor.

I highly recommend this mystical and exciting production for adults who'd like to see a really special holiday show and children who will be blown away by the grace of the dancer/skaters, the nail biting scariness of the aerialists and the humorous beaks by several characters which also include ice skating stunts and jumps that will have you catching your breath with suspense. 

Crystal is performed at Sears Centre Arena through November 19th.

Published in Theatre in Review

Chicago has no shortage of Christmas traditions. In other words, if you’re looking for holiday fun it’s not very hard to find something to do with your friends, significant other or family. Rich traditions such as Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Joffrey’s Nutcracker, Christkindlmart, Christmas film classics at Music Box, and the official Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Millennium Park are fantastic choices that are sure to put a little zest into your holiday spirit, but Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol might have to top the list.

Celebrating its 40th year of warming hearts through the holidays, this year’s production of A Christmas Carol might just be the best yet. Larry Yando returns to Goodman as Ebenezer Scrooge, a role he has taken on with brilliance for the past nine years. Yando is just about as fun to watch as it gets from his miserable, miserly like behavior to his reborn childlike love of humanity after three spirits visit him to show him his past, present and future.

As the story by Charles Dickens goes, Scrooge is a man with little heart. He is a man who pinches every penny, treats his employee like a flunky without mercy, as he works his fingers to the bone, wants nothing to do with his remaining family and has nothing but miserable rebuttals for those who wish him a Merry Christmas, replying with “Bah Humbug!” When his former, and now deceased, partner, a man much like Scrooge appears to him on Christmas Eve to warn him of his horrid ways and the cost it has on so many and will on himself, we learn that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits – Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

As each spirit visits Scrooge, more and more is revealed about his nature. He remembers he didn’t start out as he is now. He was a good-natured boy with hopes and dreams once upon a time. In the present he sees how those who know him feel about him. Though mean and cruel to many, they still thank him and toast to him. He see’s the hardships his mistreated employee Bob Cratchit and his family face on his meek salary. He is obviously embarrassed as they still find reasons to be thankful to Scrooge. He sees a future that is bleak. He is just a miserly old man quickly forgotten.

“Are these the things that will be or the things that may happen?” He asks the spirit, hoping for a chance to redeem himself.

While Yando undoubtedly is a tour de force in the role as Scrooge, the entire cast is a powerhouse. Ron E. Rains is highly believable as the tenderhearted Bob Cratchit and is easy to feel for almost immediately. Joe Foust as Jacob Marley is also tremendous as is Lisa Gaye Dixon who wows the audience with her incredibly strong performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Kareem Bandealy also gives the production a strong assist as he skillfully fields a handful of roles including that as the show’s narrator, Topper and a hopeful young Scrooge who misses his chance at love choosing a chance at making more money instead -a decision that haunts him his entire life.

The ever-changing set is visually stunning as it changes from Scrooge’s house interior (curtains surrounding his bed and all) to the Cratchit’s humble kitchen where the room is crowded as the family sits around a table to eat a meager portion of roast duck for Christmas. Stars shine amongst the blackness as Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a ride he’ll never forget.

Goodman also breaks the mold casting a girl in the role of Tiny Tim Cratchit. Fourth grader Paris Strickland who delivers the famous line at show’s end “God bless us, every one” is excited to play Tiny Tim telling the Chicago Tribune, “I feel excited and proud of myself for getting a really inspiring role. Tiny Tim can bring hope to everyone, and I can bring hope to everyone.”

Goodman’s A Christmas Carol is not only rich tradition in Chicago, it is a fun-filled holiday treat that is sure to warm the heart and remind us that giving is better than receiving.

Highly recommended.

A Christmas Carol is being performed in the Albert Theatre at Goodman Theatre through December 31st. For more show information visit www.goodmantheatre.org.


Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 23 November 2017 21:10

TATC's A Wonderful Life is Wonderful Fun

The classic film It’s A Wonderful Life, based on the story The Greatest Gift, is brought to life by Theatre At The Center just in time for the holidays with their latest presentation A Wonderful Life: The Musical. In TATC’s adaptation, the story is intertwined with many big song and dance numbers, one of which stands out is the high school dance scene that includes an enlivened choreographed Charleston competition.

The story takes place in Bedford Falls, where George is met with a series of challenges while a series of incidents keeps him in the quaint town where he reluctantly takes over his father’s building and loans business rather than exploring the world and going to college to become an architect. As with any good story, we have a nemesis, in this case the nefarious Mr. Potter who claims ownership to the town’s largest bank where he can hold residents to high interest and rental rates in his slums. George aims to give the townsfolk a better option. Why should people have to wait until they are old and tired to have a home to raise their family, he asks.

George finds love with his longtime crush Mary, eventually building a family of his own. George might be scrapping by, but he has a loving family and is a source of easy loans for Bedford residents, which enables them to purchase homes with little or no collateral – many deals based on trust rather than the stringent criteria that Potter would require. Thus, he becomes a thorn in Potter’s side.
When the bank calls a loan (on Christmas Eve?) on the building and loans and his Uncle Billy misplaces a hefty deposit, his world quickly comes crashing down. Fraud, imprisonment or worse, he fears. Crawling to Potter, he is denied a loan to bail himself out. It is when he realizes that he is worth more dead than alive, only $500 in equity on a $15,000 life insurance policy, he thinks the unthinkable and (in this adaptation) heads for the train tracks to end it all. Of course, Clarence, his guardian angel, has other plans.

It is when Clarence saves him and George states he wishes he was never born at all, that such a wish is granted. In doing so, George sees the positive affects he has on so very many people and realizes what a “wonderful life” he really has, after all.

David Sajewich plays George Bailey in this classic tale of hope, goodwill and the human spirit. Sajawich, who was last seen at TATC in All Shook Up, does an admirable job as Bailey. It takes a bit of time to warm up to Sajawich as Bailey, though he really cements himself into the role during the scene at building and loans after his father passes and the board is looking for solutions and new leadership. That’s when we really get a feel for George Bailey and his caring nature for the townspeople and animosity towards Potter.

Mary Hatch (soon to be Mary Bailey) is wonderfully played by Allison Sill who so beautifully captures the heart of gold spirit in the character also wowing the audience on many occasions with her accomplished vocal range. James Harms as the evil Henry Potter really gives the second act a powerful punch as his character becomes more and more sinister, while David Perkovich is excellently cast as George’s lovable guardian angel, Clarence. As most every TATC production, we are offered a strong ensemble that can sing and dance with the best of them.

The set, though minimal, is creatively worked to provide (with a bit of audience imagination) the several different locations for the story’s many scenes. Gordon Schmidt lights up the stage with his dazzling choreography, perhaps one of the show’s brightest contributions.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical is the perfect holiday treat whether a fan of the classic film or not. There are plenty of moments in this production that capture the film’s magic and several flashes of wonderment that are created with its own musical numbers.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical is being performed at Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN. For more show information visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

As I entered the Cadillac Palace Theatre – originally the Orpheum Circuit’s lavish vaudeville flagship before keeping up with the times to become a golden age movie palace – the simple, classy screen that hung over the stage gave me hope for the evening’s entertainment. There was the show’s title and logo, red and white on a bright blue backing, all nostalgia, all sheen, all promise of a combination of the silver screen, of classic composition, of live theatrical talent. I could hardly wait for the screen to rise and the show to start.

But first, in full disclosure, I’ve never watched the movie straight through. Sure, I’ve seen the whole thing in fits and starts and bits and pieces through the years (married, as I am, to one of its biggest fangirls). But I’m more of a fan of the rock and rollers – the Little Richards, the Orbisons, the Chucks and Jerry Lees and Buddies with something a little randier and a little rowdier and a little more real – who came along and did away with the post-war schmaltz. What I mean is, while I appreciate, no, adore, earlier Hollywood musicals like The Wizard of Oz or even Berlin’s Easter Parade, as well as later ones like The Music Man, I have no real sentimental attachment to Bing and Rosemary. I figured I’d be an objective audience, a fresh set of eyes and ears for this production.

The show began and these eyes and ears weren’t impressed. The sets were bright and looked the part – the scene with the song “Snow” on a train car was beautiful, a real mid-century-modern knockout – but they weren’t the 1950's real thing. The actors, too, were talented and pleasant as they played their parts, but they weren’t Bing or Rosemary or Danny or Vera. Nobody could be.

So, as the first act progressed, I remained unimpressed. The story (and the music, and the sets, and the cast) were fine, but the show needed some charisma, it needed some pizazz, it needed something.

Where that something did come up was when the show added tunes by Berlin that weren’t in the movie. These songs hadn’t been staked out by the film’s icons, and the current production’s cast wasn’t forced to approximate the ideal they’d set. They were fresher. They gave this cast room to show their talents, to show themselves, and not just takes on someone else. An example was “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.” Throughout the night, the female lead, Kerry Conte, had Rosemary Clooney’s shoes to fill, a task I did not envy. But during this number, she fit right into an Andrews-esque trio, her vocals polished, her moves authentic. The lead singer in said number, Karen Ziemba’s Martha, stood out not just here, but in her own featured piece earlier that also strayed from the film and added to the show. Other standouts included: young Makayla Joy Connolly, who had a fine feature of her own; Kristyn Pope, who lit up the stage as recurring Rita and part of the ensemble; and Conrad John Schuck, whose General Waverly/Innkeeper Hank was equal parts Patton and grandpa.

And as I said, while the first act dragged, the second act moved at a much better pace, better utilized the cast, and ended the night with some holiday cheer (spoiler alert: the show is called White Christmas). So if it’s an exact reproduction of the Technicolor glow and the old-microphone glisten of the film you’re after, stay in and watch it on TV. But if you’re just looking for a feel-good family jumpstart to the holiday season, then this might be the show to see.

White Christmas is being performed at Cadillac Palace Theatre through December 3rd. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review
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