Dance in Review

The current production of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theater left me breathless! With book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, the newly updated and improved 42nd Street blends different periods of dance from the sixties to the present including some of the best tap dancers (don't call them hoofers) I have seen assembled for one show. 

Telling the age-old fantasy of Broadway performers everywhere as newcomer to New York, Peggy Sawyer, gets her chance at stardom and saving the show when the star falls during rehearsals and breaks her ankle. But this version is sympathetic to both the aging star, Suzzanne Douglas as Dorothy Brock, who has worked a long time and entertained the advances of a sexist producer just to finally have her stage time. Douglas has a beautiful rich, soulful singing voice and is very beautiful in this role. 

Kimberly Immanuel as Peggy Sawyer is also seen more realistically as a starving artist who just wants a break instead of a conniving backstabber out to hurt the leading lady. She is cute and unassuming as the newcomer who really has flying feet. Immanuel does a great job staying likable in her singing and acting and then dazzles the audience with some "out of this world" tap dancing which truly pleases the ears and eyes.  

Gene Weygandt as Julian Marsh, a Broadway director with the power to make stars and break them, also turns in a lovely performance with top-notch vocals, which make the character of Marsh more concerned with the dream world of Broadway life and less scary and sexist than I have seen director portrayals in other productions. 

This spectacularly energetic, colorful and sparkly, yes sparkly, production is directed artfully by Michael Heitzman, with choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Roberta Duchak, scenic design by Collette Pollard, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Ray Nardelli, and music arrangements by Everett Bradley.

The set and lighting changes and costume design really do satisfy Chicago audiences’ need to see productions that dazzle just as much as the run on Broadway on every level and leaves the audience energized and happy to have seen this show. 

I want to name the other stars and the ensemble because every single character was fully drawn in this wonderful production with Phillip Attmore as Billy Lawler, Justin Brill as Bert Barry, Donica Lynn as Maggie Jones, Brandon Springman as Pat/Ensemble, Cedric Young as Abner Dillon, Erica Evans as Andy Lee/Ensemble, and Sierra Schnack as Annie/Ensemble. The cast also includes Bret Tuomi, Time Brickey, Lamont Brown, Tristan Bruns, Joe Capstick, Joel Chambers, Andrea Collier, Gabriela Delano, Annie Jo Ermel, Rachel Marie LaPorte, Mandy Modic, Thomas Ortiz, Allie Pizzo, Marisa Reigle, Anthony Sullivan Jr., and Davon Suttles.

Full of fun hits such as “We’re in the Money”, this is a show that doesn’t stop. One of the most memorable scenes I have ever witnessed is a highly complex, mind blowingly and highly difficult six person tap piece that eventually turns into a full cast number worthy of anything I have seen in Broadway productions or at larger theaters in downtown Chicago or New York.

I highly recommend this run of 42nd Street at The Drury Lane for an exciting, feel good, upbeat Holiday spectacle about the joy of showbiz as we used to all envision it unfolding for a young star in the making. 

42nd Street is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through January 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

For Chicagoans that grew up in the 1980’s music scene, we remember favorite rock clubs such as The Thirsty Whale, Chances R and Dirty Nellies where spandex and rayon were the materials of choice and eye-liner on Aqua-net sprayed, long-haired guys was all the rage. For the glam rock scene, Chicago was always the minor league affiliate (Single A) to its Los Angeles big brother, where new bands seemingly broke out nearly every week. Almost grinding hair bands out akin to a factory assembly line, Los Angeles set the bar for rock bands all across the world, its clubs The Whiskey a Go Go, Troubadour and The Roxy stepping stones for the next big thing. In “Rock of Ages” the hilarious 1980's musical, we are taken to Los Angeles where the fictional Bourbon Room, one of the last rock hold outs, is under the threat of eminent domain as big money developers have other plans for the property.

Club owner Dennis (riotously played by Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt) runs The Bourbon Room with his sidekick and fellow rocker Lonny (Nick Druzbanski), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Realizing the club’s days are numbered, the two decide to go all out by bringing back Arsenal, a major band that got the start from The Bourbon Room, to play their final show with lead singer and egomaniac, Stacee Jaxx, who is off to pursue a solo career.

And what would an 80’s musical be without a cheesy love story? Bar back and aspiring musician, Drew, is instantly love struck when Dennis hires Sherrie (of course a hopeful actress) to be the club’s new waitress. From there we root for The Bourbon club, along with those protesting the new corporate development, and also for Drew and Sherrie to find love.

“Rock of Ages” is a fun time capsule filled with 80’s rock classics that includes Warrant’s “Heaven”, Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Extreme’s “More than Words” and many, many more. Though a parody of the era, “Rock of Ages” is an entertaining tribute to an age in music that, though considered kitschy by some, left a major impact in the world of music. The musical makes several 80’s refences that can’t help but make us forty-to-fifty-somethings laugh, such as Drew’s date with Sherrie where he tries to romance her with a four-pack of Bartles & James wine coolers.

The show boasts as good of a cast as one could ask for. Adam Michaels as self-aggrandizer and vulgar lead singer, Stacee Jaxx, is absolutely hysterical in the role. His moments are plenty as he puts on full display his great knack for physical comedy along with some pretty raging vocals. And as one who has seen this production more times than I remember, I can say quite confidently that Nick Druzbanski may just be the best Lonny I have seen yet. Druzbanski really fires on all cylinders and is a comedic whirlwind, also contributing nicely with strong vocals, certainly deserving a Fogmaster 5000 for a performance nothing short of outstanding.

Notable vocal performances are aplenty in this production with both Cherry Torres as Sherrie and Russell Mernaugh as Drew impressing with their singing prowess in number after number. Both skilled singers as they are actors, Torres and Mernaugh also spark a wonderful chemistry and are able to deliver plenty of funny moments. Though many, other performances of note are Donica Lynn, who sings beautifully when called upon and Nick Cosgrove who nails the role of Franz, the flamboyant German son of developer Hertz, who draws a laugh in just about every scene he occupies.

“Rock of Ages” is silly fun. It’s a campy drive down memory lane. It’s highly recommended. It’s also part concert, as a live band plays from a stage upon the stage throughout the show, tasty guitar licks and all. For some, they will relive the highly memorable era, for others they will receive a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of a time when the Los Angeles rock scene churned out hair bands like Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt.

With Falls theatrical productions in full bloom, this is a must see.

“Rock of Ages” is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through October 15th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

If you saw "The Gin Game", a timely play about the coming together of two lonely but feisty seniors at a run-down nursing home, when you were younger - you should see it again now at Drury Lane. 

John Reeger and Paula Scrofano, a long-time married couple who met at Northwestern University and raised a family while carving out distinguished theatrical reputations for themselves, play these roles with gusto and finesse. 

Taking on the roles of Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, like other great acting couples before them - Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy or Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke, John Reeger and Paula Scrofano pull out all the emotional stops to reveal the inner turmoil of seniors who have been left alone at the end of their lives to basically die in a dilapidated nursing home because they have both lost everything they own to their children or the state and are on Medicare.  

As they discuss and complain intermittently about all the problems seniors are still facing today, like poor nutrition, lack of stimulation in adult activities, and having their most precious belongings stolen, the audience sadly realizes that nothing has changed for seniors affected by catastrophic illness and the increasingly unreasonable, high costs of healthcare since "The Gin Game" first came out. 

Videographer Mike Tutaj, lights up the shabby, depressing and realistic set design by Katherine Ross with a series of beautiful and poignant slideshow type images from a variety of nursing homes that the audience can really identify with in how nursing homes are run today, especially if you are not wealthy enough to be placed in a fancier gated community.

Ross Lehman directs this very talented couple, Reeger and Scrofano, with an understanding and yet demanding pace that sets the characters on fire as their life stories come tumbling out one dealt card at a time. Over a series of gin games (often humorously played out), our characters get to know each other better and better while reluctantly revealing how their own personal tempers and foibles contributed in part to the broken relationships with their children. 

I saw the play years ago but this time, having dealt personally with the placement of four family members of different ages each with debilitating disabilities and dwindling financial resources beyond their control, I found it even more satisfying to watch. The crowd I joined at the opening was mostly between the ages of fifty and ninety-years-old and undoubtedly related to these very same, sad and lonely circumstances that are inevitable for so many senior citizens, as perhaps many younger audience members realized the same for their aging parents or grandparents. 

I can't rave enough about the fine performances by the semi-retired John Reeger and Paula Scrofano. The pair push each other’s buttons as only a real married couple can and display a sharp sense of timing and emotional flexibility rarely seen in younger actors. The couple also show off their fine comedic mastery.  

I highly recommend this thought provoking, totally timeless and relevant production in which Reeger and Scrofano use every single word, every gesture to brilliantly drive home the message that senior citizens are every bit as sharp and full of emotional and physical needs for fulfillment and daily entertainment as their younger counterparts.

This is a darkly funny and meaningful production the entire family young and old should see together, if only to wake up and realize we all will be old someday, and, if we don't make changes to preserve and increase the coverage of Medicare and Medicaid, we are dooming ourselves and our children to retirements that look more like "jails for those who have lived too long" instead of clean and comfortable homes to retire in. 

"The Gin Game" is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through August 13th. For more information visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Drury Lane Theatre continues its 2017-2018 season with the Pulitzer-winning play The Gin Game written by D.L. Coburn, featuring Jeff Award winners Paula Scrofano and John Reeger, and directed by Ross Lehman. The Gin Game runs June 22 – August 13, 2017 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.
 
Winner of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and nominated for four Tony Awards, The Gin Game symbolizes life in the form of a card game in a two-act, two-character play starring Chicago theater legends Paula Scrofano and John Reeger. In The Gin Game, Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey strike up an acquaintance and begin to play gin. As the game progresses, intimate secrets of their lives are revealed and they begin to search for each other’s weaknesses in both the game and life itself.
 
With this production, married couple Paula Scrofano and John Reeger join an elite history of famous duos who have previously battled in The Gin Game, including original stars Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn (the 1977 Broadway production and 1981 TV movie), Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke (the 2003 PBS television special), and Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones (the 2015 Broadway Revival). Jeff Award winner Ross Lehman directs the renowned acting couple.
 
“We have wanted to produce The Gin Game for years, specifically with Paula Scrofano and John Reeger in the roles of Fonsia and Weller,” says Kyle DeSantis, President of Drury Lane Productions. “This marks Drury Lane’s twelfth collaboration with this legendary pair of Chicago actors, and we’re so excited to welcome them back to our stage.”
 
The creative team for The Gin Game includes Katherine Ross (scenic design), Mathieu H. Ray (costume design), Lindsey Lyddan (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Mike Tutaj (projection design), Cassy Schillo (props design) and Claire Moores (wig and hair design). The production stage manager is Lucia Lombardi.
 
The Gin Game is recommended for ages 13 and up.

For more show information or to purchase tickets, or visit DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

It’s been quite some time since “Chicago” has actually been performed in Chicago (or thereabouts), but after a ten-year road in obtaining the show’s rights, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook brings home the popular musical created in 1975 – and we are glad they did. With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Webb and a book by both Webb and super choreographer Bob Fosse, the musical “Chicago” is based on a 1926 play of the same name. Inspired by actual criminals and crimes reported by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, the story revolves around the notion of the “celebrity criminal” while mocking the Chicago justice system that was in place in the 1920’s, an era where it was also widely suspected that an attractive women could not be convicted of a heinous crime, like say, the murder of her lover or husband. 

In “Chicago” the story starts off with a “bang” when Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) shoots dead her lover on the side. She is quickly arrested and held in Cook County Jail while awaiting trial for murder. In an age when the press sensationalized homicides committed by women (good ol' media), the public quickly buys into the hype making an instant celebrity out of Roxie, and as starved for stardom as the former dancer has always been, she thrives on the new-found attention. In the “pen” Roxie meets several colorful characters, but none as tough as Velma Kelly (Alena Watters), a socialite divorcee and former cabaret singer who is currently the talk of Chicago for the high-profile murder she committed. Velma barely gives Roxie the time of day, instead giving her the cold shoulder. But when Roxie’s popularity soars as the “new story” and Velma’s diminishes, it’s Velma who wants to partner with Roxie for a song and dance nightclub act, this time receiving the cold shoulder from the new celebrity. 

Roxie’s only way to avoid a sentence of death by hanging is to hire the flashy, fast-talking lawyer, Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard) for five thousand dollars. Well beyond what the couple can afford, Roxie’s doting, naive and “invisible” husband Amos (Justin Brill) scrapes up what he can and promises Flynn to pay the rest when he can. From there, Flynn turns the case into a dog and pony show, equating the trial as a “three-ring circus”.  

Watters stuns on several occasions as sassy Velma Kelly, winning the audience over almost immediately after a dazzling performance of the musical’s opening number “All That Jazz”. Possessing just the right dose of sexy attitude, Kelly impresses both vocally and in her dancing, her performance nothing short of riveting. As notable as Watters’ portrayal of Velma Kelly, Felthous also knocks the ball out of the park as Roxie Hart, pairing perfectly with her fellow caged dame and giving the show a rock ‘em sock ‘em one-two punch. Felthous convinces as one stricken by delusions of grandeur, confusing the popularity of her murder case as celebrity fame, putting forth an overall display of well-tuned comedic timing to go along with her own vocal prowess and dance ability. As fun to watch as the two are, Watters and Felthous really bring it home in their physically-charged routine “Nowadays”. 

He’s charming, good-looking and possesses a silver tongue that can sway even the toughest juries. Well-cast, singer/songwriter Guy Lockard brightly shines as the smooth defense attorney, Billy Flynn, and gives the show yet another boost, particularly in his courtroom maneuvering melody “Razzle Dazzle”. Justin Brill also contributes nicely in his funny depiction of Amos Hart, a man who is considered so undistinguishable by others he aptly refers to himself as “Mister Cellophane” in one of the show’s most humorous numbers. E. Faye Butler’s strong interpretation of Matron Mama Morton is pivotal, Butler crushing it in the number “When You’re Good to Mama”, a jailhouse tutorial for newly imprisoned Roxie Hart. A talented ensemble also brings another strength to the production in their many alluring dance numbers, perhaps most markedly in “Cell Block Tango”, a sultry ode to the woman prisoner during the revolutionary Jazz age.  

  

This new staging of “Chicago” is colorful and richer than ever thanks to an artistic creative team that includes Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Sully Ratke (Costume Design), Lee Fiskness (Lighting Design), Ray Nardelli (Sound Design), Cassy Schillo (Properties Design), Claire Moores (Wig Design) along with Production Stage Manager Larry Baker. 

“Chicago” is an energy-driven musical that is sexy, fun and truly memorable. Filled with a slew outstanding performances, inventive choreography and a set list that is justly contagious, Drury Lane’s “Chicago” is a can’t miss thrill ride. 

The Roaring Twenties are back...in high style. 

“Chicago” is currently being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through June 18th. For tickets and/or more show information, click here. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Guys, it’s time to dig into your closet and shake the dust from your polyester, large-collared, chest-exposing dance shirt. Divas, grab your sequin-studded blouse and bell-bottomed slacks or favorite jumpsuit – it’s time to disco! Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook hosts an electric 1970’s dance party to remember with their current production of Saturday Night Fever the Musical. Following the 1977 hit film that catapulted John Travolta to superstar status for his portrayal of Tony Manero, a troubled kid from The Bronx who finds escape from his dilemmas by lighting up the dance floor on Saturday nights, we are thrust into an exciting time capsule when disco was king.

As the story goes, Tony, who works a dead-end job in a hardware store, just wants to be somebody. And he is – on weekends. He just wants to dance! He’s got the hair, good looks, charisma, and dance moves that make him an instant celebrity whenever he walks into 2001, the neighborhood disco hotspot, all the girls lining up to partner with him, all the guys wishing they had half his talent. With a couples’ dance contest coming up that awards a cool thousand bucks to the winning team, Tony searches for a partner, of course seeking out the one girl who is not overly impressed with him. Saturday Night Fever the Musical, keenly directly by Tony-nominated Dan Knechtges, is a well-rounded story that delves into Tony’s stereotypical New York Italian home life, his life on the streets hanging out with his close-knit gang and his quest for love, that, for once, doesn’t come so easy. Adding a humorous spin to the classic film, this dazzling production offers a good amount of laughs while holding onto the integrity of the film. 

The music is half the fun. While the soundtrack is heavily driven by the music of The Bee Gees implementing favorites like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “More Than A Woman” and “Jive Talkin’”, were also turned onto other disco staples that include “Boogie Shoes”, Disco Duck” and “Disco Inferno”. And as good as the music is, the dancing is just as impressive, getting spectacular individual and ensemble performances that make it difficult for audience members to restrain from taking the stage and join in the disco celebration, also encouraged by the tremendous set that recreates a captivating 1970’s dance club – strobe light, red velvet walls and all. 

Adrian Aguilar is seemingly made for the role of Tony Manero. The Jeff Award nominated actor who once starred as Rocky Balboa in Broadway’s Rocky, is nothing short of sensational. The search for the perfect Tony was widespread, with auditions held in not only Chicago but also New York, Houston and Los Angeles, and it was right here in Chicago that the production found its seamless fit. Says Kyle DeSantis, President of Drury Lane Productions, “Out of the many talented artists we saw, no one came close to Chicago’s unparalleled Adrian Auguilar as Tony.” And DeSantis could not have been any more correct as Aguilar delivers a strong performance bringing with him the comic chops and astounding dancing ability needed for the role. Aguilar is also able to tackle the demanding vocals required to take on the many numbers to which his character is highlighted and adds just the right amount of dramatic precision that give us a believable Tony Manero. 

Aguilar, whose dynamite performance is worth the cost of admission alone, is surrounded by a heaping helping of talent. Landree Fleming, who recently knocked the socks off of theatre goers in her performance as Kira in American Theater Company’s Xanadu, is back, this time delivering solid support as Manero’s clingy wannabe girlfriend Annette, while Erica Stephan does an admirable job as Stephanie, the dancer who has captured the starry eyes of our story’s star. Making his Drury Lane debut is standout actor Alex Newell, best known for his portrayal of transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams on Fox’s hit series Glee. Newell is rightly cast for the role of Candy, a disco diva who truly belts, delivering a handful of drop-your-jaw moments. In Saturday Night Fever the Musical, we also get a consistently strong boost from an ultra-talented ensemble that is not only able to bring a disco to life on several occasions, but can add credible depth to this classic story thanks to a slew of strong acting and vocal performances. Yet we cannot overlook Ryan O'Gara's stunning lighting design (disco ball included) and Rachel Laritz' spot on 1970's costume design that so well breathes life into Kevin Depinet's lavish red-velvet laden set. 

This new, reworked North American version, scripted by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti adds even more style and flair to an already stage proven production that made waves after its London mount in 1998 and invaded America with a Broadway run in 2000. An era of pop culture poked fun of so often (and a handful of parodies are certainly present in this production), this is a musical that also celebrates disco and reminds us of the pivotal part it played in our musical history and of its ever-perpetual influence that remains.  

Saturday Night Fever the Musical pulls out all the stops, delivering a show that has it all – dancing, singing, visuals and humor, while distributing a plethora of 1970's nostalgia. Songs you may have long forgotten will be stuck in your head days afterward – in a good way. Running at Drury Lane Theatre through March 19th (now extended through April 9th), this is a production that is sure to bring the boogie out in each of us no matter how buried inside it may be.

Recommended.

For tickets and/or more show information, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Sunday, 19 June 2016 16:32

Deathtrap: A Steady Diet of Curveballs

When it comes to an engaging mystery thriller, the need for finely-written, well-executed twists, turns and the unexpected are imperative. Afterall, a good suspense story on stage that has the ability to genuinely captivate its audience members can be one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences we can have. In Drury Lane’s current production Deathtrap, we get just that. Deathtrap, written by Ira Levin in 1978 and later becoming a film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, is a whodunnit that pulls you in keeps you guessing so that just when you think you’ve figured it out, another curveball is thrown.

 

Upon entering the theatre, we are met with the interior of a Victorian house with a rustic interior. Swords, poster tins of plays and antiques such as Houdini’s handcuffs and collectible pistols decorate the walls and shelves. When looking closely, it appears the way the rafters are cut suggest we could be looking into a massive trap. 

 

It all starts when a theatre professor, a former flourishing playwright, Sidney Bruhl, takes notice of a play written by one of his students, Cliff Anderson. It’s brilliant - a sure fire hit. It’s been a looooong time since Bruhl has had a successful play and there is no reason to think he is on the brink of anything else that could make waves in the theatre world. When Bruhl promptly invites Anderson - along with his single transcript - to his country home where he lives alone with his wife, Myra, the suspense begins and only thickens as we wonder if Sydney is capable of murdering for a hit show. The well-written dialogue keeps one on edge, moving back and forth from friendly banter to that of a suspicious nature. Adding to the intrigue are Myra’s suspicions and the interactions of Helga, the Bruhl’s neighbor who possesses psychic abilities. 

 

Daniel Cantor as Sydney Bruhl and Aaron Latterall as Cliff Anderson are brilliant together as they lock horns in their highly engaging cat and mouse exchanges, each performing magnificently while McKinley Carter as Myra offers strong support and is able to cement the growing tension to enhance the audience’s intrigue even further. Though plenty of witty dialogue between players to incite a good share of laughs, Cindy Gold as Helga den Dorp is absolutely hysterical as the psychic neighbor, causing quite a stir with her “visions” that often includes exaggerated body language and heavy moaning. 

 

We are constantly asked the question on what we would actually do to gain success, no matter what has shown up in our past nature or not, should the opportune moment take place. Should the temptation be great enough, should we know we would get away with, let’s say a crime of significance, we generally rely on the thing deep inside ourselves that would not allow us to go to such extreme measures - to take such action - most people anyway. But what happens when one’s morale compass fails us them - is absent? What is one’s breaking point?

 

Deathtrap is a nearly perfect psychological thriller. Add that to the fact that this particular production boasts exceptional acting performances, a detailed set that draws one in before the show even begins and a healthy diet of humor, and it would be impossible not to recommend this fantastic play.

 

Wonderfully directed by William Osetek Deathtrap is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through August 14th. For tickets and/or show information, visit www.drurylanetheatre.com. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

"Breeze it, Buzz it

Easy does, it

Turn off the juice, boy"

But the juice is not turned off in this keyed up production.

If you are looking for high-energy dance numbers performed with grace and precision, powerful harmonies engulfed in beauty and emotion, a story of tragedy, hope and passion, and, a whole lot of "Cool" - then look no further than "West Side Story", now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through March 29th.

For those of you who do not know the story – a brief synopsis. It’s the early 1960’s in New York where local gang, The Jets, are not taking kindly to the newly populating Puerto Ricans, who now have an outfit of their own – The Sharks, led by "Bernardo". Following along the lines of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the two gangs attend a community dance where former Jet leader, "Tony" instantly becomes lovesick with "Bernardo’s" sister, "Maria" who expresses the feeling to be mutual. Hopelessly in love, the two realize they must break past the hate-filled racial barriers set up, and maintained, by others if they are to find happiness together.

Directed by Rachel Rockwell, the production grabs audience members instantly and does not let go from its opening scene where Jets leader by proxy, "Riff", leads his gang in a spirited version of "Jets Song" ("When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way – from your first cigarette to your last dying day…" you know the words). Each number is choreographed with style and exquisiteness, encompassing the perfect sassiness, aggression or idealism when called upon. While intensity prevails in such numbers as "Dance at the Gym" and "America" we are also taken to dreamlike bliss in "Somewhere" and "One Hand, One Heart".

As talented as the dancing is the singing. Jim DeSelm ("Tony") and Christina Nieves ("Maria") demonstrate operatic vocal range, delivering each note with meticulousness accuracy and command. The two shine throughout the entire production but really leave a lasting impression in their duet, "Tonight". Taking nothing away from the many amazing performers that make up the Jets and Sharks, Michelle Arevena ("Anita") also deserves a special nod. Arevena makes for a highly entertaining "Anita" with her dazzling footwork and gifted vocals.

Jets leader by proxy, "Riff" (Rhett Guter), and head Shark, "Bernardo (Lucas Segovia) lead one of the production’s most memorable scenes as the two gangs engage in a rumble below the highway. Matt Hawkins, who reproduces the choreography, does an extraordinary job in combining ballet and modern dance with street fight moves, turning the stage into a spectacle of fast action, vicious turns and yet, the refinement and poise found in "Swan Lake". The entire cast is a well-oiled machine that take on one stunning scene after another.

"West Side Story" is one highlight after another. This particular production stays true to the essence of the original and is a slam-dunk when it comes to entertainment value. For more information on show times, visitwww.BroadwayInChicago.comor wwwBroadwayWestSideStory.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

I just love a good whodunit. Who killed who, how and why – the suspects, the accusers, the whole shebang. The Game’s Afoot, currently running at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, is just that – murder, suspense and also plenty of laughs.

The Game’s Afoot by Ken Ludwig, author of “Lend Me A Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo”, is a very engaging mystery/comedy that revolves around William Gillette, an actor best known for his on stage portrayal of the famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. We are taken back to Christmas Eve, 1936, where Gillette hosts a dinner party for some of the cast members in his latest production. It’s a wintry night as the guests arrive throughout the early evening to Gillette’s Connecticut mansion. Soon after guests acquaint themselves with each other, a murder takes place and Gillette calls himself into action as his Sherlock Holmes character in order to solve the mystery. Hilarity ensues as everyone becomes a suspect, including Gillette himself.

The Game’s Afoot is anchored with a fine cast, most notably Derek Hasenstab as the energetic and always deducing, William Gillette, and Angela Ingersoll as the vivacious Daria Chase. Hasenstab recalls, “I love William Gillette and I like Ken Ludwig’s writing. He writes fun stuff for the actors to play with.” Rod Thomas also makes a splash as Gillette’s longtime friend, Felix Geisel.

Incidentally, Gillette is based on an actual person. Gillette wrote the stage version of Sherlock Holmes back in the late 1800s, adding to the character the pipe and deerstalker cap. Hasenstab adds, “He was an eccentric person. He built a castle in Connecticut, he was an inventor and he loved keeping up with the technology of the day.”

The show is set in the inside the living room of Gillette’s mansion and is quite jaw-dropping once exposed as it is lavishly rich and has murder mystery written all over it. Snow constantly falls behind its large windows giving the desired effect of a winter storm, while an entire wall spins back and forth from fireplace and mantle to cocktail bar with the pull of a lever – a sconce near the living room’s entrance way.

The show has some pretty funny moments but is really consistently humor rich from beginning to end, at the same time presenting a compelling enough mystery to entertain on its own. The characters are quirky and likeable – more so as you get to know them, and one kind of gets the feeling that they are part of the dinner party even though they might be rows away from the stage.

The Game’s Afoot is simply fun. If you, like myself, enjoy whodunits, you’ll really find this show a treat.

For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Having never seen this show, five minutes in I felt that I was really going to enjoy myself. Twenty minutes later, I knew that fifteen minutes ago I was correct in feeling so. As the minutes into the show increased, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee only got better and better.

The show, set in a high school gymnasium, starts with a janitor nonchalantly setting the clock on the scoreboard to a countdown while the house lights are still on and people are searching for their seats. Those already familiar with the show release scattered cheers knowing that show time is just around the corner. Sure enough the buzzer sounds as the theatre darkens and our attention is directed to a high school teacher who is clearly reminiscing about her days as a spelling bee champion. We are then introduced to the high school vice principal, a community service volunteer and a collection of nerdy, overachieving and socially awkward competitors and the cast breaks into the title song. Ms. Peretti then addresses the crowd from a center stage microphone and calls out for four other contestants who are randomly selected from the audience. The spelling bee begins.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee brilliantly parodies many of the distinguishing nuances of actual spelling bees, lightheartedly poking fun at the process and those involved while at the same time becoming a tribute that shows the dedication, intelligence and pressures involved. As each contestant approaches the microphone, Ms. Peretti reads aloud a fun factoid (often to the utterly ridiculous) about them. Vice Principal Panch reads the word to be spelled then, if asked, provides the language of origin, its definition and how it can be used in a sentence, which was always a hilarious highlight.

SPELLING-BEE-Zach-Colonna-

Playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch was Joe Dempsey who could be funny literally doing nothing at all. With a penchant for superior comic timing, northsiders, like myself, are very familiar with Dempsey’s talent to draw laughs as a Neo-Futurists alumn and his work in many other Chicago theaters. The exceedingly gifted Frances Limoncelli was also just terrific in every sense of the word as Rona Lisa Peretti while each and every cast member playing a contestant brought their own unique humor to the table providing a bus load of hoots and hollers to be had for a full night of entertainment.

Let’s not forget about the music. From the “I Love You Song” to “My Unfortunate Erection” to “Magic Foot” to the goodbye’s that were sang whenever a contestant was escorted off stage, we are never shorted of fun, catchy and witty songs.  

Nerd or not, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is deliciously delightful from beginning to end and will be playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through August 17th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.drurylane or call 630-530-0111. 

Here's hoping I did not spell any words in this review incorrectly.

* Top Photo - (L to R)(Back Row)-Stephenie Soohyun Park, Jordan DeLeon, Guest, Zach Colonna, (Front Row)-Guest, Eli Branson, Carolyn Braver

*Below Photo - Zach Colonna, (Back Table)-Frances Limoncelli, Joe Dempsey

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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