In Concert

If you’ve followed Netflix’s big 2016 hit Stranger Things, this play will make all kinds of sense. You’ll get the jokes, the 80’s references and will easily follow the story line. If you haven’t seen the series, it would be recommended that you do before checking out Random Acts and Greenhouse Theater’s collaboration, Strangest Things! The Musical

Spoofing one of the most talked about sci-fi series to hit the airwaves over the past few years, Strangest Things! follows the disappearance of Will Byers, a young boy in Hawkins, Indiana. Set in the 1980’s, his mother Joyce Byers, brother Johnathan and a group of Will’s friends search everywhere to no avail, eventually enlisting the help of Police Chief, David Harbour. When a young girl known as “Eleven” appears from seemingly nowhere dressed in only a hospital gown, it is soon discovered she has psychokinetic abilities and things start to get weird. 

Befriended by Will’s friends, Eleven is able to contact Will from the other side and it becomes apparent that things are not at all what they seem. Joyce believes Will is contacting her from another dimension, his energy channeled through the radio and a string of Christmas lights, confident he is alive but trapped in another world. Of course, this sounds crazy – or is it? And with every good sci-fi thriller there needs to be a villain, so it’s soon discovered an experimental laboratory, led by scientist Martin Brenner, may have a hand in Will’s disappearance. Suspicious, the snooping begins and the plot gets deeper and deeper as the story progresses.  

The series won its popularity not only with its engaging storyline, but with the heavy use of 80’s music and sound effects, making it prime parody material.

That’s where Strangest Things! comes in. 

While Strangest Things! The Musical hits on some of the 80’s silliness and occasionally finds success in its over-the-top lampooning of the series’ characters, it struggles to hold onto its momentum. Taking popular 80’s hits like “Xanadu”, “I’m A Virgin”, “Sweet Dreams” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”, writers Bryan Renaud and Emily Schmidt change the lyrics to accommodate the storyline in the play. While the lyrics are, at times, funny, the execution falls a bit flat, the harmonies weak and the vocals often lacking strength, excluding Molly Lecaptain as “Juice” (Joyce) Byers who can flat out belt. We almost wonder if the play would have been better without the musical numbers, the dialogue exchanges drawing the most laughs along with the character exaggerations of each.

Lecaptain does a good job in taking on Winona Ryders’ character, over-amplifying her panic-stricken, bewildered and frenzied traits at just the right intensity, while Kevin O’Connell as “Sheriff Hopper” (Police Chief David Harbour) also takes his role and runs with it. Will’s best friend Mike is played by Jenna Fawcett, who doesn’t have to do much more than wear a goofy wig to get a chuckle but also delivers plenty of funny lines and loopy expressions. Older brother “Johnathan” is played by Ben F. Locke, who doubles as hunky high school heart throb Steve. Locke’s performance offers some of the best camp-dom in the musical, leaving more “Johnathan” scenes to be highly desired. Their comedic ability is only limited by the play’s script.

The play starts strong as we meet our characters the first time around (especially “Barb” played by Christian Sibert), but the humor becomes predictable, the character’s freshness soon overplayed and the jokes often coming off as contrived or overdone, a perfect example being Hopper’s mention of T.J. Hooker – which was funny – until he points out to the audience that we should laugh because he made an obscure 80’s reference. We know.    

If you enjoyed the Netflix series, there might be just enough in Strangest Things! to like despite its many missed opportunities for witty, comedic growth. The idea is there but the play could use a reworking to give its audience the most bang for their buck.            

Lukewarm, the play has severe hits and misses, some jokes really creative while others falling flat. As a whole, the story might be a bit tough to piece together without having seen the series, as it is presented somewhat scattered without full explanation, so again, it is recommended you watch Stranger Things first.  

Strangest Things! The Musical is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through May 13th. For more information on this production, visit www.greenhousetheater.org.

*This show has now been extended through July 8th.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Maybe we can chalk it up to a mid-life crisis…or, maybe, Wheeler is just a self-loathing man who’d just assume sabotage his own happiness rather opting to wallow in self-pity. In Steppenwolf’s Linda Vista, a new play debut by Tracy Letts and directed by Dexter Bullard, we get a very funny, and highly realistic, account of a man who has seemingly given up on life and love.

Wheeler (Ian Bradford) has moved from a cot in his wife’s garage to his own apartment in the Linda Vista apartment complex. With a soured marriage and an estranged relationship with his son coming to an end, Wheeler has the opportunity to start fresh, but that’s much more difficult than it sounds – at least it is for him. As we get to know Wheeler, a former Sun-Times photographer with promise who now holds onto a routine job as a camera repairman, we see someone who has been riddled with repercussions that have stemmed from a series of poor choices. Wheeler resents his soon-to-be-ex-wife for having him leave his Chicago life for California to be closer to her family. He resents his son for - well, just getting in the way of his life. He resents happy people. Hell, he resents Radiohead. But Wheeler has accepted his current situation – a cynical alcoholic that shoots down other people’s hopes and dreams, believing he is a “piece of shit” who “doesn’t deserve to be happy”. 

Wheeler’s best friend Paul (Tim Hopper) and his wife Margaret (Sally Murphy), friends from their college days, haven’t given up on him. They want to find him a partner who can bring out the old Wheeler who once had dreams and ambitions himself. When Paul and Margaret set Wheeler up with a friend of theirs, Jules (Cora Vander Broek), who is bright and bouncy, Wheeler reluctantly accepts and, as you can probably imagine, he has a few skeptical things to say after finding out she is a life coach. This, of course, threatens a man who wants a simple, joyless existence. Complicating matters for Wheeler, he takes in Minnie (Kahyun Kim), a twenty-four-year old rockabilly enthusiast recently kicked out of her own apartment in the same complex by her abusive boyfriend. 

The play is very truthful. It is about regret, wrecked opportunities and the consequences of unfortunate decisions. It is about letting oneself spin out of control, essentially giving up, and the struggle to choose happiness - a challenge when becoming so distant. But is also about hope and the chance to change for the better. In Wheeler, we are given a lovable “asshole” that we must root for. 

Ian Barford is tremendous as Wheeler. Barford quickly draws in the audience, grabs them and never lets go. Convincing, humorous and often decidedly heartfelt, Barford captures the essence of his self-deprecating character so well, we can’t help but think of a few “Wheeler’s” we know ourselves. Tim Hopper does fine work and is believable as Wheeler’s tolerable, but supportive, best friend as does Sally Murphy, both nicely adding to the play’s humor (I’ll just say karaoke bar scene). 

While Kahyun Kim is brassy and nails the too-cool-for-school attitude as Minnie, Cora Vander Broek is sparkles as Jules, perfectly pairing with Barford as his counterpart in a true positive/negative kind of relationship. We are also taken to the camera shop where Wheeler plugs away all day fixing one camera after another under the supervision of his crass boss Michael (Troy West), who is just waiting for a sexual harassment lawsuit to be filed against him as he repeatedly gawks and spews inappropriate comments at his clerk, Anita (Caroline Neff).

A revolving set takes us inside Wheeler’s California apartment, his workplace and to a bar. He lives simply, and that’s all he wants, DVDs of Stanley Kubrick littering his media stand and a refrigerator most likely only filled with a couple six-packs and a box of Arm & Hammer.   

Linda Vista is a well-acted ride into Wheeler’s uncertainties on turning fifty with the realization that his best years have long since passed. It is a play equipped with a stellar cast, a very funny script that is also genuine and even moving at times and direction that is so precise we can easily identify with each of Letts’ characters. 

Very highly recommended. 

Linda Vista is being performed at Steppenwolf Theatre through May 21st. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org

*Note – This play does contain full frontal nudity and sexual simulation. 

*Extended through May 28th 

Published in Theatre in Review

Not cool enough to join “Tinder Select”? Gorilla Tango Originals has got you covered with its late-night offering that gets hot and heavy about the good, the bad, and the down-right dirty sides of dating apps: “Love Me Tinder: Swipe Right.”

“Love Me Tinder: Swipe Right,” by J. Joseph Cox and directed by Taylor Pasche, performs Wednesdays at 8:00pm in April and 9:30pm in May, April 5-May 24, 2017 at Gorilla Tango Theatre (1919 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago IL 60647). Tickets are $20. Please visit www.gorillatango.com or call 773-598-4549 for tickets and more information. 

Scruff, Grindr, Tinder, OkCupid... one goal: find a connection, whether that be through a good f&*k or a sweet date.  “Love Me Tinder: Swipe Right” follows a group of well-seasoned dating app-ers educating a newbie on the finer points of app-based dating. Raunchy hook-ups? Fee-for-service sexual favors? Flirting on CB radio? Check, check, and check. Who needs “love at first sight?” Just be wary of kitten-of-the-month calendars. This series of salaciously hilarious vignettes, based on real life stories, explores the good, the bad, and the creepy in what has become dating life’s new normal. Definitely for mature audiences!

Playwright J. Joseph Cox has had work produced across the U.S. as well as in the U.K. and Canada. He is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America and has been named a Finalist for both the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference as well as the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship. In speaking about the origin of the show, Cox says, “All of the stories are based on real life situations gathered from friends, acquaintances, and co-workers, as well as a few gems from Reddit subgroups. Truth is stranger than fiction, especially in the world of app-based dating. We’re all creeps - embrace it.”

Director Taylor Pasche continues, “The show is bawdy, candid, and up-close-and-personal about sex. You’ll laugh at the absurdity. You’ll laugh at the relatability. You'll leave contemplating what it means to have a relationship face-to-face versus screen-to-screen.”

Gorilla Tango Theatre (GTT) exists to provide entertainment people actually want to see. GTT believes that every theatre person is a business person; it seeks to educate, foster, and provide resources to theatre practitioners so that each theatre production is treated as an entrepreneurial venture. GTT is conveniently located at the intersection of Western and Milwaukee in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood and is easily accessible by public transportation (just steps away from the Western Blue Line stop and the #49 Western, #73 Armitage and #56 Milwaukee buses). Street parking is also readily available. GTT offers a variety of affordable beer and wine for purchase. Consult the website for show rating information, tickets, and details.

www.gorillatango.com | 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 | 773-598-4549

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre welcomes back one of Chicago’s own, Sarah Ruhl.  “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” is a new play making its Midwestern debut at Theater Wit. Ms. Ruhl is one of the country’s foremost playwrights right now. She has another new play, “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,” currently running at the Lincoln Center in New York. Her work is often produced in Chicago usually directed by her friend Jessica Thebus. This is an especially personal production for Ruhl as it stars her own mother (Kathleen Ruhl) in the title role. 

 

No, this is not another warmed over incantation of the JM Barrie fairy tale. While somewhat influenced by the source material, “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” is a very realistic story of five siblings grappling with the death of their father. What begins in a depressing hospital room, moves to a whiskey-soaked conversation between siblings that eventually turns into a make-believe version of Peter Pan. 

 

At its core, this is a play about love. There are plenty of plays about dysfunctional families, and this isn’t one of them. What it boils down to are five adult children trying to pinpoint a time when they felt their father’s love. These siblings have differing political beliefs and Ruhl’s apt commentary about our current climate is especially sharp, without being polarizing. There’s a great deal of truth in the courtesy her characters show for one another’s opinions. She also spends a great deal of the play dissecting the role of Catholicism and whether or not there is an afterlife. Despite the volley of bittersweet and at times painful memories of their childhood, these characters love each other and that is felt in the dialogue and performances. 

 

Kathleen Ruhl is adorable as the oldest sister and former Peter Pan star, Ann. Perhaps it’s her relation to the playwright, or her commitment to character, but Kathleen Ruhl makes the audience question how much of this work is fiction and how much is fact? Eileen Niccolai, a Shattered Globe ensemble member, provides a lot of the humor, but also some of the more heartfelt moments as youngest sister Wendy. All the siblings are named for Peter Pan characters, which underscores Sarah Ruhl’s point that with their parents gone, they are orphans now and need to grow up. 

 

Like any Sarah Ruhl work, there is a great deal of whimsy. With each new work, Ruhl continues to keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds. “For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” is both prolific in its subject matter and also aesthetically striking it its presentation. The reality of the situation and the poignancy of the lines allows the audience to trust their narrator and fly when the time comes. 

 

Shattered Globe’s “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday is being performed at Theater Wit at 1229 W Belmont (773.975.8150) and has been extended through May 27th. 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 06 April 2017 18:41

The Magical Splendor of Cavalia’s Odysseo

One might be unsure of what to expect from a show featuring 65 horses and 48 artists, but the mystical grandeur of Odysseo by Cavalia leaves one feeling awe and in disbelief of the athletic feats and performance they have just witnessed. Set to live musical performances of a band and live singers, Odysseo takes the audience on a journey through different lands, cultures, seasons, and across land, water and air to display the astonishing talents of the horses, riders and acrobats. Hailed as “The Best Show Ever”, Cavalia is a performance like no other seen in the past. 

 

Sitting under a Big Top as large as a football field, everyone is anxious to see the first horses enter the scene, and once that happens the crowd is giddy with delight as they gallop across the stage. It is wonderful to be in the presence of such beautiful horses and one can’t help but feel lucky enough to be near them and imagine brushing their beautiful manes. An incredible amount of talent is demonstrated through each routine. The horses also display their personalities through their interactions together, sometimes even picking on each other in the middle of the act as if to say, “Hey! That’s where I’m supposed to stand!” 

 

Some of the most daring parts of the show establish the bond between the artists and horses. This bond is very apparent throughout each act as they work together to perform many stunts and dances in unison. Riders often appear hanging from the side, underneath, or standing on top of a galloping horse. The timing alone is so crucial for the stunts and the trust between the horse and performer is palpable. 

 

The acrobatic feats of the performers is one, no, two steps beyond what one might have seen from other troupes. Angel-like Aerialists are kept grounded via their flowing aerial silks to horses and riders below who are guiding them in a circle while they float, spin and wrap themselves in a dance that could only be done in the air. Phenomenal acrobats flip across the stage, across each other, and often on top of each other forming human steeples and pyramids that look like one person is entirely supporting at the bottom of the steeple. Performers wearing spring-legs are human kangaroos often jumping as high and as far as the horses. The strength and agility of the performers during the act "Carosello" is breathtaking, the piece completely unique to Cavalia. Incorporating a spinning carousel suspended from the top of the set, acrobats are dancing together on the moving poles demonstrating immense strength and teamwork that is disguised with graceful, flowing moves, sometimes looking effortless.

The set by Guillaume Lord is magnificent and plays like a main character throughout the show. The depth that is created through use of video screens, lighting, and a stage that slopes down from the height of three stories, creates a vast landscape that is used to tell stories with a cinema-like quality. Horses and riders arrive from distant mountains and are most stunning in the act "Travellers". Water is brought to the set through creating rain and a pond that helps highlight the very talented prancing horse, accentuating the performance of acrobats and the stunts riders perform on the galloping horses. The large screens display video creating a layered backdrop and the use of lighting helps to fashion different textures on the ground that takes us to many different landscapes, producing a mystical world where horses, riders and acrobats live in harmony while creating art. 

 

Under the Artistic Direction of Normand Latourelle and the Direction of Wayne Fowkes, Odysseo by Cavalia will transform your expectations of shows of similar caliber. It is an inimitable experience that gives the audience the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular performance like no other that demonstrates agility and grace through cooperation and trust. It is a must see along with anything that Cavalia creates in the future. 

The horses in Cavalia are used from all parts of the world including Spain, France, Germany, Australia, The United States and Canada with breeds ranging from Arabian, Appaloosa, Lustitano and Holsteiner to name a few. Well cared for, a 20-person team comprised of trainers, veterinarians, groomers and health technicians travel with the show. To stay in tip-top shape, the horses go through a daily stretching and gymnastic routine daily. And no need to worry as the horses are well fed, receiving eight healthy meals per day with special treats (carrots and apples) given to each on Sunday evenings. In fact, each horse has a diet based on its individual needs. 

 

The human performers are also well-traveled, coming from Italy, Brazil, the United States, Russia, France, Guinea, Poland, Canada and Ukraine as nine languages are spoken at Odysseo.

 

Visually stimulating, adventurous, spectacular and one of the most original shows to come through Chicago in years, Cavalia is a family-friendly show that people will be talking about for some time. 

 

Odysseo by Cavalia will be performing under the Big Top located in the South Lot of Soldier Field through April 23rd (now extended to June 3rd). Tickets are available at www.cavalia.com or calling 866.999.8111. Special pricing and packages are available or groups. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Some of us are born with a passion, a passion for music or art or math. In the case of First Folio’s Silent Sky, one woman gives up almost everything in her personal life because she senses furiously, in her heart, that HER passion is going to lead to a discovery that will help all of humankind. This special woman, Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), turns out be absolutely correct. 

 

Like the popular film "Hidden Figures", the 2011 play Silent Sky by playwright Lauren Gunderson, now making it's Chicago Premiere, tells a very important real life example of how women have been making significant contributions to Science and the Arts against almost impossible odds due to sexism in the work place. Leavitt is wonderfully played with a great zesty and nerdy enthusiasm by Cassandra Bissell who adds just the right amount of seditious touch to the headstrong and very determined character. She is one of the women termed "computers" by their male employers who has been given the great "honor" of painstakingly cataloging all the stars in the sky captured on glass plates by a telescope. As a new employee, she is never allowed to operate the high-powered telescope or use privately her own ideas to validate her own discoveries while earning a whopping $.25 an hour. 

 

Leavitt is a proud, brilliant Radcliffe graduate. She jokes with her male supervisor Peter Shaw (keenly played by Wardell Julius Clark) that she and he are in fact "colleagues" that "Radcliffe is basically Harvard in skirts." As they fall in love with each other, he begins to soften on some of his more sexist behaviors including "borrowing" ideas from Leavitt to give to the professor (to whom she will never directly report) her discoveries by trying to claim them as his own. Leavitt is hired as one of Harvard astronomer Dr. Edward Charles Pickering's "computers" or, as they were referred to as "Pickering's Harem”.

 

Leavitt's work came at a time when we as earthlings had no idea where we were located in the Milky Way nor did we know how far away the billions of stars and galaxies made visible by the super powerful new telescope really are from our planet. Leavitt observes closely the luminosity of a class of stars known as Cepheid variables. Others had thought their flashes of light completely random, but through years of study and an epiphany provided by her musically inclined sister, Margaret (Haley Rice), who is composing a symphony in between giving birth to multiple children, Leavitt discovers that the stars are actually making sounds, a music of the stars. This eventually provided the ONLY key to measuring the distance between Earth and other galaxies. Creating the standard to measure the distance of stars from Earth, many male astronomers like Edwin Hubble greedily feasted on her published work to make names for themselves but poor Henrietta dies of cancer before one of them finally realizes she deserves to be nominated for, and win, the Nobel Prize - but the Nobel is not given posthumously and so she was never even nominated for it. 

 

Annie Cannon (Jeannie Affelder) and Willamina Fleming (Belinda Bremner) play her fellow "computers" with a lusty, strong intelligence. The three characters develop a genuine family, a sisterhood, believing in Henrietta and encouraging her to take her work home with her (the glass plates are not allowed to leave the observatory) even when she is forced to move home to Wisconsin to take care of her dying father. 

 

In the end, Henrietta gives up a promising offer of marriage to Shaw, the chance to have children of her own, and even her dream of traveling the world in order to complete her work. 

 

Although I thought the gray monotone set in the chapel at Mayslake Peabody Estate was awfully depressing and didn't change enough to give us the sense of her whole life passing through it's dull indistinguishable doors, we are finally rewarded with the lighting display and music at the end of the show thanks to John "Smooch" Medina's projections, combined with Michael McNamara's lights and Christopher Kriz's musical score. The entire effect was spectacular, almost as if we are finally able to see the universe through Henrietta's passionate, intelligent eyes.   

 

There really needs to be more biographical plays like this one written with respect and sympathy about women who have changed our place in the world for the better - forever. It is a terrible waste of human intelligence and a dirty shame that if you mention the name Henrietta Swan Leavitt to anyone girl child or even adult today that her life will ring no bells, her name strike no sense of recognition, gratefulness ignored for the contributions she made and the doors she broke down for female scientists to come. 

 

Touching, beautiful and inspiring.

 

I highly recommend this thoughtful, poetic and understanding production for showing that some women will give up everything for the love of their work and dedication to humanity. Remembering theses outstanding individuals inspires and empowers us all, male or female, to chase our dreams to the end. 

Superbly directed by Melanie Keller, Silent Sky is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 30th. For more information on this wonderful show or to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Giordano dance Chicago has opened its 2017 season with its Spring Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Divided into six distinct pieces, the show is a high energy celebration of jazz dance; it’s well polished, exciting and expressive. Not a word is spoken, but each piece tells a story so vividly that one might wonder why we would need the spoken language after all.  Opening with ‘’Grusin Suite’’, featuring former Giordano Dance Chicago dancer and River North Dance Chicago Artistic Director Frank Chaves, it’s a 1993 re-staging set to the soundtrack for the film “The Firm”. Fluidity of the dance is complemented by the flowing fabrics of the uniform - like costumes of the dancers (costume design by Branimira Ivanova). The costumes are kept very simple throughout the show, and so nothing detracts from the dancers often moving in unison, always with intention and precision, and there’s always a story being unwrapped. After Grusin Suite comes dark Divided Against - A place painted is decidedly hostile with male dancers wearing robes and acting subservient to the female dancers, who are erect and unemotional. Choreographed by Peter Chu, music by Djeff Houle. Next comes blissfully tribal A Ritual Dynamic. Deeply satisfying both visually and auditorily, it’s Avatar-like in its feel. Choreographed by Jon Lwhrer, music by White Derbakeh and DJ Disse. 

After intermission we’re treated to Sneaky Pete, choreographed by Brock Clawson, music by Kerry Muzzey, Abel Korzeniowski, and Adam Crystal. A lot going on here: mating game between two dancers with the girl pursing the boy, while the rest of the troupe is “living their normal life”, a.k.a., dancing beautifully, of course. It ends with the boy upsetting the girl and suffering the consequences by getting ostracized by the rest of the troupe (the “society”?). Or, at least, that was my interpretation. I invite the reader to make their own impression. Next piece is a gorgeous The Man That Got Away, a 1990 classic. The girl wants a man, but he’s is indifferent. She tries many things: affection, seduction, reason, arguing, but nothing will melt his heart.  Set to Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin music performed by Judy Garland, it’s choreographed by Sherry Zunker. Featuring dancer Ashley Downs. Fun Fact: Sherry Zunker has gifted The Man That Got Away to Giordano Dance Chicago in honor of legendary Gus Giordano. It’s sexy and compelling; an absolute delight!

Last, but not least, is a world premiere of a dance called Lost in this World. Choreographed by Liz Imperio, who is hailed as choreographer to the stars. Her credits include the staging and choreography for Jennifer Lopez’s world tour “Dance Again” and directing/choreographing of three of Gloria Estefan’s world concert tours and two world tours for Madonna. Set to music by Ed Sheeran/Steve Mac/Johnny McDaid, and Raury Tullis, Lost in this World is very youthful.  Beautifully danced by the lead woman Maeghan McHale and lead men Devin Buchanan and Adam Houston.

The Giordano Dance Chicago Spring Series is performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on Giordano Dance Chicago visit http://giordanodance.org/.  

 

Published in Dance in Review

Griffin Theatre’s In To America is a stark reminder of the contributions made by the many immigrants that have come from all around the world and have made the United States what it is today. In writer Bill Massolia’s multicultural story, American history is retold by several immigrant narratives where sixty personal stories are shared spanning over thirty countries. The play begins with the American immigration experience from Jamestown in the early 17th century and covers the 400 years since, many of its stories remarkable as they are daring. 

We hear the good and the bad. In many stories we get a taste of the shameful mistreatment immigrants received upon their arrival, the brave new world of vast opportunity they were seeking no more than a hostile environment that spews hate for the simple fact of being different. In others (not nearly as many) we hear how immigrants were received with opens arms, their dreams fulfilled as their new home offers the new life they had so desperately had hoped for. In this condensed history lesson we also learn the hardships endured throughout perilous journeys in leaving their own countries in daring escapes from their own native countries. 

“We never crossed the border. The border crossed us,” we are profoundly told from Juanita Andersen who portrays a Mexican landowner after being squeezed out by new arrivals during the Manifest Destiny.  

The series of monologues flows quickly as the story follows a timeline that is rich in information covering such events as congress adopting the uniform rule in 1790 so that any white person could apply for citizenship after two years of residency, the Dred Scott decision in 1857 declaring free Africans non-citizens, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1902, Native Americans made citizens in 1924 and the 1980 Refugee Act that removed refugees as a preference category, reducing worldwide ceiling for immigration to 270,000. Many, many other significant policies are brought to light that have had an effect on immigration.

Artist Director Bill Massolia comments about the production, “In To America owes a great deal of its inspiration from my own family’s immigrant roots.” 

He was also inspired by Ronald Takaki’s award-winning book A Different Mirror where it is stated “In the making of multicultural America, the contingent’s original inhabitants were joined by people pushed from their homelands by poverty and persecution in Asia, Latin America and Europe, and pulled here by extravagant dreams. Others came here in chains from Africa, and still others fled here from countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam. These men and women may not have read John Locke, but they came to believe that ‘in the beginning all the world was America.’ They envisioned the emerging country as a place for a bold new start.”

He further states, “Marginalized and degraded as the “Other” minorities came to believe even more fiercely and fervently than did the founding fathers in the ‘self-evident truths’ that ‘all men are created equal’, entitled to the ‘unalienable rights’ of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. 

In To America also explores the paranoia regarding immigration held by one such founding father quoting Benjamin Franklin, "Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."

The play’s theme is strong in reminding us that America has been made on the backs of immigrants, boasting many great achievements and spotlighting a handful of prominent “new Americans” who have truly made a difference in our country’s progress. In the end we get a picture of hope, unity and promise.

Dorothy Milne directs while the cast in this insightful piece includes Juanita Andersen, Katie Campbell, Jennifer Cheung, Aneisa Hicks, Christopher W. Jones, Francisco Lopez, Adam Marcantoni, Sean McGill, Rasika Ranganathan, Omer Abbas Salem, Scott Shimizu, Jason VonRohn and Elizabeth Hope Williams. Each actor plays multiple characters from all over the world, transitioning very well from accent to accent, adding to the play’s genuine nature in relaying a spirit everyone can identify with.  

In To America is just the play that will prompt many to go back and research their family lineage to discover their own journey to America.

In To America is being performed at Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage through April 23rd. Tickets are $38 and valet parking is now available. For tickets and/or more show information click here

         

  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The promise of hearing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band performed live in its entirety drove me to RAIN, the Beatles' tribute band playing at the Oriental Theater. But the show is much more than that.

Perfectly controlled, with exactingly beat and chord progressions, RAIN lovingly renders selections from the Beatles repertoire to the ‘T’. The group has been playing for years - longer than the originals. A new generation of performers, all born after the Beatles stopped recording, has taken up the torch at RAIN to keep the songs alive.

It was founded by Mark Lewis, who began in the 1970's as a Beatles cover artist, and recruited the original players and made many of the arrangements they perform. Aaron Chiazza plays Ringo Starr; Paul Curatolo plays Paul McCartney; Steve Landes is John Lennon; and Alastar McNeil is George Harrison.

The players are not so much actors, as they are masters of performing as their Beatles characters. So while they are fully realized in musical performance, they can be a little wooden in beckoning to audience participation. Paul Curatolo succeeds most, channeling the warmth of Paul McCartney pretty closely, and he looks quite a bit like him. When Aaron Chiazza's Ringo Starr sings his solo, "With a Little Help from My Friends," he brings the house down by evoking one of many people's favorite Beatles personalities. Though the real Beatles were ready handy with social commentary, these Beatles do not make much small talk, commenting neither on current - or past - events. It's all about the music. And that's just fine.

Most of us never heard the Beatles perform live in person, so hearing their music in a concert setting is striking, but also a little unsettling in a real venue. The group is not exactly impersonating the Beatles, and there is inevitably some personal expression involved. But they do have the various songs nailed down pretty well. 

This show at the Oriental Theatre also gives us a hint of how it would have felt to hear the band play their own works on stage themselves. 

At the point when they recorded Sgt. Pepper (it was released in 1967) the Beatles had mostly ended live performances, and were doing studio albums and seeing themselves not as rockers, but artists. It wasn’t too long after when they broke up, recording their last album Abbey Road in 1969, and ultimately heading their own ways. (Let It Be was recorded in 1969, prior to Abbey Road, but released afterward.) 

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded over a four-month period from December 6, 1966 – April 21, 1967.  Released on June 1, 1967, it is considered to be the greatest rock album ever released. It was also the first concept album. So for the 50th anniversary of its release, RAIN has essentially created a performance art piece, and it is pretty awesome - and well worth seeing.

The album is just 40 minutes long, so it forms the core of the second act at the Oriental Theatre performances. The first half retraces the Beatles rise from Liverpool to global phenomenon. With a strongly representative selection of the history of Beatles music, it provides a wonderful context for the performance of Sgt, Pepper in toto

Visual backgrounds are nicely done, though if I may quibble, I expected a horse for "of course, Henry the horse, dances the waltz" rather than a cartoon carousel figure. I was also hoping for a full orchestra for the monumental "A Day in the Life."  The original recording used 40 classical musicians who were instructed to play gradually from their individual instruments' lowest notes to its highest, and to go gradually from the quietest to the loudest, over the course of 40 bars. That sound is pretty distinctive, and is simulated by RAIN's "fifth Beatle" Mark Beyer, who fills in all the synthesized music along the way. 

The show at the Oriental Theatre, a launch of the 2017 Tour, runs through April 2 here in Chicago, with remaining performances at 8 p.m. April 1, and 2 and 8 pm on April 2. Tickets are at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

Published in Theatre in Review

The House Theatre is currently performing one of its past productions, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, Phillip Klapperich’s 2005 spin on L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz. First produced by House Theatre of Chicago in their third season, Klappernich’s The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is a darker version of the original, magnifying the story’s undercurrents while keeping the integrity of the Baum’s story intact. Modern touches are also added throughout the show that bring Dorothy and friends to present day. 

Most of us know the story of Dorothy, a teenage girl from Kansas who is magically transported from her family’s farm house (thanks to a massive tornado) to the enchanting and vividly colorful world of Oz, a magical place where almost anything can happen. Klapperich’s version gives us a whole new perspective on the classic.

Contemporary Dorothy (played by the talented Kara Davidson), armed with a cell phone and toting her beloved dog Toto, (animated by Joey Steakley, who truly makes the stuffed animal come to life) both land in the whimsical land of Oz (specifically Munchkinland) when a severe storm carries the two by means of the beforementioned powerful twister. Upon landing, we soon find out that Dorothy’s house ends up crushing the wicked witch. Dorothy is greeted and admired by the locals (Munchkins, played by Elana Elyce, Ben Hartej, Carlos Olmedo, and Tina Munoz Pandya) and The Good Witch Glinda (Amanda de la Guardia). Everyone wants their new hero to stay, after all, she killed the wicked witch. But Dorothy longs to get back home to her family in Kansas. The deceased witch however, had a sis who is very nasty and is out to get Dorothy to reclaim her sister’s magic boots that are now clinging to Dorothy’s feet. And so, Dorothy is given directions on how to the grand Emerald City to find the Wizard of Oz, who will hopefully help her get back home. While searching for the great wizard, Dorothy befriends our favorite characters from the classic: The Scarecrow (enchanting Christina Maryland Perkins), Tin Woodsman (Jeremy Sonkin), and Cowardly Lion (lively Michael E. Smith). 

But it’s not as easy as simply meeting the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, now called the “Witch Slayer” thanks to the Munchkins, is asked by the Wizard to kill the wicked witch in exchange for passage home. 

The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is beautifully directed and choreographed by Tommy Rapley and is very well cast. Kara Davidson transcends expectation as Dorothy while AnJi White is absolutely mesmerizing as The Wicked Witch of the West. White moves with grace, speaks with conviction and injects just the right amount of wicked into the wicked witch.

The show is delightful non-stop entertainment featuring live music, giant animated puppets, monsters and even flying monkeys soaring through the air, OH MY! Creative, energetic and colorful, it’s mostly joyful, occasionally dark and even sad, but always entertaining. 

Highly recommended.

The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is being performed at Chopin Theatre through May 7th. The performance schedule is Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. Preview tickets (evenings March 17 – March 26, no performance March 25) are $15 and regular run tickets range from $25 – $45. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.TheHouseTheatre.com

*This show is not recommended for children under ten.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Page 17 of 18

 

 

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