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Black Button Eyes Productions is pleased to present the Chicago storefront premiere of SHOCKHEADED PETER, the silly and sinister musical based on Heinrich Hoffmann's popular German children’s book The Struwwelpeter. Directed by Producing Artistic Director Ed Rutherford with music direction by T.J. Anderson, SHOCKHEADED PETER was created for the stage by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott with original music and lyrics by The Tiger Lillies. SHOCKHEADED PETER will play August 11 – September 16, 2017 at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at athenaeumtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office. The press opening is Saturday, August 12 at 7:30 pm. Note: recommended for ages 13+.
 
SHOCKHEADED PETER features Ellen DeSitter, Kat Evans, Jessica Lauren Fisher, Caitlin Jackson, Cody Jolly, Josh Kemper, Genevieve Lerner, Pavi Proczko, Stephanie Stockstill, Gwen Tulin, Kevin Webb and Anthony Whitaker.
 
A sinister but incompetent master of ceremonies leads the audience through the tale of a childless couple that has their fondest wish granted in the most delightfully dreadful way imaginable, accompanied by vignettes in which the hilariously horrible fates that befall naughty children everywhere are brought to darkly comedic life.
 
The production team for SHOCKHEADED PETER includes: Jeremiah Barr (scenic design, props design, puppetry and technical director), Beth Laske-Miller (costume design), Liz Cooper (lighting design), John Mathias (sound design), Derek Van Barham (movement director) and Alexa Berkowitz (stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: SHOCKHEADED PETER
Created for the stage by: Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott
Original Music and Lyrics by: The Tiger Lillies
Adapted from: Heinrich Hoffmann's The Struwwelpeter
Director: Ed Rutherford
Music Director: T.J. Anderson
Cast: Ellen DeSitter, Kat Evans, Jessica Lauren Fisher, Caitlin Jackson, Cody Jolly, Josh Kemper, Genevieve Lerner, Pavi Proczko, Stephanie Stockstill, Gwen Tulin, Kevin Webb and Anthony Whitaker.
 
Location: The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Dates: Preview: Friday, August 11 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Sunday, August 13 – Saturday, September 16, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. 
Tickets: $32. Students $17 (includes $2 Athenaeum Theatre restoration fee). Tickets are currently available at athenaeumtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office. Note: recommended for ages 13+.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Wow! Get ready to be entertained and blown away by two men, with eighteen, yes eighteen, costume changes in a 105-minute play with lead mother figure Bertha Bumiller played by Anthony Whitaker in drag and Grant Drager playing most of the younger male and female characters (Arles, Didi, Stanley, Charlene, Jodi, Petey, Vera and Dixie). These two talents make for one hilarious and yet, at times, disturbing piece of theater now that Trump is President and the animal and human cruelty is perpetrated against each person who loves in the “the third smallest town in Texas”, a dump “where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never died.”

 

As announced on the local radio show the winning school essays include “Human Rights—Why Bother?” and “The Other Side of Bigotry”. And so begins Deep in the Heart of Tuna, the latest in the “Tuna” series, currently running at Pride Arts Center in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

 

I was unaware that adapter Ed Howard and original author-performers Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White, and Tuna) had revived this new play from pieces of the trilogy above though it didn't affect my understanding of the hard lives these people live while having little money to keep up with their neighbors. People wearing third generation hand me downs and living on a farm-like house where the youngest and most sensitive son has ten dogs and a few kitty cats literally following him to school and back until he can find them adoption homes.  

 

I found the staging and lighting brilliant with audience members on both sides of the intimate theater performing space, putting us right in Bertha’s kitchen. Adding the finishing touch, are the costumes and wigs which are truly amazing and used to their ultimate. When I found that neither actor had a dresser to help them make these quick changes, I was even more impressed. Still knowing there were only two cast members, they played the men and women so touchingly and realistically funny, I could have sworn there was a cast of five people or more hidden in the wings. 

 

The town of Tuna can sometimes be a scary place where the "smut snatchers" a local anti-porn group try to expose the dirty words in Dickens Christmas Carol, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman", because you know, "Merry Gentlemen" is a little too close to gay gentleman in Tuna, Texas. 

 

The smut snatchers are busy cutting apart the children’s' Christmas pageant, which they have worked on for months. It is eventually canceled by the local school official and local government because the school does not have the funds to pay its electric bill, despite pleas to let the children perform, in part because one child needs this performance to complete his reform school probation and leave town without a criminal record (for painting over street signs). The lights are shut off and the show does not go on. At the same time a Christmas Phantom is on the loose in the neighborhood destroying outdoor holiday displays. There’s a lot going on in this small town. 

 

Anthony Whitaker's multilayered characterization of the mother figure as she struggles to make ends meet in this piece reminds me so much of my dear friend Louie Anderson's spectacular mother characterization in his new hit show "Baskets". 

 

Grant Drager, a newcomer to the New American Folk Theatre ensemble, plays the rest of the male and female characters with mind blowing accuracy and such poignancy. For his outstanding work in this two-man show, Drager really is deserving of a Jeff Award, as well as Whitaker.

 

Though many of the characters are run-of-the-mill, low-income Southern folks with seemingly good hearts, at times, the extreme stereotype Texas hard core right wingers are also demonstrated in the play. It's mind boggling that the small-mindedness of the latter mentioned characters of this tiny town exist in real life, boasting about and bringing forth soul crushing ideas along with anti-gay sentiments and anti-animal rights, i.e. and "Tuna" takes a few good shots. A great line that represents that type of mentality in this play is when Didi, who runs the local gun shop for her mother, says, "If we don't have a gun (or poison) to kill what you want, that thing is supernatural!" This show can make great but serious fun of that particular group on a few occasions though it mainly celebrates small town warmth, kindness and simplicity. Though "Tuna" often pokes fun of small town life in the South, it is done with affection, actually endearing us to several of the characters even more so.  

 

This satire of rural life is highly recommended for two of the most versatile and thought provoking performances in this play about a dysfunctional family and the small town problems that arise. Directed by Derek Van Barham, New American Folk Theatre's Deep in the Heart of Tuna is being performed at Pride Arts Center through March 5th. For show information or tickets, click here. Y'all hurry now!

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 8th @ 9:30pm

Saturday, July 11th @ 5:30pm

Thursday, July 16th @6:00 pm

Sunday, July 19th @ noon

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