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As my sidekick for the evening – himself a theater and sketch comedy guy – and I entered Stage 773’s Cab Theater on Saturday to see Cupid Has a Heart On, we were greeted by smiley, bubbly folks who I guessed were cast members of the show. I turned out to be right. I said to my pal, “Looks like we’ll be spending an evening with grown-up theater kids, huh?” I’d turn out to be right about that, too.
The venue’s got a cabaret feel – black all around; red Naugahyde, too; swanky and dark like a Saturday night. We crossed the stage and found seats in the far corner, back behind the accompanist and his keyboard. Turns out the pianist was also the show’s director, Brian Posen. His playing throughout the show was rollicking and rambunctious – very much an old-timey lounge feel to fit the surroundings – and Posen even took part in a number about himself, as the lonely piano player, later in the evening. The music he and the cast have written and performed was really something, bouncing from one genre to the next and always played with absolute musicianship. But a bit of advice for those who see the show – while the red pleather booth behind the piano was plenty comfortable and afforded a nice view, the sound of the keys often drowned out the performers’ vocals.

The songs and sketches that made up the show were fun, though I’m still not sure who the target audience was. The baby boomers in the crowd laughed the loudest, while much of the content seemed to be about those much younger than middle age, about the age of the millennials who are the show’s actors and singers. Some material was timeless, while some felt like it had been written more recently to update this, Chicago’s longest running comedy show. I, myself, did not feel like I was the target audience. Perhaps I’m too jaded or too cynical, unable to be shocked by much in these frenetic and chaotic days. Or maybe I just needed more than the one drink I had at the bar to loosen me up enough to be shocked.

Because the content of the show was meant to shock. The songs were mostly about the things we don’t speak of – the sexual taboos, the not-so-sexy urges, the bad relationships gone worse, the crap that makes life so sexy sometimes and so crappy at others. From UTIs to lactose intolerance, from failed attempts at self-pleasure to failed attempts to resist booty calls, from the fact that even our parents do it to a duet about booty, the songs hit on the stuff we think and feel and maybe even talk about, but very rarely drag onstage. But once onstage, the show’s performers didn’t hold back.
And that was the real pleasure of the evening – seeing these really gifted singers and comedians give it their all. Most all of them accompanied themselves or others with guitars or ukuleles at some point (one tune found SIX guitars being strummed while the logistics of a sixsome were discussed). And all of them can sing their booties off, both as lead vocalists and harmonists. But it was the ensemble’s willingness to leave it all onstage that impressed me most. Clothes were removed. Bodies were contorted. Audience members were dragged onstage, or made a part of the show where they sat. While this audience member might not have been shocked, he had a smile on his face the whole time, impressed by the job the cast did.

Individual talents that made an impression on me were many, even as the cast worked well together. Di Billick – one of the pre-show greeters – stole most scenes she was in. Jake Feeny and Alex Madda added spunk to their fine vocals. Andy Orscheln was often found with a guitar in-hand, and always radiated how much he enjoyed performing. Katie Maggart’s girl-next-door charm nicely complimented the show’s more risqué moments. Chad Michael Innis was a standout – hilarious and insistent, all over the place. But the star, for me, was Marco Braun – another cast member milling around the audience before the show. A burly and bawdy Jonah Hill type, Braun captured our focus whenever he was onstage with his beaming smile, his (oft-unclothed) physique, and his irresistible presence.
So, no matter my personal reaction to the material, I had a good time watching a troupe of gifted entertainers deliver it. For those who are more easily shocked than I am, then you’ll love letting these folks shock. And for those who want to support our city’s gifted entertainers, you can find them in the Cab theater at Stage 773 every Saturday at 8pm.

It turns out I did spend my Saturday evening learning what happens when those eager, energetic, and talented theater kids we all knew in school turn into grownups. They become eager, energetic, and talented performers who put on a hell of a show. And Chicago’s theater and comedy communities – and those who enjoy the shows they put on – are lucky to have them.

Published in Theatre in Review

For those looking for about as much funny as can be compacted into sixty minutes, one would be hard pressed to find as many laughs as The Best of Bri-Ko, a sidesplitting theatre experience where the absurd is creatively implemented into a series of sketch acts, each one stranger than the next. 

Stage 773 Creative Director Brian Posen teams up with Chicago comedic forces Tim Soszko and Brian Peterlin to form this hilarious hour-long ride where just a single word is spoken throughout the entire performance. The three theatre veterans are able to inject their unique humorous spin into such simple everyday tasks from changing a light bulb to a having a dinner date that have the audience in stitches from the moment they take the stage to the show’s very climactic ending. A series of props are used in practically every sketch performed including water balloons, heads of lettuce, cream pies and other very messy items, making it as though a tornado had swept through the venue by the show’s end. Caution – you might become a victim of friendly fire.

Varying from one extreme to the other, a heavy-duty Nerf gun war breaks out throughout the crowd to Slayer’s “Angel of Death” while moments later we become subject to a hysterical dance routine to Wilson Phillip’s “Hold On” that you must see to fully appreciate. Adding to the intimate, and very unusual, theatre experience is the fact that the production is performed in Stage 773’s Cab Theatre, a smaller-sized room so as to easily involve the entire audience. 

"With so much buzz today about what's appropriate in comedy, Bri-Ko is a breath of fresh air," says Stage 773 Creative Director Brian Posen. "This is a hilariously entertaining show without the politics or controversies you typically see with this genre."

Poesen couldn’t be more correct. If you were to throw bits and pieces into a blender from Blue Man Group, The Marx Brothers and various vaudevillian acts, inject it with steroids, then douse it with Posen, Soszko and Peterlin’s own exclusive brand of humor, you’d have Bri-Ko – a true one-of-a-kind comedy event that goes from 0-60mph in seconds flat. 

Posen, Soszko and Peterlin work incredibly well together, exhibiting not only a well-oiled team chemistry but each having plenty of their own moments mainly done with key facial expressions and challenging physical comedy. No question about it, Bri-Ko is a power-packed hour of pure fun that can be enjoyed over and over again. 

There is no shortage of stage experience in this very exceptional cast. Jeff and After Dark Award Winner Brian Posen has been active in the Chicago theater scene for over 20 years as an actor, producer, director, and teacher. Posen and Peterlin have worked together for years, in 2001, alongside Brian Posen, founding The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, now the largest in the nation. Tim Soszko teaches at Second City, Barrel of Monkeys and Columbia College while performing with many companies including Bri-Ko, The Cupid Players and The Tim and Micah Project.

The Best of Bri-Ko is being performed at Stage 773 in the Cab Theatre each Thursday through March 23rd before reworking material and returning this Fall. 

Very, very recommended.

For tickets and/or more show information click here.

 

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