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Broadway in Chicago and producers Starvox Entertainment and June Entertainment present “Sherlock Holmes”, starring the often very funny David Arquette in the title role that is based on the shrewd detective in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery novels.

 

Now, I like David Arquette, I think he’s a talented comedic and dramatic actor and obviously he has the chops to pull of this role but so many things conspired to make this production an overly long, campy but not funny mess. I’m at a loss to describe them all. 

 

I’ll just keep it short. First, the stage which was very modern, stark, and cold did nothing to clarify where any of the characters were at any time in the show. The set was accented only by slightly different chairs and red, black and grey lighting changes. Although Arquette, as Sherlock Holmes, struggled to pull off a few laughs here and there with his flamboyant drug using character, everyone else seemed to just be shouting at each other and racing about willy-nilly like the Keystone Cops the whole play, as if pretending to be an old 20’s movie version of the play. Perhaps there may be room to turn Sherlock Homes into a comedy, but the writers missed the mark on this one.

 

James Maslow, stars as the legendary Dr. John Watson, along with Renne Olstead as the well-to-do-American, Lady Irene St. John. Olstead is best known for her roles as Lauren Miller in the TV sitcom "Still Standing”, and as Madison Cooperstein in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager”.

 

I honestly think if they cut the show down to 90 minutes from 2 and one half hours, people might have left saying that it was an interesting and modern take on an old classic. However, this cold, campy and dark version of the show did little to satisfy real fans of Sherlock Holmes. The head-scratching crimes were not as engaging as one would have hoped and the laughs not as big. Though nice to see Arquette on the stage, I hope to see him return in a more entertaining production. You can only do so much with the material given. 

  

This new and original adaptation inspired by Doyle's classic detective tales by playwright Greg Kramer and directed by Andrew Shaver is scheduled to play Chicago's Oriental Theatre (24 W Randolph) November 24 - 29, 2015. For tickets and more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Check out the Barrel of Monkeys on a first date, see if your date has a sense of humor. Take your 4th grader and laugh over ice cream after the show. Drag the whole office to the Neo-Futurist Theater and forget about the overwhelming stress for an hour, then return to the stressful office. Hey, you could also buy a ticket for your Grandma.

 

After seeing the Barrel of Monkeys present THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA a second time, my attendance is guaranteed a third time. If you’re looking for hilarious, here it is. Since there’s snow on the ground, Barrel of Monkeys celebrates with THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: The Holiday Special. Santa, Thanksgiving, and winter inspired subject matter make up the new lineup of stories this season. The Chicago Public School students write amazing stories, so amazing, they are brought to the stage and performed by Barrel of Monkeys Company Members! 

 

Barrel of Monkeys is a Chicago-based arts education theater ensemble, who give 3rd through 5th graders the confidence, and an outlet, to be creative. Creative writing workshops are conducted in underserved Chicago Public Schools, and then students’ stories are turned into professionally performed theater and shared beyond the school’s walls. 

 

THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA is for everyone. Everything about Barrel of Monkeys is amazing, their talent for teaching and acting, their mission and vision, their impact, and how they put a smile on everyone’s face.

 

Location: Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago

Running: November 16 - December 28, 2015

Curtain Times: Mondays at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for children under 12. Tickets are available at www.barrelofmonkeys.org

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Use the bathroom before you take your seat at Theater Wit for Joe Mantello’s stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ now-classic holiday essay, Santaland Diaries. Trust me. The show runs one hour 20 minutes without an intermission.

But more to the point, you will laugh your jingle bells off!

Mitchell Fain tears down the fourth wall as “Crumpet,” a dishy, disgruntled, forty-four-year-old elf at Macy’s department store. Dressed in stripy tights and crushed velvet, he deftly channels Sedaris’ wry, acerbic wit and gives us an all-access pass into the underbelly of the North Pole.

Directed by Jeremy Wechsler and performed in the intimate theatre space of Theatre Wit, Fain stars as Crumpet and flawlessly delivers a seventy-five minute monologue that is dark, witty and often will have audience members doubling-over with laughter. Fain's performance is deliciously wicked whether spouting off hysterical dialogue or improvising with the audience in his own, unique and devilish way. Fain is able to get his point across with the tiniest gesture or most subtle facial expression.   

Now returning for over five years straight, Santaland Diaries has become a true Chicago holiday tradition. However, due to its mature content, the show is not recommended for kids, though it will be sure to please the adult crowd.

If you’ve ever wondered what your mall Santa and his elves are really thinking, see Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit until December 30, 2015. A must see, you can order tickets online at https://www.theaterwit.org/plays/santaland/. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

What do you do with your family over the holidays? Stay at home? Eat a meal together? Dress the tree? Give gifts to your work family?  How do you show your loved ones you care for them?

Step Up Productions and its HoliDaze one-acts continues its 3rd season and supports awareness for Seasonal Affected Disorder (S.A.D.S.) at the Athenaeum Theatre 29366 N Southport Avenue, from November 26th – December 20th. These six short one-act plays written by six different playwrights bring awareness for the different kinds of feelings and emotional dynamics within families during the holidays, of what some families are willing to do without, and how much others just wish for things to change.  

                                  

Mia McCullough writes ‘Temperance vs. Tolerance’ about Sabrina, a young woman who asks her family to assist her in helping get through the holiday without drinking.  There is more than one change that the family works through to sit at the table for a holiday dinner. Discovering her family’s depth for tolerance is a learning experience for everyone.

 

‘Christmas Eve’ by M.T. Cozzola, touches on the work family relationship between two new co-workers.  One of which exudes an abundance of holiday spirit and generosity in gift giving. 

The expectations of relationships, to brave the Chicago cold or even family members that may not like you are presented in ‘Your Better Half’ by Jake Carr. The hesitancy to start a family and to share the news is the theme of ‘Someplace Warm’ by Steven Peterson.

 

‘This is that Moment’ by Joshua Rollins examines the night that a relationship changes, the regrets one has and the question of how you can make a change.

 

Finally, ‘Later in the Strange’ by Steven Simoncic, tells a story of how one family tries to get through the holidays without the one person who made every holiday so special for them all. 

 

Each of these stories touches on the dynamics that many families struggle through each year.  From the loss of a family member, to reestablishing relationships and questioning how relationships have changed.  Poignant and aware of the different families and relationships that the world has, HoliDaze has created a group of one-acts that make you enjoy the hope of the holidays and crave the nearness and dearness of your families.    It will make you reach out for those you love and remind them of how truly thankful you are for them.

 

For more show information visit http://athenaeumtheatre.org/.

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Thursday, 19 November 2015 21:15

Review: Fulfillment at American Theatre Company

Sex sells as the old adage goes. It may be marketable, but you have to ask yourself what it has to say. Likely sex will dominate the discussion among patrons of Thomas Bradshaw's new play at American Theater Company. With bold direction by Ethan McSweeney, Fulfillment will undoubtedly ruffle some subscriber feathers. 

 

The play begins with Michael (Stephen Conrad Moore) purchasing a multi-million dollar apartment in Soho and describing his sexual relationship with his coworker, Sarah (Erin Barlow). She soon puts the idea in his head that he isn't being made partner at the law firm because of his race. Whether it's true or not becomes subject to interpretation as the rest of Michael's life begins to spiral out of control. 

 

Bradshaw's script is flawed in that it's not enough about any one thing to really grasp at a central narrative or question. If it's a play about the inequality of underrepresented groups (African Americans and women) it never really connects the dots in the way that say, Disgraced does. If it's a play about American desire for more and more, why isn't the main character greedier? 

 

The scenes are too copious and too short to get down to anything significant. In fact, there's never really any rational conflict between characters, or at least none that lead to anything consequential. More often it's a story about a man who has trouble with his neighbor and the occasional drinking binge. The unfortunate part is that the dialog is actually really strong and incredibly well-acted, but in the end, it doesn't really add up to much. 

 

Perhaps even more distracting are the numerous instances of gratuitous stage sex and full frontal nudity that cross the line of good taste. It seems to be an overused, if not unnecessary, gimmick on which this play too heavily relies. Maybe if the material was edgy enough to justify the graphic content, it would seem more vital. Mostly it just comes off as a desperate attempt to shock audiences. 

 

Through December 13th at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron Street. 

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 18 November 2015 21:03

Review: Never the Sinner at Victory Gardens

Apparently thrill-killing isn't a new sign of the gradual breakdown of society. John Logan's historical thriller "Never the Sinner" explores the trial of wealthy, local killers Leopold and Loeb in what was once hailed as the crime of the century. Director Gary Griffin brings this story to life in an exciting new production at Victory Gardens Theater. 

 

Logan's wordy script has the potential to be really dull, even with the gory details. That's not the case with this quick-moving production. Set against a minimal set draped in peacock damask, Griffin's staging makes the telling active. Each twist and turn in the tabloid drama is accented by slick reporters. The cheeky headlines pose the question whether there's profit in crime? And if so, who benefits from a court room sideshow? Certainly not the victim. It also serves to underscore that in America, we're all just rubber-neckers happy that a crime didn't happen to us. 

 

A play like "Never the Sinner" is really only as strong as its Leopold and Loeb and luckily they’ve got two great actors. Japhet Balaban plays the part of introverted Nathan Leopold and he's unnervingly creepy. His attention to diction is a wise character choice. While Loeb technically carried out the crimes, Balaban's Leopold has the Norman Bates-type aloofness that most serial killers tend to possess. Jordan Brodess' Loeb balances the rage and panache which likely serves Logan's point that some people will sink to deplorable depths for fame in America. 

 

The true surprise of this story is their country lawyer Darrow played Keith Kupferer. Kupferer is known for his "every man" roles, and this show will prove a high point for him. Of course the knee-jerk reaction to brutal murder committed by two remorseless college boys makes us demand the ultimate penalty: death. Logan uses this real-life instance to debate the ethics of the death penalty. In high profile cases up to this point in history, rarely was the philosophy of capital punishment ever questioned. Even in our times it’s a hard question without an easy answer. Ultimately Logan uses this shlockey murder trial to ask the audience, is killing in the name of justice, just? 

 

Through December 6th at Victory Gardens Theater - 2433 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.” - Jerome Kern

 

There are shows that make one proud to be an American, proud to be Jewish and proud to be of immigrant descent and Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin currently performed at Royal George Theatre is one show that does all three. 

 

Felder proves yet again that he is a consummate master of the one person show. While his bio/docu/musicals about famous composers, from his George Gershwin Alone, to Fryderyk Chopin, to Ludwig van Beethoven, to Maestro Leonard Bernstein thrilled Chicago and LA audiences and critics alike, this production and his  portrayal of Irving Berlin is quite simply the icing on the cake of his career.

 

Irving Berlin, whose real name was Israel Isidore Baline and whose musical background included that his father was a cantor (singer for the Temple), was only eleven years old when he left his house to find work as a singing waiter because "there were too many mouths to feed" even with his pennies earned as a paperboy.

 

Although Berlin's first hits were more comical and vaudevillian like “Marie from Sunny Italy”, and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, to grab people's attention, it was the grief over the tragic death of his first wife that he credits with teaching him how to write a real song.

 

Like a chapter from a sad Lifetime movie, Berlin married his adorable twenty-year-old sweetheart took her to fashionable Havana for their honeymoon and five months later she died from typhoid fever she contracted on their week-long stay. 

 

Later he married socialite Ellin MacKay the daughter of the richest man in the United States, and wrote his classic, timeless love song, “Always”, about his pure joy at finding her. They were married for 62 years, and ironically her father disowned Ellin and Berlin for years for marrying a Jewish immigrant songwriter - until right after the stock market crash in which Mr. MacKay lost his entire fortune but Berlin wisely having purchased the publishing rights to ALL of his songs kept his finances relatively intact during the depression.

 

 

Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -

I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

 

Berlin’s songs include, “Blue Skies”, (composed for his daughter), “Heat Wave”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Steppin’ Out with My Baby”, “What’ll I Do”, and the scores of “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Holiday Inn”, “Easter Parade,” and many more. We also learn that Berlin wrote “White Christmas” years after his son Irving Jr. was tragically found dead on Christmas morning at just three-weeks-old. In all, Irving Berlin composed 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs, and over 1500 published songs including one of his biggest hits, “God Bless America”.

 

I really loved the set which consisted of a lovely Christmas tree and piano with windows that opened onto a wonderful video presentation of the actual people, Berlin, his wives, etc as he tells a story about each. My only note for Felder is that he reconsiders having an intermission in any show he directs or stars in that is longer than 90 minutes as this one was. The audience was rapt the entire time but I felt the break in the middle would have allowed them to enjoy the show even more as a whole evening of entertainment with time to absorb and refresh between the two acts.

 

The artistic team for Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin is outstanding and led by Director Trevor HayScenic Design is by Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay, Sound Design is by Erik Carstensen, Lighting Design is by Richard Norwood and Video Design is by Andrew Wilder. The Scenic Decoration is by Meghan Maiya.

 

 

“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a rich and fully enjoyable experience that is playing at The Royal George theatre through December 6th. For more show information, visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com

Published in Theatre Reviews
Saturday, 31 October 2015 01:39

Big Christmas fun - "Elf" at Marriott Theatre

Here we go again. Wow, this year went by fast! Christmas is again just around the corner, which means it’s time to bring on the holiday plays! This year one of the funniest Christmas shows of the season will certainly be “Elf”, now playing at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Based on the hilarious 2003 film of the same name starring Will Ferrell, the play deviates a bit from its original script but carries the same overall story-line and still pushes its simple message – to spread Christmas cheer.

For anyone to pull of this production, it all really comes down to who plays Ferrell’s character as the ever naïve and loveable elf, Buddy. Fortunately, Alex Goodrich was cast in the role. Though, he has some big curly shoes to fill, Goodrich quickly wins over the crowd - maybe not the the point of "Ferrell who?" (who can?), but he certainly does a fantastic job. Goodrich’s precise comic timing and ability to be believable as a fun-loving, child-like adult who is ever so innocent of this world makes this show a big winner.   

“Elf” is the story of Buddy, a human who is raised as an elf after he accidentally crawls into Santa’s sack during one of his stops at an orphanage. Despite the size difference between Buddy and the elves and his lack of toy making aptitude, it isn’t until he is a full on adult at thirty years old before he figures out that he is human. It’s at that time Santa sends Buddy out into the world – New York to be exact – to find his real father. From there, as one might imagine, is a story of a fish out of water in the biggest way.

Full of silly holiday songs that may not stick in one’s head ten minutes after the show, “Elf” is pretty much a laugh fest from beginning to end. And that’s okay since one does not see “Elf” because of its music, we see it because we want to laugh and get into the Christmas spirit. In this fun holiday treat, Goodrich finds himself surrounded by a strong cast, especially in Kevin Gudahl who plays Roy Hobbs, Buddy’s true dad, and Roger Mueller as a Santa Claus who actually weighs in on the “cool” scale. James Earl Jones II also delivers an enjoyable performance as the manager at Macy’s.

The point of the story is simple and clearly delivered – to get people in the Christmas mindset of selflessness and giving despite all the daily issues and problems we might be facing. And what’s even better is that we can have some good laughs while getting there.

 

“Elf” is a thoroughly amusing production that the entire family can share. Playing at Marriott Theatre through December 31st, it is the perfect way to get a jump start and primed up for the holidays. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.      

Published in Theatre Reviews

Shiver me timbers! Child actor John Francis Babbo delivers a knockout performance to lead, what can be called nothing less than a stellar cast, in Lookingglass Theatre’s world premiere production of “Treasure Island”. Based on the classic children’s novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883, Mary Zimmerman vividly adapts and directs this famous tale to encompass all the excitement and high seas adventure originally created by its original author.

In one of the most famous pirate tales known to date (the one that made Long John Silver a household name), we embark on a journey with young Jim Hawkins (Babbo) whose heroics and level headedness make him one of the most mature characters in the story despite a handful of motley swashbucklers and a crew of ship mates in search of hidden treasure.

For those who might be unfamiliar, the story takes place somewhere in the mid-1700s, when Hawkins is approached by Billy Bones, a drunken pirate wonderfully played by Christopher Donahue, while working at the inn with his mother. Bones soon offers Hawkins money to keep his eyes peeled for a one-legged pirate (guess who?), but not long after dies leaving behind a treasure map. After Hawkins delivers the map to trustworthy Squire Trelawney, a crew is assembled led by the fearless Captain Smollett aboard the reliable sea vessel, the Hispaniola. However, Long John Silver and a degenerate band of his faithful have infiltrated such crew and the excitement really begins as they head out to see in search of Treasure Island.  

Walking into the theatre, the audience is met with a stunning set, thanks to scenic designer Todd Rosenthal. Centered within the seating area sits a large ship with all the fixings to send one to the appropriate mindset before the play even begins. As the story progresses, when called for, the ship even rocks back and forth, so be sure to take your Dramamine ahead of time to avoid sea sickness (but not really).

Outside of playing his role as cabin boy Jim Hawkins, fifteen-year-old Babbo also provides an emotionally charged narrative while Lawrence E. Distasi delivers a colorful and highly fervent performance as the Scourge of the Seven Seas, Long John Silver, our favorite rapscallion. Philip R. Smith also gives us a noteworthy enactment of Captain Smollett, adding a good deal of humor to role of the duty bound skipper.

There are plenty of laughs and suspenseful moments amidst this adventurous story that contains its fair share of hornswoggling, picaroons and scallywags. Lookingglass decided to stick with a high seas classic after their successful run of “Moby Dick” that featured a brilliant performance by the same Christopher Donahue, and they could be in line for yet another Jeff Award. Perfect for the entire family, “Treasure Island” is engaging, visually spectacular, funny and exciting.

Arr! You’re not going to want to let this thoroughly enjoyable production slip by. “Treasure Island” is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through January 31st.

 

For tickets and more show information, visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org.    

Published in Theatre Reviews

In the first piece titled, "N.N.N.N.", in the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Fall Series at Harris Theatre, two men and two women dance in silence except for the occasional sounds of their breath and grunts of exertion, which are both a relief to hear and even comical in places. Forsythe seems to have derived an entirely new alphabet of modern dance for this piece! Although the simple movements, a hand placed on one shoulder, a clap, or a skip, seem somewhat easy at first they grow in speed and complexity until the audience is aware that this is not a dance about male/female pairing, it is a dance about egalitarian freedom from those stereotypes and stereotypical romances in dance. The silence throughout the piece is both energizing and unnerving at points. 

 

The second piece of the evening, "Quintett" set to a single haunting piece of music “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me”, an arrangement by English composer Gavin Bryars of a composition by an unknown composer that has a homeless man singing a brief stanza over and over and over again on a 25-minute loop, its volume increasing gradually. This is more in line with what dance lovers expect to see. This piece speaks clearly about love and loss in Forsythe's life, that of his late wife, and is replete with grace, longing and loneliness of the loss. “Quintett” is beautifully danced by its  lead Ana Lopez, clad in a flowing orange colored silk shirt dress, whose long-limbed and strongly expressive dance style takes on a supernatural feeling that the ghosts of those we have loved and lost continue to dance with strength through our minds over and over into eternity. 

 

The third piece, "One Flat Thing" performed to an almost angry sounding, slightly scary industrial score is performed by fourteen dancers on top of an uncountable number of menacing looking metal tables. Sometimes they look like tables in a morgue, sometimes like a grouping of desks in a correctional school. Either way they are both riveting and terrifying in its speed and accuracy. In fact, many of the dancers have suffered "bone bruising injuries" during the practice of this piece as their shins and other body parts accidentally collide at full force with the cold unforgiving metal edges of all these "flat things".  I enjoyed it because the frenzy of maneuvers by all fourteen dancers at once seemed to rage against every type of obstacle that life throws at you, especially the ones that seem designed by corporations or schools that are purposely designed to keep you in line, sitting in your proper seat, or thrown in your way each day. Each year no matter how many you climb, more "flat things/obstacles" are pushed your way in life. 

 

With the exception of the gloriously sad and romantic "Quintett" this was an evening of dance full of excitement and even the  fear of collision, great for lovers of dance and  not for the faint of heart.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
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