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The live sounds of 30’s and 40’s jazz transform Court Theatre into a music venue in this production of Five Guys Named Moe. Written by Clarke Peters and directed by Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson, with Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal and Associate Director Felica P. Fields, this lively musical is a tribute to the great songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan (1908-1975), who went down in history as an innovator and popularizer of “jump blues,” a dance forward mix of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie, that paved the way for rock’n’roll in the 1950’s.

The uncomplicated plot provides the perfect canvas for Louis Jordan’s greatest hits and goes something like this: Nomax (Stephen ‘Blu’ Allen) is a clueless but perfectly lovable young lad who is broke and heartbroken because his girlfriend left him. Drinking at home one night and listening to Louis Jordan’s hits on the radio, depressed Nomax is whining about his life, when out of the blue (no pun intended) his radio erupts with five guys, who climb out one by one, introduce themselves as Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush Jr), Eat Moe (James Earl Jones II) , No Moe (Eric A. Lewis), Four-Eyed Moe (Kelvin Roston Jr), and Little Moe (Darrian Ford), and get the party started with ‘Five Guys Named Moe.’ Because five heads are better than one, The Five Moes are very helpful in trying to solve Nomax’s lady problem; the dynamic and superbly fun hits “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” and “Messy Bessy” are prove of that. Not to mention “I know What I’ve Got” and “Safe, Sane and Single,” which were outstanding. Louis Jordan’s use of comedy in his songwriting had become one of the most prominent elements in his music, for he “laughed to keep from crying”. Besides, having been married five times, he most certainly contemplated the relations between the opposite sexes in his own life.

There was some great talent on that cleverly designed stage made to look like inside of an old radio (scenic design by Courtney O’Neill). Powerful voices, the most remarkable of them Darrian Ford’s [whose new original vocal jazz album, The New Standard, is set to release later this year], impressive dancing with occasional somersaults thrown in for a good measure (by James Earl Jones II), Lorenzo Rush, Jr’s commanding presence and hilarious relic, always on.

The band is no slouch either: led by the pianist/Music Director, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Broadway’s Five Guys Named Moe composer/arranger Abdul Hamid Royal, who had worked with many recording artists, such as Liza Minelli, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, and Christina Aguilera, to name just a few; it produces a tight sound.

By the end of the First Act, the audience is playfully forced to sing the silly lyrics to “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie,” and some fortunate first row attendees are dragged onto stage to dance with the cast and then led to the lobby bar. Hey, “What’s the Use Of Getting Sober?”, right?

Second Act takes us to The Funky Butt Club, where the Five Moes have a gig to do. The sounds of old jazz are like an anti-anxiety remedy, taking us to a different time far, far in the past, it seems. What great 63rd Season opener for Court Theatre! “Five Guys Named Moe” is being performed at Court Theatre through October 8th. For more show information visit www.courttheatre.org.

*Now extended through October 15th

Published in Upcoming Theatre

“Spamilton,” the critically acclaimed off-Broadway parody of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sensation, “Hamilton,” has set casting for its regional premiere in Chicago at the Royal George Theatre (1641 N. Halsted). Created by Tony Award honoree Gerard Alessandrini, the mastermind behind “Forbidden Broadway,” the “smart, silly and compulsively funny show” (The New York Times) features an all-Chicago ensemble including Donterrio Johnson, Adam LaSalle, Michelle Lauto, Eric Andrew Lewis, Yando Lopez and David Robbins. “Spamilton” begins performances Friday, March 3 at the Royal George Theatre’s Cabaret/Studio Theatre. The Press Opening is set for Sunday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($59 – $99) can be purchased at the Royal George Theatre’s box office online or by calling 312.988.9000.

 

“We couldn’t have been more thrilled by Chicago’s pool of incredible talent,” said Alessandrini.  “We hope ‘Spamilton’ will be as lively and hysterically funny as ‘Hamilton’ is provocative. It is a tall order, but we are going to try to make Chicago a happier town than ever and keep the audience roaring with delight.”

 

“Spamilton” celebrates, roasts and eviscerates the Broadway blockbuster with its versatile cast of six. In its world-premiere production off-Broadway in New York, the show has been extended three times and is now in its fifth smash month at the Triad. The New York production earned rave reviews across the board, hailed as "the next best thing to seeing ‘Hamilton’” (The New York Times), “so infectiously fun,” (The Hollywood Reporter) and had Lin-Manuel Miranda exclaiming “I laughed my brains out!”

 

In addition to Alessandrini, the creative team includes Gerry McIntyre (Choreography), Dustin Cross (Costume Design), Fred Barton (Musical Director), and Richard Danley and Fred Barton (Musical Arrangements). “Spamilton” is produced in Chicago by John Freedson, David Zippel, Gerard Alessandrini, Margaret Cotter and Liberty Theatricals, in association with JAM Theatricals. Chuckie Benson is the understudy for the production.

 

The performance schedule for “Spamilton” is as follows: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

 

About the Artists of “Spamilton”

 

Gerard Alessandrini (Creator) is best known for creating and writing all 25 editions of “Forbidden Broadway” in New York, Los Angeles, London and around the world. Alessandrini was featured in the original 1982 cast of “Forbidden Broadway” and can be heard on four of the 12 “Forbidden Broadway” cast albums. He also sings on the soundtracks of the Disney classics “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” Television credits include writing comedy specials for Bob Hope, Angela Lansbury and Carol Burnett. Directing credits include Maury Yeston’s musical “In the Beginning.” Recent musicals which he co-wrote and/or directed include “Madame X” (NYMF 2011) and “The Nutcracker and I,” featuring a complete Tchaikovsky score with all new lyrics by Alessandrini. As a director, he’s currently working on an upcoming revue focusing on the songs of Maury Yeston entitled “Anything Can Happen (In the Theater).” Alessandrini is the recipient of an Obie Award, two Lucille Lortel Awards, a Lifetime Achievement award from the Drama League, and seven Drama Desk Awards. Alessandrini was also awarded an Honorary Tony Award for Excellence in the Theatre.

 

Donterrio Johnson (Male Two) is an alumni of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy of Los Angeles and an Artistic Ensemble Member of Pride Films and Plays. Johnson’s theater credits include “Annie Warbucks” (Theatre at the Center); “Next To Normal” and “Urinetown” (Boho Theatre); “The Hundred Dresses” and “Mr. Chickee's Funny Money” (Chicago Children's Theatre); “Sweeney Todd” (Denver Center for the Performing Arts); “Murder Ballad” (Cardinal Stage); “Lookingglass Alice” (‪Lookingglass Theatre); “Jesus Christ Superstar” (Theo Ubique); “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Golden Boy” (Porchlight Music Theatre); “The Color Purple” and “Avenue Q” (Mercury Theatre); “Rent” (Brightside Theatre); “Under a Rainbow Flag” (Pride Films and Plays); “Hairspray” (SRO Productions); and “Urinetown,” “Aladdin The Musical,” “‪Into The Woods” and “Kennedy The Musical” (Broadway Workshop). His TV credits include USA’s “Sirens.”

 

Adam LaSalle’s (Pianist/King George) Chicago musical direction and piano credits include “24 Words” (Stage 773); “Nunsense” (Beverly Arts Center); “Rebel” (Theatre Wit); and a number of revues, concerts, and cabarets at the Promontory and as a regular at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret in Wicker Park. Some favorite roles he's performed include Jesus in “Godspell,” Tommy Albright in “Brigadoon” and the Pirate King in “Pirates of Penzance.” LaSalle has also accompanied and music directed with Memphis' Playhouse on the Square Musical Theatre Education Program, The Chicago Children's Choir, ChiArts, SummerSing's International Choral Festival in Cork City, Ireland and a number of musicals for the Souza Scholarship Theatre Program in Orange County, New York.

 

Michelle Lauto’s (Female Performer) recent credits include “In the Heights” (Porchlight Music Theatre); “Xanadu” (American Theater Company); “35mm” (Circle Theatre); “The Boy From Oz” (Pride Films and Plays); and “Murder Ballad” (Bailiwick Chicago). Lauto is a proud graduate of The Second City Training Center Conservatory.

 

Eric A. Lewis (Male Three) was last seen in Theatre at the Center's production of "My Way: A Tribute to Frank Sinatra." His Chicago credits include “The Little Mermaid,” “In the Heights” and “Tommy” (Paramount Theatre); “Dreamgirls” (Porchlight Music Theatre); “Once Upon a People” (Black Ensemble Theater); “Parade” (BoHo Theatre); “How to Succeed in Business,” “Sister Act” and “Suessical the Musical” (Marriott Theatre); and “Dreamgirls” (Milwaukee Repertory Theater).

 

Yando Lopez (Male One) was last seen in “The Christians” at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Recent credits include “In the Heights” and “Sondheim on Sondheim” (Porchlight Music Theatre); “Little Shop of Horrors” (American Blues Theatre); “In the Heights” (Paramount Theatre); and “Barney the Elf” (Other Theatre Company). Lopez has also worked with Court Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Emerald City, Brown Paper Box, Black Ensemble Theatre and Goodman Theatre. Lopez is a proud Northwestern alum.

 

David Robbins (Male Four) is a Chicago native, an alumni of The Chicago Academy for the Arts and attended Baldwin Wallace University. Robbins’ regional credits include “Memphis,” “Rent,” “Once on this Island,” “Avenue Q” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

 

For more information, visit Spamilton.com.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

Tribute shows are generally as good as the performers that star. I probably just stated the most obvious fact on the planet. Yet it’s so very true. No matter how good the song selection, the costumes, the set, it is the vocal performance that we bring home with us. In “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” a different taste of Sinatra is delivered; rather than presenting an Ol’ Blue Eyes impersonator, we are invited to a 1960’s club setting where four actors casually reminisce with the audience over more than fifty Sinatra favorites. 

The musical revue, rich in its depicted era, stars George Keating, Christine Mild, Eric A. Lewis and McKinley Carter, each taking turns riffing through classics like “Makin’ Whoopee”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Young at Heart”, and “It was a Very Good Year” – the songs are countless. The four have made their mark in the Chicago theatre scene, Lewis a Jeff Award Winner for his work in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Dreamgirls”, Mild, who not only starred in Theater at the Center’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes” but who has recently released her debut solo album “Love Is Everything”, Carter, who has done work in prestigious venues such as Writers Theatre and Drury Lane Oakbrook, and Keating, who not only has been featured in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” at Paramount Theater, but is the co-founder of the very popular Chicago and Off-Broadway hit “Schoolhouse Rock Live”. 

The four actors work well together as snippets of Sinatra songs are often worked into light exchanges between the characters. They gracefully glide around the stage and upon the stairways often pairing elegantly for dance routines. Often, the characters might be seen having a drink at the bar or nonchalantly interacting at a table, setting a relaxed night-out-on-the-town mood. Throughout the show, Sinatra factoids and quotes are tossed about during song breaks, allowing at times for the audience to participate. The club centers around a bar, where a live band simplified to piano (William Underwood), bass (Jake Saleh) and drums (Nick Anderson) plays directly behind it. Despite the small size of the outfit, the sound is big and the musicians ever-impressive, each getting to show their skills off a bit while briefly featured individually in the second act. 

While perhaps wishing for a little more "oomph" overall in the individual vocal performances (mainly on the lower notes) ala Sinatra, each of the performers have their shining moments and are able to deliver the songs with their intended pizzazz and vigor. But the magic in this show is when the four would sing together, whether it be a duet or a four-part harmony. It is with these synchronized vocal efforts one easily loses themselves in the beauty of Sinatra’s work. 

Brenda Didier both directs and choreographs this fascinating piece with a stylish aplomb that captures the charm of the period so very well. Lewis particularly stands out during his renditions of “My Kind of Town” and “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die”, while Keating finishes strong with a fervent version of “That’s Life”. The production flows at a nice pace and is a pleasing homage to Sinatra, though we are often teased with a song segment left wanting to hear the piece in its entirety. This is countered by the fact that we are given such a vast collection of the music Sinatra made famous. The show ties together well eventually leading us to an expressive interpretation of perhaps Sinatra’s most timeless classic, “My Way”, commendably performed by the entire cast. 

“My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” is a time capsule that will certainly touch the hearts of “Chairman of the Board” fans, but is equipped with enough nostalgia, panache and musical talent to please even the most curious. This polished production is being performed at Theater at the Center in Munster, IN through March 19th. Click here for tickets and/or more show information.   

 

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