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This past week I found myself in a movie theater with reclining seats, an overpriced large popcorn, and a two liter cup of soda all to myself. The movie was awful, but the audience more than made up for the bad comedy. With contagious laughter and witty one-liners, the audience of closet suburban comedians turned the otherwise flat movie into a Second City stage. Sometimes the audience is more entertaining than the scheduled entertainment; that was definitely the case as I ventured out with my 3-year-old-daughter to see SLEEPING BEAUTY at The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences.

SLEEPING BEAUTY is Marc Robin's musical adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale with some variations. In a kingdom far away, the vengeful sorceress Magenta has placed a wicked curse on the beautiful Princess Amber and only a true love's kiss can unlock the spell and wake her before it is too late. Prince Hunter must battle dragons, scale mountains, and sail the dark sea to save Princess Amber. Will his journey allow him to make it in time to prove his love to his Sleeping Beauty? This captivating fairy tale creates excitement and thrill for its audience as they root for Prince Hunter and the fate of the beautiful princess!

The play was performed with the over-the-top, flamboyant, campy type of performances that can only be found in children’s theaters. Bouncing excitedly in their seats toddlers watched with wide eyes, captivated by the colorful characters and silly antics of the cast. When the cast called on the audience to help Prince Hunter, played by Garrett Lutz, or to reassure Magenta, played by Meghan Murphy, the children responded faster than they answer their parents with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm only seen before bed times. Girls and boys dressed in princess dresses, waving at fairies and hiding in fear from the dragon. They sat on their feet and stood on their seats, craning their little necks to get better looks at their favorite characters on the stage. Rare moments of silence were punctuated with adorable high-pitched “whispers” of reassurance that princess Amber was “just sleeping;” big sisters calming worried younger siblings. With such pure happiness emanating from the seats around us, it was easy to overlook the many issues with the fairy tale narrative (like how a sixteen year old girl gets married after a single kiss or that a princess who is given courage and strength from her fairies is still not smart enough to stay away from a spinning wheel). But fairy tales often impart simple wisdom to impressionable audiences, and as they get swept up in the magic and majesty of the performance it is easy to look past our adult cynicism and just enjoy the show with childlike wonder.

SLEEPING BEAUTY runs on most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m. with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. Visit MarriottTheatre.com or call 847.634.0200 for exact schedule, as show times and dates may vary. Single ticket prices are $17.23 per person. Groups of 20 or more receive a discount by calling 847.634.5909. Free parking is available at all shows. To reserve tickets, call the Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com<http://www.MarriottTheatre.com>.

Published in Theatre in Review

Newsies, the Disney film from 1992 by Alan Menken (whose run around the same time of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin I’d put up against the work of any songwriter, on tape, on film, or on stage), was one I saw back when it hit VHS. But I don’t remember it too well. At least not the story. So, having not yet seen the Broadway adaptation of Newsies, I was curious to see if the Marriott Theatre’s production made more of an impression. And boy, did it ever.

The story’s still nothing that’ll make the “papes” (that’s what newsies call those inky, stinky things that used to provide the daily headlines), but I quickly realized we weren’t there for story. We were there for spectacle. And boy, did this production deliver.

In the round, the set is dominated by three steel girders that move to change the feel and figure depending on the needed background, but mostly harken back to turn-of-the-century NYC (partying like it’s 1899, not 1999), a city that’s growing and figuring it all out. So, too, are the newsies of the title, a pack of newspaper delivery boys of all shapes and shades and sizes, but who’ve got one thing in common – servitude to the media titans of the day. The story – one of standing up to the wealthy bullies who run things – is inspiring and as apt today as it was over a century ago, even if it doesn’t hold up to the spectacle. So let’s get to that spectacle!

Patrick Rooney as principal paperboy Jack Kelly works well as the lead. He’s got old-timey leading man looks and allure – “pizazz” they probably would’ve called it back in ‘99. And he’s got pipes, too, really letting loose on Menken’s “Santa Fe” to close the first act.

Jack’s fellow newsies have pizazz from the Bronx to Brooklyn, too. Athletes, all, they leap and bound, frolic and flip all across the square stage, charming the audience on all sides with spot-on choreography. Nick Graffagna as Davey looks and talks the part of a lad of that era, and Garrett Lutz’s bushy-haired Irishman does, too. Laura Savage and Adrienne Storrs as two newsgirls provide even more spunk and theater talent to the gang. And when the newsies storm the simple stage for ensemble numbers like “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” they make Lincolnshire’s modest forum seem simply metropolitan.

But from the get-go, the newsie who stands the tallest is young Matthew Uzarraga. As Crutchie, a disabled orphan armed with his namesake walking stick, Uzarraga first shows his skills when he joins Jack in harmony on an early take of “Santa Fe” – I’m a sucker for spot-on harmonizing, one of the things that’s hardest to do as a vocalist and when done right gives the listener goosebumps – giving me the chills. And throughout the show, Uzarraga’s crippled but plucky street urchin steals the stage whenever he’s on it, hobbling along happily and even bubbly and bright when consigned to a poorhouse bed.

My teen daughter, who accompanied me to the Marriott and who did catch the traveling cast of Newsies at the downtown Cadillac Theater a couple years back, said she enjoyed this production even more – delighted at seeing the footwork and old-timey fashions up close. So, too, did the rest of the audience – old and young, alike. So if it’s a story you’re looking for, I’ll tell you right now, Newsies is pretty much Annie, but with Worlds and Suns and Tribs instead of mops and buckets and baldheaded tycoons. But if it’s a show, a spectacle, you wanna see, then head to Lincolnshire for the Marriott’s production of Newsies, and pony up for the pomps and papes they’re sellin’!

For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review
Monday, 16 March 2015 00:00

Review: The Full Monty

One can never have enough of imports from across the sea, “The Full Monty” based on the book by Terrence McNally which earned a 2001 Tony Away nomination and based on the movie by Fox of the same name, is no exception.  Currently being performed at the intimate space of Chicago's Theatre Wit, the audience becomes part of the struggle of the men in a town who are just trying to get by. The Full Monty is set in Buffalo, New York, rather than its original setting in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. But that doesn't really matter. 
  
David Yazbek, wrote the script and music for this new interpretation for the cast of twenty, and the audience can tell that with his talent and the work of director John D. Glover, the 2 hour and 20 minute show, draws the audience into the lives of the regular men in Buffalo as they get over their insecurities, fear and doubts through their chances of changing their situation, their jobs and their lives, with one night of stripping.
 
Your heart sympathizes with the mastermind of the disrobing plan, Jerry Lukowski (Garrett Lutz) unexpected along for the ride, his best friend Dave Bukatinsky (Scott Danielson).  Bringing the group up from a two man show, the friends draw in some of the local gentleman from the mill they had all been laid off from, Harold (Eric Lindahl), Malcolm (George Toles), “Horse” (Randy Johnson) and Ethan (Greg Foster). These men come together to overcome their obstacles and support each other in ways they never expected.
 
You will laugh out loud, you will clap along, you will try to sing a long, you will tear up and you will root for the underdog, praying all six of them (the old, the young, the skinny, the round, the hairy and the hairless) will succeed. The Full Monty hits on many topics including obesity, depression, impotency and father's rights to name a few. As much of a show for the working man, father, husband or boyfriend, as it is a treat for the ladies, all walks of life should enjoy The Full Monty.  Although, more of an adult show (parental guidance would be suggested), teenagers would relate to the family dynamic and stand behind Jerry Lukowski’s son, Nathan (played by Kyle Klein II and Seth Steinberg).
 
The Full Monty is playing at Theatre Wit through April 12th. For show info and/or tickets visit www.theaterwit.org.
Published in Theatre Reviews

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