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Thursday, 08 June 2017 02:27

Griffin's "Ragtime" Done Right

In 1996 Ragtime made its stage debut in Toronto and a year later it found itself making waves on Broadway. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Dotorow, the musical, with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, kept gaining momentum winning thirteen Tony Awards in 1998. Now, to close out its 2016-2017 season, Griffin Theatre Company reimagines the modern classic, thanks to the creative minds of director Scott Weinstein and Matt Deitchman, who adds new music orchestrations to the mix.


Taking place in New York City, Ragtime takes us back to the turn of the century, beginning in 1906, where three families who couldn’t be more different are followed – a young African American couple, a recently immigrated Jewish father and daughter and a privileged white family. As the story unfolds, the families come across one another, but in doing so, and along the way, we see the vast difference in treatment each receives as Ragtime touches on social justice, race relations and immigration. With plenty of parallels in today’s America, Ragtime serves as not just an entertaining musical, but also as a lesson to which we can all learn from.


Throughout the story we also meet a handful of influential historic figures including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan and Booker T. Washington and are reminded of the impact each had made in a rapidly changing America.


Filled with many lively characters such as Coalhouse Walker JR (admirably played by Denzel Tsopnang) who brings "ragtime music" alive with his jazzy Harlem-styled piano playing and Tateh (played with great zest and sentiment by Jason Richards), the colorful Jewish immigrant who just wants to build a life for his daughter, this is a musical that constantly keeps one engaged.


Katherine Thomas makes quite an impression in her debut for Griffin Theatre as Coalhouse Walker’s love interest Sarah particularly shining in numbers “Your Daddy’s Son” and “President”. Laura McClain as Mother also impresses and moves the house during her rendition of “Back to Before”. Other standouts performances include Joe Capstick who undertakes a handful of roles including Houdini, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, a very funny Caitlin Collins as Eveyln Nesbit and an ensemble that truly delivers in every way.


Imaginatively staged at Den Theatre’s Main Theatre, the venue holds a new look as it is transformed into a theatre in the round, the audience surrounding the action. A ragtime band is present throughout the show, two pianos, a clarinet (Dan Hickey) and an occasional flute to giving us a newly-orchestrated chamber version behind the music direction of Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris, each of whom mans a piano throughout.


There is a reason that Ragtime has won so many awards and has been revived so often by numerous theatre companies. Simply put, the music is outstanding, it’s story is educational as it is entertaining and its message is timeless. Griffin Theatre does justice to this definitive production putting forth a commendable cast, an inviting set, polished music production and lighting and spot on costumes that throw the audience back in time to 1906.


Recommended.


Ragtime is being performed at Den Theatre’s Main Stage and has been extended through July 22nd. For this quality production tickets are a bargain at just $39. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.griffintheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Griffin Theatre Company is pleased to announce casting for its newly-orchestrated chamber version of the Tony Award-winning musical RAGTIME, reimagined by director Scott Weinstein with new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman, music direction by Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris and choreography by William Carlos Angulo. With 20 actors, two pianos and a wind instrument, RAGTIME features a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. RAGTIME will play May 27 – July 16, 2017 at The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tickets for RAGTIME are currently available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (866) 811-4111. 

 

RAGTIME will feature Laura McClain as Mother, Denzel Tsopnang as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Jason Richards as Tateh, Katherine Thomas as Sarah, Ben Miller as The Little Boy, Autumn Hlava as The Little Girl, Matt Edmonds as Younger Brother, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, Scott Allen Luke as Father, Neala Barron as Emma Goldman, Caitlin Collins as Evelyn Nesbit, Jonathan Schwart as Henry Ford, Joe Capstick as Harry Houdini, Larry Baldacci as Grandfather, Danielle Davis as Sarah’s Friend, Courtney Jones as Kathleen/Brigit and others, with an ensemble including Marcellus Burt, Arielle Leverett, Alanna Lovely and Juwon Perry.

 

Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, RAGTIME is set at the dawn of a new century where the lives of three distinct American families from different backgrounds intersect in their search for the American dream. Part history lesson—part family saga, this stirring musical asks us think about racism, immigration, social justice, wage inequality and the role of women in society in a changing America. 

 

The production team for RAGTIME includes: William Boles (scenic design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Alex Ridgers (lighting design), Stephen Ptacek (sound design), Catherine Allen (production manager), KZ Wilkerson (asst. director/asst. choreographer) and Katie Messmore (stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: RAGTIME

Book: Terrence McNally

Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

Music: Stephen Flaherty

Director: Scott Weinstein

New Orchestrations/Music Supervisor: Matt Deitchman

Music Direction: Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris

Choreography: William Carlos Angulo.

Associate Director/Associate Choreographer: KZ Wilkerson

 

Cast: Larry Baldacci (Grandfather), Neala Barron (Emma Goldman), Marcellus Burt (Ensemble), Joe Capstick (Harry Houdini), Caitlin Collins (Evelyn Nesbit), Danielle Davis (Sarah’s Friend), Matt Edmonds (Younger Brother), Frederick Harris (Booker T. Washington), Autumn Hlava (The Little Girl), Courtney Jones (Kathleen/Brigit and others), Arielle Leverett (Ensemble), Alanna Lovely (Ensemble), Scott Allen Luke (Father), Laura McClain (Mother), Ben Miller (The Little Boy), Juwon Perry (Ensemble), Jason Richards (Tateh), Jonathan Schwart (Henry Ford), Katherine Thomas (Sarah) and Denzel Tsopnang (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.).

 

Location: The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

Dates: Previews: Saturday, May 27 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, May 28 at 3 pm, Thursday, June 1 at 7:30 pm, Friday, June 2 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 3 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Thursday, June 8 – Sunday, July 16, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. 

Tickets: Previews $30. Regular run $39. Students, seniors & veterans $34 ($25 previews). Group discount are available for groups of ten or more. Tickets are currently available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (866) 811-4111.

 

About the Creative Team

 

Scott Weinstein (Director) previously directed Griffin’s Bat Boy: The Musical, Titanic and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Scott is the Co-Artistic Director of Buzz22 Chicago, where he most recently directed She Kills Monsters as part of Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage Rep Series. Other credits include Seussical and Bolcom’s Fairy Tales (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); A Doll’s House (Buzz22 Chicago); All American (Red Twist); Baristas (NY International Fringe Festival); Ampersand (Bloomington Playwrights Project); and the first full productions of Murder For Two (Adirondack Theatre Festival, Hangar Theatre, 42nd Street Moon). Scott is the recipient of a Berkshire Theatre Festival Directing Fellowship and a Stage Directors and Choreographers Society Observership. He is currently the Associate Director for the National Tour, Las Vegas and Chicago productions of Million Dollar Quartet. He is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and proud graduate of Northwestern University. Weinstein recently won a Jeff Award for his direction of the musical Rent for Theo Ubique Theatre.

 

Matt Deitchman (New Orchestrations/Music Supervisor) is a Chicago based actor, music director and composer and multi-instrumentalist originally from Allendale, New Jersey. Music credits include: Tug Of War, Road Show, Seussical, Shrek (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Adding Machine, Into the Woods (The Hypocrites); The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Mercury Theater); Hero (Asolo Repertory Theatre & Marriott Theatre); King & I, The Wizard Of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, For The Boys (Marriott Theatre); She Kills Monsters (Steppenwolf Garage-Original Score); Do Over (MIC - Original Music/Lyrics Co-Write); Spelling Bee (Griffin Theatre); Do I Hear a Waltz?, The Baker’s Wife, The Pajama Game (Music Theatre Company); and Found (American Music Theater Project). Matt graduated from the Northwestern University Theatre Department where he twice music directed, composed, and orchestrated for the annual Waa-Mu and was the recipient of the Peggy Dow and Frank Gamble Fitzpatrick Scholarships, as well as the prestigious Sarah Siddons Scholarship Award for excellence in Musical Theatre.

 

Jermaine Hill (Music Director) is thrilled to be working on his first production with Griffin Theatre Company. An actor, singer, music director, arranger/orchestrator, pianist and vocal coach originally from New York City, he recently music directed The Gefilte Fish Chronicles (Chicago Music Theatre Festival), Godspell and Bonnie and Clyde (Actors Training Center), and was music arranger for Barney: The Elf (The Other Theatre Company). Upcoming music directing credits include Madagascar (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) and two productions in the 2017-2018 Porchlight Music Theatre season. Performance highlights include Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall), the Aldeburgh Festival (U.K.), The Lost Colony (Manteo, N.C.), two seasons at the Capitol Theatre (Rome, N.Y.), and a commercial with the Onion Labs/NBC. He is currently an assistant professor of theatre at North Central College, where he coordinates the musical theatre and dance programs. He is a proud graduate of Ithaca College and the New England Conservatory of Music, and is proudly represented by Gray Talent Group. jermainehillmusic.com

 

Ellen Morris (Music Director) is a Chicagoland music director and teaching artist. Recent professional theater credits include Next to Normal, Dogfight (Boho Theatre), Adding Machine, (The Hypocrites), The Velveteen Rabbit (The Marriott Theatre) and Northanger Abbey (Lifeline Theatre). She is the resident music director and a voice teacher at the Wilmette Park District and also teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago and Northwestern. Ellen is a proud Northwestern graduate. 

 

The Griffin Theatre's 2016/2017 Premiere Season Sponsor is Brenda & James Grusecki with additional season sponsor support from Jeff Graves Realtor @properties, Kassie Davis & Bruce Beatus, Mary Grover, Randy & Lloyd Gussis, Claire Conley & Joan Mazzonelli.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is a Blue Star Theater and is proud to support our military enlisted and veterans. 

 

About Griffin Theatre Company

Established in 1988 and celebrating its 29th season, the mission of the Griffin Theatre Company is to create extraordinary and meaningful theatrical experiences for both children and adults by building bridges of understanding between generations that instill in its audience an appreciation of the performing arts. Through artistic collaboration the Griffin Theatre Company produces literary adaptations, original work and classic plays that challenge and inspire, with wit, style and compassion for the audience.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is the recipient of 105 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for theater excellence in Chicago. The Griffin was the repeat winner of the 2016 Jeff Award for “Best Production of a Play” for London Wall having won the same award in 2015 for its production of Men Should Weep.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

 

For additional information, visit www.griffintheatre.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Griffin Theatre’s In To America is a stark reminder of the contributions made by the many immigrants that have come from all around the world and have made the United States what it is today. In writer Bill Massolia’s multicultural story, American history is retold by several immigrant narratives where sixty personal stories are shared spanning over thirty countries. The play begins with the American immigration experience from Jamestown in the early 17th century and covers the 400 years since, many of its stories remarkable as they are daring. 

We hear the good and the bad. In many stories we get a taste of the shameful mistreatment immigrants received upon their arrival, the brave new world of vast opportunity they were seeking no more than a hostile environment that spews hate for the simple fact of being different. In others (not nearly as many) we hear how immigrants were received with opens arms, their dreams fulfilled as their new home offers the new life they had so desperately had hoped for. In this condensed history lesson we also learn the hardships endured throughout perilous journeys in leaving their own countries in daring escapes from their own native countries. 

“We never crossed the border. The border crossed us,” we are profoundly told from Juanita Andersen who portrays a Mexican landowner after being squeezed out by new arrivals during the Manifest Destiny.  

The series of monologues flows quickly as the story follows a timeline that is rich in information covering such events as congress adopting the uniform rule in 1790 so that any white person could apply for citizenship after two years of residency, the Dred Scott decision in 1857 declaring free Africans non-citizens, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1902, Native Americans made citizens in 1924 and the 1980 Refugee Act that removed refugees as a preference category, reducing worldwide ceiling for immigration to 270,000. Many, many other significant policies are brought to light that have had an effect on immigration.

Artist Director Bill Massolia comments about the production, “In To America owes a great deal of its inspiration from my own family’s immigrant roots.” 

He was also inspired by Ronald Takaki’s award-winning book A Different Mirror where it is stated “In the making of multicultural America, the contingent’s original inhabitants were joined by people pushed from their homelands by poverty and persecution in Asia, Latin America and Europe, and pulled here by extravagant dreams. Others came here in chains from Africa, and still others fled here from countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam. These men and women may not have read John Locke, but they came to believe that ‘in the beginning all the world was America.’ They envisioned the emerging country as a place for a bold new start.”

He further states, “Marginalized and degraded as the “Other” minorities came to believe even more fiercely and fervently than did the founding fathers in the ‘self-evident truths’ that ‘all men are created equal’, entitled to the ‘unalienable rights’ of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. 

In To America also explores the paranoia regarding immigration held by one such founding father quoting Benjamin Franklin, "Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."

The play’s theme is strong in reminding us that America has been made on the backs of immigrants, boasting many great achievements and spotlighting a handful of prominent “new Americans” who have truly made a difference in our country’s progress. In the end we get a picture of hope, unity and promise.

Dorothy Milne directs while the cast in this insightful piece includes Juanita Andersen, Katie Campbell, Jennifer Cheung, Aneisa Hicks, Christopher W. Jones, Francisco Lopez, Adam Marcantoni, Sean McGill, Rasika Ranganathan, Omer Abbas Salem, Scott Shimizu, Jason VonRohn and Elizabeth Hope Williams. Each actor plays multiple characters from all over the world, transitioning very well from accent to accent, adding to the play’s genuine nature in relaying a spirit everyone can identify with.  

In To America is just the play that will prompt many to go back and research their family lineage to discover their own journey to America.

In To America is being performed at Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage through April 23rd. Tickets are $38 and valet parking is now available. For tickets and/or more show information click here

         

  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Serious theatergoers may well want to see Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset, which in 1935 won the first New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play. Specializing in mining historic gems, Griffin Theatre Company’s production at The Den Theatre gives it the full Monty.

Though Winterset is a period piece, unlike 1930s works like Mother Courage or Waiting for Lefty, the social agenda in Anderson’s work doesn’t supersede the story. In this tragedy, the star-crossed lovers Mio (Maurice Demus) and Miriamne (Kiayla Ryann) suffer the slings and arrows of an ill-fated romance.  

The challenge for audiences made up of you and me is the language and structure. Written largely in verse, in three acts with two intermissions, Winterset is work to watch. The performances that director Jonathan Berry draws out carry the story well enough. But the language, especially Act I, is so stylized that I wondered if the playwright were really any good. He wrote the 1954 hit The Bad Seed, and in 1947 Anne of a Thousand Days - both also successful as films.

Winterset is another matter. Impossibly poetic lines are tossed into moments of climactic action. Actors sometimes resorted to continuously declaiming, or soaring away on wings of poetry, in their delivery. That being said, you can totally follow the story of young Mio, who wants to clear the name of his father, unjustifiably executed for a murder. Miriamne learns that her brother Garth (Christopher Acevedo) knows enough to clear Mio’s father. But he is intimidated from doing so when two accessories to the murder arrive: Trock (John Odor conjures up Killer Joe) and Shadow (Bradford Stevens as Trock’s ominous partner).

Norm Woodel in his supporting role as Esdras has the vocal skills to overcome Maxwell’s challenging script, putting cadence, timber, emphasis and whatever else the pros know into delivering lines greatly. And Larry Baldacci as Judge Gaunt also has the seasoning to carry it off. But this is a tough script for today.

The retro industrial set by Joe Schermoly is a standout. Despite the constraints of space, Schermoly has created a properly noir environment with backlit fog (lighting by Alex Ridgers). The stage tilts forward, with huge steam pipes that fit the script and are so convincing I thought they were part of the Milwaukee Avenue loft building that Den calls home. Schermoly’s recent credits include Steppenwolf’s Constellations and Victory Gardens Hand to God – all very different and all very creative. 

In its time, Winterset was celebrated for its topicality. Audiences did not miss parallels to efforts to exonerate Sacco & Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants executed for murder in 1927, in a case that resonates with today’s social activist movements. In real life, nearly every major city on the globe saw protests in 1927 in support of the two. That subtext combined with the romantic tragedy was boffo at the box office. Ticket buyers ponied up to keep the retelling the tale in Winterset's 190-performance run on Broadway.

This show is recommended. See Winterset at the Den Theatre through December 23, 2016.

Published in Theatre in Review

Hordes of swarming, diving birds are attacking a cabin in Somewhere, America -- and, we later assume due to dead radio noise and a major power blackout, the entire country -- while two strangers seek shelter and safety within its walls. They don't know why the birds are attacking but they've seen enough carnage to know stepping outdoors during the beak- and talon-filled ambushes every six hours at high tide means undoubtedly walking into their own deaths. They pass the hours by talking, learning about each other, reading, writing, and most pressingly, discussing their survival. Food is scarce, they have no working transportation, and there's no electricity.

When a third party enters the scene seeking refuge, the two unhesitatingly take her in. The group dynamic now changed, suspicion and mistrust seep into the threesome's thoughts and behavior like an intravenous disease. The silence and long, drawn-out hours don't give the characters the opportunity to ruminate over their regrets, worries, and doubts so much as shove them into a dark, smothering heap of them.

While most of us are familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 cinematic horror masterpiece, and maybe less of us with the novellette by Daphne du Maurier, I had never heard of this story being put to the stage. Adapted by acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, Griffin Theater Company's The Birds is an entirely original story set in the apocalyptic universe created by du Maurier and later expanded upon by Hitchcock. The play is less about the literal horrors caused by insane, vicious birds attacking as much as the metaphorical: What would we do to survive? In what ways would we change if society collapses? Would our values regress if nobody is there to enforce rules and keep score? What are we capable of? As The Birds will show, the monsters outside are no match for the ones lurking inside.

The Birds is playing at Theater Wit Thursdays through Sundays until July 19th. Visit theaterwit.org for tickets.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 19:00

Sail On Titanic!

Griffin Theatre Company has taken on the feat of recreating the Tony Award-winning musical Titanic. Launching this production in a much more intimate space at Theater Wit, the audience gets a real close up feel to the action and is able to capture the bevy of emotions delivered first hand. Scott Weinstein directs Griffin’s Titanic with intensity, giving this production a true feel of tragedy and humankind.

We are all familiar with Titanic’s maiden voyage that where the luxury passenger liner launched from Southampton, UK and sank in the Atlantic on April 15th 1912 after hitting an iceberg on its way to New York City. In Peter Stone’s Titanic, we join the excitement prior to the ships fateful launch where the ship is boasted as the largest and fastest passenger sea vessel that also comes with the tag “indestructible”. Families, friends and crew members are giddy with enthusiasm and anticipation as projected so well in the show’s magnificent opening number “In Every Age”. After Titanic’s triumphant departure, we are taken to both the luxurious world of the ship as well as that of the lesser class. In its five day voyage, we are taken to ballroom extravaganzas, fine dining and also to the far less glamorous galleys and crew quarters.

All the while the good Captain Edward Smith and First Officer William Murdoch look to steady the course but do so under the pressure of ship owner White Star Line to increase its speed in order to break the speed record to cross the Atlantic. Finally, on a dark and quiet night, lookout Frederick Fleet notified Murdoch of an iceberg due ahead, but it was too late to maneuver, the ship receiving a 300-foot gash in its side, doomed to sink in the frigid waters. In all the panic and commotion we learn that there are only enough lifeboats to save a third of the ship’s passengers. Ultimately only 700 or so of the Titanic’s 2224 passengers would survive, the rest condemned to a watery grave.

In Griffin’s Titanic, we get a real sense of devastation after what is at first denial (after all they are on an indestructible ship). We see the blame game shifted between architect, White Star Line and the Captain. It is an interesting dynamic as we see both unbridled selfishness and unselfishness between the passengers as some are intent on saving themselves while some are more interested in trying to help others.

The set, though simple, converts well from ship deck, to dining hall and living quarters, to ship exterior. The music is strong and heartfelt (also newly reworked). Many numbers are memorable, seizing the essence of the situation so very well such as “I Give You My Hand”, “To Be a Captain”, “I Have Danced” and “God Lift Me Up”. We also get a number of excellent acting performances in the large cast of twenty, making this a very solid production that has everything you would want in a musical tragedy.

Griffin Theatre Company’s Titanic is a high seas adventure you will not soon forget. It’s a big show in a smaller theatre. This warm and stunning production is being performed at Theater Wit (1229 W Belmont) through December 7th and tickets are priced at a very worthwhile $39. For more information, you can visit www.griffintheatre.com. 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 19:00

Men Should Weep at Raven Theatre

The Scottish city of Glasgow wallows in economic depression, as this laborer’s family struggles through the hardships of basic survival. “All we’ve done wrong is to be born into poverty,” the father says in comforting the overworked wife wrapped in his arms. A crash look into the real housewives of Glasgow circa 1930, overcrowded and unsanitary apartments, unfaithful relationships, being unemployed and broke, rebellious teenagers, and human rights verse human cruelty clash in this epic three-act play at Edgewater’s Raven Theatre.

A complex tale of interweaving lives, Robin Witt impeccably directs a strong cast in the creation of this fast-moving family drama, sure to be a summer hit! Touching on many modern issues, this story carries its audience through a roller coaster of fears and tenderness: the joys of raising children, the sorrows of disaster befalling loved ones. Family, even society, pull together as economic struggles break them apart.

Especially touching is the graceful performance of Lori Myers playing Maggie Morrison, the matriarch who leads her family through this desperate saga. She clings to love although gossip, fighting, rejection, and illness nearly break her heart in two. A masterful portrayal, Myers carries the show with a touch of genius, inviting the audience to share her trauma and rejoice in her triumphs. 

Great talent work in Chicago, nowhere more so than in this production.  A slice of life, featuring excellent costuming by Kate Murphy and ingenious audio effects by Victoria Deiorio contribute to making this charming production an evening that leaves its audience with hope and enjoyable entertainment.

Griffin Theatre Company’s Men Should Weep runs July 5 to August 10 at 7:30pm at the Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N Clark St in Chicago. The show runs 2:40 with two 10 minute intermissions. Tickets are available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling 866-811-4111.

Twitter@birunjibaby

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