The promise of hearing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band performed live in its entirety drove me to RAIN, the Beatles' tribute band playing at the Oriental Theater. But the show is much more than that.
Perfectly controlled, with exactingly beat and chord progressions, RAIN lovingly renders selections from the Beatles repertoire to the ‘T’. The group has been playing for years - longer than the originals. A new generation of performers, all born after the Beatles stopped recording, has taken up the torch at RAIN to keep the songs alive.
It was founded by Mark Lewis, who began in the 1970's as a Beatles cover artist, and recruited the original players and made many of the arrangements they perform. Aaron Chiazza plays Ringo Starr; Paul Curatolo plays Paul McCartney; Steve Landes is John Lennon; and Alastar McNeil is George Harrison.
The players are not so much actors, as they are masters of performing as their Beatles characters. So while they are fully realized in musical performance, they can be a little wooden in beckoning to audience participation. Paul Curatolo succeeds most, channeling the warmth of Paul McCartney pretty closely, and he looks quite a bit like him. When Aaron Chiazza's Ringo Starr sings his solo, "With a Little Help from My Friends," he brings the house down by evoking one of many people's favorite Beatles personalities. Though the real Beatles were ready handy with social commentary, these Beatles do not make much small talk, commenting neither on current - or past - events. It's all about the music. And that's just fine.
Most of us never heard the Beatles perform live in person, so hearing their music in a concert setting is striking, but also a little unsettling in a real venue. The group is not exactly impersonating the Beatles, and there is inevitably some personal expression involved. But they do have the various songs nailed down pretty well.
This show at the Oriental Theatre also gives us a hint of how it would have felt to hear the band play their own works on stage themselves.
At the point when they recorded Sgt. Pepper (it was released in 1967) the Beatles had mostly ended live performances, and were doing studio albums and seeing themselves not as rockers, but artists. It wasn’t too long after when they broke up, recording their last album Abbey Road in 1969, and ultimately heading their own ways. (Let It Be was recorded in 1969, prior to Abbey Road, but released afterward.)
The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded over a four-month period from December 6, 1966 – April 21, 1967. Released on June 1, 1967, it is considered to be the greatest rock album ever released. It was also the first concept album. So for the 50th anniversary of its release, RAIN has essentially created a performance art piece, and it is pretty awesome - and well worth seeing.
The album is just 40 minutes long, so it forms the core of the second act at the Oriental Theatre performances. The first half retraces the Beatles rise from Liverpool to global phenomenon. With a strongly representative selection of the history of Beatles music, it provides a wonderful context for the performance of Sgt, Pepper in toto.
Visual backgrounds are nicely done, though if I may quibble, I expected a horse for "of course, Henry the horse, dances the waltz" rather than a cartoon carousel figure. I was also hoping for a full orchestra for the monumental "A Day in the Life." The original recording used 40 classical musicians who were instructed to play gradually from their individual instruments' lowest notes to its highest, and to go gradually from the quietest to the loudest, over the course of 40 bars. That sound is pretty distinctive, and is simulated by RAIN's "fifth Beatle" Mark Beyer, who fills in all the synthesized music along the way.
The show at the Oriental Theatre, a launch of the 2017 Tour, runs through April 2 here in Chicago, with remaining performances at 8 p.m. April 1, and 2 and 8 pm on April 2. Tickets are at www.BroadwayInChicago.com
After a 146-year run, Ringling Bros. Circus, is finally bringing down its curtain for what has been tabbed as “The Greatest Show on Earth”. That’s right. With final shows in May of 2017, one of the world’s most popular events will come to a close after nearly a century and a half of entertaining families from all walks of life.
Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment recently told the Chicago Tribune regarding Ringling Bros. closing, “There isn’t any one thing. This has been a very difficult decision for me and my family.”
Far away are the days when the circus would come to town and people would line the streets to watch the animals and performers enroute to the big top. But has circus excitement really fallen to the wayside?
Several factors were included in closing the Ringling Bros. show including high operating costs and lengthy encounters with animal rights groups. And though a change in public taste is also blamed for the demise of the circus, it’s easy to argue against that. Live circus acts draw an excitement level like no other as proven by the success of Las Vegas Cirque Du Soliel’s Zarkana, a show that brings back classic feats such as death-defying aerial, trapeze, juggling and high-wire stunts.
Others also realized the value in circus entertainment. Simon Painter, Tim Lawson and MagicSpace Entertainment have resurrected three-ring enthusiasm by putting their resources together to produce Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus. The team has an established track record with the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists, and War Horse under their belts already, the latter of which had won awards for its puppeteer work.
Set in a grand circus tent at the turn of the 20th century, the show is narrated by the Ring Master, who introduces one breathtaking act after another, starting off with a team of acrobatics who propel each other high into the air by jumping on opposite ends of a large teeter totter. The higher they are launched, the more impressive their flips and twists. Other acts include a beautiful contortionist (Senayet Asefa Amare), an aerialist (Elena Gatilova), an amazing bicycle balancing routine by “The Cycling Cyclone” (Florian Blummel) and one of the best juggling performances you’ll ever see by Francois Borie, otherwise known as “The Great Gaston”.
The second act opens with possibly the most impressive of the show’s acts as sixth generation circus performers Alejandro and Ricardo Rossi, more simply known as The Rossi Brothers, pulling off a “foot juggling” act to perfection that was perfected by Fratelli Rossi back in the early 20th century. As one brother juggles the other into the air who is being flipped at rapid speeds, we get a taste of the athleticism, precision and balance involved in an act than can only be described as “jaw-dropping”.
Circus 1903 also contains a good amount of humor with The Ringmaster (David Williamson) often interacting with the crowd and creating plenty of very funny moments as he brings children to the stage as volunteers. Williamson, a renowned magician who has appeared on numerous top-rated prime-time network specials, gives the show its needed continuity, entertaining between acts, adding suspense and drawing several laughs from the audience each time he appears.
Another highlight in the show is the use of puppeteers to create and bring to life both a full-grown elephant along with its playful baby. Taking place in 1903, I feared for a moment that this could turn into the sad story of Topsy, the circus elephant that was put down by electrocution that same year. Thankfully, the show did not go into that direction.
A daring high wire act featuring The Lopez Family brings the show to its grand finale, bicycle balancing along with stunning acrobatics tackled high above the stage from one end to the other.
The circus is not dead, people. In fact, it’s an absolute blast. And this this circus holds no controversy when it comes to animal cruelty. With several amazing acts, Circus 1903 does a fantastic job at recreating the era with its costume and set design and is the perfect way to introduce new fans to the grandiose of big top entertainment.
Recommended for adventure seekers of all ages.
Circus 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus is currently touring nationally and will is being performed at Oriental Theatre through March 26th. For more info on this magnificent show, click here.
Kinky Boots has now come through Chicago a few times and I am glad I finally had a chance to see this musical, being so hyped everything. With lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, I was curious to see how her music would translate to live theater.
Based on a true story, the play starts at Price & Son’s gentlemen shoe factory in Northampton, England. It centers on Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) trying to turn around his father’s failing business. With the help from Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), who happens to be a drag queen, they collaborate to build a new direction for Price & Son and take it all the way to Milan.
What stands out more than anything else in this play is Ghee’s performance as Lola. Ghee is an amazing singer who exudes the energy you’d expect from a Broadway performer. Additionally, many of the other characters that are part of Lola’s Angels do a fantastic job (Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sam Dowling, Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, JP Qualters, Xavier Reyes, and Sam Rohloff). They are toned, vibrant, and of course beautiful!
Another stand out performance is Tiffany Engen as Lauren. Lauren is a longtime employee of Price & Son and has a crush on Charlie. Engen is quirky and effortlessly breaks the ice when she is on stage. I would have liked to see more of her character in the play than the script allowed along with her fun dance moves.
I felt like there was some disconnect with the casting for Adam Kaplan. I had a really hard time connecting to his portrayal of Charlie. So much so that in the end, I just wished that Lola took over the entire operations at Price & Son.
Kinky Boots is fun and full of many ups and downs. If anything, you should go for the solo Ghee performs close to the end of the show. I felt remnants of Whitney Houston in the air and a lot of soul.
More importantly, the play touches on many of the injustices that are faced around the LGBTQ community. This is something that is still a challenge and many people still are not familiar or understanding of the community. I would implore people to watch this play and actually have a real conversation about gender identity. Although the play has a humorous tone, there is an underlying message that should be discussed.
You can catch Kinky Boots at the Oriental Theatre (24 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601) during their short engagement ending on September 4th. Ticket prices range from $25-$98.
Everyone's mom has a copy of "Tapestry," and by now the songs are almost as familiar as the Star Bangled Banner. What many may not know is that composer Carole King and lyricist Gerry Goffin literally shaped the sound of early rock 'n roll with their songs made popular by The Drifters, The Shirelles and Little Eva.
"Beautiful" is a musical based on Carole King's incredible rise in the music business as a teenager. While the show is a fairly succinct tale, it does neglect that Miss King ran in the same circles as many other music heavy weights such as Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. Impressive even still is that she sold her first hit song when she was sixteen years old. In an age when many careers were off limits to women.
Douglas McGrath's book is charming and witty. It begins with Carole (Abby Mueller) playing "So Far Away," at a piano, her long frizzy hair moves along with King's signature playing mannerisms. From there it revolves back in time to a less sure of herself King, telling her story through her own songs. McGrath's book has a sincerity not often found these days in blockbuster Broadway shows. He provides heartbreaking context for all the well-known hits written by not just King and Goffin, but also their close friends and competition, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.
The numbers are somewhat formulaic in their presentation, moving from real life story to full-scale performances (as they would have appeared on American Band Stand) but the songs are incredibly well sung and choreographed by the ensemble. It's nearly impossible not to sing along under your breath, or in full-voice as some audience members were. Mcgrath and director Marc Bruni have struck a perfect balance that both tickles and leaves the audience feeling an emotional attachment to the characters, so that in the end, "Beautiful" isn't just about Carole King and it's also not just about the music industry.
Local actress Abby Mueller does an impeccable job filling the shoes of Carole King. If you close your eyes, you wouldn't know you're not actually listening to "Tapestry." Mueller's performance pushes past the gimmick of imitation. She connects to the audience and makes the familiar story of a bad marriage very real. When she turns from frumpy housewife into the bohemian California-chic (the Tapestry look) it feels very cathartic, which makes her success as a solo singer all the more triumphant.
Through February 21st at The Oriental Theatre. Broadway in Chicago. 800-775-2000
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.
Aptly named, “On Your Feet!” is on its way to Broadway and officially launched their World Premier right here in Chicago at the Oriental Theater. The show tells the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan through music and dance, laughter and tears. There were so many things that I enjoyed about this show it is hard to figure out where to start!
Written by Alexander Dinelaris (most recent credits include the screenplay for the Oscar winning “Birdman”), the story moves fast, initiated as a flashback from the tragic tour bus accident that landed Gloria in the hospital with a spinal cord injury. We are introduced to a young Gloria, played by the Alexandria Suarez, on laundry day in Miami. In a flurry of dancing, singing and swirling pastel sheets, Glorita grows from a young girl to a teenage Gloria, played by Ana Villafane, who wows us with a powerhouse voice that will blow you away.
My favorite character of the show is Consuelo, Gloria’s spunky grandmother played by Alma Cuervo. She is the catalyst that brings Emilio and Gloria together, supports her shy granddaughter to follow her dreams, and delights the audience with her quirky one-liners - my favorite being “terrible shorts, great culo!” after our first introduction to a young, short-short wearing Emilio, played by the handsome Josh Seggara.
Hit after musical hit carries us through the first act as we watch Gloria break out of her shell and take the spotlight while her and Emilio quietly fall in love. As their lives move forward, we learn more about her father’s time in the Cuban police force and then the American military and her mother’s lost dream of singing. The entire story is supported by energetic dancing, effortlessly changing set design and costumes that transport you from Cuba to Vietnam to Miami.
While first act ends on a high note as Gloria successfully crosses over into the English speaking market with a performance of “Conga” that gets everyone in the theater dancing, the second act deals with more serious challenges as the relationship between Gloria and her mother is broken and rebuilt, and the family deals with the aftermath of the horrific bus accident. In scenes that will bring tears to your eyes, we learn more about Emilio’s escape from Cuba and say goodbye to family members who have passed and witness Gloria’s triumphant rise back to stardom.
Villafane and Seggara are fantastic as Gloria and Emilio. Villafane’s incredible singing and dancing makes you believe it was actually Gloria Estefan you are watching. Seggara is spot on in his acting and his lovable Cuban accent, which makes up for his singing that is not his strongest asset. The use of projected images and sets that slide on and off the stage with ease, created a wonderful backdrop for spot on dancing by a core ensemble. The choreography, by Sergio Trujillo, was rooted in Latin dance, with impressive moves that were performed completed in sync with style and flair.
Overall, I can whole-heartedly recommend this show to anyone looking for an exciting, fast paced show that will have you dancing in your seat and on your feet! The show is running at the Oriental Theater through July 5th so grab your tickets soon – you will not want to miss this!
What's better than a good revenge story? How about a revenge comedy? Better yet, how about a revenge comedy musical? First Wives Club is all of that and then some. Partially driven by a Motown soundtrack, this glitzy musical taken from the 1996 film starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler presents many memorable numbers - some from hits we all know like “Reach Out…I’ll Be There” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and some written just for this production.
When three housewives reunite years later after their college girlfriend commits suicide due to an unfaithful husband, they soon realize they have something in common - all their husbands are cheating. Joining together, the three decide to form The First Wives Club and exact revenge upon their unfaithful spouses in bold fashion.
First Wives Club is bolstered by an incredibly talented cast. Christine Sherrill is lights out as “Elise Acton” while Broadway legend Faith Prince and Carmen Cusack also make a huge splash as gal pals “Brenda Cushman” and “Annie Walker”. Sherrill's velvety smooth voice stands out as she belts out one number after the next, especially noteworthy in “Old Me New Me”. Not to be overshadowed, Prince also displays her vocal prowess and even gets big house applause during “My Heart Wants to Try One More Time”. Patrick Richwood is tremendous as the flamboyant “Duane Fergusson” while Sean Murphy Cullen’s physical comedy Jackie Gleason-esque as the cheating, but loveable, “Morty Cushman”. The ever changing set was almost a show in itself. Colorful and dazzling, the set was massive as it was convertible, seamlessly changing from one world to another.
Gracing the red carpet to kick off the new Broadway-bound musical were musical contributors and Motown legends Brian Holland, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, The Four Tops’ Duke Fakir, Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas and two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole along with five-time Emmy Award winner Linda Bloodworth Thomason.
The story is light with just the right amount of campy humor and the dancing and singing fully entertaining to one catchy number after another. With such likeable main characters (three women in their mid-forties) it is easy to see this production finding Mamma Mia-like success. Wonderfully directed by Simon Phillips, First Wives Club: The Musical is a laugh out loud, feel good winner. Revenge is sweet but even sweeter when done by a trio of women that are so much fun to watch.
First Wives Club: The Musical is being performed at The Oriental Theatre through March 29th before it hits Broadway. For tickets and/or more show information call (800) 775-2000 or visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
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