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Today, the producers of “Spamilton,” the critically acclaimed parody of “Hamilton,” will extend its Chicago production for an open-ended run at the Royal George Theatre (1641 N. Halsted). Created by Tony Award honoree Gerard Alessandrini, the mastermind behind “Forbidden Broadway,” “Spamilton” officially opened in Chicago on March 12 to rave reviews, with Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times calling “Spamilton” an “altogether brilliant, hilarious, cliché-demolishing send-up of ‘Hamilton,’” Chris Jones of Chicago Tribune noting “You really don’t want to miss ‘Spamilton,’” and Barbara Vitello of the Daily Herald exclaiming the show is “deliciously silly. The laughs come fast and furious!” The all-Chicago “Broadway ready” (Chicago Sun-Times) cast includes Donterrio Johnson, Adam LaSalle, Michelle Lauto, Eric Andrew Lewis, Yando Lopez and David Robbins. Tickets for “Spamilton” are available now with additional performances to be added on a regular basis. Tickets ($59 – $99) can be purchased at the Royal George Theatre’s box office online, at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 312.988.9000.  

 

“We feel very fortunate to have found such success here in Chicago with the talented local company we’ve brought together at the Royal George. This Chicago cast is unbelievably great!” said Alessandrini. “What a way to be welcomed to the Windy City! We can’t wait to see what the summer holds for the success of ‘Spamilton’ here in Chicago.”

 

“Spamilton,” which was initially scheduled in New York as an exclusive 18-performance off-Broadway engagement, has extended three times and is now playing its ninth smash month of an open engagement at the Triad (158 West 72nd Street). The New York production earned rave reviews across-the-board, with Ben Brantley of The New York Times calling it “smart, silly and convulsively funny!” and Lin-Manuel Miranda exclaiming “I laughed my brains out!” In its Chicago premiere, the local cast received additional acclaim, with critics hailing the production “endlessly entertaining” (Performink), “A Must-See!” (BroadwayWorld.com), and “razor sharp and filled with wit and humor” (Chicago Theatre Review). On Opening Night, cast members from the Chicago production of “Hamilton” were in the audience, and following the performance Wayne Brady called the production “Amazing! It’s the perfect blend of funny and parody. Go see ‘Spamilton!”

 

In addition to Alessandrini, the creative team includes Gerry McIntyre (Choreography), Dustin Cross (Costume Design), Milo Blue (Scenic Design), Andy Kloubec (Lighting Design), Matt Reich (Sound Design), Jamie Karas (Prop Design), Leah Munsey-Konops (Wig 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 and Ariel Richardson are the understudies 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. For additional details, visit Ticketmaster.com or TheRoyalGeorgeTheatre.com.

 

For more information, visit Spamilton.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

The hip-hop Broadway in Chicago sensation Hamilton, which, has spawned a secondary market in pricey theater tickets, has also delivered a pair of spin-offs. Shamilton, an improv riff at the Apollo, and now, notably, Spamilton, a send up of the original musical about the founding fathers of the U.S. 

Is it funny if you haven’t seen the original? The short answer is yes – because following the opening sets based on Hamilton, the show quickly turns its sites on other long-time Broadway shows like Cats and Phantom of the Opera, warhorses like Camelot, and shows of more recent vintage like Wicked and Book of Mormon.

The creative force behind the show is Gerard Alessandrini, the originator of the 1982 "Forbidden Broadway," which was similar in format, and has been rewritten and updated more than a dozen times. It has played around the world, including Chicago - I’ve seen two different versions here.

For all practical purposes, Spamilton is the newest Forbidden Broadway, and on some levels it exceeds the earlier ones in appeal.

The key to the storyline is Broadway’s perpetual and desperate struggle to save itself, and to create a new vision of the big musical show. Show business has been mired in novelties like Book of Mormon and the puppet-based Avenue Q; overproduced extravaganza with no memorable songs, like Spiderman; or Sondheim light operetta that those outside the cognoscenti may find hard to sit through.

Alessandrini picks up this scent of desperation, and seizes on Broadway producers struggles with wickedly funny original song and dance numbers that sample or mash-up the originals. Clinging to revivals of Rogers & Hammerstein or Leonard Bernstein; turning over theaters to somewhat vapid Disney productions like Aladdin and Newsies, these producers become fodder for fun in Spamilton.

The show parodies this desperation with another extreme: combining previously successful shows.

A perfect example comes around 10 minutes in, as the Spamilton players switch gears and time periods to present The Lion King & I. Anna the English Governess in hoop skirts dons a Julie Traymor head set in a duet with a squawking animal character. Let’s say I chortled heartily.

The show runs at a mad-cap pace, and even if you don’t get all the references, it’s still funny. A scene of an axe wielding gentleman clad just in Fruit of the Looms is a send up of American Psycho (I think, after Googling). It was funny even though I didn’t know exactly what the reference was.

Wicked and Book of Mormon – once the pricey ‘it’ shows, now discounting tickets like any other production – get nailed pointedly, having yielded star status to Hamilton. Scenes are punctuated by a running gag: homeless ladies in rags begging for Hamilton tickets – understood to be based on true stories of famous  stars desperate for seating.

A Barbra Streisand impersonation finds the aging diving singing in signature reverb, advising that when Hamilton is filmed, she wants to play a role in “The Film When It  Happens.” Likewise, J-Lo and Gloria Estefan walk-on, each hoping to tap the mojo of Hamilton. Liza Minnelli appears, but runs the other direction - and asks that rap be banned on Broadway, so they can “bring back the tunes.”  

The show reveals broader awareness in a number, Straight is Back, which laments the loss of gay show tunes and glitter, as productions like Hamilton skew to more manly styles. 

You can get a taste of Spamilton from the original New York cast album, just released. But it pales compared to the experience of seeing this cast of amazing dancers and singers, and their great comedic timing: Donterrio Johnson, Michelle Lauto, Eric Andrew Lewis, Yando Lopez, David Robbins, and guest diva Christine Pedi (she's the Streisand character among others), with musical direction by Adam LaSalle.  

While Hamilton’s original star Lin-Manuel Miranda love “laughed my brains out!" when he saw the show, during last Sunday’s production the Chicago cast of Hamilton was in the audience – and they had a blast.

Gerry McIntyre did the choreography;  Dustin Cross gets 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 and Arielle Richardson are the understudies the production.

"Spamilton" plays 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. at the Royal George Theater.  www.spamilton.com

Published in Theatre in Review

“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

Helldrivers of Daytona, currently running at the Royal George Theatre, is a fun idea. It is a musical that seems to mostly spoof Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, a story of a talented race car driver who needs to scrape up enough cash to get his car into the big race. James Nedrud does his best in the lead as Lucky Stubbs, lampooning the Elvis-like role, but often ends up shouting his best songs. Nonetheless, he does succeed nicely as a caricature of the sexy, country boy trying to make good we know from the film, coming off as a fey, one level dummy adding a lot of humor to the role. Nedrud’s expressions alone often draws laughs along with his overdone Southern accent and quirky denseness.  

 

The parodied scenes from Viva Las Vegas are many, from the girlfriend, Pepper, singing a song about how jealous she is of Lucky’s race car, the active competition with a French racing rival and even Lucky’s stint working as a hotel waiter where he walks in on Pepper and his challenger. Again, the idea was there. Problem is, despite some good acting and singing performances throughout the cast, the production goes a bit overboard with its silliness and many jokes simply fall flat. 

 

The music, composed by The Knack’s Berton Averre, captures the 1965 period nicely, some songs stuffed with clever punchlines, however, outside of a couple catchy melodies, most numbers will probably have a hard time sticking, as they fall a bit on the repetitive side.        

 

Samantha Pauly stands out from the entire cast and is a superb comedienne in the role of Pepper Johnson, Lucky’s sex kittenish, Anne Margaret type love interest. Her introductory song, "Peppers' Crazy Feeling" is hysterical as Pepper has one orgasm after another just by driving her pink colored bumpy, throbbing stick shift - an adorable convertible aptly named "Pinky”, getting huge laughs with each big "O", some of the only genuine laughs in the show. As the bi-sexual, millionaire race car driver and Count, David Sajewich is also funny even when he later channels a twelve-year-old French murderess to kill Lucky in the race (I told you it goes overboard). 

 

There are three essential speedway groupies and a tomboyish tag-along (Rachel Melius, Leah Morrow, Claire Lilley, and Julia Rose Duray). All had great voices and are played with real energy, sex appeal and great comic timing.

 

The beach bums who become Lucky's race car pit crew (Trey Curtis, Aaron M. Davidson, and Chris Selefski) have some funny moments and are good singers. Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique's choreography is often very sexy and funny at the same time, especially the dance numbers of seduction between Lucky and Pepper and Pepper's competing courtship dance with the Count. 

 

I adored Brenda Winstead's costumes particularly for all the women characters. The girl's outfits were colorful, perfectly cut for the time period and eye-poppingly sexy without actually revealing anything.

 

"Teenage Dreams" sung by the three groupies is the most memorable and interesting song to me. Their three fantasies in the number include, a Daddy's girl whose fixation on her handsome father still gets in the way of her love life, one was into being a dominatrix and having her man be her obedient puppy dog, and the third, raised Catholic, insists on finding a man who looks and acts like Jesus, her hero and savior.  I thought this song’s lyrics were very cleverly written and delivered by the girls and really captured the repressed fantasies and dating blocks that many women of all ages possibly struggle with today. Happily, for this trio, each one eventually finds her perfect mate in the trio of pit crew boys who help Lucky win the race. 

 

At a running time of 2 hours 25 minutes there are definitely still some cuts to be made but I had a lot of fun watching the show, and think a younger crowd at a theater with a more progressive reputation would as well. It might also be a good idea to take in Viva Las Vegas beforehand to really get the show’s camp.

 

Despite the show having a few more misses than hits, Helldrivers of Daytona still has enough laughs and doses of nostalgia that most will probably enjoy it overall. Its originality also counts for something, especially in its big finale racing scene.  

 

In its World Premiere, the pre-Broadway tryout, Helldrivers of Daytona, is being performed at Royal George Theatre through October 30th. To find out more about the show go to www.theroylageorgetheatre.com. 

 

*UPDATE – Due to negative reviews, the show has been cancelled for the remainder of its run. A statement was made from the show’s producers, “We all believed in Helldrivers of Daytona and more importantly believe in creating new works for the American Musical stage. We are disappointed by the critical response, but we knew that it was a risky endeavor. Still, many of the people who saw it were thoroughly entertained and delighted by the work of our fantastic cast and musicians. We have decided to close the production and we will evaluate how we might make changes for future productions of the musical. We want to thank our talented team of designers, our director and co-choreographer, our music director, our cast and crew, and of course our creative team who have all worked so diligently to get Helldrivers to the starting (and alas, finishing) line.”

 

That is unfortunate. Hopefully, we will see a tweaked production in the future. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

After a successful run last winter, Hershey Felder will be returning to reprise his role as Irving Berlin in "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin". Bringing his one man show back to the Royal George Theatre beginning on April 9th, Felder's wonderful production will returning for just one month. Posted below is our previous review of "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin", which gives one an idea of what a unique and heartfelt experience it really is. This is warm, funny and educational production that should not be missed.

 

"Hershy Felder as Irving Berlin"

Royal George Theatre

April 9th - May 8th

 

HERSHEY FELDER AS IRVING BERLIN - THE UNMITIGATED KING OF ONE PERSON SHOWS

 

“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

“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

Directed by Joel Zwick of “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding fame, and produced by Hershey Felder, “Jamaica, Farewell” is the charming, funny and often suspenseful one-person play about a young woman’s coming of age in Jamaica, performed brilliantly by Debra Ehrhardt. Not realizing it was a solo show upon arrival, I, at first, eagerly awaited the entrance from other actors to get acquainted with their characters. However, ten minutes in, it didn’t matter because Ehrhardt was so entertaining acting out the roles surrounding her character’s life.

The story takes place in 1980 where Ehrhardt, a Jamaican native herself, plays an eighteen-year-old girl who has one big dream – to go to America. As a child her favorite song is “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Americans are called “Doodle Dandy’s where she comes from. But leaving Jamaica to go to the United States was easier said than done for a young, poor eighteen-year-old girl.

Big changes had recently taken place in Jamaica. Not long before, Cuba gained a new ally when Michael Manley, the leader of Jamaica’s People National Party was elected the first of three times to be Prime Minister. Manley’s diplomatic ties with Fidel Castro was unsettling to the United States. Now there were two Soviet inspired countries in the United States’ back yard that preached democratic socialism. But understanding the advantage of incoming American dollars, Jamaica relaxed their stance, eventually becoming the tourist destination it is today. Still, getting large amounts of money out of Jamaica was another story.

Ehrhardt’s character is a secretary in Kingston. Her father is an alcoholic and gambler and it furniture, among other things her family owned were removed with regularity after a bad night at the card table. One day after overhearing her boss speaking of the need to smuggle money from Jamaica to America, she volunteers and is offered ten thousand dollars to do so. Finally, America is within her grasp. All she’d have to do is drop off one million dollars when she gets to Miami - to Bullett. But now all she has to do is figure out a way to smuggle the money into America. As luck would have it, she meets Jack Wallingsford, who is employed at the United States Embassy. Wallingsford falls for her hard and soon becomes the unwitting aid in her smuggling operation.

The main stage at Royal George Theatre is littered with large tropical leaves and a variety of chests with hanging vines in the background. Though simplistic, along with Ehrhardt’s rich description of her country and the use of projected images, I am able to get a good feel for the Jamaican atmosphere. Ehrhardt’s energy is endless and her story telling both funny and heartfelt. It is a truly amazing story that is based on Ehrhardt’s engaging true life journey from Jamaica to America. It is a story that continues to pick up steam as it is told that includes many surprises and turns. I highly recommend seeing “Jamaica, Farewell” during its limited engagement, performed beautifully and written by Debra Ehrhardt.

“Jamaica, Farewell” is being performed at the Royal George Theatre through October 11th. For tickets and show information visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.    

Published in Theatre Reviews

From the moment actor Anthony Crivello as Jazz great, Louis Prima, is wheeled onto the stage on a hospital bed speaking to us from a coma, and snaps his fingers to begin the story of his life, the audience is absolutely enthralled by his manic yet superbly commanding presence until the last moment of the show 90 minutes later.

“Live at the Sahara” looks like another hit for very talented producer, Hershey Felder. Academy Award Winning director and writer Taylor Hackford and writers Jake Broder, and Vanessa Stewart have written a fast moving, compelling 90 minute version of Prima’s life beginning when his big band goes out of style and Prima reinvents his act by taking on a seventeen-year-old songbird he renames Keely Smith.

Vanessa Claire Stewart not only helped write this dynamite and very entertaining and touching true love story, she also stars beautifully and believably as the modernly talented Keely Smith.

The show is packed with Prima and Keely hit songs from their once very successful Vegas cabaret act performed with his over the top enthusiasm and her cool cat like deadpan nonchalance like, “What is This Thing Called Love”, “I Can’t Believe Your In Love With Me”, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”, “Night Train”, “Ai,Ai,Ai” and of course their most famous “That Ol’ Black Magic”.

Prima helped Keely become a star then deeply resented and even hated her for it.  Keely gave him two daughters and helped him completely revive his sagging career with her wonderful voice and youthful, ahead of her time hipster energy, but in the final analysis Prima cheated on her and drove her into the arms of friend and producer Frank Sinatra (played with swagger by Paul Perroni). Erin Mathews was a delight in her many ensemble roles as Keely’s mom and later as the many women who came between Keely and Prima.

I loved the seven-piece band that played the entire show onstage and became part of the play many times. The staging and costumes were true to period but I got the feeling this is just a build up for what should be a very nice, large Broadway show in the future. I wanted to see more of the duo in their complete stage act, about ten minutes more and more of the supporting characters.  Also, I felt the show and script were so interesting, detailed and well written that there could have been a nice twenty-minute intermission without disturbing the flow at all. It actually makes Crivello’s performance even more impressive that he maintained his energy at such a high level almost nonstop.

Anthony Crivellos’ performance really has Tony Award written all over it (he previously won a Tony Award for best featured actor as Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman). Crivello is so full of Prima’s hard to copy musical manic energy and rhythms it was mind blowing to watch. In the final scene where Prima has lost Keely, and his second family of daughters and suffered a heart attack leaving him comatose for three years before his death, Crivello sings another version of “Just a Gigolo” with a heart breaking and teeth grinding pathos that just shakes the audience to its core, making you realize his own tragic fatal flaw was written by him in this song years earlier.

“Just a gigolo, everywhere I go
People know the part I'm playing
Paid for every dance
Selling each romance
Every night some heart betraying
There will come a day
Youth will pass away
Then what will they say about me
When the end comes I know
They'll say just a gigolo
As life goes on without me”

Throughout Prima’s life, his friends and the women who loved him tried to convince him to settle down into the gift of family life but his ego and desire to be the sole STAR, even at the expense of his own wife’s devoted love and friendship, ruin every opportunity for healthy continuity.

Prima tried and failed to be a Svengali to one more young songstress after driving Keely way for good but never realized that Keely was his once in a lifetime, irreplaceable, creative soul mate.

I highly recommend seeing “Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara”, it is a solidly written, dynamically played production that is filled with great classic music and a true life story of genius and showbiz both victorious and tragic.

“Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara is playing at Royal George Theatre on an open ended run. For tickets and show info visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

I really enjoyed this funny little musical comedy about the ups and downs of mastering your first date with someone special. Aaron and Casey have been set up in a blind date by mutual friends. Aaron is a slightly nerdy Jewish boy in a steady finance job while Casey is an artsy, independent girl who has previously had a penchant for stoic bad boys that she never had to commit to.

I found myself really rooting for both characters to overcome their personal demons. Aaron’s demon from the past is a cheating yet outwardly devoted blonde ex- fiancé’ who actually left him at the altar. Casey struggles to overcome the dark, cynical humor and pickiness that forces her to alienate truly nice guys and write them off as “just friend” material before anything deeper can materialize between them.

The show opens with some great, funny but true observations about how many people lie on their online dating profiles and just how much “Googling” a person tells you about a person before you even meet them.  The internet, an unforgiving and never forgetting entity, all its own has truly changed the way we date and view each other and probably not for the better. Now we can just collect a bunch of facts and rarely give the other person a chance to relate to us in person for a few hours and see how the unrelated facts of their past add up.

There were several really hysterical numbers by supporting cast members who interject with their really timely advice - warnings that she is not Jewish and the occasional “bailout call” from Casey’s best gay friend or BGFF, Reggie.

Although the show and plot is aimed at twenty and early thirty-somethings, I still identified with much of it and actually learned a thing or two. For example, when Aaron’s best friend (an edgy womanizer) tries to tell him over and over not to even bring up the subject of his ex-girlfriend, I really got how tempting it is to talk about your past relationships but that it must never, never be done! As Casey’s face falls when he begins to talk about the blonde blue-eyed stunner who left him, it just ruins the moment and you see how much of a major issue and chip on his shoulder (against all women in general) and that Aaron’s seemingly innocent baggage still weighs heavy for him. There was a very funny moment when Aaron finds out the raven-haired Casey is not Jewish and again his whole world seems to come to a stop because he knows in his heart he will probably marry a Jewish woman, yet here is a very, very attractive non-Jew who could be quite good for him and would be a great complement to his own neurotic, negative critical impulses.

Charlie Lubeck and Dana Parker in the two lead roles do very nicely to illustrate their characters neuroses. Parker has a nice singing voice and you really believe she is as fiery and artistic as she appears.  The entire ensemble does a great job with each of their numbers. Cassie Slater is very funny as Dana’s married with children older sister living in the suburbs, unhappy as hell yet wanting her little sis to experience the safety of marital bliss. Adam Fane as Dana’s best gay friend absolutely steals the show with his rap and dance numbers trying to save Dana from this fateful first date.  Shea Coffman and Anne Litchfield as Aaron’s male macho best friend and dreamy ex-fiancé’ have great comic chops as they morph in and out of the scenes playing different supporting characters that round out the show nicely.

I loved the intimate and colorful set created by Thad Hallstein and lighting design by Brandon Lewis, which made the audience feel we were really saddling up to the bar with these two kids on their first date. The staging included an adorable live four piece band of young players that was visible just off stage left in soft red and green lights of a Friday night bar in Chicago or any town.

“First Date” is a fun, funny and ultimately informative production that I think will become a first date favorite for many, many couples, young and old. “First Date” is being performed at the quaint and cozy Royal George Cabaret Theatre. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

If you have any fondness for tales of the golden era of Hollywood, and in particular the work of  the beloved movie star comedian, Jack Lemmon, you will thoroughly enjoy this moving and entertaining one man show starring Jack’s son, Chris Lemmon.

Writer and director, Hershey Felder had a similar solid hit  last year with "The Pianist of Willesden Lane” in which a daughter tells the story of her mother surviving the Holocaust.  Jack Lemmon Returns script was originally based on a memoir by Chris Lemmon titled, A Twist of Lemmon. Felder took the book, added some wonderful music and had Chris do the entire piece, not as himself- but as Jack, which makes this piece especially unique and enjoyable. All of the monologues flow beautifully into each other along with the music and never before seen photographs projected above the stage to create a touching, and funny progression that is very polished and theatrically satisfying.

There is no hash slinging ala “Mommie Dearest”, but Chris acknowledges Jack’s two decade long struggle with alcohol addiction. A telling moment about Jack’s narcissism is when “Jack” describes the thrill of winning his first Oscar for Mister Roberts and realizing after a few hours of celebration that he had literally left his wife behind, sitting all alone in the auditorium, which signaled the end of his marriage to Chris’s mother and actress, Cynthia Stone.

Lemmon has wonderful stage presence, as himself and as his dad, Jack. I was unaware that both he and his father were such gifted pianists. Jack introduced Chris to music, who later earned a degree in classical piano and composition. Chris recalls how after his parents divorced, while he was only two, Jack would make time to visit him almost everyday at his beach side home to play piano together. Chris says that although his new stepmother did not really welcome his presence, Jack was still  “a little bit in love with his mother” and he remained his father’s beloved “hotshot” son without interruption.

The one piece of video in the show was of French Actor/Director and Mime Jean-Louis Barrault's performance in the silent film Children of Paradise, which Jack Lemmon studied intensively. It shows how ahead of his time Jean-Louis Barrault’s expressive hand gestures were - like a series of poetically powerful  hand mudras, which were able to make people laugh and cry at the same time.

Lemmon Returns

Chris does an amazing job of recreating young Jack’s many complicated trademark mannerisms, comical stuttering and gracefully manic hand gestures. He also does some fantastic impersonations of the friends in Jack’s start studded life like James Cagney, Billy Wilder, Jerry Lewis, Gregory Peck and even Marilyn Monroe.

Chris Lemmon grew up near Marilyn Monroe and relates a great story of how he snuck into her yard once while she was surrounded by secret servicemen during a tryst with JFK.  The armed men tried to remove him but Marilyn stopped them and said “No! That’s Jack Lemmon’s son! “

The ninety minutes flowed so quickly and intensely that I wanted it to go on longer and pack in even more star recollections. Chris said afterwards that he and Felder had a rough time cutting the piece down to this exact running time especially when it came to cutting a section about Jack’s great friendship with actress Shirley Maclaine. He further explained that an intermission or even three extra minutes could stop the pace of this one man show in its tracks.

There is a real market for this special piece. After the show I felt like I had experienced a visit with real Hollywood royalty in both Jack and Chris and wanted to see Jack Lemmon’s movies again, and read Chris Lemmon’s biography with this new perspective.

At 59 Chris Lemmon is the perfect age to play his father as a young man and into old age when Jack died of cancer at the age of 76.

 Chris’s stage version of his beloved father is more than an impersonation. Because of Chris’s skill and because Chris Lemmon is “blood”, his remarkable performance borders on actually “channeling” his late father’s huge spirit.  It is truly exciting and haunting to watch. At times I felt I was actually witnessing Jack Lemmon joyfully “stepping into” his son’s face and body.  After congratulating Chris and meeting his lovely wife and daughters at the end of the night, we hugged goodbye and I told him how much I loved his dad. I could have sworn I saw Jack Lemmon himself with his broad smile winking at me over Chris’s shoulder.

Hershey Felder said after the show that they brought “ Jack Lemmon Returns” to Chicago first because of all the cities in the U.S., Chicago is the only city that truly welcomes new theatre and longs for it’s success, instead of sitting arms crossed in judgment.

Do not miss your chance to see this remarkable and beautifully written and directed piece of theatre while it is running here at The Royal George Theatre, which is being performed through June 8th. Visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/ for more info.

Published in Theatre Reviews

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