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Kendall Royzen

Kendall Royzen

If you’ve ever worked a day in your life, ever waited a table or slaved the day away in a cubicle, then you’ll love the Broadway musical Working. This upbeat, funny, hauntingly true-to-life musical capturing the stories of everyday working people has something for everyone.

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Working is a musical based on the book by Chicago’s own Pulitzer Prize winning author, Studs Terkel. With songs written by Tony Award winners, Grammy winners, and Broadway composers, it should come as no surprise that the songs are not only catchy, but beautifully composed. Quirky and funny songs like “Delivery” about a fast food worker enjoying the days he gets to deliver and breathe fresh air, to songs like “Cleaning Woman” about a woman ending the cycle of her family becoming cleaning women and working to give her daughter a better future and better occupational options. There are over twenty characters portrayed in the musical through various scenes all seamlessly strung together, played by an all-star cast made up of only six actors and actresses. E. Faye Butler gave standout performances, stealing the stage every time she belted out a ballad, portraying a project manager, a housewife, a prostitute, and a cleaning woman. Emjoy Gavino captured our hearts as the hilarious flight attendant, a millworker, a receptionist, and a caregiver. Gabriel Ruiz was an absolute crowd favorite as a food delivery boy, a receptionist, a community organizer, a caregiver, and a young ex-newsroom assistant. Michael Mahler, Barbara Robertson, and Gene Weygandt rounded off the cast with memorable portrayals of workers in all types of professions from all walks of life. With so much talent in this six person cast you’d think there were more than twenty cast members in the company and throughout the show the transitions from one character to another are so seamless that it’s hard to comprehend that the steel worker just became the hedge fund manager in the blink of an eye.

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You don’t have to be a fan of musicals to enjoy this show as it appeals to anyone who has ever had a job for any reason. Studs Terkel believed that our work became a part of our identity and his interviews in 1974 shed light on the lives of those whose occupations may be less than desirable, but more than necessary to our society. The musical was originally adapted for the stage by Stephen Schwartz (the brilliant mind behind Wicked, Pippin and Godspell), who made it both entertaining and believable. Throughout the play you’re introduced to hard working people we might overlook every day, from a cleaning lady to an architect and construction worker. Have you ever sat in your cubicle in your building and thought of the people that designed the building? Built the building? How about those who clean the building each night? Ever thought about the lives of those people, where they come from, what their dreams are? Perhaps not, but after seeing this play you might think twice about those people. We all work for a living, no matter what our job is. It isn’t the job that defines us, but we who define our jobs.

Tickets are a little on the pricy side, but in my opinion they are worth every penny. Any musical that can bring both humor and truth to everyday life and open your heart with inspirational and hopeful tales of hard working people. Working is playing at the Broadway Playhouse, for more information and tickets visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Wednesday, 01 December 2010 08:20

Powerman 5000 Rocks at Cubby Bear

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When I told my boyfriend that I was going to be reviewing Powerman 5000 at the Cubby Bear, he thought I was joking. How can a Glee loving, pop music enthusiast possibly enjoy the hard rock of Powerman 5000? Simple; the music is the perfect blend of pulse racing, head pounding, pure rock. Their angry anthems rocked the walls of the Cubby Bear on November 17th, and amidst the black-leather- wearing groupies were girls. Yes, girls listen to Powerman 5000. The music is not going to be found on a typical iPod mix of the North Shore girl, but Powerman does have a subconscious appeal that pulls in fans from all walks of life, even the Ugg wearing Wrigleyvillettes. Take “When Worlds Collide,” off their album “Tonight the Stars Revolt!” The song epitomizes the energy and the anger that Powerman 5000 injects into all of their songs:

What is it really that motivates you
The need to fly or this fear to stop
I'll go along for the ride but surprise
When we get there I say 9 of 10 drop
Now who's the light and who is the devil
You can't decide so I'll be your guide
And one by one they will be hand chosen
Now this is what it's like when worlds collide

Powerman embodies a sense of controlled chaos. It’s the kind of music that matches your anger and frustration after a tough day at work; the music that pumps you up before a big match. Sure it isn’t for everyone, but just give it a try after a long day and see if it doesn’t channel all of that negative energy out of you – because let’s be honest, some days yoga and meditation simply does not cut it.

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In concert, Powerman 5000 is a little difficult to appreciate. While the Cubby Bear is a great bar, the acoustics aren’t that of a concert hall, so while the music permeates the room the lyrics end up falling just shy of screaming, leaving your ears ringing and wanting a soft ballad. Powerman 5000, at least for beginners, is best listened to in your car, the bass turned up.

On September 10th the Riviera Theater was swarmed with Chicago hipsters, preppy wannabees, emo teenagers, intellectuals, and your friendly neighborhood stoners; this might sound like a scene out of a John Hughes film but this was the crowd that gathered to watch Bobby Birdman open for Dom and the headliner Ratatat.

In my experience, about half the people that show up for a show will show up late for an opener, drink and socialize during the opening performance, or not show up at all until the headliner comes on to perform. Where is the respect for the opening artist? Luckily, Chicagoans did not follow the normal pattern and did not disappoint when they paid the proper respect to the West Coast artist, rocking out to his electronic-pop-ultrasonic-rock music.

Bobby Birdman, also known as Rob Kieswetter, is a San Diego-Nevada City-Portland native rocking off his latest album ‘New Moods.’ His music is eclectic with good beats perfectly suited for that afternoon drive along the coast of California, or in our case Lake Shore Drive. With songs like ‘Weighty Wait,’ ‘You’d Be Surprised,’ and ‘I Will Come Again,’ it’s surprising that this artist isn’t better known in the Chicago music scene. He’s touring with Dom -- a lack-luster group of long haired East Coast youth who was booed off stage following Bobby’s performance at the Riviera -- and Ratatat, who electrified the North Side stage. Bobby Birdman could have easily stood as the lone opener for Ratatat, their styles and beats are much more aligned than Dom-Ratatat, and Bobby was able to command the audience with his music and his stage presence (joking constantly about surfing). Bobby Birdman rocked Chicago before heading off to his California roots in LA.

On September 21st we saw him rock out in Los Angeles at the Nokia Theater once more, with the same adoration and approval of the LA hipsters. Birdman is here to stay and the next time he flies through Chicago be sure to check him out. Though he’s still touring with Dom, the same reaction to his music vs. that of Dom was astounding, though not entirely surprising. Who doesn’t love a laid back musician with cool cruising music, besides, disenchanted youth garage-bands are so overrated. Let’s hope the next time Bobby Birdman flies through Chicago and the Midwest – or Los Angeles – that he comes alone or with an equally impressive band. Bobby Birdman-Ratatat concert in 2011? I think Chicagoans can agree to that.

As a writer I am younger than one of the longest running musicals in history, but “A Chorus Line” still glitters and shines with the same fervor since its premiere on Broadway in 1975. This timeless play about a talented group of dancers going through the grueling, challenging, and emotional tryouts to make it in the chorus is one that everyone can relate to, whether they have two left feet or not.

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A Chorus Line follows an ensemble cast of aspiring dancers throughout three stages of cuts on their way into the chorus. The opening scene begins with the dancers practicing a complicated choreography routine while being criticized and judged by the director and his assistant; “How many Broadway shows?” “Keep your head up.” “Arms up on the fourth count not the third.” The ensemble cast has all the caricatures and stereotypes of dancers during the audition process; you have the standouts that shine and completely steal the spotlight, like the outgoing and overly-confident Val, played by Nina Fluke; you have the dancers who struggle with their confidence such as Paul, played by Bryan Knowlton, dancers who are battling nerves like Judy, played by Laura E. Taylor, the sassy veteran dancer like Sheila, played by Anika Ellis, and funny and flamboyant-like Bobby, played by Drew Nellessen. The entire cast was phenomenal with voices that carried the weight of desire and passion for dancing. The only exception the outstanding performances was the solo dancing sequence featuring Mara Davi as Cassie; her solo “The Music and the Mirror” was a spotlight number in which two way mirrors dropped from the ceiling adding a stunning visual backdrop for the actress, but Davi, who is an experienced Broadway performer, lacked the fluidity and grace the number required. The dance needed to embody Cassie’s passion and hold up to her statement, “God, I’m a dancer!” Her number, which should have been the crowning piece in the second half of the play, was lackluster and slowed the play, particularly following the hilarious and entertaining “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” number by Val.

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Overall, anyone who has been through an audition process, or even an interview for a job, can relate to the pain of just missing the cut, the relief and joy of being one of the select few to go onto the next round, and the unpredictability of the interview process that shakes your very core can truly empathize with these dancers. Often times we feel exposed, cast under a spotlight like Diana, played by Pilar Millhollen, who becomes anxious when asked the unforeseen question of “tell me about yourself…” rather than being asked to recite a scene from a play. We’ve all been in a situation like this, when we’ve had to explain to someone why we do what we do, why we dance, what got us started. Whether it was something you always knew you wanted to be like Maggie, played by Danielle Plisz, or someone who discovered a passion when given a scholarship to do something completely different like Richie, played by Max Kumangai. A Chorus Line resonates with the same power at Michael Bentley’s opening show on Broadway over thirty years ago. This is a show well worth the longer drive to the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire, if only just for the show-stopping, closing number of “One.” The show runs through October 31st.

The Neo-Futurists are at it again with the thought-provoking, baffling, irreverent, confuddling new play “Daredevil’s Hamlet.” In true Neo-Futurist form this play offers more than their clever title initially implies.

Written by Neo-Futurist Ryan Walters, the play explores the work of Hamlet, led by the charming male members of the of the Neo-Futurist company including Walters himself, John Pierson, Anthony Courser, Jay Torrence, Brennan Buhl and even “the Intern-Trevor!” The play is a compilation of small scenes following the basic storyline of Hamlet, combining the acrobatic antics of ‘Daredevils!,’ the 2005 Neo-futurist play, all the while exploring the major themes of Hamlet: revenge, identity, masculinity, love, family, and death. “Daredevil’s Hamlet” is like a steady stream of consciousness; simultaneously flowing together while at the same time not having any rhyme or reason to the order of things.

Each player takes a scene or a theme from Hamlet and interprets it in their own unique way. One of the more charming and funny stories was Brennan Buhl, dressed in swimming trunks and wearing water wings, coming center stage to talk about a childhood memory involving some other boys with him in a kiddie pool where “wild time” vs. “calm time” were rules to follow. Brennan’s aunt would have equal time shared between these two times, 3 minutes each with “calm time,” designating everyone sit still, and “wild time,” letting the boys splash Brennan with no mercy. When his aunt ceases calling the different times to go into the house, his brothers “wild time” reigns and poor Brennan is left to fend for himself, with no relief in sight. During the play audience members actually get water guns to squirt Brennan while screaming “wild time” in order to recreate this childhood scene. This story, while seemingly random, equated to a central theme in Hamlet: justice and fairness. When rules are established and come down, what is a man to do? Does one rebel or follow the masses? What is fair and just and who decides this? And lastly, what happens when authority leaves and cooler heads don’t prevail?

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Anthony Courser’s interpretation of masculinity called into play his favorite childhood character, Robin Hood. “Why would any child choose to be Hamlet, he didn’t even have a bow, or an action figure!” Anthony fires arrows using a Nerf gun in his makeshift cardboard archery armor to delve into the perception of masculinity in his mind versus that of Shakespeare.

Another Hamletisque theme, and a resurgent theme in today’s world, “Bromance” is explored when Jon Pierson, aided by Ryan Walters, describes a tender and intimate moonlit night with a male friend, staring out at the night’s sky and being within inches of one another, feeling a deep love and connection but not being in love. Can two men love one another without being in love as Horatio and Hamlet did? Is this experience still felt today?

These are just some of the interpretations provided by the fantastic cast of Daredevil’s Hamlet. There is no doubt, this play might leave you stumped for a quite a bit while you are watching it, but that is half the fun of visiting the Neo-Futurarium. This is the thinking man’s Hamlet, if Hamlet were to have been written with the philosophical jackass cast. Like the character of Hamlet, the players allow themselves to show their vulnerability, their faults and their frailties, and it’s because of this that Daredevil’s Hamlet is a success. It questions the crucial themes from the play; if your uncle killed your father, would you avenge him? Can two men share a deep plutonic love for one another without having to fear ridicule?

There’s nothing wrong in this state of Denmark, so make your way over to Ashland and Foster and see this charming play.

Daredevils’ Hamlet” runs through September 25, 2010 at The Neo-Futurarium at 5153 N. Ashland in Chicago. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.NeoFuturists.org.

*Above photo - Jay Torrence, John Pierson, Trevor Dawkins, Ryan Walters,
Anthony Courser, Brennan Buhl; Ryan Walters performing "To be or not to Be" soliloquy from Hamlet

There’s good theater and then there’s good attempts at theater. But there are also those rare occasions that a good theater makes a good attempt at a plain bad production; a good example of this is Sex Marks the Spot, a new political comedy by Charles Grippo.

The play attempts to delve into the seedy world of political sex scandals and, based upon an interview with Grippo, illuminate the rarely seen point-of-view of the politician’s wife. Unfortunately for this play, it fails to even cast a flicker of light on either point, and lacks the character development, humor, and plot that would have made the 2 hour play bearable.Sex_Marks_the_Spot_I

Sex Marks the Spot opens up on the incumbent Senator Clooney on the eve of a debate against his challenger, a notorious porn star named Desiree Le Bonque. But to our surprise, or lack thereof, Miss Le Bonque is the Senator’s mistress and threatens to reveal their affair on national television if the Senator does not agree to marry her. The Senator drugs the porn star, a recurring theme throughout the play, and attempts to hide the evidence from his loyal band of idiot supporters. From the nervous, and profusely sweaty campaign manager, to the secretly beautiful yet-disguised-as-frumpy press secretary, these characters are a dime a dozen and lack any real emotional development that would make this play seem realistic.

The play goes downhill from there as the audience is subjected to witless one-liners and commonplace dialogue that a young playwright typically learns to avoid in eighth grade journalism. While the play is supposed to “investigate what goes on ‘behind the scenes’” in the world of political scandals and lascivious affaires, the playwright fails to touch on any of these issues. The characters never come face to face with one another, ironically missing one another by the opening and closing of a door. The characters are horribly stereotyped to the point of boredom; from an overweight hotel security guard eating donuts and lacking any brain power to the nosy journalist trying to get his next big scoop.

And what is severely lacking is Grippo’s so-called focal point of the play, wanting to illuminate the thoughts and feelings of the spouse of the adulterer. The Senator’s wife has approximately ten minutes of stage time in which she rarely expresses any real thought of emotion and is stumbling about it a drug-induced stupor, hardly leaving her any room to develop emotionally. Sex_Marks_the_Spot_II

Sex Marks the Spot was neither funny nor witty, the audience hardly laughed once, making this a far cry from a farce or a comedy. It relied far too heavily on stereotypes and endless run-on jokes and the ham actors did nothing to enhance the enjoyment or the entertainment of this play. Overall, the play lacks the humor and cleverness to be a farce, and the real world familiarity to be a satire.

Sex Marks the Spot runs until July 25th, at the Theater Building Chicago at 1225 W Belmont, but in a city where great theater can be found around every corner I would suggest saving your money and following your maps to a wittier destination.

They say opposites attract. So what do you get when a recently divorced sportswriter and eternal bachelor acquires an uptight, compulsive hypochondriac as a roommate? You get a polarized reaction that is pure comedic gold.

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple comes to life at the Raven Theater with a witty and irreverent cast. The play brings together best friends Oscar Madison, played by Eric Roach, and Felix Ungar, played by Jon Steinhagen, in a simple tale of tragic circumstances and true friendship. When Felix is thrown out of the house by his wife he stumbles his way to his best friends’ bachelor pad where Oscar, having recently been divorced himself and concerned for his neurotic best friend, takes Felix in. The easy-going and carefree lifestyle of Oscar is turned upside down when Felix’s compulsive tidiness and penny pinching thriftiness threaten to destroy his sanity and their friendship. Can this odd couple learn to live together? Can they get it together before they drive each other insane?

The Odd Couple first premiered on Broadway in 1965 followed by a film and a very successful television series. What makes this play timeless is the relate-ability of Simon’s work. Rumors have it that the play was first dreamt up when Simon witnessed the odd pairing of his brother rooming with a playwright But whether the play was created out of actual events or completely fictionalized, it’s the exposure of human weaknesses and the a portrayal of characteristics that define the American Experience theater that make this play worth seeing. It’s not prophetic, does not have some great moral conclusion, it merely reveals the frailties and familiarity of the human spirit, something that the Raven Theater grasps so accurately with this Odd Couple Cast.

With set designs that completely immerse you in a 1950s/60s bachelor pad, stale pizza and beer included, and the wonderful stage direction and character choreography of Michael Menendian, The Raven Theater captures the Odd Couple as spot-on as when it first premiered in 1965. Everyone has an Oscar and a Felix in their life, so take that special person to the Raven Theater, located at 6157 North Clark Street, for an experience that will leave you thankful that you can afford that one-bedroom studio all on your own.

The dimly-lit, small storefront Side Project Theater in Rogers Park lends itself perfectly as the setting of a seedy, closed-door meeting in which a closeted senator and his barely legal boy-toy would rendezvous; combine that with a superb cast and a flawless screenplay and the result is a the perfect-storm great and hilarious fictional play, but based on a true story. “The Gay American” follows former Governor James McGreevey, (R) New Jersey, in the months and weeks before his infamous fall from power. In this “farce meets docudrama” the story weaves actual events in the early 2000’s and a fictional, comical, and scandalous events in political world filled with lewd and lascivious sexual acts.

Neal Starbird brilliantly plays the former governor, whose public demeanor is of a man who would change New Jersey for the better, but whose private life is juxtaposed between the person he is expected to be -- the straight laced, black coffee drinking politician -- and the person he wants to be – a gay man who is proud to express his feeling for a young page… named Page. Starbird brings McGreevey to life; a charming man who, like any good politician, knows that promises get you votes and that “favors” are part of the daily communiqué between colleagues. He hilariously navigates his character through the political world to the likes of Mark Foley, (R) Florida, and another closeted member of congress. From having his young Page move in to his home, to taking his personal aid, an Israeli named Golan, to a gay nightclub; Starbird is the perfect caricature of the real life McGreevey. He cleverly talks his way out of trouble with double entendres at times and even “tap dances” his way out of trouble with the press. One of the best scenes in the play is one in which McGreevey dodges accusations of homosexuality and a young page named Philly Buster, brilliantly played by Freddie Donovan, literally tap dances to the rhythm of McGreevey’s speech. It’s that in-your-face humor and storytelling that makes this play a stand out and one that needs many more stages.

Aside from McGreevey’s internal and external struggles, the play also examines what “could-have-happened” behind the scenes before the infamous speech in which McGreevey announced to the world “I am a gay American,”… words that swiftly ended his political career. What makes “The Gay American” great is that the line between fact and fiction is blurred. Like a cleaver politician, director Kristian O’Hare weaves truth with make-believe, creating the complicated and scandalous world of the former governor. She takes a hard look behind-the-scenes of the American politician and his family, and examines the harsh repercussions and collateral damage of one man’s choices and actions. One of the most notable performances is Dina McGreevey, play by the talented and witty Julie Cowden. She portrays the “perfect” politician’s wife, but as her husband’s exploits and extracurricular activities begin to surface she delves into a pained and tragic heroine turning to alcohol and drugs to keep going and looking to Oscar Wilde’s dead apparition of a wife for comfort and advice. McGreevey’s daughter Morag “it sounds like a sea monster” McGreevey, played by Stevie Chaddock, is the epitome of teenage angst, experimenting with cutting and online dating and dealing with thoughts of selling her virginity on EBay. McGreevey’s world is anything but perfect and the audience member is constantly asking, “What really happened?” Did Governor Mark Foley really use and abuse young and idealistic young pages? Did Dina McGreevey really suffer from post-partum depression? Did McGreevey really have an affair with his aide Golan? Are pages really belittled and used as sexual play-things to the whose-who of D.C.? And just where is the line drawn between what is morally acceptable and what is right? This play is so well written that much of what is portrayed could have actually happened this way.

This is American Political Theater at its best, and O’Hare could not have cast a more cleaver, witty, and hilarious cast of characters. I hope you won’t have a “momentarily lapse of judgment” and miss this show. It is only around until May 26th at the Side Project Theater, located at 1439 West Jarvis Avenue, so go cast your vote for this fantastic play before its term is over.

The Casualties rocked the Metro on the 24th to two stories of skinny jean wearing, eyeliner drenched, spiky haired Chicago youths. From the beginning of their hour long set to their final number, the band seamlessly transitioned from song to song, giving an eardrum shattering, head banging performance.

The CasualtiesDuring their final number, lead singer Jorge Herrera took off his sweat covered shirt revealing a Che Guevara cutoff and holding a scarf above his head. Herrera launched the scarf into the mosh-pit where hundreds of fans wrestled for ten minutes after the band had left the stage, battling screaming girlfriends, rowdy entourages, and even muscled bouncers, for one young man to hold the frayed and tattered trophy above his head and scream out “Yea! Casualties!” Talk about a loyal following.

The Casualties' music is a mix of angry anthems, hardcore punk rock, with just a touch of “I-hate-my-parents”; just the type of music 16-year-old, pre-pubescent, angry, disenchanted youths could relate to. While it's generally not the genre I would plug into my IPod, I have to give the band credit for their nonstop energy, powerful vocals, and incredible stage presence. With ‘Meggers’(Mark Eggers) on the drums, Rick and Jake on bass and guitar (respectfully), and Jorge at the mic, these four men played with an intensity and a wildness  that even an argyle-sweater wearing concert goer such as myself could appreciate.

The Swellers opened at the Metro, energizing the restless crowd, and Less Than Jake rocked as the headliner, but as the stage crew set up for The Casualties, it was clear who the audience wanted to see. The Casualties immediately began playing as soon as they took the stage, and didn’t come up for air, or to rest their hands, until their final number. This band definitely eats their Wheaties.  

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As one fan with spiked orange hair (one of Jorge’s old looks as I am told) informed me, “The Casualties are old school, hardcore punk.” Hardcore? Yes. Old School? Beats me. What I can say is that amidst the extraordinarily fast drum beats, finger-crippling guitar chords, speaker-breaking bass, and vein popping vocals, this band screams (literally and figuratively) that they are a force to be reckoned with on the hardcore punk scene. They have an incredibly loyal Chicago-based following, so expect the next time they roll into Chicago to be just as rocking as this time around.

Fans of punk will appreciate this band’s style and power. For the rest of us, if you’re having a really bad day and need one song to verbalize what you are feeling, check out The Causalities’ new CD “We are All We Have” available in stores now. Songs like “Carry on the Flag,” and “Depression-Unemployment Lines,” will definitely help you get all your aggression out. For more information on this band and to upcoming tour dates check out www.myspace.com/thecasualties.

Friday, 30 October 2009 11:41

The Most fun. You've Never Heard Of

fun. bandWho doesn't love to have fun? Personally, I am all up for fun of any kind. So imagine my excitement when I get a call to interview the band 'fun.'. Haven't heard of them? You're missing out. The name is more than a band; it's a state of mind...

 

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