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Kimberly Katz

Kimberly Katz

As soon as you enter the beautiful set that designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, has created for “Life Sucks", you are tip-toeing through what feels like a real forest of delicately lit white birch trees in the light of early evening in Autumn. 

 

The action then proceeds mostly on the front porch, and dining room/kitchen of a quaint country style house, complete with a small dock and row boat mired in mud, to indicate this is the log cabin style home of someone wealthy enough to live on a lake but not doing well enough any longer to afford a real boat, which turns out to be true.  

 

The seven characters enter the stage with house lights up and immediately break the fourth wall by letting the audience know a few things about the play, it has four acts with one intermission, and asking insightful questions like, "Do you think people in a hundred years will care how hard we worked?" Which immediately reminded me of the old joke, "What's the opposite of a nymphomaniac?" with the punchline, "a workaholic."

 

The next question, for the cast only, has them throwing out an enticing list of their "favorite things" ..."the feel of ice cubes swirling around in a heavy crystal drink glass filled with brandy...and what comes after", "a beautiful sunset over the water" and the adorable, "Kittens!" And once more for emphasis, "KITTENS!" and lest we think this is going to be a saccharine sweet play i.e. "The Sound of Music" - "the feeling of anticipation when you know that you are about to have an orgasm".

 

Ensemble member Andrew White directs deftly with a light hand, keeping the pace of the play moving in an enjoyable way and flowing from act to act naturally, sensually, without the feeling of rushing.

 

So many directors charged with productions that exceed two hours or are under ninety minutes with no intermission seem to be rushing the actor’s monologues and dialogue. In some cases you can imagine them standing offstage tapping their feet saying, "Pick up the pace people!", which can actually ruin the show, but Andrew White does just the opposite, calming the audience into actually receiving the message this play is trying to deliver. 

  

“Life Sucks” is an updated version of the Checkov play "Uncle Vanya" and every single one of the seven characters really holds their own throughout.

 

Eddie Jemison best known for his work from "Ocean's Eleven", "Waitress" and "Hung" is proof that dynamite comes in small packages as he takes on the role of the middle aged, depressed Vanya. 

 

The entire cast sprinkle the play with so many humorous Yiddish slang terms with adorable ease like the term "ferkocta" which means crazy in the head, or Vanya declaring over and over that Ella is his "beshert" and soulmate, meaning a person's destined love or a love that was meant to be, a love of heavenly creation. All the while Vanya’s pathos as his obsession with The Professor's beautiful, young wife Ella grows out of control. This leads to a hysterical attack on The Professors life as he describes in a monologue how vile, disgusting and unnatural it is to him that she (Ella) should be with such an "old man".  

 

The Professor is played perfectly by Jim Ortlieb (Billy Elliot) whose great monologue about how even small signs of aging in a man can ultimately ruin a perfectly good relationship is fantastic. We rarely hear the male point of view on this.

 

The Professor describes while comically, yet realistically, sliding and crawling down the front steps of the cabin in complete exhaustion after a fight with his young wife Ella - how a man sees in the mirror one day. He now sees his soft belly or some new wrinkles or gray hair and feels insecure leading him to take it out on his partner and she in turn becomes more insecure herself - resulting in more fighting and insecurity or his worst fear of all as she "becomes disengaged" from him entirely.

 

Chaon Cross as Ella is excellent as the young Master's Degree student who "married the smartest Professor in the whole college" and is hit on by every middle aged loser in this small town. Cross delivers a great monologue ala - don't hate me because I'm beautiful because my brilliant husband turned out to be an aging, ego-maniacal alcoholic. 

 

Ella asks the audience flat out how many of them want to sleep with her with no strings attached by a show of hands, then asks how many are dying to sleep with someone other than whom they are with - and it is a well delivered, very funny and telling moment for the audience. 

 

Danielle Zuckerman as Sonia seems to be the opposite of Ella. She is The Professors' only daughter and honestly describes how in her family, "It's like everyone is hard-wired to upset everyone else. Like we each have a bunch of buttons on our back that each one of us knows how to push." 

 

Sonia knows she is not beautiful, or even pretty, she knows that her weight and height, glasses and curly hair are never featured in the magazines she reads and Zuckerman gives a great, breath of fresh air feeling to the entire production that it inherently needs. In one scene with Ella she admits to actually "hating" Ella for her beauty and attractiveness to ALL the nearby men and Ella forces her to "slap her right in the face" which Sonia does. After the "enjoyable" catharsis of the slap in the face they pour rum and Cokes together and begin to bond as both stepmother and friends. 

 

Another great scene between Sonia and Dr. Aster, a middle-aged Lothario who wants to change the world - but only talks about it, occurs when Sonia tries to tell the doctor she has a crush on him. When she realizes Dr. Aster is 'in love" with Ella too, she delivers a great monologue after his exit about how she talked with him about "mystical butterflies' when she really wanted to say, "Take me upstairs and f-ck me, f-ck me so well and so hard the whole universe stops to watch ... and the stars stop in their orbits and her whole body finally understands what it is to be truly alive...but instead I talked about mystical butterflies."

 

Ensemble member, Philip R. Smith, best known for his roles in "High Fidelity" and “Since You've Been Gone" is very funny in the role of Dr. Aster, an admitted alcoholic who rambles on about the very real dangers of climate change and other depressing subjects that remind us these characters are living in the present day.

 

Another example of the timeliness and universality of this play is when at one point an audience member is asked what his deepest, darkest fear is and he answered without hesitation, "Donald Trump", which got a huge laugh.

 

Penelope Walker plays "Pickles", a lesbian (who ALSO flirts with Ella). Pickles is a neighbor and friend of Sonia's late mother who wanted to be a real artist but ended up crafting what looked like leg warmers for the birch trees to wear and hand puppets made of yarn. Walker is funny and upbeat as the character whose age we can't quite tell, the free-spirited loser we all love who would never say life sucks even if hers does.

 

At the end of the show, Vanya and the cast break the fourth wall for the last time and confront the entire audience with the question, "Does life suck?" Some people shouted “yes”, or “no”, I shouted “sometimes”. Then Vanya called specifically out to the woman sitting two seats away from me (his wife) and asked her, she poignantly answered, "No it does not suck because life is beautiful – there is even beauty in its pain." I had to agree with her. 

 

Highly recommended.

 

“Life Sucks is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through November 6th – www.Lookingglasstheatre.org.  

 

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. 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this Hell in a Handbag Production starring the divine Caitlin Jackson, as the “Divine Miss M”, Bette Midler. The show takes us to the early days of Midler's career playing for gay audiences at the Continental baths for two years before her album, The Divine Miss M was released. 

 

Back in 1987 when I moved to New York after college I actually lived in The Ansonia for four years, a pre- war luxury building on New York's upper west side. I heard about the history of the building which included an entire circus complete with live elephants at one time living in the penthouse, and always wished I could have lived there in its heyday, when The Continental Baths was a gay bathhouse in the basement of The Ansonia Hotel, which was opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow.

 

The features of this bathhouse included a disco dance floor, a cabaret lounge, sauna rooms, a narrow "Olympia Blue" swimming pool, bunk beds in public areas, and tiny rooms as one would find in any bathhouse. The facility had the capacity to serve nearly 1,000 men, 24 hours a day.

 

Jackson's MC, played adorably by Chad, mentions just a few of the features of the bathhouse like a vending machine which dispensed among other things KY Jelly, and a warning system that tipped off patrons when police arrived. He also points out an STD clinic, a supply of a lice-killing shampoo in the showers and how the hetero general public discovered the great shows going on underground and “ruined the scene". The baths were advertised as reminiscent of "the glory of ancient Rome".

 

Caitlin Jackson really captures the outrageous, open-minded spirit of Bette Midler. Most importantly though Jackson has the voice to really do justice to Midler’s renditions of “Superstar”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and a sexy, bawdy cover of Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues”. Jackson also shines in her performances of “Chapel of Love”, “Hey Mambo” and delivered a heart wrenching, yet uplifting, “You Gotta Have Friends”.

 

Few people know that Barry Manilow was Bette Midler's accompanist during these years. Talk about two superstars finding each other at the right time! Jeremy Ramey as Barry Manilow is hysterical and really gets some great laughs as he plays the piano and captures the talented artist’s well known panache and flash. 

The show is filled out with the MC and two cutie pie twinks clad only in white towels the entire show played by TJ Crawford and Will Wilhelm. Although they are the author's invention they seem perfectly part of the show, giving Bette (Jackson) time to change in and out of her glamorous bosom enhancing outfits for number after great number. 

 

I really have to hand it to Caitlin Jackson, whose voice is capable of hitting Midler's high and low notes with seeming ease. Jackson also does her best in this slightly short production (1 hour 15 minutes with one intermission) to convey Bette Midler's HUGE personality and deeply penetrating sense of loneliness and compassion for the “cast outs” of the world - the ones "waiting on the corner for their friends to return."

 

Even if the songs were not actually part of Midler's bath house days, I left yearning to hear more, simply because Caitlin Jackson's voice was such a JOY to listen to and her face a wonderful mirror of Bette Midler's enthusiasm for life and love of the gay community without ever becoming a caricature.

 Highly Recommended. 

Bette, Live at the Continental Baths is being performed at Stage 773 through September 10th. More show info can be found at www.stage773.com. 

 

Who’s to say how we each should be identified? Whether labeled as a man, woman or even a dragon, those are in fact just that – labels. So why should others tell us how we ought to perceive ourselves? That premise is the foundation in New Colony’s latest production “Kin Folk”, currently being performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park. “Kin Folk” is a well-taught lesson on becoming comfortable in our own skin without being influenced towards self-doubt by those who are quick to tell us what we should be.

After losing their parents, three sisters, Lucy, Eleanor and Mary, gather at their suburban family home while waiting for it to sell. Sitting around a dining room table, each mulls about the future. Eleanor discuss her new life as a newly transitioned woman while Lucy and her husband Toby talk of plans to move to Chicago. Toby wants to move near his church where he can become more involved, often inviting Eleanor to his progressive place of worship that doesn’t care who uses what washroom. The talk is light, the banter pleasant and nothing that is really out of the ordinary.

However, the story takes a big turn when, unknown to the rest of the group, it is discovered that Lucy belongs to a community called Otherkin. Otherkin is a group that encourages people to live as their “true self”, identifying as magical creatures such as a dragon, which Lucy declares herself to be. Lucy, now known as Kreeka, befriends Atherin who leads her to meet Blubberwort, a giant gnome who helps guide her even further down her path of self-actualization. She eventually meets a werewolf named Dusk via a community chat room with whom she instantly clicks and quickly confides.

It’s not long before her family discovers her secret, leaving Lucy to make the tough decision of choosing them or her life with Otherkin. Or can she have both?

I really enjoyed the production’s overall theme and its flavor of humor. The journey is a fun one to watch, as the play is laced with the perfect measure of silliness while not going so far over the top that its message becomes diluted. In fact, it is an effective eye opener as to what people may feel inside but are afraid to state publicly. While Eleanor’s story is already compelling as she begins her new life as the woman she knows she has always been, the parallel story line of Kreeka, though a world recognizing themselves as non-human beings, only adds conviction to the fact that we are who we feel we are.  

“Kin Folk” offers a lively cast that provides plenty of strong acting performances. Annie Prichard is just wonderful as Lucy/Kreeka and really gets to show off her comedic talent while Chris Fowler also delivers as Toby, displaying a well-rounded performance altogether. Vital components to the success of the show’s humor, Andrew Hobgood (Blubberwort) and Steve Love (Arethin) both get a lot of well-earned laughs in their roles as Otherkin Folk. 

Evan Linder does a delightful job directing this play written by William Glick, nicely capturing the essence of each character while delivering Glick’s message with just the right mix of wit and sentiment, making this a summer event to add to your “must do” list. This is a play that is sure to bring out the genie, vampire, fairy or whatever it may be that surfaces within yourself.

“Kin Folk” is being performed at The Den Theatre through August 14th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

The Factory Theater Company just opened their latest production, Dating and Dragons, in its adorable space in the heart of Rogers Park. The venue is very intimate but comfortable, nicely lit, colorful and in this summer heat - well air conditioned!

 

In Dating and Dragons, the lead character Jack and his friends are serious fantasy game players. They are best friends who sincerely enjoy their weekly game like a real family that does not welcome new members easily. With them, game night is not just tradition, it is religion. To mixed responses of his fellow gamers, Jack meets a cute girl at the video store he runs and although his friends try to advise him in the rules of dating, he soon finds that “rules” when it comes to love and sexual attraction just don't apply.

 

The play written by Mike Ooi is a light fun look at the lives of these young people and their fascination with becoming "actors" when they "act out" the different characters and their corresponding powers, like invisibility and flame throwing. A young Richard Dreyfuss-alike, Nick Freed is perfectly cast as Jack and is quite convincing as the love struck gamer who dances on the edge of reality and fiction.  

 

Personally, I never really understood the fascination and escape with games like Dungeons and Dragons which has SO many rules, until I saw this solidly written play.  

 

Paige, played by Savannah Rae, is the sole female member of this game-obsessed group of friends. Rae gets a lot of laughs throughout this funny production, shining brightly with her nerdy, physically comedic performance. 

 

Diane, the mysterious girl Jack falls for in real life, is played well by Rebecca Wolfe, sending off believable flirtation vibes. Diane soon experiences his gang of game hounds after only a few dates and attempts to join in a newbie (much to the dismay of an impatient staple in the group), slowing down the action while she learns the rules. In this case, meeting a gaming enthusiast group of friends too soon is akin to meeting a guy's parents too soon. It could go very well and cement a newly growing relationship or it could be the awkward end. 

 

This show is highly enjoyable and an easy watch. The story is cute, the characters interact well and the humorous dialogue rolls evenly, providing some much needed levity during such crazy times. Dating and Dragons is truthful, light and fun just in time for those seeking some pleasurable summer entertainment.  

 

The real lesson here, is that love is not a "game". D and D also reminds us to put fantasy aside when you find yourself depending too much on your friend’s advice and "dating rules". Don’t resist acting from your own real human gut, or you may have already lost the game due to lack of your own self confidence in the "real world". 

 

Dating and Dragons is being performed at The Factory Theater through August 13th. The theatre is located at 1623 W Howard Street. For more show info visit www.thefactorytheater.com.  

 

 

I love flamenco for its sensual power and the amazing way both female and male dancers, whether solo or couples, locked in passionate embrace are able to make the human body dance with such precision and emotional fury. Is there any other dance form where the men are so manly and sexily dressed in their boots and waist coats and the women in their flowing dresses so, well, womanly?

 

Currently performed at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, "Flamenco Passion" as a rich production covers the whole range of human experience; dancing for your life, dancing for your love and dancing for the death of those you've loved deeply. The group numbers are stunningly modern like the world premiere of “Iroko”, while remaining true to the art form and "Alegrias y Jaleos", which make you feel you are in the countryside of Spain witnessing a turn of the century town dancing their way through life in a wonderful celebration of spring.  

 

“Bolero”, the acclaimed masterwork by Dame Libby Komaiko was a true stunner! I didn't realize it myself until this performance that you haven't even heard the full potential of the music in Ravel's “Bolero" until you've seen a stage full of the greatest forty flamenco dancers in the world bring it to a smoldering and exploding catharsis. 

 

In the second act an onstage singer, Cajon player and two guitarists accompanied all five dances, which really showcases that flamenco is a uniquely human and difficult dance to master. More passionate than tap yet just as exacting, more sensual than ballet yet just as demanding,  

 

We as Chicagoans should be so proud that Dame Libby Komaiko founded Ensemble Espanol at Northeastern Illinois University in 1975, and that her worldwide acclaimed dances and company are still going strong. 

 

Longtime Ensemble dancer Irma Suarez Ruiz, who'll begin taking over the role of artistic director from Dame Libby in the coming year and Carmela Greco with her long mane of silver hair both blew the entire sold out audience away. The two proved that dance is the way to stay young with 2010 solo "Duende Gitana" which intermingled "Palmas" (hand-clapping), percussion, stamping and song. It really was a masterwork of everlasting love expressed with furious passion (there's that word again) between her and the live musicians. The live music accompaniment dance numbers were heartfelt, raw with almost ragged singing and mind-bogglingly complex percussion from the guitarists and Cajon player that expressed the ageless beauty of both the performers themselves and this wonderful dance form. The subject of no less than two documentaries Dame Komaiko has almost single-handedly kept the art form of Flamenco not only alive but growing and flourishing. She is modest when speaking of her success and acknowledges that in some troupes the art form has become too mechanical. 

 

I could see this show again and again and each time notice brilliant new details from this large and gifted cast each time. 

 

Highly recommended. 

 

I still remember dancing with my brother in front of a wall of mirrors on our shag carpeted living room in the 1970's and thinking we were going to be the next Donny and Marie. Posters of the two famous Osmond’s sprouted up on most teenage walls and “Puppy Love” was all the rage until “I’m A Little Bit Country, I’m A Little Bit Rock N’ Roll” themed the Donny and Marie show, airing from 1976-1979. Charismatic, funny and vocally skilled, the gifted siblings left their mark on the 1970’s launching each into successful solo careers before reuniting once again years later in perhaps one of the most unlikely places – The Las Vegas Strip.    

 

Picture perfect smiles still as visible as ever, Donny and Marie have now become one of the most sought after attractions in Las Vegas, finding an on stage home in the Flamingo Las Vegas. Star presence and charming good looks have not eluded the two, who perform a high energy set full of classics and standards sure to please die-hard and casual fans alike with favorites like "A Beautiful Life", “It Takes Two”, “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, "I'm Leaving it (All) Up To You" and Marie’s “Paper Roses” highlighting the evening along with their still funny banter that injects the perfect dose of comedy into their act. Amidst their song and dance numbers the two still exhibited a great sense of humor that made them even more adorable. The lighthearted teasing and playful ribbing between them, like about which one of them won the Dancing with the Stars trophy and which one ONLY made it to the finals, seems genuine, fresh and unrehearsed.

 

Watching their show was a delightful surprise that made me feel really young to see that after all these years this dynamic, talent-packed brother and sister team are still going strong in every way!  

 

There is wonderful slideshow and several video clips that run in various places throughout the show, some that brought tears to my eyes of performers who have passed though most brought back happy memories of a time when these two adorable and handsome siblings took the world by storm. 

 

Both Donny and Marie are talented dancers and singers and have a really fresh team of dancers behind them to fill out the show. I'm not sure if most remember her true vocal talent, but Marie blew audience members away when she sang, especially on an operatic piece, which was perfect and showed not only the versatility of her voice but the amazing strength of her range as well.

 

Projecting a strong sparkle in his voice and step, Donny, an ageless wonder, still looks like he is in his early forties. His dancing really showcases the fantastic shape he is in and his face appears as young as ever. Marie simply looks stunning. 

 

The songs were varied, enthusiastic and upbeat and there are a handful of occasions where Donny runs through the crowd and connects directly with the audience in this lovely, intimate, yet still glamorous venue. Seeing them at The Flamingo Las Vegas was actually perfect. Every seat provides a great view. It had the flavor of old time Flamingo glamour along with the fun, casual feeling that you could just wander in off The Strip and totally enjoy a trip back in time to the happy part of the 70's many of us grew up in or raised kids or grand kids.

 

After the show be sure to take a walk in the beautiful, sweet smelling night air of the Flamingo Sanctuary and you will have just about as much fun and lighthearted an evening in Vegas one can enjoy. 

 

Highly Recommended.   

 

Monday, 13 June 2016 12:13

The Divine Sister, Comedy That Heals!

Charles Busch, creator of the camp classics, Die, Mommie, Die!, Psycho Beach Party and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom seems to have written The Divine Sister just for David Cerda and his fabulous cast of rotating members in Hell in a Handbag Productions.

 

Affectionately making fun of films like The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary's, The Singing Nun and Agnes of God, and a strong dose of The Davinci Code, The Divine Sister actually pulls some great ideals out of each and makes some wonderful points during all the fun and mayhem about what it means to "believe" in God and miracles within a religion that doesn't believe in you - if you are female or gay. 

 

David Cerda as Mother Superior rules the roost as always with a performance combining the essences of Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell with both sparkling humor and unexpected tenderness. While trying to raise money to rebuild her crumbling church Mother Superior is confronted with all sorts of "obstacles", which really turn out to be miracles in disguise. 

 

The young postulant, Agnes, played by Charlotte Mae Ellison, who is seeing visions and “experiencing” the signs of stigmata also turns out to be Mother Superiors long lost daughter. While one hilarious twist occurs after the next, the object of a Davinci Code type search also reveals Agnes to be the reincarnation of "Joyce" the long forgotten older sister of Jesus Christ himself whose body was entombed beneath this very church.  Joyce is the actual doer of the miracles attributed to Jesus. I thought this was a marvelous feminist plot twist that could have been explored even further. Ellison is beautiful and perky in the role, epitomizing the young nun image of early 1960s TV, but I felt she needed to add a few subtler layers to her physical comedy and vocal levels in order to compete with the more mature comedic players surrounding her. 

 

Levi Holloway deserves special kudos, both as sinister albino Brother Venerius searching for Joyce's incarnation and particularly as film producer Jeremy who is still wholly devoted or should I say HOLY devoted to his long lost love of Cerda's Mother Superior from her pre-nunnery days as a brilliant news reporter Susan. Levi Holloway really DELIVERS the comedy, especially in the extremely rapid fire monologues and fast talking flashbacks to their exciting early reporter days of flirtation and falling in love with each other through words, glorious words. 

 

Performed at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Andersonville, the setting couldn’t be more appropriate. John Holt has transformed this actual church into a fully functioning and beautifully lit theater "church" with stained glass and special effects that heighten the drama perfectly from scene to scene. At the same time, Keith Ryan and Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s wig and costume designs are absolutely essential for each character and mind-blowingly funny. 

 

The neighboring atheist, a bitter Jewish woman who turns out to be Mother Superior’s long lost mother Mrs. Levinson, as well as a gender-confused Convent student named Timmy, are both wonderfully played by Chad.  Chad is on top of his game and totally hilarious in both roles, brilliantly delivering Busch' complex, fast and funny monologues without tripping once. Ed Jones as Sister Acacius also puts forth a thoroughly entertaining performance. It is always a pleasure to see Cerda and Jones in action together, as their chemistry is tough to beat. 

 

The Divine Sister isn't just about the miracle of three generations of women being reunited with their daughters, it also strikes a real blow at a church system which denies sexuality to its members in ANY form, gay or hetero and as a result denies each of these women and men a chance at living a full life unless they realize the folly of prolonged abstinence - a FORCED shame and despair filled type of abstinence, not voluntary, which was never prescribed by the bible anyway. 

 

The laughs don’t stop. There are so many funny subtleties and bits of finely aimed sardonic humor mixed in with sidesplitting over the top scenes such as Cerda and Ellison’s lip-synced duet and dance to the backing track of a number of pure cheesiness.   

 

Highly recommended for a night of fun-filled camp and silliness with a few heartfelt messages about the reality of miracles that come into your life whether you believe in God or not. 

 

The Divine Sister is being performed at Ebenezer Lutheran Church through July 10th. To find out more about this very funny show, visit www.handbagproductions.org. 

 

"A place where nobody dared to go

The love that we came to know

They call it Xanadu

 

And now, open your eyes and see

What we have made is real

We are in Xanadu

 

A million lights are dancing

And there you are, a shooting star

An everlasting world and you're here with me

Eternally"

 

I want to go to there - and this wonderful cast and crew at American Theater Company took me all the way!

 

I'm not like the other critics who like to tear down the original movie starring Olivia Newton John, Gene Kelly and some poor actor who resembled Andy Gibb whose name I can't remember because I never saw him again! Oh yeah, Michael Beck. No, I’m in the minority that LOVED Xanadu when it came out.  

 

To a theater geek like myself who also danced with a dance troupe (in leg warmers) and studied painting and drawing, this is a fantasy love story consisting of an artistic Queen of the Arts, the Demi God, “Kira”, who fulfills her own need to create art while helping the mortal she has fallen in love with, Sonny Malone. Timing is everything as she successfully pulls Sonny out of a suicidal depression just after her arrival to help him achieve his dreams, which was the PERFECT romantic expression of what I dreamed my life would be (minus the roller skates).

 

I saw Xanadu a few years back at The Broadway Playhouse and this production succeeds in every way that one did not. 

 

First of all, the staging thanks to director Lili Anne Brown and scenic design by Arnel Sanciano, place the audience in the round of what appears to be the actual roller rink/empty building where much of the film took place in. The set is complete with a disco ball overhead flooding the room with the lights and sounds of the 80's in a fun and involving way.

 

Then there are the voices - the two leads Kira/Cleo played by Landree Fleming and Sonny Malone played by Jim DeSelm are absolutely dead on GREAT singers. It is refreshing to see the role of Kira played by an actress who has the singing chops to pull off Olivia Newton John's star quality voice and is able to capture the romance of the character that should still be present amidst poking fun of her. 

 

Landree Fleming not only hits the highest high notes, she infuses them with the same "magical” quality that Olivia Newton John delivered and she did it without the aid of a sound booth and full orchestra. Landree is not only super funny in the role, she is a great physical comedienne and got laughs out of every sad little shrug of her shoulders and comically delivered line. This is partially in thanks to her hilarious over-emphasized Aussie accent to make the joke without necessarily making her character into a joke. 

 

Another thing that I LOVED about this production, which really caught the hugely optimistic 1980's message with amazing love songs by ELO like "Strange Magic", "I’m Alive", and John Farrer’s "Magic", is that even though they captured the campiness by casting several of Kira's sister Muses as men, Jim De Selm chose to play the role of Sonny as straight man all the way through, creating a believable romance unlike other productions of Xanadu I’ve seen. When I saw the touring production years ago with the Sonny character played as a flamboyantly gay man who could never realistically fall in love with Kira no matter how beautiful she was, it not only took the flash and jazz out of the great campy gay humor, it also took all of the wonderful jokes and truths about hetero love and flattened them out into a joyless, hopeless mess.

 

Every single muse in this production has their own flair and style, and fantastic singing skills. For example, when Muse Melponene’s (Karla L Beard) very first notes came out of her mouth - I knew we were going to be in for a treat of great singing all around. Hanah Rose Nardone as Muse of Music Euterpe, James Negrud as Muse Terpicore and Daniel Spagnuolo as Thalia are three obviously classically trained, highly skilled dancers who ALSO delivered delicious comedy throughout whether executing a perfect pirouette or any other form of modern dance thrown in to celebrate the 80's.

 

Aaron Holland is also a bright spot in this production. Holland is simply hysterical in his dual roles as white afro-wearing Zeus and as building owner/investor Danny Maguire – and he too, like the rest of this talented cast, delivers vocally. 

 

Samantha C. Jones does a fantastic job with the perfectly period funny, yet still SEXY, campy stylish costuming, designed for many, many quick changes as some of the actors play multiple roles from beginning to end.

 

I could go on and on about the entire cast and the great six-piece live band that is also implemented into the show in a wonderful way.

 

For a highly enjoyable way to spend an evening with good music and heavy bouts of laughter, American Theater Company’s Xanadu would be tough to beat. In the lobby after the show I heard another woman discussing the show excitedly saying, "Girls Night out!!! We are going to all come and see this together!!" 

 

Her comments personify the exact joy and thoughts I was having as I left the theater. This truly musically gifted production is so much fun, so true to the romance and high artistic ideals we all had entering the 1980's, ideals and hopes for a rainbow future of the Arts that were completely squashed throughout the decade. 

 

This uplifting and exuberantly romantic production of Xanadu makes you glad you were alive to experience a simpler time and still come out swinging in support for ALL of the Arts including painting, singing, dancing and humor- a full 36 years later!

 

Perfectly blended with its poking fun at the 80’s, use of catchy music and romantic overtones, I highly recommend Xanadu. In fact, catch it more than once if you can. But do yourself a favor and watch the movie first so that you can truly appreciate its parodic humor.

 

Xanadu is currently being performed at American Theater Company through July. Tickets start at a very reasonable price of $30. For more show information, visit http://www.atcweb.org/.  

 

When you've seen a classic musical as many times as I have seen Chicago, you really hope for something new and exciting to bring a basically great show to life and this large young, mostly unknown cast (outside of John O’Hurley) really delivers. Now playing through May 15th at Cadillac Palace, theatre fans have the chance to see one of the most popular musicals of our time that spawns from a tale of corruption, greed, and murder that takes place in 1920’s Chicago.

 

Chicago, now in its twentieth year is not only the number one longest running American musical in Broadway history, it is the winner of six Tony Awards, two Oliver Awards and even a Grammy. This touring cast with Dylis Croman (Roxie Hart), Terra C. MacLeod (Velma Kelly), Paul C. Vogt (Amos Hart), Roz Ryan (Matron “Mama” Morton) and John O’Hurley of Seinfeld and Dancing with the Stars fame along with a slew of other talented actors not only hold their own, they do its residency show on Broadway justice. 

 

After nightclub dancer Roxie Hart (played splendidly by Dylis Croman) murders her lover on the side after he threatens to leave her, she plays the media and even her cellmate (and later partner) Velma Kelly by employing the slimiest Chicago lawyer she can finds who turns her act of murder into a series of sensational headlines, creating a media circus that distracts from the crime itself. The Jury has no chance. 

 

Though filled with simple, darkened backdrops reminiscent to the jazz era, the show’s sultry one-liners, big chorus and dance numbers are what makes this production the hit that it has been. Chicago is a crime-based comedy that has all the components of an intriguing and thoroughly entertaining musical. It is filled with cliché’s that embody Chicago during the 1920’s and also points out the fame and glamour given to high profile criminals that can so easily be had the doting public at the time.  

 

Dylis Croman may steal the show with her brilliant portrayal of Roxie Hart, but the star power brought in to give this production a boost, John O’Hurley, is nothing short of outstanding as the sensationalizing, smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn.   

 

Thanks to flawless performances both dancing and vocally, songs like “I Can’t Do It Alone”, “When You’re Good to Mama”, “My Own Best Friend” and “Funny Honey” will be sure to stick in your head afterwards, yet probably not so much as the show’s most popular tune “All That Jazz”. 

 

I highly recommend this sharp, streamlined, exciting and yet sumptuous musical for both theatre fans that have and have not seen Chicago in the past. With just the right amount of pizzazz, a soundtrack that is among theatre’s best and some of the most original dance numbers in recent times, Chicago is comprehensively fun stage production not to be missed.  

 

Chicago is being performed at Cadillac Palace through May 15th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

Page 3 of 19

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