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.
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
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.
I've never been much of a magic fan. I'm always nervous for the magician just in case his trick doesn't work. But in Fooling Buddha, David Kovac seemingly does the impossible. Not only are his magic tricks top notch, he actually made me an unafraid appreciator of magic shows AND Buddhist philosophy while making me laugh at the same time.
Kovac tells the story on how he grew up in Milwaukee during the 1970's raised by hippie parents who were Buddhists and forward thinkers way before their time. Sent to a catholic school as a child to learn about African studies from Jewish teachers and being a nerd who loves magic at that time couldn't have been easy, but Kovac sure makes it funny.
Kovac is a brilliant monologist though who has somehow managed to use his talent and love of magic to write a delightful one-man play full of memorable Buddhist quotes and koans (puzzles). Playing all the roles including his own mother, father and baby sister sitting around the dinner table, the bully who picked on him relentlessly and the magic shop owner to whom became a huge source of inspiration, the audience is never confused about which character is speaking. Kovac’s delivery of beautiful Buddhist sayings like "A Miracle is a Tragedy with a Happy Ending" flow smoothly and segue so magically into each new story, pardon the pun, the 90-minute show with no intermission moves so quickly it left the heartily laughing audience visibly wanting more.
Kovac’s conveyance of his one-man show is so quick and flawless, it left me struggling to mentally take notes in order to remember all the included wonderful bits of ancient knowledge. I guess I'm not the only one because David notes that Buddhism is known as the philosophy with 80,000 sayings and he proves that every time he is taught by his parents with another great, peaceful yet realistic Buddhist saying handy for almost every situation or problem that arose in his young life.
The set he uses is beautifully and colorfully designed. A pleasure to watch, the set is full of secret doors and realistic windows that unfold to reveal new rooms. It is a lovely set made with great detail to the period and set with soft cozy lighting.
I can't stress enough what a great writer David Kovac is and the intermingling of magic and Buddhism works perfectly to demonstrate the magic that is inherently implied in Buddhist philosophy. Kovac’s jokes and autobiography are finely told, and combined with his captivating illusions, Fooling Buddha provides a wonderful night of highly intelligent and uplifting storytelling.
Kovac tells the audience he wants them to leave feeling like winners, like a magician who has just successfully shown spectators an illusion and received their applause. One of the most beautiful sayings in the show does just that in one beautiful line when he says, "There are billions of massive stars blazing across the night sky and inside you is the very same energy that lights the world."
Fooling Buddha is being performed at First Folio Theatre inside the enchanting Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 24th. For tickets or more information on the show, visit www.firstfolio.org.
Based on the 1988 cult film “Heathers” starring Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater, the talented cast of “Heathers: The Musical” bursts onto the stage with enough energy to "bully" the audience right back into the mean late 80's when this particular tale of murder in high school first raised the issues of teen cruelty over twenty-five years ago. Dark and questionable is the subject matter that it be made into a musical, but the show does have its moments. After all, we are talking about a film that may have forewarned us of the tragic school shootings to come in its wake.
Veronica, the nerdy girl who becomes a "Heather" at the expense of her friendship to the truly kind "fat girl" in her class is well played here by Courtney Mack. Mack shows a full range of emotions as she realizes what has begun as simple teen angst and bullying has turned her new outsider boyfriend, J.D., whom she meets hanging around a 7-11 store all day into a serial murderer. Adding to Mack’s solid performance, Chris Ballou also does a fine job in taking on the role of J.D..
Haley Jane Schafer, Rochelle Therrien and Jacquelyne Jones, are each fantastic as the “Heathers" - the meanest, prettiest girls in school who rule with an iron lipstick case. Each of the Heathers' has her own unique flavor of comedy and delivery and each are very good dancers as well as vocalists.
That said, the set which was a big colorless lump full of doorways did not make you feel you were in a high school at all and was actually a distraction at times. Also, the costumes the Heathers DID wear were great - very sexy period costumes, but then they never changed clothes until almost the end of the show, leaving some disappointment. As gorgeous, skinny, fickle fashion mongers, this inconsistency made the show feel much to be desired when it came to dressing them as the story progressed with the lack of colorful, sexy clothing and accessory changes as occurs in the movie and would be a big part of their real high school lives.
The songs may not have been on the most memorable side, but the show did have a few good laughs. There was some terrific physical comedy in the slow motion fight scene between the two jocks who terrorize all the girls in school with jokes about date rape, etc.
Certainly a challenging task at hand, James Beaudry's direction in this small venue with so much young and energetic talent falls short in that it seemed the play starts at a very high level of energy and volume and continues at that exact same volume even during the ballads. Instead, there needed to be some genuine reflection and time to rest for the characters to be fully formed and also to rest the audience’s ears – simply put, more dynamics.
All in all, this cast did a great job with the materials they were given and delivered a funny, bitter and scary version of what life in high school was like then and now. See "Heathers" with the expectation of a few decent yuks, a handful of entertaining musical numbers ("Big Fun" comes to mind) and a sometimes pretty accurate nostalgic peek at high school in the late 1980's.
Kokandy Productions of “Heathers: The Musical” is being performed at Theater Wit through April 24th. For more show information, visit www.theaterwit.org.
Filled with clever and rapid-fire dialogue exchanges, The New Sincerity is a fast-moving comedy written by Alena Smith, one of the nation’s top young, up and coming women writers. The play’s title is explained well in its press release - "Erudites among us know "New Sincerity" is an actual term used in music, aesthetics, film criticism, poetry and philosophy, generally to describe art or concepts that run against prevailing modes of postmodernist irony or cynicism." And there is plenty of cynicism and irony to be found in the latest comedy/drama at Theater Wit that deals with millennials and the idealism of the Occupy Movement.
As co-founder of a highly regarded online political journal, Asymptote, Benjamin, a Harvard literature graduate, is always looking for hard-hitting and thought provoking material to maintain status among their peers and competitors. Just less than a block away from their office is the Occupy Movement where protesters converge in the park all throughout the day and night. Benjamin’s newly appointed senior contributor, Rose, has a strong interest in doing a piece on the protest, but he is insistent she stay far removed for fear of taking sides. Disregarding Benjamin’s direct order, Rose not only checks out the movement firsthand but creates a relationship with one of the protesters, Django. As feared, word gets out about an Asymptote staff member being associated with the Occupy Movement and Benjamin not only takes the criticisms from his co-owner and faithful readers, but he fears how this will affect his fiance's upcoming book release since her last book, Death of the Left Wing clearly believed that the modern protest is dead and ineffective. Furious at Rose for screwing up the journal’s branding, she finally convinces Benjamin to visit the movement, which he reluctantly does.
The story then becomes that of an opportunist and the hypocrisies that come about as Benjamin realizes the potential afoot and does a complete turnaround to where he can’t get enough coverage on the movement, even to the point that he lies about being involved from day one. We also see the hollowness in Benjamin regarding his relationship with women as he states he does not really believe in love and deep connections, much the opposite of Rose.
Smart and brutally honest, The New Sincerity offers tremendous acting performances by each of its four cast members. Drew Shirley as is energetic and finely projects the qualities to make a convincing Benjamin who is incapable of fully connecting emotionally. At the same time, Maura Kidwell as Rose is perfectly cast as the grounded one who seems to get it in the play while Erin Long as the very funny tell-it-like-it-is intern Natasha and Alex Stein as the protest because there’s a protest protester Django also provide a huge spark.
I really enjoyed the set which was a cozy two-story office with large windows giving us a peek at New York City. As the scenes changed, large computer monitors would tell us what month it was giving us a nice idea of a time frame.
I liked the direction of this play by Jeremy Wechsler, as I felt he outstandingly captured the essence of millennium living, ideals, social media marketing and stereotypes. The often overly politically correct gender pronoun usage was also addressed when a friend of Django’s insisted on being called dragon as she did not identify with male or female. I wasn’t quite sure if Smith was taking a jab at renaming our own gender to whatever we want or embracing the fact that we can.
The New Sincerity has plenty of very funny dialogue exchanges and provides a story that is paced very well with plenty of memorable moments. I recommend this fiercely funny play, which is being performed at Theater Wit through April 17th. For more show info visit www.TheaterWit.org.
On the 400th year anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Lyric Opera of Chicago appropriately chose to commemorate the famed playwright’s life by putting on an outstanding production of Romeo and Juliet. Helping to make this such a special piece of operatic theatre, Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips as the tragically famous lovesick couple do a magnificent job vocally and emotionally throughout the show to bring the real spirit of youthful, love at first sight to life.
The show begins with the stage curtain up and the entire cast ominously moves towards the audience singing the overture which was very effective in setting the tone of the times the play is set in.
Soprano Susanna Phillips, perfectly complimenting tenor Calleja, is especially great in her role. Dressed all in pink with gold sparkles, she embodies the very essence of springtime love in her opening number. When, at one point, she begs her nanny to stop talking about her impending marriage to an older man that Juliet does not love you really want her to get her wish, as her fresh hopeful desire to just dance and enjoy life is very infectious.
Joshua Hopkins as Romeo’s best pal Mercutio and Jason Slayden as Juliet’s short-fused cousin Tybalt also take to their roles with vigor and precision, really capturing the two sworn enemies’ disdain for each other while baritone Christian Van Horn is well cast as Friar Laurence, who means well though his efforts only end in tragedy.
I loved ALL the costumes by Jennifer Tipton! The rich, fabrics and colors, her hats and accessories for the women brought the whole stage to life. Also, the swashbuckling style of leather and velvet for the men was extremely entertaining and fitting to watch both their swordplay and Romeo’s lovemaking to Juliet.
Michael Yeargan's unit set is foreboding and appropriately towers over the cast as if to say there is no escape from this time period and its rules. However, I was looking forward to several set changes. Instead, the central platform served as a ballroom dance floor, Friar Laurence's cell, a town square and the crypt where the young couple meet their fate. I felt this modern touch of using a single large white sheet to signify Juliet's bedroom, then the church, and the burial shroud, etc., etc., was very one dimensional. The cast, so visually stunning, is so large even the hefty set seemed to barely contain them in various scenes. Still, overall, the production is a grand spectacle that is as colorful and enchanting as it is memorable.
Directed with fierce and daring force by Bartlett Sher, the Tony Award-winning Broadway director who's making his Lyric debut with this French piece by Charles Gounod, Romeo and Juliet succeeds marvelously on many levels. Of course this can only be accomplished with the comprehensive orchestral conducting of Emmanuel Villaume, who leads the often powerful and sometimes dreamy soundtrack to create a truly hauntingly tragic yet beautiful experience. The romanticism of the writing is so beautiful, so poetic, I found myself watching the screen high above the stage trying to memorize some of the pure poetry as the play went along. The lines of love and adoration spoken by Romeo and Juliet to each other were so exquisitely written, I have never seen an American adaptation of this or any love story which compares to this poetic version of the play.
No spoilers but there is a slight change to the ending scene that might throw off a few viewers but I still found it quite enjoyable.
This is a perfect opera to take your date to for an evening of romance that will thrill and delight. Your children will love this show because it renders the story of forbidden love and the destruction of such love because of unforgiving, ignorant family feuding and brings it to life in a compassionate and ever so romantic way.
Romeo and Juliet is being performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago through March 19th and is sure to please the casual and more adventurous theatre and opera lovers alike. For more information on this piece so wonderfully adapted for stage, visit www.LyricOpera.org.
This excellent stage production of the 2013 musical Far from Heaven was based on Todd Haynes‘ 2002 motion picture of the same name.
Far from Heaven is set in 1957 Hartford, Connecticut, well before the advent of the sexual revolution. Cathy Whitaker played by Summer Naomi Smart discovers that her handsome, successful businessman husband Frank is having affairs - with other men! Frank was played very well and very selfishly - if not compassionately - towards his wife whose world is crushed unexpectedly by actor Brandon Springman.
After a time of trying to convert her husband back to heterosexuality by a psychologist, Cathy and her husband realize the emptiness and futility of their sexless and coldly critical relationship continuing just for the sake of the children.
Cathy's new gardener and widowed single father of a ten-year-old daughter, Raymond Deagan (Evan Tyrone Martin), becomes her friend and the scandal of her own life in spite of their necessarily platonic enjoyment of each other's company.
Evan Tyrone Martin has a wonderful rich smooth voice, arguably the best in the show and a nice natural quality to his acting. Summer Naomi Smart is stunning to look at as the real life "Stepford Wife" whose world comes crashing down when she tries to surprise visit her husband on a night he is "working late again" and gets the shock of her life when she finds him in the office in the arms of another man.
I've seen Ms. Smart in many musical comedies but this is the first time I have seen her really let loose in a dark way, especially in the scene when she confronts her husband about his homosexual affairs and lets out a terrifying and mournful wail that truly came from deep inside her character’s psyche. It was nice to see her tackle then take the reigns on this multi-dimensional role.
Grant Saban‘s set seemed too much like a doll house to me, very one dimensional in color and shapes but perhaps that was intentional in terms of the subtext of the repressive 1950's. However, William Morey‘s gorgeous period costumes, which reminded me of a cross between Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore's beautifully tailored and colorfully designed outfits in their respective series, brought the whole set to life.
Bri Sudia‘s performance is rich and dynamic as Cathy’s best friend Eleanor, who is very sympathetic about the sexless and lovlessness of Cathy's picture perfect marriage yet deserts her best friend over the issue of an interracial friendship. All of the supporting characters and girlfriends of Cathy Whitaker in this production do an excellent job in their respective roles and deliver as many ironic laughs as possible with subject matter that really is just a lot of sad statements about the wasted loves of many marriages in the fifties - marriages, which were built on lies and social and financial convenience rather than genuine love and real sexual attraction.
Turning this subject matter into a musical may have made it more fun and palatable, but also detracted from the seriousness and tragedy of a woman who has given birth to two children and ends up totally alone, a single mother in the fifties, because of years and years of lies from a man who was supposed to be her best friend and true love. Yet the accompaniment of a great live orchestra really brings this sometimes somber score to life when needed.
Finely directed by Chuck Larkin, Porchlight Musical Theatre's Far from Heaven is playing at Stage 773 through March 13th. For more show information on this absorbing and well-pieced-together production, visit www.prochlightmusictheatre.org.
I haven't enjoyed a full night of dance as much as these three pieces presented by Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre in a very long time, the first a world premiere and two marvelous pieces back by popular demand.
The world premiere is Ashley Page’s Tipping Point. Page refers to Adès’ music as the “primary investigator”, transforming its dark, dramatic tones into physical form. “It’s not easy to write so specifically about an abstract dance work that hasn’t been created yet,” he said, “but I want to stress that this will not be a narrative ballet… My task as choreographer is to try to harness this complex, often powerfully dark material and make it ‘visible’ to the audience.” And Ades does just that.
In Tipping Point twelve dancers, sometimes in pairs or groups of three, sway and are swept away by the music in beautiful free flowing gowns which reveal a hint of red or orange colors each time they leap, which is very powerful to watch.
Although Page mentions this piece is not a "narrative" one, it does seem to allow the audience to unleash our own inner narratives while watching especially as it ends with a couple "trapped' or perhaps "saved" in what seems to be a box made entirely of white light.
With lush, yet melancholic music by Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Jiří Kylián’s 1981 creation (performed by the Joffrey four years ago) its inspiration is Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life portrait from 1899 of a group of women staring hopefully at the sea.
In "Forgotten Land" six couples move in and among each other, sometimes dancing with modern and complex movements of joy and other times pulling apart in anger. It seems that all are haunted by some memories of loved ones and sometime delight and revel in their memories - while other times they are overcome with despair defeated or aggravated by the same ghosts floating like foam put of the gray seas painted on the massive backdrop behind them.
The story ballet RAkU is artistically honest and truly narrative with a smashing score by Shinji Eshima. RAkU retells with beautiful video screens and exquisite choreography the torching of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion in 1950, the work of an evil monk sexually obsessed with the Emperors wife. With the emperor away engaged in battle, the Monk takes advantage of the lonely Empress and after a frantic dance to get away from what seemed a dance meant to comfort her, she is raped by the priest, thrown finally way up against a giant white wall like a butterfly finally pinned into a glass case. Then the monk sets fire to her castle which was also her temple and their home.
When her dutiful soldiers return and find her in this bedraggled state, using her last sword as a cane in order to crawl across the stage as if she still believes she has the strength to avenge her family, they have the awful duty of presenting her with a box full of the ashes of her own home and possibly the Emperor himself.
It is a moment in ballet that I will never forget when the Empress, played with magnificent emotion and perfection to craft and detail by the phenomenal Victoria Jaiani, takes down her jet black hair and pours the white ashes her own face and body before succumbing to her wounds with one last graceful breath and the deathly uncurling of her graceful white fingers and legs. Brava!
I highly recommend seeing the well-chosen pieces in "Bold Moves" for a full night of dance that will leave you feeling both refreshed and deeply moved at the same time.
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