Ken Payne

Ken Payne

Director Craig Engel’s latest production to come to Bolingbrook’s Theatre on the Hill (TOTH) is a story many are familiar with, and, since presented with such a timeless magic about it, is a performance that can certainly be enjoyed by everyone once again. “The Elephant Man” a story of a severely deformed man, John Merrick, who suffers from the genetic disease neurofibromatosis is often sad as it delves into the cruelty dealt by those who judge and condemn by appearance, often treating him as an animal. However, Merrick’s spirit throughout is uplifting as well as that of those who care for him like a fellow human being.


Engel’s direction captures the heartache experienced by Merrick caused by the torment of others from severe beatings to the subtlest glares or comments by those who pass by. Encompassed also so well is Merrick’s desire to be a normal man and his true appreciation for those that showed him the common courteousness of a fellow human being. TOTH veteran Gus Gustafson again shows his versatility as an actor as John Merrick thanks to a compelling demonstration of pain, ignorance, hope and even humor. Dr. Frederick Treves is nicely played by Kevin Folliard and David Lichty (a force on stage) is professional as ever as Dr. Car Gomm. Kate Schultz is charming as Ms. Kendall, the woman who opened up to Merrick and presented to him new experiences that he had never dreamed.  


The story of the Elephant Man takes place in the late 1800’s and a joint effort by the cast, Michael A. Fudala and Scott Boland does a great job in taking the audience to the particular era with a keen eye for props and their detail to set construction. Julie Kinsey also boosts the believability to the time period with fantastic design and selection of costumes. Though the set and costumes made the play visually stimulating, one of the most important facets in making such a production so credible was in the make-up creation of John Merrick superbly handled by Craig Engel.


“The Elephant Man” will be performed each weekend through March 28th. For more information visit www.tothbolingbrook.com.          

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 18:14

Mamma Mia! Triumphs at Rosemont Theater



Once again making a triumphant return to Chicago is Mamma Mia!, now playing at the Rosemont Theatre (5400 N. River Road, Rosemont) through Sunday, January 24th. With a national touring cast that is as energetic as they were talented, Mamma Mia is a wild ride full of catchy ABBA songs, laughs and well-choreographed dancing. .


Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane (photo by Joan Marcus)


The classic 1960’s sitcom, “The Addams Family” has radiantly been brought to life in the form of a musical that has its share of laughs, catchy numbers and, of course, the macabre and bizarre. Making its world premier at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre in Chicago, “The Addams Family: A New Musical” sports a power-packed cast of Tony nominees, including two-time Tony winners, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams. While the entire cast is abundant in talent, the two veteran stage and film actors astound as the strange, famous couple, trading songs and punch lines with precision and an ease that allows the audience to sit back and really enjoy the show without effort. In short, Lane and Neuwirth, both dynamic as ever – and genuinely funny, could not have been more perfect for the part.


The story has daughter, Wednesday Addams, now 18 years old, finding love with a “normal” boy, Lucas Beineke, nicely played by Wesley Taylor. Naturally, this threatens Gomez as he fears his daughter is being “snatched away” from him. The fun really begins when the Addams have the Beineke’s over for dinner where peculiar occurrences and behaviors seem to astonish the guests as the two families try to acquaint themselves with one another. Dinner becomes an overnighter thanks to a contrived storm, in which the conservative Beineke’s are tested by the Addams and each other.


Krysta Rodriguez does an amazing job as the teenage Wednesday, showcasing her lively dancing and powerful voice, and ability to draw a laugh. Jackie Hoffman is terrific as Grandma and Kevin Chamberlain is hilarious as Uncle Fester, especially during the imaginatively comical number, “The Moon and Me”, which one really needs to see to appreciate. Playing Lucas’ parents, Mal and Alice Beineke, are Terrance Mann and Carolee Carmello, who takes advantage of the opportunity to display her great vocal range.   


The show’s many sets are nothing short of amazing, many subtly changing mid-scene from one section/room of the Addams’ house to another along with long stairways that moved from side to side, sometimes joining in the middle. Set props also include various house monsters including a giant squid that lives beneath the stairs.


In all, “The Addams Family: A New Musical” contains all the components for a very fun show as substantiated by the audience with one of the quickest standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed at a play’s end. As the curtains closed, there was not a soul in the crowd that wasn’t snapping to the Addams Family theme.


“The Addams Family: A New Musical” is playing through January 10th at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre. For more information go to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.







Thursday, 12 November 2009 19:15

“The Laramie Project” Hits Hard



The town of Laramie, Wyoming gained international recognition on October 6th 1998, when young Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence followed by a brutal beating in which he was left for dead. Six days later Matthew died as the case became sensationalized throughout the world by the media as a senseless hate crime against gays. As a top story across the nation, support groups came to the aid of the Shepard family and protested such hateful acts towards another human being, especially for the mere reason of being different.  Theatre on the Hill’s production of “The Laramie Project” is hard-hitting, meaningful and resonates deep within one’s conscience long after seeing the play.


Superbly acted out, “The Laramie Project” is the voice of local townspeople as they come to terms with the tragedy and piece together the details that led to the heinous act. With accounts from such as Shepard’s friends, Laramie police, a limo driver, the bartender and owner of the bar where Matthew was last seen alive, the story is beautifully pieced together. Wonderfully directed by David Belew, “The Laramie Project” is compelling as it is important.


With over 60 characters acted out by just nine actors, audience members are treated to true acting versatility. Florence Romano’s smooth transitions from the Laramie officer first on the scene to local shop owner, Trish Steger, is flawless while both David Dimas and Joe Mennella should be acknowledged for their flexibility in their multiple roles as well.


With a theme so close to the hearts of its cast members, Joe Mennella says, “We really relate to the people represented in the show, and that connection is coming through in our performances. As a cast, we spent some time talking about what happened to Matthew and the media surge in Laramie. We discovered that despite our personal and political differences, we can relate on some level with most of the characters on stage. It's been a very exciting process.”


As the story deepens, we are taken to a gripping courtroom drama where a grief stricken father’s saddened words to one of his son’s killers, Andrew McKinney, brings many audience members to tears. Dan Vujocic luminously plays the father, Dennis Shepard as one of his many roles. As a whole the entire cast is thoroughly entertaining, playing each and every role with the conviction needed to make a show like this work. After the final scene, the actors gathered to the front of the stage teary-eyed as it became obvious to all how close at heart this production is to each of them.  


Theater President Craig J. Engel calls the script “powerful and richly layered” and he couldn’t be more correct. This gripping play is deeply haunting thanks to passionate performances, unforgettable projected images throughout and its potent subject matter.     


The Laramie Project runs for three weeks, and closes November 22 at Bolingbrook’s Performing Arts Stage, located 375 W. Briarcliff, behind the Town Center Building.


Friday and Saturday shows start at 8:00 pm; Sunday matinees begin at 3:00 pm. Doors open 30 minutes prior to showtime. Tickets cost $12.00 for students and seniors, adult tickets are $15.00. For additional information, visit tothbolingbrook.com, the show’s Facebook page, or call the theater hotline at 630-759-2970.       

The Spirit of Hallow's EveHalloween was even more intriguing and mystical this year thanks to Theatre on the Hill’s charming production of “The Spirit of Hallow’s Eve”. Written and directed by Douglas Hawksworth, the Bolingbrook theatre company’s presentation was hypnotic, featuring dazzling costumes...

New Millennium Theatre Company’s “Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space” is probably the epitome of the word “zany”. Packed with outlandish humor and bizarre characters “Plans 1 Through 8” is the story of an alien race intent on taking over the Earthlings

Tuesday, 01 September 2009 17:52

Coed Prison Sluts Does Just Enough

coed2Let’s just start by saying Coed Prison Sluts is certainly not your average musical. Claimed as the longest running musical in Chicago, this Annoyance Theatre production takes its viewers inside a prison – a very unusual prison to say the least.




PoseidonHilarity, madness, and good old-fashioned fun are high-flying in “Poseidon! The Upside Down Musical”, based on the book by David Cerda. Directed by Matthew Gunnels, Poseidon is the story about a ragtag group of “Poseidonites” who regularly get together to watch the 1972 disaster film The Poseidon Adventure.

Thursday, 23 April 2009 14:51

“Art” is Smart…and Very Funny

(left to right) Joe Dempsey, Randall Newsome and ensemble member Ian Barford in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Art, by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by ensemble member Rick Snyder.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.Art gets underway when one of three friends purchases a very expensive painting  - a white canvas. To his chagrin neither of his two friends “get it” in the way he does. While one friend, Marc, is outraged at the acquisition and forthright about his opinion, the other, Yvan, agrees to an extent, but hides his true feelings when confronted by Serge, the buyer. Serge, who is absolutely taken with the painting’s beauty, cannot understand why his friends don’t see it through his eyes.

Tempest-3Ensemble member Tina Landau brilliantly brings the final work of William Shakespeare to life as Steppenwolf Theatre presents The Tempest thanks to her fantastic direction and strong performances by its cast. The performance, which runs through May 31st, is an ideal blend of humor and powerful drama and is enhanced by its colorful wardrobe and magical scenery. This is the first time in its prestigious history that Steppenwolf has taken on the work of Shakespeare. 

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