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Ken Payne

Ken Payne

Who remembers the 1960s TV show “Hazel”? It may not be as easily recollected as such classics as “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “The Andy Griffith Show” or “I Love Lucy”, but for those who loved 1960s sitcoms back in the day or have been introduced to them thanks to networks like ME TV, it would be hard to forget Hazel, the lovable, take-charge maid played by Shirley Booth, who treasured nothing more than taking care of the Baxter family. Now, some fifty or so years later Drury Lane Theatre presents the World Premiere “Hazel: A Musical Maid in America” as an ode to the silver age of television. 

Directed and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, “Hazel” brings a new adventure to the dutiful maid and Baxter family. When Dorothy Baxter wants to go back to work much to husband George Baxter’s lack of support, enter Hazel who is hired to maintain the family’s home and take care of young Harold Baxter. A story in itself as Dorothy tries to take on the world of interior design with a corporate gig and wonders if she still has what it takes to succeed, the plot takes a twist when Harold believes he has captured a photo of a U.F.O. It doesn’t take much for word to get out of his spaceship sighting and for the Air Force to get involved. Kind of out there but remember we are talking about an era where U.F.O. scares were not so uncommon and TV was getting blitzed by series that included space ships and aliens. So the tie in actually makes sense. 

The evolution of Hazel continues. What began as a single-panel cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post back in 1943, was then brought to life in 1961 as a popular sitcom that went on to span five seasons. Hazel was not only known for keeping a spot-free home, but it was her big heart and droll sense of humor that made her one of TV’s most beloved heroines of the early to mid-1960s. In “Hazel: A Musical Maid for America” Klea Blackhurst admirably takes on the role as the tough as nails housekeeper, injecting just the right dose of humor and no-nonsense into her character while offering a dynamic vocal range in many of the show’s numbers. 

Both Ken Clark and Summer Naomi Smart are finely cast as George and Dorothy Baxter and are highly convincing as the 1960s married couple, gelling well with each other. Each also displays a finely tuned vocal presence of their own with Smart really lighting up the stage in her back to work number “Sheer Perfection”. The cast is well rounded and provides outstanding contributions from Ed Kross as Hazel’s love interest Bonkers Johnson, Casey Lyons as Harold Baxter and a strong ensemble that is highlighted by Bill Bannon and Meghan Murphy.

Boasting a very impressive, ever-changing set that really enhances the 1960s essence, “Hazel” is an entertaining spectacle as much as it is a fun, light-hearted comedy that gets its digs in at the male narrow-mindedness of the era and delves into the accepting of those for who they are. With plenty of energetic musical number laced with humor and wit, we are presented with a well-rounded comedy that comes with a nice measure of nostalgia.  

“Hazel: A Musical Maid in America”, a presentation full of clean humor (pun intended), a fun story and enjoyable big show numbers, is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through May 20th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.     

 

Blind dates can be interesting enough but add in a few surprises and things can get pretty uncomfortable in a hurry. In Recent Tragic Events we meet a couple, Waverly and Andrew, who gets together for a date on the recommendation of mutual friends and as the night progresses they have more in common than they could have possibly thought. 

 

The date starts precariously. It's the day after the September 11th attacks and Waverly's twin sister has not been heard from. Waverly is somewhat certain that her sister would not have been at the World Trade Center during the attacks but still has a bit of doubt. Andrew, who manages a book store at the airport, is awkward and shy but quickly notices that Waverly has the exact same books as him when picking her up and their admiration for the same authors quickly creates a bond between the two. With Waverly upset about her sister's status the two decide to stay indoors to hand out and order pizza. It's not long after that down-the-hall neighbor Ron intrudes on the date. Ron is a happy-go-lucky musician who doesn’t seem to take too much in life very seriously. The three of them tune in and out of news broadcasts covering the attack, but try to keep things light-hearted though a heavy cloud overshadows their evening. Soon Ron’s married girlfriend joins the group hair disheveled and clad only in an oversized t-shirt and panties. She doesn’t speak, only nodding and making slight sounds in agreement or disagreement. 

 

The intrigue begins when Andrew tells Waverly that he had met her sister just two weeks prior at a bar. Recollecting his encounter, he tells Waverly and Ron that she had been discussing a position for a company located in the World Trade Center. Of course, that naturally amplifies Waverly’s worst fears. 

 

Recent Tragic Events is full of funny dialogue and subtle mannerisms, especially once Ron enters the scene, played hysterically by Maximillian Lupine who can induce laughter with the slightest of looks or gestures. Though Lupine gets most of the big laughs, Rachel Christianson is also hilarious – not so much as Ron’s girlfriend Nancy, but as Andrew’s favorite author, Waverly’s grandmother Joyce Carol Oates, who is portrayed by a sock puppet on her hand. Oates even knocks down a few beers with the gang during her visit if you can imagine a sock puppet chugging during a drinking game. Naturally when Joyce Carol Oates needs to use the bathroom, Nancy shows her the way, waits for her before returning together. Matthew Nerber also puts forth a humorous performance as the dweeby bookworm Andrew along with Laura Berber Taylor who displays a fine emotional range.   

 

The story is well-balanced with both the humor of the gang interacting (often awkwardly)and the drama that a tragedy more personal than expected may have taken place. Once really gets to like the characters, probably because there is a lot of truth in them. The question of free will is challenged, pondering if we really do make our own choices even when we think we do. This is brought to the surface in many ways not only with parallels to the September 11th attacks but even in the actors reading from a script after the “stage manager” alerts the crowd that the story could go in different ways by changing lines every time a chime is heard. Ron and Joyce Carol Oates also have a heated exchange on the subject. 

 

Recent Tragic Events is worth checking out. It is a show that will make you think past the many good laughs it offers. The characters work well together thanks to a well-assembled cast and solid scripting while the story keeps your attention, though it seems to run a bit longer than it should, quickly changing tone and opting to linger rather than closing on a prior opportune moment or two. 

 

Recent Tragic Events is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre through April 10th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org .   

 

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 12:59

Strawdog's D.O.A. A Nice Ode to Film Noir

In Strawdog Theatre’s final performance at the popular northside theatre bar, Hugen Hall, we are presented with Elizabeth Lovelady’s world premiere adaptation of Rudolph Mate’s film noir thriller D.O.A.

Intrigue is the name of the game in this whodunit and audience members are kept guessing to the end.

When Frank Bigelow walks into a police station to report a murder, the intrigue begins immediately as we find out the victim is none other than himself. Poisoned and running out of time, Bigelow frantically searches for the reason he has been targeted and the people responsible. Going over past events leading up to the present and speculating on all possibilities as to why someone would want him dead, Bigelow puts the pieces of the puzzle together, bringing to light a few surprises along the way. As the sixty-minute play unfolds, clues are slowly revealed at a nice pace and the plot steadily gains traction.

The plot has enough to keep one interested though not necessarily keeping one on the end of their seat. What makes the play special is its setting. Thanks to commendable efforts by costume designer Raquel Adorno, lighting designer John Kelly, sound designer Heath Hays, prop designer Jamie Karas and scenic designer Mike Mroch, the simple space is nicely transformed to which D.O.A. embodies a classic flatfoot detective style with scenes reminiscent unforgettable films such as The Third Man or Double Indemnity.

Capturing the smallest of details to add a genuineness to the proposed era are the women made up in black lipstick, the stylish 1940s suits and dresses, the smoke-filled room that creates moving shadows amongst the white spotlighting and the snappy dialogue filled with film noir jargon. Actors gracefully walk around the stage and seating area as the scenes quickly change, often leaving a cast member standing or sitting right alongside a member of the audience, making this a unique theatre experience.   

The play also offers its share of humor as a handful of scenes over-emphasize the drama with extended freeze frames, gazes and deadpan deliveries of cheesy lines.

Mickey O’Sullivan leads the capable cast as a desperate Frank Bigelow with fellow cast members contributing nicely – many in dual roles, especially getting strong performances by Sean McGill (Harry, Bartender, Chester) and Kelsey Shipley as Elaine/Ms. Foster.  

 

Strawdog Theatre’s D.O.A. is being performed at Hugen Hall (3829 N. Broadway) through April 5th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.Strawdog.org.      

Black Ensemble Theater does it again, and by that I mean provides a thoroughly engaging and inspirational experience, this time with their latest production Those Sensational Soulful 60’s. Beautifully written and directed by the talented Jackie Taylor, Soulful 60’s takes a peek at the heyday of Motown music featuring music from Otis Redding, Mary Wells, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, The Supremes, The Four Tops and many more. Currently running in repertory with Doo Wop Shoo Bop (also written by Taylor but this one in collaboration with Jimmy Tillman), Those Sensational Soulful 60’s is a dance-in-your-seat musical treat that is uplifting as it is nostalgic. 

It is Black Ensemble Theater’s 40th anniversary and there is little question as to why they have succeeded for so long. Churning out one memorable production after another, Soulful 60’s is yet another triumph for this ultra-talented theatre company. Black Ensemble has always had a gift of not just bringing relevant music back to the forefront (and also writing worthy originals), but also delivering it in a way that captures its true essence, giving audience members the chance to feel the way they did when they first discovered these golden classics. Those Sensational Soulful 60’s is no different. 

A truly gifted cast helps in bringing the iconic sixties back to life. Melanie McCullough, Shari Anderson, Kylah Frye and Jessica Seals round up the inspiring group of women contributing to this production while David Simmons, Kenny Davis, Rashawn Thompson, Theo Huff and Kyle Smith take on the male vocals with the power and passion to which Otis Redding himself would be pleased. The vocal additions by each performing member cannot be compliment enough. Of course, the other half of the fun is watching the performers move – and move they do. Well-choreographed and well-executed, we are treated to several high energy dance routines, combining a rawness and precision that is thoroughly entertaining to watch, and gives one the feeling that they could easily be sitting in on a Four Tops concert in 1963. 

With “soul” as the production’s focal point, the ensemble even succeeds at honoring standard crooners Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra and jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, explaining they should be included due to the soulful nature of some of their material. Even a soulful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is performed – as Patti LaBelle!   

Kyle Smith starts the show off with a heartfelt reminiscence on Same Cooke – yep, a Chicagoan – and though he died at just thirty-three-years-young, left us with such influential songs such as “Chain Gang”, “Twisting the Night Away” and “You Send Me”. As the show progresses cast members point out interesting factoids about each artist to whom they pay homage. Touching on so many individuals that helped shape music as we know if today, the show is an apropos tribute to a magical and persuasive time in music history.  

Standing ovations frequent the show after several numbers and they are well-deserved. It is apparent the cast members are having as much fun as the audience is having watching them, which adds a genuineness that cannot be manufactured. The songs are certain crowd pleasers with a collection that includes such hits as “Try A Little Tenderness”, “Feel Good”, Mack the Knife”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Higher and Higher”, each and every performer making their mark on many different occasions each time they uniquely honor a soul icon. With many wardrobe changes to highlight each moment, the dazzling costumes and wigs used are not only stunning, they depict the era accurately.    

Those Sensational Soulful 60’s is not only musically entertaining, it is also funny, as writer Jackie Taylor skillfully plant bits of humor throughout the show, including a happy-go-lucky Stevie Wonder being escorted back to his place on stage and a handful of sassy one-liners exchanges.     

Finely-tuned and rich in both quality and quantity, the family-friendly production of Those Sensational Soulful 60’s is being performed at Black Ensemble Theatre, located at 4450 N. Clark Street, through March 19th. This is a show that will not just have you toe-tapping and clapping from beginning to end, it also serves as a valuable lesson in music history. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.BlackEnsembletheater.org. 

 

In this thoroughly entertaining and delightfully warm, bright and colorful production of Mary Poppins at Stage 773, NightBlue Performing Arts Company fully (and very creatively) utilizes their intimate stage area to bring this fascinating, feel-good family classic to life. Whether it be a well-choreographed dance number, a scene where Mary Poppins gracefully flies from side to side or just another busy day at the park, NightBlue creatively uses every nook and cranny in the Stage 773 space, making audience members forget they are sitting in a theatre that holds less than 150 people, in fact making the production a much more intimate experience without losing the grandness of the show.   

Now, fifty-two years after the release of the classic Disney film starring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews comes this new heartwarming and spectacular production directed beautifully by Artistic Director David E. Walters.

A family is in distress, the children are spoiled and bored, troublesome, the mother is neglected and ineffectual, the father is cold and overworked and he is still reeling psychologically from the beatings he received as a child from his mean nanny, Miss Andrew, a.k.a. The Holy Terror. The family has gone through one nanny after another, none sticking around for very long. It has nearly become a lost cause.   

The children write a list of the qualities they need in their new nanny and much like writing to Santa Claus they ask that she be kind, care about them, give them candy and be rosy cheeked and pretty to look at. The father quickly dismisses the written ad, tears it up and tosses it into the fireplace. Not long after, Mary Poppins appears quite magically at their door ready for work. She quickly qualifies herself as the children’s wish come true with the charming number “Practically Perfect”.

Mary Poppins has true mystical powers that she uses to transform the children. A game she plays called “walk in the park” shows them the wonder of simple things from being out in nature. The simple, yet joyfully magical “walk in the park” also introduces the children to the concepts of accepting others of lower social standing like the chimney sweeps, and the soulful benefits of giving to the poor and feeding animals in the park.

Mary helps the mother realize her importance in the world that gives her the confidence and romantic enjoyment of life again. Mary also helps the father by showing him that his childhood nanny did not empower him with her brutal way of pointing out the worst and punishing him for every action. In the end he chooses putting the moment by moment happiness of himself and his family members first, before work and money no matter what the outcome and this personal rebellion ends up saving both his family and his career.

Even the archetypes of the “Old Crone Mother Mary” are honored here as the audience realizes that without the lessons taught by the old beggar woman feeding birds in the park and the mean old childhood nanny that none of these cathartic transformations into “good” living and happiness would ever have occurred.

No matter how good the costumes, set, musical direction and choreography, it would not be possible to pull off a successful production without correctly casting Mary Poppins. Not to worry, as Kyrie Anderson is flawless in the role. Just wonderful as Mary Poppins, Anderson sings beautifully and has the cool, perfect beauty that radiates the confidence and magic that justifies her introductory song, “Practically Perfect (I Am Perfect in Every Way!)”.

You also want a Bert than can dance, sing and radiate his love and curiosity for life as we’ve been so spoiled by Dick Van Dyke in the role. Ryan Dooley is convincing as Bert, likeable and charming as he whimsically interacts with Mary and the children and delivers some fancy footwork of his own.  

Caron Buinis who plays the multiple roles, most notably that of the mean nanny Miss Andrew, is outstanding. Buinis is nearly unrecognizable when she switches roles and has a fabulous, funny dry delivery as Miss Andrew that gets some of the biggest laughs in the show.

The family is well-rounded with rock-solid performances from both Joseph Smith (Mr. Banks) and MacKenzie Skye (Mrs. Banks). Sage Harper and Liam Dahlborn who play the children were also very good in their roles - not too sugary sweet or precocious – just the right amount of each when needed. Both children had a good sense of comic timing and contributed nicely with their pleasant singing voices.

Kevin Bellie’s choreography is exciting and uplifting. The big numbers really dazzle the eye and convey the magical quality of Mary Poppins’ spell while trying to help this lovely family. But be warned - the catchy, infectious show tunes such as “Step in Time”, “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” will most likely be running through your head over the next couple of days. You might even be talking in a Cockney accent for a while. 

The staging and costume design have some true surprises for the audience that I will not reveal so as not to spoil the effect. The magic of the film is really captured through unique lighting, makeup effects and the backdrop screen, which really helps in setting up scenes with its giant projections. The creative team’s costume design is superb, stylish and expressive with magnificent Victorian period lines and rich colors in every scene.

I highly recommend seeing this heartwarming and spectacular production of “Mary Poppins” for your entire family to enjoy and learn from together! It’s always nice to see theatre designed for all ages taking place in Chicago’s local and more intimate venues, so families should take advantage while they can. “Mary Poppins” is playing at Stage 773 through March 27th. For tickets and/or more information call (847) 634-0200 or tickets and/or more information visit  www.NightBlueTheatrer.com or www.Stage773.com.  

Pop Waits, currently being performed at the Neo-Futurarium, is a smart and innovative production that takes audience members on a journey into the psyche of rock stars Iggy Pop and Tom Waits. Co-created by Molly Brennan and Malic White, the two are also featured in this well-written play/musical, each giving dynamic performances that are as much high energy as they are genuine and nothing short of sensational. 

Upon entering the theatre, one is met with a couple musician dudes strolling around the stage with guitars area joined in song by a female accomplice whose velvety smooth voice is immediately attention grabbing. Song lyrics are being written on a chalkboard that creates the stage’s background.  Brennan and White casually sift about nearby talking with audience members before taking their seats, possibly even at the two-top tables set up along the edge of the stage. It’s casual yet interest in what will happen next already peaks. Not long after, the band kicks in and we are thrust into the minds and makeup of Waits and Pop as interpreted by the show’s creators.   

Brennan and White delve into the depression and pain of each rock icon explaining how it is transferred into music of which so many of us have identified. The possibility is thrown around that each have hidden behind their rock personas to avoid being…well, themselves – everyday people. 

Brennan more than admirably portrays Tom Waits (raspy voice and all) while White plays a keyed up Iggy Pop that can be electrifying at times. Aided by a fantastic band that features Elisa Carlson, Nick Davio and Spencer Meeks, the production often alternates from an engaging, and often humorous piece of storytelling to a full on concert in what we can imagine would be CBGB’s in its heyday – crowd surfing and all. Making the show even more entertaining is the fact that Carlson, Davio and Meeks frequently trade instruments and add a few other sounds such as the violin and accordion, showing a great range of musical versatility. 

Though drawing several laughs and musically pleasing, serious topic matter is explored in depth such as deep depression and suicidal ideation. What do you do when you fear seeing a therapist because an expert opinion on how fucked up you are will only confirm that you’d rather be dead than numbly plowing through this world? Yes, there are a few hard-hitting moments but plenty of laughs and music make this an extremely balanced production. 

As the show begins, we are alerted that the right to five Tom Waits songs for use in the show have been denied for the time being. That said, a handful of songs (and very good ones at that) written by Molly Brennan and Spencer Meeks are inserted into the production that fit ever so perfectly into the Pop Waits’ theme such as “Heaven’s A Bar in Chicago”, “Witches” and “Ode to Gretel”. There are also several Iggy Pop favorites that are performed including “The Passenger”, “Search and Destroy” and “Lust for Life”.

Directed by Halena Kays, Pop Waits is a very unique theatre experience that is thought provoking, darkly humorous and even audience interactive at times. Brennan and White pour their hearts into their roles taking on these tortured rock stars with a raw passion that Pop and Waits themselves would certainly be proud of.

Highly entertaining, Pop Waits flat out rocks. Pop Waits is being performed at the Neo-Futurarium through March 12th. For more show information visit www.NeoFuturists.org.    

 

Kinesics. As defined in the programs that are handed out at Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago, kinesics is a systematic study of the relationship between nonlinguistic body motions (such as blushes, shrugs, or eye movement) and communication. In other words, Marc Salem knows when you are lying despite what might come out of your mouth. Claiming that you can actually receive more information via body language than actual verbal communication, Salem sets the stage for some mind-blowing experiments that you will no doubt attempt to try (and most likely fail at) when you get home from the show.

A student of the human mind for over thirty years, Salem uses a combination of kinesics, mentalism and magic tricks to stun the audience over and over again for ninety straight minutes. Using jokes that often hit or miss (as Salem even has fun with a few of the bombs – making them successful after all) along with savvy mind-bending techniques, crowd members are in for a very unusual and entertaining evening. Salem is not shy about gathering volunteers from the audience, searching out doctors for some experiments and police officers for others. Though people, phrases and words are picked at random for nearly every segment, Salem is never fooled always stunning the audience with a correct prediction (written on paper ahead of time) to the quiet murmurs of “how could he possibly know that” or more simply put, “wtf!?”.  

In one of my favorite Salem “tricks” or “observations”, the master of non-verbal communication picks five audience members to join him on stage. Each person then draws a picture while Salem looks the other way. The pictures are then collected and shuffled and given to Salem. Of course, when we are shown the not so artistic pictures that the volunteers rushed to draw, that’s funny in itself. Salem then tells the five audience members to deny that they drew the picture that he holds in front of them whether they drew it or not and goes down the line, one denial after another. In a matter of seconds, Salem hands the picture with its matching artist, explaining that the slightest tell gave them away. Truly fascinating. Just as amazing, in another demonstration Salem also predicts a single word randomly picked out from an entire newspaper by a volunteer. “This is the stuff!” The man behind me excitedly told his friend. That’s pretty accurate.

Likeable and quick–witted, Salem’s quirky sense of humor and entertaining audience interactions could almost be a show in itself. But when combined with just the right amount of intrigue and inconceivable feats, Salem’s arsenal is lethal. Each portion of the show is as interesting as the next never leaving a dull moment.

Performer, magician, mentalist, comedian – whatever you want to call him, be prepared to laugh and be especially prepared to get stupefied. Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago is also filled with clean humor, so it’s the perfect show that an entire family can enjoy.

My first question after seeing Salem read people so accurately was, “Why hasn’t he been approached by the F.B.I. or something of that nature?” Well, he has. Salem has served as a consultant to both law firms as well as law enforcement agencies as one of the chief experts in Kinesics, of which he works closely with its founder Ray Birdwhistell. He has also been featured on many television programs including 60 minutes, Regis, Motel Williams and CNN. Touring around the world to the tune of sold out Broadway and off-Broadway productions, Salem should find the same success at his new home in Chicago’s Apollo Theater.

 

Whether you are a fan of having your mind blown or just want some good laughs, Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago comes highly recommended as a show that will truly entertain from beginning to end. Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago is being performed at The Apollo Theater in Lincoln Park. For more show information visit www.ApolloChicago.com

Friday, 19 February 2016 13:01

Sister Act is Outta Site!

What happens when a 1970s dance diva goes into hiding as a nun in a neighborhood parish, you might ask? Well, let’s just say she definitely makes an impact. After Delores witnesses a murder by her boyfriend (a gangster who is married), the sassy disco queen is thrust into a witness protection program by the Philadelphia Police Department where she assumes the identity of a nun, much to the dismay of Mother Superior. Two completely different worlds collide, as the strict and disapproving Mother Superior is forced to work side by side with Delores, who is more about living on the wild side and prefers beer and cheesesteak sandwiches over the church served mutton. Though completely at opposite spectrums from each other the two eventually teach each other valuable life lessons, which plays out nicely in this humorous and charming script.  

When we first hear the weak, out of key singing by the nuns, it doesn’t take us long to figure out that Delores, a seasoned vocalist, will serve a useful purpose in her new surroundings. We just don’t’ realize how amusing the journey will be.   

Based on the Whoopi Goldberg hit film, Sister Act is a ton of fun. Not only does the production nail the 1970s, parodying the era to perfection with spot on costume design and stereotypical character traits, but it is plenty funny and has a slew of enjoyable song and dance numbers such as “Take Me to Heaven”, “It’s Good To Be A Nun” and “Sister Act”.

Pairing perfectly are Hollis as Mother Superior and Broadway veteran Stephanie Umoh as Delores. Umoh is absolutely adorable in the role while Resnik displays an acting presence that of the talented veteran she is. It is not Resnik’s first run at the role as she had played Mother Superior is national touring productions in the past. Umoh and Resnik’s chemistry make this production work ever so smoothly as they play off each other flawlessly. And though both Resnik and Umoh each provide show-carrying caliber performances, they get a lot of help from a wildly hilarious and talented ensemble.    

Every time gangster Curtis Jackson and his band of cronies come onto the stage you can expect a few good laughs. Mark Hood as lead thug, TJ, often steals the show with his far out boogie-like moves and 1970s jive talking while Todd A. Horman as Joey also makes several splashes as the wannabe hard ass sidekick. The gang hits the audience full throttle and are highlighted in their very funny number “Lady in the Long Black Dress”, a smooth ode to the ladies where they each think they are God’s gift to women.   

Mary Robin Roth, Marya Grandy and Lillian Castillo add a lot of oomph and personality to the flock of nuns while Johnathan Butler-Duplessis shines and Eddy otherwise known as “Sweaty Eddy”, the Philadelphia cop whose rich vocals really come to life in “I Could Be That Guy”.  

Don Stephenson’s directorial debut at The Marriott Theatre is “right on” while Melissa Zaremba works her magic on the show’s choreography, making this a well-rounded production that has a bit of everything one would look for in a musical comedy. 

Thoroughly entertaining, Sister Act is playing at Marriott Theatre through April 3rd.  For tickets and/or more show information visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.  

After thirty years of bringing Chicagoans some of the city’s finest theatre, Mary-Arrchie will be closing their doors after its current and final production, American Buffalo. In this sharply written piece by David Mamet, Mary-Arrchie co-founder and jack of all trades Richard Cotovsky is joined by Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan, creating a strong cast fully capable of pulling off such a dynamically written script. And that’s exactly what they do.

Taking place in a rundown resale shop, owner Don (Cotovsky) along with his young hired help and “go-fer” Bobby (Galvan) have hatched a scheme to burglarize a nearby residence in the hopes of stealing a valuable coin collection. But when Don’s longtime pal Teach (Stephen Walker) gets wind of the “thing” he pushes to replace the kid with himself, a man of more experience. Everything happens in a single day as the three small time crook wannabees run through a gamut of emotions with each other in trying to get on the same page. Teach is pushy and talks the big talk but clearly has little experience while Don is more laid back and subdued, often influenced by Teach’s strong presence and facade of confidence. Slow-witted Bobby just wants in for some quick bankroll – or maybe just wants to be a part of something. As the plan progresses it snowballs back and forth until its inevitable unraveling – and the journey is nothing short of hilarious.

When entering the theatre, we are met with what appears to be an authentic resale shop. “Don’s Resale Shop” is printed backwards on the large picture window so as to face correctly for those to read on the outside. Worn shelves are filled with dented gas cans, ratty knickknacks, old toys and assorted vintage items. Power chords hang from the wall with other random merchandise for sale behind a battered counter that supports an antique cash register. Quickly immersed in the set’s genuineness, one really gets the feeling they are inside a dingy thrift store that could be located on any given Chicago street.    

Richly directed by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Mary-Arrchie’s American Buffalo offers incredibly talented performances, generally a given with this veteran theatre company. Delivering Mamet’s cutting and quick-fire dialogue with the true essence of how it was intended, Walker knock’s the role of Teach out of the park. Whether generating laughs with the simplest use of body language, convincingly overusing repetitive hood lingo or completely erupting like Mount Saint Helen, Walker rolls up his sleeves and puts forth a gutsy, no-holds barred performance that should long be remembered. All the while, Walker successfully displays his character’s vulnerability beneath the blanket of false self-assurance, making Teach believable, creating someone with whom we can really emphasize. Within moments of Walker’s first appearance where he loses his cool and takes out his frustrations out on a beat up refrigerator over something pretty insignificant, it is apparent we are about to take a pretty bumpy ride. 

Cotovsky, the seasoned pro that he is, also provides an outstanding performance going toe-to-toe with Walker on many heated, sometimes humorously nonsensical and profoundly funny dialogue exchanges. The two pair together like butter on toast, getting a nice occasional boost from Galvan who contributes many of his own well-timed lines. Like a freight train taking off, the production gets stronger and stronger as it progresses. The more we get to know the characters the more we can’t help but take a liking to each of them, regardless of the fact that they are small-time crooks bent on pulling off a caper that comically unstitches more and more the closer the job gets. 

Mary-Arrchie is going out on a high note with this must-see presentation of American Buffalo. The prestigious Chicago theatre company will certainly be missed and we can only hope to continue to see its talented players in future productions around the city. Jeff Award winner, Chicago theatre staple and all-around talent Richard Cotovsky was recently given the honor of having an Honorary Way dedicated in his name that can be seen at the theatre’s intersection of Sheridan and Broadway. An honor well deserved.

American Buffalo is playing at Angel Island (735 W. Sheridan) through March 6th. Honest, funny and thoroughly absorbing, it is with strong recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to catch this final production from this talented company in their apropos farewell. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.maryarrchie.com or call 773-871-0442. 

 

Monday, 01 February 2016 13:39

"Jeeves At Sea" Makes Big Splash

Christian Gray and Jim McCance pair up once again for another Jeeves adventure, this time in Margaret Raether’s latest adaption from the stories of P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves At Sea”. Gray, who was simply tremendous in his last First Folio appearance in “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe”, this time plays the lovable, but somewhat dim-witted Bertie who has come to rely on the wisdom of his ever faithful manservant Jeeves (McCance), who faithfully provides sound advice never daring to crack the slightest of smiles. Paired to perfection, modestly said, McCance and Gray are nothing less than terrific together.

The play is performed at First Folio Theatre’s home, the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, where it doesn’t take much too imagine a “Jeeves” presence to exist.  

The story takes place aboard a yacht that is anchored off the coast of Monte Carlo, which is owned by Lady Stella Vanderlay, to whom Bertie has proposed to on multiple occasions. Miss Minerva Pilbeam is Stella’s paid companion and is secretly doting over Jeeves, while Stella is having too much fun as the object of affection of several suitors to fully commit to a lovesick Bertie. Kate McDermott nails the role of Lady Stella as the roaring 20’s saucy socialite.   

But alas, a mystery has unfolded when Bertie’s best friend Sir Percival Everard Crumpworth (Andrew Behling) confesses that he may have murdered someone while being blind drunk the night before – worse yet, he believes it might have been a visiting German prince. Once German heavy Count Otto von Dietrichstein (Joe Foust) starts sniffing around the yacht in search of Percival, a plan is quickly put into action.

Throughout the mystery, which is fun in itself, many humorous situations arise based on several Three’s Company-like misunderstanding’s where one is caught with another at the wrong moment or something is only partially overheard. Alison C. Vesley’s superb direction along with a funny script, timely physically comedy and impeccably delivered dialogue thanks to the show’s collection of talented actors, make “Jeeves At Sea” a charming production that flows seemingly effortlessly through and through.  

This fourth Jeeves installment of Wodehouse’s delightful tales is a thrilling ride from beginning to end with just the right doses of humor and intrigue, but best of all is the genuine connection that is felt by audience members between Jeeves and Bertie, leaving one with the feeling of excitement for what Jeeves adventures may be in store for the future.     

 

Yet another strong First Folio effort, “Jeeves At Sea” comes highly recommended. Catch “Jeeves At Sea” through February 28th at the Mayslake Peabody Estate located near 31st Street and 83 in Oakbrook. For tickets and/or more play information visit www.firstfolio.org or call 630-986-8067.  

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