Theatre

‘S wonderful. “An American in Paris” was the surprise hit of 2015 on Broadway. It is of course the stage adaptation of Vincent Minnelli’s 1951 Best Picture winner of the same name. With familiar songs by George and Ira Gershwin, it would be hard not to be charmed.

 

To appreciate this “new musical”– you need to go back to a simpler, post-war era. Musicals were essentially plotless vehicles for stars like Gene Kelly and Judy Garland to showcase their talents. If some of the songs sound recycled here, that’s because they were. Often Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins repurposed their songs for multiple films. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

 

The stage musical devised by Craig Lucas and Christopher Wheeldon is fairly standard. While it may not be a reinvention of the wheel, it artfully pays homage to Vincent Minnelli’s lush style. Wheeldon’s ballet-flavored choreography is beautiful. The playfulness is tres Francais. Sometimes when a show hits the road, the production has to sacrifice some visual elements for the sake of portability. Not the case here. It’s impressive how well the vivid set pieces and projections travel. Visually, this “American in Paris” is stunning.

Sara Esty in the role as Lise evokes the spirit of a young Leslie Caron who starred in the original. Esty has been with the production since its conception at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Though, her dialogue is sparse, she’s a lithe dancer and thoroughly adorable. Her co-star McGee Maddox takes up Gene Kelly’s role as Jerry Mulligan. What he loses in convincing line delivery he more than makes up for with impressive dance.

If you’re asking yourself, why “An American in Paris” or why now? Why not is a good answer. This show endures because it casts a heartwarming spell over audiences from varied generations. It may not be the most poignant musical, but for the nostalgia lover or Francophile this is sure to bring a smile to your face.

 

Through August 13 at The Oriental Theatre. 24 W Randolph. Broadway in Chicago

Published in Theatre in Review

Oriental Theatre is currently housing one of the finest productions of The King and I that you will ever see. From its colorful set to its superb cast including Jose Llana who has mastered the role of the Siamese King, this particular creation if The King and I is simply wondrous.


The scrumptiously definitive Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spirited, brainy educator, Anna Leonowens, who the King of Siam brings in from England to teach his seventy-seven children and many wives both the English language along with Western culture. She is strong-willed, which throws off the stubborn and egotistical king, the two struggling, at times, to see eye to eye, especially when Anna states that women are every bit as important than men.


Laura Michelle Kelly has a large Broadway resume and shines as the show’s star in Anna offering genuineness to the role while providing a strong singing voice for the part. Kelly suffuses the character with wit, strength, empathy and a suffragette fervor which climaxes in the comical and still contemporary number, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”


“All to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!”


Jose Llana is about as good as it gets as the King of Siam (sorry, Yul Brynner). Llana is no stranger to the role having starred in two Tony-Award winning in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of The King and I. As I suggested previously, he is made for the role. Delightful, attractive and able to charm the house one moment while displaying great frustration the next, Llana delivers a layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable distortion. Llana’s comic timing, humorous expressions and line delivery are spot on. He is convincing so that it makes perfect sense that his character is both gaining respect for the sophisticated and mature teacher while also being confused by his rising sense of incomprehension at her grasp of political awareness that progresses the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.


The chemistry between Llana and Kelly is explosive.


There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Llana and Kelly manage to make it a funny exchange between two people who are each unaware they are gaining a true admiration for each other.


Other stories unfold throughout the production, that of a young couple whose love is forbidden as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim (Manna Nichols), who is in love with Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), her secret lover. At the same time, we see a young king in the making who is clearly influenced by Anna’s Western ways.


Marcus Shane steps in as Prince Chulalongkorn, the young boy who is next in line to be king, and does a solid job conveying his character’s gradually absorption of Anna’s wisdom and life lessons most notably at the show’s end when he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden. The young prince has clearly learned a lesson in humanity from his now adored teacher and friend, Anna.


Joan Almedilla is fantastic as Lady Thiang. Her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” is nothing less than breathtaking. Like the other cast members in main roles, Almedilla’s voice is yet another a true treat for the ears. It’s easy to get spoiled when seeing a well-performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the words for every song are so unforgettable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” is also gorgeously sung by Nichols, as the love stricken Tuptim.

“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"
And Panmeechao, Tuptim’s lover, performs the classic “I Have Dreamed” impeccably.
“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper
When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view
In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

The costumes in this piece are true to the period while the dance numbers pleasingly choreographed and a radiant set worthy of its royalty is the finishing touch.
I highly recommend this dreamy, moving and humorous evening of unadulterated theatrical joy.


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is being performed at the Oriental Theatre through July 2nd For more show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

I have to admit Aladdin is one of my all-time favorite Disney films so I was very optimistic upon entering Cadillac Palace to see the stage version. Turned into a live musical in 2011, Disney’s Aladdin has landed in Chicago for a five-month run with over three million people having already experienced the production worldwide. My hopes were high. I wanted so much to enjoy it. I entered the musical knowing the characters and creative team had a lot to deliver in order to please me - and deliver they did! Bringing to life the classic tale of Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, Genie and the villainous Jafar, I am happy to say the stage adaptation of the popular musical is a full-on magical adventure that exceeds expectations.

 

Adam Jacobs in the lead role of Aladdin has a wonderful voice, excellent dance skills and a charming, bright white smile that reaches all the way to the audience members in the back balcony much to their delight. Jacobs has some real star quality developing, which is a pleasure to see. Adam Jacobs as the poor thief trying to win Princess Jasmine’s heart with three wishes from a genie, really resembles a young Matt Dillon for those who remember the handsome, spirited hustler in the popular film "The Flamingo Kid."

 

Perfectly paired with Jacobs, Isabelle McCalla plays Princess Jasmine with a sassy, feminist air that was both endearing and inspiring to young girls without seeming cloying or coy. McCalla also has a lovely, yet strong stage presence and a wonderful singing voice. Yet the key to a successful production of Aladdin depends on the strength of the wish-giving imp and in this case Anthony Murphy nails the role of Genie. Murphy is deliciously saucy and upbeat in his interpretation of Genie and has great physical comedy timing and brings with him some impressive dance instincts. 

 

The fabulous tunes of Aladdin penned by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice are brought to life by this talented ensemble directed by Devanand Janki with an abundance of energy and infectious joy! 

 

The magic flying carpet scene is every bit as enchanting as in the film when Aladdin posing as a prince offers to free Jasmine from her castle tower where she has been isolated from seeing the daily life of the real world. Aladdin finally shows her “A Whole NEW World" with a stunning backdrop of night stars, which create an effective and truly romantic flying carpet special effect that makes both adult couples and children alike say, “Wow, that's beautiful!" 

 

I loved the way the book has been altered to include the idea that an arranged marriage is politically incorrect even if it is an arranged marriage to a prince. This is a very serious problem in other countries and I was very pleased that the writers made it clear to the young women watching the show that in the end even Jasmines' father, The King, was forced to change the law in order to make sure his daughter was married to someone she loved, regardless of his social standing - that it was her choice, not his. 

 

Brian Sidney Bembridge (sets), Jesse Klug (lighting) and Debbie Baer (costumes) each deserve their own round of applause for their amazing accomplishment in creating the truly golden treasure room and flying carpet effects along with the colorful, rich designs that captured and dazzled the eye in every scene.

 

I highly recommend this show for adults who’d like to go on a romantic date as it dreamy and fun while reminding us of the innocence of love. Aladdin is, of course, also a great production for young ones to see because, unlike in some children's theater, the characters are fully rounded and the entire spirited cast really delivers on their opening number, “Arabian Nights”, successfully projecting the feelings associated with the magic and destiny of Love that is caused by such wonder and delight! 

 

Disney’s Aladdin is running at Cadillac Palace through September 10th. For tickets and show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The promise of hearing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band performed live in its entirety drove me to RAIN, the Beatles' tribute band playing at the Oriental Theater. But the show is much more than that.

Perfectly controlled, with exactingly beat and chord progressions, RAIN lovingly renders selections from the Beatles repertoire to the ‘T’. The group has been playing for years - longer than the originals. A new generation of performers, all born after the Beatles stopped recording, has taken up the torch at RAIN to keep the songs alive.

It was founded by Mark Lewis, who began in the 1970's as a Beatles cover artist, and recruited the original players and made many of the arrangements they perform. Aaron Chiazza plays Ringo Starr; Paul Curatolo plays Paul McCartney; Steve Landes is John Lennon; and Alastar McNeil is George Harrison.

The players are not so much actors, as they are masters of performing as their Beatles characters. So while they are fully realized in musical performance, they can be a little wooden in beckoning to audience participation. Paul Curatolo succeeds most, channeling the warmth of Paul McCartney pretty closely, and he looks quite a bit like him. When Aaron Chiazza's Ringo Starr sings his solo, "With a Little Help from My Friends," he brings the house down by evoking one of many people's favorite Beatles personalities. Though the real Beatles were ready handy with social commentary, these Beatles do not make much small talk, commenting neither on current - or past - events. It's all about the music. And that's just fine.

Most of us never heard the Beatles perform live in person, so hearing their music in a concert setting is striking, but also a little unsettling in a real venue. The group is not exactly impersonating the Beatles, and there is inevitably some personal expression involved. But they do have the various songs nailed down pretty well. 

This show at the Oriental Theatre also gives us a hint of how it would have felt to hear the band play their own works on stage themselves. 

At the point when they recorded Sgt. Pepper (it was released in 1967) the Beatles had mostly ended live performances, and were doing studio albums and seeing themselves not as rockers, but artists. It wasn’t too long after when they broke up, recording their last album Abbey Road in 1969, and ultimately heading their own ways. (Let It Be was recorded in 1969, prior to Abbey Road, but released afterward.) 

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded over a four-month period from December 6, 1966 – April 21, 1967.  Released on June 1, 1967, it is considered to be the greatest rock album ever released. It was also the first concept album. So for the 50th anniversary of its release, RAIN has essentially created a performance art piece, and it is pretty awesome - and well worth seeing.

The album is just 40 minutes long, so it forms the core of the second act at the Oriental Theatre performances. The first half retraces the Beatles rise from Liverpool to global phenomenon. With a strongly representative selection of the history of Beatles music, it provides a wonderful context for the performance of Sgt, Pepper in toto

Visual backgrounds are nicely done, though if I may quibble, I expected a horse for "of course, Henry the horse, dances the waltz" rather than a cartoon carousel figure. I was also hoping for a full orchestra for the monumental "A Day in the Life."  The original recording used 40 classical musicians who were instructed to play gradually from their individual instruments' lowest notes to its highest, and to go gradually from the quietest to the loudest, over the course of 40 bars. That sound is pretty distinctive, and is simulated by RAIN's "fifth Beatle" Mark Beyer, who fills in all the synthesized music along the way. 

The show at the Oriental Theatre, a launch of the 2017 Tour, runs through April 2 here in Chicago, with remaining performances at 8 p.m. April 1, and 2 and 8 pm on April 2. Tickets are at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

Published in Theatre in Review

Producer Jeffrey Seller is thrilled to announce Tony Award® nominee DANIEL BREAKER will join the Chicago company of HAMILTON as Aaron Burr.  He will begin performances on Tuesday, April 11 at The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago.

 

Mr. Breaker received a Tony Award® nomination for his role as “Youth” in Passing Strange and was most recently seen on Broadway as “Mafala Hatimbi” in The Book of Mormon. 

 

Mr. Breaker will join ARI AFSAR as Eliza Hamilton; MIGUEL CERVANTES as Alexander Hamilton; ALEXANDER GEMIGNANI as King George III, JONATHAN KIRKLAND as George Washington, CHRIS DE’SEAN LEE as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; JOSEPH MORALES as Mr. Cervantes’ alternate; KAREN OLIVO as Angelica Schuyler, JOSÉ RAMOS as John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton; WALLACE SMITH as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, and SAMANTHA MARIE WARE as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds.

 

The Chicago company also includes SAM ABERMAN, JOSÈ AMOR, AMBER ARDOLINO, REMMIE BOURGEOIS, CHLOË CAMPBELL, YOSSI CHAIKIN, CARL CLEMONS-HOPKINS, JOHN MICHAEL FIUMARA, JEAN GODSEND FLORADIN, AARON GORDON, JIN HA, HOLLY JAMES, MALIK SHABAZZ KITCHEN, COLBY LEWIS, DASHÌ MITCHELL, JUSTICE MOORE, SAMANTHA POLLINO, CANDACE QUARRELS, GABRIELLA SORRENTINO, ROBERT WALTERS and AUBIN WISE.

  

Daniel Breaker’s Broadway credits include The Book of Mormon, The Performers, Shrek: The Musical (Drama Desk Nomination), Passing Strange (Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk Nomination, Theatre World Award, Audelco Award)Cymbeline and Well.  His Off-Broadway credits include Loves Labour’s Lost, (Shakespeare in the Park) By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (Second Stage), Passing Strange (The Public Theater), Fabulation (Playwrights Horizons) and Pericles (Red Bull, Culture Project).   London credits include How to Act Around Cops (SoHo Theatre).  Film & TV credits include “Sisters” (with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), “Limitless” (with Bradley Cooper & Robert De Niro), “He’s Way More Famous Than You,” “Redhook Summer” (dir. Spike Lee), “Passing Strange” (Spike Lee), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Unforgettable” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

 

HAMILTON is the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary.  Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway, HAMILTON is the story of America then, as told by America now.  

With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, HAMILTON is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  

 

HAMILTON’s creative team previously collaborated on the 2008 Tony Award ® Winning Best Musical IN THE HEIGHTS.

 

HAMILTON features scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe, and casting by Telsey + Company, Bethany Knox, CSA.

 

The musical is produced by Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and The Public Theater.

 

The HAMILTON Original Broadway Cast Recording – recipient of the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album and a regular on numerous Billboard top 10 lists – is available everywhere nationwide.

 

HAMILTON: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter’s book about the making of the musical, is on sale and has been a selection on The New York Times Best Seller List.

 

For more show information visit www.HamiltonOnBroadway.com, www.Facebook.com/HamiltonMusical, www.Instagram.com/HamiltonMusical and www.Twitter.com/HamiltonMusical.

 

ABOUT BROADWAY IN CHICAGO

Broadway In Chicago was created in July 2000 and over the past 17 years has grown to be one of the largest commercial touring homes in the country. A Nederlander Presentation, Broadway In Chicago lights up the Chicago Theater District entertaining well up to 1.7 million people annually in five theatres. Broadway In Chicago presents a full range of entertainment, including musicals and plays, on the stages of five of the finest theatres in Chicago’s Loop including The PrivateBank Theatre, Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre, and just off the Magnificent Mile, the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place and presenting Broadway shows at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

For more information and performance schedule, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

Facebook@BroadwayInChicago ● Twitter@broadwaychicago ● Instagram@broadwayinchicago ● #broadwayinchicago 

 

Published in Buzz Extra

The Bodyguard, The Musical begins with a bang!  Literally, the unexpected sound of gunshots combined with great strobe lighting effects made me (along with most of the audience) scream with delight and jump out of our seats!

 

I enjoyed this show from beginning to end with a strong starring lead in Deborah Cox and a very strong supporting cast of actors and dancers. I am a fan, though not a cult fan, of the 1992 movie The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. Although I wasn't a Whitney Houston music fan per say, I have admired her amazing and formidable vocal talent as much as anyone else who has ever heard her sing. 

 

If you haven’t seen the movie from which this musical is based, it is the story of a successful music icon (Rachel Marron) who receives a string of death threats from an obsessed fan leading to the hiring of a bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who is taken on by the singer and her staff with a reluctant acquiescence at first. Frank comes with some baggage, but the former secret service man is good at what he does – very good. Frank quickly takes over security detail for the star and her ten-year-old son Fletcher. As the story progresses, the threats become more and more bizarre, the danger ever-increasing.  

 

I agree with the choice not to write any songs for Kevin Costner's character, played with super cool Costner-esque aloofness by Judson Mills, probably because it was just too hard to try to create any material for him that could compare with the huge and much beloved hits Whitney produced on the soundtrack for the film like “Greatest Love of All”, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, “Run to You”, “Saving All My Love”, and “One Moment in Time”. 

 

Ironically, since that time Kevin Costner has become a professional singer/musician with his band Kevin Costner and Modern West, and although his band has played to audiences both large and small around the world - this is a fact many might not know. 

 

Yes, Judson seemed a little stiff in the role but I feel like he did his best to project a strong silent sexy type written for the subtlety of film then translated to a very large theater stage. There were a lot of pregnant pauses in his speech, but I think the writers could have added more humor and dialogue to his role as Frank Farmer to even out the fact that it is a musical in which he is the lead and does not get to sing. There was one really good laugh - not sure of it was intentional - but as we see Rachel slip out of the bed after her first night with Frank and he lays there still asleep, she immediately begins singing these lines from Whitney’s hit “All the Man That I Need”: 

 

“He fills me up 

He gives me love 

More love than I've ever seen 

He's all I've got” 

 

Rachel Marron played by Deborah Cox was absolutely spot on with the Whitney Houston songs thanks to her incredible voice. I really could have listened to her and Jasmin Richardson who played Rachel's little sister Nikki Marron sing Houston's hit all night, as they are both such amazing vocalists. Douglas Baldeo also does an incredible job as Rachel’s son, Fletcher. Baldeo has an amazing future ahead of him, the child actor displaying boundless vocal range and dancing his way into the hearts of theatre goers. One of the play's most touching moments centered around a beautiful rendition of "Jesus Loves Me" performed by Cox, Richardson and Baldeo when Farmer hid the family at his father's cabin in the country.

 

It was a fun and entertaining idea to use the film as the basis for this musical. The whole point of Frank Farmer's entrance and brief love affair in the movie was to teach Rachel that she is undervaluing her own well-being and safety by refusing to let a bodyguard change her way of life.

 

Frank Farmer is the sexy, masculine protective glass picture frame through which we get to admire, to actually magnify Rachel’s great beauty and talent. It is realized just how important protection is needed of a woman so gifted to her family and to the public - her adoring fans. 

 

Kevin Costner fought to get Houston cast in the role at a time when an interracial relationship was a much more risqué subject. Thanks to his persistence we have the classic that exists today and its current stage version.

 

Every time I heard Deborah Cox' wonderful voice ring out with Houston's trademark magnificence, I wished the real Whitney Houston had found a "bodyguard" to watch over her own short life. It is a tragic spin that a strong, down to earth man like Frank Farmer may have protected her and kept her from the fast track of drugs and non-stop pressure to produce hits. Whitney Houston might still be with us today.

 

Highly recommended as a fun date show and must see for any Whitney Houston fans. The Bodyguard is being performed at Oriental Theatre through February 12th. For more information on this exciting show, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Chicago is alive with the sound of music, thanks to the return of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic musical now playing at Cadillac Palace that comes with a delightfully vibrant cast and an orchestra that is able to capture the uttermost essence of the original score. Directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, The Sound of Music is in town for just a limited engagement so if you’d like to take in one of the most enduring musicals of all time, you had better act quickly.

Most know the story that takes place in World War II Austria where a “rebellious” nun-to-be, Maria, is sent by the Abbey to the home of the widowed Captain von Trapp, a wealthy and successful Naval officer, to act as the governess for his seven children. She enters a strict household where there is no longer a place for music but rather is closer to the environment found on one of the Captain’s sea vessels. This is a tightly run ship, where orders are barked and children answer to whistle tones. No one dares oppose the way the Captain runs his household, that is, of course, until Maria enters the picture. As the story progresses, Maria kind-heartedness slowly breaks through to the Captain and a whirlwind of love story takes place as the two realize they have eyes for each other.    

With the Third Reich threatening to take over Austria and enlist the Captain’s services, the story takes another turn when the head of the Von Trapp household refuses to support the Nazi ideal. The Sound of Music is a classic love story adventure that has won the hearts of millions not just by its compelling story but by its sensational soundtrack. 

Usually, it is the role of Maria that runs away with the story and is relished and admired so much by its audience. However, in this case, Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp is so dynamic, both vocally and in his acting performance, that so say he stole the show would be a heavy understatement. Displaying a vocal range from a seasoned baritone to a gifted soprano, while so well capturing the essence of a hardened man softened then transfixed by the love, forgiveness and admiration of a young woman, Davis makes one wonder if it is possible to play the role of Captain von Trapp any better. 

But you do need a strong Maria or the play cannot work - period. Kerstin Anderson as Maria is strong indeed. Probably taking the role a bit on the nerdy side in a bit of a twist, Anderson still has the warmth and charm, and is frankly…likeable. Able to harness the much-needed free-spirited persona into her character with seemingly natural ease, she certainly flows gracefully in her role, and she, like Davis, can also belt. 

The supporting roles are also well cast from the Melody Betts as the Mother Abbess to Merwin Foard as the wheeling and dealing Max Detweiler. Talented too are the child actors who make up The Family von Trapp, particularly Paige Sylvester who plays Liesl and also Dan Tracy as Rolf Gruber, her love interest. Sylvester and Tracy especially light up the stage during their inspiring number “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. 

With such amazing songs as “Do-Re-Mi”, “Climb Every Mountain”, “The Sound of Music” and “Edelweiss”, we are literally treated to one great after another. The Sound of Music is without question both vocally and visually entertaining. The set beautifully depicts the von Trapp mansion, helping to bring this wonderful story to life.

To put it simply, you won’t want to miss this one. 

The Sound of Music is being performed at Cadillac Palace through just June 19th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Bullets Over Broadway, written by Woody Allen, tells the story of a struggling playwright who finally gets his big break when a producer sees the value of his art and agrees to produce the show. The catch is, they need money and the only source of money is from Mob Boss Nick Valenti. Not only is it dirty money but is comes with the stipulation that Nick’s talentless girlfriend gets the leading role.

 

Set in the 1920s and using standards of the time including “Let’s Misbehave”, “I’m Sitting on Top of the World”, “Up a Lazy River” and oddly enough “We Have No Bananas Today”, the musical follows a zany cast through fast paced action, hilarious dialog and stellar dancing as they attempt to bring their show to the big stage - with a few big twists along the way!

 

The show is a non-stop production. The costumes and dancing are reminiscent of shows like “42nd Street” while the over the top characters and sometimes raunchy jokes will bring to mind shows such as “The Producers”.  Tony award winner Susan Stroman did the original direction and choreography for the show. For this touring production direction is taken on by Jeff Whiting and Clare Cook choreographs, together creating a successful full package musical.

 

The dance ensemble fantastically executes Cook’s choreography which was big and bold, highlighting a talented cast of dancers. The standout piece that elicited almost a solid minute of applause from the audience was “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” performed by Cheech (Jeff Brooks) and his gang of mobsters. It was a full out tap routine with creative and intricate choreography on a clean and open stage that allows you to truly appreciate the performance. 

 

The original Broadway costumes by William Ivey Long were nothing short of exceptional helping to transport the audience to the roaring 20’s. The scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West complemented the costumes greatly and brought us from scene to scene to scene effortlessly. When we finally see the play within the musical make its debut, the set design allows the audience to watch from backstage and then from the front as they enjoy the play within a play.

 

Brooks was perfect in the role of Cheech throughout the show, exuding tough guy confidence even as he got more and more involved in the production of the play showing his softer side in small bits and pieces. Although at times painfully annoying, Jemma Jane did a great job in the role of the no-talent mob-gal Olive Neal. She made Olive a character you can’t help but roll your eyes at and laugh along with especially in her first big number “The Hot Dog Song”. Emma Stratton as Helen Sinclair equally embraced her character with her every movement, from a grand arm gesture to the slight lift of her chin, ooze with grace and dignity befitting a thespian icon.

 

Overall, Bullets Over Broadway is a non-stop, visually stunning show that will have audiences laughing, cheering and on their feet. Get your tickets and check it out at The Private Bank Theatre through May 1st. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Friday, 26 February 2016 14:18

If/Then: Will Leave You Asking "What If...?"

If/Then is a contemporary musical that deals with the challenging question of “What if…?”. Through powerful singing and dynamic staging, it tells us two parallel stories of Elizabeth, a divorcee moving back to New York City after many years away. One day, in Madison Square Park, she has to make a decision – go to a show with a new friend, or to a protest with an old friend. From there, the musical takes us through both story lines, swapping back and forth with quick costume changes and the spin of a set. The two story lines are distinguished in part by Elizabeth adopting the nickname Liz and glasses, or Beth and contacts but as each story takes off in its own direction, you need to pay attention to avoid getting mixed up.

 

Just as If/Then takes us through two side by side stories, there are two varied perspectives on the show overall. On one hand, the show tells a unique story, is cast with incredible singers who bring heart to the music and it challenges you to really think about how much weight we put on that question of “what if…”. On the other hand, it lacks story development and never establishes a connection with the audience to really care about any of the characters, even Elizabeth as she tackles the age old problem of “can women really have a career and a family”.

 

The show oozes the New York superiority complex and the sets and costumes ensure that you do not forget that fact. The set design is made up of movable industrial pieces that could be rearranged to move us from the park, to the subway, to offices and apartments. Maps of NYC were projected on the back screen helping to transport us around the city as we follow Liz/Beth on their adventures. Costumes were simple, capturing day to day looks of people of the big apple and fitting in perfectly with the look and feel of the show. The choreography varied between structured and intentional movement around the stage which worked well to breathy, modern moves that felt overly choreographed and out of place.

 

What carries this show along with the polished set design and costumes is the singing. Jackie Burns as Elizabeth sung her heart out. Beyond her, the entire cast were all phenomenal singers including Tamyra Gray as Kate, Matthew Hydzik as Josh and Janine DiVita as Anne. There were multiple times during the show that their voices saved emotionally flat scenes.  

 

Initially this show has everything on the surface that one might expect to get out of a Broadway musical and the execution of the production was flawless however, all of these qualities of the show lie on the surface with nothing beneath it. Outstanding vocals and set design will only go so far when both the story and characters are lacking any kind of true depth. 

 

If/Then is playing at the Oriental Theatre through March 6th. Concerned about what you are missing if you don’t go? Buy your tickets here. Choose not to go? Then it won’t change anything for the worse and you likely won’t be asking yourself, “What if?”

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 05:48

Come to the Cabaret!

How do you categorize a musical that is part comedy, part drama, and part burlesque? The answer is: you don't need you. Like Kander and Ebb's later popular Broadway hit Chicago, Cabaret uses flashy and often funny nightclub performance as a device to embellish and expound upon the more serious and sometimes grim events of the story. In Chicago, shameless homicide by two murderesses is explored through jazzy nightclub acts, while in Cabaret, the grisly beginnings of WWII and the anxious pall it casts over the characters' lives is explored through fearless, garter-brimming club performances.

Cabaret is a unique musical, one that will sneak up on you and knock you in the chin if you try to pigeonhole it. The songs are inordinately catchy and the story turns unpredictably. On opening night at the inaugural show of the newly named Private Bank Theatre, I was surprised to hear so many shocked reactions from the audience around me. Every Nazi reference was met with gasps, one short scene of drug use left the audience deadly silent, the never-even-mentioned-by-name subject briefly implied by Sally's doctor visit caused an audible "Oh my God!", and Cliff's apparent bisexuality was received with total confusion. "But he kissed a boy. How could he fall in love with a girl?" Please. If audiences could survive it in 1962, they should certainly be able to handle it now. The reactions only serve to prove that Cabaret has a timeless impact.

When American self-described "starving novelist" Cliff (a capable if slightly bland Lee Aaron Rosen) travels to Berlin in pursuit of literary inspiration, he discovers it in the form of the buoyant and provocative English cabaret dancer Sally Bowles (a character brilliantly committed to by Andrea Goss) and the seedy nightclub crowd with which she surrounds herself. They soon begin living together and befriend landlady Fraulein Schneider (a subduedly wise Shannon Cochran) and fellow tenant, the Jewish Herr Schultz (a cute and gentle Mark Nelson), the latter of whom begin a sweet but eventually controversial romance. Sally and Cliff's lives are an ecstatic chaos of gin and sexual liberation until Cliff's friend and confidante Herr Ludwig (flawlessly portrayed by Ned Noyes) reveals his disturbing true colors, triggering the destruction that floods the characters' lives from that point on and effectively bursting their bubble of delusion. The omniscient Emcee of Berlin's sordid Kit Kat Club (a delightfully snarky Randy Harrison) guides the viewer between the actual plot events and their corresponding cabaret acts.

Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles

My favorite of the over-the-top club performances cleverly mirroring the real life drama is the titular showstopper "Cabaret." Many folks, likely many of the shocked theatre-goers seated around me, may associate this song with a charismatic, triumphant Liza Minnelli from the 1972 film (or even an older, sequined-out Liza cheerily vamping her way through a showtune medley) and thus were not expecting the heavier tone rendered in the stage version. At this point, Sally has lost everything. She's alone, she's ill, she's broke, she is out of a job after this final performance. Her life has spiraled into a living hell. Goss made a powerful impression as Sally throughout and nothing showcased her acting talents more than her raw, enraged delivery of this song. The eerie juxtaposition of Sally's unabashed ruin with jaunty lyrics celebrating a wildly fun, carefree lifestyle gave me chills, the last line all but screamed at the audience before she knocks down the mike stand in her fury.

This is a musical that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. It will not meet your expectations, in the best way possible.

Cabaret is playing at the Private Bank Theatre at 18 W Monroe now through February 21st. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster or by going to BroadwayInChicago.

Published in Theatre Reviews
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