Theatre

A Red Orchid Theatre concludes its 2016-2017 Season with the Chicago premiere of 3C, written by David Adjmi and directed by Ensemble Member Shade Murray. The production runs April 20 – June 4, 2017, at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells. The press opening is Monday, April 24 at 7:00 p.m.

Inspired by 70’s sitcoms and the political incorrectness of "jiggle television," 3C is a hilarious and horrifying look at identity and what lies beneath the homogeneous perky veneer. Brad lands in L.A. to start a new life. A wild night of partying finds him passed out in Connie and Linda’s kitchen and the three strike a deal that raises the suspicions of the landlords. Complications spiral out of control, taking the show from farce to something... unexpected. 

 “We could use a good laugh, an out-loud, roll-on-the floor, cringe-worthy, ugly-cry laugh,” notes Artistic Director Kirsten Fitzgerald.  “3C certainly brings that to the room along with much, much more. I am beyond thrilled to get to know David and for our artists and audiences alike to mine the deepest and darkest of identity questions both personal and public. Director Shade Murray has a knack for finding the hilarity in the darkest of interactions. I cannot wait to have them in the same room exploring and sharing the world and words with all.”  

The cast of 3C includes Ensemble Members Jennifer Engstrom (Mrs. Wicker), Lawrence Grimm (Mr. Wicker) and Steve Haggard (Terry), with Christina Gorman (Linda), Nick Mikula (Brad) and Sigrid Sutter (Connie).

The creative team includes Sarah Fabian (Set Designer), Myron Elliott (Costume Designer), Rachel Levy (Lighting Designer), Brando Triantafillou (Sound Designer), Lydia Hanchett (Props Designer) and Jon Martinez (Choreography). The Production Stage Manager is Christa van Baale.

About the Artists

David Adjmi (Playwright) was called "virtuosic" by the New York Times, one of the "best and most original theatre artists of a generation" by Vogue, and one of the Top Ten in Culture by The New Yorker magazine. 3C received its world premiere at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (with Rising Phoenix and Piece by Piece Productions) in June 2012, and was dubbed "revelatory" by the Times and “the most divisive and controversial play of the season” by the New York Post. 3C was selected as one of the top ten plays of 2012 by the Post, Time Out New York and the Advocate.  His other plays include Marie Antoinette (A.R.T. & Yale Rep, Soho Rep, Steppenwolf, Woolly Mammoth and more), Elective Affinities (Royal Shakespeare Company, Soho Rep with Rising Phoenix & Piece by Piece Productions), Stunning (LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company), The Evildoers (Sundance, Yale Repertory Theatre), Caligula (Soho Rep Studio Series), and Strange Attractors (Empty Space).  David was awarded a Mellon Foundation Playwrights Residency, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Writers’ Award, the Kesselring Prize for Drama, the Steinberg Playwright Award (the “Mimi”), McKnight and Jerome fellowships, the Helen Merrill Award, the Marian Seldes-Garson Kanin Fellowship, the Fadiman Prize and the Bush Artists Fellowship, among others.  A collection of David’s work, Stunning and Other Plays, is published by TCG, and his work is included in The Methuen Drama Book of New American Plays. His memoir SAVE US, SUPERMAN! is forthcoming from HarperCollins as is a second collection of plays entitled 1789 / 1978.

Shade Murray (Director) is an ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theater, where he has directed the world premieres of Brett Neveu’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Ike Holter’s Sender, as well as productions of Marisa Wegrzyn’s Mud Blue Sky and The Butcher of Baraboo, Annie Baker’s The Aliens, Nick Jones’ Trevor, Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire.  He also performed in the A Red Orchid production of The Mutilated.  Other directing credits include Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The House Theater, Steep Theater, Second City, Writers’ Theater and elsewhere.  Shade is a lecturer at University of Chicago and teaches at DePaul University and Actors’ Studio Chicago.

Jennifer Engstrom (Mrs. Wicker) returns to A Red Orchid Theatre in 3C. An ensemble member since 2003, Jennifer was most recently seen in AROT's The Mutilated, garnering a Jeff nomination for Outstanding Actress. Other Orchid productions include: Eric LaRue, The Fastest Clock in The Universe, The Hothouse, Weapons of Mass Impact, Fatboy, and Simpatico. Other credits include A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of A Streetcar named Virginia Woolf (Writers Theatre); Sweet Bird Of Youth (The Goodman Theatre); One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, The North Plan (Steppenwolf Theatre); Skygirls (Northlight); The Incident, Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been... (Next Theatre); MacBeth (Notre Dame Shakespeare); Angels In America (Kansas City Rep).  This summer Jennifer will fill in for the mighty Amy Morton in Steppenwolf's Hir. Jennifer will be seen in the upcoming film Slice starring Chance The Rapper.

Christina Gorman (Linda) is an actor and fight choreographer, originally from the Hudson Valley region of upstate New York. Chicago acting credits include: Men Should Weep (Jeff Award for Best Production-Play) and Stage Door for Griffin Theatre; The Bottle Tree (Stage Left Theatre); Making God Laugh (Fox Valley Rep); Leading Ladies (Buffalo Theatre Ensemble); The Thin Man (City Lit); and The Tall Girls, In the Heat of the Night, The Grown Up, The Rose Tattoo, Our Country's Good, Happy Now, and Romeo and Juliet for Shattered Globe Theatre, where she is an ensemble member.

Lawrence Grimm (Mr. Wicker) is back at A Red Orchid where some of his favorite and more recent shows include Trevor (Jeff Nomination), Solstice, In a Garden, Pumpgirl, Abigail’s Party, The Meek, The Physicists, Mr. Kolpert, Caine-Mutiny Court Martial, In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, and Born Guilty. Other recent Chicago credits: King Charles III and The Tempest (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), 2666 (Goodman Theatre), My Name is Asher Lev (Timeline Theatre), In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Victory Gardens), Maple and Vine, Welcome Home Jenny Sutter (Next Theatre), Orlando (Court Theatre),  King Lear, Two by Pinter (Piven Theater Workshop), The Balcony (New Crime), Apocalyptic Butterflies, Sketchbook, (Collaboraction), The Glass Menagerie (Raven Theatre – Jeff Award), The Brothers Karamazov, 1984, The Naked King (Lookingglass), I Never Sang for My Father, Wolf Lullaby (Steppenwolf). Film: Welcome to Me, Perfect Manhattan, Cicero in Winter and the upcoming Captive State. Television: Chicago PD, Chicago Med.

Steve Haggard (Terry) was last seen at A Red Orchid in Sender and The Mutilated. He has been an ensemble member since 2007. Other Orchid shows include Accidentally Like A Martyr, The Aliens, Kimberly Akimbo and The Mandrake. Chicago credits: Tribes (Steppenwolf); Funnyman and Season’s Greetings (Northlight); Doubt, Old Glory, The Subject Was Roses and Our Town (Writers); Wasteland (Timeline); King Lear, As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare). Regional Credits: R+ G are Dead, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Tempest, Hay Fever, Comedy of Errors and Ah Wilderness (American Players Theatre), Almost Maine (Milwaukee Repertory) and Fallen Angels (Indiana Repertory). Steve is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University. 

Nick Mikula (Brad) makes his A Red Orchid Theatre debut. Other credits include Warped, Joe Egg, All's Well that Ends Well, LeapFest's And Eat it Too (Stage Left Theatre) Luther (U/S Steep Theatre), The Brig, Cherrywood (Mary-Arrchie), The Improv Play (Infusion), Map of Virtue (Cor) The Dining Room, The Man Who Was Thursday (New Leaf), 44 Ways (Redtwist) SS! A Midsummer Nights Dream (U/S Chicago Shakespeare), Six Degrees of Separation (Signal), Macbeth (Greasy Joan), W;T (Gift), ROAD (Ka-Tet), Pretty Penny, Half Shut (Right Brain),  Paper City Phoenix (Tympanic Theatre), Radio Silence, Ping-Pong, The Gas Heart (The Nine), and 20%. Improv Credits include Octavarius and Sam Hill. Film credits include the web series Under Covers.

Sigrid Sutter (Connie) makes her debut at A Red Orchid Theatre. In Chicago, she’s worked with Northlight Theatre, Steep Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, Teatro Vista, Sideshow Theatre, Back Room Shakespeare Project, and others. Her film credits include Colma: The Musical and Strange Culture; her television credits include Chicago Justice and Ellen. She is represented by Actors Talent Group. 

Fact Sheet/ 3C

Title: 3C

Written by: David Adjmi

Directed by: Ensemble Member Shade Murray

Featuring: Ensemble Members Jennifer Engstrom, Larry Grimm and Steve Haggard with Christina Gorman, Nick Mikula,and Sigrid Sutter.

 

Dates:              

Previews: April 20 – 23, 2017

Red Night Opening: Friday, April 28, 2017 at 8 p.m.

Regular Run: April 29 – June 4, 2017 

Schedule:        

Thursdays: 8:00 p.m.

Fridays: 8:00 p.m.

Saturdays: 8:00 p.m.         

Sundays: 3:00 p.m. (except April 23).

Location: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave.

Tickets: $15-$25 previews, $30-$35 regular run.  ($30 Thurs, $35 Fri, Sat, Sun)

Box Office: Located at 1531 N. Wells Ave, Chicago, (312) 943-8722; or online www.aredorchidtheatre.org

 

About A Red Orchid

A Red Orchid Theatre has served as an artistic focal point in the heart of the Old Town community of Chicago since 1993 and was honored this year with a 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Over the past 23 years, its Resident Ensemble has welcomed into its fold an impressive array of award winning actors, playwrights and theatre artists with the firm belief that live theatre is the greatest sustenance for the human spirit. A Red Orchid is well known and highly acclaimed for its fearless approach to performance and design in the service of unflinchingly intimate stories. In addition to its professional season, the company also produces an annual OrKids (youth) project and hosts The Incubator (providing artists with space and time to explore new work, new forms and new artistic collaborations).

 

A Red Orchid Theatre is: Lance Baker, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Dado, Mike Durst, Jennifer Engstrom, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Joseph Fosco, Steve Haggard, Mierka Girten, Larry Grimm, Karen Kawa, Karen Kessler, Danny McCarthy, Shade Murray, Brett Neveu, Michael Shannon, Guy Van Swearingen, Doug Vickers and Natalie West.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 13 March 2017 17:34

Review: Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz"

"The Wiz" is a perfect collision of disco and show tunes. Appearing on Broadway in 1975, "The Wiz" went on to win the Tony for Best Musical. Though it was not the first all-black production on Broadway, the cross-over appeal of its music made it a sensation. A few years later it was adapted for film starring Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lena Horn. The film is considerably different than the stage version, for the worse. 

 

Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz" accentuates all the enduring qualities of the show while adding some modern flare of its own. This has to be the hardest working cast in Chicago right now. For two and a half solid hours director Lili-Anne Brown's cast of talented singers and dancers fill the space with an infectious energy. Sydney Charles as Dorothy is cute and brings a sense of humor to the character, her soaring vocals come to an inspiring crest during "Home." Though, it may well be Frederick Harris in the titular role (in fabulous drag no less) who walks away with the evening's biggest laughs. There's not a sour note in this production and each song is either a powerhouse ballad or a funky dance number. 

 

One of the show's many pleasant surprises is the costuming and overall aesthetic. This is highly conceptualized version that suits the intimate space at Theatre Wit. Borrowing from 90s-era TLC and blending it with today's street fashion, costume designer Virginia Varland creates a very stylish motif in an otherwise minimal set. The ensemble looks as great as they sound. 

 

Lili-Anne Brown doesn't complete her update of "The Wiz" with costumes alone. There's some fairly edgy humor written into this production, including a nod to the prevalence of police brutality cellphone videos. This version of "The Wiz" is how it was originally intended to be–for adults. What the movie and the NBC live version miss is a lot of the grown-up humor in the script. After all, this is an urban contemporary version of the Wizard of Oz, it should be cheeky. Miss Brown's vision for Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz" is a lot of fun and keeps its source material relevant. 

 

Through April 16th at Theater Wit. 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In The Source, Gabriel McKinley has penned what may be destined to become a stage classic. A gripping thriller, The Source is a timeless existential drama as well.

It centers on a pair of journalists –  a writer, and a photographer – holed up in a hotel, waiting to connect with a whistleblower - someone who will reveal deep background on a cache of information just released on a security agency in the government.

In 85 tightly controlled minutes director Jason Gersace ensnares our curiosity, luring us into this very topical examination of the tension between privacy and security. It is also a study of what happens when two people who don't necessarily like each other are bound together by necessity. 

The journalists are professional opposites – the writer Vernon (Cody Proctor) is cool and cerebral; the photographer Luna (Kristina Valada-Viars) warm and intuitive. On a journalistic level, Vernon holds writing in higher esteem than photography – a notion that causes competitive professional sparks familiar to those in the field. For her part, Luna feels pictures rule. “I don’t read newspapers; it’s a dead medium,” she digs.

Vernon enters the hotel room as the lights come up, and makes a hurried canvass of the premises -  unplugging the TV, putting his phone in the freezer after removing its batteries, he draws the curtains tight – establishing his high level of anxiety and paranoia. We are not sure why.

We soon see they are opposites on a human level, too. Luna’s arrival catches him off guard (he was in the shower), and she exhibits far less angst than him. Luna readily introduces herself to Vernon and shares her background, while he is reluctant to provide even his name.

That they are to pose as a married couple while they await further signals from their source only heightens the emotional aspects of this drama.

Thrown together in a hotel room for a period that is indeterminate, the two unfold before the audience – and each other – as any roommate or cell mates will. They empty the mini bar, they attempt a tryst in bed, they lose sleep, and sleep too much.

The progression of time is conveyed artfully, with a supertitle Day 2, Day 4, etc., flashed on the wall above the window. Because the two will not admit room service, their quarters also mark the passage of time by become messier. Their clothes need laundering. They are at each other’s throats, and their claustrophobia germinates into a mutual paranoia.  

That wait goes on interspersed by just a few external diversions – a fire alarm goes off, periodically someone pounds on the door of the room, lights from an unknown source scan across the room and its occupants.

This is where The Source rises from a topical drama about government intrigue and media, to a timeless study of two people cast together, waiting, but not knowing what exactly they are waiting for. It seems like a play that will wear well over time.

Credit goes to Jack McGaw for scenic design, Claire Margaret Chrzan for lighting design, and Mark Comiskey for projection design for lighting design – particularly artful are the abstract glowing shadows of lamps inscribed on the wall when the room goes dark.  

Route 66 Theatre Company ‘s The Source runs through April 2 at The Den Theatre. www.route66theatre.brownpapertickets.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Replacing the twenty-eight-year long-running hit show "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind", which was known for delivering thirty original plays in sixty minutes with an ever-changing cast, is a new troupe of high energy players each with their own personal gifts and comedic skills. In the same tradition, Neo Futurium now presents The Infinite Wrench. 

Greg Allen, the original founder of the name and style of such theater decided to revoke the use of the name and concept a few years after he left the troupe in 2011. The last performance of “Too Much Light” came on December 31st, 2016. The show, as most know, was a longtime late-night fixture in Chicago. All I know is that two of my best buddies in college spent four years with me honing exactly these type of skills, improvising and then writing/performing - John C Reilly and Phil Ridarelli. While John went off to make films fairly quickly after school, Phil worked hard for years with the original Neo Futurist members to turn "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" into the thoughtful, yet funny and exciting theater experience it was. “Too Much Light” went on to become the longest running theatre- production in Chicago’s history and became an iconic piece of our pop culture. Though the new show could very well be just as unique and exciting (and I do look forward to seeing what it will develop into), I’ll certainly miss Phil and some of those older members. 

That said, the new troupe has an energy all their own. The topics of the plays were more political in nature, which I liked. For example, one consisted of an actor writing DECENCY at one end of a thirty-foot-long chalkboard then drawing a LONG line to the words CHILD RAPE, finally drawing a line below the word CHILD RAPE that points to the word BREITBART, comparing the publication to that dark side of the spectrum, which was quite funny. 

The Infinite Wrench creates a team atmosphere, each guest receiving a name tag with a color upon walking into the theatre. Teams are decided by the color designated and get to decide the next play by yelling out their color when the actors say “Next” at the end of their sketch. Five stations each of different colors (red, blue, green, pink, and yellow) hold five plays that are randomly selected by the actor after running towards the color the actors hear first. But the overall goal is to complete thirty plays in sixty minutes, a timer set just after the actors explain the rules to the audience. 

Each play varies in content and could come in the form of monologues, musical numbers and/or group sketches, some being silly-funny (First Man on the Moon) while some poignant and some perhaps a bit nonsensical. The audience is warned by the actors that all plays, inspired by something they have experienced, might not be as funny when acted out as they may have been while writing them. If such is the case, the play is scrapped and a new one reworked into the next show though new plays are worked in weekly regardless. Each play introduced into the show is written by one of the performing actors.  

The Infinite Wrench has big shoes to fill in replacing such a popular Chicago theatre pastime that has actually created its own cult-like following. After watching the show in its opening weekend and seeing the highly-animated actors go to work and the material that was so well presented, but especially noting the positive crowd reaction, I am quite sure the Neo-Futurist tradition will carry on, seamlessly. 

I LOVE the way the actors involve the audience throughout the entire show. I have been asked onstage to play the piano, I have shouted out the word PINK at inappropriate moments to huge laughs. The Neo-Futurists offer a very special and freewheeling, uniquely Chicagoan, way of viewing theater. 

There are often performer antics taking place in the lobby before and after the show, and are low-priced snacks at the end of the Hall of Presidents entryway enroute to the theatre itself. 

Should this new, and very talented, cast keep the heart in what they’re doing, as did The Neo-Futurists in the past, The Infinite Wrench will continue to run for another twenty-eight years. The creative production team and actors include Kurt Chiang, Trevor Dawkins, Nick Hart, Jeewon Kim, Kirsten Riiber, Malic White, Ida Cuttler, Tif Harrison, Dan Kerr-Hobert, Lily Mooney and Leah Urzendowski Courser.  

Where does the name come from?

As mentioned on the Neo-Futurists home page for the show - The title of our show The Infinite Wrench is partly inspired by text from Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” (1914). Loy was briefly associated with the original Italian Futurists, and wrote her manifesto in response to some of the group’s establishing principles.

If you are disabled or have a hard time walking, please note the theatre is not wheelchair accessible and that climbing a flight of stairs is necessary to enter the theatre. However, they do honor accessibility requests and offer to assist the best they can. To find out more about making an accessibility request, click here.  

The price is right and even paying to get in is part of the fun. Tickets are just $9 plus a role of the dice that add an extra $2-$12. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. For more show information, click here

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In anticipation of high ticket demand, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced today that the initial block of tickets for its Spring 2018 production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will be available for sale a year in advance, starting Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 10 a.m. The North American debut of Jesus Christ Superstar, in a reimagining of Timothy Sheader’s award-winning production from London’s Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre, will be presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, April 27 - May 20, 2018.  Single tickets, which start at $44.00, will be available online at https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/calendar/2017-2018/productions/lyricopera/jesus-christ-superstar-tickets, by visiting Lyric’s Civic Opera House box office, or by calling 312-827-5600.

Three-time Olivier Award winner Timothy Sheader directs the American debut of his acclaimed 2016 production from Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre. Sheader will be joined in Chicago by the original creative team from this production to re-envision and mount the grand-scale Lyric production, including Olivier Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie, Tony Award-nominated set & costume designer Tom Scutt and Olivier Award-nominated lighting designer, Lee Curran. The Chicago production will feature an all-star cast (to be announced at a later date), along with members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Jesus Christ Superstar is the sixth installment of Lyric’s Musical Initiative. It follows Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s beloved My Fair Lady, which is being presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, April 28-May 21, 2017.  

“Up to now in our musical theater productions, we’ve concentrated on American classics,” notes Lyric's General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud, “but in 2017/18, for the first time, we’re producing an iconic rock opera, one that suits a big theater: Jesus Christ Superstar.” In director Timothy Sheader’s production, “Our audience will be reminded that this is a truly unforgettable piece. When it arrived in America in 1972, it became one of the greatest successes in Broadway history, and it’s been enthralling audiences everywhere ever since.”

Jesus Christ Superstar is an iconic rock opera that reinvented musical theater for the modern age. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this global blockbuster tells the story of the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. As Christ’s followers grow more fervent, Judas must make his fateful choice between faith and betrayal. Filled with an exciting mix of musical styles that draw upon 1970s rock, gospel, folk and funk themes, this contemporary imagining of the biblical tale features high-energy dance and powerful storytelling.

The Lyric Opera premiere of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is generously made possible by Lead Sponsor The Negaunee Foundation and cosponsor Mr. and Mrs. J. Christopher Reyes. Production by The Regent’s Park Theatre London.

Single tickets for the balance of Lyric Opera’s 2017/18 season will go on sale in July 2017. Season subscriptions are on-sale now by visiting https://www.lyricopera.org/concertstickets/1718-lyric-opera-season

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Tuesday, 07 March 2017 01:22

On the Run with Marriott's Madagascar

Charming, colorful and inventive, the Marriot Theater’s Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, for young audiences, is a fun-filled ride with themes that will surely resonate with both kids and adults.

 

Based on the popular 2005 film by DreamWorks Animation, Madagascar centers around four main characters from the Central Park Zoo: Alex the Lion (Russell Mernagh), Marty the Zebra (James Earl Jones II), Melman the Giraffe (Stephen Schellhardt), and Gloria the Hippo (Rashada Dawan).

 

At first glance this fun-loving group seems happy enough to perform for park visitors, especially the king of the jungle, Alex the Lion, who is in his element prancing around the stage, showing off his perfected “roar”. But when presented with the idea of freedom by a cadre of hilarious and enterprising penguins who say “it’s not natural to be in a zoo,” Marty the Zebra, to the surprise of his friends, makes a run for it.

 

Having lived their entire lives in captivity, Alex, Melman and Gloria are shocked that Marty would even consider leaving the comfortable life of the Central Park Zoo. But in the spirit of true friendship, they push their misgivings aside and embark on a rip-roaring adventure that eventually lands them in the exotic wilds of Madagascar.

 

The quirky and pompous lemur King Julien (wonderfully played by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis) is a joy to watch as he tries to incorporate Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria, in his masterplan to rid the island of the fossa who hunt and attack his fellow lemurs. However, this plan goes awry as Alex, who now has to fend for himself in the wild, can’t contain his animal instincts and attacks Marty.

 

Directed and choreographed by Matt Raftery, Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, hits all the right notes in “crack-a-lackin’” style as Mernagh and Jones also shine in their roles with both chemistry and good-natured fun, as they show that in the end true friendship can overcome even the “laws of nature”.

 

Perhaps of the best moment of the production is the high-energy rendition of “Move It, Move It!” which gets the crowd clapping and kids, as well as adults, up on their feet.

 

Colorful costume and props really enhance the performance, bringing this animated favorite vividly to life. “Madagascar is already an established idea,” said Jesus Perez, costume designer and assistant director, “but since this is a live production and not a movie, it has opened up a world of creativity for us. This is the perfect vehicle for me as a designer to bring this fantastical world to life.”

 

The talented cast, which also includes: Leah Morrow as “Skipper,” Liam Quealy as “Kowalski,” Laura Savage as “Mort and Private,” Elena Romanowski as “Rico,” Samantha Pauly as “Maurice,” and Jed Feder as “Mason,” won’t disappoint as they sing and dance to some of your favorite tunes from the movie.

 

Recommended

 

All performances are followed by a question and answer session with the cast.

 

Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, playing at the Marriott Theater located in the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort, runs through April 15 Tuesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m. with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Just after the show’s beginning, Jackie Taylor asks the crowd what the world needs. In unison, many voices shout back, “Love!”. And when do we need it? “Now!” Love is the theme in Black Ensemble’s latest production, From Jackie with Love (What the World Needs Now), a three-day engagement that centers around loving one another and putting away with senseless violence and racism. Wasting no time getting to the point, Taylor begins the program with an inspired version of the self-explanatory titled “No Matter What Race”, a song that sets the tone for what is to follow. 

For those unfamiliar with Jackie Taylor and her contributions to the Chicago Theatre community, she is the Founder and Executive Director of the Black Ensemble Theater, producing, writing and directing in nearly all its presentations. Prior to her work with Black Ensemble, Taylor, a theatre grad from Loyola University, made her mark on the Chicago stage where she performed at many venues including The Goodman Theater and Victory Gardens Theater. The talented actress also made her presence known in film and television as she was featured in 1976’s Cooley High and later appeared in Barber Shop II, Losing Isiah, Chiraq, Early Edition and The Father Clements Story among several others. 

From Jackie with Love is a production from the heart. Backed up by Black Ensemble’s accomplished band featuring Musical Director Robert Reddrick on drums, Taylors swoops into a collection of songs that are sure to pull the heartstrings of most, each written by hers truly. Throughout the show, Taylor breaks from music giving the audience a peek at her personal life be it by short stories or in the performance of monologues that were meaningful to her from such as A Raisin in the Sun, a play she declares as her “favorite of all time” written by Lorraine Hansberry.

Taylor reminisces about her time as a teacher in the Chicago Public School system, her childhood while living in Cabrini Green and growing up thinking her mother did not love her. She talks passionately about her persistence in moving forward with Black Ensemble even when its outcome seemed bleakest. 

“I am fortunate enough to have spent my life teaching in Chicago Public Schools, at colleges like Loyola University and Roosevelt University and in numerous, numerous programs as an artist teacher,” says Taylor. “Along the way, I created Black Ensemble Theater, raised a wonderfully intelligent daughter and now have the best grandson in the whole wide world.”

Taylor is accompanied on stage by Black Ensemble veterans Rhonda Preston, David Simmons and Yahdinah Udeen who serve as back up vocalists for Taylor and offer friendly banter back and forth. Each is showcased in their own featured number, Preston stunning the crowd with a vocal demonstration for the books in “A Mother’s Love” and Udeen performing an emotionally-charged rendition of “Mother’s Lament”, a moving song that Taylor could write a play about on its own. Simmons closes the second of three sets with the lively number “Happy Ending”. Each are again brought to the forefront towards the end of the show in a piece that has each one, including Taylor, breaking out dance moves.  

All songs performed in From Jackie with Love are written by Jackie Taylor, a couple borrowed from past Black Ensemble productions. As Simmons states about the production, “The show is called From Jackie with Love because it really is from Jackie – all of it – and with tons of love.”

It’s easy to see Taylor’s high level of comfort on stage whether it be singing, dancing, acting, interacting with the audience or even playing guitar – the same one her mother bought for her as a child. The stage is her playground, but more so a tool to bring people together. 

“Through the hundreds of plays that I have produced, written and directed – I never lost my passion for performing,” says Taylor on taking the stage once again. It’s clear the passion is still there along with the talent as she still performs with command.

From Jackie with Love is a nice way to meet the woman behind Black Ensemble, bringing with it a positive message in that life is too short to waste time hating when we can be loving each other. It’s a simple message but powerful as she eludes to the root of the issue being that of money and greed also recognizing the steps that are taken to program our children towards violence at such a young age. A warm tribute is made to the many young black men who have lost their lives – just for being black. Taylor’s message is delivered ever so profoundly in this production that is also sure to entertain with its vast variety of touching songs.

From Jackie with Love (What the World Needs Now) is being performed at The Black Ensemble Theater only for a limited time. For tickets and schedule information click here.

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Flanagan is dead. Crushed by luggage, the resident roustabout has left us too early. Leaving a healthy amount of family and friends behind, we gather at a local pub in Grapplin, County Sligo, Ireland to celebrate the life of our dear Flanagan. A large, wooden crate holding the body of the recently deceased is perched in the center of the room with the words “This Side Up” printed largely on its side, the arrow facing down. Fiona Finn is in attendance, Flanagan’s fiancée of twenty-two years, along with his closest friend and fellow drinking partner Brian Ballybunion, Father Damon Fitzgerald, Mayor O’Doul, who also serves as the pub’s bartender, Mother Flanagan and a host of other assorted characters. It is time to pay our respects, share memories, enjoy a pint – and laugh. 

Flanagan’s Wake is a long-running interactive comedy that turns the audience into guests that participate in the mourning, and revering, of the departed Flanagan. Wake attendees are seated at tables throughout the venue where cast members dole out name tags that add “Patrick” after the names of men and “Mary” to those of the women. In my case, I became “Ken Patrick”. After a heartfelt, and vey humorous greeting by Father Damon Fitzgerald, Fiona Finn, appropriately dressed in a black dress, makes her way to the “casket” to say a few words. As she approaches the raised platform she thanks a guest (an audience member) for “wearing their fancy denim” to her loved one’s wake. 

Thick, often hilariously exaggerated, accents are used throughout the night as the cast pokes fun at one Irish stereotype after another. Father Damon Fitzgerald often recites from The Bible’s Book of Kevin, a book he insists was excluded (thanks to a conspiracy in the church) as were the books Jerry and Jared. “Death is a poor man’s doctor,” he would also preach. 

In helping to create Flanagan’s backstory, the cast seeks help from show goers asking questions like, “What was your favorite memory with Flanagan?” Or, “How did you know Flanagan?” No two shows will be alike as the cast improvises from audience response piecing together a wild series of new memories, mishaps and events during each performance. In fact, the audience greatly steers the direction of the story. As funny as the interplay between the characters is with each other, the same can be said for its interaction with the audience. We are spoken to as if Flanagan was a close loved one. At one point a table of guests are asked to come forward to do that cherished Irish dance that Flanagan loved so much. “You guys are terrible,” says Father Fitzgerald. “What happened? You were so good before.” 

The interactive play runs smoothly and literally churns out a laugh a minute thanks to some veteran involvement.

“We’re thrilled to have Jack Bronis, original Director, and Bonnie Shadrake, original Music Director, onboard,” says producer Bill Collins. “Their return ensures the production will have all the fun and humor that made it a huge hit in Chicago.” 

Cast members are in character from the moment one walks into the banquet hall-like room and make the entire area their stage for the duration of the show – even the washrooms.

The wonderfully selected and seriously funny cast stars Steve Peebles as Father Damon Fitzgerald (who you might remember for his stellar performance in last summer's First Folio production of A Midsummer Night's Dream), Greg Dodds as Mayor O'Doul, Chase Wheaton-Werle as Brian Ballybunion, Luciana Bonifazi as Fiona Finn, Susan Wingerter as Kathleen, Alex DiVirgilio as Mickey and Derek Brummet as Mother Flanagan. It is this lively cast of skilled improv artists that so well bring back to life (or death) this classic interactive play that has been a smash hit in Chicago since 1994.

Flanagan’s Wake has taken a new home at Chicago Theater Works near Belmont and Sheffield, running in tandem with the ever-popular Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. Its run is open-ended though performances vary due to its shared space. A full bar is available throughout the show for beverage purchases and tickets range from a highly reasonable $29-$34. To find out more about this very funny and genuinely rich experience, check its show schedule or to purchase tickets, click here.  

Who ever thought a wake could be so much fun? 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

We first meet Clea as she traipses into the great room of a sky-high Manhattan penthouse, enraptured by the “surreal” view. Looking on disdainfully are Charlie (Mark Montgomery), an actor who has been struggling to get cast lately, and his wing-man Lewis (La Shawn Banks).

In the world of theater, a gushing ingénue making a breathless entrance is something that has been seen before, to put it mildly. Charlie for one is not impressed. 

In short order, though, we sense there may be more to this young woman, and these men, than first appears. As it happens, the party is in the home of an actor-writer on the rise, and his older, wealthy patron. Charlie is there hoping to rub shoulders with him, and maybe get a role in his new production.

Clea (Deanna Myers blazes in the role) is on a similar mission – though at this point in her career she is less certain about how things will play out. She is also a font of inanity – “Food is, like, disgusting to me,” she avers, claiming never to eat. “Most things people put in their mouths, it is totally just like eating death. Someone proved that eating is killing people." 

Charlie and Lewis are agape at Clea. Charlie clearly finds her exaggerated pronouncements aversive, while Lewis nods and puts on about the phoniest show of interest imaginable - miming that attraction men sometimes feel despite (or perhaps because of) knowing better.  

Poured into snug-fitting couture and clearly master of her heels, Clea reads, accurately, the mocking tone in Charlie’s desultory conversation. When he asks her how the view can be “surreal,” sparks begin to fly in what turns out to be a harbinger of later romance.   

This is also the first inkling we have that Clea is more femme fatale than ingénue.  She vacillates from helpless to heated. In due course, she reveals a grab-bag of information about herself, and observations on life in general. Her mother is an alcoholic, so she doesn’t drink. People are just not "awake" to life.  

She has recently arrived from Ohio hoping to make her break in New York. She eventually asks for that vodka – just this one time – and becomes even more voluble. Clea reveals she has applied for a position on a television production team – and does a send-up of the woman who interviewed her, describing a “Nazi priestess” of talent bookings, by the name of Stella. As it turns out, Stella is Charlie’s wife - and fatefully, the unrequited love of Lewis.

Clea came there intent on making an impression. And oh she does in Meyers’s super-charged performance. In later scenes, after she has vanquished Lewis, she moves on to seduce Charlie, ultimately triggering his downfall by overstaying a tryst - so the two get caught by Stella.

Charlie eventually ends up on the street, having cast aside his stable life with Stella. (The story line draws on Waugh's of Human Bondage, according to playwright Therese Rebeck.)

The couple was about to adopt a child. Perhaps the prospect of parenthood was too great a strain on Charlie. Fear of parenthood is a classic romance killer, but under Kimberly Seniors direction we are witness to Charlie's action, but not his motivation. Stella also is a bit of a caricature, slipping into Spanish when her blood gets boiling.  Lewis, meanwhile, has played this marriage's third wheel from the opening scene, defending Stella against critiques. The trio has a reasonable chemistry in scenes, but Stella seems overplayed, and Lewis underplayed when they are alone together. 

As to Clea: Viper? Seductress? Ingénue? Trollop? Those old-fashioned words don’t quite apply, as Clea owns her sexuality, and is aware of where she is heading. She seems at once incisive, and empty-headed.

“How can you know so much and so little at the same time?” as Charlie asks.

Waugh’s classic, Of Human Bondage, was filmed three times. And The Scene was also made into a movie - Seducing Charlie Barker. 

In The Scene, the eventual affair with Clea leads to Charlie’s downfall, and his wife Stella’s departure, among other things. While the performance by Myers is captivating, and the chemistry between Stella (Charin Alvarez), Lewis and Charlie is convincing, I struggled to find empathy with anyone other than Clea – a rather villainous protagonist.

The glass and steel set is striking, and works really well through all the scenes. The furnishings were dead on, very Blue Dot Catalog. Likewise the costumes, down to the men's shoes.  Brian Sidney Bembridge did sets;  Nan Zabriskie costume; Sarah Hughey, lighting; Richard Woodbury, original music and sound design; and Scott Dickens handled props. 

Running through April 2 at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, The Scene comes recommended, especially to see Deanna Myers.

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 

 

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