As stories go, Mamma Mia! is a light, simple love story injected with plenty of humor and song – nothing heavy in the least, rather an evening island getaway where the sounds of ABBA reign supreme. It is the story of Sophie Sheridan and her mother Donna, who have made home on a Greek Island where they own and run a small resort. But the story really begins when Sophie, unsure of who her real father is, invites three possibilities to her wedding based on information she’s uncovered in her mother’s journal. Of course, Donna has no clue until the three men show up at the island – awkward! With several people vacationing at the island in anticipation of Sophie’s wedding to Sky in a few days, multiple love narratives unfold - and how couldn’t they? After all, you have a handful of romantically starved individuals thrust together in close proximity to each other on a tropical island that oozes amorousness, coupled with the fact that they all seem to lose control to ABBA classics, which come aplenty.
Marriott Theatre takes on Mamma Mia! as their latest production, uniquely staging the energy-filled production in the round, giving the audience the feeling that they too are guests at the island resort as the action is up close and the aisles are frequently used during the performance. Set designer Scott Davis does a fantastic job creating an island atmosphere throughout the theatre. Strategic alterations are made to convert the musical to the round, including scenic touches like the moat of illuminated water that surrounds the stage and the walls behind theatre goers that are converted into those of a Greek taverna complete with the colorful shutters of French-styled windows. Adding the finishing touches to the Mamma Mia! setting are dazzling costume designs by Theresa Ham and lighting effects by Jesse Klug.
Danni Smith takes on the leading role of Donna Sheridan, the short-haired brunette replacing the prototypical long-haired, wavy-blonde we are used to seeing in this production. The change is nice. Smith, who was last seen at Marriott Theatre in Man of La Mancha, serves up a powerhouse vocal performance, especially during her crowd stunner “The Winner Takes It All” and her heartfelt rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers”, delivered with just the right touch of care and concern a mother would have for her daughter. Capturing the essence of Donna so well, we immediately like her and cheer for her. Putting it bluntly, Danni Smith is truly extraordinary. Meghan Murphy and Cassie Slater are rightly cast as Donna’s two lifelong friends Tanya and Rosie. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect. As many times as I have seen Mamma Mia!, I have never seen a more believable friendship than that as between Donna and her besties in this production, which is so convincing you’d think it true in real life. Murphy gets to show off her great sense of comedic timing as Tanya, also taking it to the house vocally, hitting one way out of the park in the racy number “Does Your Mother Know”.
Taking on yet another challenging vocal role in the show, this one of Sophie, is Tiffany Tatreau, who handles it with apparent ease. Tatreau, undoubtedly gifted in the vocal department, tackles several demanding songs on her own and adds on many occasions to the captivating vocal harmonies that make this musical so special.
Sophie’s three possible fathers are also cast well, Peter Saide getting plenty of chances to display his own finessed vocal skill as Sam Carmichael, while Karl Hamilton and Derek Hasenstab draw some big laughs as Donna’s other two ex’s Harry Brightwell and Bill Austin. Russell Mernagh makes his own mark as Sky, Sophie’s soon to be husband. Mernaugh, whose beach bum charm is nothing short of convincing, puts forth a well-rounded performance that makes him a solid choice for the role. Overall, the cast is just sensational from top to bottom, getting strong support from its incredible ensemble who wows the audience on several occasions with big-time dance and vocal routines.
All the elements are in place to provide an entertaining evening without even the slightest lull. The stage is often taken over by energetic dance numbers that will have you tapping along or beautifully arranged ballads that will move your soul. The humor is abundant, the subject matter light and the visuals so easily take your mind elsewhere - somewhere dreamy. Yes, the table is perfectly set to enjoy a night of ABBA hits done with much originality from “Dancing Queen” to “Waterloo”. Fun is "the name of the game" in this wild ride stringed together by a compilation of the Swedish sensation's biggest hits - so much fun in fact, that you might have to pull out your glitzy, bell-bottomed, spandex one-piece (we all have one, don't we?) after getting home from the show.
Mamma Mia!, already a winning show, has now become even more of a special experience as it is put together so well, and uniquely, by Marriott Theatre in a way that cannot be seen anywhere else. When you put it all together – the great music, the talented performances and a setting that takes you miles and miles away to a tropical bliss – it all adds up to “Having the time of your life”.
Mamma Mia! has already been extended and is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through April 16th. For more show information, click here.
The heart wants what the heart wants and the fiery, rebellious Carmen, in the self-titled opera now playing at Lyric Opera of Chicago, follows that truism all the way to a tragic end. Set against the backdrop of Seville, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War of the 1900's, we see obsession, passion, freedom and love all come together in this story of a deadly love triangle.
Don José (Joseph Calleja), a soldier in the army, is sent to break up a fight at a cigarette factory. There he meets the seductive gypsy Carmen (Ekaterina Gubanova). He becomes so enthralled and bewitched by her that he abandons his childhood sweetheart Micaëla (Eleanor Buratto) and deserts his post just to follow her. But the tighter he tries to hold on their love the more Carmen longs to be free. José eventually loses her to the toreador (bull fighter) Escamillo (Christian Van Horn), resulting in a heartrending ending.
It is difficult to root for the love of Don José and Carmen, especially as the opera unfolds and we see how brutal and abusive José can be. Nothing is more discordant than seeing José sing about the depth of his love for Carmen after he just threw her across a table. There is no doubt that he believes he loves her and loves her deeply – he gave up everything to follow her. But perhaps the real question is does he know her or is he just enraptured by a seductive illusion that he couldn’t resist?
Don José consistently tries to get Carmen to bend to his will and be framed by his restrictive love. But Carmen’s will is just too strong, her lust for life too vivid and her need for freedom too all-encompassing to be captured in his stranglehold of love.
Carmen later meets Escamillo, the celebrated bull fighter and hero, who dares to love her for who she is – a rebellious bird. After all her wanderings she has finally found a home and true love but it comes at a very high price.
This thrilling story of Carmen is revealed through soaring, passionate arias; spoken dialogue; a beautiful score of Georges Bizet’s popular and very recognizable music; and ballet.
The addition of the ballet dancers adds so much more to the telling of the story. In particular, the bull which is used as a visual symbol throughout the production depicting both a disastrous love affair and a man caught in a flaming tailspin. We see the bull at key points during the opera from the opening moments all the way to the tragic end where Escamillo’s bull fight occurs simultaneously with Don José and Carmen’s final fight.
Ekaterina Gubanova is brilliant as Carmen while Joseph Calleja is equal to the task as Don Jose.
Carmen is performed in French with projected English translations and the running time is approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes, including 1 intermission.
The opera runs through March 25 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Performance dates are Feb. 11, 22, 28, Mar. 3, 6, 22, 25 at 7:30pm; Feb. 15, 19, Mar. 16, 19 at 2:00pm. For tickets and information, call (312) 827-5600 or click here.
Wow! Get ready to be entertained and blown away by two men, with eighteen, yes eighteen, costume changes in a 105-minute play with lead mother figure Bertha Bumiller played by Anthony Whitaker in drag and Grant Drager playing most of the younger male and female characters (Arles, Didi, Stanley, Charlene, Jodi, Petey, Vera and Dixie). These two talents make for one hilarious and yet, at times, disturbing piece of theater now that Trump is President and the animal and human cruelty is perpetrated against each person who loves in the “the third smallest town in Texas”, a dump “where the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never died.”
As announced on the local radio show the winning school essays include “Human Rights—Why Bother?” and “The Other Side of Bigotry”. And so begins Deep in the Heart of Tuna, the latest in the “Tuna” series, currently running at Pride Arts Center in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.
I was unaware that adapter Ed Howard and original author-performers Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White, and Tuna) had revived this new play from pieces of the trilogy above though it didn't affect my understanding of the hard lives these people live while having little money to keep up with their neighbors. People wearing third generation hand me downs and living on a farm-like house where the youngest and most sensitive son has ten dogs and a few kitty cats literally following him to school and back until he can find them adoption homes.
I found the staging and lighting brilliant with audience members on both sides of the intimate theater performing space, putting us right in Bertha’s kitchen. Adding the finishing touch, are the costumes and wigs which are truly amazing and used to their ultimate. When I found that neither actor had a dresser to help them make these quick changes, I was even more impressed. Still knowing there were only two cast members, they played the men and women so touchingly and realistically funny, I could have sworn there was a cast of five people or more hidden in the wings.
The town of Tuna can sometimes be a scary place where the "smut snatchers" a local anti-porn group try to expose the dirty words in Dickens Christmas Carol, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman", because you know, "Merry Gentlemen" is a little too close to gay gentleman in Tuna, Texas.
The smut snatchers are busy cutting apart the children’s' Christmas pageant, which they have worked on for months. It is eventually canceled by the local school official and local government because the school does not have the funds to pay its electric bill, despite pleas to let the children perform, in part because one child needs this performance to complete his reform school probation and leave town without a criminal record (for painting over street signs). The lights are shut off and the show does not go on. At the same time a Christmas Phantom is on the loose in the neighborhood destroying outdoor holiday displays. There’s a lot going on in this small town.
Anthony Whitaker's multilayered characterization of the mother figure as she struggles to make ends meet in this piece reminds me so much of my dear friend Louie Anderson's spectacular mother characterization in his new hit show "Baskets".
Grant Drager, a newcomer to the New American Folk Theatre ensemble, plays the rest of the male and female characters with mind blowing accuracy and such poignancy. For his outstanding work in this two-man show, Drager really is deserving of a Jeff Award, as well as Whitaker.
Though many of the characters are run-of-the-mill, low-income Southern folks with seemingly good hearts, at times, the extreme stereotype Texas hard core right wingers are also demonstrated in the play. It's mind boggling that the small-mindedness of the latter mentioned characters of this tiny town exist in real life, boasting about and bringing forth soul crushing ideas along with anti-gay sentiments and anti-animal rights, i.e. and "Tuna" takes a few good shots. A great line that represents that type of mentality in this play is when Didi, who runs the local gun shop for her mother, says, "If we don't have a gun (or poison) to kill what you want, that thing is supernatural!" This show can make great but serious fun of that particular group on a few occasions though it mainly celebrates small town warmth, kindness and simplicity. Though "Tuna" often pokes fun of small town life in the South, it is done with affection, actually endearing us to several of the characters even more so.
This satire of rural life is highly recommended for two of the most versatile and thought provoking performances in this play about a dysfunctional family and the small town problems that arise. Directed by Derek Van Barham, New American Folk Theatre's Deep in the Heart of Tuna is being performed at Pride Arts Center through March 5th. For show information or tickets, click here. Y'all hurry now!
Tribute shows are generally as good as the performers that star. I probably just stated the most obvious fact on the planet. Yet it’s so very true. No matter how good the song selection, the costumes, the set, it is the vocal performance that we bring home with us. In “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” a different taste of Sinatra is delivered; rather than presenting an Ol’ Blue Eyes impersonator, we are invited to a 1960’s club setting where four actors casually reminisce with the audience over more than fifty Sinatra favorites.
The musical revue, rich in its depicted era, stars George Keating, Christine Mild, Eric A. Lewis and McKinley Carter, each taking turns riffing through classics like “Makin’ Whoopee”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Young at Heart”, and “It was a Very Good Year” – the songs are countless. The four have made their mark in the Chicago theatre scene, Lewis a Jeff Award Winner for his work in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Dreamgirls”, Mild, who not only starred in Theater at the Center’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes” but who has recently released her debut solo album “Love Is Everything”, Carter, who has done work in prestigious venues such as Writers Theatre and Drury Lane Oakbrook, and Keating, who not only has been featured in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” at Paramount Theater, but is the co-founder of the very popular Chicago and Off-Broadway hit “Schoolhouse Rock Live”.
The four actors work well together as snippets of Sinatra songs are often worked into light exchanges between the characters. They gracefully glide around the stage and upon the stairways often pairing elegantly for dance routines. Often, the characters might be seen having a drink at the bar or nonchalantly interacting at a table, setting a relaxed night-out-on-the-town mood. Throughout the show, Sinatra factoids and quotes are tossed about during song breaks, allowing at times for the audience to participate. The club centers around a bar, where a live band simplified to piano (William Underwood), bass (Jake Saleh) and drums (Nick Anderson) plays directly behind it. Despite the small size of the outfit, the sound is big and the musicians ever-impressive, each getting to show their skills off a bit while briefly featured individually in the second act.
While perhaps wishing for a little more "oomph" overall in the individual vocal performances (mainly on the lower notes) ala Sinatra, each of the performers have their shining moments and are able to deliver the songs with their intended pizzazz and vigor. But the magic in this show is when the four would sing together, whether it be a duet or a four-part harmony. It is with these synchronized vocal efforts one easily loses themselves in the beauty of Sinatra’s work.
Brenda Didier both directs and choreographs this fascinating piece with a stylish aplomb that captures the charm of the period so very well. Lewis particularly stands out during his renditions of “My Kind of Town” and “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die”, while Keating finishes strong with a fervent version of “That’s Life”. The production flows at a nice pace and is a pleasing homage to Sinatra, though we are often teased with a song segment left wanting to hear the piece in its entirety. This is countered by the fact that we are given such a vast collection of the music Sinatra made famous. The show ties together well eventually leading us to an expressive interpretation of perhaps Sinatra’s most timeless classic, “My Way”, commendably performed by the entire cast.
“My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” is a time capsule that will certainly touch the hearts of “Chairman of the Board” fans, but is equipped with enough nostalgia, panache and musical talent to please even the most curious. This polished production is being performed at Theater at the Center in Munster, IN through March 19th. Click here for tickets and/or more show information.
In 1931 nine African American teenagers were wrongly accused of raping two white women while aboard a freight train in Alabama. Worried they might get imprisoned for prostitution while traveling aboard the same train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates quickly cried rape, diverting the attention rather to the handful of innocent boys. These nine boys became known as The Scottsboro Boys, growing more and more infamy as their many trials became public interest throughout the nation. Fighting through Southern angry mobs, an all-white jury and a trial that was hastened, the nine boys were quickly convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. As word spread of the prejudice demonstrated, Northerners eventually stepped in to see that such a miscarriage of justice be overturned, but that was just the beginning of a process clouded by an ugly and unjust preconception. The uphill fight was long and grueling and successes were slow in the making. The story, superbly performed by Porchlight Music Theatre, is remarkable, sad and hopeful.
Written by David Thompson and directed by Samuel G. Roberson, “The Scottsboro Boys” is a controversial musical, now making its debut in Chicago after Broadway and London runs, and is the last featuring the music and lyrics of John Kander and Fred Ebb, mostly known for their triumphant smash hits “Chicago” and “Cabaret”. The story, a compelling and emotional ride through the racist South is a painful lesson of our nation’s dark history and serves as a stark reminder that change for a better world must never be ignored as we move forward as a unified people.
Throughout the musical’s duration, we see an image of a pained Rosa Parks (Cynthia Clarey) who plays witness to the injustices that take place. Though her stand wouldn’t take place until years later, we see the effect such a stirring account would have on approaching generations. Sad as this tragic story as such is, we feel hope for the future by the play’s end and a realization for the work that still needs to be done.
“This is a story that needs to be told,” says Mark J.P. Hood who stars as Mr. Tambo.
The nearly all African American cast delivers several all-around brilliant performances, doling out tremendous vocal harmony efforts, powerful acting and dance numbers that are both inventive and energetic. Currently running at Stage 773, a mid-sized theatre, the only drawback is that it is easy to envision the musical preformed on a larger stage, sometimes routines appearing a bit crowded. Still, that’s a very small drawback, because the play’s director is able to utilize its given space to maximize this Broadway-sized show effectively, moving boxcars and all.
Denzel Tsopnang and Mark J.P. Hood lead this gifted ensemble along with James Earl Jones II with commanding acting performances that would be hard to beat. The Scottsboro Boys is a real showcase for both Tsopnang and Hood, who flex their versatility while taking on a handful of roles. Veteran actor Larry Yondo, most recently known for his spot-on portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol”, also puts forth yet another admirable effort as The Interlocutor. With several beautiful vocal harmonies that sweep the house with robust sentiment, it is perhaps “Go Back Home”, a pivotal number that relates to those longing to find peace passionately led by Jones II, that will truly resonate with theatre goers long after the show. Though the vocal finesse is abundant throughout, fourteen-year-old Cameron Goode and Stephen Allen Jr. somehow find room to dazzle us even more.
As jaw dropping as many of the numbers are in their performance, the audience often finds reluctance in their clapping, the weight of the subject matter almost seemingly inappropriate to applaud. But it is in these performances that the story is told so well. A handful of poignant casting twists take place as the white policemen and the woman accusers are played by African Americans.
“The Scottsboro Boys” is a highly recommended theatre experience, both exceptional in its performance and its ever-important message. Wonderfully staged, acted and sung, this is a thoroughly entertaining production that will invoke much thought, inspire bravery and encourage action to be taken long afterwards.
“The Scottsboro Boys” is being performed at Stage 773 through March 12th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.
According to a recent study, only 25% of the plays produced in Chicago's 2015-16 theater season had female authors. Only 36% were directed by women. A deeper dive into the numbers suggests larger theaters cast fewer ratios of women than smaller non-equity companies, a sobering reality for female actors thinking about job advancement.
Disappointing stats like these and how the recent presidential election put misogyny and gender equity squarely in the media spotlight spurred 10 female identified performers and an all-female identified production and design team to devise Gender Breakdown.
A compilation of true, absurd, uncomfortable and gut-punching stories culled from more than 200 Chicago theater artists, Collaboraction Theatre Company's first world premiere of 2017 is a response to the lack of gender equity on and offstage.
Vivid tales of violence, miseducation, segregation, and the ongoing disrespect and marginalization of women - even in Chicago's acclaimed theater industry - pull back the curtain on real issues of misogyny, gender politics and racism within the theater industry and beyond.
Ultimately, via deeply personal stories from training, auditions, and the rehearsal room, Gender Breakdown theatricalizes the question "How is this possible, that in 2017, females are still marginalized in our community?"
Gender Breakdown is created by Dani Bryant and directed by Erica Vannon - the lead artists behind Spanx You Very Much, an exploration of female body empowerment through a 45-woman dance explosion, and the break-out hit from Collaboraction's 15th and Final SKETCHBOOK Festival in 2016.
Previews are Thursday through Saturday, February 16-18 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, February 19 at 3 p.m., and Tuesday, February 21 at 7:30 p.m. Preview tickets are only $5.
Performances run through March 19: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. No show Thursday, February 23.
Industry Town Halls are Monday, February 27 and March 13 at 7:30 p.m. On February 27, researcher Kay Kron will lead a post-show panel discussion with Deb Clapp, Executive Director, League of Chicago Theatres; Lori Myers, Not in Our House; Laura T. Fischer, Not in Our House; and Kimberly Senior, Collaboraction Founder and Director. The March 13 post-show panel features Kay Kron, Willa Taylor of the Goodman Theatre and more guests TBA.
Gender Breakdown is presented in The Vault at Collaboraction Studios in the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Single tickets to performances are $20-30; $10-$15 for students, educators and industry.
For tickets and information, visit collaboraction.org or call (312) 226-9633.
More about Gender Breakdown
Gender Breakdown is a compilation of true, absurd, uncomfortable and gut-punching stories about gender inequity culled from more than 200 Chicago theater artists, many gathered at Off Menu potlock dinners at Collaboraction.
"Female identified artists continue to fight for equal representation, equal pay, three-dimensional characters and rehearsal environments that are free from micro-aggressions and commodification," said creator Dani Bryant. "Gender Breakdown harnesses the same artistic vision and raw electricity of Spanx You Very Much to explore how, even in an oftentimes liberal-leaning business, inequities based on gender pervade the theater."
Dani Bryant (creator) is a devised method playwright and process facilitator who specializes in using social practice as an artistic entry point - letting collaborative discussion shape each project. In addition to creating over 20 pieces of devised theater, she holds great passion for leading facilitated community conversations about gender parity, mental health, arts education and food and body politics. Originally from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, she attended The University of North Carolina School of the Arts and received her BFA from the Hartt School of Theater. She is currently pursuing her Master's and certification in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Drama Therapy. She is the founder of Knife & Fork, co-creator of For Fork's Sake Live and Cabaret Vagabond and is an Artistic Ensemble Member at Adventure Stage Chicago.
Erica Vannon (director) is a director, producer and collaborative artist. She is the founder of Lost Geneva Project, a project based theater company committed to telling women's stories, and a co-founder for Knife & Fork, a food and social practice theater company. For the past three years, Vannon has directed for Shimer College. She served as a co-artistic director for Blank Line Collective, a collaborative, movement-based theater company from 2007-2010. She has worked with Collaboraction, Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Chicago Fringe Festival, Rhino Fest, and 20% Theatre. She holds a BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Directing from the University of North Texas and a Graduate Laban Certificate of Movement Analysis (GL-CMA) from Columbia College Chicago.
Gender Breakdown stars Brianna Buckley, Jazmin Corona, Kamille Dawkins, Rula Gardenier, Kate Hawbaker-Krohn, Priya Mohanty, Siobhan Marguerite Reddy-Best, Carolyn Sinon, Aimy Tien and Mia Vivens.
The all-female design and production team includes Sarah JHP Watkins (set designer), Carley Walker (lighting designer), Katherine Pavlovna Goldberg (costume designer), Karli Blalock (sound designer), Sarah Moeller (producer), Kelly Butler (production manager), Caitlin Body (stage manager), Brittany T. Jasper (assistant stage manager) and Becca Venable (technical director).
Breaking down the numbers
Statistics cited in Gender Breakdown and in this press release shed light on hiring parity across theater professions during Chicago's 2015-16 theater season. The research was undertaken by Kay Kron and Mariah Schultz as a part of Kron's Master Thesis at DePaul University. The study includes the full Jeff eligible season for Equity and Non-Equity theaters nominated for a Jeff Award in any category during Chicago's 2015-16 theater season. (Musicals were not included, because their generally larger cast sizes would have made them overly influential on the overall percentages.) In total, the study encompassed 52 theatres, collects statistics on over 250 plays, resulting in over 4,500 data points.
Gender Breakdown Lounge
The Gender Breakdown Lounge is a performance arts venue for an eclectic range of arts programming to complement Collaboraction's Gender Breakdown.
After every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night performance, starting at 9:30 p.m., there will be additional performances in Collaboraction's Salon space featuring female-identified artists, including theater, story telling, music, comedy, dance, opera and more.
Following is the Gender Breakdown Lounge line-up (at press time, check collaboraction.org for updates):
Friday, February 24
Music with MICHA
Poetry with Kay Kron
Saturday, February 25
Womanscape pre-show reception at 7 p.m.
featuring poetry by Arica Hilton
Saints & Sinners at 9:30 p.m.
Curated by Sandra Delgado, featuring Sandra Delgado, Minita Gandhi, Sadieh Rifai, DeAnna Brooks, Ilana Faust, Nancy Garcia, Rose McInerney and Theo Allyn
Thursday, March 3
The Things We Were Learned
Featuring Michelle Leatherby, Paige Maney and Olivia Perry
Friday, March 4
Beautifully Broken by Ashley J. Hicks
Spoken word with Khloe Janel
Saturday, March 5
Any of my Enemies by Molly Brennan
Thursday, March 9
Token by Kaye Winks
Phone Calls with John Kasich by Eileen Tull
Friday, March 10
Hair Crownicles by Medina Perine
Stand-up with Edith Lule
Saturday, March 11
Music with Layla Frankel
Thursday, March 16
Music with Soft Ledges
Dance with Ms. Miscellanea
Friday, March 17
Baby Crow Productions presents 13 & Not Pregnant by Joy Donze,
directed by Mia Capotorto Sommese
Saturday, March 18
Baby Crow Productions presents 13 & Not Pregnant by Joy Donze,
directed by Mia Capotorto Sommese
Question: Is Shakespeare really that sexual?
Answer: Yes, as it turns out.
Fifty Shades of Shakespeare not only proves that the plays of William Shakespeare carry some very heavy sexual undertones, which is fantastic, but also provides an insight towards gender fluidity and sexuality. This is all done by using Shakespeare to help talk about sex.
In its fourth year, Fifty Shades of Shakespeare is brought to you by the (re)discover theatre. It is the brainchild of Jess Shoemaker and the (re)discover theatre.
Upon arrival to Mary’s Attic, I grabbed a drink from the bar in back and found a seat near the front in the second row. I wanted to be as close to the action as possible because I had no idea what I was in for, but was very intrigued to say the least. Once I took my seat I was greeted by a cast member and regaled with an excerpt from a grocery store romance novel. That immediately set the tone for the night. Not much soon after that I was asked if I would like to contribute to the “Box of Secrets” that actually wasn’t very secret. The idea is this: you are handed a piece of paper that has a question. You write down your answer with as much or as little detail as you want. Then during intermission and different breaks someone from the cast reads responses that have been handed in. My question was, “What was the dirtiest thing you’ve ever said in bed?” I accepted the challenge and answered truthfully and honestly. Unfortunately, my response was not read to the audience. Bummer.
The show itself consists of twelve scenes, all from the Shakespeare canon. These are the greatest hits, if you will. The cast is made up of only four (yes four) actors: Amelia Bethel, Tanner Bradshaw, William Delforge, and Madeline Moeller. That means that these four are playing 23 different roles. However, the big twist is that the roles are chosen at random, by the audience, before the show begins. The cast switches roles every evening, making each evening a new experience.
If you’re already familiar with Shakespeare, then buckle up because shit gets real the instant they dim the lights. It is a show that provides nonstop laughs and energy for two hours. This is accomplished by the random casting of roles that explore and break down not just gender fluidity, but sexual expression. It does not matter if it is two men portraying Romeo and Juliet or having Macbeth played by a woman and Lady Macbeth played by a man. Or even turning a scene where two men dabble in some light-ish bondage. I should point out that Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed by all male casts.
This show breaks down the beauty of love into its most raw and animalistic instincts. Shakespeare just provides the rich subtext so the performers can really unleash. You may walk out of the show unsure what you just saw, but you will have been entertained to the fullest. Fifty Shades of Shakespeare speaks to a new day and age that we, the majority of society, are entering a new kind of sexual revolution where nothing is off limits. And it’s for the better.
Fifty Shades of Shakespeare is playing at Mary’s Attic from now through February 27th on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m. If you don’t have plans yet or are the last-minute planning type, then I would suggest checking out their special Valentine's Day show Tuesday night February 14th. Tickets can be reserved by clicking here.
"Attention must be paid," Arthur Miller pleads in his Pulitzer Prize winning play "Death of a Salesman." What is now required reading, "Death of a Salesman" asks its audience to consider the worth of one pathetic old man. The play debuted in 1949, at a time when America was coming out of a war and questioning the value of personal fulfillment. For that theme alone this play will always be relevant.
The intimate space at Redtwist Theatre makes for an overwhelming experience. In many of the scenes there's an almost voyeuristic feel. As if you're in someone's living room listening to something you shouldn't. Director Steve Scott uses this atmospheric effect to create a palpable intensity. After the lights go out on the final scene, an audience gasped in unison.
Brian Parry delivers a powerhouse performance as Willy Loman. Both tough and weak at the same time. His Loman is still feisty, making the ending all the more tragic. Jan Ellen Graves' Linda Loman is played calm and collected and rarely sentimental, but lively when the moment is right. Matt Edmonds gives a standout performance as Biff. There are such revelations in Edmonds' interpretation.
Like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller knew America. He knew the sad and melancholic ways average people live. "Death of a Salesman" should make us uncomfortable. We should bristle at the idea of one average man getting used up and thrown away. It's a warning that if you don't take control of your own destiny, society will toss you aside. Willy Loman skirts through life on quick fixes and delusions. In a way, all of us are Willy Loman and Miller asks us to look beyond the superficial. As "On the Road" had also inspired a younger generation to live life differently than their parents, so does "Death of a Salesman." The moral here is that nobody wants to end up as Willy Loman.
Through March 5 at Redtwist Theatre. 1044 W BrynMawr 773-728-7529
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.
Bootycandy is about Sutter, an African American gay man’s experience from adolescence to adulthood. The play touches on many different aspects and felt like several puzzle pieces coming together throughout its duration, each falling perfectly into place to create a path whereas the production is able to end on a high note that is sensible and believable.
The play opens with Sutter, played by Travis Turner, asking his mother why she refers to his penis as a ‘bootycandy.’ The conversation that follows is comical and sets the tone for the rest of the play.
One of the best scenes is performed by Osiris Khepera where he is a pastor at a church and talks about “they heard folk”, whispering why some of the choir folks smile at one another and why he personally hasn’t taken up a wife. Many of the sentiments in this scene touches on the perspective of the black community on homosexuality. At the end of the powerful sermon, he reveals something he has been hiding underneath his gown.
A scene that was hilarious, but uncomfortable, was when Krystal McNeil and Debrah Neal played four different characters to talk about how someone in the community named their child Genitalia Lakeitha Shamala Abdul. Yes, Genitalia. Later in the play you see her as a lesbian having a ceremony to break up with her partner.
The heart of the play centers on Sutter’s experience when he was in his teens at the library. A man had been following him and talking to him for quite some time and he decides to tell his mother and stepfather over dinner who barely looked up from his magazine. The experience for Sutter shows a dark side of him when he takes home a drunk, straight white male (Rob Fenton) with his friend. This was one of the hardest scenes to watch; it was dark, dramatic, and felt too real.
Sutter’s character involves many layers. The play cuts to another scene right after to show Sutter visiting his grandmother in a nursing home. He decides to order some ribs for her on his iPhone. A more subdued Sutter who you can’t help but feel sorry for.
The cast works extremely well together, Turner leading the way. Five actors in this winning play act as several different characters, each providing a strong performance.
Catch Bootycandy, written and directed by Robert O’Hara, at Windy City Playhouse (3014 North Irving Park) through April 15th. Tickets range from $15-$55. The show does contain a scene with full-frontal nudity. Be sure to check out the catchy cocktails inspired by the play.
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