Theatre

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, a timeless tale of lovers kept apart by family and society, but the power of love allows them to fight through only to meet a tragic demise. The story has been told over and over again in stories, books, movies, plays and even real life. The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its 2016-2017 season with Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet and proves that the story can transcend time and stands tall even without the beautiful poetry of William Shakespeare. 

 

In this creative, three act re-imagining of the classic Romeo and Juliet, the audience travels through time as they are pulled into the gripping story of the love and loss. Starting in Italy in the 1930’s, during the rise of Mussolini and Fascism, the militaristic, strict Capulet family and the more free and relaxed Montague family encounter one another and Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. The second act moves to the 1950’s with the rise of political terrorism and the Red Brigade, which compliments the increasing challenges that keep the true lovers apart. In the final act it is 1990 and as Berlusconi’s leadership drives increasing social divide in the country, Romeo and Juliet meet their tragic end.

 

The show is a multi-media story ballet and the video imagery projected on the backdrop compliments the story. The rest of the set is simple, consisting of some lightly reflective panels that add a lovely effect to indoor scenes, and a few dark pillars and benches.  It allows most of your focus to be on the dancers themselves as the story unfolds. The costumes are non-traditional with no tutu’s in sight, opting instead towards more street fashion. As we progress through the three acts, the costumes evolve moving through time. One of the most creative aspects of the costuming is how the colors change across the acts, starting in a simple black and white, next to sepia tones and finally more full color, and through it all Romeo and Juliet are clad in a pale blue reflective of their innocence and lightness.

 

The choreography by Krzysztof Pastor is phenomenal and breathtaking. There are so many variety of styles from the rigid and powerful movements of the Capulet family, to the fun and lighthearted flow of the Montagues and of course the beautiful range of emotions that Romeo and Juliet portray, played by Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas. Just as Shakespeare has been praised for his ability to switch between comedy and tragedy so effortlessly, the choreography does the same with some lighthearted moments that broke the tension, even bringing about a laugh from the audience. Mercutio, played by Yoshihisa Arai, was the best representation of this comedy through dance. He brought boundless energy to the stage in an exceptional performance that made the audience all but fall in love with Mercutio.

 

Overall, the performances by the entire company were fantastic. Dancers moved effortlessly and in beautiful harmony with one another and with the score by Sergei Prokofiev. It was a nice break from the more traditional style of ballet yet still showcased the natural grace and amazing talent of the entire cast. 

 

If you are a fan of the ballet, or have never seen a story ballet before, this is certainly a performance to see. The modern qualities of this show make it more accessible to those unfamiliar with ballet, and no one can argue the multitude of emotions that this performance evokes. It never ceases to amaze just how powerful the art of movement can be, and in this re-telling of the age old story of Romeo and Juliet that power is clearly evident. The show is playing at the stunning Auditorium Theater through October 23rd. Be sure to get your tickets and experience the magic of the Joffrey Ballet.

 

Published in Upcoming Dance

True gamers, especially nostalgic ones, will appreciate The New Colony’s world premiere of Merge. Closing out its 2016 season, this 90-minute, fast-paced, and often funny, performance at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage spotlights the roller-coaster history of Atari, a pioneer manufacturer of video arcade games.

 

Written by Spenser Davis and directed by Andrew Hobgood, Merge provides an inside look at the tumultuous ups and downs of the video game company from its start in the early 1970's.

 

The script is Davis’ first original full-length play. Submitted through The New Colony’s writers program, it made quite an impression on company members. “Merge was the rare instance of a story flying off the page with such ferocity that Andrew and I needed to get our ensemble in the room immediately,” said Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder. “Spenser Davis’ hilarious and insightful script will welcome onstage the largest cast The New Colony has assembled since our first season.”

 

Despite the size, Hobgood’s staging of the huge 16-member cast in such a small space was mostly effective. However, at times, when the full cast was onstage, the fast-talking and screaming could be a bit overwhelming.

 

The set design was one of the biggest stars of this production with a video arcade cabinet as the backdrop along with a bright neon color scheme.

 

The opening action starts in the late 70's around the time Atari, hugely successful with its arcade and home console video games but cash-strapped, merged with Warner Bros. Atari employees are frazzled by the corporate takeover and the impact ricochets throughout the company as key players leave. Pot smoking, Jacuzzi parties and eccentric behaviors had fueled Atari’s workplace during its rise. When they have to sell to Warner Bros. to stay afloat, along with the influx of corporate cash comes corporate structure and new requirements, including wearing socks.

 

The use of the flashback technique and flexible, moving set pieces allow the action to flow seamlessly back through time as the audience is quickly introduced to Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Like a video game version of the odd couple, these two opposite personalities are behind one of the fastest growing companies in America.

 

Their different styles, business philosophy, especially on how to handle lawsuits from competition, and Bushnell’s hard-driving ambition, eventually force Dabney out of the company. Ironically Bushnell himself is ousted as CEO after the Warner Bros. merger, paving the way for a more straight-laced chief in Stuart Nygard.  It was this move that prompted many of the remaining programmers who had been with Atari from the beginning to jump ship and align with a competing company.

 

In one of the more fascinating, yet somewhat out-of-place scenes, a courtroom battle that feels more like an episode of “Wild ‘N Out” ensues between Warner Bros. and that rival. Dabney returns at a pivotal moment providing information that will not only have long-lasting repercussions for Warner Bros. but the video game industry as a whole.

 

Merge is creative and fun and packs a lot of history in 90 minutes. A huge and high-energy cast and creative staging keep the story moving in a compelling fashion.

 

Recommended

 

Merge is now playing at The Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage through November 13, 2016. Tickets are available at www.thenewcolony.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

If you were to take a survey of teenagers and young adults to determine which social issue they’re most interested in seeing addressed onstage, mass shootings would be near the top of the list. Though the kind of incident in which an ideologically fanatical and/or severely mentally ill individual massacres a random group of people is not how the majority of murders occur, or the type of shooting Chicago public school students are most likely to encounter, it is something I’ve found that students have a strong desire to discuss. Of course, discussing something is quite different from discussing it intelligently, and the “conversation” around school shootings is filled with so much nonsense and has so little legislative effect that people have become jaded enough for Heathers: The Musical to exist (and be funny). But that’s where playwright Caitlin Parrish comes in. Working with director Erica Weiss, Parrish has adapted the ancient Greek story of Antigone into a new play which not only allows its characters to be complex and intelligent, but is an interesting story in its own right, and worthwhile for adults to see during a public performance.

The Antigone imagined by Sophocles was one who sacrificed her life by defying her uncle Creon to give her treacherous brother a proper burial. The one imagined by Jean Anouilh in 1944 switched her motivations so rapidly that Anouilh’s Creon excused himself by saying she simply wished to be martyred and did not care what principle she ostensibly died for. Parrish’s Antigone, named Sophie Martin (Olivia Cygan), has no desire to sacrifice herself at all. The favorite child of a widowed Republican senator running for re-election as a moderate, high school senior Sophie has just cast her vote in her first primary election when shots ring out at her school. Upon learning that her brother, Ben (Matt Farabee), was the killer and concluded his massacre in suicide, her first thought is that she hopes his body hasn’t been left alone, and her second thought is to hope the media does not release his name until the polls are closed. Sophie has made supporting her father’s career her purpose in life, and is deeply disappointed in Ben for what she perceives as a calculated attempt to kill their family socially, along with his more direct victims. In this version, he is buried quickly, in an unmarked grave outside of town, but Sophie is troubled at how easily her father, Ryan (Coburn Goss), and sister, Chloe (Becca Savoy), join everyone else in writing him off as evil.

Sophie’s discomfort increases when her father declares that he wants teachers to be armed, and implies he would have killed Ben himself had he known what he was planning. She’s also blindsided by how suspicious her classmates are of her—to have not known Ben was a psychopath means she must either have been stupid or been covering for him, and they know she’s not stupid. As her father’s plan to rebuild his public image as Ben’s most prominent surviving victim proves surprisingly successful, Sophie finds herself disagreeing with him on the wisdom of widespread access to firearms. He claims that she is simply trying to avoid acknowledging what Ben was so he won’t reflect poorly on her, but Sophie believes whatever was wrong with Ben isn’t as easily addressed or as relevant to any other mass shooting as cracking down on guns.

Parrish’s script sometimes strays close to letting characters speechify, but generally, she motivates their responses quite well. The nine-member ensemble all acquit themselves marvelously, with Cygan expertly managing the difficult task of keeping a somewhat objectionable and high-handed protagonist clever and active enough to maintain the audience’s interest. Higher on the sympathy scale is Savoy’s sardonic Chloe, who, as a lesbian from a Republican household, had relied more upon the school than her family for a social network, and is more upset by having that taken from her. Goss’ senator is no caricature, but he doesn’t display the same level of conflict over what to do with Sophie as most Creons. His claim that he specifically is needed in Washington and he therefore must be willing to sacrifice his family seems to have little basis, but the playwright allows him to sound reasonable despite disagreeing with him.

The school, too, is host to a wide array of richly developed characters. Stephanie Andrea Barron plays Sophie’s friend Janette, who is from a far less-comfortable background and already had mechanisms for coping with violence; her boyfriend, Jayden (Joel Boyd) never liked Sophie in the first place, perhaps saw her as a rival, and is the kind of person who displays his books so everybody can be impressed by what he’s reading (it’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me). Greg (Ty Olwin) is a profoundly hurt friend of a victim who finds the Martins unspeakably vile, while Brianna (Aurora Adachi-Winter) is a survivor whose brief appearance in a video at the beginning of the play instantly establishes an unsettling tension. It was wise of Parrish to grant the chorus so much individuality—the community feels much more authentic when its differences can be acknowledged, and the play has a heart which is sometimes missing in modern remountings of Greek tragedies. Representing her and Weiss’s own generation are a teacher and a newscaster played by Kristina Valada-Viars, one of whom, being in her mid-thirties, declares herself too old to lead the cause of gun control, and the other of whom outright admits she has been faking her routine shock and grief for a while.

Courtney O’Neill’s set design contains a nod to what the Athenian theatre is supposed to have looked like in the time of Sophocles, but it also allows room for Joseph A. Burke’s projections. Ben appears in the form of a vapid video diary he kept which endlessly frustrates the other characters by providing very little help in figuring out his motivations, but his posthumous presence on social media becomes a major recurring plot point. Parrish used the premise of Antigone, but since the point of the play is to make teenagers feel empowered, one can see long in advance that it’s not a tragedy. Parrish and Weiss also aren’t shy about using the play to advocate for stricter gun regulation, or possibly elimination, but the context of Steppenwolf’s encouragement of discussion and feedback prevents this from feeling propagandistic, and they present a reasoned argument with respect for the other side. Based on the differences between how Goss and Valada-Viars’s characters are represented, they seem harder on themselves, which, when ninety percent of the public supports stricter background checks and is unable to move Congress, gun-regulation advocates perhaps ought to be. 

One of the most encouraging things about this production is that there exist people who understand the myriad viewpoints that exist surrounding mass shootings and respect young peoples’ experiences and concerns. Acknowledgement isn’t progress in itself, but it is a precondition to progress that is often lacking, and Weiss’s cast display genuine empathy. This show isn’t meant to condescendingly educate teenagers about themselves; it’s a mirror held up to the people most effected by an issue, and for them and everyone else concerned about mass shootings, The Burials is highly recommended.

 

Public performances of The Burials are on October 14 at 7:30 pm, October 15 at 3:00 pm, and October 22 and 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm in Steppenwolf’s upstairs theatre at 1650 N Halsted Ave, Chicago. For ticket information, see Steppenwolf.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Are you old enough to remember Saturday morning cartoons? I mean when there was no other place or time on TV to watch three hours of children's cartoon TV shows? Well, if you are, like me, you'll remember the "Scooby Doo" show whose lead character was a talking dog who rolled with the teenage mystery solvers from Mystery Inc. 

 

In "Skooby Don't" written by David Cerda, Artistic Director of the wonderful Hell In a Handbag Production Company, every hysterical aspect of the original show is poked at, like the fact that Scooby and his pal Shaggy both look and act like stoners the whole time and that the whole gang runs screaming in fear every time they finally confronted a ghost/monster.

 

But Cerda as always, takes a funny satire and turns it into a touching and even educational LGBTQ production that leaves the whole audience with something interesting and uplifting to ponder over long after they've left the theater. 

 

In order to stay safe of copyright laws the characters names have been slightly changed to even funnier names. Daphne is called Daffy played delightfully by ensemble member Elizabeth Lesinsky, smart and sassy Velma is now Velva (or “Vulva”) also very funnily played by Caitlin Jackson. I recently reviewed Ms. Jackson in her role as Bette Midler and she has an AMAZING singing voice as well. Fred is Fredd with two D’s, Shaggy becomes Scaggy and Scooby Doo trades in his “C” for a “K,” becoming Skooby and instead becomes “Don’t”. Cerda even jokes at one point about the subtle changes.

 

When Velva decides to take the whole gang to her aunt's house for a reunion vacation her aunt turns out to be Cher! Cher played by ensemble member Ed Jones is joined by two famous contemporary house guests Caitlyn Jenner (Chazie Bly), Kris Jenner (Cerda) and Cher’s disgruntled bellboy/son Chaz (Caitlin Boho). With this wild cast of characters only Cerda could put together, it doesn’t take long before a zany mystery ensues and the gang quickly becomes detectives.

 

This quartet of famous faces was absolutely a collection the funniest bits in the whole show. Ed Jones makes the BEST, funniest, tongue to lip touching Cher I have ever seen! David Cerda as Kris Jenner and Chazie Bly as Caitlynn Jenner have all the gestures and voice patterns down pat while Caitlin Boho who plays a plump, unshaven Chaz, had me laughing out loud with almost every single line she delivered. 

 

Kudos and credit must go to their AMAZING costumer Kate Setzer Kamphausen and Hell in a Handbag's wig master Keith Ryan because their makeup and hair fit EVERY character to a tee! 

 

People ask me why I enjoy Cerda's characters so much, enough to go to every production they put on without question and the reason is simple. They are always brilliantly funny. Add the fact that if these men and women can do such a great job of playing full on "dress up" and do it with such care and relish, it always makes me feel that SOMEONE else understands how hard it is to be a woman!

 

Cerda's characters don't make fun of women, they celebrate women and men of all kinds, sizes and shapes and even though they have to wear a lot of makeup, wigs and six inch heels they do it because they ENJOY doing all the things they associate with being women. David Cerda has a wonderful and blessed knack for creating female characters in his plays, even those beautiful women with "resting bitch face" - like his very popular Joan Crawford - to be  worthy of love and respect by the end of each show.

 

The entire cast including the supporting roles were dynamite. Cerda, Jones and Lesinsky just seems to get funnier and funnier with each production, this time capturing the precise essence of the vain and ditzy Daffy. In Skooby Don’t, Cerda puts forth yet another all-around stellar ensemble, perfectly casting the Mystery Gang and guest characters. 

 

I highly recommend this fun, campy yet sympathetic piece, which is kind of like a transgender Halloween party! Skooby Don’t is currently being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville. For tickets, showtimes and more show information, visit www.Handbag productions.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

It's been nearly eight years since that loud, boisterous Italian nuptial celebration has left Chicago, but now "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is back. Reworked from its 1993 through 2009 run at Piper's Alley, the wedding actually takes place at a church. The Resurrection Church, located near Belmont and Sheffield, is the perfect setting for Tony Nunzio and Tina Vitale to exchange vows with the action starting before you even enter the building. "Family members" approach “guests” as though old friends playing up the overdone Italian stereo types creating a mix of characters ranging from Rocky Balboa and gang to the housewives found in Goodfellas or Casino. A cheesy, gum-chewing wedding photographer snaps shots as guests enter the church who are then ushered to their seats. Before the wedding begins the Nunzio and Vitale clan interact with the audience and each other, already planting a very funny seed for what is to come. 

 

An abbreviated wedding then takes place complete with bridesmaids and groomsmen waltzing down the isle that is officially kicked off when Sister Albert Maria (Alisha Fabbi) leads the congregation into a soulful version of "Jesus Is Just Alright". The wedding in itself could be a show of its own with everything from the bride's ex showing up to a priest who is more than a bit overboard with his Mr. Rogers-like analogies. 

 

The "I dos" are said and the crowd is ushered out of the church for a quick block and a half walk to Chicago Theatre Works, or in this case, "Vinnie Black's Coliseum" for a reception one would be pressed to forget. As the brief trek to the restaurant is made, cast members stay in character mingling with guests, drawing them into hilarious conversations. 

 

Already a highly entertaining and unique experience, the fun really goes into high gear at the reception where guests are assigned to round dining tables, the wedding party seated center room for all to see. Family members are constantly popping by, drawing attendees into humorous conversations as though we go way back with them. All the ingredients are in place for hilarious wedding celebration to remember. There's the ditzy stripper, a drunken father, a surly mother, a priest who drinks too much, a smarmy wedding singer, a jealous ex-boyfriend, an over-the-top restaurant owner who acts as the evening's emcee. Fights break out between families, grandma is mistakenly deemed dead after falling down and guests join in with the cast for a crazy night of dancing that includes a conga line. Before long one almost forgets they are at a play.

 

Mitchell Conti is perfectly cast as Tony as is Hannah Aaron Brown as Tina, so many funny moments exchanged by the two along with other family members and wedding "guests" (us). The cast does a great job at getting guests to interact naturally. For example, while so much is going on at all times in different areas throughout the room, an argument breaks out next to me between a bridesmaid and groomsman, apparently a couple, when one accuses the other of "grinding" on another guest near the dance floor. "Did you see her? Did you think she was grinding on the guy?" My response in hand alters their own reaction as I quickly find myself refereeing the two who finally simmer down and see stars for each other once again. Fun stuff like that. 

 

I praise this talented cast who really has to be on top of their improv game for the entire two and a half hours - even in the bathroom! I can't imagine it an easy task to interact with strangers for an entire evening, playing off so well the many curve balls they are thrown. 

 

Paul Stroili wonderfully directs this new reworked version of "Tony N' Tina's Wedding", a former cast member himself during the show's previous Chicago run, as he took on the role of Vinny Black to which the mantle has now been passed to Brian Noonan who tackles the colorful character with such command. 

 

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is a unique ceremony/celebration full of laughs and good times through and through. It's actually a wedding one can really look forward to attending for once (I know I'll hear it for that one later). By the end of the night you almost get the feeling you know the Nunzio's and Vitale's. 

 

"There's a hot tub party afterwards!" I was told by a groomsman on his way out. "Don't forget your speedo!"

 

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is currently being performed at Resurrection Church (3309 N Seminary) for the service then the reception moves to Chicago Theatre Works (1113 W Belmont) just over a block away. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.TonyLovesTina.com.

 

*Note - a full pasta entree is provided along with a cash bar.  A Vegetarian option is available by making a request to "Vinny Black" upon entering the reception area.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Saturday, 01 October 2016 23:53

The Last Wife Keeps Its Head

The tumultuous personal life of the six-time married Henry VIII has been an inspiration for dramatists for centuries, and provided immortal fame to several of his ill-fated wives. However, as the wife who had the political astuteness to survive him and the luck to marry him after he had already produced his long-awaited male heir, Katherine Parr has usually been neglected due to her apparent lack of tragedy. That changed last year, when Canadian actress and playwright Kate Hennig’s new work, The Last Wife, premiered at the Stratford Festival. Narrowly focused on six richly drawn characters, Hennig’s play is a reminder of how remarkable Parr truly was, and that her political power stemmed from her ability to reconcile one of the English-speaking world’s most notoriously fractured families. In the play’s United States debut at Timeline Theatre, director Nick Bowling’s cast teases out the nuances of Hennig’s complex script, creating a surprisingly compassionate image of a court known mainly for its beheadings.

The play is in modern dress and language, with elegantly simple costumes by Melissa Torchia and a matching silver and black set by Regina Garcia. Katherine Parr (AnJi White) is a social-climbing noblewoman with a dying husband she never liked, and a handsome admirer in the highly desirable Thom Seymour (Nate Santana). However, at the top of the play, she is troubled by the gift King Henry (Steve Pickering) has made to her of a dazzling necklace. It is a clear indication that he wishes to make her wife number six, and to refuse his gift is even more dangerous than to accept it. Henry himself makes that clear when he interrupts the couple by forcibly kissing Katherine and humiliating Thom by pretending to forget his lack of title and pointing out his inability to protect “his” woman. Catherine makes a counteroffer of becoming Henry’s mistress, but he refuses, and surprises her by declaring that his interest in her is primarily due to his belief that the young prince Edward (Chinguun Sergelen, alternating with Matthew Abraham) needs a mother.

Katherine, or, as she prefers to be called, Parr, recognizes several opportunities. The king is ailing, and is in need of advisers, and possibly a regent. Furthermore, if she maneuvers correctly, she could place herself in a position to mentor his older daughters, Mary (Paola Sanchez Abreu) and Bess (Caroline Heffernan, alternating with Peyton Shaffer), whom he is currently estranged from due to abusing, and in Bess’s case, murdering their mothers. Parr would like to see more women in positions of power, and the first step to making that happen is to restore the girls to the line of succession. White possesses the strength and the warmth to communicate that Parr is a mixture of high ambition and idealism, with a long-disappointed hope of starting a family of her own. She craves power enough that she is willing to take grave risks to gain it, seeks it for others as well as herself, and, perhaps unexpectedly, finds herself falling for the Tudors even as she tries to negotiate her suddenly much more complex relationship with Thom. White’s astute choices regarding when to be vulnerable and when to be commanding make her a fascinating figure, and the driving force of the play.

She’s in good company. Steve Pickering’s Henry is a sardonic, miserable, but highly intelligent and dangerous old monster. “I’m capricious; that makes me a fascist, not a liberal,” he declares early on in what is also an example of Hennig’s generally strong ability to describe Renaissance dynamics in modern language. (It’s not perfect; everything onstage is contemporary, but the characters still refer to cannons.) Henry cannot be tricked by false affection, but Parr is old enough to remember there was a time when he was a genuine sex symbol, and still has lingering admiration for the person he was when he took the throne as a teenager. Henry misses that person, too. Santana’s charming, but somewhat feckless Thom is depicted more sympathetically than the historical character usually is, as is Sanchez’s wounded and sour Mary. Heffernan’s Bess starts very guarded, but grows to reveal her intellect as well as her insecurities. Sergelen’s Edward is an innocent who has an adorable tendency to get underfoot at awkward moments, one of which implies early on that Parr and Thom may be a little sleazier than we’ve been led to believe.

Hennig is too clever a writer to make The Last Wife a morally simplistic story. Her characters are messy, and she treats her audience as people who don’t need to be preached to. At two and a half hours, The Last Wife is unusually dense and lengthy for a new play, and at times, Hennig’s style seems suited for a novel. There are a few big dramatic scenes, but most of the character development takes place through quieter moments during which they are clearly thinking more than they say. For example, while discussing Edward’s succession, Bess takes a tactless tone while pointing out that seventy percent of males in their family die before the age of eighteen. Mary responds with a veiled comparison between Bess and Richard III. But Bowling has done such a fine job of casting and pacing that the story never drags (and for those who absolutely prefer something shorter, Timeline’s production of Bakersfield Mist will be continuing through mid-October). For fans of the Tudor era, as well as people who enjoy intimate studies of ambitious families, The Last Wife is highly recommended.

The Last Wife is playing at Timeline Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave through December 18. For tickets or show information, see timelinetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 28 September 2016 20:54

It’s Partridge Vs. Brady in "The Bardy Bunch"

Who's doesn’t remember The Brady Bunch? Mike Brady who has three sons, marries Carol, who has three daughters, they bring in a live in housekeeper, Alice, and they quickly become one of America’s most beloved families of the 1970’s. We basically watch the kids grow up, getting into all kinds of hijinks along the way, before they finally do what makes the most sense - form a family band. Sure, they're creating a musical unit may have not come from an organic source, rather coming with the task to make a few bucks to replace the silver platter than Jan messed up. Still, the Gang was groovy enough to not only win first prize in the talent contest with their song and dance routine, but their brief musical career gave them a new identity to the show’s viewers that stuck. Oldest brother Greg even attempts a solo career in music as Johnny Bravo after being “recruited” by a record company, only to find out that he wasn’t very good and was only selected because the “jacket fit”, literally. 

 

Enter The Partridge Family, who debuted in homes shortly after The Brady Bunch. A widowed mother along with her five children tour both locally and nationally as a jammin’ rock band - and, yes, they all “play” their own instruments unlike the Brady’s. Leaving us a song per episode, The Partridge Family revolves around sappy love songs whereas the Brady’s dive into the music world is originated most certainly out of necessity and lasts but a couple random episodes. 

 

There is little doubt, The Partridge Family wins the cool prize of the two families. Led by mom on keyboards, Shirley Partridge is an attractive musician who like to wear her shorts high while son Keith is a teenage heartthrob and daughter Laurie is dreamt about by teenage boys all across America. Then there was Danny, a mischievous redhead who badly faked his way up and down the neck of a bass. The family could be found playing music to raise attention to just causes or simply getting their groove on rehearing in the garage.

 

So here’s the question - Brady’s or Partridges? You know it’s come up at one time or another.

 

In “The Bardy Bunch” we get a riotous clash of the two families who step outside of our TV sets to settle this dispute once and for all on the stage. Written by Stephen Garvey, we get a glimpse of the two families as the show begins, just before the Brady kids jump into a lively version of “Keep On” complete with the same cheesy dance moves performed on the TV show. Immediately we get a sense that Olivia Rentaria as Marcia Brady and Sawyer Smith as Greg are going to be entertaining as hell to watch. 

 

Though the story proves to be on the herky-jerky side where ghosts and murders are featured in rapid succession, it doesn’t really detract from the fact that audience members are in for an hour and forty-five minutes of campy fun, similar to The Brady Bunch movies that spoofed the family in the 1990’s. The fun to this show lies in the brilliant character lampooning done by this ultra-talented cast. This, in itself, makes the show a success. However, Garvey doesn’t want to live on camp alone, adding a plethora of Shakespeare references throughout the play, including the forbidden love of Keith, a Partridge, and Marsha, a hated Brady ala Romeo and Juliet. Of course, unlike the young Capulet and Montague, they are first obsessed with each other’s hair. 

 

While Skyler Adams as a hokey, exaggerated Keith Partridge draws continuous laughs throughout the play as the largest player involved, he is joined by a stellar ensemble, each one taking advantage of their ample opportunities. Erin McGrath is well cast as Laurie Partridge, perfectly capturing the blasé nature of the former teen model, while Carol and Mike Brady are wonderfully played by seasoned veterans Cory Goodrich and Stef Tovar, two true talents. Brianna Borger takes on the other head of the household as Shirley Partridge and does a bang up job, bobbing head and all.

 

The play revisits many humorous episode scenarios from both shows and plants a dismissiveness for Jan Brady as the middle child who never seems to get any attention while also portraying Danny Partridge as the calculating business man in a thirteen-year-old body. “The Bardy Bunch” also dishes out a boatload of seventies lingo from calling someone a “real crumb” to Greg calling Laurie a “real groovy chick”. This play is undoubtedly a feast of nostalgia down to its groovy threads. 

 

And with the humor comes the music, which if unfamiliar, is really good! Partridge hits dominate the show (obviously) with a nice selection including “I Woke Up in Love”, “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat”, “I Think I Love You” and the feel good, stand up singalong finale number, “Together We’re Better”.

 

“The Bardy Bunch” is jam-packed with laughs and fun memories for those who grew up watching the two families in action. With so much ugliness going on in the world today, we are given a wonderful escape to kick back and enjoy ourselves if just for an evening.

 

“The Bardy Bunch”, winner of the Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Ensemble at the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival, is currently being performed at Mercury Theater through November, and hopefully longer. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.MercuryTheater.com or www.TheBardyBunch.com.   

 

Super-duper recommended!

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

In the current political climate, where the political left and right are more divided than ever in their world view, Northlight Theatre’s The City of Conversation provides a glimpse at an elite class of Washington, DC, power players and how they charted the course of this country from behind the scenes for many decades.

 

The play, which opens Northlight’s 42nd season, centers on the relationships of a liberal socialite and her powerful but understated influence. The show’s title is a nod to British author Henry James’ famous view of Washington, DC, and the impact of its parlor games, and women in particular, on politics.

 

Written by Anthony Giardina and directed by Marti Lyons, The City of Conversation takes place in an exclusive Georgetown enclave and spans more than 30 years (from President Carter to the inauguration of President Obama) of socialite Hester Ferris’ (played by Lia D. Mortensen) political maneuverings over cocktails and posh dinners.

 

The play kicks off in 1979 during the twilight, and what Hester calls the malaise, of Carter’s term. She is hosting a very important party for her longtime, married partner Senator Chandler Harris (played by Tim Decker). Through the power of gentle persuasion, filtered through a catered meal and cocktails, Hester hopes to wrangle the vote of Republican Senator George Mallonee (played by Tim Morrison) for an important piece of legislation that will buoy Senator Teddy Kennedy’s chances in a primary bid against Carter.

 

Things take an unexpected turn when Hester’s son, Colin Ferris (played by Greg Matthew Anderson), shows up a day early from London with his fiancé Anna Fitzgerald (played by Mattie Hawkinson) who is not only an outsider from a small Minnesota town but also extremely ambitious, which Hester is quick to notice, and is a supporter of Governor Ronald Reagan.

 

The events of that evening set a course resulting in family division as both Hester and Anna wrestle with the rising tide of Reaganism and the resulting power shifts from liberal elites to the “Barbarians at the Gate,” as Anna calls the new crop of conservative outsiders, like herself, taking power.

 

Things come to a head for the family during the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as Hester, Anna and Colin, now a staunch republican, spar over the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

 

Though Hester’s influence has declined over the years she is still working behind the scenes to stop the momentum of Bork’s nomination. Colin, who works for Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, begs his mother not to embarrass him by intruding in the process. However, Anna, who is now in a powerful position within the Justice Department overseeing Bork's nomination, discovers Hester’s attempts to derail him and sparks fly as the two women, who are similar in their ambition and that they were once both outsiders who fought their way into the centers of power, engage in a heated argument culminating in an ultimatum and an irreconcilable break.

 

This scene is the strongest of the entire play and certainly generates the most excitement as Hester and Anna throw sharp barbs at each other. Perhaps the one drawback is that there is so much dialogue that both actors feel a little rushed in their delivery so the lines don’t always land as powerfully as intended.

 

A theme running throughout The City of Conversation is that Northeastern elites forgot the plight of the common man whose eventual political rise, however, lead to the decline of their Georgetown class along with the toney parties, described by Hester as an arm of the government. And gone with that brand of cocktail diplomacy are the civility and the mutual respect across the partisan divide that made political battles more of a chess match than the blood sport they are today.

 

The City of Conversation is being performed at the Northlight Theatre through October 23. Tickets are available at northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

After a successful summer preview run, "Thrones: The Musical Parody" has returned to Apollo Theater for Fall performances. Though the production might not have the staying power as did "Million Dollar Quartet", a show originally scheduled for a two-week run that was renewed for several years, "Thrones" is a solid production that, despite its niche market, should get comfy in its Apollo home for a decent stay.

 

Parodying Game of Thrones, one of the biggest television series over the past decade "Thrones" hold little back, cleverly mocking its main characters delivering a crude, but witty, humor GoT fans are sure to enjoy. From the show's opening number "Thrones!", a song that punches the audience with spoilers and refers to "The Wire" as a show one doesn't realize they like until after two and a half seasons, we get a good taste of the campy ride we are about to take. The show's very funny cast includes Caitlyn Cerza, Nick Druzbanski, Madeline Lauzon, Beau Nolan, Victoria Olivier and Christopher Ratliff. 

 

The story revolves around a group of friends who excitedly await the GoT season premiere. However, after some lackluster enthusiasm is displayed, it's soon revealed that Brad (Druzbanski) has never seen the show. Of course, this is just mind blowing for the rest of the gang who quickly agree to act out the show to catch Brad up to speed. And this is where it starts to get crazy. In fact, the show takes a hilarious turn the moment Tom (Ratliff) throws on the John Snow wig and makeshift cape just before diving into his ode to The Wall watchers "For the Watch". And how can you have a wall number without taking a poke a Donald Trump, which they certainly do. Taking shots at practically every character on the show from Tyrian to Sansa to King Joffrey to Xerxes (there's actually a song on who we need to know), the group goes from one scenario to the next. Naturally, Brad's interest in the show grows as the friends get deeper and deeper into the characters. 

 

Act One ends on a high note with possibly the funniest number in the show, "Stabbin'", a gruesomely humorous massacre free-for-all that really needs to be seen to be appreciated in full. But worry not, after a big ending into intermission, we are not let down, as Act Two holds a strong pace by providing solid laughs throughout, steering us to a strong finish. Each actor richly contributes in this talented cast holding the ability to get big laughs at any given moment as well as providing respectable vocal ability. The cast brilliantly overplays their characters expressions and are able to successfully spoof their many characteristics such as Tyrian's poor accent, John Snow's seemingly empty thoughts or _________  not so subtle crush on Denarys. 

 

Written by the team of Chris Grace, Zach Reino, Al Samuels and Dan Wessels, the show gets a nice boost from director Hannah Todd, who is able to work the funny within the funny and finely translate it for stage. While GoT fans will certainly enjoy this show, easily picking up on its jokes - both subtle and bold, it remains to see how theater goers not familiar with the show will react. The GoT fan base in Chicago might be enough in itself to support this show for a long run, possibly even creating new GoT fans along the way. 

 

"Thrones: The Musical Parody", performed at Apollo Theater through November 15th, has plenty to make it a thoroughly entertaining event - laughs, sex, an engaging storyline,catchy songs and excellent acting performances. 

 

Take your Game of Thrones experience to the next level with "Thrones: The Musical Parody". 

Published in Theatre Reviews

As soon as you enter the beautiful set that designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, has created for “Life Sucks", you are tip-toeing through what feels like a real forest of delicately lit white birch trees in the light of early evening in Autumn. 

 

The action then proceeds mostly on the front porch, and dining room/kitchen of a quaint country style house, complete with a small dock and row boat mired in mud, to indicate this is the log cabin style home of someone wealthy enough to live on a lake but not doing well enough any longer to afford a real boat, which turns out to be true.  

 

The seven characters enter the stage with house lights up and immediately break the fourth wall by letting the audience know a few things about the play, it has four acts with one intermission, and asking insightful questions like, "Do you think people in a hundred years will care how hard we worked?" Which immediately reminded me of the old joke, "What's the opposite of a nymphomaniac?" with the punchline, "a workaholic."

 

The next question, for the cast only, has them throwing out an enticing list of their "favorite things" ..."the feel of ice cubes swirling around in a heavy crystal drink glass filled with brandy...and what comes after", "a beautiful sunset over the water" and the adorable, "Kittens!" And once more for emphasis, "KITTENS!" and lest we think this is going to be a saccharine sweet play i.e. "The Sound of Music" - "the feeling of anticipation when you know that you are about to have an orgasm".

 

Ensemble member Andrew White directs deftly with a light hand, keeping the pace of the play moving in an enjoyable way and flowing from act to act naturally, sensually, without the feeling of rushing.

 

So many directors charged with productions that exceed two hours or are under ninety minutes with no intermission seem to be rushing the actor’s monologues and dialogue. In some cases you can imagine them standing offstage tapping their feet saying, "Pick up the pace people!", which can actually ruin the show, but Andrew White does just the opposite, calming the audience into actually receiving the message this play is trying to deliver. 

  

“Life Sucks” is an updated version of the Checkov play "Uncle Vanya" and every single one of the seven characters really holds their own throughout.

 

Eddie Jemison best known for his work from "Ocean's Eleven", "Waitress" and "Hung" is proof that dynamite comes in small packages as he takes on the role of the middle aged, depressed Vanya. 

 

The entire cast sprinkle the play with so many humorous Yiddish slang terms with adorable ease like the term "ferkocta" which means crazy in the head, or Vanya declaring over and over that Ella is his "beshert" and soulmate, meaning a person's destined love or a love that was meant to be, a love of heavenly creation. All the while Vanya’s pathos as his obsession with The Professor's beautiful, young wife Ella grows out of control. This leads to a hysterical attack on The Professors life as he describes in a monologue how vile, disgusting and unnatural it is to him that she (Ella) should be with such an "old man".  

 

The Professor is played perfectly by Jim Ortlieb (Billy Elliot) whose great monologue about how even small signs of aging in a man can ultimately ruin a perfectly good relationship is fantastic. We rarely hear the male point of view on this.

 

The Professor describes while comically, yet realistically, sliding and crawling down the front steps of the cabin in complete exhaustion after a fight with his young wife Ella - how a man sees in the mirror one day. He now sees his soft belly or some new wrinkles or gray hair and feels insecure leading him to take it out on his partner and she in turn becomes more insecure herself - resulting in more fighting and insecurity or his worst fear of all as she "becomes disengaged" from him entirely.

 

Chaon Cross as Ella is excellent as the young Master's Degree student who "married the smartest Professor in the whole college" and is hit on by every middle aged loser in this small town. Cross delivers a great monologue ala - don't hate me because I'm beautiful because my brilliant husband turned out to be an aging, ego-maniacal alcoholic. 

 

Ella asks the audience flat out how many of them want to sleep with her with no strings attached by a show of hands, then asks how many are dying to sleep with someone other than whom they are with - and it is a well delivered, very funny and telling moment for the audience. 

 

Danielle Zuckerman as Sonia seems to be the opposite of Ella. She is The Professors' only daughter and honestly describes how in her family, "It's like everyone is hard-wired to upset everyone else. Like we each have a bunch of buttons on our back that each one of us knows how to push." 

 

Sonia knows she is not beautiful, or even pretty, she knows that her weight and height, glasses and curly hair are never featured in the magazines she reads and Zuckerman gives a great, breath of fresh air feeling to the entire production that it inherently needs. In one scene with Ella she admits to actually "hating" Ella for her beauty and attractiveness to ALL the nearby men and Ella forces her to "slap her right in the face" which Sonia does. After the "enjoyable" catharsis of the slap in the face they pour rum and Cokes together and begin to bond as both stepmother and friends. 

 

Another great scene between Sonia and Dr. Aster, a middle-aged Lothario who wants to change the world - but only talks about it, occurs when Sonia tries to tell the doctor she has a crush on him. When she realizes Dr. Aster is 'in love" with Ella too, she delivers a great monologue after his exit about how she talked with him about "mystical butterflies' when she really wanted to say, "Take me upstairs and f-ck me, f-ck me so well and so hard the whole universe stops to watch ... and the stars stop in their orbits and her whole body finally understands what it is to be truly alive...but instead I talked about mystical butterflies."

 

Ensemble member, Philip R. Smith, best known for his roles in "High Fidelity" and “Since You've Been Gone" is very funny in the role of Dr. Aster, an admitted alcoholic who rambles on about the very real dangers of climate change and other depressing subjects that remind us these characters are living in the present day.

 

Another example of the timeliness and universality of this play is when at one point an audience member is asked what his deepest, darkest fear is and he answered without hesitation, "Donald Trump", which got a huge laugh.

 

Penelope Walker plays "Pickles", a lesbian (who ALSO flirts with Ella). Pickles is a neighbor and friend of Sonia's late mother who wanted to be a real artist but ended up crafting what looked like leg warmers for the birch trees to wear and hand puppets made of yarn. Walker is funny and upbeat as the character whose age we can't quite tell, the free-spirited loser we all love who would never say life sucks even if hers does.

 

At the end of the show, Vanya and the cast break the fourth wall for the last time and confront the entire audience with the question, "Does life suck?" Some people shouted “yes”, or “no”, I shouted “sometimes”. Then Vanya called specifically out to the woman sitting two seats away from me (his wife) and asked her, she poignantly answered, "No it does not suck because life is beautiful – there is even beauty in its pain." I had to agree with her. 

 

Highly recommended.

 

“Life Sucks is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through November 6th – www.Lookingglasstheatre.org.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
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