Theatre

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” written by Matthew Lopez, is an adorable and entertaining piece brought to sexy, vibrant life by an exquisitely multi-talented cast of characters. 

The play is set in a dusty part of the Florida panhandle at a run-down club called Cleo's owned by Eddie played with great irony by character actor Keith Kupferer. 

After night in and night out with an unsuccessful Elvis act, Eddie has allowed his cousin "Miss Tracy Mills" (Sean Blake) to bring her two man/woman drag show to the club in the hopes of salvaging his nightclub income. 

Sean Blake is amazing and seems born to play this role. Blake gets the most laughs and the most oohs and aahs with each stunning costume change or drag number and absolutely steals the show.  Miss mills also brings with her another drag queen of the highest order but one with a serious drinking problem named Rexy. 

Rexy played by Jeff Kurysz is hysterically funny in this role and does double time as Casey’s landlord and friend, a straight married man with children. Kurysz did so well in this transformation, it took me halfway through the play to realize this was the same person playing tow completely opposite roles and that was only because I thought I saw just a hint of blue eye shadow left over during his quick change from drag queen to local roofer!

The lead role of Casey is played with real charisma and fantastic dance abilities by Nate Santana. Casey has been trying to eke out a living doing his Elvis impersonation at the club but do to waning interest in his act has been demoted to bartender to make room for the new drag show. His wife, Jo (Leslie Ann Sheppard) has informed him she is pregnant and must give up his dreams of playing Elvis in order to support the family. The couple works well together, presenting a believable dynamic and we are easily able to root for them.

In the end, Casey learns to become a successful drag queen (after reluctantly doing so originally when asked by Eddie after Rexy is passed out drunk just before her number) and fulfills his artistic talents in this way. Just watching Casey’s transformation from Elvis impersonator to slovenly, broken down bartender to show-stopping drag queen is worth the price of admission and Santana does so with great communicative eyes and terrific physical comedy skills. 

Is drag just performing? No it is not as Rexy later explains to Casey, who thinks it's as simple as performing a show - it is a protest. There is much more to drag than eye shadow, glitzy dresses and fake boobs. It is a way of life, something to take your lumps for and definitely something not for "pussies". 

The set which slides back and forth to become their shoddy apartment and the dressing room of the bar is a little confusing and doesn't quite give the intimacy to either environment that it deserves. However, the lighting (JR Lederle), sound (Kevin O’Donnell), amazing costumes (Rachel Laritz), fabulous wigs (Penny Lane Studios- WOW!) and funny props by Bronte DeShong and yummy choreography by Chris Carter more than make up for that distraction. 

I highly recommend this laugh a minute feel-good comedy with several smashing dance numbers about making your dreams come true "right where you are with what you've got to work with" for the whole family to enjoy. 

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is being performed at Northlight Theatre through October 22nd. More show information can be found at www.northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, presents the Chicago Premiere of The Legend of Georgia McBride, written by Matthew Lopez, directed by Lauren Shouse. The Legend of Georgia McBride runs September 14-October 22 at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie. 

A down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator has an overdrawn checking account and a baby on the way. When a drag show takes over the entertainment at the Florida Panhandle bar where he performs, he’ll also be out of a job…unless he’s willing to step into some high heels. This heartwarming, music-filled comedy celebrates the unexpected path to finding your true voice.
 
“When Lauren Shouse brought The Legend of Georgia McBride to my attention, I could immediately see that it was fun, uplifting, musical, and written by one of our favorite authors, Matthew Lopez, who also wrote The Whipping Man,” comments BJ Jones. “It's a piece about outsiders who gradually bring us into their family—a family who celebrates our identities, our freedom, our uniqueness and our commonality. And this central notion is the vital message we need to hear right now in an atmosphere of dissonance, intolerance and hate.”
 
The cast of The Legend of Georgia McBride includes Sean Blake (Miss Tracy Mills), Keith Kupferer (Eddie), Jeff Kurysz (Rexy/Jason), Nate Santana (Casey) and Leslie Ann Sheppard (Jo). 
 
The creative team includes Chris Carter (Choreography), Richard and Jacqueline Penrod (Scenic Design), Rachel Laritz (Costume Design), JR Lederle (Lighting Design), Kevin O’Donnell (Sound Design). The production stage manager is Rita Vreeland.
 
Northlight’s production of The Legend of Georgia McBride is supported in part by Bob and Lisa Silverman.
 

The Box Office is located at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, in Skokie.  Box Office hours are Monday-Friday 10:00am-5:00pm, and Saturdays 12:00pm-5:00pm. On performance days, the box office hours are extended through showtime. The Box Office is closed on Sundays, except on performance days when it is open two hours prior to showtime.
 
Curtain times are: Tuesdays: 7:30pm (September 19 and October 17 only); Wednesdays: 1:00pm (except October 11) and 7:30pm; Thursdays: 7:30pm; Fridays: 8:00pm; Saturdays: 2:30pm (except September 16) and 8:00pm; and Sundays: 2:30pm and 7:00pm (September 17 and October 8 only).
 
 
Northlight is continuing its popular special event series in conjunction with each production.  All events are free. 
 
Backstage with BJ: The Legend of Georgia McBride
September 8 at 12:00pm 
at Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL
Backstage with BJ is a mid-day discussion with Artistic Director BJ Jones, featuring special guest artists, actors, directors and designers, offering behind-the-scenes insight into each production while it is still in rehearsal.  Backstage with BJ for The Legend of Georgia McBride will be held on September 8 at 12:00pm and will last approximately one hour. Event is free but reservations are required. Visit https://northlight.org/events/backstage-with-bj/ to reserve your spot.
 
Inside Look: The Legend of Georgia McBride
October 5 at 2:00-3:00pm
at Evanston Public Library
1703 Orrington Avenue, Evanston, IL
Explore the context of the play, The Legend of Georgia McBride, through a discussion and a Q&A session with panelists related to the production.
 
Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community. 
 
Now entering its 43rd season, the organization has mounted over 200 productions, including nearly 40 world premieres. Northlight has earned 202 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 34 Awards. As one of the area’s premier theatre companies, Northlight is a regional magnet for critical and professional acclaim, as well as talent of the highest quality. 
 

Fact Sheet / The Legend of Georgia McBride
 
Title:                      The Legend of Georgia McBride
Written by:              Matthew Lopez
Directed by:            Lauren Shouse
Featuring:               Sean Blake (Miss Tracy Mills), Keith Kupferer (Eddie), Jeff Kurysz(Rexy/Jason), Nate Santana (Casey) and Leslie Ann Sheppard (Jo). 
 
 
Creative Team:         Chris Carter (Choreography), Richard and Jacqueline Penrod (Scenic Design), Rachel Laritz (Costume Design), JR Lederle (Lighting Design), Kevin O’Donnell (Sound Design). The production stage manager is Rita Vreeland.
 
Dates:                     

Previews: September 14 – 21, 2017
                                          

Regular Run: September 23- October 22
 

Schedule:                

Tuesdays: 7:30pm (September 19 and October 17 only)

Wednesdays: 1:00pm (except October 11) and 7:30pm                   

Thursdays: 7:30pm
                                      

Fridays: 8:00pm
                                      

Saturdays: 2:30pm (except September 16) and 8:00pm

Sundays: 2:30pm and 7:00pm (September 17 and October 8 only).

 
Location:                Northlight Theatre is located at the North Shore
                             Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd,
                             Skokie
 
Tickets:                  Previews: $30-$57
                             Regular run: $30-$81
                             Student tickets are $15, any performance (subject to availability)
 
Box Office:              The Box Office is located at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie.
                              847.673.6300; northlight.org
 
Notes of Interest:
 
⦁ This production of The Legend of Georgia McBride marks the second collaboration with playwright Matthew Lopez and Northlight Theatre. His first play, The Whipping Man, was produced by Northlight in their 2012-2013 season.
 
The Legend of Georgia McBride received its world premiere at Denver Center Theatre, with subsequent productions at the MCC Lucille Lortel Theatre and the Geffen Theater in LA.
 
⦁ About his diverse body of work, playwright Matthew Lopez comments, “They’re all about home, creating home and family — either blood family or manufactured family. 'Georgia McBride’ is about a group of people who don’t really fit in anywhere else. I call them my misfit toys, and they build a home together at the bar.
 
⦁ Director Lauren Shouse is ​the Artistic Associate and Literary Manager at Northlight Theatre. Her local directing credits include Betrayal at Raven and work at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre, Rivendell Theatre, Sideshow Theatre, Route 66, Chicago Dramatists, and Stage Left Theatre. Prior to moving to Evanston, Lauren was Artistic Associate at Nashville Rep.
 
 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Following the lives of Charlotte and Jonny, The Mystery of Love and Sex cleverly explores a variety of subjects including sexual identity, race, political correctness and family undercurrents. Charlotte and Jonny have grown up together and have become the very best of friends. Charlotte is a white girl who had lived with her parents, her father Jewish and her mother converted, while Jonny, an African American had lived with his mother just next door. 

The story starts off with Charlotte and Jonny living together while attending college. They wonder if their longtime friendship can develop into something more. The two are stressed when Charlotte’s parents, Howard and Lucinda, come by for dinner unsure of what they might think of their living relationship and their possible future together. Howard, a  successful crime novelist accused of writing with racist and sexist overtones by Jonny ("Why are all black men able to dance? Why are most found victims women with no clothes on?"), is direct, concerned and, at times, a bit skeptical. “What is this? Like Bohemian?” He says referring to the couple’s table setting. It doesn’t help matters that Charlotte and Jonny are serving just salad and bread. But we quickly see how much Howard cares for both his daughter Charlotte and Jonny, who he considers his son, despite his oft coarse exterior. 

As the story progresses, Charlotte and Jonny show trepidation in pursuing a future together even questioning their own sexuality. Howard and Lucinda, who consider themselves liberal parents, just want their daughter to be happy. We are then taken on several plot twists and turns in both Howard and Lucinda’s marriage and the lives of Jonny and Charlotte that keep the story highly engaging.

Keenly directed by Marti Lyons and smartly written by Bathsheba Doran, The Mystery of Love and Sex provides four main characters that are each appealing in their own ways. The interactions between the four is fulfilling, as it is humorous, touching and true to life. Doran’s story is that of love, whether it be unconditional or the lengths taken to find it. It is a journey into life’s most sought after desire and a tribute to accepting those for who they are.  

"I have had the pleasure of following the impressive rising careers of playwright Bash Doran and Director Marti Lyons for the past few years and I am delighted to find a project that suited both their considerable talents so perfectly," says Artistic Director Michael Halberstam.

Hayley Burgess leads the way as Charlotte with a bold performance in her Writers Theatre debut. Charlotte has many layers that are revealed throughout the play and Burgess gently takes the audience by the hand into her character’s depth one step at a time. Best friend and confidant Jonny is well-played by Travis Turner who is also able to play up to the complexities in his role with much aplomb. Lia Mortensen is just fantastic as Lucinda, delivering her witty lines to perfection and getting several laughs in the way her character struggles to quit smoking. Cast in the role of Howard is Keith Kupferer. However, Kupferer had taken ill and was unavailable for the performance I had attended thrusting Mark David Kaplan into the role, who is simply remarkable. Kaplan steers his role with grit and finesse offering the clear predictability of Howard’s stereotype, but is also able to throw in a handful of surprising moments filled with a genuineness than can catch us off guard. Kaplan and Mortensen are terrific as Charlotte’s parents, bringing forth plenty of funny exchanges and throwing several well-timed darts at each other.

There is a lot to like in Doran’s The Mystery of Love and Sex from its tantalizing script to its well-executed performances. The play delivers a solid message in a uniquely crafty way that is entertaining from beginning to end. 

Recommended. 

The Mystery of Love and Sex is currently running at Writers Theatre (325 Tudor Court, Glenview) through July 2nd. For tickets and/or more show information click here

*This play contains frontal nudity.

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 18 November 2015 21:03

Review: Never the Sinner at Victory Gardens

Apparently thrill-killing isn't a new sign of the gradual breakdown of society. John Logan's historical thriller "Never the Sinner" explores the trial of wealthy, local killers Leopold and Loeb in what was once hailed as the crime of the century. Director Gary Griffin brings this story to life in an exciting new production at Victory Gardens Theater. 

 

Logan's wordy script has the potential to be really dull, even with the gory details. That's not the case with this quick-moving production. Set against a minimal set draped in peacock damask, Griffin's staging makes the telling active. Each twist and turn in the tabloid drama is accented by slick reporters. The cheeky headlines pose the question whether there's profit in crime? And if so, who benefits from a court room sideshow? Certainly not the victim. It also serves to underscore that in America, we're all just rubber-neckers happy that a crime didn't happen to us. 

 

A play like "Never the Sinner" is really only as strong as its Leopold and Loeb and luckily they’ve got two great actors. Japhet Balaban plays the part of introverted Nathan Leopold and he's unnervingly creepy. His attention to diction is a wise character choice. While Loeb technically carried out the crimes, Balaban's Leopold has the Norman Bates-type aloofness that most serial killers tend to possess. Jordan Brodess' Loeb balances the rage and panache which likely serves Logan's point that some people will sink to deplorable depths for fame in America. 

 

The true surprise of this story is their country lawyer Darrow played Keith Kupferer. Kupferer is known for his "every man" roles, and this show will prove a high point for him. Of course the knee-jerk reaction to brutal murder committed by two remorseless college boys makes us demand the ultimate penalty: death. Logan uses this real-life instance to debate the ethics of the death penalty. In high profile cases up to this point in history, rarely was the philosophy of capital punishment ever questioned. Even in our times it’s a hard question without an easy answer. Ultimately Logan uses this shlockey murder trial to ask the audience, is killing in the name of justice, just? 

 

Through December 6th at Victory Gardens Theater - 2433 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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