Theatre

“This world will remember me,” Bonnie and Clyde sing to each other in Kokandy Productions’ presentation of “Bonnie & Clyde” – a musical. Directed by Spencer Neiman, this odd-ball musical makes its area premiere after an unsuccessful Broadway run in 2011. This production also marks the fifth anniversary of Kokandy Productions, now a regular staple of Chicago’s storefront theater scene.

“Bonnie & Clyde” was developed in 2009 by La Jolla Playhouse in California, a frequent incubator for new Broadway work. The show opened officially on Broadway in 2011, but closed after 36 performances. Critics were not especially kind.

Even though it’s not a direct adaptation, it’s nearly impossible not to compare this musical to Arthur Penn’s stylish 1967 film. It’s an American film classic with iconic performances by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. It’s widely considered a turning point in American cinema. The film was focused less on historical accuracy and more on drawing comparisons between the young outlaws and the political awakening of the late 60s. The musical tends to tread on the same territory as Penn’s film but in a less dynamic way.

The issue is camp. Penn’s film is mostly devoid of camp even some fifty years later. “Bonnie & Clyde” the musical feels like two hours of pure kitsch. There’s no discernable reason this story needed to be told to music and unfortunately the empty songs prove that. Neiman’s cast seems to forget that these characters were indeed real people and not cartoon characters to be parodied. The nature of the material isn’t especially satirical, but this cast has decided it is.

Missy Wise as Blanche Barrow pretty much steals the show with her number ‘You’re Goin’ Back to Jail’, but the whole thing feels a bit Disney-fied, considering that the real Blanche Barrow served time for armed robbery.

The two leads Desiree Gonzales and Max Detogne are both incredible performers. Detogne’s voice is perfectly suited for the country-tinged folk rock of Frank Wildhorn’s music. Gonzalas also has a strong voice and makes some genuine choices for Bonnie Parker, adding a real dimension to her that isn’t otherwise in the script. The generic “I-wish” song feels sincere with Gonzalas singing. You will remember her, just like Clara Bow. Detogne also makes it his own. There’s a chemistry between the two that really translates.

If you were just dying to see “Bonnie & Clyde” during its Broadway run in 2011, Kokandy offers up a serviceable production. If you were hoping to gain more knowledge about the infamous star-crossed outlaws, you may be impressed at what playwright Ivan Menchel spins into his version of “Bonnie & Clyde.”

Through October 15 at Kokandy Productions. Theatre Wit 1229 West Belmont Ave.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Anyone can be a star – for a price! The annual CASTING PARTY is a unique opportunity for amateur theatre lovers to experience the thrill of being on stage in a professionally produced Chicago stage production – no experience or training required! The Casting Auction, in association with Kokandy Productions, will be auctioning off more than 30 roles for this season’s musical production, The ADDAMS FAMILY, on Friday, November 3, 2017 at Michelle’s Ballroom, 2800 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. 
 
The evening of theatrical fun features all-you-can-eat buffet, an open bar, live entertainment from Kokandy Productions’ performers and a front-row seat to the most interesting auditions you’ve ever seen! Doors open at 6:30 pm and the Live Auction begins at 7:30 pm. Advance tickets for the CASTING PARTY, priced at $55, are currently available at castingauction.com ($75 at the door). 
 
The Live & Silent Auctions
After food, drinks and mingling, a professional auctioneer starts the bidding for leading and major supporting roles in THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Throughout the evening, friends, family and supporters bid to win the role for who they want to play the part, and anyone can walk away with a role — no experience necessary! Supporting and ensemble roles are bid on in a silent auction throughout the night, and attendees may purchase a chorus or walk-on role at any time (or simply enjoy the party). 
 
The Production
Once casting is complete, there are no worries for the winners — The Casting Auction provides professional directors, choreographers, and musicians to help guide them through rehearsals to star in their role! THE ADDAMS FAMILY will enjoy four public performances in April of 2018 at a popular Chicago theatre venue (to be announced). 
 
The weird and wonderful family comes to devilishly delightful life in THE ADDAMS FAMILY, the magnificently macabre musical comedy created by Jersey Boys authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and Drama Desk Award winner Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party).
 
THE ADDAMS FAMILY features an original story, and it’s every father’s nightmare. Wednesday Addams, the ultimate princess of darkness, has grown up and fallen in love with a sweet, smart young man from a respectable family. A man her parents have never met. And if that weren’t upsetting enough, she confides in her father and begs him not to tell her mother. Now, Gomez Addams must do something he’s never done before — keep a secret from his beloved wife, Morticia. Everything will change for the whole family on the fateful night they host a dinner for Wednesday’s “normal” boyfriend and his parents.
 
A portion of proceeds from the CASTING PARTY and public performances of THE ADDAMS FAMILY will benefit Kokandy Productions, supporting not-for-profit theatre programming in Chicago.
 
The Partner Theater: Kokandy Productions
 
Kokandy Productions seeks to leverage the heightened reality of musical theater to tell complex and challenging stories with a focus on contributing to the development of Chicago-based musical theater works while raising the profile of Chicago’s storefront musical theater community. In its relatively brief history, Kokandy has received high critical acclaim and has been nominated for 36 Joseph Jefferson Awards, winning one for Sweet Smell of Success in 2014 and two for Heathers in 2016. 
 
Allison Hendrix – Producing Artistic Director
John D. Glover – Artistic Producer
Scot T. Kokandy – Executive Producer
 
The Casting Auction
 
The Casting Auction is a not-for-profit organization that produces professional theatrical productions starring amateur theater lovers, and uses the profits from the production to benefit deserving theaters. Each year, the company chooses one local theater to partner with to create the experience known as the THE CASTING AUCTION. Over the past six years, The Casting Auction has raised over $300,000 for Chicago theatrical programming.
 
Kate Garassino O’Driscoll - Co-Artistic Director
Eric Martin - Co-Artistic Director
Heather Larkin - Company Manager

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Kokandy Productions is pleased to present the Chicago premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's LITTLE FISH, directed by Producing Artistic Director Allison Hendrix with music direction by Kory Danielson and choreography by Kasey Alfonso, playing July 9 – August 20, 2017 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets for LITTLE FISH are currently available at www.kokandyproductions.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office. 
 
LITTLE FISH features Curtis Bannister as John Paul, Kyrie Courter as Anne Frank, Adam Fane as Marco, Casey Hayes as Robert (August 1 – 20, 2017), Carl Herzog as Mr Bunder, Teressa LaGamba as Cinder, Nicole Laurenzi as Charlotte, Jeff Meyer as Robert (July 9 – 30, 2017) and Aja Wiltshire as Kathy. 
 
Thirty-something writer Charlotte decides to give up smoking and tries to compensate with swimming and jogging – but to no avail. With the help of her friends Kathy and Marco, she embarks on a modern-day odyssey to face the eclectic demons of her past. Loosely based on Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories Days and Flotsam, LITTLE FISH’s score is infused with Latin, jazz, rock, and what’s been described as "pure urban noise within Charlotte's mind."
 
LITTLE FISH premiered off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in 2003.
 
"What I love the most about this musical is that it has these huge ideas attached to it – isolation versus connection… addiction… trauma… but they exist within a bright, fast-paced, hilariously wry musical comedy,” comments Director Allison Hendrix. “We see three friends in the midst of their ‘Saturn Returns,’ figuring out how to be better people, better friends and ultimately, better citizens of the world. These characters' journeys will feel familiar and close to home to our audiences." 
 
The production team for LITTLE FISH includes: Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Kate Kamphausen (costume design), Alexander Ridgers (lighting design), Michael J. Patrick (sound design), Mealah Heidenreich (props design), Shawn Rodriguez (master electrician), Keegan Bradac (sound engineer), Lindsay Brown (production manager), Alan Weusthoff and Zach Schley (techinical directors), Emily Boyd (paint charge), Ethan Deppe (keyboard programmer), Kait Samuels (stage manager) and Alison McLeod (asst. stage manager). 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: LITTLE FISH
Book, Music & Lyrics: Michael John LaChiusa
Director: Producing Artistic Director Allison Hendrix
Music Director: Kory Danielson
Choreographer: Kasey Alfonso
Cast: Curtis Bannister (John Paul), Kyrie Courter (Anne Frank), Adam Fane (Marco), Casey Hayes (Robert, August 1 – 20, 2017), Carl Herzog (Mr Bunder), Teressa LaGamba (Cinder), Nicole Laurenzi (Charlotte), Jeff Meyer (Robert, July 9 – 30, 2017) and Aja Wiltshire (Kathy). 
 
Musicians: Korey Danielson (conductor/keyboard), Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (keyboard 2), Mike Matlock (reeds), Kyle McCullough (guitar), Jake Saleh (bass) and Scott Simon (percussion).
 
Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago
Dates: Previews: Sunday, July 9 at 7 pm, Monday, July 10 at 7 pm, Thursday, July 13 at 8 pm and Friday, July 14 at 8 pm
Regular run: Sunday, July 16 – Sunday, August 20, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will be added 3 pm performances on Saturday, August 12 and Saturday, August 19.
Tickets: Previews $25. Regular run $33 - $38. Tickets are currently available at www.kokandyproductions.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office.
 
For additional information, visit www.kokandyproductions.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

"Are we still who we thought we were?"

"How much do we still value the culture we embraced a year ago?"
 
These are the questions that guided Theater Wit Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler as he assembled the company's 2017-18 "smart art" season of contemporary, comedic plays: the return for the holidays of Mitchell Fain's tour-de-force This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles) (November 24-December 30, 2017), the world premiere of Eric John Meyer's The Antelope Party, a comedy for our times with a My Little Pony theme (January 5-February 24, 2018), and the Chicago debut of Women Laughing Alone with Salad, the Internet meme turned satirical play by Sheila Callaghan (March 9-April 29, 2018).
 
"This has been a year of tsunami-sized cultural change. So many American ideals - media independence, social services, feminism, LGBTQ rights, anti-racism - seem under assault," said Wechsler. "But we have to stay true to ourselves, and that means comedies of reason and compassion. Our 2017-18 season offers three such vantages: the personal story of how a city became a sanctuary, a comedy of ponies and normalization, and a whirling examination of media culture and sexual politics. It's a set of three plays that you won't soon forget, comic works by contemporary artists timed to the exigencies of this moment."
 
Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. The best way to secure seats to Theater Wit's 2017-18 season is to sign up for a Theater Wit Membership. Wit's Netflix-like "all the theater you can eat" deal lets members see as many plays at they want in any of theater's three spaces for one low monthly fee of $29/$22 for students, along with many exclusive member perks. Single tickets to Wit's 2017-18 season go on sale ten weeks before each show.

To purchase a Membership, inquire about Flex Pass options or to buy single tickets, visit theaterwit.org or call the Theater Wit box office, 773.975.8150.
More about Theater Wit's 2017-18 season

The return of
This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles)
Written and performed by Mitchell Fain
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
November 24-December 30, 2017

After completing an amazing workshop last year, Chicago's favorite holiday performer returns for a mainstage tour-de-force of his unique blend of storytelling, improvisation and cabaret.

This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles), written and performed by Mitchell J. Fain, pulls together a host of holiday stories from the audience along with his own autobiographical war stories about how family, drunks, jewelry, funerals, 250 performances and the holiday spirits collide.

Chicago's newest holiday tell-all is this sweet, sentimental evening of hard truths that change night to night, with lovely cameos by Chicago cabaret powerhouses like Meghan Murphy and madcap pianist Julie B. Nichols.

"Highly recommended. A brand new, indispensable tradition, at once hilarious, tragic, moving and profane." - Chicago Theater Review


A World Premiere
The Antelope Party
By Eric John Meyer
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
January 5-February 24, 2018
It's sometime in the 2010s. The Rust Belt Ponies Meet Up Group for Adult Fans of My Little Pony has gathered in Ben's Philadelphia apartment, but two members have not yet arrived. A new recruit seems unusually shy and curiously paranoid about a local neighborhood watch group. What happened to their Pegasister, Maggie? Why is Brony Doug so paranoid? What does it all have to do with the 9/11 Truthers and an emerging group of "concerned citizens?" In the midst of increasing violence and authoritarianism, how can our heroes see the magic in Everypony? And, even worse, what if they do? 
 
And that's just the first ten minutes of Meyer's amazing and timely new comedy. With its My Little Pony cult prism, Meyer explores the rise of a new social order and how the currents of history, normalization and fear can sweep up even the most Generous ponies of Celestia.
 
Eric John Meyer is a playwright and performer/director/producer based in New York City. His work has been developed or presented by Playwrights Horizons, Clubbed Thumb, Vineyard Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Flea, Dutch Kills Theater Company and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, among others. He is a member of the Actor's Studio Playwright/Director Unit and a recipient of a new play commission from Playwrights Horizons. Meyer is a co-founder of Human Head Performance Group and The Truck Project, both of which he established with his partner, Jean Ann Douglass. He received his MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College.

 

A Chicago Premiere
Women Laughing Alone with Salad
By Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Devon De Mayo
March 9-April 29, 2018
Dangerous, fierce and funny, Women Laughing Alone with Salad bursts out of the bounds of internet meme-dom and onto the stage in a four person comic tour-de-force about friendship, salad, sex, bodies, yoga, salad, men, envy, women, pharmaceuticals, diets, salad and uppers and salad.
DC Theatre Scene called this hilarious satire about how we live with ourselves, or possibly, how we can't, a "fresh, funny play...the poster child for what feminist theatre should be: a great night out on the town watching a slambam comedy which is also a serious conversation about the society we oh-so-currently live in."
 
Devon de Mayo makes her Theater Wit directorial debut with Women Laughing Alone with Salad. Her recent directing credits include Court Theatre's Harvey and Raven Theatre's world premiere Sycamore.

Sheila Callaghan's plays have been produced and developed with Soho Rep, Playwright's Horizons, Yale Rep, South Coast Repertory, Clubbed Thumb, The LARK, Actor's Theatre of Louisville, New Georges, The Flea, Woolly Mammoth, Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwright's Theatre, among others. Callaghan is the recipient of the Princess Grace Award for emerging artists, a Jerome Fellowship from the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis, a MacDowell Residency, a Cherry Lane Mentorship Fellowship, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and the prestigious Whiting Award. Her plays have been produced internationally in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Germany, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. These include Scab, Crawl Fade to White, Crumble, We Are Not These Hands, Dead City, Lascivious Something, Kate Crackernuts, That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play, Fever/Dream, Everything You Touch, Roadkill Confidential, Elevada, Bed and Women Laughing Alone with Salad. She is published with Playscripts.com and Samuel French, and several of her collected works are published with Counterpoint Press. She has taught playwriting at Columbia University, The University of Rochester, The College of New Jersey, Florida State University, and Spalding University. Callaghan is an affiliated artist with Clubbed Thumb and a member of the Obie winning playwright's organization 13P. She is also an alumni of New Dramatists. In 2010, Callaghan was profiled by Marie Claire as one of "18 Successful Women Who Are Changing the World." She was also named one of Variety magazine's "10 Screenwriters to Watch" of 2010. Callaghan is currently a writer/producer on the hit Showtime comedy Shameless and a founder of the feminist activist group The Kilroys. She was nominated for a 2016 Golden Globe for her work on the Hulu comedy series Casual and a 2017 WGA Award for her Shameless episode "I Am A Storm."

About Theater Wit
Theater Wit, Chicago's "smart art" theater, is a major hub of the Chicago neighborhood theater scene, where audiences enjoy a smorgasbord of excellent productions in three, 99-seat spaces, see a parade of talented artists and mingle with audiences from all over Chicago.

"A thrilling addition to Chicago's roster of theaters" (Chicago Tribune) and "a terrific place to see a show" (New City), Theater Wit is now in its seventh season at its home at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. 

The company's most recent hits include 10 Out of 12 and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, Naperville by Mat Smart, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England by Madeleine George, and Completeness and The Four of Us by Itamar Moses.

In 2014, Theater Wit was awarded the National Theatre Award by the American Theatre Wing for strengthening the quality, diversity and dynamism of American theater. Theater Wit also brings together Chicago's best storefront companies at its Lakeview home, including 2017-18 resident companies About Face, Kokandy Productions and Shattered Globe.

To receive an "artisanal selection of consonants and vowels from Theater Wit," sign up at TheaterWit.org/mailing for exclusive updates, flash deals and behind-the-scenes production scoop every few weeks.

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 13 March 2017 12:34

Review: Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz"

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

*Extended through April 23rd

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Based on the 1988 cult film “Heathers” starring Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater, the talented cast of “Heathers: The Musical” bursts onto the stage with enough energy to "bully" the audience right back into the mean late 80's when this particular tale of murder in high school first raised the issues of teen cruelty over twenty-five years ago. Dark and questionable is the subject matter that it be made into a musical, but the show does have its moments. After all, we are talking about a film that may have forewarned us of the tragic school shootings to come in its wake. 

Veronica, the nerdy girl who becomes a "Heather" at the expense of her friendship to the truly kind "fat girl" in her class is well played here by Courtney Mack. Mack shows a full range of emotions as she realizes what has begun as simple teen angst and bullying has turned her new outsider boyfriend, J.D., whom she meets hanging around a 7-11 store all day into a serial murderer. Adding to Mack’s solid performance, Chris Ballou also does a fine job in taking on the role of J.D..  

Haley Jane Schafer, Rochelle Therrien and Jacquelyne Jones, are each fantastic as the “Heathers" - the meanest, prettiest girls in school who rule with an iron lipstick case. Each of the Heathers' has her own unique flavor of comedy and delivery and each are very good dancers as well as vocalists.

That said, the set which was a big colorless lump full of doorways did not make you feel you were in a high school at all and was actually a distraction at times. Also, the costumes the Heathers DID wear were great - very sexy period costumes, but then they never changed clothes until almost the end of the show, leaving some disappointment. As gorgeous, skinny, fickle fashion mongers, this inconsistency made the show feel much to be desired when it came to dressing them as the story progressed with the lack of colorful, sexy clothing and accessory changes as occurs in the movie and would be a big part of their real high school lives. 

The songs may not have been on the most memorable side, but the show did have a few good laughs. There was some terrific physical comedy in the slow motion fight scene between the two jocks who terrorize all the girls in school with jokes about date rape, etc. 

Certainly a challenging task at hand, James Beaudry's direction in this small venue with so much young and energetic talent falls short in that it seemed the play starts at a very high level of energy and volume and continues at that exact same volume even during the ballads. Instead, there needed to be some genuine reflection and time to rest for the characters to be fully formed and also to rest the audience’s ears – simply put, more dynamics. 

All in all, this cast did a great job with the materials they were given and delivered a funny, bitter and scary version of what life in high school was like then and now. See "Heathers" with the expectation of a few decent yuks, a handful of entertaining musical numbers ("Big Fun" comes to mind) and a sometimes pretty accurate nostalgic peek at high school in the late 1980's.   

Kokandy Productions of “Heathers: The Musical” is being performed at Theater Wit through April 24th. For more show information, visit www.theaterwit.org.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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