Theatre

Linda Fortunato, Artistic Director of Theatre at the Center (TATC), Northwest Indiana’s only professional theater company, has announced the mainstage titles for TATC’s 2018 Season.  
 
Fortunato will direct three of the five productions, including Steel Magnolias, which will launch the 2018 season. Forever Plaid and The Lady with All the Answers are the spring and summer shows. In the fall, Fortunato will also direct Ghost The Musical, a stage adaptation of the 1990 Academy-Award winning film. Closing the 2018 season, she will direct and choreograph Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical inspired by the 1947 classic film.
 
Steel Magnolias (February 22 – March 25, 2018) is a hilarious and heart-warming play set in a Louisiana beauty shop. It follows the hopes, dreams, triumphs and tragedies of six colorful characters and inspired the 1989 film which starred Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton. It’s a story exploring the bond between a mother and daughter, and friendships of those who feel like family.
 
Spring welcomes Forever Plaid (May 3 – June 3, 2018), one of the most popular and beloved of musical revues. “The Plaids” are a quirky quartet of high school chums in the spotlight for the biggest performance of their lives. Their spirited antics and comic banter weave together such hits as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Heart and Soul” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” in this playful tribute to the close harmony of “guy groups” of the 1950’s.
 
An up-close and personal introduction to the real Ann Landers awaits audiences in The Lady with All the Answers (July 12 – August 12, 2018).  Popular advice columnist Ann Landers had a life which seemed letter-perfect. With more than 90 million readers each day, she had a quick wit which could be comical and creative, as well as sharp and shocking, all in the same sentence. The play unfolds in Landers’ Lakeshore Drive apartment in 1975 where she shares some of her most fascinating stories as she prepares to write the most difficult column of her career.
 
In the fall, Ghost The Musical (September 13 – October 14, 2018) is the musical adaptation of the 1990 Academy-Award winning film sharing the love story of Sam and Molly. After Sam’s untimely death, he tries to protect Molly from an unknown threat. In an attempt to communicate with her, he enlists the help of a storefront psychic to hilarious and harrowing effect. This tale about the power of love features a score by Grammy Award winning songwriters Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, and includes the classic “Unchained Melody.”
 
The holidays are celebrated with Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical (November 15 – December 23, 2018), from the composer of The Music Man. Inspired by the beloved 1947 film, audiences will enjoy the gift of music and laughter. After Santa encounters a skeptical little girl during the season of sharing and caring, a message about the importance of believing is made clear to all. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” became famous as one the memorable songs in this joyous favorite for all ages.
 
“In choosing Theatre at the Center’s 2018 season, I wanted to create a blend of different styles to engage our audience,” Fortunato said.
 
“Through intimate plays, a beloved musical revue, a new musical, and a holiday classic, we will explore the bonds of friendship and family, of loves lost and found, and meet strangers who feel like family. I hope our audiences will laugh heartily, maybe cry a little, and enjoy some favorite music and songs as they join us for both familiar stories and new ones, as well.” 
 
Founded in 1991, the 410 seat Theatre at the Center is a year-round professional theater at its home at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana. Theatre at the Center is the only professional theater company in Northwest Indiana, offering downtown caliber performance in an accessible venue with plenty of free parking. Theatre at the Center is located off I-80/94, just 35 minutes from downtown Chicago.
 
Renewal for existing Season Subscriptions begins Aug. 20 and continues through Sept. 24, with sales for new Season Subscription patrons beginning Oct. 10. Individual tickets for any of the five mainstage shows of the new 2018 Season are on sale beginning Dec. 12.
 
Theatre at the Center mainstage show performances are 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 3:00 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays and select Thursday and Sunday evenings.  Individual ticket prices range from $42 - $46.  To purchase individual tickets, including the remaining shows of the 2017 Season, call the Box Office at 219-836-3255 or Tickets.com at 800-511-1552.   Group discounts are available for groups of 11 or more and gift certificates are also available. For more information about Theatre at the Center, visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Paramount Theatre is excited to tune up for its rollicking 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet, the wildly popular rock and roll musical that played more than 2,500 performances in Chicago.

Travel back in time to Memphis’s Sun Records recording studio on December 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time and created an explosive album that has yet to be matched. Million Dollar Quartet tells that story with all the raw energy and monumental talent everyone has come to expect from these music giants.

Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti, the man responsible for the past two Jeff Award-winning Best Musicals (Large), Les Misérables and West Side Story, will stage Paramount’s rockin’ opener.

Playing the Quartet are Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, with Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips, Zach Lentino as Brother Jay, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Scott Simon as Fluke.

The production team is Kory Danielson, music director; Trent Stork, associate director; Ethan Deppe, associate music director; Kevin Depinet, scenic design; Sally Dolembo, costume design; Jesse Klug, lighting design; Adam Rosenthal, sound designer; Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup design; Amanda Relaford, properties design; Susan Gosdick, dialect coach; Maggie O’Donnell, stage manager; and Matthew McMullen, assistant stage manager. 

Don’t miss Paramount’s high-spirited, nostalgic new take on the three-time Tony Award nominated musical, featuring some of the biggest and best songs of all time like “Peace in the Valley,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire.”

Previews start September 13. Performances continue through October 29: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Single tickets are $36 to $64. Million Dollar Quartet is rated PG.

But hold on, there’s still time to include Million Dollar Quartet in Paramount’s “Buy Two Shows, Get Two Shows Free” 2017-18 Broadway subscription offer. For less than the cost of a ticket to one show downtown, patrons can see three more Broadway-quality musicals: Elf The Musical (November 22-January 7), Cabaret (February 7–March 18) and Once (April 25-June 3). Four-play packages start as low as $72. The rewards are ample – four amazing, Broadway-quality musicals, at one of the most majestic theaters in the Midwest.

The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, is surrounded by affordable parking and a variety of restaurants for pre- or post-show dining. For subscriptions and single tickets, visit ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two hours prior to evening performances.

Behind the scenes: Paramount’s Million Dollar Quartet

There was no plan for Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins to record together on December 4, 1956. But as fate would have it, their impromptu jam session left behind a historic and mind-blowing album. The evening begins in the Sun Records recording studio in Memphis. Up and comer Jerry Lee Lewis is recording songs with rockabilly king Carl Perkins when the iconic Elvis Presley stops by with his girlfriend. The not-quite-yet-guitar-god Johnny Cash is there to pay a visit to music manager Sam Phillips. Throw them all together, and you have one of the most unexpected, unprecedented and unforgettable musical moments in history. It was the first and only time they played together and, through their musical genius, created an explosive album that has yet to be matched.   

Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote the book for Million Dollar Quartet based on Mutrux’s original concept and direction. The Chicago production ran from 2008 to 2016 and became the third longest-running show in Chicago theater history. Critics called it “the most exuberant theatrical event,” “dazzling from first beat to last” and “the best live rock ‘n’ roll show I have ever seen.”

Fast forward to the kick off of Chicago’s 2017-18 theater season, featuring Paramount’s talented lead cast for Million Dollar Quartet. Adam Wesley Brown (Carl Perkins) played Eamon in Once on Broadway, has numerous regional credits and has been seen on local stages including Lookingglass and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Kavan Hashemian (Elvis Presley) began performing his Elvis tribute at age three. Today he performs all over the world, including in London where he won the title of "The World's #1 Rock N Roll Elvis” on BBC-TV. Gavin Rohrer (Jerry Lee Lewis) is fresh from playing the role at Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City, where Broadwayworld.com raved “his piano skills are unrivaled, and his brash certainty provides some of the funniest moments of the night.” Bill Scott Sheets (Johnny Cash) just played the “Man in Black” at Berkshire Theatre Group in Massachusetts. Berkshire Fine Arts wrote “particularly strong was Bill Sheets, whose voice and delivery were sublime.” 

"Icons Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash were southern, rockabilly country boys before they were discovered by Sam Phillips, the young, upstart record producer and owner of Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Their purely by chance meeting for the first and only time on Dec. 4, 1956, is a seminal moment in the birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” said Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti.

“The show, exploring the connections of these four to their music and each other, is full of intriguing surprises and is not only a fascinating, short history but a full scale, no holds barred, in-your-face jam session of the kind of music that grabbed hold of our youth culture back then and hasn’t let go ever since,” Corti added. “From our Chicago and national talent pool, we’ve assembled a dynamite cast; you won’t believe your eyes and ears! There’ll be a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on, all live, all on the Paramount stage, all made in Aurora!”

Jim Corti (director) was hired in 2011 to be the first-ever artistic director in the Paramount’s 80+ year history. He was instrumental in launching Paramount’s inaugural Broadway Series and directed and choreographed Paramount’s first self-produced Broadway Series show My Fair Lady, which played to rave reviews. Corti’s 2013 Paramount production of Fiddler on the Roof was a smash hit, and his Miss Saigon was the only musical to make the Chicago Tribune’s Top Ten Shows of 2013. Rentin 2014 was a critical and box office success, followed by consecutive productions of The Who’s Tommy and Les Misérables, which collectively garnered five Jeff Awards for Paramount in its first year of eligibility, including Best Production – Musical - Large for Les Misérables and Best Director - Musical for Corti. He also staged Paramount’s 2015-16 opener Oklahoma! and closer West Side Story, Paramount’s second-consecutive Jeff Award winning Best Musical. Last season, Corti directed memorable productions of Mamma Mia! and Sweeney Todd. Before Paramount, Corti was a seasoned Broadway veteran, appearing in the New York casts of Ragtime, A Chorus Line and Candide and national tours of Urinetown, Cabaret and Bob Fosse’s Dancin’. Career highlights over three decades include being the only director in Chicago to have two productions at the same time in the Chicago Tribune’s list of 10 Best Shows in 2009 – Drury Lane’s Cabaret and Writers Theatre’s Oh, Coward!. He remains the sole honoree to have garnered a Jeff Award as an actor (in Marriott’s Grand Hotel), a choreographer (Drury Lane’s Singin’ in the Rain) and director (Paramount’s Les Misérables, Drury Lane’s Sweet Charity and Northlight’s Blues in the Night).

Kory Danielson (music director) is coming back for his 11th consecutive musical at the Paramount, after serving as co-music director and associate conductor with Tom Vendafreddo on Jesus Christ Superstar, and assistant music director and associate conductor for Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, West Side Story, Hairspray – The Broadway Musical, A Christmas Story - The Musical, Oklahoma!, Les Misérables and The Who's Tommy. Other Chicago credits include Assassins, The Full Monty, Loving Repeating, Heathers, Tomorrow Morning (Kokandy Productions); Passion (2014 Jeff Award for Outstanding Music Direction), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Theo Ubique); How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Porchlight Music Theatre); Hedwig, Wedding Singer (Haven Theatre); and Zanna, Don't!, Lucky Stiff, Triumph of Love (The Music Theatre Company). Danielson has also worked with Drury Lane, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, Bailiwick and Hell in a Handbag.

Paramount’s 2017-18 Broadway Series is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and The Dunham Fund. Broadway Series Orchestra Sponsor is Rush-Copley Medical Center. Broadway Series Lighting Sponsor is ComEd. Broadway Series Costume Sponsor is Gerald Kia. Million Dollar Quartet is also sponsored by Asbury Gardens.


More about Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Season

In addition to Paramount’s Broadway Series, Paramount’s 2017-18 season also includes Tim Allen (August 18), 60s music favorite The Happy Together Tour (August 25), Unforgettable: Falling in Love with Nat King Cole (November 5) featuring Evan Tyrone Martin (Jesus in Paramount’s 2017 smash hit Jesus Christ Superstar), comedian and impersonator Frank Caliendo (November 10), The Second City’s Non-Denominational Christmas Show (December 1-23 in the Copley Theatre), Las Vegas’s #1 ventriloquist Terry Fator (January 20), the incredible magic of Penn & Teller (March 23), Chicago’s own Jersey boys Under the Streetlamp (March 24), country star and American Idol winner Scotty McCreery (March 25), late night comedy legend Jay Leno (April 13), Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shinef eaturing Angela Ingersoll (June 10) and the world’s #1 Bee Gees tribute band Stayin’ Alive (June 15).

For subscriptions, single tickets or more information, go to ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora.

 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Oriental Theatre is currently housing one of the finest productions of The King and I that you will ever see. From its colorful set to its superb cast including Jose Llana who has mastered the role of the Siamese King, this particular creation if The King and I is simply wondrous.


The scrumptiously definitive Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spirited, brainy educator, Anna Leonowens, who the King of Siam brings in from England to teach his seventy-seven children and many wives both the English language along with Western culture. She is strong-willed, which throws off the stubborn and egotistical king, the two struggling, at times, to see eye to eye, especially when Anna states that women are every bit as important than men.


Laura Michelle Kelly has a large Broadway resume and shines as the show’s star in Anna offering genuineness to the role while providing a strong singing voice for the part. Kelly suffuses the character with wit, strength, empathy and a suffragette fervor which climaxes in the comical and still contemporary number, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”


“All to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!”


Jose Llana is about as good as it gets as the King of Siam (sorry, Yul Brynner). Llana is no stranger to the role having starred in two Tony-Award winning in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of The King and I. As I suggested previously, he is made for the role. Delightful, attractive and able to charm the house one moment while displaying great frustration the next, Llana delivers a layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable distortion. Llana’s comic timing, humorous expressions and line delivery are spot on. He is convincing so that it makes perfect sense that his character is both gaining respect for the sophisticated and mature teacher while also being confused by his rising sense of incomprehension at her grasp of political awareness that progresses the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.


The chemistry between Llana and Kelly is explosive.


There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Llana and Kelly manage to make it a funny exchange between two people who are each unaware they are gaining a true admiration for each other.


Other stories unfold throughout the production, that of a young couple whose love is forbidden as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim (Manna Nichols), who is in love with Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), her secret lover. At the same time, we see a young king in the making who is clearly influenced by Anna’s Western ways.


Marcus Shane steps in as Prince Chulalongkorn, the young boy who is next in line to be king, and does a solid job conveying his character’s gradually absorption of Anna’s wisdom and life lessons most notably at the show’s end when he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden. The young prince has clearly learned a lesson in humanity from his now adored teacher and friend, Anna.


Joan Almedilla is fantastic as Lady Thiang. Her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” is nothing less than breathtaking. Like the other cast members in main roles, Almedilla’s voice is yet another a true treat for the ears. It’s easy to get spoiled when seeing a well-performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the words for every song are so unforgettable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” is also gorgeously sung by Nichols, as the love stricken Tuptim.

“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"
And Panmeechao, Tuptim’s lover, performs the classic “I Have Dreamed” impeccably.
“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper
When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view
In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

The costumes in this piece are true to the period while the dance numbers pleasingly choreographed and a radiant set worthy of its royalty is the finishing touch.
I highly recommend this dreamy, moving and humorous evening of unadulterated theatrical joy.


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is being performed at the Oriental Theatre through July 2nd For more show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s the wild 1930’s in Berlin and it’s anything goes at the Kit Kat Klub where an impish Emcee feasts on making the haunt as alluring as possible to its guests. He loves the boys, he loves the girls and he loves the orchestra. Headliner Sally Bowles leads the cabaret dancers in the playful club where one can phone table to table if interested in another. Bowles is brassy, commanding and she flat out belts, leaving little doubt who runs the show. This is quickly evidenced in her racy opening number “Don’t Tell Mama”. It is a place of decadent carnival where boundaries do not exist and guests are endlessly entertained by its sexy performers. 

American writer Cliff Bradshaw soon arrives via train ride where he meets new friend Ernst Ludwig. The two quickly hit it off. While getting to know each other, Bradshaw reveals he is looking for a place to stay, so Ludwig recommends a boarding house run by Fraulien Schneider. Searching for inspiration for his second novel, Bradshaw visits the nearby Kit Kat Klub where he is opened to a world he never knew existed. 

While Bradshaw and Bowles get to know each other (and then some), Herr Schultz, an elderly German, regularly visits the boarding house where he shows his affections for Schneider by bringing her fruit from the nearby produce store that he owns. Soon Schultz and Schneider agree to marry, while Bowles and Bradshaw become cozier, the two now living together. The club is thriving and all seems well in 1930’s Berlin. 

But the shadow of the Nazi regime is gradually becoming much more apparent. Slowly, the danger of a growing Third Reich is affecting Berlin. Gradually, the carefree mood of many Berlin residents becomes that of one awaiting impending doom. Some sense a mounting tragedy afoot and fear a change for the worse in Germany. 

Yet, the threat is still in its infancy stage, whereas Schultz, a Jew, naively states, “Everything will be fine. After all, I am a German.” At the same time, Schneider fears her association with Schultz will put her business under as the hatred against Jewish-Germans becomes more apparent. 

Cabaret is the gripping account of how a circle of friends and businesses in Berlin are overcome by the inevitable Nazi threat, from the story's hopeful beginning full of modernization and progressive views to its haunting end. 

The production is seamlessly woven together. Throughout the musical, there is an ongoing collocation of dialogue scenes and songs that serve as explanation to the story while a series of distinct cabaret numbers provide a public observation for the times. 

Cabaret continues to attract both new audiences and return visitors more than fifty years after its initial Broadway production, because it has everything – fascinating characters, iconic music, a dazzling look that transports us to a different world that is still incredibly timely and relevant today,” says Artistic Director Linda Fortunato.

Her statement couldn’t bear more truth as the production has won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. 

The casting in Theatre at the Center’s Cabaret is very strong. Danni Smith, who recently impressed theatre goers in the leading role of “Donna” in Marriott Theatre’s Mamma Mia! is sensational as Sally Bowles. Smith’s robust, velvety vocals along with just the right air of confidence make for yet another successful leading role for the fetching stage star. Smith’s astounding performance alone is worth the ticket cost and drive to Munster, Indiana. Yet, the same impressionable effect on the audience can be said for co-lead Sean Fortunato as the mischievous Emcee, who is a pure delight to watch as he captures a changing Berlin within his character most effectively through a well-acted gamut of emotions. We watch on as the whimsical Master of Ceremonies is sincerely affected by what he recognizes is the beginning to the end of an era, yet we see his strength as he bravely presents an amusing appearance for his club-goers to distract from the imminent threat. 

Patrick Tierney (Bradshaw), Craig Spindle (Schultz), Iris Lieberman (Schneider), Christopher Davis (Ernst) and a very capable ensemble round out this talented cast that help in creating a magical Cabaret experience, along with an extraordinary creative team that so well brings the period to life. 

Based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret is loaded with wonderful show tunes that include “Perfectly Marvelous”, “The Money Song”, “Married”, "Willkommen", “If You Could See Her” and Bowles highly-charged title song “Cabaret”. 

Well-constructed, finely acted and beautifully sung, Cabaret is an epic theatre experience not to miss.   

Cabaret is being performed at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 4th. For show times, tickets and/or more show information, visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Try to remember a time before the Internet, before dating sites, before personal ads and instant cameras and you will eventually discover the age-old path of finding love and dating for men and women called "Lonely Hearts Clubs". 

 

In Marriott Theatre’s “She Loves Me", a musical with a book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock, two co-workers at the quaint Maraczek’s Parfumerie shop have unwittingly fallen in love with each other by the “Dear Friend” letters they have sent and received through their lonely hearts club connection. Though Georg and Amalia have not seen even a single photo of the other they each are certain by the written words of the other that they are truly in love and are ready to finally meet. 

 

Alex Goodrich’s Georg, the male half of this love match starts out as a bit of a jerk. Goodrich, who puts forth a very strong performance, makes Georg very sympathetic, albeit a bit of a boor though he is likable to his co-workers. He is earnestly content with his fifteen-year-plus job at the store. Although he has lots of girls who are real friends, it turns out Georg is completely insecure and out of touch with his feelings towards the opposite sex when it comes to romance. 

 

When Elizabeth Telford enters the store as Amalia (who is both seeking employment and unsuspectingly the other half of the lonely hearts club love letters), Georg is utterly irritated by her natural instinct for sales. Georg treats her with disdain even though she is cute and eminently qualified for the job she gets from the boss after selling a new product, a musical cigarette box, in record time. 

 

Both Goodrich and Telford endear you to their stubborn characters over the course of the show. As delivery boy, Arpad, played with youthful cheer, by Grant Kilian says to another clerk at the store with wonder, "Do they like each other?” The other clerk says, " Yes, they like each other very much," to which Arpad says, "Well shouldn't someone tell them?"  

 

Elizabeth Telford really knocks it put of the park emotionally and vocally with the number “Will He Like Me?", as she muses about all the different qualities he may or may not find attractive about her once they finally meet. Also, her genuinely joyous and girlish rendition of "Vanilla Ice Cream" lifts the audience to believe in true love again as Georg, who has already stood her up once, breaking her heart so badly that she cannot return to work that day, delivers a pint of Amalias' favorite vanilla ice cream. The thoughtful gesture makes her happy at his consideration in a way that begins to dimly realize what might be real love despite his earlier disdainful and brutish treatment of her feelings at work.  

 

Yes, it's like a period piece version of " You've Got Mail" that plays with a very modern feel as couples STILL face these challenges trying to find their mate today despite the Internet dating revolution. 

 

(Above) Jessica Naimy as "Ilona" and Jame Earl Jones II as "Sipos"

Jessica Naimy as Ilona steals the show with two of her numbers as the sexy, single gal at the Parfumerie who lets her desire for Mr. Right get in the way of finding her Mr. Right. In “I Resolve”, Naimy sings with genuine force and power that she resolves to let go of her destructive purely sexual relationship with the lothario of the drugstore and rather stand up for the truly lovable and deserving-of-respect woman she really is. In the number “Trip to the Library", Ilona seems to unconsciously know that a trip to a place of higher learning for the evening instead of to the local drinking hole will eventually lead to her meeting a man of substance and intelligence who loves her the way she was meant to be loved. 

 

James Earl Jones II as Sipos, the clerk with a family who will kiss anyone's butt to save his boring but dependable job, delivers a very funny, dry performance and his singing voice is both comical and deeply resounding. Great job!  And David Schlumpf as Steven Kodaly, the womanizing and insensitive clerk who'll sleep with anyone, really makes you want to slap him in the face, but his number “Grand Knowing You" shows the audience his sexist honesty is what finally pushes Ilona over the brink to find her own self-respect again, even if it means being alone for a while. 

 

Shop owner Mr. Maraczek is also well played by Terry Hamilton, as he is able to finely capture both the character’s storminess as that of a demanding boss and the good heartedness that hides beneath his exterior. 

 

The slicked back hair and black tails of The Headwaiter who serves Georg and Amalia at their very first meeting at a "romantic hideaway" is hysterically portrayed by Steven Strafford who has great physical comedy skills with his spot on facial expressions and timing. 

 

Directed and choreographed by Artistic Director Aaron Thielen, “She Loves Me” is a cute love story that features many charming characters and fun numbers including the adorable “Thank You, Madam” a goodbye the store employees sing together whenever a customer leaves the shop.

 

Thank you, madam. 

Please call again. 

Do call again, 

Madam

 

I highly recommend this heartwarming, fresh and fun production which is brought to life by Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s sets, Jesse Klug’s soft and lovely period lighting and especially Sally Dolembo’s really delicious, color-rich costumes for both the leads and the wonderful ensemble of players who portray shoppers in the store. Altogether with this superb cast, "She Loves Me" brings the art of lovemaking in this long past period to life in a delightful modern way. 

 

“She Loves Me” is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through June 18th. For tickets and show information click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Set in the 1930's, this melodrama has all the ingredients you'd expect, sex, drugs, murders and the quick, clever banter of women fighting for their lives in a film noir-colored seedy underworld of a dance hall/nightclub/whorehouse.

 

In the latest Hell in a Handbag production "Lady X - The Musical", director and writer/composer David Cerda plays Scarlet stunningly dressed in delicious blood-red with all of the oomph, hilarity and confident power of his Joan Crawford character. Cerda really is the sun around which all of the talented planets in his cast revolve and he does it with great force and superb dry humor that trumps all and anchors the show with fear of the ultimate female "mob boss" that Hell in a Handbag fans have come to love and expect. Like Cerda says at the end of the show, "Hell in a Handbag is not just a theatre company it's a cult!" 

 

Christea Parent as Mary Dwight, is Lady X whose innocent younger sister comes to town to finish school but ends up tragically caught in the champagne filled "make it rain" dollars mentality. Christea Parent is unbelievably on point as the leader of the dames, the only one with a real purpose in life and the brains enough to stay out of the clutches of the gross "john” and the abusive bosses who take over the club by murdering the previous owner. 

 

Christea Parent, with the help of Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s fabulous period costumes, Keith Ryan’s hysterical and yet perfectly designed and coiffed wigs and Sydney Genco’s detailed makeup designs, (right down to the different types of fake eyelashes for each character) dominates the show with her singing, dancing and fast-talking character reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck. I was dazzled by her mastery of the period acting while keeping her character both funny and deserving of compassion at every level.  

 

Almost all of my Hell in a Handbag fave performers were featured well in this production like Ed Jones, as Estelle, the "oldest whore" in the bunch. Jones is hysterical as always with his slightly breathy, tongue-in-cheek, sympathetic "grandmom” character of the group. Estelle, despite her age has found her perfect baby boy lover in the young Val, played with adorable youthful energy by another Handbag regular, handsome Chazie Bly. Their duet, “A Lovely Pair”, got some of the biggest laughs in the show's numbers and the perfect casting made their May/December romance absolutely understandable and even enviable. 

 

Caitlin Jackson, who blew me AWAY as “Bette, LIVE at the Continental Baths” a few months ago at Theater Wit is Gabby. Her aging and wise Betty Boop-style character is fully formed, lovable and again Jackson brought down the house with her amazing voice during the showstopper “Flim Flam Floozy”.

 

 Elizabeth Lesinski another Hell in a Handbag regular does an amazing job in her role, her comedic touch as perfect as ever. 

 

Wide-eyed director Steve Love enters the show to co-star as Betty Dwight, Mary’s naive kid sister who Mary is trying to keep in school and off the streets. Love is a breath of fresh air in the snake pit of despair these women swim in as the hopeful innocent, tap dancing her way into the audience’s hearts. 

 

Laura Coleman, one of the women playing a man characters is really funny and sharp as Frank Gorham, the attorney seeking justice of his own while Adrian Hadlock, also plays several characters and is really ingenious in his multi-layered portrayals of Crandall, Louie and the Judge.

 

“Lady X” has so many fun and wonderful twists and turns, it would be shame to spoil them all by giving them away, but suffice it to say David Cerda has once again created a whole new world all his own where the lines between male and female, innocent and guilty are marvelously blurred to show the vulnerability of all humankind when pressed to fight for their lives, livelihood and self-respect.

 

Cerda’s play is full of belly laughs from beginning to end and contains several very touching song numbers, like white picket fence, flower-filled "The House on the Hill", which all the women dream of retiring to, the song rounding out the hilarity with genuine sentiment. 

 

"Lady X" is destined to become another Hell in a Handbag hit.  

 

I highly recommend “Lady X"  for ladies , gentlemen and flim flam floozies everywhere seeking to escape from the horrors of the current political landscape facing the LGTBQ community and instead be surrounded by a joyous, celebration of strong women from all walks of life and the dangers they faced in the 30's as well as the dangers they face now.

 

“Lady X - The Musical" is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through June 17th. For more show information or to purchase tickets visit http://www.handbagproductions.org/.   

 

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s been quite some time since “Chicago” has actually been performed in Chicago (or thereabouts), but after a ten-year road in obtaining the show’s rights, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook brings home the popular musical created in 1975 – and we are glad they did. With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Webb and a book by both Webb and super choreographer Bob Fosse, the musical “Chicago” is based on a 1926 play of the same name. Inspired by actual criminals and crimes reported by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, the story revolves around the notion of the “celebrity criminal” while mocking the Chicago justice system that was in place in the 1920’s, an era where it was also widely suspected that an attractive women could not be convicted of a heinous crime, like say, the murder of her lover or husband. 

In “Chicago” the story starts off with a “bang” when Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) shoots dead her lover on the side. She is quickly arrested and held in Cook County Jail while awaiting trial for murder. In an age when the press sensationalized homicides committed by women (good ol' media), the public quickly buys into the hype making an instant celebrity out of Roxie, and as starved for stardom as the former dancer has always been, she thrives on the new-found attention. In the “pen” Roxie meets several colorful characters, but none as tough as Velma Kelly (Alena Watters), a socialite divorcee and former cabaret singer who is currently the talk of Chicago for the high-profile murder she committed. Velma barely gives Roxie the time of day, instead giving her the cold shoulder. But when Roxie’s popularity soars as the “new story” and Velma’s diminishes, it’s Velma who wants to partner with Roxie for a song and dance nightclub act, this time receiving the cold shoulder from the new celebrity. 

Roxie’s only way to avoid a sentence of death by hanging is to hire the flashy, fast-talking lawyer, Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard) for five thousand dollars. Well beyond what the couple can afford, Roxie’s doting, naive and “invisible” husband Amos (Justin Brill) scrapes up what he can and promises Flynn to pay the rest when he can. From there, Flynn turns the case into a dog and pony show, equating the trial as a “three-ring circus”.  

Watters stuns on several occasions as sassy Velma Kelly, winning the audience over almost immediately after a dazzling performance of the musical’s opening number “All That Jazz”. Possessing just the right dose of sexy attitude, Kelly impresses both vocally and in her dancing, her performance nothing short of riveting. As notable as Watters’ portrayal of Velma Kelly, Felthous also knocks the ball out of the park as Roxie Hart, pairing perfectly with her fellow caged dame and giving the show a rock ‘em sock ‘em one-two punch. Felthous convinces as one stricken by delusions of grandeur, confusing the popularity of her murder case as celebrity fame, putting forth an overall display of well-tuned comedic timing to go along with her own vocal prowess and dance ability. As fun to watch as the two are, Watters and Felthous really bring it home in their physically-charged routine “Nowadays”. 

He’s charming, good-looking and possesses a silver tongue that can sway even the toughest juries. Well-cast, singer/songwriter Guy Lockard brightly shines as the smooth defense attorney, Billy Flynn, and gives the show yet another boost, particularly in his courtroom maneuvering melody “Razzle Dazzle”. Justin Brill also contributes nicely in his funny depiction of Amos Hart, a man who is considered so undistinguishable by others he aptly refers to himself as “Mister Cellophane” in one of the show’s most humorous numbers. E. Faye Butler’s strong interpretation of Matron Mama Morton is pivotal, Butler crushing it in the number “When You’re Good to Mama”, a jailhouse tutorial for newly imprisoned Roxie Hart. A talented ensemble also brings another strength to the production in their many alluring dance numbers, perhaps most markedly in “Cell Block Tango”, a sultry ode to the woman prisoner during the revolutionary Jazz age.  

  

This new staging of “Chicago” is colorful and richer than ever thanks to an artistic creative team that includes Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Sully Ratke (Costume Design), Lee Fiskness (Lighting Design), Ray Nardelli (Sound Design), Cassy Schillo (Properties Design), Claire Moores (Wig Design) along with Production Stage Manager Larry Baker. 

“Chicago” is an energy-driven musical that is sexy, fun and truly memorable. Filled with a slew outstanding performances, inventive choreography and a set list that is justly contagious, Drury Lane’s “Chicago” is a can’t miss thrill ride. 

The Roaring Twenties are back...in high style. 

“Chicago” is currently being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through June 18th. For tickets and/or more show information, click here. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Of the many Andrew Lloyd Webber hits, Jesus Christ Superstar has always been a personal favorite of mine. It rocks, it moves and…it’s back. After a lengthy absence, the award-winning musical has returned to the Chicago area, this time with a bit of a twist as, unlike past productions, the show features an all African American cast. This, opposed to the nearly all white cast complete with a black Judas that we are accustomed to seeing. And, the tremendously gifted cast works so very well in this revival piece. The change is bold and should be commended. And the execution is nearly flawless. 

With one of the greatest rock operas of all time currently finding its temporary home at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, we know by the end of the production’s first number, “Heaven on Their Minds”, that Mykal Kilgore, who takes on the demanding role of “Judas”, is a special talent. We also get an idea within the next few numbers (“What’s the Buzz?”, “Strange Thing, Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright”) how deep the talent pool goes in this one-of-a-kind production.  

Reliving the last days of Jesus Christ leading up to the crucifixion, the timeless musical, which premiered on Broadway on October 12th, 1971, is set to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, in what began as a rock opera concept album by the two in 1970. Since, it has been one of the most successful musicals of all time gathering a loyal fan-base from all over the world. In Jesus Christ Superstar, we visit Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and Mary Magdalene, as he performs miracles and brings hope to the world while claiming he is the son of God, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees and scribes who see him as a threat to their teachings – a threat they would like removed so much they ask the Romans for help.

In Paramount’s current production of Jesus Christ Superstar, a fifteen-piece orchestra paves the way for the talented performers who leave their mark in one number after another. Kilgore goes on to navigate through each song with skilled precision and sings with amazing depth. And while Kilgore impresses more and more as the show progresses by staying true (and then some) to the “Judas” that both Murray Head and Carl Anderson made famous, Felicia Boswell is also quick to excite the audience with her moving interpretation of Mary Magdalene, particularly in the popular “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. Beautiful, graceful and vocally dynamic, Boswell brings a gentle warmth to the role, wonderfully capturing the love that Mary had for Jesus. Throughout the production, remarkable performances are abundant with Rufus Bonds Jr. taking the reins in a very commanding depiction of Pontius Pilate, so well delivering the message of his conflict to have Jesus crucified at the request of the mob that is influenced by the religious law makers or to set him free since no Roman law has been broken. Lorenzo Rush Jr. also leaves a strong presence as the baritone-wielding Caiaphas who leads the charge against Jesus, fearing that he will revolutionize Jewish law. 

Jesus of Nazareth is commendably played Evan Tyrone Martin. Martin aptly captures the virtue and charisma needed for the role of and is convincing while conveying just how tiring it can be to be the son of God. Martin’s voice is strong and he has little trouble carrying the many challenging melodies that come with playing Jesus, though the patented screams that both Ted Neeley (film version) and Ian Gillan (concept album) had incorporated into the role were absent, leaving a couple prime crescendo moments to the wayside. Still, Martin holds his own, even getting a much-deserved extended applause after his riveting performance of “Gethsemane”, a powerful number where Jesus questions why it is that he must die. 

The show’s ensemble is nothing short of amazing, the actors changing back and forth from disciples, to Pharisees to lepers to soldiers ever so efficiently. At one point, Mark J.P. Hood breaks rank from the ensemble as Simon and superbly performs one of the show’s highlight numbers “Simon Zealotes”, where he praises Jesus and urges him to build an army to fight the powers of Rome. Another crowd-pleasing moment (among the countless others) occurs when Jesus is brought forth to Herod (Avionce Hoyles) in a glittery display that dazzles in the somewhat jazzy “Herod’s Song”. Kudos to Hoyles who thrusts the role of Herod into another stratosphere.     

Paramount’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a fascinating production that entertains nonstop from its opening overture to its near-finale number “Superstar”. Featuring a wealth of acting and singing talent and a rockin’ orchestra that does the soundtrack right, this could possibly be one of the most polished, expressive and enjoyable musicals to come our way in some time.  

Superb. This beautiful production is super recommended.

Magnificently directed and choreographed by Ron Kellum with music direction by Tom Vendafreddo, Jesus Christ Superstar is being performed at Paramount Theatre through May 28th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.       

 

Published in Theatre in Review

As stories go, Mamma Mia! is a light, simple love story injected with plenty of humor and song – nothing heavy in the least, rather an evening island getaway where the sounds of ABBA reign supreme. It is the story of Sophie Sheridan and her mother Donna, who have made home on a Greek Island where they own and run a small resort. But the story really begins when Sophie, unsure of who her real father is, invites three possibilities to her wedding based on information she’s uncovered in her mother’s journal. Of course, Donna has no clue until the three men show up at the island – awkward! With several people vacationing at the island in anticipation of Sophie’s wedding to Sky in a few days, multiple love narratives unfold - and how couldn’t they? After all, you have a handful of romantically starved individuals thrust together in close proximity to each other on a tropical island that oozes amorousness, coupled with the fact that they all seem to lose control to ABBA classics, which come aplenty. 

Marriott Theatre takes on Mamma Mia! as their latest production, uniquely staging the energy-filled production in the round, giving the audience the feeling that they too are guests at the island resort as the action is up close and the aisles are frequently used during the performance. Set designer Scott Davis does a fantastic job creating an island atmosphere throughout the theatre. Strategic alterations are made to convert the musical to the round, including scenic touches like the moat of illuminated water that surrounds the stage and the walls behind theatre goers that are converted into those of a Greek taverna complete with the colorful shutters of French-styled windows. Adding the finishing touches to the Mamma Mia! setting are dazzling costume designs by Theresa Ham and lighting effects by Jesse Klug. 

Danni Smith takes on the leading role of Donna Sheridan, the short-haired brunette replacing the prototypical long-haired, wavy-blonde we are used to seeing in this production. The change is nice. Smith, who was last seen at Marriott Theatre in Man of La Mancha, serves up a powerhouse vocal performance, especially during her crowd stunner “The Winner Takes It All” and her heartfelt rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers”, delivered with just the right touch of care and concern a mother would have for her daughter. Capturing the essence of Donna so well, we immediately like her and cheer for her. Putting it bluntly, Danni Smith is truly extraordinary. Meghan Murphy and Cassie Slater are rightly cast as Donna’s two lifelong friends Tanya and Rosie. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect. As many times as I have seen Mamma Mia!, I have never seen a more believable friendship than that as between Donna and her besties in this production, which is so convincing you’d think it true in real life. Murphy gets to show off her great sense of comedic timing as Tanya, also taking it to the house vocally, hitting one way out of the park in the racy number “Does Your Mother Know”. 

Taking on yet another challenging vocal role in the show, this one of Sophie, is Tiffany Tatreau, who handles it with apparent ease. Tatreau, undoubtedly gifted in the vocal department, tackles several demanding songs on her own and adds on many occasions to the captivating vocal harmonies that make this musical so special. 

Sophie’s three possible fathers are also cast well, Peter Saide getting plenty of chances to display his own finessed vocal skill as Sam Carmichael, while Karl Hamilton and Derek Hasenstab draw some big laughs as Donna’s other two ex’s Harry Brightwell and Bill Austin. Russell Mernagh makes his own mark as Sky, Sophie’s soon to be husband. Mernaugh, whose beach bum charm is nothing short of convincing, puts forth a well-rounded performance that makes him a solid choice for the role. Overall, the cast is just sensational from top to bottom, getting strong support from its incredible ensemble who wows the audience on several occasions with big-time dance and vocal routines.

All the elements are in place to provide an entertaining evening without even the slightest lull. The stage is often taken over by energetic dance numbers that will have you tapping along or beautifully arranged ballads that will move your soul. The humor is abundant, the subject matter light and the visuals so easily take your mind elsewhere - somewhere dreamy. Yes, the table is perfectly set to enjoy a night of ABBA hits done with much originality from “Dancing Queen” to “Waterloo”. Fun is "the name of the game" in this wild ride stringed together by a compilation of the Swedish sensation's biggest hits - so much fun in fact, that you might have to pull out your glitzy, bell-bottomed, spandex one-piece (we all have one, don't we?) after getting home from the show.  

Mamma Mia!, already a winning show, has now become even more of a special experience as it is put together so well, and uniquely, by Marriott Theatre in a way that cannot be seen anywhere else. When you put it all together – the great music, the talented performances and a setting that takes you miles and miles away to a tropical bliss – it all adds up to “Having the time of your life”.

Highly recommended. 

Mamma Mia! has already been extended and is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through April 16th. For more show information, click here.     

   

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Tribute shows are generally as good as the performers that star. I probably just stated the most obvious fact on the planet. Yet it’s so very true. No matter how good the song selection, the costumes, the set, it is the vocal performance that we bring home with us. In “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” a different taste of Sinatra is delivered; rather than presenting an Ol’ Blue Eyes impersonator, we are invited to a 1960’s club setting where four actors casually reminisce with the audience over more than fifty Sinatra favorites. 

The musical revue, rich in its depicted era, stars George Keating, Christine Mild, Eric A. Lewis and McKinley Carter, each taking turns riffing through classics like “Makin’ Whoopee”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Young at Heart”, and “It was a Very Good Year” – the songs are countless. The four have made their mark in the Chicago theatre scene, Lewis a Jeff Award Winner for his work in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “Dreamgirls”, Mild, who not only starred in Theater at the Center’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes” but who has recently released her debut solo album “Love Is Everything”, Carter, who has done work in prestigious venues such as Writers Theatre and Drury Lane Oakbrook, and Keating, who not only has been featured in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” at Paramount Theater, but is the co-founder of the very popular Chicago and Off-Broadway hit “Schoolhouse Rock Live”. 

The four actors work well together as snippets of Sinatra songs are often worked into light exchanges between the characters. They gracefully glide around the stage and upon the stairways often pairing elegantly for dance routines. Often, the characters might be seen having a drink at the bar or nonchalantly interacting at a table, setting a relaxed night-out-on-the-town mood. Throughout the show, Sinatra factoids and quotes are tossed about during song breaks, allowing at times for the audience to participate. The club centers around a bar, where a live band simplified to piano (William Underwood), bass (Jake Saleh) and drums (Nick Anderson) plays directly behind it. Despite the small size of the outfit, the sound is big and the musicians ever-impressive, each getting to show their skills off a bit while briefly featured individually in the second act. 

While perhaps wishing for a little more "oomph" overall in the individual vocal performances (mainly on the lower notes) ala Sinatra, each of the performers have their shining moments and are able to deliver the songs with their intended pizzazz and vigor. But the magic in this show is when the four would sing together, whether it be a duet or a four-part harmony. It is with these synchronized vocal efforts one easily loses themselves in the beauty of Sinatra’s work. 

Brenda Didier both directs and choreographs this fascinating piece with a stylish aplomb that captures the charm of the period so very well. Lewis particularly stands out during his renditions of “My Kind of Town” and “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die”, while Keating finishes strong with a fervent version of “That’s Life”. The production flows at a nice pace and is a pleasing homage to Sinatra, though we are often teased with a song segment left wanting to hear the piece in its entirety. This is countered by the fact that we are given such a vast collection of the music Sinatra made famous. The show ties together well eventually leading us to an expressive interpretation of perhaps Sinatra’s most timeless classic, “My Way”, commendably performed by the entire cast. 

“My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” is a time capsule that will certainly touch the hearts of “Chairman of the Board” fans, but is equipped with enough nostalgia, panache and musical talent to please even the most curious. This polished production is being performed at Theater at the Center in Munster, IN through March 19th. Click here for tickets and/or more show information.   

 

Published in Theatre in Review
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