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.
Some of us are born with a passion, a passion for music or art or math. In the case of First Folio’s Silent Sky, one woman gives up almost everything in her personal life because she senses furiously, in her heart, that HER passion is going to lead to a discovery that will help all of humankind. This special woman, Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), turns out be absolutely correct.
Like the popular film "Hidden Figures", the 2011 play Silent Sky by playwright Lauren Gunderson, now making it's Chicago Premiere, tells a very important real life example of how women have been making significant contributions to Science and the Arts against almost impossible odds due to sexism in the work place. Leavitt is wonderfully played with a great zesty and nerdy enthusiasm by Cassandra Bissell who adds just the right amount of seditious touch to the headstrong and very determined character. She is one of the women termed "computers" by their male employers who has been given the great "honor" of painstakingly cataloging all the stars in the sky captured on glass plates by a telescope. As a new employee, she is never allowed to operate the high-powered telescope or use privately her own ideas to validate her own discoveries while earning a whopping $.25 an hour.
Leavitt is a proud, brilliant Radcliffe graduate. She jokes with her male supervisor Peter Shaw (keenly played by Wardell Julius Clark) that she and he are in fact "colleagues" that "Radcliffe is basically Harvard in skirts." As they fall in love with each other, he begins to soften on some of his more sexist behaviors including "borrowing" ideas from Leavitt to give to the professor (to whom she will never directly report) her discoveries by trying to claim them as his own. Leavitt is hired as one of Harvard astronomer Dr. Edward Charles Pickering's "computers" or, as they were referred to as "Pickering's Harem”.
Leavitt's work came at a time when we as earthlings had no idea where we were located in the Milky Way nor did we know how far away the billions of stars and galaxies made visible by the super powerful new telescope really are from our planet. Leavitt observes closely the luminosity of a class of stars known as Cepheid variables. Others had thought their flashes of light completely random, but through years of study and an epiphany provided by her musically inclined sister, Margaret (Haley Rice), who is composing a symphony in between giving birth to multiple children, Leavitt discovers that the stars are actually making sounds, a music of the stars. This eventually provided the ONLY key to measuring the distance between Earth and other galaxies. Creating the standard to measure the distance of stars from Earth, many male astronomers like Edwin Hubble greedily feasted on her published work to make names for themselves but poor Henrietta dies of cancer before one of them finally realizes she deserves to be nominated for, and win, the Nobel Prize - but the Nobel is not given posthumously and so she was never even nominated for it.
Annie Cannon (Jeannie Affelder) and Willamina Fleming (Belinda Bremner) play her fellow "computers" with a lusty, strong intelligence. The three characters develop a genuine family, a sisterhood, believing in Henrietta and encouraging her to take her work home with her (the glass plates are not allowed to leave the observatory) even when she is forced to move home to Wisconsin to take care of her dying father.
In the end, Henrietta gives up a promising offer of marriage to Shaw, the chance to have children of her own, and even her dream of traveling the world in order to complete her work.
Although I thought the gray monotone set in the chapel at Mayslake Peabody Estate was awfully depressing and didn't change enough to give us the sense of her whole life passing through it's dull indistinguishable doors, we are finally rewarded with the lighting display and music at the end of the show thanks to John "Smooch" Medina's projections, combined with Michael McNamara's lights and Christopher Kriz's musical score. The entire effect was spectacular, almost as if we are finally able to see the universe through Henrietta's passionate, intelligent eyes.
There really needs to be more biographical plays like this one written with respect and sympathy about women who have changed our place in the world for the better - forever. It is a terrible waste of human intelligence and a dirty shame that if you mention the name Henrietta Swan Leavitt to anyone girl child or even adult today that her life will ring no bells, her name strike no sense of recognition, gratefulness ignored for the contributions she made and the doors she broke down for female scientists to come.
Touching, beautiful and inspiring.
I highly recommend this thoughtful, poetic and understanding production for showing that some women will give up everything for the love of their work and dedication to humanity. Remembering theses outstanding individuals inspires and empowers us all, male or female, to chase our dreams to the end.
Superbly directed by Melanie Keller, Silent Sky is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 30th. For more information on this wonderful show or to purchase tickets, click here.
Drury Lane Theatre announces a three-week extension of its new production of disco musical Saturday Night Fever that has been burning up the box office and electrifying sold-out audiences. Saturday Night Fever now runs thru April 9, 2017 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.
Don’t miss out on the hottest ticket in town! This critically-acclaimed new version, rewritten for the Drury Lane stage, features music and lyrics by The Bee Gees, based on the smash-hit Paramount/RSO Film and the story by Nik Cohn, andadapted for the stage by Robert Stigwood in collaboration with Bill Oaks. This North American version was written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti and is helmed by Tony-nominated director and choreographer Dan Knechtges with musical direction by Roberta Duchak. Tickets, priced $43 - $60 are available by calling 630.530.0111 or at DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Alex Newell (Glee) joined the cast of Saturday Night Fever in the role of disco singer Candy. He stars alongside Adrian Aguilar as Brooklyn teen Tony Manero and Erica Stephan as Stephanie Mangano. Newell is an actor and singer best known for playing the transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams on the Fox musical series Glee. He has also appeared at the North Shore Music Theater and is a recording artist with Atlantic Records.
Based on the 1977 hit film, Saturday Night Fever follows Tony Manero in his attempt to escape his troubles by spending weekends at the local disco. Watch Tony win the admiration of the crowd, as well as his heartthrob Stephanie Mangano, as he burns up the dance floor with his electric moves. This new production features favorite Bee Gees songs from the movie such as “Night Fever,” "Stayin' Alive,” and "Jive Talkin’.”
To accommodate the extension of Saturday Night Fever, Drury Lane's electrifying new production of Chicago, featuring a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, will now run April 20 – June 18, 2017. The Press Opening is Friday, April 28, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. This fiery new take on Chicago is directed by Drury Lane Theatre’s Artistic Director William Osetek with choreography by Jane Lanier, the Tony-nominated student of Bob Fosse.
Guys, it’s time to dig into your closet and shake the dust from your polyester, large-collared, chest-exposing dance shirt. Divas, grab your sequin-studded blouse and bell-bottomed slacks or favorite jumpsuit – it’s time to disco! Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook hosts an electric 1970’s dance party to remember with their current production of Saturday Night Fever the Musical. Following the 1977 hit film that catapulted John Travolta to superstar status for his portrayal of Tony Manero, a troubled kid from The Bronx who finds escape from his dilemmas by lighting up the dance floor on Saturday nights, we are thrust into an exciting time capsule when disco was king.
As the story goes, Tony, who works a dead-end job in a hardware store, just wants to be somebody. And he is – on weekends. He just wants to dance! He’s got the hair, good looks, charisma, and dance moves that make him an instant celebrity whenever he walks into 2001, the neighborhood disco hotspot, all the girls lining up to partner with him, all the guys wishing they had half his talent. With a couples’ dance contest coming up that awards a cool thousand bucks to the winning team, Tony searches for a partner, of course seeking out the one girl who is not overly impressed with him. Saturday Night Fever the Musical, keenly directly by Tony-nominated Dan Knechtges, is a well-rounded story that delves into Tony’s stereotypical New York Italian home life, his life on the streets hanging out with his close-knit gang and his quest for love, that, for once, doesn’t come so easy. Adding a humorous spin to the classic film, this dazzling production offers a good amount of laughs while holding onto the integrity of the film.
The music is half the fun. While the soundtrack is heavily driven by the music of The Bee Gees implementing favorites like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “More Than A Woman” and “Jive Talkin’”, were also turned onto other disco staples that include “Boogie Shoes”, Disco Duck” and “Disco Inferno”. And as good as the music is, the dancing is just as impressive, getting spectacular individual and ensemble performances that make it difficult for audience members to restrain from taking the stage and join in the disco celebration, also encouraged by the tremendous set that recreates a captivating 1970’s dance club – strobe light, red velvet walls and all.
Adrian Aguilar is seemingly made for the role of Tony Manero. The Jeff Award nominated actor who once starred as Rocky Balboa in Broadway’s Rocky, is nothing short of sensational. The search for the perfect Tony was widespread, with auditions held in not only Chicago but also New York, Houston and Los Angeles, and it was right here in Chicago that the production found its seamless fit. Says Kyle DeSantis, President of Drury Lane Productions, “Out of the many talented artists we saw, no one came close to Chicago’s unparalleled Adrian Auguilar as Tony.” And DeSantis could not have been any more correct as Aguilar delivers a strong performance bringing with him the comic chops and astounding dancing ability needed for the role. Aguilar is also able to tackle the demanding vocals required to take on the many numbers to which his character is highlighted and adds just the right amount of dramatic precision that give us a believable Tony Manero.
Aguilar, whose dynamite performance is worth the cost of admission alone, is surrounded by a heaping helping of talent. Landree Fleming, who recently knocked the socks off of theatre goers in her performance as Kira in American Theater Company’s Xanadu, is back, this time delivering solid support as Manero’s clingy wannabe girlfriend Annette, while Erica Stephan does an admirable job as Stephanie, the dancer who has captured the starry eyes of our story’s star. Making his Drury Lane debut is standout actor Alex Newell, best known for his portrayal of transgender student Wade “Unique” Adams on Fox’s hit series Glee. Newell is rightly cast for the role of Candy, a disco diva who truly belts, delivering a handful of drop-your-jaw moments. In Saturday Night Fever the Musical, we also get a consistently strong boost from an ultra-talented ensemble that is not only able to bring a disco to life on several occasions, but can add credible depth to this classic story thanks to a slew of strong acting and vocal performances. Yet we cannot overlook Ryan O'Gara's stunning lighting design (disco ball included) and Rachel Laritz' spot on 1970's costume design that so well breathes life into Kevin Depinet's lavish red-velvet laden set.
This new, reworked North American version, scripted by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti adds even more style and flair to an already stage proven production that made waves after its London mount in 1998 and invaded America with a Broadway run in 2000. An era of pop culture poked fun of so often (and a handful of parodies are certainly present in this production), this is a musical that also celebrates disco and reminds us of the pivotal part it played in our musical history and of its ever-perpetual influence that remains.
Saturday Night Fever the Musical pulls out all the stops, delivering a show that has it all – dancing, singing, visuals and humor, while distributing a plethora of 1970's nostalgia. Songs you may have long forgotten will be stuck in your head days afterward – in a good way. Running at Drury Lane Theatre through March 19th (now extended through April 9th), this is a production that is sure to bring the boogie out in each of us no matter how buried inside it may be.
For tickets and/or more show information, click here.
When it comes to an engaging mystery thriller, the need for finely-written, well-executed twists, turns and the unexpected are imperative. Afterall, a good suspense story on stage that has the ability to genuinely captivate its audience members can be one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences we can have. In Drury Lane’s current production Deathtrap, we get just that. Deathtrap, written by Ira Levin in 1978 and later becoming a film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, is a whodunnit that pulls you in keeps you guessing so that just when you think you’ve figured it out, another curveball is thrown.
Upon entering the theatre, we are met with the interior of a Victorian house with a rustic interior. Swords, poster tins of plays and antiques such as Houdini’s handcuffs and collectible pistols decorate the walls and shelves. When looking closely, it appears the way the rafters are cut suggest we could be looking into a massive trap.
It all starts when a theatre professor, a former flourishing playwright, Sidney Bruhl, takes notice of a play written by one of his students, Cliff Anderson. It’s brilliant - a sure fire hit. It’s been a looooong time since Bruhl has had a successful play and there is no reason to think he is on the brink of anything else that could make waves in the theatre world. When Bruhl promptly invites Anderson - along with his single transcript - to his country home where he lives alone with his wife, Myra, the suspense begins and only thickens as we wonder if Sydney is capable of murdering for a hit show. The well-written dialogue keeps one on edge, moving back and forth from friendly banter to that of a suspicious nature. Adding to the intrigue are Myra’s suspicions and the interactions of Helga, the Bruhl’s neighbor who possesses psychic abilities.
Daniel Cantor as Sydney Bruhl and Aaron Latterall as Cliff Anderson are brilliant together as they lock horns in their highly engaging cat and mouse exchanges, each performing magnificently while McKinley Carter as Myra offers strong support and is able to cement the growing tension to enhance the audience’s intrigue even further. Though plenty of witty dialogue between players to incite a good share of laughs, Cindy Gold as Helga den Dorp is absolutely hysterical as the psychic neighbor, causing quite a stir with her “visions” that often includes exaggerated body language and heavy moaning.
We are constantly asked the question on what we would actually do to gain success, no matter what has shown up in our past nature or not, should the opportune moment take place. Should the temptation be great enough, should we know we would get away with, let’s say a crime of significance, we generally rely on the thing deep inside ourselves that would not allow us to go to such extreme measures - to take such action - most people anyway. But what happens when one’s morale compass fails us them - is absent? What is one’s breaking point?
Deathtrap is a nearly perfect psychological thriller. Add that to the fact that this particular production boasts exceptional acting performances, a detailed set that draws one in before the show even begins and a healthy diet of humor, and it would be impossible not to recommend this fantastic play.
Wonderfully directed by William Osetek Deathtrap is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through August 14th. For tickets and/or show information, visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.
Christian Gray and Jim McCance pair up once again for another Jeeves adventure, this time in Margaret Raether’s latest adaption from the stories of P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves At Sea”. Gray, who was simply tremendous in his last First Folio appearance in “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe”, this time plays the lovable, but somewhat dim-witted Bertie who has come to rely on the wisdom of his ever faithful manservant Jeeves (McCance), who faithfully provides sound advice never daring to crack the slightest of smiles. Paired to perfection, modestly said, McCance and Gray are nothing less than terrific together.
The play is performed at First Folio Theatre’s home, the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, where it doesn’t take much too imagine a “Jeeves” presence to exist.
The story takes place aboard a yacht that is anchored off the coast of Monte Carlo, which is owned by Lady Stella Vanderlay, to whom Bertie has proposed to on multiple occasions. Miss Minerva Pilbeam is Stella’s paid companion and is secretly doting over Jeeves, while Stella is having too much fun as the object of affection of several suitors to fully commit to a lovesick Bertie. Kate McDermott nails the role of Lady Stella as the roaring 20’s saucy socialite.
But alas, a mystery has unfolded when Bertie’s best friend Sir Percival Everard Crumpworth (Andrew Behling) confesses that he may have murdered someone while being blind drunk the night before – worse yet, he believes it might have been a visiting German prince. Once German heavy Count Otto von Dietrichstein (Joe Foust) starts sniffing around the yacht in search of Percival, a plan is quickly put into action.
Throughout the mystery, which is fun in itself, many humorous situations arise based on several Three’s Company-like misunderstanding’s where one is caught with another at the wrong moment or something is only partially overheard. Alison C. Vesley’s superb direction along with a funny script, timely physically comedy and impeccably delivered dialogue thanks to the show’s collection of talented actors, make “Jeeves At Sea” a charming production that flows seemingly effortlessly through and through.
This fourth Jeeves installment of Wodehouse’s delightful tales is a thrilling ride from beginning to end with just the right doses of humor and intrigue, but best of all is the genuine connection that is felt by audience members between Jeeves and Bertie, leaving one with the feeling of excitement for what Jeeves adventures may be in store for the future.
Yet another strong First Folio effort, “Jeeves At Sea” comes highly recommended. Catch “Jeeves At Sea” through February 28th at the Mayslake Peabody Estate located near 31st Street and 83 in Oakbrook. For tickets and/or more play information visit www.firstfolio.org or call 630-986-8067.
From the moment you enter the darkened and eerie Tudor Revival styled Mayslake Peabody Estate and are handed a dance card indicating which group of theater goers you will follow throughout the performance, the tension and excitement of this wonderful production begins to mount. Not long after First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” begins the audience is divided, following different sets of actors from room to room.
The large, dark house, lit by the light of the full "Blood Moon" on opening night is still haunted by the memory of the husband who lovingly built the entire estate for his wife over a decade and then passed away during a fox hunt the year after it was finished. This site specific mansion is the perfect theater setting for this dynamic and revealing look at Edgar Allen Poe's work as a hugely successful fiction writer as well as his tragic life and loves.
It is very rare, with the large amount of theater I see, week after week, that I am watching a show and at the same time planning in my mind which friends of mine I would like to come back and see it with again.
I loved how the audience moved from room to room within the mansion, sometimes seeing a portion of a scene while standing in a hallway or while entering the genuine antique chapel built after the estate was sold. It was a lot of fun and gave the audience a feeling of mystery and danger, as though we were instant comrades and active participants in the play itself.
Christopher Kriz did a fantastic job with the tricky sound design in each of the authentically scary rooms of this aging mansion. Each sound Kriz creates building the tension and surrounds the tiny audience in such a way that we really felt the Tell-Tale Heart beating in our own ears, not just coming out of a single speaker anywhere.
I learned so much about Poe's life and work that I had not known before. The sad irony that not only did he watch his mother die of consumption at the tender age of six, he then witnessed the slow death of his adoring stepmother and finally his wife Virginia wasting away and coughing up blood daily from the same devastating disease.
I also did not realize what an amazing amount, and romantically stunning quality, of love letters and love poetry Poe wrote in his lifetime to his wife Virginia and often to another married woman named Annie whom he loved from afar.
On the back of the dance card is printed the single sad poem his wife Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when he was 27 and she just 13 years old, although they did not consummate the marriage until she was 16. The tragic fact that they shared just nine blissful years together, four of them while she was healthy and five where she began to deteriorate from consumption. He made the right decision to follow his heart and court her from pretty much the moment they met because he knew on some unconscious level that their precious time together was ticking away quite quickly and he died just two years after her passing at the age of 40.
Christian Gray, who portrays Poe, does a stunning job of showing the sadness and turmoil inside of Poe while never losing the absolute passion and headstrong devotion for his wife Virginia. Gray seems to drink in like a thirsty vampire the femininely beautiful essence of his wife Virginia from her head to toe in every scene. You sense that Gray, whose eyes are often brimming with tears, as if struggling to speak - as if his next breath depends solely upon seeing her loving reaction to him and his writings in every moment and every delicate hour that passed between them. Without Gray's nicely sensual, sometimes earthy and sometimes heart wrenching performance, the "Love Story" portion of this play would not have been nearly as convincing.
Diana Mair makes a lovely, charming, sensitive portrayal of Poe’s wife Virginia. Mair's sympathetic, yet lighthearted telling of Poe's tragic early years and her burning love for him comes off with a mature, yet modernly sassy quality that makes you understand how he could be so in love with her and then so completely lost without her as his enthusiastic muse after her untimely death at the age of 22.
Actor Kevin McKillip, also outstanding, has several great, and fright building scenes as the madman in the retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and as a prisoner locked in a dungeon with the blade of a scythe rapidly approaching to cut him apart in “The Pit and the Pendulum", appropriately performed in a room so dark you could not see the person sitting next to you.
Here is just one of Poe's hundreds of love letter/poems to Annie, one of his few unrequited loves:
“So long as I think that you know I love you, as no man ever loved woman - so long as I think you comprehend in some measure, the fervor with which I adore you, so long, no worldly trouble can ever render me absolutely wretched. But oh, my darling, my Annie, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel - wife of my soul - to be mine hereafter and forever in the Heavens - how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you?”
In a surprising and childlike way Poe signed his letters to her, and to his beloved wife Virginia with the adorable “forever your own, Eddy…”.
I highly recommend this scary, yet passionately romantic retelling of Poe's life and hard won genius. It will definitely make you want to read more of Poe's work, especially his prolific amount of luscious, spellbinding love letters!
By the end of the play you understand why ALL of the women in his life, were utterly captured and held close by his heartfelt writings to them and adored him so completely during the short time on earth they each shared with him.
First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oakbrook through November 4th. For more information on this unique and haunting production, visit www.firstfolio.org.
*One note, on disability access, First Folio may want to add a disclaimer on its website informing the disabled and elderly theatre goers that the play does require climbing some stairs and brief standing in addition to its mention that the show moves around the mansion.
Well, you just can’t go wrong with Neil Simon, one of the greatest Jewish playwrights of all time and a solid grouping of well trained Chicago character actors like the cast assembled at First Folio Theatre in Oakbrook. “Laughter” is based on Sid Caesar’s beloved “Your Show of Shows” where Simon was a junior writer during the period in which McCarthyism and commercial sponsorship really began to apply their stranglehold on American TV and American writers in general.
Rene Ruelas, as the lead Max Prince, does a fantastic job portraying the manic and wildly erratic neurotically Jewish comedian with an undercurrent of boiling rage at the rope of McCarthyism closing round his show’s neck. The studio is threatening to turn it from a 90 minute show full of erudite and intellectual comedic references into a 60 minute vehicle to sell toothpaste or soap. Every once in a while Simon mentions in this piece the blacklisting and communist witch hunt that ruined so many innocent American writers lives during that period which gives the play more gravitas and makes the stakes higher for all the characters.
Kevin McKillip's hypochondriac Ira really does remind me of Kramer’s energy in Seinfeld and his way-way out physical comedy antics really pay off with some big laughs from beginning to end. When Ira and Prince argue violently over an eminent firing of one of the staff members to appease the studio and rather end up literally forcing each other to say “I Love You”, I really felt the depth of affection between these two and the writers group as a whole. When it appears that they all must fight just to stay on the air at all one of the writers says we must because, "Maybe we'll never have this much fun again in our entire lives.” Hayley Rice's, “Carol” is dynamite as the sole female writer in this group who keeps pace with “the boys” and then some.
Angela Weber Miller's set design really hearkens back to the period and felt very real in part because this theater was built in the historic Mayslake Peabody Mansion. Thanks to realistic stage props, a well-schemed interior and fitting costume design, we really get the feeling of what it must have felt like to be in a writer’s room in New York during the 1950s.
There’s something so fresh and current about every play Neil Simon wrote including this one which is not as often performed as some of his bigger Broadway hits. This cast of seasoned character actors brings the Max Prince Show and all of the excitement and frustration of making a living writing comedy circa 1950s come to life in a wonderful way. “Laughter” makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time to rally them and to also remember their courage while up against NBC’s over-wielding of power and the rise of commie-hunting McCarthyism.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a delight with plenty of quick one-liners that pace this funny Neil Simon piece. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.firstfolio.org.
“Camelot” being presented at the lovely Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook had an interesting twist to it. If you've viewed other Camelot versions such as the enchanting animated “Sword and the Stone”, or the impacting dramas
“First Knight” or “Excalibur”, then be ready for a unique mix of both. The production opened with a young King Arthur conversing with Merlin, his mentor and friend. Merlin portrayed by Jonathan Weir was witty and engaging as he and Arthur bantered back and forth in the forest. Quickly the audience was laughing at Arthur's antics, played by Ken Clark, a seasoned performer.
The introduction of Lady Guinevere (Christy Altomare) to Arthur evolved quickly and in a blink of the eye they ruled as the King and Queen. The scenes and time frames were a bit blurred, and I caught myself wondering what was happening several times. An example was when Mordved played by Patrick Rooney was on the stage. Suddenly the adult son of the King appears and a large gap of time has elapsed. When I caught on to who Mordved was, even while following closely it was hard to understand why he and his father seemed at war with one another.
Early on Lancelot (Travis Taylor) beseeched King Arthur to allow him to serve the throne sacrificially and faithfully. Being a warrior, attractive and kind man he secretly won the heart of Lady Guinevere. During a heartfelt moment Mr. Taylor wowed the crowd with his voice after an encounter with his love, who of course belonged to another. I would have loved to hear more songs bursting out, but the musical flavor in this performance could only be described as 'song speaking'. No doubt Ken Clark and Christy Altomare did this beautifully throughout the performance and their interaction with one another was engaging. Allowing my imagination to veer from what I perhaps expected, I needed to allow room for a different type of portrayal of the King.
Although a good, fair and wise King, his manner more often than not, seemed a bit naive or it lacked an authoritative stance. Yet because of this, one scene stood out like no other!
'The atmosphere was sober. The King was honoring his worthy knights, Lancelot being among them. As Lancelot stepped forth to bend his knee before his King, it was as if the scene was in slow motion. Arthur wrestled with his emotion and anger, knowing of the stifled relationship that Lancelot and Guinevere desired. Quickly a picture of this Knight's demise entered his mind's eye. Just as quickly the man he'd become was victorious as he took his sword, and placed it on Lancelot's shoulder.'
It was stirring and well done. King Arthur's declaration of integrity and strength revealed the truth of why it was his destiny to rule over a people!
The costumes and the manner in which the whole cast portrayed themselves was extraordinary for this era from the hair styles to the magnificent sword fights. 'Camelot' definitely was enjoyable and entertaining despite the incites I mentioned above.
Camelot will be playing until January 4, 2015, so invite your friends and family. For more show information, visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.
If you’ve ever wondered what may have filled in the omitted bits and fragments in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, First Folio’s “The Gravedigger” takes the mystery away while presenting its own mystery. Ingeniously creating a story within a story, “The Gravedigger” takes us to a heartbroken and devastated Dr. Victor Frankenstein who searches to destroy the monster who killed his family – a monster he breathed life into himself.
Meanwhile, as Victor hunts, the monster encounters a gravedigger, “Kurt”, when he tries to kill himself in a cemetery. Through reasoning and understanding, the gimpy gravedigger convinces the monster to live and the two develop a friendship. Kurt is dealing with his own past transgressions and we see similarities emerge between the two as the story continues. As time goes on, the monster learns to care and love because he is for the first time being accepted for who he is rather than hated and misunderstood. He even learns he has a soul despite the fact he is created form various corpse parts. When a woman, a self-proclaimed reader of the future, enters the monsters life he begins to become even more human.
Just in time for Halloween, the world premiere of “The Gravedigger” is a haunting, but heartfelt story written by Joseph Zettelmaier that keeps audience members engaged thanks to its flowing dialogue, eighteenth century costumes and memorable set that looks like a cemetery from an old horror flick. In fact, the play is held in the Mayslake Peabody Estate where rumors have its former owner Francis Peabody haunting the mansion, giving it an extra dose of creepy.
Craig Spidle is dynamic as “Kurt” and really grabs his character by the you-know-whats, anchoring a strong cast that includes Chicago acting veterans Doug MacKechnie and Simina Contras. Josh Carroll takes on the role of the monster otherwise known as “Anton” and does an admirable job as the simpleton who expresses many different feelings and emotions for the first time. At time inner beauty is so well defined and personified in Zettelmaier's characters, yet we see that sometimes we are just a vulnerable moment away from unleashing the primitive beast within ourselves.
That horror can be intertwined with beauty and love makes this story penetrating. It is a story of hope, a story of what could be and a story of change, all the time testing human behavior. “The Gravedigger” wins on so many levels and can be seen through November 2nd at First Folio Theatre in Oakbrook. Joseph Zettelmaier is a young playwright to keep an eye on.
For more show information, visit www.firstfolio.org.
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