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On a recent Throwback Thursday, a suggested playlist popped up on Spotify that caught my attention, “Oldies but Goodies.” I started the playlist enthusiastically, not having the ability to pre-screen the mix. The first song to play was Sisqo's "Thong Song." At that moment, I wasn't quite sure what offended me more, that a song from my middle school days was considered an oldie by some younger-than-me-millennial, or that Sisqo would be in a category of "Oldies but Goodies." An oldie evokes ideas of classics, songs that withstand the test of time and musical fads. Songs, bands, singers, and songwriters that make "Greatest Songs of All Time" lists by the most reputable industry minds. "Oldies but Goodies" are timeless, and the best example of this happened only one short week ago at Ravinia with The Temptations and The Beach Boys.

No better groups epitomize Golden Oldies than The Temptations and The Beach Boys. Together they represent an incredible era of music from the 50, the 60s, and 70s from the pop-like rhythm and blues of Motown to the surf sound with electric guitars and vocal harmonies. Both musical styles were on full display Sunday night at Ravinia.

The Temptations performed with the gusto of men half their age. Their glee was palpable as they breezed through their dancing arrangements in perfect unison to their major hits like "Ain't to proud to beg," "Papa was a rolling stone" and their anthem "My Girl." Accompanied by a big band and master of ceremony, the group moved seamlessly from song to song not breaking for more than a breath or a drink of water. For 45 minutes straight the five men put on a show that is simply unseen in today's music. They were charismatic and engaging, their vocals and showmanship from another era. Unfortunately, their performance was lost on the audience in the pavilion seats. With tickets running as high $150/seat you'd expect those spending the money to see the group up close would be eager to see them, sing with them, dance with them. On the contrary, the pavilion guests appeared by bored, almost inconvenienced when they were asked to get up and sing and dance along. It seemed like they were there more for nostalgia; not present as fans of the music or the musical legends, but in remembrance of a bygone era and in mourning for youth. The seats were lost on those that tried to buy their time back.

The Beach Boys' set, in contrast to the rhythm of Motown, played with the same ease of an ocean at sunset, each song getting its play and lazily meeting the next. "Good Vibrations" had plenty of time to crash across the lawn seats before the group started "Sloop John B" or "God Only Knows." I rode the sound waves out to the lawn to meet up with friends and stretch my legs from the pavilion seats. Perhaps it was the extra space and freedom of the lawn seats, or perhaps just The Beach Boys themselves, but people were up, dancing and belting out every word. Beach balls by the dozens were hit from fan group to fan group, smiling and laughing even when some were smacked into heads, or in my case, my wine. The evening really captured the surf sound, listening to wavy-like music against a setting summer sun with a cold drink and good friends. This vibe still couldn't penetrate the pavilion seats, and having left my seat I couldn't return until there was a designated break in the music set. Though the group took at least 4-5 minutes to get from song to song there wasn't enough time to get people to their seat. But watching the audience I was reminded of The Beach Boys' earliest days, performing in matching short-sleeved button up shirts, slouchy with their hands in their pockets. Most guests sat the same way, slouchy, hands in their pockets and grimaces on their face. I spent the rest of the show on the lawn hitting beach balls, drinking wine, and crooning along to "Kokomo."

You can classify Sisqo as an oldie to appeal to older millennials and get clicks on trendy music apps, but true oldies (songs and bands) live across generations, draw thousands of fans to a suburban music venue, and can be enjoyed by kids young and old. Those are the only songs that can be considered Oldies But Goodies, even if the goodies can't be enjoyed by the people who are now "oldies." Ravinia has shows that extend through September, see what they have to offer at www.ravinia.org.



Published in In Concert

A new play inspired by the real life biker club, The Sirens of NYC (the biker gang that leads the Pride Parade in NYC each year), “The Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes” is a touching story concerning queer and trans characters forming their own biker club. “The Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes” performs Wednesdays at 8pm, through June 28, 2017, at Gorilla Tango Theatre (1919 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago IL 60647). Please visit www.gorillatango.com or call 773-598-4549 for tickets and information.
Smith has written a story about the family we choose, the family we don’t, and the development of an unlikely philanthropy for this motorcycle club that is able to unite them all together.


We are thrilled to be producing The Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes as part of Gorilla Tango’s “Gorilla Tango Originals” Series. GT Originals aims to support the voices of artists with untold stories, and to connect like-minded artists who share similar passions in storytelling. The Chicago stage has been so welcoming to the LGBTQ+ stories that need to be told.  The cast and crew feature some of Chicago’s greatest queer artists including North Rory Howard, a trans male actor playing his first trans male role. “I’ve played cisgender characters for years, and I’m sure I will continue to do so,” Howards says. “But to bring this story to life, to help people see a glimpse of my own history and struggles through this medium that I love so much, it’s an incredible feeling. I love, too, that this is not a play about being transgender, but rather an ensemble piece in which the trans character and his struggle are supported and balanced by other people without being overshadowed, which is honestly how the issue should be handled in our everyday lives. We need light, and the Valkyries help shine it.”


"The Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes" will play through Pride month in Chicago, so bring a group to celebrate any Wednesday in May and June at 8pm!


Katy Johnson (Skylight Music Theatre) returns from Gorilla Tango’s "The Blood Line: A CTA Horror Story" as, Deena, the president of the club. North Rory Howard (Black Box Studios) makes his Gorilla Tango debut as Quinn, the trans male partner of Club President, Deena. Also in the cast are Chicago and beyond improv star, Nate Curlott, as Jake and Chris, Elodie Senetra (Milwaukee Chamber Theatre) as Evie, Cat McKay (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) as Bella, Kate Souza (Hawaii Shakespeare Festival) as Kelly, and Chicago new comer Marie Tredway as Marie.

 
The production is directed by Magdalene Spanuello. Scenic/Lighting design by Mark Bracken, Choreography by Kati Schwaber, Costume/Tattoo design by Austin Winter, and stage managed by Teresa McCarthy.

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 21 July 2014 19:00

A little Heaven on Earth

 

Ravinia is just gorgeous. For those of us who desire quality, and those of you who need some, Ravinia is truly a little Heaven on Earth. As the longest running music festival in the United States, as well as the most highly esteemed outdoor music festival in Illinois, travelers from around the world make it a destination. Tradition preserves the integrity that makes visiting this historic park something you want to share with intimate reverence.

The famous Ravinia lawn seats up to 15,000 and the main pavillion offers seating of 3500 with a second pavillion also on site. Lawn screens and courteous surroundings ensure you will enjoy the experience surrounded by lush grounds and conscientious attendees.

Thousands of visitors set up their own tables, some quite elaborately, decorating with candles and enjoying the unique experience of being able to bring their own food, wine, and creature comforts to enhance the entire show experience. The communal touch will have a lifelong impact on you and your guests. Ravinia has become a tradition that the passionate organizers take great pride in. 

Nestled in Highland Park, rich with towering trees ambient lighting artwork and the most exceptional artists in the world along with very respectful patrons and an air of what Heaven on Earth could be in the great company of others, Ravinia is accessible from all directions and has shuttle busses and it's very own train stop to make planning your day there a pleasant experience. 

This night was particularly special. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was playing a live score to the 1961 film West Side Story. With an attentive quiet courteous audience, and a sound ambiance you have to experience, the charm of Ravinia's grounds will inspire you and your guests as you attend their Summer of Love.

WST copy

 

At one point my guest leans over to me and whispers " they don't dance like that anymore", to which we quietly conspired about how passionate the performances were, how expressive, colorful, just something you rarely see in film, stage, or life for that matter these days, and it had so much to do with the marvelous atmosphere, live symphony offering the movie score as it was intended to absorb, and rich performance elements that make Ravinia unmatched.

Imagine hearing a live soundtrack by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to a film as it was created and intended to impact the senses. The film was originally designed around the score of a symphony, so there is no other way to reignite the magic of the film and it's story.

Aromatic violins and rich strings flowing right through you as your eyes capture the art of the story, where everyone around you is as deeply focused. The communal attention is unique and something that Ravinia can proudly say attracts the most engaged and intelligent patrons from around the world. Ravinia is really a social epicenter, and you can feel the sense of togetherness that carries throughout the park. The non-profit venue is as close as it gets to a utopian spirit in grand scale, from the music to the park itself.

WST2 copy

Heart, John Maher, Train, Billy Corgan, Itzhak Perlman, and a list of extraordinary entertainers are scheduled for upcoming shows coming this August. There are also children's events, additional movie nights like The Lord of The Rings Return of The King ( with live Chicago Symphony Orchestra )- ever-fitting for such a grand work. 

Ravinia Calendar

Expect to see tables with elaborate setups that you will not see at any other venue. That night we brought along a variety of Sushi and fresh fruit as well as Raspberry Tea. Popcorn never entered my mind after hearing such great things about the Ravinia experience. I was asked if I was bringing wine and cheese. In planning my visit, as I discovered that the train stop was right at the entrance of the park, I realized this was a very special destination. The setting is one-of-a-kind.

What is outstanding and unique about Ravinia is how charming the lawn atmosphere is, how subtle kinetic and communal it is to be there with thousands of respectful patrons that bring their own tables and chairs, candles, as well as elaborate food and drink arrangements. There is no comparison to Ravinia and it's excellent attention to detail over the fortified tradition that it honors. As the oldest music festival in the United States, a venue that features the greatest artists of our time, Ravinia created a special memory for us that already has me looking forward to another deep enriching experience there. 

There are extraordinary events for children, likely the most enriching you may share and attend with them this Summer Season. Lord of The Rings is one of the upcoming shows so imagine how grand the experience will be with one of the most famous orchestras on Earth accompanying it for you. This is an element and dimension of story telling that only the producers and directors themselves have seen in bringing it to life

Ravinia is host to the most famous and spirit enriching forms of art and entertainment available. Enjoy! 

Watch Ravinia's Season Preview Here.

Ravinia

Photography by Leaha White

 

 

 

 

 

Published in BuzzBlog

What's more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys? Milton Bradley has asked this question for decades and now a Chicago-based arts education theater ensemble, aptly named “Barrel of Monkeys,” begs the same question of their audiences. After seeing their newest performance of “That’s Weird Grandma: Behind the [Monkey] Music,” I think you will be inclined to admit that there is indeed nothing more fun than a Barrel of Monkeys.

TWGMonkeyMusic-1

Barrel of Monkeys is first and foremost an arts-education group that conducts creative writing workshops for 3rd-5th grade students in underserved Chicago Public Schools. The group then becomes a theater ensemble, turning the children’s stories into performances performed at the school for the children and for general audiences at various venues around the city. The performances have a “Whose Line is it Anyway?” quality, only the shots are called by kids which is an amazing feat for this ensemble of actor-educators. If you aren’t impressed yet, Barrel of Monkeys’ performance of “That’s Weird Grandma” takes children’s stories and turns them into musical numbers, creating the first all musical performance by Barrel of Monkeys.

TWGMonkeyMusic-2

With such adorably written pieces as “Flower Argument,” an argumentative piece debating whether or not a flower should be picked from the point of view of the flower, to “Not So Much Pressure,” about Batman needing a break from saving the world, “Barrel of Monkeys” ensemble cast takes these pieces and turns them into musically hilarious gold. The audience, made up of adults, teenagers, and adults who act like children, was in stiches. The clean humor, awww worthy moments, incredible musical talent of the cast, and the honest and touching children’s’ stories was a perfect storm of perfection. What’s even more extraordinary is the show is never the same. Audience members vote on their favorite pieces from the hour-long show (roughly 12-14 pieces) and the most popular make the cut and are included in the next week, the rest of the showed being filled with new pieces.

TWGMonkeyMusic-4

This is a fantastic organization to support. Arts, music, and theater programs are typically the first to get cut in school budgets and the CPS system is no exception. The benefits of having a creative outlet for kids can be infinite. “That’s Weird Grandma: Behind the [Monkey] Music” runs through March 31st at the Neo-Futurist Theater (5100 block of N Ashland Ave.). I double-dog-dare you to not enjoy this Barrel of Monkeys.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Contemporary dance is an art form like any other. As a style of dance it is much more of a philosophy than a strict technique like, say, traditional ballet or modern. Rather, it draws inspiration from both techniques and creates an entirely different experience for the audience. Much like art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you are a fan of contemporary dance or not, you should take the time away from the bitter winter cold and venture into the Auditorium Theatre to experience The Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of Contemporary Choreographers.

Like many of the contemporary showcases performed by The Joffrey, Contemporary Choreographers is split into three productions: Crossing Ashland, Continuum, and Episode 31. Let’s quickly cover off on some highlights; Episode 31, the final performance in the series choreographed by Alexander Ekman, is actually quite fun. It can adequately be described as a dramatic playground, bringing a youthful approach to dance with a touch of humor; no seriously, people were laughing along to the performances.

Joffrey Ballet - Episode 31 ft. Derrick Agnoletti  Aaron Rogers - Photo by Cheryl Mann 1

The second performance in the series is Continuum, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. This was the least entertaining performance for me; I would equate the performance as a whole as looking a blank white canvas in an art museum with a title like “Block 39.” To many, they would draw a profound and ethereal message from the blank white canvas, while others might see just a white canvas, blank and without meaning. Many of those in the audience gave Continuum a standing ovation, but to me the performance lacked a story and with it a reason to enjoy and watch it. Then again, it followed one of the best contemporary pieces I would safely say is the most enjoyable contemporary performance I’ve ever seen, so I am slightest biased.

Joffrey Ballet - Continuum ft. Temur Suluashvili  Christine Rocas 2 - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Throughout the opening piece called Crossing Ashland, choreographed by Brock Clawson, dancers in streets clothes created the vision of pedestrians passing each other on the street, walking briskly back and forth across the stage. These stoics in street clothes turned expressive when they stripped away their outer layers of clothing and exposed the vulnerability of their inner selves. Crossing, the dancers showed us what we look like; dancing, they showed us the enormity of what we feel. The performances’ emotions were palpable to the audience and after each dancer took the stage you begged them to say longer. The dancers themselves were drop-dead, makes-you-want-to-go-workout, idol-worthy specimens, each and every muscle working to show their emotions. In lament terms, they were hot.

Joffrey Ballet - Crossing Ashland ft. Matthew Adamczyk  Amanda Assucena - Photo by Cheryl Mann

So what makes Crossing Ashland special? It’s the fact that the dance is so relatable, so understandable to the audience; two people pass on the street, their hands touching slightly, longingly, but then they part. So much is said in those moments without saying a word, and when two dancers portraying their emotions take the stage and perform a deeply passionate interpretation of breaking-up and making-up, you are captivated. Crossing Ashland could easily be made into a full length production and take the stage for a full two hours and no one would be bored. And more importantly, it could introduce an entirely new generation to contemporary choreography that isn’t limited to what one sees on televised dance shows or in the movies.

So cross Wabash Avenue and make your way to the Auditorium Theatre to see Contemporary Choreographers. The show runs through February 23rd. It is a breath of fresh air to a modern style of dance that will hopefully leave you breathless.

Published in Dance in Review

1503438-600full philip seymour hoffman

Acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has been reportedly found dead in his New York apartment of an apparent over-dose of Heroin.

Known for his energetic and now prophetic role in 'Death of a Salesman', as well as the entertainment world's beloved Almost Famous, as well as

Along Came Polly - Hoffman was not shy about his history of alcohol and drug use.

In 2013 he returned to Heroin.

Here are some Tweets from his contemporaries regarding his passing:

 

 

Published in BuzzBlog

 

 

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