Theatre

Buzz News Chicago: Theatre and Concert Reviews

Ken Payne

Ken Payne

Friday, 24 June 2016 16:22

Review: Company at Writers Theatre

Imagine a 70s-era Woody Allen movie set to music. That's basically "Company" by Stephen Sondheim. It premiered in a time when many Broadway musicals were just collections of songs loosely connected by a simple plot. In 1970, Sondheim's "Company" challenged that formula by presenting a musical that was more book than music. The story is even less clear than a classic Broadway show. It's the story of Bobby, a bachelor living in New York City with mixed-up ideas about marriage. 

 

Though Bobby (Thom Miller) is the main character, "Company" is about the women in his life. Writers Theatre director William Brown has assembled a stellar cast of Chicago actresses. Each scene is a vignette in which Bobby learns about his friends' marriages. Blair Robertson as uptight Jenny is charmingly neurotic. Tiffany Scott playing urban Southern bell, Susan, and with costumes by Rachel Anne Healy, looks like a young Cybil Shepard. With distinct performances from the female ensemble, it's hard to pick out a favorite scene from the show, however Allison Hendrix singing "Getting Married Today" is a highlight. For Sondheim groupies, this is one of the show's most popular numbers but also its most challenging with a unique staccato rhyming scheme. Hendrix pulls it off, and makes the comedy relatable. Jess Godwin as April, is the show's last stop. Her portrayal of an awkward bachelorette is sure to make everyone laugh. 

 

"Company" concludes on the bittersweet song "Being Alive" and while Thom Miller's performance as Bobby is a little uneven throughout, he brings a lot to the cathartic final number. In one song, the musical goes from odd-ball romantic comedy to a philosophical question about the nature of long term love.

 

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is rightfully proud of their new space designed by Jeanne Gang. "Company" is presented as part of their Inaugural Season. The show, like the space is sleek, stylish and sexy. William Brown's production will likely be remembered as a definitive presentation of this not-often produced Sondheim classic. With more space, it’s nice to see a show at Writers with some breathing room. 

 

Through July 31st at Writers Theatre. 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. 847-242-6011.

 

One thing for sure - there is no shortage of shows to see in Las Vegas. Home to some of the most dazzling production shows, Broadway-esque musicals and magic acts, The Strip is sure to entertain, finding something for just about anyone, including music lovers of all varieties. As the other shows go, when it comes to live music, choices also span widely from resident acts such as Donny and Marie to Celine Dion, and though fantastic shows in their own right I’d be more than hard pressed to find a more action-packed show than The Australian Bee Gees performed at Excalibur Hotel and Casino. 

 

One of the most outstanding tribute shows ever assembled, this outfit does the Bee Gees right. In fact, Barry Gibbs’ own mother quoted her son as saying the AGB is the best in the world at what they do. And who can really argue with that? After watching their show I sure can’t. 

 

Set in an intimate theatre that probably holds less than three hundred people, fans are able to get an up close and personal experience to the music of the Brothers Gibb. Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb are wonderfully played by Matt Baldoni, Wayne Hosking, and David Scott who perpetuate the famous band’s legacy with an enormous amount of respect, talent and excitement. This engaging, hit-filled show is broken down into different periods taking on the earlier triumphs of the Bee Gees before heading to their later, and probably most influential, years when Saturday Night Live was all the rage. With a comprehensive catalog of material hitting on love ballads like “How Deep is Your Love” and “Too Much Heaven” that are nearly guaranteed to bring out the romance in everyone, the set also lets the crowd get their boogie on with popular disco faves “Stayin’ Alive”, “Tragedy”, “Jive Talkin’”, and “You Should Be Dancing”, even transforming part of the venue into a dance club for the last handful of numbers. 

 

In their heyday, it was probably difficult to find someone who did not own an LP or 8-track of a Bee Gees album. Many of us have grown up with the band’s music that still holds a dominant place and influence in today’s world, making this show an exciting trip down nostalgia lane. And for those who did not, I envy their experience of discovering this music in such a fun and unique way. Immortalized in classic films, still played regularly in radio rotations, the music of the Bee Gees always takes us back to one of the most memorable periods of pop culture, highlighting the ever so groove-laden, bell-bottomed, big collared, gold medallion-hanging-over-open-chest disco era. Yet, we cannot overlook the incredible talent involved in writing and performing the music that made them famous, making The Australian Bee Gees show all that more impressive as they handle the vocals and instrumentation with amazing precision while infusing the perfect amount of energy and personality into their act to create this rare show opportunity. In other words, they wholeheartedly capture the spirit of the Bee Gees. 

 

Owned and operated by David Scott, Wayne Hosking, bassist Tony Richards and Michael Clift (who also performs as Barry Gibb), The Australian Bee Gees are not only a successful Las Vegas act, as they are well into their fifth year to performing for packed houses at Excalibur, they are also a popular international touring group. How can they tour while playing six nights a week in Las Vegas? Easy, by rolling out more than one band. In fact, they even have a third outfit assembled for good measure. That said, The Australian Bee Gees success is world wide. It also helps that people from all over the world attend the band’s Las Vegas’ shows, adding to their already large amount of world-wide exposure, a segment of the show proudly paying homage to the homelands of their audience members in a uniquely fun fashion. Outside of their current Las Vegas home, the band has also had residencies in other parts of the world including a six-week run at The Broadway Playhouse in Chicago. 

The band formed just over twenty years ago when “the guys” played in various cover bands and original projects throughout Australia upon realizing that no one was doing a Bee Gees tribute. Thinking it could be a challenging project and having an obvious appreciation for the music, the musicians gave it a shot and clicked immediately. Testing the waters the ABG’s booked some shows in China and after three weeks of sold out shows in Hong Kong, it was apparent they were on to something special. After their inaugural tour success, the band quickly flew back to Australia and put an entire show together based on the One Night Only concert (The Bee Gees one and only concert). Since, it has gradually snowballed into what it has become today - a fantastic tribute to an iconic band where fans around the world can relive the magic of The Bee Gees - a band that has performed in over forty-five countries.

 

Though their initial success caught on overseas, the band still had to conquer America. The Bee Gees certainly achieved a great level of success here and that naturally played into their favor. However, if any trepidation existed amongst the ABG members, it was unwarranted as Americans welcomed them with open arms. Wayne proved to be correct when he said, “If you can make it in Australia, you can make it anywhere”, referring to the band’s rather tough home audiences. 

 

The band describes the Bee Gees music as universal and timeless so much so that they cannot fit enough hits into one show. In seeing the AGB’s live, it is evident the band members are not just going through the motions but rather are playing with a true love and enthusiasm for the music - something the audience feeds on rabidly.  

 

When asked the band’s favorite song to perform they quickly agreed that they often have a special moment with the audience when playing “Words”, as fans sing along with the ballad word for word - even in countries where English is not widely spoken. Though many songs head the list of favorites, the band also explains that set lists are changed depending on where they are playing. For instance, what may be popular in Germany, may not be as popular in other parts of the world. Another example would be the popularity of Spicks and Specks, The Bee Gees breakout number one hit in Australia that, over there, compares to the popularity of Stayin’ Alive here in the States.  

 

Family-friendly, edgy and brilliantly performed, this is a show that can be enjoyed over and over again. Catch the fever - the Saturday Night Fever - and pass it on - it’s contagious.      

 

As a heads up, here are a few things one might expect at an Australian Bee Gees show - lots of toe tapping, hand clapping, dancing (whether at your seat or a few feet over at “Club Mo”), humor, the likeness and sound of The Bee Gees remarkably revisited and and all around experience where you will leave knowing that you just attended one of the most energetic and memorable shows on The Strip. Tickets are priced at an ultra reasonable $49.95-$59.95, making this not just one of the more affordable Las Vegas shows but one of the best overall values. 

 

As I sat down in my second row center seats in Planet Hollywood Casino Hotel and Casino’s Saxe Theater, the couple next to me told me excitedly that they had seen Vegas! The Show as VIP's to meet the cast afterwards ten times! This lovely couple in their early sixties from the Midwest said that they return to the show every year and even have favorite cast members that they hope will be in the constantly evolving large cast.

 

The show starts off in what appears to be a dark warehouse filled with a slew of large, worn hotel and club signs once brightly shining to dazzle the Las Vegas crowds. Enter “Ernie” the maintenance man. Ernie addresses the crowd, telling us about Vegas’ golden era when the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne were in their heyday, entertaining audiences and setting the unachievable standards for future Las Vegas stars. Ernie reminds us that these were the days when women would attend shows in fancy dresses and dapper gentlemen arrived in well-tailored suits or tuxedos as opposed to today’s show-goers that arrive in shorts, sandals with white socks and t-shirts that ask “Who Farted?”. After a bit more reminiscing, he then takes us to yesteryear and we get a glimpse at what once was. In a blink of an eye, the stage suddenly transforms into a sparkling set full of life, dancers, and colorful lights. A full band appears as we are thrust into the magic of classic Las Vegas. Vegas! The Show beautifully presents a timeline of entertainment that makes stops from the 1940’s through the 1970’s, sets changing with the times as we hear one classic number after another. 

 

Refusing to allow any gaps in entertaining its audience, the show brings forth a variety of amusing acts front of stage during set changes from jaw-dropping juggling acts to an aerial balancing beam team that gets plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from nervous crowd members. This show is simply oozing with talent and entertains with the best of them. It is no surprise this show has been named “Best Show in Vegas” many times during its five-year residency.       

 

I enjoyed this show from beginning to end. If you have a yen to see a little bit of everything Vegas is known for like tall, beautiful showgirl numbers, great personality impersonations of singers like Tina Turner, Elton John, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Sonny and Cher and Elvis Presley, this is the show for you. 

 

As impressed as I was with the singing voices of the various star impersonators I was also blown away by the large cast of well-trained energetic young dancers who filled every number with so much excitement and sexy surprises it was hard to decide which part of the stage to watch. 

 

This is a saucy, slightly sexy, but never raunchy respectful tribute to the historic performers and places that have made the history of Vegas what it is today, is a breeding ground for great talent.

 

There's also some humor mixed in with the great singing and dancing and although the costumes are sexy, I would not hesitate to take kids to this show. 

 

The most poignant moment of this very upbeat variety show came in the form of a slideshow at the finale as “Elton John” sang “Rocket Man”. The footage consisted of film clips of all the past great who have graced Las Vegas such as Liberace, Elvis and The Rat Pack before switching into a montage of all the hotels (Sahara, Frontier, Dunes, etc.) actually being leveled by explosives to make way for the new and modern Vegas we know today.

 

Filled with interesting history tidbits about Vegas yet never slowing down by literally filling the stage in this intimate 400-seat venue with old school, eye popping glamour, this really is a show to see with friends and family who'd like to experience a little of each of the great parts of Vegas just like one would at a buffet – by getting a healthy gander at so many fabulous themes in a single night. 

 

Tickets currently run at $79.99 for general admission though a VIP package is offer for just $20 more that assures seats closer to the stage. Showtime’s are 7pm and 9pm seven days a week. Be sure to add Vegas! The Show on your Las Vegas to do list.  

 

Las Vegas - Dazzling light displays, glitzy hotels with themes ranging from some of the planet’s most desired locations such as Paris, Venice and Egypt, exciting casinos filled with the sounds of cheering and the cha-chings of slot machines, energetic clubs with sexy dancers and, maybe best of all, some of the most colorful and original shows one could hope to see. When going to Vegas, it’s easy to check the show sites only to be barraged with so many options the task can become a bit frustrating. Well, the good news is the Buzz News Chicago staff makes a point to visit Las Vegas on an annual basis to keep our readers informed on some of the best shows the Strip has to offer. If we don’t like it, we won’t write about. Rather than tell you what not to see, we’d prefer to make recommendations on shows that deserve your attention.  

This year, there were a few shows stood out as “must sees”, one of my personal favorites being Jabbawockeez, currently being performed at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino inside the Jabbawockeez Theater. The latest of the Jabbawockeez adventures “JREAMZ” is an amazing blend of hip-hop, break dance and dreamlike theatrics that is thrilling, interactive and best of all, completely original from any other production show. The show, voted three years running for “Best Family Show” and “Best All Ages Show” Jabbawockeez is not just a modern workshop of hypnotic dance moves and brilliant choreography, it is a throwback to mime to which a large amount of humor is injected into its dream sequenced series of events. Despite the lack of any dialogue, the Jabbawockeez dancers, faces hidden in white masks of varying degrees, have no problem communicating their point with their fellow performers and audience members. Considering the vast amount of people who travel to Vegas from around the world, this show gets extra points as a production everyone can follow.

Walking Dead fans will enjoy the show’s beginning that takes its audience through a full on zombie apocalypse, before gradually shifting to rotating successions of dreams that could either fall on the nightmare side, be a joyous, blissful experience or can be an adventure in itself. No matter the scenario of the moment, we always receive a heavy dose of stunning dance moves where you can only shake your head in disbelief or think, “What the…?”   

Adding to the comedy of the show, members of the audience are sometimes plucked by the dancers and guided to the stage for some good old fashioned embarrassment that create big laughs. Performed in a somewhat intimate venue for Vegas standards where every seat is a good seat, the audience gets slammed with an up close, in-the-face experience that is sure to be remembered. Jabbawockeez is a unique production that can be enjoyed over and over and suits just about any audience. 

The dance troupe is not just recognized in Las Vegas, they have made a splash nationally appearing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, “Dancing with the Stars”. “So You Think You Can Dance” and “I Can Do That”. One of the most original dance productions recognized across the country, Jabbawockeez is a Vegas experience like no other - an experience that will inspire, make you laugh and leave you amazed.

Like most every show in Vegas you can purchase souvenirs of the performance, the main difference being that Jabbawockeez offers products from its own clothes line – and they’re cool!

Tickets for this fantastically entertaining production are very reasonable and in line with many of the other shows on The Strip. Performed at 7p.m. each night except Tuesday and Wednesday, prices range from $49.99-$82.99. For an additional $55 a VIP Package can be purchased which includes a photo op with the Jabbawockeez dancers, an after show meet and greet and a bag of goodies.    

 

Sunday, 19 June 2016 21:32

Deathtrap: A Steady Diet of Curveballs

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. 

Chicago is alive with the sound of music, thanks to the return of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic musical now playing at Cadillac Palace that comes with a delightfully vibrant cast and an orchestra that is able to capture the uttermost essence of the original score. Directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, The Sound of Music is in town for just a limited engagement so if you’d like to take in one of the most enduring musicals of all time, you had better act quickly.

Most know the story that takes place in World War II Austria where a “rebellious” nun-to-be, Maria, is sent by the Abbey to the home of the widowed Captain von Trapp, a wealthy and successful Naval officer, to act as the governess for his seven children. She enters a strict household where there is no longer a place for music but rather is closer to the environment found on one of the Captain’s sea vessels. This is a tightly run ship, where orders are barked and children answer to whistle tones. No one dares oppose the way the Captain runs his household, that is, of course, until Maria enters the picture. As the story progresses, Maria kind-heartedness slowly breaks through to the Captain and a whirlwind of love story takes place as the two realize they have eyes for each other.    

With the Third Reich threatening to take over Austria and enlist the Captain’s services, the story takes another turn when the head of the Von Trapp household refuses to support the Nazi ideal. The Sound of Music is a classic love story adventure that has won the hearts of millions not just by its compelling story but by its sensational soundtrack. 

Usually, it is the role of Maria that runs away with the story and is relished and admired so much by its audience. However, in this case, Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp is so dynamic, both vocally and in his acting performance, that so say he stole the show would be a heavy understatement. Displaying a vocal range from a seasoned baritone to a gifted soprano, while so well capturing the essence of a hardened man softened then transfixed by the love, forgiveness and admiration of a young woman, Davis makes one wonder if it is possible to play the role of Captain von Trapp any better. 

But you do need a strong Maria or the play cannot work - period. Kerstin Anderson as Maria is strong indeed. Probably taking the role a bit on the nerdy side in a bit of a twist, Anderson still has the warmth and charm, and is frankly…likeable. Able to harness the much-needed free-spirited persona into her character with seemingly natural ease, she certainly flows gracefully in her role, and she, like Davis, can also belt. 

The supporting roles are also well cast from the Melody Betts as the Mother Abbess to Merwin Foard as the wheeling and dealing Max Detweiler. Talented too are the child actors who make up The Family von Trapp, particularly Paige Sylvester who plays Liesl and also Dan Tracy as Rolf Gruber, her love interest. Sylvester and Tracy especially light up the stage during their inspiring number “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. 

With such amazing songs as “Do-Re-Mi”, “Climb Every Mountain”, “The Sound of Music” and “Edelweiss”, we are literally treated to one great after another. The Sound of Music is without question both vocally and visually entertaining. The set beautifully depicts the von Trapp mansion, helping to bring this wonderful story to life.

To put it simply, you won’t want to miss this one. 

The Sound of Music is being performed at Cadillac Palace through just June 19th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com. 

 

Just on the cusp of the band’s latest release, Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1, Sixx: A.M. is already knee-deep into a full-fledged U.S. tour, last night stopping at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall before playing some dates in Europe. Not surprisingly, the band played their nearly two-hour set before a packed house of eager fans putting forth a well-balanced song list, taking key selections from each of their four albums including a handful of their newest, slightly untested material.  

Bassist Nikki Sixx has described the new release as an intermingling of 2011’s This Is Gonna Hurt and 2007’s The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, and after giving the new album more than a few listens, he’s spot on. As already evidenced by the album’s first single “Rise”, the album once again carries the band’s now very well-known blend of energy, dynamics and melodic bliss along with meaningful lyrics that deliver a solid punch. Filled with raunchy, yet utterly tasty leads from guitarist DJ Ashba and singer James Michael’s versatile vocal range combined with a unified feel that only comes from a band that has played together for a decade, give or take, Prayers… might just be the best work from the band yet. Its message is simple but poignant – wake up, be aware, do not be complacent and scrap the existing state of affairs we are told to blindly accept. Like the band’s past album themes, Prayers – Vol. 1, produced and engineered by Michael, is also filled with optimistic undertones that truly inspire.  

Sixx: A.M. wastes no time in thrusting lethal blows towards its crowd, kicking off their set with the high-powered track “This Is Gonna Hurt”. James Michael, aptly self-assured as he continuously rises in the ranks as one of today’s best rock vocalists, delivers a true rock and roll performance hitting each note with precision, honing in with finely finessed power whenever called for. At the same time Nikki Sixx supports Michael with his ever-so-striking presence and flashy bass work while DJ Ashba and drummer Dustin Steinke respectively plug away on one track after another. Rounding out the band’s sound is a duo of backing vocalists Amber Vansbuskirk and Melissa Harding, adding a unique flavor to an already appetizing set. 

As previously indicated, Sixx: A.M. plays a somewhat generous dose of material from their latest release ripping into “Rise” early on, perhaps bringing down the thunder more so than any other on the album with an authoritative presentation of “When We Were Gods”. The new material went over as well as can be expected and then some while the familiar sounds of past albums were once again emphatically welcomed by a bursting house of loyal followers. Almost on cue, fans wildly cheered as Michael introduced the poetic and deeply moving “Accidents Can Happen” before Sixx and company jumped into the hard-hitting “Dead Man’s Ballet”, both songs coming from The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Theirs is a set that never lets up. From “Goodbye My Friends” to “Stars”, rest assured fans are thoroughly entertained, moved and inspired from the show’s beginning to its fitting encores “Skin”, a song that touches on the acceptance of yourself and others and Sixx: A.M.’s anthem that is full of positivity and hope, “Life Is Beautiful”. 

Seemingly unfazed by the difference in venue size he might be used to, Sixx genuinely appeared to appreciate every single second on stage now inserted into a much closer relationship with his fans, as did the other band members.  Close up and personal in this fifteen hundred seat or so venue, Ashba, Sixx and Michael clearly reveled in the experience, undoubtedly receiving a reciprocal vibe by the Sixx: A.M. faithful. With Motley Crue now in Sixx’s rearview mirror and no longer a side project of his, it will be interesting to see how Sixx: A.M. evolves. So far, based on volume one of the new two volume release and a commanding touring presence that is both youthful and mature at the same time, there is no reason to think that Sixx: A.M. wouldn’t be able to headline their own arena tours sometime in the near future – if they so desire. With a following that has already existed, and is continuously growing, thanks to the band’s electric material, it should be noted that Sixx: A.M. is NOT a band riding off the successes of their previous band affiliations. Rather, they are the full package – songs, image, musicianship and message, created by insightful musicians that happened to have previous music notoriety. Nonetheless, wherever they play – however many fans they play in front of, one thing is certain – Sixx: A.M. is a highly-passionate band that plays each show with heart and a sincere love for music. 

Currently, one of the best bands on the touring circuit, Sixx: A.M. has again made it look easy by putting out yet another album that rocks through and through. Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1 is filled with thought provoking songs compiled by a veteran presence that has been there done that, has had life failures and successes, has learned by its mistakes and now shares its hope with others. In other words, it’s real. 

 

Possibly one of the best productions of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” that has graced the Chicago area is currently playing through June 5th at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Powerful, rich in musical and vocal performance and brilliantly choreographed, we are treated to a Tony caliber cast, as this production of “Evita” stirs the souls of audience members throughout in its intimate theatre-in-the-round setting. Superbly directed and choreographed by Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez, this electrifying production of “Evita” captivates from its opening ensemble number “Requiem” and continues to do so through the end of its second act. 

“Evita” is the story of Eva Peron who became Argentina’s First Lady in 1946 and remained so until her death in 1952. Married to Argentinian President Juan Peron, Eva was the country’s ambassador and became a true inspiration for its people. Hers is truly a story of rags to riches coming from one of the poorest areas of Junin before fleeing with a musician to Buenos Aires years later where her good looks contributed to her becoming a successful actress. In 1944 Eva Duarte met Colonel Juan Peron at a fundraising benefit for a major San Juan earthquake that claimed over 10,000 lives. From there the pair became of historical fame as together, they brought together “a new Argentina” much to the skepticism of Che, the iconic revolutionary. As the two ruled Argentina, Che is suspect that nothing has really changed for the better as promised by the power couple except for the wealth of the newly married Peron’s. 

Hannah Corneau is nothing less than triumphant as “Eva Peron”. Corneau delivers a spectacular performance that is sure to be remembered long after. Strong, passionate and eloquent, Corneau is seemingly meant to play the role of Eva. And for any production of “Evita” to succeed, there needs to be a convincing “Che”. Austin Lesch is just that and even exceeds expectations thanks to his hypnotic charisma and gifted voice. Local favorite and seasoned veteran Larry Adams also turns in a sincere performance as “Juan Peron”, Eva’s love interest and future president of Argentina. The set is impressive with rising platforms emerging from the stage when needed and props lowered from above, creating an imaginative setting of 1940s Buenos Aires while the dancing and music enthralling and the story engaging – all the components of a musical masterpiece.

While the leading actors are comprehensively engaging throughout, the ensemble is exceptional in their own right. This tightly knit collaborative is sprinkled with actors who have successfully taken on leading roles themselves at Marriott Theatre such as Brian Bohr and Jameson Cooper (this being his twentieth Marriott production).  At the same time Eliza Palasz as Peron’s mistress and David Schlumpf (Magaldi) round out the cast with solid performances in their highly relevant supporting roles.  

This tour de force production comes highly recommended. There is a reason that Andrew Lloyd Webber is the wealthiest musician in the world and “Evita” is one of his greatest works. And Marriott Theatre does this production to perfection. Produced and directed with a vision that would be sure to please Webber himself, this is a must-see show. 

“Evita” is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. For more information and/or tickets visit www.marriotttheatre.com. 

 

Who remembers the 1960s TV show “Hazel”? It may not be as easily recollected as such classics as “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “The Andy Griffith Show” or “I Love Lucy”, but for those who loved 1960s sitcoms back in the day or have been introduced to them thanks to networks like ME TV, it would be hard to forget Hazel, the lovable, take-charge maid played by Shirley Booth, who treasured nothing more than taking care of the Baxter family. Now, some fifty or so years later Drury Lane Theatre presents the World Premiere “Hazel: A Musical Maid in America” as an ode to the silver age of television. 

Directed and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, “Hazel” brings a new adventure to the dutiful maid and Baxter family. When Dorothy Baxter wants to go back to work much to husband George Baxter’s lack of support, enter Hazel who is hired to maintain the family’s home and take care of young Harold Baxter. A story in itself as Dorothy tries to take on the world of interior design with a corporate gig and wonders if she still has what it takes to succeed, the plot takes a twist when Harold believes he has captured a photo of a U.F.O. It doesn’t take much for word to get out of his spaceship sighting and for the Air Force to get involved. Kind of out there but remember we are talking about an era where U.F.O. scares were not so uncommon and TV was getting blitzed by series that included space ships and aliens. So the tie in actually makes sense. 

The evolution of Hazel continues. What began as a single-panel cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post back in 1943, was then brought to life in 1961 as a popular sitcom that went on to span five seasons. Hazel was not only known for keeping a spot-free home, but it was her big heart and droll sense of humor that made her one of TV’s most beloved heroines of the early to mid-1960s. In “Hazel: A Musical Maid for America” Klea Blackhurst admirably takes on the role as the tough as nails housekeeper, injecting just the right dose of humor and no-nonsense into her character while offering a dynamic vocal range in many of the show’s numbers. 

Both Ken Clark and Summer Naomi Smart are finely cast as George and Dorothy Baxter and are highly convincing as the 1960s married couple, gelling well with each other. Each also displays a finely tuned vocal presence of their own with Smart really lighting up the stage in her back to work number “Sheer Perfection”. The cast is well rounded and provides outstanding contributions from Ed Kross as Hazel’s love interest Bonkers Johnson, Casey Lyons as Harold Baxter and a strong ensemble that is highlighted by Bill Bannon and Meghan Murphy.

Boasting a very impressive, ever-changing set that really enhances the 1960s essence, “Hazel” is an entertaining spectacle as much as it is a fun, light-hearted comedy that gets its digs in at the male narrow-mindedness of the era and delves into the accepting of those for who they are. With plenty of energetic musical number laced with humor and wit, we are presented with a well-rounded comedy that comes with a nice measure of nostalgia.  

“Hazel: A Musical Maid in America”, a presentation full of clean humor (pun intended), a fun story and enjoyable big show numbers, is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through May 20th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.     

 

Blind dates can be interesting enough but add in a few surprises and things can get pretty uncomfortable in a hurry. In Recent Tragic Events we meet a couple, Waverly and Andrew, who gets together for a date on the recommendation of mutual friends and as the night progresses they have more in common than they could have possibly thought. 

 

The date starts precariously. It's the day after the September 11th attacks and Waverly's twin sister has not been heard from. Waverly is somewhat certain that her sister would not have been at the World Trade Center during the attacks but still has a bit of doubt. Andrew, who manages a book store at the airport, is awkward and shy but quickly notices that Waverly has the exact same books as him when picking her up and their admiration for the same authors quickly creates a bond between the two. With Waverly upset about her sister's status the two decide to stay indoors to hand out and order pizza. It's not long after that down-the-hall neighbor Ron intrudes on the date. Ron is a happy-go-lucky musician who doesn’t seem to take too much in life very seriously. The three of them tune in and out of news broadcasts covering the attack, but try to keep things light-hearted though a heavy cloud overshadows their evening. Soon Ron’s married girlfriend joins the group hair disheveled and clad only in an oversized t-shirt and panties. She doesn’t speak, only nodding and making slight sounds in agreement or disagreement. 

 

The intrigue begins when Andrew tells Waverly that he had met her sister just two weeks prior at a bar. Recollecting his encounter, he tells Waverly and Ron that she had been discussing a position for a company located in the World Trade Center. Of course, that naturally amplifies Waverly’s worst fears. 

 

Recent Tragic Events is full of funny dialogue and subtle mannerisms, especially once Ron enters the scene, played hysterically by Maximillian Lupine who can induce laughter with the slightest of looks or gestures. Though Lupine gets most of the big laughs, Rachel Christianson is also hilarious – not so much as Ron’s girlfriend Nancy, but as Andrew’s favorite author, Waverly’s grandmother Joyce Carol Oates, who is portrayed by a sock puppet on her hand. Oates even knocks down a few beers with the gang during her visit if you can imagine a sock puppet chugging during a drinking game. Naturally when Joyce Carol Oates needs to use the bathroom, Nancy shows her the way, waits for her before returning together. Matthew Nerber also puts forth a humorous performance as the dweeby bookworm Andrew along with Laura Berber Taylor who displays a fine emotional range.   

 

The story is well-balanced with both the humor of the gang interacting (often awkwardly)and the drama that a tragedy more personal than expected may have taken place. Once really gets to like the characters, probably because there is a lot of truth in them. The question of free will is challenged, pondering if we really do make our own choices even when we think we do. This is brought to the surface in many ways not only with parallels to the September 11th attacks but even in the actors reading from a script after the “stage manager” alerts the crowd that the story could go in different ways by changing lines every time a chime is heard. Ron and Joyce Carol Oates also have a heated exchange on the subject. 

 

Recent Tragic Events is worth checking out. It is a show that will make you think past the many good laughs it offers. The characters work well together thanks to a well-assembled cast and solid scripting while the story keeps your attention, though it seems to run a bit longer than it should, quickly changing tone and opting to linger rather than closing on a prior opportune moment or two. 

 

Recent Tragic Events is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre through April 10th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org .   

 

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