Ken Payne

Ken Payne

Saturday, 31 October 2015 06:39

Big Christmas fun - "Elf" at Marriott Theatre

Here we go again. Wow, this year went by fast! Christmas is again just around the corner, which means it’s time to bring on the holiday plays! This year one of the funniest Christmas shows of the season will certainly be “Elf”, now playing at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Based on the hilarious 2003 film of the same name starring Will Ferrell, the play deviates a bit from its original script but carries the same overall story-line and still pushes its simple message – to spread Christmas cheer.

For anyone to pull of this production, it all really comes down to who plays Ferrell’s character as the ever naïve and loveable elf, Buddy. Fortunately, Alex Goodrich was cast in the role. Though, he has some big curly shoes to fill, Goodrich quickly wins over the crowd - maybe not the the point of "Ferrell who?" (who can?), but he certainly does a fantastic job. Goodrich’s precise comic timing and ability to be believable as a fun-loving, child-like adult who is ever so innocent of this world makes this show a big winner.   

“Elf” is the story of Buddy, a human who is raised as an elf after he accidentally crawls into Santa’s sack during one of his stops at an orphanage. Despite the size difference between Buddy and the elves and his lack of toy making aptitude, it isn’t until he is a full on adult at thirty years old before he figures out that he is human. It’s at that time Santa sends Buddy out into the world – New York to be exact – to find his real father. From there, as one might imagine, is a story of a fish out of water in the biggest way.

Full of silly holiday songs that may not stick in one’s head ten minutes after the show, “Elf” is pretty much a laugh fest from beginning to end. And that’s okay since one does not see “Elf” because of its music, we see it because we want to laugh and get into the Christmas spirit. In this fun holiday treat, Goodrich finds himself surrounded by a strong cast, especially in Kevin Gudahl who plays Roy Hobbs, Buddy’s true dad, and Roger Mueller as a Santa Claus who actually weighs in on the “cool” scale. James Earl Jones II also delivers an enjoyable performance as the manager at Macy’s.

The point of the story is simple and clearly delivered – to get people in the Christmas mindset of selflessness and giving despite all the daily issues and problems we might be facing. And what’s even better is that we can have some good laughs while getting there.


“Elf” is a thoroughly amusing production that the entire family can share. Playing at Marriott Theatre through December 31st, it is the perfect way to get a jump start and primed up for the holidays. For tickets and/or more show information, visit      

It’s as though the minds behind Motley Crue’s farewell tour, “The Final Tour”, thought of every possible stunt, gimmick and visual spectacle that would blow one’s mind and then compacted them all into a single evening. First and foremost, the band hand-picked the perfect act to send them on their way into their, now famous, permanent retirement – Alice Cooper. That’s right, a permanent retirement as Motley Crue. Not wanting to be yet another band that has a farewell tour every few years, the band actually signed legal documents stating that they cannot play together as Motley Crue again after December 31st, 2015. Guitarist Mick Mars declining health has also played a factor in the band’s decision to call it quits, not wanting to go on with rotating tour musicians in place of the originals. One of the few remaining true hair bands of the 1980s that still feature their original lineup, Crue has decided to hang it up while they can still kick some major ass on the stage – and that they do in this final year and a half tour.

Formed in 1981, Motley Crue has been still going strong despite a couple temporary lineup changes and a lack of relevant releases since “Primal Scream”, an added track on the 1991 compilation album Decade of Decadence, to the surprising solid Saints of Los Angeles that hit shelves in 2008. Even in those musically not so productive years, the band continued to tour and keep busy in the recording studio, successful or not. Now, 34 or so years from their days of opening for Ozzy Osbourne when “Live Wire” and “Piece of Your Action” were cutting edge rock songs, the band returns to say goodbye to the fans that made them the band they have become. Their arrogance and blatant degradation of women that helped make them famous as rock and roll’s “bad boys” now has slowly mellowed into family life behind the scenes, and their rampant drug use and notorious partying that put them in the music headlines so often has now been reduced to having a few beers, if even that. Still, 1980s rock and roll lifestyle aside – like it or not, it was their music that put them high on the charts and made them household names. It is their music and the impact made in such genre that will undoubtedly get them inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at some point.   

Now it is time for one last hurrah. Once more Motley Crue will remind everyone why they are considered one of the best rock bands of our time. 

Led by bassist Nikki Sixx, now fifty-six, he is joined once again by some of the most iconic bandmates of our generation in drummer Tommy Lee (now fifty-three), singer/frontman Vince Neil (fifty-four) and guitarist extraordinaire Mick Mars, who is either now sixty-years-old or sixty-four depending on what you read. Their mission is simple – to embark on a tour that that will blow minds in every way imaginable.

                  Alice Cooper and his minions

When Alice Cooper and his minions hit the stage, it’s go time. Each band member takes on a personality of their own, almost as if they popped out of the pages of a comic book. Already known for his theatrics, Cooper weighs into the night by kicking his set off with “The Black Widow” and follows up strongly with “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, the classic “I’m Eighteen”, “Poison” and “Go to Hell”. Each song a theatrical performance in itself, with costumes, heavy duty props and special effects, we even see a twenty or so foot tall Frankenstein monster emerge then run about the stage during “Feed My Frankenstein”. When a frightening nurse leads a straight-jacket wearing Alice Cooper to a guillotine, the anticipation continues to mount. The nurse urges the crowd to drop the hammer on Alice and with massive shouts of approval – SLICE! The blade crashes down and Cooper’s head falls to the floor before being picked up by the executioner who parades it around for all to see to the tune of “I Love the Dead”. 

Colorful, exciting and shocking, Alice Cooper’s set would have already more than satisfied my taste rock and roll that evening. Baby heads surround Glen Sobel’s drum kit as he wails away while guitar duties are shared by Tommy Henriksen, Ryan Roxy and Nita Strauss, who was a show in herself. Chuck Garric plucks the bass and adds his own distinct flavor to Cooper’s band. Often the band triumphantly gathers center stage led by Cooper, exchanging riffs and showboating for the crowd.  

At sixty-seven-years old, Alice Cooper may have still his best touring days ahead, especially if his band is as engaging as the one he has now. Thoroughly entertaining in every aspect desired in a ball’s out rock show, Cooper’s show was pure rock and roll bliss.  

In what we could only wish was a longer set, Alice Cooper finishes off the crowd with a power-charged rendition of “School’s Out” that medleys with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”.  Nothing short of amazing, at that point it seemed Cooper may have stolen the night.

A short breather.

After appropriately hearing The Sound of Music’s “So Long Farewell” throughout the stadium, the familiar revving of a Harley Davidson engine thrusts Motley Crue onto the stage with “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Mick Mars, looking that of a New Orleans crypt keeper, strums the crunchy chords as Vince Neil struts forth. Nikki Sixx looks to be in great shape, as opposed to the slightly chunky Nikki we saw a few years back, passing off a few pounds to frontman Vince Neil, whose chubby frame doesn’t keep him from rocking at full throttle. Tommy also looks to be in peak form as he slams the cans with the same fervor and precision as ever.

Over the years Motley Crue has made a point of creating a stage spectacle to remember for each tour. This is their biggest show by far. Fireworks jet out at some point in nearly every song only to be complemented with massive bursts of fire, laser lights and gusts of streaming smoke. As per usual the band is accompanied by two dancers to sexy up the set and add backing vocals. Twenty foot flames are even shot out of Nikki’s bass as they kick into “Shout at the Devil”. Like I said, they thought of everything. 

Outside of the pyrotechnics and amazing special effects, Motley Crue puts out a long, flavorful set that includes favorites “Wild Side”, “Same Ol’ Situation”, “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”, “Live Wire”, “Motherfucker of the Year” and a rocked out version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” complete with a squadron of masked combatants that shoot water into the crowd with high-powered Super Soakers.  

Somewhere near the half way point, an emotional Nikki addresses the crowd, thanking everyone for their years of support - a nice warm and fuzzy moment amidst one of the best concerts in some time.  

And what would a Motley Crue show be without an insane drum solo? Again, thinking of what would be most mind blowing stunt to pull off, Tommy Lee’s entire drum set ascends up and over the crowd half way across the stadium as be blasts along with a series of clips from his fave songs including some Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and Beastie Boys. Mick Mars immediately follows up Tommy’s antics with a blazing solo of his own before the band kicks it into high gear with “Dr. Feelgood” and “Kickstart My Heart”, a finale number that is definitely one for the books that includes everything but the kitchen sink. In their massive send off number, both Neil and Sixx are propelled out over the crowd as they each man their own pod-like thingy. Mick Mars mans the main stage standing on a riser that raises him a good twenty feet. At the same time, a thirty foot round pentagram burst into flames behind Lee’s drum set while a barrage of explosions take place and streamers fall from the ceiling so thickly one cannot see the crowd across the way. It is a memorable farewell.


With one more ace up their sleeve, the band returns for an encore to a small stage located in the center of the arena for a more intimate version of what Sixx has referred to as the band’s “Stairway to Heaven” in “Home Sweet Home”. Having been to more concerts than I will ever be able to count, I can honestly say that Motley Crue’s  “Final Tour” is one of the best I have ever seen, and speaking with fans after the Milwaukee, Chicago and Toledo shows (yes, I went three times), it seems most would agree. This is it for one of the last true rock bands of an unbelievable era in our music history – a band that carved the way for a countless hair bands. This is it for a band whose music has passed the test of time and is every bit as significant as it was when first released. Sixx has sure come a long way from hacking bass riffs with London in 1980 then hand-picking a motley assortment of band members (Ding! A Motley Crue!) that could have only made it this far together thanks to the perfect chemistry. 

Watching Motley Crue performing “Live Wire” as an opening act in 1982 at what was then called the Rosemont Horizon, it was apparent they would be a special band. It has been fun to watch them grow musically and as performers ever since. I’d guess the band has a few good tours left in them, but as Motley Crue members say themselves, “All bad things must come to an end”. And what an end it is. 



Shiver me timbers! Child actor John Francis Babbo delivers a knockout performance to lead, what can be called nothing less than a stellar cast, in Lookingglass Theatre’s world premiere production of “Treasure Island”. Based on the classic children’s novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883, Mary Zimmerman vividly adapts and directs this famous tale to encompass all the excitement and high seas adventure originally created by its original author.

In one of the most famous pirate tales known to date (the one that made Long John Silver a household name), we embark on a journey with young Jim Hawkins (Babbo) whose heroics and level headedness make him one of the most mature characters in the story despite a handful of motley swashbucklers and a crew of ship mates in search of hidden treasure.

For those who might be unfamiliar, the story takes place somewhere in the mid-1700s, when Hawkins is approached by Billy Bones, a drunken pirate wonderfully played by Christopher Donahue, while working at the inn with his mother. Bones soon offers Hawkins money to keep his eyes peeled for a one-legged pirate (guess who?), but not long after dies leaving behind a treasure map. After Hawkins delivers the map to trustworthy Squire Trelawney, a crew is assembled led by the fearless Captain Smollett aboard the reliable sea vessel, the Hispaniola. However, Long John Silver and a degenerate band of his faithful have infiltrated such crew and the excitement really begins as they head out to see in search of Treasure Island.  

Walking into the theatre, the audience is met with a stunning set, thanks to scenic designer Todd Rosenthal. Centered within the seating area sits a large ship with all the fixings to send one to the appropriate mindset before the play even begins. As the story progresses, when called for, the ship even rocks back and forth, so be sure to take your Dramamine ahead of time to avoid sea sickness (but not really).

Outside of playing his role as cabin boy Jim Hawkins, fifteen-year-old Babbo also provides an emotionally charged narrative while Lawrence E. Distasi delivers a colorful and highly fervent performance as the Scourge of the Seven Seas, Long John Silver, our favorite rapscallion. Philip R. Smith also gives us a noteworthy enactment of Captain Smollett, adding a good deal of humor to role of the duty bound skipper.

There are plenty of laughs and suspenseful moments amidst this adventurous story that contains its fair share of hornswoggling, picaroons and scallywags. Lookingglass decided to stick with a high seas classic after their successful run of “Moby Dick” that featured a brilliant performance by the same Christopher Donahue, and they could be in line for yet another Jeff Award. Perfect for the entire family, “Treasure Island” is engaging, visually spectacular, funny and exciting.

Arr! You’re not going to want to let this thoroughly enjoyable production slip by. “Treasure Island” is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through January 31st.


For tickets and more show information, visit    

When October rolls along, Chicagoans have always been fortunate as far as the variety of Halloween events that take place around the city. And while many of these events take the form of haunted houses or annual midnight runs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hell in a Handbag Productions offers a much more thrilling, unique and hilarious option in “Scream, Queen, Scream!”. Set in Mary’s Attic, the intimate theatre space just above Mary’s Hamburgers on Clark Street in Andersonville, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the riotously funny brainchild of writer David Cerda who once again masterfully blends his own distinctive blend of sardonic humor with a strong flavor of cult classic cinema.

Skillfully directed by W.M. Bullion, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” brings to life three terrifying tales hosted by “Dragula” who is wonderfully played by John Cardone. “Dragula” sets the mood for each upcoming vignette by joking and interacting with the crowd and prompting bloodcurdling screams at key moments during each performance. Yes, prepare to scream your ass off!

The first tale, “Taco Tuesday”, is an all too realistic at the terrors of working in an office environment. If the women’s dated 1980’s hairstyles and bad office jokes aren’t scary enough, a visit from Satana and a mysterious copy machine are sure give you nightmares. Candy with a “C” is the “funny one” even more so than Kandy with a “K”, but that changes when Candy’s suspicions puts her at odds against Satana, whom everyone else seems to adore. When all hell finally breaks loose it’s up to Candy to save the day but we wonder if it is too late. Perfect casting here as Kristopher Bottrall is simply dynamite as the ditzy Candy.

In tale number two, “The Box”, a suspicious crate is found and we just know nothing good can come of it. Taken from “The Crate” from the 1980’s film Creepshow, Cerda takes an already campy story and then takes it an extra few hundred miles. It’s not every day one finds a monster in a box and Hell in a Handbag certainly makes the most of it. Chad Ingold shines as Harvey, the tread upon husband of nagging and utterly obnoxious Betty Carr.

“Shut Up and Die, Maggie!” salutes the hag horror films of the 1960’s taking bits from the Bette Davis classics Hush, Hush, Sweet Caroline and Dead Ringer while throwing in a bit of Joan Crawford’s Strait Jacket (you had to figure we’d get a dose of Joan at some point). Ed Jones gets to show off his comedy genius once again as he plays twin sisters Maggie and Aggie Honeycutt, cleverly and uproariously portrayed by the delightfully devilish brilliance of Handbag and company. While one sister, Aggie, is educated, prudent and formal, the other is beautiful, lighthearted and everyone’s favorite. After Maggie’s boyfriend is savagely murdered, Maggie is blamed then committed to an insane asylum. Twenty years later, Maggie returns to her family only for more horrors to be revealed. 

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the perfect Halloween treat. Go see it. With a slew of intensely funny performances in multiple roles by Handbag’s talented ensemble and, of course, the very gifted David Cerda himself, this is an affordable show that can easily be enjoyed again and again. In fact, there is so much funny compacted into this warped trilogy of horror, and simultaneous humor going on at once, I would absolutely recommend seeing this a second or even third time.     

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is being performed at Mary’s Attic through October 31st. For tickets and/or more show information visit Hell in a Handbag will also be holding their annual benefit “The Handbag Sampler” at Dank Haus Cultural Center on Sunday, October 18th where you can mingle with all your favorite Handbag characters while enjoying food and drinks. The event will include a raffle and silent auction. Tickets are priced at a very reasonable $90 or $80 if bought in advance at      



If you’ve ever enjoyed the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, then “Spamalot” is definitely for you. But even those who have never seen the classic comedy would be hard pressed not to relish the musical proudly tabbed as “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture”. Now playing at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana through October 18th, “Spamalot” brings its witty English humor to your doorstep – well, at least just a short drive away. From its opening number “Fisch Schlapping Song” to its roaring finale “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, this is a musical that never runs out of funny.


Celebrating 40 years since the film was released, “Spamalot” comes with a renewed score created by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Directed flawlessly by David Perkovich and choreographed to perfection by Linda Fortunato, each number captures just the right amount of physical comedy needed to score high on the funny meter while also keeping the integrity of Monty Python humor firmly intact. Colette Todd, is stunning as she is humorous as the “Lady of the Lake”.  A true talent, Todd gets to show off her impressive vocal range on many occasions and also dazzles the crowd with her spot on comedic chops. Comic timing is vital in Theatre at the Center’s production of “Spamalot”. Chicago favorite Larry Adams knows this and is more than up for the challenge as he takes on the leading role of King Arthur and runs with it.  Adams really brings down the house in his very funny rendition of “I’m All Alone” and is just marvelous as the often oblivious king who must lead his men in the search for the Holy Grail.


The cast as a whole is impressive and many play multiple roles. With wonderful performances by Jarrod Zimmerman (Sir Dennis Galahad, Dennis, Black Knight and Herbert’s Dad), Sean Fortunato (Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter) and a very strong ensemble, I only regret not naming the entire cast in this review because they all deserve their kudos.  


“Spamalot” is a spin on King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table like never done before. Its unique Monty Python humor is heavily instilled into each bit of dialogue as well as its many colorful and hysterical dance numbers, making this the perfect musical production to add to your calendar.  


“Spamalot” is smashing.



For show information and tickets visit

When I think of Green Day’s American Idiot, the thought of the majority of our population blindly falling in line with the agenda of media conglomerates comes to mind. It's true. America’s youth (and not so youthful) is influenced by suggestive ad campaigns, TV and film brainwashing and so forth – thus, potentially becoming the “American Idiot”. Of course if you look even deeper (and it’s hardly a secret at this point) you’ll see that media is greatly controlled by corporations, which in turn largely influences the government and vice versa, so in fact Green Day’s album American Idiot suggests the average American is literally a sculpted product of the corporate world while choices and freedoms are merely an illusion to those who do not know better.  

Though I expected the production of “American Idiot” to even enhance the album’s overall theme a little more directly, it still made its point well. “American Idiot”, currently playing at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, is the story of three youths that go in the wrong direction after unconscious exposure to selective, and purposely directed, life-long media blitzing – which is entertaining in itself, but as the show progresses it becomes more about rectifying wrongs, if possible. In short, three fed up friends take separate paths, all of which seem exciting at times, only to reunite as learned individuals at the end after their paths are simultaneously met with a longing for better lives on their own terms. It is also the story of succumbing to temptation, wrong choices, consequences and perseverance.  

Luke Linsteadt stars as “Johnny”, whom the story revolves around, and while exuding a tremendous amount of energy, he also lets loose a singing voice that works very well for the role. Linsteadt’s character is complex as it can be fun. “Johnny’s” friends “Will” and “Tunny” are played by Steven Perkins and Jay W. Cullen, both roles requiring their share of lead vocals. Perkins and Cullen both have their shining moments as does Krystal Worrell who is well cast as “Whatshername”, Johnny’s girlfriend who joins him in his journey of sex and drugs until they part after realizing their relationship is mutually damaging. The ensemble is fun and lively to the point we undoubtedly know each one of them are really enjoying their roles.      

An urban-like, graffiti-stained stage is background for the story, creating a simple, but sensible set. Intense dance numbers and rocking music pave the road for this quick-moving, never-boring production. Another refreshing facet of this production is seeing it removed from its usually big budget, large venue, Broadway-esque state - to which it becomes almost commercialized. Rather, The Hypocrites presentation of “American Idiot” at The Den Theatre is a much more intimate experience with a much more organic feel and genuineness that cannot be always be found in massive productions. Outside of a few vocal and instrument sound levels that could use a bit of adjusting, this is a show that really comes alive and reaches its audience in the way that it was probably originally envisioned.

What made the show even more enjoyable was the band playing in full view and the arsenal of Green Day songs played in their musical-ized versions. Different than most bands, musicians are interchangeable depending on the song and scene - a very entertaining aspect of this version as in “Who’s going to play drums on the next song?” Green Day songs in the show included, “Know Your Enemy”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “When It’s Time” and “American Idiot”. Musically, the show was a gratifying journey in itself. Kudos all around to a great production team and cast.


“American Idiot” is a 2010 Tony Award nominated Best Musical and 2010 Grammy Winner for Best Musical Show Album. This is a show that certainly has its share of energy, music and youth. Playing through October 25th at The Den Theatre, this is a show most should appreciate, Green Day fan or not. For tickets and/or more show information, visit

Monday, 24 August 2015 22:51

Sweet Home Chicago

Chances are everybody knows a Chicago song whether they are aware of it or not. It’s nearly impossible to not had at least one of their melodies buzzing through your head at one time or another. When seeing them perform live it is almost amazing to hear how many hits they have manufactured during their heyday from the 1970s through the mid-1980s. After all, the band has received multiple music awards including a Grammy, they have been elected as Founding Artists to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a star in their honor sits on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they even have a street in Chicago named after them. Let’s also not forget that their record sales have topped the 100,00,000 mark. Not too shabby. Fortified with a vibrant horn trio, catchy choruses, spot on vocal harmonies and precise musicianship, Chicago is still putting on a highly entertaining shows decades after they released their first album in 1969, Chicago Transit Authority.

Returning once again to the city of the band’s origin, Chicago took the stage at Ravinia Saturday night for one of two nearly sold out performances. With a similar look to the past twenty or so years as far as band members go, Chicago ripped into one classic after another. Co-founders, Robert Lamm (keyboard/vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet/vocals) and James Pankow (trombone/vocals) led the march along with Jason Scheff who had joined the band in 1985 as Peter Cetera’s replacement.

The two-hour-plus set consisted of twenty-six songs and was split into two sets - a fifteen minute intermission in the middle. The first set was power-packed and included the hits “If You Leave Me Now”, Will You Still Love Me?”, “Look Away” and “Another Rainy Day in New York City”. As enjoyable as the first set was, the second was even better as one hit was churned out after another such as “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “Hard Habit to Break”, “You’re the Inspiration”, and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away” to which to crowd got up from their seats at its energetic end and stood for the remainder of the show.  

Ending on a high note, Chicago finished off the set with “Saturday in the Park” just before the upbeat, feel-good “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”.    

James Pankow practically put on a show by himself. Continuously strutting, dancing and interacting nonstop with the crowd, the spirited trombone player was key in keeping the energy level high. Pankow successfully proved that trombone players can be as cool – or at least animatedly squirmy - as any other musician. No doubt, the man was fun to watch. Chicago also put on one hell of a drum solo where Tris Imboden and percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. fiercely battled each other much to the delight of the audience. And for those wondering, yes, Robert Lamm’s voice was as rich as ever. In all, the components were fully in place for a well-round, and very fun, musical experience.

The band left the crowd with a one-two punch encore of “Free” followed by what is probably their most famous song of all, “25 or 6 to 4”. It would be very difficult to imagine a single person leaving disappointed after such a remarkable performance. As someone who had seen Chicago in 1982, the show was a great blast of the past, while to newer fans or first timers a glimpse into a great era of music that they may have never experienced first-hand.   

A Ravinia favorite for some time, one can only hope for Chicago’s 2016 return.



In the highly engaging, thought-provoking world premiere, “Assassination Theatre: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century” by investigative reporter and author Hillel Levin, the audience is thrust into a very well-presented exploration into the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Offered as somewhat of an acted out documentary complimented by a series of haunting projected images, Levin takes a look at credible proof compiled over the years, whether physical, circumstantial or witness accounts, and makes a convincing argument that the key players involved were members of the Chicago mob.

Says Levin on how he stumbled upon, and then pursued, the story, “The origins of this show go back to 2007, when I wrote a story for Playboy magazine about the burglars who broke into the home of Tony Accardo, Chicago’s long-time mob leader. After the article was published, I was approached by Zach Sheldon, one of the FBI agents featured in the story, who asked, ‘Why don’t you do a real story about the mob?’ When I asked what that was, he replied, ‘How they killed JFK.” This prompted Levin to spend the next seven years in extensive research before concluding what Sheldon and other FBI agents determined. As Levin explains, “The assassination was kind of a theater, staged to put the blame on only one actor in what was, in fact, a much larger production.”

Michael Joseph Mitchell is very convincing as Hillel Levin, wrought with passion and conviction as more and more evidence is revealed. As the investigation unfolds Levin and Zechariah Shelton (performed splendidly by Mark Ulrich) bounce theories off each other, speculating, and furthermore perhaps ultimately proving, the mobs involvement. Ryan Kitley and Martin Yurek do a tremendous job in playing a multitude of characters as they are introduced and revisited in the story. As the story progresses, a flow chart is created of who’s who in the mob and how they connected with alleged gunman Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. In this truly gripping docu-play, mind blowing evidence is brought forward, holes in the famous Warren report are exposed, motive is revealed as well as the means to pull off the crime of the century.

Levin kind of lets the government off the hook as far as any direct involvement they may have had in the actual assassination itself, which might be an unpopular theory to many conspiracy buffs. However, he does implicate the government in covering up the true facts of the crime in order to preserve the peace of the public and to prevent the possibility of war with the Soviet Union. Even after Levin’s very convincing evidence is presented, one might still wonder if such an assassination could have been pulled off without the inside intel of, say, the CIA. Nonetheless, Levin’s beautifully presented theatrical investigation peaks interest from beginning to end without the slightest lull whatsoever.

The argument made for a high-level conspiracy is substantial and far more believable than buying into the lone gunman theory that the media has provided via the government. Of course, Levin is not the first to point this out, nor will he be the last. We’ve seen similarities in other assassinations in that of Robert Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King’s, John Lennon’s, etc., etc. It is admirable that Levin takes such a stance. His investigative presentation is effective and hard-hitting and, at the very least, certain to leave audience members asking questions afterwards, perhaps urging them to research JFK’s assassination for themselves and other potential cover ups rather than opting for complacency and blind belief.   


Soundly directed by Kevin Christopher Fox, “Assassination Theater: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century”, currently playing at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (360 N. State St.) through November 7th, is highly recommended. It is a well-acted, intelligent, quick moving, greatly comprehensible theatre presentation loaded with twits and shocking revelations that is sure to stir one’s interest. For tickets and/or more show information, visit

With back-to-back sold out performances, Steely Dan triumphantly returned to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where their smooth, jazzy and blues influenced rock echoed through the park, causing even the farthest picnickers from the stage to get up and sway to the music. Fronted now by just Donald Fagen (keys and vocals) and Walter Becker (guitar), the two co-founders who met at Bard College and put Steely Dan into action in 1972, the "the perfect musicalantiheroesfor the Seventies", as Rolling Stone Magazine once called them, rolled through each song with expected precision and the same good time feel that fans have become ever familiar with over the years.

Accompanied by what Becker proudly hailed as his “all-time favorite Steely Dan forever band”, the ensemble included a complete horn section, additional keys and guitar, a trio of background singers who impressed more and more with each number, drummer Keith Carlock and Freddie Washington (no, not the one from Welcome Back, Kotter) on bass. The highly talented Carlock and Washington kept the rhythm flowing at a perfect pace allowing the other members to effortlessly glide in and out over their rock-solid foundation. Becker and Fagen allowed band members to highlight their skills, not only during a full on introduction but also in many of the songs. For example, saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, amongst others, would occasionally walk from their designated area to front center stage and rip out some amazing riffs.  

The band started the night out with the Oliver Nelson cover “Teenie’s Blues” before Becker and Fagen walked onto the stage to the loud cheers of the pavilion audience and joined in for their first crowd pleaser “Black Cow”. As the show progressed, Steely Dan went on to play many of their classics including “Hey Nineteen”, “Godwhacker” “Babylon Sisters”, the Joe Tex cover “I Want To (Do Everything for You)” and “Peg”. Fagen’s vocals and keys were as sharp as ever – even his occasional piano flute thingy playing was entertaining. The band also played a very inspired version of “Dirty Work” with backup singer Carolyn Leonhart taking over on leads vocals on the track made famous by former member David Palmer.

Trying to enhance the mood of the evening even more so, Becker interrupted the music to address the crowd for several minutes, rambling on about this and that and encouraging everyone to grab their partners on the way home and pull over in the woods for some after show romancing.  

Closing out the set, Steely Dan went into what might be considered the band’s biggest hit “Reelin’ in the Years” where Carlock added to the song by going into a blazing drum solo. After a two minute absence the band returned to the stage to finish the night off with “Kid Charlemagne” with Fagen and Becker walking off immediately afterward, Fagen waving and Becker in an exaggerated strut, where the remainder of the musicians provided exit music to the tune of Nelson Riddle’s “The Untouchables”.

With the night was a clear and balmy seventy-eight or so degrees and the music sending fans on a mellow journey down memory lane, Steely Dan provided a night of memorable entertainment that fans can only hope will return next season.    

For upcoming Ravinia show information, visit

Throughout the years, we have seen all kinds of homages to Elvis Presley whether it be Elvis impersonators, biographical films, Elvis night at U.S. Cellular Field and, of course, theatrical productions. Of these few tribute samples, some are serious and sensitive while others more tongue-in-cheek. “All Shook Up”, a musical using the music of Elvis, is definitely the latter. Now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, “All Shook Up” is a story about an Elvis-alike roustabout who comes across a square town where the tightly-wound mayor has unjustly imparted laws against innocent activities such as kissing in public and dancing or the interracial mixing of partners. Though the plot line is as silly as it gets with unlikely, but still predictable love stories breaking out everywhere, it is hard not to be entertained by the music alone.

David Sajewich plays our hero Chad, the leather jacket clad bad-boy drifter with greased back hair who hops from town to town via his motorcycle with the purpose of challenging authority by infusing fun and excitement into boring and restricted communities. Sajewich is very funny in the role, ever so naturally delivering spot on physical comedy and one hilarious line after another. He also sings several Elvis classics with a good deal of enthusiasm, his vocals finding suitable range for each number despite not having the most powerful of voice. In the show’s opening number, “Jailhouse Rock” we quickly realize Sajewich will not be attempting to sound like Elvis Presley opting to use his own singing voice (writer or director’s choice?), leaving a small amount of disappointment for those who had hoped the story’s character so obviously designed around Elvis would kind of sound like him, if even in a comical way.

Like Abba’s music in Mamma Mia! or Green Day’s in American Idiot, the music of Elvis Presley is transformed into massive stage numbers with changing leads, large choruses and big time dance choreography. It was also refreshing to see such an obscure choice of Elvis Presley songs used for this production rather than only the obvious choices. “All Shook Up” included favorites like “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, Can’t Help Falling in Love”, "A Little Less Conversation” and “It’s Now or Never” but also added lesser known songs (at least outside the Elvis world) such as “Follow that Dream”, “C’mon Everybody”, “Devil in Disguise” and a heartfelt rendition of “If I Can Dream”.

Outside of the campy over-the-top story that is on the borderline of ridiculousness, despite its borrowed storylines from Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night," "As You Like It" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream", “All Shook Up” includes several likeable characters that are fun to watch and listen to, especially Bethany Thomas (Sylvia) with her gutsy and very impressive singing voice. Callie Johnson also shows off her comic and singing ability as tomboy motorcycle mechanic Natalie Hallow who is crushing hard on Chad while Justin Brill as the geeky, love stricken Dennis is also enjoyable to watch. Matthias Austin gets some of the biggest laughs as Natalie’s square turned rocker father Jim, as deserved, but Sharriese Hamilton (Lorraine) might just have the best comic timing of the bunch.

Cheesy story and all, “All Shook Up” is a very entertaining show with great music, charm and lots of very funny moments. It’s always nice to see the music of Elvis passed on to new generations and this show is a perfect tool for doing so, as it is a production suitable for all ages alike.    

The rock n’ roll hit Broadway musical “All Shook Up” is being performed at Theatre at the Center through August 16th Wednesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees. For tickets and/or more show information, visit

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