Theatre

Buzz News Chicago: Theatre and Concert Reviews

Ken Payne

Ken Payne

After a successful summer preview run, "Thrones: The Musical Parody" has returned to Apollo Theater for Fall performances. Though the production might not have the staying power as did "Million Dollar Quartet", a show originally scheduled for a two-week run that was renewed for several years, "Thrones" is a solid production that, despite its niche market, should get comfy in its Apollo home for a decent stay.

 

Parodying Game of Thrones, one of the biggest television series over the past decade "Thrones" hold little back, cleverly mocking its main characters delivering a crude, but witty, humor GoT fans are sure to enjoy. From the show's opening number "Thrones!", a song that punches the audience with spoilers and refers to "The Wire" as a show one doesn't realize they like until after two and a half seasons, we get a good taste of the campy ride we are about to take. The show's very funny cast includes Caitlyn Cerza, Nick Druzbanski, Madeline Lauzon, Beau Nolan, Victoria Olivier and Christopher Ratliff. 

 

The story revolves around a group of friends who excitedly await the GoT season premiere. However, after some lackluster enthusiasm is displayed, it's soon revealed that Brad (Druzbanski) has never seen the show. Of course, this is just mind blowing for the rest of the gang who quickly agree to act out the show to catch Brad up to speed. And this is where it starts to get crazy. In fact, the show takes a hilarious turn the moment Tom (Ratliff) throws on the John Snow wig and makeshift cape just before diving into his ode to The Wall watchers "For the Watch". And how can you have a wall number without taking a poke a Donald Trump, which they certainly do. Taking shots at practically every character on the show from Tyrian to Sansa to King Joffrey to Xerxes (there's actually a song on who we need to know), the group goes from one scenario to the next. Naturally, Brad's interest in the show grows as the friends get deeper and deeper into the characters. 

 

Act One ends on a high note with possibly the funniest number in the show, "Stabbin'", a gruesomely humorous massacre free-for-all that really needs to be seen to be appreciated in full. But worry not, after a big ending into intermission, we are not let down, as Act Two holds a strong pace by providing solid laughs throughout, steering us to a strong finish. Each actor richly contributes in this talented cast holding the ability to get big laughs at any given moment as well as providing respectable vocal ability. The cast brilliantly overplays their characters expressions and are able to successfully spoof their many characteristics such as Tyrian's poor accent, John Snow's seemingly empty thoughts or _________  not so subtle crush on Denarys. 

 

Written by the team of Chris Grace, Zach Reino, Al Samuels and Dan Wessels, the show gets a nice boost from director Hannah Todd, who is able to work the funny within the funny and finely translate it for stage. While GoT fans will certainly enjoy this show, easily picking up on its jokes - both subtle and bold, it remains to see how theater goers not familiar with the show will react. The GoT fan base in Chicago might be enough in itself to support this show for a long run, possibly even creating new GoT fans along the way. 

 

"Thrones: The Musical Parody", performed at Apollo Theater through November 15th, has plenty to make it a thoroughly entertaining event - laughs, sex, an engaging storyline,catchy songs and excellent acting performances. 

 

Take your Game of Thrones experience to the next level with "Thrones: The Musical Parody". 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 19:39

Paramount's Mamma Mia! About As Fun As it Gets

The plot is simple enough. Donna Sheridan raises her daughter Sophie now twenty-years-old, on a Greek island where she runs a small island resort. Sophie, about to get married, wants to be walked down the aisle by her father. Problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is. A bit of snooping through her mother’s diary offers three possibilities, leading her to invite each to her wedding, much to her mother’s chagrin as Bill Austin (Steve O’Connell), Harry Bright (Michael Gillis) and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Diebold) show up to the island where Sophie figures to find out which is her real father. Again, the plot isn’t very complicated. But we do not see Mamma Mia! for its plot, we see it because it’s Abba charged soundtrack is fun, the set and costumes are colorful, the dance numbers are contagious and the show has a good share of laughs. Simple, light and fun - the perfect anecdote to escape from the daily, or not-so-daily, doldrums so many of us endure, if even for two hours and twenty minutes.

 

Currently running at Paramount Theater in Aurora, we get a production equipped with a slightly different set from the traditional Mamma Mia! look fans have come to known, and it works quite well. Accompanied by a full backdrop flooded with video projections of waves gently making their way to the shoreline and trees with leaves softly blowing in the wind, it’s easy to get lost in the rich island atmosphere. Though the set design limits the larger dance numbers, this production makes it work with its own unique choreography that rivals most other presentations. 

 

A strong ensemble bolsters a capable cast, the musical numbers strongest during choruses or added backing vocals. Though Amy Montgomery as Donna can carry a tune, her voice is just enough to warrant her taking on the leading role. However, she is often strengthened by surrounding cast members during harmonies, and by the way – the harmonies throughout the show are fantastic across the board! But Montgomery clearly has the personality and charisma for the role, overall making her casting sensible. Donna’s two sidekicks Tanya (Jennifer Knox) and Ali (Sara Sevigny) are wonderfully played, each character getting their respective laughs and admirably tackling their vocal duties. Sevigny truly shines as Ali during her duet with Bill, “Take A Chance On Me” displaying a great sense of comic timing (as well as O’Connell), while Knox hits one out of the park in her gritty number “Does Your Mother Know” showing off her dancing prowess in a heated exchange with Pepper, the young flirt who has eyes for her since her arrival to the island. 

 

We can easily buy into Dieblod, Gillis and O’Connell as Donna’s three past love interests, each also adding to the production with fine vocal offerings and just the right touch of physical humor. Diebold is no stranger to the role of Sam Carmichael having toured with Mamma Mia! on the Broadway North American Tour.    

 

Still, you can’t have a successful production of Mamma Mia! without a strong Sophie, and Kiersten Frumkin is just that. Vocally on par for each of her many numbers, Frumkin is able to capture the essence of Sophie, projecting a true sense of wonder, hope and elation into her role, creating a believable twenty-year-old optimist that we can’t help but relate with and root for. 

 

Though Mamma Mia! is far from a profound life lesson, it does promote self-acceptance in many ways and leaves us with hope that past mistakes can sometimes be corrected, even if twenty years later. 

 

With one Abba hit after another Mamma Mia! grabs its audience from its opening number “I Have a Dream” and doesn't let go until after its finely built crescendo finale number “Waterloo”, where each seat in the theater is now empty due to its occupants dancing and clapping along with the cast. 

 

Mamma Mia! is the feel good night out everyone can use to take in some great music and have some healthy laughs that will have audience members wanting to do it all over again. Mamma Mia! is being performed at Paramount Theatre through October 30th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.paramountaurora.com. 

 

As Sophie sings along with Bill, Harry and Sam, “Thank you for the music”.

Recommended.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we were given a simply written book to tell us how to succeed in whatever it is we wanted to pursue so long as its easy steps were followed? Supposing we were unqualified and the book taught us how to beat the system in ten or so easy steps? Well, such would be the case in Marriott Theatre’s latest production How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

 

In this latest Marriott musical, we are taken to the “Madmen” era of the early 1960’s, thrust back into a day when women in the business world were either secretaries or sex objects – or both - and men lacking professional skills could save their jobs simply by reaching out to the brotherhood of man, even getting women to join in their argument. We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” and in some ways everyone adheres to such advice conscious of the fact or not, meaning we can all relate. In How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, based on Shepherd Mead’s 1952 book of the same name, we get a highly exaggerated example of such a philosophy as well as a humorous satire of a sexist corporate structure.     

 

In the heart of fast-paced New York City we find window washer J. Pierrepont Finch. He immediately shows a strong desire to become something bigger – someone important. Taking a break, he reads from a book in his hands, “How to Succeed in Business”. The audience hears what he is reading – shortcuts and tricks to quickly climb the ladder in a company. One of the first steps is to “find a company big enough where no one knows what the other employees are doing”. Finch may lack the qualifications to be a business professional but has no shortage of enthusiasm or ambition. Thanks to the book’s instructions, Finch “unwittingly” bumps into the right people and quickly lands himself a job in the mailroom of a large New York company. Referring to the book as often as possible, Finch butters up important decision makers in his path and, as the book predicts, is unceasingly promoted to higher positions. When Finch first arrives at the company he is met by Rosemary, a secretary, who has eyes for the young, determined newbie. Though her advances are obvious, Finch is dismissive having his eyes firmly fixed on succeeding within the company. Naturally, his plan does not proceed without a few hiccups along the way, the book always nearby for reference on what to do in such situations. As the quick-witted newly hired employee tries to climb to the next level, company owner Biggley’s nephew Frump (who was reluctantly hired by the big boss in the first place), jealous of the attention the newcomer is getting, always finds himself scheming to bring Finch down.        

 

Seinfeld fans are reminded of George Costanza who cheats the system at work to always appear busy by acting annoyed at all times, continuously saying “five minutes” if someone asks for your time, keeping unkempt piles of paperwork on your desk, always having a document in hand while walking and sighing loud enough for fellow employees to hear to seem stressed. 

 

Ari Butler admirably takes on the role of fast talking J.P. Finch, creating a likeable go-getter that we can back as he sidesteps company protocol to better his success. Gifted with fine acting chops and a pleasant voice that holds it own, Butler is exciting to watch from the musical’s opening number “How to Succeed”. Due to Butler’s energy-filled personality and charismatic nature that he injects into the character, we can easily overlook the fact that Finch is really just a transparent status-seeking kid who, rather than working hard, wants to cut all the corners he can in order to leapfrog those who really deserve it. We still like him – and the cast is filled with goodies. Jeff Award winner Alex Goodrich, who many may remember from his leading role as “Buddy” in Elf, takes his role as Biggly’s envious nephew and knocks it out of the park garnering most of the show’s biggest laughs. Terry Hamilton as Biggley is also a delight, perhaps making his biggest splash in the duet he shares with Finch “Grand Old Ivy” to which Finch of course is lying about his alma mater to appease his superior. And while a talented and hard-working ensemble is pivotal in moving the story along in a most entertaining fashion, Jessica Naimy naturally seizes audience attention as Rosemary who is constantly vying for Finch’s attention. The striking young starlet who has in the past landed a Broadway role in Honeymoon in Vegas and has hit the road for a national tour of South Pacific, is genuinely funny as she sings and dances her way into everyone’s hearts. In the now obviously sardonic number “How to Keep His Dinner Warm” near the show’s beginning (not so sure that was the case at the show’s inception in 1967), Naimy clearly lays the groundwork for a strong performance to come.

 

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has several big song and dance numbers that come with a large amount of pizzazz and lines that will probably be stuck in one’s head for a while afterwards. A light comedy that can’t be taken seriously with lots of laughs and snappy numbers, Marriott’s latest production is a fine escape from life’s rigmarole if just for a night, as the early 1960’s are nicely recreated helping us lose ourselves in an charming story that comes with fine acting performances.     

 

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through October 16th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

 

Thursday, 01 September 2016 18:08

Kinky Boots is Just (Not So) Plain Fun

Kinky Boots has now come through Chicago a few times and I am glad I finally had a chance to see this musical, being so hyped everything. With lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, I was curious to see how her music would translate to live theater.

 

Based on a true story, the play starts at Price & Son’s gentlemen shoe factory in Northampton, England. It centers on Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) trying to turn around his father’s failing business. With the help from Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), who happens to be a drag queen, they collaborate to build a new direction for Price & Son and take it all the way to Milan.

 

What stands out more than anything else in this play is Ghee’s performance as Lola. Ghee is an amazing singer who exudes the energy you’d expect from a Broadway performer. Additionally, many of the other characters that are part of Lola’s Angels do a fantastic job (Joseph Anthony Byrd, Sam Dowling, Ian Gallagher Fitzgerald, JP Qualters, Xavier Reyes, and Sam Rohloff). They are toned, vibrant, and of course beautiful!

 

Another stand out performance is Tiffany Engen as Lauren. Lauren is a longtime employee of Price & Son and has a crush on Charlie. Engen is quirky and effortlessly breaks the ice when she is on stage. I would have liked to see more of her character in the play than the script allowed along with her fun dance moves.

 

I felt like there was some disconnect with the casting for Adam Kaplan. I had a really hard time connecting to his portrayal of Charlie. So much so that in the end, I just wished that Lola took over the entire operations at Price & Son.

 

Kinky Boots is fun and full of many ups and downs. If anything, you should go for the solo Ghee performs close to the end of the show. I felt remnants of Whitney Houston in the air and a lot of soul.

 

More importantly, the play touches on many of the injustices that are faced around the LGBTQ community. This is something that is still a challenge and many people still are not familiar or understanding of the community. I would implore people to watch this play and actually have a real conversation about gender identity. Although the play has a humorous tone, there is an underlying message that should be discussed.

 

You can catch Kinky Boots at the Oriental Theatre (24 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601) during their short engagement ending on September 4th. Ticket prices range from $25-$98. 

 

Chicago actress Linda Reiter plays Rose Kennedy, matriarch of the Kennedy family in the play "Rose" by Laurence Leamer, with both strength and delicacy. I have seen Linda Reiter around town in many great productions but this is truly her finest and fullest role, deserving of a Jeff Award (the Chicago version of the Tony Awards). 

 

Leamer, a Kennedy biographer, built the entire play on forty hours of taped interviews taken by Robert Coughlan, who was the ghostwriter of Rose Kennedy's own memoir in 1974. Leamer attained the tapes after Coughlin’s death in 1992 where the tapes found home on a shelf until just recently when Leamer finally chose "deal with them", the result being this spectacular and intimate one-woman show.

 

Kind of a rise and fall of the Kennedy’s from Rose’s viewpoint, I learned many interesting and sad facts from this piece that I'm sure the public is unaware of. For one, Rose mentions in the show that she felt a delay in the doctor’s arrival that caused her daughter Rosemary's "slowness" or what we would call today very mildly mentally challenged due to oxygen deficiency at birth. 

 

I was unaware of the circumstances and motive behind the lobotomy Rosemary was given. Apparently, the beautiful, but "slow" Rosemary was an embarrassment to Joe Kennedy so she was sent to live with some nuns in Europe - out of sight out of mind Joe thought. But when Rosemary had just barely reached adulthood she began to sneak out in the night to meet men and have adult experiences in the local towns, Joe feared she would become pregnant ruining his and his sons’ chances for political success. 

 

At that time only five hundred lobotomies had been performed in the world and only on the most violent of criminals. So without telling her mother Rose he took Rosemary to a doctor who supposedly specialized in such a procedure. The doctor administered some topical anesthetic to Rosemary's forehead and told her to sing a song. Beautiful Rosemary with her big eyes and full lips trustingly and with no knowledge of what the doctor's visit was for, asked her father what to sing. Joe said, “Sing Danny Boy, that's a good one." The doctor carved away at Rosemary's frontal lobe until she stopped singing. Later Joe told Rose that '"His daughter sang ...for too long." 

 

Rose was bound with this horrible secret and did not tell the rest of the family because she knew they would never feel the same way about their father again. Rose later wonders if she had let them know if they would have bowed to his wishes so complacently, sometimes leading eventually in some way to that child's death - either fighting at war or when Joe refused to let Kathleen marry the man she loved out of their religion. 

 

Sadly, Rose herself only visited Rosemary once twenty-some years later in the nunnery her daughter was returned to after the disastrous lobotomy. She said Rosemary actually recognized her and had gained a lot of weight but cursed at her, turning her back until the nuns came and said Rose must leave because her presence was upsetting her daughter.

 

I truly believe this one act of tortuous father to daughter betrayal in the Kennedy family was the beginning of the so called "curse" on the Kennedy clan. Reiter brilliantly describes with heart wrenching poignancy this unbelievable story along with the deaths and mourning of the rest of her children - one by one, many of whom she also gave birth to alone as Joe was usually on vacation in Florida with other women) while she was pregnant and giving birth. 

 

Ironically, it was Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver who started the Special Olympics, perhaps the only good thing to come of Rosemary's terribly unfair and cruel life and demise. 

 

Reiter, as Rose, fondly recalls her memories of Jack, who grew up sickly, still suffering from chronic pain even in his days as President. Almost dying from surgery performed in his youth, she explains how Jack defied the odds, fulfilling his destiny. She describes in detail how Jack looked up to his older brother Joe and the devastation felt upon his untimely death from a plane crash. She describes Bobby as Jack’s protector stating, “There wasn’t anything Bobby wouldn’t do for Jack.” Reiter skillfully captures the pride of a mother upon speaking of their achievements and also the worry and pain as she reminisces the family’s misfortune.      

 

The play is inter-cut with wonderful photos of the entire Kennedy clan including Rosemary, which I had never seen before. Throughout the play the phone occasionally rings as Rose nervously waits to hear from her son Teddy who is running later than usual. After all, he is her only remaining son as she tells her story and though Rose’s disappointment is apparent that Teddy is not on the other end of the line, the audience gets to hear her conversations with various family members including Jackie Onassis Kennedy. 

 

Kennedy buffs or not, historians all the same will certainly enjoy this masterful piece that Reiter executes so very well. In “Rose”, we as audience members, get an up close and personal view of the Kennedy’s rise and the many tragedies that later claimed the lives and health of one of America’s most prestigious families. Reiter performs brilliantly in this history-filled treasure, “Rose”, a part of Greenhouse Theater Center’s Solo Celebration.  

 

I highly recommend this beautifully crafted and factually stimulating play with Linda Reiter delivering possibly the finest performance of her life. “Rose” is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through September 25th. For more information on tickets and curtain times, visit www.GreenhouseTheater.org. 

 

Alas, another band we as music fans must bid farewell to in 2016, The Go Go’s have called it quits after a run that has spanned five decades since their inception in 1978. Currently saying their goodbyes on their Going, Going Gone Farewell Tour, The Go Go’s now join a slew of other 2016 retirees such as Black Sabbath, Kenny Rogers, Motley Crue, Sandi Patty and The Who. Slated as possibly the most successful all-female band of our time, Chicago area fans got to see the new-wave-pop driven California band one last time when The Go Go’s performed at Ravinia Festival over the weekend. With most band members now in their mid to late fifties, their youthful spirit and magnetic charm were still ever apparent, their musicianship polished and their set as exciting as it was in the 1980’s. 

 

Opening acts Kaya Stewart then Best Coast set the tone nicely for the evening, Stewart more eclectic and the latter more Rock N’ Roll, though it couldn’t be soon enough for The Go Go’s to take the stage. And once they did, the band wasted little time before diving into their opening number “Vacation”, one of their most successful hits (you remember that crazy water skiing video). In a set that not only included the band’s top forty singles “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Our Sealed” (which I embarrassingly used to sing as “Honest Lucille”), The Go Go’s lit it up with a handful of cover tunes including The Sparks’ “Cool Places” and The Capitols “Cool Jerk”. The band also performed a couple songs from the very early days that had never made it onto their records and played a beautiful version of Belinda Carlisle’s solo hit “Mad About You”. 

 

And the band looked and sounded great. Did I mention that?

 

Singer Belinda Carlisle swayed beautifully to the music, throwing in some of her well-known, carefree go-go-esque moves and sounded, well…amazing. Carlisle was radiant, exuding the same fun nature that captured Go Go fans when they really broke out in the early 1980's.  At the same time, spunky rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin was a ball of energy, still exhibiting the major band presence Go Go’s fan have become acquainted with over the years. Whether spinning in circles, jetting across the stage, interacting with the crowd or playing on her back, Wiedlin had no shortage of oomph, assuring fans that her Vitamin B intake is quite plentiful. Gina Schock was rock steady on the drums and Charlotte Caffey impressed with guitar leads and her prowess on the keyboards, rounding out the band's sound.  

 

But their music wasn’t the only excitement that night. Schock did her best to get the crowd going when she took the microphone and asked those in seats further from the stage to come forward and grab the scattered empties towards the front causing a bit of a stir for a brief moment or two. As security tried to maintain order, Schock chanted “Let them sit! Let them sit!” But Ravinia’s staff handled it well and a few lucky fans got an instant ticket upgrade. Despite the momentary chaos, the band clicked and the fans ate it up. 

 

Taking their first bow after a fulfilling fifteen songs worth of material, The Go Go’s quickly returned wrapping the night up with Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” before ending on what many consider to be their best song of all, “Head Over Heels.”

 

The Go Go's really made their mark in music history and when you think of all the female fueled bands since to which The Go Go's paved the way it's not just an extraordinary achievement, it's an enrichment to one of the truest art forms that exists. But all good things come to an end sometime. After seeing them perform, it's easy to see that they could still have plenty of productive years ahead as a band. However, when it's time to go, it's time to Go Go.  

 

This final Go Go’s tour seemed to be made for Ravinia and for the band’s fans who missed this show, well…you really missed out on a special farewell. Thumbs up, Go Go’s!

 

From the moment British television star Simon Slater appeared in the lighting to the side of the stage and began to describe in gritty detail the three most common ways to commit suicide, it became apparent this one-man murder mystery thriller was going to be one helluva ride. Gripping from the get go this high-charged play only became more and more engaging as the story progressed thanks to Slater’s airtight delivery and fantastic ability to convincingly take on a series of characters. 

 

As part of the Solo Celebration, a series of twelve one-person act shows at Greenhouse Theater Center spanning over eight months, “Bloodshot” makes its U.S. premiere after making its mark as a successful hit in London. Written by Douglas Post and directed by Patrick Sanford, Slater flawlessly weaves together a peculiar string of events, producing a smart, witty and spellbinding mystery that has traces of film noir and leaves one guessing all the way through. 

 

“Bloodshot” takes place in 1957 London when an ex-detective now freelance photographer finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery. Known for his capturing “blood shots” from grisly crime scenes, he takes on a different type of assignment when he is hired – and paid handsomely – by an unknown employer to secretly take photos of a beautiful young woman. He is soon thrust in the middle of a murder mystery that takes on many unexpected turns the deeper he investigates.

 

While taking the audience along on this thrilling tale of murder, Slater’s skill in becoming the handful of characters sprinkled into the story is nothing short of remarkable, and the dialogue exchanges just as impressive. As an American jazz club musician, Slater demonstrates his talent as a saxophonist and he adeptly plugs away at the ukulele while immersing into a slew of vaudeville-esque jokes as a comic. Slater also performs a jaw-dropping magic trick as a club owner who entertains his patrons as a magician, swallowing several razor blades in the process. 

 

Slater is a force to be reckoned with as he takes a well-written story and single-handedly creates an illusion of a large scale production and does so seamlessly. “Bloodshot” has everything a theatre goer desires from a fetching storyline abundant in intrigue, brilliant acting, humor and a display of musical talent. Simon Slater is someone you cannot help but enjoy watching perform.  

 

Highly recommended, “Bloodshot” is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through September 10th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.GreenhouseTheater.org.            

 

On a night that threatened heavy rains, the weather ultimately cooperated instead delivering a dreamy summer night for Kenny Rogers to the Ravinia Festival one last time as the seventy-seven-old legendary singer is calling it quits after a musical career that has lasted well over half a century. The pavilion was filled and picnickers were spread out all along the Ravinia grounds.

The tour, appropriately titled “The Gambler’s Last Deal”, is a timeline through Rogers celebrated run that starts off with his music from the 1960’s with The First Edition (later named Kenny Rogers and the First Edition as his popularity grew). Throughout the show Rogers takes on the role of a storyteller providing details about each decade’s musical transitions, adding little known tidbits of fun facts and plenty of humor. Throughout each story and song, jumbo screens project performance videos from each era (including an Ed Sullivan appearance) along with a slew of personal footage of his life. 

Country star Linda Davis assists Rogers on this farewell tour, taking on a couple songs on her own and filling in on duet parts by such as Dottie West. Davis was able to add a bit of mobility to the show as Rogers was mostly confined to sitting on a stool due to recent knee surgery. “Sorry folks. I need to apologize. I just had a knee replacement and I think they replaced the wrong knee,” Rogers joked as he slowly walked onto the stage.

As for the hits, Rogers played most including “Something’s Burning”, “Love Lifted Me”, “Lady”, “Heroes” and the one that he explained really propelled his career, “Lucille”. Rogers even threw in a couple verses of “We Are the World” of which he participated in the 1980’s along with such stars as Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Rick Springfield and so many others.  

A portion of the show went into Rogers’ days as an actor. Besides several television appearances as a guest host, including spots on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Muppets, Rogers starred in more than a handful of films, probably most notably The Gambler of which the title song was one of the show’s highlights. 

“Not long ago a fan approached me after a show and said ‘I didn’t know you were an actor’. I told him, ‘I’ve got fourteen films that prove I wasn’t an actor’”, Rogers laughed. 

“The Gamblers Last Deal” is a fantastic look into the history of Kenny Rogers music and leaves little doubt the effect he has had on the country music scene. Expectedly so, Rogers’ voice wasn’t as strong as it was in his earlier days, but his unique sound was. And for the Kenny Rogers fans in attendance, that was more than enough, several standing ovations throughout to prove it.

Kenny Rogers followed opening act The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who also delivered an inspired set to the packed venue, providing the perfect musical complement to the famous singer. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band effectively set the mood for a night of fun music dishing out their own favorites, including “Mr. Bojangles” then Rogers put the exclamation point on the evening’s entertainment with an entertaining show of his own. After a well-rounded set of music and storytelling, Linda Davis and Kenny Rogers finally ended the show with an energy packed version of “Blaze of Glory”, leaving the legend’s followers with a night to remember.

 

         

 

It goes something like this:

“Sit down, relax and squeeze the two cans in front of you”

The cans are wired to a funky gizmo where a needle gauges one’s activity on a meter based on their responses to questions asked.

“Tell us about a pleasant memory you’ve had.”

“Give us another pleasant memory.”

"Explain."

“Tell us another pleasant memory that made you happy.”

"Explain."

“Tell us something that made you sad.”

“Explain.”

“Give us another memory that made you sad.”

“Explain”

The examination goes on and on and on and on until finally, “Okay. Your needle is floating”. Yay! That’s a good thing when on the path to going clear.

Disguised as a healing procedure, this probing is an ongoing process used in the Church of Scientology to basically infiltrate one’s state of mind and, well, obtain secrets.

In Cathy Schenkelberg’s one-woman show “Squeeze My Cans”, we get an inside look at one of the most bizarre religions that is not only shocking, it is down-right hilarious at times. Providing real life memories of her years in Scientology, Schenkelberg reveals a world that is almost hard to believe, truly defining the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction”. This autobiographical solo-play, written and performed by Schenkelberg, is beautifully pieced together and recounts her story from the time she was recruited into Scientology through her departure from the organization many years later.

Animated and heartfelt, the long-time voice over actress shares intimate stories during her search for spiritual freedom (a goal that of course is never attained unless money is paid to proceed to the next level). Her stories include holding auditions to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend, blindly sending her daughter off with strangers in a van, alien spirits that dwell in volcanoes, a bizarre encounter with J.T. (that’s John Travolta) and plenty others that one would be hard-pressed to believe. Presented as a tale of warning, Schenkelberg flawlessly delivers her message while not allowing for a single dull moment. 

In “Squeeze My Cans”, we are keenly presented with the sad tale of someone who was susceptible while searching for a higher purpose who, rather than finding fulfillment, was taken for the ride of a lifetime. Though one comical story is told after another and laughs are recurrently heard, we certainly feel for its author and the plethora of others who have been taken advantage of by what is exposed in this play as nothing more than a giant hoax. Based on L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics, we get an unbelievable sneak peek at this nonsensical religion, its manipulating prowess and its nearly unbreakable hold on its loyal subjects – emotionally and financially. Schenkelberg’s message is simple – stay away!  

But Schenkelberg is a survivor and we can’t help but feel elation at the fact that she was ultimately able to find it within herself to break away. This implausible journey is very well-written and superbly performed with brilliantly executed back and forth dialogue as Schenkelberg interacts with the many characters involved. Plenty of touching moments are mixed in with the show’s humor, making this a nicely balanced production that is as engrossing as it is informative.  

“Squeeze My Cans” is an amazing show with firsthand accounts of the peculiar that you really need to hear to believe. This show is not scheduled to be here for very long so don’t hesitate to get your tickets. Shirley Anderson wonderfully directs this presentation that is currently being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through just July 24th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.greenhousetheater.org.   

            

 

In one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been performed widely across the world, this summer finding a temporary home at First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook). Celebrating twenty years of the company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars Production, theatre goers are treated to a comedy that is acted out to perfection. Not only do we get a myriad of fine acting performances, the colorful costumes and imaginative set lend greatly to a magical night out when coupled with the fact that the stage is surrounded by the vast night sky, a backdrop of thick trees and happy picnickers beyond the first few rows of seats. 

A comedy that features mischievous faeries who live within the forest, the play focuses on the events leading up to the marriage of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, an affair taking place just on the edge of Fairyland. With interconnecting plots, the story unfolds of Hermia who is in love with Lysander despite her father Egues’ arrangement that marry Demetrius. Infuriated, Egues calls upon Athenian law to which Hermia would face death if she chooses not to wed the suitor hand-picked by her father. At the same time Demetrius is loved by Helena but her offerings are rejected. Naturally, Oberon, the king of the faeries and Titania, his queen, cannot help but meddle with the four lovers and mistakes are made.

The story also follows a colorful band of laborers, or “mechanicals” as referred to by the fairy, Puck, who are to perform a play about Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus’ wedding. The mechanicals too are manipulated by the faeries ultimately performing their play so poorly that it is mistaken for a comedy – one of the highlight’s of this charming production. 

Steve Pebbles as the over-confident and highly zealous mechanical, Bottom, and Sarah Wisterman as Hermia are certainly scene-stealers beautifully translating Shakespearean humor to that of today’s. Both Pebbles and Wisterman display a knack for comedic line delivery along with the perfect touch of physical humor that really opens the door wide open for this comedy to breathe at just the right pace. But as much as Pebbles and Wisterman stand out, the play is not without other tremendous performances including Michael Joseph Mitchell in the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon, Tony Carter as Demetrius, Sydney Germaine as Puck and Ali Burch as Helena. In all, we get a very strong cast that delivers, skillfully playing off each other in bouts of impressive exchanges filled with passion and humor. 

Hayley Rice finely directs this classic comedy that deals with the muddle and complications that relate to love. Rice opts for dual casting for the roles of Titania and Hippolyta as well as Theseus and Oberon, avoiding confusion by creating a fairy world that takes place in modern day, thus sneakers, sunglasses and a boom box as opposed to buckled shoes and sixteenth century instruments. The twist works to separate the characters and creates an entertaining group that could easily be found at Paisley Park, but it does away from the fairy-tale period that we have come to identify A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A fascinating production that has just the right amount of laughs, fantasy and trickery, First Folio’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a memorable summer event that keenly interprets Shakespeare for today’s audience thanks to its outstanding direction and role execution by this talented cast. 

Audience comfort is also considered. Mosquito repellent candles are strategically placed throughout the first few rows where padded seats are lined with blankets to share. Attendees can also choose to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets and sit wherever they like. With a show start time of 8:15 pm, First Folio invites guests to enter the grounds at 6:45 pm should they like to picnic or simply take in the atmosphere. Quaint, family-friendly and enchanting, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being performed on the grounds of Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook Wednesday through Sunday until August 14th. Tickets are a bargain at from $29-$39 with children under thirteen at just $10. FOr tickets and/or more show information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

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