Theatre

Buzz News Chicago: Theatre and Concert Reviews

Ken Payne

Ken Payne

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.

 

I had no idea what to expect Sunday night when I went to Soldier Field to see Guns N’ Roses. I really didn’t. I knew what I had hoped to see in what is now the highest grossing tour in 2016 but was still a bit skeptical seeing as the band has been on the outs for such a long time. Reviews of the band’s “Not In This Lifetime” reunion tour have been mixed, some claiming that Slash had been carrying the show, implying the other band members were merely present as symbols of yesteryear so that as much of an original lineup could be put together as possible to warrant such a major occasion that could fill stadiums. That’s not what I saw – not even close. Yes, Slash was amazing in himself, but I saw a band that collectively charged the stage and played with an enormous amount of continuity, energy, confidence and precision. I saw a band where EACH member contributed as much as the next in what turned out to be a very special event – the event one can only hope for when throwing around the words “Guns N’ Roses reunion”. 

Having seen the band four times between the Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion releases, it is apparent that Guns N’ Roses now has access to a much larger and complex stage show where pyrotechnics and jumbo screens assist in presenting the band’s vision like never before. But of course you can’t have a successful reunion run without the music. There’s no denying the band has the catalog of material to please their hungry fan base, but let’s be honest – it’s been a long time since the band has played together and we now live in a world where comeback tours often recycle band members and thrust them on stage whether they can still perform or not. Guns N’ Roses is not one of these bands. While Slash wailed away on his Les Paul, effortlessly ripping through riffs and solos, bassist Duff McKagan also showed he was still in peak form even laying out impressive lead vocals on Iggy Pop’s “Raw Power”, a song the band covered on The Spaghetti Incident. McKagan patrolled the large stage area bleeding the Guns N’ Roses arrogance we have come to know, projecting the epitome of rock n’ roll attitude.

To me, I had little doubt that the instrumentation would be there, I was most curious if Axl Rose would still be able to gel with the others (and them with him) and, frankly, if his voice would hold up. Within minutes of the show, any doubts I may have had completely vanished. Axl was nailing it – and then some. With an incredible energy level that had him running all over the stage and grinding out his famous rock moves, Axl’s vocals were spot on and possibly even more powerful than ever before. His stage presence was dominant. He controlled the crowd. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes but all signs pointed to the three original members expressing great enjoyment as they played with each other – and this while playing at an optimum level. 

The still youthful band, both musically and physically fit, was rounded out with Richard Fortus, who has been playing guitar for Guns N’ Roses since 2001 and was a presence in his own right, drummer Frank Ferrer (since 2006) who gives Matt Sorum a run for his money, longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and newbie Melissa Reese who manned a second keyboard.

Like a locomotive, the band’s sound was delivered with force from the get go when they opened with “It’s So Easy”. In a set that lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours and forty-five minutes, Guns N’ Roses tackled a plethora of favorites including “Mr. Brownstone”, “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Civil War”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Coma”, “Estranged”, “Live and Let Die” and “Rocket Queen”. The band also played a handful of material from their critically acclaimed 2008 release Chinese Democracy, going into the title track along with “This I Love” and “Better”. 

In what could only be interpreted as a tribute to Prince, the entire stage filled with billows of purple smoke just after an inspiring performance of “November Rain”. Duff also sported the symbol of Prince on his bass. Nice touch, fellas.  

Theirs was a set that never let up. After one gratifying selection after another the band finished up with “Nightrain” before returning for an encore with “Don’t Cry”, The Who’s “The Seeker” and a ramped up “Paradise City”. 

Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” tour certainly lives up to the hopes of their many fans. It’s what fans knew the band could still be. Musically, the tour is fulfilling and visually, it is stimulating. It is the complete package. No shortcuts or cutting corners here. What fans get is an exciting, full blown Guns N’ Roses experience. I’m just glad Chicago made the band’s shortlist or tour stops. Great music, stage show and musicianship aside, not to worry, the band still carries a healthy “Fuck You” brashness after all these years – an important ingredient in G N’ R’s recipe for success.           

Alice in Chains provided strong support for Guns N’ Roses for their Chicago stops and is highly deserving of their own rave review. Though Soldier Field may be the last stop for Alice in Chains as opening support, Guns N’ Roses will continue to take heavy-hitting acts along with them on the road with Lenny Kravitz, The Cult and Wolfmother scheduled on later dates. 

So what’s next after a successful reunion tour? That’s what everyone seems to be asking while hoping the answer is simply to make a new album and tour the shit out of it. Guns N’ Roses is back.    

 

  

 

One of the world’s most popular musicals has found a temporary home at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. And you should see it! Celebrating five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the 1964 hit takes on a most interesting chapter in the life of Don Quixote while spending time in prison as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. Based on one of 17th century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes’ most famed characters the 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote set the stage for what has become one of the most successful musicals to date. Often referred to as a play within a play, Man of La Mancha focuses on Quixote, an imprisoned writer who has turned away from the harsh realities of the world such as battle, crime and poverty and decides rather to view the world as he wants to see it where a prostitute, Aldonza, can instead be a his beloved Dulcinea, a battered cane can be a mighty sword or a cooking pot can be a prized helmet – a victorious trophy. 

 

Music Director Ryan T. Nelson and six-time Jeff Award director Nick Bowling take on this long-time prolific musical, splendidly piecing together a production that engages throughout and profoundly touches the heart. It is together with the powerhouse acting performance of Nathaniel Stampley, that this production goes over and beyond, becoming an instant Marriott classic and a show that will long be remembered for its superb acting and gripping storytelling. Stampley brilliantly seizes the lead role, which is really two leading roles, as the passionate writer who has defied the Spanish Inquisition along with the imaginary knight he has become in his imagination. 

  

Stampley is an actor you can easily root for. Magnetic and captivating, Stampley is a tour de force, capturing the character’s subtleties while becoming a dominating presence when called for, particularly during his breathtaking rendition of the production’s famed song “The Impossible Dream”, which led to a much deserved extended applause that only escalated to a higher volume every time the cheers began to die down.  

 

Stampley gets solid support from actress Danni Smith who delivers a memorable performance of her own, the two skillfully playing off each other to generate the much needed connection to make this show work. Richard Ruiz is also excellent as Quixote's trusty sidekick, Sancho. As all Marriott shows go, we are treated to a very gifted ensemble, as well. 

 

Director Nick Bowling does add a twist to the original by having the story take place in modern times. Simply said, it works. As Bowling explains, “We put the story in modern day with the notion that there are inquiries still going today and there will always be inquisitions.” Bowling’s underlying tones are powerful and serve as a wake up call for some while everyone can still enjoy a masterful musical that can be as heartwarming as it can sad and often humorous in just the right spots. 

 

Wonderfully acted with a slew of talented vocal performances, Man of La Mancha is a sure summer hit that is sure to make theatre goers cheer, feel and emphasize with and for a man who dares to dream the impossible dream and fight the unbeatable foe. 

 

Man of La Mancha is being performed at Marriott Theatre through August 14th. Tickets range from $50-$55. For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.               

 

For those of you who are not aware, there is a great youth program taking place where a group of educators have created an alternative education source for CPS students. Enter Barrel of Monkeys. Barrel of Monkeys (BOM) is a combined group of actors, teachers and musicians that have developed a new, and fun, way for students to enhance their creative writing skills while building their self-esteem and open doors for them to express themselves. Mainly working with third through fifth graders, BOM focuses on working with underserved schools on Chicago’s South and West sides and the result has been a huge success.

 

Taking stories from students, this talented ensemble translates, then performs these ideas (often word for word, which can be amazingly hilarious) on stage, currently at the Neo-Futurist Theater in Andersonville. In what always turns into series of absurdly funny sketches, BOM’s performers act out each story, promptly giving credit to the student author before they begin.

 

Barrel of Monkeys now continues into the summer with their That’s Weird, Grandma series, a run that changes its overall theme throughout the year, the latest being That’s Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back. Again, with all material written by Chicago Public School students, you can just imagine how it translates when acted out by a professional theatre ensemble. Needless to say, the laughs are plentiful from beginning to end.

 

In Summer Strikes Back directed by Artistic Director Joseph Schupbach BOM performs seventeen sketches in their hour-plus performance, some converted into songs while others acted out just as they were written. Stories range in creativity and are each amusing in their own way. Though some stories may be as simple as a conversation between a bunny and an EXIT sign or “Taylor the Rose” where a rose reads off a list on what not to do to her – like pick her because she will die, BOM is able to find the humor in each while at the same time brilliantly promoting the imagination and expression of its young student writers.  With titles such as “The Day A Monkey Slapped My Cousin”, “Jake’s Very Bad Day”, “Walking Meatball and Mozzarella Cheese” and “Lady Spy”, you can only imagine the fun that awaits.

 

While getting the chance to enjoy a very humorous evening of one hilarious sketch after another, one is also supporting a fantastic program – a program that has helped students to write over 5,500 stories within the school year. An amazing outfit, Barrel of Monkeys has been pivotal in reaching out to students, 77% of teachers reporting a positive change in enthusiasm for language arts among their lowest performing students over the course of their residency.

 

That's Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back is a fun show that, though is mostly a laugh factory, can also reveal moving moments and profound insights of the student writers. With talented cast and musical members (I’ll just name them all since they all made terrific contributions) Nancy Casas, Kassi Bleifuss, Nick Hart, Krista Mickelson, Elizabeth Levy, Laura McKenzie, Spencer Meeks, Deanna Myers, Gwen Tulin, Dixie Belinda Uffelman, Rawson Vint and Joseph Schupbach himself, we get a uniquely well-rounded show that moves quickly and grabs you in from the moment the audience is directed into the seating area by an air traffic controller. This is also a show that can be seen more than once as audience members vote on their favorite sketches afterwards via secret ballot and new sketches are introduced into the following performance as others are removed.

 

A show for all ages (bring the kids!), Barrel of Monkeys: The Summer Strikes Back is being performed each Monday at 8 pm at Neo-Futurist Theater through August 15th. Tickets are beyond reasonable at just $12 for adults and $6 for children under twelve.   

 

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.

 

Page 1 of 21

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

 
   Tickets Just a Click Away

Register

Latest Articles

Guests Online

We have 18 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter