Theatre in Review

It’s fitting that the opening tune of Gobsmacked! declares, “Turn up the radio, blast your stereo right,” because the show is essentially a live jukebox. The seven performers sing and beat-box their way through songs that span the decades, from The Beatles to David Bowie to Duffy to The Black-Eyed Peas.

Hailing from the UK on its first American tour, Gobsmacked! both is and isn’t your typical a cappella show. The range of song choices is certainly wider than, say, a high school or even college a cappella show. I, for one, did not expect to hear a soulful rendition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and a boppy “Let’s Get It Started” in the same night, much less the same hour. But, the wide range of songs notwithstanding, what the show doesn’t do is go deeper.

The hour and forty-five minute performance tried have some sort of linking theme – all the performers held paper hearts at one point except for one guy's whose was cut in half and this was never explained or brought up ever again? – but ultimately failed at being something more than just a musical showcase. Which would be fine with me, I am honestly just there for the music. I would rather see that than performers awkwardly trying to act during these non-musical transitions between songs.

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The cast are all incredibly talented, to be sure. The beatboxer, Ball Zee, was amazing at single-handedly holding down the backbeat of every single song as well as providing transitional sound effects. The guy can do anything, noise-wise. While all six singers sounded fantastic and on-point, I was most impressed by the redheaded Joanne Evans. The most emotive of the vocalists, I found my eye - and ear - drawn to her frequently. Everyone onstage had the chops, but Evans was the only one I actually believed. She owned her “…Man’s World” solo, and I was shook.

All in all, if you like live music, pop tunes, and a some healthy cheesiness, like moi, Gobsmacked! will fit the bill just right.

Gobsmacked is playing at the Broadway Playhouse at 175 E. Chestnut St. through Sunday. Tickets at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

The Princess Complex: Little girls grow up with fairy tales about princesses who are rescued from some terrible fate by a dashing prince, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. These little girls may dress up as princesses, replay their favorite scene and dream of the day their prince will come. This all leads to the Princess Complex, a cultural enforced delusion of reality but in Disenchanted, the well-known Disney princesses that created these false expectations of life and love tell it like it really is, shattering the happily ever after ideal once and for all.

 

Disenchanted is a cabaret style variety show featuring familiar characters such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, who team up to MC the show, shedding light on the reality of princess-hood. Along with their friends, Belle, Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Rapunzel, and others they challenge the many biases seen in traditional Disney princesses – they are mostly white, often culturally inappropriate, dependent on a man to save them and usually quite well endowed! The style of the show allows for direct engagement with the audience and even a little audience participation in the song calling out the extreme amount of commercialism associated with these beloved Disney fairy tales.

 

The cast was fantastic overall, bringing some unexpected versions of these household princesses to life with amazing voices and perfect comic timing. Merritt Crews plays the role of Snow White, the primary MC for the evenings shows. She flows between the high sing-songy voice expected of snow white and a gritty and powerful voice that belts some hysterical lyrics. Madison Hayes-Crook plays Cinderella who is a perfect mix of ditsy blond and exceptionally socially aware woman. Miriam Drysdale and Ann Paula Bautista take on three roles each covering The Little Mermaid, Belle, Rapunzel (Drysdale) and Mulan, Pocahontas, and Baldroulbadour (Bautista). They effortlessly move from character to character and back again. Uche Ama, as the princess who kissed the frog, and Danielle Richards, as Sleeping Beauty round out this phenomenal cast.

 

The costumes were creative and unique, capturing the spirit of the princesses everyone knows and loves but with a spunky and sassy twist. Designed by Vanessa Leuck and covered in sparkles, the costumes really added pizazz to the intimate show.  The Broadway Playhouse is a smaller theater allowing the audience to feel close to the performance and the simple yet elegant set design, by Gentry Akens, further enhances the cozy atmosphere. 

 

With song after song, joke after joke, Disenchanted will keep you laughing for the full hour and a half production. Book, music and lyrics by Dennis T Giancino, address every questionable aspect of the cherished Disney princesses including the fact that the real Pocahontas was actually a 10 year old girl who would not even dream of kissing John Smith unlike the mini skirt clad 20 year old pin up vixen the movie version, and questioning the mental state of a French book worm with an oddly American accent who thinks it is normal to talk to appliances. 

 

This show will forever transform the way you watch Disney movies and will remind you that life is not about perfect waistlines, dashing princes and happily ever after. It is packed full with so many subtle details that you will find yourself laughing for days after the show.

 

Disenchanted is playing at the Broadway Playhouse through June 5th. Get your tickets now for this unique and creative show.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

The “For the Record” series brings John Hughes’ films back to life with a combination of memorable soundtracks and classic scenes from TheBreakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science, Some Kind of Wonderful, and 16 Candles. Dear John Hughes is a Broadway concert that showcases talented actors and actresses as they take on the roles of some of our beloved movie characters, all falling under the Hughes’ teenage classification system of the Basket Case, the Athlete, the Brain, the Princess, and the Criminal.

 

Despite the band being situated on center stage, the cast still makes it seem like they have all the space in the world to perform. They make the stage their own, utilizing its remaining space to the fullest. Ensemble members also make good use of the theater, pushing their way through aisles and high-fiving excited audience participants.

 

In the costume department, all the obvious steps were taken to make the era come to life - flannels tied around the waist, while leather jackets, suspenders and John Lennon glasses are as vital as ever. Watts is never without her drumsticks as portrayed in Some Kind of Wonderful and there are plenty of Molly Ringwald-esque floral patterns and floppy hats.

 

Which classic scenes were brought back to life? “Anyone? Anyone?” Ferris’ romp around Chicago in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Andrew Clark’s tear jerking monologue in The Breakfast Club and Blane’s “forgotten” prom date leading to a humiliated Andie in Pretty in Pink.

 

Michael Thomas Grant perfects Duckie’s solo in Pretty in Pink, “Try a Little Tenderness”. Grant’s voice has that quality which allows him to sing any style of music, and this talent makes him shine. He has the most range from character to character and convincingly delivers the over-confident lines of Ferris, immediately followed by the timidness of Anthony Michael Hall’s classic series of “nerd” types.  

 

Rumer Willis rocks out on the drums during a medley of songs that includes a haunting rendition of Suzanne Vega’s, “Left of Center”.  Jackie Seiden and Patrick Mulvey, the “narrators”, help in guiding us through Hughes’ catalog of films and add strong vocal performances of their own along with timely comic relief in between the heartbreaking scenes. After a highly colorful and visual journey into the world of John Hughes, the show finally goes out with a bang ending with The Breakfast Club’s signature Simple Minds number "Don’t You Forget About Me”.

 

Encore! Encore! Dear John Hughes is highly recommended. This is an exciting, all around fun production that actually deserves a larger stage with a larger audience - and a louder round of applause!

 

 

For the Record: Dear John Hughes, is playing at Broadway Playhouse (Water Tower Place) until March 15th. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices or by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800)775-2000. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.


*(Note that Evan Rachel Wood will be stepping in for Rumer Willis starting March 12th)

Published in Theatre Reviews

No , I haven’t read the book 50 Shades of Grey, only portions of it - while standing in the grocery store, but still I was swept up by the excitement of Broadway Playhouse’s mostly female audience who giddily lined up to see this show as if they were going to get to meet their own Mr. Grey in person.

Several of the musical parody numbers in this production got solid laughs on almost every beat and punchline, including the hysterical, “There’s a Hole Inside of Me “, “I Don’t Make Love , I F-ck!”, “Just Like any Other Couple” and “How Much Can I Take?”.  I really loved the way the three women reading the book together at a book club were the chorus for the show, interjecting their breathless responses to the action between Anastasia Steele and Grey the way the real fans of this book attempt to live out the fantasy in their own lonely lives.

I also enjoyed the way the parody shows both sides of the S & M world by showing that much of it is harmless fun and role play fantasy but that some of it is brought about by serious sexual dysfunction and or abuse, like revealing that Grey is into S & M because he was “sexually molested by an older woman from the ages of 15 to 21”. 

Ben Caplan as the plus-sized Christian Grey clad in a sickly revealing, red and white muscle builders unitard with a full on barrel tummy was hysterical, delivering his song and dance numbers with great physical comedic timing.

Diego Klock Perez was also very funny in his role as “Jose” the Latin lover who hopes to steal Steele’s heart from the dominating and untouchable Grey. Klock got great laughs just by his entrance and exit from the stage each time leaving Anastasia’s presence without losing her eye contact by backing slowing out of the room one deep step/lunge at a time.

Katie Lamark has a great singing voice and was very funny and cute as the befuddled and enamored Anastasia Steele.  But the real scene stealer for me was Carol from the chorus of three ladies’ book club played by Melanie Brook. She really reminded me of a young Carol Burnett and when I saw how young she is in person after the show I was even more impressed that she was able to pull off playing a dowdy, nerdy desperate woman in her fifties with such uncanny comedic accuracy.

The three piece band onstage was perfect for this show, it was lively and effective yet felt casual and fun. However, the set could use some real sprucing up as there was none to speak of and I think everyone was a little disappointed there was not even a backdrop painted to suggest Grey’s opulent million dollar home nor the trappings of his infamous “Red Room”.

Other than that though this was a really fun and sexy evening of entertainment because it made the whole audience feel that sex and different kinds of sex can be talked about openly and laughed at and even relished in public without anyone being offended or belittled, male OR female, fat OR thin, sexy or nerdy.  This fun and funny musical parody about America’s new obsession with soft core S & M strikes many of the right notes, no pun intended.

50 Shades! The Musical Parody is only playing at Broadway Playhouse through January 18th, so take advantage of this funny show while you still can. For more information, visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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