Theatre in Review

Black Ensemble Theater continues the 2017 Season (The Dance Theater Season) with the World Premiere of Living The Black Renaissance (More Than a Moment in History), written and directed by Black Ensemble Theater Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor. Living the Black Renaissance (More Than a Moment in History) will be performed at the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago, October 14-November 26, 2017. 
                  
Through the struggles, trials and tribulations of those who fought and fight against oppression and racism, Living the Black Renaissance is a musical and historical depiction of the African American experience in a racist America that will uplift, inspire and motivate all of us to create a world where racism cannot exist. Living the Black Renaissance (More Than A Moment In Time) is more than a play, it is a movement. A movement through song and dance that will help us understand the systemic process of racism and oppression. This thought provoking production will uncover the root of racism, what is it and why we must remove it from our society. 
 
When asked the reason why she decided to tackle this subject, Jackie Taylor replied, “Because of the climate within in our society today, now is the time! Living the Black Renaissance has difficult moments because the racism pill is a very difficult pill to swallow. In order to solve our societal issues, we must be able to confront those issues. And that is the purpose of Living the Black Renaissance (More Than A Moment In Time).” 
 
Through this historical presentation from slavery to Obama to Trump, we will be led on a spiritual journey that will ignite the healing process and help us understand how to respect and honor our differing cultures while learning how to live together as one race – the human race.  
 
Living the Black Renaissance features Michael Adkins, Brian Boller, Jana’ah Coates, Rueben Echoles, Lemond Hayes, Wendell Jackson, Dwight Neal, Linnea Norwood, Rhonda Preston, LeKeya Shearrill, Henri Slater, Lynn Solar and Levi Stewart.
 
As with all Black Ensemble Theater productions, Living the Black Renaissance features live musicians, including musical director Robert Reddrick, (drums) Adam Sherod (piano), Mark Miller (bass) and Gary Baker (guitar).
 
The designers are Ruthanne Swanson (costumes), The A Team (set), Denise Karczewski (lights), Aaron Quick (sounds). The stage manager is Bekki Lambrecht.
 
 
Tickets are available at the Black Ensemble Box Office located at 4450 N. Clark St in Chicago, or online at www.blackensemble.org, or by phone at (773) 769-4451. Tickets are $45 for previews (preview dates); $55 (Thursdays and Saturday matinees) and $65 (Fridays, Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees).  There is a 10% discount for students, seniors and groups
 
 
Fact Sheet Living The Black Renaissance (More Than a Moment in History)
 
Title:                               Living the Black Renaissance (More Than a Moment in History)
 
Directed by:                    Black Ensemble Theater Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor
 
Dates:                            October 14-November 19, 2017
Previews:                        October 14, 15, 20 and 21, 2017
 
Schedule:                        

Thursdays:                                7:30 pm
Fridays:                                     8:00 pm
Saturdays:                                 3:00 pm
                                                 8:00 pm
Sundays:                                   3:00 pm
 
Location:                         Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street, Chicago
                                      Valet parking is available.
 
Ticket prices:                 

$45 Previews
$55 on Thursdays and Saturday matinees;
$65 on Fridays, Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees
A 10% discount is available for students, seniors, and groups.

Box Office:                      

Buy online at www.blackensemble.org or call (773) 769-4451
 
The Black Ensemble Theater
Founded in 1976, by the phenomenal producer, playwright and actress Jackie Taylor, Black Ensemble Theater is the only African American theater located in the culturally, racially and ethnically diverse north side Uptown community. Through its Five Play Season of Excellence, The Black Ensemble Theater dazzles audiences locally, nationally and internationally with outstanding original musicals that are entertaining, educational and uplifting. The Black Ensemble Theater has produced more than 100 productions and employed over 5,000 artists.
 
On November 18, 2011, The Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center opened and is able to accommodate larger-scale productions, bigger audiences and a wider range of educational programming. The new facility includes amenities such as a 299-seat main stage theater (double the capacity of the original venue); 14 offices, classroom space, rehearsal hall, dance studio, scene shop, costume shop, and wardrobe rooms; seven dressing rooms; rehearsal room for musicians; front lobby space with concession areas; and an indoor parking garage.  The completion of a 150-seat theater, which will serve as an experimental stage for the work of the Black Playwright Initiative (BPI), with construction by General Contractor Norcon Inc., is expected in 2018.
 
The mission of the Black Ensemble Theater Company is to eradicate racism and its devastating effects upon society through the theater arts.  For more information on the Black Ensemble Theater Company, please visit www.BlackEnsembleTheater.org or call 773-769-4451.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Casting is complete for the three “developmental productions” featured in Goodman Theatre’s 14thannual New Stages festival—a free celebration of new works by some of the country’s finest established and emerging playwrights. These three plays, which are staged in repertory following two weeks of rehearsal, include Lottery Day by Ike Holter, directed by Lili-Anne Brown; Continuity by Bess Wohl, directed by Annie Tippe; and Twilight Bowl by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Erica Weiss. Developmental productions are designed by Kevin Depinet (Set), Noël Huntzinger (Costumes for Lottery Day and Twilight Bowl), Birgit Rattenborg Wise (Costumes for Continuity), Jesse Klug (Lights) and Richard Woodbury (Sound). Full cast lists are included below. New Stages runs September 20 – October 8 in the 350-seat flexible Owen Theatre; to reserve FREE tickets, call 312.443.3800, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/NewStagesFestival or the box office (170 N. Dearborn). For more information about “Industry Professionals Weekend,” visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Professionals.

In addition, four one-time-only staged readings and a first look at an immersive work-in-progress appear during the final weekend of the festival (“Professionals Weekend”), including How to Catch Creation by Christina Anderson, directed by Jess McLeod (October 6 at 10:30am); Eden Prairie, 1971 by Mat Smart, directed by Henry Wishcamper (October 6 at 2pm); a preview presentation of POSTNATION by Mikhael Tara Garver(October 6 at 4:30pm); The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona written and directed by José Rivera(October 7 at 10am); and We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time by David Cale, music by Matthew Dean Marsh and directed by Tony Speciale (October 7 at 2pm).

Since New Stages’ 2004 inception, more than 70 plays have been produced as a developmental production or staged reading. Nearly half of these plays were authored by playwrights of color and/or authored by female playwrights. More than one-third of all plays developed in New Stages have received a world premiere production at the Goodman or another leading U.S. theater. The Goodman’s 2017/2018 Season features the world premiere of Ellen Fairey’s Support Group for Men, which originated in New Stages in 2016. The Goodman’s immediate past season featured acclaimed works that began at the festival: The Magic Play by Andrew Hinderaker, King of the Yeesby Lauren Yee and Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith.

The Goodman is grateful for the generosity of its New Work sponsors, including: the Time Warner Foundation, Lead Support of New Play Development; The Pritzker-Pucker Foundation, Major Support of New Play Development; The Glasser and Rosenthal Family and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Support of New Work Development; and The Joyce Foundation, Principal Support for Diverse Artistic and Professional Development.

Casting for 2017 New Stages Festival Developmental Productions

Lottery Day
By Ike Holter, directed by Lili-Anne Brown
Appears in repertory, September 20 – October 7
In his latest play, acclaimed Chicago playwright Ike Holter integrates characters from his past works into a new story about the cost of belonging and the gift of community.
When an act of violence robs Mallory of her family, she creates a new one by opening her home to a wild array of neighbors, activists and artists. Tonight, she’s throwing them a party of her own invention—“Lottery Day”—where anyone could win, but everyone has something to lose.

CAST:
Aurora Adachi-Winter…………...Tori
Bear Bellinger…………………….Nunley
J. Nicole Brooks………………….Mallory
McKenzie Chinn……………….....Cassandra
Sydney Charles…………………..Zora
Robert Cornelius………………....Robinson
Anthony Irons……………………..Avery
Monica Orozco……………………Vivien
Tommy Rivera-Vega……………..Ezekiel
Pat Whalen………………………..Ricky

Continuity
By Bess Wohl, directed by Annie Tippe
Appears in repertory, September 22 – October 8
Bess Wohl’s startlingly funny new play examines what is worth saving and what isn’t—especially when facing the end of the world.
As her big budget thriller about climate change and eco-terrorism falls behind schedule, film director Maria attempts to salvage the production from the behind-the-scenes drama of its cast and screenwriter.

CAST:
Rammel Chan…………………....The PA
Amanda Drinkall………………...Nicole (Eve)
Marc Grapey……………………..David Claxton
Ryan McBride……………………Jake (George)
Bill McGough…………………….Larry
Rebecca Spence………………...Maria
Netta Walker……………………..Lily (Anna)
*This production also features voice-over roles portrayed by McKenzie Chinn (Second AD), Robert Cornelius(Sound Guy), Anthony Irons (Camera OP), Pat Whalen (First AD) and Aurora Adachi-Winter (2nd PA).

Twilight Bowl
By Rebecca Gilman, directed by Erica Weiss
Appears in repertory, September 24 – October 8

In her latest play, Goodman Artistic Associate Rebecca Gilman depicts six young women about to embark on their adult lives. But how do they—or we—define success?
Cousins Sam and Jaycee grew up together in a small Wisconsin town. Sam, who sharpened her bowling skills at the local alley, is now heading to college on scholarship. But Jaycee’s future isn’t looking so bright. As the young women and their friends face adulthood, the alley becomes a place to celebrate, mourn, and forge new identities. But can their bonds survive as their paths diverge? And is success always earned, or is it sometimes a matter of luck?

CAST:
Hayley Burgess………………...Clarice
Heather Chrisler………………..Jaycee
Angela Morris…………………...Maddy
Becca Savoy…………………….Sam
Mary Taylor………………………Brielle
Anne E. Thompson…………….Sharlene

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Today, the producers of “Spamilton,” the critically acclaimed parody of “Hamilton,” announced an October 8 closing date for the Chicago run at the Royal George Theatre (1641 N. Halsted). Created by Tony Award honoree Gerard Alessandrini, the mastermind behind “Forbidden Broadway,” “Spamilton” officially opened in Chicago on March 12 to rave reviews, with Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times calling “Spamilton” an “altogether brilliant, hilarious, cliché-demolishing send-up of ‘Hamilton,’” Chris Jones of Chicago Tribune noting “You really don’t want to miss ‘Spamilton,’” and Barbara Vitello of the Daily Herald exclaiming the show is “deliciously silly. The laughs come fast and furious!” The all-Chicago “Broadway ready” (Chicago Sun-Times) cast includes Becca Brown, Aaron Holland, Adam LaSalle, Yando Lopez, Gabriel Mudd and David Robbins. Original cast members include Donterrio Johnson, Michelle Lauto and Eric Andrew Lewis.
 
The final tickets for “Spamilton” are available now. The final performance takes place Sunday, October 8 at 5 p.m. Tickets ($59 – $99) can be purchased at the Royal George Theatre’s box office online, at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 312.988.9000.  
 
“After seven great months in Chicago here at the Royal George with our talented local cast, we feel very lucky to have been so well-received for so long,” said Alessandrini. “While it’s bittersweet to be leaving the Windy City, we’re thrilled about the next steps for ‘Spamilton,’ including continuing our open run in New York and opening the Los Angeles production in November.”
 
“Spamilton,” which was initially scheduled in New York as an exclusive 18-performance off-Broadway engagement, has extended three times and is now playing its seventeenth smash month of an open engagement at the 47th Street Theatre in the heart of New York’s Theatre District. The New York production earned rave reviews across-the-board, with Ben Brantley of The New York Times calling it “smart, silly and convulsively funny!” and Lin-Manuel Miranda exclaiming “I laughed my brains out!” In its Chicago premiere, the local cast received additional acclaim, with critics hailing the production “endlessly entertaining” (Performink), “A Must-See!” (BroadwayWorld.com), and “razor sharp and filled with wit and humor” (Chicago Theatre Review). On opening night, cast members from the Chicago production of “Hamilton” were in the audience, and following the performance Wayne Brady called the production “Amazing! It’s the perfect blend of funny and parody. Go see ‘Spamilton!’ This fall, “Spamilton” makes its West Coast debut at the Kirk Douglas Theatre with Center Theatre Group November 5 – December 31, 2017.
 
In addition to Alessandrini, the creative team includes Gerry McIntyre (Choreography), Dustin Cross(Costume Design), Milo Blue (Scenic Design), Andy Kloubec (Lighting Design), Matt Reich (Sound Design), Jamie Karas (Prop Design), Leah Munsey-Konops (Wig Design), Fred Barton (Musical Director), and Richard Danley and Fred Barton (Musical Arrangements).
 
“Spamilton” is produced in Chicago by John Freedson, David Zippel, Gerard Alessandrini, Margaret Cotter and Liberty Theatricals, in association with JAM Theatricals. Brandon Kinley and Keirsten Hodgens are the understudies for the production.
 
The performance schedule for “Spamilton” is as follows: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. For additional details, visit Ticketmaster.com or TheRoyalGeorgeTheatre.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

For Chicagoans that grew up in the 1980’s music scene, we remember favorite rock clubs such as The Thirsty Whale, Chances R and Dirty Nellies where spandex and rayon were the materials of choice and eye-liner on Aqua-net sprayed, long-haired guys was all the rage. For the glam rock scene, Chicago was always the minor league affiliate (Single A) to its Los Angeles big brother, where new bands seemingly broke out nearly every week. Almost grinding hair bands out akin to a factory assembly line, Los Angeles set the bar for rock bands all across the world, its clubs The Whiskey a Go Go, Troubadour and The Roxy stepping stones for the next big thing. In “Rock of Ages” the hilarious 1980's musical, we are taken to Los Angeles where the fictional Bourbon Room, one of the last rock hold outs, is under the threat of eminent domain as big money developers have other plans for the property.

Club owner Dennis (riotously played by Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt) runs The Bourbon Room with his sidekick and fellow rocker Lonny (Nick Druzbanski), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Realizing the club’s days are numbered, the two decide to go all out by bringing back Arsenal, a major band that got the start from The Bourbon Room, to play their final show with lead singer and egomaniac, Stacee Jaxx, who is off to pursue a solo career.

And what would an 80’s musical be without a cheesy love story? Bar back and aspiring musician, Drew, is instantly love struck when Dennis hires Sherrie (of course a hopeful actress) to be the club’s new waitress. From there we root for The Bourbon club, along with those protesting the new corporate development, and also for Drew and Sherrie to find love.

“Rock of Ages” is a fun time capsule filled with 80’s rock classics that includes Warrant’s “Heaven”, Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Extreme’s “More than Words” and many, many more. Though a parody of the era, “Rock of Ages” is an entertaining tribute to an age in music that, though considered kitschy by some, left a major impact in the world of music. The musical makes several 80’s refences that can’t help but make us forty-to-fifty-somethings laugh, such as Drew’s date with Sherrie where he tries to romance her with a four-pack of Bartles & James wine coolers.

The show boasts as good of a cast as one could ask for. Adam Michaels as self-aggrandizer and vulgar lead singer, Stacee Jaxx, is absolutely hysterical in the role. His moments are plenty as he puts on full display his great knack for physical comedy along with some pretty raging vocals. And as one who has seen this production more times than I remember, I can say quite confidently that Nick Druzbanski may just be the best Lonny I have seen yet. Druzbanski really fires on all cylinders and is a comedic whirlwind, also contributing nicely with strong vocals, certainly deserving a Fogmaster 5000 for a performance nothing short of outstanding.

Notable vocal performances are aplenty in this production with both Cherry Torres as Sherrie and Russell Mernaugh as Drew impressing with their singing prowess in number after number. Both skilled singers as they are actors, Torres and Mernaugh also spark a wonderful chemistry and are able to deliver plenty of funny moments. Though many, other performances of note are Donica Lynn, who sings beautifully when called upon and Nick Cosgrove who nails the role of Franz, the flamboyant German son of developer Hertz, who draws a laugh in just about every scene he occupies.

“Rock of Ages” is silly fun. It’s a campy drive down memory lane. It’s highly recommended. It’s also part concert, as a live band plays from a stage upon the stage throughout the show, tasty guitar licks and all. For some, they will relive the highly memorable era, for others they will receive a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of a time when the Los Angeles rock scene churned out hair bands like Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt.

With Falls theatrical productions in full bloom, this is a must see.

“Rock of Ages” is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through October 15th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Minita Gandhi’s autobiographical one-woman show is making its official world premiere as the final production of the 16th Street Theater’s tenth anniversary season, but it’s already been subject to a huge number of raves. Developed at Silk Road Rising and Victory Gardens, earlier versions of Muthaland were performed at everything from the Raven Theatre and Lifeline on Chicago’s north side to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and more. It’s making was the subject of a feature in The Atlantic and a documentary called My Muthaland which won a regional Emmy. The play is about reconciling pride in one’s heritage with being subjected to the very worst aspects in that culture, and after receiving so much attention, the show absolutely lives up to its expectations.

In 2009, Gandhi received word that her younger brother had agreed to an arranged marriage while visiting India. This befuddled her since they are first-generation Americans and had always rebuffed their parents’ efforts to get them to embrace that custom. Gandhi is a faithful Jain who speaks Gujarati and had enjoyed family trips to India before, but she found traditional attitudes toward sex and romance to be the most problematic aspect of her upbringing. Nonetheless, after learning her brother was okay with the match, and facing this reminder that she was nearly at the end of her fertile years with no prospective husband in sight, she decided to go to India in search of her own spiritual awakening. She brought along with her a copy of Eat, Pray, Love and yoga instructions, eagerly anticipating meeting her destiny in Bollywood rom-com style.

What ended up happening was something very different and horrible. But while the sexual assault Gandhi suffered naturally has a very prominent place in the show, her message is that it exists alongside other aspects of her life and heritage. Over the course of ninety minutes, Gandhi deftly mixes horror with levity and beauty, creating a rich portrait of herself as teenager, a theatre student, and a growing young actress. Director Heidi Stillman worked closely with her for years to craft a piece which is emotionally authentic throughout as Gandhi switches characters between herself and others. By the end, it is easy to feel like we know not only her, but also her parents, and how their lives in each country are intertwined.

Pulling off any one-person show, let alone one which requires such honesty about things that are deeply personal, requires an incredible amount of technical and physical finesse. Gandhi had Lanise Antione Shelly as her voice and movement coach, as well as Anu Bhatt as a co-choreographer. With just an accent and some gestures with her left hand, she embodies each of her parents as fully-formed and separate personalities. From their first appearance, we understand them to be deeply loving, albeit somewhat overbearing, and her relationship with them winds up being the heart of the play. Her description of an incident involving a vibrator is as hilarious as it is cringe-inducing and their acceptance of her acting career, to name just one thing they unexpectedly had to adjust to, is heart-warming. It is fitting that a play about heritage should so strongly foreground the parent-child relationship, especially when the relationship is one between responsible adults who are still learning from each other. Muthaland is a story that everybody in America who is aware of what they’ve chosen to keep from their ancestors’ culture can identify with in some way, and in refreshing contrast to a lot of other plays which make up the American theatre scene, it shows us what happens when a family we can admire encounters a crisis.

Highly Recommended

Muthaland is performed at the 16th Street Theater in the basement of the Berwyn Cultural Center, 6420 16th St, Berwyn, Illinois. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays at 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm through October 7. Tickets are $18-22, free parking is available in the lot at 16th St and Gunderson. Visit 16thstreettheater.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

The historic Gunder Mansion in Edgewater opens its doors for a unique theatre experience: a fifty-minute event consisting of five distinct plays, each unfolding in a separate room of the mansion and designed for an audience of one. The entire audience consists of only ten members; there are two tracks to choose from: “Personal” and “Up Close”, and there are two shows per night (7:30 PM and 8:30 PM).

The ten members of the audience are divided into two groups; each member will then follow a journey (either “Personal” or “Up Close”). Upon entering each room, a ten-minute play unfolds where the audience member becomes an active participant. So, what’s in the room?

It could be a fun TV show (“Iconic”, created and directed by Julian Stroop), a gothic fortune teller parlor (“The Guest”, written by Kaitlin Gilgenbach, directed by Molly Donahue), or just an ordinary room with an extra-ordinary person in it. Prepare to be surprised and amused, and throw caution out the door: this interactive play, as the show’s Experience Director Janet Howe put it, is the opposite of watching Netflix at home. It’s kind of like an amusement park where some rides are more fun than others, but, overall, the entire experience is highly enjoyable. You’ll even go home with a souvenir [of your own making].

The creative team behind “For One” (experience director Janet Howe, production manager Claire Chrzan) designed each play to revolve around the audience, so each room feels like a special customizable adventure. Dream-like, each play has no beginning and no end; once you’re in the room, you’re immediately drawn into the midst of action, so you might as well assume your designated role. The outcome is somewhat unpredictable, since actors play off the audience member’s words and actions. At the end, you’re often admired for your wonderful qualities and talents, and then politely kicked out. What a great chance to feel like a star, or at least like the most important person in the room. Lucky you.

About the venue: Gunder Mansion was built in 1910 for pharmaceutical company executive Samuel Gunder. It later was used by the Viatorian religious order. After many years of residing there, they sold the property in 1981 to the Chicago Park District for half the market value hoping to see it restored and used for the community. The Mansion was acquired by Edgewater Community Council; it was subsequently rehabbed and transformed into Cultural Center.

“For One”, the latest production by (re)discover theatre company is being performed through September 30th. For more show information visit http://www.rediscovertheatre.com/for-one/.

Published in Theatre in Review

“This world will remember me,” Bonnie and Clyde sing to each other in Kokandy Productions’ presentation of “Bonnie & Clyde” – a musical. Directed by Spencer Neiman, this odd-ball musical makes its area premiere after an unsuccessful Broadway run in 2011. This production also marks the fifth anniversary of Kokandy Productions, now a regular staple of Chicago’s storefront theater scene.

“Bonnie & Clyde” was developed in 2009 by La Jolla Playhouse in California, a frequent incubator for new Broadway work. The show opened officially on Broadway in 2011, but closed after 36 performances. Critics were not especially kind.

Even though it’s not a direct adaptation, it’s nearly impossible not to compare this musical to Arthur Penn’s stylish 1967 film. It’s an American film classic with iconic performances by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. It’s widely considered a turning point in American cinema. The film was focused less on historical accuracy and more on drawing comparisons between the young outlaws and the political awakening of the late 60s. The musical tends to tread on the same territory as Penn’s film but in a less dynamic way.

The issue is camp. Penn’s film is mostly devoid of camp even some fifty years later. “Bonnie & Clyde” the musical feels like two hours of pure kitsch. There’s no discernable reason this story needed to be told to music and unfortunately the empty songs prove that. Neiman’s cast seems to forget that these characters were indeed real people and not cartoon characters to be parodied. The nature of the material isn’t especially satirical, but this cast has decided it is.

Missy Wise as Blanche Barrow pretty much steals the show with her number ‘You’re Goin’ Back to Jail’, but the whole thing feels a bit Disney-fied, considering that the real Blanche Barrow served time for armed robbery.

The two leads Desiree Gonzales and Max Detogne are both incredible performers. Detogne’s voice is perfectly suited for the country-tinged folk rock of Frank Wildhorn’s music. Gonzalas also has a strong voice and makes some genuine choices for Bonnie Parker, adding a real dimension to her that isn’t otherwise in the script. The generic “I-wish” song feels sincere with Gonzalas singing. You will remember her, just like Clara Bow. Detogne also makes it his own. There’s a chemistry between the two that really translates.

If you were just dying to see “Bonnie & Clyde” during its Broadway run in 2011, Kokandy offers up a serviceable production. If you were hoping to gain more knowledge about the infamous star-crossed outlaws, you may be impressed at what playwright Ivan Menchel spins into his version of “Bonnie & Clyde.”

Through October 15 at Kokandy Productions. Theatre Wit 1229 West Belmont Ave.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

If you like Vegas like I like Vegas, you will love Marriott Theatre’s energetic and top notch, romantic musical comedy production of "Honeymoon in Vegas"!

Jack Singer (Michael Mahler) is in love with his girlfriend of five years Betsy Nolan (played with terrific spunk and formidable singing chops by Samantha Pauly), but was traumatized by the deathbed wish his mother imposed on him never to marry, because no one can love him like she did.  Bea (Marya Grandy) plays his mother with great physical comedy skills and her hospital deathbed scene where she strikes down a passing nurse in order to show jack what she can do to his future brides to be, gets some of the biggest laughs in the show. 

Jack and Betsy get through this flashback scene and resulting panic attack while shopping at Tiffany's for her ring and head straight to Vegas to tie the knot - before he loses his nerve for the umpteenth time. 

Upon arriving in Vegas, Betsy is instantly spotted by Tommy Korman, a rich, handsome but slightly shady businessman played to perfection by Chicago born actor Sean Allan Krill. Betsy reminds Korman of his past wife and then he goes all out to steal her from tentative Singer. His pursuit really begins when he invites Singer to a “low stakes” poker game, letting him win a few hands – a total set up. Singer has a hand next to impossible to beat and the pot becomes so large there is no way he can pay up if he loses. That’s when the fun really begins. Sean Allen Krill was the standby in this role for Tony Danza on Broadway. Krill was just fantastic and I'm not the only critic in Chicago to say Sean Allen Krill should be a huge Broadway star right now. Krill is so smooth in the role of Tommy Korman, so fluid and graceful in his immediate desire for, and courtship of, Betsy that women and men throughout the theater were so wowed by Krill's amazing singing voice and comedic acting chops that they actually wished Betsy would stay with him in Hawaii and not marry the non-committal, bumbling, but kind, Jack Singer. 

Another character actress deserving of special notice is Christine Bunuan, as the funny and fabulous Hawaiian tour guide who helps Jack find Betsy and Korman (yes, the story moves to Hawaii), but not without first trying desperately to make “Friki-Friki with Jack before delivering him to his destination. 

While talented Alex Goodrich is very funny to watch in multiple roles, Steven Strafford also shows off his comedic talent as Korman's sidekick, Johnny Sandwich.  

Several of the leading creators of its 2015 Broadway production were brought in by the Marriott Theater including director Gary Griffin, choreographer Denis Jones, and costume designer Brian Hemesath. The effect of all these highly skilled players coming together is a full-service production that grabs you right from the start with well-paced scenes and challenging, yet humorous, dance numbers that dazzle the audience with beautiful, leggy showgirls - Vegas style. 

I highly recommend this adorably sexy and funny, Elvis-filled production for young and old alike. This production is so well-played and fun to watch that you will feel you have had a honeymoon in Vegas - with a stop-over in beautiful Hawaii to boot!  

Honeymoon in Vegas is being performed at Marriott Theatre through October 15th. For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Monday, 04 September 2017 21:02

The Queen of Soul Returns to Ravinia

After cancelling her performance earlier this season due to health concerns, the Queen of Soul, the great Aretha Franklin, tabbed as the greatest vocalist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, made her triumphant return to Ravinia. Dressed in a sparkling silver dress and donning a wig giving the seventy-five-year-old living legend long straight hair, the superstar made an immediate impact as she walked onto the stage after the band’s opening medley.

The soulful 1986 hit “I knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was the first song the of many that Franklin delved into, her voice perhaps not as powerful as it once was, but every bit as finessed, unique and velvety. Franklin’s set was wide-ranging and included classics “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” along with Stevie Wonder written “Until You Come Back to Me” and B.B. King’s “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied)”.

Accompanied by a twenty-five-piece-plus gifted ensemble that included everything from a horn section to dancers, Franklin’s sound was big, filling the outdoor venue with the sweet sound of nostalgia. The excitement never let up, Franklin often getting well-deserved standing ovations. After all, she is one of the most influential artists of our time.

About halfway into the concert, the fabulous singer went into a powerful medley that began with Adelle’s “Rolling in the Deep” merging into The Supremes’ “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”. A highlight moment without question. At one point the crowd was moved when the band played a soulful jam while Aretha fervently sang over the music telling her story of a serious illness that had miraculously vanished, thanking a team of skilled physicians and above all, God. Afterward, she immediately introduced longtime friend Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was seated in the first few rows.

Franklin rolled on with a beautiful array of material, wrapping up her set with “Freeway of Love”, which segued into a ten-minute high-spirited gospel revival, praising Jesus as the King of Kings, practically every audience member on their feet clapping along, many hands in the air, as the stage became a platform for an impromptu and very enthusiastic Baptist church service.

After a brief absence from the stage, Aretha Franklin return to perform possibly her largest hit, “Respect” - just the right number to end a tremendous set of music on a picture-perfect night. At seventy-five-years-young, the Queen of Soul is still making fans sing and dance as much as she ever has.


Published in In Concert

The other night I went to Ravinia Festival. I am not afraid to admit that, after all my concert going years, it was my time going to the Ravinia venue located in Highland Park, Illinois. But there must be first time for everything and a double bill with Lifehouse and Switchfoot, two of my fave bands in the past, made it all the more enticing. Simply put, if you have never gone to Ravinia before, you need to go. It is just beautiful. Well-manicured lawns surrounding the pavilion area make an inviting temporary home for its large number of picnickers. And a friendly staff member is always nearby, ready to help, adding to the venue’s pleasant ambiance. The atmosphere is quick to relax its attendees from the moment they arrive. Picnickers can bring their own food and drink though there are a handful of food choices available on the Ravinia grounds making it easy to fill a hearty appetite before or during a concert. In short, I quickly discovered Ravinia is the perfect place to have a great family or date night. Its enchantment is only heightened by beautiful trees strategically placed throughout the grounds. Though easily accessible by car, a Metra stop is just right outside the gates, offering an even easier option of transportation for many and an easy escape route after the concert. But not to worry. Even for those that choose to drive, it's still easy to leave in a timely manner.

The night’s opening Act was Brynn Elliott, a senior college student from Boston. Ms. Elliott is a very energetic young lady whose soulful and jazzy voice is full of life. The young music artist sang eight catchy songs that got the attention of those sifting into the pavilion and having many thinking, “Have I heard that voice before?” Brynn interacted with the growing crowd well, many jumping around and dancing with her to her faster paced songs. As her set came to an end, Brynn couldn’t be more grateful to Lifehouse and Switchfoot for inviting her to open for them.

Switchfoot then hit the stage to a loud roar of cheers. The pavilion quickly filled, while no doubt a few slices of pizza were quickly scarfed down upon the band’s opening notes. Switchfoot appropriately opened their set with “Hello Hurricane” in the wake of the Harvey devastation, a stark reminder of those in need. Frontman Jon Foreman came out strong, his vocals rich, his energy at a high level matching his talent. Foreman commanded the stage, leading a band that also appeared to be in peak form. The years have been good to Switchfoot, an added maturity gracing each number played, each note struck, each address to the crowd made.  

Throughout the evening, the band, still fresh off their 2016 release Where the Light Shines Through, performed a variety of material sure to please Switchfoot fans from all eras, touching on albums from earlier in their career to current. As the set played on, Foreman walked around the pavilion, shaking hands and hugging people in the crowd, as he so often loves to get close and personal, a quality his fans don't mind one bit. He even shared a handful of interesting stories as to how and why some songs were written and the meaning behind them. Guitarist Drew Shirley was ripping through leads while Chad Butler kept a steady rhythm on drums along with bassist Tim Foreman, Jon’s brother. Jerome Fontamillas chimed in with guitar and keys to help create the band’s signature wall of sound that has so well defined the California quintet.

After seeing Switchfoot’s live show, it’s easy to believe the accomplished studio artists are happiest on stage where they can spend quality time with the fans who have supported them for so many years.

Lifehouse took the stage next. This surprised me, thinking Switchfoot would headline, but thus the double bill. Lead vocalist and guitarist Jason Wade reminded the crowd that, despite hailing from Los Angeles, they haven't toured the United States in seven years. Women in their late twenties and thirties began to flood into the pavilion, some screaming, as the band found its rhythm on stage. The band was not rusty, displaying a strong stage presence, their fans excited to see them after such a long drought.

Opening with the song “Hurricane” (obviously a theme here), the first of their fifteen-song night swiftly got their fans excited for what would be a truly rockin’ performance. The band played a good amount of material from their first two albums, songs from seventeen or so years ago, that made everyone feel a bit nostalgic, reminding us of an exciting time when a band is in its breakout stage. Fans sang along at the top of their lungs with the band’s heartfelt songs of heartache and hope. Seen around the stage were a handful of women crying and signing along with tears of emotion streaming down their faces, making the moment all the more unforgettable and powerful.

And now for the downer… Despite their powerful catalog of material and showmanship, the band truly lacked when it came to audience interaction. This was a bit disappointing. Song after song was played with little or no introductions in between and Wade did very little at all to connect with the crowd. It was almost as if they just wanted the night to end.

Switchfoot stole the night away and the reason is simple. They relate with the crowd and the crowd with them. They connect. It’s clear Foreman and company are having fun and hold a great appreciation for their fans. That’s what it’s all about, right? The venue was perfect, the staff amazing and, thanks to a fine sound system, the music performed sounded as if we were in a studio outside of the loud cheers. In all, it was a fine night of music and beautiful memories were created.

Switchfoot Setlist:

Hello Hurricane
Stars
Bull in a China Shop
Love Alone Is Worth the Fight
Your Love Is a Song
I Won't Let You Go
If the House Burns Down Tonight
Live It Well
The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues)
Where I Belong
Meant to Live
Float
Only Hope
Dare You to Move

Lifehouse Setlist:

Hurricane
Halfway Gone
Sick Cycle Carousel
Nerve Damage
It Is What It Is
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Flight
Broken
Everything
Whatever It Takes
First Time
Spin
You and Me
Hanging by a Moment

 

 

Published in In Concert
Page 5 of 21

 

 

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