Theatre in Review

Sarah Ruhl’s ‘In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play’ returns to Chicago at Timeline Theatre. Directed by Mechelle Moe, this drawing room comedy about the advent of electricity is sure to tickle audiences. Ruhl’s works have often been produced around the city as she’s an Evanston native. She may reside in Brooklyn now, but we’ll still claim her as our own.

‘In the Next Room’ was shortlisted for the 2009 Pulitzer after a successful Broadway run. It was also nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play. ‘In the Next Room’ might just be Ruhl’s most fully realized play. It’s a whimsical, if not loose, history of the invention of the vibrator. While it may sound like a cheeky sex comedy, ‘In the Next Room’ is a feminist anthem.

Dr Givings (Anish Jethmalani) is a country doctor who specializes in hysteria, a very real condition that afflicted women during a much less sexual period in history. His wife Catherine (Rochelle Therrien) does not suffer as her husband’s patients do, but instead yearns for romantic love. In some ways, this play is like Sarah Ruhl’s own version of ‘A Doll’s House.’ A wife searching for her purpose in a world dominated by men. Catherine says at one point “I do not know what kind of person I am” and feels like a failure when her child will not nurse. Through various entrances and exits, we’re shown how sexless life was between man and wife during the Victorian era. As an audience with hindsight, we understand that this miracle cure for hysteria is nothing more than a medically induced orgasm.

The ensemble is well cast. Rochelle Therrien makes Ruhl’s fanciful dialogue endearing and innocent. Her fresh-faced and child-like performance is so charming you can’t believe her husband’s indifference. Though quiet and understated, Dana Tretta plays Annie, the physician’s midwife. A sort of “Igor” sidekick type, but Ruhl doesn’t overlook the character. Her arch of a life without love is perhaps the most touching of all.

Not only is this play a feminist anthem, but a play about orgasms. The very idea that women did not discuss anything related to sex is absurd in a world where you can watch re-runs of ‘Sex and the City’ at any given time. Even nursing a child was considered distasteful to discuss. Rarely if ever have so many simulated orgasms happened in one theatrical performance. Though, like the era, they’re so unsexualized that you can’t help but giggle at the characters discovering themselves. In one full-length play Sarah Ruhl bursts nearly every female taboo of the time out of the closet. Never have Women’s Rights been a more hot button issue and ‘In the Next Room’ comes at just the right time.

Through December 16 at Timeline Theatre Company. Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Hell in a Handbag rings in its fifteenth-anniversary season with real magic in this hilarious spoof of the 60's and 70's TV shows we all grew up loving with its hocus-pocus focus on the show Bewitched

In this tale, Bewildered, by Aaron Benham (music and lyrics) and Ron Weaver (book and lyrics) Gladys Kravitz, the nosey neighbor of the magical family finally gets her due when she stops spying on the witch-filled household and is invited to have dinner with them. Caitlin Jackson as Gladys is splendid as she has both the musical chops to belt out every note with ease and turn the obnoxious neighbor into a sympathetic "every- woman" who feels unloved as a wife and disrespected as a person. As Gladys discovers in the surprise ending that she is magical too, her song "Leading Lady" reminds everyone in the audience to be true to themselves no matter who they are because in the end, we are ALL the leading ladies in our own lives. 

David Cerda, Hell in a Handbag, artistic director as Endora is truly at his best in this FABULOUSLY funny portrayal of Samantha's mother and steals every scene under his wig with a bat of his eyelashes and a twirl of the spectacular multi-faceted bejeweled caftans designed by Rachel Sypniewski with spot on funny as hell period wigs by Keith Ryan. Cerda as Endorra also reminds us of the ongoing plot line in the original series wherein she tries to get Samantha to leave her straight laced, sexually uninterested husband and choose from among thousands of eligible warlocks where she could live a life of magic and freedom! Instead Samantha chooses the daily humdrum dimension of the limited earth life with all its cold rules and regulations for women and men which don’t include the use of magic.

Elizabeth Morgan is adorable as Samantha and has a nice voice but needs to step out a little more with her nose twitching delightfully -  in order to keep up with the shine and glamour of wit coming full blast out of the regular cast members of Hell in a Handbag. 

As always, Ed Jones' highly anticipated presence in the show does not disappoint as Uncle Arthur and absolutely brings down the house while setting up the main story line with his wonderful rendition of "Let Yourself be a Little Gay!" Ed Jones and  David Cerda really seem to have studied their characters minute mannerisms and trademark funny bits to a tee and several times I squint my eyes and could have sworn they were channeling the original brilliant actors and actresses who played these roles on TV.  

The production handles the magic wielded by Samantha and company in a unique fashion that adds yet another jolt of humor to its audience. Bewildered also has fun with the mystery of the two Darrins who play Samantha's husbands on Bewitched in a very clever way that just has to be seen to be appreciated. 

The great thing about the superbly camp productions put on year after year by Hell in a Handbag is that no matter how bawdy they are, or how many lines of individuality they cross, they always have a positive moral underlying each show that makes you feel "pretty oh, so pretty!" in the skin that you are in!

I highly recommend seeing this fun-tastic, fast-flying production for everyone who needs a good jolt of laughter and positive affirmation about the life you are leading in these strange and hostile times.

Bewildered is being performed at Stage 773 through November 11th. For more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org.  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

As my sidekick for the evening – himself a theater and sketch comedy guy – and I entered Stage 773’s Cab Theater on Saturday to see Cupid Has a Heart On, we were greeted by smiley, bubbly folks who I guessed were cast members of the show. I turned out to be right. I said to my pal, “Looks like we’ll be spending an evening with grown-up theater kids, huh?” I’d turn out to be right about that, too.
The venue’s got a cabaret feel – black all around; red Naugahyde, too; swanky and dark like a Saturday night. We crossed the stage and found seats in the far corner, back behind the accompanist and his keyboard. Turns out the pianist was also the show’s director, Brian Posen. His playing throughout the show was rollicking and rambunctious – very much an old-timey lounge feel to fit the surroundings – and Posen even took part in a number about himself, as the lonely piano player, later in the evening. The music he and the cast have written and performed was really something, bouncing from one genre to the next and always played with absolute musicianship. But a bit of advice for those who see the show – while the red pleather booth behind the piano was plenty comfortable and afforded a nice view, the sound of the keys often drowned out the performers’ vocals.

The songs and sketches that made up the show were fun, though I’m still not sure who the target audience was. The baby boomers in the crowd laughed the loudest, while much of the content seemed to be about those much younger than middle age, about the age of the millennials who are the show’s actors and singers. Some material was timeless, while some felt like it had been written more recently to update this, Chicago’s longest running comedy show. I, myself, did not feel like I was the target audience. Perhaps I’m too jaded or too cynical, unable to be shocked by much in these frenetic and chaotic days. Or maybe I just needed more than the one drink I had at the bar to loosen me up enough to be shocked.

Because the content of the show was meant to shock. The songs were mostly about the things we don’t speak of – the sexual taboos, the not-so-sexy urges, the bad relationships gone worse, the crap that makes life so sexy sometimes and so crappy at others. From UTIs to lactose intolerance, from failed attempts at self-pleasure to failed attempts to resist booty calls, from the fact that even our parents do it to a duet about booty, the songs hit on the stuff we think and feel and maybe even talk about, but very rarely drag onstage. But once onstage, the show’s performers didn’t hold back.
And that was the real pleasure of the evening – seeing these really gifted singers and comedians give it their all. Most all of them accompanied themselves or others with guitars or ukuleles at some point (one tune found SIX guitars being strummed while the logistics of a sixsome were discussed). And all of them can sing their booties off, both as lead vocalists and harmonists. But it was the ensemble’s willingness to leave it all onstage that impressed me most. Clothes were removed. Bodies were contorted. Audience members were dragged onstage, or made a part of the show where they sat. While this audience member might not have been shocked, he had a smile on his face the whole time, impressed by the job the cast did.

Individual talents that made an impression on me were many, even as the cast worked well together. Di Billick – one of the pre-show greeters – stole most scenes she was in. Jake Feeny and Alex Madda added spunk to their fine vocals. Andy Orscheln was often found with a guitar in-hand, and always radiated how much he enjoyed performing. Katie Maggart’s girl-next-door charm nicely complimented the show’s more risqué moments. Chad Michael Innis was a standout – hilarious and insistent, all over the place. But the star, for me, was Marco Braun – another cast member milling around the audience before the show. A burly and bawdy Jonah Hill type, Braun captured our focus whenever he was onstage with his beaming smile, his (oft-unclothed) physique, and his irresistible presence.
So, no matter my personal reaction to the material, I had a good time watching a troupe of gifted entertainers deliver it. For those who are more easily shocked than I am, then you’ll love letting these folks shock. And for those who want to support our city’s gifted entertainers, you can find them in the Cab theater at Stage 773 every Saturday at 8pm.

It turns out I did spend my Saturday evening learning what happens when those eager, energetic, and talented theater kids we all knew in school turn into grownups. They become eager, energetic, and talented performers who put on a hell of a show. And Chicago’s theater and comedy communities – and those who enjoy the shows they put on – are lucky to have them.

Published in Theatre in Review

The “Girls” are headed to Boystown! After an eleven-week sell-out run, including two extensions at Mary's Attic in Andersonville, Hell in a Handbag Production' campy world premiere THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES is transferring to Lakeview's Stage 773 for an additional six-weeks. The new condensed late-night edition will feature the best of the original run – plus new material. Written by David Cerda and directed by Shade Murray, the campy parody of one of TV's most beloved sitcoms will play Saturdays at 10:30 pm from October 7 – November 11, 2017, following performances of Handbag's upcoming world premiere of BEWILDERED, a musical parody of the classic TV sitcom Bewitched. Tickets for both productions are are currently available at www.stage773.com, www.handbagproductions.org, in person the Stage 773 box office (1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago) or by calling (773) 327-5252.  
 
Enjoy lost, never-before-seen episodes of The Golden Girls featuring Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, Sophia and all of the siblings, daughters, sons, characters and rare diseases that were mentioned once, but never again. The production also features The Golden Girls trivia and games to help fully embrace the Miami experience. 
 
The late-night edition will feature original cast members David Cerda as the forthright Dorothy, Ed Jones as the sweet airheaded Rose, AJ Wright as the lusty Blanche and Adrian Hadlock as the sharp tongued Sophia with Chazie Bly and Robert Williams. Plus, watch for special guest stars! 
 
In keeping with the Handbag tradition, THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES is an original parody of the beloved show. Our Golden Girls find themselves in situations never before seen on television – that’s why they’re lost episodes! See Dorothy battle nature as they serve as Den Mothers to a group of Sunshine Cadets. Watch them band together as Rose struggles with a debilitating malady that threatens to tear them apart. Plus, the Stage 773 version will feature a new episode featuring Blanche and a very hot and steamy encounter with a much younger man!
 
The production team for THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES includes: Roger Wykes (set design), Myron Elliot (costume design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Sydney Genco (make-up design), Mealah Heidenreich and Rachel Summerfield (props design).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES
Playwright: David Cerda
Director: Shade Murray
Cast: David Cerda (Dorothy), Adrian Hadlock (Sophia), Ed Jones (Dorothy) and AJ Wright (Blanche) with Chazie Bly and Robert Williams.
 
Location: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Dates: Saturday, October 7 – Saturday, October 11, 2017 
Curtain times: Saturdays at 10:30 pm Oct. 6 thru Nov. 11
Tickets: $22. Group rates $17 for 10 or more. Tickets are currently available at www.stage773.com or www.handbagproductions.org, in person at the Stage 773 box office or by calling (773) 327-5252.
 
The original run of THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPIDODES continues through September 16, 2017 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago. Tickets are www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

 

Published in Upcoming Shows

Hell in a Handbag Productions is pleased to continue its 15th Anniversary Season with the world premiere of BEWILDERED, a musical parody of the classic TV sitcom Bewitched, told from the perspective of Gladys Kravitz, Samantha Stephens’ iconic nosy neighbor. Featuring a book by Ron Weaver, music and lyrics by Aaron Benham and Ron Weaver and direction and choreography by Brigitte Ditmars, BEWILDERED will play September 27 – November 11, 2017 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org and stage773.com, by calling (773) 327-5252 or in person at the Stage 773 box office. 
 
A parody and reimagining of the beloved ‘60s/‘70s television sitcom Bewitched, this spellbinding throwback is told from the point of view of Gladys Kravitz, the poor, misunderstood neighbor who keeps seeing crazy things at the home of Samantha Stephens, a beautiful witch, and her ‘ordinary family.’ Gladys’ husband Abner has had enough and is about to take drastic measures. Can Gladys prove her visions are real without destroying the Stephens family – or is she doomed to a life of pills and institutions? Gladys finally gets her due in this fun and magical musical parody.
 
BEWILDERED features ensemble members David Cerda as Endora, Caitlin Jackson as Gladys Kravitz, Ed Jones as Uncle Arthur, Michael S. Miller as Mr. Tumer and AJ Wright as Darrin G. The production also features Steve Kimbrough as Larry Tate, Matt Miles as Abner, Elizabeth Morgan as Samantha, Scott Sawa as Darrin S. and Robert Williams as Tabitha/Louise. Rounding out the cast are Kira Gaudynski, Jennifer Ledesma, Travis Monroe Neese and Sarah Taylor as Magic Stage Hands.
 
The production team for BEWILDERED includes: Roger Wykes (scenic design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Sydney Genco (make-up design), Mealah Heidenreich (props design) Becca Holloway (assistant director) and Keith Ryan (wig design). 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: BEWILDERED
Book: Ron Weaver
Music and Lyrics: Aaron Benham and Ron Weaver
Director/Choreographer: Brigitte Ditmars
Cast: David Cerda (Endora), Kira Gaudynski (Magic Stage Hand), Caitlin Jackson (Gladys), Ed Jones (Uncle Arthur), Steve Kimbrough (Larry Tate), Jennifer Ledesma (Magic Stage Hand), Matt Miles (Abner), Michael S. Miller (Mr. Tumer), Elizabeth Morgan (Samantha), Travis Monroe Neese (Magic Stage Hand), Scott Sawa (Darrin S.), Sarah Taylor (Magic Stage Hand), Robert Williams (Tabitha/Louise) and AJ Wright (Darrin G.).
 
Location: Stage 773 (Box Theater), 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago
Dates: Previews: Wednesday, September 27 at 7:30 pm, Thursday, September 28 at 7:30 pm, Friday, September 29 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, September 30 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Thursday, October 5 – Saturday, November 11, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, October 15 due to Handbag’s Annual Benefit.
Special Halloween Show: Tuesday, October 31 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: Previews $22 in advance ($25 at door). Regular run $34 in advance ($39 at door). Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org and stage773.com, by calling 773-327-5252, or in person at the Stage 773 box office. 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

American Blues Theater, Chicago’s second oldest Equity Ensemble, under the continued leadership of Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, announces the 2017 Blue Ink Playwriting Festival.  The Blue Ink Festival will feature staged readings of four exceptional new plays held May 22 – 25, 2017 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont or American Blues Theater, 4809 N. Ravenswood, in Chicago.
 
This year’s Blue Ink Playwriting Festival features staged readings of four new works, including Hype Man by Idris Goodwin, winner of the 2017 National Blue Ink Playwriting Award. The festival also includes readings of featured finalists Flying by Sheila Cowley, Mynx & Savage by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, and This Thing of Ours by Caridad Svich.
 
The 2017 Blue Ink Playwriting Festival schedule and ticket information is as follows:
 
Monday, May 22 at 7pm
HYPE MAN (winner of the 2017 Blue Ink Award)
Written by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Jess McLeod
Featuring Walter Briggs, Rashaad Hall, and Kimberly Vaughn
Location: Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont, Chicago
Tickets: $10
Purchase tickets by calling (773) 654-3103 or online at americanbluestheater.com.
 
HYPE MAN is a story about a controversial police shooting inflaming tensions between an interracial hip hop trio. It is a rhythmically woven drama exploring race, representation, fame and friendship.  A post-reading discussion with playwright Idris Goodwin will follow the performance.
 
American Blues previously named Idris Goodwin the winner of the 2017 National Blue Ink Playwriting Award. Goodwin’s play, HYPE MAN, was selected from a pool 543 submissions. As part of the award, Goodwin receives a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to further develop his script with American Blues Theater.
 
Tuesday, May 23 at 7pm
FLYING (featured finalist)
Written by Sheila Cowley
Directed by Heather Meyers
Featuring Ian Paul Custer, Jazmin Corona, Lisa Herceg, John Mohrlein, and Patricia Patton
Location: American Blues Theater, 4809 N. Ravenswood, Chicago
Tickets: FREE (Limited Seating, RSVP Recommended)
Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (773) 654-3103.
 
Susan flew military planes in WWII, so men could go and fight. Now she’s been sent home to get back to normal, while the town waits for her local hero husband to come home.
 
Wednesday, May 24 at 7pm
MYNX & SAVAGE (featured finalist)
Written by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill
Directed by Elyse Dolan
Featuring Clara Byczkowski, Jennifer Cheung, Jesse Massaro, and Nelson Rodriguez
Location: American Blues Theater, 4809 N. Ravenswood, Chicago
Tickets: FREE (Limited Seating, RSVP Recommended)
Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (773) 654-3103.
 
MYNX & SAVAGE is a tri-level story of a comic book writer, the characters of his superhero story, and the creatures of his “serious” work. When corporate powers start pushing him to produce, he is torn between the comfort of fantasy and the necessary truth.
 
Thursday, May 25 at 7pm
THIS THING OF OURS (featured finalist)
Written by Caridad Svich
Directed by Isaac Gomez
Featuring Debbie Banos, Andrew Goetten, Rashaad Hall, Priya Mohanty, and Avi Roque
Location: American Blues Theater, 4809 N. Ravenswood, Chicago
Tickets: FREE (Limited Seating, RSVP Recommended)
Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (773) 654-3103.
 
An act of violence struck our city. This has happened before. We say we will put our lives back together. Years will go by. We will grow apart, come together, have children, and some of us, will wonder how to keep going, as we turn to myths and seek lessons there. In our theaters of memory, in our songs of transcendence, perhaps we will find peace.
 
About American Blues Theater
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious 2016 National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home.  American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.
 
The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago.  The 37-member Ensemble has 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2016, the theater and artists received 186 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 31 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.  
 
The American Blues Theater Ensemble includes all four Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and William Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Manny Buckley, Kate Buddeke, Sarah Burnham, Dara Cameron, Casey Campbell, Darren Canady, Brian Claggett, Dennis Cockrum, Austin Cook, Laura Coover, Ian Paul Custer, Lauri Dahl, Joe Foust, Cheryl Graeff, Marty Higginbotham, Jaclyn Holsey, Lindsay Jones, Nambi E. Kelley, Kevin R. Kelly, Steve Key, Ed Kross, Warren Levon, Michael Mahler, Heather Meyers, John Mohrlein, Christopher J. Neville, Suzanne Petri, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, Sarah E. Ross, and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Stage 773 Director of Theatre Management Jill Valentine and co-producer Liz McArthur are thrilled to announce the highly anticipated lineup for the 6th Annual Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, taking place June 15 through June 18 at the comedy hub of Chicago, Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. The Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, the largest of its kind in the nation, features a melting pot of comedic genres, including everything from ‘highbrow musical improv’ to ‘relatable stand-up’ to ‘character driven sketch’. Blending long term veterans with fresh newcomers, the fest packs over 80 shows into four funny-filled days. Stage 773 has made it easier than ever to discover new groups to love, allowing patrons to filter through art forms, a rating and keywords to find their own taste in comedy. The full schedule and searchable calendar for the 6th Annual Chicago Women’s Funny Festival can be viewed at www.stage773.com/WomensFestCalendar
 
“We are extremely excited to be celebrating the sixth year of the festival and to host some of the best women in comedy in the nation,” said Valentine. “Having women from all different comedic art forms come together and celebrate under one roof in Chicago is something that is very special to us and the community.”
 
Featuring both fresh and familiar faces, highlights for 2017 include the return of comedy powerhouse Kristen Toomey, who has packed the lineup with some of Chicago’s best talent for a series of stand-up showcases, Her Story Theater, which made its mark on the scene by creating original plays based on Chicago lives that reflect national concerns, Matt Damon Improv, comprised of all women of color “slaying improv comedy,” and Strip Joker, featuring a hilarious roster of stand-up comics who are willing to bare it all in the spirit of totally vulnerable, inclusive, and uncensored comedy. Stand-up favorites include the debut of Montreal-based D.J. Mausner, who at 22 years old she is already an award winning stand-up, sketch, and improv master, LA-based Jen Murray and winner of the IO West Comedy Festival's "Best Comedian" Award in 2015, and transgender standup comedian Dina Nina Martinez, who the Late Late Show’s James Corden hails as “…very funny.”
 
Additional highlights include the return of Katie Rich with former SC Mainstage/Consultant for Onion News Network, Holly Laurent, in their improv duo Joan and Ro; Chicago Sketchfest veteran groups Off Off Broadzway, The Cupid Players and Rehner and Nixon; Improv veterans Susan Messing and Rachel Mason in The Boys; Comedic dance troupe Matter Dance and much more.
 
Chicago Women’s Funny Festival was founded in 2012 when producers Jill Valentine and Liz McArthur wanted to build a comedy festival where women could come together and celebrate all art forms of comedy under one roof. The first festival boasted 66 shows and 400 performers in five days. Women’s Fest also hosted events throughout the week where women from across the country could network with each other and more importantly, celebrate one another’s work. The response from comediennes and audience members was overwhelmingly positive – which is why the festival is coming back for a sixth year.
 
Jill Valentine is a Chicago Southside native who has been the Executive Director of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (also the largest of its kind in the nation) since the festival’s inception in 2000. She is also a founder of Stage 773, as well as the Director of Theatre Management. Jill performs in several popular and critically acclaimed groups in Chicago, including The Cupid Players, Off Off Broadzway and Feminine Gentleman who have performed all over the country.
 
Liz McArthur hails from St. Louis and has worked with The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival since 2005. McArthur can be seen with groups such as Off Off Broadzway, OneTwoThree Comedy, and Feminine Gentlemen. McArthur is also part of the hit zombie comedy Musical of the Living Dead.
 
All performances will take place at Chicago’s home for the city’s most innovative, creative and passionate off-Loop performing artists, Stage 773, located at 1225 W. Belmont. Stage 773 is a non-profit Chicago company that produces The Cupid Players, Bri-Ko, The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, education and program opportunities, as well as offering subsidized theater rental space to the hundreds of Chicago’s itinerant off-Loop companies and performers.
 
The 6th Annual Chicago Women’s Funny Festival runs June 15 – June 18, 2016. Performances are Thursday, June 15th at 8 - 10 p.m., Friday, June 16th at 8 - 11 p.m., Saturday, June 17th at 4:30 - 11 p.m., and Sunday, June 18th at 2 - 7 p.m.  Tickets go on sale Monday, May 15th. Individual ticket prices are $15, and festival passes are available for $37.50 (Thursday), $47.50 (Friday), $57.50 (Sunday) or $100 for an all festival pass (Thursday – Sunday). Sunday three show flex passes are available for $33.  All tickets and festival passes may be purchased at www.Stage773.com, by phone at 773.327.5252, and in person at the Stage 773 box office. 
 
ABOUT STAGE 773

Stage 773 is a vibrant anchor of the Belmont Theatre District and home to Chicago’s finest off-Loop talent. As a performance and tenant venue, our four stages provide entertainment for everyone: comedy, theatre, dance, musicals and more. We are a not-for- profit, connecting and catalyzing the theater community, while showcasing established artists and incubating up-and- coming talent.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Thursday, 20 April 2017 11:05

Review: "Marry Me A Little" at Stage 773

How nice that even songs Stephen Sondheim cut from his own musicals can still find a home. “Marry Me a Little” is a 1981 songbook musical assembled by Sondheim. It’s a review of songs he wrote for various musicals in the 60's and 70's but were cut or unfinished. “Marry Me a Little” is a show performed without dialogue. The plot is pretty simple: a man (Austin Cook) and a woman (Bethany Thomas) are two artists who live a floor apart in a New York City apartment building. A chance meeting sends them down a standard relationship path. Or does it? 

 

You may already be asking yourself, why see this show? To be fair, it’s not a great script and like its sister Sondheim review “Putting it Together” – opinions are generally mixed. The script isn’t the point though. “Marry Me a Little” is a great chance to glean some insight into Sondheim’s creative process and hear some strong voices singing great songs you may not otherwise be familiar with. 

 

Director Jess McLeod’s vision for this semi-modernized “Marry Me a Little” is sleek and cool. The décor in both apartments looks directly out of a West Elm catalog. Costumes by Stephanie Cluggish fit right in, you’ll definitely want a pair of the cool shoes The Woman struts around in. 

 

What will certainly resonate after an hour and a half of continuous singing are these two voices. It would difficult for any co-star to match the vocal talents of Bethany Thomas, but Austin Cook holds his own. Cook is also the music director here and spends a great deal of the show parked at the piano. It’s nice to see the usual music director on stage and killing the piano. Without speaking a single word, these two are selling the magic of romance, all its ups and downs. If there’s one number worth coming for it has to be “Can That Boy Foxtrot” originally written for “Follies.” Bethany Thomas’ playful and sexy interpretation will bring a smile to your face. 

 

“Marry Me a Little” may not be the opus “Sunday in the Park with George” but it’s a great way to spend some time with Sondheim’s lyrical genius. With a short run time and overly romantic plotline, this stylish production would surely make for a charming first date. 

 

Through May 21 at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Stephen Sondheim's "Marry Me a Little" is just around the corner, but how much do you really know about this Porchlight premiere? Here are 10 things you might not know about this rarely seen Stephen Sondheim revue - Opening April 14 at Stage 773! Tickets and show information are available at http://porchlightmusictheatre.org/marry-me-a-little/.

 

"Marry Me a Little" debuted professionally in 1981 off-Broadway at The Actors Playhouse. The production set into a new dramatic context songs cut from Sondheim musicals produced up until that time, as well as songs from his then-unproduced musical "Saturday Night," "The Last Resorts," an abandoned project he was working on with playwright Jean Kerr, and "The Girls of Summer," the 1956 play of the same name by N. Richard Nash for which Sondheim created incidental music.

 

"Marry Me a Little" is the only Sondheim project that has a cast of two Bethany Thomas and Austin Cook play singles living in the same urban apartment building, both looking for love and not knowing their possible mate is just one floor away.

 

Bethany Thomas recently released her FIRST ALBUM! Titled "First," it is now available through CDBaby (iTunes soon to follow) and is currently streaming on Spotify.

 

Bethany Thomas first appeared at Porchlight Music Theatre in "Children of Eden" at the age of 19! She has also appeared here in "Into The Woods," "Once On This Island" among others, as well as numerous Chicago Sings concerts.

 

Austin Cook has twice received the Equity Jeff Award for his work here at Porchlight. In 2014, he received the award for Artistic Specialization for his work on "Ain't Misbehavin'"and again the following year for Music Direction for his outstanding contributions to our Chicago premiere of "Sondheim on Sondheim."

 

Austin Cook in NYC! Austin Cook currently lives in New York City, where his wife, actress Adrienne Walker, is starring in "The Lion King" on Broadway as "Nala". He has returned to Chicago specifically for this production.

 

Stephen Sondheim and Porchlight

Stephen Sondheim has given Porchlight permission to re-imagine "Marry Me a Little" for this production and to include material written since the show debuted in 1981.

Appearing for the first time in any production of "Marry Me a Little" are:

 

"Second Midnight" (cut from "Into the Woods") Used as the protagonists contemplate children (You're a good person and I'm a good person / You'll be a good father; we'll know what to do. / If / When / How will we say to our child in the night / Nothing's all black but then nothing's all white? / How will we say it will be all right / When we know that it mightn't be true? / What will we do? / I don't understand...) "Honey" (cut from "Merrily We Roll Along") Included to explore persevering in a relationship as things/life get increasingly more difficult. "I Remember Sky" (from the TV production "Evening Primrose") To explore the freedom breaking out of a bad relationship. "You Are the Best Thing That Ever Has Happened To Me" (from "Bounce") Used to explore being in love and writing about it at the same time.

 

Brand new orchestrations!

"Marry Me a Little" was originally presented with piano-only accompaniment. For this production, Austin Cook has created orchestrations for keyboard, cello, drums and flute and Bb clarinet as well has his occasional participation at the baby grand piano.

 

A first for Porchlight

This production will be the first time Porchlight has ever produced a musical "in-the-round."

Director Jess McLeod and Scenic Designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec thought it the best approach to create the "voyeuristic" atmosphere they were looking to achieve for the audience's experience.

 

Porchlight LOVES Sondheim

This is the first time Porchlight has produced "Marry Me a Little," but it's definitely not our first Sondheim.

Other Sondheim productions that have appeared on our stage include:

"Gypsy"

Music by Jule Styne

Book by Arthur Laurents

 

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"

Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart

 

"Anyone Can Whistle"

Book by Arthur Laurents

 

"Company"

Book by George Furth

 

"A Little Night Music"

Book by Hugh Wheeler

 

"Pacific Overtures"

Book by John Weidman

 

"Sweeney Todd"

Book by Hugh Wheeler

 

"Merrily We Roll Along"

Book by George Furth

 

"Sunday in the Park with George"

Book by James Lapine

 

"Into the Woods"

Book by James Lapine

 

"Assassins"

Book by John Weidman

 

"Passion"

Book by James Lapine

 

"Putting it Together"

 

and

"Sondheim on Sondheim"

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

For those looking for about as much funny as can be compacted into sixty minutes, one would be hard pressed to find as many laughs as The Best of Bri-Ko, a sidesplitting theatre experience where the absurd is creatively implemented into a series of sketch acts, each one stranger than the next. 

Stage 773 Creative Director Brian Posen teams up with Chicago comedic forces Tim Soszko and Brian Peterlin to form this hilarious hour-long ride where just a single word is spoken throughout the entire performance. The three theatre veterans are able to inject their unique humorous spin into such simple everyday tasks from changing a light bulb to a having a dinner date that have the audience in stitches from the moment they take the stage to the show’s very climactic ending. A series of props are used in practically every sketch performed including water balloons, heads of lettuce, cream pies and other very messy items, making it as though a tornado had swept through the venue by the show’s end. Caution – you might become a victim of friendly fire.

Varying from one extreme to the other, a heavy-duty Nerf gun war breaks out throughout the crowd to Slayer’s “Angel of Death” while moments later we become subject to a hysterical dance routine to Wilson Phillip’s “Hold On” that you must see to fully appreciate. Adding to the intimate, and very unusual, theatre experience is the fact that the production is performed in Stage 773’s Cab Theatre, a smaller-sized room so as to easily involve the entire audience. 

"With so much buzz today about what's appropriate in comedy, Bri-Ko is a breath of fresh air," says Stage 773 Creative Director Brian Posen. "This is a hilariously entertaining show without the politics or controversies you typically see with this genre."

Poesen couldn’t be more correct. If you were to throw bits and pieces into a blender from Blue Man Group, The Marx Brothers and various vaudevillian acts, inject it with steroids, then douse it with Posen, Soszko and Peterlin’s own exclusive brand of humor, you’d have Bri-Ko – a true one-of-a-kind comedy event that goes from 0-60mph in seconds flat. 

Posen, Soszko and Peterlin work incredibly well together, exhibiting not only a well-oiled team chemistry but each having plenty of their own moments mainly done with key facial expressions and challenging physical comedy. No question about it, Bri-Ko is a power-packed hour of pure fun that can be enjoyed over and over again. 

There is no shortage of stage experience in this very exceptional cast. Jeff and After Dark Award Winner Brian Posen has been active in the Chicago theater scene for over 20 years as an actor, producer, director, and teacher. Posen and Peterlin have worked together for years, in 2001, alongside Brian Posen, founding The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, now the largest in the nation. Tim Soszko teaches at Second City, Barrel of Monkeys and Columbia College while performing with many companies including Bri-Ko, The Cupid Players and The Tim and Micah Project.

The Best of Bri-Ko is being performed at Stage 773 in the Cab Theatre each Thursday through March 23rd before reworking material and returning this Fall. 

Very, very recommended.

For tickets and/or more show information click here.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
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