Theatre in Review

Set in the 1930's, this melodrama has all the ingredients you'd expect, sex, drugs, murders and the quick, clever banter of women fighting for their lives in a film noir-colored seedy underworld of a dance hall/nightclub/whorehouse.

 

In the latest Hell in a Handbag production "Lady X - The Musical", director and writer/composer David Cerda plays Scarlet stunningly dressed in delicious blood-red with all of the oomph, hilarity and confident power of his Joan Crawford character. Cerda really is the sun around which all of the talented planets in his cast revolve and he does it with great force and superb dry humor that trumps all and anchors the show with fear of the ultimate female "mob boss" that Hell in a Handbag fans have come to love and expect. Like Cerda says at the end of the show, "Hell in a Handbag is not just a theatre company it's a cult!" 

 

Christea Parent as Mary Dwight, is Lady X whose innocent younger sister comes to town to finish school but ends up tragically caught in the champagne filled "make it rain" dollars mentality. Christea Parent is unbelievably on point as the leader of the dames, the only one with a real purpose in life and the brains enough to stay out of the clutches of the gross "john” and the abusive bosses who take over the club by murdering the previous owner. 

 

Christea Parent, with the help of Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s fabulous period costumes, Keith Ryan’s hysterical and yet perfectly designed and coiffed wigs and Sydney Genco’s detailed makeup designs, (right down to the different types of fake eyelashes for each character) dominates the show with her singing, dancing and fast-talking character reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck. I was dazzled by her mastery of the period acting while keeping her character both funny and deserving of compassion at every level.  

 

Almost all of my Hell in a Handbag fave performers were featured well in this production like Ed Jones, as Estelle, the "oldest whore" in the bunch. Jones is hysterical as always with his slightly breathy, tongue-in-cheek, sympathetic "grandmom” character of the group. Estelle, despite her age has found her perfect baby boy lover in the young Val, played with adorable youthful energy by another Handbag regular, handsome Chazie Bly. Their duet, “A Lovely Pair”, got some of the biggest laughs in the show's numbers and the perfect casting made their May/December romance absolutely understandable and even enviable. 

 

Caitlin Jackson, who blew me AWAY as “Bette, LIVE at the Continental Baths” a few months ago at Theater Wit is Gabby. Her aging and wise Betty Boop-style character is fully formed, lovable and again Jackson brought down the house with her amazing voice during the showstopper “Flim Flam Floozy”.

 

 Elizabeth Lesinski another Hell in a Handbag regular does an amazing job in her role, her comedic touch as perfect as ever. 

 

Wide-eyed director Steve Love enters the show to co-star as Betty Dwight, Mary’s naive kid sister who Mary is trying to keep in school and off the streets. Love is a breath of fresh air in the snake pit of despair these women swim in as the hopeful innocent, tap dancing her way into the audience’s hearts. 

 

Laura Coleman, one of the women playing a man characters is really funny and sharp as Frank Gorham, the attorney seeking justice of his own while Adrian Hadlock, also plays several characters and is really ingenious in his multi-layered portrayals of Crandall, Louie and the Judge.

 

“Lady X” has so many fun and wonderful twists and turns, it would be shame to spoil them all by giving them away, but suffice it to say David Cerda has once again created a whole new world all his own where the lines between male and female, innocent and guilty are marvelously blurred to show the vulnerability of all humankind when pressed to fight for their lives, livelihood and self-respect.

 

Cerda’s play is full of belly laughs from beginning to end and contains several very touching song numbers, like white picket fence, flower-filled "The House on the Hill", which all the women dream of retiring to, the song rounding out the hilarity with genuine sentiment. 

 

"Lady X" is destined to become another Hell in a Handbag hit.  

 

I highly recommend “Lady X"  for ladies , gentlemen and flim flam floozies everywhere seeking to escape from the horrors of the current political landscape facing the LGTBQ community and instead be surrounded by a joyous, celebration of strong women from all walks of life and the dangers they faced in the 30's as well as the dangers they face now.

 

“Lady X - The Musical" is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through June 17th. For more show information or to purchase tickets visit http://www.handbagproductions.org/.   

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Hell in a Handbag Productions is pleased to open its 15th season with the world premiere of LADY X – A MUSICAL, a shocking exposé ripped from the headlines of yesteryear, playing from April 21 – June 10, 2017 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006. 

 

Based on Handbag’s 2010 play of the same name, LADY X – A MUSICAL takes on the black and white crime melodrama films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s the story of seedy nightclubs, the menacing gangsters who run them and the loose women that keep the customers coming back for more! Co-directed by Tommy Bullington and Steve Love with music direction by JD Caudill, the campy new musical parody features a book by Artistic Director David Cerda and music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty. Join Handbag for a glimpse into the world of the 'clip-joint' from days gone by filled with sassy dames, crooked hoods and the regular Joes trying to make a buck. 

 

LADY X – A MUSICAL will feature Chazie Bly, David Cerda, Laura Coleman, Sydney Genco, Adrian Hadlock, Michael Hampton, Ed Jones, Josh Kemper, Elizabeth Lesinski, Steve Love, Michael S. Miller and Christea Parent.

 

Mary Dwight (Christea Parent) is a gorgeous dame and a tough cookie who knows the score (and then some). Mary spends her nights as a 'clip-joint hostess,' making the customers feel welcome, whether it's sharing a drink with them – or the evening. Mary's got all the angles figured out, until Scarlett Fontanelli (David Cerda) enters the picture. As deadly as she is beautiful, Scarlett will stop at nothing to gain control over this world of underground crime. But Frank Graham (Laura Coleman), a young idealistic Assistant District Attorney, will stop at nothing to bring Scarlett and the Fontanelli syndicate to its knees. Frank wants justice for decent citizens everywhere and for his sister Barbara, a casualty of the Fontanelli family business.

 

Join Mary and her unforgettable pals, the not so bright Emmy Lou (Elizabeth Lesinski), Estelle (Ed Jones), the good-natured tramp with a penchant for funnels and all the good time gals in a tale so startling... so lurid... that only Hell in a Handbag Productions would dare tell it!

 

The production team for LADY X – A MUSICAL includes: Roger Wykes (set design), Austin Lemoine (costume design), Rachel Lake (lighting design), and Mealah Heidenreich (props), Sydney Genco (makeup design) and Michelle Kidd (asst. stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: LADY X – A MUSICAL

Book: David Cerda

Music: David Cerda and Scott Lamberty

Co-Directors: Tommy Bullington and Steve Love

Music Director: JD Caudill

Choreographer: Steve Love 

Cast: Chazie Bly (Val), David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Laura Coleman (Frank Graham), Sydney Genco (Ruby), Adrian Hadlock (Crandall), Michael Hampton (Ape), Ed Jones (Estelle), Josh Kemper (Nelson), Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou), Steve Love (Betty), Michael S. Miller (Gordon) and Christea Parent (Mary).

 

Dates: Previews: Friday, April 21 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, April 23 at 6 pm and Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Saturday, April 29 – Saturday, June 10, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 6:00 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, May 7 or Sunday, June 4. 

Tickets: Previews $12. Regular run $26 in advance, $30 at the door. VIP tickets with cocktail $38 and up. Group rates $21 for or more. Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

 

About the Creative Team

 

David Cerda (Book/Music) is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Hell in a Handbag Productions. He has written and appeared in POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical, The Birds, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, SCARRIE The Musical, Caged Dames, Lady X, How Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Happened, TROGG! A Rock and Roll Musical, Christmas Dearest, Scream, Queen! SCREAM!, The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular and Sexy Baby. His plays have been produced around the country. He has also worked as a songwriter/lyricist with Amazon Films on an animated project and as an actor with various theater companies throughout the city of Chicago. This year Cerda has also been named as an inductee into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for his contributions to Chicago theatre.

 

Scott Lamberty (Music) is a composer, arranger, sound designer and audio engineer who has been bringing sound and music to the Chicago theater scene since the early 1990s. He has written and produced musical scores for more shows than he can count including The Bad Seed The Musical and The Passion Follies at Corn Productions; and Poseidon An Upside Down Musical, The Birds and Rudolph The Red-Hosed Reindeer at Hell in a Handbag Productions. His work as an audio engineer has included the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, Chicago a capella, Music of the Baroque and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. He is the recording engineer for the Ravinia Steans Music Institute.

 

Tommy Bullington (Co-Director) is excited to return to Hell in a Handbag Productions after being seen onstage in The Rip Nelson Holiday Spectacular and served as understudy Chaz Bono in Skooby Don't. Other creative credits include co-directing Circle Theatre’s hit comedy Triassic Parq, serving as assistant director for Factory Theatre’s Hey Dancin! Hey Musical! and assistant directing Drury Lane Oakbrook’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Performing credits include Urinetown the Musical (Officer Barrel) with Boho Theatre, 180 Degree Rule (Berlitz/Freddy) with Babes with Blades Ensemble, Jesus Christ Superstar (King Herod) with Theo Ubique and Return of Neverland (Smee) with Quest Theatre for which he won a Jeff Award for Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical.  Tommy has also worked with such companies as Porchlight Music Theatre, Raven Theatre, Kokandy Productions and Emerald City Theatre.

 

Steve Love (Co-Director/Choreographer) is a Handbag ensemble member, and a two-time Jeff Award nominee (Best Supporting Actor, Best Choreography). Recent creative credits include last year's production of Christmas Dearest (Director/Choreographer, HIAH), and Northlight Theatre's production of Charm (Choreographer). Recent performing credits include Miracle! (Helen) with HIAH; Kin Folk (Arethin) and Stanley in the Name of Love (Stanley) with The New Colony. Steve has worked on stages on the East Coast, the Midwest and throughout the Caribbean aboard Disney Cruise Lines. 

 

JD Caudill (Music Director) is an emerging director and music director from Ohio, where they studied musical theatre performance, directing and psychology at Bowling Green State University. Since arriving in Chicago two years ago, they have directed for The New Colony (Face the Day), Arc Theatre (Can Cause Death; Homecoming), Hobo Junction (Aquaman!; Urges), Broken Nose Theatre (Tuesday), 20% Theatre (Ellen, The Bean, and Nelle), Red Theatre (Ring a Bell), The Runaways Lab Theatre (Spectrum), Paragon Theatre (The Rhode Island Chapter), co-directed After Orlando (Pride Plays and Films), and was featured as a director in Haven Theatre’s first Director’s Haven (Jane Doe 232). This is JD’s fourth time music directing for Hell in a Handbag Productions (Skooby, Don’t!; The Rip Nelson Holiday Spectacular; Christmas Dearest), and they created harmonies and coached vocals for The New Colony’s Stanley in the Name of Love. Along with directing and music directing, they’ve stayed busy assistant directing for The New Colony (Kinfolk; Stanley in the Name of Love), The Metropolis (R&G Are Dead), 16th Street Theater (Merchild; Agreed Upon Fictions), and Hobo Junction (Sure Thing). 

 

About Hell in a Handbag Productions

Hell in a Handbag is dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and celebration of works ingrained in the realm of popular culture via theatrical productions through parody, music and homage. Handbag is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit.

 

For additional information, visit www.handbagproductions.org.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Hold the presses! Hell in a Handbag Productions announced today it will open its 15th season with the world premiere of LADY X – A MUSICAL, a shocking exposé ripped from the headlines of yesteryear! LADY X will replace the previously announced musical VALLEY!, from April 21 – June 11, 2017 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago.  

 

Based on Handbag’s 2010 play of the same name, LADY X – A MUSICAL takes on the black and white crime melodrama films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s the story of seedy nightclubs, the menacing gangsters that run them and the loose women that keep the customers coming back for more! Co-directed by Tommy Bullington and Steve Love with music direction by JD Caudill, the campy new musical parody features a book by Artistic Director David Cerda, music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty. Join Handbag for a glimpse into the world of the 'clip-joint' from days gone by filled with sassy dames, crooked hoods and the regular Joes trying to make a buck. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006. The press opening is Friday, April 28 at 7:30 pm.

 

Mary Dwight is a gorgeous dame and a tough cookie who knows the score (and then some). Mary spends her nights as a 'clip-joint hostess,' making the customers feel welcome, whether it's sharing a drink with them – or the evening. Mary's got all the angles figured out, until Scarlett Fontanelli (David Cerda) enters the picture. As deadly as she is beautiful, Scarlett will stop at nothing to gain control over this world of underground crime. But Frank Graham, a young idealistic Assistant District Attorney, will stop at nothing to bring Scarlett and the Fontanelli syndicate to its knees. Frank wants justice for decent citizens everywhere and for his sister Barbara, a casualty of the Fontanelli family business.

 

Join Mary and her unforgettable pals, the not so bright Emmy Lou (Elizabeth Lesinski), Estelle (Ed Jones), the good natured tramp with a penchant for funnels and all the good time gals in a tale so startling... so lurid... that only Hell in a Handbag Productions would dare tell it!

 

The production team for LADY X – A MUSICAL includes Austin Lemoine (costume design) and Mealah Heidenreich (props).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: LADY X – A MUSICAL

Book: David Cerda

Music: David Cerda and Scott Lamberty

Co-Directors: Tommy Bullington and Steve Love

Music Director: JD Caudill

Choreographer: Steve Love 

Cast: David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Ed Jones (Estelle) and Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou). Additional casting to be announced.

 

Dates: Previews: Friday, April 21 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, April 23 at 6 pm and Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Saturday, April 29 – Sunday, June 11, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 6:00 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, May 7 or Sunday, June 4. 

Tickets: Previews $12. Regular run $26 in advance, $30 at the door. VIP tickets with cocktail $38 and up. Group rates $21 for or more. Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

Who’s to say how we each should be identified? Whether labeled as a man, woman or even a dragon, those are in fact just that – labels. So why should others tell us how we ought to perceive ourselves? That premise is the foundation in New Colony’s latest production “Kin Folk”, currently being performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park. “Kin Folk” is a well-taught lesson on becoming comfortable in our own skin without being influenced towards self-doubt by those who are quick to tell us what we should be.

After losing their parents, three sisters, Lucy, Eleanor and Mary, gather at their suburban family home while waiting for it to sell. Sitting around a dining room table, each mulls about the future. Eleanor discuss her new life as a newly transitioned woman while Lucy and her husband Toby talk of plans to move to Chicago. Toby wants to move near his church where he can become more involved, often inviting Eleanor to his progressive place of worship that doesn’t care who uses what washroom. The talk is light, the banter pleasant and nothing that is really out of the ordinary.

However, the story takes a big turn when, unknown to the rest of the group, it is discovered that Lucy belongs to a community called Otherkin. Otherkin is a group that encourages people to live as their “true self”, identifying as magical creatures such as a dragon, which Lucy declares herself to be. Lucy, now known as Kreeka, befriends Atherin who leads her to meet Blubberwort, a giant gnome who helps guide her even further down her path of self-actualization. She eventually meets a werewolf named Dusk via a community chat room with whom she instantly clicks and quickly confides.

It’s not long before her family discovers her secret, leaving Lucy to make the tough decision of choosing them or her life with Otherkin. Or can she have both?

I really enjoyed the production’s overall theme and its flavor of humor. The journey is a fun one to watch, as the play is laced with the perfect measure of silliness while not going so far over the top that its message becomes diluted. In fact, it is an effective eye opener as to what people may feel inside but are afraid to state publicly. While Eleanor’s story is already compelling as she begins her new life as the woman she knows she has always been, the parallel story line of Kreeka, though a world recognizing themselves as non-human beings, only adds conviction to the fact that we are who we feel we are.  

“Kin Folk” offers a lively cast that provides plenty of strong acting performances. Annie Prichard is just wonderful as Lucy/Kreeka and really gets to show off her comedic talent while Chris Fowler also delivers as Toby, displaying a well-rounded performance altogether. Vital components to the success of the show’s humor, Andrew Hobgood (Blubberwort) and Steve Love (Arethin) both get a lot of well-earned laughs in their roles as Otherkin Folk. 

Evan Linder does a delightful job directing this play written by William Glick, nicely capturing the essence of each character while delivering Glick’s message with just the right mix of wit and sentiment, making this a summer event to add to your “must do” list. This is a play that is sure to bring out the genie, vampire, fairy or whatever it may be that surfaces within yourself.

“Kin Folk” is being performed at The Den Theatre through August 14th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Hell in a Handbag Productions tests the boundaries of morality once again as only they can, this time kicking off its 2015-16 season with “Miracle!”, the hilarious lampoon of The Miracle Worker. Instead of Helen Keller, we meet Helen Stellar, a deaf and blind 20-year-old drag queen who is thrust into performing at The Brass Connection, otherwise known as The Ass Infection. Written by Dan Savage, a well-known authority and activist on sexuality and GLBTQ issues, “Miracle!” doesn’t hold any punches, unapologetically injecting its braised humor into its audience with rapid fire speed and pinpoint accuracy.

Artistic Director David Cerda is brilliant (as always) as Helen Stellar’s protective drag queen mother and biological father, Crystal Pain, owner and show coordinator of The Brass Connection. Cerda, a true master of satire, takes the role of Crystal and knocks it out of the park with his deadpan delivery, stark remarks and physical comedy. In “Miracle!” we also get a deluge of tremendously funny performances from Handbag favorites Ed Jones, Elizabeth Lesinski, Sydney Genco and Steve Love as well as newcomer Kristopher Bottrall who is very impressive as Bailey Legal.

Everything is going smoothly at The Brass Connection, or so it seems. Gloria Blaze (Jones), Sissy Jizzmore (Jamie Smith) and the girls perform in the club’s nightly revue while Helen Stellar stumbles her way through an awkward dance routine with the help of a shock collar that “protects” her from falling off the stage. But when Bailey Legal gets jealous of the attention that Helen receives, a call is made to Child Protective Services and an investigation ensues as to the child’s well-being. After assessing the situation, caseworker Annie Sullivan (Lesinski) determines that Helen’s environment is unfit for tapping into her true potential. It is soon agreed that Annie take Helen for a period of three weeks so that she can work with her one on one. This proves more difficult than anticipated as Annie tries to connect with Helen by pressing sign language into her hands in relation to surrounding objects. Of course this process, as done by Handbag is also brutally droll.

Still, Annie’s persistence pays off as we begin to see a transformation occur in Helen. As part of her therapy, Annie takes Helen to a lesbian bar (opening up another world to which Savage is able to find the humor) to work out her performance kinks in an attempt to show a shock collar is not needed. Performing with Helen during the bar’s Bearded Slam event is also therapeutic for Annie as she reaches deep inside herself to conquer her own stage insecurities. Before too long, it is time for Annie to return Helen to Crystal as we, the audience, wonder what the outcome will be.  

The humor is offensive, but tasty. It’s campy dialogue gutty and unforgiving yet we relate to it so easily. Perhaps we are looking at something in the neighborhood of Helen Keller meets The Birdcage on crack, and that would be putting it mildly.

As funny as “Miracle!” is, whether a dance and song routine with attitude and pizazz (“Stop in the Name of Love”, for one) or in its multitude of hilarious character interactions, there is actually a heartwarming story taking place with plenty of feel good moments. I’m not going to go as far to say that one might get teary-eyed, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. The show triumpantly ends with a big finale number that has audience members clapping to the beat and cheering for the show’s wonderfully colorful characters.  

As a longtime fan of Cerda, Jones and Lesinski, I am happy to say that this Handbag nucleus of comic wunderkinds have once again hit their stride in what is a fully entertaining story that generates laughs as quickly as its many wig changes.   

“Miracle!” is being performed through July 10th at Mary’s Attic, a cozy upstairs theatre located at 5400 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.handbagproductions.org. If you are looking for a night of memorable comedy in a fun atmosphere, this is a summer event that you will not want to miss. Hell in a Handbag Productions – the king, or queen, of parody done right. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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