Theatre in Review

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 13:40

"We're Gonna Die" But We're Not Alone

There was so much energy when I went into The Den Theatre, which I will rightfully chalk up to Haven Theatre Company’s infectious vibe. Upon entering, patrons were greeted with ear plugs before being thrust into a cloud of fog, as though attending a rock show. Curious, yet anxious, the crowd seemed spunky and exhibited a healthy amount of excitement in simply just being present. Unique and bold, “We’re Gonna Die” is the latest Haven Theatre Company production, and it’s engaging from the word “Go”.  

 

“We’re Gonna Die” features a live band, riveting storytelling and even some stand up comedy as the cast share true to life experiences in order to connect with the audience on a subject that not many choose to talk about – death. Its message is direct. Despite our darkest hours and personal tragedies, we are not alone.

 

When the show begins, Spencer Meeks who plays the guitar, gives us a brief history of the play and how it is part of a 12-part series. With his eyeliner meticulously applied, Meeks promptly kicks off the evening with a loud beat. 

 

Soon after, the main singer played by Isa Arciniegas emerges. She talks about her Uncle John and the experiences she shared with him when she was younger. The band breaks out into a song and it is quickly apparent that Isa is a natural entertainer. Arciniegas’ energy is contagious as she runs back and forth on the stage. She proceeds to tell the audience a couple more stories and concludes with a moving song about the death of her father. 

 

Soon, everything comes together. Many people are uncomfortable with death, and to be fair, death is sad. We miss the people we lost and are swiftly enveloped with so many different emotions, first asking ourselves how something so tragic could happen to questioning the fairness in death. As Arciniegas continues to sing, she profoundly exclaims, "We're all going to die!" 

 

In Young Jean Lee's “We’re Gonna Die” it is somehow made okay to be comfortable with death, a point made while jamming along with the show’s kick ass drummer played by Sarah Giovannetti. "We're all going to die!" is repeated over and over as confetti pours out from the ceiling along with balloons everywhere. Simply put, the play is a true celebration of life and a reminder that we all should live each day to the fullest since - we are all going to die. 

 

The talented cast and team for "We’re Gonna Die" includes: Isa Arciniegas (singers), Sarah Giovannetti (band), Jordan Harris (band), Elle Walker (band), Spencer Meeks (band) and Kamille Dawkins (singer u/s). The production team for We’re Gonna Die includes: Josh Sobel (director), Abhi Shrestha (assistant director), Julie Leghorn (stage manager), Krista Mickelson (production manager), Spencer Meeks (music director), Claire Chrzan (light designer), Izumi Inaba (costume designer), Mike Mroch (scenic designer), and Jon Martinez (choreographer).

 

Well-directed by Josh Shobel, “We’re Gonna Die” is an interesting play that sheds light on a scary subject. It is a play that really gave me a chance to reflect, as I am sure would be true with the rest of its audience. All in all, I left smiling and excited that I went to the newly renovated Den Theatre (1335 North Milwaukee) to see this very original and thought-provoking play. I recommend checking it out while you can as it will be performed through June 4th. Tickets are priced at $18 and can be purchased at www.haventheatrechicago.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Griffin Theatre Company is pleased to announce casting for its newly-orchestrated chamber version of the Tony Award-winning musical RAGTIME, reimagined by director Scott Weinstein with new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman, music direction by Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris and choreography by William Carlos Angulo. With 20 actors, two pianos and a wind instrument, RAGTIME features a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. RAGTIME will play May 27 – July 16, 2017 at The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tickets for RAGTIME are currently available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (866) 811-4111. 

 

RAGTIME will feature Laura McClain as Mother, Denzel Tsopnang as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Jason Richards as Tateh, Katherine Thomas as Sarah, Ben Miller as The Little Boy, Autumn Hlava as The Little Girl, Matt Edmonds as Younger Brother, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, Scott Allen Luke as Father, Neala Barron as Emma Goldman, Caitlin Collins as Evelyn Nesbit, Jonathan Schwart as Henry Ford, Joe Capstick as Harry Houdini, Larry Baldacci as Grandfather, Danielle Davis as Sarah’s Friend, Courtney Jones as Kathleen/Brigit and others, with an ensemble including Marcellus Burt, Arielle Leverett, Alanna Lovely and Juwon Perry.

 

Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, RAGTIME is set at the dawn of a new century where the lives of three distinct American families from different backgrounds intersect in their search for the American dream. Part history lesson—part family saga, this stirring musical asks us think about racism, immigration, social justice, wage inequality and the role of women in society in a changing America. 

 

The production team for RAGTIME includes: William Boles (scenic design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Alex Ridgers (lighting design), Stephen Ptacek (sound design), Catherine Allen (production manager), KZ Wilkerson (asst. director/asst. choreographer) and Katie Messmore (stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: RAGTIME

Book: Terrence McNally

Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

Music: Stephen Flaherty

Director: Scott Weinstein

New Orchestrations/Music Supervisor: Matt Deitchman

Music Direction: Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris

Choreography: William Carlos Angulo.

Associate Director/Associate Choreographer: KZ Wilkerson

 

Cast: Larry Baldacci (Grandfather), Neala Barron (Emma Goldman), Marcellus Burt (Ensemble), Joe Capstick (Harry Houdini), Caitlin Collins (Evelyn Nesbit), Danielle Davis (Sarah’s Friend), Matt Edmonds (Younger Brother), Frederick Harris (Booker T. Washington), Autumn Hlava (The Little Girl), Courtney Jones (Kathleen/Brigit and others), Arielle Leverett (Ensemble), Alanna Lovely (Ensemble), Scott Allen Luke (Father), Laura McClain (Mother), Ben Miller (The Little Boy), Juwon Perry (Ensemble), Jason Richards (Tateh), Jonathan Schwart (Henry Ford), Katherine Thomas (Sarah) and Denzel Tsopnang (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.).

 

Location: The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

Dates: Previews: Saturday, May 27 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, May 28 at 3 pm, Thursday, June 1 at 7:30 pm, Friday, June 2 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 3 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Thursday, June 8 – Sunday, July 16, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. 

Tickets: Previews $30. Regular run $39. Students, seniors & veterans $34 ($25 previews). Group discount are available for groups of ten or more. Tickets are currently available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (866) 811-4111.

 

About the Creative Team

 

Scott Weinstein (Director) previously directed Griffin’s Bat Boy: The Musical, Titanic and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Scott is the Co-Artistic Director of Buzz22 Chicago, where he most recently directed She Kills Monsters as part of Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage Rep Series. Other credits include Seussical and Bolcom’s Fairy Tales (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); A Doll’s House (Buzz22 Chicago); All American (Red Twist); Baristas (NY International Fringe Festival); Ampersand (Bloomington Playwrights Project); and the first full productions of Murder For Two (Adirondack Theatre Festival, Hangar Theatre, 42nd Street Moon). Scott is the recipient of a Berkshire Theatre Festival Directing Fellowship and a Stage Directors and Choreographers Society Observership. He is currently the Associate Director for the National Tour, Las Vegas and Chicago productions of Million Dollar Quartet. He is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and proud graduate of Northwestern University. Weinstein recently won a Jeff Award for his direction of the musical Rent for Theo Ubique Theatre.

 

Matt Deitchman (New Orchestrations/Music Supervisor) is a Chicago based actor, music director and composer and multi-instrumentalist originally from Allendale, New Jersey. Music credits include: Tug Of War, Road Show, Seussical, Shrek (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Adding Machine, Into the Woods (The Hypocrites); The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Mercury Theater); Hero (Asolo Repertory Theatre & Marriott Theatre); King & I, The Wizard Of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, For The Boys (Marriott Theatre); She Kills Monsters (Steppenwolf Garage-Original Score); Do Over (MIC - Original Music/Lyrics Co-Write); Spelling Bee (Griffin Theatre); Do I Hear a Waltz?, The Baker’s Wife, The Pajama Game (Music Theatre Company); and Found (American Music Theater Project). Matt graduated from the Northwestern University Theatre Department where he twice music directed, composed, and orchestrated for the annual Waa-Mu and was the recipient of the Peggy Dow and Frank Gamble Fitzpatrick Scholarships, as well as the prestigious Sarah Siddons Scholarship Award for excellence in Musical Theatre.

 

Jermaine Hill (Music Director) is thrilled to be working on his first production with Griffin Theatre Company. An actor, singer, music director, arranger/orchestrator, pianist and vocal coach originally from New York City, he recently music directed The Gefilte Fish Chronicles (Chicago Music Theatre Festival), Godspell and Bonnie and Clyde (Actors Training Center), and was music arranger for Barney: The Elf (The Other Theatre Company). Upcoming music directing credits include Madagascar (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) and two productions in the 2017-2018 Porchlight Music Theatre season. Performance highlights include Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall), the Aldeburgh Festival (U.K.), The Lost Colony (Manteo, N.C.), two seasons at the Capitol Theatre (Rome, N.Y.), and a commercial with the Onion Labs/NBC. He is currently an assistant professor of theatre at North Central College, where he coordinates the musical theatre and dance programs. He is a proud graduate of Ithaca College and the New England Conservatory of Music, and is proudly represented by Gray Talent Group. jermainehillmusic.com

 

Ellen Morris (Music Director) is a Chicagoland music director and teaching artist. Recent professional theater credits include Next to Normal, Dogfight (Boho Theatre), Adding Machine, (The Hypocrites), The Velveteen Rabbit (The Marriott Theatre) and Northanger Abbey (Lifeline Theatre). She is the resident music director and a voice teacher at the Wilmette Park District and also teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago and Northwestern. Ellen is a proud Northwestern graduate. 

 

The Griffin Theatre's 2016/2017 Premiere Season Sponsor is Brenda & James Grusecki with additional season sponsor support from Jeff Graves Realtor @properties, Kassie Davis & Bruce Beatus, Mary Grover, Randy & Lloyd Gussis, Claire Conley & Joan Mazzonelli.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is a Blue Star Theater and is proud to support our military enlisted and veterans. 

 

About Griffin Theatre Company

Established in 1988 and celebrating its 29th season, the mission of the Griffin Theatre Company is to create extraordinary and meaningful theatrical experiences for both children and adults by building bridges of understanding between generations that instill in its audience an appreciation of the performing arts. Through artistic collaboration the Griffin Theatre Company produces literary adaptations, original work and classic plays that challenge and inspire, with wit, style and compassion for the audience.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is the recipient of 105 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for theater excellence in Chicago. The Griffin was the repeat winner of the 2016 Jeff Award for “Best Production of a Play” for London Wall having won the same award in 2015 for its production of Men Should Weep.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

 

For additional information, visit www.griffintheatre.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

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

In the early 90’s, the now defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News, published a story about a creature - half boy half bat - found in a West Virginia cave. That story became the inspiration for Bat Boy: The Musical written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe.  The first production opened in 1997 and the show made its off-Broadway premier in 2001 quickly becoming a cult hit.

 

The show opens as a few residents of Hope Falls happen upon the Bat Boy while spelunking. Surprised by the visitors to his cave, Bat Boy attacks Ruthie and is then captured by her brothers Ron and Rick. They turn him over to the local sheriff, who drops him off at the home of the town veterinarian, Dr. Parker, hoping he will be able to put him down humanely. The vet’s wife and teenage daughter Shelley have different plans however, somewhat to the chagrin of Dr. Parker. They feed him, get to know him and eventually come to care for him, teaching him and helping him grow into a “normal” member of society. The folks of Hope Falls however, are scared of Bat Boy but Mrs. Parker and Shelley work hard to win them over, until things start to fall apart and truths start to be revealed that shed a whole new light on Bat Boy and his family.

 

Falling into the genre of horror/comedy musical, this show is unique from the start. It touches on some heavier themes such as racism, bias, revenge, understanding and forgiveness but with well-timed comedic moments and campy songs it keeps things from getting too dark. The story continues to throw curveballs right up until the end, keeping the audience entertained, surprised and even touched. It challenges the audience to think about their own biases while making light of some very heavy topics with some hilarious moments that have everyone laughing out loud.

 

The performance was polished and well put together under the direction of Scott Weinstein. The cast of 10 actors, representing twenty-two different roles, were spectacular. They shifted from character to character perfectly, often portraying female characters in drag which felt like a perfect fit for this show.  Everyone played a huge role in the show and brought both strong acting, good timing and strong vocal performances together to create an overall excellent show.

 

Staged in The Den Theatre, it made the most of an intimate space. The set was well designed by Jeff Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault and the set transitions appeared seamless. With some of the seating practically on stage, and set pieces allowing for lots of movement and levels on the stage it created a very unique experience. In some scenes, the entire audience seemed to become part of the show, as the actors broke the 4th wall and interacted directly with them.

 

Bat Boy: The Musical is certainly a one of a kind musical. It may not be for everyone’s taste as it does include some rude humor and pretty twisted storylines but it is a hilarious and excellently executed show so if you are looking for something a bit unique to break up the monotony of cookie cutter musicals, this is it! Get your tickets and check it out before the run ends on July 24th!

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Chicagoans' love for historical dramas and our ghost and gangster bus tours are very popular here, so it is not surprising that this very well written and performed ensemble play about the very real, tragic Iroquois Theater fire in 1903 that killed over six hundred people packed in for an oversold Christmas winter matinee would be such a popular production even during the Holiday season. Powerful, heart-rending, imaginative and filled with dark humor, “Burning Bluebeard” is wonderfully directed by Halena Kays, who is able to so effectively take us back in time to revisit one of the greatest Chicago tragedies in this haunting and magical production.

 

The luxurious brand new and it turns out, unfinished building, The Iroquois Theater, was supposed to be the new "Titanic" of theaters – in this case luxurious and fireproof. So many important things relating to theater safety came out of this tragedy it almost seems destined to have happened in order to teach the world how NOT to construct and maintain theater safety for generations. 

 

Around 3:15 p.m. on December 30th, not long after the second act began, sparks from faulty wiring in a large lighted moon ignited several of the highly flammable scenery props. The stage manager frantically tried to separate the audience from the burning stage by lowering the massive asbestos flame proof curtain, but when it became stuck it did not take long before the quick and furious blaze spread throughout the theater.

 

The theater, which had a max capacity of thirteen hundred, was packed to the gills for this particular matinee performance of Bluebeard with over sixteen hundred audience members, most of whom were women and children. It was so packed that patrons sat in the aisles, squeezed in where they could, blocking doorways in the process. The upper levels were separated from the higher priced seats on the main floor by doors locked with chains so that the children could not "sneak' down to better seats or, as it turned out, escape in case of fire. There were fake doorways covered with heavy black curtains whereas if a perseverant theater goer did manage to break open during an escape attempt, they would find a brick wall on the other side. Wall after wall of glamorous mirrors in the lobby created a funhouse effect further confusing the panicked crowd when they could not find any real windows or unlocked doors.  The fire escapes were not yet completed and reached only halfway down the four story building.

 

Vents in the ceiling were nailed shut and the top of the theater was filled with highly incendiary silk set pieces. The very seats themselves were basically just flammable velvet material stuffed with straw hemp like tinder.

 

Amidst the chaos, unfortunately one of the show’s actors ordered the children, especially those packed shoulder to shoulder in the upper balcony, to sit back down and stay seated until they could exit slowly and safely.  But that was the worst thing they could have done. There were hundreds of performers in this show trapped backstage and when they finally were able to break down the back door which of course was chained and padlocked shut from the outside, it created a backdraft fireball that literally incinerated all of the children and their mothers in the front and upper rows of the balcony so quickly that all of their watches were stopped at precisely the same moment. 

 

Superbly written by Jay Torrence and performed by an outstanding ensemble consisting of Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski, Ryan Walters, Pam Chermansky, Anthony Courser and Molly Plunk, one cannot help but feel the desperation of the original theater crowd along with the relief of being alive in a world where lit EXIT signs and having working fire extinguishers are just part of what one expects for normal audience safety.

 

Every member of this troupe plays a unique role but I have to especially point out Molly Plunk who plays the role of an imaginary faerie queen capable of turning back time and causing the whole event to unfold without danger. Plunk’s delicate and whimsical interpretation of this role is key to keeping hope in the audience alive that somehow reliving this tragedy over and over will cause it not to happen again. 

I have recommended this show highly in the past and every friend I've sent young or old has had the same magical experience watching this unique, darkly funny, and fantastic production. Now in its fourth year, due to the show’s growing popularity, “Burning Bluebeard” has moved to yet a larger venue in The Den Theatre. Performed through January 10th, The Ruffians’ collaboration with The Hypocrites’ “Burning Bluebeard” has become a holiday hit in Chicago and is a sure-fire must see.

More show info can be found www.the-hypocrites.com. The show last approximately one hour and forty minutes with no intermission.

  

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

When I think of Green Day’s American Idiot, the thought of the majority of our population blindly falling in line with the agenda of media conglomerates comes to mind. It's true. America’s youth (and not so youthful) is influenced by suggestive ad campaigns, TV and film brainwashing and so forth – thus, potentially becoming the “American Idiot”. Of course if you look even deeper (and it’s hardly a secret at this point) you’ll see that media is greatly controlled by corporations, which in turn largely influences the government and vice versa, so in fact Green Day’s album American Idiot suggests the average American is literally a sculpted product of the corporate world while choices and freedoms are merely an illusion to those who do not know better.  

Though I expected the production of “American Idiot” to even enhance the album’s overall theme a little more directly, it still made its point well. “American Idiot”, currently playing at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, is the story of three youths that go in the wrong direction after unconscious exposure to selective, and purposely directed, life-long media blitzing – which is entertaining in itself, but as the show progresses it becomes more about rectifying wrongs, if possible. In short, three fed up friends take separate paths, all of which seem exciting at times, only to reunite as learned individuals at the end after their paths are simultaneously met with a longing for better lives on their own terms. It is also the story of succumbing to temptation, wrong choices, consequences and perseverance.  

Luke Linsteadt stars as “Johnny”, whom the story revolves around, and while exuding a tremendous amount of energy, he also lets loose a singing voice that works very well for the role. Linsteadt’s character is complex as it can be fun. “Johnny’s” friends “Will” and “Tunny” are played by Steven Perkins and Jay W. Cullen, both roles requiring their share of lead vocals. Perkins and Cullen both have their shining moments as does Krystal Worrell who is well cast as “Whatshername”, Johnny’s girlfriend who joins him in his journey of sex and drugs until they part after realizing their relationship is mutually damaging. The ensemble is fun and lively to the point we undoubtedly know each one of them are really enjoying their roles.      

An urban-like, graffiti-stained stage is background for the story, creating a simple, but sensible set. Intense dance numbers and rocking music pave the road for this quick-moving, never-boring production. Another refreshing facet of this production is seeing it removed from its usually big budget, large venue, Broadway-esque state - to which it becomes almost commercialized. Rather, The Hypocrites presentation of “American Idiot” at The Den Theatre is a much more intimate experience with a much more organic feel and genuineness that cannot be always be found in massive productions. Outside of a few vocal and instrument sound levels that could use a bit of adjusting, this is a show that really comes alive and reaches its audience in the way that it was probably originally envisioned.

What made the show even more enjoyable was the band playing in full view and the arsenal of Green Day songs played in their musical-ized versions. Different than most bands, musicians are interchangeable depending on the song and scene - a very entertaining aspect of this version as in “Who’s going to play drums on the next song?” Green Day songs in the show included, “Know Your Enemy”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “When It’s Time” and “American Idiot”. Musically, the show was a gratifying journey in itself. Kudos all around to a great production team and cast.

 

“American Idiot” is a 2010 Tony Award nominated Best Musical and 2010 Grammy Winner for Best Musical Show Album. This is a show that certainly has its share of energy, music and youth. Playing through October 25th at The Den Theatre, this is a show most should appreciate, Green Day fan or not. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.the-hypocrites.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

The Chicago Musical Theater Festival is produced by the Underscore Theater Company as a forum for musical theater creators and artists to bring new musicals to the stage in a more low risk environment. In its second year, the fest features thirteen new works all sharing the stage in over 60 performances at The Den Theater.

Dirty Girl is presented by the New American Folk Theater, and was written by Anthony Whitaker. It is a retelling of the classic Cinderella story set in a fictitious trailer park in Georgia, 1987. Jennifer dreams of going to her prom, but has no date, no dress and no support from her step aunt or step cousins, Tami and Tammy, who lovingly refer to her as Dirty Girl. Lucky for her, her fairy god cousin by marriage comes to her rescue with a delightfully 80’s prom dress and a date with the most popular high school jock. But the prom is not the happily ever after Jennifer dreamed of and she learns that in real life there are no magical solutions to your problems and you have to find your own happy ending.

As the show shares the stage with thirteen other musicals during this festival, the set is very minimal. It is a black box style theater and they creatively maneuver a few chairs, a bench and a table to transport us from the trailer, to the school cafeteria, to the mall and of course the prom! The commitment of the actors to their over the top characters helps to fill the otherwise simple space.  

The show entertains with witty humor in both the dialog and songs, boasting more 1980’s references than you can count. The strongest singers are definitely the two main characters, Jennifer (Sarah Gise) and Randy/Troy (Kirk Jackson). Overall the acting was good, embracing the caricatures of the trailer park friends and family. Grant Drager’s portrayal of Tami is fantastic and just what you would want the trailer trash version of an ugly stepsister to be, while Coco Kasperowicz’s Tammy seemed to fluctuate in and out of character. The choreography was pretty kitschy with moves more commonly seen in an elementary school dance recital but somehow it seemed to work with the exaggerated stereotypes of the show. The costumes were colorful and just a bit tacky (as they should be!) with a bit of rebellious goth punk fashion tossed in for good measure.

Amidst all the overblown characters and silly songs, the show still draws you in and makes you care. When Jennifer takes ownership of her happy ending and reunites with Troy, the nerd who adores her, for a quiet night in watching a recording of the Dukes of Hazard special, it will warm your heart.

It may not be the clean and polished musical many are used to, but Dirty Girl is funny and full of characters that you will love or love to hate. If you grew up in the 80’s it will be especially entertaining, bringing back memories of neon spandex, taffeta prom dresses and big hair and sure to get a few laughs out of you.

Catch an upcoming performance Dirty Girl at The Den Theater as part of the Chicago Musical Theater Festival:

Wednesday, July 8th @ 9:30pm

Saturday, July 11th @ 5:30pm

Thursday, July 16th @6:00 pm

Sunday, July 19th @ noon

Published in Theatre Reviews
Friday, 03 July 2015 00:00

CMTF Continues with One Thousand Words

Underscore Theatre Company is in the midst of their second annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival at The Den Theatre where it is host to thirteen brand new musicals submitted by a slew of local theatre companies. Though some musicals presented come from theatre companies more polished than others, the event is a fantastic passage for the development of new, creative theatre productions in the Chicago area. A handful of submitted plays are production-ready while some are completed works. Some of the theatre companies involved include the New American Folk Theatre (“Dirty Girl”), American Demigods (“Fanatical”), Duplicity Ensemble (“Marble, GA”).

Day two of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival introduced “One Thousand Words”, a musical with the book and lyrics by Michael Braud and music by Curran Latas. When a reporter, Richard Hanks, is assigned to write a thousand words about two men in love during World War II, he is at first disappointed because he’d rather be in Pakistan covering the current tension in the area. After his editor dangles a carrot in front of the horse-drawn carriage by semi-promising she would send him on the overseas assignment once he successfully handles the task at hand, Hanks decides to write the story of the year and delves into the lives of these two men whose story comes from an intimate photo of the two while in World War II. After tracking down Warren, now eighty-years-old, he is taken back to the 1940s where he hears the story of two men who hid their love for each other before, during and after wartime and the circumstances and obstacles that they had to face. Hanks becomes transfixed by Warren’s story and possibly affected much more than he expected.

The story is simple enough. It flows well without confusion and the dialogue is fairly engaging. Its songs are not likely to be remembered afterwards for their melody though they did strengthen certain points in the show by capturing the appropriate tone of the moment despite singing that is best described as hit or miss. The set is as minimalistic as they come furnished with only a couple crates, leaving much to the imagination, as the space it used for each and every production in the festival and requires a quick turnaround.  

Joe Hornberger does give a strong performance as “Warren” and is one of the better singers in the cast, while Justin Stevens pairs up with him nicely as “Daniel”, his lover. At first one might think the two a bit miscast and unlikely as lovers, but the pair begins to make more and more sense as the story progresses and become quite believable. One needs to keep in mind that thirteen musicals are sharing the same space for multiple performances in a few weeks’ time, so there might be missed spotlight marks, minor production tweaking per show and somewhat barren sets. The main purpose is for Chicagoans to experience and support local theatre in development and hopefully be entertained while doing so. One Thousand Words contains enough positives to keep it interesting.   

One Thousand Words can be seen at The Den Theatre:                                    

Tuesday, July 07, 2015 9:30 PM
Saturday, July 11, 2015 2:00 PM
Thursday, July 16, 2015 8:00 PM
Saturday, July 18, 2015 5:30 PM

For more information on the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, visit www.cmtf.org

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 00:00

"American Smoothie" More Sour Than Sweet

Underscore Theatre Company proudly presents the second annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, featuring 13 world-premiere musicals by local artists. These musicals showcase Chicago’s emerging musical theatre artists. Chicago is home to musical theatre creators, giving the artists a safety net to fall back into when they make risky decisions and experiment with the performing arts. There was a disclaimer in the program. It stated that if theatregoers were to see a musical, it may not be any good. After all, musicals are risky business and very challenging.

Brian is an IT technician at the corporate headquarters of American Smoothie. He feels like his coworkers do not appreciate him and all the work he does for them. Poor Brian arrives to work every morning with demands such as, “Help me open this document!” or “Fix my computer!” He looks forward to speaking with Brie, his coworker, because he has eyes for her. Speaking to Brie is easier said than done and there are too many obstacles in the way. First, Brian’s inability to make a situation light and not-awkward, and second, Chad. Chad is Brian’s worst nightmare. Chad has loads of personality, always bright, and is a charitable human. Everyone at work has a large personality. Brian’s boss, Jerry, is very eccentric. Coworker, Samantha, has a bird fetish. Coal, Brian’s roommate and best friend, is a dedicated puppet game show host. Throw all these characters together in a play, things are bound to go wrong.

That was the shortest summary I could muster, skipping all the ridiculous details, without straying too far. This script went in so many directions, I could barely keep up. Although it was very creative and somewhat comical, the holes in the plot and the weak presence on stage was more apparent. It seems as if the cast missed out on bonding experiences and went straight into rehearsing. It made for rigid and timid presences on stage.  

However, some characters are worth noting. Brian (Brian Elliot) and Samantha (Cami Rene Philgreen) possess very strong voices. Chad (Jonathan Wilson) and Jerry (Michael Palmenderi) provide comic relief from a very confusing script. The ideas were great, but they didn’t blend and left me very confused.

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival will be presented June 30 - July 19, 2015 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets are available at www.cmtf.org

Published in Theatre Reviews

Not too long ago, Rahm Emanuel and Jesús "Chuy" Garcia were running head to head in the 2015 Chicago Mayoral election. Many thought this was the opportunity to get someone new into the office that actually related to the quintessential Chicagoan who cared about our public schools, opposed red light cameras, and had a new perspective on things. Well, the people spoke and reelected Mayor Emanuel into office for another four years. 

Whether you like Rahm or not, you must check out the musical “How to Run for Mayor”, which is part of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival running until July 19th. The musical is about a recent college graduate, Kim, who looks high and low for a job. Her solution: become a viral sensation by running for mayor. 

Of course her promises of what she would accomplish as mayor are unrealistic but is something that millennials are drawn to. She quickly gets thousands of views and hits the 12,500 signatures needed to be on the ballot due to her trusty campaign manager.

The play has an actor that looks eerily similar to Emanuel, just taller but does a great job at showing his arrogance. 

As a political junkie, I appreciate that the play touched on our government system that is totally broken, the lack of interest in voting, and problems with candidates that have so much money and power that they are tough to push out of the office. 

“How to Run for Mayor” features fine acting performances by Trent Eisfeller as Rahm, Steve Lords as Chief of Staff, Grace Palmer as Kim Capello and Ryan Semmelmayer as Charlie Martin.

This musical is a funny and cheeky perspective on elections today. Hurry and purchase tickets to the show playing at The Den Theatre at www.cmtf.org. Upcoming shows of “How to Run for Mayor” are held on July 10, 12, 15, and 18th and runs approximately 60 minutes. The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival features thirteen brand new plays and is sure to have something for everyone.

Published in Theatre Reviews
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