Theatre in Review

It’s the wild 1930’s in Berlin and it’s anything goes at the Kit Kat Klub where an impish Emcee feasts on making the haunt as alluring as possible to its guests. He loves the boys, he loves the girls and he loves the orchestra. Headliner Sally Bowles leads the cabaret dancers in the playful club where one can phone table to table if interested in another. Bowles is brassy, commanding and she flat out belts, leaving little doubt who runs the show. This is quickly evidenced in her racy opening number “Don’t Tell Mama”. It is a place of decadent carnival where boundaries do not exist and guests are endlessly entertained by its sexy performers. 

American writer Cliff Bradshaw soon arrives via train ride where he meets new friend Ernst Ludwig. The two quickly hit it off. While getting to know each other, Bradshaw reveals he is looking for a place to stay, so Ludwig recommends a boarding house run by Fraulien Schneider. Searching for inspiration for his second novel, Bradshaw visits the nearby Kit Kat Klub where he is opened to a world he never knew existed. 

While Bradshaw and Bowles get to know each other (and then some), Herr Schultz, an elderly German, regularly visits the boarding house where he shows his affections for Schneider by bringing her fruit from the nearby produce store that he owns. Soon Schultz and Schneider agree to marry, while Bowles and Bradshaw become cozier, the two now living together. The club is thriving and all seems well in 1930’s Berlin. 

But the shadow of the Nazi regime is gradually becoming much more apparent. Slowly, the danger of a growing Third Reich is affecting Berlin. Gradually, the carefree mood of many Berlin residents becomes that of one awaiting impending doom. Some sense a mounting tragedy afoot and fear a change for the worse in Germany. 

Yet, the threat is still in its infancy stage, whereas Schultz, a Jew, naively states, “Everything will be fine. After all, I am a German.” At the same time, Schneider fears her association with Schultz will put her business under as the hatred against Jewish-Germans becomes more apparent. 

Cabaret is the gripping account of how a circle of friends and businesses in Berlin are overcome by the inevitable Nazi threat, from the story's hopeful beginning full of modernization and progressive views to its haunting end. 

The production is seamlessly woven together. Throughout the musical, there is an ongoing collocation of dialogue scenes and songs that serve as explanation to the story while a series of distinct cabaret numbers provide a public observation for the times. 

Cabaret continues to attract both new audiences and return visitors more than fifty years after its initial Broadway production, because it has everything – fascinating characters, iconic music, a dazzling look that transports us to a different world that is still incredibly timely and relevant today,” says Artistic Director Linda Fortunato.

Her statement couldn’t bear more truth as the production has won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. 

The casting in Theatre at the Center’s Cabaret is very strong. Danni Smith, who recently impressed theatre goers in the leading role of “Donna” in Marriott Theatre’s Mamma Mia! is sensational as Sally Bowles. Smith’s robust, velvety vocals along with just the right air of confidence make for yet another successful leading role for the fetching stage star. Smith’s astounding performance alone is worth the ticket cost and drive to Munster, Indiana. Yet, the same impressionable effect on the audience can be said for co-lead Sean Fortunato as the mischievous Emcee, who is a pure delight to watch as he captures a changing Berlin within his character most effectively through a well-acted gamut of emotions. We watch on as the whimsical Master of Ceremonies is sincerely affected by what he recognizes is the beginning to the end of an era, yet we see his strength as he bravely presents an amusing appearance for his club-goers to distract from the imminent threat. 

Patrick Tierney (Bradshaw), Craig Spindle (Schultz), Iris Lieberman (Schneider), Christopher Davis (Ernst) and a very capable ensemble round out this talented cast that help in creating a magical Cabaret experience, along with an extraordinary creative team that so well brings the period to life. 

Based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret is loaded with wonderful show tunes that include “Perfectly Marvelous”, “The Money Song”, “Married”, "Willkommen", “If You Could See Her” and Bowles highly-charged title song “Cabaret”. 

Well-constructed, finely acted and beautifully sung, Cabaret is an epic theatre experience not to miss.   

Cabaret is being performed at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 4th. For show times, tickets and/or more show information, visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

If you’ve ever enjoyed the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, then “Spamalot” is definitely for you. But even those who have never seen the classic comedy would be hard pressed not to relish the musical proudly tabbed as “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture”. Now playing at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana through October 18th, “Spamalot” brings its witty English humor to your doorstep – well, at least just a short drive away. From its opening number “Fisch Schlapping Song” to its roaring finale “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, this is a musical that never runs out of funny.

 

Celebrating 40 years since the film was released, “Spamalot” comes with a renewed score created by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Directed flawlessly by David Perkovich and choreographed to perfection by Linda Fortunato, each number captures just the right amount of physical comedy needed to score high on the funny meter while also keeping the integrity of Monty Python humor firmly intact. Colette Todd, is stunning as she is humorous as the “Lady of the Lake”.  A true talent, Todd gets to show off her impressive vocal range on many occasions and also dazzles the crowd with her spot on comedic chops. Comic timing is vital in Theatre at the Center’s production of “Spamalot”. Chicago favorite Larry Adams knows this and is more than up for the challenge as he takes on the leading role of King Arthur and runs with it.  Adams really brings down the house in his very funny rendition of “I’m All Alone” and is just marvelous as the often oblivious king who must lead his men in the search for the Holy Grail.

 

The cast as a whole is impressive and many play multiple roles. With wonderful performances by Jarrod Zimmerman (Sir Dennis Galahad, Dennis, Black Knight and Herbert’s Dad), Sean Fortunato (Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter) and a very strong ensemble, I only regret not naming the entire cast in this review because they all deserve their kudos.  

 

“Spamalot” is a spin on King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table like never done before. Its unique Monty Python humor is heavily instilled into each bit of dialogue as well as its many colorful and hysterical dance numbers, making this the perfect musical production to add to your calendar.  

 

“Spamalot” is smashing.

 

 

For show information and tickets visit www.theatreatthecenter.com

Published in Theatre Reviews

Throughout the years, we have seen all kinds of homages to Elvis Presley whether it be Elvis impersonators, biographical films, Elvis night at U.S. Cellular Field and, of course, theatrical productions. Of these few tribute samples, some are serious and sensitive while others more tongue-in-cheek. “All Shook Up”, a musical using the music of Elvis, is definitely the latter. Now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, “All Shook Up” is a story about an Elvis-alike roustabout who comes across a square town where the tightly-wound mayor has unjustly imparted laws against innocent activities such as kissing in public and dancing or the interracial mixing of partners. Though the plot line is as silly as it gets with unlikely, but still predictable love stories breaking out everywhere, it is hard not to be entertained by the music alone.

David Sajewich plays our hero Chad, the leather jacket clad bad-boy drifter with greased back hair who hops from town to town via his motorcycle with the purpose of challenging authority by infusing fun and excitement into boring and restricted communities. Sajewich is very funny in the role, ever so naturally delivering spot on physical comedy and one hilarious line after another. He also sings several Elvis classics with a good deal of enthusiasm, his vocals finding suitable range for each number despite not having the most powerful of voice. In the show’s opening number, “Jailhouse Rock” we quickly realize Sajewich will not be attempting to sound like Elvis Presley opting to use his own singing voice (writer or director’s choice?), leaving a small amount of disappointment for those who had hoped the story’s character so obviously designed around Elvis would kind of sound like him, if even in a comical way.

Like Abba’s music in Mamma Mia! or Green Day’s in American Idiot, the music of Elvis Presley is transformed into massive stage numbers with changing leads, large choruses and big time dance choreography. It was also refreshing to see such an obscure choice of Elvis Presley songs used for this production rather than only the obvious choices. “All Shook Up” included favorites like “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, Can’t Help Falling in Love”, "A Little Less Conversation” and “It’s Now or Never” but also added lesser known songs (at least outside the Elvis world) such as “Follow that Dream”, “C’mon Everybody”, “Devil in Disguise” and a heartfelt rendition of “If I Can Dream”.

Outside of the campy over-the-top story that is on the borderline of ridiculousness, despite its borrowed storylines from Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night," "As You Like It" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream", “All Shook Up” includes several likeable characters that are fun to watch and listen to, especially Bethany Thomas (Sylvia) with her gutsy and very impressive singing voice. Callie Johnson also shows off her comic and singing ability as tomboy motorcycle mechanic Natalie Hallow who is crushing hard on Chad while Justin Brill as the geeky, love stricken Dennis is also enjoyable to watch. Matthias Austin gets some of the biggest laughs as Natalie’s square turned rocker father Jim, as deserved, but Sharriese Hamilton (Lorraine) might just have the best comic timing of the bunch.

Cheesy story and all, “All Shook Up” is a very entertaining show with great music, charm and lots of very funny moments. It’s always nice to see the music of Elvis passed on to new generations and this show is a perfect tool for doing so, as it is a production suitable for all ages alike.    

The rock n’ roll hit Broadway musical “All Shook Up” is being performed at Theatre at the Center through August 16th Wednesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.theatreatthecenter.com

Published in Theatre Reviews

Fantastic stories filled with mermaids, giants, tornadoes and witches are told and Edward Bloom always comes out as the hero. These are the enchanted tales Edward has been telling his son, Will, since he was a child. Each story is more larger than life than the other and each act more heroic than the last. The only problem is that these stories have caused Will much embarrassment throughout life as they are told to anyone who will listen because Edward really seems to believe them as outlandish as they are. Years have gone by in a small Alabama town while Edward and Will have grown far apart. As traveling salesman Edward spends much of his time on the road, distancing himself from his son.

But as Edward’s life nears its end when his cancer advances, Will is determined to find out the truth about his father’s stories, and wanting to understand him better he carries out his own investigation and comes across a few surprises. Meanwhile, Will and his wife are planning for their first child.

“Big Fish”, currently playing at Theatre at the Center, is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” that was later turned into the popular 2003 Tim Burton film “Big Fish” starring Ewan McGreggor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange and Billy Cruddup. The main difference here is the Broadway version being a musical –and it works…well.

From the first number “Be the Hero”, an enthusiastic piece on slaying dragons, defeating giants and, well, being a hero, we get a healthy taste of Edward’s zest for storytelling. Edward is brilliantly played by Stef Tovar, and, though quite a bit younger in appearance than the sixty-year-old-ish father we expect to see from the story, Tovar couldn’t be more perfect for the role. Tovar’s ability to transform from that of an excited, awestruck boy as he goes from story to story to a loving husband, or a father who desperately wants to be close to his son, is quite fun to watch. Tovar, a whirlwind of energy, makes Edward’s character believable seemingly effortlessly and we are easily able to identify with him. At the same time Colette Todd, who plays Edward’s loving wife, Sandra, also puts on a tremendous performance as his perfect support system. Todd is charming as can be as she dances as sings her way to our hearts. Tovar and Todd are well cast and together are a tour de force to be reckoned with.

“It’s a good show. It’s got a lot of heart. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry”, says director William Pullinsi.

Pullinsi couldn’t be more correct. There are plenty of funny moments but also a great sadness as we see people who love each other so greatly have so much difficulty connecting.   

The song and dance numbers and uniquely choreographed and sang to perfection. Nathan Gardner, who plays Will, is among the talented singers in this amazing cast and really lets it go in “Stranger”, an emotional number where he describes the distance that has become between him and his father.  

Besides its enriched song and dance numbers, captivating story and strong acting performances, theatre-goers are treated to a colorful set and a display of dazzling costumes. Some of the scenic displays are simply breathtaking - one in particular invoking "oohs" and 'aaahs" from the audience.

Says Todd on the massive set and costumes, “There was one day when an actual semi-truck arrived to the theatre and all of these remarkable costumes were unloaded and unpacked.”

“Big Fish” is a beautiful story about father and son relationships that should not be missed. It is a heartwarming story filled with hope and living life as large as you can. “Big Fish” is being performed just thirty-five or so minutes from downtown Chicago at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.theatreatthecenter.com.  

Published in Theatre Reviews

Kicking off their 25th anniversary season, Theatre at the Center makes a strong impression by presenting Ernest Thompson’s touching classic On Golden Pond. This 1979 Tony-Award winning play was later adapted for the big screen where it starred Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn and won an Oscar. On Golden Pond is a warm and moving story that deals with the challenges an elderly couple are going through during their twilight years and also focuses on a tempestuous relationship between father and daughter. It is also a story of reconciliation and rebirth.  

Each year Norman and Ethel Thayer spend the summer at their quaint home on Golden Pond. Norman, pushing eighty-years-old is quite the curmudgeon and is still armed with a quick wit while Ethel, ten years his junior, finds all the little things in life wonderful. The pairing is super and utterly complementary to each other. While planning out his 80th birthday party, the often cranky Norman constantly speaks to Ethel as though it will be his last, which is taken with a grain of salt by his always optimistic wife. Norman’s memory is slowly fading and he has heart palpitations, which doesn’t help his outlook on the future. When his daughter, Chelsea, and her boyfriend, Billy Ray, come up to the lake house to join the party, we realize the tension that exists between father and daughter and slowly begin to understand that it stems from Norman’s desire to have had a son. Soon, Norman and Ethel’s summer is interrupted when Chelsea asks that Billy Ray’s thirteen-year-old son stay at the lake house for a month while they travel to Europe. Norman, who was reluctant at first on the idea, quickly bonds with the boy and we see a change of heart and a new attitude on life begin to manifest.

On Golden Pond is filled with many life lessons and we are better for having seen it.

Dennis Kelly is superb as Norman. The veteran actor is able convey a truckload of meaning in just a simple line. Equally as impressive is Ami Silvestre as Norman’s bouncy and vibrant counterpart, Ethel, Silvestre is so cute you just want to shrink her and tuck her away in your shirt pocket. But together the two are simply off the charts. Their playful zinging back and forth and the concern and love for each other they are able to display is not only believable it is magical. Norm Boucher also delivers in a key contributing role as Charlie, family friend and neighborhood mailman by boat.  

Set in the interior of the Thayer’s summer lake home, we get plenty of heartfelt moments and surprisingly a good share of laughs that really balances out the show. This insightful love story is rich and the characters are perfectly layered creating an all-around well-themed, highly entertaining play that anyone of any age is sure to enjoy.

A quick thirty or so minutes from downtown Chicago, On Golden Pond is being performed at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana) through March 29th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com or call 800-511-1552.

*Photo - Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre as Norman and Ethel Thayer

Published in Theatre Reviews

I absolutely adored Theatre at the Center’s production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown based on the Pedro Almodvar film of the same name from beginning to end.  Set in the 1980's in a part of uptouching and hilarious upper crust Madrid, "Verge" tells the hilarious and touching story of three women who are literally brought to the edge of sanity by their lovers. 

Cory Goodrich is dynamite in the lead role of commercial actress and singer Pepa who receives a phone message from her cheating lover Ivan that he is breaking up with her just as she discovers that she is pregnant with his child.  At the same time, Summer Naomi Smart is super sexy and funny as Pepa's nervous best friend and unwitting fashion model, Candela, whose boyfriend turns out to be an actual terrorist.

And Hollis Resnik as Ivan's ex-wife, who has actually been committed to an asylum because of Ivan's constant playing around with her mind and heart, is sheer delight in her portrayal of a woman who is still in love with her ex, partly because he keeps stringing her along. 

It’s just a complete and sensational cast assembled for this production.

To continue in praising this cast, Larry Adams is hysterical as Ivan, the wealthy Lothario who tells his son it is not important what you say to women but how you say it and then proceeds to sing "Blah, blah blah" to one woman after another in such a sexy seductive tone that they all drop at his feet.  Ivan also reveals that his secret to keeping women in love with him , even his ex-wife of twenty years who had been driven to madness by his loving is that he loves each woman at a distance "Forever and ever and will not let them out of his thoughts... forever." 

Sadly, the lead of this production, actor, Bernie Yvon, was killed in a car accident about two weeks before the show opened on his way to rehearsal. The performances in this run are dedicated to Bernie, who will certainly be missed in the Chicago theatre community. George Andrew Wolff, who plays the taxi driver and narrator did a great job in Bernie’s stead and had one of the best and funniest Spanish accents in the whole show. 

The set, period costumes and actual taxi driven around during the show were all beautiful, colorful and very interactive for the audience. There are all kinds of fabulous dance numbers and the songs are catchy and cleverly funny, especially “The Microphone” performed wonderfully by Larry Adams and “Model Behavior” where Naomi Smart really gets to show her comedic ability as an actress. There is even a handsome Spanish biker that cruises the stage on his motorcycle. 

Although the 1980's cocktail which helped fuel and then alternately slow down the characters frenetic actions through life was a milkshake made of "gazpacho and Valium", you will not need a Valium to relax and laugh at this wonderful woman driven comedy. I highly recommend seeing this rarely produced hit while it is here! 

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana (30 minutes from downtown Chicago) through October 12th. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.theatreatthecenter.com.  

These nervous women deserve respect!

Published in Theatre Reviews

Another TV classic has found itself in a musical, this time being The Beverly Hillbillies. Credited as one of the most popular shows of all time, The Beverly Hillbillies aired from 1962 through 1971 and told the story of a backwoods family that found wealth in oil and then migrated to stuffy Beverly Hills where they were completely out of their element. Most of us are already familiar with the Clampett clan headed by the all too honest and often naïve Jed and his short-tempered nevertheless often sweet Granny, who would choose eating possum innards any day over y’alls favorite fine dining establishments. Jed’s daughter, tomboy yet bombshell Elly May is along for the ride with his ever so gullible nephew Jethro, who is as dumb as dumb gets – and we love him for it.

elly mayTheatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana (30 minutes from downtown Chicago) has taken on the world premiere of “The Beverly Hillbillies – The Musical” where our favorite family from the sticks will grace the stage through August 10th. The book is shared by the team of Tony-nominated David Rogers, who passed away before its completion, and daughter Amanda, who took over from where her father left off. Composer Gregg Opelka was then called in to handle the music and lyrics. The final result is a lukewarm comedy with a wide assortment of songs, some hitting and some missing. One of the more memorable numbers comes as  Act One’s closing number - “Stamp It Like A Clampett”, a rootin’ tootin’ hoedown- throw-down that gets the audience clapping their hands and stomping their feet. Thereis just enough intrigue in the storyline to keep it interesting as the Clampetts are getting hustled for some of their millions by a couple of quirky grifters and there is just enough Beverly Hillbilly-esque humor to bring out a plausible amount of laughs.

As sure as Granny’s cooking is sure to cure what ails ya, Theatre at the Center puts forth a strong cast for this production. Local theatre trouper and Jeff-Award winner James Harms leads the way as “Jed” while Kelly Anne Clark can be downright adorable at times as “Granny”. The Clampetts are rounded out with fellow Jeff-Award winner Summer Smart romping around as the innocent, wide-eyed and button poppin’ “Elly May”, while John Stemberg gets his dumb on as likeable and simple “Jethro”. Thanks to this talented foursome, we have an assemblage of heartwarming country bumpkins who are still capable of occasionally tugging at our heartstrings despite not having the strongest of material to work with.

The show does have a strong visual presence as it is set inside a large mansion complete with more than ample square footage for the actors to freely frolic around. Its defining prop also makes a welcomed appearance much to the audience’s delight – the Clampett’s famous jalopy complete with Granny aboard her rocking chair in the bed of the truck as seen in the TV series’ opening credits.

The Beverly Hillbillies – The Musical, directed by David Perkovich, has just the adequate share of happy-as-a-raccoon-up-to-its-knees-in-vittles moments and downhome fun to keep it on the cusp of sufficiently entertaining, making it hard to imagine this becoming a musical comedy that will go down in theatre history.

For tickets and/or more information on The Beverly Hillbillies – The Musical, visit http://www.theatreatthecenter.com/ or call 219-836-3255.      

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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