Theatre in Review

Blue Man Group, the critically hailed theatrical phenomenon with an open run at the Briar Street Theatre, will celebrate 20 years in Chicago Thursday, October 12 with a special birthday performance at 8 p.m. Guests of the celebration will enjoy a few surprises during the show that will coincide with the special milestone as well as receive commemorative cupcakes from Sprinkles Cupcakes after the performance.
 
Since its Briar Street Theatre debut in 1997, Blue Man Group Chicago has:

*Entertained more than 4,600,000 people with 10,493 performances
*Held five autism-friendly performances in collaboration with Autism Speaks
*Used 965,365 ponchos and 17,694 boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal
*Awarded $45,000 to emerging artists though two Blue Man Group art competitions

Blue Man Group performances are a celebration of human connection. Mixing art, music, comedy and state-of-the-art technology, the show encourages audiences to reconnect with their inner (and outer) child and see the world through a new perspective.  Three bald and blue men explore our cultural norms with wonder, poking fun at our collective quirks and reminding us how much we all have in common. Backed by a live rock band, the Blue Men unify the audience for the show’s celebratory climax - an unforgettable, euphoric dance party.
 
Blue Man Group is continually refreshed with new music, fresh stories and custom instruments. It's a joyful, multi-sensory experience that has performed in over 20 countries and has captivated more than 35 million people of all ages and cultures worldwide.
 
About Blue Man Group
 
Blue Man Productions is a global entertainment company best known for the award-winning Blue Man Group show, performed in over 20 countries and seen by more than 35 million people worldwide since 1991. A dynamic combination of art, music, comedy and technology, the show’s euphoric celebration of human connection has universal appeal for a broad range of age groups and cultural backgrounds. The show is continually refreshed with new music, fresh stories, custom instruments and state-of-the-art technology. Blue Man Group has permanent theatrical productions in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin and a World Tour.
 
This creative collective has become part of the pop culture zeitgeist. Blue Man Group has served as the face of branding campaigns for Intel and TIM/Brasil and appeared countless times on hit shows like “The Tonight Show,” “Arrested Development,” “Ellen,” “Schlag den Raab” (Germany), “WOWOW” (Japan), and “Caldeirão do Huck” (Brasil).
 
Beyond the stage show, they are Grammy-nominated recording artists, known for their contributions to various film and TV scores and multiple Blue Man Group albums, including their most recent, THREE.  Their “Megastar World Tour” rock concert parody played arenas across the globe. The group’s recently published first-ever book, Blue Man World, is a visually stunning anthropological exploration of the curious bald and blue character.
 
Blue Man Group Ticket Information
 
Tickets are available from $39-$99. Tickets may be purchased at the Briar Street Theatre by calling the box office at (773) 348-4000; by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787; at all Ticketmaster ticket centers or via the Internet at http://www.ticketmaster.com/bluemangroup. For a full show schedule and ticket pricing, please visit www.blueman.com/chicago.
 
Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more, varying from $46- $69 per person. For groups of 10 or more, call the group sales department to book at: 773.348.3300 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request information.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Friday, 29 September 2017 12:16

Review: Becky Shaw at Windy City Playhouse

“Sometimes lying is the most humane thing you can do,” declares Gina Gionfriddo’s character Suzanna Slater in her play ‘Becky Shaw.’ Gionfriddo’s script was shortlisted for the 2009 Pulitzer and enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run in 2008. ‘Becky Shaw’ makes its Chicago premiere at Windy City Playhouse in Irving Park.

Scott Weinstein directs this sleek production at the even sleeker Windy City Playhouse space. With only 25 seats, the performance space asks its audience to swivel in remarkably comfortable club chairs between scenes as there are three stages in the theater. Something about the orientation of the theater makes this telling more active than a typical play. A really unique experience that may be as memorable as the play itself.

‘Becky Shaw’ is a story about two non-biological siblings Suzanna (Amy Rubenstein) and Max (Michael Doonan) caught in a ‘Cruel Intentions’ style love affair until Suzanna marries someone else. They come from a splintery family and are brutal with one another, but not brutally honest. When Suzanna and her husband attempt to set up cold and cruel Max with delicate Becky Shaw, the play takes a dark direction.

This play is nothing if not well acted. The titular role, drawn as an allusion to the Victorian novel ‘Vanity Fair’ by Thackery, is played by Carley Cornelius. Her version of a clever woman trying to claw her way out of circumstances is haunting and weird. At no point do you ever feel that you’ve got her figured out. At times she’s vulnerable and soft but then turns deliberate and forceful. Cornelius brings a very relatable quality to this mysterious character. Gionfriddo has created such a fascinating character in Becky Shaw, that it’s almost disappointing that there’s not more of her here.

Gionfriddo’s play is funny and provocative. There are quote-worthy snippets of dialogue that, offer glimmers into the playwright’s opinions. She seems very concerned with equality of sexes. Several times the script calls a relationship a meeting of equals. Some may remember Gionfriddo’s play ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ which premiered at the Goodman in 2015. While nowhere near as good, ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ continued the playwright’s probe into the complexities of long term romantic love between men and women.

The scene jumping quality of the script lends itself well to the multi-staged set-up of Windy City Playhouse. It helps establish the passage of time between scenes and gets you close enough to the actors to feel directly involved. The female ensemble is works really well together in this production. Chicago stage veteran Suzanne Petri gives a standout performance as the mother of Max and Suzanna, and walks away with some of the most insightful lines of the evening. ‘Becky Shaw’ is a play about what happens when you bring a new person into your life, whether you want it or not. (John Accrocco)

Through November 12 at Windy City Playhouse 3014 W Irving Park. 773-891-8985

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Put acting greats Francis Guinan and John Mahoney on stage together and you undoubtedly get a performance that will certainly mesmerize. Add Jessica Dickey’s poignant script that delves into history and what we can take away from it, keen direction by Hallie Gordon and fine supporting performances from Ty Olwin, Karen Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruiz and you have a power-packed production that truly resonates with its audience. Steppenwolf’s latest, The Rembrant, is just that.

Guinan stars as longtime art museum guard Henry. A lot is going on this particular day. Henry’s boss Jonny (Ruiz) has just hired a new guard named Dodger (Olwin) and Henry needs to show him the ropes. The young, mohawk-wearing Dodger clearly isn’t in the same mold as his new mentor Henry and when art student Madeline admire a Rembrant before sketching it, the new guard encourages her to “touch the painting”. “Touch it”, he says, “feel the history.” Upon Henry’s return, he gazes at the same painting, one he has admired for years, Dodger urges him to do the same. Of course, this is absurd, thinks Henry. But Henry is troubled, his husband slowly dying from cancer. He has been a loyal guard for years. He wants so badly to touch the Rembrant – to feel the brush strokes. So, he does.

Once Henry feels the canvas, we are taken back in time to the life of Rembrant (also played by Guinan). We see the strong bond he has with his son Titus (Olwin), a son who wants nothing more to be by the side of his father. Dickey makes a valiant effort in encompassing the thought process behind Rembrant’s paintings. In one painting a man has a large hand and a small hand. This we learn is to keep father and son together forever, one hand belonging to Titus, the other to Rembrandt. The period is well-played and Guinan at the top of his craft.

Then emerges Homer, played wholeheartedly by Mahoney. Homer reminds us death is imminent for all of us. Though the time and the how unknown, the certainty for sure. It is a riveting dialogue that profoundly makes its way throughout the theatre prompting us to think about enjoying the gift of life while we can. We are also reminded of Mahoney’s powerful stage presence.

The play goes full circle, Henry by the side of his husband Simon (Mahoney) as they reminisce about the past, cherishing fond memories and exchanging their feelings for one another in a sad, but moving scene that adds an exclamation point to a very engaging story.

Guinan is sensational. However, he will take leave of the role after the October 22nd performance. Talented Chicago actor Joe Dempsey will reprieve Guinan and take over the role of Henry and Rembrandt as of October 24th. Inventive set design, wonderful acting performances and an engaging story, The Rembrandt is a warm production that connects the present to the past in a very creative way.

Recommended.

The Rembrandt is being performed at Steppenwolf Theatre through November 5th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org.

 

*Extended through November 11th

Published in Theatre in Review

Due to popular demand, Hell in a Handbag Productions and Mo Less's racous and ranchy revue BAD TASTE will play the first Wednesday of every month beginning Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at The Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton Ave in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. The evening of queer and camp curiosities features a rotating cast of Chicago's most daring and disgusting performance artists: burlesque, drag, clowning, sideshow, comedy and cosplay – all with a shocking and hilarious twist! The evening also includes games, adult beverages and raffle prizes. Tickets ($10 in advance, $15 at the door) are currently available at www.BadTasteChicago.com.
 
The next BAD TASTE on Wednesday, October 4 will feature erotic and eclectic line-up including: murderous mistress and striptress CROCODILE LIGHTNING, medical madness from DR. JAMES PEMBROKE AND KOLZAC, clown college dropout ISAAC SAMUELSON, nb (nbd) stand up artist KJ WHITEHEAD, drag twin of the beloved Florence, LAWRENCE OF A'LABIA, the Original Rascal without a Cause LILLY RASCAL, world record holder for Consecutive Viewings of The Little Mermaid STEVIE LOVE and your host/ess/?? MO LESS.
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: BAD TASTE
Dates: The first Wednesday of every month
Time: Doors open at 8:30 pm; show starts at 9 pm
Location: The Charnel House, 3421 W Fullerton Ave. in Chicago
Featuring: a rotating line-up of queer and camp curiosities
Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Currently available at www.BadTasteChicago.com. 21+ only.
 
About the Presenters:

Mo Less (Host/Presenter) is a burlesque and drag artist whose theatrical, tongue-and-cheek style challenges gaze and expectation in performance. Having got their start at Gorilla Tango Burlesque, they've shared the stage as an independent artist with renown Chicago troupes including Vaudezilla!, Pervesk Presents and Belmont Burlesque Revue.
 
Hell in a Handbag Productions (Presenter) 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

From the bustling streets of New York City at the turn of the 20th century comes the Tony Award-winning new American musical, NEWSIES, making headlines at the Marriott Theatre just in time for the holidays, running October 25 through December 31 at 8 p.m. at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Featuring an electrifying score with music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menkenand lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein, NEWSIES is the ultimate story of courage and overcoming one’s fears. Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez (Marriott Theatre: Evita, On the Town, Mary Poppins) brings his high-octane energy and brilliance to direct and choreograph the heartwarming piece, with Musical Direction by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson.
 
“We all get to a fork in our lives - which path do we choose? I want to inspire audiences to not be afraid to take the courageous path and strive for the unreachable,” says Director and Choreographer Alex Sanchez. “This story will be brought to life on stage with a plethora of energy bursting from our outstanding cast of dancers. Incredible set design will flow with the ensemble to provide a city landscape as vibrant as New York.”
 
Based on the 1992 motion picture of the same name and inspired by the real-life ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899’ that shook the ivory towers of publishing titans William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, NEWSIES follows orphan Jack Kelly and his band of teenaged ‘newsies,’ who dream of a better life far from the hardships of the streets. While they’ve had the talent and moxie to survive the challenges of inner city New York, the newsboys are pushed to the limit when media moguls Hearst and Pulitzer raise distribution prices at the boys’ expense. Timely and fresh, the fictionalized adaptation of NEWSIES addresses age-old themes of social injustice, exploitative labor practices and struggles as the young learn to harness their power against a corrupt establishment. Featuring soul stirring music, NEWSIES introduces eight brand-new songs by the original dynamic duo team of Menken and Feldman while keeping many of the beloved songs from the film, including “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” “King of New York” and “Santa Fe.”
 
NEWSIES stars Patrick Rooney as “Jack Kelly” (Marriott Theatre: World Premiere of October Sky, Spring Awakening), Eliza Palasz as “Katherine Plumber” (Marriott Theatre: World Premiere of October Sky, Evita, Spring Awakening), Kevin Gudahl as “Joseph Pulitzer” (Marriott Theatre: Spring Awakening, Elf, My Fair Lady, 1776, The King and I) and Stephanie Pope at “Medda Larkin” (Broadway: Chicago, Pippin, Fosse). NEWSIES also stars Nick Graffagna as “Davey,” Matthew Uzarraga as “Crutchie,” and Carter Graf and Zachary Uzarraga alternating as “Les,” with Bill Bannon, Eean Cochran, Shea Coffman, Nicholas Dantes, Alejandro Fonseca, Sam Griffin, Garrett Lutz, Jeff Pierpoint, Zachary Porter, Liam Quealy, James Rank, Laura Savage, Peter Sipla, Adrienne Storrs, Steven Strafford, Richard Strimer, Martin Ortiz Tapia, Tiffany Tatreau, Andy Tofa and David Wright, Jr.
 
The production will feature set design by Kevin Depinet, lighting design by Jesse Klug, sound design by Robert E. Gilmartin, properties design by Sally Weiss, and musical supervision and orchestra conducted by Patti Garwood.
 
The performance schedule for NEWSIES is Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., with select Thursday 1:00 p.m. shows. Holiday weeks may have adjusted schedules. Ticket prices range from $50 to $60, including tax and handling fees. Call for student, senior and military discounts. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings there are a limited number of FREE dinners available with the purchase of a full-priced theatre ticket, which can only be purchased through the Marriott Theatre Box Office. To make a restaurant reservation, please call 847.634.0100. Free parking is available at all performances. To reserve tickets, please call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or go to www.ticketmaster.com. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” written by Matthew Lopez, is an adorable and entertaining piece brought to sexy, vibrant life by an exquisitely multi-talented cast of characters. 

The play is set in a dusty part of the Florida panhandle at a run-down club called Cleo's owned by Eddie played with great irony by character actor Keith Kupferer. 

After night in and night out with an unsuccessful Elvis act, Eddie has allowed his cousin "Miss Tracy Mills" (Sean Blake) to bring her two man/woman drag show to the club in the hopes of salvaging his nightclub income. 

Sean Blake is amazing and seems born to play this role. Blake gets the most laughs and the most oohs and aahs with each stunning costume change or drag number and absolutely steals the show.  Miss mills also brings with her another drag queen of the highest order but one with a serious drinking problem named Rexy. 

Rexy played by Jeff Kurysz is hysterically funny in this role and does double time as Casey’s landlord and friend, a straight married man with children. Kurysz did so well in this transformation, it took me halfway through the play to realize this was the same person playing tow completely opposite roles and that was only because I thought I saw just a hint of blue eye shadow left over during his quick change from drag queen to local roofer!

The lead role of Casey is played with real charisma and fantastic dance abilities by Nate Santana. Casey has been trying to eke out a living doing his Elvis impersonation at the club but do to waning interest in his act has been demoted to bartender to make room for the new drag show. His wife, Jo (Leslie Ann Sheppard) has informed him she is pregnant and must give up his dreams of playing Elvis in order to support the family. The couple works well together, presenting a believable dynamic and we are easily able to root for them.

In the end, Casey learns to become a successful drag queen (after reluctantly doing so originally when asked by Eddie after Rexy is passed out drunk just before her number) and fulfills his artistic talents in this way. Just watching Casey’s transformation from Elvis impersonator to slovenly, broken down bartender to show-stopping drag queen is worth the price of admission and Santana does so with great communicative eyes and terrific physical comedy skills. 

Is drag just performing? No it is not as Rexy later explains to Casey, who thinks it's as simple as performing a show - it is a protest. There is much more to drag than eye shadow, glitzy dresses and fake boobs. It is a way of life, something to take your lumps for and definitely something not for "pussies". 

The set which slides back and forth to become their shoddy apartment and the dressing room of the bar is a little confusing and doesn't quite give the intimacy to either environment that it deserves. However, the lighting (JR Lederle), sound (Kevin O’Donnell), amazing costumes (Rachel Laritz), fabulous wigs (Penny Lane Studios- WOW!) and funny props by Bronte DeShong and yummy choreography by Chris Carter more than make up for that distraction. 

I highly recommend this laugh a minute feel-good comedy with several smashing dance numbers about making your dreams come true "right where you are with what you've got to work with" for the whole family to enjoy. 

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is being performed at Northlight Theatre through October 22nd. More show information can be found at www.northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The live sounds of 30’s and 40’s jazz transform Court Theatre into a music venue in this production of Five Guys Named Moe. Written by Clarke Peters and directed by Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson, with Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal and Associate Director Felica P. Fields, this lively musical is a tribute to the great songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan (1908-1975), who went down in history as an innovator and popularizer of “jump blues,” a dance forward mix of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie, that paved the way for rock’n’roll in the 1950’s.

The uncomplicated plot provides the perfect canvas for Louis Jordan’s greatest hits and goes something like this: Nomax (Stephen ‘Blu’ Allen) is a clueless but perfectly lovable young lad who is broke and heartbroken because his girlfriend left him. Drinking at home one night and listening to Louis Jordan’s hits on the radio, depressed Nomax is whining about his life, when out of the blue (no pun intended) his radio erupts with five guys, who climb out one by one, introduce themselves as Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush Jr), Eat Moe (James Earl Jones II) , No Moe (Eric A. Lewis), Four-Eyed Moe (Kelvin Roston Jr), and Little Moe (Darrian Ford), and get the party started with ‘Five Guys Named Moe.’ Because five heads are better than one, The Five Moes are very helpful in trying to solve Nomax’s lady problem; the dynamic and superbly fun hits “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” and “Messy Bessy” are prove of that. Not to mention “I know What I’ve Got” and “Safe, Sane and Single,” which were outstanding. Louis Jordan’s use of comedy in his songwriting had become one of the most prominent elements in his music, for he “laughed to keep from crying”. Besides, having been married five times, he most certainly contemplated the relations between the opposite sexes in his own life.

There was some great talent on that cleverly designed stage made to look like inside of an old radio (scenic design by Courtney O’Neill). Powerful voices, the most remarkable of them Darrian Ford’s [whose new original vocal jazz album, The New Standard, is set to release later this year], impressive dancing with occasional somersaults thrown in for a good measure (by James Earl Jones II), Lorenzo Rush, Jr’s commanding presence and hilarious relic, always on.

The band is no slouch either: led by the pianist/Music Director, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Broadway’s Five Guys Named Moe composer/arranger Abdul Hamid Royal, who had worked with many recording artists, such as Liza Minelli, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, and Christina Aguilera, to name just a few; it produces a tight sound.

By the end of the First Act, the audience is playfully forced to sing the silly lyrics to “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie,” and some fortunate first row attendees are dragged onto stage to dance with the cast and then led to the lobby bar. Hey, “What’s the Use Of Getting Sober?”, right?

Second Act takes us to The Funky Butt Club, where the Five Moes have a gig to do. The sounds of old jazz are like an anti-anxiety remedy, taking us to a different time far, far in the past, it seems. What great 63rd Season opener for Court Theatre! “Five Guys Named Moe” is being performed at Court Theatre through October 8th. For more show information visit www.courttheatre.org.

*Now extended through October 15th

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 21:49

Review: Goodman's "A View from the Bridge"

The Goodman Theatre almost never includes a show in their subscriber season that they haven’t developed themselves. Dutch director Ivo van Hove began his vivid production of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” in London before bringing it to Broadway in 2016. It went on to win the Tony Award for best revival. Goodman artistic director Robert Falls requisitioned the work for Chicago prior to the Broadway run. Some may remember van Hove’s contribution to the Goodman’s 2009 Eugene O’Neill Fest. His arresting version of “Mourning Becomes Electra” performed entirely in Dutch was a sure stand out.

Ivo van Hove’s vision for Arthur Miller is uniquely his own in that it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen. If a standard Miller production bores you, then imagine an electric guitar version of Miller. The scenery and scene changes have been cut and what’s left is a minimalist masterclass in strong directorial choices. Minimalism doesn’t mean a lack of spectacle. The white cube contains the play to a small portion of the stage, allowing for audience members to sit right on stage. Each movement of this highly choreographed production creates a stunning visual.

Suffice it to say, you’ll never see “A View from the Bridge” like this again. van Hove’s intention is to create an “ultimate” version of classic American works through a European lens. What he reflects back is interesting. The concluding scene is a work of installation art, and leaves you with an unsettling feeling that we are but animals battling it out at the bottom. As with his interpretation of O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra”, van Hove is unafraid of heightening the subtle sexuality in the script. The blocking between Catherine (Catherine Combs) and Eddie Carbone (Ian Bedford) is highly suggestive and pushes the envelope even further than Miller had in 1953.

There’s no scenery, no costumes and no tricks for this cast to hide behind. Since the New York production, some of the parts have been recast, but many have not. Catherine Combs reprises her role as Catherine, but is no stranger to the Goodman stage. Combs’ performance is transfixing. She’s able to balance the juvenile qualities of a young girl in a falsetto, but convey the deep-voiced desires of a woman with an unexpected control. Playing her adoptive mother Beatrice, Andrus Nichols, commands each scene. The script would make this character a weakling, unable to stand up to her hulking husband. Nichols brings a hardened strength to the role that propels the final scenes to full throttle.

This production will stick with you. With our nation’s president touting severe immigration reform, this play comes at a critical point in history. Arthur Miller wrote plays that addressed social issues. In many ways Eddie Carbone is how Miller saw America, as something afraid of change. When we hear white supremacists chanting “You will not replace us” on national TV, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. This is an essential play for our times. Ivo van Hove has created a striking and extremely intense version of “A View from the Bridge” that Arthur Miller himself would applaud.

Through October 15th at the Goodman Theatre. 170 North Dearborn. 312-443-3811

*Now extended through October 22nd

Published in Upcoming Theatre

There has never been a better Broadway marriage of story and storyteller – until Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, three decades later, anyway – than Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and songsmith Roger Miller. Floating between aching country ballads, soulful slave spirituals, and the side-splitting novelty tunes that made Miller famous, Big River brought an American classic about century-old America into the 20th century, earning seven Tony Awards in the process. And now through October 15, Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, ferries Huck, Jim, and their story of friendship and freedom to today’s audiences, showing that the stories and the struggles of America haven’t changed all that much.

While Twain’s tale is titled for its teller – the author’s most famous creation – Huck Finn was the original Nick Carraway, in that he is best when playing narrator for the other characters and their quandaries. And in TATC’s production of Big River, James Romney’s Huck is just such a narrator. Romney’s work is fine – his voice is strong, his acting is as well, and he’s got boyish charm galore – but it’s when he allows the rest of the cast to shine that he’s at his best, supporting each of the people we meet along the Mississippi as they spin their yarns, share their pain, and make us chuckle.

The first people we meet are the orchestra, led by pianist and musical director, Bill Underwood. Part of the simple but gorgeous set, the group fits right into the rural riverside, playing guitars, mandolins, accordion, harmonica, and even the jaw harp. Their accompaniment throughout is just the right balance of polished and down home; they’re part of the set and part of the spectacle, bringing the surroundings to life without stealing the show.

Huck’s fellow townsfolk enter as the opening overture plays, each dancing and playing percussion – washboard, shakers, the tambourine. Liz Chidester’s stern Miss Watson is a favorite, a spinsterly hoot. And Kyle Quinlivan’s Tom Sawyer, who will reappear throughout, starts us off expecting a comical adventure, more puckish even than Huck as he leads the local lads in the energetic “We Are the Boys.”

Another member of Huck’s St. Petersburg is town drunkard and the boy’s old man, Pap Finn, played by Bret Tuomi. His swaggering, staggering rendition of the bluesy “Guv’ment” is the first real showstopper. Tuomi later retakes the stage as the King, a conman whose partner in crime, the Duke played by Jason Richards, struts and preens and malaprops his way into the townspeople’s pockets and the audience’s hearts, a highlight being a ludicrous Shakespearean soliloquy. Seeing grifters hoodwink the general populace for their own gain has never been so much fun – or, sadly, so timely.

But even as the cast entertains, the darkest side of humanity is always present. The ensemble cast playing slaves – slaves in Huck’s hometown, and those enslaved on down the river – give the show gravitas not just with their singing, but by their mere presence. Adhana Reid delivers a lovely hymn, “How Blest We Are,” while Camille Robinson provides a highlight in the reprise of “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine.” But early on, as Jim and Huck hear voices from the other bank sing the lament, “The Crossing,” Jim knows these are escaped slaves who’ve been recaptured simply from the sound of their voices. And because Jim tells us, we know this, too. And we hurt right along with him.

Blessed with a big, beautiful voice, and an even bigger and more beautiful presence, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, as Jim, is the heart of this production, just as Jim is the heart of the book and the musical. Whether cleaning a catfish or chained to a cabin, whether telling of his daughter’s scarlet fever or telling tall tales to Huck aboard their raft, we feel for and with and through Butler-Duplessis’ Jim. This culminates in his rendition of Roger Miller’s finest gospel tune – and perhaps the finest tune Miller ever wrote – “Free at Last.” Shackled there on center stage, Butler-Duplessis shows us the sorrow this man has seen and hints at the hope that freedom may bring.

But perhaps for this writer, the most powerful moment comes at the end of the first act. As Huck joins the shysters in plotting their latest scheme in “When the Sun Goes Down in the South,” Jim returns to the show’s main theme, the yearning, churning “Muddy Water.” Jonathan Butler-Deplessis’ solo soars over his raftmates’ shenanigans, in a plea for freedom, for justice, for life. In 1800's Missouri or in modern times, there is injustice and there are those who stand against it. Yesterday and today, there is good and there is evil. And in that moment, I sure got the shivers as TATC’s Big River allows the good to rise above.

Big River is being performed at Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN through October 15th. For more show information visit www.theatreatthecenter.com. A Wonderful Life: The Musical begins November 16th.

Published in Theatre in Review

Interrobang Theatre Project launches its 2017-18 Season, exploring the urgent question “What is Truth?,” with the Midwest premiere of Dawn King's darkly comic and politically relevant British drama FOXFINDER, directed by Literary Manager Margaret Knapp. FOXFINDER will play September 28 – November 5, 2017 at The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 2), 2936 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.interrobangtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office. The press opening is Monday, October 2 at 7:30 pm.
 
FOXFINDER will feature Alexandra Fisher, David Anthony Marshall, Jack Olin and Alanna Rogers.
 
In the not so distant future, the economy is failing, food is scarce and paranoia is in the air. Samuel and Judith Covey live in rural England, maintaining their government-controlled farm – in constant fear of losing it all. After an anonymous tip, William Bloor, a "Foxfinder," arrives to investigate a suspected contamination, threatening to uncover secrets of desire and regret that will change all of their lives forever. 
 
Comments Director Margaret Knapp, "Although it flirts with thematic elements like the examination of a police state in today's society, the effects of global warming, and religious zealotism, at it's core Foxfinder is about the battle against the forces of nature, both external and internal, and how when these forces threaten to overwhelm us, we look for someone, or something, to blame."
 
The production team for FOXFINDER includes: Eric Luchen (scenic design), Melissa Perkins (costume design), John Kelly (lighting design), Jesse Case (sound design), Pauline Oleksy (properties design) Georgette Verdin* (asst. director), Claire Yearman* (fight choreographer), Lindsay Bartlett (dialect coach) and Victoria Bustoz (stage manager).
 
*Denotes Interrobang Theatre Project Company Member. 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: FOXFINDER
Playwright: Dawn King
Director: Literary Manager Margaret Knapp
Cast: Alexandra Fisher (Judith Covey), David Anthony Marshall (Samuel Covey), Jack Olin (William Bloor) and Alanna Rogers (Sarah Box).
 
Location: The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 2), 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Dates: Previews: Thursday, September 28 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 1 at 7 pm
Press opening: Monday, October 2 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Thursday, October 5 – Sunday, November 5, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. 
Tickets: Previews: September 28: pay-what-you can, October 1: $17. Regular run: $32; Students $17 (with ID), Seniors $17. (Ticket prices include $2 Athenaeum Theatre restoration fee). 
Tickets are currently available at www.interrobangtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Page 2 of 14

 

 

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