Upcoming Theatre

This is Hell in a Handbag’s 15th Season and yet every year I look forward more than ever to seeing a Christmas show that's as irreverent and funny as "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer". This year Handbag's Artistic Director and writer of the original, and yearly refreshed, Christmas production, David Cerda, delivers not only his much beloved impression of Gladys Dasher with ruby red lips, jet black bouffant and commanding personality reminiscent of Joan Crawford, he also delights the audience with a spot-on characterization of Ivanka Trump (pronounced Iwanka). Cerda is a delight in this new role playing the mush-mouthed, often victimized, blonde wife of Santa Claus.

There is a wonderful rewrite of the entire opening of " Rudolph" this year regarding Trump and Iwanka and how they have affected the Gay community that resounded well with the audience and got huge laughs of recognition and applause. 

"Rudolph” is a fabulous LGBT version of the old tale where Rudolph is left out of playing reindeer games and is bullied mercilessly because he is too effeminate to pull Santa's sleigh. Along the way we meet many other characters who've been marginalized as well, like the toys banished to the island of badly built toys and even Rudolph's girlfriend Clarice who is secretly a bi-sexual feminist who is perfectly happy with Rudolph as her friend no matter what he likes to wear out in the snow, red hose and heels notwithstanding. 

There was a mix of old and new faces from Hell in a Handbag’s extremely talented singers and dancers from their  revolving base of performers and I really felt like I was seeing the finest lineup and the most energetic, funny cast of this production in past years with Graham Thomas Heacock as Rudolph, Kristopher Bottrall as Herbie, Allison Petrillo as Jane Donner, Chase Wheaton-Werle as Tom Donner, Michael Hampton as Santa, Tommy Bullington as Mrs. Claus, Sydney Genco as Elfina, Colin Funk as Spike, Michael Rawls as Score, Josh Kemper as Coach Comet, Lori Lee as Yukon Cornelia, Terry McCarthy as Connie Blitzen, David Cerda as Gladys Dasher, Christea Parent as Clarice and Matthew Sergot as Sam the Snowman.

Given that this year full of Trump's insane negativity and lawlessness is without a doubt the most frightening, turbulent New Year’s and Christmas ever for all unique individuals, from little girls to grown men and women of every race, gender and religion. Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer is the type of heart lifting entertainment full of really great laughs and gags from beginning to end that Chicago audiences need more than ever!

I highly recommend this classic hilarious tale about being who you really are and fighting back against evil that conspires to divide and punish people based on their perceived frailties for EVERYONE. If you've seen it before you must see it again because this year’s script and cast of Rudolph really delivers the heart and the funny with a comic ferocity like never before.

With a hilarious script and songs that are as relevant to our current political climate as they are funny, "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer" is being performed at Mary’s Attic through January 1st. More information on this great Chicago holiday tradition can be found at www.handbagproductions.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The McAninch Arts Center (The MAC) located at the College of Dupage kicked off the holiday season with one of the most entertaining Christmas shows one could hope for. Actor/singer Craig A. Meyer, who was featured in last year’s sold out event “The Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel”, reprised his role as recording artist Elton John in a holiday event to remember, “Almost Elton John and the Rocket Band: A Very Elton Christmas”.

Meyer, whose vast array of credits include Broadway’s Meet Me in St. Louis, a national tour of Cats and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, has also worked with both Elton John and Tim Rice on The Lion King. After the hard-working actor was approached numerous times about his likeness and his capability to sound like the legendary singer who brought us such greats as “Yellow Brick Road” and “Your Song”, Meyer formed Almost Elton John and went on to take his act around the world, giving fans another outlet to experience the excitement of an Elton John concert.

The positive response Meyer received at The MAC was proof positive that this Elton tribute act might just be one of the best around.

“Almost Elton John and the Rocket Band: A Very Elton Christmas” was divided into two sets, the first being that of Elton classics and the second a wide variety of Christmas songs.

Donned in glittery pants and high-heeled- silver boots, big sunglasses and a studded top hat, the caped singer quickly won over the crowd the first few songs in his set including “Bitch is Back”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Yellow Brick Road”. The first act went on to include “Crocodile Rock” and “Bennie and the Jets”. Meyer’s likeness to Elton was uncanny, but the similarity in voice even more impressive.

Throughout the show, Meyer quipped with the crowd, even delivering often misinterpreted lyrics in song. As a fan, and having seen Elton perform in Singapore, I couldn’t help but be awestruck at the way Meyer captured the essence of Elton.

As the second act began, Meyer returned to the stage, this time in a red glittered outfit, sequined Santa hat and all. Meyer again delivered. Rolling through Christmas faves that included “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “White Christmas”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, and a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” there was no shortage of Christmas spirit in the acoustic friendly theatre. Meyer even managed to take “Jingle Bells”, a holiday song I could do without, and turn it into a fun, energetic number that bounced and was decorated with unique and enjoyable harmonies. He ended the set with his encore medley of “Another Hallelujah / O Holy Night”, a medley that was as moving as it was celebratory of the reason for the season.

Almost Elton John is an electrifying concert experience that I would recommend checking out whenever in performing in the Chicagoland area. Charismatic and able to reach his audience, Meyer is exceptional as Elton and carries along with him a talented band and back up singers that make the entire package the next best thing to the real deal. Concert dates and more information on this very fun band can be found at www.almosteltonjohn.com.

The MAC is also an impressive theater. Comfortable seating (not a bad seat in the house) and fantastic acoustics highlight this modern theater that also includes a full snack and drink bar and an art gallery to check out before or after the show. Home of the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, The MAC will also be host in December and January to “Presley, Perkins and Cash: A Million Dollar Christmas”, National Theatre Live’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” with Daniel Radcliff and Joshua McGuire, “The Nutcracker” National Theatre Live’s “Obsession” with Jude Law, “Moscow Festival Ballet: Cinderella” and famed trumpeter Chris Botti. For show dates and to see other upcoming events, visit www.atthemac.org.

 

Published in In Concert

Chicago has no shortage of Christmas traditions. In other words, if you’re looking for holiday fun it’s not very hard to find something to do with your friends, significant other or family. Rich traditions such as Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Joffrey’s Nutcracker, Christkindlmart, Christmas film classics at Music Box, and the official Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Millennium Park are fantastic choices that are sure to put a little zest into your holiday spirit, but Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol might have to top the list.

Celebrating its 40th year of warming hearts through the holidays, this year’s production of A Christmas Carol might just be the best yet. Larry Yando returns to Goodman as Ebenezer Scrooge, a role he has taken on with brilliance for the past nine years. Yando is just about as fun to watch as it gets from his miserable, miserly like behavior to his reborn childlike love of humanity after three spirits visit him to show him his past, present and future.

As the story by Charles Dickens goes, Scrooge is a man with little heart. He is a man who pinches every penny, treats his employee like a flunky without mercy, as he works his fingers to the bone, wants nothing to do with his remaining family and has nothing but miserable rebuttals for those who wish him a Merry Christmas, replying with “Bah Humbug!” When his former, and now deceased, partner, a man much like Scrooge appears to him on Christmas Eve to warn him of his horrid ways and the cost it has on so many and will on himself, we learn that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits – Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

As each spirit visits Scrooge, more and more is revealed about his nature. He remembers he didn’t start out as he is now. He was a good-natured boy with hopes and dreams once upon a time. In the present he sees how those who know him feel about him. Though mean and cruel to many, they still thank him and toast to him. He see’s the hardships his mistreated employee Bob Cratchit and his family face on his meek salary. He is obviously embarrassed as they still find reasons to be thankful to Scrooge. He sees a future that is bleak. He is just a miserly old man quickly forgotten.

“Are these the things that will be or the things that may happen?” He asks the spirit, hoping for a chance to redeem himself.

While Yando undoubtedly is a tour de force in the role as Scrooge, the entire cast is a powerhouse. Ron E. Rains is highly believable as the tenderhearted Bob Cratchit and is easy to feel for almost immediately. Joe Foust as Jacob Marley is also tremendous as is Lisa Gaye Dixon who wows the audience with her incredibly strong performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Kareem Bandealy also gives the production a strong assist as he skillfully fields a handful of roles including that as the show’s narrator, Topper and a hopeful young Scrooge who misses his chance at love choosing a chance at making more money instead -a decision that haunts him his entire life.

The ever-changing set is visually stunning as it changes from Scrooge’s house interior (curtains surrounding his bed and all) to the Cratchit’s humble kitchen where the room is crowded as the family sits around a table to eat a meager portion of roast duck for Christmas. Stars shine amongst the blackness as Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a ride he’ll never forget.

Goodman also breaks the mold casting a girl in the role of Tiny Tim Cratchit. Fourth grader Paris Strickland who delivers the famous line at show’s end “God bless us, every one” is excited to play Tiny Tim telling the Chicago Tribune, “I feel excited and proud of myself for getting a really inspiring role. Tiny Tim can bring hope to everyone, and I can bring hope to everyone.”

Goodman’s A Christmas Carol is not only rich tradition in Chicago, it is a fun-filled holiday treat that is sure to warm the heart and remind us that giving is better than receiving.

Highly recommended.

A Christmas Carol is being performed in the Albert Theatre at Goodman Theatre through December 31st. For more show information visit www.goodmantheatre.org.


Published in Theatre in Review
Thursday, 23 November 2017 21:10

TATC's A Wonderful Life is Wonderful Fun

The classic film It’s A Wonderful Life, based on the story The Greatest Gift, is brought to life by Theatre At The Center just in time for the holidays with their latest presentation A Wonderful Life: The Musical. In TATC’s adaptation, the story is intertwined with many big song and dance numbers, one of which stands out is the high school dance scene that includes an enlivened choreographed Charleston competition.

The story takes place in Bedford Falls, where George is met with a series of challenges while a series of incidents keeps him in the quaint town where he reluctantly takes over his father’s building and loans business rather than exploring the world and going to college to become an architect. As with any good story, we have a nemesis, in this case the nefarious Mr. Potter who claims ownership to the town’s largest bank where he can hold residents to high interest and rental rates in his slums. George aims to give the townsfolk a better option. Why should people have to wait until they are old and tired to have a home to raise their family, he asks.

George finds love with his longtime crush Mary, eventually building a family of his own. George might be scrapping by, but he has a loving family and is a source of easy loans for Bedford residents, which enables them to purchase homes with little or no collateral – many deals based on trust rather than the stringent criteria that Potter would require. Thus, he becomes a thorn in Potter’s side.
When the bank calls a loan (on Christmas Eve?) on the building and loans and his Uncle Billy misplaces a hefty deposit, his world quickly comes crashing down. Fraud, imprisonment or worse, he fears. Crawling to Potter, he is denied a loan to bail himself out. It is when he realizes that he is worth more dead than alive, only $500 in equity on a $15,000 life insurance policy, he thinks the unthinkable and (in this adaptation) heads for the train tracks to end it all. Of course, Clarence, his guardian angel, has other plans.

It is when Clarence saves him and George states he wishes he was never born at all, that such a wish is granted. In doing so, George sees the positive affects he has on so very many people and realizes what a “wonderful life” he really has, after all.

David Sajewich plays George Bailey in this classic tale of hope, goodwill and the human spirit. Sajawich, who was last seen at TATC in All Shook Up, does an admirable job as Bailey. It takes a bit of time to warm up to Sajawich as Bailey, though he really cements himself into the role during the scene at building and loans after his father passes and the board is looking for solutions and new leadership. That’s when we really get a feel for George Bailey and his caring nature for the townspeople and animosity towards Potter.

Mary Hatch (soon to be Mary Bailey) is wonderfully played by Allison Sill who so beautifully captures the heart of gold spirit in the character also wowing the audience on many occasions with her accomplished vocal range. James Harms as the evil Henry Potter really gives the second act a powerful punch as his character becomes more and more sinister, while David Perkovich is excellently cast as George’s lovable guardian angel, Clarence. As most every TATC production, we are offered a strong ensemble that can sing and dance with the best of them.

The set, though minimal, is creatively worked to provide (with a bit of audience imagination) the several different locations for the story’s many scenes. Gordon Schmidt lights up the stage with his dazzling choreography, perhaps one of the show’s brightest contributions.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical is the perfect holiday treat whether a fan of the classic film or not. There are plenty of moments in this production that capture the film’s magic and several flashes of wonderment that are created with its own musical numbers.

A Wonderful Life: The Musical is being performed at Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN. For more show information visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

It’s that magical time of the year when The House Theatre of Chicago brings the inhabitants of Clara’s toy box back to life in their annual all-original The Nutcracker. For the eight’s straight year this exciting Christmas tale brings the spirit of Christmas to the Chopin theatre in Ukrainian village. The production of The Nutcracker originally premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 under the Visiting Company Initiative and has been produced at The House every year since 2010. The House Theatre is well known for its playful approach to classic tales, and The Nutcracker is one of its best examples. Loosely based on the story by E.T.A Hoffmann, it has the traditional elements of the original story, only with a few major changes. In House’s ballet-free version Clara’s family learns that Fritz, their beloved son and brother who is a soldier, had been killed and won’t be coming home for Christmas. Darkness descends on the family and in their grief, they stop paying attention to each other not to mention forget all about Christmas. It’s when Clara’s favorite Uncle Drosselmeyer shows up the following Christmas with a new hand-made Nutcracker toy for Clara that looks exactly like Fritz, is when the family’s wound starts to heal. The cornucopia of fun characters includes a couple of Scary Rats with British accents, giant puppets and much more.

If seeing another Nutcracker seems like a tired proposition during the holiday season, wait till you experience this. Witty dialogue, skilled puppetry, live music, singing and dancing - creators Tommy Rapley, Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich and Kevin O’Donnell really packed the show with action. There’s even a great mini orchestra consisting of piano, cello, French horn, violin and percussion (under music director Matthew Muniz) seated by the back wall and providing live score during the show. Superb original choreography by Tommy Rapley and Hillary Aarons makes all that seemingly chaotic running through the stage and numerous lightning fast scene changes completely effortless.

Talented cast includes a very young newcomer this year: Haley Seda is excellent as Clara, and her beautiful singing voice is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the show. Returning cast members - Rachel Shapiri as Phoebe, Desmond Gray as Fritz, Torrey Hanson as Drosselmeyer, Amanda de la Guardia as Martha, Nicholas Bailey as David and Ian Maryfield as Monkey all make the show pure magic.
Whether or not a Christmas show is on your list this holiday season, The House’s The Nutcracker will not disappoint; it’s lively yet intimate, wise yet playful, and you might want to bring your out of town guests with you (both adults and children) to brag about Chicago’s lively theatre scene. Because the magic is real!

The Nutcracker is being performed at Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park through December 30th. For more information visit www.thehousetheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review
Saturday, 11 November 2017 06:28

"This Wonderful Life" is just that - wonderful

Most of us have seen Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at some point in their lives. Whether a Holiday tradition or by happenstance as television stations run their yearly marathons, there’s a very good chance you have experienced the heartfelt 1946 film classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. We have since seen many stage adaptations, from live radio broadcasts to large scale productions. In American Blues Theater’s “This Wonderful Life” written by Steve Murray we get an entirely different spin on this definitive piece of Americana as American Blues founding member James Leaming boldly takes on each character in the film himself in this brilliant one-man show.

For the small percentile of those who are not familiar with “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the story revolves around George Bailey during the late 1930’s through early 1940’s, taking place in the small town of Bedford Falls. The evil Mr. Potter runs the biggest bank in town and has most of its residents and small business owners in the palm of his hand. The only person to stand in his way is Pa Bailey, George’s father, who runs a small building and loans company where people can obtain funds for housing without paying exorbitant interest to Potter. George has high expectations for himself and plans to see the world while working for National Geographic once he finishes high school. After his stint around the world, George would return for college and proceed to live to his fullest potential. George’s life then takes another turn for the better when he meets Mary, his true soul mate. Though his father wants George to take over the building and loans one day, George is adamant that he wants to pursue bigger things and rejects the offer.

All is well for George until his father dies, leaving the building in loans in a state of flux. George agrees to take over temporarily, but soon finds he is needed permanently much to his chagrin. Married to Mary with a handful of kids, life is still fulfilling for George until the bank calls a loan and the money is missing. Instantly put into state of desperation, George comes to the realization that he is better off dead than alive after summing up his life to the worth of a life insurance policy. It is then that Clarence, an angel from Heaven, is sent down to help George get back on track. George wishes he was never born and Clarence grants that wish showing George what life would be without him in Bedford Falls. George is shown the positive affect that he has had on so many people, eventually seeing that he had a pretty wonderful life after all. It becomes a Christmas to remember when George's friends rally to his aid.

So that’s the gist of it.

It is a story over humanity overcoming hopelessness, a story of giving and the importance of friends. After all, as Clarence says, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

In “This Wonderful Life” James Leaming is nothing short of brilliant as he retells the famous classic, acting out each character from beginning to end. Throughout, Murray’s script adds a healthy pinch of additional humor that takes occasional jabs of the film in a fun-loving way. With a handful of very creative props and a backdrop that displays images of the story, Leaming is able to successfully pull off each character he tackles (especially his Mr. Potter and George Bailey) to give the audience a cohesive, engaging and highly entertaining theatre experience. Leaming’s ability to shift from character to character so effortlessly and so convincingly is a testament to his fine acting skills. Whereas one moment he seemingly channels the deep seeded bitterness and craftiness of Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, his ability to so quickly change gears to become the warm, likeable George Bailey or scatter-brained Uncle Billy is simply impressive.

This play is Jeff Recommended for good reason as Leaming’s performance is something to behold. Whether you’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” via film or stage, it is unlikely you’ve seen a unique version such as this.

Skillfully directed by Carmen Roman, “This Wonderful Life” is highly recommended as a holiday treat the whole family can enjoy.

“This Wonderful Life” is being performed at The Edge Theater (5451 N Broadway) in Edgewater and is running through November 26th. For more show information visit www.americanbluestheater.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

When Mitchell Fain, the star of David Sedaris's eight year long run of "Santaland Diaries" about a broke actor who lands a gig as a Macy's elf first begins his play with the opening lines of said show on a beautifully decked out and magically lit Christmas set - I thought, "Wait a minute I've seen this show already!” 

 

Quickly, Fain drops the character of Sedaris' Crumpet and becomes the character of Mitchell Fain in one of the most personal and entertaining one man shows I've seen in a long time, “This Way Outta Santaland”, written by Fain himself.

 

Fain is joined at Theater Wit by his old friend and roommate from years ago, the beautiful red headed Megan Murphy whose work I have enjoyed many times in many of the Marriott and Drury Lane Musical Theater Series. Also, playing the music for his monologues and Murphy's segue way songs is Julie B. Nichols, an excellent pianist who began the show with a hearty toast to which the whole audience raised their cups!

 

Mitchell really interacts with the audience and brings up the houselights many times as if trying to really see and relate to each person who came out in the cold Chicago weather to see his show. Fain begins by asking how many in the audience came from Chicago from a smaller place to live, and many raised their hands, including me (Miami is smaller). Some just shouted out “Ohio!” “Arkansas!”

 

He asked one woman WHY she came here and her reply was "to be an actress" to which he ad-libbed "How's that working out for you?"  Her reply got a big laugh, "Well I'm sitting in the audience not on the stage!" 

 

Then he asked how many of you here are Jewish?

 

Only me and two others in the packed house raised our hands which surprised even me!

 

Fain begins his storytelling with his rocky childhood in Rhode Island as one of the only Jews in a very rough all Italian neighborhood, and a petite, 5'3" gay Jew at that! 

 

Fain recalls that from a very young age he loved Judy Garland's music and especially memorized her version of the song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”, which allows Megan Murphy to deliver a delicious, tongue in cheek version of the song herself. 

 

In Fain’s description of his former home base, we learn that Rhode Island is the costume jewelry capital of America and that most of its inhabitants, including his single mother, toiled their lives away in these factories. Fain's mother found a way to work at one place long enough to get unemployment payments just to put food on the table and barely eke out a living, each time succumbing to the rigors of factory's physical demands which caused illness's like carpal tunnel syndrome and swollen feet. 

 

Mitchell then talks about his move to Chicago as being a move to the BIG CITY! Fortunately, he had a wonderful Christmas loving aunt, who was very generous with him and decorated her house magically each year. He brings up the irony that I have always felt as a Jew as well - that Jews actually appreciate Christmas and the whole glamorous lighting and decorations of Christmas because we never had them as children.

 

In one of the most meaningful moments for me he describes how people who gripe about having to fly home for the holidays are forgetting how LUCKY they are to have a place to go to (he had none) , how lucky they are to have people who love them enough to want them to come home and also lucky enough to have the MEANS , the money to get home, which most of the time, many actors do not. 

 

We are introduced to the story of his mother's passing in Phoenix when he reveals that during his eight great years playing Crumpet, he only missed two performances - once when he was almost hospitalized for the flu, but that he did not miss a show when his mother died. Fain received the call that his mother was dying right after performing his Sunday show but did not have enough money for a last-minute airline ticket to Phoenix and so his kind Chicago theatre family helped him raise the money to catch a red eye. Mitchell did get to Phoenix in time to say goodbye to his mother and said as he finally arrived at her bedside, and asked how she was doing, that one single tear rolled down her cheek – a tear he recognized as “Uh oh, Mitchell’s here. This must be bad”, rather than a tear that loving Mitchell was at his dying mother’s bedside. 

 

Fain and his siblings had to make the terrible decision to remove life support just as their mother clung to life just a little while longer, recovering well enough to be moved to hospice. But soon the inevitable took place and she passed away.

 

The comedy of errors began when the three siblings rush to get her cremated as is the Jewish tradition and are faced with a crummy mortician picked out of the phone book by Fain’s oldest brother. When they opened the comically large doors, the place reeked of smoke, death and CVS perfume, Fain tells us. The funeral director was crabby, short and constantly reminding the Fain’s how backed up they were before going into a relentless pitch for the family to purchase a casket, which was not in their plans remotely. Mitchell then asked to be directed to the washroom and was told the door to find just down the hall. After passing one door after another he passed an open room where his mother was laid out on a slab fully naked. Mitchell lost it, returning the tell the director he’d like to punch him in the nose. He then demanded that she get the paperwork in order for a cremation before he finishes his cigarette, then rushes outside for a cigarette - even though he doesn't smoke. 

 

Fain's siblings rush out to see if he was okay and, as he told the story of what had just happened, enjoyed a laugh together, the kind of laugh only those in mourning can appreciate when they all realize this crazy situation is the "most fun they have had with their mother in a long time". 

 

As a Jew who moved to Chicago from Miami Florida in the 80's after visiting my mother's side of the family at Christmastime, longing to experience the miracles of snow and seasonal changes and well, Christmas itself, I felt many connections to Mitchell's tales about his life in the city.

 

The Chicago theater scene with all its faults really is wonderful and is different from any other city like Los Angeles or New York in its BIG smallness, including how the poverty of actors and artists living in cheap studios, all of us totally broke for years on end paying off student loans forever. But through it all we eventually yield lifelong friendships, friendships that have become an extended family for us that no other BIG city would have fostered. And just like we learn in the inscription in George Bailey’s book at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life – “No man is a failure who has friends.” 

 

It seems playing the role in the award-winning writer David Sedaris's play for so long has rubbed off on Fain because in “This Way Outta Santaland (and other X Mas Miracles)”, Fain has written another play, also deserving of many awards, which for a Jew from the mean streets of Rhode Island is a Christmas miracle of its own! 

 

Fain is a true delight! Be sure to catch “This Way Outta Santaland” during its run through December 23rd for a warm, humorous and uniquely delivered show that features tremendous storytelling and wonderful music. To find out more about performance times and show information, visit www.TheaterWit.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

There is no better way to get in the holiday spirit than with the classic Christmas ballet, the Nutcracker. Twenty-eight years after Robert Joffrey’s original production, this is the final year that the Joffrey Ballet will perform this Nutcracker (2016 brings us the world premier of Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker!). Even decades since artistic director Ashley Wheater performed in the opening night of the production, this performance retains the timeless magic of this joyous holiday tradition.

 

For those unfamiliar, the show takes place on Christmas Eve in the 1850s, opening with a party at the house of the mayor, his wife and his two children, Clara and Fritz. In the midst of the lively party Drosselmeyer, the somewhat eccentric godfather to Clara and Fritz, sprinkles in some excitement to the festivities with enchanted life-size dolls that dance and entertain the guests. However, it is his gift of a nutcracker for Clara, which truly ignites the magic.

 

After the guests have left and the family has gone to bed, Clara sneaks downstairs to gaze upon her beloved Nutcracker. She soon finds herself in the middle of a battle between the Mouse King and his army of mice and the Nutcracker, who comes to life to fight with his band of toy soldiers.  With the toss of a shoe, Clara knocks down the Mouse King saving the Nutcrackers life and as means of a thank you, he takes her through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets where the many toys from under Clara’s tree come to life in enjoyable and fantastic dances.

 

Joffrey’s Nutcracker downplays the traditional romance between Clara and the Nutcracker prince, fortifying the role of Drosselmeyer as the catalyst and guide of Clara’s journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. Performed by Michael Smith, Drosselmeyer is a technically strong role but at times, it felt overpowering for my taste, making the role of Clara more infantile and taking away from the romance between Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. 

 

Another split from tradition was the introduction of male dancers into the Land of Snow and Waltz of the Flowers scenes, however these deviations I found truly fantastic. The combination of beautiful partnering, endless falling snow and the graceful choreography expertly performed by the snowflakes (ladies) and snow winds (men) transports the audience on their mystical journey with Clara through the land of snow. In the Waltz of the Flowers in the second act, again the partnering added an interesting dimension, as did the constant tossing of fluttering flower petals beautifully worked into the choreography.

 

Overall, the dancers exhibited a wonderful balance of grace and precision creating flowing lines that perfectly complimented the Tchaikovsky score. The company members were fantastic, performing in perfect unison with a look of joy on their face making everything look effortless as a good ballet should. There were many young performers in the show as well who steal the scene with their cuteness! In the Kingdom of Sweets, each piece was accompanied by a tiny tot dressed in character sitting with Clara to watch the dance unfold. As someone who performed in the Nutcracker a number of times as a kid, I enjoyed this element of the show, as I am sure every aspiring ballerina in the audience did as well.

 

My favorite pieces by far were the Coffee from Arabia pas de deux, where Dara Holmes captivated us with her flexibility and elegant lines and the Grand Pas De Deux by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince. Instantly entranced by the sparkle of the Sugar Plum Fairy costume, I was continually captivated as Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velasquez brilliantly performed the most iconic piece from the show.  

 

The Nutcracker runs at the Auditorium Theater through December 27th.  Buy your tickets now! Take your children, take your parents, take your date or take them all for a magical performance that will truly put you in the holiday spirit. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Use the bathroom before you take your seat at Theater Wit for Joe Mantello’s stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ now-classic holiday essay, Santaland Diaries. Trust me. The show runs one hour 20 minutes without an intermission.

But more to the point, you will laugh your jingle bells off!

Mitchell Fain tears down the fourth wall as “Crumpet,” a dishy, disgruntled, forty-four-year-old elf at Macy’s department store. Dressed in stripy tights and crushed velvet, he deftly channels Sedaris’ wry, acerbic wit and gives us an all-access pass into the underbelly of the North Pole.

Directed by Jeremy Wechsler and performed in the intimate theatre space of Theatre Wit, Fain stars as Crumpet and flawlessly delivers a seventy-five minute monologue that is dark, witty and often will have audience members doubling-over with laughter. Fain's performance is deliciously wicked whether spouting off hysterical dialogue or improvising with the audience in his own, unique and devilish way. Fain is able to get his point across with the tiniest gesture or most subtle facial expression.   

Now returning for over five years straight, Santaland Diaries has become a true Chicago holiday tradition. However, due to its mature content, the show is not recommended for kids, though it will be sure to please the adult crowd.

If you’ve ever wondered what your mall Santa and his elves are really thinking, see Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit until December 30, 2015. A must see, you can order tickets online at https://www.theaterwit.org/plays/santaland/. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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