Upcoming Theatre

Kimberly Katz

Kimberly Katz

This excellent stage production of the 2013 musical Far from Heaven was based on Todd Haynes‘ 2002 motion picture of the same name. 


Far from Heaven is set in 1957 Hartford, Connecticut, well before the advent of the sexual revolution. Cathy Whitaker played by Summer Naomi Smart discovers that her handsome, successful businessman husband Frank is having affairs - with other men! Frank was played very well and very selfishly - if not compassionately - towards his wife whose world is crushed unexpectedly by actor Brandon Springman. 


After a time of trying to convert her husband back to heterosexuality by a psychologist, Cathy and her husband realize the emptiness and futility of their sexless and coldly critical relationship continuing just for the sake of the children.


Cathy's new gardener and widowed single father of a ten-year-old daughter, Raymond Deagan (Evan Tyrone Martin), becomes her friend and the scandal of her own life in spite of their necessarily platonic enjoyment of each other's company.


Evan Tyrone Martin has a wonderful rich smooth voice, arguably the best in the show and a nice natural quality to his acting. Summer Naomi Smart is stunning to look at as the real life "Stepford Wife" whose world comes crashing down when she tries to surprise visit her husband on a night he is "working late again" and gets the shock of her life when she finds him in the office in the arms of another man.


I've seen Ms. Smart in many musical comedies but this is the first time I have seen her really let loose in a dark way, especially in the scene when she confronts her husband about his homosexual affairs and lets out a terrifying and mournful wail that truly came from deep inside her character’s psyche. It was nice to see her tackle then take the reigns on this multi-dimensional role.  


Grant Saban‘s set seemed too much like a doll house to me, very one dimensional in color and shapes but perhaps that was intentional in terms of the subtext of the repressive 1950's. However, William Morey‘s gorgeous period costumes, which reminded me of a cross between Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore's beautifully tailored and colorfully designed outfits in their respective series, brought the whole set to life.


Bri Sudia‘s performance is rich and dynamic as Cathy’s best friend Eleanor, who is very sympathetic about the sexless and lovlessness of Cathy's picture perfect marriage yet deserts her best friend over the issue of an interracial friendship. All of the supporting characters and girlfriends of Cathy Whitaker in this production do an excellent job in their respective roles and deliver as many ironic laughs as possible with subject matter that really is just a lot of sad statements about the wasted loves of many marriages in the fifties - marriages, which were built on lies and social and financial convenience rather than genuine love and real sexual attraction. 


Turning this subject matter into a musical may have made it more fun and palatable, but also detracted from the seriousness and tragedy of a woman who has given birth to two children and ends up totally alone, a single mother in the fifties, because of years and years of lies from a man who was supposed to be her best friend and true love. Yet the accompaniment of a great live orchestra really brings this sometimes somber score to life when needed. 


Finely directed by Chuck Larkin, Porchlight Musical Theatre's Far from Heaven is playing at Stage 773 through March 13th. For more show information on this absorbing and well-pieced-together production, visit www.prochlightmusictheatre.org.  


I haven't enjoyed a full night of dance as much as these three pieces presented by Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre in a very long time, the first a world premiere and two marvelous pieces back by popular demand.


The world premiere is Ashley Page’s Tipping Point. Page refers to Adès’ music as the “primary investigator”, transforming its dark, dramatic tones into physical form. “It’s not easy to write so specifically about an abstract dance work that hasn’t been created yet,” he said, “but I want to stress that this will not be a narrative ballet… My task as choreographer is to try to harness this complex, often powerfully dark material and make it ‘visible’ to the audience.” And Ades does just that.


In Tipping Point twelve dancers, sometimes in pairs or groups of three, sway and are swept away by the music in beautiful free flowing gowns which reveal a hint of red or orange colors each time they leap, which is very powerful to watch. 


Although Page mentions this piece is not a "narrative" one, it does seem to allow the audience to unleash our own inner narratives while watching especially as it ends with a couple "trapped' or perhaps "saved" in what seems to be a box made entirely of white light. 


With lush, yet melancholic music by Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Jiří Kylián’s 1981 creation (performed by the Joffrey four years ago) its inspiration is Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life portrait from 1899 of a group of women staring hopefully at the sea.


In "Forgotten Land" six couples move in and among each other, sometimes dancing with modern and complex movements of joy and other times pulling apart in anger. It seems that all are haunted by some memories of loved ones and sometime delight and revel in their memories - while other times they are overcome with despair defeated or aggravated by the same ghosts floating like foam put of the gray seas  painted on the massive backdrop behind them.


The story ballet RAkU is artistically honest and truly narrative with a smashing score by Shinji Eshima. RAkU retells with beautiful video screens and exquisite choreography the torching of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion in 1950, the work of an evil monk sexually obsessed with the Emperors wife. With the emperor away engaged in battle, the Monk takes advantage of the lonely Empress and after a frantic dance to get away from what seemed a dance meant to comfort her, she is raped by the priest, thrown finally way up against a giant white wall like a butterfly finally pinned into a glass case. Then the monk sets fire to her castle which was also her temple and their home. 


When her dutiful soldiers return and find her in this bedraggled state, using her last sword as a cane in order to crawl across the stage as if she still believes she has the strength to avenge her family, they have the awful duty of presenting her with a box full of the ashes of her own home and possibly the Emperor himself.


It is a moment in ballet that I will never forget when the Empress, played with magnificent emotion and perfection to craft and detail by the phenomenal Victoria Jaiani, takes down her jet black hair and pours the white ashes her own face and body before succumbing to her wounds with one last graceful breath and the deathly uncurling of her graceful white fingers and legs. Brava! 


I highly recommend seeing the well-chosen pieces in "Bold Moves" for a full night of dance that will leave you feeling both refreshed and deeply moved at the same time. 

Melissa Thodos the creator of Sono’s Journey and her designers, which premiered at the Auditorium Theatre Saturday, did a wonderful job telling the story of Sono Asato, a dancer who broke age and race barriers from the time she was just fourteen years old. At that same young age, Sono Asato was the first dancer of Japanese descent AND the first American to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. 


I loved the way Thodos chose to use a narrator to tell the story of Asato’s life and used real pictures from Sono's life. I overheard one audience member saying during intermission, the narration really helped the audience understand and empathize with Asato’s life journey without making us guess or make assumptions based solely on the dance and music for each vignette – a very correct observation. 


I loved the costumes and lighting, which created a dreamy effect. The dancers were superb in bringing Sono Asato’s unique and trademark hand gestures and delicate yet earthy and natural style of dance to life. Asato’s hands were especially beautiful and expressive resembling the grace and power of mudras of ancient meditation statues. 


I found it very interesting that when Osato was refused work abroad with her ballet company, it was a female theater company owner and old friend who welcomed her back to Broadway “dance shows" in order to keep making money dancing to survive. 


I also loved the vignette which included how her parent's originally met and fell immediately in love when her father Shoji was sent to photograph her beautiful mother for a performance portrait.   


Osato, now ninety-six-years-old, and still a delicate beauty, was brought onstage in a wheelchair and it was announced that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had declared that day, January 8th to be SONO ASATO DAY in Chicago. Sono Asato looked radiantly beautiful as she received her flowers and a roaring standing ovation for her groundbreaking, door opening bravery and exceptional dance performances in the classic works, Sleeping Beauty, Pillar of Fire and The Beloved.


I felt very much honored to be there in Sono Asato's presence that night during the Mayor's announcement. I felt privileged to add my enthusiastic applause and shouts of "Bravo!" for her and the delightful show "Sono’s Journey".


Dance enthusiasts and appreciators will have two more opportunities to see Sono's Journey this winter: February 20th at the North Shore Center in Skokie, and March 5th at the Harris Theater in Chicago, as part of Thodos Dance Chicago's new "Chicago Revealed" Winter Concert series. This particular production is a beautiful piece of work that everyone should experience.


I never got hooked on Lost, it was too confusing after a while. I am not a fan of The Walking Dead or Fear of the Walking Dead. Both are filled with too much gross, face eating bloody gore for my taste. I disliked Twin Peaks which was creepily sexist and unsettling to me. 


My theory for the reason this generation of young people are especially intrigued with increasingly more scary and realistic looking horror films, video games and TV shows is because the world around them is filled with the news of real human against human atrocities every day and these films make them feel safe. As if saying to themselves when they turn off the TV, "Hey my life is difficult, there are innocent people and animals suffering all around the world but at least I’m not being chased every day by flesh eating zombies! 


I probably would not have even watched "Wayward Pines" in its entirety, but after interviewing the extremely nice and forthcoming show's star Matt Dillon and Wayward Pines' executive producer/director, M Night Shyamalan, at Chicago's most popular TV and fiction fan nerd fest, C2E2, I became intrigued. 


First of all, the entire cast was extremely impressive with amazing Oscar nominated supporting cast members like Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis ,Toby Jones, Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard and of course the show's star, the still handsome and fit Matt Dillon. Dillon, nominated himself for an Oscar for his work in the 2004 film "Crash", is known primarily as a film actor who had not really been seen much on the big screen since his explosively funny portrayal as a blundering private eye in the hit "Something About Mary”. Putting all this great, mature, experienced talent together along with the involvement of wunderkind M Night Shyamalan and I figured there wasn't a way this show could flop unless there was something seriously wrong with the plot. 


The series was adapted for television and written by Chad Hodge. Now, I haven't read the successful series of books by Blake Crouch it was adapted from, which is apparently okay, as Matt mentioned in our interview that the cast was also instructed they need not read the books in order to experience the story fresh as written. 


Hodge did a fantastic job on the script, especially given that he was limited in certain elements by the ten episode series being picked up by FOX instead of a more freewheeling, R rated cable channel like Showtime, HBO or AMC. I asked M Night about this choice of networks and he felt that the limitations of prime time television actually helped the story immensely as it required the writers to infuse the script with sensuality where possible, not nudity and intelligent suspense, not constant gore, which made the show palatable for a huge mainstream audience. After seeing all ten episodes I completely agree.


Of course,  because of M Night's groundbreaking twist in his hit film the "Sixth Sense" I feared that "Wayward Pines" might try and pull off an easy and unsatisfying "this was all a dream" or "everyone is really dead" type of plot curve.  I really enjoyed that the major "secret" underlying Wayward Pines existence (which was revealed around episode five) that the entire town was actually still on earth far into the future ala "Planet of the Apes". 


There were and still are some major holes in the story, like how did Dr. Jenkins, played with mind bending creepiness by veteran actor Toby Jones keep going back and forth in time to get more groups of people?


Also, if someone told you that you and your family had been spared an end of civilization death (albeit without your permission) and forced to live in a nice little town where all the money is fake and you only need to eat, drink and show up for your fake job then enjoy your brand new house and be merry - why would so many go nuts and kill themselves? 


And the biggest hole that many Matt Dillon fans have pointed out online was that with all that super advanced scientific technology and Dillon's character's exceptional defense and fighting skills, why he wasn't able to figure out a way to detonate the bombs remotely that saved the rest of the town without blowing himself up in the process?


I don't want to dwell on those minor plot glitches because Hodge includes many very interesting and relevant ideas about the problems the human race faces right now including how these problems are affecting the minds and actions of today's youth and future generations. 


The Wayward Pines website sets the scene with this quote about the mysterious town and the "Rules" which must be followed by its citizens under threat of execution;


“Imagine the perfect American town, beautiful homes, manicured lawns, children playing safely in the streets... Now imagine never being able to leave. You have no communication with the outside world. You think you’re going insane. You must be in Wayward Pines."

"Do Not Try to Leave. Do Not Discuss the Past. Do Not Discuss Your Life Before. Always Answer the Phone if it Rings. Work Hard. Be Happy. And Enjoy Your Life in Wayward Pines."


This description of their "government" enforced lifestyle along with these eerily intrusive and nonsensical rules for living are in and of themselves a marvelous description of how many Americans and especially young people feel every day. People look at their mindless jobs, their endless struggle to make ends meet, to take care of ailing family members etc., while feeling very alone and almost as if they are going insane in a mad world they did not willingly "choose" to live in. The modern world seems - to young and old alike - to be full of rules written by privileged white men, some of which are highly intrusive, threatening, useless and even deadly.


In "Wayward Pines" Abbies (short for "aberrations") is the nickname for the creatures, once "normal" humans, who have somehow deteriorated into cannibalistic, mindless yet somewhat clever and predatory monsters.


I also enjoyed Hodges' choice that the "aberrations" were once human, not some made up aliens or animals that have suddenly become violently carnivorous, because that is exactly what is happening now all around the globe.


On an international level the Isis members who attacked all those innocent citizens in Paris which would normally be the Wayward Pines or civilized "safe place" while the Isis members are the aberrations.

                                                                                       Matt Dillon at C2E2 *Photo by Kimberly Katz


In India where a woman or female child is raped every 22 minutes, the village center or city is thought to be the "Wayward Pines" (safe place) while men, rapists from these same towns who recently gang raped and in the process murdered two three year old toddlers would be considered the Abbies of that area.


In America, on a community level, the young man who walked into the Sandy Hook day school and killed 26 women and children would be the Abbie. On a family level, in any country, the family home or unit seems to be the "safe place" our youth can grow and  blossom in - but the incestuous relative or stranger rapist/serial killer who attacks and "consumes" children or kills other family members would be the Abbie, etc., etc. 


At the very end of the final episode we find out that even though the children, or "First Generation” as they are proudly called, know the truth about their imprisonment, they continue to idolize the now dead Dr. Jenkins and his methods of watching everyone on hidden cameras and publicly killing those that even speak of resisting. It was a surprising if depressing plot twist but probably realistic that vulnerable, prideful young minds once programmed for violence will continue to practice and propagate this type of behavior rather than try to revolt and create their own peaceful utopia.


Matt Dillon was a brilliant casting choice for the lead in this new type of TV mini-series, partly because of his physical ability at the age of 51, to still realistically play an action character. Dillon has proven in the past that he is both a fine dramatic and comedic actor and also because he has wisely chosen interesting roles here and there that have kept him from becoming over exposed or identified with a lot of B quality projects. Dillon had a fiercely protective and intense presence throughout that kept the show from becoming stagnant or boring. 

In this case, from a talent agent's point of view, not a critic, I think Dillon wisely agreed or even suggested to be killed off at the end of the show, that way if Wayward Pines was a flop, he would be instantly onto the next project, no harm no foul. If Wayward Pines turned out to be a huge success, the writers could easily dream up some way to revive his character from the past, perhaps even through flashbacks alone, which would put Dillon in an excellent bargaining position for future episode rates. 


The final episode seemed to imply that the actor Charlie Tahan who played Matt Dillon's son was going to follow in Dillon's footsteps as the lead actor of the second season. However, Tahan, as good as he is as a sensitive young actor, is just not appealing, sexy or strong enough to carry this show. But who knows? Hot, new, young characters may be introduced that will effectively preserve the show's adult "sexy" factor. 


If the writing and major adult, character actor involvement in the plot lines continues, I am convinced that a second season of Wayward Pines will be a hit even without Matt Dillon's presence. However I agree with many other viewers who have expressed their opinions through social media that they will have little or no interest in the show if Dillon's character is actually finished. Matt Dillon's sexy, strong and urgently heartfelt portrayal as the rescuer in Wayward Pines will not be easy to replace, especially if he and others are replaced by less mature actors in their 20's to just satisfy a younger audience. 


Dillon's next project is Zach Braff’s remake of “Going In Style”. Matt Dillon will costar alongside Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and the ageless Ann-Margaret due out in May of 2016. 


Also, after our interview Dillon expressed a strong desire to direct again as he did quite well critically by writing, directing and starring in his directorial debut "City of Ghosts" which also starred James Caan and Gerard Depardieu. Dillon has also been working on a documentary about Afro-Cuban musician El Gran Love.  


Wayward Pines is a production of FX Productions. The series was developed for television by Chad Hodge and executive-produced by Donald De Line, Ashwin Rajan Hodge and Shyamalan. Hodge wrote and Shyamalan directed the premiere episode and the second season is set to debut in the summer of 2016.



"Gotta Dance" is a partly fictional partly true story based on the 2008 documentary film by Dori Bernestein about the New Jersey Nets and the basketball team’s efforts to boost flagging attendance by creating the first-ever hip-hop halftime dance team comprised only of those 60 and older. 


Georgia Engel, best known for her role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, plays a school teacher who secretly loves, listens and dances to Tupac in her spare time. Engel steals the show with practically every line of hers getting huge laughs, showing that not only can she still sing and dance at the age of 67, Engle has lost NONE of her terrific comedic timing. 


Also, Stefanie Powers most famous for her role on TV's "Hart to Hart" looks, dances and sounds absolutely beautiful in her role as the slightly bitter divorcee. Once crowned Miss NY Subway, she refuses to let go of her youthful image holding on any way she can, including Botox and still taking three dance classes a week at the age of 73.


Two of the best songs in the show “Dorothy/Dottie” and “The Prince of Swing” are the work of Marvin Hamlisch (“A Chorus Line”), who worked on the show just before his death in 2012.


Dance team member Camilla is played by a tall, thin, gorgeous Broadway singer and dancer, Nancy Ticotin, who at age 58 engaged in a HOT, sexy affair with her 25-year-old salsa partner (Alexander Aguilar). Ticotin's excellent dancing and voice are really standouts in this show and her affair with a younger man is entirely believable as she looks and dances with the grace of a woman half her age. 


Mae, who is an adorable, well-meaning but slightly confused and off balance dancer is played by Lori Tan Chinn. Chinn gives heart wrenching but casually delivered rendering of “The Waters Rise”, a moving song about her husband’s deterioration from Alzheimer’s disease. 


The sole man in the dance group is Ron played adorably by Andre De Shields, a still mourning widower who has a fantastic mellowed out yet modern feel to his Jazzy dancing and delivery of straight forward encouragement to the ladies around him in the show. 


Like many of the characters in the show, I "used to be a dancer" until I was disabled in an accident so I really loved the fact that they showed that practically everyone has some of the ability to keep dancing at an advanced age, whether it's hip hop, swing, or tap if you like!


"Gotta Dance" also showed the ageism young dancers face when being "retired" forcibly from their dance squads at the ripe old age of 27. 


I highly recommend "Gotta Dance". This is a funny, fast paced, heartwarming and inspiring show every single person should see at some time in their life.


"Gotta Dance" reminds us all we are spirits living in bodies that may be slowly deteriorating, but we need never give up the JOY of DANCING our young or old bodies - in our living rooms at least! Playing at Bank of America Theatre through January 17th, tickets and more show info can be found at www.BroadwayInChicago.com. 

Bruce Norris, also a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble, wrote and directed this very funny, fast moving play about a gynecologist turned politician, Bill Pulver, who ends up putting a young prostitute into a coma during rough sex play. 


The play opens at a press conference as the news hits the public about the young woman struggling for life on a respirator where it is also noted  with disgust that she was wearing a child's school uniform when found - much like Pulver’s uniforms his own two young daughters wear to school.


As the play goes on, we find out this is not a one-time event, and in fact it is slowly revealed that he has been seeing various prostitutes for over a decade and has spent more than $76,000.00 of he and his wife's money on his “hobby”, or “sex addiction” which is never made clear. 


I really enjoyed that the female characters far outnumbered the male characters in this play. It gave each of the leads especially Mary Beth Fisher, who plays Pulver’s wife Judy the chance to really tear up the stage with some fantastic speeches. 


Steppenwolf favorite Tom Irwin in the lead as Pulver is perfect as the slightly charismatic, Bill Clinton-ish character who thinks he has no reason to say he's sorry to the public or anyone else. Pulver feels that cheating on his wife with a prostitute is not an ongoing affair, but rather a victim-less crime and a necessity for any man who has been married as long as he has. Pulver refuses to apologize to the public at the press conference and seems to think what he has done is as common as using porn anonymously on the internet except that the porn actually comes to you and has sex with you. 


The couple has a preteen daughter they adopted from Asia who shows a slideshow throughout the play describing how different species of animals have much more dominant females than humans do. Some that do not even require a male to reproduce. Cassidy was who was played sensitively by Emily Chang is literally sickened by the arguing going on around her, grabbing her inhaler and running offstage which neither parent seems to notice or really care about. 


For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliantly written, witty, almost manifesto-like feminist play. Refreshing is that Norris is not afraid to bring to the surface such taboo subject matter, for instance when the older daughter brings up how upset she is and genuinely concerned with issues like female genital mutilation, a desperately important and horrific feminist and human rights desecration I did not even know existed when I was a teenager.


But then completely disappointing is when Norris writes a final scene where the victim awakens from her coma and seems to be seeking publicity for a book about her injuries. This scene seemed to turn everything around as if it was her fault or intent in some way to capitalize on his crime and shows the husband and wife on opposite sides of the stage breathing a sigh of relief, almost as if to say that if she's not “dead”, and wants some retribution, she probably is a just a whore who "asked for it”, and he is just a regular cheating husband just like any other husband except that he wanted to hold public office while continuing to cheat on his wife with prostitutes. It was almost as if Pulver should be absolved of his wrong doing and may actually even become the victim when the rest of the play, up until that point, steered us otherwise.


I know some men will be aggravated watching this play but intrigued while women will just love it. In fact, there was a gentleman sitting next to me who stated in the after play discussion, "His wife is such a shrew, I think he had a right to cheat on her." I quickly asked, "Even if that's true, did he have the right to lie to her for a decade? To expose her to any number of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS without her knowledge?" The man fell silent and could not answer me, but I suspect he and his wife had quite a rousing discussion on their ride home! 


Funny, smart and dark, running 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, "Domesticated" is exciting to watch, full of great performances and highly recommended. “Domesticated” will get you and your partner  talking - and maybe in the process even fuel a few long overdue divorces of its own.


“Domesticated” is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through February 7th. For more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org.  

I've seen Hell in a Handbag’s production of “Christmas Dearest” before and the dazzling funny and yet touching show has now officially become part of my true Holiday tradition. The reason being is that it takes the classic tale "A Christmas Carol" and throws some six-inch, size 11 heeled, f*ck me pumps on it, tosses back a martini, lights up an extra-long cigarette and says "We love you just the way you are”.  It is Christmas time - the time for Love and Acceptance is really here happening in Chicago! 


David Cerda wrote the script and the book for this adorable musical theater piece and I am continuously blown away by his huge amount of talent. 


Always one to give his shows 110 percent of his energy, no matter how many hats he has to wear at once, I must say Cerda was absolutely on FIRE with the spirit of Joan Crawford at the opening night performance!! Joan has been asked to play "Mary, the Mother of God” on the big screen and Cerda plays her searingly with beauty, ugliness and star charisma. 


Crawford is cheap and cruel and wants to force the entire cast to work on Christmas Day.  Soon the witchy Crawford is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Even the actual "Mary, Queen of Heaven" comes down from her  Royal Heavenly Throne to advise Crawford that she better shape up or she'll be dead soon, along with her dying career.


Hell in a Handbag's company of regulars are essential including the ever-reliably hysterical Ed Jones as Crawford's empathetic assistant/slave. New additions also add punch such as recent Northwestern graduate Frankie Leo Bennett as Crawford's now infamous biographer daughter, Christina, and Roosevelt University undergrad Alexa Castelvecchi who has a great voice and  lovely stage presence as a young Crawford who is shown to have once been a caring, generous young girl before "Hollywood casting couches” and politics ruined her psychologically. 


Also deserving of extra special mention is "Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” in the form of Bette Davis, played to laughable perfection by Caitlin Jackson dressed in a fantastically dead on and literally dead "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" costume. 


The hysterical and perfectly tailored costumes for every single character by Kate Setzer Kamphausen, and equally indispensable wigs designed by Keith Ryan were colorful and perfectly dated in the most kitschy way possible for maximum laughs. 


Now there are some great theater companies in Chicago where the founder or artistic director would not be missed if absent from a single production but David Cerda is not one of them. Cerda displayed his complete control over the cast and audience when he reached for a martini accidentally placed a few feet too far from his chaise and got the biggest laugh from the audience when he addressed us with a droll improvised "Eight weeks of rehearsal...". 


I highly recommend this darling, genuinely laugh out loud funny and open-minded musical production to everyone ready to rock and possibly drink their way through their heartbroken holidays! Christmas Dearest is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through December 29th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org. 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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




Broadway in Chicago and producers Starvox Entertainment and June Entertainment present “Sherlock Holmes”, starring the often very funny David Arquette in the title role that is based on the shrewd detective in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery novels.


Now, I like David Arquette, I think he’s a talented comedic and dramatic actor and obviously he has the chops to pull of this role but so many things conspired to make this production an overly long, campy but not funny mess. I’m at a loss to describe them all. 


I’ll just keep it short. First, the stage which was very modern, stark, and cold did nothing to clarify where any of the characters were at any time in the show. The set was accented only by slightly different chairs and red, black and grey lighting changes. Although Arquette, as Sherlock Holmes, struggled to pull off a few laughs here and there with his flamboyant drug using character, everyone else seemed to just be shouting at each other and racing about willy-nilly like the Keystone Cops the whole play, as if pretending to be an old 20’s movie version of the play. Perhaps there may be room to turn Sherlock Homes into a comedy, but the writers missed the mark on this one.


James Maslow, stars as the legendary Dr. John Watson, along with Renne Olstead as the well-to-do-American, Lady Irene St. John. Olstead is best known for her roles as Lauren Miller in the TV sitcom "Still Standing”, and as Madison Cooperstein in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager”.


I honestly think if they cut the show down to 90 minutes from 2 and one half hours, people might have left saying that it was an interesting and modern take on an old classic. However, this cold, campy and dark version of the show did little to satisfy real fans of Sherlock Holmes. The head-scratching crimes were not as engaging as one would have hoped and the laughs not as big. Though nice to see Arquette on the stage, I hope to see him return in a more entertaining production. You can only do so much with the material given. 


This new and original adaptation inspired by Doyle's classic detective tales by playwright Greg Kramer and directed by Andrew Shaver is scheduled to play Chicago's Oriental Theatre (24 W Randolph) November 24 - 29, 2015. For tickets and more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.” - Jerome Kern


There are shows that make one proud to be an American, proud to be Jewish and proud to be of immigrant descent and Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin currently performed at Royal George Theatre is one show that does all three. 


Felder proves yet again that he is a consummate master of the one person show. While his bio/docu/musicals about famous composers, from his George Gershwin Alone, to Fryderyk Chopin, to Ludwig van Beethoven, to Maestro Leonard Bernstein thrilled Chicago and LA audiences and critics alike, this production and his  portrayal of Irving Berlin is quite simply the icing on the cake of his career.


Irving Berlin, whose real name was Israel Isidore Baline and whose musical background included that his father was a cantor (singer for the Temple), was only eleven years old when he left his house to find work as a singing waiter because "there were too many mouths to feed" even with his pennies earned as a paperboy.


Although Berlin's first hits were more comical and vaudevillian like “Marie from Sunny Italy”, and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, to grab people's attention, it was the grief over the tragic death of his first wife that he credits with teaching him how to write a real song.


Like a chapter from a sad Lifetime movie, Berlin married his adorable twenty-year-old sweetheart took her to fashionable Havana for their honeymoon and five months later she died from typhoid fever she contracted on their week-long stay. 


Later he married socialite Ellin MacKay the daughter of the richest man in the United States, and wrote his classic, timeless love song, “Always”, about his pure joy at finding her. They were married for 62 years, and ironically her father disowned Ellin and Berlin for years for marrying a Jewish immigrant songwriter - until right after the stock market crash in which Mr. MacKay lost his entire fortune but Berlin wisely having purchased the publishing rights to ALL of his songs kept his finances relatively intact during the depression.



Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -

I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.


Berlin’s songs include, “Blue Skies”, (composed for his daughter), “Heat Wave”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Steppin’ Out with My Baby”, “What’ll I Do”, and the scores of “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Holiday Inn”, “Easter Parade,” and many more. We also learn that Berlin wrote “White Christmas” years after his son Irving Jr. was tragically found dead on Christmas morning at just three-weeks-old. In all, Irving Berlin composed 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs, and over 1500 published songs including one of his biggest hits, “God Bless America”.


I really loved the set which consisted of a lovely Christmas tree and piano with windows that opened onto a wonderful video presentation of the actual people, Berlin, his wives, etc as he tells a story about each. My only note for Felder is that he reconsiders having an intermission in any show he directs or stars in that is longer than 90 minutes as this one was. The audience was rapt the entire time but I felt the break in the middle would have allowed them to enjoy the show even more as a whole evening of entertainment with time to absorb and refresh between the two acts.


The artistic team for Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin is outstanding and led by Director Trevor HayScenic Design is by Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay, Sound Design is by Erik Carstensen, Lighting Design is by Richard Norwood and Video Design is by Andrew Wilder. The Scenic Decoration is by Meghan Maiya.



“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a rich and fully enjoyable experience that is playing at The Royal George theatre through December 6th. For more show information, visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com

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