22nd Apr2014

A Stunning and Deserved Encore of a Newly Environmental CATS at Marriott

by rockchicago


The Marriott Theatre presents an encore of the world’s best-loved musical Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS.  Based on the poems of T.S. Eliot, the shows continue through May 25 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL. CATS is directed by multiple Jeff Award-winner Marc Robin with Musical Direction by Ryan T. Nelson.

Since premiering in London in 1981, CATS went on to become the longest running musical in the history of British theatre and the longest running musical on Broadway. In 2003, the Marriott theatre presented a new production of CATS directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, which quickly became the best-selling show in the theatre’s long history. One of the audience’s most requested encores, the Marriott Theatre presents a whimsical, environmental production in which our intimate surroundings bring you closer than ever to the “The Jellicle Ball.”

I have seen more productions of CATS than I care to admit. I must say, this production with a minimalist set which continues into the audience and a beautiful uber- talented cast and choreography nothing short of a 2 hour aerobics class is a visual feast. The lighting design by Jesse Klug is truly extraordinary and the costuming by Nancy Missimi and wigs designed by an army of designers is really spot on. Buddy Reeder’s makeup design gives each actor a very unique character which allows you to invest in getting to know these feline lovelies.

Marc Robin has assembled some of the Chicago area’s finest triple threat talents to star in the show. The show begins with the naming of cats by the entire company. At this time, you are introduced to each character in the company. Marriott has enlisted the talents of one of Chicago’s finest tap dancing comic actresses, Tammy Mader to play the Gumbie Cat, Jennyanydots. She starts out as an obese old cat, sheds her skin, and is transformed into a tap dancing starlet complete with a full chorus of back up dancers. A perfectly executed Busby Berkley-esque showstopper ensues.

We are then introduced to Rum Tum Tugger complete with screaming teen girl cats and the entire ensemble. Jake Klinkhammer really has the moves and embraces his inner Elvis, although I felt his vocals could have been a little stronger. George Andrew Wolff plays the spat and tuxedoed Bustopher Jones with a stuffy English air and oversized costume. His character is one of two roles he plays in the show.


We are next introduced to Grizabella, the glamor cat, a once glamorous show girl, now a mature and shunned outcast of the feline community. This role is played with brilliant detail and commitment by Chicago veteran Heidi Kettenring. Possessing a limp from age and eyes that show her sadness, Kettenring takes complete ownership of this role and delivers. The cats Demeter and Bombalurina played respectively by Alexandra Palkovic and Summer Naomi Smart sing of the sad outcast while flirting with the danger of a cat fight. It is a touching moment near the end of act one.
In contrast we are next introduced to Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer played respectively by Buddy Reeder and Laura Savage. These two tiny framed talents literally aerobicize all over the stage in a tightly choreographed celebration of two of the most fun loving kitties you have ever seen. They maintain perfect harmony while jumping, dancing, lifting, and hanging all over the stage. This was by far one of the finest moments of the show. It clearly brought the house down.

We are then introduced to Old Deuteronomy brilliantly sung by Matthew R. Jones, known for the tour of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Titanic” on Broadway. Jones’ portrayal as the nurturing fatherly center of the cat community was excellent. A role normally sung in a lower baritone, Jones sang the entire role in his beautiful tenor. His voice soared and his nurturing qualities were eminent as he strutted about the stage and introduced the Jellicle Ball. The ball was a truly wonderful and exhilarating moment at the end of act one. The entire company appeared to breathe as a single unit. Every muscle and fiber of each of the dancers was moving as one. It was a joy to watch.

Act one ends with the present day Grizabella singing the iconic song “Memory” to her once young self. This prepares us for the reprise in act two.

In act two we are introduced to the old theatre cat Asparagus(played by George Andrew Wolff), who is affectionately referred to as Gus.  He is a mature cat of many years, possessing a muscle affliction. The sweet cat Jellylorum played by Johanna McKenzie Miller tells us of Gus and his career on the stage. In a dream sequence the actors play Growltiger and Griddlebone in a campy and brilliantly executed opera diva segment which showcase the vocal and comic prowess of both Miller and Wolff. These two chew up the scenery in a flawless operatic scene that demonstrates their ability to sing notes from the heavens while performing some pretty hysterical physical comedy.

This brings us to the entrance of Skimbleshanks the railway cat played with great energy by Brian Bohr. He makes his way through the theater aisles and stage on a scooter. Now that is making an entrance. If that isn’t enough we are then introduced to Macavity, played by the muscular Sam Rogers. He is definitely the rebel and it is most evident when he fights with the other cats. The fight sequence is awesome. The vamps Demeter and Bombalurina and the entire ladies chorus sing a torchy rendition of Macavity complete with show girl brassy moves.

Sagiya Eugene Peabody, one of the few non union actors in the show completely embodies the role of Mistofelees. When he makes his entrance he completely captivated the audience with his energy and moves. While other productions have chosen to use pyrotechnics, the Marriott production has chosen lighting to show his magic. Slight of build, he is a bundle of energy and one to watch on Chicago stages.

Heidi Kettenring as Grizabella is now reintroduced in the reprise of “Memory.” She sings a gut wrenching rendition of the song. Her vocal and acting chops give the audience a truly extraordinary moment in musical theater. She is a force to be reckoned with and every muscle in her body embodies the song and its message. Following the song we discover it is her who is going to the Heaviside Layer. In a celebration of her life on earth, the entire theater is filled with joy and balloons drop from the ceiling allowing the entire audience to experience her ascension in to the layer. The entire ensemble embraces the once shunned starlet as it is her who is the chosen one to move onto her next life. Previous productions of CATS chose to have her fly above in a tire. In this production a beautiful lighted stair case lowers from the heavens and each step is lit up brilliantly as she climbs the stairs. Theatre magic at its best.

Matthew R. Jones’ tenor soars in the addressing of cats and the entire company joins in the finale.  Additional cast members Liam Quealy, J Tyler Whitmer, Patrick Keefe, William Carlos Angulo, Shanna Heverly, Luke Manley, Melissa Zaremba, Adrienne Storrs, Amanda Tanguay, Ellen Green, Christine Mild, and Andy Planck all add amazing voices and strong movement to the ensemble. Of special note Raymond Interior as Alonzo is clearly the master of balletic turns. He is an amazing dancer and very light on his feet. A joy to watch.

This production of CATS is a must see. If you love the musical see it. If you haven’t seen CATS you must experience this production. It is an environmental production which puts you right in the action. Set Design by Tom Ryan, costumes by Nancy Missimi, Lighting Design by Jesse Klug, Sound Design by Bob Gilmartin and Properties Design by Sally Weiss. The lush orchestra that balances nicely with the vocals is conducted by Musical Supervisor Patti Garwood. The show runs 8 performances a week through May 25. For tickets call Marriott theatre Box Office at 847-634-0200. Visit http://www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.

Reviewed by John B. Boss

24th Mar2014

Follow the Dance at “Heartbeat of Home”

by rockchicago

Every once in awhile a work of theatre comes along that takes your breath away and while doing so ignites your imagination in such a way as to rejuvenate one’s faith in the power of performance; which at it’s core is a celebration of LIFE.  HEARTBEAT OF HOME is such a show. Chicago, America’s new theatre capital marks the U.S. Premiere of this spectacular new offering from the Producers and Director of Riverdance. At once joyous and celebratory, HEARTBEAT OF HOME, delivers lush musical orchestrations and vivid, heart stopping video installations. These elements provide the back drop for some pretty amazing, extremely detailed and highly nuanced performances from nearly thirty world class dancers from Ireland, USA, Spain, Australia, Britain, Canada, Mexico and Italy, alongside aficionados of a wide array of musical instruments and singers of song in tow. I found myself on seats edge mesmerized for an entire two hours.

Having never experienced RIVERDANCE, I had no idea what lay in store for me. I was expecting two hours plus of Irish dance; which, truthfully, I’d have have enjoyed. What I experienced, however, was a show full of heart, longing and celebration. A show that arrests the audiences senses and speaks to every audience members notion of ‘home’. I found myself swept away by the lush musical orchestrations by Brian Byrne, by the languid and grand sweeping video installations David Torpey, and by the heartfelt power of the deeply emotional ballads sung by the amazing Lucia Evans. These elements aside, the power and force of this show belongs to the dancers. Evocative, emotional, dazzling footwork and a grand sweeping use of stage marks the expert craftsmanship, discipline and passion of these dancers. These dancers are simply PHENOMENAL, each one world class in their own right. Choreographer, David Bolger’s work is stupendous.

Two dancers, in particular serve as anchors for HEARTBEAT OF HOME; Clara Sexton and Bobby Hodges. Sexton, a petite dark haired pixie conjures images of Peter Pan. Each time Sexton graces the stage, it’s as if she literally floats on air. Her fancy footwork, breeziness of body, and devilish smile, all convey grace, spacial ease and immense joy. She soars, glides, floats; she enchants and is not one note short of amazing to watch. Bobby Hodges, exudes a commanding presence and deftly maneuvers his way through intricate dance sequences. If it can be said that a dancer can burn holes in the floor, than that can be said of Hodges. It’s been said of Hodges,  he combines the energy of Gene Kelly with the grace of Fred Astaire and this is absolutely true. This young man is exuberant; a powerhouse of a dancer. He brings charm, fearlessness, good looks and PRESENCE to his work on stage.

Other stand outs amongst the dancers are; Angelo Gioffre, Stefano Domit, Teneisha Bonner, Curtis Angus, Clare Craze, and Vanessa Guevera. But truly, this is a gifted ensemble. An ensemble in every sense of the word. Each dancer brings brilliance, fortitude, heart and soul to their work. Each performer is so gorgeously committed to craft and to the storytelling of HEARTBEAT OF HOME which makes it at once compelling and soaring in it’s eloquence. Home means something different to everyone and this ensemble gloriously conveys the importance of home, family, community; the idea that HOME, no matter where it may be, wherever it is..it’s worthy of celebration. This production soars above the clouds and lands smack dab in the middle of your heart. It is simply and gorgeously a celebration of the human spirt; the humanity of us all. DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW.

Reviewed by Madrid St. Angelo

24th Mar2014

Superb Musicality Makes “Passion” a Winner

by rockchicago


Passion presented by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at No Exit Café. Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Fred Anzevino. Runtime 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Theo Ubique has been making their mark on the non-equity theatre scene in Chicago over the last several years. They have redefined the term “dinner and a show”. Finding critical success with a wide range of material from Pump Boys and Dinettes to Evita, they have won over 30 Jeff awards. Passion looks to add to that success.

Passion is one of Stephen Sondheim’s darkest shows (dare I say even more so than his masterpiece Sweeney Todd). A love triangle set in 19th century Italy find Giorgio, a military officer deeply in love with Clara, a married woman. When he is transferred from Milan he meets and becomes the obsession of his commanding officer’s niece, the sickly Fosca. And in this particular love triangle, there are so many things to love.

Firstly, Adam Veness’ set design is masterful. Painted as black marble, his small unit set makes the show move smoothly. A bed and a table disappear into the walls and the two stone arch ways take up the front section of the no exit. The candles coming from the dinner tables and the pillars holding the space up seem like extensions of the design and just add character to this truly intimate experience. Jess Goings’ lighting design is strong as well. I often noticed the intricacies of her color pallet. There is one moment with Clara bathed in pink light against a pillar and she simply looks angelic.

Passion is a show that lives or dies by its three leading players. They do not disappoint. Danni Smith is giving a power house performance as Fosca. Her character rides the fine line between sympathy, pity and revulsion. Beautifully sung, “I Read” and “I Wish I Could Forget You” are true highlights in the first act. She reaches the height of her emotional struggle when she sings the words “Loving you is not a choice/and not much reason to rejoice/But it gives me purpose”. Miss Smith’s Fosca is fully aware of the derangement of her obsession, and does not ask forgiveness. This is a performance that will be remembered for several years and should be given great consideration come awards season.

Colette Todd is vocal perfection as Clara. She looks radiant in her costumes (designed by Bill Morey) and there is never any question as to how she has earned the affection of Giorgio. The opening “Happiness” is tender and honest. There were a couple times she over powers her co-star (Peter Oyloe plays Girogio) but one hardly seems to mind with the sound she produces. Her acting is on point as well, especially in an act 2 confrontation with her lover. There is such vulnerability in her confliction that I found myself sympathizing with Clara far more than I probably should. Her career has really taken off in the last two years and I cannot wait to see her on even grander stages in this city.

Peter Oyloe gives a good performance as Giorgio though he is not on the same level brilliance as his female counter parts. He is far more guarded and is afraid to let his true feelings show. He sings the role well, and certainly has the looks. There is never doubt as to why two women are fighting over him. His Giorgio is internalized and because it’s really his story, there were just moments here or there where I wanted him to open up a little more. He must put up with Fosca yes, but there can be more force and a stronger disdain for her early advances. Going a little further will only push the emotions of the ending between the two to where it truly needs to be.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. There is such individuality amongst the ensemble that often is not found in other productions. Other smaller roles also stand out such as John B. Leen as Colonel Ricci and Peter Vamvakas as Dr. Tambourri. Mr. Leen leads the “Flashback” (after an awkwardly placed though needed intermission) with great power. Mr. Vamvakas is honest and his true intentions in manipulating Giorgio are not vein. Applause for both men along with the rest of the ensemble for not being overshadowed by the two leading women. Kory Danielson should also be praised for his music direction. This tiny chamber piece vocally soars.

This kind of production is so uniquely Chicago. You are on top of the actors and they use every inch of the performance space. It’s a rare delight to hear a musical sang without amplification. These two women carry a remarkable, intimate staging of a lesser produced musical that you are not likely to see again for some time. To experience it on the composer’s birthday was an even greater treat. Theo Ubique has another hit on their hands.

Highly Recommended

Passion runs through April 27th. Performances are Thursdays at 730pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm. Tickets $34-39. Dinner package available. www.theo-u.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

24th Mar2014

Charisma Drives This “Road Show” to Success

by rockchicago


Road Show at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by John Weidman. Directed by Gary Griffin. Runtime 95 minutes with no intermission.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre has become the most trust worthy theatre in Chicago when it comes to the work of…Stephen Sondheim? Yes you read that correctly. Over the last several years, associate artistic director Gary Griffin has continued to dazzle CST audiences with new interpretations of the work of this musical theatre master.

Road Show, has gone through several rewrites dating all the way back to 1999 (then known as “Wise Guys”) and premiered at the Goodman Theatre in 2003 (then known as Bounce). Sondheim has persisted over the years to revisit this piece in the hopes of getting it right, and finally he has struck gold!

Road show tells us the story of the real life Mizner brothers, Addison and Wilson. When their father dies the duo run off to Alaska’s gold rush hoping to strike it rich. This, much like many of their plans in life turns out to be a failure. Throughout their life, despite their rivalry and distaste for each other, continue to cross paths in business ventures until their death three months apart from each other. It’s a story of brotherly love, the drive to success and two unfortunate souls destined to spend eternity together during and after life.

Griffin’s production uses the title to greatly influence his concept. This production plays out much like a band of traveling players in the vaudeville circuit putting on a show. The actors play several instruments along the way. Unlike director John Doyle (who revolutionized this concept and directed the New York production of Road Show in 2008), instead of making the production about the instruments as extensions of the character, it never becomes more important than the action taking place. Amongst so much dysfunction in his characters, Griffin has helped find such humor in the piece.

The two leading men can be described in one word: charismatic. Both are equally likeable as they are detestable. Andrew Rothberg as Wilson Mizner is as slimy and quick witted as they come. One often wonders throughout the piece if he truly does care about his brother or if money is the only thing on his mind. He shines in the “Boca Raton” sequence as his drug riddled brain quickly takes over the only success his brother Addison has ever had.

Michael Lindner finds great sympathy within in Addison. His bumbling, push over persona is relatable, tragic and even slightly charming. “Addison’s Trip” is one of the definite highlights in the show, chronicling his trip around the world as he spends the little fortune he had leaving him destitute yet again. Mr. Lindner is never better than when he shares the stage with his business partner and future lover Hollis Bessemer (played by Robert Lenzi). From their first hilarious meeting in a train compartment (which brings about the funniest moment of dialogue in the evening) to when the two men share a tender, lovely rendition of the show’s most hummable tune “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened” the two men find great chemistry together.

Robert Lenzi (known for Broadway’s South Pacific and Off-Broadway’s Dogfight), brings boyish charm and a crisp tenor voice to Hollis. His confrontation towards the end of the show with both brothers is heartbreaking because he is just so likeable. The rest of the ensemble all have their moments to shine. Anne Gunn and Larry Adams as the Mizner parents are both vocal standouts. The cast of twelve takes on close to 30 characters with great musicianship and precision.

Road Show is not likely to be produced again in the near future, and certainly not to the success found here. It is a remarkable production that makes Gary Griffin the definitive Sondheim director here in Chicago. There is no Sondheim show slated for next season so this is the last chance to see this composer’s work at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre for some time. Run, do not walk to this “Road Show”.

Highly Recommended

Road Show runs through May 4th. Performances are Tuesdays-Fridays at 730pm, Wednesdays at 1pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. www.chicagoshakes.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

25th Feb2014

Chekov for the Post 9/11 World

by rockchicago


Three Soldiers (For Sisters) presented by Red Theater Chicago at The Den Theatre. Written and directed by Aaron Sawyer. Runtime 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.

In this modern adaptation of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters, Red Theater Chicago has found a way to bring the past 10 years of history into the ever poignant story of three sisters who just wish for happiness and a better life in Moscow (or in this case Omaha).

Adapting one of the greatest theatrical masterpieces ever written is no small task and writer & director Aaron Sawyer does so in keeping the entire structural plot of the original play while infusing the topics of post 9-11 patriotism, the influence the American occupation has on the natives during war and the repealing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. As a purist and lover of Chekov one may balk at the idea of a gender confused Tuzenbach, a hip hop loving Vershinin, a club hopping Irina or a terrorist that breaks the fourth wall but every character is layered, truthful and compelling. When acted well, Chekov’s works can be hilarious and in Sawyer’s script humor is in abundance. Furthermore, in this adaptation it is Irna’s (Irina’s) story more than ever, a fact I believe is often overshadowed by strong performances in other productions of the original play.

There is not one weak link in the cast. Sarah Liken (Irna) goes through a wonderful transformation from a girl on the brink of adulthood to a jaded, grieving woman. Liken is charming, and shares intense chemistry with both her love interests Cookie (Victoria Alvarez-Chacon) and Sully (Mickey O’Sullivan). I’d like to point out the costume design here by Erica L. Hohn aids Miss Liken in looking youthful, and the difference between the costumes in each act move with Irna’s story arch. A very strong design choice for a very representational, small production.

Mickey O’Sullivan as Sully gives one of the strongest performances. He walks a fine line between likeable awkward buffoon and the hopeless rich man who cannot buy happiness. Meredith Ernst’s Maria is bitter yet seductive and has arguably the most heartbreaking end to any character in this story. On the flip side, her husband Freddy (Christopher Paul Mueller) delivers several moments of comic relief but turns maniacal when the secrets throughout the play come to a head. Mueller handles the heartbreak well, but is less sympathetic to the audience than his cohorts.

Erin O’Connor is a likeable Natasha, which is ironic considering how insufferable Natasha’s actions are. As each act goes by O’Connor appears more statuesque and domineering (again, the costuming helps achieve this). Miss O’Connor is stunning, commanding and it’s no wonder that Andrew (the entertaining Evan Sawdey) is manipulated by and madly in love with her. Sawdey’s geeky Andrew is the definition of whipped and his struggle to find his control and his manhood is tragic.

Gage Wallace is given the most difficult task within the play. He is billed as The Misfit and aptly so. He plays a foreign house maid affectionately called Turd amongst his masters, a US General (with an unneeded story arch involving the rape of Sully) and a suicide bombing terrorist. Wallace is faced with the 20 percent of the script that I found unneeded. When breaking the fourth wall it pulled us out of the story. Sully (or as we know him in the original piece Solyony) is not the central focus of the play and I found the US General could have been cut. Nevertheless, Wallace is a force to be reckoned with. As a suicide bomber in the fourth act he is terrifying. Wallace humanizes what we fear in a post 9/11 world and reminds us that the people we are killing are still human beings. He should certainly be recognized for a thrilling performance with what is considerably the weakest material in the play. I found the writing of these 4th wall breaking vignettes to be the one issue I had leaving the theatre.

While the play sometimes lacks the poetry one associates with Chekov, the commitment and honesty of the actors make these soldiers (and sisters) identifiable and worth the time spent with them. Sawyer’s direction is strong as is a substantial part of his material. While the show has its odd moments, it does what new theatre should do, it makes us ask questions. As the terrorist in the piece indicates: after all this time nothing has changed; and only then do reflect on how far we’ve come but how much farther we have to go as people and as a nation. Now more than ever are the themes of Chekov’s play relevant and Three Soldiers (for Sisters) dares us to delve into them.


Three Soliders runs through March 30th. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 730pm and Sundays at 3pm. www.redtheater.org

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

20th Feb2014


by rockchicago

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, GYPSY was inspired by the memoirs of famed burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee. The musical fable is a vibrant look at larger-than-life stage mother Rose performed by Tony Award nominee Louise Pitre, who thrusts her ambitions for show business stardom onto her daughters: June, performed by Erin Burniston, and Louise, performed by Jessica Rush. Criss-crossing the country on the fading vaudeville circuit, the mother and daughters are accompanied by Rose’s patient boyfriend Herbie, performed by Keith Kupferer. Family relationships are put to the test, culminating in Louise’s surprising transformation into “Gypsy Rose Lee.” This jewel of American musical theater boasts one show-stopping song after another- including “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Let Me Entertain You”- which is performed by a fourteen-piece orchestra.

Let me start out by saying this is the finest production of this 1959 Broadway chestnut I have seen produced. This is saying a lot, as I have seen over 6 professionally produced productions of it and have appeared in two. This is due in part to the direction Gary Griffin has taken with the piece. It is more than just another musical comedy. It is a story about families in whatever form they may take. It is a fable and the cast is clearly connected to the text and in the moment. The words of dialogue and lyrics are all being said for the first time for an audience. It is true honest story telling.

You can see from the added prologue of a young Rose stomping on the floor to turn on the ghost light and the strong complete overture conducted by a 14 piece live orchestra by Valerie Maze, that this is going to be an amazing show. The Chicago Shakespeare thrust is transformed into a larger than life Vaudeville theater proscenium extending into the audience by set designer Kevin Depinet and this design and lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg really reflects the desperation and underlying survival of the fable well.

Louise Pitre, although a bit mature for the role gives a truly honest and commanding performance. This actress connects with every single cast member one on one, this includes a dog and a real goat too. Although she doesn’t have the strength in her high notes needed for the ballads she is so fully invested in her portrayal of Rose you forgive that. She is a strong center and foundation of this production and her soliloquy “Rose’s Turn” absolutely stopped a Tuesday night audience cold for nearly 2 minutes. She comes thru with a crazed, convicted, honest, emotional delivery that wins the audience completely.

Jessica Rush as Louise is a tall, beautiful, triple threat. Her transformation into “Gypsy Rose Lee” is true theatrical magic. She owns Act 2 and it is apparent why she was cast in this role. A very strong actress and sexy chanteuse makes her Gypsy a thrill. Costume designer Virgil C. Johnson has made her a stunner and she slowly evolves into the burlesque superstar in the 15 minute costume change marathon right before your eyes.

Rose’s boyfriend Herbie, the candy salesman turned agent is portrayed by Keith Kupferer. An understated, brilliant and honest portrayal makes him the perfect match for the fiery Pitre. The relationship which is so lacking in many previous productions of Gypsy is very apparent here. The scenes between his Herbie and Pitre’s Rose are very honest and loving. Kupferer is a memorable Herbie with a heart of gold. You can see the love he has for his new “family” as it falls apart before him.

The show comes in just under 3 hours with a 15 minute intermission. I never looked at my watch. 2 hours and 5 minutes into the show comes three brilliant, mature iconic show stoppers: Molly Callinan as Mazeppa, Barbara E. Robertson as Tessie Tura, and Rengin Altay as Miss Electra(who doubles as NY secretary Miss Cratchitt and covers Rose) make their entrance. These three ladies completely steal the show in “You Gotta Get A Gimmick”. With outrageous, brilliant costumes, colorful characters, and enough chutzpah to get the audience peeing in their seats, they give their 10 minutes of stage time every ounce of its worth.

The young quartet of boys who take the journey with Rose and her daughters through Vaudeville are played by Joseph Sammour(Yonkers), Adam Fane(Angie), Brandon Haagenson(L.A.) and Rhett Guter(Tulsa). These young men are very strong in their production numbers and show off the work of veteran choreographer Mitzi Hamilton. Especially great is the talents of Rhett Guter who glides across the stage like a young Fred Astaire in his “All I Need Is the Girl”. As Louise’s sister June Havoc Erin Burniston is a strong triple threat and an excellent counterpart to Louise. The number “If Momma Was Married” is sung very well and at that point you know she loves her sister and hates her mother’s tired routines and wants something more.

Very strong performances by the young stars Caroline Heffernan as Young Louise and Emily Leahy as Baby June and excellent and varied cameos by veterans Matt DeCaro, Marc Grapey and John Reeger, the latter who takes much abuse in the “Goldstone” number; along with an ensemble of Landree Fleming, Dana Parker, Betsy Farrar, Kelly Anne Krauter, Lauren Roesner, Alex Grace Paul, Maddie DePorter, Jared Rein, Cullen J. Rogers, Nate Becker, Killian Hughes and Benedict Santos Schwengel make this one of the larget undertakings CST has taken on.

Costume Designer Virgil C. Johnson has truly made some excellent costume choices in the spectacle and reflected the period well. Musical Director Rick Fox and sound designers Ray Nardelli and Dan Mead afford the audience every word of the text in good balance with the 14 piece orchestra which has been augmented to reflect the brass needed for this score.

CST’s production of GYPSY runs through March 23in CST’s Courtyard Theater. Tickets start at $48 with special discounts for 10 or more as well as $20 for patrons under 35. All patrons receive a 40 percent discount on guaranteed parking in Navy Pier garages. Call 312-595-5600 for tickets or more information or visit the website at http://www.chicagoshakes.com

Reviewed by John B. Boss

13th Feb2014

Not Your Average Journey Through The Woods

by rockchicago

Into the Woods presented by The Hypocrites at Mercury Theatre. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Geoff Button. Runtime 3 hours with one intermission.

Stay with me. The world is dark and wild. Stay a child while you can be a child. With me.” sings the Witch. This is the emotional crux at the center of this highly conceptual staging by Geoff Button of The Hypocrites.

Into the Woods is the story of the Brothers Grimm fairytales Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, how their stories are intertwined and what really happens “Happily Ever After”.

Set in a kindergarten playground this exciting new look into what is arguably Sondheim’s most accessible score, reexamines our human want for more…to wish. What can the imagination do and how “children will listen” to the tales told in their youth.

The set designed by William boles is filled with colorful balloon trees maneuvered by various cast members to vary locations throughout the woods. They are visually appealing and create several interesting stage pictures. A shadow puppet house, playground slide and a colorful moon above the set made way for unique storytelling and are continually manipulated by the ever moving cast.

The 10 person cast as a whole are strong. The Hypocrites known for their creative character doubling and tripling do not disappoint here. The cast is led by Joel Ewing as the Baker. He is bumbling, loveable and carries the weight of the world on his back. His comedic elements shine in the first act and his shift into unknowing vulnerability in act two’s “No More” is honest and heartbreaking.

Not to be outdone by Ewing is the wonderfully sassy Allison Hendrix as the Baker’s Wife. The chemistry between the two is enduring in “It Takes Two” and Hendrix’s confliction in “Moments in the Woods” make her the most likeable if not most relatable character in the story.

The real star of this production is Hillary Marren as the Witch (who also doubles as granny and one of the evil step sisters). While her vocal quality is comparable to that of the original witch Bernadette Peters, she makes the role her own and does not resort to impersonation or caricature. Her timing is flawless and leaves us with a powerful and fulfilling rendition of “Last Midnight”. “Stay with Me”, a song I typically don’t care for in the score also stuck out as poignant and haunting.

Other standouts include a charmingly awkward and hilarious Hannah Dawe as Little Red Riding Hood and the broish ever competing princes Michael Brown (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Will Skrip (Cinderella’s Prince).

While the concept is consistent, it does not always work. The finale which should bring some closure (though proving the cycle to want and to wish is never ending) leaves us with more questions. The shadow puppet telling of the Little Red Riding Hood story is funny but feels misplaced and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the production.

Nevertheless, the Hypocrites have found a way to change a story as we know it and turn it upside down on its head. They continue to be one of the most exciting companies in Chicago theatre. The show is inventive, wildly funny and unlike any other journey “Into the Woods” you are likely to take.

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

Into the Woods runs through March 30th. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com

30th Jan2013

Andrew Lloyd Webber Could’ve Done Better: Now & Forever at Marriott

by rockchicago


Marriott Theatre’s latest production Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber was an interesting choice by Marriott’s lead artistic director Aaron Thielen and director/choreographer Marc Robin. Especially doing a world premiere show like this at Marriott. Obviously, you can tell they both love the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

With 19 people in the cast, the show not only was a musical revue, but also had a lot of dance as well from ALW’s show Song & Dance. Each dance throughout the show was a “Variation.” The choreographer Marc Robin of course had help with Harrison McEldowney and Marriott regular Matt Raftery to create a stunning visual concept of different styles of dances throughout the night.

The orchestra led by Patti Garwood really made the night sound spectacular. With 11 musicians, they really felt like a full 40 or 50-piece orchestra. Nancy Missimi’s costumes were really boring and dull.


When it comes to the singers throughout the show, the men really outweighed the women, except for a couple. There were also some things I really would’ve done differently. Like having the whole ensemble singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Sunset Boulevard) and “The Music of the Night” (The Phantom of the Opera) just didn’t work for me.

Starting the show with the “Overture” to The Phantom of the Opera with the chandelier rising from the bottom to the top of the stage was a great way to start the show. But from then on in, I was hoping for more. In act 1, there were only a couple standout number including Broadway vet Linda Balgord’s beliveable “With One Look” (Sunset Boulevard), Max Quinlan & Erin Stewart’s “The Phantom of the Opera” (Phantom), “Masquerade” (Phantom), Brian Bohr’s “Starlight Express” (which is my favorite ALW show) and Jameson Cooper’s really creative rendition of “Any Dream Will Do” (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) with an acoustic guitar. Some of the best moments of the night for me happened ending act one with Cooper coming onstage with only an electric guitar and playing the opening chords to Jesus Christ Superstar. Then, Max Quinlan coming out with Superstar (JCS) just put the cherry on top.


In act two, there was a lot more dancing and only a couple decent songs including Catherine Lord’s “Unexpected Song” (Song & Dance), “Love Changes Everything” (Aspects of Love) sung by the male leads Ben Jacoby, Max Quinlan and Travis Taylor. Travis Taylor also sang a great rendition of “Till I Hear You Sing” (Love Never Dies). Linda Balgord also did a great job with “Memory” (Cats), but what really brought down the house was Max Quinlan’s heartfelt “Gethsemane” (JCS).

Overall, I’ve seen plenty of shows at Marriott Theatre and seen a couple world premieres there such as this one, but I honestly wouldn’t waste my money on this show. As you can see, there were only a couple worthy numbers and the dancing was great, but I honestly don’t see this show lasting or going anywhere. But if you are a true ALW fan and love his music, then check this show out. Another reason why I don’t care for this show, is it has no plot. Revues can get really boring with people just taking turns to sing. But when you look at jukebox musicals, they have the songs you know and love in the show with a plot connecting them all together. I would’ve loved to see that happen with ALW’s music.

Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber runs through March 17, 2013 at The Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.The performance schedule 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., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $40 to $48, excluding tax and handling fees. Students 17 and under and senior citizen 62 and older receive $5.00 off a full price theatre ticket for Wednesday Matinee, Saturday Matinee, Sunday Matinee and Sunday Afternoon performances. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings a limited number of Dinner and Theatre tickets are available for only $55.00 per person. For Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening dinner reservations in The King’s Wharf or Fairfield Inn, 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. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information. For calendar information please visit www.TheatreInChicago.com

21st Jan2013

Singin’ in the Rain Gets Soaked at Drury Lane

by rockchicago


In 1952, Betty Comden and Adolf Green wrote a lively send-up of 1920′s Hollywood on the cusp of the transition to talkies that was to star Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. Their new screenplay was to be called Singin’ in the Rain. The movie of course went to be a hit with songs, and performances forever emblazoned in the minds of a nation. In 1983, it was given a substandard adaptation for a failed Broadway production that is currently on stage in a very uneven production at Drury Lane Oakbrook.

I suppose the first question to be asked about any production of Singin’ in the Rain is “Does it rain on stage?” the answer, yes, it does. In spades, but that’s about all it does.

It’s not that everyone in Director Bill Jenkins’ lack luster production isn’t giving it the old college try, but there seems to be no sense of connection from scene to scene. One might surmise that it’s because the show’s original star Sean Palmer (Stanford’s model boyfriend on Sex in the City) was side lined with an injury during previews, pushing back the opening resulting in Broadway vet Tony Yazbeck (a very able performer) coming in from New York, tap shoes in hand, to save the day. Anyone who’s seen the movie, or show knows there is a certain amount of chemistry between it’s stars required to make the piece work. Even though Jenny Guse, and Yazbeck are both quite capable talents, no real spark ever ignites between them. But this problem is systemic, and show wide. It’s really only Matthew Crowle (who choreographed several of the tap numbers) who escapes  all the traps in the show with his multi-layered Cosmo Brown.

Singin’ in the Rain is a very difficult production to mount rain withstanding, because you have to find a balance between what the audience sees and what is filmed. The show requires several faux period silent movies one of which features Debbie Reynolds (a frequent performer at the theatre) which gets laughs, but makes one wonder why she’s dressed in modern day dress instead of 1920′s garb as everyone else on the stage is. The rest of these movies are just soul sucking and long.

The productions of Singin’ in the Rain that succeed are those in which the director is willing to do the work that didn’t get done in 1983, and find the right theatrical metaphor to make the whole thing work. Seamlessness is the key here, and everything seems a bit off from Kevin Depinet’s set with it’s chicken scrawl Grauman’s Chinese Theatre sign, to Amber Mak’s sluggish choreography.

The Comedy is off too. Melissa Van Der Schyff, Lina Lamont, the star who is done in by talkies, a fine performer who falls into one of the many traps of her role by starting so far over the top she has nowhere to go.

The parts don’t really make up a whole here, so even when we get a highlight such as Moses, it followed by a scene that’s a train wreck of timing. With such a string of winners recently, this latest Drury Lane excursion is a let down.

Reviewed by Ty Perry on 1/12/13

24th Dec2012

Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” Celebrates 35

by rockchicago


Now entering it’s 35th year, the Goodman Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol has become a Chicago tradition, although as a born and breed Chicagoan, I must admit to having never actually having seen any of the previous productions before. I am, however, pleased to report that I wish I had. The show is a joy from the moment the lights rise to the moment they dim. I hardly need to go into the plot of Dickens’ masterpiece of redemption and hope, but for the few of you who are unfamiliar, here’s a refresher. Scrooge, a callous money lender is visited on Christmas Eve by his long deceased partner Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts throughout the night, who will offer him the opportunity to sympathize with his fellow man, or be forever damned to walk the earth after death in the chains of misery he sewed in life

Ah, but any production of A Christmas Carol is only as good as its Scrooge. This one has a true master on stage. From the moment Larry Yando  (now in his sixth year as Scrooge) takes the stage, Mr. Yando commands it, not a performer afraid to take risks. He finds the lighter sides of Scrooge, so that when he makes his transition it doesn’t come from nowhere.

This production doesn’t skip a beat from Todd Rosenthal’s Victorian gem of a set. Robert Christen’s mood setting lighting. Heidi Sue Martin’s costumes were always period perfection with one notable exception. The Ghost of Christmas Past with her white Peter Pan pixie just didn’t seem to work. Richard Woodbury, and Andrew Hansen’s sound and music always hit the right note. Steve Scott runs a tight ship keeping the evening moving along with brisk pacing, and lively staging

Penelope Walker is first rate as the Ghost of Christmas Present. She brilliantly walks the line between unabandoned joy and no nonsense charm. Ora Jones always a standout was a sheer delight pulling double duty as Scrooge’s gossipy charwoman, and the bubbly Mrs. Fezziwig. Joe Foust is absolutely chilling as The Ghost of Jacob Marley. Nora Fiffer was heartbreakingly radiant as Belle with a pitch perfect Scottish brogue. Jordan Brown very effectively portrays a Young Scrooge. Ron Raines wonderfully masters the long suffering Bob Cratchit. Demetrios Troy and Dana Cruz do strong work as Scrooge’s nephew and his wife.

By the end of the show I found tears steaming down my face as Tiny Tim said that now famous line “God bless us everyone.”

Reviewed by Ty Perry on 12/20/12