14th Oct2014

A “Wild Party” Worth Attending

by rockchicago

 

The Wild Party presented by Bailiwick Chicago at Victory Gardens Theatre. Music and Lyrics by Michael John Lachiusa. Book by Michael John Lachiusa & George C. Wolfe. Directed & Choreographed by Brenda Didier. Runtime 1 hour & 45 minutes with no intermission.

The Wild Party, based on the 1928 poem of the same name, is a musical that has caused much heated debate among theatre lovers since the early 2000s. The source material is responsible for not one but two musicals both with dedicated fan bases. Both rarely produced, Bailiwick Chicago brings Michael John Lachiusa’s Broadway version of the show (the other by Andrew Lippa played off-broadway respectively) with the grit and the dirty jazz treatment it deserves.

The story centers around Queenie (Danni Smith) a vaudeville dancer known for her sexually ambitious life style and her abusive vaudeville clown boyfriend Burrs (Matthew Keffer). The couple and their guests’ worlds are turned upside down in an evening of debauchery.

This a true ensemble piece and the cast is never stronger than when they are all interacting with each other. The party is never more alive than in full company members with “Gin/Wild” being a real highlight. Some of the individual stars shine brighter than others but as a whole the energy among the entire cast is stellar.

Dani Smith’s Queenie is on the opposite end of the vulnerability spectrum from her Jeff winning performance in Passion earlier this year. Smith plays queenie with ignorance, self-pity and sensuality. Her voice is in fine form, as we’ve come to expect from her.

Matthew Keffer is giving the strongest performance as the manic boyfriend Burrs. His voice is crisp and at often times reminds me of the role’s Broadway originator Mandy Patinkin. His hysteria is nuanced and overtakes him as Burrs falls deeper and deeper into the evening. “How Many Women in the World” is sung and acted to perfection.

On par with the show’s two anchors are the always dependable Ryan Lanning as Jackie and Molly Coleman as the awe struck youth Nadine. Both actors created such dynamic characters that I often found myself watching them regardless if they were the main focus of their scenes. Mr. Lanning dances throughout the show with oily charisma and charm and is instantly likeable. Miss Coleman is a Chicago star in the making (having also recently appeared in Bailiwick’s Carrie). Her voice soars with aspiration in “The Lights of Broadway”. Look out for her, she is likely to be an ingénue on many more Chicago stages in the coming years.

Sharriese Hamilton lends a strong soulful voice to Kate. All of her numbers are knockouts, especially “Black is a Moocher”. Unfortunately her counterpart Patrick Falcon as Queenie’s potential new lover Black isn’t up to the task. While he has the looks, he lacks the masculinity and charm the role requires.

Rounding out the cast are Jason Richards & Jason Grimm as Gold and Goldberg the comical Jewish producers. They nail every laugh line and rouse the audience with an excellent rendition of “The Moving Uptown Blues”. Desmond Gray & Gilbert Domally lead Ms. Didier’s choreography expertly and are very much the life of the party. Danielle Brothers also adds great comedy as Dolores Montoya though it is hard to fill the vocal demands of a role written for the late-great Eartha Kitt.

The design elements are all in sync and working well. Megan Truscott’s scenic design goes from a small vaudeville curtain into a lavish New York apartment in an exciting transformation. Brian Hoehne’s lighting design infuses the darkness of the orchestrations and tells as much of a story as the characters. In addition, Aaron Benham’s music direction is formidable and is proving with each show that dirty jazz is his thing.

The show is an energetic ride through the 1920’s and this is the best production of Lachiusa’s The Wild Party you are likely to see in Chicago for at least a decade. Go to the theatre, grab a glass of gin, and step into Queenie’s Wild Party.

Recommended

The Wild Party runs through November 1st’. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. www.bailiwickchicago.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

01st Oct2014

Larry Yando Triumphs as King Lear

by rockchicago

 

King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Directed by Barbara Gaines. Runtime 2 hours & 45 Minutes with one intermission.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre open’s the 2014-2015 season with a contemporary staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear. Led by a tour de force performance by Chicago legend Larry Yando; this Lear presents some of the finest acting you’re likely to see on any Chicago stage.

For those unfamiliar with the Bard’s great Tragedy, King Lear is the tale of a monarch disintegrating into dementia. Lear divide’s his kingdom between his 3 daughters as his mind fades away, and is undone by the cruelty and un-thankfulness of his two older daughters. This production effectively uses the music of Frank Sinatra as a representation of the “good ole days” of Lear’s youth and glory.

Larry Yando stars as the titular monarch with unforgiving ferocity. Mr. Yando disappears into the evaporating mind from the earliest stages of the play when he is struggling to remember the names of his loved one’s around him and banishes his youngest daughter Cordelia (Nehassaiu DeGannes) and his trusted friend the Duke of Kent (Kevin Gudahl). From then on, we are engaged until the bitter end. There is such fire, loathing and sorrow in every word that pours out of Mr. Yando’s mouth. He finds humor, and abandon as his mind completely goes and shares wonderful chemistry on stage with his Fool (A charming, always dependable Ross Lehman).  Lear’s famous climax late in the play “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never!” is a sucker punch to the gut. This is the performance of Mr. Yando’s career.

Kevin Gudahl as the Duke of Kent and Michael Lindner (CST’s Road Show) as the Earl of Gloucester are both in excellent form. Gudhal’s disguised Kent is what brings relevance into the audience. As mentioned in the press notes, director Barbara Gaines says “Sadly, too many of us are discovering that dementia and Alzheimer’s are a part of our lives, and the lives of our friends and family” Gudahl’s loyalty and warmth gives us insight on unrequited friendship and love through a friend’s ultimate demise. Mr. Lindner’s Gloucester is incredibly moving. In the back half of the play as he is blinded and finally interacting with his banished son Edgar (played expertly by Steve Haggard) his tragedy brings forth the focus of the father and child relationship which is the crux of this particular production. When all 4 of these men are on stage together, its textual perfection.

These fine performances are able to help us see past the serviceable but lacking performances of Jesse Luken’s cocky, entitled one note Edmund and the neutral, unengaging Nehassaiu DeGannes’ Cordelia.
The scenic design (Mark Bailey) is simple and works aptly with the contemporary tone of the piece. The Sound and Lighting design (Lindsay Jones and Michael Geno & Kevin Adams respectively) are thrilling. The storm sequence at the end of the 3rd act fills the space with cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning as violent as Mr. Yando’s hysterics.

As if anything else could be said, this is Shakespeare at its finest. While the production as a whole is not entirely perfect, the minor flaws are vastly overshadowed by the star turn of its tragic lead. This is a performance that will be talked about for years. You have until November 9th, to lose your mind and disappear into Larry Yando’s stunning King Lear.

Highly Recommended

King Lear runs through Nov 9th. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays. www.chicagoshakes.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

22nd Jul2014

Seize the Stage: A Musical Revue Concert Benefiting Camp Blackhawk, A Program of The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago

by rockchicago

 

(Wilmette, IL) Seize the Stage: A Musical Revue Benefit for Epilepsy is back for its fifth year, raising funds for Camp Blackhawk. Camp Blackhawk, a program of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, is an overnight camp for children with mild to severe epilepsy designed so they can experience activities, sports and friendships while in a safe and medically monitored setting.  Over the past four years, the Seize the Stage concerts have raised more than $10,000 to help send children to Camp Blackhawk. Produced by Sammi Gassel, Kenzie Parry and Scott Spector, Seize the Stage features performers from the Chicago area.  The benefit will take place on Wednesday July 30th at 7:30 pm at the Wilmette Community Recreation Center (3000 Glenview Road, Wilmette, IL, 60091).

About the Epilepsy Foundation
Created in 1946 as a grassroots effort in Illinois to help people with epilepsy, the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago is a not-for-profit organization in Illinois, serving 43 counties. The EFGC offers counseling, participates in advocacy efforts and provides educational services to people with epilepsy, their families, and the communities in which they live.

About Camp Blackhawk
Each summer, the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago’s Camp Blackhawk gives its young participants an experience they won’t soon forget. For one week, children ages 6-17, come together to enjoy all of the fun activities and friendships that come with a trip to camp, while leaving be­hind various challenges epilepsy can bring to their daily lives. They are all surrounded–-some for the first time–-by dozens of other kids who know exactly what having epilepsy means. They don’t have to worry about what people will think if they have a seizure, about being excluded, or about feeling different. At Camp Blackhawk, epilepsy is the norm.

To help donate and offset costs, please consider going to the GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/3mols0.

06th Jul2014

Carrie The Musical Scares With Delight at the Biograph

by rockchicago

 

The original Broadway production of the musical version of Carrie was so notoriously flawed that for the past 25 years, the title has been a joke in the theatre industry. But if you entered the new production by Bailiwick Chicago without that knowledge, you would leave without the slightest inkling that the show was ever a failure. The cast and production team on this show have done such great work that not only do the great moments of the show soar, but the weaker moments of dialogue have somehow become interesting, authentic, and frequently hilarious. Add to that a design that delivers and makes the iconic final sequence as jarring as it should be, and Bailiwick has put together a show not to be missed.

Of course, you can’t have a good Carrie without a good Carrie, and Callie Johnson delivers in the role. Not since Sissy Spacek played the role in the 1976 Brian De Palma film has an actress been able to make the audience simultaneously sympathize with her and show us exactly why she is bullied as much as she is. She really makes us question if we would be nice to her, or if we would join in the ridicule from her vile classmates. The role also allows her to show off her truly exquisite vocal talent, and she never falters for a second.

 

As Carrie’s psychopathic mother, Katherine L. Condit walks the fine line of playing the requisite craziness without ever stepping beyond the realm of believability. Her duets with Carrie are truly thrilling on both dramatic and vocal levels. But then again, the entire cast was consistently delivering in those areas. The ensemble created realistic characters that do a great job of fleshing out the world Carrie experiences, and they do so with the worst material in the piece. Rochelle Therrien and Kate Garassino also give remarkable performances, and Samantha Dubina has a voice that just won’t stop, nor should it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these actors in starring roles at the most notable equity theaters in the area in a few years. It’s only a matter of time.

The only thing that I can fault about this production is that the sound design was not ideal. In a space as small as the Richard Christiansen Theater, microphones probably aren’t necessary, and the show might even benefit from the realism of the sound of unamplified voices. That said, this all-too-common problem is only a minor issue in a truly fabulous production. Do yourself a favor and go to the Biograph before this production closes. It has taken over 25 years to get the show right and I highly doubt there will be a production this fine any time soon.

Reviewed by Danny Kapinos

05th Jul2014

“The Last Ship” is An Inspiring Story of Strength and Family

by rockchicago

 

Broadway In Chicago continues its short engagement of THE LAST SHIP, a Pre Broadway World Premiere musical through July 13, 2014 at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe in Chicago. The Last Ship, a new musical with music and lyrics by 16-time Grammy Award winner Sting, and book by Tony winner John Logan and Pulitzer Prize- winner Brian Yokey is directed by Tony winner Joe Mantello and choreographed by Olivier Award winner and Tony nominee Steven Hoggett.

The show has been being worked on for years just as many Broadway shows are. The play began as a concept album last September with the dream of being fully realized on Broadway. Several of the songs are gone and are replaced for this full staging. The songs are well executed with a sort of Sting-like vocalization. Each actor brings the songs to life and are clearly connected to the material.

The Last Ship is set in the English seafaring town of Wallsend, a close-knit community where life has always revolved around the local shipyard and the hardworking men who construct magnificent vessels with tremendous pride. But Gideon Fletcher dreams of a different future. He sets out to travel the world, leaving his life and love behind. When Gideon returns home 14years later, he finds the shipyard’s future in grave danger and his childhood sweetheart engaged to someone else. As the men of Wallsend take their future into their own hands and build a towering representation of the shared dream that defines their existence, Gideon realizes he left behind more than he could have ever imagined. The Last Ship is a portrait of a community so bound together by passion, faith and tradition, they’ll stop at nothing to preserve the only life they’ve ever known.

Gideon Fletcher is played with great honesty and passion by Michael Esper and his counterpart and first love Meg Dawson is played by Rachel Tucker. Tucker is a fiery siren and brilliant singer. The younger versions of Gideon and Meg are played by Collin Kelly-Sordelet and Dawn Cantwell. Both of these young actors play the younger versions with a vitality and playfulness that really captures your heart and shows you how much they are truly in love. Sordelet does double duty and also plays Gideon and Meg’s son Tom Dawson who was left behind unbeknownst to Gideon. Both Esper and Sordelet have a touching scene and duet in “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance.” It is a stunning duet and wonderful father-son bonding moment. Gideon’s father Joe Fletcher in life and ghost in future scenes is played by Jamie Jackson. You can see from his gruff exterior and overbearing presence that this is one of the main reasons Gideon left his home and love to find a better life. Jackson is perfectly cast and presents a very real portrayal.

The competing love interest for Meg’s affections is Arthur Millburn played by Aaron Lazar. Lazar is a handsome and strong actor with a soaring voice. The local man of the cloth, Father O’Brien is played by Fred Applegate. Applegate is a strong comic actor with a solid voice. His role has some of the funniest moments in the show. He also shows his versatility in more serious scenes. He is an integral part of the community and represents the strong faith that the townspeople of Wallsend possess. Another strong performance is that of Shawna M. Hamic, who plays Beatrice Dees, the local barkeep. She has a rousing number called “Mrs. Dee’s Rant” which is sung during the final few minutes of the intermission. I don’t know if that is an intentional choice or it started with the house lights of the theater on because of the packed house on opening night. I certainly hope it becomes part of the show in the future because it is not to be missed.

U.K. actor Jimmy Nail is the show’s foundation and narrator of sorts. His Jackie White is a strong presence on stage and engages the audience, however his singing voice is rather weak. His wife Peggy White, played by Sally Ann Triplett. Triplett really shines in “Sail Away.” ”The Last Ship has a very strong ensemble loaded with heart and very strong voices. The men particularly shine in the many rousing pub numbers and the beautiful ladies of the ensemble sing and dance their way into your hearts in “Mrs. Dees Rant” and “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor.”

David Zinn’s set design is industrial and vast. Multi-level hydraulics make the stage pictures interesting and allows Christopher Akerlind’s stunning lighting design show through. Brian Ronan’s sound design allows you to hear every word of Sting’s music and enhances scenes with strong sound effects. The use of indoor pyrotechnics in the staging for the welding of the ship is very impressive. Steven Hoggett’s choreography is lively and provides a lot of Celtic stomping which is executed with great precision and passion. Director Joe Mantello has assembled a strong company of British and American actors to present a beautiful story of love, faith and fortitude in the small town of Wallsend.

Get your tickets to see this show right here in Chicago before it starts previews on the Great White Way at the Neil Simon theatre on 52nd Street on September 29, before its full opening on October 26, 2014. It’s not to be missed.

The show continues through July 13, 2014 with many daytime and evening performances. Ticket prices range from $33 to $100. Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway in Chicago Group Sales at 312-977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St, 151 W. Randolph, 18 W. Monroe St, and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway in Chicago ticket line at 800-775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and on line at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

Reviewed by John B. Boss

28th Jun2014

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour Spreads the Magic and the Music to Sears Centre

by rockchicago

 

Anybody that is a Michael Jackson fan, you would’ve seen tonight at Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour, which was an amazing spectacle that you have to see to believe. Cirque du Soleil gets into the imagination of Michael Jackson and brings it alive on stage. The show was at the Sears Centre Arena which is not my favorite venue. First and foremost, it’s too big of a place for a show like this and the sound quality is not great there at all. For this show, the sound was great, but could’ve been louder.

 Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour is a once-in-a-lifetime electrifying production that combines Michael Jackson’s music and choreography with Cirque du Soleil creativity to give fans worldwide a unique view into the spirit, passion and heart of the artistic genius who forever transformed global pop culture. The show is written and directed by Jamie King, the leading concert director in pop music today, and features 49 international dancers, musicians and acrobats.

A riveting fusion of visuals, dance and music that immerses audiences in Michael’s creative world, Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour unfolds Michael Jackson’s artistry before the eyes of the audience. Aimed at lifelong fans as well as those experiencing Michael’s creative genius for the first time, the show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations. The show also features a top-notch band including alumni who have played with Michael Jackson on tour. His band included: Don Boyette (band leader and bass guitar), Charles “Charlie” Wilson (keyboards), Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett (drums), Jon Myron Clark (guitar), Bashiri Johnson (percussion), Desiree Bassett (guitar), Michael Ghegan (saxophone), Ravi Hassan Best (trumpet), Mariko (cello) and Jason Woods and jMarie (vocals). All the musicians were top-notch!

The show opens with “Working Day and Night” with five super fans praising the King of Pop with a giant mural of Michael Jackson. It was actually a very cool scene in which the fans (hip-hop dancers), jumped onto the screen and it was very 3D-like. The song then segued into one of my favorite MJ songs “Childhood,” in which the Mime (Jonathan Bayani) awakens the bronze statues guarding the gates of Neverland. As the gates open, we are introduced to the IMMORTAL band while dancers and acrobats in tribal costumes danced and moved to “Wanna Be Starting Something.” The energy stayed active as the next scene transitioned into an ironworks factory (almost reminded me of MJ in the sweat shop scene in the film The Wiz) for “Dancing Machine.” Each of the dancers in this sequence dance on different “dancing machines.” It was very cool to see the different machines they were dancing on because each performer performed a different dance style.

As we move forward, it quiets down as we hear “Ben” to a video of MJ with a bunch of animals on the screen. We then see Bubble the Monkey, MJ’s faithful companion. As the song concludes, we go into a very cool part of the show that blends 3 of MJ’s songs together as part of a “Murder Ballad-like” trio of songs. It started with “This Place Hotel,” one of my personal favorites, where the dancers were performing in the air. It then shifts into the famous “Smooth Criminal,” where gangsters are hanging on lamp posts reading newspapers. The coolest part was watching the dancers re-enact the choreography from the video including the famous leaning motion! As it segues into the third song “Dangerous,” we see the gangsters surrounding center stage as an acrobat performs a very cool pole dancing act. The 3 songs really did mesh together well as sort of alike a mini movie, which MJ was famous for.

In the famous Cirque du Soleil etiquette, the Mime, who is like a leader/narrator (without speaking of course), feels himself transforming more and more into MJ to the song “Another Part of Me.” When he feels the “magic,” we disappear into the darkness where a 3D version of the Neverland logo appear on the wall (Michael as a boy sitting on a crescent of a moon), and aerialists appear representing the constellations to a moonlit sky wearing multicolored LED costumes as they were soaring through the air to “Human Nature.” It was honestly the coolest and most magical numbers in the show. As the scene fades to black, a book appears in the middle of the stage. As it opens, we see the nightmares coming alive as MJ sings “Is It Scary.” A contortionist comes out of the Book of Tales and contorts every which way, turning the pages. As we get deeper into the story, it stays in scary-mode as we transition into “Thriller,” the final number of the first act. MJ’s original choreography is re-imagined as a bunch of mummies hit the stage to perform the ghoulish dancing.

As we start the second act to the story, we see an aerialist performing on white silk, like swans to MJ dueting with jMarie on a beautiful rendition of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” As it fades to black, the scene re-awakens with a giant pair of MJ’s signature penny loafers and a giant glittery glove coming to life onstage for “Beat It.” It was so cool to see them come alive. In the end, an electric cello and electric guitar get into a battle, which is cool for any rock fan. The clash theme continues with “Jam,” in which a group of basketball players perform some hip-hop choreography. The act was inspired by MJ’s original music video with Michael Jordan.

As the show progressed, it gets out of story-mode a little bit just performing scenes. We continue with the Mime coming out of center stage with an earth-like ball as MJ’s “Earth Song” blasts through the arena. This a very powerful song with a very powerful message and truly a highlight of the night. The next scene involved acrobats performing a tumbling act, while aerial dancers are performing ninja-like choreography to “Scream.” Both “Scream” and “Earth Song” are about the end of the world, so it made perfect sense to blend the two.

For the next number, “They Don’t Care About Us,” dancers dressed like soldiers wearing robot suits with LED breastplates light up to perform choreography in unison. This number is a reenactment of the number that was designed for the THIS IS IT concert tour the way MJ wanted it to be. At the end of the number, as the soldiers’ breastplates begin to glow, dancers come down from the audience onto the stage holding red glowing hearts for “Will You Be There.” It was one of the most heart-wrenching songs in the show. It then fades into just a video of MJ on a scrim on the stage to the song “I’ll Be There.”

The story slowly comes to an end for the Mega Mix, which included all kinds of dance going on for “Can You Feel It” and “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” During “Billie Jean,” the whole place went dark as the dancers lit up with LED costumes and changed colors dancing to MJ’s signature choreography. One of the best moments of the show. As the mega mix finale closes out to “Black or White,” the dancers run from all corners of the audience to the stage with flags in a tribute to the nations and dance styles of the world, including African, Spanish, Thai and Georgian dances. The show’s finale is “Man in the Mirror” as the performers take their bows and close the Book of Tales by MJ.

This show really represented Michael Jackson’s imagination, dreams and feelings into a heartfelt show with Cirque du Soleil. The audience really reacted to the performers and to MJ with people screaming “We love you Michael” from time to time. IT was almost as if MJ was really there but he wasn’t. This show is no more or less a celebration of his life & legacy, and you can see that beautifully on stage.

For more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/michaeljackson

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

18th Jun2014

Brightside Theatre Offers A Delicious and Delightfully Decadent “Cabaret” Through June 29th

by rockchicago

 

There is a solid production of the Kander and Ebb musical CABARET playing at the beautiful and intimate Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth in Naperville. Performances continue Friday and Saturday June 20, 21, 27 and 28 at 8:00pm and Sunday June 22 and 29 at 3:00pm.

BrightSide Theatre now celebrating three years as Downtown Naperville’s only professional theatre has assembled a top notch cast of professional performers from the greater Chicago area. When you arrive at the location you are greeted by excellent visuals to find the space. A tasteful sign and flags bearing the BrightSide logo lets you know you have arrived. When you enter the theater lobby you are greeted by the Producer which makes you feel like they appreciate your attendance.

Once you enter the playing space you are immediately brought into the decadent world of 1930’s Berlin. The members of the ensemble greet you in character and gyrate their young bodies within inches of your personal space which lets you know you are in for a 2 and a half hour roller coaster ride of musical theatre fun.

The classic Broadway musical is penned by Joe Masteroff who wrote the book, John Kander who wrote the music and Fred Ebb who wrote the lyrics. The production team has communicated with some of the higher management of Tams-Witmark Music Library, the company that holds the performing rights for the play and have secured the 1998 Broadway revival. This alone makes this production of “Cabaret” a must-see. It has removed some of the more, light musical-comedy numbers and found more of the darker, grittier storyline through added dialogue and more sexuality. It also brings more of the movie score into the show, making it more familiar to first time “ Cabaret” attendees. There will be no “Meeskite” or “Sitting Pretty” in this show.

Although I understand the purpose of curtain speeches, I felt the pre curtain introduction disrupted the Berlin world the audience was taken to. However, once the brilliant band under Oliver R. Townsend’s able baton started the show we were quickly brought back in.

Every production of “Cabaret” must have a strong set of leads to create the foundation needed to tell the story. BrightSide Artistic Director Jeffrey Cass has found the dream cast. David Geinosky as the Emcee has brilliantly captured the charisma, dry humor, decadence and sexuality needed to take us on this journey. He is a true triple threat. He has a strong tenor voice, excellent acting chops and moves like a young Bob Fosse. He engages the audience and truly sets the tone for the evening. His Emcee is mesmerizing and his makeup design is flawless.

Jillian Weingart as Sally Bowles is a tornado on stage. She is a victim of circumstance, a survivor in an unforgiving world. She is playful, yet strong. She is brassy, yet vulnerable. She is like an energizer bunny on crack. She often has bi-polar moments and is very outspoken. Weingart is a strong belter and knows how to sell it. She really shines in “Maybe This Time” and the 10:30pm title song “Cabaret” which is well worth the wait.

 

The older couple Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider are brilliantly portrayed by two veterans of area theater. Jim Heatherly and Patricia Deckert are thoroughly engaged in their roles. I have seen Heatherly play Schultz before, but he really shines in this production with his strong acting partner. Deckert as Fraulein Schneider is a spry young school girl when accompanied by her companion in “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married” but when she has to speak of her own Hellish existence she becomes worn and tired in a touching rendition of “What Would You Do?” as a woman who is just trying to survive. Both Heatherly and Deckert have strong voices and connections to the material.

The young novelist Clifford Bradshaw, Sally’s love interest falls short in this production. Jonas Davidow’s Cliff is rather milk toast and the little singing he does is rather weak. His counterpart Ernst Ludwig played by Tony Lage is a nice opposite to Davidow.  Lage has played a number of roles on stage but his Ernst is strong. He has a strong dialect and a smarminess that tells his story. This is a strong performance for Lage and he delivers the goods as a likeable villain.
Jenifer Bartolo gives a strong and sexy performance as Fraulein Kost, the town whore. The end of act one is a riveting moment in the play as she sings “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” with Lage. A choreographed stomping to dialogue with perfectly timed lighting cues creates the sound of Nazi’s coming to power and leaves the audience breathless.

Some strong highlights in the show for me were adding boys to the “Mein Herr” musical number turning it into a sexy and sassy demonstration of the Kama Sutra; “Two Ladies”, more Kama Sutra and great back lighting reminiscent of the bedroom scene in Rocky Horror; “Money” incorporating the infiltration of Nazi involvement; and “If You Could See Her” with strong movement and interplay with the Emcee and a very ape-like Jenifer Bartolo.

The two most true and honest moments for me that will really hit you in the face were a young high school actor Chris Knudsen and his cameo as a boy soloist who transforms into a young soldier right before your eyes in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”. This left me breathless. David Geinosky’s rendition of “I Don’t Care Much,” one of the gems from this revival was as pure and raw as it gets.  The finale and last 30 seconds of the play will take your breath away as well.

Choreographer Jeni Donahue has showcased the strong dancers in the ensemble. The boys and girls of the ensemble are all triple threats themselves and the dancing is a strength in this production. The band which is as much a part of Cabaret as the actors is strong on brass and drums but never overpowers the singers due to excellent sound design and acoustics. The set and lighting by Jarrod Bainter is very workable for the space, however anytime I see a curtain with rings I cringe as it may fail. Unfortunately on opening night the curtains seemed to have missed a ring or two and were pulled out during a scene. I just hope they never get stuck. Shana Hall’s costumes are serviceable but I would have liked to see more flash on Sally. Dialect coach Susan Gosdick had her work cut out for her and the actors sounded just right.

Keep your eyes on this company. If they continue to present this type of quality and affordable theater in the suburbs, they will be strong contenders as to where to spend your entertainment dollar. Seating is limited so get your tickets before the show closes.  For tickets to “CABARET” call 630-637-SHOW (7469) or go to their website at http://www.brightsidetheatre.com

Reviewed by John B. Boss

09th Jun2014

Excellent Scenery, Costuming and Choreography Make Light Opera Works Production of “Damn Yankees” a Visual Delight

by rockchicago

 

DAMN YANKEES, an old chestnut of a Broadway classic musical gets a visually stunning revival at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, Illinois. DAMN YANKEES, the 1955 Broadway hit, gets its words and lyrics from Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The book which is based on the novel   ”The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” is by Douglas Wallop. The writing team behind the musical is George Abbott and Wallop.

The performances continue Wednesday, June 11 at 2:00pm, Friday, June 13 at 8:00pm, Saturday, June 14 at 8:00pm and Sunday, June 15 at 2:00pm. Tickets range from $34 to $94, with patrons 21 and under at half-price.

The story of DAMN YANKESS tells of a middle-aged Joe Boyd (Kirk Swenk) who will do anything to see his beloved Washington Senators win the pennant – even sell his soul to the Devil, Applegate (Rudy Hogenmiller).When he is transformed into young Joe Hardy (Brian Acker), the baseball sensation of the year, he must decide if the life he gave up is more important than youth and fame. DAMN YANKEES won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and originally starred Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon, with choreography by Bob Fosse.

Jeff Award Winning Director and Choreographer Kevin Bellie returns to Light Opera Works to wear both the directing and choreographing hats in this full scale production. He has decided to play it safe and keep it light and thoroughly entertaining. He definitely finds the humor in the piece and lays out the laugh lines. He keeps the show moving with lively and well executed choreography throughout. Set designer Adam Veness has made excellent use of the Cahn stage using a three- dimentional perspective design and many levels to create depth and definition in the many locales. Costumers Jesus Perez and jane DeBondt have brilliantly captured the clothing of the 1950’s era using bright floral colors and full and flouncy dresses and made the Devil and his lovely assistant Lola look smashing. The lush 28 piece professional orchestra under Roger L. Bingaman’s fully engaged conducting is a wonderful addition to the beautiful score and never overpowers the singers due to the fine ear of Rachel Boissevain at the sound board.

The role of the Devil is pre-cast being played by the Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller, who really shines in his various disguises throughout the play. He dons various outlandish attire to play different characters to assist Joe Hardy in convincing the locals that Hardy is indeed the baseball phenom he claims to be from Hannibal Missouri. While his Devil character is rather milk toast, this zany bunch of portrayals are very entertaining. Hogenmiller shows  real star power when he sings the 10:30pm musical number “Good Ole Days” complete with encore. It becomes apparent why he was cast in this role. A veteran musical theater performer really knows how to sell it to the back row and Hogenmiller has the goods to pull it off. This alone is worth the price of the ticket.

 

Joe Boyd only has two scenes in the play. Kirk Swenk as Joe Boyd is a perfect Joe to the beautiful Judy Knudtson who plays his wife Meg Boyd. While his portrayal of Joe is the perfect baseball fanatic to her dead ringer brunette Donna Reed, his singing is weak. Knudtson is a wonderful Meg Boyd. Her chemistry with both the old Joe and the younger Joe, who she takes on as a border is honest and believable. The real standout of this show is Brain Acker as Joe Hardy. With matinee idol looks, strong acting chops and a beautiful soaring tenor voice it is easy to see why the other players, the town and Meg all fall for him. His Joe carries this show and he is an amazing talent.

The local gossips Doris (Sarah Blevins) and Sister (Maggie Clennon Reberg) add some very funny moments to the show. Both actresses are hurricanes of comedic timing and energy. The scene where they first meet the young Joe brings some huge belly laughs from the audience. Another highlight of the show is Jenny Lamb as the reporter Gloria Thorpe. Ms. Lamb is a dynamo of talent and makes the perfect nemesis for both the Devil and Joe. She shares the stage with a very strong ensemble of ball players in the production number “Shoeless Joe”. It is a marathon of choreography and strong singing. Perfectly executed and visually entertaining. It even gets a chance to show off some tap dancing by a small group of the ball players.

Erica Evans as Lola, the able assistant to Applegate is a triumph. She is a sassy, sexy triple threat who tries to seduce Joe Hardy. Her song “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” is a perfect showcase of her singing and dancing talents. Bellie makes use of her tall and leggy body to really show us who is boss. The locker room seduction in “Whatever Lola Wants” is sexy and comedic and never offensive. She is like the spider to Joe’s fly so to speak.  Her costuming is fantastic and makes it really easy to see why she is the world oldest and sexiest home wrecker. Selling her soul to the devil is what keeps her young and vivacious.

The show is not all fun and games. There are two standout duets with Brian Acker as Joe Hardy. Both “Near to You” with his wife and “Two Lost Souls” with Lola are beautifully sung and show how both of these women in Joe’s life are longing for him.

The baseball players are portrayed by one of the strongest male ensembles ever assembled in Chicago area musical theater. “Heart” in Act One and the Act two opener “The Game” are brilliantly sung and staged. The personality and handsome looks of these boys are a delight to watch.  Bellie has assembled the strongest musical theater men from the non-equity talent pool and this show is a perfect showcase. Rick Rapp’s coach Van Buren is perfectly cast. Rapp has a strong yet nurturing presence. He plays both the father of the locker room and the tough guy at the same time. His honest portrayal makes it apparent he is Joe’s biggest supporter.

This production also has enlisted a children’s ensemble who get their moments to shine as well. The show seemed well paced, however it appeared to be maybe 10 minutes too long. That is the unfortunate case with the older Broadway musicals. They do tend to be a little on the longer side. The number “Mambo” does not move the story line and comes in very late in Act One. By that time the ensemble seemed tired. It seemed to me, and some of the yawning audience members, that,perhaps  part of that song and  a verse or dance segment earlier, might have trimmed the show a bit. However, the show ends with a fully staged and lively curtain call that will have everyone singing the songs on the way to their cars.

For tickets to DAMN YANKESS call 847-920-5360 or go to the website at www.lightoperaworks.com

Reviewed by John B. Boss

20th May2014

Lyric is Alive with The Sound of Music!

by rockchicago

 

Being a traditional musical theatre fan, I could not resist going see The Sound of Music, and there could not be a more magnificent place to see it in Chicago other than at Lyric Opera. The evening was filled with top notch performances, beautiful costumes, an award-worthy set, a first-rate sound system, and of course, the spot on orchestra.

This production was directed by Marc Bruni, who recently made his Broadway directorial debut with the Tony nominated, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. It is no surprise that this young director has been finding success. He has got a great sense of both traditional and contemporary musical theatre, and is able to use that sense wisely and creatively when producing shows.

The show is about a young woman who leaves a convent in Austria to become a governess to seven children of a naval Captain who is widowed. Starring as Maria is Jenn Gambatese, who was a wise choice for the role. Unlike big Broadway belters, vocally, she has a lyrical soprano musical theatre style that is appropriate for this kind of role. With her smart sense of comical timing and purely charming personality, she led the show, and was an absolute pleasure to watch. Billy Zane’s Captain von Trapp is noteworthy. I feel that he has not gotten enough admiration that he deserves for his acting abilities. He has a great look, tall and handsome with the right amount of age, fit for a dashing Captain and love interest. Singing one of the show’s most adored songs, Edelweiss, he delivered a solemn and pleasant performance with a voice that might not be on par with the other members of the show, but has a rich distinct quality. Christine Brewer, as Mother Abbess, brought down the house with her rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain, but can you expect any less from an opera diva? Betsy Farrar, who plays Liesl, is definitely a triple threat with her beautiful soprano voice, convincing acting, and graceful dancing. Her duet, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, was a highlight. The child actors portraying the Von Trapp children were a well trained, talented, and very adorable bunch that easily put a smile on my face.

 

Alejo Vietti’s costumes were gorgeous. I especially liked the dresses that Elizabeth Futral (Elsa Shraeder) wore which were vintage in style, beautifully colorful, and fit her figure like a glove. Michael Yeargan’s set was impressive. It is no surprise though given that is a Tony award winner, and has designed sets at numerous opera houses all over the world including acclaimed work at the Metropolitan Opera. With his clever use of angle, color and material, the set was elaborate yet simply elegant, precise, and interchangeable, with each set piece moving flawlessly into place so not to create a distraction.

If you have a chance, I highly recommend seeing this production. Whether you are a musical fan or not, this show should leave you with a new found appreciation. The team at Lyric created the justice that a brilliant Rodgers and Hammerstein show deserves.

Reviewed by Sarah Breidenbach

09th May2014

Get Down with Motown The Musical at the Oriental Theatre

by rockchicago

 

After hearing all the hype about what a great show Motown The Musical is in New York, I had to jump at the chance to see it here in Chicago on opening night. As I approached the doors to enter, all the news cameras were outside. I asked one of them what was going on and they said that Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson are attending. Those 2 are part of what this show is about. As I sat down, there was a giant “M” for Motown on the curtain. Then we begin…

At the beginning of the show, they start out in 1983 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Gordy’s house. The Temptations are battling The Four Tops in what was a great spectacle to watch. After that, the show goes back to 1938 when Gordy was a little kid and throughout the show, it follows Gordy from when he was nothing and went to something. In 1959, he formed Hitsville U.S.A. and took it so far he then made Motown Records. Everyone you can think of was in this show that was on the Motown label. It was actually really cool seeing these actors portray these real musicians and people.

The show touched down up the relationship between Gordy and Diana Ross, and went through their whole relationship till the end. Also, we saw the friendship of Gordy and Smokey Robinson from beginning to end.

There were outstanding performances by many of the cast including first and foremost Clifton Oliver as Berry Gordy, Allison Simmer as Diana Ross and Nicholas Christopher as Smokey Robinson. They played all 3 roles effortlessly and fantastic that it was like watching the real people onstage. Other standout performances came from Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Stevie Wonder, Reed L. Shannon who was an OUTSTANDING young Michael Jackson and Jarran Muse as Marvin Gaye. Not just them but the whole ensemble of the cast just killed it as well.

 

There were 58 Motown songs used in the show and 2 brand new songs written by Berry Gordy for this production. 2 standouts of the night in the production for me were “The Jackson Five Medley” and Simmer’s profound rendition of Diana Ross’ “Reach Out and Touch,” which led to a whole audience participation bit. It was really cool to see the actors breaking the 4th wall and coming out into the audience to interact with them. 2 people went up to sing the chorus with her and then she told everyone to join hands with the people sitting next to you and raise your arms in the air and sing. It was just purely magical.

Being a Motown fan myself and growing up with it, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. I can now see what the hype is all about, and I HIGHLY recommend anyone out there to see this show. The choreography, the scenery, the music, the acting is all great!

Highly Recommended

Motown The Musical is playing at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $30 – $138, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm,Thursdays at 7;30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm with additional 7:30 pm performances on May 11 & July 6, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission, through August 9, 2014

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

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