22nd Jun2015

Alan Cumming Shows His “True Colors” at Ravinia

by rockchicago

 

June 19th was an inexplicably chilly evening at Ravinia, and many concert-goers were surely grateful that Alan Cumming would perform in the intimate Martin Theater, with apologies to the picnickers outside. In fact, when the night’s star heard that the lawn audiences would be eating throughout the performance, he likened them to zombies that would devour the indoor audience as soon as they emerged. He even scampered over to both side doors, flung them open to say hello, then shut them immediately for comic fear of imminent brain-eating. Such was the nature of the veteran performer’s spirit throughout the 90-minute journey: spritely, witty, and honest.

That honesty would seep into every part of the evening’s magic. Mr. Cumming gave the audience humorous insight to his whirlwind showbiz life, blunt reports on his troubled family history, and most of all, completely open and vulnerable renditions of emotionally-charged songs. His accompanists, Lance Horne on the piano and backup vocals and Eleanor Norton on the cello, while fabulously talented themselves, seemed to fade into the background behind the passions laid bare at center stage. He utilized his body in a way that was meant to display feeling, but never felt staged or rehearsed.

Mr. Cumming started off with “Why” by Annie Lennox, and continued to defy his musical theatre “type” from there. Notable deviances included a medley that merged Adele with Lady Gaga with Katy Perry, a snappy jingle he sang for a Trojan condom commercial, as well as a folk tune from his native Scotland. (The explanation of local colloquialisms in the lyrics was very helpful!) No subject was off-limits, from the Vietnam War and PTSD, to his childhood with his abusive father, to a short but tumultuous romance that left him to remove an unfortunate tattoo. However, he eventually landed on tradition, ending with Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch” during the encore, complete with martini in hand.

In the end, the candid yet lighthearted night left the audience feeling like they knew the Tony Award-winner on a personal level. He faced down a difficult past with a wink and an impish smile. May we all conquer adversity in such a way with a song in our hearts.

Reviewed by Katherine Damisch

14th Apr2015

Bailiwick Chicago’s “Murder Ballad” Kills on All Levels

by rockchicago

 

Murder Ballad presented by Bailiwick Chicago at Collaboraction. Conceived by with book and lyrics by Julia Jordan. Music and lyrics by Juliana Nash. Directed & Choreographed by James Beaudry. Runtime 75 minutes with no intermission.

Bailiwick Chicago closes out their 2014-2015 season with the Chicago premiere of Murder Ballad following a sold out Off-Broadway run. Murder Ballad tells a cautionary tale of a love triangle gone horribly wrong focusing on Sara (Amanda  Horvath) who lives on the upper west side of Manhattan with her husband Michael (Matt W. Miles) but is confronted by her former downtown past and the rekindling of a romance with her ex bad boy lover Tom (Chris Logan). And as the Narrator (Camille Robinson) in the opening number warns us “someone has to die”.

From the minute you walk into the space you are instantly transported to the King’s Club in downtown Manhattan. Director James Beaudry along with his design team have created an engaging and edgy immersive world that throws us right into Sara’s universe. Mr. Beaudry has guided these 4 strong performers in grounding and humanizing a life that all audiences should be able to relate to.

Amanda Horvath oozes sex appeal, delivers powerhouse vocals, and shows vulnerability in its truest form as Sara, the central figure of the love triangle. “Mouth Tattoo” her duet with her former lover Tom (Chris Logan) is filled with harmonic excellence and all the belting one hopes for in a Rock ‘N’ Roll show. Miss Horvath has burst into the Chicago theatre scene as a strong leading lady and her notoriety should deservedly grow from here.

Chris Logan is dangerously likeable as Tom. Mr. Logan fully embraces his bad boy persona and his charisma manages to win us over despite his obsession and the threat he possesses. He is a true rock star with devilish good looks and a gravely tenor voice that electrifies.

Our Narrator, Camille Robinson, has a voice piercing with crystal clarity. Miss Robinson is a strong story teller with a couple tricks up her sleeve and is always one step ahead of the audience. Matt. W. Miles fills out the cast as Sara’s uptight husband Michael. Mr. Miles never quite matches the vocal prowess or likability of his competitor for his Wife’s affections but turns in a comparable performance. He serves as a strong foil for Miss Horvath.

The scenic design by Megan Truscott is incredibly detailed stocked with a fully functioning bar and the ruins of Sara’s former life. From our surroundings it feels evident that Sara never truly escapes her past. The sound design (Patrick Bley) in such a small space does present trouble at times. There isn’t an equal balance and the music over powers the singers slightly. That said, the harmonies from the singers are thrilling and that is due to excellent musical direction by Nicholas Davio.

The material itself is more internal and not as active which may bother musical theatre “purists” and the story may be along the lines of a plot we’ve seen before but these actors are giving superb performances. If you want to listen to the “Murder Ballad” at any point in your life time this is the production to see. Bailiwick Chicago has once again fulfilled their unintentional niche of taking flawed material from New York, rediscovering the truth inside and surpassing the show’s predecessors in another superior Chicago hit.

Recommended

Murder Ballad runs through May 9th. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 5:30 pm and 9pm. www.bailiwickchicago.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

17th Mar2015

“Ordinary Days” Lacking Connection in the Big City

by rockchicago

 

Ordinary Days presented by Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Heartland Studios. Music and Lyrics by Adam Gwon. Directed by Jason A. Fleece. Runtime 80 minutes with no intermission.

In a bustling metropolis people come and go at a rapid pace without thinking twice about the people they might be interacting with. Boho Theatre opened their 10th season with Ordinary Days, Adam Gwon’s small story driven song cycle encouraging us to look deeper into our everyday adventures.

There is a lovely juxtaposition of building the largest American city in a venue that seats 36 and Patrick Ham’s walls of doorways and windows gives us a great sense of the multiple pathways we take in life. This is heavily supplemented by the gorgeous projection design by Anthony Churchill which moves the locations at a rapid pace.

Leading the small cast of 4 is the vibrant Hannah Dawe as Deb, a neurotic grad student stuck in a rut. Miss Dawe’s quirkiness shines through in her rendition of “Calm” and is a welcome burst of energy every time she enters the stage.
Nick Graffagna stumbles in to Deb’s life as Warren, a homosexual hipster whose cat sitting for an artist currently sitting in prison. Mr. Graffagna rides a fine line between overzealous and annoying but has a pleasant tenor voice. As the show develops he serves as a strong foil opposite Deb’s grounded craziness and thus his best moments are those shared with Miss Dawe.

Courtney Jones plays Claire, a girlfriend uncertain about taking the next step in her relationship as her boyfriend Jason (Demetruis Spidle) moves in. There is an honesty to Ms. Jones that the audience greatly sympathizes with and the night I attended there was not a dry eye in the house following Ms. Jones rendition of  “I’ll Be Here” (made famous by Audra McDonald). She gives the most layered performance of the evening.
Unfortunately, Ms. Jones is not matched by her counter-part Demetrious Spidle as her boyfriend Jason. In a cast so small, one weak link can bring an entire production down and Mr. Spidle struggled with pitch problems for a majority of the evening.

For a show about connections, the material feels isolated filled with multiple songs where the characters address the audience about their feelings. Director Jason A. Fleece does his best to bring cohesion to the minimal storyline and does so with the younger duo by show’s end. However, the 4 characters seem too into themselves to acknowledge the beauty the piece preaches us to look for. This is a fault in the composer whose lyrics far surpass the melodies (or lack thereof) and the cast at times rise above the material.

Boho’s latest theatrical offering introduces a new voice of musical theatre that will be fresh to audiences. But as the title’s namesake goes, the production does not rise above it.

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

Somewhat Recommended

Ordinary Days runs through March 15th. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm & Sundays at 2pm. www.BoHoTheatre.com

08th Jan2015

Newsies Carries the Banner Through Chicago!

by rockchicago

 

Marking rave reviews all over Broadway, NEWSIES has finally come to Chicago for a limited stay. From what I’ve heard so far, previews have been running fierce and now it is opening night, the night which all actors look forward to; especially since the critics are out, and family members.

As I sat in my seat at the Oriental Theatre, I noticed the gigantic set on the stage. Having seen this movie as a kid and now being one of my favorite movies of all time, I was very curious how the show will turn out on stage; with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, choreography by Christopher Gattelli and directed by Jeff Calhoun, I knew I was in for a treat.

Set in New York City at the turn of the century, NEWSIES is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of teenaged ‘newsies,’ who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. But when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike for what’s right.

Leading the sensational cast are Dan DeLuca as Jack Kelly, Stephanie Styles as Katherine, Angela Grovey as Medda and Steve Blanchard as Joseph Pulitzer. I will tell you right now, the choreography is stunning. I haven’t seen great dancing like this since West Side Story!

Highlight numbers include “Carrying the Banner,” sung by the Newsies, “That’s Rich,” a new funny song sung by Medda, “The World Will Know,” “Watch What Happens,” sung by the hysterical Katherine, “Something to Believe In,” a new duet sung by Katherine and Jack, the crazy tap tancing number “King of New York” and “Santa Fe,” phenomenally sung by Dan DeLuca.

I know people that have seen this on Broadway and also seen this touring production and they told me it was just as good. Having seen this for the very first time, I was in tears. Not only was this an amazing production, but it is one of the best shows I have ever seen. The timing was right, the orchestra was spectacular, the sets by Tobin Ost were great, the costumes by Jess Goldstein were perfect and the actors were all remarkable.

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

04th Jan2015

Raw, Heartbreaking & Electric: “Airline Highway” Broadway’s Next Hit Play

by rockchicago

 

Airline Highway by Lisa D’Amour. Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Directed by Joe Mantello. Runtime 2 hours & 35 Minutes with one intermission.

Tuesday night, a powerhouse of a new play opened at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The world premiere of Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway is a pre-Broadway engagement, and a force to be reckoned with. Chicago audiences should run, not walk as it has the makings of the next big Chicago transfer (ala August: Osage County).

Without spoiling too much, Airline Highway is about a community of misfits; the people society often ignores. They are a “glorious band of f***ups” to coin a phrase from the show. Celebrating the life of a mother figure on her death bed, one of the residents who left for a better life brings a teenager into the world of a transgender woman, a stripper, a hooker, a poet, and the world below the blue color, struggling to survive their day to day lives.

Ms. D’Amour’s script hits on something that isn’t totally new but feels eye opening. These people are not caricatures, but living, breathing, honest individuals and though their struggles may not be something the audience have experienced, we root for them to find their success, and to get out of their station. These characters wear their wounds on their sleeves and do not mince their words. The dialogue is fresh, clever and consistently funny. With a few slight trims to the run time, this play could easily be Ms. D’Amour’s second Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Leading this sensational cast is Steppenwolf company member K. Todd Freeman as the caretaking, sass talking transgender Sissy Na Na. Mr. Freeman serves as the emotional center of the piece. His energy is never ending as he continually finds ways to play our emotions from rip roaring laughter to the darkest depths of Sissy’s rough history. A transcendent performance that should continue to receive high praise when the show transfers.

Carolyn Braver plays the teenager Zoe, the outsider that gets brought to Airline Highway by her step father “Bait Boy” (Stephen Louis Grush) and is our looking glass into the world of the residents. While at first she appears stereotypical and one note, as the play develops so does Miss Braver’s acceptance and willingness to explore a different road of life. Her speech towards the end of the play is poignant and is the essence of why we spend our 2 hours here.

Caroline Neff as the stripper hit by incredibly hard times Krista is beautifully layered. Rough around the edges, sympathetic on the inside and still mourning what could have been with Stephen Louis Grush’s smooth talking, oily and regrettably likeable Bait Boy. Both actors are in excellent form.

It is impossible to point out the brilliance of each cast member without revealing too much of the plot but Kate Buddeke, Scott Jaeck, Tim Edward Rhoze, Judith Roberts and Gordon Joseph Weiss all deliver in their respective roles.  In addition, Scott Pask’s stunning set makes the hummingbird hotel appear as important a character as those renting its rooms.

This is a rare production. It has the makings of a show that will carry bragging rights with it that claim “I saw it before it was a hit.” Steppenwolf Theatre continues to bring the honesty and intimacy of Chicago theatre to Broadway to inform the world on why we are such an important theatre city. Do not miss Airline Highway before it flies off to the east coast. I implore you to spend your time with these misfits, and find yourself in them. There is beauty in this rundown parking lot.

Highly Recommended

Airline Highway runs through Feb 8th. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays. www.steppenwolf.org

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

15th Dec2014

Humor & Heart Present in Visually Stunning Pericles

by rockchicago

 

Pericles at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Directed by David H. Bell. Runtime 2 hours & 35 Minutes with one intermission.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre continues the 2014-2015 season with a strong production of Shakespeare’s rarely produced Pericles. Ben Carlson returns to Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Hamlet, Macbeth, School for Lies) as the titular monarch in a production filled with humor, empathy and some of the finest design I’ve seen in 2014.

Pericles, though wildly popular during Shakespeare’s time is produced far less by today’s standards. Considered the first of the Bard’s plays to be part of the romantic period, Pericles tells the story of the Prince of Tyre through his travels to numerous lands which brings him to find love, have it ripped away and ultimately reunited.

Ben Carlson, a company member of the renowned Stratford Festival, is excellent in the title role. Covering the multi-year spectrum of the play, Mr. Carlson ages gracefully before our eyes. There is a great confidence and humility to his Pericles that is so genuine, his grief in the later stages of the play is so deeply rooted we wish to be the ones to bring him healing. He is in his finest form when reunited with his daughter Marina (subtle, graceful Cristina Panfilio) which parallels the opposite side of the spectrum from CST’s earlier production of Lear this year.

Cristina Panfilio’s Marina is subtle and graceful. She exudes innocence and charms us just as she does Sean Fortunato’s Lysimachus. The two eventual lover’s first meeting under unwelcome circumstances in a brothel is one of the most tender, loving moments the production offers.

Comedy is in abundance here led by CST regulars Kevin Gudahl as the jolly king Simonides and Ross Lehman doubling as Cerimon/Pander. Mr. Lehman nails every laugh line and proves again why he is one of the most sought after comedic actors in town. Orah Jones also brings out the raunchy side of the Bard in abundance as the mistress Bawd.

Where Mr. Bell’s Pericles really shines is through the perfect medium of all the design elements. James Savage’s sound design and Henry Marsh’ original compositions are the definition of why the American theatre wing needs to continue to honor sound designers. The music is as poetic and informed as any soliloquy the Prince speaks. Jesse Klug’s jewel toned lighting design mixed with Aaron Rhyne’s projections keep the sea with us at all times. Scott Davis’ set design is grand in scale and provides an eager backdrop for perfect design harmony.

The theatrical medium is a piece of high art and this particular production reinforces that. Beautiful design esthetic, nuanced performances, intense fights and a lavish musical party sequence make this rarely seen Pericles a show not to be missed.

Highly Recommended

Pericles runs through Jan 18th. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays. www.chicagoshakes.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

15th Dec2014

Laughing Through Life’s Difficulties in The Clean House

by rockchicago

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl presented by Remy Bumppo at The Greenhouse Theatre. Directed by Ann Filmer. Runtime 1 hour & 40 Minutes with one intermission.

Remy Bumppo continues their 2014-2015 season with a laugh inducing yet intimate look into adultery, survival and death in Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House. This tiny production boasts 5 actors, an elegant stark white set and some of the best Brazilian jokes you’re likely to not understand in the best way possible.

The show opens and closes with the charming Alice Da Cunha as Matilde the maid of this clean house. She tells tales of her family being the funniest people in Brazil and how she is in search of the perfect joke to bring laughter to those around her. Miss Da Cunha mixes quick timing with emotional depth and while maybe not intended by the playwright, this production feels like it’s her story to tell.

Patrice Egleston is the stoic owner of the clean house. Miss Egleston’s Lane is wound like a top and is a hard woman to like. She does the best she can to navigate Ruhl’s poetics but feels miscast. We do come to sympathize with her but Miss Egleston is overshadowed by her co-stars.

Annabel Armour gives a scene stealing turn as Lane’s cleaning obsessed, lonely sister Virginia. This is Armour’s show from the minute she comes on stage. There is something heartbreaking in her loneliness but she laughs her way through the stickiest of situations. Her Virginia evokes compassion and love, the opposite of her on stage sister. Her comedic climax involving an onstage plant garnered roaring laughter and applause and has been a favorite performance of mine this year.

Rounding out the cast is Shawn Douglass as the cheating husband Charles who is very fine in a limited role (this play is very much about the women). And Charin Alvarez’ Ana is vulnerable but lacks the additional layers of some of the others.

Grant Sabin’s stark white, modern home is versatile and expands the space. It is the perfect representation of a home full of too much money and nobody home to enjoy it. Janice Pytel’s costume design is simple and effective.

A colleague of mine has argued that Miss Ruhl is far more of a poet than a playwright and The Clean House finds the inner beauty and laughter within some of life’s most trivial moments. The laughs come a mile a minute especially from Miss Armour and her performance alone is worth the ticket price. You’re encouraged to enter the clean house, but expect to leave far dirtier than before you arrived.

Recommended

The Clean House runs through Jan 11th. Performances are Wednesday-Sunday. www.RemyBumppo.org

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

09th Dec2014

Trilogy’s Finale a Triumph for The Hypocrites

by rockchicago

 

Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore presented by The Hypocrites at the Den Theatre. Adapted and Directed by Sean Graney. Runtime 1 hour and 15 minutes with a 1 minute intermission.

Coming off the success of the 12 hour epic All Our Tragic, The Hypocrites continues their 18th season with the conclusion of their highly successful adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. H.M.S. Pinafore sailed into the Den Theatre last night full of exuberance and creativity.

Director Sean Graney’s staging involves promenading around the space, audience interaction and many a hilarious prop. The action is centrally located around a pillow pit (Michael Smallwood’s set doubles as a balloon pit and big top in the Mikad0) that the audience may sit in and aid the actors in hiding throughout the piece.

Graney has the vibrant 10 player ensemble using every inch of the room giving the audience numerous points of focus to give everyone a slightly unique individual experience. All their own musicians, the cast leads you through a musical jam session preshow using mashups of popular hits and strong encouragement to utilize the bar built into the set.

The strength of the production relies on the tight harmonies and the endless energy of the cast that would make even the energizer bunny jealous. The cast is uniformly excellent with voices that are on par with any union house in the city.

Doug Pawlik’s sultry tenor voice makes him the ideal male ingénue as Joseph. Quirky and charming, Mr. Pawlik navigates through the role with ease. His counter-part, Ralphina, is played by Dana Omar. Miss Omar hits the perfect balance of awkward and endearing and both of their voices blend ideally.

Christine Stulik and Matt Kahler share their comedic prowess from the minute they enter together (Miss Stulik is Admiral Dame Jo-Ann and Mr. Kahler is Cousin Heebies, respectively). Miss Stulik leads a rousing rendition of “I Am the Monarch of the Sea…” that will keep you humming the whole night long. In addition, Kate Carson-Groner is a scene stealing fiend as Dot Dead-Eye.

This widely talented cast also covers all the roles in the other two productions giving the theatre going public three separate opportunities to join in on the fun. The Hypocrites have brought us another family friendly, inventive piece of art that is sure to trump any other theatrical offerings this holiday season.

Highly Recommended

The Gilbert and Sullivan Rep runs through February 7th. Tickets range from $36-$50. Performances are Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 3pm and 8pm and Mondays at 8pm. Schedule of individual performances available at www.the-hypocrites.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

29th Oct2014

Not Quite Smooth Sailing for “Titanic”

by rockchicago

 

Titanic presented by Griffin Theatre at Theatre Wit. Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston. Book by Peter Stone. Directed by Scott Weinstein. Runtime 2 hour & 10 minutes with 1 intermission.

In 1997, the original production of Titanic sailed onto Broadway with a cast of 45 actors winning 5 tony awards. The largest ship ever built was set to sail back onto the great white way this year with a new chamber version of the show but has since been postponed. Instead, Griffin Theatre opened their 26th season with the first major U.S. production of the newly revised Titanic.

This new production features an ensemble of 20 actors doubling as numerous characters. It features music originally cut from the show and tightens the action to focus on a smaller, select group of passengers. There is a greater focus given to the 2nd class couple of Charles and Caroline Clark, with an added song but it feels unnecessary to give them more importance than their 2nd class counterparts Edgar and Alice Beane. However, the shorter run time aids the pacing of the piece.

Director Scott Weinstein’s staging is inventive and continually keeps the piece active.  There are small nuances of brilliance throughout the piece including a model of the ship made out of suitcases and chairs, moving staircases serving as the engine’s boilers, an especially effective staging of the loading of the life boats and a clever effect to show the rising of the water on board that I won’t spoil. Although, some of the humor is brushed over, the aesthetic of the stage pictures are pleasing.

Mr. Weinstein’s design team give him a very flexible playing space (Joe Schermoly scenic designs and Brandon Wardell lighting designs, respectively). The moving staircases allow for multiple areas of the ship to be utilized with a large piece of the ship’s hull as background. The portholes provide the lighting and there is never hesitancy from the audience that we are indeed on the ship with the actors. Rachel Sypniewski’s costumes are ravishing and aid in disguising her constantly doubling cast.

The ensemble is at its best when in full group numbers and interacting together. There is a strong sense of community among the mostly young, attractive cast. However, the whole is better than some of its parts.

Among the brightest stars on the Titanic’s moonless night is John Keating as the foppish steward Mr. Etches. Mr. Keating mixes excellent comic timing with just the right amount of pathos as the ship reaches its fate. Jeff award winner Justin Adair is in fine voice as the stoker Barrett. His rich baritone voice blends beautifully with Royen Kent’s Harold Bride in “The Proposal/The Night was Alive” and is one of the most memorable songs of the evening.

Neala Barron is a strong, willful Alice Beane. Her rendition of “I Have Danced” is filled with longing and is one of the emotional anchors of the show. Her husband Edgar (Jake Mahler) is not as strong, often playing for humor ineffectively. The other 2nd class couple Charles and Caroline (Matt Edmonds & Laura McClain) have excellent chemistry and Edmond’s breaks your heart in “We’ll Meet Tomorrow”.

Josh Kohane as Frederick Fleet gives a sweet, haunting rendition of “No Moon”. Peter Vamvakas is a strong, grounded Captain Smith. Kelly Abell, Christine Mayland Perkins and Courtney Jones as the three Kate’s lead a strong rendition of “Ladies Maid”. However Miss Jones as the spunky Kate McGowan often times over powers her beau (Kevin Stangler as Jim Farrell) and lacks vulnerability in her softer moments.

Griffin’s production is ambitious, inventive but flawed. The dedication and community of its players will grow over the run and the hesitancy and tentativeness from Saturday’s final preview should fade. The production is worth seeing, if for the reason to see a piece known for large bulky sets stripped down Chicago style. Titanic is sailing at Theatre Wit through December 7th.

Somewhat Recommended

Titanic runs through December 7th. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. www.griffintheatre.com

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

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

Pages:12345678»