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

07th May2014

Raw, Progressive, & Powerful: Hit the Wall remounts at The Green House

by rockchicago

 

Hit the Wall presented by The Inconvenience and Chicago Commercial collective at The Greenhouse Theatre. Play by Ike Holter. Directed by Eric Hoff. Runtime 100 minutes with no intermission.

Last night the greenhouse theatre was able to welcome back the Inconvenience’s Hit the Wall, a new play about the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. The stonewall riots are considered one of the first major monumental acts in the fight for LGBT rights. The show which played sold out runs at the Steppenwolf Garage and Theatre on the Lake (as well as a successful run Off-Broadway) welcomes back a majority of its original cast members in addition to a couple new faces.

Holter’s play has a great mix of meta-theatrics, intense realism (as expected in most Chicago theatre), snappy laugh inducing dialogue and progressive 60’s rock to make this the freshest new work I have seen in sometime. The music infuses the piece, adds emotional depth and sets the tone with a great 20 minute pre-show. The dialogue gives some great introductions and laughs to the characters Tano (newcomer Steve Casillas) and Mika (Desmond Gray) as well as a heart wrenching scene begging for conformity between sisters Peg (a heart-breaking Sara Kerastas) and Madeline (Mary Williamson). Eric Hoff’s energetic, seamless staging keeps us following the timeline of events clearly and at times effectively makes us feel part of the action. With so many characters proclaiming “I was there!” we too feel as if we can say so.

The dynamic, excellent cast is led by Manny Buckley as Carson the cross dressing, commanding queen. From the moment Buckley enters proclaiming “Look upon me Mother****ers” (one of the greatest entrance lines in recent memory) he is a star. From his tentative first encounter with Cliff (an enduring, likeable Steve Lenz) only to be shunned for his appearance at the wake of Judy Garland to his defiant moment proclaiming his proud female identity against a bigoted cop (Walter Briggs), he owns every single moment.

Walter Briggs plays a very unlikeable antagonist in the cop. This is a huge shift for him after seeing his Jeff awarded performance in Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s 2013 hit The Glass Menagerie. It was great to see this other side of Briggs and the terror and disgust he oozed every time he enters. His fight scenes with the entire cast are executed well (the fight work is quite good thanks to choreographer Ryan Bourque) and he is a formidable villain.

Unsure of what to expect going into this piece outside of hearing its previous buzz, it did not disappoint. The esthetic of the bar atmosphere tricks the audience into the idea that this is some happy go lucky rock show. Only when we just begin to meet these characters and their struggles are their worlds and ours turned upside down. You are in for an emotional ride. This play may not be for everyone based on the subject matter (though equality for all should bother nobody) but this piece has a raw power that you can only find in Chicago storefronts. I implore the theatre going public to Hit the Wall and say they were there to see these honest performers.

Highly Recommended

Hit the Wall runs through June 29th. Performances are Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 930pm, Saturdays at 5pm & 830 pm and Sundays at 230pm & 7pm. Tickets $20-55. Rush ticket policy available. www.greenhousetheatre.org

Reviewed by Drew Shanahan

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

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