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

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

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