To avid theatre goers, there’s nothing in the world quite so thrilling as hearing a beautiful, carefully-crafted piece of music being played to perfection by a full orchestra. Hearing those first strains of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s lush overture reminds audiences of what they’ve missed in lesser productions of this show. It’s as if we’ve taken a trip back to 1943 when this groundbreaking classic of the musical stage first opened on Broadway, and oh, what a beautiful moment, that must’ve been.Read More
For those of us who grew up during the Eisenhower years, songs from Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score provide a blast from our past. Haunting ballads like “Hey There” and “A New Town is a Blue Town,” and catchy novelty tunes such as “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway” became often-played standards on the radio. George Abbott’s dramatic collaboration with author Richard Bissell of his novel, 7 1/2 Cents, turned into 1955’s Tony Award-winner for Best Musical. The show has been revived twice on Broadway (the latest 2006 version starred Harry Connick, Jr. and Kellie O’Hara) and has become a staple with regional, community and educational theatres. The reasons are many, as demonstrated in Jess McLeod’s grittier, economy-sized version now playing in Highland Park.Read More
Monty Python’s Spamalot
When Eric Idle “lovingly ripped off” material from his own film, the irreverent “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (with a nod to his “Life of Brian,” and other Python-esque comedy routines), he was rewarded with the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical. The show, with a catchy score by collaborator John Du Prez, is decidedly filled with British humor. Yet, in a musical style related to shows like “Avenue Q” and “The Producers,” this mock retelling of the Arthurian legend offers an unabashedly fresh, cheeky comedy that should be popular with diehard Monty Python fans and younger audiences.
For this show to work, however, tempos and pacing must be rapid enough to keep the humor unpredictable but not so fast that audiences miss Idle’s hilarious lyrics and dialogue. This is a tricky balancing act because of the many exaggerated dialects used by the characters. But again, if viewers can’t understand what’s being said the laughs fall flat. That said, Dante J. Orfei’s production, while offering much of what makes this show so uproariously funny, also features some problems.
First, there are the often-problematic mics that scratch against costumes, provide electronic feedback or just plain cease to work. Luckily, King Arthur knew how to compensate for this problem in his performance. Often, when a continuous flow of action from one scene to another would have been more effective, there are long moments while the audience waits for something to happen. John Warren’s 14-member backstage orchestra is almost always excellent, but a few tempos felt unaccountably sluggish. And some of Orfei’s actors, while eager and talented, have been allowed to either become so over-the-top or encouraged to speak in such thick accents that audiences hearing this dialogue for the first time will have no idea what’s being said. Examples include the uncredited ensemble member playing Mrs. Galahad and Jameson Wentworth’s otherwise very funny, nicely-sung Sir Galahad. Before becoming the well-spoken knight, his peasant Dennis is almost unintelligible.
But the Grail is half full with much goodness to offer. First, there’s Eric Idle’s priceless book and lyrics that, even upon repeated viewings, offers laughs aplenty. Next there’s Michael Nedza’s sparse, but effective set design complemented by Michael A. Kott’s nicely executed multimedia production. Lindsay Prerost’s Medieval modern costumes pay homage to the original production without merely copying it. Christopher Pazdernik’s energetic choreography demands much of his young cast without overtaxing them (my only criticism being a far too-busily staged, “Song That Goes Like This”).
Orfei’s young cast is lead by the incomparable Jamie Szynal as the Lady of the Lake. This young actress has a wide vocal range and the power to belt to the last row, while paying tongue-in-check tribute to such other pop performing icons as Cher and and Britney Spears. Her terrific comic timing and strong charisma make Ms. Szynal a young star-to-watch. Including the aforementioned Jameson Wentworth as the dashing Sir Galahad, there’s Patrick Perry’s solid triple-threat King Arthur, Daniel Ermel’s easily frightened, Broadway-bound Sir Robin and the delightfully sassy Brett Baleskie as the flamboyant Sir Lancelot.
While the road to Camelot is sometimes a bumpy journey, Jedlicka’s production of one of Broadway’s funniest musical comedies, a show that’s perfect for today’s troubled times, is highly entertaining, filled with exciting young performances and and offers a Grail of surprises and fun.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 19-May 4 at the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center at Morton College, 3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero, IL
For tickets call 708-656-1800 or go to www.jpactheatre.com
For additional information about this and other shows go to www.theatreinchicago.com
Slip off your Wellingtons, shed your Mackinaw and fold up your bumbershoot. Matthew Barber’s stage adaptation of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s novel about four ladies who book a much-needed holiday away from soggy Olde London at a secluded Italian castle is a splendid entertainment after what has been Chicago’s wettest, rainiest April in history. It’s the perfect play presented at the perfect time, and what a welcome delight it is.
Artistic director Scott Phelps has staged this delightful respite from the rain with style and flair. Drab Act I, takes place in Hampstead, England during the monsoon season of late winter. Shades of gray and black dominate both set and costumes against a soundscape of eternal precipitation, and peppered with occasional thunder. Phelps has staged his company of actors amid stiff and stodgy formal settings: in drawing rooms, at tea tables, in church pews. His cast becomes extensions of their surroundings, the personification of the stiff upper lip. Only Lotty Wilton, the play’s narrator and the catalyst for this daring adventure, is able to temporarily break loose from those societal ties that bind. But this is, after all, the 1920’s when women’s roles were more restricted. Lotty’s dream of an all-girl holiday, away from the men who define a woman’s every word and movement, seems wild and almost sacrilegious to everyone but an enlightened “Modern.”
Phelps’ second act bursts with color, freedom and the bliss of living. The rain is replaced by sunshine, flowers and a girl-power camaraderie that turns infectious. Rose, the unhappy, uptight acquaintance who Lotty coerces into joining her in this much-needed getaway, sheds her dark cocoon-like clothing and becomes a butterfly in pastels and parasols. Even elderly Mrs. Graves, whose only London companions were her books and past memories, leaves her walking stick and blossoms into the younger lady she once was. Lotty’s third travel mate, Lady Caroline, relishes in a male-free environment…or so she says. With the unexpected arrival of Mellersh and Frederick, Lotty and Rose’s husbands, and Mr. Wilding, the handsome young landlord of the estate, everyone blooms under the enchantment of April.
Jamie Lee Kearns, whose strong resemblance to film actress Amy Adams is remarkable, is the unsinkable Lotty Wilton. Her spirited performance is the engine that drives this play making Lotty’s eternal romantic optimism as contagious as the sunshine. Kelly Farmer’s Rose is a deeper, more cerebral portrayal of a young woman whose married life has become dull, predictable and inescapable. As Ms. Farmer literally lets her hair down in Act II, all her sorrow and misgivings fall away, her expressive face prompting the audience to cheer her journey to happiness. Katherine Biskupic is stunningly beautiful and composed as the free-spirited Lady Caroline. Her life of ennui dissolves when Mr. Wilding (Matthew Gall in one of the brightest performances of the evening) shifts his interest to her and romance unfolds. Veteran actress Marilyn Baldwin creates a no-nonsense Mrs. Graves, the last bastion of proper British society. However, as the men begin to arrive we see her soften and become the darling of the day. And Rita Simon’s Italian housekeeper Costanza, supplies much of the play’s humor as she reacts to Mrs. Graves’ boisterous demands.
Christine Kneisel and Lisa Hale’s innovative, flexible set and period-suggestive costumes add sparkle to this entertaining production that make April, or any other month, as enchanting and refreshing as a Spring spent in the Italian countryside.
Presented Thursdays through Sundays, April 26-May 26 at the Citadel Theatre, 825 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
For tickets call 847-735-8554 or go to www.Citadeltheatre.org.
For additional information about this and other productions go to www.theatreinchicago.com
Can there be any better way to shake off the blues inflicted by Chicago’s never-ending winter than with a bright, champagne bubbly, laughed-filled Broadway revival that offers star talent, opulent costumes and sets, a classic score and more tap dancing than any show currently playing? This 2011 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival was directed and choreographed by the brilliant Kathleen Marshall for New York’s Roundabout Theatre. In addition, the production deservedly won Tonys for choreography and its lead actress, Sutton Foster. This National Tour which is, by the way, an Equity production, stars the boundlessly talented Broadway star Rachel York as Reno Sweeney and an entire cast of talented triple threats who make this production look effortless in their accomplishments.Read More
Despite the difficulty identifying with a lying, womanizing, wheeler-dealer of a cad, such as Joey Evans, the musical’s title character, audiences seem to find humor and entertainment in this guy’s story. He’s one of those men who succeed for a while in one town, fail, and then move on to another destination. Joey’s toothy smile and fast-talking mesmerizes his victims…at first. But later, when they’ve had time think, he finds his purse strings cut and he’s back on the lam. Such is the essence of Rodgers and Hart’s 1940 musical, the first play to center its plot around an antihero. The trouble is, this guy is kind of difficult to like.Read More
If opening night is any indication, the next big hit on Broadway this October is bound to be this bewitching musical version of Daniel Wallace’s novel that tells the story of the strained relationship between a father and his grown-up son. The stress reaches a peak between Edward Bloom and his son Will on the boy’s wedding day and continues until the two finally reconcile on Edward’s deathbed. This new Broadway bound show is a melodic journey to understanding and acceptance that touches the heart, warms the soul and enlightens the mind.Read More
The Book of Mormon
Ding-dong. Ding-dong. There’s a group of smiling, singing/dancing missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ringing your doorbell. You’d be very smart to meet them because these young Mormons will
surprise you with their earnest appeal, their collective enthusiasm and their sweet innocence. Of course, if easily offended, you may also be shocked by much of the language and subject matter found in this paradoxical new musical. This 9-time-Tony Award-winning show, the collaborative work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of TV’s “South Park”), with music and lyrics by “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez, Parker and Stone, has been selling out to standing room audiences on Broadway since its March of 2011 opening. In doing so, the musical recouped its initial investment within a record 9 months. And, with the 1st National Tour currently playing to packed houses in Los Angeles, a 2nd National Tour and a West End production scheduled to begin in 2013, Chicago has now become home to the show’s first out-of-town sit-down production. Currently the musical’s sold-out through early next March and has been extended at least through June of 2013. As such, the Chicago production has set its own record for ticket sales within the first week of performances. This show must be something special.
And it surely is. The musical both ridicules organized religion (and hard-to-believe Mormon beliefs, in particular) while it embraces its innocence and optimism, demonstrating that, like all religion, its power comes from acknowledging and appreciating the metaphors found in its stories and doctrines. The show also satirizes, while still paying homage to, the classical musicals from Broadway’s Golden Age. Parker and Stone imitate the masters, like Rodgers & Hammerstein, as they copy the construction of their shows and replicate familiar Broadway musical styles. The show’s opening number, for example, sounds a lot like “The Telephone Hour” from “Bye Bye Birdie;” “Sal Tiay Ka Siti” reminds the listener of “Little Shop of Horror”’s “Somewhere That’s Green;” and the hilarious, but irreverent “Hasa Diga Eebowai” has the rhythm and jubilance of “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King.” But perhaps the most obvious tribute comes in Act II’s “Joseph Smith, American Moses,” which blatantly mimics “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” from “The King and I,” not only in its construction and sound, but in the way it’s staged and costumed.
And this production, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker and musically directed by John Samorian, is sharp, sassy and spirited. Unflaggingly enthusiastic, this production almost flows over the orchestra pit and into the audience. Its cast of characters, played by an ensemble of truly talented young actor/singer/dancers, are so likable audiences will relish their time spent getting to know them. Recreating his Broadway role as Elder Price, Nic Rouleau is superb. His gorgeous voice (on display in numbers like “I Believe” and “Orlando”), strong charisma and infectious smile (a boon for any successful missionary) make him a winning leading man. He shares the stage with 19-year-old newcomer Ben Platt, known for his performance in Universal Pictures‘ recent “Pitch Perfect.” Ben plays Rouleau’s geeky, naive and eager-to-please sidekick, Elder Cunningham. Josh Gad’s performance in this role on Broadway is a hard act to follow, but Platt makes the part all his own. This young actor has perfect comic timing and knows precisely how to deliver a line, not to mention his talent as a singer/dancer. Mr. Platt doesn’t simply imitate Gad’s performance but brings his own particular nerdy quirks, dorky smile and hopeless charm to the role.
Lovely Syesha Mercado is warm and irresistible as the daughter of the Ugandan village chief (played with sharp wit and humor by James Vincent Meredith). Her gentle vulnerability combined with the character’s natural wisdom make her portrayal of Nabulungi an absolute treat. And Pierce Cassedy brings a unique, special appeal to Elder McKinley, the Mormon missionary fighting his own personal demons as a gay teenager. The entire ensemble, from the terrifying, one-eyed General to religious founder Joseph Smith, are all played with humor and affability, demonstrating top-notch acting, vocal and dancing skills.
For liberal adult audiences looking for the funniest, most irreverent musical comedy to play Chicago since Mel Brooks‘ “The Producers,” this show should not be missed. Patient theatre goers will now have to wait until Spring for available tickets, but the wait will be worthwhile. Indeed, if tickets become more available, many patrons may be enticed to pay the Mormons additional visits, if only to fully savor the show’s wit and warmth. So if you hear the doorbell being rung by a group of smiling young men in white shirts and black neckties, don’t wait. This is THE must-see show of this decade.
By Colin Douglas
Playing Dec. 11-June 2, 2013 (as of this writing)
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago
Tickets available at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or call 800-775-2000; a limited number of $25 tickets are also available by lottery each day two hours prior to each performance.
For additional information on this and other shows go to www.theatreinchicago.com
Broadway In Chicago and the producers of the new musical THE BOOK OF MORMON, winner of nine Tony Awards® including Best Musical, announced today there are some tickets still available March 5 – June 2, 2013 and due to popular demand,
performances are now sold out December 11, 2012 – March 3, 2013 for THE BOOK OF MORMON at the Bank of America Theatre (18 West Monroe). Tickets for performances March 5 – June 2, 2013 are on-sale now.Read More