Chicago Theatre Review

Monthly Archives: March 2012

“Hair” is the thing at the Paramount!

March 19, 2012 No Comments

By Lazlo Collins
Here is the thing about “Hair”, like the hair styles that travel through the ages, some may look good back in the 70’s; however, some just don’t translate to the present. The musical “Hair” currently running at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, IL, is having some of those same “hair” style issues.
Let me preface this review by saying, for the most part, I really did enjoy “Hair”. The company had so much energy, the set was right on, the songs were executed well, and the costumes were perfect; having said that, the show for me just did not translate to its audience.
Perhaps “Hair” would have had a better chance at grabbing its audience if the house were smaller. It seemed that even with the high energy cast and sound system, the cast was working double time to get us to participate. Maybe it was just a Friday night thing? I wanted to feel more from the story and songs. In truth, it felt too loose and hippy dippy and not enough real story moments. (With the exception of the final scene of the show)
The two gentleman leads of Claude (Skyler Adams) and Berger (Adrian Aquilar) gave us moments of raw and anger to sustain our disbelief. Mr. Adams knocks it out with his acting and several of his songs. Mr. Aquilar, was impressive, and has an excellent voice; but I would have liked more dynamics to the often one-noted dimension of his character. I wanted to like him so much more.
Some Tribe standouts were Woof (Adam Michaels), Jeanie (Dana Tretta), Crissy (Maggie Portman), Dionne, (Donica Lynn), and Abraham Lincoln (Alexis J. Rogers). These tribe members stood out not only for their solo work, but brought me closer to the story with each scene.
Some notable tribe numbers throughout the show were “Hair”, “Where Do I Go”, “Walking in Space”, Three-Five-Zero-Zero”, and “Flesh Failures”. The entire collection of Claude’s military “trip” was enjoyable and great to watch. I felt the cast had put down their guard and just let themselves be in the moment.
With Doug Peck at the helm, the music execution was clear and soaring. Again, the set concept (Kevin Depinet) was superb, who wouldn’t want to make an entrance through a beaded curtain three floors up? The costumes (Melissa Torchia) were familiar and fresh. Lights (Jesse Klug/Greg Hofmann) and projections (Mike Tutaj) added greatly to the interest of the show.
I have seen many of Rachel Rockwell’s directorial endeavors in the past and have always loved what she has done. This production of “Hair” was no exception; however, this show did not make it across the footlights for me.
Perhaps it is just a matter of time travel or taste, but for now I will recommend “Hair” to those that want to romp with the tribe one last time. All others beware; the movement may have passed us by.
The 1960’s Love-Rock Musical “Hair” is at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL through 1 April 2012. 630-896-6666 or www.ParamountAurora.com
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Neo-Futurists cleverly reanimate two tales in ‘Pinocchio/Frankenstein’

March 15, 2012 87 Comments

By Devlyn Camp

The Neo-Futurists are always onto something funny and clever. Greg Allen, founder of the Futurists, writes and directs his newest work for their stage The Strange and Terrible True Tale of Pinocchio (The Wooden Boy) as told by Frankenstein’s Monster (The Wretched Creature). And oddly enough, that’s not his longest title produced. Juxtaposing the two tales, Allen examines the lives of two creatures made by man, searching for affection. By using the original Pinocchio tales, the story is un-Disneyfied and much more gruesome. Written through a realistic vision with a few funny, contemporary pop culture references tossed in, the Creature follows and mocks the hoping-to-be boy and criticizes his unwise choices. However foolish those choices may be, they’re freaking hilarious.

While Robert Fenton leads the journey with boyish charm and puns, the comedy is mainly driven by the supporting cast. The troupe shuffles through dozens of costumes, wigs and weird makeshift props. Dan Kerr-Hobert is outrageous as the randomly reappearing Geppetto and beyond uncomfortably creepy wagon driver, among other characters. His talent is matched only by the constantly changing Thomas Kelly, who turns roles on a dime. Each of their characters are funnier than the last.

Throughout the ridiculous retelling, various forms of puppetry assist the story. Basic hand, shadow and life-size puppets (containing actors) add to the bizarre nature of the play. Among many other absurd but effective methods of entertainment, the Neos provide silly string, fire, toy ponies, coffins for strangled puppets, and disassembled kittens. The Neo-Futurists are silly, ridiculous, aggressive, funny and so very smart. Pinocchio/Frankenstein is sketch comedy at feature length with a moral to the fable. While the ending isn’t quite right, it’s very overshadowed by the damn good two hours preceding it.

Pinocchio/Frankenstein
The Neo-Futurists
Through April 14, 2012
Tickets $10-20, available at neofuturists.org 

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Photo courtesy Joe Mazza; clockwise from left: Tien Doman, Chris Rickett, Thomas Kelly, Dan Kerr-Hobert, Robert Fenton, Guy Massey

Contact critic at devlynmc@yahoo.com


“The Light in the Piazza” Casts a Beautiful Glow.

March 14, 2012 79 Comments

By Lazlo Collins

It is the lovely story of girl meets boy with an operatic, Italian twist. “The Light in the Piazza” delivers the story and more, at Theo Ubique (say thee-ah oo-bah-kway) Cabaret Theater.  This version of the recent theater classic, are sung in all its lyric richness by a talented cast.

I saw “The Light in the Piazza” in its pre-Broadway run at the Goodman Theater. I enjoyed the show then, and loved it even more at The Theo Ubique.

Known for their pared down versions of original large scale musicals, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre makes this “Piazza” story come to life with all the vibrancy of an Italian street celebration. Although this more operatic show may not be for everyone, its music is immediate and satisfying.

Leading off the show we come upon the mother Margaret Johnson (Kelli Harrington) with her daughter Clara (Rachel Kippel). They are abroad in Florence, Italy taking the cities sights and sounds by storm. In a moment of sweet theater cheesiness, the handsome young Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli (Justin Adair) catches Clara’s hat in the breeze. They lock eyes and are in love.

The story of courtship and young love continues, and in the process we meet the Naccarelli’s. Mother and father (Denise Tamburrino and Michael Kingston), brother (Pavi Proczko) and his wife (Elizabeth Lanza) move this musical along with robust Italian songs and a hardy dose of comedy.

But as we find out, something about Clara is not all together right. After a childhood accident, Clara remains a child trapped in a woman’s body. She is innocent and misguided, which ultimately brings her mother to her own reflections of guilt, and the misguided love she endures herself.

This journey leads all the characters to the exciting climax of love’s perpetual contemplation, whether in Italy or where ever your journey may take you.

As mother Margaret Johnson, Ms. Harrington captures the reluctant “woman in charge” with sweetness and perfect timing. Her contemplations to the audience are tragic and funny. Ms. Kippel, as daughter Clara, takes us through a remarkable journey of love and confusion. She made me root for her until the very end.

The family Italia is also talented and well represented.  As Signora, Ms. Tamburrino, is authentic and pleasant to watch; along with her son Guiseppi, who gave the story it’s more comedic moments. As Guiseppi’s wife, Ms. Lanza is stunning and brings the necessary bravado to her role of woman scorned.

Rounding out the family photo, Mr. Kingston, as the father, was so poignant and tender; a pillar of strength and cornerstone of the family. Mr. Adair who plays the love struck Fabrizio is earnest and sweet in his passionate pursuit of the American girl.

All the cast members in “Piazza” were remarkable singers with beautiful voices. Each performer had their moment to cast their spell on the audience. With difficult music and sometimes little traditional piano accompaniment, each song was executed with passionate resonance. Some of my favorite musical selections were “The Joy You Feel”, “Dividing Day”, and “Let’s Walk”. My least favorite was the weird pop duet “Say it Somehow”, the execution was good, but with a song that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the shows music plan.

The rest of the great cast is the stoic Clay Sanderson; and William Aaron and Christin Boulette.

With clear and thoughtful direction by Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier, “The Light in the Piazza” is a treat to watch and listen to. The set (Adam Veness) is amazing, especially considering the space. And I must say that the lighting for this show was SUPERB. It was thoughtful and transformed the play spaces to other times of day, and other spaces within the piazza. At times it was like watching an old movie.

Huzzahs to Jeremy Ramey for great coaching and musical direction that sounded simply beautiful!

“The Light in the Piazza” shines at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre through 29 April 2012.

Tickets 800-595-4849
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Camino Real Causes a Stir at Goodman

March 13, 2012 43 Comments

CAMINO REAL  BY Frank Meccia

 

Director Elia Kazan  wrote in his memoirs that he had misinterpreted the play Camino Real by infusing it with excessive naturalism. Produced on Broadway in 1953 it only lasted two months. This was a shock to many considering the author was Tennessee Williams, who gave us such great works as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet bird of Youth and The  Glass Menagerie. This unknown play of Williams was brought back by the Barcelona-based director Calixto Bieitoa director known for his radical controversial  interpretations of the classics, from opera to Shakespeare.  Mr Bieito stayed true to his art form at the Goodman last nite.

When Williams wrote this, WWII was over, the new look for the future was called Modernism and art was moving to a new look called Abstract Expressionist.  Writers and artists  such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock were taking their works from personal conflict within themselves, and Williams must have had a lot of conflict.

Camino Real is a mythical town where humanity no longer exists, where street cleaners remove  dead corpses from the street instead of trash. And the town is filled with nothing but drunks, prostitute’s gypsy, tramps and thieves. It seems more like a town that I would find in a Twilight Zone episode.

Rebecca Ringst has created a wonderful set. Her simple design with lack of scenery lets the imagination work harder. The lighting excellence of James Ingalls really creates the movement for the whole play.

The Goodman really brought in a fantastic cast from Chicago Barbara Roberson who was Jeff Nominated for The Goat, or who is Sylvia, Jacqueline Williams  who was in Trinity River last year at the Goodman and has the singing voice of a great blues artist. David Darlow as Casanova perfectly portrays an aging artist, who lost his soul a long time ago. Antwayn Hooper makes his Goodman debut as the central character Kilroy,  a has been boxer trying to get out of this town. My only fault is with Michael Mereiros who plays a vomiting drunk in the beginning and end , at some point you need to say no to the director.

It’s hard not to feel uncomfortable during the show, but if the Goodman was looking for shock value and controversy then Artistic Director Robert Falls found it in this play.

Camino Real will play till April 8th .


Gift Shows its Cutting Edge Side

March 11, 2012 70 Comments

ABSOLUTE HELL By Frank Meccia

The Gift Theatre located in Jefferson Park  has the U.S. Premiere of Rodney Ackland’s Absolute Hell.The Gift Theatre has an audience capacity of about 35. In this small theatre they had a cast of 21 that made use of every inch of space without seeming over crowded. This play was first produced in London in 1952 and was called The Pink Room, or The Escapists and was a total flop. One reason  was in England the Lord Chamberlain censored and approved all scripts. And with a story line that contains misfits, alcoholics, gay men, bohemians you can see why it was censored. Ackland re-wrote the script in 1988 at the age of 80. The National Theatre produced the play in 1995.

The story takes place one month after WWII has ended. England is going through a major change, And you are welcomed to the members only club “La Vie En Rose” and here is where the cast of losers, soldiers, dreamers, artists and lovers meet. Lynda Newton plays Christine Foskett the always drunk owner and need to be loved women. She plays the role perfectly. Michael Thornton plays Hugh Marriner the artist, and dreamer who can’t except that he is always cheating on his lover Nigel played by Dylan Stuckey. The show contains all the elements of an opera, comedy and tragedy with lust, betrayal, envy hope and destruction. Sheldon Patinkin as the director did an excellent job bringing that forward, my only complaint it could have been done in 2hours and 15min, not 3 and a half hours.

I do recommend this show, The Gift Theatre has shown that it can take cutting edge shows and work them well for the small theatre. Absolute Hell will run till April 29.

 


Raven’s take on Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’

March 11, 2012 79 Comments

By Devlyn Camp

Most anything done in life is based on the cost of doing it. Arthur Miller’s late ‘60s play The Price makes that very clear, and questions how money drives people – particularly families – together or apart. Raven’s new production is nothing short of a well-done rendering. The set by Amanda Rozmiarek is fully adorned with the chairs and chests and other furniture knick-knacks Victor wishes to sell. The design, to pop culture junkies, will definitely evoke memories of J.K. Rowling’s Room of Requirement.

The performance of the four actors is moderate, the best of which is done by Leonard Kraft playing Jewish antique dealer Gregory Solomon. He is sharp and witty with his lines, as well as the overall comic relief next to other actors who never seem to know what to do with their hands. Overall, the play is interesting as an intelligent Miller play on the brilliant psychology of financial choices, but average in this specific construction. And after all, when then price here is $30, is it something worth two hours? Well, that’s your choice.

THE PRICE
Raven Theatre Company
Through April 14, 2012
 Tickets $30, available at raventheatre.com

Contact critic at devlynmc@yahoo.com


R.S.V.P for this “Catered Affair”!

March 1, 2012 57 Comments

By Lazlo Collins

Porchlight Music Theatre’s, “A Catered Affair”, now playing at Stage 773, is ultimately pleasing and emotionally charged. When you enter the theater, the set (Brian Sidney Bembridge) is as solid as the residents that this musical is about. The main characters take us “onward” through a day, and then a life of love; with its many pitfalls and rewards.

The Hurley’s are Aggie (Rebecca Finnegan), Tom (Craig Spidle) and Janey (Kelly Davis Wilson). Janey is one, very in love, daughter; announcing her nuptials to one Ralph Halloran (Jim Deslem). This simple declaration is complicated by a few things that see this play through its emotional journey.

Her brother is dead, her father has just agreed to buy his share of his cab, and her mother wants to have a proper wedding for the daughter they ignored. Toss in a live-in gay uncle that does not get invited, and let the action begin.

This ninety minute musical is lovely in its pace and execution. The tenderness of the score (John Bucchino), and sometimes searing book (Harvey Fierstein) is treated well.

The music moves this musical for sure, under the careful direction of Doug Peck.

As the war inside this family unit wages on, Ms. Finnegan, as wife Aggie, is a remarkable prescience in this role. She leaves the audience breathless more than a few times. But her execution singing “Our Only Daughter” was a showstopper. She brings the audience to heartbreak and smiles throughout the show.

Mr. Spidle as her husband Tom is equally chilling and tender in his turn as a man in a seemingly loveless marriage. His rage and tenderness are both exacting and exciting to watch.

The love born couple of Ms. Wilson and Mr. Deslem are youthful and full of hope. Their passions and misgivings are well played throughout the show. Ms. Wilson was so believable to me. She was dead on with her portrayal of a daughter understanding her predicament and challenges.

Uncle Winston’s character was a unique one for me. The story for his need of acceptance was sad. Not only acceptance for himself, but for others as well. Jerry O’Boyle was sweet and funny in his portrayal of this complicated character. He character grew on me and ultimately won me over; and was grateful for his ultimate victory of self assuredness.

Rounding out the talented cast were the neighbors, friends and in-laws by Larry Baldacci, Brittani Arlandis Green, Anne Sheridan Smith, Caron Buinis and Lauren Villegas.

Again, the music was moving and wistful; the performances powerful and resolute.

With strong direction under Nick Bowling, “A Catered Affair” is a gem of a musical well worth a beautiful reception.

Porchlight Theater’s “A Catered Affair” runs through 1 April 2012 at Stage 773.


APTP’s “Home/Land” is a Gift to Chicago; Extended Dates Announced Soon!

March 1, 2012 62 Comments

Home/Land, devised and performed by Albany Park Theater Project

The Laura Wiley Theater at Eugene Field Park, 5100 North Ridgeway, Chicago

*Extended run, January 20 through April 28, 2012

Tickets $6-$22

Highly Recommended

 

Something amazing is happening in Albany Park.

Review by Darcy Rose Coussens

 

Have you ever been to Albany Park? If you haven’t, you’d better start planning your visit to the northwest side of Chicago. What makes this neighborhood special is its vast ethnic and cultural diversity, its passionate and inspiring youth, and oh, yeah– their innovative and award-winning theater: Albany Park Theater Project (APTP).

APTP is truly something special. Not only has it provided opportunities for its multiethnic youth ensemble in arts creation and performance, but it gives a voice to local residents. As the theater defines itself: “Albany Park Theater Project is an ensemble of youth artists who collectively write, choreograph, compose, and stage original performance works based on people’s real-life stories.”

For example, their current production of Home/Land is a collection of stories about families from El Salvador, Jordan, Mexico and other countries, and their struggles to make a life in America despite all kinds of obstacles immigrants face. In their intimate theater, 23 performers, 6 directors and suitcases galore open your eyes to a young girl in Jordan who sells her dolls for money to come to America; a well-qualified young woman who can’t get a job because of her lack of citizenship; a newlywed couple whose future family is broken by the husband’s deportation. A man on an ironic game show called “Who Wants to Be an American” wins an ankle monitor instead of citizenship, while an audience volunteer gets to keep privileges he takes for granted because he “looks so… American.”

Each tale in the play comes from a courageous community member and has now been shared with countless Chicagoans. Two spirited nuns fight for the right to pray with illegal aliens before their deportations; an undocumented immigrant fears a random traffic stop in Arizona; a gay hispanic teen shares why he protests immigration laws. The sources of these stories are clearly heroes for these teens, but the teen performers become heroes for us in the audience. Home/Land takes you all over the world, but it keeps bringing you back home to reveal the effects that immigration laws have on families right here in Chicago. APTP is a model of theatre at its best, giving abstract issues human faces, names and voices so that you cannot avoid the realities that many people face every day.

There is something incredibly motivating about seeing these young people educate an audience primarily composed of adults on issues of such great importance. APTP proves that youth are not to be underrated; I have the utmost respect for these remarkable ensemble members. They have a deep understanding of not only immigration issues but the meaning of community, family and hope. This is a cast of extremely mature individuals who effortlessly waltz through love, fly through fear and stand together through injustice. You will not find a more genuine group of young people; before the show they converse comfortably with the audience, creating a welcoming environment that later serves their direct offerings of such beautifully told stories. The youth of APTP are unbelievably professional and among Chicago’s most talented storytellers.

The teenage performers of Home/Land are also among its creators. APTP’s shows are devised from true stories, using music, movement, and direct storytelling to share them. Music is key to Home/Land, with actors playing all kinds of instruments in one song that will make your heart swell. One performer’s voice is haunting and beautiful as she sings in Spanish, and a cheerful bilingual song about a tree with roots on both sides of a border bookends the show, beginning and ending it on a hopeful note. The use of movement is more powerful than words as it expresses two people dreaming of marriage, a family’s bonds and its separation, and numerous stunning pictures.

To top it all off, APTP provides free college counseling to each ensemble member, from researching and visiting schools to applying and choosing courses. APTP’s students have a 72% higher high school graduation rate than the average for students in Chicago public schools, and their college graduation rate is 600% higher. I have no doubt that these young artists will continue to actively make a difference in the world through theatre, activism and the perspective they will bring with them into their adult lives. They have already affected countless audiences, and word of their work is spreading like wildfire.

If you call 800-838-3006 or go on their website, www.aptpchicago.org to order tickets right now, you will likely find that all shows are sold out. Fortunately, APTP will extend the run of Home/Land through April 28, with ticket sales opening March 5. 

The creators and staff at APTP have provided an enormous gift for these young adults, who in turn offer the gift of this performance to Chicago. I encourage you to bear witness to this beautiful creation and experience some of the most important theatre being done in Chicago.