FEATURES DARA CAMERON, ALEX GOODRICH, TIM KAZURINSKY, RENEE MATTHEWS & GENE WEYGANDT
Limited engagement at Royal George Theatre starts September 24;
The producers of the hit Off-Broadway show OLD JEWS TELLING JOKESare kvelling to announce that the upcoming engagement at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre will feature a quintet of familiar (and not-so-old) faces: Dara Cameron, Alex Goodrich, Tim Kazurinsky, Renee Matthews and Gene Weygandt. OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES begins performances on the Main Stage of the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted Street, Tuesday, September 24
Created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES is directed by Marc Bruni (Associate Director, The Book of Mormon Chicago) and showcases the five actors in a revue that pays tribute to and reinvents classic jokes of the past and present. Think you’ve heard them all before? Not this way. The show also features comic songs — brand new and satisfyingly old – as well as tributes to some of the giants of the comedy world and to OldJewsTellingJokes.com, the website created by Sam Hoffman that inspired the show. The Off-Broadway production of OLD JEWS TELLING JOKES opened to rave reviews in May 2012 at the Westside Theatre where it continues to play to sold-out houses.
“Having spent last season with the Mormons, I can’t wait to spend this one with Chicago’s Old Jews! This is an extraordinary cast of joke tellers who will deliver a hilarious and heartwarming production,” said Bruni. “And at these prices, why don’t you have your tickets already?”
A sharply directed, slickly produced play about gay rights that time travels between 1958 and 2008 has its Chicago premiere, and just in time for Gay Pride month. Under Bonnie Metzgar’s direction, the production is intelligent, tight and stylized, playing up both the humor and angst, as well as the many social issues this play examines. The final curtain will result in audience members devoting hours in thoughtful discussion as they ponder and debate the play’s message and the production’s power.
An interesting relationship evolves between three people when Sylvia, a former actress, introduces her husband, Philip, to Oliver, her children’s book collaborator. Something unspoken occurs between the two men when they’re left alone and, as it turns out, will grow and continue over the next fifty years. Philip and Oliver’s relationship evolves and then festers as Philip discovers Oliver’s penchant for anonymous sexual encounters with men in public places. Their kinship begins to unravel as Sylvia comes to understand what’s been happening under her very nose. The cautiously uptight ’50’s, while offering very little in sexual freedom for gay couples, does provide a certain safety net of rules and expectations. Not so cut and dry is the new millennium’s attitudes and tenets with those freedoms, now bestowed upon the LGBT community, sometimes presenting more rigidity than in the past. And, as audiences watch this play, they’ll notice how 2008 now seems to be a long time ago, as more freedoms are granted and additional rights are won.
The four actor ensemble are experts at maneuvering between the different story lines and eras. Acting styles, perfect dialects and mannerisms, just the right intensities, even the metaphoric shedding of clothes as the play progresses forward and retreats into the distant past, are all accomplished with style and professionalism. John Francisco’s Philip, who is a Noel Coward-like husband in the beginning, turns into a callous and sadistic creature by Act II. Patrick Andrews is a charming and needy sexual creature with little control over his kinky appetites. Jessie Fisher is incredible as Sylvia, especially as she transforms between time periods right before the audience’s eyes. Benjamin Sprunger is controlled and chameleon-like as the Man, Peter and finally the Doctor.
William Boles’ sparse set design allows for eerily smooth transitions between time and place, providing translucent walls through which the audience is able to witness characters literally stripping away their former persona only to emerge in another form. Becca Jeffords‘ specific lighting design keeps the mood and focus exactly where it needs to be in each scene, ably supported by Stephen Ptacek’s unique sound palette. Anita Deely has accomplished excellent dialect work with her quartet of actors and John Tovar’s fight choreography appears realistic, even in this intimate space.
This Midwest premiere will truly soon turn into a genuine period piece as 2008 rapidly becomes past history. But for now, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s look at how gay pride and passion have evolved (and will continue to do so at a faster pace) is definitely worth a look. Like her production of About Face’s “The Homosexuals,” Bonnie Metzgar has orchestrated her production to serve as the perfect play for Chicago’s month of Gay Pride. This is a play that says so much about who we are and who we’ve become.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 6-July 13 by About Face Theatre at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-871-3000 or by going to www.aboutfacetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.
A Season of Love from Beginning to End
Only in its second year, Naperville’s unique professional theatre closes the season with a fervent, deeply earnest production of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer, Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning musical that re-imagines Puccini’s “La boheme” as a rock opera set in Manhattan’s lower east side Alphabet City during the ’90’s. The group of artists is struggling to create and survive against all odds, including prejudice, poverty, drugs and the AIDS epidemic and death. The musical is rife with colorful, memorable characters, troubled relationships and the many challenges of being young, gifted and impoverished.Read More
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change
When the calendar says June and Chicagoland is perched on the brink of warmth and escapism, those looking for a way to pass those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer in the air-conditioned comfort of a theatre seat may find a good choice in Lincolnshire. This sweet, humorous revue about love, dating, relationships and marriage is like a good beach book. However, Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts’ (music) romantic romp is more like the theatrical equivalent of a short story collection than a novel.Read More
The Glass Menagerie
Sparkling Through the Darkness of Memories
There have been hundreds of theatrical, film, television and even radio versions of this beautiful play, but none of them holds a candle to Mary-Arrchie’s exquisite staging being remounted in a slightly larger venue for the month of June. This is a production that should not be missed because it is, perhaps, the most authentic, beautifully poignant interpretation of Williams’ work that you will ever experience. Surely, this must be precisely what the playwright envisioned when he penned his autobiographical drama more than 70 years ago.
Tennessee Williams’ self-titled “Memory Play” launched his career as a respected playwright and premiered in Chicago in 1944. Critically acclaimed, the play starred Laurette Taylor as Amanda, in what many actors consider the most unforgettable performance they’d ever seen. This play is capable of touching the heart like very few other pieces of theatre. As a memory, the play’s events are orchestrated by Tom (the Williams character) who moves in and out of the action. The play takes poetic license with plot and stresses specific details (Laura’s glass collection, for instance) while eliminating others (the actual family house). This production feels ethereal in its ghostly portrayal of the four characters who weave in and out. Images, dialogue and situations hit home, while the play’s collective impact on its audiences can be witnessed when you see people wiping away tears at the curtain call.Read More
West Side Story
The Most Beautiful Sound I Ever Heard…
Back in the 1950’s when newspapers were just beginning to cover tragic stories of teenage gangs and turf wars, a new show would evolve from these events that would forever change the American Musical. Noteworthy, too, was that this new theatrical form resulted from a collaboration between artistic geniuses Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (score), Jerome Robbins (direction and choreography) and a new kid on the Broadway block named Stephen Sondheim (lyrics).Read More
Oh, Bliss, Oh, Rapture!
Do you want to know how a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta should look and sound? Light Opera Works has the textbook answer to that inquiry in a new, sumptuous presentation, now being revived in Evanston (their first production of this classic was back in 1981). Everything that today’s audiences have come to expect from this musical comedy of manners can be found in this stellar production. A lush, 26-piece orchestra, a large cast of highly-accomplished actor/singer/dancers, a beautiful, detail-oriented set and costumes, with everything perfectly directed and choreographed by Artistic Director, Rudy Hogenmiller. This witty, whimsical love story, set aboard one of Her Majesty’s finest warships, delights in poking fun at Britain’s class system, their blind patriotism and the inequities of how one rises to positions of authority.
When this wickedly humorous operetta first opened in 1878 at London’s Opera Comique it remained so popular that it ran for 571 performances. The show became an international sensation and it continues to be a staple among community and educational theatres, alike. It ranks with Gilbert & Sullivan’s top three operettas (along with “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado”) and is always a popular addition to any theatre’s season of musical offerings.
One of Chicago’s theatrical treasures and legends, James Harms returns to Light Opera Works as Sir Joseph Porter. This artist is truly an actor’s actor, mining every ounce of silliness from Gilbert’s libretto and lyrics and providing audiences with another delightful, lovable characterization (his recent Don Quixote and Fagin remain as some of Light Opera Works’ finest performances). Indeed, Hogenmiller has wisely staged Harm’s first entrance in one of the show’s most hilariously memorable comic bits. Mr. Harms alone is worth the price of admission, but there’s more to recommend this production.
Young Northwestern graduate Dane Thomas lends his astounding tenor, comic timing and dance ability to the role of Ralph Rackstraw. He’s matched by Roosevelt University master’s student Sarah Kelly as his love interest, Josephine. Both talented young singers have performed with Chicago’s Lyric Opera and effortlessly caress Sullivan’s soaring melodies and Gilbert’s sharp dialogue to the audience’s pleasure. Ms. Kelly sometimes slides over her consonants making audiences question what she just said/sang, however her vocal prowess more than make up for this.
Michael Cavalieri brings a wealth of experience and talent to the role of Captain Corcoran and Dawn Bless makes a fetchingly funny Little Buttercup. Ryan de Ryke, whose vocal bliss and comic timing are a plus, appropriately hams it up as the villainous Dick Deadeye. Light Opera Works‘ newcomer Michael Roemer greatly impresses in his solo work as the Boatswain’s Mate. The entire ensemble electrifies, including Maggie Clennon Reberg as Sir Joseph’s busybody Cousin Hebe, who is as captivating as she is amusing. The sheer vocal talent and power that washes over Roger L. Bingaman’s impressive-sounding pit orchestra is unbelievable.
This stunning production, bedazzled in Darcy Elora Hofer’s crisp, nautical costumes, set against Adam Veness‘ beautifully designed and executed warship, leaves the audience simply breathless with glee.
“Well, hardly ever!”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Additional information concerning this and other area productions is available atwww.theatreinchicago.com.
A Cole Porter Songbook
It may still be chilly outside, but “It’s Too Darn Hot” at Theo Ubique’s scintillating summer revue that celebrates the genius of one of America’s finest composers. Cole Porter’s songs are, quite simply, delectable, especially when enjoyed, as they are here, one after the other. They’re witty, whimsical and filled with the wonder of love. Fred Anzevino once again demonstrates his unmatched excellence at directing this special kind of theatre, but he demonstrates yet another talent in this production. Together with his comrades, musical director Aaron Benham and choreographer David Heimann, the three artists culled through Porter’s extensive musical canon, selected a variety of tunes, uniquely arranged them, and then staged and choreographed them into one beautifully-flowing piece. This two-hour musical revue represents Porter’s best, both familiar favorites and a few delightful new discoveries. Mr. Benham has arranged the songs incorporating exciting new tempos and blended medleys, interpreted by four dynamite triple threats, each of whom are on the brink of stardom.Read More
By Cat Wilson
Redtwist’s ‘Reverb’ is one of those shows that reminds theatre artists why we do what we do. The goal of any production is to cause the audience to think about the story they just saw, feel something, and inspire a change in their lives. This may be a large change that incites action, or a small change such as pausing to enjoy simple moments in life. No matter the scale of a show’s effect, the cause of feeling is the heart of why theatre is so powerful. Personally, I measure a show’s success on whether the audience had a strong reaction to it (positive or negative). ‘Reverb’ was one of the most successful shows I have seen in a long time.Read More
“The nicest thing about being happy is that you never think you’ll be unhappy again” is Molina’s response to finding love among the horrors of imprisonment in Latin America. The gay window dresser has been arrested for his (innocent) involvement with a minor, but has emotionally escaped his inhumane treatment through his fantasy world of films, starring movie diva Aurora, the titular “Spider Woman.” In one of many memorable film scenes through which the musical transports us, Aurora’s character is a black widow spider whose kiss marks her victims for death.
Into Molina’s world that juxtaposes fright with fantasy comes Valentin, a new prisoner being held and tortured for his radical political beliefs. The two could not be more dissimilar, but throughout the play a friendship evolves that turns into love. To say more would ruin the surprises found in this dark Kander and Ebb 1993 Tony Award-winning musical, based upon a novel by Manuel Puig. What emerges is a story about hope and the strength and perseverance of the human spirit.
Peter Marston Sullivan’s direction is strong and sensitive. His production shines through the play’s darkness, strongly advocating his theatre’s mission statement of “innovative storytelling…examining truth, beauty, freedom and love through the lens of human relationships.” Talented Linda Fortunato’s celluloid-stylized choreography is sharp and well-executed, effectively utilizing the theatre’s modest space. Seated on three sides, the audience forms the prison’s walls, while the small orchestra remains hidden beyond a fourth curtain. A great deal of this production’s power comes from Patrick Ham’s somber two-story set, lined with prison cells, staircases and movie screens, and provocatively lit by Diane Fairchild. Their combined artistry creates an atmosphere in which both reality and fantasy can flawlessly exist side-by-side.
Nathan Carroll is captivating as Molina. What at first seems a bit over-the-top, even for musical theatre, becomes logical as this talented young man masks his fear and pain with gay flamboyance. With wild abandon, Carroll throws himself into each fantasy scene, emotionally turning on a dime to scenes of panic, passion and pathos. Like the entire cast, Mr. Carroll possesses a gorgeous singing voice that allows him to vocally soar, especially with co-star Evan Tyrone Martin, as Valentin. Their scenes together show a steadily evolving relationship that moves from revulsion to acceptance and, finally, to dependance.
The supporting ensemble features the marvelous Jessica Kingsdale as Marta, Valentin’s girlfriend, and the exquisitely talented Sean Knight as Molina’s love interest, Gabriel. Both transcend their roles with beautifully crafted, empathetic characterizations and stellar musicality. The mostly male ensemble are all strong singers and dancers providing appropriate color and support.
As someone once wisely said, “Happiness is in the heart, not in the circumstances.” In a musical that may not appeal to every taste, this adage shines forth like a candle in the darkness in a world in need of light and love.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 1-30 by Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-975-8150 or at www.BoHoTheatre.com.
Further information regarding this and other productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com