By Lazlo Collins
In the Profiles Theater newest offering, “Bachelorette”, the champagne flows, the shouting is often loud, and the relationships are complicated. It could be an episode of a “Housewives” reality show. But what sets this show apart from reality TV is that “Bachelorette” is people we actually know AND sometimes love.
The characters in this 90 minute hotel room romp by Leslye Headland are the girls and guys that we have all known in our lives. Everyone seems to be in some kind of pain and trying to make the pain go away with varying devices. There are reasons that after ten years’ time, people no longer stay friends, or even enemies. What happens when girlfriends of the past just show up? Well, with the right ingredients and the right setting you have “Bachelorette’! This play is second in a series by Ms. Headland themed around the seven deadly sins. “Bachelorette” is the gluttony play.
It is the eve of Becky’s (Rakisha Pollard) wedding, Gena (Amanda Powell) and Katie (Linda Augusta Orr) show up in a suite at the Peninsula Hotel in New York. (Kudos to set designer Scott Davis for making me feel fancy then claustrophobic as the play unfolded.) They are the uninvited. Unbeknownst to the bride-to-be, they are asked to come to the suite by the maid of honor, Regan. (Hillary Marren) They hate the bride for what she is and seemingly has, but are willing to overlook their feelings for a fun night out at the bride’s physical and emotional expense. But of course they shouldn’t even be there in the first place.
Gena and Katie waste no time; well, getting wasted. The girls make themselves right at home exploring their cozy situation and the rooms beyond. With the booze and cocaine in hasty consumption, the truths of these three woman’s relationships and heartaches boil to the service.
Ms. Powell as Gena is explosive as the bitter and coke fueled rebel. Always seeming to get the short stick, and yet she longs for control of her life. She was excellent in her portrayal as a woman all too happy to escape, but accepting responsibility of a life that she did not want. Ms. Powell’s transition from sober to somber to roaring tiger was well crafted.
Her BFF in crime, Katie, played by Ms. Powel, was also played sharp and with stinging reality. Moving from the screeching of “why me?” to passed out rag doll, Ms. Powell captures the sensitivity of someone who does not understand what happened and how they arrived where they are in life.
If we know anything about Regan from the start is that she is a troublemaker with a capital “T”. Ms. Marren plays the manipulative “good girl” with searing astonishment. Not until the end of the show do we understand why her staying in control is so important. Her portrayal of this complicated character is a winning one.
Of course adding to the emotional boil is the entry of the two men in the show. Regan’s invitation to the men is a dangerous calculation on her part, not thinking through what could possibly happen. Joe (Eric Burgher) and Jeff (Adam Soule) have only arrived for an adventure. Part curious passerby’s and part sexual predators; these gents won’t know what hit them after a night with the “Bachelorettes”.
Mr. Soule’s pursuit of Regan, the master invitee, was played deftly. His standing up to Regan and calling her out on her hijinks along with trying to woo her in the bedroom was great. With his true character revealed at the end, you somehow hoped he would be a decent guy.
In sharp contrast was Mr. Burgher’s character of Joe. It is clear his love of weed and following his friend Jeff is what may get him into many of the situations he does, including this one. He is a reluctant troubadour. His pathos for the girl that catches his eye clearly comes across to the audience, as well as his strange innocence. He is a follower on the surface, but in the end his valor wins out and reason takes the day.
As the night winds down (or up?), the arrival of the bride herself with cake in hand is moment the audience has dreaded from the start. She is sweet and overbearing, but quickly there are hints of her own struggles with the female guests that have come to celebrate in her suite. Ms. Pollard’s seemingly stately control is a breath of new hot air that makes the audience feel her pain and position well. Her discovery of the suite’s uninvited guests; as well as, physical condition of the room itself, lends for some uncomfortable moments for the audience.
Darrel Cox has done well to weave a layered, gilded web to trap all the characters in this pleasing ensemble piece. His actors are committed to the roles and never seem false or pretending. With the realistic dialogue, perhaps that is why I think all who see “Bachelorette” will be able to find themselves in at least one of the characters, or if you’re honest with yourself, maybe two.
“Bachelorette” continues through 11 March at Profiles Theatre at 4147 N Broadway in Chicago. For tickets call 773-549-1815 or profilesbachelorette.org
By Lazlo Collins
So, you know the story, pushy mother, eventually repelling anyone in her way to make her kid a star. The quiet child stays on with mom to eventually reveal her true talents. From the familiar overture to the smashing emotional ending soliloquy, this “Gypsy” at the Drury Lane Theater in Oak Brook Terrace, needs no gimmick.
I have seen many productions of “Gypsy” throughout the years. This production is one that I will not soon forget for many reasons. The late Mr. Laurents would have been proud.
Moving this mammoth of a show through its paces is the iconic character of Mamma Rose. The character of Rose is part power broker, part chow main enthusiast and part steam engine, and Klea Blackhurst is all of these things and more. The role of “Rose” takes on immediate comparisons to some of the actresses who have played her through the years; Merman, LuPone, Midler, and Daly are the actresses who have taken the part to legendary heights. Well, move over cuz Ms. Blackhurst is here! Her part Bette Midler, part Ethel Merman performance was clear and pertinent. It never felt as if she was impersonating either Ms. Midler or Ms. Merman, but rather channeling them, oh so divinely. Not only is her singing like breathing, but her smart interpretations are distinct.
There were moments in her performance that were absolutely perfect. She took over, without taking O-V-E-R. I think the audience was eagerly waiting for the finale of “Rose’s Turn”. You could feel the audience with Ms. Blackhurst’s every move and belting note. As corny as it sounds, there was electricity in the air.
Keeping up with Ms. Blackhurst would be no easy feat; but Andrea Prestinario as “Louise” is definitely up for the challenge. I liked that Ms. Pestinario never folded from her point of view. She stayed true to her vision of “Louise” and made her believable and genuine. She has a pleasing voice with some great scenes to showcase her acting chops as well. Although I thought “Little Lamb” was sort of comic and not so reflective.
In the role of “Herbie” is David Kortemeier. If “Rose” is the engine of the show, then “Herbie” is just one of the cars holding on for dear life. Mr. Kortemeier does a perfect job of keeping up with the ups and downs of life with the Mamma. I have always had a problem with this role in imaging ANYONE that would stay with Rose without, what appears to be; sex, money and stability. But that is what makes this show biz relationship so interesting. And after every time I see “Gypsy” I still think she will marry him, and he will stay. Mr, Kortemeier’s portrayal was sweet and I wanted him to stand up to her and stay where ever they went- together.
As the three wise strippers near the end of the show, Susan Lubeck (Tessie Tura,) Cheryl Avery (Mazepa), and Frances Asher (Electra) are very funny in their show stopping performance of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”. It gives the show its perfect seventh inning stretch.
Rounding out this wildly satisfying show is the ever appealing Matthew Crowle as “Tulsa”, and Andrea Collier as “June”. They both sang and danced perfectly around the story with style.
A quick shout out to Jarrod Zimmerman, who got the comedy off to a fresh and fun start as “Uncle Jocko and the perennial Andrew Lupp providing energy throughout his revolving door of walk-ons.
At the helm, of this production of “Gyspy” with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; William Osetek has beautiful crafted each scene. I thought the direction was excellent and moved well with the almost stark and simple, yet complex set (Martin Andrew). Mr. Osetek hits it big with his interpretation of Mamma Rose and her caravan of misfits.
The music direction (Roberta Duchak and Ben Johnson) had a distinctively clipped pace, which made the numbers lively; although you can tell it put some of the actors through their paces, just to keep up. I think the speed added the freshness of the show, particularly the group numbers. No dirges here, all your favorite/familiar songs “Let Me Entertain You”, “Wherever We Go, and “Some People”, was quick and bright.
If you have never seen “Gypsy” or you have seen “Gypsy” in the past that made you roll your eyes or put you to sleep; I think this production at the Drury Lane Theater in Oak Brook Terrace will delight you. I had a great time and in the end made me smile wildly like I was seeing the show for the very first time.
“Gypsy” plays through 1 April 2012. For tickets call 630-530-0111 or visit www.durylaneoakbrook.com
By Devlyn Camp
“I am a photosynthesist of cash,” states the boss in somewhat of a metaphor, comparing her work to the scientific process that creates energy for plants. Her employee, whose story is told in seven reverse-ordered vignettes, struggles to survive a marriage that aches for a piece of that cash flow. From exposing the twisted demise of his wife in the opening scene, the play takes steps backward in time to reveal the relationship’s deconstruction.
Each scene creates the setting and story based in delightfully awkward British humor. Much like Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From the Goon Squad, each character, from the boss to the husband to the wife’s babbling parents (played by quick and funny Jason Michael Linder and Molly Reynolds), shows a piece of the story from their perspective and admits their financial struggles. Those issues subtextually, and sometimes straightforwardly, disclose the problems circulating through their love lives. Scenes play out in Director Robin Witt’s clever blocking, and occasionally lack thereof, which is also smart. Many monologues – and even dialogues – are played standing stationary and out to the audience, leaving a viewer to focus on the wit and point of the words. Playwright Dennis Kelly’s words flesh out morals on top of morals: fixing one’s mistakes, dealing with karma, ethical methods of earning money, et cetera.
While many of the scenes start off funny and almost cute, they all progress to serious matters that anyone who’s ever paid a bill can relate to. The script and actors are genuine and entertaining, obviously understanding the kind of job where little money is made from a lot of passion. While the theme stands on a Sondheim-esque “life sucks” sort of policy, there are honest moments when one can truly believe money can’t hurt them anymore.
The play is obviously about love and money, but moreover, their byproducts. When discussed in a final, absolutely astonishing and candid monologue performed by Julia Siple, everything in life comes down to a person’s choice of valuing flesh and blood or finance. Depending on your own criticism and perspective, Steep allows you to make the choice.
LOVE AND MONEY
Steep Theatre Co.
Through February 25th
Tickets $20-22, available at steeptheatre.com
Contact critic at email@example.com
By Devlyn Camp
In an effort to do some good, Branch Rickey began to take the necessary steps to integrate Major League Baseball in the early 1940s by creating a plan to sign Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Through the newest Lookingglass production Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting, a fictional encounter of entertainment and baseball legends is played out. Legends attending in Ed Schmidt’s story include boxer Joe Louis, tap dancing king Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, actor and suspected communist supporter Paul Robeson, and of course Jackie Robinson (who, to the baseball illiterate, was the first black player admitted to the Major League since the 1880s). Also in and out of the meeting, to our comic relief, is Clancy the young bellhop and baseball fan.
In an engaging conversation, Rickey (Larry Neumann, Jr.) explains his plan to the gentlemen in order to create a unanimous agreement to support integrating the league. For Bojangles, this means risking his partial ownership of a Negro National League team. Robeson spends the act trying to understand Rickey’s hidden motivations, while Louis seems to be supportive either way. As the gentlemen argue, Clancy (Kevin Douglas) runs errands for Mr. Rickey, all the while persistently trying to snag autographs from his heroes. Douglas is quick-witted with great timing to match Bojangles actor Ernest Perry, who is purely delightful in his character.
On a half-diamond hotel room set lined by the powder of a baseline, Rickey breaks down the plan of a quiet revolutionless integration. Faithful to the facts, he asks Robinson to actually not fight the forthcoming disagreements, but to have “guts enough not to fight back.” As in many stories of integration, the plan must be executed with the right amount of theatrics in order to save face. It becomes clear that Rickey’s plan is not just altruistic, but self-serving, as black fans of the Yankees will move over to the Dodgers, as well as fans from the Negro National League. Through Clancy’s innocent eyes, as it wasn’t evident before, his heroes have their own demons. Bojangles is a gambler, Louis has anger issues, and Robeson, well, the communist issue comes up often, naturally. The conversation turns out the pros and cons of showmanship and reputation versus making radical change for the better. Money’s worth seems to hold more power than moral worth. As we can see by looking at MLB today, everything turned out to be copacetic.
MR RICKEY CALLS A MEETING
Through February 19th, 2012
Tickets $20-$68, available at lookingglasstheatre.org
Contact critic at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lazlo Collins
With the first notes of the show sending an instant nostalgic swoon through the audience, “Come Fly Away” was off and dancing with signature Sinatra songs.
This dance and music piece ran on Broadway from March through Sept. in 2011. It was conceived, choreographed, and directed by Twyla Tharp. The one Tony, two Emmy, Kennedy Center Honored Ms.
Tharp is no stranger to the dance/musical genre. In her 2002 “Movin’ Out” dance adventure, she used Billy Joel as her muse.
This time around, Frank Sinatra sings his classics, while the dancers tell the story of four couples who fall in and out of love at a swanky nightclub.
With the opening number of “Stardust” finding us with the first of our star crossed lovers, the black scrim rises to reveal a 13 piece band. The band plays just in back, and upstage of the dancing space. A shiny bar, sleek staircase, and a few well-placed tables complete the nightclub scene. Amid the sparkle curtain background, the musicians are always on the stage moving our dancers to their next tableau.
I have to say that many times during the show; I kept looking for the singer himself. Of course, I know Frank Sinatra has been gone from popular society in physical form for a while, but you wouldn’t know it from the head bobbing and sighs from the audience whenever a familiar tune began to play. Some of the hits to be heard included: “Fly Me to the Moon”, “That’s Life”, “One for My Baby”, and “My Way”.
With digital Frank crooning and the band firmly in place, the dancers were ready to “face the music and dance.” The principle dances in order of appearance were, Mallauri Esquibel, Ron Todorowski, John Selya, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Marielys Molina, Anthony Burrell, Matthew Stockwell Dibble and Meredith Miles. Each dancing couple projected the story of flirtation, romance, sex and love lost with a physical intensity that made you sit up and take notice. I enjoyed the diversity of dancing approaches from each couple. The Twyla Tharp style is unmistakable; with its athletic leaps and arm contortions. Her choreography can be so bold and physical. Some of the lifts, with their twists and turns, look like complex puzzles between to lovers. The ensemble dancers are equal in there expert execution of the peripheral characters, providing the audience some of the more synchronized choreography.
The lighting and sound are two, well planned and executed elements that are extremely important to the show and do not disappoint. The mood lighting is superb during the more intimate dances. I know the stars aligning to present Mr. Sinatra’s image at the “New York, New York” finale is corny, but I loved it. I think the audience did too. It connected the image of the man back to the voice.
“Come Fly Away” is a beautiful tribute to the Sinatra songs you love, with breathtaking dancing. The pre-show check list should have you interested in the love of modern dance OR the music of Frank Sinatra; but not necessarily both. The show is 80 minutes long with no intermission. The length of time is perfect for enjoying the show without longing for a more comfortable seat, or the urge to change the music on your iPod.
By Devlyn Camp
Not so far away from the tunes tapped on Broadway, the Washington Heights barrio features it’s own melody. It took years of effort, but finally, the 2008 musical In the Heights breathed Broadway life into the Latin and hip hop scores of the streets, going on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical and, of course, hit the road. In this production, now at the Ford Oriental Theatre, a new cast introduces Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Music, Lyrics) original story.
Usnavi (Perry Young, in Miranda’s original role) tells the barrio’s story, although the acting is sometimes flat and awkward. He finds a quirky spot in Vanessa’s (Presilah Nuñez) heart though, and one can’t help but root for him. That every-leggy Nuñez is glamorous, powerful, and knows how to drop jaws with a silky solo number. In Vanessa’s effort to find a new home, she falls for Usnavi, who wants to leave his home, too, and head for his home country, the Dominican Republic. The cast also features strong voices in nearly every performer, among a dash of less-than-decent acting. Nina’s (Virginia Cavaliere) milky high notes in her song “Breathe” are even more appreciated when put next to her dull character. It’s difficult to put your finger on it, what’s wrong with the performer. Bad acting is just something one knows when they see it. When an audience member remembers that they’re in an audience watching a play, the dream broken, that’s probably when they’re watching something not click onstage.
Although among the lows, the production has many highs. Sonny (Robert Ramirez), Usnavi’s little cousin, is so smug and adorable. He is the comic relief of most scenes and leads the show’s funny bone along with the gossipy salon women. When the full cast finally comes together in the song “96,000,” there a vocal strength that outshines any flaw one caught earlier in the production. The sound is precise, the lights follow suit, and choreography is so wild it’s difficult to process in words. When the number is over, the audience has to catch their breath too.
Each song and scene is decorated with citizens walking around the barrio in contemporary choreography. The walking movement is altered to match a hip hop sound underscore. (The music, by the way, is a pretty impressive work by Miranda.) As each character focuses on how to find their way home, Abuela Claudia (Christina Aranda) happens to find her success very late in life. The younger generation, who were brought to this town by Claudia’s generation, seeks to leave to find new territory, not recognizing the past’s sacrifice. In a twist for the better, a sense community is recognized and the friends-are-family theme is utilized. While seeming commonplace here in the written text, onstage it is quite a beautiful layout. This street intersection (a gorgeous forced perspective set design by Anna Louizos) is where the insanely talented common people call home. Their everyday problems are supported by the friends on this block, and, as the smart lyric directly states, “When you have a problem, you come home.”
IN THE HEIGHTS
Broadway in Chicago
Through January 15, 2012
Tickets $25-$75, available at BroadwayInChicago.com
Contact critic at email@example.com
By Devlyn Camp
In a time when the phrase “public access” usually triggers thoughts of basic local television programming or free, below mediocre anything, it should be known – if you haven’t heard already – that Oracle Production’s “Public Access Theater” evokes a much different connotation. Their means free seats – and here’s the part where the critic comes in – to great theater.
Opening this weekend, Ironmistress presents a dreamlike relationship between nineteenth century mother Martha (Katherine Keberlein) and daughter Little Cog (Sarah Goeden) who inherit the husband’s iron factory. As Martha tries her hand at preparing her daughter for impending adulthood, she becomes wrapped up in the series of stories Little Cog recalls from their past.
In the days prior to public broadcastings, when parent and child would sit in their home telling stories, Little Cog recites tales in unison with her mother, enjoying them as the first time she heard them. Goeden is playful and childlike, diving headfirst into her stories’ worlds. Reluctant to relive the past, Martha stands stoic, until she is pulled in by her daughter’s charm. Keberlein is quick-witted and commanding. Her proud jawline and sovereign ruling over the stage from inside her leather bound skin are simultaneously startling and magnetic.
Surrounding and emphasizing the bold women are skillfully simple and smart lighting designs among the tense, mechanic sounds of an iron foundry. The spooked setting and scenic design leave the practically onstage audience wrapped inside the same dream with the disarrayed family.
Playwright April De Angelis’s dark-humored and sharp drama twists around the mother-daughter storytelling that reveals Victorian England’s commonplace expectations of women. Martha seeks to train her daughter for proper behavior, Cog seeks to imagine, play and grow on her own accord. In a 75-minute one-act, there is no easy way to take sides of two wonderfully acted characters who both strive for well-being. Martha, who follows the philosophy of making one’s self iron over emotions, only wants to tie down the freethinking Cog for protection from her thoughts for building, evolving, and flying away.
Sometimes it seems intelligent black box theatre is sparse. A show is too heavy handed and dark, a show contrives too many jokes, a show just isn’t pieced together properly. Ironmistress is none of the above, and is wholly beautiful and smart with the right dash of dark humor.
Contact critic at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker at The Auditorium Theatre
Runs December 9-27, 2011
Tickets $30-$115; Box Office (800) 982-2787; www.ticketmaster.com
Review by Darcy Rose Coussens
It may not be Joffrey’s #1 Ballet, but “America’s #1 Nutcracker” Delights All
The Joffrey Ballet’s annual production of Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker is well attended each year by little girls in poofy dresses and hair bows, miniature gentlemen in pressed shirts and slicked hair, and adults of all ages. Hailing theirs as “America’s #1 Nutcracker,” Joffrey provides a favorite holiday tradition for many in the Chicagoland area. This ballet is performed by many companies across the country, and yet although Joffrey’s is quite good and a grand experience overall, I’m not sure it is my #1 favorite Nutcracker. Although this theatrical ballet was extremely entertaining and at times breathtaking, there were a few flaws that surprised me from this renowned company. However, it is nonetheless an excellent performance and one I hope they will continue to offer each holiday season.
Several elements of the production were of the highest quality, as is usual for the Joffrey. The Chicago Sinfonietta accompanied the performance with Tchaikovsky’s classic score, and the larger-than-life sets and decorated costumes were extravagant. The party guests were dressed in ruffled dresses and petticoats, and brightly colored tailcoats; the mice wore shining silver masks; and Mother Ginger was an enormous walking puppet. The Nutcracker’s transition from doll to life-size soldier was very cool, and there were several exciting elements of spectacle on display throughout the show. The snow scene was absolutely beautiful with fog and snow falling, and I got chills when the Snow King and Queen made their second entrance to the sound of a children’s choir.
One reason to see the Joffrey’s Nutcracker is for the company’s high caliber dancing. The company members were outstanding overall, and Clara was absolutely darling. Her family members were cleverly weaved into the characters of her elaborate dream: her parents also performed the Snow King and Queen as well as other roles, and her brother Fritz danced other roles, as well. His dancing was some of the best in the show, and during a very impressive series of leaps and turns one little boy near me was audibly inspired. However, I questioned his casting as Fritz, Clara’s annoying brother, because his character’s youthfulness looked strange and distracting on a grown man. This ballet involves a great deal of pantomime and storytelling, and although most of the time the story was clear, there were some confusing moments. One in particular involved a child in an old-fashioned wheelchair brought to the center of the stage. Drosselmeyer, Clara’s mysterious godfather, threw magic glitter on him and I felt the audience holding their breaths; then nothing happened and the child was wheeled away, bringing the party scene from inclusive and diverse to awkward.
The choreography was elegant and exciting, but occasionally baffling. Tchaikovsky’s famous score was meant for, well, the ballet. There are several obvious musical cues that were completely ignored, and the disconnect between the music and the story was off-putting. The second act ran much more smoothly. The Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier’s pas de deux was stunning, and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s famous solo was pristine and precise. I was underwhelmed by the Cavalier’s dance, one I always look forward to for its powerful jumps, because it seemed brief and anticlimactic. Yet the Arabian dance was mesmerizing, the Spanish dancer flawless, and the Waltz of the Flowers one of the most beautiful highlights of the show. This act felt much more like a Joffrey ballet than the first.
Don’t get me wrong; overall this is an enchanting production, and the flurry of activity and focus on presents, toys, and candy is a Christmas dream for children. However, it was the children in the show I was perhaps most confused by. The children in the production did a nice job: they smiled, performed well, and looked lovely in their costumes. Five children’s choirs from the area are featured in the snow scene and perform in the lobby during intermission. Young dancers appeared as Victorian children, dolls, mice, toy soldiers, tree angels, and Polichinelles. The one thing missing was … the dancing. Of the more than one hundred children cast, only the Polichinelles in the Mother Ginger scene did any dancing. This scene was adorable, and the kids did a fantastic job. Audiences love to see children dancing, and of all productions of the Nutcracker in the area, I would expect Joffrey’s to showcase some of Chicago’s most talented children. I was extremely disappointed by the lack of choreography for the young dancers; the poor tree angels ran onstage, stood, and ran off again. I know there are many capable young dancers in the area, as is evident by the Joffrey’s claim that audition numbers for the children’s roles rose by “a double-digit percentage from last year.” The children they cast performed well, and I wish I could have seen them dance much more.
Clara and Drosselmeyer leave the land of this fairytale dream in a hot air balloon for a rather Wizard of Oz-ish but satisfying ending. As a lifelong fan of the Nutcracker, I was at times disappointed but overall content with this traditional favorite. While as a Joffrey production The Nutcracker may not be their #1 ballet, I am glad that its renown brings joy and inspiration to so many families and audiences in Chicago and beyond. I recommend this production for family entertainment, even if ballet aficionados may fixate on small flaws.
Tidings of Tap by Chicago Tap Theatre
At the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Theater
Ran December 9-11, 2011
Review by Darcy Rose Coussens
Tidings of Tap celebrates the season with top-notch tapping and creative takes on holiday favorites each year
As a wonderful alternative to sentimental holiday productions, Chicago Tap Theater’s annual holiday show brings together the best carols of the season in a fun show full of truly outstanding tap dancing. Mark Yonally founded a very unique company, and his artistic direction and choreography keep each of their shows fresh and exciting. Tidings of Tap is a traditional favorite in their season, bringing back favorites such as their a cappella rendition of “Carol of the Bells” each year and appealing to Chicagoans of all ages. This family-friendly show is an energetic flurry of tap and music to get you in the holiday spirit.
This year CTT is committed to providing live music for each of their shows, something I believe adds a great deal to the performance for such a percussive art form. The band featured a keyboardist (talented composer and music director Andrew Edwards), as well as musicians playing harp, violin, bass, and clarinet. Dancers also stepped in and out of the band to sing and play guitar, and violinist Samantha O’Connell was featured tapping in some pieces, as well. It was great to have such a blend of talent, and the performance was dynamic musically as well as through the expert choreography and skilled dancers.
This show does a great job mixing up holiday carols. There are Christmas-themed pieces such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and one of my favorites, “You’re a Swingin’ One, Mr. G” which involved an interesting arrangement of “Mr. Grinch” and lots of funny expressions; Hannukah songs, including “Hannukah, Oh Hannukah” and “Kiever Dreydlekh” (Dreidels of Kiev); and just plain winter celebrations, such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Snowflake Suite.” This is a great show for all ages, and at the end everyone is welcome to join the cast on stage to perform the Shim Sham, a standard favorite for tap dancers everywhere. It was exciting for tap dancers from seniors to six-year-olds to get up and tap themselves, since the choreography was so catchy you wanted to try it yourself!
The company members are extremely personable, especially Mark, who came out to talk to the audience himself. To cover costume changes, he improvised a solo to “Christmas Time is Here,” which was as impressive as the choreographed numbers, and the two newest company members played name that tune with the audience by tapping favorite carols. Every bit of CTT’s shows are enjoyable, and they produce a varied season that includes a story-based show which will be narrated live this year by Marc Smith, creator of Poetry Slam. Their shows have a laid-back feel but the dancing is always meticulously polished and often involves unbelievably fast feet!
Tidings of Tap also featured a few outside youth performing groups on different nights. The performance I saw featured Footprints Tap Ensemble from Libertyville, and they were excellent. While the show was a bit pricey at $35 for adults, $25 for seniors, and a discounted $20 for students and dancers, I would still be willing to spend that kind of money to see some of the best tap dancing Chicago has to offer. There’s not a whole lot of it out there, and this group brings more than just good tap dancing– it brings innovative and fun themes and concepts. I appreciate the variety and spirit CTT has to offer, and considering how well its three holiday shows sold, it seems Chicago values it as well.
By Lazlo Collins
The Chicago leg of a two week tour, “A Christmas Story” – The Musical opened at the Chicago Theater last night.
Amid a late but appreciative crowd, I was holding my expectations at bay. Having seen the movie that this latest endeavor is based upon, I was not at all sure that the musical would capture the warmth and charm of the original cinematic sequences and characters.
I am happy to report that this production of “A Christmas Story” brings to life the story of Ralphie and Co. to its most full holiday splendor.
The story of one boy’s dreams of a fulfilling fire armed Christmas is brought to life in vivid staging, costumes, and characters that are now classics in the Holiday must see checklist.
The story begins with expert narration by Gene Weygandt, playing “Jean Shephard” who recollects what it was like growing up in the Parker family household. His perfect deliver of observations and sentimentality, lets the audience know they will be well cared for during their journey into the lives of the Parkers and the surrounding neighborhood characters.
The introduction of each of the Parker household is next. We meet “The Old Man” (John Bolton), “Mother” (Rachel Bay Jones), brother “Randy” (Matthew Lewis), and “Ralphie” (Clarke Hallum). To say that each plays their rolls to perfection would be an understatement. Each presents themselves and their points of view through the story with ease.
Mr. Bolton’s gives 110% every minute he is on stage, and nearly brings down the house with his “Major Awards” musings. Every leg is available and makes it into the end of this high kicking musical number. In contrast, Ms. Bay Jones’ sweet number “Just Like That” makes us yearn for our own mother’s perspective just one more time.
Mr. Lewis and Mr. Hallum show the greatest affection as brothers, and are comfortable in their fights and fits of brotherly love; but Mr. Hallum as “Ralphie” soars above the cast as he brings “Ralphie” to life. He takes us along his journey of discovery, scheming, fear, and ultimate satisfaction with a magnificent voice and expert acting chops. The moment he opens his unexpected present near the end of the show, brought a tear to my eye. His crystal clear voice and warm heart will not disappoint those diehard “Ralphie” fans from the movie. (The original Ralphie, Peter Billingsley, was in the house, and who is also one of the producers of the show)
The excellent supporting children in the show were terrific. I have not seen a show in a long time where the children were playing children, and not some idea about how children should act. Little “Grover Dill” played by John Francis Babbo made me laugh more than a few times. All their voices and harmonies were spot on. Much praise for the pint size ensemble that made me want to be a kid again.
Some supporting cast notables were Karen Mason as “Miss Shields”, Nick Gaswirth as “The Foley Artist”, and Adam Pelty as “Santa Claus”.
Ms. Mason’s evil teacher show stopping “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” is bound to be a classic and Mr. Gaswirth’s dependable, if not scene stealing, sound effects were just great; particularly, the dogs and Mrs. Schwartz. And as the motivationally challenged Santa in the number, “Up on Santa’s Lap”, Mr. Pelty delivers it message with satisfaction.
The chorus of neighbors, parents and various service people are brought to life with great vocals and exacting choreography.
The direction by John Rando, kept the show moving with performance areas to discover, and with each scene quickly unfolding for the next one.
The set design (Walt Spangler) was a pleasant and appropriate addition to the story, making sure that some key places were present for the audience. For what would “A Christmas Story” be without Higgbee’s, the flag pole or the Santa Slide, right? The lighting design (Howell Binkly) was a key component to the white snowy stage, but never detracted from the action at hand.
The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were sweet and keeping with the tone of the storytelling, and yet bringing us some memorable show stopping numbers, producing a pleasant listening experience.
With the costumes (Elizabeth Hope Clancy) just right, the characters kept us enwrapped during the performance. The show’s energy and joy kept a smile on this face, even for a few hours after the full holiday adrenaline was over.
My only complaint was much of the show was directed toward dead center, leaving some viewers on the sides “left out” of some of the scenes that appeared in the Parker house. The radio desks at stage right and left may not have been a problem in a different house.
With the inundation of holiday choices to see and relive, year after year, put “A Christmas Story” – The Musical on your nice list. I know Santa has…