Artist’s rendering of the Uptown Underground Grand Promenade
By Raymond Rehayem
I am even less qualified to build a stage, rig lighting, or put up drywall than I am to put on some pasties and do burlesque. Actually I might look strangely alluring in the aforementioned nipple patches installing one of the Uptown Underground’s lovely chandeliers, but my point is when I recently toured the venue I couldn’t visualize how wonderful it will look for its nearly sold-out New Year’s Eve opening night. It was still under construction. Luckily Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s Chris O. Biddle and Jenn A. Kincaid, the pair behind this new 7,000-square-foot theater, were there to fill in the gaps in my imagination.
In the basement of architect Walter W. Ahlschlager’s 1926 Uptown Broadway Building, the cabaret arts mecca that the Kiss Kiss founders envision will occupy a space which—per neighborhood lore—once housed a speakeasy. The building’s ornate exterior immediately evokes the era.
While scouting locations, Biddle couldn’t believe the fortuitous availability of this historic edifice. “I knew the address,” he explains, “and I thought ‘surely it isn’t that big caramel wedding cake.’ And it is. It’s this beautiful baroque style.”
Like many cakes, the lowest level is the widest. There are columns on either side of what Biddle describes as the “grand promenade,” the western side actually extending under Broadway’s sidewalk. Passage between these columns will take you beyond the elevated main stage, past a wall of retro amusements such as vertical pinball machines, art deco claw machines, and a fortune-telling machine, to a more intimate secondary performance space. With the main stage seating 150, the secondary stage seating fifty to sixty, and multiple dressing rooms to facilitate the overlapping of performers, the entertainment need never stall. In what’s being dubbed the Moon Room of the Starlight Lounge, a gal will sip martinis perched on a six-foot-high crescent moon acquired from a Twin Cities production of “Mame.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Once upon a dream…” begins the brief narrative introduction for this trippy holiday dazzler, before launching into more than two hours (including a twenty-minute intermission) of singing, stunt-work and spectacle. And it certainly feels like a dream, offering escapist entertainment with no real through-line—aside from the very clear, often intentionally over-the-top, focus on Christmas and cold weather. Scenes shift at a moment’s notice: a twirling pair of skaters giving way to jump-roping reindeer (Elizabeth Butterfield, Brandon Harrison, Anthony Lee, Gary Schwartz) or a vaguely elfin guy (Aleksandr Rebkovets) balancing an ever-growing stack of glasses and candles on his forehead.
The set is an almost overbearing Alice in Winterland fantasy world, consisting of monstrous inflatables, a giant climbable Christmas tree and innumerable moving parts that get pushed, thrown, pulled, ridden and slid onto the stage throughout. The impressive and (mostly) endearing cast of thirty pop in and out of the action sporting various crazy costumes and even crazier talents (along with constant crazed grins—the holidays are beyond exciting, after all). “This seems like a show put together by a communist leader to lull us into submission,” a nearby patron whispered about thirty minutes in. This is not untrue. Read the rest of this entry »
It was the trio kazoo-version of “Carol of the Bells” that completely did me in. No one can make a pretty face with their lips wrapped around a kazoo. I couldn’t even applaud, because I was doubled over with laughter.
Vocal trio Foiled Again (Allison Bazarko, Rob Lindley and Anne Sheridan Smith) have crafted their annual holiday show into an homage to the television Christmas specials that aired from the fifties into the seventies. A zanier version of the Lennon Sisters-minus-one, they keep the evening light and mostly family-friendly, with the sort of gentle musical stylings, comic sketches and variety songs that kept baby boomers and their children checking the dates and times of their favorite shows twice to make sure they didn’t miss these events, pre-TiVo. Special instrumental soloists are highlighted, and every “sister” has a vocal solo, with repeated “step-outs” within numbers, one singer carrying the song with the other two crooning perfect oohs and aahs in the background. Beginning with a fizzy version of Irving Berlin’s “Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” the trio launches “Jing-a-Ling, Jing-a-Ling” when someone helps Bazarko find some bells to shake.
Continuing to chat with the audience and astonish with their arrangements, the trio singingly trips their way through tunes as varied as Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going,” and medleys of more classical carols such as “Love Came Down” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Read the rest of this entry »
Holly Flack at Heartland Cafe
By Aaron Hunt
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the first outing of the new incarnation of Chicago’s “Opera on Tap” chapter, “Introducing…Opera on Tap!” at the Heartland Café. Opera singers walked around the tables singing arias that fit the “introduction” theme of the evening, usually entrance arias for a character in an opera, weaving around the solicitous Heartland waitstaff serving food and beverages, singing directly to the audience, and sometimes pulling people from their seats to use as scene partners. Myron Silberstein provided expert piano accompaniment. It was a relaxed, fun atmosphere and very interactive. The evening was divided into sets, and during the intervals one of the singers would circulate with fishbowls, allowing the audience to make donations. It was clear that everyone from the singers to the waiters was having a terrific time. Read the rest of this entry »
Shuler Hensley and Presley Ryan/Photo: BlueMoon Studios
As a first time Broadway-esque experience, this year’s iteration of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” performs its duties with enough pleasing flair and upright enthusiasm to charm its young audience into a return trip to the box office. For the nostalgic chaperones in tow, however, the show might disappoint.
The primary thrills are here: a perfectly frumpy, frothy Grinch with his fur extending six inches beyond his fingertips, the bump and wriggle of the candy-colored Whos and a set with silly psychedelia bending before the eyes. Timothy Mason’s book and lyrics and Mel Marvin’s music are suitably woven with Seuss’ intention, if not his joviality, but this is of minor concern. The kids came for the Grinch, after all.
And what a Grinch they get: Tony Award-winner Shuler Hensley (“Oklahoma!”) is delightfully devious, with a sufficient growl to spook the youngest audience members and enough broad pluck to rope in parents. Aleksa Kurbalija, as a highly animated young Max the Dog, is a standout, full of physical wit and charm. Ken Land ties it together admirably as Old Max, in his tattered fur suit, reminiscing about the Christmas that changed Whoville. Read the rest of this entry »
Let’s begin by admitting that burlesque-type entertainment is not to everyone’s taste. Then let’s revisit the sage advice about trying everything twice to see if you like it, since you might have gotten it wrong the first time. Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s “Holiday Spectacular” revives the spirit of the genre with revelations both dramaturgical and corporeal. A chorus of stripping lovelies perform routines both time-honored and unexpected, a naughty-but-nice pas de deux-couple deliver the shivers that thrill, and a gentleman-juggler proves that vaudeville is still with us. All are lovingly and leer-fully corralled by a clown MC, whipping-and-warming up the audience. Here we have comedy, vaudeville, lots o’ burlesque, and there’s a little magic thrown in for good measure; all the ingredients for a sexy, fun-filled romp. Burlesque has roots going back to the 1840s, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. But enough of the academics. Bring on the girls!
The lady (and I use that term with cheerful looseness) MC Tamale sports long red hair and a whitened face adorned with two red hearts. The night I attended, she knew the names of many of the guests (especially those celebrating birthdays), and showcased a gift for being able to turn a heckle into a funny exchange, and then keep it going as a subplot throughout the show. Tamale has clear talents and makes descriptions of her youth fun, but learning the cardinal Rule of Three—you must push a bit, a story, or a catch-phrase to the third delivery to get the full laugh, and then never mention it again—will make her an unstoppable comic force. Read the rest of this entry »
Comedian Shawn Bowers has an intriguing, slightly stomach-churning hobby: he poses as a young, attractive woman (Margie) on dating sites, baiting and then reeling men in for revealing conversation. Shawn has spent years pursuing this game, and periodically presents his research in the form of a new installment in his series. The newest offering contains the qualifier “Procreation.” Bowers explained the reason for this branding in a short section of the extended skit (about seventy minutes without intermission) but, while slimed with the same faintly stinky charm that permeates the entire piece, he lost me entirely on this point. I was suspicious as to why this comedy sketch-cum-cultural anthropological exercise needs not just one “curator,” (Bowers) but two, with Sarah Gitenstein adding her curation-ness. But then I have no idea of just how extensive the content of Bowers’ research might be, or what one does to be qualified to maintain and interpret the scientific findings at hand. Read the rest of this entry »
Lila Morse, Frankiem Mitchell, Molly Meacham, Nicole Bond, Davide Grody, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Bryant Cross, Victoria Alvarez-Chacon
Preachers normally ask for a call and response of “Amen” or “Hallelujah.” But in the church of the future, where people give themselves to the great “architect,” people happily chant in computer jargon and exclaim “0-1!” For those old enough to remember the days before the internet could be accessed on a handheld device, it may not be too difficult to reminisce on eras past, where families connected over evening meals instead of WiFi signals, friends mailed letters because email didn’t exist and finding your perfect match wasn’t done by swiping right on a dating app. All of these topics are explored in Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble’s production of “One Day When We Are All Robots.”
J.W. Basilo is the Ensemble’s director. The show was written by the cast, and each performance in the run is slated to vary slightly in cast and content. Read the rest of this entry »
Friday night with thirty minutes to go before the doors to the Neo-Futurarium open, a line already snakes down Ashland and around the corner onto Foster. With patrons ranging from traditional theater-types to bros to hipsters and various types in between, it’s readily apparent that “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” (TML from here on)—the longest-running production in Chicago, which recently celebrated a twenty-fifth anniversary—is still drawing in crowds and then shaking them up in the Neo-Futurists’ signature style.
Many know what to expect from the sometimes hectic, rapid-fire “30 Plays in 60 Minutes” structure of TML because they’ve seen it before and many more have only heard secondhand what they’re in for when attending this unique production. After entering the theater, audience members are promptly given a “menu” which lists the name of thirty individual plays, each with a unique number before it. In order to move the show along, audience members are asked to yell the number of the show they’d like to see next in the moments immediately following the end of the previous play. This results in an excited barrage of numbers being shouted from all corners of the audience in between each vignette and serves to not only jolt the audience but to amp up the action on stage as well.
With titles like “The One Time I Didn’t Hate Kids.” and “I don’t need any help.” these brief plays range from sight gags to physical comedy to one-liners to occasional forays into the deeper aspects of the human condition. Each delivers in its own way—though the quirky comedic bits tend to work best, especially when coupled with a more oblique reference to emotional implications. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Al Zayed
Just an upward glance and a bird on a wing away from Redmoon’s vast Pilsen warehouse space there’s a building emblazoned with the graffiti “Memories Are Sacred.” While Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is the clear springboard for Redmoon’s Spring Spectacle, this spray-painted sentiment could have just as likely inspired the fetishistic visual cataloging of life’s stages that serves as this show’s intricate backdrop.
Upon entering “Bellboys, Bears, and Baggage,” theatergoers are faced with three doors and one of many literary allusions written on the walls or otherwise eminent throughout the surroundings. It’s Shakespeare’s oft-repeated line depicting us all as merely players upon the world’s stage. From this first of many decisions which you, player, make, you immediately recognize your choice’s irrelevance. It’s the same world/stage beyond all three doors, with myriad scenes and rooms for you to focus or pass on. Read the rest of this entry »