Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Game of Thongs/Gorilla Tango Burlesque

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Photo: Christopher Nesemen

Photo: Christopher Nesemen

Gorilla Tango Burlesque has made a name for itself in recent years performing nerd-themed burlesque shows. After parodying “Star Trek,” “Indiana Jones” and other properties, a “Game of Thrones” show was probably inevitable. “Game of Thongs” is that show. So how does George R.R. Martin’s tale of war, political intrigue, sex and dragons translate to burlesque? Surprisingly, not well.

“Game of Thongs” is a fittingly wordy show as a parody of Martin’s verbose tomes. Long scripted scenes loosely connect each dance number. These scenes have an old-timey, presentational, vaudevillian tone. This can work in a show, but it requires a balance of clever dialogue and physical humor that “Game of Thongs” clearly lacks. The humor seems to be, mostly, a list of synonyms for the word “boobs” placed over character names and places from Martin’s novels. Each of these jokes seems to work once, but are repeated over and over again throughout the show, getting less funny with each mention. A little more creativity combined with the bawdy humor would be welcome. The talented cast does their best to make the scenes work, but it’s an uphill battle. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Circuscope/The Actors Gymnasium

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Molly Plunk and Dean Evans/Photo: Sylvia Hernandez DiStasi

Molly Plunk and Dean Evans/Photo: Sylvia Hernandez DiStasi

RECOMMENDED

The tardigrade is a microscopic life form that generally lives under water, but can also survive the vacuum of space. In its newest circus show, the Actors Gymnasium looks through the microscope lens at a magical world that such tiny creatures might inhabit. Remarkably engaging clown work by Dean Evans and Molly Plunk carries the audience through an adventure that features scenes accented by juggling, trapeze work and impressive feats of aerialism.

This circus is not only made up of exceptionally skilled performers, but also fitted perfectly to the performance space in which the Actors Gymnasium makes their home. One surprisingly simple and yet brilliantly effective piece bookends the show, as we become familiar with a character who is nothing more than a laser-pointer dot. It dances around mumbling, and discovering its environs. Occasionally, rather than a flat surface, it runs into a light fixture which diffracts its own light into rings, and the accompanying sounds ring out, too. It’s a fun and funny bit of playing that defines the simple and yet brilliant sort of evening that is to follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Redlined/Chicago Slam Works

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(l to r) Dru Smith, J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall/Photo: Andy Karol

Dru Smith, J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall/Photo: Andy Karol

RECOMMENDED

Just a forewarning: if you are looking for the Chicago featured on marketing postcards and glossy travel guides, you will not find it at Chicago Slam Works’ “Redlined.” There will be no mention of Buckingham Fountain, Millennium Park or Navy Pier. There will be no pictures of sprawling skylines, no top-ten list of great bars or restaurants, and if you’re looking for Bulls, Bears, Sox or Cubbies pride, you will be sorely disappointed.

What will not disappoint however is this lyrically potent love letter to the muffled and hidden faces of this city. In this production they are given both a face and a voice through the ensemble cast of J. Evelyn, Rashaad Hall, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Frankiem Mitchell, Dru Smith and Teagan Walsh-Davis. These actors are extremely aware of the great burden and blessing that task is, and so with passion and heart they deliver the stories of the city’s forgotten. These stories include those of police-inflicted violence on innocent black and brown bodies—a phenomenon not limited to Eric Garner and Michael Brown, our out-of-state fallen angels. In fact, we are told that Chicago has the highest rate of police homicide in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

New Cabaret in Old Uptown: Kiss Kiss Crew Launches Theater With NYE Hullabaloo

New Year's Eve, Performance, Profiles, Theater No Comments »
KKC_Grand_Promenade_rendering

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 »

Review: Cirque Dreams Holidaze/Cirque Dreams

Christmas, Holiday, Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Performance No Comments »

Ornaments on Tree
“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 »

Review: Holiday Bizarre/Foiled Again

Christmas, Holiday, Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Performance No Comments »

Foiled Again promo pic full size

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Songs With Your Supper: The New Chicago “Opera On Tap” Promises More Arias, Commitment and Beer

Opera, Performance No Comments »
hollyflack

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 »

Review: Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical/MSG Entertainment

Christmas, Holiday, Musicals, Performance Reviews, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Shuler Hensley and Presley Ryan/Photo: BlueMoon Studios

Shuler Hensley and Presley Ryan/Photo: BlueMoon Studios

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Holiday Spectacular/Kiss Kiss Cabaret

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Kiss Kiss Cabaret1

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: The Goldfish Project: Procreation/The New Colony

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TheGoldfishProject-1
RECOMMENDED

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 »