Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Moth GrandSLAM/The Moth

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The Moth GrandSLAM 1: Into the Wild

The Moth GrandSLAM 1: Into the Wild

RECOMMENDED

Starting a show by making audacious promises to the audience—you will laugh, you will be amazed, etc.—is usually a misguided path to disaster. But host/MC Don Hall came off as more soothsayer than bloviator as The Moth Chicago GrandSLAM delivered on all accounts. The Moth storytelling series is a well-known mainstay to the Chicago area, with shows every couple weeks at Martyrs and Haymarket. The format is fairly simple: story tellers put their name in a hat, and those drawn get five minutes to tell a story compatible with that evening’s theme. But the GrandSLAM serves as a special event held a few times throughout the year, with the purpose of pitting ten Moth winners against each other for the grand prize of bragging rights. Three sets of judges—including a group of former Moth GrandSLAM winners, members from local LGBTQ storytellers OUTspoken and a randomly selected crew of audience members—scored each story on unspecified criteria. The theme was “Mea Culpa.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Acrobatica Infiniti: The Nerd Circus/Acrobatica Infiniti Circus

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Natalie Abell/Photo: Nancy Behall

Natalie Abell/Photo: Nancy Behall

RECOMMENDED

Science fiction, fantasy and comic books are lousy with circuses. From the Flying Graysons to the Circus of Crime to whatever creepy clown Stephen King last wrote about, nerds seem to love a good circus. With this in mind, it seems like a no-brainer that someone somewhere would conceive of a nerd circus where the worlds of fandom and the circus collide. Enter Acrobatica Infiniti Circus.

Acrobatica Infiniti is a community of circus performers dedicated to creating connection between circus performance and geek fandom. Threading the middle of that particular Venn Diagram could have led to an epic disaster of a show, but Acrobatica Infiniti’s “The Nerd Circus” on Friday night was anything but. The show, directed by Tana Karo, and performed for one night only at the Vittum Theater, was funny, thrilling and surprisingly touching.

The night began with an introduction by an MC in a Superman t-shirt. He entered without any of the bombast you would normally expect from a circus ringmaster. At first this choice seemed off-putting, underselling the pomp and circumstance of the show, but over the course of the evening, guiding the audience from one performer to the next, he won us over with his wit, humility, humor and, of course, a few juggling tricks. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

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The Salts - 3

RECOMMENDED

Those who say punk rock is dead have been spending too much time at the Wicker Park Urban Outfitters and not enough time right down the street at the Flatiron Arts Building, where the spirit of ’77 is alive and well. Flatiron is the temporary home of The Inconvenience, an interdisciplinary company that takes all the pretension out of the term “interdisciplinary.”

The Inconvenience kicks off their promising 2015 season with a dynamic evening of dance billed simply as “The Salts.” As a collaboration between Erin Kilmurray (who also performs) and Molly Brennan, the performance’s reference points are intentionally iconic: Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Talking Heads. Yet the take is refreshingly modern, with frenetic choreography broken up by humorous interjections and politically charged vignettes. The routines themselves celebrate the spirit of punk: loose yet taut, zealous yet highly accessible. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Barriers: The Chicago Inclusion Project Makes its Debut

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Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque

Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson
Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton
Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque

By Mary Kroeck

Emjoy Gavino, Michael Patrick Thornton and Chay Yew are familiar names in the Chicago theater circuit. Gavino is a teaching artist with Barrel of Monkeys, ensemble member of Remy Bumppo and was recently in Court Theatre’s world premiere of “The Good Book.” Thornton had a recurring role on the television show “Private Practice” and is a Jeff Award-winning actor who recently appeared in Lookingglass’ production of “Title and Deed.” Yew is an Obie Award-winning director and the artistic director of Victory Gardens. Individually, these three have impressive resumes. However, one challenge they, and many others in and out of the theater profession, have struggled with, is how to create a more inclusive and diverse environment within the city of Chicago for artists to grow. So, along with other members of the theater community, Victory Gardens and the League of Chicago Theatres are joining together to launch The Chicago Inclusion Project.

“We have exceptional African-American theater companies and Latino companies and LGBTQ companies, but it’s rare for all these different, vibrant communities to have the chance to share the same stage or even be considered for the same project,” says Gavino, The Chicago Inclusion Project’s founder and producer. “That’s our aim. That’s why this initiative is necessary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Belmont Burlesque Revue/Belmont Burlesque

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Photo: Chris Neseman

Photo: Chris Neseman

RECOMMENDED

If you’re looking for an enchanting emcee who can walk the fine line between low-key and high class while sipping a giant martini, look no further than MsPixy, the quick-witted host of the Belmont Burlesque Revue (BBR). Languidly pacing the stage in a shimmery evening gown, she leads audiences through this eighty-minute mix of burlesque, comedy, music and magic (or “a variety of entertaining and often sexy-like things,” in her words) every other month on a stage at Theater Wit with a rental agreement that MsPixy describes as similar to “your cousin who stays on your couch,” since the revue essentially borrows another show’s set for the night.

On Saturday night, the abstract set for Shattered Globe Theatre’s “The Grown-Up” provided a space for the ladies (known collectively as the Belmont Bombshells) and gents of BBR to perform upon. And perform they did, opening with a parasol-spinning Bombshell quartet that may have been the weakest number of the night, but set the stage for the kind of shimmying and teasing that ever-growing burlesque audiences have come to expect. Read the rest of this entry »

Critic’s Postcard: Fairies and Snakes at Moulin Rouge

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Photo: S. Bertrand

Photo: S. Bertrand

By Zach Freeman

There are very few theatrical venues in the world that can boast anything like the history, cachet and all-around tourist-centric sexiness of Moulin Rouge, now celebrating its 125th (!) anniversary. With that in mind my wife and I made our way to the iconic red windmill at the intersection of Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy in the Montmarte district a few weeks ago, expanding our trip to Paris to include the latest offering from “the most famous cabaret in the world.”

Entitled simply “Féerie” (Fairy), it turns out that this production—which has been running since the end of 1999—is every bit as flashy, ephemeral, evocative and simple as the name implies. For clarity’s sake I should add that by “simple” I just mean “nearly plotless”—with 1,000 costumes, eighty dancers, six horses and five pythons (yes, you read those last two correctly)—this show is anything but simple in the technical sense. But more on that in a bit.

Entering the historical eighteenth arrondissement theater through a throng of camera-toting tourists and fellow attendees is a theatrical experience in itself. The bright red carpet and brighter lights successfully immerse you as you check in and are guided to your table. (With 900 seats, it’s no surprise that they don’t trust you to find your way alone.) The space is set up like a massive, two-story restaurant, allowing for customers booking 7pm tickets to eat dinner before the 9pm show. Since we opted for the 9pm show, we arrived at our table post-dinner and were promptly greeted with glasses of champagne. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Illusionists—Witness the Impossible/Broadway in Chicago

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Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus

RECOMMENDED

Magic is tricky (eh?). If it’s not your genre of choice it could be difficult to summon the proper enthusiasm to enjoy yourself. This particular show opens with a montage demonstrating each performer’s special skill. I needed something to get me interested and this montage proved to be more than ample. I muttered “holy shit” in earnest at least twice, once when a full-size train car appeared on stage.

Part of the fun is not knowing what happens next, so I’ll limit the spoilers and focus on the moments you can probably search for on YouTube. Adam Trent, “The Futurist,” opens the show with a few simple tricks that don’t inspire awe until an effect where he focuses a camera on an old man in the crowd, walks over to the old man, zooms on the old man, only to have the old man rip off his old man mask and MAGIC! It’s Adam Trent. Baffling. Jeff “the Trickster” Hobson serves as the de facto host for the evening’s events. He introduces a number of the other illusionists, each with their own accolades. Many are award winners, headlined by Yu Ho-Jin, “The Manipulator” and reigning Magician of the Year, who turns the simple use of cards into a mesmerizing display of legerdemain that leaves the audience totally enraptured. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Steppenwolf Garage Rep 2015/Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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(l to r) Carmen Molina, Claudia DiBiccari, Mykele Callicut, Paula Ramirez, Preston Tate Jr., Deanna Reed-Foster and James McGuire/Photo: Anna Sodziak

Carmen Molina, Claudia DiBiccari, Mykele Callicut, Paula Ramirez, Preston Tate Jr., Deanna Reed-Foster and James McGuire/Photo: Anna Sodziak

Heat Wave/Cold Basement Dramatics

RECOMMENDED

A mention of the skin-ripping heat plague that either directly caused or contributed to 739 deaths in Chicago in the summer of 1995 still causes those of us who lived through it to walk through a Windy City winter with jaw-grinding thankfulness. The PR department of the Mayor’s Office spun a tale of deceit that denounced the families, churches and neighbors of the victims for failing in their duty as emissaries of first response. It was left to the CDC and the National Weather Service to disprove this machination, although the residue of finger-pointing still lingers in the city’s consciousness. The mystery of a steady supply of power afforded affluent neighborhoods, while the homes of impoverished, minority citizens suffered repeated, long-term grid failure, continues unsolved.

Steven Simoncic’s play, adapted from Eric Klinenberg’s book, “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago,” delivers the hard data of the tragedy, enlightening the horror by grounding his tale in humanity, and allowing the audience to breathe by the heavy use of humor. In lesser hands, such a play might force the watcher to disconnect for emotional safety; Simoncic holds our hands and walks us through the morgue. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Muffy and Vallery Sing…The Oldest Profession/Uptown Underground

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Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood celebrates the long-delayed opening of a venue for burlesque, cabaret, music, magic and comedy. Located in a bunny warren under the refurbished Walter W. Ahlschlager-designed Uptown Broadway Building, the Uptown Underground’s bar and multiple entertainment spaces have the feel of the thrilling, temporary safety of an Al Capone-era speakeasy.

Muffy Fishbasket and Vallery Dolls have been booked into the Underground’s Starlight Lounge, where they currently expound upon the peaks and valleys of “the world’s oldest profession.” With all the gender-bending panache of a couple of girls who have no intention of passing as females with “real lady bits,” Muffy and Vallery use the elements of clown and burlesque to successfully parody their parody. Muffy sports a Lucille Ball volcano wig that threatens to defile the ceiling, a corset, dirigible-bazooms, and little else. Vallery’s boa must be a registered weapon. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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