Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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

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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 »

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

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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 »

Review: One Day When We Are All Robots/Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble

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 Photo Credit: L-R: Lila Morse, Frankiem Mitchell, Molly Meacham, Nicole Bond, Davide Grody, Shelley Elaine Geiszler, Bryant Cross, Victoria Alvarez-Chacon.


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 »

Review: Spring Spectacle: Bellboys, Bears, and Baggage/Redmoon

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Photo: Al Zayed

Photo: Al Zayed

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Bible Bingo/Royal George Theatre

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RECOMMENDED

Good Bible Bingo photoVicki Quade, creator of  “Put the Nuns in Charge” and co-writer of “Late Nite Catechism,” has put together an interactive show filled with Catholic humor. Our Lady of Good Fortune is in need of money. So, Mrs. Mary Margaret O’Brien (Vicki Quade) decides to host a good old-fashioned bingo fundraiser.

As with “Late Nite Catechism” the host of “Bible Bingo” rotates among several actresses. The show is scripted, but is lightly improvised based on audience participation.  Quade had little trouble entertaining the largely Catholic audience the night I attended. She is a truly gifted improviser. Even her conversations with a few rather tipsy audience members were handled with the utmost professionalism and cunning humor, commenting that they were “filled with spirit, but not the Holy Spirit.” Her quick wit solidifies why “Late Nite Catechism” has been running for more than twenty years. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Oregon Tail Burlesque: You Have Died of Sexy/Gorilla Tango Burlesque

Comedy, Performance, Performance Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Braden Nesin

Photo: Braden Nesin

One of the earliest educational video games—“The Oregon Trail”—crosses paths with one of the earliest forms of entertainment—nearly naked ladies shaking it—in Gorilla Tango Burlesque’s latest collision of geek culture and burlesque. An enjoyable show and possibly a wish fulfilled for gaming nostalgists, “The Oregon Tail Burlesque: You Have Died of Sexy” may be about the most unlikely such mash-up you’re going to see—and it has a lot of potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Magical Exploding Boy and the Invisible Circus/The Actors Gymnasium

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Simone Lazar/Photo: Cole

Simone Lazar/Photo: Cole Simon

RECOMMENDED

The circus has come to Evanston. Actually, it never left; The Actors Gymnasium has been teaching the circus arts in Evanston for almost twenty years.  Their latest endeavor, “The Magical Exploding Boy,” is more a showcase of the professional and emerging talents making up the Actors Gymnasium (the program credits five professional artists and four times as many students) than an actual play.

The very loose plot here centers on Dean Evans (a veteran clown who has performed his art extensively in Chicago and New York City) trying (and failing) to make it in the corporate world. Evans, performing mostly as a mime and without makeup, is very amusing in his drift downward. His everyman looks and surprisingly subtle facial expressions go a long way in emphasizing the absurd. Will Howard plays the strong man who, literally, lifts Evans up from time to time. The two of them play well off one another and coax many laughs out of little more than just being on stage together. Tying things together somewhat is the wise, hobo clown Lindsey Noel Whiting who, armed with a ukulele, sings quirky, original songs that drive the production forward. The story still does not always make sense, but to paraphrase one of the songs, the plot points don’t always have to add up. This is a circus act after all; it only has to entertain. Read the rest of this entry »