Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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

-News etc., Dance, Dance Reviews, Musicals, Performance, Performance Reviews, Profiles, Recommended Dance Shows, Recommended Performance No Comments »
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: Muffy and Vallery Sing…The Oldest Profession/Uptown Underground

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RECOMMENDED

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: 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 »

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 »

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 »

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