Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Pippin/Broadway In Chicago

Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Sam Lipps as Pippin perfoming in Pittsburgh.

Sam Lips as Pippin perfoming in Pittsburgh/Photo: Martha Rial

RECOMMENDED

Mind-numbing with its soft-rocky up-tempo songs and pop-ish ballads, the 1973 and 2014 Tony Award-winning “Pippin” continues to charm all save the occasional music lover. If any song in “Pippin” can be interpolated into any other Stephen Schwartz musical and vice-versa, the fascinating characters and the universal truth of this storyline authorizes this circus-cantata’s continuance in the cannon.

Sam Lips is the triple-threat package and as Pippin he gives an emotionally winsome, wispy-voiced, nimble, bookish, swashbuckling, musical theater-Hamlet; a frequent Broadway understudy, Lips proves his leading-man chops. Read the rest of this entry »

Transformative Stories: A Reservoir of Healing at Erasing the Distance

-News etc., Profiles, Theater, World Premiere 1 Comment »
Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

By Loy Webb

“This is turning into a therapy session,” says actress Angela Alise as she wipes the tears from her eyes. “Which it always does with Erasing the Distance,” Erasing the Distance (ETD) founder Brighid O’Shaughnessy responds, laughing at the aftermath her heartfelt answer has created.

It’s that kind of sincerity and empathy that has made ETD more than a theater company and into a reservoir of healing for individuals dealing directly and indirectly with mental illness.

This “therapy session” started when O’Shaughnessy described her encounter with a young woman named Marlena. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show/MCL Chicago

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Musicals, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
VAMP

 Michael Shepherd Jordan and Alex Garday

RECOMMENDED

Walking into the MCL Chicago space for “VAMP: A Music Comedy Drinking Show” is like walking into a raucous house party that’s just getting started. A four-piece band (Doc McCullough & The Vampers) plays frenetic jams while audience members mill around chatting and sipping from their various BYOB selections. And once the show gets started, under the direction of endearingly wry host Keenan Camp, it’s not that different from a house party itself. In fact, “VAMP,” as a whole, feels like a loosely organized, low-pressure showcase by a group of popular, talented, semi-intoxicated improvisers in a friend’s basement, with all the pros and cons associated with that scenario. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Buzzed Broadway/MCL Chicago

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Musicals No Comments »
Steven Lyons and Alexander Smith Photo: Heather Scholl Photography

Steven Lyons and Alexander Smith/Photo: Heather Scholl Photography

Improv is a skill. Being able to successfully improvise a storyline to music while drinking is an even greater skill. That’s the challenge the cast of “Buzzed Broadway” takes on during each performance at MCL Chicago.

Watching “Buzzed Broadway” is kind of like watching a group of drunk musical theater students at a party: it might be funny if you’re participating—and drinking along with the cast is encouraged—but if you’re sober, you’ll notice that the story doesn’t always make sense and the singing isn’t always in key. Still, it’s good for a few laughs here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird/Sideshow Theatre Company

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Cody Proctor and Nina O'Keefe

Cody Proctor and Nina O’Keefe/Photo: DEF

RECOMMENDED

Something tells me old Anton might have rather enjoyed “Stupid Fucking Bird” if his body had aged as well as his work. Sideshow Theatre Company’s lofty yet godless (re)vision of “The Seagull” is particularly Chekhovian in its absolute conviction of its own pointlessness, lending this one-year-out remount a certain unimpeachable and pitch-perfect irony.

The play is achingly heartfelt and hysterically funny, often simultaneously. Toward the end of the first act, each character is allowed to trump dramatic convention by telling the audience exactly what they want. While most desires are in line with their origin characters—love, admiration, fame, sex—Uncle Sorn (a wonderfully unhurried Norm Woodel) proclaims to want just a hug. “A hug that lasts a month,” he adds melancholically. In an ambitious work full of grand gestures and cutting swipes at grand gestures, it is small moments such as these that key us into the profound subtlety of playwright Aaron Posner’s adaptation.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: [title of show]/Brown Paper Box Co.

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Matt Frye, Anna Schutz, Neala Barron, and Yando Lopez/Photo: CB Lindsey

Matt Frye, Anna Schutz, Neala Barron and Yando Lopez/Photo: CB Lindsey

RECOMMENDED

With four mismatched chairs on the stage of Rivendell Theatre’s cramped Edgewater space, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s “[title of show]” is set within environs which contribute to the perfect piece of self-referential meta-theater that it is.

This is a musical about the creation of a musical. It is a play that starts with two creators Jeff (Yando Lopez) and Hunter (Matt Frye) talking on the phone about wanting to write a musical together. Each scene is supposedly a transcript of their actual discussions along the way. Two of their friends, Heidi (Anna Schutz) and Susan (Neala Barron) come along for the ride. The ensemble put together by director M. William Panek does a wonderful job filling each role with a vitality that shines throughout the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire/American Players Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Tracy Michelle Arnold and Eric Parks/Photo: Carissa Dixon

(l to r) Tracy Michelle Arnold and Eric Parks/Photo: Carissa Dixon

RECOMMENDED

Watching Tennessee Williams’ classic portrayal of lust and longing in New Orleans under the Wisconsin stars, on an especially hot and humid night, adds an extra element of authenticity to director William Brown’s outstanding take on the work. Though the nature of APT’s large proscenium stage makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create a sense of claustrophobic collision through scenic design in the way that David Cromer’s renowned production at Writers Theatre did back in 2010, Kevin Depinet’s set is nevertheless up to the task at hand, offering a perfectly functional take on French Quarter slumming, circa 1950. But the set is not the point, anyway, in the face of such larger-than-life characters as Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bette: Live at the Continental Baths/Hell in a Handbag

Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(left to right) Caitlin Jackson, TJ Crawford, Will Wilhelm and Jeremy Ramey in Hell in a Handbag's BETTE, LIVE AT THE CONTINENTAL BATHS, a musical tribute to the Divine Miss M's legendary NYC concert, directed and choreographed by Christopher Pazdernik with music direction by Jeremy Ramey. Photo: Rick Aguilar Studios.

Caitlin Jackson, TJ Crawford, Will Wilhelm and Jeremy Ramey/Photo: Rick Aguilar

RECOMMENDED

Ever the crowdpleasers, the folks at Hell in a Handbag follow the touchy and pushy “Miracle!” with a loving tribute to Bette Midler, a longtime ally and prominent cultural icon in the gay community. Less openly transgressive than “Miracle!,” “Bette: Live at the Continental Baths” nevertheless contains Handbag’s characteristic mix of tenderness and camp.

The weight of the production rests on the shoulders—and, I suppose, chest—of ensemble member Caitlin Jackson, who captures Midler’s bawdy humor as well as the underlying pathos that guided her to the Continental Baths in the first place. Jackson makes you feel as though you’ve known her, and by extension Midler herself, for decades. Even when the material doesn’t land—and some of it will not for younger audiences—it still works thanks to her confident presence and preternatural delivery. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 15 BREATHS/About Face Youth Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
 (center, left to right) Jimbo Pestano and Nikki R. Veit with the cast of About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s world premiere of 15 BREATHS, directed by Ali Hoefnagel/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

(center, left to right) Jimbo Pestano and Nikki R. Veit and cast/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

RECOMMENDED

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words sum up life’s most difficult struggle and it is precisely what is at the heart of About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s production of “15 BREATHS.”

Through the eyes of nineteen-year-old Harold, we are taken on a journey of his quest for self-determination. He is forced to leave his small town in Texas for the much bigger city of Chicago after it is revealed that he is gay. We encounter a litany of characters that both impede and advance his quest.   Read the rest of this entry »

Training Ground: Young Artists Pay it Forward at Chicago Summer Opera’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

New Companies, Opera, Opera Reviews No Comments »
Timothy Madden and William Ottow/Photo: Daniel Johanson

Timothy Madden and William Ottow/Photo: Daniel Johanson

By Aaron Hunt

Chicago Summer Opera advertises itself as another of our city’s startup, storefront, non-profit operatic enterprises; its title promises a spoonful of gastronomical respite as Chicago’s opera gluttons starve their way through Chicago’s heat and humidity to the cooling, autumnal beginnings of the seasons of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Opera Theater. Its offerings must be considered in those terms.

Yet, a closer look at Chicago Summer Opera’s mission statement proves that it is primarily a training ground for young artists. In fact, Chicago Summer Opera’s singers are all “aspiring” opera singers, with no one among their ranks having made an “important” operatic debut, and further examination finds that, with the exception of some performers who may have been granted a scholarship, these young singers are paying tuition for classes in repertoire, acting, audition technique and diction. Each singer is promised a role in one performance of one of the company’s operas at the completion of their season’s tutelage. In the industry, this financial arrangement is called “pay for play,” and incurs all the potential positives and negatives implied. Read the rest of this entry »

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