In the 1990s, television veered into new programming territory with the show “The Real World,” offering a form of entertainment for which there was little scripting or preparation, where the viewing public could watch “real” people dealing with their life’s joys, sorrows and daily challenges; reality television was born. This genre ushered in an ostensibly new form of showbiz, where we were invited to see ourselves more directly than we might when experiencing the highly structured and polished presentation of a situation comedy or a weekly, episodic dramatic series. Beautiful, charismatic and opinionated women have been the principal performers—and even producers—of many of these popular spectacles. Names such as Hilton, Richie, Osbourne and Kardashian are folded into this recipe—along with those of real housewives of several major cities—regularly “trending” on the Internet. But it is hardly a new preoccupation to award the status of “celebrity” to someone else’s next-door neighbor. Read the rest of this entry »
The Marriott Theatre kicks off its 2014 season with “Cabaret,” the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical, under the direction of David H. Bell.
The show centers on a young American writer, Clifford Bradshaw (Patrick Sarb), who comes to Berlin in 1929 in search of material for a novel he wants to produce. The Emcee (Stephen Schellhardt) is also a narrator of sorts who playfully invites all to forget any troubles of the outside world and simply enjoy the “beautiful” music, song and dancing of the girls and boys inside the Kit Kat Klub. Schellhardt’s charisma and allure continually keep the show moving. Even in the cutting and cleverly penned song, “If You Could See Her,” he successfully walks a fine line between humor and gutting insult.
Although British showgirl Sally Bowles (Megan Sikora) becomes enamored with Bradshaw and the two become “Perfectly Marvelous” partners in love and life, it is the elder characters of this production, Fraulein Schneider (Annabel Armour) and Herr Schultz (Craig Spidle), who are more fascinating than virtually anything that happens within the Klub. Armour and Spidle brilliantly balance each other’s characters out and emit sparks of true romance. Their enticing chemistry is particularly ironic since sexual innuendo is apparent in dialogue, a chunk of choreography and the costuming of the majority of the cast. Yet, the lethargic energy of it all comes across as much more PG-13 than R-rated (or for audience members sixteen and older, as the theater recommends). Read the rest of this entry »
To add to Chicago’s celebration of Black History Month, Porchlight Music Theatre sends a jazz-jolt to Chicago’s February theater scene with a musically rousing, historically revealing production of the “Fats” Waller-inspired “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Originally conceived as a cabaret show, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was so popular that it transferred to Broadway, winning three Tony Awards in 1978, bested in the Musical Theatre categories only by the Comden-Green/Coleman “On The Twentieth Century,” which carried away five brass and bronze, nickel-plated medallions. A glimpse into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and thirties, when segregation’s stigmatization fell away from dusk till dawn at the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom, even while the sun’s first rays reinvented racism afresh, Porchlight’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” pulled the sold-out audience to its feet long before the final medley gushed into the curtain call on the night I saw it. Read the rest of this entry »
This production of “Gypsy,” now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, begins gorgeously before the first note, at the silent sight of the ornate gilded frame of a stage that promises showbiz is about to happen. Then, boom, it does. The production’s big brassy crackerjack orchestra delivers “Gypsy’”s spectacular overture. It would be a fine concert piece in itself, if it did not tease the musical’s rich set of great, now standard, Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim tunes. Like the kids in the show who are ordered to “Sing Out!” by Madame Rose, the tiger-stage-mother who commands them, this production commits. This must be one of the best-looking, best-acted and best instrumental stagings of “Gypsy” ever.
The show famously recounts the teen years of Louise, the future Gypsy Rose Lee, as her family, headed by the domineering Rose, travels the 1920s Vaudeville circuit. They’re a kitschy young children’s act composed of aging kids. The show revolves mainly around Rose and how her two daughters and loyal lover deal with, and ultimately reject her machinations. At first, the kids are played by real children. Small Emily Leahy as Louise’s headlining sister Baby June is a singing, tapping baton-twirling wonder. Caroline Heffernan as the young Louise/future Gypsy movingly conveys how being a normal, shy, smart child estranged her from her mother yearning for the family’s stardom. Read the rest of this entry »
Opening a Stephen Sondheim show, even one of his most popular, two days before Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Gary Griffin—the city’s unquestioned master of stellar Sondheim productions—puts up “Gypsy,” is either an act of savvy marketing or foolish bravado. But The Hypocrites, long associated with founder Sean Graney’s over-the-top zaniness, are maturing into a company adept at matching the freewheeling creativity that earned their reputation with the ability to round up specialized talent and the discipline to deliver musical theater capable of working on its own melodic merits. They’ve proven so recently with a couple of Gilbert & Sullivan classics, but now show they’re far from a one-composer wonder. The Hypocrites’ “Into the Woods” is a wonder on its own: at once a faithful interpretation of Sondheim and James Lapine’s beloved classic—with some terrific voices and a small but sturdy cohort of behind-the-scenes musicians—that never loses sight of the Hypocrites’ signature sense of humor. The musical opens with the cast lollygagging on a stage set created by William Boles to look like a preschool classroom, a perfectly reasonable launching point for a story that mashes up some of the Brothers Grimm’s finest, from Jack and the Beanstalk to Little Red Riding Hood to Cinderella. Read the rest of this entry »
Surprise! Director William Osetek has re-imagined Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”—a musical based on the 1974 film starring the unconquerable Gene Wilder that was panned by critics during its Broadway run in 2007—into a fresh, non-stop, song-and-dance thrill ride at Drury Lane.
The story follows the familiar plot: Dr. Frederick Von Frankenstein (young Ethan Hawke-lookalike Devin DeSantis) has changed the pronunciation of his surname to “Fronkensteen” and become a Dean of Anatomy in New York. When his grandfather dies, he’s called to Transylvania to get back into the “family business,” grave digging and all. The show is fun and risqué, to the point of de-virginizing the good doctor and talking about the “enormous schwanzstuker” of the jolly green Monster (Texan Travis Taylor). Making full use of their nimble feet, Jeff Award-winning choreographer Tammy Mader gives these more-than-capable actors sequences that showcase their footwork and timing. Read the rest of this entry »
Everybody has a favorite rap song. Currently, mine is “Holy Grail.” I know it is a bit overplayed, but man can that Jay-Z rap. I also like Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which consistently spins the overplayed into gold. Methinks, however, the two rarely meet. But last night they did meet during the warmup to “A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” and you know what? It sounded pretty good. It might not work all the time (kind of like swapping out rum for vodka in your eggnog), but now and then it is downright refreshing.
With more flavors than an ice-cream shop, this show brings reggae, hip-hop, old school rap, dancehall sounds and some gritty industrial touches to the old Dickens classic. There’s even a little Blue Man Group thrown into the Ghost of Christmas Future number. Written collaboratively by the four actors on stage (Jackson Doran, GQ, JQ and Postell Pringle), the script may rhyme, but it also stays true to the spirit of the original. The touches they do add (like a loving gay nephew who repeatedly invites Scrooge to his Christmas party) might feel a little contrived, but fit in well with the overall theme of good cheer (otherwise known as Christmas spirit). This is a show that has a lot of fun with the source material (such as giving Tiny Tim every affliction known to man, including scurvy) but does not shy away from being sentimental. The Q Brothers do well at balancing the traditional and non-traditional and in doing so tease together something unique. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a recipe for making your holiday season jolly and gay (listen, I knew there would have to be a gay pun in here somewhere so I figured I’d get it out of the way right at the start): Take Dickens’ uber-classic “A Christmas Carol” and add a pinch of Macbethian witches, a dash of song-and-dance numbers, a splash of purple and a whole lot of Liza Minnelli. Stir it up with a dynamic cast of singers and dancers (with choreography by Patrick Andrews), a live four-piece band and a large, boxy, morphable set (courtesy of Jerre Dye). Then sit back and watch the surreal redemption tale unfold.
This “fairy tale that fairies love to tell” is written by the undeniably funny and talented Scott Bradley (of “Carpenters Halloween” and “Alien Queen”) with music and additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler. And though it follows the basic framework of “A Christmas Carol” (Christmas season, grouchily irredeemable protagonist, three spirit guides, etc) it also veers off wildly from the original structure (with welcome, if rather muddled, results). Read the rest of this entry »
Playing at the Black Ensemble Theater in Uptown, “Once Upon A People” is the perfect antidote to the same old same old that can plague the holiday season. No offense to the traditional, but it would be a real shame if this new African fairy tale fell under the seasonal theater radar. Written by Rueben D. Echoles, “Once Upon A People” is a lot of everything that the Black Ensemble Theater does well. Dance numbers are choreographed beautifully and the voice talents on stage are simply amazing. The production also features the inspiring young talents of the Studio One Dance Theatre (a South Side organization dedicated to exposing children to the arts). Even the pre-show warmup act is genuinely entertaining as actors stroll down the aisles hawking their wares. On opening night, by the time they got to me and my ten-year-old daughter I was tempted to reach into my pocket to purchase a flower. Luckily it was on the house. Read the rest of this entry »
This family-friendly 2010 Broadway adaptation of the 2003 film “Elf” is basically a high-octane song-and-dance version of the story of Buddy the Elf that has plenty to keep all ages entertained, from small children to seniors.
Lacking the wryness and special effects of the film, this musical version nonetheless boasts a witty book by Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”) and Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) which does develop, update and smooth over plot details that compress the story in a more genre-friendly way for the stage.
In the musical version, it is Santa—played by Ken Clement—who tells the story, engaging the audience with local color and witticisms and even a song or two. The biggest loss from the film is that Buddy, played by Will Blum, is really no larger than the other elves, so in that sense we do come to accept him as, well, an elf, rather than a human being raised as an elf. Read the rest of this entry »