Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: October Sky/Marriott Theatre

Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Cast of October Sky 1

Patrick Rooney, Nate Lewellyn, Alex Weisman, Ben Barker and the cast of “October Sky”/Photo: Liz Lauren


From Homer J. Hickam’s memoir, to a Universal Studios film, comes a musical retelling of an ageless, American story of the right, and the ability to rise above one’s circumstances through a vision bred of curiosity, hard work and determination, and the support of families, large and small. “October Sky,” with a book by Aaron Thielen, music and lyrics by Michael Mahler, and directed by Rachel Rockwell, makes its world premiere at Marriott.

Musicals have awkward births; stories of second acts that didn’t work, beloved songs discarded and lost for decades, and directorial revolving doors are myriad. “October Sky” is an exception that proves that rule. Thielen’s book is perfectly paced, focusing on the characters that drive the central arc, granting others a fond resonance while keeping them in supporting positions. Mahler works a compositional miracle here, dipping into Appalachian folk music, bluegrass and rockabilly, all informed by the contemporary musical theater idiom; the result is a mixture of uptempo gems and the type of soaring ballads that weds the Great American Songbook to popular music. Rockwell’s direction is subtle, drawing performances from her ensemble that delicately suggest an era and destination; from the accents to the intentions, she opens the story’s lens. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage/Broadway in Chicago

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Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and Gillian Abbott (Baby) in the North American tour of "Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage" / Photo: Matthew Murphy “Dirty Dancing” is undoubtedly one of my favorite films. I remember watching it in grade school for the zillionth time with one of my best friends and getting in trouble for jumping off of her parents couch as we tried to do the dance jumps and imagine what it would be like to fall into Johnny’s arms after landing that iconic lift.

If you’re as big of a fan of the film as I am, this staged version might leave you itching to watch the movie when you get home rather than feeling that you’ve had the time of your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ready for Hillary: The Musical/The Public House Theatre

Comedy, Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

Ready for Hillary Press 1

The premise of The Public House Theatre’s “Ready for Hillary: The Musical” is simple, if wacky: On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, candidates Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Chris Christie, along with their spouses, attend a sleepover party at vice-presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s home. Singing and shenanigans ensue.

If you go into this show expecting biting political satire, a dissection of electoral politics or any critique of the policy positions of the individual candidates, you might want to re-watch old episodes of “The Daily Show” instead of heading to “Ready for Hillary.” If you want to see a show that takes the personalities of prominent political figures, blows them out to over-the-top proportions and sets them to music, this is your show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stanley in the Name of Love/The New Colony

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Michael Peters and Steve Love, with Jeff Meyer, Luke Michael Grimes, and Christopher Tuttle/Photo :Ryan Bourque

Michael Peters and Steve Love, with Jeff Meyer, Luke Michael Grimes, and Christopher Tuttle/Photo: Ryan Bourque


Follow the fluorescent yellow paint on the floor through a dark, winding corridor, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the ethos of the secretive gay bars of the 1970s. A few lamps flash on and off from the ceiling, their light pooling onto the dance-floor stage, while Michael Jackson and friends pout through the speakers. Director/author Sean Kelly’s new “absurdist gay porn dance pop musical” is skit-ish, improvisational-esque, and histrionically out of line. “Stanley in the Name of Love” will keep your mouth ajar for the entire ninety minutes, in joy, wonderment and dry heaves. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Pippin/Broadway In Chicago

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Sam Lipps as Pippin perfoming in Pittsburgh.

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


Mind-numbing with its soft-rocky up-tempo songs and pop-ish ballads, the 1973 and 2013 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 canon.

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 »

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

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

Michael Shepherd Jordan and Alex Garday


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

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(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


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: Loving Repeating/Kokandy Productions

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Emily Goldberg and Amanda Giles/Photo: Jeff Meyer

Emily Goldberg and Amanda Giles/Photo: Jeff Meyer


The idea of a musical tribute to Gertrude Stein is, on its face, overwhelming. Anyone with passing familiarity with the late poet’s propensity for playful and often anarchic verbosity might imagine an entire evening of single-sentence observations endlessly rearranged to a cyclical, Terry Riley-like score. And yet what we get instead is a play written by one of Chicago’s most celebrated adaptors (Frank Galati), scored by a Tony Award-winning composer (Stephen Flaherty) and helmed by a theater company intent on keeping the musical a relevant modern form. Under the direction of Allison Hendrix, Kokandy Productions presents a work that begins with a bit too much repeating and concludes with just the right amount of loving. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kinky Boots/Broadway In Chicago

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Photo1_KinkyBootsTour_PhotobyMatthewMurphy (1)

Kyle Taylor Parker, Steven Booth, and The Company/Photo: Matthew Murphy

Having first been groomed in Chicago, “Kinky Boots” won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical. Rock icon Cyndi Lauper finagled Best Score, despite its jumps from song to song without connection or precedence, seldom varying from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus form of the most vapid of our Top 40; there lies a lost opportunity for musical cross-pollination. Harvey Fierstein’s book borrows lightly from the movie of the same name, mostly draining the story of its punch, and placing the dramatic apex far too early. All this awarded madness says less about the Tony voters’ craving for sexualized footwear than it does about the dearth of new musicals on Broadway in 2013.

“Boots” is the story of an unlikely twosome, making passionate shoes together. In the titular role of Lola, the dragtastic chanteuse who saves her co-protagonist’s life, both physically and fiscally, Kyle Taylor Parker gives the strongest performance, and seems most suited to his role. Parker, who understudied Lola in the Broadway production, yells a bit too often during his numbers, but delivers buckets of sass, and is at his best during the most memorable number in the show, “Not My Father’s Son.” Parker’s performance as shoe designer is unmet by Steven Booth’s shoe builder, Charlie. Booth neglects to build an undertow of fear and mistrust that could have made his explosive, hate-mongering monologue more believable.

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