Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone/Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

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Drowsy1

Phillip Kaiser, Amanda Bloom, Sarafina Vecchio, Brett Baleskie, Shari Mocheit, Chris Vizurraga, Dominic Rescigno, Matt McNabb, Erin Long, Sarah Hoch, Colin Funk

RECOMMENDED

It all began with a stag party skit, which explains the madcap, innuendo-filled, my-uncle’s-got-a-barn quality that blessedly remains, despite Broadway spit-and-polish. Bob Martin was being primed for his marriage to Janet van de Graaff. The skit morphed into a show, with Martin joining the writing team and creating a beloved character, Man In Chair, for himself. A show within a show, this Man chats up the audience, coaxing them into listening to an LP of a musical he loves, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and like “Brigadoon,” the show materializes, ostensibly celebrating the impending nuptials of, wait for it, Robert Martin and Janet van de Graaff.

“Chaperone” uses stock, post-vaudeville musical theater characters: a British butler, a Broadway producer with his ditzy girlfriend who wants to be a star, a pair of singing, dancing gangsters, and an Ethel Merman role, the chaperone herself, written for an actress who insisted on essaying a “rousing anthem” in every show. “The Drowsy Chaperone” ran for 674 Broadway performances, and received multiple Tony Awards. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

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The Salts - 3

RECOMMENDED

Those who say punk rock is dead have been spending too much time at the Wicker Park Urban Outfitters and not enough time right down the street at the Flatiron Arts Building, where the spirit of ’77 is alive and well. Flatiron is the temporary home of The Inconvenience, an interdisciplinary company that takes all the pretension out of the term “interdisciplinary.”

The Inconvenience kicks off their promising 2015 season with a dynamic evening of dance billed simply as “The Salts.” As a collaboration between Erin Kilmurray (who also performs) and Molly Brennan, the performance’s reference points are intentionally iconic: Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Talking Heads. Yet the take is refreshingly modern, with frenetic choreography broken up by humorous interjections and politically charged vignettes. The routines themselves celebrate the spirit of punk: loose yet taut, zealous yet highly accessible. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Woman Before/Trap Door Theatre

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IMG_5385 (1)

Kirk Anderson, Shawna Franks/Photo: David A. Holcombe

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Initially, Trap Door Theatre’s “The Woman Before” feels like a sitcom. Wife and husband Claudia and Frank (played by Loretta Rezos and Kirk Anderson, respectively) are packing their home for an overseas move when Romy (Shawna Franks), Frank’s lover from twenty-four years prior, shows up at the door. Like a Kramer or a Cousin Balki, Romy has the feel of a new presence that thrusts a mundane group of people into a series of wacky hijinks. Except… “The Woman Before” isn’t a comedy—it’s a monster story. When you invite a monster into your home, horrible things happen. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Inana/TimeLine Theatre Company

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 (l to r) Atra Asdou and Demetrios Troy./Photo: Lara Goetsch.


Atra Asdou and Demetrios Troy/Photo: Lara Goetsch.

RECOMMENDED

Midway through Michele Lowe’s “Inana,” an Iraqi museum curator (Demetrios Troy) argues that the value of art cannot be properly assessed without historical context. His interloper, a renowned forger and his future father-in-law (Anish Jethmalani), contests that beauty affects those who perceive it regardless of circumstance. As a disagreement seemingly without the possibility of resolution, this argument captures the conflict at the heart of Lowe’s play and TimeLine Theatre Company’s production of it.

An ambitious and engrossing love story under the guise of a historical thriller, “Inana” is about the romance between a man and his country, seeking to articulate a specific and yet sadly familiar political context—a grossly misunderstood country on the verge of becoming the focal point of a misguided, self-righteous and not altogether coveted emancipation—while simultaneously exploring the intersections of history, religion and art. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jersey Boys/Broadway In Chicago

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Jersey Boys Nicholas Dromard, Keith Hines, Hayden Milanes and Drew Seeley

Nicholas Dromard, Keith Hines, Hayden Milanes and Drew Seeley/Photo: Jeremy Daniel

RECOMMENDED

The Baby Boomers grew up in one of the longest periods of affluence in American history, lulled by a soundtrack of Elvis, Johnny Cash, ABBA and Frankie Valli. The Great Recession of 2007/9 caused a recalibration of retirement plans for many. The arts, always the last bastion to recover from a sweeping financial crisis, needed to streamline their product. If the Boomers wanted to regroup to the tunes of their youth, while theater producers looked to create musicals without singing-and-dancing choruses, with singers/instrumentalists providing their own accompaniment, the answer was the “jukebox musical.” These thrifty shows make use of previously popular songs, recorded by either a solo artist or a group, knit together by a documentary-style script, or by slipping the tunes into a new storyline. “All Shook Up” and “Ring of Fire” are ubiquitous in regional theaters the country over, and “Mamma Mia” spawned a Meryl Streep-led movie, and is only this fall closing on Broadway after fourteen years. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Little Foxes/Goodman Theatre

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(L to R) Shannon Cochran (Regina Giddens), Steve Pickering (Oscar Hubbard) and Larry Yando (Ben Hubbard) in The Little Foxes/Photo: Liz Lauren

Shannon Cochran, Steve Pickering and Larry Yando/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

There is nothing little about Lillian Hellman’s 1939 potboiler “The Little Foxes.” The characters, the drama, the incestuous pairing of family and greed, it is all larger than life. Director Henry Wishcamper’s new revival at the Goodman, one with a knockout cast, doesn’t try to make the play smaller or more human than it is. This is a play about monsters—Southern, wealthy, money-grubbing monsters. Best to get out of the way and let them fight.

Set at the turn of the century, “The Little Foxes” opens on a dinner party being hosted by the Hubbard siblings: Regina (Shannon Cochran), Ben (Larry Yando) and Oscar (Steve Pickering). They have enticed a wealthy northerner (Michael Canavan) to partner with them on a cotton mill and, since they own most of the cotton in town, this mill is going to make them filthy rich. However, Regina’s share actually belongs to her absent husband Horace (John Judd) who might not play along, so Regina sends her daughter Zan (Rae Gray) to Baltimore to fetch him. This sets in motion a series of betrayals and counter betrayals that unfold luxuriously over the play’s nearly three-hour running time. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Quiz Show/Strawdog Theatre Company

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(L to R) Background: Nikki Klix, Paul Fagen, Sarah Goeden and Foreground: Anderson Lawfer/ Photo by Chris Ocken Copyright 2015 - http://www.ockenphotography.com/

Background: Nikki Klix, Paul Fagen, Sarah Goeden and Foreground: Anderson Lawfer/Photo: Chris Ocken

RECOMMENDED

“You are all complicit in our little adventure,” intones the smarmy MC of the hit game show “False,” where “perception is reality.” Indeed, viewers become part of the act in British playwright Rob Drummond’s darkly riveting examination of celebrity culture, transformed into a submissive, infantilized studio audience that applauds and chants the show’s mantra—“the truth can be cruel”—on cue. But over the course of the play’s ninety minutes, these seemingly innocent rituals of engineered enthusiasm turn hollow and strange, as the game becomes deadly serious.

Obviously inspired by the Jimmy Savile scandal in England, in which a media personality was revealed posthumously as a serial sexual predator, “Quiz Show” expands the celeb-gone-bad premise into a many-leveled meditation on repressed memories, denial and social complicity. The Jimmy Savile story isn’t widely known hereabouts, but our own examples of willed blindness—such as the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, pedophile priests and the CPD’s Jon Burge—differ only in details. As one quiz show contestant declares, “The perfect conspiracy happens in the collective subconscious of a nation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Crimes of the Heart/Step Up Productions

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(l-r) Elizabeth Antonucci, Will Crouse and Amanda Powell/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Elizabeth Antonucci, Will Crouse and Amanda Powell/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Beth Henley’s modern classic “Crimes of the Heart” won a Pulitzer Prize and is a perennial favorite at theaters across the country. So the final show of Step Up Production’s season starts on a good foundation. And in director Brad Akin’s hands, this tale of three Southern sisters goes from solid start to beautifully rendered whole.

Set in 1974, the play never seems dated. It sits comfortably in its intended time. Though the costumes (designed by Raquel Adorno) and set (Sarah Watkins) create a picture of rural life forty years ago, it is how the actors inhabit the play’s universe that makes it seem so real. Clearly immense care has been taken to make every move fit naturally into the play. Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst and Amanda Powell (playing Lenny and Meg, respectively) seem especially at home on this stage. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Twisted Melodies/Congo Square Theatre

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Kelvin Roston, Jr./Photo: Sam Roberson

Kelvin Roston, Jr./Photo: Sam Roberson

RECOMMENDED

Donny Hathaway is one of the many popular musical geniuses who died too young. His voice was smooth and soulful, and his career was headed upward when he took his own life in 1979. Hathaway struggled with schizophrenia and its effects on his music and his family. In Congo Square Theatre’s “Twisted Melodies,” Hathaway lives again thanks to actor and playwright Kelvin Roston, Jr.

There is so much happening in this play that it is hard to believe that a single actor carries all the action on his own. And yet, Roston does just that. He is aided by an impressive soundscape created by Rick Sims, as well as an elaborate and beautifully realized projected environment created through the collaborative efforts of designer Dre Robinson and choreographer Joel Hall. The technical aspects allow us to see inside the head of a character whose mental activities we could only guess at were he to just tell us about his condition. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Big Fish/Theatre at the Center

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Big Fish

Stef Tovar and Colette Todd/Photo: Johnny Knight

RECOMMENDED

If you saw the pre-Broadway, Chicago run of “Big Fish” and thought it needed scissors and paste, or read the tepid New York reviews, mourning a loss of opportunity when comparing the show to the Tim Burton movie and calling Andrew Lippa’s score a “hack job,” with one “non-tune” after another, then you may wonder why the show has so many ardent advocates. The story of a mismatched father and son, trying to piece together a relationship as the son is about to become a father in his own right, while feeling that he hasn’t received the mentoring and role-modeling to do the job, is indeed a tattered trope. So why the audience fervor?

Because, though the show is short on plot, the passion and motivation for its storytelling springs into sharp relief, with the tale’s “why” taking center stage over the “when” or the “how.” Read the rest of this entry »

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