Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran/Photo: Michael Brosilow
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 »
Dan Waller and Kevin Theris/Photo: Joe Mazza
The devil sure knows his way around Chicago. Besides the usual mixture of gang violence and Rahm-style politics, Satan has been a feature of many recent stage productions, including his recent stint in The Gift Theatre’s “Broadsword.” What makes this production different is that, in this play, Lucifer is introduced into a classic Irish gothic play (the type where the characters spend a lot of time talking about leaving the house but instead mostly just drink).
Directed by Matt Miller and written less than a decade ago by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, “Seafarer” presents a world where you can learn a lot about a character by the drink they choose. There is the loud American type (played by Shane Kenyon). He is a Miller guy. The flawed hero of this tale, Sharky (Dan Waller) is taking a break from the booze. His older, blind brother Richard drinks whatever he can get his hands on (and also seems to enjoy reminding Sharky that he is a lousy drunk). Ivan, their drunk, mutual friend, is also not very discriminating about what he drinks. In fact, much of the first act is spent setting up the sheer wretchedness of the situation as they all prepare for a Christmas Eve get together that culminates in a certain someone coming to play a couple hands of poker and collect on a few debts. Read the rest of this entry »
Danielle Plisz, Andrew Swan, Scott Duff and John Francisco/Photo: Michael Brosilow
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 »
Claudia Alexandria Cunningham/Photo: Danny Nicholas
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 »
“I am not David Sedaris,” Mitchell Fain notifies his audience at the start of “The Santaland Diaries,” the stage adaptation of the famed author’s popular holiday essay. Fain then instantly cracks a joke about Sedaris’ distaste for the theater piece (but how he has no problem cashing the royalty checks every year), and it’s clear you’re definitely in good hands to hear all about the humdrums of working the holiday season.
Now in its tenth year at Theater Wit, “The Santaland Diaries” begins with the down-on-his-luck forty-seven-year old answering a want ad from Macy’s seeking “elves” to work the seasonal Santaland Christmas display. The only thing more depressing than applying for the job? Fain’s realization that he might not actually get hired! Fain proves to have the magic charm required to lead kids to Santa’s giant chair (at least to the apathetic HR interviewer) and is taken on staff. Packed into a windowless room for training, he selects the elf moniker of Crumpet and begrudgingly takes in all there is to learn about inhabiting the life of Santa’s little helpers (no you can’t take your costume home!) 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 »
Photo: Liz Lauren
Since Charles Dickens’ novella about the overnight transformation of the crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge was first published in 1843 (right around Christmastime, natch) it has been solidly absorbed into the holiday season, becoming one of the definitive stories of Christmas spirit, embedding itself in our collective thoughts and reminding us of our own Christmases (past, present and yet to come). And for many in Chicago, the annual Goodman production of “A Christmas Carol” (now in its thirty-sixth year) is the definitive Christmas show.
There’s good reason for this—it’s an easily accessible family show filled with plenty of spectacle, a solid (and impressively large) cast and an adaptation (by Tom Creamer) that gives us both comedy and emotional redemption on a grand scale, which the Goodman stage makes even grander. When Scrooge finally does make that turnaround (spoiler alert: Scrooge changes his miserly ways!) this show follows Scrooge’s intent when he buys the biggest prize goose he can find for the Cratchit family: go big or go home. Read the rest of this entry »
David Cromer and Patrick Andrews/Photo: Lara Goetsch
With Illinois signing gay marriage into law this month, the crumbling gay community at the center of Larry Kramer’s 1985 play “The Normal Heart” is almost unrecognizable to a new generation. In the thirty years that have passed since the early days of the AIDS crisis, societal acceptance and medical advances have obviously improved immensely, and Kramer’s harrowing play is a must-see testament to the staggering progress that has been made. The TimeLine Theatre Company’s rousing production will serve as a fascinating history to a younger audience fortunate enough to not live through the horrific time, and for those who did, a chilling reminder of the initial ravaging destruction by a virus that has since claimed more than thirty-million lives globally.
Chicago’s big-gun director David Cromer is back on the stage as Ned Weeks, a hotheaded Manhattan novelist/playwright/screenwriter based on Kramer himself. Alarmed by a New York Times article reporting a rising number of homosexual men dying from a new “cancer,” Ned teams with stern polio-stricken doctor Emma Brookner (Mary Beth Fisher) who’s desperate for gay men to wake up to the disease’s rapid spread and likely contraction through sexual contact. Constantly confronted by indifference and red tape from politicians and journalists not wanting to get their hands dirty with a gay cause, Ned and his fellow group of gay activists face an immensely staggering up-hill battle. The gay men he seeks to save are even skeptical of his message due to his call for community-wide celibacy. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Johnny Knight
Despite the fact that it’s been a Chicago holiday tradition for more than a decade (first produced in 2002) and its source material is a 1946 film, every moment of American Blues Theater’s current production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” feels fresh and new, with the eager ensemble (led by original director Marty Higginbotham) throwing themselves into the story with so much wide-eyed gusto you can’t help but feel pulled in—into the story itself and into the general life-affirming message of how it is, in fact, a wonderful life.
American Blues Theater presents it as a live radio show in the 1940s and scenic designer Grant Sabin has created a cozy, idealized radio-station recording studio of a set, with snow occasionally falling outside a window and (in case you didn’t know this was a Christmas show) not one, not two, but three fully decorated Christmas trees springing up across the stage. Announcer and pianist Michael Mahler drives the show forward, both narratively and musically, while Foley artist Shawn J. Goudie creates a soundscape that adds depth and texture to the reading. Read the rest of this entry »
Dean Evans, Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski Courser, Ryan Walters and Anthony Courser/Photo: Evan Hanover
“You know how you go to most Christmas shows and you’re sitting there and they don’t catch you on fire?” one of the characters in “Burning Bluebeard” rhetorically asks the audience early on, before going on to explain how they ended up doing exactly the opposite during their show. Their show is “Mr. Bluebeard,” a spectacle-filled holiday pantomime performed at Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre in December of 1903. And the specific performance that’s being discussed is the infamously tragic matinee when the theater caught fire, killing more than 600 people, many of them children.
Originally produced two years ago by the Neo-Futurists at The Neo-Futurarium, this remounting at Theater Wit features the complete original cast, and is once again helmed by director Halena Kays. “Listen,” says Kays, “we wouldn’t come back and do this if this piece and this cast weren’t very special.” And it is indeed special. Written by Jay Torrence (who also performs in it), this semi-historical account features dance, acrobatics, clowning and a surprising amount of comedy. Read the rest of this entry »