Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Don Chipotle/terraNOVA Collective and The Playground Theater

Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
(left to right) Karen Rodriguez, Angelica Roque and Isabel Quintero/Photo: Joel Maisonet

(l to r) Karen Rodriguez, Angelica Roque and Isabel Quintero/Photo: Joel Maisonet

In the world premiere of Juan Francisco Villa’s “Don Chipotle” it’s difficult to distinguish between the real and the fantastical. And while that may work for Cervantes in “Don Quixote,” it is mostly bewildering in this production. The circumstances surrounding eleven year-old Celestino, who (thanks to Angelica Roque’s theatrical chops) slips comically in and out of his alter-ego Don Chipotle, are a little too horrible to be subjected to the episodic parodies that ensue.

Through an overwhelming use of multi-media (think: children’s choir, video/animation art, rap/musical numbers, xylophone…) we witness Celestino/Don Chipotle come to terms with the fact that his uncles are gangsters, that he has been deceived throughout his childhood about the bloody acts that keep his family afloat. Celestino’s discovery of a couple of bricks of cocaine in his mailbox kicks off his knightly adventures as he runs away to hide the contraband. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: October Sky/Marriott Theatre

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Cast of October Sky 1

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

RECOMMENDED

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: Assassination Theater: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century/The Museum of Broadcast Communications

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Ryan Kitley, Mark Ulrich and Michael Joseph Mitchell/Photo: Michael Brosilow.

Ryan Kitley, Mark Ulrich and Michael Joseph Mitchell/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Back in my college days, I attended a sizable number of history and political science lectures as a theater and poli-sci double major. I would have been thrilled if any of those lectures had been half as engaging as Hillel Levin’s “Assassination Theater: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century.” This production, dubbed “A Theatrical Investigation,” is a prime example of how to make the presentation of a lot of information interesting and attention-grabbing. That being said, it is not a good piece of theater.

The production, helmed by Kevin Christopher Fox, puts forth a pretty convincing argument that the work’s author, Hillel Levin (portrayed on the stage by actor Michael Joseph Mitchell), has tied Chicago’s Outfit to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (as well as the later assassination of his brother Robert F. Kennedy). The argument is solid. The materials are well presented and supported. Were I a political science professor giving a grade to this senior thesis, I would give it an A. 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

RECOMMENDED

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: We Gotta Bingo/Chicago Theater Works

Comedy, New Companies, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Photo: Dan Rest

Photo: Dan Rest

With the rowdy interactive dinner theater show “We Gotta Bingo,” Chicago Theater Works throws itself into the Belmont theater district with gusto, launching a new space (near Stage 773 and Theater Wit) and a new show in that space at the same time. The space is charmingly retro and worn in, done up for “Bingo” as German brewpub “Der Brew-Ha-Ha,” a fictional venue not unlike Lincoln Square’s Chicago Brauhaus. As you enter to grab your table for the evening, a polka band is churning out pop covers and a menagerie of overly exuberant caricatures are making the rounds glad-handing their hearts out. As one cast member-in-character informed me: “There’s a lot going on!!!” 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: 15 BREATHS/About Face Youth Theatre

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 (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 »

Review: Whatever/the side project

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
(L to R) Aaron Lockman and Grace Melon/Photo: Scott Dray

Aaron Lockman and Grace Melon/Photo: Scott Dray

RECOMMENDED

Given that its first scene contains a teenage girl scheduling an abortion and then her boyfriend showing her a gun—one that might as well come with a giant neon “Chekhov” sign blaring above it—this play is a quiet one. But it’s not a settled quiet, not the calm of a mid-summer afternoon nap on the veranda. It’s the proverbial calm right before the Category 4 storm. Written by Chicago playwright Robert Tenges and directed by Adam Webster, “Whatever” is one long 100-minute drop in barometric pressure.

The play, which not only takes its name from stewing teenage surliness but its attitude as well, centers on two single-parent families and their struggles traversing the spiritual wastelands of suburban Chicago. Chloe (Grace Melon), the girl scheduling the abortion, enjoys an icy detente with her emotionally constipated father Henry (Josh Odor) while waging open war on his newish girlfriend Rachel (Kirsten D’Aurelio). The boyfriend with the gun, Declan (Aaron Lockman) loves Chloe very much, but he’s disturbed, quite medicated and proving maybe too heavy a burden for his mother (Shawna Tucker) to raise by herself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival/Underscore Theatre Company

Festivals, Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
HowToRunForMayor-3

Molly Parchment, Ryan Semmelmayer, Paola Sanchez Abreu, Brian Healy, Rachael Smith and Mike Foster/Photo: Braden Nesin

How To Run For Mayor

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival provides an important birthing-space for Chicago-connected, nascent musical theater to access our city’s storefront-ethos, where new plays are frequently produced and honed. Despite the temptation to praise the sheer effort of the production team, adding music to words, vice-versa, or in combination, and of the performers to stretch themselves by quickly learning new material, and reworking it in a workshop situation, it is incumbent upon the reviewer to present a significant opinion of the offerings and their champions, in service to all involved. In the case of “How To Run For Mayor,” playwright Gilbert Tanner and composer/lyricist Aaron Aptaker (who also directs) enjoy this opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Moby Dick/Lookingglass Theatre Company

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere 1 Comment »
Christopher Donahue, Raymond Fox, Jamie Abelson (background)

Christopher Donahue, Raymond Fox, Jamie Abelson (background)

RECOMMENDED

“Moby Dick” is the leviathan of American literature, diving deeper than any other work into the mysteries of human nature and destiny. Shakespearean in scope, biblical in flavor, Herman Melville’s nineteenth-century novel most memorably gave us the one-legged, lightning-scarred figure of Captain Ahab, whose mad quest for the white whale that “dismasted” him turns the voyage of the Pequod into a Jim Jones-style death cult.

Director-adapter David Catlin, fresh from his spectacular “Lookingglass Alice,” shows he is as comfortable with the sublime as the whimsical, crafting a gripping version of the novel that captures both its epic scale and sharp characterizations. In association with The Actors Gymnasium, Catlin and company have created a kinetic, circus-like theater space that engulfs the audience and makes Melville’s watery world come alive. Set, lighting and sound designers Courtney O’Neill, William C. Kirkham and Rick Sims deserve an ovation for their depiction of the sea’s moods, from tropical languor to typhoons that mirror Ahab’s inner turmoil. Read the rest of this entry »

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