Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Tyrant/Sideshow Theatre Company

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 Clare O'Connor and Andy Lutz/Photo: Jonathan L. Green

Clare O’Connor and Andy Lutz/Photo: Jonathan L. Green

Working in a city like Chicago, especially downtown, the travel to work is filled with the homeless. The man shaking his paper cup, greeting those who get off the train. The woman with the dirt-smudged face, outside of Starbucks holding a sign that reads, “I’m Homeless. Please help.” The ex-vet with the dog, covered in a blanket lying in the fetal position on the corner. Traveling through these people on the trek to work can become downright exhausting. One begins to wonder, seeing the same faces, in the same positions, asking the same questions, holding the same signs, why can’t they just find jobs? Because after all, if you just gave people work the problem of homelessness would be solved, right?

This option is explored in Sideshow Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Kathleen Akerley’s “Tyrant.” Coupled with the two people sitting on stage with their backs facing the audience, the suspenseful music playing as you enter the theater warns that something tragic is ahead. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Summer Series/Hubbard Street Dance

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Jonathan Fredrickson and Ana Lopez rehearsing for "The Impossible"

Jonathan Fredrickson and Ana Lopez in rehearsal for “The Impossible”


Hubbard Street closes out their season on the big screen, with a Friday night simulcast to a forty-foot LED screen in Millennium Park. The free seats may be some of the best ones, allowing you to catch a reprise of Jiri Kylian’s “Falling Angels,” which the company premiered in the winter, and two pieces by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo: “PACOPEPEPLUTO,” a charming, witty work for three soloists set to Dean Martin tunes, and a new piece entitled “The Impossible.” Cerrudo’s new work is a return to narrative choreography; an elderly couple is mirrored by their younger selves and haunted by a ghostly band, lead by a mysterious, menacing, somewhat lecherous puppetmaster. The music is big and suspenseful, edited together (as always) by the choreographer. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Emperor of Atlantis & The Clever One/Chicago Opera Theater

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Andrew Wilkowske and David Govertsen/Photo: Liz Lauren

Andrew Wilkowske and David Govertsen/Photo: Liz Lauren


With a double bill of Viktor Ullmann’s “The Emperor of Atlantis” and Carl Orff’s “The Clever One”—two one-act pieces beautifully matched, with stories revolving around misguided rulers bungling theatrically in the year 1943—Chicago Opera Theater’s director Andreas Mitisek continues to drive the company to explore new directions and dimensions. Ullmann’s opera was penned in the concentration camp of Terezin; a rehearsal heard by the wrong people caused him to be moved to Auschwitz, where it is assumed he died in the gas chamber. Carl Orff, celebrated and living in great comfort in Germany, whether miraculously escaping censure due to political alliances with the Nazis, or sufficiently hiding his resistance work, was given a pass after the war by the American de-nazification authorities. In extraordinarily differing circumstances, these two composers found harmony in their musings about death, life, sufferance, authority and, along with their librettists, either out of interest or necessity, cloaked it all in broad strokes of humor.

Multi-gifted Mitisek, able to pull both directing and conducting out of his basket of tricks, directs the two with ample injections of commedia dell’arte, vaudeville and burlesque. Pantomime, dumb show, mask and puppetry are employed, along with speaking and choral speaking so compositionally integrated that they could have been germane, or have been borrowed by any number of performance traditions. These ample resources do much to lighten the load of an evening that includes the character of Death, imprisoned peasants, and blatantly celebrated misogyny. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Love Me, Tinder/The Public House Theatre

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(l to r) Londen Shannon, Ashley Stein, Jessica Kent, Mike Schiff, Mal Marcus/Photo: Patrick Lothian

Londen Shannon, Ashley Stein, Jessica Kent, Mike Schiff, Mal Marcus/Photo: Patrick Lothian

Looking for love can be a daunting task. With scores of social media and internet dating sites to choose from, most people find it easy to create a profile and start a conversation with someone online. Sometimes, internet-based relationships work out. Sometimes they don’t. But what if Cupid, that little Roman god of love, still existed and he could help make a “perfect match?”

This is the idea behind “Love Me, Tinder,” written and directed by The Public House Theatre’s artistic director, Byron Hatfield. Cupid (Mike Schiff) has turned into a grown man wearing a diaper and fake wings because internet dating sites have destroyed him and his child-like innocence. But one day, the dating site Tinder starts creating perfect matches by accident. Cupid becomes aware of this when the lovelorn Stephen (Londen Shannon) creates a Tinder profile and the first person he sees is Jen (Ashley Stein) and he immediately becomes smitten. Cupid, however, swipes her profile to the left, which blocks them from making a connection. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Piano Diaries/Salt Muse, Inc.

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Peter Photo 1

Peter Saltzman

When it comes to piano cabaret, I’m spoiled; I’ve attended the last several years of Justin Hayford’s informative, charming cabaret series at Davenport’s. Hayford’s a compelling storyteller and his detailed, scholarly approach to single-artist biography leaves no audience member behind.

Peter Saltzman could take a page from Hayford’s book. Saltzman, a successful composer and pianist, fails to use the creative options the theater offers to bring his “Piano Diaries” blog to the stage. His book makes assumptions it shouldn’t; the average theatergoer doesn’t know Bach’s contribution to composing, or how the work of Stevie Wonder and Sting compare. Nor do they care; it’s Saltzman’s job to make them care and his narrative isn’t gripping enough. He’s a talented piano player, sure; but technical proficiency isn’t enough to make his story watchable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Love Tapes/The Inconvenience

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TVs are ugly and cold and the stage is full of them—the tube type to be specific, positioned where a VJ would want them and rigged as needed. The title treatment on the program is uber-metal and the pre-show atmosphere among the audience is like a bar or club. Finally, as with a particular sort of good night out, there’s a celebratory climax. Such is the skeleton of The Inconvenience’s production; the flesh follows. And, yes, there is flesh.

The precise set design evokes backstage at a rock show as pictured on the cover of a VHS tape. The stated locations shift, and roadies work between scenes to move pieces in and out. Near the end of a blaring stretch of introductory propulsive metal, the TVs get signal and reveal the angular vector logo of massive eighties heavy metal band Umlaut. With all those glowing, eye-grabbing screens, stage space for a human must be staked out and claimed commandingly. Possessing the requisite energy and an inviting but disturbing conviction in her obsessive fan tactics, Mary Williamson’s Melinda won’t surrender the audience’s attention to a screen unless she’s on it. And quickly on-screen she is, via a camcorder in the hand of an audience participant cast in the role of hapless ex. And as quickly, she owns the screen space too. At times the staging forces you to choose between watching the actress in person or on-screen, imposing the personal (live theater; love letters) into the impersonal space of television. Other viewing angles allow you both perspectives simultaneously. The audience-patsy-turned-former-lover has been enlisted to shoot Melinda’s sloppily intimate, revealing, inebriated, debatably-unhinged video love letter to Umlaut guitarist Kevin. About the first half of “Love Tapes” functions as a one-woman show for Williamson and she immediately wins over the eagerly willing audience, getting laughs with nearly every line in her opening minutes though none are even punchlines. What originally seems like a club crowd begins to sound like a laugh track. This entire first segment works as setup for the laughably desperate yet still captivating and fun bare-all hula-hoop striptease in which it culminates as Melinda’s all-out attempt to convince her rock idol to actually contact her. Read the rest of this entry »

Scores Galore: The New Chicago Musical Theatre Festival Features Eight World Premieres Over Two Weeks

Festivals, Profiles, Theater 3 Comments »


By Aaron Hunt

“Many mumbling mice, Are making merry music in the moonlight, Mighty nice,” sing six fresh-faced, eager-eyed young performers in unison, up the scale and then back down. David Kornfeld, musical director of “Mr. Munch has a Murmur,” is leading vocal warm-ups from behind a portable keyboard, snuggled away in The Mountain Room of Bubbles Academy, a childhood learning center in Lincoln Park, the walls painted with deer drinking from pools of water, porcupines, a campfire and tents, and a gargantuan bumblebee in front of the frosty-grey mountains.

Cast members have gathered with guitars, a ukulele, an autoharp and a swarm of highlighted, marked and re-marked pages of music and lyrics to rehearse the story of a country-music singer and his might-be girlfriend on vacation in New York City. L.C. Bernadine, who adapted the book from a short story by Mark Sanders, passes out some new lyrics, and cast and crew have a relaxed chat about how the new words will fall on the audience’s ears, and the potential to enunciate them at the required speed. We learn a lot about this entry in Underscore Theatre Company’s Chicago Musical Theatre Festival listening to the cast sing the song in question, “Keep Walkin’.” Lyrics such as “If you want to live to talk about New York someday… speed it up… move along… keep walkin’,” suggest the collision of two unique worlds. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Days Like Today/Writers Theatre

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Photo: Michael Brosilow

Photo: Michael Brosilow


Laura Eason, book writer of Writers Theatre’s new world premiere musical “Days Like Today,” says of playwright Charles L. Mee’s work, from which “Days” borrows and burnishes, “It is epic and expansive and messy and highly theatrical and deeply thoughtful.” Composer and lyricist Alan Schmuckler writes, “It felt to me that music would make manifest the interior lives of (his) characters, as they experienced moments of love and loss that I recognized from my own life. Music felt like a good fit. That was the start.”

And indeed it was. Schmuckler’s musical based on Mee’s work was given a reading which Writers artistic director Michael Halberstam attended; Halberstam invited Schmuckler to work further on the piece with Writers, and Halberstam brought Eason on board to write the book. Staged readings and workshops, refocusing, a new book, new music, and something altogether other, and yet explorative of a direction in which the lyric theater is now traveling, was born. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: One Hit Wonders/Black Ensemble Theater

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Ereatha McCullough and Lyle Miller/Photo: Daniel Nicholas

Ereatha McCullough and Lyle Miller/Photo: Daniel Nicholas

The essence of pop music is that it demands nothing of us at all. It just reminds us of what every other pop song has already told us, permeating the airwaves and synapses with the honeyed propaganda of romantic codependency. Designed for three-minute doses administered to an audience busy doing other things, pop’s banality can turn into something surprisingly close to evil when experienced as a captive listener over the course of two-plus hours.

Such is Black Ensemble Theater’s premiere production of “One Hit Wonders.” For those who long to hear a rare live rendition of flash-in-the-pan novelty items like “Ring My Bell,” “It’s Raining Men” and “Da Butt,” this is their show. Those who have moved on in their lives post-disco may find themselves baffled by the mismatch on display here between impressive talent and pedestrian material. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Juke Cry Hand Clap/Honey Pot Performance

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Nothing says summer quite like a good old-fashioned sweaty dance party. And when it comes to dance music, the roots of Chicago house run deep, building bridges across culture and time. Such is the inspiration for “Juke Cry Hand Clap,” a “love letter to the Chicago House scene” and work-in-progress by Honey Pot Performance. This preview will be showing May 23 and 24 as part of the Chicago Home Theater Festival. The full performance will take place in October at High Concept Laboratories.

The upcoming performance—a mixture of dance, poetic text and music provided by DJ Jo de Presser—seeks to recreate the vibe of an impromptu house dance party. It is a joyful, soulful celebration: a statement of the basic human need for expression through movement and sound. This is a scrapbook of memories collected through the ages in the various stages of evolution of house music. The group has been hosting monthly dance parties where participants can document their memories and experiences—the venues, the fashions, the DJs, the music. Material will be collected in a digital map and be available online. Read the rest of this entry »