Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Assistance/LiveWire Chicago Theatre

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Insufferable people working unenviable positions for an inexcusable tyrant, the characters in “Assistance” are close cousins to put-upon office workers nationwide. Indeed, I’ve worked the sort of job this satire skewers. As in my professional experience, it’s not the material that’s most interesting but the pace and the performers that carry the day.

Following the promotion of the repellent Vince (John Taflan), assistant Nick (Brian Crawford) is left with the new girl Nora (Lauren Fisher) to toil for some unseen executive megalomaniac. This pair perform office tasks with an uneasy blend of disdain and desperation in an ever-escalating climate of fear and fealty until Jenny (Hilary Williams)—a Brit with an opportunistic fortitude—arrives and demonstrates at least one lower-rung participant in this organization is wise enough to game their hectic and abusive work environment to her potential benefit. References to leprosy fundraisers and other charity events hint their monstrous offstage boss may be some legendary philanthropist; the W logo on the door, this unseen president’s name—Daniel Weisinger—and the specific Hollywood pedigree of playwright Leslye Headland suggest the specific target is contemporary Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler/Hamburg Ballet at Harris Theater

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The creation of life, death and grieving, pure beauty, perfect love—these were the bold colors on John Neumeier’s palate when he made the strokes for his monumental, abstract masterpiece, set to Mahler’s Third Symphony. Neumeier’s magnum opus, choreographed in 1975, is a massive, ambitious work set to the entirety of Mahler’s score: six movements that invite the viewer into an unadorned, dreamlike landscape of archetypes, pure feeling and dreams. The Third Symphony is an emotionally driven ballet—sometimes to a fault—but the unflagging sincerity of the choreography and the dancers performing it (Neumeier, a Milwaukee native, has been the primary choreographer for the Hamburg Ballet for decades) make moments that could feel maudlin in the hands of another into the hallmarks of genius. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Oregon Tail Burlesque: You Have Died of Sexy/Gorilla Tango Burlesque

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Photo: Braden Nesin

Photo: Braden Nesin

One of the earliest educational video games—“The Oregon Trail”—crosses paths with one of the earliest forms of entertainment—nearly naked ladies shaking it—in Gorilla Tango Burlesque’s latest collision of geek culture and burlesque. An enjoyable show and possibly a wish fulfilled for gaming nostalgists, “The Oregon Tail Burlesque: You Have Died of Sexy” may be about the most unlikely such mash-up you’re going to see—and it has a lot of potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Magical Exploding Boy and the Invisible Circus/The Actors Gymnasium

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Simone Lazar/Photo: Cole

Simone Lazar/Photo: Cole Simon


The circus has come to Evanston. Actually, it never left; The Actors Gymnasium has been teaching the circus arts in Evanston for almost twenty years.  Their latest endeavor, “The Magical Exploding Boy,” is more a showcase of the professional and emerging talents making up the Actors Gymnasium (the program credits five professional artists and four times as many students) than an actual play.

The very loose plot here centers on Dean Evans (a veteran clown who has performed his art extensively in Chicago and New York City) trying (and failing) to make it in the corporate world. Evans, performing mostly as a mime and without makeup, is very amusing in his drift downward. His everyman looks and surprisingly subtle facial expressions go a long way in emphasizing the absurd. Will Howard plays the strong man who, literally, lifts Evans up from time to time. The two of them play well off one another and coax many laughs out of little more than just being on stage together. Tying things together somewhat is the wise, hobo clown Lindsey Noel Whiting who, armed with a ukulele, sings quirky, original songs that drive the production forward. The story still does not always make sense, but to paraphrase one of the songs, the plot points don’t always have to add up. This is a circus act after all; it only has to entertain. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Amadeus/BoHo Theatre

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Steve O'Connell as Salieri 2Half of the genius of talent is an artist’s ability to get others to support his work. Despite his stunning musical ability, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart failed to cultivate patrons who could support his profligate lifestyle. Mozart’s unsuccessful business acumen led to a burial in a pauper’s grave.

Peter Shaffer’s fictionalized account of Mozart’s relationship with Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri posits that music is the easy part; negotiating the political mine field of art is hard. BoHo’s production is fun and frothy but can’t effectively capture the frustration and pain of an artist’s life. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Queenie Pie/Chicago Opera Theater

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Karen Marie Richardson/Photo: Liz Lauren

Karen Marie Richardson/Photo: Liz Lauren


Walking through the cinderblock, cement and steel pipes of the parking structure and into the stark modern lobby of The Harris Theater at Millennium Park, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I wasn’t at my Daddy’s Opera House. Chicago Opera Theater opened its fortieth Anniversary Season, serving the greater community as both an addition and an answer to our famed Lyric Opera of Chicago, with a production of “Queenie Pie,” jazz-great Duke Ellington’s unfinished, flawed, but compelling “street opera.” Calling their 2014 season “Illusions and Delusions,” COT continues to exhibit its ambition to bring both a new audience to opera, and to present an alternative to Chicago’s already established opera-loving constituency, by offering a season completely devoid of any of the standard operatic repertoire. Past attempts to mix both expected and unexpected fare notwithstanding, general director Andreas Mitisek, who began his steerage of COT in June 2012, appears determined to sail into new and under-examined compositional waters. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: B-Real/Dance Center of Columbia College

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Photo courtesy Michel Cavalca

Photo: Michel Cavalca


The end of February heats up in the South Loop with two weeks of hip-hop performances, workshops, battles and discussions hosted by the Dance Center of Columbia College. The week of the seventeenth features a panel discussion on masculinity in B-boy culture, an all-day symposium on the history of Chicago House music, breaking and old school workshops, a breaking battle and an MC battle, all leading up to two weekends of performances by visiting artists. February 20-22, France’s Compagnie Kafig presents two pieces created for a cast of young male dancers from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; “Agwa,” in which plastic cups of water become tools for playful acrobatics, and “Correria,” a witty study of running that tricks the eye while eliciting smiles of delight. The following weekend, Raphael Xavier visits from Philadelphia with his reflection on three decades of breaking entitled “The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance,” an evening-length work that uses a blend of dance, storytelling and rhymes to relate one man’s creative evolution. Like hip-hop? This is the month to see it, hear it, do it. (Sharon Hoyer)

Compagnie Kafig performs February 20-22 at 8pm. Raphael Xavier performs February 27-March 1 at 8pm. $26-$30. Both performances at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan, (312)369-8330. Full schedule of events at

Review: Gypsy/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Louise Pitre and Jessica Rush/Photo: Liz Lauren


This production of “Gypsy,” now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, begins gorgeously before the first note, at the silent sight of the ornate gilded frame of a stage that promises showbiz is about to happen. Then, boom, it does. The production’s big brassy crackerjack orchestra delivers “Gypsy’”s spectacular overture.  It would be a fine concert piece in itself, if it did not tease the musical’s rich set of great, now standard, Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim tunes.  Like the kids in the show who are ordered to “Sing Out!” by Madame Rose, the tiger-stage-mother who commands them, this production commits.  This must be one of the best-looking, best-acted and best instrumental stagings of “Gypsy” ever.

The show famously recounts the teen years of Louise, the future Gypsy Rose Lee, as her family, headed by the domineering Rose, travels the 1920s Vaudeville circuit. They’re a kitschy young children’s act composed of aging kids. The show revolves mainly around Rose and how her two daughters and loyal lover deal with, and ultimately reject her machinations. At first, the kids are played by real children. Small Emily Leahy as Louise’s headlining sister Baby June is a singing, tapping baton-twirling wonder. Caroline Heffernan as the young Louise/future Gypsy movingly conveys how being a normal, shy, smart child estranged her from her mother yearning for the family’s stardom. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 4PLAY sex in a series/The Den Theatre

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(L to R) Cyra K. Polizzi, Rosa SanMarci, Erin O’Brien/Photo: Jason M. Hammond

Cyra K. Polizzi, Rosa SanMarci, Erin O’Brien/Photo: Jason M. Hammond


Billed as a play “told in a sitcom format” and split into four episodes/acts, “4PLAY sex in a series” thwarts formal expectations more than most sitcoms. The action, dialogue and staging are driven by the intersecting of societal and personal lines—between work and pleasure, gay and straight, science and sport and seduction, friendship and romance, art and life—and build impressively to a rewarding climax.

The script, co-written by cast members Graham Brown (who also directs), Nathan Faudree and Lisa Roth states the central notion of personal entanglement with a brief nod to quantum mechanics during an early interaction between one of the three pairs of lovers central to the play. The Infield Fly Rule, William Shakespeare and Cole Porter all come into play as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dead Broads Yapping/The Public House Theatre

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dead broads yapping picRECOMMENDED

I would never wish ill upon great women of history Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart and America’s beloved Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Nonetheless, I am glad they all died so I could enjoy their comedic gifts as presented from beyond the grave in “Dead Broads Yapping.”

Staged as a talk show from the afterlife, the evening’s hour provides the talented trio of Courtney Crary (the martyr), Caroline Nash (the aviatrix) and Marie Maloney (the First Lady) in a setting, à la “The View,” in which to dish and riff on current events and historical happenings as well as chat it up with other legends.

The show’s “producer” and our twenty-sixth president Theodore Roosevelt introduces the ladies and interjects throughout with frequently ribald asides. Taking breaks from the winning interplay between them, Teddy and the three Dead Broads each get a solo segment. The most successful of these, featuring fashion commentary from Jackie, uncoincidentally mirrors most closely the known interests and personality of the deceased dame it spotlights. Read the rest of this entry »