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 »
Cross-fertilize Julie Taymor with Rankin and Bass and the result is very much what you get in this live-action version of the famous red-nosed reindeer that actually began life in Chicago as a giveaway storybook for Depression-era kids that visited Santa at Montgomery Ward.
Advertising executive Robert L. May had created the character and story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” back in 1939, but it was his brother-in-law Johnny Marks who would later write the hit song of the same title that Gene Autry would record and made a No. 1 record a decade later.
Marks would go on to write additional songs for the 1964 stop-action animated television special that forms the basis of this co-production of Emerald City Theatre and the Milwaukee-based First Stage that superbly pays homage to every little detail and nuance of that television special. Read the rest of this entry »
The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit
By Zach Freeman
As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.
But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).
We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go… Read the rest of this entry »
Alison Luff and Jenn Gambatese/Photo: Joan Marcus
What is it about Chicago and Oz? Is it because L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” while he was living in Chicago? The Midwest ethos of the characters? In any case, Chicago loves “Wicked” so much that after what was to have been an initial six-week run back in 2005, the show was extended to four-and-a-half years when Broadway In Chicago made the decision to create its own Chicago production to meet ticket demand. And even after that record-breaking run, Chicagoans had still not had enough “Wicked,” so the show had a follow-up holiday run—now being repeated to coincide with the show’s tenth anniversary on Broadway. Those who missed what all of the fuss was about get another chance and those who know and love the show get to spend part of their holidays back in Oz.
Part of what makes “Wicked” work so well is its cross-generational appeal. As “wicked” as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West may be perceived to be, she remains a lady when it comes to her language. The archetype that Elphaba and her friend Galinda—later Glinda the Good Witch of the North—are acting out is a relationship as old as the oldest written mythos on record, the ancient Sumerian “Epic of Gilgamesh,” where Gilgamesh and Enkidu begin as rivals but in their attempts to best one another, develop greater respect and even affection for one another as the best of friends. Together, such friends can do anything: a timeless and wonderful message. Read the rest of this entry »
Stuart Ward and Dani De Waal
Can a man and woman be attracted to one another, have a life-transforming friendship that betters both of them without consummating their relationship? That is the question that “Once” asks, but it does so with a lot of homespun folksy music, like an after-school special set to a hootenanny.
The idea began as an Irish independent film about a Dublin street musician who meets up with a Czech mate who takes interest in his original songs. Boy meets girl, girl likes songs, boy wants girl but has to settle for her piano playing and her singing. His songs plus her input equals boy and girl each find themselves.
It is a sweet story with a great message, but the problem is that only the homespun songs that were used in the film are preserved here, sung and accompanied by the cast itself onstage who are surrounded by instrumentalists who are also characters in the show.
Read the rest of this entry »
Ryan G. Dunkin/ Photo: Hilary Camilleri
By Johnny Oleksinski
“Even if you think you don’t know Buddy Holly’s songs, you probably do,” says actor Ryan G. Dunkin reassuringly. He knows them better than most people. Dunkin plays the role of The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) in the twenty-fifth anniversary tour of “Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story,” which begins in Chicago this week. But beyond that, this tour is the actor’s seventh production of the popular show to date, so he’s been hearing the music of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and friends near-nightly for years.
While he says “touring life can be exhausting,” Dunkin is not tired of it yet—actually quite the contrary. The Big Bopper’s enduring hit, “Chantilly Lace,” which he gets to perform in the show, “is a song everybody knows,” and he says the audience’s enthusiasm for the character and for the entire musical never diminishes from city to city.
Read the rest of this entry »
“You make the world lousy,” says Doc after a group of Jets rapes Anita, girlfriend of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. “That’s the way we found it,” shoots back Riff, a Jet, wiping the sweat off his brow.
If there was ever an endeavor to name the quintessential New York musical, you’d be hard-pressed to crown any other show than “West Side Story,” Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’ Shakespearean love story displaced to a now unrecognizable New York City. I first saw deceased director Laurents’ (also the show’s book writer) revival, currently represented in Chicago by a teetering Non-Equity tour, in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
A two-act playlist of familiar tunes, an average production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” dusts off your great grandad’s old gramophone for a quaint few hours of guilt-free thirties nostalgia: a Splenda cruise ship making not waves on the Atlantic, but jolly-good-time ripples. So, surprised was I to discover that Roundabout Theatre Company’s resplendent touring production manages to be fresh, sexy and modernly sarcastic without sacrificing any of Porter’s treasured lyricism. The opening-night audience, my companion noted, was thoroughly sedated from dinner and drinks as the curtain went up, but after Gabriel blew and Reno got her kicks, they strolled out of the Cadillac Palace Theatre in comedic rapture, cheeks still sore from smiling.
Read the rest of this entry »
Photos: Paul Kolnik
“Part epic tale/ Part fire sale/ But all sincere/ And standing here.” And all true, I might add, of the new musical “Big Fish,” which opened last night at the Oriental Theatre ahead of a Broadway bow in September. Playing Edward Bloom, a husband and father in old age about to die of cancer, Norbert Leo Butz sings the reflective phrase during the musical’s final number, a respectable solo aptly named “How it ends.” Well, in its nascent stage, “Big Fish,” despite some sporadic lucidity in its first act, ends this much better (my arms extend outward to indicate an impossible size) than it begins.
The final fifteen minutes, part fever-dream/part baptism, are undeniably moving; the propulsive coda of composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa’s musical glistens with reverie and contemplation of a life well lived. However, much of the second act and the whole of the first demonstrate why Daniel Wallace’s novel is mostly incompatible for a stage adaptation unless significant deviations (yes, even more significant than here) are made.
Read the rest of this entry »
“Don’t wanna be an American idiot!”
I can commiserate. Since seeing the concert-like show—playing a brief and generally enjoyable touring engagement at the Cadillac Palace Theatre—on Broadway in 2010, I’ve maintained some major qualms with the musical that takes its songs and name from the popular Green Day album. There’s a perceivable condescension in how the creators, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer, resolutely concede to society’s image of those smelly, eye-lining, spiky-haired punk kids, lending their characters not enough common sense to weigh the consequences of major decisions and reducing their personas to ideas and feelings: upset, wanton, life-of-the-party, responsible, etc. Coming-of-age tales are classic stories and fill a necessary theatrical niche, but please, if you’re going to put one on the stage, flesh out your life-and-thrill-seekers. Build them into creatures that supersede obviousness and obliviousness. They don’t really want to be American idiots, right? Read the rest of this entry »