Photo: Matthew Murphy
Seven Grammys. Over 100 million albums sold worldwide. A true-life story that so many can relate to in its triumph and tragedy. That’s the life of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and their incredible rise to fame, brilliantly captured in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” now in its pre-Broadway world premiere here in Chicago.
From stunning costumes (designed by Emilio Sosa—who also did the costumes for “Motown: The Musical”), gorgeous sets, a phenomenal cast, a solid book and, of course, some really great music, this show is absolutely worthy of a Broadway stage.
The show begins as a show like this should—making the audience feel like they are at a concert. A full band is live on stage, colorful lights fill the room and, if you’re sitting close to the stage, you feel the beat of the drums in your chest as the hit “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” begins to play. Read the rest of this entry »
Alex Nee and Dani de Waal
Back in 2007, the film “Once” struck a chord with anyone who’d ever witnessed a mysterious, brooding stranger leave it all on stage at a small-town open-mic night. Likely it resonated even more intensely with legions of struggling musicians hoping for even minor success. Separated from the tide of performance-centric musicals—from “Drumline” to “Pitch Perfect”—by its micro-budget, personable songwriting and DIY ethos, “Once” is certainly one of the least-engineered success stories of the last ten years. The first national tour of the Tony Award-winning adaptation allows this endearing story of love, consequence and music to be seen as it should be: live on stage.
Retaining much of the original music and lyrics written by the stars of the film (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová), the stage version of “Once” benefits tremendously from its cast of multi-talented performers. The romance between Alex Nee (filling in for Stuart Ward as Guy) and Dani de Waal (Girl) is natural, even if the suspiciously handsome and clean cut Nee does have to work a little harder than Hansard to prove that he’s the wistful nice guy we want him to be. Enda Walsh’s addition of a trio of Czech roommates succeeds in capturing the multicultural landscape of Ireland though it skirts any kind of politicizing. In fact, as one might expect, the greatest conflict arises between two hot-blooded Dubliners. The larger cast draws the story into wider focus and adds depth to the music, which is truly the main event. Read the rest of this entry »
Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra/Photo: Bruce Glikas
By Dennis Polkow
Gloria Estefan has made an international career out of singing and dancing, the very essence of what happens in a Broadway musical. As such, it might seem she would be a natural to play herself in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” which is having its pre-Broadway world premiere performances in Chicago.
“I’m too old,” Estefan admits. “The span of time is me between seventeen and thirty-two, which is the age I was when I had my accident and broke my back and they said I would probably never walk again, let alone perform.
“And it’s kind of weird to play yourself. You know, it’s funny, my daughter is an amazing singer and she’s at Berklee College of Music and is just stepping out. Everybody is saying ‘Oh my God, she should play you,’ because she’s like my clone, this little girl. Ridiculous pipes, she plays every instrument, she’s an amazing drummer, so musical. Her reaction was, ‘Mom, I’d have to kiss Dad!’ She’s not in the play as a character because she didn’t exist at the time that we’re covering in the play. But it’s fantastic to me that she co-wrote an original tune that’s a pivotal scene in the play that is very emotional.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Joan Marcus
Magic is tricky (eh?). If it’s not your genre of choice it could be difficult to summon the proper enthusiasm to enjoy yourself. This particular show opens with a montage demonstrating each performer’s special skill. I needed something to get me interested and this montage proved to be more than ample. I muttered “holy shit” in earnest at least twice, once when a full-size train car appeared on stage.
Part of the fun is not knowing what happens next, so I’ll limit the spoilers and focus on the moments you can probably search for on YouTube. Adam Trent, “The Futurist,” opens the show with a few simple tricks that don’t inspire awe until an effect where he focuses a camera on an old man in the crowd, walks over to the old man, zooms on the old man, only to have the old man rip off his old man mask and MAGIC! It’s Adam Trent. Baffling. Jeff “the Trickster” Hobson serves as the de facto host for the evening’s events. He introduces a number of the other illusionists, each with their own accolades. Many are award winners, headlined by Yu Ho-Jin, “The Manipulator” and reigning Magician of the Year, who turns the simple use of cards into a mesmerizing display of legerdemain that leaves the audience totally enraptured. Read the rest of this entry »
Opening night for pre-Broadway shows in Chicago can be fun. The excitement both real (will this be the next “The Producers” or “Kinky Boots”?) and manufactured (red carpets, Klieg lights and TV crews breathlessly interviewing the handful of celebrities and “celebrities” who show up), coupled with a house packed with producers and their enthusiastic friends not only heightens expectations but gives a sense for the personal efforts that such undertakings represent, both creative and financial. At the opening night for “First Wives Club,” the lead producers grabbed a mike at the curtain call and, after pointing out celebrity guests like onetime hit makers Holland, Dozier and Holland (who wrote music and lyrics for this show), along with former TV royalty Linda Bloodworth Thomason (who wrote the book), gave shoutouts to several of the investors in the room, in recognition of the long journey and huge investment a show like this represents. Read the rest of this entry »
The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.
Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)
Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb
All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »
Artist’s rendering of the Uptown Underground Grand Promenade
By Raymond Rehayem
I am even less qualified to build a stage, rig lighting, or put up drywall than I am to put on some pasties and do burlesque. Actually I might look strangely alluring in the aforementioned nipple patches installing one of the Uptown Underground’s lovely chandeliers, but my point is when I recently toured the venue I couldn’t visualize how wonderful it will look for its nearly sold-out New Year’s Eve opening night. It was still under construction. Luckily Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s Chris O. Biddle and Jenn A. Kincaid, the pair behind this new 7,000-square-foot theater, were there to fill in the gaps in my imagination.
In the basement of architect Walter W. Ahlschlager’s 1926 Uptown Broadway Building, the cabaret arts mecca that the Kiss Kiss founders envision will occupy a space which—per neighborhood lore—once housed a speakeasy. The building’s ornate exterior immediately evokes the era.
While scouting locations, Biddle couldn’t believe the fortuitous availability of this historic edifice. “I knew the address,” he explains, “and I thought ‘surely it isn’t that big caramel wedding cake.’ And it is. It’s this beautiful baroque style.”
Like many cakes, the lowest level is the widest. There are columns on either side of what Biddle describes as the “grand promenade,” the western side actually extending under Broadway’s sidewalk. Passage between these columns will take you beyond the elevated main stage, past a wall of retro amusements such as vertical pinball machines, art deco claw machines, and a fortune-telling machine, to a more intimate secondary performance space. With the main stage seating 150, the secondary stage seating fifty to sixty, and multiple dressing rooms to facilitate the overlapping of performers, the entertainment need never stall. In what’s being dubbed the Moon Room of the Starlight Lounge, a gal will sip martinis perched on a six-foot-high crescent moon acquired from a Twin Cities production of “Mame.” Read the rest of this entry »
It’s easy to go into “Newsies” at the Oriental Theatre with a cocked eyebrow and a cynical smirk. The show, like the nineties movie it’s adapted from, is so utterly sincere in its intentions and its execution that you can’t help but laugh on occasion. When streetwise young toughs are crying for worker’s rights one minute and then turning a triple pirouette the next, it’s objectively pretty funny. However it is that sincerity and guilelessness that carries “Newsies” right into your heart. Pirouettes are awesome. So are topnotch Alan Menken tunes. To pretend like they aren’t is just as silly as most of the stuff that happens in this show.
For people who aren’t in the business of Christian Bale deep cuts, “Newsies” is your basic underdog story. It follows the travails of Jack Kelly (Dan DeLuca), a turn-of-the-century newsboy roustabout who leads the rest of his newsboy cohorts in an organized strike against the rate hikes instituted by Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard). In adapting the story for the stage, Harvey Fierstein has added in an intrepid reporter/love interest for Kelly, Katherine Plumber (Stephanie Styles). The characters are mostly drawn with broad, obvious strokes. For instance, there is one newsboy, Kelly’s sidekick (Zachary Sayle), who goes about on a crutch. This is far and away his defining attribute. In fact, lest we forget, his name is literally “Crutchie.” Read the rest of this entry »
What happens when four guys from failed bands join together, make a deal with the devil and pledge their souls to Satan in order to find fame and fortune? When it takes place in a show entitled “Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale,” it’s safe to guess that the result will be something a little… twisted, perhaps. Directed by Adam John Hunter, who also staged the national tours of “Sweeney Todd” and “Rock of Ages,” this world premiere is a family-friendly Christmas rockfest.
Hunter steering this production makes sense considering that the content of this show is so reminiscent of the latter (which also features songs by Twisted Sister) that, in fact, one could almost call this a “Rock of Ages” holiday sequel. While both shows feature a narrator, in “Rock & Roll Christmas Tale,” none other than Dee Snider himself takes on the role of spot-lit storyteller. While his name may be in the title, Snider’s monologues can get a bit lengthy, and often feel unnecessary, as the cast does an excellent job of delivering the funny and clever dialogue of the book. However, what ultimately sets the two shows apart is also the thing that ties them together: the music. “Rock of Ages” has more than twenty songs in its performance. Here there are thirteen, most of which are Twisted Sister songs or mash-ups of the hair-metal-band’s rock anthems with well-known Christmas songs. (Twisted Sister released a Christmas album, aptly titled “A Twisted Christmas” in 2006, making the originality of the mash-ups slightly less impressive.) Read the rest of this entry »
In the heart of Times Square there is a building called the TKTS Discount Booth; same-day tickets to Broadway shows can be purchased there at discounted prices. The queue of audience hopefuls is always many customers deep, and to speed along the process, employees move through the throngs answering questions about shows, locations, prices and where you can get the best pizza slice within walking distance. In my experience, the majority of the patrons are of the female persuasion, and hands-down the most frequently asked question is, “Which show is my boyfriend/fiancé/husband most likely to enjoy?” Beginning September 29, the answer to that question will be “The Last Ship.”
The show’s Tony Award-winning artistic pedigree doesn’t disappoint: John Logan’s book is poignant and funny and honest, frequently all at once, and the unflappable Joe Mantello brings his particular blend of heart and intellect to the direction. But it is the singular stamp of Grammy Award-winner Sting that permeates every moment of the production. Composer/lyricist of the mostly sung piece, Sting makes it easy to forget that this will be his Broadway debut. One of the measures of the most talented and seasoned creators of both music and lyrics for the stage is that while the songs and musical moments for a particular show are as varied as the story’s characters and situations, the score remains cohesive unto itself. To come out of the gate with such sweeping understanding of and dexterity for the form is past refreshing; even for an artist of Sting’s stature, it is astonishing. Read the rest of this entry »