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.
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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.
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“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 »
They come without warning, those occasional Non-Equity shows that Broadway In Chicago manages to slip into its lineup. They are usually classics or revivals popular enough to be relatively foolproof. But this time around, a new show is getting the Non-Equity treatment before we have had a chance to experience it at its highest level.
The current national touring production of “Catch Me If You Can” has two strikes going against it: one, as far as can be ascertained under such circumstances, appears to be the property itself. The musical version of Frank Abagnale Jr.’s autobiography and the subsequent Steven Spielberg film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be: a comedy, a love story, a buddy story, a father-son story, cops and robbers, a morality tale, a nostalgia piece. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dennis Polkow
Andrew Lippa, the composer of “Big Fish,” has been very busy readying the show for its pre-Broadway world premiere in Chicago. “‘Big Fish’ is a joyful celebration of life and I think it will deeply move people,” says Lippa. “Not like a tragedy, this is a romance. But I do believe strongly that people will take away that sense of romance, that sense of possibility, that sense of love infused in the piece in the most organic way. That’s my hope.
“I do think we’re heading in that direction. Do I think we’re going to dot every i and cross every t in Chicago? Of course we’re not. We’re here to grow, develop, learn and work and make the best possible show we can. We’ve made fifteen cuts this week alone, whatever seemed to be flagging or had a redundancy. Sometimes we have to add because we’re missing an idea. Chicago is a great theater town that understands that musicals need to be nurtured and developed and loved before you come in the door.”
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The touring version of the Broadway production of the Australian jukebox musical based on the 1994 Australian film has landed at the Auditorium Theatre.
The film “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” had a lot of heart alongside of its outrageousness, which is part of why it became the phenomenon that it did. Despite its mere surface-level subject of drag queens, there was an introspection and dignity emphasized, a search for identity and meaning that is universal, to say nothing of the Australian outback used as a magnificent backdrop.
By contrast and despite lifting several plot devices and key lines from the film, the show version superficially goes for take-no-prisoners camp at every step of the journey that primarily limits it to cult appeal. Read the rest of this entry »
“What the hell is Mike Tyson gonna do up here on stage tonight?”
This is the thought that Tyson attributes to every member of the audience early on in “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.” And from the rowdy reaction of the large collection of fans and other interested parties gathered in the Cadillac Palace Theatre Friday night for the first of a two-night stint in Chicago for this traveling one-man show that has already run on Broadway and in Las Vegas, it seems he knows how to read a crowd.
So, does this show, in fact, consist only of the “undisputed truth?” Well, anything you say is undisputed when you’re speaking into a microphone and there’s no one else on stage to argue with you. And whether everything Tyson says during the course of the evening is undisputable or not is not the point. Undoubtedly former boxer Mitch Green and Tyson’s ex-wife Robin Givens would relish a chance to tell their sides of some particularly juicy stories.
But “Undisputed Truth,” written by Tyson’s wife Kiki Tyson and directed by Spike Lee, is more of a confessional autobiography, a subjective recounting of personal stories in an undisputedly intriguing life, than it is an argument for absolute truth. In fact, the title that Tyson jokingly declares he originally wanted to give the show—“Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits”—may actually be more appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »
Though we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.
Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Photo: Joan Marcus
Growing up next to the only Mormon church in Joliet, I was remarkably ignorant of what the faith represented, knowing only that they were not “true Christians” according to what I’d been taught in confirmation class by my Lutheran pastor. I have only two tangible memories from all these years of proximity: one, that the parking lot would fill up at what seemed like odd times, not necessarily the Sunday morning that filled “normal churches.” The other, was a couple of girls who’d smoke in the farthest corner of the parking lot, which happened to be closest to the driveway where I’d shoot baskets. Somehow I already knew how transgressive these “fallen” Mormons were.
The Mormons I got to know when I went to work at Goldman Sachs right out of school were anything but fallen. The whisper around the office was that the firm’s partners liked to hire them because they were clean-living, hard-working and very procreative. (Family obligations reduced attrition; only a fool would shed the golden handcuffs when he had mortgages and tuition on his plate.) The guys I knew stepped directly out of a “Leave It to Beaver” rerun with their Boy Scout shirts on. I’ll never forget the time that one of them joined us at a boozy sendoff of a graduating trainee and drank a Diet Coke—or at least took a swig—and practically danced on the table afterward.
It’s that breed of Mormon, the scary nice, that “The Book of Mormon” sends up so deliciously in a portrayal that seems as much about the absurdity of organized religion and the folly of colonialism as an indictment of the LDS. The creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park” fame, along with Robert Lopez, the co-creator of “Avenue Q,” “The Book of Mormon” opened on Broadway in 2011 and instantly became a cultural and box-office juggernaut, winning nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and consistently selling almost two million dollars in tickets each week. This touring version shows signs of similar juggernautery in Chicago, where it just opened a sit-down production at the Bank of America Theatre and has announced a run into next summer with sell-outs through the winter. Read the rest of this entry »
The stage version of author Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel, “War Horse,” was met with mostly yawns and complaints about the show’s length on Tuesday night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, where it opened in an oddly concise three-week run. A widely admired work of flash and heartfelt sentiment on Broadway, this national tour falls far short of its visually inspired original production’s ability to captivate and elicit big emotion from an audience. Now, the show drags along and underwhelms at every not-quite-happy-not-quite-sad lap.
What has changed? For one, it is constricted by a flat proscenium arrangement. The 2011 Tony Award winner for Best Play (originally directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris) enjoyed its adolescence at the National Theatre of Great Britain, a curved thrust stage forcefully jutting out into the audience—the same distinctive set-up of its Broadway home, the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. Director Bijan Sheibani has adjusted the original staging somewhat, but his alterations are limited to unfortunate reductions in scale. “War Horse” simply doesn’t befit a venue-to-venue tour. The herd of horses still trots in faraway circles and the thirty-four-person ensemble is huddled into distant upstage corners. With those inconsiderate restrictions, the show is adequately playing to, perhaps, the first ten rows of the massive 2,344 seat theater. Read the rest of this entry »