A memorable mid-century musicale

Cast of Lerner and Loewe. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Cast of Lerner and Loewe. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

Music Theater Works presents the clever lyrics and memorable mid-century melodies of Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe in “Lerner and Loewe’s Greatest Hits” at Evanston’s Nichols Concert Hall.

Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller with musical director Linda Madonia the show is an enjoyable trip down memory lane. It starts in the Highlands of Scotland, goes over the bumpy trails of the American West then travels through the streets of London, the salons of Paris and ends up in the woods and palaces of historic old England.

This cabaret style performance begins with the ensemble of Samantha Behen, Alicia Berneche, Billy Dawson and Martin L. Woods harmonizing to the theme from the far off sleepy village of “Brigadoon” which rising from the Scottish mist, awakens once every one hundred years.

Songs include “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” featuring tenor Dawson, “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Heather on the Hill.”

Part one continues before a fifteen minute intermission with selections from the Western themed “Paint Your Wagon” with Woods’ powerful baritone rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria” and an ensemble version of “Wand’rin’ Star.”

The production continues in Part Two with perhaps Lerner and Loewe’s most successful musical, “My Fair Lady,” in which virtually every song was a hit.

The audience enjoyed hearing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” and the insomniac favorite “I Could Have Danced All Night” belted out by the soprano, Berneche.

The story of  “Gigi” deals with love and romance in a most Parisian way and includes a nod to mature romance in songs like “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” and  “I Remember it Well,” charmingly performed by Berneche and Woods.

He opens the final segment with Lancelot’s self-aggrandizing “C’est Moi” from “Camelot” that tells the story of a brief and shining moment from the legendary court of Arthur.

Behan as the ingénue gets a few slightly bawdy moments in “Lusty Month of May” before the emotional “Camelot” Finale Ultimo which I am certain brought the majority of this audience back to memories of a hopeful time in 1960 when the show premiered.

The singers are accompanied by Madonia (piano), Nina Saito (violin), Joseph Krzysiak (bass), and Joey Zymonas (drums).

Music Theater Works will end the 2019 season with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opening Dec. 21, 2019.”

The company’s Founder/General Manager Bridget McDonough and Artistic Director Hogenmiller are retiring on New Year’s Eve this year. Hogenmiller has personally told me he intends to travel and relax.

Incoming Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan assumes management of MTW on Jan. 1, 2020 when the new season will include “Mamma Mia!,” “Ragtime” and “Billy Elliot.”

DETAILS: “Lerner and Loewe’s Greatest Hits” is at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL through Oct. 13, 2019. Running time: about 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and information call (847) 920-5360 or visit musictheaterworks.

Reno Lovison

Related: Top Leadership at Music Theater Works talk about the company they helmed and their retirement

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Chicago revolution never materializes

 

L-R: Brandon Janssen, Jesus Nunez, Peyton Smith, Danielle Fraser, Loki D. Wolf. (Photo provided by Revolution Chicago)
L-R: Brandon Janssen, Jesus Nunez, Peyton Smith, Danielle Fraser, Loki D. Wolf. (Photo provided by Revolution Chicago)

1 star

The show is poorly conceived and executed.

It purports to tell the story of the rise of “House Music” but does not deliver what it promises.

DETAILS: “Revolution Chicago” is at Stage 773 through Sept. 29, 2019. For information call (773) 327-5252 or visit revolutionchi.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A delicate performance with a powerful message

‘The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon’

 

Rebeca Aleman and Ramon Camin in Delicate Tears. (Photo by Stephanie Rodriguez)
Rebeca Aleman and Ramon Camin in Delicate Tears. (Photo by Stephanie Rodriguez)

4 stars

Paulina finds herself barely able to speak after three months in a coma, being cared for by her good friend and co-worker, Rodrigo.

Over time she begins to recover her memory, revealing her former life and the events that have brought her to this point.

She and Rodrigo are journalists in Venezuela where her search for truth and her advocacy for justice have resulted in tragedy and a total upheaval of her life.

The action centers around Paulina’s recuperation but through her recollections we are slowly and systematically exposed to political and social realities that provide a deeper context.

Inspired by true events “The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon” onstage at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater is written by playwright/actress Rebeca Aleman (Paulina) which partially explains the extremely high caliber of her performance.

She obviously has internalized this material, understands it deeply and brilliantly interprets the character’s physical limitations.

Likewise as the play’s translator Ramon Camin (Rodrigo) provides a sensitive portrayal, no doubt informed by this intimate relationship to the material which is presented by the Water People Theater as part of the 3rd Chicago International Latino Theater Festival.

The play was originally written in Spanish and performed here in English, expertly directed by Iraida Tapias who guided the delicate unraveling of the mystery surrounding Paulina’s condition.

The simple set design by Manuel Jose Diaz effectively incorporates a large window as a projection screen providing flashbacks and access to more intimate musings.

I learned in the post production discussion that the cast  began their rehearsals in their native language in order to establish their emotional connection then switched to English to prepare for the festival performance.

For Spanish speaking theater-goers the stage is equipped with two monitors displaying the translation.

DETAILS: “The Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon”is  at the Steppenwolf 1700 Theater, 1700 N. Halsted St., Chicago, through Oct. 13, 2019. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information call (312) 335-1650. or visit Steppenwolf/Lookout.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Midsummer’ romance

 

(left to right) Patrick Mulvey and Chaon Cross in Greenhouse Theater Center and Proxy Theatre production of Midsummer, a pay with songs. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
(left to right) Patrick Mulvey and Chaon Cross in Greenhouse Theater Center and Proxy Theatre production of Midsummer, a pay with songs. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

3.5 Stars

Helena (Chaon Cross), an attorney, and Bob (Parick Mulvey), a petty thief, are not exactly a perfect match but they find themselves thrown together out of desperation and convenience.

When confronted with an opportunity to have an exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime night of excess and revelry, they both decide to take a chance. It  ultimately leads to a deeper attraction and unforgettable “Midsummer” romance.

Billed as “A Play With Songs” and produced by Proxy Theatre with the Greenhouse Theater Center, the unusual construction of this romantic dramedy has the two actors playing multiple roles.

They do so while periodically performing musical numbers (with guitar, ukulele, and piano) whilst alternately narrating the story-line in third person between spats of dialogue and soliloquy.Read More

A lesson in love and experience

Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)
Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)

‘The Fantasticks’

3 stars

 

The second offering of a four-show series by  MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre is “The Fantasticks,” a theatrical classic that holds the record as the longest running off-Broadway musical when it closed in 2002 after 17,162 performances over 42 years.

The story is about innocence and experience. Matt (Graham Todd) and Luisa (Jessica Surprenant) learn that life can be messy and cruel but as the song goes “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

At the beginning the young lovers revel in the danger of their forbidden romance but come to learn that their fathers had actually erected a wall between their two properties to draw the two together.

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‘Hunchback’ has melodious ring

 

Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

4 stars

I was curious to imagine how this epic story that features a soaring gothic cathedral in the heart of Paris would be portrayed at Music Theater Works’ Cahn Auditorium venue.

But from the moment the curtain rose revealing the stunning scenic set design and twenty-four member choir for MTWs’ “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the audience was thoroughly captivated.

Set around 1492 the essence of this operetta is derived from Victor Hugo’s  epic novel of the same name with similar themes of intolerance, injustice, abuse of power, and “man’s inhumanity to man” as in his “Les Miserables.”

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When comedy expresses pain at ‘International Falls’

 

Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)
Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)

4 stars

Set in a Holiday Inn hotel room in International Falls, Minnesota, traveling comedian Tim has come to the end of the road while front desk clerk Dee wants to escape her life. Together they explore the use of comedy to mask their sadness and express their pain.

Tim (Sean Higgins) shares his unsuccessful quest to find his own unique voice and urges Dee (Marie Weigle) to find hers, stressing that honesty and authenticity is what is important.

In “International Falls,” playwright Thomas Ward evidently understands that struggle and has clearly met the challenge writing some of the most authentic and honest dialogue I have ever heard on stage.

Presented by by the Agency Theater Collective in partnership with End of the Line Production, Ward’s brilliant dialogue comes to life as spoken by Higgins and Weigle. You feel like you are sitting in their hotel room witnessing the events unfold.

Higgins’ cringingly awkward stand-up asides are perfectly painful and his obvious discomfort with himself combined with false bravado is portrayed with appropriate nuance.

Weigle’s pent up frustration, emerging confidence and vulnerability is palpable but never goes over the top.

The blocking was seamless and meaningful.

The naturalness of the actors can only be achieved when they have a critical eye assuring them that what they are doing is right.

Director Cody Lucas clearly gets credit for pulling this small ensemble together into a beautiful unified performance. Orchestrating the emotional level with symphonic accuracy, Lucas dials up the emotions to peak levels that never gets shrill, then dials them back down to create a needed contrast that keeps the audience engaged and caring about the characters.

This voyeuristic experience is further enhanced by the intimate setting of the Nox Arca Theatre which is actually a small industrial space on the 5th floor of a concrete loft building on the corner of Irving Park in the Ravenswood corridor. Scenic Designer Soli Eisenberg has done a brilliant job of incorporating the natural elements of the room to create the effect.

By the way the music mix before the show began was awesome.

DETAILS: “International Falls” is at Nox Arca Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, #405. Chicago, through August 31, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information visit We Are the Agency.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A Funky Journey at BET

Cast of 'You Can't Fake the Funk' at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).
Cast of ‘You Can’t Fake the Funk’ at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).

2.5 stars

“You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music)” presented by Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater works hard to “turn this mutha out.”

“There’s a whole lot of rhythm goin’ round” in this energetic performance written and directed by the company’s own producing and managing director, Daryl D. Brooks.

The journey through the history of funk is hosted by Dwight Neal as Dr. Funk and takes place aboard the “Mothership,” an allusion to  George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 platinum album “Mothership Connection.”

Clinton actually incorporated a spaceship as part of the scenery into his concerts but BET’s homage does not do it justice and Denise Karczewski’s lighting didn’t do too much to help, particularly if you consider the lighting effects prominent in the disco style shows of this time.

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‘Now and Then’ is sweet and tender

 

Cast of Now and Then at The Pride Arts Center. (John Olson photo)
Cast of Now and Then at The Pride Arts Center. (John Olson photo)

3 stars

 

“Now and Then” on stage at The Pride Arts Center is an uneventful love story that celebrates the ultimate fulfillment of a long term relationship.

Daniel and Greg meet at a college open mic night and stay together for 42 years. Daniel is an aspiring singer/songwriter while the more pragmatic Greg has aspirations of being a stand-up comedian.

The two men seek achievement in their careers, struggle to pay the rent, and ultimately find happiness and contentment through their commitment to each other while learning along the way that the key to success in love is a giving heart.

The story is told largely though song by six actors who portray the couple in three stages of life.

The unique aspect of this production is that all six actors are often on stage interacting together, suggesting perhaps that we are at every moment in our lives our current selves, our past selves and our future selves.

The young Daniel (Will Fulginiti) and young Greg (Benjamin Walton) represent the couple’s budding youthful romance. Alex Smith and Carl Herzog portray Greg and Daniel respectively in the growing years of their relationship. Skip Sams as Greg and the play’s songwriter and lyricist Dennis Manning as Daniel play the elder couple.

Just as Greg and Daniel’s relationship is based on a chance encounter, so too is the relationship between Manning and “Now and Then’s” writer, producer/director Ronnie Larsen.

Larsen met Manning in 2018 when he learned that the mattress salesman was also a songwriter. After hearing Manning’s songs Larsen penned the play and had it on stage within months. Larsen is clearly a talented theatrical craftsman to have created this piece in such a short period of time.

The fact that the songs were already written is both its strength and its weakness. Larsen uses Manning’s well written songs effectively but in the aggregate they sound like a singer/songwriter’s songbook, very unified in style.

What the music lacks from a theatrical point-of-view is a sense that a particular song was written for a particular character to achieve a particular emotion at a particular point in time.

In spite of that criticism the very capable cast uses musical dynamics to vary the mood and add drama where it is needed. “Solitary Man” is the lynch-pin song that both opens and closes the play.

Manning does yeoman’s work as the primary guitarist, but hey, these are his songs, while Will Fulginiti brings much needed youthful energy to the production with his exuberant guitar playing style and portrayal of young Daniel.

Benjamin Walton as young Greg provides much of the show’s humor. Herzog and Smith add conflict and each have memorable musical moments. Skip Sams as the elder Greg brings a sense of calm that brings the play to its ultimate resolution.

Some might want to quickly conclude that this is a “gay play” but that would be putting it in a box that limits its message. Rather, it is a play about love and commitment featuring characters who happen to be gay, but it speaks to anyone who might appreciate and value the benefits of a life well lived that is based on mutual support and true love.

This is a perfect chance to see this play before it moves to London in September 2019.

DETAILS: “Now and Then” is at The Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago through August 11, 2019. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Now and Tnen the Musical.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Flower of Hawaii’ blooms in Chicago

 

Cast of 'Flower of Hawaii' (Photo courtesy of Folks Operetta)
Cast of ‘Flower of Hawaii’ (Photo courtesy of Folks Operetta)

3 stars

 There are two very good reasons to see “The Flower of Hawaii” at Stage 773 on Belmont.

First, is the exceptional musical score by Hungarian composer Paul Abraham expertly conducted by 2007 Georg Solti Foundation Award recipient Anthony Barrese leading an exceptional 19-piece orchestra.

Secondly, is the exciting vocals of tenor Rodell Rosel in the role of Prince Lilo-Taro. The prince has returned to Hawaii after being lost at sea in time to claim his childhood betrothal to Princess Laia performed by the alluring former Ms. Illinois (2014) and Chicago native Marisa Buchheit.

Written by Paul Abraham in 1931, “The Flower of Hawaii” is a jazz operetta now making its American premiere. Translated by Hersh Glagov, it is presented by Folks Operetta as part of their “Reclaimed Voices Series” giving voice to Jewish composers and librettists who were persecuted, exiled or perished at the hands of the German Third Reich.

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