Curtis Bannister wows in ‘The Pajama Game’

 

as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Aalon Smith as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

If you don’t go see The Pajama Game at The Theatre at the Center for any other reason, go to hear the booming tenor voice of the hunky lead, Curtis Bannister.

The actor who has appeared on NBC’s Chicago Fire, plays Sid Sorokin, the “Chicago guy” and newly hired superintendent at Sleep Tite, a pajama factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The factory is a hotbed of union activity and sexual innuendo – both surprising themes for a musical that premiered in the mid-1950s.

The musical started as a 1953 novel, 7 ½ Cents by Richard Bissell based on his experience working in his family pajama factory in Dubuque, Iowa.

Opening to rave reviews on Broadway in 1954 with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, the Tony Award-winning show inspired the 1957 film starring Doris Day. You’ll recognize songs such as “Steam Heat,” “Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes)” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

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Look forward to a new start

 

Nicole (Tara Bouldrey) in 'Shadows of Birds'. (Mike Hari @ fadeout foto)
Nicole (Tara Bouldrey) in ‘Shadows of Birds’. (Mike Hari @ fadeout foto)

4 stars

Glass Apple Theatre is presenting the world premiere of “Shadows of Birds” written by Richard James Zieman and Joel Z. Cornfield.

It focuses on a young adult woman, Nicole (Tara Bouldrey), who’s been in  rehab for months because of her addiction to drugs. But now Nicole’s counselor, Jennifer (Sydney Genco), feels Nicole is ready to return home and live with her mother, Barbara (Elizabeth Rude).

Her mother also has an older adult son, Kyle (Bobby Bowman). Neither Kyle nor Nicole knew their father because he left when their mother was pregnant.

Because of Nicole’s many years of mixed messages from her mother and brother, she was very insecure and became a drug addict. Now Nicole isn’t sure that she could live with her mother again.

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‘Newsies’

 

The high-flying cast of “Newsies” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
The high-flying cast of “Newsies” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

The mean streets of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century were dotted with children, mostly poor immigrants and orphans, struggling to eke out a survival living by selling newspapers. They were the “newsies” who sold the “papes.”

When greedy publishers began squeezing them for pennies by raising the wholesale price of their papers, the newsies rebelled–and won.

It’s a serious chapter in labor history, but one transformed into a warmhearted musical, “Newsies,” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

The story is based on both the 1992 Disney film of the same name and the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in NYC. The theatrical version culminates with a message of cross-cultural unity that resonates today.

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‘And Then There Were None’ – an intriguing whodunit

 

Cast of 'And Then There Were None' at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of ‘And Then There Were None’ at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

3 Stars

 

Ten strangers of varying ages and occupations arrive at an island mansion off the coast of Devon, England. Their host, who has beckoned them on one pretense or another, is delayed.

In this late 1930s setting, the houseguests start dying–one by one, and by violent means. The island is otherwise uninhabited, and the only boat back to the mainland is thwarted by a storm.

They realize they are stranded with a murderer in their midst. Who is it, and who will be the next victim?

The production, now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, is based on the book by renowned English writer Agatha Christie. One of the best-selling murder mysteries of all time, it was first published in 1939 under a name that today is considered highly racist and will not be repeated here.

A stellar ensemble cast is artfully directed by Jessica Fisch. Cher Álvarez plays former governess Vera Claythorne with great style and composure. Matt DeCaro lends leadership skills and authority to the retired Justice Wargrave, and Marilyn Dodds Frank injects just the right amount of haughtiness into Emily Brent, the judgmental spinster.

Paul-Jordan Jansen, who in real life looks mighty fine wearing a kilt, portrays dual-identity William Blore with boldness and a touch of comic relief.

The houseguests’ British accents can be difficult to translate into modern-day American vernacular. Or maybe it’s the acoustics that muddle voices on the sideline seats. But the players’ fears and suspicions of each other ring clearly.

The entire performance takes place in the mansion’s expansive living room as created by scenic designer Andrew Boyce. With its parquet floors, lavish mill work, velvet fringed sofas and panoramic ocean view, the set is worthy of a photo shoot for “Architectural Digest” magazine.

The period-perfect apparel, particularly as worn by the female actors, by costume designer Jessica Pabst, is equally lovely to behold.

Other members of the creative team include Driscoll Otto as lighting designer and Ray Nardelli as sound designer.

“And Then There Were None” weaves a clever, captivating tale that keeps its secrets until the very end.

DETAILS: “And Then There Were None” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook  (639) 530-0111 or visit DruryLaneTheatre.

Pamela McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Over the Tavern’ recalls bittersweet memories of a Catholic upbringing

 

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Sister Clarissa and Logan Baffico as Rudy in Theatre at the Center's production of "Over The Tavern." (Photo by Guy Rhodes)
Janet Ulrich Brooks as Sister Clarissa and Logan Baffico as Rudy in Theatre at the Center’s production of “Over The Tavern.” (Photo by Guy Rhodes)

3 stars

You don’t have to be a Catholic school graduate to appreciate the battle of wits between the ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa and her vexing charge, 12-year-old Rudy Pazinski, in the laugh-out-loud “Over the Tavern,” now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind.

But, if you happen to be a Catholic school graduate, the show, directed by Ericka Mac, is sure to hit home with every slap of that ruler on Rudy’s outstretched hand.

The Wednesday matinee audience guffawed each time Rudy defied the good sister’s demands that he learn his Catechism as it was written, forgoing his own contention that God put us on Earth “to have fun.”

Janet Ulrich Brooks rocks her role as the stern Sister Clarissa who E-Nun-Ci-Ates each word clearly and precisely. Logan Baffico does a good job as Rudy, although his speech got a little rushed as the second act progressed, leading the folks behind me to regularly whisper, “What did he say?”

The cast rounds out with solid performances from Cory Goodrich as Rudy’s mom, Ellen, and Eric Slater as his dad, Chet. Rudy’s siblings are played by Isabelle Roberts (Annie), Seth Steinberg (Eddie) and Julian Solis (Georgie).

The family lives over the tavern owned by Chet and his “Pops,” an alcoholic who is ruining the business. Chet brings his “bad mood” up the stairs each night to dinner with his family who wait in vain for him to remember to pick up the spaghetti dinner he promised.

Cast of Over the Tavern at Theatre at the Center. (Photo by Guy Rhodes)
Cast of Over the Tavern at Theatre at the Center. (Photo by Guy Rhodes)

The family might be troubled, but they are committed to Catholicism. The kids go to Catholic school and they learn the Catechism just as their parents did before them

It all comes to a hilarious head when Sister Clarissa arrives unannounced at the apartment over the tavern to discuss the children.

The semi-autobiographical play written by Tom Dudzick ends with an uplifting turnabout by Dad after a heart-to-heart with Sister Clarissa.

DETAILS: Over the Tavern,  is at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN through Aug. 11, 2019. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. For more information, call (219) 836-3255 or visit TheatreAtTheCenter.

Cindy Richards

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Let’s live life through music . . .

Cast of Falsettos. (Joan Marcus photo)
Cast of Falsettos. (Joan Marcus photo)

4 stars

In 2017 when “Falsettos” returned to Broadway, it was nominated for five Tony Awards, including the Best Revival of a Musical.  Now two years later, this fabulous musical is in Chicago, directed by playwright James Lapine with music and lyrics by William Finn.

Taking place in New York in the 1970s, we meet a charming, neurotic gay man, Marvin, played by Max Von Essen; along with his 10-year-old son, Jason, played by Thatcher Jacobs.

We also meet psychiatrist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire) and Marvin’s wife Trina (Eden Espinosa)whom he leaves for his lover, Whizzer (Nick Adams).

“Falsettos” second act introduces two lesbian neighbors of Marvin’s, Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell).

Performed by phenomenal voices, “Falsettos’ ” wonderful songs tell the story throughout the show.

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‘Dames at Sea’ is campy fun

(left to right) Sam Shankman (Lucky), Sierra Schnack (Joan), Kelly Felthous (Ruby) and Todd Aulwurm (Dick) at Theatre at the Center, (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Sam Shankman (Lucky), Sierra Schnack (Joan), Kelly Felthous (Ruby) and Todd Aulwurm (Dick) at Theatre at the Center, (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

What’s not to love about a show that opens with a rousing tap number? Nothing, it turns out. “Dames at Sea,” the newest production at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN, is pure campy fun, from the first minute to the last.

It follows the story of Ruby. She’s fresh off the bus from Utah and in search of a career as a dancer on Broadway. She hasn’t eaten in three days, forgets her suitcase on the bus in her rush to get a job as a dancer, falls into a job dancing on a chorus line in a Broadway production, and catches the eye of a sailor who pledges his love for her — all in the delightful course of her first day in New York.

“Dames at Sea” is a long-running, Off Broadway hit that made Bernadette Peters a star in 1969. Kelly Felthous, the tiny blond firecracker who plays Ruby, channels her inner Bernadette Peters in this production, complete with spunky tapping, high-pitched voice and impish smile. (Ashley Lanyon takes over the role of Ruby from May 22-June 2.)

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A beauty of a ballet

It was impressive that the young dancers onstage for A&A Ballet’s May 4th performance of“Sleeping Beauty” were not thrown off by a cell phone ringing throughout the first half.

A stage manager solved that problem after intermission by asking audience members to turn off their phones completely, not just set them to silent. That was because the cell phones were interfering with the wireless systems in the Studebaker Theater, he said.

Whether that was true or not, it resolved the issue of the rude audience member so the rest of us were able to fully focus on the beauty onstage.

The matinee performance of the A&A Ballet featured a multi-cultural and multi-generational cast of impressive ballerinas, including some tiny tots who couldn’t have been cuter in their sheep costumes.

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Oh what a night!

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre
Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre

4 stars

Opening in New York in 2005 and winning the Tony and Grammy Awards for Best Musical in 2006, “Jersey Boys” has now been seen by more than 25 million people.  And I’ll bet that some have seen it more than once—like I have.

The book, “Jersey Boys,” was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Amusing dialogue is interspersed with the tremendous songs that keep the audience laughing.

Directed by Des McAnuff, “Jersey Boys” is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons—four guys from New Jersey who weren’t known at all until they started singing outdoors on a corner. And once they did, their songs became more than popular and played on radios every day and night.

The songs by The Four Seasons in “Jersey Boys” not only bring back so many memories, but have younger audience members swinging and swaying in their seats.

(l to r) Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, Corey Greenan, Jonathan Cable and compnay of Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photos by Joan Marcus)
(l to r) Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, Corey Greenan, Jonathan Cable and compnay of Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Songs such as “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Rag Doll,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” hook-up with the musical’s story of a gang leader with a money problem that involves the mob and the record industry, along with many things that relate to true friendships and loving relationships.

The original Four Seasons were Bob Gaudio, the musical composer played by Eric Chambliss, Frankie Valli, played by Jonny Wexler, Nick Massi, played by Jonathan Cable and Tommy DeVito, played by Cory Greenan. The lyricist and producer, Bob Crewe, is played by Wade Dooley.

“My Boyfriend’s Back” is sung by the Angels portrayed by Ashley Bruce, Chloe Tiso, and Jessica Wockenfuss, all of whom also play other female roles.

The rest of the fabulous cast is Tony L. Clements, Caitlin Leary, Jeremy Sartin, and Kit Treece. Many of the cast members move on stage as they play musical instruments.

A Broadway in Chicago presentation now at the Auditorium Theatre, it’s a show not to miss . . . “Let’s Hang On to What We’ve Got!”

DETAILS: “Jersey Boys” is at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells (Congress Pkwy. at Michigan Avenue), Chicago, through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call Ticket Master at 1-800-775-2000, or visit BroadwayInChicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Hilarious guide to inheriting a fortune

Emily Goldberg (Sibella Hallward) and Andres Enriquez (Monty Novarro) in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. (Photo by Michael Courier)
Emily Goldberg (Sibella Hallward) and Andres Enriquez (Monty Novarro) in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. (Photo by Michael Courier)

3 ½ stars

Few plays open in song or in verse giving advice to the audience that if they are too weak to listen to a story of revenge and punishment, they’d better leave the theater.

However, it’s laughter that greets the Porchlight Music Theatre’s ensemble when they sing the warning to open the 2014 Tony Award-winning Best Musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”

Taking place in turn-of-the-century England, the “gentleman” is Monty Navarro played by Andres Enriquez. Monty is very poor, but Miss Shingle, played by Caron Buinis, helps him discover that he’s an heir to a fortune. Unfortunately, Monty is so far back in line he has to eliminate eight D’Ysquith relatives ahead of him.

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