With Halloween 2018 on the horizon, “Little Shop of Horrors” plays into the spookiness of the season. The sort-of-dark musical comedy is now running at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. It’s more spirited, shall we say, than scary.
The action centers around a dilapidated flower shop on Skid Row and its hard-scrabble denizens. The two central characters are Seymour, a hapless employee played by Will Lidke, and Audrey, his tartly dressed coworker and the object of his affection played by Kelly Felthous. Mr. Mushnik, their boss played by Ron E. Rains, is just as down on his luck as everyone else.
Seymour suddenly is offered success beyond his imagination by a demanding, carnivorous, exotic plant on a growth spurt. The condition? The plant is blood thirsty.
Every once in a while, someone remarkable touches our lives for a short time-and changes everything.
Such is the heartwarming theme of ‘Once,’ the Tony Award-winning musical now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Helmed by artistic director Jim Corti and musical director Tom Vendafreddo, it’s the musical’s first Chicago-area regional staging.
In case you haven’t heard the buzz, ‘Once’ is a story about a couple of Irish musicians in modern-day Dublin who meet and fall in love as they write songs together.
It started out as a low-budget indie movie in 2007 and its signature song, “Falling Slowly,” won an Oscar for Best Original Song the following year. The film was directed by John Carney; the music and lyrics were written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who also played the lead roles.
‘Once’ saw second life as a Broadway musical based on the book by playwright Enda Walsh. In 2012, it took home eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.
But back to Paramount. As the story goes, the encounter between the two leads is so fleeting, only a week, that we never learn their names. Tiffany Topol plays Girl and Barry DeBois plays Guy. Both actors have ‘Once’ national touring credits in real life.
In the Paramount production, Girl and Guy are accompanied, quite literally, by a cast of congenial music-makers who double as the orchestra. They’re a fun bunch to watch, even though the lyrics sounded muddled half the time.
Topal and DeBois duet well with adequate chemistry, but she stands out better on her own. She’s an enchanting vocalist and charmingly funny without seeming to try.
Other noteworthy players include Alex E. Hardaway, a stuffy bank manager with performance dreams of his own. It’s written as a humdrum role with a solo, “Abandoned in Bandon,” that Hardaway executes as a champion. And Jon Patrick Penick shows great comedic chops as rough-and-tumble music shop owner Billy.
The starlet of the show is red-headed lassie, 6-year-old Everleigh Murphy as Girl’s daughter Ivonka.
Not only is she adorable, but she’s a fine Irish step-dancer and violinist as well. Her talent runs in the family. Cousin Madeleine played the same role on Broadway.
Also, just as on Broadway and in the national tour, the stage is designed as an operational pub. The audience is invited to step up and purchase beverages pre-show and at intermission. With a few props and a little imagination, the stage is segmented for additional scenes. Scenic designer is Jeffrey D. Kmiec.
DETAILS: “Once” is at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, through June 3. For tickets and other information, call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount.
Gloria and Emilio Estefan are Cuban-American singer-songwriters and superstar entertainers who have inspired conga lines worldwide. But the 100 million-plus records sold and dozens of industry awards earned are only part of their story.
“On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” now playing for Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is a high-spirited, glitzy production that weaves biographical events and global hits. It tracks the couple’s early struggles and discrimination, their rise to global success, the bus crash that nearly took it all away, and their incredible comeback.
If that all sounds familiar, there’s good reason. The musical originated in Chicago in 2015 with its pre-Broadway engagement.
On the national tour, playing the titular roles are Christie Prades as the adult Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio.
Prades, born in Miami of Cuban parents, has previously played multiple parts in the New York production. The real Gloria Estefan asked Prades to lead the tour. Martinez is a Mexican actor and recording artist making his Broadway debut.
The duo has palpable chemistry, and you find yourself rooting for them and the love connection that drives their music. Prades’ vocals are strong and steady throughout the show. Martinez seems to be more at home with a faster beat, but his rendition of “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” as Gloria recovers from surgery, flows straight from the heart and into the far reaches of the theater. He’s the comedian of the family, and Gloria loves him all the more for it.
Two more actors of note are Nancy Ticotin and Debra Cardona. Ticotin plays Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother, whose own singing career was cut short by grown-up responsibilities and who disapproves of her daughter’s choices. Cardona plays Consuelo, Gloria’s supportive grandmother, who lands several well-placed comedic punches. Happily, both have opportunity to showcase their talents as soloists in this production.
The song-and-dance ensemble numbers, especially the finales, are hand-clapping good fun. At the end of Act I, the audience is engaged in a conga line down the aisles. The Act II finale is a medley of Estefan signatures.
The performers’ moves are amplified by the work of costume designer Emilio Sosa who sure knows how to make a razzle-dazzle party dress.
Based on an original book by Alexander Dinelaris, the musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The creative team also includes scenic designer David Rockwell and lighting designer Kenneth Posner.
Playing in the orchestra are several veterans of the Estefans’ Miami Sound Machine, including the production’s musical director Clay Ostwald.
DETAILS: “On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through April 8. For tickets and other information, call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.
The first thing to know about the ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ production at Drury Lane Oakbrook is this isn’t the Sunday School version. Unlike the customary fare from the west suburban playhouse, it’s not even family-friendly entertainment.
That’s because director Alan Souza has boldly re-imagined the beloved Old Testament tale as a campy, Las Vegas-style spectacle complete with feather-clad showgirls, drag queens and celebrity impersonators.
The main action has been moved from pyramid-dotted Egypt to the pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics, however, are largely preserved.
You’ll find the production either heretical or heap big fun. We choose the latter.
The musical begins with modern-day, travel-weary Joe, played by Evan Alexander Smith, arriving at his hotel room and climbing into bed for sleep.
A series of dreams reveals the story of the biblical Jacob and his 12 sons. Most notable of the dozen is the favored Joseph, to whom he gives a colorful coat. Thus launches a well-known biblical odyssey.
In Souza’s re-telling, past and present legends of the Strip, including Siegfried and Roy and their white tigers, appear along the way.
Joe’s dreams are narrated by songstress Christina Bianco and acted out by a talented cast. Bianco is an international YouTube sensation with more than 24 million views. Her vocal impersonations of the world’s greatest divas show astounding versatility and range.
She’s the production’s powerhouse, but Smith holds his own in solo numbers “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.”
Colte Julian captures the room with his portrayal of the Pharaoh a la Jerry Lee Lewis at a sparkly silver grand piano. It’s understandable. He performed the role of Lewis for five years with national and Chicago productions of ‘Million Dollar Quartet.’ At Drury Lane, he is accompanied by the dancing brothers, who are attired in black sequined pants.
As a troupe, the brothers are highly adaptable. Their dance routines are high-spirited and precise, and their vocal rendition of “Those Canaan Days” is soulful.
Special mention must be given to choreographer Grady McLeod Bowman. A highlight of the show is the Act One finale: “Go Go Go Joseph,” a song-and-dance ensemble number that is sure to delight mature audiences.
In addition to Souza and Bowman, the creative team includes scenic designer Kevin Depinet, costume designer Ryan Park and lighting director Lee Fiskness. The Drury Lane Orchestra is led by conductor and keyboardist Alan Bukowiecki.
NOTE: This production is recommended for audiences age 13 and over as it includes adult content. Children under age 6 will not be admitted.
DETAILS: ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through March 25, 2018. Running time: 2 hours. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.
If you’re looking for a festive family outing this holiday season, ‘42nd Street’ delivers the goods along with lots of glitz. Now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, the much-beloved musical is charged with perky tunes and high-energy dancing. Tap dancing, that is.
It’s a dreams-come-true story of a sweet, aspiring young chorus girl named Peggy Sawyer. She fumbles her first big audition and ultimately lands the starring role in a new Broadway production called “Pretty Lady.” Woven throughout are show-stopping song-and-dance numbers and subplots of love triangles and financial woes. All are wrapped up neatly by the end of the show.
Directed by Michael Heitzman, the Drury Lane production features a stellar cast of actors, singers and dancers. Kimberly Immanuel plays Peggy with both innocence and strength.
Suzzanne Douglas as the aging prima donna Dorothy Brock and Donica Lynn as songwriter Maggie Jones are powerhouse solo artists but in different ways. Douglas sings with crystal clarity while Lynn gets sultry and soulful. Gene Weygandt, who plays “Pretty Lady” director Julian Marsh, has a voice that is honest and heroic.
Special mention goes to the ensemble of tap dancers, whose work appears effortless and truly joyful, and to choreographer Jared Grimes who managed to incorporate dress racks and stock pots into dance numbers. The showiest, at the end of Act One, takes “We’re In The Money” literally.
The set design by Collette Pollard is more spartan than that of other Drury Lane productions, but it works. Most of the action takes place in a weary rehearsal hall, and the scenery is the dancers themselves.
Also on the creative team are costume designer Emilio Sosa and lighting designer Mike Baldassari. The ’42nd Street Orchestra’ is conducted by Chris Sargent, who also plays keyboard.
The original 1980 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was produced by David Merrick and directed and choreographed by an ailing Gower Champion, who passed away only hours before opening night. The musical, however, lives on.
DETAILS: ’42nd Street’ is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through Jan. 7. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.
One of summer’s finest pursuits is viewing a William Shakespeare play while reposing under the stars and sipping a smooth wine.
First Folio Theatre affords that experience with a first-rate production of the Bard of Avon’s “As You Like It” on the grounds of the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.
The gently rolling hillside forms a natural amphitheater for the two-story wooden stage and for audiences to spread their blankets and pop their picnic baskets.
Directed by Skyler Schrempp, this delightful tale meanders among a tangle of storylines and a large cast. The plot weaves family feuds, banishments, mistaken identities, forgiveness and love triangles.
Most everyone finds themselves exiled in the lush Forest of Arden. That is, until truths are revealed and couples happily pair up in marriage like they typically do in Shakespearean rom-coms.
The highly polished cast numbers nearly two dozen, many of them First Folio returnees and almost all with previous Shakespearean credits on their resumes.
Leslie Ann Sheppard shows great flexibility in her dual-gendered role as Rosalind. At the onset, she is a favored and stylish family member of the royal court. After she is banished, she heads to the forest and adopts a male persona for safety reasons.
She is accompanied by her cousin and best friend Celia, played adroitly by Vahishta Vafadari who takes on the guise of a peasant. The young women venture a convoluted path to find their loves.
Courtney Abbott is charming and comedic as the mohawk-crowned, androgynous jester Touchstone.
Tempering the frolic is Kevin McKillip as Jacque, a melancholic lord. With great gravitas he delivers one of Shakespeare’s most well-known soliloquies, the one that begins with “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
Costume designer Mieka van der Ploeg advances the setting as ambiguously modern-day, yet-far-away with attire that borrows from vintage, punk and club-kid cultures.
Throw in a couple of fascinators, a pair of black-and-white wingtips, and a few dirndl skirts, and you get the feeling you’re somewhere else.
A summer evening at First Folio Theatre is as idyllic as the Forest of Arden. Arrive early to enjoy the natural landscape. The staff sets out citronella candles, but bring mosquito repellent.
DETAILS: “As You Like It” is at First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, through Aug. 20. For tickets and other information, call 630-986-8067 or visit First Folio.
In both life and cards, we must play the hands we are dealt. That truism is powerfully revealed in Pulitzer winner “The Gin Game” now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Fonsia Weller and Weller Martin are two reluctant residents of a shabby senior-living home, having run out of money and options. They strike up an acquaintance and begin playing gin to pass the time. As their games and conversation progress intimate secrets are revealed and they begin to discover each other’s weaknesses in both cards and life.
The two-character drama by D.L. Coburn brings together the legendary talents of real-life married couple and Jeff Award winners Paula Scrofano as Fonsia and John Reeger as Weller. They dodder and totter about the stage as though the infirmities of advanced age were real.
Both exhibit vast emotional range as the relationship between their characters builds to its explosive conclusion.
Scrofano and Reeger have appeared in over 150 plays in the Chicagoland area, 30 of them at Drury Lane. With “The Gin Game,” they join an illustrious roster of duos who have performed these roles, among them Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke, and Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones.
The Drury Lane production is artfully directed by Ross Lehman, who last directed the couple in 1986.
The show begins before the audience is fully seated as two non-speaking crew members dressed as nursing aides in medical scrubs set the stage with apathy. They lounge about, one smoking a cigarette and checking her cell phone, and the other reading a magazine. They grudgingly leave only when Weller enters the scene.
Kudos also to the creative team which includes scenic designer Katherine Ross, lighting designer Lindsey Lyddan and projection designer Mike Tutaj.
Drury Lane is known for highly detailed set design, and the “Gin Game” follows suit. The play takes place on an unkempt patio, which is decked out with mismatched furniture, an overturned chair, stray hoses and flower pots, and a weary-looking Santa Claus yard ornament. At the back of the set, images of the home’s resident activities, drab furnishings and medical equipment are projected at intervals to reveal the hopelessness inside.
“The Gin Game” is not a pleasant story. The subject matter is bleak, and the second act especially is pounded with profanity. But it’s worth seeing, just to watch theater icons Scrofano and Reeger in yet another transformation.
DETAILS: “The Gin Game” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace through Aug. 13. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.
Oh, heavenly days. “Silent Sky” is the true story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a historic but unsung astronomer at Harvard University’s observatory in the early 1900s. She made ground-breaking advances despite never being allowed to use a telescope.
Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” is a poignant and sweet look at Leavitt’s ambition, desires and accomplishments, cleverly punctuated with bursts of humor. Melanie Keller artfully directs the Chicago premiere at First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook.
The play opens with Leavitt leaving her Wisconsin home to become one of the backroom “computer ladies” who map the sky using photographic images on glass plates. It’s a tedious job far beneath the menfolk. Meanwhile, her sister stays behind to raise a family.
Leavitt immerses herself in the work. She not only discovers about 2,400 previously unknown variable stars but also discovered the relationship between luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars.
Her findings, for which she received little credit, paved the way for other astronomers to measure stellar distances.
Gunderson, who received the 2016 Lanford Wilson Award from the Dramatists Guild, explores societal themes that are relevant a century later: marriage and motherhood versus career, chauvinistic attitudes toward women in the workplace, and the quest for knowledge.
The script contains enough real science to lend authority but not so much that dazes the audience. The romantic interlude seems a bit contrived. However, it serves to show the sisters are not so different after all.
The entire cast delivers performances that sparkle. Especially notable is Cassandra Bissell, who plays Leavitt with both determination and vulnerability. Hayley Rice is the pleasant, kindly married sister Margaret.
Jeannie Affelder as Annie Cannon and Belinda Bremner as Williamina Fleming are Leavitt’s work colleagues who, by the play’s end, have joined the suffragette movement. Wardell Julius Clark is perfectly pompous as their boss.
Special mention goes to Michael McNamara, whose lighting design has us believing we truly are looking into the cosmos..
Details: ‘Silent Sky’ is at First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, through April 30. For tickets and other information, call (630) 986-8067 or visit First Folio.
Reviewed by Pamela Dittmer McKuen
(Guest reviewer Pamela Dittmer McKuen is an independent journalist and author who specializes in home, architecture, fashion and travel. Her bylines have appeared in the Chicago Tribune plus dozens of consumer, trade, association, corporate and collegiate publications. Visit her travel blog at allthewriteplaces.)
When life is going nowhere, dance it out. That’s the gist of “Saturday Night Fever,” the latest musical to open at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Based on the 1977 hit film, “Saturday Night Fever” the musical follows Brooklyn teenager Tony Manero, who escapes his dead-end job at a paint store by spending weekends at the 2001 Odyssey disco. It’s the role that launched John Travolta to stardom and made white suits a style icon of that generation.