A musical deals with teen identity crises and peer behaviors

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‘Trevor, the musical,’ now in its world premier at Writers Theatre, is based on the story behind the Oscar winning short film that led to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention/crisis intervention initiative for youngsters in the LGBTQ community.

Trevor (Eli Tokash) and classmates in 'Trevor, the musical' at Writers theatre. Michael Brosilow photo
Trevor (Eli Tokash) and classmates in ‘Trevor, the musical’ at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo

Set in 1981, it reflects the attitudes of the times but just as important, it reflects the kind of general adolescent bullying, cruelty, peer pressure and even parental inattentiveness and misunderstandings that still exists today.

That said, ‘Trevor, the musical’ showcases the amazing talent of Eli Tokash, a young Broadway (‘Finding Neverland, ‘Pippin’) actor who performs with the grace and style of Fred Astaire,

Tokash as Trevor, wants to be writing, directing, choreographing and playing in musical theater in 10 years. But his current goal as a 13-year-old in his last year of a suburban junior high, he wants to perform in the school’s annual talent show or direct the eighth grade football team in a dance number he devises.

It’s acceptable to Pinky, the team’s captain, perfectly portrayed by Declan Desmond as a guy who would rather dance a Fred Astaire type number than parade around in a pink tutu that past teams had to wear for the show.

While working with Pinky, Trevor realizes he has a crush on the football star. Also, while trying to prove he likes girls, he goes to a smooching spot with Cathy, delightfully played, glasses, braces rubber bands and all, by Tori Whaples.

As they try to kiss, Trevor realizes he isn’t interested even though Cathy is.

The kicker that throws his life into suicide mode comes when his best friend, Walter, nicely acted by Matthew Uzarrage, gives Trevor’s journal to Mary (Eloise Lushina). She reads Trevor’s notes about Pinky to her friends and gives the journal to the football team.

Trevor fantasizes about his funeral. He wants Diana Ross’ “Endless Love” to be playing.

Although not really a jukebox musical because many of the songs are by Wick Davis (music) and Dan Collins (book and lyrics), the show spotlights Trevor’s adoration for Ross’ music and philosophy.

Performed beautifully by the talented Salisha Thomas (‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,’  vocalist for Disney) she sings many Ross hits  throughout the show beginning with “Do You Know?”

“Beautiful” director Marc Bruni has brought his seamless touch to this production which has aspirations of moving on to Broadway. Expertly choreographed by Josh Prince (also “Beautiful”) it likely will get there.

However, given the seriousness of its theme, at a mere two hours and 10 minuets, there is room to expand the tension surrounding the teens, adults and anyone who doesn’t fit the attitudes and models of the times.

‘Trevor’ is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, now through Sept. 17, 2017. For tickets and other information call  (847) 242-6000) and visit Writers Theatre.

 

Gypsy still comes up Rose and roses

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Knowing how vaudeville acts had to move around to make a living or even how current performers continue to do so, it’s easy to understand they live what is thought of as a gypsy life.

Mary Robin Roth (Rose) and Lexis Danca (Louise) in 'Gypsy' at Music Theater Works. p[hoto by Brett Beiner
Mary Robin Roth (Rose) and Lexis Danca (Louise) in ‘Gypsy’ at Music Theater Works. photo by Brett Beiner
But when hearing ‘Gypsy’ capitalized as in the 1959 Broadway hit by Jule Styne (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book), you are likely to think Ethel Merman as the indomitable stage mother of entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee and actress June Havoc.

In the Music Theater Works production of  ‘Gypsy,’ Mary Robin Roth is so believable as Rose, an over-the-top stage mother, that her character is not easy to like. Indeed, a few theater-goers might equate how she directed her daughter’s lives with their own experience.

However this is the show Merman arguable made famous with her brash portrayal of Rose so, everyone can expect Roth to belt out commands and the show’s famed “Everything’s Coming up Roses.” They won’t be disappointed.

It’s also fun to watch the incredible transformation of Louise, the shy, unimposing elder sister of Baby June into the renowned burlesque entertainer, Gypsy Rose Lee, a sophisticated and striking strip tease vedette.

Along the way there is the charming voice of Sophie Kagi as the young Baby June, the boys who march with her in the early stage troupe and the talented young lads who accompany the older June (Rosie Jo Neddy) as an aging troupe. They’re featured in several fine dance numbers choreographed by Clayton Cross.

The evolution from young troupe to older was amazingly accomplished in a whirling, order-in-chaos dance scene thanks to Cross, stage director Rudy Hogenmiller and lighting designer Andrew H. Meyers.

In addition, Russell Alan Rowe is the long suffering Herbie who loves Rose, acts as the troupe’s agent and is sensitive to the needs of the boys and Louise.

The musical is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee who was also an author and actress (“Stage Door Canteen” 1949).

‘Gypsy’ is at Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) now through Aug. 27, 2017. The show is in Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium at 600 Emerson St. at Sheridan Road. For tickets and other information visit the box office at 516 4th St., Wilmette, call (847) 920-5360 or visit Music Theater Works.

 

Free for one moment

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Many issues that women dealt with a century ago still hang over their heads and affect their lives, work, families and relationships.  From wanting to feel protected while searching for freedom to embracing dreams while being steered toward stereotypical roles, women continue to struggle against being controlled.

Maddie Burke, l, Heather Chrisler and Scott Shimizu in 'Machinal' at Greenhouse Theater. Photo by Evan Hanover
Maddie Burke, L, Heather Chrisler and Scott Shimizu in ‘Machinal’ at Greenhouse Theater. Photo by Evan Hanover

These issues are front and center in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s compelling revival of “Machinal,”a play by Sophie Treadwell that hit Broadway in 1928.

The play is based on the life and trial of Ruth Snyder, a ruthless and manipulative murderess who, with her lover, killed her husband for a double indemnity insurance payout. But Machinal’s protagonist, “Young Woman,” portrayed by Heather Chrisler, is nothing like the real Ruth Snyder.

She garners the audience’s empathy as she encounters the demands of a rigid and unfriendly workplace and a life of struggles to support her mother.

In the midst of an argument over whom she should marry, she asks her overbearing mother, “Did you love Pa?”  Her mother replies, “I suppose I did . . . I don’t remember.  What difference does it make?” The mother pushes her daughter into marrying a man for financial gain.

Years later, feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, Young Woman’s goal is to free herself from captivity.

Chrisler does an excellent job as she captures the complexity of the main character and the challenges faced.  She portrays a frightened woman who follows the daily rules of work, marries someone whom she doesn’t love, gives birth to a child she doesn’t want, pleads with everyone to “Let me alone” and eventually finds a lover outside of her marriage who contributes to her ultimate demise.

The nine other cast members are wonderful as they play multiple roles including Young Woman’s co-workers, mother, husband, lover, doctors, nurses, trial lawyers, reporters and priest.

With minimal props on a stage devoid of scenery, the ensemble lights up the audience’s imagination in innovative ways that draw them into this mesmerizing story—a story that ends with Young Woman declaring, “I wanted to be free.  I wanted him out of the way. It made me free for one moment!”

Directed by Jacob Harvey with movement by Elizabeth Margolius, Machinal is a play that addresses the balancing act that women have long attempted.

DETAILS: “Machinal” is at Greenhouse Theater Center (Upstairs Main Stage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago through Sept. 24, 2017.  For tickets and other information visit Greenhouse Theater or call (773) 404-7336.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

 

Four Wisconsin artists exhibit in Pilsen

The Pilsen area on the near south side of Chicago has been evolving into a significant arts destination, partly due to the presence of the Chicago Arts District on Halsted Street and the National Museum of Mexican Art which is a kind of anchor for the neighborhood’s art community.

A number of small art galleries there are gathering attention and contributing to Chicago’s vibrant urban art scene including the LALUZ Gallery on 18th Street.

Four Wisconsin artists are featured in newest LALUZ Gallery show.
Four Wisconsin artists are featured in newest LALUZ Gallery show.

On Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, LALUZ  Gallery opened its newest show, “Visions of Wisconson” to feature artists Sara Strozinsky, Anne Horjus, Katie Schofield and Laura Annis.

The four artists who have distinctly different aesthetics are friends and collaborators from the Baraboo/Madison area.

Watercolors depicting calming close-up views of Wisconsin prairie grass, watery rocks and trees by artist Sara Strozinsky offer a sharp contrast to the bustling Ashland Avenue traffic just outside the door.

Dutch born artist and current Wisconsin resident Anne (pronounced ON-eh) Horjus is exhibiting two series, each inspired by the choral works of composer Eric Whitacre. Horjus is a singer and a visual artist, so working the two disciplines together is a natural fit for him.

His first series entitled “Sleep” combines fine-lined sketch work with muted colors that depict the thoughts of a slumbering boy.  Done in black Derwent pencils and airbrush it has a wonderfully light touch. “Sleep” is now available in  book form with a poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri and includes a link to Whitacre’s musical composition.

The artist’s second series, bolder with more highly-saturated colors, is “Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine.” Inspired by the works of DaVinci, it complements another Whitacre composition.

When viewed side by side it is difficult to imagine that they are works by the same artist, but Horjus is nothing if not versatile. Friends describe him as a “Renaissance Man.”

The show also features the works of artist Katie Schofield who is primarily known for her natural forms that usually are showcased in outdoor venues, and Laura Annis’ known for her bold colors to depict nature and mythology in an animation/illustration style.

“Visions of Wisconsin” at LALUZ  Gallery 1545 W. 18th Street. through September 2, 2017. For hours and other information visit LALUZ  or call (312) 401-344.

Reno Lovison

 

‘HAIR’ is still relevant

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HAIR The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical is a revival of the infamous hippie era production that raised many eyebrows in its day and contributed significantly to the evolution of American musical theater.

HAIR is at Mercury Theater through Sept. 17, 2017. Brett A. Beiner photo
HAIR is at Mercury Theater through Sept. 17, 2017. Brett A. Beiner photo

It might be easy to simply see this current production of HAIR as riding a “permanent wave” of nostalgia. Or you might choose to see it as a “bald” faced celebration of 1960’s era youth, depicting the struggles a significant portion of the boomer generation experienced on the road to adulthood, which incidentally had a huge impact on modern culture.

The original production contemporaneously reported on that cultural shift in America as it simultaneously contributed to it. So it is impossible to speak about the current production without referencing its history.

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Tony Bennett going strong at 91

 

Clad in signature vanilla sports jacket and broad grin, Bennett entertained cheering crowds inside Ravinia’s Pavillion and around it on the jammed lawns, Friday, a day after turning 91.

Tony Bennett wows the Ravinia Festival day after his 91st birthday. Photo by Pedro de Jesus for Ravinia.
Tony Bennett wows the Ravinia Festival crowd day after his 91st birthday. Photo by Pedro de Jesus for Ravinia.

“I travel all over but this is my favorite place,” Bennett told the crowd. Indeed, Ravinia Festival is where Bennett has been coming on or day after his Aug. 3 birthday.

Starting with some fine jazz from The Tony Bennett Quartet followed by  a few songs from daughter Antonia Bennett, the iconic pop star was introduced as he’s been in recent concerts by the voice of mentor Frank Sinatra saying he’s “the best.”

After a long standing ovation, the crowd was treated to one notable Bennett hit after another from “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Someone Who Needs Me”  to “Who can I Turn to,” “Because of You and “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

Some were just a few lines such as “Rags to Riches.” Most others were the whole song.

Sometimes his voice was pure, sometimes, raspy, but Bennett showed he still had it with terrific voice control in amazingly long-held notes. Also, there were nice repeats of key words in his emphatic style as in “The Way You Look Tonight. Tonight! Tonight!”

He did a great “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” with jazz, pop and classical pianist Tim Ray sitting in for this season tour regular Billy Stritch.

Ray, who has accompanied Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt and played with Rufus Reid and with the Boston Pops was fun to watch and listen to during solo turns on the piano.

The concert wasn’t all pop. Bennett moved to jazz with “Stepping Out With My Baby” with Ray, as Bennett pointed out, in the style of Duke Ellington.

The blues feeling came with a gorgeous “In My Solitude” done with Bennett’s long-time guitar player, Gray Sargent. Bennett and Sargent did several songs together as a well-matched pair.

Also good to hear were quartet regulars Marshall Wood on bass and Harold Jones on drums in brief shout-outs.

Then there were the audience chuckles as when Bennett started in with “As I approach the prime of my life” in the fine song, “This Is All I Ask.”

It ends with the wonderful words that seem to sum up this multi grammy-winner’s staying power: “And let the music play, As long as there’s a song to sing, and I will stay younger than Spring.”

But with the last words of what some consider his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the lights came on and the audience applauded thinking the concert was over. However, Bennett continued the joyous evening with a couple more songs.

When it ended for good, the Pavilion audience kept standing and applauding as Bennett left the stage but encores were not to be. Except for short band solos and riffs, he had sung straight through from 9 to 10 p.m. with seemingly endless energy.

And it was easy to believe the final lyrics of “This Is All I Ask.”

 

 

‘American in Paris’ shines with wonderful Gershwin music plus terrific set design and dancing

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Put together George Gershwin’s stirring music, Ira Gershwin’s delightful lyrics, Craig Lucas’ thoughtful book, Christopher Wheeldon’s  exceptional choreography and direction and Bob Crowley’ amazing set design.

Henri (Nick Spangler) and dancers perform a fantasy number at a Parisian club. Photos by Matthew
Henri (Nick Spangler) and dancers perform a fantasy number at a Parisian club. Photos by Matthew Murphy

Then people their work with the fine dancing talents of McGee Maddox of the National Ballet of Canada and Sara Esty, former Miami City Ballet soloist.

Add in the excellent acting and vocal talents of Nick Spangler from Book of Mormon and of Adam Hockberg and Emily Ferranti from “Wicked.

With all that creativity and talent put into one show you’ll have an evening to remember at ‘American in Paris,’ now at the Oriental Theatre through Aug. 19, 2017.

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Old boy meets girl story still resonates as a witty musical

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Tony Award nominated ‘They’re Playing Our Song,’ now a Brown Paper Box production at Rivendell Theater, is a boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, have problems, split and get back-together-again story with a celebrity twist.

Dan Gold (Vernon) and Carmen Risi (Sonia) and company in "They're Playing Our Song." A Brown Paper Box Co. photo
Dan Gold (Vernon) and Carmen Risi (Sonia) and company in “They’re Playing Our Song.”
A Brown Paper Box Co. photo

With book by Neil Simon,  music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, the show is a witty, entertaining musical with such easy listening songs as “If He Really Knew Me,” “When You’re in My Arms,” “I Still Believe in Love,” and “They’re Playing Our Song.”

What oldsters may remember from when the show opened on Broadway in 1979 with Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, is that it is somewhat autobiographical about Hamlisch and Sager’s 1970’s relationship.

The show is about New York Grammy and Oscar award-winning pop music composer Vernon Gersch connecting with lyricist Sonia Walsk because he is looking for a collaborator.

They start off with problems because Sonia is bubbly but has trouble keeping appointments anywhere near on time and is very busy trying to break up with a long-time boyfriend, and Vernon is sarcastic, uptight and somewhat aloof.

They start to bond when on a “non date” proposed by Sonia they dance and hear the band play songs they wrote.

Problems Sonia has with ex boyfriend Leon eventually comes between them when she appears very late for a recording session and Vernon says he can’t take it any longer.

That they still have feelings for each other becomes evident when they reconnect in LA.

On the cute side, Sonia wears dresses used in shows given her by a stage friend. On the witty side, they are both neurotic so Simon has Vernon saying “She’s a flake, I’m a flake. Two flakes make a snowstorm.”

She is in awe of his composing talent but he is in awe of her bubbly personality. He remarks that if a power outage causes a blackout in New York the only light seen would be coming from her.

Sonia is perfectly portrayed by Carmen Risi who has acted in Oil Lamp and Citadel productions in the Chicago area and in Four Seasons productions in Madison, WI.

Dan Gold who is often in Mercury, Apollo, Porchlight and Light Opera Works  productions, is very believable as Vernon.

The two leads are totally convincing in their angst and attraction to each other.

My problem watching the show was with the Greek chorus of three females who are supposed to be in Sonia’s head and the three mails from Vernon’s head.

Even though they were talented singers and dancers, I found them distracting and sometimes annoying.

However, the leads are good enough and the show witty enough to make it a delightful evening out. To learn more about Carole Bayer Sager, see her 2016 book, “They’re Playing Our song: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster).

“They’re Playing Our Song” will be at Rivendell Theater, a small store front space at 5779 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago, now through Aug. 20, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Brown Paper Box.

 

 

Cirque du Soleil turns its magical talents into a Mexican dream

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Luzia – a combination of two Spanish words for light, “luz,” and rain, “lluvia,” is the backdrop for a unique performance that unites traditional Cirque du Soleil elements with scenes and characters from Mexico.

In “Luzia – A Waking Dream of Mexico,” acrobatic performances, beautiful costumes and music will not disappoint, even if they are somewhat expected in a Cirque du Soleil production.

Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico is under the Big top next to the United Center now through Sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

The show opens with a traveler parachuting on to the stage. He will guide the audience on a magical and comedic journey through time and space.

After landing, he turns a large key and the show slowly begins to unveil the beauty of Mexico with a woman (Shelli Epstein) playing the role of the Monarch butterfly.

Although the beginning may start off slowly, hoop-diving acrobats dressed in hummingbird costumes bring it back to life in the second scene as they go through their routines on moving treadmills. With each leap, the acrobats perform a series of moves with increasing difficulty and grace.

As the show progresses from one scene to the next, the performers display their unique talents – balancing on one hand, flying from a trapeze and using aerial straps to move in ways you don’t expect.

However, it was the water and light show that generated some of the loudest applause. There is an impressive, controlled wall of rain with gorgeous pictures projected on it.

Everyone expects to be amazed, perplexed and amused by a Cirque du Soleil show. It’s a rarity to be made mildly queasy, but intentionally or not they pull it off with the most memorable and discomfiting positions of male contortionist Aleksei Goloborodko.

Throughout the show, the traveler, Eric Fool Koller, ensures the youngest members of the audience will leave with big smiles on their faces as he takes turns playing the narrator and the more traditional, bumbling circus clown.

Skillfully directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, I highly recommend the show for both returning Cirque du Soleil fans and anyone who has never experienced the beauty and athletic abilities of this type of performance.

Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico” will be playing at the United Center (Parking Lot K) now through Sept. 3, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Cirque du Soleil Luzia.

– Sheri Jacobs

 

Kiss and Hamilton and Shakespeare, really?

OK, so a famous rock and roll group, a mega-hit musical and a play that has inspired musicals and operas may or may not appeal to different audiences. But they all are Chicago performance news.

 

Romeo and Juliet reenact their love story in Chicago parks

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is back in Chicago parks this summer with free ;performances. Chicago Shakespeare photo
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is back in Chicago parks this summer with free ;performances. Chicago Shakespeare photo productions

 

The internationally renowned Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is returning for a sixth year to put on a free show in Chicago’s city parks. This year, the production is a 75 minute version of “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy of two young lovers from feuding families.

Starting off at the just completed Polk Bros Park at the entrance to Navy Pier, performances will be at 7 p.m. July 26-28.. From there it will move to 17 Chicago neighborhoods through Aug. 27, 2017.

Shakespeare in the Parks has been the basis for 1,300 free Chicago ark District’s “Night Out in the Parks” summer events.

The free Shakespeare shows is possible through a partnership of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Boeing and BMO Harris Bank.

For a list of parks and dates visit Chicagoshakes.

 

Hamilton cast news

Hamilton Company at Private Bank Theatre Photo by Joan Marcus
Hamilton Company at Private Bank Theatre Photo by Joan Marcus

“Memphis Tony nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Montego Glover will be taking the part of Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago company of “Hamilton” in early September, according to producer Jeffrey Seller.  In addition, Broadway cast member Gregory Treco is moving to the Chicago company to play Aaron Burr Sept. 8.

“Hamilton,” the mujlti-Tony Award winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is at The PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago.  A touring company will open in LA at at the Pantages Theatre Aug. 8, 2017.

Historian Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” a biography about the West Indies immigrant who instrumental in the Revolutionary War and became the first US Secretary of the Treasury.

For information visit Hamilton.

 

KISS is coming

Aurora’s RiverEdge Park hosts 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of fame Kiss for a spectacular “Shout it Out Loud” concert. 8 p.m. Aug. 20, 2017.

General admission is $70. A VIP Meet and Greet packageof perks is $1,250 and a less expensive VIP package is $325 (fees extra).

RiverEdge Park is at 360 N. Broadway, Aurora. For tickets and other information call (630) 896-6666 and visit RiverEdgeAurora.