‘Sunset Boulevard’ starts Porchlight season with Hollywood flair

 

 (L to R) Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond and Billy Rude as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre .(Photo by Michael Courier )
(L to R) Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond and Billy Rude as Joe Gillis in
Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre .(Photo by Michael Courier )

3 1/2 stars

Popular Chicago stage veteran Hollis Resnik has joined such leading ladies as Glenn Close and Patti LuPone to inhabit the delusional figure of Norma Desmond in the musical version of “Sunset Boulevard.”

Resnik does so with such believability and panache as to make viewers wonder if she is able to shed the role when leaving Porchlight Music Theatre each night.

A 1993 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the stage show is based on a 1950 Billy Wilder film noir about a one-time silent screen star desperate for a comeback.

Her unwitting victim is Joe Gillis (Billy Rude), a struggling Hollywood movie writer who needs the script rewrite job Desmond offers so he can pay off his car loan.

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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

 

‘Something Rotten’ turns Shakespeare Bottoms up

 

High-kicking, high-energy cast of Something Rotten at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
High-kicking, high-energy cast of Something Rotten at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 stars

It’s silly, It’s clever. It’s creative. It’s laugh-out-loud absurd

It’s “Something Rotten,” the 2015 Tony nominated musical with witty lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and unusual book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell that is now making its regional debut at Marriott Theatre.

In 1595 England, show manager/ director Nick Bottom and his brother, playwright/poet Nigel, aren’t worried that something is rotten in Denmark. As their acting troupe fails to put on a successful show, they worry about financing, finding an original play idea and their inability to compete with William Shakespeare.

To set the character of the era, the opening number has the Minstrel (Jonathan Butler Duplessis) gloriously sing out, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” joined by a large company of dancers and singers. The era is also well set by Theresa Ham’s costumes

Something Rotten” moves from one fun musical number “God, I Hate Shakespeare” sung by the brothers and their troupe, to another – “Will Power” sung rock-concert style by Shakespeare and his ensemble of fans.Read More

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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‘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

‘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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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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Be careful what you wish for

 

Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 ½ stars

In Act II of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” the Baker and Cinderella, two of four main fairy-tale characters who survive the whole, Hamlet-like second act (Little Red and Jack (of beanstalk fame are the other two), explain that choices have consequences and everyone is connected in “No One Is Alone.”

It the characters sound like those folks encountered during childhood bedtime stories they may possibly come to life for some audience members during Act I. but that familiarity ends when Sondheim who composed the music and lyrics and Lapine who wrote the book, offers a scathing reality check in Act II.

The musical, garnering several Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Book when premiering on Broadway in 1987, pulls a moralistic, anti-happily after plot from stories primarily conceived  or popularized by 17th century French fairy-tale founder Charles Perraultan (“Cinderella,”  Little Red Riding Hood”) and 19th century German folklore authors and collectors, the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Snow White).  “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English Fairy tale popularized by Joseph Jacobs started out n 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”

It all starts with “Rapunzel”  when a husband steals veggies called rampion or rapunzel from the garden of a next-door neighboring witch to make his pregnant wife happy. The witch catches him and makes a deal to leave the couple alone if they will give her theirthe baby to raise. This story is uncovered when that man’s son, the Baker, and his wife are lonely without children and learn it’s because of the witch’s curse.

And so the musical is about what people wish for and their journey to achieve it. The witch tells them the curse will be removed if the couple brings her a “cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and slipper as pure as gold” in three days.

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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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Always remember ‘All That He Was’

 

'All That He Was.' L to R: Ethan Warren, Rick Rapp. (Photos by Nicholas Swatz)
‘All That He Was.’
L to R: Ethan Warren, Rick Rapp. (Photos by Nicholas Swatz)

4 stars

 

First, a gentle warning to theatergoers planning to see”All That He Was,” a deeply moving, sometimes humorous new musical by Pride Films & Plays at The Buena: bring along lots of Kleenex.

When theatergoers walk into The Buena, they may be surprised to discover that they’re about to attend a funeral. The entire theatre has been transformed into an outdoor, park-like space.

This sepulchral space is highlighted by a tasteful garden of plants and flowers surrounding an arbor and peppered with places to sit and the stage is festooned by strings of tiny white lights.

A poignant AIDS-inspired, mostly sung-through musical, “All That He Was” is a newly revised version of the original, award-winning one-act by Larry Todd Cousineau (book and lyrics) and Cindy O’Connor (music).

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