Playing It the company way

Ken Singleton (J. Pierrepont Finch) in Music Theater Works’ How to Succeed in Business Without really Trying. (photo by Brett Beiner)
Ken Singleton (J. Pierrepont Finch) in Music Theater Works’ How to Succeed in Business Without really Trying. (photo by Brett Beiner)
4 stars
The bouncy overture winds down, the curtain rises and we find a young man in coveralls descending from above in the Music Theater Work’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
J. Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious young window washer, is discovered reading Shepherd Mead’s tongue-in-cheek instructional book of the same name, while dangling from scaffolding above Madison Avenue.
Narrated for this production by NPR news quiz host, Peter Sagal, the book progresses chapter-by-chapter, charting the recommended course for Ponty’s rise to power in the business world.
Now, bear in mind that this how-to manual, a 1952 best-seller by Shepherd Mead, subtitled “The Dastard’s Guide to Fame and Fortune,” was written as a parody of the popular self-help books of that era. Between this book’s unfailing advice and Finch’s pluck and pizzazz, this likable kid is undoubtedly destined to rise to the top…or is he?
It’s hard to believe that this show which set a new standard for musical comedy satire, is almost 60 years old now. The hummable score by Frank Loesser (“Guys & Dolls,” “Most Happy Fellow”) features a libretto by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, adapted from Mead’s humorous book of the same name.
The musical has a field day lampooning the seeming ease with which an entry level employee can rise to the top of the corporate ladder. A film preserving the performances of most of the original cast was released in 1967. This 1962 Pulitzer Prize and eight-time Tony Award winner has been successfully revived twice on Broadway, earning additional Tony Award nominations and wins.
Throughout the play, whenever it seems the darkest, the young, eager beaver aligns with precisely the right people to learn from and suck up to, as well as the easiest loopholes to infiltrate, in order to reach the top. And when all those elements are out of reach, Ponty employs his considerable boyish charm, ultimately helping him to achieve success.

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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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‘Hamilton’ to leave Chicago next January

 

Cast of 'Hamilton'. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Cast of ‘Hamilton’. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Blocks of tickets have periodically been put up for sale, thus extending the hit Broadway show’s Chicago run since September 2016. But the last block of tickets will go on sale May 17,2019 at 10 a.m.

Those tickets can be bought at the CIBC Theatre’s box office (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at 18 W. Monroe St., on the Broadway In Chicago 800-775-2000 number and online at BroadwayInChicago.

“More people have seen “Hamilton” in Chicago than any other city, including New York,” said producer Jeffrey Seller.  “Chicago has been a cornerstone of our mission to make “Hamilton” as accessible to as many people as possible.  We’ve loved our time here, and you can bet that ‘we’ll be back’.”

By the numbers: The Chicago run will be 171 weeks, 1,341 performances, seen by more than 2.6 million attendees plus more than 32,000 Chicago Public School students and teachers have participated in the show’s EduHam, an American history education program.

The musical, “Hamilton,” is based on the book, “Alexander Hamilton,” a biography of the Founding Father by Ron Chernow. Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote the musical’s lyrics, music and book won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Directed by Thomas Kail, choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler with music direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, “Hamilton” took 11 Tony Awards in 2016 including Best Musical, Score, Book of a Musical, Direction of a Musical, Choreography and Orchestrations.  It’s produced by Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and The Public Theater.

For Hamilton lottery ticket information visit BroadwayInChicago/HamiltonLottery or HamiltonBroadway.

For more information see Hamilton Musical  or visit its social media sites: Facebook/Hamilton, Instagram/Hamilton and Twitter/Hamilton.

Related articles: Hamilton the exhibition, Hamilton is worth the hype, High school students perform on Hamilton stage and see the show.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

‘August Rush’ not ready for prime time

The cast of August Rush at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Luaren photo)
The cast of August Rush at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Luaren photo)

2  1/2 Stars

There’s no denying that John Doyle is a gifted genius. The artistic director of Classic Stage Company in New York City, Doyle has won awards for his productions of beautiful “Passion,” “Carmen Jones” and “The Visit.”

He’s primarily known for his much-acclaimed, pared down productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” where, in addition to acting, singing and dancing, the reduced cast also provided all the musical accompaniment.

His latest production, adapted from a popular 2007 film of the same name, is now enjoying a pre-Broadway tryout at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora where Doyle has simplified the story and amped up the musical component with mixed results.

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‘Chicago’ the musical in its namesake town

Chicago the musical is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)
Chicago the musical is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)

3 stars

”Chicago,” the sardonic, jazzy, vaudeville-style musical written by lyricist Fred Ebb, composer John Kander with  book by Ebb an Bob Fosse, is in its namesake town for just a week as it continues to make the rounds.

Fosse’s choreography in conjunction with Ann Reinking’s choreography in Fosse’s style for the 1997 New York production are skillfully performed by the company and the two female leads, Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart and Lana Gordon as Velma Kelly.

The Fosse style, Croman’s big number “Roxie” plus “When You’re Good to Mama,” sung by Jennifer Fouché and “Mister Cellophane” sung by Paul Vogt as Amos Hart make the current touring show worth seeing.

Just don’t expect quite the high level of razzle-dazzle of the original 1975 show or the 1996 revival or the 2002 film version that won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Eddie George who has moved from the NFL to acting in Nashville companies, is an OK Billy Flynn but not in the same personality category as Richard Gere in the movie or at the song and dance guy level of Jerry Orbach in the Broadway production.

This version needs to turn up the heat on its famed “Cell Block Tango” which seemed a bit going-through- the-motions tired.

However, the show is fun to watch. The orchestra, conducted by Andrew Bryan, is still on stage as the main set-design element and its vaudeville-style, bring-them-on performances across the front of the stage is still entertaining.

“Chicag0” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago through May 12, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Broadway In Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

‘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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‘West Side Story’ still carries a message

Mikaela Bennett and Corey Cott in West Side Story at Lyric Opera. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
Mikaela Bennett and Corey Cott in West Side Story at Lyric Opera. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

3 1/2 stars

If you go to see “West Side Story,” now at the Lyric Opera through June 2, 2019, you are likely to think about how culture clashes have changed or not since Leonard Bernstein wrote the show’s dramatically descriptive music, Stephen Sondheim did the very memorable lyrics, Arthur Laurents penned the book based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed it.

When West Side Story opened as a Broadway musical in 1957 it received six Tony nominations including Best Musical but a feel good show, “Music Man,” won the Tony Award for Best Musical. “West Side Story” was not meant to make audiences happy. Even the show’s single funny scene/song “Gee, Officer Krupke” sung by the Jets pinpoints societal problems.

Anyone who reads Shakespeare’s tragedies, knows the Bard is very good at portraying motivations and clashes.

If you know your Shakespeare, you will find some similarities between the “Romeo and Juliet “ of the 1590’s and Broadway musical of the 1950s.

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New musical features Graffiti as art

 

Graffitti art in NYC from the 70s and 80s celebrated in musical Graffiti Kings. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross)
Graffitti art in NYC from the 70s and 80s celebrated in musical Graffiti Kings. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross)

If you take a train, “L” or bus in Chicago you are likely to see murals, words and names painted on the sides of overhead passes and buildings. Some tell a story or express moods and feelings but you might miss that if your vehicle isn’t stopped long enough. Sure there are also gang territory and identification words.

Would you lump all of it together as graffiti? Or would you think of any of the work as art, as cultural expressions?

Jonathan Gross not only sees much of the paintings as cultural art expressions, he is writing two booksabout that; “Four Studies in Graffiti” and “Cure for the Common Core: Arts Education in the Public schools.”

But what theater goers, musical lovers and arts aficionados should know is that Gross is putting the finishing touches on an earlier show he wrote, “Graffiti Kings: A Musical.”

Originally written on New York’s graffiti of the 1980s based on “Graffiti Kings” by Jack Stewart, “Subway Art” by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper and “Training Days” by Chalfan, the revised musical will be slightly expanded.

Still titled, “Graffiti Kings: A Musical,” the version coming to a Chicago venue in late May includes research into artist Martin Wong’s social realism of ethnic and racial identities works and collection and will fictionalize graffiti collectors into a composite of characters.

The revised show, now an hour long, will be performed at 7 p.m. on Stage 773, May 30, 2019.

“Graffiti Kings” had premiered in April 2016 at the Old Town School of Folk Music with student performers from DePaul University’s renowned theatre department; formerly the Goodman Drama School. It was backed by musicians Gross and Vincent Buoncore.

DePaul University English professor and playwright Jonathan Gross. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross
DePaul University English professor and playwright Jonathan Gross. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross

You see, the playwright is DePaul University English Department’s Professor Gross. His area is Nineteenth-Century Literature; World Literature. No ivy-tower escapist, Gross worries about students in schools that under-fund the arts.

But during a recent phone interview, what emerged was this is the Gross who co-wrote such popular children’s musicals as “The Dragon’s Tale,” The Blue Dog” and “Snoops and Schnozzles” with Jacqueline Russell back in the 1990s. Russell is now artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Also revealed was that Gross studied piano and trumpet, and played in a jazz trio with Buoncore and Kim Healey called Lush Life.

A long-time admirer of Ethel Waters and Duke Elington, Gross wrote “Harlem Renaissance Remembered” (Brilliance Audio) and “Eye on the Sparrow: Afterlives of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.” He sees “Graffiti Kings” as the third part of his trilogy.”

“The play and songs for “Graffiti Kings” were written by me, inspired by the voices of graffiti artists Blade, Seen, Zephyr, Lady Pink, Lee Quinones and Martin Wong (graffiti collector whose work is compiled in NYC’s Museum of the City of New York),” said Gross in a follow-up note.

The show celebrates their characters in his original songs: “Open Book,”  “Train,” “When I Said Goodbye,” Sheila,” “ Look Back in Anger,” and “Passenger.”

“Graffiti wasn’t a crime in the 70s and 80s. I’m trying to get people to see it as a culture contribution, to be admired and not as vandalism,” said Gross.

For tickets and more information on the show call (773) 327-5252 and visit. Stage 773/Graffiti Kings.

Jodie Jacobs

City Lit Slides Home With A Theatrical Double Header

 

Nate Strain. "The Devil and Daniel Webster," one-half of Two Days in court. (Photo by Steve Graue)
Nate Strain. “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” one-half of Two Days in court. (Photo by Steve Graue)

3 Stars

As the baseball season begins, City Lit is ending their 39th theatrical season with “Two Days in Court: A Double-Header of Classic One Acts.”

The two plays are “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet, and the farcical Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “Trial by Jury.”

In “The Devil and Daniel Webster” a young farmer turned senator Jabez Stone (Nate Strain) has literally sold his soul to The Devil “Scratch” (Lee Wichman) in exchange for his success. The agreement comes due coincidentally at midnight on the day of his wedding to Mary Stone (Laura Resinger).

Luckily for the Stones one of their wedding guests is the famed orator of-the-day and prominent attorney Daniel Webster (Bill Chamberlain) who agrees to represent Jabez against Scratch in front of a “jury of the damned” to  get the young Senator released from this most egregious contract.

Webster reminds the jury who have each sold their soul for advantage over others and short term gain, that they have sacrificed the simple pleasures of life.

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‘Rock of Ages’ strobes into Chicago

L-to-R-Anthony Nuccio (Drew) and Katie LaMark (*Sherrie) in Rock of Ages. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
L-to-R-Anthony Nuccio (Drew) and Katie LaMark (*Sherrie) in Rock of Ages. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

3 Stars

How you feel about “Rock of Ages,” a classic rock “Jukebox musical” now in Chicago, depends on whether you saw the original show ten years ago and liked it or if you don’t mind and even appreciate that this version is a parody of itself.

At the Nederlander Ttheatre (formerly Oriental) through Aril 28 2019, the current show is taking its 10th anniversary tour through the U.S. with more flashing concert rock-band lights and amps than when it came out in 2009.

Directed by Martha Banta, everything is highly exaggerated which makes this version funnier but it also gallops through several of the songs and turns up the volume so that you may catch the beat rather than the words even though the show includes such standards  as “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” and “Here we Go Again.”

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