Energetic ‘Rock of Ages’ revisits eighties music

RECOMMENDED

‘Rock of Ages’ at Drury Lane Oak Brook is a fun 80’s inspired musical romp through the apparently now nostalgic Reagan / G.H.W. Bush era.

Russell Mernaugh (Drew), center and the band. Brett Beiner photo
Russell Mernaugh (Drew), center and the band. Brett Beiner photo

The ankle-deep plot is reminiscent of the old Beach Party movies of the 1960’s.  Basically boy, Drew (Russell Mernaugh) meets girl, Sherrie (Cherry Torres). He aspires to be a rock star. She aspires to be a movie star. The couple’s love affair is interrupted by the intervention of superstar Stacee Jaxx (Adam Michaels) and hijinks ensue.

Meantime the evil, Nazi inspired Hertz (George Keating), reluctantly aided by his cowering and outrageously funny son, Franz (Nick Cosgrove), plans to push out the “rockers” and redevelop a portion of the Hollywood Sunset Strip into a European inspired mega-mall featuring all of the popular retail brands.

The plan includes taking a wrecking ball to the iconic Bourbon Room, a kind of Urban Cowboy bar run by aging proprietor Dennis (Gene Weygandt) who has not noticed that time has snuck up on him.

However, the culturally destructive aims of Hertz and Franz are energetically and enthusiastically challenged by the grassroots efforts of Regina – pronounced with a long “I” (Tiffany Tatreau).

This musical farce is sped along by the cornball humor and physical antics of Lonny (Nick Druzbanski). Think Svengoolie meets John Belushi.

The stage manager/audio tech and keeper of the Fogmaster 5000, acts as a kind of one man Greek chorus.

‘Rock of Ages’ has no religious connotation and the idea that the music of this period has a kind of timelessness is hopeful at best.

Cherry Torres (Sherrie) gets a job at the Bourbon Room in 'Rock of Ages.' Brett Beiner photo
Cherry Torres (Sherrie) gets a job at the Bourbon Room in ‘Rock of Ages.’
Brett Beiner photo

The story-line is basically an excuse to revisit a series of tunes and pay homage to the theatrically inspired Los Angeles Glam Metal genre whose rhythms are ideal for driving your shopping cart through Target or Walmart which is where you have probably heard most of these songs lately.

As the early part of generation X, the 80’s is defined musically by the rise of Madonna, Whitney Houston, Prince and Michael Jackson. The rock bands of the period had names like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Poison, Megadeth, and Anthrax which this production aptly spoofs.

Every member of the cast has the vocal chops required for their individual tasks. Donica Lynn who plays Mother gives us a couple of much appreciated soulful gospel-inspired moments.

The voice of Tiffany Tatreau is not lost in the crowd. Her feisty performances alone, and with Adam Michaels, really raise the energy level.

Much of the success of this production is due in no small part to the outstanding rock band led by keyboard/conductor Chris Sargent with guitarists Tom Logan and Dan Peters, Patrick Williams on bass and drummer Rich Trelease. The high point of the evening was their post finale jam played as the audience was filing out.

This production lived up to the high standards Chicago audiences have come to expect from The Drury Lane Theatre.

Director Scott Weinstein obviously encouraged his performers to have fun. The choreography (Stephanie Klemons) included a cool segment that was reminiscent of the mechanical bull rides that were popular at the time.

The set design (Jeffrey D. Kmeic) that incorporated the use of projected images and video was very innovative and effective, while the lighting (Greg Hoffman) captured the techno vibe of the era and contributed to the rock and roll atmosphere.

Kudos also to Theresa Ham for some costume surprises and Ray Nardelli for keeping the sound levels appropriate for a theatrical audience while not losing the rock essentials.

Though not timeless, “Rock of Ages” is an energetic fun filled performance that can be enjoyed by ages 13 and up.

DETAILS: “Rock of Ages” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, now through Oct. 15, 2017. For tickets and other information call (630) 530-0111 and visit Drury Lane Theatre.

Guest reviewer Reno Lovison says, “Don’t Stop Believing.”  He is an avocational folky soft-rock singer/acoustic guitarist and video producer who says he was too busy to remember much of the 1980’s.

Reno Lovison is @Renoweb.net

 

Love and Lawlessness

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ a Kokandy Productions musical now at the Wit Theater, is based on real outlaw lovers. They found nationwide fame during the 1930’s depression for their crime spree across the southwestern U.S. and lower Midwest.

[Spoiler Alert] The couple famously met their end in a police ambush that resulted in perhaps one of the most salacious news photos of all time showing their bullet riddled bodies and car that ironically provided the duo with the notoriety they both craved.

In the second song, “Picture Show,” Young Clyde (Jeff Pierpoint) a psychopathic boy idolizes the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid, introducing himself with his main theme of “Bang Bang You’re Dead.”

Young Bonnie (Tia L. Pinson) sweetly sings of being an “It Girl” like screen star Clara Bow and plans to be a movie star, singer and poet.

In an age progression Clyde Barrow (Max DeTogne) and Bonnie Parker (Desiree Gonzalez) find love,  linked by a mutual goal of fame and fortune that leads to their ultimate destruction.

Desiree Gaonzalez (Bonnie) and Max De Togne (Clyde). Evan Hanover photo
Desiree Gaonzalez (Bonnie) and Max DeTogne (Clyde). Evan Hanover photo

In the context of today’s news cycle these themes of violence are all too familiar and have the potential to make this death-wish love story somewhat uncomfortable. But it does make for good theater, particularly when combined with the music of Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) with lyrics by Don Black (Billy, Sunset Boulevard) and book by Ivan Menchell, performed by an outstanding cast of singers accompanied by a superb four piece orchestra.

Originally presented at La Jolla Playhouse in 2009, and transferred to Broadway in 2011 this Chicago premiere production happens in a now familiar hodgepodge set by Ashley Ann Woods. In this case, it’s designed to represent a farm house, jail, café, bank, church and boudoir. The automobile where the two meet their end is skillfully handled.

The storyline unfolds through a series of songs written in the “modern pop” genre with blues, gospel and rockabilly accents. This does a lot to keep the tension high and action moving but has a negative effect of seeming like it is constantly speeding. This, of course, mimics the fast paced life of the main duo racing through life.

Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche (Missy Wise) is the voice of reason who provides a welcome respite from the chaos with her tender ballad “That’s What You Call a Dream” and the humorous number “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail” with husband Buck (Justin Tepper) and the Salon Girls.

Max Detogne who appeared in Theo Ubique’s production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ has a voice tailor-made for this genre and infuses Clyde with all of the requisite humor and charm necessary for us to care about the character.

Desiree Gonzalez understands the complexities of Bonnie Parker who establishes early on that she is Clyde’s equal as she manages the character’s vulnerability and ruthlessness

“How ‘Bout a Dance” shows Bonnie’s softer side while the disturbing “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” reveals Bonnie’s other side and her commitment to live fast and die young.

Tia L. Pinson is a potential scene stealer (in a good way). She is an “It Girl” who has a charming presence onstage and is someone to keep an eye on.

Kokandy Productions, a Theater Wit resident company, has put together a tight package effectively led by Spencer Neiman (Director) and John Cockerill (Musical Director).

This is an instance where the subject matter on the surface is unsettling. It has the potential to make heroes of criminals and minimize the death and destruction they perpetrated. “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” comes dangerously close to romanticizing what is essentially a suicide pact between young lovers.

In the end Bonnie and Clyde is a theatrical performance that explores the need for recognition and love. It explores romantic love, parental love, spiritual love, self-love,  lost love and unrequited love.

Played out in a depression era where many people felt unseen, unvalued and desperate Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow decided to reject the society who rejected them and in so doing became sort of perverted ‘Robin Hood’ folk-heroes acting out what others were feeling, thus fulfilling Clyde’s objective, “This World Will Remember Me.”

The mission of Theater Wit is to promote humorous, challenging and intelligent plays. Check, check and check.

DETAILS; Bonnie & Clyde’ is at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, now through Oct. 15, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Theater Wit.

Reno Lovison (renoweb.net)

Around Town: Labor Day Weekend

If  you don’t want to compete with other drivers going out of town Labor Day, take advantage of the long weekend to visit events and places in the Chicago area.

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.

Cirque du Soleil

“Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico” will leave Chicago after this weekend. The final performance is Sept. 3. An amazing mix of color and culture, the show is under a tent at the United Center in Parking Lot K. For tickets and other information visit Cirque du Soleil Luzia.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Enjoy great music to sway and tap to under the stars in Millennium Park or surrounded by wonderful mosaics in the Chicago Cultural Center at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend. Admission is free. Millennium Park stages (201 E. Randolph St.) host music from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For Cultural Center, (78 E. Washington St.) times and for who is playing where and when visit ChicagoJazzFestival.

Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Art Fair on the Square

Wander around historic Market Square downtown Lake Forest Sept. 3 or 4 to see 180 exhibitors at Art Fair on the Square. Sponsored by the Deer Path Art League, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Admission is free.
For directions and more information visit Deer Path Art League.

Gauguin

Catch the Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago before it leaves. It is an exceptional show of Paul Gauguin’s sculptures, ceramics, paintings and etchings, but it ends Sept. 10 so try to fit it in during the long Labor Day Weekend. The exhibit is so popular it requires tickets. They’re included in admission price but they are date sensitive. For information and tickets visit ARTIC.

Paul Gauguin, "Self Image with Yellow Christ." Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Paul Gauguin, “Self Image with Yellow Christ.” Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Breakfast and hike

Go to Morton Arboretum for waffles, eggs and other yummy treats in the Ginko Garden Restaurant, Saturday or Sunday.  Then, hike the trails to work it off. The weather is supposed to be perfect for exploring the Arboretum, 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For more information or restaurant reservations call (630) 968-0074 and visit Morton Arb.

Hear UB40 or Aretha Franklin

Picnic on the lawn at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where UB40 performs Sept. 2 and Aretha Franklin gets respect Sept. 3. The UB40 concert is 7:30 p.m. Aretha Franklin, original scheduled for June 17, also starts at 7:30. Original tickets will be honored. Ravinia Festival is at 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For directions, parking, tickets and other information visit Ravinia.

Enjoy the weekend and be safe.

Chicago stage productions to add to your schedule

The good news about the Chicago theatre scene is there are many excellent productions because the city has an abundance of talented actors and directors. The bad news about the Chicago theatre scene is that there are so many good productions that it is close to impossible to fit all the shows into a busy schedule.

Indeed, there are so many theatre groups that many share their space or do a show in association with another company.

Planning ahead might help. Here are some of the shows scheduled for the 2017-18 season for several of the theaters in the city.

To see the season listing for shows coming nearby but outside city limits visit Northern Suburbs and Western Suburbs. And for productions coming in and near the Loop visit downtown.

From a church basement in Highland Park, Steppenwolf has grown to a large theater stage and education space on Halsted. Steppenwolf photo
From a church basement in Highland Park, Steppenwolf has grown to a large theatrical stage and education space on Halsted. Steppenwolf photo

 

Akavit

A group that specializes in Nordic works, Akavit is doing ‘Ghosts and Zombies’ by Henrik Ibsen and Gustav Tegby, translated by Chad Eric Bergman, Sept. 28-Oct. 29, 2017. The show will be at the Strawdog Theatre Company at 1802 W. Berenice. For tickets and other information visit Chicago Nordic.

AstonRep

The company has two shows planned so far for next season. First, is ‘1984’ adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles Jr. based on George Orwell’s novel. It runs Sept. 14 through Oct. 8, 2017. Secondly is ‘The Laramie Project’ by Moisés Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project, June 7 to July 8 2018. Both shows will be at The Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. For tickets and other information visit AstonRep.

Black Ensemble Theater

The company is doing ‘The Black Renaissance (More Than A Moment In History)’ Oct. 14-Nov. 19,2017 followed by ‘Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr.’ Dec. 9, 2017 to Jan. 21, 2018. Black Ensemble Theater is at 4450 N Clark St. For more information call (773) 769-4451 and visit Black Ensemble.

Broken Nose

The company just ended its award winning “At the Table” production which sold out even after it was extended so check back to Broken Nose Theatre for updates on next season.

Court Theatre

The new Court Theatre season starts with ‘Five guys Named Moe,’ a musical by Clarke Peters, Sept. 7 to Oct. 8, 2017. Next is ‘The Belle of Amhurst’ by William Luce based on Emily Dickinson’s diaries, letters and poems, Nov. 2 to Dec. 3, 2017. Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons’ starts the new year Jan. 11 to Feb. 11, 2018 followed by Todd Kreidler’s ‘Guess Who’s coming to Dinner,’ Mar. 15 to Apr. 15, 2018. The season ends with John Strand’s ‘The Originalist,’ May 10-June 10.

Court Theatre is at 5535 S. Ellis Ave. on the University of Chicago Campus. For tickets and other information visit Court Theatre.

Gift Theatre

The group is doing ‘Open Season,’ written and performed by Adithi Chandrashekar, Sept. 15 to 17, 2017. An inaugural production of its 4802 Play Development Program, the show is free of charge. The next show is ‘A Swell in the Ground’ by Janine Nabers, Oct. 13 to Dec. 10, 2017. Gift Theatre is at 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave. For tickets and other information call (773) 283-7071 or visit Gift Theatre.

Hell in a Handbag Productions

The company has moved its long-running ‘Golden Girls’ by David Cerda to Stage 773 from Mary’s Attic. The show will be there Saturdays at 10:30 from Oct. 7 to Nov. 11. ‘Bewildered,’  based on TV’s “Bewitched” with book by Ron Weaver, music and lyrics by Aaron Benham and Ron Weaver, will run Sept. 27 to Nov. 11 at at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. For more information visit  Handbag Productions.

The Hypocrites

The company opens the season with ‘Dracula,’ a world premiere adapted by Sean Graney, Oct. 7 through Nov. 5, 2017. The show will be at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave. The season contginues in April (check website for dates) with ‘Aristopanesathon,’ the eleven comedies of Aristophanes presented in a four hours and 30 minutes with food and cash bar. Adapted by Sean Graney it will be at the Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St. For tickets and other information visit The Hypocrites.

The House Theatre of Chicago

The company is doing ‘United Flight 232,’ adapted by Vanessa Stalling based on the book, “Flight 232,” by Laurence Gonzales. The show will run Sept. 1 to Oct 21, 2017. It is followed by ‘The Nutcracker,’ (non-ballet) by Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O’Donnell, and Tommy Rapley from the E.T.A. Hoffmann story, Nov. 3 to Dec. 30, 2017.

The new year begins with ‘Hatfield and McCoy,’ a murderous musical by By Shawn Pfautsch with original songs by Pfasutsch and Matt Kahler, Jan. 19 to Mar. 11, 2018. The season ends with ‘Ellen Bond, Union Spy,’ conceived by Jess McLeod, written by Jenni Lamb with music, lyrics and movement by Tanji Harper and Blu Rhythm Collective, Mar. 30 to May 20, 2018.

The House Theatre of Chicago shows are held at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St. For tickets visit House Theatre. For other show information see Season 16. More information on the Chopin Theatre, an arts venue used by several groups see Chopin Theatre.

Mercury Theater Chicago

Mercury ends the 2017 season with ‘The Christmas Schooner,’ a holiday musical tradition with book  by John Reeger and music and lyrics by Julie Shannon. The show runs from Nov. 24 through Dec.31 at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave. For tickets and other information call (773) 325-1700 or visit Mercury Theater.

NightBlue

The company is doing “Bullets over Broadway, the musical’  Sept 11 to Oct. 8, 2017 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. In 2018 it is doing ‘If/Then, the stage musical’ with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Feb 21 to Mar. 25. For more information visit NightBlue.

Other Theatre

Working in association with Chicago Dramatists’ Grafting Project, Other Theatre is doing the world premiere of ‘The Making of a Modern Folk Hero,’ based on Martin Zimmerman’s novel, Sept. 29 to Oct. 29, 2017. The production is at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. For tickets and more information visit Other Theatre and Chicago Dramatists.

Permoveo Productions

The company is doing ‘The Civility of Albert Cashier,’ a true Civil War tale. Book is by Jaul Paul Deratany with music and lyrics by Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden, Aug. 31 to Oct. 15. for more information visit Stage 773.

Porchlight Theatre

Porchlight which was present shows at Stage 773 has moved to Ruth Page Center for the Arts at 1016 N. Dearborn St. but some shows will be held at the Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie and Uptown Underground, 4707 N. Broadway, Chicago.

‘Billy Elliot, the Musical,’  based on the 2000 film with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall will be Oct. 6 to Nov. 19, 2017 followed by ‘Merrily We Roll Along,’ Jan 26 to Mar. 11, 2018 at the Ruth Page Center.

‘New Faces Sing Broadway 1959 will be Feb. 26 at Skokie Theatre and Feb. 27, 2018 at Uptown Underground. Then, ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ is Mar. 6 to 8, 2018  at Ruth Page.

‘Memphis’ is Apr. 19 to June 3 at Ruth Page.  ‘Do Re Mi’ is May 22 to 24, 2018 at Ruth Page. ‘New Faces Sing Broadway 1975,’ is  June 4 at Skokie Theatre and June 5 atUptown Underground. For directions and more information call 773-777-9884 and visit Porchlight.

Raven Theatre

The Chicago premiere of ‘Choir Boy’ By Tarell Alvin McCraney, will be at Raven Theatre Sept. 27 to Nov. 12, 2017. Then, the Chicago Premiere of ‘Nice Girl’ By Melissa Ross runs Jan. 24 to Mar.  11, 2018.

Next is the world premiere of ‘The Gentleman Caller’ by Philip Dawkins, Mar. 28 to May 13, 2018. The season ends with ‘Suddenly, Last Summer’ By Tennessee Williams, May 2 to June 17, 2018. Raven Theatre Company is at 6157 N. Clark St. For more information call (773) 338-2177 and visit Raven Theatre.

A Red Orchid Theatre

Wallace Shawn’s ‘Evening at the Talk House’ opens A Red Orchid Theatre’s 2017-18 season, Sept. 29-Nov. 19, 2017. Winter is the world premiere of ‘Traitor’ adopted by Brett Neveu from Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ running from Jan. 5 to Feb. 15, 2018.  The spring show is ’33 to Northing’ by Grant Varjas April 6 to May 27, 2018. The summer bonus show is Eugene Ionesco’s ‘Victims of Duty’ July-August (dates TBA). The theatre is at 1531 N. Wells Ave. For more information call (312) 943-8722 and visit A Red Orchid Theatre.

Red Tape Theatre

The group is moving to 4546 N Western Ave in Lincoln Square. The new venue has a spacious lobby, rehearsal space, and flexible 75-seat black-box theatre. Check back at Red Tape Theatre for season updates.

Rivendell Theatre

The ensemble is doing the world premiere of ‘Alias Grace,’adopted by Jennifer Blackmer from Margaret Atwood’s novel, Sept. 2 to Oct. 15, 2017. Rivendel is at 5779 N. Ridge Ave.. For more information visit Rivendell Theatre.

Route 66 Theatre

The company is presenting the Chicago premiere of Halley Feiffer’s ‘ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center of New York City. The show runs now through Sept. 23, 2017 in The Den’s Bookspan Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Route 66 is a resident company at The Den Theatre. For more information, visit Route 66 Theatre.

Theater Wit

Theater Wit produces shows and is a venue for resident and visiting companies.

‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ book by Ivan Menchell, music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black, is a Kokandy Productions resident show in Theater One, Sept. 1 to Oct. 15, 2017. ‘One Thousand Words,’ book and lyrics by Michael Braud, music by Curran Latas, is a theater Faction visiting company in Theater Two Sept. 1-17, 2017. “The Heavens are Hung in Black’ by James Still is a Shattered Globe Theatre resident company in Theater Three Sept. 7 to Oct. 21, 2017.

Theater Wit’s season also includes ‘Significant Other’ by Joshua Harmon, a co-production with About face theater, Nov. 2 to Dec. 10, 2017. Coming in 2018 is the world premiere of ‘The Antelope Party’ by Eric John Meyer, Jan. 5 to Feb. 24. The Chicago premiere of ‘Women Laughing Alone with Salad’ by Shelia Callaghan is Mar. 9 to Apr. 29, 2018.

Theater Wit is as 1229 W. Belmont. For more information call (773) 975-8150 and visit Theater Wit.

Steppenwolf Theatre

The company opens its 42nd Season with the Chicago premiere of ‘The Rembrandt’ by Jessica Dickey, Sept. 7 to its newly extended date of Nov. 5 due. The show is in the Upstairs Theatre.

Then ‘The Minutes’ by Tracy Letts goes from Nov. 9 to Dec. 31, 2017 in the  Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.

Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ begins the 2017-18 season of Steppenwolf for Young Adults (SYA) Oct. 8 to Oct 21.

Steppenwolf is at 1650 N. Halsted. Check SYA times and dates and more information on the regular season by calling (312-335-1650 and visiting  Steppenwolf.

Theatre Y

Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘Yerma,’ adopted by  Héctor Alvarez with music by Nicholas Tonozzi is co-presented by Theatre Y and Red Tape Theatre, Oct. 27 to Dec. 10. The show will be at Red Tape’s new home, 4546 N. Western Ave. For more information visit Theatre Y.

Strawdog Theatre

The company’s season has already begun with Robert O’Hara’s ‘Barbecue,’ running from mid-August to Sept. 30, 2017 at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre at 1700 N. Halsted St. The new year will start with Henrik Ibsen’s ‘The Pillars of Society’ adapted by Samuel Adamson. It runs Jan. 19 to March 3, 2018 in Strawdog’s new theatre at 1802 W. Berenice. The season concludes with the world premiere of ‘Damascus’ by Bennett Fisher, May 11 to June 23, 2018, also on Berenice. For other information visit Strawdog.

Timeline Theatre

The company is doing the Chicago premiere of ‘The Audience by Peter Morgan, now through Nov. 12, 2017 at the TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Then, there is ‘In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play’ by Sarah Ruhl, Oct. 26-Dec. 16, 2017 at Stage 773.

The Chicago premiere of ‘Boy’ by Anna Ziegler will be presented back on Wellington Jan. 18 to Mar. 18, 2018 followed by the world premiere of ‘To Catch a fish’ by Brett Neveu, Developed through TimeLine’s Playwrights Collective, it runs May 3 to July 1, 2018, also on Wellington.

For more information call (773) 281-8463 or visit Timeline.

Victory Gardens

The season features five thought-provoking plays starting with ‘Fun Home’ Sept. 19 to Nov. 12, an award-winning show with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. It continues with ‘Fade,’ Nov. 4 to Dec. 23, 2017 by Tanya Saracho as a co-production with Teatro Vista in association with CLATA.

Then, 2018 starts with ‘Breach,’ Feb. 9 to March 11, by Antoinette Nwandu, followed by ‘Doing It,’  Apr. 6 to May 6, by Boo Killebrew. The season ends with ‘Mies Julie,’ May 25 to June 24. Written by Yaël Farber, it is adopted from August Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie.’

Victory Gardens Theater is at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. For more information call (773) 871-3000 and visit Victory Gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hilarious antics and superb choreography make a marvelous Marriott night

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘Honeymoon in Vegas,’ a really nutty, crazily-wonderful musical now at Marriott Theatre, is so clever that it bears comparison to the 1950 Frank Loesser musical, ‘Guys and Dolls.’

Cast of 'Honeymoon in Vegas' at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. Liz Lauren photo
Cast of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. Liz Lauren Photo

The music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown will not go down in the American Song Book like Loesser’s “I’ll Know” or If I Were a Bell” but the lyrics are so outrageous that they bear careful listening to or descriptions will be missed because the music sounds so romantic and sentimental.

Imagine telling girls to dress up to their “molars” (to rhyme with high stake rollers) or characterizing an overly tanned female skin as “saddle bags.”

Set “Guys and Dolls” down in Vegas but minus the “Save-A Soul Mission”. Then fly the gal that the gambler pursues to Hawaii with him for the weekend instead of Cuba. Have him ply her with rum drinks and then have them fly back to Vegas.

However, the twist in the hilarious ‘Honeynmoon in Vegas,’ is that the guy who has trouble making a commitment is not the professional gambler or a friend like Nathan Detroit, but an ordinary Brooklyn “Joe,” Jack Singer. The problem is that Jack has trouble proposing and sealing the deal at the altar because he says his dead mother put a curse on him so he would never marry.

Samantha Pauly (Betsy) and Michael Mahler (Jack) in 'Honeymoon in Vegas" Liz Lauren photo
Samantha Pauly (Betsy) and Michael Mahler (Jack) in ‘Honeymoon in Vegas” Liz Lauren photo

But Jack agrees to fly to Vegas where gambler Tommy Korman sees Jack’s girlfriend, Betsy Nolan, at the hotel where he hangs out and cons suckers. Tommy thinks she is a double for his dead wife and plots how to marry her.

Betsy is like Nathan’s Adelaid who wants a commitment. But she really wants it from Jack whom she loves so when it comes to succumbing to Tommy wiles, she reverts to a Sarah like  character.

What Chicago audiences are getting from this regional premiere at Marriott is basically the Broadway show.

The musical’s book is by Andrew Bergman who wrote and directed the original film. It is insightfully helmed by Gary Griffin who directed the show on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre. Marriott’s amazing choreography is by Denis Jones who did the New York show.

Kudos also to Brian Hemesath, costume designer for the Broadway production, for his terrific Elvis grouping and the Tiki style forms in the Garden of disappointed Mothers.

Add to that sterling background, the excellent interpretation of Jack by the multi-talented Chicago veteran actor/composer Michael Mahler, a nicely nuanced portrayal of Betsy by Marriott regular (Eva Peron, et al.) Samantha Pauly, and the perfect depiction of Tommy by Broadway veteran Sean Allan Krill and you have a memorable Marriott production.

Cast of 'Honeymoon in Vegas' at Marriott theatre. Liz Lauren photo
Cast of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ at Marriott theatre. Liz Lauren photo

Other notable cast members are Cole Burden as Buddy Rocky leading the entertainment at the hotel and as Roy Bacon, the Elvis leader, Steven Strafford as Tommy’s sidekick Johnny Sandwich and Christine Bunuan as Mahi whom Tommy had divert Jack from pursuing Betsy.

Some of the highlights of the show are whenever  Marya Grandy appears as Jack’s funnily scary mom, Bea Singer, who keeps haunting him, and the “Flying Elvises” who help Jack return to Vegas from Hawaii.

A quick vignette of Jack flying to Hawaii in a middle seat crowded by clowning passengers is so true to life. The scene where flight desk attendants try to redirect him back to Vegas through Atlanta is a riot but hits on another too-true problem with flying anywhere.

‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ is at Marriott theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, now through Oct. 15, 2017. For tickets and more information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

 

Dance with your heart, joy and stars

RECOMMENDED

Think creative and experimental when considering the world premiere now at Chicago Dramatists. After all, how many, if any, theatrical productions have a box of stuffed animals, a marriage under duress, touching heartache peppered with clever comedy, toys that come alive as they interact with each other, eclectic music and wild dancing?

They add up to Jayme McGhan’s ‘Still Dance the Stars’ which serves up drama but with a good helping of comedy.

Martel Manning (James) and Ariana Sepulveda (Hope) in 'Still Dance the Stars' at Chicago Dramatists. Tom McGrath photo
Martel Manning (James) and Ariana Sepulveda (Hope) in ‘Still Dance the Stars’ at Chicago Dramatists. Tom McGrath photo

“The third time is the charm,” says Anne as she recalls turning down husband Jame’s first two proposals of marriage.

When he proposes to her a third time at a carnival with a little help from family, friends, music, and dancing, Anne accepts. An entertaining tape of the successful proposal goes viral on you-tube, attracting national attention along with unexpected pressures.

Fast forward six years.  Now the couple is preparing for yet another nationally-televised tell-us –about-your-bliss interview.

The timing is off, however, as their financial woes and personal loss play out across their marital battlefield.

The evening before their interview one drink leads to many others while James opens their box of stuffed animals. The toys grow to human size and proceed to both challenge and comfort the marriage as they begin to resemble family members.

Soon, a fantastical menagerie is stealing the stage: a child as a hippo, the mother-in-law as a giraffe, the father-in-law as a crocodile, a boyfriend as a potato, and others.

The heartache that the couple has endured comes to a peak near the end of the play.  I smiled through my tears at its touching pathos and clever humor, imaginative staging and colorful characters.

I also rocked in my seat to the beat of the music and laughed at the frenzied dancing of the stuffed animals that came to life—life being the essence of ‘Still Dance the Stars,’ especially as celebrated when one character says to another, “You’re my heart, my joy, my star!”

McGahn’s wonderfully unique production is a charming and clever testimony to love and loss and is imaginatively directed by Sarah Norris.

The talented cast includes Martel Manning and Kaycee Jordan of Chicago, Bethany Geraghty, Courtney Knysch, Claudia Campbell, Michael Aguirre, Carl Jaynes, and Dana Martin of NYC and Ariana Sepulveda, Philadelphia.

DETAILS: ‘Still Dance the Stars’ is at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. now through Sept. 16. For tickets visit BrownPaper.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman

Lyric tempts with glorious preview and seals the deal with exciting season

The Lyric Opera of Chicago starts its next season Sept. 23, 2017 but you can get a sneak peek on Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. with Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park.

Millennium Park hosts Lyric Stars in the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Millennium Park hosts Lyric Stars in the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

A free concert in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago, the preview includes arias from ‘Orphée et Euridice,’ ‘Rigoletto,’ ‘Die Walküre,’ ‘The Pearl Fishers’ and ‘Faust,’ among others.

Led by Maestro Andrew Davis conducting the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, the program features such stars as Andriana Churchman, Dmitry Korchak, Eric Owens and Matthew Polenzani.

The concert will also be live on 98.7WFMT and at WFMT.com 

For more information visit  Lyric Opera and the Lyric Stars on Facebook.

 

SEASON

The operas listed for the preview offer just a glimpse of the Lyric’s exciting 2017-18 season. The complete opera schedule exhibits a wide range of styles, moods and composers from Bizet and Mozart to Verdi and Wagner.

‘Orphée (Orpheus) and Eurydice’

'Orphee et Eurydice opens Lyric Season. Lyric Opera photo
‘Orphee et Eurydice’ opens Lyric Season. Lyric Opera photo

By Christoph Willibald Gluck, the opera features The Joffrey Ballet, Sept. 23-Oct. 15, 2017. This is the Paris version directed and choreographed by John Neumeier. It is about the mythological Greek musician/poet, Orpheus, trying to bring back his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld.

‘Rigoletto’
By Giuseppe Verdi, Oct. 7-Nov. 3, 2017, the opera centers on the revenge-bound, tragic court jester, Rigoletto, daughter Gilda and the evil Duke of Mantua. Opera goers will recognize Mantua’s “La donna è mobile,” Gilda’s “Caro nome” and the opera’s famed quartet.

‘Die Walküre’

By Richard Wagner, Nov.1-30, 2017, the opera continues the Lyric’s Ring cycle which started in 2016 with ‘Das Rheingold.’ Wagner’s powerful music exemplifies the strong emotions and character traits of Siegmund, Sieglinde, Brünnhilde, Wotan, Fricka and Hunding.

‘The Pearl Fishers’ (Les pêcheurs de perles)

By Georges Bizet, Nov. 19-Dec. 10, the opera includes this writer’s favorite duet for tenor and baritone. The opera takes place in Ceylon where two friends fall in love with priestess Leila.

 

‘Turandot’ 

'Turandot,' a fairy tale set in a fantasy version of ancient China is offered by the Lyric in the middle of the 2017-18 season. Lyric Opera photo
‘Turandot,’ a fairy tale set in a fantasy version of ancient China is offered by the Lyric in the middle of the 2017-18 season. Lyric Opera photo

 By Giacomo Puccini, Dec. 5, 2017-Jan. 27, 2018, the opera is a fairy tale that takes place in China where the princess asks suitors to answer three riddles. Incorrect answers lead to execution. The opera features the popular aria, “Nessun dorma.”

‘I Puritani’

By Vincenzo Bellini, Feb. 4-28, 2018, is a bel canto opera calling for exceptional technique as it tells the story of lovers in a England divided by the 1600’s civil war.

‘Cos fan tutte’ (The School for Lovers)

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Feb. 17-March 16, 2018 the opera is a delightful light treat that works well on the heels of ‘I Puritani’s’ high drama. Mozart’s tale delves into intrigue worthy of Shakespeare’s comedies.

‘Faust’

By Charles Gounod, Mar. 3-21, 2018, the opera revolves around the consequences of selling one’s soul to the devil.  A popular story told in the Grand Opera style, it includes Marguerite’s “Jewel Song” and an exceptional final trio.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

By Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Rice, Apr. 27-May 20, 2018, the season ends with what has become a Lyric tradtition – a Broadway musical production. This season the show is Webber’s rock opera,

The Lyric Opera is at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. For additional programs and ticket information visit Lyric or call (312)827-5600.

 

 

 

Hamilton tickets and Jeff nominations in the news

 

Hamilton

More tickets to Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, ‘Hamilton,’ will become available beginning at 10 a.m. Aug. 29, 2017, according to producer Jeffrey Seller.

Cast of Hamilton in Chicago Joan Marcus photo
Cast of Hamilton in Chicago
Joan Marcus photo

Announced in conjunction with Broadway in Chicago, he noted that a 16 week block of tickets can be purchased from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The PrivateBank Theatre’s box office, 18 W. Monroe St., online at BroadwayinChicago and by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000.

The new block of tickets extends the run to April 29, 2018. The box office had been selling tickets only through Jan 7 of next year.

Tickets range in cost from $65 to $190. However, the online lottery for $10 seats will continue.

The lottery can be entered through a new app at HamiltonBroadway and at BroadwayinChicago. Access to the new lottery is 11 a.m. (Central Time) two days before the performance and through 9 a.m. the day before the performance.

The show is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  More on the musical can be found at “Hamilton is worth the hype.”

 

Jeff  Equity Nominations

Check the list to see if a theater production you saw and liked made the Jefferson Committee’s equity nomination list. Nominations fall into 33 categories.

Shows had to be running between Aug.1, 2016 and July 31, 2017.  The 49th Annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony will be held Nov. 6 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.

Drury Lane Productions took the most nominations at 19 followed by Paramount and Writers Theatres with 15, Goodman Theatre at 14, Porchlight Music Theatre with 13, Court Theatre at 11 and Marriott Theatre with 10.

Here is a list of nominees in the plays and musicals categories for the show, director, actor and actress.

 

Read More

A musical deals with teen identity crises and peer behaviors

RECOMMENDED

‘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

RECOMMENDED

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.