Northlight show sheds light on Drag

RECOMMENDED

A Drag Queen walks into a bar. That may sound like the beginning of a joke. But when Drag Queen, Miss Tracy Mills, played with verve and empathy by Sean Blake, struts into his cousin’s bar in Panama City, FL, he changes the life of Casey, an impoverished Elvis impersonator.

Casey (Nate Santana) is transformed into Georgia McBride by Miss Tracy Mills (Sean Blake). (Michael Brosilow photo)
Casey (Nate Santana) is transformed into Georgia McBride by Miss Tracy Mills (Sean Blake). (Michael Brosilow photo)

The story, a play written by Matthew Lopez now at Northlight Theatre, is ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride,’ a fun, revelatory, entertaining show on how a person can adapt to a new persona and enjoy it.

Casey, interpreted brilliantly by Nate Santana, loves performing as Elvis but his act doesn’t pay the rent and wife Jo (Lesle Ann Sheppard) has announced she is pregnant.

While changing for his Elvis act, Casey is surprised when Tracy walks in ready to go on stage. Bar owner Eddie, played with bumbling charm by Keith Kupferer, hasn’t yet told Casey that he’s being replaced because his Elvis act isn’t drawing well.

In a star-is-born style success story, the other half of Tracy’s act, Rexy, delightfully acted by Jeff Kurysz with a mix of Italian and French accents and words, falls down drunk so can’t go on.

Casey not only doesn’t want to put on a dress, he also doesn’t believe he can perform in drag. When told that filling in for Rexy is the only way he will perform in this bar and that he might even take home some cash, he lets Tracy dress him and add his make-up and a wig.

The transformation doesn’t happen overnight but becomes easier and better with each performance until Casey realizes he enjoys performing on stage as the bar’s newest Drag star.

Casey (Nate Santana),l, and Eddie (Keith Kupfere) are back stage with Rexy (Jeff Kurysz) before a show. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Casey (Nate Santana),l, and Eddie (Keith Kupfere) are back stage with Rexy (Jeff Kurysz) before a show. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Rachel Laritz’s costumes help make the show believable and fun to watch. Choreographed by Chris Carter, the bar acts of Casey as Georgia McBride and that of Tracy make the time go so quickly it’s a surprise when the play ends.

The kicker is that even though he is bringing home more than enough money now to pay the bills and really enjoys what he is doing, Casey has trouble telling Jo about his job. He is afraid to say he is performing in a Drag show.

Maybe he needed something such as Northlight’s program which exlains several terms used by Drag performers.

For Drag Queen, it says “someone who performs femininity theatrically. In many cases this term refers to a man who dresses up as a woman for entertainment purposes.”

Directed by Lauren Shouse, the play provides nice behind-the-scenes insight into Drag dressing and performing.

DETAILS: ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ is at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, through Oct. 22, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 45 min. with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 and visit Northlight.

 

 

A Greek Tragedy set in America opens Goodman Theatre season

 

There is no question that Goodman Theatre has opened its 2017-18 season with a very special production of Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From The Bridge.’

Cast of 'A View From The Bridge' at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘A View From The Bridge’ at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)

How you feel about this production will depend on whether you are comfortable with an intense, minimalist concept as developed by Director Ivo Van Hove within a severe black box, or if you relate better to a story told on a stage with scenery and possibly video and other set accoutrements that establish time and place.

Set in an Italian American area near the Brooklyn Bridge in a 1950’s America that is not immigration-friendly (sound familiar?), the play is supposedly based on a true tragedy.

Its theme, a married man becoming so obsessed with a niece living with them that he will go to any lengths to ward off possible suitors, belongs in the Greek Tragedy genre.

Take away the wife’s illegal Italian family members who have come to live with them, and the story is still about a husband’s obsession.

Similar to a Greek play, the show opens with the sounds of a beautiful but foreboding chorus. However, it is not the chorus that explains the action but Alfieri, interpreted perfectly by Ezra Knight.

Alfieri is an attorney who notes that dissatisfaction and disagreements are supposed to be handled by a lawyer as a bridge that meets halfway between combatants.

When Eddie (Ian Bedford), a dock worker who tries to keep his niece, Catherine  (Catherine Combs), first from taking a job, and then from going out with Rodolpho (Daniel Abeles), one of the two relatives who are staying with them, he learns from Alfieri that he can’t stop them from dating.

Eddie’s wife, Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) who can see what is happening tries to intervene but to no avail.

Eddie is told that the only action might be to report his wife’s cousins, Rodolpho and Marco (Brandon Espinoza) to immigration but he knows he will then become a pariah in the Italian community if he does so.

Low, ominous sounding background music plus the elimination of any intermission between the play’s two acts, heightens the feeling of doom.

‘A View From The Bridge’ is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., now through Oct. 22, 2017. Running time : 2 hours. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-4800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

 

At Steppenwolf: Love and grief confronted through a Rembrandt painting

RECOMMENDED

It is always a treat to see longtime Steppenwolf actors John Mahoney or Francis Guinan in a play. In ‘The Rembrandt,’  now in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, audiences get both outstanding actors.

Karen Rodriguz (Madeline), l, Francis Guinan (Henry) c, and Ty Olwin (Dodger, r, stare at a Rembrandt oil painting hanging in a museum in 'The rembrandt' at Wteppenwolf. Michael Brosilow photo
Karen Rodriguz (Madeline), l, Francis Guinan (Henry) c, and Ty Olwin (Dodger), r, stare at a Rembrandt painting hanging in a museum in ‘The Rembrandt’ at Steppenwolf Theatre. Michael Brosilow photos

Written by playwright/actor Jessica Dickey, the premise  seems to be that art in a museum may affect viewers whether they are guards or visitors, not just differently, but also on a more sublime level.

Guinan as Henry, a museum guard whose duties include looking for any problem nicks, can imagine the paintings coming alive at night. He thinks their artists may even converse with each other.

Gabriel Ruiz as gun-carrying security guard Jonny, is Simon’s friend but he sees his job as protecting the paintings.

The two approaches clash when Henry is encouraged to touch the Rembrandt by both a new, rule-defying, apprentice/guard, Dodger, played by Ty Olwin, and by copyist Madeline, portrayed with humor by Karen Rodriguez.

That happens even though Madeline earlier discouraged such an idea when proposed by Dodger because fingers contain harmful substances.

After discussing elements of the painting the three of them do touch it. The next scene is in Rembrandt’s house. It’s as if touching the painting  opened a portal to its historic past.

A note about historic accuracy: 17th century Dutch Master Rembrandt van Rijn did favor the black and muted colors except for his famed luminescent whitish tones as mentioned in the play. But unlike the reference to blue, he did use blue shades though primarily in his biblical and mythological subjects.

Francis Guinan (Rembrandt) works on a painting for an Italian art patron while Ty Olwin (Titus) looks on.
Francis Guinan (Rembrandt) works on a painting for an Italian art patron while Ty Olwin (Titus) looks on.

And yes, in spite of the nice commissions given to this master painter, he did over spend so ended up in debt as referred to in the play.

The portal idea continues when Olwin, now Rembrandt’s son, Titus, touches a bust of Homer that supposedly was in the painting and in Rembrandt’s home.

The next scene is a soliloquy by Mahoney as Homer expounding on the merits of poetry.

The final scene is at Henry’s home where he is disconsolate with grief and guilt as he sits at the sick bed of his longtime partner, Simon (Mahoney) who is dying with stage four cancer.

That scene clarifies the play’s underlying themes of grief, death and love.

Madeline had taken the art course that brought her to the museum because the grandmother who cared for her had become ill and recently died.

She felt love, grief and also guilt that she thought death was OK because her grandmother had deteriorated so much.

Henry who dearly loved Simon, experienced remorse for not being a more considerate partner when Simon was healthy.

John Mahoney (Simon) l, and Francis Guinan (Henry) in 'The Rembrandt' at Steppenwolf.
John Mahoney (Simon) l, and Francis Guinan (Henry) in ‘The Rembrandt’ at Steppenwolf.

In the Rembrandt home scene, Rodriguez who is now Rembrandt’s lover, Henny, demonstrates her love and Titus expresses love for his father while remonstrating against his spending excesses.

Well directed by Hallie Gordon with excellent set design by Regina Garcia and fine costume design by Jenny Mannis, the play raises interesting ideas to ponder about art and personal relationships.

‘The Rembrandt’ is at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, through Nov. 5, 2017. Francis Guinan is Henry and Rembrandt through Oct. 22. The role will be then be taken on by Joe Dempsey through the last performance. For tickets and other information call (312) 335-1650 and visit Steppenwolf.

 

 

1984 Thirty-three Years Later

Highly Recommended

George Orwell’s famous novel, “1984,” is likely to haunt audiences in AstonRep Theatre Company’s interpretation of the story, now at The Raven Theatre.

The production is powerful and provocative as wonderfully convincing characters transport the audience to the frightening nation of Oceania.

Adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles Jr. and directed by Robert Tobin,  the play mentions and defines Orwell’s phrases such as the famed “Big Brother is watching you.”

Sarah Lo (Julia) and Ray Kasper (Winston) in AstonRep Theatre Company's '1984' at The Raven Theatre. Photo by Emily Schwartz
Sarah Lo (Julia) and Ray Kasper (Winston) in AstonRep Theatre Company’s ‘1984’ at The Raven Theatre. Photo by Emily Schwartz

Then there is “Newspeak” as the official politically correct language of Oceania, “Crimethink” for thoughts that oppose the government of Big Brother, “Goodthink” that are thoughts approved by the Party and “Doublethink” for the power to simultaneously hold and accept contradictory beliefs in one’s mind.

On that subject of power, the Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language.

The leading character, Winston Smith, is played by Ray Kasper whose amazing talent covers a wide range of emotion.  Winston is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London in the land of Oceania.

Everywhere Winston goes, the Party watches him through telescreens.  And everywhere he looks, Winston sees the face of the Party’s seemingly supreme leader, Big Brother.

Frustrated by the rigid oppression of the Party which prohibits free thinking and all other expressions of individuality, Winston writes his criminal thoughts in his illegally purchased diary.

He interacts with a beautiful co-worker, Julia, skillfully played by Sarah Lo.  Practical and optimistic, Julia becomes Winston’s lover.

The two of them move into a room above a store where they temporarily feel hidden from the watchful eyes of Big Brother.  As Winston’s love for Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more intense.

Winston becomes fixated on O’Brien, a mysterious upper class member of the Inner Party, powerfully portrayed by Amy Kasper.  Winston believes O’Brien is a secret member of the Brotherhood, the legendary group that works to overthrow the Party.

He finally receives the message that he has been waiting for. O’Brien wants to see him.

Winston and Julia travel to O’Brien’s grand apartment where O’Brien is living a life of luxury. O’Brien sends Winston off with a copy of the manifesto of the Brotherhood which Winston excitedly reads to Julia in their room above the store.

Not to divulge the rest of the play to those unfamiliar with Orwell’s novel, Winston learns the bitter truth about many of the characters.  The suffering he endures in the terrifying second act changes him forever.

The remainder of the very talented cast includes the following: Alexandra Bennett, Lauren Demerath, Lorraine Freund, Ian Harris, Rory Jobst, Tim Larson, Nora Lise Ulrey, and Sara Pavlak McGuire.

To quote director Robert Tobin: “. . . the power of ‘1984’ serves best not necessarily as commentary on current events but rather as a warning.  Like a preventative medical screening, we need ‘1984’ as warning of what our world could become if we don’t take care of ourselves, our government, and each other.”

Details: ‘1984,  an AstonRep Theatre Company production is at  The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, through Oct. 8, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 828-9129 and visit AstonRep.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

A million dollar group jams at Paramount

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips, seen here under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Records Studio on December 4, 1956, in Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Series opener 'Million Dollar Quartet.' Liz Lauren photo
Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips,  under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Studio on December 4, 1956. Liz Lauren photo

Go to Paramount Theatre’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ if you love Johnny Cash. Go if you appreciate really good boogie piano. Or go if you are interested in the Sam Phillip’s Sun Studio’s handling of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It’s nice to have the show back in the Chicago area, if even for its short, little over a month, duration.

The story, captured in a photo and on tape at Sun Records Studio, Memphis, tells of the only time that four of Sam Phillip’s top stars jammed together.

They happened to stop by his recording studio when Carl Perkins was supposed to be taping. Some were going to tell Phillips that they were not renewing their contract but Lewis was looking for a long contract at Sun.

The important incident was turned into a “jukebox” show of great mid-last century songs by Floyd Mutrux who wrote the book with Colin Escott and directed the original productions.

Started in Daytona Beach in 2006 before going to Seattle in 2007, the show was developed further at the Goodman Theatre in fall 2008.

It transferred to the Apollo Theatre where it ran until recently, closing early in 2016. But the original cast went on to NYC where ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ ran on Broadway from mid 2010 to mid 2011 while still playing the Apollo. It brought Levi Kreis a Tony Award as Jerry Lee Lewis.

The phrase “blown away” is often used but that was how I felt when seeing Kreis. Paramount guests will feel the same way when watching Gavin Rohrer as Lewis. Rohrer is incredible. He has already portrayed Lewis in two other shows including the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.

Nor will long time fans of Johnny Cash feel cheated when they see Bill Scott Sheets in the role. An operatic baritone who has all played such musical theatre rolls as Don Quixote, Sheets nails Cash’s sound and microphone approach.

Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis - where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo
Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis – where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo

While some rockabilly aficionados might know that “Blue Suede Shoes” was written by Perkins who epitomized the genre, the fact that his hit song was closely identified with Elvis Presley is important to the show.

That frustration comes across with Broadway actor Adam Wesley Brown, a veteran of Chicago theatre and film, taking on the role of Perkins with the characteristic knee raise and emphasis.

It’s easy to see that Kavan Hashemian who has appeared in other ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ productions as Elvis, really enjoys the role. He has the moves down pat and can probably sing the songs in his sleep because he has been performing them since age three.

The surprise of the Paramount show which is all about male performers, is the wonderful turn as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, by Courtney Mack. Her “Fever” in Act I and “I Hear You Knockin” in Act II, brings the house down. Of course, Paramount regulars likely remember her from “Mamma Mia”

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo
Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo

Another unexpected musical treat comes when Zach Lentino as Perkins’ brother Jay shows off his skills as an upright bassist. BTW Lentino was in ‘Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo.

Drummer Scott Simon who plays in several Chicago productions is Fluke, a member of Perkins’ group. He’s excellent but not really noticed until near the end.

Perhaps the most unappreciated role in the show is that of Sam Phillips. Played by Nicholas Harzain, a film actor who is also in several regional shows, Phillips comes across as a hard-working, small-town, talent developer.

A note about Kevin Depinet’s set design: folks who have been to Memphis and walked through what is now, basically a museum, know Depinet has totally captured Sun Studio.

Directed by Jim Corti with music direction by Kory Danielson, ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ has a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

DETAILS: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is at Paramount Theatre, 23 Galena Blvd., Aurora, now through Oct. 29, 2017. Running time is two hours. For tickets and other information visit Paramount or call (630) 896- 6666.

 

 

Beverly Hills zip code teens live on in musical

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

If from the generation that became addicted to the “Beverly Hills 90210” television series, you’ll appreciate the references and characterizations in the musical ‘90210’ now touring the United States.

Cast of '90210' now at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, Chicago.
Cast of ‘90210’ now at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, Chicago.

Cobbled together by Bob and Tobly McSmith with music by Assaf Gleizner, the show is a parody and it is funny.

Songs proclaim the life-style of spoiled rich kids (and their parents) in LA’s iconic 90210 zip code.

The show deals with some of the drama, however without empathy for teenage problems.

And if looking for clever dialogue, forget it. The script relies on juvenile humor.

But if merely interested in what a popular teen series in the 90s looks like as a campy show, you’ll probably like it and for sure will laugh.

The best part of the show is the singing voice of Ana Maru as Brenda Walsh, a new girl in town from the Midwest.

DETAILS: ‘Bob and Tobly’s Beverly Hills 90210 The Musical (The unauthorized parody)’ is at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St. Chicago, Sept. 13 – 17, 2017. For tickets and other information call (800) 775 -2000 and visit BroadwayinChicago.

 

 

 

Roaring Twenties musical parody works as a comedy within a show

RECOMMENDED

 

Audiences know that when the lights go off the show will start after actors take their places on stage. But in ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ a multi-Tony Award winning musical at Skokie Theatre, the lights stay off while a voice is heard moving closer to the stage.

Cast of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' at Skokie Theatre. MadKap Productions photo
Cast of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ at Skokie Theatre.
MadKap Productions photo

“I hate theater,” says a man’s voice. As he approaches the stage he explains that what he wants is a short show of about two hours. “Three hours is too much,” he says.

He notes that he wants the show to take him to another place so he can escape from the horrors of the real world. He wants to be entertained.

After the stage lights come on and he sits down in an old chair next to a record player, he asks the audience if they mind if he puts on one of his favorite musicals, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone.’ Of course, the audience agrees.

And so, James Spangler who is perfect as The Man in the Chair, has broken down that fourth wall of the stage as he addresses the audience throughout the show.

And yes, the musical that he asks the audience to imagine coming to life while he plays his record, is short. Running time is two hours, including a 15 minute intermission. But as The Man in the Chair requested, the show entertains.

A spoof of 1920s musicals populated by predictable characters, it has a Broadway producer and his ditsy girlfriend, gangsters, a talented musical star who will leave show business for love, her wealthy boyfriend, a Latin lover, an alcoholic dame and an aviatrix.

Across his sparse, care-worn flat, the first characters to appear are Mrs. Tottendale (Debby Shellard), owner of the mansion where the action takes place and Underling (Mark Anderson), a butler who caters to her whims. After wondering why she has on a fancy dress, he explains they are hosting a wedding.

Groom Robert Martin (Christopher Johnson) enters saying he may be getting “cold feet.” When followed by best man, George (Joe Lewis) the two do a terrific “Cold Feet” tap dance number.

The plot, as is appropriate for spoofs, thickens. Broadway producer Feldzieg (Bob Sandders) is confronted by The Tall Brothers gangsters (Zeke Dolezalek and Connor Hernandez), who pose as bakers and say their boss, a backer, seriously doesn’t want the show‘s star to wed and leave the production.

Feldzieg’s girlfriend, Kitty (Abby Boegh), says she’s ready to step in with a different kind of act when the star and bride-to-be, Janet Van De Graff (Rachel Whyte) leaves to marry.

Asked if she is serious bout leaving show business, Whyte brings down the house with her “Show Off” song and dance, full-company number. While showing off everything she can do including splits  she insists she doesn’t want to “show off” anymore.

Beautifully choreographed by Julie Salk and performed with acrobatic agility by Whyte, the surprise it that the number can be performed on the Skokie Theatre’s small stage.

Convinced his star does mean what she says, Feldzieg plots to change her mind by bringing in Adolpho, nicely overacted with the right amount of flamboyancy and vanity by Sean Barett.

Adolpho is sent to the bride’s room where he finds The Drowsy Chaperone, interpreted with zestful fun and sophistication by Mani Corrao.

Meanwhile, the bride tests the groom to see if he really loves her.

Act II brings resolution. It also brngs Trix the Aviatrix, played with pizzazz by the Sabrina Edwards, down to ground to perform a quadruple wedding.

As The Man in the Chair says, “Everything always works out in musical.”

Along the way, the audience is reminded that they are merely seeing a musical as explained by the Man in the Chair when he pauses the record player needle and the actors stop mid-movement, or when he has to correct the needle when it sticks. Yep, picture it.

Patty Halajian’s costumes add nostalgic charm. Directed by Stephen M. Genovese with musical direction by Aaron Kaplan, the Skokie Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone, offers a delightful, high-quality, tongue-in-cheek view of 1920s musicals.

First shown in 1998 in Toronto, then opening on Broadway in 2006, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a musical comedy with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg  Morrison

DETAILS: ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a MadKap Productions show at Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, now through Oct 7, 2017. For tickets and other information call (847) 677-7761 and visit Skokie Theatre.

 

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.