Belle of Amherst Rings True

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

If what you remember of Emily Dickinson from high school literature is that she was a spinster recluse who wrote free verse poetry about death you will be happy to know that at the Court Theatre you will be spending time with a much different Dickinson. This one  imagined herself to be “The Belle of Amherst.”

Kate Fry is the Belle of Amherst at Court Theatre. Court Theatre photo
Kate Fry is the Belle of Amherst at Court Theatre. Court Theatre photo

Maybe you asked, how could anyone who in adulthood never traveled more than a few miles from home, avoided her neighbors and had few if any friends, be an interesting subject for a one actor play.

But, sharing insights into her writing process, familial relations, lost loves and admirers, Kate Fry portrays a much spunkier, wittier version of the poetess than most of us imagined.

Fry grabs our attention the moment she makes her entrance and keeps the audience captivated for the remainder of the two-act play.

Captivated – now there is a word I believe Emily Dickinson “could take her hat off to.” She speaks of her love of words, how they look, how they sound and what they mean.

We learn that Dickinson did not have a love of life as we traditionally think of it. Rather she had a love of living. She says that just having life is the greatest thing imaginable.

When her poems are rejected for publication she says that like a bird she does not sing for others, she sings because she must sing.  Likewise she lives because she must live and revels in the simple acts of living.

The action takes place on a visually stunning set designed by Arnel Sanciano – a kind of floating box within a box presented on an angle and a bit off center like the title subject.

The inner box is mostly monochrome with the only bright colors coming from glimpses of nature outside her windows and the numerous plants brought inside.

Sanciano’s set is perfectly complimented by the luminous effects of Lighting Designer Mike Durst who paints the monotone interior with wonderful shades of lavender and thoughtful shadows that augment the various moods of the many stories being told.

Since this is a play about words and a person who built her life around choosing just the right one, it is imperative that the dialogue can be heard distinctly and Sound Designers Andre Pluess and Christopher LaPorte do not disappoint us.

It may be a function of the excellent third row center seat I had but every word was clear as a bell (no pun intended) and did not have that artificial electronic sound.

My one minor criticism was the use of some background music that was periodically intended to enhance the mood. I found it more of a distraction particularly in one scene where it sounded like someone’s annoying cell phone melody.

Samantha Jones’ dresses for Fry were beautifully crafted, detailed and suited to the period.

A one performer play is indeed largely about the actor, who in this case was perfection but the overall production is all about the director.

In such a play the director is more important than ever because it is through him, in this case, Sean Graney that the performer gets all of her feedback.

It is up to the actor and the other crafts people to provide options and have the talent to execute ideas that emerge, but the director is truly the holder of the vision. He is the one who will decide what we all will see, and I like what I saw.

So in the end this is a true collaboration of stage craft. There is only one actor so the set, sound, and costumes are essential to help paint a fuller picture. Everything must be perfect and it really was.

DETAILS: ‘The Belle of Amherst’ by William Luce’ is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. on the University of Chicago campus through Dec. 3, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 or visit Court Theatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

 

Louis Jordan tribute could not be ‘moe’ fun

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The title of ‘Five Guys Named Moe,’ a musical now at Court Theatre, is based on the names of five performers, Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), Little Moe (Darrin Ford), Eat Moe (James Earl Jones II), Four Eyed-Moe (Kelvin Rosten, Jr.) and No Moe (Eric A. Lewis).

The doo-wop quintet are apparitions who emerge from inside a vintage radio to help young boozy, bluesy Nomax (Stephen ‘Blu’ Allen) get out of his funk.

Stephen 'Blue' Allen (far left) watches as Lorenzo rush Jr. (l), Darriean Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric A. Lewis and Kelvin Roston Jr. dance in 'Five Guys Named Moe' at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo
Stephen ‘Blue’ Allen (far left) watches as Lorenzo Rush Jr. (l), Darriean Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric A. Lewis and Kelvin Roston Jr. dance in ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

All five guys are energetic, funny, full of personality and have great singing voices.

They are backed up by an awesome, six-piece, jazz combo on stage: J.P Floyd (trombone), Sam Hankins (trumpet), Jarrard Harris (reeds), Ben Johnson (drums), Chuck Webb (bass), led by Abdul Hamid Royal (music director/pianist).

It reminded me of big-time nightclub performances seen “back in the day” at places like the Copacabana or Chicago’s Empire Room.

The story-line couldn’t be “moe thin,” but the show, written by Clarke Peters, is an opportunity to revisit and explore the music of saxophonist and songwriter Louis Jordan.

His new approach to jazz in the 1940’s helped pave the way to Rock & Roll with hits like “Caldonia” and the “Choo Choo Ch’boogie” piece that ran 35 weeks in 1946 as #1 on the “Race Records” chart.

If you are a fan of four piece harmony you’ll love the five piece harmony of these five guys.

“Beware Brother Beware” and “I Like ‘em Fat Like That” are songs that illustrate Jordan’s musical philosophy of “playing for the people.” He felt other jazz musicians of the day created music for themselves.

The five Moe’s leave it all on the stage moving quickly and seamlessly from one number to the next as perfectly choreographed by Christopher Carter. The numbers allow time for a few lame jokes and some amusing audience participation.

In the second act I started thinking, all this needs right now is for the Nicholas Brothers to appear.

Just as I thought that, No Moe busts out a terrific dance number complete with two splits and few back-flips.

Courtney O’Neill’s radio inspired set design is a wow. Costume design (Michael Alan Stein) was on point including the guys’ conked and pomade hairdos.

Directed by Ron OJ Parson with Associate Director Felicia P. Fields, ‘Five Guys Named Moe” couldn’t be any “moe” fun.

DETAILS: ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ is at the Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis, Chicago (on the University of Chicago Campus, through Oct. 15, 2017. Running time: 2 hours with an intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 and visit Court Theatre.

Guest reviewer: Reno Lovison, RenoWeb.net, is a videographer with a theater and music background.

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.

 

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Mind and body influences turn out to be a hard problem in new Stoppard play

RECOMMENDED

Viewed in its purist form, ‘The Hard Problem,’ Tom Stoppard’s newest cerebral play, has members of a brain science institute arguing about Darwinism, matter, biology and neuroscience versus the influence of consciousness and psychology.

It’s a mind-body question and equation that might be tempered by computer intelligence and statistics.

Chaon Cross in 'The Hard Problem' at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Chaon Cross in ‘The Hard Problem’ at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Religion and philosophy are not supposed to enter into their discussions.

A complicating factor is that venture capital and hedge funds pay for the institute’s existence.

However, Hilary, a psychologist who works there, believes in God and prays for the well-being of a daughter she had when a teenager and gave up for adoption.

But after seeing the play, now at Court Theatre, and thinking about how it ends with Hillary, beautifully interpreted by Chaon Cross, leaves the institute and has her prayers answered, there is another way to view the story.

The question may legitimately be asked if after years of academic-style arguments, is Stoppard now asking intellectuals to not take themselves too seriously and loosen-up to see and acknowledge other views and influences?

Director Charles Newell and scenic designer John Culbert  encourage the play’s dichotomy by having the arguments play out in an uncluttered white box -type setting where an important prop is the candle Hillary uses when she prays.

Vary appropriately produced in a theater on the University of Chicago’s north campus, the play should be seen with someone who enjoys the type of arguments and balancing behaviors Stoppard puts forth in this play.

Details: ‘The Hard Problem’ by Tom Stoppard is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL, now through April 9, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 and visit Court Theatre.

Theater: Fall shows to put on the calendar

'Wonderful Life ' revival comes to Goodman Theatre this fall
‘Wonderful Town ‘ revival comes to Goodman Theatre this fall

With more than 200 theater companies in Metropolitan Chicago there’s no lack of choices in all price ranges, genres and locations. Here is a small sampling of a half-dozen shows that will be in area theaters this fall. Of course you know that ‘Hamilton,’ the mega Tony-Award winning rap musical, opens Sept. 27. But it’s an open run so you might want to check availability later in the year or 2017.

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