Curtis Bannister wows in ‘The Pajama Game’

 

as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Aalon Smith as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

If you don’t go see The Pajama Game at The Theatre at the Center for any other reason, go to hear the booming tenor voice of the hunky lead, Curtis Bannister.

The actor who has appeared on NBC’s Chicago Fire, plays Sid Sorokin, the “Chicago guy” and newly hired superintendent at Sleep Tite, a pajama factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The factory is a hotbed of union activity and sexual innuendo – both surprising themes for a musical that premiered in the mid-1950s.

The musical started as a 1953 novel, 7 ½ Cents by Richard Bissell based on his experience working in his family pajama factory in Dubuque, Iowa.

Opening to rave reviews on Broadway in 1954 with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, the Tony Award-winning show inspired the 1957 film starring Doris Day. You’ll recognize songs such as “Steam Heat,” “Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes)” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

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‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ blends fun and fantasy

 

Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher at Citadel Theatre ( Photo by North Shore Camera Club)
Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher at Citadel Theatre ( Photo by North Shore Camera Club)

2 1/2 stars

It’s a show about finding your way home, no matter how lost you are. Now playing at The Citadel Theatre, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is a fantasy/comedy that one might call a prequel to the beloved story of Peter Pan. It imagines how Peter might have become one of the lost boys of Neverland.

The show, a winner of five Tony Awards, comes from the pen of Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys,” “The Adams Family,” The Cher Show”)

Under the fine direction of Jeremy Aluma, “Peter and the Starcatcher ncludes an ambitious cast of 17, all playing multiple roles. The show is filled with music, dancing and non-stop action plus lots of humor and antics that keep the audience laughing.

Stand outs include the lovely Mariah Copeland as Molly Aster who captures the heart of Peter and Jayson Lee as Boy/Peter who makes the audience see the longing in his innocent soul.

Adrian Danzig is a hoot as pirate Black Stache who becomes Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Rebecca Fletcher is excellent as the nanny to Molly, Mrs. Bumbrake.

Kudos to scenic designer Eric Luchen who has created a fascinating set and to director Aluma who makes great use of the intimate Citadel stage by incorporating the seats and doorways to expand the stage.

The problem with the show is the script which has too much madcap and mayhem going on. It was challenging to follow and some of the English accents were difficult to understand.

DETAILS: “Peter and the Starcatcher” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 Waukegan Rd.,  Lake Forest, through Sept. 29, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission.  For tickets and other information, visit Citadeltheatre.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Members of an Exclusive Club

 

Past presidents discuss events and each other in American Blues Theater's 'Five Presidents.' (Photo courtesy of American Blues Theater.)
Past presidents discuss events and each other in American Blues Theater’s ‘Five Presidents.’ (Photo courtesy of American Blues Theater.)

‘Five Presidents’

3 stars

Rick Cleveland’s fictionalized docudrama, which is generously laced with comic zingers and one-liners that lighten the subject, imagines a 90-minute get-together between past presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and the current “Leader of the Free World”, Bill Clinton.

The year is 1994 and the setting is a gathering room in the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA, tastefully designed by Grant Sabin and nicely lit by Alexander Ridgers.

The occasion for this meeting is the funeral of President Richard Nixon. Even though these five men would’ve greeted each other on this occasion, it’s unlikely that they spent an hour and a half talking together about so many different topics.

For most of the play, the five living members of this exclusive club banter about each other’s faults and failings and recite  the various foreign and domestic policies that each President passed while in office.

The one plot point that runs throughout the play is that President Ford has decided he no longer wants to deliver his portion of Nixon’s eulogy but the other four try to convince him otherwise.

President Regan keeps offering to come to the rescue by volunteering to speak extemporaneously. However, the other men are aware that Reagan is in the onset of Alzheimer’s and understand how disastrous his eulogy might be.

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‘Midsummer’ romance

 

(left to right) Patrick Mulvey and Chaon Cross in Greenhouse Theater Center and Proxy Theatre production of Midsummer, a pay with songs. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
(left to right) Patrick Mulvey and Chaon Cross in Greenhouse Theater Center and Proxy Theatre production of Midsummer, a pay with songs. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

3.5 Stars

Helena (Chaon Cross), an attorney, and Bob (Parick Mulvey), a petty thief, are not exactly a perfect match but they find themselves thrown together out of desperation and convenience.

When confronted with an opportunity to have an exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime night of excess and revelry, they both decide to take a chance. It  ultimately leads to a deeper attraction and unforgettable “Midsummer” romance.

Billed as “A Play With Songs” and produced by Proxy Theatre with the Greenhouse Theater Center, the unusual construction of this romantic dramedy has the two actors playing multiple roles.

They do so while periodically performing musical numbers (with guitar, ukulele, and piano) whilst alternately narrating the story-line in third person between spats of dialogue and soliloquy.Read More

Look forward to a new start

 

Nicole (Tara Bouldrey) in 'Shadows of Birds'. (Mike Hari @ fadeout foto)
Nicole (Tara Bouldrey) in ‘Shadows of Birds’. (Mike Hari @ fadeout foto)

4 stars

Glass Apple Theatre is presenting the world premiere of “Shadows of Birds” written by Richard James Zieman and Joel Z. Cornfield.

It focuses on a young adult woman, Nicole (Tara Bouldrey), who’s been in  rehab for months because of her addiction to drugs. But now Nicole’s counselor, Jennifer (Sydney Genco), feels Nicole is ready to return home and live with her mother, Barbara (Elizabeth Rude).

Her mother also has an older adult son, Kyle (Bobby Bowman). Neither Kyle nor Nicole knew their father because he left when their mother was pregnant.

Because of Nicole’s many years of mixed messages from her mother and brother, she was very insecure and became a drug addict. Now Nicole isn’t sure that she could live with her mother again.

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‘Newsies’

 

The high-flying cast of “Newsies” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
The high-flying cast of “Newsies” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

The mean streets of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century were dotted with children, mostly poor immigrants and orphans, struggling to eke out a survival living by selling newspapers. They were the “newsies” who sold the “papes.”

When greedy publishers began squeezing them for pennies by raising the wholesale price of their papers, the newsies rebelled–and won.

It’s a serious chapter in labor history, but one transformed into a warmhearted musical, “Newsies,” now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

The story is based on both the 1992 Disney film of the same name and the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in NYC. The theatrical version culminates with a message of cross-cultural unity that resonates today.

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A lesson in love and experience

Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)
Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)

‘The Fantasticks’

3 stars

 

The second offering of a four-show series by  MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre is “The Fantasticks,” a theatrical classic that holds the record as the longest running off-Broadway musical when it closed in 2002 after 17,162 performances over 42 years.

The story is about innocence and experience. Matt (Graham Todd) and Luisa (Jessica Surprenant) learn that life can be messy and cruel but as the song goes “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

At the beginning the young lovers revel in the danger of their forbidden romance but come to learn that their fathers had actually erected a wall between their two properties to draw the two together.

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A story of class and ethics plus romance

Howard’s End

Cast of Howard's End, a Remy Bumppo production at Theater Wit
Cast of Howard’s End, a Remy Bumppo production at Theater Wit

4 stars

 

E.M. Forster’s 1910 literary classic is a sprawling novel about rank, morals and love among three English families from different social classes

His novel offered an insightful portrait of England at the height of its imperial world influence just prior to World War I. Through the lives of three diverse families, he showed how fast progress was happening and shaping Edwardian England.

In light of the sweeping changes taking place, Forster seemed to ask who would eventually inherit England? Which class would ultimately define this powerful nation?

Through this tale, we come to know the wealthy, capitalist Wilcox dynasty, the idealistic, intellectual upper middle class Schlegel sisters and the ever struggling, financially impoverished lower class Leonard and Jacky Bast.

Douglas Post’s faithful theatrical adaptation is truly eloquent and makes E.M. Forster’s novel accessible in a two-and-a-half hour production. This is a beautiful, carefully constructed play commissioned by Remy Bumppo Theatre, and currently enjoying its world premiere at Theater Wit.

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‘Sons and Lovers’

Sons and Lovers at Greenhouse Theater. (photo courtesy of On the spot Theatre Company)
Sons and Lovers at Greenhouse Theater. (photo courtesy of On the spot Theatre Company)

2  1/2 stars

It’s true that the very best writers use experiences from their own lives to inspire their writing. English author D.H. Lawrence, whose early twentieth century novels like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Women in Love, Mr. Noon and The Rainbow shocked and entertained readers during this “Age of Innocence.” It’s also true that his stories are all very intimately bound up with his own life. But none of his novels is more autobiographical than Sons and Lovers.

This is Lawrence writing about his life and recreating scenes from his own experience, but fictionalizing it. He began writing the book in 1910, finishing the novel two years later.

The story underwent lots of revisions, including the title, and was influenced by many personal crises that occurred during this period. Lawrence ended a long relationship with Jesse Chambers (who’d serve as the model for his character, Miriam Leivers).

He became engaged to, and then broke up with Louie Burrows (who would be the inspiration for the character of Clara Dawes). He lost his mother to cancer, became seriously ill with pneumonia, gave up teaching and moved away from his birthplace. But this is a story that’s derived from the author’s own Oedipus complex.

When Lydia was a young woman, she lost her first love to another woman. She settled for Walter Morel, a boorish, yet passionate lower class man who worked long hours down in the Midland mines.

As sons William and Paul grew up, Lydia doted on them to the point where Walter is brow-beaten and practically ignored and she redirects all of her ardor and passion to her sons. They, in turn, become her lovers and as they grow to manhood they aren’t able to love any other women because their mother’s hold over them is so strong.

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It’s a woman’s world at ‘Casa Valentina’

Casa Valentina a Pride Films and Plays at Broadway Theatre. (Photo by Cody Jolly)
Casa Valentina a Pride Films and Plays at Broadway Theatre. (Photo by Cody Jolly)

3 1/2 stars

As part of Pride Films & Plays’ exploration of all things gender related, we travel back to the Chevalier d’Eon Resort in the Catskill Mountains. It’s 1962, and a secret world is revealed to 21st century audiences that actually existed during those more innocent, post-war years.

For at least one weekend during the late Spring, a group of happily married men with families, highly-respected in their chosen, white-collar professions, gather in this secluded Garden of Eden to express their alter-egos.

These men are not homosexuals, nor do they harbor a hidden desire to undergo surgery in order to become full-time women. They’re cross-dressers who, in private, simply enjoy (sometimes) being a girl.

In this remote setting, several longtime friends and a couple of  new acquaintances, are provided the freedom to express themselves as feminine, girly girls in their own private, woman’s world.

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