Augie March misadventures

Cast of Augie March at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of Augie March at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

2 ½ stars

Free-Style Chaos Defines Augie March

This theatrical version of “The Adventures of Augie March,” at the Court Theatre perhaps serves to illustrate why the popular novel by Chicagoan Saul Bellow has never before been adapted to the stage.

The story line basically follows everyman hero Augie March (Patrick Mulvey) as he meanders aimlessly through life allowing the people he meets to shape his journey. In this way Bellow suggests the arbitrariness of life and is perhaps a cautionary tale of the dangers of undefined goals.

The play opens in the Atlantic Ocean with Augie and his maniacal companion (John Judd) floating in a lifeboat after the sinking of their merchant ship.

During a flashback, Augie’s odyssey begins in the 1930s depression era crowded apartment he shares with his mother (Chaon Cross), two brothers and an overbearing Russian Jewish grandmother (Marilyn Dodds Frank).

Along the way Augie meets an odd assortment of characters which is one of the hallmarks of Bellow’s writing as he reveled in the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of humanity.

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‘August Rush’ not ready for prime time

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

2  1/2 Stars

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

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

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

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‘Undeniable Sound’ is undeniably worth seeing

Henry Greenberg (Jeff Mills) and Lena (Lindsay Stock) in Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Henry Greenberg (Jeff Mills) and Lena (Lindsay Stock) in Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 Stars

 There is so much to like about “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” by Laura Eason at the Raven Theatre in Edgewater. It’s a snapshot of one of the many evolutionary changes that is inevitable in a growing and vibrant city.

Set in the fall of 1992 Hank (Jeff Mills), the owner of a Chicago dive bar, slash, live music venue, is in the autumn of his career in the midst of evolving musical tastes and gentrification that threaten everything he has built.

Hank has two great loves – live music and his twenty-one year old daughter Lena (Lindsay Stock) who grew up above the club and shares her dad’s enthusiasm for music.

Lena is anxious to expand her horizons to include the emerging style of “house,” a genre of electronic dance music of the era created in Chicago that features D.J.’s as the curators of the musical experience.

Her dad is a traditionalist who feels that D.J.’s are not musicians and that electronic music is in opposition to the live music he has championed for twenty-five years.

Thus the conflict is established,. It plays out in the confines of a neighborhood tavern that, like its owner, is definitely showing its wear.

The set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec and decorated by Lacie Hexom is reminiscent of the many neighborhood watering holes that once dotted the Chicago map from north to south in this working class city.

In the earlier half of the 20th century Chicago boasted 10,000 “shot and a beer” joints. Most have closed or been converted to fern bars and pubs.  Those that survived like Hank’s are loved-to-death by countless elbows, decorated through neglect and illuminated with the ever present twinkling strand or two of Christmas lights.

These establishments retain and reflect a bit of each of the individuals and groups that made this particular venue their social hub, and Hank’s clientele have indeed left their unique mark on this location.

But neighborhoods, music, and people change; and we are all forced to face the changes that are an inevitable part of growing up and growing older. What is undeniable is the here-and-now and the sounds it makes.

Hank has little patience for nostalgia and no stomach for being viewed as a legend. The question is how do you confront the end of an era?

The story involves non-traditional family relationships and various forms of love which in this case includes Hank’s longtime, off-again on-again, salt-of-the-earth girlfriend, Bette (Dana Black), who accepted the role of surrogate mother in the absence of Lena’s birth mother

It is clear the two women have a true affection for each other which was all the more poignant on the Mother’s Day performance I attended.

Jeff Mills in the Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Jeff Mills in the Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Stock is spot on and perfectly embodies the role of Lena who is smart, savvy and charismatic. It is no wonder that she is adored by her “parents” as well as the club manager, Toby (Christopher Acevedo), the landlord’s son Joey (Casey Morris),  and Nash (Henry Greenberg) the up-and-coming D.J. each vying in one way or another for her attention.

No doubt casting director Kanome Jones made Director BJ Jones’ life a little easier by providing an outstanding ensemble.

Eason has done a terrific job of juggling a number of ideas yet pulling it all together into one well-crafted unified whole. She understands Hank’s reluctance to turn over the reins and sympathetically advocates for the youthful exuberance of Nash and Lena.

Meanwhile the supporting roles of Bette, Toby, and Joey are fully fleshed characters with their own important contributions to the plot. Her dialogue is authentic and at times emotional without becoming saccharine.

When I don’t know much about a play I try to keep it that way until I see it. This was surprisingly different than what I expected, thinking it was going to be more of a jukebox musical.

It does have some recorded music as background as well as a few short riffs and verses admirably played on guitar by Mills – choices of sound designer Lindsay Jones. Music is integral to the story but it is not a musical.

If you are afraid that the indie music rock scene is not a genre you understand or enjoy do not let this dissuade you. The theme of the story is universal and the musical references are incidental. This can be any time period and any inter-generational conflict.

I predict this production will be deemed Jeff worthy with special recognition of Lindsay Stock and maybe BJ Jones and Kmiec as well.

Don’t miss this one. If you have experience with an aging business owner, a music maker, or someone affected by change that they feared or were reluctant to face this will likely resonate with you.

DETAILS: “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” is at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago through June 16, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information call (773) 338-2177 and visit raventheatre.com.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Dames at Sea’ is campy fun

(left to right) Sam Shankman (Lucky), Sierra Schnack (Joan), Kelly Felthous (Ruby) and Todd Aulwurm (Dick) at Theatre at the Center, (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Sam Shankman (Lucky), Sierra Schnack (Joan), Kelly Felthous (Ruby) and Todd Aulwurm (Dick) at Theatre at the Center, (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

What’s not to love about a show that opens with a rousing tap number? Nothing, it turns out. “Dames at Sea,” the newest production at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN, is pure campy fun, from the first minute to the last.

It follows the story of Ruby. She’s fresh off the bus from Utah and in search of a career as a dancer on Broadway. She hasn’t eaten in three days, forgets her suitcase on the bus in her rush to get a job as a dancer, falls into a job dancing on a chorus line in a Broadway production, and catches the eye of a sailor who pledges his love for her — all in the delightful course of her first day in New York.

“Dames at Sea” is a long-running, Off Broadway hit that made Bernadette Peters a star in 1969. Kelly Felthous, the tiny blond firecracker who plays Ruby, channels her inner Bernadette Peters in this production, complete with spunky tapping, high-pitched voice and impish smile. (Ashley Lanyon takes over the role of Ruby from May 22-June 2.)

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Philosophy and passion clash in ‘Hannah and Martin’

 

Christina Gorman and Lawrence Grimm in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Hannah and Martin. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Christina Gorman and Lawrence Grimm in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Hannah and Martin. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 Stars

Can a brilliant Jewish philosopher and her celebrated German professor, turned lover, exist on two opposite tracts? The answer, of course, is no.

But the production of “Hannah and Martin” by Shattered Globe Theatre takes the audience through an ideological and moralistic journey with deep, thought-provoking, dialogue.

Written by Kate Fodor, the play is based on the clandestine love affair between German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt and her teacher, the well-known German philosopher Martin Heidegger. After the war, Arendt was considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.

On a collision course with politics and destiny, this powerful drama takes place in Germany from 1924 – 1946.  Disappointment looms when Arendt discovers that her beloved Heidegger is working to promote the goals of the Nazis.

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City Lit Slides Home With A Theatrical Double Header

 

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

3 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Magic Penthouse’ a Date Night Fantasy

Magic Penthouse as a date night experience. (Photo by Reno Lovison)
Magic Penthouse as a date night experience. (Photo by Reno Lovison)

For those of you interested in surveys and statistics three out of the five top traveler-ranked places of interest in Chicago are magic shows.

By the way, the blockbuster theater experience, “Hamilton,” is ranked number two with “Jazz Showcase” and “Lyric Opera” at six and seven respectively followed by Chicago Symphony and The Shakespeare Theater.

So based on travellers willing to take the time to leave a review and rank their performance experiences at Trip Advisor, “Magic Penthouse” falls in as number five in the top ten.

If you are a fan of prestidigitation, magic impresario and Munich native, Sin Ordu and his troupe of tricksters and spellbinders will keep you thoroughly engaged and entertained for roughly two and a half hours.

This is a unique total post-dinner evening package that includes entertainment, ample adult beverages, and a smattering of appetizers for one fixe prix.

Doors open at 8 p.m.  The festivities begin with a mix and mingle cocktail reception featuring an open bar and plenty of sparkling wine pre-poured and ready to go.

The atmosphere was upbeat with an air of eager anticipation from the guests.  Interestingly, there was plenty of interaction between guests as we managed to enjoy short conversations with three or four other couples including the very tall and mysterious “Mr. Johnson,” also a pleasant conversation with one Stetson-hat/ostrich-leather-boot adorned “dude” from the Northshore named Nick.

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Oh what a night!

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre
Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre

4 stars

Opening in New York in 2005 and winning the Tony and Grammy Awards for Best Musical in 2006, “Jersey Boys” has now been seen by more than 25 million people.  And I’ll bet that some have seen it more than once—like I have.

The book, “Jersey Boys,” was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Amusing dialogue is interspersed with the tremendous songs that keep the audience laughing.

Directed by Des McAnuff, “Jersey Boys” is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons—four guys from New Jersey who weren’t known at all until they started singing outdoors on a corner. And once they did, their songs became more than popular and played on radios every day and night.

The songs by The Four Seasons in “Jersey Boys” not only bring back so many memories, but have younger audience members swinging and swaying in their seats.

(l to r) Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, Corey Greenan, Jonathan Cable and compnay of Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photos by Joan Marcus)
(l to r) Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, Corey Greenan, Jonathan Cable and compnay of Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Songs such as “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Rag Doll,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” hook-up with the musical’s story of a gang leader with a money problem that involves the mob and the record industry, along with many things that relate to true friendships and loving relationships.

The original Four Seasons were Bob Gaudio, the musical composer played by Eric Chambliss, Frankie Valli, played by Jonny Wexler, Nick Massi, played by Jonathan Cable and Tommy DeVito, played by Cory Greenan. The lyricist and producer, Bob Crewe, is played by Wade Dooley.

“My Boyfriend’s Back” is sung by the Angels portrayed by Ashley Bruce, Chloe Tiso, and Jessica Wockenfuss, all of whom also play other female roles.

The rest of the fabulous cast is Tony L. Clements, Caitlin Leary, Jeremy Sartin, and Kit Treece. Many of the cast members move on stage as they play musical instruments.

A Broadway in Chicago presentation now at the Auditorium Theatre, it’s a show not to miss . . . “Let’s Hang On to What We’ve Got!”

DETAILS: “Jersey Boys” is at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells (Congress Pkwy. at Michigan Avenue), Chicago, through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call Ticket Master at 1-800-775-2000, or visit BroadwayInChicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Anastasia’

 

 Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) (Photo courtesy of Broadway In chicago)
Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) (Photo courtesy of Broadway In chicago)

3 stars

There is plenty to like about this Broadway in Chicago theatrical extravaganza. It is loosely based on the true story of a woman who claimed to be the surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and whose family was assassinated along with him by the Bolsheviks following the Communist uprising in July 1917.

But don’t worry this version of “Anastasia” has little to do with reality. Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox animated film (later acquired by Disney Corporation), it refers to the tragedy but is scrubbed clean of most of the ugly parts, leaving behind the tale of a young, beautiful and strong heroine striving to find her true identity while struggling to come to terms with her inner princess.

It was an enthusiastic and appreciative, mostly female audience that packed Chicago’s Nederlander Theater opening night. The book by Terrence McNally is expertly crafted to suit its intended audience of preadolescent girls who themselves are likely exploring their own future and place in the world.Read More

‘A Bronx Tale’ offers lessons of fear and love

 

Touring company of 'A Bronx Tale' (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Touring company of ‘A Bronx Tale’ (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

4 stars

This version of the coming of age story “A Bronx Tale” is based on an off-Broadway, one-man play by Chazz Palmintiri later turned into the 1993 Robert De Niro movie of the same name.

Adding music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Glenn Slater this is a very successful adaptation appearing in Chicago on tour.

Narrated by Calogero (Joey Barreiro), he tells of growing up in an Italian/American section of the New York borough of The Bronx during the tumultuous and racially charged era of The Sixties. And that he is mentored by a local mobster, Sonny (Joe Barbara), and is hanging out with “the wrong crowd.”Read More