New musical features Graffiti as art


Graffitti art in NYC from the 70s and 80s celebrated in musical Graffiti Kings. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross)
Graffitti art in NYC from the 70s and 80s celebrated in musical Graffiti Kings. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross)

If you take a train, “L” or bus in Chicago you are likely to see murals, words and names painted on the sides of overhead passes and buildings. Some tell a story or express moods and feelings but you might miss that if your vehicle isn’t stopped long enough. Sure there are also gang territory and identification words.

Would you lump all of it together as graffiti? Or would you think of any of the work as art, as cultural expressions?

Jonathan Gross not only sees much of the paintings as cultural art expressions, he is writing two booksabout that; “Four Studies in Graffiti” and “Cure for the Common Core: Arts Education in the Public schools.”

But what theater goers, musical lovers and arts aficionados should know is that Gross is putting the finishing touches on an earlier show he wrote, “Graffiti Kings: A Musical.”

Originally written on New York’s graffiti of the 1980s based on “Graffiti Kings” by Jack Stewart, “Subway Art” by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper and “Training Days” by Chalfan, the revised musical will be slightly expanded.

Still titled, “Graffiti Kings: A Musical,” the version coming to a Chicago venue in late May includes research into artist Martin Wong’s social realism of ethnic and racial identities works and collection and will fictionalize graffiti collectors into a composite of characters.

The revised show, now an hour long, will be performed at 7 p.m. on Stage 773, May 30, 2019.

“Graffiti Kings” had premiered in April 2016 at the Old Town School of Folk Music with student performers from DePaul University’s renowned theatre department; formerly the Goodman Drama School. It was backed by musicians Gross and Vincent Buoncore.

DePaul University English professor and playwright Jonathan Gross. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross
DePaul University English professor and playwright Jonathan Gross. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross

You see, the playwright is DePaul University English Department’s Professor Gross. His area is Nineteenth-Century Literature; World Literature. No ivy-tower escapist, Gross worries about students in schools that under-fund the arts.

But during a recent phone interview, what emerged was this is the Gross who co-wrote such popular children’s musicals as “The Dragon’s Tale,” The Blue Dog” and “Snoops and Schnozzles” with Jacqueline Russell back in the 1990s. Russell is now artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Also revealed was that Gross studied piano and trumpet, and played in a jazz trio with Buoncore and Kim Healey called Lush Life.

A long-time admirer of Ethel Waters and Duke Elington, Gross wrote “Harlem Renaissance Remembered” (Brilliance Audio) and “Eye on the Sparrow: Afterlives of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.” He sees “Graffiti Kings” as the third part of his trilogy.”

“The play and songs for “Graffiti Kings” were written by me, inspired by the voices of graffiti artists Blade, Seen, Zephyr, Lady Pink, Lee Quinones and Martin Wong (graffiti collector whose work is compiled in NYC’s Museum of the City of New York),” said Gross in a follow-up note.

The show celebrates their characters in his original songs: “Open Book,”  “Train,” “When I Said Goodbye,” Sheila,” “ Look Back in Anger,” and “Passenger.”

“Graffiti wasn’t a crime in the 70s and 80s. I’m trying to get people to see it as a culture contribution, to be admired and not as vandalism,” said Gross.

For tickets and more information on the show call (773) 327-5252 and visit. Stage 773/Graffiti Kings.

Jodie Jacobs

1940’s come alive in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Custer, Cameron, Robinson, Dahlquist, Joseph, Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Custer, Cameron, Robinson, Dahlquist, Joseph, Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

If you haven’t been invited to a holiday party yet or are just feeling ready to get into the Christmas spirit, you can’t do much better than the American Blues Theater’s staged radio show version of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life-Live in Chicago!.”

In this production, the theater is set up to give the illusion that you are part of the studio audience for a live radio broadcast in 1944 at WABT Studio on Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

There is a spinet piano, stage left, and three old-timey microphones on stands across the front where most of the action takes place.

Stage right is an array of apparatus where Foley artist Shawn J. Goudie will add sound effects. Above the piano is a lighted sign which displays the words “On Air” and “Applause.”

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Theater Sneak Peak: Part Three Belmont/Lakeview/Wrigleyville


Sometimes it’s nice to know what a theater company you like is doing for its next season and the dates to put on your calendar. The “Sneak Peak” series does just that, listing the companies by area .

Descriptions of shows will follow in the next series which will be by category such as world premier, classic, Halloween and holiday.

Meanwhile click on the venues in “Sneak Peak” for the theaters’ own details. BTW, some companies use theater and others use theatre, thus the differences written here are deliberate and not typos.


Anthenaeum Theatre

The venue is at 2936 N. Southport Ave. Black Button Eye Productions is doing “Nightmares and Nightcaps: The Stories of John Collier” here, Aug. 17 – Sep 15 in Studio Two. and Dream Big Performing Arts Workshop is doing “Alice and Wonderland Jr. Aug. 17- 18 on the Main Stage.

Studio One has “Bliss (Or Emily Post is Dead)” through Aug 25 and Studio Three has “Bus Stop” through Aug. 19, 2018.

“The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” is in Studio Three Nov. 22-Dec. 16 and  “The Elder Son” is in Studio Two, Nov. 15-Dec. 22.

For tickets and other information call (773) 935-6875 and visit Athenaeum Theatre.

The Proscenium (Pro) at Stage 773. (A Stage 773 photo)
The Proscenium (Pro) at Stage 773. (A Stage 773 photo)


Mercury Theater

The theater is at 3745 N. Southport Ave. Currently, “Avenue Q” has been extended through Nov. 4, then “Pippin” is in the  Venus Cabaret Theater, opening TBA followed by its annual “The Christmas Schooner, date also TBA.

For tickets and other information call (773) 325-1700and visit Mercury Theater.


Stage 773

A multi-theater venue, Stage 773 is at 1225 W. Belmont Ave.

American Blues Theater is doing  “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” through Sept. 15, then “Flyin’ West” Oct. 5-Nov. 3 and its annual holiday show, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago”  Nov. 15, 2018-Jan 5, 2019.

Hell in a Handbag has “The Artificial Jungle” Sept. 23-Oct. 28. and “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes” Oct. 13-Nov. 3.

The Degenerates are doing “Potty Talk”  Sept. 3- Oct. 29.

For tickets and other information call (773) 327-5252 and visit Stage 773, American Blues Theater, Hell in a Handbag Productions and The Degenerates Theatre

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