‘Come From Away’ transforms strangers

 

Touring cast of 'Come From Away' now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)
Touring cast of ‘Come From Away’ now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)

3 ½ stars

Pretty much everyone recalls where they were when they heard that planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Radio announcers guessed it was an accident  when American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston’s Logan International Airport bound for Los Angeles went into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Then United Airlines Flight 175 from Logan, also bound for LA flew into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

(Two other planes were also hijacked, AA Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon  and United flight 93 was brought down by its passengers before it could hit its target in Washington D.C.)

At 9:25 a.m. the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Washington Dulles, directed about 4,300 planes to land, ordering 120 inbound overseas flights to Canada and the rest to return to countries of origin.

The United flight that our daughter was flying from London to Los Angeles was diverted to Edmonton, Canada. All she heard before landing was that the US airspace was closed. (We didn’t know it was a direct flight. She could have gone through Boston.)

Of the planes in the air, 38 were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland where they stayed for five days.

“Come From Away” is the amazing story, told in a musical with a rock beat by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, of how the small town of Gander (9,000 residents) managed to feed, clothe, find facilities and befriend approximately 7,000 passengers and crew members while working through the visitors’ foreign customs, language difficulties and personal distress.

L to R, Megan McGinnis, Emily Walton, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson,Julie Johnson and Daniele K. Thomas on 'Come From Away' touri. (Matthew Murphy photo)
L to R, Megan McGinnis, Emily Walton, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson,Julie Johnson and Daniele K. Thomas on ‘Come From Away’ touri. (Matthew Murphy photo)

The musical tell a mash-up of their stories in just 100 minutes.

Except for a passenger who keeps trying to find out about her son, an NYC fire fighter, and the American Airlines pilot of a plane landing in Gander who learns her friend Charles (Burlingame) was the pilot on the ill-fated Flight 77, the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, were not the story.

Instead, though some moments lead to tears, others result in laughter and smiles. Audiences will be reminded that kindness brings out kindred spirits and understanding can change antagonism to gratitude.

Moving from an Ontario theater workshop in 2012 and through other stops on the way to Broadway in 2017, “Come From Away” garnered seven Tony nominations and won the “Best Director of a Musical” award for Christopher Ashley.

Now, the touring company is in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Aug. 18, 2019.

Gander characters double as passengers and crew, a difficult feat that may occasionally confuse some audience members.

But the show’s talented cast of experienced Broadway and TV actors really are able to convey how Gander’s warmhearted hospitality eventually permeates the awful stress of people who at first are not allowed off a plane even though they’ve landed, can’t communicate easily with family back home and are leery of how their views, fears and needs may be regarded by strangers.

The band is excellent and on stage, sometimes as part of the action.

Award-winning conductor/keyboardist Cynthia Kortman Westphal also does the accordion and harmonium.  Isaac Alderson plays the Irish flute and Uilleann pipes. Kiana June Weber is a skillful fiddler. Adam Stoler is on the electric and acoustic guitars. In addtion, Matt Wong is on acoustic guitar and mandolins, Max Calkin plays the electric and acoustic bass, Steve Holloway  and Ben Morrow handle percussion. 

My only problem with the current, touring show is that it was hard to catch all the spoken and sung words. When asked, others there said they liked the show but also had the same problem.

However, the show’s mood and message comes across well. “Come From Away” is a feel-good musical that is worth seeing for its story about how Gander not only coped but altered their visitors’ views of themselves and others.

DETAILS: “Come From Away” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Aug. 18, 2019. Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call ( 800) 775-2000) or visit Broadway In Chicago.  

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

A Funky Journey at BET

Cast of 'You Can't Fake the Funk' at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).
Cast of ‘You Can’t Fake the Funk’ at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).

2.5 stars

“You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music)” presented by Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater works hard to “turn this mutha out.”

“There’s a whole lot of rhythm goin’ round” in this energetic performance written and directed by the company’s own producing and managing director, Daryl D. Brooks.

The journey through the history of funk is hosted by Dwight Neal as Dr. Funk and takes place aboard the “Mothership,” an allusion to  George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 platinum album “Mothership Connection.”

Clinton actually incorporated a spaceship as part of the scenery into his concerts but BET’s homage does not do it justice and Denise Karczewski’s lighting didn’t do too much to help, particularly if you consider the lighting effects prominent in the disco style shows of this time.

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‘And Then There Were None’ – an intriguing whodunit

 

Cast of 'And Then There Were None' at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of ‘And Then There Were None’ at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

3 Stars

 

Ten strangers of varying ages and occupations arrive at an island mansion off the coast of Devon, England. Their host, who has beckoned them on one pretense or another, is delayed.

In this late 1930s setting, the houseguests start dying–one by one, and by violent means. The island is otherwise uninhabited, and the only boat back to the mainland is thwarted by a storm.

They realize they are stranded with a murderer in their midst. Who is it, and who will be the next victim?

The production, now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, is based on the book by renowned English writer Agatha Christie. One of the best-selling murder mysteries of all time, it was first published in 1939 under a name that today is considered highly racist and will not be repeated here.

A stellar ensemble cast is artfully directed by Jessica Fisch. Cher Álvarez plays former governess Vera Claythorne with great style and composure. Matt DeCaro lends leadership skills and authority to the retired Justice Wargrave, and Marilyn Dodds Frank injects just the right amount of haughtiness into Emily Brent, the judgmental spinster.

Paul-Jordan Jansen, who in real life looks mighty fine wearing a kilt, portrays dual-identity William Blore with boldness and a touch of comic relief.

The houseguests’ British accents can be difficult to translate into modern-day American vernacular. Or maybe it’s the acoustics that muddle voices on the sideline seats. But the players’ fears and suspicions of each other ring clearly.

The entire performance takes place in the mansion’s expansive living room as created by scenic designer Andrew Boyce. With its parquet floors, lavish mill work, velvet fringed sofas and panoramic ocean view, the set is worthy of a photo shoot for “Architectural Digest” magazine.

The period-perfect apparel, particularly as worn by the female actors, by costume designer Jessica Pabst, is equally lovely to behold.

Other members of the creative team include Driscoll Otto as lighting designer and Ray Nardelli as sound designer.

“And Then There Were None” weaves a clever, captivating tale that keeps its secrets until the very end.

DETAILS: “And Then There Were None” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook  (639) 530-0111 or visit DruryLaneTheatre.

Pamela McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Love, Chaos & Dinner’ at Teatro Zinzanni

 

Teatro Zinzanni dinner theater entertainment in the Cambria Hotel, Chicago. (Photos courtesy of Teatro Zinzanni)
Teatro Zinzanni dinner theater entertainment in the Cambria Hotel, Chicago. (Photos courtesy of Teatro Zinzanni)

 

4 stars

 

You arrive at the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel to be greeted by a bevy of smiling faces, all of whom are there to happily launch your theatrical experience.

If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you’ll understand what awaits you. At the far end of the theatre lobby there’s a huge bar, where all manner of beverages await your order, including a complimentary glass of champagne.

Then, with a fanfare, the company of waitstaff announce that the 300+ seat Spiegeltent is now open and ready for your entertainment and dining pleasure. And with that, you’re off and running for three hours of nonstop munching, merriment and mayhem.

Seated at one of the linen-covered tables arranged in-the-round on various levels, the audience is waited upon by cheerful, exuberant waitpersons. The delicious, four-course dinner, developed and overseen by “The Goddess,” Debbie Sharpe, begins with an appetizer, that already waits at your table.

Your waiter takes your order of entree you prefer (braised beef short ribs, a pasta dish, vegetarian Thai curry, roasted chicken breast or herb roasted salmon); he also records a credit card, in the event you decide to order additional drinks. While you’re enjoying your first course, you start to take in your gorgeous surroundings.

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Following the Yellow Brick Road

 

The Scarecrow (Marya Grandy), The Tin Man (Joseph Anthony Byrd), Dorothy (Leryn Turlington), and The Cowardly Lion (Jose Antonio Garcia) join together in an adventure down the Yellow Brick Road. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
The Scarecrow (Marya Grandy), The Tin Man (Joseph Anthony Byrd), Dorothy (Leryn Turlington), and The Cowardly Lion (Jose Antonio Garcia) join together in an adventure down the Yellow Brick Road. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

 

4 stars

Since “The Wizard of Oz,” first delighted children and grownups back in 1939, L. Frank Baum’s glorious fantasy, has been a continual favorite whether on film, in print or live on stage, as it is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

This road story, directed with spirit by Brian Hill and imaginatively choreographed by Kenny Ingram, is about how friends help, comfort and support each other. It also shows how experiencing new places can delight and educate, but ultimately reminds the traveler that, in the end, there’s no place like home.

Living on a colorless Kansas farm with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (played by Emily Rohm and Jared D.M. Grant), lovely Leryn Turlington winningly steps into the ruby slippers as Dorothy Gale.

After being threatened by grouchy Almira Gulch, portrayed by Chicago stage veteran Hollis Resnik, Dorothy runs away with her little dog Toto (played perfectly by Derby, the dog), meets clairvoyant Professor Marvel and is swept away to the Land of Oz by a powerful cyclone.

Earnest and charming, with a smile that lights up the stage, Turlington puts her own touching stamp on the soulful ballad “Over the Rainbow.”

On her travels through Oz, Dorothy meets Emily Rohm, transformed into a  glittering, pink Glinda, the Good Witch. Dorothy also makes friends with the local Munchkins played by Karla Boye, Timothy P. Foszcz, Jarod D.M. Grant, Haley Gustafson, Aalon Smith, Lauren Smith, Anthony Sullivan Jr. and Kaleb Van Rijswijck who advise her to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

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‘Les Miserables’ still magnificent

Josh Davis (Javert) and Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean) in US tour of 'Les Miserables.' (Matthew Murphy photo)
Josh Davis (Javert) and Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean) in US tour of ‘Les Miserables.’ (Matthew Murphy photo)

4 stars

Don’t worry If you missed “Les Miserables’” revival on the Oct. 2017, Chicago tour stop.

The Cameron Mackintosh production now in town at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through July 27, 2019, is still composer Claude Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boubil and Herbert Kretzmer’s stirring musical. (Original French text by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel and additional material is by James Fenton and was adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird.)

Also don’t worry if some of the scenes in your mind’s eye from earlier productions have changed. What is important is that directors Laurence Connor and James Powell bring the conditions that spawned Victor Hugo’s famed 1862 novel, to life.

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‘Sweet Texas Reckoning’ has racism and homophobia plus a happy ending

 

Sweet Texas Reckoning at The Den. (Photo by Heather Mall)
Sweet Texas Reckoning at The Den. (Photo by Heather Mall)

2 1/2 stars

The word that keeps coming to mind, while watching Traci Godfrey’s story about a family reunion in Texas, is “cliched.” The hour-and-forty-five minutes spent with these four characters offers glimmers of brilliance but ultimately feels like a special Pride Month movie on the Lifetime Channel.

Had this “dramedy” been written by a playwright who could offer some honest, new insights into what makes people tick, especially in small, conservative towns, it would’ve been a far more honest portrayal. There’s a germ of a good idea here. But, in the hands of Horton Foote, Preston Jones or Tennessee Williams, this story wouldn’t be nearly as banal and stereotyped.

Set in the conservative, southeastern town of Sealy, Texas, Godfrey’s play is about a woman who for decades, has been drowning her guilt, bigotry and lies in her secret stash of bourbon.

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What is needed to get parenting right

 

Nathan Burger (Bernard) and William Brown (Salter) in 'A Number' at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Nathan Burger (Bernard) and William Brown (Salter) in ‘A Number’ at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

3 1/2 stars

During the course of “A Number” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe, a father admits he was an awful parent the first time around as his sons try to extract the full story of their existence.

It’s sort-of a two person play with stage veteran, actor/director  Nate Burger (Writers Theatre, Americanh Players Theatre, Timeline) as the father, Salter, and popular Chicago actor Nate Burger (Chicago Shakespeare, Timeline, Goodman) as Bernard, his sons, 1, 2 and 3.

The play is only 65 minutes long but its high intensity acting and twists made it feel as if I sat through two hours of a suspenseful drama.

Eerie music and lighting enhance Robin Witt’s spot-on direction of clipped responses from the father in contrast to the emotions of Salter’s original and cloned sons.

Nathan Burger and William Brown in 'A Number'
Nathan Burger and William Brown in ‘A Number’

Yes the show, written by Caryl Churchill back in 2002 when copying mammals’ DNA and genetic make-up  was in the news, is about cloning. It’s also about examining uniqueness, identity, upbringing, abandonment and truth.

Salter, who felt he was not a good father the first time around, wanted to try again from scratch. He had scientists clone his first son so he could be a better father the second time.

What happens on how the son and clones react will be a surprise therefore there will not be an alert here. You have to go to find out.

But a word of warning. Don’t believe most of what Salter says. The real story emerges from the mist of his twisted mind in bits and pieces.

DETAILS:”A Number” is in the Gillian Theatre of Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court Glencoe  through June 9, 2019. Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call  847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

Global politics and power skewered in new farce

 

RECOMMENDED

Cast of Doppelganger at Steppenwolf. Photos by Michael Brosilow.
Cast of Doppelganger at Steppenwolf. Photos by Michael Brosilow.

You know when you see a stage set with multiple doors that the play will likely be a farce. Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s set of ‘Doppelgänger,’ a world premiere with the sub title of ‘an international farce,’ has all the elements needed to keep audiences  laughing, including 11 doors and another entrance.

Erlbach’s presentation of global political, economic and social issues of today works superbly well as a farce.

Clever lines come so quickly and author Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s obvious love of words so mesh in rhymes and tongue twisters that the first two hours speed by quickly.

No stereotype is spared from a hawkish general and a skinny, uptight  female British politician to an exiled African nation’s former brutal president, a bisexual Arab prince and a buxom, Brazilian money launderer.

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Race and sex can be serious and entertaining among smart people

 

RECOMMENDED

Julian Parker (Jackson Moore, MD), Kayla Carter (Valerie Johnston, Deanna Myers (Ginny Wang) and Erik Hellman (Brian White) in 'Smart People' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Julian Parker (Jackson Moore, MD), Kayla Carter (Valerie Johnston), Deanna Myers (Ginny Wang) and Erik Hellman (Brian White) in ‘Smart People’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Do you sometimes assume that someone with the name of Goldstein is Jewish or that someone who is Asian has to be aggressive to be successful?

In ‘Smart People,’ now playing at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, playwright Lydia R. Diamond has four people, a black man, black woman, white man and an Asian woman, interact in Cambridge, MA. Both issue raised here did occur.

All are ‘smart people’ but they each encounter stereotypical problems with others and with each other when play and pursue their careers. The time is between 2007 and 2009 with the Barack Obama campaign and win in the background.

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