‘Rock of Ages’ strobes into Chicago

L-to-R-Anthony Nuccio (Drew) and Katie LaMark (*Sherrie) in Rock of Ages. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
L-to-R-Anthony Nuccio (Drew) and Katie LaMark (*Sherrie) in Rock of Ages. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

3 Stars

How you feel about “Rock of Ages,” a classic rock “Jukebox musical” now in Chicago, depends on whether you saw the original show ten years ago and liked it or if you don’t mind and even appreciate that this version is a parody of itself.

At the Nederlander Ttheatre (formerly Oriental) through Aril 28 2019, the current show is taking its 10th anniversary tour through the U.S. with more flashing concert rock-band lights and amps than when it came out in 2009.

Directed by Martha Banta, everything is highly exaggerated which makes this version funnier but it also gallops through several of the songs and turns up the volume so that you may catch the beat rather than the words even though the show includes such standards  as “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” and “Here we Go Again.”

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‘A Chorus Line’ is the back story

Company of 'A Chorus Line (Richard Strimer as Zach) center) at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photo)
Company of ‘A Chorus Line (Richard Strimer as Zach) center) at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photo)

4 stars

Not sure how many times I’ve seen ‘A Chorus Line,” but director Brenda Didier and choreographer Chris Carter’s version now at Porchlight Music Theatre, is not a copy.

It goes back to director Michael Bennett’s concept to present the story behind who are the dancers/singers in a musical’s chorus line.

He was interested in why do they want to be in a chorus line, when did they decide they wanted to dance as a career, what happens if they are accepted or not when they audition and finally, what will they do after they no longer can dance. In January 1974, he now famously asked a group of dancers to talk about themselves and if he could record it. Their responses make up the show.Read More

Cut loose with ‘Footloose’

Aiden Wharton as Ren McCormack (center). (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘Footloose’ at Marriott Theatre. led by Aiden Wharton as Ren McCormack (center). (Liz Lauren photo)

3 stars

If you bring the family (middle-school age and up) to see “Footloose” at Marriott Theatre, you will likely have interesting talking points after the show. This is a high energy musical that is perfect for adolescent audiences tired of rules, curfews and their town or suburb.

Based on the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon, the story’s roots are the ideology and actions of a small, rural town in Oklahoma that had banned dancing for almost a century.

In the musical, originally written for the film by Dean Pitchford, with music by Tom Snow, Jim Steinman, Kenny Loggins and Pitchford, (additional music by Sammy Hagar and Eric Carmen and others) Chicago teenager Ren McCormack moves to Bomont, Utah with his mom, Ethel, after their dad leaves home.Read More

It is ‘Lottery Day’ in the Rightlynd ward

 

James Vincent Meredith (Avery) and J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
James Vincent Meredith (Avery) and J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 stars

Rightlynd is Holter’s fictional ward in Chicago. When guests enter Owen’s lobby they see a colorful board map of the neighborhood with places and names that have been mentioned in the saga’s plays that precede “Lottery Day.” Maybe a copy of that map ought to be in the playbill.

If you think of playwright Ike Holter’s “Lottery Day,” the seventh play in his Rightlynd saga, from an opera format view point, you may not mind that you don’t hear what the characters are saying when they all talk at the same time. Maybe, just consider it a duet or blending of emotions and voices.

According to Holter’s comments in Goodman Theatre’s On Stage Q&A the cadence and very fast dialogue beats in his series are deliberate.

I understand that. But when watching “Lottery Day,” now in its world premiere at Goodman’s Owen Theatre, I felt I needed to actually hear what they were saying to help me define each character’s place in the story, their concerns and background.

Not having seen any of the plays that preceded “Lottery Day” in the saga, I felt I had come upon preparations for a party and then the party, itself, quite accidentally without knowing any of the participants, their back story or why they interacted the way they did.Read More

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

‘Choir of Men’ pub crawl serves up 90 minutes of pop

Choir of Man at Broadway In Chicago Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Choir of Man at Broadway In Chicago Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

3 Stars

In spite of the venue “The Choir of Man” is more boy band concert than Broadway musical. It features nine very energetic, vocally talented, male singers who purport to be “regulars” at a traditional Irish Pub named “The Jungle,” that serves up pop.

This musical extravaganza is loosely narrated by Denis Grindel who introduces his mate. He provides a bit of backstory about each of their characters as a way of establishing the iconic stereotypes we have all encountered in every tavern and public house the world round.

Grindel’s introductions explain that this is one of those places where we go to be who we are and where people accept us for who we are — good, bad and ugly. Though in this case the boys are not too “bad” and nary a one, would be accused of being ugly.

This being the case, “The Choir of Man” is a perfect fantasy for those looking for a bit of testosterone flavored eye-candy, perhaps a “girls night out,” that’s not too naughty.

I could not help thinking that after taking little sister to the American Girl store, a few steps away, Mom could take bigger sister here for her share of fun.

Yes, there is plenty of beer flowing but I do not think there is anything said or done that an average thirteen year-old has not seen or heard on prime-time TV. And in fact, there were a number of youngsters on hand opening night.

Sadly, the program does not include a list of songs so I suspect they change it up as they get a sense of what’s working. It is basically about 15 or so cover tunes by Adele, Queen, Paul Simon, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others that everyone will find enjoyable and most will find familiar.

The harmonies are awesome with onstage guitar accompaniment by Peter Lawrence, occasional piano by Connor Going and random percussion including a foot stomping tap dance by Matt Cox.

This is good clean well-intentioned, high caliber, fun. Perfect, if you happen to be in town for a visit or just looking for something to do before or after a nice dinner near Michigan Avenue or Rush Street.

“The Choir of Man” is at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, through March 17, 2019 (before continuing their US tour). For more information, visit BroadwayInChicago.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

What do we want God to be

Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in "Act(s) of God" by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)
Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in “Act(s) of God” by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)

2 1/2 stars

Take a dysfunctional family, yes, another one, add intellectual rhetoric, several different ideas (make them existential, religious, morality bent, etc.) and wrap the action in somewhat comic absurdism and you have “Act (s) of God” by Kareem Bandealy at Lookingglass Theatre.

Given that Lookingglass has afforded ensemble member Bandealy a top notch cast and placed it under the smart direction of Heidi Stillman for what is his debut venture on the other side of a script, we should have a four-star evening.

Instead, we have a mish-mosh of a play, probably two or three plays. It needs reworking and shortening from three to two acts so that even though it might fall in the absurdist category, theater-goers will leave with a sense of the playwright’s message.

Except for an overly-long religious ritual, I liked Act One when everyone (but G..D) is introduced. I liked the idea that Eldest daughter Kristina Valada-Viars, an atheist, could open a sealed missive that seemed to have come with ads to the household’s mailbox.

When others tried they couldn’t open it. When they dropped it, the house experienced a power outage.

Eldest said it was blank but when she loudly told her family to read it, they were able to and found that it announced an unexpected dinner guest the next day.

Not sure why in Act II the guest was supposedly a being who farted a lot in the computer room or why the three children of Mother and Father (no given names) disliked themselves and each other so much even though lots of trite reasons were bandied about along with personal attitudes towards religion and humanity.

Supposedly, an apocalyptic event occurs so that in the third act the furniture is taken from the stage. I liked that it included the comfortable chair in which Father was seated and barely moved from.

Lookingglass does repeat it’s productions so maybe we’ll see a new, shorter version of Bandealy’s play sometime. I’m looking forward to that.

DETAILS:
Act(s) of God” is at Lookingglass Theatre in the Chicago WaterWorks, 821 N. Michigan Ave., through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (312) 337-0665 or visit LookingglassTheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Ariodante:’ love and lust, deception and trust

 

'Ariodante'in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)
‘Ariodante’ in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)

4 Stars

The Lyric Opera’s “Ariodante” by George Frideric Handel (of “Messiah” fame) satisfies the sensibilities of a modern audience.

The storyline of this eighteenth century Baroque opera has elements familiar to a twenty-first century TV audience including love, sex, drugs, infidelity, deception and a missing person. Oh! and puppets.

The plot-line would benefit from a chart. But essentially, Ginevra and Ariodante are in love and soon to be married, however, the villainous Polinesso is also in love with Ginevra who incidentally, can’t stand the sight of him.

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