‘Pirates of Penzance’ delivers a treasure

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)

Mix really funny song interpretations with fine operatic voices and you have the hilarious, wonderfully entertaining “The Pirates of Penzance” at Music Theater Works.

Director Rudy Hogenmiller and choreographer Clayton Cross have the not so ferocious Pirate King  (Larry Adams) stretched out horizontally across his comrades in his name song. They have the daughters of the Major- General stumbling as they take-off shoes and stockings to wade then, hurriedly attempt to put them back on when pirate apprentice Frederic (Ben Barker) announces his presence.

After all, Frederic feels it’s his duty and the honorable thing to do to say he is watching. Similarly, if you listen to his lyrics, he doesn’t sugar coat his plea to the daughters for one of them to come with him, even if she is too pimply or plain to attract other beaus.Read More

A performance collage of Shakespeare and song

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Len Cariou in Broadway and the Bard at Stage 773
Len Cariou in Broadway and the Bard at Stage 773

Len Cariou’s solo performance of “Broadway & The Bard, An Evening of Shakespeare and Song” is best described as a “performance collage” ripped from fragments of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” and bits of faded American musical librettos. They are pasted together to create a new work of art representing the autobiographical portrait of a noted actor’s life in the theater.

During roughly eighty minutes, the audience is treated to non-stop snippets from “Twelfth Night” “Henry V,” “Richard II,” “Othello,” “King Lear” and more, as well as melodic strains borrowed from Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Charles Strouse, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and others.

A worthy theatrical experience cannot stand on reference and nostalgia alone, and in this regard collaborators Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort and Mark Janas have sidestepped that pitfall by doing an admirable job of creating a piece that may be enhanced by one’s own theatrical insight but does not require you to come equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge of the material included.Read More

An outstanding adventure awaits in ’20,000 Leagues’ at Lookingglass

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

L to R, Walter Briggs, Kasey Foster and Lanise Antoine Shelley. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
L to R, Walter Briggs, Kasey Foster and Lanise Antoine Shelley. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

French author Jules Verne’s farsighted (1870) Nautilus submarine takes readers on a voyage below the oceans’ surface where Captain Nemo encounters sea creatures and destroys ships in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A Tour of the Underwater World.” BTW twenty thousand depicts the journey’s length not ocean depth.

Disney productions saw wonderful, pictorial possibilities  so came out with a fine adventure film in 1954 that starred Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre.

Now Lookinglass Theatre, known for creatively depicting such stories enjoyed by youngsters and adults, alike, as “Alice” from Lewis Carroll’s stories, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” has brought the Verne adventure to life on stage with David Kersnar and Althos Low’s adaption and Kersnar’s direction in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas.” (Yes, the play say Seas).Read More

‘Girl Found’ looks back and forward from heartbreak and abuse to hope and love

 

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L to R front, Clara Byczkowski and Tricia Rogers, Standing, Katherine Swan in Girl found at Idle Muse theatre. (Photo by Steven Townshend)
L to R front, Clara Byczkowski and Tricia Rogers, Standing, Katherine Swan, in Girl Found at Idle Muse Theatre. (Photo by Steven Townshend)

Idle Muse Theatre Company presents the world premier of “Girl Found” which was written by Barbara Lhota and inspired by true events.

The play begins with a very happy ending. An eleven-year old girl disappears from her Detroit home and six years later a 17 year-old called Sophie (Clara Byczkowski) turns up at a homeless shelter in Canada.

Except for her name, she cannot recall much about her past. The lost girl is now found, her family is notified, and they are so relieved. Her Aunt Ellie (Katherine Swan) travels to Canada to pick up Sophie and bring her back home.

“Girl Found” brings up all kinds of questions as the family tries to adjust their past with the present.

While attempting to rectify everything, the play leads the audience into a complex world of drugs, human trafficking and child abuse. Ellie is Sophie’s legal guardian because her sister, Sophie’s mother, Eva (Tricia Rogers), is a former drug addict who finds it difficult to tell the truth.

Noah (James Mercer) is Ellie’s ex-fiancé and Sophie’s father figure who left town after Sophie vanished

Sophie’s return brings Ellie and Noah back together, yet their problems don’t evaporate because trying to attain a compatible domestic life is difficult with the myriad past troubles that are revealed.

As the audience tries to fit the pieces together of Sophie and her family’s missing years, the play is set on a stage that is simultaneously split into various locations with different characters: Sophie’s home and her childhood friend (Whitney Dottery); the Canadian shelter and its social worker (Sara Robinson); an FBI office; and a psychologist, Dr. Cole (Kathrynne Wolf), whose therapeutic sessions with Sophie try to produce explanations of what went on in the past, while uncovering traumas.

Directed by Alison Dornheggen, Idle Muse’s “Girl Found” features a high-quality ensemble of actors.

DETAILS: ‘Girl Found’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway St., Chicago, through June 10, 2018. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 340-9438 or visit IdleMuse.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

 

Metzler play spotlights new mom struggles

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At Northlight Theatre Darci Nalepa, l, and Laura Lapidus chat about how life changes when a baby enters their lives. (Michael Brosilow photos)
At Northlight Theatre, Darci Nalepa, l, and Laura Lapidus chat about how life changes when a baby enters their lives. (Michael Brosilow photos)

Maybe audiences watching the deeply felt new mother issues playing out at Northlight Theatre’s “Cry It Out” remember when, about a decade ago, such child-parent  support concerns as maternity/paternity leave and day-care availability were in the news. Companies even were rated as best to work for regarding those benefits.

Those worries are potently brought to life again in playwright  Molly Smith Metzler’s “Cry It Out.”

Author of the highly successful  “Elemeno Pea” that premiered in 2011 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Metzler’s “Cry It Out” was commissioned by the Actors Theatre and then premiered there last year.

BTW, cry it out is a phrase some people use for letting a baby bawl until worn out instead of picking the child up, walking with it or taking other soothing actions. But Metzler’s play goes far deeper than baby-rearing techniques.Read More

Visit the Delany sisters for a fascinating look back in time

Photos important to the Delany sisters' lives are projected in frames above their living room and kitchen as the aging sisters have their say about living in 20th century America. (photos by Liz Lauren).
Photos important to the Delany sisters’ lives are projected in frames above their living room and kitchen as the aging sisters have their say about living in 20th century America. (photos by Liz Lauren).

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Imagine living through more than 100 years of historic events and changing cultural attitudes. What would you predict might happen?

The Delany sisters, Bessie who lived to 104 (died 1995) and Sadie who lived to 109 (died 1999), thought a woman would eventually become president but not a colored man. They disliked the term black “We’re not black, we’re brown, we’re colored.” They also were OK with the formal race designation of Negro.

The sisters tell their story in “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” playing now at Goodman Theatre.

Raised in a family of achievers (lawyers, a judge, doctor, teachers and dentists, their father was the first colored person (they also didn’t like the term, African-American. “We’re American” they shout) to rise to bishop status in the Episcopal Church in the US. Read More

A plant and a female rearrange an all male Victorian club

 

Cast of The Explorers Club at Citadel Theatre. Photo by (North Shore Photo Club)
Cast of The Explorers Club at Citadel Theatre. Photo by (North Shore Camera Club)

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

There are enough politically incorrect attitudes in “The Explorer’s Club” to offend anyone who isn’t a member of a good old boys WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) group.

So just remember if seeing the show, now playing at Citadel Theatre, that it is a farce about the kind of men’s club (right, no females allowed) that would have felt comfortable during Queen Victoria’s reign.

This club’s focus is not wealth or lordship. It is for adventurers and scientists who seek glory with trophy killings, experiments and “discovery” of cultures to be exploited that have not yet been revealed in their part of the world.

Read More

‘Suddenly Last Summer’ is crazy good

(L to R) Wardell Julius Clark, Ayanna Bria Bakari, Grayson Heyl, Ann James and Andrew Rathgeber in Raven Theatre's Suddenly Last Summer. (Michael Brosilow photo)
(L to R) Wardell Julius Clark, Ayanna Bria Bakari, Grayson Heyl, Ann James and Andrew Rathgeber in Raven Theatre’s Suddenly Last Summer. (Michael Brosilow photo)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Catherine Holly (Grayson Heyl) is declared insane for recounting details related to the horrific death of her cousin Sebastian Venable while the two vacationed in a Latin-American beach resort.

It all happened, “Suddenly Last Summer” and no one, especially her aunt, Mrs. Violet Venable (Mary K. Nigohosian), Sebastian’s mother, wants to believe it.

The aging socialite, Mrs. Venable, invites Dr. Cukrowicz a/k/a Dr. Sugar (Wardell Julius Clark) to interview the suspected mad woman to assess whether or not she is a candidate for a lobotomy. The operation would erase the abhorrent memory and preserve the reputation of the beloved Sebastian.

Though the action takes place in a misty New Orleans garden, this is essentially a drawing room drama that plays out much like a whodunit with Dr. Sugar slowly extracting the details that reveal the shocking truth.

Skillfully written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Jason Gerace, the 90 minute production moves along swiftly in the capable hands of this Raven Theatre ensemble.

The play employs themes of mental illness and includes the prototypical characters of the delusional matriarch and the sensitive, often confused ingénue familiar to such other Williams works as “Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie.”

This is simply a good solid play well performed.

Full of Southern charm, I suggest you invite a friend to go with you, then afterwards head over to Big Jones in Andersonville, Jimmy’s Pizza Café (at Lincoln & Foster), or Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square for fresh beignets and coffee to complete the New Orleans experience.

DETAILS: “Suddenly Last Summer” is at the Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. (at Granville), Chicago, through June 17, 2018.  For tickets and more information call (773) 338-2177 or visit Raven Theatre.

Reno Lovison  (RenoWeb.net) and About Guest Reviewers

 

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

The Buddy Holly Story – How Rock Got Rollin’

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Benson, Mahler, Stevenson and McCabe (preview) in Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story, an American Blues Theater revival. (Michael Brosilow photos)

Refresh your memory. How rock ‘n  roll  was  changed  by  the  guy with the big glasses from  Lubbock, Texas is worth the trip back in time when taken there by the American Blues Theater’s “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.”

“Buddy” tells  the  tale  of  singer/songwriter Buddy  Holly  and the Crickets through  an all too brief career ended by tragedy. Yet, some 50 years later, his music  continues to be played and loved by a whole new generation.

Classic  songs include: “That’ll  be  the Day,” “Maybe Baby,” “Peggy  Sue,”  “It’s so Easy to Fall in Love,” “The  Big  Bopper’s,”  “Chantilly  Lace,”  “Ritchie  Valens,”  “La  Bamba,”  plus  many  more.

When performing the biography of a legend, how successful the show is depends on who plays the star. In this case, Zachary Stevenson who performed in Paramount’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” is spectacular.

Not only does he physically resemble Holly, but he exudes Holly’s dynamic energy and has all his dance moves down pat, such as hopping on one foot as he plays the guitar. Stevenson’s portrayal of Holly is a joy to watch.

Angela Alise, Liz Chidester, Vasily Deris, Ann Delaney and Molly Hernanez (Preview) in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.
Angela Alise, Liz Chidester, Vasily Deris, Ann Delaney and Molly Hernanez (Preview) in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.

But credit must be given to the entire ensemble whose amazing performances, both vocally and with a range of instruments, are stellar.

Piano, violins, bass, electric guitar and drums glide in and out throughout the show. Although they don’t appear until late in the second act, Cisco Lopez as Ritchie Valens and Vasily Denis as Big Bopper are outstanding.

“Buddy: The  Buddy  Holly  Story,” an American Blues Theater revival is written  by Alan  Janes and directed with precision by Lili-Anne  Brown. Musical  direction  is by ensemble  member  Michael  Mahler and costume design is by Samantha C. Jones who must have a ball putting these 1950’s costumes together.

The first act is filled with lots of upbeat Holly music as his career ascends. But it’s a hard act to follow since the audience knows what’s going to happen

However, instead of ending on a downer the show explodes with more of Holly’s music as an enduring testament to his legacy. The audience never wanted it to end.

Prepare yourself for one fabulous night of theater!

DETAILS: The Buddy Holly Story is an American Blues Theater production at Stage 773, 1225  W.  Belmont  Ave., Chicago, through May 26, 2018. For tickets and other information call (773) 327-5252 or visit American Blues Theater.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

For ‘Once’ it’s about music and love and chance encounters

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Every once in a while, someone remarkable touches our lives for a short time-and changes everything.

Such is the heartwarming theme of ‘Once,’ the Tony Award-winning musical now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Helmed by artistic director Jim Corti and musical director Tom Vendafreddo, it’s the musical’s first Chicago-area regional staging.

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, ‘Once’ is a story about a couple of Irish musicians in modern-day Dublin who meet and fall in love as they write songs together.

Tiffany Topol (Girl) and Barry DeBois (Guy) perform the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” in Once, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Lauren photos)
Tiffany Topol (Girl) and Barry DeBois (Guy) perform the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” in Once, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Lauren photos)

It started out as a low-budget indie movie in 2007 and its signature song, “Falling Slowly,” won an Oscar for Best Original Song the following year. The film was directed by John Carney; the music and lyrics were written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who also played the lead roles.

‘Once’ saw second life as a Broadway musical based on the book by playwright Enda Walsh. In 2012, it took home eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

But back to Paramount. As the story goes, the encounter between the two leads is so fleeting, only a week, that we never learn their names. Tiffany Topol plays Girl and Barry DeBois plays Guy. Both actors have ‘Once’ national touring credits in real life.

In the Paramount production,  Girl and Guy are accompanied, quite literally, by a cast of congenial music-makers who double as the orchestra. They’re a fun bunch to watch, even though the lyrics sounded muddled half the time.

Topal and DeBois duet well with adequate chemistry, but she stands out better on her own. She’s an enchanting vocalist and charmingly funny without seeming to try.

Other noteworthy players include Alex E. Hardaway, a stuffy bank manager with performance dreams of his own. It’s written as a humdrum role with a solo, “Abandoned in Bandon,” that Hardaway executes as a champion. And Jon Patrick Penick shows great comedic chops as rough-and-tumble music shop owner Billy.

The starlet of the show is red-headed lassie, 6-year-old Everleigh Murphy as Girl’s daughter Ivonka.

Not only is she adorable, but she’s a fine Irish step-dancer and violinist as well. Her talent runs in the family. Cousin Madeleine played the same role on Broadway.

Also, just as on Broadway and in the national tour, the stage is designed as an operational pub. The audience is invited to step up and purchase beverages pre-show and at intermission. With a few props and a little imagination, the stage is segmented for additional scenes. Scenic designer is Jeffrey D. Kmiec.

DETAILS: “Once” is at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, through June 3. For tickets and other information, call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago