‘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

RECOMMENDED

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

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Music of my soul is rock ’n roll

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Liam Quealy (L) as Huey Calhoun and Aeriel Williams as Felicia Farrell in 'Memphis at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photos)
Liam Quealy (L) as Huey Calhoun and Aeriel Williams as Felicia Farrell in ‘Memphis at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photos)

There’s a long list of reasons to see the wonderful musical, ‘Memphis,’ a story of rock ‘n roll in the 1950s at Porchlight Music Theatre.

The dancing is incredible. The singing is fantastic. The acting is superb. But wait . . . there’s so much more.

A Tony Award-winning Best Musical with lyrics and music by David Bryan and lyrics and book by Joe DiPietro, the story takes place in underground nightclubs in Memphis, TN.

The audience is swinging and swaying when the music begins playing but as the story continues many important issues are revealed.

Huey Calhoun, played by Liam Quealy, is loosely based on DJ Dewey Philips, a new white voice on Memphis radio in the 1950s.

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Super JCS production takes over Lyric stage

Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera (Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018)
Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera
(Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018)

RECOMMENDED

Experiencing ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera at the Lyric, is akin to attending a high-powered rock concert.

Amps are set on high much of the time so audiences really do need to already know the lyrics. The high intensity stage lighting designed by Lee Curran echoes those of Super Bowl half times.

The main tenors, Jesus Christ (Heath Saunders)  and Judas Iscariot (Ryan Shaw) mix singing with high-pitched, grating screams, and they, plus Pontius Pilate (Michael Cunio who is also a tenor) play their guitars on stage. In addition, the singers use mikes. Indeed, the mike handling is often a part of the choreography.

In other words, the Lyric production would gladden the hearts of today’s Millennial Generation.

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Powerful performance delves into Ferguson

Dael Orlandersmith in Until the Flood at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, NY. (Photo by Robert Altman)
Dael Orlandersmith in Until the Flood at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, NY. (Photo by Robert Altman)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Say Ferguson and you are likely to get a reaction on race conflicts and prejudice without even having to identify the place as a suburb of St. Louis

Some people may not even remember that it was the shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in 2014 that shot Ferguson into the national spotlight.

But to feel the event’s impact on people who live in the area, see playwright, actress Dael Orlandersmith’s stunning ‘Until the Flood.’

A one-person show, Orlandersmith presents with heartfelt-emotions, the reactions of eight characters ranging from teen-aged to middle age and older and from locals to other suburbanites to transplants with different careers and levels of education. Some are black. Others are white.

They are composites of people she interviewed after being commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis for a play regarding the event. It premiered there in 2016. BTW, Orlandersmith, a Goodman Artistic Associate and Alice Center Resident Artist, has a composite name. She was born Donna Dael Theresa Orlander Smith Brown.

Now, following its showing at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the production is at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre space only through May 12. Unfortunately, that is way too short a time given the importance of Orlandersmith’s play and her superb portrayals of different character types.

At the April 29th opening night performance, the playwright certainly put across the different perspectives as the audience zoned in on each portrayal with laughter, gasps and sighs.

Directed by Neel Keller with explanatory projections by Nicholas Hussong, set design by Takeshi Kata and costume design by Kaye Voyce, ‘Until the Flood’ is a remarkable theater experience.

DETAILS: ‘Until the Flood’ is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago through May 12, 2018. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3811 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Check into the Grand Hotel

Leryn Turlington and Jonathan Schwart with cast of Grand Hotel. (Evan Hanover photos)
Leryn Turlington and Jonathan Schwart with cast of Grand Hotel. (Evan Hanover photos)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This classic, Tony-Award-nominated musical comes to life in the hands of Kokandy Productions in Theater Wit. The moment you enter, the elegant set creates a warm ambience and violin and percussion sounds welcome you.

Up above and off stage, you hear the sounds of a crowd. Then, once the narrator, the good Colonel Doctor begins, the production takes off like a shot.

With book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright, George Forrest and Maury Yeston, ‘Grand Hotel’s 1989 Broadway production earned 12 Tony Award nominations and won five.

Based on the 1928 play/novel “Menschen im Hotel” (People in a Hotel) and the 1932 MGM movie, the musical focuses on life and death, success and failure, love and murder all told through music and dance.

People come and go through the revolving door, with everything happening in the Grand Hotel’s lobby during one defining weekend. Read More

Marriott meshes veteran cast and outstanding dance numbers in ‘Oklahoma’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Brandon Springman (Curly) and Jennie Sophia (Laurey) imagine riding on a surrey driven by snow-white horses in 'Oklahoma' at Marriott Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
Brandon Springman (Curly) and Jennie Sophia (Laurey) imagine riding on a surrey driven by snow-white horses in ‘Oklahoma’ at Marriott Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

Of course audiences going to Marriott Theatre’s ‘Oklahoma’ will hear and love Rogers and Hammerstein’s highly singable “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” “Kansas City,” “I Can’t Say No,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Oklahoma.”

Some folks were singing those popular, ingrained –in-American-culture songs as they left the theatre Wednesday night after the show’s official opening.

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‘South Pacific’ enchants the evening with romance and hi jinks

RECOMMENDED

Samatha Hill (Nellie), center, Rachel Osting, Erica Evans, Ashley Jane Lanyon, Kayla Boye, Allie Dandy Pizzo and Erica Stephan in 'South Pacific' at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Samantha Hill (Nellie), center, Rachel Osting, Erica Evans, Ashley Jane Lanyon, Kayla Boye, Allie Dandy Pizzo and Erica Stephan in ‘South Pacific’ at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

Nearly 70 years after winning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, ‘South Pacific’ mostly wears well at the Drury Lane Oakbrook revival.

The entire cast is stellar, the beloved Rogers and Hammerstein standards are well-tuned and racial conflict remains a relevant issue.

The action centers around a naval base in the South Pacific island amid World War II. During a lull in the fighting, the players engage in merrymaking and fall in love.

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