If you have seen “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s 1952 murder mystery that is still alive on stage in London, don’t give away the “who done-it” part.
With a reasonable run time of 2 hours, 20 minutes that includes a 15-minute intermission, the first act ends the play with you likely wondering, who is the next murder victim.
Directed by Scott Westerman who brilliantly presented Citadel’s award-winning “The Chrisians,” he has staged “Moustrap similar to a farce with characters moving in and out of doorways then appearing elsewhere.
As to the cast, they are mostly projected as somewhat overblown stereotypical characters that fit the “farce” slant.
So ask yourself who are these people, really? All the audience knows is that they are guests in the newly opened Monkswell Manor operated by newlyweds Mollie Ralston (Mary Margaret McCormack) and husband Giles (Jack Sharkey).
Next on the scene is a young, overly hyper lad named for architect Christopher Wren played by Jesus Barajas.
He is followed by Kristie Berger as the old maidish, times-have-changed Mrs. Boyle and William Ryder as the pleasant Major Metcalf.
Into the mix is Amy Stricker as Miss Casewell will drops hints that she had a difficult childhood.
The seemingly strangest character is Mr. Paravicini portrayed by Reginald Hemphill as an uninvited guest. He seems inordinately pleased with the guests’ makeup.
Last on stage is Detective Sergeant Trotter. Played by Sean Erik Wesslund, he first appears in the Inn’s big window on skis because the house is cut off by a persistent snowstorm.
Speaking of snow, the video created by cinematographer Ian Merritt adds drama to the show as does a strange mirror and other special effects.
So, don’t misread Westerman’s farcical handling of “Mousetrap.” Christie and Westerman are “dead” serious about the plot.
It supposedly was inspired by a real case about gravely mistreated children. It may lead some viewers to consider a case now in the news and the Illinois legal system.
Originally called “Three Blind Mice,” the nursery rhyme’s song is played in the background and thus raising the questions who are the mice and is the inn acting as a mousetrap?
DETAILS: Mousetrap is Sept. 15-Oct. 15 at Citadel Theatre Company, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL. For tickets and information call (847) 735-8554, x1, or visit Citadel Theatre.
(Maddy Shilts, Whitney Wolf, Ben Isabel, Ben Paynic, Luis Del Valle, Elizabeth Bushell, Madelynn Oztas)
Directed by Wayne Mell, this Madkap Production of “A Chorus Line” at the Skokie Theatre, is on pointe. It taps into the essence of love and dedication to the art of dance.
“A Chorus Line” is an anthology of songs and monologues bringing to light the collective motivations and inspirations that keep people involved in a mentally and physically demanding occupation.
Through the individual stories and seemingly endless rehearsals we are reminded of the hard work and athleticism required to make moving to music look artful and effortless. All of that requires intense dedication while offering only rare substantial successes.
Onerous choreographer Zach played by Sean M.G. Caron, cajoles a select group of hopeful chorus applicants into revealing some of their deepest secrets while continually drilling them on numerous dance routines. He is barking orders all the time to lift their chin, raise their arms and smile less while looking like they’re having fun.
From those who survive the ordeal only a handful will be selected.
In the song “What I Did For Love,” (music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban) beautifully sung by Diana (Marcela Ossa Gomez), she says of the grueling work and unmet promises “We did what we had to do – – Won’t forget, can’t regret — What I did for love.” In this context it’s the love of the craft, the love of dance.
It may be a useful reminder that when first staged in in 1975, frank conversations about sexuality in general and homosexuality specifically were unusual and a bit shocking for theater goers. In “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” the ensemble shares stories of puberty, adolescence and sexual awakening.
But in “Dance 10: Looks 3” (a reference to her performance score) dancer Val (Lili Javorka) lightens the mood in a song more commonly referred to as “Tits and Ass” where she reveals that surgically enhancing those assets improved her career.
It cannot be overlooked that the intense, nearly nonstop two-hour score by Hamlisch is a workout for the production pianist, in this case, the extremely capable musical director Jeremy Ramey who must also be credited with the precision of the ensemble vocal numbers and that the musical subtleties and multi-voice harmonies within the songs were preserved and celebrated.
Though there were a few obvious “ringers” the vocal capabilities of the cast exceeded their dancing “chops.” But that does not detract from their earnest effort led by choreographer Susan Pritzker.
The production is a substantial aerobic workout that requires continual attention to complicated footwork and challenging movements, all while singing, talking or being otherwise engaged with what is happening on stage
The onstage leadership of dance captain Ben Paynic, echoed by his character of Larry, was amusing and quietly assuring. In a sense he represented the ideal that all of the rehearsal was supposed to finally achieve.
Set design by Scott Richardson could not be more minimal, consisting of a few mylar sheets as mirrors on the back wall flanking an opening that exposed the backstage area and pianist.
I get that this was supposed to be a rehearsal area and admittedly the Skokie Theatre stage is already a bit small for a show with a large dance ensemble. But when there were only one or two people in a scene, they seemed lost in space.
For instance, in the scene between Zach and Paul (Luis Del Valle) a simple chair might have grounded them and given them a reference point. Likewise, the lighting was virtually nonexistent, being fully up most of the time. This made me as an audience member feel like I was watching a rehearsal and not in a good way
Again, in the previously mentioned scene or during Cassie’s (Sarah Sapperstein) solo dance, some isolating lighting might add to the intimacy of these moments.
Sadly, the costumes by Patti Halajian were overall a miss for me, in this show, where there is so much fun and interesting off-the-rack potential.
The biggest faux pas was the finale which aside from being generally ill-fitting was way too much bling for this small space. What’s important in the finale is that the chorus line be uniform and synchronized. Save the glitter for a larger venue.
Each individual cast member did an outstanding job on their spotlight performances. A standout for me was Emma Drazkowski as Maggie while my wife thought Whitney Marie Wolf as Judy “was the real deal.” I also thought Del Valle’s scene was very moving.
Aside from a few minor gaffs as mentioned this show was great fun and very enjoyable. The full house is a further indication that Madkap provides an important function in Skokie, offering competent entertaining live theater experiences to the Northshore communities in a convenient, comfortable, modern venue.
DETAILS: “A Chorus Line” is at the Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave, Skokie, IL through October 8, 2023. Running time is 2 hours with no intermission. For tickets and information visit http://skokietheatre.org or call (847)677-7761.
Lauren Maria Medina as Louise (Photos by Liz Lauren).
A musical fable comes to life at the Marriott’s fine production of GYPSY. Its all-star cast showcases the tale of the ultimate stage mother, Rose, who fights for her daughters’ successes while really wanting her own moment in the spotlight.
Opening on Broadway in 1959, Arthur Laurents’ GYPSY was nominated for eight Tony awards and has been a beloved classic for generations.
Taking her daughters across the country in search of that next big gig in the waning days of vaudeville, Rose continually dreams of seeing daughter June’s name in lights. A three-times divorced mamma, nothing will get in Rose’s way, not even a new suitor by the name of Herb, who is kind and loyal.
Make no mistake, this is a woman’s show, empowering and emotionally problematic.
When June tires of the act and runs off to get married, Rose channels her interest in her other daughter, Louise, to make her a star.
The musical features Broadway star Lucia Spina as Rose whose loud, brassy, and booming voice perfectly captures the pushy stage mother. She belts out every song, reminiscent of Ethel Merman who played Rose on Broadway.
Lucky for the audience, a warm welcome back to the Marriott stage is given to the Jefferson award-winning Nathaniel Stampley as suitor Herbie who is charming and authentic. But having seen Stampley in other Marriot roles like “Man of La Mancha” and “Ragtime,” his amazing talent seems somewhat wasted.
Nathaniel Stampley (Herbie) and Lucia Spina (Rose )
The audience watches as Lauren Maria Medina who plays Louise is transformed from a mousy little girl into a confident, successful burlesque superstar, the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee. Her voice is powerful and strong.
With music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show boasts a memorable score including: “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People,” and “Together Wherever We Go.”
Kudos to J’Kobe Wallace who plays Tulsa and an ensemble member for his outstanding dancing that took the house down.
The Marriott production will likely feel different from other GYPSYs because director Amanda Dehnert working with choreographer Stephanie Klemons and music director Jeff Award Winner Ryan T. Nelson emphasized its emotional toll and darker side.
On a different note: Fans of Nathaniel Stampley will be happy to know he takes the stage in an intimate evening of solo songs and stories for one night only, October 15 at 7:30 p.m. In Songs & Stories: Nathaniel Stampley in Concert, Mr. Stampley traces his career from Milwaukee to Chicago, Broadway, London and beyond.
DETAILS: GYPSY is at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL through October 23, 2023. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com or call the Marriott Theatre Box Office: (847) 634-0200.
The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts’ Center Theatre is the perfect space for Music Theater Works’ The Producers.
Unlike the company’s “Camelot” which was crammed into the small theater, it has the space for Producers director Walter Stearns,’ choreographer Darryl K. Clark’s’ and scenic designer Jonathan Berg-Einhorn’s interpretations of Mel Brooks Tony Award winning musical comedy. They need the space for their terrific dancers and talented cast.
With the excellent singer-actor Thomas M. Shea in the lead as Max Bialystock and David Geinosky as the nerdy accountant-turned producer sidekick, the show rollicks from a scheme to make millions with aBroadway flop to their unintentional, probably disastrous, success as a hit. Kelsey MacDonald as their Swedish bomb/secretary/receptionist Ulla, is a bonus.
The show, which would likely not appeal to conservative theater goers, is what anyone who attends should expect from Mel Brooks who rejoices in off-color dialogue, surprising topis and action. So blame him and co-book writer Thomas Meehan. The funny, rousing, music and lyrics are also by Brooks.
The Producers is a fun break in the theater season.
DETAILS: The Producers is at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts” Center Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL through Aug. 20, 2023. Running time:2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visitMusicTheaterWorks.com or call Music Theater Works Box Office: (847) 673-6300.
After seeing “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story,” an extraordinary musical production that opened at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, June 28, it’s hard not to think of Don Mclean’s version of ” American Pie” (see Rolling Stones and the “Day the Music Died) .
Of course, the show ends with a darkened stage for the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Holly, two other performers and the pilot. But the lights come back on, the music returns to high intensity and the audience knows Holly’s music lives on.
With “Buddy,” Marriott Theatre introduces another generation to Holly’s rock ‘ n’ roll style and songs. In doing so, the Marriott brilliantly cast Kieran McCabe as Buddy.
Written by Alan Janes, directed and choreographed by Amber Mak with music direction by Matt Deitchman, the production deserves the long, standing ovation it received on opening.
Other versions of the show have been mostly on national and international tours, but if it returns to Broadway where it opened at the Shubert Theatre Nov. 4, 1990 (and ran for 225 performances), it should star the exceptionally talented McCabe as Buddy.
More than a “jukebox musical” featuring the songs of Holly, those of the “Crickets,” as they were known when they backed Holly, and later, after he died, other rock n’ roll songs of the 50s and 60s time period, it’s clear it takes more than just knowing how to play a guitar. A lot of “Buddy” is showmanship.
You see Holly turn audiences onto rock’n’roll as he moves from a less than successful start in Lubbock, Tx at age 19 where a recording studio manager wanted country, not rock’n’roll, through Nashville, TN and on to the NorVaJak Studios in Clovis, NM, where his and the Crickets “That’ll be the Day” recording was released, May 1957, reached number three on the Billboard Top 100 by mid-September and went on to future successes including in Harlem.
By the end of the show you see McCabe play his guitar backwards, over his head and stop at the piano to add a riff similar to what audiences see in “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Indeed, some of the musicians in Buddy” have played in that show. McCabe was Fluke, the drummer/ Crickets’ bassist Joe Maudlin was Carl Perkins.
The show, a rocking 100 minutes without intermission, magnificently proves, once again, that Buddy Holly’s musical vision, personality and ground-breaking style made him the super star that would live on past his tragic plane crash in 1959 at age 22.
DETAILS: “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, IL, now through Aug. 13, 2023 Run-time approx 100 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Buddy.
Music Theater works brings Pippin to the North Shore Center for Performing Arts in a production that is a feast for the senses and uses the entire spectrum of theater craft.
Explaining the plot of Pippin is as useful as trying to recall the details of a dream. What exactly happened is not important but the fact that your brain was trying to help you organize your thoughts and work through your anxiety is important.
But for context I’ll tell you that Pippin (Connor Ripperger) who has recently completed his education in Italy is the eldest son of Charlemagne Thomas M. Shea.) Ripperger’s Pippin has a longing boyish quality that is spot on.
The boy is anxious to make his way in the world but the problems in his way are stepmother Fastrada (Savannah Sinclair) and stepbrother Lewis (Andrew Freeland). They want to get rid of Pippin so Lewis will become first heir to the throne.
Though Lewis is purported to be a better warrior, Pippin sets out to prove himself in battle where he learns war is a deadly and dirty business.
Pippin’s grandmother, Berte (Kathleen Puls Andrade), encourages the lad to enjoy life and have more sex. He tries but his experiences bring him little pleasure and take him no closer to a fulfilling life.
Then Pippin falls into the arms of a wealthy widow,, Catherine (Desiree Gonzalez) who has a small b oy, Theo (Di’Aire Wilson). Again the promise of a quiet and distracting domestic life is not fulfilling to the restless youth.
Ultimately, Pippin is back in Charlemagne’s palace where he becomes king after the untimely death of his father. Saddened by the injustices of the world, Pippin attempts to right some wrongs but learns that the problems are more complex than they appear.
The phantasmagoric experience is orchestrated and narrated by the Leading Player (Sonia Goldberg) who promises a finale we will never forget. Goldberg has the needed commanding stage presence that lets you know she is in charge.
The action will not have anything to do with the actual life of Charlemagne. In fact, it includes video games, tv reports and images on large screens mimicking fragments expected from a dream.
Pippinwas co-written and originally directed and choreographed by Chicago native Bob fosse in 1972 at the epicenter of his successful and frenetic career. (Possibly his drug addiction might help explain this bizarre tale of how Pippin’s quest for meaning plays out.) Fosse’s fingerprints (or say footprints) are all over this psychedelic fever dream.
Many of the characters, notably Pippin and The Leading Player, are gloved which is a nod to Fosse’s iconic “Jazz hands” and his desire to accentuate hand movements as part of dance.
This production’s co-choreographers, Mollyanne Nunn and Kaitlyn Pasquinelli, got all they demanded from their talented company who kept the non-stop action energetic and entertaining.
Director Kyle A. Dougan with assistant director Patrick Tierney did an expert job wrangling the large cast of about 20 players around a limited area of the smaller North Theater in the Skokie complex.
Shane Cinal supplied the needed multilevel set design that provided additional room for movement including clever areas for unusual entrances and exits. Andrew Meyers lighting effects were key components of several scenes.
Jazmin Aurora Medina’s colorful fantastical costumes, augmented by Alice Salazar’s hair, wig and makeup, added the right look for the chaotic action. Charlemagne’s toys sealed in plastic and his plastic crown added a subtle brilliance of detail to the array of often absurd imagery.
The music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz who gave us the highly acclaimed Wicked is high caliber. It doesn’t have a break-out number with the possible exception of “Corner of the Sky.” When performed by the Jackson Five it became #18 on Billboard. Schwartz almost simultaneously wrote Godspell. My initial response was to characterize Pippin as The Fantastiks meets Godspell.
On the surface, Pippin seems weird and fragmented but in retrospect, the Tony Award winning musical is deeply reflective of the competitive and often, tormented mind of Fosse. In a larger context, its the reflection of us all as we strive to live more meaningful lives.
Details: Pippin, a Music Theater Works production, is at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL ,through June 25, 2023. Running time: 2 and 1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. for tickets and information visit Music Theater Works or call (847) 673-6300.
Note: Though the production has an overall comedic tone it contains adult themes and language as well as allusions to sexual activity, murder and suicide so may not be appropriate for everyone.
For a professional theater experience in Chicago this month you can’t do much better than West Side Story at the Lyric Opera. This Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim musical deemed cutting edge and somewhat avantgarde when first introduced, is now a classic.
The story by Arthur Laurents is a rather faithful mid-century modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Rival teenage street gangs, the Sharks and Jets, battle in New York City streets to maintain what they feel is control of this small piece of Manhattan. Caught in the crossfire of this conflict are Tony (Ryan McCatan) and Maria (Kanisha Feliciano) two tragic lovers from opposite ends of the divide.
The production is a natural for this venue. West Side Story leans more toward opera as the story is told primarily through song, with many that found a firm foothold in the Great American Songbook, such as Maria, Tonight, and One Hand One Heart. They are augmented by the accompaniment of a full live pit orchestra led by conductor James Lowe, a rare treat that would likely not be included in a smaller company.
Director Francesca Zambello has largely remained faithful to the original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins that includes a substantial amount of modern ballet, executed here by choreographer Joshua Bergasse and the production ensemble. The Lyric’s massive Civic Opera House stage gives the dancers ample room to move.
The set design of Peter J. Davison featuring the iconic fire escape, towers over the audience. When Maria sings Somewhere to Tony as they embrace on the balcony while the dance company interprets her message of hope below, the scale of the proscenium provides an opportunity to suggest both the intimacy of the lovers as well as the suggestion of a world beyond.
The depth of the stage allows for a glimpse of the larger city, amplifying the claustrophobic feelings of the gang members whose view of the world is so limited they can not see further than their small neighborhood and the immediate “problems” that they largely have created themselves.
The story of street violence, turf warfare and ethnic battles are all too familiar in today’s environment illustrating that these often-deadly disagreements are nothing new, and difficult if not impossible to eradicate from our communities.
The “Gee, Officer Krupke” musical number comically reminds us of the continuous effort to understand and curb youthful anti-social behavior including psychology, sociology, and criminology as well as the conditions that lead to “delinquency.” Our mothers all are junkies / Our fathers all are drunks / Golly Moses, naturally we’re punks!
In America, Anita (Amanda Castro) and Rosalia (Joy Del Valle) expose the promise versus the realities of “The American Dream,” while in The Jet Song, Riff (Bret Thiele) and The Jets express the perceived value they get from being part of a gang.
I was happy to see a number of young people and children at the matinee performance I attended but caution parents to keep in mind that not all musicals are written for a Disney audience
In the nineteen-fifties and sixties there was a decisive movement to create musical theater with mature themes. Some of these included Carousel and Oklahoma (both of which have been staged at the Lyric) depicting or suggesting domestic abuse, murder and rape. This trend has continued and expanded since then, proving that the American Musical has a place in high art because it has the ability not only to entertain but also to inform, reach us emotionally in a profound way and expand our thinking.
The original West Side Story production ensemble of Laurents, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Robbins with Robert Griffith and Harold Prince did not shy away from difficult topics and instead embraced the trend by exposing the challenges related to depicting racial conflict, disaffected youth, street gang violence, murder and death, through music and dance.
West Side Story is a tragic love story that ultimately encourages us to be more tolerant and thoughtful as to how we perceive, judge and react to each other, particularly those with whom we have perceived differences. It is suggested that there is space for everyone if we open our hearts to each other.
Details: West Side Story is at the Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, through June 25, 2023. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit LyricOpera.org
Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon by Matthew C. Yee is a light romp with a dark twist followed by a hasty, muddled ending wrapped up in a cloud of very good music – all of which is performed by a remarkable cast of actor musicians.
This adventure revolves around Asian identity, Asian stereotypes and the experience of being Asian in America so I will simply set the stage now.
The following characters are all presented in the production as Asian or Asian-American: Charlie (Matthew C. Yee) and Lucy (Aurora Adachi-Winter), Grandma (Wai Ching Ho), Peter (Rammel Chan), Jeff (Daniel Lee Smith) and Bao (Harmony Zhang).
Characters presented as non-Asian are senior security professional agent Feinberg (Mary Williamson), Gabriel (Matt Bittner) and Martin (Doug Pawlik).
Lucy and Charlie met two weeks ago. Charlie has dubbed himself an Asian-American renegade and recently reinvented himself as a cool cowboy which attracted Lucy to him. They married and are on a poorly conceived amateurish crime adventure.
Charlie’s brother Peter, a security agent trainee, finds himself in the awkward position of investigating a convenience store robbery involving the pair.
In the meantime, at a rest stop, Lucy befriends Bao, a recent arrival from China, who is waiting to be picked-up by her sponsor, ostensibly to work for a cleaning company which Lucy quickly determines is really a front for a sex slave operation.
Peter gets his boss Feinberg, his grandma, and uncle Jeff involved to help rescue the couple, who, with Bao, have taken refuge at Grandma’s cottage in Winnebago, WI where the two hope to elude the sex-slave operators, Gabriel and Martin.
Kudos to Matthew C. Yee who wrote the book and music, plays the role of Charlie and performs a significant amount of the accompaniment as an onstage guitarist and does it all very well.
I feel Yee shot himself in the foot by not making his songs a little more universal and slightly less specific to the production.
All of the great commercially successful musicals have songs that can break out of the confines of the story and speak to a larger human condition. allowing them to stand apart and take on a life of their own.
The storyline had a spark of brilliance in the tradition of many classic screwball comedies, crime mysteries or culture clash stories. My major complaint is the use of gratuitous gun violence to resolve and ultimately squander the conflict that Yee spent the first act rather expertly crafting.
Additionally waving guns around in a post Alec Baldwin “Rust” era can be a bit disconcerting to audience members who find themselves looking down the barrel for extended periods of time. (Note to violence designers R+D Choreography, direct the action upstage as much as possible).
In act two the story takes a jarring turn, resulting in a schizophrenic tone. If you want to have fun then have fun. If you want to be serious then do that. Mixing the two has been done but it takes a deft hand. In this case it just seemed like an easy way out. This might be satisfactory in an improvisation or workshop but not as a finished production in a downtown theater especially if there is any thought of wider distribution.
Much of the overall production credit goes to director Amanda Dehner. The entire cast is outstanding, while also being exceptional musicians, breathing life into the material provided by Yee.
It was apparent they understood his vision and executed it expertly in front of a dizzying and whimsical array of floor to ceiling Western and Far East artifacts assembled by scenic director Yu Shibagaki.
Screen projections by projection designer Paul Deziel were helpful for sharing song lyrics and interjecting a bit of humor when referencing images we would were not be able to see. Sully Ratke provided a thoughtful and amusing costume selection.
Yee’s portrayal of Charlie affects a kind of deep silent type cowboy image that definitely takes a backseat to the over-the-top energy of Lucy who is driving much of the action. Peter, Grandma, and Jeff as a comical triumvirate of stereotypes handle the material well. It is obvious the playwright and the actors understand how far they can go when working with ethnic humor.
This group would make a very effective sitcom or web series. But I caution Yee to treat them and their situations with more respect.
Here is my dilemma. I work with an Asian non-profit organization in Uptown, have a number of close Asian friends and some individuals of Asian descent in my extended family. When I think about recommending Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon to them, I cringe.
The Boomers and GenX folks especially those who were not born here might find some of the content offensive or at least sophomoric and it’s a bit too rough for the teen and preteen crowd.
That leaves the middle 20- to 40-year-olds who were born here and grew up in a cross-cultural environment that at times, confused and maybe even embarrassed their elders. It’s full of a lot of insider humor. I get this and I know two thirty-something Asian guys who would love this and totally get it. Though this limited target audience is probably not adequate to create the level of success the essence of this play deserves.
Every American-ethnic group has experienced what Yee is trying to convey and it’s an important story. But it has to be told in a way that a general audience can understand and appreciate.
Sex-trafficking and other exploitation of immigrants is a very serious topic that deserves more than a cursory glance and cartoonish treatment.
So as much as I love the actors, characters and the music and appreciate the premise, I can only somewhat recommend Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon.
It’s an entertaining Asian-American rockabilly musical but playwright Yee should give “Lucy and Charlie” a second look.
Details: Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon is at the Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Avenue through July 16, 2023. Runtime is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit lookingglasstheatre.org
Watching the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards was refreshing Sunday night
We didn’t have hosts trying to be funny or clever. And whether our idea of who should win actually took home the Tony, we got to see some excellent Broadway performances.
In case you missed the show here are the Tony winners:
Best Play – Leopoldstadt plus Best Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Brandon Uranowitz, Best Director of a Play Patrick Marber and Best Costume Design of a Play Brigette Reiffensteul in a 50-year-long family saga of love, faith, identity by Tom Stoppard. If you get to NY this June try to see it at the Longacre Theatre before it leaves July, 2, 2023.
Best Musical – Kimberly Akimbo by multi award winners David Lindsay Abaire and Jeanine Tesori is among the show’s five Tony Awards. The show also won awards for Best Book of a Musical (Abaire), Best Original Score, Best Actress in a Musical (Victoria Clark) and Best Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Bonnie Milligan. The theme is a very different teenager tale about struggles that range from family secrets to her own disease of rapid physical aging.
Best Revival of a Play – Top Dog-Underdog by Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Lori-Parks that is a dark comedy of two brothers back on Broadway for its 20th anniversary.
Best Revival of a Musical – Parade, a Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry musical about a dramatic, true, grave injustice in Georgia.
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Sean Hayes for Good Night, Oscar, by Doug Wright about troubled entertainer Oscar Levant. The show with Sean Hayes in the starring role came from Goodman Theatre in Chicago where it was a sell-out hit.
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Jodie Comer as Tessa in Prima Facie by Suzie Miller about a young, brilliant barrister facing a moral conflict. A short Broadway run, the show opened in April at the John Golden theatre but closes July 2, 2023.
Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical – J. Harrison Ghee for Some Like It Hot. Yes, it’s the old story of two musicians (played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the 1959 Billy Wilder/IAL Diamond film) who are fleeing the Chicago mob by train during Prohibition. The current show’s Book is by Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin with Music by Marc Shaiman and Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. It has an open run at the Shubert Theatre.
For Best Actress in a Musical see Kimberly Akimbo/Victoria Clark above.
Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play – Miriam Silverman in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window which takes place in Sidney and Iris Brustein’s Greenwich Village apartment where ideals sardonically clash with reality in the 1960s.
Best performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical -Alex Newell for Shucked, a show with the unlikely theme of mixing a NYC comedy writer with two Nashville stars.
Best performance by an Actress in a Featured role in a Musical – Bonne Milligan see Kimberly Akimbo above.
For more Tony categories and winners visit Tony Awards.
It is impossible not to move the shoulders or tap the feet when Lisa Heimi Johanson as the bi-racial Mira, David M. Lutken as her Appalachian grandfather, Edgar “Gar,” and Morgan Morse as her boyfriend, Beckett, pick up their instruments and treat audiences of “The Porch on Windy Hill” to a couple of hours of well-played, traditional bluegrass.
The three actors, make up the cast of a show playing now through May 14, 2023, at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Lisa, a Broadway, national tour, regional and tv actress/singer/musician, David Lutken, a noted Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Nashville, musician/actor, and Morse, a talented musician and popular regional actor, are also three of the show’s four writers.
They are led by international, off Broadway and regional playwright/director/choreographer Sherry Lutken who conceived the play.
Arguable, there is another cast member: the play’s traditional Appalachian music.
“We used music to tell the story,” Sherry said, noting that people from different backgrounds could amicably come together when appreciating music.
And thus, “The Porch On Windy Hill” was conceived to incorporate a beloved regional music form into a fragile family reunion as a healing lotion. Its writers hope the show will spark discussions on COVID’s disturbing byproduct of anti-Asian sentiment.
A recent telephone interview with Sherry delved into how the show and its theme came to be. After all, except for one-person celebrity interpretations, most theater productions don’t have the play’s writers doubling as the cast.
It started with COVID changing what Sherry could substitute in her theater schedule. The venue wanted something small, instead of the multiple set and costume changes required by the slated production.
“It was a scary time for a lot of people. There was all this messiness. We had a show scheduled for 2021. We still hope to do it. It had a large cast.”
The “we” are Sherry and husband David. He co-devised and starred in the multi-award-winning Woody SEZ: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie which included other talented musician/actors and has played internationally and in the United States including Chicago.
So, while stuck indoors, sheltering from COVID but looking for a different play, “a story that would resonate,” Sherry said, her thoughts turned to how a close, bi-racial friend would be feeling given all the hate expressed against Asians and what her friend would tell her children.
“There was a mindset out there leading to rising aggression,” she said.
Explaining that Lisa who was passionate about justice was biracially white and Korean, Sherry said, “We thought of Lisa and how she expressed herself in her poetry on social media.”
The Lutkens then added Morgan, an actor/musician, writer they knew from his regional work. The four of them started developing what became the script for “The Porch on Windy Hill.”
“We’d dive into ideas developing the basic premise,” Sherry said. “We were on zoom with long discussions on the subject matter, adding and then cutting. It was creative. It became magical.”
She compared the process to a sculpture that starts with a block of wood or stone. “You whittle and chip away until a bird emerges,” she said.
She added that during this time, “David was mining the American landscape of music. Its roots.”
“We often talk about how music melds the sounds carried to this country. Music is part of our culture. There are the indigenous peoples, the enslaved, the folks who try to forge a better life. Music speaks to people at a very deep level.”
She thought it brought people “who deserve to be in the same space, together.”
“In our personal life, I was thinking of my friend and what she experienced and that started me thinking about using the idea of Korean/white, and what it means to be different, to be biracial… what it feels like. I imagined my friend whom I dearly loved, speaking to her children.”
She added, “This story needs to be told.”
That became a seed for the basic plot of feeling different. Plus it could combine with music and see where music could lead.
“Once music was in (the play), we still had to start a conversation. It became what we’re hoping to achieve. We all wrote together. And we worked on it some more in a workshop with dramaturg Christine Mok”.
There was a lot of the talk is not in the play.”
In “The Porch on Windy Hill,” music led Mira, a biracial Korean-white classical violinist, to “Gar,” her estranged Appalachian, banjo-strumming grandfather and change their conceptions and misconceptions of previous family interactions.
The music and action is facilitated by Mira’s boyfriend, Beckett who is doing his doctoral dissertation on American folk music.
“David and I were talking about it – what was in my head. It’s how different people coming to America brought their music and how indigenous people and enslaved people had theirs. Music evolved in this country,” said Sherry.
“We all wrote together. And we worked on it some more in a workshop with dramaturg Christine Mok.”
The play premiered at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut, fall of 2021.
“It’s an exciting way to create theatre. We were living the theater process when we were all stuck inside wondering what would happen to theater.
“Music can be really purposeful. As a healing concept, it’s perfect.”Sherry said.
“The Porch on Windy Hill” will be at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through May 14, 2023 before moving to Weston Theater in Vermont in August and Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA, April 2024.