Horror musical about greed and power

 

Trio of Skid Row girls above watch the action with Little Shop of Horrors ledes (Photo courtesy Citadel Theatre and North Shore Camera Club)
Trio of Skid Row girls above watch the action with Little Shop of Horrors ledes (Photo courtesy Citadel Theatre and North Shore Camera Club)

Recommended

October, when you are asked to believe in the supernatural, is the perfect month to see Little Shop of Horrors at Citadel Theatre.

Director Matthew Silar, production manager Ellen Phelps and scenic designer Eric Luchen have magically figured out how to innovatively cram scenery that includes a skid row tenement stairway, a flower shop, dentist’s office and a growing-by-the-minute voracious plant with evil intentions into Citadel’s miniscule space.

Balancing the evil of the plant are the fun combo of rock and roll /doo-wop dances and songs by a trio of young skid row residents: Chiffon (Ania Martin) Crystal (Isis Elizabeth) and Ronnette (Sabrina Edwards).

The trio also move the scenery, changing an outside wall into the shop and other places as needed.

Ledes are Sam Shankman who wears well the persona of the nebbish shop employee/plant cultivator Seymour and his love interest, fellow shop employee Audrey, nicely portrayed by Dani Pike.

Unseen stars are puppet designer Matt McGee, puppeteer of the plant, Michael Dias, and Audrey II’s voice, Aaron Reese Boseman. Seymour named his plant Audrey II in honor of the girl he works with and really likes.

Secondary characters and the people the audience figure out early on will become Audrey II’s plant food, are shop owner Mr. Mushnik (Alan Ball) and Orin Serivello, D.D.C (Philip C. Matthews).

A horror musical-comedy with music by Alan Menken and lyrics and book by Howard Ashman, the story is based originally on a 1960 film noir titled “The Little Shop of Horrors.”  It was later remade into a 1986 film directed by Frank Oz.

I did see a young child in the audience but wouldn’t suggest the show for children below preteens or maybe middle schoolers who really like haunted houses.

Since nothing tried seemed to destroy Audrey II, the show is less allegorical than a statement or warning about greed and power. The characters who are originally OK with the plant’s choices in Act I have second thoughts about the plant in Act II.

DETAILS: “The Little Shop of Horrors” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 Waukegan Rd, Lake Forest, IL. now through Oct. 16, 2022.  Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre or call (847) 735-8554.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Hello Dolly’ still very funny and heartfelt

 

Heidi Kettenring as Dolly at Marriott Theatre. Photos courtesy of Liz Loren)
Heidi Kettenring as Dolly at Marriott Theatre. (Photos courtesy of Liz Loren)

4 Stars

Of course, you will be leaving the Marriott Theatre production of Hello Dolly singing its famed theme song but what you are likely to be talking about is the shows fabulous choreography and fine acting.

What audience members who already had tickets for Sept. 15 might not know is that after previews, that date was the show’s new opening night. It came two weeks after the original opening Aug. 31 was canceled due to Covid among some cast members.

Possibly they might have noticed that the production didn’t include a staircase that Dolly Levi typically comes down for a grand entrance into her favorite café, Harmonia Gardens. A note with the program said there was a hydraulic problem.

The delay and staircase absence just didn’t matter. The production and performances received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Superbly directed and choreographed by Denis Jones, this old crowd-pleaser, a musical based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. is filled with wonderfully comic and heartfelt moments.

Left Alex Goodrich as Cornelius Hackl and right Spencer Davis Milford as Barnaby Tucker. in Hello Dolly at Marriott Theatre
Left Alex Goodrich as Cornelius Hackl and right Spencer Davis Milford as Barnaby Tucker. in Hello Dolly at Marriott Theatre

There is the delightful Act One scene in widow Irene Molloy’s (Rebecca Hurd) hat shop where Cornelius Hackl (Alex Goodrich) and Barnaby Tucker (Spencer Davis Milford), two young Yonkers lads in New York for a night on the town, try to hide from their employer, widower Horace Vandergelder (David C. Girolmo). He left Yonkers to meet a prospective wife with help from matchmaker Dolly Levi (Heidi Kettenring).

And, there is the hysterical moment played to the hilt by Kettenring near the end of Act II when she prolongs a hearing of before a judge that involves the show’s main characters. As everyone waits and waits, Dolly thoroughly enjoys a dinner she had started back at Harmonia Gardens and brought to the courtroom.

As to heartfelt, there is Hurd beautifully singing “Ribbons Down My Back” as she puts on one of her hat creations for her sudden date with Hackl.

There is also Kettenring bringing audience members close to tears with her rendition of “Before the Parade Passes By.”

And speaking of parades, there is a wonderful scene of New York’s  14th Street Association Parade that includes people marching with placards and banners for women’s rights.  Although set in the late 1800s, the show proves it is still relevant.

Originally directed and choreographed by Gower Champion you can expect several strong dance scenes. Marriott’s Hello Dolly delivers with Jones’ brilliant interpretations of the sentiments expressed in this Tony Award-Winning Musical with its book by Michael Stewart and music by Jerry Herman.  

Shoutouts also have to go to the Marriott Orchestra conducted by Brad Haak, to Music Director Ryan Nelson, Costume Designer Theresa Ham and to Co-Scenic Designers Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Milo Bue. They nailed the musical’s rhythms and time period.

Even though Hello Dolly opened on Broadway in 1964, matchmaking hopes are still alive today with online dating and the desire to participate in life “before the parade passes by,” is still a strong motivator.

DETAILS: Hello Dolly is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, now through Oct. 16, 2022. Running time: about 2 ½ hours with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Marriott Theatre

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

La Cage Aux Folles a glorious spectacle of sight and sound

 

Ginger Minj and Jason Richards in Music Theater Works La Cage (Photo by Brett Beiner)
 Jason Richards and Ginger Minj in Music Theater Works La Cage (Photo by Brett Beiner)

Four Stars

Prepare for great music, lots of Laughs and gorgeous costumes as Music Theater Works takes you to the swanky nightclub of La Cage Aux Folles in St. Tropez.

Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, La Cage brings an outstanding night of musical theatre to the Performing Arts Center in Skokie with a few surprises throw in!

Based on the hit French farce that also inspired Hollywood’s “The Birdcage,” this Broadway smash features a hilarious book by Harvey Fierstein and a score by the king of show tunes, Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly! and Mame).

From the moment you enter the theatre, you’ll be immediately transported to La Cage’s elegant St Tropez nightclub, complete with “women” in cages welcoming you, an onstage bar and tables surrounding the stage.

Opening on Broadway in 1983, La Cage broke barriers by becoming the first hit Broadway musical centered on a gay relationship.

Society has come very far from the times when this play opened.  Today, gender roles have never been a more contemporary issue.

The plot centers around Georges, the owner of “La Cage,” and his long-time lover, “Zaza.” When their son, Jean- Michel, announces his engagement to Anne, the trouble begins, especially when they find out her father is a very conservative government official, running for office.

Ginger Minj as Zaza in Music Theater Works La Cage. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Ginger Minj as Zaza in Music Theater Works La Cage. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

With plenty of audience interaction, the musical is filled with not one, but two show-stopping hits you’ll be humming as you leave the show.

“I Am What I Am” is the perfect anthem for everyone – live your own life and do not make excuses for being true to yourself. The cast belts it out loud and clear. “The Best of Times” is another powerful ballad that will leave you breathless.

The production stars RuPaul’s Drag Race headliner, Ginger Minj, as Albin, and he/she is beyond fabulous. She sings, acts and creates a great performance with a touch of whimsy.   And oh, those exquisite wigs designed by David Ian Grant!

Jason Richards makes his Music Theater Works debut as Georges. He’s got a great voice and excellent stage presence as both the emcee of his club and his role as husband to Zaza. He demonstrates a sense of vulnerability, afraid to hurt his lover.

Standouts also include Dane Strange as Jacob who keeps the audience in stitches with his antics and Caron Buinis, with her strong operatic voice.

(Top row, L to R) Daniel Hurst, Brian Selcik, Jordan Taylor and Gabe Kohlbeck (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(Top row, L to R) Daniel Hurst, Brian Selcik, Jordan Taylor and Gabe Kohlbeck (Photo by Brett Beiner)

Kudos to project runway designer Justin LeBlanc for his costumes that are over-the-top sparkly, flashy and gorgeous. And to choreographer, Christopher Carter, whose dance moves especially for male bodies, is fabulous. Artistic director Kyle Dougan directs the show with passion and purpose.

As with many shows of this type, the dancers are so graceful it’s hard to believe their gender.

This is the first show of the season for Music Theater Works. The rest of the season includes “The Little Mermaid (March 10 – April 3) Zorro (August 11 -21), Camelot (October 20 – November 13) and White Christmas (December 15 – January 1.)

DETAILS: “La Cage” is playing at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie through April 3, 2022. Runtime: 2 hours and 40 minutes with intermission. For Tickets, go to musictheaterworks.com/la-cage-aux-folles/.

Important Notice: All guests will be required to wear face masks regardless of vaccination status and show their vaccination cards.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

West Side Story still relevant

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Photo by Liz Lauren)
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 Stars

While “West Side Story” is based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” the tale of the star-crossed lovers remains a contemporary look at rival gangs that’s just as timely as the daily news reports.

But Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire creates a dynamic new twist to this production with a fresh look and new talents who bring this story to life.

For those who haven’t seen Steven Spielberg’s award-winning recent redo of the 1961 classic movie, West Side Story takes place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1950’s.

There’s tension in the hood between the Sharks and the Jets about who controls the turf. Hate, racism and violence rears its ugly head giving way to tragedy and sorrow on both sides of the fence.

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)

This well-loved show features the brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein with such tunes as “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “America.”

Using the traditional choreography from Jerome Robbin’s original production, Marriott’s high energy cast delivers the dance with amazing precision and youthful energy. It will leave you breathless.

Based on the book by Tony Award-winner Arthur Laurents, music by Tony and Grammy Award-winner Leonard Bernstein and Lyrics by Tony, Grammy, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winner Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story is a trifecta of creative excellence.

The production is directed by critically acclaimed, award-winning stage veteran Victor Malana Maog who beautifully captures the passion and power of the show.

Musical direction is by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson and choreography is by Jeff Award nominee, Alex Sanchez.

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)Making her Marriott Theatre debut is Lauren Maria Medina who plays an exquisite “Maria.” She has the voice of an angel with pipes big enough to completely fill the stage.

Also making their debuts on the Marriott stage are Jake David Smith as “Tony” who wins our hearts and Vanessa Aurora Sierra as “Anita” who sings and dances her way into the stratosphere.

Mention must be made of Marisa Fee as “Anybodys” whose gender issues are much more realized in this production. Originally a “tomboy,” Fee appears with the rest of the girls in a ballet, wearing a gown, a strong departure from the original.

Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design makes great use of the in-the-round stage with realistic appearance of a fire escape and other urban settings to reflect the cold stark reality of the neighborhood.

Kudos to costume designer Amanda Vander Byl for her realistic 1950s costumes and of course, to musical supervisor Patti Garwood and her orchestra who play the haunting score to perfection.

Covid Protocols: Marriott Theatre guests are currently required to wear face coverings and present proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or an appropriate negative COVID-19 test to attend performances in the theatre. Details at MarriottTheatre.com

DETAILS: “West Side Story” is at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire through March 27. Run Time: 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information, call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Mira Temkin

Grab a handful of Peanuts

 

On the bus from l to r. Tuesdai B. Perry, Marcellus Burt, Alley Ellis, Sierro White, Jimmy Hogan, Neil Stratman (Citadel Theatre's You're a good man Charlie Brown.
On the bus from l to r. Tuesdai B. Perry, Marcellus Burt, Alley Ellis, Sierro White, Jimmy Hogan, Neil Stratman (Citadel Theatre’s You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

3 stars

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues to delight audiences.

Can an off-Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s well-loved “Peanuts” comic strip characters that is more than 50 years old still be relevant?

The answer is Yes!

With music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the musical opened off-Broadway in 1967 and ran for almost four years.

Popular with regional theaters, a new version directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening and Thoroughly Modern Millie) featuring additional songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) ran on Broadway in 1999. It won the Drama Desk Award for “Outstanding Revival of a Musical.”

Citadel Theatre, in Lake Forest s playing this updated, fast-paced and high-energy award-winning version, now through Dec. 23, 2021.

The play features a series of vignettes, almost like a cartoon strip, that chronicles the trials and tribulations of childhood.

Fifty years later, the characters have the same insecurities, the same issues about friendship, sports and their own failures.

Charlie Brown continues to have a crush on sweet little red-headed girl whom he discovers chews her pencil, too.

He is the eternal optimist, but he never gets a break. He is still the same blockhead.

In this updated production, the audience will encounter some references to present-day items such as “bit coin.”

Pictured left to right: Alley Ellis, Jimmy Hogan, Marcellus Burt, Tuesdai B. Perry, Neil Stratman, and Sierra White in ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ at Citadel Theatre

Directed by Joe Lehman and choreographed by Jake Ganzer with music direction by David Zizic, memorable music includes the title song, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Happiness,” a piece that highlights enjoying the little things in life.

The cast, top-rated with hapless Charlie Brown played by Neil Stratman and Lucy played by Actor Equity member Sierra White, also includes Jimmy Hogan (from Citadel’s “Annie) as Schroeder; Marcellus Burt (of Griffin’s Ragtime) as Linus and Alley Ellis as Sally. Tuesdai B. Perry is Snoopy. It’s hard enough to play a role, much more so, that of a pup.

Kudos to Sally and Schroeder whose tap dance knocks it out of the park.

Mention must be made of the incredible, colorful lighting design by Samuel Stephen that almost takes on a role by itself. Flashing emotions help showcase the feelings of the cast.

Also, the props design by Jonathan Berg Einhorn are larger-than-life, adorable and infinitely better than using the real things.

DETAILS: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through Dec. 23, 2021. Run Time: approximately 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre.

State COVID restrictions in effect at the time will be enforced at Citadel’s 144-seat performing space. The show is suitable for general audiences aged 5 and older.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Kate’ battles Shakespeare and ex at Marriott

 

Susan Moniz and Larry Adams battle it out in Kiss Me Kate at Marriott Theatre.( Liz Lauren photo)
Susan Moniz and Larry Adams battle it out in Kiss Me Kate at Marriott Theatre.( Liz Lauren photo)

 

Three stars

In a season overflowing with feel-good holiday fare, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has chosen to balance the offerings with the controversial “Kiss Me Kate.”

Go for this production’s superb vocals, comedic moments and excellent dance numbers. But beware, the 1948 musical written by Bella and Samuel Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, is based on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

What you see is a show within a show presented by a traveling troupe as its stars battle on stage and off in a mirror image of the plot.

No matter how good the production is of the Shakespearean version (and I have seen good ones, including at Chicago Shakespeare), it still is misogynistic.

So, if bothered by the theme, blame Shakespeare.

If out for a night at the theater, sit back and enjoy director Johanna McKenzie Miller’s clever staging, Alex Sanchez’s choreography and the outstanding voices of Susan Moniz as leading lady Lilli Vanessi who plays Katharine (supposedly as a shrew) and Larry Adams, Lilli”s ex-husband, Fred Graham, who plays Petruchio (shrew tamer) and who is also directing the troupe.

Also dance shout-outs to Alexandra Palkovic who is Lois Lane, Kate’s overly-sweet little sister, Bianca, and to Jonathan Butler-Duplessis who leads the showstopping “Too Darn Hot” number.

You get to hear such familiar songs as “Wunderbar,” So in Love,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and “From this Moment On.” To audiences who have missed the theater due to COVID, the opening number “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” offers a hopeful note.

DETAILS: “Kiss Me Kate” at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, is on now through Jan 16, 2022. Run time:  2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information visit Marriott Theare.  (Check Covid safety protocols.)

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

The World Goes Round thanks to outstanding Marriott cast

 

Broadway, regional and Marriott stars in Kander and Ebb revue at Marriott Theatre. L, Amanda Rose, Allison . Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.(Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)
Broadway, regional and Marriott stars in Kander and Ebb revue at Marriott Theatre. L-R, Amanda Rose, Allison Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.(Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)

4 Stars

 

“We’re back!”  The opening line, really a shout from the five performers of Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire’s “The World Goes Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb,” was met with a roar and applause from the audience on opening night, Sept. 23,  2021  The show, a musical revue, was in previews since Sept. 15 and continues through Nov. 7, 2021.

What the audience saw as they took their seats was a stage that looked as if one of Kander and Ebb’s shows was “struck” as long as a year and a half ago and joined by props from past shows.

It was all brought back to life with superb solos, duets, trios and dance numbers by Broadway, regional and Marriott performers Amanda Rose, Allison E. Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.

Blackwell started the show on a fine mezzo soprano note with a beautiful rendition of “And the World Goes ‘Round.”

The revue moved from strength to strength with a funny version of “Coffee in Cardboard Cup sung by the cast followed by “The Happy Time” by versatile baritone Earley who later did a fantastic “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Murphy, an  exuberant redhead, infused numbers such as “Colored Lights” and “Ring Them Bells” with the joyous fervor needed now. Byrd, an accomplished character-style singer who can easily  move from a funny “Sara Lee” to a not so funny “Mr. Cellophane,” excels in the show’s dance movements. He and  Rose did a long “Shoes Dance” number that  brought a collective audience “Wow.” Rose , an actor/singer performed a wickedly funny “Arthur in the Afternoon.”

My favorite number, watch for it, was a gorgeous blending of songs by a trio of Blackwell, Murphy and Earley.

Of course, since this was a Kander and Ebb revue, it included “And All That Jazz, “Money, Money” and “Cabaret” but the number some people were humming was the final number “New York, New York.”

Kudos have to go to director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, orchestra conductor Patti Garwood, music director Ryan t. Nelson, Set designer Christopher Rhoton and the costume designer Sally Ratke.

DETAILS: “The World Goes Round: The songs of Kander and Ebb” is at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire now through Nov. 7, 2021. Run time: 90 minutes (an approved abridged version).  Attendees must wear face coverings and present a vaccination card. For tickets and more information visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Hit Songs from the Fifties and Sixties to Hear Now

 

Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50's and 60's. (Photo by Bret Beiner))
Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50’s and 60’s. (Photo by Bret Beiner)) production

4 stars

Grab a seat. Enjoy summer outdoors listening to talented singers and musicians perform nearly 60 classic and cherished songs from the 1950s to the 1960s. Music Theater Works, the North Shore’s famed musical production company typically performing from Evanston venues, is doing  Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits outside Skokie’s North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, June of 2021.

While it is often a challenge to get audiences engaged, the performers and band faced no difficulty in doing so. Anyone who watches this show will undoubtedly want to join along in song and dance due to both the pure talent of the performers.

Co-directed by Music Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan and Martin L. woods, the performers’ strong and vibrant voices made the entire show come alive as they moved through the hit songs of such talents as Buddy Holly, Doris Day, The Supremes, Elvis, The Temptations,  George Harrison, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.

Additionally, the performance was heightened by the performers’ pure professionalism. The show flew smoothly from high energy number to number without missing a beat.

This show is an excellent choice for music lovers and a great escape to share with family and friends. Though the music might appeal more to older generations, younger people will definitely find enjoyment as they are introduced to less familiar classics. It is a must-see for anyone in the Chicagoland area looking for a talent-filled fun event.

Details: Music Theater Works’ Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits is  outside the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL 60076 from June 18th through June 27, 2021. Run time: Two hrs. 20 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission. For more show information and tickets visit MusicTheaterWorks.com/BoxOffice or call (847) 673-6300.

Charles Babikian

For more shows see Theatre in Chicago

 

Awesome musical production from Lyric Opera

 

T

Vocalist Norm Lewis in The New Classics at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)
Vocalist Norm Lewis in The New Classics at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)

he Lyric Opera of Chicago has come up with an amazing substitute for the large-scale musical it produces on its large-scale stage at the end of its operatic season.

Titled “the New Classics-Songs from the New Golden Age of Music Theater,” it is about a 70-minute-long mix of dramatic, sad, wistful and powerful show numbers that some listeners will know but others may not find familiar.

And instead of coming from the Lyric’s grand stage, the production was mostly recorded back stage in an intimate, former Civic Opera space.

Hosted by David Chase who also accompanies the singers along with  members of the Lyric Orchestra, the program reintroduces some notable musical theater by notable composers.

Vocalist Gavin Creel opens the program with the obscure Stephen Sondheim “What More Do I Need” from Saturday Night followed by Nikkie Renée Daniels’ wistful rendering of the well-known “The Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon. Norm Lewis then wows with “Stars” from Les Miserables.

Jenn Gambatese changes the mood with “Gimme Gimme” (Love) from Thoroughly Modern Millie and Heath Saunders offers a moving “Something Wonderful” from The King and I.

Jo Lampert puts the best interpretation I’ve heard on “Omar Sharif” from The Band’s Visit and Amanda Castro “flamingo” taps the way to the top of her building with “Raise the Roof” from The Wild Party.

Chase segues to historic references between numbers to the Civic Opera and more show tunes sung by the cast (introduced above) that also include “Love Changes Everything” “I Will Never Leave You,” “Dear Theodosia,” ”Way Back to Paradise,” “I’d Rather be Sailing,” “Popular,” “If Only” and “Rain.”

Guess which shows those songs came from or better yet, click on the production. It  premiere this Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. CT on Lyric’s Facebook and YouTube channels. For more information visit The New Classics.

Jodie Jacobs

Not your typical streaming show

 

'Master of the House' from Les Miserables (photo courtesy TPS and Marston McCoy Media
‘Master of the House’ from Les Miserables (photo courtesy TPS and Marston McCoy Media)

Stacey Flaster and Liz Fauntleroy, founders of Highwood, IL-based The Performer’s School, had their 40-member cast set for Les Miserables and 26-member cast for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. when Covid-19 shut down stages and venues everywhere including Ravinia Festival where they put on one of their shows.

“We didn’t know how long the quarantine would last but the kids had signed on,” said Flaster.

In addition, their staff orchestrator, editor, costumer and props people were still working on the shows and still hoped to do Les Mis and Beauty.

“So, we had to do something,” said Fauntleroy.

The something was to ask Peter Marston Sullivan, associate artistic director of Marriott Theatre and founder with wife Elizabeth Telford of the new, digital production company Marston McCoy Media, to turn the two musicals into digital productions where everyone looked as if they were performing at one time on the same stage.

Beauty and the Beast Jr (A Performer's School production by Marston McCoy Media
Beauty and the Beast Jr (A Performer’s School production by Marston McCoy Media

The kicker was that everyone couldn’t be filmed at once. CDC and Illinois Covid protocols meant keeping everyone safe with separate rehearsals, separate costuming, separate dance moves and separate singing, but it all had to look like one show, one backdrop, one taping.

Sullivan had already been working with them on workshops and knew they needed a way to present the musicals.

In 2020 Elizabeth and I sat in our basement to experiment. We didn’t want something as bland as zoom. Then Elizabeth, sang “One Day More” for a demo to show what is possible,” said Sullivan explaining that his wife,  Elizabeth Telford, was a musical theater performer who had done several shows  Marriott and around Chicago.

“I sent to The Performer’s School. They said they were thinking of doing Les Mis. So we all took a risk,” he said.

“Peter came to us and said he had this idea on how to make it happen,” said Flaster. She added, “We were willing to take a chance. So we all just dived in.

“We presented it to the students. They  all said yes!” said Fauntleroy.

The students involved are 26 fourth and fifth graders in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. and 40 sixth through eighth graders in the school edition of  Les Miserables.

What comes across when watching either of the completed productions is that the youngsters could easily go on to post college or academy careers in musical theater. Past Performer’s School students have performed on Broadway, in regional theaters and commercials.

The P:erformer's School founders Stacey Flaster and Liz Fauntleroy,
The P:erformer’s School founders Stacey Flaster and Liz Fauntleroy,

Flaster and Fauntleroy, explained that talent agencies, casting directors and local theaters often ask the school to suggest students for particular shows and roles.

The two school founders are themselves, veterans of Chicago area musical theater who then went on to teach workshops before founding their school eight years ago.

They noted that some of the students just enjoy performing while others are very talented, have agents already and often go on to related fields in college.

The back story is that after a few months of experimentation and six months of multiple takes of each cast member in front of the type of screen similar to one used by TV weather forecasters, the results were two astounding productions.

“It’s not like zoom. It’s a cinematic experience,” said Flaster.

Elizabeth Telford, baby McCoy and Peter Marston Sullivan (Photo courtesy of Marston McCoy Media
Elizabeth Telford, baby McCoy and Peter Marston Sullivan (Photo courtesy of Marston McCoy Media

Sullivan explained the process as “long” “complicated” and “layering.”

“We record  the performers individually in front of a green screen then edit that so they appear to be together,” he said. “There are multiple takes with each kid, then they are cut out and all put together so then when we animate it feels like a movie.”

He added, “My wife had the great idea to have them looking where they would in a scene. So,  in one take Jean Valjean would be looking left toward Marius (Pontmercy) who would be looking right in his take.”

He then edits the tapes and stacks them one behind or in front of another. “It’s hard. ‘One Day More’ took two weeks to edit,” he said. Then added, “The battle scene is amazing. It’s really layered editing, like animation.”

Sullivan said kudos had to go to TPS Music Director/editor Jeff Poindextor, “The orchestral track was all done at Marriott’s large rehearsal warehouse,” and to other staff of The Performer’s School who worked on the project.

“It’s hard, but what you see is cool. People will see what is possible,” said Sullivan. “And what was done with the students is amazing. They learned a whole different medium. The shows were perfect for film and the kids see themselves as movie stars.  They’re glowing.”

For performances and ticket information visit The Performer’s School

To see about making the show and a teaser visit YouTu.be.

 

Jodie Jacobs