‘A War of the Worlds’ reimagined for a new millennium

 

Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.
Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.

3 Stars

Is it an audiobook? Is it a podcast? Is it a radio show? Maybe yes but then again maybe no. Actually it is Theatre in the Dark’s virtual audio drama.  Perhaps it is partially inspired by Orson Welles’ memorable 1938 radio broadcast of “A War of the Worlds” based on H.G. Wells’ iconic novel about a Martian invasion of the Earth.

Congratulations to this innovative production company whose mission is to create theater performance based on sound and utilization of Internet technology to reach out and engage audiences during these trying times.

This updated 21st century version of “A War of the Worlds” adapted by director Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon, is set primarily in and around the Chicago area. (Ironically Bradberry and Gordon met at an improv class at Second City which is now up for sale).

The original book was centered in London at the end of the 19th century. Then, the 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air production was based in mid-twentieth century New Jersey. So with so much global turmoil in 2020, why not project a Midwest interstellar invasion into the mix.

The story itself is not complicated. Basically, it deals with peoples’ mostly nonchalant, then chaotic reaction to the presence of an extraterrestrial artifact. First thought to be an asteroid, it turns out to be the beginning of an invasion fleet from Mars.

Theatre in the Dark’s production is not about the story, but rather more about the dramatic performance in the telling of the tale which this company does very well.

It’s a study in contrast that depicts the laid back lives of many city dwellers who are going about their daily business while the first reports of odd occurrences in the seemingly remote village of Bourbonnais, 55 miles south of Chicago, begin to reach the downtown area.

Tension mounts as complacency leads to panic and then to mayhem.

It is probably safe to say that the majority of today’s theater goers have had little or no experience with traditional radio drama. The genre reached its commercial peak sometime in the early 1940’s then limped along into the beginning of the 1950’s.

Indeed, most of us are children of the television age for whom this style of entertainment is an oddity or curiosity. That makes this presentation much more interesting as it encourages performers and audiences alike to explore a nearly forgotten, or at least, underrepresented art form.

Because the audience, listening at home via Zoom, is using sound only with no visual cues such as facial expressions, gestures, or body language, the actors must be extra creative in the verbal projection of their characters.

This is a chance for them to exercise their emotional muscles audibly in a slightly over-the-top way, even flirting with full-on melodrama. Conversely, the audience is challenged to listen closely for the information needed to paint mental images of the situations and the shifting environment.

The construction of one’s mental picture is aided greatly by the sound design offered by Ross Burlingame and Corey Bradberry. They provide continuous, thoughtful, sound effects meshed with an effective, original music score by Ben Zucker.

A major question is why do this live over multiple performances? Tickets are needed for each performance. Why not simply record it?

I imagine part of the answer has to do with the fact that this is a live theater company and that is what they do.

However, one of the unique aspects of this particular production that makes it different from a traditional radio drama is that the actors themselves are not in the same room. They are not necessarily even on the same continent.

Each performer logged in remotely from various locations around the world using their own often makeshift home studios. In this way they are literally pushing the boundaries of what we think of as theater.

What is missing, of course, is the interplay between the audience and the actors. The feedback loop that brings energy to live performance is an element that is difficult to duplicate at a distance.

The freshness of multiple performances will rely on the extent to which the actors innovate and improvise as they discover new opportunities of expression.

But not having been in a theater for over six months, it was exciting to prepare for the eight o’clock “curtain.” This was accomplished by setting the lighting and adjusting my laptop and speakers in the living room, ready to provide an optimal listening experience.

Then, it was settling down with a glass of wine in eager anticipation of this unique event.

As a way to celebrate this Halloween season I encourage you to gather your “pod mates” and a few socially distanced friends (wherever they may be) to enjoy this performance online then consider a Zoom call together to  discuss the play or perhaps devise a disaster plan of your own.

Details:  Theatre in the Dark players Mack Gordon, Elizabeth McCoy, Alex Morales, Ming Hudson, Robinson J. Cyprian, and Lauren Ezzo will be performing “A War of the Worlds” through November 21, 2020 via Zoom. Running time is 90 minutes with a 10 minute intermission. For tickets and information visit  Theatreinthedark/tickets.

Reno Lovison

RENOWEB.NET

Black Ensemble presents a battle cry

 

Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater
Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater

‘Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’

3 stars

Jackie Taylor, the amiable creative heart and soul of Chicago’s beloved Black Ensemble Theater, has declared 2020 as the company’s Season of Change. She opens with this original, ambitious, musical battle cry, a movement against the injustice and bigotry that’s overtaking our country today thanks to an administration that has set our country back 200 years.

And this is just the beginning of Taylor’s aggressive theatrical approach to helping combat the racism that’s reared its ugly head in America.

Continue reading “Black Ensemble presents a battle cry”

Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!

 

Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)
Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)

4 stars

Imagine what it was like in 1964 when Judy Garland and her daughter, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli, performed together for the first time at The Palladium Theatre in London. This was the only time these two superstars performed in a live concert together and it was electrifying.

Now, Chicago theatre-goers can experience the thrill of “Judy & Liza — Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert – A Tribute” at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The show is co-produced by Greenhouse and Nancy Hays Entertainment, Inc.

Continue reading “Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!”

‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ is no mystery

 

Left to right, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Greenwood in Mrs. Warren's Profession. (Photo by Tom McGrath)
Left to right, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Greenwood in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. (Photo by Tom McGrath)

3 stars

It is late summer 1905 and Mrs. Kitty Warren (Elaine Carlson), a seemingly wealthy woman with no known extended family, finally reveals to her curious adult daughter how she is able to support their comfortable lifestyle.

Continue reading “‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ is no mystery”

Good insight into teenage challenges

“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

(L to R) Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller (Olga) at Steppenwolf. (photo by Michael Brosilow)
(L to R) Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller (Olga) at Steppenwolf. (photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

Julia may or may not be the perfect Mexican daughter but Karen Rodriguez may be the perfect person to play her. Rodriguez commanded the Steppenwolf stage from the moment the lights came up and did not let go for the next 90 minutes.

Continue reading “Good insight into teenage challenges”

‘Mlima’s Tale’

Mlima's Tale at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Mlima’s Tale at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

“Mlima’s Tale,” a Midwest Premiere by Griffin Theatre, is a sensitive and heartrending depiction of greed, and specifically, the corruption associated with the illegal sale of elephant ivory that results in the daily  slaughter of approximately 100 of these endangered animals.

The production follows the life and death of Mlima, a roughly 45-year-old male African elephant. Described as a “big tusker,” he is killed by poachers while living in a protected refuge in Kenya.

Continue reading “‘Mlima’s Tale’”

‘Almost Heaven’ in Munster

 

"Almost Heaven: John Denver's America" at Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN. ( Photo by Guy Rhodes0
“Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America” at Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN. ( Photo by Guy Rhodes0

3  stars

Seeing “Almost Heaven,” will bring recollections of John Denver’s backstory.

Denver’s music was considered to be more or less middle-of-the-road if not downright conservative in the wake of rising stars like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

This issue is confronted early in the latest jukebox boomer music revival, “Almost Heaven-John Denver’s America,” at The Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN..

The popular singer/songwriter eventually emerged as the nascent voice of the environmental movement with songs like “Calypso” that championed the work of Jacques Cousteau, as well as “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Wild Montana Skies” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” They unabashedly and exuberantly celebrated the magnificence and simple beauty of nature.

Continue reading “‘Almost Heaven’ in Munster”

The ‘Queen of Disco’

‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’

The Donna Summer musical in Chicago (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
The Donna Summer Musical in Chicago (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

3 stars

They sound like a good idea on paper, and there have been dozens bouncing around Broadway and on National Tours over the years, but the jukebox musical isn’t much more than a concert with some narrative.

There are two formats in this style of musical theatre. There’s the show that creates an original story and characters, but instead of using new music to further the plot, the songs of one or more artists are featured instead.

Continue reading “The ‘Queen of Disco’”

A musical bonbon

‘Emma’

Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) and Mr. Knightley (Brad Standley) in Emma at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) and Mr. Knightley (Brad Standley) in Emma at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

In an age when social media has usurped our lives, it’s refreshing to visit a time when people actually spoke to each other, and with eloquence. As in all her stories, Jane Austen’s fourth novel is an 1815 comedy of manners set in Georgian-Regency England. The title character, however, is unlike Austen’s other heroines in that Emma is pretty, smart and rich, but also strong-minded, overindulged and rather full of herself.

Continue reading “A musical bonbon”

A Gershwin of a Show

 

An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

An American in Paris

4 stars

Five years ago this highly-anticipated stage version of the 1951 Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron musical film classic burst upon Broadway. After playing Paris, New York and the West End, and launching a two-year National Tour that played Chicago, we finally have our own regional production.

It is truly magnificent. It’s elegant, romantic, gorgeously produced and beautifully danced and sung. For anyone who adores those classic movie musicals and big, old-fashioned, splashy theatrical productions, this is the show for you.

Continue reading “A Gershwin of a Show”