Category: Broadway in Chicago
Irving Berlin holiday classic receives rich, nostalgic production
|Broadway in Chicago and Broadway Across America presents|
|Irving Berlin’s White Christmas|
|Written by David Ives and Paul Blake
Music by Irving Berlin
Directed by Norb Joerder
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through Jan 2 | tickets: $25-$98 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
Inspired by the 1954 film that itself builds on the 1944 delight “Holiday Inn” (which premiered the title song), Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is unashamedly old-fashioned, aggressively nostalgic, and filled with postwar optimism. How can it not be when the Irving Berlin classic with which it begins and ends is now a essential part of the holiday DNA for most Americans? The production values are vintage too—terrific tap dancing, go-for-broke jubilee choreography, cornball humor, goofy plotting, period-perfect costumes from the Eisenhower era, and lots of pretty scene changes. (Who says Broadway shows don’t have scenery anymore? This one packs a thousand glorious illusions passing as set pieces.) This blast from the past is a winter storm we can savor.
Strictly by-the-numbers and comfortably contrived, the plot involves Wallace and Davis, a vaudeville team looking for a new act, who join forces with Betty and Judy Haynes, a sisters duo, to help the guys’ former general draw crowds to his Vermont ski lodge and barn when the winter season is threatened by a total lack of snowfall. It’s serendipity on cue. Of course, all kinds of clever confusion arises over whether the boys will end up in Florida or rehearse their new Broadway show in New England, then whether that inn will be sold to a corporation and, of course, whether each sister will dutifully fall for the vaudeville hoofer of her choice.
It’s all an excuse for such Berlin gems as “Blue Skies” (performed with a bit too much jazzy syncopation for my taste), “I’m Happy,” “I Love a Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean?” and, of course, the inexhaustibly evocative title number. They’re a showcase for John Scherer and Denis Lambert as the happy hoofers who fall hard or soft for Amy Bodnar and Shannon M. O’Bryan as the sisters who sing “Sisters.” Everything you loved in the movie you can savor here in three dimensions.
Ruth Williamson, as the hard-boiled, Broadway brassy inn manager, combines Thelma Ritter and Alice Ghostley as she peps up every scene with deadpan wisecracks. Erick Devine is lovably crusty as General Waverley (even though the plot goes haywire near the end as he returns to the Army, then reenters retirement for reasons that aren’t worth a second thought). Eleven-year-old Mary Peeples is a perky moppet who was born to play Annie as well as the general’s Shirley Temple-cute granddaughter and will steal a show, if not a scene, if she’s not watched carefully.
The 17-member ensemble resemble so many perpetual-motion machines, singing and dancing their own beautiful blizzard in this Currier and Ives vision of Vermont. (The whole show is like a series of life-size Christmas cards singing enchanting melodies.) The lesser-known Berlin numbers may not be undeservedly neglected but the surefire hits from this totally American composer are absolutely irresistible. This Christmas confection can more than hold its own with A Christmas Carol (our review ★★★½) and The Nutcracker (review ★★★★), just a few blocks away.
WFF: Wicked Friends Forever
How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Enjoy Regime Change!
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Music/Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Winnie Holzman
Directed by Joe Mantello
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through January 23 | tickets: $35-$105 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
Big, bold Wicked is back in town. Broadway in Chicago launched its surefire holiday winner with military precision Friday night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Not a wrong note. Not a misstep. Not a hair out of place–and they’ve got a million fabulous wigs (Tom Watson) to keep in check, y’all.
Joe Mantello’s direction follows the Powell Doctrine of “overwhelming force,” so that audiences can be assured of Wicked as the one-stop shopping place for big talent, over-the-top pageantry, feel-good humor, and blow-your-hair-back music. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Nothing succeeds like excess.” Plus, the production displays no shame in borrowing from the Disney playbook. So, do you desire dueling divas with the lungs and control to belt out those power ballads? Check. A suave male lead to fight over? Check. A goofy headmistress who turns into Cruella De Vil? Check. Gorgeous lighting (Kenneth Posner) and fun special effects (Chic Silber)? Check and check.
Don’t forget the tight and driven orchestra (P. Jason Yarcho) or the most excessive, blatantly overdone, asymmetrical costuming (Susan Hilferty) in the world. So, for those still on the lookout for a really, really big show to entertain family or those out-of-town guests, your ship has come in.
Naturally, Wicked is also really, really lite entertainment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Still, revisiting Wicked creates a curious opportunity to re-examine the recent historical conditions under which it developed. Opening a month and a half after the US invasion of Iraq, Wicked throws a few blunt jabs at the War on Terror. Winnie Holzman (book) tried to throw a little politics into the mix without disturbing the musical’s overall feel-good vibe. It’s interesting to gage how well that has held up over the years. For the most part, since Wicked plays it both ways, its safe, bland pronouncements against oppression, increased surveillance, First Amendment violations and picking on people who are different come across like a beauty queen telling you that she wants world peace.
But, hey, Wicked’s not about politics, right? Heck, no! It’s about two young women of radically different temperaments discovering that they can be best friends forever. Since Oz society casts the girls as “Good’ and “Evil”–and since they themselves never publicly buck that casting–the musical then becomes a rough and sloppy allegory on the moral ambiguities of Good and Evil becoming best friends forever. Now, there’s a fine fairy tale for a nation that cannot make up its mind. Are we the liberators of Iraq and Afghanistan or are we just making the world safe for Halliburton, BP, etc?
I only ask because, you know, not to be a buzz kill or anything but we are still in the middle of the same wars. Very. Very. Expensive. Wars.
Never mind. It’s the holidays and what better to take our minds off our troubles than a mongo production about two girls who loathe each other but, through a merry mishap, become college roommates, who then learn to love each other. I know it sounds predictable and, frankly, lesbian – but relax, parents, even the heterosexuality in this show earns only a G-rating. So, on that cheery note, Wicked is fun for the whole family, especially if your family is made up of girls or gay boys who’ve memorized the soundtrack from beginning to end.
I kid. Straight males can also get a lot out of Wicked, like finding out how the female mind works.
One of the most important rules of feminine society is “be nice.” Always be nice, no matter what. Even if people absurdly hate you for your green skin, even if your family rejects you, even if you’re a social pariah the moment you walk in the door, always, always be nice. Niceness is the perpetual feminine social criteria and niceness always kills.
Elphaba (Jackie Burns) delivers a deliciously sinister witchy laugh but, for all that, her outsider bad girl suffers from a distinct lack of personality. Whatever power Burns exhibits—and she is a (whew!) powerful Broadway songstress—she’s still straitjacketed into a role where nice victimhood is the order of the day. Even Elphaba’s breakout moment in the second act, when she operatically vamps into a fully-formed Wicked Witch of the West with “No Good Deed,” is a transformation that goes nowhere because we never get to see her act wicked.
Clearly, the creators of Wicked had far more fun developing Elphaba’s foil. Galinda/Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz) overtakes the show. Glinda has mastered nice so well she can be nasty, two-faced, empty-headed and hypocritical yet still retain the love of the hoi polloi. Glinda gets star treatment, not just from the people of Oz, but also in the production’s visual quotations of Legally Blonde during “Dear Old Shiz” and Evita during “Thank Goodness.” “Popular” is a wonderfully funny, sassy and knowing number, not just for its humorous critique of popularity, but also because the song just tells it like it is. Schwarz’s easy control over her part vivifies Glinda’s zany pretentiousness without making her ridiculously clownish. Her classical voice training certainly plays pink princess Elphaba’s green girl next door, but the real mastery she exhibits comes from her comic timing.
Through Elphaba we get a bad girl who isn’t really threatening. Through Glinda, Wicked gets to poke fun at the feminine rules of niceness without raising hairs on parental necks. Through Wicked we all get to laugh at the emptiness and shallowness of our social and political order without really altering it. We feel more helpless now than ever to alter it and that helplessness, in turn, reflects in all our entertainments, lite or otherwise.
We hope and change but nothing really changes. That’s the malaise we share with Oz. No matter how shallow we know popularity is, popularity is politics and popularity ultimately wins. Sure, Madame Morrible and The Wizard (Chicago natives Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt) get their comeuppance once Glinda takes over. But, no matter what regime change goes down in Oz, Good Glinda, who was never really good, still has to live out her central casting as Good–however limiting that is for her—while wicked Elphaba, who was never really evil, still has to live fugitive from the angry mob.
It seems that, at least according to Wicked, the marginalized are to stay marginalized for the sake of maintaining order. (Does that go for the talking animals as well, the ones who were oppressed under The Wizard’s regime? We never find out.) Plus, it’s not just that Elphaba or Glinda find themselves thrust into unyielding roles; it’s that they accept these artificial roles without trying to correct their fellow citizens about them or they accept them under the pretense of serving a “greater good.” For the greater good, truth has to be sacrificed. For the greater good, you stay in your artificial, socially constructed role and I’ll stay in mine.
Accept the role society has placed you in, even if you know it’s false. I’m not sure that’s a message that I would want any girl or boy to take away from an evening’s entertainment.
Sacrifice the truth. Um, no. That never leads to anything good.
Accept that there are some things the people are better off not knowing—they’re just a bunch of dummies anyway. No, I think I’d prefer something that encouraged young people to stand up to the crowd, as well as to their leaders, and I think I’d want them to engage with their fellow citizens, rather than write them off as impossible ignoramuses.
I’m obviously asking too much of Wicked. It’s just a friggin’ musical, for cryin’ out loud; a musical made for fun, a musical for girls and boys who don’t feel popular and who want a heroine of their own, a playful diversion from reality. But in a way, with the topics it attempts to examine, Wicked asks for it.
In the face of America’s continuing economic malaise, its stalemated Congress and its continued involvement in demoralizing, resource-sucking wars, I don’t see the value of a production that teaches either kids, or the adults that brought them, mournful helplessness over imbedded social structures or the chicanery of the powerful. After all, one good witch or, rather, two good witches are not going to get us out of this mess.
But hey, at least we get to see the Wizard!
Broadway in Chicago’s 2010/2010 season to include:
Next to Normal
9 to 5
Beauty and the Beast
October 26, 2010 – January 1, 2011
7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main) is an astonishingly talented French Canadian company that has pioneered a whole new brand of theatrical entertainment, and their smash-hit production, TRACES, will launch its U.S. tour in Chicago this fall. Combining awe-inspiring acrobatic training with infectious urban energy, seven performers deliver dazzling, gravity-defying displays of skill that produce “one of the most creative and inspiring pieces of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed” (Edinburgh’s The Sun)–balancing on each other’s heads, tumbling through hoops and leaping spectacularly up giant poles without using their hands. More than just a display of acrobatic brilliance, the audience is gradually drawn into the performers’ real life stories and, by the final, dramatic climax of the show, on the edge of their seats, willing them to pull off the seemingly impossible. “Mesmeric, spontaneous and unpretentious,” ( London ’s Metro), this thrill-a-minute show will leave you begging for more.
GOD OF CARNAGE
November 30 – December 12, 2010
The son of one couple has broken two teeth of the son of another. At first diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the couples meet to resolve things, and the rum begins to flow, huge tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving more than just their liberal principles in tatters. Winner of the 2009 Tony® Award for Best Play and Best Director (Matthew Warchus), GOD OF CARNAGE is “the funniest play on Broadway!” raves WOR radio.
December 1, 2010 – January 23, 2011
Entertainment Weekly calls WICKED “the best musical of the decade.” WICKED, the longest-running Broadway musical in Chicago theatre history, is returning to Chicago . Winner of 26 major awards, including a Grammy and three Tony® Awards, WICKED is Broadway’s biggest blockbuster, a cultural phenomenon and was just named “the defining musical of the decade” by The New York Times. Long before that girl from Kansas arrives in Munchkinland, two girls meet in the land of Oz. One–born with emerald green skin–is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. How these two grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good makes for “the most ‘Popular’ piece of Chicago theatre in a generation” (Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune).
9 to 5: THE MUSICAL
January 18 – January 31, 2011
9 to 5: THE MUSICAL is a hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era. This new musical comedy, direct from Broadway, is based on the hit movie and features Dolly Parton’s original hit title song along with her new Tony® Award and Grammy nominated score. The book is by Patricia Resnick (co-writer of the original screenplay). 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL tells the story of three unlikely friends who conspire to take control of their company and learn there’s nothing they can’t do — even in a man’s world. Outrageous, thought-provoking and even a little romantic, 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL is about teaming up and taking care of business… it’s about getting credit and getting even… and it’s about to open in Chicago!
BURN THE FLOOR
February 1 – February 13, 2011
The international dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR visits Chicago direct from its record-breaking run on Broadway! You’ve seen Ballroom dance on shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Now, with BURN THE FLOOR, you will feel, live on stage, all the passion, the drama and the sizzling excitement of 20 gorgeous champion dancers, in a true theatrical experience, a performance with a grace and athleticism that The New York Times calls, “Dazzling!” From Harlem’s hot nights at The Savoy, where dances such as the Lindy, Foxtrot and Charleston were born, to the Latin Quarter where the Cha-Cha, Rumba and Salsa steamed up the stage, BURN THE FLOOR takes audiences on a journey through the passionate drama of dance. The elegance of the Viennese Waltz, the exuberance of the Jive, the intensity of the Paso Doble – audiences with experience them all, as well as the Tango, Samba, Mambo, Quickstep and Swing. It’s Ballroom. Reinvented.
February 2 – 27, 2011
Cameron Mackintosh presents a brand new 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Schönberg’s legendary musical, Les Miserables, with glorious new staging and spectacular re-imagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. This new production has already been acclaimed by critics, fans and new audiences and is breaking box office records wherever it goes. The London Times hails the new show “a five star hit, astonishingly powerful and as good as the original.” The Western Mail says “an outstanding success.”
RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES
February 8 – February 13, 2011
RAIN, the acclaimed Beatles concert, returns by popular demand, direct from Broadway! They look like them and they sound just like them! “The next best thing to seeing The Beatles,” raves the Denver Post. All the music and vocals are performed totally live! RAIN covers The Beatles from the earliest beginnings through the psychedelic late 60s and their long-haired hippie, hard-rocking rooftop days. RAIN is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…a fusion of historical footage and hilarious television commercials from the 1960s lights up video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups. “A thrilling bit of time-warping nostalgia…Boomer Heaven!” raves The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Uncanny! RAIN are a quartet of fine musicians in their own right…as The Beatles, they triumph!” cheers the Boston Herald. “An adoring Valentine to The Beatles,” declares the Washington Post. Sing along with your family and friends to such favorites as “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Come Together” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and relive Beatlemania from Ed Sullivan to Abbey Road!
February 15 – May 8, 2011
WORKING is a vital new musical based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Chicago ’s own Studs Terkel. Newly adapted by Stephen Schwartz (WICKED, PIPPIN and GODSPELL), WORKING is the working man’s A CHORUS LINE. It is a musical exploration of people from all walks of life, with twenty-six songs by all-star composers Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Tony Award™ winning Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and Grammy Award™ winning James Taylor. WORKING celebrates everyday people, fills you with hope and inspiration and is the perfect musical for anyone who has ever worked a day in their lives.
March 8 – 15, 2011
The Public Theater’s 2009 Tony-winning production of HAIR is an electric celebration on stage! This exuberant musical about a group of young Americans searching for peace and love in a turbulent time has struck a resonant chord with audiences young and old. Its ground breaking rock score paved the way for some of the greatest musicals of our time. HAIR features an extraordinary cast and dozens of unforgettable songs, including “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” “Good Morning, Starshine” and “Easy To Be Hard.” Its relevance is UNDENIABLE. Its energy is UNBRIDLED. Its truth is UNWAVERING. It’s HAIR, and IT’S TIME.
MERCHANT OF VENICE
March 15 – 27, 2011
From the acclaimed Theatre for a New Audience, the first U.S. theatre to be invited to the Royal Shakespeare Company, comes Shakespeare’s tragicomedy following command runs Off- Broadway and in Stratford-Upon-Avon . Starring Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham in his riveting portrayal of Shylock, and directed by Darko Tresnjak (former Artistic Director, Old Globe), the play has been arousing controversies for centuries with raucous and gentle comedy, tender poetry, and its struggle with mercy and justice. In this riveting update, religion, race and sexuality collide with love, family and justice and the currency of society and humanity has never been so changeable.
April 5 – 17, 2011
WISHFUL DRINKING, Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical solo show, follows Fisher’s life. Born to celebrity parents, Fisher lands among the stars when she’s picked to play a princess in a little movie called ‘Star Wars.’ But her story isn’t all sweetness and light sabers. As a single mom, she also battles addiction, depression, mental institutions, and that awful hyperspace hairdo. It’s an incredible tale–from having her father leave her mother for Elizabeth Taylor to marrying and divorcing singer/songwriter Paul Simon, from having the father of her baby leave her for a man to waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Carrie Fisher’s hit Broadway show.
NEXT TO NORMAL
April 26 – May 8, 2011
From the director of Rent comes the most talked about new show on Broadway, NEXT TO NORMAL, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three 2009 Tony Awards including Best Score. Alice Ripley who received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, will reprise her acclaimed performance in Chicago . Having been chosen as “one of the year’s ten best” by major critics around the country, NEXT TO NORMAL is an emotional powerhouse of a musical with a thrilling contemporary score about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other. The New York Times calls NEXT TO NORMAL “a brave, breathtaking musical. A work of muscular grace and power. It is much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel-everything musical.” Rolling Stone raves, “It is the best musical of the season – by a mile. It’ll pin you to your seat.”
Begins April 29, 2011
Broadway In Chicago and threesixty° entertainment are excited to announce a unique event – a spectacular new production of J M Barrie’s classic story, PETER PAN, at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center. Conceived by an award-winning creative team, the SMASH HIT Peter Pan features twenty-two actors, stunning puppets, epic music and dazzling flying sequences surrounded by breathtaking video projection using the world’s first 360-degree CGI theater set. Both cast and audience fly over Edwardian London. Performed in a state-of-the-art theater pavilion, this magical new “in-the-round” production of Peter Pan is an extraordinary experience for the whole family.
May 3 – 8, 2011
The winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical – told by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater through “The most gorgeous Broadway score this decade” (Entertainment Weekly) – SPRING AWAKENING explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with poignancy and passion you will never forget. The landmark musical SPRING AWAKENING is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and rock & roll that is exhilarating audiences across the nation like no other musical in years. Join this group of late 19th century German students on their passage, as they navigate teenage self-discovery and coming of age anxiety in a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion in the daring, remarkable SPRING AWAKENING. “Broadway may never be the same again!” NY TIMES
DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
June 28 – July 10, 2011
The romantic Broadway musical for all generations, NETworks presentation of DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the smash hit Broadway musical, returns to Chicago ! Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature film, this eye-popping spectacle has won the hearts of over 35 million people worldwide. Hailed by the Chicago Sun-Times as “warm and winning performances, a tuneful score, and real heart,” the classic musical love story is filled with unforgettable characters, lavish sets and costumes, and dazzling production numbers including “Be Our Guest” and the beloved title song. Experience the romance and enchantment of DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!
Group tickets are currently available for all of the 2011 Season Series shows. Groups of 15 or more may receive a discount on most shows by calling (312) 977-1710. 2011 Season Series subscription packages will go on-sale to new subscribers on September 12, 2010. Broadway In Chicago gift certificates, which can be redeemed for any production or for season ticket packages, can be obtained at Broadway In Chicago box offices, www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 775-2000.
Lion King roars into Chicago
|Broadway in Chicago and Disney Theatricals present|
|The Lion King|
|Music/Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice
Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Directed by Julie Taymor
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago (map)
through November 27| tickets: $25-$148 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Not that my opinions would matter much to him, but way to go Elton John. After a storied career of penning pop music classics, he has had a major hand in crafting two of the most important musicals of the last 20 years. Lucky for us, at this moment both of the shows are currently playing in Chicago. I’ll admit, I’m still scrounging around for tickets to Billy Elliot (our review ★★★½) before the recently imposed final night (hint, hint). So I can’t really speak of its brilliance. However, due to the crates of Tonys it won, I’m going to assume it’s alright. I can speak to The Lion King, which combines John’s pop sensibilities, Disney, and the artistic madness of Julie Taymor. It is a transformative theatrical experience. As proven by the production shacking up at the Cadillac Palace, it’s a game-changing show even after the original production opened over ten years ago.
The show has visited Chicago several times, just as it has toured pretty much everywhere in the world since the late ‘90s. If you’ve seen the show before, cut me some slack because this was my first time. I do know that if you already love the beloved musical, you’ll love this production. The cast fills the house with heart, and the puppetry, massive spectacle, and thundering music are gasp-inducing. Seeing the show as a Lion King virgin, all of my issues stem from the conceptual gears driving the production.
The dialogue is more or less completely lifted from the 1994 animated feature, so there isn’t much difference between stage and screen in terms of story. The variance, as well as the magic, comes out in the execution. The original work relied on brilliant animation, classical themes of family and power, John’s ability to carve out chart-topping songs, and our perceived regality of the natural world. Apparently, when Disney first brainstormed a stage version, they were thinking of full-body, mascot-style costumes. Then came Taymor (thank god). With a resume featuring opera, training with Jacques Lecoq, and loads of experience with non-Western theatrical stylings, Taymor figured that the feline-focused franchise needed an existential reboot for the stage. The final product was an intellectually-complex puppet show that was (and continues to be) wildly popular, still selling at nearly 100% on Broadway, even after all these years.
This Chicago cast is clearly having a lot of fun with the ensemble-based show. Dionne Randolph’s Mufasa is a memorable performance, capturing all the grandeur a king of the savannah should have. J. Anthony Crane is devilishly suave as the malevolent Scar, a great foil to Mufasa’s strict views of morality. Simba, as he grows from cub to adult, is played by two actors, as well as several puppets. The youngsters (either Jemone Stephens, Jr. or Kolton Stewart, depending on the night) playing the character in the first act do a fine job, and Adam Jacobs, who takes over for the final half, embodies the youthful honesty needed for the role. My favorite part of the show was Tony Freeman’s Zazu. Your eye switches quickly from the bird puppet to Freeman as actor; both are equally expressive.
Taymor’s epic vision seems a bit disconnected at times. The overall grandeur of the production at times doesn’t quite gel with certain aspects, like the lowbrow comedy courtesy of Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). The huge puppetry for the three chief hyenas, another gaggle of comic relief, comes off as overblown. The show abounds with humor (Freeman, for example), but they could marry it to the concept better. There are also some jarring aspects in the score due to John’s pop sensibilities not blending well with the African drum breaks written in by Lebo M. The transitions fail to meld the two disparate parts.
However, there are a number of moments where the amazing spectacle on-stage washes over the audience. You leave the theatre with a renewed sense of wonder. Simba’s story is relatable, but unique, and the music is terrific. All those long hours the cast and crew spent cranking out puppets and learning how to walk like a cheetah bore a creation that will be known as one of the landmark shows of our generation.
Extended through January 1st!!
I heart ‘Traces’!
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
at Broadway Playhouse, Water Tower Place (map)
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
A teeter-totter is harmless, right? Sure, until two men plummet from 20+ feet above to land on the teeter to send another guy tottering to the ceiling. Then, a teeter-totter officially becomes a death threat. Broadway in Chicago presents the Chicago premiere of Traces. The Montreal-based performance troupe kicks off its North American Tour at the newly renovated Broadway Playhouse. Six guys and a gal open the show with a strobe-lit pulsating number of flips and tumbles. With exhilarating music and shadow silhouettes, people are flying through the air without wires or nets.
Clad in similar suits, the ensemble sheds their attire in a let’s-get-down-to-business energy. Traces stomps the mundane with Fuerza Bruta jams (our review ★★★) and Hephaestus stunts (review ★★★½) to Rent stories. The result is a heart-pounding, heart-tugging, heart-attacking spectacle. I heart Traces!
It’s the combinations that make Traces a unique stand-out on the cirque. At the heart of it, the combo of performers is surprising. One girl? Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau is one of the guys until she isn’t. In a flirtatious number with Mason Ames, Benoit-Charbonneau uses athletic ballet moves to simulate a smoldering encounter. Ames hurls and catches her… over his head, her feet on his palms. Playing out a very physical disagreement, this tryst is an exercise in trust. At 6’2 and 228 pounds, it’s not shocking that Ames anchors aerobatics. The astonishment is when he shoots through a small circle or dangles from a pole. Ames is one limber lumberjack. Philippe Normand-Jenny is the other big guy amazingly tottering with heights, his own and the stage’s. Florian Zumkehr balances on his head but the impressive part is it’s on the tippy-top of the back of a chair on the peak of a mountain of chairs. Crazy-breath holding moments. Zumkehr also scales two poles with monkey-like agility. The entire troupe hit the poles for a gravity-denying seduction. It’s some of the hottest pole dancing ever imagined! The mixture of props adds to the intriguing concoction. In a life-size hoola hoop, Bradley Henderson spins his own whimsy with controlled balance. Matthieu Cloutier dons roller skates swirling around stage and over playmates effortlessly. In the finale, all seven flip, jump and twist through stackable circles. Just when it seems the pile shouldn’t get any higher, 7 Fingers heaps on three more rounds to continue the captivating escalation. Each time, Xia Zhengqi magically bulls-eyes the target. Zhengqi is a supernatural phenomenon.
Besides the freaky-talented ensemble combo, Traces provides a personal approach to the circus theatrics. Biographical information is shared by individual performers. Not just driver’s license info but three words to use to self describe. An intimate bond develops. Knowing Mason self identifies as ‘clumsy’ makes me worry about his scaffold plunging. Multi-media is also used for a distinctive element. Various projected camera angles showcase action from different perspectives. Overhead filming provides a kaleidoscope effect to the visual. The stage looks like a rehearsal room. The illusion makes the drawing, dribbling, reading, keyboarding, and strumming seem like organic breaks in the action. To some, the transition might seem clunky. For me, these shifts allowed the performers and myself to get our heartbeats back to a normal rhythm
Traces runs Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm. Traces runs thru December 19th.
Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission
Strong performances resuscitate lame storyline
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Rock of Ages|
|Book by Chris D’Arienzo
Directed by Kristin Hanggi
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through October 3rd | tickets: $18-$85 | more info
Review by Barry Eitel
One thing the folks producing Rock of Ages need to figure out is how to push the beer sales. Although it stated clearly in the program that you could purchase a beer ticket before the show and then raise your hand and receive a cold one, I did not pass along a single can. There aren’t a whole lot of musicals where it’s par for the course to stand up and sway around like you’re a drunken 40-year-old woman reliving her glory days at a Journey reunion show. That needs to be more of a selling point.
Rock of Ages is a show that requires a few drinks in order to be truly enjoyable. Watching it sober, the vapidity becomes more obvious. The award-winning hair metal jukebox musical is undeniably fun. Most amazingly, the cast is even able to squeeze some emotional weight from the songbooks of Twisted Sister and Whitesnake.
The show features Tony-nominated Constantine Maroulis, one of an increasing number of American Idol contestants looking for work. Unlike many of his more unremarkable brethren, Maroulis pumps out oodles of charm alongside decent acting chops. With his long hair and arena rock howl, Rock of Ages is the perfect show for the guy. He plays Drew, the aspiring jukebox hero at the heart of this story. Instead of the typical Dionysian guitar slinger we’re used to, Drew is a sweetheart. Maroulis paints the character as shy and oft tongue-tied, a great move for a show that is otherwise thin on dramatic depth.
The real draw here, though, is the music. I don’t know if the fellas of Asia ever thought they would hear their tunes in a Broadway musical, but it works surprisingly well. The 80s were all about theatricality anyway, with the big hair, big voices, and big egos. Book writer Chris D’Arienzo stretches a few songs to fit the story (“Final Countdown” seemed forced, and Starship’s “We Built This City” was reprised far too many times). I did love the tale told through “I Want to Know What Love Is,” relating a date headed towards destruction. We all know the lyrics to these radio favorites, so it’s fascinating to watch how they unfold to help the story move along.
Rock of Ages survives because the cast can seriously sing. Maroulis has mastered that rare Steve Perry belt and gives his own personal touches to the anthems he sings. Rebecca Faulkenberry, who plays the object of Drew’s affection, Sherrie, also gives serious treatment to these often silly tunes. As a character, Sherrie falls flat, but Faulkenberry gives her as much life as she can. MiG Ayesa gives plenty of vocal power in his portrayal of Stacie Jaxx, the more typical hair-metal douchebag who sort of becomes Drew’s nemesis.
Currently on loan from the Broadway run is Mitchell Jarvis, who originated Lonny, the mulleted sprite who narrates/conjures the story. He’s endearingly wacky, and aside from Maroulis, easily the most memorable part of the show. He prances, leaps, and twirls, like a mix between Tinkerbell and one of the guys from Metallica. Lonny lets loose plenty of self-referential one-liners (“I’m no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim”), which get tired after awhile. Arienzo is intent into beating us over the head with the fact that we’re watching a “different” sort of musical, one that pretty much embraces the form but isn’t afraid to let fly a few f-bombs. This is one of many areas where the book could be a bit more clever.
Jarvis and Maroulis’ performances save Rock of Ages from becoming a forgettable (and groan-worthy?) night of classic rock and 80s gags. The show will have you tapping your toes, and if you had a couple, singing along at the top of your lungs.
Inaugurating the New Broadway Playhouse
Water Tower Place
An Evening with Sutton Foster
(Four Shows Only)
Finally, Chicago audiences will get a chance to see this amazing Broadway star – and in an intimate concert setting to boot – the new Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. Sutton Foster, a Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning actress will perform an exclusive, four-night engagement to inaugurate this refurbished space.
Although Sutton has been working on Broadway and national tours since she was 17, she became a Broadway legend when she became an “understudy to the rescue” and took on the lead role of “Millie” in Thoroughly Modern Millie, eventually winning the 2002 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Since then, she has created four original roles in four new Broadway musicals Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein and Shrek The Musical; a record unsurpassed by any musical theatre actress of her generation.
Broadway In Chicago and Water Tower Place recently announced the addition of a new venue, the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place , 175 E. Chestnut Street to its family of theatres. Broadway In Chicago entered into a long-term agreement with General Growth Properties (owner and manager of Water Tower Place ) that will allow the theatre, formerly known as the Drury Lane at Water Tower Place , to re-open as the Broadway Playhouse. In addition to the inaugural performance of An Evening With Sutton Foster, Traces will perform at the Broadway Playhouse October 26, 2010 – January 2, 2011 and a newly adapted version of the musical Working is slated to open on February 15, 2011.
The performance schedule for AN EVENING WITH SUTTON FOSTER is as follows:
Thursday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, September 24 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, September 25 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, September 26 at 2:00 p.m.
Billy Elliot: A teaching moment?
There shouldn’t be any trouble with the critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning show Billy Elliot, but there is. Simply put, the music – composed by Elton John – is gorgeous, the songs, memorable. The dialogue is, by turns, funny and frank—at appropriate moments brutally unsentimental and at others deeply touching. Under Stephen Daldry’s cunning direction, Billy Elliot successfully veers from hardcore expressionism to utter escapist fantasy. It’s a heartwarming tale about a child achieving his dreams against horrendous odds. All the same, while stuffed to the gills with sterling inter-generational talent, this multilayered production just isn’t putting bums in the seats at the Oriental Theatre the way Wicked did. Broadway in Chicago invited us to its “bloggers’ bash” last Thursday, no doubt to generate a fresh injection of press. Yet, shockingly, little more than half the theater was filled on a Thursday night.
So just what is the trouble with Billy?
- Its rough language turns off too many parents. Hard to believe that this could be a concern in an urban setting, but this is the Midwest. Marketing Billy Elliot as a family show because of its plethora of child talent may have crashed on the reefs of American conservatism over language. Certainly the movie version, when it came to the US, received an R rating for adult language, which later transformed to a PG-13 rating upon DVD release. Much as I might wish that both parents and children could appreciate the touch of realism that Lee Hall has scripted for his Northern industrial English town, my sentiments may be completely overridden by parents not wanting one more cultural inducement for their kids to engage in verbal shock and awe.
- It’s the economy stupid. Say what you want about uplifting messages about a talented dancing boy achieving his dreams, Billy Elliot is dark. Billy (J.P. Viernes for our performance) makes it to the Royal Ballet in London, but his small town community is going down. It’s 1984 and Margaret Thatcher is shutting down the UK’s national coal mining industry in favor of cheap coal from the Eastern bloc states. 300,000 jobs are all going bye-bye–forever. Try wringing a positive message out of that scenario as America double dips into the Great Recession (Great Depression for people of color) and the Democrats lose the gains they made in Congress two years ago.
So it’s not just the dirty words—Billy Elliot is crashing on the reefs of America’s economic and political turmoil. Would that the show itself could be a teaching moment about the value of survival in hard times. The trouble is that the only person surviving decently is Billy . . . and he survives because he is exceptionally talented, because his talent holds youthful promise, and because his future career is in the arts, not coal mining. The UK still subsidizes the arts far more than the US—but even that funding is facing a 25% cut under the current government.
What may be an even more important point, emotionally and dramatically speaking, is that Billy is a lonely survivor. The production creates an infinitely potent moment of loss and isolation with the number “Once We Were Kings.” The miners, defeated after their struggle with the Thatcher government, descend into the darkness of the mining pit with only the lights on their helmets showing. Billy watches them depart—his own shadow cast long, black and solitary behind him. One way of life is ending while Billy’s is just beginning. Melancholy infuses Billy’s singular success at the Royal Ballet. Billy makes his escape to London—but he cannot take the rest of his family or community with him.
Sadly, this just may be more realism than American audiences are ready to pay for in our country’s present situation. Ironically, Billy Elliot is just as much about human beings resorting to fantasy as a way to cope with hard times. This production contains incredible moments of fun and beautiful fantasy. Billy’s dance number with his young friend Michael (Dillon Stevens), complete with a cadre of 20-foot tap-dancing dress, is a flight into reverie over the joy of women’s clothing for the young cross-dresser. Other fantasy moments expand into profound theatrical expressions.
One of the deep pleasures of this production, over and above the movie version, is that we do not actually witness Billy as an adult ballet star. Future success is only hinted at during Billy’s dance with his older self (Samuel Pergande) to the music of Swan Lake. Peter Darling’s choreography and Rick Fisher’s lighting design evoke a scene that recalls William Wordsworth’s “The Child is Father of the Man.” The audience is moved to hope and dream with Billy because it can glimpse the fulfillment of his human potential through Viernes and Pergande’s grace and control.
Darling’s choreography even makes profound social statements about the nature of children’s lives under violent labor-busting conditions. The dance number “Solidarity” is by far the high point of the show. Darling intricately weaves together the feminine setting of Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance class with the outer masculine sparring between miners and police. Billy may tussle with the girls to keep up with Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance orders, but the children seem protected and separate from the struggle that is determining the course of their lives. Darling’s choreography stunningly reveals just how illusory separation is. It brings together the two disparate worlds of Billy’s universe and the lyrics of the song even comment on the blue-collar connections between the police and the striking miners. That’s a lot to achieve in one number and the cast pulls it off fantastically.
In fact, let’s just say here that every dance number is fantastic. Only the first act finale, “Angry Dance” pales, seeming rather anti-climactic, compared to the rest. Billy’s secret ballet lessons with Mrs. Wilkinson (Emily Skinner) have been exposed. Billy’s Dad (Armand Schulz) has just forbidden both them and his chance to audition at the Royal Ballet in London. So far as Billy’s family and the other miners are concerned, ballet is for “poofs.” Billy’s angry dance afterwards meshes with the violence erupting in town, since the police have just violently attacked Billy’s brother Tony (Patrick Mulvey – see picture below the fold).
But once again, the choreography positions Billy as a lonely warrior against forces beyond his control. He alone faces a line of riot police with their ominous shields. Even as symbolism, the image is heavy-handed. Surely the rage and bloodshed that the whole community faces is worth some representation on stage. Having set Billy up as the boy who is “different” from the rest—because of his love for dance–he cannot at this point stand in for the whole community. As much as Fisher’s stark, expressionist lighting packs a powerful punch, the act of isolating Billy as if he were the only one suffering diminishes the powerful communal statement of the entire production and does not cleanly communicate Billy’s rage.
- Billy is different from other boys. Billy is tacitly queer. Could the social conservatism of Billy’s mining town, circa 1984, have its mirror reflection in the urban and suburban environs of 2010 Chicago? That’s difficult to say. So long as documentaries like Straight-laced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up reveal kids being harassed and bullied just for wearing scarves or pastel colors; so long as youngsters commit suicide because of anti-gay harassment at school – messages that promote tolerance regarding sexual identity and gender expression will always be needed in America.
A message of acceptance and tolerance, of appreciating differences, not denying, hiding or shunning them—this is the core message of Billy Elliot. One wonders whether this message, too, has been overwhelmed by our current economic troubles. Billy needs to escape the economic reality that his family and community confront. But the cost to him seems to be any close association with family and community. Few moments inspire more than when, not only Billy’s family realizes that he has to have his chance, but the entire community of rough and rugged miners offer up what little money they have left to get him to his audition in London. At that moment, Billy’s queerness seems to make no difference and their funding of his aspirations becomes their last, noble expression of “Solidarity Forever.”
Billy makes it out because of his exceptional talent. Heaven help the poor queer kid in a rough mining town who is simply average. At the end of the show, Billy gives his queer buddy, Michael, a goodbye peck on the cheek. Heaven help Michael because his community’s homophobia is not over and done with, whatever they have done for Billy. Michael still has to grow into queer adulthood. On top of that, he now has to grow up with extreme economic disadvantages to himself, his family, and his community—something that won’t make the homophobia go away. One of the terrifying things about economic crises is that people often go looking for an Other to scapegoat—whether that Other is queer, immigrant, or a member of a minority.
Is Billy Elliot’s message of acceptance, then, too narrow for our times? What one has with Billy’s acceptance by his family, the endorsement of his community, and with Billy and Michael’s own personal self-acceptance, is a brief respite from the punishing restrictions of sexuality and gender prejudice. It hardly seems enough in the face of government-sponsored economic terrorism–but they have to make do with what they have. And so do we.
Right now, that may not be enough for the American public, at least in terms of entertainment. Billy Elliot is such a big, rich and complex musical treat but it cannot do it all. One can only hope that this superb production has what it takes to survive the current climate.
Billy Elliot is currently playing at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre through January 15. Individual tickets range in price from $30 to $100, and can be bought at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (24 W. Randolph, 151 W. Randolph and 18 W. Monroe), the Broadway in Chicago ticket line at 800-775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations (including Hot Tix), and online at www.BroadwayinChicago.com. For groups of 15 or more, call 312-977-1710. For more information, visit www.BillyElliotChicago.com.