Category: Broadway in Chicago
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.
Broadway in Chicago’s 2011 Spring Season
The 2011 Spring Season Series emphasizes Broadway In Chicago’s long-standing commitment to bringing the best of Broadway to Chicago . The complete season lineup, including performance dates, is as follows:
February 2 – 27, 2011
|Les Misérables - Cadillac Palace Theatre|
|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.”|
February 15 – May 8, 2011
|Working - Broadway Playhouse|
|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
|Hair - Ford Center for the Performing Arts|
|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.|
March 15 – 27, 2011
|Merchant of Venice – Bank of America Theatre|
|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 - Bank of American Theatre|
|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.|
April 26 – May 8, 2011
|Next to Normal - Bank of America Theatre|
|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.”|
The lineup will also feature the opportunity for priority purchase of the following 2011 Off-Season Specials:
April 26 – May 8, 2011
|Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles|
|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!|
May 3 – 8, 2011
|Spring Awakening - Bank of America Theatre|
|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|
June 28 – July 10, 2011
|Disney’s Beauty and the Beast|
|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!|
2011 Broadway In Chicago Spring Season Series ticket holders will receive a multitude of special benefits, including savings up to 64%, priority seating at each venue, ticket exchange privileges, pre-paid and discounted parking, access to gift cards to give tickets as gifts, as well as the first opportunity to purchase additional tickets to future Broadway In Chicago productions, including those not currently listed in the 2011 Season Series. 2011 Season Series subscription packages are on sale now, and are available by logging onto www.BroadwayInChicago.com or calling the Season Ticket Hotline at (312) 977-1717.
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.
Not Wanted on the Voyage
…an epic new musical.
Not Wanted on the Voyage is a provocative new musical about an ordinary family faced with extraordinary circumstances. Secrets lie just beneath the surface in this darkly funny, modern re-imagining of the Great Flood – the first time the world ended. Broadway writers Neil Bartram and Brian Hill have teamed up with award-winning director Amanda Dehnert to create an epic production, complete with rain, fire, magic and a soaring, eclectic score. Here’s just a taste:
The production needs to invent a fantastical, timeless world in which this modern story can take place,” says award-winning director, Amanda Dehnert. “Illusion and spectacle create moments of surprise and connection for the audience, and they allow us to realize the more epic moments of the family’s voyage in thrilling, visually innovative ways.
Illusion consultants Jim Steinmeyer and Jeff Grow advised on the design of magic elements performed by actor Andrew Howard who plays family patriarch and self-proclaimed amateur magician, Dr. Noyes. Steinmeyer, the acclaimed illusion designer who developed the concept behind David Copperfield’s landmark illusion in which he made the Statue of Liberty disappear, has long-advised Dehnert on the use of magic in her theatrical productions. New York-based magician Jeff Grow, traveled to Chicago to teach Howard how to perform an elaborate magic act within the show.
Working with Jeff was thrilling,” says Howard, a recently graduated senior at Northwestern. “The technical skill that goes into even the simplest tricks was surprising, exciting and incredibly challenging. But now I can produce a light bulb out of thin air, and you can bet I’ll be using that at parties.
The illusion design elements combine with a revolving platform stage amidst projections, soaring vocals, and stunning backdrops. The production makes use of onstage rain and fire, and Eugene Lee’s barn wood set sits in a moat of water.
The production is epic” says AMTP producing director, Heather Schmucker. “We make it rain in the theatre, we burn down a barn, and we have a magic show within the show. Not to mention the age-old theatre saying, ‘Never work with animals or children.’ We’ve got both.”
Big, green, and immensely entertaining
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Shrek the Musical|
|Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through September 5th | tickets: $25-$90 | more info
Ask any fifth grader. All those after school specials and heart-felt parent/child talks about how everybody is beautiful are a load of hooey. “You’re ugly,” Shrek’s father tells the seven-year-old ogre during the first scene of the green guy’s eponymous musical, “That means life is going to be much harder for you.” There’s something almost subversive (not to mention laugh-out-loud funny) about such bracing honesty.
And indeed, life for little Shrek is no frolic. His parents’ heartfelt warning to “watch out for men with pitchforks” is grounded in reality. While the normal kids are off learning to read and dancing around maypoles and such, poor little outcast Shrek finds himself being barbequed by angry villagers. So begins the story of Shrek’s life as told with wit, wisdom and no small degree of sophistication by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music).
Fractured fairytales are nothing new – Spamalot, Into the Woods, Honk! and even Once Upon a Mattress have trod such ground. Shrek succeeds with the best of them. This is no grating child’s cartoon or soulless movie rip-off. With one significant caveat, directors Jason Moore and Rob Ashford’s staging is marvelous. Shrek is innovative and irreverent and – thanks to it’s affirming exhortation to let your freak flag fly – a show that feels like a celebration.
Speaking of letting your freak flag fly, Shrek is also a big fat green slice of musical-theater-geek heaven. Insider references to Gypsy, Dreamgirls, A Chorus Line, Wicked, Les Miserables, The Lion King and Sweet Charity pop-up in the score like little balloons of laughing gas. And within this whackadoo land of misfit fairy tale creatures, Shrek even manages a shout-out to Judy Blume, the now-and-forever patron saint of misfit middle schoolers.
It matters not whether you get all those inside musical theater jokes. Shrek is mightily entertaining if you don’t know Mama Rose from “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.” How can one not be taken with a show wherein the Big Bad Wolf laments the mean villagers who “tore my cotton granny dress (and) call me a hot and tranny mess.” (Which he totally is, btw, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
The creative ingenuity of the production is exemplified by the ongoing sight-gag that defines the bullying tyrant, Lord Farquaad. His stunted stature is a feat of clever puppetry and movement. Despite the fact that the joke is pretty much the same every time his wizened little poppet legs wobble across the stage, it never gets tired no matter how many times it is trotted out.
Which brings us to Shrek’s glaring shortcoming. The performances are all terrific, but for this touring production, all kinds of corners seem to have been cut in the special effects department. A crucial scene involving a fiery demise-by-dragon looks cheaper and cheesier than a hunk of cut-rate Velveeta. Ditto the transformations of Princess Fiona from traditionally pretty porcelain princess to Elphaba-chartreuse green goddess. Such bargain-basement production values are maddening beyond their skinflint looks. Producers, apparently, see nothing wrong with demanding ticket prices for a show that’s been significantly cheapened. Maybe they think audiences are stupid, and won’t notice the sloppiness. They’re wrong.
That said, Shrek’s cast is faultless. As the titular ogre, Eric Petersen’s booming voice matches his huge-hearted performance. Haven Burton’s Princess Fiona is delightfully off-kilter, displaying just the kind of crazed mania you’d expect from someone locked in a padded tower for over a decade . David F. M. Vaughn’s vainglorious Lord Farquaad has a smirky demeanor utterly befitting a man sporting a Prince Valiant bowl-cut on purpose. And as Donkey, Alan Mingo Jr. is worthy sidekick.
Josh Prince’s choreography is a hoot, from the chorus line of rats (“Morning Person”) to the march of the misfits (“Freak Flag.”) And when everybody rocks out to “I’m A Believer,” the sense of joy is so palpable you almost forgive those chintzy special effects .
The Stars of Chicago’s Theater District
Fight for Lebron!!
Cesar Corrales from Billy Elliot the Musical
Eric Petersen as Shrek from Shrek the Musical
Last chance to see
Fuerza Bruta: Look Up
Only 15 Performance remaining!
Audiences have just ten days left to see the international sensation that has introduced Chicago to a new kind of entertainment – performance art above and around you (see our review ★★★). The cast of Fuerza Bruta: Look Up will twirl, splash, dance and take the final bow for the last time on Sunday, July 11. The non-stop collision of dynamic music, visceral emotion and kinetic aerial imagery premiered at the Auditorium Theatre in late May and has been running to large audiences for over 6 weeks.
The lobby has been transformed into an alternate universe, welcoming excited audience members into a club-like atmosphere from the moment they walk through the doors of the Auditorium Theatre complete with specialty cocktails and nightly empanadas. The historic landmark theatre’s stage is filled with flying performers, pumping beats, engaging dream sequences and a multidimensional swimming pool above the heads of the audience who stands on stage with the performers and in the middle of the action.
Individual tickets to Fuerza Bruta: Look Up are $50 – $80 and are on sale now at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices and the Auditorium Theatre box office, Ticketmaster locations, by phone (800-775-2000) and also online at BroadwayInChicago.com. Groups of 15 or more should call (312) 977-1710.
Free Broadway in Chicago concert at
Monday, June 28th, at 6pm
Come enjoy the best of Broadway FREE on Monday, June 28th, including performances from Billy Elliot the Musical, Shrek the Musical, Rock of Ages, Disney’s Lion King, Traces, Wicked, working, Hair, and Million Dollar Quartet.
Plus, a special onstage appearance of the Stanley Cup!
Broadway In Chicago , in partnership with the City of Chicago and hosted by ABC7’s Janet Davies, is pleased to present the annual BROADWAY IN CHICAGO CONCERT AT TASTE OF CHICAGO, a fantastic, FREE event, featuring some of Broadway’s hottest shows during the city’s legendary Taste of Chicago festival and continues the celebration of Broadway In Chicago ’s 10 Year Anniversary.
For more information about the BROADWAY IN CHICAGO CONCERT AT TASTE, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Thursday, June 24
Fuerza Bruta: Look Up
You’ve got to see it to believe it! Come see Fuerza Bruta: Look Up (our review ★★★), a theatrical experience that floods the senses. Experience a 360-degree heart-pounding theatrical event, filled with flying dancers, pumping beats, engaging dream sequences and a multi-dimensional swimming pool above the heads of an audience who is standing on stage in the middle of the action. Enjoy a free open bar for 60 minutes before the show and stay after for a special question-and-answer session with the amazing cast. Please note, the performance is general admission and is 65-minutes long.
Event begins at 6:30pm. Show begins at 7:30pm.
For reservations, visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com, and use code “THURSDAY” when ordering. Tickets also available by calling 800-775-2000, or visit the Auditorium Theatre box-office or any Broadway in Chicago box-office.
A bit long on the illusion and merriment
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Cirque Dreams Illumination|
|Created and directed by Neil Goldberg
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through June 6th | tickets: $25-$75 | more info
reviewed by Katy Walsh
Scale down Hephaestus, gather a few Billy Elliot dancers, add in some Fuerza Bruta illusion, sprinkle with Second City comedy, and set it in a Red Line subway stop, and you’ll have Broadway in Chicago’s Cirque Dreams Illumination. The touring show has a limited one-week engagement at Bank of America Theatre. Cirque Dreams Illumination is circus acts strung together by a reporter singing about the daily occurrences of the commute. Electricians, bellhops, military personnel mingle in with traffic cones and headless businessmen to create a visual spectacle. By ground or air, Cirque Dreams.. uses acrobatic dancing and stunts to illustrate how to make a city’s transit system more entertaining. Even without the traditional physical division inspired by the Big Top, Cirque Dreams creates a three-ring circus frenzy throughout the show. These standout chaotic moments showcase the main act and surround it with secondary simultaneous activity. When the action goes solo, primarily in Act 2, the pacing becomes sluggish with a one-trick-pony dissatisfaction. Cirque Dreams Illumination is at its best as death-defying burlesque incarnate resurrected out of the tumultuous pedestrian.
Among the initial crazed commuters and paparazzi dealing with electrical outages, an elegant waltzing couple have a wardrobe change…several times… on stage… within seconds. It’s ‘how did they do that…again and again?’ magic. An electrician walks his wire. A marine climbs a pyramid of chairs. A street performer break dances with disjointed twists. An aerial dancer dangles from her foot while suspending three other performers. The circus acts are entertainment. They are spliced together with song, sax, and sass creating prolonged transitions. Although Janine Ayn Romano (reporter) has a powerful singing voice, its robust cadence doesn’t quite fit with the circus or commuting theme. Marybeth Kern (saxophonist) easily could be relocated in the Chicago subway system as musical accompaniment to the rush hour. There and here it’s a jazzy background that puts a little merriment in the movement. Acting as an onstage director, Martin Lamberti (Vaudevillian) is a clown communicating through whistles. He leads a hilarious audience interactive scene in comedic mime, though the bit is a bit too long. He definitely knows how to get the funny out of a gag but smaller morsels could avoid the audience’s gag reflex.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages may I direct your attention to feats that will amaze and shock you…’ Creator and director Neil Goldberg combines magic and stunts for an urban fantasy commute. The illusions and dangerous elements are present. The challenge is to human cannonball the action to leave the audience breathless. As the ringmaster, Goldberg needs to tighten the reins to keep the pace worthy of the anticipated circus introduction.
Running Time: Two hours includes a twenty minute intermission
Immerse yourself into the under-world of Fuerza Bruta
|Broadway in Chicago and Ozono Producciones presents|
|Fuerza Bruta: Look Up|
|Created by Diqui James
Music composed by Gaby Kerpel
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
through July 25th | tickets: $47-$77 | more info
reviewed by Katy Walsh
Dance music blaring, strobe lights flashing, neon straws glowing… and that’s preshow in the theatre lobby. Broadway in Chicago and Ozono Producciones presents Fuerza Bruta: Look Up, the Argentina-born performance art phenomenon. The experience starts in the lobby at the Auditorium Theatre. Converted to a nightclub lounge, the lobby, equipped with a bar, couches and empanadas, opens an hour before show time to (literally) build up the buzz for the main event. Ten minutes before curtain, security staff usher guests into the theatre and on to the stage. According to promoters, the capacity for the show is 800 guests standing comfortably with personal space. That calculation seems ideally inflated by about 200. With the successful opening night crowd, it’s like rush hour on the Red Line but with everybody gawking out the windows at the view. The scenery is visual stimulations of the fast-paced mundane of the world and the whimsical enchantment of the sea kicked up with some Argentina sass. Fuerza Bruta: Look Up is a body rubbing, neck straining, pulsating emersion into a visual spectacle!
By air, water and tread mill, the movement dances through, around and above the crowd. Pictures can’t capture it. Words can’t describe it. Comprehension lies in the experience. Here’s a where-to-look guide to aid in the enjoyment:
- Center – hot guy running on treadmill
- West Side – women aerial dancing horizontally
- West Side – scaffold dancing with snow globe effect
- Throughout crowd – performers dancing with audience (watch out for Styrofoam attacks)
- Above – flying over-size Reynolds wrap (duck!)
- East-North Corner – D.J. mists the crowd
- Above – Reynolds wrap covers the crowd
- Below – squat down (I cheated on this one… bad knee!)
- East-North Corner – More mist!
- East –South Corner – scaffold dancing with audience members –more Styrofoam
- Above – It’s the whimsy! Looks like sea nymphs. Sounds like hail on the roof.
- Above – SPLAT!
- Above – More whimsy! Walking on water enchantment.
- Above – Slip-n-slide
- West Side – hot guy running on treadmill with two others
- Throughout crowd – more misting and dancing
I need to see it again because I’m sure I didn’t capture it all. A little more insight, it may be a club scene but the attire should be casual and comfortable! It’s close quarters and crowd shuffling occurs. If you have claustrophobia, stasiphobia or fear of Styrofoam (styrophobia?), this probably isn’t your show. If you enjoy sensory overload and hanging with 799 potential friends, Fuerza Bruta is definitely for you. The performers are smoking hot. The action is riveting. The experience is unique. This is the true actualization of theatre in the round… and above. And when you’re exiting, look out… at the grandeur of being onstage at the historic Auditorium Theatre.
Running Time: Sixty-five minutes with no intermission
More Monty Python than Alfred Hitchcock
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|The 39 Steps|
|adapted by Patrick Barlow
directed by Maria Aitken
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through May 30th | tickets: $20-$70 | more info
by Barry Eitel
Let’s get one thing clear: even though Patrick Barlow’s stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” has the famed director’s name slapped on the poster, no one should enter the Bank of America Theatre expecting to be psychologically thrilled.
The play is closer to Monty Python, featuring the madness of four actors portraying around 100 characters. The insanity has been much appreciated by critics and audiences around the world, carting away Tony and Olivier awards for the original West End and Broadway productions. All that success has earned the play a national tour, with Chicago among the list of stops. Whacky, extremely energetic, and, much of the time, pretty stupid, Barlow’s creation exudes a wonderful sense of play that keeps us engaged and entertained. Not that there aren’t a few kinks with the touring production (especially the dragging first few scenes), but the madcap concept and over-the-top execution keeps us smirking.
The play follows the film’s plot pretty closely, but the tone is sharply different. We journey alongside Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy), an ordinary man pushed into international espionage. The 39 Steps milks all sorts of comedic gold from lampooning the “man-on-the-run” archetype. Cops are bumbling, the Germans talk really funny, and the action-packed final scene features plenty of popping guns. With four actors playing scores of random characters, the play also lays bare the relative ridiculousness of the original movie and novel.
Helmed by director Maria Aitken, the show features very little of the elaborate scenery we’ve come to expect from these Broadway imports. Instead, the committed cast paints the world on a sparsely-filled stage. Scenes fall on top of each other at breakneck pace, with some props doubling as completely different things to keep up the speed. A hotel fireplace becomes a car, for example. Aitken also slips in some interesting expressionistic touches, such as Hannay’s harrowing stroll on top of a moving train. A crucial part of the movie but sort of impossible to do in a theatre, the stage version does some interesting visual trickery to recreate the grand escape. Then there is the giant shadow-puppet show that brings to mind scenes from “North by Northwest”. You don’t really expect a whole lot of theatricality from a farce, so it’s a pleasant surprise when it turns up.
In order for the wheels of this show to really turn, though, it demands huge, perpetual amounts of energy from the actors. Fortunately, the cast here taps into a vast reservoir of goofiness. The best performances of the play come from the two men forced to play dozens of characters of all backgrounds, occupations, and genders. Scott Parkinson and Eric Hissom, who has a history with Chicago theatre, are the real heroes of the play. They are both masters of the lightning-fast quick change. Sometimes, they must portray two characters in the same scene, and, sometimes, they even have to have dialogue with themselves. I would posit that about three-quarters of the laughs emanate from the two men’s exasperated antics.
Although less funny, pretty good work comes from Deasy and Claire Brownell, who plays all three of his love interests (the spy that tosses Hannay into this mess, a lonely Scottish housewife, and a “stranger on a train”). Neither is as bold as Parkinson or Hissom, but there is also less material for them to work with. Both rely on charming the audience, and both succeed for the most part.
The production is plagued by a lack of focus in some parts. This is especially true for the first few scenes, which aren’t nearly as laugh-packed as the rest of the play. Also, all of the performers are guilty of pushing certain bits too hard and too long, stalling the zipping energy of the piece.
It was a bold move to write up a spoof of Hitchcock’s film, not just because of the original’s acclaim, but because the movie is 75-years-old. However, Barlow’s risk paid off in laughs and awards. This is due to the ferocious energy of the cast and story, and the touring cast knows this well.
A perky-pervy ‘Avenue’ like no other
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Music/lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru May 9th | tickets: $22-$67 | more info
Sure, the hot puppet sex scene – anal, oral, Reverse Cowgirl and a riotous assortment of additionally hilariously raunchy positions one does not normally associate with puppets – is a real grabber, so to speak.
But there’s so much more to the perky and pervy world of Avenue Q. The 2004 Best Musical Tony-winner – an explicit and R-rated ode to Sesame Street and the life-lessons therein- has more veracity than many a real-people populated drama. For example: Everyone’s a little bit racist. And: The more you love someone, the more you sometimes want to kill them. And: Life often sucks. And finally (but of course): The Internet is for porn. Go ahead – try and dispute the grain-to-mountain of truth in any of those statements. If you are at all honest with yourself, you will lose that debate. That the last bit of wisdom is delivered in a chirpy song that sounds, lyrics aside, as if it should be the tune to a nursery rhyme, only increases its sage power.
Some seven years after Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music, lyrics, original concept) introduced the world to the multi-culti wholesome denizens of a seedy, scrappy corner of New York City, Avenue Q still holds up.
The effectiveness of Avenue Q lies in part in its brazen willingness to give voice to things simply not said in polite society. Coming from puppets, some self-evident truths are a bit easier to swallow. With a touring production that keeps the expensive production values of the original Broadway incarnation largely intact, Avenue Q maintains its winning mix of peppy charm and profane raunch, (hilariously) dream-shattering cynicism and up-with-people, can-do enthusiasm.
Its endearing, enduring gimmick – storytelling via an ensemble of puppet characters and “real” people – is immensely clever. Black-clad actors (there’s no attempt to hide them) give voice and marvelous movement to bug-eyed, cloth moppets. It’s a device that sounds terrible on paper – a cheesy mix of ventriloquism and kindergarten field trip. But it works, beautifully thanks to a top-notch cast and Lopez’ utterly winning material.
When Princeton, as idealistic and clueless as only a newly minted B.A. in English can be, shows up looking for his purpose in life and an affordable apartment, he’s embodied in the face, body and voice of both actor Brent Michael DiRoma and the puppet DiRoma’s carrying.
DiRoma and Jacqueline Grabois anchor the production, each portraying a pair of Avenue Q residents. In addition to Princeton, DiRoma is also the Bert- (as in Ernie and) like Rod, a lonesome closeted gay man who you just know is going to come out in a feel-good, huge triumph-of-the-human spirit big song ‘n dance number before the evening’s over.
Grabois is both Kate Monster, a shy and wholesome (at least until she’s wasted) assistant kindergarten teacher who dreams of founding a special school where little monsters can be safe from ridicule and the sashaying Lucy the Slut, a character whose name pretty much sums her up.
Watching Grabois and DiRoma agiley veer between characters – sometimes in the same conversation – you get a sense of how deceptively demanding Avenue Q really is. It only looks easy. But technique, no matter how impressive, is not what Avenue Q has to offer the audience. Avenue Q is a lovely and lively mix of smut and sweetness that even the most puppet-averse will find irresistible.