Category: Broadway in Chicago
Clunky transitions obscure visually-stunning finale
|Cirque Éloize and Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Cirque Éloize iD|
|Created and directed by Jeannot Painchaud
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through May 8 | tickets: $20-$90 | more info
(see below for 2-for-1 ticket offer)
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
Jugglers, acrobats, breakdancers: the circus has come to town… Canadian style. Cirque Éloize and Broadway in Chicago present Cirque Éloize iD, a performing troupe hailing from Montreal. It’s not the three-ring circus with the big top, elephants, and clowns from childhood. It’s more the grown-up, citified fantasy! Instead of the mundane trudge to the office, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The workday daydream busts open with commuters spinning on their heads, plummeting from buildings and climbing the corporate ladder… of chairs. Cirque Éloize iD combines death-defying feats with amazing technicolor projections for a downtown spectacle!
The experience starts as urgent lobby announcements broadcast a three minute warning and no late seating declaration. In the theatre, the lights dim and the noise increases. Sirens, drilling, traffic. When the curtain lifts, coated pedestrians scurry to their imaginary jobs. The backdrop is the city skyline being visually traced out by projections. The activity goes into slow mode. Two commuters’ eyes meet across the street. They are meant to be together and so the magic starts. The couple perform feats of astonishing physicality. He balances her on one hand. Sounds easy? Not quite? He is standing with one arm extended overhead. She is standing with one foot on top of his hand. It’s a double decker thriller. The show has multiple moments of gasp-worthy antics. Various aerial stunts mesmerize for their danger and beauty. A shirtless guy is pole dancing. Not stripper-style but HOT just the same! Horizontally, he suspends from the pole with just one hand. A woman pirouettes in a spinning hoop. At one point, she dangles upside-down with one foot. Another guy uses two silk ribbons to fly!
Not so much a three ring circus, the show is set in a rectangular space with a one act focal point. Two of my favorite iD segments contained a bike and a trampoline. The biker mystified as he clambered up the multi-level cityscape. In the show-stopping finale, the marvelous visual projections share the spotlight with the performers. An illusion is created with quick-flashing imagery as the cast jump on and off a trampoline. The scenery adjusts. The imagery changes. The performers never stop. It’s astounding athletic artistry.
For the novice on the cirque circuit, Cirque Éloize iD will blow your mind! For the seasoned theatre thrill-seeker (TRACES, Hephaestus, Cirque du Soleil), Cirque Éloize iD may not be as satisfying. The sequence of circus acts is clunky. There isn’t a strong storyline connecting the individual segments together. AND, my biggest pet peeve, the performers stop the movement to mug for applause. It breaks my supernatural experience when the humans require repeated adoration to continue. I will applaud, and loudly, for the collective – not the individual. It’s just how I do it!
If just for the outstanding visual finale, Cirque Éloize iD has twenty minutes of a must-see-to-believe extravaganza!
2 Main Floor Seats for the Price of One*! When ordering, use code INDIVIDUAL
*Valid on April 26-April 30th performances for Orchestra, Dress Circle and Loge seats Offer ends April 29at 11:59pm. Not valid with any other offer or on previously purchased tickets. Subject to availability. Normal ticketing fees apply. Other restrictions may apply.
Cirque Éloize iD continues through May 8th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map), with performances April 30th and May 7th at 2pm and 8pm, May 6th at 7:30pm, and May 1st and 8th at 1pm. Running Time: Two hours includes a twenty-minute intermission. Tickets are $20-$90, and can be purchased online. More information at Broadway in Chicago or cirque-eloize.com. (Photos by Valerie Remise)
Top 10 shows to see this spring!
A list of shows we’re looking forward to before summer
Written by Barry Eitel
March 20th marked the first day of spring, even if it feels like winter hasn’t loosened its grip at all. The theatre season is winding down, with most companies putting up the last shows of the 2010/2011. Over the summer, it would seem, Chicagoans choose outdoor activities over being stuffed in a hot theatre. But there is still plenty left to enjoy. The rising temperatures make leaving your home much more tempting, and Chicago theatre is ending the traditional season with a bang. Here, in no particular order, are Chicago Theatre Blog’s picks for Spring 2011.
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
Remy Bumppo Theatre
March 30 – May 8
Playwright Edward Albee has gotten a lot of love this year, with major productions at Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf (for the first time). The season has been a sort of greatest hits collection spanning his career, including modern classics like Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Three Tall Women. Remy Bumppo ends their season with some late-period Albee, but The Goat never skimps on Albee’s honest dysfunction. In the 1994 drama, Albee takes a shockingly earnest look at bestiality, and questions everything we thought about love.
Porgy and Bess Court Theatre
May 12 – June 19
Musical-lovers have a true aural feast to enjoy this spring. Following their mission to produce classics, Court produces the most well-known American opera, Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin’s ode to folk music is grandiose, inspirational, and not without controversy. But the show, telling tales about African-American life in the rural South, features brilliant music (like “Summertime,” which has been recorded by such vastly different performers as Billie Holiday and Sublime). Charles Newell, Ron OJ Parsons, and an all-black cast will definitely have an interesting take on one of the most influential pieces of American literature.
The Front Page Timeline Theatre
April 16 – June 12
For their season closer, TimeLine Theatre selected a 80-year-old play with deep Chicago connections. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were well known journalists, reporting on the madness that was the Jazz Age. They turned their life into a farcical romp, The Front Page, which in turn served as the inspiration for the Cary Grant vehicle “His Girl Friday”. The play centers around several hardened newsmen as they await an execution; of course, things don’t go as planned. Along with loads of laughs, TimeLine provides an authentic Chicago voice sounding off about a legendary time.
Imported from London, this high-flying envisioning of the J.M. Barrie play should cause many jaws to drop. We’ve seen high school productions where the boy who never wants to grow up flies around on wires (leading to some disastrous videos on Youtube). Threesixtyº’s show has flying, but it also has three hundred and sixty degrees of screen projections. Already a smash across the pond, this will probably be one of the top spectacles of the decade. WATCH VIDEO
Woyzeck and Pony
I’m not exactly sure if Georg Buchner’s unfinished 1830s play can support a whole city-wide theatrical festival, but I’m excited to see the results. The Oracle Theatre already kickstarted the Buchner love-fest with a well-received production of Woyzeck directed by Max Truax. Now Sean Graney and his Hypocrites and a revived About Face get their chance, along with numerous other performers riffing on the play. Pony offers a semi-sequel to Woyzeck, tossing together Buchner’s characters with others in a brand new tale. The Hypocrites offer a more straightforward adaptation to the play. Well, straightforward for the Hypocrites. I’m sure their white-trash-avant-garde tendencies will make an appearance, and I’m sure I’ll love it. (ticket special: only $48 for both shows)
The Original Grease American Theatre Company
April 21 – June 5
American Theatre Company ends their season with a major theatrical event—a remount of the original 1971, foul-mouthed version of Grease. Before Broadway producers, Hollywood, and John Travolta cleaned up the ‘50s set musical, “Summer Nights” was “Foster Beach.” The story of this production is probably as interesting as the actual show, with lost manuscripts and brand new dialogue and song.
The Voodoo Chalk Circle State Theatre
April 9 – May 8
This month, Theatre Mir already took a highly-acclaimed stab at this intriguing piece of Brecht, which tears at Western views of justice. In true Brechtian style, the State’s production is shaking the narrative up, transferring the story from an Eastern European kingdom to a post-Katrina New Orleans, where law and order have broken with the levee. We’ll see if Chelsea Marcantel’s adaptation holds water, but she has plenty to pull from, including the region’s rich folk traditions and the general lawlessness seen after the storm. WATCH VIDEO
May 13 – June 12
To welcome spring, Chicago Dramatists will revisit one of their own, the 2009 Wendy Wasserstein Prize-winning Marisa Wegrzyn. Directed by artistic director Russ Tutterow, the darkly whimsical piece imagines a world where everyone has a literal internal clock that ticks away towards our demise. What happens when someone breaks their clock? Through a very odd window, Wegrzyn looks at tough, relevant questions.
Next to Normal Broadway in Chicago
at Bank of America Theatre
April 26 – May 8
The newly-minted Purlitzer Prize winner, Next to Normal rolls into town on its first national tour, three Tony Awards in hand. Alice Ripley, who received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, will reprise her acclaimed performance at the Bank of America Theatre on Monroe. Contemporary in sound and subject matter, the work explores the effects of a mother’s bi-polar disease exacerbated by her child’s earlier death, Next to Normal will no doubt be anything close to normal for Chicago audiences. (watch video)
White Noise Royal George Theatre
April 1 – June 5
Like Next to Normal, the new White Noise promises to take the usually vapid rock musical genre and stuff it with some tough issues. A show focusing on an attractive female pop duo with ties to white supremacy? It ain’t Rock of Ages, that’s for sure. Produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Chicago was chosen as the show’s incubator before a Broadway debut. Perhaps the premise may overwhelm the story; either way, White Noise is going to inspire conversations. [ Listen to the Music ]
Centuries later, Shakespeare’s message still rings true
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|The Merchant of Venice|
|Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through March 27 | tickets: $23-$75 | more info
Reviewed by Oliver Sava
Putting Shakespeare’s plays in a contemporary setting often produces mixed results, and Darko Tresnjak’s corporate take on The Merchant of Venice finds both its strengths and weaknesses in its modern context. The national tour of the 2007 Off-Broadway production, Merchant of Venice stars Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham in the role of Shylock, a chilling portrayal of a man trampled by an oppressive society on a malicious quest for justice. The contemporary context is used by Tresnjak to expand the story beyond Shakespeare’s words, and the social, economic, and political changes of the last 400 years give the script new meaning, particularly with Shylock’s character. The set design is sleek and tech-heavy, the men wear three-piece suits, and Portia’s (Kate MacCluggage) caskets are MacBooks that unlock with a USB key, yet the concept never takes over under Tresnjak’s crisp, focused staging. The two main plotlines – the first centralized on Shylock and his socioeconomic troubles, the second on Portia’s romantic exploits – are balanced and grounded by the strength of their principal performances, and together create a story that resonates on both a global and personal level.
The show begins with the title character Antonio (Tom Nelis) in a state of melancholy. As his friends deduce the source of his pain to be his heart, Bassanio (Lucas Hall) arrives to ask Antonio for money so that he can travel to Belmont and woo Portia, earning her sizable inheritance in the process. Scholars have long speculated the romantic relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, and Tresnjak and Nelis interpret Antonio as a closeted older businessman utterly devoted to the object of his affection. The corporate environment gives new meaning to the casting, with Antonio serving in a CEO position while Bassanio and friends make up the junior executives, with Gratiano (Ted Schneider) as the office drunk for good measure. Antonio’s work relationship with Bassanio prevents their relationship as much as social pressures, and when he lets his affections for his friend overrule his business judgment, he ends up on trial with a pound of his flesh on the scales of justice.
Meanwhile, Portia and her waiting-woman Nerissa (Christen Simon Marabate) compare Portia’s various suitors on an iPhone, awaiting the next batch to pick from the three “caskets” of lead, silver, and gold. The two actresses have great chemistry, and MacCluggage’s Portia is so powerful that the moments where she can unwind with Nerissa are a treat. Both actresses use the verse beautifully, and they avoid some of the problems that come up elsewhere in the production as actors modernize the language. One instance where the modernization works is with Launcelot Gobbo (Jacob Ming-Trent), Shylock’s stoner assistant that turns Shakespeare’s words into slam poetry, and his fantastic “fiend” monologue is a highlight of the first act.
Bassanio uses Antonio’s credit to acquire a loan from Shylock, a Jewish lender, who despises Antonio’s anti-Semitism and lends the 3,000 ducats on the condition that if the bond is not repaid in the specified time, a pound of flesh will be taken from Antonio in lieu of interest. The corporate setting increases the intensity of the scene where Shylock and Antonio agree to the bond, and Tresnjak uses Shakespeare’s language as a kind of boardroom code, with Elizabethan poetry acting as a form of subversive power play. The modern setting changes the character of Shylock in profound ways, especially considering the struggles of the Jewish people over the last century. This Shylock lives in a post-Holocaust world, fully aware of the devastating damage caused by the irrational fears and prejudices of others. His devotion to his spirituality doesn’t fit in with Antonio’s corporate vision, and his treatment becomes a symbol for the ways in which traditional religious views are being forgotten in modern age. When Shylock’s daughter Jessica (Melissa Miller) elopes with Lorenzo (Vince Nappo), an associate of Antonio’s, Shylock loses his stoic demeanor, maliciously going after his promised pound of flesh when Antonio’s ships are lost at sea.
The drama of the Shylock plot is balanced by the humor of Portia’s, and as her suitors choose between the three caskets to find the one with her picture inside, she anxiously awaits the arrival of Bassanio. The suitors are hit and miss, with Raphael Nash Thompson’s towering Moroccan dictator inspiring laughs through his quiet, yet exaggerated aggression, while Christopher Randolph’s lisping Prince of Arragon is too over-the-top and ends up falling flat. Bassanio arrives and picks the right casket, but their celebration is cut short when he learns that Antonio is in prison, awaiting trial for not paying Shylock. Portia offers to pay off the bond times two, and then dresses up like a man with Nerissa and devises a plan to save Antonio from Shylock’s wrath. The image of Antonio in an orange jumpsuit calls to mind real world images of white-collar inmates in prison for their economic deviances, and without the corporate environment Antonio is able to act on his desire for Bassanio. The trial scene is a break neck race to the finish, as Abraham explodes with fury, the years of degradation finally breaking him and forcing him to vengeful action. Then Portia sees Antonio and Bassanio kiss, and the tension skyrockets as she forgets about the mercy she preached earlier. It all comes crashing down on poor Shylock, and his final moments on stage are heartbreaking, stripped of his yarmulke, his daughter, and his dignity.
The Portia plot resolves in typical Shakespeare romance fashion, with the characters misunderstanding each other until they finally end up in handy little pairs, but the emphasis on Antonio and Bassanio ends the play on a bittersweet note. Despite the occasional misstep with the comedic aspects, mostly with jokes that don’t have any scriptural basis and are tech-based, the direction reveals aspects of the play that give it new relevance in modern times. Proving that despite the changes in culture, the fundamental messages of Shakespeare’s plays are still applicable to contemporary issues.
All photos by Gerry Goodstein.
Competent ‘Hair’ revels in its own kitsch
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Book/Lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Diane Paulus
at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
through March 20 | tickets: $27-$90 | more info
Reviewed by Dan Jakes
If the pre-show announcement–which asks that you please turn on your heart and to please turn off your cell phone–isn’t a clear indication, there’s plenty of proverbial winking in director Diane Paulus’ Hair. From the restrained band volume to the affable, mostly miles-from-the-danger-line interactions between actors and audience, we’re assured from the beginning that the night’s show is going to be professional, going to be groovy, and going to be safe.
Safety, of course, was not what made Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s rock-musical about a tribe of hippies significant. It defied modern standards of decency, blazed new theatrical territory and was written and performed in the chaotic epicenter of the same cultural revolution it advocated.
But let’s face it. Entertainment value aside, The Man acquisitioned Hair a long time ago. It’s unclear when, but the changeover presumably took place some time after religious groups stopped picketing outside of performances and some time before it began running in theaters named after multi-billion dollar car companies.
During this revival, I thought about what, if any, our contemporary equivalent to the monument Hair was in its heyday for intrepidity and relevance. It’s certainly nothing that can be described in the same genre (in the grand scheme of art and provocation, rock-musicals are now, by more honest billing, lite-rock-musicals). I won’t pretend to romanticize living in the late 1960’s–one, I would not yet exist as a fetus for another two decades and two, it was a notoriously violent era of persecution, uncertainty, hate, and abused authority–but I can appreciate the time’s profound art and its ability to have instigated change.
Yet the national conflicts Ragni and Rado wrote about are still (in some cases, eerily) recognizable. Our current generation is witness to an aggressively protested war, sex as a talking point for political candidates, old white men tossing around the word “communist” to rebuke lefties, and mainstream efforts to legalize marijuana. Then is it fair to wonder if, for all its critical acclaim, this latest resurgence of Hair missed an opportunity to be more than a technically laudable send-up to a counter-cultural artifact?
It’s telling that during opening night’s post-curtain-call “Be-In,” where the tribe welcomes the audience onstage to dance through a reprise, the cast really had to coax people to budge. Some inevitably jumped up, but most smiled good-naturedly while inconspicuously grabbing their coats and eying the exits.
Some rapport never got established.
And some did. As Berger, Steel Burkhardt has the most opportunity to break down the fourth-wall and create a sense of community. He doesn’t as often as I‘d have liked, but his allocated moments for addressing the audience are the most entertaining, substantive parts of the show. Taking a gentle stab at an over-zealous laugher is funny–allowing another to stuff single dollar bills down his suede fringe loincloth is funny and opens up the risk and fun of watching anything-goes action. The rest of Hair could benefit from this sense of happening and authenticity.
Vocally, the ensemble is consistent, and fits well within the folk-rock style Galt MacDermot’s compositions call for. Appropriately cast, these kids look and sound like the embodiment of young idealism and acceptance. At times, they’re sublime.
Billing a show as a revival carries a certain weight, implication and spirit. I’m not confident this latest production lives up to these. But as a fully-produced tribute, it’s at least a good trip.
Hair continues through March 20th, with performances Tuesday at 7:30, Wednesday 2 and 7:30pm, Thursday 7:30pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 2 and 8pm, and Sunday 2pm. Tickets are $27 and $90, and can be bought at www.broadwayinchicago.com.
Now extended through June 5th!
Talented Chicago cast gets the job done!
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|From the book by Studs Terkel
Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
Directed by Gordon Greenburg
at Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map)
through June 5 | tickets: $67-$77 | more info
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘Everybody should have something to point to!’ At the end of a career, job, or just day, there is satisfaction in pointing to something well-constructed… building, memo, burger… to say ‘I did that!‘ Steel beam to corner office to cubicle, one building houses millions of work tales. Broadway in Chicago presents Working a musical. In 1974, Pulitzer Prize- winning author Studs Terkel published a collection of interviews in his book entitled “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In 1977, Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso adapted the book into a musical about the working class. In the current production, both skilled director Gordon Greenburg, and additional songs, have been added to the resume. ‘Working 2.0’ brings timeless employees’ woes into a new age. Working is the ordinary dreams of ordinary people sung by an extraordinary Chicago cast!
The show is cued with a behind-the-curtain glimpse at staged theatre. An unseen person calls out directions in a countdown to the start. A bi-level backdrop showcases four dressing rooms where actors-playing-actors-playing-workers are busy prepping. The intriguing set by Beowulf Boritt has a strong industrial framework influence. The beams work double-time to establish a construction feel as an ironworker kicks-off the interview series. Later, the metal structure is the screen for visual projections by Aaron Rhyne. Designer Rhyne adds magnificent depth to the stories with authentic location and people imagery. Studs Terkel haunts the stage from beginning to end. In the opening scene, his voice is heard as several reel to reel recorders play his historic interviews tapes. At the finale, projections of the working people series ends with his facial profile. In between the Studs, a hard-working ensemble of six dress and undress…sometimes right on stage… to tell 26 different stories in 100 minutes.
The marathon of memories is well-paced, with each character’s story transitioning into another’s. Sometimes, it’s natural… construction guy to executive to assistant. Sometimes, it’s just a little forced… retired to fireman or factory worker to mason or trucker to call center tech. Regardless, the stitching together adds to a rhythmic flow for the always-dynamic and ever-changing cast. There are lots of moments to point to with this talented 6 doing 26 parts, but here are some favorites: E. Faye Butler transforms effortlessly from humble housewife to vivacious hooker to amusing cleaning lady. Totally diva-licious, Butler belts out songs like an entire gospel choir squeezed into one uniform. Emjoy Gavino goes from sassy flight attendant to poignant millworker with an unforgettable solo. Despite a crackling microphone, Barbara Robertson is delightful and slightly disturbing as an old-school teacher. Then, as an amicable and career content waitress, Robertson serves up an impressive singing number complete with a side of splits. Gabriel Ruiz delivers burgers with playful energy, then later sings sweetly as a caregiver doing a job nobody wants. Michael Mahler plays it ruggedly funny as seasoned trucker then naively hilarious as a newbie student. Gene Weygandt bookends the show as the cocky ironworker bragging about heights and confessing his shortcomings in a powerfully nostalgic ‘Fathers and Sons.’
WORKING: a musical employs a talented Chicago cast! No matter what your current job status, this hard-working cast will entertainingly sing to you a familiar tune. It’s realistic, relatable, regularity life put to music. I’m pointing at Working as an enjoyable after-work happy hour.
Working continues through June 5th, with performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday, Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm. The Broadway Playhouse is located on 175 E. Chestnut in downtown Chicago (behind Watertower Place). Ticket prices are $67 to $77, and can be purchased online HERE. Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.
An Easy Day’s Night
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles|
|Written by The Beatles
at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
thru Feb 13 | ticket: $35-$75 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
For baby boomers wanting to share their childhood with their kids, for all the true-blue or late-blooming fans of the Fab Four whose great regret is that they never got to see the world’s greatest quartet in concert, or for folks who like to watch great songs return to their source, Rain should be human catnip for rockers and rollers everywhere. In two hours the ardent crowd at the Oriental Theatre get back The Beatles–from their black-and-white debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (a 1964 debut seen by 73 million viewers) to the hippie splendor of Sergeant Pepper and His Lonely Hearts Club Band to the transcendental meditation phase that mingled with anti-war ballads to, well, just a final nostalgic sing-along that gels all their acts together.
Providing context and much non-negotiable nostalgia, projections, vintage commercials, psychedelic animation, costume changes, and closed-circuit coverage (which combine the actual audience with clips from the Beatles 1965 concert at Shea Stadium) bring the 60s to life along with the music that stamped our memories.
Like the long-running Beatlemania, this life-sized simulation of the magnificent moppets spans their too-brief career. All the classics are performed live (too many to name but how wonderfully it ends with “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude”!) by the very skilled if not always perfectly matched Steve Landes, Graham Alexander, Tom Teeley and Doug Cox, as the Liverpool legends, with Chris Smallwood on percussion and keyboards. There are a fewer lesser known gems, like “That Boy,” that might even trigger some new nostalgia, if that’s possible.
Ironically, this retrospective has been together longer than the Beatles ever were, a testament to the persistence of fame even in tribute form. No question, this is accuracy itself, except for the fact that it’s being done in 2011 for almost three generations more than could have seen the originals. But there’s nothing like making up for lost time.
Back to Les Barricades!
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Written by A. Boublil, H. Kretzmer, and C. Schonberg,
with additional material by James Fenton
Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through Feb 27 | tickets: $25-$90 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
This is my tenth trek through Victor Hugo‘s musical spin-off, now in its 25th anniversary production (which means no turntable and new orchestrations). But everything old is new again, what you expect from a touring production where freshness is essential. Though the students’ barricade can’t revolve (so the death of Gavroche occurs literally out of sight) and, more crucially, the useful overhead captions delineating the passage of time and changing locations are missing, for Miserable fans it’s the kind of sound and fury that signifies sensation. Restaged by Laurence Connor and James Powell, this less sprawling but more intimate version fits nicely into the huge Palace Theatre where it never played before.
Les Miserables remains the Mother Ship of Musicals, with the sprawl of Cats, the swirl of Starlight Express, the political passion of Evita, and the melodic turns and pop soulfulness of Jesus Christ Superstar.
It’s easy to mistake Les Miz for its hype, to lose the story in the spectacle. As always, the test is – how much real feeling survives from page to stage? “Trop et trop peu”. Too much and too little.
The novel compresses three turbulent decades of French history into the life of Jean Valjean, a proletarian martyr who becomes a fugitive for stealing bread to feed his sister’s family. Valjean’s a convict who might have been a criminal–except for a pivotal act of forgiveness. That mercy encourages Valjean to protect persecuted Fantine, promising the dying woman to care for her daughter Cosette. Fulfilling that pledge, he later rescues Cosette’s beloved Marius, a freedom-fighting student, Jean does this despite Javert, the diabolical cop who for 17 years doggedly pursues the fugitive across France.
Hugo’s soaring tale is pure melodrama. Appropriately, the three-hour epic wastes no time in subtlety. Schonberg’s songs are the action–mainstream, mostly major-key melodies constantly recycled for cumulative effect; Herbert Kretzmer‘s obvious lyrics spell out all the characters think and feel and how we’re to take it. Alas, they’re often full of unearned emotion: With no set-up to the songs they seem to come out of nowhere. But the singers mean well…
Every number brings an emotional peak to be scaled, which means forgetting the last crisis to move on to the next. It’s like speed-reading the novel. In the second act alone we endure a heroine’s death, the murder of an innocent waif, the mass death of idealistic students, the mourning of their survivors, a villain’s suicide, the lovers’ duet, a foiled blackmail attempt, the hero’s renunciation, his heartbreaking reconciliation with loved ones, and a dubiously triumphant finale sung entirely by a throng of marching ghosts!
Few operas dare to cover so many crises. No orgy ever had so many climaxes. Les Miz does–but not without risking a campy overkill.
But its glorious excess makes thrilling theater. Here it’s richly performed by a dedicated cast, though too often it seems a contest between the orchestra and the singers to see who can wax louder.
Blessed with an effortless tenor, Lawrence Clayton’ sturdy Valjean, the inspiration for “The Fugitive,” is ardent as required but the fact that he’s also African-American makes him even more of an outsider than Hugo would have imagined. (Now Javert seems as much a racist as a reactionary.) Though the implacable pursuer is a one-dimensional villain (his anthem "Stars" is too noble for this reactionary bully), Andrew Varela delivers the evil with inexhaustible conviction and a barrelhouse baritone. Betsy Morgan breathes power into her proudly fallen Fantine whose ghostly reappearance differs little from her saintly earthly existence.
As the lovers, Justin Scott Brown and Jenny Latimer are picture-perfect. Playing bittersweet Eponine, the sacrificial lamb who loves Marius in vain, Chasten Harman, also African American, is too gung-ho on the pop stylings but her hopelessness for Marius takes on even more texture. (But this is not an audition for “American Idol.”) For comic relief we get the Thenardiers, predatory parasites opportunistically played by Shawna M. Hamic and Michael Kostroff, two vaudevillian rogues.
The show is drenched in a dim, Daumier-like vision of bleak poverty. Wooden ramparts loom above, while the shifting stage turns up law courts, towering barricades, and boisterous taverns, all peopled by a supercharged chorus. No question, Les Miserables is an ordeal – but some people just love running—or watching—marathons.
Despite frigid weather, show sizzles with dance and eye-candy
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Burn the Floor|
|Directed and Choreographed by Jason Gilkison
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through Feb 13 | tickets: $16-$80 | more info
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
As Blizzard 2011 buries Chicago into a frozen tundra, a downtown theatre oasis smolders in heat.
Broadway in Chicago presents Burn the Floor, an electrifying international dance-off. The increasing popularity of “Dancing with The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” has instigated a resurgence in ballroom dancing. Burn the Floor predates these reality shows and the moves still thrill with pulsating appeal. Waltzes to rumba to cha cha: the show moves with an elegant, sweltering sass. Even in blizzard conditions, Burn the Floor ignites the building!
Director and choreographer Jason Gilkison paces it as a seamless, high energy dance marathon. Gilkison, along with his partner Peta Roby, were undefeated Australian dance champions from 1981-1997. His life-time passion for the craft is evident in a mega tribute to multiple types of dances. In the number “History Repeating”, the costumes and dances change as a stylistic tribute to past decades. Flapper, hippie, and disco outfits are paired with swing, samba, and jive. It’s a colorful, fast-moving flashback in time. Making it look effortless, twenty dancers gracefully glide into each sequence. One moment, it’s flowing milky swirls of “Knights in White Satin”; later it’s seductive multi-colored ruffles kicked up from the Latin Quarter. The rapid and contrasting flow keeps the audience mesmerized. In a particular steamy routine, one lucky lady dancer rumbas with all the men… all the incredibly sexy men. AND she’s blindfolded! It’s a white-hot fantasy actualized on stage. Smoking!
This ongoing type of sexual sizzle is flamed to perfection. Equally intriguing are the ‘dance stunts.’ These athletes throw and catch partners over head, under legs, and across people. They drag, lift and twirl. One gal spins on her back for several revolutions. Even seeing it, the logistics escape me. For reality show fans, this ensemble boasts alums, Anya Garnis, Pasha Kovalev, Ashleigh and Ryan Di Lello, Robbie Kmetoni, Janette Manrara and Karen Hauer, from “So You Think You Can Dance” and a vocalist from “American Idol”, Vonzell Solomon. So you think YOU can dance? After seeing this theatrical exhibition, you’ll deny your ability and/or sign up for dance classes immediately.
Co-starring in this visual spectacle are the costumes. Designer Janet Hine adds to the vibrant scene with a multitude of wardrobe changes. For the ladies, the silky, exquisite ballgowns enhance the rippling grandeur of the waltz. Later, stunning transforms to provocative with numerous versions of lingerie inspired attire. My favorite was a beautiful fringe dress that is a cross between leathery and feathery tassels. (If it had a back, some sleeves and four more inches, I would wear one.) It’s playful gorgeous! For the gentlemen, Hine sticks to the basics with primarily black pants and shirts. Sometimes she dresses them up in tails and sometimes she undresses them with open shirts or, my preference, shirtless. To add in a realm of rugged masculinity, Hine also puts the guys in jeans paired with jackets, shirts or my choice, shirtless. Burn the Floor is pure eye candy! It doesn’t matter what you’re into: guys, gals, chests, breasts, asses, or legs, they have your flavor. Indulge yourself in a sweet bag of treats with plenty of red hots.
Burn the Floor continues at the Bank of America Theatre, playing February 2nd, 3rd,6th, 8th , 10th at 7:30pm, February 4th, 5th, 9th, 11th, 12th at 8pm and February 5th, 6th, 9th, 12th, 13th at 2pm. Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission
Though uneven, show is still loads of nostalgic fun
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|9 to 5: the Musical|
|Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
at Bank of America Theatre, Chicago, (map)
through Jan 30 | tickets: $32-$95 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Unless you were at Wednesday night’s opening of 9 to 5: the Musical, you probably didn’t know that January 19th is now Dolly Parton Day in the great state of Illinois. I’m sure Broadway in Chicago would suggest you celebrate the holiday by checking out the musical, based off the 1980 movie about female empowerment (and Dolly’s acting debut). For those who doubt the merit of a screen-to-stage to national tour musical, I hear you. But even though the show, with music and lyrics by Parton, can be wildly uneven, it’s still a lot of fun.
9 to 5 starts off brilliantly, but like most weekdays, it lags by the end. While writer Patricia Resnick tweaked the movie’s storyline (which was Jane Fonda’s pet project), the tale is mostly the same. To be blunt, this is not a musical that will be remembered. There are a lot of cracks and the story is jerky. In the short term, however, the show exudes laughs, razzle-dazzle, and, most importantly, heart. You leave the theatre satisfied, more or less. There is a reason shows like 9 to 5 are only in town for a fortnight.
The show’s plot follows three working women as they meet, hate their “autocratic, sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, sort of accidentally kidnap their boss, and then take over (and successfully run) the company. Even though it came out just 32 years ago, at the time of the movie the idea of a female executive was implausible. Now, that’s not so much the case. There aren’t really any new ideas brought to the table by the stage adaptation, but it wraps up the old ones in new packages.
The first half is, dare I say it, sort of deep. It’s fascinating to watch the three women interact and build relationships. There is Violet (Dee Hoty), the head of the secretary pool who is waiting for a promotion. She is mildly irked by Doralee (Diana DeGarmo in Parton’s role), a blonde with a Texas accent and really big…hair. The last part of the trio is Judy (Mamie Parris), a recently divorced new hire who has never had a day job in her life. All of them chafe under their boss (Joseph Mahowald), who insults Judy, hires a young man over promoting Violet, and tries to bang Doralee every chance he gets.
What’s interesting is watching how the women treat and judge each other. One of the first things Violet teaches Judy is that she shouldn’t like Doralee. Thanks to stress, illicit substances, and a mutual hatred of the powers that be, they come together.
Then they kidnap their boss, everything gets ridiculous, and it all ends very quickly.
For her debut at penning a musical, Parton does a decent job. None of the songs are particularly memorable besides the titular tune that’s already a country/pop classic. The three leading ladies do a fabulous job with the material. Hoty possesses the best acting chops, exploring Violet’s vulnerabilities as well as her steely, case-of-the-Mondays demeanor. Parris does a hilariously neurotic turn in the Fonda role. The biggest surprise is DeGarmo. Maybe casting American Idol runner-ups draws crowds, but it usually just draws eye-rolls from me. Although untrained, the adorable DeGarmo pulled off the role with gusto and spirit. I would think that she made Parton proud.
Resnick pushes the show into campy territory far too much. At one point, each lady dreams up a plan for killing the boss, and each fantasy is given an overblown staging. Excesses like that tend to distract. The musical, in the end, seems more like a well-acted knock-off of the movie instead of a re-imagining. In that sense, it does its job.
Dolly Parton celebrates her 65th birthday on opening night
Dolly Parton wows at “9 to 5” in Chicago
Fans of Dolly Parton were in for a big treat on Wednesday night as she made an appearance at opening night of the Broadway tour musical 9 to 5. On stage before the show, Illinois’ Governor Pat Quinn presented Dolly with a certificate proclaiming the 19th as “Dolly Parton Day” in Chicago. Dolly made another appearance at the final bows, where – as you can see in the video below – the cast wheeled out a big chocolate cake and then led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” for Dolly’s 65th Birthday. Can you believe that she’s 65 years old??? Wow, she looks great! We love you Dolly!
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announces January 19th as “Dolly Parton Day”
Dolly Parton joins cast at final bows, and helps cut her birthday cake!!
This is *very* blurred photo of Dolly Parton posing with the 3 leads of the show:
- from left, Diane DeGarmo as Doralee (played by Dolly Parton in film)
- Dee Hoty as Violet (played in film by Lilly Tomlin)
- Mamie Parris as Judy (played in film by Jane Fonda)
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!