The Jungle Book
The play about an American businessman’s difficulties trying to expand into China will make its Broadway premiere this fall at a theater to be announced later.
“Chinglish” is currently running at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.
Hwang’s plays include “M. Butterfly,” which won the 1988 Tony Award, “Golden Child,” ”Yellow Face” and “FOB.”
He also wrote the books for the Disney musicals “Aida” and “Tarzan,” the script for the film “Possession,” and reworked Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song.”
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Though it doesn’t quite rock the hard place, it still rocks
|Whoopi Goldberg presents|
|White Noise: a cautionary musical|
|Book by Matte O’Brien
Music/Lyrics by Robert Morris, Steven Morris, Joe Shane
Directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 5 | tickets: $50-$65 | more info
Reviewed by Barry Eitel
Neo-Nazism, maybe now more than ever, is definitely a lonely philosophy, with both sides of the political spectrum trigger-happy to brand their opponents as followers of the Fuhrer. Unlike the more fashionable discrimination against Latinos, Muslims, and gays, wholesale white supremacy is not in vogue these days. White Noise, the new “cautionary musical” produced by Whoopi Goldberg, asks what would happen if subtle and coded racist rhetoric went viral? It’s already sort of happening over on 4Chan; in this way, Matte O’Brien’s book is screamingly relevant. He’s assisted by well-wrought, if often disturbing, songs and Sergio Trujillo’s snappy staging. However, by using tired Nazi philosophy as its punching bag, White Noise fails to present a nuanced reflection on racism in today’s America—something we desperately need.
The events of the play were inspired by a little duo of white nationalists who formed a band called Prussian Blue. The two tween girls sang about race wars and crushes on skinheads, nearly immediately gaining the ire, and spotlight, of the national media. However, the pinnacle of Prussian Blue’s career was playing a state fair or two. The titular band in White Noise is sexier, more talented, and more marketable—singing their ciphered bigotry, they become YouTube darlings and put out a number one single.
One wonders how their repulsive beliefs are kept hidden from the media – something the show never explains. In fact, you aren’t really told much about how those beliefs came to be; there is never the searing indictment of inherited racism you find in American History X.
What we’re left with is the terrifically short rise and fall of White Noise, which is comprised of sisters Eva and Eden (Mackenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett), skinhead/bassist/Eva’s boyfriend Duke (Patrick Murney), and Jake (Eric William Morris), who’s slapped onto the band by record exec Max (Douglas Sills as a lukewarm Bobby Gould-lite) with the mission of repackaging the group. The show becomes a battle between the greed of the amoral Max and Duke’s desire to vocalize his disgusting views on a national platform. Eva and Eden are caught in the crossfire. Eden just writes the tunes; she’s never really that concerned with the message. Eva fully believes the stuff, but she’s also a capitalist.
This story is juxtaposed with Max and Jake’s attempts to repackage backpack rappers Dion (Wallace Smith) and Tyler (Rodney Hicks) as gangstas. It doesn’t help that the two’s original ideas are pretty lame (like a rap version of the Declaration of Independence – not kidding), lacking the intelligence of Lupe Fiasco or De La Soul. Against their will, Max turns them into Blood Brothers and Jake writes them a little tune called “N.G.S.,” a smash hit about N’s (think N.W.A.) shooting “white boys.” Obviously, Jake and Max are guilty of racist double-dipping, but Max could care less and Jake is concerned with making his career. The whole musical leads up to a giant concert featuring a double bill of White Noise and Blood Brothers. Needless to say, it doesn’t go down as smooth as “Ebony and Ivory.”
Mauzy and Padgett give great performances and nail the musical numbers. Their tunes, penned by Robert Morris, Steven Morris, and Joe Shane, are legitimately catchy. Murney is chilling and Morris, who becomes the romantic lead in this tale, is decent. Max is a wannabe Mamet character who just isn’t quite ballsy enough, but Sills does the best he can.
I have to give props to this show – which has Broadway-level production design – for not shying away from the vile language. The show may be as blunt as Nazi propaganda. It presents racism in a polarized manner that doesn’t speak to the insidious, quieter racism that we see today. But White Noise still asks some relevant questions. The Hitler salute-inspired choreography in the video of White Noise’s hit single, “Mondays Suck,” inspire rounds of fan vids on YouTube, a la “Single Ladies.” At the end of the night, I was wondering how stupid all those kids must feel after they realize they posted videos of themselves goose-stepping.
White Noise: a cautionary musical continues at the Royal George Theatre through June 5th, with performances Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 5pm. Tickets are $49.50-$64.50, and can be purchased online or via the box office (312-988-9000). For more info, download the
All photos by Carol Rosegg
Yeah, it still rocks
|Apollo Theater Chicago presents|
|Million Dollar Quartet|
|Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Musical Arrangements by Chuck Mead
Directed by Floyd Mutrux & Eric Schaeffer
at Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 5th | tickets: $59-$80 | more info
reviewed by Oliver Sava
I know two people that have seen Million Dollar Quartet over 30 times. A retired married couple, they are the target audience of the musical: seniors with a nostalgic appreciation for the pioneers of rock n’ roll. I have a nostalgic appreciation for No Doubt. My knowledge of Johnny Cash’s music is the “Walk the Line” soundtrack, my Elvis I.Q. is limited to my mother’s cassettes on road trips, and I recognize the songs of Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, but know next to nothing about the men themselves. That being said, Million Dollar Quartet is currently playing on Broadway with a national tour in the works and Tony nominations in its pocket, so it’s got to be good, right?
I expected dynamic musical numbers from skilled performers, but Million Dollar Quartet is more than just a glorified cover band. Escott and Mutrux’s book is edutainment at its finest, a spirited history lesson on the early days of rock n’ roll centered on legendary music producer Sam Phillips (Tim Decker), the man responsible for the superstar jam session. Decker understands the emotional journey of his character, from Phillips’ pride in the humble Sun Records, his anger at losing his major talent, and his hope in the future of rock n’ roll. Phillips’ devotion to the music is clear in Decker’s confidence on stage, portraying a man whose home is the studio.
Flashbacks to Phillips’ first encounters with Perkins (Gabe Bowling), Cash (Sean Sullivan), and Presley (David Lago) establish the relationship between the musicians and their producer, and reveal how paramount Phillips was to the evolution of these men as artists. These three men are the already established Sun Records family, three brothers that don’t always get along but respect each other, with Lewis (Lance Lipinsky) as the cocky new kid with the potential to be a star. When the four of them play together, the results are electric, and Phillips is that tie that binds them.
The thrill of Million Dollar Quartet is seeing four legends playing together for the first and only time. The actors have to sell the illusion for maximum impact, and the new cast does so admirably. Lipinsky has big shoes to fill – Levi Kreis is nominated for a Tony and has won the Outer Critics Circle for Best Featured Actor – but he backs up Lewis’s ego with boundless energy and fevered fingers that showcase his technical mastery. Lipinsky’s mischievous smile and carefree demeanor contrast with his more professional comrades, providing comic relief and adding tension to the script, particularly in his interactions with Bowling’s hotheaded Perkins. With his hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” usurped by Presley and his record sales dwindling, Perkins stands to lose the most, and Bowling finds the desperation that lies beneath the temper.
Sullivan has Cash’s bass vocals down pat, and his gentle conduct serves to make the character’s conflict – telling Phillips he will not be renewing his Sun contract – all the more believable. As the most imitated of the group, Lago does all the hip shaking and lip curling you expect, but is careful not to become a caricature. At this point in his career Elvis is still a young upstart, and Lago plays him with an understated sexuality that suggests a man not yet in control of the power he has over people, especially women. Kelly Lamont brings some estrogen to the studio as Dyanne, Presley’s sassy girlfriend with a powerhouse belt, and her rendition of “Fever” smolders, starting softly and building in intensity until the last note. Watching the quartet take turns flirting with her is consistently amusing, and the a cappella fan in me swooned as she vocalized the fiddle part in “Riders in the Sky.”
When the quartet plays, they forget about contracts and television appearances and just live in the music. That release is rock n’ roll, and Million Dollar Quartet is a fitting tribute to its early years that shouldn’t be missed.
This in-the-works musical will make it’s debut next winter at the La Jolla Playhouse. The 2006 Oscar-nominated, Sundance hit about a lovably dysfunctional family has signed up composer/lyricist William Finn (25th Annual Spelling Bee, Falsettos, New Brain) and book-writer James Lapine (Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Passion).
With such proven talent, this has the making of a hugely-popular hit. True, the movie’s dark humor can be quite outrageous, but Finn thrives on such edginess. And Lapine and Finn have shown that they can play-well-with-each-other through their award-winning collaboration – The 25th-Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Truth be told, with Chicago’s known affinity for new plays, we seem like a much better fit for just such a debut. But being that Lapine has worked with La Jolla on previous premiers, it makes sense that they landed the gig.