Category: National Tours

REVIEW: Dreamgirls (Broadway in Chicago)

Talented Cast Shimmers and Shines

 

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Broadway in Chicago presents:

 

Dreamgirls

 

Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by
Henry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by
Robert Longbottom
thru January 31st (ticket info)

By Keith Ecker 

dreamgirls4 If there is one thing the stage production of Dreamgirls will always have over the film, it is the sequins. Video cannot convey the absolute beauty of the costumes that adorn the actresses, costumes that appear just as glittery as Bob Mackie’s most flamboyant creations. William Ivey Long gets a hat tip for costume design, which comes as no surprise considering the man is a veteran of Broadway. He’s won five of the 11 Tony nominations he’s received and is an inductee in the Theatre Hall of Fame, a hall that I am sure is just as glamorous as Long’s aesthetic sensibility.

Of course, Dreamgirls is more than just elegant gowns and flared pants—it’s about the singing. And this show, produced by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, definitely delivers. These actors can wail. From guttural growls that convey the rawest of emotions to controlled, sustained tones that capture the world-weariness of the characters, the Dreamgirls cast sports an impressive set of pipes.

The play is a fictional tale based on the true tribulations of such early R&B acts as the Supremes. At the opening, three female singers from Chicago, known as the Dreamettes, hope to get their big break at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. Effie (Moya Angela) is the full-figured lead with an Aretha Franklin-like strength to her voice. Her friends Deena (Syesha Mercado) and Lorrell (Adrienne Warren) serve as her back up. Effie’s brother C.C. (Trevon Davis) writes all their music. The group doesn’t make the cut at the Apollo, but thanks to their newfound manager, Curtis (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), they get a 10-week touring gig backing up-and-comer Jimmy Early (Chester Gregory). Effie doesn’t take well to the idea of being second banana, but she goes along for the good of the group.

Curtis eventually spins the Dreamettes off into their own act, now known as the “Dreams”. Despite having a romantic relationship with Effie, he bumps her from lead for the more camera-friendly Deena, who Curtis then begins courting. Becoming increasingly agitated and unpredictable, Effie is replaced, leading to the musical’s famous torch song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

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The Dreams wrestle with fame, Curtis continues his greed-induced destructive path and Effie must find herself after being forced to realize she is not the center of the universe. And did I mention the sequins?

Angela as Effie is brilliant. Her rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” is a showstopper. As she staggers, sways and belts out the tune during the complete and utter breakdown of Effie’s ego, your gut is as wrenched as your ears are pleasured.

Equally impressive is Gregory’s portrayal of Jimmy Early. The role is incredibly demanding, requiring superb vocal control, an impeccable sense of soul, physical endurance and strength and precise comedic timing. Gregory nails it, juggling all these attributes at once. A perfect example of this display of multi-talent takes place during the number “The Rap,” where Jimmy throws off all restraints and reclaims his sense of soul. For those unfamiliar with the play, I’d rather not spoil the scene, but I will say there’s ample dipping.

The set design is minimal, providing an open space for lots of jumping, jiving and sashaying. Most of the set is composed of five very tall video screens, which are used to full effect. At one point, a camera cleverly positioned above the stage displays a Busby Berkeley-style chorus number as if the performers were a cluster of synchronized swimmers.

There were a few sound issues. During the first act, mics were set too low and sometimes cut out. There was also a technical gaff during the reprise of “Cadillac Car.” But such issues aren’t likely to recur.

Beautiful both visually and aurally, Broadway in Chicago’s production of Dreamgirls is sure to please both the casual theatergoer and the diehard musical fanatic.

Rating: ★★★★

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January 20, 2010 | 4 Comments More

REVIEW: In the Heights

Latin flavored, hip-hop musical speaks to any community

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Broadway in Chicago presents:

In The Heights

Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Music and Lyrics by
Lin Manuel-Miranda
Choreography by
Andy Blankenbuehler
thru January 3rd (ticket info)

Review by Oliver Sava

intheheights01 Lin Manuel-Miranda‘s Tony-award winning music and lyrics for In The Heights are filled with so much passion and life that it would be difficult for any company to turn in low energy performances. The national tour of the 2008 Tony award winner for Best Musical finally arrives in Chicago for a limited two week run, and while the setting may be New York City’s Washington Heights, the show tells a story that will resonate with denizens of any neighborhood. The Latin influence of Miranda’s score, combined with hip-hop beats and raps, creates a beautifully layered musical mosaic with wonderful versatility. Miranda also has a great talent for taking classical musical theater techniques and giving them a fresh, modern flair. The opening number seamlessly introduced characters and their relationship without becoming too expository, a feat accomplished by shifting musical themes.

Usnavi (Kyle Beltran), the musical’s protagonist, primarily resides musically in the world of hip hop and rap. The play’s older characters, Abuela (Claudia Santora) and Kevin (Daniel Bolero) and Camila Rosario (Natalie Toro), in Latin folk, and the women of the Unisex Salon, Daniela (Isabel Santiago) and Carla (Genny Lis Padilla), in Salsa. Benny (Rogelio Douglas Jr.), the only non-Hispanic character of the show, is accompanied by Reggaeton beats, and the female love interests Vanessa (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) and Nina (Arielle Jacobs) bring the flavors of Latin pop. The music brings definition to the characters, making the actors’ jobs much easier. The tightness of the entire team, including the rich book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, brings so many layers to the world of the play.

Nobody soars more than Jacobs as the conflicted, guilt-filled Nina, back home with 20the news that Washington Heights’ sure-fire success is now a college dropout. Her vocals are phenomenal and they blend beautifully with Douglas Jr.’s for their numerous duets. Andy Blankenbuehler‘s choreography finds the perfect balance of dance styles to match the variety of the musical score, combining the hard hitting pops and locks of hip-hop with the smoothness of Latin ballroom choreography. The visual images are stunning, and the unique rhythm of the movement makes the dance sequences unpredictable and completely enthralling.

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In The Heights was a labor of love for the original Broadway cast, performing that rare feat of transferring an original musical from Off-Broadway to Great White Way success, but how can someone step into a role that is so defined by the actor that originated it? The main character in particular has become so associated with Miranda that it is difficult to imagine anyone that could step in the composer-actor’s shoes, yet Beltran does a more than serviceable job.  The best thing that can be said about the actors is that they have found their homes in this world, and that is what lies at the heart of In The Heights: home. The connection between the characters and their neighborhood is what creates the most dramatic, emotional events of the play, and the actors have fallen into a world of rusty fire escapes and melting Piragua on their fingertips completely.

In The Heights may be a crowd-pleasing combination of musical theater, big dance numbers and hip music and belted ballads, but it’s also very good musical theater. It’s not perfection, and sometimes the energy on stage could be even more explosive, but it has a big heart that shows a love for its musical predecessors. The musical is a love letter to community and to the hundreds of stories the past holds, whether on a street corner or Puerta Plata, and the touring company successfully makes their home our home.

Rating: ★★★

 

December 21, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Billy Elliot announces entire Chicago cast, including 4th Billy

“Billy Elliot” announced Chicago cast

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Including J.P. Viernes as Chicago’s 4th Billy

 

Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions in association with Weinstein Live Entertainment, has announced, with Broadway In Chicago, casting for the Chicago production of Billy Elliot the Musical, previews beginning March 18th at the Oriental Theatre; opening night being Sunday, April 11th. The cast includes John Peter (J.P.) Viernes who joins the previously announced actors Tommy Batchelor, Giuseppe Bausilio and Cesar Corrales in the role of ‘Billy’.

Below: 3 of the 4 Billy’s

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Starring in Billy Elliot are Armand Schultz (Dad); Cynthia Darlow (Grandma); Patrick Mulvey (Tony); Keean Johnson and Gabriel Rush (Michael); Chicagoan Samuel Pergande (Billy’s Older Self); Jim Ortlieb (George); Chicagoan Susie McMonagle (Mum); Chicagoan Blake Hammond (Mr. Braithwaite); and Maria Connelly (Debbie).

Also featured are Matt Allen; Jason Babinsky; Chicagoan Elijah Barker; Madison Barnes; Cindy Benson; Sara Brians; Chicagoan Tony Clarno; Abby Church; Christine DeFillipo; Alexandra Dell’Edera; Faith Fetscher; Susan Haefner; Ryan Kasprzak; Chicagoan Kayla King; Kent Lewis; Will Mann; Kate Marilley; Spencer Milford; Brittany Nicholas; Chicagoan Mark Page; Mitch Poulos; Emily Richardson; Annelise Ritacca; Michaeljon Slinger; Jaclyn Taylor Ruggiero; Jamie Torcellini; Nicholas Torres; Brionna Trilling; and Kayla Vanderbilt. Additional casting will be announced at a later date.


About “Billy Elliot”

Stage DoorBilly Elliot is the funny, heartwarming tale of a young boy with a dream, and a celebration of his triumph against the odds. Set against the historic British miners’ strike of the 1980s, the story follows Billy’s journey as a boy in a small mining town who, after stumbling across a ballet class while on his way to a boxing lesson, realizes that his future lay not in the boxing ring but on stage as a dancer.

Featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreographed by Peter Darling and directed by Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on November 13, 2008 and was the winner of ten 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

December 21, 2009 | 1 Comment More

Review: “South Pacific” – a theatrical masterpiece

The Lincoln Center revival comes to the Rosemont Theatre, and perfection ensues.

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The Lincoln Center presents:

South Pacific

 

by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics)
Book by Hammerstein and
Joshua Logan
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Thru November 29th (ticket info)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

sp3 Many would argue that the Lincoln Center‘s South Pacific is the best revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein wartime musical ever devised. Having never seen South Pacific on stage before, I cannot gauge how director Bartlett Sher’s interpretation compares to previous productions, but I will say this: it is one of the most beautiful and emotional musicals I have ever seen.

World War II is in full force, and the threat of Japanese invasion has resulted in U.S. Navy outposts throughout the Polynesian islands. Romance is in bloom for Ensign Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) and French planter Emile de Becque (David Pittsinger), but Nellie’s prejudices threaten to tear them apart when she discovers his two mixed-race children. The two actors have incredible chemistry, immediately establishing their softly smoldering passion with "Twin Soliloquies," a transcendent duet that probes into the characters’ hopes and fears and sets the stage for their tumultuous relationship. Seconds later, Pittsinger begins "Some Enchanted Evening," arguably the musical’s most famous song, and the audience is as spellbound as Nellie; the  quality of Pittsinger’s voice is ethereal, as delicate and powerful as the character that it belongs to. His Act II solo "This Nearly Was Mine," a heartbreaking rumination on lost anderson_davis_as_lt_joseph_cable_and_sumie_maeda_as_liat___photo_by_peter_coombsopportunities, packs an emotional punch that left the audience with teary eyes and sniffling noses. There is simply not enough praise that can be showered on Pittsinger, whose portrayal of Emile de Becque belongs in a museum.

Cusack is no slouch in the vocals department either, showing amazing range with a great brassy belt that seems effortless. Her first solo, "A Cockeyed Optimist" has a youthful effervescence that captures Nellie’s naiveté, but Cusack then turns on the heat with the playfully sexy "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," Charleston-ing in her bathing suit while splashing her giggling girlfriends with shampoo. The scene that immediately follows, an awkward confrontation between the half-naked Forbush and her renounced lover, is filled with tension as the audience watches the ingénue struggle with her combating emotions, but the payoff is glorious: "A Wonderful Guy" is a joyous exclamation of love that is heightened exponentially by Cusack’s commitment to her character, and watching her jump around the stage with unbridled glee is a fantastic release from the intensity of the scene that preceded it. After Nellie believes Emile to have died on a secret mission with Lt. Cable in Act II, she sings a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" with a lamentable sadness that makes her utterance of the line "Don’t die, Emile," incredibly tragic and heart-rending.

Pittsinger and Cusack are joined by a spot-on supporting cast, highlighted by Anderson Davis as Lt. Joseph Cable and Keala Settle as Bloody Mary. Davis has the voice of an angel, churning out incredibly high notes with ease, but he also brings fervent passion to his character. The intimacy between Cable and Bloody Mary’s daughter Liat (Sumie Maeda) is gentle, but there is a fire beneath the relationship that makes their inevitable split all the more heartbreaking. Davis also has great chemistry with Cusack, creating a strong bond of friendship during "My Girl Back Home" that comes from his understanding of Forbush’s troubles and the ways in which they reflect his own. As the injustices that have defined his beliefs become apparent to Cable, Anderson becomes increasingly fervid, culminating in the tragic "You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught," a raging criticism of how American society molds its citizens into hateful bigots.

sp2Settle has the unenviable task of taking the stereotypical Bloody Mary and finding the reality that defines the character, and she does a phenomenal job. While Mary is primarily used for comic relief, Settle makes her sensual, astute, and just the right amount of dangerous, creating three dimensions from a cardboard cutout of a character. Mary takes advantage of the sailors’ misconceptions of the native people, proving herself not only a cunning businesswoman, but a deviously effective matchmaker to boot. Her enchanting rendition of "Bali Ha’i" has the mystical air that has made the song a musical theater staple, and she is aided by the phenomenal design team who create a towering image of Bali Ha’i simply with color and shadow. Mary’s hopes for her daughter fuel her actions, and watching Settle cultivate Liat’s relationship with Cable during "Happy Talk" is a welcome contrast to the brash mischief of her earlier scenes.

Design-wise, the show is a work of art, with Michael Yeargan‘s sets stretching out to an imaginary horizon that feels amazingly real. Donald Holder‘s lighting creating an ethereal atmosphere in the opening scenes with shades of blue and pink that pop off the stage, and stark monochromatic hues in the later moments reflect the dark turn of the storyline. Ted Sperling‘s musical direction is out of this world, and the 26 piece pit orchestra have such an amazing understanding of Robert Russell Bennett‘s orchestrations that it’s nigh impossible to not be completely enthralled in the music from the very first swelling of the overture.

matthew_saldivar_as_luther_billis_and_the_seabees_of_south_pacific_by_peter_coombs Sher‘s directing genius is clearly evident in the performances of his outstanding cast, but one specific directorial choice must be discussed in order to truly understand the wonder of his South Pacific. After Emile’s supposed death, Nellie becomes a caretaker to his two children, having overcome her prejudices when she realizes they pale in comparison to the love he has shown her. In the final scene, Emile reappears while Nellie shares dinner with his children, and his son and daughter rush to him as if he had just come home from a day on the fields, unaware of the moment’s gravity. Nellie does not rush to him, she does not wrap her arms around him and kiss him passionately. Rather, she is so overcome with emotion that she can think of nothing else to do but set the table for the returned patriarch, and as they all sit in silence, a family for the first time, Emile places his hand on the empty seat between his lover and he. The simple motion of Nellie putting her hand in his is done with such passion and intensity that it speaks louder than any words, and is the most subtle and absolute display of love that I have ever seen on stage.

If the opportunity to see South Pacific presents itself before its regrettable November 29th closing, drag yourself to the Rosemont Theater, whether that be by car, public transit, hitchhiking, or walking 20 miles in freezing rain. It’s a small price to pay for this theatrical masterpiece.

Rating: ★★★★

November 25, 2009 | 0 Comments More

“South Pacific” opens tonight!

The Chicago engagement of the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC will be led by internationally renowned bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Emile de Becque and Carmen Cusack as Nellie Forbush

The eight-time Tony Award-winning production will play the Rosemont Theatre for a limited one-week engagement Nov. 24 – 29, 2009.  For more information on the production, please visit www.SouthPacificOnTour.com or www.RosemontTheatre.com.

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November 24, 2009 | 0 Comments More

David Pittsinger wows the crowd at Gibson’s Steakhouse

Big talent represents “South Pacific” at Gibson’s

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By: Timothy McGuire

I recently had the opportunity to attend a media luncheon for the upcoming touring performance of Lincoln Center Theater’s production of South Pacific. Broadway’s successful tony award winning musical will be playing at the Rosemont Theatre for a limited one-week engagement November 24 – 29, 2009. (ticket info)

The passion and excitement for this specific production was evident in the enthusiasm expressed by the people involved in bringing this production from New York to Chicago. They sincerely believe that this is an extraordinary show offering the audience the rare opportunity to experience a performance done in the spectacular old Broadway fashion, featuring a huge full orchestra unlike anything seen in current Broadway productions today. The touring show of South Pacific promises to be a near replica of the prize-winning musical that started in New York.

The most impressive endorsement for this production was the opportunity to hear the astonishingly powerful and elegant voice of David Pittsinger, who will be playing Emile. The impact of Pittsinger’s romantically forceful bass-baritone voice just a few feet away brought the small audience at Gibson’s Steakhouse to emotional heights, and one can only imagine the magnificence of hearing the full production of his songs produced on Rosemont Theatre’s spacious stage.

southpacific_iconDavid Pittsinger also was a terrific speaker, appearing genuine in his belief in the significance and relevance of South Pacific to today’s audience. Pittsinger is the living embodiment of his character Emile. His wife is born of minority decent and he has interracial children (who he is bursting with pride to talk about.) His belief in love, unification and racial equality is evident in his actions and his loved ones around him.

The original role of Emile de Becque was written for an opera singer, and David Pittsinger is a talented, internationally acclaimed opera performer working with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (most recently portrayed Angelotti in “Tosca”at the Metropolitan Opera) and living and working most of the year in France. The advantage that Pittsinger is also a world-class actor increases the quality of his role and greatly supports the well-written book that goes along with the classically entertaining music in South Pacific. With themes of war and racial conflict, along with the joyous uplifting story and cleverly catchy songs, this year is a fantastic time to enjoy Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific.

November 6, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Finding Billy Elliot – what an exciting and beautiful video.

 

Can’t wait to see it!!

October 8, 2009 | 0 Comments More

National tour announced for “The Screwtape Letters”

screwtapeletters1 The Fellowship for the Performing Arts just announced that their critically acclaimed production, The Screwtape Letters (website), starring Max McLean, will embark on a national tour this fall. Future appearances include The Lesher Center for the Arts (October 2nd and 3rd), The Herberger Theater Center (October 30th and November 1st) Brown Theatre (November 6th), Coral Springs Center for the Arts (November 14th and 15th), Tivoli Auditorium (November 21st and 22nd) and Lansburgh Theatre, (December 16th through January 3rd). screwtapeletters12

Based on the C.S. Lewis book by the same name, the highly-acclaimed play has previously enjoyed sold-out runs and rave reviews in Chicago (at the Mercury Theater), New York, and Washington, D.C.

Read more after the jump, including a synopsis of the play and review excerpts.

 

August 6, 2009 | 0 Comments More