Wednesday Wordplay: Benjamin Franklin’s fear of Santa

Inspirational Quotes

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.
            — Dee Hock

Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.
            — Native American Proverb

Content makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.
            — Benjamin Franklin

One must have a good memory to be able to keep the promises one makes.
            — Friedrich Nietzsche

If I had my life to live over… I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
            — Nadine Stair

It is cruel to discover one’s mediocrity only when it is too late.
            — W. Somerset Maugham, ‘Of Human Bondage’, 1915

Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay etc, especially if you haven’t sold it yet. And the ones that aren’t, you don’t want in your life anyway.
            — Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative: 22. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.

 

Urban Dictionary – words for the Holidays

Gift Parasite – A person who adds their name to a gift tag in order to claim partial credit for giving the gift.

I’m totally broke so I had to be a gift parasite and sign on that present you’re giving Grandma.

santaclaustrophobia – fear of too many santa clauses

He felt a bout of santaclaustrophobia coming upon him as the holiday season approached.

December 23, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Addams Family: An Interview with Wednesday and Lucas

An Interview with Wednesday and Lucas

(From Addams Family – the Musical)

By Timothy McGuire

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From left to right – Wesley Taylor (playing ‘Lucas’ in Addams Family) and Krysta Rodriguez (playing ‘Wednesday’)


It was fun as a fan as well as a reviewer to see how excited both Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor are to be a part of the new Addams Family Musical. The two played off each other like old friends with inside looks and slight teasing to go along with their praise of one another. Relaxed and enjoying the moment, both Krysta and Wesley expressed how much of a thrill it has been to be a part of creating an original Broadway production.

Krysta is playing The Addams Family character ‘Wednesday’, but this is not the Wednesday Addams that TV-viewers are familiar with: Wednesday is all grown up now. She is at the difficult age of eighteen where childhood and adulthood tear at you from opposite directions. As Krysta puts it, “Wednesday is torn between her bizarre family’s norms that she grew up with and her new feelings that are more in line with regular people outside of the Addams family.” She is getting softer, not mushy, and she expresses this in the beginning of the show through her song “Pulled (in the wrong direction). “

After Wednesday’s song we meet Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor), the boy from school that Wednesday is dating, and this introduces the storyline of the musical. When Lucas Beineke’s parents (your average American Mom and Dad) meet the spooky outrageous Addams family when they get together for dinner at the Addams’ mansion, madness ensues.

Wesley Taylor will be originating a brand new character in his role as Lucas. Wesley auditioned multiple times for the original role of Lucas, without being cast. So when he was not asked to be a part of the first public reading, he assumed that he did not get the part. Something changed after his performance in the successful Broadway production of Rock of Ages. He was again asked to audition and this time he got the part. Telling that story, Wesley admits that he was rather frustrated, and did not understand why he had to read again when they were going to go another way – but in the end it just made his getting the part that much sweeter. With a smile stretching across his face, Wesley acknowledges how lucky he is to encounter the challenges and rollercoaster processes of creating a brand new role within a brand new musical.

Both Wesley and Krysta tell a story, literally interchanging sentences and checking with each other for confirmation, about a day in rehearsal when the show’s composer and lyricist, Andrew Lippa, called Wesley over to his piano and played a song he was currently working on. They started playing a duet together, and Wesley tells me that he was so excited and knew this show was going to be a big original hit. “They were both totally freaking out” interjects Wednesday.

Krysta and Wesley have said that they have had no choice but to become good friends, which is understandable when you work with someone all day everyday. They have been enjoying their free time together in Chicago, eating a lot as both of them will admit. Actually the topic of food brought some big smiles and elbow pokes from both Krysta and Wesley which made me ask where they have been dining out. It appears our good old Chicago style hotdogs are on top of their list.

Go see The Addams Family. (★★★ – our review here)

addamsfamily6Left to right: Krysta Rodriguez, playing Wednesday, and Bebe Neuwirth (Mortisha)

 

addamsfamily3Left to right: Wesley Taylor (Lucas Beineke), Carolee Carmello (Mrs. Beineke) and Nathan Lane (Gomez Addams).

December 22, 2009 | 0 Comments More

2009 Chicago Christmas Theater

Christmas Show Round-Up

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By Barry Eitel

With all those holiday shows out in Chicago right now, it’s hard to decide what to see on top of all the shopping and avoiding extended family. And there is something for everyone out there, from Dickensian classics to ones celebrating the seedier side of December. This season has seen a fairly controversial Christmas on the Chicago theatre scene. For one, there is the on-going feud between American Theatre Company and American Blues Theatre, both of which are simultaneously visiting the village of Bedford Falls with “radio” productions of It’s a Wonderful Life. Just a bit awkward. And then there is the whole Civic Opera Christmas Carol fiasco, where producer/ex-convict Kevin Von Feldt promised a cavalcade of stars and then the whole project somehow fell through. Not to worry, though. There is plenty of goodwill towards man out there to keep you entertained until January.

Luckily for you, the elves at Chicago Theatre Blog have put together a Holiday Theatre Guide to find the perfect show for you. So bust out the coffee and pumpkin pie, and enjoy our sleigh ride through the holiday theatre season.

IF YOU’RE IN TO LONG-STANDING TRADITIONS

Go see the Goodman’s Christmas Carol (★★★½). The show has 32 years behind it and the list of actors who have played past Scrooges reads like a Hall of Fame for Chicago actors. This year’s version has a nice mix of the time-honored and the refreshing. Larry Yando does a remarkable job as Scrooge, bringing out new facets of the usually stiff character. Most of the production in terms of design has not changed over the years, but it still gets results emotionally (and financially). Even without overhauling the dusty script or design, Bill Brown’s strikingly honest production can melt even the most cynical Scrooges in the audience (our review here).

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IF YOU DON’T MIND TRAVELING TO INDIANA

Then The Christmas Schooner at Theatre at the Center (★★★★) is the show for you. Once usual fare at the now-deceased Bailiwick Arts Center, the show has moved on to its new home in Munster, Indiana. The Theatre at the Center production revels in furthering the orchestrations and design. Called the “most Midwestern” of the Christmas shows out there, the musical tells the tale of 19th Century German immigrants, Christmas trees, and a ship carrying very important holiday cargo. With the vast amount of Equity actors and Christmas cheer, The Christmas Schooner is worth the trip (our review here).

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IF YOU’RE A FAN OF ROCK OPERAS

You should see the musical stylings in The Snow Queen  (★★★), the annual Christmas show at Victory Gardens. Adapted by Frank Galati from a Hans Christian Anderson story, this little musical tells the story of a girl battling an evil snow queen in order to rescue her friend. There’s puppets, live music, and plenty of reindeer. If you like your Christmas carols with a little more guitar and a little less pipe organ, you should head on down to Victory Gardens to catch this gem (our review here).

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IF YOU LOVE SPECTACLE

Then check out Redmoon’s Winter Pageant (★★½). The famously choreography-and-spectacle-oriented company’s foray into holiday shows is a wonder to behold. The show boasts a breakneck pace and very little dialogue, so it is sure to delight the entire family. With their focus on magical theatrics, Redmoon have created a show that celebrates what we love about winter (our review here).

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IF YOU HATE CHRISTMAS SHOWS

You should take a look at A Red Orchid Theatre’s A Very Merry Unauthorized Scientology Pageant (★★★).  Or take a look at the production going on at Next Theatre (★★½) in Evanston. Either way, you’ll enjoy these children acting out the history and theory of Scientology, as dictated by L. Ron Hubbard. And most likely, you’ll be a little frightened. Your inner cynic, however, will love the fact that children are pulling off this juicy satire about one of the world’s most lucrative religions (our reviews here and here).

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SHOW UNDER 90 MINUTES

Miracle on 34th Street (★★★½) presented by Porchlight Music Theatre could be the show for you. Taking place at the Theatre Building Chicago, this adaptation is not really a straight musical besides a select number of Christmas carols. Through condensing the most memorable section of the classic 1947 film, director L. Walter Stearns comes in at a kid-friendly 80 minutes. Even with this abridged adaptation, you’ll be reminded why you fell in love with the story in the first place (our review here).

IF YOU’RE JEWISH

There’s always the snarky Whining in the Windy City: Holiday Edition, the one-woman show at the Royal George featuring the sarcastic Jackie Hoffman. She plays the Grandmama in The Addams Family  (review★★★)  and rants in this show on Mondays, her off-nights. Hoffman whines about children, her current role at the Oriental, and, especially, the holidays, Chanukah or otherwise. It all makes for a pretty cathartic Monday night.

IF YOU WANT TO TAKE A TRIP TO BEDFORD FALLS

Than two routes are available to you. You could either see American Theatre Company’s It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play (★★★) or American Blues Theatre (comprised of many former ATC ensemble members) present It’s A Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!  Even though one does have an exclamation point in the title, both are well-done and feature decent performances and live radio sound effects. Yet both have their subtle differences, ABT relying more heavily on music and the charm of the Biograph Theatre, while ATC sticks a bit closer to the time period. Both stage/radio adaptations capture the charm and sentimentality of Frank Capra’s original film (our review here).

IF YOU’VE HAD A CRAPPY SEASONAL JOB

Than you’ll identify with Mitchell Fain, who stars in Theater Wit’s one-man show The Santaland Diaries (★★★). A stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ delightfully subversive essay of the same name, the production follows the adventure of Fain as he works at Macy’s as the elf Crumpet. This is not a straight reading of Sedaris’ work. Fain brings his own personality to the play and inserts his own stories, making this quite a different experience than just reading the essay, like all good stage adaptations (our review here).

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IF YOU’RE NOSTLAGIC FOR STOP-MOTION ANIMATION

You might want to take a look at Annoyance Theatre’s live action version of Rankin /Bass’ 1964 television special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (★★★½). Surprisingly, Annoyance does a faithful translation for the stage, considering they’re known for their destruction of anything sentimental (the show is running alongside Cockette’s: A Christmas Spectacular). With the music and characters of the beloved original, this Rudolph is meant to enchant theatergoers from 1 to 92 (our review here).

Although there are only a few days before Santa comes around, there are still plenty of options offered by the bounteous Chicago theatre scene. Don’t be fooled into thinking this guide presents everything out there, either. For some other offerings, check the review listing on the side.

December 22, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Chicago Flash Mob Dance ala Steppenwolf Theatre

I just stumbled upon this cool video Steppenwolf created to mark their upcoming 2009-2010 Season of Belief.  The mob dances occur all over the city, including Water Tower Place, the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.

Take a look/listen:

December 22, 2009 | 0 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

REVIEW: My Fair Lady (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott’s ‘My Fair Lady’ loverly, but risk-free

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza (with flowers)

Marriott Theatre presents:

My Fair Lady

By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
Directed by
Dominic Missimi
Through February 14th, 2010 (
ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The story of linguistics professor Henry Higgins and the Cockney girl he transforms into a lady may well be the most beloved and best-known musical of all time. Based upon George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion, its original Broadway production in 1956 ran for 2,717 performances and won six Tony Awards. The 1964 film based on the musical won eight Oscars. The musical has had three major Broadway revivals, and a 2001 British production toured both the United Kingdom and the U.S. and won three Olivier Awards. Columbia Pictures has announced an upcoming movie remake.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza vertical You’ve surely seen some version of this musical — if not a professional show, then a high-school or college production or the film. Just listing its popular songs — "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time" — will set the tunes ringing through your head. Audiences are hard pressed to keep from singing along.

If you’re one of the lovers, then all I really need to tell you is that Marriott Theatre has produced an exuberant, picture-perfect production of My Fair Lady. Nothing about this show will mar your vision of the musical — from Kevin Gudahl channeling Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins to Nancy Missimi‘s gorgeous Edwardian costumes to Matt Raftery‘s jolly choreography.

If you’re not already an ardent fan, though, nothing about Marriott’s version will challenge your perspective. Dominic Missimi‘s direction breaks no new ground whatsoever. This is "comfort theater" at its safest.

The songs are all beautifully sung, the orchestra is first-rate and the acting never misses. The in-the-round staging works surprisingly well (though I held my breath every time the cast schlepped the office furnishings on and off the stage in the dark).

The cast and ensemble — as one expects from Marriott — do everything right. Heidi Kettenring brings verve to her part as Eliza Doolittle, particularly in her "unreformed" Cockney scenes, making Gudahl’s Higgins seem especially like a stuffed fish. Don Forston makes a feisty Alfred Doolittle (our heroine’s opportunistic father) and Catherine Lord an especially expressive Mrs. Pearce (Prof. Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper); her Scottish accent is a nice touch. David Lively gives a stiff upper lip to Colonel Pickering while Ann Whitney brings dry wit to Higgins’ mother.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring and Ann Whitney

Max Quinlan, as Eliza’s yearning suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, gives full measure to "On the Street Where You Live," and George Keating, Brandon Koller, Christian Libonati and Joseph Tokarz are a cheeky Cockney quartet.

The scene at Ascot, when Eliza is first revealed to the upper crust, is particularly delightful, thanks mainly to some amazing hats and staging that gives them all the display they deserve. Apart from that, though, and the intrinsic worth of live performance over recorded media, you might just as well rent the video.

I found myself thinking of all the things a theater company might do with this brilliant but hoary old musical to shake it up. While it’s probably going too far to set the show in the Loop and give Eliza a Bridgeport accent, a production, however beautiful, that merely follows where others have gone before, forms a sadly lost opportunity. Marriott’s My Fair Lady feels as if it’s set in aspic.

Rating: ★★★½

Note: Dinner packages available.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza & Kevin Gudahl as Higgins

December 21, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Five last-minute gifts for your Chicago theater-loving friends

Five last-minute gifts for your Chicago theater-loving friends

By Leah A. Zeldes

Still wracking your brain for the perfect gift? Here are a few last minute ideas for the local theater fans on your list.

Theater tour tickets

Take your friends on a tour of a treasure of Chicago’s Theatre District. Modestly priced backstage tours highlight the beautiful architecture and rich performance history of the Loop’s gorgeous historic theaters. Check out the Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour, $12; Auditorium Theatre Tour, $10; and the Broadway in Chicago Venue Tours (each BIC tour covers two theaters from among the Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace and the Bank of America Theatre), $10. If you want to be lavish, throw in a gift card for a post-tour meal at Petterino’s in the Theatre District.

Theater passes

The League of Chicago Theatres’ Play Money is the perfect one- size-fits-all gift. These $25 certificates are redeemable at more than 75 Chicagoland theaters for up to a year, so recipients can choose the play and performance that suits them best. A copy of the Chicagoplays Theater Guide is included. Or, for a versatile gift to a family or a theater-loving friend, a $95 Theatre Building Chicago Pass offers five tickets to any shows at the Lakeview theater complex in the coming year: five admissions at once, one at a time, or in any combination the recipient prefers.

Playwriting classes

Sign the budding dramatist on your list up for instruction from seasoned playwrights at the award-winning Chicago Dramatists or a musical workshop at Theatre Building Chicago. Of course, you’ll have to promise to attend any resulting performances.

Chicago theater books

With express shipping, there’s still time to get copies of these books on the fascinating history of Chicago’s theater scene: A Theater of Our Own: A History and a Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago by longtime Chicago Tribune critic Richard Christiansen; Steppenwolf: Steppenwolf Theatre Company : Twenty-Five Years of an Actor’s Theater, famed photographer Victor Skrebneski‘s book featuring production highlights and portraits of Steppenwolf’s ensemble; and The Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theater — one of the early directors at the Second City, Sheldon Patinkin traces the origins of Second City back to 1955 in this book with two audio CDs.

Theater toys

For the theater buff who has everything, how about a Shakespeare action figure, complete with removable book and quill pen? Or a set of playing cards each featuring an insulting remark from The Bard? Chicago Shakespeare has it covered.

December 21, 2009 | 0 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

The Addams Family: Lawry’s Spooky-themed dinner special

The perfect Chicago-themed holiday stocking stuffer?

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Acclaimed Chicago restaurant Lawry’s Prime Rib, located in the historic McCormick Mansion, has created, just for Addams Family the Musical, a Creepy and Kooky, Mysterious and Spooky themed dinner.

What does this Addams Family Dinner/Theatre package include?

  • Starters: Eye of Newt Shooter, Green Pimento Olive Suspended in Citrus Jello, Served with a small wedge of Munsters’ Cheese; The Aristotle Salad, Hearts of Romaine Salad, Cucumbers, Green Onions, Lemon Vinaigrette topped with Grilled Octopus; Mon Cherie, Cara Mia Intermezzo, Cherry Sorbetto.
  • The entrée includes Lawry’s Prime Ribs of Beef (8 oz. cut), Au Jus, Yorkshire Pudding, Creamed Spinach a la “Cleopatra,” Mashed Potatoes. Optional entrees include Fresh Grilled Salmon, Vegetarian Pasta.
  • Finish with Thing’s Dessert, Lady Finger Trifle.

A perfect holiday stocking stuffer, the dinner-theatre package includes a “snappy” 2 p.m. matinee performance at the theatre, followed by a 5 p.m. dinner at Lawry’s and is priced at $165 for adults, $140 for children ages 11 and under (plus tax and gratuity). 

 

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For more information, and to order the Addams Family Dinner-Theatre Package, call Lawry’s at  (312) 787-5000 ext. 25.

December 21, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Chicago Theatre Building hires new Executive Director: Sean Cercone

Sean Cercone named new Exec Director at Theatre Building

 

Sean_000 Following a 5-month search, Theatre Building Chicago has hired Sean Cercone as new executive director of the building and the theatre’s educational and creative programs. A little about Cercone: from 2003 through 2009 Cercone served as Producing Artistic Director of The Carousel in Akron, Ohio, an 800-seat Equity theatre. During the first three years of his tenure Sean achieved an attendance increase by nearly 10%.  Of great interest to Theatre Building Chicago, Cercone also established a New Works program, which developed four shows that moved on to presentations in the National Alliance of Musical Theatre New Works Festival and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Two of these new works (Meet John Doe and The Gypsy King) moved on to full productions at regional theatres, Ford’s Theatre and Village Theatre respectively. Cercone has also served as a four-time committee member and two-time co-chair for the NAMT Festival of New Musicals in New York.

We are extremely pleased that Sean Cercone has accepted the position as Executive Director,” said Sally Ruecking, Theatre Building president. “Sean has a highly visible and recognizable name in the theatre community on both a local and national level. He has the passion, vision and drive to lead us toward a full subscription season of new theater, as well as a strong sense of the rich history and mission of this well established mainstay of Chicago theatre.”

“I am very excited to join the fantastic team at TBC,” said Cercone. “The organization’s rich history and strong leadership over 30 years built a solid foundation and opportunity for growth. We look forward to continuing to provide an important resource for the Chicago Theatre community, while also developing our ability to have a greater impact on the landscape of the American Theatre.”

December 21, 2009 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Steppenwolf’s “American Buffalo”

Steppenwolf displays Mamet mastery

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Steppenwolf Theatre presents:

American Buffalo

by David Mamet
directed by Amy Morton
thru February 7th (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

No one would ever accuse David Mamet of being a feminist. Yet Amy Morton’s direction of American Buffalo, now onstage at Steppenwolf, so skillfully teases out the masculine value systems that both inspire and defeat the play’s characters, one might easily conceive of it as a dyed-in-the-wool feminist tract. Assistant Director Jamie Abelson, in an after-performance discussion, revealed how Morton engaged in a bit of Meisner technique during rehearsal and threw out the infamous pauses and italicized words originally written into the script—so that the cast could find organic rhythms with the words alone.

Mamet’s language and its rhythms can be the bugbear of any production. But thankfully, with this well-balanced cast, each actor displays sure and deliberate internal mastery, never resorting to stereotypical staccato delivery that sometimes plagues Mamet performances. Instead, each interchange between actors is smoother, seemingly more effortless, neither delayed in pacing nor rushed in feeling. The action proceeds with quieter, subtler intensity—each incidental phrase or action naturally contributing to the play’s crescendo.

Organic is the quintessence of Morton’s direction but do not read from that any concept of a kinder, gentler American Buffalo. If anything, from design to performance, Steppenwolf’s production is a sterling model of good, old-fashioned hardcore Realism.

AmericanBuffalo-1Three down-and-out men, Don (Francis Guinan), Teach (Tracy Letts), and Bobby (Patrick Andrews), conspire in a basement junkshop to steal a recent customer’s coin collection. The customer had found a Buffalo nickel among the detritus of Don’s shop and bought it off of him. For perceiving its value, right out from under his nose, Don feels “taken” and diminished. Robbing the mysterious customer is only fair payback, in which both Bobby and Teach, each for their own reasons, want to play a pivotal role.

These are characters that could have just as easily stepped out of a 19th century novel as this 1970s play. The audience can neither escape from their seedy, depressed reality nor from the worlds they weave with the language they have at their disposal. Language–and the masculine values they have about loyalty, toughness, and cunning–proves to be both their doing and undoing. With the exception of a few moments, this American Buffalo delivers a taut, energetic, densely layered, and finely realized work.

The cast has earned all the accolades that can be heaped upon them, but it’s Tracy Letts’ performance as Teach that brings the fireworks. From the moment he first tromps down the junkshop’s steps in a wide, cumbersome stride, Letts immaculately controls his role, pulling humor naturally and fluently from it, reaching powerfully into the depths of Teach’s desperation. He can turn on a dime according to Teach’s shifting moods. From cock-sure complaint over the cheating that goes on at Don’s poker table to garrulous lecturing on how to pull the most professional heist, from jealousy to creeping paranoia to unleashed rage, Letts hits all the marks in one seamless pyrotechnic performance.

All of which would be for nothing if not flanked by the terse, fierce energy of Andrew’s Bobby or the quieter bulldog toughness of Guinan’s Don. I’m especially grateful for Andrew’s (and Morton’s) complete commitment to realism regarding Bobby. As the young, slow drug addict Don has taken under his wing, realistically grounding Bobby’s character, without pity or sentimentality, lends a sharper, more authentic edge to the cruel world inhabited by these characters. There is something especially refreshing about Realism in an era of “truthiness” and I appreciate the opportunity to see it done full-bore and without compromise.

Compared to other productions, Francis Guinan’s interpretation of Donny may be the biggest surprise. His Don would rather talk softly and carry a big stick—or talk softly and carry a big pig slaughtering thingy. But for all the discussion of Don being the play’s Alpha Male on Steppenwolf’s website, Guinan’s performance looks far more like an older alpha dog facing the precariousness of his dominant status. While never openly contested, Don’s rule, such as it is, seems more like the sun setting in the west.

Don is clearly contending with the encroaching limits of age, of being surrounded by people one can never completely trust, of being attached to souls as flawed and incomplete as Teach and Bobby. It’s vulnerability Don dare not show or confess to; it’s vulnerability that blossoms like a neglected flower in the final exchange between Don and Bobby. Certainly Guinan’s performance is not perfect—his opening moments at the top of the first and second acts feel somewhat stiff and the classic Mamet fight scene exposes some anticipation on his part. But the last exchange of tenderness between aging crook and young junky is the play’s crowning glory. Guinan makes it shine beautifully and mercifully through the play’s momentary gap in its dark atmosphere.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

 

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December 19, 2009 | 3 Comments More

REVIEW: Mid-Winter’s Tales ‘09 (ShawChicago)

Unwrap This Holiday Present NOW!

 

ShawChicago presents

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09

At the Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Adapted and directed by Belinda Bremner

December 18th-21st (ticket info: 312-587-7390) 

By Katy Walsh

Before the age of electronic entertainment, communities gathered around the fireplace to tell stories. With the wind howling outside and increased hours of darkness, families told tales to amuse themselves and brighten the long nights of winter. ShawChicago presents Mid-Winter’s Tales 09, a collection of multi-generational stories and songs. Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 mixes it up with a variety of author samplings from a W.B. Yeats’ poem followed by a column snippet from Chicago’s own Mike Royko to, of course, words of wisdom from George Bernard Shaw. Although the show celebrates the winter solstice with cultural representation leaning in an English direction, it balances out the traditional Christmas fruitcake focus with a double helping of lakes (pronounced la keys).

With the aid of DVDs to set the holiday mood, I’ve memorized many lines from the retelling of stories, like; “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Christmas in Connecticut.” To my delight, Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 shares an unfamiliar collection of holiday stories. “The Wise Men of Chelm and the Miracle Lakes” is a stone soup rofendition about potato pancakes entertainingly led by ensemble member John Francisco. Mary Michell is hilarious in corresponding with her true love and his clever gift-giving in “Not Another Partridge in a Pear Tree.” Living in the generation of holiday gluttony, the moments that melt icicle-hearts are the recalling of children’s holidays in “Hilda Sutt Polchek Remembers Christmas at the Hull House” and “Scarlett Ribbons.

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 is performed on a bare stage with guitar (Rachel Schiff) and violin (Blake Hackler) accompaniment. This strings-only music adds an undertone of sad winter quiet – that at times the amplified music competes with the non-miked cast. The actors are a talented band of storytellers. In the dreary winter evening, without a Christmas tree and a menorah to look at, the audience focuses on the actors’ facial expressions and their words. Spoiled lately from the grandeur of big musical productions, it’s hard to adjust to the sparse stage. Because Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 represents simpler times of storytelling, the plainness has an authentic and intimate quality.

Although an exploration of multi-religious representation of winter solstice could prove to be even more interesting, this 2009 focus on Jewish folklore promotes both understanding of its traditions and strong cravings for lakes (even though and I don’t like potatoes!).

 

Rating: ★★★

 

December 19, 2009 | 1 Comment More