Theater Thursdays – “Good Boys and True” at Steppenwolf

For this week’s Theater Thursday, the League of Chicago Theatre has chosen Steppenwolf Theatre’s world-premier “Good Boys and True” (see my review here).   As the League describes the play:

A sex tape scandal. Secret lovers. A privileged childhood breeding a reckless adult. No, we’re not talking about Paris Hilton. Golden boy Brandon’s charmed life threatens to collapse when a disturbing videotape is found on campus. As the resulting scandal takes unexpected turns, Brandon’s mother (played by ensemble member Martha Lavey) must sort fact from fiction from family. 

For more information regarding special-priced tickets and reservations for cocktails, appetizers and talks with the actors, go to the League’s website: www.chicagoplays.com

January 23, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Steppenwolf’s Laurie Metcalf interviewed by NY Times

Entitled “From Steppenwolf to Broadway“, the New York Times has posted a short audio interview with Steppenwolf ensemble-member Laurie Metcalf, including a slide show of pictures from her latest Broadway show, “November” (where she stars alongside Nathan Lane).  Check it out!

(interview produced by Erik Piepenburg)

January 22, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Goodman Theatre announces “Talking Pictures” cast

Goodman Theatre has announced their cast for the upcoming Horton Foote play Talking Pictures, which will play in rotation with two other Foote plays – Blind Date and The Actor.  The play will be directed by Henry Wishcamper, and will run from January 29th through March 2nd.

January 22, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Review – “Songs for a New World”

from-left-jess-godwin-alanda-coon-michael-arthur-and-jays-small.jpgProduction: Songs for a New World

Producers: Bohemian Theatre Ensemble 

Whazzit About? Songs for a New World is a musical review with a very loosely-connected theme, first performed in 1995, featuring songs written by young composer Jason Robert Brown, a precursor to his highly-acclaimed epic musical Parade. Bohemian Theatre first presented this show in late 2007, selling out its last two weeks.  Because of this success, they have (thankfully) reprised the production at the Theater Building for a limited run.    

Strengths: Chicago has always been a great musical-theater town, and this fact is largely evident in this show – the four young performers (Jayson Books, Michael Arthur, Jess Godwin and Alanda Coon) offer up soaring vocals and dead-on ensemble singing.  Jayson Brooks (seen recently as Colehouse Walker in Porchlight’s award-winning Ragtime) is at his best in the energetic second act opener “King of the World”.  Mezzo-soprano Jess Godwin brings sweetness and vulnerability to the lovely “I’m Not Afraid”.  Michael Arthur brings an edginess to the contemplative “She Cries”.  And Alana Coon champions the show with the most variant musical styles, from the punchy “Surabaya-Santa” to the determined “The Flagmaker 1775”.  Though all have great solo voices, the talents of musical director Andra Velis Simon are apparent in the impeccable blend of their group vocals, many of the chords are tight, with dissonant intervals.  In addition to the vocal work, the show looks great, with the set built with wooden ramps and floors, and interwoven slats as a backdrop, giving one the feeling of being inside the hull of a wooden ship.    

Weaknesses: There is little here not to like.  As one of my favorite Chicago theatre critics, John Olson of TalkinBroadway.com, so eloquently put it: “The performances only disappoint in that there still seems to be not enough time to hear each of the four performers sing as much as we’d like. With voices like these in performers who can act the heck of our Brown’s character-driven songs, it’s tempting to wonder why we need dialogue in musical theater at all and to resent it for taking time away from hearing more of these four in their previous musical theater work.”.

Summary: Thankfully for Chicago, Boho has reprised this gem of a show, following their sold-out run at Heartland Studio.  No, it’s not an evening of revelatory aha moments, but the glorious voices and performances of the character-driven material makes for a wonderful evening.  Recommended.

Rating: «««½ 

 Personnel and Show Times

Composer:

Jason Robert Brown
Director: Elizabeth Margolius
Music Director: Andra Velis Simon
Musicians: Kevin Brown, Sean Burke, Nick Sula
Set Designer: John Zuiker
Lights: Julian Pike
Costumes: Theresa Ham
Stage Manager: Meg Love
   
Featuring: Jayson Brooks   (Man 1)
  Michael Arthur   (Man 2)
  Jess Godwin   (Woman 1)
  Alanda Coon   (Woman 2)
   
Dates: Through February 10, 2008
Location: Theatre Building (map)
Show Times: Thursday through Saturday, 8:00pm.  Sunday matinee at 2pm. 

(From Left) Alanda Coon, Michael Arthur, and Jess Godwin

January 21, 2008 | 2 Comments More

Sunday Night Sondheim – “Every Day a Little Death” (Carol Burnett)

“Every Day A Little Death” from A Little Night Music

January 20, 2008 | 0 Comments More

Olympia Dukakis to direct “Botanic Garden”

botanic-garden-dreamteam.jpg Botanic Garden poster

It looks like award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis (who has won an Oscar, Emmy and an Obie) will be trying her hand at directing here in Chicago.  The world premier of Dukakis-directed “Botanic Garden“, written by Chicago playwright Todd Logan, opens on February 8th, with previews beginning the week before) at Victory Gardens Greenhouse (map). The play is a humorous look at a recently widowed woman who is exploring the dating scene, all while haunted with memories of her deceased husband.  Doesn’t sound like the type of subject that lends itself to comedy, which, of course, could make it all the more funny.  We’ll soon see…. 

Check out more about the play, including the inside scoop on acquiring Dukakis as the director, at the playwright’s entertaining blog: Todd Logans Desk (pictures courtesy of Logan’s blog)

FYI: There will be a post-show discussion featuring Olympia Dukakis immediately following these performances: January 30 and February 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10.

January 20, 2008 | 2 Comments More

Live Bait Theater putting theater space up for sale

Hedy Weiss reports that Wrigleyville-based Live Bait Theater (3914 N. Clark – map) has recently put their performance space up for sale.  Husband-and-wife owner-operators Sharon Evans and John Ragir will be reconfiguring their organization, with future partnerships being discussed.  With the slow-down in the realty market, the sale might take awhile, so events are still scheduled for the performance space through late spring.  Read more here

January 17, 2008 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW – “Requiem for a Heavyweight” at Shattered Globe

Requiem for a Heavyweight
“Why do so many have to feed off one guy’s misery?” This line in Shattered Globe’s heroic, heart-wrenching production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, sums up the life of the lead character, a boxer nick-named Mountain (Sean Sullivan). Written by Rod Serling (creator of “The Twilight Zone“) as a 1957 teleplay, Serling lays out for us the extremes that people will go in furthering their own lives, all the while squeezing out every last ounce of dignity from others. Mountain, a tender giant from Tennessee, who at one time was ranked 5th in the world, finds himself unemployed after 14-years of boxing. The play begins during Mountain’s final fight, a startlingly brutal confrontation, blood and sweat flying off him as he is barraged with punch after punch by the soon-to-be victor. His eyes and face beaten to a pulp (with severe disfiguration from years of fighting), the doctor rules that this will be his last fight, as any more damage to his eyes could leave him blind. Feeling indebted to his manager, Maish (Bill Bannon), Mountain finds himself at an employment office, where he meets with job counselor Grace (Paula Stevens), who takes him under her wing, determined to find him a job. This scene involving Mountain and Grace is a marvel to behold, as Mountain clumsily blurts out that – once people see his disfigured face – nobody is willing to hire him. Though Grace sets him up with a job working as a camp counselor, his manager Maish has other plans for him, booking him into the humiliating realm of professional wrestling, posing as an Appalachian Davey Crockett, complete with coonskin hat and long-johns. We are left at the end with deep sympathy for Mountain, while holding inside a glimmer of hope that his life will someday get better.

Strengths: Director Lou Contey has outdone himself with his vision and execution of this glorious story – the ensemble is dead-on in the depictions of their characters. Along with Sean Sullivan, Bill Bannon and Paula Stevens, praise must also be given to the rest of the cast – Brian McCartney, Scott Aiello, and Jamie Vann. The production looks great – with a superbly-adaptable set designed by Kevin Hagan.

Reservations: Though there is little here not to love, the final scene becomes a bit preachy, as Mountain spells out what he is doing and why. Though Mountain is an honorable character, he’s not the type that’s eloquent enough to package his actions so succinctly.

Summary: In Requiem for a Heavyweight, Shattered Globe presents us with a perfect example of the kind of ensemble theatre Chicago is known for: gritty, raw and vulnerable, all wrapped inside a small intimate theatre space. It will be hard to experience a better performance than that of Sean Sullivan, who brings the empathetic audience to tears, as he succumbs to the realization that he has been used and then tossed aside by all those in his life whom he thought were looking out for him. This play is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Rating: ««««

January 14, 2008 | 1 Comment More