Tag: Frederick Harris

Review: Ragtime (Griffin Theatre)

Laura McClain, Ben Miller and Larry Baldacci star in Ragtime, Griffin Theatre            

By Terrence McNally (book),
Lynn Ahrens (lyric), Stephen Flaherty (music)
at Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru July 22  |  tix: $34-$39  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    

June 26, 2017 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Wiz (Kokandy Productions)

Gilbert Domally, Chuckie Benson, Sydney Charles and Steven Perkins star in The Wiz, Kokandy           

The Wiz
By William F. Brown (book) and
   Charlie Smalls (music & lyrics)
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru Apr 23  |  tix: $33-$38  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

April 13, 2017 | 0 Comments More

Review: Direct from Death Row–The Scottsboro Boys (Raven Theatre, 2016)

Brandon Greenhouse, Breon Arzell, Charli Williams, Tamarus Harvell, Katrina D. Richard and Semaj Miller in Scottsboro          
Direct from Death Row:
   The Scottsboro Boys

Written by Mark Stein
Music/Lyrics by Harley White, Jr.
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru Aug 27  |  tix: $37-$42  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

August 13, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Review: Direct from Death Row – The Scottsboro Boys (Raven Theatre)

Katrina D. Richard stars in Raven Theatre's "Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys" by Mark Stein and Harley White, Jr., directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Dean La Prairie)         
Direct from Death Row:
  The Scottsboro Boys

Written by Mark Stein
Music/Lyrics by  Harley White, Jr.
at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru Nov 14  |  tix: $42  | more info
Check for half-price tickets   

October 17, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose (Raven Theatre)

Antoine Pierre Whitfield and JoAnn Montemurro star in Raven Theatre's "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Golden Goose", by Michael Menendian and John Weagly.       
Sherlock Holmes and the Case
    of the Christmas Goose

Written by Michael Menendian & John Weagly
Directed by Michael Menendian
at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru Dec 30  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

December 20, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Cherry Orchard (Raven Theatre)


Spastic antics level Raven’s ‘Cherry Orchard’


A dance in The Apple Orchard - Raven Theatre

Raven Theatre presents
The Cherry Orchard
Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Michael Menendian
at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through July 23  |  tickets: $30  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Chekhov and Shakespeare frequently find themselves paired together in the same sentences, and for good reason. Look at their respective repertoires, and you’ll notice striking similarities: both writers layer styles, open-ended philosophical questions, tones, and character intentions, often in the same scenes. No two playwrights in theater history achieve more poignant insights into how people interact and tick; look no further for bodies of work that lend themselves to unique visions and interpretations. The Cherry Orchard–a work as melancholy as it is hilarious–calls out for inspired readings that highlight different aspects of the text.

A scene from Raven Theatre's "The Apple Orchard" by Anton Chekhov. (photo: Dean LaPrairie)Staging a play that’s so full of details, it’s a mystery why Raven Theatre Artistic Director Michael Menendian insists on a mad-cap, sketch comedy-inspired, thin-skinned production. By sketch, by the way, I don’t mean SNL–think something along the loud, grating lines of MAD TV.

The Cherry Orchard is indeed a comedy, but bumbling cannot substitute substance (Fernando S. Albiar aught to consider athletic gear for the all the time he spends flailing and falling as Yeikhodov). Chekhov’s story about a family’s inability to accept its fall from grace detours from traditional comedic conventions. Most comedies portray a collective character perception of high stakes in low-stake situations; Chekhov’s doomed romantics and spendthrifts suffer from the opposite and don’t take their imminent situation seriously enough. Raven’s production chooses neither, abandoning emotional authenticity in favor of outsize gestures and broad physical jokes. Even straight man Lopakhin (Frederick Harris)–The Cherry Orchard’s Michael Bluth–is subject the over-the-top, surface-skimming character choices. Here, necessary tragic elements gets steamrolled. Like a light switch, Varya (Helen Young) clicks instantly on and off, sobbing like an infant for humor one moment and then standing inexplicably content the next. The play’s philosophical speeches, which are usually uttered aloud with intentional ambiguity, are delivered stand-up soliloquy style to the audience. It’s as if Menendian is going out of his way to make sure we don’t feel anything, unaware that when the drama dies, so goes the levity.

A scene from Raven Theatre's "The Apple Orchard" by Anton Chekhov. (photo: Dean LaPrairie) A scene from Raven Theatre's "The Apple Orchard" by Anton Chekhov. (photo: Dean LaPrairie)

Already hindered conceptually by an over-simple interpretation, Raven’s production is marred by basic production elements. The preview performance I attended featured confused staging and stilted action–issues that aren’t commonly solved by another few runs. As Ranevskaya and Trofimov, Joann Montemurro and Michael Peters provide some heart to the otherwise shallow production. In that respect, they’re alone. If the rest of the family doesn’t really seem to care, why should we?

Rating: ★½

A scene from Raven Theatre's "The Apple Orchard" by Anton Chekhov. (photo: Dean LaPrairie)

The Cherry Orchard continues through July 23rd, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Performances take place at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map).  Tickets are $30, and can be purchased by phone (box office: 773-338-2177) or online at TicketTurtle. Free parking is provided in a lot adjacent to the theatre; additional street parking is available. For more information, visit raventheatre.com.


June 9, 2011 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Godspell (Provision Theatre)


Pop Culture Christianity


 The ensemble of GODSPELL rocks out on O BLESS THE LORD, MY SOUL - (front r to l) Sarah Grant, Tiffany Cox, Richelle Meiss, Amy Steele, Jennifer Oakley.  (Back r to l) Greg Walters, Frederick Harris, Kevin O'Brien.

Provision Theatre presents
Conceived by John-Michael Tebelak
Music/Lyrics by
Steven Schwartz
Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15-$28   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The original Godspell (an archaic spelling of the word “gospel”) was produced in 1971, just as flower power was wilting, eventually replaced by disco fever later in the decade. At the time, many were still holding on to their all-you-need-is-love mentality despite the demise of the hippie community along with the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. As a result, many found comfort in close-nit cults and communes, while Judas betrayal: Justin Berkobien as Judas in GODSPELL, running through September 26 at 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL.others just moved on with their lives.

Still, for some, there was a Christian reawakening, a dawning of the Age of Aquarius in which it was foretold that man would achieve a greater understanding of Jesus’ message of peace and harmony. Had Godspell, a musical based on the Gospel According to Matthew, been produced at any other time, it would not have ever reached the levels of success it did. First a hit off-Broadway and then a hit on Broadway, the show saw more than 2,600 performances. Its song “Day by Day” was 13th on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1972. And in 1973, the musical was made into a major motion picture.

But these days, it appears that the portrait of the peace-loving Christian has been painted over with the image of Bible-thumping Pharisees. This begs the question: In a world populated with apocalyptic celebrities ministers, can Godspell remain relevant? In the hands of Provision Theatre’s extraordinarily talented director Tim Gregory, it can and does.

Provision’s interpretation frequently wanders off-book from the original. This is no surprise considering the show—which is really just a bunch of parables strung together—plays more like an improv review than it does a play. Characters call out to one another casually, egging each other on as they bring Jesus’ teachings of righteousness and justice to life. Gregory uses the play’s spontaneity to insert pop-culture references that serve to remove us from the musical’s dated soundtrack and transport us to the present. Be prepared for riffs on Facebook, Beyonce and the stimulus package. The jokes are utterly cornball, but then again, so is Godspell.

The costumes (created by DJ Reed) have also received a reboot to keep up with the times. Characters have traded in their bell-bottoms and denim for loud, funky garments. The end result looks like an Old Navy commercial starring Jesus and John the Baptist.

Gregory’s staging and Amber Mak’s choreography are really the highlight of this production. There’s a lot of group movement going on, but no matter how many bodies are in motion, everybody acts and reacts with one another physically, creating a larger whole out of the many parts. It is here, through the collective action, that the play’s message of connectivity and brotherhood is most apparent.

Jesus being crucified: Syler Thomas as Jesus in GODSPELL, running through September 26 at 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL.

Unfortunately, most of the ensemble’s voices are lacking, which is really a significant downside for a musical. Vocal precision is rare. Instead, notes warble, passing from flat to sharp. A cordless mic is used often to enhance lead vocalists who, I suppose, don’t have the pipes to belt it out to the back of the room. There are some standouts, however, particularly Justin Berkobien as John the Baptist and Amy Steele, who sings the lead on “Day by Day”.

Provision’s Godspell is just as slaphappy and feel-good as the original. That’s fine for those who already have Jesus in their hearts. But for the cynics or the persecuted, it might ring a little out of touch with contemporary displays of Christianity. As for those that just want to see some song and dance, don’t expect a choir of angels – but there’s certainly clever choreography!

Rating:  ★★½

Extra Credit:

Read Mark Ball’s Godspell review from his blog One Chicago Man’s Opinion:

….Provision Theater’s production of Godspell was, in two words, very energetic. The joyfulness and exhuberance I mentioned above abounded from start to finish, and the actors’ collective excitement infected the audience. They properly exaggerated their characterizations, their timing was sharp, the cabaret was amusing, and the flow of the show was kinetic. But there were two major weaknesses, the first being that of bad acoustics and the second, that of bad singing. Despite the presence of some impressive vocal talent in the cast, a few soloists were clearly unprepared, one of whom caused me to cringe from his off-pitch screeching.  Read the entire review.

August 16, 2010 | 0 Comments More