Tag: James Earl Jones II

Review: Shrek the Musical (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

Michael Aaron Lindner as Shrek and Summer Naomi Smart as Princess Fiona in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of "Shrek The Musical", staged and choreographed by Jeff Award-winning director Rachel Rockwell. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)        
       
Shrek the Musical 

Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru Sept 1  |  tickets: $18-$25   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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July 21, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Sweet Charity (Writers’ Theatre)

Tiffany Topol as Charity in Writers' Theatre's "Sweet Charity" by Neil Simon and Cy Coleman, directed by Michael Halberstam. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)       
      
Sweet Charity 

Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Michael Halberstam
Musical direction by Doug Peck
Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map)
thru March 31  |  tickets: $35-$75   |  more info
       
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February 5, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Will You Stand Up? (Erasing the Distance)

Jasondra Johnson, James Earl Jones II, Maura Kidwell, Adam Poss and Craig Thompson star in Erasing the Distance's "Will You Stand Up?", directed by Jason Economus.       
      
Will You Stand Up? 

Adapted by Brenda Barrie, Pat Curtis, Brighid O’Shaughnessy and Craig Thompson
Directed by Jason Economus  
at Center on Halsted, 3656 N Halsted (map)
thru Nov 20  |  tickets: $10-$20   |  more info
       
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November 16, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Dreamgirls (Marriott Theatre)

Raena White as Effie, in Marriott Theatre's "Dreamgirls", directed and choreographed by Marc Robin.  (photo credit: Peter Coombs)        
       
Dreamgirls 

Written by Tom Eyen (book, lyrics) 
   and Henry Krieger (music) 
Directed and Choreographed by Marc Robin 
at Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
thru Oct 28  |  tickets: $41-$49   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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September 4, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Porgy and Bess (Court Theatre Chicago)

     
     

We loves you, Porgy and Bess!

     
     

Harriet Nzinga Plumpp

    
Court Theatre presents
   
   
Porgy and Bess
   
Written by George Gerwin, Ira Gershwin,
and Dorothy and
DuBose Heyward
Directed by Charles Newell
Music direction, new orchestrations by Doug Peck
at
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through July 3  |  tickets: $10-$55  |  more info 

Reviewed by Barry Eitel 

On first glance, Porgy and Bess looks like the tale of a perpetual sucker. The crippled beggar Porgy, living in an impoverished South Carolina hamlet, falls for Bess, the most shunned woman in town, a coquette who runs with a jealous meathead. Due to Porgy being the only person who’ll let her stay at his house, the mismatched pair gets together, yet the woman retains a wandering eye. But Porgy puts up with all, even when she runs to New York when he’s out of town. Instead of throwing up his hands, he takes up his crutch and starts the journey north.

Alexis J. Rogers and Todd M. KrygerHowever, as Charles Newell’s excellent production at Court makes clear, there’s something astoundingly human about this tale. George Gershwin’s magnum opus showcases love and forgiveness in its treatment of Porgy and Bess’ relationship. Titular characters aside, the opera also delves into how a community copes with hardship. Even when those hardships are as insidious and gigantic as racism, poverty, and natural disaster.

Out of the millions of debates spurred by this show, easily one of the stupidest is if it should be classified as an opera or musical. Newell and music director Doug Peck took the best of both genres. I’d say the show is about 90% singing, keeping many of Gershwin’s recitatives. But they aren’t afraid to throw in a few spoken lines when a character needs to drop a truth bomb without the flourish of music. Newell also chopped down the supporting townsfolk of Catfish Row, so the stage isn’t flooded with actors with one line roles. It also makes the whole strong ensemble memorable.

Newell’s envisioning of this controversial tale adds a vibrancy and immediacy to the octogenarian opera. John Culbert’s off-white set invokes a weathered Carolina beach house, which goes well with Jacqueline Firkins’ breezy white costumes. Stark as it may seem, the design has its fare share of breathtaking surprises. Peck also tweaks the arrangements to great effect, adding some great traditional Gullah drum breaks as well as haunting stripped down acapella numbers.

While initially shunned, Porgy and Bess has seen lots of love from opera houses around the world (including a production at the Lyric in 2008). These productions promise grandiose sets and superstar vocals, with the plot lagging behind as an afterthought. That’s not the case here, where the plot (based on DuBose Heyward’s 1926 novel) is the main selling point. With Newell’s minimalist take, nearly all of the storytelling responsibility falls to the cast. They deliver with aplomb, searching the story’s intricacies and themes alongside us in the audience. I already had chills when Harriet Nzinga Plumpp warbled the first few notes of “Summertime.”

 

Rogers and Jones - V Kryger - V Plumpp and Newland - V

Todd M. Kryger’s hulking performance as Porgy is just the right blend of majesty and vulnerability, and Alexis J. Rogers correctly portrays a Bess torn by love and lust. But the real jewel here is the supporting cast. Bethany Thomas as the pious Serena steals the show with her wickedly expressive singing style. She shreds right through the heart of “My Man’s Gone Now.” Sean Blake’s slick Sporting Life, the neighborhood dope dealer, is a similar delight. His rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” drips with fun—it’s clear he’s having a great time up there.

Court boasts that this production is scrubbed clean of the racist smudges that have dogged Porgy and Bess from its opening night in 1935. I don’t know if I completely agree with that—much of the music still leans towards Europe instead of Africa. But Porgy and Bess is an American treasure, a spunky musical journey that combines stodgy Old World opera with the uniquely American creations of jazz, gospel, and blues. Newell’s production is a treasure in itself, grabbing this overly-familiar piece (“Summertime” is one of the most covered pop song in the world) and thrusting it into relevance.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  
Bethany Thomas and Brian Alwyn-Newland Joelle Lamarre, Bethany Thomas, Wydetta Carter, Todd Kryger, Alexis Rogers
   
   
May 23, 2011 | 3 Comments More

Review: Aida (Drury Lane Theatre)

  
  

A solid production of flawed Elton John/Tim Rice musical

  
  

Jared Zirilli and Stephanie Umoh star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo by Brett Beiner.

  
Drury Lane Theatre presents
   
Aida
  
Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton, with R. Falls and D. H. Hwang
Directed and Choreographed by Jim Corti
at Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $35-$46  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

When Egyptian captain Radames (Jared Zirilli) captures the beautiful Nubian princess Aida (Stephanie Umoh), the two fall in love despite the war between their countries, and are forced to choose between their political duties and their affections for each other. Elton John and Tim Rice adapt Verdi’s classic opera Aida through the lens of a late ‘90s Disney animated feature, candy-coating the tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers with family-friendly pop-rock that occasionally detracts from the emotional life of the story. Yet despite the musical’s problems, Jim Corti directs a sharp production with a cast of strong singers and dancers that perform the material cleanly, but could use some more passion. Using the influence of ancient Egyptian art, Corti creates images on stage through the actors posing and positioning in profile, like this painting:

actient Egyptian wall painting

While it’s a nice effect, it’s also representative of the production’s largest problem: stiffness that prevents the beauty of the music from truly taking off. The actors perform the music with precision, but there are times when it feels like they’re holding back, which could partly be because of the imbalanced musical material.

The ballads have a similar emotional resonance as John/Rice’s Lion King work, but whereas that musical has a unifying musical sound, Aida’s score essentially becomes a musical journey through the different stages of Elton John’s musical career. Tim Rice pushes the plot with his lyrics, but there are times when John’s score seems mismatched with the action on stage, mostly during the first act. The show’s fist number is sung by Amneris (Erin Mosher), the daughter of the Pharoah AIDA--Grant Thomas, Monique Haley, Stephanie Umoh, Jared Zirilli(Nicholas Foster) and Radames’ arranged bride, and Mosher’s powerful voice is pitch-perfect, with her dignified presence befitting the character’s initial introduction as the story’s narrator. Then the show transitions into the Rent-lite “Fortune Favors The Brave” as Ramades belts over inspirational power chords while Nubian women are pillaged in the background. It’s great music for a lease-burning, but not so much for an act of war. It gets worse when Radames’ father Zoser (Darren Matthias) reveals his plot to usurp the Pharoah’s throne in “Another Pyramid,” a groan-inducing reggae meets Tumbleweed Connection number that turns into a goofy dance fight. Thankfully, that’s the worst number in the show and happens early, but it’s also not the best way to start a musical.

As the musical progresses, it becomes clear that Elton John’s music shows the differences between Egypt in Nubia through the styling of their songs. Egyptians have the classic rock ‘n roll of John’s early years, while the Nubians utilize the gospel-tribal fusion of The Lion King, but there’s still a strong disconnect between numbers. “My Strongest Suit,” where Amneris does her best Tina Turner impression, and “The Gods Love Nubia,” a stirring tribute by a downtrodden Nubian people – they don’t sound like they belong in the same show. This is mostly a problem in the first act, and as the two groups begin to combine in act two, the music gains a stronger focus.

     
Stephanie Umoh and Jared Zirilli star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. L to R-- Jarrett Kelly, Grant Thomas, Branden Springman, Jaquez Sims, Peter Vandivier, Michael Glazer, Todd Rhoades, and Stephane Duret star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA, at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.
Jarrett Kelly, Peter Vandivier, Brandon Springman, Darren Matthias, Michael Glazer and Todd Rhoades in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Erin Mosher in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.

The two female leads both showcase stunning vocals, but while their singing is wonderfully expressive, they suffer from that aforementioned stiffness, particularly Umoh in the title role. Aida is a free spirit that has always felt confined, and she is given the opportunity to escape through song, yet Umoh is locked in place when she sings. She relies on her voice to do the heavy lifting, and despite being a powerful instrument, the image she portrays physically doesn’t match up. This prevents the chemistry between Ramades and Aida from really exploding, as Zarilli is forced to give more without ever getting much in return. The cast proves that they’re skilled performers, but there’s a lack of freedom in their technique that translates as restraint, a dangerous flaw for a show like Aida that relies on spectacle.

Despite the production’s flaws, fans of Aida will find much to love about Drury Lane’s production. The music is well performed, with crisp staging and choreography from Corti, who incorporates tribal dance into the standard Broadway footwork. Like a lost Disney cartoon put on stage, Aida lacks the gravitas of the original opera, but the crowd-pleasing score turns the tragic story into a family-friendly rock musical sure to please fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
'Aida' group in white in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Stephanie Umoh and Jared Zirilli star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.
James Earl Jones II stars in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Monique Haley, Erin Mosher and Natalie Williams in a scene from Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.

All photos by Brett Beiner

     
     
March 26, 2011 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Spamalot (Drury Lane)

  
  

Drury Lane’s ‘Spamalot’ is a merry night of dancing and singing!

  
  

SPAMALOT--James Earl Jones II, Grant Thomas, Gary Carlson, Matthew Crowle, Brandon Springman and Richard Strimer

   
Drury Lane Theatre presents
  
Spamalot
   
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez
Directed by William Osetek
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oak Brook (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $31-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Monty Python began as a British comedy group that created the television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ensemble members included Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The success of the show led to feature films including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which is loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. With its witty and sometimes absurdist humor, Monty Python became a cultural phenomenon and “Holy Grail” was the basis for the musical Spamalot.

SPAMALOT--Gina Milo and David KortemeierThe set for Spamalot at Drury Lane Theatre resembles a traditional castle, with a castle gate center stage flanked by large wooden castle doors on other side, surrounded by stone bricks and gated windows. As the show progresses, scene changes are seamless and quick, never disrupting the momentum or action of the show.

Spamalot opens with an historian (Jackson Evans) explaining the history of Britain. He’s initially both relatable and charming, instantly pulling the audience into the action. The story the historian relates then comes to life as King Arthur (David Kortemeier) enters. Arthur is searching for knights for his round table and is traveling throughout England in search of them. He puts together what seems like somewhat of a motley crew consisting of Sir Lancelot (John Sanders), Sir Robin (Adam Pelty), Sir Galahad (Sean Allan Krill) and Sir Bedevere (Bradley Mott).

All of the actors are fully charismatic and bring a ton of characterization to their parts: Robin (Pelty) is sweet and funny with his fear of actual fighting. Galahad (Krill) is charming but not irritating with his pretty boy looks and demeanor. Lancelot (Sanders) is entertaining with his tough boy act to hide his hidden interests and Bedevere (Mott) works well to round out to the cast.

Not only is the acting stellar, but the singing is strong and clear and the music is just fun. Each actor’s range is suited to their character, allowing their singing talents to really shine. This is especially the case with The Lady of the Lake (Gina Milo). Milo’s voice is stunning and powerful, and her ability to hit so many runs in the music is SPAMALOT--John Sanders and Jackson Evanscaptivating. The only minor complaint is that, on occasion, vibratos in the cast are a bit too heavy.

As a show with a triple threat, the dancing is also well choreographed and shows of the dancing talents of the cast. Minus a few missed landings and mishaps, the dancing is quite spectacular, especially Patsy’s tap number (Matthew Crowle) during “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s clear that Crowle has a talent for it and he shows it off spectacularly.

Once the crew is assembled, they are given a task directly from God: find the Holy Grail. With this task at hand, the group, led by Arthur, goes in search of the Grail. Encountering various other knights and obstacles, the action flows quickly with a lively energy, pulling our attention towards the stage. The actors play up the comedy, doing well with the laugh lines and the hilarity of the writing.

Spamalot is a fun-filled, hilarious show that fits for anyone who loves Monty Python and the tale of the Holy Grail. Highly recommended!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Spamalot plays at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, IL, through March 6. Tickets are $31 to $45 with lunch/dinner packages ranging from $45.75 to $68. Student and senior prices available. Ticket can be purchased through the box office by calling 630-530-0111.

SPAMALOT--Gina Milo, now at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook

        
        
January 13, 2011 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Ragtime (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Drury Lane scores big with epic musical “Ragtime”

RAGTIME-_The_cast

 
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
 
Ragtime
 
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow
by
Terrance McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics)
directed/choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through May 23 (more info)

By Katy Walsh

‘What can happen in a year?’ Father’s question is an expectation that life is simple and predictable.

BF1C0838 The reality is birth, death, emancipation, persecution, obsession, syncopation. In 1906, the regularity in life takes unexpected turns as Drury Lane Oakbrook presents Ragtime The Musical. The show focuses on the lives of three groups: WASPs, blacks, and immigrants. In the New York suburbs, a wealthy family breaks the monotony with wild excursions and celebrity stalking. In Harlem, a successful black piano player decides to search for his lost love. Just off the boat, an Jewish immigrant artist and his daughter arrive with nothing but optimistic anticipation. Three distinctly different rhythms unexpectedly intersect to create a new tune. Ragtime celebrates a year in American history by paralleling the adaption of ragtime music with socio-economic changes of the time period. The results are a stunning history lesson intertwined with melodies of hope and change.

Under the skillful direction and choreography of Rachel Rockwell, the tempo never misses a beat. Rockwell strikes all the right notes with this multi-talented cast. Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse) is the powerhouse of emotional range in song and act. His tune changes throughout the show – regret, love, vengeance. Darrington connects the audience with his story based on heart wrenching hope. His “The Wheels of a Dream” duet with Valisia LeKae (Sarah) is flawless. LeKae is a perfect match-up and their onstage chemistry is the epic-love-story-kind. Cory Goodrich (Mother) is marvelous in an understated and nonchalant way. Goodrich’s character changes her family’s life dramatically with simple choices. Her transformation is most baffling to Father played by Larry Adams. In a pivotal song, Adams is perplexed as he sings, ‘I thought I knew what love was but these lovers play different music.’

With inspirational paternal love, Mark David Kaplan (Tateh) chases a train for a teary-eyed audience impact. Alongside the principals, smaller and famous roles engage curiosity. Emma Goldman (Catherine Lord) influences as a social reformer. Evelyn Nesbit (Summer Naomi Smart) is the Brittany Spears of the time period…whee! Harry Houdini (Stef Tovar) mystifies as a successful immigrant. Booker T. Washington (James Earl Jones II) commands integration and respect.

BF1C1085 Larry_and_Cory
BF1C0803 BF1C0945 Mark_Kaplan-Jennifer_Baker

Surprisingly, this blockbuster musical starts with a stark stage. The introduction of characters is a popped up portrait of perfection. Literally, group entrances are elevated from below stage. As the three groups multiply across the stage, the unique flair of costume distinction, designed by Santo Loquasto, is a spectacular visual. Costumes, projections, lighting, moments of tasty eye candy decorate this show. From silhouettes marching to swimmers bathing, the imagery dances to the ragtime.

And there was distant music, simple and somehow sublime. Giving the nation a new syncopation.  The people called it Ragtime!’

Paralleling life’s happenstance, my performance had some twists not necessarily planned. There seemed to be an issue with lighting up the solo singers in the first few scenes. A momentary blip broke the backdrop illusion with a ‘Microsoft word computer screen’ projection. Initially, the audio seemed hollow. I was uncertain if it was a microphone or acoustic issue. It either cleared up or my engrossment made it a moot point. All in all, this production was amazing. It left me reinforced that a gesture of kindness changes life’s courses and bewildered about men’s obsessions with cars.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

BF1C0810

 

April 10, 2010 | 3 Comments More