Tag: Jeanine Tesori

Review: Fun Home (Victory Gardens Theater)

Stella Rose Hoyt stars as Small Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater            
        

Fun Home
 
By Lisa Kron (book & lyrics)
   and Jeanine Tesori (music)
VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Nov 19  |  tix: $15-$75  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets
     


    
  

Intimate, ferocious ‘Home’ is as joyous as it is heart-wrenching

  

Rob Lindley (Bruce Bechdel) and Stella Rose Hoyt (Small Alison) star in Fun Home

    
Victory Gardens Theater presents
    
Fun Home

Review by Catey Sullivan

Toward the end of Fun Home, there’s a song called “Edges of the World.” It’s delivered by Bruce, a closeted man in his mid-50s. It’s a harrowing description of his life-long inability to embrace and celebrate his true self. Using his house as a metaphor, Bruce describes himself in terms of physical corruption and devastation. He’s “cracking, “shoddy,” “twisting” and finally, “falling into nothing.” It’s a devastating song of terror and rage at the realization you’ve wasted your life. It is also, in Rob Lindley’s virtuosic delivery, a song that will haunt you for weeks. Perhaps longer.

Hannah Starr stars as Medium Alison in Fun Home, Victory Gardens TheaterBased on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home is centered on Bruce’s daughter, Alison. The autobiographical musical follows Alison from her days as a precocious pre-teen who loves drawing and loathes wearing dresses to a thoughtful, confident out-and-proud lesbian artist. But while Fun Home is ostensibly Alison’s story, it’s her father Bruce that shines through with the most ferocious intensity in Victory Gardens’ superb production.

Director Gary Griffin’s ensemble will break your heart with their ability to embody the characters in Bechdel’s story, but it is Lindley who delivers the final anvil blow that will shatter it to smithereens. In the 269-seat Victory Gardens, Fun Home has an intimacy it lacked when the national tour played the 2,253-seat Oriental Theatre last November. This is especially evident in the musical numbers, which often feel like they’re coming at you with the immediacy of your own immediate family.

If the above makes it sound like Fun Home will leave you popping Zoloft like Skittles, rest assured that the production is as triumphant as it is dark. Adapted by Lisa Kron (book) and Jeanine Tesori (music and lyrics), Fun Home is also consistently hilarious. The life and times of Alison and her family are hysterical, starting with the commercial that Small Alison (Sage Elliott Harper and Stella Rose Hoyt, alternating) and her brothers (Leo Gonzalez and Preetish Chakraborty) create for the family funeral (or “fun”) home. The ad has the aesthetic of a Partridge Family number, with shades of the Brady Bunch, Johnny Bravo era. It involves puppets and casket-choreography and is all kinds of brilliant.

  Stella Rose Hoyt stars as Small Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater Joe Lino (Roy) and Rob Lindley (Bruce Bechdel) star in Fun Home, Victory GardensStella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Preetish Chakraborty star in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater

Alison’s travails as she matures into college-aged Medium Alison (Hannah Starr) and (adult) Alison (Danni Smith) are a pitch-perfect blend of humor and sorrow, always edged by a knife-blade of bittersweet sharpness. In Medium Alison’s post-coital “Changing My Major to Joan,” Starr embodies a glorious merger of vulnerability and overwhelming, unadulterated joy. It’s the feeling of falling in love for the first time, compressed into a single three-minute song. Starr is fearless, sending the joy to the rafters. She also captures the pride and dignity that comes with love – no small feat for a scene that has her wearing nothing but underpants, tube socks and a stomach-skimming T-shirt.

Small Alison gets her big moment in “Ring of Keys,” a number that turns a banal household item into an epiphany. The song is intentionally halting, as Small Alison chokes up trying to figure out how to articulate her feelings. Pulling off those precisely positioned tiny rests without sounding rehearsed is exceedingly difficult, but Harper simply nails it. Every meticulously inserted rest sounds utterly spontaneous.

Hannah Starr, Danielle Davis and Danni Smith star in Fun Home, Victory Gardens TheaterRob Lindley and McKinley Carter star as Bruce and Helen Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens

As grown-up Alison, Smith holds the show together, narrating flashbacks with the poignant hindsight that colors memory. Working at her drawing table. Alison struggles to put words and illustrations to her memories, flooded by a conflicting sea of emotions. From the gleam of an antique silver pitcher that her father bought at a barn sale, the family’s story spins out and fills in. There’s deception and denial alongside love; shards of anger spiking the sweetest memories.

In the language of pop psychology, the Bechdels are a “dysfunctional family.” In Fun Home, the more important classification is at the core: First and foremost, they are a family. Smith’s portrayal doesn’t play down the brutal tragedy that you can feel approaching like a freight train. But in her narration, you can see that family tragedies don’t necessarily define families. Among survivors, death yields healing, renaissance and even art.

Under music director Doug Peck, the Fun Home score is imbued with all the colors and emotion in the spectrum. Peck is to music as Griffin is to dialogue – which is to say, both get to the heart of the matter and make it gleam.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  

Fun Home continues through November 12 November 19th at VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $15-$75, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at VictoryGardens.org(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

McKinley Carter, Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley star in Fun Home

Photos by Liz Lauren


  

artists

cast

McKinley Carter (Helen Bechdel), Preetish Chakraborty (John Bechdel), Danielle Davis (Joan), Leo Gonzalez (Christian Bechdel), Sage Elliott Harper (Small Alison), Stella Rose Hoyt (Small Alison), Rob Lindley (Bruce Bechdel), Joe Lino (Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy), Danni Smith (Alison), Hannah Starr (Medium Alison).

orchestra

Doug Peck (music director), Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (conductor, keyboard), Corson Barnard (asst. music director), Lewis Rawlinson (cello), Brent Roman (percussion), Mike Matlock (flute, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax), Justin LaForte (guitar), Ethen Deppe (electronic music designer)

behind the scenes

Gary Griffin (director) Doug Peck (music director), Yu Shibagaki (scenic design), Melissa Ng (costume design), Paul Whitaker (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Mealah Heidenreich, Alec Long (co-properties design), Jessica Forella (stage manager), Erica Daniels (managing director), Chay Yew (artistic director), Aaron Shapiro (production manager), Jessica Forella (production stage manager), Merle Reskin (production sponsor), Liz Lauren (photos)

Danni Smith stars as Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens TheaterHannah Starr stars as Medium Alison in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater Stella Rose Hoyt stars as Small Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, Victory Gardens Theater

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October 24, 2017 | 0 Comments More

Review: Fun Home (Broadway in Chicago)

Alessandra Baldacchino and Kathe Shindle star as Small Alison and Alison in Fun Home           
  

Fun Home

By Jeanine Tesori (music), Lisa Kron (book, lyrics)
Based on novel by Alison Bechdel
Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
thru Nov 13  |  tix: $25-$113  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     

November 7, 2016 | 2 Comments More

Review: Violet (Bailiwick Chicago)

     
Harmony France and Jim DeSelm - Violet, Bailiwick Chicago
Violet
 

Written by Brian Crawley (book, lyrics)
and Jeanine Tesori (music)
Directed by Elizabeth Margolius 
at Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport (map)
thru Oct 16  |  tickets: $27-$32  |  more info

Check for half-price tickets
   
     
        Read entire review

     
October 4, 2011 | 2 Comments More

REVIEW: Shrek The Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Big, green, and immensely entertaining

 

 Shrek - Eric Petersen as Shrek and Alan Mingo Jr as Donkey

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
   
Shrek the Musical
   
Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by
Jeanine Tesori
Directed by
Jason Moore and Rob Ashford
at
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through September 5th  | 
tickets: $25-$90  |  more info

reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Shrek (L-to-R) Eric Petersen as Shrek, Alan Mingo as Donkey, Haven Burton as Princess FionaAsk any fifth grader. All those after school specials and heart-felt parent/child talks about how everybody is beautiful are a load of hooey. “You’re ugly,” Shrek’s father tells the seven-year-old ogre during the first scene of the green guy’s eponymous musical, “That means life is going to be much harder for you.”  There’s something almost subversive (not to mention laugh-out-loud funny) about such bracing honesty.

And indeed, life for little Shrek is no frolic.  His parents’  heartfelt warning to “watch out for men with pitchforks” is grounded in reality.  While the normal kids are off learning to read and dancing around maypoles and such, poor little outcast Shrek finds himself being barbequed by angry villagers.  So begins the story of Shrek’s life as told with wit, wisdom and no small degree of sophistication by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music).

Fractured fairytales are nothing new –  Spamalot, Into the Woods, Honk! and even Once Upon a Mattress have trod such ground. Shrek succeeds with the best of them. This is no grating child’s cartoon or soulless movie rip-off.   With one significant caveat, directors Jason Moore and Rob Ashford’s staging is marvelous. Shrek is innovative and irreverent  and – thanks to it’s affirming exhortation to let your freak flag fly – a show that feels like a celebration.

Speaking of letting your freak flag fly, Shrek is also a big fat green slice of musical-theater-geek heaven.  Insider references to GypsyDreamgirls, A Chorus Line, Wicked, Les Miserables, The Lion King and Sweet Charity pop-up in the score like little balloons of laughing gas.  And within this whackadoo land of misfit fairy tale creatures, Shrek even manages a shout-out to Judy Blume, the now-and-forever patron saint of  misfit middle schoolers.

Shrek - Haven Burton as Princess Fiona

It matters not whether you get all those inside musical theater jokes. Shrek  is mightily entertaining if you don’t know Mama Rose from “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.” How can one not be taken with a show wherein the Big Bad Wolf laments the mean villagers who “tore my cotton granny dress (and) call me a hot and tranny mess.”  (Which he totally is, btw, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The creative ingenuity of the production is exemplified by the ongoing sight-gag that defines the bullying tyrant, Lord Farquaad. His stunted stature is a feat of clever puppetry and movement. Despite the fact that the joke is pretty much the same every time his wizened little poppet legs wobble across the stage, it never gets tired no matter how many times it is trotted out.

Shrek 02 Which brings us to Shrek’s glaring shortcoming.  The performances are all terrific, but for this touring production, all kinds of corners seem to  have been cut in the special effects department. A crucial scene involving a fiery demise-by-dragon looks cheaper and cheesier than a hunk of cut-rate Velveeta. Ditto the transformations of Princess Fiona from traditionally pretty porcelain princess to  Elphaba-chartreuse green goddess. Such bargain-basement production values are maddening beyond their skinflint looks. Producers, apparently, see nothing wrong with demanding ticket prices for a show that’s been significantly cheapened. Maybe they think audiences are stupid, and won’t notice the sloppiness. They’re wrong.

That said, Shrek’s cast is faultless. As the titular ogre, Eric Petersen’s booming voice matches his huge-hearted performance.  Haven Burton’s Princess Fiona is delightfully off-kilter, displaying just the kind of crazed mania you’d expect from someone locked in a padded tower for over a decade . David F. M. Vaughn’s  vainglorious Lord Farquaad has a smirky demeanor utterly befitting a man sporting a Prince Valiant bowl-cut on purpose. And as Donkey, Alan Mingo Jr. is worthy sidekick.

Josh Prince’s choreography is a hoot, from the chorus line of rats  (“Morning Person”) to the march of the misfits (“Freak Flag.”) And when everybody  rocks out to “I’m A Believer,” the sense of joy is so palpable you almost forgive those chintzy special effects .

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Shrek Cast 01

   
    
July 26, 2010 | 1 Comment More

Review: Drury Lane’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

 thoroughly-modern-millie-1

Drury Lane Oakbrook presents:

Thoroughly Modern Millie

by Richard Morris, Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan
directed by William Osetek
thru December 20th (ticket info)

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The traditional Thoroughly Modern Millie is given a new breath of life in Drury Lane’s high quality, highly energetic and enjoyable new musical, directed by William Osetek. From top to bottom, set to song, this is a near flawless performance of traditional musical theatre produced with Broadway-like standards – just  on a smaller scale.

thoroughly-modern-millie-3 Thoroughly Modern Millie is the story of a young woman who has moved to the big city in search of becoming a “modern woman,” one in search of wealth not love. Set in the early 1920’s, when the social and economic climate is changing, especially for women who have recently joined the work place and have a new independence when seeking happiness. With nowhere to go she takes refuge in a hotel that houses other single women, most of whom are out-of-work actresses, but unknown to Millie and the other girls the hotel is also a front for Mrs. Meers “white-slave” trafficking business. Unaware of the dangers around her, Millie is stubbornly set on marrying her rich boss and decides that there is no room for love in a modern woman as she flirts to get his attention.

Millie is magnificent. Holly Ann Butler makes her Drury Lane debut as Millie, and her tremendous talents stand out in every aspect of her performance. She can sing (whoa can she sing) dance, act and is innocently beautiful on stage as she takes the audience through the streets of New York as designed by Kevin Depinet.

Kevin Depinet has designed an open stage with a towering 3-dimensional backdrop of Manhattan creating depth and distance on stage. The huge buildings have a romantic feeling intensified by the changing colors and brightness that shines through the windows of each building depending on the time of day. The set hovers over the cast creating a visual sense of the magic that exist downtown.

The choreography is exceptional, and gives one an example of the meaningful influence that top-notch choreography can have with the plot and overall enjoyment of a production. Tammy Mader’s choreography brings the book and songs together, fluidly portraying individual emotions; creating entertaining numbers that enhance the feelings surrounding the stage.

The production really picks up in the second act where the choreography gets even more complicated, with surprise quirky moves, and the plot thickens with a merry-go-round of love interests to go along with Mrs. Meers increasingly deviant plan of kidnapping white-slaves. Millie’s journey to discover the value of true love rather than the materialistic measures of success is guided by the wealthy Muzzy (Melody Betts), and everyone finds their way to true love and happiness – well almost everyone.

thoroughly-modern-millie-2The energetic musical numbers throughout the production are led by truly gifted voices and enhanced by the full production of each song. Actresses and actors like Holly Ann Butler, Randall Dodge and Melody Betts are performances in themselves, and it is a special experience to hear a group of talented vocalists sing together at such a high caliber. My personal favorite is the deep baritone voice of Randall Dodge as Millie’s boss.

Along with the spectacular songs, a ton of comedy is slipped into the plot and brought out especially well by gifted and seasoned actresses like Paula Scrofano (Mrs. Meers,) and Sharon Sachs (Mrs. Flannery), who connect well to the audience with their well-timed antics displaying the off-beat personalities of their characters. Richard Manera and Paul Marinez (Ching Ho and Bun Foo) also bring continuous laughter into the musical with their expressive remarks and interactions with Mrs. Meers.

Drury Lane’s Thoroughly Modern Millie is a top notch professional production that is as good as any musical you will see of this size. The cast is filled with talented stars, the creative team is at its best, and the stage is strikingly magical. For musical theater lovers, this is the show you want to see.  And for those new to the theater, this might be the musical that sucks you in to Chicago’s musical theatre scene.

Rating: ★★★

 

November 11, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

 Requiem - smaller 1  

 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

 columbinusruinedcolumbinus2 amadeus

Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.

January 3, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Tribune)

   Bountiful03smE_Faye_Butler - CarolineChangesweetcharitycollage

 

Chicago Tribune’s main theatre critic, Chris Jones, presents his top 10 plays of 2008:

 

1. A Trip to Bountiful  (Goodman Theatre)
by Horton Foote
Standouts: Harris Yulin (director), performance: Lois Smith
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Picnic  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Inge
Standouts: David Cromer (Director)
 
     
4. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
 
     
5. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Standout: Kate Whoriskey (director)
 
     
6. Four Places  (Victory Gardens)
by Joel Drake Johnson
Standouts: Sandy Shinner (director)
 
     
7. Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)
by Cy Coleman
Standouts: Jim Corti (director), Mitzi Hamilton (choreographer)
 
     
8. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
9. The Seafarer  (Steppenwolf Theatre)
by Conor McPherson
Standout: Francis Guinan (says Jones: probably the best male performance of the year)
 
     
10. Journey’s End (Griffin Theatre)
by Jonathan Berry
 

Honorable mentions: (alphabetically): America: All Better! (Second City), Don’t Dress for Dinner (British American Stage Company – at Royal George), Grey Gardens (Northlight Theatre), If All The World Were Paper (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique). Les Miserables (Marriott Theatre), Million Dollar Quartet (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights – at the Apollo Theater), A Taste of Honey (Shattered Globe Theatre), Tomorrow Morning (Hilary A. Williams LLC), The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).

 

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

January 2, 2009 | 0 Comments More