Tag: Jerome Kern
Taking into account the nearly 700 productions that we reviewed in 2012, here are our picks for the best of the best. Bravo!! (FYI: We’re honored to have the national website Huffington Post use our choices for their Top 10 Chicago productions here)
A fun musical romp for the entire family
|City Lit Theater presents|
|Book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse
Music by Jerome Kern
Directed by Sheldon Patinkin
Music direction by Kingsley Day
at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through June 27 | tickets: $25 | more info
Reviewed by Robin Sneed
There is theatre that is bold for it’s depth and experimentation, and there is theatre that is bold for it’s lightness and recollection of what has gone before us in American theatre history. Oh, Boy!, presented by City Lit Theater is just that kind of risk taking that dares to be innocent and fun, to stand back from too heavy a regard for our most important themes, and do that thing the theatre is most known for: entertain. All the while reminding us that we do come from somewhere.
First, a brief history lesson. In the 1900’s, we had in this country something called The Princess Theatre, a 299-seat theatre that was losing money. One of the investors, Elizabeth Marbury, commissioned small comedies to save the theatre, and that gave birth to what we call drawing room comedy and bedroom farce in the Americas (aka Princess Theatre musicals) – all while Oscar Wilde, across the pond, was already feeding this movement. This was cutting edge, as it dared to ask questions about morality and prohibition, sex and marriage, however tame to eyes in 2010. To the modern viewer, this genre might be soft, but not so fast. Does it not ask questions about drugs and marriage in this century? It simply presents those questions in the most kind and singing way. P.G. Wodehouse wrote the lyrics for Oh, Boy!, and he was daring indeed. Don’t these same songs represent our current frustration with current standards of morality and principles? Oh, Boy! simply demonstrates this with a most pretty and satisfying image, and one that says this issue is not one solely of the poor. These are wealthy people being depicted, and their pain, while only of the pin prick variety, still enters into the conversation.
In any good drawing room musical comedy or bedroom farce, the costumes must be exquisite. And Oh Boy! delivers. Designed by Thomas Kieffer, the dress in this play sparkles and glows and we are sent back in time to a place of careful manners, fine dress, often used as a kind of armor. Though these are issues of morality dressed in their Sunday best, don’t we have the same questions wearing blue jeans?
The standout performance here is from Patti Roeder as Penelope Budd. She rocks the house as the Quaker aunt who arrives on the scene of her nephew already wed to what is considered by her to be an undesirable woman. She sails around us drunk, riding on imaginary carousels and brings focus to the dilemma. Aunt Penelope, a person of abstinence, gets loaded’ and puts the equation into order, forcing by way of her escapades, that the people around her tell the truth. Her nephew, admirably played by Sean George, at long last declares his true love in the face of the debauchery of the Quaker auntie gone temporarily mad by alcohol and delivered from her moral hardness. In this way, drawing room comedies draw from Shakespeare, showing two sides of a coin, pick the side which most resonates with you and learn from it. Roeder is a delight in this role, a fierce comedic genius. Apparently, this is her first turn in a role like this, and I, for one, would like to see more. She reminded me of the great Carol Burnett. And that is saying something from these quarters.
All in this cast turn in solid and good performances. This is difficult work and all hands are onboard to deliver motion and music, questions and answers, readily. At 2.5 hours, it runs a bit too long, but such is meditation in the theatre.
Producing Oh, Boy!, which has not been performed in Chicago since 1918, is a bold move. This is viewing for the whole family, with no fear of exposing children to overt sexuality or heavy themes of addiction. It asks the question gently, and so very prettily, of what we might thinking. In my youth, this kind of theatre led to a great many important post-theatre dinner conversations with my father. I am reminded of a viewing in my youth of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Oh, I had so much to say to my father! The play had so much to say and ask. Along with The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, with theatre like Oh, Boy!, young and old alike are invited into the sphere of questions and answers. This is family viewing at it’s best, away from television, and into real flesh and blood performances, discussion starters, and the gossamer memories of just plain good theatre. I encourage families to see this play, go out for dinner afterward, and talk about the pretty costumes, music, and deeper themes. There is something in Oh Boy! for everyone.
Huge, hugely talented cast gives their all to ‘Stage Door’
|Griffin Theatre Company presents|
|By Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Robin Witt
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. (map)
though May 23 | tickets: $18-$28 | more info
Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
One of the most overlooked and underrated writers of the 20th century, Edna Ferber brilliantly showcased the lives of working women in her keenly stories. In the 1936 Stage Door, Ferber and George S. Kaufman crafted an impressive and charming drama about one such downtrodden group.
Set in the Footlights Club, a New York boardinghouse for theatrical women, the story follows the lives of the young contenders of Broadway. Hoping for their big break, they subsist on hope and pennies … and often succumb to temptations away from the stage. For the luckiest, Hollywood lures; for others, love, or security, or pure hopelessness.
No one would write a play like this today, and Griffin deserves tremendous props for producing it all. It’s not that its themes haven’t been covered in subsequent plays — 1991’s I Hate Hamlet, for instance, takes on similar Broadway vs. Hollywood issues — but that the cast is huge. There are 32 distinct characters, played in this production by a cast of 27. Quite literally, they don’t make ’em like this anymore!
What’s more, when I say "distinct characters," I mean just that. Each is skillfully introduced, significant and a unique personality that adds to the heart and spunk of this rich play. Director Robin Witt brings out those traits to the fullest.
Mechelle Moe stars as the central character: plucky, generous Terry Randall, who’s been trying to make a go of it on Broadway for three years. Despite her lack of success, she remains stagestruck. "We live and breathe theater and that’s what I’m crazy about," she says.
Her friends tell her she’s talented, but she hasn’t managed more than a few weeks of work in all her time in New York. The play suggests that’s because she’s not beautiful and doesn’t appear well offstage. It’s perhaps a slight flaw in the script that we never see Terry acting, and can’t judge for ourselves. Moe’s own performance occasionally seems too gung-ho, like the young Judy Garland enthusing about putting on a play in the barn, but she makes the audience care about Terry.
We do get to judge the talents of Olga Brandt, a classically trained pianist who earns a living playing for dance rehearsals. "For that I studied fifteen years with Kolijinsky!" she says in disgust, and solaces herself by playing Chopin on the boardinghouse piano. Janeane Bowlware is both a skilled musician and delightfully funny in this difficult role. (In a nice theatrical in-joke, during most of the play, the piano’s music stand displays sheet music from Show Boat, the Jerome Kern–Oscar Hammerstein musical based on Ferber’s 1926 novel.)
We also see some fine comic turns from Sara McCarthy as Bernice Niemeyer, the house busybody; Erin Meyers as the man-hating Ann Braddock; Ashley Neal and Christina Gorman as Big Mary and Little Mary, a Mutt and Jeff duo; and Kate McGroarty as Pat Devine, a leggy dancer earning her living in nightclub shows.
Other notable performances include Stacie Barra, archly dry as Terry’s cynical friend Judith Canfield, and Jeremy Fisher, strong as Keith Burgess, the earnest young playwright on whom Terry pins her hopes. Lucy Carapetyan is ardent as Jean Maitland, who urges Terry to go with her to Hollywood.
Maggie Cain gives us a matter-of-fact Mattie, the boardinghouse’s maid of all work, and Chuck Filipov a subtle performance as Frank, a teenage household helper, while Mary Anne Bowman alternately fawns and frowns as Mrs. Orcutt, a one-time actress turned boardinghouse manager.
Marika Engelhardt plays Madeleine Vauclain, an actress from Seattle, trying to find a double date for visiting hometown conventioneers — Jeff Duhigg and Paul Popp, as a pair of buffoonish Pacific Northwest lumbermen. Rakisha Pollard is brave as Louise Mitchell, an unsuccessful actress sadly leaving Broadway to marry the boy back home in Wisconsin.
It feels like hair-splitting to point out the few flaws. James Farruggio seems a little stiff as David Kingsley, the moviemakers’ agent who urges Terry to stick to the stage, and Caroline Neff is a bit too detached as Kaye Hamilton, Terry’s desperate and destitute roommate.
D’wayne Taylor doubles as a Hollywood producer and as Terry’s father, a small-town Indiana doctor. He acts well in both parts, but he stands out oddly as the one African American in the company, making me wonder what led Witt to cast him. Color-blind casting works well when it’s done with consistency, but if you’re going to suspend historical accuracy for the sake of diversity, you need more than a token. When all the rest of such a large cast is white, it jars suspension of disbelief to have the sole black person in the show play the father of a white woman.
Filling out the cast, Jennifer Betancourt plays Bobby Melrose, a Southern belle; Morgan Maher is her boyfriend, Sam Hastings, an actor from Texas. Joey deBettencourt portrays Jimmy Devereaux, a confident would-be actor who hasn’t ever auditioned for a professional part; Skyler Schrempp, Susan Paige, perpetual understudy; and Erin O’Shea Kendall Adams, daughter of a family of Boston Brahmins.
Witt stages the show in three acts, with two intermissions — a 1930s convention that always makes feel as if I’ve really been to the theater — and blocks it beautifully, particularly in a wonderful Act III scene that puts nearly all the cast onstage. Marianna Csaszar‘s convincing set, built around a central staircase, helps to give the wide-ranging scenes focus.
Stage Door was the basis of the 1937 film of the same name, but the movie’s plot bears little similarity to this delicious play (which seems rather a meta-joke in itself). Don’t miss this rarely performed gem.
Let the pros show you how it’s done
Broadway in Chicago presents:
An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
by Paige Listerud
There’s something secure in watching two consummate professionals dig into the American songbook and skillfully weave both major and minor works into a thematic whole. Their vocal power and dexterity astonishes, their ability to delineate the subtext behind the lyrics awakens new possibilities within each song, and the sheer joy in performance that they exhibit with each other becomes nothing less than infectious. Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin take the audience on a musical journey and that audience will gladly then follow over hill and dale precisely because they know they are in good hands.
Broadway In Chicago’s An Evening with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin only runs from March 2 to March 7 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. The show reunites them after their first turn together in Evita thirty years ago. But the biggest surprise of the evening may be the casual, youthful ease and vigor both singers evince as the evening progresses. Upon opening night, Lupone omitted her classic calling card, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” from the program’s first act—leading to speculation over whether she felt a touch under the weather. If so, it was a meager compromise in an otherwise energetic and precisely crafted performance.
Mandy Patinkin conceived the dramatic arc and music selection of the production with his longtime accompanist and collaborator Paul Ford. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine this show without Ford’s quicksilver touch at the piano. The program itself is intriguing, to say the least. Major musical hits by Jerome Kern, Steven Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein have been spliced with lesser known work–such as “Somewhere It’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors, “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle, and “Old Folks” from 70, Girls, 70. The songs are aligned to suggest the course of a relationship between two people–falling love, evading commitment, settling down and recalling the past together.
The arc of the first act flows more smoothly than the second, mostly because it’s hard to miss a love story with tunes from South Pacific. Patinkin’s light, dexterous interpretation of “Some Enchanted Evening” refreshes and revives the standard. Clearly, Patinkin, Lupone and Ford are pushing the songs a little beyond conventional rendition—never so far as to seem outlandish, just enough to incite renewed interest. Patter songs frame and energize the evening—Lupone whipping out “Getting Married Today” from Company and Patinkin joyfully hamming his heart out with “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” from Follies.
The storyline may get a little lost in the second act, but by that time the audience just might not care. Lupone and Patinkin clearly love working together and they happily let everyone else in on their connection. Some numbers are effervescently goofy, like Ann Reinking’s charmingly choreographed dance on rolling office chairs. Above all, both performers are old hands at deeply humanizing their material but also give it the fresh glow of people who never take life for granted. It’s a perspective that makes this show the perfect start to March in Chicago, when the first suggestions of spring are borne on the wind.
|A post-performance chat with Batsheva Dance Company Artistic Director Ohad Naharin will be held immediately following the Feb. 7 (opening night) performance at the Auditorium Theatre. Dance critic Lucia Mauro will moderate. Returning to Chicago for the first time in 15 years, Batsheva Dance Company of Israel will present Naharin’s signature work “Deca Dance”. The renowned company will perform for 2 evenings only, Feb 7th and 8th. Tickets: thru Ticketmaster or calling 312.902.1500. (See pics above)|
|Don’t worry, although I have my YouTube series “Sunday Night Sondheim”, I won’t add “Monday Morning Pope“.|
|The world-premier musical “Far From Freud”, presented by Oak Park’s Village Players, has added one final performance – Friday, January 30th at 8pm. “Far From Freud” is written by Phil Riegle and directed by Christopher Pazdernik. [Listen to one of the show’s songs “How It’s Gonna Be” by clicking here.]|
|On this day in history (January 27th): In 1885 stage and screen composer Jerome Kern was born in New York. And it just so happens that another composer was also born on the 27th: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg in 1756.|
|Darren Pettie will join the cast of British Stage Company’s screwball comedy “Don’t Dress for Dinner“, by Marc Camoletti and directed by John Tilling. Other members of the ensemble include Mark Harelik (Light In The Piazza) and Patricia Kalember of “thirtysomething” and “Sisters“. Running through February at The Royal George, more info can be found at the show’s website.|
Video Clip from ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’