Tag: Joshua A. Peterson

Review: They’re Playing Our Song (Brown Paper Box Co.)

Dan Gold and Carmen Risi star as Vernon and Sonia in They're Playing Our Song, Brown Paper Box Co            


They’re Playing Our Song
Marvin Hamlisch (music), Neil Simon (book)
   and Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics)
at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge (map)
thru Aug 20  |  tix: $27  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    

July 26, 2017 | 0 Comments More

Review: Trogg! A Musical (Hell in a Handbag Productions)


Classic camp with a Joan Crawford twist


Trogg (Chad Ramsey) is struck by a hypo-gun dart in TROGG! A Musical presented by Hell in a Handbag Productions. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
Trogg! A Musical
Written by David Cerda
with Cheryl Snodgrass and Taylor E. Ross
Directed by Scott Ferguson
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through July 3  |  tickets: $22-$28  |  more info 

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

One of the great things about film is the air of mystery that surrounds the process. How did Spielberg make that bike fly in E.T.?  Where did George Lucas get his inspiration for the “Star Wars” series? Or how about one of the greatest movie enigmas of all time: What compelled Joan Crawford, a highly esteemed and accomplished actress, to star in one of the worst B-movie horror flicks of all time? And we’re not talking about a misguided decision early in her career to get screen time. We’re talking about 1970, just seven years before the queen of mean passed away (perhaps the regret is what killed her).

From left- Trogg (Chad Ramsey) becomes overstimulated during 'doll therapy' as a concerned Dr. Joan Cannon (David Cerda) looks on in Hell in a Handbag's TROGG! A Musical.Of course, I am talking about the dated cult classic “Trog,” which is short for troglodyte. Always the conveyor of kitsch, Hell in a Handbag decided to tackle this piece of questionable art and adapt it for the stage as a musical. What results is an insanely fun romp filled with self-aware cheesy humor, purposeful bad acting and a Joan Crawford impression that will have you clearing your closet of wire hangers.

The production, spelled Trogg! A Musical, presumably follows the movie’s incredibly thin and illogical plot. A group of beach-blanket teens are partying it up around a fire in a cave (as teens are oft to do) when the fire accidentally melts a block of ice that had suspended a prehistoric man for millennia. Trogg (Chad Ramsey) is a brutish, built man-beast that is not fit for the modern world and presents a danger to the beachside town’s citizens. World-renowned anthropologist Dr. Joan Cannon a.k.a. Joan Crawford a.k.a. Hell in a Handbag’s artistic director David Cerda (who also wrote the book and lyrics and co-authored the music) wishes to study the creature. And so she, along with her Dame Edna-esque assistant Carol Ann (Ed Jones), tranquilize the beast and cage him for research purposes.

Meanwhile, Dr. Joan’s daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Lesinksi), whose genesis is a hushed secret, discovers Trog’s capacity for humanity, specifically his ability to boogie down to surf music. Yet her stoic mother refuses to acknowledge her discovery and treats her with the warmth reserved for a lab rat. Complicating matters, Barbara is dating Rex Huntington (Edward Fraim), the well-primped son of Mayor Huntington (Michael S. Miller), a religious zealot who wishes to enslave the caveman at the local zoo.

If you are expecting convincing and honest acting from Trogg! A Musical, then you shouldn’t be seeing Trogg!. The performers all play the stock B-movie characters with keen adeptness. They obviously have studied their source material. Huntington is a riot as the finger-wagging mayor. Lesinski and Fraim sport the mindless naiveté of Frankie and Annette. Cerda as Joan Crawford is genius. He knows he’s good at portraying the hard-faced starlet, and it shows. He revels in the role, taking obvious pleasure in those moments that just wreak of classic Joan, e.g., the raised eyebrows, the slapping, the passive aggression.

From left- Peanut (Alex Grelle) and Juju (Megan Keach) warning others abut the 'big, furry monster' in the opening number of TROGG! A Musical by Hell in a Handbag Productions. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios. Trogg (Chad Ramsey) plays with his dolly in Hell in a Handbag's TROGG! A Musical. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studio.
Carol Ann (Ed Jones) is overcome with emotion in TROGG! A Musical presented by Hell in a Handbag Productions. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios. From left- Katie King (Harmony France) interviews college students Rex Huntington (Edward Fraim) and Squirt (Chad) about the caveman they saw in Hell in a Handbag's TROGG! A Musical. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

This is a solid comedy script. In fact, this is one of the most expertly crafted and executed zany comedies I’ve seen in a long time. Of course, it is of a particular genre that appeals to a particular audience (read: gay and gay-friendly). I doubt the typical Aurora tourist would be as tickled.

The music part of this musical, however, seems superfluous. I found the songs to be the least funny part of the play. I think much of this is because of the show’s technical aspects. Trogg! occupies the Chopin’s downstairs space, a spacious room with awful sight lines. The theater-of-the-round set up makes it difficult for everyone in the audience to hear a particular performer at all times. This is especially true when the cast breaks out into song, as the backing music often drowns out what’s being sung.

Director Scott Ferguson does a great job given the difficult space. He consciously moves action from one end of the long stage to the other in an effort to play to the entire audience. This is likely the same impetus for Ferguson’s decision to have actors frequently spin and reel around.

Trogg! A Musical is a gay old time. It’s catty, it’s kitschy and it’s got Joan Crawford. If you are part of the finely carved niche that this play caters to, you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.

Rating: ★★★

From left- Katie King (Harmony France) interviews the beautiful lady anthropologist, Dr. Joan Cannon (David Cerda) as Trogg (Chad Ramsey) and lab assistant/maid Carol Ann (Ed Jones) look on in Hell in a Handbag's TROGG! A Musical. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios

All photos by Rick Aguilar

June 4, 2011 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Kiss Me, Kate (Circle Theatre)


The Taming of Cole Porter



Jonathan Altman, Jake Autizen, Rachel Quinn, Wes Drummond - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre

Circle Theatre presents
Kiss Me, Kate
Written by Cole Porter and Bella Spewack
Directed by
Bob Knuth
Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $22-$26  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

What you want with this musical revival is to hear a giant click, the sound of everything going right in Circle Theatre’s hoped-for perfect revival of Cole Porter’s musical-within-a-musical. For director and set designer Bob Knuth what’s already perfect is a sparkling script depicting the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of temperamental thespians. Modeled on the ever-excitable thespian duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne (a fairy tale marriage in every way), hellion Lili and egomaniac Fred enact a Jonathan Altman, Jake Autizen, Rachel Quinn, Wes Drummond - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatrelife-imitates-art parallel to the quarreling lovers they croon in a Baltimore performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.” More than before, relocated to Oak Park, Circle Theatre now has a stage wide enough to embrace all of Kevin Bellie’s cinemascopic dance routines, which in their previous Forest Park digs five blocks west on Madison Street threatened to burst at the seams.

If a spinoff can improve on its source, this toxically witty 1948 gem, which restored Cole Porter to Broadway glory after a disappointing ten-year dry spell, betters the Bard. Both a hymn to the neuroses that nurture showbiz eccentricities and extremes, it’s also a witty sendup of the perils that follow when narcissistic Broadway stars perform in private as much as under the lights. For these stagestruck souls the sound of no one applauding during their domestic quarrels must be maddening. Never has a show, backstage and centerstage, had more reason to go on.

Crafting many moments to the max, Knuth transforms Porter’s gift into a promising assemblage of perfectly timed verbal and physical comedy, sometimes superior singing, contagious dancing, dazzling costumes, period-perfect wigs, and serviceable sets. But the hard work of the 23 eager-beaver performers is critically undermined by Carolyn Brady Riley’s heavy-handed musical direction: The culprit here is the (minimal for Cole Porter) four-person band who perversely seem to make up for their small number by playing too loud throughout (a vice that’s also afflicted past Circle Theatre shows). Accompaniment does not mean overkill. No one wants these singers to use mikes but on opening night they were more than challenged to sing and speak out these brilliant Porter lyrics and, because the orchestra wouldn’t let them, a lot of laughs died along with the words. Adding mikes would only escalate the screamfest. The solution is the taming of this band.


John Roeder, Andy Baldeschweiler, Tommy Bullington - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre Andy Baldeschweiler and Jenny Sophia 3 - Kiss Me Kate -

Everything hinges on the chemistry between the tamer and the shrew: Jennie Sophia’s Lili (who reminds us of the young Patti Lupone) isn’t just the spitfire diva who craves to be domesticated; she delivers the dreamer (“So in Love”), desperate for the right excuse to stop fighting love. Equally commanding as Petruchio or his hammy self, Andy Baldeschwiler’s Fred never drops a joke in his patter numbers (“Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”), except when the orchestra drowns him out. At least he gets to register the sheer joy of singing “Wunderbar” every night. But, given a hostile accompaniment, he strains more than he should to unevenly deliver songs that should sound as effortless as they were composed 62 years ago.

Rachel Quinn and Wes Drummond couldn’t be sweeter second bananas, as venal Lois Lane and trusting Bill Calhoun wonder “Why Can’t You Behave?” A crowd-pleasing, vaudevillian sensation, John Roeder and Tommy Bullington are the vaudevillian gangsters whose “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is as funny as you can get without asphyxiating an audience on their own laughs.

But the signature triumph belongs to the hard-hoofing, all-crooning chorus, whose Lindy-hopping, jitterbugging dances look totally authentic and still seem improvised on the spot. If only the orchestra could have brought out all the sensuous sounds that Porter intended for songs that can be treasured and never bettered.

Rating: ★★

Cast of Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre


November 18, 2010 | 0 Comments More