Tag: Zev Steinberg

Review: Johnny 10 Beers’ Daughter (Something Marvelous)

Arti Ishak and Randy Steinmeyer star as Leila and Johnny in Johnny 10 Beers Daughter, Something Marvelous           


Johnny 10 Beers’ Daughter 

Written by Dana Lynn Formby
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
thru Jun 18  |  tix: $22-$28  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

June 7, 2017 | 0 Comments More

Review: Fucking A (Urban Theater Chicago)

Kelly Owens as Hester, in a scene from Urban Theater Chicago's "Fucking A" by Suzan-Lori Parks (photo credit: Anthony Aicardi)       
Fucking A 

Written by Suzan-Lori Parks 
Directed by Richard Perez
Uptown Hull House, 4520 N. Beacon (map)
thru April 15  |  tickets: $20   |  more info
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March 30, 2012 | 1 Comment More

Review: The World Over (State Theatre of Chicago)

Mark Viafranco, Adam Shalzi - The World Over, State Theatre       
The World Over

Written by Keith Bunin
Directed by Tim Speicher
at ARCC Ballet, 2200 N. Elston (map)
thru Nov 19  |  tickets: $12-$20   |  more info

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October 26, 2011 | 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: Reefer Madness (The Brown Paper Box Co.)


Hilarious musical romp through the wide world of weed


Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co 003

The Brown Paper Box Co. presents
Reefer Madness
Book and Lyrics by Kevin Murphy
Music by Dan Studney
Directed by M. William Panek
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through October 24  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The 1938 propaganda film “Reefer Madness” sought to teach the ignorant American masses of the dangers of “marihuana”, including but not limited to grand theft auto, sexual deviance, and murder. Paranoid and misinformed to the extreme, the film’s absurd plot and hilarious depiction of drug users have made it a cult classic, and Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney’s musical spoof is a wonderfully over-the-top  expansion of the film’s best ideas, mainly the claims that marijuana turns people into sex-crazed baby-killing socialists.

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co_ 006Directed by M. William Panek, The Brown Paper Box Co.’s production of Reefer Madness is at its best during group numbers, when the cast fearlessly tackles the offensive subject matter with vocal gusto. During the smaller numbers, some of the actors struggle to adjust to the absence of the group, and the singing loses precision and clarity.

The musical revels in gratuitous sex and violence, and the exaggeration of these elements highlights the ridiculousness of the movie’s plot, the tragic tale of high school students Jimmy Harper (Tyler Davis) and Mary Lane (Anna Schutz). Under the false pretense of swing dance lessons, drug pusher Jack Stone (David Geinosky) invites Jimmy over to the Reefer Den, where his life will be changed forever.

When Jimmy takes a hit of marijuana for the first time, rather than experiencing lethargy and munchies, Jimmy life descends into a mess of unbridled orgies, Jesus hallucinations, and running over old men with Mary’s car. While Davis’ jonesing can get a little grating to watch at times, he and Schutz showcase impressive vocals, and the two actors have no problem transitioning from adorable sweetness to devilish insanity. Some of the high notes could have more power behind them, and there needs to be a better balance between the volume of the principals and the chorus behind them, but Jimmy and Mary’s tragic romance is a constant source of humor throughout the production.

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co 004 As the denizens of the Reefer Den, junkies Ralph (Michael Gardner), Sally (Jillian Kate Weingart), and Mae (Chelsea Paice) have some of the best moments in the show as stumble around the stage, humping and smoking whatever they can. Wiley is fantastically manic as Ralph, and is extra creepy as Sally’s baby in one disturbing interlude. Paice gets one of the best ballads of the show, and while she handles the lower register well, the big money notes are lacking in energy and support. Weingart has a similar problem, but she makes up for it with her powerful belting and fierce sexuality.

Reefer Madness is a musical that is not afraid to offend. Whether it is through explicit sexuality or graphic violence, the show pushes the boundaries of musical comedy, taking it to hilariously dark place. Brown Paper Box Co.’s production needs a little more polish to be truly memorable, but the actors tackle the material with dedication and courage. Despite the lows, this musical never comes down from its high.

Rating: ★★½

Reefer Madness - Brown Paper Box Co 002

October 20, 2010 | 0 Comments More