Archive for the tag “comedy”

Cupid Has a Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships

WHAT: Cupid Has a Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships
WHEN: 8pm on Saturdays
WHERE: Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission (can vary)
WHO: The Cupid Players
PRICE: $20

OUR RATING: Do It!

Picture 18The fact that Chicago is the King of Comedy shouldn’t be surprising to any reader by now. But, if all you’ve seen is The Second City, you’re just scratching the surface of this vibrant and evolving scene that is perhaps best reflected in small productions at less well-known venues. The Cupid Players’ weekly show at Lakeview’s Stage 773 is Chicago creativity at its best and is in fact funnier than most of its more mainstream counterparts elsewhere. An all-musical production with big ensemble pieces and hilarious solos, each night is an extravaganza and completely different to the last.

Picture 22Adam: There’s one word that comes to mind when thinking of The Cupid Players: ensemble. This is a strong team who, after at least a decade of work, have become flawlessly enwoven to create a wonderful variety of hilarious, all original works.

Located in 773’s Cab theatre, decked out cabaret style with tables, chairs and booths, the intimate space allows for maximum interaction with the characters being forged before you, who sometimes jump right into your seat. And expect them to be singing something extremely dirty while they’re coming for you…that’s part of the game. With musical genres deriving mainly from Broadway, but also Rock and Barbershop, the group moves effortlessly between characters, highlighting everyday troubles in the most elevated manner, from the walk of shame to more taboo topics in songs like “Bathroom Time” and “Parents.”

Witty, vulgar, fun and full of energy, I was laughing through every minute of their material. After being around for over 14 years, let’s hope they stick around for another 14 and more.

Picture 20Alicia: The Cupid Players and their production moved from the iO Theater to Stage 773 back in 2011, and both Stage 773 and their Cab Theatre serve as the perfect venue for this intimate and hilarious crew, named by the Chicago Reader one year as “Best Sketch Comedy Group”. Directed by Brian Posen, this talented crew of comedians were the longest running revue in iO history and continue in popularity on their newer stage.

Picture 19I’ve had the opportunity to see The Cupid Players perform twice, each time incorporating different material with a few of the same songs here and there, all originally written and all completely hysterical. The repertoire is diverse, with anything from ballads to pop, and even a little bit of rap and rock n’ roll, just to keep things interesting. They even mix things up, with some numbers performed by a single individual, but with plenty of group numbers to kick things up a notch. And sure, most of their songs are a little raunchy, so this probably isn’t the kind of thing you want to take the kiddies to, but the songs are smart and catchy, so it all balances out in the end to create a night of extreme fun.

Final Thoughts: Relationships might be painful, but the only pain you’ll get with The Cupid Players and their musical guide to relationships will be the pain in your side from laughing too hard. Go for a crazy fun night out, and laugh the night away.

Butt Trash

WHAT: Butt Trash
WHEN: Sundays at 8pm, March 24 – April 28
WHERE: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy (1422 W. Irving Park Rd.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour, with an approximately 5-minute intermission
WHO: Fanny and Dumpster, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy
PRICE: $10

OUR RATING: Do It!

Lakeview’s Chemically Imbalanced Comedy has a ton of shows going on right now, so Storefront City headed over to see one of their newer improv comedy shows, Butt Trash, featuring female improv comedy groups Fanny and Dumpster.

Adam: Our night began with Fanny, a group of women providing excruciatingly hilarious character acting, positively accurate group dynamics and strong comedy that seemed reminiscent of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; I was most certainly bursting with laughter at these girls.

Made up of Blair Beeken, Claire Mulaney, Sarah Shook and Lily Sullivan, Fanny managed to take the annoyingly complicated suggestion of ‘municipal’ and turn it into a full-fledged ridiculous drama, replete with underage alcohol supply, sexual tension, eating disorders and the most broken social group I’ve seen presented on stage (and that’s a good thing).

What I like most about Fanny is their unashamed comedic antics. Leave your prudishness at home and wallow in the clever skits they produce, otherwise you’ll end up shocked and unamused. Standing out for me were performances by Claire Mulaney, who perfected the awkward overly long-dwelling on a subject that somehow makes it irresistibly funny, and Lily Sullivan, who managed to drop us right in the middle of the most timidly approachable subjects while remaining absolutely straight-faced.

Stream of consciousness and delightfully wonderful improv, Fanny are masters of their art and should be seen at all costs.

(cicomedy.com)

(cicomedy.com)

Alicia: After the briefest of intermissions came the next quartet, Dumpster, whose motto is “the Devil never closes a door without opening a dumpster.” Composed of cast members Jill Fenstermaker, Ellen Haeg, Molly Hall and Amy Speckien, the ladies in this group have credentials ranging from stints at iO Theater, The Gift Theatre, and plenty of other shows at CIC.

While not as successful as their predecessors from Fanny, Dumpster began and ended their show with a group scene, with different characters and combinations in between. The two weakest aspects of the performance was the group’s inability to stay on topic with the audience suggestion (merely using the subject to initiate the first scene, and then never referring to it again), and the constant rotation of changing characters that was hard to follow and which felt like somewhat of a letdown after Fanny’s consistent character profiles.

Yet, Dumpster’s focus on neuroses, family dynamics and a healthy variety of character acting led to fast-paced fun that definitely kept the audience at the edge of their seats wondering what might come next. With a suggestion of “toaster,” this dynamic quartet presented scenes anywhere from neurotic housewives reading romance novels and discussing their feminine problems, to an all-out family war at the dinner table sparked by a little bit of sibling rivalry. With Dumpster, you’re never sure what’s lurking around the next corner, or in the next garbage bin.

bt6

Final Thoughts: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy is producing new comedy at highly affordable prices. Easily accessible and rarely frequented, you are almost definitely guaranteed a seat and plenty of laughs at this independent and developing venue.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

WHAT: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
WHEN: February 2 – March 10, 2013 (see here for schedule)
WHERE:Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave.)
RUNTIME: 90 minutes with no intermission
HOST: Porchlight Music Theatre
PRICE: $32-$41

Alexis J. Rogers (Credit: Kelsey Jorissen)

Rogers (Credit: Kelsey Jorissen)

OUR RATING: Do It!

As the lights come up on Emerson’s Bar & Grill in Philadelphia, 1959, the legendary Billie Holiday takes the stage and lives out one of her final concerts in this sometimes tragic, sometimes uplifting and always powerful performance. Accompanied by a wonderfully talented and expressive jazz trio, Holiday (Alexis J. Rogers) leads us on a musical journey through her life, relationships and struggles in a fascinating and deeply emotional portrait of one of the world’s greatest legendary jazz singers.

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

Adam: One of the strongest productions I’ve seen in the last year, Lady Day is a moving, stirring tribute to this great icon of jazz. With old standards like Easy Livin’, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, and the incomparable God Bless the Child, we learn the true story behind Holiday and begin to better understand the struggles her life, and success, entailed.

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

Rogers’ smooth and sultry voice is a perfect imitation of Holiday’s, and at some points, I thought Rogers was holding back her own voice in order to emulate that of the great singer. But, I didn’t mind. Along with Lanie Robertson’s superb script, including anecdotes that speak to all humanity about the evils of oppression and the horrific struggle to overcome all types of adversity, Rogers fools the audience into believing she really is Holiday, leading one to the tragic realization that any dramatization of her life must end in her death. In this way, a sense of dread builds throughout the production, masterfully executed under the direction of Rob Lindley and Jaret Landon. Nevertheless, I was left feeling elated at such a wonderful portrayal of such an irreplaceable singer. Highly recommended.

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

Alicia: As you walk into Stage 773’s proscenium theater in Lakeview, you can’t help but feel you’ve entered a jazz club from the 50s, and all that is missing are cabaret tables and lamps. And you realize that you and the rest of the audience are dressed all-too-inappropriately. The women should be in glitzy A-line dresses reminiscent of the glitz of the roaring 20s with the sophistication of modern 50s fabrics. And your date definitely forgot his fedora.

Scenic designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec must be applauded for his intimate and simply beautiful set that reels you into a small bar in Philadelphia from this era, with a well placed fog machine imitating the cigarette smoke that was probably pervading the bar back then. The only thing I wished was that the whole play was transplanted next door to Stage 773’s cabaret theater instead, but perhaps that’s too much to ask.

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

The show from start to finish is completely riveting, and the role of Holiday is all too perfect for Rogers, who not only slips into – but owns – the star’s shoes. After first seeing Rogers as Bess in Court Theatre’s production of Porgy and Bess, and being pretty disappointed in the pairing of Rogers and her character, she has completed altered my perception of her as a performer. She transforms and transitions skillfully from song to song with some interrupting discussions with the audience and her band, and you almost forget that you aren’t watching and listening to the real thing. There’s passion, hope, loss, faith, love, and darkness, and they all stalk you for the whole 90 minutes, leaving you quite exhausted by the end of it all. But exhausted in the way you feel after a good workout, or a good cry, and at the end of her performance there’s nothing you can do but give the work a standing applause.

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

(porchlightmusictheatre.org)

Final thoughts: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill stands out as a wonderful production for anyone passionate about jazz, music and theatre. Rogers’ performance is amazing and well worth your evening. So, book a ticket, pull up a chair and drink in the atmosphere…

Improv All-Stars

WHAT: Improv All-Stars (Comedy)
WHEN: Every Monday at 8pm from January 21 – April 29 (with an additional performance on January 24 at 8pm)
WHERE: UP Comedy Club (230 W. North Ave.)
RUN TIME: 60 minutes, no intermission
PRICE: $16.00 (Online and phone orders incur a $3-$7.50 fee)

OUR RATING: Chance It!

In Chicago, you can’t get more classic than The Second City. Founded in the 1950s at the University of Chicago, it is a cornerstone of comedy, and so, we expect only the best chortles when appreciating their interpretation of the artform. Improv All-Stars at UP Comedy Club, comprised of Second City-ites, certainly made us chuckle, but fell short of the mark and ultimately left us believing that you can only do the same routines so many times before they become old and worn.

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

We’d previously been initiated into the UP Comedy Club scene a few months ago to see a few stand-up acts by Maribeth Monroe and Erik Griffin from the show Workaholics. The space, located on the third floor of Piper’s Alley in Old Town, and just adjacent to their presenter Second City, is pretty unique, offering two levels of cabaret-style seating, as well as a full service kitchen and bar.

Under the direction of Mick Napier, Improv All-Stars features highly interactive improvisational comedy, with a mix of traditional games you’ll see elsewhere in the Chicago improv scene with some long-form pieces. We will admit that some classic routines, including shout-outs from the audience to construct a story told by each member in succession (including robots and Asians) and a full musical sung about completely wacky subjects, with the accompaniment of an acoustic piano, were really fun and could not be replicated by other groups.

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

Improv All-Stars really plays on their ancestry, once in awhile speaking about the development of the improvisational art form and the uniqueness of Second-City comedy. This segwayed into a simple, but rather lengthy, two-person improvised scene based entirely on one suggestion from the audience.

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

However, perhaps what bothers us the most about UP is not the content or locations, but the little things that seem to get in the way of a good evening. The price, at $16, is steep for an hour of comedy (even if it is Second City), and especially so when the material is not really that new. Add to this the service charges (we could talk about how nauseating annoying these are in another post entirely) and you have tickets costing over $20 for only 60 minutes of performance. That’s more than a just-minted college grad makes in 2 or so hours, and they are literally just running around the stage playing games! And then there are the wait staff. Our advice to them: stop harassing patrons who are clearly not going to buy anything, especially since there isn’t a drink minimum (if we’ve said no once, do you really think our answer is going to change over the course of an hour? And if it did, we’d just wave you over to help us out).

(upcomedyclub.com)

(upcomedyclub.com)

Seeing comedy in Chicago is kind of like playing Russian Roulette, and with the cast of Improv All-Stars constantly rotating, there is such a thing as an on or off night. So, our advice to you (if you have the $20 to spare) is go and try it out. You’ll have a good time regardless (it’s funny), but only if you are willing to part with your Jackson with no hard feelings.

The Paper Machete

WHAT: The Paper Machete (Variety Show)
WHEN: Every Saturday from 3pm
WHERE: The Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway Ave.)

OUR RATING:
Do It!–Our experience
Chance It!–Possible future performances

(thepapermacheteshow.com)

(thepapermacheteshow.com)

The Paper Machete is a town crier for the modern age, providing audiences with amusing, serious and diverse entertainment covering pop culture, current events and a good dose of musical interlude. Originally launched in 2010, and created and hosted by writer Christopher Piatt, The Paper Machete tickles nearly every fancy, and allows one to experience the iconic cocktail lounge The Green Mill (of Prohibition fame) in the same manner as generations past: with a complete variety show.

Creator and Host Christopher Priatt (thepapermacheteshow.com)

Christopher Priatt (thepapermacheteshow.com)

Every Saturday afternoon at 3pm, this “live magazine” offers patrons a chance to connect with stars from the likes of iO, The Second City, the Neo-Futurists and beyond. Named best comedy variety show of 2011 by the Chicago Reader, the show encompasses an array of performances that are sure not to disappoint regulars and newcomers alike.

(greenmilljazz.com)

(greenmilljazz.com)

This past Saturday, Storefront City had a chance to visit this historic location and listen along to this rapid-fire magazine of popular thought. Our afternoon began with a rather serious interlude into environmental protection by Rachael Mason of iO. What appeared at first to be a paean for environmental action, soon showed its true colours as an amusing reflection on her childhood poetry for Earth Day, that brought up important and pertinent issues related to the recent Hurricane Sandy and its effects on her family. Masterfully blending humor and reality, Mason kept our attention and made us appreciate the awesome destructive power of nature, and man’s influence on it.

The Green Mill (courtesy of Tom Gill)

The Green Mill (courtesy of Tom Gill)

In keeping with this serious nature, Lisa Buscani of the Neo-Futurists’ investigation into the sordid world of Sandusky, from the perspective of another inmate at the same prison, provided a reflective moment to appreciate the situation of those who are behind bars and the circumstances that lead society to imprison.

Ike Holter

Ike Holter

But, let’s be honest, a magazine is never all about it’s newsworthy material, and we were treated to an inventive series of laughs as well. Ike Holter, popular playwright of Hit the Wall (first performed by The Inconvenience at Steppenwolf last year, and now moving to Off-Broadway), gave us an op-ed monologue musing on this year’s selection for the Academy Awards. Featuring quotes from “that owner of 7 Eleven who shouts at hipsters” to acceptances speeches themselves, Holter was full of ingenuity and verve.

(reformedwhores.com)

NYC’s Reformed Whores (reformedwhores.com)

And what variety show would be complete without music? We giggled with NYC musical comedy duo Reformed Whores, and swung along to the dulcet tones of Bethany Thomas (of Porgy and Bess fame), who created an atmosphere entirely appropriate to such a venerated establishment as The Green Mill.

Chad the Bird (wbez.org)

Chad the Bird (wbez.org)

A well-rounded current events publication needs a sports section, this one provided by resident puppet Chad the Bird (a Josh Zagoren creation). Staging in the venue was divided between the main stage towards the back, and the bar area, where Chad gave us his weekly sports roundup.

Matt Braunger (thepapermachete.com)

Matt Braunger (thepapermacheteshow.com)

Finally, Matt Braunger (love your website!) provided the capstone to the afternoon, also performing from the bar area. With topics covering Chicago staples such as certain kinds of people on the #22 bus, to tripped out nights dressed as clowns downtown, Braunger tapped into the audience and hit all the right notes. We highly recommend you see him if you can in the future.

Bethany Thomas (courtesy of Jeremy Rill)

Bethany Thomas (courtesy of Jeremy Rill)

Busy on Saturday afternoons? Not to worry! Every week The Paper Machete and host WBEZ create a podcast, also known as “The Paper Machete Radio Magazine,” with selections from the latest show.

The Paper Machete comes highly recommended from Storefront City. Best enjoyed with a couple of friends (the space is crowded) and a relaxed attitude, performances may vary week to week, but if the quality remains the same as last time, you will not be disappointed.

The 12th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival

WHAT: The 12th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (SketchFest) (Comedy)
WHEN: January 3-13, 2013 (see schedule here for specific start times)
WHERE: Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave.)
HOST: Stage 773

OUR RATING: Do It!

(chicagosketchfest.com)

(chicagosketchfest.com)

Chicago is famous for its comedy, and especially its sketch comedy. Since the birth of Second City, the nation’s second city has become a magnet for all comedic types, from the guy performing at the bar right down to Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. However, rarely does all this great talent coalesce in one place. The (12th Annual) Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (aka SketchFest) at Stage 773 is one such rare place where troupes from around the country (and globe) perform to audience after audience in an excited, electric atmosphere that only a theatre of Stage 773’s calibre could muster. Over just two weeks of performances, Stage 773 will probably be visited by over 10,000 patrons watching 169 performances featuring over 1000 artists. The nation’s largest sketch comedy festival. Astounding.

Stage 773 Lobby (stupidtimemachine.wordpress.com)

Stage 773 (stupidtimemachine.wordpress.com)

When you enter SketchFest, you might be a little confused. There are people everywhere you look, some dressed as lobsters, another as a very demonic looking Winnie the Pooh. Beer is flowing from the bar, a woman stands atop an ice chest selling $4 PBR Tall Boys, as laughter is escaping from the theatres into the lobby. The awesomely-decorated space is pulsing with energy.

But don’t be fooled. This is organized chaos. After you pick up your ticket from the desk to the left of where you enter, you can mill around and have fun until your show is called. There is a really fun raffle going on, where you can win anything from some fun trinkets to a Guinness, and even free tickets, for only a buck. And once the hour comes around, every single theater in the space opens, and guests are ushered into their respective shows.

Once your show is done, you are led out of the theatre via an alternative route than those coming in, providing a constant flow of comedy-goers that prevents traffic jams and speeds transitions. And if you’re up for the challenge, you can go right back into the throng of enthusiastic lobby-dwellers and await the next show.

Stage 773 has four distinct theatres (proscenium, thrust, black box and cabaret), each featuring different comedians and troupes every hour. We didn’t manage to get into all four spaces last weekend, but we’re going to try to this weekend when the Fest continues.

 (cupidplayers.com)

The Cupid Players (cupidplayers.com)

Our night started off with The Cupid Players, who actually perform outside of SketchFest every Saturday night at Stage 773. If you’ve never seen Chicago sketch comedy before, this is where you should start. It’s better than any Second City show we’ve seen. Ensemble-driven, The Cupid Players create original and intelligent musical sketch comedies, rooted in social and political satire. They sing, they dance (well, sorta), they play musical instruments and, more importantly, boy do they entertain. It’s a wild and hysterical roller coaster, and when you get off the ride you’ll be high on laughter and your cheeks will hurt from smiling so hard.

Boat (boatcomedy.com)

Boat (boatcomedy.com)

Next up was Boat, a Brooklyn (NY) based trio with a hyper-satirical and rather surreal go at sketch comedy. These three boys are not afraid of the dark-side of comedy. If you aren’t into jokes about pedophilia, death and homosexuality, this may not be for you. But if you’re a little more open, Boat is definitely a unique and risk-taking bunch.

Missing Earl (missingearl.com)

Missing Earl (missingearl.com)

As with any comedy festival, each show you will see is different, and has a chance of being excellent or not to your liking. Such is the nature of comedy, after all. One show that we would not recommend was by Missing Earl from New York City. While a wide array of themes and ideas were put forward, none made these reviewers laugh in the way one would want. Overwhelmingly dark themes that didn’t seem to be derived from much more than grotesque or toilet humor (fancy eating a pilot’s privates after a serious plane crash?), we believe this group needs to focus on more accessible laugh, rather than fringe material whose goal is to shock rather than entertain.

Uncalled For (weareuncalledfor.com)

Uncalled For (weareuncalledfor.com)

However, apart from this slight blemish, the other shows we saw were timely and amazing. Canadian group Uncalled For produced a work reminiscent of the Monty Python good old days, complete with BBC news reports, time travel, CERN, the theory of evolution and free birthday cake. We would describe it as stream of consciousness humor that is hilarious in its absurdity, yet thoughtful in its content and delivery. A sensitive, side-splitting experience!

(chicagosketchfest.com)

(chicagosketchfest.com)

We suggest the best way to experience SketchFest is to go with a few friends and purchase a one-night pass this Saturday, and go from show-to-show (and make sure to see Cupid Players at 8PM on The Pro Stage). Buy a few raffle tickets and you’re practically guaranteed a lovely Guinness or two to accompany you throughout the night (a drink tends to make everything funnier, obviously). If this review isn’t quite enough to convince you to take part in this amazing experience, we think the promo image does the rest of the talking for us.

The Motherf**ker with the Hat

WHAT: The Motherf**ker with the Hat (Theater)
WHEN: December 28, 2012 – March 3, 2013
WHERE: Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted Ave.)
RUN TIME: 1 hr and 40 minutes, no intermission
HOST: Steppenwolf Theatre Company

OUR RATING: Do It!

"The Motherf**ker with the Hat" (courtesy of steppenwolf.org, Photo by Sandro)

“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” (steppenwolf.org, Photo: Sandro)

With a head-turning title that will leave some desperate to see Stephen Adly Guirgis’ newest Chicago production–and make more conservative types turn their noses up–The Motherf**ker with the Hat exudes the fury imbedded in its title and confronts us with the morally tangible nature of love, lust and loneliness. With an utterly stark and beautifully intricate set, all-star talent and layers of profanity, the fast-paced and darkly comical Motherf**ker is not a play to be missed.

John Ortiz as Jackie -- Photo: Michael Brosilow

John Ortiz as Jackie — Photo: Michael Brosilow

The Motherf**ker with the Hat originally premiered on Broadway back in 2011, starring Chris Rock and directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member and Tony Award-winner Anna D. Shapiro. While the cast is entirely different in this Chicago production, Shapiro again directs and is accompanied by some of the same designers from the Broadway production, making this Chicago production a unique reincarnation. Even more unique (and refreshing) is that the cast features no Steppenwolf ensemble member, which separates this show from the usual ensemble-based works by STC.

(right to left) Couson Julio (Gary Perez) cooks breakfast for Jackie (John Ortiz)  -- Photo: Michael Brosilow

(right to left) Cousin Julio (Gary Perez) and Jackie (John Ortiz) — Photo: Michael Brosilow

This is a story of many angles and perspectives, to say the least. Love triangle is not a sufficient expression to describe the deeply flawed and entwined relationships on show, between an ex-con turned janitor, his girlfriend, his sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous, that man’s wife and the ex-con’s cousin. The complexity is accentuated by the underlying deceit that colours the entire work.

Sandra Delgado as Veronica -- Photo by Michael Brosilow

Sandra Delgado as Veronica — Photo: Michael Brosilow

The protagonist, Jackie (John Ortiz), has just been released from prison and is thrilled to be returning home to his high school sweetheart Veronica (Sandra Delgado)–who is anything but sweet. The chance discovery of the eponymous Motherf**ker’s hat leads to an unfolding of the truth that leaves practically no character untainted by the stain of infidelity and addiction.

(right to left) Jackie (John Ortiz) takes his sponsor, Ralph D. (Jimmy Smits) to visit his Cousin Julio -- Photo by Michael Brosilow

(right to left) Jackie (John Ortiz) and Ralph D. (Jimmy Smits) — Photo: Michael Brosilow

Protected by his mentor Ralph (Jimmy Smits) from the AA, and taken into his home along with his unhappy wife Victoria (Sandra Marquez), Jackie bounces around from his mentor, to his cousin Julio (Gary Perez) and back to his girlfriend. We follow Jackie on this journey, and share in hilarity and intensity of his relationships, which make one both laugh and reflect on the more serious consequences of human emotion.

Todd Rosenthal's scenic design for "The Motherf**ker with the Hat" -- Photo by Michael Brosilow

Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design for “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” — Photo: Michael Brosilow

This superb acting is framed amongst scenic designer Todd Rosenthal’s fantastical cogwheel set, which is perfectly utilized to showcase three distinct scenes, each with its own character. We are even treated to views of some characters living within their homes/sets during scene changes, which lends to the realism captured in both script and set.

A script that makes us consider the values of others in comparison to our own, no matter how unattractive those values may be, plunges the audience into a conundrum worth cogitating on, and a play definitely worth seeing.

P.S. Check out Steppenwolf’s interview with playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis.

Broadway’s Sister Act

WHAT: Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy
WHEN/WHERE: Check the Tour Map!
HOST: Broadway

OUR RATING: Do It!

The company of "Sister Act" (courtesy of sisteractbroadway.com)

The company of “Sister Act” (courtesy of sisteractbroadway.com)

It was a blast from the past: Sister Act — that classic 90’s feature — was back in full force on the Chicago Broadway stage in this one-of-a-kind musical adaptation that will leave you dancing in your seat. The fresh, hilarious performances, combined with excellent staging and direction, made Sister Act (a divine musical comedy) at the Auditorium Theatre a saintly diversion for young and old alike.

Based on the 1992 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg, and featuring original music by 8-time Oscar® winner Alan Menken, Sister Act follows the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a club singer who goes into hiding as a nun after she witnesses a murder. While attempting to maintain her cover, Deloris can’t help but share her passion for music with her fellow sisters, helping them to find their voice while also fighting to save their church.

The joy of Sister Act is perhaps its ability to make you laugh at the littlest of things. This isn’t crude humor (they’re nuns after all), but still manages to create sideslipping fun which becomes habit-forming.

New songs with old faces make the audience comfortable with the changes that might not be welcome to some die-hard fans of the classic. However, everyone is soon grooving along, and on the night we attended the performance we noticed a couple of people even get up from their seats mid-way through and dance in the aisles!

We saw strong performances from Ta’rea Campbell (Deloris) and Hollis Resnik (Mother Superior), who bring some of the exceptionality to the production. We alternated from belting ballads to soulful serenades as we followed Deloris’ transformation from club singer to nun, and then the transformation of the nuns themselves. We even got a special guest appearance of the Most Holy type, an unexpected surprise.

Sister Act comes highly recommended by Storefront City, even if it has taken over 20 years to get it from screen to stage. It may no longer be on the Auditorium Theatre stage, but check it out if it makes it way back to the city. Alicia will even be seeing it again (purely by chance, however) on the Fort Lauderdale Broadway stage in the coming week!

P.S.: Can’t make it to the theatre? Then you can watch the original right here: Sister Act / Sister Act 2 – Back in the Habit

Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear

WHAT: Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear (Stand-Up Comedy)
WHEN: Running December 4 – 16, 2012
WHERE: Steppenwolf Theatre Company (1650 N. Halsted)
HOST: Jeff Garlin and Steppenwolf Theatre Company

OUR RATING: Do it!


–(photo courtesy of jeffgarlin.com)

We had the amazing opportunity to see the first preview of Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear, a limited engagement stand-up comedy routine in Steppenwolf’s intimate Upstairs Theatre.

While perhaps most known for his role in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (of which he is also the executive producer), Jeff is also an alum of Chicago’s Second City, wrote/directed/starred in the film I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, has lent his voice to numerous Disney movies and has a local show based in LA called By the Way – Conversations With.

Here’s our two cents on his newest show, Jeff Garlin: Closer Than I Appear.

Alicia: Unlike Adam, I am not a die-hard fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm, nor as familiar with Jeff’s comedy in general. Nevertheless, I went into the performance ready and willing for anything he might throw at me. I was not dissatisfied.

I won’t lie and say Mr. Garlin was flawless. His strength is clearly in scripted (or slightly structured) material, rather than stand-up. While the middle of his performance was shaky (he kept going back to a list of possible stories/angles he brought with him and trying out some new things, many of which only elicited a single laugh or two from the audience before descending into silence), the beginning and end of the show were really strong, and he was a pro at recovering from some of his dead-end attempts.

Perhaps what made this show so appealing was Jeff’s familiarity with Chicago (he’s a native of the city and owns a place up in the Gold Coast). Many of his jokes were based on things I knew from merely walking along the intersection of Chicago and Michigan, or passing the Lou Malnati’s in the Gold Coast. Jeff knows what a Chicago audience can relate to, and how to make it funny. His childish charm and curiosity are really unique staples in his routine. In summary, I found it extremely enjoyable, and I laughed a lot…which is the point, right? I’d go again, even if only to see his jack-o-lantern prop and hear a re-hash of his story about a man and his lotions and creams. I won’t expound or clarify…what would be the fun in that?

Adam: You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to able to see the legendary Jeff Garlin at Steppenwolf, practically right in my backyard. I have a long association with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and remember clearly first seeing the advertisements for it, starring Jeff, about ten or eleven years ago on British television. More than just a comedy series, the show resonated for me at another level, as I saw myself and antics (albeit exaggerated) reflected in those of the characters more often than not.

Jeff Garlin is truly a master of observational comedy. Whether it’s slightly touchy subjects like the obese and their scooters (and who hasn’t wondered about this) or the infamous “lotions and creams” man, Jeff literally makes you laugh out loud. And I mean LAUGH out loud, as in, I was laughing so much I could barely contain myself, which certainly can’t be said of any run-of-the-mill comedian.

His deep knowledge of Chicago and relatability to the audience created a relaxed atmosphere more akin to a conversation with Jeff than a show. While I would ordinarily find audience participation and shout-outs rather annoying, they were entirely appropriate here, and lent to the lovable sense of collective friendship Jeff created.

Jeff’s greatest strength is perhaps a total willingness to say what everyone else is thinking. He doesn’t do this maliciously or with intent to offend, but in the manner of the genuinely interested, which makes us evaluate why we are so introverted in our everyday lives as to never ask these questions. Perhaps what makes him so appealing is his ingenious ability to turn uncomfortable subjects into feather beds.

If you can make it to this show GO! Please, please go! It is the perfect antidote to the impending winter and might, just might, give you a little more faith in the human condition. (Additionally, this is a great opportunity to meet and greet with Jeff after the show, with a variety of merchandise for sale and signing by the man himself).

P.S.: Jeff has a fab new autobiography out that’s worth a read, if you can continue coherently between the laughs – Curbing It

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