Archive for the tag “Design”

Catch Me If You Can The Musical

WHAT: Catch Me If You Can The Musical
WHEN: April 2 – 14, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph St.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours and 55 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission
WHO: Broadway in Chicago
PRICE: $18-85

OUR RATING: Skip It!

The latest adaptation of Frank Abagnale, Jr.’s 1980 biography, and heavily based upon the 2002 film, Catch Me If You Can follows the story of this con-artist through the many twists and turns of his life, from airline pilot, doctor, lawyer and so on, as he evades the authorities while tapping out a few tunes. Poorly written and musically glib, the performance is made worse by the serious lack of vocal talent on offer and the frustratingly predictable content.

Adam: Every year, tens of musicals are written around the world with only a few seeing the lights of the Broadway stage. Some are beyond belief fantastic, while others make you wonder whether The Producers is actually coming true, with Bialystock and Bloom succeeding in making a flop. I would have preferred to sit through a fictional musical about Hitler than the asinine malarkey presented on the Cadillac Palace Theatre stage this week. An embarrassing array of mediocrity, Catch Me If You Can The Musical will leave you firmly planted in your seat, while its cast imagines soaring through the skies, only for you to wish they would come crashing down in a fireball.

(Photo by Christian Toto)

(Photo by Christian Toto)

Stephen Anthony’s depiction of Frank Abagnale, Jr. is actually admirable. He captures some of the youthful zest of DiCaprio’s screen performance, but leaves one wishing for the tour de force of the original actor. Most disappointing was his singing range, which clearly was not appropriate for the role. His inability to hit certain notes was not only clearly apparent, but terribly distracting and unacceptable for a Broadway musical.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

The chorus was also absolutely not up to Broadway calibre, and I felt sorry for an audience who had shelled out good money to be regaled by these untrained Sirens, who seemed to plunge the whole endeavor into the realms of YouTube videos that I purely watch for schadenfreude.

I left the theatre not believing what I had just seen: a complete flop that was given a standing ovation by the audience. Perhaps I got it wrong and the audience was right, but I suspect that this is once again a sign of the times: the audience wouldn’t care if it was bad or good, just so long as they see a musical, all will be well.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Alicia: There are a few aspects to this production which are commendable. One, scenic designer David Rockwell’s escalator-esque set piece upon which the entire orchestra sits (with the drums underneath). Second, the orchestra and local musicians themselves, both in being able to watch them perform (instead of hiding them in the pit) as well as the quality of their performance. Third was Bob Bonniol’s video system and content design. While some of the video was way too over the top and completely ridiculous (anywhere from flashing stars the colors of the rainbow to sunrises), some of it reminded me of the aesthetic of the last James Bond film, which was fitting for this show. But to be perfectly honest, this was the first time I have seen this kind of design content before, so I may have just been impressed by the technology more than the actual aesthetic.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Yet, if you had been there to see my reactions to this performance, you would not have guessed that I liked anything at all, being in utter disbelief in what was happening on stage. First and foremost, I felt sorry that William Ivey Long had to costume design this thing, with a script calling for women dressed up as Elmer’s Glue, India Ink and a Swiss Army Knife, and other women dressed in practically nothing. And performances from Aubrey Mae Davis (Brenda) and Allyson Tolbert (India Ink Assistant, Nurse, etc.) make you wonder how some of these performers were allowed to set foot on a Broadway stage.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

The only enjoyable song by any means was “Don’t Break the Rules,” sung by Merritt David Janes (Agent Carl Hanratty) and company. Yet songs like “(Our) Family Tree” and “Fly, Fly Away” made me wonder why I didn’t leave during intermission, or why I even came at all.

Final Thoughts: Broadway is expensive. Please don’t shell out your hard-earned money for this one. If you really want to learn about Frank Abagnale, Jr., either watch the film Catch Me If You Can, read a book, or wiki it. You’ll save yourself a lot of headache, a lot of money, and a solid three hours of your life.

P.S.: Check fraud was not the only crime being committed that night. Clearly, judging by the sight-lines, Cadillac Palace Theatre was having a little swindle of their own. A seat should not have no view of a quarter of the stage. We don’t appreciate guessing who is singing when they disappear, as it makes for an annoying experience. This is Broadway Cadillac, get your act together!

Under a Rainbow Flag

WHAT: Under a Rainbow Flag
WHEN: March 21 – April 21, 2013 (schedule)

WHERE: Profiles Theatre – The Main Stage (4139 N. Broadway Ave.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours and 30 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Pride Films and Plays
PRICE: $15-25

OUR RATING: Do It!

A meeting on a train for four gay soldiers during World War Two is the starting point for Leo Schwartz’s new musical Under the Rainbow Flag, based on the true story of veteran Jon Phillips. A tale of self-discovery, good humor and utter tragedy, we journey west to San Francisco and onto the war-torn shores of East Asia, exploring the many different paths these remarkable men take.

With show-stopping tunes and wonderfully composed ensemble pieces, Under the Rainbow Flag tells the very real story of servicemen who fought and died for a country which denied and opposed their sexuality, and for this it should be celebrated as an original and heartfelt triumph.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Alicia: The production of Under a Rainbow Flag couldn’t have better timing. The show was submitted as part of Pride Films and Plays’ Great Gay Play Contest (2012), and now the next installment is right around the corner with Gay Play Weekend and the 2013 Great Gay Play Contest showing its fierce talent at Center on Halsted from May 17 to 19.

Since last year’s contest, Under a Rainbow Flag has nurtured and grown, with a staged reading at Center on Halsted last May, and with an overwhelming response to their Indiegogo project, raising over $5000. And now, after months of work, it has matured and found its place on Uptown’s Main Stage.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Under the Rainbow Flag is a poignant, fast-paced soiree that really does take you back to those days of radio plays, big bands and rhythm & blues, and the prevalence of WWII propaganda infiltrating the modern lives of American civilians and soldiers alike. Set Designer Ashley Ann Woods works magic on the production, with WWII vintage print posters lining the top level of the stage, magnificently painted background drops of San Francisco on the main level, and even her trolley-track work-of-art flooring. She works hand-in-hand with lighting designer Garvin Jellison to move the audience effortlessly from setting to setting, with my favorite moments being spotlights against a Pearl Harbor poster (and did I detect an outline of a radio?) while the radio news played to provide a bit of historical background to the theatrical mix.

But the talent didn’t stop on the tech side, with director and Pride Films and Plays Executive Director David Zak showing his directorial prowess with a melange of smart, risky and just-plain-fun choices. Knockout performances were seen from James Nedrud (Russell) and Jordan Phelps (Stefano), who may not have been the main characters, but were really the ones who carried the show for me. Nedrud has obviously played the musical scene before (his rendition of “The Army’s Handing Out Medals” with fellow actor Luis Herrera (Bender) was a highlight of the night), and I would love to see him elsewhere on stage. He knows how to play to a crowd and how to really work Tracy Strimple’s choreography. Meanwhile, Phelps has a sincere and provocative charm which adds complexity to his bitingly raw performance.

Adam: The presence of gays in the military during World War Two is not a subject that is covered much in the history books. While technically banned from service in the 1940s, the imperative for fighting men meant that gays were indeed admitted, albeit while keeping their sexuality low profile. Indeed, the recent repeal of DADT, as well as the cases currently before the Supreme Court, reminds us that we are still in the midst of this discrimination, and have only just begun taking steps towards equality. Under a Rainbow Flag starts to illuminate some of this history for the first time, an extremely important service.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Truly marvelous and catchy numbers (especially “Queens”, which is perhaps the most riotously fantastic piece in the whole work) create a sense of connection and camaraderie between audience and actors. Full of energy and life, we are treated to a full array of experiences from the openly camp, to the closeted (but hilarious) reactions to straight servicemen. Codes are an essential part of life for these men, who must balance between the ideal and reality, which is also more brutally reflected in the wartime setting, replete with its own codes and ciphers, even if they are for more grisly purposes.

(Photo by David Zak)

With expert music direction by Robert Ollis, seated behind the keyboard in full military uniform, a perfect score beams forth that makes us laugh as well as reflect on the wider, more serious issues that it raises. An important piece of theatre for our times, I would highly recommend you pick up a ticket and get a front row seat.

Final Thoughts: With Under the Rainbow Flag, Pride Films and Plays continues to foster compelling and talented work that speaks to the LGBT community and beyond, and we’re thrilled to see such a commendable piece of work find its footing in the performing arts and have such great success in a short period of time.

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…

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