Archive for the tag “entertainment”

Belleville

WHAT: Belleville
WHEN: June 27 – August 25, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted St.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $20-78

OUR RATING: Do It!

(steppenwolf.org)

(steppenwolf.org)

Amy Herzog’s intriguing work about two Americans living fitfully in the French capital, albeit in a peripheral neighbourhood, uncovers for us one of the deepest fears we can have about anyone – what is a person’s true nature? While producing a facade of slightly Bohemian homeliness, Herzog illustrates that just under the surface writhes a secret world, waiting to be exposed.

Adam: Relationships are ongoing affairs – each one meanders in such a way as to make it totally indiscernible to the the outside world. Couples present visions of themselves, and to each other, and Herzog’s keen writing and knack for accentuating a fractious situation sheds light on the darker side of the individual – the part of us that is not truly known.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Zack (Cliff Chamberlain) and Abby (Kate Arrington, Steppenwolf ensemble member) live in a limbo world in which neither of them belong: an all-American home thrust into a foreign city and, to make matters more confusing, they reside in a district populated by the scions of the Francophone empire. Perhaps it is this obviously different backdrop that allows Amy Herzog’s characters to love and fight so passionately, but there is also a sickness flowering between them, fueled by a need to escape, an escape from their very contained reality.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

This relationship is instantly illuminated as tainted by neuroses: both parties have much to answer for, and the unknowing juvenal nature of their behavior can take an audience from laughter, to repulsion, and finally, to shock.

Alicia: After reading the script for Belleville I was excited to see such a riveting play performed by a quartet of some of Chicago’s finest (and sexiest) actors. Amy Herzog’s script might have a few flaws, but she is a very talented writer, and what seems most important are the levels of suspense she creates. You’re not suspended in one feeling, but taken on a journey, so that once you reach the climax of the production, you’re on the edge of your seat just waiting for a fall, but what kind of fall that is, and from how high, is a mystery.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

My first impression of Steppenwolf’s production, however, was not quite so high, as I was immediately put off by James Schuette’s set design. Two young expats with two kids manage an apartment complex in the North of Paris, and two Americans with low-paying jobs are coming to live there. But the set is relatively extravagant, and seems not-quite-so affordable for these characters.

Nonetheless, the show as a whole was a definite thriller, and even though I already knew the suspenseful ending, the production and Anne Kauffman’s direction brought a whole new life to a complex and intelligent script.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Final Thoughts: Be wary of who you go to see Belleville with. We’ve heard of couples having huge fights after the play, each identifying with different characters and viewpoints. But, if you can take that emotion home with you, then a piece of art has done its job.

P.S.: Despite our love for most Steppenwolf productions, we must admit we were furious with our seats. Steppenwolf should be ashamed to seat patrons in their box seats if there are sightline issues. We could not see the entirety of stage right. Luckily, most of the thrilling action occurs stage left, so we felt more sorry for the folks seating in the house right boxes. Nonetheless, disgustingly disappointing.

Lascivious Something

Picture 35WHAT: Lascivious Something
WHEN: May 4 – June 8 (schedule)
WHERE: Signal Ensemble Theatre (1802 W. Berenice Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 50 min w/ a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Signal Ensemble Theatre
PRICE: $15-20

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Sexually charged, mysterious and somewhat reclusive, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s Lascivious Something meanders through the treacherous relationships that ensue when one doesn’t fully leave behind the past (or that past comes after you). Set on a remote Greek island, an American expatriate has settled with his local wife and is enjoying the ancient Greek tradition of winemaking, although it is clear that this industry has become lost over the millennia. Then, as if a thunderbolt came crashing through the clouds, a familiar stranger from his past wreaks havoc upon the couple, presenting a situation that has no easy answers or quick getaways.

Sheila Callaghan’s script can be choppy at times, but that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with this production – it just depends on your tastes.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Adam: On a meticulously detailed stage that seems to be inspired in its positioning by the skene and orchestra of the ancient variety, four characters collide in the disturbing and sometimes reflective Lascivious Something. Vinification is the word of the moment, and the obsession with producing the perfect bottle central to August (Joe McCauley), as he becomes lost in the process of creating a legend in a bottle. But, as we see his past unfold before us, through anecdotes related to his wife, Daphne (Simone Roos) and the unexpected arrival of a long-lost friend (Georgann Charuhas), we start to wonder whether he is trying to bottle himself, almost, and the potential legend he could have been, were his choices just slightly different.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Time is a key element here, with alternate possibilities played out in sequence. Although this is sometimes confusing and becomes almost routine by the end, the use of time as a way of exploring unspoken or unrealised actions gives the work an interesting and unique angle. The playwright seems to be acknowledging the endless universes in which we could be living, or is she just hinting at the ponderings and fantasies  we all have, thus explaining the more extreme outcomes.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

But, above all, this is a play about gender, politics and sex. August is now settled with a child on the way, but old loves, both human and ideological, still play heavy upon him, like mind-ghosts creeping in the shadows, just waiting to pounce. Will he resign himself to his supposedly stable relationship (it’s not; his wife clearly has other sexual conquests of a more Sapphic type in mind) or resume rebellion, personally sexual and public social, back in California with his wayward love? Perhaps neither answer is satisfactory – the decisions were all made long ago.

One aspect of this play does prove itself to be rather weak in the offing, namely nudity. I, like most people of my generation, am immune to nudity, as it permeates just about every cable show imaginable in such a way as to make it commonplace and expected. This is less so in the theatre, but I am of the belief that most directors choose to portray nudity for shock value, rather than for any real plot driven reason. Unless the nudity is absolutely necessary for the scene, I view it as a last resort: simply there to give people something to talk about afterwards. It cheapens the play because it’s desperate and naively assumes that none of us have ever seen a breast before.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Alicia: As you walk into the theater, Buck Blue’s magnificently intimate Grecian set greets you with its warm embrace – an invitingly quaint villa with the utmost detail. Yet while its picturesque image astounds, it is simple enough to let the actors shine, highlighting Signal Ensemble Theatre’s mission on actor-focused work. And despite a few dips on the acting scale, the performances are quite powerful, with tension-filled moments lying masked in the dangerous minefield of August’s ultimate reckoning. Perhaps the most stand-out performance came from Cassidy Shea Stirtz (Boy), for while her stage time was the shortest, her moments were achingly raw and exciting.

Sexual tension and images of a carnal nature are pervasive in this work, and actresses Charahus and Roos play with this tension masterfully, always knowing when to hold back and when to strike and sink their teeth into their next biting remark or their outspoken revelation. They’re quick to the punch, and sultry in their manipulations.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Ultimately, this play was a little difficult for me to wrap my feelings around, for while the concept was new and exciting and the cast and crew worked crazy dramatic magic, Callaghan’s script was really rough. The twists and turns and moments of instant-replay were filled with tension bordering between threatening and arousing, which made for an exciting theater-going experience. Yet, near the end of the play the plot became muddled in a way that made it impossible to wade through, and I found myself exasperated. Director Ronan Marra and the Signal Ensemble team did what they could to make this script work, but ultimately I was caught between being compelled by their production, and being thoroughly confused with Callaghan’s thought-process.

Final Thoughts: Lascivious Something has powerful staging, interesting relationships and makes you feel like the Greek sun is beating down on you. However, certain aspects mean it will not be appreciate by all who lay eyes upon it.

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.

Maxwell Street Market

WHAT: Maxwell Street Market
WHERE: 800 S. Desplaines St.
WHEN: Every Sunday; 7am – 3pm

OUR RATING: Do It!

Dating back to 1900 when it was established by immigrants, today this market bustles in a new location with the life and produce of a new generation. An Aladdin’s Cave of everything from produce to electronics, it’s a quintessential Chicago experience and perfect for a hot day of strolling and bargain hunting.

Alicia: The Maxwell Street neighborhood is one of the city’s oldest residential districts and comes with a wealth of history. The neighborhood’s multicultural open air market is my favorite in the city, and the one I keep going back to when the weather permits. There’s a unique and honest life to this market that you might not find elsewhere in the city, and with produce, antiques, household items, food, and music galore, it isn’t easy to walk away empty-handed.

I love to start my journey through the market by purchasing a piece of fresh fruit from the vendors, usually a juicy plum or a peach. Not only does this provide a refreshing outlet to what is usually a long, hot adventure through the stalls, but it also protects me from buying literally everything as I pass stalls upon stalls serving up authentic Mexican fare, including favorites like Pupusas y Tamales Mama Lula’s pupusas, Xoco-Churro’s churros and a wealth of pambazos, tamales, quesadillas and, of course, tacos.

My main purchases usually include a pair of sunglasses, as there’s a wide variety of choices everywhere you look, and at very decent prices. And while you don’t have to speak Spanish to get things at a good rate, it does help to have a bit of it up your sleeve to assist you in bargain-hunting. But really, I don’t really ever go with the intention of buying anything, but rather just go in hopes of soaking up the ambience and energy of the market, and I’m always so glad that I do.

Adam: With over 500 vendors, the frenzied buzz of the market engulfs you the moment you are swept by the torrent of people at its entrance into the many blocks of stalls beyond. Food sellers hawk their wares, whether it’s an enchilada you’re after, or a piña colada in a hollowed out pineapple (these are a must, as they are substantially cheaper here than elsewhere in the city).

(cityofchicago.org)

(cityofchicago.org)

There’s something about this market that reminds me of a car boot sale – sometimes the things you will discover will take you back to your childhood or a simpler time. A big highlight has to be the many gaming stalls that are selling everything from complete N64s and their cartridges to cartridges even from really old systems like the Super Nintendo (if you had the good sense to keep the system). My great joy here is finding all the old Star Trek games I was too young for at the time.

(wbez.org)

(wbez.org)

Other items on sale include perfumes and colognes, but be wary of these as they tend to water down some varieties with alcohol or sell slightly reformulated types.

Excellently fun for a warm day, the market is so long that is will take you a good hour to walk up and down both sides. Make the most of it and take your time – you’ll find something awesome.

Final Thoughts: An abundance of deals and good food is not all that awaits you at Maxwell Street Market. Fitness Sundays are every third Sunday from 9am-1pm, Dance Sundays also occur about once a month, and there’s a variety of other special events that happen each week. So get your Chicago on and enjoy the outdoors, and don’t forget that fresh piña colada or maybe just a glass of yummy horchata.

P.S. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Maxwell Street Market this Sunday, May 5 from 9am-3pm with performances by Linda’s Dance Studio, Mariachi Mexico Viva, Los Hot Baneros, and more!

29th Chicago Latino Film Festival

clff_2WHAT: 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival
WHEN: April 11 – 25, 2013
WHERE: AMC Loews Theatres 600 (600 N. Michigan Ave.)

FILM: Dictado (Childish Games)
RATING: Not Rated
DIRECTOR: Antonio Chavarrias
LANGUAGE: Spanish with English Subtitles
RUN TIME: 95 minutes

OUR RATING: Do It!

From humble beginnings in 1985 to the international recognized mega-festival we now celebrate, the Chicago Latino Film Festival (CLFF) organized by the International Latino Cultural Center is an explosion of creativity that brings the best of Latino filmic arts to the Chicago screens. With over 100 feature length films and shorts from the length and breadth of Latin America, there is literally a film for every taste, whether you’re interested in gritty social commentary, light-hearted comedy, or darkly fascinating thrillers.

Perhaps what makes the CLFF most innovative is that it highlights Chicago as a center of Latino culture within the United States, a distinction that might not be the first thing to come to mind. This internationalization has only positive effects, allowing for cross-cultural pollination and diverse understanding that transforms Chicago into a truly global city.

clff_1

While the festival is two weeks long, we only managed to secure tickets to one show at this highly popular event, where tickets go for $11 per film. Dictado, a thriller in the style of Hitchcock, seemed to be absolutely up our street, and we even got the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with the director. Sit back, grab a popcorn and enjoy!

clff_4Adam: Dictado, known in English as Childish Games, creates a psychological tapestry with deep, dark undertones that play on our deepest emotions. Above all, what would happen if an event from our childhood came back to haunt us with full force?

In an intriguing story, childless couple Daniel (Juan Diego Botto) and Laura (Barbara Lennie) take in the orphaned Julia (Magica Perez), who is not everything that she seems, as she holds the key to unlock a repressed moment in Daniel’s childhood. Directed by Antonio Chavarrias, we see produced a beautifully compact piece that seems akin to a play in its intimacy and a high calibre film in its cinematography (Guillermo Granillo) – a melding that we do not often experience. Chavarrias makes us question the validity of our protagonists’ actions and memories, thus presenting a mysterious world that is both riveting and reflective.

As the truth about Daniel’s past is slowly revealed (is it a descent into madness, or the opening of emotional floodgates, the waters of which he is unable to stem?), I was enthralled to see the unexpected and twistful realizations that make this film worthy of being included beside the likes of the great English Ghost authors such as M.R. James.

Drawing heavily from Greek tragedy, although perhaps not exploring it in the way you would expect, almost no violence occurs “on stage”, while the psychologies of the characters are fully untangled to explore the plot’s core horror. A much needed antidote to the regular blood and guts of the genre.

clff_6Alicia: During our Q&A session with Chavarrias, he mentioned one of his influences being the infamous Frankenstein and the question of what makes one a monster and what factors influence an individual in thinking that they themselves are monsters, which *hint hint* is something that is beautifully explored here.

The psychological exploration of violence through fear, rather than through malice, is another incredibly intriguing aspect of this film, and the filming of any violence in this movie is done with the intentions of beauty and sadness, rather than shock or grotesqueness.

How are monsters forged: by the monsters themselves, or by others? Rather than just thrusting us into a solution, Chavarrias lets us think about this in a more adult way. How responsible are children for their actions and do adults sometimes make things worse? One of the best Spanish-language films out this year, Dictado is a must-see.

clff_3

Final Thoughts: The Chicago Latino Film Festival allows audiences across cultures to experience the enormous diversity of Latin America in this unique creative outlet, merging art with education, especially through discussions with local and visiting filmmakers which accompany a majority of the screenings. The festival’s wide array of programming allows moviegoers of all types to enjoy this multicultural exploration.

P.S.: Dictado is now available on DVD, but only as a non-US import. If you can play international DVDs, pick it up here and enjoy.

The Silent Language

WHAT: The Silent Language
WHEN: April 11 – May 9, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: TUTA Studio Theatre (2010 W. Fulton St.)
RUNTIME: 87 minutes with no intermission
WHO: TUTA Theatre Chicago
PRICE: $15-25

OUR RATING: Do It!

Recommended for Ages 8 & Up

tutato.com

tutato.com

This spring, TUTA dances forth onto the Chicago stage with Miodrag Stanisavljevic’s The Silent Language. In this adaptation of a Serbian folk tale, a young boy enters the forest to learn the secret silent language that allows him to understand the animals who help him throughout his quest. With a lavishly decorated space, adventurous plot and equally questful characters, you’ll be immersed in TUTA’s magical world from start to finish.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Adam: What is the silent language? In the bewitching terrain of TUTA’s stage, we are introduced to a concept beyond the communications of humans. It is the animal language, that primal understanding, the bearer of which has unprecedented access to the mysteries of the untamed wild. Poor Gasho (Max Lotspeich), gaining this ability, must fulfill the archetypal journey of the hero, rescuing the Princess (Carolyn Molloy) from the clutches of the evil Elf (Aaron Lawson), while preserving his own skin.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Zoran Paunovic’s translation is the way it makes you appreciate and listen to nature herself. In the ever-encroaching, frenetic and mechanised world, the very idea that animals would have languages seems far away. Yet here, amongst the trees, it is possible to hear the crow speak or the frog croak and understand every gesture as a method of conversation.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Particularly admirable performances were given by Sean Ewert (the Boogeyman, others) and Jaimelyn Gray (the Ironjaw Hag and, memorably, the Crow) who threw themselves headlong into their roles, never faltering for a minute. Ewert’s hilarious, yet psychotic depiction of the nightmarish Boogeyman will make you laugh and jump, while Gray gives nuanced performances, shifting between her roles effortlessly and producing original characters for each. Getting caught up in the theatrical magic is amazingly easy – a must see.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Alicia: I fell in love with TUTA and this show over and over again, first being seduced by their friendly box office and front of house team, then courted by scenic designer Michelle Lilly’s magnificently magical space, and finally moved by the entire production and the encompassing experience for the senses it offered me. Newly appointed TUTA Artistic Director Jacqueline Stone directs this piece masterfully, and TUTA’s mission to bring innovative and international works to American audiences is clear and inspirationally refreshing.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

TUTA’s commitment to original and rearranged forms of music is beautifully highlighted in this production, with original music and musical direction by Wain Parham and sound design by Joe Court, not to mention a collaboration between the entire acting ensemble to bring the sound onstage to life. The piece is musical in form and content, and moves with effortless rhythm from beginning to end, allowing one to feel as if they have joined a dance with Poor Gasho, the main character, through his journey into this fairy tale forest.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

What most excited me with this production, if I really had to pick one aspect, was Branimira Ivanova’s costume design. I have never seen actors and a piece so transformed by this level of costume design for a storefront theater, with each magical character stunningly fantastical and unbelievably real all at once. I almost felt I was in the film The Labyrinth with such a riveting mesh of fantasy and reality, thus creating a world all to itself. In particular, the crow, frog and boogeyman were characters brought to life in the extreme, and I would see this production every night just so I could experience these personas and their physical manifestations all over again.

Final Thoughts: TUTA is the very definition of innovative international work, and they are a must-see within the Chicago theater scene, particularly with this enchanting production. TUTA invites you to partake in this fairy tale and inhabit its mystical world, and we suggest you take them up on the offer.

Head of Passes

(steppenwolf.org)

(steppenwolf.org)

WHAT: Head of Passes
WHEN: April 4 – June 9, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: 1650 N. Halsted Ave.
RUN TIME: 2 hours with a ten-minute intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $15-$78

OUR RATING: Do it!

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

As is traditional, Steppenwolf Theatre Company continues to churn out a plethora of plays that one can classify as “living room dramas;” in other words most, if not all the action takes place in the homes of the characters, and that home becomes a central character in itself. Indeed, the house is one of the main protagonists in ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s newest work, set in the Louisiana marshes and brimming with superb oceanic symbolism. The home has a sense of fallen grandeur about it, as its dilapidation turns to ruin, much in the same way we see the decline and fall of the matriarch residing within.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Head of Passes, said by McCraney to be loosely inspired by the Book of Job, charts the course of dying Shelah (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), as she is swept up in the surprise festivities for her birthday, thrown by her adult children. Her life seems to be defined by only pain and devotion to God, one begetting the other, although it seems clear that the question of which came first weighs heavy on Shelah’s mind. Bruce’s depiction is solid and captivating, even if some of the scripting is rather long.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Similarly captivating is actor Chris Boykin, playing the Angel in Act 1 and a construction worker in Act 2. His charisma floods the stage and the parallel between his two characters is riveting and forceful. Our only complaint is director Tina Landau’s ignorance towards the house right audience in regards to staging Boykin, who is turned away from this audience for most of Act 1, leaving them in the dark in regards to many important physical gestures he displays.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Perhaps most powerfully, Scenic Designer David Gallo and Scenic Design Consultant Collette Pollard conjure up Mother Nature in their fantastically magical set design. You can feel the creaks and dampness of the Head of Passes and the ongoing storm outside the house is brought inside with great ferocity. Beginning with a few drips of water on stage, the set is catapulted by winds and rain, ending with the house subsiding chaotically at the end of Act 1. A true feat of engineering, and a wonder to watch.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Scott Zielinski’s lighting design dances hand-in-hand with the scenic design, and one can feel the power of the storm and the magic of what happens on stage with his strings of lights, extreme side-lighting, and the beautiful shadows cast within the home as Mother Nature shifts and does her work. Unfortunately, one is slightly distracted by Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn’s sound design through it all, as the sound doesn’t seem real but rather far-off and full of static. Perhaps this was an artistic choice, but it’s far too dissonant for our liking.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Ultimately, this world premiere of Head of Passes takes its audience on one heck of a roller-coaster, and leaves us pondering our life choices and convictions and allows us to contemplate how we define our family and our idea of home. Tragedy is an unfortunate yet exceedingly human element to every life. How one deals with it defines their character, whether they be resilient, avoidant, vengeful or forgiving. McCraney’s exploration of these ideas enhances our appreciation for the high complexity of everyday life and how we too must all face tragedy.

Big Fish The Musical

A big welcome to our first Sunday Guest Author, a Chicago playwright and director, who weighs in on the recent pre-Broadway world premiere of Big Fish The Musical. Our guest author is pleased to be joining us as a contributing author, providing a unique perspective from behind the curtain of the theatrical world.

WHAT: Big Fish The Musical
WHEN: April 02 – May 05, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: The Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph St.)
RUN TIME: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
WHO: Broadway in Chicago
PRICE: $33-$100

GUEST RATING: Do it!

Picture 1Growing up doing plays in grade school and theater camp, I was endowed with a deep appreciation for the Broadway musical. After five years of living in Chicago though, I’ve come to prefer the intimate to the spectacular and emotional honesty to razzle dazzle, which the Chicago storefront community ably provides. Nevertheless, when I saw the soon-to-be Broadway production of Big Fish at the Oriental Theatre, I couldn’t help but remember my childhood wonderment with everything Broadway.

If you’re thinking about seeing Big Fish, it’s important to understand that this show is geared towards New York. It’s designed to appeal to tourists and present large scale spectacle for mass consumption. There is nothing particularly adventurous about its storytelling or characters. However, in spite of this, Big Fish proves to be tremendously satisfying and echoes enough of what is good about the modern Broadway musical to make you forgive everything that is wrong with it.

(bigfishthemusical.com)

Big Fish is based on the 2003 Tim Burton film of the same name, which itself is derived from the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace. John August, Big Fish‘s screenwriter, wrote the book for the musical, using much of the same dialogue, while the music and lyrics are written by Andrew Lippa, best known for the musical version of The Addams Family. The story is set in Alabama and focuses on Will Bloom’s relationship with his father, Edward. Edward communicates with his son through tall tales about everything he’s done and accomplished during his life, featuring fantastical characters including a witch, a werewolf, a giant, and, of course, a big fish. When Edward is dying of cancer, Will must use the stories to understand the true story of his father’s life and legacy.

(Photo by Paul Kolnik)

I was very eager to see this production and ever since I saw the film, I knew it was strong musical material: a simple, emotional story with ample room theatrical magic. Spectacle is something that Big Fish gets absolutely right. It uses projections quite well, and the spectacle does more than just dazzle: it surprises. Surprise is really one of the great strengths of this piece, and director Susan Stroman‘s visual tricks are effective not because they are lavish or expensive but because they surprise the audience and move the story forward. Andrew Lippa’s score is strong for the most part. There are a few clunkers that don’t belong (hopefully they will be removed before the Broadway run) but also some incredibly successful pieces including like “Fight the Dragons,” “Closer to Her,” and “How it Ends.” The score is not a “hummable” one, and I’m not sure I’d listen to the cast album, but the songs that work serve the play well.

(Photo by Paul Kolnik)

For all the good songs, Big Fish still has a lot of problems, but it’s biggest overarching issue is that it just doesn’t trust its audience. This is perhaps a symptom of it being a commercial production. The creators are so afraid of our attention wandering that they refuse to take their foot off the gas and let the story unfold. They keep the pace frantic, the musical numbers big and plentiful, and moments of character development few and far between. The biggest improvements Big Fish could make before moving to New York involve spending more time with its individual characters in both dialogue and song. There is a wonderful moment where Edward’s wife Sandra (played by Kate Baldwin) sings about her husband, saying, “There’s magic in the man,” a beautiful turn of phrase that surely would work well as a song and a way into her character. However, rather than exploring Sandra Bloom, the song cuts back and forth between her singing and Edward’s encounter with a mermaid. This I think is very emblematic of what is wrong with the production, but it’s nothing some careful changes cannot fix.

(Photo by Brian Harkin)

Additionally, there seems to be a lack of clarity about the show’s protagonist. Make no mistake, Big Fish is Will Bloom’s story. He is the character who changes, who ends the play differently than where he began it. Edward has more stage time, which is fine, but the artistic team needs to find a way to highlight Will’s journey. Frankly, I think the Will role might need to be recast. Edward is played by two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, and he dominates the stage vocally and emotionally. The actor playing Will, Bobby Steggert, simply cannot match him and never makes a direct connection with the audience. Part of this is because Will is never really given his own musical number early on in the play, a huge miscalculation. What the show really needs is a strong enough actor in this part to be on equal footing with Butz. Yes, Norbert Leo Butz is the marquis name, but his character doesn’t help create a coherent story.

(bigfishthemusical.com)

Tickets for this show are expensive, though they do offer some great promotional offers. If you love musicals and are willing to see something as a work in progress, then this is an absolute must see. The show is only a few changes away from being a front-runner for next year’s Best Musical Tony Award, and it would be a shame for any musical fan to miss it while it is playing in Chicago.

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!

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.

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