White Guy on the Bus is a powerful and very well-acted drama that asks several questions about modern day racism. In this highly provocative piece by Bruce Graham, we are met with race issues and opinions based on life’s experiences coming from both sides of the fence. We see how perception of race can be altered as one’s life situation changes or after impactful events occur. In this world premiere taking place at Northlight Theatre, award-winning Graham may have unleashed his best work to date.
Francis Guinan leads a very strong cast in this gripping story that mostly takes place in an upper class suburb. Ray (Guinan) is a successful “numbers guy” who makes the rich richer while his wife, Roz, has declined to teach in a privileged suburban school to work in one that is predominantly black in a tough neighborhood. We see a successful family whose son, Christopher, has recently become engaged to Molly. It doesn’t take long before Roz and Molly are engaged in tension-filled debates on race issues and socioeconomic divide – Roz who often speaks from her experiences of working with inner city school kids and Molly who has led a mostly sheltered life and appears to get most of her opinions from college. As the story continues we see that perspective changes with circumstance. And we soon wonder why Ray ditches his Mercedes to take round trip busses through the inner city on Saturdays. As Ray does this he befriends Shatique, a young black single mother who visits her brother in jail each Saturday.
White Guy on the Bus goes from engaging to intense with little warning. As the story progresses so does its intrigue. Guinan is commanding in a lights out performance as a man who is faced with heavy challenges while Mary Beth Fisher is also impressive in her role as Roz, organically delivering her lines to perfection. Patrice D. McClain makes her Northight debut and is very impressive as Shatique, a role that demands much expression and inner conflict. Also putting out a strong acting performance is Jordan Brown as Christopher in his return to Northlight (Sense and Sensibility).
This is a story that raises curiosity from the get go and builds interest with a sure-footed steady pace all the way to its climactic ending. Artistic Director BJ Jones does a stellar job in this play’s direction quickly moving the story back and forth without big scene changes.
White Guy on the Bus is a terrific piece of Chicago theatre that will certainly stick with you afterwards and perhaps have you questioning your own perspectives towards race issues. White Man on the Bus is playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through February 28th. For tickets and/or more information call 847-673-6300 or visit www.northlight.org.
*Photo - Mary Beth Fisher and Francis Guinan in White Man on the Bus
A one-time performance by the touring Argentinian group, "Tango Buenos Aires" was as invigorating as it was eloquently graceful! Presented in the stunning, historical Auditorium Theater in Chicago's downtown, the theatre interior rivaled the beauty of the dancers. Built in 1889, and acquired by Roosevelt University some years ago, the theatre hosts a wide array of traveling shows from all over the world. Exquisitely gilded and brilliantly lit, the theatre holds over three thousand in its audience and commands a high standing among Chicago's illustrious theatres, with First Lady Michelle Obama residing as honorary chair.
The performance itself was rich in tradition as spinning couples traced the floor in group dances which were not only reminiscent of the history of the Spanish tango, but hinted at a worldwide similarity in communal expression through dance. The dances themselves paid homage to that legendary Argentinian lady Eva Peron, featuring the ballad "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," from the musical based on her life, and following her progression from young girl through her singular political career.
Highlighting the evening was a dance performed solely by the men, who became a part of the music through the rhythmic use of the boleador, a slingshot-like tool reminiscent of a lasso. The boleador is a tool traditionally put to use in Argentina to help in rounding up cattle. However in this instance, the men held one in each hand and swung them around quickly in the manner of a jump rope. As the end of the boleador reached the floor, the resultant tapping was masterfully used to create rhythms even as the boleador span around the men in dexterous patterns amazing to behold.
A beautiful event, rich in culture and refreshingly artistic, Tango Buenos Aires is an experience to remember!
Plastic Revolution is a funny and campy musical comedy that takes place in 1950s Kissimmee, Florida about a recently widowed suburbanite, Delores Clarke, who meets an enthusiastic and pioneering Tupperware saleswoman named Brownie Wise. Together these two gals revolutionize the sales process by introducing the concept of “Tupperware parties” as a hugely successful sales tool for the Tupperware Corporation that captured the imagination and excitement of freedom from time consuming everyday chores and sold it to the average housewife.
The other ‘Stepford Wives” in the neighborhood fear Clarke at first thinking that because she is single she is out to steal their husbands! But after realizing that Tupperware really does free those from the slavery of cooking dinner for their families every night of the week (leftovers!) and also could provide a source of income they hold up Delores and Brownie as their heroines and start on a new way of life.
I really loved that the lead “Stepford Wife” named Lilah who warns the other women that this revolution is going to ruin their family lives and undermine their role as housewives was cast with a man in drag. Danny Taylor turned an absolutely hysterical, yet “straight” comedic performance in this role and has a beautiful, expressive singing voice to boot!
Sasha Smith in the lead role of Delores Clarke has a wonderful rich singing voice as well and a sweet quality that really endears the audience to her from the very first scene. Cassie Thompson as Brownie Wise has a great frenetic sense of physical comedy that reminds you that women of that time period began using diet pills and speed in order to get all their mind numbingly boring chores and lonely housework done!
I thought the music and comedy were each very enjoyable and that the production comes with a nice blend of parody/camp and feminist musical comedy.
In their seventh season, this is The New Colony’s Theater Company’s first production in The Den Theatre as their new permanent performance space, alongside The Hypocrites and the Irish Theater of Chicago. Plastic Revolution is being performed at Den Theatre through February 22nd. For more information and/or tickets, visit thedentheatre.com or call 773-413-0862.
*Photo - (front, left to right) Cassie Thompson and Sasha Smith with (back, left to right) Elise Mayfield, Lizzie Schwarzrock, Daeshawna Cook and Danny Taylor in The New Colony’s world premiere musical PLASTIC REVOLUTION. Photo by Ryan Bourque.
No , I haven’t read the book 50 Shades of Grey, only portions of it - while standing in the grocery store, but still I was swept up by the excitement of Broadway Playhouse’s mostly female audience who giddily lined up to see this show as if they were going to get to meet their own Mr. Grey in person.
Several of the musical parody numbers in this production got solid laughs on almost every beat and punchline, including the hysterical, “There’s a Hole Inside of Me “, “I Don’t Make Love , I F-ck!”, “Just Like any Other Couple” and “How Much Can I Take?”. I really loved the way the three women reading the book together at a book club were the chorus for the show, interjecting their breathless responses to the action between Anastasia Steele and Grey the way the real fans of this book attempt to live out the fantasy in their own lonely lives.
I also enjoyed the way the parody shows both sides of the S & M world by showing that much of it is harmless fun and role play fantasy but that some of it is brought about by serious sexual dysfunction and or abuse, like revealing that Grey is into S & M because he was “sexually molested by an older woman from the ages of 15 to 21”.
Ben Caplan as the plus-sized Christian Grey clad in a sickly revealing, red and white muscle builders unitard with a full on barrel tummy was hysterical, delivering his song and dance numbers with great physical comedic timing.
Diego Klock Perez was also very funny in his role as “Jose” the Latin lover who hopes to steal Steele’s heart from the dominating and untouchable Grey. Klock got great laughs just by his entrance and exit from the stage each time leaving Anastasia’s presence without losing her eye contact by backing slowing out of the room one deep step/lunge at a time.
Katie Lamark has a great singing voice and was very funny and cute as the befuddled and enamored Anastasia Steele. But the real scene stealer for me was Carol from the chorus of three ladies’ book club played by Melanie Brook. She really reminded me of a young Carol Burnett and when I saw how young she is in person after the show I was even more impressed that she was able to pull off playing a dowdy, nerdy desperate woman in her fifties with such uncanny comedic accuracy.
The three piece band onstage was perfect for this show, it was lively and effective yet felt casual and fun. However, the set could use some real sprucing up as there was none to speak of and I think everyone was a little disappointed there was not even a backdrop painted to suggest Grey’s opulent million dollar home nor the trappings of his infamous “Red Room”.
Other than that though this was a really fun and sexy evening of entertainment because it made the whole audience feel that sex and different kinds of sex can be talked about openly and laughed at and even relished in public without anyone being offended or belittled, male OR female, fat OR thin, sexy or nerdy. This fun and funny musical parody about America’s new obsession with soft core S & M strikes many of the right notes, no pun intended.
50 Shades! The Musical Parody is only playing at Broadway Playhouse through January 18th, so take advantage of this funny show while you still can. For more information, visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Holidaze really is like nothing you’ve seen before, especially during the traditional Holiday season offerings like The Nutcracker. The international cast members from many countries including Italy, Mongolia, Asia, Ukraine, and Ethiopia were extremely gifted in each of their unique disciplines. The magnificent Chicago Theater was a perfect venue for such a show.
The sister contortionists, aerialists, silks artists, chair stackers, and clowns all did so many different things all at the same time onstage and in the air that it was difficult to really take it all in!
One dancer did a balancing and juggling routine while lying on a slanted bench where at one point she literally was doing a different and independent action with each of her four limbs, Her right foot was twirling hula hoops, while her right foot balanced a rolling boll, her right hand was juggling and her left hand doing some other equally amazing task. This and all the acts really make you realize what an awesome creation the human body is and what seemingly miraculous feats it is capable of with the right talent and cultivation.
The costumes were for the most part spectacular but occasionally I thought they went a little too comical (reindeer unitards and old Mrs. Santa Claus) instead of balletic and took some of the dignity away from what were amazingly graceful and dignified performances.
Also the hypnotic, repetitive music soundtrack needs an updating as it gave everything kind of a 1990’s Euro-House Music feel that was dazzling at first but became a little overwhelming and confusing by the end of the first act.
One other note I have for the producers of this particular cast is the presence of a very young, tiny aerialist/ballet dancer who appeared to be about 6-7 years old. She was a brilliant ballerina who could very easily be playing the lead in The Nutcracker, but in this show she was trussed up in a very strange halter type contraption and pushed around the stage by a man on stilts. I felt very uncomfortable watching someone so young performing this way and doing contortionism at all when her body is so flexible because it is still forming.
To make sure I was not overreacting, I leaned over to a friend and asked what he thought and his first response was, “Creepy! Like watching child abuse!” I agree, this act needs to be placed on the ground like the other young 9-year old dancer in the show and re-costumed as children should never be costumed in something that even resembles a restraint of any kind.
Other than that this was a refreshing and spectacular night of amazement, suspense and bursting at the seams with psychedelic Christmas colors and lighting effects that I will never forget.
Almost as funny as it is tragic (that sounds so wrong), The Ruffians’ Burning Bluebeard, currently running at Theatre Wit, is a very unique live performance that everyone should experience. Bluebeard is an ensemble piece that recreates the stage performance that took place during the famous 1903 Iroquois Theater fire that claimed over 600 lives on Randolph Street in downtown Chicago.
The moment we enter the stage area, we are met with body bags that lie on a charred theater floor. It is a melancholy scene that sends chills up one’s spine. We soon are introduced to five stage performers and a theater manager who each tell their story of what they were doing at the time the fire struck. This happens in between the recreation of acts leading up to the tragedy. During this process we laugh and laugh some more. How can there be something funny found in something so disastrous? Masterfully, playwright Jay Torrence is able to infuse a dark humor throughout this tragic historical event. Each character delivers a knockout performance drawing laughs at will from the crowd one moment and bringing tears to one’s eyes the next.
One of the year’s best, this show is like no other. Its vivid descriptiveness relates to the audience to the point you really feel you know the characters and are experiencing the tragedy along with them. Grim and morose is the story though comical are many of the surrounding facts such as the Mr. Bluebeard itself, the massively produced play with over four hundred cast members that was running at the time of the great fire. A play that hardly made any sense and depended on large visuals, an overload of song numbers (nine songs in first act alone) and dazzling acrobatics.
We are described beautifully the stunning details of the sixteen hundred seat Iroquois Theater, a majestic auditorium with no costs spared during its creation that was touted as fireproof just as the Titanic was called unsinkable nine years later. The sad truths are slowly released whereas mostly women and children were in attendance at this standing room only matinee performance, and that the theater was nearly escape proof once the fire erupted.
Wonderfully directed by Halana Kays, Burning Bluebeard makes exceptional use of its limited space, successfully creating the illusion of a much larger scaled production. Ensemble members Pam Chermansky and author Jay Torrence lead the way delivering mesmerizing performances in this multi-talented and very colorful cast with Anthony Courser, Molly Plunk, Leah Urzendowski and Ryan Walters. And thanks to imaginative costume design, we have no problem believing we are present at a 1903 production.
In Burning Bluebeard we are treated to a rare flavor of theatre that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Oriental Theatre - From the opening of the show when Chicago actor Ed Kross comes out and explains in a perfect 50’s TV announcer voice that we are all at a live taping of the Lucy Show back in 1952, I was captivated.
Two real episodes of the show were purchased for this production, “The Benefit” and “Lucy has her eyes examined.” I thought both episodes were perfectly chosen not just for their comedic effect but because they showed clearly how far ahead of her time Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz were by creating the three camera filming process and Lucy being the first female studio owner, way, way ahead of their time! I adored the bright, honest yet sardonic tone of the antics of the ensemble who lovingly recreated the between scene period TV commercials for classic products Brylcreem and Alka Seltzer. Rick Sparks staging is spot on and is very fun and exciting to watch as the entire cast and crew move seamlessly from introducing the show to setting off the applause sign for us , the live studio audience. It really felt like we were transported back in time to 1950s Los Angeles and were waiting breathlessly to see these two huge iconic stars in the flesh for the first time.
Lori Hammel as Ethel and Kevin Remington as Fred Mertz were very funny, very well cast and true to their characters. It is interesting to note that the real Vivian Vance playing Ethel originally objected to the 20 year plus age difference between her and her TV husband Fred! I always wondered why her husband was so much older and less attractive than the handsome couple they were best friends with but that was pretty typical for the time period.
Thea Brooks did a fantastic job playing the most difficult role in this show. Brooks really captured the absolutely brilliant physical comedy and genuine dancers grace with which Lucille Ball (originally a Broadway quality dancer) was able to bestow upon female comedy timing in a world which had yet to enter fully in the women’s movement at all.
The wonderful, best friends forever interaction between Lucy and Ethel reminded us that Lucy was also ahead of her time not only by marrying interracially, but Lucille Ball was also the first champion of long lasting, devoted, female friendship, now referred to as “chicks before dicks!” at a time when both issues were severely frowned upon and questioned by society.
Euriamis Losada as Ricky blew audiences away with his eerily accurate portrayal of Ricky Ricardo’s movements and voice! Every single line of comedy and each line of his musical numbers were so like the original I occasionally squinted my eyes and felt I could see Lucy and Desi standing on the stage. These two performances were so difficult and required much attention to detail by Brooks and Losada, yet they pulled it off without bordering on caricature or parody regarding these two beloved superstars. Thea Brooks and Euriamis Losada displayed real STAR turns in this production and I can’t wait to see their future incarnations on Broadway in other productions.
I only have two notes for this delightful and thoroughly enjoyable production. It would have been nice if instead of the “game show break” utilizing an audience member and plant in the audience which separated the two episodes, Sparks had just allowed us, the studio audience, to take a ten minute intermission. Also, I would have loved to see a single behind the scenes scene between Lucy and Ricky AS Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, to peer into that break from the fantasy of the show to the reality of their rocky but ground breaking marriage. It would have been very special to witness indeed and have allowed Losada and Brooks to peel back and show yet another layer of these two magnificently complicated performers in their own time period.
I highly recommend seeing I Love Lucy Live on Stage at the Oriental Theatre with your whole family to bring back the love and simplicity and also the hysterical hypocrisy of the time period that many of us grew up watching and loving.
"But how does one know if they've gone mad?" asks Alice of the elusive Cheshire Cat as he swings on a rail, hanging twenty feet off the ground. "You see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased," he answers. "Now, I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry." He grins and disappears, leaving a baffled Alice to contemplate the difference between madness and sanity, the similarities they share, and whether or not they might just be one in the same.
Set in the alternate world that exists beyond – or through – the parlor mirror, Lookingglass Alice is based on Lewis Carroll's sequel to the ever-familiar Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking-Glass. So instead of going down the rabbit hole, we literally step through the looking-glass into a dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) world of opposites, nonsense, and whimsy, as if we too have dozed off after a game of chess and awake to find a new dimension waiting for us above the fireplace mantle.
With or without its befitting name, the Lookingglass Theatre couldn't be a more apt setting in which to tell this tale, with its open, industrial structure taking the viewer out of the space of traditional theatre and promising something more immediate and exciting.
Part children's entertainment, part Cirque du Soleil, part vicarious drug trip, Alice takes the audience on a journey simultaneously magical and dark, funny and frightening, alarming and calming, and above all, surreal. Characters have different proportions through the looking-glass, some excessively tall, some uncharacteristically small; one can run fast for hours and wind up in the very same spot from which they started; Red Queens float on umbrellas in the ocean; cats play with oversized balls of yarn (or is it you who are under-sized?); Alice spins so fast on a suspended hoop you don't know which end is her head and which are her legs – the visual equivalent of how both the audience and the heroine feel after their disorienting passage into the world within the mirror.
A very physical show, Alice is the sort of spectacle meant to be enjoyed by all types of audiences. Young children might be best left at home – the loud noises, confusion, and surreality of it all can be a little overwhelming – but it's undoubtable that physical feats like continuous two-person backflips, the lifting and balancing of actors as though they were weightless, and an anxious finale where Alice wraps herself in ropes mid-air and falls without hitting the ground will impress adults, teens, and kids alike.
Remarkably executed by a vastly talented five-person cast, Alice is less a play than it is an experience. It's colorful and unpredictable. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in intrigue. Where it forgets logic, it remembers absurdity. You may run in place for ninety minutes and end up in the self-same spot, but you'll have gained a gleeful acceptance of your own madness and the insight that our world is not always as it looks.
Lookingglass Alice, directed by David Catlin, is playing at the Water Tower Water Works space at 821 N Michigan Ave through February 15th, 2015.
Instead of spending the night in watching “Dancing with the Stars”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, or even “American Idol”, there is a stage where you can experience the costumes, the beauty, and the grace of live ballroom dancing and competition with the control of the vote in your hands at the Cadillac Palace Theater and “Dancing Pros Live.”
The backdrop of the intimate and classical theater was an ideal location for guests to feel part of the all ages appropriate show. For those who are familiar with our ever growing passion for reality television and fantastic performances, this was an interactive experience not to be missed. Hosted by Alan Thicke (whom we all know and love from ‘Growing Pains’) and Joanna Pacitti (an “American Idol” Alum, who treats the audience to a few songs, also joined on the stage by Angel Taylor from “The Voice”) the show follows a format we have all come to know and love; 5 couples are competing for the title of “Dance Pros” through 2 rounds of ballroom dance (Interpretive and Technical,) the winner is then determined and awarded the title based on the collected and tallied audience vote.
Although some of the names of the performers may be familiar to our dancing fans, like Judges Edyta Sliwinska from DWTS and choreographer Oscar Orosco (You Got Served,) dancer Chelsie Hightower from DWTS, as well as top 6 finalist Ryan Dilello from SYTYCD; The other featured performers are not to forgotten, as all are finalists and title holders themselves within the ballroom dance world (television and competive); Regina Maziarz a US 10 Dance Champion, Paul Barris winner of Latin American DWTS, Antonina Skobina the 2012 US National Champion are just to name a few.
Before each competitive dance by the 5 competitive couples, the audience experiences 3-4 different tableaus of each dance style featured (cha-cha, samba, foxtrot…) and then watch each couple perform 2 routines. Based off of short interviews given of each couple, come together as long as 8 years and others as short as 24 hours, these dancers compete to win the audience’s vote.
For those who love dance, reality television, those who are interested in finding out a little bit more, or even if you just love voting for your favorite performers from home, Dancing Pros Live is an event and experience that every couple can enjoy or even the whole family can get into.