How do you categorize a musical that is part comedy, part drama, and part burlesque? The answer is: you don't need you. Like Kander and Ebb's later popular Broadway hit Chicago, Cabaret uses flashy and often funny nightclub performance as a device to embellish and expound upon the more serious and sometimes grim events of the story. In Chicago, shameless homicide by two murderesses is explored through jazzy nightclub acts, while in Cabaret, the grisly beginnings of WWII and the anxious pall it casts over the characters' lives is explored through fearless, garter-brimming club performances.
Cabaret is a unique musical, one that will sneak up on you and knock you in the chin if you try to pigeonhole it. The songs are inordinately catchy and the story turns unpredictably. On opening night at the inaugural show of the newly named Private Bank Theatre, I was surprised to hear so many shocked reactions from the audience around me. Every Nazi reference was met with gasps, one short scene of drug use left the audience deadly silent, the never-even-mentioned-by-name subject briefly implied by Sally's doctor visit caused an audible "Oh my God!", and Cliff's apparent bisexuality was received with total confusion. "But he kissed a boy. How could he fall in love with a girl?" Please. If audiences could survive it in 1962, they should certainly be able to handle it now. The reactions only serve to prove that Cabaret has a timeless impact.
When American self-described "starving novelist" Cliff (a capable if slightly bland Lee Aaron Rosen) travels to Berlin in pursuit of literary inspiration, he discovers it in the form of the buoyant and provocative English cabaret dancer Sally Bowles (a character brilliantly committed to by Andrea Goss) and the seedy nightclub crowd with which she surrounds herself. They soon begin living together and befriend landlady Fraulein Schneider (a subduedly wise Shannon Cochran) and fellow tenant, the Jewish Herr Schultz (a cute and gentle Mark Nelson), the latter of whom begin a sweet but eventually controversial romance. Sally and Cliff's lives are an ecstatic chaos of gin and sexual liberation until Cliff's friend and confidante Herr Ludwig (flawlessly portrayed by Ned Noyes) reveals his disturbing true colors, triggering the destruction that floods the characters' lives from that point on and effectively bursting their bubble of delusion. The omniscient Emcee of Berlin's sordid Kit Kat Club (a delightfully snarky Randy Harrison) guides the viewer between the actual plot events and their corresponding cabaret acts.
My favorite of the over-the-top club performances cleverly mirroring the real life drama is the titular showstopper "Cabaret." Many folks, likely many of the shocked theatre-goers seated around me, may associate this song with a charismatic, triumphant Liza Minnelli from the 1972 film (or even an older, sequined-out Liza cheerily vamping her way through a showtune medley) and thus were not expecting the heavier tone rendered in the stage version. At this point, Sally has lost everything. She's alone, she's ill, she's broke, she is out of a job after this final performance. Her life has spiraled into a living hell. Goss made a powerful impression as Sally throughout and nothing showcased her acting talents more than her raw, enraged delivery of this song. The eerie juxtaposition of Sally's unabashed ruin with jaunty lyrics celebrating a wildly fun, carefree lifestyle gave me chills, the last line all but screamed at the audience before she knocks down the mike stand in her fury.
This is a musical that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. It will not meet your expectations, in the best way possible.
Cabaret is playing at the Private Bank Theatre at 18 W Monroe now through February 21st. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster or by going to BroadwayInChicago.
After thirty years of bringing Chicagoans some of the city’s finest theatre, Mary-Arrchie will be closing their doors after its current and final production, American Buffalo. In this sharply written piece by David Mamet, Mary-Arrchie co-founder and jack of all trades Richard Cotovsky is joined by Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan, creating a strong cast fully capable of pulling off such a dynamically written script. And that’s exactly what they do.
Taking place in a rundown resale shop, owner Don (Cotovsky) along with his young hired help and “go-fer” Bobby (Galvan) have hatched a scheme to burglarize a nearby residence in the hopes of stealing a valuable coin collection. But when Don’s longtime pal Teach (Stephen Walker) gets wind of the “thing” he pushes to replace the kid with himself, a man of more experience. Everything happens in a single day as the three small time crook wannabees run through a gamut of emotions with each other in trying to get on the same page. Teach is pushy and talks the big talk but clearly has little experience while Don is more laid back and subdued, often influenced by Teach’s strong presence and facade of confidence. Slow-witted Bobby just wants in for some quick bankroll – or maybe just wants to be a part of something. As the plan progresses it snowballs back and forth until its inevitable unraveling – and the journey is nothing short of hilarious.
When entering the theatre, we are met with what appears to be an authentic resale shop. “Don’s Resale Shop” is printed backwards on the large picture window so as to face correctly for those to read on the outside. Worn shelves are filled with dented gas cans, ratty knickknacks, old toys and assorted vintage items. Power chords hang from the wall with other random merchandise for sale behind a battered counter that supports an antique cash register. Quickly immersed in the set’s genuineness, one really gets the feeling they are inside a dingy thrift store that could be located on any given Chicago street.
Richly directed by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Mary-Arrchie’s American Buffalo offers incredibly talented performances, generally a given with this veteran theatre company. Delivering Mamet’s cutting and quick-fire dialogue with the true essence of how it was intended, Walker knock’s the role of Teach out of the park. Whether generating laughs with the simplest use of body language, convincingly overusing repetitive hood lingo or completely erupting like Mount Saint Helen, Walker rolls up his sleeves and puts forth a gutsy, no-holds barred performance that should long be remembered. All the while, Walker successfully displays his character’s vulnerability beneath the blanket of false self-assurance, making Teach believable, creating someone with whom we can really emphasize. Within moments of Walker’s first appearance where he loses his cool and takes out his frustrations out on a beat up refrigerator over something pretty insignificant, it is apparent we are about to take a pretty bumpy ride.
Cotovsky, the seasoned pro that he is, also provides an outstanding performance going toe-to-toe with Walker on many heated, sometimes humorously nonsensical and profoundly funny dialogue exchanges. The two pair together like butter on toast, getting a nice occasional boost from Galvan who contributes many of his own well-timed lines. Like a freight train taking off, the production gets stronger and stronger as it progresses. The more we get to know the characters the more we can’t help but take a liking to each of them, regardless of the fact that they are small-time crooks bent on pulling off a caper that comically unstitches more and more the closer the job gets.
Mary-Arrchie is going out on a high note with this must-see presentation of American Buffalo. The prestigious Chicago theatre company will certainly be missed and we can only hope to continue to see its talented players in future productions around the city. Jeff Award winner, Chicago theatre staple and all-around talent Richard Cotovsky was recently given the honor of having an Honorary Way dedicated in his name that can be seen at the theatre’s intersection of Sheridan and Broadway. An honor well deserved.
American Buffalo is playing at Angel Island (735 W. Sheridan) through March 6th. Honest, funny and thoroughly absorbing, it is with strong recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to catch this final production from this talented company in their apropos farewell. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.maryarrchie.com or call 773-871-0442.
Melissa Thodos the creator of Sono’s Journey and her designers, which premiered at the Auditorium Theatre Saturday, did a wonderful job telling the story of Sono Asato, a dancer who broke age and race barriers from the time she was just fourteen years old. At that same young age, Sono Asato was the first dancer of Japanese descent AND the first American to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
I loved the way Thodos chose to use a narrator to tell the story of Asato’s life and used real pictures from Sono's life. I overheard one audience member saying during intermission, the narration really helped the audience understand and empathize with Asato’s life journey without making us guess or make assumptions based solely on the dance and music for each vignette – a very correct observation.
I loved the costumes and lighting, which created a dreamy effect. The dancers were superb in bringing Sono Asato’s unique and trademark hand gestures and delicate yet earthy and natural style of dance to life. Asato’s hands were especially beautiful and expressive resembling the grace and power of mudras of ancient meditation statues.
I found it very interesting that when Osato was refused work abroad with her ballet company, it was a female theater company owner and old friend who welcomed her back to Broadway “dance shows" in order to keep making money dancing to survive.
I also loved the vignette which included how her parent's originally met and fell immediately in love when her father Shoji was sent to photograph her beautiful mother for a performance portrait.
Osato, now ninety-six-years-old, and still a delicate beauty, was brought onstage in a wheelchair and it was announced that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had declared that day, January 8th to be SONO ASATO DAY in Chicago. Sono Asato looked radiantly beautiful as she received her flowers and a roaring standing ovation for her groundbreaking, door opening bravery and exceptional dance performances in the classic works, Sleeping Beauty, Pillar of Fire and The Beloved.
I felt very much honored to be there in Sono Asato's presence that night during the Mayor's announcement. I felt privileged to add my enthusiastic applause and shouts of "Bravo!" for her and the delightful show "Sono’s Journey".
Dance enthusiasts and appreciators will have two more opportunities to see Sono's Journey this winter: February 20th at the North Shore Center in Skokie, and March 5th at the Harris Theater in Chicago, as part of Thodos Dance Chicago's new "Chicago Revealed" Winter Concert series. This particular production is a beautiful piece of work that everyone should experience.
Chicagoans' love for historical dramas and our ghost and gangster bus tours are very popular here, so it is not surprising that this very well written and performed ensemble play about the very real, tragic Iroquois Theater fire in 1903 that killed over six hundred people packed in for an oversold Christmas winter matinee would be such a popular production even during the Holiday season. Powerful, heart-rending, imaginative and filled with dark humor, “Burning Bluebeard” is wonderfully directed by Halena Kays, who is able to so effectively take us back in time to revisit one of the greatest Chicago tragedies in this haunting and magical production.
The luxurious brand new and it turns out, unfinished building, The Iroquois Theater, was supposed to be the new "Titanic" of theaters – in this case luxurious and fireproof. So many important things relating to theater safety came out of this tragedy it almost seems destined to have happened in order to teach the world how NOT to construct and maintain theater safety for generations.
Around 3:15 p.m. on December 30th, not long after the second act began, sparks from faulty wiring in a large lighted moon ignited several of the highly flammable scenery props. The stage manager frantically tried to separate the audience from the burning stage by lowering the massive asbestos flame proof curtain, but when it became stuck it did not take long before the quick and furious blaze spread throughout the theater.
The theater, which had a max capacity of thirteen hundred, was packed to the gills for this particular matinee performance of Bluebeard with over sixteen hundred audience members, most of whom were women and children. It was so packed that patrons sat in the aisles, squeezed in where they could, blocking doorways in the process. The upper levels were separated from the higher priced seats on the main floor by doors locked with chains so that the children could not "sneak' down to better seats or, as it turned out, escape in case of fire. There were fake doorways covered with heavy black curtains whereas if a perseverant theater goer did manage to break open during an escape attempt, they would find a brick wall on the other side. Wall after wall of glamorous mirrors in the lobby created a funhouse effect further confusing the panicked crowd when they could not find any real windows or unlocked doors. The fire escapes were not yet completed and reached only halfway down the four story building.
Vents in the ceiling were nailed shut and the top of the theater was filled with highly incendiary silk set pieces. The very seats themselves were basically just flammable velvet material stuffed with straw hemp like tinder.
Amidst the chaos, unfortunately one of the show’s actors ordered the children, especially those packed shoulder to shoulder in the upper balcony, to sit back down and stay seated until they could exit slowly and safely. But that was the worst thing they could have done. There were hundreds of performers in this show trapped backstage and when they finally were able to break down the back door which of course was chained and padlocked shut from the outside, it created a backdraft fireball that literally incinerated all of the children and their mothers in the front and upper rows of the balcony so quickly that all of their watches were stopped at precisely the same moment.
Superbly written by Jay Torrence and performed by an outstanding ensemble consisting of Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski, Ryan Walters, Pam Chermansky, Anthony Courser and Molly Plunk, one cannot help but feel the desperation of the original theater crowd along with the relief of being alive in a world where lit EXIT signs and having working fire extinguishers are just part of what one expects for normal audience safety.
Every member of this troupe plays a unique role but I have to especially point out Molly Plunk who plays the role of an imaginary faerie queen capable of turning back time and causing the whole event to unfold without danger. Plunk’s delicate and whimsical interpretation of this role is key to keeping hope in the audience alive that somehow reliving this tragedy over and over will cause it not to happen again.
I have recommended this show highly in the past and every friend I've sent young or old has had the same magical experience watching this unique, darkly funny, and fantastic production. Now in its fourth year, due to the show’s growing popularity, “Burning Bluebeard” has moved to yet a larger venue in The Den Theatre. Performed through January 10th, The Ruffians’ collaboration with The Hypocrites’ “Burning Bluebeard” has become a holiday hit in Chicago and is a sure-fire must see.
More show info can be found www.the-hypocrites.com. The show last approximately one hour and forty minutes with no intermission.
Sex sells as the old adage goes. It may be marketable, but you have to ask yourself what it has to say. Likely sex will dominate the discussion among patrons of Thomas Bradshaw's new play at American Theater Company. With bold direction by Ethan McSweeney, Fulfillment will undoubtedly ruffle some subscriber feathers.
The play begins with Michael (Stephen Conrad Moore) purchasing a multi-million dollar apartment in Soho and describing his sexual relationship with his coworker, Sarah (Erin Barlow). She soon puts the idea in his head that he isn't being made partner at the law firm because of his race. Whether it's true or not becomes subject to interpretation as the rest of Michael's life begins to spiral out of control.
Bradshaw's script is flawed in that it's not enough about any one thing to really grasp at a central narrative or question. If it's a play about the inequality of underrepresented groups (African Americans and women) it never really connects the dots in the way that say, Disgraced does. If it's a play about American desire for more and more, why isn't the main character greedier?
The scenes are too copious and too short to get down to anything significant. In fact, there's never really any rational conflict between characters, or at least none that lead to anything consequential. More often it's a story about a man who has trouble with his neighbor and the occasional drinking binge. The unfortunate part is that the dialog is actually really strong and incredibly well-acted, but in the end, it doesn't really add up to much.
Perhaps even more distracting are the numerous instances of gratuitous stage sex and full frontal nudity that cross the line of good taste. It seems to be an overused, if not unnecessary, gimmick on which this play too heavily relies. Maybe if the material was edgy enough to justify the graphic content, it would seem more vital. Mostly it just comes off as a desperate attempt to shock audiences.
Through December 13th at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron Street.
“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.” - Jerome Kern
There are shows that make one proud to be an American, proud to be Jewish and proud to be of immigrant descent and Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin currently performed at Royal George Theatre is one show that does all three.
Felder proves yet again that he is a consummate master of the one person show. While his bio/docu/musicals about famous composers, from his George Gershwin Alone, to Fryderyk Chopin, to Ludwig van Beethoven, to Maestro Leonard Bernstein thrilled Chicago and LA audiences and critics alike, this production and his portrayal of Irving Berlin is quite simply the icing on the cake of his career.
Irving Berlin, whose real name was Israel Isidore Baline and whose musical background included that his father was a cantor (singer for the Temple), was only eleven years old when he left his house to find work as a singing waiter because "there were too many mouths to feed" even with his pennies earned as a paperboy.
Although Berlin's first hits were more comical and vaudevillian like “Marie from Sunny Italy”, and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, to grab people's attention, it was the grief over the tragic death of his first wife that he credits with teaching him how to write a real song.
Like a chapter from a sad Lifetime movie, Berlin married his adorable twenty-year-old sweetheart took her to fashionable Havana for their honeymoon and five months later she died from typhoid fever she contracted on their week-long stay.
Later he married socialite Ellin MacKay the daughter of the richest man in the United States, and wrote his classic, timeless love song, “Always”, about his pure joy at finding her. They were married for 62 years, and ironically her father disowned Ellin and Berlin for years for marrying a Jewish immigrant songwriter - until right after the stock market crash in which Mr. MacKay lost his entire fortune but Berlin wisely having purchased the publishing rights to ALL of his songs kept his finances relatively intact during the depression.
Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -
I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.
Days may not be fair always,
That's when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
Berlin’s songs include, “Blue Skies”, (composed for his daughter), “Heat Wave”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Steppin’ Out with My Baby”, “What’ll I Do”, and the scores of “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Holiday Inn”, “Easter Parade,” and many more. We also learn that Berlin wrote “White Christmas” years after his son Irving Jr. was tragically found dead on Christmas morning at just three-weeks-old. In all, Irving Berlin composed 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs, and over 1500 published songs including one of his biggest hits, “God Bless America”.
I really loved the set which consisted of a lovely Christmas tree and piano with windows that opened onto a wonderful video presentation of the actual people, Berlin, his wives, etc as he tells a story about each. My only note for Felder is that he reconsiders having an intermission in any show he directs or stars in that is longer than 90 minutes as this one was. The audience was rapt the entire time but I felt the break in the middle would have allowed them to enjoy the show even more as a whole evening of entertainment with time to absorb and refresh between the two acts.
The artistic team for Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin is outstanding and led by Director Trevor Hay. Scenic Design is by Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay, Sound Design is by Erik Carstensen, Lighting Design is by Richard Norwood and Video Design is by Andrew Wilder. The Scenic Decoration is by Meghan Maiya.
“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a rich and fully enjoyable experience that is playing at The Royal George theatre through December 6th. For more show information, visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.
It’s as though the minds behind Motley Crue’s farewell tour, “The Final Tour”, thought of every possible stunt, gimmick and visual spectacle that would blow one’s mind and then compacted them all into a single evening. First and foremost, the band hand-picked the perfect act to send them on their way into their, now famous, permanent retirement – Alice Cooper. That’s right, a permanent retirement as Motley Crue. Not wanting to be yet another band that has a farewell tour every few years, the band actually signed legal documents stating that they cannot play together as Motley Crue again after December 31st, 2015. Guitarist Mick Mars declining health has also played a factor in the band’s decision to call it quits, not wanting to go on with rotating tour musicians in place of the originals. One of the few remaining true hair bands of the 1980s that still feature their original lineup, Crue has decided to hang it up while they can still kick some major ass on the stage – and that they do in this final year and a half tour.
Formed in 1981, Motley Crue has been still going strong despite a couple temporary lineup changes and a lack of relevant releases since “Primal Scream”, an added track on the 1991 compilation album Decade of Decadence, to the balls out, in-your-face album Saints of Los Angeles that hit shelves with a bang in 2008 (though, disregarding the reviews of bitter critics, I'd still argue that Generation Swine and New Tattoo are kick ass records). Even in those musically not so productive years, according to some, the band continued to tour and keep busy in the recording studio, successful or not. Now, 34 or so years from their days of opening for Ozzy Osbourne when “Live Wire” and “Piece of Your Action” were cutting edge rock songs, the band returns to say goodbye to the fans that made them the band they have become. Their arrogance and blatant degradation of women that helped make them famous as rock and roll’s “bad boys” now has slowly mellowed into family life behind the scenes, and their rampant drug use and notorious partying that put them in the music headlines so often has now been reduced to having a few beers, if even that. Still, 1980s rock and roll lifestyle aside – like it or not, it was their music that put them high on the charts and made them household names. It is their music and the impact made in such genre that will undoubtedly get them inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at some point.
Now it is time for one last hurrah. Once more Motley Crue will remind everyone why they are considered one of the best rock bands of our time.
Led by bassist Nikki Sixx, now fifty-six, he is joined once again by some of the most iconic bandmates of our generation in drummer Tommy Lee (now fifty-three), singer/frontman Vince Neil (fifty-four) and guitarist extraordinaire Mick Mars, who is either now sixty-years-old or sixty-four depending on what you read. Their mission is simple – to embark on a tour that that will blow minds in every way imaginable - a tour that will not be forgotten.
When Alice Cooper and his minions hit the stage, it’s go time. Each band member takes on a personality of their own, almost as if they popped out of the pages of a comic book. Already known for his theatrics, Cooper weighs into the night by kicking his set off with “The Black Widow” and follows up strongly with “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, the classic “I’m Eighteen”, “Poison” and “Go to Hell”. Each song a theatrical performance in itself, with costumes, heavy duty props and special effects, we even see a twenty or so foot tall Frankenstein monster emerge then run about the stage during “Feed My Frankenstein”. When a frightening nurse leads a straight-jacket wearing Alice Cooper to a guillotine, the anticipation continues to mount. The nurse urges the crowd to drop the hammer on Alice and with massive shouts of approval – SLICE! The blade crashes down and Cooper’s head falls to the floor before being picked up by the executioner who parades it around for all to see to the tune of “I Love the Dead”.
Colorful, exciting and shocking, Alice Cooper’s set would have already more than satisfied my taste rock and roll that evening. Baby heads surround Glen Sobel’s drum kit as he wails away while guitar duties are shared by Tommy Henriksen, Ryan Roxy and Nita Strauss, who was a show in herself. Chuck Garric plucks the bass and adds his own distinct flavor to Cooper’s band. Often the band triumphantly gathers center stage led by Cooper, exchanging riffs and showboating for the crowd.
At sixty-seven-years old, Alice Cooper may have still his best touring days ahead, especially if his band is as engaging as the one he has now. Thoroughly entertaining in every aspect desired in a ball’s out rock show, Cooper’s show was pure rock and roll bliss.
In what we could only wish was a longer set, Alice Cooper finishes off the crowd with a power-charged rendition of “School’s Out” that medleys with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Nothing short of amazing, at that point it seemed Cooper may have stolen the night.
A short breather.
After appropriately hearing The Sound of Music’s “So Long Farewell” throughout the stadium, the familiar revving of a Harley Davidson engine thrusts Motley Crue onto the stage with “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Mick Mars, looking that of a New Orleans crypt keeper, strums the crunchy chords as Vince Neil struts forth. Nikki Sixx looks to be in great shape though frontman Vince Neil's slightly chubby frame doesn’t keep him from rocking at full throttle. Tommy also looks to be in peak form as he slams the cans with the same fervor and precision as ever.
Over the years Motley Crue has made a point of creating a stage spectacle to remember for each tour. This is their biggest show by far. Fireworks jet out at some point in nearly every song only to be complemented with massive bursts of fire, laser lights and gusts of streaming smoke. As per usual the band is accompanied by two dancers to sexy up the set and add backing vocals. Twenty-foot flames are even shot out of Nikki’s bass as they kick into “Shout at the Devil”. Like I said, they thought of everything.
Outside of the pyrotechnics and amazing special effects, Motley Crue puts out a long, flavorful set that includes favorites “Wild Side”, “Same Ol’ Situation”, “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”, “Live Wire”, “Motherfucker of the Year” and a rocked out version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” complete with a squadron of masked combatants that shoot water into the crowd with high-powered Super Soakers.
Somewhere near the half way point, an emotional Nikki addresses the crowd, thanking everyone for their years of support - a nice warm and fuzzy moment amidst one of the best concerts in some time.
And what would a Motley Crue show be without an insane drum solo? Again, thinking of what would be most mind blowing stunt to pull off, Tommy Lee’s entire drum set ascends up and over the crowd half way across the stadium as be blasts along with a series of clips from his fave songs including some Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and Beastie Boys. Mick Mars immediately follows up Tommy’s antics with a blazing solo of his own before the band kicks it into high gear with “Dr. Feelgood” and “Kickstart My Heart”, a finale number that is definitely one for the books that includes everything but the kitchen sink. In their massive send off number, both Neil and Sixx are propelled out over the crowd as they each man their own pod-like thingy. Mick Mars mans the main stage standing on a riser that raises him a good twenty feet. At the same time, a thirty foot round pentagram burst into flames behind Lee’s drum set while a barrage of explosions take place and streamers fall from the ceiling so thickly one cannot see the crowd across the way. It is a memorable farewell that could only be done in Motley Crue fashion.
With yet another ace up their sleeve, the band returns for an encore to a small stage located in the center of the arena for a more intimate version of what Sixx has referred to as the band’s “Stairway to Heaven” in “Home Sweet Home”. Having been to more concerts than I will ever be able to count, I can honestly say that Motley Crue’s “Final Tour” is one of the best I have ever seen, and speaking with fans after the Milwaukee, Chicago and Toledo shows (yes, I went three times), it seems most would agree. This is it for one of the last true rock bands of an unbelievable era in our music history – a band that carved the way for a countless hair bands - a band that has truly left an impression on the music industry. This is it for a band whose music has passed the test of time and is every bit as significant as it was when first released. Sixx has sure come a long way from hacking bass riffs with London in 1980 then hand-picking a motley assortment of band members (Ding! A Motley Crue!) that could have only made it this far together thanks to the perfect chemistry.
Watching Motley Crue performing “Live Wire” as an opening act in 1982 at what was then called the Rosemont Horizon, it was apparent I was witnessing what would be a special band. It has been fun to watch them grow musically and as performers ever since and rising above some pretty meaty bumps in the road. I’d guess the band has more than a few good tours left in them, but as Motley Crue members say themselves, “All bad things must come to an end”. And what an end it is.
When I think of Green Day’s American Idiot, the thought of the majority of our population blindly falling in line with the agenda of media conglomerates comes to mind. It's true. America’s youth (and not so youthful) is influenced by suggestive ad campaigns, TV and film brainwashing and so forth – thus, potentially becoming the “American Idiot”. Of course if you look even deeper (and it’s hardly a secret at this point) you’ll see that media is greatly controlled by corporations, which in turn largely influences the government and vice versa, so in fact Green Day’s album American Idiot suggests the average American is literally a sculpted product of the corporate world while choices and freedoms are merely an illusion to those who do not know better.
Though I expected the production of “American Idiot” to even enhance the album’s overall theme a little more directly, it still made its point well. “American Idiot”, currently playing at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, is the story of three youths that go in the wrong direction after unconscious exposure to selective, and purposely directed, life-long media blitzing – which is entertaining in itself, but as the show progresses it becomes more about rectifying wrongs, if possible. In short, three fed up friends take separate paths, all of which seem exciting at times, only to reunite as learned individuals at the end after their paths are simultaneously met with a longing for better lives on their own terms. It is also the story of succumbing to temptation, wrong choices, consequences and perseverance.
Luke Linsteadt stars as “Johnny”, whom the story revolves around, and while exuding a tremendous amount of energy, he also lets loose a singing voice that works very well for the role. Linsteadt’s character is complex as it can be fun. “Johnny’s” friends “Will” and “Tunny” are played by Steven Perkins and Jay W. Cullen, both roles requiring their share of lead vocals. Perkins and Cullen both have their shining moments as does Krystal Worrell who is well cast as “Whatshername”, Johnny’s girlfriend who joins him in his journey of sex and drugs until they part after realizing their relationship is mutually damaging. The ensemble is fun and lively to the point we undoubtedly know each one of them are really enjoying their roles.
An urban-like, graffiti-stained stage is background for the story, creating a simple, but sensible set. Intense dance numbers and rocking music pave the road for this quick-moving, never-boring production. Another refreshing facet of this production is seeing it removed from its usually big budget, large venue, Broadway-esque state - to which it becomes almost commercialized. Rather, The Hypocrites presentation of “American Idiot” at The Den Theatre is a much more intimate experience with a much more organic feel and genuineness that cannot be always be found in massive productions. Outside of a few vocal and instrument sound levels that could use a bit of adjusting, this is a show that really comes alive and reaches its audience in the way that it was probably originally envisioned.
What made the show even more enjoyable was the band playing in full view and the arsenal of Green Day songs played in their musical-ized versions. Different than most bands, musicians are interchangeable depending on the song and scene - a very entertaining aspect of this version as in “Who’s going to play drums on the next song?” Green Day songs in the show included, “Know Your Enemy”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “When It’s Time” and “American Idiot”. Musically, the show was a gratifying journey in itself. Kudos all around to a great production team and cast.
“American Idiot” is a 2010 Tony Award nominated Best Musical and 2010 Grammy Winner for Best Musical Show Album. This is a show that certainly has its share of energy, music and youth. Playing through October 25th at The Den Theatre, this is a show most should appreciate, Green Day fan or not. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.the-hypocrites.com.
The China Performing Arts Agency presented “Kunlun Myth,” an original musical from producer Wang Yu, for a two-night engagement at The Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University. “Kunlun Myth” smartly incorporated ancient and modern concepts into an elegant, sparky performance and what better venue to perform than the Auditorium Theater. During this visually stunning show, The Auditorium was filled with an incredible energy. A number of bubbly performances, original dance productions and strong vocals made for a uniquely wonderful experience.
The “Kunlun Myth” begins in the Kunlun Mountains (important fabled mountains in Chinese mythology) where the Heaven Pillar resides. This pillar connects Heaven and Earth, and serves as a portal between the two worlds. Deng Fei, a college student from Beijing, visits the Kunlun Mountains and discovers the relic of the Heaven Pillar. Deng Fei reads the pillar’s inscription and is abruptly transported to Heaven. Once there, he meets Mei Duo, the daughter of the Heaven pillar tribe’s chief. Deng Fei and Mei Duo fall in love. Deng Fei also meets Queen Mother who wishes to rebuild the Heaven Pillar because Gong Gong knocked it down. Gong Gong does not want the pillar rebuilt because he fears that the disasters from Earth will travel through the pillar and destroy Heaven. Ultimately, Deng Fei is on a quest for self-knowledge, and returns back to Earth in good spirit.
Properly capturing the mystical Kunlun Mountains on stage would seem like a difficult feat, but set designers were successfully able to create the magical mountains. Elaborate patterns and set pieces were jaw-droppingly beautiful. The creative juices were really flowing. The lighting designs were dramatic and impressive. Neon lights accentuated set pieces and made the stage pop with color.
From gold, shimmering gowns to casual khakis, the costume department was superb. Every single costume was elegant in its own way, whether it was Mei Duo’s dress, or Gong Gong’s suit of amour. The only character without an elegant costume was Deng Fei, who sported a Yankee snapback, green windbreaker, and khakis.
Beautiful vocals and powerful music made the auditorium rumble. Music styles ranged from pop, rock, and hip hop. Mai Duo sang beautifully, definitely goosebump worthy. Gong Gong had deep, commanding vocals which set the show’s deep and dark mood.
Kunlun Myth was performed in Chinese, with English subtitles to aid audience’s understanding. There were no subtitles for dialogue, only for the musical numbers. Audience members who could not understand Chinese that may have been lost during the dialogue relied on body language to help understand. Since the dialogue was in Chinese, much was left for interpretation.
Performances were held on Wednesday, Sept. 2 @ 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 3 @ 7:30 p.m.
Chances are everybody knows a Chicago song whether they are aware of it or not. It’s nearly impossible to not had at least one of their melodies buzzing through your head at one time or another. When seeing them perform live it is almost amazing to hear how many hits they have manufactured during their heyday from the 1970s through the mid-1980s. After all, the band has received multiple music awards including a Grammy, they have been elected as Founding Artists to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a star in their honor sits on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they even have a street in Chicago named after them. Let’s also not forget that their record sales have topped the 100,00,000 mark. Not too shabby. Fortified with a vibrant horn trio, catchy choruses, spot on vocal harmonies and precise musicianship, Chicago is still putting on a highly entertaining shows decades after they released their first album in 1969, Chicago Transit Authority.
Returning once again to the city of the band’s origin, Chicago took the stage at Ravinia Saturday night for one of two nearly sold out performances. With a similar look to the past twenty or so years as far as band members go, Chicago ripped into one classic after another. Co-founders, Robert Lamm (keyboard/vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet/vocals) and James Pankow (trombone/vocals) led the march along with Jason Scheff who had joined the band in 1985 as Peter Cetera’s replacement.
The two-hour-plus set consisted of twenty-six songs and was split into two sets - a fifteen minute intermission in the middle. The first set was power-packed and included the hits “If You Leave Me Now”, Will You Still Love Me?”, “Look Away” and “Another Rainy Day in New York City”. As enjoyable as the first set was, the second was even better as one hit was churned out after another such as “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “Hard Habit to Break”, “You’re the Inspiration”, and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away” to which to crowd got up from their seats at its energetic end and stood for the remainder of the show.
Ending on a high note, Chicago finished off the set with “Saturday in the Park” just before the upbeat, feel-good “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”.
James Pankow practically put on a show by himself. Continuously strutting, dancing and interacting nonstop with the crowd, the spirited trombone player was key in keeping the energy level high. Pankow successfully proved that trombone players can be as cool – or at least animatedly squirmy - as any other musician. No doubt, the man was fun to watch. Chicago also put on one hell of a drum solo where Tris Imboden and percussionist Walfredo Reyes Jr. fiercely battled each other much to the delight of the audience. And for those wondering, yes, Robert Lamm’s voice was as rich as ever. In all, the components were fully in place for a well-round, and very fun, musical experience.
The band left the crowd with a one-two punch encore of “Free” followed by what is probably their most famous song of all, “25 or 6 to 4”. It would be very difficult to imagine a single person leaving disappointed after such a remarkable performance. As someone who had seen Chicago in 1982, the show was a great blast of the past, while to newer fans or first timers a glimpse into a great era of music that they may have never experienced first-hand.
A Ravinia favorite for some time, one can only hope for Chicago’s 2016 return.