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The Houston Ballet might not have shown us the world (shining, shimmering, splendid), but they did present the city of Chicago with an incredible production of “Aladdin” filled with the same sorcery, riches, splendor, magic, love, and romance as we’ve come to expect from the heartwarming tale of an impoverished young ne'er-do-well who becomes part of a whirlwind adventure.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 04

The Houston Ballet made its debut at the Auditorium Theatre with celebrated English choreographer David Bintley's ballet "Aladdin." The ballet was originally created for the New National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo in 2008, and the Windy City was only the fourth city to experience the performance, sharing the magic carpet ride with such cities as Tokyo and London. Most people will know the story of Aladdin from the popular 1992 Disney movie of the same name. However, the Houston Ballet's "Aladdin" follows the more traditional story of Aladdin from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights). There’s no singing genie or clever monkey named Abu, but there was no need for it in this breathtaking production.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 01

The caliber of talent that took the stage this past weekend would leave the staunchest of critics in awe. From the background dancers to the principle dancers, everyone commanded the audience’s attention with a technique and grace that prove why the Houston Ballet is a world renowned. The moment the curtains rose, the dancers instantly transported us to old Arabia. Set against spectacular scenery created by the English designer Dick Bird and coupled with an exceptional original score by Carl Davis and performed by the Chicago Philharmonic, the audience was immediately under the spell of Aladdin’s magic.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 02

While there were many highlights throughout the 2 ½ hour performance, one of the standouts had to be the cave of wonders. When the evil sorcerer convinces Aladdin to enter the cave and retrieve the magic oil lamp, Aladdin is met with jewels and riches beyond his imagination. The jewels onyx, pearls, gold and silver, sapphire, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds were all brought to life by dancers, making the riches literally dance before Aladdin’s eyes. The audience watched on, as mystified and entranced as the young peasant boy himself. Equally impressive were the comings and goings of the genie throughout the performance; whether he hovered in midair or vanished and appeared in a cloud of smoke, the genie entered with power and pizazz that would make Robin Williams himself proud. In one scene at the royal court, when the genie transforms Aladdin from rags to princely attire, the scene erupts into a frenzied dance with the genie, jewels, slaves, and courtesans. The high energy, fast moving dance was so synchronized you’d think one person was controlling the dozens of dancers on stage. It was graceful, powerful, magical, and was the definitive mark that this ballet is here to stay.

HoustonBallet Aladdin 09

Who doesn’t love the story of Aladdin? It’s a rags to riches story that has stood the test of time. The Houston Ballet’s production of “Aladdin” is nothing short of spectacular. Folks young and old gave the performance a standing ovation and were captivated for the entire duration of the performance. The sheer talent and pageantry of the ballet was a welcome change to Chicago and the Auditorium Theater. I hope more shows like this breeze through the Windy City for Chicagoans to experience. So the next time “Aladdin” flies into Chicago on its magic carpet, be sure you jump on and enjoy the ride.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Contemporary dance is an art form like any other. As a style of dance it is much more of a philosophy than a strict technique like, say, traditional ballet or modern. Rather, it draws inspiration from both techniques and creates an entirely different experience for the audience. Much like art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you are a fan of contemporary dance or not, you should take the time away from the bitter winter cold and venture into the Auditorium Theatre to experience The Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of Contemporary Choreographers.

Like many of the contemporary showcases performed by The Joffrey, Contemporary Choreographers is split into three productions: Crossing Ashland, Continuum, and Episode 31. Let’s quickly cover off on some highlights; Episode 31, the final performance in the series choreographed by Alexander Ekman, is actually quite fun. It can adequately be described as a dramatic playground, bringing a youthful approach to dance with a touch of humor; no seriously, people were laughing along to the performances.

Joffrey Ballet - Episode 31 ft. Derrick Agnoletti  Aaron Rogers - Photo by Cheryl Mann 1

The second performance in the series is Continuum, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. This was the least entertaining performance for me; I would equate the performance as a whole as looking a blank white canvas in an art museum with a title like “Block 39.” To many, they would draw a profound and ethereal message from the blank white canvas, while others might see just a white canvas, blank and without meaning. Many of those in the audience gave Continuum a standing ovation, but to me the performance lacked a story and with it a reason to enjoy and watch it. Then again, it followed one of the best contemporary pieces I would safely say is the most enjoyable contemporary performance I’ve ever seen, so I am slightest biased.

Joffrey Ballet - Continuum ft. Temur Suluashvili  Christine Rocas 2 - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Throughout the opening piece called Crossing Ashland, choreographed by Brock Clawson, dancers in streets clothes created the vision of pedestrians passing each other on the street, walking briskly back and forth across the stage. These stoics in street clothes turned expressive when they stripped away their outer layers of clothing and exposed the vulnerability of their inner selves. Crossing, the dancers showed us what we look like; dancing, they showed us the enormity of what we feel. The performances’ emotions were palpable to the audience and after each dancer took the stage you begged them to say longer. The dancers themselves were drop-dead, makes-you-want-to-go-workout, idol-worthy specimens, each and every muscle working to show their emotions. In lament terms, they were hot.

Joffrey Ballet - Crossing Ashland ft. Matthew Adamczyk  Amanda Assucena - Photo by Cheryl Mann

So what makes Crossing Ashland special? It’s the fact that the dance is so relatable, so understandable to the audience; two people pass on the street, their hands touching slightly, longingly, but then they part. So much is said in those moments without saying a word, and when two dancers portraying their emotions take the stage and perform a deeply passionate interpretation of breaking-up and making-up, you are captivated. Crossing Ashland could easily be made into a full length production and take the stage for a full two hours and no one would be bored. And more importantly, it could introduce an entirely new generation to contemporary choreography that isn’t limited to what one sees on televised dance shows or in the movies.

So cross Wabash Avenue and make your way to the Auditorium Theatre to see Contemporary Choreographers. The show runs through February 23rd. It is a breath of fresh air to a modern style of dance that will hopefully leave you breathless.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Throughout the last century, The Phantom of the Opera has taken on many forms. Originally written by Gaston Leroux and published in early 20th century France the Phantom soon found its’ way onto the silver screen right here in the U S of A with Rupert Julian’s silent film depiction. Currently however, The Phantom of the Opera is most well known for the incredibly moving musical adaptation composed primarily by Andrew Lloyd Webber and making its’ debut in 1986 London. The musical received 2 Laurence Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Michael Crawford (the Phantom himself) Best Actor, paving the way for a 1988 debut on Broadway where it became an immediate classic and eventually the longest running show in Broadway history. After receiving 2 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Crawford again achieving Best Actor in a Musical, the Phantom of the Opera would be transcribed into 13 different languages to be seen by over 130 million people in theatres all over the world.

Now, considering the rich history and evolution in production throughout the many tours The Phantom has undergone, I can’t help but feel my reviewing this most recent version of Lloyd Webber’s adaptation to be somewhat arbitrary. You see, until I experienced this new production by Cameron Mackintosh, my knowledge of the Phantom was limited solely to Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film depiction and because this film was written and produced by Webber himself it, of course, is a masterpiece. That being said, having not had the pleasure of witnessing any of the previous musical productions of this beloved theatrical classic, I offer you a fresh perspective on this spectacular new production by Cameron Mackintosh.

Nostalgia filled the air that night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre January 15th as the auctioneer presented old relics of an opera house long past. Spirits rose as the enchanting melody emanated from that silly little music box where that bellhop monkey we’ve all grown to adore played the cymbal. Hearing those notes served as a firm reminder of all the gripping music that so effectively captivates my heart and I began to feel a stir of emotion as I watched with anticipation. But as we all know, the show doesn’t truly begin until the auctioneer presents “lot 666”… the monumental chandelier was lowered, uncovered and illuminated!

The magnificent display proved a worthy reflection of the production to follow as the stage was, to say the least, impressive. A set such as this, nearly 30 years in the making and after grossing over 5.6 billion dollars worldwide, certainly shows the extraordinary progress in quality and an unmistakable attention to detail was visible throughout the set. The integration of tracks and mobile parts made for an engaging display. The set itself however, as impressive as it was, merely emphasized the wardrobe which brought life to each character in an undeniably authentic fashion that drew me into the romance and magic of it all. The Phantom of the Opera was brought to life in a truly striking new light and I couldn’t imagine a better venue to bare witness to such a spectacle. The Cadillac Palace offers a wide range of seating options all of which provide an excellent view of the stage and the décor, in one word, grandeur.

I soon took note that some characters added a sense of lightheartedness to this new production that caught me by surprise. Carlotta Giudicelli (performed by Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Ubaldo Piangi (Frank Viveros) for instance, immediately jumped out to me and the audience both, carrying an untraditionally high-spirited weightlessness that was otherwise uncharacteristic to their personalities. Even amid the wake of the ominous Phantom, Carlotta and Ubaldo’s playful touch managed to lift the audience to a blithesome state of ignorance receiving laughter and applause in nearly every appearance from Scene 1 “The Dress Rehearsal of Hannibal” to Scene 7 “Don Juan Triumphant” in the second act. There was never a dull moment while either shone on the stage.

Nevertheless, their characters serve merely as a distraction only building suspense while The Phantom (exceptionally performed by Cooper Grodin) lies wait beneath the stage. Finally making his first appearance in Scene 3 “Corps de Ballet Dressing Room” while singing the masterfully conducted “Angel of Music” his voice struck me as nothing less than should be expected from the man chosen to portray The Phantom. It is only in the scenes following that The Phantom must prove his love to Christine (performed by Julia Rose Udine) and Grodin’s portrayal to the audience, for it is in these moments that one falls in love with The Phantom of the Opera. I must say, Cooper Grodin being as well seasoned and experienced as he is, having had an ample education in music and the performing arts, and having played such major rolls in theatre, taking on the roll of The Phantom and doing so as well as he has is truly an admirable accomplishment, a milestone to be proud of for the rest of ones’ life. My hat goes off to you sir, for as you led Christine deeper into the labyrinth and ever closer to The Phantoms’ lair I was no longer watching the portrayal of Cooper Grodin, but The Phantom himself had entered my mind!

We’re all aware of The Phantom’s infamous nature behind the mask, while precarious and fraught with danger at the turn of a hat, still somehow affording a mysterious and even seductive quality that continues to draw you in. However, once unmasked, I found that Grodin’s portrayal of these seductive yet insidious attributes to depict more of an unnerving and disturbing performance that I felt took away from the suspense almost entirely. I felt that his mystery was lost too quickly and any attraction Christine may have still suffered had died. If these were the intentions of the new production, then it only left more room in the spotlight for the beautiful Julia Udine to portray Christine who, let’s face it, is the true star of the show.

From ballet dancer to center stage, Miss Christine Daaé carried the innocence of an angel. Julia’s portrayal of Christine was outstanding! Her voice did more than match that of The Phantom’s, but carried an unwavering familiarity that held true to the classic. Song and word alone could never do her justice and the nature of her performance can only be experienced firsthand. For it is only our beloved Christine, that can bring The Phantom to his knees and the crowd to their feet. 

 

The Pahntom of the Opera is playing at Cadillac Palace through March 2nd. For tickets and more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Of the many Christmas shows I have seen over the years, Mary Wilson of The Supremes and The Four Tops may have collaborated for one of the best I have seen with their Holiday Spectacular. Amazing vocals, flashy costumes, classic band hits and a bevy of holiday song favorites made this night at Harris Theater one to remember.

The Four Tops, led by founding member Abdul “Duke” Fakir, kicked off the show with a handful of their own hits including “Reach Out”, “Bernadette”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Baby, I Need Your Loving”. Spin moves and choreographed  routines that help made them famous in the late 1950s and early 1960s were still highly present as the band motored its way through the night. Beautiful harmonies swept across the auditorium while The Four Tops tackled Christmas favorites “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” before Mary Wilson joined them on other beloved melodies like “My Favorite Things”. Wilson and Fakir also collaborated on one of the highlight moments of the evening when the two teamed up for a duet for an amazing rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

Mary Wilson was simply astounding. Looking fantastic and sounding silky smooth she plunged into many of The Supremes most notable songs “Baby Love”, “Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stop In the Name of Love”. Wilson had the help of a 15-plus piece band, backup singers and dancers, making each number larger than life. Another show stopping moment was when Wilson sang a breathtaking version of “Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas”.

The mood was certainly merry throughout the crowd during this festive and most memorable event. Audience members rose to their feet with regularity. Toes were tapping and hands were clapping. It was certainly a treat to see these performing legends work together and we can only hope that Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular Featuring Special Guest The Four Tops will return next year. 

Published in In Concert

Twas a cold winter evening,

In Chicagoland,

On the way to the Auditorium theatre,

For a performance quite grand.

 

The guests took their seats,

The stage decked in splendor,

Anxiously awaiting their journey,

Expecting ballerinas so tender.

 

Then up went the music,

And down went the lights,

As we were whisked away

To the Nutcracker that night.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Rory Hohenstein  Christine Rocas photo by Herbert Migdoll

All know the story,

The Nutcracker’s tale,

From the grand ball to the Sugar Plum Fairy,

Danced by a young Mikhail (Barishnikov ;-) )

 

The Joffrey performed the ballet,

With intricate care,

To keep with traditions,

So all ages could share.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Jeraldine Mendoza photo by Herbert Migdoll

Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee,

Chinese Tea and Russian Candy,

Danish Marzipan, Mother Ginger,

It was all just dandy!

 

But the waltz of the snowflakes

And the waltz of the flowers,

Is where this ballet

Holds all of its power.

 

The dancers on pointe,

In their tutus and tights,

Twirling and leaping,

Twas a majestic sight.

 

The Joffrey Ballet is performing,

A holiday tale to remember,

For all to enjoy,

While it runs through December.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Dylan Gutierrez and April Daly photo by Herbert Migdoll

So off to The Joffrey!

Don’t miss it this year,

Fill up your holiday,

With Nutcracker cheer!

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 02 December 2013 08:34

Arcade Fire

 

One of the millennium's most influential independent music groups have launched a series of uncompromising hits that bring music back to where it always tries to be.

Conceived in early 2000, and opening for U2 nearly 5 years later, Arcade Fire has ignited something very important in the music scene.

It's a feeling music has been missing for nearly two decades on so many levels. They make music the way they want to, even more so than the idols who have influenced them so much. Their major breakthrough album 'The Suburbs' , with the stand-out track "Ready To Start", a follow-up to Neon Bible and Funeral, landed them all over the media. It also reflected a serious side to their expressionism that shows how driven by emotion their songs are.

Both Neon Bible and Funeral carry darker tones influenced by several family member deaths during writing, as well as bigger world topics hanging over them.

Regine Chassagne, multi-instrumentalist, wrote a song ( title 'Haiti' ) influenced by events

in Haiti. Her parents lived there

until political atmosphere drove them to sanctuary in Canada, where Regine joined Arcade Fire.

Arcade Fire would eventually raise relief money for Haitians, something close to U2

and other celebrities.

They would ultimately open for U2 on tour, and their current album is successively full of, and influenced by, Haitian percussives.

The Suburbs was conceived when lead singer Win Butler received a photo of his friend holding his daughter. The image made Win start thinking about what happened to where he grew up, which lead to a reflective pursuit of growth and maturity as well as revisiting the places that resided inside.

The first release of their most recent album, Reflektor, can be seen below.

Click the album pack 02 for their site to download and purchase:

After watching the video below ( in the media portion ) come back up and click Downtown enter your childhood address, and press play.

 

REFLEKTOR

arcade-fire

 

 

Published in BuzzBlog

So many great bands emerged in the 1960’s and you couldn’t make a list of honorees without including The Rascals. In Steven and Maureen Van Zandt’s presentation of “Once Upon A Dream” we not only learn about one of the most influential bands of that era, we also get to see the New Jersey legends perform. “Once Upon A Dream” starring The Rascals made its way to Chicago stopping off at the Cadillac Palace for a five show stint.  

In “Once Upon A Dream”, The Rascals, formerly known as The Young Rascals, intertwine live song performances with storytelling that explains how the band formed, their survival throughout the British Invasion, their support for Civil Rights as well as many funny anecdotes that took place during their years as a band. Told either by live band members on stage or via recorded images on a giant screen, each story is nicely complemented by The Rascals performing a song that relates.

An inspiring set of classics by The Rascals is played throughout the show including such greats as “Groovin’”, “Good Lovin’”, “Beautiful Morning”, “I’ve Been Away Too Long” and their highly charged, Civil Rights anthem “People Got To Be Free”. Feel like taking a few pictures? Well, that’s just fine by The Rascals who, at the show’s beginning, invite the audience to take out their cameras and shoot away then suggest posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook.     

What you get here is an entertaining story and a live concert rolled into one. The Rascals also show that they are as musically sharp as they were back in their heyday. It’s nearly impossible not to be entertained by this show Rascals fan or not. As the show goes on, audience members let loose to the music more and more, perhaps timid at first since they are at the “theatre”. That said, by the end of the show people are standing and clapping along with each song, crowding the aisles and shouting out to the stage. My hope is that we may see other bands from the past doing show similar to this one in the future. Perhaps The Rascals will prove to be pioneers in such a field.

“Once Upon A Dream” is a truly unique theatre experience. For more information on this wonderfully refreshing show, visit  http://rascalsdream.com/.

Published in In Concert
Thursday, 07 November 2013 02:54

Lots of Seoul: Love X Stereo Plays Chicago

With the recent influx of K-Pop entering the US in the past few years (Gangnam Style anyone?), it's critical to remember that other music does in fact come out of South Korea. One band in particular is currently on their US tour and should they swing back through Chicago, they are definitely worth seeing live.

Lovex

Love X Stereo performed at the Elbo Room on November 3rd to a shockingly small crowd that didn't appreciate them as they should. Love X Stereo is an electronic rock band based in Seoul, Korea. Love X Stereo’s music is electronic music based in alternative and punk rock from the 90s, think Alanis Morissette with a Ratatat-esque synthesized beat. The lead singer of the band, Annie Ko, has a soft and easy voice that could rival any 90's and 80's female powerhouse. Their song "Soul City (Soeul City)" sounds like it could soundtrack any modern day "Dawson's Creek," while "Lose to Win" and "Fly Over" highlights Ko's vocal talents.

Electronic rock is definitely coming into popularity and hearing a band from South Korea take the genre and make it entirely their own is an experience you won't find equal to. Not surprisingly, Love X Stereo's music often confuses Korean audiences, though they have a strong expat (foreigners living in Korea) community following, and some of those fans adoringly came to the Elbo Room to see Love X Stereo perform live.

annie

Like any new band, exposure is key. Love X Stereo has a unique sound, an album you can put on and cruise to. If they chance to swing back through Chicago, grab some friends and head to see them. Not every day you get to see a South Korean band playing electronic rock in the Windy City. Check out their website here:

 http://lovexstereo.com/

Published in In Concert
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00

We Will Rock You Leaves Something to be Desired

We Will Rock You is currently being performed in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace for a limited engagement from October 22nd through the 27th. And though the songs are probably enough to keep you entertained for the most part, this production just goes to show that a musical doesn’t always need a well-crafted story anymore as long as there is a demand for the music.

In this musical with music by Queen, we are taken to the future to iPlanet where individuality has been stripped and free thinking has become criminal. The story’s hero, “Galileo”, has become a threat to the oppressive government as he receives bits and pieces of rock and roll in his dreams. He soon finds a like-minded girl, “Saramouche” and there adventure to save iPlanet begins. During their mission they come across a band of rebels who live in hiding and worship rock and roll relics and fragments. It’s not long before the iPlanet government led by “Killer Queen” discovers the band of insurgents and the fate of the world falls into “Galileo’s” hands. That about sums it up.   

While the music of Queen is pleasing to the ears and occasionally used with originality in big Vegas-like numbers, we are also subjected to a bevy of contrived one-liners and preposterous situations that fail as campy humor and were instead more along the lines of absurd. Though he carries a legitimate Broadway voice with him, Brian Justin Crum lacks the charisma and rock and roll essence to play such a role as “Galileo”, making it tough to want to cheer for the hero.   

But there is some good in the show, too. Ruby Lewis (“Saramouche”) delivers an astounding vocal performance, as does Jacqueline B. Arnold as the no-nonsense and sassy “Killer Queen”. There are plenty of eye-catching dance numbers that are both sexy and fun, and the band is occasionally visible, which adds a concert-like feel to the show. And let’s not forget that We Will Rock You is one Queen song after another with great selections such as “Somebody to Love”, “Under Pressure” and “We Will Rock You” before an entire cast finale of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.    

In a nutshell, the show is entertaining enough with its dance numbers and the music of queen and though most of the laughs are predictable, there are still a few good hoots that will catch you by surprise. Disappointing is the lack of story writer Ben Elton could manage with all that great music at his disposal.

For more information on We Will Rock You, visit www.BroadwayinChicago.org.   

Published in Theatre Reviews
Sunday, 22 September 2013 00:00

Evita Returns To Chicago With A Bang

The national tour of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” is currently playing in Chicago through October 6th. Complete with a Tony worthy cast, this production of “Evita” stirs the souls of audience members throughout. The show is well directed by Tony and Oliver winner Michael Grandage and the dazzling dance performances can be chalked up to the choreography of the talented Rob Ashford, also the recipient of a Tony Award.

“Evita” is the story of Eva Peron who became Argentina’s First Lady in 1946 and remained so until her death in 1952. Married to Argentinian President Juan Peron, Eva was the country’s ambassador and became a true inspiration for its people. Hers is truly a story of rags to riches coming from one of the poorest areas of Junin before fleeing with a musician to Buenos Aires years later where her good looks contributed to her becoming a successful actress. In 1944 Eva Duarte met Colonel Juan Peron at a fundraising benefit for a major San Juan earthquake that claimed over 10,000 lives.

Caroline Bowman is triumphant as “Eva Peron”. Bowman delivers a stunning performance that is sure to be remembered long after. For any production of “Evita” to succeed there needs to be a strong “Che” and Josh Morgan exceeded expectations with both his charisma and talented voice. Sean MacLaughlin also turns in a credible performance as “Juan Peron”. The set is impressive, the dancing and music enthralling and story engaging – everything a brilliant musical needs.

“Evita” is playing at the Oriental Theatre located at 24 W Randolph. For more information and/or tickets visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com or call 800-775-2000.        

Published in Theatre Reviews
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