Earlier this year, The New Colony in collaboration with Definition Theatre, produced a smash hit called 'Byhalia, Mississippi.' The New Colony has done a great deal to insert themselves into the Chicago theater landscape over the past few years. Some of their work has even appeared off-Broadway, as was the case with their acclaimed show 'Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.' What the New Colony is perhaps best known for is their commitment to taking chances on quirky new work from emerging playwrights.
'Byhalia, Mississippi' is about one of the most 'Jerry Springer' scenarios you can imagine. A married white woman, Laurel (Liz Sharpe), gives birth to a black baby in the rural deep south. What could easily descend into a hillbilly soap opera is heightened by a strong theme on the way seemingly decent people handle race. Performances run strong in 'Byhalia, Mississippi' in particular Celeste Wingate as Laurel's mother and Kiki Layne as her childhood best friend. It has a sharp sense of humor when it needs to, but also enough structure in place to carry its complex ideas.
This new play by New Colony artistic director Evan Linder has some serious legs. After a sold-out run at The Den, 'Byhalia, Mississippi' is now being put up at one of Chicago's most esteemed and visible houses. It will certainly be noticed. While a certain degree of cheekiness runs throughout, the playwright is careful not to make his characters cartoonish. There are a few juvenile moments that tend to stick out like a sore thumb, but in time, some of that roughness will surely be smoothed out. This is not a play about infidelity. This is a play about the way people in some parts of America handle race and gender. To that end, this play couldn’t be more relevant. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see 'Byhalia, Mississippi' mounted in New York some time soon.
Through August 21st at Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650
I had no idea what to expect Sunday night when I went to Soldier Field to see Guns N’ Roses. I really didn’t. I knew what I had hoped to see in what is now the highest grossing tour in 2016 but was still a bit skeptical seeing as the band has been on the outs for such a long time. Reviews of the band’s “Not In This Lifetime” reunion tour have been mixed, some claiming that Slash had been carrying the show, implying the other band members were merely present as symbols of yesteryear so that as much of an original lineup could be put together as possible to warrant such a major occasion that could fill stadiums. That’s not what I saw – not even close. Yes, Slash was amazing in himself, but I saw a band that collectively charged the stage and played with an enormous amount of continuity, energy, confidence and precision. I saw a band where EACH member contributed as much as the next in what turned out to be a very special event – the event one can only hope for when throwing around the words “Guns N’ Roses reunion”.
Having seen the band four times between the Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion releases, it is apparent that Guns N’ Roses now has access to a much larger and complex stage show where pyrotechnics and jumbo screens assist in presenting the band’s vision like never before. But of course you can’t have a successful reunion run without the music. There’s no denying the band has the catalog of material to please their hungry fan base, but let’s be honest – it’s been a long time since the band has played together and we now live in a world where comeback tours often recycle band members and thrust them on stage whether they can still perform or not. Guns N’ Roses is not one of these bands. While Slash wailed away on his Les Paul, effortlessly ripping through riffs and solos, bassist Duff McKagan also showed he was still in peak form even laying out impressive lead vocals on Iggy Pop’s “Raw Power”, a song the band covered on The Spaghetti Incident. McKagan patrolled the large stage area bleeding the Guns N’ Roses arrogance we have come to know, projecting the epitome of rock n’ roll attitude.
To me, I had little doubt that the instrumentation would be there, I was most curious if Axl Rose would still be able to gel with the others (and them with him) and, frankly, if his voice would hold up. Within minutes of the show, any doubts I may have had completely vanished. Axl was nailing it – and then some. With an incredible energy level that had him running all over the stage and grinding out his famous rock moves, Axl’s vocals were spot on and possibly even more powerful than ever before. His stage presence was dominant. He controlled the crowd. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes but all signs pointed to the three original members expressing great enjoyment as they played with each other – and this while playing at an optimum level.
The still youthful band, both musically and physically fit, was rounded out with Richard Fortus, who has been playing guitar for Guns N’ Roses since 2001 and was a presence in his own right, drummer Frank Ferrer (since 2006) who gives Matt Sorum a run for his money, longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and newbie Melissa Reese who manned a second keyboard.
Like a locomotive, the band’s sound was delivered with force from the get go when they opened with “It’s So Easy”. In a set that lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours and forty-five minutes, Guns N’ Roses tackled a plethora of favorites including “Mr. Brownstone”, “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Civil War”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Coma”, “Estranged”, “Live and Let Die” and “Rocket Queen”. The band also played a handful of material from their critically acclaimed 2008 release Chinese Democracy, going into the title track along with “This I Love” and “Better”.
In what could only be interpreted as a tribute to Prince, the entire stage filled with billows of purple smoke just after an inspiring performance of “November Rain”. Duff also sported the symbol of Prince on his bass. Nice touch, fellas.
Theirs was a set that never let up. After one gratifying selection after another the band finished up with “Nightrain” before returning for an encore with “Don’t Cry”, The Who’s “The Seeker” and a ramped up “Paradise City”.
Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” tour certainly lives up to the hopes of their many fans. It’s what fans knew the band could still be. Musically, the tour is fulfilling and visually, it is stimulating. It is the complete package. No shortcuts or cutting corners here. What fans get is an exciting, full blown Guns N’ Roses experience. I’m just glad Chicago made the band’s shortlist or tour stops. Great music, stage show and musicianship aside, not to worry, the band still carries a healthy “Fuck You” brashness after all these years – an important ingredient in G N’ R’s recipe for success.
Alice in Chains provided strong support for Guns N’ Roses for their Chicago stops and is highly deserving of their own rave review. Though Soldier Field may be the last stop for Alice in Chains as opening support, Guns N’ Roses will continue to take heavy-hitting acts along with them on the road with Lenny Kravitz, The Cult and Wolfmother scheduled on later dates.
So what’s next after a successful reunion tour? That’s what everyone seems to be asking while hoping the answer is simply to make a new album and tour the shit out of it. Guns N’ Roses is back.
The image of sitting around a campfire under the stars brings to mind nights connecting with friends and family, sharing stories about the past and imagining what the future may hold. Connected, by Collaboraction, plays on this theme transporting the audience from campfire to campfire throughout history and into the future, examining how our connections to one another can shape our world.
The show opens as a young girl prepares for her dreams during “water sleep”. The audience puts on their time travel masks along with her and together they travel all the way back in time to the Big Bang – the original campfire. From there, the play moves from the first fire the caveman created, to a camp fire on the Oregon Trail, to a 60’s peace and love campfire, to our virtual campfire supported by technology and social media and ending with a glimpse of what our future campfire conversation could look like, coming right back to our young protagonist preparing for her “water sleep” in this imagined future.
Connected is many things; maybe too many to appreciate fully in the moment. It is part science class, explaining the big bang, the creation of life on earth, and the extinction of the dinosaurs. It is part historical drama, showing human evolution from grunting cavemen to a virtual reality society. And finally, it is part social commentary dealing with how technology has changed the way we connect with each other. While all of our technological advances are intended to bring us closer together, Connected explores if it has actually isolated us from one another and what risks does that carry with it. With so many elements to this show, the initial audience reaction may include some confusion or feelings of being overwhelmed but with time and reflection the value becomes more clear.
The show is staged in the round for a small audience so that everyone feels they have a seat at the campfire. In addition to the epic and multi-dimensional story it is telling, the show integrates movement, puppets, video, social media and audience interaction to bring it to life. It is a one act show lasting about 80 minutes and the pacing of the show keeps it moving along, covering millions and millions of years in that short time.
There were many elements to this show which were quite unique including a break in the 4th wall where the audience had a choose their own adventure moment which resulted in a group dance break to the Cha Cha Slide followed by selfie time. The show is full of so many stories, and constant surprises challenging the audience to reflect more deeply on their own connections.
It is certainly not a traditional piece of theater so do not go in with those expectations. Be open and prepared for just about anything and you will likely enjoy the show, if not in those moments after the show ends when you try to piece through what you just saw, but certainly in the days that follow as you reflect on everything that happened in the small theater space of the Flatirons Building.
See for yourself. Connected is playing through May 29th. Get your tickets at collaboraction.org.
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.