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.
When a band has been touring for over twenty-five years, they're not only good; for all intents and purposes, they're flawless. The Australian Pink Floyd Show, commonly shortened to the more concise 'Australian Pink Floyd', has been recreating the Pink Floyd concert experience since 1988. Any and all fans of the progressive rock band fronted by Roger Waters and David Gilmour are guaranteed to have an ecstatic time watching Pink Floyd's most well-known cover group play selections from The Wall to Dark Side of the Moon to Wish You Were Here.
Even if you are unfamiliar with Pink Floyd's music, I would challenge you to be unimpressed by the kaleidoscopic light display, if not by the brilliantly-composed songs themselves. Green laser beams fanning out and reaching into the night sky on "Money", softer blue lights illuminating the stage on "Wish You Were Here", bright white strobes flashing to the beat during "Another Brick in the Wall Part II" -- the lights are tailored specifically and magnificently to complement the mood of each song. Also employed were giant inflatable characters from The Wall as well as an enormous pink kangaroo, the group referencing the signature Pink Floyd pig as well as adorably indicating their South Australian pride.
All of this -- astounding visuals accompanying some of the greatest rock music ever taken to arena stages -- was set against the backdrop of the glimmering Chicago skyline as we sat with our backs to Lake Michigan on Northerly Island. This is not merely a cover show of Pink Floyd but a celebration of the band's music, creativity, and distinctive style. As long as there are fans of this legendary band, we will have need for groups like Australian Pink Floyd to keep this one-of-a-kind music experience alive.
Although the idea of two gay friends, Hunter and Jeff, sitting down to write their own musical for a competition deadline in three weeks’ time may seem a little bit dated, these performers including Matt Frye, and Yando Lopez do a great job of making the piece seem vibrant and current. Hunter and Jeff who love watching their reality TV like the Bachelor and "procrasturbating" introduce two of their gal friends to help them fill out the cast with Susan (Neala Barron) and Heidi (Anna Schutz). The group decides to take things they’re actually chatting about daily and eventually come up with a play about their own lives and trying to get into the playwrights festival. This is the theme for [Title of Show] now playing at Rivendell Theatre.
Long story short, they end up getting thrilled with an invite to enter into the Fest and eventually a short Off-Broadway and even shorter Broadway run all of which is exciting and mind blowing for the friendly foursome. As it happens it brings about the usual problems with managing who gets credit for what and who is the most important or likable part of the show.
I loved the song, 'Die, Vampire Die’ about managing all of the negative, "bloodsucking" thoughts that weigh on you mentally and emotionally when you are trying to create something new.
Neala Barron as the "corporate by day, creative by night' - part time actress - has the funniest and most well-rounded performance in this piece. Matt Frye as Hunter is also very funny and really makes the most of his character.
Lovers of the musical theater genre will adore this peppy, fast moving production and see themselves reflected in all the characters' struggles to be recognized and stand out including the sole musician, a very funny role for a pianist with just a few choice lines.
The reason this show still works and is timely despite coming out in 2008, is that even today with all of the new opportunities for performers to write and star in their own projects for the many contests held online and on national TV, is that for everyone eventually realizes that a little bit of success is just not enough.
Just appearing in a show on Broadway will not make you and your friends "stars". Nor will it secure you financially in any way for the rest of your lives. There is also a funny number in the show where the cast counts out all of the "loser” musicals that made it to Broadway and flopped.
Yet it is essential that actors still persist in taking over their own careers and write their own projects or they run the risk of playing bit parts their entire lives without ever realizing their full potential as writers and creators, always working the "day job" and waiting helplessly for the phone to ring with a magical call from their agents.
Well-directed, this 90 minute piece flows at a quick, funny pace.
All actors should be actor/writers, that's the best message of this show, not to let the fear of criticism cripple you from putting out your own work and maintaining loyalty to the friends who help you get your work out. Because, after all the success and thrill ride for each project is over, you still need to get up and keep writing and creating something new for yourself with your friends close by your side. Never give up and never let the pressures of making a name for yourself eclipse the importance of the daily life you are actually living because in the end you may find the journey itself really was the whole play!
[Title of Show] is playing at Rivendell Theatre through August 16th.
This year is the 15th anniversary of New Dances, a series brought to life by Thodos Dance Chicago. New Dances is forum designed to foster and support dance artists in the creation of new works, an often challenging and expensive ordeal. In addition to providing support for dancers and choreographers, it also incorporates upcoming lighting and costume designers, all from the Chicago area, bringing together a comprehensive line up from emerging talent in the Chicago dance community. Over the past 14 years, New Dances has lead to artists receiving fellowships for graduate dance studies, starting their own companies and having their work commissioned across many professional settings.
With 9 pieces, this 15th anniversary show had a great variety that could entertain even the most dance illiterate. There were two performances of New Dances at the Atheneum Theater, July 18th and 19th. With a small cast of dancers, the curtain dropped after each piece and the house lights came on, giving the audience a chance to discuss their thoughts on each piece throughout the show.
A few of the earlier pieces, heavily rooted in the contemporary style of the Thodos Dance Chicago company, shared many common characteristics (even a few of the same exact moves) which made me a little nervous about potentially seeing 9 pieces that were all too similar. While each was extremely well executed and beautifully performed, it felt like too much of the same for my tastes.
Luckily things took a huge stylistic turn with “All You Need Is”, choreographed by Taylor Mitchell. The cast of 8 dancers, adorned in simple black pants and black and white striped tops performed a French inspired piece centered on the theme of love. The work was visually stunning, combining great staging and strong choreography with hundreds of small red paper hearts being strewn around the stage in coordination with the movement and music. It combined very traditional, ballet inspired moves with a quirky twist that reminded me of watching an old silent movie. It brought the audience to life with laughter and love.
Another of my favorites was “Miriam” choreographed by Brian McGinnis. Set to original music, this piece was made up of a solo and two duets each unique but flowing together wonderfully. The first duet portrayed a couple in the midst of an affair but with a charmingly hilarious story. The song features singers who couldn’t stop laughing, and their silliness translated into the dances with great eccentric elements to the movement. The second duet seemed to ebb and flow around the stage with an effortless grace that made your heart feel light; an excellent contrast to the other duet and it rounded out the piece nicely.
The final of my top list was “Something To Do With Five”; a smooth, mellow, contemporary performance by 5 male dancers choreographed by Jessica Miller Tomlinson. The lighting, costumes, music and movement all elicited this thought of molasses, sweet tea and summer nights. The piece used creative lighting, and interesting staging as a compliment to the dancers and the movement. Throughout, there were great moments but the ending was so original, it left a great final impression. With the five men lined up at the front of the stage, the red velvet curtain fell to just inches over their head, the lights dropped to a simple backlight and the a hush fell for the final moments of the piece.
While there were some great dancers and excellent choreography, a surprising standout of the whole performance was the lighting design. The unique lighting added an amazing dimension to all of pieces and really brought it all together.
For fans of dance, or those interested in expanding their scope of dance performances, New Dances is a great show. And who knows, you may catch the first time showing of a piece destined to international fame!
While you may have missed New Dances this year, you can still catch Thodos Dance Chicago at other performance this year. For more on Thodos Dance Chicago and future performances by the company check out thodosdancechicago.org.
Although a muggy night, the crowd arrived in force at Ravinia. Chicago natives, the Plain White T’s made their Ravinia debut this past Saturday night. A pop-punk band since 1997, it’s surprising that these gentlemen have only now just graced this stage. It was evident that their signature tracks, in their pop-punk style are the back beat in the lives of so many. “1234” and “Hey There Delilah” raved in echoed singing voices, and dancing couples waved across the grass and over the hills of Ravinia. Know that their most recent album, released earlier this year “American Nights” is another great summer album to rock with your windows rolled down. Their new single “Rhythm of Love” got the crowd up on their feet. Tunes like “Stay” and “Heavy Rotations” are high energy with new beats, great heat, and are easy to sing along to. For the love of the music, and for the heart, take a look at this soon to be your favorite new album.
Another album release coming out this year in August, introduces us to a new side of Rob Thomas, the headlining act for the evening. Known for being a part of Matchbox 20, and for his hit song with Santana “Smooth”, this pop prince is roaming his way toward country. The crowd was on their feet for most of the heated show (as Rob, changed his shirt half way through). Old and new tracks, “Lonely No More,” “Boom Shake” and even a remix of “Let’s Dance” brought cheers for Rob and his band, and sing-alongs from the crowd. The first single “Trust You” from his new album “The Great Unkown” was an introduction to all the great things to come. You only get “One Shot” to make a night at Ravinia, Rob heated up the stage and set fire to the release of his upcoming album.
Check out upcoming Ravinia shows at www.Ravinia.org.
At the young age of 73, Aretha Franklin is still the "Queen of Soul."
I am not sure what I was expecting. Aretha Franklin's show over the weekend was the first time I visited the Ravinia Festival. The venue was like a mini-Disney World with a few ice cream stands and dining options to satisfy any picky eater. The beautifully manicured lawns were impressive to the eye as were the multitude of high end high-end picnic set ups created by many of the fans. Ravinia is definitely a cozy spot for family, friends, and dates with the festival lawn area being BYOB for adult beverages to go with the food brought if decided to do so.
The concert started on time with Franklin’s large conductor-led orchestra consisting of saxophonists, trumpet players, trombonists, and many more instruments, every ready to compliment her amazing vocals. You could quickly see the love and respect the band members had for Aretha. Grandly entering the stage in a beautiful silver gown she not disappoint! The legendary Aretha Franklin flawlessly performed her well-known songs such as “Chains of Fools”, “Natural Woman”, and many more classics before closing her full and thoroughly entertaining set with “Respect”.
Between songs Aretha effortlessly engaged the crowd, the veteran performer that she is. She talked about her love for Chicago and of some of her favorite haunts which included Josephine's Gumbo from Captain Hard Times in the South Side, also mentioning that she heard Portillo's was a pretty good place for a Chicago dog.
Ms. Franklin took us to church with her music when she sang about being cured of cancer in 2013. It was a really powerful moment in the concert and she gave a special thanks to Reverend Jesse Jackson and her niece who were both in the audience. She was humble and her voice unblemished.
Check out the many shows coming up in Ravinia at https://www.ravinia.org/Calendar. Since Aretha has a special connection with Chicago, I anticipate that she will make a stop around our great city next time around. It's a show for people of all ages and those who like to dance. She is simply timeless.
Lasting imagery, profound acting and exciting characters set the stage for Lookingglass Theatre Company’s latest production, Moby Dick, the classic tale of the monomaniacal plight of Caption Ahab who is hell bent on destroying a fierce sperm whale who cost him his leg, even at the expense of his own crew. As the story goes, a crew is assembled for a whaling expedition only to find out their captain has another agenda – revenge. Though the play successfully conveys a sense of unity we also feel a dark loneliness that feels foreboding from the story’s beginning.
Lookingglass Theatre is brilliantly transformed to effectively capture the essence of the ocean with the use of flowing fabrics and strategic lighting and uses more than a touch of creative genius in order to pull off a believable whale. As the story unfolds, three stoic red-headed women become part of the set sometimes enhancing the dialogue with their ghostly words of warning and at other times representing the stormy waters or the whale itself. The three are as haunting as they are graceful, dreamily heightening the story’s focus at just the right moments.
Still, it would be difficult to present a plausible production of Moby Dick without a fiery Captain Ahab, but, thankfully, Lookingglass has found their man in Christopher Donahue. Donahue, seemingly born for the role, is as blistering as they come and brings the doomed captain to life with the vigor and fervor deserved for such a classic character.
Jamie Abelson excels as character/narrator Ishmael. A seasoned sailor who has served on a number of merchant ships, Ishmael finds himself aboard a whaling ship for the first time and plunged in the midst of Ahab’s quest. Also, outstanding is Anthony Fleming III as Ishmael’s faithful companion, Queequeg, a South Pacific Ocean native whose loyalty is to truly be admired.
Along with the tremendous acting performances and scenic bliss that thrusts us into an imaginative world of high seas adventure, several acrobatics feats also play large in creating such a high level of excitement in this play. Actors are able to utilize the large stage area as they scurry up the walls, balancing high above the crowd, or performs stunts on the enormous whale skeleton that envelops the theatre’s interior.
Splendidly adapted and directed by ensemble member David Caitlin, Moby Dick is a true homage to the classic tale of revenge written by Herman Melville in 1851. A production for the entire family to enjoy, Moby Dick is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through August 28th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.LookingglassTheatre.org.
Aptly named, “On Your Feet!” is on its way to Broadway and officially launched their World Premier right here in Chicago at the Oriental Theater. The show tells the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan through music and dance, laughter and tears. There were so many things that I enjoyed about this show it is hard to figure out where to start!
Written by Alexander Dinelaris (most recent credits include the screenplay for the Oscar winning “Birdman”), the story moves fast, initiated as a flashback from the tragic tour bus accident that landed Gloria in the hospital with a spinal cord injury. We are introduced to a young Gloria, played by the Alexandria Suarez, on laundry day in Miami. In a flurry of dancing, singing and swirling pastel sheets, Glorita grows from a young girl to a teenage Gloria, played by Ana Villafane, who wows us with a powerhouse voice that will blow you away.
My favorite character of the show is Consuelo, Gloria’s spunky grandmother played by Alma Cuervo. She is the catalyst that brings Emilio and Gloria together, supports her shy granddaughter to follow her dreams, and delights the audience with her quirky one-liners - my favorite being “terrible shorts, great culo!” after our first introduction to a young, short-short wearing Emilio, played by the handsome Josh Seggara.
Hit after musical hit carries us through the first act as we watch Gloria break out of her shell and take the spotlight while her and Emilio quietly fall in love. As their lives move forward, we learn more about her father’s time in the Cuban police force and then the American military and her mother’s lost dream of singing. The entire story is supported by energetic dancing, effortlessly changing set design and costumes that transport you from Cuba to Vietnam to Miami.
While first act ends on a high note as Gloria successfully crosses over into the English speaking market with a performance of “Conga” that gets everyone in the theater dancing, the second act deals with more serious challenges as the relationship between Gloria and her mother is broken and rebuilt, and the family deals with the aftermath of the horrific bus accident. In scenes that will bring tears to your eyes, we learn more about Emilio’s escape from Cuba and say goodbye to family members who have passed and witness Gloria’s triumphant rise back to stardom.
Villafane and Seggara are fantastic as Gloria and Emilio. Villafane’s incredible singing and dancing makes you believe it was actually Gloria Estefan you are watching. Seggara is spot on in his acting and his lovable Cuban accent, which makes up for his singing that is not his strongest asset. The use of projected images and sets that slide on and off the stage with ease, created a wonderful backdrop for spot on dancing by a core ensemble. The choreography, by Sergio Trujillo, was rooted in Latin dance, with impressive moves that were performed completed in sync with style and flair.
Overall, I can whole-heartedly recommend this show to anyone looking for an exciting, fast paced show that will have you dancing in your seat and on your feet! The show is running at the Oriental Theater through July 5th so grab your tickets soon – you will not want to miss this!