Eden Diez

Eden Diez

Check out the Barrel of Monkeys on a first date, see if your date has a sense of humor. Take your 4th grader and laugh over ice cream after the show. Drag the whole office to the Neo-Futurist Theater and forget about the overwhelming stress for an hour, then return to the stressful office. Hey, you could also buy a ticket for your Grandma.


After seeing the Barrel of Monkeys present THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA a second time, my attendance is guaranteed a third time. If you’re looking for hilarious, here it is. Since there’s snow on the ground, Barrel of Monkeys celebrates with THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA: The Holiday Special. Santa, Thanksgiving, and winter inspired subject matter make up the new lineup of stories this season. The Chicago Public School students write amazing stories, so amazing, they are brought to the stage and performed by Barrel of Monkeys Company Members! 


Barrel of Monkeys is a Chicago-based arts education theater ensemble, who give 3rd through 5th graders the confidence, and an outlet, to be creative. Creative writing workshops are conducted in underserved Chicago Public Schools, and then students’ stories are turned into professionally performed theater and shared beyond the school’s walls. 


THAT’S WEIRD, GRANDMA is for everyone. Everything about Barrel of Monkeys is amazing, their talent for teaching and acting, their mission and vision, their impact, and how they put a smile on everyone’s face.


Location: Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago

Running: November 16 - December 28, 2015

Curtain Times: Mondays at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for children under 12. Tickets are available at www.barrelofmonkeys.org


Face your fears at Disturbia: Screams in the Park


Imagine: You are walking down a long, dank hallway, towards a clown. He waits for you behind bars. If you're brave enough, you keep eye contact with the clown as you walk closer and closer to the door. You must push open his jail cell door - there is no other way. The clown towers over you, his height intimidating. Either you stay and join him in his cell, or you push past him, walking very, very quickly. If you stay longer, who knows what he’ll do.


Disturbia: Screams in the Park returns to Rosemont to once again test the bravery of the souls who dare to visit this October. This thrilling haunted trail was ranked third in top Chicago-area haunted houses by the Chicago Tribune and Haunted Illinois. I beg to differ. The creators, Joseph and Mike Pantano, the characters and designers deserve first place. The amazingly horrifying costumes, decorations, make-up, settings, and interactive nature make this haunted house stand out from the rest. This haunt has 35 bone-chilling rooms full of terror, such as, an insane asylum managed by murderous psychopaths who are killing for laughs and a maze of underworld passages. For a couple of the rooms, you are unable to rely on your sense of sight to help you escape the monsters following you.


Where: The basement level of the parking garage at MB Financial Park in Rosemont (5501 Park Place)


When: Open from 7 P.M. to 11 P.M. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. 7 P.M. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.


Days of Operation:

October 2-4

Oct. 9-11

Oct. 15-18

Oct. 21-25

Oct. 27 - November 1


Ticket Sales: This haunted trail is indoors, so it will be operating - rain or shine. Also, parental discretion is advised. General Admission tickets are $25 per person. VIP tickets, which allow ticketholders faster access and less wait time for the haunt, are also available for $45 per person. Discounted tickets are available for groups of 10 or more at www.grouptix.net. Visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance at www.disturbiascreams.com. Tickets can also be purchased on site.


Parking: Parking is free with validation from the ticket booth. After parking in the MB Financial Park parking garage, follow signage to the main elevators and go to the “LL” to descend into the underground world of “Disturbia: Screams in the Park.”



Monday, 21 September 2015 14:46

Nicolas Billon's Butcher Will Get You Hooked

Signal Ensemble Theatre presents the United States premiere of Nicolas Billon’s “Butcher”, a thrilling mystery of revenge and dark secrets. Directed by Signal Ensemble Member Bries Vannon, “Butcher” is a gripping nail-biter and will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat. 


On a rainy Christmas Eve in Toronto, an old man decked out in a military uniform and a Santa hat is left at the front door of a police station. A meat hook hangs around the man’s neck with a note attached - “Arrest Me”. Christmas Eve seems to last forever, as a lawyer, a police officer, and a translator search for answers. 


The Signal Ensemble Theatre has a small stage with limited seating, and a small cast in this production. But that is overshadowed by the brilliant playwright and director, the powerful stage presence, and the intimacy of the play. “Butcher” is electric, dramatic, and horrific. Completely engrossing. 


Playwright, Nicolas Billon, wrote an exciting, thrilling script. A script which could easily be filmed and turned into a series on Netflix. The blackouts during the performance were the passing of episodes as the audience binged-watched the entire series in one evening. 


Todd Frugia gives the most passionate performance as the energetic inspector– and that is not taking anything away from the rest of this talented cast. The officer cracks lighthearted jokes mixed with playful sarcasm at the beginning of the play, and as the plot thickened, Frugia’s heart spills onto the stage. When he is in pain, the audience is in pain. 


Vincent Londergan, who plays the mysterious old man, actually learned Lavinian. This new language was created by Dr. Christina Kramer and Dragana Obradović. Billon had asked Kramer to create a Slavic language to use in his play. He named the new language after Lavinia, a character in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. The cast learned this new language, and training paid off, as their accents are very convincing.


“Butcher”, also starring Joseph Stearns and Simone Roos, is a suspenseful thriller with all the right ingredients – powerful acting performances and an engaging plot with just the right amount of twists and turns.  


Where: Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice Ave. 


When: September 17 - October 24. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.


Ticket Sales: Prices are $23 for single tickets, $15 for industry/students/seniors/groups.


Contact Info: Tickets may be purchased by calling 773.698.7389 or by visiting www.signalensemble.com 


Travel Info: Street parking is available on Ravenswood and Berenice (runs one way going west) CTA Brown line EL stops Irving Park and Addison. CTA busses #80-Irving Park, #152-Addison, #50-Damen, #11-Lincoln. The Theatre is handicapped accessible.


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.

Wednesday, 01 July 2015 00:00

"American Smoothie" More Sour Than Sweet

Underscore Theatre Company proudly presents the second annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, featuring 13 world-premiere musicals by local artists. These musicals showcase Chicago’s emerging musical theatre artists. Chicago is home to musical theatre creators, giving the artists a safety net to fall back into when they make risky decisions and experiment with the performing arts. There was a disclaimer in the program. It stated that if theatregoers were to see a musical, it may not be any good. After all, musicals are risky business and very challenging.

Brian is an IT technician at the corporate headquarters of American Smoothie. He feels like his coworkers do not appreciate him and all the work he does for them. Poor Brian arrives to work every morning with demands such as, “Help me open this document!” or “Fix my computer!” He looks forward to speaking with Brie, his coworker, because he has eyes for her. Speaking to Brie is easier said than done and there are too many obstacles in the way. First, Brian’s inability to make a situation light and not-awkward, and second, Chad. Chad is Brian’s worst nightmare. Chad has loads of personality, always bright, and is a charitable human. Everyone at work has a large personality. Brian’s boss, Jerry, is very eccentric. Coworker, Samantha, has a bird fetish. Coal, Brian’s roommate and best friend, is a dedicated puppet game show host. Throw all these characters together in a play, things are bound to go wrong.

That was the shortest summary I could muster, skipping all the ridiculous details, without straying too far. This script went in so many directions, I could barely keep up. Although it was very creative and somewhat comical, the holes in the plot and the weak presence on stage was more apparent. It seems as if the cast missed out on bonding experiences and went straight into rehearsing. It made for rigid and timid presences on stage.  

However, some characters are worth noting. Brian (Brian Elliot) and Samantha (Cami Rene Philgreen) possess very strong voices. Chad (Jonathan Wilson) and Jerry (Michael Palmenderi) provide comic relief from a very confusing script. The ideas were great, but they didn’t blend and left me very confused.

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival will be presented June 30 - July 19, 2015 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets are available at www.cmtf.org

Title: Visit Barrel of Monkeys for their Summer Block Party!


Looking for something to do on a hot summer evening? Join the Monkeys for a night filled with bizarre humor! Barrel of Monkeys presents “That’s Weird, Grandma: Summer Block Party”, a production of stories written by Chicago Public School students. These young, creative geniuses  (3rd-5th graders) write creative scripts or stories for the actors and/or educators of Barrel of Monkeys, who adapt and perform these sketches both in school and for the general public - in this case, The Neo-Futurist Theater. Since 2001, Barrel of Monkeys, co-founded by Dr. Erica Halverson and Halena Kays, provides a rare opportunity for creative expression, increased literacy skills and confidence in student ideas and abilities. Imagine how thrilling it is to the student whose story is turned into professionally performed theater - by their teacher. No matter how odd a child’s story is, all ideas will be embraced.


As the series progresses throughout its run, it’s the audience who actually votes on which stories should stay and which should go, so no two shows are ever the same. Artistic director, Joseph Schupbach, pulls out a new collection of children’s stories every Monday. These sketches are so innocent, so out of the box, and yet so incredibly eccentric. It’s as if the audience is watching a production directly from the ideas and memories of the child’s imagination. Some of the story titles include: “Elsa and Anna and the Attacking Zombies”, “The Long Day”, “The Sad Pizza”, and “Doctor Stupid Head”. The sketches brought to the stage resemble the crazy prompts you were given in the third grade, such as, ‘Why should crocodiles be domestic animals?’ The sketches are as random as could be, but they’re very humorous.


The Neo-Futurist Theater is an intimate space, but the actors use every inch of the space in the most creative of ways. Props, such as a plastic horse head and plastic snakes, and costumes are used, including wigs, potato sacks, and shrimp claws. Totally random. The lighting is simple yet thoughtful. Intense music filled the theater giving us notice when something dramatic was about to happen. The director and cast members sang songs and spent 30 seconds before each sketch to explain the meaning behind it, if any.  Cast members put on their best silly faces and crazy voices, earning lots of laughter from the audience. Adult actors playing out scenes and spewing out dialogue as written nearly verbatim by school children - what could be funnier?


“Barrel of Monkeys: Summer Block Party” is perfect for adults and children. If you want to laugh hard, I definitely recommend going to see Barrel of Monkeys. You might not be able to wipe the smile off your face as you leave the theater.


Location: Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago

Running: June 8- August 10, 2015

Curtain Times: Mondays at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for children under 12. Tickets are available at www.barrelofmonkeys.org or by calling (312) 409-1954

Thursday, 04 June 2015 00:00

"Once" Is Not Your Average Musical

ONCE has found its way back on the stage with an electric performance at the Cadillac Palace. With eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, ONCE brought wit, attitude, and energy to Chicago.

ONCE tells the tale of life and love and the power of music. When a heartbroken, Irish musician meets a spunky, Czech immigrant, his world gets flipped around. The “Guy”, Stuart Ward, tells himself he is no Bono, and that pursuing a music career is pointless. The “Girl”, Dani de Waal, tells him that his talent will send him far and wide. Both connect through their love of music, which develops into a deep friendship. They write songs together, she instills confidence in him, and he falls head over heels for her. Quickly, their situation becomes complicated, and their modern romance is cut short when reality steps in.

ONCE is unlike your average musical. The instruments were on stage, rather than being in the pit. An ensemble cast of actors and musicians seamlessly transitioned into each scene. Their timing and demeanor impeccable. The set barely changed, only when a Hoover or piano rolled out on stage. Each actor remained on the wings of the stage (instead of going backstage), instruments in hand, as if they were football players waiting on the sidelines at their big game.

The Guy and the Girl (Ward and Waal) battled against each other with playful banter and sang inspiring duets together. Both of their voices blended into harmonious perfection, add the piano, and it was just beautiful. The 2007 Academy Award for Best Original song for “Falling Slowly” (starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) was from the hit soundtrack. Whether it was sung as a duet, or with all cast members, it filled the entire theatre with energy. The “Falling Slowly” opening line “I don’t know you, but I want to” sums up the Guy and the Girl’s strong feelings for each other, and by the end of the story, both know each other too well.

The Cadillac Palace stage transformed into an Irish pub, complete with the mismatched wooden chairs, a bar, and rusty mirrors which covered the walls of the pub. As a surprising bonus, the audience is invited on stage to interact with the actors and musicians, and to grab a drink at the pub, before settling into their seats.

ONCE is filled to the brim with humor and raw emotion. It’ll have you laughing one minute, only to bring you to tears the next. For people who haven’t researched the ending, it is somewhat left for interpretation. Although, it is not a typical romantic ending, it is realistic. ONCE is sweet, raw, and powerful. Recommended for romantics, realists, musicians, comedians, or all of the above.

Individual tickets for ONCE at the Cadillac Palace Theatre range from $30- $95. Group sales: (312) 977-1710. The Broadway In Chicago Ticket Lane at (800) 775-2000. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Chicago Children’s Theatre World Premiere invites you to “Wonderland, Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure”, and to delve into your curious imaginations. Chicago director Rachel Rockwell and music director Michael Mahler reinvented Lewis Carroll’s books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass into a wild adventure of self-actualization.

Small, troubled, 7½ year-old Alice wants to feel ten feet tall, because after all, nothing matters at all when you’re feeling small. But that does not stop Alice from reaching her dream of becoming queen. Rockwell describes Alice as “an active protagonist. We’re talking girl power here, empowering girls, in particular, to boldly discover their true selves.” Ariana Burks, 15 years, and Isabelle Roberts, 12 years, steal the audience’s hearts, brilliantly playing Alice (both young ladies will be alternating performances as Alice).

Rockwell and Mahler uniquely interpreted the classic “Alice” stories into an inspirational rock and roll adventure. A new Alice in Wonderland soundtrack was created featuring sounds similar to Aerosmith, Kiss, Joan Jett, and David Bowie. With the perfect cast and crew, this performance is seamlessly executed. The live rock soundtrack, varying from classic rock to punk to ska, surrounds Alice as she learns valuable lessons from her friends in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter tells Alice to “do what you like, and like what you do.” Ironically, the short tempered Caterpillar reminds Alice to keep her temper. The unicorn at the end of Alice’s journey tells Alice to believe in six impossible things before breakfast, with the underlying message “believe in the impossible, and the impossible will believe in you.”  

As far as vision goes, the set perfectly captures the Victorian-grunge look. The stage’s floor resembles a chess board, and projections of gardens and hallways are plastered behind the cast to aid in the visual adventure. Costumes are also very fun and innovative to complement the colorful set. Costume designer, Mara Blumenfeld, turns the Cheshire Cat into a 1970’s lavish David Bowie. Cheshire Cat, Andrew Mueller, follows Alice throughout her journey and always wears a grin on his face because he knows the punch line. The Queen of Hearts, Molly Callinan, rocks the Joan Jett look and is completely mad when it comes to order and fairness. All the while, the Red Roses, Lillian Castillo and Regina Leslie, wear red bows and puffy red skirts, providing Alice with ridiculous advice, like “it takes a lot of work to be a natural beauty!” The Jabberwocky, also Andrew Mueller, is your worst nightmare… a punk rock demon. Complete with intimidating black spiky hair and tall, black boots, Alice must defeat the Jabberwocky; the negative thoughts and harmful monster created in her head. In this case, Alice smashes her demons, with a sensational solo on the drums. At the end of this crazy adventure, Alice learns to believe in herself and to never instill self-doubt in her head.

This performance calls for kids, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and school groups to join in the fun at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts! “Wonderland, Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure” will make you laugh, it will make you shake, and it will tap your feet along with the beat.

“Wonderland, Alice’s Rock and Roll Adventure” performances are being held through May 24th at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. Tickets are $10-$38. Programs include fun activities for kids and lessons drawn from the themes of the play. For tickets and information, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.orgor call (872) 222-9555. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (773) 227-0180 x 13 to learn about deeply discounted group rates for schools, playgroups, birthday parties, and scouting trips. Note: Groups can book an ASL- interpreted or Autism-Friendly performance by calling (773) 227- 0180 x 13 with a minimum of two week notice.

The “For the Record” series brings John Hughes’ films back to life with a combination of memorable soundtracks and classic scenes from TheBreakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science, Some Kind of Wonderful, and 16 Candles. Dear John Hughes is a Broadway concert that showcases talented actors and actresses as they take on the roles of some of our beloved movie characters, all falling under the Hughes’ teenage classification system of the Basket Case, the Athlete, the Brain, the Princess, and the Criminal.


Despite the band being situated on center stage, the cast still makes it seem like they have all the space in the world to perform. They make the stage their own, utilizing its remaining space to the fullest. Ensemble members also make good use of the theater, pushing their way through aisles and high-fiving excited audience participants.


In the costume department, all the obvious steps were taken to make the era come to life - flannels tied around the waist, while leather jackets, suspenders and John Lennon glasses are as vital as ever. Watts is never without her drumsticks as portrayed in Some Kind of Wonderful and there are plenty of Molly Ringwald-esque floral patterns and floppy hats.


Which classic scenes were brought back to life? “Anyone? Anyone?” Ferris’ romp around Chicago in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Andrew Clark’s tear jerking monologue in The Breakfast Club and Blane’s “forgotten” prom date leading to a humiliated Andie in Pretty in Pink.


Michael Thomas Grant perfects Duckie’s solo in Pretty in Pink, “Try a Little Tenderness”. Grant’s voice has that quality which allows him to sing any style of music, and this talent makes him shine. He has the most range from character to character and convincingly delivers the over-confident lines of Ferris, immediately followed by the timidness of Anthony Michael Hall’s classic series of “nerd” types.  


Rumer Willis rocks out on the drums during a medley of songs that includes a haunting rendition of Suzanne Vega’s, “Left of Center”.  Jackie Seiden and Patrick Mulvey, the “narrators”, help in guiding us through Hughes’ catalog of films and add strong vocal performances of their own along with timely comic relief in between the heartbreaking scenes. After a highly colorful and visual journey into the world of John Hughes, the show finally goes out with a bang ending with The Breakfast Club’s signature Simple Minds number "Don’t You Forget About Me”.


Encore! Encore! Dear John Hughes is highly recommended. This is an exciting, all around fun production that actually deserves a larger stage with a larger audience - and a louder round of applause!



For the Record: Dear John Hughes, is playing at Broadway Playhouse (Water Tower Place) until March 15th. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices or by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800)775-2000. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

*(Note that Evan Rachel Wood will be stepping in for Rumer Willis starting March 12th)



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