Steppenwolf Theatre is currently presenting the world-premiere production of “Head of Passes”. A story that takes place in the marshlands of Louisiana, “Head of Passes” is a story about tested convictions and soul searching.
What begins as a family gathering for a birthday party, turns into a tragic tale that would test the spirit of those with the greatest resolve. In this case, though many would curse the name of God after such endured misfortune and heartbreak, we see such a trust in one’s faith actually strengthened. It is a story that points to the question that everything happens for a reason and suggests everything is part of a greater plan. It is a story of belief and touches on the existence of angels.
“Head of Passes” features a bright and talented cast. Cheryl Lynn Bruce shines and delivers a masterful performance as “Shelah”, the family’s mother. Glenn Davis and Steppenwolf favorite, Alana Arenas, also bring out their A-game, as both are dynamic n their support roles.
Set on the porch of a large southern house, we are taken as an audience to the swampy backwoods at the mouth of the Mississippi River where the shifting grounds and rain are taking a toll on the family’s home. When the house and family are simultaneously destroyed, Shelah is left dependant on her own inner strength and faith.
Big time performances and an elaborate set that comes with its own surprise make this an thoroughly entertaining production.
“Head of Passes” is playing at Steppenwolf through June 9th. For show and ticket information, visit www.steppenwolf.org or call Audience Services at 312-335-1650.
When I think of Green Day’s “American Idiot”, the thought of the majority population blindly falling in line with the agenda of media conglomerates comes to mind. America’s youth is guided by suggestive ad campaigns, TV and film brainwashing and so forth – thus, the “American Idiot”. Of course if you look even deeper you’ll see that media is greatly controlled by corporations, which in turn largely influences the government, so in fact Green Day’s album “American Idiot” suggests the average American is literally a sculpted product of the corporate world while the illusion of choices and freedoms helps in creating a false individualism.
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. It is the story of three misguided youths that have been saturated by TV – which was entertaining in itself, but becomes more politically challenging as it progresses. In short, three fed up friends take separate paths, all of which seem exciting at times, only to reunite learned individuals at the end after their paths are collectively met with a longer for better lives on their own terms – not the preplanned lives subliminally, and not so subliminally, suggested by the great media machine.
Alex Nee stars as “Johnny”, whom the story revolves around, and while exuding a tremendous amount of energy, he also displays a singing voice that can at times rival Billie Joe Armstrong’s. Nee’s character is complex and can be quite diverse. “Johnny’s” friends “Will” and “Tunny” are well played by Thomas Hettrick and Casey O’Farrell, both roles requiring their share of lead vocals and emotions ranging from frustration, to anger to angst. Alyssa DiPalma 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.
A quasi-suburban/urban set stands before a wall of TV monitors flashing with sorted media clips. Though not overly original it seemed a good fit to the choreographed dance numbers, which should really be described as sporadic and quirky youthful energized movement and interchanges rather than dancing – but in a good way. One thing for sure, there is no lack of energy in this show.
What made the show even more enjoyable was the live band in full view, the library of songs played and the Broadway-ized renditions of those songs. Included in the show were, “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 nothing short of fantastic. The show also ends on a high note when, after taking their bows, the cast reappears on stage, each playing an acoustic guitar for a heartfelt rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”.
“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 the energy, music and youth to make for a more than entertaining production. Playing through April 21st at Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph St.), this is a show that will be sure to please, Green Day fan or not. Tickets are $18-$85. More info on this show can be had at 800-775-2000 or www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
There is nothing better than a good chase. Based on the remarkable, almost too far-fetched true story, “Catch Me If You Can” is a whirlwind of exciting scenes and show stopping numbers. The story follows the exploits of Frank Abagnale Jr., a con artist in a league of his own, who successfully passes as a doctor, an airline pilot and a lawyer – all before hitting the age of 21 years old. I should also mention that he stole nearly two million dollars by passing bad checks. While Frank lives the playboy life from one city to the next, the F.B.I. is hot on his trail but by-the-book agent Carl Hanratty always a step behind.
It’s the early 1960’s and the jazzy, jet-setting era is tremendously brought to life with memorable, well-timed songs and dance numbers that swing and sway with an unadulterated youthfulness, such as the opening “Live in Living Color”, “Jet Set”, “Someone Else’s Skin” and the sexy “Doctors Orders”.
A well-rounded and talented cast put this show on the must-see-while-in-town list. The charismatic Stephen Anthony as “Frank Jr.” puts on one of the best stage performances I have seen in the last few years delivering spot on timing and on-a-dime expression while also providing breathtaking vocal prowess, most notably in his big finale “Good-bye”. Dominic Fortuna also demonstrates his pitch-perfect, lounge club voice as “Frank Abagnale Sr”, while Merritt David Janes (“Carl Hanratty”) does a great job as the likeable agent who gradually befriends Frank Jr. as the chase ensues. Caitlin Maloney as Frank Jr.’s mother “Paula” and Aubrey Mae Davis (“Brenda”) also deserve great praise for their wonderful performances.
This wonderfully directed show by Jack O’Brien really has it all. The stage adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 hit of the same name brings out everything desired in a fun, stimulating and visual Broadway musical.
“Catch Me if You Can” is playing at Cadillac Palace (151 W Randolph) through April 14th. Ticket information can be found at www.BroadwayInChicago.com, www.CatchMeOnTour.com or by calling (800) 775-2000.
Just sit back, fasten your seat belts and enjoy the chase!
Lookingglass Theatre’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” is a dark comedy that questions human nature, the existence of God and explores living with the decisions we have made. Directed by ensemble member Heidi Stillman and written by Rajiv Joseph, “Bengal Tiger” takes us to Baghdad and centers around two U.S. Marines, an Iraqi translator and a tiger.
Greed and disloyalty are present in this land of ghosts. This play shows the world to which the spirits of those one kills stay with them, often driving one crazy. At the same time, we are also shown the unfortunate behavior of some American soldiers who take advantage of a country taken over for a gluttonous cause guised as a mission of liberation.
Troy West is delightful as the Bengal Tiger, who delivers one question on human nature and beliefs after another, adding profound observations on man from one looking in from the outside. JJ Phillips is sensational as “Kev” and lights up the stage with a dynamic performance while Anish Jethmalani anchors the terrific cast as “Musa”.
“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” is playing at Lookingglass Theatre through March 17th and is well worth seeing. For more information and/or tickets, visit www.lookingglass.org or call 312-337-0665.
“The Birthday Party” at Steppenwolf’s new upstairs theatre, is theatre in the round at its best, with the living room set in the middle of the room amidst the audience, almost giving us the feeling that we are part of the play. With Chicago theatre heavyweights filling the cast, including John Mahoney, Ian Barford and Francis Guinan, we are treated to rich and passionate dialogue, making the show fiery and heartfelt. Harry Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” takes us from the dull times of daily living to a fast-paced, intriguing and often uncomfortable situation to which all hell breaks loose.
The story revolves around a boarding house in England run by Petey (Mahoney) and Meg (Moira Harris) where there single guest of nearly a year Stanley (Barford) has been hiding out from a past “organization”. Everything has been calm and relaxed until two mysterious guests arrive, members of this organization, to confront Stanley. Stanley, normally cocky and rather rude to his hosts, takes on a scared and fragile demeanor once confronted by the guests. But it’s Stanley’s birthday and Meg has a party planned, inviting the two guests, Goldberg and McCann. Goldberg and McCann are on their best behavior in front of Meg and Petey, while Stanley is obviously enveloped with impending doom. While Petey picks up the gravity of the situation, Meg is oblivious and is as overbearingly sweet as usual.
I enjoy watching John Mahoney in live theatre every chance I get, though I felt his tremendous gift of acting was a bit wasted here. While John Mahoney’s vast talent was harnessed by a less challenging role, Francis Guinan plays Goldberg and is just magnificent. He hammers his lines with the intensity of a wrecking ball making contact with a dilapidated building. Also to note that Sopia Sinese, daughter of actors Gary Sinese and Moira Harris, makes her Steppenwolf debut in strong fashion as “Lulu”.
“The Birthday Party” is a dark comedy that may not get you in a birthday mood, but will get you to laugh at times and uncomfortably stir in your seat at others. Directed by ensemble member Austin Pendelton, “The Birthday Party” is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through April 28th. For more information visit www.steppenwolf.org.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company kicks in the 2013 season with a dark comedy that is both engaging and compelling from the opening scene that has “Jackie” finding the hat of his girlfriend “Veronica’s” alleged lover. Just out of prison, “Jackie” takes a big step towards starting his new life by getting himself a job. However, everything takes a turn once “Jackie” is convinced “Veronica” is seeing someone on the side and his “new life” is no longer his priority. Jackie finds solace in talking things through with his sponsor “Ralph D. and “Cousin Julio”.
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgia, fast dialogue and lots of cursing make this story move quickly and with realism. The story has plenty of on edge moments, but also rounds out well with a good amount of funny lines and sexy scenes. The story flows smoothly and never threatens to lose audience interest. Fun twists and turns await around every corner in this witty show directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro.
John Ortiz (“Jackie”) and Jimmy Smits (“Ralph D.”) put forth the dazzling performances that one would expect in a Steppenwolf production. Both are able to take command of the stage in each scene performed, as well as get good laughs from the audience. Ortiz and Smits roll with “Motherf**ker”, have fun with it and kick its ass. “Dynamite” would be the word of choice regarding both of their performances.
Sandra Delgado, Sandra Marquez and Gary Perez round out the talented cast and each are excellent in their own right. Perez as “Cousin Julio” had some very funny scenes. The cast shows great chemistry together and the story is rich in displaying the different behaviors in humans incited by the circumstances that surround the characters – both good and bad.
The thoroughly entertaining “The Motherf**ker With The Hat” is well worth seeing and is playing through March 3rd in the downstairs theatre of Steppenwolf (1650 N Halsted St). For tickets and/or more information on “The Motherf**ker With The Hat”, visit www.steppenwolf.org.
The highly anticipated musical theatre production, “The Book of Mormon”, winner of nine Tony Awards, has made its way to Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre (18 W Monroe) amidst its second national tour. With a humorous story revolving around young Mormons spreading the word of “Heavenly Father” according to The Book of Mormon, the production is filled with hilarious dialogue and silly musical numbers.
Nic Rouleau, who comes directly from the Broadway production, leads the mega-talented cast as the over zealous, overly ambitious Mormon advocate, “Elder Price” , along with Ben Platt who plays his bumbling partner, “Elder Cunningham”. Price’s dream is to be sent to Orlando to spread the word, but the pair is sent to Uganda, much to his chagrin. A compulsive liar, Cunningham, stumbles his way into a “successful” mission by reinventing The Book of Mormon to the locals, outshining Price and the other existing Mormons sent by the church who have not found any success by preaching the true word of Mormons.
Keep in mind this show was written by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, so humor that pushes boundaries should be expected. There is plenty of R-Rated cursing and, like their famous cartoon, no topic is safe from jabs. Matt Stone and Trey Parker were on hand for the opening night performance in Chicago and were greeted to a standing ovation when they took the stage following the show. “The Book of Mormon” feeds the audience with a steady stream of solid laugh material and is as funny as advertised.
Though high demand for the performance has the show sold out through March 3rd, “The Book of Mormon” is set to run through June 2nd. Tickets run from $45-$115 and are available through Ticketmaster retail locations or online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
‘Tis the season to jump into the holiday spirit and what better way than to kick it off by taking in a holiday classic. “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play”, now playing at American Theater Company, is a charming and fun-filled way to do exactly that. In this warm hearted production, the audience is taken to a live 1940’s radio broadcast when storytelling was a much different art and form of entertainment. As crowd members file in, a pianist plays Christmas classics while the cast strolls about the stage awaiting and preparing for their “radio performance”.
Golden-voiced announcer Chris Amos finally takes to one of the four microphones stationed across the stage and starts the show, introducing the story while plugging an advertiser on occasion just as was done during such an era. Just before the cast goes into “It’s A Wonderful Life”, he instructs the audience to clap when the applause sign light up.
The 1940’s radio set is just as imagined it would be, propped with old time microphones, furniture and other 1940’s essentials. The set also included a Foley station operated by Rhapsody Snyder, where live sound effects were made to follow every detail of the story, which was very interesting and fun to watch.
Each cast member took on multiple characters, adding a comedic element at times, especially when outstanding actor Mike Nussbaum, went directly from mean old Mr. Potter to the loveable and naïve guardian angel, Clarence. Cliff Chamberlain was dynamic as the beloved George Bailey, while Sadieh Rifal, Tony Lawry and Tyler Ravelson added very solid performances for each character they played.
Another delightful blast to yesteryear came during the story breaks when the cast participated in quirky advertisements complete with corny jingles and campy one-liners. During these breaks the cast would also read aloud Christmas greetings from audience members submitted prior to the show’s beginning.
“It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play” is the perfect show for the holidays and one that can be seen multiple times if you want to share the experience with others. “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play” is playing at American Theater Company (1909 W Byron St) through December 30thand tickets are a very reasonable $35-$40. For more show information or tickets, visit www.atcweb.org or call 773-409-4125.
The play starts out with a poker game taking place in Oscar Madison’s living room. The place we can see is a mess, cigar smoke freely roams throughout and all the regulars are there – Speed, Roy, Vinnie and Murray – all but one – Felix Ungar. After much worry and time pass, Felix shows up dejected and frazzled. He had just been kicked out by his wife. With no place to go, best friend Oscar persuades Felix to move in with him. Good idea, right? Well, it seemed so at first, but when Oscar, an irresponsible slob who loves to drink, smoke and gamble is paired in a confined living space with Felix, an allergy ridden neat freak whose idea of fun is organizing and cleaning all things possible…well, maybe not such a good idea after all.
Neil Simon’s classic story, “The Odd Couple” is triumphantly delivered at Northlight Theatre and is cast with a slew of Chicago greats including Second City alumni Tim Kazurinsky, Peter Defaria, Phil Ridarelli and Marc Grapey. Grapey, incidentally carries out a terrific performance in the stead of George Wendt, who was scratched from the role of “Oscar” due to health issues. Phil Ridarelli gets a lot of laughs and immediately captures the crowd’s attention as the loud and sardonic “Speed”, showing great ability to command the audience with his great comedic expression, tone and body language.
Though initially disappointed that George Wendt was not playing the role of “Oscar”, Grapey quickly took command of the character and was a true pleasure to watch perform. Grapey is certainly well suited for the role and displayed a tremendous rapport with co-star Tim Kazurinski, who also gave a top-notch performance. Of course it wouldn’t be “The Odd Couple” without Murray and the Pigeon sisters and Peter Defaria, Katherine Keberlein and Molly Glynn really add the perfect touches to each character.
“The Odd Couple” is flat out funny. It is the perfect getaway if you are looking for a brief retreat from the humdrums of daily life. Located just next door to Jameson’s Steak House, what better way to spend an evening than dinner and a show. Northlight Theatre is located at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. For tickets and/or more information visit www.northlight.org or call 847-673
If you’ve recently had the odd inclination to see a play that revolves around an Uptown donut shop –good news! You will be pleased to know that Tracy Letts’ “Superior Donuts” is not only currently playing at the Cabaret Theatre inside the Royal George Theatre, but is also a sweeter treat than any Krispy Kreme fried dough concoction. Funny and thoroughly engaging, “Superior Donuts” centers around a donut shop in the midst of Uptown that has been in the family for sixty years – but there’s so much more.
Run by son, Arthur Przybyszewski (just like it sounds), now an aging Jerry Garcia-alike, Superior Donuts holds onto to the comforts of routine, and unchanging ways where the same handful of regulars make most of its customer base. When Franco Wicks, a young visionary and dreamer, comes knocking for a job opening behind the counter, Arthur reluctantly hires him. Franco is filled with energy and new ideas and continues to hammer Arthur with creative proposals to attract a new crowd – bran muffins and bananas for the healthy minded individual, poetry night… Though the two couldn’t be more opposite, they begin to click, learning from, and about, each other as outer layers are slowly peeled away. In the meantime, neighboring businessman, Max, is trying to buy the donut shop from Arthur to expand his electronics business. Arthur is not willing to sell.
Arthur is such a wonderful character. Slow to speak with simple, direct and thought out words, he is extremely laid back, outwardly set in his ways, though at times also shows glimpses of excitement to explore new directions. Still, at the end of Arthur’s day it’s all about complacency, familiarity and relaxing with some weed in his bowl at closing time. As the play moves on, we learn about Arthur’s background - Polish heritage, raised in Jefferson Park, and like many, past ghosts are revealed, in his case a lost wife. Richard Cotvsky is simply terrific as Arthur, really making the character easy to relate with.
What makes this play so entertaining is the connection and interactions between Franco and Arthur. As every bit as engaging as Arthur was made to be, the same can be said about Franco. Kudos to the director for casting Preston Tate, Jr. to play the role of Franco, who was not only outstanding as Franco, but couldn’t have been more perfect to craft a fun, and meaningful, relationship with Cotvsky. The chemistry between the two is magical and is completely enjoyable to watch from any theatre seat in the house. I want to also acknowledge Paige Smith for his exceptional work in the role of Max and express appreciation to him for providing some of the show’s biggest laughs.
“Superior Donuts” is a perfect dose of Chicago evening theatre and contains all the ingredients of an intriguing story from loan shark thugs to the perpetual ambitions of a dreamer, complete with big laughs and its share of sticky moments.
“Superior Donuts”, A Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company production, is playing at The Royal George Cabaret (1641 N Halsted St.) though November 25th. For more information call 312-988-9000 or visit www.maryarrchie.com.