Ken Payne

Ken Payne

It only takes a few moments into Lizzie’s opening number that audience members realize they are in for quite the unusual theatre experience. Haunting, yet beautiful, the creepiness quickly sets in as Lizzie’s four Victorian-clad characters solemnly sing the tale of the infamous Lizzie Borden who was accused of butchering her father and stepmother in August of 1892.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Based on true accounts of the double murder that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, the grim tale reimagined by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner is told by Lizzie, her sister Emma, her neighbor Alice and the family’s maid, Bridget. Presented by Firebrand Theatre, whose claim is that of being the first feminist musical theatre company, Lizzie is a detailed account of the legendary crime that is one of the most talked about grisly murders in our Nation’s history.

Firebrand hits a homerun with their first ever production by delivering a deliciously enticing story that engrosses from beginning to end thanks to its strong acting performances and punchy soundtrack that is both powerful and, when called for, dreamlike.

The play offers great insight to Lizzie herself and speculates the heinous crime may have been prodded by the home’s maid while also suggesting she may have been lovers with her neighbor Alice. Liz Chidester is Lizzie Borden and dominates in the role. Chidester so well captures the essence of a girl who loses her grip on reality after years of being abused by her father and is subjected to a newly introduced stepmother who has manipulated her way into inheriting the family wealth.

Ingeniously directed by Victoria Bussert, Lizzie is stacked with commanding performances. Leah Davis fiercely takes the reigns as the mischievous housemaid Bridget, injecting well-timed humor and velvety smooth vocals that make her character a powerhouse. Camille Robinson as Emma and Jacquelyne Jones as Alice round out what makes for an excellent cast. Our four characters deliver amazing vocal performances, each as unique as the other while smartly straying from the standard Broadway-esque sounds we are used to hearing in so many big musicals. No. These women truly rock. 

Instead we get a conceptual rock concert. Hypnotic, sexy and plot-rich, Lizzie is presented by a female-fronted rock group heading a talented band that sits rear stage. As engrossing as the music is the show’s often pithy dialogue exchanges, it’s costumes and creative effects (hint - ponchos are available for those who choose to sit in the first row).

Lizzie is a fun show that has it all – murder, treachery, sex and scorching music.

It is with high recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to see the story of Lizzie Borden that is presented in the most imaginative way. If such a brilliantly inventive production such as Lizzie is an example of what Firebrand has in store for theatre goers in the future, we can only look forward to what the young theatre company will bring us next time around.

Lizzie is being performed at The Den Theatre through December 17th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firebrandtheatre.org.

Saturday, 11 November 2017 06:28

"This Wonderful Life" is just that - wonderful

Most of us have seen Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at some point in their lives. Whether a Holiday tradition or by happenstance as television stations run their yearly marathons, there’s a very good chance you have experienced the heartfelt 1946 film classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. We have since seen many stage adaptations, from live radio broadcasts to large scale productions. In American Blues Theater’s “This Wonderful Life” written by Steve Murray we get an entirely different spin on this definitive piece of Americana as American Blues founding member James Leaming boldly takes on each character in the film himself in this brilliant one-man show.

For the small percentile of those who are not familiar with “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the story revolves around George Bailey during the late 1930’s through early 1940’s, taking place in the small town of Bedford Falls. The evil Mr. Potter runs the biggest bank in town and has most of its residents and small business owners in the palm of his hand. The only person to stand in his way is Pa Bailey, George’s father, who runs a small building and loans company where people can obtain funds for housing without paying exorbitant interest to Potter. George has high expectations for himself and plans to see the world while working for National Geographic once he finishes high school. After his stint around the world, George would return for college and proceed to live to his fullest potential. George’s life then takes another turn for the better when he meets Mary, his true soul mate. Though his father wants George to take over the building and loans one day, George is adamant that he wants to pursue bigger things and rejects the offer.

All is well for George until his father dies, leaving the building in loans in a state of flux. George agrees to take over temporarily, but soon finds he is needed permanently much to his chagrin. Married to Mary with a handful of kids, life is still fulfilling for George until the bank calls a loan and the money is missing. Instantly put into state of desperation, George comes to the realization that he is better off dead than alive after summing up his life to the worth of a life insurance policy. It is then that Clarence, an angel from Heaven, is sent down to help George get back on track. George wishes he was never born and Clarence grants that wish showing George what life would be without him in Bedford Falls. George is shown the positive affect that he has had on so many people, eventually seeing that he had a pretty wonderful life after all. It becomes a Christmas to remember when George's friends rally to his aid.

So that’s the gist of it.

It is a story over humanity overcoming hopelessness, a story of giving and the importance of friends. After all, as Clarence says, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

In “This Wonderful Life” James Leaming is nothing short of brilliant as he retells the famous classic, acting out each character from beginning to end. Throughout, Murray’s script adds a healthy pinch of additional humor that takes occasional jabs of the film in a fun-loving way. With a handful of very creative props and a backdrop that displays images of the story, Leaming is able to successfully pull off each character he tackles (especially his Mr. Potter and George Bailey) to give the audience a cohesive, engaging and highly entertaining theatre experience. Leaming’s ability to shift from character to character so effortlessly and so convincingly is a testament to his fine acting skills. Whereas one moment he seemingly channels the deep seeded bitterness and craftiness of Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, his ability to so quickly change gears to become the warm, likeable George Bailey or scatter-brained Uncle Billy is simply impressive.

This play is Jeff Recommended for good reason as Leaming’s performance is something to behold. Whether you’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” via film or stage, it is unlikely you’ve seen a unique version such as this.

Skillfully directed by Carmen Roman, “This Wonderful Life” is highly recommended as a holiday treat the whole family can enjoy.

“This Wonderful Life” is being performed at The Edge Theater (5451 N Broadway) in Edgewater and is running through November 26th. For more show information visit www.americanbluestheater.com.

 

Set in the 18th century French countryside, First Folio Theatre vividly brings to life Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast”, a romantic, yet frightening, tale just in time for the Halloween season. The final installment of Zettelmaier’s horror trilogy, “The Man-Beast” follows first works “The Gravedigger” and “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” and, staying true to form, steadily builds in suspense from its first scene to the story’s climactic ending. Staged ever so appropriately inside the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, theatre goers are in for a spooky treat that is as sexy as it is haunting.

When a werewolf ravages the countryside, no one is safe. A trail of blood leaves local villagers dead along with an escalating amount of livestock. It is then that King Louis XVI puts a bounty on the beast in the hopes the threat can be eliminated once and for all. The villagers believe the beast to be Loup-Garou, the legendary werewolf who has terrorized the countryside in the past.

The story begins when trapper Jean Chastel bangs on the door of Virginia Allard. He is hurt having suffered a bite from the beast that he believes he has killed, though the animal seems to have vanished. Allard lives alone in the forest, her house decorated with dead animals that she herself had stuffed, her kitchen shelves cluttered with bottles of herbs, wood burns in her fireplace creating a flickering glow throughout the room. The “Witch of the Woods” as she jokingly calls herself is not one to take chances as she carries a large hunting knife on her person.

After Allard tends to Chastel’s wounds we see a tumultuous relationship between the two develop, as well as a plan to cash in on the large reward. But both are cautious and struggle to trust each other, having been betrayed in the past. We wonder if either will hold true to their word.

Filled with mystery, suspense and mounting sexual tension, “The Man-Beast” works well thanks to its powerful cast of two, Elizabeth Laidlaw as Virginia Allard and Aaron Christensen as Jean Chastel. Laidlaw, whose theatre credits include Steppenwolf, The Goodman and many others, is nothing short of sensational offering several scenes filled with an electricity that would be hard to match. Laidlaw’s counterpart, Christensen, also puts forth a fierce performance and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Hayley Rice skillfully directs this classic piece, strategically getting the most in the play’s finishing touches from a talented artistic team that includes Angela Weber Miller (Scenic Design), Christopher Kriz (Sound Design), Rachel Lambert (Costume Design) Vivian Knouse (Properties Design), Rachel Flesher (Violence Design) and Julia Zayas-Melendez (Stage Manager).

Played with much ferocity and passion, the performances we get from Laidlaw and Christensen are alone well worth the price of admission. When you add a story that is sure to engage even the most casual of horror fans from beginning to end and a creative set that visually takes us miles away and so easily nudges our imagination in just the right way, we are presented with a production that has all the ingredients needed to promise a thoroughly entertaining theatrical Halloween event.

Highly recommended. *Parental discretion is advised due to a handful of racy scenes.

First Folio’s “The Man-Beast” is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through November 5th. For tickets and/or more production information, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Put acting greats Francis Guinan and John Mahoney on stage together and you undoubtedly get a performance that will certainly mesmerize. Add Jessica Dickey’s poignant script that delves into history and what we can take away from it, keen direction by Hallie Gordon and fine supporting performances from Ty Olwin, Karen Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruiz and you have a power-packed production that truly resonates with its audience. Steppenwolf’s latest, The Rembrant, is just that.

Guinan stars as longtime art museum guard Henry. A lot is going on this particular day. Henry’s boss Jonny (Ruiz) has just hired a new guard named Dodger (Olwin) and Henry needs to show him the ropes. The young, mohawk-wearing Dodger clearly isn’t in the same mold as his new mentor Henry and when art student Madeline admire a Rembrant before sketching it, the new guard encourages her to “touch the painting”. “Touch it”, he says, “feel the history.” Upon Henry’s return, he gazes at the same painting, one he has admired for years, Dodger urges him to do the same. Of course, this is absurd, thinks Henry. But Henry is troubled, his husband slowly dying from cancer. He has been a loyal guard for years. He wants so badly to touch the Rembrant – to feel the brush strokes. So, he does.

Once Henry feels the canvas, we are taken back in time to the life of Rembrant (also played by Guinan). We see the strong bond he has with his son Titus (Olwin), a son who wants nothing more to be by the side of his father. Dickey makes a valiant effort in encompassing the thought process behind Rembrant’s paintings. In one painting a man has a large hand and a small hand. This we learn is to keep father and son together forever, one hand belonging to Titus, the other to Rembrandt. The period is well-played and Guinan at the top of his craft.

Then emerges Homer, played wholeheartedly by Mahoney. Homer reminds us death is imminent for all of us. Though the time and the how unknown, the certainty for sure. It is a riveting dialogue that profoundly makes its way throughout the theatre prompting us to think about enjoying the gift of life while we can. We are also reminded of Mahoney’s powerful stage presence.

The play goes full circle, Henry by the side of his husband Simon (Mahoney) as they reminisce about the past, cherishing fond memories and exchanging their feelings for one another in a sad, but moving scene that adds an exclamation point to a very engaging story.

Guinan is sensational. However, he will take leave of the role after the October 22nd performance. Talented Chicago actor Joe Dempsey will reprieve Guinan and take over the role of Henry and Rembrandt as of October 24th. Inventive set design, wonderful acting performances and an engaging story, The Rembrandt is a warm production that connects the present to the past in a very creative way.

Recommended.

The Rembrandt is being performed at Steppenwolf Theatre through November 5th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org.

 

*Extended through November 11th

For Chicagoans that grew up in the 1980’s music scene, we remember favorite rock clubs such as The Thirsty Whale, Chances R and Dirty Nellies where spandex and rayon were the materials of choice and eye-liner on Aqua-net sprayed, long-haired guys was all the rage. For the glam rock scene, Chicago was always the minor league affiliate (Single A) to its Los Angeles big brother, where new bands seemingly broke out nearly every week. Almost grinding hair bands out akin to a factory assembly line, Los Angeles set the bar for rock bands all across the world, its clubs The Whiskey a Go Go, Troubadour and The Roxy stepping stones for the next big thing. In “Rock of Ages” the hilarious 1980's musical, we are taken to Los Angeles where the fictional Bourbon Room, one of the last rock hold outs, is under the threat of eminent domain as big money developers have other plans for the property.

Club owner Dennis (riotously played by Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt) runs The Bourbon Room with his sidekick and fellow rocker Lonny (Nick Druzbanski), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Realizing the club’s days are numbered, the two decide to go all out by bringing back Arsenal, a major band that got the start from The Bourbon Room, to play their final show with lead singer and egomaniac, Stacee Jaxx, who is off to pursue a solo career.

And what would an 80’s musical be without a cheesy love story? Bar back and aspiring musician, Drew, is instantly love struck when Dennis hires Sherrie (of course a hopeful actress) to be the club’s new waitress. From there we root for The Bourbon club, along with those protesting the new corporate development, and also for Drew and Sherrie to find love.

“Rock of Ages” is a fun time capsule filled with 80’s rock classics that includes Warrant’s “Heaven”, Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Extreme’s “More than Words” and many, many more. Though a parody of the era, “Rock of Ages” is an entertaining tribute to an age in music that, though considered kitschy by some, left a major impact in the world of music. The musical makes several 80’s refences that can’t help but make us forty-to-fifty-somethings laugh, such as Drew’s date with Sherrie where he tries to romance her with a four-pack of Bartles & James wine coolers.

The show boasts as good of a cast as one could ask for. Adam Michaels as self-aggrandizer and vulgar lead singer, Stacee Jaxx, is absolutely hysterical in the role. His moments are plenty as he puts on full display his great knack for physical comedy along with some pretty raging vocals. And as one who has seen this production more times than I remember, I can say quite confidently that Nick Druzbanski may just be the best Lonny I have seen yet. Druzbanski really fires on all cylinders and is a comedic whirlwind, also contributing nicely with strong vocals, certainly deserving a Fogmaster 5000 for a performance nothing short of outstanding.

Notable vocal performances are aplenty in this production with both Cherry Torres as Sherrie and Russell Mernaugh as Drew impressing with their singing prowess in number after number. Both skilled singers as they are actors, Torres and Mernaugh also spark a wonderful chemistry and are able to deliver plenty of funny moments. Though many, other performances of note are Donica Lynn, who sings beautifully when called upon and Nick Cosgrove who nails the role of Franz, the flamboyant German son of developer Hertz, who draws a laugh in just about every scene he occupies.

“Rock of Ages” is silly fun. It’s a campy drive down memory lane. It’s highly recommended. It’s also part concert, as a live band plays from a stage upon the stage throughout the show, tasty guitar licks and all. For some, they will relive the highly memorable era, for others they will receive a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of a time when the Los Angeles rock scene churned out hair bands like Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt.

With Falls theatrical productions in full bloom, this is a must see.

“Rock of Ages” is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through October 15th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Monday, 04 September 2017 21:02

The Queen of Soul Returns to Ravinia

After cancelling her performance earlier this season due to health concerns, the Queen of Soul, the great Aretha Franklin, tabbed as the greatest vocalist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, made her triumphant return to Ravinia. Dressed in a sparkling silver dress and donning a wig giving the seventy-five-year-old living legend long straight hair, the superstar made an immediate impact as she walked onto the stage after the band’s opening medley.

The soulful 1986 hit “I knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was the first song the of many that Franklin delved into, her voice perhaps not as powerful as it once was, but every bit as finessed, unique and velvety. Franklin’s set was wide-ranging and included classics “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” along with Stevie Wonder written “Until You Come Back to Me” and B.B. King’s “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied)”.

Accompanied by a twenty-five-piece-plus gifted ensemble that included everything from a horn section to dancers, Franklin’s sound was big, filling the outdoor venue with the sweet sound of nostalgia. The excitement never let up, Franklin often getting well-deserved standing ovations. After all, she is one of the most influential artists of our time.

About halfway into the concert, the fabulous singer went into a powerful medley that began with Adelle’s “Rolling in the Deep” merging into The Supremes’ “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”. A highlight moment without question. At one point the crowd was moved when the band played a soulful jam while Aretha fervently sang over the music telling her story of a serious illness that had miraculously vanished, thanking a team of skilled physicians and above all, God. Afterward, she immediately introduced longtime friend Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was seated in the first few rows.

Franklin rolled on with a beautiful array of material, wrapping up her set with “Freeway of Love”, which segued into a ten-minute high-spirited gospel revival, praising Jesus as the King of Kings, practically every audience member on their feet clapping along, many hands in the air, as the stage became a platform for an impromptu and very enthusiastic Baptist church service.

After a brief absence from the stage, Aretha Franklin return to perform possibly her largest hit, “Respect” - just the right number to end a tremendous set of music on a picture-perfect night. At seventy-five-years-young, the Queen of Soul is still making fans sing and dance as much as she ever has.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017 03:49

Review: Machinal at Greenhouse Theater Center

Machinal refers to an automated or mechanical system. Sophie Treadwell's 1929 play "Machinal" takes its styling from this theme. Directed by Jacob Harvey, Greenhouse Theater Center brings this work back to Chicago for the first time in many years.

Maybe not as well known as Lillian Hellman, but Sophie Treadwell was once a popular playwright on Broadway during the height of expressionism in theater. She wrote some forty plays and often directed them, nearly unheard of in those times.

"Machinal" is a retelling of the murder trial of Ruth Snyder who was eventually executed by electric chair. The play is an expressionist interpretation. The dialogue is written in a way that feels like the innerworkings of a machine. There's a sparse greyness to the costumes by Christina Leinicke that would also suggest the joylessness the protagonist lives.

Heather Chrisler plays the young woman. Chrisler interprets the staccato dialogue with a human quality. Her performance brings up the intensity by breaking through the repetitive and unpoetic lines. She brings life to them and elicits an emotional response. This woman is pleading for her life as her societal system of steamrolls her.

Doubtful that Treadwell saw the real life Ruth Snyder as a villain. "Machinal" shows the the pressure of getting married, of having financial security and living in a ever-moving world. The young woman in Treadwell's play can't keep up. She's pushed into an advantageous, but unsatisfying marriage. She finds happiness in the arms of a lover. She does what she has to do to feel free and pays the ultimate price.

Eleanor Kahn's set mirrors the starkness of the play. Presented in a near black box with the exception of some strobe lighting, there's an eeriness from the beginning. There's an atmospheric quality in Kahn's setting, and it's working.

Life may seem a little more liberated for today's women but Jacob Harvey's point in mounting this work, is that maybe it's not? And maybe it's not even limited to just women. Treadwell's play is about the mechanics of being a adult human in this world, and how that conveyor-belt life makes us all animals destined for slaughter.

Through September 24 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave.

Gentle breezes, crickets chirping (or whatever that sound is they make), and comfortably warm summer nights. We're here. And knowing it won't last forever, Chicagoans certainly relish the summer months, making the most of each balmy evening. And, you know it’s July when Shakespeare comes alive under the stars at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook. Continuing their long run of Shakespeare classics, A Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Nights Dream taking stage over the past two years, First Folio brings to life As You Like It, the rustic comedy that follows young Rosalind as she escapes to the Forest of Arden to avoid her uncle’s wrath. Rosalind is joined by her cousin Celia and the two, like in all great stories, meet many intriguing characters along their journey. Then there's Orlando, who also seeks refuge in the forest after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. But our hero, Orlando, is in love – with Rosalind whom he had briefly met after impressing her during a bout of strength, out wrestling her uncle’s champion, loving her at first glance.

Rosalind, disguised as a boy and Celia, dressed as a poor woman continue to trek through the forest, while at the same time Orlando, traveling with his elderly servant Adam who insisted to travel at his master’s side, does the same while obsessively carving poems of love on seemingly any tree he can find. It is when the Orlando and Adam run into the good Duke Sr. (ousted from the kingdom by the nefarious Duke Frederick) as their desperation for food brings them to her doorstep, that they are warmly taken in and soon realize that they have stumbled onto a hidden community that lives in harmony. Jaques, who plays somewhat of a confidant/friend to Duke Sr., gives us some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines when the forest is referred to as a theatre playing out its own story.

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” 

As the play progresses, multiple relationships are revealed and created around Orlando’s search for his true love, Rosalind and, in the end, everything ties together just beautifully, as Shakespeare’s pen so often did.

The many performances in this humorous adventure are done with passion and zest. Nicholas Harizin as Orlando and Leslie Ann Sheppard as Rosalind lead the play’s talented cast with a fire-infused appetite, it’s outcome an honest, raw passion to which we can truly relate. The two as comfortable in their roles as I am in my favorite pajama pants. And it would be difficult to find an actor who does Shakespeare better than Kevin McKillip, whose seamless delivery as Jaques so effectively pulls out the humor in Shakespeare’s writing. Luke Daigle stands out as Orlando’s hate-filled brother, Oliver, while Belinda Bremner as Duke Sr. is nothing less than mesmerizing. The cast in its entirety is strong and one would be hard-pressed to find any shortcomings in any of the performances by its talented individuals. In the role of Amiens, Amanda Raquel Martinez even shows off her guitar and vocal skills in a handful of haunting numbers. Standing out as Hermia in last year’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, Sarah Wisterman returns this time as Phebe again impressing while Vahishta Vafadari is very funny as runaway cousin, Celia and Courtney Abbott shines as the highly energetic Touchstone.

Well directed by Skyler Schrempp, the play is yet another ode to the excitement of falling in love and the adventures that come with such a happening and the toils one will undertake in order to find his or her soulmate.

As You Like It comes highly recommended as one of this year’s best outdoor summer experiences.

Surrounded by trees and a beautiful landscape, As You Like It is being performed on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through August 20th. Guests are invited to bring chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. And just to add a final touch of comfort, bug spray is provided along with bug repellent candles. As You Like It has a running time of two hours and twenty-five minutes with one intermission. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firstfolio.org. Enjoy!

As Chicago Tap Theatre embarks upon their mission to “Shuffle off to Europe” where they will join tap dance companies Tapage and Tap Olé in their home countries to perform Liason, the talented outfit impresses upon its audience yet another fantastic production in its third remount of Changes, a sci-fi adventure set to the music of the late, great David Bowie. In reverence to 1940’s science fiction, seemingly with pages from the old Flash Gordon serials put in play, we get a nasty trio of futuristic villains who have made captive a host of dreamy angels, crippling each by removing their wings, and a hero who must set them free and may only be able to do so by teaching the imprisoned seraphs to fight back (via a tap dance-off, of course).


Artistic Director Mark Yonally’s creative vision is what makes this production such an amazing spectacle. It is visually compelling, thanks to the costume design by Emma Cullimore and its punch-packing choreography, and musically fulfilling as the music chosen behind each dance routine is wisely chosen by Music Director Kurt Schweitz to provide much impact. Kristen Uttich, well cast as the show’s hero, Jennifer Pfaff Yonally as the lead Alliange and Mark Yonally as Altego with Aimee Chase and Heather Latakas as his Henchpeople, lead a gifted ensemble in what turns out to be a pretty engaging story of good versus evil filled with touching moments of beauty, soul and hope and thrilling climaxes when powerful confrontation erupts.


Changes includes many Bowie favorites that are accompanied on strings by Molly Rife and violinist Anna Gillan, who oversee the dancers at the rear of the stage. “Life on Mars” opens the show followed by “Starman” and “Space Oddity” setting the tone for this energetic production that comes with many “wow” moments. Much of Bowie’s music is set to a house mix adding extra thump and larger-than-life tempo, of which I have to wonder was necessary, as opposed to playing the songs in their original recorded versions, my guess being the extra boost provided a clearer pocket for the dancers to perform within or perhaps may have been needed to hear the songs distinctly above the often-thunderous flurry of tap dancing. A feast for Bowie fans, the production also comprises such hits as “Under Pressure” “Changes”, “Ziggy Stardust” and other faves that will have you poking through Spotify to relive the production's many great moments upon exiting the theatre.


Chicago Tap Theatre keeps this commanding form of dance alive, and even in bloom, with one fantastic production after another, Changes being no exception. Thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end, Changes has the perfect combination of dance, music and visuals to make this retro-sci-fi rocket take off.


Changes is being performed at Stage 773 through July 16th. For tickets and/or more show information, or to find out how you can help get this talented dance company to Europe, visit ChicagoTapTheatre.com.

After a delay in touring due to singer Bruce Dickinson’s bout with cancer, Iron Maiden has finally returned to the Chicago area in tour of their 2015 release, The Book of Souls. Now, fully recovered, Dickinson and company performed in front of a packed crowd at Tinley Park’s Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre along with opening act Ghost.


The concert itself was a mixed bag. It was exceptional in the sense that Dickinson’s vocals were crisp, strong and delivered us to vintage Maiden-dom as only the signature sound of the collective band can possibly do. The 58-year-old Dickinson seemed in prime form vocally and even physically. Guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith were riffing as though it were 1985 and madman bassist Steve Harris plucked away at his instrument while channeling the energy of an eleven-year-old kid. Nicko McBrain was still Nicko McBrain, bashing the cans with complexity and power laying down the foundation for each song along with fellow rhythm-mate Harris. Yes, the band was on. So…what was the problem?


Two things.


Janick Gers (whom I have the utmost respect for his musical ability) doesn't really fit in with an Iron Maiden progressive metal live show – at all. Joining the band in 1990 to help finish No Prayer for the Dying after Smith’s brief departure over musical differences, Gers can no doubt play the part musically, but his stage presence makes us think that we may have entered a Poison concert by mistake. While energy-filled Dickinson and Murray run around the stage, it’s just that – running around the stage from end to end, Harris’ head thrashing about and Dickinson just being the cool front man we associate with a serious metal band like Iron Maiden. Gers side-to-side hair flinging, goofy high steps, kicks (reminiscent to the band Kix), guitar spins and cheesy dance moves would have been great – if Iron Maiden was a 1980’s hair band, but they’re not. They’re Iron Maiden. (Sorry Gers fans, I know he's talented but do they even need three guitar players?)


The other issue with The Book of Souls concert (at least the one in Tinley Park) was that the set list. Though The Book of Souls sold well and gave Iron Maiden their highest boost in some time, the band’s current set list was far too dependent on their latest studio release. With six of the fifteen songs coming from The Book of Souls album, fans who went in the hopes of hearing as many Maiden classics as possible were shorted. Left to the wayside were greats such as “Two Minutes to Midnight”, “Aces High”, “Run to the Hills”, “Flight of Icarus”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “Running Free”, “Can I Play with Madness”, “The Wicker Man”, “Flash of the Blade” and so many more. Now, naturally a band that has spanned for five decades that has produced so many amazing songs cannot be expected to cram every hit into a two-hour set, but playing just two or three songs from The Book of Souls would allow for a few more greats that Iron Maiden loyals would certainly appreciate jamming along with.


So that was the disappointing. Now for the good.


As stated prior, musically Iron Maiden was on top of their game. As expected (and always hoped for), the band’s mascot Eddie made a couple appearances, one as he walked across the stage dwarfing over Murray, Smith and Harris while Gers ran between his legs eluding the creature’s grasp until Dickinson fought and defeated the beast parading his severed heart high into the air for the crowd to see, meeting his victory with bloodthirsty cheers. Later an even larger Eddie peered from behind the drums as the band went into “Iron Maiden”.


Iron Maiden classics were sprinkled in throughout the set as Dickinson donned a British coat from the Revolutionary war while waving the flag of his homeland during “The Trooper”. The singer also surveyed the crowd to see how many fans were born after 1982, the year “Children of the Damned” was released, nearly half the hands in attendance being raised as the band went into the song.


Dickinson also made a heartfelt tribute to late actor Adam West, who he called a childhood hero and an inspiration.


Iron Maiden finished strong with a three-encore power play starting off with “The Number of the Beast” before going into “Blood Brothers” and delivering the knockout blow with “Wasted Years”.


Make no mistake. Iron Maiden still rocks and can deliver a fully entertaining arena show infused with enough metal to satisfy the most hard core of fans. Hopefully, the band’s set will have more songs that truly define Iron Maiden as most know their next time around. And there will be a next time around, as Dickinson altered the lyrics in “Number of the Beast” to “We will return (Chicago)!”.


Iron Maiden set list at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park June 15th 2017


If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
Wrathchild
Children of the Damned
Death or Glory
The Red and the Black
The Trooper
Powerslave
The Great Unknown
The Book of Souls
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Encore:
The Number of the Beast
Blood Brothers
Wasted Years

 

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