Ken Payne

Ken Payne

When October rolls along, Chicagoans have always been fortunate as far as the variety of Halloween events that take place around the city. And while many of these events take the form of haunted houses or annual midnight runs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hell in a Handbag Productions offers a much more thrilling, unique and hilarious option in “Scream, Queen, Scream!”. Set in Mary’s Attic, the intimate theatre space just above Mary’s Hamburgers on Clark Street in Andersonville, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the riotously funny brainchild of writer David Cerda who once again masterfully blends his own distinctive blend of sardonic humor with a strong flavor of cult classic cinema.

Skillfully directed by W.M. Bullion, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” brings to life three terrifying tales hosted by “Dragula” who is wonderfully played by John Cardone. “Dragula” sets the mood for each upcoming vignette by joking and interacting with the crowd and prompting bloodcurdling screams at key moments during each performance. Yes, prepare to scream your ass off!

The first tale, “Taco Tuesday”, is an all too realistic at the terrors of working in an office environment. If the women’s dated 1980’s hairstyles and bad office jokes aren’t scary enough, a visit from Satana and a mysterious copy machine are sure give you nightmares. Candy with a “C” is the “funny one” even more so than Kandy with a “K”, but that changes when Candy’s suspicions puts her at odds against Satana, whom everyone else seems to adore. When all hell finally breaks loose it’s up to Candy to save the day but we wonder if it is too late. Perfect casting here as Kristopher Bottrall is simply dynamite as the ditzy Candy.

In tale number two, “The Box”, a suspicious crate is found and we just know nothing good can come of it. Taken from “The Crate” from the 1980’s film Creepshow, Cerda takes an already campy story and then takes it an extra few hundred miles. It’s not every day one finds a monster in a box and Hell in a Handbag certainly makes the most of it. Chad Ingold shines as Harvey, the tread upon husband of nagging and utterly obnoxious Betty Carr.

“Shut Up and Die, Maggie!” salutes the hag horror films of the 1960’s taking bits from the Bette Davis classics Hush, Hush, Sweet Caroline and Dead Ringer while throwing in a bit of Joan Crawford’s Strait Jacket (you had to figure we’d get a dose of Joan at some point). Ed Jones gets to show off his comedy genius once again as he plays twin sisters Maggie and Aggie Honeycutt, cleverly and uproariously portrayed by the delightfully devilish brilliance of Handbag and company. While one sister, Aggie, is educated, prudent and formal, the other is beautiful, lighthearted and everyone’s favorite. After Maggie’s boyfriend is savagely murdered, Maggie is blamed then committed to an insane asylum. Twenty years later, Maggie returns to her family only for more horrors to be revealed. 

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the perfect Halloween treat. Go see it. With a slew of intensely funny performances in multiple roles by Handbag’s talented ensemble and, of course, the very gifted David Cerda himself, this is an affordable show that can easily be enjoyed again and again. In fact, there is so much funny compacted into this warped trilogy of horror, and simultaneous humor going on at once, I would absolutely recommend seeing this a second or even third time.     

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is being performed at Mary’s Attic through October 31st. For tickets and/or more show information visit Hell in a Handbag will also be holding their annual benefit “The Handbag Sampler” at Dank Haus Cultural Center on Sunday, October 18th where you can mingle with all your favorite Handbag characters while enjoying food and drinks. The event will include a raffle and silent auction. Tickets are priced at a very reasonable $90 or $80 if bought in advance at      



If you’ve ever enjoyed the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, then “Spamalot” is definitely for you. But even those who have never seen the classic comedy would be hard pressed not to relish the musical proudly tabbed as “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture”. Now playing at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana through October 18th, “Spamalot” brings its witty English humor to your doorstep – well, at least just a short drive away. From its opening number “Fisch Schlapping Song” to its roaring finale “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, this is a musical that never runs out of funny.


Celebrating 40 years since the film was released, “Spamalot” comes with a renewed score created by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Directed flawlessly by David Perkovich and choreographed to perfection by Linda Fortunato, each number captures just the right amount of physical comedy needed to score high on the funny meter while also keeping the integrity of Monty Python humor firmly intact. Colette Todd, is stunning as she is humorous as the “Lady of the Lake”.  A true talent, Todd gets to show off her impressive vocal range on many occasions and also dazzles the crowd with her spot on comedic chops. Comic timing is vital in Theatre at the Center’s production of “Spamalot”. Chicago favorite Larry Adams knows this and is more than up for the challenge as he takes on the leading role of King Arthur and runs with it.  Adams really brings down the house in his very funny rendition of “I’m All Alone” and is just marvelous as the often oblivious king who must lead his men in the search for the Holy Grail.


The cast as a whole is impressive and many play multiple roles. With wonderful performances by Jarrod Zimmerman (Sir Dennis Galahad, Dennis, Black Knight and Herbert’s Dad), Sean Fortunato (Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter) and a very strong ensemble, I only regret not naming the entire cast in this review because they all deserve their kudos.  


“Spamalot” is a spin on King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table like never done before. Its unique Monty Python humor is heavily instilled into each bit of dialogue as well as its many colorful and hysterical dance numbers, making this the perfect musical production to add to your calendar.  


“Spamalot” is smashing.



For show information and tickets visit

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

Monday, 24 August 2015 22:51

Sweet Home Chicago

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.



In the highly engaging, thought-provoking world premiere, “Assassination Theatre: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century” by investigative reporter and author Hillel Levin, the audience is thrust into a very well-presented exploration into the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Offered as somewhat of an acted out documentary complimented by a series of haunting projected images, Levin takes a look at credible proof compiled over the years, whether physical, circumstantial or witness accounts, and makes a convincing argument that the key players involved were members of the Chicago mob.

Says Levin on how he stumbled upon, and then pursued, the story, “The origins of this show go back to 2007, when I wrote a story for Playboy magazine about the burglars who broke into the home of Tony Accardo, Chicago’s long-time mob leader. After the article was published, I was approached by Zach Sheldon, one of the FBI agents featured in the story, who asked, ‘Why don’t you do a real story about the mob?’ When I asked what that was, he replied, ‘How they killed JFK.” This prompted Levin to spend the next seven years in extensive research before concluding what Sheldon and other FBI agents determined. As Levin explains, “The assassination was kind of a theater, staged to put the blame on only one actor in what was, in fact, a much larger production.”

Michael Joseph Mitchell is very convincing as Hillel Levin, wrought with passion and conviction as more and more evidence is revealed. As the investigation unfolds Levin and Zechariah Shelton (performed splendidly by Mark Ulrich) bounce theories off each other, speculating, and furthermore perhaps ultimately proving, the mobs involvement. Ryan Kitley and Martin Yurek do a tremendous job in playing a multitude of characters as they are introduced and revisited in the story. As the story progresses, a flow chart is created of who’s who in the mob and how they connected with alleged gunman Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. In this truly gripping docu-play, mind blowing evidence is brought forward, holes in the famous Warren report are exposed, motive is revealed as well as the means to pull off the crime of the century.

Levin kind of lets the government off the hook as far as any direct involvement they may have had in the actual assassination itself, which might be an unpopular theory to many conspiracy buffs. However, he does implicate the government in covering up the true facts of the crime in order to preserve the peace of the public and to prevent the possibility of war with the Soviet Union. Even after Levin’s very convincing evidence is presented, one might still wonder if such an assassination could have been pulled off without the inside intel of, say, the CIA. Nonetheless, Levin’s beautifully presented theatrical investigation peaks interest from beginning to end without the slightest lull whatsoever.

The argument made for a high-level conspiracy is substantial and far more believable than buying into the lone gunman theory that the media has provided via the government. Of course, Levin is not the first to point this out, nor will he be the last. We’ve seen similarities in other assassinations in that of Robert Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King’s, John Lennon’s, etc., etc. It is admirable that Levin takes such a stance. His investigative presentation is effective and hard-hitting and, at the very least, certain to leave audience members asking questions afterwards, perhaps urging them to research JFK’s assassination for themselves and other potential cover ups rather than opting for complacency and blind belief.   


Soundly directed by Kevin Christopher Fox, “Assassination Theater: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century”, currently playing at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (360 N. State St.) through November 7th, is highly recommended. It is a well-acted, intelligent, quick moving, greatly comprehensible theatre presentation loaded with twits and shocking revelations that is sure to stir one’s interest. For tickets and/or more show information, visit

With back-to-back sold out performances, Steely Dan triumphantly returned to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where their smooth, jazzy and blues influenced rock echoed through the park, causing even the farthest picnickers from the stage to get up and sway to the music. Fronted now by just Donald Fagen (keys and vocals) and Walter Becker (guitar), the two co-founders who met at Bard College and put Steely Dan into action in 1972, the "the perfect musicalantiheroesfor the Seventies", as Rolling Stone Magazine once called them, rolled through each song with expected precision and the same good time feel that fans have become ever familiar with over the years.

Accompanied by what Becker proudly hailed as his “all-time favorite Steely Dan forever band”, the ensemble included a complete horn section, additional keys and guitar, a trio of background singers who impressed more and more with each number, drummer Keith Carlock and Freddie Washington (no, not the one from Welcome Back, Kotter) on bass. The highly talented Carlock and Washington kept the rhythm flowing at a perfect pace allowing the other members to effortlessly glide in and out over their rock-solid foundation. Becker and Fagen allowed band members to highlight their skills, not only during a full on introduction but also in many of the songs. For example, saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, amongst others, would occasionally walk from their designated area to front center stage and rip out some amazing riffs.  

The band started the night out with the Oliver Nelson cover “Teenie’s Blues” before Becker and Fagen walked onto the stage to the loud cheers of the pavilion audience and joined in for their first crowd pleaser “Black Cow”. As the show progressed, Steely Dan went on to play many of their classics including “Hey Nineteen”, “Godwhacker” “Babylon Sisters”, the Joe Tex cover “I Want To (Do Everything for You)” and “Peg”. Fagen’s vocals and keys were as sharp as ever – even his occasional piano flute thingy playing was entertaining. The band also played a very inspired version of “Dirty Work” with backup singer Carolyn Leonhart taking over on leads vocals on the track made famous by former member David Palmer.

Trying to enhance the mood of the evening even more so, Becker interrupted the music to address the crowd for several minutes, rambling on about this and that and encouraging everyone to grab their partners on the way home and pull over in the woods for some after show romancing.  

Closing out the set, Steely Dan went into what might be considered the band’s biggest hit “Reelin’ in the Years” where Carlock added to the song by going into a blazing drum solo. After a two minute absence the band returned to the stage to finish the night off with “Kid Charlemagne” with Fagen and Becker walking off immediately afterward, Fagen waving and Becker in an exaggerated strut, where the remainder of the musicians provided exit music to the tune of Nelson Riddle’s “The Untouchables”.

With the night was a clear and balmy seventy-eight or so degrees and the music sending fans on a mellow journey down memory lane, Steely Dan provided a night of memorable entertainment that fans can only hope will return next season.    

For upcoming Ravinia show information, visit

Throughout the years, we have seen all kinds of homages to Elvis Presley whether it be Elvis impersonators, biographical films, Elvis night at U.S. Cellular Field and, of course, theatrical productions. Of these few tribute samples, some are serious and sensitive while others more tongue-in-cheek. “All Shook Up”, a musical using the music of Elvis, is definitely the latter. Now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, “All Shook Up” is a story about an Elvis-alike roustabout who comes across a square town where the tightly-wound mayor has unjustly imparted laws against innocent activities such as kissing in public and dancing or the interracial mixing of partners. Though the plot line is as silly as it gets with unlikely, but still predictable love stories breaking out everywhere, it is hard not to be entertained by the music alone.

David Sajewich plays our hero Chad, the leather jacket clad bad-boy drifter with greased back hair who hops from town to town via his motorcycle with the purpose of challenging authority by infusing fun and excitement into boring and restricted communities. Sajewich is very funny in the role, ever so naturally delivering spot on physical comedy and one hilarious line after another. He also sings several Elvis classics with a good deal of enthusiasm, his vocals finding suitable range for each number despite not having the most powerful of voice. In the show’s opening number, “Jailhouse Rock” we quickly realize Sajewich will not be attempting to sound like Elvis Presley opting to use his own singing voice (writer or director’s choice?), leaving a small amount of disappointment for those who had hoped the story’s character so obviously designed around Elvis would kind of sound like him, if even in a comical way.

Like Abba’s music in Mamma Mia! or Green Day’s in American Idiot, the music of Elvis Presley is transformed into massive stage numbers with changing leads, large choruses and big time dance choreography. It was also refreshing to see such an obscure choice of Elvis Presley songs used for this production rather than only the obvious choices. “All Shook Up” included favorites like “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, Can’t Help Falling in Love”, "A Little Less Conversation” and “It’s Now or Never” but also added lesser known songs (at least outside the Elvis world) such as “Follow that Dream”, “C’mon Everybody”, “Devil in Disguise” and a heartfelt rendition of “If I Can Dream”.

Outside of the campy over-the-top story that is on the borderline of ridiculousness, despite its borrowed storylines from Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night," "As You Like It" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream", “All Shook Up” includes several likeable characters that are fun to watch and listen to, especially Bethany Thomas (Sylvia) with her gutsy and very impressive singing voice. Callie Johnson also shows off her comic and singing ability as tomboy motorcycle mechanic Natalie Hallow who is crushing hard on Chad while Justin Brill as the geeky, love stricken Dennis is also enjoyable to watch. Matthias Austin gets some of the biggest laughs as Natalie’s square turned rocker father Jim, as deserved, but Sharriese Hamilton (Lorraine) might just have the best comic timing of the bunch.

Cheesy story and all, “All Shook Up” is a very entertaining show with great music, charm and lots of very funny moments. It’s always nice to see the music of Elvis passed on to new generations and this show is a perfect tool for doing so, as it is a production suitable for all ages alike.    

The rock n’ roll hit Broadway musical “All Shook Up” is being performed at Theatre at the Center through August 16th Wednesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees. For tickets and/or more show information, visit

Set beneath the stars on the beautiful grounds that encompass the ever-impressive Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, Illinois, First Folio Theatre Company continues its rich tradition in bringing engaging, well-acted and provocative stage performances to life that can be enjoyed by most every type of theatre goer. This year’s summer production is no less entertaining as William Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale” takes to the outdoor stage - the story of a king who pays the consequences for being too quick to judge others.

Just a short walk from the mansion itself, the stage sits affront a handful of chairs and plenty of green to throw down a blanket in order to enjoy a picnic beforehand and then lie back and take in the show. Outdoor plays on the grounds have been taking place since 1997 and as one employee quotes, “It’s like Ravinia, only with closer parking.” And as for pesky mosquitos – not to worry – complimentary bug spray is available if needed along with insect repelling candles strategically placed around the lawn.

“The Winter’s Tale” begins when King Leonetes, in a fit of paranoid jealousy, wrongfully alleges his wife of having an affair with the visiting King of Bohemia, Polixenes. Standing true to his misguided accusations, his life slowly unravels as be becomes responsible for the death of his wife after deporting their newborn child to which he believes is a bastard and, in the process, also loses Camillo, his closest friend, advisor and confidant. When a shepherd stumbles upon Leonetes’ daughter, a new life in a new kingdom awaits her – that Kingdom being Bohemia. Fate takes an unpredicted turn. As she, now named Perdita, gets older, love blossoms between she and a Bohemian prince, Florizel, son of Polixenes. It is much later and with much regret for his wrongful actions that Leonetes tries to find redemption for the things he has done. Though we ask ourselves if it is too late for the remorseful king.

Kevin McKillip is powerful as the wayward king, Leonetes. With a very strong stage presence and Shakespearean dialogue delivered with such emphatic passion to the letter, McKillip is a true pleasure to watch. Kyle Haden as Camillo and Diana Coates as the queen’s trustful aide, Paulina, also give hard-hitting, jaw-dropping performances as does Ryan Czerwonko (Florizel), Kevin Theis (Polixenes) and Melissa Carlson (Queen Hermoine). Thankfully, the entire cast pulls their weight and then some.

Finely directed by Jeff Award-nominee Alison C. Vesely, “The Winter’s Tale” is the perfect outdoor treat as the story is intriguing from beginning to end, the set elaborate, the costumes colorful and the acting par for the course.

First Folio Theatre’s “The Winter’s Tale” is being performed through August 9th during its annual outdoor Shakespearean Under the Stars series on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Mansion. For tickets and/or more event information visit

Tuesday, 07 July 2015 05:00

Brian Wilson Brings History to Ravina

It’s always nice to watch a legend perform, especially when that legend is considered a revolutionary force in the music industry as we now know it. This was the case last evening when Brian Wilson, co-founder of the surf rock band, The Beach Boys, took the stage at Ravinia. Complimented by original Beach Boys’ member Al Jardine and a large band that included more recent writing partner Scott Bennett on keyboards and even Blondie Chaplin on a handful of songs, Wilson’s sound was full and the peachy keen harmonies ever so familiar done to perfection.  

Planted behind a large white grand piano, Wilson and friends immediately kicked it into high gear with “Heroes and Villains”. Though Wilson has long since abandoned the high voice synonymous with The Beach Boys sound, he was still able to carry a tune and did get a lot of help from band members when it came to harmonies and surrendered a handful of leads throughout the evening.

SAM 0382One brilliant piece of music history was performed after another. “California Girls”, “Little Deuce Coupe”, “I Get Around”, “In My Room” – so simplistic, yet so genius. In all, over thirty songs were played, mostly Beach Boys’ songs but also a couple Wilson had comprised for his own solo career, including “One Kind of Love”. Wilson also admirably handled leads on a few songs done by former Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Mike Love. 

Interestingly enough, just before playing “Surf’s Up”, a classic ballad about guess what – surfing, Wilson stated to the crowd that the song was his least favorite to play live, leaving us fans thinking, “Well, why are you playing the song then? You have a million to choose from.” Kind of a weird moment, but what would a Brian Wilson show be without one. Nonetheless, each song was played inspired and with vigor and that’s all you can really ask for when someone has been performing the same songs for nearly fifty years.

The set continued with greats like “Darlin’” (dedicated to the late Carl Wilson), “Sloop John B”, “Don’t Worry Baby” and a beautiful version of “God Only Knows”. “Since you loved that song so much, we’re going to give you some “Good Vibrations”, Wilson declared as they went into the song.  

After a brief departure from the stage, the band returned to knock out five hits without pause – “All Summer Long”, Help Me, Rhonda”, “Barbara Ann”, Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. The energy on stage was at its highest during the multitude of encore numbers, as Wilson raised his hands to simulate surfing and band members ran back and forth from one end to the other. It was certainly a high note to end the show with when Wilson opted to rather end the night with the much lower-keyed “Love and Mercy” in promotion of the latest film on Brian Wilson – Love and Mercy.         

All in all, Brian Wilson and band played an enthusiastic set, each song as polished and youthful as ever. What is better than sitting back on a balmy summer night and listening to Beach Boys classics sung by Brian Wilson himself?

Even the opening act was inspiring as the night began with Rodriguez, the musician featured in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Rodriguez is an amazing musician who became huge in other parts of the country, particularly South Africa, and never even knew he had achieved any fame at all. In fact, most presumed he was dead. Rodriguez, aided by just his trusty guitar, warmed the crowd nicely, tapping into “Sugar Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and a peppy cover of “Fever”. With little words Rodriguez preached against violence towards women and reminded us that hate is too much of a powerful emotion to be wasted on those we do not like.

For upcoming events at Ravinia, visit


When first looking at the Ravinia double bill of Blondie and Melissa Ethridge, one might have asked, “What are they thinking?” “How can those two so very different genres of music be paired together?” Well, they were - and it was somehow perfect. Each playing somewhere in the neighborhood of a ninety-minute set, the two bands each provided their own energetic performance not to be soon forgotten.

ethridgeMelissa Ethridge took to the stage first with her raspy vocals and guitar driven rock to the tune of “If I Wanted To” followed without pause into “No Souvenirs”. Ethridge’s energy matched her immense talent leaving little doubt her place in the world of pop-based folk-rock. The two-time Grammy Award winner (she received fifteen nominations) worked the crowd with a band behind her that was nothing short of amazing. Never a dull moment, Ethridge made her way from one end of the stage to the other with much charisma and command, effortlessly strumming her guitar and being the consummate professional she always has been. Nearing her set's end’ Ethridge dove into to “I’m the Only One”, a fan favorite and staple anthem in her career before “ending” with “Bring Some Water” and then coming back for an encore with “Like the Way I Do”. Ethridge is a hard working performer who certainly gains a lot more respect after seeing her live.

After a thirty or so minute intermission, a drastic stage transformation had taken place. Whereas Melissa Ethridge relied solely on her band, house lighting and a large dark curtain as a backdrop, the stage had soon become equipped with a large projection screen as a background, futuristic props scattered about and rotating laser lights. Soon after, the lights drop and Blondie confidently walks from side stage to their marked positions. Debbie Harry, wearing dark wayfarer sunglasses and a hot pink ensemble nods to the screaming crowd and just like that the new wave punkers kick into “One Way of Another”. Harry, now seventy-years-old, is as cool as ever, still wielding the voice that made the band an influential giant in the music industry.

Harry joined by original members Chris Stein, Clem Burke, Blondie went on to knock out one hit after another including “Atomic”, “Heart of Glass” “Maria”, “Call Me”, “Dreaming”, “Hanging on the Telephone” and threw in a few more recent songs, “Euphoria”, for one. Projections in the background displayed classic Blondie videos and swirling imagery that seemed to go perfectly with each song. Tapping into their reggae side, the band played an inspired version of “The Tide is High” before igniting into one of the first ever songs featuring rapping,  “Rapture”. Blondie also threw the crowd a curveball with a raging rendition of The Beastie Boys “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)”.

Harry and company performed brilliantly, proving Blondie still can put on one hell of a show. There is little doubt that Blondie would be highly entertaining no matter where the venue, but watching them play at Ravinia surrounded by the stars accompanied by a gentle outdoor breeze (even if it was 63 degrees on a July evening) was simply magical. Here’s hoping they make their way back to the Chicagoland area very soon.

Be sure to visit for upcoming summer events.

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