The Neo-Futurists aptly celebrate our nation’s leaders in their current production of “44 Plays for 44 Presidents”. Finding both tragedy and humor in each president from George Washington to Barrack Obama, the show gives you a quick look into each leader and also presents some little known facts about some. Cast members take turns donning the presidential jacket in chronological order from first to current all the while completing a map of the United States as each state becomes part of the nation.
Yes, you will be sure to see all your faves come to life including Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. Joe Dempsey leads an outstanding cast that somehow successfully captures the mistakes and achievements of each president while spending an average of just a few minutes on each, paying tribute to those deserved and criticizing when necessary no matter the represented party.
Halena Kays directs this production well, as it moves at a prefect pace to tickle one’s interest throughout. As with many Neo-Futurists productions, the audience comes into play when cast members ask for volunteers, adding some very funny and embarrassing moments. A few audience members are also selected to share memories of John F. Kennedy in a more moving segment.
“44 Plays for 44 Presidents” is part of the ongoing Plays for Presidents Festival taking place throughout the country (www.playsforpredsidents.com for more info). Playing through November 4th, this is a great show to take in just before the election. Tickets are just $20 ($10 for students and seniors) for 7:30pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays and 3:0pm on Sundays, and 7:30pm Thursday shows are listed as pay-what-you-can. The Neo-Futurarium is located at 5153 N. Ashland. For more information call 773-275-5255 or visit www.neofuturists.org.
Mary Zimmerman, an auteur-director with a career as epic as the myths she adapts, remounts her Tony Award-winning “Metamorphoses” as part of Lookingglass Theatre’s 25th season. Six Greek myths are performed by an ensemble of ten, wading through timeless themes of sex, love, and death. The stories - featuring famous mortals and gods like Midas, Eurydice, and Aphrodite - are staged in an iconic pool whose water adds weight to each step and gesture. Over the watery course of 90 minutes, the modernized myths effortlessly ebb and flow between tragedy (a deceased husband appears to his wife in a dream) and comedy (Sleep is rotund yawner with Zs floating around his head). While a few referential transitions will fly over the heads of those who didn’t study the Greeks, the bulk of Metamorphoses requires only an understanding of two great subjects of Western storytelling: sex and death. Water becomes the bed for both in “Metamorphoses.”
So why remount it? King Midas would touch on the financial gain (the production is already set to transfer to the Arena Stage in D.C.), while Narcissus would stare at the piece’s technical beauty. This critic is simply fortunate to experience a play originall conceived eight years after he was conceived; older now, he can take in the beauty, cleverness, and majesty of these staged dreams that soak you in their truth.
“Metamorphoses” is making a splash at Lookingglass through November 18. Tickets at http://lookingglasstheatre.org
Saturday night was a night of mystery, intrigue and illusion as young master magician and mentalist, Luis Carreon, amazed with one mind boggling trick after another. Aptly named “Bending Minds and Bending Dreams”, The Amazing Luis uses a unique blend of original magic with fun scenarios to wow his audience and bring them to a world where the impossible is the norm.
Appearing in front of an intimate crowd at the Bughouse Theater (2054 W Irving Park Rd), Luis regularly used participants from the audience to assist in his feats of magic, making it an up close and personal experience to remember for a long time to come. Luis’s show flowed nicely with an element of humor incorporated into the act and each trick was more unexplainable than the last. The show also ends on a dramatic note when it appears Luis confronts death in the face by putting himself at the great risk of consuming a glass of Drain-O. Luis did survive to put on another show, but the trick was well-staged and evoked a good amount of anticipation from show-goers.
From card tricks and astonishing slight of hand to fascinating demonstrations of mentalism, Luis captured his audience from the show’s beginning and never let go. Winner of the Harlan Tarbell Close-Up Competition and 3rd place finisher in the Chicago Magic Competition, Luis is a genuine talent that has a bright future in front of him. Luis can also be seen as the head demonstrator at the legendary Magic Inc at 5082 N Lincoln.
For more information on The Amazing Luis, visit www.facebook.com/BendingMindsandBendingDreams
“Godspell” is a musical for everyone. Now that that has been stated, everyone should see this particular production by the Brown Paper Box Company. Creatively directed by M. William Panek, “Godspell” is fun, lively and has the audience captured from the first number “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”.
Originated in 1970 by director/writer Michael Tebelak for his master’s thesis project, “Godspell” is the Jesus story based on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, though it takes place in a modern, urban environment and has dance-craved, colorfully-dressed kids taking on the roles of the apostles. In this adaptation, Panek superbly captures the youthfulness and energy of the original with well cast roles and is also able to successfully convey meaningful messages throughout by way of parables in the midst of humorous punch lines and physical comedy.
Doubling as “John the Baptist” and “Judas Iscariot”, Jake Mahler excels in both roles thanks in part to a strong vocal performance and finessed guitar playing. While Andrew Lund was aptly cast as “Jesus” and performs the role wonderfully with heart, passion and vocal prowess, the ensemble as a whole really brings the show to life. An all-around outstanding performance by Stephanie Rohr epitomizes the essential of “Godspell”, blending earnest fervor with joy, bliss, eagerness and curiosity. Rohr strengthens an already strong cast, but is not the only star to shine in this production as each member in the ensemble has something to offer and does so when given the chance during their own numbers.
From the classic “Day by Day” to such songs as “O Bless the Lord” and “Save the People” the live instrumentation is every bit as impressive as the cast.
“Godspell” is playing at Collaboraction Studio 300 (in the historic Flat Irons Building - 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave) through October 7th. Parking can be challenging in the heart of Wicker Park so public transportation is a great option. For more information or tickets, visit www.brownpaperbox.org.
*top photo - Andrew Lund and Jake Mahler
*right side photo - Stephanie Rohr with ensemble
1970’s magic is in the air as the highly entertaining musical, XANADU, makes a stop at Drury Lane Theatre. Based on the film starring Olivia Newton John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck, the show parodies the original every chance it gets from Newton John’s Australian accent to its cheesy love story.
Beginning September 13th, the show will run through October 28th. XANADU opened at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre to critical acclaim on July 10, 2007 as the first new musical of the 2007/2008 season. Since the 2007 opening, the award-winning musical garnered the best reviews of the season, with critics and audiences celebrating its cheeky humor and far out music. Winner of Best Musical (Outer Critics Circle Award) and Best Book (Drama Desk Award), The New York Times raves XANADU is “heaven on wheels,” and the Washington Post says this musical is “a triumph!” I would tend to agree. This production is especially wonderful thanks to its amazingly talented cast, especially Gina Milo who sings eerily like Olivia Newton John in the role of Kira.
This wildly funny musical delivers a surprisingly touching story about the nine magical muse-daughters of Zeus, who come to earth in 1980 (disguised in roller skates, leg warmers and Australian accents) to inspire humans to create truly great work and discover the meaning of the universe's greatest secret: the Gift of XANADU. Zeus' most important decree is they can’t fall in love with any mortals! But all that changes when the young Kira (Gina Milo) meets the handsome artist Sonny (Chris Critelli), who needs her help in achieving his greatest dream. It is only when Sonny teaches Kira the true meaning of inspiration, that the secret of XANADU is divulged.
XANADU stars Christine Sherrill and Nancy Voigts as the evil Muses Melpomene and Calliope and Gene Weygandt as Danny (played in the film version by Gene Kelly). The cast also includes Stephanie Binetti, Gary Carlson, Tammy Mader, and Sean Blake – all outstanding in their support roles for leads Critelli, Weygandt and Milo, who are each as funny as they are vocally talented.
With a book ingeniously adapted (New York Times) by Douglas Carter Beane, and a score by Jeff Lynne (writer and producer for the Electric Light Orchestra (E.L.O.) and John Farrar (responsible for most of the hits performed by Olivia Newton-John in the 1970’s), XANADU features the top 20 Billboard hits, “Magic”, “Xanadu”, “All Over the World” and “Alive.”
XANADU ticket prices range from $35 to $45 and may be purchased at the Drury Lane Theatre Box Office at 630-530-011, Ticketmaster at 800-745-300 or by visiting wwwdrurylaneoakbrook.com.
In the tradition of the great voices that have given Chicago its musical backbone such as Mel Torme, Nat King Cole, Koko Taylor, Steve Allen and so many more, Mayne Stage Theater served as home for an incredible night of song and tribute that will not soon be forgotten. From March 2nd through March 3rd, audience members were treated to three nights of Chicago’s best vocal talents, as they performed songs referencing their hometown. Daryl Nitz hosted and performed in the thoroughly enjoyable three-hour event that featured Chicago’s top nightclub vocalists and touched on the many great music genres we have come to love from lounge to jazz to blues to soul.
What took place on these three nights was nothing short of tremendous with each talented performer making the most of their slot. On favorite, Mark Madsen, a Gale Street Inn resident performer, displayed his signature pipes to the tune of the sweetest jazz guitar I have heard in recent years. And there was plenty more… Denise Tomasello, looking dazzling in her long blue dress and diamond-studded shoes, floored guests with her rendition of “My Kind of Town” while, not so long after, Isiah Mitchell was a ball of energy while showing off his vocal range with flattering renditions of Lou Rawls “You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” and Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life”.
Daryl Nitz, who also performed beautifully, did a fantastic job in putting such a memorable evening together by arranging such top caliber talent to appear under one roof and making it flow so well together. The list of talent was as rich as banana cream pie with appearances also by Liz Mandeville, Kimberly Gordon, Lynne Jordan, Jeff Hedberg, Skip Griparis and Beckie Menzie, who also played piano for most performers.
Still, as amazing as the night would have been with each of the above-mentioned performers alone, it was the appearance of legendary singer Audrey Morris that really put the stamp on the evening. With the poise, grace and beauty that holds true to her celebrated 50-plus year run, the 83-year-old recording artist manned the piano to play charming interpretations of “Chicago” and “Lush Life”. Gentle and precise were each key struck and velvety and timeless each note sung.
Just before Audrey took her place at the piano onstage, Daryl mentioned to the audience how influential her music had been in his life, giving due thanks to such a special performer. Daryl mentioned his favorite Audrey Morris recordings, “Film Noir” and “The Voice of Audrey Morris” as two albums that shaped not only his own musical path, but also plenty other of today’s marquis singers.
After Audrey’s performance the capacity crowd rose to their feet in standing ovation – a sign of true respect for someone so deserving.
As the show came to an end, each performer took their place onstage joining together for a big-ending rendition of the blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago”, capping off what was already a perfect evening.
Most people have never been audience to a radio show, let alone a radio show set in the 1940s. Well, here’s your chance. Set in 1944 as a live broadcast at Chicago’s legendary Biograph Theater, spectators are able to capture an enjoyable and entertaining glimpse of yesteryear. American Blues Theater's “It’s A Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph!’ is original, fun and heartwarming, but most of all it is a true experience.
As we walk into the theatre there is already a festive feel in the room with the sound of singing as cast members are leading the participating crowd in holiday classics. Between songs it is explained to us how radio shows work. We are shown an overhead sign and instructed to be quiet when the “On Air” light is on and to applaud when we see “Applause”. Cast members rotate from the three microphones stationed up front, a couch in the rear a chair to the side and a piano. They are having pleasant conversations with each other and laughing, reminiscent of a holiday gathering while taking turns addressing the audience.
Once the show actually begins we are already acquainted with the cast and primed for more holiday fun. Soon after, the curtains are drawn, shutting out the outside world, the house lights are turned down and the story of “It’s A Wonderful Life” commences.
The story begins, like in the film, with a conversation in heaven between “Joseph” (James Joseph) and “Clarence” (John Mohrlein) discussing the life of “George Bailey” and his need for help. From there the play continues to follow the classic story, as we know it. Each cast member takes on multiple roles, barring Kevin R. Kelly who has his hands full as “George”, in which he does a stupendous job. Zachary Kenney is fantastic as brother “Harry”, son “Tommy”, bartender “Nick” and “Ernie”, everyone’s favorite cab driver, while Gwendolyn Whiteside handles to perfection the voices of “Mary” and “George’s” mother. Like the others, Dara Cameron is also terrific in handling multiple roles, as is James Joseph, especially as “Uncle Billy”. As truly wonderful as each and every cast member is in this production the sheer brilliance of John Mohrlein is a true jewel to behold. So spot on is Mohrlein’s impression of Lionel Barrymore’s “Mr. Potter” that it actually prompts occasional laughs of disbelief and joy from the audience.
Rounding out the sensational cast is Michael Mahler who mans the piano, but also takes on a few characters himself, and Shawn J. Goodie who handles the show’s Foley, creating genuineness to the radio show.
It’s even fun when the show pauses for commercial breaks. Customized corporate jingles are sung as a product or service is being pitched just as done in the 1940s. At this time messages are also read to the crowd submitted by other audience members.
The show ends in its tremendous feel good fashion and the audience is then invited to have cookies and milk with the cast. Fun, fun, fun - Can you say "Must See"?
For more information, visit www.americanbluestheater.com.
*Featured in photo - Kevin R. Kelly (left) and John Mohrlein
Judas Priest was Unleashed in the East once again last Saturday night. Well, at least east of Chicago, that is – Hammond, Indiana – home of The Venue inside of the Horseshoe Casino. Getting big time support from Thin Lizzy and Black Label Society, Judas Priest bulldozed their way through a two and a half hour set in what the band is calling the “Epitaph” tour – their final farewell. Sold out, The Venue proved it can handle even the mightiest of metal shows hosting a monster stage and laser light show and providing superb acoustics so that every bone-crushing crunch from the guitars were clearly heard as intended by the band.
Legendary frontman Rob Halford teams up with originals Glen Tipton and bassist Ian Hill on this tour along with Richie Faulkner on lead guitar and Scott Travis on the drums. While keeping the crux of the sound intact, Faulkner also brings his own style to the band, which is more on the young at heart side, to a band that could use a youthful infusion when it comes to the visual part of the performance. Even though Tipton seemed a bit fragile and Halford a bit less mobile, make no mistake about it – Judas Priest still gets it done. The fact of the matter is that the band flat out rocks with authority.
Halford showed off his high-pitched vocals with relentless fervor, sounding as good as ever, while his showmanship was still that of top caliber. Changing from one metal-studded jacket to another from song to song, Halford patrolled the stage with a mighty presence as the band took the audience on a memorable journey of metal nostalgia. Taking a stop or two on many of the band’s albums, Halford included a little history lesson with most and shared fond memories. The set list was vast and included such favorites as “Victim of Changes”, “Diamonds and Rust”, ‘The Sentinel”, “Heading Out to the Highway” and “The Green Manalishi”. The band also played “Breaking the Law” but let the crowd sing the words from beginning to end as Halford stood by directing and admiring loyal Priest followers.
With already more than a full night of music in the books, Judas Priest went into their first encore with a power-packed version of “The Hellion” and “Electric Eye” before bringing the Harley Davidson onto the stage for “Hell Bent for Leather” followed by “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” led by a British and American flag clad Rob Halford. The band then took their bows to roaring applause and walked off stage only to return to do their party on classic, “Living After Midnight”.
We’ve heard the words “Farewell Tour” many times only to see a band resurface down the road. However, if the “Epitaph” tour (expected to run through 2013) is really it for this band from Birmingham, England, then they left on a powerful note. Producing metal since 1969, Judas Priest has influenced so many bands that since followed as well as generations of fans. To see them perform at the high level they have maintained for over four decades was nothing short of special.
When it comes to bringing Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” alive on stage, of course the surrounding cast is utterly essential, but most important of all, the show would need a vibrant “Maria” who absolutely exudes true spirit and fun. Drury Lane’s Production of “The Sound of Music” has not only put together a brilliant surrounding cast from top to bottom, but has also struck gold with leads Larry Adams as “Captain Von Trapp” and Jennifer Blood as “Maria Rainer”. Not only are the two vocally right for the roles; their chemistry together is nothing short of magical, adding a very believable element to this timeless story of love for family and country.
It’s not always easy to bring classics to the stage since we already have such a preconceived notion as to what we expect from certain characters or are often saddled to such a familiarity to a particular role that we don’t want to stray away too far from what we’ve come to know. However, in this case, Drury Lane Productions has succeeded and then some.
To no lack of vocal prowess, the jury still seems to be out on Blood after her opening number, “The Sound of Music”, as it is not yet clear where this “Maria” will take us. But it doesn’t take long to find out. During her next song, “I Have Confidence”, her talents really shine at the same time her personality beams throughout the house and it is apparent she has captured the entire crowd. Each of the seven children is immediately likeable and, like the rest of the cast, more than vocally efficient. Patti Cohenour adds a tasty punch as “The Mother Abbess” boasting her incredible vocal range while Peter Kevoian is entertaining as can be as “Max Detweiler”.
The set design is stunning as the audience is taken inside the Abbey then into different areas of the Von Trapp mansion and its courtyard. One highlight has the stage transformed into the very festival in which the performing Von Trapp Singers escape from Nazi occupied Austria. So detailed is the setting that Nazi soldiers walk up and down the isle on the look out for any foul play, placing audience members into the festival itself.
Many productions of “The Sound of Music” have come and gone and some have stood out more than others. This current production is one that stands at the top. A perfect holiday treat or a family night out, “The Sound of Music” at Drury Lane in Oakbrook is a memorable experience that you can enjoy over and over again.
“The Sound of Music” has been extended through January 8th, 2012. For more information visit www.DruryLaneOakbrook.com.
Though so many stories come to life via stage productions, there are just a handful that come across better than imagined. The needed ingredients to pull this off would be a strong cast – top to bottom - with dynamic leads, imaginative props to go along with a detailed set, colorful costumes and staying true to the original story. “Mary Poppins” has all of this and more.
Now playing at the Cadillac Palace through November 6th, “Mary Poppins” is one of the biggest musical successes to emerge from London or New York in recent years. With all the songs we’ve come to know while growing up like “Practically Perfect”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidoious”, “Mary Poppins” is musically fun and holds several dance numbers that are as colorful as they are creative.
Of course you couldn’t have a successful run of “Mary Poppins” without the right “Mary Poppins” or “Bert”. Though there will never be another Julie Andrews or Dick Van Dyke, the production finds gold in Rachel Wallace and Nicolas Dromard, both who seem made for the roles. Dromard is charismatic as can be as the jolly, dancing chimneysweeper and Wallace brings with her every attribute necessary in playing the perfect “Mary Poppins”.
The show also has some unique visuals such as “Bert” walking up the side up the stage only to continue by walking upside down across the top. And of course the crowd is also awed when “Mary Poppins” flies overhead. “Mary Poppins” fans or not, attendees will be treated to an evening filled with stunning dance sequences, tremendous vocal display, eye-catching sets and, of course, the classic story itself.
Tickets are reasonable, starting at just $25. For more information visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.