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Ken Payne

Ken Payne

Sunday, 22 September 2013 00:00

Evita Returns To Chicago With A Bang

The national tour of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” is currently playing in Chicago through October 6th. Complete with a Tony worthy cast, this production of “Evita” stirs the souls of audience members throughout. The show is well directed by Tony and Oliver winner Michael Grandage and the dazzling dance performances can be chalked up to the choreography of the talented Rob Ashford, also the recipient of a Tony Award.

“Evita” is the story of Eva Peron who became Argentina’s First Lady in 1946 and remained so until her death in 1952. Married to Argentinian President Juan Peron, Eva was the country’s ambassador and became a true inspiration for its people. Hers is truly a story of rags to riches coming from one of the poorest areas of Junin before fleeing with a musician to Buenos Aires years later where her good looks contributed to her becoming a successful actress. In 1944 Eva Duarte met Colonel Juan Peron at a fundraising benefit for a major San Juan earthquake that claimed over 10,000 lives.

Caroline Bowman is triumphant as “Eva Peron”. Bowman delivers a stunning performance that is sure to be remembered long after. For any production of “Evita” to succeed there needs to be a strong “Che” and Josh Morgan exceeded expectations with both his charisma and talented voice. Sean MacLaughlin also turns in a credible performance as “Juan Peron”. The set is impressive, the dancing and music enthralling and story engaging – everything a brilliant musical needs.

“Evita” is playing at the Oriental Theatre located at 24 W Randolph. For more information and/or tickets visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com or call 800-775-2000.        

It was a night of great music, big laughs and best yet – it was all for an admirable cause. The Emporium Arcade Bar in Wicker Park was last night’s home a special event to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association - “The Brain Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”. Located at 1366 N Milwaukee, the Emporium Arcade Bar is lined with wall-to-wall 1980s arcade games making it all the more festive and challenging as one could play a quick round of Asteroids or Mortal Kombat before, after and between performers.

“The Brain Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” was organized by Danielle Gandhi to raise money for a cause she holds so close to her heart. Artwork on display was also for sale to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. The event was also put together to raise awareness about Frontotemporal Dementia, a rare brain disorder in the Alzheimer’s family. Gandhi was able to put together all the ingredients in order to make the event one to remember – arcade games, art, music, comics and plenty of beer. Commendably hosted by funnyman Andy Fleming, he went on give introductions to local comedians Lisa Laureta, Stephanie Hasz and James Earl Folks before making room for Bigg Picture to take the stage close out the stage entertainment.   

Bigg Picture played an inspired hour-plus long set which included a lively variety of covers such as Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars”, Jimmy Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady”, Talking Heads’ “”Psycho Killer” and Live’s “I Alone”. Guitarist/lead vocalist David Biggs (hence “Bigg” Picture) even riffed out a Joe Satriani favorite “Summer Song” before drummer Jason Royal got to show off his chops in the energetic “Buffy the Vampire Theme”. The trio had a full sound and played with a youthful rambunctiousness that really came to light during one of their four encores “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right {To Party)”, a Beastie Boys favorite. Bassist Jeff Peterson thumped his way through Bigg Picture’s rockin’ set with polished finesse and command while at the same time impressing with his strong and spot on backing vocals.

The band finally capped off the night with a classic from The Police, “Message in a Bottle”, and though the crowd shouted for a fifth encore, it was time to pass the entertainment baton over to the house music and arcade games.  (Find out future events and info on Bigg Picture at  https://www.facebook.com/biggpicture)

“The Brain Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” was a successful event for a very worthwhile cause that we can only hope is put together again in the future.           

Alice in Chains took the stage as the final act of what had already been a full day of rock and roll fun at the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival at the World Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. Kicking it off with the command driven, “Them Bones”, Jerry Cantrell and company put on a show worthy to celebrate former frontman, Layne Staley’s, birthday. Powering their way through what was just a thirteen song set, the band was still able to touch on most of their albums playing songs “Again”, “Would?”, “We Die Young”, “Check My Brain” and “Hollow” from their latest release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, before capping the night off with an inspired version of “Rooster”.  

This is now the second album tour with the band for singer William Duvall and he couldn’t have had better control of each song performed. Though he may not make fans forget about Layne Staley – not that he would even want to do that – he is sure making a name for himself and has successfully transitioned himself into the shoes of what many thought would be impossible to replace. Duval’s command was impressive and his vocal prowess even more so.

Gloomy and trippy, Alice in Chains, flawlessly drifted from one song into the next aided by a stellar light show and dreamy projected images. With so many bands in the Uproar lineup, their time on the stage was limited. That said, I will look forward to their return to tour the new album to see and hear a more complete set.

Jane’s Addiction also made a noteworthy performance where iconic musical legends Perry Ferrall and Dave Navarro looked to be in prime form. Navarro made his blazing guitar playing look effortless and Ferrall weird antics surrounded his strong and unique vocals. “I love freebase. I love my band. I love the ocean. I love Chicago,” said Ferrall between songs. Ok, so his mid-song banter wasn’t the coolest, but their set was. Songs in their set included “Mountain Song”, “Been Caught Stealing”, “Underground”, and “Ocean Size”. It has been over twenty years since Jane’s Addiction had played at the World Amphitheatre – the site of the very first Lollapalooza, which they headlined.

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Alice and Chains were notably that largest acts in the Uproar Festival but it was a full day of loud, rock music starting at 3pm. The talent list was not short as one band impressed after another. The band lineup included Mindset Evolution, Beware of Darkness, Charming Liars, The Dead Daisies, The Chuck Shaffer Picture Show, New Politics, Middle Class Rut, Danko Jones, Walking Papers (featuring Duff McKagen), Circa Survive and Coheed and Cambria.

Bottom Line – The Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival rocked from beginning to end. If you like music on the heavier side that doesn’t lack in quality, there is no reason not to attend such a fun and musically awesome event. I am already looking forward to next year’s lineup.     

For more information on the Rockstar Uproar Fest, visit  http://www.rockstaruproar.com/

Just 30 minutes north of Chicago is a fantastic place to see some really amazing shows in the round. One of those shows is currently playing at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through October 13th – “9 to 5 the Musical”. Based on the wacky 80s film starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lilly Tomlin and Dabney Coleman, Parton has created and score that is as clever as it is upbeat.

It is an age when a woman taking a CEO position was unthinkable, a man’s world where women were merely underlings and often objectified. Welcome to the workplace in the 1970s and the fight for women’s rights. In “9 to 5” we meet three improbable friends who are bonded when they each have to put up with their abusive, sexist and egotistical boss, “Franklin Hart Jr.”. Enough is finally enough when the three kidnap their boss and seize control of the office. When their new ideas are implemented, we see the office change from a sexist and petty rule-ridden atmosphere into a place where employees enjoy coming to work and productivity skyrockets.  

9 to 5“9 to 5” is funny and flat out entertaining.  The cast features two Jeff Award winners in Kelli Cramer (Violet Newstead”) and Susan Moniz (“Judy Bernly”} and each are as sensational with their impressive vocals as they are with their humorous line delivery. Alexandra Palkovic is also stunning as “Doralee Rhodes” and has just the right amount of country and vocal talent to gracefully pull off the signature role made famous by Dolly Parton.  Of course, for the play to succeed a strong talent would be needed to take on the role of “Franklin Hart Jr.” and they certainly cast well in bringing in James Moye, whose presence couldn’t have been more fitting.  

David H. Bell, who so brilliantly directed “South Pacific” at Marriott Theatre last year, does it again in his creative direction of “9 to 5”. At the same time, Matt Raftery gets big kudos for his wonderful choreography. A charming workplace revenge story, “9 to 5” not only salutes women’s rights but even promotes the legalization of marijuana. This is a fun, toe-tapping show that doesn’t make you think too much. It’s the perfect show to just simply relax and have a good time. Then you can go home and have your own revenge fantasy with your boss.

“9 to 5 the Musical” is playing a Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through October 13th. Tickets range from $40-$48. For more information, please visit www.MarriottTheatre.com or call 847-634-0200.  

Welcome back to Chicago, Bob Newhart. Returning to the city where he had grown up, Bob Newhart returned in style, this time anchoring an already terrific TBS Just for Laughs Festival at the Chicago Theatre. The veteran comic showed that he is still as funny as ever with a collection of material that had the packed theatre laughing with little reprieve.

Presenting his angle on televangelists among many other things, Newhart showed why he is considered one of the best comedians with his humorous storytelling ability, his finesse and perfectly timed punch line delivery.

“So this televangelist, Oral Roberts, mentioned in his third book that he had actually met Jesus… I don’t know. That seems like a pretty big deal. I mean, the guy met Jesus. Wouldn’t that be something you would bring up in your first book? Maybe his wife reminded him one day of his meeting with Jesus and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I should mention that in my next book somewhere.’”

He included a classic war story where he suffered a paper cut, a collection of “true” stories, one of which included a chicken being fired at a train as a test weapon in which when told to NASA it went through the front windshield and embedded itself on the back of the cab, they replied, “Well…defrost it.” Newhart also included the legendary bit “Driving Instructor” from his bestselling comedy album, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart”, an album that outsold Elvis Presley and ranks 20th bestselling all time on Billboard’s charts.  

Newhart strolled onto the stage to the theme of The Bob Newhart Show, one of the greatest sitcoms of all time and one that was based in Chicago (the apartment building in the opening credits is located in Edgewater on Sheridan Avenue). Audience members ranged from teens to seniors and no one was without hearty laughter. Newhart narrated a video montage of the history of the Newhart’s in America that was just hilarious. Coverage started in the late 1700’s and went all the way to the final episode on “Newhart” where he wakes up from a crazy dream and Emily is in the bed – one of the greatest sitcom endings ever. Newhart then said his goodbyes, walked off the stage and returned shortly explaining that he just did a phony walk off. “This is something that entertainers call a “phony walk off”. We walk off the stage and then count somewhere between four and twelve seconds then return. Of course, there is a gamble there that if we count to high, we might return to an empty auditorium.”

It was a true thrill to see Bob Newhart perform and I can only hope there’s more Bob to come in the next couple of years.      

It was standing room only at the Vic Theatre Thursday night, as one of the Just for Laughs Festival heavyweights, Nick Swardson, gave the crowd an evening to truly remember. With an arsenal of jokes that touched on everything from cats vs dogs to the Virgin Airlines “rave plane”, Swardson barely allowed audience members to catch their breath between laughs.

In a very funny bit, Swardson speculated on what it must have been like to be the first person to ever suffer from a brain freeze - this being of course the inventor of ice cream. “Here you go kids. I have created a tasty treat called ice cream (as he pretends to sample). Come everyone, try this tasty treat.  It’s very delicious (as he samples faster and faster). I am eating this delicious treat faster and faster now”. Until, “Arrrrggggghhhhh! Oh my God!!!! What the f**k is this!? My brain is being eaten alive!” Of course the pain goes away moments later. “What the f**k was that?”

Swardson’s material was nothing short of brilliant, but I had hoped to see a longer set. He left the crowd with a humorous story where he was flying first class only to have Liv Tyler sitting next to him. Somewhat nervous and not knowing what to say, he opted to say nothing. He leaned his seat back to sleep and Liv Tyler followed suit, wherein he was “sleeping with Liv Tyler”. Swardson explained that they were baking chocolate chip cookies in first class and he groggily awoke to “What’s that smell?” only to have Tyler smile and whisper from her sleep excitedly “cookies”. “Is there possibly a better way to wake up?” asked Swardson to the crowd. Of course, he then explained how lucky he was to have Liv Tyler sitting next to him instead of say, Gary Busey, or it could have been, “What’s that smell?” with a reply of “COOKIES, MOTHERF**KER!!!”

Nick Swardson was simply hilarious and showed Chicago why he is considered one of the top comics in the circuit.

After Swardson’s show at the Vic, I scrambled over to Stage 773 just a few blocks west on Belmont. Stage 773 is TBS Just for Laughs comedy hub during the festival where a variety of super funny comics take on four stages all week long. While there, I was lucky enough to catch The Urban Comedy Hour, which featured a slew of great South Side Chicago comedians, including its hysterical host, Brian Babylon. Afterwards, Ari Shaffir took on the late night slot with his storyteller series “This Is Not Happening” to round off a perfect night of comedy.   

The 2013 TBS Just for Laughs Festival is underway and there are a bevy of terrific acts to catch throughout the week. With multiple shows each evening at various Chicago venues, one of Wednesday’s shows had the Park West Theater hosting The Whitest Kids U’ Know - and they did not disappoint. One of the top sketch comedy teams since their early Manhattan days in 2003, the hilarious quintet had the crowd roaring from their opening sequence where they slammed George Lucas for destroying the original Star Wars trilogy.   

Comprised of members Trevor Moore, Sam Brown, Zach Creggor, Timmy Williams and Darren Trumeter, The Whitest Kids U’ Know performed several sketches including one that had two rival monster truck drivers unexpectedly meeting at a party setting up a hysterical confrontation. Other sketches touched on a warped version of The Dating Game, four girls whining about having their periods, a boss who voyeurs one of his employees while having sex and a twisted séance. Trevor Moore also presented a couple funny music videos had had done - the first, a portrayal of a money hungry Pope likened to a street thug and another - “Tom Hanks Is an Asshole”.

The Whitest Kids U’ Know certainly showed audience members why they are a worthy addition to the TBS Just for Laughs Festival and also showed just how white they really are. At the end of the show, the comedy troupe led the crowd in a festive rendition of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. Asking everyone in the audience to raise either a lighter or cell phone and wave it back and forth, they plan to edit footage from each city into a montage for their website just so people can ask, “What the hell is their show about?”   

TBS Just for Laughs Festival is the where to be this week. With such talented performers as Russell Brand, Seth Meyers, Nick Swarsdon, Dylan Moran, Todd Barry, Bill Maher, Artie Lange, Bob Newhart and so many, many more, you can see why this event is the hottest ticket in town.  For a complete rundown of the Just for Laughs schedule, click here.   



"Believe" is the Harley Davidson of magic shows. There are motorcycles and then there are Harley Davidsons. Not that there is anything wrong with many of these motorcycles, but it’s the innovative style, performance, detail and quality that sets Harley Davidsons apart from the rest. Well, in comparison, there are magic shows and then there is “Believe”, the amazingly mind-blowing collaboration of super magician Criss Angel and Cirque Du Soleil. Performing in Las Vegas’ Luxor Hotel and Casino, Criss Angel’s magic spectacular is performed in a theater specifically built to handle the magnitude of such a show. With over forty illusions executed to perfection in each show, “Believe” has all the ingredients to make this an experience to remember for a lifetime – a larger than life set, energetic music, humor, explosions and fiery bursts, sexy assistants and an immensely charismatic magician who has the skill and ability to back up the hype as one of the world’s best performers of magic. Basically, a rock n roll magic show.   

caKnown for his stardom on the popular “Mindfreak” series, Criss has taken on the challenge of live theater and is in the middle of a ten-year deal at Luxor. In fact, the fifth anniversary of “Believe” falls on Halloween, 2012. Without giving too much away, “Believe” (also designed and directed by Criss Angel) is one breathtaking illusion after another. At one point, Criss Angel dangles upside down, high above the audience as Harry Houdini’s mystifying straight jacket escape is recreated. Rapidly spinning in place, we watch from the edges of our seats to see if an escape will be made in record time. Moments of intensity in the show are frequent and when Criss disappears from the stage only to reappear in another part of the theater in a blink of an eye, it’s…well – Mindfreak! In “Believe” we are also treated to Criss’ unfathomable demonstrations of mentalism, sleight of hand and there is also plenty of audience participation, which always adds to the fun.

Las Vegas has plenty of shows to see but “Believe” should be on the top of everyone’s list. It is also a show that constantly evolves and can be entertaining time and time again.

I met with Criss after the show and, after talking with him for some time, realized the person I was sitting with was a perfectionist, an extremely hard worker and someone who has a deep, perpetual inner drive to continuously better his performance. I also found Criss Angel to be a genuine and down to earth person with the raw energy and excitement of a little kid. Yep, he’s the real deal.

Buzz – So as far as your own creativity and personal touch for “Believe”, is this show mostly your own conception?

Criss – This show itself it basically written, directed, designed by me as far as the magic and illusion goes. I completely designed it. We literally fabricated the stuff in my facility. I have a 60,000 square foot production facility. We manufacture the magic that you see on “Mind Freak” as well as the stuff that you see in “Believe”. Basically, it starts off in my mind and we’ll do some drawings and then some small, little prototypes and then once when we have it evolving to the point that we feel good about it, we’ll start building one. It goes through several phases – several months or even years – before it is developed enough so that it can be used in a practical way for ten shows a week - 46 weeks a year for a ten year deal.

Buzz – So you are the mind behind the show.

Criss - So the illusions you see, I create and design them and the show itself – I wrote the show so all the lines and all the jokes I wrote from beginning to end and directed everybody. Cirque also provided incredible support and creative minds that were able to do the projections, bring in the pyro and add the scenic elements and stuff like that. So it was kind of an evolution - the show is all about magic. There are more than 40 illusions in the show – more magic in the show than any other Las Vegas magic show and it all centers around giving people an experience that is unlike any other magic show – to revolutionize magic as far as awe and wonderment.

Buzz – Sounds like “Believe” is the show to see and based on what I saw, it is.

Criss - Cirque and I take it very seriously with the economy the way it is and people coming to Vegas and not having the disposable income they once had, they have a very important decision to make. They are not seeing two or three shows anymore, they’re choosing one show, and if they choose believe I want to make sure we deliver and the best promotion and marketing in this business as you know is word of mouth. People leave here and tell their friends and they come back. We’ve have people that have seen the show 70 or 80 times. We also have all kinds of fans from six years old to seventy-five years old. It’s really amazing the demographic. It’s really exciting and it’s a big room. It has 1,534 seats, unlike other shows in town that play in venues half the size. We’re very, very, very fortunate and I really attribute that to the great show that we have, and it’s not my show it’s really everybody’s show because without this amazing team, there would be no show. It takes an army to win a war not just one person, and I have the best army in the world.   

Buzz – Do you as a magician go out and see other magic shows?

Criss – I know it’s out there, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder looking to see what others are doing because I try to lead the way, doing things that are innovative. A lot of the stuff that’s out there – not to pick out anybody in particular – but you go see that show and you can see seven other shows that do the same tricks. You know, have the box come out and we’re going to squish somebody that is small or have the box come out and slice people. For both me and Cirque Soleil, we have built our reputation on being able to deliver first class entertainment that’s provocative, that’s engaging, that’s exciting and that’s unique and that is the mantra that we have – and if someone else is doing it, we don’t want to do it. We have an advantage in the fact that the show is built right here and we’re not moving around from venue to venue. This show is here for ten years and maybe five more if we mutually agree to an additional five-year contract.

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Buzz – You’ve single-handedly brought magic to a completely new type of audience that has now become a phenomenon, thanks to a platform such as “Mindfreak”.

Criss – Well, I think magic has been is a stagnant position and was just coasting along, not really keeping up with the times in pop culture, in music, in visual and so on, so I wanted to give it a kick in the ass and do something that I wanted to see. Years and years ago I really did not aspire to be a magician – I thought Houdini was fantastic and one of the greats in magic, but magic that was happening at the time just seemed to be kind of hokey. It was really cutting edge that had a mass appeal to a popular culture, so for me it was all about – as a fan – what do I want to see? How can I bring that to people? I think that success really resonated in “Mindfreak” and obviously in “Believe” it has that kind of a concept. If you watch “Mindfreak” a lot of those illusions are in different incarnations in this show, like the cutting in half which I did in “Mindfreak”. There are a lot of different pieces of magic that I did in “Mindfreak” that are in this show, so they are able to work on television and in live performance. I just think the whole nature of it is much more entertaining and more contemporary, if you will.

Buzz – Was that a big transition to go from TV to live performing?

Criss – Well, I’m a live performer first. I’ve been ding this since I was 11-years-old. I performed at kids’ parties and corporate events – all sorts of clubs in New York City, Webster Hall – all sorts of places. I really started to build a following and then television was something that I was involved in as a teenager and I was kind of able to work in both mediums and understood that just because something works in one medium doesn’t mean it will work in the other. I understood that when you work in television, you have to make engaging TV and that’s very different than live performance. When you’re in live performance you can’t do – we’ll television is a completely different thing. When your in television you’re able to use the cameras to zoom into the action, keeping it moving, upcutting so you don’t have to sit there and be bored watching the whole lead up to the effect.

Buzz – Sure. And the attention spans of younger viewers are different these days.

Criss – Right. Kids and audiences today are so overwhelmed by information with the Internet at their fingertips. They don’t have the attention span that they did 10, 20, 30 years ago. So when you create a TV show, it’s got to hold people’s attention. It’s got to be produced and created in a certain way where it connects and brings them into it and that approach is a very different approach than when you’re doing live performance because in live performance you can’t go to a close up shot – they’re the directors. So they’re watching the show from their perspective and you have to provide a show that’s going to keep moving and my goal is to make “Believe” a freight train. You’re on a fright train – a journey that’s going to be exciting, scary, dangerous and sexy. I try to take people and let them feel these different emotions and not kind of repeat the same thing so it’s funny as well. That’s a very different approach than in “Mindfreak” which is more serious. 

Buzz – I have to ask you about that incident on the TV show “Phenomenon” when you called out that mentalist who claimed to communicate with the dead. Was that whole exchange scripted?

Criss – Oh, no. Absolutely not. That definitely was not scripted. I can’t remember his name offhand but he claimed to talk with the dead. I don’t have a problem with that if it’s for entertainment. I don’t have a problem with that - but when you prey upon the vulnerable and you try to go after people for financial gain, or you manipulate their emotions to get money from them, which is what these charlatans do, I have a real big problem with that. I just think that’s completely wrong. Houdini spent half his life disproving psychics and mediums who claimed to talk with the dead – he proved them wrong. Interestingly enough when Houdini passed away in 1926 on Halloween, he said to his wife – because he spent a good portion of his life debunking these people – he said to his wife, Bess, from his deathbed, “when I die there are going to be a lot of people coming out of the woodwork that are going to claim to have made contact with me, so I’m going to give you a secret word – a code – so that when they hold a séance you’ll know whether they are really talking to me or if they are frauds and charlatans.” And the word is “believe”. That’s why the show’s called “Believe”. So I feel pretty passionate about that.

Buzz – Wow, cool. I didn’t know that - a very apropos name for your show. There are sure a lot of TV psychics out there that are able to get family members to trust them.

Criss - To these people that claim to have these powers, I’ve offered a million dollars of my own money if someone can do something that can’t be explained or reproduced and James Randy, John Edwards, Sylvia Brown – that’s all bullshit. It’s all nonsense. It’s just tricks that a magician would use to be able to utilize the person, to gain information so that the way it appears is as though they know something. This most simple example is like discovery. You’re gonna go home and you’re gonna be in traffic, now there are a million cars and you’re never going to notice a specific car. But if you go out tomorrow and by a specific Nissan, the minute you buy that car your going to notice the same car everywhere because your awareness – your perspective – completely changes.

Buzz – That is so true. Happens every time.

Criss – Sure. So if you’re looking for information and I’m able to fill in little pieces in your mind that make sense, then you’re going to give me information by your body language, by your vocal responses  - your gonna feed me with information just like how somebody dresses, how they conduct themselves – I’m gonna know what kind of personality and what kind of financial base they probably come from, etcetera. You become very aware and perceptive to these things so that you’re able to create a scenario that people buy into and as they buy into it, your getting more information from them. It’s called cold reading. That’s the name of the technique.

Buzz – So it’s like mentalism?

Criss – Well, mentalism is a category. Mentalism is basically more of a magician kind of word. Like I do mentalism. Now people that claim to have these beliefs, they’ll say they are clairvoyant or psychic – it’s all kind of the same thing, but I wouldn’t use those terms because I am an entertainer.


Buzz – What’s your favorite trick to perform?

Criss – I get asked that a lot and it’s really funny because we do over forty in “Believe”, but they’re all basically my children. So to pick one over the other is impossible. Each illusion is designed to evoke a different emotion so they’re designed differently to give the spectator a different feel. So to pick one over the other is very, very difficult, but some of them are much more challenging because the show is very physical to do, so sometimes on my body, it’s much more difficult. The straight jacket escape where I’m hanging above the audience and spinning then free falling to where I’m caught by my ankles is sometimes challenging. For me and the cast and the crew, we always go out there and give 110% because we’re very grateful to have such an amazing audience. We put in our best to give the best and I’ve never missed a show in my entire career. 

Criss Angel is the most watched magician in history for a reason and “Believe” allows him to bring the magic right to your seat. Get ready to be bewildered and mystified in a highly intense magic show you will never forget!

“Believe” is performed eight times weekly. For more show information click here.

Steppenwolf Theatre is currently presenting the world-premiere production of “Head of Passes”. A story that takes place in the marshlands of Louisiana, “Head of Passes” is a story about tested convictions and soul searching.

What begins as a family gathering for a birthday party, turns into a tragic tale that would test the spirit of those with the greatest resolve. In this case, though many would curse the name of God after such endured misfortune and heartbreak, we see such a trust in one’s faith actually strengthened. It is a story that points to the question that everything happens for a reason and suggests everything is part of a greater plan. It is a story of belief and touches on the existence of angels.

“Head of Passes” features a bright and talented cast. Cheryl Lynn Bruce shines and delivers a masterful performance as “Shelah”, the family’s mother. Glenn Davis and Steppenwolf favorite, Alana Arenas, also bring out their A-game, as both are dynamic n their support roles.

Set on the porch of a large southern house, we are taken as an audience to the swampy backwoods at the mouth of the Mississippi River where the shifting grounds and rain are taking a toll on the family’s home. When the house and family are simultaneously destroyed, Shelah is left dependant on her own inner strength and faith.

Big time performances and an elaborate set that comes with its own surprise make this an thoroughly entertaining production.

“Head of Passes” is playing at Steppenwolf through June 9th. For show and ticket information, visit www.steppenwolf.org or call Audience Services at  312-335-1650.

When I think of Green Day’s “American Idiot”, the thought of the majority population blindly falling in line with the agenda of media conglomerates comes to mind. America’s youth is guided by suggestive ad campaigns, TV and film brainwashing and so forth – thus, the “American Idiot”. Of course if you look even deeper you’ll see that media is greatly controlled by corporations, which in turn largely influences the government, so in fact Green Day’s album “American Idiot” suggests the average American is literally a sculpted product of the corporate world while the illusion of choices and freedoms helps in creating a false individualism.  

Though I expected the production of “American Idiot” to even enhance the album’s overall theme a little more directly, it still made its point well. It is the story of three misguided youths that have been saturated by TV – which was entertaining in itself, but becomes more politically challenging as it progresses. In short, three fed up friends take separate paths, all of which seem exciting at times, only to reunite learned individuals at the end after their paths are collectively met with a longer for better lives on their own terms – not the preplanned lives subliminally, and not so subliminally, suggested by the great media machine. 

american idiot bAlex Nee stars as “Johnny”, whom the story revolves around, and while exuding a tremendous amount of energy, he also displays a singing voice that can at times rival Billie Joe Armstrong’s. Nee’s character is complex and can be quite diverse. “Johnny’s” friends “Will” and “Tunny” are well played by Thomas Hettrick and Casey O’Farrell, both roles requiring their share of lead vocals and emotions ranging from frustration, to anger to angst. Alyssa DiPalma is well cast as “Whatshername”, Johnny’s girlfriend who joins him in his journey of sex and drugs until they part after realizing their relationship is mutually damaging.  

A quasi-suburban/urban set stands before a wall of TV monitors flashing with sorted media clips. Though not overly original it seemed a good fit to the choreographed dance numbers, which should really be described as sporadic and quirky youthful energized movement and interchanges rather than dancing – but in a good way. One thing for sure, there is no lack of energy in this show.

What made the show even more enjoyable was the live band in full view, the library of songs played and the Broadway-ized renditions of those songs. Included in the show were, “Know Your Enemy”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “When It’s Time” and “American Idiot”. Musically, the show was nothing short of fantastic. The show also ends on a high note when, after taking their bows, the cast reappears on stage, each playing an acoustic guitar for a heartfelt rendition of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”.

“American Idiot” is a 2010 Tony Award nominated Best Musical and 2010 Grammy Winner for Best Musical Show Album.  This is a show that certainly has the energy, music and youth to make for a more than entertaining production.  Playing through April 21st at Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph St.), this is a show that will be sure to please, Green Day fan or not.  Tickets are $18-$85. More info on this show can be had at 800-775-2000 or www.BroadwayinChicago.com.

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