Boys love their rockets. We find this out rather quickly in Marriott Theatre’s world premiere of October Sky, a new musical based on the 1999 film featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper. Written by Aaron Thielen with the music and lyric by Michael Mahler, the play opens with a heavy duty musical number “Marching into Hell” where a handful of coal miners head deep into the dangerous coal mines.
Taking place in 1957 Coalwood, West Virginia, most boys are destined to become coal miners. Opportunity to take another career path are far and few between. The city depends on the mine, which has become even more dangerous with newer technology that powders the coal, leaving a hazardous dust to be inhaled and cause lung disease rather than the older days where the mineral was gather by using picks. Occasional gas explosions also take place as we find out in the first scene as news of such a tragedy leaves thirty dead in a nearby mine.
Homer’s father, John Hickam, heads a large mining crew and fully expects his son to follow suit. However, when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik for all the town to see in the October Sky, Homer and his friends are driven to make a rocket of their own. Naturally, Homer’s father sees this as a distraction, while the town supports the boys as their rockets slowly become more and more advanced, despite their moments of failure. With the help of Miss Riley, Homer’s teacher who recognizes their interest in such a science as a way to avoid the destined mining life, the boys eventually take their work to a series of science fairs. While Homer’s mother is supportive and pleased with Homer’s ingenuity, his father still struggles with the idea.
October Sky is not just a story about boys making rockets, it is also a story about support from friends, changing hearts and perseverance. It is a feel good story that encourages one to follow their dreams.
Superbly cast, I really enjoyed Nate Lewellyn in the role of Homer Hickham. He is a bit reminiscent of a young and boyish Tom Hanks. Lewellyn displays his solid vocal range in many challenging numbers, perhaps most notably in Act II’s “Stars Shine Down”. Ben Barker, Patrick Rooney and Alex Weisman perfectly round out the quartet of rocket builders while Susan Moniz really shines as Homer’s wise and loving mother, Elsie Hickam. One of my favorite performances is that of David Hess as John Hickam. I really find it a pleasure to observe Hess’ vocal prowess and his ability to execute such a wide variety of emotions.
The songs are lyrically clever – and often funny, while the set has a few fun surprises such as the effect used as the miners take an elevator down into the mine. Theresa Ham does a fantastic job as costume designer, really pulling off the 1950s era and Dance Captain Jameson Cooper utilizes some very unique and original ideas in the big dance numbers. The show is finally brought together tightly with a strong ensemble and a wonderful band that knows how to get their southern twang on when needed.
One of the show’s big crowd pleasers was the knee-slappin’ number “Moonshine”, a lively number that takes place in the backwoods and has the actors playing instruments as “Bathtub Amos & The Drunk as a Skink Jug Band”.
October Sky runs around two-and-a-half hours long but is quite enjoyable throughout thanks to a fetching story, fun effects and enjoyable musical numbers. October Sky is being performed at The Marriott Theatre through October 11th. You can find out more about the show or order tickets at www.MarriottTheatre.com.
It was a warm, balmy night with no rain for Harry Connick Jr's sold out summer concert at the beautiful and romantic Ravinia Music Festival this year.
Connick played a dynamic two hour set which included all of the favorites you'd expect like songs from his "When Harry Met Sally" soundtrack. Among the many numbers in his very well-rounded set, he played "It Had to be You", "Where or When" and "The Way You looked Tonight" along with several New Orleans' Jazz treats and three new songs from his upcoming album.
Of the three new songs from his much anticipated October release which included “Trying To Matter”, and “I Like It When You Smile”, I enjoyed the adorable ode to his wife of thirty years, Jill Goodacre, “No One Does I Do Like We Do" the most. But his super sexy delivery on “I Like It When You Smile" will be a great hit single as well.
Looking at the handsome, fit 47-year-old Harry Connick Jr., it seems like just yesterday when I first met him and heard him play the piano 27 years ago!
I was living in New York City with my boyfriend, actor Steve Larson, who was a regular on "Third Rock from the Sun". Steve had a job bar tending at The Village Gate, the most revered Jazz Club in New York's Greenwich Village. Throughout its 38 years, the Village Gate featured such musicians as John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Miles Davis, Vasant Rai, Nina Simone, Herbie Mann, and Aretha Franklin, who made her first New York appearance there.
Every night while Steve was working I would sit at a small table with a five dollar bill on it drinking a glass of coke he kept refilling so that I looked like a patron. I’d watch musician after musician for free. It was a wonderful music education for me, and a full six years before I started my own band in Chicago. One night at the "Open Mic" when the usual crowd of older Jazz musicians would straggle in trying to sign in to get a slot to play, a young man dressed in a baby blue polyester tuxedo from head to toe walked in to play the piano. This was a bold move as kitschy, second hand clothing was not yet the rage back in 1987. Harry was still quite chubby with baby fat and had a few spots on his face. But when he played I remember thinking this kid must be some kind of prodigy - and I was right. His talent was jaw-dropping.
The very young Harry Connick Jr. soon became a regular performer. I would always have a few singles on hand to tip Harry with when he played the open mic nights, and we talked briefly on occasion. I asked and found out he was Jewish on his mother's side and had been studying music seriously since he was five- years-old. Harry once said I "had a brilliant smile” and that he really appreciated seeing me there on open mic nights because he said I seemed to "listen to every note with my whole body". Years later when I saw his successful national debut and that he was marrying a super model, I almost didn't recognize him, so complete was his physical transformation into the thin, handsome, and debonair performer we know him as now. I must have heard hundreds of musicians at The Village Gate during the four years I lived at The Ansonia on Broadway and 73rd from 1987-1991, but Harry Connick Jr. and the amazing guitarist who was also an unknown - Chris Whitley (now deceased) and David Bowie are the only ones I actually got to know and remember.
At the riveting Ravinia concert, Connick Jr. also played the horn in a wonderful, "dueling banjos" type standoff with his crew of some of the best trumpet players alive today which was very impressive. I was unaware that he was a multi-instrumentalist.
After three decades and millions of records sold and numerous Grammy awards Harry Connick Jr. is still going strong with his quality blend of old and new Jazz and Pop. Connick will also be returning to judge on "American Idol' and hopefully we will see him return to acting as well, because I really enjoyed his work in Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock and his run on the hit series, Will and Grace.
"Everything I do is part of my passion," he said, explaining his diverse talents. "I do the things I like to do. It's sort of a bigger version of having more than one hobby. I love to play piano, sing, and act. I love to do all those things."
Similar to the interactive comedy hit “Tony and Tia’s Wedding” where actors stroll about the hall in character to mingle with audience members, Chicagoans can now enjoy what might just possibly be a new dinner theatre hit, “We Gotta Bingo”. In “We Gotta Bingo”, housed at Chicago Theatre Works on Belmont Avenue, guests are thrust into the setting of a fundraiser to raise money for two Catholic churches to merge, the main event being bingo, where attendees actually participate and win cheesy prizes like hand-knitted toilet paper holders or a used clock radio from the 1980s.
Father Duncan, played admirably by Gary Smiley, hosts the event while fast talking and professional lottery ball caller “Lucky” Bucky (Merrick Robinson) calls out the numbers while also plugging his used furniture store and squeezing in as many one-liners as possible. Of course a stunning presenter is needed for an event of this nature, in this case it is Darla, who is played by Jessica Scott and simply nails the ditzy role.
Among the many characters milling about, my favorites may have been Rosa and Rudy, a stereotypical overly-exaggerated Italian couple played by Jane Allyson-D’-Arienzo and Jerome R. Marzullo. I love the way they interact with each other but even more so with the crowd. Rosa would frequently engage with women in the crowd to gossip and stir things up while Rudy, more reserved, made small talk mostly with the men in attendance. The shots they took at each other were hilarious and spot on.
After a game or two of bingo, guests are served dinner (catered by Giordano’s) that includes salad, bread and lasagna. Vegetarians should know to mention they prefer a meatless option ahead of time so that they too can be accommodated. Later, yummy lemon bars and brownies are distributed to all the tables.
This is the perfect theatre experience for someone who enjoys drinking a couple beers and getting a bit rowdy as crowd chants are often invoked by the characters and one-liners become much funnier than they probably really are. It’s festive and it becomes a more of a collaboration between audience and actors as the comfort level grows throughout the evening, as guests chime in and actors respond. If you want to sit back and quietly watch a show, this is not the event for you.
Bingo, beer, Italian food and plenty of laughs – for what more could one ask?
We Gotta Bingo is currently playing at Chicago Theatre Works (1113 W. Belmont) and tickets are at a reasonable $49. For tickets and/or more show info, visit www.wegottabingo.com.
Although the idea of two gay friends, Hunter and Jeff, sitting down to write their own musical for a competition deadline in three weeks’ time may seem a little bit dated, these performers including Matt Frye, and Yando Lopez do a great job of making the piece seem vibrant and current. Hunter and Jeff who love watching their reality TV like the Bachelor and "procrasturbating" introduce two of their gal friends to help them fill out the cast with Susan (Neala Barron) and Heidi (Anna Schutz). The group decides to take things they’re actually chatting about daily and eventually come up with a play about their own lives and trying to get into the playwrights festival. This is the theme for [Title of Show] now playing at Rivendell Theatre.
Long story short, they end up getting thrilled with an invite to enter into the Fest and eventually a short Off-Broadway and even shorter Broadway run all of which is exciting and mind blowing for the friendly foursome. As it happens it brings about the usual problems with managing who gets credit for what and who is the most important or likable part of the show.
I loved the song, 'Die, Vampire Die’ about managing all of the negative, "bloodsucking" thoughts that weigh on you mentally and emotionally when you are trying to create something new.
Neala Barron as the "corporate by day, creative by night' - part time actress - has the funniest and most well-rounded performance in this piece. Matt Frye as Hunter is also very funny and really makes the most of his character.
Lovers of the musical theater genre will adore this peppy, fast moving production and see themselves reflected in all the characters' struggles to be recognized and stand out including the sole musician, a very funny role for a pianist with just a few choice lines.
The reason this show still works and is timely despite coming out in 2008, is that even today with all of the new opportunities for performers to write and star in their own projects for the many contests held online and on national TV, is that for everyone eventually realizes that a little bit of success is just not enough.
Just appearing in a show on Broadway will not make you and your friends "stars". Nor will it secure you financially in any way for the rest of your lives. There is also a funny number in the show where the cast counts out all of the "loser” musicals that made it to Broadway and flopped.
Yet it is essential that actors still persist in taking over their own careers and write their own projects or they run the risk of playing bit parts their entire lives without ever realizing their full potential as writers and creators, always working the "day job" and waiting helplessly for the phone to ring with a magical call from their agents.
Well-directed, this 90 minute piece flows at a quick, funny pace.
All actors should be actor/writers, that's the best message of this show, not to let the fear of criticism cripple you from putting out your own work and maintaining loyalty to the friends who help you get your work out. Because, after all the success and thrill ride for each project is over, you still need to get up and keep writing and creating something new for yourself with your friends close by your side. Never give up and never let the pressures of making a name for yourself eclipse the importance of the daily life you are actually living because in the end you may find the journey itself really was the whole play!
[Title of Show] is playing at Rivendell Theatre through August 16th.
“City of Angels”, which won several Tony awards back in 1990 is really two stories in one. One is the black and white sexy film noir plot that author Stine (played sympathetically by actor Rob Thomas) is writing about private dick Stone for a sleazy Hollywood producer and the other story revolves around his real life. Stone is played with nice masculine swagger by Kevin Earley. Director Nick Bowling has done a great job of bringing this very complex and sometimes confusing musical to life in the round space at Marriott Lincolnshire.
The women in this show really took the reins and each had some dynamite moments. Summer Naomi Smart is lovely to look at as the classic film noir femme fatale and has her best number dressed in tennis whites as she wittily seduces her newly hired detective into her employ.
Erin McGrath as her missing step daughter Mallory has a very sexy number wrapped only in a bed sheet also trying to seduce the detective into taking her side in the romantic number "Lost and Found".
I just adored Megan Murphy's entire dual performance. She plays both Stone’s secretary, Oolie, and Stine’s mistress, Donna. Murphy had the entire audience laughing with her number "You Can Always Count on Me".
I've been "the other woman" since my puberty began
I crashed the junior prom
And met the only married man
One joe who swore he's single
Got me sorta crocked, the beast
I woke up only slightly shocked that I’d defrocked a priest
Or else I attract
The guys who are longing to do my hair
You can always count on me
Murphy has a really solid, terrific singing voice and her whole character really resonated with a sense of grounded humorous reality in both worlds of this show. Buddy Fidler, the sleazy yet success making producer was adorably played by the talented Gene Weygandt.
The quartet of singers playing the 'Greek chorus" that move the story along were reminiscent of group The Manhattan Transfer and their marvelous harmonies were a delight to listen to in each scene.
Gabriel Ruiz shows a real star turn in his smaller role as Officer Munoz his number was sung with perfect comic timing in “All You Have to Do is Wait,” referring to what he thinks is Stone’s upcoming gas chamber execution.
This production definitely had more seductive bite than others I have seen at Marriott Theatre and I always enjoy the way the intimate theater in the round is used to keep the audience alert and involved as actors are constantly making their entrances and exits seamlessly right through the crowd without mishap.
Though their productions are always top notch, the only bug that regularly occurs at The Marriott Theatre is that there are not enough service areas during intermission so you have to chug whatever you do get to purchase before returning to your seat. Also drinks, even bottled water, are not allowed in the theater. This is a real problem given that if you have a cough attack or other emergency during the show because you really cannot leave the theater discretely without literally running into characters in the show. This minor discomfort could easily be solved with a few more bartenders and a water allowed policy.
I highly recommend this lively, seductive and funny production of the Tony Award winning “City of Angels" for young and old alike. It has the sexy humor adults will appreciate and the great music and action young people will be entertained by. “City of Angels” is being performed at The Marriott Theatre through August 2nd. For more information about the show, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.
I really enjoy seeing shows at Lifeline Theatre partly because they always have very cool and complex sets that they make the most of and partly because of the unique little touches they add to make the theatre more user-friendly, like a shuttle to take you to their free parking lot in a neighborhood where finding parking right before show time can be impossible.
I also like the way they put blankets on each seat in case you get chilly during the show! They also have the most reasonably priced snacks ever in a theatre where a soda or snack only costs one dollar instead of three for a bottle of water and five for a bag of trail mix like at the bigger theatres. All these details along with consistently quality productions make this a very welcoming theatre space to frequent as well!
“Soon I will Be Invincible” is based on the book by Austin Grossman and this dynamic production at Lifeline Theatre is no exception because set designers (Alan Donahue) and lighting (Becca Jeffords) have done a terrific job transforming the space into a multidimensional futuristic world with many visually exciting set, light and sound changes.
I thought the story would be more suited to young people and Comic Con nerds and in many ways the play was a comic book lover’s dream come true, but it also held a lot of interest for older playgoers in that it explored the psychological struggles of a team of superheroes who are past their prime and trying to make a comeback of sorts by saving the world once again from Dr. Impossible - played with a lot of great “evil” presence and humor by Phil Timberlake.
Fatale is a newbie to the superhero team, originally created by Dr. Impossible himself and is a replacement because one of their main members - Corefire- was missing in action and presumed dead. Fatale was played with great sensitivity and with a great singing voice by Christina Hall.
Fatale describes at length her sadness at not having an exciting and mythic “origin story” like the other super heroes. Fatale only remembers that she was in a car accident in Brazil and when she awoke had been implanted with a large numbers of bionic parts by Dr. Impossible. Fatale talks about the constant pain she is in from having all of these mismatched and unfixable, metal parts as part of her human/robotic clone body which I really think many of us older play goers also feel in our own bodies as we age and begin to lose our “superpowers” like running, playing certain sports and climbing stairs with ease, etc.
Also, the whole theme of wanting to “save the world” and trying and failing to do so over and over again is a theme many theatre goers of my generation identify with. Every day there is more news coverage of very real evil villains/people/ tyrants, but we as peaceful citizens with no apparent “superpowers” are thwarted from actually doing anything to help the victims around the world. Perhaps this is because of the “superpowers” to kill and destroy life that these criminals actually do have, including chemical warfare, heavy artillery, and now the prevalence of kidnapping, torture and rape (termed “child marriage” in third world countries), which is actually allowed by their judges and armed “police”.
I also enjoyed that the play introduces the element of magic as a power heretofore unrecognized by even the superheroes because it does not have the same clear destructive effects as a giant burning hot laser beam, for example.
In the end Fatale does help save the day and realizes that she is happy enough in the now moment to stop searching for her “origin story” and live amongst the superheroes with self-confidence and pride no matter whom she was originally created by or why.
I liked the songs in the play; I felt they really added a good flow and much more human and flowing emotional storytelling to what could have been an unpleasantly “robotic” and slightly stiff production in its execution.
I highly recommend this play for young and older viewers alike. I know that comic book enthusiasts will feel that they are seeing a rare treat created just for their enjoyment and others will appreciate the very important subtext in this play which is that you don’t have to be a successful “super heroine” twenty-four hours a day in order to feel good about yourself and whatever natural powers you do have for creating good in your life.
“Soon I will Be Invincible” is being performed at Lifeline Theatre through July 19th. For tickets and more information, visit www.lifelinetheatre.com.
If you are Jewish, you will especially appreciate and love this play which is full of biting humor and keen observations about how modern day Jews define themselves philosophically and how that vision of themselves plays out in their family relationships.
“Bad Jews” is set in a beautiful New York pied de Terre or studio apartment on the Upper West Side of New York bought by the parents of brothers Liam and Josh and they are being visited by relatives following the death of their beloved grandfather
Their first cousin Diane Feygenbaum is a rabbinical student with an Israeli boyfriend who insists on being called by her Hebrew name Daphna a has to share the studio with them for a few nights and is outraged by the fact that spoiled cousin Liam has actually missed his grandfather’s funeral because he lost his cell phone while skiing in Aspen.
During the course of the play we find out that Daphna is very intent on inheriting the gold Chai (Hebrew for the number 18, and symbol of Life) medallion necklace worn by her grandfather during the holocaust. In fact, he had to hide it under his tongue for two years in the Holocaust death camp he was kept in while the rest of his family members were killed. It turns out Liam has a plan to give the medallion to his “shiksa” girlfriend instead of an engagement ring just as his grandfather gave it to their grandmother 50 years prior.
A ferocious verbal fight breaks out and the true feelings of each cousin for the other and their Jewish values, or lack thereof, pour out with the fury and passion that sometimes occurs particularly after the death of a loved one.
Liam, played by Ian Paul Custer and Daphna played by Laura Lapidus are both hysterically on point in their portrayals. The fantastic monologues for these two characters, written to perfection by Harmon and well directed by Jeremy Wechsler are cutting but truthful, funny yet excruciatingly honest.
Non-Jews will find this play funny and full of Jewish stereotypes handled with great political correctness. Jews will see themselves in all their self hating and neurotic glory, with intelligence bursting at the seams.
I think Daphna could have been played with a little bit more compassion and a little less self righteous bitterness. At one point she mentions poignantly her education about the holocaust and her grandfather’s “tattoo’” or concentration camp number burned into his arm. We realize as an audience just how deeply touched and perhaps scarred emotionally a sensitive child is by being thoroughly exposed to the horrors of the holocaust at the tender age of 13 , as every Jewish child who studies for a bat mitzvah is required to do.
There are a lot of self-hating Jews out there. I was one of them for a while, in part because of the patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes towards women in the Old Testament that Liam brings up during the play to combat Daphna’s self righteous religious rants. Ironically, it took the realization that Jesus or “Yeshuah” (Jesus’ Hebrew name) was the greatest Rabbi, indeed the greatest Jew who ever walked the earth that made me the proud, comfortable, self loving Jew I am today.
The title by Harmon, “Bad Jews” is both eye catching and absolutely perfect because by the end of the play it is clear there are no bad Jews, only good Jews who are internally judging themselves or being judged by others too harshly.
Skillfully directed by Jeremy Wechsler, I highly recommend this thought provoking and hysterical piece of theater for its brilliant writing and two fantastic performances created lovingly and delivered with mind blowing rapid fire delivery by Lapidus and Custer.
“Bad Jews” is being performed at Theatre Wit through June 7th. I highly recommend this play. For tickets and other info visit www.theatrewit.org.
"Anna in the Afterlife" is a play based on author Richard Engling’s friendship and collaboration with Fern Chertkow, a dear longtime friend, writer, and colleague who took her own life in 1988.
There was so much in this play that I enjoyed in terms of its emotional themes and the exploration of what happens to your consciousness immediately after death. The play also admirably tries to answer the question of what happens after death if you commit suicide.
Richard Engling played himself in this production which I think was meant to be sort of an homage to the Woody Allen type of storytelling but unfortunately Engling’s writing is so much better than his acting ability for the stage that all of the very talented supporting actors were forced to sort of dance around him, helping him into each moment on stage instead of playing the characters directly to each other as trained actors normally would.
The stage and lighting design were lovely to look at and helped define the storyline which jumped around in time a little too often to follow the main idea of the play. Literally jumping back in time to meeting his friend in Paris then back to his struggles in the afterlife then to visit all three splintered personalities of his friend as a little girl, young woman and deceased spirit, became very confusing after a while but were still interesting and evocative scenes in and of themselves.
The play in its current state can be moving at times and even has the ability to connect with its audience in areas particularly if you have recently lost a loved one and can easily identify with the soul searching and guilt that seems to universally accompany any death. Anna in the Afterlife might hit home especially if a friend or family member has suffered from cancer or another painful disease or has taken their own life.
The play definitely needs a rewrite though to make it more comprehensible as there is much to learn from this piece and many interesting ideas to ponder about grieving and the nature of life and death and consciousness. Also, Engling should step outside of the next production and cast a really talented and mature stage actor who can play his life in such a way so that we feel more compassion for his character’s flaws and struggles.
Directed by Susan Padveen, Anna in the Afterlife is playing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center through May 24th. For tickets and/or more information visit http://greenhousetheater.org/.
Buzz News Chicago's Kimberly Katz speaks with Wayward Pines star Matt Dillon at C2E2 on the new Fox series directed by M. Night Shayamalan.
I truly adore anything with Cole Porter’s amazing music performed as well as the cast at The Marriott Theatre. Porter’s songs “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “Easy to Love” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” are lovingly performed and choreographed to perfection.
“Anything Goes” is the still fresh and funny tale of a group of passengers setting sail for romance and adventure on a spectacular ocean liner from New York to London. When some of the passengers complain to the Captain there are not enough celebrities on board, the Captain realizes that even criminal celebrities are exciting enough to qualify and invites the two “infamous crooks” on board to dine at his table to appease the rest of the guests hunger for drama and notoriety.
Stephanie Binetti (who plays the siren Reno Sweeney) is absolutely sensational in this role. I loved that she was more glamorous than strident, less Ethel Merman and more Liza Minelli, as it were.
Jameson Cooper as Billy Crocker started out a little bit lukewarm in my eyes but after he warmed up and performed his beautiful, heartfelt rendition of “So Easy to Love”, he really won me over. One could certainly see how Cooper as Billy Crocker can so easily charm Hope Harcourt, played by the lovely Summer Naomi Smart, with his genuinely romantic and earthy interpretation of these classic lyrics.
I never get tired of the dynamic and original staging in the round at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. This makes the big dance numbers (which there are plenty of) especially rich. Having the large cast move up and down the aisles throughout the show makes every single seat in this intimate playhouse a great seat!
Moonface Martin is played with amazing comic timing by Ross Lehman. At the same time, Moonface’s blonde bombshell moll, Erma, played by Alexandra E. Palkovic, adds just the right of amount of real old time sex appeal to this show.
I highly recommend this fun, soaring production of one of Broadways’ most beloved shows for the entire family, especially for young people who have never been exposed to the wonder and magic of well done theater in the round!
“Anything Goes” is being performed at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through May 31st. For tickets and/or more show information, visit http://www.marriotttheatre.com/show/anything-goes.
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