In Concert

From the moment you enter the darkened and eerie Tudor Revival styled Mayslake Peabody Estate and are handed a dance card indicating which group of theater goers you will follow throughout the performance, the tension and excitement of this wonderful production begins to mount. Not long after First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” begins the audience is divided, following different sets of actors from room to room.  

The large, dark house, lit by the light of the full "Blood Moon" on opening night is still haunted by the memory of the husband who lovingly built the entire estate for his wife over a decade and then passed away during a fox hunt the year after it was finished. This site specific mansion is the perfect theater setting for this dynamic and revealing look at Edgar Allen Poe's work as a hugely successful fiction writer as well as his tragic life and loves. 

It is very rare, with the large amount of theater I see, week after week, that I am watching a show and at the same time planning in my mind which friends of mine I would like to come back and see it with again.

I loved how the audience moved from room to room within the mansion, sometimes seeing a portion of a scene while standing in a hallway or while entering the genuine antique chapel built after the estate was sold.  It was a lot of fun and gave the audience a feeling of mystery and danger, as though we were instant comrades and active participants in the play itself. 

Christopher Kriz did a fantastic job with the tricky sound design in each of the authentically scary rooms of this aging mansion. Each sound Kriz creates building the tension and surrounds the tiny audience in such a way that we really felt the Tell-Tale Heart beating in our own ears, not just coming out of a single speaker anywhere. 

I learned so much about Poe's life and work that I had not known before. The sad irony that not only did he watch his mother die of consumption at the tender age of six, he then witnessed the slow death of his adoring stepmother and finally his wife Virginia wasting away and coughing up blood daily from the same devastating disease. 

I also did not realize what an amazing amount, and romantically stunning quality, of love letters and love poetry Poe wrote in his lifetime to his wife Virginia and often to another married woman named Annie whom he loved from afar. 

On the back of the dance card is printed the single sad poem his wife Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when he was 27 and she just 13 years old, although they did not consummate the marriage until she was 16. The tragic fact that they shared just nine blissful years together, four of them while she was healthy and five where she began to deteriorate from consumption. He made the right decision to follow his heart and court her from pretty much the moment they met because he knew on some unconscious level that their precious time together was ticking away quite quickly and he died just two years after her passing at the age of 40.   

Christian Gray, who portrays Poe, does a stunning job of showing the sadness and turmoil inside of Poe while never losing the absolute passion and headstrong devotion for his wife Virginia. Gray seems to drink in like a thirsty vampire the femininely beautiful essence of his wife Virginia from her head to toe in every scene. You sense that Gray, whose eyes are often brimming with tears,  as if struggling to speak - as if his next breath depends solely upon seeing her loving reaction to him and his writings in every moment and every delicate hour that passed between them.  Without Gray's nicely sensual, sometimes earthy and sometimes heart wrenching performance, the "Love Story" portion of this play would not have been nearly as convincing. 

Diana Mair makes a lovely, charming, sensitive portrayal of Poe’s wife Virginia.  Mair's sympathetic, yet lighthearted telling of Poe's tragic early years and her burning love for him comes off with a mature, yet modernly sassy quality that makes you understand how he could be so in love with her and then so completely lost without her as his enthusiastic muse after her untimely death at the age of 22. 

Actor Kevin McKillip, also outstanding, has several great, and fright building scenes as the madman in the retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and as a prisoner locked in a dungeon with the blade of a scythe rapidly approaching to cut him apart in “The Pit and the Pendulum", appropriately performed in a room so dark you could not see the person sitting next to you. 

Here is just one of Poe's hundreds of love letter/poems to Annie, one of his few unrequited loves:

“So long as I think that you know I love you, as no man ever loved woman - so long as I think you comprehend in some measure, the fervor with which I adore you, so long, no worldly trouble can ever render me absolutely wretched. But oh, my darling, my Annie, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel - wife of my soul - to be mine hereafter and forever in the Heavens - how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you?”

In a surprising and childlike way Poe signed his letters to her, and to his beloved wife Virginia with the adorable “forever your own, Eddy…”.

I highly recommend this scary, yet passionately romantic retelling of Poe's life and hard won genius. It will definitely make you want to read more of Poe's work, especially his prolific amount of luscious, spellbinding love letters! 

By the end of the play you understand why ALL of the women in his life, were utterly captured and held close by his heartfelt writings to them and adored him so completely during the short time on earth they each shared with him. 

First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oakbrook through November 4th. For more information on this unique and haunting production, visit

*One note, on disability access, First Folio may want to add a disclaimer on its website informing the disabled and elderly theatre goers that the play does require climbing some stairs and brief standing in addition to its mention that the show moves around the mansion. 



Published in Theatre Reviews

"Funnyman", now playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, is a familiar tale about an artist who has reached the end of one phase of his career and has to either adapt to the new environs and trends in entertainment or retire to his old world , hopefully with his dignity intact.


George Wendt, lovingly known for his co-starring role as Norm in the hit series, Cheers, plays the lead character of "Chick", a vaudeville star abused as a child and later who was exploited as an adult in order to rehash, and cash in on, his tired old catch phrase "Wowsa! 


Chick and his faithful agent, Milt Karp, played with real sympathy and humor by talented SNL alumna, Tim Kazurinsky, now makes Chick his only income by doing clownish Bromo Seltzer TV commercials.  


After three years with no offers of theater work, Chick is finally offered a groundbreaking role in a French beatnik production that will bring his gifts to a new young audience and reinvigorate his career indefinitely - if he can pull it off. The flamboyantly gay director, played by Rob Lindley was a real comedic standout and his energy onstage reinvigorated the piece throughout the second act. 


For much of the first act we only see that Chick is very depressed and like other funnymen we have known and loved - Robin Williams, John Belushi, Chick is only "funny' in public when he has to be - as a defense mechanism to get others to like him and finally, after hearing his catchphrase, to leave him alone. 


His grown daughter lives with him after a prolonged absence when she was sent away as child to boarding schools. She presses Chick, Milt, and anyone who knew Chick in the early days and researches the library archives to find out why her father has always been so harsh and unapproachable to her. She also demands to know more about the mystery of how her beautiful showgirl mother suddenly died in a way that no one - least of all Chick - her own father will explain to her.


Although 'Funnyman" is billed as a comedy and there are several good laughs in it, the real satisfaction, and finally catharsis, comes to the audience as the underpinnings of the sometimes harsh world of vaudevillian entertainment come to light. 


Apparently, Chick was used by his mother and father in what they called a "chaser act", meaning they "chase" the audience out of the theater at the end of the show. The thought being that the audience will be less likely to throw bottles and food at a couple holding a baby!


Chick learned as he got older that if he didn't make funny faces at as many as four shows, six days a week, he would not eat. When a four-year-old making funny faces ceased to appease the audience, the family's' routine morphed into what they called a "rough act" where Chick ended up being thrown across the stage for a laugh. 


When one day he actually broke his collarbone after being tossed on stage, the stage doctor told his mother that he could not perform for a few weeks until it healed. His mother, whom Chick believes had sadistic tendencies, tells the doctor without flinching or humor, "No, he can go on, we will throw him underhand." 


At one point Chick makes the observation that "Nobody takes comics seriously until they do something serious." For that reason this production, which was very satisfying as whole on many levels, reminded me of Michael Keaton's Oscar nominated role in the hit film "Birdman".


The audience goes in expecting to see and laugh at the warm, fuzzy, familiar "Norm” from Cheers but leaves feeling they have seen the full dramatic range of what a skilled actor like George Wendt is really capable of when given the right material. 


It's a tragic irony reflecting on the seemingly endless well of insecurity that actors experience in general that in Funnyman they also quote the fact that "The hardest thing in the world... is comedy." 


Great comic actors like Keaton and Robin Williams have forever been trying to prove that they are as "good" or as "gifted" as their more serious counterparts who tend to receive all of the Oscars and respect, when in reality as a skill, comic timing and comic writing are much, much harder to achieve. Comedic timing is quite simply a much rarer gift to be blessed with in this world, a true prolific comic, or comedian/writer is very, very rare indeed. 


Chick's daughter played aptly by Amanda Drinkall finds an old news article about her mother and father performing together and notes that it is quite literally the only photograph of her father truly smiling that exists. Sadly it seems to her that she has never seen that smile on his face in real life - ever.  I don't want to give away this important plot point about the tragedy of his wife's death but it shows that Chick was once a sweet, softie who finally had found happiness with his love, until it was taken away and never returned.  


I loved the video touches with "I Love Lucy" and the Bromo commercial reenactment and the references to the golden age of Broadway including all of the agent to artist arguing and pep talking.


The set was functionally designed to keep the play moving quickly from scene to scene but I found myself wishing for more color, more definition, more character and less generalized nostalgia in each of the spaces. It felt a little sparse and depressing.


I highly recommend seeing this satisfying and ultimately encouraging and heartwarming ensemble type piece about overcoming your greatest fears regarding major transitions in one's life, even if one of your greatest fears, in this case Chick's abusive mother and weak father, are long gone from your life. 


The fear of forgiving those events that have crushed you, and moving on to enjoy present life opportunities with your family and friends that are still here and do love you, must be faced and overcome.


Funnyman, clearly illustrates that if you cannot roll with the changes, especially in later years, then life itself becomes like Chick's life - a joke which has ceased to make people laugh, a bitterly boring and sad repetition of days without laughter or cheer - which is not a life worth living.


Funnyman is being performed at Northlight Theatre through October 18th. For tickets or more show information, visit


Published in Theatre Reviews

Directed by Joel Zwick of “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding fame, and produced by Hershey Felder, “Jamaica, Farewell” is the charming, funny and often suspenseful one-person play about a young woman’s coming of age in Jamaica, performed brilliantly by Debra Ehrhardt. Not realizing it was a solo show upon arrival, I, at first, eagerly awaited the entrance from other actors to get acquainted with their characters. However, ten minutes in, it didn’t matter because Ehrhardt was so entertaining acting out the roles surrounding her character’s life.

The story takes place in 1980 where Ehrhardt, a Jamaican native herself, plays an eighteen-year-old girl who has one big dream – to go to America. As a child her favorite song is “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Americans are called “Doodle Dandy’s where she comes from. But leaving Jamaica to go to the United States was easier said than done for a young, poor eighteen-year-old girl.

Big changes had recently taken place in Jamaica. Not long before, Cuba gained a new ally when Michael Manley, the leader of Jamaica’s People National Party was elected the first of three times to be Prime Minister. Manley’s diplomatic ties with Fidel Castro was unsettling to the United States. Now there were two Soviet inspired countries in the United States’ back yard that preached democratic socialism. But understanding the advantage of incoming American dollars, Jamaica relaxed their stance, eventually becoming the tourist destination it is today. Still, getting large amounts of money out of Jamaica was another story.

Ehrhardt’s character is a secretary in Kingston. Her father is an alcoholic and gambler and it furniture, among other things her family owned were removed with regularity after a bad night at the card table. One day after overhearing her boss speaking of the need to smuggle money from Jamaica to America, she volunteers and is offered ten thousand dollars to do so. Finally, America is within her grasp. All she’d have to do is drop off one million dollars when she gets to Miami - to Bullett. But now all she has to do is figure out a way to smuggle the money into America. As luck would have it, she meets Jack Wallingsford, who is employed at the United States Embassy. Wallingsford falls for her hard and soon becomes the unwitting aid in her smuggling operation.

The main stage at Royal George Theatre is littered with large tropical leaves and a variety of chests with hanging vines in the background. Though simplistic, along with Ehrhardt’s rich description of her country and the use of projected images, I am able to get a good feel for the Jamaican atmosphere. Ehrhardt’s energy is endless and her story telling both funny and heartfelt. It is a truly amazing story that is based on Ehrhardt’s engaging true life journey from Jamaica to America. It is a story that continues to pick up steam as it is told that includes many surprises and turns. I highly recommend seeing “Jamaica, Farewell” during its limited engagement, performed beautifully and written by Debra Ehrhardt.

“Jamaica, Farewell” is being performed at the Royal George Theatre through October 11th. For tickets and show information visit    

Published in Theatre Reviews

Frank Sinatra Jr. opened his wonderful tribute show at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park by explaining what he hoped to convey, as he had been writing and collecting the photographs and videos for the last two years.


"In order to know a man’s life there is one word that must supersede everything,” Sinatra says. “And that word is truth. You are going to see the glittering lights. You are going to see the soaring mountain peaks. But you are also going to see the depths. You’re going to see the chasms.”


“There was a time in his career many years ago when his entire world – his work, his movies, his television, his records, his marriage, his personal life – everything fell apart completely,” Sinatra says. “And that is going to be shown in our show.”


First of all I was unaware that Sinatra had a son capable of singing as well as Sinatra Jr. does. Many times I closed my eyes and imagined with no difficulty that I was hearing the original recordings of all these magnificent songs as recorded by Sinatra himself.  All of the multimedia pieces were chosen with great care and presented a very moving, well-paced  and well-rounded story of Sinatra's life and indeed the life of all New Yorkers' and even all Americans who lived during Sinatra's career ups and downs.  The show reminded me of another great father son tribute, the play “Jack Lemmon Returns” by Jack Lemmon's son, Chris Lemmon.


There was an unnecessarily melancholy and almost apologetic air to Sinatra Jr.'s performance and also the fact that he never referred to Frank during the show as his father or "dad" struck me as very sad and the following quote explains why that is.


In interviews Frank Jr. repeatedly speaks of how his own life ‘is immaterial’, adding: “I’ve never been a success. I have never had a hit movie, a hit television program, a hit record. It would have been good for my personal integrity, my personal dignity to have had something like that. I have never made a success in terms of my own right. I have been very good at re-creation. But that is something that pleases me because my father’s music is so magnificent."


But I wholeheartedly disagree with Sinatra Jr.'s summation of his career. Although he may not have received any awards yet, this engrossing and educational tribute to his father stands on its own as a wonderful and well-crafted, musical production. 


Sinatra Jr. didn't have much time with his father as a child due to early divorce yet he devoted seven years of his life, working 24/7 to managing his ailing and genius father during Sinatra's last decade on earth. His efforts gave us an additional seven years of Sinatra live performances which is a huge contribution to the history of music and his fans worldwide. 


Sinatra Jr. doesn't just imitate his father, or impersonate him, his voice has a rich timbre and phrasing all his own that bleeds through the performance in just the right amounts.


Imagine if Elvis Presley had had a son who resembled him physically to a degree and more importantly was a college music major capable of playing and singing the music Elvis made famous for decades after his death. Wouldn't we consider that a great achievement in its own right? 


I heard many people during the intermission say just how much they were enjoying the show and that Sinatra Jr.'s storytelling and choice of photos and video, etc., really surpassed their expectations for the concert - and I felt the same way. We saw an impressive timeline that included the Rat Pack, Nancy Sinatra, various films and private family photos. Sinatra Jr. also flawlessly performed one favorite after another and really hit the mark on his beautiful rendition of "My Way".


Sinatra Jr.'s Centennial Celebration is a wonderful work of art and the amazing choice of talented musicians in his outstanding orchestra made this theatrical experience more than just a trip down memory lane. 


Sinatra Jr. has achieved something more in this production than mere imitation or tribute. He has created a highly entertaining and moving audience experience, partly because he is talented in his own right and partly because he has something no Sinatra impersonator will ever have. "The blood of my blood" Sinatra Jr. has  the blood of his genius and powerful father - the evergreen Frank Sinatra - running though his veins which makes the whole audience aware they are in Frank Sinatra's presence as he is surely watching his son proudly from the wings at every performance. 


I highly recommend seeing this production and hope that Sinatra Jr. will continue to perform it long after this 100th year birthday celebration hype has settled down again, because Sinatra's story deserves to be told to new generations as well as old and Sinatra Jr. is the only one who can tell it the right way with “the real truth" ringing out between every note. 




Published in In Concert

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 


Published in Theatre Reviews

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 ColtraneColeman HawkinsBillie HolidayDuke EllingtonDizzy GillespieBill EvansDave BrubeckDexter GordonArt BlakeyWoody ShawMiles DavisVasant RaiNina SimoneHerbie 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."



Published in In Concert

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

Published in Theatre Reviews

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.

Published in Theatre Reviews

“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

Published in Theatre Reviews

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

Published in Theatre Reviews
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