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Buzz News Chicago: Theatre and Concert Reviews

I was a "psychonaut librarian” as a child without even knowing it. My grandparents’ house was only two blocks from the beautifully built, stunning Coral Gables Library in South Miami, Florida.

 

I spent all my spare time there, drinking in the smell of library books and wisdom. Each new book I read seemed to open a new world for me. First, they were fantasy worlds, like The Phantom Tollbooth, later I began to read more and more about psychology and self-help, each time hoping that the book in my hands would offer an insight into having the happy, successful dreamy life I imagined lay ahead.  Yes, I was a shy, gentle book nerd, and I felt often that reading was the answer to all my problems. 

 

Sean Kelly's "Psychonaut Librarians", now in a world premiere with The New Colony is a funny, delightful poetically phrased tale about a mother and daughter and their fellow book worm friends discovering magical worlds at the library. 

 

Librarian Hester, played with both warmth and biting wit by David Cerda (Artistic Director of the hugely popular campy Hell in a Handbag Productions), is trying to save her daughter Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins) from giving up on her dreams and into society's constant fear creating machine. Hester a single mother to Jane, greets her with the single revealing question about her ex, "How is Daddy? Still suffocatingly small-minded?".

 

Hester has developed a potion that allows her to go all the way into the fantasy world of reading into a place she calls "Anyverse" where anything can happen and dreams do not die without a fight. 

 

Hester shares the potion with her grown daughter one night and while in the Anyverse Jane meets a lover named Dewey, played with much joy by Matt Farabee, a handsome Christ-like figure of love and innocence.  

 

In each other's arms Jane finds true love. They dance and fly through the Anyverse on a beautifully lit, ever changing, yet intimate, stage. Dewey tells Jane the ultimate romantic verse, "{In Jane) I found what I did not even know I was looking for and in finding her, I found myself," Jane stares into his loving, smiling face and states that this meeting is one of the "perfect moments” that she will add to her sadly short list of perfect moments. 

 

But of course, as in "real" life, the enjoyment of freedom of life and love in the Anyverse is threatened by an evil force called The Sandman played with the proper amount of military, know it all, fear inducing power by Jack McCabe.

 

The Sandman has the ability to literally suck the soul out of each human by drawing out their worst fears and causing them to act on them instead of holding fast to positive thinking. 

 

Despite their obviously great and perfect matching Dewey flip flops helplessly from loving adoration to murderous hatred for Jane in an instant and begins to strangle Jane each time The Sandman makes him insecure about her love by sending him negative subconscious suggestions. 

 

Jane's mother Hester sees this pattern of abuse and danger to her daughter and makes the ultimate sacrifice by chasing the Sandman away with the promise that she will not ALLOW her daughter to awaken from the dreary, fear filled thought patterns of everyday earth "reality" into the Anyverse ...ever again. 

 

When Jane is awakened from the Anyverse by her mother and is forced to part with Dewey, Jane becomes bitter about life and retreats from taking chances, creativity, or really falling in love and trying new things to follow the strict societal mores dictated by The Sandman about choosing work and security above joyous spontaneity.

 

Sadly, this division leads Jane to become estranged from her own loving, creative mother and the library itself, a symbol of the power of imagination - for 20 years.

 

Jane is inexplicably drawn to the library on the eve of her mother's retirement, where Hester’s fellow Psychonaut Librarians have arranged a "potion" party to enter the Anyverse all together. 

 

Hester's fellow librarians, the stiff-necked Emmerick (Michael Peters) and hopeful, brainy free spirit, Rosemary (Morgan McNaught) and the library's "security guy" (Carlos Olmedo), who also ends up drinking the spiked punch, are all played with excellent comic timing, and their scenes are some of the funniest and most clever dialogue in the show. 

 

This hopeful, desperate for magic crew of psychonauts enter the Anyverse together and immediately each is tested by the dreams, or rather nightmares, of their own worst fears of failure.

 

There are puppets used to represent the fearful dreams and perfected in a clever bit where the puppets are used to represent the characters’ abilities to walk through walls or make themselves small enough to escape a demon dream through a crack in a solid wall. Hester makes a great sacrifice to help rescue them all. 

 

The great thing is that each character, no matter how weak their "punches or kicks' may be, are forced to physically take a stand and fight! Each character must really wrestle and fight to defeat their bad dreams and thought patterns. 

 

In the end, Jane returns to the library without her lover Dewey - but with a newfound belief in the power of magic, and the existence of magic itself. Magic that is ALIVE right there alongside her in the library of life - and the reality of alternate positive realms, exciting realities beyond her own. 

 

Director Krissy Vanderwarker does the best she can on a limited budget to create a romantic pacing and lovely, magical choreography for Jane and Dewey that transitions well into the more comical present day or fantasy scenes. 

 

Kelly's script has gone thru many cuts over the years but is approaching a more perfect balance between what is both a supernatural love story and an "Universal" love story that boldly, yet sensitively, declares the existence of an alternate reality based entirely on love. 

 

The line, "I found what I did not even know I was looking for!  And in finding her, I found myself" kept haunting me after the show ended, as did several of the poetic speeches delivered by Jane to Dewey while sharing flowing descriptions of the deliciousness of their loving, soaring, literally "flying" in each other's arms new love... in words. These scenes were very well written and sometimes seemed like they belonged in an entirely different show. 

 

The character of Dewey, with his shoulder length dirty blonde hair, casual hoody, sandals and all-encompassing smile is best interpreted as a Christ figure, a non-sexual person, a teacher and guru of unconditional love living forever in the Anyverse. Dewey was not supposed to become a human man whose sexual partnership in the "real" world or like a Prince in a fairy tale whose marriage to Jane would effortlessly make her life into an adventure or positivity and magic. 

 

The playwright makes it clear to the end that the daily decision to hold tightly to and fight for her own dreams is up to Jane herself, which is as it should be.

 

Before the show began, the artistic director came out and mentioned how MANY scripts they have been receiving as of late, eluding to the election of Trump (The Sandman himself?), from new writers and how EAGER artists now are to have their words HEARD.

 

I highly recommend this funny, romantic, hopeful show for audiences of any age. “Psychonaut Librarians” would also make a valuable children's theater piece.

 

"Your soul is not living inside your body; your body is living inside your soul.” 

 

For heart weary adult Democrats like myself who are literally praying for a magical happy ending to what appears to be a complete takeover of millions of American minds by the evil Sandman, “Psychonaut Librarians” offered me a wonderful evening of hope, encouragement and rainbow lit entertainment. 

 

New Colony’s “Psychonaut Librarians” is playing at Den Theatre through February 12th. For more show information of to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

When Mitchell Fain, the star of David Sedaris's eight year long run of "Santaland Diaries" about a broke actor who lands a gig as a Macy's elf first begins his play with the opening lines of said show on a beautifully decked out and magically lit Christmas set - I thought, "Wait a minute I've seen this show already!” 

 

Quickly, Fain drops the character of Sedaris' Crumpet and becomes the character of Mitchell Fain in one of the most personal and entertaining one man shows I've seen in a long time, “This Way Outta Santaland”, written by Fain himself.

 

Fain is joined at Theater Wit by his old friend and roommate from years ago, the beautiful red headed Megan Murphy whose work I have enjoyed many times in many of the Marriott and Drury Lane Musical Theater Series. Also, playing the music for his monologues and Murphy's segue way songs is Julie B. Nichols, an excellent pianist who began the show with a hearty toast to which the whole audience raised their cups!

 

Mitchell really interacts with the audience and brings up the houselights many times as if trying to really see and relate to each person who came out in the cold Chicago weather to see his show. Fain begins by asking how many in the audience came from Chicago from a smaller place to live, and many raised their hands, including me (Miami is smaller). Some just shouted out “Ohio!” “Arkansas!”

 

He asked one woman WHY she came here and her reply was "to be an actress" to which he ad-libbed "How's that working out for you?"  Her reply got a big laugh, "Well I'm sitting in the audience not on the stage!" 

 

Then he asked how many of you here are Jewish?

 

Only me and two others in the packed house raised our hands which surprised even me!

 

Fain begins his storytelling with his rocky childhood in Rhode Island as one of the only Jews in a very rough all Italian neighborhood, and a petite, 5'3" gay Jew at that! 

 

Fain recalls that from a very young age he loved Judy Garland's music and especially memorized her version of the song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”, which allows Megan Murphy to deliver a delicious, tongue in cheek version of the song herself. 

 

In Fain’s description of his former home base, we learn that Rhode Island is the costume jewelry capital of America and that most of its inhabitants, including his single mother, toiled their lives away in these factories. Fain's mother found a way to work at one place long enough to get unemployment payments just to put food on the table and barely eke out a living, each time succumbing to the rigors of factory's physical demands which caused illness's like carpal tunnel syndrome and swollen feet. 

 

Mitchell then talks about his move to Chicago as being a move to the BIG CITY! Fortunately, he had a wonderful Christmas loving aunt, who was very generous with him and decorated her house magically each year. He brings up the irony that I have always felt as a Jew as well - that Jews actually appreciate Christmas and the whole glamorous lighting and decorations of Christmas because we never had them as children.

 

In one of the most meaningful moments for me he describes how people who gripe about having to fly home for the holidays are forgetting how LUCKY they are to have a place to go to (he had none) , how lucky they are to have people who love them enough to want them to come home and also lucky enough to have the MEANS , the money to get home, which most of the time, many actors do not. 

 

We are introduced to the story of his mother's passing in Phoenix when he reveals that during his eight great years playing Crumpet, he only missed two performances - once when he was almost hospitalized for the flu, but that he did not miss a show when his mother died. Fain received the call that his mother was dying right after performing his Sunday show but did not have enough money for a last-minute airline ticket to Phoenix and so his kind Chicago theatre family helped him raise the money to catch a red eye. Mitchell did get to Phoenix in time to say goodbye to his mother and said as he finally arrived at her bedside, and asked how she was doing, that one single tear rolled down her cheek – a tear he recognized as “Uh oh, Mitchell’s here. This must be bad”, rather than a tear that loving Mitchell was at his dying mother’s bedside. 

 

Fain and his siblings had to make the terrible decision to remove life support just as their mother clung to life just a little while longer, recovering well enough to be moved to hospice. But soon the inevitable took place and she passed away.

 

The comedy of errors began when the three siblings rush to get her cremated as is the Jewish tradition and are faced with a crummy mortician picked out of the phone book by Fain’s oldest brother. When they opened the comically large doors, the place reeked of smoke, death and CVS perfume, Fain tells us. The funeral director was crabby, short and constantly reminding the Fain’s how backed up they were before going into a relentless pitch for the family to purchase a casket, which was not in their plans remotely. Mitchell then asked to be directed to the washroom and was told the door to find just down the hall. After passing one door after another he passed an open room where his mother was laid out on a slab fully naked. Mitchell lost it, returning the tell the director he’d like to punch him in the nose. He then demanded that she get the paperwork in order for a cremation before he finishes his cigarette, then rushes outside for a cigarette - even though he doesn't smoke. 

 

Fain's siblings rush out to see if he was okay and, as he told the story of what had just happened, enjoyed a laugh together, the kind of laugh only those in mourning can appreciate when they all realize this crazy situation is the "most fun they have had with their mother in a long time". 

 

As a Jew who moved to Chicago from Miami Florida in the 80's after visiting my mother's side of the family at Christmastime, longing to experience the miracles of snow and seasonal changes and well, Christmas itself, I felt many connections to Mitchell's tales about his life in the city.

 

The Chicago theater scene with all its faults really is wonderful and is different from any other city like Los Angeles or New York in its BIG smallness, including how the poverty of actors and artists living in cheap studios, all of us totally broke for years on end paying off student loans forever. But through it all we eventually yield lifelong friendships, friendships that have become an extended family for us that no other BIG city would have fostered. And just like we learn in the inscription in George Bailey’s book at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life – “No man is a failure who has friends.” 

 

It seems playing the role in the award-winning writer David Sedaris's play for so long has rubbed off on Fain because in “This Way Outta Santaland (and other X Mas Miracles)”, Fain has written another play, also deserving of many awards, which for a Jew from the mean streets of Rhode Island is a Christmas miracle of its own! 

 

Fain is a true delight! Be sure to catch “This Way Outta Santaland” during its run through December 23rd for a warm, humorous and uniquely delivered show that features tremendous storytelling and wonderful music. To find out more about performance times and show information, visit www.TheaterWit.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Are you old enough to remember Saturday morning cartoons? I mean when there was no other place or time on TV to watch three hours of children's cartoon TV shows? Well, if you are, like me, you'll remember the "Scooby Doo" show whose lead character was a talking dog who rolled with the teenage mystery solvers from Mystery Inc. 

 

In "Skooby Don't" written by David Cerda, Artistic Director of the wonderful Hell In a Handbag Production Company, every hysterical aspect of the original show is poked at, like the fact that Scooby and his pal Shaggy both look and act like stoners the whole time and that the whole gang runs screaming in fear every time they finally confronted a ghost/monster.

 

But Cerda as always, takes a funny satire and turns it into a touching and even educational LGBTQ production that leaves the whole audience with something interesting and uplifting to ponder over long after they've left the theater. 

 

In order to stay safe of copyright laws the characters names have been slightly changed to even funnier names. Daphne is called Daffy played delightfully by ensemble member Elizabeth Lesinsky, smart and sassy Velma is now Velva (or “Vulva”) also very funnily played by Caitlin Jackson. I recently reviewed Ms. Jackson in her role as Bette Midler and she has an AMAZING singing voice as well. Fred is Fredd with two D’s, Shaggy becomes Scaggy and Scooby Doo trades in his “C” for a “K,” becoming Skooby and instead becomes “Don’t”. Cerda even jokes at one point about the subtle changes.

 

When Velva decides to take the whole gang to her aunt's house for a reunion vacation her aunt turns out to be Cher! Cher played by ensemble member Ed Jones is joined by two famous contemporary house guests Caitlyn Jenner (Chazie Bly), Kris Jenner (Cerda) and Cher’s disgruntled bellboy/son Chaz (Caitlin Boho). With this wild cast of characters only Cerda could put together, it doesn’t take long before a zany mystery ensues and the gang quickly becomes detectives.

 

This quartet of famous faces was absolutely a collection the funniest bits in the whole show. Ed Jones makes the BEST, funniest, tongue to lip touching Cher I have ever seen! David Cerda as Kris Jenner and Chazie Bly as Caitlynn Jenner have all the gestures and voice patterns down pat while Caitlin Boho who plays a plump, unshaven Chaz, had me laughing out loud with almost every single line she delivered. 

 

Kudos and credit must go to their AMAZING costumer Kate Setzer Kamphausen and Hell in a Handbag's wig master Keith Ryan because their makeup and hair fit EVERY character to a tee! 

 

People ask me why I enjoy Cerda's characters so much, enough to go to every production they put on without question and the reason is simple. They are always brilliantly funny. Add the fact that if these men and women can do such a great job of playing full on "dress up" and do it with such care and relish, it always makes me feel that SOMEONE else understands how hard it is to be a woman!

 

Cerda's characters don't make fun of women, they celebrate women and men of all kinds, sizes and shapes and even though they have to wear a lot of makeup, wigs and six inch heels they do it because they ENJOY doing all the things they associate with being women. David Cerda has a wonderful and blessed knack for creating female characters in his plays, even those beautiful women with "resting bitch face" - like his very popular Joan Crawford - to be  worthy of love and respect by the end of each show.

 

The entire cast including the supporting roles were dynamite. Cerda, Jones and Lesinsky just seems to get funnier and funnier with each production, this time capturing the precise essence of the vain and ditzy Daffy. In Skooby Don’t, Cerda puts forth yet another all-around stellar ensemble, perfectly casting the Mystery Gang and guest characters. 

 

I highly recommend this fun, campy yet sympathetic piece, which is kind of like a transgender Halloween party! Skooby Don’t is currently being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville. For tickets, showtimes and more show information, visit www.Handbag productions.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

As soon as you enter the beautiful set that designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, has created for “Life Sucks", you are tip-toeing through what feels like a real forest of delicately lit white birch trees in the light of early evening in Autumn. 

 

The action then proceeds mostly on the front porch, and dining room/kitchen of a quaint country style house, complete with a small dock and row boat mired in mud, to indicate this is the log cabin style home of someone wealthy enough to live on a lake but not doing well enough any longer to afford a real boat, which turns out to be true.  

 

The seven characters enter the stage with house lights up and immediately break the fourth wall by letting the audience know a few things about the play, it has four acts with one intermission, and asking insightful questions like, "Do you think people in a hundred years will care how hard we worked?" Which immediately reminded me of the old joke, "What's the opposite of a nymphomaniac?" with the punchline, "a workaholic."

 

The next question, for the cast only, has them throwing out an enticing list of their "favorite things" ..."the feel of ice cubes swirling around in a heavy crystal drink glass filled with brandy...and what comes after", "a beautiful sunset over the water" and the adorable, "Kittens!" And once more for emphasis, "KITTENS!" and lest we think this is going to be a saccharine sweet play i.e. "The Sound of Music" - "the feeling of anticipation when you know that you are about to have an orgasm".

 

Ensemble member Andrew White directs deftly with a light hand, keeping the pace of the play moving in an enjoyable way and flowing from act to act naturally, sensually, without the feeling of rushing.

 

So many directors charged with productions that exceed two hours or are under ninety minutes with no intermission seem to be rushing the actor’s monologues and dialogue. In some cases you can imagine them standing offstage tapping their feet saying, "Pick up the pace people!", which can actually ruin the show, but Andrew White does just the opposite, calming the audience into actually receiving the message this play is trying to deliver. 

  

“Life Sucks” is an updated version of the Checkov play "Uncle Vanya" and every single one of the seven characters really holds their own throughout.

 

Eddie Jemison best known for his work from "Ocean's Eleven", "Waitress" and "Hung" is proof that dynamite comes in small packages as he takes on the role of the middle aged, depressed Vanya. 

 

The entire cast sprinkle the play with so many humorous Yiddish slang terms with adorable ease like the term "ferkocta" which means crazy in the head, or Vanya declaring over and over that Ella is his "beshert" and soulmate, meaning a person's destined love or a love that was meant to be, a love of heavenly creation. All the while Vanya’s pathos as his obsession with The Professor's beautiful, young wife Ella grows out of control. This leads to a hysterical attack on The Professors life as he describes in a monologue how vile, disgusting and unnatural it is to him that she (Ella) should be with such an "old man".  

 

The Professor is played perfectly by Jim Ortlieb (Billy Elliot) whose great monologue about how even small signs of aging in a man can ultimately ruin a perfectly good relationship is fantastic. We rarely hear the male point of view on this.

 

The Professor describes while comically, yet realistically, sliding and crawling down the front steps of the cabin in complete exhaustion after a fight with his young wife Ella - how a man sees in the mirror one day. He now sees his soft belly or some new wrinkles or gray hair and feels insecure leading him to take it out on his partner and she in turn becomes more insecure herself - resulting in more fighting and insecurity or his worst fear of all as she "becomes disengaged" from him entirely.

 

Chaon Cross as Ella is excellent as the young Master's Degree student who "married the smartest Professor in the whole college" and is hit on by every middle aged loser in this small town. Cross delivers a great monologue ala - don't hate me because I'm beautiful because my brilliant husband turned out to be an aging, ego-maniacal alcoholic. 

 

Ella asks the audience flat out how many of them want to sleep with her with no strings attached by a show of hands, then asks how many are dying to sleep with someone other than whom they are with - and it is a well delivered, very funny and telling moment for the audience. 

 

Danielle Zuckerman as Sonia seems to be the opposite of Ella. She is The Professors' only daughter and honestly describes how in her family, "It's like everyone is hard-wired to upset everyone else. Like we each have a bunch of buttons on our back that each one of us knows how to push." 

 

Sonia knows she is not beautiful, or even pretty, she knows that her weight and height, glasses and curly hair are never featured in the magazines she reads and Zuckerman gives a great, breath of fresh air feeling to the entire production that it inherently needs. In one scene with Ella she admits to actually "hating" Ella for her beauty and attractiveness to ALL the nearby men and Ella forces her to "slap her right in the face" which Sonia does. After the "enjoyable" catharsis of the slap in the face they pour rum and Cokes together and begin to bond as both stepmother and friends. 

 

Another great scene between Sonia and Dr. Aster, a middle-aged Lothario who wants to change the world - but only talks about it, occurs when Sonia tries to tell the doctor she has a crush on him. When she realizes Dr. Aster is 'in love" with Ella too, she delivers a great monologue after his exit about how she talked with him about "mystical butterflies' when she really wanted to say, "Take me upstairs and f-ck me, f-ck me so well and so hard the whole universe stops to watch ... and the stars stop in their orbits and her whole body finally understands what it is to be truly alive...but instead I talked about mystical butterflies."

 

Ensemble member, Philip R. Smith, best known for his roles in "High Fidelity" and “Since You've Been Gone" is very funny in the role of Dr. Aster, an admitted alcoholic who rambles on about the very real dangers of climate change and other depressing subjects that remind us these characters are living in the present day.

 

Another example of the timeliness and universality of this play is when at one point an audience member is asked what his deepest, darkest fear is and he answered without hesitation, "Donald Trump", which got a huge laugh.

 

Penelope Walker plays "Pickles", a lesbian (who ALSO flirts with Ella). Pickles is a neighbor and friend of Sonia's late mother who wanted to be a real artist but ended up crafting what looked like leg warmers for the birch trees to wear and hand puppets made of yarn. Walker is funny and upbeat as the character whose age we can't quite tell, the free-spirited loser we all love who would never say life sucks even if hers does.

 

At the end of the show, Vanya and the cast break the fourth wall for the last time and confront the entire audience with the question, "Does life suck?" Some people shouted “yes”, or “no”, I shouted “sometimes”. Then Vanya called specifically out to the woman sitting two seats away from me (his wife) and asked her, she poignantly answered, "No it does not suck because life is beautiful – there is even beauty in its pain." I had to agree with her. 

 

Highly recommended.

 

“Life Sucks is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through November 6th – www.Lookingglasstheatre.org.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Helldrivers of Daytona, currently running at the Royal George Theatre, is a fun idea. It is a musical that seems to mostly spoof Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, a story of a talented race car driver who needs to scrape up enough cash to get his car into the big race. James Nedrud does his best in the lead as Lucky Stubbs, lampooning the Elvis-like role, but often ends up shouting his best songs. Nonetheless, he does succeed nicely as a caricature of the sexy, country boy trying to make good we know from the film, coming off as a fey, one level dummy adding a lot of humor to the role. Nedrud’s expressions alone often draws laughs along with his overdone Southern accent and quirky denseness.  

 

The parodied scenes from Viva Las Vegas are many, from the girlfriend, Pepper, singing a song about how jealous she is of Lucky’s race car, the active competition with a French racing rival and even Lucky’s stint working as a hotel waiter where he walks in on Pepper and his challenger. Again, the idea was there. Problem is, despite some good acting and singing performances throughout the cast, the production goes a bit overboard with its silliness and many jokes simply fall flat. 

 

The music, composed by The Knack’s Berton Averre, captures the 1965 period nicely, some songs stuffed with clever punchlines, however, outside of a couple catchy melodies, most numbers will probably have a hard time sticking, as they fall a bit on the repetitive side.        

 

Samantha Pauly stands out from the entire cast and is a superb comedienne in the role of Pepper Johnson, Lucky’s sex kittenish, Anne Margaret type love interest. Her introductory song, "Peppers' Crazy Feeling" is hysterical as Pepper has one orgasm after another just by driving her pink colored bumpy, throbbing stick shift - an adorable convertible aptly named "Pinky”, getting huge laughs with each big "O", some of the only genuine laughs in the show. As the bi-sexual, millionaire race car driver and Count, David Sajewich is also funny even when he later channels a twelve-year-old French murderess to kill Lucky in the race (I told you it goes overboard). 

 

There are three essential speedway groupies and a tomboyish tag-along (Rachel Melius, Leah Morrow, Claire Lilley, and Julia Rose Duray). All had great voices and are played with real energy, sex appeal and great comic timing.

 

The beach bums who become Lucky's race car pit crew (Trey Curtis, Aaron M. Davidson, and Chris Selefski) have some funny moments and are good singers. Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique's choreography is often very sexy and funny at the same time, especially the dance numbers of seduction between Lucky and Pepper and Pepper's competing courtship dance with the Count. 

 

I adored Brenda Winstead's costumes particularly for all the women characters. The girl's outfits were colorful, perfectly cut for the time period and eye-poppingly sexy without actually revealing anything.

 

"Teenage Dreams" sung by the three groupies is the most memorable and interesting song to me. Their three fantasies in the number include, a Daddy's girl whose fixation on her handsome father still gets in the way of her love life, one was into being a dominatrix and having her man be her obedient puppy dog, and the third, raised Catholic, insists on finding a man who looks and acts like Jesus, her hero and savior.  I thought this song’s lyrics were very cleverly written and delivered by the girls and really captured the repressed fantasies and dating blocks that many women of all ages possibly struggle with today. Happily, for this trio, each one eventually finds her perfect mate in the trio of pit crew boys who help Lucky win the race. 

 

At a running time of 2 hours 25 minutes there are definitely still some cuts to be made but I had a lot of fun watching the show, and think a younger crowd at a theater with a more progressive reputation would as well. It might also be a good idea to take in Viva Las Vegas beforehand to really get the show’s camp.

 

Despite the show having a few more misses than hits, Helldrivers of Daytona still has enough laughs and doses of nostalgia that most will probably enjoy it overall. Its originality also counts for something, especially in its big finale racing scene.  

 

In its World Premiere, the pre-Broadway tryout, Helldrivers of Daytona, is being performed at Royal George Theatre through October 30th. To find out more about the show go to www.theroylageorgetheatre.com. 

 

*UPDATE – Due to negative reviews, the show has been cancelled for the remainder of its run. A statement was made from the show’s producers, “We all believed in Helldrivers of Daytona and more importantly believe in creating new works for the American Musical stage. We are disappointed by the critical response, but we knew that it was a risky endeavor. Still, many of the people who saw it were thoroughly entertained and delighted by the work of our fantastic cast and musicians. We have decided to close the production and we will evaluate how we might make changes for future productions of the musical. We want to thank our talented team of designers, our director and co-choreographer, our music director, our cast and crew, and of course our creative team who have all worked so diligently to get Helldrivers to the starting (and alas, finishing) line.”

 

That is unfortunate. Hopefully, we will see a tweaked production in the future. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Who’s to say how we each should be identified? Whether labeled as a man, woman or even a dragon, those are in fact just that – labels. So why should others tell us how we ought to perceive ourselves? That premise is the foundation in New Colony’s latest production “Kin Folk”, currently being performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park. “Kin Folk” is a well-taught lesson on becoming comfortable in our own skin without being influenced towards self-doubt by those who are quick to tell us what we should be.

After losing their parents, three sisters, Lucy, Eleanor and Mary, gather at their suburban family home while waiting for it to sell. Sitting around a dining room table, each mulls about the future. Eleanor discuss her new life as a newly transitioned woman while Lucy and her husband Toby talk of plans to move to Chicago. Toby wants to move near his church where he can become more involved, often inviting Eleanor to his progressive place of worship that doesn’t care who uses what washroom. The talk is light, the banter pleasant and nothing that is really out of the ordinary.

However, the story takes a big turn when, unknown to the rest of the group, it is discovered that Lucy belongs to a community called Otherkin. Otherkin is a group that encourages people to live as their “true self”, identifying as magical creatures such as a dragon, which Lucy declares herself to be. Lucy, now known as Kreeka, befriends Atherin who leads her to meet Blubberwort, a giant gnome who helps guide her even further down her path of self-actualization. She eventually meets a werewolf named Dusk via a community chat room with whom she instantly clicks and quickly confides.

It’s not long before her family discovers her secret, leaving Lucy to make the tough decision of choosing them or her life with Otherkin. Or can she have both?

I really enjoyed the production’s overall theme and its flavor of humor. The journey is a fun one to watch, as the play is laced with the perfect measure of silliness while not going so far over the top that its message becomes diluted. In fact, it is an effective eye opener as to what people may feel inside but are afraid to state publicly. While Eleanor’s story is already compelling as she begins her new life as the woman she knows she has always been, the parallel story line of Kreeka, though a world recognizing themselves as non-human beings, only adds conviction to the fact that we are who we feel we are.  

“Kin Folk” offers a lively cast that provides plenty of strong acting performances. Annie Prichard is just wonderful as Lucy/Kreeka and really gets to show off her comedic talent while Chris Fowler also delivers as Toby, displaying a well-rounded performance altogether. Vital components to the success of the show’s humor, Andrew Hobgood (Blubberwort) and Steve Love (Arethin) both get a lot of well-earned laughs in their roles as Otherkin Folk. 

Evan Linder does a delightful job directing this play written by William Glick, nicely capturing the essence of each character while delivering Glick’s message with just the right mix of wit and sentiment, making this a summer event to add to your “must do” list. This is a play that is sure to bring out the genie, vampire, fairy or whatever it may be that surfaces within yourself.

“Kin Folk” is being performed at The Den Theatre through August 14th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

The Factory Theater Company just opened their latest production, Dating and Dragons, in its adorable space in the heart of Rogers Park. The venue is very intimate but comfortable, nicely lit, colorful and in this summer heat - well air conditioned!

 

In Dating and Dragons, the lead character Jack and his friends are serious fantasy game players. They are best friends who sincerely enjoy their weekly game like a real family that does not welcome new members easily. With them, game night is not just tradition, it is religion. To mixed responses of his fellow gamers, Jack meets a cute girl at the video store he runs and although his friends try to advise him in the rules of dating, he soon finds that “rules” when it comes to love and sexual attraction just don't apply.

 

The play written by Mike Ooi is a light fun look at the lives of these young people and their fascination with becoming "actors" when they "act out" the different characters and their corresponding powers, like invisibility and flame throwing. A young Richard Dreyfuss-alike, Nick Freed is perfectly cast as Jack and is quite convincing as the love struck gamer who dances on the edge of reality and fiction.  

 

Personally, I never really understood the fascination and escape with games like Dungeons and Dragons which has SO many rules, until I saw this solidly written play.  

 

Paige, played by Savannah Rae, is the sole female member of this game-obsessed group of friends. Rae gets a lot of laughs throughout this funny production, shining brightly with her nerdy, physically comedic performance. 

 

Diane, the mysterious girl Jack falls for in real life, is played well by Rebecca Wolfe, sending off believable flirtation vibes. Diane soon experiences his gang of game hounds after only a few dates and attempts to join in a newbie (much to the dismay of an impatient staple in the group), slowing down the action while she learns the rules. In this case, meeting a gaming enthusiast group of friends too soon is akin to meeting a guy's parents too soon. It could go very well and cement a newly growing relationship or it could be the awkward end. 

 

This show is highly enjoyable and an easy watch. The story is cute, the characters interact well and the humorous dialogue rolls evenly, providing some much needed levity during such crazy times. Dating and Dragons is truthful, light and fun just in time for those seeking some pleasurable summer entertainment.  

 

The real lesson here, is that love is not a "game". D and D also reminds us to put fantasy aside when you find yourself depending too much on your friend’s advice and "dating rules". Don’t resist acting from your own real human gut, or you may have already lost the game due to lack of your own self confidence in the "real world". 

 

Dating and Dragons is being performed at The Factory Theater through August 13th. The theatre is located at 1623 W Howard Street. For more show info visit www.thefactorytheater.com.  

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I love flamenco for its sensual power and the amazing way both female and male dancers, whether solo or couples, locked in passionate embrace are able to make the human body dance with such precision and emotional fury. Is there any other dance form where the men are so manly and sexily dressed in their boots and waist coats and the women in their flowing dresses so, well, womanly?

 

Currently performed at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, "Flamenco Passion" as a rich production covers the whole range of human experience; dancing for your life, dancing for your love and dancing for the death of those you've loved deeply. The group numbers are stunningly modern like the world premiere of “Iroko”, while remaining true to the art form and "Alegrias y Jaleos", which make you feel you are in the countryside of Spain witnessing a turn of the century town dancing their way through life in a wonderful celebration of spring.  

 

“Bolero”, the acclaimed masterwork by Dame Libby Komaiko was a true stunner! I didn't realize it myself until this performance that you haven't even heard the full potential of the music in Ravel's “Bolero" until you've seen a stage full of the greatest forty flamenco dancers in the world bring it to a smoldering and exploding catharsis. 

 

In the second act an onstage singer, Cajon player and two guitarists accompanied all five dances, which really showcases that flamenco is a uniquely human and difficult dance to master. More passionate than tap yet just as exacting, more sensual than ballet yet just as demanding,  

 

We as Chicagoans should be so proud that Dame Libby Komaiko founded Ensemble Espanol at Northeastern Illinois University in 1975, and that her worldwide acclaimed dances and company are still going strong. 

 

Longtime Ensemble dancer Irma Suarez Ruiz, who'll begin taking over the role of artistic director from Dame Libby in the coming year and Carmela Greco with her long mane of silver hair both blew the entire sold out audience away. The two proved that dance is the way to stay young with 2010 solo "Duende Gitana" which intermingled "Palmas" (hand-clapping), percussion, stamping and song. It really was a masterwork of everlasting love expressed with furious passion (there's that word again) between her and the live musicians. The live music accompaniment dance numbers were heartfelt, raw with almost ragged singing and mind-bogglingly complex percussion from the guitarists and Cajon player that expressed the ageless beauty of both the performers themselves and this wonderful dance form. The subject of no less than two documentaries Dame Komaiko has almost single-handedly kept the art form of Flamenco not only alive but growing and flourishing. She is modest when speaking of her success and acknowledges that in some troupes the art form has become too mechanical. 

 

I could see this show again and again and each time notice brilliant new details from this large and gifted cast each time. 

 

Highly recommended. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

As I sat down in my second row center seats in Planet Hollywood Casino Hotel and Casino’s Saxe Theater, the couple next to me told me excitedly that they had seen Vegas! The Show as VIP's to meet the cast afterwards ten times! This lovely couple in their early sixties from the Midwest said that they return to the show every year and even have favorite cast members that they hope will be in the constantly evolving large cast.

 

The show starts off in what appears to be a dark warehouse filled with a slew of large, worn hotel and club signs once brightly shining to dazzle the Las Vegas crowds. Enter “Ernie” the maintenance man. Ernie addresses the crowd, telling us about Vegas’ golden era when the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne were in their heyday, entertaining audiences and setting the unachievable standards for future Las Vegas stars. Ernie reminds us that these were the days when women would attend shows in fancy dresses and dapper gentlemen arrived in well-tailored suits or tuxedos as opposed to today’s show-goers that arrive in shorts, sandals with white socks and t-shirts that ask “Who Farted?”. After a bit more reminiscing, he then takes us to yesteryear and we get a glimpse at what once was. In a blink of an eye, the stage suddenly transforms into a sparkling set full of life, dancers, and colorful lights. A full band appears as we are thrust into the magic of classic Las Vegas. Vegas! The Show beautifully presents a timeline of entertainment that makes stops from the 1940’s through the 1970’s, sets changing with the times as we hear one classic number after another. 

 

Refusing to allow any gaps in entertaining its audience, the show brings forth a variety of amusing acts front of stage during set changes from jaw-dropping juggling acts to an aerial balancing beam team that gets plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from nervous crowd members. This show is simply oozing with talent and entertains with the best of them. It is no surprise this show has been named “Best Show in Vegas” many times during its five-year residency.       

 

I enjoyed this show from beginning to end. If you have a yen to see a little bit of everything Vegas is known for like tall, beautiful showgirl numbers, great personality impersonations of singers like Tina Turner, Elton John, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Sonny and Cher and Elvis Presley, this is the show for you. 

 

As impressed as I was with the singing voices of the various star impersonators I was also blown away by the large cast of well-trained energetic young dancers who filled every number with so much excitement and sexy surprises it was hard to decide which part of the stage to watch. 

 

This is a saucy, slightly sexy, but never raunchy respectful tribute to the historic performers and places that have made the history of Vegas what it is today, is a breeding ground for great talent.

 

There's also some humor mixed in with the great singing and dancing and although the costumes are sexy, I would not hesitate to take kids to this show. 

 

The most poignant moment of this very upbeat variety show came in the form of a slideshow at the finale as “Elton John” sang “Rocket Man”. The footage consisted of film clips of all the past great who have graced Las Vegas such as Liberace, Elvis and The Rat Pack before switching into a montage of all the hotels (Sahara, Frontier, Dunes, etc.) actually being leveled by explosives to make way for the new and modern Vegas we know today.

 

Filled with interesting history tidbits about Vegas yet never slowing down by literally filling the stage in this intimate 400-seat venue with old school, eye popping glamour, this really is a show to see with friends and family who'd like to experience a little of each of the great parts of Vegas just like one would at a buffet – by getting a healthy gander at so many fabulous themes in a single night. 

 

Tickets currently run at $79.99 for general admission though a VIP package is offer for just $20 more that assures seats closer to the stage. Showtime’s are 7pm and 9pm seven days a week. Be sure to add Vegas! The Show on your Las Vegas to do list.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I still remember dancing with my brother in front of a wall of mirrors on our shag carpeted living room in the 1970's and thinking we were going to be the next Donny and Marie. Posters of the two famous Osmond’s sprouted up on most teenage walls and “Puppy Love” was all the rage until “I’m A Little Bit Country, I’m A Little Bit Rock N’ Roll” themed the Donny and Marie show, airing from 1976-1979. Charismatic, funny and vocally skilled, the gifted siblings left their mark on the 1970’s launching each into successful solo careers before reuniting once again years later in perhaps one of the most unlikely places – The Las Vegas Strip.    

 

Picture perfect smiles still as visible as ever, Donny and Marie have now become one of the most sought after attractions in Las Vegas, finding an on stage home in the Flamingo Las Vegas. Star presence and charming good looks have not eluded the two, who perform a high energy set full of classics and standards sure to please die-hard and casual fans alike with favorites like "A Beautiful Life", “It Takes Two”, “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, "I'm Leaving it (All) Up To You" and Marie’s “Paper Roses” highlighting the evening along with their still funny banter that injects the perfect dose of comedy into their act. Amidst their song and dance numbers the two still exhibited a great sense of humor that made them even more adorable. The lighthearted teasing and playful ribbing between them, like about which one of them won the Dancing with the Stars trophy and which one ONLY made it to the finals, seems genuine, fresh and unrehearsed.

 

Watching their show was a delightful surprise that made me feel really young to see that after all these years this dynamic, talent-packed brother and sister team are still going strong in every way!  

 

There is wonderful slideshow and several video clips that run in various places throughout the show, some that brought tears to my eyes of performers who have passed though most brought back happy memories of a time when these two adorable and handsome siblings took the world by storm. 

 

Both Donny and Marie are talented dancers and singers and have a really fresh team of dancers behind them to fill out the show. I'm not sure if most remember her true vocal talent, but Marie blew audience members away when she sang, especially on an operatic piece, which was perfect and showed not only the versatility of her voice but the amazing strength of her range as well.

 

Projecting a strong sparkle in his voice and step, Donny, an ageless wonder, still looks like he is in his early forties. His dancing really showcases the fantastic shape he is in and his face appears as young as ever. Marie simply looks stunning. 

 

The songs were varied, enthusiastic and upbeat and there are a handful of occasions where Donny runs through the crowd and connects directly with the audience in this lovely, intimate, yet still glamorous venue. Seeing them at The Flamingo Las Vegas was actually perfect. Every seat provides a great view. It had the flavor of old time Flamingo glamour along with the fun, casual feeling that you could just wander in off The Strip and totally enjoy a trip back in time to the happy part of the 70's many of us grew up in or raised kids or grand kids.

 

After the show be sure to take a walk in the beautiful, sweet smelling night air of the Flamingo Sanctuary and you will have just about as much fun and lighthearted an evening in Vegas one can enjoy. 

 

Highly Recommended.   

 

Published in In Concert
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