In Concert

Kendall Hartenstine

Kendall Hartenstine

Wednesday, 22 June 2011 21:38

Out Is In: A Review of The Homosexuals

The play begins with Evan, played by Patrick Andrews, sitting alone at a skating rink.  He's strikingly handsome but, for a yet to be disclosed reason, appears discontent. That is until Peter makes his appearance. Peter, aptly played by Scott Bradley, is over-the-top, can't deny his love of musicals, and is perhaps tittering on the edge of being a stereotypically flamboyant gay man. Off the bat, the two men don't appear destined to be together. In sheer moments, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, their relationship unravels leaving only questions of why and how they got to this point. Thus begins the ten-year retrospective of Evan's comical yet dramatic life since venturing out of the closet and into the big city.

Starting in the present, the play works back to a party in the year 2000. Aside from being the dawn of a new millennium, it also marked the beginning of Evan’s journey as an openly out gay man and his introduction to the people who would have the largest impact on the person he becomes in the future. Director Bonnie Metzgar brilliantly transitions between years by having the character Evan be undressed, redressed, and having him move backwards to a compilation of pop songs.

Each scene cleverly introduces a friendship while tackling certain significant aspects of being homosexual. These topics run the gamete from the incestual nature of a group of gay friends to creating one’s own definition of what a gay person should be. As the clock rewinds, the layers of Evan are peeled back exposing his insecurities with himself and his overwhelming need to be loved and feel he belongs.

Catty one-liners, insightful perspectives, and a hag (Elizabeth Ledo) I wish to emulate made this performance truly enjoyable. Simply stated, the cast delivers wit, charm, and everything that makes a production worthy of a rave review.


Presented by About Face Theatre

Regular Run: Jun 18 - Jul 24, 2011

@ Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

2433 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Show Type: Comedy/Drama

Box Office: 773-871-3000


What’s not to love about Celtic punk music that glorifies drunken shenanigans and their love of hard-working Americans? The answer is absolutely nothing. In a glorious pre-St. Patrick’s Day kickoff, The Dropkick Murphys brought an abundance of Celtic pride to the Congress Theater to promote their recently released album, Going Out in Style.

Not many punk bands have the mainstream appeal of The Dropkick Murphys. After banding in 1996, Dropkick has won over punk crowds, sporting arenas, and even landed on a major motion picture soundtrack. Despite their rise in popularity, Dropkick has always stayed true to their original sound.

To paint the scene, imagine a crowded venue inhabitant by people of all walks of life. A buzz is in the air making everything feel electric. The crowd, without much prodding, was properly amped and ready to see the main event. The crowd begins chanting, “Let’s go Murphys,” while the anticipation level hit a fever pitch. Dropkick, never a band to disappoint, graced the stage and kept the intensity level up for the rest of the evening.

The set began with a song off of their new album. True to form, Dropkick came out strong and took the crowd on majestic journey through their discography with minimal hesitation between songs. Personal favorites, crowd pleasers, new, and even more obscure tracks fed the already captivated congregate of fans. Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing Dropkick perform tracks like “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” live. Simply put, their live performances are phenomenal.


Since high school, Dropkick’s infectious sound has peppered the soundtrack of my life. Below is a sample of some of my favorite tracks. Give ‘em a listen.


1). “Barroom Hero”

2). “The Gauntlet”

3). “The Spicy McHaggis Jig”

4). “Finnegan’s Wake”

5). “Boys on the Docks”

6). “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”

7). “Gangs All Here”

8). “Rocky Road to Dublin”

9). “Going Out in Style”

10). “The State of Massachusetts”

We all have certain memory triggers that have the power to invoke our past. For me, music has always been my greatest trigger- even allowing me to transcend time and revisit yesteryear.

Authority Zero came to town for a gig at the Cubby Bear to promote their new album, Stories of Survival. The ticket included performances from The Frantic, Lionize and Whole Wheat Bread. Each band brought something unique to the stage and on a whole delivered something spectacular.

I have to confess hearing Authority Zero was coming to town made me feel stoked and sentimental. Despite the passage of time, the band has been able to stay true to their original sound and reminded me why I fell in love with their music in the first place.

Here's my backstory with the band... My love affair with their music began during my first year at the University of Arizona. The boys from Mesa were asked to be an opening act for the annual Welcome/ Welcome Back show for the students.  My roommate and I, neither originally from Arizona, had never heard of Authority Zero before that night but quickly fell in love with their brand of reggae fused skater/pop punk. Their charisma was electric and surged through the audience in a way most bands will never experience. Thanks to the mellow sounds of a dub guitar, infectious choruses and the uniquely haunting vocals of lead singer Jason DeVore, Authority Zero stole the show and walked away with a new legion of fans. The boys were always gracious and indulged their fans with kind words, autographs and pictures. Their music a captivating live performances proved to be a major bonding point for my roommate and I (so much so we went to all of their local shows and in store appearances at Zia Records).

For close to two decades, Authority Zero has been creating Latin and reggae infused skate punk music that has helped solidify a strong following while insuring survival through the rocky tides of the skater/pop punk genre. With heavy influence from bands like Bad Religion, Pennywise, and Sublime, Authority Zero is able to deliver tracks that are both mosh and sway worthy. In the post millennium, many would argue the punk scene has become diluted and, for lack of a better word, stagnant. However, Authority Zero continues to shine thanks to their talent, passion and willingness to incorporate many different genres to create their sound.

Thanks to a spellbinding performance, I was able to revisit my college glory days and be reminded why Authority Zero is one the best live bands around.


Suggested sampling of Authority Zero's music:

1). Over Seasons

2). One More Minute

3). Revolution

4). A Passage in Time

5). Super Bitch

7). The Remedy

8) Brick in the Wave

9). 12:34

10). Mexican Radio

Would you want to live your life if you knew beforehand it has relatively no meaning and will cause more harm than good? What if you also already knew the future is going to bleak and there isn’t a God damn thing you can do to change the outcome. Bruce Norris’ masterful new play “A Parallelogram,” uses profound existential questions like these to cut his characters to the bone while giving the middle finger to Hollywood ’s romantic notion of time travel.

“A Parallelogram,” which is currently making its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre under the direction of Anna D. Shapiro, is simply a profound play. To sum it up, it’s a dark comedy perfectly balanced with sci-fi elements and unique curveballs. Norris brilliantly turns the tried and true method of knowing the future as a gift on its head. He cleverly orchestrates the concept of too much knowledge being a bad thing. His decision, as pessimistic as it may be, worked to create an extraordinary play.

The play begins with a couple in their rather nondescript bedroom. The man is a middle-aged corporate something-or-other who enjoys drinking a Heineken, watching the game and yammering on about how white men got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Ironically, this is all while he has a Latino man (Tim Bickell) diligently mowing his lawn. From the very beginning, it becomes evidently clear this smug character named Jay (Tom Irwin) was destined to be the bad guy and yet would never understand why. 

Sitting on the bed, is a thirty-something year old woman named Bee (Kate Arrington). She restlessly plays solitaire in an attempt to mask that she consumed by an existential crisis. Bee believes she can see the future which proves to be quite the burden (especially when it comes to altering it).

In the corner is an old woman (Marylouise Burke) who watches the action while enjoying a smoke, Oreos and brandishing what appears to be a remote control. It quickly becomes apparent she’s Bee from the future and her remote control is capable of time travel. Breaking the cardinal rule of time travel, Bee 2 converses and can only be seen and heard by Bee. Using her trusty remote, Bee 2 can zap herself and Bee to any point in their life. It appears Bee 2’s sole purpose is to convince Bee that nothing she does has much weight on the world. Humanity is doomed and doesn’t warrant saving. Hell, even if she tried the results would be minimal at best so why waste the effort.  

 Bee 2 hardly resembles Bee. She’s lost all sense of compassion. Case in point, Bee 2 barely bats an eye after telling Bee about a global disaster that will wipe out most of the world’s population. She rationalizes, in a joking sense, it’s a good thing because now parking is no longer an issue.

Knowing the future weighs heavily on Bee and she begins to unravel at the seams. Is life really worth living if you already know what is going to happen and will be, more or less, apathetically trapped in it?

Aside from becoming very self-aware of her life, Bee forces Jay into her crisis. Jay is too shortsighted to become invested in Bee’s initial quandaries. He’s the type of person who doesn’t just accept what he’s told but rather takes stock in fate and freewill. Like the future, their relationship is doomed.

Norris than brings Bee’s sanity into question. This happens after Dr. Hein (also Marylouise Burke) reveals Bee could have a brain tumor. If this were true all of Bee's conjecture about the future just the delusions of a person who is losing their mind.  One must ponder if Bee is just losing her mind or is she actually haunted by the future? By believing Bee is losing her mind, one must conclude that fate is not predetermined. By believing she has premonitions, one must concede to their own insignificance in the greater scheme of destiny.  

At no point are the characters, in particular their emotions, ever lost in this shuffle. Instead, Norris and Shapiro carefully skin them alive, leaving them raw and exposed for the audience to examine. It’s then up to the viewer to decipher and draw conclusions based on what they’re seeing.

Needless to say, there is plenty for the audience to mull over. Questions are raised about the notion of “good,” fate, utter futility, relationships, confinement, the pros and cons of technology, fear, finances, sanity, etc. Take my word on it, this all makes for great discussion after the play.

Burke and Irwin (as Bee 2 and Jay respectively) did a remarkable job of making complicated characters endearing.  They gave some of the best stage performances I have ever seen and rightfully deserve as many accolades as I can give.

“A Parallelogram” is a must see show that will force your mind to think outside of the box. The show runs from now until August 29th.  Tickets range from $20-$70 and are available at or (312) 335-1650.


Every now and again, I find an up-and-coming local band that instills a sense of hometown pride and the desire to share them with the rest of the world.  Last Friday night marked such an occasion. I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing A Friend Called Fire play live at Lincoln Hall. This show was to commemorate their homecoming as well as the release of their new album, An American Daydream.
For those who have yet to hear of A Friend Called Fire, the band consists of Jon Allegretto (vocals and guitar), Aaron J. (drums) and Powers (bass and backing vocals). They are a local rock trio whose music is heavily influenced by rock and classic metal grooves. Despite being relatively new to the scene, AFCF commands attention while also managing to get the girls in a tizzy. For the most part, that's a recipe for success (especially with their coveted demographic).

ACFC was able to combat less than desirable production issues during their set. Not every band can still win over the crowd while battling sound issues. That alone says a lot about AFCF. At times, the sound issues made Jon's vocals hard to decipher but their loyal following picked up the slack by singing along. The crowd favorites included "An American Daydream," "Dance Again," and a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs."
As only an avid music listener, I find it essential to bring an actual musician with me to either thoroughly heighten or challenge my review of the audio experience. For this show, I was accompanied by a bassist who was blown away by the masterful drumming of Aaron J. I’m rarely at a loss of words but my bassist friend summed it up perfectly when he referred to Aaron J. as, “fucking amazing.” Regardless of physically being located in the background, Aaron J.'s talent made him the front runner of the band.

AFCF won me over and perhaps will join the ranks of other legendary Chicago fires. For more information on ACFC,  check them out at or see them perform on August 21st at The House of Blues.

Friday, 18 June 2010 12:23

Some Like It Sweet: A Review of Sugar

SUGAR--Jennifer Knox

The Drury Lane’s production of ‘Sugar’ can be easily summed up as the musical version of the legendary gender bender film ‘Some Like It Hot.’ The show is a revival of the 1972 Broadway musical with book by Peter Stone, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill with some variations.  In this version, the show is set on Studio 24 where it quickly becomes clear, thanks to clever direction from Jim Corti, the musical is being presented as if it were a movie in the process of being made.  


The action begins and the audience is instantly dazzled by a musical number from Sweet Sue Syncopation Orchestra. Moments into the number, Sweet Sue (Tammy Mader) informs the audience her all-girl band is about to leave Chicago for a gig in Miami. The audience also becomes aware Sweet Sue is in big trouble because her sax and cello players just left the band and she needs them replaced immediately. Across town, Jerry (Alan Schmuckler) and Joe (Rod Thomas) are down on their luck musicians trying to find work like everyone else during The Great Depression. After not being able to land a gig and with no money in their pockets, they try to make a buck working as delivery men. Their luck takes yet another turn for the worse when they haplessly witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.  With the mob on their tails, Jerry and Joe need to get out of Chicago as quickly as possible.


SUGAR - Alan Schmuckler and Rod Thomas


As one might guess, in order to hide from the mob, Jerry and Joe end up joining Sweet Sue’s band. They have both the right and wrong instruments for the gig but thanks to drag they were able to transform into Daphne and Josephine respectively without anyone being the wiser. Their plan was to ditch the band as soon as they were out of harms way. However, that game plan swiftly goes awry when both Jerry and Joe become enamored with Sugar Kane (Jennifer Knox), the singer/ ukulele player of the band who has a history of falling for all the wrong guys.


When the “girls” reach the sunny shores of Florida, Joe picks up another persona to try and woo Sugar. This time he is a millionaire named Junior who is the heir to Shell Oil.  Jerry also finds himself being wooed by an old, philandering millionaire (Joe D. Lauck). This love caper comes complete with genuine laughs while still paying homage to Billy Wilder’s original masterpiece.


Perhaps the biggest pitfall of any stage version of an iconic film is that it will never be able to escape the endless comparison to its precursor. In that sense, the actors in ‘Sugar’ will have to grow a thick skin to survive being judged against heavy hitters like Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. That being said, the only cast member who was able to peek out from behind the shadow of his predecessor was Alan Schmuckler. Schmuckler has remarkable stage presence along with brilliant comedic timing which would have made Jack Lemmon proud of his portrayal of Jerry/Daphne.


My biggest complaint with the casting falls squarely on Sugar herself.  Although Jennifer Knox is quite a talent, she falls short of filling the visual va-va-voom embodied by Marilyn Monroe. Her portrayal of Sugar came off as sweet and vulnerable but was definitely lacking the undeniable sex appeal exuded by Ms. Monroe. I also found she didn’t have enough oomph for her, “The People in My Life,” number which is letdown.


As sweet as this show is, it could benefit from some more heat. Overall, the stage cast did the production justice but were not able to outshine the star power of the film’s original cast.   


Regardless, fans of ‘Some Like it Hot,’ will not leave the Drury Lane feeling like they got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Frankly it’s a nice throw back to yesteryear which is accompanied by good music. ‘Sugar’ makes for an entertaining evening but in the immortal words of Osgood Fielding III, “… nobody’s perfect.”


The show runs until August 1st with tickets ranging from $31-45.

For more information, check out the Drury Lane’s website (  



The idea of having a prison as the setting of a haunted house is pretty masterful. No one in their right mind ever wants to go to prison especially one that is dimly lit and where the Warden is Satan himself..


Monday, 05 October 2009 17:43

The Hauntings in Illinois

Chicago Haunted HousesMy mission this October is to visit as many haunted house in the area as possible. Like my beloved punk concerts, I feel the need to see as many haunted houses as possible before I become the out- of- place "creepy old guy."..

altThe dissident style of “Swear Jar” is a breath of fresh air in a comedic world filled with stale political and healthcare jokes. Imagine an uncensored Second City-style revue with the added bonus of a beer bar only a few feet away from your seat. That’s what you get with this show. To put it simply, it’s crude and experimental comedy at its finest and frankly you’re not going to find a funnier bang for your buck.

Mick Napier, founder and Artistic Director of the The Annoyance Theatre, birthed this unrestricted tour de force which happens to also mark the first sketch show he has directed for his own company in its 22 year history.  Napier’s resume is impressive and includes highlights like directing David Sedaris’ “One Woman Shoe” and Chicago’s longest running musical “Co-Ed Prison Sluts.” With a man of his caliber in the director’s seat, you know you’re in for a satisfying evening.   

For the last week I have been trying to find the right words to express my love for Napier’s “Swear Jar.” It’s a delightfully filthy experience thanks to its talented screwball cast and Lisa McQueen’s ever so witty musical numbers that included homage to the sheer joy only bulimia can bring and the nostalgia of early 90’s mall culture. As a whole, the show is raunchy, dark and pleasantly demoralizing. It opens with a quick jab at the snootiness of Trader Joe’s before travelling down a classless rabbit hole. Along the way, the audience is graced with explicit yet hilarious sketches about menstruation, cunnilingus and even being able to find clarity with a plunger or an impromptu gearshift stuck up your ass. This is the type of show that pushes the envelope and delivers laugh after laugh through deviant perversion.

The cast (Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant. Angela Dawe, Colleen Murray, Andrew Peyton, Connor O’Malley, Brian Wilson and Chris Witaske) creates a dynamic powerhouse with undeniable standout performances from Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Andrew Peyton and Chris Witaske. It is hard to pick a favorite but I have a feeling Mr. Witaske will become a big name in the sketch comedy world.  His stage presence is captivating which makes him a standout even when he’s isn’t center stage.  

The only criticism I can give can also be applied to most sketch comedy shows. “Swear Jar,” at times, suffers from its lack of continuity. The performance can seem a little choppy as they bounce from one sketch to the next. This might be alleviated if they end some of the sketches before they run out of steam and hit an ill at ease conclusion. One might accuse “Swear Jar” of using shock value to stimulate the audience rather than garnering actual laughter. That wasn’t the case for me but be forewarned the content of the show is rather vulgar. Overall, I found it to be a riot and as my friend put it, “funnier than anything I’ve seen on SNL in years.”

 “Swear Jar” runs every Saturday night at 10:00pm through May 1st. Tickets are a steal at $15 and can be purchased at The Annoyance Theatre website,, or by calling the box office at (773) 561-HONK.

Wednesday night I ventured to the historic Cadillac Theatre to partake in some four legged fun at the 101 Dalmatians Musical (I promise I will keep the dog puns/terminology to a bare minimum in this review). Filled with cartoonish-like sets, actors playing humans on stilts and likable songs from Dennis DeYoung (who is one of the founding members of STYX ), 101 Dalmatians the Musical has a certain charm that I can not deny. The story is about the power of family and proves to be a real treat for the young and the young at heart.


 Like many of the newer productions hitting Broadway, 101 Dalmatians caters to the children in the audience. Regardless, the show tries to incorporate some more adult oriented lines to stimulate the adults in the audience. Unfortunately these lines are rather low brow and barely register a laugh. At least they tried to throw ‘em a bone. The show, in my opinion, is not of the same caliber of heavy hitting musicals but is still fun none-the-less. The kids in attendance seemed to love every minute of the show which is priceless in its own right.

I have to confess, my interest in this show peaked after I read a blurb about a mix of show and shelter dogs being used in the performance.  The live dogs do not disappoint. Their very presence onstage was warmly received and, like most of the crowd, I left wanting to adopt them all.
I’ve read plenty of reviews of this show and am frankly kind of surprised by how poorly it is being received. I agree  Cruela de Vil, aptly played by Sara Gettlefinger, should have been a meatier role. I don't think anyone thought, even for a minute, the puppies were in any real danger of being turned into fashion. I also thought the dalmatian costumes were pretty amateurish. Most of the accolade goes to the live dogs and the child actors playing the pups (and rightfully so) but I think it is important to weigh the play for what it is. For lack of a better term, this is a B-musical but it's still entertaining.

This production is the non-Disney interpretation of the book, "101 Dalmatians," by Dodie Smith. Like the book, the production is meant to be seen through the eyes of the dog.  Director Jerry Zaks tried to do his best to stick to that vision which has led to mixed reviews. I, for one, thought it was clever to have the actors playing humans use stilts to effectively differentiate them from the actors playing dogs.


If you have young children and they have never seen a theatre production, this would be a great first show for them to see. The production is only in town for a two-week engagement and will continue their cross country tour after their final local performance February 28th. Tickets range from $18-$85. For more information, check out or call (800) 775-2000.


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