In Concert
Ken Payne

Ken Payne

After thirty years of bringing Chicagoans some of the city’s finest theatre, Mary-Arrchie will be closing their doors after its current and final production, American Buffalo. In this sharply written piece by David Mamet, Mary-Arrchie co-founder and jack of all trades Richard Cotovsky is joined by Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan, creating a strong cast fully capable of pulling off such a dynamically written script. And that’s exactly what they do.

Taking place in a rundown resale shop, owner Don (Cotovsky) along with his young hired help and “go-fer” Bobby (Galvan) have hatched a scheme to burglarize a nearby residence in the hopes of stealing a valuable coin collection. But when Don’s longtime pal Teach (Stephen Walker) gets wind of the “thing” he pushes to replace the kid with himself, a man of more experience. Everything happens in a single day as the three small time crook wannabees run through a gamut of emotions with each other in trying to get on the same page. Teach is pushy and talks the big talk but clearly has little experience while Don is more laid back and subdued, often influenced by Teach’s strong presence and facade of confidence. Slow-witted Bobby just wants in for some quick bankroll – or maybe just wants to be a part of something. As the plan progresses it snowballs back and forth until its inevitable unraveling – and the journey is nothing short of hilarious.

When entering the theatre, we are met with what appears to be an authentic resale shop. “Don’s Resale Shop” is printed backwards on the large picture window so as to face correctly for those to read on the outside. Worn shelves are filled with dented gas cans, ratty knickknacks, old toys and assorted vintage items. Power chords hang from the wall with other random merchandise for sale behind a battered counter that supports an antique cash register. Quickly immersed in the set’s genuineness, one really gets the feeling they are inside a dingy thrift store that could be located on any given Chicago street.    

Richly directed by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia, Mary-Arrchie’s American Buffalo offers incredibly talented performances, generally a given with this veteran theatre company. Delivering Mamet’s cutting and quick-fire dialogue with the true essence of how it was intended, Walker knock’s the role of Teach out of the park. Whether generating laughs with the simplest use of body language, convincingly overusing repetitive hood lingo or completely erupting like Mount Saint Helen, Walker rolls up his sleeves and puts forth a gutsy, no-holds barred performance that should long be remembered. All the while, Walker successfully displays his character’s vulnerability beneath the blanket of false self-assurance, making Teach believable, creating someone with whom we can really emphasize. Within moments of Walker’s first appearance where he loses his cool and takes out his frustrations out on a beat up refrigerator over something pretty insignificant, it is apparent we are about to take a pretty bumpy ride. 

Cotovsky, the seasoned pro that he is, also provides an outstanding performance going toe-to-toe with Walker on many heated, sometimes humorously nonsensical and profoundly funny dialogue exchanges. The two pair together like butter on toast, getting a nice occasional boost from Galvan who contributes many of his own well-timed lines. Like a freight train taking off, the production gets stronger and stronger as it progresses. The more we get to know the characters the more we can’t help but take a liking to each of them, regardless of the fact that they are small-time crooks bent on pulling off a caper that comically unstitches more and more the closer the job gets. 

Mary-Arrchie is going out on a high note with this must-see presentation of American Buffalo. The prestigious Chicago theatre company will certainly be missed and we can only hope to continue to see its talented players in future productions around the city. Jeff Award winner, Chicago theatre staple and all-around talent Richard Cotovsky was recently given the honor of having an Honorary Way dedicated in his name that can be seen at the theatre’s intersection of Sheridan and Broadway. An honor well deserved.

American Buffalo is playing at Angel Island (735 W. Sheridan) through March 6th. Honest, funny and thoroughly absorbing, it is with strong recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to catch this final production from this talented company in their apropos farewell. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.maryarrchie.com or call 773-871-0442. 

 

Monday, 01 February 2016 19:39

"Jeeves At Sea" Makes Big Splash

Christian Gray and Jim McCance pair up once again for another Jeeves adventure, this time in Margaret Raether’s latest adaption from the stories of P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves At Sea”. Gray, who was simply tremendous in his last First Folio appearance in “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe”, this time plays the lovable, but somewhat dim-witted Bertie who has come to rely on the wisdom of his ever faithful manservant Jeeves (McCance), who faithfully provides sound advice never daring to crack the slightest of smiles. Paired to perfection, modestly said, McCance and Gray are nothing less than terrific together.

The play is performed at First Folio Theatre’s home, the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, where it doesn’t take much too imagine a “Jeeves” presence to exist.  

The story takes place aboard a yacht that is anchored off the coast of Monte Carlo, which is owned by Lady Stella Vanderlay, to whom Bertie has proposed to on multiple occasions. Miss Minerva Pilbeam is Stella’s paid companion and is secretly doting over Jeeves, while Stella is having too much fun as the object of affection of several suitors to fully commit to a lovesick Bertie. Kate McDermott nails the role of Lady Stella as the roaring 20’s saucy socialite.   

But alas, a mystery has unfolded when Bertie’s best friend Sir Percival Everard Crumpworth (Andrew Behling) confesses that he may have murdered someone while being blind drunk the night before – worse yet, he believes it might have been a visiting German prince. Once German heavy Count Otto von Dietrichstein (Joe Foust) starts sniffing around the yacht in search of Percival, a plan is quickly put into action.

Throughout the mystery, which is fun in itself, many humorous situations arise based on several Three’s Company-like misunderstanding’s where one is caught with another at the wrong moment or something is only partially overheard. Alison C. Vesley’s superb direction along with a funny script, timely physically comedy and impeccably delivered dialogue thanks to the show’s collection of talented actors, make “Jeeves At Sea” a charming production that flows seemingly effortlessly through and through.  

This fourth Jeeves installment of Wodehouse’s delightful tales is a thrilling ride from beginning to end with just the right doses of humor and intrigue, but best of all is the genuine connection that is felt by audience members between Jeeves and Bertie, leaving one with the feeling of excitement for what Jeeves adventures may be in store for the future.     

 

Yet another strong First Folio effort, “Jeeves At Sea” comes highly recommended. Catch “Jeeves At Sea” through February 28th at the Mayslake Peabody Estate located near 31st Street and 83 in Oakbrook. For tickets and/or more play information visit www.firstfolio.org or call 630-986-8067.  

When Black Sabbath formed in 1968, who would have guessed they would be playing a farewell tour 48 years later? In fact, after their notorious partying throughout the mid-1970s, who would have thought they’d all still be alive? But here they are, circling the world once more with a collection of Sabbath hits to satisfy their most hardcore of fans, and then some. Only original drummer Bill Ward sits on the sidelines, much to the dismay of Sabbath fans, thanks to a dispute between the famed band members. In the meantime, Ozzy Osbourne along with guitarist Tony Iomi and bassist Geezer Butler take to the stage Tommy Clufetos, Ozzy’s solo drummer. The tour, simply called The End kicked off in Omaha on January 20th. 

Black Sabbath is not only responsible for countless bands in the metal genre as a true pioneer in their music field, they have also survived in many ways most bands could not. One of the few bands that maintained their success level after changing lead vocalists - Ronnie James Dio in 1979 then Ian Gillan in 1983 – Black Sabbath remained in the forefront of heavy metal and even found moderate triumph when switching to more unknown singers (Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin) before reuniting with Dio in 1992 for the Dehumanizer album. After bringing back Martin for two albums in the mid-nineties, the band found big success once again touring alternately with Osbourne and Dio. In 2013 Black Sabbath released their first album with Osbourne since 1978’s Technical Ecstasy, a release that received critical acclaim, modestly titled 13.  

With dates scheduled through September, Black Sabbath’s second stop on their new – and final – tour was Chicago’s United Center. With crowd pleasing support from The Rival Sons, Sabbath started off their set by kicking into the powerful self-titled song “Black Sabbath”, a song that features the dreaded devil’s fifth. Naturally the band threw their most notorious hits into the mix  like “Iron Man”, “N.I.B.” and “War Pigs”, but most impressive was their use of lesser played songs over the years like “After Forever”, “Fairies Wear Boots”, “Under the Sun” and a song they haven’t played live since 1978, “Hand of Doom”. 

The set props were as basic as they should be for the metal icons – stacked amplifiers lined up behind the musicians and an overhead jumbo screen for the benefit of those with farther seats from the stage. It wasn’t until the last few songs that pyrotechnics were used, allowing fans to devote their focus entirely on the band and its music. While Iomi and Butler’s riffs were as punctual and deadly as ever, Osbourne struggled with his range often dropping out when attempting to hold a note or singing a key or two below the song as we know it. And so what. Osbourne’s performance was still inspiring. The now 67-year-old singer had command of the crowd since walking onto the stage, getting the arena to clap, cheer and shout simultaneously as had had been doing since the 1970s, but most of all he seemed to be having the time of his life – and that’s the Ozzy we all have come to know and love.

Black Sabbath played just one song of their latest release 13, “God is Dead?” though “The End of the Beginning” might have been the more desired choice off that album. Still, it was played with the flavor and power we can only except and Black Sabbath song to be played. Surprisingly, the band did not play anything off Ozzy featured albums Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage, and not so surprisingly Never Say Die. Still, no complaints on their set list, as it was both fulfilling and played with the ass-kicking punch as only Butler and Iomi can deliver. Sabbath chose to incorporate a heavy dose of the Paranoid album, reaching into it for six of their set’s sixteen songs. 

After rattling off a blistering version of “Paranoid”, the final number on the 13 Tour and finale for Sabbath’s previous Omaha date, Osbourne and company left the arena of screaming fans with an earth-shaking effort of “Children of the Grave”. 

For metal lovers, seeing Black Sabbath perform is a must. For Sabbath lovers, you can’t really see them enough no matter what incarnation but especially with Ozzy himself at the helm. Fortunately, if you missed the United Center show, the band will return on September 4th at The Hollywood Amphitheatre in Tinley Park for their final goodbye to Chicago.  After all, this is The End.

Set List United Center January 22nd Show 

Black Sabbath

Fairies Wear Boots

After Forever

Into the Void

Snowblind

War Pigs

Behind the Wall of Sleep

N.I.B.

Hand of Doom

Rat Salad

Iron Man

God Is Dead?

Under the Sun

Dirty Women

Paranoid

Children of the Grave

 

 

 

The dialogue flows so smoothly one might forget they are sitting in a play. Veteran Chicago area actor Stef Tovar, who also founded the Route 66 Theatre Company in 2008, leads the charge in this play full of emotional interchanges combined with sharp humor. 

Route 66’s No Wake, currently running at The Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park, tells the story of a divorced couple Edward (Tovar) and Rebecca (Lia D. Mortensen) who are brought back together due to the suicide of their daughter, Sookie. Rebecca is now remarried to Roger (Raymond Fox) while Edward is kind of drifting along through life. As Edward and Rebecca spend more time together wondering what happened to their daughter and how they really lost her long before she killed herself, the situation becomes much more complex as past feelings come in to play and an attempt to mend the past is made. 

Directed by Kimberly Senior, No Wake explores the grieving process, which is understandably different for everyone. Countless questions on what could have been differently can be asked and scenarios traveled. In this case, taking on blame for negating their child the ability to develop coping skills weighs heavily on Edward just by simply buckling and giving Sookie toast with butter when she demanded before falling asleep rather than saying “No”. Giving your daughter toast at her command might sound trivial, but writer William Donnelly does a great job of finding these possible seeds of later behavior into a world where grieving parents desperately seek cause for such a tragedy, making the story quite realistic. Though the subject matter falls on the macabre side, the show is not without well-timed humor and even sports a very funny scene when Roger confronts Edward, suspecting that he and Rebecca did more than just reminisce about their daughter the night before. 

Thanks to a very finely acted and well-written story, it is easy to get lost in the dialogue and empathize with each of the three characters. The set, though simple, creates the prefect surrounding for these skilled actors to have at it. Tovar gets stronger and stronger as the show progresses, reminding theatre goers why it is always a joy to watch him in action. At the same time, Mortensen and Fox dish out lines with precision, zip and realism, completing a trio who flow together without a hitch in perfect unison.

The fact that we are presented with three such truly well-acted performances is reason alone to catch No Wake before its runs ends, but when you add its intriguing story and engaging topic matter this show is propelled onto the list of must see plays. 

No Wake is being performed at The Greenhouse Theater Center through February 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.Route66Theatre.org.          

 

 

Marriott Theatre’s current production is chancy business. For a venue that theatre lovers have come to depend on for family entertainment over the years – wholesome G through PG rated shows such as “Mary Poppins”, “The King and I”, “9 to 5” and “Elf”, just to name a few, Executive Producer Terry James has decided to raunchy things up a bit by bringing in a much more adult-themed production in “Spring Awakening”. Not in Marriott’s subscription package, “Spring Awakening” is running for just over two weeks, and we have to wonder how receptive its normal crowd of theatre goers will be. Filled with f-bombs, simulated sex scenes and dark story lines, “Spring Awakening” will certainly take some of Marriott’s regular audience members by surprise if they attend without researching the play first. 

A rock musical with music by Duncan Sheik and a book and lyrics by Steven Slater, the story takes place in Germany sometime during the late nineteenth century where a classroom of children are the focus as they learn about their own sexuality and question what they have been taught by authority figures, whether it be teachers or their own parents. Under rigid instruction from their teachers, the children often stand clad in school uniforms surrounded in a light fog in front of a large blackboard, giving one the feeling that stage band could break in to “Another Brick in the Wall” at any moment. Unfortunately, this show is not nearly as musically memorable as it strains to make any impact in that department, falling far short of shows one might suggest it is akin to as “Rent” or “American Idiot”.

Despite its less-than-charged or lack of unforgettable musical numbers barring a crowd pleasing, gut-punching “Totally Fucked”, the show is not without fine acting efforts and talented vocal performances, particularly by its two leads, Patrick Rooney and Eliza Palasz. Palasz quickly shows her aptitude as a singer in the show’s opening number “Mama Who Bore Me” and impresses along with Rooney in their first-act duet “The Word of Your Body”. There are also many well-choreographed and finely executed dance pieces by the ensemble throughout the show, which IS something that can be counted on in a Marriott Theatre production. Also featured in the show are Marriott favorites Brian Bohr, Nate Lewellyn and Kevin Gudahl, all of who performed wonderfully along with local talents Callie Johnson and Hollis Resnik. There is certainly no shortage of ability in this production. 

Based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play of the same name, this somewhat slow-moving production centers on confused youth, the questioning of what we are told as kids, the lack of what we are told and the great distance that can often be present between a parent and their child. It is about growing pains, being misunderstood and dealing with the choices we have made – or having parents deal with their children’s choices as depicted so grimly in the show’s center act when Wendla (Palasz) gets pregnant, partly in thanks to the poor information given to her by her mother on how children are conceived. But the musical also delves into the joys of trying things for the first time, like creating new relationships or having sex.  

Though certainly not the central point of this production, it was enjoyable to see the performing band as they surrounded each end of the stage as opposed to enjoying their musicianship while out of sight from the audience. 

“Spring Awakening” is being performed at Marriott Theatre through January 31st. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.           

 

Thanks to events like that which I attended last night, the music of Elvis Presley will live on forever – and that’s important, as the King of Rock and Roll is more relevant than ever. In a most fitting way to celebrate the legendary entertainer’s birthday, Northshore Center for the Performing Arts played host to the annual Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular “Birthday Edition” during its tour of several dates around the Midwest. Unlike many Elvis tributes, we are not only treated to talented impersonators, but we are also met with history itself, that being musicians that actually performed with Presley at various junctures in his career. 

It’s no secret that Elvis was a huge gospel fan. After all he has recorded some of the most sensational gospel songs of all time. As history states, one of Elvis’ biggest gospel influences was the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, an outfit that has been around since 1934. Today, 81 years and generations of singers later, the now simpler named Blackwood Quartet are still touring the world spreading their inspirational music led by Blackwood royalty himself, Mark Blackwood. What better way to begin an Elvis tribute than with a handful of Blackwood Quartet songs of encouragement including a very inspired rendition of “He Touched Me”. The foursome then remained onstage to deliver backing vocals to many Elvis songs as only they could. 

Cody Ray Slaughter was the first of three Elvis tribute artists to take the stage and did so with a bang decked out in that ever so famous gold jacket to the tune of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. Slaughter, the youngest performer to be awarded “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist” by Elvis Presley Enterprises” had Elvis’ stage moves down pat, inducing screams, oohs and aahs, with just the simplest gyration or dance step. Mostly taking on Elvis earlier hits, he was not only able to harness the charm and subtle humor of The King, Slaughter was also able to deliver a vocal performance with uncanny likeness to Presley himself. Slaughter continued to wow the crowd with hits like “Don’t Be Cruel” (with amazing backups by the Blackwood’s), “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Return to Sender” humorously introduced as “Return My Blender”. At one point Slaughter called on the Blackwood Quartet to join him around the microphone center stage for a lovely version of “Peace in the Valley”, the moving gospel Hymn that Elvis performed for his mother on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, despite the reluctance of the network.   

                                                                Tribute Artists Shawn Klush, Ryan Pelton and Cody Ray Slaughter

Let me take a breather here to acknowledge to band – the rock solid Fabulous Ambassadors who were accompanied by a good part of the set by original Elis Presley drummer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, D.J. Fontana. Fontana, now 84 years old, played with Elvis for fourteen years, playing with him on over 460 cuts. This was an incredible thrill for the Elvis fans throughout the theatre, of which I should add were of ages ranging both younger and older. It was actually refreshing to see so many younger fans thoroughly enjoying the music of Elvis Presley. And why shouldn’t they? His music is timeless.      

Next up was Ryan Pelton who boldly conquered the stage within moments of making his grand entrance donned in the now-very-famously-known black leather jumpsuit that Elvis wore in the 1968 Comeback Special. For the most part the show stuck to an accurate chronological timeline barring a few exceptions. Pelton did a nice job in recreating some of the 1968 Comeback special, getting his biggest cheers for his performance of “Fever” thanks to his sultry vocals accompanied with a handful of strategic leg thrusts. After a number of memorable Elvis hits, Pelton ended on a high note with “Teddy Bear” where he joked with the crowd and tossed stuffed teddy bears to adorning fans. Slaughter then reclaimed the stage for a very emotional rendition of “If I Can Dream” one of Elvis’ most important songs of his time, a song of peace and understanding dedicated to the late Martin Luther King. 

Just after a twenty or so minute long intermission, The Sweet Inspirations took center stage from their position off to the side where they had been providing additional backing vocals and performed a bluesy song named after their group “Sweet Inspiration” – and they sounded terrific! Sweet Inspiration original Estelle Brown sang with Elvis from 1969 until his death in 1977 witnessing the peak of the rock legend to his unfortunate decline. Brown did offer a story to the crowd, one of her favorite memories of Elvis, where he had found out one of the Sweet Inspirations had just been diagnosed with cancer. Heartbroken, he knelt beside her, put his hand on her stomach and prayed with her. A few days later no traces of cancer could be found. And whether you believe that the power of prayer healed her or not, one can’t help be moved by Elvis’s concern and intent. 

We’ve now gone through the early career of Elvis, to the movie years, to the ’68 Comeback Special. It was now time for Shawn Klush to take over to recreate the Vegas years – personally, one of my favorite eras. Spotlights raced around the audience as the band went into 2001: A Space Odyssey and right on cue Klush entered the stage in his white peacock jumpsuit to get things rolling with “CC Rider”. Klush’s spot on vocals paved the way as he powered through the set with live favorites “My Way”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Always on My Mind” (a new edition to the set beautifully done) and “Polk Salad Annie” among others. It was already a set to remember before Klush ended strongly with a powerful version of “American Trilogy” and of course the song that Elvis ended his concerts with “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

In all, the Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular is just that – spectacular. If you are already an Elvis fan you will love it, if you are new to Elvis it will win you over. Basically, the show is like several concerts in one creating three hours of Elvis bliss. Following the show fans are able to meet the performers who are all too happy to share their memories of The King. Brilliantly musically directed by James Johnson, The Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular has become a great tradition surrounding the birthday of Elvis and is something that can be enjoyed over and over again. For show updates and tour dates visit http://www.elvisbirthdaytribute.com/index.html. 

Thanks to shows like this and the other wonderful Elvis tributes that are being performed in Chicago, nationally and internationally, new generations will discover what we already know to be true – Elvis is the greatest entertainer of all time and his music is forever relevant. 

 

Saturday, 31 October 2015 06:39

Big Christmas fun - "Elf" at Marriott Theatre

Here we go again. Wow, this year went by fast! Christmas is again just around the corner, which means it’s time to bring on the holiday plays! This year one of the funniest Christmas shows of the season will certainly be “Elf”, now playing at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Based on the hilarious 2003 film of the same name starring Will Ferrell, the play deviates a bit from its original script but carries the same overall story-line and still pushes its simple message – to spread Christmas cheer.

For anyone to pull of this production, it all really comes down to who plays Ferrell’s character as the ever naïve and loveable elf, Buddy. Fortunately, Alex Goodrich was cast in the role. Though, he has some big curly shoes to fill, Goodrich quickly wins over the crowd - maybe not the the point of "Ferrell who?" (who can?), but he certainly does a fantastic job. Goodrich’s precise comic timing and ability to be believable as a fun-loving, child-like adult who is ever so innocent of this world makes this show a big winner.   

“Elf” is the story of Buddy, a human who is raised as an elf after he accidentally crawls into Santa’s sack during one of his stops at an orphanage. Despite the size difference between Buddy and the elves and his lack of toy making aptitude, it isn’t until he is a full on adult at thirty years old before he figures out that he is human. It’s at that time Santa sends Buddy out into the world – New York to be exact – to find his real father. From there, as one might imagine, is a story of a fish out of water in the biggest way.

Full of silly holiday songs that may not stick in one’s head ten minutes after the show, “Elf” is pretty much a laugh fest from beginning to end. And that’s okay since one does not see “Elf” because of its music, we see it because we want to laugh and get into the Christmas spirit. In this fun holiday treat, Goodrich finds himself surrounded by a strong cast, especially in Kevin Gudahl who plays Roy Hobbs, Buddy’s true dad, and Roger Mueller as a Santa Claus who actually weighs in on the “cool” scale. James Earl Jones II also delivers an enjoyable performance as the manager at Macy’s.

The point of the story is simple and clearly delivered – to get people in the Christmas mindset of selflessness and giving despite all the daily issues and problems we might be facing. And what’s even better is that we can have some good laughs while getting there.

 

“Elf” is a thoroughly amusing production that the entire family can share. Playing at Marriott Theatre through December 31st, it is the perfect way to get a jump start and primed up for the holidays. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.      

It’s as though the minds behind Motley Crue’s farewell tour, “The Final Tour”, thought of every possible stunt, gimmick and visual spectacle that would blow one’s mind and then compacted them all into a single evening. First and foremost, the band hand-picked the perfect act to send them on their way into their, now famous, permanent retirement – Alice Cooper. That’s right, a permanent retirement as Motley Crue. Not wanting to be yet another band that has a farewell tour every few years, the band actually signed legal documents stating that they cannot play together as Motley Crue again after December 31st, 2015. Guitarist Mick Mars declining health has also played a factor in the band’s decision to call it quits, not wanting to go on with rotating tour musicians in place of the originals. One of the few remaining true hair bands of the 1980s that still feature their original lineup, Crue has decided to hang it up while they can still kick some major ass on the stage – and that they do in this final year and a half tour.

Formed in 1981, Motley Crue has been still going strong despite a couple temporary lineup changes and a lack of relevant releases since “Primal Scream”, an added track on the 1991 compilation album Decade of Decadence, to the balls out, in-your-face album Saints of Los Angeles that hit shelves with a bang in 2008 (though, disregarding the reviews of bitter critics, I'd still argue that Generation Swine and New Tattoo are kick ass records). Even in those musically not so productive years, according to some, the band continued to tour and keep busy in the recording studio, successful or not. Now, 34 or so years from their days of opening for Ozzy Osbourne when “Live Wire” and “Piece of Your Action” were cutting edge rock songs, the band returns to say goodbye to the fans that made them the band they have become. Their arrogance and blatant degradation of women that helped make them famous as rock and roll’s “bad boys” now has slowly mellowed into family life behind the scenes, and their rampant drug use and notorious partying that put them in the music headlines so often has now been reduced to having a few beers, if even that. Still, 1980s rock and roll lifestyle aside – like it or not, it was their music that put them high on the charts and made them household names. It is their music and the impact made in such genre that will undoubtedly get them inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at some point.   

Now it is time for one last hurrah. Once more Motley Crue will remind everyone why they are considered one of the best rock bands of our time. 

Led by bassist Nikki Sixx, now fifty-six, he is joined once again by some of the most iconic bandmates of our generation in drummer Tommy Lee (now fifty-three), singer/frontman Vince Neil (fifty-four) and guitarist extraordinaire Mick Mars, who is either now sixty-years-old or sixty-four depending on what you read. Their mission is simple – to embark on a tour that that will blow minds in every way imaginable - a tour that will not be forgotten.

                  Alice Cooper and his minions

When Alice Cooper and his minions hit the stage, it’s go time. Each band member takes on a personality of their own, almost as if they popped out of the pages of a comic book. Already known for his theatrics, Cooper weighs into the night by kicking his set off with “The Black Widow” and follows up strongly with “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, the classic “I’m Eighteen”, “Poison” and “Go to Hell”. Each song a theatrical performance in itself, with costumes, heavy duty props and special effects, we even see a twenty or so foot tall Frankenstein monster emerge then run about the stage during “Feed My Frankenstein”. When a frightening nurse leads a straight-jacket wearing Alice Cooper to a guillotine, the anticipation continues to mount. The nurse urges the crowd to drop the hammer on Alice and with massive shouts of approval – SLICE! The blade crashes down and Cooper’s head falls to the floor before being picked up by the executioner who parades it around for all to see to the tune of “I Love the Dead”. 

Colorful, exciting and shocking, Alice Cooper’s set would have already more than satisfied my taste rock and roll that evening. Baby heads surround Glen Sobel’s drum kit as he wails away while guitar duties are shared by Tommy Henriksen, Ryan Roxy and Nita Strauss, who was a show in herself. Chuck Garric plucks the bass and adds his own distinct flavor to Cooper’s band. Often the band triumphantly gathers center stage led by Cooper, exchanging riffs and showboating for the crowd.  

At sixty-seven-years old, Alice Cooper may have still his best touring days ahead, especially if his band is as engaging as the one he has now. Thoroughly entertaining in every aspect desired in a ball’s out rock show, Cooper’s show was pure rock and roll bliss.  

In what we could only wish was a longer set, Alice Cooper finishes off the crowd with a power-charged rendition of “School’s Out” that medleys with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”.  Nothing short of amazing, at that point it seemed Cooper may have stolen the night.

A short breather.

After appropriately hearing The Sound of Music’s “So Long Farewell” throughout the stadium, the familiar revving of a Harley Davidson engine thrusts Motley Crue onto the stage with “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Mick Mars, looking that of a New Orleans crypt keeper, strums the crunchy chords as Vince Neil struts forth. Nikki Sixx looks to be in great shape though frontman Vince Neil's slightly chubby frame doesn’t keep him from rocking at full throttle. Tommy also looks to be in peak form as he slams the cans with the same fervor and precision as ever.

Over the years Motley Crue has made a point of creating a stage spectacle to remember for each tour. This is their biggest show by far. Fireworks jet out at some point in nearly every song only to be complemented with massive bursts of fire, laser lights and gusts of streaming smoke. As per usual the band is accompanied by two dancers to sexy up the set and add backing vocals. Twenty-foot flames are even shot out of Nikki’s bass as they kick into “Shout at the Devil”. Like I said, they thought of everything. 

Outside of the pyrotechnics and amazing special effects, Motley Crue puts out a long, flavorful set that includes favorites “Wild Side”, “Same Ol’ Situation”, “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room”, “Live Wire”, “Motherfucker of the Year” and a rocked out version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” complete with a squadron of masked combatants that shoot water into the crowd with high-powered Super Soakers.  

Somewhere near the half way point, an emotional Nikki addresses the crowd, thanking everyone for their years of support - a nice warm and fuzzy moment amidst one of the best concerts in some time.   

And what would a Motley Crue show be without an insane drum solo? Again, thinking of what would be most mind blowing stunt to pull off, Tommy Lee’s entire drum set ascends up and over the crowd half way across the stadium as be blasts along with a series of clips from his fave songs including some Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and Beastie Boys. Mick Mars immediately follows up Tommy’s antics with a blazing solo of his own before the band kicks it into high gear with “Dr. Feelgood” and “Kickstart My Heart”, a finale number that is definitely one for the books that includes everything but the kitchen sink. In their massive send off number, both Neil and Sixx are propelled out over the crowd as they each man their own pod-like thingy. Mick Mars mans the main stage standing on a riser that raises him a good twenty feet. At the same time, a thirty foot round pentagram burst into flames behind Lee’s drum set while a barrage of explosions take place and streamers fall from the ceiling so thickly one cannot see the crowd across the way. It is a memorable farewell that could only be done in Motley Crue fashion.

 

With yet another ace up their sleeve, the band returns for an encore to a small stage located in the center of the arena for a more intimate version of what Sixx has referred to as the band’s “Stairway to Heaven” in “Home Sweet Home”. Having been to more concerts than I will ever be able to count, I can honestly say that Motley Crue’s  “Final Tour” is one of the best I have ever seen, and speaking with fans after the Milwaukee, Chicago and Toledo shows (yes, I went three times), it seems most would agree. This is it for one of the last true rock bands of an unbelievable era in our music history – a band that carved the way for a countless hair bands - a band that has truly left an impression on the music industry. This is it for a band whose music has passed the test of time and is every bit as significant as it was when first released. Sixx has sure come a long way from hacking bass riffs with London in 1980 then hand-picking a motley assortment of band members (Ding! A Motley Crue!) that could have only made it this far together thanks to the perfect chemistry. 

Watching Motley Crue performing “Live Wire” as an opening act in 1982 at what was then called the Rosemont Horizon, it was apparent I was witnessing what would be a special band. It has been fun to watch them grow musically and as performers ever since and rising above some pretty meaty bumps in the road. I’d guess the band has more than a few good tours left in them, but as Motley Crue members say themselves, “All bad things must come to an end”. And what an end it is. 

 

 

Shiver me timbers! Child actor John Francis Babbo delivers a knockout performance to lead, what can be called nothing less than a stellar cast, in Lookingglass Theatre’s world premiere production of “Treasure Island”. Based on the classic children’s novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883, Mary Zimmerman vividly adapts and directs this famous tale to encompass all the excitement and high seas adventure originally created by its original author.

In one of the most famous pirate tales known to date (the one that made Long John Silver a household name), we embark on a journey with young Jim Hawkins (Babbo) whose heroics and level headedness make him one of the most mature characters in the story despite a handful of motley swashbucklers and a crew of ship mates in search of hidden treasure.

For those who might be unfamiliar, the story takes place somewhere in the mid-1700s, when Hawkins is approached by Billy Bones, a drunken pirate wonderfully played by Christopher Donahue, while working at the inn with his mother. Bones soon offers Hawkins money to keep his eyes peeled for a one-legged pirate (guess who?), but not long after dies leaving behind a treasure map. After Hawkins delivers the map to trustworthy Squire Trelawney, a crew is assembled led by the fearless Captain Smollett aboard the reliable sea vessel, the Hispaniola. However, Long John Silver and a degenerate band of his faithful have infiltrated such crew and the excitement really begins as they head out to see in search of Treasure Island.  

Walking into the theatre, the audience is met with a stunning set, thanks to scenic designer Todd Rosenthal. Centered within the seating area sits a large ship with all the fixings to send one to the appropriate mindset before the play even begins. As the story progresses, when called for, the ship even rocks back and forth, so be sure to take your Dramamine ahead of time to avoid sea sickness (but not really).

Outside of playing his role as cabin boy Jim Hawkins, fifteen-year-old Babbo also provides an emotionally charged narrative while Lawrence E. Distasi delivers a colorful and highly fervent performance as the Scourge of the Seven Seas, Long John Silver, our favorite rapscallion. Philip R. Smith also gives us a noteworthy enactment of Captain Smollett, adding a good deal of humor to role of the duty bound skipper.

There are plenty of laughs and suspenseful moments amidst this adventurous story that contains its fair share of hornswoggling, picaroons and scallywags. Lookingglass decided to stick with a high seas classic after their successful run of “Moby Dick” that featured a brilliant performance by the same Christopher Donahue, and they could be in line for yet another Jeff Award. Perfect for the entire family, “Treasure Island” is engaging, visually spectacular, funny and exciting.

Arr! You’re not going to want to let this thoroughly enjoyable production slip by. “Treasure Island” is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through January 31st.

 

For tickets and more show information, visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org.    

When October rolls along, Chicagoans have always been fortunate as far as the variety of Halloween events that take place around the city. And while many of these events take the form of haunted houses or annual midnight runs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hell in a Handbag Productions offers a much more thrilling, unique and hilarious option in “Scream, Queen, Scream!”. Set in Mary’s Attic, the intimate theatre space just above Mary’s Hamburgers on Clark Street in Andersonville, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the riotously funny brainchild of writer David Cerda who once again masterfully blends his own distinctive blend of sardonic humor with a strong flavor of cult classic cinema.

Skillfully directed by W.M. Bullion, “Scream, Queen, Scream!” brings to life three terrifying tales hosted by “Dragula” who is wonderfully played by John Cardone. “Dragula” sets the mood for each upcoming vignette by joking and interacting with the crowd and prompting bloodcurdling screams at key moments during each performance. Yes, prepare to scream your ass off!

The first tale, “Taco Tuesday”, is an all too realistic at the terrors of working in an office environment. If the women’s dated 1980’s hairstyles and bad office jokes aren’t scary enough, a visit from Satana and a mysterious copy machine are sure give you nightmares. Candy with a “C” is the “funny one” even more so than Kandy with a “K”, but that changes when Candy’s suspicions puts her at odds against Satana, whom everyone else seems to adore. When all hell finally breaks loose it’s up to Candy to save the day but we wonder if it is too late. Perfect casting here as Kristopher Bottrall is simply dynamite as the ditzy Candy.

In tale number two, “The Box”, a suspicious crate is found and we just know nothing good can come of it. Taken from “The Crate” from the 1980’s film Creepshow, Cerda takes an already campy story and then takes it an extra few hundred miles. It’s not every day one finds a monster in a box and Hell in a Handbag certainly makes the most of it. Chad Ingold shines as Harvey, the tread upon husband of nagging and utterly obnoxious Betty Carr.

“Shut Up and Die, Maggie!” salutes the hag horror films of the 1960’s taking bits from the Bette Davis classics Hush, Hush, Sweet Caroline and Dead Ringer while throwing in a bit of Joan Crawford’s Strait Jacket (you had to figure we’d get a dose of Joan at some point). Ed Jones gets to show off his comedy genius once again as he plays twin sisters Maggie and Aggie Honeycutt, cleverly and uproariously portrayed by the delightfully devilish brilliance of Handbag and company. While one sister, Aggie, is educated, prudent and formal, the other is beautiful, lighthearted and everyone’s favorite. After Maggie’s boyfriend is savagely murdered, Maggie is blamed then committed to an insane asylum. Twenty years later, Maggie returns to her family only for more horrors to be revealed. 

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is the perfect Halloween treat. Go see it. With a slew of intensely funny performances in multiple roles by Handbag’s talented ensemble and, of course, the very gifted David Cerda himself, this is an affordable show that can easily be enjoyed again and again. In fact, there is so much funny compacted into this warped trilogy of horror, and simultaneous humor going on at once, I would absolutely recommend seeing this a second or even third time.     

“Scream, Queen, Scream!” is being performed at Mary’s Attic through October 31st. For tickets and/or more show information visit http://www.handbagproductions.org/. Hell in a Handbag will also be holding their annual benefit “The Handbag Sampler” at Dank Haus Cultural Center on Sunday, October 18th where you can mingle with all your favorite Handbag characters while enjoying food and drinks. The event will include a raffle and silent auction. Tickets are priced at a very reasonable $90 or $80 if bought in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com.      

 

 

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