In Concert

Ken Payne

Ken Payne

For Chicagoans that grew up in the 1980’s music scene, we remember favorite rock clubs such as The Thirsty Whale, Chances R and Dirty Nellies where spandex and rayon were the materials of choice and eye-liner on Aqua-net sprayed, long-haired guys was all the rage. For the glam rock scene, Chicago was always the minor league affiliate (Single A) to its Los Angeles big brother, where new bands seemingly broke out nearly every week. Almost grinding hair bands out akin to a factory assembly line, Los Angeles set the bar for rock bands all across the world, its clubs The Whiskey a Go Go, Troubadour and The Roxy stepping stones for the next big thing. In “Rock of Ages” the hilarious 1980's musical, we are taken to Los Angeles where the fictional Bourbon Room, one of the last rock hold outs, is under the threat of eminent domain as big money developers have other plans for the property.

Club owner Dennis (riotously played by Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt) runs The Bourbon Room with his sidekick and fellow rocker Lonny (Nick Druzbanski), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Realizing the club’s days are numbered, the two decide to go all out by bringing back Arsenal, a major band that got the start from The Bourbon Room, to play their final show with lead singer and egomaniac, Stacee Jaxx, who is off to pursue a solo career.

And what would an 80’s musical be without a cheesy love story? Bar back and aspiring musician, Drew, is instantly love struck when Dennis hires Sherrie (of course a hopeful actress) to be the club’s new waitress. From there we root for The Bourbon club, along with those protesting the new corporate development, and also for Drew and Sherrie to find love.

“Rock of Ages” is a fun time capsule filled with 80’s rock classics that includes Warrant’s “Heaven”, Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Extreme’s “More than Words” and many, many more. Though a parody of the era, “Rock of Ages” is an entertaining tribute to an age in music that, though considered kitschy by some, left a major impact in the world of music. The musical makes several 80’s refences that can’t help but make us forty-to-fifty-somethings laugh, such as Drew’s date with Sherrie where he tries to romance her with a four-pack of Bartles & James wine coolers.

The show boasts as good of a cast as one could ask for. Adam Michaels as self-aggrandizer and vulgar lead singer, Stacee Jaxx, is absolutely hysterical in the role. His moments are plenty as he puts on full display his great knack for physical comedy along with some pretty raging vocals. And as one who has seen this production more times than I remember, I can say quite confidently that Nick Druzbanski may just be the best Lonny I have seen yet. Druzbanski really fires on all cylinders and is a comedic whirlwind, also contributing nicely with strong vocals, certainly deserving a Fogmaster 5000 for a performance nothing short of outstanding.

Notable vocal performances are aplenty in this production with both Cherry Torres as Sherrie and Russell Mernaugh as Drew impressing with their singing prowess in number after number. Both skilled singers as they are actors, Torres and Mernaugh also spark a wonderful chemistry and are able to deliver plenty of funny moments. Though many, other performances of note are Donica Lynn, who sings beautifully when called upon and Nick Cosgrove who nails the role of Franz, the flamboyant German son of developer Hertz, who draws a laugh in just about every scene he occupies.

“Rock of Ages” is silly fun. It’s a campy drive down memory lane. It’s highly recommended. It’s also part concert, as a live band plays from a stage upon the stage throughout the show, tasty guitar licks and all. For some, they will relive the highly memorable era, for others they will receive a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of a time when the Los Angeles rock scene churned out hair bands like Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt.

With Falls theatrical productions in full bloom, this is a must see.

“Rock of Ages” is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through October 15th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Monday, 04 September 2017 21:02

The Queen of Soul Returns to Ravinia

After cancelling her performance earlier this season due to health concerns, the Queen of Soul, the great Aretha Franklin, tabbed as the greatest vocalist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, made her triumphant return to Ravinia. Dressed in a sparkling silver dress and donning a wig giving the seventy-five-year-old living legend long straight hair, the superstar made an immediate impact as she walked onto the stage after the band’s opening medley.

The soulful 1986 hit “I knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was the first song the of many that Franklin delved into, her voice perhaps not as powerful as it once was, but every bit as finessed, unique and velvety. Franklin’s set was wide-ranging and included classics “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” along with Stevie Wonder written “Until You Come Back to Me” and B.B. King’s “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied)”.

Accompanied by a twenty-five-piece-plus gifted ensemble that included everything from a horn section to dancers, Franklin’s sound was big, filling the outdoor venue with the sweet sound of nostalgia. The excitement never let up, Franklin often getting well-deserved standing ovations. After all, she is one of the most influential artists of our time.

About halfway into the concert, the fabulous singer went into a powerful medley that began with Adelle’s “Rolling in the Deep” merging into The Supremes’ “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”. A highlight moment without question. At one point the crowd was moved when the band played a soulful jam while Aretha fervently sang over the music telling her story of a serious illness that had miraculously vanished, thanking a team of skilled physicians and above all, God. Afterward, she immediately introduced longtime friend Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was seated in the first few rows.

Franklin rolled on with a beautiful array of material, wrapping up her set with “Freeway of Love”, which segued into a ten-minute high-spirited gospel revival, praising Jesus as the King of Kings, practically every audience member on their feet clapping along, many hands in the air, as the stage became a platform for an impromptu and very enthusiastic Baptist church service.

After a brief absence from the stage, Aretha Franklin return to perform possibly her largest hit, “Respect” - just the right number to end a tremendous set of music on a picture-perfect night. At seventy-five-years-young, the Queen of Soul is still making fans sing and dance as much as she ever has.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017 03:49

Review: Machinal at Greenhouse Theater Center

Machinal refers to an automated or mechanical system. Sophie Treadwell's 1929 play "Machinal" takes its styling from this theme. Directed by Jacob Harvey, Greenhouse Theater Center brings this work back to Chicago for the first time in many years.

Maybe not as well known as Lillian Hellman, but Sophie Treadwell was once a popular playwright on Broadway during the height of expressionism in theater. She wrote some forty plays and often directed them, nearly unheard of in those times.

"Machinal" is a retelling of the murder trial of Ruth Snyder who was eventually executed by electric chair. The play is an expressionist interpretation. The dialogue is written in a way that feels like the innerworkings of a machine. There's a sparse greyness to the costumes by Christina Leinicke that would also suggest the joylessness the protagonist lives.

Heather Chrisler plays the young woman. Chrisler interprets the staccato dialogue with a human quality. Her performance brings up the intensity by breaking through the repetitive and unpoetic lines. She brings life to them and elicits an emotional response. This woman is pleading for her life as her societal system of steamrolls her.

Doubtful that Treadwell saw the real life Ruth Snyder as a villain. "Machinal" shows the the pressure of getting married, of having financial security and living in a ever-moving world. The young woman in Treadwell's play can't keep up. She's pushed into an advantageous, but unsatisfying marriage. She finds happiness in the arms of a lover. She does what she has to do to feel free and pays the ultimate price.

Eleanor Kahn's set mirrors the starkness of the play. Presented in a near black box with the exception of some strobe lighting, there's an eeriness from the beginning. There's an atmospheric quality in Kahn's setting, and it's working.

Life may seem a little more liberated for today's women but Jacob Harvey's point in mounting this work, is that maybe it's not? And maybe it's not even limited to just women. Treadwell's play is about the mechanics of being a adult human in this world, and how that conveyor-belt life makes us all animals destined for slaughter.

Through September 24 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave.

Gentle breezes, crickets chirping (or whatever that sound is they make), and comfortably warm summer nights. We're here. And knowing it won't last forever, Chicagoans certainly relish the summer months, making the most of each balmy evening. And, you know it’s July when Shakespeare comes alive under the stars at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook. Continuing their long run of Shakespeare classics, A Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Nights Dream taking stage over the past two years, First Folio brings to life As You Like It, the rustic comedy that follows young Rosalind as she escapes to the Forest of Arden to avoid her uncle’s wrath. Rosalind is joined by her cousin Celia and the two, like in all great stories, meet many intriguing characters along their journey. Then there's Orlando, who also seeks refuge in the forest after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. But our hero, Orlando, is in love – with Rosalind whom he had briefly met after impressing her during a bout of strength, out wrestling her uncle’s champion, loving her at first glance.

Rosalind, disguised as a boy and Celia, dressed as a poor woman continue to trek through the forest, while at the same time Orlando, traveling with his elderly servant Adam who insisted to travel at his master’s side, does the same while obsessively carving poems of love on seemingly any tree he can find. It is when the Orlando and Adam run into the good Duke Sr. (ousted from the kingdom by the nefarious Duke Frederick) as their desperation for food brings them to her doorstep, that they are warmly taken in and soon realize that they have stumbled onto a hidden community that lives in harmony. Jaques, who plays somewhat of a confidant/friend to Duke Sr., gives us some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines when the forest is referred to as a theatre playing out its own story.

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” 

As the play progresses, multiple relationships are revealed and created around Orlando’s search for his true love, Rosalind and, in the end, everything ties together just beautifully, as Shakespeare’s pen so often did.

The many performances in this humorous adventure are done with passion and zest. Nicholas Harizin as Orlando and Leslie Ann Sheppard as Rosalind lead the play’s talented cast with a fire-infused appetite, it’s outcome an honest, raw passion to which we can truly relate. The two as comfortable in their roles as I am in my favorite pajama pants. And it would be difficult to find an actor who does Shakespeare better than Kevin McKillip, whose seamless delivery as Jaques so effectively pulls out the humor in Shakespeare’s writing. Luke Daigle stands out as Orlando’s hate-filled brother, Oliver, while Belinda Bremner as Duke Sr. is nothing less than mesmerizing. The cast in its entirety is strong and one would be hard-pressed to find any shortcomings in any of the performances by its talented individuals. In the role of Amiens, Amanda Raquel Martinez even shows off her guitar and vocal skills in a handful of haunting numbers. Standing out as Hermia in last year’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, Sarah Wisterman returns this time as Phebe again impressing while Vahishta Vafadari is very funny as runaway cousin, Celia and Courtney Abbott shines as the highly energetic Touchstone.

Well directed by Skyler Schrempp, the play is yet another ode to the excitement of falling in love and the adventures that come with such a happening and the toils one will undertake in order to find his or her soulmate.

As You Like It comes highly recommended as one of this year’s best outdoor summer experiences.

Surrounded by trees and a beautiful landscape, As You Like It is being performed on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through August 20th. Guests are invited to bring chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. And just to add a final touch of comfort, bug spray is provided along with bug repellent candles. As You Like It has a running time of two hours and twenty-five minutes with one intermission. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firstfolio.org. Enjoy!

As Chicago Tap Theatre embarks upon their mission to “Shuffle off to Europe” where they will join tap dance companies Tapage and Tap Olé in their home countries to perform Liason, the talented outfit impresses upon its audience yet another fantastic production in its third remount of Changes, a sci-fi adventure set to the music of the late, great David Bowie. In reverence to 1940’s science fiction, seemingly with pages from the old Flash Gordon serials put in play, we get a nasty trio of futuristic villains who have made captive a host of dreamy angels, crippling each by removing their wings, and a hero who must set them free and may only be able to do so by teaching the imprisoned seraphs to fight back (via a tap dance-off, of course).


Artistic Director Mark Yonally’s creative vision is what makes this production such an amazing spectacle. It is visually compelling, thanks to the costume design by Emma Cullimore and its punch-packing choreography, and musically fulfilling as the music chosen behind each dance routine is wisely chosen by Music Director Kurt Schweitz to provide much impact. Kristen Uttich, well cast as the show’s hero, Jennifer Pfaff Yonally as the lead Alliange and Mark Yonally as Altego with Aimee Chase and Heather Latakas as his Henchpeople, lead a gifted ensemble in what turns out to be a pretty engaging story of good versus evil filled with touching moments of beauty, soul and hope and thrilling climaxes when powerful confrontation erupts.


Changes includes many Bowie favorites that are accompanied on strings by Molly Rife and violinist Anna Gillan, who oversee the dancers at the rear of the stage. “Life on Mars” opens the show followed by “Starman” and “Space Oddity” setting the tone for this energetic production that comes with many “wow” moments. Much of Bowie’s music is set to a house mix adding extra thump and larger-than-life tempo, of which I have to wonder was necessary, as opposed to playing the songs in their original recorded versions, my guess being the extra boost provided a clearer pocket for the dancers to perform within or perhaps may have been needed to hear the songs distinctly above the often-thunderous flurry of tap dancing. A feast for Bowie fans, the production also comprises such hits as “Under Pressure” “Changes”, “Ziggy Stardust” and other faves that will have you poking through Spotify to relive the production's many great moments upon exiting the theatre.


Chicago Tap Theatre keeps this commanding form of dance alive, and even in bloom, with one fantastic production after another, Changes being no exception. Thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end, Changes has the perfect combination of dance, music and visuals to make this retro-sci-fi rocket take off.


Changes is being performed at Stage 773 through July 16th. For tickets and/or more show information, or to find out how you can help get this talented dance company to Europe, visit ChicagoTapTheatre.com.

After a delay in touring due to singer Bruce Dickinson’s bout with cancer, Iron Maiden has finally returned to the Chicago area in tour of their 2015 release, The Book of Souls. Now, fully recovered, Dickinson and company performed in front of a packed crowd at Tinley Park’s Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre along with opening act Ghost.


The concert itself was a mixed bag. It was exceptional in the sense that Dickinson’s vocals were crisp, strong and delivered us to vintage Maiden-dom as only the signature sound of the collective band can possibly do. The 58-year-old Dickinson seemed in prime form vocally and even physically. Guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith were riffing as though it were 1985 and madman bassist Steve Harris plucked away at his instrument while channeling the energy of an eleven-year-old kid. Nicko McBrain was still Nicko McBrain, bashing the cans with complexity and power laying down the foundation for each song along with fellow rhythm-mate Harris. Yes, the band was on. So…what was the problem?


Two things.


Janick Gers (whom I have the utmost respect for his musical ability) doesn't really fit in with an Iron Maiden progressive metal live show – at all. Joining the band in 1990 to help finish No Prayer for the Dying after Smith’s brief departure over musical differences, Gers can no doubt play the part musically, but his stage presence makes us think that we may have entered a Poison concert by mistake. While energy-filled Dickinson and Murray run around the stage, it’s just that – running around the stage from end to end, Harris’ head thrashing about and Dickinson just being the cool front man we associate with a serious metal band like Iron Maiden. Gers side-to-side hair flinging, goofy high steps, kicks (reminiscent to the band Kix), guitar spins and cheesy dance moves would have been great – if Iron Maiden was a 1980’s hair band, but they’re not. They’re Iron Maiden. (Sorry Gers fans, I know he's talented but do they even need three guitar players?)


The other issue with The Book of Souls concert (at least the one in Tinley Park) was that the set list. Though The Book of Souls sold well and gave Iron Maiden their highest boost in some time, the band’s current set list was far too dependent on their latest studio release. With six of the fifteen songs coming from The Book of Souls album, fans who went in the hopes of hearing as many Maiden classics as possible were shorted. Left to the wayside were greats such as “Two Minutes to Midnight”, “Aces High”, “Run to the Hills”, “Flight of Icarus”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “Running Free”, “Can I Play with Madness”, “The Wicker Man”, “Flash of the Blade” and so many more. Now, naturally a band that has spanned for five decades that has produced so many amazing songs cannot be expected to cram every hit into a two-hour set, but playing just two or three songs from The Book of Souls would allow for a few more greats that Iron Maiden loyals would certainly appreciate jamming along with.


So that was the disappointing. Now for the good.


As stated prior, musically Iron Maiden was on top of their game. As expected (and always hoped for), the band’s mascot Eddie made a couple appearances, one as he walked across the stage dwarfing over Murray, Smith and Harris while Gers ran between his legs eluding the creature’s grasp until Dickinson fought and defeated the beast parading his severed heart high into the air for the crowd to see, meeting his victory with bloodthirsty cheers. Later an even larger Eddie peered from behind the drums as the band went into “Iron Maiden”.


Iron Maiden classics were sprinkled in throughout the set as Dickinson donned a British coat from the Revolutionary war while waving the flag of his homeland during “The Trooper”. The singer also surveyed the crowd to see how many fans were born after 1982, the year “Children of the Damned” was released, nearly half the hands in attendance being raised as the band went into the song.


Dickinson also made a heartfelt tribute to late actor Adam West, who he called a childhood hero and an inspiration.


Iron Maiden finished strong with a three-encore power play starting off with “The Number of the Beast” before going into “Blood Brothers” and delivering the knockout blow with “Wasted Years”.


Make no mistake. Iron Maiden still rocks and can deliver a fully entertaining arena show infused with enough metal to satisfy the most hard core of fans. Hopefully, the band’s set will have more songs that truly define Iron Maiden as most know their next time around. And there will be a next time around, as Dickinson altered the lyrics in “Number of the Beast” to “We will return (Chicago)!”.


Iron Maiden set list at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park June 15th 2017


If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
Wrathchild
Children of the Damned
Death or Glory
The Red and the Black
The Trooper
Powerslave
The Great Unknown
The Book of Souls
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Encore:
The Number of the Beast
Blood Brothers
Wasted Years

 

Let’s welcome in summer and enjoy the history of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater with a collection of eight dances of varying styles and intriguing music. Pieces old and new, reworked and original amazed one after another including Lucas Crandall’s (Imprint - Duet), William Forsythe’s (reproduction of One Flat Thing), Alejandro Cerrudo’s (One Thousand Pieces - Water Section), Jim Vincent’s (Palladio), Crystal Pite’s (A Picture of You Falling), Twyla Tharp’s (The Golden Section), and Lou Conte’s (Georgia and the 40’s).

This historical glance 40-year glance at the iconic dance company brings forth a walk through time and the growth of Hubbard Dance. Lou Conte’s romantic summer love of ‘Georgia’ was originally premiered in 1987 as part of “Rose from the Blues” and makes you ache for the loss of summer love. Even more history is bestowed upon the crowd with the happiness, creativity of the 40’s, also by Conte. Infusing big band music, 40’s style dance, jitterbug moves and the feeling of the celebrations of old Hollywood, the piece is truly a joy to watch.

“The Golden Section” choreographed by Twyla Tharp/Tharp Project, in its golden velour and unabashed 80’s energy that had originally been performed on Broadway in 1981, brought a liveliness and fun to the stage. The enthusiasm and vibrancy had audience members bobbing their heads and giggling along with the sheer fun of the dancer’s movement and energy.

Something for everyone, Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 will truly grab your attention with the loving duet of “Imprint” by Lucas Crandall and romantic “Palladio” by Jim Vincent. Theater goers will fall under the mesmerizing spell of the smokiness and ethereal beauty of ghostlike figures and sounds of water in “One Thousand Pieces” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Children and adults alike will be enthralled with the chaotic energy of “One Flat Thing”, in awe of the dancer’s abilities to move between, over, under and through the flat things with such speed, grace and fluidity.

Beautiful and graceful, “A Picture of You Falling” by Crystal Pite will capture the audiences’ attention from start to finish, leaving you out of breath, and wondering, if this is how it really will be in the end.

Through a night of innumerable feelings and experiences, this historical journey into the past of “Hubbard Street Dance at 40”, was a thrill for all families and fans of dance. So very few places can provide such a complete feeling of history and nostalgia while also inspiring all of us to see what the future will bring.

Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 was performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on this amazing dance company and to see future events, visit www.HubbardStreetDance.com.

 

Thursday, 08 June 2017 02:27

Griffin's "Ragtime" Done Right

In 1996 Ragtime made its stage debut in Toronto and a year later it found itself making waves on Broadway. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Dotorow, the musical, with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, kept gaining momentum winning thirteen Tony Awards in 1998. Now, to close out its 2016-2017 season, Griffin Theatre Company reimagines the modern classic, thanks to the creative minds of director Scott Weinstein and Matt Deitchman, who adds new music orchestrations to the mix.


Taking place in New York City, Ragtime takes us back to the turn of the century, beginning in 1906, where three families who couldn’t be more different are followed – a young African American couple, a recently immigrated Jewish father and daughter and a privileged white family. As the story unfolds, the families come across one another, but in doing so, and along the way, we see the vast difference in treatment each receives as Ragtime touches on social justice, race relations and immigration. With plenty of parallels in today’s America, Ragtime serves as not just an entertaining musical, but also as a lesson to which we can all learn from.


Throughout the story we also meet a handful of influential historic figures including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan and Booker T. Washington and are reminded of the impact each had made in a rapidly changing America.


Filled with many lively characters such as Coalhouse Walker JR (admirably played by Denzel Tsopnang) who brings "ragtime music" alive with his jazzy Harlem-styled piano playing and Tateh (played with great zest and sentiment by Jason Richards), the colorful Jewish immigrant who just wants to build a life for his daughter, this is a musical that constantly keeps one engaged.


Katherine Thomas makes quite an impression in her debut for Griffin Theatre as Coalhouse Walker’s love interest Sarah particularly shining in numbers “Your Daddy’s Son” and “President”. Laura McClain as Mother also impresses and moves the house during her rendition of “Back to Before”. Other standouts performances include Joe Capstick who undertakes a handful of roles including Houdini, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, a very funny Caitlin Collins as Eveyln Nesbit and an ensemble that truly delivers in every way.


Imaginatively staged at Den Theatre’s Main Theatre, the venue holds a new look as it is transformed into a theatre in the round, the audience surrounding the action. A ragtime band is present throughout the show, two pianos, a clarinet (Dan Hickey) and an occasional flute to giving us a newly-orchestrated chamber version behind the music direction of Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris, each of whom mans a piano throughout.


There is a reason that Ragtime has won so many awards and has been revived so often by numerous theatre companies. Simply put, the music is outstanding, it’s story is educational as it is entertaining and its message is timeless. Griffin Theatre does justice to this definitive production putting forth a commendable cast, an inviting set, polished music production and lighting and spot on costumes that throw the audience back in time to 1906.


Recommended.


Ragtime is being performed at Den Theatre’s Main Stage and has been extended through July 22nd. For this quality production tickets are a bargain at just $39. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.griffintheatre.com.

It’s the wild 1930’s in Berlin and it’s anything goes at the Kit Kat Klub where an impish Emcee feasts on making the haunt as alluring as possible to its guests. He loves the boys, he loves the girls and he loves the orchestra. Headliner Sally Bowles leads the cabaret dancers in the playful club where one can phone table to table if interested in another. Bowles is brassy, commanding and she flat out belts, leaving little doubt who runs the show. This is quickly evidenced in her racy opening number “Don’t Tell Mama”. It is a place of decadent carnival where boundaries do not exist and guests are endlessly entertained by its sexy performers. 

American writer Cliff Bradshaw soon arrives via train ride where he meets new friend Ernst Ludwig. The two quickly hit it off. While getting to know each other, Bradshaw reveals he is looking for a place to stay, so Ludwig recommends a boarding house run by Fraulien Schneider. Searching for inspiration for his second novel, Bradshaw visits the nearby Kit Kat Klub where he is opened to a world he never knew existed. 

While Bradshaw and Bowles get to know each other (and then some), Herr Schultz, an elderly German, regularly visits the boarding house where he shows his affections for Schneider by bringing her fruit from the nearby produce store that he owns. Soon Schultz and Schneider agree to marry, while Bowles and Bradshaw become cozier, the two now living together. The club is thriving and all seems well in 1930’s Berlin. 

But the shadow of the Nazi regime is gradually becoming much more apparent. Slowly, the danger of a growing Third Reich is affecting Berlin. Gradually, the carefree mood of many Berlin residents becomes that of one awaiting impending doom. Some sense a mounting tragedy afoot and fear a change for the worse in Germany. 

Yet, the threat is still in its infancy stage, whereas Schultz, a Jew, naively states, “Everything will be fine. After all, I am a German.” At the same time, Schneider fears her association with Schultz will put her business under as the hatred against Jewish-Germans becomes more apparent. 

Cabaret is the gripping account of how a circle of friends and businesses in Berlin are overcome by the inevitable Nazi threat, from the story's hopeful beginning full of modernization and progressive views to its haunting end. 

The production is seamlessly woven together. Throughout the musical, there is an ongoing collocation of dialogue scenes and songs that serve as explanation to the story while a series of distinct cabaret numbers provide a public observation for the times. 

Cabaret continues to attract both new audiences and return visitors more than fifty years after its initial Broadway production, because it has everything – fascinating characters, iconic music, a dazzling look that transports us to a different world that is still incredibly timely and relevant today,” says Artistic Director Linda Fortunato.

Her statement couldn’t bear more truth as the production has won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. 

The casting in Theatre at the Center’s Cabaret is very strong. Danni Smith, who recently impressed theatre goers in the leading role of “Donna” in Marriott Theatre’s Mamma Mia! is sensational as Sally Bowles. Smith’s robust, velvety vocals along with just the right air of confidence make for yet another successful leading role for the fetching stage star. Smith’s astounding performance alone is worth the ticket cost and drive to Munster, Indiana. Yet, the same impressionable effect on the audience can be said for co-lead Sean Fortunato as the mischievous Emcee, who is a pure delight to watch as he captures a changing Berlin within his character most effectively through a well-acted gamut of emotions. We watch on as the whimsical Master of Ceremonies is sincerely affected by what he recognizes is the beginning to the end of an era, yet we see his strength as he bravely presents an amusing appearance for his club-goers to distract from the imminent threat. 

Patrick Tierney (Bradshaw), Craig Spindle (Schultz), Iris Lieberman (Schneider), Christopher Davis (Ernst) and a very capable ensemble round out this talented cast that help in creating a magical Cabaret experience, along with an extraordinary creative team that so well brings the period to life. 

Based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret is loaded with wonderful show tunes that include “Perfectly Marvelous”, “The Money Song”, “Married”, "Willkommen", “If You Could See Her” and Bowles highly-charged title song “Cabaret”. 

Well-constructed, finely acted and beautifully sung, Cabaret is an epic theatre experience not to miss.   

Cabaret is being performed at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 4th. For show times, tickets and/or more show information, visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

 

Victory Gardens Theater announces the lineup for the Up Close & Personal Series, running April 27 – June 4, 2017. The Up Close and Personal Series includes A Little Bit Not Normal, written and performed by Arlene Malinowski; St. Jude, written and performed by Ensemble Playwright Luis Alfaro; and Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, written and performed by Brian Quijada. Shows in the Up Close & Personal Series will run in rotating repertory in the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.  

 

Individual tickets to each production are $20, or a three show package, including a ticket to each production, is $40. Both are available through the box office at 773.871.3000 or online. With every ticket purchased, Victory Gardens Theater will provide one free ticket to a Chicago Public School student. For a complete performance schedule or to purchase tickets, visit www.victorygardens.org.

 

"We're thrilled to welcome Luis, Arlene and Brian back to Victory Gardens for our Up Close & Personal series this spring. Each of these remarkably personal stories are written and performed with humor, poetry and courage,” comments Artistic Director Chay Yew. “Now, for six weeks only, these national and Chicago artists will share their most intimate struggles and triumphs of family, hidden disabilities and immigration through performance."

 

About the Up Close & Personal Series

All performances take place upstairs at Victory Gardens in the Richard Christiansen Theatre. A calendar of the performance schedule can be viewed online at www.victorygardens.org.

 

A Little Bit Not Normal

Written and Performed by Arlene Malinowski

Directed by Lisa Portes

3:00 pm: April 29; 13, 14, 27(ASL Interpreted)

7:30 pm: April 30; May 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 20 (ASL Interpreted), 21

 

 

With her trademark humor, Arlene confronts her own state of mind when Depression walks into her kitchen, lights a cigarette, and makes himself at home. A Little Bit Not Normal is a serious comedy about depression and naming it, claiming it, and standing to be counted. It’s the journey of a love story tested and the secrets we keep about crazy.

 

St. Jude

Written and Performed by Ensemble Playwright Luis Alfaro

3:00 pm: May 21, 28, June 4

7:30 pm: May 17, 18, 25, 27; June 1, 2, 3

 

 

Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Ensemble member Luis Alfaro (Mojada, Oedipus el Rey) returns to Chicago to perform a new version of his emotionally charged solo work. St. Jude takes us on a personal and powerful journey with Luis as he learns of his father’s stroke and is summoned home to the California Central Valley of his childhood. As his family gathers, Alfaro conjures memories of his youth; from picking grapes, to gospel-infused big tent revivals, from family celebrations, to running away from home. In Alfaro’s words, St. Jude takes us from “who I am” to “who I was.”

 

Where Did We Sit on the Bus?

Written and performed by Brian Quijada

Directed by Chay Yew

10:00 am: May 3, 5, 10, 12, 19

3:00 pm: April 30; May 6, 20; June 2, 3

7:30 pm: April 27, 28 29; May 4, 11, 13, 24, 26, 28, 31, June 4

 

 

The multi-2016 Jeff Award winner Where Did We Sit on the Bus? is an electric one-man show pulsing with Latin rhythms, rap, hip-hop, spoken word, and live looping. During a third grade lesson on the Civil Rights movement and Rosa Parks, a Latino boy raises his hand to ask, “Where did we sit on the bus?” and his teacher can’t answer the question. This thrilling autobiographical production examines what it means to be an artist and a son of Latino immigrants through the eyes of a teenager.

 

Production Sponsor: The Wallace Foundation

 

About Victory Gardens Theater

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Chay Yew and Managing Director Erica Daniels, Victory Gardens is dedicated to artistic excellence while creating a vital, contemporary American Theater that is accessible and relevant to all people through productions of challenging new plays and musicals.  Victory Gardens Theater is committed to the development, production and support of new plays that has been the mission of the theater since its founding, set forth by Dennis Začek, Marcelle McVay, and the original founders of Victory Gardens Theater.

 

Victory Gardens Theater is a leader in developing and producing new theater work and cultivating an inclusive Chicago theater community. Victory Gardens’ core strengths are nurturing and producing dynamic and inspiring new plays, reflecting the diversity of our city’s and nation’s culture through engaging diverse communities, and in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, bringing art and culture to our city’s active student population.  

 

Since its founding in 1974, the company has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater, a commitment recognized nationally when Victory Gardens received the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater includes the Začek-McVay Theater, a state-of-the-art 259-seat mainstage and the 109-seat studio theater on the second floor, named the Richard Christiansen Theater.

 

Victory Gardens Ensemble Playwrights include Luis Alfaro, Philip Dawkins, Marcus Gardley, Ike Holter, Samuel D. Hunter, Naomi Iizuka, Tanya Saracho and Laura Schellhardt. Each playwright has a seven-year residency at Victory Gardens Theater.

 

For more information about Victory Gardens, visit www.victorygardens.org.  Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/victorygardens, Twitter @VictoryGardens and Instagram at instagram.com/victorygardenstheater/

 

Victory Gardens Theater receives major funding from The Wallace Foundation, Alphawood Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Shubert Foundation, The REAM Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Allstate Insurance, Polk Bros. Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Orli Staley Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding is provided by: Abbot Downing & Wells Fargo, Alliance Bernstein, The Charles H. and Bertha L. Boothroyd Foundation, Exelon, The Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, John R. Halligan Charitable Fund, Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Tool Works, Italian Village Restaurants, Mayer Brown LLP, The McVay Foundation, LLP, The Prince Charitable Trusts, The Saints, Charles & M.R. Shapiro Foundation, Southwest Airlines, The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Whole Foods Market, and Wrightwood Neighbors Conservation Association.

 

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