Pinterest fails are an internet sensation, with recognizable side by side pictures illustrating the difference between expectations and reality for the everyday crafter, baker, photographer, etc. It seems that no matter how many of these memes we see, it is still commonplace to set high expectations which risk being let down.
“WOZ: A Rock Cabaret” was unfortunately a case of missed expectations. The concept is a cabaret show which tells the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz through the iconic music of the 80’s and 90’s, including hits from Whitesnake, Blondie, Foreigner, Queen and Michael Jackson. Sounds awesome, right!? While the show had its moments and some strong singers, the reality was a production that felt flat, with big moments that lost their steam and performances that lacked the luster and pizzazz expected from a cabaret.
One of the main issues with the show was the venue. Performed on stage at Victory Gardens Theater, this cabaret style show felt out of place. The performers attempted to interact with the audience but it required them to come down off the stage where they easily got lost in this stadium style seating. Had this been set in a truer cabaret setting, where the audience could sit at tables enjoying their cocktails, it could have allowed the performance to work the space both on the stage and on the floor and perhaps made the show more engaging.
The creativity behind the song selection was awesome and very often the start of a new song brought smiles, laughs and a palpable energy to the audience. As the performers sang the full songs however, it often felt like things started to drag and there was not enough happening to hold attention through to the end of the song.
The performers themselves were mostly strong overall. The standouts of the show were the journeying buddies of the Scarecrow (Kevin Webb), the Tinman (James Nedrud) and the Cowardly Lion (Edward Fraim). All three brought different unique but powerful voices to their songs and added some great humor to the show. Heather Currie was a powerhouse and had an odd but quite funny style in how she played the Wicked Witch. The performances of Clara D’Onofrio and Kimberly Lawson, as Glinda and Dorothy respectively, left something to be desired. Both have strong voices but tend more toward the musical theater style which did not always vibe with the other performers. Andre De Shields was the special guest star of the show, bringing star power to the role of the Wizard and he certainly stole the show with his numbers.
While there are some high moments and tons of creativity that clearly went into this show, the performance lacks the excitement that could have turned this somewhat lackluster show into an all-out engaging and exciting cabaret performance.
With only 5 performances, the run of this show is already nearing completion but this was its second run in Chicago, so if you really wish you could have seen it, try clicking your heels three times and say to yourself “there’s no place like WOZ” – maybe it will be back someday, bigger and better.
Here is a theater event that is so rich you cannot be disappointed. Anyone who attends Dynamite Divas: A Tribute to Women in Soul will be richly rewarded by the experience. In fact, it is so good, I would say run, don't walk, to the Black Ensemble theater to see it. (It runs through January 24.)
The premise of the play is self-admittedly thin: African-American multi-billionaire Mr. Maurice (Rueben D. Echoles, who directs, choreographs and designed costumes) has paid $2.5 million to each of four grande dames of soul - Nancy Wilson (Rhonda Preston), Gladys Knight (Rashada Dawan), Roberta Flack (Melanie McCullough), and Aretha Franklin (Shari Addison, a real show-stealer) - who are to spend the day preparing for and then performing in a television special.
Why just these four? Well, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, and Tina Turner were considered - but schedule conflicts kept them away. Besides, these four personalities are probably the only compatible mix, as we discover in the course of the show.
Why put on such a show? Mr. Maurice, who claims to have earned his wealth through his inventions (e-mail, texting, touch-screens, and Botox!), wants to celebrate the musical accomplishment of these remarkable singers.
These actresses' divas, as personified by these exceptional performers, capture not just the singing style, but also the personalities of their real-life counterparts. And they, too, are mystified by Mr. Maurice's circumstances and motive. "A black billionaire we've never heard of?"
While the set-up is ridiculous, the music, and the performers, are anything but. In his performance as Mr. Maurice, Rueben Echoles sets the stage with such an abundance of energy, that he truly casts a spell across the audience, forcing the room into a complete suspension of disbelief. That is theater! (And I don't say that lightly, after four decades in the audience.)
Though well paid, these divas - in their 70's - need to be coaxed to sing at first. An extra $50,000 finally breaks the ice, and Gladys Knight lets loose with "I've Got to Use My Imagination," her 1973 hit with the Pips. This offers an inkling of what is to come: Rashada Dawan captures that teary edge to Gladys Knight's voice throughout the night, and replicates the original convincingly - with the added power of being there live.
Now that the audience knows what to listen for, the next plot turn packs a punch using the Assimilator, a kind of holographic transporter used to call up greats of the past. First a phantasm of Billie Holiday alights on the stage and performs, really channels, Holiday's "God Bless the Child" - followed by almost equally powerful impersonations of Dinah Washington ("The Bitter Earth") and Nina Simone ("Mississippi Goddam.")
As Mr. Maurice convinces each Diva to sing - beginning with first hits, and other career high points - the other three sing back-up. Music fills the 299-seat stage for what turns out to be a very short 2-1/2 hour run.
While each of these leading ladies is a powerful performer, and ably capture the singing style and phrasing of their diva, it is Shari Addison who most often seizes control of the stage - befitting her role as Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. As the most familiar personality, Franklin gives Addison more to work with. But in McCullough's Flack singing "Killing Me Softly;" or in Preston's Wilson doing the signature "Guess Who I Saw Today," to cite two examples, the stage, and the listeners, belong to those performers.
There are also live performances or video tributes to many other notables - Chaka Khan, Mary Wells, Patti Labelle - the list goes on. Beyonce Knowles also crashes the event, in person, asking why she isn't included in the diva pack, earning a dismissive retort from Aretha: "Do you think they will be singing 'Single Ladies' in 20 years? She also tells Beyonce, "We love your music, at least some of it."
With a rich supporting cast that includes Mr. Maurice's technicians Donald Craig Manuel (as Hubert) and Kyle Smith (as Youngblood), Dynamite Divas thrives on its six-man, all-star band: music director Robert Reddrick on drums, Justin Dillard on keyboard, Mark Miller on bass, Gary Baker on guitar, Dudley Owens on woodwinds, and Bill McFarland on trombone. These guys were versatile and solid as they ran through the years and genre of the divas. Backing Rhonda Preston's Nancy Wilson on "Guess Who I Saw," the performance was "live recording" quality.
Dynamite Divas: A Tribute to Women of Soul at the Black Ensemble Theater comes very highly recommended.
“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.” - Jerome Kern
There are shows that make one proud to be an American, proud to be Jewish and proud to be of immigrant descent and Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin currently performed at Royal George Theatre is one show that does all three.
Felder proves yet again that he is a consummate master of the one person show. While his bio/docu/musicals about famous composers, from his George Gershwin Alone, to Fryderyk Chopin, to Ludwig van Beethoven, to Maestro Leonard Bernstein thrilled Chicago and LA audiences and critics alike, this production and his portrayal of Irving Berlin is quite simply the icing on the cake of his career.
Irving Berlin, whose real name was Israel Isidore Baline and whose musical background included that his father was a cantor (singer for the Temple), was only eleven years old when he left his house to find work as a singing waiter because "there were too many mouths to feed" even with his pennies earned as a paperboy.
Although Berlin's first hits were more comical and vaudevillian like “Marie from Sunny Italy”, and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, to grab people's attention, it was the grief over the tragic death of his first wife that he credits with teaching him how to write a real song.
Like a chapter from a sad Lifetime movie, Berlin married his adorable twenty-year-old sweetheart took her to fashionable Havana for their honeymoon and five months later she died from typhoid fever she contracted on their week-long stay.
Later he married socialite Ellin MacKay the daughter of the richest man in the United States, and wrote his classic, timeless love song, “Always”, about his pure joy at finding her. They were married for 62 years, and ironically her father disowned Ellin and Berlin for years for marrying a Jewish immigrant songwriter - until right after the stock market crash in which Mr. MacKay lost his entire fortune but Berlin wisely having purchased the publishing rights to ALL of his songs kept his finances relatively intact during the depression.
Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -
I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.
Days may not be fair always,
That's when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
Berlin’s songs include, “Blue Skies”, (composed for his daughter), “Heat Wave”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Steppin’ Out with My Baby”, “What’ll I Do”, and the scores of “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Holiday Inn”, “Easter Parade,” and many more. We also learn that Berlin wrote “White Christmas” years after his son Irving Jr. was tragically found dead on Christmas morning at just three-weeks-old. In all, Irving Berlin composed 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs, and over 1500 published songs including one of his biggest hits, “God Bless America”.
I really loved the set which consisted of a lovely Christmas tree and piano with windows that opened onto a wonderful video presentation of the actual people, Berlin, his wives, etc as he tells a story about each. My only note for Felder is that he reconsiders having an intermission in any show he directs or stars in that is longer than 90 minutes as this one was. The audience was rapt the entire time but I felt the break in the middle would have allowed them to enjoy the show even more as a whole evening of entertainment with time to absorb and refresh between the two acts.
The artistic team for Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin is outstanding and led by Director Trevor Hay. Scenic Design is by Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay, Sound Design is by Erik Carstensen, Lighting Design is by Richard Norwood and Video Design is by Andrew Wilder. The Scenic Decoration is by Meghan Maiya.
“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a rich and fully enjoyable experience that is playing at The Royal George theatre through December 6th. For more show information, visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.
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.
When I think of Green Day’s American Idiot, the thought of the majority of our population blindly falling in line with the agenda of media conglomerates comes to mind. It's true. America’s youth (and not so youthful) is influenced by suggestive ad campaigns, TV and film brainwashing and so forth – thus, potentially becoming the “American Idiot”. Of course if you look even deeper (and it’s hardly a secret at this point) you’ll see that media is greatly controlled by corporations, which in turn largely influences the government and vice versa, so in fact Green Day’s album American Idiot suggests the average American is literally a sculpted product of the corporate world while choices and freedoms are merely an illusion to those who do not know better.
Though I expected the production of “American Idiot” to even enhance the album’s overall theme a little more directly, it still made its point well. “American Idiot”, currently playing at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, is the story of three youths that go in the wrong direction after unconscious exposure to selective, and purposely directed, life-long media blitzing – which is entertaining in itself, but as the show progresses it becomes more about rectifying wrongs, if possible. In short, three fed up friends take separate paths, all of which seem exciting at times, only to reunite as learned individuals at the end after their paths are simultaneously met with a longing for better lives on their own terms. It is also the story of succumbing to temptation, wrong choices, consequences and perseverance.
Luke Linsteadt stars as “Johnny”, whom the story revolves around, and while exuding a tremendous amount of energy, he also lets loose a singing voice that works very well for the role. Linsteadt’s character is complex as it can be fun. “Johnny’s” friends “Will” and “Tunny” are played by Steven Perkins and Jay W. Cullen, both roles requiring their share of lead vocals. Perkins and Cullen both have their shining moments as does Krystal Worrell who is well cast as “Whatshername”, Johnny’s girlfriend who joins him in his journey of sex and drugs until they part after realizing their relationship is mutually damaging. The ensemble is fun and lively to the point we undoubtedly know each one of them are really enjoying their roles.
An urban-like, graffiti-stained stage is background for the story, creating a simple, but sensible set. Intense dance numbers and rocking music pave the road for this quick-moving, never-boring production. Another refreshing facet of this production is seeing it removed from its usually big budget, large venue, Broadway-esque state - to which it becomes almost commercialized. Rather, The Hypocrites presentation of “American Idiot” at The Den Theatre is a much more intimate experience with a much more organic feel and genuineness that cannot be always be found in massive productions. Outside of a few vocal and instrument sound levels that could use a bit of adjusting, this is a show that really comes alive and reaches its audience in the way that it was probably originally envisioned.
What made the show even more enjoyable was the band playing in full view and the arsenal of Green Day songs played in their musical-ized versions. Different than most bands, musicians are interchangeable depending on the song and scene - a very entertaining aspect of this version as in “Who’s going to play drums on the next song?” Green Day songs in the show included, “Know Your Enemy”, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, “When It’s Time” and “American Idiot”. Musically, the show was a gratifying journey in itself. Kudos all around to a great production team and cast.
“American Idiot” is a 2010 Tony Award nominated Best Musical and 2010 Grammy Winner for Best Musical Show Album. This is a show that certainly has its share of energy, music and youth. Playing through October 25th at The Den Theatre, this is a show most should appreciate, Green Day fan or not. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.the-hypocrites.com.
The China Performing Arts Agency presented “Kunlun Myth,” an original musical from producer Wang Yu, for a two-night engagement at The Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University. “Kunlun Myth” smartly incorporated ancient and modern concepts into an elegant, sparky performance and what better venue to perform than the Auditorium Theater. During this visually stunning show, The Auditorium was filled with an incredible energy. A number of bubbly performances, original dance productions and strong vocals made for a uniquely wonderful experience.
The “Kunlun Myth” begins in the Kunlun Mountains (important fabled mountains in Chinese mythology) where the Heaven Pillar resides. This pillar connects Heaven and Earth, and serves as a portal between the two worlds. Deng Fei, a college student from Beijing, visits the Kunlun Mountains and discovers the relic of the Heaven Pillar. Deng Fei reads the pillar’s inscription and is abruptly transported to Heaven. Once there, he meets Mei Duo, the daughter of the Heaven pillar tribe’s chief. Deng Fei and Mei Duo fall in love. Deng Fei also meets Queen Mother who wishes to rebuild the Heaven Pillar because Gong Gong knocked it down. Gong Gong does not want the pillar rebuilt because he fears that the disasters from Earth will travel through the pillar and destroy Heaven. Ultimately, Deng Fei is on a quest for self-knowledge, and returns back to Earth in good spirit.
Properly capturing the mystical Kunlun Mountains on stage would seem like a difficult feat, but set designers were successfully able to create the magical mountains. Elaborate patterns and set pieces were jaw-droppingly beautiful. The creative juices were really flowing. The lighting designs were dramatic and impressive. Neon lights accentuated set pieces and made the stage pop with color.
From gold, shimmering gowns to casual khakis, the costume department was superb. Every single costume was elegant in its own way, whether it was Mei Duo’s dress, or Gong Gong’s suit of amour. The only character without an elegant costume was Deng Fei, who sported a Yankee snapback, green windbreaker, and khakis.
Beautiful vocals and powerful music made the auditorium rumble. Music styles ranged from pop, rock, and hip hop. Mai Duo sang beautifully, definitely goosebump worthy. Gong Gong had deep, commanding vocals which set the show’s deep and dark mood.
Kunlun Myth was performed in Chinese, with English subtitles to aid audience’s understanding. There were no subtitles for dialogue, only for the musical numbers. Audience members who could not understand Chinese that may have been lost during the dialogue relied on body language to help understand. Since the dialogue was in Chinese, much was left for interpretation.
Performances were held on Wednesday, Sept. 2 @ 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 3 @ 7:30 p.m.
Boys love their rockets. We find this out rather quickly in Marriott Theatre’s world premiere of October Sky, a new musical based on the 1999 film featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper. Written by Aaron Thielen with the music and lyric by Michael Mahler, the play opens with a heavy duty musical number “Marching into Hell” where a handful of coal miners head deep into the dangerous coal mines.
Taking place in 1957 Coalwood, West Virginia, most boys are destined to become coal miners. Opportunity to take another career path are far and few between. The city depends on the mine, which has become even more dangerous with newer technology that powders the coal, leaving a hazardous dust to be inhaled and cause lung disease rather than the older days where the mineral was gather by using picks. Occasional gas explosions also take place as we find out in the first scene as news of such a tragedy leaves thirty dead in a nearby mine.
Homer’s father, John Hickam, heads a large mining crew and fully expects his son to follow suit. However, when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik for all the town to see in the October Sky, Homer and his friends are driven to make a rocket of their own. Naturally, Homer’s father sees this as a distraction, while the town supports the boys as their rockets slowly become more and more advanced, despite their moments of failure. With the help of Miss Riley, Homer’s teacher who recognizes their interest in such a science as a way to avoid the destined mining life, the boys eventually take their work to a series of science fairs. While Homer’s mother is supportive and pleased with Homer’s ingenuity, his father still struggles with the idea.
October Sky is not just a story about boys making rockets, it is also a story about support from friends, changing hearts and perseverance. It is a feel good story that encourages one to follow their dreams.
Superbly cast, I really enjoyed Nate Lewellyn in the role of Homer Hickham. He is a bit reminiscent of a young and boyish Tom Hanks. Lewellyn displays his solid vocal range in many challenging numbers, perhaps most notably in Act II’s “Stars Shine Down”. Ben Barker, Patrick Rooney and Alex Weisman perfectly round out the quartet of rocket builders while Susan Moniz really shines as Homer’s wise and loving mother, Elsie Hickam. One of my favorite performances is that of David Hess as John Hickam. I really find it a pleasure to observe Hess’ vocal prowess and his ability to execute such a wide variety of emotions.
The songs are lyrically clever – and often funny, while the set has a few fun surprises such as the effect used as the miners take an elevator down into the mine. Theresa Ham does a fantastic job as costume designer, really pulling off the 1950s era and Dance Captain Jameson Cooper utilizes some very unique and original ideas in the big dance numbers. The show is finally brought together tightly with a strong ensemble and a wonderful band that knows how to get their southern twang on when needed.
One of the show’s big crowd pleasers was the knee-slappin’ number “Moonshine”, a lively number that takes place in the backwoods and has the actors playing instruments as “Bathtub Amos & The Drunk as a Skink Jug Band”.
October Sky runs around two-and-a-half hours long but is quite enjoyable throughout thanks to a fetching story, fun effects and enjoyable musical numbers. October Sky is being performed at The Marriott Theatre through October 11th. You can find out more about the show or order tickets at www.MarriottTheatre.com.
Although the idea of two gay friends, Hunter and Jeff, sitting down to write their own musical for a competition deadline in three weeks’ time may seem a little bit dated, these performers including Matt Frye, and Yando Lopez do a great job of making the piece seem vibrant and current. Hunter and Jeff who love watching their reality TV like the Bachelor and "procrasturbating" introduce two of their gal friends to help them fill out the cast with Susan (Neala Barron) and Heidi (Anna Schutz). The group decides to take things they’re actually chatting about daily and eventually come up with a play about their own lives and trying to get into the playwrights festival. This is the theme for [Title of Show] now playing at Rivendell Theatre.
Long story short, they end up getting thrilled with an invite to enter into the Fest and eventually a short Off-Broadway and even shorter Broadway run all of which is exciting and mind blowing for the friendly foursome. As it happens it brings about the usual problems with managing who gets credit for what and who is the most important or likable part of the show.
I loved the song, 'Die, Vampire Die’ about managing all of the negative, "bloodsucking" thoughts that weigh on you mentally and emotionally when you are trying to create something new.
Neala Barron as the "corporate by day, creative by night' - part time actress - has the funniest and most well-rounded performance in this piece. Matt Frye as Hunter is also very funny and really makes the most of his character.
Lovers of the musical theater genre will adore this peppy, fast moving production and see themselves reflected in all the characters' struggles to be recognized and stand out including the sole musician, a very funny role for a pianist with just a few choice lines.
The reason this show still works and is timely despite coming out in 2008, is that even today with all of the new opportunities for performers to write and star in their own projects for the many contests held online and on national TV, is that for everyone eventually realizes that a little bit of success is just not enough.
Just appearing in a show on Broadway will not make you and your friends "stars". Nor will it secure you financially in any way for the rest of your lives. There is also a funny number in the show where the cast counts out all of the "loser” musicals that made it to Broadway and flopped.
Yet it is essential that actors still persist in taking over their own careers and write their own projects or they run the risk of playing bit parts their entire lives without ever realizing their full potential as writers and creators, always working the "day job" and waiting helplessly for the phone to ring with a magical call from their agents.
Well-directed, this 90 minute piece flows at a quick, funny pace.
All actors should be actor/writers, that's the best message of this show, not to let the fear of criticism cripple you from putting out your own work and maintaining loyalty to the friends who help you get your work out. Because, after all the success and thrill ride for each project is over, you still need to get up and keep writing and creating something new for yourself with your friends close by your side. Never give up and never let the pressures of making a name for yourself eclipse the importance of the daily life you are actually living because in the end you may find the journey itself really was the whole play!
[Title of Show] is playing at Rivendell Theatre through August 16th.
A dazzling high-energy jukebox musical with history and astonishing talent, Black Ensemble Theatre's “Men of Soul” is sure to be a smash-hit! Brimming with electrifying artistry, the show brings to mind another long-running Chicago musical favorite “Million Dollar Quartet”, which features an array of 1950’s icons. “Men of Soul” shares the delicious romp through iconic American music history, featuring stunning replications of some of our most beloved performers and songwriters through virtuosic performances and upbeat entertainment!
“Men of Soul” celebrates the passion and power of musicians who triumphed over personal and social struggles to achieve success through song. Featuring a hilarious, spot-on, rousing rendition of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets”, an incredibly energetic performance by Kyle Smith as Prince with “Purple Rain”, and including singing so remarkably similar to the original artist Ray Charles that I thought “Georgia On My Mind” was lip-synced! Dancing as only James Brown can in “Sex Machine”, crooning “On the Wings of Love” and “A Whole New World”, and rocking away to Billy Joel’s “My Life” and a medley of Bill Withers favorites such as “Lean on Me” and the unforgettable “Ain’t No Sunshine”, makes “Men of Soul” a summer performance to enjoy and remember!
I was especially impressed by the director and writer of “Men of Soul”, Daryl D Brooks. Seamless transitions, exciting lighting displays that incorporated the entire audience, and impeccable casting and musical direction brings this hilarious, high energy show to the pinnacle of success! Associate Director of Black Ensemble Theater, I look forward to the entertainment Mr. Brooks will bring the Chicago community in the future!
“Men of Soul” is the perfect summer show to bring friends and family to see, playing all through the month of August! Tickets can be found at www.blackensemble.org or by calling (773) 769-4451, with discounts for students, seniors and groups. Valet parking available.
Fantastic stories filled with mermaids, giants, tornadoes and witches are told and Edward Bloom always comes out as the hero. These are the enchanted tales Edward has been telling his son, Will, since he was a child. Each story is more larger than life than the other and each act more heroic than the last. The only problem is that these stories have caused Will much embarrassment throughout life as they are told to anyone who will listen because Edward really seems to believe them as outlandish as they are. Years have gone by in a small Alabama town while Edward and Will have grown far apart. As traveling salesman Edward spends much of his time on the road, distancing himself from his son.
But as Edward’s life nears its end when his cancer advances, Will is determined to find out the truth about his father’s stories, and wanting to understand him better he carries out his own investigation and comes across a few surprises. Meanwhile, Will and his wife are planning for their first child.
“Big Fish”, currently playing at Theatre at the Center, is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” that was later turned into the popular 2003 Tim Burton film “Big Fish” starring Ewan McGreggor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange and Billy Cruddup. The main difference here is the Broadway version being a musical –and it works…well.
From the first number “Be the Hero”, an enthusiastic piece on slaying dragons, defeating giants and, well, being a hero, we get a healthy taste of Edward’s zest for storytelling. Edward is brilliantly played by Stef Tovar, and, though quite a bit younger in appearance than the sixty-year-old-ish father we expect to see from the story, Tovar couldn’t be more perfect for the role. Tovar’s ability to transform from that of an excited, awestruck boy as he goes from story to story to a loving husband, or a father who desperately wants to be close to his son, is quite fun to watch. Tovar, a whirlwind of energy, makes Edward’s character believable seemingly effortlessly and we are easily able to identify with him. At the same time Colette Todd, who plays Edward’s loving wife, Sandra, also puts on a tremendous performance as his perfect support system. Todd is charming as can be as she dances as sings her way to our hearts. Tovar and Todd are well cast and together are a tour de force to be reckoned with.
“It’s a good show. It’s got a lot of heart. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry”, says director William Pullinsi.
Pullinsi couldn’t be more correct. There are plenty of funny moments but also a great sadness as we see people who love each other so greatly have so much difficulty connecting.
The song and dance numbers and uniquely choreographed and sang to perfection. Nathan Gardner, who plays Will, is among the talented singers in this amazing cast and really lets it go in “Stranger”, an emotional number where he describes the distance that has become between him and his father.
Besides its enriched song and dance numbers, captivating story and strong acting performances, theatre-goers are treated to a colorful set and a display of dazzling costumes. Some of the scenic displays are simply breathtaking - one in particular invoking "oohs" and 'aaahs" from the audience.
Says Todd on the massive set and costumes, “There was one day when an actual semi-truck arrived to the theatre and all of these remarkable costumes were unloaded and unpacked.”
“Big Fish” is a beautiful story about father and son relationships that should not be missed. It is a heartwarming story filled with hope and living life as large as you can. “Big Fish” is being performed just thirty-five or so minutes from downtown Chicago at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.theatreatthecenter.com.
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