Theatre in Review

Kimberly Katz

Kimberly Katz

Having seen the Donny Osmond and even the Patrick Cassidy productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's colorful telling of the Joseph story years ago, I remember really enjoying them in a children's theater sort of way. The characters are colorful, the story has a good lesson and the songs catchy. Upon seeing Drury Lane’s spectacular re-imagining of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I couldn't even remember what the original story line was about. Which turns out to be a good thing! I got to relive the adventure all over again, and this time with several big changes to the traditional production.
 
The pyramids of Egypt are replaced with the pyramid of The Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas and much of the "dreamer’s dreams” dreamt by Joseph are played out with much talent right there in his decidedly low luxury level Luxor hotel room, complete with an overlooking view of The Strip.
 
The narrator has been replaced with the amazing singular talent of Christina Bianco, a world renown singer and impersonator of our generations greatest singers. Bianco blows the audience away with technically difficult and spot on - sometimes hilarious - impersonations of Britney Spears, Cher, Liza Minelli, Shania Twain, Bernadette Peters and even Edith Piaf! Having a woman narrator with such brilliant singing skills that she becomes literally "everywoman" is a very refreshing and funny delight throughout the show. 
 
Directed with ballsy style by Alan Souza with choreography by Grady M. Bowman, the dance numbers, which include Vegas style showgirls and Joseph’s brothers who double as "showgirls in drag" at one point, are absolutely fantastic! 
 
The effect of the many complicated and energetic dance numbers all dressed up in Ryan Park’s modern silk and Vegas-style costumes and Claire Moore's deliciously designed wigs is one of bewildering entertainment with almost too many great dancers to take in all at once. 
 
In another break from the traditional production, Elvis Presley was also replaced in this show with Elton John - perhaps a contemporary nod to the LGBTQ community. 
 
Evan Alexander Smith who plays Joseph as a nerdy, confused young man fell short for me. Although Smith has a great singing voice in general, his lackluster, befuddled portrayal of Joseph left me wanting someone with more star quality at any age in that role. Unfortunately for Smith, it would probably take someone with Donny Osmond's level of sex appeal and onstage charisma to have been be able to play the essential lead role in a way that wasn't dwarfed so completely by Christine Bianco's many talents. 
 
The musical is based on the Biblical story in Genesis of Joseph’s who receives nothing but jealously from his eleven brothers after their father, Jacob, gifts him with a colorful coat. Beaten and left for dead by his own siblings, Joseph is kidnapped up by slave traders and taken to Egypt. It is after his ability to translate dreams reaches the pharaoh, that his life takes an unexpected turn.
 
This production is absolutely nothing like the "Technicolor Dream Coat" Chicagoan's have been taking their kids to for decades, and at times is a bit confusing while following the quickly moving lyrics as they are now delivered in such a unique way especially by Bianco. But as an adult wanting to see a fresh, fun and sexy version of the Joseph story, I was really blown away by the blast of color, powerful sound and spectacle delivered by the entire cast and design team. 
 
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, currently being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through March 25th, is a lively musical that dazzles visually and includes all around excellent performances from its gifted cast. For more show information visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

 

The parallels between "The Good Fight's” retelling of the British Suffrage Movement -  and the Women's March going on in all countries around the globe now are truly uncanny and a little bit frightening. The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).British women's suffrage movement coined the powerful phrase “Deeds, not words" in response to the 50-year-long refusal by Parliament to allow women to vote in the UK. 

Babes with Blades latest production, “The Good Fight” is a stark reminder of today’s issues at hand. History is doomed to repeat itself, and in Babes with Blades latest production, “The Good Fight” at City Lit Theatre the already revved up Chicago audience finds a thought provoking reminder of yesterday's issues which are still being fought for today. 

There are many interesting, and also tragic, scenes that are presented well in this production. WSPU members were regularly subjected to police brutality like being beaten and arrested while demonstrating peacefully or simply selling their Women's Press newspaper, "Votes for Women".  The aging leader of the WSPU, Emmeline Pankhurst (Jean Marie Koons), and other members were arrested repeatedly under an actual law with the degrading and disgusting title “The Cat and Mouse Act".

"The Cat and Mouse Act" allowed police to not only repeatedly arrest and imprison members like Pankhurst but also to brutally force feed them while in prison when they chose to go on hunger strikes. As one character in the play mentions, "You are never the same after the force feeding." 

Force feeding was done by restraining the female prisoner on a medical table by her arms and legs then applying metal clamps to her mouth and teeth to open them so that a feeding tube, which often tore open their vocal cords in the process, could be forcibly shoved down their throats in an effort to punish them. This created a hollow appeasement to the public that they were being "fed by prison guards" in order to save their lives. 

Another fascinating and little known story is told about the group of fighting Suffragette’s called "The Bodyguard", a group of specially trained women who learned the martial art of Jiu Jitsu in order to protect their leader from the police brutality and repeated arrests at each WSPU demonstration. 

The fact that these early suffragettes NEEDED to learn to fight using hand to hand combat just shows clearly how violently they were abused by the police and lawmakers at the time. It's too bad this production didn't get a mention in about the South Asian British suffragettes without whom this battle would not have been won. 

Some scenes were real reminders of how male autocrats use physical force to rule over their subjects. Playwright Anne Bertram includes scenes about Parliament arguments over whether to allow women the vote, which included arguments that the women's hats would be too large to see over if women were voted into government. Another argued the stressing of women's physical weakness as an indicator that they must be ruled over because men are born capable of physically subduing women, etc.  

Although this quote is not in the play it was one of these infuriating responses that served to agitate the movement completely when in June of 1908 the WSPU held a 300,000-strong "Women's Sunday" rally in Hyde Park. The suffragettes argued for women's suffrage with the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The Prime Minister agreed with their argument but "was obliged to do nothing at all about it" and so urged the women to "go on pestering" and to exercise "the virtue of patience".

Some of the women present had been virtuously patiently fighting for their rights for FIFTY years and so the advice to "go on pestering” was felt as an unbelievably patronizing and disgustingly inhumane response from the Prime Minister, which spawned the more militant actions to come. 

One of the most interesting things I did not know about the WSPU and the formation of " The Bodyguard" is that the WSPU members debated  among themselves whether or not to return violence with violence or continue to resist peacefully, doing only damage to abandoned buildings and closed stores in order to avoid using violence to defend their aging leader and other young members from  the  physical destruction of lives through the "Cat and Mouse" torture and release legislation.This production mentions the interesting and bitterly ironic fact that Parliament also passed another legislation protecting it's armed forces that forbade women attending WSPU peaceful marches or protests to wear "hat pins" to fasten their hats because so many police were "poked with hat pins while attempting to arrest protesters that the hat pins were now considered by baton and gun wielding policemen as weapons! 

Hence, the brilliant and necessary formation of " The Bodyguard" which utilized the peaceful art of jujitsu; one of the only martial arts in the world which uses ONLY the energy of an attacker’s momentum to respond to and end the attackers violent actions. 

The essential scenes for this production directed with passion by Elizabeth Lovelady and fight choreographer Gaby Labotka made great use of the relatively small space for so much physical action and complex action scenes. I loved the use of the sumptuous period costumes and official colors of the WSPU. As is stated, “In 1908 the WSPU adopted purple, white, and green as its official colours. These colours were chosen because Purple...stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette...white stands for purity in private and public life...green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring."

Some of the British accents could use some work because it was a little bit distracting to hear them come and go within a couple cast members. Each member of this ensemble did a great job expressing the fever, excitement and anguish of meeting each day’s challenges and humiliations. 

Emmeline Pankhurst was played beautifully with great wisdom and pride by Jean Marie Koon. Grace Roe, a jailed WSPU member and one of the founders of the movement, was played with wonderful sensitivity and forceful energy by Arielle Leverett. 

I enjoyed watching this play surrounded by Chicagoan's who are right now marching 300,000 strong downtown to protest all GOP of the human rights being eroded by the current Trump administration. 

The fact that in 2018, it has been less than 100 years since women have been given the right to vote and the fact that not only are women still fighting for equal pay, they are also still fighting to keep their rights to abortion, healthcare and protection from career ending sexual harassment while an accused sexual harasser of the worst kind  has been " voted" somehow into the highest office in the land, makes this production a must see for all who are struggling daily to keep up their own energy physically and emotionally to fight "the good fight".  

I highly recommend taking your sons and daughter to see this informative and sadly, still VERY relevant, production to show them how long it takes to win this type of good fight and also that the good fight has not yet been entirely won. 

“The Good Fight” is being performed through February 17th at City Lit Theatre - http://babeswithblades.org/winter-2018-good-fight/.

This is Hell in a Handbag’s 15th Season and yet every year I look forward more than ever to seeing a Christmas show that's as irreverent and funny as "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer". This year Handbag's Artistic Director and writer of the original, and yearly refreshed, Christmas production, David Cerda, delivers not only his much beloved impression of Gladys Dasher with ruby red lips, jet black bouffant and commanding personality reminiscent of Joan Crawford, he also delights the audience with a spot-on characterization of Ivanka Trump (pronounced Iwanka). Cerda is a delight in this new role playing the mush-mouthed, often victimized, blonde wife of Santa Claus.

There is a wonderful rewrite of the entire opening of " Rudolph" this year regarding Trump and Iwanka and how they have affected the Gay community that resounded well with the audience and got huge laughs of recognition and applause. 

"Rudolph” is a fabulous LGBT version of the old tale where Rudolph is left out of playing reindeer games and is bullied mercilessly because he is too effeminate to pull Santa's sleigh. Along the way we meet many other characters who've been marginalized as well, like the toys banished to the island of badly built toys and even Rudolph's girlfriend Clarice who is secretly a bi-sexual feminist who is perfectly happy with Rudolph as her friend no matter what he likes to wear out in the snow, red hose and heels notwithstanding. 

There was a mix of old and new faces from Hell in a Handbag’s extremely talented singers and dancers from their  revolving base of performers and I really felt like I was seeing the finest lineup and the most energetic, funny cast of this production in past years with Graham Thomas Heacock as Rudolph, Kristopher Bottrall as Herbie, Allison Petrillo as Jane Donner, Chase Wheaton-Werle as Tom Donner, Michael Hampton as Santa, Tommy Bullington as Mrs. Claus, Sydney Genco as Elfina, Colin Funk as Spike, Michael Rawls as Score, Josh Kemper as Coach Comet, Lori Lee as Yukon Cornelia, Terry McCarthy as Connie Blitzen, David Cerda as Gladys Dasher, Christea Parent as Clarice and Matthew Sergot as Sam the Snowman.

Given that this year full of Trump's insane negativity and lawlessness is without a doubt the most frightening, turbulent New Year’s and Christmas ever for all unique individuals, from little girls to grown men and women of every race, gender and religion. Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer is the type of heart lifting entertainment full of really great laughs and gags from beginning to end that Chicago audiences need more than ever!

I highly recommend this classic hilarious tale about being who you really are and fighting back against evil that conspires to divide and punish people based on their perceived frailties for EVERYONE. If you've seen it before you must see it again because this year’s script and cast of Rudolph really delivers the heart and the funny with a comic ferocity like never before.

With a hilarious script and songs that are as relevant to our current political climate as they are funny, "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer" is being performed at Mary’s Attic through January 1st. More information on this great Chicago holiday tradition can be found at www.handbagproductions.org.

 

As a theater critic who used to travel to Las Vegas twice a year to review some of the most unusual shows, I have seen a lot of amazing Cirque De Soleil productions. Crystal, now being performed at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, is the first Cirque show I have seen incorporating ice skating as well as the acrobatics and great dancing I have come to expect from Cirque de Soleil performance. Cirque shows are unique in that they include performers from all over the world and include some of the most imaginative acts ever seen.  

Crystal was no exception. I was thoroughly impressed with this unique show's high production value, up to date personal, empowering story line and superbly multi-talented performers. 

Crystal is a family friendly show that will also appeal to adults with its seductively yet tastefully clad dancer/skaters aerialists and powerful live music. In fact, some of the musicians actually take to the ice while playing their instruments!

Crystal tells the story of a young girl who is very sensitive to the negativity she faces all around her in everyday life including the monotony of school days, the threat of bullying because of her own uniqueness and the sadness that comes from watching her parents also crushed by the difficulties of daily life and simply "going through the motions" of love. 

Crystal wishes she could skate away from it all and doing so gets her wish when she falls through the ice and into a parallel universe where she meets another wiser version of herself and receives a great gift to help her through life by expressing her deepest thoughts and feelings - the gift of writing!

Crystal's delightfully rebellious and complex character is played by a few different dancers and with the help of stunning lighting effects, breathtaking stunts and a soaring musical score, the audience gets to see Crystal's magical journey similar to that in Alice in Wonderland in three never before seen dimensions. 

The audience I was with gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation. The show includes amazing ice skating stunts along beautifully choreographed Olympics-caliber performances. There are also high-flying acts by talented aerialists that are breathtaking, stunning acrobatics, colorful costumes and a good amount of humor.

I highly recommend this mystical and exciting production for adults who'd like to see a really special holiday show and children who will be blown away by the grace of the dancer/skaters, the nail biting scariness of the aerialists and the humorous beaks by several characters which also include ice skating stunts and jumps that will have you catching your breath with suspense. 

Crystal is performed at Sears Centre Arena through November 19th.

In reviewing Jimmy Buffett’s new musical Escape to Margaritaville I was seated in the last row of the Oriental Theatre but since the row was reserved and nearly empty, I settled in for a nice relaxing show with no one coughing on me or knocking my elbow off the armrest. The show began and a few minutes later two smiling, enthusiastic, knee tapping men came in and sat next to me on the aisle.
They were whispering excitedly back and forth and one of the men, who was small-framed with glasses, took out his cellphone and began typing into it every few minutes.


They seemed like such excited fans, as the phone activity continued. I didn't want to say anything but finally buckled and leaned over and gently brushed his hand, smiling like "Hey, that's a no- no." But he just smiled at me and moments later kept typing. After another ten minutes or so, I again leaned over and said, "Darlin', I know you're super excited to be here (and I pointed to my Press Kit), but I'm trying to review this show." The bouncy, Larry David lookalike laughed and said, "Darlin', I’m Jimmy Buffett!" I didn’t recognize him in the dark! 

We laughed together and naturally I told Jimmy to take as many notes as he needed! And thus began a wonderful night of celebrating this Broadway bound production based on Jimmy Buffett's life. 
The script written by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley (with book also by Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia) tells a classic story of romance between Tully, a handsome singer/songwriter living the island life, and drifting from one cute tourist to another without falling in love. Tully's world is changed however when a beautiful, intelligent, but over worked, scientist named Rachel visits the resort with her best friend Tammy who is about to be married - to the wrong man. On this island the word “work” is identified as a " dirty word" and Rachel is warned gleefully by Tully that if she says it too often her mouth will be "rinsed out with tequila!" 

The book includes original music and at least twenty-seven of Buffett's classic hits including "Come Monday", "Volcano", "Cheeseburger in Paradise", and a hilarious PG-rated version of "Let's Get Drunk (And Screw)”. 

The two youthful leads, Tully played by Paul Alexander Nolan - and Rachel (Alison Luff), have very nice chemistry, rich voices and give the rowdy, drunken fun of the play a real love story to ground it and make you care about the characters despite the constant joking around. 

Parrotheads will love the free living, take it easy on yourself moral of the story, which simply put echoes Buffett's own successful take on "living life in the moment to the fullest, and loving the one you are with.

I really love the way Rachel's character is written as both very intelligent and nature loving. The entire audience loved the way her best friend Tammy is encouraged to go ahead and EAT "the cheeseburger she desires whether she fits into her wedding dress or not and then has her literally flying across the stage (Peter Pan style) when she frees herself from the critical and unappreciative man she was about to marry before being rescued by Tully's funny, free living, best friend. 

Walt Spangler created a beautiful sparkling set full of water and sunny blue skies. The only thing I wanted to see more of in this wonderful, constantly changing island paradise set was palm trees and green. But this already winter-weary Chicago audience was delighted by the many hues of clear blue water, colorfully lit Tiki Huts and cloudless skies, nonetheless. 

The lesser known, but deeply touching Buffett songs “We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About”, “Love and Luck”, “He Went to Paris” and “License to Chill” were used to nice effect to deepen and round out the overall feelgood, life's a party feeling of the show, especially when the audience realizes even the seemingly shallow Tully understands there is something very important missing from his idyllic island lifestyle when he meets Rachel and finally feels true love for the first time. 

Opening night attendees were treated to a real Buffett experience when Jimmy joined the cast for the show’s final few numbers.

After the show I got to speak with Buffett and his fans a little more in depth at the Maragaritaville-themed after party. We laughed again at my own "work, work, work" uptightness even as Jimmy apologized profusely for having to take notes on his phone during the show and he asked me if I noticed his mature adult fans gleefully swaying and dancing in their seats. 

I DID come to the realization after talking with Parrotheads from twenty to eighty-years-old at the party, that although I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, I had no idea how vast and successful the Jimmy Buffett brand has become and stayed over past decades. I really got a sense of how happily devoted his fans are to him as a musical artist and his never give up - do it yourself lifestyle guru, if you will.  

I know the play needs to move along and stay fictional to a degree, but I would have loved to have seen a few scenes about Buffett's real-life tales of trying and failing at a music career in NY and Los Angeles. Those years of being rejected while trying to find his niche which caused him to say, "Screw You" to record execs and move his whole life to the "the farthest key in Florida", finally building his own internationally loved and recognized brand in true maverick style with his own fans from Key West. These true tales of overcoming small-minded criticisms and his so-called failures along the way are so inspirational I wish they had been addressed in this production. 

Since there is still time to tweak this fun-tastic production before it moves on to Broadway and on tour, I have to say I agree with other reviewers who were put off by the dance numbers by the dead insurance salespeople, the "LSD flashbacks" dreamt up by Tully's sidekick during stressful moments. The choreography in these dance numbers was great but the creepy, scary, gray and white ash covered insurance salespeople (whom he was told died in a volcanic eruption on the island) would have been better spent on dance numbers for the main cast members or more of the bikini and swimsuit clad vacationers to keep the fun, psychedelic friendly mood coming without interruption. 

Loved it. I highly recommend this fun loving, musically delightful production to remind everyone to SLOW DOWN, and stop towing the line at "work, work, work!" thereby letting their dreams of love and romance die a slow, painful death. Buffett's philosophy of living and acting spontaneously reminds the audience in a wonderful way that life changing chances at love (like the one when he met his wife) come and go which might never come again. 

Once I realized I was seated next to Jimmy Buffett himself during the show, I couldn't help noticing the touching way he sang along quietly to himself with his own music, these are his babies after all, and the foundation of a hugely successful $500 million dollar plus industry of restaurants, vacation cruises and music, etc., that his devoutly loyal fans, the Parrotheads, have enjoyed for thirty years. As I watched Jimmy Buffett's fans dance around their "leader in paradise" at the after party and the screams of laughter and joy during the show as beach balls came raining down on them from above, I became certain that they will continue to honor Buffet's legacy and frequent his now very real "Margaritaville" for the rest of their lives. 

Escape to Margaritaville is being performed at Oriental Theatre through December 2nd. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

 

The current production of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theater left me breathless! With book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, the newly updated and improved 42nd Street blends different periods of dance from the sixties to the present including some of the best tap dancers (don't call them hoofers) I have seen assembled for one show. 

Telling the age-old fantasy of Broadway performers everywhere as newcomer to New York, Peggy Sawyer, gets her chance at stardom and saving the show when the star falls during rehearsals and breaks her ankle. But this version is sympathetic to both the aging star, Suzzanne Douglas as Dorothy Brock, who has worked a long time and entertained the advances of a sexist producer just to finally have her stage time. Douglas has a beautiful rich, soulful singing voice and is very beautiful in this role. 

Kimberly Immanuel as Peggy Sawyer is also seen more realistically as a starving artist who just wants a break instead of a conniving backstabber out to hurt the leading lady. She is cute and unassuming as the newcomer who really has flying feet. Immanuel does a great job staying likable in her singing and acting and then dazzles the audience with some "out of this world" tap dancing which truly pleases the ears and eyes.  

Gene Weygandt as Julian Marsh, a Broadway director with the power to make stars and break them, also turns in a lovely performance with top-notch vocals, which make the character of Marsh more concerned with the dream world of Broadway life and less scary and sexist than I have seen director portrayals in other productions. 

This spectacularly energetic, colorful and sparkly, yes sparkly, production is directed artfully by Michael Heitzman, with choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Roberta Duchak, scenic design by Collette Pollard, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Ray Nardelli, and music arrangements by Everett Bradley.

The set and lighting changes and costume design really do satisfy Chicago audiences’ need to see productions that dazzle just as much as the run on Broadway on every level and leaves the audience energized and happy to have seen this show. 

I want to name the other stars and the ensemble because every single character was fully drawn in this wonderful production with Phillip Attmore as Billy Lawler, Justin Brill as Bert Barry, Donica Lynn as Maggie Jones, Brandon Springman as Pat/Ensemble, Cedric Young as Abner Dillon, Erica Evans as Andy Lee/Ensemble, and Sierra Schnack as Annie/Ensemble. The cast also includes Bret Tuomi, Time Brickey, Lamont Brown, Tristan Bruns, Joe Capstick, Joel Chambers, Andrea Collier, Gabriela Delano, Annie Jo Ermel, Rachel Marie LaPorte, Mandy Modic, Thomas Ortiz, Allie Pizzo, Marisa Reigle, Anthony Sullivan Jr., and Davon Suttles.

Full of fun hits such as “We’re in the Money”, this is a show that doesn’t stop. One of the most memorable scenes I have ever witnessed is a highly complex, mind blowingly and highly difficult six person tap piece that eventually turns into a full cast number worthy of anything I have seen in Broadway productions or at larger theaters in downtown Chicago or New York.

I highly recommend this run of 42nd Street at The Drury Lane for an exciting, feel good, upbeat Holiday spectacle about the joy of showbiz as we used to all envision it unfolding for a young star in the making. 

42nd Street is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through January 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

 

Most people are aware of the movie Carrie, starring the haunting Sissy Spacek as the picked on teenaged outsider who uses her telekinetic powers to burn down her high school with most of her attackers in it, but few know there was a sequel made in the 90's where her long lost sister ends up using the same powers to avenge her and her best friend’s mistreatment. The sequel is appropriately titled Carrie 2: The Rage

Writer/composer Preston Max Allen does an amazing job of using the movie sequel as his starting point in Carrie 2: The Rage (An Unauthorized Musical Parody), writing many very funny and well-crafted parody songs and scenes to fill out the play. 

Rachel Lang, the lead played solidly by Demi Zaino, finds out that the reason her best friend committed suicide the day after happily losing her virginity to one of the boys on the football team is a cruel game that the boys are playing with young girl's minds by judging their looks with a point system for the football player who "bangs them". The boys then and then dump the girls who are considered "coyote's,” not really the ugly girls just the sensitive, nerdy vulnerable ones. 

Then to make things worse Rachel ends up stealing the heart of the only nice football player that the head cheerleader is in love with and thereby invites the wrath of the cheerleaders and the team when she tries to prove the team were at fault for her friend’s death. As revenge, the team and cheerleaders gang up on Rachel and orchestrate the video taping of her having sex with the nice football player named Jesse. After viewing herself having sex and being laughed at by everyone invited to a private party, Rachel unleashes her inherited telekinetic rage powers to kill everyone much the same way Carrie did nearly two decades earlier. 

Although the plot of Carrie 2: The Rage seems like a perfect warning tale about bullying, it is also a terrifying reminder of the damage caused by sexual harassment and rape.

First of all, it is terrifying to grow up in an age where your immature teenage peers can make a sex tape of you and show it to everyone you know. Also, it shows that Rachel's virginal friend is actually thrilled to have "become a woman" with what she thinks is her new boyfriend - until he breaks up with her the very next day because his friends call her a "coyote".

The way she is broken up with is worse than the act of sex itself because it means that the act of sex itself was a vengeful act to him, not the beautiful loving experience she had been conned into thinking it was. 

All three cheerleaders are played with perfect camp, each having their own unique brand of snotty mean girl-ness that is very funny and well played. But two character actresses really steal the show in the roles of Rachel's mentally ill mother, Annie Pfohl and the high school counselor, who witnessed the first destruction of the high school with Carrie at the helm played by Sue Snell. Both Snell and Pfohl play the crazy in their roles with fantastic realism and comic timing which takes the play to a whole new level of both humor and spookiness. Sam Button-Harrison is also tremendously funny as the play’s lead bully.

You really feel for these beleaguered women who are trying desperately to forget and prevent the tragedy that has ruined their lives as well as Carrie, and now poor Rachel's, at the hands of some of the meanest boys and girls the musical comedy stage has ever seen. 

Eric Luchen, designs a set in the tiny Arkham space that seems to expand and contract with each number in marvelous ways. Choreographer Maggie Robinson and co-directors Rachel Elise Johnson and Isaac Loomer each do a wonderful job bringing this nice sized cast to life with full out dance numbers and great lighting and sound effects that move along quickly and seemed to be unfolding in a much larger space. 

I really laughed at, and thoroughly enjoyed, this well played, musical wild ride through the early nineties (right down to Rachel’s torn jeans, army boots and plaid shirt tied around her waist). The Rage is filled with gore, laughs and a moral - "People shouldn't suck so much!" Just in time for Halloween! 

Underscore Theatre’s Carrie: The Rage (An Unauthorized Musical Parody) is being performed at The Arkham through November 19th. For more show information visit http://www.underscoretheatre.org/.

 

Hell in a Handbag rings in its fifteenth-anniversary season with real magic in this hilarious spoof of the 60's and 70's TV shows we all grew up loving with its hocus-pocus focus on the show Bewitched

In this tale, Bewildered, by Aaron Benham (music and lyrics) and Ron Weaver (book and lyrics) Gladys Kravitz, the nosey neighbor of the magical family finally gets her due when she stops spying on the witch-filled household and is invited to have dinner with them. Caitlin Jackson as Gladys is splendid as she has both the musical chops to belt out every note with ease and turn the obnoxious neighbor into a sympathetic "every- woman" who feels unloved as a wife and disrespected as a person. As Gladys discovers in the surprise ending that she is magical too, her song "Leading Lady" reminds everyone in the audience to be true to themselves no matter who they are because in the end, we are ALL the leading ladies in our own lives. 

David Cerda, Hell in a Handbag, artistic director as Endora is truly at his best in this FABULOUSLY funny portrayal of Samantha's mother and steals every scene under his wig with a bat of his eyelashes and a twirl of the spectacular multi-faceted bejeweled caftans designed by Rachel Sypniewski with spot on funny as hell period wigs by Keith Ryan. Cerda as Endorra also reminds us of the ongoing plot line in the original series wherein she tries to get Samantha to leave her straight laced, sexually uninterested husband and choose from among thousands of eligible warlocks where she could live a life of magic and freedom! Instead Samantha chooses the daily humdrum dimension of the limited earth life with all its cold rules and regulations for women and men which don’t include the use of magic.

Elizabeth Morgan is adorable as Samantha and has a nice voice but needs to step out a little more with her nose twitching delightfully -  in order to keep up with the shine and glamour of wit coming full blast out of the regular cast members of Hell in a Handbag. 

As always, Ed Jones' highly anticipated presence in the show does not disappoint as Uncle Arthur and absolutely brings down the house while setting up the main story line with his wonderful rendition of "Let Yourself be a Little Gay!" Ed Jones and  David Cerda really seem to have studied their characters minute mannerisms and trademark funny bits to a tee and several times I squint my eyes and could have sworn they were channeling the original brilliant actors and actresses who played these roles on TV.  

The production handles the magic wielded by Samantha and company in a unique fashion that adds yet another jolt of humor to its audience. Bewildered also has fun with the mystery of the two Darrins who play Samantha's husbands on Bewitched in a very clever way that just has to be seen to be appreciated. 

The great thing about the superbly camp productions put on year after year by Hell in a Handbag is that no matter how bawdy they are, or how many lines of individuality they cross, they always have a positive moral underlying each show that makes you feel "pretty oh, so pretty!" in the skin that you are in!

I highly recommend seeing this fun-tastic, fast-flying production for everyone who needs a good jolt of laughter and positive affirmation about the life you are leading in these strange and hostile times.

Bewildered is being performed at Stage 773 through November 11th. For more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org.  

 

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” written by Matthew Lopez, is an adorable and entertaining piece brought to sexy, vibrant life by an exquisitely multi-talented cast of characters. 

The play is set in a dusty part of the Florida panhandle at a run-down club called Cleo's owned by Eddie played with great irony by character actor Keith Kupferer. 

After night in and night out with an unsuccessful Elvis act, Eddie has allowed his cousin "Miss Tracy Mills" (Sean Blake) to bring her two man/woman drag show to the club in the hopes of salvaging his nightclub income. 

Sean Blake is amazing and seems born to play this role. Blake gets the most laughs and the most oohs and aahs with each stunning costume change or drag number and absolutely steals the show.  Miss mills also brings with her another drag queen of the highest order but one with a serious drinking problem named Rexy. 

Rexy played by Jeff Kurysz is hysterically funny in this role and does double time as Casey’s landlord and friend, a straight married man with children. Kurysz did so well in this transformation, it took me halfway through the play to realize this was the same person playing tow completely opposite roles and that was only because I thought I saw just a hint of blue eye shadow left over during his quick change from drag queen to local roofer!

The lead role of Casey is played with real charisma and fantastic dance abilities by Nate Santana. Casey has been trying to eke out a living doing his Elvis impersonation at the club but do to waning interest in his act has been demoted to bartender to make room for the new drag show. His wife, Jo (Leslie Ann Sheppard) has informed him she is pregnant and must give up his dreams of playing Elvis in order to support the family. The couple works well together, presenting a believable dynamic and we are easily able to root for them.

In the end, Casey learns to become a successful drag queen (after reluctantly doing so originally when asked by Eddie after Rexy is passed out drunk just before her number) and fulfills his artistic talents in this way. Just watching Casey’s transformation from Elvis impersonator to slovenly, broken down bartender to show-stopping drag queen is worth the price of admission and Santana does so with great communicative eyes and terrific physical comedy skills. 

Is drag just performing? No it is not as Rexy later explains to Casey, who thinks it's as simple as performing a show - it is a protest. There is much more to drag than eye shadow, glitzy dresses and fake boobs. It is a way of life, something to take your lumps for and definitely something not for "pussies". 

The set which slides back and forth to become their shoddy apartment and the dressing room of the bar is a little confusing and doesn't quite give the intimacy to either environment that it deserves. However, the lighting (JR Lederle), sound (Kevin O’Donnell), amazing costumes (Rachel Laritz), fabulous wigs (Penny Lane Studios- WOW!) and funny props by Bronte DeShong and yummy choreography by Chris Carter more than make up for that distraction. 

I highly recommend this laugh a minute feel-good comedy with several smashing dance numbers about making your dreams come true "right where you are with what you've got to work with" for the whole family to enjoy. 

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is being performed at Northlight Theatre through October 22nd. More show information can be found at www.northlight.org.

 

If you like Vegas like I like Vegas, you will love Marriott Theatre’s energetic and top notch, romantic musical comedy production of "Honeymoon in Vegas"!

Jack Singer (Michael Mahler) is in love with his girlfriend of five years Betsy Nolan (played with terrific spunk and formidable singing chops by Samantha Pauly), but was traumatized by the deathbed wish his mother imposed on him never to marry, because no one can love him like she did.  Bea (Marya Grandy) plays his mother with great physical comedy skills and her hospital deathbed scene where she strikes down a passing nurse in order to show jack what she can do to his future brides to be, gets some of the biggest laughs in the show. 

Jack and Betsy get through this flashback scene and resulting panic attack while shopping at Tiffany's for her ring and head straight to Vegas to tie the knot - before he loses his nerve for the umpteenth time. 

Upon arriving in Vegas, Betsy is instantly spotted by Tommy Korman, a rich, handsome but slightly shady businessman played to perfection by Chicago born actor Sean Allan Krill. Betsy reminds Korman of his past wife and then he goes all out to steal her from tentative Singer. His pursuit really begins when he invites Singer to a “low stakes” poker game, letting him win a few hands – a total set up. Singer has a hand next to impossible to beat and the pot becomes so large there is no way he can pay up if he loses. That’s when the fun really begins. Sean Allen Krill was the standby in this role for Tony Danza on Broadway. Krill was just fantastic and I'm not the only critic in Chicago to say Sean Allen Krill should be a huge Broadway star right now. Krill is so smooth in the role of Tommy Korman, so fluid and graceful in his immediate desire for, and courtship of, Betsy that women and men throughout the theater were so wowed by Krill's amazing singing voice and comedic acting chops that they actually wished Betsy would stay with him in Hawaii and not marry the non-committal, bumbling, but kind, Jack Singer. 

Another character actress deserving of special notice is Christine Bunuan, as the funny and fabulous Hawaiian tour guide who helps Jack find Betsy and Korman (yes, the story moves to Hawaii), but not without first trying desperately to make “Friki-Friki with Jack before delivering him to his destination. 

While talented Alex Goodrich is very funny to watch in multiple roles, Steven Strafford also shows off his comedic talent as Korman's sidekick, Johnny Sandwich.  

Several of the leading creators of its 2015 Broadway production were brought in by the Marriott Theater including director Gary Griffin, choreographer Denis Jones, and costume designer Brian Hemesath. The effect of all these highly skilled players coming together is a full-service production that grabs you right from the start with well-paced scenes and challenging, yet humorous, dance numbers that dazzle the audience with beautiful, leggy showgirls - Vegas style. 

I highly recommend this adorably sexy and funny, Elvis-filled production for young and old alike. This production is so well-played and fun to watch that you will feel you have had a honeymoon in Vegas - with a stop-over in beautiful Hawaii to boot!  

Honeymoon in Vegas is being performed at Marriott Theatre through October 15th. For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

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