REVIEW: Peter Pan (Emerald City Theatre)

Tinkerbell’s pixie-dust works its magic on rollicking production

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Emerald City Theatre presents:

Peter Pan

Based on the character created by J.M. Barrie
Book and lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli
Music by Steve Goers
Directed by Matthew Gunnels
Thru July 22nd at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (more info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Disney, Depp, Dustin, Duncan, the legend of Peter Pan has been retold and reimagined on stage and screen for over a century. This time its Emerald City Theatre’s adaptation as they present the world premiere of Peter Pan. Based on the character created by J.M. Barrie, Emerald City has created an energetic and colorful musical of the infamous boy who didn’t want to grow up. This version focuses on Wendy’s rite of passage. Mr. and Mrs. Darling want Wendy to move out of her childhood nursery and put on a big girl’s dress. Wendy wants to play! Cue the Pan. Peter arrives to whisk her away. He takes her to Neverland, a magical island where lost boys, pirates, Indians and a crocodile duel it out daily in the ultimate never ending game. Emerald City’s Peter Pan is a fun family pleaser with comedy and sentimentality that reaches the child in all of us.

In my Peter Pan encounters, I’ve never rooted for the pirates. Until now! Aside from trying to stab and poison people, Captain Hook (Michael Kingston) and Smee (Zev Steinberg ) are likable guys. Steve Goer‘s “Pirates with a Plan” song is a standout number with Kingston and Steinberg’s comedic antics. In particular, Steinberg is acrobatic in his movement throughout the play. His fight with Jamila Turner (Tiger Lilly) has a thrilling physicality. And Turner shifts gears perfectly in her dual roles as a strong, independent princess warrior and the empathetic maternal Mrs. Darling. Michael Rieman (Tootles) and Caleb Probst (Slightly) are hilarious as the lost boys and later in drag as the mermaids. Allison Lind (Wendy) is wonderful playing a girl playing a mother in a pretend world. With a permanent angelic smile, Ryotaro Shigeta (Peter) exudes a youthful arrogance and sense of fun. He is definitely “The Pan.”

Sprinkling the pixie dust on his talented ensemble, Matthew Gunnels directs a briskly paced sixty minute adventure. The choreography (Ernie Nolan ) is bursts of activity in the lively chases and fighting. The costumes (Branimira Ivanova ) are childlike fun. Peter and the lost boys wear lively patchwork outfits that fit a child’s imaginative style; the mermaids are in vibrant wigs and tails swimming on rollers. This Peter Pan production is all about special touches that add to its entertainment value. Special props to the prop master (Jenny Pinson). Hook has multiple versions of his prosthetic hand, including a toothbrush. One of my favorite moments is the glasses, umbrella and teddy bear used in the very satisfying ending. It was a nod out to the Disney version of “Peter Pan” which made me a little misty for my own childhood bedroom. Emerald City’s Peter Pan magically transports you back to Neverland. Whether it’s for the first-time or a return visit, the voyage is a fun trip!

Rating: ★★★½

Running time: Sixty minutes with no intermission. Parking lot available for earlier arrivals. This play is suitable for families with children ages 3 to 12 years .

EXTRA CREDIT:

REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott takes the Jewish out of Fiddler

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Marriott Theatre presents

Fiddler on the Roof

Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem
Directed and choreographed by David H. Bell,
musical direction by Doug Peck
Through April 25 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

With its haunting melodies, endearing characters and poignant, historic story, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the greatest musicals of all time. Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick crafted a musical so beautiful, so compelling, that — from Broadway theater to high-school auditorium — it’s a tough show to screw up. As with any production of this engaging show, Marriott Theatre’s "Fiddler" offers much to enjoy, but it’s a long way from a great version.

fiddler03 The story of Tevye, a Jewish dairyman, and his family and friends in the Russian shtetl Anatevka, ca. 1905, is a multi-layered tale both personal and sweeping. In its conflicts between progress and tradition, between generations, between duty and desire and between different faiths and cultures, "Fiddler on the Roof" offers many universal truths. Tevye is a father coming to grips with his children’s coming of age. Anatevka stands for a lost way of life, as exotic and vanished a culture as Brigadoon.

Yet despite the looming presence of the disruptive outsiders, Anatevka represents not just any lost society, but a Jewish homeland, a tight community whose people spoke their own Jewish tongue (Yiddish, the language in which Sholom Aleichem wrote the original stories that inspired this musical) and where they brought up their children according to age-old Jewish customs. Tevye, above anything else, is a deeply religious Jew. Further, his people’s traditions were not just left behind by the passing of time, they were murderously stolen by bitter bigotry.

Fiddler on the Roof, first and foremost, is a Jewish story. Director David H. Bell, in his perception of Tevye as a bland "Everyman," seems to have missed that point.

You’ll rarely hear any Yiddish or Hebraic accent in his version of "Fiddler." When the script or score compels it, as in the "bidi-bidi-bums" of the klezmer-style song, "If I Were a Rich Man," Ross Lehman, as Tevye, seems ill at ease, almost swallowing the fiddler04syllables. James Harms, meanwhile, plays the village rabbi like an Irish priest, complete with rolled R’s. The whole rhythm of the show seems off, in part because it lacks the cantorial cadence normally imbuing the lead.

Lehman may be the least patriarchal Tevye ever — not discounting those high-school productions. It’s not that he’s a tenor in a role typically cast for a baritone and a physically smaller man than the actors famous for this part; it’s mostly his tone. Tevye, a devout and spiritual man, expresses his deep, personal relationship with God and with his family conversationally and often sardonically throughout the play, but he isn’t snide. Lehman’s Tevye is snarky where he ought to be good-humoredly ironic, arch when he should be aggravated. His performance evokes Paul Lynde or Edna Turnblad (his most recent role at Marriott, a brilliant turn) more than Zero Mostel or Topol.

Beyond casting flaws, Bell’s direction and choreography frequently disappoint. Although he’s no newcomer to Marriott’s theater-in-the-round stage, this show seems to have challenged his ingenuity. From my seat in Section 4, far too many scenes had me looking at actors’ backs. Faces were often obscured by vertical posts or the back of another player’s head. This particularly marred the scenes where Tevye and the butcher Lazar Wolf (an oddly low key David Girolmo) talk at cross purposes and in which Tevye recounts his nightmare to his wife, Golde. Bell redeems these scenes somewhat by well-executed dance numbers, but there, too, I often seemed to be viewing them edge on.

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Marriott Theatre typically stages musicals with large casts beautifully, yet the "Fiddler" stage often seemed cramped and overcrowded, particularly in ensemble numbers such as the "Sabbath Prayer" sequence. Thomas M. Ryan’s set is lightly furnished (except for those unfortunate posts) and he’s used hanging lanterns and other tricks to expand the stage beyond its physical space, so that fault can’t be laid at his feet.

The ensemble as a whole perform very well, and nothing can rob the power from "To Life" or "Sunrise, Sunset." Andrew Keltz, as Motel, does a sweet version of "Miracle of Miracles," but there are no strong individual voices. Again, beyond Nancy Missimi’s traditional costumes, the characters, even in otherwise excellent performances such as Jessie Mueller’s anguished Tzeitel, Rebecca Finnegan’s brisk Yente and Paula Scrofano’s forthright Golde, rarely convey any sense of Jewish or Old World identity.

The residents of Bell’s Anatevka don’t need to go to America at the end of the play. They’re already there.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

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REVIEW: The Rant (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Mary-Arrchie’s ‘The Rant’ Illuminates and Devastates

Mary-Arrchie's "The Rant"

Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents:

The Rant

by Andrew Case
directed by Sharon Evans
at
Angel Island Theatre through March 28th (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Much about Andrew Case’s play The Rant masquerades as a typical cop show. There are interrogations with guys in police uniform across bare tables under unforgiving lights. All the same, the play’s dialogue is too whipsmart for television. It’s subject—an investigation of police misconduct—pushes beyond the conservative boundaries of cop/good-perp/bad formulas dominating network television. Finally, the sophisticated handling of media relations between public and police is all too knowing and wise.

rant2 Case invests eight years’ experience on police misconduct issues for New York City into this no-holds-barred one-act, and it shows—like a house on fire. The result is a sorely needed resuscitation of public dialogue on the hope of preserving justice in a system hideously compromised by racism, truncated by police cultural codes of loyalty and silence, and all too often cynically betrayed by the fourth estate.

Public Advocate Lila Mahnaz (Lindsey Pearlman) wants to get at the truth. The autistic son of Denise Reeves (Shariba Rivers) has been shot and killed during a police response to a call. Her own background as an Iranian Persian-American, informs her view of police behavior with jaundiced skepticism and almost revolutionary fervor. Her pursuit of the truth takes her down a winding road that exposes police corruption, the exploitation of and by the press, and the comprehendible, but frustrating, unreliability of witnesses. Her progress acts as a great meditation the difficulty of getting to the whole truth, encompassing many of the pitfalls of well-meaning advocacy.

Director Sharon Evans’ superlative cast nails this intelligent drama to the wall. Rivers’ aggrieved Denise, mother of the slain boy, packs a lifetime of angry suffering into every uttered syllable—it’s a weight she both resignedly shoulders and also wields as a weapon against her detractors. Pearlman’s public advocate displays the earnest pluck and self-righteousness of youth running smack into the roadblocks of police obfuscation and threats. At the same time, she is forced into confronting the barriers created by her own relatively privileged life. Earl Pastko as Mahnaz’s clandestine journalist contact, Alexander Stern, is perfectly sharp, jaded, neurotic, and totally New York. “I no longer believe in facts,” says Stern, “I believe in leverage.” Emanueal Buckley’s performance as Officer Charles Simmons potently rounds out the play. His sorrowful closing monologue seals the play’s mounting despair on the possibility of ever seeing justice done.

TheRant-Press1I’m of two minds about Heath Hays’ rough and ready set design. At times the primitively constructed flats—clear plastic stretched over wooden frames–serves Matthew Gawryk’s visceral lighting design superbly and fits the anarchist vibe of the Mary-Arrchie Theatre to a T. At other times it seems too ghetto-fabulous for its own good and there’s no need for that here. The play is already gritty and fabulous. The cast is rock-solid fabulous. Mary-Arrchie has a hit on its hands. Audiences should run, not walk, to see it.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

Photos by Sharon Evans

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Village Players taps storyteller Megan Wells as first artistic associate

 

Village Players' new Artistic Associate, Megan WellsDirector, actor and storyteller Megan Wells has been named Artistic Associate at Oak Park’s Village Players Theatre. She is the first Artistic Associate to be named at the 50-year-old non-Equity theater, and ushers in a new program implemented by Artistic Director Daniel Taube.

Taube was named Artistic Director at the theater in August, after former Artistic Director Carl Occhipinti left the post to devote himself full-time to his thriving career in therapeutic massage. VPT has two stages, the 50-seat black box Studio Theatre established by Occhipinti several years ago, and a 180-seat main stage that’s been the bulwark of the 1010 W.  Madison Street facility since it opened in 1984.

Wells, of Lagrange Park, is well known in story-telling circles for her prowess with original works. She has toured locally and regionally with her one-woman performances of Dracula, Psyche and Eros, Helen’s Troy, Firebird, and The Last Supper, spinning tales that merge rich dramatic detail with thorough scholarship.  Wells has numerous awards for storytelling, including the EdPress Distinguished Achievement Award for “Fire in Boomtown”, a piece on the history of the Chicago fire she performer with composer/musician Amy Lowe. Her most recent work at VPT was helming The Miracle Worker for the studio space earlier this season.

While the precise nature of the Artistic Associate program has not been spelled out, it will be a “sort of residency fundamental to improving the quality of progressive work at VPT in the coming years,” Taube said in a prepared statement.

VPT is in the middle of its 2009-2010 season, with the main stage shows dedicated to “New American Classics” and the studio programming to plays written by women or focusing on a strong, central female character. A Chorus Line opens March 13 on the main stage, while Marie Irene FornesMud opens in the studio space March 27. The main stage season continues with Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Betty and Book May 7 – June 27. The studio space will host Naomi Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories June 10 – July 18.

 For more information or to reserve tickets, go to www.village-players.org or call the box office at 866-764-1010.

New works by Diaz, Jacqmin to premiere Monday at ATC

The Silver Project arrives at ATC

A free performance  of new short works by Kristoffer   DiazSteve Harper, Laura Jacqmin, Joel Drake Johnson and Justin D.M. Palmer are slated to premiere Monday, March 1 as  part of the second installment American Theatre Company’s  Silver Project.   Tickets are free for the event,  which starts at 7:30 p.m. at  the theater, 1909 W. Byron, but reservations are requested. To make a reservation, call  773/409-4125. More information is available on the ATC web site, www.atcweb.org.

 The Silver Project is part of the company’s ambitious year-long 25th Anniversary celebration. To mark the milestone, Artistic Director PJ Paparelli asked over 30 playwrights across the country to choose a year between 1985 and 2010 and to write a short play about that year. The works will all explore ATC’s mission by delving the query “what does it mean to be an American?” All 30 premieres will be presented in five parts throughout the year and as a complete cycle during the National Theatre Communications Group’s conference June 16-20, 2010.

Part 2 of The Silver Project explores domestic issues in America between 1988 to 2001.

The March 1 program will include:

Year 1991: There are Lessons to be Learned, written by Joel Drake Johnson, directed by Laura Hooper.

Year 1988: The Third Date, written by Justin DM Palmer, directed by Megan Schuchman

Year 1992: Shaquille O’Neill and Christian Lattner Discuss, written by Kristoffer Diaz, directed by Eddie Torres

Year 1996: Cow, written by Laura Jacqmin, directed by Edward Cisneros

Year 2001: Love War Death Life, written by Steve Harper, directed by Jeffry Stanton

Read about the playwrights after the fold:

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REVIEW: Pretty Penny (Right Brain Project)

Sexual appetite meets physical bodies – or vice-versa

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Right Brain Project presents:

Pretty Penny

by Randall Colburn

directed by Nathan Robbel

through March 20th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

Having cabin fever? Then check out the brooding, close quarter’s production of Randall Colburn‘s Pretty Penny over at Right Brain Project instead – it’s an inappropriately intimate storefront variation on an increasingly common theme: the uncomfortable mixture of sexual appetite, physical bodies, and the tech-induced separation of the one from the other.

Pretty Penny_3Victoria (Katy Albert) is a mischief-prone, present-day Women’s Studies student. She decides to pick up twenty hours a week at a no-restrictions-whatsoever phone sex line operation. Jerry (Josh Sumner) owns and operates this wiry brothel.  He’s a would-be photographer but instead of making pictures he wound up taking them from other people, then mixing and matching them to someone else’s voice-for-hire. People on one end of the line pay for what’s repeatedly described as a fiction – a total fantasy. Meanwhile, Jerry’s employees, and Victoria in particular, fall dangerously into the allure of the fantastical, no-restrictions alter-egos.

Enter Crystal (Susan Myburgh), strutting. Crystal is a no nonsense model with the drive and perseverance it takes to succeed in the business of flesh and posing – so naturally there are some skeletons in her closet.  Namely, some lurid, pre-nose-job skeletons, erotic photos taken by Adam some ten years earlier. She’s also got a push-over boyfriend named Tommy (Nick Mikula) who lacks the courage or emotional flexibility to go down on one knee and make Crystal his fiancée.

Jerry, on the other hand, is a pretty keen, emotionless business operator.  And he wants to put those Crystal photos on the hot-line’s site. Crystal resists, then concedes and consents to become the face of Victoria’s fictional persona. Victoria has already seen the picture that is “her.”  She’s busy trying out voices and personalities like new clothes, settling eventually on a squealy, whimsical lilt she names “Penny.”

Early on, Colburn sets the forces in motion that will eventually bring Crystal and Victoria face to face.  He also sets this meeting up as one of those forbidden encounters, likely to cause a cataclysmic disturbance.

Pretty Penny_2 It’s a difficult, almost cruel journey for an audience set in the round and just feet from the actors.  Nathan Robbel‘s otherwise strong directing might’ve benefited from an arrangement that didn’t force audience members to deal with the script’s themes of flesh and disconnect in such hyper-focused, claustrophobic quarters.  Luckily, the actor’s are, on the whole, captivating, making it natural to watch them and their subtlest gestures.

Set and props are minimal to not at all – there’s a good bit of miming, which emphasized the play’s thematic focus on our awareness of bodies in digital and physical space.  Colburn’s script is strong, dipping equally into material that is comedic then, all of a sudden, disturbing.  But the real gem of this production is Katy Albert, whose playful ease makes her electric in the collapsing double role of Victoria/Penny.

There’s a lot of writhing around in dim light talking dirty on the phone to a sordid cast of characters in Pretty Penny, but the complexity and maturity of Colburn’s writing in the talented hands of Katy Albert make the show thoughtful and rewarding for those willing to stray into its otherwise dark territory.

Rating:  ★★½

If what you really wanna do is produce… Here’s a chance to pick the brains of the industry’s elite

goodmanSo you wanna be a producer? Mark the weekend of March 19 – 21 and plan on attending the Chicago Producing Intensive Conference   at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. A $350 ticket ($275 for members of the League of Chicago Theatres) includes access to presentations and networking opportunities with a who’s who of heavy-hitter producers and  general managers from blockbuster shows in Chicago and on Broadway as well as national tours.

Presenters scheduled for the conference include  Tom Viertel, partner with Scorpio Entertainment  (A Little Night Music);   Allied Live Managing Partner Laura Matalon (Broadway’s Hair, Billy Elliot, Mama Mia and Legally Blonde,  among others);  Broadway in Chicago Vice President Eileen LaCarioJujamcyn Theatres Creative Director Jack Viertel;  Steppenwolf Theatre Executive Director David Hawkanson;  David Richards of Richards/Climan (general managers for Broadway’s  Blithe Spirit and All My Sons, among others) and Goodman Theatre Executive Director Roche Schulfer.

Presenters are slated to address audience development, script and story development and promotional strategies and marketing techniques, among others topics.

The conference is open to anyone interested in producing, co-producing or investing in the theater, be it in Chicago, New York or for national tours. Aspiring general managers and investors are also invited.  Program planners say the weekend will be of special interest to anyone exploring relationships between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors in the development of a theater project.

The Commercial Theater Institute, now in its 29th year, is a project of Theatre Development Fund (TDF) and The Broadway League, Inc. Dedicated to training the next generation of commercial theatre producers, CTI strives to provide resources and guidance to people interested in creating commercial productions for the stage.

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