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.