REVIEW: Hey! Dancin! (Factory Theatre)

Retro play satirizes modern celebrity

 

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Factory Theatre presents
 
Hey! Dancin’!
 
by Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer
directed by
Sarah Rose Graber
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through April 24th (more info)
 
reviewed by Keith Ecker 
 

In 1986, the same year that the Factory Theater’s new play Hey! Dancin’! takes place, I was 5 years old. But just because I was barely old enough to walk doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to dance. I fondly remember shaking it to Prince’s “Batdance” and jiving to the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance.” Yes, my memory is drenched with visions of DayGlo, high tops and sunglasses at night. The Chicago theatre scene seems to share the same penchant for the Reagan era, churning out no less than three 1980s-themed productions in the last month.

hey-dancin3 But whereas the other two plays—both stage versions of The Breakfast Club (here and here) —are adaptations of a popular movie, Hey! Dancin’! is wholly original. And although leading an audience into unknown territory comes with great risk, the entire cast and crew of Hey! Dancin’! executes the wonderfully written piece close to perfection. The end result is a stunningly entertaining play that evokes genuine laughs while offering insight into our modern perceptions of celebrity.

The play is about a fictitious popular cable access Chicago TV show called “Hey! Dancin’!” Think of it as a poor man’s American Bandstand but with much bigger hair and a much smaller audience. The protagonist, Halle (Melissa Nedell), and her sexually blossoming friend Trisha (Catherine Dughi), are obsessed with the show. The two teenagers squeal when their favorite cast members appear on screen, whom they know on a first-name basis.

“Hey! Dancin’!” is about to wrap up its TV season and the girls decide they desperately need to appear on air. Halle has an urge to meet teenage heartthrob Kenny Kapowski (Jacob A. Ware), who goes by the moniker K.K. Trisha has a much less innocent crush on the show’s older host Randy (Anthony Tournis), whose fashion sense is inspired by Miami Vice.

Meanwhile, the cable access network’s station manager Dennis Blackburn (Noah Simon) is getting phone calls from angry parents that the dance music on “Hey! Dancin’!” is upsettingly too “black.” Instead, he is being urged to play the top white hits of the day, Bon Jovi being the prime example. Randy is on the side of the kids and tries to put his foot down on changing the show’s format.

There is yet another plot line at work, one involving the aforementioned heartthrob K.K. and his on-air/off-air girlfriend Tanya Lacy (Aileen May). Tanya is a demanding diva who fancies herself as the star of “Hey! Dancin’!” She concocts a staged lover’s quarrel for the final show of the season, but her tyrannical attitude is a turnoff to K.K., who may just be looking elsewhere for love—or at least a little dry humping in the supply closet.

Hey! Dancin’! isn’t just a hair-brained ‘80s-inspired comedy. It’s also an effective satire on people’s perceptions of celebrity today. K.K. and his girlfriend Tanya see themselves as the center of the universe because they are on TV.—cable access—but TV nonetheless. Halle and Trisha give this notion weight since they are star-obsessed with these no-name nudniks. Yet as Halle gets to know the real K.K., who admittedly dreams of being famous without actually ever wanting to hone any real talent, the image of these backwoods celebrities begins to crumble.

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Before seeing the play, I was afraid it would suffer from a few obvious pitfalls. First, the concept of a kid’s dance show where the music is “too black” closely parallels the plot of Hairspray. Fortunately, the writers, Kirk Pynchon and Mike Beyer, knew not to make this a central focus. Instead, the show’s possible demise hangs in the background, allowing the characters and their drama to take center stage.

In addition, a show set in 1986 could easily have been overburdened with cliché references. And although the play definitely capitalizes on ‘80s nostalgia, it refrains from being a staged version of VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s.”

The acting is brilliant. The comedic timing of most of the players is impeccable. I’ve seen countless improv, sketch and stand-up shows, and this rivals the best of them. Simon as the recovering alcoholic station manager is a scene-stealer with his Muppet-like voice and general awkwardness.

The show is an hour and 20 minutes long with no intermission, but you won’t be squirming in your seat thanks to Sarah Rose Graber’s directing. She makes sure the play moves along at a fast pace, only slowing down for scenes that demand extra attention, such as the aforementioned supply closet tryst.

Hate them or love them, the 80’s happened. And although that decade continues to be a pox on contemporary society (I’m looking at you MTV), the fact that we now have Hey! Dancin’! almost makes it all worth it.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

Hey! Dancin’! continues through April 24th, performance on Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm ($20.00), and Sundays 7pm ($15.00). All performances at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave.

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REVIEW: Science Fiction Circus (The Actors Gymnasium)

Cute kids, talented teens and a few pros create marvelous science-fiction circus

 Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus

 
The Actors Gymnasium presents
 
Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus
 
Conceived, written and directed by Larry DiStasi
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston
Through April 18
(more info)
 
reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
 

Five professional performers, eleven up-and-coming members of The Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble and five pint-sized prodigies bring the high-flying Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus to life in a whirl of color and sound.

Robots, aliens, monsters and an impressive lineup of circus acts come together in this show, conceived and directed by The Actors Gymnasium Artistic Director of Programming Larry DiStasi, a founder of Lookingglass Theatre. We start off with a quartet of mini mad scientists and their unfortunate subject (Griffin DiStasi, Jude Sims, Sadie Sims, Asher White and Julia Science Fiction: An Experiment in CircusWhite), and then segue into a black-lit, fluorescent team of talented, silk-rope-swinging aerialists (Jill Heyser and Kacin Menendez with Teen Ensemble member Meaghan Falvey).

A unicycle dance featuring all 11 members of the Teen Ensemble: Falvey, Gabby Aiden, Lucy Brennan, Sarah Buonaiuto, Lander Ellis, Emily Fishkin, Eleanor Goerss, Jackie Jarvis, Rachel Karn, Leah Orleans and Alison Tye — comes next, followed by Matt Roben as a monster Slinky twisting and contorting around the stage.

Karn, Tye and Nicole Pellegrino next perform an extraordinary and graceful contortionist sequence. Other noteworthy acts include a dance of "Stilts Creatures" by Heyser, Menendez and Pellegrino with Buonaiuto, Ellis and Falvey, a robot strong man act by Menedez and Will Howard, and a whirling Spanish web rope routine by Buonaiuto, Ellis, Fishkin and Orleans.

Another highlight is a vigorous drumming act choreographed by Jarrett Dapier featuring Pellegrino, Falvey and the five children, all delightfully clad as aliens in Spock ears and armor constructed from kitchen gear and designed by Larry DiStasi. Throughout, the costumes, a group effort, compliment the action beautifully, from blacklit neon leotards for aerialists to shiny lame robot outfits.

During interludes between the circus acts, a live band featuring Ellis, Goerss and Roben, sometimes supplemented by Griffin DiStasi, Fishkin and the Whites, plays original music by Greg Hirte, including an eerie trio on oboe, violin and musical saw. The circus acts themselves are performed in perfect time to a riveting soundtrack of found music put together by Larry DiStasi with aid of other cast members that ranges from part of "The Symphony of Science" to Daft Punk’s "Robot Rock” to Basshunter’s "I Can Walk on Water."

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The science-fiction theme creates a cohesive and humorous narrative to hold things together. In all, Science Fiction comprises a notable 30 acts and intervening scenes. On opening night, there were a few missteps but everyone gamely kept on going. Having recently seen the world-class Cirque du Soleil, I don’t need a time machine to say that these young performers are well on their way, and you can see them now for a fraction of the price they’ll command in days to come.

Rating: ★★★½

 
   
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Ravinia concert schedule released – partial listing

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Ravinia has announced its complete lineup for 2010 featuring 117 events and more new faces than ever before. BUY TICKETS NOW by supporting* the not-for-profit festival. Public sales begins April 22 exclusively at www.ravinia.org

Here’s a partial listing of (possible) concerts/performances that theatre-goers might be interested in.  Entire schedule here.

 

JUNE Performances

6/4
Chicago Children’s Choir

6/6
Earth, Wind & Fire

6/10 and 6/11
Concert Dance, Inc./World Premieres

6/12
Steve Martin Performing With The Steep Canyon Rangers

6/17
Backstreet Boys

6/27
Bobby Mcferrin

 

JULY Performances

7/3
A Prairie Home Companion/Garrison Keillor

7/10
Cheap Trick/Squeeze

7/11
CSO/Gershwin Concerto In F/Copland
Appalachian Spring/Bernstein Symphony No. 2

7/14
The Swell Season from the Oscar-Winner Film Once

7/17 and  7/18
Sting / Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra

7/20
Peter And Paul Pay Tribute To Mary

7/21
The B-52s

7/23
CSO/Eschenbach Plays Mozart/Hits From Bernstein’s Candide

7/30
The Music Of Abba (Lawn Screen)

7/31
CSO/Sondheim Hits/Patti Lupone, Audra Mcdonald, George Hearn, Michael Cerveris/Gala Concert

 

AUGUST Performances

8/2
Chanticleer

8/4
Broadway Star Kelli O’Hara, One-Woman Show

8/7
CSO/Così Fan Tutte, Matinee

8/8
CSO/The Marriage Of Figaro, Matinee

8/13
CSO/Annie Get Your Gun

8/14 – 8/15  (3 separate shows)
Patti Lupone/Brian Stokes Mitchell

8/22
Crosby, Stills & Nash

8/25
Swingin Balladeer Tony Andriacchi

8/29
Carrie Underwood

9/1
An Evening With The Beach Boys

9/6
Labor Day Spectacular/"1812" with Cannons

9/7
Hershey Felder In Maestro: The Art And Music Of Leonard Bernstein

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