REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest (Remy Bumppo)

  
  

A Wilde night of wit

     
  

Darlow(Bracknell)Hurley(Jack)Gillum(Gwendolyn)

   
Remy Bumppo Theatre presents
   
The Importance of Being Earnest
   
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by
Shawn Douglass
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through Jan 9   |  tickets: $40-$50   |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

I have to admit, when I entered the Greenhouse for Monday’s opening night performance of Remy Bumppo’s The Importance of Being Earnest, I wasn’t quite in the mood for Oscar Wilde’s famous wit. I was coming off a redeye bus ride from a whirlwind Thanksgiving vacation, and on top of that, I could sense the first annoying tinglings of a cold. I don’t think I’m in the position to deem that the production, directed by Shawn Douglass, has any healing powers. However, after a few hours of chuckle-inducing satire, I would be lying if I said I didn’t leave the theatre feeling a tad bubbly. The powers of Wilde somehow managed to persist even with Monday’s torrential downpour.

Hoerl(RevChasuble)Armour(Prism)Hurley(Jack)Brennan(Cecily)Anderson(Algernon)A case could be made that The Importance of Being Earnest is some sort of sardonic allegory; Wilde continues to subvert the Victorian norms he so often took aim at. The 1895 farce expounds on love, especially the role of lying in relationships. In the age of Facebook profiles and Match.com, white lies are par for the course. Apparently fibbing was just as common a hundred years ago.

The play revolves around two friends, Jack (Paul Hurley) and the hedonistic Algernon (Greg Matthew Anderson). Both invent brothers so that they can live freely as another persona without the fear of repercussion on their very real reputation. Unfortunately, Cupid strikes and trouble starts brewing. In the city, Jack names himself Earnest (ha) and falls for the charms of Gwendolen Fairfax (Linda Gillum), who claims she could never love someone that wasn’t named Earnest. Jack decides he should re-christen himself and leaves for his country home (where they think Jack’s imaginary brother is a libertine), but Algernon, always looking for some excitement, throws a wrench in his plan. He visits Jack’s country homestead also claiming to be Earnest, where he falls for his friend’s ward, Cecily (Kelsey Brennan). Obviously, there can be only one Earnest and time is running out as everyone converges on the estate. Of course, Wilde ties everything up by revealing ridiculous family secrets and logical roller coasters.

Anderson steals the show here, painting his Algernon with plenty of lounging, raised eyebrows, and a keen sense of Wilde’s timing. Another notable performance is David Darlow’s turn as the aphorism-rich Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother. The crossdressing, thankfully, does not come off as a gimmick; rather, I could easily believe Darlow was simply the best choice for the part. Hurley, Brennan, and Gillum also do decent jobs, albeit with a lack of fire.

     
Brennan(Cecily)Armour(Prism) Darlow(Bracknell)Brennan(Cecily)
Brennan(Cecily)Hurley(Jack)Anderson(Algernon) Hurley(Jack)Gillum(Gwendolyn)Anderson(Algernon)

Overall, that’s Douglass’ biggest failing with this production. The stakes aren’t high enough, and Wilde’s delicious wit feels stodgy at times. When the writer’s infamous one-liners pop up in the script, too often the actors here glibly allow them to fall flat. Instead of an engaging scene, we watch the actors being clever. This throws the momentum off and it takes a long time for the cast to rediscover their balance. The first act, with the exception of Darlow, has a hard time finding the proper pacing. After that, though, the text and the actors are more in sync. Another unfortunate result of the cast’s woodenness is that a lot of the laughs are stifled into giggles. Don’t get me wrong, the humor here is delightful, it’s just not hilarious.

Nevertheless, Remy Bumppo still has a winner on its hands, and the cast oozes with charm. Wilde’s sharp satirical voice could be made more alive, but it definitely shines throughout. I would wager it’s impossible to leave in a bad mood, even when a late-fall deluge awaits you outside.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Gillum(Gwendolyn)Brennan(Cecily)Anderson(Algernon)Hurley(Jack)

Extra Credit:

  • Download the Being Earnest Study Guide (excellent!)
  • Don’t miss Between The Lines on December 11th
  • Consider attending the special New Year’s Eve performance on Friday, Dec. 31 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $75 and include post-show champagne and dessert with the cast!
     

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REVIEW: Little Women: the Musical (NightBlue Theater)

  
  

NightBlue struggles to mold staid story into musical drama

  
  

marmee_girls

  
NightBlue Performing Arts Company presents
  
Little Women: the Musical
  
Created by Allan Knee (book),
Jason Howland (music) & Mindi Dickstein (lyrics)
Directed by
Paul Packer
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$30   |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

I will admit that I am no fan of the gamut of early to mid-19th century Western literature. I know it’s a sweeping generalization. But there’s something about the pre-Victorian and Victorian novelists that I just find grating. The novel was a novel concept at the time, sweeping the civilized world. Love stories mixed with polite social satire reigned supreme. But to me, it all seems like the imaginings of an overemotional teenager. There’s a reason why Jane Austen‘s “Emma” works so well in its “Clueless” incarnation.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women would easily serve as a parody of this type of literature if it didn’t take itself so seriously. It’s got all the conventions: A young woman with a big dream, strange love affairs, an expansive world that magically seems to be populated with only the work’s characters. Is it really believable that two people in Concord are going to meet up in Italy? Mind you this is without the luxury of cell phones and GPS tracking devices.

In any case, these are flaws with the story, which NightBlue Theater has no control over. Nor does the company have much say in the rather uninspiring songs in the novel’s staged musical version. Still, the decision to produce a play that’s as interesting as sandpaper does fall on NightBlue’s head.

Little Women really is a drama without much drama. Young girls grow into women, people fall in love and someone dies of scarlet fever. And the fact that it takes nearly two-and-a-half hours for NightBlue to tell this story only adds to the complete lack of dramatic tension.

The story of Little Women concerns the March sisters. The protagonist is Jo (Erin O’Shea), a precocious and peppy young woman with big New York dreams. She pens stories of swashbucklers and bloodshed in the hopes of attracting the attention of the popular magazines. Jo has three sisters: Beth (Julia Macholl), Meg (Karyn Dawidowicz) and Amy. The most notable of Jo’s sisters is Amy, played by Linda Rudy, who serves as Jo’s adversary. Jealous of Jo’s beauty and blossoming womanhood, Amy attempts to thwart Jo at every turn, particularly when she tosses one of Jo’s literary works into the fire.

The neighbor boy, Laurie (Shaun Nathan Baer), befriends the girls and quickly falls in love with Jo. When he collects the courage to propose, Jo rejects him. Although it breaks his heart, he eventually finds love elsewhere.

NightBlue is billing the production as a Christmas play. And although the holiday does serve as an occasional backdrop, it’s a bit of a stretch to say Little Women is up there with Miracle on 34th Street (which is coincidentally also up at Stage 773). I also think that their target audience of little girls (they were raffling off a chance to win an American Girl doll the night I went) is a bit of a misfire. Even with musical interludes to break up the monotony of the story, the play drags too long for a child’s attention span. Director Paul E. Packer could omit some scenes and no one would object.

All this said, accolades must be paid to two of the play’s standout performers. O’Shea is put through an endurance test, singing in nearly half of the play’s pieces. She displays her talent as both a superb vocalist and a convincing actress.

Rudy is exceptionally irritating as Amy, which I intend as a compliment given that Amy is supposed to be exceptionally irritating. Rudy adds genuineness to Amy’s huffy, pouty demeanor without crossing over into caricature. You know the antagonist does a good job when you find yourself wanting to reprimand her from your seat.

If you’re a huge Louisa May Alcott fan, you may enjoy this musical version of Little Women. Otherwise, the slow pacing and tame story may just lull you into hibernation.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

marmee_jo

  
  

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REVIEW: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Steel Beam)

        
        

No miracle in Christmas movie makeover

  
  

its beginning will nifong

  
Steel Beam Theatre presents
   
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
  
By Meredith Willson
Directed by
Donna Steele
Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main, St. Charles (map)
Through Dec. 19 |  
Tickets: $23-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Christmas, for many, is all about tradition. Familiar holiday rituals, from the Christmas dinner menu to the ornaments on the tree to time-honored Christmas carols and, yes, those old movies you watch on television every year. That’s why so many theaters play it safe with holiday shows adapted from the same old stuff.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas is another one: the plot of the 1947 Oscar-winning film "Miracle on 34th Street" re-imagined as a stage musical. Steel Beam Theatre’s earnest production offers a big cast full of cute kids and highly attractive adults, and I wish I could say this live show offered better Christmas entertainment than staying home with a bowl of popcorn and watching the movie on TV, but I can’t.

it's beginning 2The familiar Christmas story follows young Susan Walker, who is being reared by her divorced and disillusioned mother, Doris, in a no-nonsense way that doesn’t include believing in Santa Claus. Their comforting pragmatism becomes shaken by Fred Gaily, the ex-marine turned attorney next door , and a bearded fellow who calls himself Kris Kringle, who shocks New York by telling Macy’s customers to shop at Gimbel’s.

The concept, from composer and adapter Meredith Willson, the man behind The Music Man, ought to have a lot of potential. It includes, among other things, a complete Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on stage.

Alas, this is no Music Man, and little about Willson’s score adds to the movie’s story. Few of the songs will leave you humming, and a couple are downright painful. The compacting and stylization necessary to fit the music into a stage-length show robs the plot of spice and leaves it cloying. Elements like a grown man, unknown to her mother, squiring around a little girl and a chauvinistic song about how long it takes a woman to ready herself to go out seem badly dated.

Originally called Here’s Love, the musical opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran less than a year. Its latter-day title change explains why, rather than being central, the show’s namesake tune, Willson’s famous "It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," written in 1951, gets medley treatment. Blended into something called "Pinecones and Holly Berries," it’s one of the better musical numbers, especially in its first iteration with a dance sequence performed by Jamey McDunn as Kris Kringle, Amy Steele as Doris Walker and Will Nifong as Marvin Shellhammer, a Macy’s marketing assistant.

Nifong’s wonderfully comic performance, here and throughout, forms a principal highlight of the show. This number also constitutes one of the brighter spots in Cynthia Hall‘s largely lackluster choreography.

The very pretty Amy Steele sparkles as Doris, but wobbles some in the vocals. A stalwart, smooth-voiced Greg Zawada portrays Fred, while McDunn’s perfect Santa Claus appearance is marred by a curiously tentative and soft-voiced performance. Lauren Freas did a charming job as Susan the day I saw the show; she’s spelled in alternating performances by Christina Zaeske.

Kara Blasingame is sweet as a little Dutch girl, alternating with Kathleen Miulli. Dean Dranias makes a stiff R.H. Macy. Adoniss Hutcheson, alternating with Mikey Taylor; and August Anderson; Brian Burch; Terry A. Christiansen; Haleigh Hutchinson; Andrew Kepka; Katie Meyers; Amy Moczygemba; and Emily Whaley fill out the ensemble.

The centerpiece of the second act comes in a zanily inane number, "My State, My Kansas," which has so little to do with the storyline that it recalls the quirky "Hernando’s Hideaway" of The Pajama Game.  Sadly, it isn’t nearly so good a song as that, though this production points it up with a fun banjo solo by Gary Patterson, playing the judge in Kris Kringle’s insanity trial.

The cast, colorfully clad in Kim Maslo’s nice costumes, clearly has a great time and tries hard. But weak singers exacerbate the score’s dullness. A five-piece orchestra, borne up largely by trumpeter John Evans, does its best to support the vocals but sometimes overwhelms them. Overall, Director Donna Steele’s production fails to give us the pageantry and grandeur necessary to make a parade full of "Big Clown Balloons" come alive.

   
  
Rating: ★★
   
  

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REVIEW: Bri-Ko: All Silent. All Funny (Stage 773)

  
  

A barrel of laughs and fun for everyone – don’t miss it!

  
  

tim Soszka, Brian Posen, Brian Peterlin in Bri-Ko at Stage 773 Chicago

   
Stage 773 presents
   
Bri-Ko: All Silent. All Funny
   
Written/directed by the Ensemble
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $12-$18   | more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Whenever I am in the Stage 773, (a.k.a. Theatre Building) area, I make a stop at Uncle Fun. I am a whoopie cushion and chattering wind-up-teeth kind of gal, which made Uncle Fun the perfect stop before Bri-Ko: All Silent. All Funny. I rarely have any expectations before a production that I review but Bri-Ko has a history in Chicago and it turns out a well-deserved one.

The set is dressed in all white with bare hanging bulbs. A set of three lab coats, construction helmets, and goggles lay on white stackable chairs. Enter Brian Posen, Brian Peterlin, and Tim Soszko: three guys with a wonderful comic aura the minute they step onto the stage. A dramatic donning of the lab coats to the requisite rubber gloves begins a hilarious 70-minutes of visual shennanigans with a lovely dark undertone and a healthy dose of making a mess.

Bri-KoI first wondered if this was going to be a "Blue Man Group" experience, which I don’t particularly enjoy. I am happy to report that Bri-Ko:All Silent. All Funny is built on a number of traditions without the visual and sound overload of the aforementione group. Indeed, less is more in the case of Bri-Ko

Posen, Peterlin, and Soszco are Everymen put into everyday situations with absurd twists. These are the guys that no doubt were suspended for practical jokes and bringing Mad Magazine books to catechism class. They are the kids who were way smarter than anyone figured and did everything over the top.

A simple act of eating a marshmallow becomes an experiment in torturing the straight man with tape measures. Changing a light bulb is an exercise in extremes with everyday objects, all backed by the music of Electric Light Orchestra.

This is comedy in the tradition of the great Ernie Kovacs, vaudeville, and great modern clowns such as Red Skelton or Bill Irwin. The craft of the perfect expression and movement is a disappearing art in this age of uber-realism and high definition. A return to simplicity is the perfect antidote for overloaded technology. Bri-Ko pares everything down to make a wonderful concoction of mayhem and gleeful insanity.

The trio adds shades of satire in every skit. “Bedtime Before Christmas Morning” is a combination of Hardy with two Stan Laurels. Striped pajamas and nightcaps (the head cover not the whiskey shot kind) are put on and then prayers are said. Two say Christian prayers and the third pulls out a hat with earlocks and a prayer shawl. It mocks and alludes to political correctness all at once to great effect and good laughs.

Posen/Peterlin/Soszko make genius use of everyday toys such as the revered hackey sack. “The Death of the Hackey Sack” is a twisted and dark play on consumerism in life and death. This bit is worth the price of the ticket alone. The trio portray the wonderful innocence of children in imagining personalities for the hackey sacks. When the toys inanimately fall to the floor, the 3 show their sorrow by performing an elaborate death ritual. They embalm the sacks with sugary breakfast cereal which probably has a nuclear half life. Three separate funerals ensue. The first is a military affair with a 21-Nerfball salute; an expertly folded tiny American flag presented to an audience member. The second ceremony is a coffee can cremation with the ashes interred in a vase and placed on a shelf. The third is a Hunter S. Thompson affair where the deceased hackey sack is shot into space with cross bow. This was my favorite if for nothing other than my own love of Thompson and the altered consciousness slant on his afterlife.

Another genius skit is what I call “The Crazy Circuit Breaker Box”. Two of the trio accidentally discover a circuit breaker box while the third sits in a wall box, polishing a surviving hackey sack. Each of the breakers causes a different effect including sending shock waves into the hackey sack polisher. One breaker causes a carhop on roller skates to roll by with a hamburger on a tray much to the duo’s delight. Another flip sends out the carhop with juice boxes that they literally drain until the boxes fold over. The third guy gets out of the box and joins them as they introduce him to the magic breaker box. They dim lights, get hamburgers on wheels, and then shock him as a joke. The joke is on them when the guy enjoys the shocks with a sublime smirk on his face. He convulses in ecstasy and tries to keep going but they intervene with faux intervention concern.

Bri-Ko - Stage 773 Chicago Bri-Ko - Stage 773 Chicago Bri-Ko - Stage 773 Chicago

The last part of the show gets more interactive and really messy. A hilarious sketch of lettuce to bio-fuel segues into a made-to-order menu that the audience members can order from the chef on stage. He searches through a giant bowl of water balloons and chucks them into the audience. One person orders split pea soup that is water turned green much to their relief. However, in the great tradition of vaudeville and the holy trio of Moe, Larry, and Curly, a cream pie is a cream pie smooshed in the face of a planted audience member!

Other highlights are a pantomime/sign language rendition of Wilson-Phillips "Hold on For One More Day". The sight of three very manly men acting out such a chirpy chick song gets huge laughs. Another stab at treacly pop culture is what I call “Waiting for Gumball” whereupon two of the trio get gumballs from a giant chute filled with gumballs. The chute doesn’t work for the third of the trio and he goes fetal to Lionel Ritchie’s "Hello". It’s a side bender but all is well in the end. Gumballs, lettuce, Nerfs bb’s and ping pong ball are everywhere. It is as if the bad kids from the block came over and wrecked my room and I loved it.

This is a great family holiday show to forget the chaos of shopping and acquisition. There is nothing like controlled mayhem and madness for the holidays. Watch out for flying lettuce!

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
   

 

Bri-Ko

Bri-Ko

Bri-Ko

     

Bri-Ko:All Silent. All Funny is appropriate for some children. I would suggest over the age of 5 – unless you have done some explaining about death and what is appropriate to try at home. This is a messy show so don’t go wearing your prissiest cashmere or Eiffel Tower hair. Your cashmere will get and your tower of hair will fall. It is a lot of fun and an opportunity to not be uptight for an hour or so. And if you’re nimble there is free gum!

Bri-Ko:All Silent. All Funny plays Fridays and Saturdays ant 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm through January 2nd. There are no performances on December 24th, 25th or January 1st. There is a special New Years Eve kiddie show with balloon animals and kiddie cocktails. Stage 773 is at 1225 W. Belmont in the heart of Lakeview. It is accessible by public transportation and there is valet parking for $10.

        
       

REVIEW: Jenny & Jenni (Factory Theater)

     
     

Funky Freestyle Aerobic Friendship

     
     

DSC_7002

   
The Factory Theater presents
   
Jenny & Jenni
   
Written by Shannon O’Neill
Directed by Laura McKenzie
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston  (map)
through Dec 18 |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Heaven only knows what drugs inspired Shannon O’Neill’s disco-fevered aerobic dance flashback, but Jenny & Jenni, a new comedy produced by The Factory Theater at Prop Theatre’s space, throws down a litany of 1970’s zaniness like no other. The show begins with the claim that—forget Jane Fonda–these two fictional exercise queens were the real start of the 70’s workout craze. Jenny (Shannon O’Neill), spelled normally with a “y,” and Jenni (Christine Jennings), spelled weirdly with an “i,” are high school rejects with crappy, self-absorbed and neglectful parents. They find each other and take the audience on a ride through every absurd 70’s trend with all the Jenny and Jenni posterhyped-up positive outlook of your favorite 70’s sitcom.

Laura McKenzie directs this picaresque ode to the evolutionary beginnings of jazzercise, spandex, and headbands. The show comes in under two and a half hours but for all that, McKenzie runs a tight, organized and whipsmart ensemble. Even transitions between scenes are choreographed with military precision to keep energy up and the fun going; the cast drives the show from beginning to end at an exacting pace. 70’s tunes dominate the dance/aerobic choreography of Donnell Williams, so rest assured the actors are feeling the burn while they joke about feeling it.

By far, the comedy standouts are Nick Leininger, taking on roles such as a smarmy Health Teacher and an encounter group leader, among others. William Bullion makes yet another deadpan funny fringe appearance as Riggins, the principal of Jenny and Jenni’s high school, who is absolutely plum loco about Scottish heritage. High school archenemy Lola St. James (Aileen May) and her gang of mean girls (Kathryn Hribar, Elizabeth Levy, Kim Boler and Sarah Scanlon) try to keep Jenny and Jenni down but Mr. Riggins gives them their first big morale boost to hit the road and build their aerobic workout dream.

Jenny & Jenni has a wild assortment of hilarious scenes. There’s the Scottish Highland Dance competition with Mr. Riggins and his stiff, proper Scottish sidekick, Aidan (Ted Evans). There’s the hallucinogenic drug scene, when, Jenny and Jenni posterdemoralized, Jenny and Jenni lose track of their dream and go off on wild benders of their own. There’s the encounter group session—a scene that deserves its own award for bringing back hysterical reminders of the prevalence of Me Generation pop psychology. There’s the reintroduction of Kathryn Hribar as Crazy Person, which single-handedly manages to amp up the crazy quotient for the whole second act.

The show could still use a strong editorial hand. The aerobic dance-off between Jenny and Jenni’s entourage versus Lola St. James’ Studio 54-style entourage veers into train wreck territory and loses its comic impact. Plus, the show tries for a sweet and happy ending with a reformed Lola seeing the error of her ways. The transformation is neither emotionally convincing nor even necessary, comically speaking. As for the friendship between Jenny and Jenni, O’Neill and Jennings have a wonderfully simple, understated and convincing bond but more humor could be made of their fabulously bizarre, mutual desire to get down and boogie-oogie-oogie.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
      
     

DSC_8061

Ensemble

Wm. Bullion, Kim Boler, Matt Engle, Ted Evans, Kathyrn Hribar, Christine Jennings, Nick Leininger, Elizabeth Levy, Aileen May, Shannon O’Neill, Sarah Scanlon

Production and Creative Team

Directed By: Laura McKenzie
Written by: Shannon O’Neill
Produced by: Manny Tamayo & Timothy C. Amos
Scenic Designer: Ian Zywica
Sound Designer: Brian Lucas
Lighting Designer: Jordan Kardasz
Costume Designer: Emma Weber
Technical Director: Dan Laushman
Choreographer: Donnell Williams
Props Master: Josh Graves
Stage Manager: Allison Queen
Asst. Stage Manager: Christina Dougherty
Graphic Designer: Jason Moody

Original Music By: Laura McKenzie

 
 

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REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (Emerald City Theatre)

     
     

Learning to love the things you’ve had all along

     
     

Wizard of Oz - Emerald City Theatre

   
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
The Wizard of Oz
   
Written by L. Frank Baum, Adapted by John Kane
Music/Lyrics by
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Jan 2  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love children’s theater because the audience’s limited attention span forces wild, fearless performances from the actors as they try to hold the concentration of both children and parents. Emerald City Theatre is one of the city’s premier children’s theater companies, and their holiday production of The Wizard of Oz incorporates audience interaction and puppetry to create a visually exciting production that understands the actor/child dynamic. The actors give unbridled performances that keep the momentum moving briskly, and while they might not be the strongest in term of technique, they make up for it by having so much fun in their characters.

Molly Tower as Glinda the Good Witch - Emerald City TheatreEmerald City’s production High School Musical­-izes Arlen and Harburg’s score with a rhythm section and guitars, but the songs never lose their classic appeal. Karle’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a rousing number that captures Dorothy’s desire to find a world outside the dreariness of the Kansas countryside, and the actress’s effortless belt gets the show off to a great start. In Oz, Dorothy is greeted by Glinda’s (a hilariously irreverent Molly Tower) angelic soprano, accompanied by the denizens of Munchkinland.

As she makes her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy encounters new faces, including Scarecrow (Bret Beaudry), who serves as a major source of physical comedy throughout the show. Tinman (James Nedrud) is cleverly portrayed as an Elvis-like crooner and carries a guitar for an axe, appropriate for the Million Dollar Quartet housing Apollo Theater, and Nedrud has a smooth vocal quality that is perfect for the character. The only one of Dorothy’s new friends that struggles is Lion (Shea Coffman), and the difficulty of the character’s music isn’t helped by the ornaments Coffman adds to almost every sustained note.

Using puppets for the munchkins is hilarious and efficient, and the low-budget shortcuts that Emerald City takes contribute to much of the show’s charm. Kevin Beltz’s economical set unfolds Dorothy’s house to reveal walls with turning panels to signify location, all located in the walls of Dorothy’s home that unfolds during the storm. It’s a great effect that also saves a lot of money on scenery. Despite not being the most technically astounding or polished production, the show’s simplicity and dedicated ensemble make Dorothy’s journey through Oz easy for kids to enjoy while still entertaining for adults.

If I only had a heart by Emerald City Theatre Company Find Her! - The Wicked Witch by Emerald City Theatre Company
If I only had a brain! by Emerald City Theatre Company The Wicked Witch of the West by Emerald City Theatre Company When I am king of the forest by Emerald City Theatre Company

It is surprising how well Baum’s classic story works in a holiday setting, as the storm that whisks Dorothy away, in this production, occurs just before Christmas. Maybe it’s the combination of red and green that comes from ruby slippers – adorably reimagined as glistening ankle-boots – and the Emerald City. More likely, the connection comes from how well Baum taps into the holiday spirit of giving thanks, and taking pleasure in the company of people that will always be there for you. The important part of the holidays isn’t the presents you get, but learning to love the things you’ve had all along.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Off to see the Wizard

        
        

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REVIEW: The New Adventures of Popeye (Factory Theater)

  
  

Strong the to finish, ‘cause they eat their spinach!

   

      
Factory Theater presents
   
The New Adventures of Popeye
   
Directed by Eric Roach
at
Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston (map)
through Dec 17   |  tickets: $8   |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Factory Theater has a late-night theater offering, The New Adventures of Popeye – but one wonders whether it shouldn’t be pared down and placed just before Jenny & Jenni in the way that cartoon shorts used to warm up the audience in movie theaters before the feature. Directed by Eric Roach, with John Moran (Popeye), Sarah Rose Graber (Olive Oyl) and Dave Skvarla (Bluto), the team absolutely nail the Popeye - Factory Theatercartoon mannerisms, voices and movement of their characters. Their goal is to produce Popeye for adults, which in some ways is rather redundant, since the original cartoons always had Popeye mumbling witty asides that the adults could get a chuckle over, while the kids reveled in the cartoon’s hyperbolic physical comedy and routine sparring between Popeye and Bluto over Olive.

Eric Roach and cast (which include Lina Bunte and Colin Milroy) also try to update Popeye with contemporary themes and concerns. For openers, Popeye and Bluto compete in selling their apples at a farmers market. Popeye’s apples are organically grown while Bluto’s reek of harmful chemicals. But the premise comes off as preachy more than funny; even now it’s difficult to see two iconically stereotypical seamen like Popeye and Bluto getting into farming, organic or otherwise.

The other sketches prove to be much funnier: couples-counseling for Popeye and Olive Oyl, the travails of air flight for all three. I wonder if there’s still time to put in material about ex-ray screening and full-body pat downs. Whatever the case, the production comes off much cleaner when returning to the original comic structure of the cartoon, which has always been about two guys fighting over a gal—a skinny, rubbery, mewling kind of gal. Pleasant and pure nostalgia holds the audience, as well as marvel over the ease with which the cast physically and bracingly evokes the cartoon’s clownish effects.

     
  
Rating: ★★½
  

 

Cast

John Moran is Popeye
Sarah Rose Graber* is Olive Oyl
David Skvarla is Bluto
Lina Bunte is Female Koken
Colin Milroy* is Male Koken

Production

Directed by Eric Roach*
Geoff Coates is the Fight Director
Amy C Gilman is the Props Designer
Jason Weinberg is the Stage Manager

   
  

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