Dolly Parton celebrates 65th Birthday in Chicago!

Dolly Parton wows at “9 to 5” in Chicago

Dolly Parton in Chicago - 9 to 5Fans of Dolly Parton were in for a big treat on Wednesday night as she made an appearance at opening night of the Broadway tour musical 9 to 5.  On stage before the show, Illinois’ Governor Pat Quinn presented Dolly with a certificate proclaiming the 19th as “Dolly Parton Day” in Chicago.  Dolly made another appearance at the final bows, where – as you can see in the video below – the cast wheeled out a big chocolate cake and then led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” for Dolly’s 65th Birthday.  Can you believe that she’s 65 years old???   Wow, she looks great!  We love you Dolly!

 

 

 

Dolly Parton and Gov Pat Quinn

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announces January 19th as “Dolly Parton Day

 

 

     
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Dolly Parton joins cast at final bows, and helps cut her birthday cake!!

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This is *very* blurred photo of Dolly Parton posing with the 3 leads of the show:

     
     

Essay-Review: Billy Elliot – A teaching moment?

Miners Association

Billy Elliot: A teaching moment?

 

 

J.P. Viernes as Billyby Paige Listerud

There shouldn’t be any trouble with the critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning show Billy Elliot, but there is. Simply put, the music – composed by Elton John – is gorgeous, the songs, memorable. The dialogue is, by turns, funny and frank—at appropriate moments brutally unsentimental and at others deeply touching. Under Stephen Daldry’s cunning direction, Billy Elliot successfully veers from hardcore expressionism to utter escapist fantasy. It’s a heartwarming tale about a child achieving his dreams against horrendous odds. All the same, while stuffed to the gills with sterling inter-generational talent, this multilayered production just isn’t putting bums in the seats at the Oriental Theatre the way Wicked did. Broadway in Chicago invited us to its “bloggers’ bash” last Thursday, no doubt to generate a fresh injection of press. Yet, shockingly, little more than half the theater was filled on a Thursday night.

So just what is the trouble with Billy?

  • Its rough language turns off too many parents. Hard to believe that this could be a concern in an urban setting, but this is the Midwest. Marketing Billy Elliot as a family show because of its plethora of child talent may have crashed on the reefs of American conservatism over language. Certainly the movie version, when it came to the US, received an R rating for adult language, which later transformed to a PG-13 rating upon DVD release. Much as I might wish that both parents and children could appreciate the touch of realism that Lee Hall has scripted for his Northern industrial English town, my sentiments may be completely overridden by parents not wanting one more cultural inducement for their kids to engage in verbal shock and awe.
  • It’s the economy stupid. Say what you want about uplifting messages about a talented dancing boy achieving his dreams, Billy Elliot is dark. Billy (J.P. Viernes for our performance) makes it to the Royal Ballet in London, but his small town community is going down. It’s 1984 and Margaret Thatcher is shutting down the UK’s national coal mining industry in favor of cheap coal from the Eastern bloc states. 300,000 jobs are all going bye-bye–forever. Try wringing a positive message out of that scenario as America double dips into the Great Recession (Great Depression for people of color) and the Democrats lose the gains they made in Congress two years ago.

So it’s not just the dirty words—Billy Elliot is crashing on the reefs of America’s economic and political turmoil. Would that the show itself could be a teaching moment about the value of survival in hard times. The trouble is that the only person surviving decently is Billy . . . and he survives because he is exceptionally talented, because his talent holds youthful promise, and because his future career is in the arts, not coal mining. The UK still subsidizes the arts far more than the US—but even that funding is facing a 25% cut under the current government.

Emily Skinner, Cesar Corrales and CastWhat may be an even more important point, emotionally and dramatically speaking, is that Billy is a lonely survivor. The production creates an infinitely potent moment of loss and isolation with the number “Once We Were Kings.” The miners, defeated after their struggle with the Thatcher government, descend into the darkness of the mining pit with only the lights on their helmets showing. Billy watches them depart—his own shadow cast long, black and solitary behind him. One way of life is ending while Billy’s is just beginning. Melancholy infuses Billy’s singular success at the Royal  Ballet. Billy makes his escape to London—but he cannot take the rest of his family or community with him.

Sadly, this just may be more realism than American audiences are ready to pay for in our country’s present situation. Ironically, Billy Elliot is just as much about human beings resorting to fantasy as a way to cope with hard times. This production contains incredible moments of fun and beautiful fantasy. Billy’s dance number with his young friend Michael (Dillon Stevens), complete with a cadre of 20-foot tap-dancing dress, is a flight into reverie over the joy of women’s clothing for the young cross-dresser. Other fantasy moments expand into profound theatrical expressions.

J.P. Viernes and Samuel PergandeOne of the deep pleasures of this production, over and above the movie version, is that we do not actually witness Billy as an adult ballet star. Future success is only hinted at during Billy’s dance with his older self (Samuel Pergande) to the music of Swan Lake. Peter Darling’s choreography and Rick Fisher’s lighting design evoke a scene that recalls William Wordsworth’s “The Child is Father of the Man.” The audience is moved to hope and dream with Billy because it can glimpse the fulfillment of his human potential through Viernes and Pergande’s grace and control.

Darling’s choreography even makes profound social statements about the nature of children’s lives under violent labor-busting conditions. The dance number “Solidarity” is by far the high point of the show. Darling intricately weaves together the feminine setting of Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance class with the outer masculine sparring between miners and police. Billy may tussle with the girls to keep up with Mrs. Wilkinson’s dance orders, but the children seem protected and separate from the struggle that is determining the course of their lives. Darling’s choreography stunningly reveals just how illusory separation is. It brings together the two disparate worlds of Billy’s universe and the lyrics of the song even comment on the blue-collar connections between the police and the striking miners. That’s a lot to achieve in one number and the cast pulls it off fantastically.

In fact, let’s just say here that every dance number is fantastic. Only the first act finale, “Angry Dance” pales, seeming rather anti-climactic, compared to the rest. Billy’s secret ballet lessons with Mrs. Wilkinson (Emily Skinner) have been exposed. Billy’s Dad (Armand Schulz) has just forbidden both them and his chance to audition at the Royal Ballet in London. So far as Billy’s family and the other miners are concerned, ballet is for “poofs.” Billy’s angry dance afterwards meshes with the violence erupting in town, since the police have just violently attacked Billy’s brother Tony (Patrick Mulvey – see picture below the fold).

Tommy Batchelor and Police Shields But once again, the choreography positions Billy as a lonely warrior against forces beyond his control. He alone faces a line of riot police with their ominous shields. Even as symbolism, the image is heavy-handed. Surely the rage and bloodshed that the whole community faces is worth some representation on stage. Having set Billy up as the boy who is “different” from the rest—because of his love for dance–he cannot at this point stand in for the whole community. As much as Fisher’s stark, expressionist lighting packs a powerful punch, the act of isolating Billy as if he were the only one suffering diminishes the powerful communal statement of the entire production and does not cleanly communicate Billy’s rage.

  • Billy is different from other boys. Billy is tacitly queer. Could the social conservatism of Billy’s mining town, circa 1984, have its mirror reflection in the urban and suburban environs of 2010 Chicago? That’s difficult to say. So long as documentaries like Straight-laced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up reveal kids being harassed and bullied just for wearing scarves or pastel colors; so long as youngsters commit suicide because of anti-gay harassment at school – messages that promote tolerance regarding sexual identity and gender expression will always be needed in America.

A message of acceptance and tolerance, of appreciating differences, not denying, hiding or shunning them—this is the core message of Billy Elliot. One wonders whether this message, too, has been overwhelmed by our current economic troubles. Billy needs to escape the economic reality that his family and community confront. But the cost to him seems to be any close association with family and community. Few moments inspire more than when, not only Billy’s family realizes that he has to have his chance, but the entire community of rough and rugged miners offer up what little money they have left to get him to his audition in London. At that moment, Billy’s queerness seems to make no difference and their funding of his aspirations becomes their last, noble expression of “Solidarity Forever.”

Billy makes it out because of his exceptional talent. Heaven help the poor queer kid in a rough mining town who is simply average. At the end of the show, Billy gives his queer buddy, Michael, a goodbye peck on the cheek. Heaven help Michael because his community’s homophobia is not over and done with, whatever they have done for Billy. Michael still has to grow into queer adulthood. On top of that, he now has to grow up with extreme economic disadvantages to himself, his family, and his community—something that won’t make the homophobia go away. One of the terrifying things about economic crises is that people often go looking for an Other to scapegoat—whether that Other is queer, immigrant, or a member of a minority.

Is Billy Elliot’s message of acceptance, then, too narrow for our times? What one has with Billy’s acceptance by his family, the endorsement of his community, and with Billy and Michael’s own personal self-acceptance, is a brief respite from the punishing restrictions of sexuality and gender prejudice. It hardly seems enough in the face of government-sponsored economic terrorism–but they have to make do with what they have. And so do we.

Right now, that may not be enough for the American public, at least in terms of entertainment. Billy Elliot is such a big, rich and complex musical treat but it cannot do it all. One can only hope that this superb production has what it takes to survive the current climate.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Billy Elliot is currently playing at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre through January 15. Individual tickets range in price from $30 to $100, and can be bought at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (24 W. Randolph, 151 W. Randolph and 18 W. Monroe), the Broadway in Chicago ticket line at 800-775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations (including Hot Tix), and online at www.BroadwayinChicago.com. For groups of 15 or more, call 312-977-1710.  For more information, visit www.BillyElliotChicago.com.

Corrales, Skinner, Hammond and Ballet Girls

 

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Cirque Shanghai and Navy Pier create all-day fun package

Show + Ferris Wheel + Boat Tour + 20% Off Food = $35.75!!

 

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Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9 (our review here ★★★½) has joined several other Navy Pier favorites to offer patrons the Navy Pier All-Day Fun Package.  The package includes exclusive Gold Circle seating to Cirque Shanghai, vouchers for the Ferris Wheel, the Shoreline Sightseeing Skyline Lake Tour and a coupon for 20% off food purchase at RIVA Restaurant.  This value package cannot be beat at $35.75 for an entire day of entertainment at Navy Pier.  The Navy Pier All-Day Fun Package can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com/shanghai

Under the creative direction of Sylvia Hase, directed by Miao Miao Chen and with choreography by Brenda Didier, Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9 is presented in this exclusive US engagement by Navy Pier in conjunction with International Special Attractions production headquarters in Shanghai, China.

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE AND TICKET INFORMATION

  • Wednesdays at 2pm, 6pm and 8pm
  • Thursdays/Fridays at 2pm and 8pm
  • Saturdays at 2pm, 6pm and 8pm
  • Sundays at 2pm and 4pm

cirqueshanghaicloudnine001 There will be additional performances Thursday, Aug. 26 and Friday, Aug. 27 at 6pm in conjunction with the Pepsi Tall Ships Chicago 2010 celebration at Navy Pier, as well as Monday, Sept. 6 (Labor Day) at 2pm and 4pm.

Tickets are available by calling 800-745-3000 or visiting ticketmaster.com/shanghai. Discounted tickets for groups of 10 or more are available by calling GroupTix at 877.4GRP.TIX (877.447.7849) or visiting www.grouptix.net.

Notes: This package is not available for Wednesday and Saturday 8 p.m. performances of “Cirque Shanghai: Cloud 9.”

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Last chance to see Fuerza Bruta at Auditorium Theatre

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Last chance to see

 

Fuerza Bruta: Look Up

  

Only 15 Performance remaining!

 

Fuerza Bruta 2Audiences have just ten days left to see the international sensation that has introduced Chicago to a new kind of entertainment – performance art above and around you (see our review ★★★). The cast of Fuerza Bruta: Look Up will twirl, splash, dance and take the final bow for the last time on Sunday, July 11.  The non-stop collision of dynamic music, visceral emotion and kinetic aerial imagery premiered at the Auditorium Theatre in late May and has been running to large audiences for over 6 weeks.

The Lobby

The lobby has been transformed into an alternate universe, welcoming excited audience members into a club-like atmosphere from the moment they walk through the doors of the Auditorium Theatre complete with specialty cocktails and nightly empanadas.  The historic landmark theatre’s stage is filled with flying performers, pumping beats, engaging dream sequences and a multidimensional swimming pool above the heads of the audience who stands on stage with the performers and in the middle of the action.

Tickets:

Individual tickets to Fuerza Bruta: Look Up are $50 – $80 and are on sale now at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices and the Auditorium Theatre box office, Ticketmaster locations, by phone (800-775-2000) and also online at BroadwayInChicago.com.   Groups of 15 or more should call (312) 977-1710.

 Fuerza Bruta 6

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Broadway Playhouse set to open in September

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Above: Artist rendering of reconfigured Broadway Playhouse

 

Coming Soon:  “Traces”, “Working” and Sutton Foster

 

by Scotty Zacher

Get ready, Chicago, for Broadway in Chicago’s newest venue: the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.  Previously known as Drury Lane Water Tower, the space will join BIC’s current treasure-trove of venues: Cadillac Palace Theatre, Ford Center for the Performing Arts (aka Oriental Theatre) and Bank of America Theatre sutton-26(aka Shubert Theatre). BIC has signed a long-term agreement with General Growth Properties (owner/manager of Water Tower Place) that will allow for the renovation and management of the revitalized space.

“This theatre will give Broadway in Chicago the ability to attract those productions that are better suited for a more intimate theatre. We hope to be able to expand the theatrical experiences we offer with this intimate and unique venue in the heart of the Magnificent Mile,” says James L. Nederlander (president, Nederlander Organization).

Inaugural productions for the playhouse will include An Evening with Sutton Foster (music direction by Michael Rafter), Traces and a newly adapted version of Stud Terkel’s musical Working (fondly known as “the working-man’s Chorus Line”), in association Broadway-composer Stephen Schwartz.

Though not announced at today’s press event, speculative capacity is set for 550 seats, a nice-sized theatre that will still allow for a more intimate experience when compared to the super-sized venues in Chicago’s theatre-district.

In my view, there are two hurdles that the reincarnated space needs to tackle: the drawbacks of the location, as well countering the fact of high ticket-prices versus its less-than-opulent ambience.

  1. First of all, the location. Though there is a plus for being amidst the Magnificent Mile, there is also the fact that it’s actually more than a block walk from the main drag – and a rather cement-themed walk at that.  Though this might seem trivial, a non-pedestrian-friendly designation is detrimental to any business, be it a coffeehouse, flowershop or, yes, a large theatre.  Even though the product on stage is the main attraction for an audience member, another important aspect is pre-show/post-show experience.  And a nondescript marquee in a cement-canyon a full block away from Michigan Avenue does not a prospective customer make.  One suggestion to up-the-ante would be to build a flashy LCD banner, much like the State Street Channel 7 banner, directly on Michigan Avenue, just to the north of Water Tower Place (this technique has been effective for side-street Broadway houses).  This could be a win-win for the city as it would make Michigan Ave. more exciting (as attempted with the NBC ground-level studio) as well as give instant attention to the advertised show (I suspect, however, there might be blow-back from the Water Tower Place residents…)
  2. Drury Lane Water Tower many times expected their shows to have much longer runs than what actually occurred.  This can be partially attributed to the what I call the experience-gap: People are expecting an opulent feeling that they previously experienced at the Oriental and/or Cadillac Palace, but in fact get a more germane theatre that they might equate with many Captioned Photo - 6smaller cities.  Let’s face it, part of the draw of wildly-successful “Wicked” was not only the show, but the ooh-factor of the lobby and the painted ceilings and Asian-themed accents. You saw this on the faces of the adults and kids when entering the space, that then surely increased the probability of a strong word-of-mouth occurrence.  Obviously BIC can’t recreate the theatre to match a historic theatre-palace.  Instead, care can be taken in the actual production choices – productions need to have something special about them that supersedes the lacking inner ambience.  It looks like BIC has chosen just such productions, with high-def raucous shows like “Traces,” that take advantage of the intimate nature of the space to heighten the show’s energy (think “Blue Man Group”), as well as concerts that lend themselves to more intimate venues (i.e., “An Evening with Sutton Foster”). And fans will flock to see a reconceived version of rarely-produced Workingespecially being that it’s based on the book written by Chicago’s beloved Studs Terkel.

In the end, I have the highest respect and expectations for Broadway in Chicago’s new venue endeavor.  Through their vision and hard work they have helped elevate Chicago as a theater draw for the entire Midwest, as well as a starting point for numerous Broadway-bound shows (e.g., Spamalot, Producers, Addams Family).   We at Chicago Theater Blog wish them the best of luck.

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Check out Billy Elliot video Webisode 2

 

 

Meet the 4 Billy’s starring in Chicago’s newest hit play – Billy Elliot the Musical, music by Elton John. In this video we find out where the Billy’s are from, how old they were when they first started dancing, how excited they are to be in Chicago, and just what an amazingly talented set of young actors/singers/dancers these boys are. And did you know that they also are in school while rehearsing and performing? It’s all here in the video. (video courtesy of Broadway-in-Chicago)

                         

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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