Review: Working (Broadway in Chicago)

  
  

Now extended through June 5th!

        

Talented Chicago cast gets the job done!

  
  

Michael Mahler, E. Faye Butler, Gabriel Ruiz, Emjoy Gavino, Gene Weygandt, Barbara Robertson in Broadway in Chicago's 'Working'

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Working
   
From the book by Studs Terkel
Adapted by
Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
Directed by
Gordon Greenburg
at
Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map)
through June 5  |   tickets: $67-$77   |   more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

‘Everybody should have something to point to!’ At the end of a career, job, or just day, there is satisfaction in pointing to something well-constructed… building, memo, burger… to say ‘I did that!‘ Steel beam to corner office to cubicle, one building houses millions of work tales. Broadway in Chicago presents Working a musical. In 1974, Pulitzer Prize- winning author Studs Terkel published a collection of interviews in his Michael Mahler - Chicago 'Working'book entitled “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In 1977, Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso adapted the book into a musical about the working class. In the current production, both skilled director Gordon Greenburg, and additional songs, have been added to the resume. ‘Working 2.0 brings timeless employees’ woes into a new age. Working is the ordinary dreams of ordinary people sung by an extraordinary Chicago cast!

The show is cued with a behind-the-curtain glimpse at staged theatre. An unseen person calls out directions in a countdown to the start. A bi-level backdrop showcases four dressing rooms where actors-playing-actors-playing-workers are busy prepping. The intriguing set by Beowulf Boritt has a strong industrial framework influence. The beams work double-time to establish a construction feel as an ironworker kicks-off the interview series. Later, the metal structure is the screen for visual projections by Aaron Rhyne. Designer Rhyne adds magnificent depth to the stories with authentic location and people imagery. Studs Terkel haunts the stage from beginning to end. In the opening scene, his voice is heard as several reel to reel recorders play his historic interviews tapes. At the finale, projections of the working people series ends with his facial profile. In between the Studs, a hard-working ensemble of six dress and undress…sometimes right on stage… to tell 26 different stories in 100 minutes.

The marathon of memories is well-paced, with each character’s story transitioning into another’s. Sometimes, it’s natural… construction guy to executive to assistant. Sometimes, it’s just a little forced… retired to fireman or factory worker to mason or trucker to call center tech. Regardless, the stitching together adds to a rhythmic flow for the always-dynamic and ever-changing cast. There are lots of moments to point to with this talented 6 doing 26 parts, but here are some favorites: E. Faye Butler transforms effortlessly from humble housewife to vivacious hooker to amusing cleaning lady. Totally diva-licious, Butler belts out songs like an entire gospel choir squeezed into one uniform. Gabriel Ruiz - Chicago 'Working'Emjoy Gavino goes from sassy flight attendant to poignant millworker with an unforgettable solo. Despite a crackling microphone, Barbara Robertson is delightful and slightly disturbing as an old-school teacher. Then, as an amicable and career content waitress, Robertson serves up an impressive singing number complete with a side of splits. Gabriel Ruiz delivers burgers with playful energy, then later sings sweetly as a caregiver doing a job nobody wants. Michael Mahler plays it ruggedly funny as seasoned trucker then naively hilarious as a newbie student. Gene Weygandt bookends the show as the cocky ironworker bragging about heights and confessing his shortcomings in a powerfully nostalgic ‘Fathers and Sons.’

WORKING: a musical employs a talented Chicago cast! No matter what your current job status, this hard-working cast will entertainingly sing to you a familiar tune. It’s realistic, relatable, regularity life put to music. I’m pointing at Working as an enjoyable after-work happy hour.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  
Barbara Robertson - Chicago 'Working' Gene Weygandt - Chicago 'Working' E. Faye Bulter - Chicago 'Working'
Gabriel Ruiz - Chicago 'Working' Emjoy Gavino - Chicago 'Working' Michael Mahler - Chicago 'Working'

Working continues through June 5th, with performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday, Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm.  The Broadway Playhouse is located on 175 E. Chestnut in downtown Chicago (behind Watertower Place). Ticket prices are $67 to $77, and can be purchased online HERE. Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.

Extra Credit:

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Sunday Sondheim: Finale of ‘Sweeney Todd’ – Korean Cast

 

This is one of the most marvelous versions I’ve ever seen, especially the technical aspects: superb lighting, chilling sound design (especially the machine sounds at beginning), and the scenic/staging design is brilliant, especially the ritualistic handwashing and the coats lifted aloft, first looking like a mass lynching and then a line of coats representing those people Sweeney killed.  Freakin’ marvelous!

Oh yeah, the music’s not bad either.  Who’s the composer again?  😉

     
     

REVIEW: Wicked (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

WFF: Wicked Friends Forever

or

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Enjoy Regime Change!

  

  
     

Chandra Lee Schwartz and Jackie Burns - Wicked - Broadway in Chicago

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Wicked
   
Music/Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Winnie Holzman
Directed by Joe Mantello
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through January 23  |  tickets: $35-$105  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Big, bold Wicked is back in town. Broadway in Chicago launched its surefire holiday winner with military precision Friday night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Not a wrong note. Not a misstep. Not a hair out of place–and they’ve got a million fabulous wigs (Tom Watson) to keep in check, y’all.

Jackie Burns and chanra Lee Schwartz as Elphaba and Glinda in WickedJoe Mantello’s direction follows the Powell Doctrine of “overwhelming force,” so that audiences can be assured of Wicked as the one-stop shopping place for big talent, over-the-top pageantry, feel-good humor, and blow-your-hair-back music. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Nothing succeeds like excess.” Plus, the production displays no shame in borrowing from the Disney playbook. So, do you desire dueling divas with the lungs and control to belt out those power ballads? Check. A suave male lead to fight over? Check. A goofy headmistress who turns into Cruella De Vil? Check. Gorgeous lighting (Kenneth Posner) and fun special effects (Chic Silber)? Check and check.

Don’t forget the tight and driven orchestra (P. Jason Yarcho) or the most excessive, blatantly overdone, asymmetrical costuming (Susan Hilferty) in the world. So, for those still on the lookout for a really, really big show to entertain family or those out-of-town guests, your ship has come in.

Naturally, Wicked is also really, really lite entertainment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Still, revisiting Wicked creates a curious opportunity to re-examine the recent historical conditions under which it developed. Opening a month and a half after the US invasion of Iraq, Wicked throws a few blunt jabs at the War on Terror. Winnie Holzman (book) tried to throw a little politics into the mix without disturbing the musical’s overall feel-good vibe. It’s interesting to gage how well that has held up over the years. For the most part, since Wicked plays it both ways, its safe, bland pronouncements against oppression, increased surveillance, First Amendment violations and picking on people who are different come across like a beauty queen telling you that she wants world peace.

     
Chandra Lee Schwartz as Glinda the Good Witch Photo 6
Richard H. Blake as Fiyero in Wicked The Wonderful Wizard Jackie Burns as Elphaba in Wicked

But, hey, Wicked’s not about politics, right? Heck, no! It’s about two young women of radically different temperaments discovering that they can be best friends forever. Since Oz society casts the girls as “Good’ and “Evil”–and since they themselves never publicly buck that casting–the musical then becomes a rough and sloppy allegory on the moral ambiguities of Good and Evil becoming best friends forever. Now, there’s a fine fairy tale for a nation that cannot make up its mind. Are we the liberators of Iraq and Afghanistan or are we just making the world safe for Halliburton, BP, etc?

I only ask because, you know, not to be a buzz kill or anything but we are still in the middle of the same wars. Very. Very. Expensive. Wars.

Never mind. It’s the holidays and what better to take our minds off our troubles than a mongo production about two girls who loathe each other but, through a merry mishap, become college roommates, who then learn to love each other. I know it sounds predictable and, frankly, lesbian – but relax, parents, even the heterosexuality in this show earns only a G-rating. So, on that cheery note, Wicked is fun for the whole family, especially if your family is made up of girls or gay boys who’ve memorized the soundtrack from beginning to end.

I kid. Straight males can also get a lot out of Wicked, like finding out how the female mind works.

One of the most important rules of feminine society is “be nice.” Always be nice, no matter what. Even if people absurdly hate you for your green skin, even if your family rejects you, even if you’re a social pariah the moment you walk in the door, always, always be nice. Niceness is the perpetual feminine social criteria and niceness always kills.

Elphaba (Jackie Burns) delivers a deliciously sinister witchy laugh but, for all that, her outsider bad girl suffers from a distinct lack of personality. Whatever power Burns exhibits—and she is a (whew!) powerful Broadway songstress—she’s still straitjacketed into a role where nice victimhood is the order of the day. Even Elphaba’s breakout moment in the second act, when she operatically vamps into a fully-formed Wicked Witch of the West with “No Good Deed,” is a transformation that goes nowhere because we never get to see her act wicked.

Chandra Lee SchwartzClearly, the creators of Wicked had far more fun developing Elphaba’s foil. Galinda/Glinda (Chandra Lee Schwartz) overtakes the show. Glinda has mastered nice so well she can be nasty, two-faced, empty-headed and hypocritical yet still retain the love of the hoi polloi. Glinda gets star treatment, not just from the people of Oz, but also in the production’s visual quotations of Legally Blonde during “Dear Old Shiz” and Evita during “Thank Goodness.” “Popular” is a wonderfully funny, sassy and knowing number, not just for its humorous critique of popularity, but also because the song just tells it like it is. Schwarz’s easy control over her part vivifies Glinda’s zany pretentiousness without making her ridiculously clownish. Her classical voice training certainly plays pink princess Elphaba’s green girl next door, but the real mastery she exhibits comes from her comic timing.

Through Elphaba we get a bad girl who isn’t really threatening. Through Glinda, Wicked gets to poke fun at the feminine rules of niceness without raising hairs on parental necks. Through Wicked we all get to laugh at the emptiness and shallowness of our social and political order without really altering it. We feel more helpless now than ever to alter it and that helplessness, in turn, reflects in all our entertainments, lite or otherwise.

We hope and change but nothing really changes. That’s the malaise we share with Oz. No matter how shallow we know popularity is, popularity is politics and popularity ultimately wins. Sure, Madame Morrible and The Wizard (Chicago natives Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt) get their comeuppance once Glinda takes over. But, no matter what regime change goes down in Oz, Good Glinda, who was never really good, still has to live out her central casting as Good–however limiting that is for her—while wicked Elphaba, who was never really evil, still has to live fugitive from the angry mob.

It seems that, at least according to Wicked, the marginalized are to stay marginalized for the sake of maintaining order. (Does that go for the talking animals as well, the ones who were oppressed under The Wizard’s regime? We never find out.) Plus, it’s not just that Elphaba or Glinda find themselves thrust into unyielding roles; it’s that they accept these artificial roles without trying to correct their fellow citizens about them or they accept them under the pretense of serving a “greater good.” For the greater good, truth has to be sacrificed. For the greater good, you stay in your artificial, socially constructed role and I’ll stay in mine.

Accept the role society has placed you in, even if you know it’s false. I’m not sure that’s a message that I would want any girl or boy to take away from an evening’s entertainment.

Sacrifice the truth. Um, no. That never leads to anything good.

Accept that there are some things the people are better off not knowing—they’re just a bunch of dummies anyway. No, I think I’d prefer something that encouraged young people to stand up to the crowd, as well as to their leaders, and I think I’d want them to engage with their fellow citizens, rather than write them off as impossible ignoramuses.

I’m obviously asking too much of Wicked. It’s just a friggin’ musical, for cryin’ out loud; a musical made for fun, a musical for girls and boys who don’t feel popular and who want a heroine of their own, a playful diversion from reality. But in a way, with the topics it attempts to examine, Wicked asks for it.

In the face of America’s continuing economic malaise, its stalemated Congress and its continued involvement in demoralizing, resource-sucking wars, I don’t see the value of a production that teaches either kids, or the adults that brought them, mournful helplessness over imbedded social structures or the chicanery of the powerful. After all, one good witch or, rather, two good witches are not going to get us out of this mess. 

But hey, at least we get to see the Wizard!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Scene from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz - Broadway in Chicago

     
     

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REVIEW: Godspell (Provision Theatre)

 

Pop Culture Christianity

 

 The ensemble of GODSPELL rocks out on O BLESS THE LORD, MY SOUL - (front r to l) Sarah Grant, Tiffany Cox, Richelle Meiss, Amy Steele, Jennifer Oakley.  (Back r to l) Greg Walters, Frederick Harris, Kevin O'Brien.

   
Provision Theatre presents
   
Godspell
   
Conceived by John-Michael Tebelak
Music/Lyrics by
Steven Schwartz
at
Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15-$28   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The original Godspell (an archaic spelling of the word “gospel”) was produced in 1971, just as flower power was wilting, eventually replaced by disco fever later in the decade. At the time, many were still holding on to their all-you-need-is-love mentality despite the demise of the hippie community along with the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. As a result, many found comfort in close-nit cults and communes, while Judas betrayal: Justin Berkobien as Judas in GODSPELL, running through September 26 at 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL.others just moved on with their lives.

Still, for some, there was a Christian reawakening, a dawning of the Age of Aquarius in which it was foretold that man would achieve a greater understanding of Jesus’ message of peace and harmony. Had Godspell, a musical based on the Gospel According to Matthew, been produced at any other time, it would not have ever reached the levels of success it did. First a hit off-Broadway and then a hit on Broadway, the show saw more than 2,600 performances. Its song “Day by Day” was 13th on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1972. And in 1973, the musical was made into a major motion picture.

But these days, it appears that the portrait of the peace-loving Christian has been painted over with the image of Bible-thumping Pharisees. This begs the question: In a world populated with apocalyptic celebrities ministers, can Godspell remain relevant? In the hands of Provision Theatre’s extraordinarily talented director Tim Gregory, it can and does.

Provision’s interpretation frequently wanders off-book from the original. This is no surprise considering the show—which is really just a bunch of parables strung together—plays more like an improv review than it does a play. Characters call out to one another casually, egging each other on as they bring Jesus’ teachings of righteousness and justice to life. Gregory uses the play’s spontaneity to insert pop-culture references that serve to remove us from the musical’s dated soundtrack and transport us to the present. Be prepared for riffs on Facebook, Beyonce and the stimulus package. The jokes are utterly cornball, but then again, so is Godspell.

The costumes (created by DJ Reed) have also received a reboot to keep up with the times. Characters have traded in their bell-bottoms and denim for loud, funky garments. The end result looks like an Old Navy commercial starring Jesus and John the Baptist.

Gregory’s staging and Amber Mak’s choreography are really the highlight of this production. There’s a lot of group movement going on, but no matter how many bodies are in motion, everybody acts and reacts with one another physically, creating a larger whole out of the many parts. It is here, through the collective action, that the play’s message of connectivity and brotherhood is most apparent.

Jesus being crucified: Syler Thomas as Jesus in GODSPELL, running through September 26 at 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL.

Unfortunately, most of the ensemble’s voices are lacking, which is really a significant downside for a musical. Vocal precision is rare. Instead, notes warble, passing from flat to sharp. A cordless mic is used often to enhance lead vocalists who, I suppose, don’t have the pipes to belt it out to the back of the room. There are some standouts, however, particularly Justin Berkobien as John the Baptist and Amy Steele, who sings the lead on “Day by Day”.

Provision’s Godspell is just as slaphappy and feel-good as the original. That’s fine for those who already have Jesus in their hearts. But for the cynics or the persecuted, it might ring a little out of touch with contemporary displays of Christianity. As for those that just want to see some song and dance, don’t expect a choir of angels – but there’s certainly clever choreography!

   
   
Rating:  ★★½
   
   

Extra Credit:

Read Mark Ball’s Godspell review from his blog One Chicago Man’s Opinion:

….Provision Theater’s production of Godspell was, in two words, very energetic. The joyfulness and exhuberance I mentioned above abounded from start to finish, and the actors’ collective excitement infected the audience. They properly exaggerated their characterizations, their timing was sharp, the cabaret was amusing, and the flow of the show was kinetic. But there were two major weaknesses, the first being that of bad acoustics and the second, that of bad singing. Despite the presence of some impressive vocal talent in the cast, a few soloists were clearly unprepared, one of whom caused me to cringe from his off-pitch screeching.  Read the entire review.

     
     

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Aug. 7th: Stephen Schwartz to perform at Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project

 

StevenSchwartz_thumb1_thumb1

 
Coming for one night only – this Saturday at 8pm

at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall (map)

 

A Celebration of Stephen Schwartz

Exclusive Star-Studded Event!

Steven Schwartz, lyricist/composer of "Wicked" and "Godspell"A perfect end to a perfect summer, this star-studded evening honors the legacy of Johnny Mercer by celebrating Tony Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippen, Godspell) for his mentorship of young songwriters. The evening will feature performances from Mr. Schwartz’s landmark shows by Broadway star Shoshana Bean (Wicked), Tony-nominated composer/lyricist Craig Carnelia, Grammy Award-nominated composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, Grammy Award-winning Nashville singer/songwriter Lari White and talented young songwriters from the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project. Mr. Schwartz will be on hand to share a few songs himself, and to honor the legacy of Johnny Mercer and the Great American Songbook — past, present and future!  Buy tickets

Price: $10-$40

One Night Only at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall!

 Buy Tickets

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Broadway Playhouse set to open in September

M:\Projects\Broadway Playhouse-scyphers.pdf

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.

 M:\Projects910 Drury Lane Theater Renvoation1 Drawings3 Families\Lighting Fixtures\Broadway Playhouse-scyphers.pdf LOBBY

M:\Projects\Drury Lane Theater Renvoation1 Drawings1 Central\WTP-Theater Scheme A Revised.pdfCONCOURSE (175 E. Chestnut)

“Wicked” is coming back for the holidays!

defyinggravity

‘Wicked’ returning for holidays – but at Cadillac Palace

When it comes to the highly-successful musical Wicked, the Emerald City wasn’t the only thing green about the show – the 2.9 million audience members over its 3.5 year run at the Oriental Theatre also brought in a whole lot of green, as in cold, hard cash.

So it makes total sense that the show’s producers are visiting Chicago again, this time for a 2-month run over the holidays (from December 1 – January 23, Cadillac Palace Theatre).

Read all of the details at Chris Jones blog, Theater Loop.

Welcome back Elpheba!

wizard