Review: Made in Puerto Rico (Mike Oquendo Events)

      
     

A hilarious night of discovering the Puerto Rican in us all

  
  

'Made in Puerto Rico'--Elizardi Castro (audience in background)

  
Mike Oquendo Events presents
   
Made in Puerto Rico
  
Written and Directed by Elizardi Castro
at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts
777 N. Green Street, Chicago (map)
thru May 1  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by S.E. Antrim

You don’t have to be “Made in Puerto Rico” to appreciate Elizardi Castro’s super high-energy one man show brought to Chicago audiences by Mike Oquendo Events at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. It might help to know a little Spanish or Spanglish, but if you don’t, the laugh-out-loud 10 word “User’s Guide to Made in Puerto Rico” will quickly get you up to speed with most of what you’ll want to know before the show. After the little tutorial for those of us from Allá ‘fuera (any part of the world that is not Puerto Rico) we’re totally psyched to learn more about what it means to be Puerto Rican and American. It’s a whole lot funnier than I would have imagined—at least when viewed through Castro’s lens. The portion of the sold-out crowd that was clearly relating to the experience of growing up Puerto Rican and American confirmed loudly and proudly that this comedian was speaking both to and for them.

Elizardi Castro, in his self-written one-man show: 'Made in Puerto Rico'.Through masterful storytelling and a brilliant gift for becoming the characters Castro takes the audience with him to meet the entire family. Early in the performance Castro introduces us to Grandpa Santos, stern but loving, well-intentioned and clearly paranoid. Abuelito Santos lectures the petulant teenage Elizardi on the hidden dangers of going downtown, going to the beach and even just sitting quietly on the porch. As I, perhaps a bit self-consciously, laughed along with the rest of the audience, I had a nagging feeling that I might actually be Grandpa Santos. And that’s exactly why Castro’s Puerto Rican-influenced comedy is such a hit, regardless of ethnicity or background. We all recognize ourselves and people we know. Sure, maybe you weren’t dodging chancletas as a kid, but if you didn’t get the occasional well-placed whack with a sandal or house slipper, you have probably met the business end of a hairbrush or a spatula at least once when you misbehaved. You’ve no doubt experienced the cool deception of a loving mother who told you, “We’ll only stay at old aunt so-and-so’s house for a few minutes.” We watch poor little Elizardi writhe in the agony that only a child trapped among boring old adults can experience. His pain is our pain as we remember, but still we laugh. We’ve all been there.

If Castro’s comedy is such a hit because we can all relate to certain elements it’s also appealing because as he tells the audience repeatedly “we’re different”. His quirky characters show us how Puerto Ricans are different. The boisterous holiday festivities of the Boricua as compared to the “uptight and white” more sedate observation of the Christmas season has everyone laughing and nodding their heads in agreement. The audience also finds itself transported to dance clubs where the “show-off” dances to salsa, merengue, bomba and reggaeton. Mr. Castro’s dance moves are as impressive as they are comical and he may have a great career ahead of him as a boy band member. He did grow up listening to Menudo, after all. Puerto Rican flag worship was an activity that I was vaguely aware of thanks to a gentleman whom I can identify only as Super Rico. He wore a red mask and the flag like a cape. It seemed a rather unique ensemble to me at the time. Apparently that’s not particularly unusual attire. You learn something new every day.

Elizardi Castro, born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, had a pretty good gig as a criminal defense attorney before he turned to comedy, but anyone who sees Made in Puerto Rico will understand quickly why he gave up law for the stage—you can’t merengue in a courtroom! Well, maybe you can in Puerto Rico. Castro makes a commitment to keeping it clean, so go ahead grab Abuelita and Bobo and head on over to the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. You’ll be glad you did!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
    
  

Elizardi Castro, in his self-written one-man show: 'Made in Puerto Rico'.

Made in Puerto Rico continues at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts through May 1st, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online or by calling (312) 733-6000.

  
  

Continue reading

REVIEW: Batterymouth: It Burns

  
  

Slow-Form Spontaneity

  
  

Dave Urlakis and Zack Whittington of Batterymouth: It Burns

  
Batterymouth presents
  
Batterymouth: It Burns
  
Written by Dave Urlakis and Zack Whittington
Directed by
E.J. Scott
at Second City’s de Maat Theatre, Chicago (map)
through Feb 18  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Batterymouth’s new long-form improv show at Second City’s de Maat Theatre is definitely in the top percentile of the dozens—or is it hundreds—of improv shows going on around town. This accomplishment is somewhat diminished by the fact that the vast majority of improv shows remind me of someone dizzily flipping through television channels, occasionally landing on an episode of Family Guy. Still, Batterymouth’s calm and grounded work is a refreshing serving of intelligent spontaneous comedy.

Before I get too far into my review, a note on reviewing improv. Obviously, no two shows are identical. It’s the nature of the art. You make up some characters and scenarios only to have your masterpiece lost forever in the ether. What remain are the performers and the form. So although the particulars of the show I saw don’t have baring on future performances, the quality of the talent does. And that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

Batterymouth is Dave Urlakis and Zack Whittington. Urlakis is an ensemble member at ComedySportz Chicago, a short-form improv institution that requires lightening-speed wit. He’s also a writer and performer for Best Church of God, one of the most intelligent sketch groups in the city. Whittington is a member of the sketch comedy group Long Pork, which recently performed at the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival.

The duo certainly has chemistry together, which is integral for a successful improv group. After all, how interesting would T.J. and Dave if their stage presence was akin to oil and water? Urlakis and Whittington share the focus of the scene, seamlessly giving and taking the lead. They are magnanimous improvisers who are willing to divert attention away from them for the benefit of the scene.

They’re also patient. Whereas many improv sets come off as a frantic barrage of randomness, theirs unfolds naturally and organically. The entire show I saw consisted of one 30-minute scene about a recently laid-off lawyer and his secretary. As is the Del Close method, the two slowly explored the many facets of their characters, creating unique discoveries that seemed to feel just as genuine to them as they did to us.

I also appreciated the fact that Batterymouth isn’t afraid to occasionally flirt with drama. There were tender moments during the show that arose from the characters’ shared feelings of loneliness. It’s this added layer that boosts a good improv scene to the level of greatness.

My only critique would have to be that after spending 30 minutes with the same characters in the same scene the audience gets a little fatigued. I wouldn’t mind escaping the original scenario for an intermission elsewhere. Perhaps we could see one of the protagonists in a different environment? Or maybe we could flash forward or backward in time?

Overall, Batterymouth: It Burns is an enjoyable way to spend your early evening. Additionally, the duo welcomes a different opening improv group each week (listed below). If you’re a fan of long form, especially that of the T.J. and Dave variety, check out this show.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Batterymouth: It Burns, directed by E.J. Scott, runs Fridays at 7:30pm through February 18 at Second City’s de Matt Theater, Piper’s Alley, 1616 N. Wells. Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for general admission, and can be ordered by calling (312) 337-3992 or by visiting secondcity.com, and are available at the deMaat Theatre’s box office.

 

Opening Improv Groups

Fri, 1/21/11 at 7:30PM with Honor Student Breakfast
Fri, 1/28/11 at 7:30PM with Electric Lunchbox
Fri, 2/04/11 at 7:30PM with Wildcard
Fri, 2/11/11 at 7:30PM with Tina with the Weather
Fri, 2/18/11 at 7:30PM with Long Pork

  
  

Brian Posen interview: Sketchfest and future of Stage 773

     
     
Sketchfest Stage 773 banner Stage 773 renovations
     

 

Brian Posen discusses Sketchfest, Stage 773’s future

By Keith Ecker

Brian Posen thinks big. Just look at his brainchild, the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival: In ten years time, the international sketch comedy festival has grown into the largest event of its kind in the world. In fact, this year’s is the biggest yet, boasting 129 groups and more than 800 artists. That’s a far cry from the 30-plus sketch groups the festival started off with.

But Posen’s visions of grandiosity extend beyond the world of sketch comedy. He’s a lover of all forms of performance art. Whether it’s drama, musical theater, dance, sketch, improv or stand-up, he wants to showcase it. And fortunately he has the power to do just that, thanks to his position as the artistic director of Stage 773 (formerly Lukaba Productions, formerly the Theatre Building). He’s currently planning a heavy-duty renovation of the building, splitting one of the three theaters into a cabaret space and a black box space. Ideally, the complex will become a sanctuary for all performance artists, featuring larger productions on the two main stages and smaller variety acts in the new spaces. It’s Posen’s hope this will create a "cross-pollination," with the end goal being to get theatergoers enthused to see comedy while convincing comedy nerds to see theatre.

I spoke with Posen the day before the launch of this year’s Sketchfest. We discussed the festival, cheap beer and the future of Stage 773.

             
Accidental Company - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 Awkward Silence - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 Just The Tip - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 The Team - Chicago Sketchfest 2011 Man-No-Show -  Chicago Sketchfest 2011

Above: Pictures of some of this year’s 129 sketch comedy groups.


Q: How did Sketchfest start?

Posen: It was in 2001. Sketch comedy had begun to flourish. A bunch of sketch groups started to emerge. I had been in this musical comedy group called The Cupid Players and had just finished directing [sketch group] Stir Friday Night. At the same time, I was given this theater space [the Theatre Building], and I wanted to do something with it. So I asked some sketch groups if they wanted to do a small run. We ended up having a little over 30 groups.

It went well, and I wanted to do it again. So I sent the Cupid Players around the country to other festivals, and we learned how to run our festival. So it was this fluke of an idea that I started to nurture. And by the third year, we had taken over the entire Theatre Building.

Q: How does managing the old Theatre Building, now Stage 773, affect the production of Sketchfest?

Posen: The Theatre Building was really good to us. They bent over backward for us. But now we have the freedom to do certain things that we couldn’t before. We can decorate the space anyway we want it. Before we would have to ask for permission to hang posters in parts of the lobby or had limitations on where we could post signage. Now we don’t have to worry about that. We also don’t have to use Ticketmaster, which means our audience doesn’t have to pay those surcharges. Also, the beer’s cheaper now.

Q: This year’s festival claims 129 sketch groups. How many did you have to turn away?

Posen: About 100 groups. I hate doing that. One thing I’m protective of is that all groups are treated equally. We don’t give awards; we don’t say someone is better than another. Our whole vibe is about building a community.

Q: How do you select what groups get into the festival?

Posen: I have an eight-person committee of performers, directors, producers, a tech designer and someone who is not in the profession. It’s really important to have that outsider. They all watch all the submission videos and rate them from 1 to 100. We have a spreadsheet and input all the numbers. But it’s not just based on that. We also look at the uniqueness of the groups. A couple years ago, there was a group we accepted that didn’t quite have the numbers, but they were all over 50. We rarely get a group that is in that age range. It was an awesome point of view to have here. So if there is something that can help the festival get even more diverse, we will consider that, too.

Q: You mention "points of view." How does that factor into sketch comedy?

Posen: With sketch, the artist who is performing the material is also the writer, so it’s all extremely personal to the artist. There are 129 groups this year, and each is coming from a very specific point of view. We have all Asian groups, all black groups, all lesbian groups. We also have kids groups, some with 11, 12 and 13 year olds. When I watch them, I think, "My God! What an awesome point of view. We as adults have to learn from this because they are blowing us out of the water."

Q: How would you describe the difference between a sketch and a one-act play?

Posen: To me, sketch is a mini one-act that is usually focused on satire. So we are making fun of something. There’s something we need to say to the world, and satire is how we do it.

Q: Since you’re so tuned into the comedy scene, have you noticed any emerging comedy trends?

Posen: The big thing that has changed is how easy it is to make video. People that make comedy have become a lot more technically savvy. As for the content of the comedy, there’s always these phases based on what’s going on in the world. And I think one of the biggest things I see right now is commentaries on just how dumbed down our society has become in the last 10 years.

Q: You’re planning on renovating the Stage 773 space this summer. What’s the impetus for doing this?

Posen: Smaller spaces are a big trend. We want to renovate one of the theaters to create a black box stage and a 70-plus-seat cabaret. These two spaces will be conducive to turnover every two hours. This way the space itself becomes a draw for the audience. So instead of going to the space to see a specific show, they are going to the space to see what shows are playing. We also hope to cross-pollinate the audiences. So the guy leaving the big stage can exit the theater and see the stand-up show in the adjacent space. It’s not easy to get more people to see theater, but we can encourage the people that do see theater to see more things.

Sketchfest Links:

See more Sketchfest Youtube videos HERE

           
           

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: Big Gay Pudding (White Rainbows)

This pudding needs a dash more passion

Big Gay Pudding - White Rainbow

   
White Rainbows Chicago presents
   
Big Gay Pudding + Ding!
   
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $10-$14  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I’m unfamiliar with White Rainbows’ previous comedy reviews White Rainbows (2009) and In Gaga We Trust (2010), but their material for Big Gay Pudding, now playing at The Call, shows a young and inexperienced company still in need of training, finesse and daring. Never mind that they are up against a fierce comedy town like this—their sketches alone revealed comics familiar and coy in playful exchanges among each other, but not so sure of just what they were selling the audience. The Call’s terrible club acoustics alone dampened projection and made the performances seem flat and timid.

Big Gay Pudding - White Rainbow At least their openers, Chelsea Devantez and Emily Walker as Ding!, know how to belt it. Much of Ding!’s comedy material is just as coy and queer-centered as White Rainbows’ – but they show greater confidence and control in styling with songs like “Nothing is Worse Than a Man in a Stylish Hat” and “I Will Be Your Fag Hag.” Ding! doesn’t do so well with improvising song responses to questions about their sex lives, mostly because the answers come so pat, short and predictable, without any foray into wordplay. They do far better with prepared songs that celebrate the bygone days of laser tag or saucily promise “Boy, I’m Gonna Rape You Tonight.”

What to do with the White Rainbows? For one, their central sketch about the pudding has to go. In it, the concoction of different, supposedly outlandish (but not really) fruit puddings is supposed to symbolize transgressive queerness. But the sketch itself never goes far enough into daring, new, bold, or funny territory. It comes across more like an in-joke between friends that later falls flat when presented to a wider audience. Likewise, queers throughout history, gay men boasting like straight guys about sexual exploits, and the miraculous powers of straight-acting gays rely all on the in-jokes of tired gay stereotypes, which makes the sketches go from zero to tired in 2.8 seconds.

Far better are the recurring cameo appearances of Winnie the Pooh, played by various cast members dressed in a Pooh costume. The player who came up with this device deserves the gold star. Who cares if it’s a device as old as Monty Python–Kevin Reader’s subtly funny farewell to Pooh in adolescence, followed by reclaiming Pooh as a lover at a gay dating service later, is inspired.

Other sketches wander into familiar territory, but still retain comic heft. Michael Barin and Stanley A. Chong interact well as a gay couple separated only by one partner’s fascination with his new cell phone. Arianna Wheat really sells her role as the bored housewife singing, “I want to be where the strippers are . . .” to the Disney tune “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. A quiz show called “Name That Vampire Drama,” emceed by a vampire, brings home the point of how little originality we demand from entertainment serving up sexy bloodsuckers.

We’ll need to demand more originality and daring from White Rainbows, however. Their strength may be to joke more coyly about queer experience than to be in your face and there’s certainly no need to change that. But have they got the nerve and conviction to take their audience to unexpected places? Or are we still hanging out at the same old pudding party?

   
   
Rating: ★½
  
  

Gay Pudding - White Rainbow - poster

 

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Ring around the Guillotine (Chemically Imbalanced)

Time travel for the jilted

 

ratg

 
Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents
 
Ring Around the Guillotine
 
Written by Chris Tawfik and Anthony Ellison
Directed by Anthony Ellison
at
CI Theater, 1420 W. Irving Park (map)
through May 23rd (more info)

By Katy Walsh

The cure for being dumped? Finding love in an unexpected place and time… like a prison 600 years ago. Chemically Imbalanced Theater presents Ring Around The Guillotine, a lustful comedy about time travel. In modern day, Tyler is drinking away her break-up. Her supportive coworker gives her a gift of an antique ring and rose. Putting on the ring, Tyler is transported back in time to Magical France. The country is in duress. The queen and king are mourning the death of their daughter and lamenting the ambitions of their son, Carvier. Tyler beams into Carvier’s jail cell, who has been sentenced to the guillotine for killing his love, Princess Camille. Tyler is Camille’s splitting image. Ring Around The Guillotine is a soap operatic comedy with new age mystique against a renaissance backdrop.

This cast knows how to have a good time. They’re trying to not only crack up the audience, but also each other. Emily Harpe (Tyler) is hilarious as a messy drunk rebounder. Ashley Thornton (Beth) is the career-minded pizza manager with amusing fixations on her employees and work policies. Ross Compton (Randy) animates his scenes with chuckle-worthy delivery. Guillotine-licking Mat Labotka (Felipe) is the creepy prince playing over-the-top queen to Connor Tillman’s (Chester) straight man. Tillman’s dead pan slaps the punch line. The entire ensemble, with collective bios boasting extensive improv training, is a riot!

cic From the moment of arrival, you’re plunged into two stories. The contemporary story is relatable. Jilted girl, weirdo manager, pizza – got it. The period piece story is more challenging. It’s elegantly delivered by Jo Scott (Queen) and Martin Monahan (King), but the significance of what is occurring isn’t quickly digestible. Anthony Ellison directed and co-wrote Guillotine with Chris Tawfik The basic story is interesting and the dialogue is witty. At the same time, however, some of the initial scenes in Magical France don’t explain the set up clearly. The back and forth time travel adds to the delayed clarity. Scene changes go dark; a few of the transitions seem unnecessarily long. But this is allayed by the fact that energetic Cyndi Lauper soundbites fill the transitions, so “She Bops” provides a necessary distraction from an over-long break. Pop music, gags galore, people making out – Chemically Imbalanced Theater has invited you to party with them. Plus it’s BYOB and they’ll provide the entertainment.

 

 
Rating: ★★½
 

Running April 9-May 23. Fri & Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm. Tickets $15. Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

Continue reading

REVIEW: Rush Limbaugh! The Musical (Second City)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Pundit Sings

 RUSH- LtoR- Kevin Sciretta, Karla Beard, Colleen Murray, Mar

Second City e.t.c. presents

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical

book by Ed Furman
music/lyrics by
TJ Shanoff
directed by
Matt Hovde
through March 24th (more info)

review by Keith Ecker

RUSH- LtoR- Colleen Murray, MArk Sutton, Cayne Collier, Bump There’s an irony in juxtaposing Rush—the arena rock trio of Canadians who helped forge the musical genre known as progressive rock—with Rush Limbaugh—the overzealous, portly megalomaniac who helped forge the political movement known as neo-conservatism. This is the kind of sharp wit and pop-culture referencing that Second City’s newest play, Rush Limbaugh! The Musical, relies upon to penetrate through the mess that is today’s political landscape.

And just what is the topography of this landscape? Politicians and pundits have made careers out of capitalizing on fear, hate and anger. Religion is in the pocket of the self-proclaimed righteous who corrupt and manipulate their follower’s belief systems for their own gain. The two-party system gives voters a choice of crap and diet crap. All these are themes found in Rush Limbaugh, which at its greatest moments steps out from behind its satirical shield to reveal a genuinely pissed-off group of performers.

The musical focuses on the rise of Rush Limbaugh (Mark Sutton), from his humble beginnings as a rich hippie-hating nitwit in the 1960s to the mouthpiece for the evangelical Christian conservative movement.

RUSH-LtoR- Karla Beard, Mark SuttonOur tour guide on this journey is a woman with a Caribbean accent named Shasta (Karla L. Beard). She punctuates the play with parodies of Rush songs about Rush Limbaugh. While Rush is still young and floundering, Reverend Rightwing (Cayne Collier) steps in to help give the budding radio star a boost. The two forge a mutually beneficial relationship where Rush will use his own brand of Christian lunacy to win new converts to his radio show. Soon Rush becomes a voice to be reckoned with, successfully helping take down Bill Clinton. It is then that he’s on top of the world, ushering in a new Republican world order with the election of George W. Bush.

Donald Rumsfeld (also played by Collier) and Karl Rove (Bumper Carroll) make appearances as a bumbling Abbott and Costello duo while evil Anne Coulter (Colleen Murray) lurks in the shadows. There’s also a subplot involving Hillary Clinton (Murray) and Barney Frank (Kevin Sciretta), who serve as the weak, impotent voice of the left.

The acting is superb. Mark Sutton can muster up a vicious growl and a penetrating scowl on command. When he performs the on-air scenes in the makeshift radio booth, he really captures the despicable glee that the real Rush infuses into his racist diatribes, such as “How do you starve a black man? You hide his food stamps under his work boots.” But despite how wicked Sutton’s Rush might come off, you can’t resist watching him.

The supporting cast is rock solid. Beard has a voice on her that shines on the parody of the Dreamgirls tune “And I’m Telling You,” in which her character tells Rush that she’ll stay by his side even after the neo-conservative movement begins to lose steam. Murray successfully pulls off double duty as the weasely Anne Coulter and the manic Hillary Clinton, while Sciretta does a dead-on Barney Frank impression.

Overall, the writing (care of Ed Furman who also wrote Rod Blagojevich Superstar!) is strong. However, there are some terrible groaners that fall flat near the top of the play. The biggest flaw, though, are the Barney Frank lines, which amount to boring and trite homophobic comedy. It was strange to see these childish references to gay sex in a show that otherwise believed in the intelligence of the audience.

RUSH-LtoR- Cayne Collier, Mark Sutton, Collen Murray, Bumper RUSH-LtoR- Kevin Sciretta, Mark Sutton, Colleen Murray
RUSH- LtoR- Cayne Collier, Kevin Sciretta, Bumper Carroll, M RUSH- LtoR- Karla Beard, Kevin Sciretta, Colleen Murray, Mar

TJ Shanoff, who also worked on Rod Blagojevich Superstar!, wrote the music and lyrics, which are outstanding. From the Democrats shouting in punk rock fashion about how “fucked” their party is to Rush singing the praises of Oxycontin, the songs are deeply funny and veer away from obvious rhyme schemes that would normally spoil the joke.

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical is a political treatise told through musical comedy. Despite some base material that would be better left out of the play, you’ll find a lot of smart jokes to laugh at…unless you’re a Republican, in which case you might have been better off seeing the Rod Blagojevich production.

Rating: ★★★

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical at The Second City e.t.c. (1608 North Wells in Piper’s Alley, Chicago). previews Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 2:00pm, opening on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 8:30pm and will run Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm until March 24, 2010 at The Second City e.t.c.

rush-logo

Continue reading