REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Show (NightBlue)

 

Lewd, crude ‘Rocky Horror’ an interactive event

 

FrankFloorShow

        
NightBlue Theater presents
    
The Rocky Horror Show
    
Written by Richard O’Brien
Directed by Chris Weise
Musical direction by
Jason Krumweide
at Stage 773*, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
Through Oct. 31  | 
Tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I am old. How old am I? I am so old that the first time I saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” film, nobody threw toast. Or came in costume. Or talked back to the screen. Or did anything but sit there agape.

The next several occasions I viewed the film went just about the same. The rock opera about young Brad Majors and his fiancé Janet Weiss and their remarkable night with the degenerates "Over at the Frankenstein Place" was as yet unsullied by any of audience-participation shtick that accompanies any showing of the film today. And while the film phenomenon was in full swing by the time when, some years later, I first saw a production of the stage musical that had preceded the 1975 cult movie classic, no one in the audience did anything more than wear costumes and dance in the aisles during the closing reprise of "Time Warp."

I confess I enjoyed both film and play better that way. I don’t mind the toast tossing or the newspaper head covering, but I wish that theaters of both types would offer at least a few showings where they tell the peanut gallery to shut up so the rest of us can hear the show.

On the night I saw NightBlue Theater’s current production of The Rocky Horror Show, several audience members kept up such a running litany of interjections that it became difficult to follow the actors. That’s a pity, because many of them are strong performers, both as actors and singers. It’s difficult to do Rocky Horror without hamming it up too much, but Director Chris Weise and cast do an admirable job of keeping things in bounds.

On the other hand, Rocky Horror has two only slightly overlapping sets of fans — I’ll call them the nerds and the vulgarians. The nerds, among whom I count myself, can explain all the references in the opening "Science Fiction Double Feature" (a terrific song, but Usherettes Irene Patino and Carolyn Ewald could barely be heard over the audience in NightBlue’s production) and further can run through all of the science-fiction tropes creator Richard O’Brien so cleverly parodied throughout the musical. The vulgarians are mainly just titillated by the smut and funny underwear and enjoy being part of the show.

NightBlue, which sells $5 participation kits containing toast, confetti, newspapers and all the other accouterments, aims its production firmly toward the second group. Pre-show host Mark Stickney welcomes Rocky Horror "virgins" The%20Rocky%20Horror%20Show563_MainPicturefrom the audience on stage before the outset and engages them in a highly lewd contest as well as encouraging everyone to shout out during the show.

The production combines elements of both the stage musical and the film. The minimalist set and David E. Walters and Laura Zettergren‘s costumes put an emphasis on the prurient. Musical Director Jason Krumweide leads a fine four-piece band, playing keyboards himself with Ken Kazin on drums, Larry Sidlow on guitar and Donn De Santo on bass, although the volume sometimes overwhelms the singers — some of the women, especially, seem to be acoustically challenged, and several actors were using hand mikes, including, most oddly, Paul E. Packer as Rocky Horror, Frank N. Furter’s homemade muscle man. Packer has the right physique for but he lacks the part’s youthful innocence and sings at too deep a pitch.

Stickney goes on to play Eddie — with a great version of "Hot Patootie," including a great dance sequence with Katherine Cunningham, as Columbia — and Dr. Scott. Jennifer Reeves Wilson‘s choreography in other dance numbers, such as "Don’t Dream It Be It," sometimes seems messy.

Smooth-voiced Corey Mills plays an especially wimpy Brad Majors, which works very well against Erin O’Shea’s robust Janet Weiss. Eric Hawrysz makes a stiffer than usual Narrator. Megan Schemmel is a picture-perfect Magenta.

As mad scientist Frank N. Furter, Michael Bounincontro channels Tim Curry for all he’s worth, bringing little originality to the role, but doing a fine mimicry with a powerful voice. Kevin Buswell‘s Riff Raff has more novelty, if only because he starts out emulating Lurch.

If you’re looking for vulgarly raucous Halloween good times, NightBlue provides them, especially if you enjoy performing more than you like listening.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

*except Oct. 31, which will be at The Elbo Room

REVIEW: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Drury Lane)

 

Dynamic choreography, rousing leading lady save flawed musical

 

 (L-R) Cara Salerno, Vanessa Panerosa, Amber Mak, Hallie Cercone, Abby Mueller, Katie Huff, and Amanda Kroiss star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

        
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
   
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
   
Book by Gene del Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Music/Lyrics by Gene del Paul, Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn and Johnny Mercer
Directed by Bill Jenkins
Musical Direction by
Roberta Duchak
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
through December 19  |  tickets: $31-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

In the 1954 movie musicalSeven Brides for Seven Brothers”, when men kidnap women and trick them into marriage, it’s not Stockholm syndrome, it’s love. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is one of those movie musicals that is a product of its time, when women were looked at as little more than glorified housekeepers and baby makers, born to do the will of their man. When Adam Pontipee (Steve Blanchard) deceives the sassy Milly (Abby Mueller) into marrying him, his six brothers set out to capture wives for themselves, ambushing six town girls and throwing them in the back of their wagon. It’s offensive, but the music is jovial and melodic, the dancing is energetic and plentiful, and the film’s leading man Howard Keel’s booming voice and charming smile make it difficult to despise the chauvinistic Adam.

(L-R) Richard Strimer (Benjamin) and Abby Mueller (Milly) star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett BeinerMy problems with the stage adaptation of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers arise from its attempts to flesh out the characters, which sounds like a good thing but ends up backfiring by making them even shallower. The solos do very little to make you sympathize with the characters, with Milly’s “One Man” beginning as a condemnation of her husband’s trickery before devolving into a tribute to female subservience. Conversely, Adam’s big Act Two moment of redemption “Where Were You?” attempts to justify his sexism by giving him a daddy complex, blaming his actions on his absent father instead of taking responsibility himself. It’s not difficult to assume that Adam’s behavior is a product of his environment, but when it is put into song it just makes the already unlikable character seem pathetic. Blanchard’s vocals don’t help matters, lacking the timbre and strength expected from an 1850 frontiersman. And while the added ensemble numbers manage to evoke the musical style of the film, the solos and smaller group sequences have a contemporary feel that is out of place with the rest of the show’s classic musical theater sound.

The highlight of the production is easily Milly and her relationship with her six brothers-in-law. Mueller’s crystal clear tone and powerful belt make her musical numbers stand out, and she has great chemistry with her new relatives as she assumes a dominating mother position in the household. Watching the brothers transform under Milly’s feminine influence is a joy, from learning to dance in “Goin’ Courtin’” to finally appreciating their women in the heartfelt “Glad That You Were Born.” With the brothers, there is evidence of a struggle between the uncivilized way they’ve been brought up and the restraint that makes for successful courting. “We Gotta Make It Through The Winter” is a hilarious exclamation of horny frustration, but it is followed by Daniel (William Travis-Taylor) and Frank (Brandon Springman) ruminating on the somber effects of loneliness in the beautiful “Lonesome Polecat.”

 

(L-R)  Abby Mueller (Milly) and Steve Blanchard (Adam) star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner (L-R) Richard Strimer, Jarret Ditch, William Travis Taylor, Chris Yonan, Brandon Springman and (back) Zach Zube star in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Photo by Brett Beiner.

The brothers learning to dance comes in handy for Tammy Mader’s intense, dynamic choreography. Maybe the reason Adam and Milly’s romance never blossoms on stage is because they don’t have a nice dance together like the brothers and their brides. There isn’t much depth to these characters and their affection for each other, but the substance appears in their dancing, when the chemistry really ignites. The extended town dance sequence in Act I is a mesmerizing affair, albeit a little chaotic and unclear at times, while an Act II all-bride dream ballet brings some sensuality to the affair.

Like the film, this production is propelled by its dancing, but bodies in movement can’t overcome all the flaws of the writing. The changes to the film give the story a more modern context, and the attempt to psychoanalyze the characters through song removes much of the musical’s charm. Drury Lane’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a polished, well-performed production, but the questionable source material prevents it from rising to true greatness.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

(L-R) Chris Yonan, Hallie Cercone, Jarret Ditch, and Cara Salerno star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

 

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Review: Topol in “Fiddler on the Roof”

Sunrise. Sunset.

Fiddler Cast 1 copy

Fiddler on the Roof
by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein
Thru June 28th at the Oriental Theatre

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

At its core, Fiddler on the Roof is a coming of age story, of Tevye’s daughters, of Tevye himself, of a people long acquainted with persecution.

Joy, heartbreak, and the ability to survive populate the Anatevka currently located in the Oriental Theatre. The big selling point for this North American tour of the classic musical is Chaim Topol, who has starred as Tevye around the world and in the 1971 film adaptation, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. His tried-and-true performance matches the rest of the production; director/choreographer Sammy Dallas Bayes has recreated Jerome Robbins’ original choreography and direction  from the 1964 Broadway debut for the tour. Instead of some sort of theatrical museum piece, though, Tevye’s tale still comes across as fresh and thought-provoking even Fiddler Cast 2though our Chicago is thousands of miles and centuries away from rural, tsarist Russia.

Tevye and his family were first conceived and published in Yiddish in the late 19th Century by Sholem Aleichem (pen name of Sholem Rabinovich). Composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick (a Northwestern University alum), and writer Joseph Stein found the modern resonance in Rabinovich’s tales of family, joy, and hardship, which were long out-of-print by the 1960’s. The title of the show, however, was inspired by painter Marc Chagall. The surrealist paintings of the Eastern European Jew also inspired the sets for the original 1964 production, as well as for the tour. The resulting musical, thematically grounded in the tension between traditional values and the shifting tides of time, is a collection of old and new. On top of being shaped by traditional Judaism and radical 20th Century views, this tour has the added element of Topol, one of Israel’s most famous actors.

Fiddler Cast 3 It took me a few scenes to get used to Topol’s portrayal of Tevye. He makes some unexpected choices, trading in ferocity for the weariness of a poor old man. His ability to underplay the role won me over by “If I Were a Rich Man.” His comic timing and deep emotional arc all spring from a profound knowledge of the character. His rich, baritone voice grabs hold of the audience during the musical numbers, whether they are moving or celebratory. His understanding of the script also allows him to ad lib a bit. If left to his own devices, I suspect these would add another 20-30 minutes to the run time, but Bayes has cut them down to an acceptable level.

Although the musical centers around Tevye (as well as most of the advertising for this tour), it would quickly fall apart without strong supporting actors. Susan Cella’s Golde is powerful, living in a patriarchal society but still having control over her husband and family. The scenes between her and Topol are hilarious, and the number where Tevye asks his wife if she loves him 25 years after meeting him on their wedding day (“Do You Love Me”), is beautiful. The daughters, played by Rena Strober (Tzeitel), Jamie Davis (Hodel), and Alison Walla (Chava), do a fine job settling being daddy’s little girl Cella and Topolwith falling in love without the traditional matchmaker. Erik Liberman’s Motel is plenty geeky, and Colby Foytik as the radical student Perchik is sometimes too wooden, but is also able to use it for comic effect. The townspeople do an excellent job recreating a feeling of small-town life, where tradition is based on local gossip as much as the Torah.

Even though the staging and choreography was recycled from the original production, the strong performances and timeless script make this Fiddler on the Roof as touching as anything Broadway has to offer right now. Balancing traditional values with reality can be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof, whether in 1894, 1964, or 2009.

Rating: ««««

Running thru Jun 28th
Oriental Theatre
Box Office: 312-902-1400, or buy tickets online.

Sunday Night Sondheim: Audra McDonald medley

One of my all-time favorite Broadway singers, Audra McDonald, performs a medley of the Stephen Sondheim songs: “What Can You Lose?” (from the movie Dick Tracy) and “Not A Day Goes By” (from Merrily We Roll Along)

Performed in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s 75th Birthday on July 8, 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, the concert – entitled Children Will Listen – benefited the ASCAP Foundation.

 

Tell me it isn’t so! A "Phantom of the Opera" sequel??

Okay, I know that there’s millions of people out there that love “The Phantom of the Opera“, but I definitely am not one of them.  I found/find it horrifically boring (sorry Andrew Lloyd Webber).  And the movie was even worse.  I believe my loathing of this show also has something to do with Sarah Brightman‘s grating high-notes.

So I’m *petrified* to think that they are now planning a sequel.  (okay, maybe not petrified, but – at the very least – aghast).  It will be titled “Phantom: Love Never Dies”.  I think a more apropos title might be “Phantom: Boring and Boringer”. 🙂   Well, at least it will no doubt enjoy a long run, assuring a lot of actors some lengthy employment. 

From MSNBC.com:

A new “Phantom of the Opera” is coming to Broadway, and beyond. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber told the Times of London on Sunday that “the button is pushed” on a sequel to the world’s most successful musical.

He plans to open “Phantom: Love Never Dies” at the end of 2009, with a historic simultaneous opening in three cities — on Broadway in New York, in London’s West End, and potentially in Shanghai. Such an opening would be groundbreaking.

“I don’t think you could do this if it wasn’t the sequel to Phantom,” he told the paper. “We’ve been into the feasibility of rehearsing three companies at once and opening very fast in the three territories. The one which really interests me [in the Far East] would be China … I think to open ‘Love Never Dies’ in Shanghai would be an enormous thing.”

The follow-up to “Phantom,” which debuted in 1986 with Michael Crawford in the lead role, will take place a decade after the original, with the story set on Brooklyn’s Coney Island.

More of the article here.

Sunday Night Sondheim – “Take Me To The World” (1966)

“Take Me to the World” from Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Evening Primose, produced for ABC’s Stage67. With Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr.

 

"Mamma Mia!!" – What were they thinking??

‘Mamma Mia!’ – Singing! Dancing! Adapting! Stumbling!”

"Mamma Mia" - the movie!! 

I went to see the movie “Mamma Mia” this weekend at Evanston, and went away a bit disappointed.  I understand the reason for casting actors whose celebrity status is greater than their vocal chops – it’s all about the money.  Bigger star power, assumedly, means larger box-office receipts.  But why not at least cast celebs that can carry a tune, and look comfortable while doing it???!!!

Meryl Streep certainly holds her own, plowing through her numbers with such sweaty enthusiasm that I was often cheering her on without really knowing why.  But for the love of God, who allowed Pierce Brosnan to be anywhere near the movie set???  God help the baby who might be unlucky enough to hear a lullaby “sung” by this guy.  He’s that bad.  And making it worse, Brosnan appears so uncomfortable during his belabored crooning, that he literally seems to be parodying the musical genre itself, reminding me of some of those musical skits Second City creates after asking for audience suggestions.

Thus I was treated to Charles Isherwood’s insightful (and scornfully funny) article in the New York Times that covered these very misgivings, entitled “The Lessons of ‘Mamma Mia!’ – Singing! Dancing! Adapting! Stumbling!”  A few excerpts:

Every few years, with depressing regularity, a hit Broadway musical makes the leap to the big screen and goes splat! Or thud. Or zzzzz. “Mamma Mia!” does a little of all three, to a frantic disco beat, becoming yet another milestone in Hollywood’s repertory of enjoyable stage musicals transformed into lumbering messes on screen.

Isherwood deduces that the director, Phyllida Lloyd, did not cinematically embrace and showcase the show’s joyous inanity:

The real problem is that the director of “Mamma Mia!,” Phyllida Lloyd, seems to have taken the unapologetic silliness of the project (which she directed onstage) as permission to be sloppy. Abba made some of the most highly polished, tightly engineered pop junk ever. There is a kind of perfection in some of those hits that is undeniable even if — or maybe especially if — you can’t stand to hear them. But in matters of craft and technique “Mamma Mia!” proves to be remarkably shoddy, a tangle of clumsy cuts, mismatched shots, bad lighting, egregious overdubbing and scenes in which characters appear to have been haphazardly Photoshopped into the scenery.

Read the entire NY Times article here.

Times movie review here.

Here is a short clip from the movie that shows, during the last few seconds, the breadth of Brosnan’s singing skill.  I’ll tell you up front that this is actually the best he does during the entire movie.

 

Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan sing “SOS” in the movie “Mamma Mia”