REVIEW: Alien Queen (Jonny Stax @ Circuit Night Club)

     
     

Update: 3 shows added – Jan 8, 15 and 22 at 8pm!

Queer encounters of the ‘Alien’ kind

     
     

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Jonny Stax presents
   
Alien Queen
   
Created and Directed by Scott Bradley
at
Circuit Night Club, 3641 N. Halsted (map)
through Jan 22  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Did you ever think that the music of Queen could be perfectly paired with the “Alien” movies and re-energize the franchise with queer sensibility? That one never dawned on me, either. But Scott Bradley has spawned Alien Queen, a musical comedy review that clearly reflects the cunning and twisted mind of a creator/director unabashedly obsessed with gender transgression, sticky substances, and the ultra-queering of Sigourney Weaver. And that’s saying something, since Weaver, as lustable butch Ellen Ripley, won the hearts of every Eighties lesbian and bi woman once the first “Alien” film emerged to boffo box office reception in 1979.

Alien Queen - Jonny Stax - Scooty and JoJo 005Ryan Lanning, playing Ridley, could also seduce sapphists (of the fluid sexuality variety) as long as he keeps the wig on and keeps exhibiting the cool toughness of everyone’s favorite Alien hunter–“Killer Queen” introduces us to her, still in her pod in suspended sleep. There is that penis thing, which could cockblock the adoration of Kinsey 6 dykes and certainly the audience for the show at Circuit Night Club seemed fairly gay male dominated. But hopefully, after much critical acclaim, a stronger dyke contingent will join the in revelry.

For one thing, Alien Queen is terribly sophisticated in what it does. In fact, for a comedy review, the cast’s performances tend to be on the side of understatement. Deadpan delivery overrides exaggeration and over-the-top theatrics. This production displays professionalism in that it shows as much homage to Freddie Mercury’s music and to the Alien-franchise as it engages in parody or spoof. Behind the laughs is a lot of love for the material.

Bradley and partner-in-crime Executive Producer Jonny Stax seem pretty happy to let the dry movie script spoof itself. They leave Anna Glowacki’s alien and astronaut costuming – supplemented by the alien puppet designs of Jabberwocky Marionettes Productions – to boost dramatic spectacle for the audience. You haven’t seen aliens till you’ve seen them break out of a human’s stomach, in puppet form, to sing “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Anne Litchfield impresses with the first introduction of a full-grown alien costume. But few sights beat Bradley dressed as the mammoth alien queen herself, pumping out eggs for her alien subjects while singing “Get Down, Make Love.”

            
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Music Director Nicolas Davio keeps the show rockin’ while Jyl Fehrenkamp’s choreography has to make do with the limits of the stage at Circuit. But the cast kicks it very well and then does it all over again in alien costumes. (There’s got to be a Jeff award for that, right?) T. L. Noble makes the most of Circuit’s environs, skillfully creating an otherworldly lighting design in which the crews of Ridley’s respective ships seek out and are destroyed. And destroyed they are, one by one, to the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust.” As stupid marines about to die horribly, Kieran Kredell (Valdez) and William A. Barney (Hunks) take the cake. After all the idiot humans Ridley has to deal with it’s almost a relief and a celebration to see the aliens take over.

As for why Scott Bradley would want to set himself up in a role playing Ridley’s alien nemesis, that I leave others to psycho-analyze. The result is smart, polished gender-bending fun.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Sutton Foster opens new Broadway Playhouse – Sept 23-26

Sutton Foster streetscene 

Inaugurating the New Broadway Playhouse

Water Tower Place

An Evening with Sutton Foster

September 23-26

(Four Shows Only)

Finally, Chicago audiences will get a chance to see this amazing Broadway star – and in an intimate concert setting to boot – the new Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.  Sutton Foster, a Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning actress will perform an exclusive, four-night engagement to inaugurate this refurbished space.

Sutton Foster - big smile Although Sutton has been working on Broadway and national tours since she was 17, she became a Broadway legend when she became an “understudy to the rescue” and took on the lead role of “Millie” in Thoroughly Modern Millie, eventually winning the 2002 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  Since then, she has created four original roles in four new Broadway musicals Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein and Shrek The Musical;  a record unsurpassed by any musical theatre actress of her generation. 

Broadway In Chicago and Water Tower Place recently announced the addition of a new venue, the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place , 175 E. Chestnut Street to its family of theatres.  Broadway In Chicago entered into a long-term agreement with General Growth Properties (owner and manager of Water Tower Place ) that will allow the theatre, formerly known as the Drury Lane at Water Tower Place , to re-open as the Broadway Playhouse.  In addition to the inaugural performance of An Evening With Sutton Foster, Traces will perform at the Broadway Playhouse October 26, 2010 – January 2, 2011 and a newly adapted version of the musical Working is slated to open on February 15, 2011.

The performance schedule for AN EVENING WITH SUTTON FOSTER is as follows:

Thursday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, September 24 at 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 25 at 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, September 26 at 2:00 p.m.

 

Tickets available at Broadway in Chicago box offices or online at Ticketmaster.

Sutton Foster - contemplateive 

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REVIEW: Sweet and Hot (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

Sweet, Hot, and Effective

 

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Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
  
Sweet and Hot: Songs of Harold Arlen
   
Adapted by Julianne Boyd
Directed by
Fred Anzevino
at
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through August 8th  | 
tickets: $25- $45  | more info 

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Director Fred Anzevino and his Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre work best when they keep things simple. Evita and Chess succeeded so well because they masterfully pared down these sprawling musicals to fit in their beloved No Exit Café. Sweet and Hot is driven by a much more minimal concept—the revue involves a sextet of crooners belting out the greatest hits collection of songsmith Harold Arlen. While  Anzevino’s production lacks depth, the tunes are beautifully sung and concisely delivered. Even in a room full of theatre critics on a hot June evening, the romance in the candlelit Rogers Park storefront was palpable.

sweet-and-hot-03Sweet and Hot is Theo Ubique’s most recent addition to a long line of revues focusing on a single composer (past honorees include Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel). Instead of piecing together his own collage of songs, Anzevino relies on a prefabricated set-list gathered by Julianne Boyd. It sounds like an opened time capsule revealing some of the best compositions of the first half of the 20th Century. The talented cast pipes out numbers like “Blues in the Night” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” with a refreshing amount of energy, blowing off any dust these famous melodies have gathered.

To ratchet up the intimacy, Anzevino tosses out most of the band, saving only the piano. Musical director Steve Carson rearranges the pieces to accommodate. The result is delightfully straightforward, imparting the cozy, informal feeling of a couple of friends singing around an upright.

Decked in ‘40s attire, the cast of six all have distinguishable takes on their pieces. The highlight here is Bethany Thomas, who crams the tiny space with passion and bravado during the slow-burning “Stormy Weather” and “The Man That Got Away.” She is joined by the glamorously blonde Stephanie Herman and the adorable Sarah Hayes. The Gentleman Trio comprises of (usually) gloomy Kristofer Simmons, dashing Eric Martin, and the boyish Eric Lindahl. One of the most interesting aspects of the production is that the over-the-top optimistic numbers (“Happy As the Day is Long,” “Get Happy”) all have a tinge of delusion here, giving them a heftier dramatic weight. It isn’t completely nailed down, but it gives them a little subtext. However, the portrayals overall are pretty shallow and mostly rely on jazz club-ish charisma and emotional stakes. There isn’t really any through-line or character in the piece; the cast sort of musters up whatever mood the songs require. A little more dramatic cohesion would make the show feel less like a recital and more like poignant, vibrant theatre.

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Along with lyricists such as E.Y. Harburg, Johnny Mercer, and Ira Gershwin, Arlen (best known for penning the melodies of “The Wizard of Oz”) created a songbook with pieces ranging from the bizarrely comic to the downright tragic. The cast can reach into both reservoirs. For example, Simmons’ rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” (a Groucho Marx stand-by) is droll and goofy, while his “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road)” is heartrending. Carson even gets his own moment to shine with the charming “This Time the Dream’s On Me.”

Anzevino’s staging occasionally comes off as having actors move just to have actors move, and “Over the Rainbow,” which receives a mention on the poster, could have received a lot more attention. Fortunately, David Heimann’s choreography always infuses energy into the songs. I’m not usually a fan of musical revues. Most of the time, they seem to me like live compilation albums meant to score a few more dollars from deceased songwriters. But with Theo Ubique’s focus on intimacy and simply presenting songs the whole team obviously loves, they come up with a show that has a tangible effect on the audience. This Sweet and Hot is a living experience.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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REVIEW: Million Dollar Quartet – yeah, it still rocks!

Yeah, it still rocks

 

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Apollo Theater Chicago presents
   
Million Dollar Quartet
   
Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Musical Arrangements by
Chuck Mead
Directed by
Floyd Mutrux & Eric Schaeffer
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through September 5th  |  tickets: $59-$80  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

I know two people that have seen Million Dollar Quartet over 30 times. A retired married couple, they are the target audience of the musical: seniors with a nostalgic appreciation for the pioneers of rock n’ roll. I have a nostalgic appreciation for No Doubt. My knowledge of Johnny Cash’s music is the “Walk the Line” soundtrack, my Elvis I.Q. is limited to my mother’s cassettes on road trips, and I recognize the songs mdq-03 of Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, but know next to nothing about the men themselves. That being said, Million Dollar Quartet is currently playing on Broadway with a national tour in the works and Tony nominations in its pocket, so it’s got to be good, right?

It is.

I expected dynamic musical numbers from skilled performers, but Million Dollar Quartet is more than just a glorified cover band. Escott and Mutrux’s book is edutainment at its finest, a spirited history lesson on the early days of rock n’ roll centered on legendary music producer Sam Phillips (Tim Decker), the man responsible for the superstar jam session. Decker understands the emotional journey of his character, from Phillips’ pride in the humble Sun Records, his anger at losing his major talent, and his hope in the future of rock n’ roll. Phillips’ devotion to the music is clear in Decker’s confidence on stage, portraying a man whose home is the studio.

Flashbacks to Phillips’ first encounters with Perkins (Gabe Bowling), Cash (Sean Sullivan), and Presley (David Lago) establish the relationship between the musicians and their producer, and reveal how paramount Phillips was to the evolution of these men as artists. These three men are the already established Sun Records family, three brothers that don’t always get along but respect each other, with Lewis (Lance Lipinsky) as the cocky new kid with the potential to be a star. When the four of them play together, the results are electric, and Phillips is that tie that binds them.

The thrill of Million Dollar Quartet is seeing four legends playing together for the first and only time. The actors have to sell the illusion for maximum impact, and the new cast does so admirably. Lipinsky has big shoes to fill – Levi Kreis is nominated for a Tony and has won the Outer Critics Circle for Best Featured Actor – but he backs up Lewis’s ego with boundless energy and fevered fingers that showcase his technical mastery. Lipinsky’s mischievous smile and carefree demeanor contrast with his more professional comrades, providing comic relief and adding tension to the script, particularly in his interactions with Bowling’s hotheaded Perkins. With his hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” usurped by Presley and his record sales dwindling, Perkins stands to lose the most, and Bowling finds the desperation that lies beneath the temper.

mdq01Sullivan has Cash’s bass vocals down pat, and his gentle conduct serves to make the character’s conflict – telling Phillips he will not be renewing his Sun contract – all the more believable. As the most imitated of the group, Lago does all the hip shaking and lip curling you expect, but is careful not to become a caricature. At this point in his career Elvis is still a young upstart, and Lago plays him with an understated sexuality that suggests a man not yet in control of the power he has over people, especially women. Kelly Lamont brings some estrogen to the studio as Dyanne, Presley’s sassy girlfriend with a powerhouse belt, and her rendition of “Fever” smolders, starting softly and building in intensity until the last note. Watching the quartet take turns flirting with her is consistently amusing, and the a cappella fan in me swooned as she vocalized the fiddle part in “Riders in the Sky.”

When the quartet plays, they forget about contracts and television appearances and just live in the music. That release is rock n’ roll, and Million Dollar Quartet is a fitting tribute to its early years that shouldn’t be missed.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

 

   
  

REVIEW: Mid-life! The Crisis Musical (Metropolis Arts Centre)

Still in need of some ‘crisis’ management

 

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Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
Mid-life! The Crisis Musical
 
By Bob Walton and Jim Walton
Directed by Robin M. Hughes
at MPAC, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights (map)
Through June 19 | Tickets: $35-$43 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Hot flashes, varicose veins, dimming vision, escaping memories, philandering husbands … these are the subjects of Mid-life! The Crisis Musical, currently at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The opening number offers a laundry list of the pains of the 40s and 50s … and the rest of this overlong show, like middle age itself, goes downhill from there.

Productions - Mid Life - 2 Less a musical than a revue, the show quickly becomes repetitive, with the litany of the first song expanded in a series of thematic songs and skits. The humor expends itself rapidly — these are all jokes we’ve heard before. (And much of the opening-day audience at Metropolis not only lived through them but also at least a decade or two beyond.)

The funniest number, "What Did I Come In Here For?" comically details the problems of short-term memory loss. A mid-life translator interprets the frustrations of aging husbands ("I want to sleep with other women") to their weepy, menopausal wives and vice versa. "He Got What He Deserves" (a low-budget version of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago) suggests that two-timing, middle-aged lotharios get their just rewards, a sadly untrue contention.

Some of the bits are just plain dumb, like one about a singing mammogram. "The Long Goodbye," a song about the difficulties of caring for elderly parents in senile dementia had the potential to be poignant, but the writers went for cheap laughs instead.

The cast, portraying six nameless middle-aged characters, carries through well, with good timing and fine moves, yet they can’t add much to such lightweight material. Dennis Brown‘s cockney accent seemed a bit distracting, though, and the women — Kate Brown, Elizabeth Haley and Katie Miller — all appear too young for the roles they’re supposed to be playing. Costume Designer Cathy Tantillo apparently tried to address this by putting them in frumpy knee-length khaki skirts with unattractive hem-line borders and maroon tops that emphasize bulges.

Scott Alan Emerick, 41, looks a bit on the youthful side, too, especially in a "Weekend Warriers" skit that portrays him as being the same age as the older men. Haley and David Elliott bring notable voices to their performances, but the music – peppy and uncomplicated – doesn’t give them much scope. (Hear samples on the website.)

Productions - Mid Life - 5 Robin M. Hughes uses a rear-stage video screen to introduce each number in a singularly uncreative use of high tech. The videos, mostly ugly, do nothing that wouldn’t have been more effective in live sequences … even an actor just carrying a sign across the stage.

Michael Gehmlich and Adam Veness have constructed an interesting multilevel staircase set, with two proscenium arches studded with 156 lights. It’s a pity that Christie Kerr’s uninspired choreography doesn’t make better use of it.

Getting old may be no joke, but Mid-life! The Crisis Musical won’t do much to lift your spirits.

   
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

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REVIEW: Flaming Dames Bourbon Street Burlesque

Let the good times roll!

BSB3_Photo by Leslie Kerrigan

New Millennium Theatre presents:

The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque

through 27th at The Spot, 4427 N. Broadway (more info)

review by K.D. Hopkins

 

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

That means “let the good times roll”, and they were rolling in Uptown on a cold Saturday night. The Spot on Broadway was the place to be and The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque was a bawdy good time. This was burlesque in more of a variety show genre than some of the other revues making the rounds. That is the old BSB1_Photo by Leslie KerriganNew Orleans tradition that is a delicate balance of naughty dancing and what used to be called blue comedy.

The Spot is a labyrinth of rooms and yet wide open which is reminiscent of a New Orleans dance hall such as the gone and lamented Tipitina’s. It was the perfect setting as we settled in with a couple of Voodoo cocktails. The pineapple and mystery liquor worked its magic as the emcee Remy the Gator LaRue took the stage. LaRue was a host in the Harry Anderson tradition wearing the fedora and a sly smile. I was a bit disappointed that he was not more a part of the show with some slight of hand and rim shot punctuated one-liners. He introduced the very able show musicians Bangin’ Bobby Bayou and the Missionary Position Band and then the “Flaming Dames”.

The ladies had appropriately kitschy names that brought howls and whistles from the audience. Lady Laveau, Victoria Voodoo, Zoe Zydeco, Bourbon Street Betty, and Cajun Spice were a lovely group of talented dancer and singers, replete with chorus girl style dances that ended mostly clothed with a tease of pasties.

One of the hallmarks of burlesque is individual talent such as fan dancing, contortion, spinning tassels and such – it’s disappointing that this doesn’t take place in this show, as it could have showcased the ladies better). This is a group revue that could have give more individual justice to the dancers, though still a vivacious and beautiful group who definitely are having a great time clicking (among other things) with the audience.

The comic relief is in the ample form of the hostess Queen Bee and host King of Mardi Gras. Queen Bee is straight out of “Wigstock” with the huge hair and enormous assets. The King of Mardi Gras should be the comic foil to Queen Bee, and If he would play it as the head of a New Orleans Mardi Gras crew, it might come off a bit funnier. Instead, the King acts more like a frat boy wandering the Quarter after a thermos of Hurricanes in his underwear.

BSB2_Photo by Leslie Kerrigan

The banter between King and the Dames starts off like a fight on a trashy daytime show. In fact, one of the audience members started chanting “Jerry! Jerry!” As the show continues, however, they manage to salvage the comedy.  But a honing of comic skills would be in order. The best vaudeville and burlesque comics master the art of the double-entendre and deliver adult humor with a knowing wink instead of gratuitous f-bombs. But one must surmise that the low-brow trivia questions with the audience members was overall a success the night I went by the fact that a spectator took off his shirt. The colorful beads were flying and he got as many appreciative screams as the dancers.

The show features a great recorded soundtrack that’s full of the kind of slinky and suggestive music that one might hear emanating from bars in the Big Easy. The show is about 45 minutes long – a perfect amount of time to down a couple of Voodoos as the show reaches completion.

The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque is a fun and rowdy way to warm up a winter night. You’ll no doubt feel impervious to the wind slicing down Broadway when walking to the train, considering you experienced a winning combo of great dancing and music. And the Voodoo cocktails hit the spot. What are in those things anyway?! Enjoy responsibly.

Rating: ★★½

BSB5__Photo by Leslie Kerrigan ASIDE: Personally, I had a great time and came home with a few beads around my neck. No, I did not flash my goodies – I answered a trivia question correctly and thus more decorations for the Christmas tree this year.

The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque” plays Friday and Saturday nights through February 27th at 10:15 pm. There are no shows on the 12th or 13th but there will be special Mardi Gras shows on Tuesday, February 16th. The Spot is located at 4437 N. Broadway near the Wilson Red Line or 36 Broadway bus. Either route is vaudeville warm up on weekend nights. Have fun!

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.

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