Review: Alvin Ailey Dance – Revelations (Auditorium Theatre)

  
  

Annual visit visually majestic, exquisitely visionary

  
  

Alvin Ailey REVELATIONS, Move, Members, Move

  
Auditorium Theatre and Blackwell Global Consulting present
   
   
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
   
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
thru May 22  |  tickets: $30-$87  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

This show is a celebration!  Having first performed in Chicago in 1969, the Alvin Ailey dance company is commemorating its 140th performance on the Auditorium Theatre stage.  In addition, the annual visit by the New York based troupe marks the final season of Artistic Director Judith Jamison’s leadership. The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and Blackwell Global Consulting present Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  The limited engagement will produce six Chicago premieres during the six performance and two student matinee run.  Although each show will have a different program schedule, Revelations will be the consistent finale.  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater uses a spectacular combination of elegant and primitive body movement to narrate vivid folk tales.

Y. Lebrun, D. Hopins, K Boyd and R. Deshauteurs in "Annointed". (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Anointed (2010, video), choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins, illustrates the leadership change at Alvin Ailey.  It’s a beautiful memoriam to founder Alvin Ailey, a stunning tribute to Judith Jamison and an exciting preface to Robert Battle.  Set to music by Moby and Sean Clements, the dancing starts as an intimate coupling.  Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts intertwine in fluid connectivity.  Dressed in simplistic black, they are mesmerizing in a poetic union.  Sims exits and Roberts has a masterful and athletic solo before his departure.  It’s an inspirational heartbreaker. Sims arrives back in fuchsia and the dance continues.  The music shifts to salsa-funk and the ensemble showcases innovative feats of energetic expression.  Roberts returns in white as divine intervention within the chorus.  The piece powerfully ends with Sims and Roberts in a reconnecting duet.  As the ensemble exits the stage, the last dancer turns around.  He joins Sims and Roberts to make the ultimate trifecta.  It’s a poignant demonstration to the timeless vision.  WOW!

After an intermission, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007, video), choreographed by Camille A. Brown, features Rachael McLaren. The sassy McLaren exercises her inner masculine side. She confidently struts and gyrates in player style. It’s an intriguing manly exhibition that is partially performed without any sound. The illusion is enhanced with a stylish peak-a-boo suit and fedora by costume designer Carolyn Meckha Cherry. Next, The Hunt (2001, video), choreographed by the Incoming Artistic Director Robert Battle, is male bonding to music. Six male dancers are clad in long skirts. Their exposed torsos are eye-gawking sculpted art. The number is tribal and primitive with pounding drums and ritualistic gestures. The primal movements generate definite heated sensuality. Ooh-la-la!

Alvin Ailey Dancers perform "The Hunt", choreographed by Robert Battle (photo: Paul Kolnik)

The finale is introduced with a short film. “Revelations at 50,” produced and directed by Judy Kinberg, is a wonderful introspective of the Alvin Ailey’s 50+ year history. The founder dances and speaks with passionate conviction. It’s a perfect preface for the three phased finale: Revelations (1960, video) choreographed by Alvin Ailey. The sequence initiates with dancers dressed in natural tones for the Pilgrimage of Sorrow. The movement has an earthy groundedness that contrasts beautifully to the next section’s fluid whimsy. Take Me to the Water uses white costumes and blue silks to emphasize the spiritual cleansing. The dancing becomes joyful and uninhibited. The concluding segment, Move, Members, Move, brings the company together for a sensational culmination. The visual is a majestic pageantry of African American history rooted in its own unique, community spirit. A timeless classic devised by the founder, Revelations is an Alvin Ailey force

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is always an annual riveting spectacle. This year’s show feels particular momentous as the resigning Artistic Director Judith Jamison says farewell to Chicago. It’s a goodbye party that shouldn’t be missed.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Alvin Ailey’s Revelations continues through May 22nd, with performances May 19-20 at 7:30pm, May 21st at 2pm and 8pm, and May 22nd at 3pm.  Running times vary – see below the fold for exact timeframes.  Tickets are $30-$87, and can be purchased by phone (800-982-2787) or online here. For more information, go to the Alvin Ailey tour webpage.  Complete repertoires for each performance are also listed below the fold and on Alvin Ailey website.  See all Alvin Ailey dance videos here.

  

Alvin Ailey - The Company (Picture: Nan Melville)

  
  

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Review: Spring Awakening (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

A teenage love lust story

     
     

The Cast of "Spring Awakening" national tour. ©2010 Andy Snow

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
   
Spring Awakening
   
Book/Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Michael Mayer and Bill T.Jones
at
Ford Center for the Performing Arts, 24 W. Randolph (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $27-$90  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Judy Bloom books, Playboy magazines, Spice channel, the Internet – the availability of sex-Ed resources has significantly multiplied over the past 100+ years.  Before the sexual revolution, past generations lived in ignorant misery. Broadway in Chicago presents the 8-time Tony Award winning Spring Awakening a new musical in town for a one week engagement.  Based on the controversial play produced by Frank Wedekind, teenagers come of age in 19th century Germany.  Wendall wonders about procreation.  Moritz worries about wet dreams.  Melchoir questions the punitive educational system within an oppressed society.  Along with the other village kids, lustful thoughts arouse more questions without answers.  Fornication and masturbation without education is groping in the dark for satisfaction.  When the boys and girls venture into the unknown, it takes a village to crush the buds of change.  Spring Awakening is a beautiful lust story!

Coby Getzug as Mortiz in the national tour of "Spring Awakening". Photo credit: Andy Snow ©2010 In 1891, Playwright Frank Wedekind shocked the world with a controversial play about sex. Not only did it discuss puberty, it illustrated youth in situations of homoeroticism, statutory rape, sado-masochism, abortion and even a circle jerk. In 2006, these harsh unmentionables of a sleepy stoic village became the focal point of a musical folk tale. Again the world is stunned! But this time, it’s for the captivating innocence sung by these ancestral youth. With book and lyrics by Steven Sater and a score composed by Duncan Sheik, the story takes on a whimsical quality. Despite the repressed society and mature sex topics, purity blossoms with a childlike to teenage fervor. The naïve inexperience is a sweet and sad struggle to grow up.

A rock band sets the right tone for adolescent rebellion in “Don’t Do Sadness” and “Totally Fucked.” The upbeat tempo matches the rage of both Cody Getzug (Moritz) and Christopher Wood (Melchoir). Within his frenzy of confusion, Getzug adds plenty of humor in hairstyles and nocturnal emissions. Wood angrily leads an uprising for an evolution. Wood escalates a beating with disturbing exhilaration. Later, his tender foreplay charms the pantaloons right off of Elizabeth Judd (Wendla). Wood and Judd indulge in a gentle but animalistic response to unknown sensations. Their intimacy is poignant for its natural body rhythms. Judd enchants as a fresh-faced young girl with misguided notions. Judd engages with a soulful, dreamy performance. The entire ensemble delights with playful and heartbreaking simplicity.

     
Daniel Plimpton as Ernst and Devon Stone as Hanschen in the national tour of "Spring Awakening". Photo credit: Phil Martin Sarah Kleeman, Christopher Wood and Mark Poppleton in the national tour of "Spring Awakening". Photo credit: Andy Snow ©2010
Courtney Markowitz as Ilse in the national tour of "Spring Awakening". Photo credit: Andy Snow ©2010 Elizabeth Judd as Wendla and Christopher Wood as Melchior in the national tour of "Spring Awakening". Andy Snow ©2010 Elizabeth Judd as Wendla in the national tour of "Spring Awakening" Photo credit: Andy Snow ©2010

For this production, the audience extends onto the stage. These tickets are available for purchase. There are two sets of seats facing each other with the play’s action in-between. Ensemble members emerge from these seats to step into the action. The effect establishes the storytelling style and adds a personal touch. Spring Awakening stimulates as an old-fashion, age-of-innocence fascination.

SIDENOTE: For my own spring awakening, I saw this show the night after American Theatre Company’s The Original Grease. The similarities are obvious: sex and teenagers! The lingering impact is the evolution of thought from 19th century to 20th century. The 50+ years have empowered youth with knowledge of their bodies and authority. The exploration of both is handled with crude humor and little to no privacy. The 21st century musical investigating the Facebook 2.0 generation’s mating rituals will not shock or stun. It will traumatize!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The cast of the national tour of "Spring Awakening". Photo credit: Andy Snow ©2010

Photos by Andy Snow and Phil Martin

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission.    A 20th century man with some 21st century tendencies, Steve says simply, ‘Go See It!’

        
        

Review: Next to Normal (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

A harshly relevant, yet gloriously hopeful masterpiece

     
     

The cast of 'Next to Normal' - Clockwise from top: Curt Hansen, Jeremy Kushnier, Preston Sadleir, Emma Hunton, Asa Somers, and Alice Ripley

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Next to Normal
  
Book/Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Michael Greif
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through May 8  | 
tickets: $32 – $95  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Last year, the Pulitzer Prize board took a look at the short list from the subcommittee that makes recommendations on who should win the coveted award for drama. The board tossed the recommendations out, and instead bestowed the Pulitzer on Next to Normal, a show that the recommending body didn’t even rate as a semi-finalist. In some circles, the decision was viewed as an autocratic move illustrating the limitations of an unchecked board. Others applauded the decision, overjoyed that a musical about mental illness had catapulted the difficult topic into the national spotlight. Revisiting Next to Normal for the second time in as many years, we’re more certain than ever that the Pulitzer went to the right people.

Alice Ripley and Curt Hansen in 'Next to Normal'.On paper, the show sounds like the worst idea for a musical since “Springtime for Hitler”. Next to Normal has no dance numbers to speak of, no chorus line of cute chorines, no happy ending. It is about a woman who has shock treatments. It is also about a family that has been devastated by tragedy, perhaps beyond repair. It is about doctors who admit that nobody really knows how to cure mental illness and that finding an effective treatment for mood disorders is like locating a silver thread in a huge, cloudy swamp. It is about the futility of stumbling blindly through ad lib regimes of SRO inhibitors, benzodiazepines, lithium, Prozac, Cymbalta, Zoloft, Seroquel, and an endless alphabet soup of other chemistry-altering pills whose side effects range from dizziness to death. Clearly, we’re not in Shuffle-off-to-Buffalo territory here.

Yet in a country where, year after year, suicides outnumber homicides, Next to Normal is about as relevant, compelling and urgently necessary as theater gets. It also benefits from composer Tom Kitt’s gorgeous score, Brian Yorkey’s smart, insightful lyrics and direction by Michael Greif that grabs your heart within the first 10 seconds and doesn’t let go until long after the final curtain call. Next to Normal is not an easy show: It confronts you relentlessly with the despair, absurdity and in-curability of mood disorders. But it is also gloriously hopeful as it shines a compassionate spotlight on a topic about which there is far too much ignorance.

And make no mistake – that ignorance is rampant. Consider the language of suicide: We say “Diana killed herself,” as if the act were a choice, a decision uninfluenced by the very real illness of depression. When people die of cancer, the disease is blamed. When people die of depression, the victims are blamed.

So much for background on the societal necessity of this particular show. This is theater, so the real question isn’t about its social value. It’s about whether it is any good. The answer is yes. With significant caveat. The cast for the touring production is mostly as good as the Broadway ensemble, but the player who falls outside that “mostly” is crucial.

     
Curt Hansen (Gabe), Alice Ripley (Diana) and Asa Somers (Dan) in Broadway in Chicago's 'Next to Normal' Emma Hunton as Natalie in the national tour of 'Next to Normal'.
Asa Somers as Dan in Broadway in Chicago's 'Next to Normal'. Preston Sadleir as Henry in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal" Curt Hansen as Gabe in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal"

Next to Normal is anchored by Alice Ripley, who won the Tony for her performance as Diana Goodman on Broadway. But Ripley’s voice is not what it was on Broadway a year ago. Performing this vocally demanding score eight times a week has taken a toll. She struggles significantly with both pitch and with diction. Crucial lyrics are muddy, soaring top notes falter painfully. Pivotal numbers – I Miss the Mountains, You Don’t Know, Didn’t I See This Movie – don’t get the clarity the plot needs or the musicality the score contains.

Acting, Ripley remains superb, capturing the highs, lows and utter absurdities of mood disorders with an accuracy that is both deeply moving and blackly hilarious. But Next to Normal demands a great vocalist as well as a great actress. Opening night at the Bank of America (Shubert) Theatre, Ripley simply wasn’t consistent in the former capacity.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal"Still – perhaps paradoxically – Next to Normal remains a four star, must-see show. The supporting cast is pitch perfect. As Diana’s struggling 16-year-old daughter, Emma Hunton is heart-breaking in her vulnerability and defensive anger. With the short, bittersweet “Everything Else”, she delivers an ode to the crystalline order of Mozart’s music, with a poignant wistfulness that’s as sad as it is beautiful. As Diana’s son Gabe, Curt Hansen is thrilling, at once alluring and menacing and positively electrifying on the rock-infused “I’m Alive.” As Diana’s husband, Asa Somers’ Dan, delivers both the all-but unbearable frustration that results when a loved one’s struggle with mental illness seems never ending and years of treatment prove to be of dubious value. And as Diana’s psychiatrist, Jeremy Kushnier deftly portrays both the expertise and the impotence of a science that is more guess work than anything.

Next to Normal remains a magnificent musical. But with Ripley no longer in prime voice, it isn’t as magnificent as it might be.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

The cast of "Next to Normal", now playing at the Bank of America Theatre in downtown Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

     

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Review: Cirque Éloize iD (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

Clunky transitions obscure visually-stunning finale

     
     

A stunt from Cirque Eloize's 'iD', at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by Valerie Remise.

  
Cirque Éloize and Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Cirque Éloize iD
   
Created and directed by Jeannot Painchaud
at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $20-$90   |  more info
(see below for 2-for-1 ticket offer)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Jugglers, acrobats, breakdancers: the circus has come to town… Canadian style. Cirque Éloize and Broadway in Chicago present Cirque Éloize iD, a performing troupe hailing from Montreal.  It’s not the three-ring circus with the big top, elephants, and clowns from childhood.  It’s more the grown-up, citified fantasy!  Instead of the mundane trudge to the office, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  The workday daydream busts open with commuters spinning on their heads, plummeting from buildings and climbing the corporate ladder… of chairs.  Cirque Éloize iD combines death-defying feats with amazing technicolor projections for a downtown spectacle!     

A stunt from Cirque Eloize's 'iD', at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by Valerie Remise.The experience starts as urgent lobby announcements broadcast a three minute warning and no late seating declaration.  In the theatre, the lights dim and the noise increases.  Sirens, drilling, traffic.  When the curtain lifts, coated pedestrians scurry to their imaginary jobs.  The backdrop is the city skyline being visually traced out by projections. The activity goes into slow mode. Two commuters’ eyes meet across the street.  They are meant to be together and so the magic starts.  The couple perform feats of astonishing physicality.  He balances her on one hand. Sounds easy?  Not quite?  He is standing with one arm extended overhead.  She is standing with one foot on top of his hand.  It’s a double decker thriller.  The show has multiple moments of gasp-worthy antics.  Various aerial stunts mesmerize for their danger and beauty.  A shirtless guy is pole dancing.  Not stripper-style but HOT just the same! Horizontally, he suspends from the pole with just one hand.  A woman pirouettes in a spinning hoop. At one point, she dangles upside-down with one foot.  Another guy uses two silk ribbons to fly!      

Not so much a three ring circus, the show is set in a rectangular space with a one act focal point.  Two of my favorite iD segments contained a bike and a trampoline.  The biker mystified as he clambered up the multi-level cityscape.  In the show-stopping finale, the marvelous visual projections share the spotlight with the performers.  An illusion is created with quick-flashing imagery as the cast jump on and off a trampoline.  The scenery adjusts.  The imagery changes.  The performers never stop.  It’s astounding athletic artistry.    

     
An act from Cirque Eloize's 'iD', at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by Valerie Remise. An act from Cirque Eloize's 'iD', at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by Valerie Remise.

For the novice on the cirque circuit, Cirque Éloize iD will blow your mind!  For the seasoned theatre thrill-seeker (TRACES, Hephaestus, Cirque du Soleil), Cirque Éloize iD may not be as satisfying. The sequence of circus acts is clunky.  There isn’t a strong storyline connecting the individual segments together.  AND, my biggest pet peeve, the performers stop the movement to mug for applause.  It breaks my supernatural experience when the humans require repeated adoration to continue.  I will applaud, and loudly, for the collective – not the individual.  It’s just how I do it!

If just for the outstanding visual finale, Cirque Éloize iD has twenty minutes of a must-see-to-believe extravaganza!

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

An act from Cirque Eloize's 'iD', at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by Valerie Remise.

2 Main Floor Seats for the Price of One*!  When ordering, use code INDIVIDUAL

*Valid on April 26-April 30th performances for Orchestra, Dress Circle and Loge seats Offer ends April 29at 11:59pm.  Not valid with any other offer or on previously purchased tickets.  Subject to availability. Normal ticketing fees apply. Other restrictions may apply.


Cirque Éloize iD continues through May 8th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map), with performances April 30th and May 7th at 2pm and 8pm, May 6th at 7:30pm, and May 1st and 8th at 1pm. Running Time:  Two hours includes a twenty-minute intermission. Tickets are $20-$90, and can be purchased online. More information at Broadway in Chicago or cirque-eloize.com.   (Photos by Valerie Remise)

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Review: Hair (Broadway in Chicago – Oriental Theatre)

     
     

Competent ‘Hair’ revels in its own kitsch

       
     

The company from national tour of 'Hair', now playing at The Oriental Theatre.  Photo credit: Joan Marcus

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Hair
  
Book/Lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Music by
Galt MacDermot
Directed by
Diane Paulus
at the
Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
through March 20  |  tickets: $27-$90  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

If the pre-show announcement–which asks that you please turn on your heart and to please turn off your cell phone–isn’t a clear indication, there’s plenty of proverbial winking in director Diane PaulusHair. From the restrained band volume to the affable, mostly miles-from-the-danger-line interactions between actors and audience, we’re assured from the beginning that the night’s show is going to be professional, going to be groovy, and going to be safe.

Safety, of course, was not what made Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s rock-musical about a tribe of hippies significant. It defied modern standards of decency, blazed new theatrical territory and was written and performed in the chaotic epicenter of the same cultural revolution it advocated.

Today, young, accomplished, svelte actors teeter on some house seats, take a few trips down the aisles, dry hump for effect, and stand naked for the requisite nude The company from national tour of 'Hair', now playing at The Oriental Theatre.  Photo credit: Joan Marcusscene.

But let’s face it. Entertainment value aside, The Man acquisitioned Hair a long time ago. It’s unclear when, but the changeover presumably took place some time after religious groups stopped picketing outside of performances and some time before it began running in theaters named after multi-billion dollar car companies.

During this revival, I thought about what, if any, our contemporary equivalent to the monument Hair was in its heyday for intrepidity and relevance. It’s certainly nothing that can be described in the same genre (in the grand scheme of art and provocation, rock-musicals are now, by more honest billing, lite-rock-musicals). I won’t pretend to romanticize living in the late 1960’s–one, I would not yet exist as a fetus for another two decades and two, it was a notoriously violent era of persecution, uncertainty, hate, and abused authority–but I can appreciate the time’s profound art and its ability to have instigated change.

Yet the national conflicts Ragni and Rado wrote about are still (in some cases, eerily) recognizable. Our current generation is witness to an aggressively protested war, sex as a talking point for political candidates, old white men tossing around the word “communist” to rebuke lefties, and mainstream efforts to legalize marijuana. Then is it fair to wonder if, for all its critical acclaim, this latest resurgence of Hair missed an opportunity to be more than a technically laudable send-up to a counter-cultural artifact?

Lawrence Stallings, Steel Burkhardt and Matt DeAngelis in the 'Hair' National Tour. Photo: Joan MarcusIt’s telling that during opening night’s post-curtain-call “Be-In,” where the tribe welcomes the audience onstage to dance through a reprise, the cast really had to coax people to budge. Some inevitably jumped up, but most smiled good-naturedly while inconspicuously grabbing their coats and eying the exits.

Some rapport never got established.

And some did. As Berger, Steel Burkhardt has the most opportunity to break down the fourth-wall and create a sense of community. He doesn’t as often as I‘d have liked, but his allocated moments for addressing the audience are the most entertaining, substantive parts of the show. Taking a gentle stab at an over-zealous laugher is funny–allowing another to stuff single dollar bills down his suede fringe loincloth is funny and opens up the risk and fun of watching anything-goes action. The rest of Hair could benefit from this sense of happening and authenticity.

Vocally, the ensemble is consistent, and fits well within the folk-rock style Galt MacDermot’s compositions call for. Appropriately cast, these kids look and sound like the embodiment of young idealism and acceptance. At times, they’re sublime.

Billing a show as a revival carries a certain weight, implication and spirit. I’m not confident this latest production lives up to these. But as a fully-produced tribute, it’s at least a good trip.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Center: Paris Remillard as Claude and Steel Burkhardt as Berger, in a scene from the national tour of 'Hair'. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Steel Burkhardt, Hair the Musical, Joan Marcus Paris Remillard, Matt DeAngelis, Hair the Musical, Joan Marcus

Hair continues through March 20th, with performances Tuesday at 7:30, Wednesday 2 and 7:30pm, Thursday 7:30pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 2 and 8pm, and Sunday 2pm.  Tickets are $27 and $90, and can be bought at www.broadwayinchicago.com.

     
     

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Review: Terminus (Abbey Theatre – MCA Stage)

 
   

Ireland’s best takes to the MCA stage

  
  

Declan Conlon, Catherine Walker, Olwen Fouere - Terminus

  
Abbey Theatre, i/a/w Goodman Theatre presents
  
Terminus
  
Written and Directed by Mark O’Rowe
at
Museum of Contemporary Art Stage, 220 E. Chicago (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $28-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The monologue is a difficult thing to master, both in terms of writing and performance, so I was a little wary when I found out Terminus is only three intertwining monologues. Luckily, Abbey Theatre, the national theater of Ireland, knows how to transform the monologue into riveting theater, as Mark O’Rowe’s poetry is exquisitely performed by the three actors. Standing inside a shattered picture frame, giant shards of glass surrounding them, A (Olwen Fouéré), B (Catherine Walker), and C (Declan Conlon) recount the events of one evening that will change them forever.

A, an emergency hotline operator, explores seedy Dublin pubs as she looks for an ex-student who is trying to abort a child nearly come to term. When a night out goes horribly wrong, B finds herself face to face with the supernatural, and loves what she sees. And C cuts people up without any remorse, so he’s a bit of a wild card in the proceedings. O’Rowe’s evocative language uses rhyme liberally, giving the monologues a bit of a freestyle rap vibe that helps keep the momentum constantly moving forward. O’Rowe is an immensely skilled playwright, and he creates a bleak image of Dublin that is both intensely alive while horrifyingly decayed. The verse allows him to present information in new ways, creating images in segments to build suspense until the big comedic/dramatic reveal.

Catherine Walker, Declan Conlon, Olwen Fouere - TerminusConsidering how serious the subject matter is, O’Rowe’s script is very funny, albeit darkly. There’s a Bette Midler through-line in all the stories that lends itself to comedy but takes on a dark meaning in the context of the plot, and finding the comedy in the midst of all this darkness is why the script is so successful. His characters may speak in verse, but their speech is natural, and the language flows very comfortably from all three actors, who have the unenviable task of keeping an audiences attention on their own. There’s a strength between the three actors that has undoubtedly comes from their time spent in rehearsal, and the connection between them can be felt throughout the entire play, uniting them despite their separate stories.

O’Rowe doesn’t have the same problems as other writer-directors, and that’s because Terminus is a tightly constructed production that doesn’t over-conceptualize or complicate the script with directorial flourishes. The ambition of this play is in it’s script, and the actors turn in beautifully nuanced performances that capture all the ecstasy, terror, and heartbreak of urban life. Often cringe-inducing in its explicitness, O’Rowe’s script is a grim and graphic image of Dublin life, but the poetry of the langue finds the beauty hidden within the darkness of the city’s soul. I didn’t know what to expect from Ireland’s national theater, and now I know not to expect anything less than brilliance.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

All photos by Ros Kavanagh

  
  

REVIEW: Les Miserables (Broadway in Chicago)

        
       

Back to Les Barricades!

  
 

Jeremy Hays as Enjolras, in the 25th anniversary tour of 'Les Miserable', presented by Broadway in Chicago.  Photo credit Deen van Meer.

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
   
Les Miserables
  
Written by A. Boublil, H. Kretzmer, and C. Schonberg,
with additional material by
James Fenton
Directed by
Laurence Connor and James Powell
at
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $25-$90  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

This is my tenth trek through Victor Hugo‘s musical spin-off, now in its 25th anniversary production (which means no turntable and new orchestrations). But everything old is new again, what you expect from a touring production where freshness is essential. Though the students’ barricade can’t revolve (so the death of Gavroche occurs literally out of sight) and, more crucially, the useful overhead captions delineating the passage of time and changing locations are missing, for Miserable fans it’s the kind of sound and fury that signifies sensation. Restaged by Laurence Connor and James Powell, this less sprawling but more intimate version fits nicely into the huge Palace Theatre where it never played before.

Lawrence Clayton, Richard Todd Adams, Alan Shaw, in 'Les Miserable' at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo credit Deen van Meer.Les Miserables remains the Mother Ship of Musicals, with the sprawl of Cats, the swirl of Starlight Express, the political passion of Evita, and the melodic turns and pop soulfulness of Jesus Christ Superstar.

It’s easy to mistake Les Miz for its hype, to lose the story in the spectacle. As always, the test is – how much real feeling survives from page to stage? “Trop et trop peu”. Too much and too little.

The novel compresses three turbulent decades of French history into the life of Jean Valjean, a proletarian martyr who becomes a fugitive for stealing bread to feed his sister’s family. Valjean’s a convict who might have been a criminal–except for a pivotal act of forgiveness. That mercy encourages Valjean to protect persecuted Fantine, promising the dying woman to care for her daughter Cosette. Fulfilling that pledge, he later rescues Cosette’s beloved Marius, a freedom-fighting student, Jean does this despite Javert, the diabolical cop who for 17 years doggedly pursues the fugitive across France.

Hugo’s soaring tale is pure melodrama. Appropriately, the three-hour epic wastes no time in subtlety. Schonberg’s songs are the action–mainstream, mostly major-key melodies constantly recycled for cumulative effect; Herbert Kretzmer‘s obvious lyrics spell out all the characters think and feel and how we’re to take it. Alas, they’re often full of unearned emotion: With no set-up to the songs they seem to come out of nowhere. But the singers mean well…

Every number brings an emotional peak to be scaled, which means forgetting the last crisis to move on to the next. It’s like speed-reading the novel. In the second act alone we endure a heroine’s death, the murder of an innocent waif, the mass death of idealistic students, the mourning of their survivors, a villain’s suicide, the lovers’ duet, a foiled blackmail attempt, the hero’s renunciation, his heartbreaking reconciliation with loved ones, and a dubiously triumphant finale sung entirely by a throng of marching ghosts!

Few operas dare to cover so many crises. No orgy ever had so many climaxes. Les Miz does–but not without risking a campy overkill.

But its glorious excess makes thrilling theater. Here it’s richly performed by a dedicated cast, though too often it seems a contest between the orchestra and the singers to see who can wax louder.

Justin Scott Brown (Marius), Ian Patrick Gibb (Jean Prouvaire) in 'Les Miserables' national tour. Photo credit: Deen van Meer.Blessed with an effortless tenor, Lawrence Clayton sturdy Valjean, the inspiration for “The Fugitive,” is ardent as required but the fact that he’s also African-American makes him even more of an outsider than Hugo would have imagined. (Now Javert seems as much a racist as a reactionary.) Though the implacable pursuer is a one-dimensional villain (his anthem "Stars" is too noble for this reactionary bully), Andrew Varela delivers the evil with inexhaustible conviction and a barrelhouse baritone. Betsy Morgan breathes power into her proudly fallen Fantine whose ghostly reappearance differs little from her saintly earthly existence.

As the lovers, Justin Scott Brown and Jenny Latimer are picture-perfect. Playing bittersweet Eponine, the sacrificial lamb who loves Marius in vain, Chasten Harman, also African American, is too gung-ho on the pop stylings but her hopelessness for Marius takes on even more texture. (But this is not an audition for “American Idol.”) For comic relief we get the Thenardiers, predatory parasites opportunistically played by Shawna M. Hamic and Michael Kostroff, two vaudevillian rogues.

The show is drenched in a dim, Daumier-like vision of bleak poverty. Wooden ramparts loom above, while the shifting stage turns up law courts, towering barricades, and boisterous taverns, all peopled by a supercharged chorus. No question, Les Miserables is an ordeal – but some people just love running—or watching—marathons.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
Chaten Harmon as Eponine in the 25th Anniversary tour of 'Les Miserable'.  Photo credit: Deen van Meer Female cast members perform "Lovely Ladies" in the national tour of 'Les Miserables'. Photo Credit: Deen van Meer
Michael Kostroff and Shawna M. Hamic in scene from the 25th-anniversary Broadway tour of 'Les Miserables'.  Photo credit: Deen van Meer Justin Scott Brown as Marius with the student revolutionaries in a scene from the 25th-Anniversary Tour of 'Les Miserables'.  Photo credit: Deen van Meer
     
     

The barricade scene from the 25th-Anniversary tour of 'Les Miserables'.  Photo credit: Deen van Meer.