Jumping on the Blago bandwagon

blago Second City (and its TV spin-off “Saturday Night Live“) has always capitalized on current events, but it’s amazing that Second City was able to create an entire show, songs and all, in just a few wekks..  This super-funny and super-successful troupe birthed the show “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” – and when the first skit’s opening with the lyrics are:

“Rod Blagojevich Superstar, are you as nuts as we think you are?”,

you know you’re in for an evening of knee-capping and wise-cracking fun, all courtesy of our state’s coo-coo ex-governor.   

Created by Ed Furman (book writer) and T.J. Shanoff (music/lyrics), …Superstar has immediately fostered some great reviews.   For info and tickets, click here.

Chicago Theater: "Xanadu" Reviews

shows_xanaduxanadu2 

The hit Broadway-musical Xanadu joyously roller-skated its way onto Michigan Avenue last night at Drury Lane Water Tower

Here’s a collection of Xanadu theater reviews:

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* UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED *

 

Christopher Piatt  (TimeOut Chicago)

You don’t have to be gay to dig Xanadu; you need to be gay enough.  …(Book writer Douglas Carter) Beane‘s challenge was to stitch the virile, throbbing unapologetically awesome space-pop of Electric Light Orchestra into a credible evening.  The resulting airheaded, upbeat rock follies…has a deliriously screwball quality that channels the lush, berserk American entertainment of the 1930s.

Of the cast, haunted slumlord Larry Marshall adds an appealing noir quality.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth Stanley, the pop-princess chorine who skates and tells jokes, is the star of the goddamn universe. (Entire review here)

Rating: ««««« out of 6

 

Chris Jones (Tribune)

…A shrewdly good time, if you have a few pre-show drinks…

Yes, “Xanadu” knows it’s based on one of the worst movies ever made. It makes fun of jukebox musicals even as it takes its place among them. And with a comparable chutzpah to that which once catapulted Olivia Newton-John to incomprehensible global stardom, “Xanadu” manages to poke fun at the creative bankruptcy of the endless recycling of movies and nostalgia while doing precisely that itself. No armor is more protective than self-awareness.

Rating: ★★★                                                            Read entire review.

Hedy Weiss (Sun-Times)

Talent and fluff clash, but goofy grins prevail.

Let it never be said that playwright Douglas Carter Beane doesn’t possess a gleefully self-mocking sense of his own work. During the course of “Xanadu,” which received its high-energy, high-volume, post-Broadway debut here Wednesday at the winningly intimate Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, he offers a fine assessment of the show. As one character exclaims: “This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people.”    

Rating: Somewhat Recommended                         Read entire review.

Tom Williams (ChicagoCritic.com)

Let me start my stating that I hate disco music from the 1980’s and I think the Xanadu film may be the worst film of all-time or high on that list. Those biases have colored my take on Xanadu, the musical now at Drury Lane Water Tower Place produced by Broadway in Chicago. To me, there was nothing very cute or funny in this show. It tries too hard to be campy and satirical with dated 80’s referenced jokes. Filled with ELO tunes, leg warmers, roller skating, and a fake Australian accent, Xanadu came off as crass exploitive fluff that I found derivative.

As a consumer advocate, however, let me state that the audience at the opening night performance found the show to be a hilarious romp filed with bouncy, had-clapping songs filled with 80’s nostalgia. It is a feel-good show long on escapist entertainment and short on plot.

Rating: Somewhat Recommended                         Read entire review.

Fabrizio Almeida (NewCity)

I don’t know that the stage show offers any experience, let alone anything that might even qualify this as a fun and fabulous guilty pleasure. Clearly, the biggest problem is with Christopher Ashley’s direction. You can’t force camp, and yet every half-assed joke and lame visual pun has been overly telegraphed and repeated to the point of ineffectiveness. I did laugh a few times: Elizabeth Stanley’s breathy delivery of some stupid lines; the thick Australian accent. But overall I found the ninety-minute intermission-less stage experience tedious, dull and uninspired…………

…….clearly, this is a big misstep for Broadway in Chicago, and I don’t see ”Xanadu” running long or appealing to many theatergoers. Because if this camp-loving, ELO-listening, gay roller-skating lover of “Starlight Express” thought it was crap, what hope is there for you to like it?

Rating: Not Recommended                                        Read entire review.

Xanadu is fun for 5-year kids to 95-year old disco queens!

Olivia Newton-John: "Xanadu" interview

Olivia

 

This past Friday, the Sun-Times featured Misha Davenport’s interview with pop culture’s film icon Olivia Newton-John.  I really loved hearing her take on reasons why Xanadu the movie could be so god-awfully bad while Xanadu the musical could be so successful.  The entire interview is here, but here’s a few out-takes to pique your interest:

 

 

Misha: You spent so much of the film on roller skates.  Still roller skating?
Olivia: Let’s just say I haven’t been on roller skates since the ’80s.
   
Misha: The film had a great soundtrack and terrific cast, including Gene Kelly, Michael Beck and yourself.  What went wrong?
Olivia: I think the big problem was the script.  It just kept changing with constant rewrites, which is not a good sign in hindsight.  More of the answer here.
   
Misha: What does it feel like to have been part of “Grease” and “Xanadu,” two iconic film musicals?
Olivia: I am blessed to have been part of both projects.  Obviosly “Grease” changed my life and that film seems to find a new audience every year. ….. And having the chance to dance with both John Travolta and Gene Kelly, what more could a girl ask for??  (more here)

 

Fun stuff, right?   I remember owning the album with “Have You Never Been Mellow”, and played it over and over.  Though not in the original movie, they’ve inserted this same song into the stage version, which is a great idea.  Read the entire interview!

 

 Olivia6   Olivia3 Olivia4

Olivia5 Olivia with the Chippendales.  Looks like she's having a good time!

Allison Torem – a theatre star in the making?

UPDATE:  Excerpts from Hedy Weiss’s new article regarding Ms. Torem has been added at the bottom of this post.

I am always incredibly impressed by young theatrical talent that can hold their own among a group of professional actors.  Often these young prodigies easily steal the Torem_Cox_GreatFalls show.  Past examples include Edward Heffernan in American Theatre Company‘s The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, by William Inge, as well as Lillian Almaguer in Steppenwolf’s controversial production of The Pain and the Itch, by Bruce Norris.

It looks like we have another one of those Chicago prodigies, per Hedy Weiss‘s glowing review of Profiles Theatre‘s Great Falls, by Lee Blessing – that being Allison Torem.

Says Weiss:

One crucial reason to catch the Profiles Theatre production of Lee Blessing’s two-character play “Great Falls” is to witness the astonishing performance by Allison Torem.  An actress of dazzling skill, fierce emotional honesty and breath-taking sophistication, she also just happens to be a senior at the Whitney Young Magnet High School.     (emphasis mine)

Ms. Weiss goes on to say that Torem “triggers memories of the young Jodie Foster“.  Wow.

Kudos to Ms.Torem, and to Profiles for presenting such an exemplary production.

Great Falls continues through March 1st. Starring Darrell W. Cox and Allison Torem, direction by Joe Jahraus, Chelsea Meyers (set design), and Kevin O’Donnell (sound design).

Read the entire review here.  Other reviews: Trib, ChicagoCritic,

Great Falls, by Lee Blessing

UPDATE: Chicago Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss has also written a post regarding Allison Torem on her blog.  A few quotes:

She didn’t see much theater as a child, but when she broke a finger in a bowling accident at age 9, she stopped taking karate and violin lessons and enrolled in classes at Prologue Children’s Theatre. In eighth grade she took classes at the Second City, but confesses: “I was seriously insecure. It would be a whole lot more fun for me now.” She also tried her hand at musicals as part of the youth-oriented Entertainment Project.

At first I was taken aback when reading this:

Torem, a slight girl with an interesting face that can shift between beauty and something far more challenging, admits to being stunned by her glowing reviews.

But then I realized that, for the stage, an actor’s ability to manipulate their expressions is an a coveted talent.  Read the entire article here.

Once again – bravo!

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

 Requiem - smaller 1  

 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

 columbinusruinedcolumbinus2 amadeus

Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.

Chicago Theater Recommendations (July 2008)

A summary of theatre recommendations from the Tribune (Trib), Sun-Times (ST), Chicago Theatre Blog (CTB), and TimeOut Chicago (TO).   

 

Play   (Producers and/or Location)

Recommended By

Campaign Supernova (Second City etc.) Trib, ST
Cirque Shanghai Gold (Navy Pier)   Trib, TO, CTB
Dead Man’s Cellphone (Steppenwolf)   Trib, CTB
Hizzoner (Beverly Arts Center) Trib, CTB
Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night                  (Theo Ubique – No Exit Cafe) Trib, CTB, ST
Jersey Boys (Broadway in Chicago) Trib, ST, CTB, TO
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Gift Theatre) Trib, TO
The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre) Trib, TO, ST
Superior Donuts (Steppenwolf) Trib, CTB, TO
Wicked (Broadway in Chicago) Trib, CTB, ST
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Drury Lane Oakbrook) Trib, ST
The Lion in Winter (Writers’ Theatre) Trib, TO, ST
Relatively Close (Victory Gardens) CTB
Kooza (Cirque du Soleil – United Center) TO, CTB, ST, Trib
Gutenberg! The Musical!  (Royal George Theatre) TO, CTB
Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass Theatre) TO
Funk It Up About Nuthin’ (Chicago Shakes) TO
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale (MidTangent) TO, CTB
Ren Faire! (Prp Thtr) TO
Hay Fever (Circle Theatre) ST
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Goodman Theatre) ST
Jekyll & Hyde (Boho Theatre) ST, CTB
I Am Who I Am (The Story of Teddy Pendergrass)
(Black Ensemble Theater)
ST, TO
A Steady Rain (Royal George) ST, CTB
Co-Ed Prison Sluts (Annoyance Theatre) Trib
A Rabbit’s Tale (Millennium Park) Trib

It’s a black (casting) thing

In 2004, the Goodman Theatre presented an amazing all-black cast production of “Proof”.  Looks like Broadway is finally playing catch-up, including an all-black “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.  Hey Broadway – get with it!