REVIEW: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Circle Theatre)

One small BIG thrill

 The Men of BLWIT

 
Circle Theatre presents
 
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
 
Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson
Music/Lyrics by Carol Hall
Directed and choreographed by Kevin Bellie
Music Direction and new arrangements by Josh Walker
Circle Theatre, 7300 Madison, Forest Park (map)
Thru June 20th (more info)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Whores, hookers, ladies of the evening, oh my! – prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and perhaps the most misunderstood. Circle Theatre presents The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a musical exposing the softer side of the sex trade industry. Based on a true story, a Texas amusement institution has provided adult entertainment over the centuries. During the depression era, pleasure seekers paid for thrills with poultry which led to the nickname, “chicken ranch.” The kind-hearted Michael Gravame and the boys madam, Miss Mona, operates a clean business focused on guest satisfaction. Her well-known establishment has the endorsement and protection of the local sheriff. All that changes, when a television reporter crusades to shut it down. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas isn’t your street corner hooker production, however. It’s your high class call girl with impressive moves and a revolving wardrobe ensuring your fantasy investment reaps multiple benefits.

This show is all about the show. Twenty-five cast members with multiple costume and wig changes dress up this non-stop energetic production. Under the direction and choreography of Kevin Bellie, musical numbers are a visual spectacle. Bellie chooses to make The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas a love affair instead of a “quickie.”  Hookers to TV back-up singers to cheerleaders to reporters, Bellie uses a large number of the chorus in every scene. This choice adds dimensionality to the depth of the songs and dances. Going “Texas-style big” aids a few sound issues. For some of the solo singing moments, it’s hard to hear the lines. During “Little Bitty Pissant Country Place,” there is an awkward duet between Miss Mona and a guy in the band. Cue the chorus! When the whores chime in, the harmony is ecstasy. Whether it’s singing or dancing, the ensemble uses its size to go deeper. The synchronization of the large number of dancers on a small stage kicks it up to the “wow” factor. “The Aggie Song”, in particular, is sexy country-line dancing with an athletic vigor. It’s Dirty Dancing taken to a whole new level!

Anita Hoffman and Noah Sullivan Kirk Swenk, Gregory Payne and the ladies
Sheana Tobey, Snita Hoffman, Sydney genco and Toni Lynice Fountain Noah Sullivan, Christopher Boyd and Jen Bludgen

Along with the huge and talented chorus, principal players add to the entertainment value. Every hooker should be lucky to have a boss like Miss Mona (Anita Hoffman). Balancing maternal urges in a cheeky business, Hoffman commands the stage with a combo of sexy playfulness and compassionate wisdom. Not quite meshing into the frothy ensemble, Toni Lynice Fountain (Jewel) shines with a soulful rendition of the song “24 Hours of Lovin”.  Noah Sullivan (Sheriff Earl Dodd) delivers his irreverent lines with hilarious force. ‘If that three foot man comes back, I’m going to flatten him so he has to roll down his socks to shit.’ Michael A. Gravame (Melvin P. Thorpe) is a smarmy dolt mugging the comedic moment. The issue side-stepping politician, Kirk Swenk (Governor) makes a small part memorably funny. The entire cast whores itself out for the audience’s pleasure.

The extraordinary spectrum of costumes (Jesus Perez) and wigs (Michael Buonincontro) are a 70’s flashback of afro, peasant blouses, and Frederick’s of Hollywood fun. Costumes, cast, choreography; all the lubricated participants make this group orgy a love fest!

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Showtimes: Fridays & Saturdays @ 8:00 pm, Sundays @ 3:00 pm (buy tickets).  Group Rates for 10 or More Available.  Call 708-771-0700 for more info.

Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes includes a ten minute intermission.

 The cast of BLWIT

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REVIEW: The Analytical Engine (Circle Theatre)

Steampunk gone silly

 

Patricia Austin, Denita Linnertz, Eric Lindahl and Catherine

 

Circle Theatre, Forest Park, presents:

The Analytical Engine

By Jon Steinhagen
Directed by
Bob Knuth
Through March 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Don’t be afraid of the scientific history implied by the title of Circle Theatre’s world premiere The Analytical Engine — little math or science actually surfaces. A frivolous, Harlequin romance of a play, The Analytical Engine takes a promising concept, a bluestocking American heroine who has actually built the steam-powered calculating machine that mathematician Charles Babbage only imagined, and utterly trivializes it.

Patricia Austin and Denita Linnertz Although he never actually created it, Babbage’s machine forms an important basis in the history of computers, due in no small part to the writings of his disciple Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who wrote extensively about how it might be put to use. That’s the only piece of scientific background you need.

Set in 1850 Connecticut, Jon Steinhagen’s play, which won first prize in the 2009 Julie Harris Playwright Awards, centers on Hippolyta Powell, a mathematically minded young lady who’s constructed the huge, clanking computer in her family barn, much to the consternation of her sardonic, novelist sister and dizzy, artistic mother. Having achieved the technological triumph of her era, Hippolyta does not set it to calculating Bernoulli numbers or composing scientific music, uses proposed by Lady Lovelace, who appears in the play as a haughty and curious visitor, but instead feeds it punched cards delineating hundreds of local bachelors with the aim of finding her perfect mate. Love does not enter into her equations.

If you can get past the utter silliness of the concept, Bob Knuth stages the story with great charm on his absolute dream of a Victorian-era drawing room set (though I’m told it’s virtually identical to the one the theater used for "Little Women"). Gorgeous period costumes by Elizabeth Wislar add still more eye candy.

Catherine Ferraro, Mary Redmon and Patricia Austin Jon Steinhagen and Eric Lindahl
Jon Steinhagen, Mary Redmon and Patricia Austin Patricia Austin and Jon Steinhagen (2)

The pacing could be zippier, but Patricia Austin bubbles as the bouncy, enthusiastic Hippolyta. Catherine Ferraro is wonderfully arch as her literary sister, Marigold, and Mary Redmon shines as their ditzy but sometimes down-to-earth mother.

Denita Linnertz adds elegance as Lady Lovelace. Eric Lindahl seems a bit miscast — too good-humored and fresh-faced — for the role of Nathaniel Swade, the somewhat shady dandy whose card the Analytical Engine chooses a Hippolyta’s top match, while the playwright, Steinhagen, does a perfect job as Eppa Morton, her bumbling teddy bear of a rejected swain.

Yet for all the heft of the never-seen Analytical Engine, this is one fluffy story.

Rating: ★★★

 

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Openings-closings this week

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show openings

 

Abagail’s Party A Red Orchid Theatre

The Analytical Engine Circle Theatre

Cocktails with Larry Miller Paramount Theatre

The Gimmick Pegasus Players

Katrina: The “K” Word Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Kenny Rogers Paramount Theatre

Love Song Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Monks in Trouble Apollo Theater Studio

Mrs. Caliban Lifeline Theatre

The Old Settler Writers’ Theatre

Over the Tavern Noble Fool Theatricals

The Ring Cycle The Building Stage

Valentine’s Weekend Engagement River North Chicago Dance Company

What Once We Felt About Face Theatre

 

Downtown%20Chicago 

show closings

 

American Buffalo Steppenwolf Theatre

The Artist Needs a Wife the side project

August: Osage County Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre

Determination Bruised Orange Theater

F.A.T. People Gorilla Tango Theatre

Frindle Griffin Theatre

The Glass Menagerie Chicago Heights Drama Group

Keymaster/Gatekeeper Gorilla Tango Theatre

Minna Trap Door Theatre

Phedra New World Repertory Theatre

A Raisin in the Sun Merle Reskin Theatre, Depaul Theatre School

The Wedding TUTA Theatre

The Year of Magical Thinking Court Theatre

 


special ticket offers

 

$20 tickets to Distracted at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street.  American Theater Company is offering $20 tickets to the following performances only: Thursday, February 11 at 8 p.m., Saturday, February 13 at 3 p.m. and Sunday, February 14 at 3 p.m.  To purchase tickets, call (773) 409-4125 or visit www.atcweb.org and use the code "extras".

$10 tickets to Phedra by Jean Racine at Theatre Building Chicago,

1225 W Belmont.  New World Repertory Theater is offering a limited number of discount tickets for their Thursday and Friday 8:30 p.m. performances through February 14.  Call the box office at 773-327-5252 and use the code "EXTRA."

Print this email for $5 off one (1) regular priced admission for The Flaming Dames Mardi Gras themed revue, "Bourbon Street Burlesque" presented by New Millennium Theatre Company at The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway.  Show runs Friday and Saturday nights  through February 27 at 10:15 p.m. (NO PERFORMANCES FEB 12-13) and a special performance on Fat Tuesday, February 16 at 10:15 p.m. $5 dollar discount taken at box office in exchange for printed email blast.  Call 312/458-9083 for reservations or visit  www.nmtchicago.org for more information.

$15 tickets to Diamante Production’s world premiere of Lucid at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.  Diamante Productions is offering a limited number of discounted tickets for the Sunday, Feb. 14, 3 p.m. performance. The discount is available for these three performances only.  This offer is only valid at the door.

Shows Opening/Closing this week

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Show Openings

 

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

TimeLine Theatre

The Alcyone Festival 2010 Halcyon Theatre

The Castle Oracle Theatre

Desperately Seeking Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Dreamgirls Cadillac Palace Theatre (Broadway in Chicago)

First Words Greenhouse Theater Center (MPAACT)

The Dames Storm Division New Millenium Theatre

Glitter in the Gutter Annoyance Theatre

Harper Regan Steep Theatre

Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape Goodman Theatre

King of the Mountain Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Nighthawk Sandwich Storefront Theater (DCA Theatre)

Phedra New World Repertory Theatre

Real Bros of DuPage County Gorilla Tango Theatre

Savage in Limbo Village Players Performing Arts Center

Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors Chicago Shakespeare

WHACK! Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Year of Magical Thinking Court Theatre 

 

chicagoatnight 

Show Closings

 

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Capitol Steps North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan Dance Center of Columbia College

Give Us Monday Gorilla Tango Theatre

Icarus Lookingglass Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mark and Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Openings/Closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

Audiences get a littler taste of *The Ring Cycle*

web_ring

Audiences Get a Little Taste of The Ring Cycle

by Paige Listerud

Time races mercilessly toward their February 13 opening, but both Joanie Schultz and Blake Montgomery looked as cool as cucumbers during an open rehearsal of The Ring Cycle — their 6 hour-long theatrical adaptation of the Wagnerian classic The Ring of the Nibelung. Someone wondered just what was Richard Wagner on when he wrote his Teutonic masterpiece and we, in our turn, could ask the same of The Building Stage’s co-directors. But since, quite obviously, Schultz and Montgomery have made no small plans, one must simply wait with bated breath for the finished product—bound to be either a theatrical extravaganza or a fiasco of epic proportions.

Open rehearsal baited us with only two scenes; one in which Rhinemaidens on aerial silks toy with the affections/lusts of Alberich the dwarf and another in which Wotan must come to terms with a colossal misstep–promising his sister-in-law, Freia, Goddess of Love, as payment to the Giants for building the fortress Valhalla. No doubt, part of this production’s fun will be its traffic in the most basic emotions—whether it’s an ugly guy getting spurned by unfeeling hotties or a frustrated wife’s attempts to rein in her not so bright, king-of-the-gods husband. Since we weren’t treated to any samples of the compositions by Kevin O’Donnell that are slated to accompany the action with a 4-piece rock band, it’s impossible to know just how much more visceral this show will get. It’s difficult not to over-anticipate pyrotechnic effects, ala KISS. Still, one must patiently restrain oneself.

The most difficult aspect may be drawing in an audience willing to stay for 6 hours, even if the directors have culled the show down from 16 hours of full-scale opera. Joanie Schulz, who recently received the 2009 Denham Fellowship Award, conspired with Montgomery two years ago to stage the production and has been working on the script since September. “I think the experience would not be so different from taking a weekend day to watch your favorite TV series on a DVD set,” she says. “And having sat through all of it in rehearsal, I have to say there is something gratifying about spending all day in a different world. Plus, it’s the middle of winter and there will be food and blankets and hot cocoa. I’ll certainly make sure everyone gets a blanket.”

As for the potential over-the-top nature of the production, “Obviously, the language is very heightened. There’s a lot of alliteration. You get used to it. But as far as the theater experience being too heightened, I watched reruns of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and the emotions of that show are high melodrama. So I think most people are quite used to that. In theater you can worry whether that’s too much, too big, too far out. But on the other hand, we are going for a theatrical experience and consciously using very theatrical techniques to tell a story. Besides the aerial silks, we’ll be using shadow puppets and other kinds of puppetry. Essentially, we’ll be using very old theatrical effects—things theaters were using long before Mary Zimmerman.”

rackham_rhein_maidens_play_with_dwa Some of the more athletic performers, Rhinemaidens Lindsey Dorcus and Sarah Scanlon, meet the added difficulty of saying their lines while shifting themselves in various poses suspended 10 feet above ground. “We really intend to bring the sexy,” says Scanlon. “The stakes have to be high in our scene with Alberich. We’re stomping on his manhood. And from that he’s led to foreswear love and forge the Ring of the Nibelung—because that’s what sets up the rest of the action.”

“It’s really a lot of fun,” says Dorcus, “in that we’re seductive but also very childlike. We do not really comprehend the ramifications of what we’re doing. It’s all a game. We flirt and then reject him when we’re supposed to be guarding the gold. It’s also nice being otherworldly. There’s a certain freedom in not being human.”

That feeling seems common throughout the cast. Darci Nalepa, recently seen in Circle Theatre’s A Perfect Wedding, takes on a gender-bending role of the trickster Loge. “But more than playing a male, I’m playing an element, since my character is the embodiment of fire.” There is something rather superhero about the clan at Valhalla. Cast members further hint that there may be something tribal in the costuming, although none have actually seen anything from the costumes department. “That’s not because they’re keeping it secret. It’s that they’re as overwhelmed as we are.”

Indeed. Time speeds on. Updating an ancient myth for contemporary consumption demands maintaining a balance between making it accessible and keeping it eternal. (and keeping it in budget?) We’ll see how The Building Stage fares in its awesome adventure. Stay tuned.

 

Additional links:

About the Ring Cycle

Building Stage blog

Review: Circle Theatre’s “Little Women”

Holidays with the March Sisters

 The women of Little Women_11

Circle Theatre presents:

Little Women

adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
directed by Bob Kuth
thru December 19th (ticket info)

review by Timothy McGuire

The women of Little Women_1 Circle Theatre offers another quality production of classic literature with their world premiere adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This story is perfect for the holiday season and entertaining anytime of the year. The unselfish themes of giving and love along with warm naturally occurring musicals scenes create a performance that can be enjoyed by the whole family, as well as those other singles out there.

Circle Theatre’s production of Little Women is only based on part one of the series (so no, Beth does not die,) but it is still packed with plenty of drama and conflict to accompany the vibrant personalities of the March sisters. The four sisters are spiritually played by Laura McClain (Meg), Kieran Welsh-Phillips (Jo), Jill Sesso (Beth) and Abigail St. John (Amy.) They playfully tease but overwhelmingly cherish each others company. With their father away serving as Chaplain in the Civil War and their mother doing everything she can to support her husband and country, the four sisters bond together as they grow into their own individuals. The March Family is financially struggling (something many of us can relate to this holiday season) yet still finds ways to constantly support those around them in need and those they want to show they care. Besides the wealthy Aunt March, the whole family is inspired by the closeness between them, and their kind spirit is an inspiration to those that witness them as well.

The cast of Little Women_1The set is designed far more sophisticated than you see at even most of the best storefront theatres in the city. Bob Kuth (Director/ Scenic & Lighting Designer) has created the inside of the March home in Maine warm and delicately decorated for the winter season. The windows are covered in 19th-century drapes and a faded portrait of Mr. March hangs above the fireplace. In the back corner is the simple piano played by Beth to lighten the family’s mood and bring in some holiday cheer and the living room is complete with antique furniture for the family to join together for gossip and companionship. The staircase in back of the stage and second level leading to the door add depth to the large country house, and the performer’s ability to look beyond the audience and through the windows at a scene fictionally taking place off stage turn the small staging area into the open lands of Concord, MA.

Each actress and actor brings a special individuality to their character. The enduring qualities in each sister are brought out by the talented natural performances of each actress. I fell in love with Jo and her rebellious attitude and drive to go after he own desires. Each individual performance in the play strengthens the connection you feel with the relationships that are being formed. Watching this family evolve and connect with their characters can naturally bring out a loving emotional connection to your own family, and that is what the holidays are all about.

Rating: ★★★

 

At Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, call   708-771-0700, www.circle-theatre.org, tickets $20 – $24 ($2 off for seniors/students), Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

FEATURING: Kevin Anderson • Peter Esposito • Eileen Ferguson • Anita Hoffman • Laura McClainJeremy MyersBrian Rabinowitz • Mary Redmon • Jill Sesso • Abigail St. John •  Kieran Welsh-Phillips.

The company of Little Women_1

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop