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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Top 10 Chicago shows we’re looking forward to this spring

Chicagoskylinefromnorth

 

Top 10 shows to see this spring!

 

A list of shows we’re looking forward to before summer

 

Written by Barry Eitel

March 20th marked the first day of spring, even if it feels like winter hasn’t loosened its grip at all. The theatre season is winding down, with most companies putting up the last shows of the 2010/2011. Over the summer, it would seem, Chicagoans choose outdoor activities over being stuffed in a hot theatre. But there is still plenty left to enjoy. The rising temperatures make leaving your home much more tempting, and Chicago theatre is ending the traditional season with a bang. Here, in no particular order, are Chicago Theatre Blog’s picks for Spring 2011.

 

   
Goat or Who Is Sylvia 001
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?

Remy Bumppo Theatre
March 30 – May 8
more info

Playwright Edward Albee has gotten a lot of love this year, with major productions at Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf (for the first time). The season has been a sort of greatest hits collection spanning his career, including modern classics like Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Three Tall Women. Remy Bumppo ends their season with some late-period Albee, but The Goat never skimps on Albee’s honest dysfunction. In the 1994 drama, Albee takes a shockingly earnest look at bestiality, and questions everything we thought about love.


      

Porgy and Bess - Court Theatre - banner


Porgy and Bess
 

Court Theatre 
May 12 – June 19
more info

Musical-lovers have a true aural feast to enjoy this spring. Following their mission to produce classics, Court produces the most well-known American opera, Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin’s ode to folk music is grandiose, inspirational, and not without controversy. But the show, telling tales about African-American life in the rural South, features brilliant music (like “Summertime,” which has been recorded by such vastly different performers as Billie Holiday and Sublime). Charles Newell, Ron OJ Parsons, and an all-black cast will definitely have an interesting take on one of the most influential pieces of American literature.


           
Front Page - Timeline Theatre Chicago - logo
The Front Page
 

Timeline Theatre  
April 16 – June 12
more info

For their season closer, TimeLine Theatre selected a 80-year-old play with deep Chicago connections. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were well known journalists, reporting on the madness that was the Jazz Age. They turned their life into a farcical romp, The Front Page, which in turn served as the inspiration for the Cary Grant vehicle “His Girl Friday”. The play centers around several hardened newsmen as they await an execution; of course, things don’t go as planned. Along with loads of laughs, TimeLine provides an authentic Chicago voice sounding off about a legendary time.


     
Peter Pan - Chicago Tribune Freedom Center
Peter Pan

Broadway In Chicago and threesixty° entertainment
at Chicago Tribune Freedom Center (675 W. Chicago)
Begins April 29
more info

Imported from London, this high-flying envisioning of the J.M. Barrie play should cause many jaws to drop. We’ve seen high school productions where the boy who never wants to grow up flies around on wires (leading to some disastrous videos on Youtube). Threesixtyº’s show has flying, but it also has three hundred and sixty degrees of screen projections. Already a smash across the pond, this will probably be one of the top spectacles of the decade. WATCH VIDEO


     
Woyzeck - Hypocrites Theatre - banner
Pony - About Face Theatre - banner

Woyzeck
and Pony  

at Chopin Theatre
The Hypocrites and About Face Theatre 
in repertory April 15 – May 22
more info

I’m not exactly sure if Georg Buchner’s unfinished 1830s play can support a whole city-wide theatrical festival, but I’m excited to see the results. The Oracle Theatre already kickstarted the Buchner love-fest with a well-received production of Woyzeck directed by Max Truax. Now Sean Graney and his Hypocrites and a revived About Face get their chance, along with numerous other performers riffing on the play. Pony offers a semi-sequel to Woyzeck, tossing together Buchner’s characters with others in a brand new tale. The Hypocrites offer a more straightforward adaptation to the play. Well, straightforward for the Hypocrites. I’m sure their white-trash-avant-garde tendencies will make an appearance, and I’m sure I’ll love it. (ticket special: only $48 for both shows


     
American Theatre Company - The Original Grease
The Original Grease

American Theatre Company 
April 21 – June 5
 more info

American Theatre Company ends their season with a major theatrical event—a remount of the original 1971, foul-mouthed version of Grease. Before Broadway producers, Hollywood, and John Travolta cleaned up the ‘50s set musical, “Summer Nights” was “Foster Beach.” The story of this production is probably as interesting as the actual show, with lost manuscripts and brand new dialogue and song.


       
Voodoo Chalk Circle - State Theatre
The Voodoo Chalk Circle

State Theatre 
April 9 – May 8
more info

This month, Theatre Mir already took a highly-acclaimed stab at this intriguing piece of Brecht, which tears at Western views of justice. In true Brechtian style, the State’s production is shaking the narrative up, transferring the story from an Eastern European kingdom to a post-Katrina New Orleans, where law and order have broken with the levee. We’ll see if Chelsea Marcantel’s adaptation holds water, but she has plenty to pull from, including the region’s rich folk traditions and the general lawlessness seen after the storm.   WATCH VIDEO


         
hickorydickory - chicago dramatists - banner Hickorydickory

Chicago Dramatists 
May 13 – June 12
more info

To welcome spring, Chicago Dramatists will revisit one of their own, the 2009 Wendy Wasserstein Prize-winning Marisa Wegrzyn. Directed by artistic director Russ Tutterow, the darkly whimsical piece imagines a world where everyone has a literal internal clock that ticks away towards our demise. What happens when someone breaks their clock? Through a very odd window, Wegrzyn looks at tough, relevant questions.


     
Next to Normal - Broadway in Chicago - banner
Next to Normal

Broadway in Chicago 
at Bank of America Theatre 
April 26 – May 8
more info

The newly-minted Purlitzer Prize winner, Next to Normal rolls into town on its first national tour, three Tony Awards in hand.  Alice Ripley, who received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, will reprise her acclaimed performance at the Bank of America Theatre on Monroe. Contemporary in sound and subject matter, the work explores the effects of a mother’s bi-polar disease exacerbated by her child’s earlier death, Next to Normal will no doubt be anything close to normal for Chicago audiences.    (watch video)


     
White Noise - Royal George
White Noise

Royal George Theatre 
April 1 – June 5
more info

Like Next to Normal, the new White Noise promises to take the usually vapid rock musical genre and stuff it with some tough issues. A show focusing on an attractive female pop duo with ties to white supremacy? It ain’t Rock of Ages, that’s for sure. Produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Chicago was chosen as the show’s incubator before a Broadway debut. Perhaps the premise may overwhelm the story; either way, White Noise is going to inspire conversations.     [ Listen to the Music ]

  
  

Review: The Merchant of Venice (Broadway in Chicago)

  
  

Centuries later, Shakespeare’s message still rings true

  
  

Tom Nelis, Lucas Hall, F. Murray Abraham - Merchant of Venice

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
The Merchant of Venice
  
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
at
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $23-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Putting Shakespeare’s plays in a contemporary setting often produces mixed results, and Darko Tresnjak’s corporate take on The Merchant of Venice finds both its strengths and weaknesses in its modern context. The national tour of the 2007 Off-Broadway production, Merchant of Venice stars Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham in the role of Shylock, a chilling portrayal of a man trampled by an oppressive society on a malicious quest for justice. The contemporary context is used by Tresnjak to expand the story beyond Shakespeare’s words, and the social, economic, and political changes of the last 400 years give the script new meaning, particularly with Shylock’s character. The set design is sleek and tech-heavy, the men Jacob Ming-Trent - Merchant of Venicewear three-piece suits, and Portia’s (Kate MacCluggage) caskets are MacBooks that unlock with a USB key, yet the concept never takes over under Tresnjak’s crisp, focused staging. The two main plotlines – the first centralized on Shylock and his socioeconomic troubles, the second on Portia’s romantic exploits – are balanced and grounded by the strength of their principal performances, and together create a story that resonates on both a global and personal level.

The show begins with the title character Antonio (Tom Nelis) in a state of melancholy. As his friends deduce the source of his pain to be his heart, Bassanio (Lucas Hall) arrives to ask Antonio for money so that he can travel to Belmont and woo Portia, earning her sizable inheritance in the process. Scholars have long speculated the romantic relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, and Tresnjak and Nelis interpret Antonio as a closeted older businessman utterly devoted to the object of his affection. The corporate environment gives new meaning to the casting, with Antonio serving in a CEO position while Bassanio and friends make up the junior executives, with Gratiano (Ted Schneider) as the office drunk for good measure. Antonio’s work relationship with Bassanio prevents their relationship as much as social pressures, and when he lets his affections for his friend overrule his business judgment, he ends up on trial with a pound of his flesh on the scales of justice.

Meanwhile, Portia and her waiting-woman Nerissa (Christen Simon Marabate) compare Portia’s various suitors on an iPhone, awaiting the next batch to pick from the three “caskets” of lead, silver, and gold. The two actresses have great chemistry, and MacCluggage’s Portia is so powerful that the moments where she can unwind with Nerissa are a treat. Both actresses use the verse beautifully, and they avoid some of the problems that come up elsewhere in the production as actors modernize the language. One instance where the modernization works is with Launcelot Gobbo (Jacob Ming-Trent), Shylock’s stoner assistant that turns Shakespeare’s words into slam poetry, and his fantastic “fiend” monologue is a highlight of the first act.

Bassanio uses Antonio’s credit to acquire a loan from Shylock, a Jewish lender, who despises Antonio’s anti-Semitism and lends the 3,000 ducats on the condition that if the bond is not repaid in the specified time, a pound of flesh will be taken from Antonio in lieu of interest. The corporate setting increases the intensity of the scene where Shylock and Antonio agree to the bond, and Tresnjak uses Shakespeare’s language as a kind of boardroom code, with Elizabethan poetry acting as a form of subversive power play. The modern setting changes the character of Shylock in profound ways, especially considering the struggles of the Jewish people over the last century. This Shylock lives in a post-Holocaust world, fully aware of the devastating damage caused by the irrational fears and prejudices of others. His devotion to his spirituality doesn’t fit in with Antonio’s corporate vision, and his treatment becomes a symbol for the ways in which traditional religious views are being forgotten in modern age. When Shylock’s daughter Jessica (Melissa Miller) elopes with Lorenzo (Vince Nappo), an associate of Antonio’s, Shylock loses his stoic demeanor, maliciously going after his promised pound of flesh when Antonio’s ships are lost at sea.

     
Kate MacCluggage, Christen Simon Marabate - Merchant of Venice Lucas Hall, Tom Nelis, Background - Kate MacCluggage - Merchant of Venice
Vince Nappo, Melissa Miller - Merchant of Venice Kate MacCluggage, F. Murray Abraham - Merchant of Venice

The drama of the Shylock plot is balanced by the humor of Portia’s, and as her suitors choose between the three caskets to find the one with her picture inside, she anxiously awaits the arrival of Bassanio. The suitors are hit and miss, with Raphael Nash Thompson’s towering Moroccan dictator inspiring laughs through his quiet, yet exaggerated aggression, while Christopher Randolph’s lisping Prince of Arragon is too over-the-top and ends up falling flat. Bassanio arrives and picks the right casket, but their celebration is cut short when he learns that Antonio is in prison, awaiting trial for not paying Shylock. Portia offers to pay off the bond times two, and then dresses up like a man with Nerissa and devises a plan to save Antonio from Shylock’s wrath. The image of Antonio in an orange jumpsuit calls to mind real world images of white-collar inmates in prison for their economic deviances, and without the corporate environment Antonio is able to act on his desire for Bassanio. The trial scene is a break neck race to the finish, as Abraham explodes with fury, the years of degradation finally breaking him and forcing him to vengeful action. Then Portia sees Antonio and Bassanio kiss, and the tension skyrockets as she forgets about the mercy she preached earlier. It all comes crashing down on poor Shylock, and his final moments on stage are heartbreaking, stripped of his yarmulke, his daughter, and his dignity.

The Portia plot resolves in typical Shakespeare romance fashion, with the characters misunderstanding each other until they finally end up in handy little pairs, but the emphasis on Antonio and Bassanio ends the play on a bittersweet note. Despite the occasional misstep with the comedic aspects, mostly with jokes that don’t have any scriptural basis and are tech-based, the direction reveals aspects of the play that give it new relevance in modern times. Proving that despite the changes in culture, the fundamental messages of Shakespeare’s plays are still applicable to contemporary issues.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Christen Simon Marabate, Andrew Dahl, Kate MacCluggage, Raphael Nash Thompson, Melissa Miller, Lucas Hall and Christopher Randolph. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

     

All photos by Gerry Goodstein.

     
     

REVIEW: Burn the Floor (Broadway in Chicago)

  
  

Despite frigid weather, show sizzles with dance and eye-candy

  
  

The Ballroom Boys from 'Burn the Floor" at Bank of America Theatre in Chicago.

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
   
Burn the Floor
   
Directed and Choreographed by Jason Gilkison
at
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through Feb 13  |  tickets: $16-$80  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

As Blizzard 2011 buries Chicago into a frozen tundra, a downtown theatre oasis smolders in heat.

Broadway in Chicago presents Burn the Floor, an electrifying international dance-off. The increasing popularity of “Dancing with The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” has instigated a resurgence in ballroom dancing. Burn the Floor predates these reality shows and the moves still thrill with pulsating appeal. Waltzes Ballroom Beat from 'Burn the Floor', now playing at Bank of America Theatre in Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.to rumba to cha cha: the show moves with an elegant, sweltering sass. Even in blizzard conditions, Burn the Floor ignites the building!

Director and choreographer Jason Gilkison paces it as a seamless, high energy dance marathon. Gilkison, along with his partner Peta Roby, were undefeated Australian dance champions from 1981-1997. His life-time passion for the craft is evident in a mega tribute to multiple types of dances. In the number “History Repeating”, the costumes and dances change as a stylistic tribute to past decades. Flapper, hippie, and disco outfits are paired with swing, samba, and jive. It’s a colorful, fast-moving flashback in time. Making it look effortless, twenty dancers gracefully glide into each sequence. One moment, it’s flowing milky swirls of “Knights in White Satin”; later it’s seductive multi-colored ruffles kicked up from the Latin Quarter. The rapid and contrasting flow keeps the audience mesmerized. In a particular steamy routine, one lucky lady dancer rumbas with all the men… all the incredibly sexy men. AND she’s blindfolded! It’s a white-hot fantasy actualized on stage. Smoking!

This ongoing type of sexual sizzle is flamed to perfection. Equally intriguing are the ‘dance stunts.’ These athletes throw and catch partners over head, under legs, and across people. They drag, lift and twirl. One gal spins on her back for several revolutions. Even seeing it, the logistics escape me. For reality show fans, this ensemble boasts alums, Anya Garnis, Pasha Kovalev, Ashleigh and Ryan Di Lello, Robbie Kmetoni, Janette Manrara and Karen Hauer, from “So You Think You Can Dance” and a vocalist from “American Idol”, Vonzell Solomon. So you think YOU can dance? After seeing this theatrical exhibition, you’ll deny your ability and/or sign up for dance classes immediately.

       
'Burn for You' from 'Burn the Floor' at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre.  Photo by Joan Marcus. Si tu supieras from 'Burn the Floor' at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Mirco Scolan and Nuria Santatusia. Photo by Lindsay Hebbard. Pastorale from 'Burn the Floor' at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus. 'Sway' from 'Burn the Floor' at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre.

Co-starring in this visual spectacle are the costumes. Designer Janet Hine adds to the vibrant scene with a multitude of wardrobe changes. For the ladies, the silky, exquisite ballgowns enhance the rippling grandeur of the waltz. Later, stunning transforms to provocative with numerous versions of lingerie inspired attire. My favorite was a beautiful fringe dress that is a cross between leathery and feathery tassels. (If it had a back, some sleeves and four more inches, I would wear one.) It’s playful gorgeous! For the gentlemen, Hine sticks to the basics with primarily black pants and shirts. Sometimes she dresses them up in tails and sometimes she undresses them with open shirts or, my preference, shirtless. To add in a realm of rugged masculinity, Hine also puts the guys in jeans paired with jackets, shirts or my choice, shirtless. Burn the Floor is pure eye candy! It doesn’t matter what you’re into: guys, gals, chests, breasts, asses, or legs, they have your flavor. Indulge yourself in a sweet bag of treats with plenty of red hots.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
  

Proud Mary from 'Burn the Floor' at Bank of America Theatre. Photo credit Joan Marcus

Burn the Floor continues at the Bank of America Theatre, playing February 2nd, 3rd,6th, 8th , 10th at 7:30pm, February 4th, 5th, 9th, 11th, 12th at 8pm and February 5th, 6th, 9th, 12th, 13th at 2pm.  Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

        
        

     
     

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REVIEW: 9 to 5 the Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

Though uneven, show is still loads of nostalgic fun

  
  

9 to 5 by Dolly Parton - Broadway Tour - Bank of America Theatre

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
9 to 5: the Musical
  
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by
Patricia Resnick
Directed by
Jeff Calhoun
at
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago, (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $32-$95  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Unless you were at Wednesday night’s opening of 9 to 5: the Musical, you probably didn’t know that January 19th is now Dolly Parton Day in the great state of Illinois. I’m sure Broadway in Chicago would suggest you celebrate the holiday by checking out the musical, based off the 1980 movie about female empowerment (and Dolly’s acting debut). For those who doubt the merit of a screen-to-stage to national tour musical, I hear you. But even though the show, with music and lyrics by Parton, can be wildly uneven, it’s still a lot of fun.

3 leads from 9 to 5 the Musical - Broadway Tour - Bank of America Theatre9 to 5 starts off brilliantly, but like most weekdays, it lags by the end. While writer Patricia Resnick tweaked the movie’s storyline (which was Jane Fonda’s pet project), the tale is mostly the same. To be blunt, this is not a musical that will be remembered. There are a lot of cracks and the story is jerky. In the short term, however, the show exudes laughs, razzle-dazzle, and, most importantly, heart. You leave the theatre satisfied, more or less. There is a reason shows like 9 to 5 are only in town for a fortnight.

The show’s plot follows three working women as they meet, hate their “autocratic, sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, sort of accidentally kidnap their boss, and then take over (and successfully run) the company. Even though it came out just 32 years ago, at the time of the movie the idea of a female executive was implausible. Now, that’s not so much the case. There aren’t really any new ideas brought to the table by the stage adaptation, but it wraps up the old ones in new packages.

The first half is, dare I say it, sort of deep. It’s fascinating to watch the three women interact and build relationships. There is Violet (Dee Hoty), the head of the secretary pool who is waiting for a promotion. She is mildly irked by Doralee (Diana DeGarmo in Parton’s role), a blonde with a Texas accent and really big…hair. The last part of the trio is Judy (Mamie Parris), a recently divorced new hire who has never had a day job in her life. All of them chafe under their boss (Joseph Mahowald), who insults Judy, hires a young man over promoting Violet, and tries to bang Doralee every chance he gets.

What’s interesting is watching how the women treat and judge each other. One of the first things Violet teaches Judy is that she shouldn’t like Doralee. Thanks to stress, illicit substances, and a mutual hatred of the powers that be, they come together.

Then they kidnap their boss, everything gets ridiculous, and it all ends very quickly.

For her debut at penning a musical, Parton does a decent job. None of the songs are particularly memorable besides the titular tune that’s already a country/pop classic. The three leading ladies do a fabulous job with the material. Hoty possesses the best acting chops, exploring Violet’s vulnerabilities as well as her steely, case-of-the-Mondays demeanor. Parris does a hilariously neurotic turn in the Fonda role. The biggest surprise is DeGarmo. Maybe casting American Idol runner-ups draws crowds, but it usually just draws eye-rolls from me. Although untrained, the adorable DeGarmo pulled off the role with gusto and spirit. I would think that she made Parton proud.

Resnick pushes the show into campy territory far too much. At one point, each lady dreams up a plan for killing the boss, and each fantasy is given an overblown staging. Excesses like that tend to distract. The musical, in the end, seems more like a well-acted knock-off of the movie instead of a re-imagining. In that sense, it does its job.

  
  
Rating:  ★★½
  
  

 

Dolly Parton celebrates her 65th birthday on opening night

       
        

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Dolly Parton celebrates 65th Birthday in Chicago!

Dolly Parton wows at “9 to 5” in Chicago

Dolly Parton in Chicago - 9 to 5Fans of Dolly Parton were in for a big treat on Wednesday night as she made an appearance at opening night of the Broadway tour musical 9 to 5.  On stage before the show, Illinois’ Governor Pat Quinn presented Dolly with a certificate proclaiming the 19th as “Dolly Parton Day” in Chicago.  Dolly made another appearance at the final bows, where – as you can see in the video below – the cast wheeled out a big chocolate cake and then led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” for Dolly’s 65th Birthday.  Can you believe that she’s 65 years old???   Wow, she looks great!  We love you Dolly!

 

 

 

Dolly Parton and Gov Pat Quinn

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announces January 19th as “Dolly Parton Day

 

 

     
Snapshot 8 (1-20-2011 12-02 PM) Snapshot 6 (1-20-2011 12-01 PM)
Snapshot 5 (1-20-2011 12-00 PM) Snapshot 2 (1-20-2011 11-59 AM)

Dolly Parton joins cast at final bows, and helps cut her birthday cake!!

Snapshot 2 (1-20-2011 11-59 AM)

This is *very* blurred photo of Dolly Parton posing with the 3 leads of the show:

     
     

REVIEW: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (BroadwayChicago)

        
        

Irving Berlin holiday classic receives rich, nostalgic production

        
        

Finale of Irving Berlin White Christmas

  
Broadway in Chicago and Broadway Across America presents
 
   
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
  
Written by David Ives and Paul Blake
Music by Irving Berlin
Directed by Norb Joerder
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $25-$98  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Inspired by the 1954 film that itself builds on the 1944 delight “Holiday Inn” (which premiered the title song), Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is unashamedly old-fashioned, aggressively nostalgic, and filled with postwar optimism. How can it not be when the Irving Berlin classic with which it begins and ends is now a essential part of the holiday DNA for most Americans? The production values are vintage too—terrific tap dancing, go-for-broke jubilee choreography, cornball humor, goofy plotting, period-Megan Jimenez, Shannon M. O'Bryan, Denis Lambert, Amanda Paulson – White Christmasperfect costumes from the Eisenhower era, and lots of pretty scene changes. (Who says Broadway shows don’t have scenery anymore? This one packs a thousand glorious illusions passing as set pieces.) This blast from the past is a winter storm we can savor.

Strictly by-the-numbers and comfortably contrived, the plot involves Wallace and Davis, a vaudeville team looking for a new act, who join forces with Betty and Judy Haynes, a sisters duo, to help the guys’ former general draw crowds to his Vermont ski lodge and barn when the winter season is threatened by a total lack of snowfall. It’s serendipity on cue. Of course, all kinds of clever confusion arises over whether the boys will end up in Florida or rehearse their new Broadway show in New England, then whether that inn will be sold to a corporation and, of course, whether each sister will dutifully fall for the vaudeville hoofer of her choice.

It’s all an excuse for such Berlin gems as “Blue Skies” (performed with a bit too much jazzy syncopation for my taste), “I’m Happy,” “I Love a Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean?” and, of course, the inexhaustibly evocative title number. They’re a showcase for John Scherer and Denis Lambert as the happy hoofers who fall hard or soft for Amy Bodnar and Shannon M. O’Bryan as the sisters who sing “Sisters.” Everything you loved in the movie you can savor here in three dimensions.

     
Lambert, O'Bryan, Williamson, Peeples with Showgirls - Irving Berlin White Christmas Blue Skies from Irving Berlin White Christmas

Ruth Williamson, as the hard-boiled, Broadway brassy inn manager, combines Thelma Ritter and Alice Ghostley as she peps up every scene with deadpan wisecracks. Erick Devine is lovably crusty as General Waverley (even though the plot goes haywire near the end as he returns to the Army, then reenters retirement for reasons that aren’t worth a second thought). Eleven-year-old Mary Peeples is a perky moppet who was born to play Annie as well as the general’s Shirley Temple-cute granddaughter and will steal a show, if not a scene, if she’s not watched carefully.

The 17-member ensemble resemble so many perpetual-motion machines, singing and dancing their own beautiful blizzard in this Currier and Ives vision of Vermont. (The whole show is like a series of life-size Christmas cards singing enchanting melodies.) The lesser-known Berlin numbers may not be undeservedly neglected but the surefire hits from this totally American composer are absolutely irresistible. This Christmas confection can more than hold its own with A Christmas Carol  (our review ★★★½) and The Nutcracker (review ★★★★), just a few blocks away.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  
Bardner and O'Bryan - from Irving Berlin White Christmas 1944 Christmas Eve Show (2) Irving Berlin White Christmas
Let Me Sing and I'm Happy - Irving Berlin White Christmas Martha Watson and Gen Henry Waverly in snow - Irving Berlin White Christmas Devine as General Henry Waverly - Irving Berlin White Christmas
On the Train to Vermont - Irving Berlin White Christmas

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