Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

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Review: Sleeping with Straight Men (Ludicrous Theatre)

     
     

Uneven tone makes theatrical mess

     
     

Timothy Tintorini and Bob Skosky in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.

  
Ludicrous Theatre presents
   
  
Sleeping with Straight Men
   
Written by Ronnie Larsen
Directed by Wayne Shaw
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through June 4th  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Ludicrous Theatre doesn’t seem to understand what it has on its hand with Ronnie Larsen‘s Sleeping with Straight Men. The play, which tells a loosely dramatized version of real-life events, is all over the map. At times, it delights with John Waters odd-ball eccentricity. At other times, it has the weighty seriousness of a Greek tragedy. These unfortunate shifts in tone create a jarring experience that serve to remove the audience from the action of the play, dissolving any hope of immersion. Instead, we are treated to occasional vignettes of good theatre in the midst of a river of mediocrity.

Timothy Tintorini and Bob Skosky in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.The play borrows heavily from the actual events of the infamous “Jenny Jones Show” tragedy of 1995. For those that don’t remember (or have tried hard to forget), Jenny Jones was a popular talk show host who held her own during the saturated television talk show market of the 1990s. As the pressure to win ratings escalated, these talk shows began to amp up their subject matter, exploiting their feeble-minded guests with little sympathy. Eventually, disaster struck. In 1995, openly gay guest Scott Amedure was murdered by straight neighbor Jonathan Schmitz after Amedure confessed in front of a studio audience that he had a crush on Schmitz. Schmitz was later convicted of second-degree murder.

In Sleeping with Straight Men, we meet Stanley (Timothy Tintorini), a small-town homosexual with big, vapid dreams of stardom. Confined to a small Michigan town with a miniscule dating pool, Stanley has made it a habit to seduce straight men. However, his loins get the best of him when he encounters Lee (Bob Skosky), a heterosexual waiter. The two have a brief interaction, which is enough to sweep Stanley off his feet. When he gets word that the Jill Johnson Show is producing a segment about secret crushes, he barely hesitates to call in and volunteer Lee and himself.

Meanwhile, we get a peak into Lee’s life. He not a very likeable individual and suffers quietly in a relationship that lacks any sign of love. Upon finding out from Jill Johnson’s producers that someone has a secret crush on him, he becomes immediately infatuated with the idea of meeting his crush, who he presumes is a woman. He packs his bags and heads out to the taping.

Lee is shocked and humiliated to find out that his secret crush is a man. He begs the producers of the Jill Johnson Show to not air the episode. Knowing they have an instant ratings boost on their hands, the slick-tongued producers do what they can to convince Lee otherwise. Stanley and Lee are then sent back to Michigan, where more secret scandal begins to unfold.

I think it’s telling that cult film star Mink Stole and drag queen Hedda Lettuce were cast in the off-Broadway premier of Sleeping with Straight Men. Obviously Larsen envisioned this show to be a kitschy over-the-top satire. And why not? The talk show circuit was a modern-day freak show.

But in the hands of director Wayne Shaw, the play is just too low-key. With the exception of Tintorini, who is delightfully campy, all performances are down-to-earth. That’s not to say these aren’t good actors. Skosky especially has a strong stage presence and a superb delivery. However, this play isn’t about realness. It’s dark comedy. And without that knowing wink, it’s just a sad tragedy.

Ludicrous Theatre’s production of Sleeping with Straight Men needs a directorial makeover. All the components are here for a good play. The actors can act. The script is solid. But the pieces just don’t add up to a successful comedy. If the director took some time to study the genre and even out the tone, he’d have a comedic hit.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Timothy Tintorini (Stanley) and Bob Skosky (Lee) in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.

  

   

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Sanity Break: Gotta Share! Improv social media musical

Love this! A musical breaks out at the tech conference in New York. A speaker is suddenly interrupted by a man who refuses to turn off his cell phone. Knowing how our society has become so “I-have-to-share-everything-about-my-life”, this really hits the funny bone.

  
 

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Review: Medea (Chicago Opera Theater)

  
  

Medea casts its dark, irresistible spell

  
  

Anna Stephany as Medea, ensemble in background. Photo by Liz Lauren

  
Chicago Opera Theater presents
  
Medea
  
Written by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Stage Directed by James Durrah
Conducted by Christian Curnyn
at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph (map)
thru May 1  |  tickets: $30-$120  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Visually stunning, musically sumptuous, Director James Durrah’s vision for Marc-Antione Charpentier’s Medea (Médée) unifies contemporary minimalism with the controlled, ritualistic stateliness of French Baroque opera. Every sleek and suggestive element of Chicago Opera Theater’s production not only buttresses the underlying power and deadly magnificence of its central character, Médée (Anna Stephany), the sorceress who’s been done wrong by her man, but also establishes the pernicious atmosphere at the court of mendacious royalty.

Anna Stephany, as Medea, stands with her 2 children. Photo by Liz Lauren. From modern dance movement to costuming (also Durrah), to the stark, bold set design of bent wood clashed against metal (François-Pierre Couture), to the lighting design’s color palette of sepia, gold, pale yellow, copper, dark blue and smoky black (Julian Pike), COT’s design elements load their production with chic sophistication that meshes easily with the lush and powerful elegance of Charpentier’s compositions. Such a well-integrated design not only pays off in building to and amplifying Médée’s mournful rages and witchy moments, but also frames and supports the intrigues carried out at the court of Corinth.

Jason (Colin Ainsworth), Médée and their sons have fled to Corinth in the wake of Médée’s murder of Thessaly’s King Pelias. While Jason sues for protection from King Creon (Evan Boyer), Médée already suspects that he has fallen in love with the king’s daughter Creuse (Micaëla Oeste). Stephany’s deeply psychological performance strikes the right tenuous balance, wavering over Médée’s love for Jason, for whom she has killed and sacrificed, and yielding to jealous suspicions that become confirmed with each hour. Once Jason arrives, Ainsworth and Stephany convincingly render the sensual tension between this troubled pair. Jason tries to persuade Médée that every favor he pursues with Creuse he does only to secure their refuge. Adding insult to injury, Jason persuades Médée to give her cloak to Creuse, since the princess has admired it and such a gift may help their plea.

The cloak is everything. Rich, velvety black with a glossy persimmon lining, the cloak sets Médée apart, particularly as she enters at the back of the stage, hand-in-hand with her two sons in their pajamas of blue white. It’s an otherworldly moment that contrasts potent, mysterious danger with unsuspecting innocence. Likewise, once Creuse dons the cloak in Act Four (already poisoned by Médée), she flaunts it like a spoiled rich girl who has usurped Medee’s power. Certainly much fun is had in interim scenes, wherein Médée calls upon the spirits of the underworld to poison the cloak for Creuse’s undoing. (Trust the Chorus to act out their zombie best!) But the more accessible power plays come through each woman’s possession and manipulation of the cloak.

Micaela Oeste as Creuse, background: Ensemble. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Anna Stephany as Medea, Colin Ainsworth as Jason. Photo by Liz Lauren Paul LaRosa as Oronte, surrounded by Ensemble. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Being baroque opera, manipulation and intrigue is key. King Creon lures Oronte (Paul LaRosa) to Corinth’s defense against the Thessalians with the promise of marriage to Creuse. But Creon really intends Creuse for Jason and makes every move to remove the threat of Médée’s presence by sending her into exile without her children. Fools–they should know not to mess with Médée. But often, more compelling than her carrying out her revenge are scenes in which characters are still sorting out everyone’s hidden agenda.

The cast is theatrically adept and vocally powerful. The Baroque Band, a Chicago-based ensemble since 2007, conducted by Christian Curnyn, provides rich, majestic and period-perfect musical underpinning to each character’s lies and deceptions. Under the veneer of civilization beats passionate hearts, just as driven to satisfy desire as Médée’s — they only lack the mojo to back it up.

Well, COT’s Medea has tons of mojo. More’s the pity that there are only three more performances before it closes–run, do not walk, to see them.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

The ensemble of Chicago Opera Theater's 'Medea' surrounds Anna Stephany (Medea).  Photo by Liz Lauren.

Chicago Opera Theater’s Medea continues at Millennium Park’s Harris Theater through May 1st, with performances April 27 and 29 at 7:30, and May 1 at 3pm.  Tickets are $30-$120, and can be purchased by phone (312-334-7777) or on the web (HarrisTheaterChicago.org).  For more info, visit the company’s website:  www.chicagooperatheater.org. Medea is sung in French, with English supertitles.

 

     

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Review: Working (Broadway in Chicago)

  
  

Now extended through June 5th!

        

Talented Chicago cast gets the job done!

  
  

Michael Mahler, E. Faye Butler, Gabriel Ruiz, Emjoy Gavino, Gene Weygandt, Barbara Robertson in Broadway in Chicago's 'Working'

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Working
   
From the book by Studs Terkel
Adapted by
Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
Directed by
Gordon Greenburg
at
Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map)
through June 5  |   tickets: $67-$77   |   more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

‘Everybody should have something to point to!’ At the end of a career, job, or just day, there is satisfaction in pointing to something well-constructed… building, memo, burger… to say ‘I did that!‘ Steel beam to corner office to cubicle, one building houses millions of work tales. Broadway in Chicago presents Working a musical. In 1974, Pulitzer Prize- winning author Studs Terkel published a collection of interviews in his Michael Mahler - Chicago 'Working'book entitled “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In 1977, Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso adapted the book into a musical about the working class. In the current production, both skilled director Gordon Greenburg, and additional songs, have been added to the resume. ‘Working 2.0 brings timeless employees’ woes into a new age. Working is the ordinary dreams of ordinary people sung by an extraordinary Chicago cast!

The show is cued with a behind-the-curtain glimpse at staged theatre. An unseen person calls out directions in a countdown to the start. A bi-level backdrop showcases four dressing rooms where actors-playing-actors-playing-workers are busy prepping. The intriguing set by Beowulf Boritt has a strong industrial framework influence. The beams work double-time to establish a construction feel as an ironworker kicks-off the interview series. Later, the metal structure is the screen for visual projections by Aaron Rhyne. Designer Rhyne adds magnificent depth to the stories with authentic location and people imagery. Studs Terkel haunts the stage from beginning to end. In the opening scene, his voice is heard as several reel to reel recorders play his historic interviews tapes. At the finale, projections of the working people series ends with his facial profile. In between the Studs, a hard-working ensemble of six dress and undress…sometimes right on stage… to tell 26 different stories in 100 minutes.

The marathon of memories is well-paced, with each character’s story transitioning into another’s. Sometimes, it’s natural… construction guy to executive to assistant. Sometimes, it’s just a little forced… retired to fireman or factory worker to mason or trucker to call center tech. Regardless, the stitching together adds to a rhythmic flow for the always-dynamic and ever-changing cast. There are lots of moments to point to with this talented 6 doing 26 parts, but here are some favorites: E. Faye Butler transforms effortlessly from humble housewife to vivacious hooker to amusing cleaning lady. Totally diva-licious, Butler belts out songs like an entire gospel choir squeezed into one uniform. Gabriel Ruiz - Chicago 'Working'Emjoy Gavino goes from sassy flight attendant to poignant millworker with an unforgettable solo. Despite a crackling microphone, Barbara Robertson is delightful and slightly disturbing as an old-school teacher. Then, as an amicable and career content waitress, Robertson serves up an impressive singing number complete with a side of splits. Gabriel Ruiz delivers burgers with playful energy, then later sings sweetly as a caregiver doing a job nobody wants. Michael Mahler plays it ruggedly funny as seasoned trucker then naively hilarious as a newbie student. Gene Weygandt bookends the show as the cocky ironworker bragging about heights and confessing his shortcomings in a powerfully nostalgic ‘Fathers and Sons.’

WORKING: a musical employs a talented Chicago cast! No matter what your current job status, this hard-working cast will entertainingly sing to you a familiar tune. It’s realistic, relatable, regularity life put to music. I’m pointing at Working as an enjoyable after-work happy hour.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  
Barbara Robertson - Chicago 'Working' Gene Weygandt - Chicago 'Working' E. Faye Bulter - Chicago 'Working'
Gabriel Ruiz - Chicago 'Working' Emjoy Gavino - Chicago 'Working' Michael Mahler - Chicago 'Working'

Working continues through June 5th, with performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday, Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm.  The Broadway Playhouse is located on 175 E. Chestnut in downtown Chicago (behind Watertower Place). Ticket prices are $67 to $77, and can be purchased online HERE. Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.

Extra Credit:

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Sanity Break: Bette Midler sings ‘Otto Titsling’. Hilarious!

Bette Midler sings Otto Titsling on Johnny Carson

 

 

You gotta love Bette Midler – this is hilarious!

  
  

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: