Review: Some Enchanted Evening (Theo Ubique Theatre)

  
  

Update: Now extended through July 3rd!

More American than apple pie!

  
  

Austin Cook, Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta - Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre - Some Enchanted Evening

  
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
    
Some Enchanted Evening:
  The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein

          

Directed by Fred Anzevino
Music Directed by Austin Cook
at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $25-$30 (dinner: $20)  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

The purest patriotism possible in this troubled land is just to love the subject of this show. The beautiful Broadway created by Rodgers and Hammerstein is broad indeed, and a way to everything that’s (still) good about America. We can enjoy the optimism of Oklahoma, dangerous ambition of Carousel, courage and tolerance of South Pacific, family values of State Fair, curiosity and growth of The King and I, assimilation of Flower Drum Song, and, well, the love of singing in The Sound of Music.  It’s there in melodies (Rodgers) you could get drunk on and lyrics (Hammerstein) that feel good because they’re just true.

Danni Smith and Austin Cook - Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre - Some Enchanted Evening, Songs of Rogers and HammersteinFramed as a rehearsal that turns into a performance, Fred Anzevino’s generous, two-hour tribute to R&H’s glorious Americana showcases five splendid singers flawlessly directed by musical director and pianist Austin Cook. The uncredited compilation offers clever to sumptuous arrangements in a program that lets the songs talk to each other almost as much as they resonate with an equally impassioned audience. We grew up with these songs until they’re now part of our emotional DNA.

At the same time, you’ve never imagined “Maria” as a possible love song about a relationship, not a complaint by nuns, but it works well here. (Less so is the unnecessarily jazzed-up backdrop to “Something Wonderful.”) A few discoveries offer less-known confirmation of the partners’ mastery, like the winsome “A Fellow Needs a Girl” and the sardonic lament “The Gentleman Is a Dope” (Rodgers’ later sequel to “The Lady Is a Tramp”?).

So many favorites are included that it’s easier to mention the ones that aren’t (the power anthems “Climb Every Mountain” and “You’ll Never Walk Along” and my favorite ballad, “What’s the Use of Won’drin’?”). What made the cut, however, is perfection enough, especially as sung by a soaring soprano and euphoric belter like Sarah Schoch, who gives “A Wonderful Guy” a fitting sweep and scope. Dana Tretta is a wicked comedienne in “I Can’t Say No” and a wistful lover in “I Have Dreamed.” Danni Smith brings star quality to the fragile “Love, Look Away” and raw nostalgia and tensile heartbreak to “Hello, Young Lovers.”

     
Danni Smith, Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta - Theo-Ubique Cabaret Theatre Austin Cook, Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta, Jeremy Trager - Theo-Ubique Theatre
Some Enchated Evening ensemble - Theo-Ubique Cabaret 3 Evan Tyrone Martin, Dana Tretta, Austin Cook, Jeremy Trager Danni Smith and Sara Schoch in 'Some Enchated Evening' - Theo-Ubique Cabaret

Jeremy Trager’s baritone serves him splendidly throughout, never more so than in his driven version of Billy Bigelow’s all-confessing “Soliloquy.” Finally, Evan Tyrone Martin brings a heavenly tenor to “Edelweiss,” a folk song so pure it fits every possible singer, while his tender and haunting take on the little-known “Everybody’s Got a Home But Me” shows how R&H could summon up the blues in spirit if not in note.

Fine as they are, collectively this terrific ensemble turn “Shall We Dance,” “A Grand Night,” “Grant Avenue,” and the seductive title song into harmonious musical gems of a thousand carats each.

Well, the revue’s title says it all. My one complaint is that the whole show should have been a sing-along. But I’ll leave that to “The Messiah.”

  
     
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Austin Cook, Dana Tretta, Jeremy Trager, Danni Smith, Sara Schoch and Evan Tyrone Martin in 'Some Enchanted Evening' - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

All photos by G. Thomas Ward Photography

     
     

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Review: Night and Her Stars (The Gift Theatre Company)

  
  

Thornton and his cast earn their ‘applause light’

  
  

Ray Shoemaker and Joe Mack in Gift Theatre's 'Night and Her Stars' by Richard Greenberg.

   
The Gift Theatre presents
  
Night and Her Stars
  
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by
Michael Patrick Thornton
at
Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee (map)
through April 24  | 
tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

The effect of television on human civilization has been up for debate since the first flickering blue light emitted into people’s homes. “What was life like before television?” is a question that is repeated in Richard Greenberg’s 1995 play, Night and Her Stars, revolving around the 1950’s quiz show scandal involving academic Charles Van Doren and the Q&A show, “21”, now running at The Gift Theatre, directed with mastery by artistic director, Michael Patrick Thornton.

The vast majority of the American population can hardly fathom an existence without television. As this number increases, the debate on the social implications of television withers, being replaced by greater evils of technology. Nevertheless, this tale of America’s tested faith in television, and The Gift’s production, succeeds in reveling in nostalgia whilst finding immediacy, resonance and heart in its characters and their flaws.

Lindsey Barlag (foreground) and Erika Schmidt in Gift Theatre's 'Night and Her Stars' by Richard Greenberg.As Greenberg himself notes, this play “must not be mistaken for history.” It is in this vain that the Gift takes us back to a skewed cold war era consumer driven television world of the 1950’s. Set designer Adam Veness does a remarkable job of transforming the tinderbox storefront space into a gaudy haunting replica of the notorious game show, “Twenty One”, complete with an “Applause” lighted sign and a four-sided blue glowing orb of a television set.

The first act primarily follows the rise and fall of the knowledgeable Jewish contestant Herb Stempel (played by Raymond Shoemaker with pitch perfect desperation, optimism and hamartia). Stempel is discovered by game show producer Dan Enright (Danny Ahlfeld) after being pressured by sponsors and execs to bring brighter contestants onto the show to avoid dead silence and stammering. Ed Flynn gives an entertaining supporting performance as the Geritol sponsor pleading with Enright, “I have to appeal to geriatrics.” These demands lead to Enright feeding answers to an initially hesitant Stempel resulting in his reigning championship run.

Stempel’s ethnicity and lack of on-camera charisma aren’t quite what the show’s audience is looking for, as Keith Neagle delivers the powerfully cringing line, “I hate him like rabies!” In one of the highlights of the play, Shoemaker is brilliant as Stempel pleading for any other question than the one he is given to go down on during his fall. As Stempel begins to reveal the truth to the press, Enright plays it off as “Jewish self-hatred.”

Along comes the more “all-American” contestant Charles Van Doren (Jay Worthington) who descends from a long line of famed academics. Van Doren is fed answers to replace Stempel on the show. Worthington gives a complex and exciting performance. As Charlie, he conveys a man who is given everything at once, yet happiness eludes him.

Charlie Van Doren’ can be considered a symbol of television stardom, be it quiz shows or reality shows. He embodies short lived fame and a lack of touch with the real world. Contrasting another Charlie amidst a modern day TV scandal, Van Doren finally exclaims, “I don’t want to win anymore.” Van Doren’s confession is staged effectively by Thornton with a chorus of the Christian congress instantly forgiving his sins.

Branimira Ivanova’s costumes are scrumptious, with many raided directly from the “Mad Men” wardrobe department, giving us glimpses into a range of rising movements in the late 50’s during the American Chorus’ interludes. The pinstriped suit and polka-dotted tie Enright gives to Stempel for his television debut is a sure laugh each night. Lighting designer Scott Pillsbury creates impressive effects and moods with the small space including an emotional lighting storm and perfectly placed moments in which the audience becomes lit. Miles Polaski’s sound design balances nicely between the atmospheric and the expressive spectrums.

     
Keith Neagle, Aemilia Scott and Jay Worthington in Gift Theatre's 'Night and Her Stars' by Richard Greenberg. Aemilia Scott and Ray Shoemaker in Gift Theatre's 'Night and Her Stars', wirtten by Richard Greenberg.

While Shoemaker and Worthington carry the show, it is ultimately an ensemble production. Joe Mack may be the most perfect casting in his turn as the oblivious game show host Jack Berry. Thornton utilizes Greenberg’s American Chorus expertly, as these fine actors come into the light to play pivotal roles only to disappear into an ever watching amoeba. Katie Genualdi is charming and smart in her various appearances, especially at the top of the second act in an ad for cornflakes infused with caffeine. Erika Schmidt has a calm intensity as a reporter who finally brings Van Doren to the truth. Established Chicago actor Paul D’Addario, as the exec Al Freedman, is as powerful of a presence silent as he is during dialogue. Aemilia Scott, as Stempel’s wife, is fascinating in struggling with her doubts for her husband. Ahlfeld’s Enright occasionally has some pacing and timing issues that may get tighter during the run.

While Greenberg’s telling of this cautionary tale may not land quite as powerfully as a decade or two ago, it still stands the test of time as an historical account that has grown into legend. The heart and humanity of this play lies with a character I’ve yet to mention played with wonder and honesty by veteran actor Richard Henzel. Perhaps, do yourself a favor and save the reading of the program until after the show and be surprised by the final scene in which we finally see Van Doren in his natural setting.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Jay Worthington and Richard Henzel in Gift Theatre's 'Night and Her Stars' by Richard Greenberg.

Night and Her Stars continues at The Gift Theatre through April 24th, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm with Sunday matinees at 2:30. (no shows April 16 and 17). Running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $25 (Sundays) and $30 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Industry and senior prices: $20 (Sundays only). For more info visit  thegifttheatre.org.

     
     

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REVIEW: Mid-life! The Crisis Musical (Metropolis Arts Centre)

Still in need of some ‘crisis’ management

 

Productions - Mid Life - 6

  
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
  
Mid-life! The Crisis Musical
 
By Bob Walton and Jim Walton
Directed by Robin M. Hughes
at MPAC, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights (map)
Through June 19 | Tickets: $35-$43 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Hot flashes, varicose veins, dimming vision, escaping memories, philandering husbands … these are the subjects of Mid-life! The Crisis Musical, currently at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The opening number offers a laundry list of the pains of the 40s and 50s … and the rest of this overlong show, like middle age itself, goes downhill from there.

Productions - Mid Life - 2 Less a musical than a revue, the show quickly becomes repetitive, with the litany of the first song expanded in a series of thematic songs and skits. The humor expends itself rapidly — these are all jokes we’ve heard before. (And much of the opening-day audience at Metropolis not only lived through them but also at least a decade or two beyond.)

The funniest number, "What Did I Come In Here For?" comically details the problems of short-term memory loss. A mid-life translator interprets the frustrations of aging husbands ("I want to sleep with other women") to their weepy, menopausal wives and vice versa. "He Got What He Deserves" (a low-budget version of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago) suggests that two-timing, middle-aged lotharios get their just rewards, a sadly untrue contention.

Some of the bits are just plain dumb, like one about a singing mammogram. "The Long Goodbye," a song about the difficulties of caring for elderly parents in senile dementia had the potential to be poignant, but the writers went for cheap laughs instead.

The cast, portraying six nameless middle-aged characters, carries through well, with good timing and fine moves, yet they can’t add much to such lightweight material. Dennis Brown‘s cockney accent seemed a bit distracting, though, and the women — Kate Brown, Elizabeth Haley and Katie Miller — all appear too young for the roles they’re supposed to be playing. Costume Designer Cathy Tantillo apparently tried to address this by putting them in frumpy knee-length khaki skirts with unattractive hem-line borders and maroon tops that emphasize bulges.

Scott Alan Emerick, 41, looks a bit on the youthful side, too, especially in a "Weekend Warriers" skit that portrays him as being the same age as the older men. Haley and David Elliott bring notable voices to their performances, but the music – peppy and uncomplicated – doesn’t give them much scope. (Hear samples on the website.)

Productions - Mid Life - 5 Robin M. Hughes uses a rear-stage video screen to introduce each number in a singularly uncreative use of high tech. The videos, mostly ugly, do nothing that wouldn’t have been more effective in live sequences … even an actor just carrying a sign across the stage.

Michael Gehmlich and Adam Veness have constructed an interesting multilevel staircase set, with two proscenium arches studded with 156 lights. It’s a pity that Christie Kerr’s uninspired choreography doesn’t make better use of it.

Getting old may be no joke, but Mid-life! The Crisis Musical won’t do much to lift your spirits.

   
   
Rating: ★★
  
  

Productions - Mid Life - 4

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REVIEW: Out of Order (Metropolis Performing Arts Centre)

Sidesplitting performance worth a trip to the ’burbs

OutOfOrder2 

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Arlington Heights, presents

Out of Order

 

By Ray Cooney
Directed by David Belew
Through Feb. 19 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

I don’t know who the first public official to be caught with his pants down was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened before men even wore pants. No doubt, soon afterward, the event featured in a raft of dirty jokes. Like philandering politicians, low humor remains always with us, and sometimes even the highest minded of us can’t help laughing.

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s "Out of Order" is the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.

OutOfOrder4 Ray Cooney‘s routine bedroom-comedy plot promises much less than this production delivers. With his wife off in the country, suave Richard Willey, a Conservative junior minister in the British government, takes advantage of an all-night parliamentary debate to spend a naughty evening with Jane Worthington, a secretary on the staff of the opposition leader. Instead, they find a dead body in their hotel suite, and Willey calls on his ingenuity and his hapless parliamentary private secretary, George Pigden, to avoid a political scandal.

With the hotel’s supercilious manager, a venal waiter, Jane’s suspicious husband, a private detective and other characters all banging in and out through the suite’s door and malfunctioning window, that’s not so easy, and the fast-talking Willey and George are pulled into an ever more elaborate set of lies and camouflages. Cooney manages to be funny without becoming lewd, which, given the premise, is quite an accomplishment, but he doesn’t stretch the boundaries of this genre.

In fact, this farce has a strong similarity to other bedroom comedies by Cooney, who is best known for "Run for Your Wife" — some of the same characters even appear in ”Two Into One.” Yet, as with the comic but repetitious plots of Thorne Smith or P.G. Wodehouse, that’s a small matter if you don’t encounter them too close together. The script provides only a modicum of the humor, anyway.

OutOfOrder6 OutOfOrder1
OutOfOrder3 OutOfOrder5

The huge hilarity of this production lies in the comic brilliance of the cast, in particular Michael B. Woods as the nebbishy George. At every turn of the plot, Woods expresses George’s appalled horror in each movement of his lanky frame and elastic, Munchlike face. The deft interplay between Woods and Andrew J. Pond’s glib, dry Willey is sidesplitting. As the tortuous plot twists its it way through abruptly disappearing corpses and unexpectedly appearing spouses, Woods just keeps getting better and better.

Sarah Tolan-Mee’s naively sexy Jane, Joe Messina‘s blustering manager and Chuck Sisson’s slow but opportunistic waiter also add notably to the impeccably timed humor. Patrick Tierney chews the scenery a bit as the rampaging Ronnie, but otherwise the cast, also featuring Amy Gorelow, Kevin Kurasch, Lisa Savegnago and Elizabeth Haley (who stood in for Nancy Kolton on opening night), never puts a foot wrong. Adam Veness’ posh hotel suite set, which includes such details as a working flat-screen TV, provides an ideal backdrop for Director David Belew’s dexterous staging.

Don’t miss this one — it’s absolutely worth a trip to the suburbs.

Rating: ★★★★

Notes: Adult themes and language. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is two blocks from the Arlington Heights Metra station and free parking is available in the municipal garage behind the theater.