REVIEW: The Wind in the Willows (City Lit Theater)

 
 

Another triumph in Toad Hall

 
 

Wind in the Willows - City Lit Theater

  
City Lit Theater presents
   
  
The Wind in the Willows
  
Written by Kenneth Grahame
Adapted and Composed by
Douglas Post
Directed by
Terry McCabe
at
City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Jan 9  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

You can never weary of a good old friend. This is the latest of many times that The Wind in the WillowsDouglas Post‘s delightful musical play based on Kenneth Grahame’s beloved animal fantasy – has trod the boards (its first, 1983 version was called “Toad of Toad Hall”). City Lit’s last revival was only last year.

With each mounting, it’s increasingly obvious how faithful Post’s supple score and rollicking "story theater" script remain to the strengths of Grahame’s beloved tale, particularly the author’s delight in the English countryside and its evergreen changes of season. The animals are perfect British stereotypes, especially Toad’s upper-class twit, as is the class consciousness that pits the underclass of the Wild Wood (weasels, stoats, and ferrets) against the more civilized creatures of the riverbank and underground.

The story, you might recall, concerns the much tested friendship of the plucky Water Rat, gentle Mole, and gruff Badger for Grahame’s most whimsical creation, the self-inflated Mr. Toad (a very spoiled animal who grew up scarcely changed). A creature of unbridled appetite and nettled by a boundless ego, Toad is always hot after some new obsession, particularly motorcars, which he loves to steal and wreck. His loyal if frustrated friends break their brains trying to save him from himself, even when it means an intervention right out of A&E. They must rescue his elegant Toad Hall from the weasels, stoats, and ferrets who infest it when Toadie is incarcerated. Only after his friends’ concerted effort does Mr. Toad learn some late humility. (But how long until the next obsession?)

Ranging from honest Sondheim ”homage” (the Wildwooders’ "Down with the Toad") to the tenderness of the "My Home" ballad sung by a homesick Rat and Mole, Post’s score (nicely sung against a recorded accompaniment) supports its story splendidly. Terry McCabe

 serves it equally well as director of a revival that spins its tale with inexhaustible grace and charm (though the scene containing the mystical "Song of the Piper," however rich with Grahame’s love of nature, doesn’t fit the story). But the lovely “Christmas Carol, sung by the field mice, hedgehogs, mole, rat and otter, is a perfect holiday touch.

Alan Donahue’s set is redolent of giant cattails sewn together with patches of an earth-colored quilt, and with the British accents accurately in place, Post’s recipe loses none of its flavor. Tom Weber delivers sturdy work as the water-loving Rat who’s plucky, resourceful and the ultimate friend in need. An enchanting portrayal, Catherine Gillespie‘s Mole is full of wonderment at the great world above ground. Though lacking the critter’s usual Scottish accent, Edward Kuffert‘s Badger well conveys the elder animal’s irascible dignity, tough love and no-nonsense common sense, and Sean Knight is a funny and spirited duffer as good old Otter.

But the ongoing pleasure remains Mr. Toad, and in this revival Ed Rutherford , his rubber face conveying all the devious intensity of this paragon of pomposity, has made the role all his own. Children love his hammy selfishness and adults will see in Toad no small amount of human

”déjà vu”. Mr. Toad is forever.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Citi-Lit Theater logo

Production Artists

 

Ensemble

Kate Andrulis, Sarah Bright, Jessica Lauren Fisher, Catherine Gillespie, Sean Knight, Edward Kuffert, Aaron Lawson, Brian LeTraunik, Lauren Noelle Morgan, Shawn Quinlan, Lauren Romano, Ed Rutherford, and Tom Weber

Wild In The Willows logoProduction Team

The musical arrangements are by Kevin O’Donnell with additional vocal arrangements by Andra Veils Simon, musical direction by Nick Sula, and choreography by Andrew Waters

The designers are Matthew Cummings (props), Alan Donahue (set), Sarah Hughey (lighting), and Ricky Lurie (costumes).

REVIEW: BOOJUM! (Caffeine Theatre-Chi Opera Vanguard)

     
    

Is it group therapy or a lobotomy? Both!!

      
     

 

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Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard present
   
BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll
   
Books/Lyrics/Music by Martin Wesley-Smith & Peter Wesley-Smith
Directed by Jimmy McDermott
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Drawing from the creative genius of “Alice in Wonderland”, it’s a nonsensical operetta that is all in his head. Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard, in conjunction with DCA Storefront Theater, present BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll, written by the Brothers Wesley-Smith. Reverend Charles Dodgson battles his Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_02pseudonym over the origins of his most famous literary masterpiece. The reserved Charles and the flamboyant Lewis deconstruct their lookingglass fame. Who better to help in the rediscovery process than Alice? Both of them! The child and adult version of Carroll’s inspiration challenge him on the intense connection and de-connection of their relationship. As Charles sorts out his Alice issues, his imagination unleashes the makings for his farcical poem, “The Hunting of the Snark”. Quirky characters fill Charles’ head with a jumble of demands for attention. BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll is a stay-cation to a world of the unexpected. What a head-trip!

Before the show even starts, the visual is intriguing. Projected Carroll Lewis-isms are visible on sheet-like curtains (projections by Justin Meredith). The imagery spectacle continues with the introduction of characters clad in eccentric combinations of attire. Costume designer, Philip Dawkins aids in the storytelling with distinct looks to individualize the crazy muddle. Pearls, goggles, hats, the whimsical detail is a fabulous “What-Not-to- Wear”on-a-snark-hunt-fashion show. The talented ensemble wears crazy-on- their-sleeve tailored to perfection. The first act is high-energy high-jinx as the cluster of oddballs prepare for a snark hunt.

The loonies are flawlessly synchronized in movement for a collective punchline. Individually, they sing their backstory with amusing zest and powerful vocals. Some of the more memorable whacko performances: drunken dolt Sara Sevigny (butcher), stripped down double-the-pleasure Kevin Bishop (billiard maker) and Stephen Rader (banker), and a twisted dark comedic Jeremy Trager (Lewis).

 

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BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll drops you down a hole. It’s up to the audience to piece together the puzzle without the aid of a clear picture. From the title, you know it’s a humorous take on an author notorious for a hallucinatory imagination. The first act is frolicking on speed. Because the material is unfamiliar, and without the aid of projected operatic titles, the jokes are realized a few moments after they are sung. Despite Director Jimmy McDermott‘s masterful staging, some of the laughter is unrealized. The second act gets serious real fast and sidelines the funnier elements to focus on the Charles-Alice relationship. Although a fascinating exposé on a children’s author, the seedy realization is an uncomfortable portrayal, like Johnny Depp in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Finding Neverland” or “Alice in Wonderland”. What’s really going on between this adult and these kids?

BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll is all about looking at two sides of the same thing: Dodgson/Carroll, Past/Present, Reality/Fantasy. Following this splitting trend, I’ll break it into two too. The first act, Boojum: Nonsense is a schizophrenic’s group therapy session. The second act, Boojum: Truth is more like a lobotomy.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

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BOOJUM! runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm, thru December 19th. Intended for ages 12 and up.  Contains mature themes. 

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

 

Production Staff
    
Director: Jimmy McDermott
Musical Directors: Andra Velis Simon & Myron Silberstein
Dramaturg: Daniel Smith
Musical Dramaturg: Eric Reda
Choreographer: Natalja Aicardi
Costume Design: Philip Dawkins
Lighting Designer: Casey Diers
Scenic Designer: Narianna Csaszar
Projection Designer: Justin Meredith
Technical Director: Jason Beck, Dan Cox
 

Ensemble

   
Alex Balestrieri
Kevin Bishop
Marielle de Rocca-Serra
Laura Deger
Kevin Grubb
Stephen Rader
Michael Reyes
Sara Sevigny
Heather Townsend
Jeremy Trager
   
   

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3 Words: To my left and a definite voice in my head, James describes the show with ‘a theatrix flambel.’