Review: Baby Wants Candy (Apollo Theater Chicago)

  
  

Celebrating 14th year in Chicago, “Baby” wants a little more finesse

  
  

Nathan Jansen, Brendan Dowling, Erica Elam, Nick Semar, Christy Bonstell, Zach Thompson, Ben McFadden, Chris Ditton, Kevin Florain, Sam Super - Baby Wants Candy - Apollo Theatre Chicago - Photo: Joanna Feldman.

  
Apollo Theater presents
   
Baby Wants Candy
   
Developed by Peter Gwinn, Al Samuels,
Stuart Ranson, Bob Kulhan and Don Bardwell
Written weekly by ‘Baby’ cast
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Open Run  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Oh, to have witnessed Baby Wants Candy at its Chicago inception 14 years ago – first performing at iO Theatre before, later, moving to the present Apollo mainstage. The brain-child of Peter Gwinn, Al Samuels, Stuart Ranson, Bob Kulhan and Don Bardwell, Baby Wants Candy’s central premise is this: the troupe improvises a new musical every performance, created from a title shouted out from the audience. The tactic had its formulas, but each evening the actors spontaneously crafted and performed a new one-hour long musical, never to be seen again. Previously performed musicals include: Peace Corps: the Musical, The Day the Gingers Ruled the World: the Musical, David Hasselhoff’s Secret Children: the Musical, and The Department of Redundancy Department: the Musical.

Zach Thompson, Erica Elam, Christy Bonstell, Brendan Dowling, Sam Super, Kevin Florian, Ben McFadden, Chris Ditton, Nick Semar, Nathan Jansen - 'Baby Wants Candy'  - Photo credit: Joanna Feldman.On the evening I attended, one audience member beat everyone else to the punch by throwing out The Confessions of a Teenage Rahm Emmanuel. How something that biographical would have been handled by Baby’s original member Peter Gwinn is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, the new cast seemed to be just finding their feet with Baby Wants Candy’s drill. They seemed constrained and hesitant. They pulled back from a full out rift on Emmanuel. The team fell back on teenage high school formulas and played it fairly safe with Emmanuel’s life story. Although they generated a few laughs in spoken scenes, they floundered on producing consistently distinctive or funny musical lyrics. Relax, guys, he’s not mayor yet and, besides, making up random and absurd shit about Rahm, of all people, is the essence of improv.

There were a few bright moments, though they largely centered on the teenage Rahm’s balls. Rahm’s dream of going from high school loser to prom king felt fairly predictable, yet it yielded a bit of fun in his algebra teacher’s encouragement to join ballet–“Ballet Will Give You Balls” being the one successful tune of the evening. From then on, the jokes were pretty much about Rahm’s balls. Rahm’s balls rule the school hallways. Rahm’s balls hijacked a car once. Rahm’s rival, Troy, attempts to cut off Rahm’s balls at high school prom but only manages to get his finger. Seldom did the cast attempt to venture out from the safety of ball jokes—like one student claiming baby wants candy logohis dad was a moon-ologist or the momentary inspiration of having Christopher Walken host Rahm’s prom.

Baby Wants Candy has made it big in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and with its international touring company in Singapore and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Perhaps last weekend was just a little off with a new team. Then again, perhaps the franchise is showing quality control problems. Formulas may be necessary but an improv troupe has to have enough security with them so that it can take off to new horizons. For all the team’s struggles last weekend, the band held tight and ready under Ben McFadden’s direction. That remains the strongest element of performance—let’s hope it carries right on through to the rest of the cast every evening.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
      
     

Baby Wants Candy performs Fridays at 10:30pm on the Mainstage at the Apollo Theater, 2540 North Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $15.  Student discounts are available with a valid student ID the day of the show only.  For tickets, call the Apollo Theater box office at 773-935-6100, Ticketmaster at 312-559-1212 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.  More info at BWC website.

  
  

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Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Emerald City)

     
     

Sanitized Wonka underestimates child’s intellect

     
     

Willie Wonka in Emerald City's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the Apollo Theatre Chicago

  
Emerald City Theatre presents
  
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  
Written by Richard R. George
From fantasy by
Roald Dahl
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I get it. This is children’s theater, and for the 3-and-up group at that. However, the Emerald City adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems derived from much more recent sources such as ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘The Jersey Shore’. The timeless story from Roald Dahl has held the imaginations of a few generations. It’s about adventure and getting past the bad times with the help of family values. Dahl’s fantasy has a grim undertone that has now been given the cleaned up Grimm treatment.

Violet and Willy Wonka in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Emerald City Theatre Chicago.Some blame Walt Disney, but at least his Big Bad Wolf had dripping fangs. This “Charlie” felt like it was put together without much creativity. Let’s start with the characterizations.

Willy Wonka is portrayed as a Rip Taylor rip-off. (Google him) This Wonka didn’t throw confetti but his manic mugging and preening doesn’t get the overwhelmingly under-five crowd revved up at all. (Perhaps he should have run through the audience like Taylor, throwing confetti or copped the punk wig style.) The character of Willy Wonka is more mysterious and even sinister when played by either Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp. Some may say ‘don’t frighten the children’ – but we all survived the green-faced evil queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”.

The character of Augustus Gloop becomes a derivative of the SNL Schwarzennegger spoof called ‘Hans and Franz’. The tots didn’t get it and the parents were too busy trying to get them to watch this drivel to connect with the joke either. Veruca Salt is a cell phone-toting brat with a dog in her purse. Calling Paris Hilton! The Character of Mike Teavee is portrayed as an insolent youth obsessed with video games. It was more ripped from the headlines of spree crimes than an updated portrayal. Violet B. is a weird incarnation of the insufferable ‘Snooki’ zeitgeist from reality television.

As a parent and an aunt I was disappointed in the adaptation. This has either the aroma of someone who says, “I don’t watch television” or it’s just lazy writing. I include in the lazy category the sets and the Oompa Loompas. They were portrayed by finger puppets on a stick and then hinge jawed Muppet look-alikes (fyi: the hinge-jawed things were the most inspired part of this show.)

I have seen better at Emerald City with the productions of Pinkalicious (our review ★★★½) and Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! (review ★★½). These shows used the well-known tagline ‘Discover a World of Pure Imagination’, but the creative team didn’t really put much of that slogan into this show.

I suspect that children are smarter and more imaginative than this. Generations have survived fairy tales from Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson without lingering damage. This antiseptic approach to a similarly dark fantasy is doing a disservice to the tot set. I graduated from the illustration heavy tot books when my mom took me to see “Peter Pan” some 47 years ago. An imaginative production at a children’s theater made me want to read more or have it read to me and, yes, it tweaked my imagination.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Charlie's father, Willie Wonka and Charlie in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at Emerald City Theatre Chicago.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory runs about one hour without intermission. The show run is through August 15th of 2011. Go to www.emeraldcitytheatre.com for times and dates. With the long run, EC might make some improvements (or at least build some more Oompa Loompas). In the meantime, I suggest reading the Roald Dahl book (even abridged and illustration heavy!) to your children first and then ask what they have to say.

  
  

REVIEW: Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying (Apollo)

Lovely lies, perfectly preserved

 

A Civil War era America gets amusingly preserved in 'Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying!'

Apollo Theatre presents
  
Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying!
 
Written by Joe Anderson and Demian Krentz
Directed by
Amanda Blake Davis
at
Apollo Theatre Studio, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through July 31st  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Not your usual blast from the past, this delicious, daffy and demented spoof of an imaginary Victorian-era correspondence between two strategically separated brothers amounts to a kind of sit-down comedy. It’s two hours of perfect parody as Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I’m Dying! exactly apes the ornate letter-writing style of a A Civil War era America gets amusingly preserved in 'Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying!'century and a half ago. And it works equally well as a delightful exercise in deadpan absurdity. Silly and funny are far from mutually exclusive: The proof is this archly phony recitation of manufactured adventures.

Over the last decade comedians Joe Anderson and Demian Krentz have merrily concocted a series of letters exchanged between the hypothetical Binjimmons brothers, Chauncy and Adam, pontificating blowhards and gasbags with style to  spare. It’s here debuted as a major historical reclamation, here performed–as a breathless curator (Karen S. Chapman) describes–for the first time in chronological order from 1864 to 1871. Adding to the artificial authenticity is a musical backdrop by fiddler Kevin Madderson and a series of cleverly appropriated 19th century photographs and drawings depicting the brothers in love and war.

In the course of correspondence the brothers emerge as a kind of 19th century Beavis and Butthead. Without quite realizing the awful secrets they reveal, the letters recount Chauncy’s cowardice as a Confederate soldier, his desperate trek to the still wild West where he weds a whore who he thought was a nurse because “the hospital shared the same wall as a bordello,” and has his incredibly faithful dog stolen by a band of fur traders. Chauncy goes on to destroy scores of trees in order to create a Barnum-like entertainment complex. He slaughters buffalos to satisfy his need for sandwiches. He remains recklessly clueless of the carnage he commits wherever he wanders.

Meanwhile, ensconced in their family home in Virginia, brother Adam manages to sire a big-headed baby who’s captured by Indians, loses track of his randy father (a closet Mormon) and his deranged mother, who manages to terrorize a town before disappearing into the wilderness. When Chauncy is kidnapped by a crew of fur-loving partisans who despise him for leveling their forest, he’s rescued by his brother and a posse of courageous courtesans. It’s so crazy you almost think it just might be true…

 

Demian Krentz as Adam Binjimmons in Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying Joe Anderson as Chauncy Binjimmons in Shoot Faster, Dear Brother, I'm Dying

Complicating matters is the fact that five years of letters appear to be missing, only to be found just in time to fill in assorted gaps during the second act.

The remarkable feat–worthy of Mark Twain and other tall-tale tellers–is how well the author-performers capture the baroquely ornamental flavor of the era. With breathless zeal and unflappable seriousness, they deliver their hilariously flowery prose, festooned with overwrought aphorisms mingling with anecdotes of casual cruelty. Chauncy, a pathological liar when he’s not a self-pitying hypocrite, can mention the approach of a little boy, only to correct himself a moment later by saying it was actually a large man who was further off. The Binjimmons will never use four words when ten will do even better. The result is an embarrassment of riches which occasionally is just an embarrassment.

A closer recreation of 19th century humorists can’t be imagined nor should it. Or as the theater charmingly puts it, “Chicago theatergoers who have long clamored for an epistolary comedy about the Civil War, featuring a live fiddle players and photos of old things, will finally be able to check their item off their collective bucket lists.” Indeed.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

 

shoot-faster-dear-brother

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Emerald City offers an encore run of “If You Take A Mouse To School”

Emerald City Theatre Presents
An Encore Presentation of

Mouse show image

August 6 – September 27

Emerald City Theatre is celebrating the "Back to School" season with an encore presentation of If You Take a Mouse to School, last season’s wildly popular world premiere adaptation based on Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond‘s national bestseller.

INFO: Performing August 6 – September 27 at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Avenue, this play is best suited for families with children ages 3 to 6.
Tickets are $15 (adults), and $12 (kids). For tickets and further information, call the Apollo Theater box office at (773) 935-6100 or visit emeraldcitytheatre.com.

SneezeSYNOPSIS: In a rollicking romp, Numeroff and Bond send the energetic, exuberant star of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Take a Mouse to the Movies (and his boy sidekick) into the classroom. Once at school, the mercurial mouse happily bounds from one activity to the next: he spells "a word or two" on the blackboard, conducts a science experiment, builds "a little mouse house" out of blocks, and fashions furniture for it with clay. Realizing he needs something on his new bookshelf, the ambitious critter collects paper and pencils and creates his own book, which he then wants to take home, in "your" lunch box. As animated as the whiskered student it depicts, Bond’s art lives up to expectation, featuring her customary crisp colors and kid-pleasing details. Its school setting, tried-and-true tone and popular protagonist mark this title as a winner."

PERSONNEL: If You Take a Mouse to School is directed by Ernie Nolan (Associate Artistic Director). Cast members include Matt Olson (Boy), Joe Goldammer (Mouse), and Sam Nicodemus (Various Women). Designers are Katie Schweiger (Scenic), Nathan Rohrer (Costumes), Patrick King (Lighting), Joe Court (Sound), Tara Morton (Puppets/Props), Joshua Lansing (Technical Director) and Scott Deter (Stage Manager).