REVIEW: Peter Pan (Emerald City Theatre)

Tinkerbell’s pixie-dust works its magic on rollicking production

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Emerald City Theatre presents:

Peter Pan

Based on the character created by J.M. Barrie
Book and lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli
Music by Steve Goers
Directed by Matthew Gunnels
Thru July 22nd at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (more info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Disney, Depp, Dustin, Duncan, the legend of Peter Pan has been retold and reimagined on stage and screen for over a century. This time its Emerald City Theatre’s adaptation as they present the world premiere of Peter Pan. Based on the character created by J.M. Barrie, Emerald City has created an energetic and colorful musical of the infamous boy who didn’t want to grow up. This version focuses on Wendy’s rite of passage. Mr. and Mrs. Darling want Wendy to move out of her childhood nursery and put on a big girl’s dress. Wendy wants to play! Cue the Pan. Peter arrives to whisk her away. He takes her to Neverland, a magical island where lost boys, pirates, Indians and a crocodile duel it out daily in the ultimate never ending game. Emerald City’s Peter Pan is a fun family pleaser with comedy and sentimentality that reaches the child in all of us.

In my Peter Pan encounters, I’ve never rooted for the pirates. Until now! Aside from trying to stab and poison people, Captain Hook (Michael Kingston) and Smee (Zev Steinberg ) are likable guys. Steve Goer‘s “Pirates with a Plan” song is a standout number with Kingston and Steinberg’s comedic antics. In particular, Steinberg is acrobatic in his movement throughout the play. His fight with Jamila Turner (Tiger Lilly) has a thrilling physicality. And Turner shifts gears perfectly in her dual roles as a strong, independent princess warrior and the empathetic maternal Mrs. Darling. Michael Rieman (Tootles) and Caleb Probst (Slightly) are hilarious as the lost boys and later in drag as the mermaids. Allison Lind (Wendy) is wonderful playing a girl playing a mother in a pretend world. With a permanent angelic smile, Ryotaro Shigeta (Peter) exudes a youthful arrogance and sense of fun. He is definitely “The Pan.”

Sprinkling the pixie dust on his talented ensemble, Matthew Gunnels directs a briskly paced sixty minute adventure. The choreography (Ernie Nolan ) is bursts of activity in the lively chases and fighting. The costumes (Branimira Ivanova ) are childlike fun. Peter and the lost boys wear lively patchwork outfits that fit a child’s imaginative style; the mermaids are in vibrant wigs and tails swimming on rollers. This Peter Pan production is all about special touches that add to its entertainment value. Special props to the prop master (Jenny Pinson). Hook has multiple versions of his prosthetic hand, including a toothbrush. One of my favorite moments is the glasses, umbrella and teddy bear used in the very satisfying ending. It was a nod out to the Disney version of “Peter Pan” which made me a little misty for my own childhood bedroom. Emerald City’s Peter Pan magically transports you back to Neverland. Whether it’s for the first-time or a return visit, the voyage is a fun trip!

Rating: ★★★½

Running time: Sixty minutes with no intermission. Parking lot available for earlier arrivals. This play is suitable for families with children ages 3 to 12 years .

EXTRA CREDIT:

REVIEW: Dreamgirls (Broadway in Chicago)

Talented Cast Shimmers and Shines

 

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Broadway in Chicago presents:

 

Dreamgirls

 

Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by
Henry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by
Robert Longbottom
thru January 31st (ticket info)

By Keith Ecker 

dreamgirls4 If there is one thing the stage production of Dreamgirls will always have over the film, it is the sequins. Video cannot convey the absolute beauty of the costumes that adorn the actresses, costumes that appear just as glittery as Bob Mackie’s most flamboyant creations. William Ivey Long gets a hat tip for costume design, which comes as no surprise considering the man is a veteran of Broadway. He’s won five of the 11 Tony nominations he’s received and is an inductee in the Theatre Hall of Fame, a hall that I am sure is just as glamorous as Long’s aesthetic sensibility.

Of course, Dreamgirls is more than just elegant gowns and flared pants—it’s about the singing. And this show, produced by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, definitely delivers. These actors can wail. From guttural growls that convey the rawest of emotions to controlled, sustained tones that capture the world-weariness of the characters, the Dreamgirls cast sports an impressive set of pipes.

The play is a fictional tale based on the true tribulations of such early R&B acts as the Supremes. At the opening, three female singers from Chicago, known as the Dreamettes, hope to get their big break at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. Effie (Moya Angela) is the full-figured lead with an Aretha Franklin-like strength to her voice. Her friends Deena (Syesha Mercado) and Lorrell (Adrienne Warren) serve as her back up. Effie’s brother C.C. (Trevon Davis) writes all their music. The group doesn’t make the cut at the Apollo, but thanks to their newfound manager, Curtis (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), they get a 10-week touring gig backing up-and-comer Jimmy Early (Chester Gregory). Effie doesn’t take well to the idea of being second banana, but she goes along for the good of the group.

Curtis eventually spins the Dreamettes off into their own act, now known as the “Dreams”. Despite having a romantic relationship with Effie, he bumps her from lead for the more camera-friendly Deena, who Curtis then begins courting. Becoming increasingly agitated and unpredictable, Effie is replaced, leading to the musical’s famous torch song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

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The Dreams wrestle with fame, Curtis continues his greed-induced destructive path and Effie must find herself after being forced to realize she is not the center of the universe. And did I mention the sequins?

Angela as Effie is brilliant. Her rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” is a showstopper. As she staggers, sways and belts out the tune during the complete and utter breakdown of Effie’s ego, your gut is as wrenched as your ears are pleasured.

Equally impressive is Gregory’s portrayal of Jimmy Early. The role is incredibly demanding, requiring superb vocal control, an impeccable sense of soul, physical endurance and strength and precise comedic timing. Gregory nails it, juggling all these attributes at once. A perfect example of this display of multi-talent takes place during the number “The Rap,” where Jimmy throws off all restraints and reclaims his sense of soul. For those unfamiliar with the play, I’d rather not spoil the scene, but I will say there’s ample dipping.

The set design is minimal, providing an open space for lots of jumping, jiving and sashaying. Most of the set is composed of five very tall video screens, which are used to full effect. At one point, a camera cleverly positioned above the stage displays a Busby Berkeley-style chorus number as if the performers were a cluster of synchronized swimmers.

There were a few sound issues. During the first act, mics were set too low and sometimes cut out. There was also a technical gaff during the reprise of “Cadillac Car.” But such issues aren’t likely to recur.

Beautiful both visually and aurally, Broadway in Chicago’s production of Dreamgirls is sure to please both the casual theatergoer and the diehard musical fanatic.

Rating: ★★★★

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REVIEW: The True Story of the 3 Pigs (Emerald City Theatre)

Hamming it up for the over 5 set!

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Emerald City Theatre presents:

The True Story of the Three Pigs

By Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Adapted by Alyn Cardarelli
Directed by Ernie Nolan
Thru March 25th (ticket info)

By Katy Walsh

Joe Goldammer (little pig) with Ruby Aufmann The media investigates a double ham-icide. Emerald City Theatre presents The True Story of the Three Pigs. The play starts where the three pigs fairytale ends. Two pigs are dead. The wolf is in jail. Random Adjective, a reporter, has been assigned to examine the evidence. The audience is invited to accompany her as greenhorn reporters. Her investigation leads to interviews with the surviving pig, Red Riding Hood, and the wolf. The True Story of the Three Pigs is an interactive play that teaches children that there are many sides to a story and to always cover your mouth when you sneeze.

Joe Goldammer uses distinctive voices to play multiple roles: a high pitch squeak for the surviving pig, garble growls for nana wolf, and portrays Red Riding Hood as a German research expert on wolves. Although entertaining for adults, Goldammer’s best comedic moments may be lost on the little ones. Samantha Nicodemus plays Random Adjective as a fast talking reporter from the 1940’s. Nicodemus does a great job of keeping the kids connected to what’s happening by reviewing the evidence after each interview. Matt Olson is the Big Bad Wolf or Alexander T. Wolf. In two of the crime reenactments, Olson is the stereotyped Big Bad Wolf. However, when Alexander T. Wolf gets to tell his version of the story, he is a vulnerable, misunderstood wolf with allergies. Ernie Nolan  directs the action and keeps the cast animated with exaggerated gestures to elicit giggles.

pigs2It’s obvious upon entering the Apollo Theatre that Emerald City Theatre loves kids! They keep the 60-minute show interactive. Kids volunteer to come up on stage to verify huff puff results or model reporter moxie. After each interview, the audience members (i.e., greenhorn reporters) are invited to ask questions and assess the 5 W’s and 1 H (who, what, when, where, why and how). The repetitive nature of the reenactments help the younger audience members follow the story. Emerald City also adds to the children’s theatrical experience by providing coordinating gifts and games, pre-show pig-snout-making activity and post-show autographs with the cast. The kids even decide one of three endings. Applause determines what the newspaper headline will be. (for the opening performance the greenhorn reporters voted that the wolf was actually innocent)

The show promotes its target audience as 3-8 years old. Observing the children in the audience, a 5 years-or-over rating seems more realistic. Newspaper reporter, ham on a platter, German scientist – the story has some complicated elements to follow. Although the cast has colorful costumes (Ernie Nolan), the minimal scenery isn’t visually exciting. Unable to follow the story and without colorful stimulation, the pre-schoolers may become victim to the paparazzi. They don’t care about the truth! They want the three pigs fairytale.

Rating: ★★★

Helpful links:

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Matt Olson as the Big Bad Wolf (aka Alexander T. Wolf) greets greenhorn reporters Max and Ruby after the performance.


Creative team includes: Nic Jones (lighting), Joe Court (sound), Jenny Pinson (props), Joshua Lansing (technical director) and Scott Deter (stage manager)

Chicago theatre openings/closings this week

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show openings

Ah Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre 

Alice in Wonderland Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago

Baroque and Beatles Chicago a cappella

The Berenstain Bears Northbrook Theatre

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

Disturbed Oracle Productions

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre

Lettice and Lovage Redtwist Theatre

Lucinda’s Bed Chicago Dramatists

Pericles O’Malley Theatre

Rhymes with Evil InFusion Theatre

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Writers’ Theatre

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Comedy

Slavic Strings McAninch Arts Center 

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

 

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show closings

1001 Merle Reskin Theatre

Creepy Hug: Dirt Nap Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Darkest Pit Prop Thtr

It’s Good for You 2 Gorilla Tango Theatre

Moonlight and Magnolias Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Pericles O’Malley Theater

Stoop Stories Goodman Theatre

Taking Steps UIC Theatre

The Thin Man City Lit Theater

Village of K_ Bruised Orange Theater

Extensions – “Million Dollar Quartet” “El Grito del Bronx” and “Black Crooners”

 

  • Lewis, Carl Perkins, Jay Perkins, Cash, Elvis, V
  • Million Dollar Quartet (see our rave review here), currently playing at the Apollo Theatre, has been extended all the way through October 25th.  This surely means that the show will extend at least through New Years.  This new block of tickets goes on sale Friday, July 31st (10am).

blackcroonersBlack Ensemble Theater’s smash hit A Tribute to the Black Crooners, now playing at the Black Ensemble Theater (4520 N. Beacon – map), has been extended through August 30th.  For tickets call 773-769-4451.

  • home_El%20Grito2 El Grito del Bronx, a joint theatre-venture between Collaboraction and Teatro Vista, has been extended through August 9th at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre.  Migadlia Cruz’s adult-themed and, at times, violent play tells the story of a Puerto Rican family’s struggles while living in the Bronx during the 60’s and 70’s. 

Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

As quartets go, this one does in fact look and sound like a million bucks.

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Million Dollar Quartet
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. (more info)

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

“I don’t record singers, I record souls,” proclaims Sun Records’ legendary founder Sam Phillips midway through the unstoppable “Million Dollar Quartet.” From most people, it’s a statement that would sound as cheesy as a pitch from a third-rate used car salesman. Here, it’s a declaration of goose-bump rising authenticity. And when that same honey-over-gravel drawl command “Sing it to me the way you’d sing it to Jesus,” you know what follows is going to be as memorable as the night they tore old Dixie down.

Close to nine months after it opened, Million Dollar Quartet shows no signs of depreciating. Detailing the now-legendary Sun Studios recording session of Dec. 4, 1956, it’s the rare juke box musical that actually benefits from its lack of a plot. The music is iconic, rocketing off the stage as Rob Lyons (Carl Perkins), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Levi Kreis (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley) deliver 100 seamless minutes of irresistible tunage. Dec. 4, 1956 might have been a chilly night in Memphis, but inside Phillips (Brian McCaskill) Sun Studios, it was blistering.

Lewis, Carl Perkins, Jay Perkins, Cash, Elvis, V It’s impossible to understate the influence Perkins, Cash, Lewis and Lewis had in shaping rock ‘n roll. Directed by Floyd Matrux and Eric Schaeffer (book by Matrux and Colin Escott), MDQ doesn’t try to explain that influence like some school of rock history lesson. Instead, it celebrates the music, punctuating the explosive set list with telling bits of exposition. Kids who wouldn’t be caught dead buying that “negro music” were sneaking off at night to listen to it, Phillips muses. The million dollar question: “What if I could find a white kid who could light a fire under songs like those Negroes?” He found the epic answer to that “what if” Elvis, among others. And he knew long before many others that rock wasn’t a fad, it was a revolution.

Million Dollar Quartet is set shortly after Elvis Presley’s first movie (“Love Me Tender”) opened. He’s still young and beautiful, worlds away from the bloat and hype of his Vegas years. Like everyone else in the production, Clendening is perfectly cast. His Elvis is mercurial, a reckless lightning bolt just itching to set the world on fire. Rocking out with the woe-erasing “That’s All Right” or providing the Cathedral-worthy anchor vocals to the plaintive hymn “Peace in the Valley,” he’s as charismatic and gifted as you’d expect from an artist simply known as The King.

But even the mighty Elvis is taken aback by Jerry Lee Lewis, the brash, obnoxiously self-assured “crazy Cajun” boywonder. As for Kreis’ interpretation of a boy so fresh off the farm he can entertain himself for hours just flushing the new-fangled indoor toilets, it’s dominates the prodpuction, casting a white-hot aura of inspired, barely contained lunatic genius over the whole endeavor.

Like Lewis, Kreis is a showman of unstoppable energy, whether whipping through six-octaves of feral arpeggios or punting his piano bench into the cheap seats with a single kick that’s as powerful as an angry mule. It’s best to get a seat where you can see Kreis hands and feet at all times – he attacks the keyboards with both. When he launches into “Real Wild Child” or “Whole Lotta Shakin,” better just stand the heck back as it becomes crystal clear why Johnny Cash deemed Lewis “the mother-humpingest piano player I ever did see.”

As for Guest’s laconic Cash, he’s steeped in a subtle aura of souful sorrow, giving “Rock Island Line” and “Sixteen Tons” a mournful weariness and an unshakable sense of loss. He also nails the script’s deadpan humor. (“I been everywhere, man,” Cash shrugs after being asked about his whereabouts.) As a guitarist, Guest is no trifler: At the performance we attended, he snapped his D-string less than four bars in to “Riders in the Sky.” Talk about grace under pressure: It didn’t slow him down so much as a 16th note.

Lyons’ Perkins is the most underwritten of the lot. He primarily serves as a foil to Lewis’ childish provocations (“Somebody get a shovel and scoop that up.”) He also provides some of the meager dramatic tension there is in the production: Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” – a credit that was largely overlooked once Elvis performed the song on national television. You can all but feel Perkins’ frustrated ire roiling off the stage.

As in the real recording session, Elvis’ smoking hot girlfriend shows up to inject a bit of sizzling estrogen into party. As Dyanne, Kelly Lamont has the vocals to match the smoldering personality. Her slinky, sultry “Fever” is appropriately scorching.

When MDQ performed at this year’s Tonys, it was during commercial breaks – television viewers didn’t have a chance to see the ensemble. So if your Tony invite got lost in the mail (as mine does every dang year) and you thus missed seeing the quartet live in New York, do consider seeing them here. As quartets go, this one does in fact look and sound like a million bucks.

“Million Dollar Quartet” continues as an open run at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25 – $64.50 and available online at www.milliondollarquartetlive.com or by calling 773/935-6100.

Rating:  «««½

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For Kids of all ages: Emerald City’s “Cinderella”

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Emerald City Theatre‘s new whacky musical adaptation, Cinderella, with book and lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli (Artistic Director of Emerald City Theatre), music by Steve Goers and direction by Aritistic Associate Matthew Gunnels, opens tomorrow (February 14th) and runs through May 24th.  From Emerald City’s flyer:

Anybody who’s anybody is going to the Royal Ball.  Anybody that is except Cinderalla, whose feet are such an unusual size there are no shoes to fit them.  But with the help of a fairy godmother, a little sword fighting and some sensible footwear, a happy ending is certainly in sight! This adaptation, designed to appeal to both boys and girls, is full of audience interaction!  Children are invited to meet the actors after each weekend performance.  (stress mine)

Sounds like a lot of fun to me!  I always get a kick out of the raw response one gets from an audience filled with kids – and their eager interaction with the actors.  Priceless.

One more cool thing: you can download preview songs from Cinderella  here.

 

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