REVIEW: Cougars! The Musical

She is cougar, hear her roar!



Fireworx Productions presents
Cougars! The Musical
by Gillian Bellinger and Chuck Malone
directed by
Corey Rittmaster
The Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22nd  |  tickets: $15  more info   

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Gillian Bellinger and Chuck Malone both have long, august (if that is the word) careers in comedy. Their collaboration on their latest creation, Cougars! The Musical has bourn the strangest, wildest, funniest fruit. By all indications, Cougar-fever has hit the Chicago comedy scene with a vengeance. Who needs critical accolades when your second night’s performance is packed to the rafters?

aaa-cougarsposter Three elderly gal pals, Kate (Gillian Bellinger), Lana (Rebecca Montalvo), and Bette (Madeline Wager) are on the prowl for fresh young meat. They even rename their favorite young bartender Meat (Justin Schumann), even though his real name is Kevin. (Hey, it’s good for the meat to know their place.) Meanwhile, Bette’s ex-husband, Frank (Brian Finley), who she divorced 40 years ago over his trysts with a geisha in Nam, still carries a torch for Bette and wants her forgiveness. Can Frank save Bette from Michael (Paul Barrett Ford), Bette’s hot, new, young beau, who has a dark and sinister agenda?

Director Corey Rittmaster’s remarks in the program say it all about Bellinger’s book and lyrics: “ . . . never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that out of that sweet, fresh-faced Texas girl’s imagination would come this incredible homage to depravity and vulgarity.” What must also be acknowledged is the sophistication of Malone’s compositions for this raucous, in-your-face farce. While most comedy reviews content themselves with slap-dash and simple-minded arrangements for tunes, Cougars’ songs sound like they come from, well, a composer. Plus, choreography for the smaller tunes seems on the usual sloppy side of schlock comedy, while in bigger numbers the whole cast pulls together with sharper, more impressive performances.

Here’s where the picky theater reviewer comes in with her annoying critique – but Bellinger and Malone have brought it on themselves. By setting the bar higher in writing and composition, they’ve introduced greater demands upon the cast than might usually be expected from lesser fare. I have no idea how much time was taken in rehearsal, but if any remount of Cougars! The Musical is planned for the future—and why not—then greater care should be taken in more accurate, fully formed characterizations for each role. There’s still more juice to be squeezed from this juicy fruit and there’s no reason to think the current cast couldn’t take it all the way.

Cougars the Musical Cougars the Musical Cougars the Musical

Finally, the slow start to the show on its second night was noticeable—and low energy is always death to comedy review. Ford, as the swindler Michael, picked up the pace considerably with his rocked-out, rotten plans for Bette–“Off That Cougar Whore.” From there, the rest of the cast picked up and took flight. In particular, the cast brought down the house with Frank and Michael’s testosterone sparing match, “Dick to Dick.” Now top that off with acting that echoes the meticulous inflections with the script that Alaina Hoffman shows as Jennifer, Bette’s daughter, and you’ve got sex-crazed comedy that practically passes for ART. OMG! That could be a sign of the Apocalypse—a happy, joyful, cougar-y sign!

Rating: ★★★

Cougars! The Musical performs every Saturday, April 3rd-May 22nd (Saturday April 17th moved to Friday April 16th)


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REVIEW: Breakfast Club – the 80s Musical (iO Theater)

Late-night musical re-enacts iconic Hughes film


iO Theater, Wrigleyville, presents

Breakfast Club: the Totally ’80s Musical

Adapted and Directed by Jason R. Chin
Through March 25 (ticket info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Driving down to see iO Theater’s late-night Breakfast Club: the Totally ’80s Musical, I tried to recall the salient features of that distant decade. Other than my own wedding and all the social, political and international goings-on summed up in the name Ronald Reagan, I couldn’t think of much. It was a fairly colorless era.

bc10 However, this show isn’t a paean to the totality of the 1980s, but only a tiny portion of it: John Hughes’ 1985 teen-angst cult film "The Breakfast Club." Set in Shermer High School, a fictional version of Hughes’ Northbrook alma mater, Glenbrook North, the show mixes dialog from the movie with nearly a dozen 1970s and ’80s songs performed by the cast in choreographed routines.

The film’s success lies in its combining the archetypes of high school: The Brain. The Jock. The Princess. The Basketcase. The Rebel. Whether you wore your hair shoulder length or in a mullet, dressed in tie-dye or bubble skirts, you knew them. This homage brings them back to life.

With Mark Lowe as Mr. Vernon; Tim Dunn as Brian Johnson, the Brain; Brian Finlay as Andy Clark, the Jock; Jessica Joy as Claire Standish, the Princess; Mary Cait Walthall as Allison Reynolds, the Basketcase; and Jeremiah Howe as John Bender, the Rebel; the cast re-enacts the Saturday when the five teens were unexpectedly stuck together for a day-long detention, punctuated by song and dance numbers set to the likes of Billy Idol’s "Rebel Yell" and Michael Jackson’s "Beat It."

Although this kind of like a live-action version of a video on YouTube (where you can see a dozen such re-enactments created by actual high-school students, mixed in with homemade music videos featuring "The Breakfast Club" movie clips), the iO cast has undeniable talent. In some cases, I thought their characterizations were better than the originals — and good voices. Musical Director Seth Tucker and Michele Tucker ably accompany on guitar, drums and keyboards.

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Erica Reid and Jeff Gandy‘s jerky, self-conscious choreography imparts a good deal of the humor, coupled with the actors’ largely deadpan re-creations of the characters.

Productions like this one are a reason I have trouble with rating systems. Lightweight and silly as it is, "Breakfast Club" is a sweet show, and if I were to rate it strictly on its own terms — just on what it’s trying to be — I’d give it four stars. But when I look at what four-star plays like "Awake and Sing" or "Out of Order" have invested in sets and costumes and playwrights, or the polish that troupes such as The Second City give to their carefully scripted works, it seems excessive to give the same rating to a quirky, bare-bones, late-night re-staging of a movie. So, while I hate to encourage all of those folks who don’t bother to read the reviews but just look at stars, I’m going to come down some for context’s sake.

However, if you remember the 1980s, or at least "The Breakfast Club," this musical might be just your thing.


Rating: ★★½


Notes: Performances are at 10:30 p.m. Thursdays only. The second-floor theater has no wheelchair access. Paid parking is available in nearby lots.