REVIEW: Traces (Broadway in Chicago)

   

Extended through January 1st!!

  
  

I heart ‘Traces’!

 

 

Cast of Traces

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Traces
   
Directed/Choreographed by
Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
at
Broadway Playhouse, Water Tower Place (map)
through Dec 19 Jan 1  | tickets: $50-$72  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

A teeter-totter is harmless, right? Sure, until two men plummet from 20+ feet above to land on the teeter to send another guy tottering to the ceiling. Then, a teeter-totter officially becomes a death threat. Broadway in Chicago presents the Chicago premiere of Traces. The Montreal-based performance troupe kicks off its North American Tour at the newly renovated Broadway Playhouse. Six guys and a gal open the show with a strobe-lit pulsating number of flips and tumbles. With exhilarating music and shadow silhouettes, people are flying through the air without wires or nets.

Chairs - Florian ZumkehrClad in similar suits, the ensemble sheds their attire in a let’s-get-down-to-business energy. Traces stomps the mundane with Fuerza Bruta jams (our review ★★★) and Hephaestus stunts (review ★★★½) to Rent stories. The result is a heart-pounding, heart-tugging, heart-attacking spectacle. I heart Traces!

It’s the combinations that make Traces a unique stand-out on the cirque. At the heart of it, the combo of performers is surprising. One girl? Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau is one of the guys until she isn’t. In a flirtatious number with Mason Ames, Benoit-Charbonneau uses athletic ballet moves to simulate a smoldering encounter. Ames hurls and catches her… over his head, her feet on his palms. Playing out a very physical disagreement, this tryst is an exercise in trust. At 6’2 and 228 pounds, it’s not shocking that Ames anchors aerobatics. The astonishment is when he shoots through a small circle or dangles from a pole. Ames is one limber lumberjack. Philippe Normand-Jenny is the other big guy amazingly tottering with heights, his own and the stage’s. Florian Zumkehr balances on his head but the impressive part is it’s on the tippy-top of the back of a chair on the peak of a mountain of chairs. Crazy-breath holding moments. Zumkehr also scales two poles with monkey-like agility. The entire troupe hit the poles for a gravity-denying seduction. It’s some of the hottest pole dancing ever imagined! The mixture of props adds to the intriguing concoction. In a life-size hoola hoop, Bradley Henderson spins his own whimsy with controlled balance. Matthieu Cloutier dons roller skates swirling around stage and over playmates effortlessly. In the finale, all seven flip, jump and twist through stackable circles. Just when it seems the pile shouldn’t get any higher, 7 Fingers heaps on three more rounds to continue the captivating escalation. Each time, Xia Zhengqi magically bulls-eyes the target. Zhengqi is a supernatural phenomenon.

 

Chinese Poles - Bradley Henderson Chinese Hoops - Bradley Henderson Hand to Hand - Mason and Valerie

Besides the freaky-talented ensemble combo, Traces provides a personal approach to the circus theatrics. Biographical information is shared by individual performers. Not just driver’s license info but three words to use to self describe. An intimate bond develops. Knowing Mason self identifies as ‘clumsy’ makes me worry about his scaffold plunging. Multi-media is also used for a distinctive element. Various projected camera angles showcase action from different perspectives. Overhead filming provides a kaleidoscope effect to the visual. The stage looks like a rehearsal room. The illusion makes the drawing, dribbling, reading, keyboarding, and strumming seem like organic breaks in the action. To some, the transition might seem clunky. For me, these shifts allowed the performers and myself to get our heartbeats back to a normal rhythm

      
     
Rating: ★★★★
   
    

Traces runs Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm.  Traces runs thru December 19th.

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

        
        

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Broadway Playhouse set to open in September

M:\Projects\Broadway Playhouse-scyphers.pdf

Above: Artist rendering of reconfigured Broadway Playhouse

 

Coming Soon:  “Traces”, “Working” and Sutton Foster

 

by Scotty Zacher

Get ready, Chicago, for Broadway in Chicago’s newest venue: the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.  Previously known as Drury Lane Water Tower, the space will join BIC’s current treasure-trove of venues: Cadillac Palace Theatre, Ford Center for the Performing Arts (aka Oriental Theatre) and Bank of America Theatre sutton-26(aka Shubert Theatre). BIC has signed a long-term agreement with General Growth Properties (owner/manager of Water Tower Place) that will allow for the renovation and management of the revitalized space.

“This theatre will give Broadway in Chicago the ability to attract those productions that are better suited for a more intimate theatre. We hope to be able to expand the theatrical experiences we offer with this intimate and unique venue in the heart of the Magnificent Mile,” says James L. Nederlander (president, Nederlander Organization).

Inaugural productions for the playhouse will include An Evening with Sutton Foster (music direction by Michael Rafter), Traces and a newly adapted version of Stud Terkel’s musical Working (fondly known as “the working-man’s Chorus Line”), in association Broadway-composer Stephen Schwartz.

Though not announced at today’s press event, speculative capacity is set for 550 seats, a nice-sized theatre that will still allow for a more intimate experience when compared to the super-sized venues in Chicago’s theatre-district.

In my view, there are two hurdles that the reincarnated space needs to tackle: the drawbacks of the location, as well countering the fact of high ticket-prices versus its less-than-opulent ambience.

  1. First of all, the location. Though there is a plus for being amidst the Magnificent Mile, there is also the fact that it’s actually more than a block walk from the main drag – and a rather cement-themed walk at that.  Though this might seem trivial, a non-pedestrian-friendly designation is detrimental to any business, be it a coffeehouse, flowershop or, yes, a large theatre.  Even though the product on stage is the main attraction for an audience member, another important aspect is pre-show/post-show experience.  And a nondescript marquee in a cement-canyon a full block away from Michigan Avenue does not a prospective customer make.  One suggestion to up-the-ante would be to build a flashy LCD banner, much like the State Street Channel 7 banner, directly on Michigan Avenue, just to the north of Water Tower Place (this technique has been effective for side-street Broadway houses).  This could be a win-win for the city as it would make Michigan Ave. more exciting (as attempted with the NBC ground-level studio) as well as give instant attention to the advertised show (I suspect, however, there might be blow-back from the Water Tower Place residents…)
  2. Drury Lane Water Tower many times expected their shows to have much longer runs than what actually occurred.  This can be partially attributed to the what I call the experience-gap: People are expecting an opulent feeling that they previously experienced at the Oriental and/or Cadillac Palace, but in fact get a more germane theatre that they might equate with many Captioned Photo - 6smaller cities.  Let’s face it, part of the draw of wildly-successful “Wicked” was not only the show, but the ooh-factor of the lobby and the painted ceilings and Asian-themed accents. You saw this on the faces of the adults and kids when entering the space, that then surely increased the probability of a strong word-of-mouth occurrence.  Obviously BIC can’t recreate the theatre to match a historic theatre-palace.  Instead, care can be taken in the actual production choices – productions need to have something special about them that supersedes the lacking inner ambience.  It looks like BIC has chosen just such productions, with high-def raucous shows like “Traces,” that take advantage of the intimate nature of the space to heighten the show’s energy (think “Blue Man Group”), as well as concerts that lend themselves to more intimate venues (i.e., “An Evening with Sutton Foster”). And fans will flock to see a reconceived version of rarely-produced Workingespecially being that it’s based on the book written by Chicago’s beloved Studs Terkel.

In the end, I have the highest respect and expectations for Broadway in Chicago’s new venue endeavor.  Through their vision and hard work they have helped elevate Chicago as a theater draw for the entire Midwest, as well as a starting point for numerous Broadway-bound shows (e.g., Spamalot, Producers, Addams Family).   We at Chicago Theater Blog wish them the best of luck.

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