REVIEW: Skiing is Believing (Annoyance Theatre)

  
  

Small scale, big laughs, great fun

  
  

"Skiing is Believing" at the Annoyance Theatre in Uptown

  
Annoyance Theatre presents
   
Skiing Is Believing: A Speedy, Deadly Musical
  
Written by Boaz Reisman & Hans Holsen
Directed by
Dunbar Dicks
Musical Directed by
Boaz Reisman
at
Annoyance Theatre & Bar, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through March 12  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Small-scale, low-budget original musicals are shockingly easy to find in Chicago, but good ones are more of a rarity. Often time, lofty ambitions and expectations beyond the theaters’ modest means lead to the undoing of these production, but Annoyance Theatre understands and embraces its limitations to create production that are both economical and gut-busting. Using only a piano, a handful of actors, and minimal set dressing and costumes, Skiing Is Believing is another success for the Uptown theater, a hilarious musical that will appeal to both skiers and non-believers.

"Skiing is Believing" at the Annoyance Theatre in UptownBrett (Scott Nelson) and Gary Wheatley (Kellen Alexander) are a superstar skating duo who return to their hometown of Ski-town to celebrate Brett’s upcoming nuptials. After a few shots of Jager with their best “brahs”, Brett and Gary takes to the slopes for a late night ski, until an avalanche buries Gary under a sheet of snow. (Literally a white sheet with holes cut into it; cheap, yet incredibly effective.) The avalanche also takes the life of a baby learning to ski, setting off a stream of dead baby jokes that start off funny with the song “A Baby Has Died,” but eventually become rather tedious. Luckily, these jokes are the only ones that fail to connect, and the baby skiing death leads to some great comic plot developments.

His guilt over the death of his brother and various babies throws Brett into a depression that lasts six months, pushing him apart from his fiancée (Mary Cait Walthall), who channels her frustration in the explosive bridge of her ballad “The Light In Your Eyes,” doing her best Jennifer Holliday impression. Eventually Brett is convinced to reenter the world, beginning with a Gnarleyfest, a wild, raunchy party that ends up taking the life of yet another person close to Brett, his friend Devin (Neil Dandade). The dead bodies piling up pushes Brett out of Ski-town, down south to Panama, where he meets a sassy local named Manuela (Chelsea Devantez) and dedicates himself to building a second Panama Canal in his brother’s memory.

The plot to Skiing Is Believing is completely nonsensical, but the actors are unflinching in their dedication to the material. Productions at The Annoyance are built with the help of the actors, and this cast of improvisers is adept at creating the types of wacky characters that would inhabit a musical as ridiculous as this one. The Panama setting in the second act is basically used to give the actors an excuse to use exaggerated Latin accents, but they are so funny that the laziness in the plot is excusable. The music is infectiously catchy (“Seeing me skiing is seeing me being happy!”), fantastically sung, and the characters are exaggerated but fully realized, making Skiing Is Believing one of the strongest small-scale musicals I’ve seen in quite a whole. If you’re brave enough to brave the treacherous slopes of Ski-town, it will make a believer out of you, too.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

"Skiing is Believing" at the Annoyance Theatre in Uptown

Extra Credit:


Skiing is Believing - show poster                 Artists

 

Featuring: Scott Nelson, Kellen Alexander, Steve Hnilicka, Neal Dandade, Chelsea Devantez, Mary Cait Walthall

Directed by Dunbar Dicks
Written by Hans Holsen and Boaz Reisman
Musical Direction by Boaz Reisman

  
  

REVIEW: Big Gay Pudding (White Rainbows)

This pudding needs a dash more passion

Big Gay Pudding - White Rainbow

   
White Rainbows Chicago presents
   
Big Gay Pudding + Ding!
   
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $10-$14  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

I’m unfamiliar with White Rainbows’ previous comedy reviews White Rainbows (2009) and In Gaga We Trust (2010), but their material for Big Gay Pudding, now playing at The Call, shows a young and inexperienced company still in need of training, finesse and daring. Never mind that they are up against a fierce comedy town like this—their sketches alone revealed comics familiar and coy in playful exchanges among each other, but not so sure of just what they were selling the audience. The Call’s terrible club acoustics alone dampened projection and made the performances seem flat and timid.

Big Gay Pudding - White Rainbow At least their openers, Chelsea Devantez and Emily Walker as Ding!, know how to belt it. Much of Ding!’s comedy material is just as coy and queer-centered as White Rainbows’ – but they show greater confidence and control in styling with songs like “Nothing is Worse Than a Man in a Stylish Hat” and “I Will Be Your Fag Hag.” Ding! doesn’t do so well with improvising song responses to questions about their sex lives, mostly because the answers come so pat, short and predictable, without any foray into wordplay. They do far better with prepared songs that celebrate the bygone days of laser tag or saucily promise “Boy, I’m Gonna Rape You Tonight.”

What to do with the White Rainbows? For one, their central sketch about the pudding has to go. In it, the concoction of different, supposedly outlandish (but not really) fruit puddings is supposed to symbolize transgressive queerness. But the sketch itself never goes far enough into daring, new, bold, or funny territory. It comes across more like an in-joke between friends that later falls flat when presented to a wider audience. Likewise, queers throughout history, gay men boasting like straight guys about sexual exploits, and the miraculous powers of straight-acting gays rely all on the in-jokes of tired gay stereotypes, which makes the sketches go from zero to tired in 2.8 seconds.

Far better are the recurring cameo appearances of Winnie the Pooh, played by various cast members dressed in a Pooh costume. The player who came up with this device deserves the gold star. Who cares if it’s a device as old as Monty Python–Kevin Reader’s subtly funny farewell to Pooh in adolescence, followed by reclaiming Pooh as a lover at a gay dating service later, is inspired.

Other sketches wander into familiar territory, but still retain comic heft. Michael Barin and Stanley A. Chong interact well as a gay couple separated only by one partner’s fascination with his new cell phone. Arianna Wheat really sells her role as the bored housewife singing, “I want to be where the strippers are . . .” to the Disney tune “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. A quiz show called “Name That Vampire Drama,” emceed by a vampire, brings home the point of how little originality we demand from entertainment serving up sexy bloodsuckers.

We’ll need to demand more originality and daring from White Rainbows, however. Their strength may be to joke more coyly about queer experience than to be in your face and there’s certainly no need to change that. But have they got the nerve and conviction to take their audience to unexpected places? Or are we still hanging out at the same old pudding party?

   
   
Rating: ★½
  
  

Gay Pudding - White Rainbow - poster

 

 

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Gorilla Tango Theatre: January 2010 schedule

whack1

Leslie Nesbit as Nancy Kerrigan and Cassie Cushman as Tonya Harding in WHACK!


January 2010 Calendar Listings for Gorilla Tango:

Mark & Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special is a satire based on TV’s self-proclaimed counseling gurus and the dysfunctional American family. Will Mark & Laura’s volatile relationship get in the way of their primetime debut or will Christmas be officially over?    Produced by Ryan McChesney.

Wednesdays at 8pm, December 2, 2009 – January 20, 2010 (no performances Dec. 23 & 30, 2009). Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here.


Give Us Money – Every Monday night in January, GIVE US MONEY will present the 23rd hour of the 24 hour telethon raising money for various causes such as: Prevention of 2012, Douchebag Syndrome, Make the McRib Permanent, and Plasma TV for Prison Inmates. Each week will feature different talent acts, and your hosts will take you through an hour of pure telethon. So stop by and show your support, and make sure to Give Us Money.  Produced by Jenny Staben. More info here

Mondays at 8pm, January 4 – 25, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R.


GRAY AREAS: Comedy, Music or Neither is a scripted experimental two-person comedic exploration of music. In terms of genre, style, and approach, there are no restrictions or boundaries; the only goal is to perform songs that can hold their weight both comedically and musically. Expect the following: a girl, a guy, vocals, keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, violins, xylophones, plus anything a computer can recreate and more!   Produced by Joe Kwaczala and Chelsea Devantez.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 8pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here

$1,000 GTT Improv Thing

$1,000 GTT Improv Thing: Improv teams from throughout Chicago duke it out for:

  • A $1000 prize (possibly paid with one of those giant novelty checks)
  • A spot at the 2010 Chicago Improv Festival
  • A package of six Big Ass Hot Dogs (42lbs) from BigAssHotDog.com

Produced by GTT.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, January 8 – 30, 2010. Tickets are $12; Rated R. More info here


A Look Through Our Eyes

“A Look Through Our Eyes: An Experimental Production about Citizens’ Views, Struggles, Experiences and Reactions to 9/11.”  Written & Directed by Darius “T.Q.” Colquitt

Loosely based on actual interviews, “A Look Through Our Eyes“ steps into the lives of 8 individuals who were directly and indirectly affected by the 9/11 Tragedy. The Social, Economic, Religious, Mental and Generational Differences of the world are highlighted in this production, filled with thought-provokingly real points-of-view on a subject that most are afraid to discuss. Produced by Nu Xpression Theatrics.

Friday, January 8 and Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10pm and Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 6pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R.  More info here


Improvised Simpsons: Television’s most beloved animated family comes to life on stage! Anything can happen in the town of Springfield, especially when there isn’t a script. The performance mixes long-form improvisation with classic characters from the show, new locations and situations, and audience suggestions.  Produced by Jonathan Silver.

Saturdays at 11:30pm, January 9 – 30, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


Sketch & Sniff: We sketched, now you sniff! Don’t miss SKETCH AND SNIFF if you enjoy watching awkward relationships unfold! Glimpses into romances, bromances, dysfunctional family moments, and uncomfortable office situations are just a few comic gems that S&S has to offer. Don’t miss out on this aromatic opportunity.  Produced by Derick Lengwenus.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10pm. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


WHACK! The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Story, A Karaoke Musical: From the creators of the Tabloid Musical Series (including the Mary Kay Letourneau and Amy Fisher karaoke musicals) comes this delightful tale, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver! Featuring tunes in the style of Disney, WHACK! delves deep behind the scenes to discover what REALLY lead up to the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Tonya Harding – Crazy Psycho or Underestimated Heroine? Nancy Kerrigan – Perfect Princess or Evil Genius? You decide.

Produced by Gorilla Tango Theatre.

Thursdays at 9:30pm, January 21 – February 25, 2010. Tickets are $15; Rated R. More info here

Picture at top of this posting is from Whack!  See more pictures by clicking on each of the numbers: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Real Bro’s of DuPage County takes you on a journey of the Bro mind. From outrageous choices in clothing, to relationships and borderline sociopathy, Real Bro’s will knock your socks off with our roofie brand of comedy!   Produced by Christian Weber

Saturdays at 10pm, January 23 & 30, 2010. Tickets are $10; Rated R. More info here


All photos except "QueenNancy" by Kelly Williams; "Queen Nancy" by Bryan Cohen.