REVIEW: A Chorus Line (Marriott Theatre)

Gotta Dance!

 

Chorus Line at Marriott

   
Marriott Theatre presents
   
A Chorus Line
   
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Directed by Mark Lococo
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (map)
Through October 31  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Mara Davi as Cassie - Chorus Line MarriottCelebrating its 35th anniversary in a terrific revival staged by Mark Lococo, A Chorus Line remains the late Michael Bennett‘s breakthrough backstage musical, winner of nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In this "show before a show" the parts–the 17 dancers–outweigh the whole. That greater good is an imaginary musical where, as the hoofers swagger in Nancy Missimi’s gold lamé suits against massive mirrors, their Broadway fantasies come true. But by then we know “what they did for” dance.”

Most musicals are examples of art imitating life. Not so A Chorus Line. It fascinates because its constantly young cast insure that this show is a textbook case of life imitating art imitating life. (Actors in 2010 who could be the children of the 1975 cast are creating the 1975 creation that was itself inspired by the reality of 1975 dancers.) The recessed mirrors in Marriott’s Production perfectly symbolize the backstage, show-before-a-show nature of this unconventional depiction of the creation of a very conventional Broadway musical. (Remember: The finale, “One Singular Sensation,” is really intended as a backup to a star of the Streisand, Verdon or Ann Miller persuasion. “Chorus Line” may be all about dance but the “outside” musical that they’re creating is not.)  

It’s ironic that, after we get to know the "dance gypsies" chosen from the 24 who endure this grueling try-out, the survivors get swallowed up in "One," this massive finale where what counts is the lockstep anonymity of a kick line. The humanity that went into the song-confessionals, where the auditioners testified to the resilience, sexiness, escapism and transience of their trade, yields to the conformity of interchangeable parts. This "one singular sensation" is American individuality feeding American efficiency. Another all-too-American quality, at least at this stage of the recession, is the desperation that surges through “I Need This Job.”

 

Anika Ellis as Shiela - Chorus Line Marriott Bryan Knowlton as Paul - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation Nina Fluke as Val - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line Cast - Marriott

Before that chorus/assembly line closes ranks, we’ve felt the full diversity of the dancers, as preserved from interviews that Bennett did with the original dancers some 35 years ago. It’s ironic that the current dancers may have their own stories but they’re in effect prisoners of the musical’s now-distant past.

In Lococo’s devoted reprise of this not-so-retro musical, a second (or third?) generation solidly replay the life stories of the 1975 originals, slinking and strutting their way through Bennett’s pizzazz-packed choreography (here re-imagined by Rachel Rockwell) and tearing into Marvin Hamlisch‘s sturdy score. This arena staging may be in the round but the mirrors work even better than in a proscenium  production. They may not suggest many more dancers than the cast itself but the recessed effect makes it look like we’re seeing memories as much as moments here.

Adam Estes as Gregory - Chorus Line MarriottFleshing out showbiz stereotypes with true-life immediacy, Alexander Aguilar relishes the effortless bravura of "I Can Do That" and Pilar Millhollen belts out the tough-girl wisdom of "What I Did for Love." As Sheila, the aging but indomitable siren, Anika Ellis purges her past in "At the Ballet," while Nina Fluke reinvents Val’s surgical saga in "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."

In the one unsung solo, Bryan Knowlton digs heartache from Paul’s tale of a gay dancer unexpectedly accepted by his family. Registering the full joy of moving fast, buffed-up Max Kumangai is a blurry revelation.

As he shapes the audition-rehearsal with God-like omniscience, Chicago favorite Tim Gregory brings easy authority to confessor-choreographer Zach, though his soap-opera showdown with Cassie, his old flame, seems perfunctory. Undeterred, Broadway notable Mara Davi (who appeared in the recent revival) throws herself into "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie’s tour-de-force dance sequence. It should feel as if everyone who ever danced the part were with her but on opening night she seemed to lose her terpsichorean motivations and it fell flat.

First and always, the revival confirms the continuing cause for its docu-tribute: Bennett’s high-strutting, soul-stirring dances are a perfect match for the aspirations this musical will always extol.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation2

 

   
   

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REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar (Theatre at the Center)

Update: Due to a misrepresentation (i.e., error) in our critique of this production, this review has been adjusted to address the inaccuracy.  To Theatre at the Center and the production’s personnel, my apologies.  Scotty Zacher, Editor.

Uneven “Superstar” finishes strong

 

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 02

   
Theatre at the Center presents
   
Jesus Christ Superstar
  
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by
Tim Rice
Directed by
Stacey Flaster
at
Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge, Munster (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets: $36-$40  |  more info

reviewed by Michael L. Harris

Sitting amongst the mostly 40+ crowd, gathered for the near capacity performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Theatre at the Center, I wanted to love this show. The stage-to-movie musical is certainly a familiar one, with two of the songs – the title song and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – making it to the Top 10 in the 70’s when it first debuted. In the end, however, the show is a mixed bag.

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 06Musically, the range and quality of voices is quite amazing. Max Quinlan (Jesus) goes from low bass to high falsetto with amazing ease, as does Joe Tokarz as Judas Iscariot, the counter lead.  Problems arise, however, with the gigantic thrust space and the overzealous back-up orchestra that succeeds in swallowing up poor Jesus. These elements tacitly become the superstars; Jesus just a set piece. Given that the score is extremely challenging and the cast is vocally exquisite, it’s unfortunate that dynamically this disparity exists. The actors are isolated and disconnected, both from each other and from the audience. Experts say that much of acting is “reacting,” unfortunately there’s far too little of the latter in this Superstar.

This distancing of the audience is more of a directorial decision than actor disconnection. Indeed, director Stacey Flaster seems to be aiming for distance rather than intimacy.  Objectively, this works with Sanhedrin. When it comes to Jesus, however, one never gets as close as preferred. Indeed, there are moments of splendor, but overall the sheen is more matte than glossy. 

For the most part, the First Act lacks inspiration. After the introduction of the Apostles – which is staged more as a “love in” – there are signs of better performances to come. Audrey Billings‘ (Mary Magdalene) rendition of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” is warm and tender. Larry Adams’ Pontius Pilate is spot-on, giving a sense of both the character’s greatness and shortcomings. Adams’ professionalism and stage presence are quite commanding, accentuating what is missing from Quinlan, whose performance shows adroit characterization but seems better suited for film/TV than the stage. Additionally, Steve Genovese steals the show with his second act opener, “King of the Jews” and Jonathan Lee Cunningham delivers a solid rendition as Simon Peter in his credible “Denial” sequence .

 

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 04 Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 03

The best staging exists within “Could We Start Again, Please.” Both Billings (Mary) and Cunningham (Peter) are at their best in this number, and the entire cast shines as an ensemble, including Quinlan (Jesus), making this by far the apex of the play.

Barry G. Funderburg’s sound design is flawed.  The centralized speaker system – with no side speakers – creates a situation where the orchestra often overpowers the choral work.

Nikki Delhomme’s costume’s are a mishmash – at times delightful; at other times confusing. Delhomme’s concept of universality through an ancient/modern mix generally works, but what’s up with the dress-with-a-funky-hat combo that the Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 08Sanhedrin wear??? I couldn’t help thinking, as the Sanhedrin descended the massive centralize staircase, of the old Lucille Ball sketch where she comes down the stairs with the huge pile of fruit on her head . (Thankfully these women are much more coordinated than Lucy!)

The make-up design is equally confusing. There must be a method to the madness, but the painted kabuki masking on the Sanhedrin principals amounts to overkill.  Conversely, the quasi clown make-up donned by Herod works .

Flaster’s choreography is generally exemplary, but doesn’t always fill the stage. And in some instances – notably during Judas’ famous negotiations with the Sanhedrin – actually blocks the action.

Kudos to Ann N. Davis’ technical direction – rigging and scene changes move seamlessly.

Deficiencies aside, if you’ve never seen the show, and/or are in a retro mood, Jesus Christ Superstar is worth two hours of your time – especially the powerful resurrection of the second act.

  
   
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 05

    
    

 

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REVIEW: 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Noble Fool)

 

Fun with spelling

 Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

 
Noble Fool Theatricals presents
 
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
 
Conceived by Rebecca Feldman
book by
Rachel Sheinkin and music/lyrics by William Finn
Directed by
Kevin Bellie, music direction by Peter Storms
Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles (map)
Through June 13 | Tickets: $29–39, dinner-show packages $46–59 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Can you spell f-r-i-v-o-l-o-u-s? Airy as Wonder Bread, sweet as Gummi Bears, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee offers a fun and unchallenging evening of musical comedy that will get you home well before the babysitter’s deadline and won’t stick you with inconvenient earworms or lingering deep questions. Winner of the 2005 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, Spelling Bee began with Rebecca Feldman’s sketch C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E for her New York comedy group, the Farm. It came to the Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast" attention of Falsettos composer and lyricist William Finn, who brought on Rachel Sheinkin to help him create a musical adaptation. Opened in 2004 by Barrington Stage Company in western Massachusetts, the musical ultimately became a hit on Broadway, where it played for 1,136 performances. The laughs come from juxtaposition of latter-day life problems, age-old preteen angst and the sentimental nostalgia of the old-fashioned spelling-bee competition.

Kevin Bellie and Peter Storms’ vigorous production for Noble Fool Theatricals is as cute as can be, with a bouncy, talented cast and a lively staging. Spelling Bee runs about 90 minutes with no intermission. On opening night, things stretched out a bit longer when one of the audience members participating in the bee — four volunteers are selected for each performance — proved to be an unexpectedly good speller. Having successfully navigated "catterjunes" (part of the show’s improvisational shtick — it isn’t a real word, so they can accept or reject spellings as needed), he also got through "lysergic acid diethylamide" and had to be eliminated with "xerophthalmiology."

A very strong cast of adult actors aptly plays the competing kids, bringing out their humorous quirks without turning them into cartoons. Especially notable performances come from Samantha Dubin as gawky Olive Ostrovsky, anguished over her missing mom — gone to an ashram in India — and emotionally distant dad; Jack Sweeney as the wide-eyed Leaf Coneybear, rising above his family’s expectations; Cara Rifkin as Logainne Schwartandgrubenierre, a determined grammar-school prodigy urged on by her two gay dads; and Ian Paul Custer as William Barfee, a nasally challenged nerd who spells out words with his "magic foot." Chie Isobe plays uptight overachiever Marcy Park, and Erik Kaiko is Chip Tolentino, the too-confident previous year’s champion. Wonderfully expressive Michael Weber portrays Vice Principal Douglas Panch, increasingly tortured and hilarious as the event goes on. As perky Rona Lisa Peretti, Putnam County’s #1 Realtor and the spelling-bee hostess — reliving her own triumph of the second annual Putnam Co. spelling bee — Liza Jaine solos only briefly, but her powerful backup vocals help hold the show together musically. Randolph Johnson adds a rich note as ex-con Mitch Mahoney, especially in his solo, "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor."

Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"

Though they’re mostly good-humored, some gags uncomfortably straddle the line between colorful characterizations and offensive caricatures, a blemish exacerbated by Bellie’s casting and Kimberly G. Morris’s costumes. Sheinkin wrote in the flaming gay dads and the overachieving Korean kid, but it was Bellie’s choice to cast the only African American in his show in the parolee’s part and Morris’s to drape him in gold gangsta chains. Amusing lyrics in songs such as "My Friend, the Dictionary" and "Pandemonium" make up for the banal tunes of Finn’s mostly pleasant, but typically repetitive score. Don’t look for big song-and-dance numbers. Like everything else about this show, the songs lack heft, and sometimes seem like fillers. Overall, this musical isn’t about the music. Just enjoy it as a lighthearted romp.

 
 
Rating: ★★★
 
 

Note: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee contains adult language and themes that parents may consider unsuitable for young children.

Noble Fool "Beauty and the Beast"