Review: Baby Wants Candy (Apollo Theater Chicago)

  
  

Celebrating 14th year in Chicago, “Baby” wants a little more finesse

  
  

Nathan Jansen, Brendan Dowling, Erica Elam, Nick Semar, Christy Bonstell, Zach Thompson, Ben McFadden, Chris Ditton, Kevin Florain, Sam Super - Baby Wants Candy - Apollo Theatre Chicago - Photo: Joanna Feldman.

  
Apollo Theater presents
   
Baby Wants Candy
   
Developed by Peter Gwinn, Al Samuels,
Stuart Ranson, Bob Kulhan and Don Bardwell
Written weekly by ‘Baby’ cast
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Open Run  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Oh, to have witnessed Baby Wants Candy at its Chicago inception 14 years ago – first performing at iO Theatre before, later, moving to the present Apollo mainstage. The brain-child of Peter Gwinn, Al Samuels, Stuart Ranson, Bob Kulhan and Don Bardwell, Baby Wants Candy’s central premise is this: the troupe improvises a new musical every performance, created from a title shouted out from the audience. The tactic had its formulas, but each evening the actors spontaneously crafted and performed a new one-hour long musical, never to be seen again. Previously performed musicals include: Peace Corps: the Musical, The Day the Gingers Ruled the World: the Musical, David Hasselhoff’s Secret Children: the Musical, and The Department of Redundancy Department: the Musical.

Zach Thompson, Erica Elam, Christy Bonstell, Brendan Dowling, Sam Super, Kevin Florian, Ben McFadden, Chris Ditton, Nick Semar, Nathan Jansen - 'Baby Wants Candy'  - Photo credit: Joanna Feldman.On the evening I attended, one audience member beat everyone else to the punch by throwing out The Confessions of a Teenage Rahm Emmanuel. How something that biographical would have been handled by Baby’s original member Peter Gwinn is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, the new cast seemed to be just finding their feet with Baby Wants Candy’s drill. They seemed constrained and hesitant. They pulled back from a full out rift on Emmanuel. The team fell back on teenage high school formulas and played it fairly safe with Emmanuel’s life story. Although they generated a few laughs in spoken scenes, they floundered on producing consistently distinctive or funny musical lyrics. Relax, guys, he’s not mayor yet and, besides, making up random and absurd shit about Rahm, of all people, is the essence of improv.

There were a few bright moments, though they largely centered on the teenage Rahm’s balls. Rahm’s dream of going from high school loser to prom king felt fairly predictable, yet it yielded a bit of fun in his algebra teacher’s encouragement to join ballet–“Ballet Will Give You Balls” being the one successful tune of the evening. From then on, the jokes were pretty much about Rahm’s balls. Rahm’s balls rule the school hallways. Rahm’s balls hijacked a car once. Rahm’s rival, Troy, attempts to cut off Rahm’s balls at high school prom but only manages to get his finger. Seldom did the cast attempt to venture out from the safety of ball jokes—like one student claiming baby wants candy logohis dad was a moon-ologist or the momentary inspiration of having Christopher Walken host Rahm’s prom.

Baby Wants Candy has made it big in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and with its international touring company in Singapore and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Perhaps last weekend was just a little off with a new team. Then again, perhaps the franchise is showing quality control problems. Formulas may be necessary but an improv troupe has to have enough security with them so that it can take off to new horizons. For all the team’s struggles last weekend, the band held tight and ready under Ben McFadden’s direction. That remains the strongest element of performance—let’s hope it carries right on through to the rest of the cast every evening.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
      
     

Baby Wants Candy performs Fridays at 10:30pm on the Mainstage at the Apollo Theater, 2540 North Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $15.  Student discounts are available with a valid student ID the day of the show only.  For tickets, call the Apollo Theater box office at 773-935-6100, Ticketmaster at 312-559-1212 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.  More info at BWC website.

  
  

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Review: Annoyance Theatre’s “Sodomites!”

Biblical madness paired with sardonic revelry makes for a musical of Biblical proportions

Christy Bonstell, Jim Fath, James Asmus, Mort Burke, Irene Marquette.  Photo credit: Sean Cusick

Right on the heels of Gay Pride Month, Annoyance Theatre puts up a raucous riff on the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Naturally, any theater with a full service bar and a long history of shock-theater doesn’t need to go further than gay jokes or fart jokes. But Sodomites! director Sean Cusick and his partners in crime, writer James Asmus and lyricist Mike Descoteaux, have crafted a sly dissection of the usual right-wing fundamentalism towards the Old Testament and set it all to music to make it go down with jovial ease. In this production, witty lyrics, anachronisms, and fast-paced lines critique our modern day culture wars—bringing this high-energy, lowbrow show dangerously close to satire.

Maybe Sean Cusick’s past holds the key to this blend of bawdy theology. He majored in philosophy and political science at Tufts University, and then went on to improvisation out of a need for an unrestricted outlet. “I had no discipline for acting. But I learned a lot from Second City about saying something while going for laughs.” It was James Asmus who called with the idea for the musical. “James, Mike, and I came up with the skeleton for the show over a few lunches. Mike knew all the Biblical verses by heart, so there was no need to explain to him what we were going for.”

James Asmus, Mort Burke. Photo credit: Sean Cusick You can still get drunk and watch the show, but it’s almost better if you don’t so that you won’t miss all the cunning details. The archangels Michael and Gabriel are ordered by God to seek out “one good man” from the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or God will wreak destruction upon them. The trouble is that Michael and Gabriel are as jittery before God as overworked personal assistants to a fickle, spoiled CEO. While they are off on their mission, God will “bury some dinosaur bones to test peoples’ faith.” The angels describe the perils of their mission with “One Good Man.”

Upon landing in Sodom, they run into Lot, a raving, self-righteous homophobe who sees gay sex all around him. And he equates “gay sex” with everything, from bestiality to melon-ballers. “Our hero is as pure as his daughter’s labia majora,” sings the narrator. Isn’t that the truth, since Lot is more sexually obsessed than the deviants he condemns and one of daddy’s little girls seems rather eager to leave mom behind.

But bourgeois gay couples and liberal elites also get their come-uppance. A quick visit to Gomorrah reveals beautiful people so smug and fatuitous in their liberal haven, you long for them to be destroyed. Michael visits a gay couple who are both well meaning and self-absorbed. They take the angel for a mentally challenged homeless person until he downloads 1% of God’s consciousness into one of them. “You look like when we did coke,” his partner remarks as he comes out of it. Of course, it doesn’t help for them to learn that they will be destroyed for violating the laws of God that haven’t even been written yet. Even as Michael lets them preview an “advanced copy” of Leviticus, “Leviticus Rag” perfectly expresses their chagrin.

Irene Marquette, Christy Bonstell, Photo credit: Sean Cusick The highlight of the show occurs when God finally reveals himself, as a Morrissey character, singing, “This is God, Saying Sorry.” The true nature of the Old Testament God comes to light, as a capricious, arbitrary, and erratic personality; an awful power coupled to insecurity issues. Perhaps even the liberal religious may take offense, but the song is perfect piece for the production and explains a great deal about a god who “expects a lot.”

So, even once the angels have found one good man, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed anyway. The writers pull no punches in describing or commenting on the arbitrariness of that destruction: “Genocide is always someone else’s fault.” What more needs to be said about the human propensity to come up with any rationalization for the abuse of power, whether it be bombing cities or decimating populations?

The final act wherein Lot has sex with his daughters returns us to the ribaldry for which Annoyance is famous. It’s a telling moment when the angel Michael reassures Lot that, not to worry, the whole incident will be left out of the Koran. Nice to know that someone will do damage control, once the damage is all well and done.

Much praise goes to the well-coordinated cast, whose enthusiasm and energy are unflagging. Biblical madness should be paired sardonic revelry and earnest mania. It may be the only way for the human race to survive.

 

Rating: «««½

Sodomites!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions opens on June 19 during the Just For Laughs Festival and will show on Fridays at 8:00 PM through July 31. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the company’s website theannoyance.com, or by calling the box office: 773.561.HONK (4665). The Annoyance is located at 4830 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois 60640.

Cast list and bios after the jump

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