Review: The Madness of George III (Chicago Shakespeare)

  
  

The real King Lear

  
  

King George III (Harry Groener) and the royal family greet their subjects in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

  
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
   
The Madness of George III
   
Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropulos
at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru June 12  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Talk about life imitating art. Like the fictional King Lear of Shakespeare’s harshest imagination, in the late 18th century King George III of the troubled House of Hanover descended into madness, then briefly emerged from it as he realized that a king is mortal and that others have suffered as much as he. He too had vicious offspring: two sons – the fat and foolish Prince of Wales, later George IV, and the foppish Duke of York – were every bit as ungrateful as Goneril and Regan (and he had no Cordelia to redeem the curse). George was temporarily “cured” by a tough-love regimen: A monarch who had never been contradicted in his life was restrained by strait-jackets and strapped to a chair like a thief in a pillory. If not worse, the treatment was as vicious as the malady.

Harry Groener as the ailing King George III and Ora Jones as his devoted Queen Charlotte in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III. Photo by Peter Bosy.If Lear’s story is tragic, George’s is pathetic, so great is the gulf between his real illness (porphiria, a medical and not a mental degenerative disease) and the neo-medieval physicians who think the solution is just a question of bloodletting, poultices, and a daily inspection of the chamberpot. It’s too easy to say that George was unhinged by the ingratitude of his American subjects in daring to revolt—or that his peace of mind was subverted by parliamentary plots hatched by his enemies the Whigs (under the unscrupulous Charles Fox). (The government’s Tories, under William Pitt, were not above exploiting the addlepated king as he forfeited control over almost all his functions and functionaries.) His was a classic case of hubris: The body’s conditional state betrayed the monarch’s absolute power.

Alan Bennett’s much-praised 1991 dramatization of this unpleasantness (made into Nicholas Hytner’s superb 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne as the humbled king) recalls Thomas Hogarth’s most vicious caricatures: It conjures up a dysfunctional dynasty as fraught with friction as any family and a political circus in which Whigs and Tories behave just as badly as our bad boys do in 2011, not 1785.

Penny Metropulos’ all-engrossing staging is a marvel of perpetual motion. Its energy is coiled and concentrated in Tony-nominee Harry Groener’s piledriving performance in the dual title role (the madness as much as the king). In this awesome fall from grace we watch the symbol of the then-world’s greatest empire lose authority as he does his bowels, brain and locomotion. The well-named Groener makes us feel his pain in each particular (and Bennett is nothing if not graphic in his depiction of a body breaking down).

The king’s sole help comes from Ora Jones’ magnificent Queen Charlotte, George’s fearlessly loyal, unjustly neglected wife, his faithful equerries (Kevin Gudahl and Erik Hellman), and his principled and frustrated prime minister (Nathan Hosner). All do legion work above and beyond every theatrical expectation.

     
King George III (Harry Groener) celebrates his recovery with his devoted Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. King George III (Harry Groener, center) handles government affairs with Prime Minister William Pitt (Nathan Hosner, far left) as Fortnum (Mark D. Hines) awaits orders, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.
King George III (Harry Groener) embraces his straitjacket as he struggles to regain control of his mind in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) warns her ailing husband, King George III (Harry Groener), of his government's impending plan to revoke his political powers, as Captain Fitzroy (Kevin Gudahl, center) and Captain Greville (Erik Hellman, left) look on, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As devious as the disease that wracks the king, Richard Baird plays his heir with odious opportunism, matched by Alex Weisman as his corrupt and corpulent younger brother. David Lively’s Lord Chancellor is amusingly caught in the crossfire between both factions, while the four doctors (Brad Armacost, Patrick Clear, William Dick and James Newcomb) display a cornucopia of ignorance that Moliere would envy.

The near-three hours fly by as pell-mell conflicts ebb and seethe under William Bloodgood’s immense Palladian portico. Its most telling moment is when a recovering George experiences the only good treatment he received: He plays a dying King Lear, suddenly realizing that another man wrote about and an imaginary one felt his plight. That, of course, was to know how powerless you are when fate toys with you and your own body turns on you worse than any enemies could imagine. You feel like a voyeur as you watch this scatological and scandalous story unfold, but you can’t take your eyes away for an instant.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Suspecting a plot to dethrone him, King George III (Harry Groener) attacks his son, the Prince of Wales (Richard Baird), attended by Dr. Richard Warren (Patrick Clear, left), as Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones, right) rushes to quell him and the Duke of York (Alex Weisman) tumbles to escape the fray, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

All photos by Liz Lauren and Peter Bosy.

     

 

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Review: Guys and Dolls (Marriott Theatre)

  
  

Holy Rollers, Batman!

  
  

Brian Hissong as Sky Masterson in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Dolls'

  
Marriott Theatre presents
  
Guys and Dolls
  
Written by Frank Loesser
Directed and choreographed by
Matt Raftery
at
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $40-$48  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Damon Runyon knew Broadway like the beat of his heart—from its sewers to its gospel missions. Those in fact are two of the exotic locales in Guys and Dolls, the always lovable, inexhaustibly right 1950 musical that Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows concocted from Runyon’s delightful short stories. Collected by Loesser in 1932, those good-hearted, slang-filled tales of Broadway sharpies, Rod Thomas as Nathan, Jessie Mueller as Adelaide in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Doll's'floozies, high rollers, suckers, and the frustrated reformers who tried to clean up their act are still well worth the read.

For those who don’t know this merry musical, Guys and Dolls traces the very opposite attraction of gambler Sky Masterson for Sister Sarah Brown, a naïve Salvation Army lassie: An unlikely couple, by show’s end the two feel just right together. Another off-beat romance pairs Nathan Detroit, organizer of New York’s "oldest established, permanently floating crap game," and Miss Adelaide, a dimly-lit showgirl frustratedly engaged to Nathan for 14 years, who has her famous, constant cold to show for it.

Joined by such richly-named urban denizens as Harry the Horse, Benny Southstreet, and Rusty Charlie, they all return to full and happy life in this Marriott Theatre revival. If in songs like "Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat" and the title hummer, Frank Loesser found a savvy musical equivalent to Runyon’s wonderful oddballs. Director Matt Raftery has his gritty-rich equivalents too, notably Jessie Mueller as adenoidal Adelaide ("a person could develop a cold"), a wackily evasive Rod Thomas as her hilariously allergic-to-marriage Nathan, and leather-lunged George Andrew Wolff as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a crap shooter who improbably finds religion on a bet.

     
Rod Thomas, Bernie Yvon, George Andrew Wolff, Brian Hissong in Frank Loesser's 'Guys and Dolls' at Marriott Theatre. Rod Thomas as Nathan, Jessie Mueller as Adelaide in Frank Loesser's 'Guys and Dolls' at Marriott Theatre
Rod Thomas as Nathan, Jessie Mueller as Adelaide in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Dolls' Abby Mueller as Sarah, Brian Hissong as Sky in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Dolls'.

Abby Mueller shows why Sarah is such a rich role: In her "I’ve Never Been in Love Before" and her inebriated "If I Were a Bell" she acts her way through songs that say it all. As her gambling man with a soul to be saved, suave and handsome Brian Hissong brings to "I’ll Know" and "Luck Be A Lady" a rich, unforced baritone that’s pretty persuasive. Playing Sarah’s Samaritan/Salvation mentor, Roger Mueller makes much of his tender "More I Cannot Wish You" and John Lister brings hometown conviction to Big Julie from Chicago (apparently the only thug in New York who carries a gun).

Picturing the period perfectly, Tom Ryan’s urbane set nicely set off the fedoras and loudly colored, wide-lapeled suits that costume designer Nancy Missimi contrasts with the chorines’ pink fluffery. Combine these with this cunning cast and Raftery’s crisp and unconventional choreography and you’ve got a show to lift anyone from the winter doldrums.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Jessie Mueller as Adelaide, Abby Mueller as Sarah - Marriott Theatre

     
     

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REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone (Marriott Theatre)

A journey to another world

 

DROWSY CHAPERONE--Andy Lupp as George and cast

  
Marriott Theatre presents
 
The Drowsy Chaperone
 
Music/Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by
Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed/Choreographed by
Marc Robin
Musical direction by
Doug Peck
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriot Drive (map)
Through June 28th
  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. No, I’m not reviewing Anything Goes, but hang in there with me. The plot is laughable, relying on many standard musical theatre tropes – mistaken identity, leading lady leaving the stage behind, gangsters, horribly offensive racial stereotypes – but really the story is just a vehicle for the music. Can DROWSY CHAPERONE--Tari Kelly as Janet (moon) anyone deny the rousing thrill of “Blow Gabriel Blow”? The devastating heartbreak of “I Get A Kick Out of You”? And that tap break at the end of Act I? Perfection. Listening to Anything Goes is traveling to another time, an age of innocence when every loose end was tied up with a pretty pink ribbon and the only ending was happily ever after. For Man in Chair (the brilliant James Harms), that musical is The Drowsy Chaperone, and when the needle scratches against vinyl his entire world is transformed into the melodramatic paradise of 1920’s musical theatre.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a tribute to the musicals of Porter and Berlin and Gershwin, a celebration of every spit take and tap break, a love letter to the days when love was all there was. Lambert and Morrison’s music and lyrics provide the ballads and belts people expect from the genre, serving up fine pastiches of the genre’s greats, but Martin and McKellar’s ingenious book is what gives the show an added dimension. Man in Chair is a narrator that is the embodiment of escapist theory, physically entering the world that the audience is only able to observe. Sure, he comments on the musical’s absurdities – those pesky stereotypes, the wafer-thin plot, that song with all the monkeys – but the ridiculous fiction is easier than the harsh reality of his lonely apartment. And then there’s a five minute tap break. That’s the kind of musical The Drowsy Chaperone is.

Director Marc Robin is a master at staging in the round, keeping his actors in constant motion so that no one in the audience is stuck staring at backs the whole night, and his energetic choreography creates dimension on the mostly bare stage. Jazz is blended with ballet, ballroom, and some impressive tumbling to create visually stunning images, and the cast dances it beautifully. The aforementioned tap number is lightning quick, seriously demanding, and impeccably executed by the ever-smiling Robert Martin (Tyler Hanes) and his best man George (Andy Lupp). The physical comedy is slapstick at its finest. Each new scene offers a different way for Adolpho (Adam Pelty) to humiliate himself, and Mrs. Tottenham (Paula Scrofano) spitting in Underling’s (Gene Weygandt) face is a long-running gag. The biggest laughs come from the Man in Chair’s commentary, largely because Harms is the one saying it.

 

adam-pelty-as-adolpho david-lively-and-laura-taylor
jim-harms-as-man-in-chair linda-balgord-as-drowsy-chaperone

From his first monologue in complete darkness to a joyous moon-ride finale (no, that is not supposed to make sense), he charms the audience with his passion for the theater and makes his home a place you want to be. There is a lot of potential darkness to be explored in Man in Chair, and Harms gets just close enough to the edge that he can provoke a little more insight into the character’s struggle while still being able to turn back and box step with a lesbian Aviatrix (Melody Betts). The biggest joke is how different his real life is from the world of The Drowsy Chaperone.

In the title role, Linda Balgord flippantly dismisses the situation at hand in favor of the next drink, belting the inspiring “You’ll Never Walk Alone”-a-la-Joanne-from-Company “As We Stumble Along” to no one in particular. Robert Jordan and Janet Van De Graaff (Teri Kelly) are ideal ingénues, completely idiotic and hopelessly romantic. The racial stereotypes are cartoonish in their exaggeration, from the European (Italian? Spanish?) Adolpho to the “Message From A Nightingale” act II opening, but it’s not offensive if it’s really funny, right?

The Drowsy Chaperone an intelligent musical that builds on the foundations of the genre while paying tribute to the work that has come before it. Those kinds of musicals are hard to find. It’s easier to turn a movie into a musical, or take a Billboard artist’s discography and add a plot. Marriott’s production is a journey to another world, and even if we have to watch from the sidelines, the view is great.

       
        
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

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Review: Marriott Theatre’s “Hairspray”

Marriott Lincolnshire brings the beat and never stops

 hairspray3

Marriott Theatre presents:

Hairspray

by Marc Shaiman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
directed/choreographed by Marc Robin
thru December 6th (but tickets)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Hairspray4 The genius of Hairspray is its pulse; when the show starts moving it never slows down, a feat accomplished by the retro rock n’ roll stylings of Marc Shaiman’s music and a hilarious but socially conscious book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Exquisitely directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, Marriott Lincolnshire’s Hairspray captures the limitless energy of the early 60’s with the kind of finesse that makes it all look so easy.

Not enough can be said about Robin’s creative prowess, seamlessly maneuvering his actors around the tricky stage of Marriott’s in-the-round theater. When all 29 actors in the cast perform the show’s final number to all four sides of the house, the rush is exhilarating. Of course, it helps that Robin is assisted by a cast of the city’s top musical theater talent and Chicago newcomer Marissa Perry, who comes straight from Broadway where she played the fifth and final Tracy Turnblad.

Set in 1962 Baltimore, Hairspray tells the story of spunky teenager Tracy’s mission to become a star on “The Corny Collins Show” and date hunky Link Larkin (Billy Harrigan Tighe) while overcoming her overprotective mother Edna (Ross Lehman) and the bitchy Barbie mother-daughter duo of Velma and Amber Von Tussle (Hollis Resnick, Johanna McKenzie Miller). When the dance moves Tracy learns from black classmate Seaweed J. Stubbs (Joshua Breckenridge) in detention make her Baltimore’s hottest sensation, she sets out to integrate her favorite television show with the help of best friend Penny Pingleton (Heidi Kettenring) and Seaweed’s brassy mother Motormouth Maybelle (E. Faye Butler).

Hairspray1

Perry is pitch-perfect as the show’s protagonist, and she brings an infectious energy to the stage that not only spreads to her costars, but the audience as well. When she squeaks out the first notes of the show’s opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” there is no doubt that this is a role that fits her like a glove. The powerhouse vocals and amazing comedic timing of Butler and Kettenring make their scenes with Perry crackle with energy, and watching Lehman’s Edna burst out of her shell and embrace her buxom beauty is heartwarming. Breckenridge gives Seaweed an unbridled sensuality that adds a layer of grit to his dirty dancing, (but there were moments when his vocals paled in comparison to his costars). Marriott’s Hairspray is musical theater at its finest, and should not be missed.

Rating: ««««

 

Hairspray2

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