Review: Leaving Iowa (Fox Valley Repertory)

     
     

‘Leaving Iowa’ backs its rustic corniness with heartfelt characters

     
     

Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

   
Fox Valley Repertory presents
  
Leaving Iowa
       
Written by Tim Clue and Spike Manton
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
at Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (map)
thru March 13  |  tickets: $29-$39  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

As a boy, I endured my share of 6-hour road trips to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a pint-sized rural town where my sister attended college. I can’t say the experience left me with playwrights Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s fondness for the Hawkeye State, but I can appreciate the sentiment behind this charming family comedy.

Leaving Iowa is straight-up Americana, full of the diner waitresses, Civil War re-enactors, helpful motel clerks and hyped-up mechanics we like to believe still pepper the Midwestern landscape. The narrative is familiar but sturdy: Don, a city boy (Alex Goodrich), returns home to take care of family business and finds himself reconnecting with his roots in the process.

'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell, playing at Pheasant Run Resort by the Fox Valley Repertory.

On a mission to scatter his father’s ashes, he is hit with a wave of nostalgia for his family car trips. The action leaps back and forth between Don’s narration (richly performed, which is no easy task with light-hearted material), his present day quest, and flashbacks to his vacation adventures with Mom (Diane Dorsey), Dad (Don Forston), and Sis (Katherine Banks). The childhood scenes are largely dominated by broad comedy—the kind you’d expect in a self-rated PG play about nostalgia and making things right. At times, jokes about incessant backseat wailing just become incessant wailing, but mostly the gentle humor earns at least a smile.

The real heart of the show lies in Don’s relationship with his father. For a play that ends its first act with an ensemble chorus of “This Land is Your Land” set against a waving flag, director Rachel Rockwell touches on some unexpectedly honest, complicated ideas about growing up. When adult Don tries to have a long-distance phone call with his father, boredom and guilt fill the pauses in between banal sports chatter and monosyllabic responses. Dad, planted in front of a television, silently hurts. The son lacks the will to make the connection his old man needs.

The same goes for a later lament about opportunities passed.

This father-son duo has convincing chemistry. Forston is loveable, and Goodrich fills the All American Boy bill with a sense of earnestness and relatable imperfection. Wacky bits about navigating in the bygone collapsible-map era are swell, but Rockwell never lets us forget there are real humans in that car. The show contains substance underneath its silliness—themes that are affecting and brave.

In other words, Leaving Iowa gives us the apple pie without making us stomach too much gooey, fluorescent cheese on top.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
  

Stop Fighting!  Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don) encounter a vacation car fight in 'Leaving Iowa' by Tim Clue and Spike Manton - directed by Rachel Rockwell

Artists

Cast: Diane Dorsey (Mom), Don Forston (Dad), Katherine Banks (Sis), Alex Goodrich (Don), Sean Patrick Fawcett (Character Man), Anna Carini (Character Woman), Torey Adkins (Male Understudy), Géraldine Dulex (Sis Understudy), Valerie Glowinski (Mom & Character Woman Understudy)

Production: Rachel Rockwell (Director), Tim Clue & Spike Manton (Playwrights), Mike Tutaj (Video Designer), Yousif Mohamed (Lighting Design), Elizabeth Flauto (Costume Design), Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Miles Polaski (Sound Design), Kristi J. Martens (Stage Manager), Laura Eilers (Performance Assistant Stage Manager), Mark Johnson (Replacement Stage Manager), Jesse Gaffney (Properties Master)

***NOTE: Valerie Glowinski has taken over role of The Character Woman***

Leaving Iowa, Rachel Rockwell, Tim Clue, Spike Manton, Fox Valley Rep

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol (Drury Lane Children’s Theatre)

   
  

A heart-warming tale of transformation and joy

  
 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL- William Dick as Scrooge

   
Drury Lane Children’s Theatre presents
   
A Christmas Carol
       
Written by Charles Dickens
Directed by
Scott Calcagno
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through Dec 18  |  tickets: $12  |   more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

The Christmas season is once again upon us, and with it is brought one of the most beloved holiday stories, A Christmas Carol, once again brought to life by Drury Lane Theatre. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol tells the heartwarming transformational story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man as greedy and he is unhappy, who’s offered one last chance on Christmas Eve to discover the true meaning of Christmas before he is forever fated to doom and despair.

The set focuses in on a large wooden door center stage, complete with a large, lion-head knocker. Flanking the stage is distressed wood walls and throughout the performance set pieces are brought on and off stage in quick changes to create Scrooge’s counting house, his home, the Crachet’s and other various places around town. Scene changes are done quickly and efficiently, never slowing down the performance.

imageTravelling back to the London of 1843, A Christmas Carol opens with the townspeople milling about, singing Christmas carols and enjoying each other’s company. The stage instantly comes to life with action and a charming sense of the season. That is, until Scrooge makes his entrance scowling and “bah humbug-ing” his way through the now-silenced crowd. Scrooge, played by William Dick, is a clear distinction of the bitter old man, and Dick embodies him fully, while adding a bit of jolliness to the character. Dick could have taken a bit meaner turn with Scrooge in the beginning, making the transformation more prevalent at the end, but Dick does a fine job at portraying the old Miser.

The counter to Scrooge is Bob Crachit (Andrew Weir), wonderfully full of merriment and Christmas cheer. With an understanding of how poor Crachet and his family are, Weir reaches deep down and creates a lovely sense of hope and love for not just himself but the entire Crachit family (and Scrooge as well!).

As Scrooge settles into his lonesome Christmas Eve, he is joined by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley (Christian Gray), now forced to walk the earth bearing the chains he created in life. A chilling portrayal of what Scrooge is to become should be not change his ways, Gray delivers a solid performance and is spot on with the spookiness of his character.

The ghost of Christmas Past (Cathy Lord) is regal and elegant as she takes Scrooge on a journey of his Christmas memories. She’s comforting with a protective demeanor. Christmas Present (Don Forston) is as jovial as one would hope as he shows Scrooge how his young co-worker and nephew celebrate, while Christmas Future (Andrew Redlawsk), grim and terrifying in his ways, shows Scrooge just what is to become of him and those in his life.

The lighting effects help to bring create a sense of mystery and wonder, especially surrounding the three spirits. The use of strobe lighting, colored spotlights and other lighting effects bring the fantasy to life and really aid in telling the story.

As Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, it’s heart-warming to see the change come over him and the happiness he’s found. William Dick does a fantastic job of spreading that newly-acquired Christmas spirit around the theatre. And as Tiny Tim (Nicky Amato/Shane Franz) cries out, “God bless us, everyone” it’s clear that everyone both on and off stage is feeling a little merrier than when the play began.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

A Christmas Carol plays at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, Ill., through December 18. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 630-530-0111.  Families are also offered the special opportunity to have breakfast or dinner with Santa Claus on select performance dates, with a festive buffet-style menu complete with seasonal favorites (more info after the fold). This all-time favorite play with music is an exhilarating opportunity to introduce children to the arts. 

        
       

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REVIEW: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Drury Lane)

 

Dynamic choreography, rousing leading lady save flawed musical

 

 (L-R) Cara Salerno, Vanessa Panerosa, Amber Mak, Hallie Cercone, Abby Mueller, Katie Huff, and Amanda Kroiss star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

        
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
   
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
   
Book by Gene del Paul, Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Music/Lyrics by Gene del Paul, Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn and Johnny Mercer
Directed by Bill Jenkins
Musical Direction by
Roberta Duchak
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
through December 19  |  tickets: $31-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

In the 1954 movie musicalSeven Brides for Seven Brothers”, when men kidnap women and trick them into marriage, it’s not Stockholm syndrome, it’s love. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” is one of those movie musicals that is a product of its time, when women were looked at as little more than glorified housekeepers and baby makers, born to do the will of their man. When Adam Pontipee (Steve Blanchard) deceives the sassy Milly (Abby Mueller) into marrying him, his six brothers set out to capture wives for themselves, ambushing six town girls and throwing them in the back of their wagon. It’s offensive, but the music is jovial and melodic, the dancing is energetic and plentiful, and the film’s leading man Howard Keel’s booming voice and charming smile make it difficult to despise the chauvinistic Adam.

(L-R) Richard Strimer (Benjamin) and Abby Mueller (Milly) star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett BeinerMy problems with the stage adaptation of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers arise from its attempts to flesh out the characters, which sounds like a good thing but ends up backfiring by making them even shallower. The solos do very little to make you sympathize with the characters, with Milly’s “One Man” beginning as a condemnation of her husband’s trickery before devolving into a tribute to female subservience. Conversely, Adam’s big Act Two moment of redemption “Where Were You?” attempts to justify his sexism by giving him a daddy complex, blaming his actions on his absent father instead of taking responsibility himself. It’s not difficult to assume that Adam’s behavior is a product of his environment, but when it is put into song it just makes the already unlikable character seem pathetic. Blanchard’s vocals don’t help matters, lacking the timbre and strength expected from an 1850 frontiersman. And while the added ensemble numbers manage to evoke the musical style of the film, the solos and smaller group sequences have a contemporary feel that is out of place with the rest of the show’s classic musical theater sound.

The highlight of the production is easily Milly and her relationship with her six brothers-in-law. Mueller’s crystal clear tone and powerful belt make her musical numbers stand out, and she has great chemistry with her new relatives as she assumes a dominating mother position in the household. Watching the brothers transform under Milly’s feminine influence is a joy, from learning to dance in “Goin’ Courtin’” to finally appreciating their women in the heartfelt “Glad That You Were Born.” With the brothers, there is evidence of a struggle between the uncivilized way they’ve been brought up and the restraint that makes for successful courting. “We Gotta Make It Through The Winter” is a hilarious exclamation of horny frustration, but it is followed by Daniel (William Travis-Taylor) and Frank (Brandon Springman) ruminating on the somber effects of loneliness in the beautiful “Lonesome Polecat.”

 

(L-R)  Abby Mueller (Milly) and Steve Blanchard (Adam) star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner (L-R) Richard Strimer, Jarret Ditch, William Travis Taylor, Chris Yonan, Brandon Springman and (back) Zach Zube star in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Photo by Brett Beiner.

The brothers learning to dance comes in handy for Tammy Mader’s intense, dynamic choreography. Maybe the reason Adam and Milly’s romance never blossoms on stage is because they don’t have a nice dance together like the brothers and their brides. There isn’t much depth to these characters and their affection for each other, but the substance appears in their dancing, when the chemistry really ignites. The extended town dance sequence in Act I is a mesmerizing affair, albeit a little chaotic and unclear at times, while an Act II all-bride dream ballet brings some sensuality to the affair.

Like the film, this production is propelled by its dancing, but bodies in movement can’t overcome all the flaws of the writing. The changes to the film give the story a more modern context, and the attempt to psychoanalyze the characters through song removes much of the musical’s charm. Drury Lane’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a polished, well-performed production, but the questionable source material prevents it from rising to true greatness.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
  

(L-R) Chris Yonan, Hallie Cercone, Jarret Ditch, and Cara Salerno star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, running through December 19 at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

 

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REVIEW: The Emperor’s New Clothes (Chicago Shakes)

A fun and exciting new family musical

 

emperor's new clothes - entire cast

   
Chicago Shakespeare Theater  presents
 
The Emperor’s New Clothes
   
Book by David Holstein
Music/Lyrics by
Alan Schmuckler
Directed by
Rachel Rockwell
at
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Navy Pier (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $18-$23  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

emperor's new clothesThe Emperor’s New Clothes, the classic children’s fable, has been fancifully modernized by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, who commissioned a new musical based on the Hans Christian Anderson story with music and lyrics by Alan Schmuckler and book by David Holstein

In the original tale, the Emperor is sold an outfit made out of what he believes to be invisible fabric. He is told that only intelligent people can see it, so, not wanting to be  thought foolish, he pretends that he sees clothing where there is none. All of his royal servants and most of the townspeople go along with him, not wanting to be called stupid. Finally, a child watching the Emperor walk by, calls out that the Emperor is not wearing anything at all. All of the people in the town get a real kick out of this, and the Emperor is humiliated. 

The Emperor’s New Clothes at Chicago Shakespeare begins with the same basic premise, but blends the classic fairy tale themes with modern conundrums. Sam (Megan Long), the Emperor’s idealistic, college bound daughter, wants her father to get over his materialistic obsession with clothes, and open his eyes to the plight of the peasants. Meanwhile, Kimberly (Alex Goodrich), the son of Mama Swindler (Anne Gunn) the corruptible seamstress of the infamous invisible garments sees a better solution to save their failing business: e-commerce. Debbie Baer’s costumes continue the motif of mixing old and new: Mama wears a brown skirt and bodice while Sam walks around in jeans and a hoodie.  Kevin Depinet’s set is perfectly gaudy and extravagant. Its neon green and bright fuchsia paisley patterns are a whimsical fantasy, and the beautifully conceptualized and crafted set pieces create an engaging aesthetic.

emperor's new clothes4

Directed by Rachel Rockwell, whose recent production of Ragtime (our review ★★★★) was a smash hit at Drury Lane last spring, knows her way around a musical – to put it lightly – and her youthful, feminine energy infuses the entire show. One of her strong suits with family theater is pacing. She keeps the story flowing in a lyrical and fluid way. Actors enter through the aisles and from the wings, and the choreography (also by Rockwell) has the same bouncy, young and fun energy as the rest of the show.

emperor's new clothes3 Alan Schmuckler’s poppy music is up-tempo and vivacious. His music maintains a steady lively pace throughout the show, keeping the production constantly engaging.

Ultimately, the play is a new take on an old fable. Hans Christian Anderson’s classic story has a moral at the end. We learn from it that we must speak our minds and use our common sense. This new version, with its parent/child conflicts, is a more complicated story for a newer, more astute family audience. Simplistic moral punch lines won’t work for today’s children, who have been raised on a diet of television and film that allow them to explore a deeper array of human emotion without necessarily trying to teach them anything. I wouldn’t say that there is no moral to this new imagining of The Emperor’s New Clothes, but I would say that it takes its time getting there, and the moral comes out of an exploration of the character’s relationships. The Emperor’s New Clothes is a fun and exciting new family musical.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

emperor's new clothes2

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REVIEW: Ragtime (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Drury Lane scores big with epic musical “Ragtime”

RAGTIME-_The_cast

 
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
 
Ragtime
 
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow
by
Terrance McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics)
directed/choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through May 23 (more info)

By Katy Walsh

‘What can happen in a year?’ Father’s question is an expectation that life is simple and predictable.

BF1C0838 The reality is birth, death, emancipation, persecution, obsession, syncopation. In 1906, the regularity in life takes unexpected turns as Drury Lane Oakbrook presents Ragtime The Musical. The show focuses on the lives of three groups: WASPs, blacks, and immigrants. In the New York suburbs, a wealthy family breaks the monotony with wild excursions and celebrity stalking. In Harlem, a successful black piano player decides to search for his lost love. Just off the boat, an Jewish immigrant artist and his daughter arrive with nothing but optimistic anticipation. Three distinctly different rhythms unexpectedly intersect to create a new tune. Ragtime celebrates a year in American history by paralleling the adaption of ragtime music with socio-economic changes of the time period. The results are a stunning history lesson intertwined with melodies of hope and change.

Under the skillful direction and choreography of Rachel Rockwell, the tempo never misses a beat. Rockwell strikes all the right notes with this multi-talented cast. Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse) is the powerhouse of emotional range in song and act. His tune changes throughout the show – regret, love, vengeance. Darrington connects the audience with his story based on heart wrenching hope. His “The Wheels of a Dream” duet with Valisia LeKae (Sarah) is flawless. LeKae is a perfect match-up and their onstage chemistry is the epic-love-story-kind. Cory Goodrich (Mother) is marvelous in an understated and nonchalant way. Goodrich’s character changes her family’s life dramatically with simple choices. Her transformation is most baffling to Father played by Larry Adams. In a pivotal song, Adams is perplexed as he sings, ‘I thought I knew what love was but these lovers play different music.’

With inspirational paternal love, Mark David Kaplan (Tateh) chases a train for a teary-eyed audience impact. Alongside the principals, smaller and famous roles engage curiosity. Emma Goldman (Catherine Lord) influences as a social reformer. Evelyn Nesbit (Summer Naomi Smart) is the Brittany Spears of the time period…whee! Harry Houdini (Stef Tovar) mystifies as a successful immigrant. Booker T. Washington (James Earl Jones II) commands integration and respect.

BF1C1085 Larry_and_Cory
BF1C0803 BF1C0945 Mark_Kaplan-Jennifer_Baker

Surprisingly, this blockbuster musical starts with a stark stage. The introduction of characters is a popped up portrait of perfection. Literally, group entrances are elevated from below stage. As the three groups multiply across the stage, the unique flair of costume distinction, designed by Santo Loquasto, is a spectacular visual. Costumes, projections, lighting, moments of tasty eye candy decorate this show. From silhouettes marching to swimmers bathing, the imagery dances to the ragtime.

And there was distant music, simple and somehow sublime. Giving the nation a new syncopation.  The people called it Ragtime!’

Paralleling life’s happenstance, my performance had some twists not necessarily planned. There seemed to be an issue with lighting up the solo singers in the first few scenes. A momentary blip broke the backdrop illusion with a ‘Microsoft word computer screen’ projection. Initially, the audio seemed hollow. I was uncertain if it was a microphone or acoustic issue. It either cleared up or my engrossment made it a moot point. All in all, this production was amazing. It left me reinforced that a gesture of kindness changes life’s courses and bewildered about men’s obsessions with cars.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

BF1C0810

 

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REVIEW: My Fair Lady (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott’s ‘My Fair Lady’ loverly, but risk-free

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza (with flowers)

Marriott Theatre presents:

My Fair Lady

By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
Directed by
Dominic Missimi
Through February 14th, 2010 (
ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The story of linguistics professor Henry Higgins and the Cockney girl he transforms into a lady may well be the most beloved and best-known musical of all time. Based upon George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion, its original Broadway production in 1956 ran for 2,717 performances and won six Tony Awards. The 1964 film based on the musical won eight Oscars. The musical has had three major Broadway revivals, and a 2001 British production toured both the United Kingdom and the U.S. and won three Olivier Awards. Columbia Pictures has announced an upcoming movie remake.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza vertical You’ve surely seen some version of this musical — if not a professional show, then a high-school or college production or the film. Just listing its popular songs — "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time" — will set the tunes ringing through your head. Audiences are hard pressed to keep from singing along.

If you’re one of the lovers, then all I really need to tell you is that Marriott Theatre has produced an exuberant, picture-perfect production of My Fair Lady. Nothing about this show will mar your vision of the musical — from Kevin Gudahl channeling Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins to Nancy Missimi‘s gorgeous Edwardian costumes to Matt Raftery‘s jolly choreography.

If you’re not already an ardent fan, though, nothing about Marriott’s version will challenge your perspective. Dominic Missimi‘s direction breaks no new ground whatsoever. This is "comfort theater" at its safest.

The songs are all beautifully sung, the orchestra is first-rate and the acting never misses. The in-the-round staging works surprisingly well (though I held my breath every time the cast schlepped the office furnishings on and off the stage in the dark).

The cast and ensemble — as one expects from Marriott — do everything right. Heidi Kettenring brings verve to her part as Eliza Doolittle, particularly in her "unreformed" Cockney scenes, making Gudahl’s Higgins seem especially like a stuffed fish. Don Forston makes a feisty Alfred Doolittle (our heroine’s opportunistic father) and Catherine Lord an especially expressive Mrs. Pearce (Prof. Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper); her Scottish accent is a nice touch. David Lively gives a stiff upper lip to Colonel Pickering while Ann Whitney brings dry wit to Higgins’ mother.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring and Ann Whitney

Max Quinlan, as Eliza’s yearning suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, gives full measure to "On the Street Where You Live," and George Keating, Brandon Koller, Christian Libonati and Joseph Tokarz are a cheeky Cockney quartet.

The scene at Ascot, when Eliza is first revealed to the upper crust, is particularly delightful, thanks mainly to some amazing hats and staging that gives them all the display they deserve. Apart from that, though, and the intrinsic worth of live performance over recorded media, you might just as well rent the video.

I found myself thinking of all the things a theater company might do with this brilliant but hoary old musical to shake it up. While it’s probably going too far to set the show in the Loop and give Eliza a Bridgeport accent, a production, however beautiful, that merely follows where others have gone before, forms a sadly lost opportunity. Marriott’s My Fair Lady feels as if it’s set in aspic.

Rating: ★★★½

Note: Dinner packages available.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza & Kevin Gudahl as Higgins