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: Rod Blagojevich Superstar (2nd City at Metropolis)

           

Blago spoof still funny, if more painful

 

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The Second City presents
 
Rod Blagojevich Superstar
 
Book by Ed Furman, songs by T.J. Shanoff
Directed by Matt Hovde
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights (map)
Through Sept. 18  | 
Tickets: $28.50–$33.50  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The jury’s still out on the Rod Blagojevich trial, but the verdict on Rod Blagojevich Superstar is "guilty."

No one yukking it up it in the audience at The Second City’s remount of their clever 2009 hit, now at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, could have had any doubt that the whole silly story of our big-haired, big headed, impeached governor is all too painfully true.

Blago4 Blago and Company are much funnier than our previous crooked gubernatorial band, poor old George Ryan and his Inept GOP Grafters, who barely caught any comedy coverage at all, but their antics have been so over the top that it takes some doing to turn them into bigger buffoons than they made themselves.

The mini-musical doesn’t provide any answers to important questions like, "How come we keep electing such losers?" but confines itself to chronicling the career of the not-too-bright, Serbian-American "scrapper" from the Northwest Side who gets a party-school law degree, meets and marries the foul-mouthed daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman and rides the well-greased Illinois machine all the way to the top.

Joey Bland — in a remarkable wig — and Lori McClain ably reprise their roles as those already larger-than-life characters, Rod and Patti Blagojevich, supported by Dunbar Dicks doubling as Patti’s now-estranged dad, Ald. Dick Mell (D-33rd), and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald; Lauren Dowden as Ill. Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and John Hildreth in a hilariously restrained take on now-Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).

Even as parodies go, this is no great musical. The best song is the opening nod to "Jesus Christ Superstar," which asks, "Are you as nuts as we think you are?" Other numbers take off on tunes from such musicals as "Godspell," "Pippin" and "The Wiz," but the music just supports the japes. None of the cast are notable singers, but they belt out the lampooning lyrics clearly enough for comedy’s sake. "Pay to Play" might just as well be the official state song.

Laughable as it is to those who’ve been following along, you do need some state-of-Illinois savvy to get all the jokes. If the name "Tony Rezko" means nothing to you, you might have to do some homework before the show. On the other hand, if you’re hep to the whole Blago megillah, you’ve heard a lot of these jokes before. They’re still funny, but I can’t help but think that this revival is a bit like beating a dead donkey.

 

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When "Superstar" premiered last year, Blagojevich himself appeared onstage to open the show. There’s just no way they can top that.

The play has not been changed to reflect any current events, so the cast has added on some post-show improv games in which the audience can ask "Rod" questions and suggest additional "crimes" he might have committed (as if 24 counts weren’t enough!). Like all such shticks, it’s only as good as the audience’s idea, which on opening night wasn’t very. Even with the extras, it’s all over in about an hour and a quarter. So much for our first Democratic governor in 30 years. You have to laugh. Or cry.

      
     
Rating: ★★★
    
    

Note: As educational as this might be for the kids, the language is extremely uncensored.

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