REVIEW: The Hundred Dresses (Chicago Children’s Theatre)

   
  

Reducing childhood bullying one performance at a time

   
   

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Chicago Children’s Theatre presents
   
The Hundred Dresses
   
Written by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills
Directed by
Sean Graney
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (map)
through Dec 2   |  tickets: $26-$36  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

One in five students are bullied each year. 60% of students are bystanders to bullying*. Forty-five states, including Illinois, now have anti-bullying legislation. Bullying prevention programs have been shown to reduce school bullying by as much as 50%. To entertain and educate, Chicago Children’s Theatre remounts last season’s smash hit, The Hundred Dresses.

The Hundred Dresses - Chicago Childrens Theatre 008Peggy is rich. Wanda is poor. Maddie is somewhere in the middle. Clothing makes a fashion statement at Franklin Elementary School. Peggy is mean. Wanda is kind. Maddie is somewhere in the middle. The Hundred Dresses is a light-hearted musical dressed up to teach a powerful lesson. It’s theGlee” episode that harmonizes “Clueless” meets “Mean Girls”.

In their upbeat and high energy antics, these adult actors unleash the cute kid inside. Leslie Ann Sheppard (Maddie) is a shiny-happy sidekick to Natalie Berg’s (Peggy) self-absorbed diva. Berg balances over-the-top narcissism without becoming the villain. Berg charms in clueless oblivion. When she sings ‘you didn’t do anything wrong’ with perky sass, Sheppard’s soulful response ‘but I didn’t do anything right’ heightens in its profound simplicity. Sheppard’s subtle despair is a sweet awakening. The target of the teasing is Briana De Giulio (Wanda). De Giulio sings with hopeful pretend and a thick Polish accent. The interesting underlying story involves the overall acceptance of the other quirky playground kids. Andrew Keltz (Willie) is hysterical, arriving to school in various eccentric ensembles. Superman or robot, he doesn’t disguise his oddball ways that are just understood by the others. Elana Ernst (Cecile)is a tiara wearing, unicorn talking, ballerina wannabe. She looks and sounds like SNL alum, Cheri Oteri, with comedic timing and exasperated expressions to match. Geoff Rice (Jack) is the understated dreamer with a confident independence. The kids bond in a celebration of individuality.

Under the direction of Sean Graney and choreography of Tommy Rapley, the playful style is like a nursery rhyme game. It seems like it’s all fun and games until you really listen to the words. Jacqueline Firkins conjures up the perfect wardrobe to focus on dresses. The girls’ dresses are marvelously vibrant 50’s style. Watching the cast change it up, certainly promotes clothing envy. Is it the costumes? Is it the singing? Is it the dancing? Is it the cast? There are probably over 100 reasons to see The Hundred Dresses. The most important one is ‘because doing nothing is the worst of all.’ As grown-ups, we need to act to stop the bullying in schools. An easy and entertaining way is to take a kid or two (or a classroom!) to this production, which helps kids learn important life lessons in an entertaining way. Go see it!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
    
   

The Hundred Dresses plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 10:30 a.m; Saturdays and Sundays at 1p.m.    Running time is sixy minutes with no intermission. *Statistics about bullying from Newsweek Magazine, October 10 issue.

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All press photos by Michael Brosilow

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REVIEW: High School Musical (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Tweens need escapism as much as adults do

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Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
 
High School Musical
 
Directed/Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell 
100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
(map)
through May 22nd | tickets: $10 | more info

Reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

High School Musical, currently playing at Drury Lane Oakbrook, is a kind of bubble gum Romeo and Juliet for kids. Troy and Gabriella are teenagers from different cliques, she’s a brain and he’s a jock. But they fall in love anyway, and decide to shatter expectations by auditioning for the school musical, sending queen bee drama queen Sharpay into a jealous rage. In the end, they land the parts, fall in love, and even soften Sharpay up a little, all because they refused to stay faithful to their stereotypes. It’s nice to tell kids that they’re going to be alright in high school, if they just "are themselves." Unfortunately, life is not as simple as this, especially for children. In one of the great high school dramas of all time, My So-Called Life, the main character, Angela, reveals in a voice-over, "people are always telling you to ‘be yourself’ like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster." In the super catchy, and cheerfully choreographed number "Stick to the Status Quo", which takes place in the cafeteria with all of the students present, a basketball player reveals that he actually loves to bake, and a bookish prep reveals that she loves to dance to hip hop, but are these actually feelings that children, who are emotional human beings can relate to? Does this actually mean anything to kids? Or is the simplistic message just a marketing device, to trick parents into believing that there is substance to this poppy, flirty, love story for children?

high-school-musical_2TIMP_20137 The High School Musical franchise is a commercial creation. Originally a Disney Channel T.V. movie, the brand has expanded to encompass a quadruple platinum soundtrack, two sequels, including High School Musical 3: Senior Year which received theatrical release and is the highest grossing movie musical in an opening weekend of all time, as well as the condensed 70 minute stage version playing at Drury Lane.

The cheery “EHS (East High School”) banners strewn about the great grey daunting faux stone proscenium that was created for the main stage production Ragtime give the show the creepy look of a fascist victory party run by high school students. But happily, High School Musical also shares main stage director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, who speedily and clearly moves the show along . The choreography is poppy and fun, and was conceived with a high school mentality but a sophisticated ability. Additionally, there is some stand out talent in the cast, most notably Elana Ernst, whose super-sassy Sharpay is a magnetic pleasure to watch.

Children love High School Musical because of it’s upbeat, catchy songs and attractive cast. And besides being funny, it also and presents to kids – who are still years away from high school – a totally non-threatening fantasy about what they can expect when they enter the daunting world of the big kids. There is nothing wrong with a show like High School Musical; kids need escapism as much as adults do. But during the finale of High School Musical, when Max Quinlan as Troy pulls an amazing stunt where he lands the lead role in the musical, while concurrently winning the big basketball game and defeating bad girl Sharpay all through the magic of being himself, it makes one recall a scene at the beginning of the show, in which Sharpay auditions with an incorrectly uptempo interpretation of "What I’ve Been Looking For." Her partner is not the studly star basketball player, but her flamboyantly gay twin brother Ryan, played by the talented and funny Sean Michael Hunt. Sharpay and Ryan’s interpretation becomes the subject of vague mockery, and although it’s catchy, it’s not right, it’s not the status quo. Surely it takes a strong sense of self to face drama auditions, locked arms with your gay brother and demand that you be cast as lovers in the school play. But here, her sense of self is not rewarded, it’s punished because it conflicts with the needs of her cooler counterparts. Perhaps, High School Musical‘s message of be-true-to-yourself-and-all-will-be-well is conditional on how popular you are, which, when you think about it, is a rather bleak conclusion for those teens not on the A-list.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

The performance schedule for HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is Tuesdays through Saturdays at 10 a.m. with select performances at noon, 1 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Please call 630.530.0111 or visit www.DruryLaneOakbrook.com for the exact schedule, as some show times and dates may vary.

CAST: HSM stars Max Quinlan as Troy Bolton and Summer Smart as Gabriella Montez. The cast also includes Elana Ernst as Sharpay Evans, Sean Michael Hunt as Ryan Evans, Brandon Koller as Chad Danforth, Caitlainne Guerreri as Taylor McKessie, Jonathan Weir as Coach Bolton, Rebecca Finnegan as Ms. Darbus, Natalie Berg as Kelsi Neilson, Nina Fluke as Martha Cox, Jackson Evans as Jack Scott, Travis Turner as Zeke Baylor, and Zach Zube as Ripper.

CREATIVE TEAM: Joining Rachel Rockwell as Director and Choreographer are Jesse Klug (Lighting Designer), Erika Senase (Costume Manager), Brad Gonda (Technical Director), Kristin Ligeski (Wardrobe Supervisor), Jeff Dublinske (Sound Engineer) and Sophia Briones (Props Master). Kristi Martens is Stage Manager.

Review: Chicago Children’s Theatre’s “The Hundred Dresses”

Hilarious and touching – plus pretty dresses!

 Hundred-Dresses

 

Chicago Children’s Theatre presents:

The Hundred Dresses

by G. Riley Mills and Ralph Covert
directed by Sean Graney
extended through November 22nd (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Hundred-Dresses-3 The Hundred Dresses is a pretty show: pretty music, pretty voices, pretty staging, and of course, pretty dresses. The 100 Dresses is also a children’s show. If you don’t get designated nap time or a half hour after lunch to play kickball, then you are probably not the target audience for Chicago Children’s Theatre. Luckily, however, The 100 Dresses is a great show; a musical that speaks to the hearts of anyone that has ever needed a friend.

Wanda Petronski (Lauren Patten) has just immigrated from Poland with her father, and she isn’t the same as the other girls. She speaks with a funny accent, wears the same blue dress to school everyday, and queen bee Peggy (Natalie Berg) just plain doesn’t like her. Caught in the middle is Peggy’s best friend Maddie (Leslie Ann Sheppard), who thinks Wanda is actually kind of nice. The girls start teasing Wanda, and when Wanda tells them that she actually has 100 dresses in her closet at home, the conflict escalates. When the bullying becomes too much, Jan (Kurt Ehrmann), Wanda’s father, pulls her out of the school and everyone involved learns a good lesson about the pain that bullying and teasing causes.

Hundred-Dresses-2 G. Riley Mills and Ralph Covert‘s script is straightforward but filled with hilarious jokes and inspirational moments, perfect for the children in the house. Meanwhile, the cast and director Sean Graney have found the serious reality behind the bright dresses and colorful schoolhouse, giving the musical a weight that makes it more than fluff theater that kills an hour of the babysitter’s time. When Peggy talks about how easy it is to get a job or spend hundreds on a dress, the people in the audience that are laughing are the teachers and the parents, not the kids. Adult characters like Jan Petrovski and Miss Mason (Nadirah Bost) are used to ground the world in a mature reality that is probably more hundred-dresses-4 engaging to an older audience. When Miss Mason learns about Wanda’s dead mother, Bost reacts with sympathy and tenderness that travels throughout the theater, warming the viewers to the Patrovski’s plight from the very beginning of the play.

The playwright duo brings the same mix of comedy and warmth to their music and lyrics, and the songs are catchy while still carrying great emotional gravity. “The Hundred Dresses,”  Wanda’s heartbreaking solo where she reminisces about her life in Poland and how girls would dance in the dresses their mothers made, is exquisitely handled by Patten, finding the perfect balance between the joys and pains of youth that captures the tragedy of Wanda’s loss. While the script keeps a fairly light feel throughout, the music has a maturity and fullness that is captivating. When Wanda is absent for many days in a row, Maddie sings “Wanda Petrovski is Missing,” a rollercoaster of a ballad that requires a great belt, amazing diction, and razor sharp acting skills. Luckily, Sheppard is more than up for the task, and Maddie is a lovable protagonist that is easy to relate to.

 

All the actors that make up Wanda’s class of six have great chemistry with one another, and group numbers like “Penny Paddywack” are electric. The company’s voices all blend beautifully, and the melancholy “Passing of Autumn” is a wonderful showcase of their talents. Geoff Rice is adorable as class underdog Jack, whether he is stressing about winning the art contest or helping Maddie makes the right decisions, and Elana Ernst and Tyler Ravelson provide great comic relief two of Wanda’s goofy classmates; Ernst as hilariously airheaded diva Cecile and Ravelson as costumed class clown Willie. 

And the dresses? Costume designer Jacqueline Firkins‘ creations are gorgeous.

Rating: ««««

 

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