Review: Always, Patsy Cline (Fox Valley Repertory)

     
     

Patsy not the star of her own show

     
    

Megan Long as Patsy Cline. Photo by Trademan Photography

  
Fox Valley Repertory presents
  
Always, Patsy Cline
  
Created by Ted Swindley
Directed by John Gawlik
at Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $29-$39  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Fox Valley Repertory performs Ted Swindley’s musical tribute to the late country music darling Patsy Cline through a haze, literally and figuratively. For one, generational, tertiary colored lights penetrate fog above the stage, making for a nice effect not unlike watching a “Lawrence Welk” type television show on an analog set. The edges around the singers and band are softened, and the space is filled with nostalgic ambiance.

The other haze is selective memory.

Whatever events that caused the lonely heartbreak that drives Cline’s most moving songs—listen to “Faded Love, ” for god’s sake—as well as the struggles she suffered attaining her success are left deep in the background. No, the stakes in Swindley’s play couldn’t be lower, but one gets the sense that’s where he wants them. Always, Patsy Cline is inspired by the real life letters kept between Cline (Megan Long) Megan Long as Patsy Cline in Fox Valley Rep's 'Always, Patsy Cline'. Photo by Trademan Photography.and her close friend Louise Steger (Kate Brown), and just like pouring over the letters of a departed friend, he only wants us to remember what was good. Cline’s actual biography is a tragic story of a legendary artist dying in a senseless accident at 30. Director John Gawlik’s show is the recounting of a friendship and the joy that carries on after someone passes.

We’re first introduced to Patsy in boots at the Grand Ol Oprey, with Louise miles away seated in a Lucy Chair in her kitchen. Listening to Cline sparks a bit of a love affair in Steger, and she quickly closes the gap.

As the narrator and primary means of moving the play’s light plot forward, Brown is engaging and affable. She makes a balanced duo with Megan Long, countering Long’s authoritative pettiness with broad shoulders, an admiration for cigarettes and coffee, and an unabashed willingness to wiggles, shake, and slap her tuckus. Getting the mostly older audience at Fox Valley Rep to actively engage can be a process akin to pulling dentures teeth, but Brown actually gets a few of them to their feet.

Cline, on the other hand, is written to be viewed from a distance. Long shines in the music numbers with her strong voice and well-trained little yodels and yips, but she’s given little opportunity to be the star any place else. Perhaps the playwright is trying attain some sense of mystique for the title-character. Trouble is, that choice forces Brown’s character to continually grab for exposition instead of action to tell the story about a friendship, and leaves our deep connection to their relationship out of reach.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
 
 

Kate Brown as narrating friend Louise Steger and Megan Long as Patsy Cline in Fox Valey Rep's "Always, Patsy Cline". Photo by Trademan Photography. Megan Long as Patsy Cline. Photo by Tradman Photography

Always, Patsy Cline: The Sweetest Musical This Side of Heaven runs through May 15th at Pheasant Run Resort, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, with selective Thursdays either 8pm or 2pm.  Tickets are $29-$39 (dinner package: $49), and can be purchased online or by calling (630) 584-6342.  More info at www.foxvalleyrep.org.

All photos by Trademan Photography

     
     

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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: It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play (NobleFool)

  
  

If you love the movie, you’ll adore the play

  
  

George Keating, Emily Leahy, and Anna Hammonds

   
   
Noble Fool Theatricals presents
    
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
        

Adapted by
Joe Landry
from screenplay by
Goodrich, Hackett, Capra, Swerling
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main, St. Charles (map)
Through Dec. 26  | 
tickets: $29.50–39.50  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Frank Capra’s 1946 film, "It’s a Wonderful Life," starring James Stewart, tends to provoke extremes of reaction.

Like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play offers upbeat, family-friendly Christmas entertainment, in which you can count on a happy ending. If you adore the original, you’ll likely feel the same about the perfectly sweet production at Noble Fool Theatricals in St. Charles. If the movie gives you the bah humbugs, nothing about this live version — which, if anything, amps up the cuteness — will change your mind.

(From left) Jessie Fisher, George Keating and Anna HammondsOf course, there’s no suspense left whatsoever. Except for his one lapse into despair, George remains saintly and forbearing; Mr. Potter remains money-grubbing and evil-minded; and Angel Second Class Clarence still twinkles.

This 1996 stage adaptation by Joe Landry frames the story of small-town do-gooder George Bailey as a 1940s radio show, replacing the movie’s dozens of characters with a cast of five. They portray radio actors performing a Christmas Eve broadcast of "It’s a Wonderful Life" before a live audience.

New fun comes in the logistics of the radio performance on Kevin Depinet’s convincing stage set and the versatility of the actors. Director Rachel Rockwell has assembled a talented cast, who sing such songs as "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "Merry American Christmas" along with performing the play within the play.

Jack Sweeney doubles as sound-effects man and actor, rushing back and forth with earnest fervor. George Keating, as the lead actor portraying George Bailey, offers a resemblance to Stewart with a less laconic style. Dev Kennedy plays the slightly irascible station manager and a variety of voice parts with verve.  Anna Hammonds and Jessie Fisher give freshness to the female roles. Tom Clear ably plays multiple roles, including Clarence, as well as accompanying beautifully on piano, a highlight of the show.

Rockwell’s production shifts the frame’s setting from Manhattan to Chicago and heightens the cuteness factor with some youthful additions, including a schoolgirl singing ensemble with their teacher (Laura Eilers). Two alternating groups of adorable little girls sing a holiday song and stand in as the Bailey children (Emily Leahy, Kelsey Pettrone, Rebecca Roy, Marie Turner and Melissa Wickland and Leikyn Bravo, Megan Graal, Amelia Kuhlman, Annamaire Schutt and Madysen Simanonis).

This production also gives the soundman a young nephew. Stirling Joyner is appealing, but the role doesn’t add much to the plot. The local adaptation also adds some straightforward commercials for Fox Valley businesses to Landry’s comic, period-style advertisements for hair tonic and soap.

 

From left) Jessie Fisher, George Keating and Anna Hammonds (From left) Jessie Fisher, Dev Kennedy, Anna Hammonds and George Keating

Based on Phillip Van Doren Stern’s short story, "The Greatest Gift," Capra’s idealistic film about how one man can make a difference and goodwill can triumph over material wealth was not a great critical or box-office success at its premiere. The New Yorker described the movie as "so mincing as to border on baby talk," and it drew only $3.3 million in ticket sales, $8 million less than "The Best Years of Our Lives," released at the same time. Only after the Capra film’s copyright lapsed in the 1970s and it began to get annual showings on television did it became a favorite holiday tradition, perhaps because, as it aged, it touched viewers’ nostalgic yearning for a period when people’s motivations seemed black and white — whereas its contemporary audiences knew no such time existed.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fantasy, and not just because of the angel. If that’s your taste in Christmas entertainment, you’ll enjoy it.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Anna Hammonds and George Keating 

     
     

Stage773 announces million-dollar renovations

$1-million facade and interior renovations

starting July 2011

Exterior rendering of Stage773 Renovations - John Morris Architects 2

 

Noted Theatre Architect John Morris to Head Renovation

Stage773 Artistic Director Brian Posen has unveiled plans for a massive renovation to the 33-year old and newly renamed Stage773 building (1225 W. Belmont). The $1 million renovation, helmed by Architect John Morris of Morris Architect Planners, transforms the exterior and interior of the building into a virtually new space that will be more accommodating for performers and audiences. The project will break ground July 2011 and promises to produce a state-of-the-art home for the numerous itinerant companies in Chicago as well as all of Stage773’s productions. 

Says Posen:

The renovation brings new life to a space that has such an important place in the history of Chicago theater. We know that our audiences are going to be wowed by this new airy and modern theater. The conversion of the West Theater into two new spaces will provide additional opportunities for itinerant companies, a boost in overall space usage and new funding sources for the building. We will continue to offer traditional theater and dance performances in the North and South Theaters, while hosting additional events, like improv, cabaret, stage readings and sketch comedy, in the two new spaces.“

Stage773 Renovations - John Morris Architects

The renovation plans, with renderings currently on display in the theater lobby (shown in the above picture), include:

  • Redesigning the Belmont Avenue façade;
  • Increasing the amount of lobby light and opening the lobby to street side viewing with the addition of floor to ceiling windows along Belmont Avenue;
  • Modernizing and doubling the number of lavatories;
  • Completely overhauling the South Theater, including relocating the stage and seating to allow for easier load-in, better sound proofing and convenient audience access.
  • Transforming the West Theater into two new flexible spaces: a cabaret and a blackbox.
  • Stage 773 Board Chair Laura Michaud expects the renovations to have a marked positive impact. “This will provide Chicago’s theater community with two new, state-of-the-art venues. The increase in performances and audiences that this renovation brings will also benefit businesses in our Lakeview neighborhood,” she said. Executive Director Megan Flanagan added, “For 33 years, this building has played a vital part in the history of Chicago Theater. Once the renovations are complete, Stage773 begins a new chapter in this history as a brand new building, inside and out. We will provide not only performance spaces but also a home that both audiences and artists will visit again and again for high-quality entertainment of all kinds.”

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    Noble Fool Theatre changes name, announces new season

     

     

    Artistic Director John Gawlik shares his thoughts on name change

     

    Noble Fool Theatricals, the well-established professional theater in the Fox Valley area, has announced a new direction for their nonprofit organization. Beginning their calendar year season in January 2011, Noble Fool will become Fox Valley Repertory; a name that represents the community they have grown their mission, vision, patron base, and academy students around.

    I assure you that you can still count on outstanding productions because we are not a new organization. Our staff is the same, dedicated team,” says Artistic Director John Gawlik. “But after several years of growth, we simply wanted our name to represent the strong bond we have created with our patrons and community. We know this will help our patrons connect with our stories and begin referencing us as ‘our theater’ even more.”

    As the nonprofit theater company in residence at Pheasant Run Resort for the seventh year, “we are focused on creating an engaging theater experience by producing shows that inspire our community to laugh, reflect and reconnect to moments in one’s life,” says Artistic Director John Gawlik. A major portion of their commitment is through arts education, as they continue their task of inspiring youth to explore their own lives through the performing arts.

    For Fox Valley Repertory’s 2011 season, Gawlik has programmed an exciting season with some of the top and emerging directors in Chicago.

    To celebrate our new vision and name, we are offering the best subscription rates and benefits in the area,” says Gawlik. “Our 4-show packages are heavily discounted at $65 and $80 per person. We’re hoping the Fox Valley area will join us with this great introductory price. Our number of subscribers has grown tremendously in the last two years, and we hope this continues.”


    Fox Valley Repertory’s 2011 Season

     

    January 20 – March 13, 2011

    Leaving Iowa

    The Comedy About Family Vacations

    By Tim Clue and Spike Manton
    Directed by Rachel Rockwell; named Chicago Magazine’s Director of the Year (2010).

       
      Middle-aged writer Don Browning is searching for the perfect spot to scatter his father’s ashes. As he travels the paths his family took on their annual vacations, images of his father and the shared family tortures surround his memories. This homegrown comedy will have you revisiting your fond (and not-so-fond) memories of your youth.
       
       

    March 24 – May 15, 2011

    Always, Patsy Cline

    ‘The Sweetest Musical This Side of Heaven’

    Directed by John Gawlik; director of The Gift Theatre’s The Ruby Sunrise, named one of the Top Ten shows of 2009 by TimeOut Chicago Magazine 

       
      More than just a tribute to the late legendary country singer, this Off-Broadway musical recounts Cline’s true friendship with a fan from Houston, whom she befriended at a Texas honky tonk and remained pen pals with until her early death. Complete with down home country humor and true emotion, this 1960s tribute includes many of Patsy’ unforgettable hits such as Crazy, I Fall to Pieces, Sweet Dreams and Waking
    After Midnight. Rating: PG
       
       

    June 9 – July 31, 2011

    Around the World in 80 Days

    A Classic Adventure Comedy

    Written for the stage by Mark Brown, from the novel by Jules Verne

    Directed by John Gawlik 

       
      Based on Jules Verne’s classic novel, join fearless adventurer Phileas Fogg as he sets out to circle the globe in an unheard-of 80 days. It’s a race against the clock as he contends stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, bandits, and a detective who thinks he’s a robber on the run. Danger, romance, and comic surprises abound in this whirlwind of a show as five actors portray 39 characters in seven continents.
       
       

    August 18 – October 9, 2011

    They’re Playing Our Song

    Book by Neil Simon; Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager

    Directed by Jonathan Berry, hailed as “one of Chicago’s most talented young directors” by Chicago Tribune. 

       
      When an award-winning, straight-laced composer teams up with a quirky, aspiring lyricist, it’s far from a match made in musical heaven. But when an unexpected romance builds between them, they hilariously struggle to find harmony. Based on the real life love story of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Simon’s romantic musical will leave a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Rating: PG
       
       

    July 7 – August 7, 2011

    Bad Dates

    A Woman’s Quest for Love and the Perfect Pair of Shoes

    By Theresa Rebeck

    Directed by Kimberly Senior, one of Chicago’s most acclaimed directors. 

       
      If you like “Sex and the City” and Bridget Jones’ Diary, you’ll love this romantic one-woman comedy! Single mom and Texas transplant Haley Walker tries to balance the pressures of her new NYC restaurant career, raising a moody teenage daughter, and the too-close-for-comfort relationship with the Romanian mob, all while trying to find her way back into the dating scene…nothing that a great pair of shoes couldn’t fix! Haley needs your shoulder to cry and laugh on as she shares her dating adventures with you.
       
       

    Collider 2011: New Play Project

    A new play program partnering local scientists and Fox Valley Repertory in developing new works that help us better understand the universe and who we are, while illuminating and celebrating the worlds of art, science and technology.

    Big Bang Ten Minute Plays

    World premier ten minute plays will be performed during the Fox Valley Rep Summer Arts Fest.

    Other Fox Valley Repertory Productions

     

    October 14 – 30, 2011

    The Woman in Black

    A Spine-Chilling Tale

    Special Halloween Eve Performance on Sunday, October 30 @ 7pm!

    By Stephen Malatratt.  Based on the novel by Susan Hill

       
      A London lawyer hires an actor to help recount a story to family and friends that has long troubled him since he attended the funeral of an elderly recluse. During the reenactment, you’ll be gripping your seats with a chill down your spine as you experience the horror and terror of this haunting tale. We just hope you’ll live to retell the tale of one of the longest-running suspense thrillers in history. Rating: PG-13
       
       

    November 10 – December 24, 2011

    It’s a Wonderful Life

    A Live Radio Play 

       
      Inspired by Frank Capra’s beloved American holiday classic, you’ll become a part of a 1940s live broadcast as actors bring the fateful story of George Bailey to life. As a studio audience member, you’ll relive the beloved tale of regret and redemption complete with classic holiday songs, a six member Children’s choir, instruments, man-made sound effects, and live commercials.
       
       

    Other Performances

    In addition to these performances, Fox Valley Repertory will be producing five youth ensemble musical performances, four holiday productions, and presenting six live music events and four national comedy touring acts – together, totaling to 251 performances during the 2011 season.

    Ticket Information

    Pheasant Run Resort is located at 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, IL. Season subscriptions start at $65 for show only tickets (discounted dinner-show subscriptions also available) and are currently available by calling call the Box Office at 630-584-6342. Full priced single tickets for each production will go on sale at a later date.

    Additional information on the 2011 Season and Noble Fool Theatricals soon-to-be Fox Valley Repertory are available at http://www.noblefool.org or www.foxvalleyrep.org.