REVIEW: Kiss Me, Kate (Circle Theatre)

          
     

The Taming of Cole Porter

 

 

Jonathan Altman, Jake Autizen, Rachel Quinn, Wes Drummond - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre

   
Circle Theatre presents
   
Kiss Me, Kate
  
Written by Cole Porter and Bella Spewack
Directed by
Bob Knuth
at
Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through Jan 30  |  tickets: $22-$26  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

What you want with this musical revival is to hear a giant click, the sound of everything going right in Circle Theatre’s hoped-for perfect revival of Cole Porter’s musical-within-a-musical. For director and set designer Bob Knuth what’s already perfect is a sparkling script depicting the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of temperamental thespians. Modeled on the ever-excitable thespian duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne (a fairy tale marriage in every way), hellion Lili and egomaniac Fred enact a Jonathan Altman, Jake Autizen, Rachel Quinn, Wes Drummond - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatrelife-imitates-art parallel to the quarreling lovers they croon in a Baltimore performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.” More than before, relocated to Oak Park, Circle Theatre now has a stage wide enough to embrace all of Kevin Bellie’s cinemascopic dance routines, which in their previous Forest Park digs five blocks west on Madison Street threatened to burst at the seams.

If a spinoff can improve on its source, this toxically witty 1948 gem, which restored Cole Porter to Broadway glory after a disappointing ten-year dry spell, betters the Bard. Both a hymn to the neuroses that nurture showbiz eccentricities and extremes, it’s also a witty sendup of the perils that follow when narcissistic Broadway stars perform in private as much as under the lights. For these stagestruck souls the sound of no one applauding during their domestic quarrels must be maddening. Never has a show, backstage and centerstage, had more reason to go on.

Crafting many moments to the max, Knuth transforms Porter’s gift into a promising assemblage of perfectly timed verbal and physical comedy, sometimes superior singing, contagious dancing, dazzling costumes, period-perfect wigs, and serviceable sets. But the hard work of the 23 eager-beaver performers is critically undermined by Carolyn Brady Riley’s heavy-handed musical direction: The culprit here is the (minimal for Cole Porter) four-person band who perversely seem to make up for their small number by playing too loud throughout (a vice that’s also afflicted past Circle Theatre shows). Accompaniment does not mean overkill. No one wants these singers to use mikes but on opening night they were more than challenged to sing and speak out these brilliant Porter lyrics and, because the orchestra wouldn’t let them, a lot of laughs died along with the words. Adding mikes would only escalate the screamfest. The solution is the taming of this band.

 

John Roeder, Andy Baldeschweiler, Tommy Bullington - Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre Andy Baldeschweiler and Jenny Sophia 3 - Kiss Me Kate -

Everything hinges on the chemistry between the tamer and the shrew: Jennie Sophia’s Lili (who reminds us of the young Patti Lupone) isn’t just the spitfire diva who craves to be domesticated; she delivers the dreamer (“So in Love”), desperate for the right excuse to stop fighting love. Equally commanding as Petruchio or his hammy self, Andy Baldeschwiler’s Fred never drops a joke in his patter numbers (“Where Is The Life That Late I Led?”), except when the orchestra drowns him out. At least he gets to register the sheer joy of singing “Wunderbar” every night. But, given a hostile accompaniment, he strains more than he should to unevenly deliver songs that should sound as effortless as they were composed 62 years ago.

Rachel Quinn and Wes Drummond couldn’t be sweeter second bananas, as venal Lois Lane and trusting Bill Calhoun wonder “Why Can’t You Behave?” A crowd-pleasing, vaudevillian sensation, John Roeder and Tommy Bullington are the vaudevillian gangsters whose “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is as funny as you can get without asphyxiating an audience on their own laughs.

But the signature triumph belongs to the hard-hoofing, all-crooning chorus, whose Lindy-hopping, jitterbugging dances look totally authentic and still seem improvised on the spot. If only the orchestra could have brought out all the sensuous sounds that Porter intended for songs that can be treasured and never bettered.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

Cast of Kiss Me Kate - Circle Theatre

 

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REVIEW: The Wedding Singer (Circle Theatre)

 

A Sweet Wedding Confection

 

 

Wedding Singer (L-R) Kelli LaValle, Patti Roeder, Eric Lindahl, Rachel Quinn, Nathan Carroll and Shawn Quinlan. Photo by Bob Knuth.

   
Circle Theatre presents
   
The Wedding Singer
   
Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy
Music/Lyrics by
Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin
Directed by
Kevin Bellie
at
Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $26   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I must make a shocking confession. I have never seen the film “The Wedding Singer”. I have however lived through the 80’s and still have the bag of removable shoulder pads to prove it. The Circle Theatre musical production of The Wedding Singer is a fun romp through the decade that was all about froth and hair looking like spun sugar. The creators – Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy wrote the book of the movie with music by Matthew Sklar and Beguelin have done a brilliant job bringing this 80’s-sounding score to life. 

Wedding Singer - Eric Lindahl and Rachel Quinn. Photo by Bob Knuth. Eric Lindahl plays our hero Robbie Hart with none of Adam Sandler’s snark. That is precisely why I liked him so much in this role. It is a tribute to the time when musicals were all about a girl and a guy up against the odds and winning. Lindahl has a good voice and sings the wedding schmaltz as well as the arena rock ballads. Rachel Quinn plays leading lady Julia Sullivan. Ms. Quinn has the moves to play the heroine but her voice is not made for pop music. She is reminiscent of the Rogers and Hammerstein era of musicals and does well as the bereft heroine.

Blowing the lid off of the power ballads are Kelli LaValle and Britni Tozzi. Ms. Tozzi plays bad girl Linda who channels Pat Benatar while giving Robbie Hart the heave ho. I absolutely adored Ms. LaValle as the slightly trampy best friend Holly. She is dressed in classic tulle layers and spun sugar hair- so unlike a virgin. It is a standout performance and LaValle has a powerhouse voice that rocks the rafters.

The storyline is not a surprise but it is still fun. Robbie Hart is the leader of a wedding band called ‘Simply Wed’ who gets his heart broken and falls for the local banquet hall waitress. The waitress is of course waiting for a dual-life jerk executive to put a ring on it and keep her in claw hair and sparkly duds. Hart lives in Grandma’s basement somewhere in Jersey and what a grandma she is. Patti Roeder plays the role of a frisky grandmother who pulls out the rapping chops to great comic effect. Roeder brings down the house with her double entendres and libidinous one- liners.

 

(L-R) Dennis Schnell, Michael Mejia, Nathan Carroll, Eric Lindahl, Shawn Quinlan, Tommy Bullington, Jimmy Lis and Tommy Thurston The Impersonators of The Wedding Singer - Photo by Bob Knuth
Wedding Singer (L-R) Toni Lynice Fountain, Michael Mejia, Rachel Quinn, Melody Latham and Patti Roeder Wedding Singer - (L-R) Nathan Carroll, Eric Lindahl and Shawn Quinlan

Making up the rest of ‘Simply Wed’ are Nathan Carroll in full ‘Flock of Seagulls’ regalia and Shawn Quinlan as a Boy George clone. They are very funny and touching in their bromance roles. Jim DeSelm rounds out the leading cast as Glen the blazingly arrogant Wall Street raider. He leads a fine song about money and greed as his character shows his true colors.

The rest of the cast is stellar. They are really good dancers, and the choreography by Director Kevin Bellie is great nostalgic fun to watch. The Las Vegas scenes are hysterically surreal with a cornucopia of classic characters as Vegas impersonators. This goes way beyond Elvis and deep into ‘Behind the Music’ territory with Patti Labelle, Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, Imelda Marcos (!) and a brilliant cameo by Dennis Schnell as Sam Kinison.

The Wedding Singer is well worth the travel to Oak Park.  Don’t miss it!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

FYI: I would advise getting there early to have dinner before the curtain because the sidewalks roll up in Oak Park at 10pm.The Wedding Singer runs through October 31st at The Performance Center, 1010 W. Madison St. in Oak Park (map). Go for some great music, laughs, romance, memories, and great ideas for Halloween! The Performance Center is accessible by Metra as well as the CTA Green Line. Shoulder pads and claw hair are optional.

Wedding Singer (L-R) Sarah Conrad, Rachel Quinn, Kelli LaValle, Kendle Lester, Kristen Calvin and Britni Tozzi

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REVIEW: The Regulars (Hobo Junction Productions)

More regular than epic

 

Regulars_Complete_Cast

 
Hobo Junction Productions presents
 
The Regulars
 
Written and directed by Josh Zagoren
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 13th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The Regulars, an epic rock musical comedy about waiters is a new rock musical-comedy about, well, waiters, presented by Hobo Junction Productions. The audience is presented with the following warning tucked neatly inside their programs, "Caution: This production is meant to strictly Regulars_Hank_Molly make you laugh. We are not trying to make a comment on the human condition. We do comedies…and that’s what they are meant to do… make you laugh." What follows is an hour and fifteen minute dissertation on the human condition. Love, sex, violence and work are major themes in The Regulars, and although it is a musical farce, it is certainly a comment on life as a working, single white person in present day America.

The Regulars opens on a motley crew of waiters in the break room of a chain steakhouse. They spit venom at one another, and meet the new girl Molly (Danelle Wildermuth), who the women hate but the men amorously adore.  With their tough-as-nails demeanor and utter contempt for their job, the crew tries to prepare Molly for the hellish work night she has ahead of her. But nothing can prepare her for the mini-Vietnam that is dinner service at Laconia Steakhouse. The waiters come to the break room with increasingly stained and tattered clothes, and everything that can go wrong does; they run out of sugar and ketchup and secret shoppers from corporate show up.

With paper-thin characters and less-than earth-shattering plot points, writer/director Josh Zagoren has created a show that has no choice but to have absolutely hilarious scenes and dialogue. Unfortunately, The Regulars falls flat. While there are funny moments, Zagoren doesn’t push the envelope far enough. The audience is teased with the promise of a kinky new girl/stock boy love affair, but is given little more than a double entendre about a long rubber hose. You don’t need raunch for comedy, but if a writer puts something dirty or subversive out there, Chicago audiences are sophisticated enough to want to see it pay off. Comedy is in no short supply here in Chicago, which means, if a show claims to exist for the sole purpose of being funny, it had better be really, really funny, which unfortunately The Regulars is not.

     
Regulars_Molly_Anthony Regulars_Simon_Molly_Autumn

There are of course, amusing elements within the production. The funniest character is the sleazy newly-promoted headwaiter Simon, played by the subtly weird and awesome Bryan Campbell. Campbell plays the part with a bizarre innocence, making Simon’s cheesy moves easy to watch. Campbell also has one of the funnier songs, a 1950’s-style rock ode to a mediocre bar the crew goes to after work, “The Billy Bar.” Campbell, like the rest of the cast has a strong singing voice, stronger than the voices you’ll hear in a traditional comedy show in Chicago. Clara Kessler as Denise, the militaristic manager has the strongest voice in the cast, and a nice levity in her performance.

Sadly, levity isn’t enough to hang one’s hat on, despite The Regulars being a competently structured farce, with fun music and gifted actors. And Josh Zagoren is a talented writer and director – way too talented to write a show off as being comedy for comedy’s sake. Every successful comedy is a comment on the human condition, whether it admits it or not. There is a lot of rage underlying this piece about low-income workers in an overbearing job, and if Zagoren trusted himself enough to nurture that a little more, this could be a really funny play. Unfortunately, comedy for comedy’s sake doesn’t stand a chance of being more than cute, and in this town, just being cute doesn’t cut it.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Run time is approximately one hour with no intermission.

WHERE: Apollo Theater * 2540 North Lincoln Avenue.  Running Dates: May 7th thru June 13th – Fri. and Sat. @ 8:00 p.m & Sun @ 3:00 pm. Tickets: $15.00 – Call (773) 935-6100 or Purchase online at www.ticketmaster.com


Regulars_Anthony_Autumn CAST: Jake Autizen as Bear, Eli Branson as Anthony, Madeline Chilese as Autumn, Derek Elstro as Hank, Danelle Wildermuth as Molly, Ashley Wint as Sunny, Carla Kessler as Denise, Bryan Campbell as Simon, Cyra K. Polizzi as Ana the Bus Girl

CREW:
Playwright – Josh Zagoren
Music by – Josh Zagoren & Dan Krall
Music Orchestrated by – Joe Griffin & Mike Przygoda
Director – Josh Zagoren
Stage Manager – Amy Hopkins
Tech Director – Amy Hopkins
Costume Designer – Janna Weddle
Set Designer – Amy Hopkins
Lighting Designer – Amy Hopkins