REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (Emerald City Theatre)

     
     

Learning to love the things you’ve had all along

     
     

Wizard of Oz - Emerald City Theatre

   
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
The Wizard of Oz
   
Written by L. Frank Baum, Adapted by John Kane
Music/Lyrics by
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Jan 2  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love children’s theater because the audience’s limited attention span forces wild, fearless performances from the actors as they try to hold the concentration of both children and parents. Emerald City Theatre is one of the city’s premier children’s theater companies, and their holiday production of The Wizard of Oz incorporates audience interaction and puppetry to create a visually exciting production that understands the actor/child dynamic. The actors give unbridled performances that keep the momentum moving briskly, and while they might not be the strongest in term of technique, they make up for it by having so much fun in their characters.

Molly Tower as Glinda the Good Witch - Emerald City TheatreEmerald City’s production High School Musical­-izes Arlen and Harburg’s score with a rhythm section and guitars, but the songs never lose their classic appeal. Karle’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a rousing number that captures Dorothy’s desire to find a world outside the dreariness of the Kansas countryside, and the actress’s effortless belt gets the show off to a great start. In Oz, Dorothy is greeted by Glinda’s (a hilariously irreverent Molly Tower) angelic soprano, accompanied by the denizens of Munchkinland.

As she makes her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy encounters new faces, including Scarecrow (Bret Beaudry), who serves as a major source of physical comedy throughout the show. Tinman (James Nedrud) is cleverly portrayed as an Elvis-like crooner and carries a guitar for an axe, appropriate for the Million Dollar Quartet housing Apollo Theater, and Nedrud has a smooth vocal quality that is perfect for the character. The only one of Dorothy’s new friends that struggles is Lion (Shea Coffman), and the difficulty of the character’s music isn’t helped by the ornaments Coffman adds to almost every sustained note.

Using puppets for the munchkins is hilarious and efficient, and the low-budget shortcuts that Emerald City takes contribute to much of the show’s charm. Kevin Beltz’s economical set unfolds Dorothy’s house to reveal walls with turning panels to signify location, all located in the walls of Dorothy’s home that unfolds during the storm. It’s a great effect that also saves a lot of money on scenery. Despite not being the most technically astounding or polished production, the show’s simplicity and dedicated ensemble make Dorothy’s journey through Oz easy for kids to enjoy while still entertaining for adults.

If I only had a heart by Emerald City Theatre Company Find Her! - The Wicked Witch by Emerald City Theatre Company
If I only had a brain! by Emerald City Theatre Company The Wicked Witch of the West by Emerald City Theatre Company When I am king of the forest by Emerald City Theatre Company

It is surprising how well Baum’s classic story works in a holiday setting, as the storm that whisks Dorothy away, in this production, occurs just before Christmas. Maybe it’s the combination of red and green that comes from ruby slippers – adorably reimagined as glistening ankle-boots – and the Emerald City. More likely, the connection comes from how well Baum taps into the holiday spirit of giving thanks, and taking pleasure in the company of people that will always be there for you. The important part of the holidays isn’t the presents you get, but learning to love the things you’ve had all along.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Off to see the Wizard

        
        

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REVIEW: 25th Annual Spelling Bee (Metropolis Arts)

 

Who knew spelling could be so much fun?

 

Productions - Spelling Bee - 02

   
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
The 25th-Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
   
Music/Lyrics by William Finn 
Book by
Rachel Sheinkin
Directed by
Robin M. Hughes
Metropolis Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights
through November 6  | 
tickets: $35-$43   |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian 

For children who enjoy spelling, a spelling bee is to them as football or baseball is to children who enjoy sports. In Metropolis Performing Arts Center’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, based on the original play C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E by The Farm, children of various backgrounds and school districts to come together for one goal: to win the bee and move on to nationals in Washington D.C.

Productions - Spelling Bee - 29 The set, designed by Adam L. Veness, boosts clean, simple lines and looks high quality and authentic. The stage is transformed into a school gym complete with basketball court, bleachers and a climbing rope. School colors are yellow and purple, reflected in the lighting by Yousif Mohamed, which adds depth to the set.

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee opens strong, with the entire cast exuding energy right from the start. Each character brings their own strength to the stage with a catchy and upbeat opening number. This play also calls for audience interaction, which not only bring the audience into the story, but also allows for audience members to experience what it’s like to be on the opposite end of theatre. All the audience members who participated did a good job and added some extra laughs to this already funny show.

As the Bee begins, it becomes clear that each actor worked hard to develop a unique characterization. Logainne Schwartzandgrubernierre (Justine Klein) is sweetly adorable with her lisp. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that under that demeanor is a lot of pressure and expectation to live up to. Klein does an excellent job of rounding out her character and providing multiple layers to keep her character from falling flat. Olive Ostrovsky (Kristine Burdi) has a wonderful childlike innocence and she’s so eager to participate. Burdi has a rockin’ voice that’s on full display in “The I Love You Song,” which also allows her to show the pain Olive is in beneath her cheerful front.

As the Bee goes on, the students prove to be terrific spellers, spelling a random selection of words, as they offer glimpses into their personal lives. Returning Bee champ Chip Tolentino (Ryan Hunt) gets knocked off his horse when a crush on a girl deters his mind and he misspells a word, disqualifying him from nationals. Hunt offers up strong, stellar vocals and is hilarious as he sings about the troubles of teenage boys and puberty in “Chip’s Lament.” Leaf Coneybear (Patrick Tierney) tells about his large family and where he fits in their grand scheme of things in “I’m Not That Smart.” Tierney clearly explored his character’s background and motivations, which come through in his performance. He’s fascinatingly endearing as we witness his winning spelling technique: he falls into a trance, and the letters just come. James Nedrud is spot on with know-it-all William Barfee. Nedrud plays his character acting older than he is and trying to be very serious, which is just hilarious.

 

Productions - Spelling Bee - 26 Productions - Spelling Bee - 04

Throughout The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, the entire cast keeps up their energy level, keeping the show running smoothly along and the audience engaged. The musical numbers are high energy and feature excellent choreography by Kristen Gurbach Jacobson. What is most impressive is that the singing never suffers during the dancing. The actors are able to continue singing strongly and passionately as they dance around the stage. At a few points the singing fell out of tune, but it never took away from the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the show.

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee is a children’s show for adults that leaves the audience laughing as they cheer on the Bee contestants.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Productions - Spelling Bee - 21

The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Center, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, IL, through November 6. Tickets cost $35 to $43 can be purchased through the theatre’s Web site.

     
     

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Review: Porchlight’s “Miracle on 34th Street”

A Retro Christmas Miracle

 

Porchlight Music Theatre presents:

Miracle on 34th Street

Adapted by Patricia DiBenedetto Snyder, Sill Severin and John Vreeke

Story by Valentine Davies
Screenplay by George Seaton
directed by
L. Walter Stearns
thru January 3rd, 2010 (ticket info)

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET--Santa and Susan I have to admit to a bit of “Scrooge-ism” when it comes to the holiday season in America. The commercials, the billboards, the store windows dressed in fiberglass snow and plaid carolers when I am still finishing Halloween candy stuffed in the bottom desk drawer- you get the idea. I managed to get into the spirit in spite of myself. I got a visit from a little angel in the form of my niece Alexandria. She is a very precocious seven years old who likes spiders. Porchlight Theatre’s publicity for Miracle on 34th Street stated that this was the perfect first theater experience for children and would become a holiday tradition. I am happy to say that the publicity was right.

This production of Miracle on 34th Street is from the Porchlight Music Theatre Company. They are known for classic productions as well as new interpretations of musicals. This is already a classic film and now it has been excellently translated to the stage. The moment that Kris Kringle’s sleigh appears on the stage is when the magic begins. A veritable toyland pops out of Santa’s big red sack and performs to start the play. We are then told that this Santa is a lucky replacement for the other guy who showed up drunk. The twist is that this Santa believes that he is the real thing. It is a tale that we all know from afternoons around the television or at the repertory movie house.

Christa Buck plays the cynical 1940’s career woman Doris Walker. She is all business and doesn’t have time for the fantasy that is Christmas. She also has little patience for the complications of romance that shows up in the form of Fred Gailey played by Karl Hamilton. They both seem to have stepped out of a Technicolor production. The entire cast is a step back in time and that is perfect for this production. The cynicism of Doris Walker and her daughter Susan is born out of divorce and abandonment issues. That is my modern interpretation but the portrayals are embodied with the post-war innocence of the 1940’s. Somehow everything works out in America if you only believe. It’s a beautiful idea whose time is coming around again. The part of Susan Walker is played by Laney Kraus-Taddeo. She is another talented product of the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston. Ms. Kraus-Taddeo doesn’t hit any false notes or project any of the treacle that is the risk of any child actors. All of the children in this production are a delight to watch. The play makes room for a child in the audience to talk to Santa on stage. It was a funny moment with an untrained participant who asked for Christmas lipstick. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that is but Jim Sherman as Kris Kringle played right along with jolly humor.

I have to say that it was the performance of Jim Sherman that really put me in the Christmas spirit. He has the sparkle and the charm that – for me – embody Santa Claus. He wears a suit that is more in the tradition of Father Christmas or Sinter Klass from the Netherlands. Even when he was clad in layperson’s attire he looked like Santa. I also enjoyed the character of Mr. Macy played by Chuck Sisson. I’m a girl who grew up on Mr. Drysdale, Mr. Mooney, and Thurston Howell III. There is a certain carriage and technique to carrying off the bluster of such a character in my opinion and Mr. Sisson has it much to my enjoyment.

The entire cast is a joy to watch in Miracle on 34th Street. The supporting villain character of Mr. Sawyer is played with relish by Rus Rainear. Like the movie, Mr. Sawyer is a ferret-like guy who almost kills Christmas while in cahoots with the ambitious District Attorney played by Steve Tomlitz.

Suspense! Romance! Knee Slapping Laughs! It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Most importantly, it passed the “Alexandria Test”. My niece Alexandria was enchanted the moment the action began. That is saying something considering that we had been to Uncle Fun and bought a “can of salted nuts” which contained three fake snakes. Lexie was all about the snakes until Kris Kringle and the music began. She also got to take a picture with Santa on the stage after the play that was a big thrill. “Auntie Kathy! I got to see Santa Claus and be on the stage!”

You have to bring your own camera and resist the urge to want to sit on Jim Sherman’s lap yourself. I’m telling you, the guy took me back to 1965 when I really believed.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

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