Review: Hair (Broadway in Chicago – Oriental Theatre)

     
     

Competent ‘Hair’ revels in its own kitsch

       
     

The company from national tour of 'Hair', now playing at The Oriental Theatre.  Photo credit: Joan Marcus

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Hair
  
Book/Lyrics by Gerome Ragni & James Rado
Music by
Galt MacDermot
Directed by
Diane Paulus
at the
Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
through March 20  |  tickets: $27-$90  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

If the pre-show announcement–which asks that you please turn on your heart and to please turn off your cell phone–isn’t a clear indication, there’s plenty of proverbial winking in director Diane PaulusHair. From the restrained band volume to the affable, mostly miles-from-the-danger-line interactions between actors and audience, we’re assured from the beginning that the night’s show is going to be professional, going to be groovy, and going to be safe.

Safety, of course, was not what made Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s rock-musical about a tribe of hippies significant. It defied modern standards of decency, blazed new theatrical territory and was written and performed in the chaotic epicenter of the same cultural revolution it advocated.

Today, young, accomplished, svelte actors teeter on some house seats, take a few trips down the aisles, dry hump for effect, and stand naked for the requisite nude The company from national tour of 'Hair', now playing at The Oriental Theatre.  Photo credit: Joan Marcusscene.

But let’s face it. Entertainment value aside, The Man acquisitioned Hair a long time ago. It’s unclear when, but the changeover presumably took place some time after religious groups stopped picketing outside of performances and some time before it began running in theaters named after multi-billion dollar car companies.

During this revival, I thought about what, if any, our contemporary equivalent to the monument Hair was in its heyday for intrepidity and relevance. It’s certainly nothing that can be described in the same genre (in the grand scheme of art and provocation, rock-musicals are now, by more honest billing, lite-rock-musicals). I won’t pretend to romanticize living in the late 1960’s–one, I would not yet exist as a fetus for another two decades and two, it was a notoriously violent era of persecution, uncertainty, hate, and abused authority–but I can appreciate the time’s profound art and its ability to have instigated change.

Yet the national conflicts Ragni and Rado wrote about are still (in some cases, eerily) recognizable. Our current generation is witness to an aggressively protested war, sex as a talking point for political candidates, old white men tossing around the word “communist” to rebuke lefties, and mainstream efforts to legalize marijuana. Then is it fair to wonder if, for all its critical acclaim, this latest resurgence of Hair missed an opportunity to be more than a technically laudable send-up to a counter-cultural artifact?

Lawrence Stallings, Steel Burkhardt and Matt DeAngelis in the 'Hair' National Tour. Photo: Joan MarcusIt’s telling that during opening night’s post-curtain-call “Be-In,” where the tribe welcomes the audience onstage to dance through a reprise, the cast really had to coax people to budge. Some inevitably jumped up, but most smiled good-naturedly while inconspicuously grabbing their coats and eying the exits.

Some rapport never got established.

And some did. As Berger, Steel Burkhardt has the most opportunity to break down the fourth-wall and create a sense of community. He doesn’t as often as I‘d have liked, but his allocated moments for addressing the audience are the most entertaining, substantive parts of the show. Taking a gentle stab at an over-zealous laugher is funny–allowing another to stuff single dollar bills down his suede fringe loincloth is funny and opens up the risk and fun of watching anything-goes action. The rest of Hair could benefit from this sense of happening and authenticity.

Vocally, the ensemble is consistent, and fits well within the folk-rock style Galt MacDermot’s compositions call for. Appropriately cast, these kids look and sound like the embodiment of young idealism and acceptance. At times, they’re sublime.

Billing a show as a revival carries a certain weight, implication and spirit. I’m not confident this latest production lives up to these. But as a fully-produced tribute, it’s at least a good trip.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Center: Paris Remillard as Claude and Steel Burkhardt as Berger, in a scene from the national tour of 'Hair'. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Steel Burkhardt, Hair the Musical, Joan Marcus Paris Remillard, Matt DeAngelis, Hair the Musical, Joan Marcus

Hair continues through March 20th, with performances Tuesday at 7:30, Wednesday 2 and 7:30pm, Thursday 7:30pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 2 and 8pm, and Sunday 2pm.  Tickets are $27 and $90, and can be bought at www.broadwayinchicago.com.

     
     

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REVIEW: Rock of Ages (Broadway in Chicago)

Strong performances resuscitate lame storyline

 

 Cast of "Rock of Ages" at Bank of America Theatre in downtown Chicago

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
   
Rock of Ages
   
Book by Chris D’Arienzo
Directed by Kristin Hanggi
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through October 3rd  |  tickets: $18-$85   |  more info

Review by Barry Eitel

One thing the folks producing Rock of Ages need to figure out is how to push the beer sales. Although it stated clearly in the program that you could purchase a beer ticket before the show and then raise your hand and receive a cold one, I did not pass along a single can. There aren’t a whole lot of musicals where it’s par for the course to stand up and sway around like you’re a drunken 40-year-old woman reliving her glory days at a Journey reunion show. That needs to be more of a selling point.

Kerry Butler as Sherrie in Broadway tour of Rock of Ages, now playing in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre Rock of Ages is a show that requires a few drinks in order to be truly enjoyable. Watching it sober, the vapidity becomes more obvious. The award-winning hair metal jukebox musical is undeniably fun. Most amazingly, the cast is even able to squeeze some emotional weight from the songbooks of Twisted Sister and Whitesnake.

The show features Tony-nominated Constantine Maroulis, one of an increasing number of American Idol contestants looking for work. Unlike many of his more unremarkable brethren, Maroulis pumps out oodles of charm alongside decent acting chops. With his long hair and arena rock howl, Rock of Ages is the perfect show for the guy. He plays Drew, the aspiring jukebox hero at the heart of this story. Instead of the typical Dionysian guitar slinger we’re used to, Drew is a sweetheart. Maroulis paints the character as shy and oft tongue-tied, a great move for a show that is otherwise thin on dramatic depth.

The real draw here, though, is the music. I don’t know if the fellas of Asia ever thought they would hear their tunes in a Broadway musical, but it works surprisingly well. The 80s were all about theatricality anyway, with the big hair, big voices, and big egos. Book writer Chris D’Arienzo stretches a few songs to fit the story (“Final Countdown” seemed forced, and Starship’s “We Built This City” was reprised far too many times). I did love the tale told through “I Want to Know What Love Is,” relating a date headed towards destruction. We all know the lyrics to these radio favorites, so it’s fascinating to watch how they unfold to help the story move along.

Rock of Ages survives because the cast can seriously sing. Maroulis has mastered that rare Steve Perry belt and gives his own personal touches to the anthems he sings. Rebecca Faulkenberry, who plays the object of Drew’s affection, Sherrie, also gives serious treatment to these often silly tunes. As a character, Sherrie falls flat, but Faulkenberry gives her as much life as she can. MiG Ayesa gives plenty of vocal power in his portrayal of Stacie Jaxx, the more typical hair-metal douchebag who sort of becomes Drew’s nemesis.

Constantine Maroulis and Kerry Butler - (2) James Carpinello and Company
Lauren Molino and Tom Lenk Constantine Maroulis and Kerry Butler Tom Lenk

Currently on loan from the Broadway run is Mitchell Jarvis, who originated Lonny, the mulleted sprite who narrates/conjures the story. He’s endearingly wacky, and aside from Maroulis, easily the most memorable part of the show. He prances, leaps, and twirls, like a mix between Tinkerbell and one of the guys from Metallica. Lonny lets loose plenty of self-referential one-liners (“I’m no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim”), which get tired after awhile. Arienzo is intent into beating us over the head with the fact that we’re watching a “different” sort of musical, one that pretty much embraces the form but isn’t afraid to let fly a few f-bombs. This is one of many areas where the book could be a bit more clever.

Jarvis and Maroulis’ performances save Rock of Ages from becoming a forgettable (and groan-worthy?) night of classic rock and 80s gags. The show will have you tapping your toes, and if you had a couple, singing along at the top of your lungs.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

James Carpinello and Kerry Butler

Constantine Maroulis and Company

        

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“Mary Poppins” reviews: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!

 Step In Time 2

Daily Herald’s Barbara VitelloHighly Recommended

Excited doesn’t begin to describe the audience for the opening of the long-awaited “Mary Poppins” national tour Wednesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Exhilarated is more like it.

Young children bounced in their seats, adults gasped with surprise and the applause that accompanied the overture’s opening notes didn’t stop until after the enigmatic Mary Poppins (the delightful Ashley Brown reprising the role she created on Broadway) flew away for the last time.  (Read entire review here.)

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«««  Chris Jones, of the Chicago Tribune’s blog The Theater Loop, gives the musical extravaganza 3-stars.    Says Jones in his theater review:

Smart children know parents have to be trained to behave. Savvy, pint-sized domestic reformers will be thrilled with “Mary Poppins,” a rare family musical that spends most of its ample running time exhorting parents to stop working, take care of their long-suffering spouses, discover their inner supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and go fly a kite with the kids.

And parents? Speaking as someone who can always use help in that department, the ministrations of a magical nanny—emotionally inaccessible but practically perfect in every other way—sound good to me.    (rest of the review here)

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Chicago Sun Times’ Hedy Weiss – Highly Recommended

Mary Poppins” audience as lucky as lucky can be in nanny’s magical hands.

The magic in “Mary Poppins” — the darkly whimsical, continually ingenious musical that opened Wednesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in its post-London, post-Broadway and initial national touring company engagement — is doled out in generous but carefully calibrated spoonfuls. And because that magic (some of it quite black, most of it airborne and exhilarating) is interspersed with a healthy dose of realism, it takes on a special Technicolor glow when unleashed.  (Entire review here.)  

Step In Time 1

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Buy tickets at TicketMaster.

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Mary Poppins Extends Stay In Chicago – Theatre In Chicago

Cast of Sondheim’s new musical "Road Show" record album.

per Adam Hetrick

"Road Show" cast member Alexander Gemignani, taken by Joan Marcus.The recent cast of the Public Theater production of the new Stephen Sondheim musical Road Show  (originally entitled Bounce— including Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani — head to a Manhattan recording studio Feb. 23 to preserve the score for PS Classics and Nonesuch Records.

The musical penned by composer Sondheim and book writer John Weidman tells the life of the eccentric Mizner brothers – Addison and Wilson.

The single-disc recording of Road Show, featuring orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, is aiming to be in stores this spring.

photo of Alexander Gemignani taken by Joan Marcus