Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Emerald City)

     
     

Sanitized Wonka underestimates child’s intellect

     
     

Willie Wonka in Emerald City's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the Apollo Theatre Chicago

  
Emerald City Theatre presents
  
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  
Written by Richard R. George
From fantasy by
Roald Dahl
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I get it. This is children’s theater, and for the 3-and-up group at that. However, the Emerald City adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems derived from much more recent sources such as ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘The Jersey Shore’. The timeless story from Roald Dahl has held the imaginations of a few generations. It’s about adventure and getting past the bad times with the help of family values. Dahl’s fantasy has a grim undertone that has now been given the cleaned up Grimm treatment.

Violet and Willy Wonka in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Emerald City Theatre Chicago.Some blame Walt Disney, but at least his Big Bad Wolf had dripping fangs. This “Charlie” felt like it was put together without much creativity. Let’s start with the characterizations.

Willy Wonka is portrayed as a Rip Taylor rip-off. (Google him) This Wonka didn’t throw confetti but his manic mugging and preening doesn’t get the overwhelmingly under-five crowd revved up at all. (Perhaps he should have run through the audience like Taylor, throwing confetti or copped the punk wig style.) The character of Willy Wonka is more mysterious and even sinister when played by either Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp. Some may say ‘don’t frighten the children’ – but we all survived the green-faced evil queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”.

The character of Augustus Gloop becomes a derivative of the SNL Schwarzennegger spoof called ‘Hans and Franz’. The tots didn’t get it and the parents were too busy trying to get them to watch this drivel to connect with the joke either. Veruca Salt is a cell phone-toting brat with a dog in her purse. Calling Paris Hilton! The Character of Mike Teavee is portrayed as an insolent youth obsessed with video games. It was more ripped from the headlines of spree crimes than an updated portrayal. Violet B. is a weird incarnation of the insufferable ‘Snooki’ zeitgeist from reality television.

As a parent and an aunt I was disappointed in the adaptation. This has either the aroma of someone who says, “I don’t watch television” or it’s just lazy writing. I include in the lazy category the sets and the Oompa Loompas. They were portrayed by finger puppets on a stick and then hinge jawed Muppet look-alikes (fyi: the hinge-jawed things were the most inspired part of this show.)

I have seen better at Emerald City with the productions of Pinkalicious (our review ★★★½) and Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! (review ★★½). These shows used the well-known tagline ‘Discover a World of Pure Imagination’, but the creative team didn’t really put much of that slogan into this show.

I suspect that children are smarter and more imaginative than this. Generations have survived fairy tales from Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson without lingering damage. This antiseptic approach to a similarly dark fantasy is doing a disservice to the tot set. I graduated from the illustration heavy tot books when my mom took me to see “Peter Pan” some 47 years ago. An imaginative production at a children’s theater made me want to read more or have it read to me and, yes, it tweaked my imagination.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Charlie's father, Willie Wonka and Charlie in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at Emerald City Theatre Chicago.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory runs about one hour without intermission. The show run is through August 15th of 2011. Go to www.emeraldcitytheatre.com for times and dates. With the long run, EC might make some improvements (or at least build some more Oompa Loompas). In the meantime, I suggest reading the Roald Dahl book (even abridged and illustration heavy!) to your children first and then ask what they have to say.

  
  

REVIEW: BOOJUM! (Caffeine Theatre-Chi Opera Vanguard)

     
    

Is it group therapy or a lobotomy? Both!!

      
     

 

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Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard present
   
BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll
   
Books/Lyrics/Music by Martin Wesley-Smith & Peter Wesley-Smith
Directed by Jimmy McDermott
at DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)
through Dec 19  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Drawing from the creative genius of “Alice in Wonderland”, it’s a nonsensical operetta that is all in his head. Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard, in conjunction with DCA Storefront Theater, present BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll, written by the Brothers Wesley-Smith. Reverend Charles Dodgson battles his Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_02pseudonym over the origins of his most famous literary masterpiece. The reserved Charles and the flamboyant Lewis deconstruct their lookingglass fame. Who better to help in the rediscovery process than Alice? Both of them! The child and adult version of Carroll’s inspiration challenge him on the intense connection and de-connection of their relationship. As Charles sorts out his Alice issues, his imagination unleashes the makings for his farcical poem, “The Hunting of the Snark”. Quirky characters fill Charles’ head with a jumble of demands for attention. BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll is a stay-cation to a world of the unexpected. What a head-trip!

Before the show even starts, the visual is intriguing. Projected Carroll Lewis-isms are visible on sheet-like curtains (projections by Justin Meredith). The imagery spectacle continues with the introduction of characters clad in eccentric combinations of attire. Costume designer, Philip Dawkins aids in the storytelling with distinct looks to individualize the crazy muddle. Pearls, goggles, hats, the whimsical detail is a fabulous “What-Not-to- Wear”on-a-snark-hunt-fashion show. The talented ensemble wears crazy-on- their-sleeve tailored to perfection. The first act is high-energy high-jinx as the cluster of oddballs prepare for a snark hunt.

The loonies are flawlessly synchronized in movement for a collective punchline. Individually, they sing their backstory with amusing zest and powerful vocals. Some of the more memorable whacko performances: drunken dolt Sara Sevigny (butcher), stripped down double-the-pleasure Kevin Bishop (billiard maker) and Stephen Rader (banker), and a twisted dark comedic Jeremy Trager (Lewis).

 

Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_03 Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_06
Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_07 Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_08

BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll drops you down a hole. It’s up to the audience to piece together the puzzle without the aid of a clear picture. From the title, you know it’s a humorous take on an author notorious for a hallucinatory imagination. The first act is frolicking on speed. Because the material is unfamiliar, and without the aid of projected operatic titles, the jokes are realized a few moments after they are sung. Despite Director Jimmy McDermott‘s masterful staging, some of the laughter is unrealized. The second act gets serious real fast and sidelines the funnier elements to focus on the Charles-Alice relationship. Although a fascinating exposé on a children’s author, the seedy realization is an uncomfortable portrayal, like Johnny Depp in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Finding Neverland” or “Alice in Wonderland”. What’s really going on between this adult and these kids?

BOOJUM! Nonsense, Truth and Lewis Carroll is all about looking at two sides of the same thing: Dodgson/Carroll, Past/Present, Reality/Fantasy. Following this splitting trend, I’ll break it into two too. The first act, Boojum: Nonsense is a schizophrenic’s group therapy session. The second act, Boojum: Truth is more like a lobotomy.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_04

BOOJUM! runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm, thru December 19th. Intended for ages 12 and up.  Contains mature themes. 

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

 

Production Staff
    
Director: Jimmy McDermott
Musical Directors: Andra Velis Simon & Myron Silberstein
Dramaturg: Daniel Smith
Musical Dramaturg: Eric Reda
Choreographer: Natalja Aicardi
Costume Design: Philip Dawkins
Lighting Designer: Casey Diers
Scenic Designer: Narianna Csaszar
Projection Designer: Justin Meredith
Technical Director: Jason Beck, Dan Cox
 

Ensemble

   
Alex Balestrieri
Kevin Bishop
Marielle de Rocca-Serra
Laura Deger
Kevin Grubb
Stephen Rader
Michael Reyes
Sara Sevigny
Heather Townsend
Jeremy Trager
   
   

Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_10

3 Words: To my left and a definite voice in my head, James describes the show with ‘a theatrix flambel.’

      
     

REVIEW: Peter Pan (Emerald City Theatre)

Tinkerbell’s pixie-dust works its magic on rollicking production

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Emerald City Theatre presents:

Peter Pan

Based on the character created by J.M. Barrie
Book and lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli
Music by Steve Goers
Directed by Matthew Gunnels
Thru July 22nd at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (more info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Disney, Depp, Dustin, Duncan, the legend of Peter Pan has been retold and reimagined on stage and screen for over a century. This time its Emerald City Theatre’s adaptation as they present the world premiere of Peter Pan. Based on the character created by J.M. Barrie, Emerald City has created an energetic and colorful musical of the infamous boy who didn’t want to grow up. This version focuses on Wendy’s rite of passage. Mr. and Mrs. Darling want Wendy to move out of her childhood nursery and put on a big girl’s dress. Wendy wants to play! Cue the Pan. Peter arrives to whisk her away. He takes her to Neverland, a magical island where lost boys, pirates, Indians and a crocodile duel it out daily in the ultimate never ending game. Emerald City’s Peter Pan is a fun family pleaser with comedy and sentimentality that reaches the child in all of us.

In my Peter Pan encounters, I’ve never rooted for the pirates. Until now! Aside from trying to stab and poison people, Captain Hook (Michael Kingston) and Smee (Zev Steinberg ) are likable guys. Steve Goer‘s “Pirates with a Plan” song is a standout number with Kingston and Steinberg’s comedic antics. In particular, Steinberg is acrobatic in his movement throughout the play. His fight with Jamila Turner (Tiger Lilly) has a thrilling physicality. And Turner shifts gears perfectly in her dual roles as a strong, independent princess warrior and the empathetic maternal Mrs. Darling. Michael Rieman (Tootles) and Caleb Probst (Slightly) are hilarious as the lost boys and later in drag as the mermaids. Allison Lind (Wendy) is wonderful playing a girl playing a mother in a pretend world. With a permanent angelic smile, Ryotaro Shigeta (Peter) exudes a youthful arrogance and sense of fun. He is definitely “The Pan.”

Sprinkling the pixie dust on his talented ensemble, Matthew Gunnels directs a briskly paced sixty minute adventure. The choreography (Ernie Nolan ) is bursts of activity in the lively chases and fighting. The costumes (Branimira Ivanova ) are childlike fun. Peter and the lost boys wear lively patchwork outfits that fit a child’s imaginative style; the mermaids are in vibrant wigs and tails swimming on rollers. This Peter Pan production is all about special touches that add to its entertainment value. Special props to the prop master (Jenny Pinson). Hook has multiple versions of his prosthetic hand, including a toothbrush. One of my favorite moments is the glasses, umbrella and teddy bear used in the very satisfying ending. It was a nod out to the Disney version of “Peter Pan” which made me a little misty for my own childhood bedroom. Emerald City’s Peter Pan magically transports you back to Neverland. Whether it’s for the first-time or a return visit, the voyage is a fun trip!

Rating: ★★★½

Running time: Sixty minutes with no intermission. Parking lot available for earlier arrivals. This play is suitable for families with children ages 3 to 12 years .

EXTRA CREDIT:

Sunday Night Sondheim: Sweeney Todd in Japan

Japanese professional theatre’s rehearsal of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, the finale of Sweeney Todd.

CAST: Masachika ICHIMURA (Sweeney Todd), Shinobu OTAKE (Mrs. Lovett), Midoriko KIMURA (Beggar Woman), Sonim (Johann), Yu SHIROTA (Anthony), Michitaka TACHIKAWA (Judge Turpin), Satoru SAITO (Beadle), Shinji TAKEDA (Tobias), Amon MIYAMOTO (Director)

favorite comments:

– I think I prefer this in English
– that’s cuz you speak English
– Reply: No, I just prefer the singers. I’m usually a big fan of Japanese songs

And here’s the Japanese trailer for the movie opening of “Sweeney Todd”, starring Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp gives $4,000 tip to Gibsons Steakhouse waiter

Money not key to happiness, Johnny Depp says.

filming-Public-Enemy

Although, to Depp, money is not the be-all-end-all, he certainly has made a difference in one waiter’s life via his money.  Johnny Depp, along with his "Public Enemies" co-star Marion Cotillard, director Michael Mann, and others — who were in Chicago last week for the premiere of the Chicago-filmed “Public Enemies” — made a stop at Gibsons Steakhouse around 11:30 PM, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

depp-thumb Once the bill came around 2:30 AM – totaling up to a reported $4,400 – Depp made sure the man who waited on the group into the late hours was well compensated for his time, as Mohammaed Sekhani reportedly received a $4,000 tip from the star.

"He had visited our restaurant several times before while he was filming ‘Public Enemies’ and he promised me that he would return after the premiere," Sekhani told Radar Online.

According to the longtime Gibsons waiter, Depp and his friends ordered items including shrimp cocktails, Clams Casino, as well as a few expensive bottles of wine.

Marion Cotillard"He also ordered some $500 bottles of Italian wine and he was in good spirits throughout the evening chatting with Mr. Mann and Miss Cotillard," Sekhani added.

Generous tip aside, Sekhani said he always enjoys waiting on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star each time he visits Gibsons.

"Because he had visited us before he calls me ‘Mo’ and I know exactly the way he likes to be treated. He may be one of the most famous actors in the world but he is a very ‘humble guy’ and a really cool dude," the waiter continued. "I have worked with a lot of stars like Sean Connery and Robert De Niro but Johnny Depp is my favorite He is a very soft spoken guy who is very charming and sweet – when I wait for him he doesn’t like to be too fussed over and is not in any way demanding."

Biograph-shootin

Just saw the movie “Sweeney Todd” – loved it!!

Hey all – I just saw “Sweeney Todd” at the theater in Evanston and really enjoyed it – even more than I thought I would (though didn’t expect all the TONS of blood).  What did you think about it?  I’ll no doubt say a few more things about it, but right now I need to go to bed.  In the meantime, here’s a trailer from the movie: