Review: The King and I (Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago)

     
     

Getting to love you

     
     

Brianna-Borger and Wayne Hu

  
Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago presents
  
The King and I
  
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Music Directed by Eugene Dizon
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $35  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

L. Walter Stearns’ final staging for Porchlight Music Theatre (he’s moving on to manage the Mercury Theatre) is a splendid swan song. Efficient but never merely dutiful, this tender-loving revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 treasure lets the talent on this stage honor the brilliance on the page. Despite lacking the budgets of Marriott Theatre’s 2000 revival or the most recent one at Drury Lane Oakbrook in 2007, Porchlight never allows less to be lacking.

Erik Kaiko as Lun Tha and Jillian Jocson as Tuptim - King and IBesides, look at what they’re working with! It’s rewarding how much the R & H musicals amplify each other, yielding a whole much bigger than its parts. In The King and I we see a British schoolteacher who changes the children around her and shapes the future through her enlightened tutelage of the Crown Prince of Siam. Anna Leonowens anticipates Maria Von Trapp, an Austrian governess who changes the children and around and escapes the present to pursue the sound of music. Likewise, Flower Drum Song carefully chronicles the cultural changes in a community. Above all, like South Pacific, King and I delivers an action lesson in tolerance. Anna and the King learn from each pother, he forbearance and humility before the facts of life, love and death, she the discipline and tradition required to keep a nation together and, more importantly, unconquered.

The closest comparison outside the R & H canon is, interestingly, Fiddler on the Roof: Both musicals deal with central characters coping with change during convulsive historical periods, desperate to preserve tradition (and power) while wryly accepting the future, as much on their terms as possible.

The King’s transformation (and, by implication, that of Siam) is accomplished in stunning songs like “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” that win us over from the first note. Well worth the succession from Gertrude Lawrence to Deborah Kerr to Donna Murphy, Brianna Borger’s warmly engaging Anna brings quicksilver resilience and five different kinds of love to her widow, mother, tutor, confidante and lover. Her patter songs, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?,” crackles with contagious indignation and hard-core spunk. The first Asian I’ve seen playing the King, burly Wayne Hu stamps the King with wizard timing, wry irascibility and bedrock dignity. The fact that he’s no infallible leader only makes his aspirations to authority more poignant and less threatening.

It’s impossible to overpraise Jillian Anne Jocson’s lovely and lyrical Tuptim, enchanting in “I Have Dreamed” and “We Kiss in Shadow” with ardent Erik Kaiko as her doomed beloved, or Kate Garassino’s elegant Lady Thiang, wisdom wrapped in reticence. The Siamese wives and children (here reduced to six) are marvels of grace in energy and as comely as a palace frieze. Likewise Bill Morey’s elaborate Eastern costumes, their shimmering and sumptuous fabrics lit by Mac Vaughey with what must be new colors, and Ian Zywica’s unit set with its Oriental throne room, filigreed archways, and burnished floor. (Flanking the king are dualistic symbols of East and West—a chess set and a statue of the Buddha.) Brenda Didier’s choreography, faithful to Jerome Robbins, turns “‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ Ballet” into a cascade of astonishment and artful reinvention.

For purists like me there’s one cavil: This revival’s two-piano accompaniment, however beautifully played by Eugene Dizon and Allison Hendrix, is nonetheless a letdown, robbing the songs of the rich orchestrations Rodgers intended. Less crucial, the delightful scene in which the ladies of the court try to maneuver inside European crinoline ballgowns and corsets is necessarily omitted. But new to me is the royal school’s anthem sung by Anna and her princely pupils, as well as a charming reprise of “A Puzzlement” sung by the sons of the principals that extends the cultural clash to the next generation. You win some, you lose some.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Brianna Borger, Dylan Lainez, Tatum Pearlman, Lydia Hurrelbrink

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Review: Passing Strange (Bailiwick Chicago)

  
  

Bailiwick takes us on a sublime musical journey

  
  

Clockwise from left: LaNisa Frederick, Osiris Khepera, Whitney White, Sharriese Hamilton, Aaron Holland, Steven Perkins in Bailiwick Chicago's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy ©2011

   
Bailiwick Chicago presents
  
Passing Strange
   
Written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown
at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $25-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Passing Strange is a supple title for this coming-of-age rock/soul musical/concert. It refers to how life looks to this young black man from Los Angeles–and to how he moves through it as his hero journey takes him to Amsterdam, Berlin and back home. With one of the richest scores this entertainment genre ever needed and a Midwest premiere by Bailiwick Chicago that’s nothing short of terrific, “Passing Strange” is 150 minutes of smart showbiz. Until now I never knew how much a record album could resemble a family album—until it’s, as the British say, a distinction without a difference.

Jayson "JC" Brooks" as the Narrator in Bailiwick Chicago's 'Passing Strange'.It’s also a very specific journey. It begins in 1976 and ends in the early 80s with the protagonist still only 22. Narrating it with a passion to equal the events is Jayson “JC” Brooks, noted for his Coalhouse Walker in Porchlight’s Ragtime. Known simply as Youth (galvanic Steven Perkins), the seeker is first seen trying out and rejecting religions, to the confusion of his tough-loving, church-going mother (a remarkable LaNisa Frederick), who indulges in her own less-than-sacred “Baptist Fashion Show.” The “call and response” fervor of the revival meetings that Youth attends (“Church Blues Revelation/Music Is the Freight Train in Which God Travels”) becomes a style, if not a subject, that he can share in his own songs. But the youth choir is no inspiration, neither is the girlfriend who rejects him because he’s not black enough.

Influenced by the American-fleeing James Baldwin, Youth journeys to Amsterdam to join the reefer rebels at the Headquarters Café Song, find inspiration with the comforting Marianna (Sharriese Hamilton) who gives him her “Keys,” and get stoned in this punk-rock “Paradise.” But it’s all too perfect. There’s no friction to generate the songs expected from an ex-pat alien on the lam from L.A.

This “fiery pilgrim” finally ends up in still-Communist Berlin where Youth gets sucked into the righteously rebellious performance-art scene. There he cultivates his angry “Negritude” and sticks out as “The Black One,” savoring his outsider identity as he joins a commune of agitprop-crazy Reds. (Their cruel Cold War concept is that “What is inside is just a lie,” that we’re just the creatures of capitalism unless we free ourselves through anti-social theatrics.)

     
Clockwise from top left: Sharriese Hamilton, Aaron Holland, Jayson “JC” Brooks, Osiris Khepera, Steven Perkins. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 Bailiwick A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011
A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011

But one lonely Christmastide, the Youth discovers that even radicals have families to which they return. Perhaps he should go back too. But his mother’s death makes the prodigal’s return to L.A. a bittersweet homecoming (“Passing Phase”). So the Youth’s perpetual tug of war between life and art finally ends in a sardonic thought: “Life is a mess that only art can fix.” Better of “Work the Wound.”

Youth’s quest inevitably conjures up images of Beat Poets on the road, Kerouac-style, as they try by process of elimination to find out what they’re not. Then can come the slow creative accretion that forges their art. It’s never been so eloquent however, with this Tony Award-winning book by Stew (who played the original Narrator) and his cunning, memorable songs (co-written with Heidi Rodewald in collaboration with Annie Dorsen). James Morehad music directs the 22 numbers with a singular love for every note. The Bailiwick ensemble couldn’t be tighter or truer to this multi-textured material.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

From left: David Keller, Billy Bungeroth, Kevin Marks, Jayson “JC” Brooks, Ben Taylor. ©2011 Bailiwick Chicago, Photo by Jay Kennedy

All photos by Jay Kennedy, © 2011

     

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REVIEW: Departure Lounge (Bailiwick Chicago)

  
  

Best Friends For Now

 

Departure Lounge - Bailiwck Chicago  002

   
Bailiwick Chicago presents
   
Departure Lounge
   
Written by Dougal Irvine
Directed by
Tom Mullen
at
Royal George Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
Through Dec 12  |  tickets: $35-$45   |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Turning points are more than just passages in life: They’re the meat and more of vibrant theater. We look back at those paths in the wood we didn’t take to wonder how different we’d be if we did. Or we realize that all along what seemed comforting and secure was just being held hostage by time. Memory and identity are inseparable, but they change at their own pace–and at our peril.

Departure Lounge - Bailiwck Chicago  003There’s a big crossroads in Dougal Irvine’s invigorating Departure Lounge, an intimate coming-of-age musical about four 18-year-old Brits returning from a spree week on the Costa del Sol. (They’re one of many “ugly Englishmen” who – awaiting the “A-level” test scores that will determine their college careers or doom them – party hearty in escapist Mediterranean destinations.)

As a hilariously contrived flight delay forces them to wait impatiently in boarding area of the Malaga airport, the quartet of best friends raucously reprise the binge drinking and all-night pub-crawling they’ve inflicted on both themselves and the citizens of southern Spain. They are rich-boy, Oxford-bound JB, orphan lad and general jerk-off Pete, the comparatively quiet Ross who brought and, it seems has lost, his girl Sophie along the way, and closet-case Jordan who’s slept with the most girls and liked it the least.

Brimming over with testosterone and hangovers, these soccer-playing, wanna-be ”guys-gone-wild” celebrate the scary joy of being 18—which means not knowing what’s coming. The opening rouser “Brits on Tour” initially and instantly confirms every stereotype about loutish British hooligans unleashed and abroad. It’s hard to believe they’ve really been friends forever (which is very relative when you’re only 18), what with the Alpha-male rivalry and playful put-downs, especially the repeated use of “gay” as a standard for lameness or weakness. (It gets harder and harder for Jordan to join in the mean fun of “Why Do We Say Gay?”)

But the big question that these merry pranksters wrestle over, sometimes literally, is what happened with and to Sophie on Thursday night. They keep coming up with vastly differing, “Rashoman”-like variations on what went on—and an imaginary Sophie appears to suit each fantasy. The real story, as well as Jordan’s sexuality, tests their friendship and leaves its future in serious question. By the end Departure Lounge wisely sobers up along with the boys. Given this scene and these ex-schoolboys, it’s the only right resolution.

 

Departure Lounge - Bailiwck Chicago  001 Departure Lounge - Bailiwck Chicago  008 Departure Lounge - Bailiwck Chicago  006

Tom Mullen’s Bailiwick Chicago staging, the U.S. premiere of a work that only got its London premiere on Sept. 28, richly succeeds at conveying the transient confusions of high-stress adolescence, the forced and real camaraderie of chums behaving badly because it’s expected, and the pain of being in between a lot of stuff (Spain and England, a comforting past and unwritten future, boyhood and adulthood, sex and love, men and women, a gay guy and his childhood chums).

Well coached by music director Kevin Mayes, Mullen’s young quartet connect best in the music that unites them (rather than the dialogue that doesn’t). Their “Spanish Hospitality” is an anthem for all the obnoxious and xenophobic tourists who embarrass you abroad. Their “Fe-male” nails their reflexive misogyny as well. Departure Lounge - Bailiwck Chicago  005But their bittersweet “Leaving Spain” charts exactly how much they’ve changed because of this milestone-making stress test in a departure lounge.

Erik Kaiko and Dan Beno, as Ross and JB, share the evening’s loveliest moment in the beautifully harmonized duet “Do You Know What I Think of You”; it both confirms their male bonding and their doubts about the differences between them. Jay W. Cullen’s Pete revisits his fantasies of a real rather than foster family in “Picture Book.” Deeply conflicted Jordan, intricately lived in by Devin Archer, conveys his divided loyalty in the intricate solo “Secret.” Finally, as the mercurial Sophie, Andrea Larson stretches the most, as she conveys both the Sophies projected by her teenage suitors and the real deal.

When she comes into her own, it reunites them one last time. But that’s it, mates: We know what they only sense, that more has ended with this summer in Spain than they’ll know for years or forget for much longer.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

 

NOTE: Strong language and sexual content. May not be suitable for children under 16.

Extra Credit:

  • Check out the Bailiwick Chicago blog
  • More info at Bailiwick’s Facebook page
            
            

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  • Non-Equity Jeff Awards nominees announced

    chicagoatnight

    2010 Non-Equity Jeff Award Nominees

     

     

    Production – Play
      Busman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★)
    Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre (review ★★★½)
    Killer Joe Profiles Theatre (review ★★★½ )
    The PillowmanRedtwist Theatre (review ★★★)
    St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre Company (review ★★)
    Wilson Wants It All The House Theatre of Chicago (review ★★★)

     

    Production – Musical
      Chess  Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre i/a/w Michael James (review ★★½)
    Evolution/Creation  -   Quest Theatre Ensemble (review ★★★)
    The Glorious Ones   Bohemian Theatre Ensemble (review ★★★)
    The Who’s Tommy Circle Theatre 

     

    Director – Play
      Aaron Todd Douglas: Twelve Angry Men Raven Theatre  (review ★★★)
    Michael Menendian: Death of a SalesmanRaven Theatre (review ★★★½)
    Michael Rohd: Wilson Wants It All House Theatre of Chicago (review ★★★)
    Kimberly Senior: The PillowmanRedtwist Theatre (review ★★★)
    Rick Snyder: – Killer Joe Profiles Theatre  (review ★★★½)

      

    Director – Musical
      Fred Anzevino & Brenda Didier: Chess – Theo Ubique Theatre (review ★★½)
    Jeffrey CassThe Who’s TommyCircle Theatre
    Stephen M. Genovese: The Glorious Ones Boho Rep (review ★★★)
    Andrew Park: Evolution/CreationQuest Theatre Ensemble  (review ★★★)

     

    Ensemble
      The Glorious Ones Bohemian Theatre Ensemble (review ★★★)
    Red Noses Strawdog Theatre Company
    Twelve Angry Men
    Raven Theatre  (review ★★★)
    Under Milk Wood  Caffeine Theatre  (review ★★)

     

    Actor in a Principal Role – Play
      Tony Bozzuto: On an Average DayBackStage Theatre Company 
    Darrell W. Cox: Killer Joe
    Profiles Theatre  (review ★★★½)
    Andrew Jessop: The PillowmanRedtwist Theatre (review ★★★)
    Peter Robel: I Am My Own Wife Bohemian Theatre  (review ★★★★)
    Chuck Spencer: Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre  (review ★★★½)

     

    Actor in a Principle Role – Musical
      Courtney Crouse: ChessTheo Ubique Cabaret Theatre  (review ★★½)
    Tom McGunn: The Who’s Tommy Circle Theatre
    Eric Damon SmithThe Glorious Ones
    Bohemian Theatre (review ★★★)
    Jeremy Trager: Chess Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre   (review ★★½)

       

    Actress in a Principle Role – Play
      Brenda BarrieMrs. CalibanLifeline Theatre  (review ★★★★)
    LaNisa FrederickThe Gimmick Pegasus Players (review ★★)
    Millicent HurleyLettice & Lovage Redtwist Theatre (review ★★★★)
    Kendra Thulin: Harper Regan Steep Theatre  (review ★★½ )
    Rebekah Ward-Hays: Aunt Dan and Lemon BackStage Theatre 

     

    Actress in a Principle Role – Musical
      Danielle Brothers: Man of La Mancha Theo Ubique Theatre  (review ★★★)
    Sarah Hayes: Man of La ManchaTheo Ubique Theatre   (review ★★★)
    Maggie PortmanChess  Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre  (review ★★½)

     

    Actor in a Supporting Role – Play
      Chance Bone: Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago  (review ★★)
    Jason HuysmanDeath of a Salesman Raven Theatre (review ★★★½)
    Edward KuffertThe CrucibleInfamous Commonwealth (review ★★★)
    Peter Oyloe: The Pillowman Redtwist Theatre   (review ★★★)
    Phil TimberlakeBusman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre  (review ★★★)

     

    Actor in a Supporting Role – Musical
      Eric Lindahl: The Who’s Tommy Circle Theatre
    Steve Kimbrough:
    Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical Hell in a Handbag
    John B. LeenChess Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre  (review ★★½)

     

    Actress in a Supporting Role – Play
      Nancy Friedrich: The Crucible Infamous Commonwealth (review ★★★)
    Vanessa Greenway: The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre i/a/w Premiere Theatre & Performance (review ★★★★)
    Kelly Lynn HoganThe Night Season Vitalist Theatre i/a/w Premiere Theatre & Performance (review ★★★★)
    Kristy Johnson: A Song for Coretta Eclipse Theatre  (review ★★)
    Mary RedmonThe Analytical Engine  – Circle Theatre  (review ★★★)

     

    Actress in a Supporting Role – Musical
      Kate GarassinoBombs Away!  – Bailiwick Repertory Theatre  
    Danni Smith
    The Glorious Ones  -   Bohemian Theatre (review ★★★)
    Trista Smith: Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical  -  Hell in a Handbag
    Dana Tretta
    The Glorious Ones  Bohemian Theatre   (review ★★★)

     

    New Work
      Aaron CarterFirst Words  MPAACT (review ★★★)
    Ellen FaireyGraceland Profiles Theatre  (review ★★★)
    Tommy Lee JohnstonAura  Redtwist Theatre
    Andrew Park and Scott Lamps
    Evolution/Creation  -   Quest Theatre Ensemble (review ★★★)
    Michael Rohd & Phillip C. KlapperichWilson Wants It All  -  The House Theatre of Chicago  (review ★★★)

     

    New Adaptation
      Bilal Dardai: The Man Who Was ThursdayNew Leaf Theatre  
    Sean Graney:  –
    Oedipus  The Hypocrites (review ★★★★)
    Frances LimoncelliBusman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★)
    Frances Limoncelli:  – Mrs. Caliban  – Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★)
    William Massolia: Little Brother  Griffin Theatre

     

    Choreography
      Kevin BellieThe Who’s Tommy  Circle Theatre
    Brenda Didier
    Chess   Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre (review ★★½)
    James Brigitte DitmarsPoseidon! An Upside Down Musical  Hell in a Handbag Productions

     

    Original Incidental Music
      Andrew Hansen: Treasure Island  -  Lifeline Theatre  (review ★★★½)
    Kevin O’Donnell:   -  Wilson Wants It All  -   House Theatre   (review ★★★)
    Trevor WatkinThe Black Duckling  -  Dream Theatre

     

    Music Direction
      Ryan BrewsterChess  – Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre (review ★★½)
    Gary PowellEvolution/Creation  Quest Theatre   (review ★★★)
    Nick SulaThe Glorious Ones  Bohemian Theatre   (review ★★★)

     

    Scenic Design
      Tom BurchUncle Vanya Strawdog Theatre  (review ★★★)
    Alan DonahueTreasure Island Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★½)
    Heath HaysOn an Average Day  -   BackStage Theatre Company
    Bob Knuth
    The Analytical Engine  Circle Theatre (review ★★★)
    Bob KnuthLittle Women  -   Circle Theatre (review ★★★)
    John Zuiker:   I Am My Own Wife  -   Bohemian Theatre (review ★★★★)

     

    Lighting Design
      Diane FairchildThe Gimmick  -  Pegasus Players (review ★★)
    Kevin D. Gawley: Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★½)
    Sean MallarySt. Crispin’s Day  – Strawdog Theatre Company (review ★★)
    Jared B. MooreThe Man Who Was Thursday New Leaf Theatre
    Katy PetersonI Am My Own Wife
    Bohemian Theatre (review ★★★★)

     

    Costume Design
      Theresa HamThe Glorious Ones  -  Bohemian Theatre  (review ★★★)
    Branimira IvanovaTreasure Island  Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★½)
    Joanna MelvilleSt. Crispin’s Day  -  Strawdog Theatre Company (review ★★) Jill Van BrusselThe Taming of the Shrew  Theo Ubique  (review  ★★★)
    Elizabeth WislarThe Analytical Engine  – Circle Theatre (review ★★★)

     

    Sound Design
      Mikhail FikselOedipus The Hypocrites (review ★★★★)
    Michael GriggsWilson Wants It AllThe House Theatre (review ★★★)
    Andrew HansenTreasure Island Lifeline Theatre  (review ★★★½)  
    Joshua HorvathMrs. CalibanLifeline Theatre (review ★★★★)
    Miles PolaskiMouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre  (review ★★)

     

    Artistic Specialization
      Kevin Bellie: Projection Design, The Who’s Tommy  -   Circle Theatre
    Elise Kauzlaric: Dialect Coach, 
    Busman’s Honeymoon  Lifeline Theatre (review ★★★)
    Lucas Merino: Video Design, Wilson Wants It AllThe House Theatre of Chicago (review ★★★)
    James T. Scott:  Puppets, Evolution/Creation Quest Theatre (review ★★★)

     

    Fight Choreography
      Geoff Coates: On An Average Day  -  BackStage Theatre Company
    Geoff Coates
    Treasure Island  Lifeline Theatre   (review ★★★½)
    Matt HawkinsSt. Crispin’s DayStrawdog Theatre Company (review ★★)
    R & D ChoreographyKiller Joe  Profiles Theatre  (review ★★★½  )

     

    More info at the Jeff Awards website.