Review: Peter Pan (360 Entertainment & Broadway Chicago)

     

Now extended through July 10th!!


 

A gorgeous, high-tech canvas of oohs and ahhs

     
     

Emily Yetter (Tinkerbell), Scott Weston (Michael Darling), Ciaran Joyce (Peter Pan), Evelyn Hoskins (Wendy Darling) and Tom Larkin (John Darling) fly off to Neverland in a scene from "Peter Pan". Photo by Kevin Berne

      
threesixty entertainment presents
   
Peter Pan
   
Written by Sir James Barrie
adapted by Tanya Ronder
Directed by Ben Harrison
at Chicago Tribune Freedom Center, 650 W. Chicago (map)
through July 10  |  tickets: $20-$125  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

It’s a gorgeous marriage of a circus tent, whose interior functions like a thrilling Omnimax screen in-the-round, and traditional theater magic, with trap doors and soaring flights that are more than fancy. This British-born production from 2009, which has already delighted Kensington Gardens and San Francisco, should have a happy home in Chicago all summer.

Wendy (Evelyn Hoskins) receives a gift from Peter Pan (Ciaran Joyce). Photo by Kevin BerneIts in-the-found “panto” spectacle flourishes in a huge white tent pitched in the parking lot of the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant along the Chicago River. There the two and a half hour spectacle regales audiences with glorious 3D and 360-degree projections that, sweeping us along, let us fly above London, explore the jungles of Neverland, dive under the waters around Skull Island, soar to the riggings of Captain Hook’s ship, and tumble through the clouds, accompanied by Peter, Michael, John and Wendy as, harnessed to the apex of the big top, they fly effortlessly above us.

The story they tell, of course, is J.M. Barrie’s inexhaustible novella of the boy who never grew up and the lucky children (including the audience) who get caught up in his adventures with pirates, a crocodile, mermaids and, his greatest adversary, time itself. Peter’s saga inevitably takes us back to our childhood and, just as importantly, reminds us why we had to leave it.

Inspired by the doomed Davies brothers, Barrie wrote a Dorian Gray-like fantasy in which one of the beautiful boys would never age. Peter, a once-and-future serial abductor, recruits Wendy, his latest surrogate “mother,” along with her entranced brothers, to fly with him to Neverland and tell bedtime stories to the lost boys. But Captain Hook, a stunted adult who is just as lost, also wants a mother and will poison Peter and kill the boys to get Wendy.

At the same time playing at being grownups wears thin and Wendy, Michael, John and the orphan lads slowly feel the need to return to reality. For Peter “death would be an awfully big adventure.” For them life is challenge enough.

Faithful to every delightful word in Barrie’s source, Tanya Ronder’s adaptation, abetted by a serviceable score by Benjamin Wallfisch, employs wonderful puppets (the crocodile is every bit as big as its living relatives), highwire flying, swirling swordfights, a superb video backdrop and the audience’s own unleashed imagination to do full justice to this childhood classic.

     
Peter Pan (Ciaran Joyce) shows Wendy (Evelyn Hoskins) how to fly in "Peter Pan". Photo by Kevin Berne Tinkerbell (Emily Yetter) and Peter Pan (Ciaran Joyce) fly off above London back to Neverland. Photo by Kevin Berne
Peter Pan (Ciaran Joyce) flies into the Darling family bedroom . Photo by Kevin Berne. Tinkerbell (Emily Yetter) flies above the audience. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Ciaran Joyce, a supple young British actor, makes Peter properly improper as he impetuously bursts from one adventure to another, as if boyhood had no expiration date (and he’s willed it so just to be sure). Just as exuberant but strategically maternal as required, Evelyn Hoskins is a very sensible Wendy, her prudence a counterweight to Peter’s other “girls,” Emily Yetter’s bratty and endearing Tinker Bell and Heidi Bueller’s curiously sensual Tiger Lily. Playing the most threatening (and thus mockable) adults, Steven Pacey is suitably silly, especially in his unseemly popularity competition for Peter. (Guess who gets voted off of this island?)

Lovely touches abound, like the Lost Boys’ indulging in a curious war dance about “killing grownups,” the mother-like puppet Neverbird (animated appropriately by Regina Leslie as Mrs. Darling), and a mermaid duo who try to kidnap Wendy for their own underwater purposes.

When the audience shouts out how much they believe In fairies, you sense the same splendid stagecraft that worked so well in 1904. But here state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technology makes it even larger than life and as vibrant a fantasy as memory could make it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
      
  

The pirates of Peter Pan, with Wendy (Evelyn Hoskins) in the background. Photo by Kevin Berne

Peter Pan continues at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center, 650 W. Chicago Ave., through summer 2011, with performances Wednesdays @ 2:00pm & 7:00pm; Thursdays-Fridays @ 7:00pm; Saturdays @ 2:00pm & 7:00pm and Sundays @ 1:00pm & 5:00pm. Tickets range from $20-$125, Complete ticket info here.

All photos by Kevin Berne

     
     

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REVIEW: Aftermath (Signal Ensemble Theatre)

  
  

The battle for the soul of Rock ‘n’ Roll

  
  

(left to right) George (Andrew Yearick) introduces Brian (Aaron Snook) to the sitar, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath,” written and directed by co-artistic director Ronan Marra.  Photo by Johnny Knight.

  
Signal Ensemble Theatre presents
  
Aftermath
  
Written/Directed by Ronan Marra
at
Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map)
through Jan 23  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Coming late to the Aftermath party, I wanted to see how well the production has held up since switching to Signal Ensemble’s own theater space. Extremely well, it would seem, from the sold-out crowds. Chicagoans are undeniably enjoying playwright and director Ronan Marra’s musical bio and tribute to Brian Jones, the eclectic 60s rock genius and tragic founder of The Rolling Stones.

Mick (Nick Vidal) sings while Brian (Aaron Snook) plays the sitar, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath,” written and directed by co-artistic director Ronan Marra. Photo by Johnny KnightClearly, critical kibitzing may mean nothing, now that Signal’s production has rolled along just fine, both reawakening Boomer nostalgia and exposing a younger generation to the Stones with a laudable facsimile of the original band’s performances. In fact, Marra’s requirement for musical proficiency in his cast stands at the throbbing heart of Signal’s production. Much as Aaron Snook charismatically captivates the audience, intrepidly holding attention under a fabulous mop top of blonde hair, he also pulls his weight hinting at Brian’s natural facility with multiple instruments by playing dulcimer, sitar and electric guitar. The music is the thing. The band’s excellence is the show’s mainstay. Once Mark J. Hurni’s dramatic lighting comes up on “Paint it, Black,” you know that this train is stopping for no one.

Except for one small, perceivable flaw—as Mick Jagger, Nick Vidal’s voice achieves a suitably approximate timbre but is almost drowned out by the force of the band. At least at my Sunday matinee viewing, seated in the front row, most song lyrics were indiscernible. Only during “Lady Jane” does Vidal hold his own, volume-wise. That’s too bad, especially since every other aspect of Vidal’s portrayal is electrifying. He has captured Mick’s strut, the liquid energy that made Jagger a consummate showman and indisputable sex idol. When acting, Vidal has Jagger’s snarky insouciance down pat, but behind the mic his voice pales. Joseph Stearns also doesn’t make for a thoroughly realistic Keith Richards—but the pressure isn’t on him as it is Vidal. He’s not the front man.

Dramatically, Marra’s writing also is lacking. His jukebox musical has an excellent sense of structure, with each number placed to move the action and characters forward; the boilerplate dialogue and predictable storytelling, however, may as well have come from MTV’s “Behind the Music.” Marra wants a balanced reflection on Brian Jones’ life and forgotten contributions to the Rolling Stones’ aesthetic. Yet, he simply hasn’t taken risks to plumb the depths of his troubled but fascinating rock idol. Instead, the audience is lead through a pageant of Brian’s struggles—his battles with Mick for artistic leadership of the Stones, his musical giftedness, his affair with model Anita Pallenberg (Simone Roos) and his downward spiral into paranoia and drug dependency.

     
(left to right) Brian (Aaron Snook) and Mick (Nick Vidal) perform a song, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath”. Photo by Johnny Knight (left to right) Bill (Nathan Drackett) and Charlie (Bries Vannon) laugh at the rest of the band during an interview, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath”.

In Snook, the show has an actor whose performance gives more ballast to Marra’s two-dimensional writing, but even he cannot redeem the material from its well-worn clichés. Once Brian suspects Anita in an affair with Keith, he and Roos together carry out especially visceral performances, but most of the rest of the action is a predictable dance of rock star dissolution that skirts the edges of both Jones’ genius and his darker side. We leave knowing no more about what made Brian Jones tick than before.

Plus, for hardcore rock aficionados, Marra’s work is just as much an act of forgetting as it is a loving tribute to the fallen Rolling Stone. Significant figures in Brian Jones’ life get tossed wholesale from Aftermath’s storyline. Instrumental to Jones’ ouster from the band was the arrival of Andrew Loog Oldham, who eventually took over most of Jones’ managerial duties and pushed for Jagger/Richards’ songwriting in the name of sustained financial success. Without Oldham’s presence or mention in the drama, Mick Jagger comes across as the principal villain behind Brian getting sacked from the group.

Brian (Aaron Snook) tells his story to the audience, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath” What’s more, significant musical creations get lost in Marra’s truncated retelling. At one point Marra has Brian Jones bring up “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, only to toss it off as just a forgettable, sub-par Stones’ album. Actually, the album was the Stones’ brief venture into psychedelic rock, which reached its apex in 1967. This was the direction in which Jones, with all his world music influences, was going. But its production, broken up by court appearances and random showings by band members and their friends, proved to be a monster to complete. Once produced, it looked like a cheap knock off compared to the Beatles’ wildly successful “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which had beaten the Stones to release by six months.

“Their Satanic Majesties Request” was Jones’ last hoorah in terms of his musical influence on the band. According to Richie Unterberger of Allmusic, the album “. . . incorporated African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. Never before or since did the Stones take so many chances in the studio. In 1968, the Stones would go back to the basics, and never wander down these paths again . . .” A 1998 bootleg box set of the outtakes of the Satanic sessions reveals Jones in fruitful collaboration with Keith Richards and session pianist Nicky Hopkins, creating the album’s eerie soundscapes. But psychedelic rock was soon to fade as quickly as it had blossomed and Brian was going with it.

Obviously not everything about the Jones’ life can be mentioned, but certainly these milestones deserve more than a glossing. In the end, however, Aftermath remains an enjoyable evening of nostalgic entertainment.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
    
   

Brian (Aaron Snook, left) talks to a reporter (Vincent Lonergan, center) while Mick (Nick Vidal, right) listens, in Signal Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of the drama with music “Aftermath".

   
  

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REVIEW: Hello Dolly (Light Opera Works)

     
     

Phenomenal dancing and singing makes ‘Dolly’ a New Year’s treat 

     
     

Mary Robin Roth (Dolly Gallagher Levi) in Hello Dolly – Light Opera Works. Photo Credit: Rich Foreman

    
Light Opera Works presents
   
   
Hello, Dolly! 
       
Book by Michael Stewart
Music/Lyrics by
Jerry Herman
Directed by
Rudy Hogenmiller
at
Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston (map)
through Jan 1  |  tickets: $32-$92   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

“Some people paint, I meddle.”  A widow makes a living as a matchmaker.   Light Opera Works presents Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, a big-hearted musical based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, set in 1890.

Before the parade passes by, I want to get in step while there’s still time left.” Dolly Levi wants to start living.

Dolly’s retirement plan is to marry the well-known half-millionaire, Horace Vandergelder.  Because Dolly is very good at her job, Horace IS ready to marry… Irene Malloy. Before Horace can pop the question to Irene, Dolly must strike the match.  It’s a hilarious intervention as Dolly rearranges multiple lives to marry off herself.    Hello, Dolly! is a witty, musical frolic wedded to the courtship dance.

You’re looking swell Dolly.  I can tell Dolly. You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’, you’re still goin’ strong. 

Mary Robin Roth (Dolly Gallagher Levi), Peter Verdico (Horace Vandergelder) star in Hello Dolly - Light Opera Works  Photo Credit: Rich ForemanMary Robin Roth (Dolly) has flawless comedic timing.  Roth delivers zesty lines with a side of slapstick, and has all the personality to anchor the show in the title role.  The musical orchestration has been adjusted for Roth’s limited singing range; her lower vocal style is robust but in moments awkward.  In solo numbers, it’s a unique rendition, but when she joins in on a brightly sung ‘Put on Your Sunday Clothes,’ Roth creates a bit of speed bump.

The best match of the show is the chemistry between Robert Brady (Cornelius) and Patrick Tierney (Barnaby).  The dynamic duo sing, dance and lampoon with charm and amusing absurdity.   Although Jessye Wright (Irene) has a beautifully operatic singing voice, it’s too serious for the light-hearted romp.  It really only works as the parody line Wright sings in ‘Elegance’ to make fun of the sophisticated.

A 22-piece orchestra, conducted by Roger L. Bingaman, sets the tempo for a splendid full-bodied musical chorus.

‘Don’t you think my dancing has a polish and a flare?  The word I think I’d use is athletic!’

The dancing IS athletic and amazing!   Rudy Hogenmiller channels Gower Champion to choreograph dance sequences that elicit applause DURING the movement.  In particular, two memorable moments are actualized by a large segment of the chorus.  First, in the parade scene, the band moves into a revolving kick line.  For a small stage and multiple dancers, the graceful high-kick turning is incredibly impressive.  In the second act, the waiters have a vigorous prolonged dance sequence.  The word I think I’d use is ‘phenomenal.’    The synchronization is perfection.  The waiters’ jumps are a harmonious spectacle.

Despite promises that ‘Dolly’ll never go away again,’ it’ll be “Goodbye, Dolly!” in a week.    So, here’s your goal again,  get in drive again, if you wanna feel your heart coming alive again… get your tickets now… before the parade, and the full orchestra, passes by!

  
   
Rating: ★★★½
 
   

Hello, Dolly! continues performances on December 27th, 29th, January 2nd at 2pm;
December 28th at 7pm; December 30th, 31st, January 1st at 8pm. All photos by Rich Foreman.

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty-five minutes includes an intermission.

Robert Brady (Cornelius Hackl), Patrick Tierney (Barnaby Tucker), star in Light Opera Works’ HELLO, DOLLY!, December 26, 2010- January 2, 2011 at the Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, IL. Photo Credit: Rich Foreman

    
     

     
     

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REVIEW: Nothin’ But The Blues (Black Ensemble Theatre)

Lifted by the Blues

 

Nothin-But-The-Blues-emsemble

 
The Black Ensemble Theatre presents
   
Nothin’ But the Blues
  
Written by Joe Plummer
Directed by
Jackie Taylor and Daryl Brooks
at
Black Ensemble Theatre, 4520 N. Beacon (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $45   |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Let me take you on a journey to the not so distant past. Take a step into the dark glass brick lounges of the South and West sides of Chicago. The ladies are dressed like they are entered in a pageant and the gentlemen are exquisitely groomed in a rainbow of colors not seen on Wall Street. The Black Ensemble Theater brings this  world vividly to life in Nothin’ But the Blues. This glorious musical is a tribute to the legendary Theresa’s Lounge that operated out of a basement from 1954 until 1983.

 Lawrence Williams and Rhonda Preston in "Nothin' But the Blues" at BETThe cast parades out singing an original song by Black Ensemble founder Jackie Taylor blended in with snippets from blues classics immediately recognizable by the audience. They are stock characters familiar if you have seen ‘chitlin circuit’ comics or Oscar Micheaux revivals with all Black casts. The chitlin’ circuit was where Black comics and singers toured through the South confined to juke joints and establishments in the Colored Only areas. Some of the world’s greatest music and performers cut their teeth on the circuit and rarely received proper recognition while still living.

There is the bar room sage named Washburn played by Rick Stone. He plays the old guy sitting in the corner who sees everything and says little. Mr. Stone is a stately older gentleman who I remember from the classic 70’s movie “Cooley High”.

He sings several numbers with suave facial exaggerations distinct to the emotions of the blues. He moves his body in a fluid and comical manner while singing of covert love and shenanigans in “Back Door Man”. He raises the subject matter above the raunchy content while keeping the sly fun going.

Rhonda Preston plays Theresa Needham with sass and wit. Ms. Preston has a powerhouse voice and whip smart comic timing as Mrs. Needham, who kept the Lounge and the music going for thirty years against the odds. History tells of Theresa’s famous puppet that she kept behind the bar that hid a gun in case things got out of hand. Ms. Preston looks at home behind the bar and projects the motherly tough love that comes to be expected of lady saloonkeepers. She will pour you a stiff drink and kick your butt to the curb while singing some gutbucket blues on Blue Mondays Open Mike at the Lounge. She is hilarious to watch and will have you stomping your feet with her voice.

Trinity Murdock plays the role of the doorman Will with a perfect weariness and touch of lecherous flair when the lovely ladies enter the Lounge. There is a fine exchange between Mr. Murdock and Candace C. Edwards as the hot bar hussy Rolanda. He lusts but she pointedly tells him that he is too old for the kind of fun she is out to have. Ms. Edwards’ Rolanda is a throwback to the sirens of the 40’s. She teases but never reaches the sleaze factor that so many actresses fall into these days. The character’s goodies are a mystery even wrapped in a slinky blue dress.

 

Nothin-But-The-Blues-Rhonda-Preston Nothin-But-The-Blues-Stone-Murdock
Nothin-But-The-Blues-Lyle-Miller2 Nothin-But-The-Blues-Noreen-Starks2 Nothin-But-The-Blues-Reddrick-Murdock

The biggest laughs come from the exchanges between Lyle Miller as Lewis the Drunk and Ms. Preston. Miller brings the stumbling neighborhood drunk to comical life. He tries to wheedle a bar tab and hit on the ladies despite his sweaty disheveled visage. Theresa pours his drinks but keeps him in check with stinging barbs. He has a rather predictable storyline with Robin Beaman as Flo – another well-dressed barfly. Ms. Beaman is a fine singer and has a heart-wrenching role as the woman who lost her love and listens to the blues for a cure.

A very handsome and muscular Kelvin Rolston Jr. plays the neighborhood mailman. He drops in after work to have a drink and engage in some canoodling with Rolanda until his winsome and apparently devout wife discovers his subterfuge. Noreen Starks is a delight as Mrs. Tate, the mailman’s wife. She turns the church lady image on its head with a fiery rendition of “You Can Have My Husband But Don’t Mess With My Man”. It was a fun climactic moment when she confronts Rolanda about her wanton ways with Mr. Tate. She lets everyone know that wives are getting their share too.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening came from Lawrence Williams as “The Kid”. He projects innocence with his youthful eagerness and jangly energy but when  he steps up to the microphone, he sings with the loneliness and sadness of a man decades older. It is Mr. Williams theatrical debut and he has star quality in his voice and acting.

Nothing-But-The-Blues (Edwards-Preston-Miller)Some of the plot lines in Nothin’ But The Blues are predictable and a little too neatly tied up. That is a risk that comes with portraying a historical figure and an era when ‘chitlin circuit’ was the norm. However, that is also what is so comforting and wonderful about this show. It is authentic with the music and the vibe of Theresa’s Lounge – or any of the neighborhood places where the wet glasses “sing” when stacked on the bar mat. Black Ensemble is known for bringing the stories of the unsung to life with great flair and this is another bulls-eye for them. It needs to be said many times where the roots of rock and roll came from because time always rewrites history. The great blues lounges and taverns have given way to people with deeper pockets and a commercialized sound. It is wonderful to be reminded that Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Stevie Ray Vaughn sat in Theresa’s before they took their sounds to the world.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fabulous set design by Carl Ulaszek. It is spot on with the photo of Dr. King amidst the glasses and bottles just like he was on the walls of countless Black people back in the day. There is an appropriately greenish jar of pickled eggs for the classic ‘working man’s breakfast – a shot, a stein, and a pickled egg. The signs and the beautiful Formica bar put a little lump in my throat for times gone by. BET founder Jackie Taylor designed the gorgeous costumes. Ms. Taylor is a force of nature that has brought the Ensemble to national recognition. She scores big with the colorful and outrageous costumes. Black people dressed to the nines in the days of Theresa’s and places like the Roberts 500 Club. Everything matched down to the shoes. It brings joy to see the fedora making a return!

One piece of friendly advice – when you go to Nothin’ But the Blues, be sure to bring your toe tapping shoes!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Nothin’ But The Blues plays on Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 3:00 through August 29th at the Black Ensemble Theater 4520 N. Beacon in Chicago. Call 773-769-4451 or visit www.blackensembletheater.org

L-ro-R: Trinity Murdock, Rhonda Preston and Rick Stone

 

           

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