Banana Shpeel – Cast announced for Chicago production

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Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked join cast

Playing at the Chicago Theatre from November 19 – January 3

Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked will join the distinctive cast of comedic and dance talent in the brand new theatrical production, Banana Shpeel, presented by Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment. Banana Shpeel begins performances at The Chicago Theatre on November 19, with an official Opening Night on Wednesday, December 2. The limited Chicago engagement concludes January 3, 2010, and Banana Shpeel debuts in New York at The Beacon Theatre in February 2010.

 

The Cast

 

banana-longoria-ashford Michael Longoria, who starred as Frankie Valli in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys, will portray Emmett, an innocent and romantic young actor, while Annaleigh Ashford, who starred as Glinda in Wicked on Broadway and in Chicago, portrays Emmett’s love interest Katie, and Remo Airaldi, a prolific resident company member of Boston’s acclaimed American Repertory Theater, portrays Schmelky, a cruel and irritable theater producer. Joining them is an international crew of comedic actors: Claudio Carneiro (Brazil), Daniel Passer (U.S.), Patrick de Valette (France), Gordon White (Canada), and Wayne Wilson (U.S.). In keeping with Cirque du Soleil’s unique and diverse performers, global talents showcased in Banana Shpeel include Russian hand balancer Dmitry Bulkin, Vietnamese juggler Tuan Le, Spanish foot juggler Vanessa Alvarez, and the American sister-brother tap dance duo, Joseph and Josette Wiggan. Completing the cast is a talented ensemble comprised of 10 “triple threats”: singer-actor-dancers Robyn Baltzer, Alex Ellis, Adrienne Jean Fisher, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Luke Hawkins, Kathleen Hennessey, Adrienne Reid, Anthony J. Russo, Melissa Schott, and Steven T. Williams.

The Band

 

Under the direction of Band Leader Robert Cookman, the Banana Shpeel original score is performed live on stage by Roland Barber (trombone), Bobby Brennan (bass), James Campagnola (multi-instrumental), Iohann Laliberté (drums), Jean-François Ouellet (saxophone), Peter Sachon (cello) and Scott Steen (trumpet).

The Show

Banana Shpeel is a roller-coaster mix of styles that blends comedy with tap, hip hop, eccentric dance and slapstick, all linked by a narrative that ignites a succession of wacky adventures. This is not circus, or a musical or a variety show, or even Bananas_Dancingvaudeville. It is Banana Shpeel!

Synopsis: Propelled by crazy humor and intense choreography, Banana Shpeel plunges us into the world of Schmelky, who dangles fame and fortune in front of Emmett, who has come to audition for him. Emmett soon finds himself trapped in a flamboyant, anarchic world where Schmelky sows terror and reigns supreme. Emmett falls in love with the beautiful Katie and meets a bunch of absurd characters, including the strange Banana Man. But who is this mysterious Banana Man and how can Emmett escape the clutches of Schmelky and his henchmen?

The Creative Team 

 

The Banana Shpeel Creative Team includes: Artistic Guides Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil Founder) and Gilles Ste-Croix; Writer and Director David Shiner; Director of Creation Serge Roy; Composer and Musical Director Jean-François Côté; Comic Act Designer Stefan Haves; Choreographer Jared Grimes; Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux; Set Designer and Props Co-Designer Patricia Ruel; Props Co-Designer Jasmine Catudal; Lighting Designer Bruno Rafie; Sound Designer Harvey Robitaille; and Make-up Designer Eleni Uranis.

Banana Shpeel writer and director David Shiner started out as a mime in Paris. His career took off in 1984 when he was discovered at the renowned circus festival Cirque de Demain. Shiner later teamed up with Bill Irwin to create the wordless two-man show Fool Moon, which played from 1992 to 1999, including three Broadway runs. Fool Moon picked up numerous prizes, including a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2007, Shiner directed his first Cirque du Soleil production, the big top touring show KOOZA.

Performance Schedule

Banana Shpeel performs from November 19, 2009 through January 3, 2010 at The Chicago Theatre

Ticket Information

Tickets are available now for all performances and can be purchased at www.cirquedusoleil.com or www.thechicagotheatre.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Regular ticket prices range from $23 to $98, with limited Premium and Tapis Rouge VIP Experience tickets also available. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more, by calling 1-866-6-CIRQUE (1-866-624-7783).

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Chicago Theater first – Cirque du Soleil comes out of the tent

Cirque du Soleil to premiere major new show format in Chicago this fall

It will be called “Vaudeville.”

cirque_vaudevilleAnd the new Cirque du Soleil show in the works will both rehearse and start in Chicago—most likely at the Chicago Theatre. According to information circulating in New York, Cirque du Soleil is preparing a major new proscenium-style show under the direction of David Shiner (“Kooza”) and written by Larry O’Keefe (“Bat Boy” and “Legally Blonde”). The choreographer is listed as Jared Grimes, known for his tap and hip-hop work.

 

Says Chicago Tribune:

The idea is to create a 90-minute hybrid of a Cirque circus-style show and a more traditional musical-theater production. This would be the Montreal-based Cirque’s first foray into Broadway-style theater. It is likely to be a high profile show in the Loop next holiday season. Plans call for rehearsals this fall in Chicago, followed by an opening here in November. Thereafter, the show will move to New York’s Beacon Theatre for a run of six months or more and, most likely, a tour elsewhere. The Beacon Theatre is owned, like the Chicago Theatre, by Madison Square Garden Entertainment.

A Chicago spokesman for Cirque wouldn’t comment about any future projects. The Cirque has long said it wanted to explore new arenas for its work. This one will be as close as Cirque has ever come to Broadway, complete with the traditional Chicago tryout.

More links:

Chicago Theater Recommendations (July 2008)

A summary of theatre recommendations from the Tribune (Trib), Sun-Times (ST), Chicago Theatre Blog (CTB), and TimeOut Chicago (TO).   

 

Play   (Producers and/or Location)

Recommended By

Campaign Supernova (Second City etc.) Trib, ST
Cirque Shanghai Gold (Navy Pier)   Trib, TO, CTB
Dead Man’s Cellphone (Steppenwolf)   Trib, CTB
Hizzoner (Beverly Arts Center) Trib, CTB
Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night                  (Theo Ubique – No Exit Cafe) Trib, CTB, ST
Jersey Boys (Broadway in Chicago) Trib, ST, CTB, TO
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Gift Theatre) Trib, TO
The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre) Trib, TO, ST
Superior Donuts (Steppenwolf) Trib, CTB, TO
Wicked (Broadway in Chicago) Trib, CTB, ST
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Drury Lane Oakbrook) Trib, ST
The Lion in Winter (Writers’ Theatre) Trib, TO, ST
Relatively Close (Victory Gardens) CTB
Kooza (Cirque du Soleil – United Center) TO, CTB, ST, Trib
Gutenberg! The Musical!  (Royal George Theatre) TO, CTB
Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass Theatre) TO
Funk It Up About Nuthin’ (Chicago Shakes) TO
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale (MidTangent) TO, CTB
Ren Faire! (Prp Thtr) TO
Hay Fever (Circle Theatre) ST
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Goodman Theatre) ST
Jekyll & Hyde (Boho Theatre) ST, CTB
I Am Who I Am (The Story of Teddy Pendergrass)
(Black Ensemble Theater)
ST, TO
A Steady Rain (Royal George) ST, CTB
Co-Ed Prison Sluts (Annoyance Theatre) Trib
A Rabbit’s Tale (Millennium Park) Trib

Reviews: "Kooza" and "Cirque Shanghai"

Run Away and Join The Cirques!!

By Venus Zarris

I remember my first visit to the Ringling Brother’s circus at the International Amphitheater when I was a small child. Three rings of amazing delights and exotic animals were almost more than I could handle. Even in the ‘nose bleed’ seats the impact left a permanent impression. I was overwhelmed by the spectacle of it and have been a circus fan ever since.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily set the American standard for circus extravaganzas but since then there have been some wonderful imports that have broke the mold by reinventing the experience.

As if summer in Chicago isn’t already filled with wonderful opportunities for theatrical fun, there are currently TWO world-class circus options that are sure to thrill and amaze. Although vastly different experiences, both are equally entertaining. KOOZA – Cirque du Soleil is on the high end of production values as well as ticket price. $55-$125 per ticket may seem steep but the payoff is over 2 ½ hours of spellbinding bliss. There is a reason why Cirque du Soleil has a devoted fan base. They truly create another world, thereby making the escape from reality an absolute immersion into fantasy, before the first trick is even performed.

Cirque Shanghai: Gold, on the other hand, is lighter on production values and fantastical concept but more than makes up for this with 1 ½ hour of non-stop amazing acrobatic excellence. It possesses a beautiful charm that comes not from fabricated artifice but rather from a surprisingly heartwarming connection between the audience and the brilliant performers. At $14.50-$29.50 a ticket, it is also more family friendly as well as wallet friendly, especially during the current economic crunch.

There is something unparalleled about seeing both of these unique productions live. “Death Defying Acts” is just a circus catchphrase until you witness the dangers and dares first hand. There is nothing supernatural, but there is genuine magic created by all of these performers who have devoted their lives to becoming the best in their fields. Both Cirques are sure to rank as highlights of the summer as well as provide memories for years to come.

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KOOZA – Cirque du Soleil

The spectacle is nothing short of a spellbinding, jaw dropping, eye popping, sensational, magical and death defying sensory overload. This may sound like a bag of clichéd descriptive exaggerations, when in fact they are actually understatements compared to the otherworldly delights that await you under the big blue and yellow striped tent.

Kooza2 As you walk in you are struck by the sheer magnitude of technical engineering contraptions that are implemented to execute such a grand transformation in a parking lot. The pre-show antics of the small clown troupe warm up the crowd. Normally circus clowns fall in between the range of corny to creepy but these jokers are actually hilarious.

When the show officially starts you are in for 2 ½ hours of mind boggling visceral fireworks. Between the costumes, lighting design, production design, thrilling music delivered through an acoustically perfect sound system, and best-in-their-field world class performers; ‘KOOZA’ quite simply delivers the most whimsically lavish and lovely production values. The occasional ‘jazz hands’ tossed into the playful choreography made me imagine that Bob Fosse would have adored the flawless showmanship.

'Kooza' - now playing at the United Center through September

The opening sequence starts out simple with an ‘innocent’ flying a kite. There is a lovely connection to the sweet little person but when he receives a special delivery life sized jack-in-the-box and the ‘trickster’ appears all bets are off. The stage fills with color, life and sound. As the ornate three story orchestra tower is revealed there is a flashback to Japanese animator Miyazaki’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. This sets the stage for an experience that actually makes the surreal visual extremes of Japanese animation seem commonplace.

Kooza8 Every act thrills, amazes and delights. ‘KOOZA’ takes personal offense to gravity, as there are several gasp inducing aerial acts. The stage is almost underused for the volume of overhead amazements but the beautiful grounded triplets of synchronized shiny contortion almost steal the show. Their flexibility is hard to describe as human and at times almost sickeningly unnatural. One maneuver resembles the deleted ‘spider scene’ from the ‘Exorcist.’

Demons, angels and everything in between captivate beyond your wildest dreams. It is hard to imagine that two men perilously spinning on a giant double wheel of death can be followed by anything, much less a pickpocket, but the acts flow brilliantly. Your nerves are given occasional breaks from the more dangerous exhibits but the thrills are constant. Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA is an explosion of miracles that should not be missed!

Rating: ««««

(“KOOZA – Cirque du Soleilruns through August 24 at the Grand Chapiteau, United Center parking lot K, 1901 W. Madison Street. 800-678-5440)

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Cirque Shanghai: Gold

Among the many amazing achievements of this foray into exotic entertainment, Cirque Shanghai: Gold illustrated a cultural difference that I had heretofore not realized. Other than a vehicle for serving food, in China, plates can be spun on the end of sticks by flexible acrobats to create dazzling visual tricks. Whereas in Greece, we get drunk, toss them on the ground and yell, ‘Opa!’

cirqueshanghai1 If you are tired of the day-to-day grind, uninspired by the offerings of summertime blockbusters or simply want to escape into the world of something unusually magical, Cirque Shanghai: Gold should not be missed! We left the show with an adrenaline rush that made us literally feel like five-year-old children. Chocked full of moments that range from ‘DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!,’ to ‘NO WAY!,’ to ‘HOLY SHIT!,’ you cannot help but be astonished and overwhelmed by these award wining international athletic superstars.

Now, I realize that ‘Superstar’ is a word that gets thrown around quite freely in this country, but forget TV’s ‘Celebrity Circus.’ These miraculous performers are the real deal! And despite their otherworldly abilities to seemingly defy the laws of gravity and physics, these charming gymnastic geniuses perform their feats of daring acrobatic accomplishment without the slightest air of pretense or bravado. As a matter of fact, you can’t help but fall in love with their contagious warmth and humble enthusiasm. I found myself wanting to throw a party for the entire lovable cast so I could shower them with prizes and affection.

Just when you think that they can’t possibly out due the astounding act you witnessed, your jaw drops at the following flabbergaster. The flexibility alone elicits profound feelings of personal inadequacy as they do things that a normal body could only duplicate during a lethal fall down several flights of stairs!

cirqueshanghai2 As if the talent on stage isn’t enough, the exceptionally creative team behind the scenes is outstanding. Director Sylvia Hase hails from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Emmy Award-winner Steve Base provides the conceptual design. Choreographer Brenda Didier and lighting/scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, both Chicago based award-winners, round off the visionary team.

But the beautifully brilliant costumes, lighting, music and dancing pale next to these genuinely gifted performers who not only entertain beyond your wildest dreams but also serve as incomparable ambassadors of international good will. I hope that their stay in Chicago returns to them at least some of the joy that they offer everyone who watches this wonderful all-ages treat! The acrobats explode with dazzling talent making ‘Cirque Shanghai: Gold’ a spectacular display of human fireworks and 90 minutes of sheer delight!

Rating: ««««

(“Cirque Shanghai: Gold” runs through Sept. 1 at The Skyline Stage on Navy Pier. 312-902-1500)

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Cirque du Soleil’s "Kooza" – 40% off tickets!

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Great news – Cirque du Soleil is offing 40% off tickets of their newest production – Kooza

40% off “Kooza” tickets!!

Special offer for all you Cirqu du Soleil fans!

 

kooza Cirque du Soleil presents its newest touring show, KOOZA. The story of an innocent who enters a world full of kings, thieves, and other archetypal characters, KOOZA is a return to Cirque du Soleil‘s roots: a combination of classic circus acrobatics and broad slapstick clowning.  “Kooza” runs through August 24th at the United Center.  For more info, click here.