REVIEW: I Do! I Do! (Light Opera Works)

 

Dated musical extols institution on life-support

 

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Light Opera Works presents
   
I Do!  I Do!
   
Music by Harvey Schmidt
Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones
Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller
Music direction by Roger L. Bingaman and Linda Slein
McGaw Children’s Center Auditorium, Evanston (map)
Through November 14  | 
tickets: $27-$42*  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

It’s not only its historic setting that makes I Do! I Do! seem dated.

Marriage — the till-death-do-us-part style — is more and more passé. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that the number of young adults who’ve never married rose from 35 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2009. Among all Americans ages 18 and older, the proportion of those married dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009 — the lowest percentage ever recorded.

Catherine Lord and Larry Adams - Light Opera Works - I Do I Do 006 Of those couples who do marry, at least half eventually divorce. Adultery is rife — the news is full of stories about philandering celebrities and politicians — and some studies estimate that as many as 45 to 55 percent of married people cheat on their spouses.

In times like these, how relevant can a sentimental musical about a 50-year-long marriage be?

Based on Jan de Hartog’s 1951 Broadway hit The Fourposter, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ tender, two-piano, two-character musical, currently in revival by Evanston’s Light Opera Works, follows Michael and Agnes from their wedding at the turn of the 20th century through their five decades of married life. The action mainly revolves around their four-posted marriage bed, although its presence is more symbolic than titillating. We watch them through wedding-night nerves, the birth and rearing of children, squabbles and reconciliations, his brief extramarital affair, her mid-life crisis and their ultimate retirement, a story told mainly in a series of schmaltzy duets punctuated by occasional solos, recitatives and a judicious amount of dialogue.

In 1966, when I Do! I Do! premiered on Broadway, the divorce rate was just 27.4 percent, and roughly 80 percent of U.S. adults were married. You have to wonder what today’s large number of never marrieds, divorced and gays and lesbians are going to get out of this paean to old-fashioned, traditional marriage.

Michael and Agnes no longer represent the universal, generic twosome they once did, even among the married. Few today still follow the male wage earner-female homemaker model at the root of some of this couple’s tiffs. Married life has become much more complex.

 

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Yet although dated in its subject matter, I Do! I Do! remains fresh in its intimate format — a two-person musical was ahead of its time in the 1960s. Schmidt’s sweet and bouncy but repetitive melodies and Jones’ simplistic sentiments — "Marriage is a very good thing, though it’s far from easy" — sometimes verge on cloying, but several of the songs have appeal, notably "I Love My Wife," Michael’s acknowledgement of how unfashionable it is, the upbeat "Love Isn’t Everything" and the comic "Nobody’s Perfect" in Act I and the poignant lament about aging, "Where are the Snows?" and the love song, "My Cup Runneth Over" in Act II. In Light Opera Works’ production, music directors Roger L. Bingaman and Linda Slein double on the dual pianos, occasionally a little muddy but capably over all.

Veteran actors Catherine Lord and Larry Adams make this production worthwhile. Lord’s beautifully timed, wonderfully funny and highly expressive performance as the often-dissatisfied Agnes gives the show some real spice. She acts with every part of her body. Adams’ rich baritone elevates the score.

If you’re looking forward to your wedding, an optimistic young married or about to celebrate your umpty-umpth wedding anniversary, this bittersweet and nostalgic musical may be just the excuse that you’re looking for to have an evening out holding hands with your honey. For many, though, I Do! I Do! describes a life so alien it might as well be science fiction.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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*age 21and younger are half price.

   
   

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REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Theatre at the Center)

Bad People, Great Musical

 

 DRS- Dara Cameron and ensemble

   
Theatre at the Center presents
   
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
   
Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music/Lyrics by
David Yazbek
Directed by
William Pullinsi
Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge, Munster, IN (map)
through October 10  |  tickets: $36-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I really didn’t know what to expect walking into the regional premier of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. First, because the musical is based on the 1988 comedy, I wondered whether it would be another repackaged Hollywood film set to music and fed back to us. Second, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a production of Theatre at the Center (TATC), located in Munster, Indiana. It truly is a rare occasion when I get to venture out of the city proper, and so I was eager, as well as a little skeptical, to see if TATC would rival Chicago-quality theatre. By the end of the play, I was certainly reassured that, yes, Hollywood films can be transformed into worthwhile musicals, and, yes, good theatre exists beyond the city limits.

DRS- Larry Adams and Paula Scrofano Dirty Rotten Scoundrels focuses on two European-based professional swindlers. Lawrence Jameson (Larry Wyatt) is the refined cad who fabricates a princely back story for himself, which he uses to pray upon the dreams and sympathies of naïve, wealthy women. His rival, who he encounters by chance, is Freddy Benson (Michael Mahler). Freddy is an amateur thief who, after discovering Lawrence’s true identity, encourages Lawrence to teach him the ways of the rogue.

Eventually, the teacher-student relationship transforms into a competition, where Lawrence and Freddy wager on who is the more skillful scoundrel. At the center of this bet is Christine Colgate (Dara Cameron), a wealthy American heiress. The two hatch elaborate schemes to win her over, and a comedy of errors ensues.

The musical (book by Jeffrey Lane with music and lyrics by David Yazbek) is genuinely funny. The writing is sharp, so sharp that I enjoyed the non-musical portions of the show just as much as the singing and dancing. Witty word play and even some risqué off-color jokes appear throughout, as do the occasional pop-culture references. There’s also plenty of meta-humor, too, with characters toying with the art form’s conventions.

The caliber of singing and acting talent rivals that of any big-time, downtown Chicago production. Wyatt, Mahler and Cameron all give standing-ovation-worthy performances. Harmonies are pitch perfect, and timing is impeccable. What more could you want out of a cast?

 

DRS- Michael Mahler and ensemble Great Big Stuff DRS- Dara Cameron, Michael Mahler and Larry Wyatt

Speaking of rivaling downtown productions, TATC definitely has the firepower to produce a large-scale spectacle. The lighting system alone looks like something out of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. All actors are outfitted with mics, making it very easy to hear every word and note throughout the spacious auditorium.

The only element stopping me from giving this production four stars is its pace. The play, with intermission, runs about two-and-a-half hours. Although William Pullinsi’s direction is otherwise commendable, he relies too heavily on blackouts to transition from scene to scene. This bogs down the musical, draining some of its momentum.

TATC’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels goes to show that being out of the Loop isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re in the mood for a hilarious musical with a good story and excellent performances, go see this play.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

DRS- Michael Mahler, Larry Wyatt and Lauren CreelPerformances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2pm.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm; select Thursdays at 7:30 or 8pm. and Saturdays at 2:30pm. Ticket prices range from $36 – $40.  For ticket info, call the Box Office (219.836.3255), Tickets.com (800.511.1552) or visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

      
     

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REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar (Theatre at the Center)

Update: Due to a misrepresentation (i.e., error) in our critique of this production, this review has been adjusted to address the inaccuracy.  To Theatre at the Center and the production’s personnel, my apologies.  Scotty Zacher, Editor.

Uneven “Superstar” finishes strong

 

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 02

   
Theatre at the Center presents
   
Jesus Christ Superstar
  
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by
Tim Rice
Directed by
Stacey Flaster
at
Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge, Munster (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets: $36-$40  |  more info

reviewed by Michael L. Harris

Sitting amongst the mostly 40+ crowd, gathered for the near capacity performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Theatre at the Center, I wanted to love this show. The stage-to-movie musical is certainly a familiar one, with two of the songs – the title song and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – making it to the Top 10 in the 70’s when it first debuted. In the end, however, the show is a mixed bag.

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 06Musically, the range and quality of voices is quite amazing. Max Quinlan (Jesus) goes from low bass to high falsetto with amazing ease, as does Joe Tokarz as Judas Iscariot, the counter lead.  Problems arise, however, with the gigantic thrust space and the overzealous back-up orchestra that succeeds in swallowing up poor Jesus. These elements tacitly become the superstars; Jesus just a set piece. Given that the score is extremely challenging and the cast is vocally exquisite, it’s unfortunate that dynamically this disparity exists. The actors are isolated and disconnected, both from each other and from the audience. Experts say that much of acting is “reacting,” unfortunately there’s far too little of the latter in this Superstar.

This distancing of the audience is more of a directorial decision than actor disconnection. Indeed, director Stacey Flaster seems to be aiming for distance rather than intimacy.  Objectively, this works with Sanhedrin. When it comes to Jesus, however, one never gets as close as preferred. Indeed, there are moments of splendor, but overall the sheen is more matte than glossy. 

For the most part, the First Act lacks inspiration. After the introduction of the Apostles – which is staged more as a “love in” – there are signs of better performances to come. Audrey Billings‘ (Mary Magdalene) rendition of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” is warm and tender. Larry Adams’ Pontius Pilate is spot-on, giving a sense of both the character’s greatness and shortcomings. Adams’ professionalism and stage presence are quite commanding, accentuating what is missing from Quinlan, whose performance shows adroit characterization but seems better suited for film/TV than the stage. Additionally, Steve Genovese steals the show with his second act opener, “King of the Jews” and Jonathan Lee Cunningham delivers a solid rendition as Simon Peter in his credible “Denial” sequence .

 

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The best staging exists within “Could We Start Again, Please.” Both Billings (Mary) and Cunningham (Peter) are at their best in this number, and the entire cast shines as an ensemble, including Quinlan (Jesus), making this by far the apex of the play.

Barry G. Funderburg’s sound design is flawed.  The centralized speaker system – with no side speakers – creates a situation where the orchestra often overpowers the choral work.

Nikki Delhomme’s costume’s are a mishmash – at times delightful; at other times confusing. Delhomme’s concept of universality through an ancient/modern mix generally works, but what’s up with the dress-with-a-funky-hat combo that the Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 08Sanhedrin wear??? I couldn’t help thinking, as the Sanhedrin descended the massive centralize staircase, of the old Lucille Ball sketch where she comes down the stairs with the huge pile of fruit on her head . (Thankfully these women are much more coordinated than Lucy!)

The make-up design is equally confusing. There must be a method to the madness, but the painted kabuki masking on the Sanhedrin principals amounts to overkill.  Conversely, the quasi clown make-up donned by Herod works .

Flaster’s choreography is generally exemplary, but doesn’t always fill the stage. And in some instances – notably during Judas’ famous negotiations with the Sanhedrin – actually blocks the action.

Kudos to Ann N. Davis’ technical direction – rigging and scene changes move seamlessly.

Deficiencies aside, if you’ve never seen the show, and/or are in a retro mood, Jesus Christ Superstar is worth two hours of your time – especially the powerful resurrection of the second act.

  
   
Rating: ★★½
  
   

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REVIEW: Ragtime (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Drury Lane scores big with epic musical “Ragtime”

RAGTIME-_The_cast

 
Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
 
Ragtime
 
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow
by
Terrance McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics)
directed/choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through May 23 (more info)

By Katy Walsh

‘What can happen in a year?’ Father’s question is an expectation that life is simple and predictable.

BF1C0838 The reality is birth, death, emancipation, persecution, obsession, syncopation. In 1906, the regularity in life takes unexpected turns as Drury Lane Oakbrook presents Ragtime The Musical. The show focuses on the lives of three groups: WASPs, blacks, and immigrants. In the New York suburbs, a wealthy family breaks the monotony with wild excursions and celebrity stalking. In Harlem, a successful black piano player decides to search for his lost love. Just off the boat, an Jewish immigrant artist and his daughter arrive with nothing but optimistic anticipation. Three distinctly different rhythms unexpectedly intersect to create a new tune. Ragtime celebrates a year in American history by paralleling the adaption of ragtime music with socio-economic changes of the time period. The results are a stunning history lesson intertwined with melodies of hope and change.

Under the skillful direction and choreography of Rachel Rockwell, the tempo never misses a beat. Rockwell strikes all the right notes with this multi-talented cast. Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse) is the powerhouse of emotional range in song and act. His tune changes throughout the show – regret, love, vengeance. Darrington connects the audience with his story based on heart wrenching hope. His “The Wheels of a Dream” duet with Valisia LeKae (Sarah) is flawless. LeKae is a perfect match-up and their onstage chemistry is the epic-love-story-kind. Cory Goodrich (Mother) is marvelous in an understated and nonchalant way. Goodrich’s character changes her family’s life dramatically with simple choices. Her transformation is most baffling to Father played by Larry Adams. In a pivotal song, Adams is perplexed as he sings, ‘I thought I knew what love was but these lovers play different music.’

With inspirational paternal love, Mark David Kaplan (Tateh) chases a train for a teary-eyed audience impact. Alongside the principals, smaller and famous roles engage curiosity. Emma Goldman (Catherine Lord) influences as a social reformer. Evelyn Nesbit (Summer Naomi Smart) is the Brittany Spears of the time period…whee! Harry Houdini (Stef Tovar) mystifies as a successful immigrant. Booker T. Washington (James Earl Jones II) commands integration and respect.

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Surprisingly, this blockbuster musical starts with a stark stage. The introduction of characters is a popped up portrait of perfection. Literally, group entrances are elevated from below stage. As the three groups multiply across the stage, the unique flair of costume distinction, designed by Santo Loquasto, is a spectacular visual. Costumes, projections, lighting, moments of tasty eye candy decorate this show. From silhouettes marching to swimmers bathing, the imagery dances to the ragtime.

And there was distant music, simple and somehow sublime. Giving the nation a new syncopation.  The people called it Ragtime!’

Paralleling life’s happenstance, my performance had some twists not necessarily planned. There seemed to be an issue with lighting up the solo singers in the first few scenes. A momentary blip broke the backdrop illusion with a ‘Microsoft word computer screen’ projection. Initially, the audio seemed hollow. I was uncertain if it was a microphone or acoustic issue. It either cleared up or my engrossment made it a moot point. All in all, this production was amazing. It left me reinforced that a gesture of kindness changes life’s courses and bewildered about men’s obsessions with cars.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

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