Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

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Review: Starship the Musical (Team Starkid)

  
  

Live onstage now—with internet afterlife to follow

  
  

Team Starkid's new musical, Starship, opens on February 11, 2011 in Chicago.

Credit: Chris Dzombak/Starkid

   
StarKid Productions presents
  
Starship
  
Music and Lyrics by Darren Criss
Book by
Matt and Nick Lang, Brian Holden, and Joseph Walker
Directed by
Matt Lang
at
Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted (map)
thru Feb 23  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

For an Internet sensation that began on YouTube, the young folks of Team Starkid sure can produce a ton of theater in one sitting–like their 2009 success A Very Potter Musical, a fan-generated parody that went viral (in the best sense). Created by the likes of Darren Criss (now a regular on “Glee”) and puppet designer Russ Walko (of “The Simpsons” fame), their new 210-minute creation is the epic spoof Starship, a show you can read about here but can’t see because the short run is sold out (though their website says that there may be tickets available at the door).

Bug (Joey Richter) discovers February (Denise Donovan) trapped in the Bug World Hatchery, from "Starship the Musical" now playing in Chicago.  Photo credit: Chris DzombakDon’t worry: It’s far from the best show you (probably) never get to see. It’s not just its humongous, three-and-a-half-hour length, including ten endings and too many character crises to resolve for anyone to care about the results. Loosely based on the grisly 1996 film “Starship Troopers” (itself a parody of World War II propaganda newsreels), this overlong concoction owes 90% of its plot to other sources too—“Avatar,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Shrek,” “Avenue Q,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and, above all, “Antz” and “A Bug’s Life.” Take away all these influences and you’ve got practically no plot. What remains are a few semi-memorable songs by Criss, who knows how to spin generic pop anthems out of too few notes. Still, as a pastiche, this is no worse than Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph” and almost as much fun.

There’s also the staging by co-author Matt Lang which, despite its excesses, is charming throughout, energized by a 13-member cast who will look just as good on your laptop as at the Center on Halsted.

The voluminous and futuristic plot, here drastically reduced to a bare synopsis, focuses on a planet like the arachnid colony Klandathu in the Casper Van Dien film—but here the insects are much more varied and much less vicious. One, broadly named Bug, wants to become a Starship Ranger, like the ones that crashed on the planet 18 years before, only to be devoured by the still insatiable Pincer. Bug (the sweet-faced, strong-lunged Joey Richter) finds himself transformed into a humanoid and, Mermaid-like, is drawn to the airhead science officer February. She’s one of the new very stereotypical Starship Rangers who have reached the planet for the purpose of recolonization. But the maleficent Junior has other plans for enslaving the bugs and exploiting them as mutant slaves.

Taz (Lauren Lopez) and Up (Joe Walker) take off into battle in StarKid’s new comedy musical Starship, now playing in Chicago's Center on Halsted.  Photo credit: Chris Dzombak.

These colorful caricatures mate with plodding precision: The human-hating robot Mega-Girl overcomes her distaste for weak earthlings by going for the rhapsodic redneck Tootsie Noodles. The nerdy Specs falls for the burly Krayonder, gung-ho Commander Up falls for demure Taz, and Bug wins valley girl February.

Because the show borrows so widely from so many sources, it barely works as a subversion of the mindless action sequences of “Starship Troopers,” with its semi-fascist message that soldiers are more important than citizens. But the true believers in the opening night audience (mostly teen girls and tweener fans) were delighted with every thudding cliché. Sometimes it really helps not to know a show’s influences – another way that ignorance is bliss.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Team Starkid's new musical, Starship, opens on February 11, 2011 in Chicago.

Credit: Chris Dzombak/Starkid

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