REVIEW: Funk It Up About Nothin’ (Chicago Shakespeare)

     
     

Holla Q Bros – ‘Funk it Up’ is da bomb!

     
     

Funk it Up Cast (left to right) - DJ Adrienne Sanchez, Jillian Burfete, GQ, Ericka Ratcliff, Postell Pringle, JQ and Jackson Doran. Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

  
Chicago Shakes and Merrigong Theatre Company presents
  
Funk It Up About Nothin’
   
Adapted and Directed by JQ and GQ
at
Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand (map)
thru Feb 13  | 
tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

One of our great regrets of 2008 was missing Funk It Up About Nothin’, a “hip-hoptation” of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing by a pair of brothers who go by JQ and GQ. It you did likewise, we urge you to run, not walk, to get a ticket to this raptastic take on Shakespeare’s equally brilliant comedy.

The Q Brothers, GQ (top) and JQ (bottom), co-creators and directors of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's 'Funk It Up about Nothin' at Navy Pier. Photo by Bill Burlingham.Fear not if you’re someone who leans more toward classic rock than the frenzied spin of contemporary scratch ‘n burn djs or the rapid-fire beats of rappers. You definitely do not need to be a hip-hop hipster to appreciate the whipsmart wordplay and percussive joys of Funk It Up. Were Shakespeare alive, dare we say, he would surely love what the Qs have done with “Much Ado”.

The key to the piece’s success is this: The Q Brothers are all about the text. As both directors and adaptors of the piece, they demonstrate a deep understanding of it, and from that well of knowledge, they create an adaptation wherein the words bounce, ricochet, rocket, rattle and hum with all the smarts, heart and – most importantly – the wicked humor of the original. Funk It Up is an hour-long word party that remains true to its source in terms of plot, characters and tone.

The cast, all of whom play multiple roles, spits out the verbiage like master poet slammers. As MC Lady B (Beatrice), Ericka Ratcliff is all sass and strut, a ferocious wit packaged in latex, fishnets and bling, deploying more brains of a Mensa member and more crackling sex appeal than a studio full of gyrating video vixens. As Benedick, JQ swaggers like a peacock, loving the single life and bragging about the ladies with a preening vanity that doesn’t quite conceal the one-woman heart that lies beneath his rep.

One of the (many) joys of Funk It Up is the attention paid to the supporting characters. Sure they’re broad, but they are also as well-defined as the leads – right down to the bumptious groundlings.

     
MC Lady B (Ericka Ratcliff) proclaims her love for Benedick (JQ) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Funk It Up About Nothin'.  Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr. Hero (Jillian Burfete) learns how to be a diva from MC Lady B (Ericka Ratcliff), in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Funk It Up About Nothin' at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

As Lady B’s cousin Hero, Jillian Burfete makes the ingénue amusingly simple. Hero is one of Shakespeare’s flatter characters – she’s pretty, and innocent and that’s about it. Burfete uses that one-dimensionality to wonderful comic advantage, making Hero a dim but enthusiastic princess whose head is full of unicorns and rainbows and whose brow furrows with effort whenever she’s called on to understand anything involving more than, oh, two syllables.

GQ is a hoot as the bastard brother Don John, whose clarion call to funk up Hero’s wedding is absolutely infectious. He’s also a terrific Sheriff Dingleberry, “part pimp, part police”, and part “Shaft” homage. As Claudio, Jackson Doran gives the feckless youth the demeanor of an earnest frat boy. And Postell Pringle is utterly riotous as the prince Don Pedro and as Dingleberry’s flamingly flamboyant lieutenant.

In all, Funk It Up is electric, an hour-long onslaught that combines the best parts of a grooving concert, a rip-roaring good story and a night bopping at the clubs. And as the dj who provides the electronic foundation of all the cunning linguistic gymnastics, Adrienne Sanchez brings the noise and the funk, ensuring that the beat goes on throughout the merry war of words.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

 

 

Scene from 'Funk It Up' - Borachio (JQ, left) and Don John (GQ, right) lure Claudio (Jackson Doran). Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.

All photos by John W. Sisson Jr.

 

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Review – "Much Ado About Nothing" at First Folio

by Venus Zarris

The Bard verses Nature; at First Folio it is a dead heat!

I am not an outdoorsy kind of person. Given the choice between an air-conditioned theater and a summer night outside with mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, I am inclined to choose ‘civilized shelter.’ But the sweet and talented folks at First Folio Shakespeare Festival combine impressive theatrical production with breathtaking natural setting to create a perfect evening of entertaining escape.

Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.I say escape for three reasons. One, you are transported into the world of Shakespeare’s classic comedy by a completely engaging cast. Two, you are swept away by the natural wonders of the lovely Peabody Estate. And three, you are far from the hectic city limits.

But rest assured, if your ‘First Folio Get Away’ is anything like ours you will not only count your evening as one of the summer’s best but as one to be remembered for years to come. Pack a picnic, assemble your favorite cohorts and prepare to relax and enjoy.

Birds, Bats, Breezes, Fireflies and… a turtle?

We packed some delicious delicacies and subtle spirits. Anxious to indulge and imbibe, we planned to arrive a little early, the play starts at 8:15pm but the grounds open at 7pm. As we turned into the entrance I noticed something on the side of the access road. It was a turtle! Unable to climb the curb, he seemed destined for trouble so we parked and I picked him up. Turtles pee when they are scared and this guy was evidently terrified! But a quick trip to the lake behind the estate mansion and he was eagerly swimming back to safety.

(I add the little turtle aside because in my personal experience, turtles have been good luck charms and delightful omens. True to form, he foreshadowed a positively delightful night!)

We set up our picnic and were refreshed by subtle and unexpected spontaneous cool breezes. Birds playfully flew around the stage and as dusk set in the fireflies added delicate and restrained intermittent fireworks to the festivities. Paying close attention overhead, I noticed a pair of bats doing their part to keep the bug population at bay and add to the already enchanting atmosphere.

As the night progressed the moon slowly emerged from behind the treetops. Almost full, its beauty was easily underestimated but that night it was simply partial and premature sublime perfection. Its waxing excellence exceeded the drama of its pending fullness.

If there was one natural element that needed to be ‘toned down’ it was the boisterous crickets. Obviously unaware of Shakespeare’s impressive and historic theatrical reputation, they did their best to sing over the actors. Thankfully, a state of the art sound system thwarted their disrespectful efforts.

Shakespeare’s writing is so timeless that it can be delivered with bare bones or lavish production values and engage on either scale. But the added element of nature created a beguiling accent that almost threatened to usurp the already impressive theatrical offering.

Much Ado About A Lot

Before the play’s exposition even gets started we are warmed up by a brilliant fluffing from the antics of Verges, adorably played by Keland Scher. Scher has charm and sweetness galore as he juggles, flirts and clowns with the audience creating the perfect pre-show mood. Oftentimes, this sort of interactive audience participation can prove to be obnoxious, corny or embarrassing but Scher is brimming with playful talent and is as lovable as a cartoon bunny.

Bickering, blundering, deception, redemption and ultimately, after some bumbling and revelation, requited love are the forces at work in Much Ado About Nothing. Between the entanglements and resolution Shakespeare has created Much Ado about an awful lot and the first rate cast delivers the goods with clarity and charm.

A scene from Melissa Carlson and Nick Sandys provide the most excitement with their clever verbal jabs and retorts. Carlson’s Beatrice, the confirmed spinster, is venomously shrewd and Sandys’s Benedick, the confirmed bachelor, is lyrically adroit. They elevate the juvenile game of ‘taunt your undeclared love interest’ to a wickedly witty and articulate exchange. Rene Ruelas renders an amusingly eccentric Friar Francis to add to the fun.

Andre Pluess’s sound design and original composition add even more natural texture and subtle elegance to the production. Michael Goldberg’s straightforward direction of the excellent ensemble and gifted design team create an outstanding rendition of the classic comedy.

You decide who prevails, theater or nature. Either way, it is a WIN/WIN proposition for the audience.

Gather up your friends for a little road trip and enjoy exceptional theater in a remarkable atmosphere. First Folio Shakespeare Festival is a brilliant addition to this summer full of marvelous Shakespearean options. It is a tucked away treasure that is well worth the drive.

Rating: ««««

(“Much Ado About Nothing” runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067)

 

"Much Ado About Nothing" runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067