REVIEW: Big River (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

BoHo takes a heartwarming trip down the Mississippi

 

 A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10th

 
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble presents
 
Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
 
Music/Lyrics: Roger Miller, Book: William Hauptman
Adapted from the novel by Mark Twain
Directed by
P. Marston Sullivan
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago (map)
Through Oct. 10 |
Tickets: $25 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Widely considered the greatest American novel ever written, Mark Twain’s 1884 coming-of-age tale, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, received a lively musical treatment 100 years after its publication in Big River. The Tony Award-winning musical, which ran 1,000 performances on Broadway, captures the charm and  A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10thpoignancy of the original, as we follow Huck and the escaped slave Jim down the "Muddy Water" of the Mississippi River, "Waitin’ for the Light to Shine" — as the songs put it. Although no stage production could possibly encompass all the nuances of Twain’s masterpiece, this well-cut adaptation by William Hauptman delivers the essence, paired with a fitting, catchy score by country-music star Roger Miller that blends foot-stompin’ bluegrass, powerful spirituals, vaudevillian comedy numbers and such memorable ballads as "River in the Rain."

Bohemian Theatre Ensemble mounts a warm, intimate and beautifully sung revival in their handsome new home at Lakeview’s Theater Wit, full of bouyant humor and touching moments.

Andrew Mueller gives us a gamin-faced, thoughtful Huck with a fine tenor. As Jim, the richly voiced Brian-Alwyn Newland provides the backbone of the music, smooth and soulful, combined with a dignified stage presence that reveals the mature and feeling man behind the tattered clothes and uneducated language of the slave.

Sean Thomas makes a wicked Pap Finn, hilarious in his drunken denouncement of "Guv’ment," and a diabolical king and "Royal Nonesuch," aided by the elegant John B. Leen as the sly and histrionic duke. Courtney Crouse is boyishly mischievous as Tom Sawyer, always ready for adventure and adorable as he calls for a "Hand for the Hog."

Rashada Dawan brings a soaring voice to gospel numbers such as "How Blest We Are," and Mike Tepeli adds a comic turn as the young fool, with a zany, washboard-accompanied rendition of "Arkansas."

A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10th A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10th
A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10th A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10th

Much of the cast supplements the orchestra at different points, picking up guitars,box, or a tambourine to effectively back Musical Director Nicholas Davio playing a variety of instruments, Hilary Holbrook on fiddle and Cam McIntyre on bass. Davio and Holbrook also act small parts. Christa Buck, Anna Hammonds and James Williams fill out the ensemble.

Director P. Marston Sullivan’s deceptively simple staging and Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky’s stylized set put the talented cast and Twain’s potent story foremost. You don’t need to have read "Huckleberry Finn" to enjoy this musical, although everybody ought to read it … again and again.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

A scene from Boho Theatre Ensemble's "Big River", performing now at Theater Wit thru October 10th

Continue reading

Review: Piccolo Theatre’s “Black Comedy”

Precision, passion still needed in “Black Comedy”

Black Comedy

Piccolo Theatre presents:

Black Comedy
by Peter Shaffer
directed by P. Marston Sullivan
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

If timing is everything in comedy, then that is true in spades for Peter Shaffer’s comic staple Black Comedy, onstage now at Piccolo Theatre, directed by Peter Sullivan. Written in the 1960s, this outrageous British sex farce requires broad physical comedy blended with exquisite timing to work. Pity the cast that has not had substantial experience or training in that area. Their efforts truly are a lot of flailing around in the dark.

Black Comedy That’s too bad, because this cast definitely displays the energy for it. Brindsley (Adam Kander) is a young, struggling artist about to privately show his work at his apartment to a mysterious millionaire, Mr. Bamberger (David W. M. Kelch), who could make his fortune. The sale of his work is also meant to placate his potential father-in-law, Colonel Melkert (Andrew J. Pond), into letting him marry his poncy fiancé Carol (Liz Larsen-Silva). With Carol and Brindsley redecorating his bare flat with the posh antique furniture “borrowed” from next-door neighbor Harold (Brian Kilborn), their plans for a successful showing are ruined by a blown fuse and Harold’s early return from his weekend away in the country.

In the role of Brindsley, Kander does the yeoman’s job, in that his character must move all the furniture back to Harold’s apartment in the dark out from under everyone’s nose . . . or arse . . . or something. This is where the majority of the physical comedy takes place. Not a role for the faint of heart–or an actor without the skills of someone like Jim Carrey. What is more, Kander’s interpretation lacks the mischievousness that would make his character think that he could pull this whole thing off in the first place. Brindsley must be something more than just a desperate loser; he’s a desperate loser who thinks he can win.

Sullivan’s staging delivers some good bits, but without the requisite skills to execute them, it’s like watching the cast paint by the numbers. Spontaneity and surprise vanish into thin air.

Under-training plagues the whole production; even the dialect needs more consistency throughout the entire cast. Comic timing also goes missing in the preliminary sketches taken from British comedy favorites. It’s tough to tell a production to go back to the drawing board, but there it is.

Little moments of characterization are enjoyable: Liz Larsen-Silva is delightfully annoying as the spoiled Colonel’s daughter. Kelli Walker’s Ms. Furnival would probably writhe her way out of her clothing eventually, alcohol or not. Sandy Elias’ role as Schuppanzigh adds some badly needed, earthy humanism. The cast is certainly proficient in developing their roles. Would that their skill set had expanded sufficiently to pull off this monstrously demanding comedy.

Rating: «½

 

Continue reading