REVIEW: Alien Queen (Jonny Stax @ Circuit Night Club)

     
     

Update: 3 shows added – Jan 8, 15 and 22 at 8pm!

Queer encounters of the ‘Alien’ kind

     
     

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Jonny Stax presents
   
Alien Queen
   
Created and Directed by Scott Bradley
at
Circuit Night Club, 3641 N. Halsted (map)
through Jan 22  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Did you ever think that the music of Queen could be perfectly paired with the “Alien” movies and re-energize the franchise with queer sensibility? That one never dawned on me, either. But Scott Bradley has spawned Alien Queen, a musical comedy review that clearly reflects the cunning and twisted mind of a creator/director unabashedly obsessed with gender transgression, sticky substances, and the ultra-queering of Sigourney Weaver. And that’s saying something, since Weaver, as lustable butch Ellen Ripley, won the hearts of every Eighties lesbian and bi woman once the first “Alien” film emerged to boffo box office reception in 1979.

Alien Queen - Jonny Stax - Scooty and JoJo 005Ryan Lanning, playing Ridley, could also seduce sapphists (of the fluid sexuality variety) as long as he keeps the wig on and keeps exhibiting the cool toughness of everyone’s favorite Alien hunter–“Killer Queen” introduces us to her, still in her pod in suspended sleep. There is that penis thing, which could cockblock the adoration of Kinsey 6 dykes and certainly the audience for the show at Circuit Night Club seemed fairly gay male dominated. But hopefully, after much critical acclaim, a stronger dyke contingent will join the in revelry.

For one thing, Alien Queen is terribly sophisticated in what it does. In fact, for a comedy review, the cast’s performances tend to be on the side of understatement. Deadpan delivery overrides exaggeration and over-the-top theatrics. This production displays professionalism in that it shows as much homage to Freddie Mercury’s music and to the Alien-franchise as it engages in parody or spoof. Behind the laughs is a lot of love for the material.

Bradley and partner-in-crime Executive Producer Jonny Stax seem pretty happy to let the dry movie script spoof itself. They leave Anna Glowacki’s alien and astronaut costuming – supplemented by the alien puppet designs of Jabberwocky Marionettes Productions – to boost dramatic spectacle for the audience. You haven’t seen aliens till you’ve seen them break out of a human’s stomach, in puppet form, to sing “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Anne Litchfield impresses with the first introduction of a full-grown alien costume. But few sights beat Bradley dressed as the mammoth alien queen herself, pumping out eggs for her alien subjects while singing “Get Down, Make Love.”

            
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Music Director Nicolas Davio keeps the show rockin’ while Jyl Fehrenkamp’s choreography has to make do with the limits of the stage at Circuit. But the cast kicks it very well and then does it all over again in alien costumes. (There’s got to be a Jeff award for that, right?) T. L. Noble makes the most of Circuit’s environs, skillfully creating an otherworldly lighting design in which the crews of Ridley’s respective ships seek out and are destroyed. And destroyed they are, one by one, to the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust.” As stupid marines about to die horribly, Kieran Kredell (Valdez) and William A. Barney (Hunks) take the cake. After all the idiot humans Ridley has to deal with it’s almost a relief and a celebration to see the aliens take over.

As for why Scott Bradley would want to set himself up in a role playing Ridley’s alien nemesis, that I leave others to psycho-analyze. The result is smart, polished gender-bending fun.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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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

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REVIEW: Aida (Bailiwick Chicago)

Love conquers all, even in ancient Egypt

 

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Bailiwick Chicago presents
    
Aida
  
Book by L. Woolverton, Robert Falls and D.H. Hwang
Music by
Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by
Scott Ferguson
Music Directed by
Jimmy Morehead/Robert Ollis
at
American Theatre Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through August 1st  |  Tickets:  $30-$45  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Egypt attacks Nubia. Women are abducted. The lead captor and enslaved princess-in-disguise share a passionate connection. Not your ordinary boy-meets-girl scenario, this musical establishes its premise from the first song, “Every Story is a Love Story.” Bailiwick Chicago presents Aida, the Tony Award winning Elton John and Tim Rice musical based on Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian opera of the same name. The 3859 Pharaoh’s daughter has been betrothed for nine years. To avoid settling down, her fiancé, Radames, has been pilfering villages along the Nile River. Everything changes when Radames imprisons Aida from Nubia. A plot to kill the Pharaoh, an uprising of Nubian slaves, the plan for a royal wedding – despite this political duress, an epic love story conquers all. An elaborate production set on a small stage, Bailiwick Chicago’s Aida triumphs simply with song, dance and a legendary love story.

In the title role, Rashada Dawan (Aida) is a regal force that commands the stage. Her physical presence is one of stately elegance. Her singing voice is a powerful authority beckoning adoration. The chemistry between Dawan and Brandon Chandler (Radames) is romantic captivation. Their duet “Elaborate Lives” elicits a combination of shivers and mistiness from any optimistic cynic in matters of the heart. Chandler’s vulnerability and Dawan’s strength are an irresistible coupling for an operatic love story. Bringing the humor to countries at war, Adrianna Parson (Amneris) plays the spoiled princess with a fashion obsession. Her ‘I am what I wear. Dress has always been my strongest suit’ attitude is flashy moxie. The contrasting styles, in dress and personality from Dawan, make Parson a standout in a supporting role. Another secondary character hitting the comedic notes is Aaron Holland (Mereb) as an enterprising slave.

 

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With a cast of twenty on a smaller stage, some of the scenes and transitions seem clunky. It’s trying to do too much with too many. At other moments, like “God Loves Nubia”, the magnitude of the numbers add to the impressive visual and audio spectacle. The large cast also adds to some costume speed bumps. Costume Designer Rick Lurie and a group of fashion designers have gone all out with the ladies for some multiple, extravagant wardrobe changes. Splurging on intricate details for the female cast, it seems the money ran out for the men. The guys are wearing their own personal cargo pants or shorts with distracting striped cummerbunds. And it’s not the slaves that are poorly dressed, it’s the wealthy Egyptians. Despite the big cast and small space, Gary Abbott and Kevin Iega Jeff have choreographed extraordinary dance routines. Whether dancers are rowing the boat, plotting a murder or modeling the latest fashions, the movement is original, tribal and athletic.

Elton John and Tim Rice have created a memorable and poignant score for the blockbuster musical Aida. This Bailiwick Chicago production is a voluptuous woman squeezed into a size eight. She could benefit from a little more room or trimming down but she’s still beautiful!

    
    
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

       
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Three Four Words: Fanning himself with Egyptian style, Scott-dds describes the show as “powerful, memorable, extremely entertaining.”

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