REVIEW: Carousel (Light Opera Works)

Industrial Strength Nostalgia

 

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Light Opera Works presents
   
Carousel
  
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Stacey Flaster
at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston (map)
through August 29 |  tickets: $32-$77  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Some candies may melt in your mouth, but practically every song in this glorious 1945 gem of heartfelt Americana melts in your heart. Filled with what’s now post-war nostalgia for an even simpler America (a sea town in Maine in the late 19th century), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovely and loving masterwork is an inspired reworking of Ferenc Molnari’s Liliom, a knowing drama about an abusive husband who’s given one last—posthumous—chance to redeem himself to the wife he abused and the daughter he never knew but still might save.

Maybe because it’s hard to believe in 2010 that a husband can “hit [his wife] so hard and still not have it hurt” (as Billy Bigelow supposedly does to the too trusting Julie Jordan), the seemingly tender plot of this beloved musical Carousel can also register an ugly shock of recognition. It’s nothing like the vicious menace that Jud Fry offers   Laurie and Curly in the earlier hit Oklahoma!  But this is even closer for discomfort–domestic violence Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 01nurtured by Billy’s need to strike out at anyone but at the real threat, the loser he feels he is.

The question of whether carnival-barker Billy Bigelow will find posthumous redemption–by offering a star to the daughter he never knew–seems less important than the fact that soon after this unreformed bruiser returns to earth, the abuser slaps his daughter, as he did her mother 15 years before. If he helps his daughter Louise, it doesn’t happen on stage. And this, though Billy knows that his return to the living (like Jimmy Stewart’s in a film from the same year) is his one chance to make up for the cruelty and crimes that shortened his earthly sojourn–and escape the pangs of hell.

Writing about the recent Broadway revival of Carousel, the late William A. Henry III dismissed the 1945 classic as a musical where nothing important happens when it should and in which a rotter’s reformation occurs after it’s too late to matter.

But that’s the lure that drew Oscar Hammerstein to Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom: We need to believe that, unlike letters, love is never lost.

Refusing to dispute her dependency ("What’s The Use of Wondr’rin’?"), Julie Jordan, a lovestruck Victorian millgirl, clings to her seemingly worthless Billy. In real life, Julie’s dogged devotion to a thug would gain her a worse beating. But the musical’s make-believe, plus the powerful persuasion of a deathless anthem like "You’ll Never Walk Alone," improves on fact–at least until you think of Simpson.

Sturdy and sometimes impassioned, Light Opera Works’ revival – very down to earth and up to heaven, unlike the famous and deliriously lyrical Lincoln Center revival of a decade ago – finds a strong moment at the start: The famous waltz accompanies the millgirls’ happy deliverance from work and riotous escape to the carnival, complete with the title amusement. That–and the passionate “dream” dance duo between Nicole Miller and Todd Rhodes–are superb bookends for a literally moving musical.

Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 05The casting seems made to matter. Cooper David Grodin makes a lean and menacing Billy, with a body language as confident as his tenor and more so than his acting. (He’s trying so hard to be tough that we miss the tenderness that clearly draws Julie to this “bad boy.”) Innocent until ardent, Natalie Ford gives Julie the pole-axed passion that makes this unschooled woman endure so much for her premature prince. But since they don’t connect when it counts–in the wonderful 11-minute "bench scene" that blooms into "If I Loved You"–it’s hard to wish them a second chance.

Ably inhabiting the supporting roles, Elizabeth Lanza enjoys her merry moments as conventional Carrie, a millgirl who enters into a risk-free contract with proper Yankee entrepreneur Enoch Snow (played with gawky rectitude by George Keating). As maternal Aunt Nettie, Winifred Faix Brown makes much of the unstoppable anthem "You’ll Never Walk Alone." Katherine L. Condit as Billy’s true soulmate, the randy Mrs. Mullin, and Jeremy Trager as his nemesis Jigger Craigin suggest the dark side of Billy Bigelow that Julie alone can’t tame. Happily, that doesn’t apply to the musical itself. These songs are surefire charmers and mellow a plot that almost too abruptly changes from flinty New England realism to moonspun and quicksilver wishful thinking. But then “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?”

   
   
Rating: ★★★
     
     

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REVIEW: An Evening with LuPone and Patinkin (BIC)

Let the pros show you how it’s done

 

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Broadway in Chicago presents:

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

Conceived by Mandy Patinkin and Paul Ford
Directed by Mandy Patinkin
At the
Cadillac Palace Theatre 
24 W. Randolph, Chicago

Through March 7th (more info | tickets)

by Paige Listerud

There’s something secure in watching two consummate professionals dig into the American songbook and skillfully weave both major and minor works into a thematic Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” This one-week-only engagement with two of the most acclaimed performers of our time opens at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on June 23, 2009, and will continue through June 29. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772 or go to www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.           
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Press Contact: CTG Press (213) 972-7376 whole. Their vocal power and dexterity astonishes, their ability to delineate the subtext behind the lyrics awakens new possibilities within each song, and the sheer joy in performance that they exhibit with each other becomes nothing less than infectious. Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin take the audience on a musical journey and that audience will gladly then follow over hill and dale precisely because they know they are in good hands.

Broadway In Chicago’s An Evening with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin only runs from March 2 to March 7 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. The show reunites them after their first turn together in Evita thirty years ago. But the biggest surprise of the evening may be the casual, youthful ease and vigor both singers evince as the evening progresses. Upon opening night, Lupone omitted her classic calling card, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” from the program’s first act—leading to speculation over whether she felt a touch under the weather. If so, it was a meager compromise in an otherwise energetic and precisely crafted performance.

Mandy Patinkin conceived the dramatic arc and music selection of the production with his longtime accompanist and collaborator Paul Ford. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine this show without Ford’s quicksilver touch at the piano. The program itself is intriguing, to say the least. Major musical hits by Jerome Kern, Steven Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein have been spliced with lesser known work–such as “Somewhere It’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors, “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle, and “Old Folks” from 70, Girls, 70. The songs are aligned to suggest the course of a relationship between two people–falling love, evading commitment, settling down and recalling the past together.

Mandy Patinkin in “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” This one-week-only engagement with two of the most acclaimed performers of our time opens at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on June 23, 2009, and will continue through June 29. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772 or go to www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Press Contact: CTG Press (213) 972-7376 Patti LuPone in “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” This one-week-only engagement with two of the most acclaimed performers of our time opens at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on June 23, 2009, and will continue through June 29. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772 or go to www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.           
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Press Contact: CTG Press (213) 972-7376
Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” This one-week-only engagement with two of the most acclaimed performers of our time opens at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on June 23, 2009, and will continue through June 29. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772 or go to www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.           
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Press Contact: CTG Press (213) 972-7376 Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” This one-week-only engagement with two of the most acclaimed performers of our time opens at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre on June 23, 2009, and will continue through June 29. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772 or go to www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.           
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Press Contact: CTG Press (213) 972-7376 patti-mandy-together

The arc of the first act flows more smoothly than the second, mostly because it’s hard to miss a love story with tunes from South Pacific. Patinkin’s light, dexterous interpretation of “Some Enchanted Evening” refreshes and revives the standard. Clearly, Patinkin, Lupone and Ford are pushing the songs a little beyond conventional rendition—never so far as to seem outlandish, just enough to incite renewed interest. Patter songs frame and energize the evening—Lupone whipping out “Getting Married Today” from Company and Patinkin joyfully hamming his heart out with “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” from Follies.

The storyline may get a little lost in the second act, but by that time the audience just might not care. Lupone and Patinkin clearly love working together and they happily let everyone else in on their connection. Some numbers are effervescently goofy, like Ann Reinking’s charmingly choreographed dance on rolling office chairs. Above all, both performers are old hands at deeply humanizing their material but also give it the fresh glow of people who never take life for granted. It’s a perspective that makes this show the perfect start to March in Chicago, when the first suggestions of spring are borne on the wind.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

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Review: “South Pacific” – a theatrical masterpiece

The Lincoln Center revival comes to the Rosemont Theatre, and perfection ensues.

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The Lincoln Center presents:

South Pacific

 

by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics)
Book by Hammerstein and
Joshua Logan
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Thru November 29th (ticket info)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

sp3 Many would argue that the Lincoln Center‘s South Pacific is the best revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein wartime musical ever devised. Having never seen South Pacific on stage before, I cannot gauge how director Bartlett Sher’s interpretation compares to previous productions, but I will say this: it is one of the most beautiful and emotional musicals I have ever seen.

World War II is in full force, and the threat of Japanese invasion has resulted in U.S. Navy outposts throughout the Polynesian islands. Romance is in bloom for Ensign Nellie Forbush (Carmen Cusack) and French planter Emile de Becque (David Pittsinger), but Nellie’s prejudices threaten to tear them apart when she discovers his two mixed-race children. The two actors have incredible chemistry, immediately establishing their softly smoldering passion with "Twin Soliloquies," a transcendent duet that probes into the characters’ hopes and fears and sets the stage for their tumultuous relationship. Seconds later, Pittsinger begins "Some Enchanted Evening," arguably the musical’s most famous song, and the audience is as spellbound as Nellie; the  quality of Pittsinger’s voice is ethereal, as delicate and powerful as the character that it belongs to. His Act II solo "This Nearly Was Mine," a heartbreaking rumination on lost anderson_davis_as_lt_joseph_cable_and_sumie_maeda_as_liat___photo_by_peter_coombsopportunities, packs an emotional punch that left the audience with teary eyes and sniffling noses. There is simply not enough praise that can be showered on Pittsinger, whose portrayal of Emile de Becque belongs in a museum.

Cusack is no slouch in the vocals department either, showing amazing range with a great brassy belt that seems effortless. Her first solo, "A Cockeyed Optimist" has a youthful effervescence that captures Nellie’s naiveté, but Cusack then turns on the heat with the playfully sexy "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," Charleston-ing in her bathing suit while splashing her giggling girlfriends with shampoo. The scene that immediately follows, an awkward confrontation between the half-naked Forbush and her renounced lover, is filled with tension as the audience watches the ingénue struggle with her combating emotions, but the payoff is glorious: "A Wonderful Guy" is a joyous exclamation of love that is heightened exponentially by Cusack’s commitment to her character, and watching her jump around the stage with unbridled glee is a fantastic release from the intensity of the scene that preceded it. After Nellie believes Emile to have died on a secret mission with Lt. Cable in Act II, she sings a reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" with a lamentable sadness that makes her utterance of the line "Don’t die, Emile," incredibly tragic and heart-rending.

Pittsinger and Cusack are joined by a spot-on supporting cast, highlighted by Anderson Davis as Lt. Joseph Cable and Keala Settle as Bloody Mary. Davis has the voice of an angel, churning out incredibly high notes with ease, but he also brings fervent passion to his character. The intimacy between Cable and Bloody Mary’s daughter Liat (Sumie Maeda) is gentle, but there is a fire beneath the relationship that makes their inevitable split all the more heartbreaking. Davis also has great chemistry with Cusack, creating a strong bond of friendship during "My Girl Back Home" that comes from his understanding of Forbush’s troubles and the ways in which they reflect his own. As the injustices that have defined his beliefs become apparent to Cable, Anderson becomes increasingly fervid, culminating in the tragic "You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught," a raging criticism of how American society molds its citizens into hateful bigots.

sp2Settle has the unenviable task of taking the stereotypical Bloody Mary and finding the reality that defines the character, and she does a phenomenal job. While Mary is primarily used for comic relief, Settle makes her sensual, astute, and just the right amount of dangerous, creating three dimensions from a cardboard cutout of a character. Mary takes advantage of the sailors’ misconceptions of the native people, proving herself not only a cunning businesswoman, but a deviously effective matchmaker to boot. Her enchanting rendition of "Bali Ha’i" has the mystical air that has made the song a musical theater staple, and she is aided by the phenomenal design team who create a towering image of Bali Ha’i simply with color and shadow. Mary’s hopes for her daughter fuel her actions, and watching Settle cultivate Liat’s relationship with Cable during "Happy Talk" is a welcome contrast to the brash mischief of her earlier scenes.

Design-wise, the show is a work of art, with Michael Yeargan‘s sets stretching out to an imaginary horizon that feels amazingly real. Donald Holder‘s lighting creating an ethereal atmosphere in the opening scenes with shades of blue and pink that pop off the stage, and stark monochromatic hues in the later moments reflect the dark turn of the storyline. Ted Sperling‘s musical direction is out of this world, and the 26 piece pit orchestra have such an amazing understanding of Robert Russell Bennett‘s orchestrations that it’s nigh impossible to not be completely enthralled in the music from the very first swelling of the overture.

matthew_saldivar_as_luther_billis_and_the_seabees_of_south_pacific_by_peter_coombs Sher‘s directing genius is clearly evident in the performances of his outstanding cast, but one specific directorial choice must be discussed in order to truly understand the wonder of his South Pacific. After Emile’s supposed death, Nellie becomes a caretaker to his two children, having overcome her prejudices when she realizes they pale in comparison to the love he has shown her. In the final scene, Emile reappears while Nellie shares dinner with his children, and his son and daughter rush to him as if he had just come home from a day on the fields, unaware of the moment’s gravity. Nellie does not rush to him, she does not wrap her arms around him and kiss him passionately. Rather, she is so overcome with emotion that she can think of nothing else to do but set the table for the returned patriarch, and as they all sit in silence, a family for the first time, Emile places his hand on the empty seat between his lover and he. The simple motion of Nellie putting her hand in his is done with such passion and intensity that it speaks louder than any words, and is the most subtle and absolute display of love that I have ever seen on stage.

If the opportunity to see South Pacific presents itself before its regrettable November 29th closing, drag yourself to the Rosemont Theater, whether that be by car, public transit, hitchhiking, or walking 20 miles in freezing rain. It’s a small price to pay for this theatrical masterpiece.

Rating: ★★★★

“South Pacific” opens tonight!

The Chicago engagement of the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC will be led by internationally renowned bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Emile de Becque and Carmen Cusack as Nellie Forbush

The eight-time Tony Award-winning production will play the Rosemont Theatre for a limited one-week engagement Nov. 24 – 29, 2009.  For more information on the production, please visit www.SouthPacificOnTour.com or www.RosemontTheatre.com.

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David Pittsinger wows the crowd at Gibson’s Steakhouse

Big talent represents “South Pacific” at Gibson’s

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By: Timothy McGuire

I recently had the opportunity to attend a media luncheon for the upcoming touring performance of Lincoln Center Theater’s production of South Pacific. Broadway’s successful tony award winning musical will be playing at the Rosemont Theatre for a limited one-week engagement November 24 – 29, 2009. (ticket info)

The passion and excitement for this specific production was evident in the enthusiasm expressed by the people involved in bringing this production from New York to Chicago. They sincerely believe that this is an extraordinary show offering the audience the rare opportunity to experience a performance done in the spectacular old Broadway fashion, featuring a huge full orchestra unlike anything seen in current Broadway productions today. The touring show of South Pacific promises to be a near replica of the prize-winning musical that started in New York.

The most impressive endorsement for this production was the opportunity to hear the astonishingly powerful and elegant voice of David Pittsinger, who will be playing Emile. The impact of Pittsinger’s romantically forceful bass-baritone voice just a few feet away brought the small audience at Gibson’s Steakhouse to emotional heights, and one can only imagine the magnificence of hearing the full production of his songs produced on Rosemont Theatre’s spacious stage.

southpacific_iconDavid Pittsinger also was a terrific speaker, appearing genuine in his belief in the significance and relevance of South Pacific to today’s audience. Pittsinger is the living embodiment of his character Emile. His wife is born of minority decent and he has interracial children (who he is bursting with pride to talk about.) His belief in love, unification and racial equality is evident in his actions and his loved ones around him.

The original role of Emile de Becque was written for an opera singer, and David Pittsinger is a talented, internationally acclaimed opera performer working with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (most recently portrayed Angelotti in “Tosca”at the Metropolitan Opera) and living and working most of the year in France. The advantage that Pittsinger is also a world-class actor increases the quality of his role and greatly supports the well-written book that goes along with the classically entertaining music in South Pacific. With themes of war and racial conflict, along with the joyous uplifting story and cleverly catchy songs, this year is a fantastic time to enjoy Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific.

Julie Andrews, live at the Antwerp train station – this is fun!

There’s a collection of these YouTube train station performances, but this so far is my favorite.  I love it when all the kids come running down the stairway to join in.  Priceless.