Review: Baby Wants Candy (Apollo Theater Chicago)

  
  

Celebrating 14th year in Chicago, “Baby” wants a little more finesse

  
  

Nathan Jansen, Brendan Dowling, Erica Elam, Nick Semar, Christy Bonstell, Zach Thompson, Ben McFadden, Chris Ditton, Kevin Florain, Sam Super - Baby Wants Candy - Apollo Theatre Chicago - Photo: Joanna Feldman.

  
Apollo Theater presents
   
Baby Wants Candy
   
Developed by Peter Gwinn, Al Samuels,
Stuart Ranson, Bob Kulhan and Don Bardwell
Written weekly by ‘Baby’ cast
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Open Run  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Oh, to have witnessed Baby Wants Candy at its Chicago inception 14 years ago – first performing at iO Theatre before, later, moving to the present Apollo mainstage. The brain-child of Peter Gwinn, Al Samuels, Stuart Ranson, Bob Kulhan and Don Bardwell, Baby Wants Candy’s central premise is this: the troupe improvises a new musical every performance, created from a title shouted out from the audience. The tactic had its formulas, but each evening the actors spontaneously crafted and performed a new one-hour long musical, never to be seen again. Previously performed musicals include: Peace Corps: the Musical, The Day the Gingers Ruled the World: the Musical, David Hasselhoff’s Secret Children: the Musical, and The Department of Redundancy Department: the Musical.

Zach Thompson, Erica Elam, Christy Bonstell, Brendan Dowling, Sam Super, Kevin Florian, Ben McFadden, Chris Ditton, Nick Semar, Nathan Jansen - 'Baby Wants Candy'  - Photo credit: Joanna Feldman.On the evening I attended, one audience member beat everyone else to the punch by throwing out The Confessions of a Teenage Rahm Emmanuel. How something that biographical would have been handled by Baby’s original member Peter Gwinn is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, the new cast seemed to be just finding their feet with Baby Wants Candy’s drill. They seemed constrained and hesitant. They pulled back from a full out rift on Emmanuel. The team fell back on teenage high school formulas and played it fairly safe with Emmanuel’s life story. Although they generated a few laughs in spoken scenes, they floundered on producing consistently distinctive or funny musical lyrics. Relax, guys, he’s not mayor yet and, besides, making up random and absurd shit about Rahm, of all people, is the essence of improv.

There were a few bright moments, though they largely centered on the teenage Rahm’s balls. Rahm’s dream of going from high school loser to prom king felt fairly predictable, yet it yielded a bit of fun in his algebra teacher’s encouragement to join ballet–“Ballet Will Give You Balls” being the one successful tune of the evening. From then on, the jokes were pretty much about Rahm’s balls. Rahm’s balls rule the school hallways. Rahm’s balls hijacked a car once. Rahm’s rival, Troy, attempts to cut off Rahm’s balls at high school prom but only manages to get his finger. Seldom did the cast attempt to venture out from the safety of ball jokes—like one student claiming baby wants candy logohis dad was a moon-ologist or the momentary inspiration of having Christopher Walken host Rahm’s prom.

Baby Wants Candy has made it big in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and with its international touring company in Singapore and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Perhaps last weekend was just a little off with a new team. Then again, perhaps the franchise is showing quality control problems. Formulas may be necessary but an improv troupe has to have enough security with them so that it can take off to new horizons. For all the team’s struggles last weekend, the band held tight and ready under Ben McFadden’s direction. That remains the strongest element of performance—let’s hope it carries right on through to the rest of the cast every evening.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
      
     

Baby Wants Candy performs Fridays at 10:30pm on the Mainstage at the Apollo Theater, 2540 North Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $15.  Student discounts are available with a valid student ID the day of the show only.  For tickets, call the Apollo Theater box office at 773-935-6100, Ticketmaster at 312-559-1212 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.  More info at BWC website.

  
  

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REVIEW: Holiday in the Heights Review (Second City)

  
  

Nobody’s spared in this laugh-out-loud holiday revue

  
  

Holiday in Heights cast - Second City - Metropolis Arts

   
Second City and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents
   
Holiday in the Heights Review
  
By various Second City ensemble members
at
Metropolis Theatre , Arlington Heights (map)
through Dec 30  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Besides the usual caroling, tree-trimming and pigging-out on comfort food, ‘tis also the season for slogging through overcrowded malls, meeting new in-laws, sending out a year’s worth of cards, and driving cross-country with whiny kids.

But at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, ‘tis also the season for Holiday in the Heights, Second City’s sketch comedy and improv holiday show. The ensemble includes Edgar Blackmon, Ross Bryant, Angela Dawe, Derek Shipman and Natalie Sullivan.

SC_Holiday_05As with most Second City reviews, Holiday in the Heights opens with a musical number. Though a bit difficult to hear, it’s quite catchy and entertaining, with the ensemble assuring us that “Christmas makes everything ok.” 

Following this ditty, the ensemble moves into a variety of sketches with various ensemble members covering topics like meeting your girlfriend’s Jewish parents, rewritten Christmas stories with political twists, visiting the in-laws you dislike, et.al.

Each ensemble member brings something unique to the stage and they all work together as a group to create hilarious parodies of holiday merriment. The two stand out performances of Act 1 include an improvised, never-been-heard Christmas story and a GPS-directed car ride.

The improvised Christmas story is based off audience participation, lending a title to the yet-to-be-created story. From there each ensemble member tells a bit of the story, building on what the others have said. Watching the ensemble instantaneously create a random story and having to continue to build on it and expand the narrative is both hilarious and amazing to watch. It’s clear that the ensemble has talent for thinking on their feet.

The GPS car ride skit tells the story of a couple driving to visit her in-laws for the holidays. The couple discusses the differences in their family’s traditions – yoga and sharing time vs. watching football and not talking to each other – and through it the GPS not only directs their route, but begins to direct their lives in hilarious and insulting ways. The great thing about this skit is that it’s relevant to the world today and also very clever and witty.

SC_Holiday_04For all that is funny about the first act, I do wish it had provided a little more to the funny bone. That being said, the second act picks up the pace and funny factor. Act 2 flows smoother and also delivers a wider variety of reasons to let out a laugh.

The highlight sketch of Act 2 is a family reading their holiday newsletter Mad Lib style, allowing audience members to fill in words with whatever they can think of. Between the audience’s word choices and the family’s story, I was laughing so hard my abs started to ache. The ensemble plays off the audience participation well and cleverly incorporates their choices into the story.

Some sketches, although entertaining, do have the potential to offend when based on politics, religion and culture. But of course this is par for the course for Second City.

Note: This show contains more than enough adult content and language to make your holiday a bawdy one. Enjoy!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

SC_Holiday_06

Holiday in the Heights plays at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, through December 31. Tickets cost $29.50 or $34.50 for stage table seats and can be purchased by calling 847-577-2121.

        
        

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