REVIEW: The Wind in the Willows (City Lit Theater)

 
 

Another triumph in Toad Hall

 
 

Wind in the Willows - City Lit Theater

  
City Lit Theater presents
   
  
The Wind in the Willows
  
Written by Kenneth Grahame
Adapted and Composed by
Douglas Post
Directed by
Terry McCabe
at
City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Jan 9  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

You can never weary of a good old friend. This is the latest of many times that The Wind in the WillowsDouglas Post‘s delightful musical play based on Kenneth Grahame’s beloved animal fantasy – has trod the boards (its first, 1983 version was called “Toad of Toad Hall”). City Lit’s last revival was only last year.

With each mounting, it’s increasingly obvious how faithful Post’s supple score and rollicking "story theater" script remain to the strengths of Grahame’s beloved tale, particularly the author’s delight in the English countryside and its evergreen changes of season. The animals are perfect British stereotypes, especially Toad’s upper-class twit, as is the class consciousness that pits the underclass of the Wild Wood (weasels, stoats, and ferrets) against the more civilized creatures of the riverbank and underground.

The story, you might recall, concerns the much tested friendship of the plucky Water Rat, gentle Mole, and gruff Badger for Grahame’s most whimsical creation, the self-inflated Mr. Toad (a very spoiled animal who grew up scarcely changed). A creature of unbridled appetite and nettled by a boundless ego, Toad is always hot after some new obsession, particularly motorcars, which he loves to steal and wreck. His loyal if frustrated friends break their brains trying to save him from himself, even when it means an intervention right out of A&E. They must rescue his elegant Toad Hall from the weasels, stoats, and ferrets who infest it when Toadie is incarcerated. Only after his friends’ concerted effort does Mr. Toad learn some late humility. (But how long until the next obsession?)

Ranging from honest Sondheim ”homage” (the Wildwooders’ "Down with the Toad") to the tenderness of the "My Home" ballad sung by a homesick Rat and Mole, Post’s score (nicely sung against a recorded accompaniment) supports its story splendidly. Terry McCabe

 serves it equally well as director of a revival that spins its tale with inexhaustible grace and charm (though the scene containing the mystical "Song of the Piper," however rich with Grahame’s love of nature, doesn’t fit the story). But the lovely “Christmas Carol, sung by the field mice, hedgehogs, mole, rat and otter, is a perfect holiday touch.

Alan Donahue’s set is redolent of giant cattails sewn together with patches of an earth-colored quilt, and with the British accents accurately in place, Post’s recipe loses none of its flavor. Tom Weber delivers sturdy work as the water-loving Rat who’s plucky, resourceful and the ultimate friend in need. An enchanting portrayal, Catherine Gillespie‘s Mole is full of wonderment at the great world above ground. Though lacking the critter’s usual Scottish accent, Edward Kuffert‘s Badger well conveys the elder animal’s irascible dignity, tough love and no-nonsense common sense, and Sean Knight is a funny and spirited duffer as good old Otter.

But the ongoing pleasure remains Mr. Toad, and in this revival Ed Rutherford , his rubber face conveying all the devious intensity of this paragon of pomposity, has made the role all his own. Children love his hammy selfishness and adults will see in Toad no small amount of human

”déjà vu”. Mr. Toad is forever.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Citi-Lit Theater logo

Production Artists

 

Ensemble

Kate Andrulis, Sarah Bright, Jessica Lauren Fisher, Catherine Gillespie, Sean Knight, Edward Kuffert, Aaron Lawson, Brian LeTraunik, Lauren Noelle Morgan, Shawn Quinlan, Lauren Romano, Ed Rutherford, and Tom Weber

Wild In The Willows logoProduction Team

The musical arrangements are by Kevin O’Donnell with additional vocal arrangements by Andra Veils Simon, musical direction by Nick Sula, and choreography by Andrew Waters

The designers are Matthew Cummings (props), Alan Donahue (set), Sarah Hughey (lighting), and Ricky Lurie (costumes).

REVIEW: Oh, Boy! (City Lit Theatre)

A fun musical romp for the entire family

 oh-boy-logo

  
City Lit Theater presents
  
Oh, Boy!
  
Book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse
Music by
Jerome Kern
Directed by
Sheldon Patinkin
Music direction by
Kingsley Day
at
City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through June 27  tickets: $25   |  more info

Reviewed by Robin Sneed

There is theatre that is bold for it’s depth and experimentation, and there is theatre that is bold for it’s lightness and recollection of what has gone before us in American theatre history. Oh, Boy!, presented by City Lit Theater is just that kind of risk taking that dares to be innocent and fun, to stand back from too heavy a regard for our most important themes, and do that thing the theatre is most known for: entertain. All the while reminding us that we do come from somewhere.

First, a brief history lesson. In the 1900’s, we had in this country something called The Princess Theatre, a 299-seat theatre that was losing money. One of the investors, Elizabeth Marbury, commissioned small comedies to save the theatre, and that gave birth to what we call drawing room comedy and bedroom farce in the Americas (aka Princess Theatre musicals) – all while Oscar Wilde, across the pond, was already feeding this movement. This was cutting edge, as it dared to ask questions about morality and prohibition, sex and marriage, however tame to eyes in 2010. To the modern viewer, this genre might be soft, but not so fast. Does it not ask questions about drugs and marriage in this century? It simply presents those questions in the most kind and singing way. P.G. Wodehouse wrote the lyrics for Oh, Boy!, and he was daring indeed. Don’t these same songs represent our current frustration with current standards of morality and principles? Oh, Boy! simply demonstrates this with a most pretty and satisfying image, and one that says this issue is not one solely of the poor. These are wealthy people being depicted, and their pain, while only of the pin prick variety, still enters into the conversation.

In any good drawing room musical comedy or bedroom farce, the costumes must be exquisite. And Oh Boy! delivers. Designed by Thomas Kieffer, the dress in this play sparkles and glows and we are sent back in time to a place of careful manners, fine dress, often used as a kind of armor. Though these are issues of morality dressed in their Sunday best, don’t we have the same questions wearing blue jeans?

The standout performance here is from Patti Roeder as Penelope Budd. She rocks the house as the Quaker aunt who arrives on the scene of her nephew already wed to what is considered by her to be an undesirable woman. She sails around us drunk, riding on imaginary carousels and brings focus to the dilemma. Aunt Penelope, a person of abstinence, gets loaded’ and puts the equation into order, forcing by way of her escapades, that the people around her tell the truth. Her nephew, admirably played by Sean George, at long last declares his true love in the face of the debauchery of the Quaker auntie gone temporarily mad by alcohol and delivered from her moral hardness. In this way, drawing room comedies draw from Shakespeare, showing two sides of a coin, pick the side which most resonates with you and learn from it. Roeder is a delight in this role, a fierce comedic genius. Apparently, this is her first turn in a role like this, and I, for one, would like to see more. She reminded me of the great Carol Burnett. And that is saying something from these quarters.

All in this cast turn in solid and good performances. This is difficult work and all hands are onboard to deliver motion and music, questions and answers, readily. At 2.5 hours, it runs a bit too long, but such is meditation in the theatre.

Producing Oh, Boy!, which has not been performed in Chicago since 1918, is a bold move. This is viewing for the whole family, with no fear of exposing children to overt sexuality or heavy themes of addiction. It asks the question gently, and so very prettily, of what we might thinking. In my youth, this kind of theatre led to a great many important post-theatre dinner conversations with my father. I am reminded of a viewing in my youth of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Oh, I had so much to say to my father! The play had so much to say and ask. Along with The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, with theatre like Oh, Boy!, young and old alike are invited into the sphere of questions and answers. This is family viewing at it’s best, away from television, and into real flesh and blood performances, discussion starters, and the gossamer memories of just plain good theatre. I encourage families to see this play, go out for dinner afterward, and talk about the pretty costumes, music, and deeper themes. There is something in Oh Boy! for everyone.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  

 

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REVIEW: Hello Again (Boho Theatre Ensemble)

LaChuisa musical a sexy success for Boho

 

Adam Fane and Ben Burke 2 

 
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble presents
 
Hello Again
 
Written by Michael John LaChiusa
directed by Michael Ryzcek and Stephen Rader
Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through May 1st (more info)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

  I’m going to preface this review with a simple plea to all theater patrons: Please turn off your cell phones when you enter a theater. Nothing kills momentum like an iPhone going off at minute 85 of a 90 minute musical, so please just turn it off.

That being said, BoHo’s production of John Michael LaChiusa’s raunchy sex musical Hello Again can’t be stopped by pesky ringtones. The sexual exploits of ten characters are detailed in ten scenes that take place in a different decade of the 20th century, and LaChiusa adjusts the score to fit the period, creating a musical collage Tom McGunn and Adrianna Parson with styles ranging from opera to disco to bubblegum pop. Directors Michael Ryczek and Stephen Rader utilize the intimate (read: tiny) space exquisitely, navigating their ten actors without the stage ever seeming too crowded, a feat accomplished by making sure no one stays in one place for too long. The directors are aided by Stephen M. Genovese masterful set, which utilizes a wall of turning wooden panels to subtly suggest environments without requiring much room while also creating exits and entrances when needed.

The music begins and the company takes the stage with their best “come hither” looks, standing in silence before dissipating and leaving the audience with the patron saint of sexuality, Whore (Christina Hall). She greets wandering Soldier (Tom McGunn) with the show’s title number, setting off a series of erotic encounters that run the gamut of the sexual spectrum while retaining emotional intensity through LaChiusa’s revealing lyrics. As the characters get physical, the songs delve into their psyches, revealing the pains and pleasures of promiscuity but also the basic human need for affection, sexual or not.

The entire ensemble, musically directed by Nick Sula, has a great handle on the complicated score, but the women of the cast provide the most memorable performances. Bookending the production, Hall’s strong belt impresses, particularly considering the wide range of the opening number – but where she most excels is in capturing the character’s vulnerability, portraying a woman who lives a life of passion without intimacy. “Morally bankrupt” Young Wife (Erin Creighton) struggles to stay faithful to Husband (Kevin Bishop) as her sexual curiosity leads her into the arms of College Boy (Sean Knight), and Creighton switches between reluctance, glee, and regret as she becomes more engrossed in her torrid affair. Her song “Tom” is a highlight, a heartbreaking recount of a missed love connection at a restaurant that lingers on her mind while she has sex with Husband, and Creighton’s ability to sing in her higher register while remaining at a low volume makes the number all the more chilling.

Sean Knight and Adrianna Parson Tom McGunn and Christina Hall
Adam Fane and Ben Burke 1 Christina Hall and Robert Whorton 2

But when it comes to crazed unbridled sexuality, Nurse (Adrianna Parson) takes the cake. After being raped by Soldier, she transforms into a maniac that uses sex as a weapon. In the scene following with College Boy, she twists nipples and ties up wrists before stripping down and mounting her unsuspecting patient, singing mid-coitus, “Somebody took what was mine, I say that ain’t gonna do. I want a little bit, give me a little bit, I’m gonna steal a little bit of you.” The disturbing scene is made all the more effective by Parson’s fearlessness, and she turns in one of the raunchiest sex scenes I’ve seen on stage.

Actress (Heather Townsend) is the most technically spectacular of the bunch, and Townsend shows off her thunderous pipes with “Mistress of the Senator,” one woman’s frantic plea to keep her uninterested Senator (Robert Whorton) at her side. The song requires incredible diction and range, and Townsend shows fantastic control, attacking consonants to clarify the tongue twisting lyrics and breath control for miles.

Hello Again is a play about the needs we all share, sexual or emotional, and Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s production doesn’t hold itself back. The dedication of the actors to the material translates to raw excitement on the stage, and when the company says goodbye in a round of “Hello again,” get ready to reach for the nightstand because you’re gonna want a cigarette.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

Christina Hall and Robert Whorton 1