Review: Nunset Boulevard (Theatre at the Center)

     
     

Newest nun revue is less than holy

     
     

Lauren Creel, Felicia Fields, Alene Robertson, Nicole Miller & Mary Robin Roth in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.

   

Theatre at the Center presents

  

Nunset Boulevard

  

Written By Dan Goggin
Directed and choreographed by Stacey Flaster
at Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN (map)
through May 29   |   tickets: $20- $40  |   more info

Reviewed by Jason Rost

They say, “When you find something that works for you, stick to it.” Dan Goggin has made a living off of his troop of fictional nuns from Hoboken, New Jersey since the debut of his smash hit musical Nunsense in 1985. After seven spin-offs Goggin has penned the latest nun adventure, Nunset Boulevard. The musical nuns from Jersey travel to California for a gig at the Hollywood Bowl….-A-Rama. It makes some sense that the Chicago area premiere of this new show is being produced at Theater at the Center in Munster, Indiana, since, after all, Northwest Indiana is seemingly Chicago’s Jersey. It’s where we send our landfill, refining and casino gamblers. In this case, it’s where we send somewhat tired musical comedy such as this production directed rather flatly by Stacey Flaster. While there is some huge talent (namely Tony award nominee Felicia Fields) and occasional chuckles, it’s not quite worth the trip down I-90/94 for what is ultimately a cabaret show with too much space to fill.

Mary Robin Roth (Sister Robert Anne) and Nicole Miller (Sister Leo) in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.In their latest outing, our showbiz sisters arrive in Hollywood for what they think is a booking at the famous Hollywood Bowl. Instead, they are scheduled to appear at the Hollywood Bowl-A-Rama, a bowling alley somewhere in Hollywood. While generally Goggin’s nun shows are largely a cabaret style, Sister Hubert (Fields) suggests in this production that they include a plot (in one of the more fun musical numbers of the night). The show is still primarily though a cabaret style performance of comedic bits, musical numbers, improv and interacting with the audience (probably the highlight of the evening). However, there is a through line revolving around Sister Leo (Nicole Miller) and her quest to get “discovered” in Hollywood. It turns out a movie musical about nuns is auditioning across the street. Sister Robert Anne (Mary Robin Roth) is skeptical. She is especially conflicted when Sister Leo asks permission to appear before the casting director without wearing her habit. There is also Sister Amnesia (Lauren Creel), whose schitck is that she lost her memory due to a giant crucifix falling on her head.

The raunchier bits play the best, however there are not many of them. During the improv segment with the audience, there is a game made of naming famous nuns from the movies which rewards certain audience members with very funny religious keepsakes. The fact that the nuns sing and dance isn’t novel enough anymore to carry the interest of the audience over two hours. The Hollywood they are visiting is decidedly a Hollywood of old with songs like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and a parade of classic Hollywood blonde bombshells.

Fields provides some wonderful vocals and dry humor to the evening. Creel and Miller are also standouts with their energy. But, Flaster’s direction, along with certain Mary Robin Roth as Sister Robert Anne in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.performances, hamper the pacing. There’s a comedy-killing pause between nearly every line dragging the show down. The cast overall plays too small to fill this space. Also, there were numerous instances where several actors were restarting lines which took the wind out of any possibility for consistent laughs.

Stephen Carmody’s set is a “Vegas meets Magic Kingdom” take on Hollywood. The expansive facade could hold a big band and 20 chorus girls. Instead, we get 3 keyboardists, a drum kit and five nuns. The one-liners and corny, yet sometimes delightful, tunes come across as though they would fit better in a nightclub setting. The formality of this large theatre complex drowns out most of the charm.

Overall, the production elements are too polished and gaudy in contrast with what’s essentially comedic sketches and light songs. The vastness of the theater demands too much non-stop entertainment. I feel the same show could be placed in a setting such as Mary’s Attic (an upstairs bar lounge in Andersonville) and achieve a much better effect on its audience. There is definitely something here for diehard fans of Goggin’s nun series, but not enough to spark any excitement as these Jersey girls’ take on Tinsel Town.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Felicia Fields, Lauren Creel, Alene Robertson, Nicole Miller & Mary Robin Roth in Theatre at the Center's "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin.

Theatre at the Center presents the Chicago Area premiere of Dan Goggin’s Nunset Boulevard, directed by Stacey Flaster, April 28- May 29 at 1040 Ridge Rd, Munster, IN. The performance schedule is Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. The play runs 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $36 on Wednesdays-Thursdays, and $20-$40 Fridays- Sundays. Tickets may be purchased by phone (219-836-3255) or online at theatreatthecenter.com.

  
  

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Theatre at the Center announces 2011 Season

Theatre at the Center

 

announces their

 

2011 Season

 

Coming off of a streak of some of the most successful seasons to date, Theatre at the Center Artistic Director William Pullinsi, announces their 2011 season, including Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, Nunset Boulevard, The Wiz, Guys and Dolls and Another Night Before Christmas

theatre at the center stage

February 17 – March 20, 2011

   
  Sleuth
   
  The season opens with one of the greatest stage thrillers, the masterpiece of suspense, Sleuth. The play, written by Andrew Shaffer, won the Tony Award for Best Play and inspired two film versions.  When an aging mystery writer lures his wife’s lover to his mansion, the younger man becomes unwittingly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and gamesmanship, where nothing is quite as it seems. This edge-of-your-seat mystery filled with cunning plot twists is not only an exciting "whodunit" but a fascinating “whodunwhat."  The New York Times says Sleuth is "Clever, intricate…good, neat, clean and bloody fun and I most cordially recommend it.”  Sleuth will be directed by Theatre at the Center Artistic Director William Pullinsi and will run February 17 through March 20, 2011.

 

April 28 – May 29, 2011

   
  Nunset Boulevard
   
  Directed and choreographed by Stacey Flaster, Theatre at the Center presents the Chicago Area Premiere of the newest addition to Dan Goggin’s hilarious NUNSENSE line-up: Nunset Boulevard running April 28 through May 29, 2011.  The Little Sisters of Hoboken have been invited to sing at the Hollywood Bowl. They are thrilled at the prospect until they arrive and realize that they are booked into the Hollywood Bowl-A-Rama, a bowling alley with a cabaret lounge; having to contend with announcements from the bowling alley public address system as well as the activity on the lanes. The light at the end of the tunnel comes when word arises that a famous movie producer is auditioning across the street roles for his new movie musical, "NUNSET BOULEVARD: A Song from the Hart," about the life of Dolores Hart, the famous movie star who became a nun. The Sisters, who think they are obvious naturals for parts, race off to audition. NBC News raves,"Talk about a happy habit. The "nuns" have done it again. Sinfully funny laughs for the entire two hours."

 

July 7 – August 7, 2011

   
  The Wiz
   
  The Tony Award-winning musical, The Wiz, plays Theatre at the Center July 7 through August 7, 2011. The R&B musical adaptation of the book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum first opened on Broadway in 1975.  Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz have been set in a dazzling, lively mixture of rock, gospel and soul music. Its Broadway run, for four years and over 1600 performances, was historic as a large-scale big-budget musical featuring an all-African American cast. The production features the music and lyrics of Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown.  It won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical and was later produced in the 1978 Motown/Universal motion picture adaptation starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor. Time Magazine says The Wiz is “a carnival of fun… a wickedly amusing show.” Stacey Flaster will direct and choreograph the production.

 

September 15 – October 16, 2011

   
  Guys and Dolls
   
  Based on “The Idyll of Sarah Brown” by Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls is an exhilarating Tony Award-winning romantic comedy packed with gamblers, gangsters, missionaries, showgirls, and lively fun. Theatre at the Center Artistic Director William Pullinsi will direct the production running September 15 – October 16, 2011.  Guys and Dolls is the story of a group of gamblers in New York and the ladies in their lives. Sky has been bet that he can’t make the next lady that he sees fall in love with him, and when that next lady happens to be the prim and proper neighborhood missionary Sarah Brown, the stage is set for an evening of high-spirited entertainment.  Frank Loesser‘s toe-tapping score includes “Luck Be A Lady,” “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat” and “If I Were a Bell.”  Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway on November 24, 1950 and ran for 1,200 performances, winning five 1951 Tony Awards. In London it ran for 555 performances. In 1955 the acclaimed film version was released, starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine.

November 17 – December 18, 2011

   
  Another Night Before Christmas
   
  From the writers of MARRIED ALIVE! and A DOG’S LIFE Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto, comes Another Night Before Christmas, bringing holiday cheer to Theatre at the Center November 17 through December 18, 2011.  Another Night Before Christmas tells the story of burnt-out social worker Karol Elliot, who is having a crisis of Christmas spirit. While heading home on a lonely Christmas Eve, she shares her groceries with a homeless man who decides to show his thanks and rekindle her holiday cheer by breaking into her apartment later that night insisting that he’s Santa Claus.  Instead of stealing her belongings, he brings in a bag of goodies and transforms her downtown apartment into a blinking, red and green wonderland. Before long Karol begins to wonder, is this bearded stranger more than what he seems? Another Night Before Christmas is a delight for the whole family. This witty and tuneful holiday favorite, Directed by William Pullinsi, is a Chicago Area Premiere and is sure to win laughs from anyone who’s ever lost – or found – the holiday spirit.
     
     

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REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Theatre at the Center)

Bad People, Great Musical

 

 DRS- Dara Cameron and ensemble

   
Theatre at the Center presents
   
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
   
Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music/Lyrics by
David Yazbek
Directed by
William Pullinsi
Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge, Munster, IN (map)
through October 10  |  tickets: $36-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I really didn’t know what to expect walking into the regional premier of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. First, because the musical is based on the 1988 comedy, I wondered whether it would be another repackaged Hollywood film set to music and fed back to us. Second, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a production of Theatre at the Center (TATC), located in Munster, Indiana. It truly is a rare occasion when I get to venture out of the city proper, and so I was eager, as well as a little skeptical, to see if TATC would rival Chicago-quality theatre. By the end of the play, I was certainly reassured that, yes, Hollywood films can be transformed into worthwhile musicals, and, yes, good theatre exists beyond the city limits.

DRS- Larry Adams and Paula Scrofano Dirty Rotten Scoundrels focuses on two European-based professional swindlers. Lawrence Jameson (Larry Wyatt) is the refined cad who fabricates a princely back story for himself, which he uses to pray upon the dreams and sympathies of naïve, wealthy women. His rival, who he encounters by chance, is Freddy Benson (Michael Mahler). Freddy is an amateur thief who, after discovering Lawrence’s true identity, encourages Lawrence to teach him the ways of the rogue.

Eventually, the teacher-student relationship transforms into a competition, where Lawrence and Freddy wager on who is the more skillful scoundrel. At the center of this bet is Christine Colgate (Dara Cameron), a wealthy American heiress. The two hatch elaborate schemes to win her over, and a comedy of errors ensues.

The musical (book by Jeffrey Lane with music and lyrics by David Yazbek) is genuinely funny. The writing is sharp, so sharp that I enjoyed the non-musical portions of the show just as much as the singing and dancing. Witty word play and even some risqué off-color jokes appear throughout, as do the occasional pop-culture references. There’s also plenty of meta-humor, too, with characters toying with the art form’s conventions.

The caliber of singing and acting talent rivals that of any big-time, downtown Chicago production. Wyatt, Mahler and Cameron all give standing-ovation-worthy performances. Harmonies are pitch perfect, and timing is impeccable. What more could you want out of a cast?

 

DRS- Michael Mahler and ensemble Great Big Stuff DRS- Dara Cameron, Michael Mahler and Larry Wyatt

Speaking of rivaling downtown productions, TATC definitely has the firepower to produce a large-scale spectacle. The lighting system alone looks like something out of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. All actors are outfitted with mics, making it very easy to hear every word and note throughout the spacious auditorium.

The only element stopping me from giving this production four stars is its pace. The play, with intermission, runs about two-and-a-half hours. Although William Pullinsi’s direction is otherwise commendable, he relies too heavily on blackouts to transition from scene to scene. This bogs down the musical, draining some of its momentum.

TATC’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels goes to show that being out of the Loop isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re in the mood for a hilarious musical with a good story and excellent performances, go see this play.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

DRS- Michael Mahler, Larry Wyatt and Lauren CreelPerformances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2pm.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2:30pm; select Thursdays at 7:30 or 8pm. and Saturdays at 2:30pm. Ticket prices range from $36 – $40.  For ticket info, call the Box Office (219.836.3255), Tickets.com (800.511.1552) or visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

      
     

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REVIEW: Carousel (Light Opera Works)

Industrial Strength Nostalgia

 

Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 03

  
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: ★★★
     
     

Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 04

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REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar (Theatre at the Center)

Update: Due to a misrepresentation (i.e., error) in our critique of this production, this review has been adjusted to address the inaccuracy.  To Theatre at the Center and the production’s personnel, my apologies.  Scotty Zacher, Editor.

Uneven “Superstar” finishes strong

 

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 02

   
Theatre at the Center presents
   
Jesus Christ Superstar
  
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by
Tim Rice
Directed by
Stacey Flaster
at
Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge, Munster (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets: $36-$40  |  more info

reviewed by Michael L. Harris

Sitting amongst the mostly 40+ crowd, gathered for the near capacity performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Theatre at the Center, I wanted to love this show. The stage-to-movie musical is certainly a familiar one, with two of the songs – the title song and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – making it to the Top 10 in the 70’s when it first debuted. In the end, however, the show is a mixed bag.

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 06Musically, the range and quality of voices is quite amazing. Max Quinlan (Jesus) goes from low bass to high falsetto with amazing ease, as does Joe Tokarz as Judas Iscariot, the counter lead.  Problems arise, however, with the gigantic thrust space and the overzealous back-up orchestra that succeeds in swallowing up poor Jesus. These elements tacitly become the superstars; Jesus just a set piece. Given that the score is extremely challenging and the cast is vocally exquisite, it’s unfortunate that dynamically this disparity exists. The actors are isolated and disconnected, both from each other and from the audience. Experts say that much of acting is “reacting,” unfortunately there’s far too little of the latter in this Superstar.

This distancing of the audience is more of a directorial decision than actor disconnection. Indeed, director Stacey Flaster seems to be aiming for distance rather than intimacy.  Objectively, this works with Sanhedrin. When it comes to Jesus, however, one never gets as close as preferred. Indeed, there are moments of splendor, but overall the sheen is more matte than glossy. 

For the most part, the First Act lacks inspiration. After the introduction of the Apostles – which is staged more as a “love in” – there are signs of better performances to come. Audrey Billings‘ (Mary Magdalene) rendition of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” is warm and tender. Larry Adams’ Pontius Pilate is spot-on, giving a sense of both the character’s greatness and shortcomings. Adams’ professionalism and stage presence are quite commanding, accentuating what is missing from Quinlan, whose performance shows adroit characterization but seems better suited for film/TV than the stage. Additionally, Steve Genovese steals the show with his second act opener, “King of the Jews” and Jonathan Lee Cunningham delivers a solid rendition as Simon Peter in his credible “Denial” sequence .

 

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 04 Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 03

The best staging exists within “Could We Start Again, Please.” Both Billings (Mary) and Cunningham (Peter) are at their best in this number, and the entire cast shines as an ensemble, including Quinlan (Jesus), making this by far the apex of the play.

Barry G. Funderburg’s sound design is flawed.  The centralized speaker system – with no side speakers – creates a situation where the orchestra often overpowers the choral work.

Nikki Delhomme’s costume’s are a mishmash – at times delightful; at other times confusing. Delhomme’s concept of universality through an ancient/modern mix generally works, but what’s up with the dress-with-a-funky-hat combo that the Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 08Sanhedrin wear??? I couldn’t help thinking, as the Sanhedrin descended the massive centralize staircase, of the old Lucille Ball sketch where she comes down the stairs with the huge pile of fruit on her head . (Thankfully these women are much more coordinated than Lucy!)

The make-up design is equally confusing. There must be a method to the madness, but the painted kabuki masking on the Sanhedrin principals amounts to overkill.  Conversely, the quasi clown make-up donned by Herod works .

Flaster’s choreography is generally exemplary, but doesn’t always fill the stage. And in some instances – notably during Judas’ famous negotiations with the Sanhedrin – actually blocks the action.

Kudos to Ann N. Davis’ technical direction – rigging and scene changes move seamlessly.

Deficiencies aside, if you’ve never seen the show, and/or are in a retro mood, Jesus Christ Superstar is worth two hours of your time – especially the powerful resurrection of the second act.

  
   
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Jesus Christ Superstar - Theatre at the Center 05

    
    

 

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