Review: Aida (Drury Lane Theatre)

  
  

A solid production of flawed Elton John/Tim Rice musical

  
  

Jared Zirilli and Stephanie Umoh star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo by Brett Beiner.

  
Drury Lane Theatre presents
   
Aida
  
Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton, with R. Falls and D. H. Hwang
Directed and Choreographed by Jim Corti
at Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $35-$46  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

When Egyptian captain Radames (Jared Zirilli) captures the beautiful Nubian princess Aida (Stephanie Umoh), the two fall in love despite the war between their countries, and are forced to choose between their political duties and their affections for each other. Elton John and Tim Rice adapt Verdi’s classic opera Aida through the lens of a late ‘90s Disney animated feature, candy-coating the tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers with family-friendly pop-rock that occasionally detracts from the emotional life of the story. Yet despite the musical’s problems, Jim Corti directs a sharp production with a cast of strong singers and dancers that perform the material cleanly, but could use some more passion. Using the influence of ancient Egyptian art, Corti creates images on stage through the actors posing and positioning in profile, like this painting:

actient Egyptian wall painting

While it’s a nice effect, it’s also representative of the production’s largest problem: stiffness that prevents the beauty of the music from truly taking off. The actors perform the music with precision, but there are times when it feels like they’re holding back, which could partly be because of the imbalanced musical material.

The ballads have a similar emotional resonance as John/Rice’s Lion King work, but whereas that musical has a unifying musical sound, Aida’s score essentially becomes a musical journey through the different stages of Elton John’s musical career. Tim Rice pushes the plot with his lyrics, but there are times when John’s score seems mismatched with the action on stage, mostly during the first act. The show’s fist number is sung by Amneris (Erin Mosher), the daughter of the Pharoah AIDA--Grant Thomas, Monique Haley, Stephanie Umoh, Jared Zirilli(Nicholas Foster) and Radames’ arranged bride, and Mosher’s powerful voice is pitch-perfect, with her dignified presence befitting the character’s initial introduction as the story’s narrator. Then the show transitions into the Rent-lite “Fortune Favors The Brave” as Ramades belts over inspirational power chords while Nubian women are pillaged in the background. It’s great music for a lease-burning, but not so much for an act of war. It gets worse when Radames’ father Zoser (Darren Matthias) reveals his plot to usurp the Pharoah’s throne in “Another Pyramid,” a groan-inducing reggae meets Tumbleweed Connection number that turns into a goofy dance fight. Thankfully, that’s the worst number in the show and happens early, but it’s also not the best way to start a musical.

As the musical progresses, it becomes clear that Elton John’s music shows the differences between Egypt in Nubia through the styling of their songs. Egyptians have the classic rock ‘n roll of John’s early years, while the Nubians utilize the gospel-tribal fusion of The Lion King, but there’s still a strong disconnect between numbers. “My Strongest Suit,” where Amneris does her best Tina Turner impression, and “The Gods Love Nubia,” a stirring tribute by a downtrodden Nubian people – they don’t sound like they belong in the same show. This is mostly a problem in the first act, and as the two groups begin to combine in act two, the music gains a stronger focus.

     
Stephanie Umoh and Jared Zirilli star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. L to R-- Jarrett Kelly, Grant Thomas, Branden Springman, Jaquez Sims, Peter Vandivier, Michael Glazer, Todd Rhoades, and Stephane Duret star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA, at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.
Jarrett Kelly, Peter Vandivier, Brandon Springman, Darren Matthias, Michael Glazer and Todd Rhoades in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Erin Mosher in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.

The two female leads both showcase stunning vocals, but while their singing is wonderfully expressive, they suffer from that aforementioned stiffness, particularly Umoh in the title role. Aida is a free spirit that has always felt confined, and she is given the opportunity to escape through song, yet Umoh is locked in place when she sings. She relies on her voice to do the heavy lifting, and despite being a powerful instrument, the image she portrays physically doesn’t match up. This prevents the chemistry between Ramades and Aida from really exploding, as Zarilli is forced to give more without ever getting much in return. The cast proves that they’re skilled performers, but there’s a lack of freedom in their technique that translates as restraint, a dangerous flaw for a show like Aida that relies on spectacle.

Despite the production’s flaws, fans of Aida will find much to love about Drury Lane’s production. The music is well performed, with crisp staging and choreography from Corti, who incorporates tribal dance into the standard Broadway footwork. Like a lost Disney cartoon put on stage, Aida lacks the gravitas of the original opera, but the crowd-pleasing score turns the tragic story into a family-friendly rock musical sure to please fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
'Aida' group in white in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Stephanie Umoh and Jared Zirilli star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.
James Earl Jones II stars in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Monique Haley, Erin Mosher and Natalie Williams in a scene from Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.

All photos by Brett Beiner

     
     

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Broadway in Chicago continues 2010-2011 Season

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Broadway in Chicago’s 2010/2010 season to include:

  • Wicked
  • Next to Normal
  • 9 to 5
  • Hair
  • Spring Awakening
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Working
  • Peter Pan

TRACES

October 26, 2010 – January 1, 2011

Broadway Playhouse 

 

Broadway in Chicago - Traces - Broadway Playhouse7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main) is an astonishingly talented French Canadian company that has pioneered a whole new brand of theatrical entertainment, and their smash-hit production, TRACES, will launch its U.S. tour in Chicago this fall. Combining awe-inspiring acrobatic training with infectious urban energy, seven performers deliver dazzling, gravity-defying displays of skill that produce “one of the most creative and inspiring pieces of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed” (Edinburgh’s The Sun)–balancing on each other’s heads, tumbling through hoops and leaping spectacularly up giant poles without using their hands. More than just a display of acrobatic brilliance, the audience is gradually drawn into the performers’ real life stories and, by the final, dramatic climax of the show, on the edge of their seats, willing them to pull off the seemingly impossible. “Mesmeric, spontaneous and unpretentious,” ( London ’s Metro), this thrill-a-minute show will leave you begging for more.

 

 


GOD OF CARNAGE

November 30 – December 12, 2010

small_God-carnage-logo The son of one couple has broken two teeth of the son of another. At first diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the couples meet to resolve things, and the rum begins to flow, huge tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving more than just their liberal principles in tatters. Winner of the 2009 Tony® Award for Best Play and Best Director (Matthew Warchus), GOD OF CARNAGE is “the funniest play on Broadway!” raves WOR radio.

 

 


WICKED

December 1, 2010 – January 23, 2011

wicked Entertainment Weekly calls WICKED “the best musical of the decade.” WICKED, the longest-running Broadway musical in Chicago theatre history, is returning to Chicago . Winner of 26 major awards, including a Grammy and three Tony® Awards, WICKED is Broadway’s biggest blockbuster, a cultural phenomenon and was just named “the defining musical of the decade” by The New York Times.  Long before that girl from Kansas arrives in Munchkinland, two girls meet in the land of Oz.  One–born with emerald green skin–is smart, fiery and misunderstood.  The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. How these two grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good makes for “the most ‘Popular’ piece of Chicago theatre in a generation” (Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune).

 


9 to 5: THE MUSICAL

January 18 – January 31, 2011

9-59 to 5: THE MUSICAL is a hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era. This new musical comedy, direct from Broadway, is based on the hit movie and features Dolly Parton’s original hit title song along with her new Tony® Award and Grammy nominated score. The book is by Patricia Resnick (co-writer of the original screenplay). 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL tells the story of three unlikely friends who conspire to take control of their company and learn there’s nothing they can’t do — even in a man’s world. Outrageous, thought-provoking and even a little romantic, 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL is about teaming up and taking care of business… it’s about getting credit and getting even… and it’s about to open in Chicago!

 


BURN THE FLOOR

February 1 – February 13, 2011

burnfloor The international dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR visits Chicago direct from its record-breaking run on Broadway! You’ve seen Ballroom dance on shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Now, with BURN THE FLOOR, you will feel, live on stage, all the passion, the drama and the sizzling excitement of 20 gorgeous champion dancers, in a true theatrical experience, a performance with a grace and athleticism that The New York Times calls, “Dazzling!” From Harlem’s hot nights at The Savoy, where dances such as the Lindy, Foxtrot and Charleston were born, to the Latin Quarter where the Cha-Cha, Rumba and Salsa steamed up the stage, BURN THE FLOOR takes audiences on a journey through the passionate drama of dance.  The elegance of the Viennese Waltz, the exuberance of the Jive, the intensity of the Paso Doble – audiences with experience them all, as well as the Tango, Samba, Mambo, Quickstep and Swing.  It’s Ballroom. Reinvented.


LES MISERABLES

February 2 – 27, 2011

Cadillac Palace Theatre

Cameron Mackintosh presents a brand new 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Schönberg’s legendary musical, Les Miserables, with glorious new staging and spectacular re-imagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. This new production has already been acclaimed by critics, fans and new audiences and is breaking box office records wherever it goes. The London Times hails the new show “a five star hit, astonishingly powerful and as good as the original.” The Western Mail says “an outstanding success.”  

 


RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES

February 8 – February 13, 2011

Ford Center for the Performing Arts 

Rain BeatlesRAIN, the acclaimed Beatles concert, returns by popular demand, direct from Broadway! They look like them and they sound just like them!  “The next best thing to seeing The Beatles,” raves the Denver Post.   All the music and vocals are performed totally live!  RAIN covers The Beatles from the earliest beginnings through the psychedelic late 60s and their long-haired hippie, hard-rocking rooftop days. RAIN is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…a fusion of historical footage and hilarious television commercials from the 1960s lights up video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups. “A thrilling bit of time-warping nostalgia…Boomer Heaven!” raves The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Uncanny! RAIN are a quartet of fine musicians in their own right…as The Beatles, they triumph!” cheers the Boston Herald.  “An adoring Valentine to The Beatles,” declares the Washington Post.  Sing along with your family and friends to such favorites as “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Come Together” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and relive Beatlemania from Ed Sullivan to Abbey Road!

 


WORKING

February 15 – May 8, 2011

Broadway Playhouse

Working - Broadway Playhouse - ChicagoWORKING is a vital new musical based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Chicago ’s own Studs Terkel.  Newly adapted by Stephen Schwartz (WICKED, PIPPIN and GODSPELL), WORKING is the working man’s A CHORUS LINE.  It is a musical exploration of people from all walks of life, with twenty-six songs by all-star composers Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Tony Award™ winning Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and Grammy Award™ winning James Taylor.  WORKING celebrates everyday people, fills you with hope and inspiration and is the perfect musical for anyone who has ever worked a day in their lives.

 


HAIR

March 8 – 15, 2011

Ford Center for the Performing Arts

The Public Theater’s 2009 Tony-winning production of HAIR is an electric celebration on stage! This exuberant musical about a group of young Americans searching for peace and love in a turbulent time has struck a resonant chord with audiences young and old. Its ground breaking rock score paved the way for some of the greatest musicals of our time. HAIR features an extraordinary cast and dozens of unforgettable songs, including “Aquarius,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” “Good Morning, Starshine” and “Easy To Be Hard.” Its relevance is UNDENIABLE. Its energy is UNBRIDLED. Its truth is UNWAVERING. It’s HAIR, and IT’S TIME.


MERCHANT OF VENICE

March 15 – 27, 2011

Bank of America Theatre 

From the acclaimed Theatre for a New Audience, the first U.S. theatre to be invited to the Royal Shakespeare Company, comes Shakespeare’s tragicomedy following command runs Off- Broadway and in Stratford-Upon-Avon . Starring Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham in his riveting portrayal of Shylock, and directed by Darko Tresnjak (former Artistic Director, Old Globe), the play has been arousing controversies for centuries with raucous and gentle comedy, tender poetry, and its struggle with mercy and justice. In this riveting update, religion, race and sexuality collide with love, family and justice and the currency of society and humanity has never been so changeable.

 


WISHFUL DRINKING

April 5 – 17, 2011

Bank of America Theatre 

WISHFUL DRINKING, Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical solo show, follows Fisher’s life. Born to celebrity parents, Fisher lands among the stars when she’s picked to play a princess in a little movie called ‘Star Wars.’ But her story isn’t all sweetness and light sabers. As a single mom, she also battles addiction, depression, mental institutions, and that awful hyperspace hairdo. It’s an incredible tale–from having her father leave her mother for Elizabeth Taylor to marrying and divorcing singer/songwriter Paul Simon, from having the father of her baby leave her for a man to waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Carrie Fisher’s hit Broadway show.

 


NEXT TO NORMAL

April 26 – May 8, 2011

Bank of America Theatre 

 

Next to Normal - Broadway in ChicagoFrom the director of Rent comes the most talked about new show on Broadway, NEXT TO NORMAL, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three 2009 Tony Awards including Best Score.  Alice Ripley who received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, will reprise her acclaimed performance in Chicago . Having been chosen as “one of the year’s ten best” by major critics around the country, NEXT TO NORMAL is an emotional powerhouse of a musical with a thrilling contemporary score about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other.  The New York Times calls NEXT TO NORMAL “a brave, breathtaking musical.  A work of muscular grace and power.  It is much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel-everything musical.” Rolling Stone raves, “It is the best musical of the season – by a mile.  It’ll pin you to your seat.”


PETER PAN

Begins April 29, 2011

Chicago Tribune Freedom Center North

 

Peter Pan Chicago - Tribune Freedom Center North - Broadway in ChicagoBroadway In Chicago and threesixty° entertainment are excited to announce a unique event – a spectacular new production of J M Barrie’s classic story, PETER PAN, at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center. Conceived by an award-winning creative team, the SMASH HIT Peter Pan features twenty-two actors, stunning puppets, epic music and dazzling flying sequences surrounded by breathtaking video projection using the world’s first 360-degree CGI theater set. Both cast and audience fly over Edwardian London. Performed in a state-of-the-art theater pavilion, this magical new “in-the-round” production of Peter Pan is an extraordinary experience for the whole family.

 


SPRING AWAKENING

May 3 – 8, 2011

Bank of America Theatre 

Spring Awakening - Broadway in ChicagoThe winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical – told by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater through “The most gorgeous Broadway score this decade” (Entertainment Weekly) – SPRING AWAKENING explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with poignancy and passion you will never forget. The landmark musical SPRING AWAKENING is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and rock & roll that is exhilarating audiences across the nation like no other musical in years. Join this group of late 19th century German students on their passage, as they navigate teenage self-discovery and coming of age anxiety in a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion in the daring, remarkable SPRING AWAKENING. “Broadway may never be the same again!” NY TIMES

 


DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 

June 28 – July 10, 2011

Broadway in Chicago - Beauty and the BeastThe romantic Broadway musical for all generations, NETworks presentation of DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the smash hit Broadway musical, returns to Chicago ! Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature film, this eye-popping spectacle has won the hearts of over 35 million people worldwide. Hailed by the Chicago Sun-Times as “warm and winning performances, a tuneful score, and real heart,” the classic musical love story is filled with unforgettable characters, lavish sets and costumes, and dazzling production numbers including “Be Our Guest” and the beloved title song. Experience the romance and enchantment of DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!



 

TICKETS

Group tickets are currently available for all of the 2011 Season Series shows.  Groups of 15 or more may receive a discount on most shows by calling (312) 977-1710.  2011 Season Series subscription packages will go on-sale to new subscribers on September 12, 2010.  Broadway In Chicago gift certificates, which can be redeemed for any production or for season ticket packages, can be obtained at Broadway In Chicago box offices, www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 775-2000.

 

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REVIEW: The Lion King (Broadway in Chicago)

   
   

Lion King roars into Chicago

 

Brenda Mhlongo in Circle of Life - The Lion King - Broadway in Chicago

   
Broadway in Chicago and Disney Theatricals present
   
The Lion King
   
Music/Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice
Book by
Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Directed by
Julie Taymor
at
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago (map)
through November 27|  tickets: $25-$148  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Not that my opinions would matter much to him, but way to go Elton John. After a storied career of penning pop music classics, he has had a major hand in crafting two of the most important musicals of the last 20 years. Lucky for us, at this moment both of the shows are currently playing in Chicago. I’ll admit, I’m still scrounging around for tickets to Billy Elliot (our review ★★★½) before the recently imposed final night (hint, hint). So I can’t really speak of its brilliance. However, due to the crates of Tonys it won, I’m going to assume it’s alright. I can speak to The Lion King, which combines John’s pop sensibilities, Disney, and the artistic madness of Julie Taymor. It is a transformative theatrical experience. As proven by the production shacking up at the Cadillac Palace, it’s a game-changing show even after the original production opened over ten years ago.

Dionne Randolph as Mufasa - Disney's Lion KingThe show has visited Chicago several times, just as it has toured pretty much everywhere in the world since the late ‘90s. If you’ve seen the show before, cut me some slack because this was my first time. I do know that if you already love the beloved musical, you’ll love this production. The cast fills the house with heart, and the puppetry, massive spectacle, and thundering music are gasp-inducing. Seeing the show as a Lion King virgin, all of my issues stem from the conceptual gears driving the production.

The dialogue is more or less completely lifted from the 1994 animated feature, so there isn’t much difference between stage and screen in terms of story. The variance, as well as the magic, comes out in the execution. The original work relied on brilliant animation, classical themes of family and power, John’s ability to carve out chart-topping songs, and our perceived regality of the natural world. Apparently, when Disney first brainstormed a stage version, they were thinking of full-body, mascot-style costumes. Then came Taymor (thank god). With a resume featuring opera, training with Jacques Lecoq, and loads of experience with non-Western theatrical stylings, Taymor figured that the feline-focused franchise needed an existential reboot for the stage. The final product was an intellectually-complex puppet show that was (and continues to be) wildly popular, still selling at nearly 100% on Broadway, even after all these years.

This Chicago cast is clearly having a lot of fun with the ensemble-based show. Dionne Randolph’s Mufasa is a memorable performance, capturing all the grandeur a king of the savannah should have. J. Anthony Crane is devilishly suave as the malevolent Scar, a great foil to Mufasa’s strict views of morality. Simba, as he grows from cub to adult, is played by two actors, as well as several puppets. The youngsters (either Jemone Stephens, Jr. or Kolton Stewart, depending on the night) playing the character in the first act do a fine job, and Adam Jacobs, who takes over for the final half, embodies the youthful honesty needed for the role. My favorite part of the show was Tony Freeman’s Zazu. Your eye switches quickly from the bird puppet to Freeman as actor; both are equally expressive.

 

J. Anthony Crane and Dionne Randolph in Disney's Lion King tour Syndee Winters as Nala and The Lionesses in Shadowland - The Lion King
J. Anthony Crane as Scar in The Lion King - Broadway in Chicago Brenda Mhlongo as Rafiki in opening number - Circle of Life - Lion King

Taymor’s epic vision seems a bit disconnected at times. The overall grandeur of the production at times doesn’t quite gel with certain aspects, like the lowbrow comedy courtesy of Timon (Nick Cordileone) and Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). The huge puppetry for the three chief hyenas, another gaggle of comic relief, comes off as overblown. The show abounds with humor (Freeman, for example), but they could marry it to the concept better. There are also some jarring aspects in the score due to John’s pop sensibilities not blending well with the African drum breaks written in by Lebo M. The transitions fail to meld the two disparate parts.

However, there are a number of moments where the amazing spectacle on-stage washes over the audience. You leave the theatre with a renewed sense of wonder. Simba’s story is relatable, but unique, and the music is terrific. All those long hours the cast and crew spent cranking out puppets and learning how to walk like a cheetah bore a creation that will be known as one of the landmark shows of our generation.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Lionesses Dance - Disney's Lion King

     
     

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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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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REVIEW: Chess (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

Chess – an ’80s period piece

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Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents

Chess

 Book by Richard Nelson, lyrics by Tim Rice
music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Directed by
Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier
Musical direction by Ryan Brewster
At
No Exit Cafe, Rogers Park
Through April 25
(more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Where you’re seated in a theater often has a big impact on your perception of a show. If, as I did at opening night at Theo Ubique’s Chess, you sit far to one side of the stage, 3 feet from the amps, with a post blocking your view, you’re apt to enjoy the production rather less than if you get to sit at a front-and-center table specially reserved for you.

IMG_0580It’s rare that a 60-seat house has terrible seats, but this one does. The cramped cabaret set-up of No Exit Cafe assures that some people at the back will have heads blocking their view of the stage. Other lucky patrons must perch on barstools throughout the performance. As there are no reserved seats for anyone short of the critic from the Chicago Tribune, plan to arrive very early for a choice of decent views, and if you want to be assured of a table, book the pre-show dinner package for $20 above the $25 ticket price.

Directors Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier have done the best job possible in blocking the show against the handicaps of their setting, and the cast offers some first-rate performances, but from my seat this deeply flawed, overlong and dated musical perhaps seemed exceptionally askew.

A largely unmemorable mishmash of Hungarian folk music, cheesy pop, dirgelike anthems, country-style ballads and ABBA-esque tunes by that band’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with lyricist Tim Rice, the score originated as a concept album in 1984. Ryan Brewster‘s five-piece band and most of the singers do it full justice, but the musical style, like the Cold War plot, seems stale.

IMG_0654 If you’ve heard of one of the songs, it’s likely to be the maudlin love song “I Know Him So Well,” which was covered by Barbra Streisand, Whitney and Cissy Houston, and most recently by Britain’s Got Talent phenomenon Susan Boyle in a TV duet with Elaine Paige, who sang it on the original concept album and in the 1986 West End production.

Produced, to mixed reception, as a largely sung-through musical on the London stage, Chess was reworked, with a new book by Richard Nelson, for Broadway. Theo Ubique uses Nelson’s script, which was supposedly made nicer to Americans and added narrative and dialogue. The West End version played three years; the New York show folded after 68 performances in 1988, shortly before the Berlin Wall fell.

The 1972 World Chess Championship match between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky inspired this study in black and white, which seems less like the three-dimensional chessboard than the flat cartoon Spy vs. Spy.

We have the pure Russian chess champ, Anatoly, seeking freedom and love, and ultimately sacrificing them. The Ugly American challenger, Freddie, selfish and vain. Naive Florence, the Hungarian-refugee chess coach who fickly wavers between them, a smart woman who behaves stupidly for love. Stoic Svetlana, Anatoly’s deserted wife, seeking to regain her loveless marriage (or is it merely their revoked apartment?). The tricky Russian spy. His callous and conniving American counterpart. There are no likeable characters here.

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Jeremy Trager’s Anatoly comes closest to being a real human being, with a beautiful voice to boot. As Florence, Maggie Portman brings a soulful country-western musical style and a bouncy stage presence befitting her role’s up-and-down character.

The rest are pretty much comic-book figures, though Jon B. Leen offers some subtlety and a fine voice as Anatoly’s minder, Molokov. Stephanie Herman captures cool Russian beauty as Svetlana. Courtney Crouse, as Freddie, acts the jerk well but has some problems with pitch and volume; his vocals are often swallowed by the band. Anthony Apodaca and John Taflan ham it up as Freddie’s “agent,” Walter, and the tournament Arbiter, who somehow manages to do his job without the aid of a chess clock.

The production has loads of talent, but not enough to bring this musty musical into the present. Those who sit staunchly among ABBA fans and ’80s nostalgia buffs will probably enjoy Chess more than others

Rating: ★★½

 

NOTE: Allow time to find parking. For some performances, theater patrons may use the lot at Christian Mission Elim, 1615 W. Morse Ave.

All photos by Johnny Knight

Theatre at the Center announces 2010 season

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In celebration of the 20th Season (!)

Theatre at the Center’s announces their 2010 Season

Coming off of a streak of some of the most successful seasons to date, William Pullinsi, Artistic Director, has announced Theatre at the Center’s 20th anniversary season, filled with some of the most popular productions of all time, as well as an area premiere. All of the 2010 season titles have marked, and will mark, a “first” for the history of Theatre at the Center. This 20-year anniversary milestone will be celebrated as a “season of firsts,” with some of the most celebrated titles in Theatre at the Center’s history:

Noises Off
February 19 – March 21, 2010

“The Funniest Farce Ever Written” is how the New York critics described the awesome hilarity and mind-boggling mayhem of Noises Off.  This uproarious comedy will run February 19 through March 21, with press performance on February 25. Noises Off follows the on and off stage antics of an inept acting troupe as they stumble from bumbling dress rehearsal to disastrous closing night.  Everything that can go wrong does, as actors desperately try to hang on to their lines, their performances, and the furniture.  Add a slippery plate of sardines and a slew of slamming doors and you have the most sidesplitting backstage comedy ever put on paper.

I Do! I Do!
April 22 through May 23, 2010 

I Do! I Do! was the first two-person musical ever performed on Broadway, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the creative duo behind The Fantasticks and 110 In the Shade. This remarkably intimate, thoroughly romantic piece, allows audiences into the bedroom of Agnes and Michael, as they try to maintain passion and devotion through the joys and pains, trials and tribulations, setbacks and celebrations of their fifty year marital odyssey. In that time we watch them go through their wedding night jitters, raise a family, negotiate mid-life crises, quarrel, separate, reconcile and grow old together, all lovingly to the strains of a tuneful, charming score which includes the standard "My Cup Runneth Over." I Do! I Do! runs April 22 through May 23 and the press performance will be April 29.

Jesus Christ Superstar
July 8 – August 8, 2010

Jesus Chris Superstar, the groundbreaking theatrical masterpiece by legendary writing team Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, will run July 8 through August 8 with a press performance on July 15. The first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to be performed on the professional stage, Jesus Christ Superstar illuminates the transcendent power of the human spirit with a passion that goes straight to the heart. The production features a stirring score including “Superstar”, “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet / rock star whose appeal stems as much from the crowd’s energy as from his own inspirational message. Jesus’ meteor-like rise in renown provides, as the title suggests, a parallel to contemporary celebrity worship. As his radical teachings are evermore embraced, Judas increasingly questions the enlightened motives of this new prophet, resulting in betrayal. In this production, Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge and explosive theatricality.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
September 9 – October 10, 2010

Based on the popular 1988 MGM film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels centers on two con men living on the French Riviera – the suave and sophisticated Lawrence Jameson, who makes his lavish living by talking rich ladies out of their money; and a small-time crook named Freddy Benson, who, more humbly, swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother’s failing health. After meeting on a train, they unsuccessfully attempt to work together only to find that this small French town isn’t big enough for the two of them. So they make a bet: the first one to swindle $50,000 from a young heiress, triumphs and the other must leave town. What follows are a series of schemes, masquerades and double-crosses in which nothing may ever be exactly what it seems. This Tony Award winning musical will run September 9 through October 10. The press performance will be September 16.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
November 11 – December 12, 2010

Kris Kringle takes on the cynics among us in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, a musical adaptation of the popular holiday favorite “Miracle on 34th Street ”. In his inimitable style, Meredith Willson, the author of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, tells the classic story of a white-bearded gentleman claiming to be the real Santa Claus as he brings about a genuine Miracle on 34th Street . Spreading a wave of love throughout New York City , this man inspires the city, fostering camaraderie between Macy’s and Gimbel’s Department Stores and convincing a divorced, cynical single mother, her somber daughter and the entire state of New York that Santa Claus is no myth. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas runs November 11 through December 12, with the press performance on November 18.

Founded in 1991, Theatre at the Center is a year-round professional theater at its home, The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road , Munster , Indiana .  Theatre at the Center is conveniently located off I-80/94, just 35 minutes from downtown Chicago . 

theatreatcenterSeason subscriptions to all of these timeless classics are available for $125 and will go on sale September 29, 2009 . New for this season will be subscription series events. The first of these events, the Wine and Theatre Series, will allow guests to enjoy delectable wines from all over the world at Theatre at the Center’s home, the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. An assortment of hors d’oeuvres will be served to compliment the wines. This Wine and Theatre Series can be conveniently added to season subscriptions for $75. The second, the Opening Night Series, guarantees subscribers the best seats for opening nights. Each show will be followed with a post-show reception with the cast and crew. This Opening Night Series can be added to the subscription for only $100. Finally, the Dinner Theatre series may be added to any subscription for only $105.25. Guests may enjoy pre-show special dinners conveniently located in The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, right across from the theatre lobby. To purchase season tickets, individual tickets call the Box Office at 219.836.3255 or Tickets.com at 800.511.1552.  Group discounts, available for groups of 20 or more; and gift certificates, perfect for all special occasions are also available by calling the Box Office at 219.836.3255 . For more information on Theatre at the Center, visit TheatreAtTheCenter.com. Map below – click map for larger view: