Addams Family: An Interview with Wednesday and Lucas

An Interview with Wednesday and Lucas

(From Addams Family – the Musical)

By Timothy McGuire

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From left to right – Wesley Taylor (playing ‘Lucas’ in Addams Family) and Krysta Rodriguez (playing ‘Wednesday’)


It was fun as a fan as well as a reviewer to see how excited both Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor are to be a part of the new Addams Family Musical. The two played off each other like old friends with inside looks and slight teasing to go along with their praise of one another. Relaxed and enjoying the moment, both Krysta and Wesley expressed how much of a thrill it has been to be a part of creating an original Broadway production.

Krysta is playing The Addams Family character ‘Wednesday’, but this is not the Wednesday Addams that TV-viewers are familiar with: Wednesday is all grown up now. She is at the difficult age of eighteen where childhood and adulthood tear at you from opposite directions. As Krysta puts it, “Wednesday is torn between her bizarre family’s norms that she grew up with and her new feelings that are more in line with regular people outside of the Addams family.” She is getting softer, not mushy, and she expresses this in the beginning of the show through her song “Pulled (in the wrong direction). “

After Wednesday’s song we meet Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor), the boy from school that Wednesday is dating, and this introduces the storyline of the musical. When Lucas Beineke’s parents (your average American Mom and Dad) meet the spooky outrageous Addams family when they get together for dinner at the Addams’ mansion, madness ensues.

Wesley Taylor will be originating a brand new character in his role as Lucas. Wesley auditioned multiple times for the original role of Lucas, without being cast. So when he was not asked to be a part of the first public reading, he assumed that he did not get the part. Something changed after his performance in the successful Broadway production of Rock of Ages. He was again asked to audition and this time he got the part. Telling that story, Wesley admits that he was rather frustrated, and did not understand why he had to read again when they were going to go another way – but in the end it just made his getting the part that much sweeter. With a smile stretching across his face, Wesley acknowledges how lucky he is to encounter the challenges and rollercoaster processes of creating a brand new role within a brand new musical.

Both Wesley and Krysta tell a story, literally interchanging sentences and checking with each other for confirmation, about a day in rehearsal when the show’s composer and lyricist, Andrew Lippa, called Wesley over to his piano and played a song he was currently working on. They started playing a duet together, and Wesley tells me that he was so excited and knew this show was going to be a big original hit. “They were both totally freaking out” interjects Wednesday.

Krysta and Wesley have said that they have had no choice but to become good friends, which is understandable when you work with someone all day everyday. They have been enjoying their free time together in Chicago, eating a lot as both of them will admit. Actually the topic of food brought some big smiles and elbow pokes from both Krysta and Wesley which made me ask where they have been dining out. It appears our good old Chicago style hotdogs are on top of their list.

Go see The Addams Family. (★★★ – our review here)

addamsfamily6Left to right: Krysta Rodriguez, playing Wednesday, and Bebe Neuwirth (Mortisha)

 

addamsfamily3Left to right: Wesley Taylor (Lucas Beineke), Carolee Carmello (Mrs. Beineke) and Nathan Lane (Gomez Addams).

Review: Circle Theatre’s “Little Women”

Holidays with the March Sisters

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Circle Theatre presents:

Little Women

adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
directed by Bob Kuth
thru December 19th (ticket info)

review by Timothy McGuire

The women of Little Women_1 Circle Theatre offers another quality production of classic literature with their world premiere adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This story is perfect for the holiday season and entertaining anytime of the year. The unselfish themes of giving and love along with warm naturally occurring musicals scenes create a performance that can be enjoyed by the whole family, as well as those other singles out there.

Circle Theatre’s production of Little Women is only based on part one of the series (so no, Beth does not die,) but it is still packed with plenty of drama and conflict to accompany the vibrant personalities of the March sisters. The four sisters are spiritually played by Laura McClain (Meg), Kieran Welsh-Phillips (Jo), Jill Sesso (Beth) and Abigail St. John (Amy.) They playfully tease but overwhelmingly cherish each others company. With their father away serving as Chaplain in the Civil War and their mother doing everything she can to support her husband and country, the four sisters bond together as they grow into their own individuals. The March Family is financially struggling (something many of us can relate to this holiday season) yet still finds ways to constantly support those around them in need and those they want to show they care. Besides the wealthy Aunt March, the whole family is inspired by the closeness between them, and their kind spirit is an inspiration to those that witness them as well.

The cast of Little Women_1The set is designed far more sophisticated than you see at even most of the best storefront theatres in the city. Bob Kuth (Director/ Scenic & Lighting Designer) has created the inside of the March home in Maine warm and delicately decorated for the winter season. The windows are covered in 19th-century drapes and a faded portrait of Mr. March hangs above the fireplace. In the back corner is the simple piano played by Beth to lighten the family’s mood and bring in some holiday cheer and the living room is complete with antique furniture for the family to join together for gossip and companionship. The staircase in back of the stage and second level leading to the door add depth to the large country house, and the performer’s ability to look beyond the audience and through the windows at a scene fictionally taking place off stage turn the small staging area into the open lands of Concord, MA.

Each actress and actor brings a special individuality to their character. The enduring qualities in each sister are brought out by the talented natural performances of each actress. I fell in love with Jo and her rebellious attitude and drive to go after he own desires. Each individual performance in the play strengthens the connection you feel with the relationships that are being formed. Watching this family evolve and connect with their characters can naturally bring out a loving emotional connection to your own family, and that is what the holidays are all about.

Rating: ★★★

 

At Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, call   708-771-0700, www.circle-theatre.org, tickets $20 – $24 ($2 off for seniors/students), Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

FEATURING: Kevin Anderson • Peter Esposito • Eileen Ferguson • Anita Hoffman • Laura McClainJeremy MyersBrian Rabinowitz • Mary Redmon • Jill Sesso • Abigail St. John •  Kieran Welsh-Phillips.

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Review: Drury Lane’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

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Drury Lane Oakbrook presents:

Thoroughly Modern Millie

by Richard Morris, Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan
directed by William Osetek
thru December 20th (ticket info)

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The traditional Thoroughly Modern Millie is given a new breath of life in Drury Lane’s high quality, highly energetic and enjoyable new musical, directed by William Osetek. From top to bottom, set to song, this is a near flawless performance of traditional musical theatre produced with Broadway-like standards – just  on a smaller scale.

thoroughly-modern-millie-3 Thoroughly Modern Millie is the story of a young woman who has moved to the big city in search of becoming a “modern woman,” one in search of wealth not love. Set in the early 1920’s, when the social and economic climate is changing, especially for women who have recently joined the work place and have a new independence when seeking happiness. With nowhere to go she takes refuge in a hotel that houses other single women, most of whom are out-of-work actresses, but unknown to Millie and the other girls the hotel is also a front for Mrs. Meers “white-slave” trafficking business. Unaware of the dangers around her, Millie is stubbornly set on marrying her rich boss and decides that there is no room for love in a modern woman as she flirts to get his attention.

Millie is magnificent. Holly Ann Butler makes her Drury Lane debut as Millie, and her tremendous talents stand out in every aspect of her performance. She can sing (whoa can she sing) dance, act and is innocently beautiful on stage as she takes the audience through the streets of New York as designed by Kevin Depinet.

Kevin Depinet has designed an open stage with a towering 3-dimensional backdrop of Manhattan creating depth and distance on stage. The huge buildings have a romantic feeling intensified by the changing colors and brightness that shines through the windows of each building depending on the time of day. The set hovers over the cast creating a visual sense of the magic that exist downtown.

The choreography is exceptional, and gives one an example of the meaningful influence that top-notch choreography can have with the plot and overall enjoyment of a production. Tammy Mader’s choreography brings the book and songs together, fluidly portraying individual emotions; creating entertaining numbers that enhance the feelings surrounding the stage.

The production really picks up in the second act where the choreography gets even more complicated, with surprise quirky moves, and the plot thickens with a merry-go-round of love interests to go along with Mrs. Meers increasingly deviant plan of kidnapping white-slaves. Millie’s journey to discover the value of true love rather than the materialistic measures of success is guided by the wealthy Muzzy (Melody Betts), and everyone finds their way to true love and happiness – well almost everyone.

thoroughly-modern-millie-2The energetic musical numbers throughout the production are led by truly gifted voices and enhanced by the full production of each song. Actresses and actors like Holly Ann Butler, Randall Dodge and Melody Betts are performances in themselves, and it is a special experience to hear a group of talented vocalists sing together at such a high caliber. My personal favorite is the deep baritone voice of Randall Dodge as Millie’s boss.

Along with the spectacular songs, a ton of comedy is slipped into the plot and brought out especially well by gifted and seasoned actresses like Paula Scrofano (Mrs. Meers,) and Sharon Sachs (Mrs. Flannery), who connect well to the audience with their well-timed antics displaying the off-beat personalities of their characters. Richard Manera and Paul Marinez (Ching Ho and Bun Foo) also bring continuous laughter into the musical with their expressive remarks and interactions with Mrs. Meers.

Drury Lane’s Thoroughly Modern Millie is a top notch professional production that is as good as any musical you will see of this size. The cast is filled with talented stars, the creative team is at its best, and the stage is strikingly magical. For musical theater lovers, this is the show you want to see.  And for those new to the theater, this might be the musical that sucks you in to Chicago’s musical theatre scene.

Rating: ★★★

 

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David Pittsinger wows the crowd at Gibson’s Steakhouse

Big talent represents “South Pacific” at Gibson’s

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By: Timothy McGuire

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “MusicalDEEP” at Gorilla Tango Theatre

 Gorilla Tango Theatre presnts:

MusicalDEEP

Directed by Howard Witt
thru November 23rd (ticket info)
reviewed by Timothy McGuire

musicaldeep The new show MusicalDEEP at Gorilla Tango Theatre possesses a lot of potential in its current concept, but the performance is a work in progress. MusicalDEEP is a musical parody about a group of young theatrical hipsters who feel that they must experience life’s hardships and personal struggles in order to create deep meaningful art.

The opening scene is the most stimulating, where knock-out beautiful Jeezy McNeezy performs a burlesque like tap dancing strip tease down to just her lacy purple panties and two feathery stars covering her talented figure. This opening possibly signifies the honesty and “baring of one’s soul” that it takes to create significant art, but I actually saw no correlation between the opening scene and the rest of the play other than serving as an eye-catching opening.

The rest of the play consists of three girls and a guy slowly and methodically discussing how they can create deep art. Their conversations are too scripted and performed as if in a classroom skit.  Although the chemistry between the cast brings out individual personalities between the characters, the dialogue is underdeveloped, leaving one constantly expecting more to happen. The aspiring artists in this musical come off as young, very young, hipsters (most likely 20-22yrs old) with valley girl speech to go along with their hipster clothing.

Jessica Marks developed the strongest individual personality in a girl named Paragraph and provides subtle interactions with humorous and insightful weight. Her storyline is developed around a hidden desire that provides true human conflict, although it is never sincerely developed or expressed.

MusicalDEEP stands out by having a different kind of protagonist; one that is the clear headed and morally sound. Ashley Jennings plays one of the young girlfriends searching for a way to create deep art, but is unconvinced that you must manipulate your life in order to feel pain as a creative stimulus. Her final song might be the best fit for this musical parody. Intentionally singing her song extremely high pitched and without any effort to sing in tune, she made her musical portion satirical rather than lacking in musical strength.

The brevity and promising premise of this play makes it a fun quick stop before calling it a night or heading out to the bars on Milwaukee Ave. The overall performance has its slower moments and the drama needs to be further developed, but if you laugh out loud more than ten times in an hour I consider it a success and MusicDEEP far exceeded that standard.

Rating: ★★

 

MusicalDEEP, performing Mondays at 8pm, November 2 – November 23, 2009 at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago 60647. Tickets are $10; to purchase tickets call 773-598-4549 or visit www.gorillatango.com.

Review: Chicago Dramatists’ “Lucinda’s Bed”

Many Beds in Lucinda’s Life

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Chicago Dramatists present:

Lucinda’s Bed

By Mia McCullough
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Thru November 8th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The world premiere of Lucinda’s Bed by Mia McCullough is a dark tragic comedy that explores the anger in a girl who tries her whole life to be good, with no reward for her choices and no break from her relentless temptations. Confined by the expectations of others, Lucinda fights to identify herself and recognize her personal desires. She is constantly growing through her painful experiences and continuing to “sleep in the bed she made.” She questions the benefit of her choices and tiptoes on to the dirty lucindaportraitside of morality. As we travel through the different stages of Lucinda’s life we see the pain and conflicting emotions of a girl just trying to see if it is possible to do the right thing and be true to her self.

At nine years old, Lucinda (Elizabeth Laidlaw) is a pure child who has an innocent yet intimate friendship with a nice young boy Adam (Doug Mackechnie) who is kind, supportive and predictable. It is at this young age that the monster under Lucinda’s bed (Lucas Neff) introduces himself to her and her temptations begin. Throughout her life the monster visits Lucinda, challenging her automatic response to do the “right” thing and presents her with the possibility to follow her raw desires.

Mia McCullough tells an honest (even when exaggerated) portrayal of the horrifying hardships that a female may encounter while becoming a woman. Through the physical, emotional and mental conflicts that arise in Lucinda’s journey, McCullough tells a story about how much it takes out of a woman that constantly tries to love and please everyone. She shows the strength one gains from loving and caring for everyone around you, but also the toll that it takes on that person’s spirit.

Director Jessi D. Hill has smoothly strung together a long series of events covering a Lucinda’s lifetime. The quick transitions between scenes are creative, finding ways to enhance the sense of a time lapse. However, the overly consistent changes dragged on after a while even with the witty effects. Scenic designer Grant Sabin scatters outlandishly clever pieces through out the set, changing the room to exemplify the time in Lucinda’s life that each scene took place.

play3393 Lucinda lives through a painful sequence of events as she grows older, but the moments in between had me bent over laughing. Elizabeth Laidlaw connected with the audience, making Lucinda’s aging relatable. Laidlaw is sexually tantalizing on stage, as she spends a large portion of the show in her bra and panties.  But her ability to find the tragic depth in each moment she encounters, and cope with the hurdles in front of her with changing reactions due to her constantly evolving life experience, is what stands out in her performance.

Lucas Neff’s acting ability is put on display as he convincingly plays numerous characters. His charm effortlessly switches to immature goofiness, giving each character he plays a full range of personality. Meanwhile, Doug Mackechnie was at his best when playing an older Adam closer to his age. While over-embellishing his portrayal of Adam in his youth, he completely captured the innocence in his youthful character.

The Chicago Dramatists are hot right now – their world-premiere of Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain is currently running on Broadway, starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig -  and they continue to roll with Mia McCullough’s Lucinda’s Bed. This play provides deep insight into the weighty sorrow one feels after trying to live up expectations and move past its cruelty in the world before it sucks the life right out of us. Chicago Dramatists present what would be a dark drama with great humor and an overall entertaining experience. This tragedy is a comedic experience that will give you lots to talk about.

Rating: «««

 

Featuring: Associate Artist Doug MacKechnie, Elizabeth Laidlaw and Lucas Neff
Grant Sabin (Set Designer), Diane Fairchild (Lighting Designer) Nick Keenan (Sound Designer), Jenniffer Thusing (Props Designer and Stage Manager), and Kat Doebler (Costume Designer)

Review: Porchlight’s “The Fantasticks”

The Fantasticks disappoints more than it thrills

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Porchlight Theatre presents:

The Fantasticks

by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones
directed by Sean Kelly
through November 15th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Timothy McGuire

 Fantasticks-7 The 1960 musical The Fantasticks, the longest running performance in American theatre history (almost 50 years!), was built-up to be spectacular production. Every musical theatre actor I know wanted to be a part of Porchlight Theatre’s production and long time musical fans praised The Fantasticks as a must see musical in Chicago. However, this production, now playing at Theatre Building Chicago, is a disappointment.

The story is about two innocent kids: Matt (Sean Effinger-Dean) and Luisa (Emma Rosenthal,) who naively fall in love due to the manipulation of their fathers. Knowing that all kids will do the exact opposite of what their father wants them to do, the fathers: Hucklebee (Dan Ferretti) and Bellomy (Ryan Lanning). pretend to despise each other and forbid Matt and Luisa from interacting. They insult one another in front of their children and build a tall fence to separate the two young neighbors. Of course, now that their interaction is forbidden, the two seek out each other’s company and there is a new passion that fills their shared moments. The fathers then plan their ultimate bizarre plan to bond the two lovers in marriage, but it all blows up in their faces when the kids realize that they have been manipulated. But don’t fear, all seems to work out in the end.

The set is cold and bare (maybe this is a  common element for the show), leaving the backyards of Matt and Luisa up to our imagination. The blue lighting softens the set a little bit, and being able to watch the pianist and Harpist play in the back of the stage provided the only magical romantic feeling to the scenery.

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The story is filled with catchy songs with fun satirical lyrics and beautiful accompaniment by the pianist and harpist. The vocal talent on stage is top-notch. The song “Try To Remember” is absolutely one of my favorites from any musical I have seen. I am still singing it in my head and, lucky for me, I can still hear Jeff Parker’s (El Gallo) soothing voice singing it. Unfortunately, the quality of songs is lost in the randomness of the choreography. The characters flit around in dance moves that have nothing to do with what the songs are about, adding nothing to the words or the feeling of the songs. At one point it looks as if jumping-jacks are substituted for actual dance. The bare stage offers the opportunity for the choreography to add to the play’s atmosphere and provide the emotion behind the music, but this opportunity is missed, coming off as childish fun.

Additionally, individual character development is lacking. There is no chemistry on stage – so there is a lack of believability to the emotional moments between Matt and Luisa. Many times Luisa appears to be pretending to have feeling for Matt, rather than truly falling in love with the boy in front of her. Luisa’s character is oddly cast. Emma Rosenthal’s voice, although beautiful, was too powerful and makes Luisa sound too womanly and older than her character. Ms. Rosenthal’s movements project a resolute maturity that surely would be lacking in a teenage girl – her strength then does not match up with the shy boy she is supposed to be fantasizing about.

Fantasticks-3 Sean Effinger-Dean’s character, however, is thoroughly enjoyable. Matt is not the typical “pretty boy” that may be found in a commercial love story. A 22-year old biologist, Matt sings and acts with the insecurity and social awkwardness that a 22 year old who is in love with a teenage girl would have. His role might not be as charming as it could have been, but the portrayal of the immaturity in a 22 year old boy is thoroughly convincing.

Jeff Parker’s El Gallo brings the only inspiring dramatic moments and sense of continuity to the play , but my favorite character in the play is the elegant mute (Tanya McBride).  Her subtle additions to the staging help create the feelings that surround the play, and it is incredible to witness her expressive face and fluid balletic movements, providing more magic to the stage than the interaction between characters.

This production makes one question the relationship between the two fathers. Do they have a fondness for each other beyond friendship? Do they want their offspring to marry just so that they can share a sense of a domesticated relationship they could not achieve in their current situations, or did their characters just lack the masculinity that I expected from a play written in the 1950’s?

I am skeptic when it comes to musicals (I don’t enjoy the fluff,) but I have seen good musical theatre and this is not it. This play has been successfully performed well for over 40 years, so the book would seem strong, so don’t turn your back on The Fantasticks as a whole, just this production.

Rating: ««½

Playing at the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Chicago, IL, Friday & Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through November 15, 2009.

 

View The Fantasticks

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