Top 10 Chicago shows we’re looking forward to this spring

Chicagoskylinefromnorth

 

Top 10 shows to see this spring!

 

A list of shows we’re looking forward to before summer

 

Written by Barry Eitel

March 20th marked the first day of spring, even if it feels like winter hasn’t loosened its grip at all. The theatre season is winding down, with most companies putting up the last shows of the 2010/2011. Over the summer, it would seem, Chicagoans choose outdoor activities over being stuffed in a hot theatre. But there is still plenty left to enjoy. The rising temperatures make leaving your home much more tempting, and Chicago theatre is ending the traditional season with a bang. Here, in no particular order, are Chicago Theatre Blog’s picks for Spring 2011.

 

   
Goat or Who Is Sylvia 001
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?

Remy Bumppo Theatre
March 30 – May 8
more info

Playwright Edward Albee has gotten a lot of love this year, with major productions at Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf (for the first time). The season has been a sort of greatest hits collection spanning his career, including modern classics like Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Three Tall Women. Remy Bumppo ends their season with some late-period Albee, but The Goat never skimps on Albee’s honest dysfunction. In the 1994 drama, Albee takes a shockingly earnest look at bestiality, and questions everything we thought about love.


      

Porgy and Bess - Court Theatre - banner


Porgy and Bess
 

Court Theatre 
May 12 – June 19
more info

Musical-lovers have a true aural feast to enjoy this spring. Following their mission to produce classics, Court produces the most well-known American opera, Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin’s ode to folk music is grandiose, inspirational, and not without controversy. But the show, telling tales about African-American life in the rural South, features brilliant music (like “Summertime,” which has been recorded by such vastly different performers as Billie Holiday and Sublime). Charles Newell, Ron OJ Parsons, and an all-black cast will definitely have an interesting take on one of the most influential pieces of American literature.


           
Front Page - Timeline Theatre Chicago - logo
The Front Page
 

Timeline Theatre  
April 16 – June 12
more info

For their season closer, TimeLine Theatre selected a 80-year-old play with deep Chicago connections. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were well known journalists, reporting on the madness that was the Jazz Age. They turned their life into a farcical romp, The Front Page, which in turn served as the inspiration for the Cary Grant vehicle “His Girl Friday”. The play centers around several hardened newsmen as they await an execution; of course, things don’t go as planned. Along with loads of laughs, TimeLine provides an authentic Chicago voice sounding off about a legendary time.


     
Peter Pan - Chicago Tribune Freedom Center
Peter Pan

Broadway In Chicago and threesixty° entertainment
at Chicago Tribune Freedom Center (675 W. Chicago)
Begins April 29
more info

Imported from London, this high-flying envisioning of the J.M. Barrie play should cause many jaws to drop. We’ve seen high school productions where the boy who never wants to grow up flies around on wires (leading to some disastrous videos on Youtube). Threesixtyº’s show has flying, but it also has three hundred and sixty degrees of screen projections. Already a smash across the pond, this will probably be one of the top spectacles of the decade. WATCH VIDEO


     
Woyzeck - Hypocrites Theatre - banner
Pony - About Face Theatre - banner

Woyzeck
and Pony  

at Chopin Theatre
The Hypocrites and About Face Theatre 
in repertory April 15 – May 22
more info

I’m not exactly sure if Georg Buchner’s unfinished 1830s play can support a whole city-wide theatrical festival, but I’m excited to see the results. The Oracle Theatre already kickstarted the Buchner love-fest with a well-received production of Woyzeck directed by Max Truax. Now Sean Graney and his Hypocrites and a revived About Face get their chance, along with numerous other performers riffing on the play. Pony offers a semi-sequel to Woyzeck, tossing together Buchner’s characters with others in a brand new tale. The Hypocrites offer a more straightforward adaptation to the play. Well, straightforward for the Hypocrites. I’m sure their white-trash-avant-garde tendencies will make an appearance, and I’m sure I’ll love it. (ticket special: only $48 for both shows


     
American Theatre Company - The Original Grease
The Original Grease

American Theatre Company 
April 21 – June 5
 more info

American Theatre Company ends their season with a major theatrical event—a remount of the original 1971, foul-mouthed version of Grease. Before Broadway producers, Hollywood, and John Travolta cleaned up the ‘50s set musical, “Summer Nights” was “Foster Beach.” The story of this production is probably as interesting as the actual show, with lost manuscripts and brand new dialogue and song.


       
Voodoo Chalk Circle - State Theatre
The Voodoo Chalk Circle

State Theatre 
April 9 – May 8
more info

This month, Theatre Mir already took a highly-acclaimed stab at this intriguing piece of Brecht, which tears at Western views of justice. In true Brechtian style, the State’s production is shaking the narrative up, transferring the story from an Eastern European kingdom to a post-Katrina New Orleans, where law and order have broken with the levee. We’ll see if Chelsea Marcantel’s adaptation holds water, but she has plenty to pull from, including the region’s rich folk traditions and the general lawlessness seen after the storm.   WATCH VIDEO


         
hickorydickory - chicago dramatists - banner Hickorydickory

Chicago Dramatists 
May 13 – June 12
more info

To welcome spring, Chicago Dramatists will revisit one of their own, the 2009 Wendy Wasserstein Prize-winning Marisa Wegrzyn. Directed by artistic director Russ Tutterow, the darkly whimsical piece imagines a world where everyone has a literal internal clock that ticks away towards our demise. What happens when someone breaks their clock? Through a very odd window, Wegrzyn looks at tough, relevant questions.


     
Next to Normal - Broadway in Chicago - banner
Next to Normal

Broadway in Chicago 
at Bank of America Theatre 
April 26 – May 8
more info

The newly-minted Purlitzer Prize winner, Next to Normal rolls into town on its first national tour, three Tony Awards in hand.  Alice Ripley, who received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, will reprise her acclaimed performance at the Bank of America Theatre on Monroe. Contemporary in sound and subject matter, the work explores the effects of a mother’s bi-polar disease exacerbated by her child’s earlier death, Next to Normal will no doubt be anything close to normal for Chicago audiences.    (watch video)


     
White Noise - Royal George
White Noise

Royal George Theatre 
April 1 – June 5
more info

Like Next to Normal, the new White Noise promises to take the usually vapid rock musical genre and stuff it with some tough issues. A show focusing on an attractive female pop duo with ties to white supremacy? It ain’t Rock of Ages, that’s for sure. Produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Chicago was chosen as the show’s incubator before a Broadway debut. Perhaps the premise may overwhelm the story; either way, White Noise is going to inspire conversations.     [ Listen to the Music ]

  
  

Individuality – Conversations with Billy Elliot cast

Emily Skinner, Cesar Corrales and Cast

INDIVIDUALITY
Conversations with the Chicago Cast of Billy Elliot the Musical

By Michael L. Harris

From London’s West End to Sydney and Melbourne Australia, on Broadway and now in Chicago, Billy Elliot the Musical is taking the world by storm or perhaps by dance… It is, according to the New York Post, “The best show you will ever see.” And in my opinion they got that one right. After its opening two years ago on Broadway it won an astounding 10 Tony Awards.  At the 63th Annual Tony Award’s Sir Elton John said: “At its heart Billy Elliot is about a child’s emotional struggle for his right to dance and a community’s economic struggle for its right to work.” From beginning to end Billy Elliot the Musical is exhilarating and its message of struggle for individual expression and is never compromised. “The world’s bad enough without making it worse…what we need is in-di-vid-u-al-ity.”

Set in a background of political struggle in the small UK mining community of Durham, Billy Elliot is an adaptation of the award winning film by Stephen Daldry with music by Sir Elton John. Billy Elliot’s Chicago production is the show’s first US touring company.  A second US touring company opens in Durham, NC later in 2010 as does a Seoul, Korea production.  A Toronto opening is scheduled for 2011.

Billy Elliot’s Chicago run began on April 11th of this year.  The Daldry/John team was equally as hands on with this production as they have been with all other world-wide productions of the show. Daldry actually directed the show though a resident director, which ‘keeps the show in very, very good shape” says Cynthia Darlow, who plays grandma. Both Daldry and Sir Elton not only attended the opening night performance, they also donned tutus and joined the cast onstage for the finale!

The Billy Elliot story is so universal and so timely, yet timeless, that it relates on a soul-stirring level to every culture, race and individual. And whether intentional or serendipitous, the casting of an array of multi-cultural boys to play the lead role of Billy Elliot has only enhanced that message.

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with four members of the Chicago cast, and learn first hand from these extraordinary actors who are, night after night, Billy Elliot the Musical – Chicago.

J.P. Viernes as Billy 2 J.P. Viernes (Billy Elliot)

J.P. Viernes is of Philippine decent and makes his home in Half-Moon Bay California, a suburb of San Francisco. “I think my first audition was two years ago, I’ve gone through about five auditions already…they called me back a bunch of times…it was really fun, but it was really long.” J.P. was cast as one of the Chicago Billys. The role of Billy Elliot, the 12 year old lead character whose amazing dance moves and vocals solidify the show’s message is a role so demanding that it requires four young actors and an additional understudy or two to insure its energy charged eight show-a-week demands.

Inspired by his sister to start dancing at the age of seven, J.P. talked about his training for the role. “We started training for the show last November and from November ‘til December we trained in New York and then when 2010 came around came here to Chicago to train. A usual day begins at 10 A.M. …because “we also have to fit in 15-hours a week of school” in addition to the daily dance and gymnastics training. While that may not seem early, their typical day doesn’t end until midnight.  “Doing the show is really fun, but we have to rehearse to build up all the stamina we need for doing the show…” Rather than a distraction J.P. sees school as “kind of a rest just not to be moving around all the time,” though he misses his “friends at home.” The “last time I visited was at Christmas and I was only able to visit for three days.” His mom is with him in Chicago but his dad remains in California.

There’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice that goes along with the on-stage glamour. All that work has helped J.P. to better understand the character he plays. “I see Billy as a really creative kid…he really likes to dance…he really wants to dance…and  I think we can all relate to him, (referring to the four boys who play Billy) because we like to dance too and also because he went through a lot of challenges to get where he wants to be. And that also happened with us in trying to get to where Samuel Pergande and J.P. Vierneswe are now and playing Billy Elliot.” The young Billys are on stage dancing and singing throughout most if the 3 hour show, JP’s favorite dance is the finale ”it’s really fun and it’s like just a big celebration.” The choreography while generally consistent from Billy to Billy, is in part individualized to each. Particularly the dance number for “electricity” the song/dance Billy does in describing how it feels when he is dancing.

“When [people] see the show, I think they’re really going to like the dancing…and … the story too cuz it’s really emotional, there’s happy parts, sad parts, angry parts … it’s just a really nice show, and … its entertaining, I think that’s the main thing. The different casting brings different styles to each show so it kind of like makes the show different for everybody. So you could like see me one night and it would be way different from Giuseppe’s (another Billy) performance and I think that’s a really cool thing to see … I think more people can relate to it that way.

While he misses swimming in the ocean he loves interacting with the other cast members. He says Granma is “really funny and she’s really nice to all of us Billys and I think she’s a great actor.” On Mondays, his day off, J.P. can be found playing with the other boys in the local park. “We play games and have nerf-gun fights and last Monday they played some football.” 

J.P. says people might be surprised by the fact that he’s 13 “cuz I’m pretty short.” Though amazingly when these talented young men are on stage they look pretty tall, maybe that is only because they are filling pretty big shoes. In fact, most of the cast members are pretty short off-stage. I nearly walked past Gabriel Rush, one of the two Michaels in the Chicago Billy cast, though you certainly couldn’t over look his show-stopping on-stage performance of, “Expressing Yourself.”

 

Armand Schultz and Cesar Corrales Armand Schultz (Jacky Elliot, father)

Armand Schultz, who plays Billy’s father, Jackie Elliot, was trained as a classical actor and is no newcomer to the theatre. He, like the show itself, had runs on both Broadway and the London stage. Our discussion started off with a bang when I asked his take on the shows multi-ethnic casting: “Wow! I don’t even consider the different ethnicities, it doesn’t even affect me… each kid is his own individual, he’s his own person, but because I’m their dad, on any given night I just see four 12 or 13 year old kids who are just basically playing my son. They all have their own different energies but I wouldn’t consider that an ethnicity thing. I don’t even think it was the directors’ intent to do it…they literally went out to find the most talented young men they could find and it didn’t matter who they were… I saw it originally in London and the overall effect of the show affected me more than the kid… I think the most important thing is that you make a link between yourself and the boy…in terms of what part of that kid you see in yourself and that’s why the show is great part… I think that the story is so powerful and that what’s actually happening between the boy and his family and the boy and his life is so powerful that if you didn’t make that ethnic connection with that kid you would still have that same connection.

“What I think is really interesting about the show; the grouping of people, is that the show is not Americanized. It still takes place in a very rural North Country English town … it doesn’t look like America which is another reason why I think people will relate to the story in a different way, because it is a little bit removed from them. It doesn’t..it isn’t really them … I think a lot of times where you see film or you see shows where you go ‘oh that’s my backyard’ you relate to it in one way, but when you see it a little bit removed from it, I think you see a little bit of the universality of what’s actually happening in the story and I think that is a really big plus for the show.”

You’ve done a lot of classical work…how does that fit into this? “I know how to yell eight times a week??” He says a comic aside. “In a classical play you always have to work on the language to make it real…“I don’t know that these characters are larger than life. They’re sort of…of life, in most Shakespeare plays (for example) people are very large, they’re very large thinkers, he writes so incredibly well that their thoughts are huge, the Shakespearean text usually tells a lot about character, I think the action in this play tells more about character than the text. It’s the things that people do or don’t do with regard to their children, or with regard to the people around them that speaks loud…”

Patrick Mulvey, Cynthia Darlow and Miners Cynthia Darlow (Grandma)

Cynthia Darlow, is also a seasoned veteran and was a former cast member of the Broadway production of Billy Elliot before coming to Chicago.  Playing Grandma in a musical is a change from most of her former roles in more legitimate theatre. Cynthia who has two knee replacements several years ago is amazed to find herself in another musical. “I thought my dancing days were over…”

Cynthia had not seen the show until four friends who has seen it came along and said, “There’s a part in that show for you.” So she “bit the bullet” and went to see it. And “I said to my husband
‘Oh my God, I love this show, I have got to do this part, this show means the world to me.” Cynthia confides that she had a similar experience to Billy Elliot when a teacher took a personal interest in her career, driving her to and paying for her college boards.

The role of grandma has been expanded from the original film in which she was a fairly minor character. Here she sings and dances with the best of them … While grandma is now in her declining years and “suffers from a bit of dementia, I think she’s indomitable…she had a tough marriage and an abusive marriage, but she stood up. They were passionate and I think she would do it all over again if she had to.  The song she sings, “We’d Go Dancing” gives us an insight into her life philosophy” which Cynthia paraphrases as:  “if I had all to do over I’d say screw everybody, I’d go dancing and I never would stay sober…she’s a character, I love her.” She’s already told Stephen Daldry she’s “a lifer, I’ll play this part for as long as they’ll have me.”

However, her first reaction when asked to come to Chicago was “No…I’m a happily married woman and I knew it was at least a year’s commitment, but my husband told me I was crazy if I didn’t go in on it.” Plus he promised to come to Chicago twice a month to see her. “It’s actually made the marriage great…it’s been like a honeymoon” she says with a chuckle.

This show is “timeless…it’s a rags to riches story, it’s a coming of age story, it’s a political story…it’s just got everything going for it. The music is beautiful, written by someone who’s very popular.” She is of course referring to Sir Elton John, who not only came to opening night but donned a tutu and joined the rest of the cast in the finale. He also asked that the cast remain on stage following the performance so that he could greet “every one of us personally and he actually kissed me right on the face.” Cynthia grins.

In the “true sense of a musical” Cynthia says while you may not come out humming a song (criticism of some people,) you “don’t come to the theatre to hear the next top-ten single – you come to see the story being told and you only write a song (in a musical) when there is nothing else you can say…you have to sing. And what is being expressed is beyond the ability of mere words to communicate.” I had to confess however that I came out singing.

“When you are in a musical you really have to be like an Olympic athlete. It really does take a lot out of you. I work out every day, I vocalize, I watch my diet, I warm up for at least 15 minutes before the show…this is a show you cannot do unless you are in top condition. You have to be very, very disciplined. It’s a whole different muscle set than you use in a straight play.”

Cynthia believes the most important message of the show is “Don’t be afraid to be yourself.” And her advice to potential audience members is “don’t miss it.”

Miners Association 

Keean Johnson (Michael, Billy’s best friend)

Keean Johnson plays Michael, Billy’s flamboyant friend. The role of Michael in the stage version is also greatly expanded from the film and adds a new dimension to the shows message of individual expression. Keean’s show-stopping performance as Michael is incredible. He was also one of the Broadway cast members to join the Chicago cast. 

Unlike other cast members, Keean was asked to audition for Billy Elliot and originally auditioned for the lead role in the original Broadway cast. When four other boys were chose for that spot he filled the featured role of “Tall Boy” on Broadway for 400 performances without missing a single one. Later he was given the opportunity to move into the role of Michael which he played on Broadway until he was given the option of coming to Chicago to originate the role as part of the first U.S. touring company, an offer he eagerly accepted.

Originally from Colorado, Keean confesses that he loves the city. “I love the noises.” He loves acting and dancing and wants to make a career of it. “Playing Michael is such a challenge but so rewarding.”

What’s great about the show is that “Anyone can be Billy, it doesn’t matter what they look like, it’s their ability to dance and everyone in the show is just amazing.” Keean finds that working with different actors each night keeps the show “fresh.” And while the accent was a challenge, Keean had a bit of a head-start since his real-life father is English.

Keean’s training includes cardio on days when he is on stand-by and a warm up with the Ballet Girls and safety training on nights when he is performing and he takes about 1-12 hours of personal dance instruction a week. As one of only 2 Michaels he is on stand-by or performing every day except Mondays when the theatre is dark.

Even on Mondays he has a variety of dance classes including tap (which is featured in several of the Billy numbers.) But Monday is also the day when all of the 12-13 year Billys and Michaels meet in the park for football and rugby and to just be boys. On any given night after the performance you are also likely to see Keean making his way down the street in the company of family on a skateboard or scooter, and he can’t wait to try out for the upcoming Kid’s Chicago Triathlon that he and his brother plan to enter..

While his character Michael is presented as being gay, Keean believes that Michael is a boy struggling for his own identity and not really knowing for sure if he is (gay). He also believe that Michael is largely the product of the environment in which he has grown up and may not have totally come to grips yet with his own sexual identity. “It’s definitely a challenge…but I love the role.”

“I think the biggest message of the show is to love what you do. Too many people live their lives in other peoples shadow … we all need to learn to “express” our true passion. … no matter what it takes, no matter what it pays, … if you love to do it … that’s the best, … for me it’s theatre, I love it and I want to do it for the rest of my life.” His advice to other kids that want to go into show business is to “keep on training” and keep on trying.

In addition to the talented boys in the show, the cast includes a company of amazing girls who play the ballet students of a washed up dance instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson, played by Emily Skinner (pictured in photo below). Although her life has become drab and cynical she recognizes and nurtures young Billy’s talent.

Corrales, Skinner, Hammond and Ballet Girls

If you are a theater lover you won’t want to miss this amazing show. Chicago is the closest it will get to most of us in the Midwest until it opens in St. Louis late in 2011. And while it shows every sign of a good long life in Chicago you may want to see it early so you can see it again and again. After all, there are four Billys and two Michaels that you’ve just got to see before it ends. In addition to J.P Viernes, the rest of the Billys include Tommy Batchelor (another Broadway transplant), Giuseppe Bausilio and Cesar Corrales. Keean Johnson and Gabriel Rush alternate as Michael. Billy Elliot is at the Oriental Theatre. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster

Billy's Under Theatre Lights 

———-
MICHAEL L HARRIS is a freelance writer and Independent filmmaker. His short-film trilogy “Samuel – A Journey of Discovery” will be showing at film festivals around the country this summer. Michael makes his home in Northern Indiana. Comments and inquiries may be directed to filmmaker1954@aol.com.

All photos courtesy of Joan Marcus

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Sunday Sondheim: Raul Esparza and cast sing Side By Side (from Company)

Raúl Esparza and cast sing "Side By Side By Side" from the 2006 revival of Stephen Sondheim‘s Company.  This video is an excerpt from the highly recommended 2008 PBS DVD "Company."

 

 

In 2007, Company won Tony Awards for "Best Revival of a Musical" and "Best Direction of a Musical (John Doyle)." Raúl was nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. The original 1970 production was nominated for 12 Tony awards and won 6 of them.

Interesting comment exchange

 

Ok., can someone explain why Raúl goes blank after his little kazoo bit and why he looks like he just came to a huge realization? 5 months ago

  •  

  • well, his kazoo playing was not answered by a woman; when all the other men played their instruments they were answered by a woman. 4 months ago

     

    Bobby is the eternal bachelor. Everyone had a "response" from their spouse except him (as he’s single)…the "Side By Side" and "What Would I Do Without You" aspect that is reinforced as he is beside no one… 2 months ago

     

    It’s the realization he has no one to "play against." This part of the song is a form of call and response where the husband plays first and the wife next. Bobby clearly expects someone to jump in there but no one does and it’s a continuation of Bobby’s journey into possibly entertainiing something permanent. 2 months ago

    REVIEW: My Fair Lady (Marriott Theatre)

    Marriott’s ‘My Fair Lady’ loverly, but risk-free

    MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza (with flowers)

    Marriott Theatre presents:

    My Fair Lady

    By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
    Directed by
    Dominic Missimi
    Through February 14th, 2010 (
    ticket info)

    reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

    The story of linguistics professor Henry Higgins and the Cockney girl he transforms into a lady may well be the most beloved and best-known musical of all time. Based upon George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion, its original Broadway production in 1956 ran for 2,717 performances and won six Tony Awards. The 1964 film based on the musical won eight Oscars. The musical has had three major Broadway revivals, and a 2001 British production toured both the United Kingdom and the U.S. and won three Olivier Awards. Columbia Pictures has announced an upcoming movie remake.

    MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza vertical You’ve surely seen some version of this musical — if not a professional show, then a high-school or college production or the film. Just listing its popular songs — "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time" — will set the tunes ringing through your head. Audiences are hard pressed to keep from singing along.

    If you’re one of the lovers, then all I really need to tell you is that Marriott Theatre has produced an exuberant, picture-perfect production of My Fair Lady. Nothing about this show will mar your vision of the musical — from Kevin Gudahl channeling Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins to Nancy Missimi‘s gorgeous Edwardian costumes to Matt Raftery‘s jolly choreography.

    If you’re not already an ardent fan, though, nothing about Marriott’s version will challenge your perspective. Dominic Missimi‘s direction breaks no new ground whatsoever. This is "comfort theater" at its safest.

    The songs are all beautifully sung, the orchestra is first-rate and the acting never misses. The in-the-round staging works surprisingly well (though I held my breath every time the cast schlepped the office furnishings on and off the stage in the dark).

    The cast and ensemble — as one expects from Marriott — do everything right. Heidi Kettenring brings verve to her part as Eliza Doolittle, particularly in her "unreformed" Cockney scenes, making Gudahl’s Higgins seem especially like a stuffed fish. Don Forston makes a feisty Alfred Doolittle (our heroine’s opportunistic father) and Catherine Lord an especially expressive Mrs. Pearce (Prof. Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper); her Scottish accent is a nice touch. David Lively gives a stiff upper lip to Colonel Pickering while Ann Whitney brings dry wit to Higgins’ mother.

    MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring and Ann Whitney

    Max Quinlan, as Eliza’s yearning suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, gives full measure to "On the Street Where You Live," and George Keating, Brandon Koller, Christian Libonati and Joseph Tokarz are a cheeky Cockney quartet.

    The scene at Ascot, when Eliza is first revealed to the upper crust, is particularly delightful, thanks mainly to some amazing hats and staging that gives them all the display they deserve. Apart from that, though, and the intrinsic worth of live performance over recorded media, you might just as well rent the video.

    I found myself thinking of all the things a theater company might do with this brilliant but hoary old musical to shake it up. While it’s probably going too far to set the show in the Loop and give Eliza a Bridgeport accent, a production, however beautiful, that merely follows where others have gone before, forms a sadly lost opportunity. Marriott’s My Fair Lady feels as if it’s set in aspic.

    Rating: ★★★½

    Note: Dinner packages available.

    MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza & Kevin Gudahl as Higgins

    Updates: Steppenwolf’s “Superior Donuts” on Broadway

    Tracy Letts’ most recent play, Superior Donuts, just opened on Broadway with the same Steppenwolf cast.  After receiving moderate to warm reviews here in Chicago, the NYC reviews so far appear mixed.

    Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

     

    The NY Post gives Superior Donuts a very positive review – 3.5 stars:

    After Superior Donuts, Tracy Letts‘ follow-up to August: Osage County, premiered in Chicago last year, the play was deemed entertaining but minor.

    Either this Steppenwolf production has been drastically reworked on its way to New York, or we live in a cynical world where a show as tender and honest, as beautifully written, acted and directed as this one can be blithely dismissed.

     

     

    While the New York Times produces a review that is so-so:

    Mr. Letts has mothballed his angst and tossed the deadly weapons in the back drawer. Superior Donuts, a gentle comedy that unfolds like an extended episode of a 1970s sitcom, is a warm bath of a play that will leave Broadway audiences with satisfied smiles rather than rattled nerves.

    Superior Donuts may be familiar and unchallenging, but it’s also comfortable — and no, there’s nothing wrong with that.

     

    Below, Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones interviews playwright Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County“) and lead actor Michael McKean (“Laverne and Shirley“, “Saturday Night Live“, “This is Spinal Tap“) about Superior Donuts, Letts’ new play premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. Letts’ 2007 play August: Osage County won the Pultizer Prize and Tony Award in 2008.

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    “Billy Elliot the Musical” announces its 3 Billys!

    Cloud GateThe 2009 Tony Award-winning Billy Elliot the Musical (website) has announced that Tommy Batchelor, Giuseppe Bausilio and Cesar Corrales will star as ‘Billy’ in the Chicago production of the musical. Billy Elliot will begin an extended run on March 18, 2010 at Chicago’s Ford Center/Oriental Theatre before embarking on a multi-city tour.

    Amazingly, more than 1,500 boys auditioned for the role of ‘Billy’!!

    The ‘Billy’ bios:

    Stage DoorTommy Batchelor, 14, is currently play ‘Billy’ on Broadway in rotation with David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish. Tommy is a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and made his Broadway debut in the role of ‘Billy.’  He started his training at age 4 at Dance Factory in Minnesota and has starred in Miami City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker as well as having competed nationally in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix

    Cesar Corrales, 13, was born in Mexico before moving to Montreal with his family.  At age 4 he performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Madama Butterfly.  Among his other credits, Cesar placed first at the Coupe Quebec gymnastics competition in 2008, the same year he joined Canada’s National Ballet School

    Buckingham FountainGiuseppe Bausilio, 12, was born in the Swiss capital of Bern and began his ballet training at age 4.  He has performed with the State Theatre of Bern in Coppelia, as well as in the operas Mazzepa and Falstaff, among other roles.  Giuseppe has won numerous awards for the competitions in the US and Europe.

     

    The 3 actors will perform in rotation throughout the run here in Chicago

     

     

    Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

    As quartets go, this one does in fact look and sound like a million bucks.

    Jerry Lee on piano with cast, H

    Million Dollar Quartet
    Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. (more info)

    Reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

    “I don’t record singers, I record souls,” proclaims Sun Records’ legendary founder Sam Phillips midway through the unstoppable “Million Dollar Quartet.” From most people, it’s a statement that would sound as cheesy as a pitch from a third-rate used car salesman. Here, it’s a declaration of goose-bump rising authenticity. And when that same honey-over-gravel drawl command “Sing it to me the way you’d sing it to Jesus,” you know what follows is going to be as memorable as the night they tore old Dixie down.

    Close to nine months after it opened, Million Dollar Quartet shows no signs of depreciating. Detailing the now-legendary Sun Studios recording session of Dec. 4, 1956, it’s the rare juke box musical that actually benefits from its lack of a plot. The music is iconic, rocketing off the stage as Rob Lyons (Carl Perkins), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Levi Kreis (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley) deliver 100 seamless minutes of irresistible tunage. Dec. 4, 1956 might have been a chilly night in Memphis, but inside Phillips (Brian McCaskill) Sun Studios, it was blistering.

    Lewis, Carl Perkins, Jay Perkins, Cash, Elvis, V It’s impossible to understate the influence Perkins, Cash, Lewis and Lewis had in shaping rock ‘n roll. Directed by Floyd Matrux and Eric Schaeffer (book by Matrux and Colin Escott), MDQ doesn’t try to explain that influence like some school of rock history lesson. Instead, it celebrates the music, punctuating the explosive set list with telling bits of exposition. Kids who wouldn’t be caught dead buying that “negro music” were sneaking off at night to listen to it, Phillips muses. The million dollar question: “What if I could find a white kid who could light a fire under songs like those Negroes?” He found the epic answer to that “what if” Elvis, among others. And he knew long before many others that rock wasn’t a fad, it was a revolution.

    Million Dollar Quartet is set shortly after Elvis Presley’s first movie (“Love Me Tender”) opened. He’s still young and beautiful, worlds away from the bloat and hype of his Vegas years. Like everyone else in the production, Clendening is perfectly cast. His Elvis is mercurial, a reckless lightning bolt just itching to set the world on fire. Rocking out with the woe-erasing “That’s All Right” or providing the Cathedral-worthy anchor vocals to the plaintive hymn “Peace in the Valley,” he’s as charismatic and gifted as you’d expect from an artist simply known as The King.

    But even the mighty Elvis is taken aback by Jerry Lee Lewis, the brash, obnoxiously self-assured “crazy Cajun” boywonder. As for Kreis’ interpretation of a boy so fresh off the farm he can entertain himself for hours just flushing the new-fangled indoor toilets, it’s dominates the prodpuction, casting a white-hot aura of inspired, barely contained lunatic genius over the whole endeavor.

    Like Lewis, Kreis is a showman of unstoppable energy, whether whipping through six-octaves of feral arpeggios or punting his piano bench into the cheap seats with a single kick that’s as powerful as an angry mule. It’s best to get a seat where you can see Kreis hands and feet at all times – he attacks the keyboards with both. When he launches into “Real Wild Child” or “Whole Lotta Shakin,” better just stand the heck back as it becomes crystal clear why Johnny Cash deemed Lewis “the mother-humpingest piano player I ever did see.”

    As for Guest’s laconic Cash, he’s steeped in a subtle aura of souful sorrow, giving “Rock Island Line” and “Sixteen Tons” a mournful weariness and an unshakable sense of loss. He also nails the script’s deadpan humor. (“I been everywhere, man,” Cash shrugs after being asked about his whereabouts.) As a guitarist, Guest is no trifler: At the performance we attended, he snapped his D-string less than four bars in to “Riders in the Sky.” Talk about grace under pressure: It didn’t slow him down so much as a 16th note.

    Lyons’ Perkins is the most underwritten of the lot. He primarily serves as a foil to Lewis’ childish provocations (“Somebody get a shovel and scoop that up.”) He also provides some of the meager dramatic tension there is in the production: Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” – a credit that was largely overlooked once Elvis performed the song on national television. You can all but feel Perkins’ frustrated ire roiling off the stage.

    As in the real recording session, Elvis’ smoking hot girlfriend shows up to inject a bit of sizzling estrogen into party. As Dyanne, Kelly Lamont has the vocals to match the smoldering personality. Her slinky, sultry “Fever” is appropriately scorching.

    When MDQ performed at this year’s Tonys, it was during commercial breaks – television viewers didn’t have a chance to see the ensemble. So if your Tony invite got lost in the mail (as mine does every dang year) and you thus missed seeing the quartet live in New York, do consider seeing them here. As quartets go, this one does in fact look and sound like a million bucks.

    “Million Dollar Quartet” continues as an open run at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25 – $64.50 and available online at www.milliondollarquartetlive.com or by calling 773/935-6100.

    Rating:  «««½

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