The Broadway In Chicago presentation of the musical revue DISENCHANTED! offers a 90-minute spoof of the classic fairy tale princesses, as made famous to most audiences by Walt Disney. With music, lyrics, and book by Dennis T. Giacino and direction by Christopher Bond, DISENCHANTED! provides some fun. That said, the satire stays surface-level—it’s more of a gentle poking than a true skewering of the gender stereotypes deeply embedded within Disney’s tales. DISENCHANTED! presents itself as a pro-feminist musical comedy, but despite some clever moments, the material doesn’t quite reach the level of sophisticated satire. Continue reading “DISENCHANTED! Serves Up Sassy Princess Parody”
Month: May 2016
The national tour of CHICAGO that arrived at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre Tuesday night has glimmers of the shine and glitz at the heart of this musical about Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly’s ruthless journey towards fame and notoriety—timely themes that have allowed the current Broadway revival to play on for two decades. But this touring rendition of Kander and Ebb’s musical about the bloodthirsty quest for celebrity (literally in the case of wannabe vaudeville star Hart and her Cook County jail counterpart Kelly) overall plays it safe. While the design elements for this production capture the alluring nightclub atmosphere, this CHICAGO needs more of an edge. William Ivey Long’s iconic black shimmering costumes add some sensuality in the wardrobe department, and John Lee Beatty’s set design creates a sparse cabaret space that seems glitzy underneath Ken Billington’s glamorous lighting. With music direction by Rob Bowman (who also conducts), CHICAGO’s orchestra sounds swell—allowing us to luxuriate in Kander’s score. Continue reading “Sleek CHICAGO Has Plenty of Polish But Lacks Grit”
American Blues Theater’s triumphant LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS will have Chicago audiences clamoring to head downtown to Skid Row. This intimately staged production has a full sound (with music director Austin Cook leading a four-piece band, you can feel the vibrations of the bass in the floor) and provides an all-encompassing, fully entertaining spectacle. Grant Sabin’s set design presents a perfectly dilapidated Skid Row setting, with Mr. Mushnik’s decrepit, garish flower shop as the centerpiece—even some of the “bulbs” in the neon lights in the “Flower Shop” sign are missing, while the letters “L,” “O,” and “W” tellingly remain. And yet when ensemble members Jasondra Jackson, Camille Robinson, and Eunice Woods bust out onstage and begin the show’s title number as Skid Row’s “Greek Chorus” Ronnette, Crystal, and Chiffon, the immense joy in this production is deeply felt. This LITTLE SHOP fully inhabits the hilarious and heartfelt nature of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s exceedingly clever musical.
For Strawdog Theatre Company’s final production in its Broadway home, the company fittingly presents George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s 1930 comedy ONCE IN A LIFETIME—both play and production are rife with charm and sly winks to the audience. Director Damon Kiely’s choice to stage this particular Kaufman and Hart comedy is also an intriguing one. ONCE IN A LIFETIME chiefly concerns itself with the changes to the entertainment industry after the appearance of the first “talkie” (a film with spoken dialogue) and a frantic trio of three former vaudeville performers—May, George, and Jerry—who scramble to Hollywood hoping to strike it rich. And just as Jerry contemplates what these new “talkies” will mean for the future of the “legitimate stage,” so too do we now find ourselves on the precipice of immense change for the film and entertainment industry.
For musical theater die-hards (like myself), Porchlight Music Theatre’s concert reading of CHESS—a three-night-only engagement as part of the Porchlight Revisits series—is simply delightful. CHESS debuted in London in 1986 (which is the version that Porchlight has chosen to stage, in its Chicago premiere) and then was retooled, rather unsuccessfully, before moving to Broadway in 1988. This obscure musical, with lyrics and book by Tim Rice (though where the latter’s concerned, there’s not much to speak of) and music by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, provides a great concert showcase for some very talented local Chicago actors. This sublime concert staging proves a logical vehicle for CHESS, which has an immensely complicated score but remains fuzzy plot-wise.
Under the direction of Lee Blakeley at Lyric Opera (who originally staged this production for Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet in 2014), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical THE KING AND I is heightened to the lavish and beautiful spectacle it deserves. This story of British school teacher Anna Leonowens who arrives in Siam to instruct the many children of the King has moments of sweeping grandiosity but also many of emotional intimacy—the Lyric’s production makes the full emotional arc a delight to watch. Visually, the creative team captures every inch of the musical’s opulence. Sue Blane’s costume designs are breathtakingly elaborate and incorporate an inspiring display of color; Anna’s magnificent hoop skirts are definitely a highlight. Jean-March Puissant’s set design also captures the grandiosity of a royal palace with many intricate details, while also giving the performers the space they need to execute Peggy Hickey’s choreography, and Rick Fisher’s lighting adds to the decadent atmosphere.