Friday, December 8, 2017

Review of Remy Bumppo's Puff: Believe It Or Not

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Puff: Believe It Or Not. It was by Eugène Scribe and translated by Ranjit Bolt. It was directed by Nick Sandys. It was about a man named Albert (Joshua Moaney) who had come back from military service in Algeria. He was in love with his friend Maxence's (Gregory Geffrard) sister Antonia (Netta Walker). But her brother wanted her to be married to someone rich, so he arranged for her to be married to the Comte de Marignan (Christopher Sheard). But Antonia's friend Corrine (Kelsey Brennan), the daughter of of Cesar Degaudets (David Darlow) who people think is one of the richest men in the country, wanted to marry the count herself. Everyone, except Albert, starts lying to everyone else about their money, their writing, and their affections. I love a good farce, and this play really delivered that. It also has a very good point, which is that one of the problems with society is that lying is considered acceptable and even necessary for power and stature. I thought this was a really fun show. I love these kind of plays, and I had never heard of this one before, but I really enjoyed it.

The romantic tension between Albert and Antonia was so hilarious. Literally, they could not look at each other without looking they were having an aneurysm. It was so funny to see them back away from each other, look at each other longingly, realize they were looking at each other longingly, look away embarrassed, then have to look again. It was really adorable because it is very relatable for a lot of people--if their crushes like them back. They both seem to have standards that they want to meet for each other, but they would give each other up just so they can be worthy of each other. I think they are two really good eggs who aren't willing to lie for anything, which shows they are a good match for each other. Nobility isn't always the right choice, though, because sometimes the noble choice isn't good for anyone. The count, on the other hand, ends up doing something noble, even though he just thinks he is pretending to do something noble. I think the writer does think you should lie sometimes when it is needed, but he is still critiquing some of the lies people tell.

The other relationship in this show is a revenge relationship. The count had sent very romantic lying letters to Corinne, so that she wouldn't write nasty things about him in the newspaper, but then when she finds out the letters are lies, she begins to plot her revenge: marrying him (thunder). I think it is pretty hilarious because it is not what you are expecting someone's revenge to be. It's funny to see her try to seduce him in all these various ways and him not paying attention to her. It might be sad, except she doesn't seem to care. She wants to marry him in spite of himself. She is also writing these memoirs which are highly exaggerated and very funny. This ends up being a really big plot point, which I think is a really great way to tie together the story.

The set (by Joe Schermoly) and costumes (by Rachel Lambert) really contribute a lot to the humor in the show. When the lights come up in the beginning of act two, you see that the set is now all velvet, zebra print, and gold. Everything in the second act is a thousand times bigger and weirder and crazier. The zebra print and gold set your expectations for the rest of the play. And when Corinne comes in with see-through pants and a tiara you're just like "Yep. This play has officially gone insane, and I am loving it."

People who would like this show are people who like love aneurysms, marriage revenge, and see-through pants. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is a smart farce with hilarious and great performances. I loved it!

Photos: Nathanael Filbert

Review of Elf The Musical at Paramount Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Elf The Musical. The book was by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin and the music was by Matthew Sklar and the lyrics were by Chad Beguelin. It was based on the film written by David Berenbaum. It was directed and choreographed by Amber Mak. The musical director was Tom Vendafreddo. It was about an elf named Buddy (Kyle Adams) who found out he wasn't really an elf and left the North Pole to go find his father, Walter Hobbs (Michael Accardo), in New York. He finds out that his dad is a big time businessman with a wife, Emily (Lara Filip), and son, Michael (Oliver Boomer), and not at all like him. He meets a woman, Jovie (Samantha Pauly), at his job working at Macy's and tries to get her into the Christmas spirit. I thought this was a super fun show. It has a very talented cast, great music, and some great visual aspects.

I loved the relationship between Buddy and Jovie. It was great how you got to see Jovie become more of a happy person. "A Christmas Song" is the perfect representation of how their relationship is. He convinces her to do something she's never done before, and she eventually complies. But...before that she's cranky. It is nice to have a play where it is not a girl trying to change a grouchy guy, but a guy trying to change a cranky girl. I really liked how it wasn't about a woman having to do all the work so a guy can be a better person. I thought this was a really great Buddy; he was so perfect at making everyone in the theater feel really happy and in the Christmas spirit and he made his scenes so hilarious. Jovie was also really amazing and was perfectly sarcastic and right for the role. I loved her solo, "Never Fall in Love." It was really funny because she was saying, "Never fall in love...especially with an elf," which is a very specific instruction which only applies to the very few people who meet elves. And it was just a really funny song sung really well. Both Jovie and Buddy had amazing voices.

"There is a Santa Claus" was a song sung by Emily and Michael about how they realized that Buddy had been right all along about Santa Claus (Roger Mueller) being real. I thought their performances were really great. You could really see the connection between those two characters. It was adorable to see them bonding and see a scene with just them in it. The harmony at the end of the song was amazing; their voices worked perfectly together. And I really believed their relationship. I really liked how the actor who played Michael just played the part with the skill of an adult actor and avoided making it cutesy. He knew how his voice worked and he had good control over it. I was impressed. I loved how the actor playing Emily seemed like an actual mother and not a mother in a musical.

The finale was really stunning. I love tap and I thought the tap number in this was really great. I loved how they got basically the entire cast tapping. It was so much fun to watch everyone dancing together and having fun on stage. There is a really cool special effect involving Santa that was really fun. They had a kid chorus (Grier Burke, Sophie Kaegi, Harmonie Kalous, Tova Love Kaplan, Spencer Moss, Theo Moss) that got tap solos and I thought that was really adorable.

People who would like this show are people who like finding out Santa is real, awesome tap numbers, and romantic relationships with elves. I think people should go see this show. It is so much fun and really gets you in the holiday spirit. I really liked it!

Photos: Liz Lauren

Monday, December 4, 2017

Review of Q Brothers Christmas Carol At Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Q Brothers Christmas Carol. It was written by Q Brothers Collective (GQ, JQ, JAX, and POS) with music by JQ. It was directed by GQ and JQ. It was about a man named Scrooge (GQ) who was a crotchety old man who was mean to everyone but gets visited by his old business partner Marley (JQ) who sends him three other spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past (Postell Pringle), present (JQ), and future (Jackson Doran, Pringle, and JQ). And, spoiler alert, he has a change of heart. I've seen several other adaptions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I think this was a great new take on it. It is more of a contemporary city version of the story that a lot of people can probably relate to. It seems to take place in a city like Chicago, and I think the music was really good. It got across all the main plot points of the book and also made them hilarious. I think this is such a fun show. I really loved this new take on a Christmas classic.

There were so many funny moments in this play. I loved how Marley's hell was having to only speak in Reggae music. It was so funny how it seemed like he might actually be enjoying the dancing and the singing, because he was giving it his all, but he kept saying how much this was the worst thing in the world for him. You also weren't expecting for Jacob Marley to appear like Bob Marley with dreadlocks and backup dancers, but that made it even funnier. I also really loved the song that Scrooge sang when he first met his girlfriend Belle (JQ). It was all about math and was strangely suggestive. It was hilarious how they combined a Marvin-Gaye-let's-get-it-on-type song with math. I think the moment that I laughed the most was when the actor playing Bob Cratchit (Pringle) was also playing Martha, his daughter. He would just smell the corn on the stove at strange moments to cover that he was talking in Martha's voice when she was offstage. Then he would go offstage and come back on as Martha, who would talk in the corn again, but in her dad's voice. It is such an unnatural thing for someone to do, just randomly smell corn, that it made it more hilarious.

All the performers were really excellent rappers. Every time you turned around, Lil' Tim (JQ) had a new disease; it was really funny how when anyone would say "Aw" he would add something like, "I also have rabies." He would say it sadly like it was a new discovery. And then his entire family would sort of back away a little bit. It is pretty funny seeing a grown man acting like a ten year old doing really good rapping. Also he would dance with his crutch and he could actually do some impressive things. I guess when you can't leave the house because you have been contaminated with every disease known to humanity, you have a lot of spare time to work on busting a move with your busted leg. Scrooge did a song right after he had a change of heart where he went and apologized to everyone and tried to make amends while doing this very awkward and amazing jumping dance. When Scrooge was happy, he apparently had no boundaries, and he just popped up in the bedroom of his nephew Fred (Doran) and his boyfriend (Pringle), and rapped LET'S PLAY CHARADES!!! and did his hopping dance while he did this. And then, for the final song, the whole group sang a song that reminded me of TLC, and I really liked that. The Ghost of Christmas Past reminded me of The Sugar Hill Gang--very old school, very smooth. It was very clever to put an old school rapper as the Ghost of Christmas Past. He did a great job reflecting the styles of old school rappers, which I really liked.

I think this is a great show to bring the whole family to. It has a lot of things that kids will appreciate and are interested in, but it is also true to the Dickens story. The book and the play have the same moral, which is that you should give and forgive and that Christmas should bring people together. It is also about helping people who are not as fortunate as you, and that is a good lesson for the president and all the people that helped to create that stupid tax bill. Unfortunately, the whole Pence at Hamilton ordeal makes me think they wouldn't take too kindly to this play. If they could accept it for what it is, they might have a change of heart, just like Scrooge!

People who would like this show are people who like the Christmas spirit, busting a move with a busted leg, and smelling corn excessively. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is so much fun and a great thing to bring the whole family to.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review of The Minutes at Steppenwolf

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Minutes. It was by Tracy Letts and it was directed by Anna D. Shapiro. It was about a man named Mr. Peel (Cliff Chamberlain) who has just come back from his mother's funeral and it is his first day back at the city council. Everyone is being secretive about the last meeting, the minutes have not been released, and Mr. Carp (Ian Barford) is missing. And so Mr. Peel has to find out what is happening, and he discovers some dark secrets about the town. It is about exclusion, political corruption, and the need for the truth. I think this is a very intriguing play. The plot was really engrossing. This doesn't sound like a play that would be a comedy, but it is actually very funny. It was a really cool experience to see politics through this lens.

There were a lot of funny moments. One of my favorites was when Mr. Blake (James Vincent Meredith) decided that it would be great to have a cage match with Abraham Lincoln as a new festival tradition called "Lincoln Smackdown." Which might be one of the weirdest ideas I've ever heard. And to hear him give his pitch was just hilarious because he thinks it is going to make the city lots of money. He doesn't seem to know why anyone wouldn't think it was the best idea in the world. It was really hilarious to see him try to defend his idea of letting people punch Lincoln in the face. Mr. Oldfield (Frances Guinan) really really wanted Mr. Carp's parking space and he was basically complaining about how he had been on the council the longest and didn't have a close parking space. It is funny because he is just really obsessed with getting this parking space and you'd think he could let it go for a minute. Ms. Matz is funny because she is so clueless and doesn't really understand how the government works and can't seem to stay engaged or pay attention for more than thirty seconds--unless she's performing in a historical pageant. The entire council starting doing this pageant for Mr. Peel, so he could understand the history of Big Cherry better. It was really funny because they gave it completely their all and were performing this story like they were on Broadway, but all the council members were doing a really bad job. It was also just funny to see council members doing theater. And Mr. Oldfield doing foley by tapping on his Tupperware and whistling was hilarious. The girl (played by Ms. Matz) who had been kidnapped in this story was called Little Debbie, and they said she became very rich in the future, and I was wondering if it was because her of Swiss Cake Rolls. But instead it is because of genocide.

(SPOILER ALERT: I'm trying to be vague enough so I can make a point, but the rest of this review might give some things away.) A lot of the funny moments, you realize later, have a dark side to them. In the pageant, the story they were telling was not 100 percent true. It is later revealed that the person who was thought of as a hero actually turned out to be a racist, terrible person that didn't even do any of the noble things the legend said he did. And you see how the town is built on lies and the suffering of others. I also realized that Ms. Matz wasn't just spaced out all the time; she might have acted that way because of her medication. And my hypothesis is that she is taking the pills so she can forget about the terrible thing she is doing. And Mr. Oldfield's obsession with parking seems like he is trying to take the place of someone who is gone, which is already creepy, but then all of a sudden the group is doing terrible things, but all he can think about is the parking. He isn't fazed by the terrible things. And even though Lincoln Smackdown seems like a hilariously terrible idea, there is still a dark side to it. It seems like Mr. Blake is trying to fit in with all the racist white people in the town. But later you understand that he is probably terrified of what might happen to him and his family.

Mr. Hanratty (Danny McCarthy), Ms. Johnson (Brittany Burch), and Mr. Carp all have moments of redemption, where you think they have become better people. The first good deed that you see is from Mr. Hanratty who wants to build a accessible fountain for people in wheelchairs. He is interested in this because his sister is in a wheelchair. It is sort of an intersection between doing a good thing for the world and doing something self-interested because it is his sister that he is thinking about. But even if it was just because his sister was in a wheelchair, it still would have been a good thing for the world to have, except that what was on the fountain didn't really deserve a memorial. Ms. Johnson ends up revealing the minutes because she knows it is the right things to do, but she ends up being too scared for her family to finish what she started and still continuing on the darker path. Mr. Carp you don't get to see a lot of, but you know he used to be as bad as everyone else until he realized something. He does something good with his realization: he decides to speak up even though it is dangerous. I think the playwright is trying to make a point about what motivates us--that is family, fear, comfort, and justice. They are not always good motivations, but sometimes they might have a good outcome. And sometimes good motivations can have a bad outcome. A lot of people would do anything for their family, but to oppress other people so your family can have a nicer house is a cruel idea.

People who would like this show are people who like Little Debbie, Lincoln Smackdown, and Tupperware foley. I think people should definitely go see this show. It is such an intriguing show and it really made me think a lot. It is very funny but disturbing. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ada Grey's Past Holiday Show Reviews

Here are links to some of the holiday shows I reviewed in the past that are playing again this year. I'm sorry I won't have time to see them again! Next week I'll have reviews of two more holiday shows: Elf at Paramount Theatre and The Q Brothers Christmas Carol at Chicago Shakespeare!

The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard

People who would like this show are people who like 1903 humor, reasonable/not-very-reasonable snack-eating fairies, and halves of cotton balls. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. I had so much fun and so much fear and afterwards you are very sad about it but you are also remembering all the wonderfully horrible jokes, and "Rehab," and clowns coming out on camel carts, and flowers being thrown to the audience.

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

The House Theatre of Chicago's The Nutcracker

People who would like this show are people who like heartwarming family stories, sugar plum cookies, and toys that understand innuendo. I have seen it since I was five or six and I am absolutely in love with it. And I notice new things every year. You should all make it a tradition.

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol

People who would like this show are people who like creepy Christmas stories, scarf comedy, and family. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was beautiful, funny, and amazing!

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago 

People who would like this show are people who like angels, phone romance, and hilarious drunks. People should go see this show because it is funny and anybody who likes the movie would love this show. It makes you feel like you are a fancy person in the 1940s.

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

The Mercury Theater's The Christmas Schooner

People who would like this show are people who like family traditions, the importance of Christmas, and sexy strudel. I could tell the actors were really committed to this show and the audience really seemed to enjoy it.

Read the full review here. Tickets available here.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner, Michael Brosilow, Liz Lauren, Austin D. Oie Photography, and Johnny Knight

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review of Wild Boar at Silk Road Rising

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Wild Boar. It was written by Candace Chong, and the Chinese to English translation was by Joanna C. Lee and Ken Smith. The adaptation was by David Henry Hwang. It was directed by Helen Young. It was about a man named Johnny (Scott Shimizu) and he worked for a paper with his old professor Ruan (F. Karmann Bajuyo) and Ruan's wife Tricia (Christine Bunuan). They are investigating the disappearance of a famous journalist, Mu Ne (Fin Coe). Johnny has had an affair with Tricia, and is now interested in an old girlfriend, Karrie (Emily Marso). It is about bad decisions, freedom of speech, and deception. I found this show confusing and because of that I wasn't able to invest completely in the plot and many of the characters, but I enjoyed some of the performances.

One of the biggest problems with the show was the metaphor that gives the show its title. It seems like they were trying to make a metaphor out of the wild boar, which Johnny hunts with his friends. But the problem is that I can't figure out what it means. And if it isn't a metaphor, then the scene of the boar hunt is sort of useless. I was thinking the boar was maybe Ruan and how his life has been threatened before, but I don't see how that relates to Johnny or his setting the boar free or how Ruan is wild. Maybe the boar was supposed to be Mu Ne because some people didn't think he existed, like they thought they couldn't find wild boar anymore, but we never find out what happened to Mu Ne or if he even existed. So that still isn't a satisfying metaphor. It could be a metaphor for things suppressed by the government, but then they never really succeed it setting those things free. In this play they explain everything at great length, which wasn't always interesting and it didn't always make stuff clearer. It felt like they were trying to cram as many things as possible into the play, so the ending doesn't address the questions asked at the beginning because they've moved on to other ideas.

Tricia, I think, is a very complicated character, and I think Bunuan did a great job making me have sympathy with the character while seeing all of the character's flaws. She has cheated on her husband many times, but you see that she wasn't getting enough attention from her husband, so she felt lonely. It still wasn't the right choice, but you could see how she felt abandoned. I do like how she said what she wanted instead of waiting for some man to sweep her off her feet. And it seems that when she was younger she said what she wanted instead of cowering. Even though her husband was older, he was what she wanted and she didn't care what anyone thought. I do wish her character in the play had been defined by more than her relationship with men, but the actor is very clear about her character and her characteristics, so you can guess what she would probably be like in other situations that didn't involve men.

Your understanding of Karrie changes twice in the play, and I thought that was very cool and that made it so you were eagerly awaiting what she would say next and what new opinion of hers would be revealed. She has this really heartbreaking monologue, where she was talking about her child and the struggles of being a mother. It was delivered just beautifully. The actor really pulled you into her character's life and I'm sad we didn't get to see more of this character's story. Her character seems to change a lot right before the act break, and I really believed her transition, but it was still very surprising. She was talking about how she was so poor and she liked the government's plan for putting poor people in a city underground because it was better than where she was living right now and they might be able to afford things down there that they couldn't now. I can see why she might be tricked by a plan like that because her life is so terrible now, and she thinks, maybe this is a way I can make it better.

People who would like this show are people who like puzzling metaphors, underground cities, and women saying what they want. This show has some great performances, and I am looking forward to what Silk Road does next.

Photos: Airan Wright

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review of Firebrand Theatre's Lizzie

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Lizzie. It was directed by Victoria Bussert and the music direction was by Andra Velis Simon. The movement director was Jon Martinez. The music was by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt. Lyrics were by Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner. The book was by Maner. It was about Lizzie Borden (Liz Chidester) who was accused of murdering her father and stepmother and about the reason why she did it and the relationships she had--with her girlfriend, Alice (Jacquelyne Jones), her sister, Emma (Camille Robinson), and their maid, Bridget (Leah Davis)--and how they were affected by her trial. It is about justice, love, and standing up for yourself. I thought this was a super fun show and I loved the performances and the songs. It is dark and reminded me of a female, real Sweeney Todd. It was altogether a really great show.

This is a rock musical. There were a lot of different types--ballads, metal, punk--and each song worked with the story and the song's genre. There are a lot of catchy songs with great lyrics in the show. My favorite song was "The House of Borden" because the melody was really catchy and it got stuck in your head, but not in an annoying way. It was sort of like an explanation song; it was telling you all the stuff you need to know, but in an interesting way. I love this song very much. Everyone was super into it. They were singing their hearts out and it sounded amazing. The song was led very well by Bridget, who did a really good job at being both funny and menacing. This song is very driving, really fast-paced. Everything happens very quickly and they get a lot done very quickly. I think doing exposition this way is really useful. If all the background was just spoken, it wouldn't have been as intriguing. I wouldn't have been smiling all through the exposition! "What the F--k Now, Lizzie?" was another great, catchy song. It is about when Emma comes home and finds out their stepmother and their father are dead. She is mad at first, but she realizes she shouldn't be mad because now she is going to get a lot of money from her father's death and he won't be hurting them anymore. The vocals on it were really great. The song is sort of like their pact that they are going to help each other, even though Lizzie killed their father.

"This Is Not Love" leads into "Gotta Get Out of Here," and there is such a drastic difference between the two songs. One of them is very meek and sad and helpless and the other one is very angry and determined. The are both reactions to Lizzie's father raping her. They are really great songs because they are showing the emotional rollercoaster of the same events. The first song is really heartbreaking, and the second is really heartbreaking, but in a different way because she is really lashing out at people and she doesn't know what to do except to get out of there as soon as possible, and she can't get out of there at the moment. I think the actor does a great job showing where Lizzie snaps between the songs.

Alice sang a song about how she had been watching Lizzie for a very long time and was in love with her called "If You Knew." She is asking Lizzie to share her secrets with her, but she can't tell her her own. I thought that was a really good song because it was sung beautifully and it really showed how much Alice loved Lizzie and would do anything for her at the beginning of the show. It is sad to see how Lizzie breaks that trust between them later because she has done something terrible and Alice doesn't want to be a part of that. Once they start the relationship, they have this really sweet song together "Will You Stay." Alice is being so kind to Lizzie and trying to help her. And it is really sad how what Alice thinks she wants, Lizzie, ends up betraying her even though Alice has been so good to her. Lizzie lies to her and makes Alice help her even though she doesn't know what is really going on. The song shows the betrayal starting, so even though it sounds like a sweet song, once you know that Lizzie is lying, it is not so sweet anymore. Alice's devotion is performed very well; she is the least messed-up character in the show and I think seeing her become more messed up during the show is just a really cool thing to watch, and the actor shows you how much she's changed effectively.

The last song of the first act, "Somebody Will Do Something," is where Lizzie kills her stepmother and her father in watermelon form. It is a very scream-y punk song where she grabs her axe and starts hacking up these watermelons, spraying the front row with watermelon blood. It smelled like watermelon in there then, which was also a plus. To have no one playing the parents, it makes it so you can make it more crazy. She just seems like a maniac to see her hacking at a watermelon when, if it was a person, it would be long dead. It makes it so you don't have to have sympathy for the parents. I think for this play that is good because the point of the play is Lizzie's empowerment and how much murder is her only way out. In a real-life situation you would definitely want to have sympathy for people who are getting murdered, but in this situation you are supposed to be rooting for Lizzie even though she is a murderer. It is about Lizzie taking control of her life and saying that she is going to get out of there and is tired of being pushed around.

People who would like this show are people who like feminist rock musicals, heart-wrenching songs, and watermelon blood. I think people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. It has a great score and it is performed beautifully. I loved it!

Photos: Marisa KM