Sunday, October 21, 2018

Review of Caroline, or Change from Firebrand Theatre in partnership with TimeLine Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Caroline, or Change. The book and lyrics were by Tony Kushner and the music was by Jeanine Tesori. It was directed by Lili-Anne Brown and the music direction was by Andra Velis Simon. It is about Caroline (Rashada Dawan) who is a maid for a Jewish family in the 60s in Louisiana. She is a single mother to three kids, Emmie (Bre Jacobs), Jackie (Princess Isis Z. Lang), and Joe (Lyric K. Sims). She is not proud of her work, but she passes the time doing laundry by listening to the radio and the singers on the radio are personified and become her chorus (Roberta Burke, De'Jah Jervai, and Emma Sipora Tyler). So do the Washer (Tyler Symone) and the Dryer (Micheal Lovette). Noah (Alejandro Medina) is the son of her employers, Rose and Stuart Gellman (Blair Robertson and Jonathan Schwart) and is obsessed with Caroline and thinks that she seems more powerful than his father. She doesn't feel powerful herself. She is scared of her daughter getting hurt in the fight for civil rights and she thinks her friend Dotty (Nicole Michelle Haskins) is being selfish and living her life too boldly. Caroline gets an extra pay boost when she is allowed to take the money that Noah leaves in his pockets, but she is conflicted about taking money from a kid. She is conflicted about change in two senses. This musical is about stepping out of your comfort zone, identity, and family. I thought that this was a really really good show. There were excellent performances and I thought it had an especially intriguing premise.

One of my favorite songs was "The Bus." The Bus (Lovette) had such great control over his voice and I loved listening to him as both the Dryer and the Bus. His entrance was so abrupt; you just hear this very low note come from offstage. It almost sounded like he was crying throughout the song, which is appropriate because he has just found out JFK has died. That is also why the abruptness is appropriate. I also really liked "Laundry Finish." I loved the washer and the dryer and I thought it was interesting how they were personified. I loved how Caroline interacted with them. She seemed kind of frustrated with them in a way but she was also thankful for them. I thought the high notes were really well sung and I liked the humor of the song, like when the Washer seemed so proud of her work and the Dryer used innuendo with Caroline. I also enjoyed "Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw." It was like a nursery rhyme that Caroline's kids and Noah sang about a very ugly boy and how sad his mother was when he died. It had some darker undertones to it, like most nursery rhymes, but it showed the sisters' relationship with each other very well. And Noah wants to be a part of their family, so in his head he is playing games with them and singing. It shows you how lost he feels and how he thinks he would be accepted and happy if he lived with Caroline.

I think Caroline was a very interesting character and Dawan did an amazing job with the role. You could see the love she had for the people around her, but also how she wasn't always great at showing it. She would try her best to make enough money to give her kids what they wanted and needed, but she was also kind of harsh with them even when they were just trying to help. She also had a very strong connection with Noah but got very easily angry at him because she didn't want Noah or herself to get in trouble. Noah sees her as "the president" and thinks very highly of her because she is so stoic but determined and caring--which is a classic image of a ruler. Rose's opinion of Caroline is very complex. It is hard to tell whether she comes up with the plan of Caroline keeping Noah's change because she wants to teach Noah a lesson or to break up the relationship between Caroline and Noah so she herself can be the more prominent motherly figure in his life. It also might be a bit of guilt because she doesn't pay her enough. Caroline doesn't seem to like Rose very much, and I think that is because she, like Noah, misses his mother. It would be interesting to see Caroline with Noah's mother and how her relationship differed with her and Rose.

I think the Chanukah party scene was very nicely written and performed. It did not play out the way I expected it to. I thought it was interesting that this is the first time we see Emmie and Dotty serving other people. I thought that Emmie would behave like a servant and that would be hard to watch because Emmie is such a forward thinking person who speaks her mind. But she speaks up and gets into a conversation about civil rights with Rose's dad, Mr. Stopnick (Michael Kingston). He doesn't get mad at her; he starts a conversation with her. But Caroline drags Emmie away because she is worried about what will happen to her. It is really hard to watch Caroline be so worried for Emmie and Emmie to be so mad at her at the same time. A lot of times Caroline would have been right to tear Emmie away because the situation could have been dangerous. But it wasn't in this case because the person she was talking to wasn't going to hurt her because she had a different opinion than him. It really shows the effects of racism on people and how hard it is to assess whether people are willing to engage in conflict without violence.

People who would like this show are people who like dark nursery rhymes, President Caroline, and thoughtful consideration of conflicts still happening today. I think this is a really really great show. All the performers were great. I really like the musical and what it has to say about change, society, and family. I think that people should definitely go see this beautiful show. I loved it.

Photos: Marisa KM

Friday, October 19, 2018

Review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The book was by David Greig, based on the novel by Roald Dahl. The music was by Marc Shaiman, and the lyrics were by Scott Wittman and Shaiman. Some songs, by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, were originally from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It was directed by Jack O'Brien. The choreography was by Joshua Bergasse and the music supervision was by Nicholas Skilbeck. It was about a young boy named Charlie (Henry Boshart) who wanted to become a chocolatier and was obsessed with the candy made in his town by Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg). When Willy Wonka starts a contest to find golden tickets in Wonka chocolate bars, Charlie asks if he can buy them, but his family is too poor to buy more than one a year. Still he lucks out and finds the last golden ticket. But the other winners are not as promising as Charlie. Veruca Salt (Jessica Cohen), is a Russian ballerina and very bratty. Mike Teevee (Michael Quadrino) is very mean to his mother (Madeleine Doherty) and sits around playing video games all day. Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood) overeats and doesn't listen to directions. And Violet Beauregard (Brynn Williams) comes from a privileged and famous family and is a bubblegum pop star. They all go on a tour of the factory together and not everyone comes back out again. It is about consequences, entitlement, and creativity. I think this is a really interesting take on a classic story and the young actor playing Charlie did an especially great job.

I was a little bit disappointed that Charlie was the only kid actor in the show. I did not know why for the first half, but then I realized in act two that it was because their deaths were not implied and were gruesome and blatant. I think the reason why they cast adults is because they were afraid people would be scared or offended by watching real kids get ripped apart or exploded. Another thing that confused me were the logistics of the scene leading up to the dream ballet between Charlie's dead father and Charlie's mother (Amanda Rose). Charlie is woken up on his birthday and is given a chocolate bar and is immediately sung back to sleep by his mother seconds later. It takes me out of the story when things don't make sense. I'm fine with magic and mystery, but I want the timeline to make sense.

I really liked the songs "When Veruca Says" and "Queen of Pop." They were very catchy and embodied the characters of Veruca and Violet very well. They were both sung and danced by very talented singers and dancers and I love how they incorporated the fathers (Nathaniel Hackmann and David Samuel). It was funny to see how much these fathers feared their daughters. I loved the choreography in both of them. I'm not so sure I liked the idea of Veruca being so good at a physically taxing form of dance, because that shows that that character is very determined and passionate about the art she makes, which makes her seem less awful. The end that she meets is very savage, so you need her to be pretty awful so it doesn't seem like overkill.

"It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" and "The View from Here" were my two favorite songs because together they showed the development of the relationship between Wonka and Charlie. I especially like the last song because you see how far they have come and how many similarities they have. "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" is very alluring and introduces you to Wonka as Wonka not Wonka incognito. You get to see how much love he has for his craft, but how secretive he is about it. "The View from Here" shows the more sentimental and loving side of Wonka which he basically has hidden until this scene. I really liked how Charlie and Wonka built off of each other's energy in this scene. I thought they did a good job making the preceding chaos mean something. I was actually pretty moved by it.

People who would like this show are people who like reimagined classic stories, chocolate mentorships, and gruesome deaths. I think this is an interesting show. It shows a side of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I hadn't thought of before. I think it has some great performers and some good songs.

Photos: Joan Marcus

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review of Tootsie (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Tootsie. The book was by Robert Horn and the music and lyrics were by David Yazbek. It was based on the story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbert and the Columbia Pictures film. It was directed by Scott Ellis. The choreography was by Denis Jones and the music director and conductor was Andrea Grody. It was about a struggling actor named Michael Dorsey (Santino Fontana) who had been out of work for a really long time and had alienated many directors because of his strong opinions. His friend Sandy (Sarah Stiles) was auditioning for a new Broadway musical called Juliet's Curse and they were looking for a new actor to play the nurse. So Michael Dorsey decides to become his new alter-ego Dorothy Michaels and audition. He gets cast and meets Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper) who plays Juliet and they instantly have a very strong connection, but he can't reveal his male identity or else he thinks he'll get fired. It is about identity, connection, and manipulation. I thought this show was a lot of fun and I think it has some good updates to the story.

I thought this show had a lot of really good updates, especially to the character of Julie. In the movie, Julie seems a lot more helpless, but in the musical she seems more powerful, speaks up for herself, and doesn't let societal norms pressure her into doing something she doesn't want to do. I really liked the idea in the show that a relationship between Julie and Dorothy could be possible even if they were both women. They come a lot closer to exploring gender identity than in the movie, but it is still a story of a straight man dressing in drag and manipulating a woman. But in this case the woman is more angry and less devastated and the show and Michael both recognize that she deserves her anger. Michael does still love her, so he needs to tell her why he did things and how he feels. But he doesn't expect her to just quickly get over everything. I don't know exactly why they switched the project Michael does as Dorothy from a soap opera to a musical, except that it was more convenient for people bursting into song constantly. I enjoyed the update to the lead actor character Max Van Horn (John Behlmann) because I loved his performance and thought he was hilarious. But Juliet's Curse was not always engaging. It was funny when the story was ridiculous, but it was hard to get invested in because it wasn't an episodic that was always transforming.

I love Michael's roommate Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen) and Sandy in this show. They were so hilarious and I loved all their songs. Sandy had this song, "What's Gonna Happen," that she keeps reprising that I think sums up her character perfectly, which is an adorable nervous wreck. It is a song where she hears one proposal of an idea and starts listing all of the terrible events that will follow if she does this. As it starts to escalate, the song gets faster and she gets more panicked. Eventually someone cuts her off and calms her down. She handles the speed very well; miraculously, you can still understand everything she's saying. "Jeff Sums It Up" was basically a song about exactly all the crazy ridiculous stupid things Michael has done. I liked how unabashed Jeff was about calling Michael out on all of his crap. I didn't think I could like someone in this role better than Bill Murray, but I think I did! They spent more time in the musical on his and Michael's relationship, and I think that was a really good decision because I loved their relationship and wanted even more of it. And Jeff was absolutely hilarious.

Dorothy had a song called "I Won't Let You Down," which was her audition song. It was really crazy hearing Santino Fontana singing in that higher register and doing it flawlessly so it didn't sound like mock femininity, which I was a bit worried about. I think it is hard to avoid that when your voice is not naturally that high, but he did a great job at making it sound natural and not forced. That was true of the speaking as well. I loved how he alternated between the higher and lower tones and you could hear glimpses of Michael's voice in the audition. He didn't have a single crack throughout the show even though he shifts back and forth between these voices a lot. I thought his performance of Dorothy was really well-acted and -sung. I really like Dorothy as a character. She is sweet, she's a badass, and she has very strong opinions. Michael is very opinionated as well, but he doesn't have the sweetness at first. He grows empathy throughout the show. It is weird that we still think of empathy as a female characteristic, and I am looking forward to a day when the world doesn't assign emotions to genders. But I do think that it is great that there is a case in a musical and a movie of a man learning about empathy and why it is important and that not making him weak. I don't want to give anything away about the last scene, but it almost made me cry. It was really well-acted and I loved the connection between Michael/Dorothy and Julie.

People who would like this show are people who like flawless falsetto, compelling updates, and hilarious supporting characters. I think people should go see this show before it closes here or later on Broadway. I'm excited to see how this musical will evolve when it moves to New York.

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review of Facility Theatre's Phoebe in Winter

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Phoebe in Winter. It was by Jen Silverman, and it was directed by Dado. It was about a family whose sons--Jeremiah (Jacob Alexander), Anther (David Dowd), and Liam (Elliot Baker)--had been at war and were now returning home. Waiting for them at home are their maid Boggett (Shawna Franks) and their father Da Creedy (Kirk Anderson). Boggett has a special attachment to one of the sons, Liam, and when he doesn't return she is devastated. Suddenly in the midst of this homecoming, Phoebe (Maria Stephens) arrives with a gun and tells everybody that she will be their new sister because they killed her brothers. They battle the new family dynamics this forces them into and debate who will take on what roles. It is about war, family, and how they can be like one another. I had a very visceral reaction to this show. A lot of strangely disturbing things happen, and I am excited to explore and talk about this play more.

The atmosphere of this show is very eerie. They have live sound effects and music (composed by Emmy Bean) coming from the other room. On your way into the theater, there are people in masks (Bean, Sarah Thompson Johansen, and Zachary Angus) striking wine glasses and wandering around. They would also walk around in the theater and mutter things under their breath. There are people walking in your path while you are trying to get to your seat muttering things you can't quite understand, and this is all very disconcerting. The set was like a Victorian painting after a fight. The entire show is also performed on steps that the audience also is seated on (set design by Joseph Wade). My chair was on two steps, which gave me a teetering feeling and made me feel a bit uneasy. The actors have to use the steps throughout the show and I was worried one of them might hurt themselves. It keeps you on the edge of your seat for you and the people you are watching. They also used a strobe light (lighting design by Mike Durst), which is something else to make you disoriented. All the props seemed to have a gothic feel to them and the actors would throw things and no one on stage seemed to notice or care. And they had all these foods (prop design by Samantha Rausch) that looked sort of like roast beef but it was like uncooked and big and stringy. It was very gross and looked like a part of a corpse. The entire room reminded me of an Ivan Albright painting, just the whole disintegration of something that once was beautiful. The entire atmosphere looks unwelcoming and uncouth. I think the production wants you to feel uncomfortable and intrigued. You are kind of on your guard the whole time like you would be on a battlefield.

What happens in this show is also very distressing. They had a blood pump that one of the characters wore when he came back from the war. It would get blood all over and sometimes when he would speak, blood would shoot out of his head and drip down onto his face. The audience would react to it in a really weird way. People would laugh, and I get that it is funny to be interrupted by your own blood shooting you in the face, but I couldn't laugh about it because I felt so sorry for him. I am a very empathetic person and it was weird to me to see people laughing at someone losing blood while he was talking. Laughter can be a way people respond to uncomfortable or horrifying things, so I think that was what was happening. There is also a part of the show where a character drowns while someone is holding their head underwater. It is very sudden and violent and you can see the feet kicking from the other side. It was very creepy, but the visual was really cool even though what was happening was really gross. (I did not see a fight choreographer listed in the program, which freaks me out a little bit, but I hope they were safe.)

I think the show was trying to show us how horrifying the family dynamic was and how it could reflect our own. It was also trying to show the connection between families and war and how the line is much thinner than you might think it could be because of how some families treat each other. They actually go to war against each other in this show instead of figuratively going to war. They also switch roles in the household, so Boggett becomes Liam and the father becomes Boggett and Phoebe joins the family as their new sister. Once all their roles had changed, they seemed to have love for the replacement and not the actual person, which is a really interesting thing to think about.

People who would like this show are people who like blood pumps, grotesque gothic meals, and teetering on the edge of sanity. I think this is a very interesting show. I am still thinking about a lot of parts of it. It has some really good philosophical and gut-wrenching ideas and a really interesting concept.

Photos: Leslie Schwartz Photography

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review of Legally Blonde at Paramount Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Legally Blonde. The music and lyrics were by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and the book was by Heather Hach, based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture. It was directed and co-choreographed by Trent Stork, co-choreographed by Megan E. Farley, and music directed and conducted by Kory Danielson. It was about a woman named Elle Woods (Casey Shuler) whose boyfriend Warner (Tyler Lain) breaks up with her and she decides she is going to follow him to Harvard Law and get him back. She gets in and meets Emmett (Gerald Caesar), who is one of the only people who believes in Elle and is the TA for Professor Callahan (James Rank). And in Callahan's class she finds out that Warner has a new girlfriend, Vivienne (Jacquelyne Jones). She decides she is going to win him back through her successes at Harvard. Even though it starts out seeming like it is a story about getting a man's attention to fulfill your purpose as a woman, it turns out to be a show about being yourself instead of changing yourself for a man. I thought this was a really fun show. I really liked the songs, and I thought the cast was amazing.

I really liked the song "What You Want." It was all about how Warner didn't see that Elle was the perfect woman for him, but maybe if she got into Harvard Law, then he would. It has all these different segments of her taking the test and having different distractions, like at one point a shirtless guy just dances on her table while she takes the test. I loved Elle's friends--Serena (Lucy Godinez), Margot (Sara Reinecke), and Pilar (Kyrie Courter), who were also her inner voices in the form of a Greek Chorus--in this musical and their role in this song. There was a crazy dance number and some hilarious comedic sections. I also really liked that the writers didn't make Elle's friends just classic Valley girls. I really liked the characters and they seemed like good friends. They didn't feel annoying to me. I loved their singing and their chemistry with Elle on stage.

I thought the song "Legally Blonde--Remix" was really well performed. I was especially impressed by the high note that Vivienne hit. It was so perfect that it gave me chills. This was the song that most obviously flipped the story around from being about trying to win back a man. Vivienne decides she doesn't want to be against Elle anymore. She wants to stand by her and realizes what a jerk Warner is. And Elle is realizing that she needs to stop trying to change herself so that people will like her. This is also where Paulette (Sophie Grimm), Elle's hairdresser and friend, finds out that Kyle (James Doherty), the UPS guy she has been obsessing over, is actually the Irish dream she has been waiting for. They have a little jig together as part of the parade of people going to court to support Elle. I really loved these two characters and the hilarious chemistry they had together. It was just really fun whenever they were on stage.

I liked how this show didn't conform to a lot of ideas of masculine and feminine. It doesn't think women have one thing they can do; it shows a large array of how women can dress and be and act and still succeed. Elle, Vivienne, and Enid (Teressa LaGamba) are very different types of women, but they all succeed at being lawyers. I think the show thinks as well that being a man or being a woman should be enough masculinity or femininity as long as you identify that way. The song "Take It Like A Man" is where Elle takes Emmett shopping so that he can better reflect what is on the inside and impress his boss and the court. They have all these suggestions that they are falling in love during this scene. It is a makeover song, but unlike most makeover song--and even the other makeover songs in this show ("Legally Blonde" and "What You Want")--it is not about a changing a woman. It suggests that paying attention to your appearance shouldn't just be for women. Emmett and Elle bond so much during this song, and you get to see them just talking to each other and just having fun. It makes you really want their relationship to turn out well and shows you that it is not at all like the relationship she had with Warner, which was based on superficial things. In this song, shopping is not superficial; it is a chance to connect. I think this is an example of her showing why her charity, Shop for a Cause, might actually have worked!

People who would like this show are people who like Irish fantasies, fabulous Greek choruses, and shopping for the cause of love. I think that people should see this show. It is a lot of fun, hilarious, and a surprisingly communal experience. I really liked it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review of Interrobang Theatre Project's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? It was written by Edward Albee and directed by James Yost. It was about a man named Martin (Tom Jansson) who is an architect and lives with his wife Stevie (Elana Elyce) and child Billy (Ryan Liddell) in a big home in the suburbs. One day when Martin is doing an interview, he opens up to his best friend Ross (Armando Reyes) and tells him he is having an affair with a goat named Sylvia. That's who Sylvia is, if you were wondering. The play is about family, love, pain, and what counts as perversity. I think this is a really interesting and mind-boggling show. I was laughing a lot during this show--sort of uncomfortably, but still laughing. And I've been thinking about it and what it has to say about relationships a lot since.

I think the theme of this show is not really bestiality, though that might seem like what it is at first glance. The theme is cheating. If you are being cheated on, it can seem like the other person your partner is with isn't even human. The feeling of being betrayed by someone you trust so deeply makes it not even matter if the other person is human or not. I think the actor who played Stevie did a beautiful job of portraying that feeling. It is a very complex emotion because you still have to see how much Stevie loves Martin even though he is treating her like crap. A lot of people who are cheating on their spouses compartmentalize their lives so that one part can be about loving their family and another part can be about sleeping with someone else. Martin really still loves Stevie, but he is just being an idiot because being a partner is about making someone your full devoted priority, and not just making a compartment for them. People who are in polyamorous relationships agree to certain terms and know what they are getting into. But Martin and Stevie don't have that kind of relationship, and it is really hard to make that shift, especially if only one person wants it. The ridiculousness of suggesting, "I love you but I want to sleep with other people" is emphasized because the "person" he wants to sleep with is a goat.

I think this show was even more devastating because of the happiness that you see Stevie and Martin share at the beginning of the play. They joke around together and flirt and altogether just seem to be a really good couple. But then a few days later their whole relationship falls apart because of a goat. She starts throwing plates and antiques and artifacts all over the house. She doesn't really scream, she just breaks things. He has broken something important to her--their marriage and her heart--so she breaks things important to him.

I think it is interesting how Ross--who has cheated on his wife numerous time and doesn't seem to love her anymore--we don't seem to think of as the worst guy in the show. Having sex with a goat just overrules all that. But it is hard to say if the fact that Martin still loves his wife actually makes him better. Ross does tell Stevie the truth and Martin doesn't. But it seems strange that Ross doesn't tell his own wife about his own excursions if he is so committed to telling the truth. It is a very confusing play for deciding who is immoral because everyone makes rash decisions. It is not a simple play. There is not a right or a wrong or a good or a bad. It is very mind-boggling to figure out what the play wants you to think, but I like that about the play. I like when shows make you think, make you question, and try to understand the play better, I think this show did that very well.

People who would like this show are people who like questioning your own moral compass, plays about broken families, and broken plates. I think people should go see this show. It is a very thought-provoking experience with remarkable performances by the lead actors. I really liked it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review of Blank Theatre's Spring Awakening

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Spring Awakening. The book and lyrics were by Steven Sater and the music was by Duncan Sheik. It was based on the play by Frank Wedekind. It was directed by Danny Kapinos. The music director was Tyler Miles and the choreographer was Britta Lynn Schlicht. It was about a town in 19th-century Germany and the teenagers that live there and how they relate to each other, their parents, and teachers. It is about how little they have been told about their bodies and sexuality and how society treats them. I think this is a really interesting show to see in a small space because the movement is so big and the play is so relationship-oriented that being so up close with the performers makes the audience feel even more connected to the show. There was a lot of figurative impact, but because of the small space sometimes it also felt like there could be a literal one as well. That keeps you on your toes, which I think the show wants from you, because that is how all the characters feel in the play--like they are always worried about what could happen next and how they might be hurt.

The main topic in this show is sexuality, and the show has many views on it. It shows many different ways that sexuality filters into these teenagers' lives. Almost everyone in this show has some ounce of guilt over how they feel because of what their parents and society have taught them. Hanschen (Jonah Cochin when I saw it, usually Chase Heinemann) and Ernst (Adam Ross Brody) feel guilty about being gay. Wendla (Haley Bolithon) and Melchior (Chase Heinemann when I saw it, usually Jeremiah Alsop) feel guilty about connecting and enjoying being intimate with each other. Moritz (Sam Shankman) feels guilty about even knowing what sex is, basically. I feel like everyone has a sense that they shouldn't have to feel guilty, but because that is what they have been taught their entire lives, that is what they feel like they have to feel. Even though the show is implying you shouldn't feel guilty, it still shows the consequences that having sex at a young age can have. There are also many instances in which people should feel guilty, not about appropriate hormones, but about inappropriate actions like are talked about in "The Dark I Know Well" by Martha (Cari Meixner) and Ilse (Claire Latourette).

"Totally Fucked" is a totally relatable panic song about how Melchior is being accused of writing an essay on sex that he gave to his friend Moritz who was very oblivious about what sex actually was. It is a surprisingly upbeat song for how terrible the situation is. Everyone comes out on stage dancing in a way that seems almost joyful but still seems angry. I love this song because it is taking a different view on something everyone fears and kind of turning it into something you shouldn't fear because messing up and getting into trouble is inevitable and everyone is rejoicing in the stupidity of it all. The reprise of "Mama Who Bore Me" seems to have a similar tone, but instead of being focused on the cruelty of the adults around them, it is focusing on the unnecessary protections from the world that adults think teenagers need. It is also a direct segue out of a scene where Wendla's mother (Lisa Savegnago) has tried her best to get out of having "the talk" with Wendla. The first version of the song sounds very loving and slow, but then the same lyrics get redone as a more frustrated, faster song about being sheltered from things you should be able to know.

The song "Those You've Known" is about how the people you've lost in your life are not really lost. I think the thing that got me is that most of the other songs are about anger and adolescence, and in this song you see them not being teenagers. You see them making adult, reasonable decisions and thinking about things in mature ways. They are still vulnerable, and the thing that really got me in the song was the waver in Melchior's voice when he is singing the song. Often in musicals, people are sad but that just makes them belt out their emotions instead of singing like a person who is actually in pain would sing. I think that Melchior seeing his friends who didn't get to fully grow up shows him that he needs to grow up and that just because things are hard he shouldn't quit. Because he has an opportunity that his friends didn't have, to grow up, he needs to utilize it.

People who would like this show are people who like musicals about sexuality and adolescence, joyful mistakes, and learning how to grow up. It is beautifully complex, has heart-wrenching songs, and the characters are portrayed wonderfully. I really liked it.

Photos: Nick McKenzie

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review of The Shipment at Red Tape Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Shipment. It was by Young Jean Lee, and it was directed by Wardell Julius Clark. It was a compilation of different short monologues, dances, and scenes about race and representations of black experiences. The show tries to make the audience feel uncomfortable to make the point of the play more effective, and it flips the script to say how wrong people are to pretend that we live in a post-racial society. I think this is a really powerful show. It takes a while to process, which I think adds to the experience. It was a really great show. It is a lot to handle, and I think the playwright wants it to be that way. But the discomfort is important for everyone to feel. And once you've thought about it for a while, you can move past the discomfort and nonproductive guilt and think about all the true and thought-provoking things in the show and how you can notice more effectively the crap that is happening around you and respond to it in a way that helps the situation but without taking over.

There was this dance (choreographed by Breon Arzell) at the beginning of the show with Sheldon Brown and Hunter Bryant. They started doing this dance that seemed almost like marionettes and like they didn't want to do what they were doing. That was sad because what they were doing seemed enjoyable except that they seemed very forced. Then when the scene ended, they took off their cheesy grins and just became very serious and walked off very businesslike, like what they had just done was humiliating to them. I think they were trying to show a modern minstrel act where the enthusiasm is all a ruse and the audience is silently convicted for laughing at it at first. This is kind of an introduction into how the show is going to try to get across its points. Young Jean Lee also used discomfort to get across her points in Straight White Men, and it was really effective there too.

There was also a stand up comedian (Marcus D. Moore) and I thought I had a general idea what it was going to be like. But he proceeded to use stereotypes about every person in the theater in some way, even himself. It was very explicitly sexual and graphic. It was hard to hear, especially sitting with a bunch of people when he is saying terrible things about everyone. I couldn't decide if Lee wanted us to feel alone or not alone in this mockery. I thought I would feel alone and alienated, but since the comedian was stereotyping everyone, I ended up feeling less alone. And then the end of his speech he ended up talking about his wife and kids, and it made you feel bad about dismissing him as an jerk. I think it is supposed to make you confused about how to think about this character.

They also had a scene that sort of reminded me of an old video game because of the robotic tone in their voice and their back and forth movements. They seemed to have only about two movements for each character. The plot is the plot of a stereotypical cautionary-tale movie about a black kid (Eric Gerard) who wants to be a famous rap star, so his friend (Brown) convinces him to sell drugs. He ends up in jail, joins a radical group, and then he becomes famous. And then he feels awful and he confesses to God and his grandma (Kiayla Ryann) comes down from heaven and tells him a story about cranes. It is showing how all these stereotypes get replayed and replayed. And sometimes it seems like that is the primary story people tell about black people. This scene leads into three of the actors (Brown, Gerard, and Ryann) staring at you for a minute and then breaking into song (music direction by Sydney Charles). I thought it was a really powerful switch from them playing these really clunky stereotypes to just being real people looking at us.

The last scene of the show feels a lot like a short play. It is about five friends who are having a party and find out it is their friend Desmond's (Brown) birthday. And at first it just seems like a normal party, but as it goes on, you find out not everyone is as emotionally stable as you thought. It is really distressing to see all of these people fall apart, but it was also interesting to watch because the actors were so amazing. There is also a big reveal at the end that I'm not going to give away. It was hard to wrap my head around, but it made me think back on the scene and how it changed it. The fact that all these things would be changed with the new information made me really think that just by changing one thing about a character it can completely change the way we see the morality and behavior of that character.

People who would like this show are people who like flipping the script, chilling transitions, and productive discomfort. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think it is a really important and thought-provoking show, and I want a lot of people to have this experience.

Photos: Austin Oie

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review of New American Folk Theatre's Scraps

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Scraps. It was written by Anthony Whitaker and directed by Jamal Howard. It is an imaginative sequel to The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It is about a living rag doll named Scraps (Brittney Brown) who lived in Oz and did the same thing every day until she got swept away by a kite when she was hanging out with her friend the Tin Man (Vic Kuligoski). And when she dropped down she fell into the house of her creators, Dr. Pipt (Jeffrey Hoge) and his wife Margolotte (Kelsey Shipley), only to find that Dr. Pipt was gone and Margolotte decided that she wanted to turn into a statue again. So Scraps seeks the help of Queen Ozma (JD Caudill), Dorothy (Charlie Irving), and Jack Pumpkinhead (Kelly Combs), and while she is there she meets a Prince (Kuligoski) who is amused by her and wants to take her back to his land. On her visit she meets the Prince's sister, Princess Langwidere (Combs), who lets her try on some of her spare heads, and Scraps feels so beautiful she decides to take it and go on an adventure as this new beautiful person. It is about self-discovery, what it means to be beautiful, and adventure. I think this is an intriguing show with a good moral and it was fun to see the connections to the other Oz stories.

Scraps is a very complex character, which I was not necessarily expecting. At the beginning of the show, it seems like she has one level. But as the show progresses and you see what she struggling with inside; you see that she has been pretending to be content with the way she looks and the way people treat her for a very long time. It was really moving to see her struggle with something I struggle with a lot and many other people do as well. A story that is familiar from childhood but is turned into a piece for adults is a really good format to get such an important point about standing up for yourself across. I feel like it is easier to learn in contexts that are familiar.

I really loved Dorothy and Ozma's relationship. They were so adorable together and I loved how open and loving they were with each other and how they didn't need a label for their relationship. That is weird for Oz, because Oz is a land of labels. Literally everyone's name is exactly what they seem to be: the Wicked Witch, the Cowardly Lion, the Emerald City. But the labels are not always right: the Cowardly Lion isn't really Cowardly and the Emerald City (in the book) is not really emerald. (But the Wicked Witch is pretty wicked.) All that matters is Dorothy and Ozma's connection with each other, and that is not really anyone else's business. Dorothy doesn't like the spotlight and is a very private person. Ozma says about themselves that they are neither a boy or a girl and live in between, which is again not putting a label on yourself. In the original story Ozma being a boy was just magic and done to hide Princess Ozma, but here it is exploring the ideas of being gender non-binary and how this character that most of us know from the stories was dealing with issues people deal with in the real world.

I thought this show had some cool production elements. I really like the costume (by Zachary Ryan Allen) for Scraps. It looked like a character costume you might see at an amusement park, but you could still see the actors's face, which I think was really important for this role because she is a very expressive character. It was made out of a bunch of patches and she had string for hair. The Tin Man was an interesting meld between a costume and a puppet. Each of the limbs of the Tin Man were strapped to limbs of the actor, so when the actor walked, the Tin Man would walk. I also think they did an amazing job for a show with a small budget. They had a set (designed by Whitaker) that was really good at conveying where they were for each scene but wasn't super extravagant. I think this show benefitted from the simplicity of the set because there are so many different story lines and characters, so those need to be the focus.

People who would like this show are people who like charismatic rag dolls, an effective moral, and unlabeled Oz. I think people should go see this show. It is an interesting and fun experience. I liked it!

Photos: Paul Clark

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ada Grey Interviews for You: The Cast of Tootsie (Broadway in Chicago)

I had so much fun interviewing the cast of Tootsie. It begins performances September 11th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. I can't wait to see the show!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Broadway in Chicago's Summer Concert at Millennium Park

I had so much fun going to see the Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at Millennium Park. It was such a good time and had so many talented performers. It made me really excited for the season to come. It featured songs from revivals like Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cats. It also showcased songs from new musicals like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia, A Bronx Tale, and Come From Away. And there was a song from the new jukebox musical featuring songs sung by Elvis Presley, Heartbreak Hotel. Four performances really stood out for me, from Falsettos, Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen, and Miss Saigon.

I really loved the performance of "What Would I Do" from Falsettos by Whizzer (Nick Adams) and Marvin (Tally Sessions). That song always makes me very emotional because of how important these two characters are to each other even though their relationship has not been perfect all the time. I've only listened to the soundtrack, so I am really excited to get to see one of my favorite shows this season.

I'm really interested in Miss Saigon after seeing Emily Bautista's breathtaking performance. She sang "I'd Give My Life for You" with such passion and amazing vocals. It seems like a very dramatic and tragic story, and I'm excited to cry in a theater with a bunch of other people!

"You and Me (But Mostly Me)" from Book of Mormon, sung by Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) was really hilarious. I didn't see Book of Mormon the last two times it was in town because it probably wasn't appropriate for an 8 or a 12 year old. Elder Price and Elder Cunningham's relationship was really funny and I'm really excited to see the entire story of this musical I've waited so long to see.

I'm so thrilled Dear Evan Hansen is coming to Chicago. I'm a fan of the soundtrack, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the story that goes with it. I thought that Ben Ross did an amazing job with "Waving Through A Window." His vocal range is amazing and I'm interested to see what he does with the character. It was really moving to see all the nominees from the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards join him to sing "You Will Be Found." It was just awesome to see the star of a touring company singing with all these people who want to make musical theatre their career.

Photo: Broadway in Chicago

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review of The Story Theatre's Leave Me Alone!

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Leave Me Alone! It was written by Paul Michael Thomson and directed by Matt Bowdren. It was about a guy named Ivanov (Sean Gallagher) and he was a politician. His wife Anna (Brenna Welsh) was dying but she didn't know it. He didn't want to pay attention to her because she made him feel guilty, so he hired a doctor to stay with her called Dr. Love (Ayanna Bria Bakari), who ended up falling in love with her. Ivanov owes a bunch of money to the Lebedevs, Paul (Randolph Johnson) and Aida (Nicole Laurenzi), and he ends up having feelings for their son Sam (Jordan Dell Harris), starting when his wife is sick. This play is about morality, depression, and political decision making. I have never seen the Chekhov play Ivanov, which this was based on, but I thought this play was very interesting.

I really like Chekhov's writing, but there is not a great representation of people who are not white, straight, and depressed in his plays. So I really liked that this play represented people of color and the LGBTQ+ community in the writing and casting. Everyone still seemed pretty depressed. I also really liked that two of the primary relationships (between Dr. Love and Anna and Ivanov and Sam) were gay relationships. I thought the actors in both of those relationships were really spot-on and their performances made me emotional. But I found it strange that their sexuality is very accepted by everyone in the play. I really wish that was the case in the world, but we aren't there yet. I was expecting to see a representation of how people get treated in the world because of their sexuality, even by their own families. But it is also nice to see a play that isn't primarily about the struggle. The attacks on Ivanov and Sam's relationship are about age, not about them both being men, which I think is good to focus on, but in the playwright's note it says this play is about how we haven't come so far since Ivanov's first production. But I think it is very different from how many gay people would have been treated back when the first production of Ivanov was happening. Also everyone seemed to hate Dr. Love, but not because of her sexuality. They hated her because she was too perceptive and noticed all their crap.

It is really hard to like a lot of characters in Chekhov because a lot of them are interesting because of how messed-up and melodramatic they are about their lives. A lot of their lives are pretty crappy, but they throw it out of proportion. They overreact about little things and then when really terrible things happen they are just tired and they kill themselves or give up spectacularly. Is there any character at the end of a Chekhov play who isn't dead or wishes they were? It's like they live in the So-over-it Union. In Leave Me Alone! I feel like there are more characters that are sympathetic. I felt like they were more relatable to people today because it was set in modern times and the way you can live vicariously through them. I felt like Dr. Love, Anna, and Sam keep getting targeted by those in power, but they don't give up. I liked the direct address in this play and felt like it made it more personal. That also might be a reason why I related to these characters and found them more sympathetic. Overall, I found the play less depressing than a lot of Chekhov.

People who would like this show are people who like gayer Chekhov, perceptive characters, and a little vacation from the So-over-it Union. I think this is a really powerful show and I think this was a really good Chekhov adaptation. This show only had a two-week run, and I'm so sorry I couldn't get the review out before it closed. I'm looking forward to what this company does next!

Photos: David Hagan

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Eclipse Theatre Company's Bus Stop

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bus Stop. It was by William Inge and it was directed by Steve Scott. It was about a young woman named Elma (Jillian Warden) who works at Grace's (Sarah Bright) diner, and there is a snowstorm happening outside, so a whole busload of people have to spend the night there. Cherie (Daniella Pereira) is a singer in a club and she is trying to get away from her boyfriend Bo (Anthony Conway) who is forcing her to marry him. Bo is traveling along with Virgil (Zach Bloomfield) who is like a father figure to him. Dr. Lyman (Ted Hoerl) is a professor who has quit his job and is traveling the world to feel free. He develops a close relationship with Elma. The bus driver, Carl (Matt Thinnes), seems to have a very intimate relationship with Grace. The Sheriff stops in for coffee and to help out Cherie so she doesn't get taken away by Bo again. There are all these people getting to know each other and bonding, but also sometimes the people that already know each other are growing apart. It is about how people relate to each other, old-fashioned ideas of what women want, and redemption. I thought this was a very well acted show but that the script, because it is pretty old, had some disturbing implications.

The general problem with the script is how Bo can physically and verbally abuse someone and she will forgive him and say, "Aw, never mind. He's really cute though isn't he?" Which is problematic for so many reasons. One of the reasons it is so troubling is because it seems to be saying that he was just so in love with her, he had to kidnap her, which isn't a good excuse. I also feel that the way that Bo is supposed to learn his lesson is disturbing: by getting beaten up by the Sheriff. In this production it was particularly distressing to watch because of the current violence against black people by law enforcement in America. I'm not sure if we were not supposed to think about race, but it is hard not to when a white sheriff is beating up a black man and no one is standing up for the victim and we are supposed to think everyone just gets along okay afterwards. It is not like Bo hadn't done anything wrong, but there were better ways to prevent him from bothering Cherie. I also found the answer to the question that Grace asked Carl after they had had a night together--if he was married--was a little late to ask that. And also he did not ever give her a yes or no answer, which is what you call a red flag. I don't think relationships have to be perfect examples in plays; bad relationships can be interesting to watch on stage. But if they aren't examples of good relationships, I don't like to see them placed in front of you as fine.

Near the end of the play they decide to put on a talent show, where everyone can show off their amazing talents. Cherie sings, of course, and Virgil plays the guitar. And Bo whines about his rope tricks. Dr. Lyman and Elma perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet, with casting out of an Opera, also known as casting a very young woman opposite an older man. It actually sums up very well what each of the characters is passionate about and their personalities. Dr. Lyman is a romantic just like Romeo and sort of foolish. Juliet is upstanding like Elma; they both want to do what is right and want to be loved. Cherie is very sultry and vulnerable but self-assured. Virgil is very sweet and gentle, and you can hear that in his guitar solo. And Bo, again, mopes, but then does still cheer on his girl, but he ends up overwhelming her performance, so it doesn't end up being that supportive.

I do really love the mentorships in the show. They really bring some lovely non-romantic relationships into the storyline, which is so full of romance. I really love the relationship between Elma and Grace. They seem to really help each other out, and Grace treats Elma as a sister and tries to teach her and help her to become a self-aware person. They also had really cute jokes they had together, like how Grace didn't like cheese so she never restocked it. I also really love the relationship between Bo and Virgil because you never really get to see Bo be vulnerable or not try and be the strong, manly cowboy that he usually is around anybody else except Virgil.

People who would like this show are people who like significant mentorships, nonexistent rope tricks, and a lack of cheese. I think this is a really interesting show to watch. It has really great actors and a compelling storyline. It just has some old-fashioned and misogynistic ideas that I'm not a huge fan of.

Photos: Scott Dray

Monday, July 30, 2018

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s Everybody

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Everybody. It was by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and it was directed by Erin Shea Brady. It is a reassessment and adaptation of Everyman, a 15th-century morality play. The cast changes roles by random draw every night amongst 5 people. One person plays the character Everybody (the night I saw it, it was Alys Dickerson), who has been summoned from the audience by Death (Kenny the Bearded) to go to the afterlife. Everybody can take one person with her: her Cousin (Hal Cosentino when I saw it), Kinship (Francesca Sobrer when I saw it), Friendship (Donovan Session when I saw it), Stuff (Alex Madda when I saw it), or Love (Tyler Anthony Smith). While Death and God (Chelsea Dàvid) follow along, Everybody learns about who really cares about her. I think this is a really interesting and beautiful show. It brought up so many powerful points and it really made me evaluate life, which might not seem very fun but it was very eye-opening and surprisingly funny.

Everyman was a Christian, gendered morality play, and Everybody is a non-gender-specific, not-religion-based morality play. I think Everyman really needed an update, and this is exactly what it needed to be to show a story that everyone could relate to. The play shows the inclusiveness of it by the audience not knowing who will play who at the start of the show. You don't even know at first who is the audience and who are the actors. I found that interesting and exhilarating. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was excited to find out. I think allegory is a good way to tell this specific type of story, where there are a lot of moral questions. Allegories make things that are not people into characters to make the ideas more understandable. The moral of the story, in my opinion, is accepting your life, accepting your body, accepting that terrible things will happen to you, accepting that you are going to die, accepting that people who you love might not love you back. That is not the most depressing thing it the world because you are accepting it, and it is just part of what is going to happen. The rest of your life could have some really amazing parts to it, but there are going to parts of it that we aren't going to like. There are going to be things and consequences we aren't going to like. Acceptance is important because without acceptance you are lying to yourself and as with any lying it will make you sadder in the long run.

There was a very interesting scene where Love was first introduced and made Everybody completely humiliate herself by taking her clothes off and running around saying how much she has disappointed herself. You don't expect Love to completely humiliate someone, especially when it is anthropomorphized, but it is probably realistic. Usually the kind of love that might lead you to humiliate yourself is romantic love, but I feel like the character of Love in this play is not just romantic love. It is showing all the kinds of love in one. He comforts her afterwards and stays with her until he can't anymore, until the very end. That shows how devoted love can be even though some kinds of love can humiliate us.

There are a lot of really funny moments in this show, despite it being philosophical. One of my favorite funny moments was when a dream ballet happened and Time (Nora Fox) and God and Death were all dancing in skull masks across the stage. It was so ridiculous and just kind of popped up half way through the show. It was nice in this play full of so many sad realizations to have this really humorous but vaguely ominous moment. It had a reason for being there--it foreshadows Everybody's impending death--but it was still a nice break and made me think about death in a more lighthearted way. I also really loved the character of Stuff. She was appropriately stuffy and sort of stuck up, and unlike other characters who Everybody asked to go with her, Stuff was honest with her that she wasn't going to come and that Everybody was just being used by Stuff, who would just move on when Everybody died. It was very humorous to see the one thing you think will be compliant--your stuff--be so unnecessarily cruel and self-absorbed. I found Friendship's monologue very funny in how general it was. He would say something like, "Did you know that that one guy that we know got married/divorced/married again/divorced again." It was hilarious and interesting to see the no-no of theater--being general instead of specific--working so well for a play. Which brings us back to how effective it can be to make a show like this that everybody can find a way to relate to.

People who would like this show are people who like relatable plays, evaluating humiliating love, and hilariously ominous dream ballets. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is an amazing experience, and I really loved it.

Photos courtesy of Brown Paper Box Co.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review of The Color Purple (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Color Purple. The book was by Marsha Norman based on the novel by Alice Walker. The lyrics and music were by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. The direction and musical staging was by John Doyle. The music director was Darryl Archibald. It was about a young woman named Celie (Adrianna Hicks) who lived in Georgia with her father (J.D. Webster) and sister Nettie (N'Jameh Camara). She had had two of Pa's children who had been taken away from her. And then she is married off to Mister (Gavin Gregory), who doesn't really want to marry her and is very cruel to her. She raises his son Harpo (J. Daughtry) and his other children. Eventually Harpo marries Sofia (Carrie Compere) who is one of the people who befriends Celie and helps her understand that a woman doesn't always have to comply and can be a powerful person. Celie also has an unexpected friend in Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart) who is a singer who comes into town and Mister is in love with. This show is about sisterhood, the horrors of abuse, and what it means to be black and a woman.

There were two moments in this show that I think were really inspiring and powerful, the song "Hell No!" and the scene where Celie curses Mister. "Hell No!" was a song sung by Sofia about Harpo raising his hand to her. It is about how she has had to fight for herself her whole life, but didn't know she'd have to fight in her own home. It is about the experiences she had with the male members of her family, and her response is "Hell No!" She has over time realized what Celie hasn't yet, that she doesn't deserve to just take it. I really liked this song because Sofia was stomping across the stage and was so powerful. The singing was really amazing; she had this really great belt and a crazy range. It is really strange to me how Celie can remain so calm when people are furious and yelling at her; I think that shows that she feels that she is getting what she deserves even if she doesn't know or understand why, which is really sad. Celie does eventually figure out that she doesn't deserve to be treated the way she is and that she deserves better. And on the day that she is leaving she decides to tell Mister what has been on her mind for the years of their "marriage," which was a legal but not emotional relationship. She ends up cursing him and saying that everything he touches will crumble until he does right by her. It is justice in the package of a curse. Sofia had the best reaction to when Celie first stood up to Mister; it sounded like she was crying at first and then it eventually started sounding like laughing, and then it was full-on howling. It was great to see how Celie breaking out of her shell inspired every woman at that table to say she didn't need to take any crap.

This show is mostly powerful and heartbreaking, but it also had a lot of great comedic moments. There is a song called "Any Little Thing" sung by Sofia and Harpo about how when all their various children were out of the house and they had done all of their chores, which they would sing about to each other in a very suggestive way, they get a little private time. One of the reasons it is so funny is that it is such a quick turnaround from talking about chores to making it seem like you aren't talking about chores anymore. Also their extreme enthusiasm about no one being in the house is absolutely hilarious to watch. This song is also extremely adorable and shows you how healthy the sexual element is in their relationship. It is healthy because they are both trying to do something for the other person instead of trying to get something themselves.

There is a song near the end of the show called "Miss Celie's Pants," which takes place after she has left Mister and opened a business selling pants. It might have one of my favorite lines in the show, "Look who's wearing the pants now," which perfectly captures what everyone was thinking when they saw they movie. But they put it in a song with an amazing high note, which is even better. The dancing was delightful, especially when Sofia started twerking, which was really iconic. "Miss Celie's Pants" is not just a clever song; it also shows you how far Celie has come. Even though the show isn't over, and something bad could still happen, this song lifts you up and gives you a boost. This is the first time we have seen any of the characters except Shug in bright colors. So that shows you that Celie's pants seem to make all the women in the show who weren't that happy before feel different and powerful in the pants. It is just a super fun number to watch.

People who would like this show are people who like inspiring stories, power pants, and suggestive chores. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a powerful, surprisingly funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming show. I loved it!

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review of The Roommate at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Roommate. It was by Jen Silverman and it was directed by Phylicia Rashad. It was about two middle-aged women, Sharon (Sandra Marquez) and Robyn (Ora Jones), who moved in together and become friends despite their different backgrounds. They end up introducing new concepts into each other's lives. It is about secrets, friendship, and uncertainty. I think this is a really interesting, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet play.

The relationship in this play is very complicated because it is not just a friendship, or a romantic relationship. It is not just a business partnership, or a two-way mentorship. It is all of those things. The play made me uncertain about what person in the relationship was responsible for making it eventually toxic. It seemed like the relationship made each of them more happy, even though they were doing some stupid and hurtful things. So you end up rooting for it. There are not a lot of plays that I have seen that are about middle-aged women building a relationship with each other. I liked how complicated their relationship was and how it showcased how women relate to each other outside of family relationships or relationships centered on a man. At the beginning of the show, Sharon was very scared about letting a new person into her life and into her home that was not from her community, and at first it is really beautiful to see Sharon embracing herself and the things Robyn has introduced to her. And even though it becomes disturbing, it is a very valuable relationship to both of them. I think the playwright is trying to show that it is good to go out of your comfort zone and that the relationship that Robyn and Sharon have is important, even though it might not be the most functional. I liked how it didn't have to be all sappy, like two middle-aged women help each other realize that their lives aren't over. It is empowering--not through sap--but through dark humor and heightened realism.

I really liked the humor in this show. I think it really showed how new both women were to the lifestyles they were entering into. Sharon called her son and told him she smoked her first weed and then immediately realized she didn't mean to do that. I thought that was really funny. She is so used to telling her son every mundane activity she has been doing, that she accidentally told him the one thing she didn't want to tell him. There is a lot of that kind of situational humor in the show, where they are in new situation for them and they don't know how to adapt. Robyn can't adapt to the small-town lifestyle of not feeling like you have to lock your doors at night and she thinks everything Sharon does is old-ladylike. I think they put a twist on the fish-out-of-water humor by making it darker and have larger consequences, and I thought that was really interesting to watch.

I think what is so great about heightened realism is that it keeps you thinking that almost anything could happen, but it still seems to take place in the real world. Robyn and Sharon are both women with children who live in Iowa and got divorced. That seems very normal. But then you discover that they are more complicated than you think. It is fascinating to watch people who seem like they have average lives discover their dark underbellies. You are still in the realm of reality, so you think this is something that can happen in my own life. You understand where the people are coming from because they are in a world you recognize and some of the circumstances are recognizable, but it is exciting to see extreme situations that you probably haven't been in yourself.

People who would like this show are people who like twists on tropes, unexpected friendships, and telling your son you smoked weed. I think this is a surprisingly moving, funny, and inventive melding of genres.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review of Mercury Theater's Avenue Q

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Avenue Q. The book was by Jeff Whitty and the music and lyrics were by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns, the music director was Eugene Dizon, and the choreographer was Kevin Bellie. It is a musical that uses puppets as a lot of the characters, but also has humans like Sesame Street. Just think of Sesame Street, but without all of the boundaries. It is about a young puppet named Princeton (Jackson Evans) who has just gotten an English Degree and is now trying to find what he should do with the rest of his life. He decides to move to Avenue Q and he meets a young woman named Kate Monster (Leah Morrow) who was a kindergarten teacher who wanted to open up a school for monsters. He also gets to know his neighbors, aspiring comedian Brian (Matthew Miles), recent immigrant from Japan and therapist Christmas Eve (Audrey Billings), roommates Nicky (Dan Smeriglio) and Rod (Christian Siebert), and friendly neighborhood pervert, Trekkie Monster (Jonah D. Winston), who has a very strong opinion about what the internet should be used for. And overseeing it all is Gary Coleman (David S. Robbins), yes, that Gary Coleman, who is the super in Princeton's building. I thought this was a really fun show. It was an absolute blast to watch.

I thought the characters Rod and Nicky had some really funny songs together and they surely went through a journey. They were a lot like what anyone over the age of 13 suspects Ernie and Bert's relationship might be like. They had a song called "If You Were Gay," which was Nicky repeatedly telling Rod that if Rod were gay that would be ok. He'd been suspecting it for a very long time. And Rod just hides behind his book of Broadway Musicals of the 1940s and denies that he's gay. It is super humorous to see this conflict between two people where Nicky knows Rod better than Rod knows himself. "Fantasies Come True" is the song where Rod realizes he may actually have feelings for Nicky. You notice this side of Rod you haven't seen before because he's always been this cranky kind of guy. You notice him being a lot more open and clear-minded, but not for long because you realize it is a dream. When he's awake, he thinks that being gay is terrible, but when he gets to live in his fantasy world, he realizes that the way he is going to be happy is if he really embraces who he is. He gets up and realizes all the things he thought Nicky was saying in the dream weren't real, which kind of defeats him again. It seems like a very realistic emotional thing. You don't think of a show with puppets being an emotional experience, but it really was.

I was also surprised how compelling the romantic relationships were between Kate Monster and Princeton and also Christmas Eve and Brian. They seemed to actually have a lot of big problems, but a song that I think really showcased in a humorous way how people really feel about their significant others is "The More You Ruv Someone," sung by Christmas Eve and Kate, which is about how the more you love someone, the more you want to kill them. You spend a lot of time with them and you get to know them super well, so you love a lot of things about them but you also find things that you hate. It is also really cool to see Kate Monster and Christmas Eve helping each other out with relationship issues. It is compelling to see puppets have relationship problems because usually puppets and cartoons and other things like that take you out of reality, but this pulls you back in and makes you think about things you might not have thought about before. Kate Monster and Princeton had a cute relationship, but they didn't start the romantic part of the relationship in the best way. It becomes a very sexual relationship very quickly because of the influence of alcohol. There are actual problems that come out of it, just like real relationships based on alcohol. (Ed. Note--Ada wanted echoes and sparkles for the word alcohol and is saying it breathily: "like a unicorn would say equality," she says. I wish I had the typography for that.)

Even though there are a lot of touching and realistic moments in this play, it is 95% a comedy. And it was absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite character duos was the Bad Idea Bears (Stephanie Herman and Smeriglio). They showed up several times in the show basically just to give Princeton bad ideas and then scream whenever he would do what they wanted and sob profusely whenever he wouldn't. This show was showing you that bad ideas can be fun--until they are over and then the consequences are not so fun. The Bad Idea Bears are basically the embodiment of that. "The Money Song," when I saw it, went a little bit awry in a very funny way. They were passing a hat in the audience to collect money for Kate Monster's school. Somebody put a glow-in-the-dark condom in the hat and the cast could barely keep it together. The show already had a lot of audience participation, but this was great because you felt like you were sharing a hilarious experience with them that was unexpected for everybody. Even if it was a plant, it was still hilarious and added quite a bit to the show because they seemed so genuinely surprised.

People who would like this show are people who like surprisingly moving puppet musicals, dark humor, and excitable bears. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was so much fun to watch and had a lot of fun surprises.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review of Lost and Found Productions' Burnham's Dream: The White City

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Burnham's Dream: The White City. The book and lyrics were by June Finfer and the music and lyrics were by Elizabeth Doyle. It was directed by Erik Wagner. The music direction was by Paul W. Thompson and the choreography was by Jessica Texidor. It was about Daniel Burnham (Pavi Proczko) and his partner John Root (Sam Massey) who were both architects who won the contract to build the World's Fair in Chicago in the 1890s. It is about all the challenges they face and how it affects their personal lives. It is also about the people connected to the fair who were less well known and had less power but contributed a lot to the fair. It is about obsession, true freedom, and tearing down relationships while putting up buildings.

I think this is a really interesting idea for a musical and it did acknowledge problems of racism and sexism in the fair, but I would have liked it if they did more than just acknowledge that and explored the problems more and focused more on the people who had gotten less credit for their work than Burnham. I feel like Burnham is a difficult character to root for because he behaves in racist and sexist ways, so it would have been more satisfying to have Ida B. Wells (Arielle Leverett), Margaret Burnham (Laura Degrenia), Michael O'Malley (Chase Wheaton-Werle), and Bertha Palmer (Genevieve Thiers) as the central characters. I think I would have enjoyed a whole musical about building the women's building or Ida B. Wells' protests or the conditions of workers at the fair. I feel like the musical ends in a way that makes it seem like all the problems have been solved even though they haven't created a resolution or actually improved things. So at the end they try to act like everyone has accepted that people should be equal and the world is all in harmony, even though there's not much evidence of that having happened in the show.

I think the most powerful song in the show is "Sweet Land of Liberty." It is one of the songs that isn't the opinion of white men. It is sung by Ida B. Wells when she wants to have a building dedicated to the work of black people. It is all about how she doesn't see America as a land of freedom if people who look like her aren't given basic human rights or a platform to express themselves and be listened to. This is a song that really showcases how Burnham doesn't really care about anyone but himself. The entire time Ida is singing to him, he is going about his daily tasks, showing an exact example of what she's talking about. That is infuriating in multiple ways. A very similar thing happens in the song "Never Marry an Architect," where Margaret is talking about how her husband never pays attention to her because he is always thinking about buildings. And then he comes home and starts seducing her through building puns. But then he announces that he is going away to build the fair and not coming back for months or years. He doesn't even finish his cake. Basically, he again proves the exact point the woman singing has just made.

I did like John Root a lot better as a character because he would actually listen to people and not just interrupt and mansplain for the rest of their song. He also had a really sweet song called "Celestial City," which was about his vision for the fair. He wanted it to be a collage of all of these different cultures where everyone could get along and learn from each other. I think his dream is a lot more clear and well thought through and progressive than Burnham's dream. I would have liked to have more time with Root in the show before he dies. It would have been a lot sadder to know a lot about this character and then have him die. We never meet his wife and I feel like if we did and got to know more about her and other people more impacted by his death, that would have been a lot more heartbreaking.

People who would like this show are people who like celestial cities, brave activists, and architecture puns. I think this is a really interesting idea for a show. I'd love to see a version of this show not so focused on Burnham or one that cast him as the antagonist. I'm sorry I couldn't review this show before it closed.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's The Opportunities of Extinction

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Opportunities of Extinction. It was written by Sam Chanse, and it was directed by Jen Poulin. It was about a couple, Mel (Echaka Agba) and Arjun (Richard Costes), who have decided to go camping in the desert to cut the tension in their relationship. Also Arjun, a professor, has said something on Twitter that makes a large portion of the community turn against him, and the school is investigating. Mel is trying to write a book about these passengers on a plane that is about to crash and all their last moments and stories. And also she has just recently found out some news that she needs to tell Arjun. When they get to Joshua Tree National Park, they meet Georgia (Aria Szalai-Raymond), who works at the park and who is very devoted to the Joshua trees who are about to go extinct because climate change makes it hard for more baby trees to grow. The play is about love, death, and the beauty of evolution. I think that this play is intriguing, heartbreaking, and has unique characters.

Georgia had these really great monologues throughout the show. They were very often disconnected from the scene; she would step out of the scene or just walk out and just start talking to the audience about nature. I feel like you learn lot about Georgia in these monologues even though she isn't specifically talking about herself. She seems to compare her family situation to the extinction of the trees. It makes her comforted because she realizes that that is just the way nature works. It is like if you watched a documentary and the narrator was talking about anteaters but secretly comparing them to her own life. The thing that makes it so heartbreaking is that Georgia is not explicit about the connection between her family and the trees. But when you hear her actual story you realize how like the situation of the trees her own situation is.

The couple in this show seems to have a lot of problems for a lot of reasons. I thought it was really interesting how they talked about relationship problems that aren't usually talked about in plays because people in relationships try not to think it's a big deal. Like how Arjun is always on his phone all the time, and Mel keeps telling him not to, and to pay more attention to her, but he seems like he can't stop doing it. People think that it is minor because everyone does it, but it could actually completely disconnect you from the people that you love. There are even bigger problems like Arjun losing his job and Mel disappearing for two days, but the minor issues were also major because they reveal major problems. Arjun says he doesn't like Mel's book and that is fine because it is always better to be honest when you think something won't do well. You don't want someone to waste their time. But it seems like Arjun doesn't like the book because it hits too close to home and he relates too much to a lot of the characters, and that is not ok to say that something is poorly written just because it makes you feel guilty.

I think this play is about how natural evolution is so similar to human life and how we should embrace the beauty and accept that we are all kind of a mess. It is weird to think of how similar we are to all these plants and animals and how superior we think we are. Everyone thinks it is really sad to think about death, and that makes total sense. But I think there is a lot of beauty in the world starting over. I think it is a beautiful idea to think that someone's work can be done and they just get to rest. Extinction is not always sad because it can make room for more beautiful things. The end of a relationship can make room for better opportunities and happier people. Even though I am not for the extinction of Joshua trees, and I feel like we should try to prevent it, it is the way evolution works. Evolution is really painful, but this show does a really good job of showing how extinction doesn't just have to be depressing.

People who would like this show are people who like thought-provoking monologues, major minor relationship issues, and baby trees. I think this is a really interesting show that brings up a lot of issues I am still thinking about. I liked it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie