Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ada Grey's Top 12 Plays and Top 6 Musicals

I loved so much theater that I saw this year. From a flawlessly performed Gypsy to a surprisingly relatable brony play. From a chilling Hamlet to a laugh-out-loud funny Legally Blonde. From heartbreaking (The Light and The Color Purple) to terrifying (The Displaced and Hinter).  Theater this year has been eye-opening and beautiful in many ways. I'm so glad I got to see so much of it this year. And to close out 2018, here are my top 12 plays and my top 6 musicals!


The Antelope Party (Theater Wit)

People who would like this show are people who like not-always-magical friendships, plays about fascist Antelopes, and terrifying anime sunglasses. I think that everypony should go see this show. It is such an absorbing story. Everything--from the fabulous acting, to the set packed full of paraphernalia and references, the sparkly costumes, to the strange sense of menace that you feel throughout the play--draws you in. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Birds of a Feather (Greenhouse Theater Center)

People who would like this show are people who like toxic masculinity hawks, humanized penguins, and show tune mating calls. ...It is so well-acted, hilarious, and moving. I really loved it.

Read the full review here.

Columbinus (The Yard at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like turning tragedy into art, realistic teen stories, and sobbing your face off. I think this is a really hard and beautiful and relevant show. The show addresses a lot of topics I'm very passionate about, and it handles those topics carefully and well. At the end they give you information about taking action. I think everyone should go and see this. The day that I am writing this review there has been another school shooting, so it has been hard to write. I think it is very important that people go see this show but also that they take action to help prevent any more mass shootings.

Read the full review here.

The Displaced at Haven Theatre

People who would like this show are people who like horror romcoms, suspense, and bubble wrap tickle monsters. ...I loved it!

Read the full review here.

Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (First Floor Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like poetic solutions to real problems, mermaid cake, and awkward prayers. It is a really fascinating and beautiful story. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Guards at the Taj (Steppenwolf Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like moral questions, brotherhood, and harem duty. ...It is such an interesting, beautiful, and sometimes disturbing show. It has amazing performances. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Hamlet (The Gift Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like rotten decor, baby Hamlets, and Ophelia and Laertes playing video games. I think this is an amazing show. It basically did everything right, and I absolutely loved it.

Read the full review here.

Hinter (Steep Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like Bavarian murder mysteries, complex relationships among women, and secrecy bread. ...It is a really great story with compelling characters. I'm still theorizing about this play and it was a lot of fun in a creepy way. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

The Light (The New Colony)

People who would like this show are people who like healthy relationship options, bantering couples, and enormous bowls of chocolate. It makes you think about the characters in so many different ways. I laughed, I cried, I felt angry, I had all the feelings in this show, and I loved it.

Read the full review here.

This Bitter Earth (About Face Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like emotional arrangements, adorable and flawed relationships, and belting Gloria Gaynor in gay bars. ...It was a beautiful story, amazingly acted. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

The Shipment (Red Tape Theatre)

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

Read the full review here.

The Wolves (Goodman Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like orange peel pictures, yogurt yurts, and angry water drinking. ...It is powerful and empowering and reminds you of how things felt when you were a teenager.

Read the full review here.


9 to 5 (Firebrand Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like musical allyship, empower ballads, and awkward vixens. ...I think this is an important musical and I think they did a great job with it. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

The Color Purple (Broadway in Chicago)

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

Read the full review here.

Company (Venus Cabaret Theater at Mercury Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like marriage karate, the evolution of relationship craziness, and crawling away from your problems. I really loved this musical. It has great lyrics, great music, and it was performed very well in a new and interesting space.

Read the full review here.

Gypsy (Porchlight Music Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like metaphorical sets, engaging overtures, and flawlessly performed stage mothers. I think this is an amazing show. ...It made me see new things about Gypsy I hadn't thought of before. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Legally Blonde (Paramount Theatre)

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

Read the full review here.

Spring Awakening (Blank Theatre)

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.

Read the full review here.

Photos: Charles Osgood, Evan Hanover, Claire Demos, Emily Schwartz, Liz Lauren

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's Plainclothes

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Plainclothes. It was by Spenser Davis and it was directed by Kanomé Jones and Spenser Davis. It was about a department store called Brady's with a large undercover asset protection staff. When a crisis situation arises, the team is forced to adapt to new monitoring and tensions between employees. I think this is a really well-written and performed show with a thought-provoking plot and complex characters. You love all of the characters, even though all of them are flawed. It made me think about the constructs and concepts of race, how people project their emotions and guilt onto others, and how ingrained systems of authority are. I really loved this play.

In the first scene you are introduced to Llermo (Alejandro Tey) and Bobby (Adam Soule) and T (Stephanie Shum). They all work in the same department at the same level with similar pay. They all seem to have fun at work and work well together. They joke around together. They may not really love their job, but they like each other. There is a new woman at the job, Syd (Elise Marie Davis) who wants to become a cop, but is using this as a practice for her real dream job. In this scene they are introducing Syd to how things work at Brady's, when someone tries to steal something in the store. This scene establishes how good things are at Brady's before the incident that is just about to take place. You get to see how close everyone is and you get the contrast with the next scenes so you can see how their relationships have deteriorated. It is very effective that we don't actually see the incident, we just hear it offstage and then T runs in with blood on her shirt. It is a jolt, a jumpstart into this play that just keeps getting more and more high stakes. Throughout the rest of the play you think, anything can happen at any time because this opening scene was so gutting and immediate.

The shoplifters, Jomal (Ben F. Locke) and Pete (David Weiss), are very different people but seem to shoplift for similar reasons. Jomal is a hyper, enthusiastic, and wears brightly colored booty shorts. But under that happy, carefree exterior is a more self-conscious person who thinks about his past actions. Pete is a internet star who seems to either have fallen on hard times or just wanted to steal something. They both seem to be compelled to get in trouble and have this strange confidence that they won't get caught even when they do. Pete is more snotty in his cockiness because he thinks his fame and money can get him out of anything. Jomal has a lot of confidence too, and no one seems to be able to bring him down, so it is surprising when Mary (RjW Mays) seems to be able to. Mary works in the lingerie section at Brady's and she and Jomal are frenemies; they argue a lot but seem to really like each other. She's always teasing him about the spelling of his name. But there is a shift in what Mary shows as her personality which was a very surprising and interesting way to conclude her character arc. She shows that she is capable of prejudice even against her own race.

Karina (Carmen Molina) is a supervisor for the undercover team. We don't see her until the second scene when she conveys what happened offstage that we did not see. At first, she seems like she might be a side character, might not ever show up again, because the first purpose we see her serve is just to convey information. But then we start to follow her and her relationships. We see one of the most quickly developed story arcs in the show. It runs parallel for awhile to T's story arc, then they cross paths, but they come to different conclusions. They both realize how corrupt Brady's really is, and they both have opportunities to climb the ladder--but the opportunities are not what they seem.

People who would like this show are people who like jolting opening scenes, interesting character arcs, and booty-short shoplifters. I think this is an absorbing, funny, and thought-provoking show. It has a really interesting plot and has phenomenal actors. I would definitely recommend seeing it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ada Grey's Shows of Christmas Past

Here are links to my favorite holiday shows that I reviewed in the past that are playing again this year. I'm sorry I won't have time to see them again! 

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.

Q Brothers Christmas Carol at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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. Read the full review here! Tickets available here

Photos: Michael Brosilow, Evan Hanover, Liz Lauren.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Review of Red Theater Chicago's An Oak Tree

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An Oak Tree. It was by Tim Crouch and it was directed by Jeremy Aluma. It was about a man who was a hypnotist (Gage Wallace) and earlier that year he had been driving to a gig and hit a young girl with his car and killed her. Since her death her father (a different actor every night, Katy Collins when I saw it) has started to go crazy, and he decides to go to the hypnotist's show and see his daughter's killer face to face. It is about grieving, rationality, and oblivion. I think this is a really fascinating show. It really made me think a lot about how it would differ from night to night with different actors playing the father.

The general concept of the show is that the actor playing the hypnotist does the show every night and the other actor has never seen the show or read it. I think the reason the playwright made the decision to make the actor who played the father different every night was because the character of the father is so disoriented that having the actor who played the father actually be as disoriented as the character adds to the audience experience. I think it adds a lot to see the actor playing the father discover the same things that the audience is discovering in real time. The concept reminds us how theatrical performances are different every night even if the script is the same and it has the same actors. It also shows the importance of relationships in theater, not just between characters but between actors because you are watching two actors interact as well as two characters.

I think it is really interesting how the hypnotist seems to be filtering all his pain and suffering by making the volunteers in his show go through the same pain that he did. It seems like the show is saying that audiences, even without audience participation on stage, feel the pain that the characters are feeling and what the playwright has gone through. The hypnotist seems to be "recasting" his own role with audience members and making them feel the feelings he doesn't want to anymore. There is a strong theme of replacement in this show because you get a new actor every night but also the father has replaced his daughter with an oak tree and the hypnotist is recasting his life. In this play it seems that grieving is also a process of replacement.

People who would like this show are people who like intriguing theatrical metaphors, exploring grief, and immersive disorientation. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think this is a really thought-provoking and unique show. I think it is very well acted and I love the concept.

Photo: Matt Wade

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's This Bitter Earth

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called This Bitter Earth. It was by Harrison David Rivers, and it was directed by Mikael Burke. It was about a couple, Jesse (Sheldon Brown) and Neil (Daniel Desmarais), who met each other at a Black Lives Matter rally. Jesse is black and Neil is white, but activism has a very different place in each of their lives. Neil is the activist and Jesse agrees with his views but isn't always invested in being an activist. It is about injustice, privilege, and love. I think this is a very beautiful show. It has amazing actors and an intriguing plot line.

This play is very interestingly structured. The climax you see at the beginning of the show, but you don't know exactly how it will end. You keep going back in time, but not in a straight line, jumping around to different points in their relationship, not completely knowing where you are at the beginning of a scene. But you eventually get more of an idea about where the scenes fit in the puzzle of the show. I think the writer chose to make this play nonlinear to make it like it is someone's actual memories and recollections of a person. It makes the play more powerful because of how unfiltered it seems.

I liked how many levels their relationship had. It really showed how an actual relationship is. It is not just happiness and it's not just all terrible. It depends on a given day; it is not a steady incline or decline. You get to see how their relationship has rough patches and high points. Of course the rough patches stick out in memory more, because people remember the bad times more than the good times. A good example of a rough patch they overcome is when Neil is going away to help out with the protests in Ferguson, but Jesse doesn't want him to go and is worried about him. Even though Jesse at first ignores the texts and Neil's attempts to reconcile, they both end up letting down their walls at the same moment and coming together no matter how far apart in distance they are.

I feel like the play rounds out their relationship really well and makes me care a lot about these characters and their relationship. I loved the scene where they are on their first date and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor comes on and they both start busting out their cringe-iest dance moves and belting their hearts out. This shows one of the purest moments in their relationship, when they are still new to each other and finding out how much they have in common and how different they are in the best ways. I also really loved the scene farther into their relationship when they had moved in together, and Jesse's parents had just come for an impromptu visit. His parents were not the easiest of guests and the scene starts with Jesse and Neil waving good bye and both sighing simultaneously when their guests are out of sight and letting out everything they'd been keeping in during the visit. It was really funny and adorable to see them agreeing and laughing together. This scene came after some very tough scenes, so it was nice to have this reminder of their spark and how their relationship is worth fighting for. I think this play is most of the time arranged really well to keep you rooting for them and reminded of why they are together.

People who would like this show are people who like emotional arrangements, adorable and flawed relationships, and belting Gloria Gaynor in gay bars. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was a beautiful story, amazingly acted. I loved it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of Neverland at The Prop Thtr

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Neverland. It was devised by the ensemble and directed by Olivia Lilley. It was about a boy named Peter Pan (Gaby Labotka) who rescues children from earth at the worst moments in their lives and takes them to live in Neverland where they will never grow up. Everything seems to be going smoothly until Peter finds a girl, Wendy (Valeria Rosero), with whom he has become infatuated because of her stories, which he thinks she has written but are actually the TV show Jane the Virgin. When Wendy comes to Neverland, people start to turn on Peter and question if Peter's old-friend-turned-arch-nemesis Hook (Kate Black-Spence) is actually as bad as Peter makes her out to be. It is about irresponsibility, growing up, and the glorification of war. I think this is a really great idea for a show. It had a lot of great performances and it was a really thought-provoking experience.

I think it was really interesting how Peter Pan is not the hero of the play. At the beginning of the show it just seems like he is rescuing kids from terrible things happening to them. He's joyful, playful, and seems to care a lot about his friends. But later you see he is actually very controlling and irresponsible. He starts to only like playing dangerous and unforgiving games, in other words: war. He has a very interesting origin story: that he was one of the boys who played female parts in Shakespeare's plays. I thought it was a very nice reference to how Peter Pan is usually played by a woman. He was in this case too, but it is interesting to think about how the character of Peter Pan in this play grew up playing women. I like how it seems to come full circle.

I think it was very interesting to have Wendy be a "bad" girl instead of the mother-like, responsible girl she usually is. In this play, she's a drug dealer, sneaks out at night, and isn't traditionally nurturing. I did think that how bad she was might have been a little overkill because anything less than sweetness and perfection would seem unlike what we expect from Wendy. She ends up being the leader of "the rebellion" and liberating the lost children by showing them what Peter is really doing. I think Wendy is a interesting character because of how she is the opposite of what you expect her to be, but she still ends up being an unexpectedly nurturing character. Nurture doesn't always look the same, and I think the way she shows it is a very unfiltered way of caring for other people, which gives her even more layers.

The character of Hook was so interesting and very well performed. Usually Hook is just the evil guy and doesn't really have another purpose, but here Hook seems to genuinely want to help the lost children (Rory Jobst, Mateo Hernandez, Bernadette Carter, Electra Tremulis, Tyler Brockington, Carolyn Waldee, Sissy Anne Quaranta, and Dylan Fahoome). In this show, the war has two sides, those who want to grow up and those who don't. Peter and a portion of the lost children don't ever want to grow up, but Hook and some of the other lost children accept that they are going to get older and grow up. They want to mature and do new things. Growing up is not seen as horrible but as natural. But Peter doesn't want to accept that and seems scared of the idea. There seem to be good things about being childlike--happiness, freedom, and playfulness--but Hook wants to temper that so that there is responsibility and some thought put into things. I think it is telling that Peter grabs the lost children from the most traumatic points in their lives. But because they are kept children they are not allowed to process the trauma or grow. So even though it seems like a rescue it will actually add a lot of issues to their later life. And Hook tries to help them with those issues.

People who would like this show are people who like layered characters, heartfelt Hooks, and Shakespearean Pans. I think this is a great concept and I had a lot of fun. I liked it.

Photos: Beth Rooney

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Gypsy

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Gypsy. The book was by Arthur Laurents, the music was by Jule Styne, and the lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim. It was directed by Michael Weber, the music direction was by David Fiorello, and the choreography was by Chris Carter. It is about a woman named Rose (E. Faye Butler) who has two daughters, June (Izzie Rose as the child, Aalon Smith as the young woman) and Louise (Jillian-Giselle as the child, Daryn Whitney Harrell as the young woman). Rose is a stage mother who is trying to make her daughter Baby June famous. But when things don't go her way she decides to shift her attention to Louise. It is about motherhood, fame, and delusions. I really love this show and this is a great production of it. It has amazing actors and a great live band.

I though the opening sequence was unique and really pulled you into the story. Usually during the overture you are sitting there thinking, "When is the show going to start?" But in this production, the story had already started. Young Louise was walking around the stage investigating all the instruments, and conducting the musicians. It showed you how curious and interested Louise is beneath the shyness she shows as Young Louise in the rest of the play. She is usually pushed to the background in the first part of Act 1, but with this opening sequence you feel like you get to know her better. Adult Louise is still very shy and doesn't want to be in the spotlight. She thinks that is June's job, But she has a drastic shift of her perception of herself on stage in front of the audience during "Let Me Entertain You." You see that same look in her eyes as she had as a child in the opening sequence when she truly felt in control and appreciated by the people around her. I think it is really powerful to see the childlike wonder in her eyes both when she is a child and when she strips for the first time. It shows that she does love what she is doing even though it is not a "respectable" job. It is what she loves because she feels curious and in control, which seems to be the same feeling she had with the band as a child.

The song "Rose's Turn" was performed absolutely phenomenally by E. Faye Butler. To me it seemed like she was born for that role. It is a very powerful and vocally demanding song and she made it flow so naturally and effortlessly. I could listen to it all day. In the scene preceding the song, there was a poster of Gypsy Rose Lee which fell off during the transition. I believe it wasn't purposeful, but of course the audience and the actors notice there is a large poster on the ground. So, E Faye Butler directed her opening lines of the song to the poster and it was just amazing. It was crazy to me that it wasn't planned because she made it work so perfectly. It seemed like whatever curveball got thrown at her, she could make it seem like it was part of the story. She is just everyone's performance goals. I was in awe of her for the entire show.

I like how the set (by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) seemed to show the two different sides of Louise's story. There is one side that is fame and fortune and a glorified Hollywood idea of vaudeville with its fancy classic red curtains and gold painted decoration. The other side seems to be more the reality of vaudeville, which is that it is sometimes grimy and the conditions are unfavorable, but they still put on a big act. I also really liked how you could see people in the cast watching the show from "the wings." I was worried that it might distract from the story, but it made you connect with the performers because you were all sharing the same experience at the same time. It makes the scenes of the musical seem more theatrical. You are still immersed in the story, but you understand that theater is the main drive of Rose's and her daughters' lives and that they are always performing even if they aren't on stage.

People who would like this show are people who like metaphorical sets, engaging overtures, and flawlessly performed stage mothers. I think this is an amazing show. I would definitely recommend it. It made me see new things about Gypsy I hadn't thought of before. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Frankenstein

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Frankenstein. It was by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley. It was directed by Ian Frank. It was about a young ambitious scientist named Victor Frankenstein (Nick Sandys) who creates this reconstructed human, referred to as the Creature (Greg Matthew Anderson). Victor comes back to his house and discovers that the Creature has learned how to walk, so Victor flees to Geneva. The Creature then learns about the ways that humans live and sets out to find where he came from. It is about the humanity of monsters and the monstrosity of humans. I think this is a visually stunning and beautifully acted show. It really makes you think about humanity and its combination of brutality and intelligence.

I feel like the set (by Joe Schermoly), movement (by Kristina Fluty), sound (by Christopher Kriz), and lights (by Mike Durst) in the show immerse you more fully in the story. The set worked for many different locations and scenes because it was just white walls that were movable and grey poles that would swing from side to side when pushed. There was also a background piece that opened slowly throughout the show. At first it seemed like just a white wall, but as the play progressed the wall would crack open and you could see light behind it. It made me think of the Creature's horizons, his view of the world expanding. It was like mountains that were beautiful and jagged and it reminded me of the two ways that he thinks of the world, as wonderful and dangerous. The movement from the very beginning shows the Creature being born. It is a very visceral way to start the show, with his screams of agony and confusion as he contorts and strains his body in a desperate attempt to gain control over himself. There was very loud and oppressive opera playing through the first few scenes; it really intrigued me and the music made the audience feel almost like the Creature did because of how confusing-in-the-moment and overwhelming the surroundings were.

Anderson and Sandys switch roles throughout the run. This is a very interesting choice. It made me want to see the show again because I thought about how different it would be with different actors playing the parts of Frankenstein and the Creature. It shows how similar these two creatures really are. Even though they are pitted against each other, they are both capable of feeling love and feeling heartbreak and committing irrational and cruel acts. And because Elizabeth and the female creature are both played by the same actor (Elizabeth Stoughton) it really shows how similar Frankenstein's and the Creature's crimes are against these women. Even though the Creature is made out by Frankenstein to be irrational and savage, Frankenstein himself commits the same act as the monster does and he commits the crime first.

The play is interested in the layers of discrimination in society. Frankenstein seems to push people away no matter their intelligence or good intentions as if no one who is not him could have any contribution to his life or his work. He rejects the Creature's offers to help reconstruct a woman creature. And Elizabeth wants to help him with his work, but he rejects her because she is a woman and he believes that women could not possibly know anything that he doesn't. I think that Mary Shelley and the playwright could be equating the experience of being an intelligent woman to being seen as a monster.

People who would like this show are people who like visual metaphors, similar creatures, and intelligent monsters. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a unique and amazing experience with great actors and an immersive atmosphere. I really liked it.

Photos: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review of St. Sebastian Players' The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The book, music, and lyrics were by Rupert Holmes, inspired by the Dickens novel. It was directed by Robert-Eric West. It was about a group of actors in the Victorian era putting on an adaptation of Charles Dickens' unfinished book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The play they are putting on is about a young man named Edwin Drood (Sarah Myers) whose uncle John Jasper (Sean Michael Barrett) is in love with Edwin's fiancee Rosa Bud (Shayla Rogers). The uncle is also addicted to opium, provided by Princess Puffer (Lauren Miller), so he cannot remember his actions. There are also some new people in town who have come from Ceylon, Neville Landless (Peter Kattner III) and his sister Helena (Anna Gallucci), and Neville follows the trend and falls in love with Rosa. The entire production is overseen by Mr. William Cartwright (Darryl Maximilian Robinson), the chairman of the music hall. When Edwin Drood goes missing, everyone is a suspect. But the musical doesn't have an ending, so the audience has to decide. I thought this was a fun show. It had some good performances and an interesting concept.

I really loved the character of Mr. Phillip Bax (Adam Hoak) who played Bazzard in the play within a play. He had a song called "Never the Luck" which was an original song by Bax about how unlucky he was when it came to getting roles at the Music Hall Royale. He was always the understudy, never the star. He was absolutely adorable. He was very genuine and kind of scared, and he ended up having a lovely voice even though he was very nervous and scared in the performance up until that point. Bazzard seemed to be the fan favorite throughout the show. So when it was asked who should play Dick Datchery, the detective investigating the disappearance, the crowd immediately decided that it should be Bazzard.

Something that distressed me was the use of brownface for two Indian characters, the Landless siblings. I realize this is a convention of the production. They are supposed to be white British actors playing these roles with terrible accents. I think it is a convention that could be abandoned. I would much rather have seen people of Indian descent playing these roles. The roles of Helena and Neville are very stereotyped, but the roles of the music hall actors playing those roles don't have to be. It would have been interesting to see non-stereotyped characters of Indian descent playing roles of stereotyped Indians. I think this layering could have landed a message about the challenges actors of color can face in playing their own race in scripts written by white people.

I really liked how they let you choose who the murderer was. It was very interesting to see what everyone else in the audience was thinking and how it was all put together at the last moment. I wonder what it must have been like for the actors to be so on edge and not have any idea who would play the detective, the murderer, or sing the final love song any given night. I would love to see all the different versions. The night that I was at the show, the detective was Bazzard and the murderer was Helena. The love song was sung by Princess Puffer and Durdles (Eric S. Prahl), who is a hilarious drunk gravedigger. Honestly, they seem pretty perfect for each other because they are both messed up enough for the other.

People who would like this show are people who like pageantry, melodrama, and adorable understudies. I think this show has some talented actors and I really liked the audience participation.

Photos: Eryn Walanka

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of The New Colony's Fun Harmless Warmachine

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fun Harmless Warmachine. It was by Fin Coe and directed by James Fleming. It was about a man named Tom (Daniel Chenard) who was working at a boring insurance agency and was very deep into the online gaming community. He asks out a woman from his office named Melissa (Emily Marso) but she turns him down. Then he gets asked by Niko (Victor Musoni) to be a part of a online gaming clan called the Order of the Sword, lead by Hunter (Robert Koon). The clan promises to help him punish Melissa for disrespecting him. He quits his job after the clan gets him work with an online gaming company, Octopunk, and his life seems to be getting better until he tries to leave the Order when he wakes up to the fact that they post anti-feminist tweets and ruin people's lives by leaking private information via his accounts. It is about sexism, male power, and what makes an act unforgivable.

Tom has a very different personality when he is online than when he is off. He is like the Jekyll and Hyde of gamers. He actually seems like a genuinely good person when he is not playing video games. In his actual relationships with people, like DC (Londen Shannon) and Ekaterina (Ayanna Bria Bakari) and his little brother Jack (Musoni), he clearly cares a lot about them. But when he plays video games he feels like that is the most important thing in his life and nothing should get in the way of that. It makes him feel more competent and confident about himself, but he is less likable because of how cocky and selfish he is. He doesn't think of people as real people when everything around them is virtual, even though there may be a real person behind them. It enables him to treat people badly without any thought or restraint. Half of the time you are like, this guy is great he deserves a good life and half the time you are like, this guy is a terrible person and doesn't deserve the things that he has. Even though he is our protagonist, he is not a hero. Part of me really hoped that he would get redeemed, but I think it was better for him to actually get cut out of people's lives and not be immediately (or maybe ever) forgiven. I think it was good that they don't give the audience the immediate gratification of him being forgiven.

The last scene of the play was very moving and I thought it had an interesting message. But since it is the last scene of the play, it had some spoilers in it, so you can read it here if you don't care about spoilers or have already seen the play.

I really like the movement (choreographed by the director and cast) in this show. I love how people would face each other when they were talking to each other most of the time even when characters were talking online or on the phone. I feel like sometimes in shows they lose the intimacy in the scene because they are online, but because of the movement in this show they did not lose the relationships. The movement was also used to simulate things in the video game. They would crouch on chairs and say classic gamer lines and shoot at each other in what seemed like real life. It was a lot more visceral to see them yelling childish things with a body in front of them. Much more than just watching people play video games and yell at a screen. Notifications would also come in during the game and the actor playing the character sending the text would stand in front of Tom and he would swipe them out of the way, which was sad to see how he could swipe away real people like they were notifications and how much the game had taken over his perception of the world.

People who would like this show are people who like coffee shop confrontations, visceral movement, and Jekyll and Hyde gamers. I think that people should go see this show. It is a fascinating concept. It is really well written, directed, performed, and choreographed. It made me think more about how people online are actual people, even if they are not the people they are pretending to be.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Review of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It was by Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon. It was directed by Jonathan Berry. It was about a boy named Christopher (Terry Bell) who is in his early teens in a town called Swindon. One day he discovers that his neighbor Mrs. Shears' (Eunice Woods) dog Wellington has been killed. He decides he must investigate who has killed Wellington and along the way discovers his family secrets and how strong he is and how he is capable of so much more than he was told he was. It is about family, consequences, and perspective. I think this was a really beautiful show. I really loved the story and character work.

Christopher's discovery of his mother's letters was absolutely heartbreaking and beautifully staged. He built a wall around himself with the trains and blocks and just curled up on the floor. I think everyone has felt like that and has wanted to do what Christopher did but most of us are afraid that we can't act that way. How calmly he executed it and how emotionless he seemed after his whole idea of his mother had been blown apart was heartbreaking and really well done. The mother (Rebecca Spence) was a very complex character. She seemed to love Christopher so much, but her decisions made it seem like she didn't. Most of the people in this show don't make completely rational decisions, and that makes these characters interesting and easy to relate to. Christopher's father (Cedric Mays) also makes very irrational decisions about Christopher's mother. He lies to Christopher to lessen the blow, but it ends up hurting him more than if he'd just been told the truth. Even Mrs. Alexander (Meg Thalken), who seems very reasonable and to know her way around a conversation, sometimes will mess up and say something she shouldn't have said.

I really loved the storytelling choices in this show. The way the story flows together and the movement choices (by Dan Plehal) were lovely. One of my favorite moments of movement combined with text was when Christopher was in the train station reading all the signs and the ensembles voices were all overlapping. The movement is getting faster and they are walking around him, and Christopher is getting more and more uncomfortable until Siobhan (Caroline Neff), Christopher's mentor at school, stops it all and tells him that all he has to do is think about each step as he walks. It is a very touching and sweet moment between Siobhan and Christopher as well as a visually stunning moment. I also thought it was very compelling how Christopher's story that he made out of the murder of Wellington became a play that we were watching. It would go between the story and the rehearsal process for the play, but at first it isn't clear that that is what is happening. The reveal that it is a play within a play drew me in because it showed the process of making the play and of working with Christopher and also how different people in his life are playing roles in the play. He has very strong opinions about who can play whom. Like when Reverend Peters (Christopher M. Walsh) wants to play the policeman, and Christopher says, "You're too old to play a policeman." That was one of my favorite lines from the rehearsal scenes because of how perfectly it shows how unfiltered Christopher is as a director.

I really love the idea of math in this show and how it is worked into Christopher's thinking process. It also contributes to one of my favorite comedic moments in the show. Because this whole show is from Christopher's perspective narrated to us by Siobhan, it is how he sees things instead of how people see him. I really like how when he is riding past things on the train he doesn't look at them and say, "there are some cows, there are some houses, there are some horses." He has to figure out the exact number of them and he can figure that out in a split second. I find it fascinating to think about his thought process compared to mine and notice the similarities and differences. He thinks about how everything is connected, which is how I think about things, but I don't think of groups of things in numbers. I think of the features of the things. In the middle of the show Christopher wants to explain how he solved a math problem, but Siobhan tells him that whoever wants to stay after the play and hear the solution can, but that most people will find it boring. But when he came out and explained it at the end, he was so elated to be explaining math to us--and he made it such a spectacle by using lights, sound, projections and even confetti cannons--that it made me want the show never to end so I could spend more time with Christopher and learn more math (which I never thought I would say).

People who would like this show are people who like multi-textured mysteries, complex characters, and celebratory equation confetti. I loved this show very much. I think it is absolutely beautiful and funny and overall an awesome experience.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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