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

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