Thursday, June 27, 2019

Review of Teatro Vista and Collaboraction's La Havana Madrid

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called La Havana Madrid. It was by Sandra Delgado and it was directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce. Music direction was by Roberto Marin and Yendrys Cespedes. The choreographer was Wilfredo Rivera. It was about a club called La Havana Madrid (represented by Delgado) largely populated by the Latinx community. It was a place of community and reflection and safety for them where they could be themselves and find home in one another as they tell each other stories of where they came from, how they met the most important people in their lives, and finding their own passions. This show is about love, injustice, and finding hope. This is an amazing, hopeful, and truthful show that explores many sides of the Latinx experience and how the world around us has changed but also brings to light the ways it still needs to. This is a show that tells a very important story in an communal and new way.

This show is heavily fueled by music, which seems to symbolize elements of community. In each story that was told there would be some part of it that showed how music influenced their lives. I think that this is a great way to tie these stories together in a way that also relates to the setting. It also allows more audience involvement which can bring the audience closer to the stories being told. Sometimes in a show audience participation can seem forced, as if they put it in the show to make sure the audience was engaged, but it felt very natural and communal here. It also enhanced the story which oftentimes audience participation does not. One place this link between music and community was very clear was in Maria's (Ayssette Muñoz) story. She has just moved to the States and missed her parents and her home, so to get a taste of what she is missing she goes to La Havana Madrid. There she found she could express herself through dance and then she offers us her hand to dance with her.

All of the stories in this show were super important to tell and were performed beautifully. They showed varied aspects of Latinx experiences of immigration and life in the United States. One story that really stood out to me was Carlos’s (Victor Musoni). He talked about his path to activism which was very moving and well-performed. The image that really stuck with me was at the very end of his story and of the first act he is seen putting on a black beret while people chanted around him and he seemed to have found his place, the place he felt he was needed and belonged. Even though it is a moment of rebellion, it was very touching and powerful and sweet.

Even though this show is about discrimination and injustice, it shows how these people still found joy in their lives even if the world was trying to tear them down. This brings in some more joyful and bittersweet moments in the show, which make for very complex story telling. Sometimes shows that are devised from many true stories that don't fully connect to each other can seem un-thought-through and preachy, but this show finds throughlines in the story and also does not just yell at the audience about how bad the world is and was. The characters talk about what they did to cope with hard times and then showed us how. Carpacho (Marvin Quijada) does a tutorial for us on how to play the stand-up bass and how much joy jazz and salsa brings him. This contrasts with stories of having to hide from immigration officers. The character seems to say this is how I got through the hardest times in my life and possibly it could help you with people not accepting you. This approach is a lot more enjoyable and enthralling to experience and was done very well throughout the show. The actual bandleader and bass player for the show, Roberto Marin, was who this story was about, and it shows how his path in life led him to sharing music with us. It was powerful to see a person who had struggled get to do what he loved and that he is still doing it to this day.

People who would like this show are people who like stories of community, memorable themes and images, and non-oppressive audience participation. I think this is a great show and is like nothing I've seen before. I really enjoyed it while it was also an informative and immersive experience that I would recommend. I really liked it.

Photos: Joel Maisonet

Monday, June 10, 2019

Review of Six at Chicago Shakespeare

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Six. It was by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss and it was directed by Moss and Jamie Armitage. It was choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. It is about the six wives of Henry VIII, who are putting on a concert to decide which one of them suffered the most during her marriage to him and therefore who will be the lead singer. It is about feminism, taking ownership of your own life story, and overcoming differences. I think this is a vocal masterpiece of a show. All the performers were brilliant and it was clever, fun, and uplifting with several gut-punching moments of truth.

Divorced.... Catherine of Aragon (Adrianna Hicks) is the first wife of Henry VIII. She was very loyal to him which is the main point of the song. Even though he was sleeping around, she still stayed loyal to him and didn't say a word. She has been such a good wife, but even though she has been the perfect wife to him, he still wants to get rid of her. And she says, "there is no way that you are going to kick me out because I'm an amazing person and there is no reason you would want to leave me". It is Beyonce's Lemonade collapsed into one song. It is very empowering and I love that she is showing her devotion at the same time that she is showing she can do better. I thought the performance was absolutely gorgeous. I loved the tone switches between heartfelt and furious, which I think is a relatable parallel. The other divorcée, Anna of Cleves (Brittney Mack), also has an amazing song that reminded me of "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea. It starts with a similar bass line and is very braggy in a badass way. It is also very empowering because she talks about not just the things she possesses as part of the divorce settlement, but things she is, like how hot she is and how powerful she is and how she can do what she wants because she is queen of her own castle. She really got the audience hyped up, which I think is important for such a braggy song. It might seem self-involved, but when she gets the audience involved, it shows that it is more of a group brag about female power. The performance was excellent, engaging, and was the perfect pick me up after a ballad.

Beheaded.... Anne Boleyn (Andrea Macasaet) and Katherine Howard (Samantha Pauley) seem to have a leg up on the suffering competition because he literally had them killed. Anne Boleyn's song, "Don't Lose Ur Head," was less empowering because it was very clearly targeted at Catherine of Aragon, trying to show that she was overreacting and should have just accepted how obvious it was that Henry preferred Anne. It is a very very catchy song though and reminds me of a mix of The Pipettes, Marina and the Diamonds, and Spice Girls, which are some pretty brilliant artists so it is bound to be catchy. I think bratty British pop is perfect for her because you can tell by the way she acted that she thinks she is entitled to quite a bit. She is trying to seem innocent, but can't hide that she is self-obsessed and scheming. This creates some really great levels, which the actor totally nailed, throughout the song. I really liked the haunting undertone in Katherine Howard's song "All You Wanna Do." The beginning of the song is very sexual and Britney-Spears-like, but as the song continues and as she tells us about more of her past lovers, she slowly starts to realize how jaded and depressed she is. She is being used by all of these men and she has lost her own self worth. That is a lot to convey in one song, especially an upbeat pop song, but it was done so beautifully and emotionally by Pauly. She had these shifts in the song where she would realize what was happening, but then seemed to become distracted almost mid-realization by the next guy. This entire song was super effective, and I feel like it was important to show that even though she was a very sex-positive figure, some of that was a defense mechanism from all of the early sexualization in her life. The breakdown at the end of the song really got to me. You could really see her falling apart on stage and begging for help, and it was really hard to watch this super confident woman fall apart like that, but I still think it is important to show.

Died and Survived.... Jane Seymour's (Abby Mueller) song was called "Heart of Stone" and it was about how no matter how much garbage was hurled at her by Henry, she still loved him very very much and was going to stand by him even though it took a lot out of her. The most powerful section of the song for me was when she talked about her son and also about how if she hadn't had a son it might have made it so Henry wouldn't have stayed with her. It was very clear when she sang this that she had a lot of love for her son and realized how important he was to both of them, but she is devastated that she doesn't get to see him grow up. This song I would call a feat because Mueller made me cry within the first 15 seconds of this song. Her voice is so gorgeous and fits so well with this song. She made me feel the intention and the raw emotion behind the words of the song. Usually having a heart of stone means you are unfeeling, but in this song it means she is selfless and her heart can endure whatever it is hit with. Catherine Parr (Anna Uzele) had a song, "I Don't Need Your Love," that is very soulful and hopeful. The first half of the song is a letter to Thomas, the love of her life, because Henry has chosen to marry her and she has no choice but to comply. It becomes wishful because if she could she would tell Henry she didn't need him and would leave, but she can't do that without signing a suicide note. It feels gratifying to hear that she did make it out and survived Henry and got to spend the rest of her life doing what she should have been able to do years ago. I thought it was a gorgeous song and you could hear in her voice how much she loved Thomas. Her wishing her life was different was heartbreaking and beautifully done.

People who would like this show are people who like empowering queens, Renaissance references, and group brags about female power. I think this is an amazing show. Every single artist in this show is insanely talented. It is very empowering. It is a musical that looks back on the past and shows how the situations these women were in are relevant today. It shows how even if the queens are not here now, women can take back their stories, apply them to their own lives, and re-envision and revise them. It was inspirational, and it was a blast.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Review of Falsettos (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Falsettos. The music and lyrics were by William Finn and the book was by Finn and James Lapine. It was choreographed by Spencer Liff and directed by Lapine. It was about a family in the 1970s and early 80s who are dealing with the effects of Marvin (Max von Essen), the father, leaving his wife, Trina (Eden Espinosa), and his son, Jason (Thatcher Jacobs when I saw it), for his boyfriend Whizzer (Nick Adams). As the family falls apart he sees a psychiatrist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire), who eventually falls in love with Trina. It is about family, love, and acceptance. I think this is a powerful story and an amazing musical. I already loved this musical before I saw it, and the cast in several cases even exceeded my expectations. It was great!

The relationship between Whizzer and Marvin is very complicated because you really see how much they love each other but you can also see how toxic their relationship is, especially at the start of the play. Their first song together is "Thrill of First Love," where they are yelling at each other about various things that they don't like about each other. It shows that just because you come out of the closet, it doesn't mean you are going to be happy all they time. Gay relationships aren't perfect just because people finally have the right to love each other. Later in the show, Whizzer sings a song called "The Games I Play" reflecting on his past relationships. He basically says, "I know I do all these things I know aren't good for me or the people I'm with, but I do them anyway." He realizes he is a sex object, which we knew from "Thrill of First Love," when Marvin says, "I was rich, he was horny, he fit like a glove." He is coming to terms with so many things that he may have already known, but he just accepted that was his place in the world because that is the way every man he'd ever been with had treated him. Whizzer's next solo, "You Gotta Die Sometime," after he's been hospitalized, was absolutely gorgeous. He seemed so desperate and scared, which is something you haven't seen from Whizzer before because he's been so confident and cocky. It makes it extremely alarming to see him so scared. I thought that it was an absolutely heart-wrenching song. It is one of my favorites, and I thought it was amazingly performed here. The relationship between Marvin and Whizzer does get better the second time around because they both realize what they did wrong and how they really needed each other and made each other better people. After this relationship has started becoming something really meaningful, Whizzer is hospitalized. It makes every song where they are still falling in love with each other more heartbreaking because you see that they finally found each other again and were happy and something had to go wrong. The play does a good job of showing how terrible the relationship is, getting rid of it, and then showing how what they did wrong could be done right. This makes the fear that both of them have about losing each other more heartbreaking to watch.

Thatcher Jacobs played Jason phenomenally. He brought this angst to this role which is written into the role but doesn't always come across as clearly as it did in his portrayal. He seemed like a sad 40-year-old, not like a cranky 10-year-old, which is in keeping with how weird the adults find him. He was very sad, and rationally so. He is a very complex character and you could feel every emotion he was experiencing. It was such masterful acting. We also see him turn into a teenager, although he often acts more mature than a teenager would. In "Miracle of Judaism," he talks about what girls he wants to invite to his Bar Mitzvah. He talks about all the things he likes about them and how he thinks he shouldn't like the women that he does. He sings a reprise, "Another Miracle of Judaism," where he is instead asking God to keep Whizzer from dying. Throughout the play, he has become closer to Whizzer. The play is about how family doesn't have to always be blood relatives. At the Bar Mitzvah, Mendel (who is now his stepfather) calls Jason "son of Marvin, son of Trina, son of Whizzer, son of Mendel, and godchild to the lesbians next door," Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Caldwell). That seems to me to be the real miracle, that all these different people become a family, and Jason realizes that, which shows how much he's grown. I also really loved the relationship between Mendel and Jason because there is no specific power dynamic even though he is his stepfather. They just seem to love being together. You really see this in "Everyone Hates His Parents" and "Feel Alright" which are both songs that essentially say things will be better if you act like a human instead of worrying about things. During both of these songs they are dancing around, and Jason is being flipped around, and they are jumping off things and breaking things, and it is adorable.

Trina has a song where she sings about how she is "tired of all the happy men who rule the world, all the stupid, childish men who rule the world." This is followed by "March of the Falsettos," which seems to be Trina's view of the men around her; they are acting ridiculous, like toddlers, and running around in these little outfits with high pitched voices. I think this is a very relatable song for me and I like that they include the woman's perspective even though less than half the cast is female, and in act one Trina is the only woman. This show is written by two men and directed by one of them, which makes me happy to see the woman's opinion and feelings being represented in realistic ways. This show represents so many different stories at an important time in history, and I think it means a lot to a lot of different people for many different reasons. I think that is what makes this show so important and beautiful. Some plays follow one person's journey, but this play somehow manages to follow several different people's storylines in a way that is specific enough that you grow to love each of them.

People who would like this show are people who like important musicals that make you love every character, complex child characters, and brilliantly heartbreaking and frank laments. I absolutely loved this show. It is an amazing story. It is beautifully acted, and this is a gorgeous musical.

Photos: Joan Marcus

Review of Hamlet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hamlet. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Barbara Gaines. It was about a young prince named Hamlet (Maurice Jones) whose father (Derrick Lee Weeden) had recently died and his mother, Gertrude (Karen Aldridge), had remarried his father's brother, Claudius (Tim Decker). It is about justice, loss, and recklessness. I thought Maurice Jones' portrayal of Hamlet was gorgeous and he brought a sense of reason for his actions and an intelligence and self-awareness that you don't always see in the character.

Rosencrantz (Alex Goodrich) and Guildenstern (Samuel Taylor) weren't what I expected. Usually in Hamlet they act as the comic relief trying to get Hamlet to laugh his depression away. But in this version they seemed much more sincere because they seemed to really care about Hamlet. Usually they seem pretty self-interested and are only there to visit Hamlet to gain something from the King, but in this one they seemed more genuinely interested in helping him. I think we miss a lot of the humor that is in this play because they are usually a main source of it. I know both these actors are very funny performers and have played comedic roles, so I was expecting them to be the comic relief. This version has more respect for those characters, which makes Hamlet seem more cruel when he alters the order they have from the King so that it results in their execution. It makes it seem like he may actually be crazy. Usually Hamlet is a gleeful crazy person, but in this version he seemed dangerously crazy in moments like the recorder moment. Usually that is him celebrating his victory, but in this version he seemed to be threatening Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, like he was implying that he was going to shove the recorder somewhere they didn't want it to be shoved. It feels like a credible and physical threat. It shows you that he doesn't have any filter anymore and even people really trying to help him seem like a threat. He is paranoid.

I really liked the scene with Hamlet and Gertrude after the play within the play. Usually that scene is heartbreaking and scary because you can see Hamlet has the bulk of the power. He is usually screaming at her and she is just sitting there crying. But in this version, she has a weapon that Hamlet doesn't know about which changes the power dynamic. In this scene it does seem like she might actually kill him because she has shown so little interest in him throughout the play because she is infatuated with her new husband whom Hamlet despises. That shows you that she has a motive to kill him besides self-preservation, and it seems like she might actually do it. I thought this scene was very powerful because it made me feel sorry for Gertrude because you think she might try to kill her son but she can't see herself because she is blinded by incestuous love. It is both heartbreaking and terrifying, but in a different way than usual, because the power dynamic has shifted and you believe a mother is capable of killing her son.

I really liked the relationship between Horatio (Sean Allan Krill) and Hamlet. Usually that seems very brotherly, but in this one Horatio was more fatherly. I liked that because the lack of a father is Hamlet's biggest loss, so it was nice to see Horatio take on that role. I think that built more of an interesting relationship between them because Horatio was not just a buddy but someone Hamlet really relied on. Hamlet seems to project a self-sufficient character, but to see him actually relying on someone and not pushing everyone away makes Horatio seem more special. That makes Horatio seem to fuel a lot more of Hamlet's actions because of their father-son bond. Hamlet seems to have parallel motivations from Horatio and the Ghost of Hamlet's father, but Horatio seems to care a lot more about Hamlet's wellbeing. Horatio and the Ghost don't want the exact same thing, but they are both motivating Hamlet. The ghost is motivating him to get revenge and Horatio is motivating him not to go crazy while doing it.

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classic characters, distressing but interesting family dynamics, and threatening recorders. I think this production had an amazing lead and some interesting new ideas about this story. I really liked it.

Photos: Liz Lauren