Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: That’s Weird, Grandma/Barrel of Monkeys

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Photo by Maggie Fullilove-Nugent

Photo: Maggie Fullilove-Nugent


“That’s Weird, Grandma…”  You know you’ve heard the phrase, though just what it connotes has always remained a tad unclear.  (Sometimes it’s just enough to have a witty catch phrase to tickle the imagination.)  So I attended last Monday’s production of Barrel of Monkeys’ “That’s Weird, Grandma” to see what the fuss was all about.

Barrel of Monkeys is an arts education group, now in its sixteenth year, and “That’s Weird, Grandma,” now in its twelfth year, is a showcase, variety show and veritable cavalcade of comic sketches inspired by the creative writings of underage, non-voting, non-imbibing, developing citizens. In other words, children. Read the rest of this entry »

Bailiwick announces “debut” spring 2010 season

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Here’s the press release from Bailiwick:

Bailiwick Chicago Announces Details of 2010 Spring / Summer Season

Chicago, Illinois – March 10, 2010 – Bailiwick Chicago’s Executive Director Kevin Mayes announced the final details for the theater company’s 2010 Spring / Summer Season., which includes a concert reading of a new musical entitled BLOOM to be performed at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts on April 16th and 17th; FUCKING MEN*, the Chicago premiere of a new play written by Joe DiPietro which will begin previews on June 18th at Theatre Building Chicago; and Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA, which will begin previews on July 1st at American Theatre Company. Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Theater in Chicago, 2000-2009

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Photo: Samuel Adams

The Addams Family at The Oriental/Photo: Samuel Adams

By Brian Hieggelke

As the wind blows the snow sideways this December evening, the weatherman is telling Chicagoans to stay bunkered; the deserted downtown streets reflect their obedience. All save the sidewalk near the intersection of State and Randolph, as TV crews jockey for faces on the red carpet in front of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre, where more than 2,000 patrons, including a who’s who of backstage Broadway, are gathering for the world premiere of a new musical featuring a AAA list of talent, onstage and off. “The Addams Family,” with multiple Tony winners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth in its leads, a book from the librettists of “Jersey Boys” and so on, is certainly Broadway bound, but tonight—tonight—Chicago is the center of theater in the world.

That’s the story of Chicago theater in the zeroes: the decade in which it grew up and got big. Whether it’s the launch and monumental success of Broadway In Chicago, the maturation and astonishing quality of a remarkable number of small and mid-sized companies or the increasing demand for Chicago product and Chicago talent on Broadway, Chicago theater has fully come into its own. Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Operating Budgets Then and Now

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The 2006/07 season brought the grand opening of the new Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, following more than $11 million in renovations

The 2006/07 season brought the grand opening of the new Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, following more than $11 million in renovations

Annoyance Theatre (founded 1987)
“We don’t really have a regular operating budget—just plan as we go along.”
—Jennifer Estlin, President, Annoyance Theatre

The Artistic Home (founded 1998)
End of nineties: $62,000
End of zeroes: $164,500

Bailiwick Chicago (founded 2009)
End of nineties: N/A (Bailiwick Repertory is now defunct)
End of zeroes: $120,000 projected 2010

Chicago Dramatists (founded 1979)
End of nineties: $171,000
End of zeroes: $550,000

Collaboraction (founded 1996)
End of nineties: $50,000
End of zeroes: $500,000

Court Theatre (founded 1955)
End of nineties: $2.6 million
End of zeroes: $3.2 million Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Cousins Grimm/Bailiwick Repertory

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2. Jackie and TT2


Bailiwick’s ‘Cousins Grimm” begins with the song “Why not a Fairytale?” and by the end of Scott Ferguson’s world-premiere production, the audience feels like singing along.  A musical about playwrights creating a gay, musical version of the Grimm’s fairytales may sound ridiculous—and it is—but it is also fabulous.  Shamelessly campy, Bailiwick’s “The Cousins Grimm” is jam-packed with laughs—so much so that one audience member said that her mouth hurt from smiling.  Read the rest of this entry »

Making a Scene: Wit, Bohemian, Shattered Globe and Stage Left to shack up

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Extending the legacy of theater on Belmont Avenue, Theater Wit is moving its headquarters to 1229 West Belmont in 2010, promising to renovate and revive the former Bailiwick Arts Center, and to reestablish it as “one of the exciting venues on the Off-Loop scene,” Theater Wit artistic director Jeremy Wechsler says. Theater Wit will share the space with local stalwarts Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, Shattered Globe Theatre and Stage Left Theatre, and Wechsler says that this sharing will produce a special kind of community, allowing the theaters to bring together “their entire variety of audiences and artistic vision[s].” Rather than competing, the theaters will cooperate, cross-market and share responsibilities for building upkeep. “Under the current economic climate, I think the best way we can all prosper as arts organizations is to consolidate our efforts,” Wechsler says. Bailiwick Repertory Theater left the space after fifteen years when theater “repair and upkeep had become too taxing,” as it says on its Web site. Stage Left managing director Laura Blegen says that having multiple theaters use the same space helps to avoid this problem, that “resource sharing… is very helpful” nowadays. Wechsler notes the importance of working together: “None of us believe that theater is in competition with itself. The best inducement to see another play is to have just experienced a great evening in the theater.”

Blegen says that, for Stage Left, the decision to move was partly strategic. Noting the large seating capacity and convenient location of the theater, Blegen says, “It will bring us room to bring people in, and provide accessibility so people can get to us.” By moving in with other theater companies, Blegen says that Stage Left would be “creating almost a theater district on Belmont”—the Theatre Building is next door—and she said that this sort of environment “creates a kind of energy” that motivates the artistic process. (Ilana Kowarski)

Jeff Noms, Non-Equity, announced

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Here’s the press release from the Jeff Awards:

The Jeff Awards
Announces 2009 Non-Equity Nominations

Lifeline (14) and Theo Ubique (13) Are Top-Nominated Companies;
“Evita,” “Mariette in Ecstasy,” and “Rose and the Rime”
Garner 7 Nominations Each

Chicago, IL.  The Jeff Awards today announced 114 nominations in 24 categories for Non-Equity Jeff Awards, which honor excellence in Chicago theatres not under a union contract, for productions that opened between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009.  The Jeff Awards judged the opening nights of 130 productions offered by 57 non-Equity producing organizations and recommended 54 of them for further judging, making those 54 eligible for Non-Equity Jeff Award nominations in all categories. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Stage

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Top 5 Shows

“Caroline, or Change,” Court Theatre

“A House with No Walls,” Timeline Theatre

“The Glass Menagerie,” Steppenwolf Theatre

“No Darkness Round My Stone,” Trap Door Theatre

“The Birthday Party,” Signal Theater

—Monica Westin

Top 5 Shows

“Jon,” Collaboraction

“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant,” A Red Orchid

“Be More Chill,” Griffin Theatre

“Men of Tortuga,” Profiles

“Picked Up,” Neo-Futurists

—Nina Metz

Top 5 Theatrical Experiences

“Caroline, or Change,” Court Theatre

“Columnibus,” Raven Theatre

“As You Like It,” Writers’ Theatre

“The Comedy of Errors,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater

“Romeo y Julieta” (Staged Reading), Chicago Shakespeare Theater/Shakespeare in Español

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Guilty Pleasures

“Jarred: A Hoodoo Comedy” by Tanya Saracho, Teatro Luna

“Speech and Debate” by Stephen Karam, ATC

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by Sarah Ruhl, Steppenwolf

“The Little Dog Laughed” by Douglas Carter Beane, About Face Theatre

“After Ashley” by Gina Gionfriddo, Stage Left Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 New Plays

“Kita y Fernanda” by Tanya Saracho, 16th Street Theater

“The U.N. Inspector” by David Farr and James Sherman, Next Theatre

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by Sarah Ruhl, Steppenwolf Theatre

“Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat” by Yussef El Guindi, Silk Road Theatre Project

“Superior Donuts” by Tracy Letts, Steppenwolf Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Revivals

“The Maids,” Writers’ Theatre

“The Lion in Winter,” Writers’ Theatre

“Requiem for a Heavyweight,” Shattered Globe

“Plaza Suite,” Eclipse Theatre Company

“The Birthday Party,” Signal Ensemble Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Play Revivals

“Our Town,” Hypocrites

“The Lion in Winter,” Writers Theatre

“Requiem for a Heavyweight,” Shattered Globe

“Journey’s End,” Griffin

“M Butterfly,” BoHo

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Memorable Productions by a Smaller Theatre Troupe

“Multi-Purpose Doom,” Sandbox Theatre Project

“The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler,” Dog & Pony

“Termen Vox Machina,” Oracle Productions

“On My Parents’ 100th Wedding Anniversary,” Side Project

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” (original mounting), Gift Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Directors

Ann Filmer for “Kita y Fernanda,” 16th Street Theater

Charles Newell for “Caroline, or Change,” Court Theatre

Sean Graney for “Edward II,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater

William Brown for “As You Like It,” Writers’ Theatre

Greg Kolack for “Columbinus,” Raven Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Musicals

“Caroline, or Change,” Court Theatre

“Grey Gardens,” Northlight Theatre

“Tell Me On A Sunday,” Bailiwick Theater

“The Full Monty,” Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre

“All Shook Up,” Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 New Musicals

“Caroline, or Change,” Court Theatre

“Grey Gardens,” Northlight Theatre

“Songs for a New World,” Porchlight

“The Ballad of Emmett Till,” Goodman Theatre

“I Am Who I Am: The Story of Teddy Pendergrass,” Black Ensemble Theater

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Musical Revivals

“Tell Me on a Sunday,” Bailiwick Theater

“Sweet Charity,” Drury Lane Oakbrook

“1776,” Signal Ensemble

“Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Lovers of the Night,” Theo Ubique

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Circle Theatre

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Worst Musicals

“Shout! The Mod Musical,” Drury Lane Water Tower

“Avenue Q,” Broadway in Chicago

“Dirty Dancing,” Broadway in Chicago

“Russian on the Side,” Royal George Theater

“Gutenberg! The Musical,” Royal George Theater

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Worst Musicals

“Dirty Dancing,” Broadway in Chicago

“The Kid from Brooklyn,” Mercury Theater

“Gutenberg! The Musical!,” Royal George Theatre

“Jekyll & Hyde—The Musical,” Bohemian Theatre Ensemble

“Sweeney Todd,” Broadway in Chicago

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Operas

“Manon,” Lyric Opera

“The Abduction From the Seraglio,” Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia

“Lulu,” Lyric Opera

“Porgy and Bess,” Lyric Opera (second cast)

“Don Giovanni,” Chicago Opera Theater

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Productions of Shakespeare

“As You Like It,” Writers Theatre

“Comedy of Errors,” Chicago Shakespeare

“Much Ado About Nothing,” First Folio

“Merchant of Venice,” Boho

“Twelfth Night,” City Lit

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Touring Shows

“Saint Joan,” Shaw Festival Canada, Chicago Shakespeare

“Cirque du Soleil: Kooza,” United Center

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” Broadway in Chicago

“My Fair Lady,” National Theatre London, Broadway in Chicago

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” Broadway in Chicago

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Holiday Shows

“The Christmas Schooner,” Bailiwick Theater

“A Dublin Carol,” Steppenwolf Theatre

“A Christmas Carol,” Writers Theatre

“Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular,” Rosemont Theatre

“The Seafarer,” Steppenwolf Theatre

—Dennis Polkow

Top 5 Comedy Shows

“Impress These Apes,” Blewt!

“Shatter,” Pat O’Brien’s solo show at Second City e.t.c.

Steve and Jordan, Respectively” i.O. Theater

“Brother, Can You Spare Some Change?” Second City e.t.c.

“PennyBear: A Collection of Miniature Plays and Curious Diversions,” Apollo Theater Studio

—Nina Metz

Top 5 Female Performances

Janet Ulrich Brooks, “Golda’s Balcony,” Pegasus Players

Christina Anthony, “Brother, Can You Spare Some Change?” Second City e.t.c.

Erin Barlow, “Red Angel,” LiveWire

Sarah Goeden, “13 Dead Husbands,” Sansculottes Theater

Rachel Quinn, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Circle Theatre

—Nina Metz

Top 5 Male Performances

David Cromer, “Our Town,” The Hypocrites

Usman Ally, “Celebrity Row,” American Theater Company

Steve Wilson, “Red Angel,” LiveWire

Edward Thomas-Herrera, “The Last Days of Beast,” Live Bait’s Fillet of Solo Festival

Daniel Behrendt, “Beggars in the House of Plenty,” Mary-Arrchie

—Nina Metz

Top 5 Out-of-the-Box Performances

“Inner Space,” Joffrey Ballet’s American Moderns

“Walking Mad,” Hubbard Street Dance Winter Series

“The Young Ladies Of…,” About Face Theatre

“Dr. Egg and the Man With No Ear,” Redmoon Theater

“One on One,” Hubbard Street Dance Winter Series

—William Rogers

Top 5 Dance Shows by Chicago Companies

“The Sky Hangs Down Too Close,” Lucky Plush Productions

“Nuevo Folk,” Luna Negra Dance Theater

“De-Evolution of Mudwoman,” Breakbone DanceCo

“Vintage Modern,” Same Planet Different World Dance

“American Moderns,” Joffrey Ballet

—Sharon Hoyer

Top 5 Overrated Productions

“Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe,” House Theatre

“Dirty Dancing,” Broadway in Chicago

“Shining City,” Goodman Theatre

“The Glass Menagerie,” Shattered Globe Theatre

“Scenes from the Big Picture,” Seanachai Theatre

—Fabrizio O. Almeida

Top 5 Theatrical Disappointments

“Dirty Dancing,” Broadway in Chicago

“Les Miserables,” Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre

“Yohen,” Silk Road Theatre Project

“Richard III,” Strawdog Theatre

“Macbeth,” Greasy Joan & Co.

—Fabrizio O. Almeida


Review: The Christmas Schooner/Bailiwick Repertory

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Workshopped at Northwestern in 1993, premiered at Bailiwick in 1995 and performed as an annual holiday tradition there until 2006, “The Christmas Schooner” has had more than a hundred productions across the country and abroad. Bailiwick had announced 2006 as the work’s final voyage for the company but is presenting the piece as a bittersweet swansong to its Belmont Avenue home with all of the trimmings, including a five-piece orchestra and new direction by Mary Beidler Gearen.

I had never seen a single production of this work at Bailiwick nor anywhere else, nor did the idea of a musical about transporting Christmas trees particularly entice me. “What is at stake?” as a colleague of mine always likes to ask in discussing shows. Well, quite a bit, as it turns out—the traditions and values that make us who we are. The songs do a wonderful job of conveying the emotions that the story needs to communicate and of giving us a sense of what a Chicago Christmas was like more than a century ago.

It’s so ironic that in a year where we are still debating having a smaller tabletop tree vs. the full boat experience, if you’ll forgive the pun, the presence of a nineteenth-century-style tree on stage with fruit and nuts as decorations along with the descriptions of the “magic” of a traditional Christmas tree becomes quite enticing. Long before electric lights, plastic Santas, balloon globes and the myriads of Christmas kitsch that make up the retail-centered holiday season as it exists today that climaxes well before Christmas itself, European immigrants of a century ago had only the Christmas tree as the focal point of their celebrations, mesmerizing all who experienced it. Advent was dark and dreary, but when Christmas Eve arrived and though Epiphany, January 6, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the Christmas tree warmed hearts at the darkest and coldest point of the year. Up north, as in Michigan, that is not a problem, but when a Chicago cousin writes to her Michigan relatives who are sailors by trade that “there are so many people, so few evergreens” in the city after sharing her searing memories of childhood Christmas trees back home in Germany, the family decides to make one last late November journey of the season. Three generations of the Stossel family all end up deeply impacted by these annual journeys to Clark Street harbor, where not only Germans but immigrants of varied backgrounds end up lining up to get the best pick of the trees.

Ultimately, this becomes a family love story crisscrossing generations as well as a tale of duty and honor and maintaining sea traditions as well as Christmas traditions, passing on what we have been given and as “Opa” (Jim Sherman) observes, that “If we accept our blessings, we accept our pain as well.” Tying up such a message in a Christmas package filled with music makes it all the more palatable, but no less important. (Dennis Polkow)

“The Christmas Schooner” plays through January 4 at Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, 1229 W. Belmont, (773)883-1090. $20-$35.

Review: Anna Livia, Lucky in Her Bridges/Bailiwick

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Set in Dublin during the 2004 centennial of James Joyce’s Ulysses-inspired Bloomsday celebration, “Anna Livia, Lucky in Her Bridges,” centers on David (Sentell Harper) and Desmond (Timothy Martin), a mysterious stranger who confronts him on a local bridge. Unnerved by this unexpected encounter, David wanders Dublin, trying to explain his familiar feelings for locations and people he’s never met. Unfortunately, the muddled script wanders with him, making clumsy attempts to explain its ghostly components. Harper and Martin have a sweet, tragic romantic rapport; Julie Burt Nichols and Mike Dunbar are appealing as Desmond’s siblings Ellen and Barry, and David Keller’s mournful cello punctuates the scenes nicely. But the actors’ game energy and strong chemistry can’t save the show from convoluted plot stretches and inconsistent character portrayals. (Lisa Buscani)