The cast of “Gotta Dance”/Photo: Matthew Murphy
The trial run of a musical comedy on its way to Broadway is probably not the first place you’d expect to find an exploration of systematic disempowerment. Reasonably so, given theater’s impressive batting average with Caucasians who can qualify for the senior discount (not that they need it). Still, as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. With its ingenious conceit and pleasantly whitewashed vision of cultural crossover, “Gotta Dance” succeeds by holding up a mirror to its audience and encouraging them to like what they see.
Featuring the milieu of nursing homes and bingo nights, “Gotta Dance” is atmospherically suburban and unapologetically moral. The book’s myriad holes and limited number of locations occasionally stretch the limits of plausibility. With all good intentions, director Jerry Mitchell tends to make matters worse with his persistent use of LCD screens, which symbolically—and quite blatantly—ignore the musical’s overwhelming conviction that the old ways are best. Read the rest of this entry »
Nia Holloway/Photo: Joan Marcus
“The Lion King” is undeniably magical. As the show begins, Rafiki–the mandrill shaman–sings the first lines of “The Circle of Life” while a host of actors in brilliantly designed animal costumes (including giraffes, elephants, zebras and birds) appear against a sunrise to pay tribute to the lion cub, Simba (Tré Jones and, later in the show, Blaine Alden Krauss as his adult counterpart), who is destined to become king of the jungle. In less than a minute, audience members of all ages are completely hooked.
The stage version features the critically acclaimed songs by Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer that were first featured in the animated film (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Hakuna Matata” etc.) along with a few additions. Read the rest of this entry »
Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser, Becky Gulsvig and the Company of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”/Photo: Joan Marcus
What do the songs “The Locomotion,” “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “It’s Too Late” all have in common? Aside from being number-one hits, they were all penned by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Carole King. The first two–along with a slew of others–were co-written with King’s ex-husband Gerry Goffin. However, King is a legend in her own right and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” directed by Marc Bruni with musical direction by Susan Draus, explores why. Read the rest of this entry »
Renee Olstead, James Maslow, David Arquette and company members of “Sherlock Holmes”/Photo: Brian To
The tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth wonderfully come to life in this new adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes” by Greg Kramer. Directed by Andrew Shaver with production, set and costume designs by James Lavoie (who has designed for Cirque du Soleil), this version of Sherlock Holmes is funny, fast-paced and most certainly a test of Holmes’ best-known skills: observation and deduction. Read the rest of this entry »
Taryn Reneau, James Murray Jackson, Jr/Photo: Justin Barbin
“Unspeakable” by James Murray Jackson, Jr. and Rod Gailes OBC can be summed up in one word: inexplicable. Sure, the play is loosely based on the life story of Richard Pryor. Sure, Jackson’s portrayal of Pryor is remarkable—his appearance, voice and mannerisms are spot on. Sure, there are vignettes that introduce members of his family and tell tales that even some of the biggest Pryor fans do not know. But clarity is lacking. It seems that one must be on as many drugs as Pryor was to make sense of what is presented here. I mean, how do you wrap your head around a character who is the physical embodiment of the memory of a dead and desiccated rat (Taryn Reneau)? Read the rest of this entry »
Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller/Photo: Joan Marcus
This little operetta dinghy overcame modest box office and, proving the critics right for once, sailed away with the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical. No small feat in an era where audiences crowd into Broadway theaters to hear actors covering the tunes of deceased pop music artists. A celluloid step-cousin of the British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets” that featured an eye-bulging performance by Alec Guinness playing eight greedy, hard-hearted members of the D’Ascoyne family, murdered one-by-one by a disinherited heir, it was rendered musically transatlantic, the family name changed to D’Ysquith, and Jefferson Mays of “I Am My Own Wife” fame did Guinness one better by creating all eight characters while, after a fashion, singing. Read the rest of this entry »
“Dirty Dancing” is undoubtedly one of my favorite films. I remember watching it in grade school for the zillionth time with one of my best friends and getting in trouble for jumping off of her parents couch as we tried to do the dance jumps and imagine what it would be like to fall into Johnny’s arms after landing that iconic lift.
If you’re as big of a fan of the film as I am, this staged version might leave you itching to watch the movie when you get home rather than feeling that you’ve had the time of your life. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Seven Grammys. Over 100 million albums sold worldwide. A true-life story that so many can relate to in its triumph and tragedy. That’s the life of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and their incredible rise to fame, brilliantly captured in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” now in its pre-Broadway world premiere here in Chicago.
From stunning costumes (designed by Emilio Sosa—who also did the costumes for “Motown: The Musical”), gorgeous sets, a phenomenal cast, a solid book and, of course, some really great music, this show is absolutely worthy of a Broadway stage.
The show begins as a show like this should—making the audience feel like they are at a concert. A full band is live on stage, colorful lights fill the room and, if you’re sitting close to the stage, you feel the beat of the drums in your chest as the hit “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” begins to play. Read the rest of this entry »
Alex Nee and Dani de Waal
Back in 2007, the film “Once” struck a chord with anyone who’d ever witnessed a mysterious, brooding stranger leave it all on stage at a small-town open-mic night. Likely it resonated even more intensely with legions of struggling musicians hoping for even minor success. Separated from the tide of performance-centric musicals—from “Drumline” to “Pitch Perfect”—by its micro-budget, personable songwriting and DIY ethos, “Once” is certainly one of the least-engineered success stories of the last ten years. The first national tour of the Tony Award-winning adaptation allows this endearing story of love, consequence and music to be seen as it should be: live on stage.
Retaining much of the original music and lyrics written by the stars of the film (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová), the stage version of “Once” benefits tremendously from its cast of multi-talented performers. The romance between Alex Nee (filling in for Stuart Ward as Guy) and Dani de Waal (Girl) is natural, even if the suspiciously handsome and clean cut Nee does have to work a little harder than Hansard to prove that he’s the wistful nice guy we want him to be. Enda Walsh’s addition of a trio of Czech roommates succeeds in capturing the multicultural landscape of Ireland though it skirts any kind of politicizing. In fact, as one might expect, the greatest conflict arises between two hot-blooded Dubliners. The larger cast draws the story into wider focus and adds depth to the music, which is truly the main event. Read the rest of this entry »