Danny Borak, who has been Creative Director for Chicago Human Rhythm Project for three years is leaving with the end of his contract and returning to Switzerland. My heart breaks. His contributions to Chicago dance are endless. That’s him downstage in the tan shoes.
The Lyric seats 3,563. Fortunately, our seats were closer than those at the Paramount in Aurora. I’d never seen Superstar. It was interesting to see so many attendees my age who were there for love and nostalgia, and the young and very young who were there because this musical is timeless. No need to cover the book. We know the story. The telling was mesmerizing.
There is no dialogue, only song and orchestration. The cast was “beige”, a few white, and the rest black and tan. Likely, this is authentic for the eastern Mediterranean setting. Costumes, except for Herod, were “beige”, most looked like old workout clothes. The set worked wonderfully for the all sorts of scenes: crowd, groups and solos. The ramp coming from stage rear at an angle was used for entrances (King Herod with gold cape 50 feet long) and exits, and as a dining table for the last supper sequence. The tableau was an homage to da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
The music combines rock and roll with jazz, funk, and lyrical ballads ("I Don’t Know How to Love Him"). As usual, every performer and every instrument was miked, which gave a sameness to the sound. The lyrics are difficult enough to understand because they are sung quickly. And, when there was a crescendo of voices and orchestra, the person running the sound board did nothing to modulate the mikes – deafening. I would have benefited from reading the libretto prior to the performance. But it did not dawn on me that understanding would be so difficult.
Overall, I enjoyed the performance. Now, I’ve seen every Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Wasn’t on my bucket list, but great fun.
Yes, we did it again – saw our favorite musical. It’s an hour drive west to Aurora, IL with little or no traffic. Therefore, Saturday or Sunday matinees are our only options. This was the Saturday matinee on St. Patrick’s Day, so a good plan to be away from Division Street bars and drunken amateurs.
The Paramount Theater opened for movies in 1931. In addition to “talkies”, it also offered vaudeville, concerts, sing-a-longs and circus performances…all inside Illinois’ first air-conditioned building outside of Chicago. Acoustics and sight lines were so well designed there was not one bad seat in the house.
The theater served the community for 40 years. Then, like many grand, old movie houses, it fell into disrepair. In 1976, restoration began, as part of the revitalization of Aurora, which had lost its cache as a good place to live on the Fox River. Today, it is a beautiful venue, and Aurora has grown to the second largest city in Illinois. Where city theaters are seeing their subscriptions decline, The Paramount had 36,000 subscribers to it 1888 seats. Well done, all!
The secret to their success is producing Broadway caliber musicals way out in the suburbs. They tapped a financially secure market that does not want the trouble of getting to the city, surviving traffic, and searching for parking space. But they want good theater. We enjoyed Cabaret; not so much the trip to the suburbs and not so much our seats in the middle of the balcony. We are spoiled by our smaller venues in the city where you can see the performers, not just hear them.
It's been a while since I've reviewed for Picture This Post. This production was a serendipitous choice recommended by my friend, Jay Kelly, who handles the PR for Manual Cinema.
My friend, Betsy, and I enjoy edgy classical music – and this qualified. We put it in our calendars without much discussion and arrived at the theater each thinking the other had purchased tickets. Neither did, but we did squeak in when a few no-shows materialized. Northwestern is likely the best know school for performing arts in the U.S. Now, they have built a monument to their success and the generosity of their alums – the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.
Handel’s oratorios are beautiful, but repetitive. The style is bel canto, with lots of embellishment to the scored music. Experienced performers usually create their own interpretations, but this production was students – and fine they were, with no additional embellishment. The only questionable casting was the role of Theodora’s lover, Didymus. This is trouser role for a mezzo. Her voice was fine, but her slight build conveyed no gravitas to her grim role.
Theodora was written for three acts. This production had two, and was over in less than two hours, including intermission. Just the right length before the repetition drove us crazy. A beautiful production with outstanding young performers.
How fortunate we are to have Cynthia Meier in Tucson. There isn’t a role she touches that does not benefit from her nuanced performance. She was the essence of “A” in Three Tall Women—mean spirited, dotty, afraid and funny.
Edward Albee leaves us no doubt about his parental relationships. He was adopted by a wealthy family at age two, expelled from most schools he attended, and out of the home at 18. His first play, The Zoo Story was produced in 1958, at age 30. He was openly gay and that created conflict with his family. His most famous work, Whose Afraid of Virginal Woolf, illuminates Albee’s talent for fierce dialogue and unhappy marriages, as does this play.
Three Tall Women is a faithless homage to Albee’s mother. In an interview with The Economist, he said, “(the play) was a kind of exorcism. And I didn’t end up any more fond of the woman after I finished it than when I started." She is petty, vain, weak, penurious, scornful of her husband, and contemptuous of her son. What’s not to love? But in the audience, we become entwined in A’s self-love.
The first act is all A; ill, distracted, on the one hand disdainful of her caregiver, played skillfully by Patty Gallagher; then coyly seductive as she acknowledges her total dependence on this person. With her is the lawyer’s assistant, played by Holly Griffith, who needs signatures on papers that A chose to ignore. The assistant’s snotty recriminations that cut into “A’s” monologues were delivered in an officious manner. Perhaps this was director Christopher Johnson’s intent, but they seemed flat, almost an afterthought to the give A time to pause.
In the second act, Meier, Gallagher and Griffith play A at three ages: Griffith in her late 20’s, Gallagher in her 50’s and Meier in a healthier old age. As the two older women reminisce, the young A contends that she will never become them. All’s well that ends well, if you, like Albee, feel that death is the ultimate freedom. Likely he never felt free of his guilt until A’s death.
In a play written as a “tour de force” for a mature actress, Meier shone.
Playing at The Rogue Theater in Tucson AZ through March 25, 2018
Converting a novel into a movie or play requires radical simplification while remaining true to the plot and characters. With a movie, you have fully fleshed film locations that speak thousands of words. In the theater, you have several sets that must evoke location. In the case of The Rogue, you have one set and clever wooden boxes that rearrange themselves into the truck, dining tables, stools, and stands. Thus, 169,481 words make their way into two hours and forty-five on stage.
Frank Galati, a member of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, adapted The Grapes of Wrath in ’88. It was produced in Chicago, then traveled to Broadway where it won the Tony for Best Play in ’90. It did not run even a year—this is not the fodder for the matinee crowd. I was fortunate to see the Steppenwolf Chicago production. Though memories of the production are dim, The Rogue production seemed more emotional, real, and benefitted from the small stage.
Galati included music in his adaptation. The Rogue’s program says, “Music Direction and Original Composition by Jake Sorgen”. So, I’m inferring that what we heard was all original to this production, though some pieces were old folk favorites. Here, the music and the players melded into the production, playing non-speaking parts where a “crowd” was needed. Vicki Brown, violin, and Jake Sorgen, guitar, made wonderful music together and formed much of the frame surrounding and supporting the plot.
The Okie story is told in vignettes: at the Oklahoma sharecrop farm, leaving the farm, on the road and camping, at the campground by the picking fields, on the road – again. It’s the eternal story of the disenfranchised poor—contrasted with the off-stage middle class, living some form of the American dream even in the Depression. They are the farm owner who evicts the Joads, the law enforcement men who harass and arrest migrants, the growers who pit needy against needy to keep wages low, the nascent unions that promise help, but can’t or won’t come through for the pickers. To leave Oklahoma was to leave hell. To make a new life in California was a living hell. In the audience, you felt shame and pain for this black part of American history. You also felt the love among the Joads and how they were clannishly bonded until California broke their spirits.
The Rogue Ensemble were excellent in their roles. David Greenwood, as Pa Joad, at last had a leading role where his vocal “twang” authenticated the character. His phlegmatic style befits the family leader. Matt Bowdren, as Tom Joad, and Cynthia Meier, as Ma Joad, shared the unspoken love of mother and oldest child, no matter how unpredictable the child.
There are 39 characters in The Grapes of Wrath—20 actors are listed in the program guide. Director, Joe McGrath, did a masterful job of seamlessly blending the characters, choreographing the almost constant movement and delivering the meaning of the play clearly. Travel was signified by “constructing the truck”, situated on the small round circle stage right, propelled around by cast members using long sticks fitted into holes. It all worked for the audience. Lighting Designer, Don Fox, made effective use of back-lighting upstage to create silhouettes that added kuroko-like extra players to crowd scenes.
The Rogue Theatre again took a difficult play, challenged by the need for a large cast, and made it look effortless. Kudos for a great production.
How do you surround the audience with water on a stage? I’ve seen it done in Japan with huge sheets of silk, undulating in the hands of kurogos; I’ve seen actual rain produced at the National Theatre in London; I’ve seen a play built around a large, shallow pool, Metamorphosis, produced by LookingGlass Theater. But in The River Bride, in the Sonoran Desert, the water is all in the minds of the audience—and it is everywhere.
The River Bride is a charming Brazilian folk tale about the botos, pink river dolphins floating along the enchanted tributaries of the Amazon. The characters are a family who live over the water, make their living from the water, and in the folk tale, taking their love from the water. Their river home sits on stilts above the water, making it easy for the fishermen to come and go. Though exits and entrances are made from the land, we never see land, ours is a water world, too.
The actors were excellent in their tightly drawn roles depicting love, fear, doubt, and how the choices we make can create a lifetime. But the star of this production is the staging, the set, the lighting—all enable you suspend disbelief and spend a few hours in the magic of the Amazon.
Based on the lurid story of Ruth Snyder, a New Yorker who, with her lover, murdered her husband and was electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison in 1928, Machinal is an “expressionist” play. That description was used in 1929 when Treadwell’s (an investigative reporter and feminist) play opened on Broadway. It is characterized by extreme simplification of characters to mythic types, declamatory dialogue and heightened intensity.
Considered a hit on Broadway, Machinal (derived from the French word for mechanical) ran 91 shows. It was the first big role for Clark Gable, who played the feckless lover. The show has been revived many times, and is popular with colleges and universities--perhaps because starkness makes for a low-budget production. It’s hard to be involved with a stage full of performers who move woodenly, rarely smile, and, since you know the punch line, hard to become involved in plot development. The movement direction by Elizabeth Margolius was well done and added dimension to flat (purposely) production. The evening we attended, the understudy, Abigail Schwarz, a student at North Central College, played the Ruth. She was outstanding. North Central College collaborated with Greenhouse on the production.
We can assume that when the play was first produced, it alluded to homosexuality in the cabaret scene. In this production, two homosexual couples, one male, one female, sit woodenly in wooden chairs, mumbling inane lines to each other, holding hands, on the periphery of the set. Was this added just to appeal to a “special” theater crowd? To show modern sensibilities that were not likelycast in an early 20th century play? IMHO, the special crowd might be offended because the characters seem so clumsily grafted into the play.
Expressionist theater makes for a rigid and rather boring evening. If you are a student of theater, see it to learn about the genre. Otherwise, skip it.
Amazing show - taking tap into new playing fields of contemporary dance. Performing only tonight and Saturday, Sept. 22 and 23, 2017. The review appears in the culture and travel zine Picture This Post.