Friday, December 30, 2011

They aired "The Playboy Club" instead of this?

17th Precinct from ddt73 on Vimeo.

Ron Moore's "17th Precinct" was discounted by many sight-unseen as "CSI with wands." Alas, the show will never see the light of day. The pilot is up (for a limited time, no doubt) on Vimeo.

The nitty-gritty of it: set in an alternate world with no oil or electricity, cops use magic to solve crimes. This really isn't doing it justice, though. IMHO, the pilot showed much creativity and promise.

Did I mention Stockard Channing plays Detective Sergeant Mira Barkley? Stockard Channing! We loves Stockard Channing!

I can't help but thing this would have made a nice lead in to "Grimm" (the other NBC show you're probably not watching).

Thoughts? I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spend the holidays with "The Addams Family"

by Misha Davenport
(cross-posted from
It took more than two years, but the creative team behind the musical “The Addams Family” deserves a chorus of finger snaps for finally getting it right.

The show in its current (and, hopefully, final) incarnation is a sheer delight and rightfully deserves to be the hottest show in town. It’s a pity that its initial run was cut short by a week. The touring production is far superior to the pre-Broadway that opened here a couple of years ago and even the recently-closed Broadway production. It’s a horrifyingly humorous romp that shouldn’t be missed.

The plot involves Wednesday Addams (Cortney Wolfson whose big voice contradicts her lithe body) who has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke (a likeable Brian Justin Crum). The pair are polar opposites. She’s an Addams and he’s from Ohio. She is impulsive. He is reserved Yet, the pair have fallen in love.

Addam Family matriarch Gomez (Douglas Sills, who manages to better the original Broadway Gomez Nathan Lane in his comic delivery) finds out about his daughter’s engagement and Wednesdays guilts her father into keeping the secret until the two families can meet and make an honest assessment of each other without the Damocles sword of a wedding hovering above everyone’s heads.

Gomez and Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger, who is far more alluring and a better singer than Broadway’s original Morticia, Bebe Neuwirth) pride themselves on their frank, open and honest relationship and Gomez quickly realizes he’s trapped and bound to upset one of the two women in his life.

Meanwhile, the bald and slightly asexual Uncle Fester (the hilarious Blake Hammond) is pining for his love (the moon; this is the Addams Family afterall). Wednesday’s masocist little brother Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) frets that his sister’s boyfriend will put a crimp in his sister torturing him. Grandma (Pippa Pearthree) just wants to be left alone with her potions and herbal remedies in the attic. Lurch (the rich bass Tom Corbeil) the undead butler seems content to go about his duties.

The future in-laws are initially picture perfect, but it only take s a few scratches to see their dysfunctional flaws. Mal Beineke (Martin Vidnovic) is a controlling workaholic. His wife Alice (Victoria Huston-Elem, a terrific understudy in the role normally played by Crista Moore) is high-strung and prone to bouts of rhyming. Lucas finds himself at that fork in the where he must choose whether to disappoint his parents or himself as he marches to adulthood. Dad wants him to join the family business, but Lucas isn’t so sure.

For as kooky and altogether spooky as The Addams Family may be, the success of the franchise has always relied on the fact that the hopes, dreams, fears and problem they face at their core never stray from a familiar and immediately identifiable path (albeit a less well lit one).

While the situations are most often played for laughs, the comedic show is not without its touching moments, though. These include “Happy/Sad” in which Gomez attempts to explain how he really feels about his daughter growing up and Gomez and Morticia’s duet “Let’s Live Before We Die.”   

"The Addams Family" is one family worth visiting this holiday season. 

Christopher Sieber shines in "La Cage aux Folles"

by Misha Davenport
(cross-posted from
It’s hard to believe that the musical version of the French farce “La Cage aux Folles” is almost 30 years old. And yet, the original stage musical first premiered back in 1983.

The core story concerns Georges (George Hamilton), a middle-aged owner of a drag night club called “La Cage aux Folles” and his husband and drag muse Albin (Christopher Sieber)

Albin worries about growing old and losing Georges to a younger man. He abates his fears by putting “a little more mascara” on and it is under the mask of the feminine that Albin, as the club’s star Zaza, is able to face what life throws at him.

Until, of course, until the son they have raised together (Billy Harrigan Tighe as Jean-Michel), returns home to announce his engagement to the daughter of a conservative politician and his desire that when the future in-laws meet his parents, that Albin is out of the picture.

As Albin, Sieber is the reason to see this current tour. His rendition of the first act closer “I Am What I Am” is delivered with all the raw emotion and intensity needed for such an anthem. It’s a performance on par with Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You, I’m not Going”(from “Dreamgirls”) and Patti LuPone’s “Rose’s Turn” (from “Gypsy”).

Unfortunately, Hamilton fares far worse as Georges. I actually caught Jeffrey Tambor in the Broadway revival shortly before he quickly left the production and Tambor offered more in the role. Hamilton’s wooden performance and occasionally flat delivery of both line and lyric means he joins the growing list of iconic celebrities to grace the Chicago stage in roles that are ill-suited for their talents.

Jerry Herman’s score has never sounded better. My problem has always been that Herman was a little bit too eager to reprise many of the catchy tunes to death. Still, it is a rare musical composer who manages to leave you wanting more, not less.

In terms of gay theater, “La Cage” belongs on the list alongside “Angels in America,” and “The Boys in the Band.”Without a doubt, it was and remains remarkably ground-breaking given the gay family central to its plot. Harvey Fierstein’s book, while edgy in the ‘80s, still manages to feel somewhat contemporary thanks in no part to the glacial speed at which gays and lesbians have received access to basic civil rights (Even a blue state such as Illinois still only has civil unions --a foot in the door, one toe at a time, if ever there was one).

If the show feels dated at all, it is in the fact that a same sex kiss is saved for the end of the second act (as the final curtain is descending). In an era when gay teens are losing their virginity in the primetime world of “Glee,” a same sex kiss at curtain seems hopelessly old fashion.

“La Cage Aux Folles” runs through Jan. 1, 2012 at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe. Tickets, $32-$95. Call (800) 775-2000;

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Story, The Musical! aims for Chicago theatergoers' hearts

Cross-posted from
Editor's note: I thoroughly enjoyed this show!

by Misha Davenport

It began as a couple of chapters of a book of short stories by radio humorist Jean Shepherd, then a sleeper movie with a cult following and now “A Christmas Story, The Musical!” hopes to get a leg up on the other holiday theater traditions with a seasonal run at the Chicago Theatre.
And yes, Scrooge and the Nutcracker Prince better watch their backs. You might say the case of “A Christmas Story” are both armed and have a leg up on their competition.
Shepherd’s 1966 collection of short stories, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, served as the basis of the 1983 film, which starred Peter Billinglsey as a Ralphie, a kid who dreams of the ultimate Christmas gift, a Red Rider BB gun.
Playwright Joseph Robinette (below), who wrote the book for the musical version, says one of the things that works so well about both musical and film is its relative simplicity of plot.

“It’s real life. Ralphie doesn’t want the universe. He wants one thing. We can all relate to wanting that one gift, whether we eventually got it or not,” he says.
Woodstock, IL.-based Dramatic Publishing held the rights to the material and had some success with region productions of the non-musical version of the holiday classic (including a 2007 Chicago production by Theatre Wit). A musical version was perhaps inevitable. Dramatic Publishing approached Robinette about writing the book for a musical adaptation.
Robinette was no stranger to Dramatic Publishing or adapting other works for that matter. Dramatic Publishing licenses Robinette’s musical adaptations “Ann of Green Gables” and “Charlotte’s Web,” to name a few.
For his part, Robinette says he was quite well versed in the original source material.
“I have four sons who all have the movie memorized. I’ve probably seen the movie ten or more times,” he says with a chuckle. “We did have someone transcribe the movie into hard copy for us, but I can’t say I really needed to refer to the hard copy much.”
Nonetheless, he says the task at hand was daunting.
“There is always an apprehension. You can’t help but think ‘how are we going to do this on stage?,” he says. “And then you know you also have to find a way to make it just more than the movie played out on stage.”

Composer and lyricist team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Left) agree that the task of adapting a beloved classic was a bit intimidating.
“Artistically, it is both a blessing and a curse,” Paul says. “You have a built-in audience of fans of the movie, but there’s only so much you can stray.”
“It’s seen by millions of people every year,” adds Pasek. “When we initial approached it, we were very aware and cognizant about what people loved about the film.”
Playwright and lyricsts/composers all realized they had to scale back some of the film.
“It’s an hour and a half film and we had to add an hour of music to it,” Robinette explains. “We knew we had to get some of the iconic moments into it, but you can’t put everything in there.”
“What are the moments that have to be in. no matter what happens these have to be in the show,” adds Paul. “We want to put everything on stage, but we can’t. What ultimately is helping us to tell story about a kid who wants this one thing and how his family celebrates Christmas.”
Ralphie daydreaming about his gun became “Ralphie to the Rescue.”

“A little boy’s fantasy about how he saves the day is the stuff of musical theater,” Pasek says. “That moment in the show came the easiest for us.”

Ralphie’s dad winning a leg lamp in a newspaper contest became the show-stopping “A Major Award” complete with a leg lamp kickline, natch.

Robinette says one of the iconic scenes that was most tricky for him was the “tongue stuck to the flag pole” bit.

“It’s a very cinematic scene. You’ve got a kid with his tongue stuck to a pole, fire trucks and police cars arriving, a view of things from the window of the school and the kids’ reactions. It was a challenge to make that all work on the stage, but I think we pulled it off.”
“They did an amazing job in adapting it,” says 12 year-old Clark Hallum, who plays Ralphie in the production. Every iconic scene is now attached to a song.
“It’s a crazy experience,” Hallum adds, “I love the movie and still can’t believe I get to be a part of the musical.”
“A Christmas Story, The Musical!” runs through Dec. 30 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State Street. Tickets, $35-$79. Call (800) 745-3000; or

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Tintin" not as creepy as I had initially thought...

As anyone who knows me knows, I'm a bit of a fan of the Tintin books. You can blame the pediatrician I had growing up. The reading choices in the waiting room were either Tintin books or *shudder* Highlights magazine (Surely I am not the only one who identified more with Goofus than Gallant, but I digress...).

Sure, the  adventure comic book series by Hergé (born Georges Prosper Remi) was filled with --how to put this delicately-- cultural insensativities, but my options were limited, so Tintin it was.

My favorite was Tintin in America, because even as a six year-old I knew that it was highly unlikely that a Belgian boy --no matter how plucky and determined-- would be able to outsmart both Native Americans and the Chicago Mob. Perhaps there isn't a French word for "cement shoes"?

As I've grown older, I've been able to appreciate the storytelling and structure (Remi knew how to write for the comic book medium). Film adaptations of his works have been hit or miss over the years.

There have been three attempts thusfar to bring Tintin, Snowy and the gang to the screen. First up was 1947's little-seen stop-motion film "The Crab With the Golden Claws."

Then there was 1961's live-action "Tintin and the Golden Fleece."

I loved the poster. The movie? Meh.  Still, it did well enough to warrant a sequal, 1964's "Tintin and the Blue Oranges."

And that brings us to the CGI version coming Dec. 23 from Steven Spielburg and Peter Jackson, "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn."

The teaser trailer featured life-like computer animation that always creeped me out (something about the eyes that appear so souless). The full trailer is out now and the characters look a little more like their comic book counterparts (and thus, less scary). Admittedly, I am rocking a Tintin-style 'do at the moment.

Admittedly, I am rocking a Tintin-style 'do at the moment. Perhaps I'll keep it for the December premier.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Whatever happned to Pauline from "Donkey Kong"

Long before Mario discovered Princess Peach was being held in another castle, there was Pauline.

If you were ever wondering what happened to Mario's first damsel in distress:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The newest member of Scissor Sisters is a Fraggle?

Well, not actually. But Scissor Sister's Jack Shears and Babydaddy have been tapped to write the songs for the upcoming "Fraggle Rock" movie.

Music Week had the scoop. You can read the full scoop here. The photo is from and I snagged it because it was better than anything I was photoshopping this morning.

I don't know what is more exicitng: a "Fraggle Rock" movie or "Fraggle Rock" tunes by these two. Doozers rock! The movie better feature the Trash Heap, though.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My first post at is up

Somebody start humming "The Way We Were." It's all about the history of the Lookingglass Theatre Company (winners of the 2011 Regional Theatre Tony Award). Hard to believe they were ever this young (though David Schwimmer hasn't changed much)

You can find the whole story HERE.

It's the first of a series of five articles on the company to run all this week by yours truly. Please to enjoy!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo Preview

E3, the annual video game industry meet up, kicks off next week in Los Angeles. With major announcements expected from Sony (new portable handheld) and Nintendo (a new console), some third-party software companies have already begun to leak their announcements so as not to have them usurped by the big news from the big three.

Michel Ancel, the creator of Ubisoft's "Rayman" platformer, is back with "Rayman Origins."  The game brings the title hero and his zany crew back to their original 2-D world with gorgeous results.

The game runs on the open-source engine UBIart Framework (also created by Ancel), which Ubisoft plans to use to create games with high-quality graphics quickly.

Based on screens I've seen of "Rayman Origins," Ancel and crew have succeeded. The game features more than 60 levels of various gameplay and like the popular "Lego" series, drop in/drop out cooperative play.

"Rayman Origins" will be out this holiday for the 360, PS3 and Wii.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nintendo 3DS finally gets an update

Can I get excited about "Excitebike?" When it's free, I can.
Nintendo's first update for their struggling new handle-held gaming device, the 3DS, will be released on the evening of June 6. The free system update will finally bring the built-in 3DS internet browser online and users will also be able to make downloadable game purchases through the Nintendo eShop.

As a bonus, anyone who updates their system before July 7 will also receive a 3D version of the NES classic game "Excitebike" for free.

Nintendo hasn't released any price points on games that will be available in the eShop. Perhaps the biggest profiled release at the onset is "Super Mario Land," a black and white platformer that marked Mario's first adventure on the colorless GameBoy back in the day.

In other 3DS news, Saturday June 25 is "StreetPass Day." Nintendo is hoping gamers will use the day to meet up and make use of the utility that allows other gamers to drop in and visit the virtual world contained on your 3DS.

In Chicago, Grant Park and Cloud Gate (aka "The Bean") have been mentioned as possible meet ups during the day. Exact plans haven't been finalized just yet, though. You can follow updates on the Facebook group Nintendo 3DS Chicago StreetPass.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trigger Critic's Summer TV Preview

Just about ever show of the regular season has aired its season finale (or series finale in some cases). The first official holiday weekend of the Summer means the summer TV season is upon us. Behold all the shows that couldn't get a greenlight for the regular season and instead have their episodes burned off as the temperature rises.

It's no TV wasteland, though. Here's five new shows that have promise.

"Teen Wolf"
9 p.m. CST June 5 on MTV
You can blame the successful "Twilight" franchise for this one. The remake of the Michael J. Fox comedy is light on the laughs and heavy on the shirt-ripping abs (courtesy of 19 year-old Tyler Posey, who stars as the boychick turned hairy beast).

The object of many a "Teenage Dreams," the charming Darren Criss. 
"The Glee Project"
8 p.m. CST June 12 on Oxygen
It's like "American Idol," but the contestants are competing for a slot on the hit Fox show. "Glee" heartthrob Darren Criss (Blaine) mentors the would-be members of New Directions. Viewers should expect plenty of drama and the occasional showtune.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams as the cast of  "Come Fly With Me"

"Come Fly With Me"
10:30 CST June 18 on BBC America
The madcapped minds behind "Little Britain," Matt Lucas and David Walliams, return to their mockumentary roots with this stylish comedy about a low budget airline. The pair play just about 50 characters on the show. The HBO version of "Little Britain" didn't exactly win over American audiences, but the new show should find a niche.

"Falling Skies"
8 p.m. CST June 19 on TNT
For those of you who thought "The Walking Dead" was just too darn cheery, I give you TNT's "Falling Skies. It's a bleak look at America after an alien invasion that's equal parts "War of the Worlds" and Robert A. Heinlein's sci-fi classic The Puppet Masters.  Noah Wyle stars as a military history professor who has to put his book smarts to use as surviving humans begin to fight back. I've watch four episodes and I'm not quite sure what is more far fetched: The baby-faced Wyle as an action movie star or the baby-faced Wyle as the father of a 16 year-old son.

Still, Stephen Spielberg is executive producers, so hopes run high.

9 p.m. CST June 23 on FX
The American remake of the hit Australian comedy has Jason Gann reprising the title role as the dog Wilfred and Elijah Wood as Ryan, a suicidal neighbor who sees Wilfred as a grown man. It's quirky and could very well be the summer's must-see TV comedy.

Sneak peek of the first couple of minutes of "True Blood"

June 26 couldn't get here soon enough.

The first three minutes of the first episode are up. Fans of the book series will note that it would appear they are deviating a bit from the backstory about Sookie's grandfather (he's played by Steppenwolf ensemble member Gary Cole). Barry the Bellboy from season two also returns. Still no sign of Claude (the other fairy who reluctantly looks after Sookie).

The show returns on HBO on June. 26.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

When life gives you four oranges and two lemons, make marmalade

Like most Chicagoans today, high winds and torrential rain have kept me in doors. Even though the sun doesn't appear to be complying with my four-day weekend plans, I decided to put a little sunshine into my life by using some fruit to make marmalade.

Perhaps it's the Laura Ingalls in me, but I find canning preserves to be almost zen-like. Here's the end result:

Don't be surprised if you get one of these for Christmas 2011. 
Here's the recipe if you're feeling ambitious and have canning supplies at your disposal:

4 oranges
2 lemons
2 1/2 cups water
1/8 tsp baking soda
6 1/2 cups of sugar
1 package of pectin
1 pat of butter
6 eight-ounce jelly jars with bands and new seals

I'm presuming you know how to sterilize your own jars and lids. If you need a refresher, head to here for detailed instructions.

1. Wash the oranges and lemons. Quarter the fruit with a knife. Remove the rinds. Set the fruit aside in a bowl.

Clean fruit...yeah!
Now comes the hard part.

2. Remove the albedo with a spoon (also called the pith; it's the white bitter part). It's ok to leave a little (you do want the marmalade to have a slight bittersweet edge)

3. Slice the rinds first into thin strips and then chop them. I vary the size of the rind pieces (sure, they don't uniformly cook, but people can tell it's homemade).

4. In a large pot, combine the water and baking soda and stir until the baking soda is dissolved. Add the rinds. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and put a lid on the pot. Allow it to bubble for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring.

5. Chop the fruit, discarding any seeds and reserving all the juice. Add the fruit to the rind mix and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and cover again.  Cook an additional 10 minutes.

6. Add the pectin and butter to the pot. In case you didn't know, the butter reducing foaming. Bring to a hard boil and then cook for 1 minute.

7. Add the sugar (one cup at a time) to the mix. Stir the mix constantly and bring it to a boil. Let it boil for 1 minute.

8. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

9. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 cap from the top of the jar.

10. Place lids and bands on jars and tighten. Places jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

11. Remove from water bath and allow to cool 24 hours. Check the seals by pressing your finger in the center of the lid. If it springs back, the jar didn't seal properly.

Properly sealed jars should last anywhere from 8-12 months if you store them in a cool, dark place.

The marmalade makes an excellent baste for a whole chicken, by the way. Happy cooking!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This week's wine is a Spanish Red. Now where's the Tapas?

Cincinnati's Jungle Jim's International Food Mart is one of my absolute favorite places to visit when I'm in town (well, that and my sis; you can check out the mart here). The wine is always so incredibly cheap, that I usually end up carrying a case or two back with me.

This week's wine:

2007 Mosen Cleto Crianza
At $7 a bottle, the 2007  Mosen Cleto Crianza is quite the bargain.   From Spain's Campo de Borja region, this red is 75% Grenache and 25% Tempranillo.  It's a deep red color and its flavor profile is soft and delicate. There are hints of strawberry, soft cherry and tobacco with a subtle chocolate finish. It tastes far more elegant than the price.

The sandblasted bottle is a nice touch. It's always a conversation starter at dinner parties. People often ask just how old it is as the sand gives the bottle an aged look.

I haven't been able to find it anywhere in the Chicago area, so whenever I'm in Cincy I stock up. Cheers!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Please to share my obsession: Angry Birds comes to Google Chrome

Google Angry Birds image courtesy of 16eN
You now have another reason to ditch your other web browser in favor of Google's Chrome.

The bird-slinging, pig-smashing iPhone and Android sensation "Angry Birds" is now available as a free BETA download. Google is even promising a few exclusive levels, so fans of the game will definitely want to check it out.

You can download Google Chrome here.

After downloading and installing Chrome, open it and then download "Angry Birds" here.

Since it is a BETA, there are a few bugs. The biggest is the game won't let you proceed beyond level 20. They hope to have this issue resolved shortly.

And since you've now downloaded Chrome, you might want to take advantage of some of the other free games available for the browser. In the "get it before Nintendo flexes its IP rights" department, might I suggest "Super Mario Bros. Crossover?"
You can download it free here.

The game is just like the classic, albeit without the use of a controller (you use th arrow keys to move, Z to jump and X to attack instead).

You can opt to play as other famous video game characters, though. It was a little strange to run through the levels as "Metroid" heroine Samus, complete with all her powers (when she is rolling in a ball form, you can set bombs. It puts a new spin on how you complete some levels).

Regardless of who you select to play as, SMBC is a great time waster.

"I'm never gonna get any work done cuz of this game," one user commented on the download site board.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's the ultimate pop culture mash up!

Two of my favorite things have now merged. YouTube musical wonderkids Pomplamoose sing the "Angry Birds" theme song!

Please to enjoy:

Aaargh! There Be Pirates! This week's video game releases

One major titles being released May 10. Captain Jack Sparrow is back for more adventure!

Since the "Lego: Pirates of the Caribbean" game features levels from all four movies, look for my review sometime next week. The game is rated E10+ for cartoon violence and comic mischief.

Here's the official trailer:


Monday, May 9, 2011

"Book of Mormon" on NPR

Oh, National Public Radio: how I love thee.

NPR has posted the complete Original Broadway Cast Recording of "The Book of Mormon" in advance of its May 17 digital release.

You can listen to it here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Peter Pan" soars in new tech-heavy production

Peter Pan
Through June 19
Chicago Tribune Freedom Center, 650 W. Chicago

To borrow a tag line from "Superman," you will believe a boy can fly in The threesixty° Theatre's production of  "Peter Pan."

The moment when the boy who wouldn't grow up (a mischievous and boyish Ciaran Joyce as the title character) and the Darling clan (Evelyn Hoskins, Tom Larkin and Scott Weston as Wendy, John and Michael respectively; adult actors who are completely believable as children) fly through their open nursery window and quickly soar through 400 square miles of a nighttime Edwardian London is a truly memorable bit of theater spectacle.

It's all made possible by the custom-built tent that serves as the theater space and its circular, convex movie screen on which a dozen projectors envelop the audience in the 360 degree, panoramic view. It is breathtaking, but distracting. I was pulled out of the story of Pan and the Darling children who run away in search of Neverland adventures as I imagined what directors will be able to do as this technology evolves (and mark my words, it will happen). I found myself welcoming the show's relatively low-tech puppets employed in the production.

These include the Darling's beloved Newfoundland dog (and nursemaid) Nana, a gawky ostrich and the ticking crocodile that appears to have been fashioned out of the skeleton of an abandoned go-kart and a summer or two's worth of popsicle sticks. The latter, though decidedly low-tech and manipulated by lead puppeteer Joshua Holden, still sufficiently scared a few youngsters when the beast jutted its head out into the audience, growled and then burped.

Tanya Ronder's adaptation of JM Barrie's beloved story (itself based on Barrie's own 1904 stage play) doesn't stray too far from its origins. The look and tone are steeped in equal parts traditional English pantomime (little known here outside of fans of Evanston's Piccolo Theatre Ensemble) and (perhaps more familiar to a Yank audience) children's theater.  Peter, the Darling children and the rest of the orphan Lost Boys (the terrific local actor Darren Barrere as Tootles, along with Lee Turnbull, Ben Adams and Keith Richards) encounter an Indian (Heidi Buehler as Tiger Lily), mermaids (Kasumi Kato and Amanda Goble who perform some great aerial silk work) and, of course, a motley band of pirates lead by the villainous Captain Hook (Steven Pacey, who also plays Mr. Darling, Hook's less villainous but bumbling real-world counterpart).

As Tinkerbell, the jealous and mischievous fairy who competes with Wendy for Peter's affections (which Peter never returns), Emily Yetter is one punkish pixie who captures your heart. Her near death scene is one of the few emotional moments in the show.

In keeping true to the original work and less to the sanitized Disney version that most American parents are familiar, there is actually bloodshed in this "Pan." Hook's metal appendage is used to slit one pirate's throat and another crew member is forced by the captain to commit hari kari after his mutinous plot goes awry. Michael Darling also almost drowns when a mermaid tries to drag him to the bottom of the sea.

Parents  should be aware of these elements which may frighten younger children. I didn't mind the sense of danger (Have you ever actually read the original Grimm's Fairy Tales? They'll keep you up at night). Most kids will gloss over the violence in the play (which is mostly played for laughs, anyway). They are more focused on taking their own evening flights through the skies of Neverland.

Ronder includes the epilogue Barrie tacked onto his original work as the play's final moment. In it, Peter Pan returns to the Darling home only to find that Wendy has grown up and has a child of her own. The play ends with Peter bowing to the child (Rachel Lien) and you know Wendy will soon be filled with a mother's anguish as another nighttime flight is eminent.

And it's just slightly unsettling. To quote Brom, the artist and author of The Child Thief, the disturbing, modern retelling of the story, "the idea of an immortal boy hanging about nursery windows and seducing children away from their families for the sake of his ego and to fight his enemies is at the very least disturbing."

Yes, what was once a childhood dream is now every parents' nightmare.  Children should relish this flight of fancy. Adults will probably tuck the little ones in a bit tighter when the next bedtime rolls around.

And make sure those nursery room windows are locked.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Spring" eternal at the Oriental

"Spring Awakening"
Through May 8
Ford Center for Performing Arts Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
(800) 775-2000

"Spring Awakening," the Tony award-winning musical based on the controversial play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, returned to the Oriental Theatre for an eight-show, non-Equity run May 3 with its moving yet incredibly sobering message firmly in place.

Kudos to the tour's producer NETworks. The group has raided some of the best performing arts colleges and programs from around the country to assemble its cast of non-Equity performers. Most are either recent graduates or still in school and the casts' talent and youthful energy are put to good use in a show that requires its ensemble to jump around for much of the show.

For the uninitiated, the show is a period piece with the rock music acting as the inner-most thoughts of the sheltered and conflicted teens.The point, of course, is that very little has changed since Wedekind first wrote the play. Parents, in an effort to keep their children young and innocent for as long as possible, do some pretty horrendous things in their efforts to protect their offspring. One needs only to substitute the children of 19th century Germany for home schooled children in modern America. I don't mean that as a slight on home schooling (I have nieces and nephews who have been home schooled). A parent's desire to protect their child is natural, but there is a danger when you try to fully insulate your child. The outside world is going to always be there and whether you wish to admit it or not, your child will eventually grow up and discover that world. One only can hope that you have prepared them to deal with that world.

The conflict begins immediately as Wendla (the sweet-voiced, appropriately naive and innocent Elizabeth Judd) fights with her mother (Sarah Kleeman, playing all the adult female roles). Wendla wants to wear a favorite dress that, because of her blossoming body, is now a little too revealing. The fact that she isn't cognizant of the changes taking place with her own body is no surprise. She's going to be an aunt for the second time and still doesn't know where babies come from. She's so insulated, in fact, that she has never felt pain. Later on in the show, one of the more difficult scenes to watch is when she asks her former childhood playmate Melchior (Christopher Wood) to beat her with a switch so she can finally feel what pain is and he complies.

Wood's Melchior, meanwhile, is a boy who is a little bit too clever for his own good who is pretty convinced he has the whole world figured out ("All That's Known"). Like the hero of Goethe's Faust (the book he is currently reading), Melchior is on a mission to find the true essence of life and to share his knowledge with his classmates and friends. Suffice to say his attempt to free his classmates from the shackles of sexual ignorance have tragic results for all involved.

Rounding out the trio of main characters is Melchior's best friend and misfit Moritz (the appropriately punk-ish Coby Getzug). His academic ineptitude is being compounded by the distractions of his raging hormones. Of course, though he thinks he is the only one suffering these afflictions, it isn't the case as we found out with the infectious "The Bitch of Living."

As the show's secret gay lovers Devon Stone and Daniel Plimpton (Hanschen and Ernst, respectively) mostly play things for laughs. Hanschen even  imparts some pretty good advice to Ernst when he tells him to "let the system work for you."

Wendla's friend Martha (a soulful Aliya Bowles) is being beaten and sexually abused by her father. Though her friends urge her to seek help, she declines. After all, she is well aware of what happened to Ilse (Courtney Markowitz), another girl in town who was shunned when she went public with the abuse she suffered. Ilse now lives in an artists' commune where she is passed from painter to painter. . The two young women deliver a haunting anthem of the anger bubbling just below the surface in "The Dark I Know Well."

As the tragic and free-spirited Ilse, Markowitz is extremely likable whether pleading with Moritz to stop and just enjoy life ("Blue Wind") or with the audience to "listen to what's in the heart of a child/a song so big in one so small" in the show's final song of hope, "The Song of Purple Summer." It was during the latter song that the show offered up one of its most moving moments last night. The instruments faded away and a wave of a capella ensemble voices rippled out into the audience as the cast walked toward the lip of the stage.

The rock score might not sit well with fans of the traditional Broadway music. To which I say: get over it. If the Broadway musical has any hope of remaining relevant, it is in finding a musical vernacular that continues to speak to a modern audience. To that extent, I think the show's score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater succeeds. One only has to look to high school commencements. The traditional song of choice for many schools was "You'll Never Walk Alone" (from Rogers and Hammerstein's 1945 musical "Carousel"). I've been to a couple of them that featured "The Song of Purple Summer" instead.

The cast of "Spring Awakening" will also perform 11:30 p.m. tonight, May 4 at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret. Tickets, $15. Proceeds benefit the Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth. For reservations, call (773) 278-1830;

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2011 Tony Award Nominations

Holy nominations!  "The Book of Mormon" leads the pack with a total of 14 nominations for the 2011 Tony Awards.

Chicago-specific, Lookingglass Theatre Company is the recipient of this year's regional theater award. They join the growing list of Chicago theaters to have won the award including the Goodman, Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens. Congratulations to the ensemble for a well-deserved award.

Here's the major categories and my picks. Feel free to try and outguess me.  Just remember, I'm not Roger Ebert and there are no prizes involved (well, maybe a Sidetrack slushie if you're nice).

Best Play
"Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire
"Jerusalem" By Jez Butterworth
"The Motherf**ker with the Hat" by Stephen Adly Guirgis
"War Horse" by Nick Stafford

"War Horse" at the Lincoln Center
As much as I would love for Stephan Adly Guirgis to win, the production of Nick Stafford's play is so beautiful and moving, it's the odds on favorite in my book. Then again, best play is always a horse race (pardon the pun), so who knows. 

Best Musical
"The Book of Mormon"
"Catch Me If You Can"
"The Scottsboro Boys"
"Sister Act"

And what is missing from this list?

Yep. There are some angry drag queens in Chelsea. "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"  was snubbed. It's ok, though. The award should go to "Mormon" anyway. 

Best Book of a Musical
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"  by Alex Timbers
"The Book of Mormon: by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
"The Scottsboro Boys" by David Thompson
"Sister Act" by Cheri Steinkellner, Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane

Two of the nominated shows have already closed. So, if you're choosing between "Mormon" and "Sister Act," I'd say Sister Mary Clarence doesn't have a prayer.

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
"The Book of Mormon" music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
"The Scottsboro Boys" music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
"Sister Act" music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater
"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" music and lyrics by David Yazbek

Tough call here.
The score for "Mormon" is such a pastiche of traditional Broadway tunes with untraditional lyrics. It's hard to imagine a score that includes a song titled "Hasa Diga Eebowai (literal translation: "F**K You God") going home with the award, though
Menken and Slater previously contributed to the Broadway version of "The Little Mermaid." Menken is in his musical element with the pop and Motown-esque "Sister Act" score. 
 I wouldn't rule out the "Boys," though. Ebb died in 2004, so this might be the last Kander and Ebb show Broadway ever sees. Sentiment might go a long way. 

Will the Tony Awards Ebb and flow the "Boys" way?
Best Revival of a Play
"The Importance of Being Earnest"
"The Merchant of Venice"
"The Normal Heart"

Here's hoping that the Tony committee with have a "Heart"
Larry Kramer ("The Normal Heart" playwright) has certainly ruffled a few feathers over the years both within the gay community and elsewhere. I've interviewed him before and, yes, he is that angry and doesn't understand why more people aren't angry about the way this country has responded to the AIDS crisis. While I'm not quite sure I'll go so far as to call it a gay genocide, I do agree that big pharm has made an awful lot of money keeping people infected, but still alive. There aren't any profits in finding a cure. If Big Pharm had it their way, we'd be treating polio, not eradicating it. But I digress.
Never mind "Angels in America" and it's bloated monologues, this is one of the 20th century's best gay plays and it deserves a Tony.
Though it deserves to win, it probably won't. Who would want to give Kramer and microphone and platform?  Besides, a loss will give him another reason to be angry. Expect "Earnest" or "Arcadia" to waltz away with the award instead.  

Best Revival of a Musical
"Anything Goes"
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"

Sorry, Harry Potter. There's just no topping Cole Porter.

Colin Donnell and Sutton Foster are delovely in "Anything Goes"
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Brian Bedford, "The Importance of Being Earnest"
Bobby Cannavale, "The Motherf**ker with the Hat"
Joe Mantello, "The Normal Heart"
Al Pacino, "The Merchant of Venice"
Mark Rylance, "Jerusalem"

Pacino. Because the Tony Awards usually award Hollywood actors for "slumming" on the stage.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Nina Arianda, "Born Yesterday"
Frances McDormand, "Good People"
Lily Rabe, "The Merchant of Venice"
Vanessa Redgrave, "Driving Miss Daisy"
Hannah Yelland, "Brief Encounter"

Tough call here. There were some great performances. Redgrave may not have had the southern accent down, but she is a theatrical force of nature. Still, I'm going with Frances McDormand.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, "Catch Me If You Can"
Josh Gad, "The Book of Mormon"
Joshua Henry, "The Scottsboro Boys"
Andrew Rannells, "The Book of Mormon"
Tony Sheldon, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

Gad or Rannells. Only Joseph Smith, American Moses knows. 
One of these two should be able to put "Tony Award-winning actor" on his credits. 
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Sutton Foster, "Anything Goes"
Beth Leavel, "Baby It's You!"
Patina Miller, "Sister Act"
Donna Murphy, "The People in the Picture"

Sutton Foster is one of Broadway's greatest gems right now. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Mackenzie Crook, "Jerusalem"
Billy Crudup, "Arcadia"
John Benjamin Hickey, "The Normal Heart"
Arian Moayed, "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"
Yul Vázquez, "The Motherf**ker with the Hat"

Total toss-up. I'll go with Hickey as a blind guess.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Ellen Barkin, "The Normal Heart"
Edie Falco, "The House of Blue Leaves"
Judith Light, "Lombardi"
Joanna Lumley, "La Bête"
Elizabeth Rodriguez, "The Motherf**ker with the Hat"

Sooooooo much talent. Light carried "Lombardi." Falco is Falco. Barkin is making her Broadway debut. Lumley is absolutely fabulous in "La Bete." I'll go with Light. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Colman Domingo, "The Scottsboro Boys"
Adam Godley, "Anything Goes"
John Larroquette, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
Forrest McClendon, "The Scottsboro Boys"
Rory O'Malley, "The Book of Mormon"

Rory O'Malley (right) with Lewis Cleale in "The Book of Mormon"
O'Malley's "Turn It Off" is a scene-stealing number about self-repression that ends with a kickline. I'm Team O'Malley all the way. 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Laura Benanti, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"
Tammy Blanchard, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
Victoria Clark, "Sister Act"
Nikki M. James, "The Book of Mormon"
Patti LuPone, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"

LuPone in a supporting role? Holy Mama Rose! I'm leaning toward Victoria Clark on this one. Though she is a previous winner for "The Light in the Piazza."