Friday, September 21, 2012

Circus in the Parks a family affair for Midnight Circus members

Cross-posted from (original link below)

Circus in the Parks a family affair for Midnight Circus members - Chicago Sun-Times

By Misha Davenport
In 2007, the Jenkins family heard the playground in their neighborhood park was about to be downsized due to a lack of funding, they sprang into action.
“We were at Welles Park with our son, Max, who was a newborn at the time,” Jeff Jenkins recalls. “The park was desperately in need of a renovation and the funds just weren’t there. There was talk about the playground being removed.”
For many families, raising funds for the local park usually entails a bake sale, but not the Jenkins family.
Jeff and Julie Jenkins perform regularly with Chicago’s famed Midnight Circus, and the pair came up with a far more entertaining idea.
“We approached the park supervisor and alderman and convinced them to allow us to do a weekend of circus shows in the park,” Jeff Jenkins says. “Admittedly, it was an out-of-the-box idea. I have to take my hat off to former 47th Ward Alderman Gene Schulter. He got behind this and really championed it. I have to give some credit to former Mayor Daley as well. It isn’t always easy to get things done in Chicago and both of these guys could see what we could accomplish.”
It was a gamble that paid off. In its inaugural year, the Circus in the Parks program raised $20,000 for Welles Park.
“It was a colossal amount of money to be raised in a single weekend for the Park Advisory Council,” Jenkins says. “More importantly, it brought thousands of people into their neighborhood park. After those first performances, we heard from people who told us they didn’t know the park was there or that it offered the many events that it does.”
The event also helped strengthen the community, Jenkins says.
“People came out for the circus and actually got to meet their neighbors.”
The Jenkins family isn’t just clowning around, either. The program has grown in size and scope every year.
“Probably our biggest addition thus far came last year,” Jenkins notes. “We added a 70-foot tent that was a real game changer for us. We are no longer at the mercy of the weather and the tent offers an intimate entertainment experience.”
To date, Circus in the Parks has raised over $250,000 and this year promises to be their biggest yet. They’ve already performed in Hamlin and Welles Park this season and will be in Holstein Park (2200 N. Oakley) this weekend and will perform in seven parks citywide. Jenkins is hoping to raise $500,000 this year.
In keeping with circus tradition, Circus in the Parks is very much a family act. Jeff and Julie’s children, seven-year old Max, and five-year-old Samantha, and the family’s pooch, Junebug (a rescue dog from the Englewood neighborhood), all perform.
“Samantha may steal the show this year, but kids all seem to love Junebug and always want to meet her afterwards,” Jeff Jenkins says. “Junebug loves the attention and has many fans.”
This is hardly amateur hour, though. Samantha will perform on the trapeze and Max and Jeff have spent a few years perfecting their act. The family is joined by professional circus artists from all over the country and Canada. In all, there are 25 performers and 15 different acts that cover a variety of circus arts including tumbling, juggling, aerial hoops and clowns.
“We pack a lot into two acts and an hour and 45 minutes,” Jenkins says. “Every performer is outstanding. It’s a great way to experience your park, your community and world-class circus artists.”
Jenkins says this is much more than just performing circus acts.
“As much as we love circus and performing, we also are parents and have a stake in community. Not only can we entertain people, we are helping rebuild playgrounds and neighborhoods.”

‘Circus in the Parks’
♦ 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 21
♦ Tickets, $15 (advance purchase strongly recommended)
♦ Visit
Sept. 22-23: Holstein Park, 2200 N. Oakley
Sept. 29-30: Independence Park, 3945 N. Springfield
Oct. 6-7: Commercial Park, 1845 W. Rice
Oct. 13-14: Mt. Greenwood Park, 3724 W. 111th St.
Oct. 20-21: Chase Park, 4701 N. Ashland

Friday, September 7, 2012

Leg Warmers and short shorts: A chat with Xanadu's Gina Milo and Chris Critelli

Cross posted from

The '80s are back, courtesy of Drury Lane Theatre's production of the Broadway hit "Xanadu." 

Based on the 1980 flop that feature Olivia Newton John and a score by Electric Light Orchestra, the show's neon lights will shine through Oct. 28. 

I caught up with stars Gina Milo and Chris Critelli, who play the muse Clio and the struggling artist Sonny respectively, to talk about all things '80s.  

Q: The film “Xanadu” is considered by many to be a guilty pleasure, what’s your guilty pleasure?
Gina Milo: My guilty pleasure is anything with sugar. Cupcake, cookies, ice cream, I don't discriminate. I don’t allow myself to eat sugar when I'm doing shows, but when I'm not, look out!. 
Chris Critelli: I'd have to say my guilty pleasure is greasy, disgusting street food in New York. The kind of stuff you get late at night. I’ll never stop loving it.

Q: What was your reaction to the film when you first saw it?
GM: The first time I saw it was after I got cast. It’s pretty bad. It’s awful in a kind of wonderful-awful way. You have to keep watching because it’s so awful. We hadn't even had the first rehearsal and I was thinking 'Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into." 
CC: I was the same. I first saw it when I was preparing for the show a few months ago. It was hard to get through. The film 'Xanadu' is a journey, but it's not an easy one to take. It's got great music, but it hard to hear it over the sound of Gene Kelly spinning in his grave. You can see in the film that he is delivering every line with gritted teeth. You can almost hear him thinking 'I can't believe this is really going to be the last movie I’m ever going to make.'

Q: Why does the film and musical have such a cult following?
GM: I think for a lot of people, the film represents freedom. There is a lot of freedom in it. Individuality, sexuality. So many abstract things happening in it. When I watch it, I see all these different types of people in the ensemble. Everybody belongs in Xanadu and that maakes you feel accepted, too.
CC: I've got to say it's mostly the short shorts my character wears [laughs]. Seriously, though. The film and subsequently now the musical really tap into the pulse and energy of the era. You can't think of the '80s and not think of the pop music of the era and this show has got it.  'Xanadu' is all about the music, the colors and the pure joy that the decade represented. 

Q: The show both celebrates and lampoons the ‘80s. What is one thing from that era you’d like to see make a comeback and why?
GM: Leg warmers all the way. When I got cast, my husband was most excited about the leg warmers. I couldn't understand why until I put them on. They are really sexy, surprisingly. They're slouchy-sexy, if I can coin a phrase. 

CC: Deloreons, of course. Especially the flying kind! It is such a ridiculous car. With the way the doors open, you can't park them anywhere. So, yeah. Deloreons. 

Q: Conversely, what’s one thing that should stay buried in that time capsule forever?
GM: I would say the garish make up. It was pretty intense. Hot pink is fine on your clothes, but not on your face.
CC:Crimped hair. It is so silly. Crimped hair needs to be locked in a vault in the dark somewhere.

Q: What attracted you to your respective roles?
Gina Milo
GM:There were a couple of things. It's a great vehicle for a quirky girl like me. I usually get cast as the sidekick. This is one of the few shows where you can be quirky and still be the lead. Secondly, I admired Olivia Newton John. To mimic her is a dream come true for the five year old in me.
CC: It’s just pure joy. I get to have fun, sing awesome '80s pop rock and be funny for two hours. The score is amazing and I'm fortunate to get to sing it. You forget the hits ELO wrote. It's the same reaction I had with J'ersey Boys.' You forgot about their incredible music catalaog. Their music was soundtrack of people'slives back in the day for a reason. It's great.

Q: Speaking of the score, do you have a favorite song in the show?
GM:I'll keep it to four. I love anything from the '40s, so I adore "Whenever You're Away From Me" and "Dancin'". I love singing "Suddenly" with Chris. We harmonize really well on that song. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Xanadu," of course. 
CC: My favorite is also my most hated. I love "Suddenly.' It's a beautiful song and the moment is so hysterical. Gina is such a big ball of warmth. We met each other in New York before rehearsals started and five minutes into lunch we were telling each other our dark secrets. She is this best friend who I happened to meet later in my life and I love being able to have that moment on stage with her.  I hate it thought because I'm in a phone booth and I have to magically change into roller skates in nanosecond.

Q:The show requires roller skating skills, was that daunting or are you a natural on 'heels with wheels'?
GM:I wasn’t scared, at first. I used to roller skate with my dad when I was a kid and figured how hard could it be? Then, when I realized we had to be dancingin roller skates, I had an emotional break down every other day. Now, I;m best friends with my roller skates.
Chris Critelli

CC: 'Heels on wheels' -I love that! I'm going to use that. I had done some skating in middle school back in Buffalo. Even so, I was terrified. I had the icy fear of meeting my roller-death. Humans were not meant to move that way. I'm getting used to it, though.

Q: Most people don’t know their Erato from their Terpsichore. Where you familiar with the Muses and mythology before the show, did you have a crash course in it or is it all still Greek to you?
GM:I can pretty much point to mythology as being the one course in junior high that got me kicked off the honor role. I was terrible with mythology. So, I had to really study to prepare for the show. I realized I love the muses and the gods. They are all so dysfunctional. 
CC:I grew up as a chubby nerd. I was really into Greek mythology. I would spend hours at the library reading all the books. Creatures. I grew up watching all those Ray Harryhausen movies. I love the fact that the cyclops and the minotaur have cameos in the show. 

Q: Chris, your character wears some short shorts. Any concerns about staying warm or fitting in them?
CC: It is definitely a concern! The more you wash 'em, the more they tatter. By the end of the run, there might not be anything left! As for fitting in them, I plan a steady diet of awesome '80 workout video tapes to keep in shape. 

Q: Gina, any tips for nailing an Australian accent?
GM:It's very hard. British is way easier. You have to keep your tongue forward and lyour mouth ight. It's almost like a smile. . That’s the magic formula. the 'O' vowel is the hardest. 

Final question: Who is your muse?
GM: I go back and forth between my mother and husband. My mother is such a character. I've tried to bring aspects of her into all my characters. My husband cheers me on. Actually, they both do. 'Xanadu' has me out of my comfort zone, doing things that are very different for me. To know that they are both their supporting me, it really helps me find the courage to tackle this.  
CC: I would also say my family. My parents and sister. I owe who I am to those three people. I can only hope I make them proud.

"Xanadu" runs through Oct. 28 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets, $20-$45. Call (800) 745-3000.