Monday, November 30, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life Radio Play Theatre Review: Sounds like a Classic!

The American Theatre Company presents
It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play

Adapted from the film by Frank Capra
Screenplay written by Goodrich, Hackett, Swerling and Capra
Based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern
Directed by Jason Gerace
Thru December 27th (ticket info)

“Man’s suicide thwarted on Christmas Eve” sounds like a newspaper headline, not the premise of a holiday tradition. In American Theatre’s 8th-annual production, Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, based on the book "The Greatest Gift", is re-imagined on stage as a radio play. Though most have seen the movie, the story deals with a distraught businessman George Bailey who eventually considers killing himself so his family may benefit from a life insurance policy. Clarence, angel second class, tries to earn his wings by helping George understand significance of his life. Performed in 80 minutes without an intermission, American Theatre Company’s It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play is a nicely wrapped holiday gift.

Check out the rest of the review at Chicago Theatre Blog

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Peter Gallagher Theatre Review: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered!

Eighty-Eight Entertainment presents

Peter Gallagher: Don’t Give Up On Me
Songs and Stories from An Actor’s Life
At Drury Lane Theatre
Musical direction and piano by Mark Stephens
Six performances November 22nd, 23rd, 29th, 30th
and December 13th, 14th

Coma guy, eyebrows, O.C. dad, yesterday I associated Peter Gallagher with sporadic memorable entertainment moments. Today, I know him as a handsome multi-faceted entertainer. Peter Gallagher performs his one man show, Don’t Give Up On Me at Drury Lane Theatre at Water Tower Place. Through songs and stories, Gallagher showcases his life on the stage. The biggest surprise of the evening, by his own admission, is that he’s not just a pretty face with big eyebrows and lips. Gallagher has had a long acting career on stage starring with legends like Jack Lemmon, James Cagney and Peter O’Toole. Gallagher recounts human interest snippets of these masters of the stage through his imitations.

Accompanied by a four piece band, Gallagher starts his thirteen song performance standing in the middle of the audience. In most shows, our intimate seats would have been considered ideal. Two reasons for this performance they aren’t. One, we are initially craning our necks to watch the performance behind us. Two, we are close enough to observe Gallagher struggling with not so charming belching. (I know Chicago pizza is the best but treat yourself post show.) These are but blips in the enchanting spell of a tall, dark and handsome man serenading with a range of classics through the ages, including; “Fly Me To The Moon,” What’s New Pussycat?” and “She’s No Lady.” The array of songs mixed with mimicked narrated stories of Lemon, Cagney and O’Toole are delightfully entertaining. Of course, you wonder about the songs and stories of working with divas like Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and Sandra Bullock. Although Gallagher’s show is not a Kathy Griffin cabaret version of celebrities, I am not giving up on him. Maybe his next show! Gallagher ends this show by powerfully belting out “Danny Boy.” After initial applause, the audience scurries to the exits. Future ticket holders, don’t give up on him by leaving. There is probably an encore prepared for more courteous audiences. Bring your lighter!

A charming evening of songs and stories is Peter Gallagher: Don’t Give Up On Me. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on you, Peter! I'm smitten with a handsome crooner that I’ve spent only one night with. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” am I.

Waiting for the encore, my seat mates had this to say, James: makes critics swoon, Dick: Peter Gallagher SINGS! and Jill: “It was real!”


Post show, we decided to grab a drink at the 95th Bar of the Signature Lounge (875 N. Michigan Avenue) to observe Chicago’s festive lights. Arriving on the 95th floor at the John Hancock Building, we are greeted by fried fish smells and a host directing us to the least desirable nook of the bar. We are scads away from the windows and any type of ambiance. Giving up on the 95th, we exit quickly and head over to NoMI (800 N. Michigan) at the Park Hyatt. NoMI offers the same expensive drinks and no view that the 95th had sans the fried fish smell. Plus, there are almonds and a classy vibe! The service is a little slow-paced and quiet… much like the ambiance. Since glasses of wine are poured directly from the bottles at the table, we are offered preliminary tastes. Nice touch! Once again, we would like an encore. Because it’s a Monday night, it’s time to give up on me and go home.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Becoming Ingrid Theatre Review: A Charming Tale of Transformation

Rubicon Theatre Project presents

Becoming Ingrid
At Stage Left Theatre
3408 N. Sheffield
Written by Liza Lentini
Directed by Jamie Stires
Thru December 5th

Although Rubicon Theatre Project’s production, Becoming Ingrid, has all the makings for a psychotic stage version of “Single White Female,” spoiler alert: no one gets a stiletto in his eye.  Lead character Christine is unhappy and bored with her life. She reads a book and becomes infatuated with Ingrid, the author. Finding out that the real-life Ingrid (April Taylor) is actually teaching a writing course in Scotland, Christine moves to Scotland, determined to become a writer as well. This obsession with Ingrid leads to her renting the adjacent apartment, collecting her discarded paper scraps, cutting off her hair, and enrolling in Ingrid’s class.

Check out the rest of the review at Chicago Theatre Blog

Carnival Nocturne Theatre Review: Quirky, Murky, Malarkey

The Silent Theatre Company presents

Carnival Nocturne
At DCA Storefront Theatre
Conceived and written by Gillian Hastings
Direct by Tonika Todorova
Thru December 20th

Words cannot express… because there are none. The Silent Theatre Company presents Carnival Nocturne, the story of a traveling circus plagued by a curse. Carnival Nocturne is the last of the three theatre company 2009 series produced by Chicago’s Department of Culture Affairs (DCA) Theatre and performed at the Store Front Theatre. The play is performed with the music accompaniment of a live band and minimal vocal narration. It’s a creative and challenging genre that is reliant on body language to convey the tale. There are no words to answer the questions that Carnival Nocturne provokes.

Check out the rest at Chicago Theater Blog

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Democracy Theatre Review: Elected Winner!

Eclipse Theatre Company presents

At the Greenhouse Theatre
Written by Romulus Linney
Directed by Steven Fedoruk
Thru December 20th

What’s the word for a well-written script being delivered by a multi-talented cast? Democracy! It’s Washington, DC. Rumors of scandal plague the President’s administration. At the center of high society, two women are scrutinized for their relationships with men of escalating power. A senator preaches morality. A minister lobbies for his viewpoint. Sound familiar? One of the many, funny things about Democracy is that it’s set in 1875 during President Ulysses Grant’s term. Playwright Romulus Linney sets his tale in a forgettable moment in our nation’s history. He adds relatable controversy, unique characters and humorous dialogue to create a memorable experience. The votes are in Eclipse Theatre Company has produced a timeless comedy in Democracy.

This cast is solid! Maybe it’s the added benefit of Linney’s funniest lines but it’s the quirky secondary characters that stand-out. An elderly widow Lydia Dudley’s (played by Barbara Roeder Harris) responses are unexpected. Whether it’s about sleeping in church or not wanting a man on top of her, Harris’ deadpan delivery adds to the comedy. Essie Baker (played by Cheri Chenoweth) is a manipulating, political player. Wrapped in a yellow and black bumble bee-like frock, Chenoweth’s sweet spoken threats are hysterical. Baron Jacobi (played by Larry Baldacci) and President Grant (played by Ron Butts) are fun exaggerated versions of stereotypes.

The costumes designed by Joshua D. Allard are fabulous! Instead of traditional drab attire constituted for the time period, Allard individualizes each character with flashes of color and texture. I admit the bumble bee get-up was initially obnoxiously distracting but so was Essie Baker. It works! I also was amused that the minister wore a dress and his female love interest was in pants. The only speed bump for me is either a slight blip in the pacing or lighting cue hesitation. Maybe both. On a couple occasions, the actors seemed to wait an extra few moments for their scene to light up.  But as Americans, we've learned to not worry about the moments of darkness in history because overall Democracy is good!  

The Democrat to my right, Bill described the show as humorous with good acting, writing and characters.


The Greenhouse Theatre district continues to be a challenging venue for a preshow dinner. If you’re satisfied with bar food, you’re set. There are a million Lincoln Park bars featuring burgers, beers and Bears fans. We decide to try the Persian and Mediterranean cuisine at Aperitif 21 (2221 N. Lincoln). We split the baked goat cheese and tomato appetizer followed by the chef’s special Fessejan. Surprisingly, the appetizer has additional exotic flavors to this Spanish tapas standard. It’s tasty! So is the Fessejan! It’s described as boneless chicken with crushed walnuts in a sweet and sour pomegranate sauce. Proceed with caution, it’s not boneless. We split a bottle of wine, an appetizer, and entrée. With tip, the bill is $70 which seems slightly more expensive than a neighborhood joint even with clothed napkins.

In Democratic fashion, we vote on a post show drink. Since it is Sunday night, “just going home” wins by a landslide.

Monday, November 16, 2009

All The Fame of Lofty Deeds Theatre Review: Banjo picking, top tapping, tumbleweed talking good time!

The House Theatre of Chicago presents

All The Fame of Lofty Deeds
At The Chopin Theatre
Written by Mark Guarino
Based on and featuring the music and artwork of Jon Langford
Directed by Tommy Rapley
Thru December 20th

Chugging whiskey, a forgotten country singer confesses his mistakes to a tumbleweed. The House Theatre of Chicago presents All The Fame of Lofty Deeds. The familiar cowboy skull and cross-guitars painting of Jon Langford is the basis for the character Lofty Deeds, an aging honky tonk singer. Playwright Mark Guarino utilizes the music and artwork of Jon Langford to create the play All The Fame of Lofty Deeds. As he faces his death, Lofty Deeds struggles with his past decisions. After trading love and family for life on the road under the exploitative pressures of record executives, Lofty is now haunted by the ghosts of musicians past.

Check out the rest of the review at The Chicago Theater Blog

Monday, November 9, 2009

When She Danced Theatre Review: Isadora, The Original Dancing Queen

Timeline Production presents

When She Danced
By Martin Sherman
Directed by Nick Bowling
Thru December 20th

From the first glimpse of a man’s naked ass to the hurling of a champagne glass, When She Danced captivates the audience in the indulgent passions of a celebrity. Set in 1923, Playwright Martin Sherman illustrates a day in the life of Isadora Duncan. Famous for introducing an unconventional modern dance form to society, Isadora is struggling to support the lavish lifestyle of her husband, Sergei Esenin, a Russian poet. Seventeen years younger and a raging alcoholic, Sergei speaks no English and is jealous of Isadora’s cult-like following. Grieving the deaths of her two children, Isadora wants to open a dance school in Italy “… something small for 500 to 1000 girls to study nothing….” To pitch her idea, she sells her furniture to buy champagne for a dinner party. Bad choices in men, grandiose future plans and drunken artistic passions, When She Danced is a party well-worth selling a piece a furniture to get to.

Russian, Greek, French, Italian, at first the multiple uses of language and accents is chaotic. Later, it’s just backdrop for the colorful eccentric life of Isadora. Jennifer Engstrom becomes Isadora Duncan. Draped in a blanket and unabashed about personal space, Engstrom intimately converses with old and new friends. During her “rehearsal,” Engstrom’s face is animated in emotion to the music but she never moves. Alexandros Eliopolos (played by Alejandro Cordoba), her accompanist tells her that he wants to see her dance. She replies, “I never rehearse my feet.” Timeline Company member Janet Ulrich Brooks plays Miss Belzer, a Russian translator. Delivering some of the most hysterical moments, Brooks is forced to translate Sergei’s (played by Patrick Mulvey) mean-spirited comments to her idol, Isadora. Even without an interpreter, Mulvey breaks the language barrier with his expressive energy.

Under the direction of Nick Bowling, the climax of the dinner party scene is particularly free spirited entertainment. The entire production is well-paced with spotlighted soliloquies of memories of seeing Isadora Duncan dancing. The one speed bump for me is both Engstrom and Mary Williamson (as Mary Desti) at times struggle with strained vocal chords most probably from frequent shouting matches. When She Danced is a sneak peak into the life of a woman who was infamous for her scandal on stage and off stage. Kind of a Brittany Spears meets Madonna type. Isadora Duncan was definitely a woman who danced to her own tune.

My dancing partner, Shawn says the show is an “enjoyable Timeline production”

To get in the mood for a matinee set in Paris, we choose the nearby La Creperie (2845 N. Clark) for brunch. This very popular hole-in-the wall has its own cult-like following. Brunch is bustling and we secure one of a few tables open. When in Paris… we order crepes! There are two categories to chose from: savory and sweet. I want to go with sweet. But denying my passion for a Grand Marnier soaked crepe, I go savory. I order the ham, swiss, and egg crepe. It arrives with bacon and potatoes. Quite the feast and much more than I can eat. It’s good but rich. I’m reminded why I haven’t been to La Creperie in a few years. I don’t really like crepes.

After spending a couple of hours watching Isadora chugging champagne, I wanted to channel my own inner artist over a glass of wine. On an unusually warm November evening, we chose Yoshi’s Cafe (3257 N. Halsted) so we could dine al fresco one last time in 2009. With chandelier lights hanging from the awning rafters, Yoshi’s patio is a perfect spot to enjoy a bottle of Pinot Noir and appetizers. The mussels are not only a hearty portion but individually an ample plump size. The Japanese pumpkin ravioli easily falls into my “all things pumpkin are wonderful” category and the cream sauce is worth asking for extra bread to sop up the last drop. Our server was friendly and efficient with wine and appetizer recommendations. The evening was perfectly pleasant. I didn’t get the pumpkin crème brulee. Or hurl a champagne glass against the wall, see a man's naked ass or create tumultuous drama. But hey, tomorrow is another day to get it right, Duncan style!