Tonya & Nancy The Rock Opera

This is a wildly paced and extremely loud production that tells the story of the 1990's ice skating scandal that marred the rivalry between American Olympic ice skaters Tonya Harding ( Amanda Horvath) and Nancy Kerrigan (Courtney Mack). The production take a tabloid approach to the story of rivalry and desperation as the quest for Olympic stardom overtakes each skater. We see the role of the mothers both played by Veronica Garza as she belts her way through the opera. Read more

Smokey Joe’s Cafe at Drury Lane Theatre

This fast-paced two hour revue is a non-stop songfest that has enough well performed classic rock, pop and R & B to please. . Director/choreographer Dodge has the cast doing movement and dance routines that work effectively on stage. The harmonies and the blended vocal arrangements together with the outstanding musical arrangements by Roberta Duchak sounded terrific. These nine performers demonstrate their talents and we get to hear the songbook of two relatively unheralded composers. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s tunes come alive in this fun revue. Smokey Joe’s Cafe ranks as one of the longest running reviews on Broadway (2,036 performances) and it has had a long run in the city by Theo Ubique a few years ago. Read more

Million Dollar Quartet (2015)

Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux Original Concept and Direction by Floyd Mutrux Inspired by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins Directed by Floyd Mutrux and Eric Schaeffer Musical Arrangements and Supervision by Chuck Mead Produced by Relevant Theatricals, John Cossette Productions, and Northern Lights, Inc. Playing at the Apollo Theater, Chicago Million Dollar Quartet , the early rock-and-roll revue conceived by Floyd Mutrux, closes next January after a seven-year run at the Apollo Theater. For long-time fans, as well as Chicagoans who have never gotten around to seeing it and curious out-of-towners, this holiday season is the perfect time. Despite its long run, the show is still energetic, and the cast sings the early songs of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis with crowd-pleasing charm. This is especially noteworthy because they do it eight times a week, and at the Sunday night performance I saw, understudies were standing in for the roles of Perkins and Sun Records owner Sam Philips, and yet, they were well-rehearsed and experienced enough that they show’s quality remained as high as ever. The premise is the real-life recording session on December 4, 1956, at Sun Studio in Memphis, in which the four soon-to-be legends played together for the only time. Studio owner Sam Philipps (normally Andy Ahrens, Travis Williams at the performance I saw) is fighting to remain independent from the much larger Columbia Records. He’s the one who discovered most white rock musicians, and besides feeling that he has earned more respect then he gets, wants to still be his own boss. He already had to sell his contract with Elvis (I saw Robby Kipferl, who alternates with Brandon Bennet), and fears he may soon lose Carl Perkins (normally Shaun Whitley, I saw Kurt Jenkins). To provide backup on the piano for Perkins’s next record, he has brought in his latest find: Jerry Lee Lewis (Colte Julian), a hyperactive, boldly outspoken young man who announces his determination to outshine all Sun’s previous stars. The clashing personalities and agendas of the manager and musicians motivate them to show off with most of the big rock hits up to that time. Lewis demonstrates his skill on the piano with “Real Wild Child,” while the more uptight, bitter Carl Perkins plays his song “Blue Suede Shoes,” which Elvis became better-known for covering while Perkins was hospitalized from a car crash the previous March. Elvis himself, much shyer and shorter than his public image suggested (Sam calls him “Elf”), shows up with his girlfriend, Dyanne (Kelly Lamont), on break from shooting movies to visit Sam, with some awkwardness, on account of his change in labels. He sings Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” and charms Dyanne into lightening the mood with “Fever,” which had been recorded earlier that year by Little Willie John. The mood turns grim again with the arrival of the moody, religious Johnny Cash (Adam Lee), who agrees to perform “Folsom Prison Blues,” but has outgrown Sun Studio and secretly been planning to change record labels. Perkins has been planning to do so as well, and their eventual clash with Philips, who takes a paternal attitude toward them despite not being that much older, informs the show’s drama. Of course, it’s the music that people are really interested in. The actors, along with Patrick Morrow on drums and Chuck Zayas on bass, are perfectly appropriate for channeling each of their many famous songs, and the personalities of the first rock stars. Julian’s fingers are all over his piano, and his Lewis-esque rudeness provides most of the show’s humor. Kipferl not only swings his hips like Elvis, but when he does so, it is clear how dancing was a way for Elvis to break out of his shell. As the conversation turns to their dead brothers, Cash suggests bonding over gospel hymns, like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace in the Valley,” blending calmer songs with the wilder ones. Once the story is over, the actors are free to cover songs from later in their characters’ careers, including “Great Balls of Fire” and “Riders in the Sky.” The audience I saw was quite appreciative, which is expected at Million Dollar Quartet , but what isn’t always emphasized is the intimacy of the theatre. At the beginning of the show, we’re warned “these boys play loud,” but Kai Harada’s sound design is well-balanced, allowing all the songs, which I’ve only named about half of, to be heard at their best. After seven years, the cast and crew are still holding themselves to a very high standard. If you haven’t seen it yet, or have and think you’d enjoy another go, don’t miss your chance. It’s truly something special. https://youtu.be/6kYXiKNXGSY?list=PL1C269C8E713C50DB Highly Recommended Jacob Davis 3jacob.davis@gmail.com Reviewed November 8, 2015 For more information, see Million Dollar Quartet’s page on Theatre in Chicago . Playing at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $25-105; to order, call 773-935-6100 or visit apollochicago.com or milliondollarquartetlive.com/chicago . Performances are Wednesdays at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:30 and 6:30 pm through January 17, 2016. Running times is one hundred minutes, with no intermission. … Read more

Men of Soul

with A Tribute to Bill Withers Written and directed by Daryl Brooks At Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago  Fantastic nostalgic revue of men of soul-both black and white-is a thrilling show! Black Ensemble Theater presents one of their finest shows ever with the world premiere of Men Of Soul ! Writer/director Daryl D. Brooks, with the aid of stunning large video backdrops and a kick-ass band (lead by Robert Reddrick), takes us back to revisit the greatest men of soul-both black and white, using several narrators to speak to the struggles the singers faced–against drugs or depression, segregation, stupid music producers, low self esteem, and the need to re-invent themselves fueled some toward stardom. But the real stars here are the music and the singing that finds Brooks' cast channeling their characters. From Kevin Pollack's deeply emotional tribute to Joe Cocker's “With a Little Help from My Friends,” to Kyle Smith's' electric re-enactment of Prince's "Purple Rain," this cast leaves us thrilled as we are taken back to those fantastic artists doing their thing. This is a tour-de-force ensemble show that thoroughly satisfies. Moving from white soul artists like Joe Cocker, Billy Joel, and Elton John to the greats of black soul such as Ray Charles, Lionel Richie, and Bill Withers, this production certainly does justice to "men of soul." We go on a fascinating journey featuring the music made famous by some of the greatest soul singers of all time, including Peabo Bryson, Joe Cocker, Billy Ocean, Billy Joel, Luther Vandross, Tom Jones, Lionel Richie, Ray Charles, Prince, James Ingram, Freddie Jackson, James Brown, Elton John, and the incomparable Bill Withers Besides the aforementioned tunes, we hear other hits like: “You Should Be Mine,”  “Stop To Love,”  “One Hundred Ways,” “Feel the Fire,” “On The Wings of Love,” “Caribbean Queen,” “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” “Night Time Is The Right Time,” “Benny and the Jets,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Endless Love.”   This fast-paced revue moves so quickly that it almost becomes nostalgic overload! The music and the voices are terrific, as the atmosphere is very much like an all-star concert. This is a wonderfully entertaining tribute to the soul artists. It will quickly become one of the Black Ensemble Theater's classic productions. Don't miss this fantastic show!   Highly Recommended   Tom Williams   Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast   Date Reviewed: July 12, 2015   For more info check the Men of soul page at theatreinchicago.com   At Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-769-4451, www.blackensemblee.org , tickets $55 -$65, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through August 31, 2015 … Read more

Murder Ballad

Conceived by and with Book and Lyrics by Julia Jordan Music and Lyrics by Juliana Nash Directed and Choreographed by James Beaudry Music Direction by Nicholas Davio At the Flat Iron Building, Chicago Contemporary rock opera is a murder mystery or is it? The concept here is intriguing. The set is a dive bar in NYC complete with a wet bar, pool table round tables with swivel chairs. You can buy drinks before the show at the  bar. Nice touch. The 80 minute rock opera (yes, it is sung through with no dialogue) starts with the band doing a hip version of the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley"- a folk tune about a murder. Then we hear the story of Sara (Amanda Horvath) as she hooks up with bartender Tom (Chris Logan) but ends up with the poet Michael (Matt W. Miles). After having a child together, Sara becomes bored with mundane married life. She strays back to the dive bar and approaches Tom again to have a fling. Michael eventually catches one and he decides to take action against Sara and Tom. I'll say little more so as not to spoil the opera for those who enjoy rock opera with a hip band. The other reason I'll not reveal the conclusion is because I'm not sure what happened as two unearned surprises happened along the 80 minutes of rock singing. These problems started with that Broadway pop/rock style singing to the monotonous rock beats that, at times of high emotion, required the singers to scream, even in duets!  There is a basic problem with telling a story through rock music and singing: the singers tend to slur their words making much of the lyrics unintelligible. Thus, we have trouble understanding what is going on and/or why things are happening. In this rock opera, the Narrator (Camille Robinson) demonstrates her strong vocal range but she fails to enunciate her lyrics making it impossible for me to understand what she is singing. That 's troubling for a narrator. I also found Amanda Horvath's sometimes mumble singing diluting her meanings. I believe its the rock style singing that makes delivering  word's meanings difficult. However, Matt Miles and Chris Logan seemed to navigate the tough-to-sing lyrics effectively most of the time. By other problem is with the screaming that was used too often to emulate emotions. One, two or all four singers screaming together was ear-shattering. This love triangle has a couple of strange twists that came out of nowhere. Why the narrator suddenly became a part of the story still baffles me? I really wanted to like this work since I  enjoy and respect most of the productions from Bailiwick Chicago Theater. But my dislike of pop/rock singing sure got into my way here. This rock-infused work will probably be best suited for younger theatre patrons who have an 'ear' for rock lyrics and music. I don't. This work is ambitious and nicely staged with truthful performances by Amanda Horvath and Chris Logan. I guess, I'm too much of a musical traditionalist to 'get' Murder Ballad . You may want to experience this show if you're open to rock. https://youtu.be/QZ92S4k4GwM Somewhat Recommended Tom Williams Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast Date Reviewed: April 9, 2015 Jeff Recommended For more info checkout the Murder Ballad page at theatreinchicago.com At the Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL,  call 773-969-6201, www.bailiwaikchicago.com , tickets $30, onstage seating $40, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5:30 7 9 pm, running time is 8o minutes without an intermission, through May 9, 2015 … Read more

Jesus Christ Superstar at Theo Ubique

A Rock Opera in two acts in English Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber Lyrics by Tim Rice Directed by Fred Anzevino Music Direction by Jeremy Ramey Choreographer by Brenda Didier At No Exit Cafe, Chicago Who said you couldn't produce a rock opera in an intimate cafe? I have never been an avid fan of rock operas because they tend to be over produced, with singers screaming to be heard, thus producing mostly unintelligible lyrics. Not so in a Fred Anzevino production. Together with the deft music direction by Jeramey Ramey, the creatives at Theo Ubique have mounted an intense, intimate, and totally engrossing rock opera. Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's acoustic Jesus Christ Superstar is an opera filled with pop/rock and R & B tunes. Director Fred Anzevino's production is filled with fine, articulate voices that, without amplification, were easily heard despite a deft four piece orchestra. The singers enunciated each lyric with deep emotions, proving that rock songs can be understood with skilled singers. Webber's rock opera works well in the No Exit space as audiences are inches away from the performers. Jesus Christ Superstar is , of course, the story of Jesus Christ taken from John's New Testament. That is presented as neither too religious nor blasphemous toward Christianity. It is a tasteful opera that quickly engages us as we join the joyous journey of Jesus toward his destiny. The youthful cast of 14 is lead by the star turn from newbie Max DeTogne as Jesus. He has the charismatic smile and golden tenor pipes that reach the heavens as his falsetto reaches counter-tenor range. His angst is deeply emotional as he nails “Gethsemane.” This young man anchors the opera with his charm and controlled intensity. DeTogne's Jesus has a rival in the outstanding rich vocal chops from Donterrio Johnson who sings Judas in an intense R & B. The fabulous Danni Smith sweetly exudes the warmth in “Everything's Alright” with Jesus, Judas, and the Disciples. Smith renders a wonderful interpretation of the anthem “I Don't Know How To Love Him.” She give that song a deeper meaning than most. Jesus Christ Supersta r has fine voices in all the key roles. Ryan Armstrong's Pilate, Tommy Bullington's Herod, Jonah D. Winston's Caiphas together with Michael Ferraro's Peter, Caleb Baze's Simon, and Will Wilhelm's Annas each contributed yeomen performances making Theo Ubique's Superstar into a stellar production. This show has loads of heart, swift pacing and slick staging, that together with the fabulous harmonies and rich solos makes for a stunning opera. This production of the 1971 rock opera has become the standard for the genre. We'll be hard pressed to witness a finer cast that respectfully dedicated themselves to presenting this classic rock opera with gusto. Yes, indeed, Fred Anzevino has found a way to create a wonderful rock opera. He gets help from Jeremy Remey and Brenda Didier's choreography. This is a moving production – don't miss it. Highly Recommended Tom Williams Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast Date Reviewed: March 9, 2015 Jeff Recommended For more info checkout the Jesus Christ Superstar page at theatreinchicago At No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood, Chicago, IL, www,theo-u.org , tickets $39 - $43, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through April 12, 2015 … Read more

Ring of Fire – The Music of Johnny Cash

The folks at the Theatre at the Center have mounted a major country/folk revue of the iconic voice of Johnny Cash (1932 - 2003)- one of America's greatest troubadours in Ring of Fire. Cash was considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century whose songs included cowboy, folk, gospel, country, rockability, rock n' roll and pop music. From 1955 to his death at age 71 in 2003, Cash with his wife June Carter Cash, toured the country singing his heartfelt repertoire of pure Americana tunes. His distinct bass-baritone voice was his calling card. Read more

Chicago’s Golden Soul (A 60’s Revue)

Black Ensemble Theater, under the hyper leadership of Jackie Taylor have re-mounted their Chicago's Golden Soul (A 60's Revue) now playing in repertory with The Story of Curtis Mayfield. Golden Soul contains a rich assortment of Chicago style soul featureing the music of jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, Gene Chandler, Major Lance, The Impressions, Betty Everett, Barbara Aklin, Etta James and the Chi Lites. Read more