Oprah hasn't done anything spectacular with her new network OWN, but at least she's doing something right this weekend. On Sunday, January 6 at 9pm, tune in for My Life is a Joke, a new special that follows five local comedians including Kellye Howard, Jessica Joy, Lisa Laureta, Natalie Jose and Patty Vasquez as they struggle to make it in Chicago. Based on the trailer, there's a lot of hooplah over the whole business of whether women are funny or not (they are), but we can promise that OWN gets it right by spotlighting five hilarious local performers during their finest moments.
In Dance Magazine’s January issue, the monthly’s annual “25 to Watch” features three Chicagoans: Hubbard Street’s Johnny McMillan, Hedwig dancer Victor Alexander and Luna Negra’s Monica Cervantes—a very deserving trio with exciting prospects in the new year.
You’ll want to catch Hubbard Street’s danc(e)volve: New Works Festival at the MCA, June 13–16, where McMillan might follow up his precocious Path and Observations (now part of the Hubbard Street II repertoire) with something even better. Meanwhile, Cervantes, after premiering Requiem—her first, much-lauded work for Luna in the spring of 2012—sets a new piece for the company’s March 9 performance at the Harris Theater. Also in the issue, Giordano’s Lindsey Leduc writes about why she dances.
Here’s to a great 2013, dance lovers.
Victory Gardens Theater will present a one-night reading of The Warriors, conceived by Mary Hollis Inboden, as a benefit for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund on January 6. Inboden, , created the documentary-style play with the New Colony, where it .
"With this national tragedy, I can’t help but think back to March of 1998, when at 12 years old my best friend Paige and four others were shot and killed on our school playground just feet in front of me," Inboden said of last week's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in a statement announcing the benefit. "Talking about my own experience as a survivor in the immediate aftermath of this fresh incident feels inappropriate. Our focus should be completely on the children and families of Newtown. And yet, like all of us, I want to be able to contribute something to the healing process."
The Warriors for Newtown will feature Inboden, Will Allan, Cora Vander Broek, Matthew Brumlow, Cliff Chamberlain and Kristina Valada-Viars, and will be directed by Kimberly Senior. Tickets for the 7:30pm performance are $15 and are available at the Victory Gardens box office (773-871-3000, victorygardens.org/thewarriors). The theater encourages those who can't attend to donate to the Sandy Hook fund directly at newtown.uwwesternct.org.
There are three types of audiences who might end up at The Room: The Musical, a new musical parody playing Saturday nights at 9:30pm at the pH Comedy Theater in Andersonville. The first kind is someone who stumbles in off the street seeking a night of theater or comedy. They've never heard of the God-awful movie The Room and have no idea what to expect. Secondly, there is someone like myself who went to see The Room: The Musical with passing knowledge of the film including basic plot points, key scenes and its notoriety among film nerds as the worst movie ever made. Finally, there are those who worship The Room and celebrate all its cinematic failures with a kind of fanaticism and reverence not seen since Showgirls. If you're in this latter category, I suspect you will find The Room: The Musical an amusing addendum to the movie and another great Chicago musical parody.
After watching the musical last weekend at pH, I have since devoured as many YouTube clips as I possibly can and am now kicking myself for not having Netflixed The Room beforehand (I'm also laughing retroactively). The "plot" of the film is a love triangle between Johnny, his best friend Mark and the object of their affection, Lisa. It is confusingly edited and astonishingly badly acted. But it does bring pH's version into focus. Now I understand why the opening number is called "Oh, Hi." It's because that's a standard greeting from the film's writer, director, producer and star Tommy Wiseau every time his character Johnny walks into a room. Now I get the recurring breast cancer joke. It's a reference to a plot point that is almost simultaneously introduced and dropped in the movie version. Yes, it's now funny that characters are always tossing a football around because, without reason, it keeps happening in the film.
Parody is about imitation and director Jason Geis, for whom this project is clearly both a labor of love and a love letter, has selected a cast of actors who nail their source material while maintaining the rhythm and energy of Brad Kemp's delightful score (which includes a convenient and hilarious summary of the convoluted plot set to hip-hop at the beginning of Act 2). Matt Gottlieb, doing some of the heavier lifting in the leading role of Johnny, captures Wiseau's affectations and ham-fisted attempts at acting. Jess Herron blends effortlessly into the role of Lisa and Nick DeFina is a dead ringer for best friend Mark. Meanwhile, Tristan Tanner as the mother is perhaps the least like the actress who portrays her in the film (given their obvious age differences), but, armed with a bad wig and awful dialogue, Tanner knows exactly where to find the comedy. She's kind of fantastic, actually. Dan Wright is also funny as Denny, a character who may or may not be developmentally disabled.
Chicagoans love their musical parodies (Jersey Shore: The Musical, Carpenters' Halloween) and this is another fine entry. But since you really should see The Room to enjoy The Room: The Musical, be forewarned that before pleasure comes much pain.
Heidi Kettenring has had an incredible year. She began 2012 by starring as Harper Pitt in Court Theatre’s 4-star Angels in America, then appeared in the world premiere musical Hero at Marriott Lincolnshire before doing back-to-back shows at Chicago Shakespeare with Sunday in the Park with George and the current production of David Ives’s The School for Lies. Kettenring is getting big laughs as the ingénue Eliante, who finds herself helplessly in love with a misanthropic man who has no care for social pleasantries. Born in New Orleans, Kettenring grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where she performed in school plays and musicals as a child. She moved to Evanston to study theater at Northwestern University, and since graduating, has become one of the city’s top musical-theater talents and received five Jeff Award nominations. She talks to us about transitioning from musicals to plays, the challenges of verse, and why she thinks it’s important to diversify an acting career.
The Chicago production offinally opens tonight at the —check out the first production photos of the Chicago cast above. But unless you planned far in advance, like those who bought tickets when they went on sale over the summer—or even farther in advance, like my date for tonight, who laid her claim to my plus-one last February—tickets are hard to come by. We've been hearing for months now that the first block of tickets, through March 3, was completely sold out.
And yet there's hope. Mormon producers released details last week of a day-of-show drawing for "a limited number" of $25 tickets, as is also the practice for the Broadway and touring productions. Entries will be accepted in person at the Bank of America Theatre box office beginning when it opens each day. Entrants fill out a card with their names and the number of tickets (one or two) they wish to purchase. They must then be present at the box office for the drawing, which takes place two hours before curtain time.
Box office hours and showtimes vary, as does, presumably, the number of tickets available via this lottery each day. But if you don't already have tix in hand, the drawing's your best bet for getting in before Jesus comes back (again).
We were in for a nerdy morning when music producer and musician Steve Albini sat down to interview political blogger and statistician Nate Silver. Silver brought along a copy of his book, The Signal and the Noise, for a live auction. "All bids will be in hexidecimals," Silver quipped.
Albini's polite discussion with Silver included questions on his into foray into data analysis via pro baseball and his stint as a pro gambler, but most of us, I suspect were interested in Silver's political calculus in the 2012 elections and its subsequent demolishing of right-wing punditry. He took a nice swipe at Dean Chambers of Unskewed Polls, who called Silver "thin and effeminate," struck back at the nasty Politico article written about him in October and cited Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post when asked to name someone he thought was well meaning but clueless. "She hears a symphony in which Mitt Romney is conductor of the orchestra," he said. Silver says he doesn't often argue with political hacks but that he will occasionally counterpunch and always twice as hard.
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company executive director Kristin Larsen will leave her position to take the same title at Stage 773, the two companies jointly announced today. Larsen has served as Remy Bumppo's executive director since 2002.
The executive director position is newly created at Stage 773, which took over operation of the former Theatre Building Chicago in 2010 and completed renovations on the Belmont Avenue building last year, converting the complex from three performing venues to four. In a statement, Larsen said she was "attracted to the excitement of being in a position to work with a variety of artists and genres, both those produced by Stage 773 and those of visiting companies." She'll begin work at Stage 773 in February; Remy Bumppo says it will take its time before deciding whether to search for a replacement.
“There’s nothing like a Christmas ham,” Santa jokes. He may be right. The baritone hero playfully makes light of a dancing Sugar Plum bear, who, moments earlier, takes one too many curtain calls after a humorous (and perhaps underappreciated) scene.
Ironically, the joke could apply to Santa’s employer for the night, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, now playing at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont. By dance standards Radio City’s annual spectacular is conspicuously commercial, but this near century-old favorite is less ham than substance. The Rockettes—the show’s glittery stars—consistently provide lessons in precision and charisma throughout the program. There’s no denying the talent on stage.
The journey begins at the North Pole where Santa corrals his reindeer (the antler-wearing Rockettes) before a flight to Chicagoland. A sprightly tap number follows, and we’re thrust into our magical setting. The production maintains its classic traditions of song and dance, though Radio City ups the ante with a high tech landscape of city streets and flights through clouds, thanks to a giant LED screen backdrop. At one point, we get a scope of the Big Apple. The Rockettes board a double-decker bus, driving past landmarks like Rockefeller Center, Central Park and Fifth Avenue, a scene that elicits many whispers and gasps from the audience. Such a simple construction, and yet the moment feels authentic. Anyone who’s familiar with Manhattan’s electric vibe will appreciate it.
The high-kickers are at their best in numbers like Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, where the Rockettes stand together, maneuvering in finely constructed geometric lines. The centerpiece holds steady, while the rest revolve around the center. At one point, after lining one behind the other, the dancers melt to the ground like a set of carefully placed dominoes, using their weight to prevent a collapse. It’s slow to act, like watching honey fall from a jar, but it’s also the most dramatic moment of the 12-part performance. Will they do it? Can they do it? They do. And the crowd loves it.
Nostalgia is one of the Spectacular’s biggest appeals, yet the end feels archaic when a group of siblings, seemingly from the 50s, read from the Good Book. The final scenes shift the spotlight to the Nativity and baby Jesus with a heavy dose of good will (and glitz) for the good Lord. Somewhere in between, the Rockettes get lost in the transition. Still, you wouldn’t have to force me, or most, to see this show more than once.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes continues through December 30 at the Akoo Theatre at Rosemont. Tickets available at rosemontboxoffice.com.
Profiles Theatre says it will premiere a stage version of Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men. The famously prickly playwright, who has found a de facto Chicago home for his work at Profiles, has newly revised his script, which began its life as a stage play but is best known as the 1997 film of the same name that made a splash at Sundance, kickstarting the careers of writer-director LaBute and star Aaron Eckhart.
Rick Snyder will direct LaBute's play, which follows two male coworkers who scheme to take out their frustrations with women by intentionally toying with the affections of a hearing-impaired woman in their company. Profiles is billing the stage version, running May 10–June 30, as a world premiere; it replaces the previously announced revised production of LaBute's 2010 piece The Break of Noon, which is now postponed for a second time (it was originally announced for April 2012).
In the Company of Men will be Profiles' ninth LaBute production since 2006. Casting is yet to be determined.