From “American Idol" auditions to the Tony Awards stage—Constantine Maroulis has been no stranger to success since his stint on the reality TV show eight years ago. With a leading actor Tony Award nomination for his performance in Rock of Ages under his studded belt, he’s taking on his next Broadway role in Jekyll & Hyde, the musical. Maroulis and the show are in the midst of a national tour before settling at the Marquis Theatre in New York. Now, Maroulis and his castmates are preparing for a two-week run here in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theater, March 12–24, and Maroulis spent a few minutes chatting with TOC about his upcoming run in the Windy City.
How did you get involved with this production of Jekyll & Hyde?
I think coming off the strength of Rock of Ages [and] having been with that production for about three years all in, seeing it come from a small, Off Broadway show to a big, Broadway show in such a short time, it was a whirlwind experience—just a tremendous journey, no pun intended.… This was a great opportunity for me to dig into a real dramatic role after the strength of Rock of Ages, so it’s just good math all around, really.
The Paramount Theatre in Aurora will open its third season of self-produced musicals this fall with the first Chicago-area professional production of In the Heights, with Rachel Rockwell at the helm. Rockwell will also direct 42nd Street, while Paramount artistic director Jim Corti stages productions of Miss Saigon and Rent.
The 1,888-seat Paramount will increase the length of its runs in the new season from three weeks to four, to accomodate a growing subscriber base that the theater say is nearing 20,000. Rockwell's production of In the Heights, the 2008 Tony winner by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, will run September 11–October 6, followed by Corti's revival of Miss Saigon, October 30–November 24.
The tap-dancing, old-Broadway nostalgia of 42nd Street opens the new year, running January 15–February 9. Corti's production of Jonathan Larson's Gen X fave Rent closes the season, March 12–April 6. New subscriptions go on sale June 3 at ParamountAurora.com.
Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters is the highlight of this year’s Steppenwolf Garage Rep, a hilarious, emotional Dungeons and Dragons fantasy produced by Buzz22 Chicago. Buzz22 co-artistic director Sara Sawicki stars as scantily-clad demon warrior Lilith and sheepish high school student Lily, remarkably switching from comic exaggeration to restrained nuance in her dual role. A native of Cincinatti, Sawicki’s first taste of performance was singing as a child before discovering theater in high school. She studied musical theater at Northwestern University and started Buzz22 with other students in her class looking for an artistic home. That sense of home is captured in their name, which is a reference to the apartment number they would buzz to gain entry to Sawicki’s apartment in their early days. Sawicki talks to us about working with Steppenwolf, diving into the world of D&D, and the unique challenges of Nguyen’s script.
Robert Battle talks about filling “big shoes.” Only the third artistic director in the history of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the new head is forging his own legacy. He surprised many in the dance world by acquiring works from choreographers like Ohad Naharin and Paul Taylor, now part of the Ailey rep. More than a year into the job, Battle continues to look toward the future with an eye on the past. That includes The Golden Girls.
It seems like everything’s been asked of Stephen Petronio. When I suggest this to the enigmatic choreographer over the phone, he genially says, “See if you can get something new out of me!” The artistic director of the Stephen Petronio Dance company and former Trisha Brown dancer brings his troupe back to the Dance Center after more than a decade.
Joan Allen will return to Steppenwolf Theatre Company's stage for the first time since 1991 in the opening production of the 2013–14 season, a slate that will also include new works by Bruce Norris and Mona Mansour and two plays recently seen Off Broadway.
Allen, a Steppenwolf ensemble member since 1977, hasn't appeared in a Steppenwolf production since 1991, the year the company opened its current facility on North Halsted. She'll return, along with fellow ensemble members Tim Hopper, Ora Jones and Yasen Peyankov, in the American premiere of The Wheel (September 12–November 10 in the Downstairs Theatre). Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris's work follows a woman who sets out to reunite a young girl with her soldier father, on a journey that takes them across the major wars of the last century and a half. Tina Landau directs.
Austin Pendleton will direct the Chicago premiere of Nina Raine's Tribes (December 5–February 9 in the Downstairs Theatre), a play about a British family whose deaf son finds a new sense of acceptance in the Deaf community he's introduced to by his girlfriend. After premiering at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2010, Tribes made a splash in an Off Broadway production directed by David Cromer. Ensemble members Alana Arenas and Francis Guinan will be among the cast.
Victory Gardens Theater is announcing a slimmer than usual slate for the coming season, the theater's 39th. In addition to the fall opener Appropriate by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, VG will produce the world premiere of Marcus Gardley's The Gospel of Lovingkindness and a new production of Ariel Dorfman's 1991 play Death and the Maiden, to star Sandra Oh.
The theater is also initiating a new program in which select itinerant young companies will take up residence at the Biograph for three– to five-year terms. This residency program will make up to ten additional shows available to Victory Gardens subscribers; the ink on the contracts isn't yet dry, but VG's new roommates are set to be announced as a group in the next month.
This could be seen as an expansion of programming for Victory Gardens the venue, but it's clearly a belt-tightening for Victory Gardens the producer. In an interview this morning, artistic director Chay Yew acknowledged this was part of a concerted effort to reduce the company's standing debt, much of which was incurred in the purchase and renovation of the Biograph Theater. "In the last year, the board, the staff and I have been meeting very regularly to address the numbers," he said. "I think what's happening is we're taking very strong steps to be fiscally responsible and to stabilize without compromising our mission." The hope is to return to a more robust lineup for the theater's 40th anniversary season.
Thodos Dance Chicago, now in its 21st season, doesn’t shy from a tough challenge. It’s evident in the company’s 2013 Winter Concert, playing this weekend at the Harris Theater, where the main attraction is the latest collaboration between Melissa Thodos and Broadway veteran Ann Reinking. After the success of 2011’s The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, the duo follows up with A Light in the Dark, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. But how much of this story can be told in 45 minutes? Therein lies the challenge.
One of the most endearing relationships in American history is naturally suited for a dance. Keller, the blind, deaf child of a Southern family, became one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century, thanks in part to her teacher and companion Anne Sullivan. The couple’s unique kinesthetic relationship, which lasted more than 40 years, is what makes Thodos and Reinking’s contemporary story-ballet so intriguing. It even begs for more. In 11 scenes that span the early years of Keller’s life, Keller (a superb Jessica Miller Tomlinson) goes from trouble child to perpetual knowledge seeker. Sullivan (a shrewd performance from Alissa Tollefson) is unquestionably the reason for the latter. The transitions from scene to scene, however, require frequent blackouts and their respective brevity can detract from the dance.
A contemporary ballet as much as it is a theatrical drama, A Light depends on the acting as much as it does the dancing. Saturday’s cast proved to be both deft technicians and regal actors (John Cartwright as Anne’s brother, Cara Carper as Helen’s mother, Jon Sloven as Helen’s father and Brian Hare as Helen’s brother), but the ingenuity of the story occasionally staggers in its blatancies. For example, when Tollefson signs “W-A-T-E-R,” during the much-chronicled breakthrough scene, Tollefson shouts, “She knows! She knows!” The revelation feels obvious enough without the overt dialogue.
Still, A Light is successful in other ways. Tomlinson’s movement, for example, is less whimsy and more substance. Her flailing arms and distant stare feel authentically driven; overdramatic tendencies are nicely removed. Considering the task, Thodos and Reinking have made something special; the piece is a collectively touching portrait of personal strength and perseverance.
Not to be overlooked, the show’s second half delights in its surprises: a company premiere from choreographer Brian Enos and premieres from KT Nelson and Thodos.
Since its debut last April, Making Out with Wes Perry and Friends has struck a nerve with several disparate camps; folks from the similarly DIY-leaning underground sketch, storytelling and queer performance scenes fill the charming and intimate Upstairs Gallery in record-breaking numbers the third Wednesday of each month. Making Out is anchored by Perry's skills as an engaging storyteller and game host, willing and able to navigate the sudden tonal shifts that are bound to happen in a show as eclectic as this. An encore version happens Sunday 3 at 8pm at the Hideout.
At February's edition of Making Out, Perry's keen curatorial eye crafted a unique revue, featuring sketches from Anthony Oberbeck, Aarón Alonso, Seth Dodson and Christina Boucher, stories from Philip Markle and Kiam Marcelo Junio, and a devastating musical performance from KOKUMO. Oberbeck's set found him drawing from his notebook, randomly selecting partially formed solo sketches based on audience suggestions and following up each with a bit of self-deprecating feedback. A surrealist scene from the charismatic, eccentric Alonso treaded the line between sketch and performance art, evoking at times the body horror of early David Cronenberg and the oppressive absurdity of David Lynch, while Dodson and Boucher ran through their NED Talk (a parody of the wildly popular TED lecture series) before performing it at an actual TED Conference less than a week later.
Markle and Junio both shared personal stories; Markle drew from his experiences at the massive Burning Man festival, while Junio read from an old journal, sharing a story about his experience as a gay man in the Navy during the days of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The highlight of the evening, and one of the most moving musical performances I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live, came from KOKUMO, a transgender musician who recently released her first album. Her emotionally raw performance of "Mad World," a Tears for Fears cover popularized by Gary Jules, completely destroyed—I saw audience members in tears by the song's end.
The common thread connecting these performers is Perry, who has a background in sketch, improv, theater and the queer arts scenes. "At some point, I realized I was seeing such a variety of amazing performers, but so many of them would never see each other. My friends from the Annoyance would never be at the Beauty Bar," he explains. "Most people [on the bill] really are my friends." Thankfully, Perry's nice enough to share his friends with a community of open-minded, down-for-anything audience members each month. Making Out is peerless in Chicago: a variety show that blends real, old-school variety with an evolved sense of inclusivity.
Making Out with Wes Perry and Friends happens every third Wednesday of the month at 8pm at the Upstairs Gallery; the next one is Wednesday, March 20.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a local dancer who hasn’t heard of Shirley Mordine. The artistic director of the Midwest’s longest-running contemporary-dance company (Mordine & Company Dance Theater), and founder of the Dance Center of Columbia College, shows no signs of slowing in the midst of her troupe’s 43rd season. The ensemble’s new collaboration, a shared bill with Clinard Dance Theatre and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, explores diversity in contemporary dance.