This show is a tribute to the late great Duke Ellington. It features Duke’s biggest hits including “Mood Indigo,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce,” “Perdido,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” and “In a Sentimental Mood”. The set designed by Angela Weber Miller is opulent. It perfectly sets the stage for the fantastic singing by the entire cast. Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Memphis), Donica Lynn, and Lydia Burke are especially impressive. The dancing is also outstanding ranging from tap to jazz to swing. Giordano Dance Company would even be impressed. Lastly, the band plays Ellington’s music fantastically. The music draws you into a trance and then suddenly it is two hours later!
A pair of undergrad women are waiting in a gym to take a self-defense class. They are also rushing a sorority together. The two teachers enter, who are members of the sorority. The class was started because one of their sisters was the victim of sexual abuse. They are all determined to learn how to defend themselves. Later on, a quiet and shy girl awkwardly joins. At last, two fraternity brothers show up. They immediately state that they don’t support the masculine culture that lead to the abuse as they try to keep their cool being the only men.
The group really comes together and supports each other. There is a great moment when the music is cranked up for a great training scene. There is also a lot of funny dialog as they discuss their experiences with college. This leads to them building strong relationships which they then rely on to tackle the bigger issues.
Isa Arciniegas (Fun Home, The Wolves) is excellent as Diana, the strong girl who is really looking forward to learning self-defense and working with guns. Ariana Mahallati is great as the innocent and cheery friend of Diana. Andrew San Miguel is so good as the awkward girl nervously making her way through class. Anna Crivelli is strong as the main teacher, who has something to hide. Netta Walker is complicated as the secondary teacher, who has a lot to say about her sexual preferences. Jayson Lee is very funny as the fraternity brother who is having a lot of trouble finding a girlfriend. Lastly, Ryan McBride is hilarious as the Andy Sandberg type fraternity brother who is naturally charismatic and good with the ladies.
The entire play is great except for the ending. It kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really fit the tone of the play and they should consider changing it.
There’s always a worry when a show tours that it will lose its energy once it leaves New York. The original cast is gone, the set is simpler and the venues are much larger. Certainly, for the revival of “Once On This Island” which played at the very intimate Circle in the Square in Manhattan and is now playing at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago, this last concern is no trifling matter. Compare a capacity of 840 to 2,344!
And so while it is inescapable that the tour is a different production in many ways, it was a delight to discover that the passion is the same.
“Once On This Island” tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel, a descendant of the French aristocracy. They meet when Daniel is injured in a car accident. Ti Moune nurses him back to health and when he returns to his side of the island, she follows him and enters his world. While Ti Moune and Daniel are learning about each other, the gods of earth, water, love and death are watching and intervening. They are challenging each other to see if love is stronger than death, based on what happens to the two lovers.
The highlights of the show are Courtnee Carter in the role of Ti Moune and Cassondra James as Erzulie (Goddess of Love). Carter brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role that allows you to sympathize with the character, rather than roll your eyes about a modern retelling of “The Little Mermaid” where once again, a girl makes grand sacrifices for a boy she has just met. But for a hint of her strength and defiance, preview her vocals on “Waiting For Life”:
Once on This Island
James also had big shoes to fill, stepping into a role played by Lea Salonga on Broadway. But her gentle “The Human Heart” was exquisite.And perhaps the one moment that truly makes you forget that you’re seeing the show in a large theater as opposed to a small theater in the round is during “Ti Moune’s Dance,” a pivotal (and lively!) moment of the show that the cast handles deftly.
The show is one act, 90 minutes with no intermission and once it’s over, you just might want to buy a ticket to see it again.
A schoolteacher travels to a new town for a new job. However, this is no ordinary town. Everyone here is an absolute fool. They are comically stupid. A curse was put on the town to make everyone dumb. The only way to break the curse is for a young woman to marry the strange older man who lives up on the hill. To complicate things further, the schoolteacher is falling in love with this woman. Hilarity ensues.
James Byous (Westside) is charming and hilarious as the schoolteacher. His facial reactions when confronted with idiocy are priceless. Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Chicago Sketchfest) is so funny as the shepherd who can’t keep track of his sheep, except for in his dreams. Jason Paige is a major highlight as the strange older man. In his solo, he singing about wanting people to like him has the whole audience laughing. Bruce Green is excellent as the young woman’s father. He acts so proud of her for doing the simplest things!
Ron West and Phil Swann did an excellent job turning Neil Simon’s play into a musical. They truly have a hit on their hands.
A middle aged man named Preacher is playing an acoustic guitar in a rundown bar. He is singing and drinking as the bartender, Johnson, looks on. A young man, Harley, enters the bar with excitement in his eyes. He exclaims that this is the bar where one of his musical heroes killed himself. He can’t believe that he found it. Preacher is annoyed by the interruption.
Harley goes on to say that he is planning to sell his guitar at the pawn shop across the street. His wife is pregnant and it is time for him to give up on his dream. He needs to get a steady job and support his family. Preacher sees a bit of his younger self in Harley. He tells him that this plan will never work. He may try to let go of his dream, but it will never let go of him. As the afternoon goes on, they discover they have a lot more in common than they could have ever expected.
David Atkinson is excellent as the preacher, who is similar to Jeff Bridges’ character in Crazy Heart. Both of them are older musicians full of heartache who never found success. Christopher Fordinal is great as Harley, the young musician ready to give up on his dream. They are both good guitar players and singers. Nina Herzog is solid as Destiny, Harley’s wife. However, the one weakness of this play is that her reactions to the situations in the play seem a bit unrealistic. Lastly, Leonard Earl Howze is golden as Johnson, the bartender. He’s a great listener who sees the big picture and then shares this wisdom.
The music in this play is excellent. It’s singer songwriter style acoustic rock. Hopefully they will record a cast album!
In 1961, Patsy Cline played a show in Houston in a large honky tonk. One of her biggest fans, Louise Seger, arrived hours early. She spotted Patsy when she first entered and she introduced herself. They struck up a conversation and began to develop a friendship forged by the power of music. This play is a sweet southern tale of two women bonding over their troubles with life filled with 1950’s and 1960’s style country music.
In tonight’s production, Christina Hall played Patsy Cline. Her voice is excellent and she combines star power with southern charm. Harmony France played Louise. She was overjoyed to meet her hero and poured on the southern hospitality. They switch roles every night and it would be quite interesting to see the differences.
One of the best songs is “Crazy”. “I’m crazy for trying. And crazy for crying. And I’m crazy for loving you.” The song was written by Willie Nelson. The band is fantastic, prominently playing at the back of the intimate stage.
Another great song is “Leaving On Your Mind”. “If you’ve got leaving on your mind, tell me now, get it over.” It’s so simple and so heartbreakingly beautiful which also perfectly describes the show. If you aren’t familiar with Patsy Cline’s music, this is an excellent introduction.
A dance team of preteens are striving to compete at nationals. The actors playing them range in age from being in their 20s to their 70s. This is very funny at first, and the actors play it up. Eventually, you grow used to it as they truly do embody these young girls and a boy. Also, a few times they act as their characters’ older selves looking back at this time in their life in a cool time shift.
The play has some very vulgar and honest language. It’s a very in depth dive into these girls lives. It is similar to The Wolves in that the teens discuss typical youthful interests but also some very adult topics as well. One small downside, is at two hours long, this play could really use an intermission. I don’t think anything would be lost by adding one.
One of the best parts of Steppenwolf is being able to see great actors play so many different roles and really see their acting range. This is a very strong ensemble piece. Each actor has their time to shine. Audrey Francis (The Doppelganger, You Got Older) is excellent as Mom and Vanessa, a dancer who doesn’t make it past the first performance. Caroline Neff (You Got Older, Linda Vista) is great as Zuzu, a surprising choice for a dance solo. Tim Hopper (Downstate, Linda Vista) is hilariously serious as the dance teacher. Karen Rodriguez (La Ruta, The Rembrandt) is powerful as Amina, the best dancer who is uncomfortable in that position. Ariana Burks, Adithi Chandrashekar, Shanesia Davis, Torrey Hanson, and Ellen Maddow are all fantastic as the rest of the dance team.