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Review: Familiar (Steppenwolf Theatre)on November 29, 2018 at 7:34 pm

Review: Familiar (Steppenwolf Theatre)








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November 29, 2018






Cheryl Lynn Bruce  stars as Anne in Familiar by Danai Gurira, Steppenwolf Theatre

Familiar

Written by Danai Gurira
Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru Jan 13 | tix: $20-$109 | more info

Check for half-price tickets


A must-see testament to the complex beauty of family

Cedric Young, Celeste M. Cooper, Ora Jones, Lanise Antoine Shelley and Jacqueline Williams star in Familiar

Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents
Familiar

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

There’s no other word to describe Familiar, but warm.

The family comedy from Danai Gurira (yes, the same Danai Gurira who regularly kicks butt on The Walking Dead and in Marvel films – as if these weren’t enough, she’s also an accomplished playwright) radiates a gentle spirit of welcome, even when its characters are challenged most. And challenged they are, by cultural and religious differences, sibling squabbles and a devastating family secret. When Familiar‘s happy ending arrives, it’s earned by every individual. Taking place in a single night before a Minnesota winter wedding, Familiar inspires loud laughter and noisy tears, and Steppenwolf’s Chicago premiere hits all the right notes in between.

Ora Jones (Marvelous Chinyaramwira) and Lanise Antoine Shelley (Tendikayi) star in Familiar, Steppenwolf TheatreLike Gurira herself, the family at the play’s center are from Zimbabwe, but now live in America. Both daughters grew up here and have the accents to prove it, though younger daughter Nyasha (Celeste M. Cooper) has just returned from a trip to the homeland and is newly inspired by her roots. She’s visiting for the wedding of her sister Tendi (Lanise Antoine Shelley), who has left her family’s Lutheran church for a more evangelical Christianity. (Nyasha speculates there’s only one reason Tendi is getting married in Minnesota in the winter, and it’s not the beautiful snow.) Parents Marvelous (Ora Jones) and Donald (Cedric Young) are proud of Tendi and her white fiance Chris (Erik Hellman), but when a surprise guest arrives from Zimbabwe, the normally boisterous but loving family is thrown into chaos.

I recently reviewed another of Gurira’s plays, Eclipsed, presented by Pegasus Theatre Chicago. Unlike that play, a searing drama about the women affected by Liberia’s civil war in the early aughts, Familiar has cozier surroundings. Scenic designer Kristen Robinson has constructed a palace of a Minnesota home, a refuge for matriarch Marvelous from the conflict-driven environment she once knew, and a golden opportunity for fun entrances and exits up and down the palatial staircase and in and out of many doors. Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene‘s costumes incorporate the colorful Zimbabwean garb of auntie Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) with Tendi and Marvelous’s clean lines and muted tones, and Nyasha’s home-for-the-holidays sweats. Composer Somi‘s score is evocative and vibrant, an appropriately cinematic soundtrack for a tale that’s both intimate and epic.

Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Anne), Cedric Young (Donald Chinyaramwira), Celeste M. Cooper (Nyasha) and Ora Jones (Marvelous Chinyaramwira)Celeste M. Cooper (Nyasha) and Luigi Sottile (Brad) star in Familiar, Steppenwolf Theatre Cedric Young and Jacqueline Williams star as Donald and Margaret Munyewa in Familiar, Steppenwolf TheatreCheryl Lynn Bruce and Jacqueline Williams star as Anne and Margaret Munyewa in Familiar, Steppenwolf Theatre Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Anne), Jacqueline Williams (Margaret Munyewa) and Luigi Sottile (Brad) star in FamiliarCheryl Lynn Bruce (Anne), Erik Hellman (Chris), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Tendikayi) and Jacqueline Williams (Margaret Muny

Danya Taymor makes a triumphant return to Steppenwolf after directing 2017’s Pass Over, which was filmed by Spike Lee and premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Taymor has a keen eye for the quirks that make a family tick, from a husband-and-wife’s silent disagreement on wall hangings, to the dynamics between overachieving lawyer Tendi and Nyasha, who is still finding her place in life (with not-so-secret financial help from her father). Both Gurira and Taymor understand families, immigrants and first-generation offspring on a powerful level, nailing every detail and dynamic with razor-sharp precision. Every scene rings true, from the heartbreaking act two revelation to a romantic comedy-esque exchange between Nyasha and Brad (Luigi Sottile), Chris’s clueless but charming ex-military younger brother.

Familiar is all about ritual: the Zimbabwean pre-marriage exchange between the groom and the bride’s family, the TV football game that leaves them cheering, the traditional musical instrument Nyasha brings home. Even a snowstorm feels sacred in the world of Familiar. As is typical of Steppenwolf, the entire cast delivers down-to-earth, achingly realistic performances. Ensemble members Jones and Cooper create a nuanced mother-daughter relationship, and Chicago favorite Shelley embodies Tendi’s stubborn intelligence and complacency that is rocked to its core. Familiar is a must-see, a testament to the power of family in all its complex, grounded glory.

Rating: ????

Familiar continues through January 13th at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map). Tickets are $20-$109, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at Steppenwolf.org. (Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)

Familiar by Danai Gurira, directed by Danya Taymor, Steppenwolf Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow


artists

cast

Celeste M. Cooper (Nyasha), Ora Jones (Marvelous Chinyaramwira), Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Anne), Erik Hellman (Chris), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Tendikayi), Luigi Sottile (Brad), Jacqueline Williams (Margaret Munyewa), Cedric Young (Donald Chinyaramwira), Renee Lockett, Sam Pearson, Joseph Primes, Eunice Woods, Celeste Williams (understudies)

behind the scenes

Danya Taymor (director), Kristen Robinson (scenic design), Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene (costume design), Marcus Doshi (lighting design), Justin Ellington (sound design, musical direction), Gigi Buffington (company voice and text coach), Somi (composer), Michelle Lopez-Rios (dialect coach), Sasha Smith (intimacy consultant), Malcolm Ewen (production stage manager), Mary Hungerford (assistant stage manager), JC Clementz (casting director), Hallie Gordon (artistic producer), Kathryn Takabvirwa (Shona cultural consultant), Katelynn Barker (design assistant), Regina Victor (assistant director), Lydia Hanchett (additional properties), Penny Lane Studios (wig design), Tom Pearl (director of production), Dana Nestrick (crafts artisan), Hanna Wisner (additional wardrobe), Nakia Shalice Avila (stage management apprentice), May Treuhaft-Ali (research associate), Avo Randruut (Mbira instructor), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Anne) and Jacqueline Williams (Margaret Munyewa) star in Familiar, Steppenwolf TheatreCedric Young stars as Donald Chinyaramwira in Familiar by Danai Gurira, Steppenwolf Theatre Cheryl Lynn Bruce  stars as Anne in Familiar by Danai Gurira, Steppenwolf Theatre

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Category: 2018 Reviews, Lauren Emily Whalen, Steppenwolf


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Review: The Nutcracker (Joffrey Ballet, 2018)on December 6, 2018 at 10:23 pm

Review: The Nutcracker (Joffrey Ballet, 2018)








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December 6, 2018






Christine Rocas stars in The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet Chicago

The Nutcracker

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choregraphed by Christopher Wheeldon
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
thru Dec 30 | tix: $35-$109 | more info

Check for half-price tickets


Familiar holiday classic bursting with Chicago-centric charm, beauty

The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet Chicago, Auditorium Theatre

Joffrey Ballet Chicago presents
The Nutcracker

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

The Nutcracker: a phrase that means many things to many people.

For ballet dancers, it’s a yearly ritual, one they’ve been performing since they were old enough to know the difference between first and fifth positions, an annual routine that often keeps them away from their families at Christmas but also keeps their ballet companies running. For families, it’s an opportunity for holiday bonding, however enthusiastic or reluctant different family members may be. For young audience members, this could be the beginning of a passion, perhaps a career. For some, The Nutcracker April Daly and Miguel Angel Blanco star in The Nutcracker, Joffrey Ballet, Christopher Wheeldonmay be the only ballet they ever see.

How to reconcile all of this?

In 2016, Joffrey Ballet debuted a new version of the Tchaikovsky classic: choreographed by ballet demigod Christopher Wheeldon, this Nutcracker isn’t set in a large mansion full of wealthy people. Instead, it’s both humble – the Christmas party is a potluck of simply dressed immigrants who bring a small tree and plenty of good cheer – and Chicago-centric, set in the months before the 1893 World’s Fair. Mysterious family member Drosselmeyer is now the Great Impresario, a character loosely based on Daniel Burnham, who (among many other accomplishments) is responsible for Chicago having an open and accessible lakefront. Instead of a privileged little girl who receives a nutcracker as yet one more gift, the central character is Marie, the daughter of a sculptress of modest means, who loves her mother and younger brother and is thrilled to receive a special present from the Great Impresario himself.

This Nutcracker, now in its third year with Joffrey Ballet, remains the same in terms of dreamy scenery, candy-colored costumes, Tchaikovsky’s iconic score and the warm glow of love. Two years after its world premiere, the Joffrey Nutcracker is still an emotional journey, full of surprises and delights around every corner, and the enduring power of innocence.

Cara Marie Gary stars in The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet ChicagoChristine Rocas and Temur Sulashvili star in The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet Chicago Temur Sulashvili stars in The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet ChicagoThe Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet ChicagoThe Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet Chicago at Auditorium Theatre

Along with the Burnham-like figure presiding over the magic, Chicago and the World’s Fair are lovingly illustrated in every aspect of this Nutcracker. The ballet’s second half is famously Marie’s dream, the Land of the Sweets and dancing confections in pastel tulle with the Sugar Plum Fairy its benevolent leader. In the Chicago-centric Joffrey adaptation, Marie dreams of the Fair itself. The Waltz of the Flowers is a glorious gathering of excited fairgoers in dashing top hats and spring frocks, eagerly pointing out the wonders around them. Arabian Coffee is still sensual and contortion-like, Spanish Hot Chocolate brisk yet romantic, but the Russian dance is now Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a lasso-wielding cowboy and his saloon girls. With every new twist, Wheeldon injects fresh whimsy into an old chestnut (pun intended).

The Joffrey dancers, energetic and athletic, only add to the magic. Though the cast rotates, every track is beautifully rendered no matter who is dancing. Opening day’s Marie was Anais Bueno, her wide eyes and glowing smile just as lovely as her precise technique. Dylan Gutierrez‘s Great Impresario was a perfect blend of imposing and kind, and his pas de deux with Jeraldine Mendoza‘s Columbia (this Nutcracker‘s equivalent of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Gutierrez’s real-life romantic partner) breathtaking at every turn. As always, Rory Hohenstein‘s Buffalo Bill didn’t disappoint, full of down-home swagger and impressive lasso-twirling. Joffrey’s The Nutcracker is bursting with charm: there’s something for everyone, wrapped in an exquisite package of dance, history and family. Nostalgia never looked so good!

Rating: ????

The Nutcracker continues through December 30th at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map). Tickets are $35-$109, and are available by phone (312.386.8905) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at Joffrey.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Derrick Agnoletti stars in The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet Chicago

Photos by Cheryl Mann


artists

Joffrey Ballet company

Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai, Amanda Assucena, Edson Barbosa, Miguel Angel Blanco, Evan Boersma, Anais Bueno, Fabrice Calmels, Valeria Chaykina, Nicole Ciapponi, Lucia Connolly, April Daly, Derek Drilon, Fernando Duarte, Olivia Duryea, Cara Marie Gary, Anna Gerberich, Stefan Goncalvez, Luis Eduardo Gonzalez, Dylan Gutierrez, Rory Hohenstein, Dara Holmes, Yuka Iwai, Victoria Jaiani, Hansol Jeong, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Brooke Linford, Greig Matthews, Graham Maverick, Jeraldine Mendoza, Xavier Nunez, Princess Reid, Aaron Renteria, Christine Rocas, Alonso Tepetzi, Elivelton Tomazi, Alberto Velazquez, Joanna Wozniak, Valentino Moneglia Zamora, Joan Sebastian Zamora

behind the scenes

Christopher Wheeldon (choreographer), Ljova (Act 1 party scene music arrangement), Brian Selznick (story), Nicolas Blanc, Adam Blyde, Suzanne Lopez (staging), Julian Crouch (set and costume design, mask creation), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Basil Twist (puppetry and effects), 59 Projections (projection design), Jacquelin Barrett (choreographer’s assistant), Suzanne Lopez, Caitlin Meighan, Michael Smith (children’s ballet masters), Frank McCullough (assistant scenic designer), Jon Goldman (assistant lighting designer), Tandem Otter Productions (puppetry and effects built by), Cheryl Mann (photos)

Alonso Tepetzi and Cara Marie Gary star in The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, Joffrey Ballet

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Category: 2018 Reviews, Auditorium Theatre, Dance, Holiday Show, Joffrey Ballet, Lauren Emily Whalen


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Review: Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody (Yippee Productions)on December 12, 2018 at 11:11 pm

Review: Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody (Yippee Productions)








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December 12, 2018






Terrance Lamonte Rogers Jr. stars as Carl Winslow in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard Musical Parody

Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas!

By Stephanie McCullough (music/lyrics),
Michael Shepherd Jordan, Alex Garday (book/lyrics)
The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Jan 12 | tix: $45 | more info

Check for half-price tickets


Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Bill Gordon stars as Bruce McClane in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard Musical Parody

Yippee Productions presents
Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas!
A Die Hard Musical Parody

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

How does anyone write a Die Hard parody without the air vent?

The 1988 action thriller is full of iconic moments, but perhaps the most of all is when Bruce Willis’ character, NYPD cop John McClane, crawls through an air vent. The moment is so iconic, in fact, it’s now a Christmas ornament. Yet aside from a brief mention at the beginning, no air vents are present in Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody. A budgetary issue? Perhaps, but the production makes liberal use of low-budget substitutes like remote control police cars, toy assault rifles, and actors who play multiple roles. So why no air vent?

Erin Long and Gary Fields star as Terrorist Tony and Hans Olo in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die HardSadly, this glaring omission is only one symptom of Yippee Ki-Yay‘s inherent laziness. Once a hit at the MCL comedy venue in Lakeview, its bigger-budget expanded version is thoroughly underwhelming. Rather than milk the original film for all it’s worth (and that’s a lot), writing team Michael Shepherd Jordan, Alex Garday and Stephanie McCullough make the show a grab bag of 80’s references, some of which are clearly missed by the show’s millennial target audience. Solid parody is more difficult than it seems, and Yippee Ki-Yay‘s mediocre book and score, coupled with wishy-washy direction and a struggling lead actor, show that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Die Hard the film was groundbreaking in many ways. It launched Bruce Willis, previously a sitcom star, into A-list stardom. It established the career of the late British actor Alan Rickman as the go-to creepy guy – which would pay off handsomely in the early aughts, when he was cast as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movie franchise. Moreover, Die Hard is held up as the perfect screenplay in at least one how-to guide on writing for movies. The story hits all the right beats and is very tightly-paced. The characterization is clear, and everyone has an objective. It’s led to numerous sequels, a reboot, and well-known quotes like, “welcome to the party, pal!”

So why is Yippee Ki-Yay such a mess?

The aforementioned plethora of 80’s pop culture references is one reason. Naming the beat cop character Carl Winslow (in honor of actor Reginald VelJohnson’s ensuing long-term gig on the sitcom Family Matters) makes sense. Making one or two Nintendo jokes when Japanese boss Nakotomi has to die over 30 times, does as well (though that joke gets repetitive after the first ten utterances). But having a Terminator cameo that, in the spirit of the production, drags on way too long, is simply unnecessary, as is Theo Huxtable as one of the terrorists. Most of the audience when I was present clearly had no idea who Theo Huxtable was. Also, no jokes about the character’s friend bringing a gun to school (one of his main storylines on The Cosby Show). Speaking of which, no Bill Cosby jokes. None. When a character from his show was onstage for most of the 90 minutes.

Terrance Lamonte Rogers Jr., Nate Curlott and Lauren Kincaid star in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die HardTerrance Lamonte Rogers Jr. stars as Carl Winslow in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard Musical Parody Gary Fields and Erin Long star as Hans Olo and Terrorist Tony in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard MusiGary Fields, Erin Long and Bill Gordon star in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard Musical ParodyJenna Steege, Caitlyn Cerza and Erin Long star in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard Musical Parody

With the exception of three songs, Yippee Ki-Yay‘s score is so unmemorable that the action grinds to a halt every time the keyboard sounds. No one remembers McClane’s (Bill Gordon) estranged wife, Holly (played here by Caitlyn Cerza), even though her hijacked office holiday party is the reason McClane’s in this mess in the first place. With that in mind, we really don’t need a whole production number about how tough it is to be a “lady in the 80’s”. Only terrorist leader Hans’s (Gary Fields) musical ode to fashion, Officer Winslow’s (Terrance LaMonte Jr.) sexual ballad about Twinkies and the hypermasculine American jam of FBI Johnson (Nate Curlott) are in any way entertaining – and that’s more because the actors sell the heck out of them.

Tiffani Moore Swalley‘s direction is just as confused as the writing. The 90-minute run time feels twice as long, and very few opportunities for creative staging are taken. (One notable exception, an extended wrestling sequence with McClane and a My Buddy doll masquerading as a terrorist, is due to Gordon, who choreographed the fight he performs.)

As well as the doll-fight, several performances stand out. Erin Long‘s turn as dumb terrorist sidekick Klaus is borderline genius, thanks to Long’s perfect balance between comedic timing and reckless physicality (both reminiscent of Amy Poehler, whom Long resembles). Both Curlott’s gung-ho patriotism and LaMonte’s wistful longing for a friend in McClane show that the actors are both intimately familiar with parody and willing to go all the way with it. Fields absolutely steals the show as suit-wearing, debonair Hans, relishing his villainy and taste in terrorist-wear.

These hilarious actors almost (but don’t quite) make up for Gordon’s lackluster interpretation of Willis’s most memorable character. Gordon delivers all his dialogue in a monotone growl, completely disregarding Willis’s very specific, mumbling cadence. A spot-on impersonation isn’t necessary (often in parody it’s downright boring), but I wish Gordon and director Swalley had made a character choice. Some choice. Any choice. Overall, Yippee Ki-Yay isn’t worth your money or time. Just stay home and watch the new Brooklyn Nine-Nine promo ad, which in one minute does a much better job of sending up Die Hard. And it has nothing to do with budget.

Rating: ??

Yippee Ki-Yah Merry Christmas! continues through January 12th at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $45, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at YippeeTheMusical.com. (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)

Jenna Steege stars as Willis in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas Die Hard Musical Parody

Photos by Michael Shepherd Jordan


artists

cast

Bill Gordon (Bruce McClane), Gary Fields (Hans Olo), Caitlyn Cerza (Holly Generic), Terrance LaMonte Jr. (Carl Winslow), Erin Long (Terrorist Klaus, Terrorist Tony), Ashley Geron (Deputy Chief Dwayne), Jenna Steege (Willis), Jin Kim (Nakotomi), Jonathan Allsop (Fabrique, Theo), Nate Curlott (FBI Johnson), Alex DiVirgilio (Arnold)

Understudies: Duane Deering, Susan Glynn, Nate Hall, Lauren Kincaid, Josh Morris, Chris Pow, Esh Ryans, Nicole Stull

band

Stephanie McCullough (keyboards), Paul Desman (guitar), Aaron Homard (drums)

behind the scenes

Tiffani Moore Swalley (director), Stephanie McCullough (music director), Sheena Laird (choreographer), Eric Luchen (scenic design), Lindsey Lyddan (lighting design), Brandon Reed (sound design), Katelyn Downing (costume, prop design), Bill Gordon (fight choreographer), Fredo Aguilar (technical director), Sara Savusa (assistant director, dance captain), Daniella Mazzio (stage manager, lighting engineer), Stefan Carlson (assistant stage manager), Warren Jackson (sound engineer), Christopher Wegner (production assistant), Ray Nardelli (sound consultant), Adell Medovoy (graphic designer), Robbie Ellis (copyist & keyboards), Carolyn Cake (sound engineer), Seagull Works (scenic construction, installation), Drew Desantis, Jim Jensen, Mark Michelson (producers), Michael Shepherd Jordan (photos)

Bill Gordon stars as Bruce McClane in Yippee Ki-Yay Christmas A Die Hard Musical ParodyTerrance Lamonte Rogers Jr. and Bill Gordon star as Carl Winslow and Bruce McClane in Yippee Ki-Yay

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Category: 2018 Reviews, Den Theatre, Holiday Show, Lauren Emily Whalen, Musical, Parody


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Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Emerald City Theatre)on December 18, 2018 at 1:44 am

Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Emerald City Theatre)








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December 17, 2018






Fantastic Mr. Fox at Emerald City Theatre, Austin D. Oie 3

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Adapted by David Wood
from book by Roald Dahl
at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Jan 12 | tix: $20 | more info

Check for half-price tickets


Elegant design and talented cast alleviate frenetic adaptation

Fantastic Mr. Fox at Emerald City Theatre, Austin D. Oie 3

Emerald City Theatre presents
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

It’s not every performance that begins with two children in a fistfight.

To be fair, this wasn’t part of Emerald City’s Fantastic Mr. Fox – but it was a result of the cast throwing beach balls into the audience (while also running up and down the aisles), resulting in a kerfuffle between the siblings in my row. The minutes before curtain seemed to consist of trying to wind up the little audience members as much as possible before quieting them down as the show began. Energy is lovely, especially the pure innocent energy of a child. Unfortunately, this yelling and screaming was symptomatic of the entire two act, 75-minute adaptation. What began as a simple Roald Dahl book is now, in the hands of writer David Wood and director Jacqueline Stone, an hour-plus Fantastic Mr. Fox that’s too bright, too screechy and simply too much.

Fantastic Mr. Fox at Emerald City Theatre, Austin D. Oie 3Wes Anderson adapted Fantastic Mr. Fox several years ago, using his now-iconic quirk. Director Stone and her production team seem to have emulated the Andersonian vibe with Alison Siple‘s vibrant earth-toned costumes, Michelle Lilly‘s two-level set with strings of twinkling lights and Jamal Howard‘s whimsical choreography. Visually, Emerald City’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is thoughtful and downright elegant. The casting is also spot-on, from Mario Aivazian‘s protective father fox to Brianna Buckley‘s dynamic, wide-eyed narrator to the charming fox children played by Rebecca Keeshin and Adhana Reid.

If only Wood and Stone would have left well enough alone.

Fantastic Mr. Fox has a simple story: the titular character (Aivazian) and his family just want to live their happy mostly-underground life, but are terrorized by a trio of mean hunters (Aaron Lawson, Isa Arciniegas and Jeffrey Hoge). When Mr. Fox and the kids are forced to go on the run, they find friendship and help through a sympathetic parent-and-child badger team (Buckley and Elleon Dobias). Dahl’s books have stood the test of time for a reason: from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Matilda, they believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome the stickiest of obstacles. By itself, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a sweet, family-friendly parable.

Fantastic Mr. Fox at Emerald City Theatre, Austin D. Oie 2

Wood’s adaptation (with music by John Kirkpatrick and Peter Parham), however, does its damnedest to scream “we’re quirky!” at every turn. From chaotic and ultimately forgettable production numbers to incessant comedy bits to rhyming dialogue, the script never slows down and takes a moment. Wood seems to be operating on the assumption that young audiences need stimulation every single microsecond, which is not only patronizing but potentially damaging to some. And Stone is along for that ride one hundred percent.

Emerald City has staged gorgeous family-oriented productions in the past: their 2016 Charlie Brown Christmas was a favorite of mine as well as my adult siblings and mother. Their Snowy Day and Junie B. Jones have also struck just the right balance between lively enough for little ones and affirming for the grown-ups accompanying them. Kids are intelligent and thoughtful, and Wood seems to have forgotten that in his Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is so loud and frenetic, the message of family and community is thoroughly overshadowed. I can’t speak for the long-dead Dahl, but I can’t help from wondering whether he’d even recognize this two-act telling.

Rating: ?? 1/2

Fantastic Mr. Fox continues through January 12th at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with daytime and evening performances. Tickets are $20, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through VictoryGardens,org (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at EmeraldCityTheatre,com. (Running time: 75 minutes, includes an intermission)

Fantastic Mr. Fox at Emerald City Theatre, Austin D. Oie 1

Photos by Austin D. Oie


artists

cast

Brianna Buckley (Badger, Narrator), Mario Aivazian (Mr. Fox), Tia Pinson (Mrs. Fox), Aaron Lawson (Boggis), Isa Arciniegas (Bunce), Jeffrey Hoge (Bean, Rat), Jeanne T. Arrigo (Mabel, Ensemble), Rebecca Keeshin (Fox Child 1), Adhana Reid (Fox Child 2), Elleon Dobias (Badger Child; Mabel Understudy), Emma Sheikh (Badger, Mrs. Fox Understudy), Diego Colon (Mr. Fox Understudy), Tim Leuke (Boggis, Bean Understudy), Shea Lee (Bunce, Badger Child Understudy), Sara Geist (Fox Child Understudy)

behind the scenes

Jacqueline Stone (director), Julia Schade Armstrong (music director), Jamal Howard (choreographer), Alejandro Tey (fight director), Eli Newell (assistant director), Michelle Lilly (scenic design), Alison Siple (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Joe Craig (props design), Aaron Shapiro (production manager), Marcus Carroll (production stage manager), Charlie Lovejoy (floor manager), Travis Bihn (wardrobe supervisor), Ian Scarlato (audio engineer), Johnny Schleyer (technical director), Honoria Ivankovich (guest assistant director), Austin D. Oie (photos)

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Category: 2018 Reviews, Biograph Theatre, Children’s Theatre, Emerald City Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, Musical, Victory Gardens


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Review: The Winter Wolf (Otherworld Theatre)on December 18, 2018 at 10:47 pm

Review: The Winter Wolf (Otherworld Theatre)








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December 18, 2018






Shariba Rivers stars as the Winter Wolf in Otherworld Theatre's The Winter Wolf by Joseph Zettelmaier 1

The Winter Wolf

Written by Joseph Zettelmaier
Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N. Clark (map)
thru Jan 6 | tix: $20 (suggested) | more info

Check for half-price tickets


Sweet and wistful world premiere

Molly Southgate and Mike Rogalski star as Cora and Grandfather in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre 5

Otherworld Theatre presents
The Winter Wolf

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

At a certain age, one starts to realize that their loved ones won’t be around forever. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and a lesson you can’t un-learn. But how does one stop time? Can we keep the holidays perfect, frozen in time, a virtual snow globe? Otherworld Theatre is a relatively new Chicago company, focusing on science fiction and fantasy-focused storytelling. The Winter Wolf is their holiday world premiere, an intimate female-driven fairy tale about granddaughters, grandfathers and the quest to keep Christmas wonderful. Directed by artistic associate Lauren N. Fields, Joseph Zettelmaier‘s script is a bit slow at times, and the puppetry slightly underwhelming. Overall, however, The Winter Wolf is a pleasant and touching world premiere for those craving something new.

Mike Rogalski and Katy Crow star as Grandfather and Mother in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre 3Cora (Molly Southgate) is a precocious preteen – are there any other kind in pop culture? – who is very close to her grandfather (Mike Rogalski). Sadly, dear old grandpa’s health is failing and the end seems nigh. When Grandpa tells Cora a story from his childhood of a powerful, magical Winter Wolf (Shariba Rivers), Cora sees an opportunity to keep her favorite family member around forever. But what is the price of stopping time?

At its core, Zettelmaier’s script has the dark-yet-uplifting predictability of all fairy tales – but come holidays, that’s not a bad thing. Why do people stream Hallmark Original Movies, make yearly pilgrimages to The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol? At the holidays, we want routine and a happy ending. We crave it. Sure, a little sadness and tragedy is acceptable, but especially as the world around us grows more chaotic, we count on satisfying and hopeful resolutions wrapped in a pretty bow. The Winter Wolf delivers this: when stepping into the theater, audience members are greeted by the fresh scent of pine needles, and Cora’s mother (Katy Crow) and father (Nathan Pease), who cheerfully offer cookies and hot cocoa while bedecked in Christmas sweaters. The atmosphere is lovely and welcoming, setting the tone for the short, family-friendly parable ahead, and Fields engineers it to the hilt, while maintaining the script’s genuine feel.

Shariba Rivers and Molly Southgate star as Winter Wolf and Cora in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre 2Nathan Pease stars as Father in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre Molly Southgate and Mike Rogalski star as Cora and Grandfather in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre 1Molly Southgate and Mike Rogalski star as Cora and Grandfather in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre 3

Though the play clocks in at only 70 minutes, the second half – where Cora gets her wish and then has to live with the consequences – drags, and could benefit from quicker pacing. Though most of The Winter Wolf‘s effects are thoughtful and lovely, especially lighting that lovingly recalls fire by the hearth, ominous power outages and sweet shadowboxes, the wolf puppet itself isn’t much to write home about. Rivers is an incredible wolf, with a rich speaking voice that projects both intimidation and compassion, but Janie Killips‘ puppet projects none of this and appears as a glorified stuffed animal. The Winter Wolf is presumably meant to be suitable for children, but even the smallest kids can handle a bit more fright.

Fields has cast four capable actors, and the three adults project warmth and compassion, especially Rogalski as Cora’s snappy but kind grandfather. As the child Cora, Southgate is polished and adorable – and has worked with Otherworld previously – but struggles with Cora’s more emotional moments. Could be opening-night nerves, but Cora’s realization that her wish to stop time has negatively affected everyone around her, felt more put-upon than natural. Perhaps this will come with time. Despite these flaws, The Winter Wolf never feels forced or manipulative. Instead, the original story, beautifully directed, designed and acted, has the potential to be a holiday tradition for Otherworld in the years ahead. Step right up.

Rating: ???

The Winter Wolf continues through January 6th at Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N. Clark (map), with performances Wednesday-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2:30pm. Tickets are pay-what-you-can ($20 suggested), and are available by phone (773-857-2116) or online through eventbrite.com (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at OtherworldTheatre.org. (Running time: 70 minutes without intermission)

Mike Rogalski, Molly Southgate, Nathan Pease and Katy Crow star in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre

Photos by Steven Townshend


artists

cast

Molly Southgate (Cora), Mike Rogalski (Grandfather), Nathan Pease (Father), Katy Crow (Mother), Shariba Rivers (The Winter Wolf), Mary Kate Arnold (The Winter Wolf understudy)

behind the scenes

Lauren N. Fields (director), Sara Robinson (production stage manager), Janie Killips (scenic, puppet and props design), Tiffany Keane Schaefer (sound design), Bryce Fields (technical director), Steven Townshend (photos)

Shariba Rivers and Molly Southgate star as Winter Wolf and Cora in The Winter Wolf, Otherworld Theatre

The Winter Wolf by Joseph Zettelmaier at Otherworld Theatre Chicago 27

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Category: 2018 Reviews, Holiday Show, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, Otherworld Theatre, Puppetry, World Premier


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