Updated local foreclosure data from ATTOM Data Solutions posted yesterday showed a surprising spike in Chicago’s foreclosure activity for January, hitting a 15 month high. As you can see in the graph below the trend has been fairly consistently down for the last few years but January actually came in almost 21% higher than a year ago and that’s the largest percentage increase in 3 years.
In their US foreclosure press release ATTOM Data Solutions did give the Chicago metro area special mention for having a 14% increase in foreclosure starts from last year. However, I came up with a 19.9% increase for the city. But that wasn’t even the biggest driver of the overall increase in activity. In reality that was bank repossessions which hit a 15 month high. At least those represent the final stage of the foreclosure process so they do provide some closure in contrast to those foreclosure starts.
The Chicago metro area also got special mention for having the highest foreclosure rate in the country – We’re #1! – and then Illinois got honored for having the third highest state foreclosure rate.
Chicago Shadow Inventory
Finally we saw a decrease in the total number of homes that are in the foreclosure process. After plateauing for 4 months it dropped in January by 431 units, crossing below the 5000 unit mark for the first time since I’ve been tracking the data. When you look at the graph below you’ll see that there is this recurring pattern of plateaus followed by large drops. This data also seems to be a bit out of synch with the foreclosure activity data that I report above. It seems to drop or stagnate regardless of how much late-stage activity occurs. It’s almost as if there is a data problem. Nahhhh.
Chicago’s shadow inventory of homes in foreclosure is about 1/5 of what it once was.
Gary Lucido is the President of Lucid Realty, the Chicago area’s full service real estate brokerage that offers home buyer rebates and discount commissions. If you want to keep up to date on the Chicago real estate market or get an insider’s view of the seamy underbelly of the real estate industry you can Subscribe to Getting Real by Email using the form below. Please be sure to verify your email address when you receive the verification notice.
After 20 years in the corporate world and running an Internet company, Gary started Lucid Realty with his partner, Sari. The company provides full service, while discounting commissions for sellers and giving buyers rebates.
Try as hard as you might to pretend that you had not much–make that nothing–to do with the rise and fall of former governor and convicted felon Rod Blagojevich, you, Illinois Democrats, created and nurtured him.
He was the scion of the Chicago, Cook County and Illinois Democrat party and your efforts to disown him are laughable and pitiable.
Worse, the system that him is the same corrupt and criminal enterprise that exists today.
In better days when J.B. Pritzker and Gov. Rod Blagojevich were pals. (Chicago Tribune )
Now in a futile attempt to disown Blagojevich, condemnations rain down on him from on high in the party. Most notably, Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He issued a statement, presumably with a straight face:
Illinoisans have endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated. President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believes [sic] this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time. I’m committed to continuing to take clear and decisive steps this spring to prevent politicians from using their offices for personal gain, and I will continue to approach this work with that firm conviction.
Berg reminds us that this is the same J. B. Pritzker who is under investigation for cheating on his property taxes (i.e. toiletgate). This same guy who once bowed before Gov. Blago asking to be appointed Illinois Treasurer. The taped conversation between the two was recorded by the feds as Blagojevich was trying to sell the “[fing] golden” senate seat that had been occupied by then president-elect Barack Obama.
Pritzker said he was “really not interested” in the senate seat, explaining that he was interested in getting appoint treasurer–the keeper of the state’s money.
“Ooh, interesting,” Blagojevich said during the November 2008 phone call. “Let’s think about that. You interested in that?”
“Yeah,” Pritzker responded, “that’s the one I would want.”
One can ask what the quid pro quo would have been if Blagojevich had named Pritzker treasurer. Not that the multi-billionaire couldn’t have come up with enough when Blagojevich asked him for a campaign contribution.
Blagojevich did ask Pritzker for a campaign contribution as they discussed the possible appointment. Like the $140,000 Pritzker and his wife had given to Blagojevich’s campaign from 2002 to 2006, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As a triumphant Balgojevich was returning home for an appearance on his stoop, like a Juan Paron emerging on the balcony of the presidential place, the Chicago Sun-Times was reporting:
Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and several of his closest political allies are named in a new federal subpoena seeking records on a former ComEd lobbyist and his consulting work for a tiny southwestern suburb, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
A significant focus of the subpoena is Raymond T. Nice – a longtime campaign worker for Madigan’s Southwest Side Democratic organization who became an “independent contractor” for the village of Merrionette Park in 2015, according to records and interviews.
Indeed, Illinois is as corrupt as it was when Blagojevich was heading for prison. Moreover, you can reasonably argue that it is more corrupt. I’ve lost count of all the outstanding federal subpoenasand indictments there are; suffice to say it is probably more than in living memory.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich appeared Wednesday night on Fox News to regurgitate his claims of innocence, arguing that the real corruption in Illinois and the source of all his problems are to be found in the federal prosecutor’s office.
A reminder: It was a jury, not the prosecutors, Rod, who found you guilty.
P.S. I don’t need to be reminded that Illinois Republicans aren’t without sin. But they’re not running the state now. Or back when Blagojevich was the governor (who was amazingly re-elected by Illinois voters even when he was under investigation).
Hundreds of old cassette tapes were sitting in storage for the last ten years, and I finally had them back in my possession. The problem is, what to do with them now? Some are old band tapes that I want to transfer to mp3s, but many were mixtapes or copies of the real thing.
For instance, my older brother kept on losing The Smiths, Strangeways Here We Come, so I dubbed a copy for the car. It didn’t sound as good, but I always knew that it would be right where I left it.
Speaking of cars, how many tapes did you have in your car? I think I had over 50, stored in bins, plus the ones that were spilling over the cup holders, onto the passenger seat.
Anyways, I donated them to a person on Craigslist looking to do a project, who had never owned any cassette tapes. It actually made me feel good. But, I still kept the real ones, the original ones, even though most of them sound like shit. Now it got me thinking about vinyl’s triumphant return, and I wondered to myself, “Would cassette tapes ever make a comeback?”
Here are 5 Reasons Why The Cassette Is Not Making A Comeback.
1.) Sound quality. As an audiophile, did it ever really sound that good? I don’t think it had the warmth of vinyl or the clarity of CDs.
2.) Longevity. Didn’t the tape easily get crinkled or ripped, or stuck, or twisted? They just don’t last as well as other forms of music.
3.) Art and Information. There’s not a lot of room for lyrics or information. Even in later days when the jackets would fold out, you still had to squint to read them and there’s just not a very broad canvas for the cover art. CDs and records can stand upright, being displayed next to the player, showcasing the artwork.
4.) The hiss. I’d rather hear a record pop, than a tape hiss, because the hiss is constant. On some of these older tapes, the hiss never ends. Every listen is important, and if a record keeps popping or if a tape keeps hissing, I’m going to turn them both off.
5.) Streaming is just too easy for anyone to go back to cassettes anymore. It has ruined almost every format of music. CDs and vinyl have stayed afloat, but after the advent of streaming, the tape just doesn’t offer up enough to survive. Who wants to rewind, or fast-forward, when you can just click and play.
I know what you’re thinking, there are several artists releasing their new music on tape. As a matter of fact, I’m a huge fan of Polyvinyl, and they are doing this with most of their new releases. But, the point I’m trying to make is that is there isn’t as much value in buying a new cassette. The sound quality isn’t as good as vinyl and tapes are too much work. You don’t get a lot of bang for your buck, where I feel you do with vinyl.
What does the jury say? Are they still out, or have they come back?
Chicago is known for its vast food options. In fact, it’s safe to say that this city’s food culture is like no other. One of the top cuisines that continues to reign supreme here is Asian. Step on over to Chinatown and you’ll find yourself in abundance of options from sushi to pho. Over the past couple of years, ramen restaurants have become wildly popular especially during the cold winter months. A bowl of piping hot and flavorful broth can warm your soul and your heart.
“Ramen has become beloved by many in the U.S. in recent years and Tsujita is the pioneer of Tsukemen, so we wanted to extend this experience to Chicagoland,” says Chef Ikehata.
Chef Ikehata is a Japanese chef, restaurateur, and the mastermind behind a new ramen spot in Des Plaines called Chicago Ramen.
“We’re extremely excited to open our first ramen restaurant in the Midwest. TKY’s vision is to spread delicious ramen throughout the United States, providing techniques and recipes to those who want to make ramen. We hope that many people in Chicagoland will be satisfied and inspired by the taste of Chicago Ramen.”
Photo Cred: Nekia Nichelle
Chef Ikehata was trained at Tsujita in Tokyo, a beloved artisan ramen brand, which was selected one of the best 10 ramen shops in Tokyo by the readers of Japan Times in 2019. After more than 7 years of experience at Tsujita in Tokyo, Chef Ikehata was sent to Los Angeles to open and manage its first US location, which was described in 2017 as “the king of tonkotsu ramen in Los Angeles” by the late food critic Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times.
He is proud that Tsujita set the standard for ramen in Los Angeles, winning acclaim from critics and writers alike, and, most importantly, satisfying a multitude of diners. And now that Tsujita has become a noodle juggernaut, Chef Ikehata wanted to share the taste of this authentic, Tokyo-style ramen with the Chicago metro area.
Yesterday during the grand opening many were blown away by the robust flavor of the broth. You can definitely tell that it was made with love, passion, and a lot of time.
“Ramen is like a course menu because it consists of soup, meat, and vegetables, and yet it’s affordable. We start with making broth, which takes about 60 hours to prepare, and we boil noodles very carefully each day,” Ikehata said. “And just before serving ramen, we heat each bowl to ensure that noodles stay warm. We treat each ingredient and utensil with care, a practice that adheres to Japanese artisanship.”
With every bite, you can really tell that each ingredient was made with care. Hats off to the chef! To get a slurp of this delicious ramen head on over to Chicago Ramen they’re open for lunch and dinner every day from 11am-11pm. You won’t be disappointed.
The James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced today the six recipients of its 2020 America’s Classics Award. These are the restaurants across America with heart or as JBF says “timeless appeal.”
They are not the fancy Michelin starred, white tablecloth, multi-course sensory spots where you can spend a whole paycheck.
These are the restaurants that are the heart of America. Many are small, some don’t even have a website. They reflect the regions, the community and the people–the places where people feel at home.
These are not the places where people make reservations weeks or months in advance for foie gras, Dom Perignon, truffles and caviar but they are the places where people are willing to stand in line for tacos, chicken tenders, mudslides and specialities like barbecued cow’s head for however long it takes.
Places that say America. Places that are perfect for a road trip.
Here’s a look at the 2020 James Beard Foundation America’s Classic winners:
Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, a chicken-dinner behemoth positioned between Detroit and Michigan’s summer lake destination, is decidedly on the beaten path. William Zehnder, Sr. and his wife Emilie bought a former hotel in 1928. Today the restaurant — part of a complex, run by third and fourth generation family members, that includes a hotel, waterpark, and golf course — can accommodate 1,500 guests and brings in close to a million people each year. Road-trippers come for family-style meals of crisp-skinned fried chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes, liver pâté, cranberry relish, cottage cheese, and more, all replenished until worn-out diners signal they’re ready for a scoop of sherbet with a paper American flag planted alongside the maraschino cherry. Then it’s time to pose for photos with a patient mascot in a rooster suit.
Puritan Backroom (245 Hooksett Rd., Manchester, NH; Owner: Arthur Pappas, Chris Pappas and Eric Zink)
In 1906, friends Arthur Pappas and Louis Canotas left Greece in search of a sweeter life. They opened the Puritan Confectionary Company in Manchester in 1917, the first in a line of ice cream shops and restaurants throughout the city. Their children followed in their footsteps, opening the Puritan Backroom in 1974. Today this location also includes a bustling takeout business and a conference and event center. Customers still line up for Puritan ice cream, and crowd into booths for American comfort food and Greek classics. Above all, they come for chicken tenders (which the Backroom claims to have invented), along with a mudslide or two, another house specialty. This New Hampshire mainstay has become a required stop for candidates passing through on the campaign trail. In an era of division, it is a rare nonpartisan space where everyone feels welcome. Today the restaurant is run by third-generation owner Arthur Pappas, son Chris, and son-in-law Eric. Chris Pappas, who caught the political bug growing up at the restaurant, is currently a New Hampshire congressman.
Oriental Mart (1506 Pike Pl., #509, Seattle, WA; Owner: Mila Apostol and Joy Apostol)
In 1971, Mila Apostol opened Oriental Mart also known as “O’Mart” in Pike Place Market to give fellow Filipino immigrants the groceries and culture they missed from back home. Eventually, Mila and her eldest daughter Leila raided their store shelves to make adobo and sinigang for farmers delivering produce to the market. Word spread to Filipino flight crews and cruise ship workers, but also to Seattle at large. Today, Mila’s daughter Joy runs the retail side of their market stall, while Leila oversees a counter in the style of the Philippines’ turo restaurants, filling her glass hot case with the fried noodles known as pancit, juicy longanisa, and long-simmered adobo. There’s always sinigang; Leila adapts the classic tamarind-sour soup to its Northwest surroundings with salmon collars procured from neighboring fish vendors.
Among Denver’s thriving Mexican food culture, El Taco de Mexico is a lodestar whose appeal cuts across lines of race, class, and age. Maria Luisa Zanabria, a native of Mexico City, arrived in the city in 1985, first opening a trailer on Santa Fe Drive in Denver’s Art District. Her business grew into a small taqueria with a bright, bumblebee-yellow exterior. The serious, focused cooks (all women) keep pace with the all-day crowds, turning out tacos (carne asada, al pastor, and lengua are among the options), enchilada, gorditas, and weekend menudo. The restaurant’s crowning glory is the pork burrito, smothered in green chile humming with earthy spice. Made extra-heaping as a breakfast burrito stuffed with egg and chorizo, it brings bleary-eyed devotees back to life.
Armando “Mando” Vera and his family practice a near-lost art in South Texas: barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued cow’s head) buried underground in a brick-lined pit and smoked for up to 12 hours. The tradition stems from the region’s 19th century vaquero-cowboy culture; Vera’s father opened a restaurant serving the specialty in 1955. Barbacoa is for weekend feasts. Customers request meat by the pound or half-pound (cachete, or cheek meat, is a rich and popular cut) and then build their own tacos with tortillas, homemade garnishes, onion, and cilantro that come with each order. Brownsville is a four-hour drive from San Antonio, the closest major Texas city, but the chance to savor this disappearing border-town delicacy merits a pilgrimage
Lassis Inn (518 E. 27th St., Little Rock, AR; Owners: Elihue Washington Jr. and Maria Washington) Pictured at the top of the post
In Arkansas, ordering buffalo ribs will land you a plate of fried fish—seasoned, battered ribs cut from local big-boned buffalo fish. In Little Rock, the place to eat them is Lassis Inn. Founded by Joe and Molassis Watson in 1905, it started as a sandwich shop out of their home, with Joe later adding catfish and buffalo ribs to the menu. Lassis Inn (the name is a shorthand for Molassis) later became a meeting place for Civil Rights leaders like Daisy Bates during the ’50s and ’60s. Under current owners Elihue Washington Jr. and his wife Maria, it remains a community hub—a gathering spot where people come for buffalo ribs, cold beer, and warm conversation.
Over the course of the last week, the James Beard Foundation has revealed two honorees daily via the Foundation’s Instagram page in partnership with a selection of prominent food industry friends of the Foundation located in each of the honorees’ regions.
The America’s Classics Award is given to locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community. This year’s honorees join the ranks of over 100 restaurants across the country that have received the Award since the category was introduced in 1998. They will be celebrated at the annual James Beard Awards Gala on Monday, May 4, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
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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, Familiarinspires loud laughter and noisy tears, and Steppenwolf’s Chicago premiere hits all the right notes in between.
Like 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.
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. Familiaris a must-see, a testament to the power of family in all its complex, grounded glory.
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 may 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 Nutcrackerisn’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 Nutcrackeris still an emotional journey, full of surprises and delights around every corner, and the enduring power of innocence.
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!
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, 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)
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?
Sadly, 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 Gardayand Stephanie McCulloughmake 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.
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.
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)
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 Dahlbook is now, in the hands of writer David Woodand director Jacqueline Stone, an hour-plus Fantastic Mr. Fox that’s too bright, too screechy and simply too much.
Wes Anderson adaptedFantastic 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. Foxis 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 Arciniegasand 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. Foxis a sweet, family-friendly parable.
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 Christmaswas a favorite of mine as well as my adult siblings and mother. Their Snowy Day and Junie B. Joneshave 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.
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.
Cora (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 Nutcrackerand 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.
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 Wolfis 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 Wolfnever 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.
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)