To start with the greatest asset of this adaption of a 1976 movie: Bryan Cranston. Not just his acting, but the effects that propel a close-up of Cranston’s face across the entire back of the stage during Howard Beale’s iconic breakdown. From my seat in the front row, I saw Cranston run up the aisle in a state of dementia and then shed tears as he decries a country where corporate money dominates the needs of everyday citizens. And, yes, I felt angry as Cranston stood in dead silence, and then exploded in Beale’s mantra: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (if you want, you can purchase a $20 coffee cup with the slogan in the lobby)
With just six actors (each playing multiple roles), Gloria creates a panoramic of the modern workplace complete with winners, losers, and those stuck in between. Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s script ends the first act with the only scene of the year that literally left me shaking in my seat—so much so that I found myself purchasing the last ticket in the house for Gloria‘s last performance so I could take it all in a second time.
The fall of the Berlin Wall inspires one of the most striking images from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The stage goes black following the searing, heavy metal song “Angry Inch,” and when the lights fade in, Hedwig stares straight into space. And the audience laughs—not out of cruelty, but because, as Hedwig says, “I laugh, because I would cry if I don’t.”
If you have never heard Nina Simone sing “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood,” you need to click here. Dominique Morisseau’s masterpiece script embodies the pain and desperation of Simone’s song (which serves as a backdrop). The struggles Nina (AnJi White), Kenyatta (Phillip Edward Van Lear), and Damon (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) face in escaping crime are all the more heartbreaking with the realization that not all three will find the happiness they seek. Each is a soul whose intentions are… if not “good,” at least essential for survival. A stellar script (second in recent memory only to Bruce Norris’s The Whale) thrives with three award-worthy performances and expert direction from Ron OJ Parson.
One of the first shows I saw on Broadway was Beauty and the Beast*. Even at 15 years old, I remember feeling perplexed by a subplot that did not exist in the movie. Evidently, the Beast never learned to read, and Belle needs to teach him how to read, and when he is learning to read he transforms into a bratty child. “Told ‘ya!” is his response to Belle when he correctly predicts a plot twist in the book she is reading to him… a line that always elicits giggles from children in the audience.
Unlike Beauty and the Beast, which forces adults to cringe through that condescending subplot for only two minutes, Finding Neverland is a two-and-a-half hour extension of that legacy started by Beast’s illiteracy. In short: Broadway musicals marketed toward children are allowed to stunt character development and sacrifice plausibility by creating adult characters that transgress in maturity for the sake of “comedy.”
Midway through Thrones! The Musical Parody, I came to a realization. I have spent more time in Westeros than in any other literary kingdom.
As an audiobook reader, I am through book four (of five). I have listened to 121 CD’s regaling every strategic move, sexual relation, and torturous murder in George R.R. Martin’s series. That’s roughly 141 hours, which we can easily round up to 150 hours with the additional time spent on Wikipedia, where I have outsourced my memory of minor characters that disappear for thousands of pages and then reappear as critical players.
Even with 150 hours under my belt, I only caught about 70% of the jokes in Thrones! The Musical Parody, but my ignorance did not reduce my enjoyment of this Scottish import currently extended at the Apollo Theater through January 15. The jokes that flew over my head reinforced that the fan worship of Game of Thrones is just as ripe for mockery as the series itself.
I’m very, very excited to tread new ground with this blog post. For the first time at theaterinchicagoreviews, we have a guest blogger: Star Wars fan and emerging theater enthusiast Matt Davis (a fellow English teacher at Bartlett High School). Please enjoy not one but two analysis of this enduring one-man show.
On Broadway, since the year 2000, only three of the 16 Tony Award winners for best musical focus on a woman as the main character—Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002); Hairspray (2003); and Fun Home (2015). Certainly a number of Broadway hit musicals include complex female characters and female-centered relationships, but for every Wicked there are two or three musicals like Spamalot or Gentleman’s Guide… shows where female characters are relegated to flat supporting roles.
Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s Elmo, stated in a Nightline interview that children are not surprised to see a large man in his 50’s standing behind his creation, moving his mouth in sync with Elmo. “They don’t look at me,” he says.
Rough House, a company specializing in using puppetry to create unique theatrical experiences, builds upon the same phenomenon throughout their original show Sad Songs for Bad People: A Puppet Play. From the start of the first musical number—the betrayed-lover-turned-murderer ballad “Delilah”—eyes are glued to a felt-faced lounge singer narrating his tale beside a screen where silhouette puppets present the action. Watching the actors is fun, but the focus always shifts back to the life that they bring to each puppet through choreographed movement.
In the past five years, playwright Samuel Hunter has graced the stage with two fascinating products of American society—Charlie from The Whale and Eddie from Pocatello. While Charlie is literally trapped in his home due to weighing 450 pounds, Eddie is just as isolated by his lack of emotional connections.
Eddie (Michael McKeogh) is the manager of an Italian chain restaurant where the waiters provide unlimited breadsticks and sing a specialized version of happy birthday. The dining room of this restaurant—complete with a crackling speaker looping “Italian” melodies—serves as the center for the play’s action and as the center for Eddie’s need to feel important.