By Dan Zeff
generations,Drury Lane was the brand name in Chicagoland theater. Under the benevolent leadership of
Tony De Santis, Drury Lane theaters stood in the southern, western, and
northern suburbs, as well as in Chicago.
But that was then and this is now. The new brand name in town is
Broadway In Chicago, a producing organization coming up on its tenth
anniversary in July.
In a striking demonstration of the new taking over from the
old, Broadway In Chicago has announced it’s assumed control of the former Drury
Lane Theater on Chicago’s plush near north side. The Drury Lane Theatre at
Water Tower Place is now the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
The Water Tower Place address joins a stable of Broadway In Chicago theaters in the downtown area that includes the Bank of America Theatre, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and the Auditorium Theatre.
The new Broadway Playhouse will receive a makeover before it opens for business in the autumn. That means the signature Drury Lane crimson plush décor will be replaced by a lighter look with lots of glass. The lobby will get the new look but the interior apparently will retain its 550-seat capacity, making it the only midsized theater in the Broadway In Chicago stable.
The Drury Lane venture at Water Tower Place never really caught on, partly because of a lack of suitable product. The theater did well with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” but couldn’t find audiences for “Shout” (understandably) and “Xanadu” (a delightful show that deserved a better reception from local playgoers and tourists).
Broadway In Chicago has the booking muscle to keep the facility’s marquee lights burning. It opens September 23rd with “An Evening with Sutton Foster.” The young musical comedy star has been the performer of the decade on Broadway, attached to such shows as “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Little Women,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “Shrek the Musical.” Foster will perform songs from her musicals through September 26.
The first full production at the Broadway Playhouse arrives
on October 26 when a highly athletic show called “Traces” sets up shop. The
event is performed by a troupe of French Canadians and involves lots of
acrobatics mingled with storytelling.
The next show will be “Working,” a new adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1974 collection of interviews with more than two dozen working men and women. The Goodman Theatre presented a musical version of the book in the mid 1970’s but the new adaptation promises a fresh look at Terkel’s material. Expect an opening in the spring of 2011.
In addition to importing shows, Broadway In Chicago will be looking for transfers of successful productions within the Chicagoland community. Wouldn’t a transfer of the stunning “Ragtime” from the last surviving Drury Lane theater, in Oakbrook Terrace, be a fitting tenant?
Broadway In Chicago season ticket packages are now on sale for the 2010-2011 Broadway In Chicago season by calling 312 977 1717 or by visiting www.BroadwayInChicago.com. April 2010
Contact Dan at email@example.com.
At the Drury Lane Water Tower Place Theatre
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—After the first five minutes, the prospects for “Xanadu” did not look pleasing. There was a self-congratulatory campy aura on the stage of the Drury Lane Water Tower Place Theatre that indicated the audience was in for a relentlessly facetious evening.
Then things got better, much better. By the end of the intermissionless 90-minute production, the viewer had enjoyed a lighter than air musical comedy loaded with sly wit delivered by an irresistibly talented and high-spirited young cast.
“Xanadu” was inspired by a 1980 motion picture musical of the same name that gained a perverse reputation as one of those movies that’s so bad it’s almost endearing. While the story and performances were ridiculed, the musical score offered a number of hits. That score has been preserved in the stage version that was a surprise hit on Broadway in 2007 and is now installed at Drury Lane in what the producers hope will be a long and prosperous run.
Based on the raucous approval from the predominantly youthful opening night audience, the producers may get their wish. With “Wicked” and “Dirty Dancing” now departed, “Xanadu” could join “Jersey Boys” as the only open ended hit running in the downtown area.
The plot of “Xanadu” is built around the ancient Greek muses, all sisters, who were goddesses of various arts. The muse Clio decides to come down to earth to help a struggling and discouraged artist named Sonny. The time is 1980 and the place is Venice, California.
The storyline is blissfully giddy and not intended to stand logical scrutiny. Clio disguises herself as a young woman with an Australian accent who travels on roller skates and wears leg warmers. The Australian accent may be in deference to Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, the star of the motion picture calamity.
One plot strand has two of the muses putting a curse on Clio
to fall in love with a mortal, which would mean her eternal damnation. Another
strand has Sonny trying to fulfill his dream, with Clio’s aid, of opening a
roller disco that would be a haven for all the arts. Then there is the scheming
millionaire owner of the Xanadu theater who fell in love with Clio decades ago
and let her get away because he was too busy money grubbing.
The plot is merely an excuse for Douglas Carter Beane’s dialogue, a nifty blend of satire, sarcasm, in jokes, and nostalgia that even finds a moment to interpolate a jibe at Governor Blagojevich. There is gay humor, jive wisecracks from a black muse, lots of listenable pop/rock/disco songs, and hip verbal bits that validate this outwardly silly show as a pretty sophisticated piece of work.
The physical production has few frills on the intimate Drury Lane stage, much of which is occupied by a couple dozen spectators seated at the rear. The performers occasionally mingle with those patrons and use the aisles to enhance the show’s sense of what-next movement. While there isn’t much scenery, the are some striking projections plus a late scene on Mount Olympus where the muses and the head god Zeus are joined by a centaur, a one-eyed Cyclops, and Medusa with a snake headdress—all clever visual gags that reaffirm that this is one savvy comic show.
Before the performance, spectators receive small gizmos in the lobby that light up when shaken. The audience is encouraged to wave the lights during the show’s final scene. That exuberant finale may not match the dancing in the aisles jubilation of the “Mama Mia!” finish, but it still provided an appropriate cap to the night’s pleasures.
The solid cast is led by Elizabeth Stanley, who looks lusciously like a young Loni Anderson, as Clio of the roller skates and Australian accent. She is first rate but the performance that grabbed me was Max Von Essen as the doofus Sonny. Von Essen can sing and dance and he has a marvelous way with a funny throw away line. Almost every time he spoke, something droll emerged.
In the addled spirit of the plot, males play a couple of the muse sisters. The featured muses, and the closest thing to villains in the story, are Melponeme and Calliope, played to fine comic effect throughout the evening by Sharon Wilkins and Joanna Glushak. Larry Marshall plays both the millionaire and Zeus (there is much doubling of roles by the supporting players). Tallia Brinson, Jason Michael Snow, Julius Thomas III, and JB Wing impersonate the other muses. Everyone does his or her thing with boundless sass and energy.
Christopher Ashley’s directing strikes a just-right balance between the wry and the inane. Dan Knechtges’s choreography is bouncy and sometimes as witty as the dialogue. David Zinn designed the faux Greek costumes and the modern outfits circa West Coast America 1980. David Gallo is the scenic designer. Howell Binkley designed the light and Dan Moses Schrier the sound.
“Xanadu” is setting itself up as a great date show with special appeal to young audiences who fancy themselves members of the in crowd. But their elders should also find the musical a hoot. Funny is funny and clever is clever, no matter what your age group.
“Xanadu” is playing an open run at the Drury Lane Water Tower Place Theatre, 175 East Chestnut Street. Most performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 (for stage seats) to $87.50. Call 312 902 1400 or visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
The show gets a rating of 31/2 stars. January 29, 2009Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
at Drury Lane Water Tower Place
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—“Shout!” is one more musical revue that tries to ride the nostalgia bandwagon. This time it’s a celebration of female pop singers in England who dominated the charts during the 1960’s. The show isn’t bad when a dynamo cast of five young ladies sing. But when the songs stop and the talking starts, the evening sinks.
“Shout!” is playing at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower
Place, a venue that might be a bit spacious for the intimate nature of the
show. But spectators in the last row needn’t worry about being able to hear the
30 songs that make up the revue. The ensemble can belt out a number to shake
The show has no real book. The connective tissue between songs is a teen fan magazine (called “Shout”) and a sappy off-stage newspaper advice columnist. The performers read from the magazine and address their inane problems to the equally inane lady adviser. Then songs ensue, many of them pleasurable pieces like “Georgy Girl,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”
The five performers are identified only by the color of their costumes. Each young woman is supposed to represent a different personality, like the Green Girl who is a bimbo and the Yellow Girl who is a bouncy American and the Red Girl who is a pint-sized working class type. The Blue Girl and the Orange Girl are mostly distinguished by being taller than the other three.
The tunes selected to represent the 1960’s in the UK lean heavily on recordings by Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield, who account for more than half of the numbers. Most of the songs will be familiar to Baby Boomers, though a few are perplexing choices. What are the British roots for the Isley Brothers rhythm and blues masterpiece “Shout”? Likewise, “These Boots Are Made for Walking” and “Wives and Lovers” are both American hits that may have gained popularity in England but don’t reflect the British pop scene of the 1960’s.
The revue is hamstrung by limiting itself to girl singers,
eliminating the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, and other male
luminaries of the 1960’s. What remains is a string of songs that will make
feminists cringe. On the evidence of this revue, teenage girls of the 1960’s in
Britain consisted of lasses who lived to please their boyfriends or desperately
searched for a boyfriend. Many of the songs are classic pop, but cumulatively
they create a portrait of the British girl as airhead.
The revue runs about 90 minutes without an intermission. During the final 20 minutes or so, the atmosphere suddenly shifts course. The mood turns darker and more emotional as the decade ends and the 1970’s begin. The Red Girl changes from her schoolgirl jumper into a flower child outfit and ruefully sings “Those Were the Days.” Out of nowhere comes a monologue from the Yellow Girl describing fearful abuse from her drunken husband, a bit that stops the show’s momentum in its tracks. It’s as if we were watching “Leave It to Beaver” and unexpectedly shifted to a Tennessee Williams play.
The revue concludes with the cast singing “Shout,” even marching through the aisles to rouse the customers to join in. The song is irresistible, but we could have used some of that energy in the first hour. We do get extended renditions of the classic “Goldfinger” and “Downtown” early on, but the merits of the songs are shrouded in physical shtick.
Creators Phillip George and David Lowenstein might have reflected on the success of a similar revue that opened off Broadway in 1986. It was called “Beehive” and it also celebrated the rock and pop music of the 1960’s, emphasizing girl groups instead of soloists. “Beehive” even included some of the same songs included in “Shout!’ but “Beehive” had an edge and attitude captured in numbers like “Respect” and “Proud Mary” that gave the show some musical muscle instead of the continuous “Please love me” mooning of the boy crazy girls in “Shout!”
If there is a reason to see “Shout!” it resides in the high spirits and potent voices of Megan Long (Red Girl) and Maggie Portman (Yellow Girl), followed by Lauren Fijol (Blue Girl), Danielle Plisz (Green Girl), and Amy Steele (Orange Girl). They give maximum effort, even when embarrassed by their encounters with the advice columnist and the fan magazine that makes “People Magazine” read like “The New Yorker.”
The ensemble dances the derivative 1960’s choreography by director Jay Falzone. Philip Heckman’s costumes, David Gallo’s scenery, and Jason Lyons’s lighting are all garish, presumably by intent. The effective musical accompaniment comes from two keyboards and percussion.
“Shout!” runs through June 22 at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, 175 East Chestnut Street. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2, 6, and 9 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $45 and $55. Call 312 902 1400.
The show gets a rating of three stars. May 2008
more information,contact: www.ShoutTheModMusical.com
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