Farrago, potpourri, mishmash. Whatever you call a week of variety, that was my last week. A few tidbits and capsule reviews.
Cirque du Soleil: Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities
The kid (he’s now 17) and I went to opening night at Cirque du Soleil with some friends. The Big Top (or le grand chapiteau) is set up on the United Center parking lot. Cirque du Soleil hasn’t been in Chicago for a few years and the show has been re-created or reimagined for a new audience, as my friend Kim reported when she interviewed the director, Michel Laprise, for Gapers Block. All the amazing acrobatics and gorgeous pageantry and choreography are still there but it’s done with a “steampunk” theme, suggesting late 19th century industrial machines with a whiff of fantasy. The costuming suits the theme and the period too.
We loved the Acro Net, where a giant net stretches across the stage and operates like a trampoline. The performers bounce, dance, jump and leap, sometimes all the way to the tent’s peak. The Rola Bola man balanced on a board, first atop a ball, then several balls and finally a hill of balls and spools–and still he balanced. The Invisible Circus was very clever, with all the lights and contraptions operating as if someone was using them, but not a soul was in sight–except for the circus announcer who described what was taking place. I could go on and on. It’s an amazing show. Whether or not you’ve seen Cirque du Soleil before, try to see this one. And take a kid or a kid at heart.
Hot Dog Festival at the Chicago History Museum
Next day we wandered over to the south end of Lincoln Park for the Chicago History Museum’s Hot Dog Festival. The hot dogs were great; I had a Chicago classic with all the trimmings layered in the proper order*. The kid had a dog plus fries and then went back for a Godzilla dog, which is the equivalent of two or three regular ones. We shared an ice cream because I ran out of dog dollars.
In addition to great food, there were bands and a speakers stage. We got there early so we could hear Bill Savage, the Northwestern pop culture professor, discourse on “Ketchup: The Condiment of Controversy.” He discussed the nature of hot dogs (“the ultimate democratic street food”) in other locales, concluded that Chicago is rightly considered the hot dog capital of the world, and described how hot dogs and their peculiar Chicago condimentry came to be. He took a poll of his audience. Seventy percent of us agreed that ketchup on a hot dog is an abomination, but ketchup is ok for kids under 10. Bill’s conclusion was Chicago is a great democratic city and Chicagoans are free to do as we please, and if that means ketchup on a hot dog, that’s ok. I respectfully disagree.
* The layers have to be: mustard, neon green relish, chopped onions, tomato wedges, hot sport peppers, dill pickle wedges and finally celery salt.
Two nights at the theater
My two most recent reviews were (1) brilliant satire and (2) a flashy musical. Guess which one I liked best?
The Boy From Oz is the new show by Pride Films & Plays at Stage 773. It’s the story of Australian musician and entertainer Peter Allen, who was married to Liza Minnelli for a while, was a great hit as a cabaret performer, but never was a huge success in the US. At least his music was never a huge success–and since there was nothing melodic or hummable about his music, that made sense. The production is very well done, with some good performances from both the actors and the dance ensemble. Great costumes and choreography. So my review is: It’s a pleasant evening with a lot of talent and energy wasted on boring raw material. See my review here. The play runs through August 30. See it if you like gratuitous singing and dancing.
Stupid Fucking Bird is Aaron Posner’s play that kinda/sorta deconstructs Chekhov’s The Seagull. Sideshow Theatre is staging it now at Victory Gardens/ Biograph and you can see it through August 30. You need to see it. The script is witty and the characters are sort of based on Chekhov’s except their angst is contemporary rather than 19th century. It’s a case where A loves B who loves C who loves D who flirts with E who is the lover of F. (I’m quoting my review.) Plus there’s a playwright who wants to invent a new kind of theater and when he succeeds in getting a play produced complains that he will now have to put up with being criticized by perfect strangers in addition to family members. Some nice musical interludes throughout the play with Mash (Masha in Chekhov) on the ukulele.
Movies with musical themes
Baby It’s You is a 1983 film directed by John Sayles. It’s a little indie film about Jill, a Jewish girl with dreams of college and a theater career (played by Rosanna Arquette), and her boyfriend, the Sheik (Vincent Spano), a well-dressed greaser who loves Jill and Sinatra. They are not going to walk off together into the sunset because Jill is not interested in marriage and babies and that’s the only relationship that Sheik can see for them. It’s a good film–I gave it 4 stars out of 5 on letterboxd.com. Two great things about the film are the music (plenty of Springsteen songs) and the trip that Jill and Sheik make to the Jersey shore. We see how Asbury Park looked 30 years ago when the Casino and the Palace were in much better shape; Madame Marie’s was there too and it still is. She died in 2008 but family members still tell fortunes in her booth on the boardwalk.
CBGB is a movie that I really wanted to like. It’s a 2013 docustory about the iconic punk rock club on the Bowery and its owner, Hilly Kristal (played, incongruously, by Alan Rickman). It was fun to see actors play the great bands that started there, like the Dead Boys, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, the Ramones and Patti Smith– but the producers ruined the effect by playing polished studio recordings of those bands while the actors lip-synced. The music totally missed the raw, rough edge that it should have had. It’s not a very good movie–unless, of course, you loved the memory of CBGB.
One more thing ….
An exhibit of photos of rock star legends by Chicago photographer Paul Natkin was on display at the Ed Paschke Art Center in Jefferson Park. One Saturday afternoon, he sat surrounded by his photos and talked about his career, shooting some of the greatest musicians of our time, and how photography has changed with the digital revolution. His talk was fascinating and he was kind enough to talk to me later and answer a question about artists’ rights for one of my SCORE clients. Natkin’s work was shown in a more comprehensive exhibit a few years ago at the Chicago Cultural Center. You can check out his website.
I’ve been seeing a lot of theater lately and I wanted to post my last three reviews for Gapers Block. Two of these shows close in the next week, so hurry up and see them. We have an unbelievable wealth of theater talent in Chicago. These plays are worth your time – and these small theaters will appreciate your support.
My next post will get out of Chicago and report on my visit to New York, featuring one off- and one on-Broadway show.
Mahal at Bailiwick Chicago: It’s a Family Affair
Mahal by Danny Bernardo is a story about a Chicago Filipino family, the first play with that ethnic focus, to my knowledge. Bailiwick Chicago is presenting it at Stage 773 at 1225 W Belmont, formerly the Theater Building. The Stage 773 owners have upgraded the space, especially the entrance and lobby area, to be very attractive and contemporary—a great improvement.
“Mahal is a family story. A Filipino family with strong roots in the Philippines adjusts to life, love and loss in its new country. The family members – father, two sons and a daughter – are each recovering in their own way from the recent death of their mother. (Some family members call the mother’s phone number to hear her voicemail greeting – and leave messages for her until the mailbox fills up.)”
The Casuals at Jackalope Theatre: Exploring Life in the Atomic Era
The Casuals is set in 1955 Nevada and involves personal as well as political issues. It’s a new play by Jackalope Theatre Company with script by Chance Bone and Andrew Burden Swanson, and direction by Jonathan Berry. Here’s how my review starts:
“Some things about The Casuals might make you uncomfortable–nuclear testing, for instance. Government agencies that hide the truth (and insist you don’t ask questions). Stories that may be lies or truth. A mother who tells her son how his father died a hero. An uncle who tells his nephew’s wife how his brother really died.”
Read the review here. Photo by Alex Hand: Watching an atomic test.
Rooms: A Rock Romance at Broken Nose Theatre
I hardly ever get to indulge my love for rock and roll at the theater. So I was very excited to get to review this show, which includes a scene set at CBGB, the famous New York rock club. Rooms features a talented live band and some straight-up rock as well as a little punk. My review starts this way:
“Rooms: A Rock Romance is a fairly traditional musical, punctuated by some great rock and punk rock songs performed on stage with a band. It is, at its heart, a love story about two people with different visions of life. Monica (Hillary Marren) wants to be a rock star, to travel and perform all over the world and Ian (Matt Deitchman) is a musician who prefers to stay at home in his own room with his guitar.”
Broken Nose Theatre will present Rooms until August 11 at the Collaboraction Pentagon space in the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Read my review here. Photo of Matt Deitchman by Taryn Goodge.
Broken Nose Theatre, by the way, takes its name from the way Nelson Algren describes my favorite city in his book, Chicago: City on the Make.
“Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”