Glitter Is Gayer

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candide-at-porchlight.jpgI am constantly amazed when people tell me that their favorite musical of all-time is Rent or Wicked. And these are people who will vigorously debate the emotional impact of the contemporary pieces in the latest MCA exhibit or who will be eager to sit through and dissect a multi-hour molecular gastronomy meal. But whenever it comes to musical theater, many people, regardless of how worldly, highly-educated, sophisticated-seeming they are, seem to have let their taste get lost somewhere within the Tri-state tollway system. Choosing Rent or Wicked, with their least-common denominator pop scores, over the many glorious classics of the American musical theater? Head-scratching. So I can empathize with the great difficulties that theaters and artistic directors face in getting the great musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, the golden age of musical theater on Broadway, embraced and enjoyed by an audience who would rather have a colonics session than hear Gershwin, or Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Porter, or Bernstein, performed in all their glory. American Theater Company and the Court Theater recently put on minimalist, stripped-down, plain-speaking productions of Oklahoma! and Carousel respectively, and they were both critical and box-office successes. And now it’s Porchlight Theater‘s turn – it is currently staging a no-frills, sparingly re-envisioned production of Leonard Bernstein’s classic, Candide, which possesses one of the most gorgeous scores in the musical theater canon. Although highly entertaining and accessible, guaranteed to make even the most stoic non-musical lover humming “Glitter and Be Gay”, and, as a  bonus, marvelously raunchy, Porchlight’s Candide could have been dazzling with an over the top, pull-out-all-the-stops staging.

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I’m Still Here!

Personal 1 Comment »

im-still-here.jpgIn almost a year of From the Ledge, I’ve tried hard to post blog entries 2-3 times a week.  It’s been a way of disciplining myself to make sure that there’s always new, fresh blog content available; it’s also allowed me to keep up with the numerous arts events that I go to.  I’ve found out over the past several months, too, that some very avid From the Ledge readers salivate like Pavlov’s dog whenever there’s a new blog entry, so I want to make sure I don’t disappoint anyone.  For the first time in eleven months or so, I’ve let seven days (a full week!) pass between blog entries, for two straight weeks!  Yikes!  I’ve been travelling continuously for business over the past two weeks, crisscrossing the country, jumping through multiple time zones, pulling atrocious hours, and frankly, it bites! I’m exhausted (whenever someone tells me they think travelling for business is uber-glamorous, I give them the cold shock of reality:  delayed flights. middle seats. bad coffee. really hard hotel mattresses. airless conference rooms.  And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Manhattan or Boise).  And not being physically in Chicago, I’m not able to go to ANYTHING!  Well, I snuck in Porchlight’s marvelous Candide last weekend, but that’s it (more on that forthcoming).  I’ll be in town for the next two weeks and have already lined up my viewing schedule:  Edward II, Taylor Mac, Caroline or Change at the Court, Streamers, and some nudiefest at Bailiwick’s Pride series.  So I’ll be writing more regularly in the next couple of weeks.  Don’t forget me!  Come back again!  The picture by the way is of the late great Ann Miller (love the slit!) who played Carlotta in a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies sometime in the 1990s and was the lucky gal who got to belt the brutally-honest anthem of all of us world-weary (and bone-weary) survivors, “I’m Still Here”.

Season Openings

Theater No Comments »

cst-amadeus.jpgYes, my avid blog readers, I have not posted in a week.  That’s what happens when you’re thrown into the crazy business travel circuit – I was in Park City, Utah late last week and over the weekend, staying at a faux Alpine lodge resort (incredibly, the resort staff were wearing lederhosen and trilling “Guten tag” during wake-up calls…I thought I was in a really cheesy dinner theater production of The Producers, uhmm, is that you Franz?), then in Cleveland this week, and Phoenix next week.  It’s not ideal to be away from Chicago at this time, since there are boatloads of plays opening every week to launch theaters’ fall seasons, but thankfully I was able to see two of the highly-anticipated ones before I got on the first plane out.  The People’s Temple is written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski, a co-creator of The Laramie Project, and is the inaugural production in PJ Papparelli’s first full term as Artistic Director of the re-vitalized American Theater CompanyAmadeus, Gary Griffin’s production of the acclaimed Peter Shaffer play, opens Chicago Shakespeare Theater‘ s first season after winning the coveted Tony Award for Best Regional Theater last June.  Both are strong, notable productions with some really exceptional acting, but with also significant gaps in conceptualization or staging; regardless, both prove that Chicago continues to be the most exciting theater town in America.

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Why a Standing Ovation?

Personal, Theater No Comments »

As an audience member, I have always thought that giving a standing ovation at the theater is a rare gift reserved for those sock-in-the gut productions that are truly transformative and utterly unforgettable, which come once in a blue moon.  It’s not to say I don’t show enthusiastic appreciation for the work and the artists – as my blog readers who’ve gone with me to the theater know, I heartily applaud a good part of the time and have been known to emit that occasional cheer and guttural whoa. Theater artists work hard and they deserve all the recognition and positive feedback they can get.  But a standing ovation at the end of a show shouldn’t, in my view, be taken lightly, it should be dispensed only when the production is a true masterpiece.  You wouldn’t serve a 1978 Montrachet at a girl’s wine and mani-pedi night out; you’d reserve it for the truly special occasions, like your husband or life partner getting promoted to CEO (amidst visions of that future villa in Lake Como so within your reach).  So I am a little perturbed by this noticeably increasing trend (not as bad here in Chicago as it is on Broadway, discussed ad nauseam in theater geek chat rooms such as Talkin’Broadway.com’s All that Chat) of people getting up on their feet wildly, as if they’re in a mosh pit, for even the slightest, though enjoyable, stage trifle. 

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Francis’s Fall Picks: Top 10 Must-See Productions in Chicago

Culture, Dance, Music, Theater 2 Comments »

autumn-leaves.jpgFor anyone outside of Boystown and Andersonville, there is so much more going on this fall in Chicago than the Madonna concert (which, for those of you who have just come back to the city from the island of Tuvalu, is scheduled for October 26-27 at the United Center).  Everyone (well, the Chicago Tribune and TimeOut Chicago that is) have made up their lists of the top fall live performances (theater, opera, dance) that they recommend you attend, which is a good thing – it’s both the blessing and the bane of living in a great, lively, cultural center like Chicago, that you can go to see a show every night, and still not see it all, so guidance is imperative (plus the fact that no one really has an unlimited art consumption spending budget) .  Here then, in no particular order, are From the Ledge’s picks for the must-see performing arts events of the fall – they’re an eclectic lot, showcasing both the best efforts of local Chicago talent as well as top international artists making pitstops in our wonderful town, confirming our stature in the global artistic community. Varied in discipline, theme, and artistic approach, they all, nevertheless, promise exciting, memorable, uniquely impactful nights at the theater.  I’ll be at all of them, so if you see me, say hi!

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Jolt in the Arm

Theater No Comments »

hypocrites-and-brecht.jpgWhen I first read that Sean Graney and his theater company, The Hypocrites, were going to do Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s musical masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, as its inaugural show of the season, I started to sweat and salivate in delirious, lip-smacking anticipation, sort of like a Massai lion in the middle of a gazelle flock, or Kathy Griffin mistakenly surrounded by paparazzi. In my humble opinion, if there is one director in Chicago who can pull off a Brecht production to remember, it’s Graney, whose out-of-the-box thinking and fresh introspections into dramatic text has wowed me in the past, namely in his brilliantly mesmerizing promenade stagings of two works so disparate from one another, Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and August Strinberg’s Miss Julie, both with the Hypocrites, and his hip, marvelously antic production of Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw at the Court Theater. And with the first number of The Threepenny Opera, the famous jazz standard, “Mack the Knife”, which introduces the various crimes that MacHeath, the play’s lead, has committed, Graney delivers – the Steppenwolf Garage space literally explodes with frenetic, dazzling, contagious energy as his 17 actors run, crawl, jump, dance, belt, shimmy, contort, do everything short of Shawn Johnson’s balance beam routine, an opening number that jolts like an unexpected lightning shock, waking you up from the comfortable doldrums of your summer vacation. Although, I don’t think this production of The Threepenny Opera is perfect, with that opening number, the Hypocrites and the brilliant Sean Graney announce that they have the first must-see production of the fall theater season for all true lovers of original, creative, provocative, intriguing live performance (which seems to exclude the Jeff Awards committee members, but more on that later).

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