It’s been another hectic theatergoing weekend. Despite the maddening fluctuations of Chicago not-yet summer weather (alternating hot weather and thunderstorms), audiences continue to flock to the city’s bountiful stage offerings. Here are my thoughts on two plays I saw over the weekend: The New Colony’s enjoyably confounding Orville and Wilbur Did It! and Kokandy Productions’ just confounding Assassins.
For hard-core musical theater queens there are few shows that have the same mesmerizing cult status pull as that of Side Show, Harry Krieger’s and Bill Russell’s (of Dreamgirls fame) 1997 musical about real-life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who rose from circus attractions to movie stars (in Tod Browning’s infamous film Freaks). Side Show flopped on Broadway, closing after 91 performances, but its dazzling soundtrack full of loneliness and alienation, and the heartbreakingly gorgeous voices of its original stars Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley (who were co-nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress) lived on in many a theatre gay’s CD player through the 2000s. Side Show’s legendary glow has also been deepened by the fact that not many people have actually seen it performed since regional and community theater stagings have been few and far between (really, if you are taking your Ethel Merman-loving, West Side Story-belting mom and grandma to see a musical, I’m sure one about conjoined twins wouldn’t be your first, or even tenth, choice). Although I’m familiar with the soundtrack, I missed the acclaimed Chicago production several years back. So when I heard Bill Condon, who directed the film version of Dreamgirls (which I liked a lot) and was Oscar-nominated for his screenplay of Chicago was going to direct a re-imagined, re-written revival of Side Show in collaboration with Krieger and Russell for the Kennedy Center, I was buying a plane ticket to Washington DC faster than you can say “Jennifer Hudson.” So last weekend I was at the first performance of this new Side Show, together with a whole army of musical gays, and boy was it quite the memorable evening. Bill Condon’s take on Side Show is sad and luminous, cinematic yet theatrical, entertaining, exhilarating, big-hearted. My fervent readers know I rarely say this given my ambivalence about Broadway as a representative of American theater, but this play deserves, no demands, to be seen back on the Main Stem by audiences who ignored it the first time around.
Tags: Kennedy Center
Chicago theater audiences are a lucky bunch. With the abundance of world premieres in this city, we are almost always able to say, “Yep, I saw that first.” The Chicago Tribune just reported that Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-prize winning Disgraced, which premiered in a much-admired Chicago production in 2012, will bow on Broadway this fall directed by its Chicago director, Kimberly Senior. One of the things to remember though about seeing world premieres almost on a weekly basis is that some of them are going to be very, very good, and many of them will, to put it lightly, need further revisions. Here are my thoughts on two world premiere productions currently playing in Chicago.
Every musical theater queen worth his or her salt talk about the dubiously legendary Carrie: The Musical in reverentially snarky tones usually reserved for mausoleums of dictators’ wives. It is of course notable for being the centerpiece case study of Ken Mandelbaum’s 1992 best-seller about Broadway musical flops entitled well Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops, and because of this has acquired the reputation of being the worst Broadway musical of all time. The 1988 Broadway production ran only for five regular performances, lost millions of dollars, and received some of the cruelest, bitchiest reviews ever written (New York Times theater critic Frank Rich said by its last scene, “Carrie expires with fireworks like the Hindenburg.” Ouch!). It seemed like creators Michael Gore (music), Dean Pitchford (lyrics), and Lawrence D. Cohen (book) were so traumatized by the experience that they didn’t approve the licensing of any Carrie: The Musical production for almost 25 years. In 2012, they came up with a re-written and re-arranged version which received, from all accounts, a pretty earnest off-Broadway staging. It is this version of Carrie: The Musical that Bailiwick Chicago is presenting in an enjoyable, audience-friendly production which still doesn’t mask the superficiality of the playwriting and the tedious, pedestrian quality of the music-writing. Kudos to Bailiwick Chicago, though, because given this play’s reputation it takes some king-sized balls to stage Carrie: The Musical and not be laughed out of town.
Tags: Bailiwick Chicago