Dee Snider’s Rock and Roll Christmas Tale

I’m not gonna take it, no I’m not gonna take it.  I’m not gonna take it, anymore.

I know I should not take this show seriously and it seemed like many working on it did not take it seriously either.  I like Dee Snider.  I like Twisted Sister. I liked him on the Apprentice.  I was excited about seeing him live on the stage.  I was so hoping that I would love this show without it having anything to do with Dee Snider.  But there is a reason that his name is in the title.  Here’s the plot:

Hair metal band is doing lousy they write a contract for Satan to sell their souls.  They start getting audiences but they start singing Christmas Carols metal style magically and without prompting.  I don’t want to give away the ending but that is pretty much the whole thing.  This is not Chekov but it’s something to work with.

The show’s set is a rock band stage the most of the action is played in front of.  I am not a big fan of performing in front of a set..I think a set needs to be designed so actors can play in the set and besides the playing of the music not much happened in the set.  The staging suffered because of the set but also suffered because of lack of motivation in the script. Snider has some great one liners throughout but his ability to craft character’s that change and are more than just punchline robots is lacking makes it impossible for director Adam John Hunter to do his job well.

The songs in the show that are not songs played by the band are really out of place.  They lack motivation to be sung.  There needs to be a non-rockband song earlier in the show to let the audience know that this type of singing is happening too.

Is this show unsaveable?  I don’t think so.  I think it can be saved with some rewriting  and some reworking.  They need to decide if the show is tongue and cheek or not.  AND GO FOR IT.  I would so love to get my hands on the show and work with Snider to fix it. They need to look for the art in the show as opposed to looking for the next gag or joke.  What message do you want to say?  AND FOCUS ON THAT!  I love this genre of music and so want it to be successful but at this point all I can give it is….

[button link=””]Grade: C-[/button]

King Lear

The traffic into the city was fine until we reached the parking garage. I think I spent more time trying to get a parking spot between two lots than I did driving 30 miles to get to the city.
King Lear is two or three on my list of favorite Shakespeare plays behind Hamlet and perhaps Macbeth.  To me Lear is about altruism, I am excited to see how Barbara Gaines, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director and director of this production, attacks this show.
The set as you walk in is shiny with a regal red and gold Victorian style love seat in front of a shiny silver or aluminum wall.
The first act introduced Lear as pompous and full of himself.  Bored as the King and fading in sanity he bequeaths his kingdom prematurely to his three daughters.  His gift comes with a price as the daughters must regale their father with the amount of love that they have for the aged man.  Regan and Goneral both indulge but his favorite and youngest Cordelia won’t be a party of such nonsense and basically tells her father that she loves him no more or no less than she always has.  This angers Lear and he banishes her with nothing.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater modernizes this production with modern weapons and furnishings, but keeping with the traditional and written text.  Larry Yando plays Lear with such reverence and deference in the beginning of the play he reminded me of the title character in the television show “House.”  His transformation to all powerful to feeble old man is really stunning and his choices are a masterclass in tactics. The direct opposite of Yando’s performance would be that of John Bynes as the Duke of Burgundy.  Why do I even mention such a small part?  Because everyone’s performance was so far above Bynes’.  His choices were trite and his delivery was lazy in comparison to the rest of the cast.
The set seemed to be a reuse of the the set from Henry V that they produced a few months ago with a large wall that crashes to the ground for the second half of the play.  It did serve its purpose but I expect more from Chicago Shakes when it comes to all aspects of the show. Overall director Gaines does a great job with this show.  In the end it leaves you feeling in awe that it has to be a tragedy.  That because Lear could not be as altruistic as his daughter, Cordelia she must die.
[button link=””]Grade: A[/button]

Amazing Grace

So I get to the theatre alone because my wife had to work late and when I went to pick her up at work she saw no end in sight of her meetings so I drove the rest of the way to the city by myself, parked and didn’t write down or even acknowledge what level my car was parked in. When I get to the lobby to give them my ticket they said this was the wrong date that I was supposed to come on Saturday. I went to the box office and then they gave me center orchestra seating on the aisle, a total upgrade.
Looking through the program before the show I didn’t recognize anyone, which is strange I usually know someone from at least the crew.
There were several people though in front of me who were in house seats that were friends of the cast and crew so I heard a lot of buzz about the show. I hope it’s good. Please let it be good.
The first act started slowly as the lead actor Josh Young playing John Newton gave a stilted performance. To me it seems like he is not listening and in his own play at times. He is reacting to motivation that just isn’t there. Perhaps his reactions are right but the actors that are cueing his lines are not giving him anything to react to. The music in the first act is beautiful but I do think that the second number that Young and and Tom Hewitt (Captain Newton) sing needs new lyrics as they sing different lines at the same time and even though the harmonies are beautiful the lyrics create a rhyming dissonance.
Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is great. It is not overdone for the period. He uses quadrilles in the first act and diametrically uses African dance in the second act to show the relation of the black race and the white race without saying a word. This is perhaps the most artistic part of the show. During intermission I looked back and actually saw Gattelli in the back row taking notes and talking with colleagues. As I left the theatre I told him I thought his dancing was very good.
The show overall is good. It does need some work and perhaps recasting the lead. He has a great voice, but the show needs someone who can handle the acting as well. I would also make him more reckless in the beginning. He is too conservative to be perceived as a loser. There are great parts of the show that I would definitely not change like the swimming sequence and the ending Amazing Grace song.
[button link=””]Grade: B[/button]