Dunsinane

The Royal Shakespeare Company is on stage at Chicago Shakes in the long awaited epic sequel of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Dunsinane takes over and tells the story if Lady Macbeth was still alive and Siward was settling the affairs of Scotland in the name of the English Monarch.
I haven’t seen a production on the Chicago Shakespeare stage that hasn’t been fully produced by them. I was a little apprehensive that it would not live up to their high standards. There was no need to worry. This production lives up to and exceeds some aspects of Chicago Shake’s productions.
Most impressive is Tom Gill playing the Boy Soldier. He has a great naivety that produces great wisdom. Other standouts includes the queens maids whose vocals were spot on along with live three piece band.
Overall I would recommend this show to anyone who likes Macbeth and enjoys what if scenarios.
[button link=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/aminus/”]Grade: A-[/button]

First Wives Club

On the way to the matinee we stopped in Plainfield to eat lunch at Larry’s. I ordered the special of stuffed green peppers and it was horrible. I have never sent anything back but I did this time. The sauce which should be like a tomatoish sauce looked like sweet and sour sauce and jello mixed and tasted half as good as that sounds. Needless to say I walked into the show needing to be uplifted.
The show starts with someone killing them self. This is done with a flashback to show how life was at the end of college for the leads and the deceased of the show. IT IS DEPRESSING. But what is most depressing about it is the pace. It is such a slow start. How I would fix it: Don’t make it a flashback. Make the exposition active. Stop talking about doing and do. No matter how cool the suicide scene transition is cut the scene of the suicidestress reminiscing and jump straight to the funeral.
Once the now 40 something (I love Faith Prince, but she is not a 40 something) college friends are together they sit in chairs in the middle of an apartment scene for a long time. A whole song just sitting there and the song was boring. I hope it is a section they are reworking because at this point it is all exposition that is super repetitive and again needs action. All the performers are working their butts off to pull it off but the material is holding them down throughout the entire show.
I could give a play by play of the show but really it needs a lot of rewrites. The songs are poorly done and do not forward the action and it talks a lot about feelings but any one who has knows anything about writing knows you need to have action to keep the audience involved.
One last thing about the structure of the show… The end of the first act a plan is hatched and you know what they are going to do. No need to come back for act two. You need to end the act with a problem or a cliffhanger.
The choreography is stagnant. You rarely know that you are in a musical. During one section I saw the running man, the hammer dance, and the sprinkler. Come on….this is a Broadway bound production. Where’s the innovation? I could choreograph what was on stage on my way to the first rehearsal. (Which is what I do when I’m choreographing for middle school.)
I wish this production luck because I know some people involved but I don’t think it will do well. I am always available for consulting.
[button link=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/d/”]Grade: D[/button]

Pericles

The set is beautiful wood grain with the sense of flowing sand. There is a huge entrance upstage center along with large jungle looking platforms extreme stage right and stage left. As always before a Chicago Shakes show I am excited and nervous about being able to comprehend the language but I know with this quality of show it will be very well done.
For a Friday night I am surprised that it is not sold out.
The show started out slowly with costumes that seemed more cartoonish than Shakespearean. One character reminded me of Jafar from Aladdin. But I learned that it was supposed to make me uncomfortable because it ended up being a character that I shouldn’t like along with his kingdom.
The story is based around the king of Tyre’s travels. He is shown to be good man that helps neighboring nations. He is ship wrecked and proven to be a gentleman in another kings court. He wins the hand of the princess and they are blessed with a daughter during their sea travel back to Tyre. The new queen dies or so we are meant to think and her body is sealed in casket and sent overboard. The king decides the baby will not last the journey names her Marina and leaves her with another kingdom. The queen of the new kingdom becomes jealous of her and has her henchman kill her. He tries and is unable when pirates kidnap her and sell her to a whore house. Pericles is told she is dead. He goes into great despair. Marina refuses to give away her virtue and when men pay to lay with her they end up repenting and turning a new leaf including the governor of this land. Marina is sent to help those who lives are downtrodden when she is led to her father. They reveal to each who they are. Pericles grants the governor his daughter’s hand and they go to the temple of Diana to be wed. There they find Thalia Pericles’ thought to be dead wife. The end.
Two and a half hours of great storytelling. Many actors played multiple roles and all were great. Above all the music in the show was well written and had a very nautical sound. If I would change anything it would be the projections. At times they were distracting. A lot of them were for the sake of doing it and didn’t add to the action, but many of them were very useful.

[button link=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/aminus/”]Grade: A-[/button]

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=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/cminus/”]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=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/a/”]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=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/b/”]Grade: B[/button]

Henry V

This show was well directed.  That is why it received a B and not lower.  It is apparent that the director used the Saint Crispin’s Day speech as a concept for the play, because the idea of a band of brothers was used well.  However it seemed the actor playing Henry V, Harry Judge was in a very different production that was all about him.  Having known some that have worked with Judge in the past this is common for productions he is in.  I can understand the directors choice of him for Henry being selfish in the way that Shakespeare wrote the play, but I think Judge needed to make contact with his fellow actors and create moments with them and not worry about doing it on his own.

The actor that stole the show was Greg Vinkler playing both Ensign Pistol and King Charles VI.  The amount of play he put into Pistol in direct contrast to the stifled character of Charles proved to me that he deserves at least kudos for a job well done.  Most of the actors played duel roles and most did quite well except Samuel Taylor who in one of his roles played The Daupin and every time he spoke I wanted to climb on stage and muzzle him.  He did make choices, but those choices were bad and perhaps thats the director’s fault for not bringing him back to reality.  For him it seemed like he made the character a caricature when everyone else in the show was believable and real.

The best part of the show was the talk back at the end of the Wednesday matinee that I attended.  I got to learn a bunch about the the show and why some choices were made and some of the Shakespearean history.

[button link=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/b/”]Grade: B[/button]

Motown

I love me some Motown music.  I have been and forever will be a Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 fan and this show helped me keep that mindset.  This is the story of Berry Gordy and how he started Motown records and how he tried to keep it going despite losing relationships with friends and lovers.  Gordy is a producer for the show and I thought going in that it would make him look like a hero and be more of the standard jukebox show that just features the numbers from the Motown catalogue.  To my pleasant surprise it and he wasn’t.   Yes it did have all the favorite Motown hits but it, but it wasn’t wrapped in fluff.  It was really touching at times and it made me feel good watching it and being a part of the Motown story.

[button link=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/aminus/”]Grade: A-[/button]

Peter and the Star Catcher

Peter and the Starcatcher - Bank of America Theatre - Chicago, IL - April 10, 2014

Peter and the Starcatcher – Bank of America Theatre – Chicago, IL – April 10, 2014

I suppose I am in the minority when I say that I didn’t really like this show.  It won five Tony awards, but to me it was predictable.  This is the typical story of Peter Pan that has been told now for over a hundred years.  It is a playful telling that takes objects found in the set of junk and turns it into the story.  I think this is a contrived concept because it has been done so much lately and the objects found are not that far fetched from what they are being used for.  For a show that won 5 Tony’s I expect more imagination and from a show like peter pan I expect all imagination.

The show was overall done well and I do want to take anything from the actors and what they brought to the stage especially John Sanders’ “Oh my God” monologue.  I guess for me I want more when it comes to this show and not found.

[button link=”http://plays.patrickstinson.com/category/c/”]Grade: C[/button]