March 24, 2019

Schitts Creek, Canadian comedy series on Netflix

One of my sisters has been raving about the comedy series, Schitts Creek on Netflix, but the show title was enough to put it on the bottom of my list. That was a mistake.

Canadian Eugene Levy of Waiting For Guffman and Second City Toronto fame, has teamed up with son Daniel Levy to create a laugh-out-loud comedy series set in the fictional town of Schitts Creek. Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), former video king magnate, bought this small town as a joke for his son’s birthday. The Roses lose all of their money and are forced to move to their only remaining asset, Schitts Creek.

Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real life son, plays the pan-sexual male progeny of this fish-out-of-water family. Mother Moira Rose is played by comedic actress Catherine O’Hara, a frequent collaborator of Eugene’s. Her parade of black and white designer duds and various wigs is almost worth the price of admission. The fourth in this comedic quartet is Annie Murphy playing self-absorbed, jet-setting daughter Alexis Rose.

As in most successful tv comedies, the supporting roles are equally engaging including Emily Hampshire playing deadpan hotel worker Stevie Budd, Chris Elliott as mullet-wearing Mayor Roland Schitt, along with his style-challenged wife Jocelyn portrayed by actress Jennifer Robertson. Other quirky side characters include the handsome local vet, a waitress at the only diner in town, the owner of Bob’s Garage and the only real estate agent in town.

At first, I thought the only joke was how cluelessly sophisticated the Rose family was in comparison to the seeming hillbillies of Schitts Creek. It becomes apparent that this new constellation of friends and acquaintances is a big improvement over their previous big city community in loyalty, generosity and heart.

For every biting bit of humor, there is a warm fuzzy realization that family and real friends help us get through any catastrophe, including losing our bank accounts, our possessions and our social standing. Laughs plus the occasional “Aw….” in Schitts Creek makes for the perfect end of day viewing.

The Kominsky Method on Netflix

More and more name actors and directors are taking the plunge to the small screen with streaming service Netflix being one of the primary contenders in attracting quality productions.

The Kominsky Method, created by the uber-successful Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Mom) has cast Michael Douglas as struggling LA actor/teacher Sandy Kominsky along with Alan Arkin as his button-downed friend and agent, Norman.
The script goes for laughs but the deeper sub-text keeps the dialogue from being cheap. Getting older has never seemed so grim or hilarious.

Nancy Travis is delightful as his sort-of girlfriend and Sarah Baker spot-on as his ever-patient daughter.

Scenes at Sandy’s acting studio are particularly moving as we see people striving to find the sweet spot of theatrical artistry versus the crassness of paid acting work.

The show is chock full of familiar faces playing bit roles such as Danny DeVito as a sadistic proctologist and Lisa Edelstein as Alan Arkin’s spoiled druggie daughter. Even Ann-Margaret and Elliot Gould make cameo appearances.

Netflix has already ordered Season Two so we can look forward to more snappy dialogue about senior dating, parent-child relationships, tax bills and prostate problems. No, this really is a comedy.

May you joyfully binge-watch The Kominsky Method this holiday season.

Tootsie, the musical at the Cadillac Theater

You literally just have a couple of days left to see the musical, Tootsie at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago before it ends on October 14, 2018. The tag line states this is “a new comedy musical” and it fulfills that bill in spades.

Loosely based on the 1982 movie of the same name starring Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie the musical makes some savvy changes. The main character played by the amazing Santino Fontana gets cast in a Broadway musical versus the movie’s soap opera job in the movie. As in the film, he falls for the leading lady (played by a lovely Lilli Cooper) who thinks he is “a woman of a certain age,” but today’s more open attitudes about same sex couples and gender definition add more depth to the plot line.

The songs, with lyrics and music by David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Band’s Visit), are tuneful and witty with a few stand-out numbers one will be hearing at auditions. Librettist Robert Horn has fashioned a very hilarious book that gracefully links the songs while giving full comedic play to the singing actors.

Tootsie is headed for Broadway in the spring of 2019, so you will still have the chance to see this delightful production. You will just have to go a lot further for it, and perhaps pay a premium for your seat. The trip to NYC will be well worth your time and effort if you don’t catch the show this weekend in Chicago.

Coco, the movie on Netflix

I’m frequently behind in my movie viewing since I wait until films are released on streaming services. I recently caught Coco, an animated film produced by Pixar and released by Disney on Netflix. All I can say is, “Why did I not catch this masterpiece in the movie theater?!”

The art direction is simply stupendous with its riotous colors and images that evoke Hispanic Culture’s Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) came up with the story idea and co-directed the film with Adrian Molina. They get an A+ for allowing non-Latinos and Latinos alike to view Hispanic culture through the eyes of 12-year-old Miguel who is mistakenly sent to the underworld. He meets his musician great great-grandfather who helps him get back to the land of the living.

The music buff in me loves the song “Remember Me” which is artfully woven throughout the movie, but it is the central theme of family and remembrance that really hits the right chord for me.

Anthony Gonzalez is the young Miguel and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) plays his new pal who tricks him into visiting the world below. Most of the excellent voice-over actors are not household names, aside from Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel’s musical idol. Edward James Olmos is cast as the forgotten Chicharron who disappears from the Land of the Dead. Even Cheech Marin has a small role as a Corrections Officer.

If Coco shows up at a nostalgia movie theater, run at your earliest opportunity to catch it. Until then, view it on Netflix with those you love. Have your Kleenex at the ready. Happy Dia de los Muertos which starts on October 31st.

Younger TV Show on Hulu

Cast of Younger

My tolerance for serious news issues and gruesome crime shows has suddenly plummeted. Hulu to the rescue with a lighter than air sit-com which has been highly binge-able.

TVLand is the place of origin for Younger, a four season charmer starring Broadway star Sutton Foster currently streaming on Hulu. Darren Star, the show creator has a successful pedigree with Sex In the City, Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 on his resume.

Foster plays Liza Miller, a 40 year old single mom who fails to get any job nibbles in publishing after her ex-husband leaves her financially destitute. She decides to repackage herself as a 26 year old hipster living in Brooklyn. Voila, she ends up with an entry-level position at Empirical Press and is pursued by a 26 year old male tattoo artist, Josh (Nico Tortorella) who assumes they are the same age.

Helping her keep her cover is friend and room-mate Maggie played by the outrageous Debi Mazar. Liza’s work buddy is Kelsey Peters played by singer, songwriter, actress Hilary Duff.

Miller’s age deception has unexpected consequences for her younger boyfriend, her teenage daughter, her co-workers and for her tall and handsome 40-something boss, Charles played by Peter Hermann.

Gilmore Girls and Drop Dead Diva are shows that seem cut from the same stylish cloth. Younger may attract more female viewership but men would learn a lot if they watched this slightly irreverent comedy with the women in their lives. I bet you’ll have at least one laugh per episode.

Magic Lounge in Chicago’s Andersonville

If you want a most unusual and fun evening, call now for tickets to see a show at the Magic Lounge, in Andersonville’s SoFo neighborhood (south of Foster).
Be forewarned that weekend tickets need to be ordered weeks in advance as the venue has exploded in popularity. And rightfully so.

The exterior has no official signage but there are some poster images of magicians to mark the 5050 N. Clark Street entrance. Upon entering the vestibule, commercial washers and dryers make one question the address. Please persist for one of the machines is actually a door leading to a delightful bar with a magician doing tricks for cocktail patrons. If you are lucky enough to secure a show ticket, you will be ushered through another trick door that leads to a surprisingly spacious cabaret-style theater replete with a red-curtained stage, a theater organist, banquette and bar seating along with a petite balcony for celebratory groups. This venue is a big draw for bachelor, bachelorette and corporate parties, but you will also see local couples, small groups of friends and people of all ages out for a good time.

While waiting for the show to start, one can order nifty cocktails and very tasteful small bites and I mean that in both senses of the word. Imagine prosciutto wrapped dates with gorgonzola cheese, pork belly or beef tenderloin sliders, potato pancakes with apple mustardo and caraway yogurt, or a sausage board with cheese, peppers, caperberries and rye bread. Then again, your sweet tooth might enjoy a Katherine Anne Confection Truffle with flavors like Creme de Menthe, Hazelnut, Sea Salt Caramel, Citrus or Vegan Raspberry Champagne.

During the pre-show, a handful of magicians go from table to table giving up close sleight-of-hand displays. To set the mood, an organist plays tunes that are so square they are hip, and dons the hat of emcee to introduce both an opening act and a featured entertainer. The night we were there, both entertainers were not only adept at magic, but laugh-out-loud funny. Selected patrons are invited to the stage to participate in several of the tricks which adds to the hilarity.

What we saw was the Signature Show, but the Magic Lounge also offers David Parr’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Wednesdays, a Family Show on Sundays, Music and Magic on Mondays and Tuesdays. For an additional charge, after the Signaure Show, you can move to a smaller theater called The 654 Club behind the Blackstone Cabaret for a more intimate magic experience.

What can I say? The Magic Lounge’s offerings would be a perfect evening for anyone who wants an extraordinary experience with comedy, music, food and magic. When can I go back?

https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com/welcome/