June 19, 2018

Billy Elliot, Porchlight’s musical at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts

Have I the perfect evening out for you, that is if you like musical theater and want to hang out in Chicago’s Gold Coast.

Porchlight Theater has mounted a bang-up production of the musical, Billy Elliot at the Ruth Page Center. Based on the hit movie of the same name with music by Sir Elton John, this is perfect family or date night theater fare.

Two talented young boys alternate playing the title role (I saw both sing at Monday Night Live at Petterino’s). Jacob Kaiser was Billy the night I attended and he surely sang, acted and danced his way into the audience members hearts. Another endearing character is Iris Lieberman playing Billy’s spunky, but addled grandmother. Other stand-outs are Sean Fortunato as his gruff father and Shanesia Davis playing his outspoken dance teacher.

The cast is augmented with young dancers, some who are making their theatrical debuts. If you have any fledgling dancers in your home, you may want to consider taking them to Billy Elliot in lieu of The Nutcracker. Their dance sequences are tutu cute. Excuse me, I just couldn’t resist the pun.

I parked at the public LAZ lot next to Hotel Indigo at 1250 N. Dearborn Street. The Ruth Page Center validated my ticket rendering the parking $12 for 6 hours.

You may consider having a light bite at the Three Arts Club Cafe in the Restoration Hardware store at 1300 N. Dearborn Street. Just be forewarned that they don’t take reservations and their kitchen closes at 8 pm most nights, with a 6 pm closing on Sundays.

The theater, parking and cafe are on the same street just blocks apart so the six hour parking window is just right.

Billy Elliot has been extended to December 31, 2017.
I can’t think of a more uplifting Chicago production to see this holiday season.

https://porchlightmusictheatre.org

http://3artsclubcafe.com/food/

http://www.ruthpage.org/

An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater

I had heard about this charming musical ever since it premiered on Broadway to great acclaim in 2015, so it was with great anticipation that I caught this national tour version of An American In Paris.

The production has several things going for it. Ballet sequences are breath-taking as conceived by director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.  George Gershwin’s music provides the lush soundtrack for the whole show. Not only do we hear permutations of his famous An American In Paris orchestral work, but we are treated to portions of his classical Second Prelude, his Concerto in F, his Second Rhapsody and his Cuban Overture. Beloved songs like I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love are sung by cast members, but lesser known tunes like Fidgety Feet, Who Cares and Liza shed new light on Gershwin’s song catalogue.
The technical aspects of the show dazzle with creative use of screen images on the electronic back drop and moving screens. Parisian buildings, paintings and other famous sights delight the eye throughout the show. A recurring view of the river Seine is most amusing as two boats are depicted by different artistic techniques.

The plot harkens back to the basic romantic formula found in black and white movies. Three men who are friends are all in love with the same ballerina. Boy and boy and boy meet girl. Only one boy gets girl.

The action takes place in Paris right after World War II in 1945 so the frothy doings are sprinkled with references to the German Occupation, the Resistance, and the Holocaust making this a work of both light and dark.

For me the orchestral music, the dance sequences, the stage images and Craig Lucas’ snappy dialogue outshine the singing, but this is a quibble when the over-all effect of the production is to know that one has spent a delightful evening at the theater.  Broadway In Chicago will be running An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater through August 13, 2017.

http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/an-american-in-paris/

La La Land: Oscar-worthy

I finally had the opportunity to see La La Land this past week. In short, I was delighted from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when the two men who accompanied me to the cinema proclaimed this to be “a terrible movie” and “boring,” respectively.
Another friend disliked the opening sequence with a traffic jam resulting in people getting out of their cars and singing and dancing.
As for me, I loved the opening for quickly putting the viewer into the world of Hollywood where every other person seems to be grasping for a toe hold into the world of entertainment. Although they may get to sing, dance, act, write, direct or design for TV and movies, all of these people have to keep on scrambling to pay bills and keep their cars running. The scene also has the principal characters “meeting cute” with an angry flipped finger at one another.

The use of bright colors throughout the movie whether it be with clothing, furniture, signage or scenery absolutely delighted my eyes. The score was tuneful and lyrics well-crafted. The song “City of Stars” is still going through my head. The orchestration found so many different ways of presenting the simple but potent melodies. The script dialogue is reminiscent of the rapid bantering of 1930’s screwball comedies.

Now a word about the stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. She can actually sing pretty expressively. Gosling’s singing is serviceable, but I was really impressed with his ability to simulate playing the piano really well. He reportedly sang and played piano, guitar, bass and cello in a group in 2009 so he came to the film with some musical skills. His dancing is pretty impressive, too, especially since he is six feet tall and gracefully manages his long legs. Stone and Gosling were cast for their box office names and their acting chops, but their musical and dancing skills are most entertaining.

One of the men who dissed the movie did sheepishly note the large number of Oscar nominations for this “terrible movie.” Let me compare this to the political climate. We definitely see the world through our own filters, be it for movie-watching or political opinions. Some of us just have better taste!

Mana Contemporary Chicago, a Pilsen art center

I have often visited art galleries in River North, but my brother-in-law let me know about another Pilsen venue that seems to be attracting many creative types. Mana Contemporary at  2233 South Throop Street is an art center housed in a landmark building designed by Chicago architect George Nimmons, in a decidedly urban and industrial setting.

Mana Chicago features studios, offices and performing spaces where art is created, including painting, sculpture, photography, dance, film, sound and performance work.

We were fortunate enough to attend the Summer Open Studios on June 18 so we could browse dozens of artist work spaces on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of the complex. We also encountered a cafe serving light bites and beverages, a performance space that featured dance and a live art studio with two partially clothed women with parasols creating an ever-changing tableau.

Some of my favorite studios: Dana Major with her magical installations featuring wire, lenses, glass, mineral optics and LEDS; Ava Grey, a creative agency and production house that creates art using materials from urban American sub-culture, and Olea Nova, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia whose work includes painting, drawing, sound and video.

At times, the unusually-garbed artists and art viewers rivaled the art on the walls. The unobstructed views from the studio windows were breath-taking with stunning sunset hues and cityscape vistas.

There are two other Mana art centers, the Mana Wynwood in Miami and the Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ.

The Mana Contemporary Chicago web site indicates that tours are available during business hours. For more information, visit:
http://www.manacontemporarychicago.com/

Lawyers for the Creative Arts

I recently became better acquainted with Lawyers for the Creative Arts, an organization comprised of lawyers from the Chicagoland area who donate their time and expertise to help artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers with their legal problems. Creators have been given pro bono legal help with everything from copyrights to contracts to law suits.

Their recent benefit luncheon in the Palmer House’s Empire Room honored law firm Sidley Austin for their pro bono work, former board president William Frankel for his longtime service to LCA, Mark Howard, founder and choreographer of the Trinity Irish Dancers and Liz Carroll, the noted performer and composer of Irish fiddle music. The incoming Consul General of Ireland, the Hon. Orla McBreen introduced the program and popular cultural commentator Rick Kogan acted as master of ceremonies.

In the last twelve months, LCA lawyers have provided legal service to over 2000 people and organizations.  Founded 42 years ago, some of the earliest volunteer lawyers are still active in the organization. Beneficiaries of LCA’s legal advice have dubbed the organization “An Angel to the Arts.”

http://law-arts.org

Midsommarfest – 50th Anniversary in Andersonville

Every June, 50,000 people descend upon Andersonville for a weekend celebration of Midsommarfest featuring food, music, crafts and alcohol. This year, June 12, 13 and 14, the party will be even bigger since the festival is marking its 50th anniversary.

You will want to do some Clark Street window-shopping so you can see the vintage photos from the 1965 Midsommar Fest.  The retro car styles, hairdos and clothing will certainly give you a chuckle.

You don’t have to be resident to enjoy the festivities. Admittance is only $10 with kids under 12 and seniors being free. As added incentive, if you spend $30 at an Andersonville retail establishment or service provider and get a receipt, you are entitled to a free beer at the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce booth. (Restaurants and bars are excluded.)

There will be five stages featuring live events and entertainment including a Chicago Hula Hoop Festival, the Bow Wow Lounge Pet Parade and yoga classes provided by Smarty Pants Yoga and Bikram Yoga Andersonville.   Some of the performing groups include Joel Hall and Gus Giordano Dance companies, the Windy City Cowboys, the Jazz Institute’s Jazz Links Youth Ensemble and dozens of  live music groups of the “party hearty” variety. There is even a Miss Andersonville pageant!

Kids can enjoy a climbing wall, a giant inflatable slide, face painting, theatre games and many other family activities.

If you feel like being an honorary Scandinavian, you can catch a traditional Maypole dance, a Swedish-American Children’s Choir, Nordic Folk Dancers, the Merula Choir or the Nordland Band. Skol!

Parking during this weekend can be a challenge. Buses that will get you to the vicinity include the 22 Clark, the 36 Broadway, and the 146 and 147 Express buses;  the red line elevated train with a stop at Berwyn is also a convenient choice. May the Norse gods bring good weather.

http://andersonville.org/events/midsommarfest