Woodstock Spamalot Hits the Funny Bone with Full Force

Mounting a local production of Monty Python’s Spamalot is no small feat. Under the skillful direction of Kathie Comella, Woodstock Musical Theatre Company’s production at the historic Woodstock Opera House succeeds with laughs a plenty.

A stage adaptation of the cult classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot follows the exploits of an inept King Arthur as he gathers knights to go on a quest to find the Holy Grail.

In the Woodstock production, King Arthur and his knights are all adept at comedic timing, while displaying fine singing voices.

As King Arthur, Gordon Wisniewski is appropriately bumbling and feeble minded to good effect. His sidekick Patsy is equally well played by Alex Fayer – who has one of the finest voices in the cast.

Each of the knights stands out as well cast and well coached. Daren Walsh is sidesplitting as the cowardly Sir Robin. Gary Mackowiak is powerful with deadly animosity as Sir Lancelot, only to make a dramatic change of persuasion later in the story.

Matthew Stewart is a delight as the ever-vain Sir Galahad and performs one of the standout songs of the show The Song that Goes Like This opposite the Lady of the Lake (Elizabeth Zimmerman). Brendan Gaughan’s Sir Bedevere may have the least lines of the knights, but he delivers a knockout performance with the material he has to work with.

As the female lead, Zimmerman milks her songs for all they are worth – earning the adoration of the audience with a stellar voice and quick wit. It is the Lady of the Lake’s entourage The Laker Girls that take the show to a whole different level of fun and entertainment. The talented singer/dancers consist of Heidi Zapp, Grace Schulz, Jessica Pohlman, Lara Bell, April Noel, and Shannon Lee Day.

Not to be outdone, the rest of the ensemble is also a delight, featuring the talents of Matthew Leptich, Lynn Cotner, Geoffrey Lindow, Charlie Sommers, Chris Griffin, Jeffrey DuBois, Spencer Stanley, and Liam Bell.

Thomas Neumann takes the cake with his over-the-top portrayal of Prince Herbert – the unlikely love interest of the not-quite-ready-to-come-out Sir Lancelot.

The choreography by Maggie McCord  and music direction by Kenzie Parry are both very well done, as the ensemble shines both vocally and in dance.

Costume designer Teagan Anderson and her assistants Tina Anderson, Mary Bower, Trudie Dreyer, and William Roberts have done a fantastic job. Set designer/scenic artist Barry R. Norton has set the stage well – particularly when Camelot turns out to be a Las Vegas-like pleasure palace. Wigs by Maggie McCord and Virginia Zymonas add to the ambiance of the story.

It would be a disgrace not to mention the phenomenal pit musicians Danielle Cairoli, Dave Childress, Sue Childress, Carolyn Awe, David Byers, Greg Conrad, Stacy Knorr Rapach, Kristin Lundine Miller, Paul Wood, and Bill Bedsole.

If you are a fan of classic Monty Python humor, or just plain good musical theater, then look no further than WMTC’s Spamalot playing Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through April 22 at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren Street, Woodstock, IL). For tickets contact the Woodstock Opera House box office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert – Good, but not Legendary

NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert starring John Legend that aired on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 was a good production.

John Legend in the title role was effective. Was he the best performer to take on the role? No. But he was good.

What hurt Legend most was his lack of high range. He opted to not do the signature high parts of several songs, which detracted from the overall production. Still, he did do a good job with the elements of the songs that he felt comfortably fit his vocal range

The title role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Time Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is a difficult one. There are two film versions available. A 1973 version starred Ted Neeley as Jesus. A 2001 straight- to-video film starred Glenn Carter as Christ.

Including the 2018 live concert staging, Neeley provides the best vocal interpretation of Jesus. However, overall, I prefer Carter’s interpretation of the Son of God. A lot of this has to do with the ingenuity of directors Gale Edwards and Nick Morris of casting a blond haired, clean shaven Christ and set him in a post-apocalyptic setting.

In the most recent incarnation of JCS, Brandon Victor Dixon struck a powerful figure as Juda – physically intimidating, which I think played in his favor. My only complaint about Dixon is that his voice is beautiful – like liquid crystal. The beauty of his voice made him less effective than the raspy quality of Carl Anderson of the 1973 film. Not only was Anderson’s film performance definitive of the role of Judas, I also got the chance to see him costar with Neeley in a national theatrical tour which cemented him in my mind as the quintessential Judas.

The true standout performance of the 2018 live concert was Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate. His performance was flawless and head and shoulders above any previous actors to play the role on stage or film.

Rock God Alice Cooper made an interesting and amusing King Herod. At times he seemed uneasy in the role and seemed to struggle remembering the lyrics to his one signature song (King Herod’s Song). By the end of the song, though, he seemed to find his lyrical footing and had some enjoyable interactions with the audience.

As Mary Magdalene, Sara Berellis was well cast. She showed off an impressive voice augmented by acting a full range of emotions. Like Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Berellis turned in the best interpretation of her role to date.

Like the 2001 film, the 2018 live concert set the action of the musical against a futuristic world – more punk than its apocalyptic predecessor.

The ensemble was good, in not overly impressive. And the rock orchestra was spot on perfect.

Overall, the live concert version of JCS was enjoyable. My favorite interpretation of Webber & Rice’s work? No. But worth watching.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Eddie and the Cruisers II – Guilty Pleasure or Rotten Tomato?

I loved the 1983 film Eddie and the Cruisers, a movie that flashed back and forth through time while telling the legacy of a fictional 1960’s rock group and the adult lives of the survivors of youthful fame.

Recently I came across the sequel, aptly titled Eddie and the Cruisers: Eddie Lives. Given how much I enjoyed the original, I thought I’d give it a try despite a lot of reviews that panned it as a flop.

Eddie and the Cruisers II lacks the charm and ambiance of the original. However, it did have its own charm.

The 1989 follow up movie has a few things that play in its favor. John Cafferty again provides the singing voice of rocker Eddie Wilson, now 20 years later. Also returning in the sequel, Michael Paré as the onscreen Eddie does an excellent job lip syncing to Cafferty’s gristly vocals.

Paré is a very underrated actor whose credits include Streets of Fire and The Philadelphia Experiment. After seeing his performance in the original 1983 Eddie and the Cruisers, I could not even imagine another actor in the role. Part Jim Morrison but with a sound more reflective of Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp (particularly in his John Cougar days), the fictional Eddie Wilson embodies the ideal of the tormented rock star.

The original film was based on P.F. Kluge novel of the same name. Without a complete novel as it’s backbone, Eddie and the Cruisers II flounders at times searching for its creative soul. Unlike in the original, Paré is relegated to acting two emotions: angry or haunted.

The supporting cast of the original included acting greats Tom Berenger and Joe Pantoliano. Paré has no such stars to perform opposite in the sequel, making his character have to carry the whole film.

In the original film, the plot revolves around the lives of the Cruisers after the assumed death of leader Eddie Wilson. Eddie’s car ran off a bridge and the body was never recovered.

In the sequel, we find that Eddie indeed lived through the accident and has been living for the past 20 years under an assumed name working in construction to support himself outside the spotlight that he couldn’t handle anymore.

Under the name Joe West, Eddie is dragged back into the music scene by a passionate guitarist who recognizes Joe’s talent without any idea he is really the presumed dead Eddie Wilson.

The thing that saves the film is Cafferty’s passionate vocal style and Paré’s expert lip syncing. The rest of the story is kind of hit or miss. There are moments that really work well, and others that you just have to live with as not being on par with the original.

Even though Eddie Lives bombed at the box office, it has later achieved a cult status – and rightfully so. The good far outweighs the bad in this little guilty pleasure.

I give it a thumbs up.

Peace. Love. Trust.

86% of Voters Would Prefer Stormy Daniels in the Whitehouse

In a recent Facebook poll, 86% of voters said they would rather have porn star Stormy Daniels serving as President in the White House over Donald Trump.

Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has been in the spotlight since it was learned that the non-disclosure agreement between Trump and her that was meant to silence Daniels from speaking publicly about Trump sleeping with her in exchange for $130,000 was potentially not valid because Trump failed to sign the document. Daniels, however, did receive the $130,000 hush money, which she has offered to return in exchange for the freedom to speak freely about Trump cheating on his wife with the porn star.

Yes, he failed to sign the contract. This from the self-proclaimed “genius.”

Despite Trump’s claims that he won the 2016 election by a “landslide”, the facts are that he lost the popular vote by more than 3 million votes. This means the majority of U.S. citizens did not want Trump and his arguably racist policies in the White House. The new Facebook poll in which Trump received only 14% , is again proof that Trump is not the popular leader he likes to claim he is.

In a poll published by Politico/Morning Consult, Trump ranked as the most unpopular U.S. President in history – even behind Richard Nixon. Asked to grade Trump’s performance as President, more voters ranked him with an F rating than those giving him an A or a B combined.

A current investigation by Special Council Robert Mueller is seeking to see if Trump colluded with Russia to illegally steal the election and later commit obstruction of justice by firing FBI Director James Comey when he wouldn’t cease investigation into Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has since plead guilty for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials regarding their meddling in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

 

Do We Need a Military Parade?

The Pentagon has approved a military parade demanded by President Donald Trump, similar to the ones ordered by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during his reign of terror as Führer of Germany.

Conservative estimates place the cost of this event to be over $30 million Some estimates have the cost exceeding $50 million.

This begs the question do we need a military parade? Truly, what will this parade serve to do aside from stroke a few egos? The world already knows the strength of the U.S. military – the most dominate arsenal of manpower and weapons on this earth.

I, for one, love our troops for their service and, at times, sacrifice. A parade will not make me, or most others, change this view. Nor, do I think it will sway the opinions of those who do not share this sentiment of appreciation for their continued courage.

I think, instead, those wise among us look at what could be accomplished with $30-50 million. I refer to actions that would be meaningful and have definitive, measurable benefits.

Recently the Trump administration passed a budget that will dramatically and permanently decrease taxes for the upper 1%, will provide only a small, temporary benefit to the middle class, and will hurt the poor. They are proposing to pay for the tax breaks for the rich with cuts to Social Security and Medicare – two programs that we as working citizens have paid into; two programs that the retired and disabled rely heavily on.

Wouldn’t using the $30-50 million be better spent on ensuring that Social Security and Medicare remain intact?

Meals-on-Wheels for senior citizen and after school programs that provide meal to children of poverty-stricken families are two programs that the Trump administration and GOP are also cutting funding for.

Wouldn’t using the $30-50 million to keep senior citizens out of nursing homes and keep our nation’s children from going hungry be a better use of those funds?

In the wake of recent hurricane disaster, much of Puerto Rico is still without electricity. Don’t forget that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.

Wouldn’t spending $30-5o million on restoring our territory’s power be more beneficial then a military parade?

Approximately 39,000 veterans are homeless today. These are men and women who served our country proudly and have now fallen on hard times. Many suffer from untreated mental illness.

Rather than spend $30-50 million on having soldier’s march for the pleasure of the president, wouldn’t that money be better spent getting our homeless veterans off the streets and getting them the support and care they need?

These are just a few examples of how $30-50 million can be used in more meaningful ways than a military parade. There are many other useful ways the money could be used – public broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, Habitat for Humanity, universal healthcare, battling global warming, better funding public schools – to name just a few.

As I have said, I am proud of our military. I love my country. But do we need military peacocking when there are so many better ways that exorbitant amount of money could be used for? I, for one, think not.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

Marriott Theatre’s The Emperor’s New Clothes a Stripped-Down Delight

Children’s theatre is a tough nut to crack. It must be entertaining to both children and their parents, yet must be presented in a format conducive to children’s shorter attention spans while still conveying a fully developed story arc.

Marriott Theatre’s production of The Emperor’s New Clothes succeeds on all fronts.

The story follows the ascension of young prince Marcus to the emperor’s throne at the tender age of 14. Uncertain he possesses the leadership to take on the role of emperor, Marcus decides that the clothes must make the man, and thus falls victim to a swindler’s promise of magic clothes that are “invisible to fools.”

The clothes, of course, do not exist. But, not wanting to be labeled fools, Emperor Marcus and his royal court pretend they can see them and stage a parade to display the new royal clothes – when in truth the Emperor is in nothing more than his undergarments. Only the truth spoken by a simpleminded palace mop boy can make them see the error of their ways.

The Marriott’s stripped-down production features a small, but strong cast of singing, dancing actors. The Chicagoland all-stars making up the cast include Declan Desmond as Emperor Marcus, Garrett Lutz as palace mop boy Arno, Johanna McKenzie Miller as The Swindler, Christine Bunuan as Deena, and George Keating as William.

Desmond is appropriately charming yet uncertain as young Emperor Marcus. Lutz is the audience favorite as comical palace mop boy Arno. Miller is a fine villain, more greedy and dishonest than evil. Bunuan and Keating make a delightful mismatched pair of palace advisors.

The charming and whimsical production is directed and choreographed by Amanda Tanguay, with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson. The music is high-spirited with catchy choruses that are perfect for a child’s taste and attention. The story is fun and entertaining.

The Emperor’s New Clothes runs at the Marriott Theatre (10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, Illinois) through May 12 on most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m. with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com or call (847) 634.0200 for exact schedule, as show times and dates may vary. Single ticket prices are $18.23 per person. Groups of 20 or more receive a discount by calling (847) 634.5909. Free parking is available at all shows. To reserve tickets, call the Marriott Theatre Box Office at (847) 634.0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Stars Shine Bright in TownSquare Players’ The Little Mermaid

TownSqaure Players’ production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Woodstock Opera House sets a new standard for community theater. The production is produced by Margaret Miller and Janaan Rose.

The Little Mermaid is a stage musical based on the 1989 Disney animated movie of the same name. The musical takes the story of the Hans Christian Anderson folktale in which a mermaid who dreams of the world above the sea gives up her voice to walk among humans and pursue her true love.

The Little Mermaid features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a book by Doug Wright.

Director, Choreographer, and Scenic Designer Billy Seger has outdone himself in all capacities, while Vocal Director Susan Falbo’s work complements his brilliantly.

In the title role of The Little Mermaid (Ariel), Deanna Golema is simply radiant. Her voice is effortlessly phenomenal and her dance and acting talents shine equally as strong. Golema belongs in the spotlight. She should seriously consider a move to New York while she is at the pinnacle of her talents and still young enough to give it a legitimate go for a Broadway career.

As King Triton, Travis Greuel strikes a commanding presence complimented by a surprisingly tender voice.

As the villain of the piece, Christy Sturm is a sheer delight oozing with evil. Her Fosse-inspired henchmen Floatsam and Jetsam, Austin Elliott and Aaron Gomez are a wickedly fun pair.

Ethan Sherman possesses the classic good looks and fine voice to be convincing as Ariel’s human love interest Prince Eric. The prince’s guardian Grimsby is aptly played by David Gasior.

Providing perfect comedic relief, Ben Carver as Scuttle, James Gritschke as Sebastian, and Matthew Savas as Flounder are individual delights and soar in their solo numbers.

The ensemble is strong in this production, led by Carson Brandenburg, Danielle Klein, Bridget Kuehnert, Erin O’Brien, Agnes Tech, and Savannah Thomas as Ariel’s multi-talented sister mermaids. Also standing out in the ensemble is Eric Torres as chef Louie. Rounding out the top-notch ensemble are Elaine B. Cashmore, Matthew Lucchetti, Noah Richardson, Jared Ritter, Peri Sindberg, and Kevin Wright.

The actors are well accompanied by a brilliant orchestra under the conduction of Rosemarie Aiello. The orchestra is comprised of Barb Klein on piano; John Gogolewki on keyboards; Aiello on violin; Carolyn Awe, Korrin Bird, Dave Childress, and Sue Childress on reeds; Greg Conrad on bass, Mineo Patrick Yasutake and Paul Wood on cello; Dave Byers and Nathan Rigg on drums/percussion; and Brian Anderson and Miller on brass.

Dazzling costumes and an amazing set aid in creating the dual words of under and above the sea. Costumes, wigs, and makeup are the brainchild of William Roberts well-aided by Teagan Anderson. Set design is by Seger, Joe McCormack, Tiffany Matras, and Brent White with set dressing by Shannon Lee Day and Desiree Richardson. Set construction is by White.

The production is kept moving at an unfaltering pace by Stage Manager Spencer White and a stage crew comprised of the Student Mentor Program and Friends of TownSquare Players.

Without a doubt, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is a fantasy worth losing yourself in. It is nimbly put together to entertain both children and adults.

The Little Mermaid plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren Street, Woodstock, IL 60098). For tickets contact the Box Office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.