Take a Chance on Woodstock ‘Mamma Mia’

Mamma Mia is a musical built around the songs of the 1970’s pop group ABBA. The band’s music was whimsical, peppy, and without great depth. As such, the script for Mamma Mia makes little effort to be high-brow or meaningful. Rather, it is as whimsical and fanciful as the songs that inspired it.

Twenty years ago Donna had flings with three different men, nine months later she became a single mother running a small Greek island getaway. Fast forward to the present and Donna’s daughter Sophie is engaged to be married. Sophie wants her father to walk her down the aisle, so she invites all three possible fathers to the wedding in hopes that she can figure out which one to call Dad.

As matriarch Donna, Amber Dow is a delight. She has a natural charm that blends with the character’s down to earth qualities and a dynamic vocal belt that will curl your toes. As the bride-to-be Sophie, Aly Blakewell is young, charming, and endearing – everything an ingenue should be.

Sophie’s fiancé is played by Rob Falbo Jr. whose charismatic smile reaches to the back of the theater. Throughout the show he just looks like he is happy to be on stage doing something he loves.

The three fathers are well matched, and each create their own distinct character. John Barnett is dapper and charming as Sam Carmichael, an American architect. Jeff Cook is hilarious as English banker Harry Bright. Cook’s “dance solo” tribute to John Travolta is one of the funniest things to grace the Woodstock Opera House stage in years. Rounding out the trio of possible fathers, Chris Griffin provides an enjoyable take on Bill Austin, a travel journalist and confirmed bachelor.

Also on hand are Donna’s best friends Tanya, a true cougar played with just the right amount of sexual energy by Kate Curtin, and frumpy cookbook writer Rosie, embodied divinely by Lisa Czarny-Hyrkas.  Czarny-Hyrkas’ Take a Chance on Me with Griffin’s Bill is one of the funniest numbers in the show.

Rounding out the notables in the cast are Sophie’s bridesmaids played nicely by Becca Polk and Britny Hendrickson, and the girl crazy hired help played hysterically by Thomas Neumann and Brendan Gaughan.

There is not a lot of substance to Mamma Mia; it’s not going to be confused with Shakespeare.  So, director Barry R. Norton piles on the cheese in virtually every scene and it works well. The show is filled with special moments like hidden gems.

Norton’s directorial choices are well complimented by the lively choreography of Chesney Murphy. She does an excellent job of playing to her dancers’ strengths and keeping the scenes visually stimulating.

The songs are the best part of Mamma Mia, and vocal director Susan Falbo has her singers in top form. There is not a bad singer in the bunch.

Under the direction of Dave Childress, the orchestra is spot on perfect. You could well be at an ABBA concert.

The costumes, particularly during the extended curtain call, are to die for. Costume Coordinators Holly Adkins and Trudie Dreyer have out done themselves.

For an enjoyable night of entertainment, you don’t need to look farther than a night at the theatre with the music of ABBA delivered by an extremely talented cast. You can tell the cast of Mamma Mia is having a great time and its infectious. You will leave with a smile on your face.

Mamma Mia plays at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren Street) Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through October 20, 2019. For tickets call the Box Office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.


‘Morning’s at Seven’ Plays Sept 27 – Oct 12 for Elgin’s Independent Players

Independent Players is proud to announce that the powerful, yet also humorous Paul Osborn play Morning’s at Seven opens on September 27 and runs Fridays and Saturdays through October 12, 2019 at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street, Elgin.  The play is a restaging of the recent popular mounting at Right-Center-Left Production Company (RCLPC Theatre) in Crystal Lake this Summer. Many of the Summer cast have returned for the event, and are joined by some new, very talented additions to the cast.

The play is directed by the brilliant visionary Gina Belt-Daniels (who directed Tribute by Bernard Slade for Independent Players in 2000) and stars some of the area’s top talent: Steve Connell, Rob Cunningham, Elizabeth Dawson, Karen Greuel, Alison Hage, Judith Laughlin, Dan Scott, Paul Lockwood and Stephanie Wootten-Austin.

Written in 1938, Morning’s at Seven focuses on four aging sisters living in a small Midwestern town in 1928.  Cora Swanson and her sister Ida Bolton, along with their husbands Thor and Carl, have lived next to each other for their entire married lives.  In addition, an old-maid sister, Arry, has lived with Cora and Thor for her whole adult life.  A fourth sister, Esther and her husband David, live just down the road.

As the play opens, everyone is awaiting the arrival of Homer Bolton and his fiancée, Myrtle Brown.  They have been engaged for seven years , but this is the first time anyone in the family will have met her.  When they finally arrive, Homer’s father, Carl, is frightened that he will not make a good impression, has one of his “spells” and is kept out of sight for the time being.  Homer has no real desire to marry, in spite of the fact that his father has built and furnished a house, which has been sitting empty for some years, that will be his when and if he does marry.  Myrtle is beginning to wonder if she has waited long enough.

Cora and Carl have reached a secret agreement; if Homer doesn’t make a wedding announcement, Carl will lease the vacant house to Cora. This will enable her to finally live alone with her husband Thor after tolerating her sister Arry living with them for so many years. She plans to leave their present house to Arry. Thor and Arry, however, know nothing about this plan.

“In the final analysis,” writes Lawrence Henley, “the Gibbs sisters offer us proof that the pitfalls engendered by a lengthy family history of unresolved issues can be overcome, albeit with varying degrees of difficulty.  By maintaining their faith in the strength of the family unit, the characters have the ability to brave the storm, and resurface with their bindings intact.  The function of their dysfunction is catharsis, which results in a renewed understanding of what makes the others unique and deserving of love and respect. In the end, it purges the family of whatever bad blood exists, allowing them to overcome trouble in the worst of times. Most importantly, the final unearthing of their ‘skeletons in the closet’ enables them to extend and appreciate the most important gifts they receive—understanding and forgiveness.”

Morning’s at Seven will be presented on Fridays and Saturdays, September 27-28, October 4-5, and 11-12, 2019 with Curtain Time at 7:30 PM.  The venue:  Elgin Art Showcase, (in the Professional Building (Eighth Floor), 164 Division Street, Elgin.

Tickets are $15, with Senior Citizens (65 & over) at $12 and students (14-21) at $10.  Tickets may be purchased online at www.independentplayers.org and at the door prior to each performance (cash or check only). For reservations / information: call (847) 697-7374.

I knew very little of Morning’s at Seven prior to accepting the opportunity to perform in the RCLPC Theatre Summer production, but grew to love the quaint and moving story during my time in the show. While I was unable to clear my schedule to be a part of the Elgin remounting, I have every confidence in Belt-Daniels’ incredible directing talents and the exceptional skills of the cast that has been put together to create magic on the Independent Player’s stage.

I myself can’t wait to sit back and enjoy the touching story from the audience prospective. I invite you to do the same. You will laugh. You will have to wipe the tears from your eyes. You will be entertained and moved.

Peace. Love. Trust.




Marriott’s ‘Something Rotten’ is Something Brilliant

Set in the Renaissance in England when William Shakespeare was king of theater, the comedically brilliant Something Rotten examines the era in song and dance from the standpoint of two brothers struggling to make their own name as playwrights under the vast shadow cast by The Bard.

Nick and Nigel Bottom are two young aspiring playwrights who can’t seem to catch a break. Every time they concoct a new idea for a play, Shakespeare beats them to the punch. So, while the Bottom Brothers struggle to put food on the table, the rest of the country is obsessed with the writings of Shakespeare.

Handsome and charismatic, KJ Hippensteel plays older brother Nick Bottom with just the right touch of likability, earnestness, and panache. Nick has had a modicum of success as a solo writer, and has now brought his younger brother into the mix.

Nick has a bitter rivalry with Shakespeare. The Bard was once an actor in Nick’s troupe, but he was such a bad actor, Nick persuaded him to leave the acting world behind and become a writer. He had no idea Shakespeare would go on to any success, much less one that leaves practically no room for Nick and his brother to succeed as well.

Nick’s younger brother Nigel Bottom is a brilliant poet plagued by poor self-confidence and the social skills of a potato. Played with excellent comedic skill by Alex Goodrich, Nigel secretly idolizes Nick’s nemesis. He also longs to find a romantic love of his own to rival the happy marriage of his brother.

As Nick’s supportive wife Bea, Cassie Slater is a delight. She has a sultry singing voice that draws the audience in, and a comedic delivery that results in audience laughter that can probably be heard down the street.

Faced with the prospect of losing financing for their plays if they don’t generate a bonafide hit, Nick takes the nest egg he and his wife have put away to buy a home in the country and uses the money to hire a soothsayer to predict the next big hit so the Bottom Brothers can bring it to the stage before Shakespeare does.

Enter Thomas Nostradamus, the less successful nephew of the famous French seer whose predictions are known far and wide. Nostradamus the younger is expertly brought to life by fan-favorite Ross Lehman who knows just how long he can milk a joke.

In exchange for Nick’s money, Nostradamus looks into the future and predicts that the next big thing in theater will be musicals – something unheard of in that day and age. What ensues is the bringing to life of the first ever musical. In the process, the show lampoons an array of popular Broadway hits that has the audience in stitches.

Marriott Theatre’s Something Rotten is a show filled with scene stealing characters – none more impressive than Adam Jacobs as Shakespeare. Jacobs’ Shakespeare is a would-be rock star who gleefully oozes machismo and basks in the adoration of his legions of fans. The showstopper moment of the night is a drop-the-mic type dance off between Hippensteel and Jacobs which showcases the two actors’ multifaceted talents of song, dance, and style.

Also notable in the cast are Rebecca Hurd as Nigel’s love interest Portia, Gene Weygandt as the ultra-right wing conservative religious fanatic Brother Jeremiah, Steven Strafford as Shylock – a Jewish money lender who longs to be a theatrical producer, and Jonathan Butler-Duplessis who sets the stage with his golden pipes as the Minstrel.

Director Scott Weinstein has put together an amazing and thoroughly entertaining production. The Something Rotten ensemble is one of the best to ever grace Marriott’s stage, bringing Alex Sanchez’s thrilling choreography to life with precision and emotion. Music director Ryan T. Nelson also deserves great praise.

Something Rotten performs at the Marriott Theatre (10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire) most Wednesdays at 1 PM and 7:30 PM, Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 4 PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at 1 PM and 5 PM. Ticket prices range from $50-$60, excluding tax and handling fees. Student, senior and military discounts are available. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings there are a limited number of dinner-theatre packages available. To reserve tickets contact the Marriott Theatre Box Office at (847) 634-0200 or via www.ticketmaster.com. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Dare to Compare Not Always the Best Choice

I recently heard from a good friend of mine. Over the past ten years, his career has blossomed. He has the job he always wanted, with very little compromise.

Meanwhile, I have not been so lucky. In 2008 I was diagnosed with mental illness and it was deemed that because of the extreme nature of my disability I would no longer be able to work a full-time position.

You see, I have good days and bad days. On the good days, I have flashes of the old me wherein I can accomplish things very few others have the talent, intelligence, or drive to succeed at. On the bad days, I am in a corner crying for hours on end or talking to imaginary people. Or worse. Traditional workplaces don’t really tolerate these kinds of challenges.

I am happy that my friend has succeeded in life. I truly am. But in comparison, some would say that in the eyes of the world I am a failure. And that depressed me.

I took this quandary of emotions with me to my therapist appointment. In her observation, it seems that my self-esteem isn’t what it once was. I am no longer the cocky SOB who once was on the cusp of greatness.

My therapist offered up the notion that despite my disabilities, I have accomplished a lot. And, perhaps those accomplishments are just as meaningful as those of my successful friend because of the very fact that I have done them despite fighting multiple debilitating disabilities.

Since my diagnosis in 2008, I have tried not to let life pass me by.

As a writer, I have had two books published since 2008: Blood Lust (a Hollywood vampire novel) and Unbecoming Travolta (a memoir). Including my 2002 Amazon Top 10 Recommended My Fractured Life novel, that makes three books published in total. Further, my screenplays have been finalists in several prestigious screenwriting competitions.

As a singer and songwriter, I have released my third album in 2019 – Man on Fire.

As an actor, I have shot several films and starred in a number of highly touted stage productions that earned me two Best Actor nominations in the annual Broadway World Theatrical Awards.

As a communicator, I host a popular weekly radio show focused on the entertainment industry.

And, as a theatrical creator I have founded and grown It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley.

When I look at those accomplishments on paper, I see where my therapist is coming from. There’s a lot of meat on those bones. But there’s a difference between how the logical mind and the emotional mind process things.

A part of me will always be the child that was told he was fat, ugly, stupid, and untalented. A part of me will always mourn being abandoned by my father at the age when a boy needs one the most.  A part of me will always carry a dark scar on my soul from being molested – once by a family friend and twice by strangers.

Those traumas aren’t conducive to developing a good self-esteem. So, my natural inclination is always going to be to see myself as unworthy of greatness. With that kind of predisposed mindset, I will always struggle to give myself credit for my accomplishments.

My friend who has his dream job is a great person. He is smart, creative, loyal, and moral. I applaud his success, as I know he would mine had the shoe been on the other foot.

But maybe, I’m not the disappointment that my subconscious says I am.  Maybe some of the things I’ve been able to do despite my challenges are impressive in their own right. Maybe, at least, I get points for trying.

Comparing yourself to others is not always the best thing to do. Instead, focus on your positives. That’s a good lesson to learn. I think I’m going to have to study that lesson a little more.

I can’t change the fact that I am disabled. My mind doesn’t work the way that others’ minds do. But I can continue to strive to be the best that I can be – not the best in comparison to others, but the best in comparison to myself.

And who knows? Maybe I can even be an inspiration to other disabled people – people with challenges like mine, or even greater than mine. There is no reason a disabled person can’t be a role model.

Peace. Love. Trust.



Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Good in Parts

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from renowned writer/director Quentin Tarantino is an interesting film.

Is it a masterpiece? No.

Does it measure up to his two modern classics Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction? No.

Is it at least good? In parts.

Set in 1969, the initial story is interesting enough as it explores the relationship between Hollywood leading man Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth.

Dalton, played effectively by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a former television star of the 1950’s Western series Bounty Law. Since the cancellation of his series, Dalton has struggled for work – most recently playing the villain in a series of television guest spots. Fearing that his career is over, he is considering playing the lead in Spaghetti Westerns (in the vein of A Fistful of Dollars).

Booth, played wonderfully by Brad Pitt, is a stuntman who specializes in doubling for Dalton, who has also become his best friend. As Dalton’s career has begun to slide, the opportunities for Booth have also begun to dwindle. He makes ends meet by serving as Dalton’s driver and errand boy.

This part of the movie works. I’ve always thought DiCaprio and Pitt should play brothers in a film due to their similar appearances. While they aren’t brothers in this picture, the film does capitalize on their physical similarities.

The world of has-been actors done in the right hands is always fascinating. The world of stuntmen is also an interesting sub-genre.

The best scene in the film is an impromptu face off between Pitt’s Booth and Bruce Lee. Lee is played spot on by Mike Moh, who not only looks identical to Lee, but also has his speech and physicality down pat.

The film loses its way with the incorporation of the Manson Family – a real life group of cult members turned murderers who follow the teachings of Charles Manson. In addition to adding no value to the picture, the use of the Manson Family also segues into a stark deviation from the actualities of history – something Tarantino also did in his film Inglorious Bastards.

While I’m not opposed to pictures that deviate from history, it has to be done effectively. In this case, it isn’t.

Of course, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wouldn’t be a Tarantino film if it didn’t include at least one scene of glorified violence. I must say, the designated scene of graphic violence in this film is by far the best of any Tarantino film so far. It is deliciously violent and creatively done.

The film is stock full of cameos including Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, and Rumer Willis. While the story goes awry, the acting throughout is still exceptional. Lewis’ take on Steve McQueen is particularly impressive.

As with all Tarantino films, there are fun fictional brand names. In this case the standout is “Wolf’s Tooth” dog food that comes in rat and racoon flavors.

Tarantino remains one of my favorite film directors, but this one just doesn’t measure up to the hype.

Would I see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood again? Maybe on Netflix. But I wouldn’t pay money to see it again.

Peace. Love. Trust.

All I Ever Needed to Know About Coffee

I am learning about the wonderful world of home brewed coffee.

I have never been much of a coffee drinker – maybe a Frappuccino foo-foo drink every once in a blue moon. All that changed a few months ago when I decided I needed to cut down on my soda intake.

The immediate effect was that I found myself drowsy all the time. Using powers of deduction only Sherlock Holmes could match, I realized the lethargy was because I was no longer getting loaded up with caffeine from soda pop.

There was a simple solution to this. I bought a coffee maker and set out to infuse my bloodstream with copious amounts of liquid energy.

I soon fell in love with coffee. But it is a conditional love. It has to be highly disguised – lots of Stevia sweetener and milk.

I know this coffee camouflage must come as a shock to true aficionados who drink the mud straight or infuse it with the more conventional cream and sugar. But that’s just what works for me. Black coffee doesn’t match up well with my palate, and there are too many calories and fat in cream and sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I love both cream and sugar, but my goal with cutting down pop was to cut out calories.

My diluted coffee creations delighted me. In short order I was drinking a pot of coffee in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Sometimes one more at some point in the day. Yes, I had traded one vice (soda pop) for another (black gold).

I became a coffee warrior, investing in my special Chicago Bulls travel cup and hauling my home brew with me everywhere. And when the Bulls cup is out of commission, I have my backup Superman travel cup. I’m prepared for any coffee emergency.

It went smooth for a while. Then, disaster struck!

Being new to coffee making, I was dismayed when after only a month my new coffee machine was spitting out coffee all over the kitchen counter.

I tried to implement a ghetto solution: stuffing paper towels around the base to soak up the mess as fast as it was being created. But that coffee, as good as it tastes, it’s a caustic substance that doesn’t hesitate to stain all that it touches. The ghetto solution just wasn’t working, and it was becoming apparent that I was going to have to pull out the credit card and buy a replacement.

I mentioned this dilemma to a friend, voicing my frustration that after only a month I was going to have to buy a new coffee machine. That friend asked me if I had cleaned my existing coffee maker with vinegar.

I had not. I had never heard of doing such a thing. But, willing to try anything I decided to give it a go.

So, I got to work doing some mad scientist detailing of my laboring coffee maker. I ran vinegar through the system twice. I removed all the parts of the machine and cleaned them of the black sludge that apparently the brewing process creates (can we say “eww”?).

Once everything was sparkling and clean (well as sparkling as black matte plastic can be), I put it all back together. I stocked it full of fresh grounds, added just the right amount of water, and hit “start”.

Low and behold, my coffee maker works fine and dandy again! No more leaks. No more stains on the counter. No more mess to clean up. Just fresh brewed Nectar of the Gods.

It took some work and some learning on my part, but I accomplished my goal. I have achieve coffee splendor.

Hooray for my ability to continue my Cup o’ Joe addiction! Now I am both happy and awake.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Make Racism Wrong Again

When someone does something reprehensible, it is our duty to stand up for what is right. That is one of the principles that the United States of America was built on.

Racism is wrong. There is nothing anyone can say to justify it or make it right.

Recently Donald Trump has launched into a campaign of overt racism against elected members of the United States Congress.

Using every medium available, he has called upon the American people to send four U.S. elected officials who happen to be women of color, “back where they came from.” He insinuates because they have colored skin, they are not worthy of living in this country, much less representing the people who voted them into office.

Interestingly, that three of the four women he wants to “send back” to their home countries were born in the United States. The fourth came to the U.S. as a child as a legal immigrant and became a U.S. citizen as a teen. This is unlike Trump’s current (3rd) wife who came to the U.S. illegally. The difference, of course, is that Trump’s wife is white.

The four members of the House of Representatives upon whom Trump has waged his racist war are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Unlike Melania Trump, all have college degrees. Unlike Melania, they are all women of color.

It’s also interesting to note that the four Congresswomen that Donald Trump continues to attack on the basis of their skin color, all won their positions. Unlike Donald, they won their elected positions via popular vote. Ocasio-Cortez won her seat with 78.2% of the vote; Omar won with 78% of the vote, Pressley won with 98.3% of the vote; and Tlaib won with 84.2% of the vote. Even with the aid of Russian interference, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes. It is only on a technicality that he was given the office of President.

I don’t care if you agree with the politics of the four U.S. Congresswomen or not. That’s a matter of intellectual debate. Attacking them strictly because of the color of their skin is not acceptable.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in 1865. The 15th Amendment , passed in 1870, gave African-Americans the right to vote. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 ruled that racial segregation in public schools is illegal. In 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality.

There should be no place for racism in modern America. Sadly, there is a very vocal minority of Trump supporters who campaign for him because of the fact that he is a racist. That’s what they like about him – that he gives voice to their hatred of people with colored skin.

The sad thing is, these racists think they are “normal.” They don’t recognize themselves as racists. They think discrimination is a normal thing. And, they assume that others have the same point of view.

In fact, the gullible Trump supporters who feed on his hate speech, seem honestly dismayed when someone doesn’t believe the same way they do. That’s why they believed it when Trump claimed he had a crowd of 80,000 attendees at a North Carolina rally to vilify Congresswomen Omar, when in actuality the venue only seats 8,000 and many of those seats were empty.

I personally know Trump supporters who claim they aren’t racists because they don’t use the N-word in front of black people, only when they’re not around. This is not right. This kind of thinking is a disease that needs to be eradicated.

Trump wants to Make America White Again. I disagree. The color of a person’s skin does not define them. It is wrong to say that it does. Racism should have no home in modern America. Instead, we should all strive to Make Racism Wrong Again.

Peace. Love. Trust.