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.

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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.

 

 

‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’ Brings Iconic Music to Life at Metropolis

The 1978 film The Buddy Holly Story featuring a career defining performance by Gary Busey brought the music and the artist’s story of his meteoric rise to fame into the limelight for a new generation of fans. The Alan Janes script for Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, now on stage through August 31 at the beautiful Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, lacks the same charm as the movie predecessor, but the uber talented cast and nuanced direction by Joe Keefe creates a plethora of magical moments.

Buddy Holly was a groundbreaking musician charting hits from 1957 until his untimely death in 1959 at the age of 22. His hits included “That’ll Be the Day”, “Peggy Sue”, “Oh Boy”, “Everyday”, and “Not Fade Away.” He is ranked alongside Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bill Haley as one of the early innovators of rock n’ roll.

In the stage musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, we follow Holly and his band from their early days in Texas to their life as rock n’ roll stars touring the world – and the many bumps along the way. Travis Shanahan tackles the task of bringing the title character to life with gusto. He captures the dialect, singing voice, and guitar style of the late rock n’ roll pioneer perfectly. One only wishes the sound mix at the theater would put Shanahan’s singing and guitar playing more prominently.

As Holly’s band The Crickets, Roy Brown, Jack Morsovillo, and Kelan M. Smith are entertaining as both actors and musicians. In particular, Morsovillo as drummer Jerry Allison looks like he is having a blast on stage, and that infectious attitude translates to the audience. His performance is one of the best in the show.

Another true standout in the talented cast is Jessica Miret Garcia as Holly’s wife Maria Elena Santiago. As that Holly married only shortly before his death, and their preceding courtship was uncommonly short, Garcia doesn’t have the same amount of stage time as some of the other characters, but what she does with the time she has is mesmerizing.

As great as the actors are in their capture of the music of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, it is the number Shout (originally recorded in 1959 by The Isley Brothers and performed here by Austin Nelson Jr., Bre Jacobs, Jasmine Lacy Young, and Jordan Burns) that is hands down the best in the production and worthy of a standing ovation all on its own.

Rounding out the cast are Ross Creighton Childs as The Big Bopper, Luis David Cortes as Richie Valens, Gabriel Fries as radio DJ Hipockets Duncan, David Gordon-Johnson as record producer Norman Petty, Nicole Frydman, Sara Haverty, Brian Kulaga, Rachel Livingston, Lauren Romano, Josh Pablo Szabo, and Matt Tatone.

Metropolis routinely puts on some of the best theatrical productions in the area, and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story adds to that growing list of home run entertainment.

The musical features music direction by Kenneth McMullen and choreography by Allyssa O’Donnell. Keefe’s stellar direction is complemented by associate director Robin M. Hughes.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story plays Thursday – Sunday. Evening performances are at 7:30 PM Thursday – Saturday, matinees are at 3:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is located in the heart of Chicago’s northwest suburbs in downtown Arlington Heights (111 West Campbell Street). Street and garage parking are available. For tickets and a complete performance schedule visit www.MetropolisArts.com or call the box office at (847) 577-2121.

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.

 

 

 

‘Designated Survivor’ Gets Renewed Life on Netflix

I am a fan of the television series Designated Survivor. The premise is an interesting one: On the night of the State of the Union Address, a terrorist explosion destroys the Capitol Building, claiming the lives of the President and everyone in the line of succession except the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Thomas Kirkman, who is subsequently sworn in as President.

The series stars Kiefer Sutherland as the de facto President. It’s a good dramatic role for Sutherland – a stark contrast to the secret agent character he played on the Fox drama series 24.

I have been a fan of Sutherland ever since my first exposure to his acting in the coming-of-age film Stand By Me and the vampire drama The Lost Boys. I also thoroughly enjoyed him in Young Guns and its sequel, Young Guns II (which I actually found more entertaining than the original). Other notable Sutherland films include Flatliners, A Few Good Men, The Vanishing, and Phone Booth.

I watched the first two seasons of Designated Survivor on ABC and was disappointed to learn of its cancellation. Imagine my surprise and happiness to discover the series has been given new life by Netflix who picked the show up for a third season. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

Now airing on the Internet station, Designated Survivor is enjoying newfound freedom of expression not previously available to the writers while airing on ABC. There are far more bedroom scenes and the characters often resort to foul language. I don’t mind the more risqué story elements, although I don’t think they necessarily add much to the show.

What I especially like about the new season is the evolution of former President Cornelius Moss into a second time around Presidential candidate who engages in Trump-like deceit and dirty tricks. The role is perfectly played by veteran actor Geoff Pierson. The Trump-like behavior probably wouldn’t have been feasible on ABC, but is refreshing on the show’s new network.

My one complaint about season three is focused on a single episode. In that mid-season episode one of Kirkman’s White House support staff engages in a one-night affair with another White House staffer, destroying his relationship with his live-in girlfriend. I found the episode to be cheap and soap operaish; not fitting of the drama’s normal quality storytelling. But not every episode is going to be everyone’s favorite.

Television is not reality (let’s face it, even “reality television” is scripted). The stories on Designated Survivor may sometimes mirror real life events or people, but it should never be confused with reality. It is entertainment, not news or documentary. And as entertainment, Designated Survivor is very appealing.

If you haven’t experienced Designated Survivor yet, I encourage you to give it a try. If possible, start with season one. The show is best enjoyed from the beginning.

The supporting cast is excellent. Standouts include Adan Canto, Kal Penn, Julie White, Maggie Q, Elena Tovar, and Anthony Edwards.

Edwards deserves singling out because he is often found in bedroom scenes despite not having a “Hollywood body.” He’s bony and bald – far from the hunks that normal shed their clothes on television and in the movies. It’s refreshing to see him demonstrate the self-confidence to portray a leading man with realistic imperfections. That’s not something you see often anymore.

That’s part of the charm about Designated Survivor. It doesn’t always play along stereotypical plot lines. It provides a truly unique look at the American political process, with an eye on the human element.

 

Peace. Love. Trust.