★★★★★ Very often, I am asked about the smaller theaters that are difficult to find. It has been a while since I have been to a play on Broadway ( yes, Virginia, we do have a Broadway in Chicago) but tonight I journeyed over to Pride Films & Plays Center’s Broadway Theater, located in yet another Chicago “storefront” at 4139 N. Broadway. They are doing the Chicago premiere of “Southern Comfort”, a musical based on a film documentary that tells the story of a transgender self-made community living life on their own terms in rural Georgia. With a book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis, this musical is filled with Blue Grass music, and while you will not be humming as you leave the theater, you will have a good feeling as the characters find some happiness.
There are two ratings for this production. Since this is one of the “lost musicals” series, I feel that we must rate the front part of the production on the merits of the work done by Michael Weber, Artistic Director. He starts the evening with the telling of the history of the show that we are about to see. In this case, “Can-Can”, and how its writer ( book by Abe Burrows) and the composer, Cole Porter, got together to create this musical from scratch.
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** Porchlight Music Theatre has been enjoying quite a sensational season thus far. Fresh on the heels of their revamped version of the classic "Gypsy" (which was by far this company's biggest box office success and could easily have run for several more months due to the high demand but limited seating within the intimate Ruth Page space) comes the highly entertaining and wickedly macabre "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." The book of this 2014 Tony Award-winning Best Musical is based upon the 1907 novel of Roy Horniman's entitled "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal" but may be most familiar to avid cinephiles who relished the 1949 British film "Kind Hearts and Coronets" starring Alec Guinness. 4 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** One of the characters in Aaron Carter's latest play "Swamp Baby" expressively states that, looking back upon one's own life, it's possible to reflect that is was all just a "convulsion of memory." This is posited by a man who, purported to be a physician yet perhaps without the credentials to prove it, seems to be more interested in the eccentricities of the human body than the pain and secrets contained within the human heart. Carter, the local writer whose work has allows been informed by his fascination with magic, sideshows and the circus, has fashioned a hauntingly poetic work detailing capitalistic gain versus scientific advancements as well as themes of miscegenation and one which allows us to embrace the sometimes unpleasant sensation of what it must feel like to be an outsider looking in. Under Lauren "LL" Lundy's sympathetic yet focused direction, this world premiere presented by MPAACT at The Greenhouse Theatre Center is radiant. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Forget about trying to keep up with the Joneses. There is no competitive spirit or rivalry between the two married couples in Will Eno's quirky yet heartfelt dramatic comedy "The Realistic Joneses." Originally produced on Broadway in 2014 with an A-list cast, this quietly reflective show is receiving its Chicago premiere in a co-production between Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit. Director Jeremy Wechsler, who has collaborated with Will Eno multiple times in the past, has assembled a great cast of actors and gives them all individual moments in which they shine. 3 ½ SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** As the first winter storm with measurable snowfall blew into Chicago one evening last week, the audience at the Pride Arts Center eagerly settled in for the Chicago storefront premiere of Black Button Eyes Productions riotously entertaining and completely hilarious production of "Evil Dead: The Musical." While there were plenty of liquids flying through the air on stage, they were neither white in color nor crystallized like the flakes swirling outdoors. This clever parody, a mash-up of sorts of all of the Sam Raimi classic films that inspired it, has an uproariously funny book by George Reinblatt, who also wrote the wacky lyrics. The lively score was composed by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Reinblatt. This would make a great date night for you and your bloody Valentine. 4 BIG SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** There was a time, during the middle to late 1990's, when most of the gay men living in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood became dog owners. The logic behind this was to facilitate their chances of finding a boyfriend while taking the little pup for a walk, allowing the animal to become the catalyst for starting a conversation with a cute young guy who just wanted to pet the dog or else meeting other men who just happen to be taking their own dog for a stroll around the neighborhood. It was a great way to meet someone. Now it seems that having a child, whether through adoption or surrogacy, may have replaced dogs as a means for gay men to hook-up with one another. At least that's one of a myriad of scenarios presented in Peter Parnell's inanely titled play "Dada Woof Papa Hot" at About Face Theatre. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** It takes a great deal of strength to defy society's expectations of what it means to be a woman. This is wonderfully displayed by the four strong women found in Emma Donoghue's "I Know My Own Heart." Written in the mid-1990's by the Irish-Canadian author, the work is receiving its U.S. premiere in care of Pride Films and Plays. Donoghue, who is probably most well-known for writing the novel "Room" and also adapting it for the screenplay of the movie that was released in 2015 (which nabbed her an Academy Award nomination) stumbled upon the heavily coded diaries of Brit Anne Lister while a graduate student and felt that they would make a compelling drama for the stage. 3 SPOTLIGHTS