Tag: Michelle McKenzie-Voigt

Review: Guys and Dolls (Light Opera Works)

Justin Adair stars as Sky Masterson in Light Opera Works' "Guys and Dolls" by Frank Loesser, directed by Rudy Hogenmiller. (photo credit: Mona Luan)         
Guys and Dolls
Music, Lyrics by Frank Loesser 
Book by Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows
at Cahn Auditorium, Evanston (map)
thru Jan 3  |  tix: $34-$94  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

December 28, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Boy from Oz (Pride Films and Plays)

Chris Logan stars as Peter Allen in Pride Films and Plays' "The Boy From Oz" by Peter Allen, Martin Sherman and Nick Enright , directed by David Zak. (photo courtesy of PF&P)   

The Boy from Oz 

Written by Peter Allen (music, lyrics),
  Martin Sherman, Nick Enright (book) 
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru Aug 30 | tickets: $25-$40  | more info
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August 17, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Children’s Hour (Pride Films and Plays)

Whitney Morse and Britni Tozzi star in Pride Films and Plays' "The Children's Hour" by Lillian Hellman, directed by Derek Bertelsen. (photo credit: David Zak)        
The Children’s Hour

Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Derek Bertelsen 
Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Feb 9  |  tickets: $15-$30   |  more info
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January 13, 2014 | 1 Comment More

Review: Beautiful Thing (Pride Films and Plays)

Robert Hilliard as Jamie and Charlie Wein as Ste in Pride Films and Plays' "Beautiful Thing" by Jonathan Harvey, directed by John Nasca. (photo credit: Jeff Bolek)

Beautiful Thing 

Written by Jonathan Harvey
Directed by John Nasca
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru Feb 17  |  tickets: $23-$25   |  more info
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January 23, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy (New Suit Theatre)

Sizzle - A Global Warming Comedy, New Suit Theatre       
Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy

Adapted by Jason Burkett and Sara Gmitter 
Directed by Aaron Henrickson
Raven Theatre West Stage, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru Nov 13  |  tickets: $20   |  more info

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October 31, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Jesus Camp – The Musical (Corn Productions)


Christian camp converted into clever satire


The cast of Corn Production's "Jesus Camp - The Musical", playing at the Cornservatory

Corn Productions presents
Jesus Camp – The Musical
Written by Robert Bouwman and Julia Weiss
Music by Scott Lamberty
Directed by
Sarah Ballema
at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln (map)
through July 16  |  tickets: $7-$15  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The 2006 documentary “Jesus Camp” depicts the zealous activities of a youth Christian camp in North Dakota. The film treats its subject matter with grave earnestness, capturing the unbelievable beliefs of the adult camp leaders, parents and easily impressionable youths. To be clear, this camp is not Christian lite. It is an Evangelical brainwashing instrument where kids are coerced by omens of hellfire and speaking in tongues is considered normal.

Corn Productions, which operates out of the Cornservatory space in North Center, has taken this absurd and dark documentary and converted it into a clever comedic musical. In the fashion of the Tony-sweeping Book of Mormon, the musical leans more heavily toward critiquing certain Christians than condemning Christianity. And by incorporating a rival Muslim camp into the plot, the musical ups the ante with echoes of the modern holy war that seems to be unfolding in real life.

The cast of Corn Production's "Jesus Camp - The Musical", playing at the CornservatoryThe musical—which clocks in at about two hours but only features eight songs—opens with the ensemble tune "Rise Up!" Like much of the play’s tunes, it is catchy, upbeat and chock full of tongue-and-cheek jabs at non-believers and the perceived superiority of Christians. We soon meet our cast of oddball campers and counselors. Donna Christian (Michelle McKenzie-Voigt) runs the camp. Her pulpit-style rabble-rousing is reminiscent of a TV evangelist as is her thin veil of sincerity. Lee (George Christopher Tronsrue) is the big man on the Jesus camp campus, and his ever-eating sidekick Tongues (Jayson Acevedo) speaks in gibberish. They welcome new camper Brian (Justin Lance), a fey and petite boy. Brian is undergoing a crisis of faith, and this sense of doubt serves to make him the subject of ridicule among the more popular boys.

Meanwhile, female outcast Rachel (Anne Marie Boyer) is a spastic Jewish girl whose non-Christian roots make her an easy target for the other camper’s high-and-mighty smugness. For instance, Lee taunts Rachel by tasking her to accomplish seemingly impossible Christian chores, such as finding a pebble in the shape of forgiveness.

All hell breaks loose, so to speak, when the campers discover that the Presbyterian camp across the lake has changed hands and become a camp for Muslims. This especially infuriates Donna Christian, who vows to do God’s work and deliver the evil followers of Allah into the hands of the devil himself.

Company members Robert Bouwman and Julia Weiss crafted this very funny script. The jokes come fast and often, many landing with excellent precision. But rather than just being full of yucks, there’s a good amount of commentary and heart in here too. The want to belong, what it means to be good and standing up for what you believe in are all running themes that are nicely woven into the fabric of the play.

However, what stops this from being a four-star musical is its length. It’s just unnecessarily long. I was shocked when the lights came up for intermission given that, according to my program, there would only be two songs in the second act. And the second act sure does drag. I suspect Bouwman and Weiss had a difficult time self-editing, but some of these scenes need to be put on the chopping block for the sake of streamlining.

The cast of Corn Production's "Jesus Camp - The Musical", playing at the Cornservatory

With Scott Lamberty as composer and Pete Navis as music director, the songs are energetic and catchy. The ensemble pieces tend to work best as few in the cast (save for McKenzie-Voigt) seem to have the lung power to fill a room. Lyrics are clever and effectively serve to move the plot forward.

The acting is solid across the board. McKenzie-Voigt is devilishly villainous, while Tronsrue makes a great smug son-of-a-bitch. Whoever did the casting for this show did a spectacular job as each actor wears his or her character like a finely tailored suit.

Whether you’re a follower of the Christian God or one of the many outside His flock, you’ll find Jesus Camp – The Musical to be an entertaining and aurally pleasurable experience. Hopefully the ensemble will do another round of edits after opening weekend to condense the show. Still, even in its current two-hour incarnation, the musical finds a way to skip, step and pirouette into your heart, filling that space where – according to the production – Jesus should be.

Rating: ★★★

The cast of Corn Production's "Jesus Camp - The Musical", playing at the Cornservatory


June 19, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: From Generation to Generation (Genesis Theatricals)


Genesis generates amateurish night of theatre


From Generation to Generation - Genesis Theatricals poster

Genesis Theatricals presents
From Generation to Generation
Book by Karen Sokolof Javitch and Elaine Jabenis
Music and Lyrics by Karen Sokolof Jatitch
Directed by David Zak
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $30  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

The basic premise behind From Generation to Generation, the newest musical offering from Genesis Theatrical Productions, is solid. An old, ailing woman battles time to record everything she wants to tell a granddaughter she may never meet. In execution, the show, penned by Karen Sokolof Javitch and Elaine Jabenis and directed by David Zak (artistic director for the old Bailiwick), is hobbled by a lame script and a tendency to dumb down anything challenging. Leaving Stage 773, I was left wondering how this show got productions on both coasts already (and, apparently, awards). This is not a world premier, just a Chicago premier. Not only are there new musicals out there that dig deeper, there are sappy, easy shows that do sentimentality better.

It should be mentioned first that the cast puts a lot of heart out on the stage—I would be amiss to call them lethargic or disinterested. But they are fighting to keep adrift a boat that sunk before it left the harbor.

Javitch and Jabenis’ tale (Javitch also composed) revels in Jewish tradition and culture, throwing out Yiddish aphorisms and staging several ceremonies. The protagonist Rose (the lovable Susan Veronika Adler) even begins the show with a conversation with the Lord, a la Fiddler. But Joseph Stein’s classic contains far more dramatic heft and emotional vigor. From Generation to Generation forgets its premise halfway through, instead choosing to dally in a loose collection of memories until randomly slamming the lid close on the story. Along the way, the writers try to jerk some tears or get those gears of nostalgia churning. There’s a song where the old ladies remember how great things were in “simpler times”—hula hoops, Audrey Hepburn, etc. Quite a few slap-your-forehead obvious sections abound, along with several unintentionally funny moments. Other choices come out of nowhere, like a doo-wop tribute to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Mier?

Rose’s story could be very touching—she struggles with terminal cancer and faces the harrowing fact that she may not live merely nine months more to see the birth of her granddaughter. There are more possible layers to Rose; she’s a widow and a faithful Jew, even in her bleak circumstances. Here, however, she gets inexplicably better and the heartfelt messages become more of a “remember that one time…” game between Rose and her friends, then her health inexplicably deteriorates again. It’s as if the creators forgot she was sick and then remembered her fatal illness when there were two scenes left to go. The two hour running time could probably be cut in half and we’d still get the general plot.

Zak’s cast does about as well as a show like this can let them. Many of them still pander to the audience (like Michelle McKenzie-Voigt as Rose’s zany best friend, Norma), set on showing us how much fun they are having. Others are woefully miscast into roles twenty years older than their range, such as Kris Hyland, struggling as the unconvincing former hippie Eliot, and Bobby Arnold as an embittered, anti-Semitic coach. The most satisfying performance in the show is Ashley Stein as Marsha, Rose’s daughter. Adler can carry the show, but she rushes moments and often fails to make true connections with the other actors.

This show would be fine if it came to your local synagogue and starred your neighbors. That’s where it belongs, in communities that need all the theatre they can get. Unfortunately, Chicago is not one of those towns. There’s a high bar, and at $30 a ticket, there are some high expectations. Genesis simply does not deliver.

Rating: ★½

From Generation to Generation continues at Stage 773 through May 1st, with performances Sundays Thursdya through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $30, and can be purchased online or by calling 773-327-5252. 

April 6, 2011 | 0 Comments More