Friday, December 9, 2016

Too Many Christmas Carols!

The Goodman's Christmas Carol is one of over 13 playing in Chicagoland this December
According to Theatre in Chicago's Holiday Play Listings, there are over 50 Holiday plays performing in the Chicagoland area during the month of December.  This apparently doesn't include special Hallelujah events or other more musical events, including the Symphony's numerous holiday events and the Lyric Opera's production of Magic Flute.

This does includes at least 5 Nutcrackers (and I know of at least one Nutcracker on Ice in Evanston not on the list), 3 versions of It's A Wonderful Life , Two takes on A Charlie Brown Christmas, One takeoff on Lethal Weapon (Yippee Ki Yay, Merry Christmas) and thirteen (yes 13) versions of A Christmas Carol.

Also not on this list is Burning BlueBeard at the Neo-Futurists, whose entire weekend run was sold out about 12 hours after they went on sale.

How much is too much?  There is a Comedy Roast of Scrooge, a Second City sendup of Christmas Carol, a Klingon Christmas Carol, a Steampunk Christmas Carol (both performed at the same theatre, so maybe they just know their demographics?)

I'm pulling out of that long list 5 kid friendly shows that look like they would be good or demand your attention.  I'll also pull out three shows that I think might be good as a date night.

Please note, I'm not including any actual Christmas Carols in the listings here,
 Almost all of them will be family friendly, (well, a couple are tilted towards R) and I know that the one at The Goodman Theatre is always very good.  It's just that there are many other Holiday stories to tell.

If you don't see a show you like, please peruse the list.  I'm sure you will find something of interest.

Hope you enjoy your Holidays at the theatre!  There is no shortage of choices!


 The Snow Queen at Piccolo Theatre
The Snow Queen
Piccolo Theatre
600 Main Street Evanston
Set somewhere at some time in Happy Denmark most definitely during the winter, best friends Kai and Gerda are separated by the enchanted broken mirror of the fierce Snow Queen. With colorful comrades Erick, Derick, and Dame Grandmother, the shy Gerda must find the hero within as she quests across a wintry wonderland to save Kai, facing trolls, pesky snowflakes, and other magical obstacles. This holiday classic will warm your heart, thaw your toes, and tickle your funny bone!

Thru - Dec 18, 2016
Price: $10-$25
Box Office: 847-424-0089

 Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! at Apollo Theater
Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!
Apollo Theater
2540 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago
Based on the best-selling book series by Barbara Park, this critically-acclaimed Emerald City Theatre remount explores the challenges of giving selflessly through humor and holiday joy as fan-favorite Junie B. Jones journeys through a Columbus Day school play, a holiday sing-along concert, and Secret Santa Day. "Dear Santa, I really hope you were watching me just now. That's all I hope. Love, Junie B. -Giver."

Thru - Jan 8, 2017
Running Time: 1hr; no intermission

 A Christmas Story: The Musical at Citadel Theatre Company
A Christmas Story: The Musical
Citadel Theatre Company
300 South Waukegan Road Lake Forest
A Christmas Story, The Musical is a brilliant rebundling of Ralphie Parker's hilariously desperate quest for a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200 shot range model air rifle into a musical sure to become every bit the holiday favorite as the movie that preceded it. All of your favorite highlights are here - the Old Man's leg lamp, the tongue-on-a-flagpole, the bunny suit, and all of Ralphie's extravagant daydreams! Bring the whole family to see this holiday classic in a new way with this Tony-nominated Best Musical.

Thru - Dec 18, 2016
Price: $20-$38
Box Office: 847-735-8554

 A Charlie Brown Christmas at Broadway Playhouse
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Broadway Playhouse
175 East Chestnut Street Chicago
Tis the season to celebrate everyone's favorite Peanuts pals as they dig past the commercialized gimmicks of presents and decorations to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. Through a pageant and a spindly tree, Charlie Brown and friends bring the holiday spirit back to life for families once again! "And for Charlie Brown, it was truly the merriest Christmas ever."
Thru - Jan 8, 2017
Price: $15-$27
Running Time: 45mins

The Nutcracker at Auditorium Theatre
The Nutcracker

Auditorium Theatre
50 East Congress Parkway Chicago
This is a brand new Nutcracker, set during the time of Chicago's mysterious 1893 World's Fair  -- brilliantly reimagined by Tony Award-winning choreographer Wheeldon. Be part of dance history as the Joffrey celebrates Chicago and unlocks a world of wonder for the 21st century. An electrifying holiday tale that will leave you breathless.

Dec 10 - Dec 30, 2016
Box Office: 312-992-2110


This Way Outta Santaland at Theater Wit
This Way Outta Santaland
Theater Wit
1229 W Belmont Ave Chicago
For eight years, my friend Mitchell Fain played the role of Crumpet in the classic Christmas one-man show The Santaland Diaries. After nearly a decade of restraining his most anarchic and improvisational instincts, Fain is finally letting loose in his own freewheeling holiday special with the help of cabaret goddess Meghan Murphy. In This Way Outta Santaland at Theater Wit in Chicago, Fain draws on 250 performances as Crumpet the Elf to tell true-life holiday tales of boozy Christmas carols, celebrity holiday gossip and the private lives of elves.

Mitchell is always hilarious.

Thru - Dec 23, 2016
Price: $25-$29
Show Type: Comedy
Box Office: 773-975-8150
Running Time: 1hr, 30mins

 The Rip Nelson Holiday Spectacular at Mary's Attic
The Rip Nelson Holiday Spectacular
Mary's Attic
5400 N. Clark Street Chicago
It's 1982 and a newly sober Rip manages to land another TV special after the death of his archrival, Paul Lynde. Rip is determined to get his career back on track but can he handle the stress of a network television special and stay sober? Luckily he's got help from a cavalcade of the hottest stars of 1982! Rip pulls every trick in the book to breathe some life in the dying variety series format and save his career but soon questions if his career is worth saving.

Presented by Hell in a Handbag

Thru - Dec 30, 2016
Price: $16-$30
Show Type: Comedy
Box Office: 800-838-3006

 Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley at Northlight Theatre
Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley
Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Blvd Skokie
In this charmingly imagined sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the ever-dependable Mary Bennet is growing tired of her role as dutiful middle sister in the face of her siblings' romantic escapades. When the family gathers for Christmas at Pemberley, an unexpected guest sparks Mary's hopes for independence, an intellectual match, and possibly even love.

Thru - Dec 24, 2016
Price: $30-$81
Box Office: 847-673-6300
Running Time: 2hrs; one intermission

PREVIEW: The Magic Flute at the Lyric Opera!

The Magic Flute is Mozart's masterpiece and has become a holiday and opera staple.  It's family friendly, fantastical, lends itself well to spectacle and action, and has entranced children and adults alike for hundreds of years.

This year it is on stage at Lyric December 10 through January 27, and you won’t want to miss this whimsical new production.

Readers of this blog are invited to be among the first to see the show and save 20% off of the first week’s performances!

See below for details.

If you don't know the story, here's a brief synopsis:

Rehearsal image courtesy of the Lyric Opera.
In Mozart’s final opera, Princess Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, has been captured by the high priest Sarastro . Prince Tamino falls in love with a portrait of Pamina he receives from the queen’s three ladies. The queen tells Tamino that if he finds Pamina, she will be his.

Papageno, the queen's bird catcher, joins him on the quest. Aided by a magic flute and magic bells, Tamino and Papageno endure various trials separately and together, including an encounter with the comically savage Monostatos. Three young genies are their guides. Eventually, the Queen of the Night is vanquished, Tamino and Pamina are united, and Papageno finds love with Papagena as the queen's forces of evil yield to the forces of good.

And here's a great animated video synopis produced by Minnesota Public Radio.

The roles are played by some Lyric Opera favorites, as well as some newcomers.  The three genies are played by Chicagoland child actors, and with a huge cast of both children and adults.

And of course the set design and sound will be up to the Lyric Opera's stellar standards.

Save your seats today — use promo code FIRSTWEEK16 to save 20% off performances on December 12 and 14 on or by calling 312.827.5600.

The Magic Flute opens on Saturday, December 10, with 11 performances through January 27 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start at $39 for adults and $20 for children and are available now at or at 312-827-5600. Performances are in German with projected English translations.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Remix- Popup Store and Event!

This year, the annual Holiday craft show at the Broadway Armory is going to be longer than ever. It's not that they are extending their time at the Armory or adding an extra day- what they've done is started a pop-up store on Bryn Mawr to help market and sell the local artists wares.

The 2nd annual Holiday Remix show will take place at the Broadway Armory on Saturday Dec 10 from 11 am to 4 pm.  In addition to wares by over 50 artists, there will be food, drink, and an opportunity to donate to local wunderkind charity Care For Real.

If you miss the event, or you liked what you saw but want to find more, the Pop-Up store is at 1056 Bryn Mawr (in the old Johnny Sprocket's bicycle shop, next to Bridgeview Bank)  The store is staffed entirely by volunteers and is open on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m and Saturday-Sunday (except December 10, of course) from noon to 6 p.m. through the end of the year.  Also, this year, as a proof of concept, the artists keep 100% of the sales.  The pop-up store costs are being funded by the Edgewater Development Corporation.  If the store idea is successful, another arrangement would have to be worked out.

Sample of some of the old books made into journals.
More info at
My son and I walked by and in the store last week, and it's full of interesting work and really fun gifts, including handmade journals, photographs, jewelry, artwork, and even some furniture.  My son bought a handmade wooden yoyo.  I ogled a lot of beautiful handmade journals (including a set of them that takes old library books and uses the cover and then binds some of the pages into the book itself, to give a very arty feeling to the book.)

Many of the artists are local, although the definition of local is loose. For example, the book artist that I liked so much is a former Chicago artist now living in Portland, Oregon.

For more information about Holiday Remix, and the popup store, visit

For more information about the Edgewater Development Corporation, visit

Monday, December 5, 2016

REVIEW: Spymonkey's The Complete Deaths

I had the chance to see a great production recently at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.  It's only there through December 11, so if you want to see it, you need to hustle!

Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey
The show is by Spymonkey, a British troupe of clowns/physical comedians.  If you've been to Las Vegas, you may have seen their work, as they created all of the comedy numbers in the Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity.  They are known for their wacky physical theatre, their crazy costumes, and their off-kilter situations and characters.

 The show is directed by Tim Crouch, who performed earlier in the year the remarkable show I, Malvolio. I reviewed that show a couple of years ago when I saw it in NY for my other blog Clownlink.  In that review  I suggested that Crouch was great, but he could take the show from an 8 to a 10 by taking a clown workshop.  Apparently, he took my advice, as he is now working with Spymonkey.  I would very much like to know if it affected his own show.

This show has as its concept the idea that the company Spymonkey (composed of four members Toby, Aitor, Petra, and Stephan) will move away from comedy to create a Great Piece of Theatre by taking all  75 of Shakespeare's onstage deaths and putting them into one show.

Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey
It's a fantastic concept, even though one of the other performers wanted to do a bubble show instead. Toby, the rather bossy auteur, sets the tone, telling people that if they were there to see some slapstick buffoonery, they were going to be disappointed.  (Shortly after that he thanks a latecomer for bringing some new energy into the room)

As part of the set, there's a giant count-down timer, counting down each death, and every time somebody dies a buzzer goes off.  They actually have a judge/clock keeper on stage that does the honors, and as far as I know she never watches the show.  (This is part of Tim Crouch's influence-- in some of his other plays, there are random people cast in the show each night.)  There's also a number of set pieces, including a fantastic sausage making/machine that would look right at home at a production of Ubu Roi.

The death's continue apace, and luckily for us there is a fair amount of buffoonery in accomplishing them.  I don't want to spoil the show, but by the end of the first act over 50 people are dead, and there's a hilarious and quite bloody version of the classic clown gag The WasherWoman.

There's also some really powerful and moving moments, such as the death of Cinna the poet, who is murdered by a blood-thirsty mob for having the same name as one of the conspirators against Caesar.
The fly, as drawn by Chris Riddell for a very funny card game
that they sell as merchandise at the show.

Another great stage device was using a video camera to film a puppet show and they show the burning of the puppet.

In case you were wondering, those deaths include (according to the program) 23 stabbings, 12 sword fights, 5 poisonings, 2 throats cut, 1 smothering, 3 by natural causes, 4 by wounds, 2 explosions, 2 heartbreaks, 3 mob killings, 2 beatings, and 3 others through miscellaneous causes.

And one of them (and as it turns out a central one) is the death of a black, ill-humoured fly.  I was particularly amused by the Fly-Cam that appears throughout the show.

All in all the show is very funny, and I don't think you need to be so familiar with Shakespeare to enjoy it. There are moments of great absurdity, and there are moments of great importance, and sometimes they are at the same time!  I guarantee it is nothing that you have seen before.  I think it would make a great date night show.
Photo by Ludovic des Cognets
provided by Spymonkey

On a completely side note, the views from the theatre of the city and of the water and of Navy Pier are astonishing.  Don't miss going to the restroom, which has a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline.

Tickets are available online at  or by calling the theatre box office at 312.595.5600 Tickets start at $42.

If you miss the show, Spymonkey's shows are available to stream at Vimeo On Demand, along with their other productions, including Stiff, Cooped, Moby Dick, and Oedipussy.

Audience Notice: Recommended for audience members ages 16 and up. Death is messy. This show features adult content, including brief nudity, profanity and (of course!) depictions of violence, from decapitation to death by lack of sleep.

Monday, November 21, 2016

REVIEW: Stomp in Chicago!

We saw STOMP last night.  It's going to be at the Broadway Playhouse in at Water Tower Place through January 1, 2017.

DISCLOSURE: I received free tickets to attend this event in order to write about it.  My review of the show is not influenced by the freeness of the tickets.  I take my credibility seriously, and so should you!

The show is stellar.  It's been performing on stages pretty much continuously since it opened in 1991. They currently have 4 productions of the show-- a NY show, a London show, a North American tour, and a European tour.  They've won numerous awards, been on lots of television shows, and have won the hearts of just about everybody who's ever seen it.

For those who have been living under a rock, STOMP is a percussion show that features 8 performers who bang, hit, slide, and otherwise play on just about everything on stage that ISN'T a percussion instrument.  A small sample of what they use in the production include matchboxes, brooms, wooden poles, Zippo lighters, hubcaps, mini-basketballs, plastic tubes, garbage cans, and shopping carts, just to name a few. The performers are immensely skilled, and can pull complex rhythms from just about anything.

Here's a video of the show.  PLEASE NOTE: The performers in the current show are different than the ones in the video.  Many of the acts/numbers however, are the same.

As you can see from the above video, not only are their rhythms great, their teamwork is also wonderful.  They are so in synch with one another that even though they are playing really complicated counterpoints and rhythms , they all manage to stop, start, and switch it up multiple times in one number without missing a (pardon the pun) beat.

The performances here are filled with virtuosity and humor.  It's clear these guys (and girls) have been doing the show for a long time, and are expert at it.  The interaction between characters and the audience is fantastic.

The show has virtually no words, although there is some grunting.  There is a fair amount of call and response from the audience. and our audience was so into it that there was an extended encore.

This is a definite crowd-pleaser kind of show, and I believe that your crowd will be pleased.

It's great for kids of all ages, although probably 6+, as there are LOTS of loud noises that might frighten or startle a less experienced child.  This would also make a great date night.

As we left the theatre and took the bus back, all the noises around us - the cars streaming by the bus stop, the little noise the bus stop makes, the horses clacking away in the background-- all started to organize themselves into an amazing STOMP-rhythm of their own.


Tickets for STOMP at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place are on sale now. A select number of premium tickets are available for many performances. Tickets range from $39-$84.

Group tickets for 10 or more are available by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710.
Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Best way I've seen a dad tell his kid about the election

I wish that I had the presence of mind to write this note.  It hits everything I wanted to say to my son.  (I said some of it.  I told him the world wouldn't end, and that we had to continue on.  )  

But I didn't say it so eloquently.

This was found on Pantsuit Nation, and I don't know who originally wrote it.  If you do, please let me know, and I will attribute it properly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

BOOK REPORT: Transmit Joy by Mark Binder (Audio Book)

Mark Binder telling a story.  Photo by Paul Porter
Let me start by saying that Mark Binder is one of my oldest friends.

I met him at the Trinity Rep Conservatory 
 in 1987 and we've been close friends ever since.  We've worked together on various projects,  I went to his wedding reception, I am the godfather to one of his children, he signed my wedding vows, and when we lived in the same state I averaged eating with him and his family twice a week.

 I ran a New Year's Eve festival for 10 years, and Mark ran the storytelling stage for me every year.  Put plainly, I love the guy. And I admit that bias.

Despite my clear bias, I think I can safely say that you will really enjoy his latest project, Transmit Joy.   (available on Amazon by clicking the title)

It's an audio book of about 65 minutes length that features 10 of Mark's signature stories.  

Listen to samples of the stories here.

The stories are varied, from a re-telling of the classic story of The Billy Goats Gruff to the first story ever told (by Og, Caveman) to a wonderful and personal telling of why he writes stories, which features a word portrait of a candy shop that almost makes you taste the chocolate.

The stories are sometimes silly and sometimes profound,  but they are all done with a sense of lightness and joy and a sense of humor that makes you glad you listened to them.

There's a German/Yiddish word that describes Mark's work well:  Haimishe, meaning homey and well-meaning and comfortable.  Mark's mission (indeed, the name of his website) is to Transmit Joy to his audiences, and I think that he succeeds quite well.

Photo of Mark and I making silly faces on Bright Night in 2011.
Mark has been a storyteller and author for almost 30 years, and his expertise shows through in how he crafts the story and tells the story details.  He uses minimal sound effects, and his simple but effective character voices bring us right into the heart of the story and of the character.

In short, I think this audio storybook makes a fine introduction to Mark's work as a storyteller and will entertain and entrance all of the members of your family.  You should definitely add it to your collection.

To find out more about Mark (and catch the flavor of his storytellingand lots of complimentary accolades), here's his introductory video from his website Transmit Joy: