Sunday, January 15, 2017

Featured dad of the week is Me!

I'm the featured dad on the Chicago Dad's Blog

Click the above link to read a short 5 question interview with me for the blog.

My fifteen minutes are just about over, I think.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year in Review: Downs and Ups

So I thought I'd take a little minute of self-reflection of the blog and of the year.

This has been a good year, but a hard year.  There have been more downs than ups.

I do a lot of things in the year.  I am the main caregiver to my son, I write this blog and two others, I do the finances for my wife's business and our home, and I am still trying to work as a performer when I can.  I didn't attain all of my goals this year, but I did get some of them.


While I've mostly kept politics off of my blog, I've made no secret on social media of my disdain for Herr Drumpf, and my sorrow/depression/anger over his election.  I won't get into it here, but suffice to say that he is unqualified, unprepared, and unctuous, and my personal feeling about the direction of our country under his "leadership" is dark.  Perhaps this is how the other side felt about Obama's election 8 years ago, but of course my angst is worth more!  At least then we had a guy with some experience and some political savvy and not a guy who is clearly dishonest and intent on raiding the US for his own personal gain.  Not to mention the uncomfortably close comparisons that one can make to Hitler.  This has colored ALL  of the last 6 months or so for me and my family, and I really have felt depressed.  But I digress.


In addition to the celebrity deaths of some of my artistic heroes (David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, to name a few) I had some personal friends and relatives die.  My Aunt Irma, who lived a long good life, and my friends Pat Cashin and David Greene, who basically died suddenly and quickly and far far too soon.  In particular, Pat, who was a blogger, a father, and a clown.  There but for the grace of God go I.

This has made me feel my mortality in ways that I have been working up to.  I'm 52.  My son is 8.  I've got another 25 years if I'm statistically average, but I'm overweight, I have high blood pressure and both of my parents died  young.  (Although I did have one grandmother who lived until 103, and a grandfather who lived to 88.  And my mother died of cancer from Hepatitis that she had gotten 25 years ago from a blood transfusion. And my father was killed in a car crash.  So there is hope for a long life.


I've had some health issues, including gum surgery, skin cancer on my nose that required surgery, my first ever colonoscopy the day before the election, and other assorted issues.  Just adds to my feelings of mortality.


Despite my weight and the aforementioned issues, I'm still alive!  I've maintained/lost a little weight, and I've accomplished several challenges on a fitness level, including using my recumbent bicycle everyday for a month, biking over 300 miles on the recumbent bike in an 8 week period, and doing a pushup challenge and getting up to 50 pushups a day.  (Of course, I then injured myself, and have lost most of that strength)  Still I feel good about it, and hope to continue that into the New Year.

I did a few very well-received performances of my flea circus, and took a clown workshop that made me remember how much I like attending workshops. Hope to do more performing during the upcoming year.  I have an idea for a new show, and I'd like to get that out the door, if I can.

I've written over 70 posts this year on my blog, and looking back, most of them have been reviews of theatre and music. (And I didn't even write about every play or show I saw!) I've really upped my game on critical writing, and would like to continue to do that while writing more posts about parenting.  Most of my draft posts this year were about parenting issues and conundrums, and I never finished those posts.  My work this year is to finish these posts and continue my work as a critic and reviewer.

My social media has also expanded-- I've gained something like 500 twitter followers in the last year.  I hope to keep expanding that as well.

Wishing all of my readers a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Die Fledermaus in Evanston Dec 26-Jan1

Light Opera Works (the Evanston based music theatre group that will soon be changing their name to Theater Music Works) is presenting a great light opera to celebrate the ending of their name/beginning of their new name.  They are presenting Strauss's classic light opera Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

Michael Cavalieri as Eisenstein and
 Alicia Berneche as Rosalinda
Set on New Year's Eve, the play centers around a ballroom, mistaken identity, vengeance, and drinking.  If it were a play it would be a farce (in fact, that's what it was originally, before it got adapted into an opera!)    Plus, there are plenty of classic recognizable songs. (and a 30 piece orchestra!)

As always, Light Opera Works presents some great local and national talent, including Saturday Night Live alum Tim Kazurinsky in the very comic role of the jailer Frosch.  Other performers include Kelly Britt (Adele), Michael Cavalieri (Eisenstein), Alicia Berneche (Rosalinda), William Roberts (Dr. Falke), and Billy Dwyer (Prince Orlofsky).

Tim Kazurinsky as Frosch, the drunken jailer.
Kazurinsky is a standout comic performer in his role as the drunken jailer.  I haven't seen the opera before, but he did some very funny bits which I assume were improvisations.  One particularly funny moment is when he is trying to silence the singing of one of the jailbirds ( who he calls The bluebird of Happiness)  He brings out a gun, he goes off stage, we hear a bang.  He comes back very somberly, and says with his drunken lilt , "I have some terrible news to report... I missed."  He also addresses the conductor, saying that he would leave the gun where he could find it, as he was rehearsing the viola's tomorrow.

All of the voices are great, but a special shoutout must go to Alicia Berneche who played Rosalinda.  She was funny, charming, and had a beautiful voice.  I also really enjoyed the comic stylings of Billy Dwyer as the disaffected and nihilistic Prince Orlofsky. Despite being kind of a nihilist, he was a delight to watch on stage.

One of my companions had seen a version at the Lyric a couple of years ago, and insisted that this production was much funnier and the translation was better.

The show runs approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions.

For more information,including a copy of the program visit:

If you are feeling adventurous, or don't have New Year's Eve plans, there's a program to have dinner with the director and the composer on New Year's Eve, which will include a 4 course gourmet meal.  You can attend the dinner even if you don't have tickets for that evening's show.

Monday, December 26, 2016 at 2 pm
Wednesday, December 28 at 2 pm
Thursday, December 29 at 8 pm
Friday, December 30 at 8 pm
Saturday, December 31 at 8 pm
  (New Year's Eve)
Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 2 pm

Tickets start at $34
Age 25 and younger: 1/2 price
(suitable for 12 and older)

Tickets also by phone:
(847) 920-5360

Cahn Auditorium
600 Emerson, Evanston, IL

As mentioned above, the theatre is changing its name from Light Opera Works to Theater Music Works to better reflect the diversity of their programming.  That change will take place January 2, 2017.  You can read an article about the name change here.

BOOK REPORT: The Lego Animation Book

See The Lego Animation Book on Amazon the recent Chicago Toy and Game Expo, I ended up chatting with one of the authors of a new book that can change a kid's ability to think, create, and imagine.

 It's a book called The LEGO Animation Book, and it teaches kids (in a book format, obviously) ALMOST everything they need to know about creating LEGO Movies.

The authors, David Pagano and David Pickett have impressive LEGO resumes. Together they run a LEGO animation blog THE SET BUMP  Pagano has his own LEGO production studio Paganomation, and his work has appeared in places like the Wall Street Journal, BrickJournal, and of course, Youtube.  His co-author is the filmmaker behind Brick 101 and Nightly News at Nine.

Here's a sample of each of their works (Pagano first, then Pickett)

Really fun right?

In the book, they've gathered together some of their best tricks, secrets, and best practices to be a LEGO Animator.  Some of the topics they cover are

  • Building a set so that it is modular and easy to re-use
  • How to work in different scales
  • Best ways to light a tiny set
  • How to storyboard
  • shot selection and composition.
  • What to look for in software and hardware for recording
  • Post-production

Sample page on building a one room set.
The book is full color, 200+ pages, and while suitable for kids, has enough quality information that adult/parent LEGO hobbyists will learn something as well.  There's a lot of technical detail, including a brick-by-brick instruction to build a larger scale puppet that you can reuse again and again, and instructions on how to use spreadsheets to plan out your animations.

More than being easy to read, well-written, and filled with good intel (all of it true), what I really like about this book is the clear zeal that the authors have and communicate about their art form.  Their passion and love of both creating stuff and the tools with which they create stuff is evident on just about every page.

Sample page on animating a walk
 The book doesn't dwell too much on how to get ideas for your creations, although it does talk about brainstorming and improvising/playing as methods.  It also details the incredible amount of work that goes into creating a couple of minutes of very good animation.

 Let's be clear, this book is not going to suddenly make your kid a genius animator.  The only thing that will do that is working his or her tail off, and failing a bunch of times before coming up with something amazing.

What the book will do is give him/her the tools and information to make them a better writer and animator, a bunch of tricks and ideas so they don't make easy mistakes and get discouraged before they can get good at it, and most importantly, show them examples of what is possible if they dedicate themselves to their work.

And really, what more can you ask for in a book like this?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

REVIEW: Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time.

We saw The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time last night at the Oriental Theatre.  It was great, and I highly recommend it.

I'd read the book a 100 years long time ago, and remember loving it.  The story, about a brilliant boy on the autism spectrum, details the mystery surrounding the suspicious death of a dog, and the aftermath as the main character Christopher solves the problem.

The acting was superb all the way around , and the guy who played the boy was really pretty phenomenal. He's kind of a Youtube star, and he's really quite good and convincing.  Most of the ensemble players had worked on the national tour of War Horse. They were a really good ensemble. It makes sense, it's produced in part by the National Theatre of Britain (same as War Horse)

 The set and sound design were also amazing. The set, which was like a square grid, had LED lights all over it, and often when he got lost, he could follow his path like his pet rat. And the grid was on the floor as well as the backdrop, and they did all kinds of cool projections.

Here's a video/introduction to the show and some of the technical elements from the creators.  (The actor playing Christopher on tour is different than the boy in the video.)

The sound/projection design, when he got lost on his way to the train station was also so good-- a barrage of information and loudness. You got the sense of overwhelming that he felt.  There's also a harrowing moment when he is in the train tunnel with the Underground zooming on.  The set design was so brilliant for that as well.

I thought the ending of the show was weird-- it kind of didn't end as much as wound down-- but as I recall the book was kind of similar.

I would have loved to have seen this in a small black box theatre-- it would have been much more powerful than seeing it from the top of the giant and ornate Oriental Theatre. Not that we couldn't see, but I feel like the immersive nature of the show would have been so much more powerful. But alas, alack, Broadway touring economics favors giant theaters.

I highly recommend the show (but it ends tonight in Chicago) If you have a chance to see it elsewhere, you should. (Hartford, Pittsburgh, Dallas are the next three stops. Full touring schedule here:

Buy the book on Amazon
We took our 8-year-old son, as we couldn't find a babysitter and we had 3 tickets. It was recommended for age 10 and over, but we figured it would have to work.

For the most part it was fine, although the first line is "Oh fucking shit!"  Repeated a bunch of times.

I turned to my wife and said, "Oh no!"

But the language calmed down some.  There were still lots of swear words, and some talk of sex. But there was also a lot of comedy and a lot of kindness.

The death of the dog was not shown on stage (although the set does start with a puppet dog with a large fork in it) , and SPOILER ALERT there was a very cute live dog in the show.

 Overall, my son liked it and it kept his interest, Hopefully the swearing and the sex-talk went over his head. #badparents.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Live #Ham4Ham Show in Chicago Sat Dec 17!


 Got this press release today, and thought it was cool enough to mention here!

Good luck, all my Hamilton fans!

 CHICAGO (Dec. 15, 2016) – Producer Jeffrey Seller and Broadway In Chicago announce HAMILTON’s LIVE lottery and special #Ham4Ham holiday show with cast members in Chicago on Saturday, December 17.

 HAMILTON will conduct a day-of-show LIVE lottery for the 2:00 PM matinee performance, making 30 tickets available for $10 each. The digital day-of-show lottery will resume for the evening performance that day.  TO ENTER THAT LOTTERY, CLICK HERE.

 Lottery entries will be will be accepted at The PrivateBank Theatre (18 W. Monroe) beginning at 11:30 AMon Saturday, December 17. Those names drawn will be entitled to purchase one or two $10.00 tickets (1 or 2) in cash. The names will be drawn at random at noon, 12:00 PM. Only one entry is allowed per person. Entries are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets.

 Prior to the 12:00 PM drawing, a special #Ham4Ham holiday show will feature cast members from the Chicago Company of HAMILTON performing for the crowd. What originally started on Broadway as a fun way for the HAMILTON cast to entertain the crowds of people waiting outside the theatre to enter the ticket lottery has turned into a platform to celebrate the talent and community of Broadway with fans worldwide.

 HAMILTON is currently playing at The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago (18 W. Monroe). For more information, visit

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 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.

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


  Mrs. Claus! A Holiday Musical at Beverly Arts Center
Mrs. Claus! A Holiday Musical
Beverly Arts Center
2407 West 111th Street Chicago
This holiday classic and audience favorite returns for its 18th consecutive year. Our biggest and most colorful show will put children and adults alike in the holiday spirit. Join Mrs. Claus as she teams up with the new Elf Class of 2016 to find Santa’s missing list in time for Christmas. Can Mrs. Claus and the elves save the holidays? All CKC shows feature plenty of audience participation and run for one hour with no intermission. Mrs. Claus! A Holiday Musical is targeted for children from 2 to 8 years old.
Thru - Dec 23, 2016

Price: $12
Box Office: 773-445-3838

 Tidings of Tap! at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
Tidings of Tap!
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
9501 Skokie Blvd Skokie
Chicago Tap Theatre presents a new version of its venerable Holiday offering at a new venue, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, just in time for Tidings' 10th Anniversary and the 20th Anniversary of co-producer the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. For the first time CTT is adding a light narrative about a young girl (played by Russian Rhythmic Gymnast Master Dasha Merkulov) as she goes on a journey through the wintry woods. While audiences hear many of their favorite seasonal tunes, they also experience an array of performances including a guest appearance by the stilt concert dancers from Kristina Isabelle Dance Company and an opportunity for local tap performers to join the Holiday production*.. Tidings of Tap! has been described by the Chicago Tribune as "undeniably charming and wholesome fun."

Presented by Chicago Tap Theatre
Price: $24 - $40
Box Office: 847-673-6300