Tuesday, January 27, 2015

REVIEW: The Selfish Giant at Chicago Children's Theatre

As I mentioned in a previous post, this past week was a busy theatrical week.  One of the shows we had the opportunity to see was the Blair Thomas & Co. production of The Selfish Giant as part of the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival. Although the festival has ended, The Selfish Giant will be continuing on through February 22 at the Chicago Children's Theatre.

Sam Deutsch as the puppeteer. photo by Joe Mazza
The show is, in a word, delightful.  It's a re-telling of a classic Oscar Wilde story about a Giant who closes his garden to the children of the town, and when the children sneak in anyway, he then re-discovers the importance of sharing, and the power of love.  (It's more complicated and more oblique than that.  It's a Victorian fairy tale after all. You can read the original text here if you so inclined.)

This is a re-staging of a production done in 2008, with Blair Thomas (the creator and director) performing the show.  This time he's passed the baton to a young but very accomplished puppeteer Sam Deutsch who does Thomas's work justice.  His movements and animation are wonderful, and border at times on the lyrical.

The score is created and provided by celebrated local musician Michael Smith.  On guitar and mandolin, Smith provides all of the vocal and music of the show, as well a bit of a running commentary about the happenings of the show.  Smith's lyrics and voice have a bit of Woody Guthrie running through them-- simple catchy folk songs with wry comments and sly little jokes.  He's got a lot of charm, and it shows through.

The puppets are beautiful, (designed by Jesse Mooney-Bullock), a combination of hand puppets, marionettes, and the giant himself is a large mask perfectly proportioned.  There's a couple of magical moments of puppet wizardry, and lots of moments of beauty.  I especially liked the performer engaging with kids in the audience to help plant the flowers in the garden.  It was simple but quite well done.

This is a show that kids of all ages will really like.  There's not a lot of action to it-- the show is a wonderful mood piece, with a contemplative and lyrical feeling, but it's entirely engaging.  The hour flew by, and my 6 year old was enthralled, and after the performance he wanted to get up and talk to the performer and touch the puppets (and he's seen a lot of shows, and doesn't always have that interest.)

To find out more about the show and to purchase tickets online, please visit  the Chicago Children's Theatre website.  or call the box office 872-222-9555.

The show will run through Feb 22 at the Ruth Page Center for Arts,
1016 North Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60610

Tickets range from $10-$38.

PLEASE NOTE:  Promotional tickets were provided to the reviewer.  The free-ness of the tickets is not affecting my critical judgement of the show.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Busy Culture Weekend: Selfish Giant, Lookingglass Alice, and Puppets Puppets Puppets

This is going to be a very big cultural weekend in our household (not that every weekend we don't try for something cultural.  After all last week we were at the opera!)

Friday (that's today!) my son is doing his big show at school.  Once a year, every grade at  Walt Disney Magnet School puts together a grade-wide show that incorporates art, technology, theatre, and myriad other curriculum based activities into a 45 minute show performed by the whole class.  It's broken up into pods (there are approximately 7 classes of each grade, so it's about 220 kids per grade) And they do a song and dance and a segment of the show.

 Last week, I helped choreograph a clown chase sequence for a film as part of it.  Chaotic, but awesome.

His K class is doing a piece on how technology helps us find things.  Many of the class play detectives searching for a missing dog. And my son is lead detective!  Detective Ace! (which means he has one or two lines more than any other kid, and gets to wear an actual microphone on his face)  As I said, awesome!

Blair Thomas & Co's The Selfish Giant
After reveling in his performance, after school is our weekly
skating class, and then it's a quick ride over to the Chicago Children's Theatre for the opening night of The Selfish Giant by Blair Thomas & Co.  It's part of the International Puppet Theatre Festival that's going on this weekend   (More info here)

The next day, while AA goes to a friends birthday party, I'll be attending a cool Puppet Symposium as part of the festival.  And then late night, attend an adult only Puppet Slam  called Nasty, Brutish, and Short, which is the last large event of the Puppetry Festival.

The next day, the whole family will venture on over to the Lookingglass Theatre to see their much acclaimed Lookingglass Alice.   This is supposed to be a wonderful show, and looking at the photos (below) , I am sure that it will be!  It's billed as a circus infused playground from which to experience the Alice characters.  I am very much looking forward to this show.  More info about tickets and times for Lookingglass Alice here.
Lookingglass Alice
Lookingglass Alice
Lookingglass Alice
After all that, I think we'll collapse in a heap.  But it will be totally worth it!

Read just one of the many stellar reviews of  Looking Glass Alice: The Chicago Tribune review 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Puppet Festivities for Kids this weekend

The First Biennial Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival is this weekend.

 While a lot of the stuff is geared for older kids and their adults (or adults only) they do have a fair amount of activity that is suitable for children.  

 Here's some of the Family Friendly Puppet fare going on this weekend (Much of it happening at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. on the University of Chicago campus. )

 From 12-5, there will be a plethora of family friendly puppet activity, including a live action cartoon, a puppet zoo with lots of local puppeteers, a photo booth, and drop in workshops where kids can learn to make puppets.  Tickets are $5, Families of 5 or more are just $20.  http://bit.ly/LoganFamily

Also, at the Chicago Children's Theatre, this weekend starts The Selfish Giant, a puppet/music event based on an Oscar Wilde short story.  Produced and created by Festival creator and (Chicago Puppet Juggernaut Blair Thomas & Co)  This show is a revival, and in its last incarnation garnered serious praise.

Read this Trib article for more info about the festival, as well as an interview with festival founder Blair Thomas.

 Every kid is different of course, and what suits my kid might not suit yours.  Make sure to look carefully at the descriptions of the shows on the Chicago Puppet Festival Homepage

Minneapolis-based company In The Heart of the Beast   presents two shows:
 a Tex Avery-tweaked masterpiece CARTOOON  and a visual poem MORTAL CITY  

Cartooon is a a live-action three-dimensional cartoon performed by a cast of fifteen, come to life in front of your very eyes.

Mortal City is more of a mood environmental piece, using music and visual imagery to evoke a city during an ice storm.

I've seen In the Heart of the Beast before (but not these pieces), and their work is always well done.

These shows are later at night, so are probably for older kids or adults. (but Cartooon will be performed in the afternoon as well)

Local company FlipFlap Productions presents a darkly comic tale THE TEMP.  Flipflap are a group of local comedian/performers who are exploring the edges of comedy/puppetry.  I haven't seen their work before, but it looks very interesting. Also for older kids.  Visit their Tumblr for more details.

There's lots of other stuff going on this is just a taste.

For tickets to all shows, visit the  Chicago Puppet Festival Homepage

Happy Puppet Watching!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Magic Victrola-- Opera for Kids Saturday January 17, 3pm (Chicago)

This weekend we are going to see the Magic Victrola at the Lyric Opera.  It's an opera designed especially for kids ages 5-10 and their families.  It's fully staged, it's in English, and it's directed by a LookingGlass Theater Ensemble member David Kersner and co-written by the founder/ artistic director of Chicago Children's Theatre Jacqueline Russell.

This is the third such kid-friendly opera collaboration between these two artists, and a great idea to introduce kids to the opera.  (And parents too, if they happen to be opera-phobic)

In the show, two kids discover their grandfather's old opera records in the attic.  Not expecting much, they put them on, and classic opera vignettes come to life with easy to read English translations and large video projections. The opera vignettes are classics  by Mozart, Offenbach, Puccini, and Bizet, among others

Says Cayenne Harris, director of Lyric Unlimited, the Lyric's new community engagement program: “This will be a first-time introduction to the world of opera for many of our youngest audience members so we want to make it as accessible and enjoyable as possible. The vibrant sets and costumes bring the opera stories to life with some fun pop-culture twists that will be instantly recognizable,”

There's only one performance, this Saturday at 3 pm. The running time for The Magic Victrola is approximately 60 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets for children are $10, $15, and $20. For adults (18+) the prices are $20, $30, and $40. Visit lyricopera.org/victrola or call 312-827-5600 for tickets.

There may be some discount tickets available via Goldstar.

 And if your child is ready to see a full length opera, the Lyric offers children’s pricing ($20-50) for all mainstage operas.

Here's a video introduction to the three main players in the opera:

And if you want to see some video excerpts from some of the performances that will be featured,
visit the Lyric's blogpost here: http://www.lyricopera.org/blog/blogpost.aspx?id=15207

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Vaccinate Your Child.

Poster from before the 1979 eradication of sma...
Poster from before the 1979 eradication of smallpox, promoting vaccination. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are lots of great reasons to NOT vaccinate your child.

You can read a lot of them in this very somber and chilling blogpost from Night Of The Living Dad.

Sure, you could vaccinate your child for all sorts of things, but if you do, be aware, you could live to regret it (or your child could)

Read the post, and don't make any mistakes.  You don't want to be a moron, or a monster.

Friday, December 5, 2014

REVIEW: When Good Broccoli Goes Bad: MPAACT

We had the opportunity to see a play at our local park (Broadway Armory)  It was a free play put on by a Chicago group called MPAACT  a group who according to their website...

"exists to develop, nurture, and sustain Afrikan Centered Theatre (ACT), an artistic expression grounded in the many cultures and traditions of the Afrikan continent and its Diaspora"   

A noble cause, for sure, and while not particularly my cause, one of the reasons I like to go to the theatre is to open my mind.  (One of my favorite theatres in Providence is Brown University's Rites and Reasons Theatre for just that reason.  They don't put on the plays I like the best or I think are the best produced or the best written, but it comes at issues and ideas from a whole different angle than I ever would have, and that's plain awesome.

Broccoli (also known as Baby B)
The play we saw was called "When Good Broccoli Goes Bad" and it was a musical that used a lot of popular music styles (gospel, blues, r&b, rap) to provide a cautionary tale about a young Broccoli who gets curious about the world she doesn't know.  

The show started with a gospel sermon of vegetables in the crisper (people dressed as vegetables)  Brother Spinach is laying it out why fresh vegetables are good to be eaten, Sister Corn is testifying, and Brother Collards is a little bit afraid of the Ham Hocks.  In this world it's noble to be eaten for a healthy purpose.

Little B (Baby Broccoli) wants to see the great wide refrigerator,however, and goes on a quest up the refrigerator, along the way meeting   2 quasi-friends- Salty Pork and Bacon, and a super slick singer named CS  (corn syrup).  There's a dance fight between White Bread and Whole Wheat, and at the end, Honey and Cane Sugar (and oh yes, Beet sugar too) help save the day. At the end, Little B is safe and sound in the crisper, has shed her bacon jacket, and is ready to be healthily consumed.

Corn Syrup was the villain of the show.
There was a lot to like about this show-- the singing was good, and the original music was fun ( although the sound in the room wasn't very good (they had 3 mikes for the 8 singers, plus a 4 person band, and everything was muddled. They really needed to either have each singer grab the mic directly, or get headsets for the main players.  The costumes were also fun, if a bit silly.  (Baby B's Broccoli Afro was really the best of it-- the rest were like pretty constrictive and not so suggestive vegetable costumes.)  The actors were for the most part fine-- I particularly liked the actor who played Brother Spinach. 

My only criticism other than the technical element is that it doesn't seem to be very cost efficient-- they've got 12 people performing in this show, and either they aren't being paid enough, or they are charging venues too much.  I think they could get the gospel of the vegetable out a lot more if they pared down the actors to 6 with 2 musicians (still expensive, but  doable)

Baby B wants to be good, but her "Friend"
Salty Pork is very tempting
I like that this play is being done, It's a simple story that reminds me of an elementary school version of the gospel melodramas that tour on the chitlin' circuit.  And it speaks directly to the food desert problems that some areas of the inner city have.  And they gave out vegetables at the start of the show!)  

And the kids (including my 6 year old, who is not as vegetable tolerant as he should be) really seemed to like it!
Visit the MPAACT website to find out more about there work, and (hopefully) they'll put up some info about where the show is performing next.  And if not, just keep on eating stuff in the crisper, and stay away from Corn Syrup!

Here's a short video of one of the early Gospel numbers in the show:


And here's one of the blues numbers with a dance sequence in between.  You can see the costumes are clever.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Thanksgiving Weekend That Couldn't Be Beat

We normally host Thanksgiving, which has involved form as few as 8 to as many as 22 people.

This year we had dinner at my sister-in-law's.  They also recently moved to Chicago (Evanston) and were part of the reason for our move here.

We had dinner there primarily because her house is a little larger and she has TWO ovens (a feature we used to have in Yonkers)  We haven't quite gotten there yet, but I'm guessing that in the next year or so, we might upgrade our oven for a double.  And there were 25 people at Thanksgiving this year!

Just because we weren't hosting, didn't mean we didn't cook.  We made the turkey gravy (my wife is very fond of gravy, and the bird being cooked this year was already in parts, so gravy had to be done separately!)  We also made two different kinds of cranberry sauce (raw, and cooked, my mother-in-law loves raw cranberries!) and the brussel sprouts.

I'm a big believer in Brussel Sprouts.  And when I saw them at Trader Joe's on the stalk, I thought "Thanksgiving, done!"  Except.

  • Although they look cool, you can't serve them on the stalk because you still have to cut them, and it's unwieldy on the table.
  • They cook very unevenly.
  • In our oven, I could cook maybe 2 stalks at a time if I crammed them in.  We needed 100 brussel sprouts, which meant cooking them 4 times.
After a test run of the stalk kind, I went to the local grocery, bought 100 large brussel sprouts and roasted them. Cut them in half, brushed them with maple syrup and olive oil and salted and peppered.   They were a palpable hit!  (And although I was worried about running out, we did have a few leftovers)

The next day, we went to a potluck at a local synagogue, and they were a hit again!

A selection of cured meats and cheeses hand-picked by their chefs from their very 
own cheese and charcuterie cave.
 Accompanied by house made preserves, pickles, and jams.
Saturday we went for Breakfast with some in town cousins at the Sofitel (which was fantastic, and considering it was a high end brunch joint, wasn't terribly expensive (although as it turned out, my wife's cousin insisted on paying, so SCORE!  Thank you Paul!) There I had the Artisanal cheese and meat plate with pickles and jellies  It was very very good.)

My son emulating the conductor at the
symphony.  He's got the look!
On Sunday we went to see the Music of Pixar at the CSO.  It was a great concert!  One of the best things about it was viewing many of those movies again, but through the lense of their sound.  They displayed scenes from the movies, but without dialog, and with the CSO playing, you could really hear (and see) the complexity of the music.

They've got a few more Symphony at the Movies events coming up (2001 a Space Odyssey and Metropolis, both of which would be great for older kids)  

The weekend capped off where I was supposed to drive my mother-in-law to the airport, and SCORE AGAIN, one of the other in-laws agreed to do it.  I lead a charmed life, apparently!

How was your Thanksgiving Weekend?