Thursday, November 5, 2015

Aquatic Experience this weekend

We're off this weekend to a really fun event-- the World Pets Association's third annual Aquatic Experience at the Renaissance Schaumburg.

The event, which happens November 6-8, has a lot of amazing events and exhibitions, including a Gator Encounter, where show attendees will be able to interact with alligators up close in a touch tank.

There will also be a display of adult gators, a live octopus tank, a piranha tank,  many displays of freshwater and saltwater fish from around the world, a Kids Aquarium contest, and a whole lot more, including discussions and q &a sessions with aquatic experts, lots of exhibitors that will have on display products for beginner and advanced hobbyists alike.

They even have an app available for Iphone and Android that will let you plan out your schedule as well as send you alerts during the show.

Tickets are now on sale for Aquatic Experience – Chicago, Nov. 6-8, 2015 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center (1551 Thoreau Drive N, Schaumburg, IL). 

Daily family passes are $25 and individual tickets start at just $10. Children ages 5 and under are free. 

Registration for the Kids Aquarium Contest for children ages 5-16 is $5 and includes a 10-gallon aquarium kit plus a wristband for free admission to the show floor with a paying adult. 

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit

Sunday, October 25, 2015

REVIEW: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane- Fantastic!

As I mentioned previously, we attended the opening night of  the Chicago Children's Theatre opening night of the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

It was fantastic!  The acting, set design, puppet design, and directing all worked together perfectly to create a stunning evening of theatre.  And, if you are a persistent reader of this blog, you know I don't say that often.

The show is based on the best-selling kid's book, written by Newberry award winner Kate DiCamillo.  When I read the synopsis (about a dapper rabbit that gets lost at sea, goes through multiple owners, and finally finds himself) I was a little concerned that the storyline would be sacharine or sentimental.  In the very capable hands of director Stuart Carden, all of the elements of the show move together into a non-sentimental and often very emotional (and at times very funny) show.

The show moves along nicely, and while its story is itself easily graspable, the enacting of it is done masterfully.

Enough can not be said about the 4 actors that portray all of the characters who Edward encounters. All of them play musical instruments.

There's lots of puppetry, including shadow puppets. They move very well.  They act with their whole bodies and their whole voices at the same time. They differentiate their many characters beautifully, using dialect primarily, and sheer acting chops. Special shout out to Patrick Budde, who plays the voice of Edward Tulane, starting out as a total narcissistic priss that ends up growing on you, and you end up cheering for him as he learns some very hard lessons. Also a shout out to Melanie Brezill, whose death scene was stunningly acted.  

But everybody was really great, and deserves mention.  Jessie Fisher acted as the narrator and engaged the audience, drawing us in (and her evil-eye grandmother who gets disappointed in Edward) is hilarious.  And Kelvin Roston Jr  played the kind natured hobo so simply and well.

I also want to call out to the props designer, who designed a lot of the puppets (but not Edward)  Her quilted dog puppet, operated by a bunraku style puppeteer in full view of the audience, was a huge hit.  The whole design staff and the director also did a great job.

Basically, I can't say enough good things about this show.  From my perspective, it was a complete home run.  You should definitely see it, even if you don't have any kids.  My 7 year old was enthralled.  (There are a couple of heavy death scenes, but its okay to hold your kids hand in the theatre)

Buy this book on Amazon
The show is playing at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in the Gold Coast 1016 N. Dearborn Street, and will run through November 15.  (And hopefully there will be an extension!)

To find out more about the show, and to purchase tickets, visit the Chicago Children's Theatre event page.

If you want to read the book, see the link to the right.  The book also has a website:   It has some great video excerpts talking with the author and the illustrator about the process of writing the book, as well as a great Teacher's guide to the book, which will be useful in talking to students about the show.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Busy weekend for children's theatre in Chicago!

This weekend my wife is away, which turns out to be the perfect timing-- that means that my son and I can go to some children's theatre without feeling bad about not including her.

She doesn't always come on our adventures to the theatre-- not that she doesn't like theatre, just that I often get invited with two tickets, not three, and she's usually busy with other stuff.  And she prefers Broadway style musicals, which most children's theatre is decidedly not. (And that's a good thing!)

Speaking of adventures, tonight we are attending the Chicago Children's Theatre opening night of the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

 It's based on the best-selling kid's book, which was written by Newberry award winner Kate DiCamillo. Ms. DiCamillo also wrote Tales of Desperaux and the book Because of Winn-Dixie.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is the story of a very dapper china rabbit named Edward Tulane who gets lost at sea, bounces from person to person and decade to decade until the audience is shown a true miracle, and Edward discovers the transformative power of love.  And of course, along the way, this porcelain rabbit has plenty of adventures and intrigue.

To find out more about the story, check out  It has some great video excerpts talking with the author and the illustrator about the process of writing the book.  It also has a great Teacher's guide to the book, which will be useful in talking to students about the show.
See this book on Amazon

The show is playing at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in the Gold Coast 1016 N. Dearborn Street, and will run through November 15. To find out more about the show, and to purchase tickets, visit the Chicago Children's Theatre event page.

Explore Magic Treehouse
 books on Amazon.

On Sunday, we are going to attend another kid's theatre show, also based on a book.  We are attending the Emerald City Theatre production of  The Magic Treehouse:  A Night In New Orleans.

As you probably know, the Magic TreeHouse is a series of books by Mary Pope Osborne.  The series features a brother and sister (Jack and Annie) who discover a (surprise) Magic TreeHouse.  The treehouse is  filled with magic books, and the books take the pair on a number of adventures through time, space, and literature.  Throughout the series they've visited dinosaurs, Camelot, ancient Egypt, outer space, and to a bunch of other places as well. There are over 50 Magic Treehouse books, and many of them have fact checking companion books that present the stories and places of the book in a non-fictional context.

This musical play is based on the book A Good Night For Ghosts.

Louis Armstrong plays some music for Jack and Annie.
 In it, the treehouse brings the brother and sister adventurers to 1915 New Orleans, where they hear jazz music, get on a steamboat, eat jambalaya, and help a very young Louis Armstrong on his way to become the King of Jazz.  There's plenty of ragtime music, lots of dancing, and a great amount of learning and fun.

This show is aimed at kids ages 5-13, and is being presented through January 2 at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 North Lincoln Ave in Lakeview.

To find out more about the show and to buy tickets, visit the show page.

I should also mention that Emerald City has two shows for younger kids also in rotation.
Dragons Love Tacos (for ages 3-8) at the Apollo Theatre, and Three Little Kittens (for ages 0-5) playing at the Little Theatre on Southport.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Well-Rounded Bear

Raising a well-rounded bear is a balancing act!

At school he's learning Chinese, digital music, and coding.  After school he's got gymnastics, piano, basketball, and skating starts up in a couple of weeks.  Not sure when, but we'll also get back into swim class, I'm pretty sure, and the bear is talking about his desire to take parkour class.

Despite all of this, it's important to bring the bear to a variety of cultural and social events.

Here's just a few of our extracurricular extravaganzas over the past few weeks.  (and I'm sure we've missed a few too!)

Nerf gun party-- A friend of his had a birthday party at POWkids! where he and his friends got to learn to be Nerf gun warriors.  It wouldn't have been my choice for a party, but the kids (predictably) loved it.  And the place that hosted it, the guys were amazing.  They also do a superhero party and a ninja party that look awesome!  POW KIDS CHICAGO

Movie Night- We went to his school on a Friday night to see the live action movie Cinderella with a couple of his pals.  It's a good live action movie, with well-drawn characters, no caricatures, and it moves along.  And they had dollar popcorn!   At the end I realized why I liked it so much-- it was directed by Kenneth Branagh.  That guy knows how to tell a classical story. BUY IT ON AMAZON.

Midnight Circus - we had a belated birthday party with my pals over at the Midnight Circus.  We brought 40+ people to the show, which featured cupcakes and juice with the cast at intermission.
The show is a family show (the main people in it are a family of 4) along with a bunch of other amazing performers.  I've seen a lot of circus, and just about all of this was amazing.  They have a few more shows coming up this fall in the parks, and they are definitely worth seeing.

Here's a video of one small part of the show, in which 10 year old Max Jenkins does a Rolla Bolla act while his dad Jeff looks on.  I didn't take the video.
A video posted by Midnight Circus (@mncircus) on
Find out more about the Midnight Circus 

Northwestern Football.  We took in  a classic battle between Wildcats and the Minnesota Gophers.  Suffice to say the Wildcats won 27-0.  We took the train there, And the bear sat next to the tubas, and loved it!

NU Sports

The Lyric Opera- The day after the football game we went to the Lyric Opera to see the bear's first full length opera in a different language.  It was a good choice- Cinderella.  He already knew the story (although they change the classic story a fair amount for the opera- her name is Angelina!)  The bear enjoyed it, didn't fall asleep, unlike his dad, who took a couple of catnaps during the production.  (But saw the best parts, including the rat costumes, and Dandini, the valet who pretends to be the prince, to great comic effect.)  Overall the show was great, and the perfect opera for a kid like my son to cut his teeth on.  Lyric Opera 

The Edgewater Arts Fest.  We walked around our neighborhood and saw a great variety of artists, a very wacky puppet show put on by Bob Anderson, masks made by Jeff Semmerling, (the bear really wanted the duck mask, but I had to demur) It won't happen again until next year, but in the meantime, put it in on your radar!  Edgewater Arts In Motion.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Lyric's Cinderella- Family Friendly Opera Fun!

Isabel Leonard in the title role
photo by Scott Suchman
Washington National Opera
After last year's introduction to opera, we've been looking for an opportunity to bring our son to a show that's full length and family/kid friendly.

We (and you) have the perfect opportunity this October, as the Lyric is presenting a very family friendly production of Rossini's Cinderella.  It's a story that he already knows (we just finished watching the newly released live action movie at a school movie night), and this particular opera seems designed for people who have never been to the opera before- projected titles in English, lots of colorful costumes, dancers in mouse costumes, and lots of other stuff.

The show is directed by the co-founder of a Barcelona Street theatre company, Els Comediants, and is full of colorful costumes, lots of comedy and zany activity, and Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in the title role. (Although in the opera, her name is Angelina, and not Cinderella!)

Here's Leonard doing a funny gig on Sesame Street:(The People In Your Neighborhood.)

The production is new to Chicago, but it has been presented successfully in a number of places, including at the Kennedy Center, at the Welsh National Opera, and in Houston.

Here are some photos of a previous production at the Washington National Opera.  The sets and costumes will be VERY similar!)

"Cinderella," images by Scott Suchman (Washington National Opera).

Cinderella opens on Sunday, October 4 with 8 performances through Friday, October 30. Performance dates are Oct. 7, 10, 13, 17, 23, 26 at 7:30pm; and Oct 4 and 30 at 2pm. 

For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to

(And by the way, the Lyric is also sponsoring Operathon on Saturday October 3, an almost full day of opera on the radio at WFMT, supported in part by opera loving power forward Pau Gasol.  You'll hear interviews with some of the opera stars of the Lyric, including cast members of Cinderella, get great deals on tickets and merchandise, and in general, support the Lyric's operations.)

To find out more, visit this link online.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mermaid Theatre delayed, but Ralph Covert is Pinch Hitting!

The Chicago Children's Theatre is sending in a very capable pinch hitter!

Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia's production of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny was supposed to open this week, but there were some unexpected delays in getting the artist's visas.  As a result, Mermaid's production won't be seen this week (they are still trying to work it out for next week.)  (Artist visa problems also plagued the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, who couldn't get their top-billed act the Gandini's in from England.)

Instead, CCT is sending in Ralph Covert, who is one of the best known and top-rated kid's rock music makers in Chicago.  He's debuting his show Ralph's World Rocks and Reads! -a best-of live concert and multimedia experience featuring every family's favorite Ralph's World songs.

 Covert's top tunes correspond with his ever popular early learning children's picture books including "Sawdust & Spangles" and his newest book, "Ralph's World Rocks!"   The show is backed up with a multimedia backdrop and lots of opportunities to sing along, play along, and get along.

And no, Covert will not be performing in a mermaid costume.

Covert had already been planning to present the concert at the Chicago Children's Theatre at some point in the future, and he's simply accelerated the schedule.  Ralph is a great performer, and if you are looking for something wonderful to do for your tiny kids (this show is a Younger Stages production best for kids ages 3 and up), this would be great.  This weekend's performances are Friday, October 2 at 10 a.m. and 6:30 pm, Saturday, October 4 at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., and Sunday, October 5 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

Chicago Children's Theatre productions are presented at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St. in Chicago. Tickets are $10-$39. For tickets and information, visit or call (872) 222-9555.

Next week's performances of Goodnight Moon & The Runaway Bunny, originally slated to run through next Sunday, October 11, are still on the CCT schedule. Covert, however, is on standby and ready to perform Ralph's World Rocks and Reads! through October 11 as well.

Stay tuned for an announcement early next week about next week's performances.

Currently, the Chicago Children's Theatre box office is contacting all Goodnight Moon ticket buyers to review their options, including staying with their current performance date and time but seeing Ralph's World Rocks and Reads! instead, exchanges into other Younger Stages productions coming this season, or refunds.

Monday, September 28, 2015

EAR WORM: Andrew & Polly's Odds and Ends

Andrew & Polly with ukelele & accordion
I've been admirers of Andrew & Polly's work for some time.  I hear them a lot on Kid's Place Live, and their work is kooky, fun, and original.  I just got a hold of their new album Odds & Ends, and it collects a lot of the songs that I've heard over the last year.

Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall are a married couple that live in Los Angeles, where they work and perform.  Andrew, originally from San Francisco, has been instrumental (yes, I meant that pun!) in all kinds of film music and scoring, working on the Smurfs movie, and has composed the scores for over 30 independent films.

Polly, originally from Arkansas, co-founded a music for interactive company in Brooklyn, holds an MA in Computer Music from Brown University, and is a former Suzuki violinist.  Together, they have written music for Nickolodeon, lots of commercials, and they won the  2012 ASCAP Foundation Joe Raposo Childrens' Music Award for their first album Up and At' Em!

There's a great interview with them on ZooGlobble,  where you can find out that among other things, they are parents of an 18 month old, that they met in college where they both sang for A Cappella groups, and that they lived in Providence in 2006 when I was doing Bright Night.  I would have totally hired them for the New Year's Eve Festival, if I had known about them then!

Zooglobble, by the way, is a great resource for all things Kindie music.  You should definitely be reading it!

Buy Odds & Ends on Amazon.
The album Odds & Ends is a collection of songs that they've written over the last 5 years.  I've heard a few of them over the last couple of years. for a few years on Kids Place Live.  They do really delightful cover versions of Ghostbusters, the Beatles song Here Comes The Sun, and the Dylan song Forever Young.

 But it's their original songs that are the real winners.  I especially liked their song Grapes, which has a Laurie Anderson meets kid's music kind of feel, with a lot of talking/story.  It's funny and quirky and weird, and most importantly it's catchy.  It caught my attention, anyway.

 Most of their original songs are like that.

 Here's the song Grapes on Youtube:

The album came out on Friday (although it apparently previewed in Los Angeles at a 1 year old's birthday party!) Awesome party favor!

Other than the album, their latest project together is a cool  podcast for kids called EarSnacks.  It's for kids, featuring kids, and has lots of interactive features, questions, and just some wacky stuff.  Their latest episode is about all kinds of Balls (get your mind out of the gutter!) They play sounds of different bouncing balls, talk about boogers, which leads to a discussion of atoms, planets, and just about everything else.  It's a fun hang out session with them.  They produce a new podcast once a month or so.  (And I believe it also airs on KPL.)

You can listen to their podcast for free on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud or tunein.

Find out more about Andrew and Polly on their website: