Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Chicago Auto Show- Feb 4-17

The Chicago Auto Show comes again to McCormick place, and this time it's personal!

 Well, not personal, but opportune, as our lease on our car is about to expire (next month) so we'll be checking out the new cars and seeing what compares. (We drive a Subaru Forester-- in Chicago, I live off an alley, and need a 4 wheel drive vehicle because our alley is rarely plowed.)

If you've got a 4 wheel drive car you love, please let me know in the comments. 

The Auto Show has been around since 1901, and has all sorts of previews, show specials, demos, collections, and out and out fun stuff to see and do. The last time we were there, we walked around a collection of million dollar cars, took a test drive in a Chevy Truck, walked inside a sprinter, took photos inside a crazy race car, and generally had a great time.   I expect this year will be no different.  And we are hoping that the TESLA Truck will be there for us to drool over!
Photo of an indoor test drive-- courtesy of Chicago Tribune.  Photo by Brian Cassella.

The Chicago Tribune has a great article about what to expect, along with tips on how to get discounted tickets.  (For example, during the weekdays you can bring 3 cans of food to get $5 off an adult admission)

Also Scotty Pippen of the Bulls will be there on February 14!

There are also Groupons available, if you hurry (they are supposed to be ending soon!)

Find out more about the Auto show: https://www.chicagoautoshow.com/

Hope to see you at the show.

Friday, December 6, 2019

REVIEW: Q Brothers Christmas Carol

I've loved the Q Brothers since I saw them do their version of Othello three years ago.  READ MY REVIEW OF OTHELLO.

 That soundtrack has become a staple in my household.

They've been busy since then, including a successful Off-Broadway run of Othello, playwriting a new show (an adaptation of Lysistrata called Ms. Estrada) performing at festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and continuing on with their busy lives as musicians, actors, and creators.

In the meantime, their "rap-daptation" version of the Dickens Christmas classic has become a Chicago Shakespeare staple for the last few seasons.  I've missed it the last couple of years and was very excited when I got invited to the opening of this season's production.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Pos) throws it back to Scrooge’s past with the help of back-up dancers (JQ and Jax) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Q Brothers Christmas Carol, presented in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, November 29–December 23, 2019.
Photo by Liz Lauren.

The show does not disappoint.  It tells the basic story of greedy misanthrope Ebeneezer Scrooge and his journey to (SPOILER ALERT): happiness through the intervention of ghosts.  His partner, Jacob Marley, who died 7 years ago on Christmas Eve appears first, followed by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  Scrooge realizes through this intervention that his previous misanthropy is not serving him well, and resolves to be a better person.  It's become a holiday classic because of its story of redemption, and the melodramatic storyline that fits perfectly with the Christmas spirit.

A Rastafarian Jacob Marley (JQ, center) and his crew of reggae spirits (left to right, Jax and Pos) haunt Scrooge. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Like most actors, I am very familiar with the story, having performed and done tech for multiple versions of the show.  I can recite many of the original lines that usually remain in every production.  ("I forged these chains in life" | "Nothing but a piece of cheese, or an undigested bit of beef" | "You boy, what day is today" are three samples that Dickens aficionados will easily recognize.) 

In their re-telling, most of these old chestnuts have been cut by the Q brothers, although I have no doubt they could make a fine rhyme for undigested beef)   Instead, we get their words, which are usually super clever, contain multiple pop culture references, and come a mile a minute with a hard-driving beat.  Although I missed some of those old friend phrases, I wasn't so sad about it, as the Q brothers found other inventive ways to say the same things.

"There’s no time like the present" for the Ghost of Christmas Present (JQ), surrounded by his crew (Pos and Jax)  Photo by Liz Lauren.

One of the things that I appreciate about the Q Brothers' work most is their acting.  The style is broad and inventive, yet also filled with authenticity.  They cut away inessential elements, and in the end, we focus on their acting.

In this production, GQ, the brother who plays Scrooge, manages the transformation deftly.  His delight in pissing people off early shows in a hilarious number called Crissmyassmus.  But by the end, when he begs the spirit to take him in death rather than Lil Timm (Tiny Tim from the original, who has been transposed into a rap-star wannabe with a bum leg and multiple multiple diseases) the mood in the theater is chilling.

All four of the actors do the same with their roles, veering from silly to serious and back again.

Scrooge (GQ) embraces the magic of the holiday season.
Photo by Liz Lauren.
Some of the highlights include Postell Pringle as a smoove Grandmaster Flash style Ghost of Christmas Past,  as the ultra-cheerful Bob Cratchit, and his precocious college student/daughter Martha (there's a couple of hilarious and cheesy moments as the actor takes turns smelling delicious corn so that he can portray both characters using a bit of microphone ventriloquism. 

Jackson Doran, who plays the nephew Fred as a charades loving gay man with a penchant for Christmas, as well as Mama Cratchit, and a hilarious friend of Scrooge from year's past.  He also has a hilarious turn as one of the people who dun Scrooge at the beginning (and who Scrooge tells to "Chrissmyassmus")  These two guys are Jewish. for the Rahm and Manual Foundation. Big laugh from the audience.

Lil’ Tim (JQ, at center) pops a move while Mama Cratchit (Jax) and Martha Cratchit (Pos) dance along. Photo by Liz Lauren.

GQ's actual brother JQ plays the aforementioned Lil Timm, whose various diseases cracked the audience up, as well as the Ghost of Christmas Present, who was a weird combination of Stevie Wonder and Vanilla Ice, as geeky girl Belle (who owns Fezzy Wigs, a wig production company that  Scrooge and Marley make their fortune on (but Scrooge insists that they be called wigmakers and not wiggers)  and Jacob Marley (who  visits Scrooge in dreadlocks and sings a rasta-style rap, because his personal hell is Jamaica, and he insists that he is not a long lost son of Bob Marley.)  JQ also has a little bit of a tour-de-force performance as a friend of Scrooge's who waxes philosophically on what it means to Level up.  He got all of the other actors cracking up, as well as the audience.

In short, this is a great adaptation, and well worth seeing.  Tickets are sure to go quickly, so get them before they sell out.

INFORMATION:  Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Q Brothers Christmas Carol, November 29–December 23, 2019 in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. Single tickets ($32-$56) are on sale now. Special discounts will be available for groups of 10 or more. For more information, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at www.chicagoshakes.com.

Scrooge (GQ, at center) lights up with the holiday spirit in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Q Brothers Christmas Carol, presented in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, November 29–December 23, 2019.
Photo by joe mazza.

Friday, November 22, 2019

ChiTAG 2019 is this weekend!

One of my favorite events of the year is nearly upon us-- The Chicago Toy and Game Fair .(CHITAG) where toy and game makers from around the world gather at Navy Pier to display their new wares and sell the hottest new games to consumers, just in time for the holidays.

The two day event is THIS WEEKEND at Navy Pier, and it promises to be a lot of fun!

Photo of past CHITAG-- provided by http://www.chitag.com 
(and if you haven't played Klask, you totally should.  It's great fun!)

One of the things I love about CHITAG is that each year they host kid game inventors to display their games, and the winner gets a deal to produce their game!  Of course, it's cool that happens, but even more cool is the amazing creativity and high degree of professionalism that some of the games have.  And you get to talk to the kids and see what drove them to do that.

Photo of past CHITAG-- provided by http://www.chitag.com

That's also true for adults.  CHITAG gives many fledgling game designers the chance to get out into the marketplace and see if their game is going to find a buyer/distributor/ or just players and fans.  I love chatting with the new game designers and seeing why they decided to risk a sizable portion of their savings (as well as time and energy) on a brand new venture.  It's exciting!

Photo of past CHITAG-- provided by http://www.chitag.com

And of course there's tons and tons of game playing and game booths and games to try out and toys to look at.  It's just a lot of fun!
A couple of years ago, we saw this amazing life-size dino at #chitag

Over 30,000 people are expected to walk through the doors this weekend.

Will one of them be you?

Check out CHITAG.COM for more details.
(or look below!)

View this post on Instagram

A Yoyo champion from Chitag in year's past (from my Instagram account)

Some of the Highlights of this year's CHITAG

A kid-designed game from past CHITAG
The World’s Largest Kid-Powered Rocket (Kite and Rocket Research)

The new Super Things line of collectible toys and receive free blind bag samples before the toys hit retail stores (Goliath)

Get crafty and decorate a Fuzzikins to take home (PlayMonster)

Test your putting skills at the Gator Golf Putting Station (Goliath)

Take a spin on the My Buddy Wheels balance bikes and new Yvolution scooters (Yvolution)

Young inventors ages six to 18 compete in the Young Inventor Challenge on Saturday, November 23

Join Sven’s Frozen Adventure for the Frozen II Scavenger Hunt (JAKKS Pacific)

A local young man brought the X-cube to life from
CHITAG a couple of years ago.
Experience the first public showcasing of the adorable new D-O being introduced in Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker (Hasbro)

Enjoy a performance of WTTW’s The Big Idea Tour’s Traveling Lab on Saturday, November 23 

Watch contestants from coast to coast compete in the Yo-Yo Championship

Adults can stop by the Beer Garden for pints of cold suds and sit down to play some of the
industry’s best games for grown-ups, including the newest from the makers of Exploding Kittens (Let’s Play Games)

Watch Princess Etch bring your favorite characters to life on her Etch-a-Sketch

Enjoy Ben’s Giant Bubble Show and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

This was a fun game we discovered 3 years ago at CHITAG
Buy The Presidential Game on Amazon
Snap a photo with your favorite Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion

Meet toy and game inventors from around the world

Take advantage of discounts on the hottest holiday toys

Special needs families can come early both days for the Sensory Power Hour 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Repost: Resources for Grieving Children

One of the books available on the list.

I posted and compiled a  list for grieiving children about a year ago, and with all the recent school shootings, I thought it worthwhile to remind people about it.


This is a list of books and resources about what to do when your kids experience death or criminality, either within the family or within your community.  There are a lot of resources, and if you find one that is out of date or no longer available, please let me know and I will amend it on the website.

Contact me!

Of course, these are books about how to deal with the aftermath of a terrible situation.

 I wish I had better answers on how to prevent these situations from occurring.

Two thoughts that might help.

1. We clearly need stricter control on access to guns (although the barn door may be swinging wide open already on this issue, it makes sense to close it so that it doesn't keep happening)  The idea of arming teachers (or mall officials, or anybody else) is ludicrous.  What's to stop them from going on a rampage?  Or shooting innocent people by mistake?  And kids without access to guns can't shoot up malls or schools or workplaces or anywhere for that matter.  For that matter, parents with guns  need to have a stronger security method than leaving them under the bed or in an unlocked gun cabinet.  (or a locked gun cabinet with the key in the lock.)

2. Parents need to do a better job of communicating and listening  Lots of young disaffected kids would benefit from better parenting.  Many of them would be more apt to come to their parents with problems, to talk to somebody, if there parents were able to model that behavior.  I'm not indicting or blaming the parents of school or mall shooters, so if you happen to be one, please understand:  THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

I'm saying that people who feel disaffected and alone feel that way because they feel unheard and not listened to, and everybody (yes, even parents such as myself who already spend a lot of time thinking about parenting and writing about it) can do a better job of listening to and understanding their kids.)  For parents who haven't already been consciously listening and communicating with their kids, this could be the start of a better relationship and could literally be saving lives.

If you've got other ideas on what might help, I'd be happy to listen to them.

Please note that I am ruthless about taking down comments  that I don't like or that I think are helpful.  As the blog owner I get to make up those rules, and I reserve the right to take down comments whenever I want.  This is not a free speech issue-- you have the right to start your own danged blog-- but I don't have to host your non-helpful opinions on mine.  I like to think I encourage polite debate.  Anything not in that vain will be excised.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Halloween-- The Blonde Bond

Here's my son as The Blonde Bond.  (Note the Martini glass, an essential element to any Bond costume)

During the evening he later decided that he was John Wick, but we know who he really was for Halloween.

"The Name is Bond.  Blonde Bond."

I think in the first photo (to the left) he looks more like a Bond villain.   All he needs is a nice little white cat....!

We had a weird moment when he was describing the costume to me and what he would wear, one of the big attractions was getting to bring his nerf gun.  He said to me "But we need to get some paint and some tape to make it black and look like a real gun."  I had to make it ABUNDANTLY clear that running around on Halloween (or anytime) with something that looks like a real gun is devoutly to be avoided.  In fact, if anything, I wanted to make his Nerf gun look MORE fake!

He and his friends had a good time, and grabbed a lot of candy even though it was pretty cold out there.  Pretty much nobody guessed who he was, but that's okay.  We have a bunch more Bond films to watch before he gets ALL the mannerisms right!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

REVIEW: A Man of Good Hope at Chicago Shakespeare

South Africa's Isango Ensemble has brought a very entertaining and very deep production to Chicago Shakespeare that tells the odyssey of a young Somali refugee who battles poverty, crime, racism, and xenophobia in his journey across Africa.  The story is told through song and dance, and the 20 member company really works as an ensemble to tell this true story, based on a book by Jonny Steinberg.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Isango Ensemble’s A Man of Good Hope, based on the book by Jonny Steinberg and adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May, in the Courtyard Theater, October 4–13, 2019. Photo by Keith Pattinson.

The show features the story of Asad Abdullahi, an 8-year-old boy whose mother is murdered in front of him.  He realizes the need to leave his native Somalia, and follows a path throughout Africa, ending in a township in South Africa where he is bullied and attacked for being Somali.  Despite his travails, he manages to keep his dignity and to persevere.

The performance of the ensemble is stunning, with a number of characters taking on multiple roles, including Asad at various ages.  The direction is simple but effective, and music and dance are throughout the show.  One of my favorite aspects of the show happened as he journeyed through each country-- the country was displayed by the music and dance of that country.  Seeing that was a vivid and immediate reminder of how different each countries culture is.

One of the most moving and enlightening things about the show from a cultural perspective is seeing how South Africans feel about Somalian refugees.  There's a scene in this play that could have been in a play about 1930's Germany.   

Poor native South Africans blame the refugees for taking their jobs, and for the ills and problems that they face, even when they are simply outworking and outhustling them.  Asad and his cousin have their shop ransacked by their customers, who bandy about the word Friend as if it were a weapon.  It was pretty chilling.

Despite the tragedy, there's also a lot of comedy in the show.  The show has an operatic feel, with many of the words being sung.  This makes sense as it is a co-production of the Young Vic and Isango and the Royal Opera.  Almost all of it is in English. 

This is a show worth seeing, and one that will give you a really interesting insight into the life of refugees-- something that is sadly very relevant to our lives today.

A Man of Good Hope is presented at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater for a limited engagement, October 4–13, 2019. Single tickets ($60–$90) are on sale now. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at www.chicagoshakes.com.

For more information, visit chicagoshakes.com/goodhope.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

REVIEW: A very entertaining Spamalot at Mercury Theatre

We saw Spamalot at the Mercury Theatre recently, and it is a very entertaining show, especially if you love Monty Python or silly humor.  Even if you don't know Monty Python, it would be very entertaining and well worth seeing.

DISCLOSURE:  We received review tickets in order to review the show.  This review has no relationship to the cost of the tickets.  I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.
All photos provided by theatre.

The show is (as the ad says) lovingly ripped off from the Monty Python movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."   That movie is a collection of absurdist sketches all themed in the world of Camelot, but Camelot is more of an excuse to do crazy comedy.  Many of the sketches from the movie have entered the classical lexicon of sketch comedy:   (I fart in your general direction, the Knights who say Nee, the airspeed velocity of a sparrow, the killer bunny rabbit, and many others)

The Trojan rabbit.  

Back in the early 2000's, former Python Eric Idle  came up with the idea to create the musical, and it premiered in Chicago before moving to Broadway. It's now back in a smaller, leaner production than the one that was on Broadway, and I think it's all the better for it.  The Mercury team has done a great job of keeping the show funny with minimal sets and props.  Director Walter Stearns keeps it going quickly from moment to moment, and musical director Eugene Dizon makes the most of his 6 piece live orchestra.
The Knights of the Round Table sing and dance.

The cast is uniformly excellent, including Jonah Winston as the ever-jaunty King Arthur, Meghan Murphy as the erotically charged Lady of the Lake, and all the other cast members do a great job.  Of particular note were Adam Fane with a number of memorable comic turns as characters and Adam Ross Brody who was a particularly fantastic cowardly Sir Robin.   (You might think that since my name is Adam, I am unfairly calling out actors named Adam.  Not true.  I calls them as I sees them.)  And all the voices were great.

At the end of the show, my wife marveled at how much talent we have in Chicago, which is definitely true.  My eleven year old son just laughed and laughed.  When musicality and comedy are both performed well, it's a joy to behold!

Ooh la la, the Lady of the Lake.

One piece of criticism from a comic point of view:

While I particularly enjoyed the Black Knight scene (a scene where Arthur and the Black Knight duel, and Arthur keeps on cutting off his extremities, to which the black knight says "It's only a flesh wound."  I felt that the mechanics of it the night I saw it were a little sloppy.  The mechanism of how he lost his legs was too obvious and not well-rehearsed enough.  It doesn't have to be perfect or an illusion, but it can't feel hurried, which is what happened the night I saw it.  I'm sure the actors will get the hang of it and do it cleaner by the end of the run.

All in all, a great night of entertaining theatre in Chicago's LakeView neighborhood!

The show was delightful from beginning to end.

SPAMALOT runs through November 3. The performance schedule for SPAMALOT is Wednesdays at 8 pm, Thursdays at 8 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Individual tickets range from $40-$70, and are available online at MercuryTheaterChicago.com,  by phone at 773.325.1700, or in person at the Mercury Theater Box office at 3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago.