Thursday, January 17, 2019

REVIEW: Noises Off at Windy City PlayHouse

Having just seen The Play That Goes Wrong, I was very excited to bring my 10 year old son to see what one could easily call its theatrical ancestor.  That show is Noises Off, which is playing at the Windy City Playhouse now through March 31.

Unfortunately, my son couldn't make it (darn you, procrastinated projects) but I got some friends together and we were able to attend the opening night.  The show was very funny and well worth seeing.

Noises Off , written by English playwright Michael Frayn, is a farce in 3 acts.  It's got a great premise and an even greater gimmick.  The premise is that a British troupe is putting on a farce called Nothing On.  We see the show three times- the first time at a very tense dress rehearsal the day before opening night:  at a show about 30 days into their run; and the very last set of performances at a theatre in the mythical town of Weston-SuperMare. We see the production and the relationships between the actors break down completely, and we see everything go wrong.

Backstage at the theatre things can get a little tense.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.
The gimmick is that the second show is seen from an entirely different perspective- backstage.  Typically, productions build a rotating set, and turn it around during the intermission. At Windy City, the entire audience picks up and moves to the back of the theatre for the second act, which is literally backstage.  This works really well, and you get a strong feeling of being where the action is.  The action moves back to the front of the theatre for the last act, which shows the play having come completely off the rail.

The production was great.  In a farce, the play and the stakes have to continue to wind up and ramp up.  If they don't, the play loses pressure, and instead of hilarious, it becomes silly.  (Or as Lloyd, the director says in the first act, this play is about doors and sardines, doors and sardines.) There's also lots of pants dropping.

What's a farce without somebody losing their pants?  Photo by Michael Brosilow

The director of the show Scott Weinstein manages to keep the pressure strong, the timing crisp, and the sardines a' plenty, and that brings lots of laughs.

 I thought all of the actors were great, but I wanted to make special mention of a few actors: Will Casey as the end stage actor Selsdon (think a poor man's Peter O'Tool from My Favorite Year) has a dim-witted charm that delights, and Rochelle Therrien as Brooke manages to "act" so poorly that it is hilarious without being bad, which is really threading the needle. 

Also notable were Amy Rubinstein as Belinda, the mother-hen actress who tries to solve everyone else's problems. Rubinstein is the founder and artistic director of Windy City, but she ably wears her acting hat here. Alexander Quinones as Tim did a fine job of being the put upon technical director/understudy (weirdly, in the video below, they have a different actor playing Tim.  Not sure if he dropped out or what, but Quinones does a fine job. 

Truthfully, there are no bad actors here-- everyone plays their part exceedingly well. And, considering that it was a British play done with British accents by an American cast-- there were no klunkers, accent wise.  Great job, dialect coach Kathy Logelin.

Here's a teaser video that is available also on the theatre's website:

My favorite act was the second act, backstage, where you see the shenanigans that go on.  In this production there's some very physical and delightful business that moves at a breakneck speed-- which is just the right speed for a farce such as this.  There's a bit where an actor has to jump up the stairs with his shoes tied, avoiding an actor coming down, and an errant whiskey bottle that seems to be all over the place.  They get everything right!

If you like to laugh, Noises Off would be a great date night choice for you!  There's also a bit of a fancy bar in the lobby, and drinks are allowed into the theatre-- drinks range from $6 on up (some of the cocktails are $12 or $14) so bring your credit card.   The theatre has thoughtfully supplied drink rails which are a big help.

 The show runs from January 9 – March 31, at the Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W Irving Park Rd.
Tickets range from $45-85 and can be purchased online at

Monday, January 14, 2019

One Book One Chicago

I wrote a guest blog post for  the Chicago Dads Group about the amazing plethora of presentations that the Chicago Public Library Foundation has scheduled this year in support of the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The project, called One Book, One Chicago, asks an essential question:  What if all of Chicago read the same book at the same time?  They have chosen the book, and the book and its themes are being discussed and thought about by over  84 different presentations between now and April, including book discussions, art making sessions, lectures, walking tours, game nights, and a whole lot more.

To find out more, and to find out about some of the presentations that I think are going to rock, read the article over at the Chicago Dad's Group blog.  (And if you are a dad, and don't know about the group, get with it!  It's a great group of guys who take their occupation of being a parent seriously, and it's part of a national movement of dad's bonding together that I am proud to be a part of.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson Musical)

There is a new musical in town, kicking off its North American tour.  It's based on the best-selling book series by author Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson and The Olympians. (which sort of sounds like a rock band, and this is a rock musical) The musical has some very exciting bits, and has some moments that are well done, and is worth seeing (with a couple of caveats)  Read on to find out more.

I had read all five of the books a few years ago, and enjoyed them a lot.  There were two movie adaptations made, but they did not get good reviews, and I never got around to seeing them.  I entered the musical hopeful that they would pay fealty to the great story and character arcs that Riordan had developed. And they did!

Although you don't need to know very much about the story to see the musical, it does help.  The story features a teenager who is not sure what's going on because weird things always happen to him, His dad is MIA, and kind of mysterious, and he suddenly gets thrust into a large situation when he realizes that the Greek gods are real, and that he is the half-son of one of them, and that he's been accused of stealing Zeus's lightning bolt.  He goes to a camp on Long Island Sound, discovers he has powers, and meets other kids in the same situation (half-bloods) ,and he and his friends go on a series of adventures as they drive across the country to find Hades (who naturally lives in Los Angeles), manage to defeat the odds and survive against all kinds of adversity.

Here's a television spot they created for the show.

The Minotaur on stage.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The story is followed pretty faithfully in the musical, which was produced in part by TheatreWorks USA, which has a long and storied reputation for adapting kids stories into high quality touring productions.  This one is no different.  The cast of six do pretty amazing work as they tell the story, creating monsters, (A Minotaur, a Furie, and Medusa all feature prominently), and of course the Gods.   The puppetry and stagecraft are very well realized, and the characterizations are right on.  (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: I nearly fell out of my seat when Hades appears, the actor doing a pitch-perfect imitation of actor Paul Lynde.  Perfect Voice Casting!)

I really liked the energy of the production-- the actors all do physical characterizations, and except for Percy, play multiple characters.  They all have good voices and use them well.  They are young and energetic, and the pace of the show is brisk.  There is a fair amount of humor in the show, and I think that it tells the story very well.  (My son hadn't read the books, and could tell what was going on all through)

The play ends with the clear possibility of a PART TWO-- just like the book.  I am wondering if they are considering giving the second book the same treatment?

Percy and his friends try to escape the Gods. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

I did mention I had two caveats above:    I wasn't clear exactly why they made this as a musical I think an adventure show with music would have served the story and the production better, with one or two songs perhaps.  The music was all serviceable, but a little pro forma (following the structure  of the musical). I couldn't identify a single song afterward-- they were all songs that moved the plot forward, but not one was a song that felt like an emotional breakthrough that wasn't connected to the plot, and it's hard to imagine any of the songs outside of the musical itself.

Here's a video of one of the songs (and the process of making it), I like it a little better now that I've heard it three times, but during the show I didn't really groove onto it.  Your mileage may definitely vary on this-- maybe it will resonate with you and your kid.

There's lots of exciting fight scenes in the show.   Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The other thing about this show is the quality of the set design/costumes.  While they got the job done, and were in someways inventive, they felt a little low rent.  They seemed out of place in the lush environs of the Oriental Theatre.  I don't think I'd have felt this way if the show had come to a more modern theatre like the Harris Theatre.  But as part of the Broadway series, it was harder to overlook.

Still, the Percy Jackson musical is an exciting and well-told story, mostly inventively staged and with some great comic bits.  Well worth seeing if you are a fan of Percy or a fan of young adult musicals.

Some toilet paper some blue lighting, and some handheld blowers make the stage erupt in an inventive manner.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The show plays in Chicago through Sunday, January 13, and then moves on for a full North American tour, with stops in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Worcester, Toronto, New York, Sacramento, Detroit, Cheyenne, Ft. Lauderdale, and tons of other places.  For the full schedule visit

In Chicago, individual tickets are currently on sale and range in price from $25-$80 with a select number of premium seats available.  For more information, visit

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Review: Fiddler On The Roof

We saw the touring production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (now through January 6, 2019) and it is really great.

When seeing a classic show like this, the quality of the story and the songs are already a known item.  It's the execution of it that makes all the difference, and in this case, the music is strong, the actors are great, and the choreography is outstanding.  The video below says it's fresh and exciting, and this is truth in advertising.  It's well worth seeing.

The opening of the show was particularly exciting for me.

Yehezkel Lazarov as Tevye
photo by Joan Marcus
Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov plays Tevye, and he appears on the stage wearing what appears to be a hoodie.  He starts by reading a few lines from a book, and as he reads I'm wondering what's going on.  This isn't part of the play.  He's reading what appears to be  the first few lines of the book on which Fiddler is based Tevye the Dairyman by Sholom Aleichem  (well worth reading if you haven't).

As he finishes reading, the song Tradition starts up, and he pulls down his hoodie and it turns into a prayer shawl.  And we are onto the musical!  But the stage is completely blank, and the characters (the mommas, the poppas, the sons, the daughters, etc.) all appear from behind these door panels that are quickly carried on and off via choreography. The dancing is all very physical and kind of quirky, and there's almost no set, and I am entranced!  It's a completely non-traditional way to do this song, which is ironic because the song is Tradition.  The empty stage and the panels appearing remind of Peter Brook, and the dancing is like Merce Cunningham, and I am super excited.  I wonder if the whole production is going to be like this.  And how daring that would be!

The song ends, there's rousing applause, and then the sets fly in, and to my slight disappointment they are pretty traditional-- a house and a tree.  And they look like a house and a tree.  I am not disappointed for long, as the production values are high, and the production itself is great.  The dancing throughout is exceptional, and all of the cast members do a fantastic job of making the play memorable.

A traditional bottle dance as part of the Wedding.  Photo by Joan Marcus.
Photo via Instagram
The show is full of classic comedy moments and great songs.  I particularly loved all of Tevye's asides to God, or asides to the audience. SPOILER ALERT (but really, you don't know the story?  It's been since 1964!)   In the first act, Tevye convinces his wife that he dreamed a bad omen, and his daughter can't marry the butcher.  The dream is fantastic, with weird stilt people dancing around, and with lights, sound and dance they create a very realistic nightmare. His wife is convinced.  Later, his second daughter wants to marry a poor student, and Tevye finally agrees, saying that he will convince his wife Goldie somehow.  He then turns to the audience and says, "Another dream?"  It got a huge response.

In this rendition of If I Were A Rich Man,  you can see how well they get the feeling of a daydream which really got the daydream feeling "What would I do if I won the lottery!"  (video via Instagram)
There's also a lot of sadness in the show.  The Jewish community is eventually forced out of the little town of Anatevka, and the family gets ready to move to America.  I realized that this might have very well been my ancestor's story.  My great great grandparents came to America in the 1870's fleeing the Russian pogroms.  It touched me in a way that I hadn't realized, despite the fact that I have seen different productions of the show three or four times.

 The music and acting are great, the dancing is phenomenal,  and the story is a classic.  You should definitely not miss this production!

Here's another montage of the show through the FiddlerBroadway Instagram. (Which by the way, has a lot of great behind the scenes content.)

The show runs at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph) through January 6, 2019.


Tuesdays at 7:30PM (no performance on Dec. 25)
Wednesdays at 2:00PM & 7:30PM (no matinee performance on Dec. 19)
Thursdays at 7:30PM
Fridays at 7:30PM
Saturdays at 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sundays at 2:00PM and 7:30PM (no evening performance on Jan. 6)


Tickets are currently on-sale to the public and range in price from $25-$98.  Discounts for the show ($39-$79) are available on Goldstar. (affiliate link)

For more information, visit or

Monday, December 17, 2018

Some Podcast Recommendations For Your Consideration

I've been listening to more podcasts over the last few months, and I wanted to recommend a few to friends who are hoping to listen to some interesting things.  As always, your mileage may vary, and if you don't like these choices, feel free to stop listening and listen to something else.

What I like about podcasts is that they can very quickly (and without much attention) bring me into a world that I know nothing about, and it's easy enough to shut it out or ignore it if I need to.

I haven't included any dad/parenting podcasts, as I want to compile a few more into their own post.


Buy the Risk Book on Amazon
Risk Show is one of my must listens every week now.  Hosted by Kevin Allison, this podcast has been around for 10 years, but I am brand new to it.  It's both a live show and a podcast, where people tell true stories they never thought they'd dare to share.  As Kevin warns in the opening, the podcast can be very uncensored, and has its fair share of crazy sex stories (especially when it combines with the Bawdy Storytelling podcast, another live storytelling show turned podcast that I listen to with regularity.)   Both of these are NSFW, so don't listen to this with kids around.  The focus isn't only on sex though, and I've heard some amazing and poignant and hilarious stories about love, childhood, and just about everything else.

 They produce two episodes a week, a new show, and a classic Risk Singles, pulled from their archive of the last 10 years. They also have a book (available on Amazon) that collect some of their best stories and stories by celebrity guests).

 I am trying to figure out what story from my past I would be willing to share for the RISK show and would still be risky enough to be included.  For me that intersection is surprisingly small. But I want to be the kind of person/artist that is willing to take that kind of risk.  So I'm thinking about it!

By the way, the rest of these podcasts are Safe For Work, mostly.  (assuming you are allowed to listen to podcasts at work.)

An Arm and a Leg Podcast 
Health care has been a nightmare of mine for a long time-- each year it goes up unpredictably, and I have a number of weird spreadsheets that try to figure it out.  In the last four years I've been with three different healthcare companies and two of them have gone bankrupt.  And in three of the four years, my analysis showed that it made more sense for my wife and I to be on separate plans.  (for the first time in a long time, we are going to be on the same plan this year).

Enter our friend Dan Weissman, who is a radio journalist who has worked for Marketplace and WBEZ, among many others.  He's created a new podcast to talk about the realities of the costs of healthcare, and it's fun, funny, sobering and terrifying all at once.  Some of the stories he tells are amazing (Renaissance faire workers who have banded together to help solve the problems of being an itinerant performer without regular health care, or the amazingly high costs of ordering medical supplies through insurance instead of buying them on the open marketplace.)  It's definitely worth a listen if you are affected by health care high prices, and that means anyone with a pulse.  (FULL DISCLOSURE:  I helped Dan think about some of the crowdfunding issues with his new venture. I have no financial interest in the podcast, other than if it goes well I won't have to buy the coffee when we go for coffee.)

Cool Tools 
I was an avid reader of CoEvolution Quarterly/Whole Earth Review, I contributed a couple of reviews to the Whole Earth Catalog, and am still involved with the online service that was spawned from that movement The WELL, so it should be of little surprise to anyone that I would be a fan of Kevin Kelly's, who was also involved in all of those things (and far more than I) Kevin also was one of the founding editors of Wired Magazine.

The ethos of Whole Earth Review was "Access to Tools" and Kevin and Mark Frauenfelder (he of BoingBoing and the Maker movement) host a weekly roundup of tool recommendations from well known makers and artists and other interesting people.  The podcast is pretty formulaic, but I am almost always interested in one or more of the tools that people present.  Sometimes the tools aren't tools at all, but books, or apps, or ideas.  Each podcast is 30 minutes long, and I listen to it at 1.5 times the normal speed, which works out about right for getting all of the information and banter.

Wow In the World
 is a great podcast designed for kids.

It stars Mindy Thomas, host of the venerable Sirius XM kids station Kids Place Live, and Guy Raz, an NPR radio everyman who hosts a number of podcasts, including the really great How I Built This (another good one to listen to) and the TED  Radio Hour, a compilation of great TED Talks.  Guy used to have a regular spot on Mindy's show on Kids Place Live, and they've extended it into a podcast that talks about science and cool stuff.
  What I love about this show is that Guy Raz, who typically fulfills the role of a journalist or question asker, ends up acting,   playing an uber-nerdish sendup of himself, and Mindy does her shtick as the kind of crazy lady next door.

They are a great team together, and they've got good comedy chemistry.  And at the end, kids call in to tell Guy and Mindy what their "Wow In The World is" When I listen to this with my son, we end up learning a couple of things as well as being very entertained.

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
This is one of the first podcasts I ever listened to, and I still listen to it, but not as religiously (pun intended) as I should.

In this podcast, two former Harvard Divinity School graduates read a chapter of Harry Potter and think about it as though it were the bible.  Basically, they are coming up with sermons and sermon thoughts based on Harry Potter- what in this chapter is a life-lesson?  They use various textual analysis tools from the world of religious thinking, as well as a number of other ideas to create great Harry Potter-esque sermons It's a great idea, and they execute it really well.

 I saw them record one of these live in Chicago, and it was fascinating to see and meet them for the first time.  The two hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile have a magical chemistry together, and do a great job of letting us into their private lives in an interesting way.  They are currently on book 5, and if you are interested in Harry Potter (and even if you aren't) it's well worth a listen. (and you can start at the beginning.)  There are also book clubs dedicated to the podcast.

If you've got some podcasts I should be listening to, please let me know in the comments!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Navy Pier's Winter Wonderfest 2018

It's been a family tradition since even before we moved to Chicago to come to Winter Wonderfest. Navy Pier's indoor carnival/celebration of winter.

 This is the 18nth one, and we've been to probably 8. (And our son is 10) Considering we've only lived in Chicago 4 years, that's pretty good!

PLEASE NOTE:  I received free admission to this event in hopes that I would write about it.  My opinion of the event has nothing to do with the freeness of the tickets.  
I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.

Click to make schedule larger
This year's event runs through January 6, and features a lot of what we've come to expect from the event. Throughout the giant convention space of Navy Pier (they say 170,000 square feet, and I believe it) there are indoor rides (including holiday themed classics like a Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, a superman flying and a kiddie train), winter themed slides galore, a bouncy house inside an inflatable snowman,elaborately decorated christmas trees and holiday bushes, a rock-climbing area, and a full sized ice skating rink.  It's beautiful on the inside.
We went with a family of 9, cousins and grandparents included.  My son loves the ice skating rink and we even bring our own skates!  (There are skates for rent if you don't want to bring your own)

Here's a video pastiche of some of my photos from the event:

There's also a Santa station, as well as a Wonderfest village that occasionally houses some improv performers that interact with kids and adults.   There are also places to get your picture taken for an additional cost, including a giant rocking horse and a giant chair.

There are also some snack areas, and places to buy a quick bite, or some cotton candy, or candied nuts,  And what would be a wonderfest without a cookie decorating station?

 In the past there had been a full lineup of musical and variety performances, but that seems to have gone away over the last few years. (I do note in the press release they sent me that there are some brief aerial performances  by a group I've never heard of: Aerial Ataraxia , scheduled on Tuesdays and Sundays, but we went on a Friday night, and they weren't there) UPDATE:  I asked around, and Aerial Ataraxia are Chicago based aerialists  Dayleen Marrero-Taylor, Julie Marshall, & Zoë Sheppard.  (Pictured below)  They don't have a website as far as I can tell.

Aerial artists Dayleen Marrero-Taylor, Julie Marshall, & Zoë Sheppard perform at Winterfest.  Photo by  James Richard IV.. 

We have a good time every year we go, and it's a fun event.  However-- you do need to know that the security details have changed this year and that the prices have changed

In terms of security, because of construction at Navy Pier, you can no longer walk from the parking all the way upstairs into the center.  This year, you have to take a long walk (probably 10-15 minutes from the front of the building) through the parking lots of Navy Pier.  You go outside several times, so don't leave your coat in the car.  (I did, and was pretty frozen by the end of the long walk.)  You then go through a pretty extensive security checkpoint, including a bag check and a wand check before you can get inside.  There has been a security check for the last few years, but I would say this is the most thorough one I've been through at Navy Pier.

Prices and the pricing structure have changed over the last few years.  A couple of years ago it was free to enter, but if you wanted to ride on anything you had to pay (or buy a bracelet for all you can ride)  That was great for adults, as you only had to pay for kids.  Apparently that was not satisfactory, so for the last couple of years everyone has to pay.

This year, prices for adults range from $20-$28 depending on the day, and Seniors and Juniors (those under 42" tall) are $12.00 each. Children under 36" are free with a paid adult. Military discount is available to US active duty service members. Present ID at box office.

BUY TICKETS ONLINE.  There is also a groupon available, that lowers those prices slightly.

Please note that the prices above are online prices.  If you just buy them at the box office they are even more expensive.  While I was there, I saw several people walk up, thinking they would just wander around for a few hours, and then turn away when they heard the price.  I'd like to see them have a "Guardian" band at around $10, that allows people to enter, but not go on rides.

 I should also note that every ticket is good for one admission/ride on the Centennial wheel as well.  That offer is good through March 2019.

Parking has also gone up a little bit.  Total cost is $30 to park at Navy Pier. (It used to be in the 20's)

All in all, it's not cheap to go to Winter Wonderfest, but it is totally a lot of fun, and it's a great thing to do to build memories with your family!

Friday, December 7, 2018

REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong (Broadway Tour)

We saw the touring show The Play That Goes Wrong, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I laughed as hard as I have ever laughed at a show.  The show is an object lesson on how to milk a gag for its maximum effect.

It's playing in Chicago through December 16, and if you like to laugh, I would highly recommend the show.

We'd actually already seen the show in London, but it was funny then, and we were interested in seeing it again and seeing how it translates to the tour.  In short, it does.  The theatre was much larger than the jewel box theatre we saw it in in London, and the set seemed a little smaller (no doubt just an illusion)
The Marquis at the Oriental Theatre (20 W. Randolph) where
The Play That Goes Wrong will be presented through December 16.

The premise of the show is that the Cornley University Drama Society is presenting a 1920's potboiler of a play, The Murder at Haversham Manor.  In doing so, everything that can go wrong does in fact go wrong.  Doors malfunction, people forget their lines, cues are missed, the set falls apart, actors misbehave, and even the director has a meltdown.

Just some of the crazy shenanigans that go on in this supremely well-done farce.  Photo provided by theatre.

Photo provided by theatre.
The show starts with an extended pre-show, so get there early to get into the swing of things, and you might even help the stage manager look for some missing personal items.  All of the actors are quite good. My son's personal favorite was Trevor, the stage manager (played by Brandon Ellis).  When we saw it in London, he was a surly working class guy with a thick British accent who could be quite rude at times.  Here, he's a a surly working class guy with a thick Southern accent who can be quite rude at times.  I think the British guy was ruder, but the belligerence from Trevor made up for it.

Most of the other actors had British accents of one kind or another.  All of the actors were great.  I especially liked Ned Noyes, who plays Cecil Haversham.  He plays the role with a kind of physical theatre bounciness, and gets caught up in the audience's applause to give them more of what they want.  I also liked Evan Alexander Smith, who is very tall and thin, playing Inspector Carter (and the director of the piece)  He is so tall, that he is nearly taller than the second story study that is part of the set.  And Scott Cote as the butler Perkins, with a sad penchant for mispronunciation (cyanide is pronounced  Sigh-A-Nide, not Cin-a-Node-Ee).  I especially loved the way he looked at his hand just before he misspoke.  He'd written himself notes on his hand on howto pronounce it, and he still got it wrong!

Photo provided by theatre.

Perhaps the hardest working actor in the show isn't alive at all.  It's the set, which is beautifully designed to fall apart on cue and on command.   The set is supremely clever, and it's enormously technical, and I assume that there are occasions in which the set falls apart the wrong way, as it literally has many moving parts.  Which leads me to an existential question:  What happens when the Play That Goes Wrong Goes Right?  I am sure it is still hilarious.

Here's the promo video made for the show, and the bumper at the end contains some scenes from the show.

For more information, visit or follow @BwayGoesWrong on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram:

PERFORMANCE DATES  (Through December 16)
Tuesdays at 7:30PM
Wednesdays at 2PM and 7:30PM
Thursdays at 7:30PM
Fridays at 7:30PM
Saturdays at 2:00PM and 8:00PM
 Sundays at 2:00PM and 7:30PM (no evening performance on Sunday, December 16)

 Individual tickets range in price from $25-$98 with a select number of premium tickets available. . For more information, visit