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)

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Tidings of Tap- This Sunday!

It's December, which means that holiday shows are in full swing.

There are plenty of Christmas Carols, Nutcrackers, and Hallelujah Choruses in Chicago this year, but if you are looking for something different, the Chicago Tap Theatre may have your answer.

This Sunday, for one show only, they are presenting their annual holiday spectacular Tidings of Tap.

 In the past it's been a revue, but they are steppng things up a notch this year, and have written a story and a plot around the theme of winter and holidays.  As it has the past two years, the show will feature nationally ranked rhythmic gymnast Dasha Merkulov.  It also features tap dance students, high production values, and some of the best professionals in the area, including artistic director and master teacher/performer/choreographer Mark Yonally.  The show has received excellent reviews and record-breaking attendance over the last two years, and this year should expand on that.

Here's a promo video, courtesy of CTT.

Chicago Tap Theatre (CTT) was founded in 2002 with the idea of preserving the history of the quintessentially American artform of tap while taking it to the next level in terms of innovation, creativity, and quality.  They perform exclusively with live music, and have tapped from everything from David Bowie to Duke Ellington.   They also pioneered the idea of "tap opera", telling stories through tapdance and adding memorable characters and strong plots to the already virtuoso footwork.  They teach classes all year round, and also serve as a hub for local tap professionals to practice and perfect their craft.

There is just one show, Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL.

Tickets range from $25 – $41 and are available at 847.673.6300 or

Monday, November 19, 2018

REVIEW: Jord Watches: A Time For Fashion

I am not much of a fashionista, unless we are
talking about 15nth century garb, where I am
quite the dandy! (Sadly, wristwatches were during this
time period anachronistic)
As readers of this blog and people who know me personally (hello wife!) will testify, I am not much on fashion. I wear simple clothes bought at Target or Old Navy, I own one suit (well, I own a tuxedo also, and a couple of thrift store jackets that don't fit very well, but one good suit, which I wear three times a year at the functions that require them.) In general, I prefer function over form. I have a bunch of the same shirts in the same color, as well as the same pants. I mix and match socks.

The same is true for watches. For years I was a loyal Casio G-Force wearer. I would wear it until the battery wore out or the band got too smelly. Then I would go out to K-mart and buy another one. (I wasn't a Target guy then-- I've moved up in the world!) About 5 years ago, I became a Basis Peak wearer (a fitness watch that was one of the top competitors to the Apple watch until they went out of business.) When that happened, I moved to the Apple Watch, and that has been my everyday watch for the last 3 years. And I'm pretty happy with it.

However, there are times when even I recognize that you need to go beyond the quotidian and transcend your ordinary. I recently had two occasions to dress up (a memorial service and a bar mitzvah) I decided to switch it up a little and wore a new watch that had recently been sent to me for review by a Saint Louis company called JORD (Pronounced "YORD")

(PLEASE NOTE: The Jord watch was provided to me at no cost with the hopes that I would write about it. My opinions here remain my own and have no bearing on the cost of the watch. I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.) 

The watch comes in a beautiful wooden box, and that alone made it feel very deluxe.
They have a wide variety of Men's Watches

The watch on my hand on the table.
The watches that Jord sells are beautiful. They are made of wood and metal and other natural materials. They have many different varieties- I chose a darker look (The Hyde, made with walnut, and it has an enigmatic black watch face.) It takes me a couple of seconds when I look at it to figure out the time (hey, I've been a digital watch user for a LONG time) but it's not much of a problem. I still remember how to tell time!

Here's a link to my specific watch.

It did take a few minutes to remember how to wind a watch. Fortunately, they include instructions. This is a mechanical watch, so it needs to be wound about 15-20 times before wearing. Once it's wound, normal wrist movement should keep it wound, as long as you wear it for 8 hours a day.

When you order the watch, you have to send them a millimeter sizing of your wrist. On their website they have an easy paper ruler that you can print out, cut out, and measure your watch. It's very accurate (I upped it half a size, and my watch is a little loose on me. Which is better than the alternative.)  If you have a problem, here's a blog post by The Laura Lindsay   that has a handy tutorial on how to resize your watch.
This sizing pdf is available on the Jord website:

My Jord and I, in my typical mufti
I like the way my watch looks, and a little surprisingly I like the way the watch makes me feel. It made me feel more dressed up and a little fancier. Two people at the Bar Mitzvah commented on the watch, saying how nice they thought it looked. But I have to say, I carried myself a little differently, wearing the fancy watch. And I think some of the people noticed that, even if they didn't notice the watch...

I don't think I'm ready to give up my Apple Watch for everyday use, but the Jord watch makes a great accessory for when I need to look and feel fancier. 

(And it turns out that they also have an Apple Watch band! It was out of stock so I couldn't check it out, but it looks great! Definitely thinking about it!) 

You can't tell that I am wearing my fancy Jord watch, but I can!
Jord watches run from around $150-$500, depending on style, model, and size. Some of the watches also have a very limited run, which could add on to the price.  They all have a one year warranty, and they offer free shipping. Oh yes, and engraving!

To check out the huge variety of wooden watches available, visit

If you like the watch, you can enter a contest to receive a $100 gift code towards the purchase of a watch. Enter here:

Even if you don't win, every entrant will receive a 10% off coupon for a watch, so it's definitely worth doing if you are interested.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Adventures of Robin Hood at Adventure Stage October 19-Nov 24

A cast of three will perform over 20 characters in the new production of The Adventures of Robin Hood, directed by clown (and friend) Adrian Danzig.

The show will play at Adventure Stage Chicago at the Vittum Theater (1012 N. Noble Street, Chicago) through November 24, 2018.

 Tickets are on sale now and range from $12 to $17.

To purchase tickets or for more information, visit or call 773-342-4141.

In The Adventures of Robin Hood, a corrupt sheriff plagues the commoners of Nottingham. His skyrocketing taxes are preventing the needy from being able to feed themselves! Who will stand up to the injustices and bring hope back to the people? Follow Robin Hood and his Merry Men as they take you on a journey of action, danger, and of course, archery. This medieval legend with a modern twist places a cast of three at the center of the story. The production incorporates clowning, physical comedy, shadow puppetry and audience interaction.

With the help of the theatre, we are giving away a family 4pack to the show.

If you'd like to win tickets, enter this Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a Sweet Confection

Roald Dahl's classic tale of gluttony, invention, and Oompa Loompas has been turned into a Broadway musical, and I don't think that I am stretching it by saying that it is a sweet and airy confection that is delicious to consume and will leave no deleterious effects on your waistline.

The story itself has become a classic.  A 2004 study found that it was a common read-aloud book for fourth-graders in schools in San Diego County, California. A 2012 survey by the University of Worcester determined that it was one of the most common books that UK adults had read as children, after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Wind in The Willows.  (This was on Wikipedia, so I really hope it's true.

Of course, it started as a book (and it's actually two books! 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. (1972)  In 1971 it  was turned into a movie Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, featuring the inimitable Gene Wilder, and then the movie was remade again in 2005, featuring Johnny Depp.  An operatic version (The Golden Ticket) was created in 2010 and in 2013 the Broadway musical premiered on the West End in London.  It's also been made into a video game, a children's play, and lots of other adaptations.

SOME OF THE PREVIOUS SOURCE MATERIALS.  Click the picture to view the original books and movies on Amazon.


We saw the touring production in Chicago (now on through October 21) and it is delightful.  It's changed quite a bit from the Gene Wilder movie and the books (the idea of spies trying to hold onto Wonka's secrets has been toned down significantly)  Instead the musical plays up the wonder inside of the Chocolate Factory, and how Charlie is the right kid to become the successor to the Wonka throne.

When I think of the original movie, I don't think of it much as a musical-- but it certainly is.  There are a number of great songs, including  "The CandyMan", "Golden Ticket", and "Pure Imagination" These are all brought back for the musical version, along with some original song to fill it out as a musical.  The other songs from the original movie that are memorable are all of the Oompa Loompa songs.  They didn't make the cut in the Broadway musical (although there is a nod to them)  There are Oompa Loompa songs, and they do make commentary on the spoiled children's foibles, but the songs are very different.  The remaining songs are peppy and deftly written by the composer responsible for Hairspray.

The Oompa Loompas are also handled very differently than the movies--they are a very inventive amalgamation of puppet techniques that work beautifully.  I don't want to give too much away, but they are surprising and delightful.  They were created by Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Basil Twist.

Enter the world of imagination with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo provided by production, by Joan Marcus.
Henry Boshart as Charlie.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
The main characters are all portrayed very well.  My 10 year old son saw the musical and said "The characters are overdone, but not TOO overdone.  Just perfect!"  I think he hit it just on the head.  the world of the play is fantastical, and not realistic, but it's realistic enough for us to recognize as our world. Cartoonish, but not cartoons.  A lot of that has to do with the acting, but also the costuming, and the directing, and the set design as well.  All of it works towards a great effect.

Noah Weisberg plays Wonka in the touring production, (The Broadway cast album has Christian Borle) and Weisberg is fine in the role. It's tough to fill the shoes of either Wilder or Borle, and Weisberg is peppy, snappy, and a good dancer. 

There are three actors playing Charlie (which makes sense, as it is quite a demanding role)  I joked to my wife that in some ways, Charlie could become the boy's equivalent to the role of Annie. The boy we saw Henry Boshart, was really great.  Really, there were no poor actors in this show.  The quality of these touring productions are quite high.

In short, this is a lovely show to bring your family to and revisit this classic story.

The contract that the winners must sign.  You get a good sense of the world they are in from this photo by Joan Marcus.


The show will run through October 21 at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street.

Tuesdays at 7:30PM
Wednesdays at 2:00PM 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 performances on Oct. 14 & Oct. 21)

Individual tickets for Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY start at $27 with a select number of premium tickets available.  If you have a group of 10 or more, there are group rates as well.  For more information, visit

You can also look at for more videos and where the tour is going next.

Noah Weisberg as Willie Wonka. Photo by Joan Marcus

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: Caroline or Change

We saw Caroline or Change last week at the Den Theatre and it is fantastic.

 It runs through October 28 at the Den Theatre in Wicker Park. 

The show, is a collaboration between two companies: Firebrand Theatre company, which is a musical theatre company committed to empowering and employing women theatre artists on and off the stage.Their partners in this project, Timeline Theatre has as its mission to present stories inspired by history that connect with today's social and political issues.  The show is itself sponsored by Michael and Mona Heath of the HeathFund who are sponsoring the entire Firebrand season.  (Now that's philanthropy!)
 Rashada Dawan (Caroline) (front) with Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone(Radio singers) in
Firebrand Theatre and TimeLine Theatre Company's production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE directed by Lili-Anne Brown. Photo by Marisa KM.

For both their purposes, this play could not be better.  Set in Lake Charles, Lousiana at the end of 1963, the show tells the story of Caroline Thibodeaux, a black woman, mother of four, and the maid to a wealthy Jewish family.  They are in fact so wealthy that their house is one of the few in the area that actually has a basement.

(As is explained in the lobby timeline, much of Port Charles is below sea level, so having a basement is mostly not practical.) 

The play deals with racism, classism, the upcoming civil rights movement, and lots more.  It's also a play about parenting and growing up.  The show was written by Tony Kushner, author of Angels In America, and has an autobiographical bent  It's also a musical-- well, musical is the wrong word-- it's more like a gospel opera, with lots of songs throughout, but also many sung lines that aren't really songs, but fit into the world that the theatre artists have created.  The music was written by Jeanine Tesori, who also wrote the music for Fun Home.

Rashada Dawan (Caroline) and Alejandro Medina (Noah) in Firebrand Theatre and
TimeLine Theatre Company's production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE,
directed by Lili-Anne Brown. Photo by Marisa KM.
The show centers on the relationship between Caroline and the family she serves. There are some absurdist elements in the show (the father is never seen without his clarinet, there are three characters who play various characters from the radio, there are a few dreams that come to life, and even the Washing Machine and Dryer are humorously voiced.  (and played with reckless abandon.) 

 Rashada Dawan (Caroline) and Blair Robertson(Rose) in Firebrand Theatre
and TimeLine Theatre Company's production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE,
directed by Lili-Anne Brown. Photo by Marisa KM.
Every actor in the show is terrific, but special kudos have to go the lead. played by Rashada Dawan.  From the moment she enters the stage, she inhabits the role, foot tired, bone tired, doing laundry and menial tasks in the very hot basement in the middle of the deep South.  Her voice is stellar, her acting is phenomenal, and her ability to display the love and hate that she has for her employers are palpable.

I'd like to shout out everyone in the cast, but I have to especially mention Alejandro Medina, who is 12 or 13 years old and handles himself like the professional actor he will one day be.  He's a great singer and dancer, but his ability to project his character and stay in the scene with the other actors was really wonderful.  I also thought that Micheal Lovette, who plays the Bus/Dryer was funny, moving, and has a tremendous voice.  And Blair Robertson who plays the mother Rose does a great job as well.  She's not Noah's mom, she's a step-mom, and she plays that awkwardness perfectly.

I also want to shout out the live band, who plays gospel, klezmer, show tunes, and just about everything else perfectly.  They are out of sight, underneath the stage, but you know they are working it.  They sound fantastic.

There's a moment in the play where Caroline has to make a decision.  Her employer, Rose Gellman (played by Blair Robertson)  is trying to teach her son Noah (Alejandro Medina) a lesson about responsibility (and assuage a little white liberal guilt.)  She tells Noah that if he leaves change in his pockets, then Caroline gets to keep it. Caroline generally ignores this change, but one day she finds a much more substantial amount in his pocket.  Can she keep that? What will that money mean for her family?  And for her relationship with the Gellmans?  This moral dilemma is at the heart of the play, and
Micheal Lovette as the Dryer and Rashada Dawan as Caroline in Firebrand Theatre and TimeLine Theatre Company's production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, directed by Lili-Anne Brown. Photo by Marisa KM.

The show also has a large Jewish element.  At Channukah, Rose's dad comes up from New York.  He's a civil rights activist, and is predicting and fomenting for revolution and change. Caroline's daughter (helping to serve that night) is taken to task for engaging with him and talking about Dr. King.
The Gellman family at Chanukkah with the grandparents. Blair RobertsonJonathan SchwartRosalind HurwitzKevin M. GrubbMichael Kingston and Alejandro Medina in Firebrand Theatre and TimeLine Theatre Company's production of CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, directed by Lili-Anne Brown. Photo by Marisa KM.

In short, this play is well worth seeing and you should definitely see it before it goes away.  It will entertain you, make you think, and will give you new awe for the power of voice and words to move emotions.

WHEN:  The show runs Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm  through October 28
WHERE: The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee in the Wicker Park neighborhood. 
COST: Tickets are $45 each, with student and industry rush tickets available day of at the box office (if available)   Tickets can be purchased (and more information can be had) on