Saturday, July 30, 2011

Broadway In Chicago: Pinkalicious is Pink-eriffic!

Broadway in Chicago:

Pinkalicious is Pink-errific!

Photos courtesy Broadway In Chicago and Emerald City Theatre

CHICAGO—Pinkalicious is a musical theatre summer treat designed for the little ones, but it’s also fun for the whole family. Emerald City Theatres 2010 hit is now at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, playing Thursdays through Sundays now through September

Although intended for the small fry, this reviewer found himself humming and clapping along with the peanut gallery. It’s just that entertaining!

“We are pleased to add theatre for young audiences programming to the Broadway Playhouse, making theatre more accessible to all ages,” said Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin. Emerald City brought the play to the Broadway Playhouse after a sold out run last year at their Chicago home, The Apollo Theatre in Lincoln Park. Bringing the show to the Magnificent Mile makes it accessible to a much wider audience, including both local and tourists visiting the downtown area.

Pinkalicious is a Midwest premiere directed and choreographed by Ernie Nolan, Producing Artistic Director of Emerald City Theatre, who is also the Scenic Designer. Book is by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann, co-authors of the New York Times best-selling children’s picture books, Pinkalicious (HarperCollins, 2011), Purplicious (HarperCollins, 2007), Goldicious (HarperCollins, 2009) and Silverlicious (HarperCollins, 2011). The two are sisters who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Victoria’s award-winning artwork has graced the covers and pages of countless magazines, newspapers and books. Elizabeth’s writing has appeared in a variety of newspapers and print publications.

What’s great about Pinkalicious is that it’s interactive. Audience members are handed fans that they can wave in response to the performance on stage and they’re invited to clap and sing along whenever they want to.

The plot is centered on a theme fostering good nutrition. Pinkalicious Pinkerton (the spunky vocal powerhouse Lara Mainier) eats one too many pink cupcakes and catches a serious case of “Pinkititis,” as diagnosed by Dr. Wink (Ashley Braxton), which turns her the color pink from head to toe. “Pink is a perfect state of mind,” Pinkalicious sings, as she and the cast proceed on a merry, tune-filled jaunt toward healthy eating habits, spurred on by her broccoli-eating brother, Peter Pinkerton (a robust-voiced Mark Kosten), who can hopefully help cure her before its too late.

Patrick Byrnes and Rachel Klippel are delightful as Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton. Of particular note are the Cupcakes, a septet of dancer/puppeteers shrouded in black, operating large pink cupcake hand puppets that seem to dance in mid-air in the “Cupcake Dream.” That was one of the most captivating numbers in the show as was the duet between Pinkalicious and Peter in “Pink-A-Boo.”

The music by John Gregor and Lyrics by Gregor and the Kann sisters truly sparkled and had many of the young audience members, and more than a few older ones, humming down the aisles as they headed to the lobby to greet the performers in person, who signed autographs for the young theatregoers. If you’re looking for a terrific morning activity before a day of sightseeing or shopping along the Magnificent Mile, or a first-time theatre experiences for your young ones, Pinkalicious is the perfect pick. It’ll have you feeling in the pink!

Pinkalicious is performed at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place Thursday through Sunday at 10am. The schedule has alternating Thursday and Sunday performances, so check to get exact performance dates.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gil Shaham, NY Philharmonic in expressive Walton Violin Concerto

Gil Shaham, Violin at New York Philharmonic

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

June 17, 2011


Gil Shaham portrait by Christopher Steiner

New York Philharmonic performance photo by Chris Lee


NEW YORK— Gil Shaham is a virtual force of nature on the violin. His dynamic approach makes him an audience favorite and a sought after soloist with the world’s leading orchestras. That, by preamble, accounts for the capacity audience at a Friday matinee performance at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, in a concert of Musorgsky’s programmatic Prelude to Khovanshchina, Walton’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, featuring Mr. Shaham, followed by Ravel’s elegiac Pavane pour une Infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Infanta) and concluding with the show-stopping Pictures at an Exhibition.

Shaham is a frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony in concerts at both Symphony Center and Ravinia Festival. He was born in Urbana, Illinois, while his parents were academic fellows at the University of Illinois. His father, Jacob, was an astrophysicist, his mother, Meira Diskin, was a cytogeneticist. He undertook violin studies in Israel at the age of eight and began playing with the Jerusalem Symphony and Israel Philharmonic while still a teenager. That experience led to a scholarship at Julliard in New York and further studies at Columbia University. Gil Shaham is a multiple Grammy Award winner with more than two dozen concerto and solo CDs to his credit.

Shaham’s performance of the Walton Violin Concerto (composed 1936-1939 and revised 1943/1950) was the centerpiece of the program. It continues his long-term exploration of the “Violin Concertos of the 1930s” with the New York Philharmonic. This performance, guest conducted by Ludovic Morlot, reveals Walton in all of his feverish modernism and lyrical nods to his spiritual mentor, fellow Brit, Sir Edward Elgar.

William Walton’s Violin Concerto has a storied past, worthy of a short film documentary. Commissioned by the great Jascha Heifetz, its premiere performance was to have taken place at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but the virtuoso’s schedule forced the work to e dropped from the program. The onset of World War II prevented Walton from conducting the work’s eventual premiere with the Cleveland Orchestra two years later. Shaham payed homage to the work's originators, while giving it his own individual stamp. His precise attack and fervor in navigating its furiously fast runs and intricate stops were dazzling to behold. Not one note was dropped and Shaham maintained clarity of intonation throughout the difficult piece.

Maestro Morlot wove Walton’s complex orchestration into a tapestry of sound. Rising to the forefront in the quieter moments and providing dramatic tension as a backdrop for Shaham’s soaring solos, Morlot conducted impeccably.

Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is one of the hallmarks of the New York Philharmonic’s repertoire. Morlot led the orchestra like a jockey riding a Triple Crown winner to the finish line. It was a thrilling performance that brought the audience to its feet. Bravo!

Peter Max: An American Art Icon Honors 9/11 10th Anniversary

Images: Courtesy Peter Max Studios, New York

1. Twin Towers Liberty

2. Taylor Swift

3. Steve Tyler

Schaumburg, Illinois---Shoppers at Woodfield Shopping Mall will have a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the truly legendary artists of our time. America’s most popular living artist, Peter Max makes an exclusive appearance at Wentworth Gallery, Saturday, July 30 from 4pm-7pm. The artist will be featuring his 9/11 10th Anniversary Paintings, along with portraits of music icons Steven Tyler and Taylor Swift. The paintings will be on display at the gallery for three weeks.

“When 9-11 happened, I was shocked beyond belief,” Max said in an exclusive interview from his midtown Manhattan studio near Lincoln Center. “Like everyone else, it took me a while to process the sheer horror of the event, but, within a week or two, I started painting and would up painting a total of 400 canvasses. I started with just one, then one became four and then it began multiplying…four became 12, 14 became 20. I was on a roll.”

Max said that he became so passionate about the tragedy of 9/11, that the work became a near-obsession. “I poured my heart into it. I was determined to create a painting for every life that was lost in 9/11. The end result was that every single family who lost a loved one walked away from that tragedy with a painting given to them by me.”

Those who visit Woodfield Gallery this weekend will not only have an opportunity to meet the artist, but to acquire one of these once-in-a-lifetime creations.

Besides being an American art icon, Peter Max is a torchbearer for the legacy of contemporary American art. His art, like that of his forebears, is not only brilliant conceived and beautifully drawn with vibrant colors and strong images, it reflects the topics, tragedies, celebrated personalities and even the Presidents of the modern day United States.

“I’ve painted seven living Presidents,” Max said proudly. “Unfortunately, I had to work from photographs in every instance because Presidents just don’t have time to sit for me in the studio.”

At least one President, though, took the time to view Max’s work. “President Clinton was simply blown away by the 9/11 paintings. He just couldn’t get over them.”

After a childhood trotting the globe from Germany to China, Tibet, Israel and France with his fashion designer mother, Max studied art at the famed Art Students League on 57th in Manhattan under the tutelage of Frank Reilly, the well-known realistic painter. Reilly’s classmate was a young painter who would turn out to be n America’s most beloved artist, Norman Rockwell.

“As a child, growing up in Shanghai, I lived in a pagoda house. On one side, there was a Buddhist monastery, where I would watch the Buddhist monks painting Chinese characters on vast sheets of rice paper with huge bamboo brushes. On the other side, was a Sikh temple, where I could hear the beautifully sung prayers of the Sikhs,” Max vividly recalled. The magical colors, rituals and endless parades that embodied the splendor of the Orient later informed his work, which was ignited by two cosmic events; one, in the literal sense, and the other, more rooted in social change.

The young Peter Max became fascinated by the cosmos. One day while visiting the Mt. Carmel Observatory, his earlier fascination with astronomy was reawakened. At his insistence, his parents enrolled him in evening astronomy classes at Technion Institute. Later, as a young adult, the underground Cultural Revolution of the ‘60s began to emerge and to rock the foundation of American society and culture, as anyone knew it. Young Peter Max saw an opportunity to turn his expressionistic collages and paintings into a new medium that would bring art directly to the people…. the emerging medium of poster art. A new world of possibilities began to unfold. Max was able to connect with the youth of America through his art in a new and dynamic way. Like the Internet of today, poster art gave Max a medium to communicate with the youth of his time and reflect their images and ideas almost instantaneously through his posters. Max created his brilliant color combinations right on the printing press utilizing a breakthrough method known as “split fountain” technique that enabled him to blend colors as they were gong through the ink rollers. “It was just like playing a solo on the electric piano,” Max said at the time. It was a fitting analogy, as Max and his posters became the visual chroniclers of the revolutionary Age of Aquarius and the ascent of Rock Music.

It was this close association with the music of the ‘60s that brought Peter Max his lasting fame. Max was asked by John Lennon to do the original artwork for the Beatles animated film “Yellow Submarine” but by the time the film went into full production, he was too busy to complete the project and it was passed on to Czech artist and designer Heinz Edlemann.

Peter Max’s and the Beatles careers would continue through the years as almost a ‘doppleganger’ experience. Like the Beatles, Max also made his television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. He also appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and scored the cover of LIFE MAGAZINE with a feature cover story. During this heady period, Max’s art was licensed by 72 corporations and fostered a line of products that generated more than $1 billion is sales.

At 72 years old, Max continues to paint and to garner celebrity.

“I’m enthusiastic. I just adore working. I can’t stop.” In fact, Max says his painting is responsible for his youthful demeanor. “Although I’m 72, I’m physically at least 20 years younger because I literally get a workout while I’m painting. When I’m in the studio, I’m dancing with my paintbrushes.

“I love my work. Every single day, I come down to my studio to paint. As I come up the elevator to my floor, I start getting excited because I know in just a few minutes, I’m going to be painting!”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

iPic Theaters "kick it up a notch" for moviegoers

IPic Movie Theaters kick it up a notch

by Dwight Casimere

Photos courtesy iPic Entertainment

1. Premium and Premium Plus Upgrade seating

2. Dirty Salty Savory cocktail at the Salt Sports Bar and Lounge

3. iPic Theater logo

BOLINGBROOK—The experience of going out to the movies just got kicked up a notch with the opening of iPic Theaters in The Promenade in Bolingbrook, on Boughton Road, west of I-355.

iPic has a second Chicago-area location in South Barrington. There are a total of eight iPic Theaters around the country.

“What we’re all about is selection and choice,” said Mark Mulcahy, Vice President of Marketing for iPic Entertainment. “We’ve taken the movie-going experience and opened it up to make it a “one stop shopping” kind of experience with Chef prepared gourmet food, a sports bar and lounge and two levels of luxury seating that is unlike anything you’d find in any other movie theatre.” Besides the premium movie theatres, there’s Salt’s Sports Bar & Lounge, where guests can shoot a game of pool and enjoy a meal or a drink either before or after the movie. “There’s no admission charge, so folks can just come here and enjoy the sports bar, play a game of pool and have a drink and leave if they want to. They don’t have to see a movie or they can combine the activities and make it a complete evening.”

iPic Theaters show all of the latest first-run movies, including 3D films like Transformers-Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2. Tickets are surprisingly reasonable, starting with value-priced seating at $12, to Premium Plus Upgrade of $19. “Folks can save a few bucks by becoming a member, and membership is free, making the top priced Premium Plus seating only $17.50.”

iPic provides their guests with two levels of luxury seating. All seats are reserved. Premium seating provides extra comfortable large leather chairs, with swivel trays so that guests can enjoy Chef prepared grab & go food and drink options, such as Filet Mignon and Mahi Mahi Sliders and signature cocktails like the Lemon Drop and 312 Cherry Brew and Windy City Punch.

Premium Plus Upgrade provides guests with plush, fully reclining chairs. “There’s even a blanket and pillow upon request. We leave no stone unturned when it comes for comfort!” Complimentary valet parking is available and, the most enticing perk of all, there’s free popcorn!

Well-dressed and courteous wait staff attend to your every need, serving guests their food and drinks during the first twenty minutes of the movie and making sure that they’re comfortable. Mulcahy emphasized. There’s a complete menu of easy-to-eat items. One of the favorites is the Caesar Salad, prepared in a variation of its original form, with Romaine lettuce spears and house made Parmesan Crostini Flatbread sticking straight up our of a bowl of our house made Caesar dressing. “You just pick of the spears by hand, dip them into the dressing and eat it right out of the bowl. It’s perfect for eating while in the movie theatre.

“All of our food and drink items are prepared fresh here on the premises,” Mulcahy continued. “ Executive Chef Reggie Moncur is the maestro of our Bolingbrook location. He turns out fresh, imaginative dishes made from locally coursed ingredients. We have a standard menu, but fresh seasonal items are added almost every day. Our drinks are also made with fresh, locally produced ingredients that are created by our mixologist, Adam Seger of Chicago. He’s a Certified Mixologist whose worked all over the world and hands crafts all of his cocktails from fresh, local ingredients. Our Local Lemon Drop comes from a North Shore distiller . Our Windy City Punch and Chicago Cherry Brew are all made with locally sourced ingredients and our 3-1-2 beers comes from a local Chicago brewer.

“Our beer list has more than 20 bottled beers and 18 beers on tap as well. We’ve also got a premium wine list that has a wide selection of terrific American and imported wines. Its quite impressive!” This reviewer was surprised to see the coveted Bennett Family “The Reserve” Cabernet from Napa Valley on the wine list. The wine, with its vibrant Black cherries and cassis flavors and supple tannins and oak spice, derived from the use of 50% new French and European and American oak barrels, is highly sought after. Because of the demand, it is in limited supply. Bennett Family only appears on the most discriminating wine lists and on the shelves of the best wine shops.

Some of the most popular menu items are the Filet Mignon and Mahi Mahi Slider and the ever-popular Flatbreads. “All of our flatbread dough is made in house. Among the most popular are the BBQ Chicken Flatbread and the Chicken Artichoke Flatbread which is extremely popular.”

Mouth-watering desserts are a must-have. The Chocolate Decadence Ice Cream Sandwich and the Key Lime cheesecake were large enough to share, but this greedy writer chose to tackle them both with abandon.

After the movie, it was time to settle into the Salt Sports Bar for one of Adam Seger’s signature cocktails. “The lounge gets its name from the eight different salts that we use to rim our cocktail glasses. We use Himalayan Pink salt, Black Volcanic Salt, and French Grey Salt, among others,” Mulcahy added. Some of National cocktails include Illegalito, Mojitonico, El Corazon Margarita, Red Carpet Fizz and Dirty Salty Savory.

Besides free popcorn and complimentary valet parking, available to all guests, members get a number of perks. “It costs nothing to be a member. Not only do you get a substantial discount on Premium Plus Upgrade, you get a free ticket on your birthday and members also take advantage of an all-day happy hour.

“We’re all about selection and providing our guests with choices as to how their night out is going to unfold. With our choice of first-run movies, our Premium and Premium Plus Upgrade and the entertainment choices provided by our Salt Sports Bar & Lounge, we think we can provide a really great night out.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

West Side Story revival "rumbles" Chicago stage

Poignant, powerful West Side Story “rumbles” Chicago stage

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere July 20, 2011

Photos: National Tour of West Side Story © Joan Marcus 2010

There are still a few of us around who remember the original production of West Side Story, starring Carol Lawrence and Chita Rivera at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. Even more recall seeing the 1961 MGM film version, starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno in a recent cable TV presentation on Turner Movie Classics. Neither of those experiences prepared one for the impact of the tour of the smash hit Broadway revival now underway at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, through August 14.

Adapted from William Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet in a play conceived by two-time Tony Award-winner Arthur Laurents, with unforgettable music and lyrics by theatre and music legends Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the current revival is both poignant and powerful. With its underlying themes of racial tension and teen gang violence, it resonates with as much of the ring of truth as it did at its 1957 premiere.

This new production, recreated for the tour by David Saint, the associate director on Broadway, packs its own punch. The dancing, in which Joey McNeely lovingly recreated Robbin’s groundbreaking choreography, thunders across the stage like a hurricane.

The singers, led by Kyle Harris as Tony and Ali Ewoldt as Maria, scale the difficult chromatic heights of Bernstein’s Copland-like melodies with the skill of Lyric Opera singers and lend a ravishing sense of drama to Sondheim’s expressive lyrics.

The dance numbers are all show stoppers. Scenic designs by James Youmans (Gypsy), costumes by Tony Award nominee David C. Woolard (The Who’s Tommy), lighting by Tony Award winner Howell Binkley (Gypsy, Jersey Boys), sound design by Tony Award nominee Dan Moses Schreier (Gypsy) and hair by Mark Adam Rampmeyer, all combine to make this an entirely enthralling production.

All of the great tunes are there; Tonight, Maria, I Feel Pretty, among others. We know them all by heart, yet they are delivered with such urgency on stage that we suppress the urge to sing along.

There are some exquisite moments, such as the duet “Tonight” in the Romeo and Juliet-like balcony scene in the Alleyway and the intimate mock wedding in the Bridal Shop with Tony and Maria kneeling almost as if in prayer to sing “One Hand One Heart.” It is a thrilling moment that is heartwarming, yet foretells the tragedy that awaits them.

There are some bright moments too, such as the quartet on “I Feel Pretty” in Maria’s Bedroom, including Spanish-language lyrics (“Me Siento Hermosa”), which lends an air of authenticity. Nice touch! The high-note competition at the end provides a nice showcase for the vocal stamina and near-coloratura of the female cast members.

Among the lead performers, Michelle Aravena as Anita is a standout with her seasoned talent. Likewise talented is Joseph J. Simeone as Riff. He is an accomplished dancer who has performed internationally with Merce Cunningham and Mark Morris and it shows. The brilliant dancing and choreography in “Jet Song” at the outset of Act I sets the stage for the terrific show that follows.

Cameo performances contribute as much to the overall success of this production as the lead roles. Mike Boland as Officer Krupke and Ryan Christopher Chotto as A-rab provide sparkling comic interludes. John O’Creagh is appropriately world-weary as the beleaguered Doc.

As scenes go, you can’t beat “The Rumble” Under The Highway for staging, scenery, lighting and drama. The well orchestrated ‘fight’ scenes and the razor sharp (pardon the pun) moves of the dancers kept the audience on the edges of their seats.

West Side Story rocked the very foundation of the musical theatrical world at its premiere some 50 odd years ago. It still continues to do so today.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 a brilliant spectacle

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 a brilliant spectacle

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere, June 14, 2011

Photos courtesy Warner Brothers

“Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!” Those are the words of the character Ron Weasley as he and Hermione Granger and Harry Potter fly off into the middle distance on the back of a dragon in one of the early scenes of Warner Brothers Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The sentiment sums up the overall impression of this, the presumed final chapter in the lengthy Harry Potter franchise. Although, with its neatly tied up ending an epilogue, you get the idea that something is already afoot prequel-wise or that this may be the prelude to “Harry Potter: The Next Generation.

If you’ve already read the book, then the previous declaration won’t serve as a spoiler.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, dispenses with all of the treackle and fantasy of the early films and gets right to the guts of the Wizard War. Bits and pieces of the earlier comings and goings and wizardly grudge marches are alluded to by the brief dramatic interludes in the non-stop 3D/CG action. Hold on to your 3D glasses!

Some of the scenes are so loud and cloaked in darkness that it is at times difficult to determine who is good and who is evil. Perhaps that was the intent of Director David Yates, who helmed four of the eight Harry Potter films and Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who adapted six of the seven books by author J.K. Rowling. All of the characters, we learn, are flawed, even Harry, who is revealed to have a bit of evil within, himself.

All of the characters are well drawn by the actors, even if Daniel Radcliff as Harry, is starting to look more like the young lawyer handling his first personal injury case and Emma Watson as Hermione has turned into a real elegant beauty, flowing locks and a slammin’ bod. Ralph Fiennes is absolutely delicious as the villain Voldemort. His makeup, which gives him a reptilian nose, is masterful and in keeping with his character, who keeps a deadly python as a mascot and evil minion.

The rest of the cast make their appropriate entrances and exits in this, the final opus. Alan Rickman is once again the smarmy Professor Severus Snape. Tom Felton Is back as Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy and Michael Gambon returns in a dream sequence as the stately Professor Albus Dumbledore. John Hurt is magnificent as the aged Ollivander, dispensing sage portents to an anxious Harry Potter at the outset of the film.

The other cast members all do their bit to advance the plot and establish the gravitas of the situation. Maggie Smith is regal as Professor Minverva McGonagall and Helena Bonham Carter offers some bithin’ panache as the dubious Bellatrix Lestrange. One of the most gratifying grudge match scenes in the film is the cat fight between she and Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), that ends in her spectacular demise. It’s a pity that we only see the esteemed British actor George Harris (who was Britain’s first black TV detective in the series Wolcott in 1981) for only a few moments in a brief cameo. He was truly underutilized in this film. It is a mystery to me that the entire Harry Potter franchise had no black wizards, especially in light of the fact that the very roots of sorcery stem from Africa and the Yoruba religion of Shan go, which evolved into Voodoo in the West Indies. But, I digress.

For the uninitiated, screenwriter Kloves offers a crash course in all things Harry Potter to bring viewers up to date. Then, its off to the 3D/surround sound races with brilliant (there’s that word again. The British seem to love it!) Cinematography by Eduardo Serra and sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Production Design by Stuart Craig. Film editing by Mark Day, was seamless, melding action, special effects and dramatic elements into an organic whole.

One of the most effective scenes is when Harry and his band of Immortals flees Hogwarts Hall as it erupts in flames and crumbles all around them with his enemies in hot pursuit. It is a deliciously apocalyptic scene that gives visual reference to all things sequel that have come before it with directorial nods to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and George Lucas’ Star Wars.

The fact that audiences erupted in wild applause and gut-splitting laughter at alternating moments attests to the “Saturday matinee” feel of the whole enterprise at it unfolded on screen. This was the type of movie we enjoyed as kids and, for a transfixing two hours or so, I, among many of the other adults who brought eager young ones with us for the opening night preview, were taken back to that glorious time of on-screen fantasy.

The nice thing about the way Director Yates and script writer Kloves approached the material from J.K. Rowling’s magnificent book is that what happens on the screen totally works in and of itself as an isolated film. You don’t really have to know all of the ends and outs of the previous six movies to appreciate what unfolds on the panoramic screen before you. Even a cursory knowledge of the Harry Potter ethos is sufficient to get you though this epic film. The arc of the story line is well executed and the non-stop action keeps you on the heart-thumping side of the EKG and on the edge of your seat. There are some really strong dramatic performances by the actors, led by the rapidly maturing Daniel Radcliffe and the elegiac score by Alexandre Desplat truly underscores the gravity of all things conclusive that are about to take place. Did I tell you that Harry Potter dies? That should come as no surprise as the spoiler alerts are posted everywhere in Hogwarts Hall from the TV trailers to the interstitial dialogue in between all of the eye-popping action.

Those who followed the novels religiously will be thrilled that the epilogue was recounted chapter and verse. Otherwise, the script writers seemed to have had at it with the rest of the novel, choosing to move things along in order to capitalize on the action and let the viewer fill in the blanks, either impressionistically or by going back to the source material on their own at a later date. I don’t think that really matters, because anyone who waited in line for hours to see the opening night midnight premiere, as the did at the AMC Showplace in New Lenox, where I saw the film in IMAX 3D, will no doubt return for a second, nee, a third viewing. It’s worth it. It’s just that, well, Brilliant!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

American Ballet Theatre's Cinderella enthralls Metropolitan Opera House audience

Photo for ABT by Marty Sohl-Gillian Murphy as Cinderella

American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere June 21, 2011

NEW YORK—American Ballet Theatre concluded a scintillating spring residency at the Metropolitan Opera House Lincoln Center before embarking on a summer tour to the Los Angeles Music Center-Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (July 14-17) and Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Tokyo, Japan (July 21-28) and Biwako Hall, Shiga, Japan (July 31). As if telegraphing the significance of the occasion, ABT brought out a treasure trove of its classics; Giselle, Lady of the Camellias, The Bright Stream, Coppelia, Cinderella and Swan Lake. It was nirvana for balletomanes and, for the uninitiated, an opportunity to see, inarguably, the best ballet company on the North American continent in action.

ABT’s Premiere Performance of Cinderella, as seen by Met audiences June 21-25, was first performed there on June 2, 2006.

That initial exposure may still be fresh in the minds of devoted followers, but the company proceeded to present the work with such fervor that it seemed to have arrived on stage fresh from Choreographer James Kudelka’s notations.

Scenery and Costumes Canada’s premiere designer David Boechler, with their distinctive color palette, were his first for ABT. They gave the production a timeless quality. Fellow Canadian, Christopher Dennis’ evocative lighting design was an integral part of the fable that was danced out on stage.

Sergei Prokofiev’s score is well-known and beloved and Conductor David LaMarche imbued it with the reverence it deserved, but he was not afraid to invest his own energy into the music with precise rhythms, bright tonality in the horns and woodwinds and lush, long melodic lines in the string section that both supported and underscored the action onstage.

Gillian Murphy as Cinderella and David Hallberg as Her Prince Charming made the performance memorable with their grace and vitality. There were sparkling cameo performances throughout and delightful scenes, such as The Garden in Act I. The Ball in Act II was completely enthralling, as was The Wedding, which served as the finale. Of course, the touching conclusion, in which Prince Charming located the rightful owner of the errant glass slipper, tugged at the heartstrings, causing the audience to lavish is praise upon the dancers with sustained applause. It was as if no one wanted the magic to end.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Royal Danish Ballet honors, illustrious past, new director in overdue U.S. tour

Photos for the Royal Danish Ballet by Martin Mydtskov Renne and Costin Radu

Reviewed June 18,2011 by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK—After a more than 20 year wait, ballet audiences were treated to one of the most exquisite delights in recent memory, performances by the Royal Danish Ballet at the David H. Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center. The six performances over five days were the culmination of a month-long U.S. tour that included performances in Orange County and San Francisco, California and the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. It was the company’s first trip to the U.S. since 2004. What’s different this time around is the presence of Nikolaj Hubbe, who took the helm as Artistic Director in 2008, after being a principle dancer with the New York City Ballet for more than 15 years.

As the conservator of the choreography of August Bournonville, a French dancer and choreographer, who was its artistic director in the mid 1800s. The Royal Danish Ballet is one of the oldest ballet companies in the world. Hubbe has managed to invigorate the tradition of Bournonville’s mix of intricate footwork and harmonious upper body movements with a renewed tension and precision. Every point, turn and leap relates to the prior movement, forming in interconnecting chain of movement that is at once important to the story line of the ballet and satisfying to the observer. His presentation of Napoli-Act III, originally conceived in 1842, but updated to resemble a scene at one of the public squares in the1950s, displayed Hubbe’s meticulous attention to detail. The costumes, with their scarves and hats and the choreography, which incorporated Neopolitan folk dances and the music of Danish composer Louise Alenius, firmly placed the work in the 20th Century and was a showcase for Hubbe’s mastery and vision. The use of tambourines and other primitive instruments, along with the music and folk dancing added to the authentic feel of this scintillating work. The Tarantella with dancers Laure Dougy and Shelby Elsbree and the Finale by the Corps de Ballet contrasted earthiness with the ethereal.

Precise movements by the Corps de Ballet in La Sylphide and the exceptional Scottish-themed sets and costumes by Mikael Melbye were exceptional. Susanne Grinder and her elegant flowing movements as La Sylphide and Marcin Kupinski’s arcing leaps made this performance a tour de force. The staging, a collaboration between Hubbe and Anne Marie Vessek Schluter, combined with the delightful participation of some marvelous child-dancers made this a visual treat that was nonpareil.

Let us hope that there will not be another extended period before the Royal Danish Ballet again graces U.S. stage.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Goodman Theatre Chinglish explores "sweet sour" of Chinese American business relations

Entertainment: Goodman “Chinglish” a biting satire on Chinese-American relations-by Dwight Casimere

Chinglish production photos by Eric Y. Exit/Goodman Theatre

It starts out innocently enough; a lone actor walks on stage and begins what looks like an elementary lesson on Chinese/English translation. It quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary language class, but an introduction into the wildly satirical world of Tony Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist David Henry Hwang of M. Butterfly fame, making his Goodman debut with the world premiere of his Broadway-bound play Chinglish.

This is a very funny play about a rather unfunny subject. It is also very timely. The comedy makes no bones about not tip-toeing around the 800 pound gorilla that has been looming on the international scene, the increasingly complex problem of doing business with the world’s advancing superpower, China. Instead of approaching this delicate subject with all of the seriousness and deft handling that it deserves, Hwang throws his best comedic barbs at it, stripping away all pretense at polite convention and creating one of the most hilarious theatrical experiences ever encountered on the august Goodman stage.

The world premiere of Chinglish dovetails with the simultaneous staging of Hwang’s semi-autographical play Yellow Face (through July 17), currently being staged at Silk Road Theatre Project in a Goodman co-production with contemporary American theater luminary Steve Scott, who is Goodman Associate Producer. Yellow Face is playing at The Historic Chicago Temple Building, a few blocks from Goodman at 77 W. Washington, making for a mini David Henry Hwang festival of sorts.

Besides breaking new theatrical ground with the subject matter of Chinese/American business relations, Chinglish presents a cast of seven newcomers to the Goodman stage. Obie Award winner Leigh Silverman directs Chinglish. This is Hwang’s second collaboration with Silverman on a world premiere.

Chinglish bristles with witty repartee. The fact that the script is in both English and Mandarin with English subtitles does nothing to slow it down. In fact, director Silverman to heighten the comedy often uses those translations and the supertitles.

In addition to the sidesplitting banter and excellent comedic timing of the actors, the sets by Associate Set Designer Rod Lemmon, with their rotating and interlocking revolving platforms, are as much a part of the stellar cast as the performers. It is a marvel to watch them seamlessly segue from scene to scene.

James Waterston is Daniel, a businessman from Cleveland whose trying desperately to revive his bankrupt family sign-making business by landing a lucrative contract to participate in the building of a new cultural center. He travels to a remote provincial capital where he hopes he can fenegal his way into the inner circle of local government officials with the help of his Australian interpreter and business consultant Peter, played with brilliant ineptitude by Stephen Pucci. Along the way, he encounters Xu Yan (Jennifer Lim), the sexy, restless and upwardly mobile government go-between, who is revealed to be the lynchpin to the whole deal. Daniel quickly learns that things aren’t always what they seem in the polite world of Chinese-American business dealings. Hwang strips away the veneer of civility to reveal the subterfuges and falsehoods that lurk beneath the silken surface of formality and diplomacy. Not everything is as it seems. Daniel’s so-called “business consultant” is no more than a disgraced one-time college professor, hoping to cash in on a personal favor he is owed by a high-ranking Chinese government official. Xu Yan, the government go between, is revealed to have her own selfish reasons for championing Daniel’s cause and turns him into her boy-toy in the process. Even Daniel is revealed to have a dirty little secret in his past that threatens to undermine his efforts.

It’s hard to believe that we haven’t seen this superlative group of actors on the Goodman stage before. James Waterston is masterful as the befuddled Daniel. Jennifer Lim gives a meteoric performance as the mercurial Xu Yan. Her performance sizzles with sensuality and biting wit.

Chinglish is the real “Lost In Translation.” The play goes beyond the conundrum the Chinese language presents to most Americans. Besides its confusing characters, the Chinese language offers a number of challenges. Words and symbols often have more than one meaning. Something Daniel quickly learns in his first encounter with the Chinese Minister of Culture. “Yes,” as it turned out, was actually a firm “No!” In the Chinese language, using tone of voice for emphasis can also change the meaning of a word. Hwang uses these nimble turns of phrases to make his point. He plays on misconstrued word translations and cultural misconceptions to deliver the comedic goods. His efforts are nothing short of brilliant. There has not been another playwright as proficient in the vagaries and complexities of language since Shakespeare. To call Chinglish a mere comedy is an understatement. It is an incisive probing into a sensitive and pressing issue that looms mightily on the global horizon. That Hwang is able to make us laugh at it is a testament to his mastery as a theatrical writer. Chinglish continues through July 24. Hurry down to the Goodman to see it. You’ll regret having missed it. For information, visit

Friday, July 1, 2011

Disney's Beauty and the Beast in triumphant return to Broadway in Chicago


Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos: Courtesy Broadway in Chicagoand Disneys Beauty and the Beats

Chicago—Choices for family entertainment abound this summer, especially with the return of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which has returned to Chicago for a six weeks only run through August 7 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago. The thrilling stage production features the animated film’s Academy Award ® winning score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and additional songs with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice. The book is written by Linda Woolverton.

Beauty and the Beast is the perfect first-time experience for the young theatergoer and a real primer in how to do a first rate production for the aficionado. The Rococo sets designed by Scenic Designer Stanley A. Meyer, imaginative multi-colored peasant dresses and costumes by Tony Award® winner, Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward (for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, spectacular lighting design by Natasha Katz and Sound Design by John Petrafesa, underscore the essential dramatic elements of the musical and make it an enthralling experience.

The music is the centerpiece of Beauty and the Beast. The cast members, particularly by the golden-voiced Emily Behny as the “beauty” Belle, beautifully sing the elegant, heart-warming melodies. Her Judy Garland-like spunk and vocal fervor make her the standout of the already superlative cast. Her heartfelt vocalizing in “Home” in the first act and the standout “A Change In Me” in Act II, was among the shining moments of the evening. Dane Agostinis gives the Beast just the right blend of gruffness, while revealing an endearing vulnerability that makes his character sympathetic. Encountering some intonation problems at the start of the song “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of Act I, he quickly recovered and delivered a bravura finish that sent chills down the spine.

Michael Haller was ebullient as Lumiere, leading a Maurice Chevalier lilt and sophistication to “Be Our Guest”. The dance ensemble “tableware”, particularly the acrobatic “oriental rug” was the highlight of the first act and one of the more stellar dance numbers performed on the Broadway in Chicago stage.

Logan Denninghoff as Gaston, the egocentric Hunter who pursues Belle is both funny and pathetic as the over-the-top narcissist. His top-notch baritone voice, trim, good looks and comedic timing make him a marvel to behold.

The central theme of Beauty and the Beast is seeing past outward appearances to realize the beauty inside. This theme is reflected throughout the set design, with its many transparencies and layers and the transformation of the characters over the course of the show. It is a moving experience that rewards the audience with its depth of emotion. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast continues at the Oriental Theatre through August 7. For tickets and information visit