Review and Thoughts: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

Have you ever experienced the feeling of love in relation to (but not limited to): first dates, sex, marriage, parenthood, divorce, or death? If so, great. 1997’s Off-Broadway hit I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! tackles all of these things. Not interesting enough for you? Let me tell you a little bit about how Chicago’s Quest Theatre Ensemble brings it to life.

Firstly, the most notable thing about Quest Theatre Ensemble is that all of their productions are free. Seriously, no tricks. All. Productions. Are. Completely free. Although, at the end of the show, they do ask for give-what-you-can donations. Of course, you by no means are required to this. Because I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I donated $20. I’d recommend giving at least a small dollar amount out of courtesy, but in the end, it’s up to you. No one will force you to pay anything. For theatre lovers, this is incredibly brilliant. We’ve all heard it before: theatre is “elitist” or “for rich people”. This reputation mainly stems from the fact that theatre hasn’t been a traditionally accessible medium. We can all go to a movie theatre and see a film, go to the library and check out a book, but… where do you go for theatre? Quest Theatre Ensemble is aiming to be that place. In the words of a company member after the show, “Once you put a price on a ticket, you’re excluding a lot of people”. And he’s right. No one should be excluded from theatre, even due to price.

For a free show, the quality of Quest’s I Love You is far beyond what you might expect. Now, there are no crazy lighting effects or any local stars with top billing, but that’s the beauty of this production. With a young, twenty-something cast of four, a few chairs and two tables, the vignettes of many different characters in the midst of a struggling relationship are told. Not necessarily all romantic relationships, mind you. A husband only feels at peace and in control in his car, a new dad comes to terms with loving his son, a recently divorced woman learns to love herself again, etc. There’s a situation for everyone. Quest Theatre Ensemble’s version of the show chooses to change some lines and lyrics to fit the location and time period. The mention of fidget spinners, Tinder, Mariano’s, the movie “Frozen”, to name a few examples. This gave the show an added layer of personality, like it was meant just for me in this small little theatre in the basement of a tiny building in Andersonville.

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The environment was a huge factor in my enjoyment of this production, honestly. Think about it. It’s much easier to get sucked into an intimate, sometimes comedic, portrayal of how we view love throughout life in an intimate space rather than a large, 2,000 seat theater where you’re stuck in row J. The theatre for I Love You consisted of about 50 seats (seating is open), and I was lucky enough to snag a front row seat. A connection with the story and music is much more tangible when you can clearly see the emotion and mannerisms of the cast up close.

If you’re looking for a great way to spend two hours. I could not recommend Quest Theatre Ensemble’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Not Change! enough. Mainly because the shows that instill a great sense of magic in you don’t seem all that magical on the outside until you give them a chance.


Quest Theatre Ensemble’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! runs now until October 29th. Visit questensemble.org for more information.

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Review and Thoughts: Come From Away Cast Album

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On September 11th, 2001, pilots of passenger planes in the sky across the U.S. were delivered the worst possible news: there had been a terrorist hijacking. This caused the FAA to close the U.S. airspace and order all passenger planes to land as soon as reasonably possible, either making an emergency landing or heading back to where they had left from. Pilots had 30 seconds to make a decision otherwise air controllers would do it for them. Thus, Operation Yellow Ribbon was then initiated by Canada to assist in diverting all passenger planes to places away from possible targets in the U.S. Approximately 238 flights were diverted to airports across Canada. 38 of those flights with around 7,000 passengers and 19 animals among them were sent to Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland. Those aboard the 38 planes were stranded in Gander for five days. Despite feeling terrified, hopeless, and helpless, they weren’t alone – for the citizens of Gander responded with hospitality, generosity, and kindness.

This event is the basis for the plot of Come From Away, a new musical that just opened on March 12th at the Schoenfeld Theatre and whose cast album was released digitally on March 10th. Starring Jenn Colella (If/Then) and an ensemble of eleven others, they portray hundreds of characters, from Gander citizens to the come from aways (the people of Gander’s name for those stranded) set to a score written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that showcases Gaelic, rock, and folk influences.

Every song is sure to give you chills – it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the magnitude of the trauma the come from aways experience, as I’m sure anyone who remembers that day can also relate to. Songs like “28 Hours / Wherever We Are”, “Lead Us Out of the Night”, and “On The Edge” are examples of this – in the previous song mentioned, the come from aways are glued to the news, not willing to sleep or do anything else. Similarly, Jenn Colella as now-retired pilot Beverley Bass may bring a tear to your eye as she belts “Me And The Sky”, which encompasses Bass’ feelings regarding the sexism she faced when becoming the first female American captain and how her – and everyone else’s – world view has changed after 9/11. Contrastingly, the lighter side of the situation is shown in the songs “In The Bar / Heave Away” and “Screech In” when the come from aways are initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders – if they kiss a fish first.

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Jenn Colella and company in Come From Away.

Speaking as someone who was too young to have any memory of the attacks, Come From Away transported me to a different time full of emotions that just aren’t tangible if you read about them in a history book. But if you remember, it’s different. As the come from aways put it, “something’s missing”. Perhaps, if the pain of that day is too much to bear, you’d want steer far away from this cast album – a perfectly valid reason to do so. Although, I’d argue that Come From Away isn’t about 9/11; it’s about the days that followed, and what we all should do for each other in times of strife. It attempts to take tragedy and remind us all that there was some good in the world on that day. If you take one thing from Come From Away to heart, it’s a line from the final song on the cast album: we all come from everywhere, we all come from away.


The Come From Away cast album is now available digitally via Amazon Music, Spotify, and iTunes and will be released physically on March 24th. For more information, go to comefromaway.com.

Review and Thoughts: War Paint (Pre Broadway Engagement)

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The highly anticipated new musical War Paint, starring Tony award winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, is set to begin Broadway previews in March. But patrons of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre got to see it first, beginning in June 2016 in a limited pre-Broadway engagement. I was lucky enough to be one of those who were able to see the show a bit later in its run at the Goodman, so let’s take a look at what you can expect from the Broadway production based on the first run of the show.

War Paint is a musical rooted in history. It tells the tale of the intense rivalry between two pioneers in the cosmetology business – Helena Rubinstein (Patti Lupone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole). Spanning over 50 years, the rivalry between the two women is showcased through a myriad of songs – composed by Scott Frankel – mainly to show off the immense talents of its two leading players. The style of music is definitely what I’d call traditional musical theatre, with many ballads right off the bat. I personally enjoyed the more upbeat numbers, such as “Fire And Ice”, “War Paint”, and “Step On Out”. LuPone and Ebersole are one hundred percent worth the price of admission to this show. In fact, these two theatre icons are what give the show its heart and depth in terms of acting level. Without them, this show would certainly not be creating the buzz that it is this season.

However, the two stars aren’t the only reason for high praise. The set of the show, primarily designed by David Korins (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen) is stunning. Akin to shows like Next to Normal, the set and lighting change with the character who is being featured in the scene. A great example of how Korins interprets this direction comes throughout the entire show, as Helena and Elizabeth share the stage together each of them have their own “side”, where all the action of their respective lives is contained.

With direction from Michael Greif (Next to Normal, Dear Evan Hansen, If/Then), the design, score, and story fall perfectly into place to create a wonderfully charming masterpiece of theatre. While the plot may not be for everyone, the real life women who are the basis for it are incredibly fascinating to research. If anything, I hope War Paint will bring awareness to how influential women in business can be to impressionable audience members looking to be inspired. Encompassing true theatrical magic and talent in every capacity, War Paint is a long time theatre fan’s dream.


War Paint begins previews at the Nederlander Theatre on March 7th. For more information visit warpaintmusical.com.

Review and Thoughts: Dear Evan Hansen Cast Album

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It’s finally here. The show everyone’s talking about this season, Dear Evan Hansen, just released their cast album this past Friday and I’m here to give my thoughts. I’ve got to be honest, I’m pretty biased towards this show – when the cast album was announced I pre-ordered it immediately. I first came across Dear Evan Hansen last spring when it was running Off Broadway at Second Stage Theatre through a few people on social media. The plot holds incredible similarities to something I experienced my freshman year of high school, and the use of social media and Ben Platt in the title role really drew me in. Despite my excitement, I’m going to try my best to take a neutral stance for this review. So, does the cast recording of Dear Evan Hansen truly live up to the hype of the show itself? Let’s find out.

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Ben Platt as the titular character, “Evan Hansen”.

In Dear Evan Hansen, high school senior Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) gets unexpectedly wrapped up in a complicated lie surrounding the suicide of fellow student Connor Murphy (Mike Faist). As the lie spreads through social media, the socially anxious Evan begins to connect with Connor’s sister and his crush, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss), and their parents, Larry (Michael Park) and Cynthia (Jennifer Laura Thompson). Eventually, tensions start to grow between Evan’s mother, Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones) and his friends, Jared (Will Roland) and Alana (Kristolyn Lloyd), causing Evan to wonder if he did the right thing for a chance to fit in.

One thing that is apparent the moment you hit play on the cast album, is that every cast member has a moment to shine. Interestingly, the first song of the album, “Anybody Have a Map?” features Heidi and Cynthia and their struggles in parenting in a digital age. The decision to feature the mothers of Dear Evan Hansen versus the titular character in the first song of the show really sets the tone for the rest of the musical and shows the listener that no character will be pushed to the side without getting at least some development.

The most notable performance on the album is Ben Platt (best known for his role as “Benji” in the Pitch Perfect films) in the title role. His breakout song in the musical is “Waving Through a Window“, in which Evan expresses his desire to fit in with his peers and be apart of something bigger. The aforementioned song has been quite popular with listeners even before the cast album release, thanks to its incredibly relatable lyrics (written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and to the Dear Evan Hansen marketing team releasing it as a free download to those whole pre-ordered the cast album. Platt’s impressive tenor vocals that feature a strong belt also take center stage in “For Forever” and “Words Fail” – the latter of which many say is the most emotional song in album thanks to Platt’s talents. Rachel Bay Jones as Heidi has a few similar moments as well – “So Big / So Small” is a number so emotionally draining on Jones that after she comes off stage, one of the stage managers tells her a different joke after every live performance. Her, along with Kristolyn Lloyd as Alana and Will Roland as Jared also give a commendable performance in the intense Act 2 number “Good For You“, in which Evan’s lie is exposed and his friends and family become upset with his choices.

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Ben Platt as Evan, Will Roland as Jared (center), and Mike Faist as Connor in Dear Evan Hansen.

A more comedic song and arguably the most catchy out of the whole track list, is “Sincerely, Me“, which features Platt, Faist, and Roland’s characters trying to write backdated emails to back up Evan’s claim that him and Connor were in fact friends and wrote candid emails to each other. With a toe-tapping, bouncing piano melody, a catchy refrain that’s been stuck in my head all weekend, and lyrics that are just plain absurd when taken out of context such as “You’ll be obsessed with all my forest expertise!”, this song is my personal favorite.

But perhaps the true selling point of the Dear Evan Hansen cast album (at the time of writing this, it currently sits at the number one spot on the iTunes top albums chart), despite its stellar cast, is what its message provides listeners of all ages with – a sense of belonging.  This comes in the form of the show’s powerful Act 1 finale, “You Will Be Found“, where Evan attempts to convince those at a school assembly that there will always be someone there for them. The song’s building chorus comes to fruition with a simple refrain of the phrase “You are not alone.” that practically bursts with hope. The titular mantra of the song has become so popular among fans that the official Dear Evan Hansen social media have taken to using it as a marketing hashtag, which many fans use to share their personal stories, photos, covers, fanart, and more to show what the musical means to them. If you must listen to only one song from Dear Evan Hansen, I’m begging you – make it this one.

The message that “You Will Be Found” and Dear Evan Hansen itself tries to leave its listeners, I feel, is the beauty of Dear Evan Hansen‘s cast album release: everyone – no matter how old you are, where you come from, or the circumstances – can relate to feeling alone, feeling like a burden, feeling like nobody would notice if you just disappeared one day.  What’s difficult to grasp about that feeling – if you’ve ever felt it in any magnitude – is that you can’t really understand the immense weight of that feeling and how so many people are affected by it until you see it manifest in such a large way. Until you truly see it’s not just you. And seeing a entire real, tangible community of people who have once experienced similar struggles and come out the other side intact makes it true that, yes, you are not alone in what you feel. And yes – you will be found, no matter how broken you might be.


Dear Evan Hansen is currently playing on Broadway, and the cast album is available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube. For more information visit dearevanhansen.com.

 

Review and Thoughts: Otherbody – A Brief Musical Allegory

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The past few weeks in our country have been incredibly emotionally charged with hate, fear, and strife. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. No matter how you feel about our new President, I think we can all agree that there’s a huge divide in the population. It’s going to take a lot of time to make sense of it, and a lot of work on behalf of everyone to mend it. But one place where the reality of this new administration has hit the hardest is the theatre community. Many members of the community, including composer Ryan Scott Oliver and book writer Nessie Nankivell, have taken their feelings during this tumultuous time and made it into art.

Oliver and Nanikvell’s most recent endeavor, Otherbody: A Brief Musical Allegory, is a direct response to the political and social climate in 2017 America. Released only on iTunes and Spotify in early January, the 20-minute recording features Nicholas Christoper as mysterious main character known only as “The Teller”. The Teller, a young black gay man – who has never seen his own face, heard his own voice, or seen daylight – ventures out into the world after the death of his “Goodtree” in the forest. He discovers an alluring party in a village full of “pale ones”, where he quickly witnesses the most horrifying parts of humanity as he is beaten and ridiculed for simply not conforming to societal standards the rest of the pale ones, although being exactly the same on the inside.

Returning from the traumatic experience in the village, The Teller contemplates his journey and concludes that despite what society has told him and all the hate he has seen, sometimes “woods have to burn to make a path for what’s new”. Meanwhile an “angry demon” sets the pale ones’ village on fire as The Teller convinces the listener to work to restore the forest to its true former glory, with the Goodtree and all.

Loosely suggested by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Outsider, the genius of the allegory in Otherbody, comes in Oliver’s cleverly crafted lyrics that are relatively open to interpretation. The score will take at least a second listen to pick up on all the symbolism that The Teller’s story provides to make sense of the recent political rhetoric. Commenting on the racism, homophobia, and fear mongering that has occurred since the campaign trail, songs like “The Gayest Revelry” are filled with emotions that are all to familiar to those who are affected by such issues. The final song, “Roots Dig Deep” is a heartfelt and hopeful ballad that showcases the pain of accepting the evils in life and vowing to speak out against it, even if starts with one person.

At first, a dismal yet honest outlook on the nation’s unprecedented social and political situation, Otherbody is a gorgeously written allegory that leaves the listener with a cathartic release of feeling and a better sense of direction regarding what to do next in a time of discrimination and fear. But arguably most importantly, it’s a reminder to us all that there is still good left, and we can make it flourish – just as otherbodies have done time and time again throughout history.


Otherbody: A Brief Musical Allegory is available to stream on Spotify and for purchase on iTunes. For more info, visit otherbodymusical.com.

Review and Thoughts: Fun Home

A mother, a father, two sons and daughter. Sounds like an average American family, right? In Fun Home, not exactly.

In the first national touring production of the 2015 Best Musical Tony Award Winner, based upon lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home explores what it’s like to struggle with sexuality, gender roles, and other sensitive topics while growing up in a dysfunctional family. In the show, performed with no intermission, Alison Bechdel (played by Kate Shindle) reflects on her life during her college years (“Medium Alison” played by Abby Corrigan) and as a ten-year-old (“Small Alison” played by Alessandra Baldacchino) to try and unravel the enigma that was her father, Bruce Bechdel (played by Robert Petkoff) – the director of the Bechdel family funeral home (hence “Fun Home”) and a closeted gay man – and Alison’s belief that her own coming out led to his eventual suicide.

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The captivating true story of Alison Bechdel’s family life is complimented by a gorgeous, emotional score written and composed by Tony Award winning team Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron. Tesori and Kron bring a pivotal moment in 10-year-old Alison’s self discovery – when she spots an “old school butch” looking woman in a diner – to fruition with arguably the show’s most recognizable and catchy tune, “Ring of Keys”. Other shining moments in the score include “Come to the Fun Home”, a high energy, dance-heavy sequence with Small Alison and her younger brothers making a commercial for the Bechdel funeral home, and “Edges of the World”, an incredibly raw and moving scene towards the end of the show when Bruce finally reaches his breaking point in regards to his well kept secrets he has hidden from his family and the people in his small home town in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. Moments such as these would not be nearly as impactful without the supporting cast members – such as Karen Eilbacher as “Joan”, Alison’s college girlfriend, who plays incredibly well to Corrigan’s awkward-yet-relatable Medium Alison.

On Broadway, the show was originally performed in the round at the Circle in the Square Theatre, so major revisions had to be made to Fun Home’s staging for it to work on tour. Without losing any of its ability to deeply connect with an audience, the Fun Home set is simple, yet flexible, with moving walls and furniture items to act in place of the intimacy the Circle in the Square Theatre provided the Broadway production. Even in a larger space like Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, the set works to suck you in and make you feel apart of the family dynamic and Alison’s internal struggles. In fact, for what the physical theatre space lacks in candidness like in the round on Broadway, the aforementioned supporting cast (along with the three Alisons) make up for in full force by way of their transparency, openness, and graceful respect for their real life counterparts when portraying the Bechdels as the family tumbles through the show’s rollercoaster of emotions. Often times, the acting was so powerful myself and a majority of the audience were left breathless during the intense, serious moments that you just can’t not pay attention to and audibly sobbing during the cathartic moments that tug at your heart strings.

Fun Home is no stranger to catharsis in the grand scheme of things, either. At its open in 2015, the show was full of firsts that were like a breath of fresh air to many avid theatre goers: it was, surprisingly, the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist as well as the first musical to win the Tony for Best Musical with an all-female creative team at its helm. In an industry that’s been traditionally favorable to gay men in storytelling, I feel that Fun Home is and will continue to be an invaluable story for not just the theatre community, but also for the queer community for decades to come. Whether you’re apart of the LGBT+ community or not, Fun Home is a relatable coming-of-age journey for anyone and everyone and is without a doubt a must-see.


Fun Home is currently touring across the country. Visit funhomebroadway.com for more info.