Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review of a Revue: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at Wheaton Drama

My friends know my rule about standing ovations, which is that I don’t have a conscious rule and rarely stand. When it happens, it just happens and I’m kind of surprised that it does. “Hmm… I’m on my feet and applauding. Okay.” This was never more unexpected than when it happened last night for Wheaton Drama’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, because I spent the first ten minutes or so in a panic, thinking, “I said I’d write a review. And I don’t like it. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it.”

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts is a revue about relationships and life. The words are usually pretty clever and the music is terrific. But the first few scenes are easy, obvious, stereotyped jokes. Men fart proudly and women rightly disdain them. Okay, never heard this before. Whatever.

The cast members were uniformly excellent. The material wasn’t living up to the talent performing it. Then the material did start living up to the cast, starting slowly with Tear Jerk about a macho guy dragged to a chick flick. What was going to happen was obvious, but the writing was starting to warm up. Next came The Lasagna Incident and the show started sailing and didn’t look back.

Highlights include And Now the Parents, about a young couple telling the guy’s parents that they are breaking up; Scared Straight about a singles club meeting in prison; and Satisfaction Guaranteed, which debuted such phrases as “G-spot” and “going down” to the Wheaton Drama stage. I checked the ceiling beams at intermission. Everything seemed pretty stable and the building didn’t collapse into itself & sink into the earth because somebody said “fuck” and “dickheads”. Nobody in the audience fainted, stormed out or farted in terror. It was almost as if it was no big deal. Huzzah!!!

Since the cast is an ensemble, let’s talk about them collectively at first: they work as a team – everybody has their moments, they all help each other out and nobody tries to upstage anybody. The voices are strong and beautifully blended. Sandy Jozef’s work as musical director is gorgeous. Tracy Adams’ choreography was wonderfully appropriate and branched out into Fucking Amazing with On the Highway of Love. The musicians (David Belew, Charmaine Jones & Kimberlee Gillen) were top notch – not a clunker note was heard, which is rare in community theater. They also had a couple of gags.

The cast as individuals:

Heather Miller is a god; but that’s just me. From her stick-up-the-ass Scared Straight moderator to her raucous Always a Bridesmaid to her sweet old lady in Funerals are for Dating, every character was clearly drawn and completely different. Sunny, exuberant and comedically on the money.

Lisa Schmela was alternately very funny and very touching. Beautiful voice and knew how to mug delicately. Highlights: the aforementioned Lasagna Incident as an awkward Mary Richards/Annie Hall tennis player, A Stud and A Babe’s nerdette and a nervous 40 year old divorcee in The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.

(photo by Ken Beach)

Harrison Ashley vied with Schmela for the mugging award (I’m referring to appropriate mugging, not scene stealing. That’s Fly Catching, not Mugging.) Great voice. He attacked everything with energy, such as the enraged prisoner in Scared Straight, the former guy’s guy now addicted to baby talk in Whatever Happened to Baby’s Parents? and especially the old man in Funerals are for Dating.

Keith deBolt shined at all times. Fine voice, talented comedically and warmly human at unexpected moments. Highlights: Alfalfa grown up in A Stud and a Babe, the willing but interrupted husband in Sex and the Married Couple and especially Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You which, for personal reasons and combined with I Can Live With That, completely wrecked me to the point where I left by the back door after the show instead of sticking around and saying hi to everybody. I was bitching about the facile content of the first part of act one, wanting more substance. Be careful what you wish for.

Jack Smith’s direction was flawless. When you hear “revue”, you think (well, I do) that we’re talking about four people sitting on stools and holding microphones. Maybe with a dance number every five minutes. This is a show with multiple set and costume changes and it flowed like a knife through warm butter. Smith got depth, passion and laughs from his cast, terrific music from the band, great dances that didn't yell “Look at me!!!”, unbelievably strong harmonies from the musical director and ass-hauling precision from the stage crew. Terrific work from everybody involved.

The problem with the first part of the show? I think it’s me being cranky and old. The parts of the show that spoke to me weren’t about dating and what morons guys are. I’m not there anymore; but what there is of that is done brilliantly. The rest of the show is one of the best revues I’ve ever seen, in a first class production. Go see it. It’s worth the money.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change continues at Wheaton Drama, 111 N. Hale Street, Wheaton through October 11. Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For reservations and information, call (630) 260-1820 or order online at

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Haiku Reviews

I saw Winter's Tale
The first act was a drama

Saw Philanderer
Who knew George Bernard Shaw
Could be so funny?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Streetcar Review - Wheaton Drama

The following review was written by Christopher Hickman:

I was blown away by Wheaton Drama's A Streetcar Named Desire running through April 26, 2009 at Playhouse 111.

Whether you have seen it or not, we all know of this classic of American theater given us by the great Tennessee Williams. But if you are going to see it done on stage, do yourself the favor of seeing it soon during this production at Wheaton Drama.

Be warned-- the following review has plenty of spoilers. Avoid reading further if you do not wish to know too much about the story before having the chance to see it for yourself.

Craig Witt as Stanley gave the role his own style; he was not trying to be Brando and the show suffered not a wit for this. When first meeting Blanche in Act I, he was gruff but friendly only becoming contentious when he learned his sister-in-law had somehow lost the family estate. He was genuinely cruel to Blanche after hearing her speak about his "primitive" nature. This cruelty built and by the third act, he had sunk horribly low. I saw a lot of potential in Mr. Witt.

Suzanne Reeves as Stella was always emotionally right on the money. This lady could cry subtly and exactly when appropriate. That is difficult for any actor to pull off and she did it with what seemed like ease. I wanted to protect Stella many times; all due to a great performance. The strength she forced herself to show when preparing Blanche for the asylum rang hauntingly true to life. And when she finally broke down, weeping as her big sister was led away, much of the audience joined her.

I really liked James Griffin as Harold "Mitch" Mitchell. He had the character down just right and made it his. He was great as the kindly, good hearted and loyal friend, and good son. He totally won the audience over as the nervous, frustrated suitor. And when he fell into darkness after learning of Blanche's past, he did it with real prowess. At first he played the drunk, angry and hurt guy quite well. By the time he got aggressive with Blanche, Mr. Griffin did a great job of showing how Mitch was new to this dark side, but a quick learner.

Jennifer Myers as Blanche hurt me with one of the best performances I have ever seen on stage. I have seen ladies in classes and workshops trying to deliver some of Blanche's monologues, often with painful results, while some were pretty good. Ms. Myers was fantastic because she became Blanche. From her first appearance she played eccentric very convincingly and found a way to go into monologues that just seemed right for that character. She portrayed a woman you could believe actually spoke that way. Her performance in Act III will haunt me for years. During her final confrontation with Stanley, when she begged him to move out of the way so she could leave the house, I swear she transformed into a terrified little girl.

I believe we all have seen children frightened by storms, cruel bigger kids and other fears. That was why my gut sank when Ms. Myers delivered her terrified plea for Stanley to move, because I knew there was no adult around to step in and remove the cruel, tormenting child. And Blanche went down emotionally from there, while reaching greater heights of frenzied terror.

In the final scene, as the ladies were preparing Blanche to go off to the hospital, I could actually feel an irrepressible sorrow building in the audience. We were at the mercy of the scene and it had little to give - that is until the doctor smiled kindly at Blanche and gave her back a measure of her dignity. It was not a mercy for her alone.

By the time Blanche delivered her beautifully executed final line - that great cliché of American theater - I nearly gasped and lost it. But I did manage to get out of the theater without using a tissue. Not an easy task and one that required much breath control, blinking... and perhaps the use of a cattle prod, though I admit to nothing.

Director, Charles A. Berglund, deserves credit for not only putting together a great cast and doing an excellent job directing this American classic, but also for effectively utilizing the big wide space that is Wheaton Drama's stage area. One little feature that spoke to this point was the lack of reflective glass in the bedroom table mirror. I noticed this particularly because I was seated in what could have been a bad seat for the show, but was not. This is because, for certain scenes, the mirror would have blocked my view of the stage action. The thoughtful removal of the glass allowed me to see everything and I can truly say there is not a bad seat in the theater for this show. I went so far as to ask the director about the missing glass and he verified my guess that he had it removed to give every audience member a view of the action on stage. I thought it worth mentioning, though that really is the least of what Mr. Berglund, cast and crew accomplished in this production.

This was a great show for even a professional theater to have put on, and yet this was community theater. As stated before, I was blown away. To anyone who appreciates very well-done drama, I highly recommend seeing contacting Playhouse 111 to reserve your chance to see their current production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

To learn more and reserve your spot, follow the link below:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saw "Streetcar"

Last night Margie & I saw A Streetcar Named Desire at Wheaton Drama. The majority of the cast is really good, except for Jennifer Myers as Blanche. She's not good, she is transcendent. We saw the Steppenwolf production with Gary Sinise as Stanley. Jen is better than Steppenwolf's Blanche.

Chuck Berglund's direction never lets the show drag, which with this show is a major concern.

James Griffin is a good, solid Mitch. He doesn't disappear into Blanche's shadow (except when he is supposed to.)

Craig Witt is strong and menacing as Stanley. My only problem (and this is a directing thing, I think, rather than an acting thing) is that he's always strong and menacing. There are levels, but generally within the range of strong and menacing. When Stanley offers to bury the hatchet with Blanche, he's sincere -- he's in a good mood. That's why it's tragic that the offer comes too late for her to rationally accept it. It was played here as just another cruelty. For what he was asked to do, however, it's a terrific performance.

The set design (Penny Salvesen) & set dec (Marc Ludena) are better than most professional sets, as always. Aimee Kennedy's costumes are beautifully done.

The flores para los muertos look like flores para los toyland (which is really jarring), but if that's the worst thing I can say about a show, we're talking about a hit.

The majority of what is being presented is thoughtfully created and extremely well-done.

Jennifer Myers' performance as Blanche knocks it over the edge into Must See. There are very few theatrical performances for which I will get off my feet during curtain call as a mark of respect. Jen got Margie, me and many others standing up. I'm not kidding here, people -- it's a genius performance.

For ticket information:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Foreigner" Review From Pioneer Press

'Foreigner' brings wacky comedy to Metropolis
January 29, 2009
By TOM WITOM Contributor

For comic relief, the late Larry Shue knew what he was doing when he wrote "The Foreigner."
Since its first production in 1983 in Milwaukee and subsequent Off-Broadway success, his play has gone on to tickle the funny bones of countless theater goers.

As mounted at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, the laughs it inspires continue to come at a fast pace, propelled in large measure by the masterly performance of lead Craig Gustafson, who proves himself highly adept at physical humor. He plays Charlie Baker, a middle-aged Brit whose wife attributes her unfaithfulness to his totally dull personality.

Charlie has been brought by his friend, Froggy LeSueur (Dennis Brown), a military demolitions expert, as his guest on trip to a small fishing lodge in Atlanta on the belief that a change of scene would do wonders to brighten his life.

To ease Charlie's anxieties about how to interact in a social environment, Froggy passes him off as an associate from an exotic country where English is unknown. But instead of insulating Charlie, the ruse sets him up as the center of attention. Everyone from the innkeeper to fellow guests ends up sharing secrets from gossip to an unexpected pregnancy to a hidden dark side -- under the assumption that such confidences are falling on ears that won't register their import.
"No one can keep a secret like Charlie," says Catherine, a former debutante staying at the lodge. Little does she know.

It's a perfect framework for bringing Charlie out of his shell. In quick succession he is befriended by the lodge owner (Mickey Crocker), Catherine (Jes Bedwinek) and her slow-witted brother Ellard (Dominic Furry) who is eager to teach him English. He also encounters Catherine's conniving fiance David (Eric Martin) and his unsavory associate Owen (Michael B. Woods) and learns of their scheming to take control of the lodge.

Among the funniest scenes is one in which Charlie tries to "teach" his made-up language to the guests, including Owen, an unwilling pupil who becomes the butt of the farcical lesson.
In Act II, the action escalates -- and takes a peculiarly dark turn -- as certain characters are revealed as racists plotting to do bodily harm to Charlie and to commandeer ownership of the lodge. Dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, they launch a frontal attack on the lodge. But this being a comedy, Charlie manages to thwart their plans -- albeit through a lame plan -- and save the day.

'THE FOREIGNER' Through Feb. 21 at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights. $26-$42. (847) 577-2121 or

Friday, January 23, 2009

Haiku Review

Saw The Foreigner
I laughed until I teared up
...That's just the first act

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Foreigner" Review From Trib Local

I just heard about this review tonight at the show:

"The Foreigner" at Metropolis - a Review
By: Edward Hanlon

“The Foreigner” by Larry Shue, one of the greatest stage comedies, is being performed by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. It concerns Charlie, a shy, unhappily married Englishman who is brought by his friend Sgt. Froggy LeSeuer (a Cockney demolitions expert) to a Georgia fishing lodge for a rest. To keep the pathologically shy Charlie from having to talk to strangers, Froggy states that Charlie must be left alone because he is a foreigner with no knowledge of English. Since no one thinks Charlie can understand what is being said, he is soon hearing much more than anyone would want to hear about their private lives. Evil plans are taking place and the only person who can stop them is a diffident Brit speaking a sort of Sid Caesar double-talk.

In the book “Comic Support: Second Bananas in the Movies”, there is this quote about Lou Jacobi: “A big Jacobi fan when Lou played in ‘Don't Drink the Water’ on Broadway, Woody Allen recalled, ‘Lou got every laugh and twenty more from his body language.’” In this production, Craig Gustafson as Charlie may not hit the “twenty more” quota, but the number of laughs he gets from a properly timed head turn is sizable. Gustafson’s Charlie is lovable, hapless, blindingly funny and a world class seminar in comedic acting.

This is not the first show I have seen at the Metropolis. It is the first show I have seen there where the lead actor was cheered by the audience at curtain call.

Michael B. Woods as the redneck bigot Owen Musser is as masterful in his timing as Gustafson. Owen is stupid, contemptuous and dangerous. Woods sails blithely between Owen’s facets and is equally believable when Owen is a knife-wielding danger as he is when Owen is a goof with bad attitude. The highlight of the show is watching Woods and Gustafson in the “bees come down” scene.

Jes Bedwinek is terrific as Catherine, the shrew who has to tame herself in the space of one monologue, going from irritating to sympathetic. Her only misstep is in openly going for sympathy with her opening line, which then not only fails to establish her as a Tasmanian Devil from her first words, but truncates the laugh that comes with it. Catherine is not woebegone at that point, she’s furious. Otherwise, Bedwinek is an adept actress with a winning smile and stage smarts.

Eric Martin’s David is handsome, smart and shifty. Martin does a stellar job with a very difficult character, one who seems to be the nicest guy on Earth but is in fact the villain (that’s not really a spoiler. It is established early on). Martin’s only quirk is in not being able to play laughs – he screams his lines out during huge laughs, as if resenting the audience’s intrusion and telling them to shut up. In a production with this many laughs, that is a major flaw. Once that is corrected, Martin’s performance will be a highly memorable and effective one.

An audience favorite, Dominic Furry as the slow Ellard shows great lovability and sharp timing. Froggy, frequently a thankless, expository role, is played with great charm and energy by Dennis Brown. Mickey Crocker as Betty is almost funny, but the timing isn’t quite there. One of the easiest laughs to get in the script is Betty constantly shouting at Charlie. It is obvious that Crocker just doesn’t get why it’s funny.

David Belew’s direction is adroit, moving the action along quickly and hilariously. His work deserves more accolades than it will probably get because he does what a good director should do – he makes it look like the actors are coming up with everything themselves.

The laughs in this show are huge and constantly flowing. Less frequent but still present is spontaneous applause at moments that delight the audience. You couldn’t ask for a better night out at the theatre than to see “The Foreigner” at the Metropolis.

“The Foreigner” plays at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell Street, Arlington Heights, through February 21. Contact: 847-577-2121 or

Monday, January 19, 2009

"The Foreigner" at Metropolis

This will be a "hit and run" review (I hope to have time to post more details later).

The Foreigner at Metropolis Performing Arts Center is not to be missed. Craig Gustafson truly gives a tour-de-force performance as Charlie that is not only completely enthralling but also a crash-course in effective character progression and comedy. The rest of the cast also does highly commendable work. Director David Belew should be commended for his tight yet thoughtful direction.

In a word--GO!!!


Hi! This forum has been transferred from They recently revamped their site in a way I didn't like, so I'm moving everything over to this blog. This is for Chicagoland residents writing about any theatrical topic or outlanders writing about Chicagoland theater topics. Review community or professional theater, talk about seeing stuff at Stratford or on Broadway, bitch about auditions, ask advice... whatever. If it's theater related, talk about it. If you go off-topic, become abusive or you're just looking for a fight, I'll boot you off so fast your head will spin. Play (reasonably) nice.

If you would like to be able to post here, send me an e-mail at and let me know. I can add up to 99 authors to this blog. Otherwise, you'll be limited to responding to posts rather than creating your own topics. If you have a thread you particularly liked that you posted in the old forum, please go there:, copy the post and paste it in here.

If anyone has reviews of current shows, like The Foreigner at the Metropolis, The House of Blue Leaves at VTG, On Golden Pond at Big Noise & Ouroboros, Design for Living at First Folio -- anything in the area -- please go for it. Thanks!