Friday, February 15, 2019

Early Blues Infusion: Writers Theatre Strikes Chord With August Wilson's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
by August Wilson
directed by Ron OJ Parson
Writers Theatre, Glencoe, IL
Thru March 17

At this point, I've seen several of August Wilson's 10 plays chronicling the African-American experience across the decades of the 20th century.

But when I first saw Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Wilson's 1920s installment--written before he planned on doing a series of 10--I didn't really want to.

I certainly don't mean to imply that anyone forced, cajoled or convinced me in a way I regret.

It's just that on a trip to New York in March 2003, I had a desire--and even tickets--to see the hot new musicals at the time: Thoroughly Modern Millie and Urinetown.

But there happened to be a musicians' strike that shuttered every Broadway musical, including those two.

So at the TKTS booth in Times Square, I got myself tickets to see a revival of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom--it had originally opened on Broadway in 1984--starring Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
It also featured Carl Gordon, who I recalled playing Dutton's dad on the sitcom Roc, and Anthony Mackie, who's become something of a film & TV star.

As Ma Rainey was a singer known as the "Mother of the Blues," Ma Rainey's Black Bottom features a good bit of music played live onstage--which was permissible during the strike--but it isn't officially a musical.

So though it wasn't my first choice in March 2003 on Broadway, I was happy to see it--and I enjoyed it.

I can't say that I remember it thoroughly, so was glad to see it show up on the schedule at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, where I saw it Wednesday night.

And again enjoyed it, about on par with the rating I entered in my "Shows Seen Database" back in 2003.

At Writers, the always superb Felicia P. Fields makes for a fine, feisty and well-sung Ma Rainey, whose recording session establishes  the play's setting, context and structure.

As the show opens, the studio owner, Mr. Sturdyvant (Thomas J. Cox)--who also seems to serve as the record company profiting from Ma's success--is waiting for her to arrive.

Getting there first are Ma's manager, Irvin (Peter Moore, who I've seen in several shows at Steep Theatre, where he serves as Artistic Director), and then the members of her band.

Playing their instruments onstage, these included pianist Toledo (David Alan Anderson), bassist Slow Drag (A.C. Smith), trombonist Cutler (Alfred H. Wilson) and trumpeter Levee (Kelvin Roston, Jr.).

Levee is a bit younger than the others, and a good bit more wanting to rock the boat, musically and otherwise.

As played by the excellent Roston, he becomes the focal point of the play, even more than Ma, one of whose songs is "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

Ultimately, the play is rather charged, riveting and about much more than a pioneering blues woman.

The dichotomy between the men largely willing to respect authority--black or white--and Levee, who can be seen as ambitious, antagonistic, insubordinate and rightfully progressive all at the same time, is striking and rather allegorical.

And the character of Ma, who must battle the white power-brokers--even as she has the upper hand--but also demands strict obedience from her band members, adds to the power of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and what one might take from it.

But as a night's entertainment, I found it too slow in reaching its boiling point, with almost the entire first act devoted to bantering among the band members (who often throw the n-word at each other, in a way that adds insight to the times).

Wilson was too gifted a writer for the rehearsal room repartee and ribaldry not to have considerable charm and even depth, but Act I was more fair than fantastic.

Act II is far better, dramatically, musically--as we get some full-fledged performances--and meaningfully.

So in full, I can recommend Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and--with Cutler's sing-song count-in to each song take stoking acute recollections--fondly appreciate the memories it stirred from my past.

It's a fine history lesson about a musical pioneer--"the blues gets me out of bed in the morning," she states at one point, imparting that art is life and not mere past-time--but ultimately concerning more widespread matters, with Roston's performance particularly powerful.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Entirely Resonant, Years Down the Road: 'How I Learned to Drive' Provides a Haunting Look at Adolescence and Abuse -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

How I Learned to Drive
a play by Paula Vogel
directed by Cody Estle
Raven Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 24

Paula Vogel's powerful play, How I Learned to Drive, opened off Broadway in 1997 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year.

Based on my first encounter with this work, presently at Chicago's erstwhile Raven Theater, it's easy to understand the acclimation.

The play, production--under the direction of Raven artistic director Cody Estle--and performances are all excellent.

And the contemporary resonance of How I Learned to Drive could hardly be more striking.

So this is certainly a recommendation that you avail yourself of Raven's reasonable pricing--or discounts on HotTix, Goldstar and TodayTix--and see this show.

But I think it best to keep this review rather brief, so as to let you attend without quite knowing too much of what unfolds.

I'll even be intentionally circumspect in the photos I include here, even though I was officially provided some that could divulge a good bit more.

As the play's difficult subject matter can--and really should--make some audience members uncomfortable, I feel I should note that How I Learned to Drive is not a glib recollection of driver's ed or the joys of teenage exploration.

Presented non-linearly across several episodes taking place mostly in the 1960s, the play centers around a young woman nicknamed Li'l Bit, well-played by Eliza Stoughton.

The other actors in the play represent Li'l Bit's relatives, including the always stellar Mark Ulrich as Uncle Peck, Kathryn Acosta as her mom/others, Katherine Bourne Taylor as her grandma/others and Julian Hester as her grandpa/others.

Avoiding specifics, let's just say that Li'l Bit faces a whole lot of ugliness, and even vileness, from her family members, some far worse than others.

There's clearly a reason Raven programmed this show in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

And that's where I think I'll leave it.

I didn't find it quite perfect, but How I Learned to Drive is superb.

Not to mention disquieting and haunting.

Which is why it is quite worth your time and attention.  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Leo to the Max: Paramount Theatre Produces a Terrific 'Producers' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Producers
Paramount Theatre, Aurora, IL
Thru March 17

When I first saw The Producers early in its pre-Broadway Chicago run in February 2001, I was already a fan of the musical theater genre.

Well-indoctrinated as a kid--I saw national tours of A Chorus Line, The Wiz and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas before I was 10--I resisted a bit in my teens, but made a point of seeing musicals on trips to New York and London in the '90s, as well as The Phantom in the Opera in Chicago.

I often credit a touring production of Cabaret starring Teri Hatcher, which I saw twice in 1999, as the catalyst to a voluminous embrace of musicals--and live theater overall--that has led to my seeing more than 1,200 shows over the past 20 years.

But though I also saw such cornerstone musicals as Les Miserables, Rent, Miss Saigon, Cats, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof, Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun prior to The Producers, it was a life-changer.

Starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, as well as sensational performers in many roles, it was the funniest show I had ever seen--and I absolutely loved it. (At that point, I had not seen Mel Brooks' 1967 film on which the musical is based.)

So I made a point of seeing it again...that summer on Broadway, after it won 12 Tony Awards. 

And again...on an early national tour stop in Cleveland.

And in Hollywood, starring Jason Alexander and Martin Short. And London, again with Nathan Lane--who took over for Richard Dreyfuss.

And again and again and again.

Even after The Producers moved beyond its original Broadway production--where I also saw it with Richard Kind and Roger Bart--and tours and renditions based on it, I've made a point of catching regional productions.

Which--after versions by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Theatre at the Center in Munster and Mercury Theatre in Chicago and elsewhere--is what brought me to the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, nearly 18 years after my initial live foray.

Yes, I consider myself a Producersologist, somewhat cheekily, somewhat not.

And for those keeping track--that would be me--this was my 15th time seeing the show.

And actually my second time at the glorious venue in Aurora, where I had caught a non-Equity tour of the original production in 2007 that was really quite good.

But for several years now, the Paramount has self-produced its own Broadway series, and most of the productions I've seen there--including Les Miz and West Side Story, two musicals I believe to be technically superior to The Producers--have been quite stellar.

So I wasn't going to see just another rendition of my favorite musical, I truly had high expectations.

And I was not disappointed.

Paramount's artistic director Jim Corti directs the show, and with wonderful work by set designer William Boles, costumer Jordan Ross and choreographer Brenda Didier, the production values are comparable to Broadway, or at least a Broadway tour.

This includes a 21-piece orchestra re-creating the original orchestrations.

Because I know the original show so well, I noticed a few sight gags that were omitted, and though both excellent, the lead actors playing Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom--Blake Hammond and Jake Morrissy--just aren't as distinctively brilliant as Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

But audiences coming to The Producers in Aurora--and the 1,800+ seat venue seemed packed on opening night--without having seen it onstage before will be getting a full caliber experience that should (and seemingly did) delight on par with my initial experience.

Mel Brooks' story about a down on his luck Broadway producer, Bialystock, who with help of nebbishy accountant Bloom aims to stage a show certain to close in order to retain all of the investment money, remains delectable.

The script they find, titled Springtime for Hitler, lends itself to offending everyone, and part of what makes The Producers so great is how daring it is.

Brooks wrote the musical's score--only "Springtime for Hitler" carried over from the film--and it too is terrific.

Part of the glee is in encountering each of the secondary characters, so I'll be somewhat circumspect in my descriptions, but these roles are all sumptuously embodied at the Paramount.

As playwright Franz Liebkind, Ron E. Rains is among the best I recall, and Elyse Collier makes for a striking Ulla, a Swedish actress-slash-receptionist.

In recent years, I've had the repeated pleasure of seeing remarkable performances by Sean Blake--shows 1, 2, 3--and was delighted to find him here in the role of director Roger De Bris. (Sadly I recalled that Gary Beach, who originated the role on Broadway, passed away last year.)

Blake was clearly cast for his considerable talent, but his being an African-American lends itself to a nifty twist in the "Springtime for Hitler" show-within-a-show, one that I'd never seen before.

From the early "King of Broadway," Hammond shows himself to be an excellent Max, and Morrissy--who I understand has been something of a bit player in some recent Paramount productions--handles "We Can Do It" and "I Wanna Be a Producer" with dorky aplomb.

Hammond's Act II blitz through "Betrayed" is also terrific.

I could easily run through the entire show--heck, virtually every lyric--but, as I say, much of the joy comes in the surprise encounters.

Even if you've seen The Producers before.

Though many of the original Broadway set pieces are well-replicated, there isn't a Lincoln Center fountain during "I Wanna Be a Producer"--but I relished the alternate choice.

Similarly, on the Act I finale--set in "Little Old Lady Land"--Corti and crew take a fresh approach, but one that really works.

Sure, the original--under Broadway director Susan Stroman--was the most LOL thing I ever saw onstage. But either you know it, and therefore can appreciate the deviation, or you don't and won't miss it.

Non-subscription, non-discount tickets to The Producers in Aurora seem to run between $38-$69
depending on the performance and seat. This is far less than it cost on Broadway, even 18 years ago, or for prime seats to a touring show in the Loop.

As such, great credit is to be given for the entertainment value it delivers.

No, it isn't the best version I've ever seen, but even with that caveat, it's one I'm quite glad I saw.

If, like presumably many, you haven't seen The Producers live for at least a decade, this makes for a superb reminder of why the show won a record 12 Tony Awards--and still stands as my favorite musical.

And if you've never witnessed this show, what are you waiting for?

The original production is no longer touring and has yet to be revived on Broadway, so the chance to see a rendition this good is really rare.

You may not be inspired to seek it out another 14 times like me, but you should concur that The Producers still makes for comedic musical theater to the absolute Max. 

Friday, February 08, 2019

A Powerful Voice: 'Nina Simone: Four Women' Chronicles Legendary Singer's Rising Activism -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Nina Simone: Four Women
by Christina Ham
directed by Kenneth Roberson
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Thru March 3

I love Nina Simone's voice.

Acutely, I mean her singing voice, but I've always perceived considerable social consciousness in the husky, soulful renditions of songs she wrote and covers such as "Here Comes the Sun."

The 2015 Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone, furthered my appreciation for both the music and activism of the artist born Eunice Waymon, in North Carolina in 1933.

After a varied and estimable career starting as a classical music piano-playing prodigy, Nina Simone died in 2003.

Rather than retrace her entire life, I like how playwright Christina Ham focuses Nina Simone: Four Women--now running at Northlight Theatre in Skokie under the direction of Kenneth Roberson--on a moment in time, in 1963.

Though some of the biographical specifics are presumably fictionalized for the sake of storytelling, Ham chronicles a visit by Simone--terrifically played here by Sydney Charles--to Birmingham, Alabama in the wake of the white supremacist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls.

As the play enunciates, the visit coincided with--or resulted in--Simone becoming far more strident in the subject matter of her music.

In other words, her voice changed.

No longer was she, as suggested in the show, a "supper club singer for white folks," but--with songs like "Mississippi Goddam," which reflected the Alabama bombing as well as the 1963 murder of African-American activist, Medgar Evers, in Mississippi--a potent force in the Civil Rights Movement.

Given this illumination about how Ms. Simone's career shifted, the gravitas of the specific incident in Birmingham, the Civil Rights Movement overall and the--at times, unjustly limited--role played by powerful women, Nina Simone: Four Women makes for nothing less than a worthwhile 100 minutes.

This is especially true given the acting and singing talents of Charles and her cast mates: Deanna Reed-Foster as Sarah, a Birmingham maid; Ariel Richardson as Sephonia, a young activist whose lighter skin tone gets her derided as "yellow" by Sarah; and Melanie Brezill as Sweet Thing, a hot-tempered woman who arrives late in the show.

The character names coincide with those mentioned by Simone in her 1966 song, "Four Women," in which she dubs herself Peaches.

The show's musical director, Daniel Riley, often plays the piano onstage, accompanying songs mentioned and "Sinnerman," "Brown Baby" and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," among others, upon a striking set by Christopher Rhoton representing the bombed out church.

So Nina Simone: Four Women can probably technically be considered a revue, and thus a musical, even if it feels more like a play with music, however imprecise the delineation.

The musical numbers are certainly highlights; all quite well done.

But while I didn't feel the drama was consistently riveting, nor the narrative entirely realistic in terms of the gathering of the women, there is considerable virtue in what the show imparts beyond how well it entertains.

This probably isn't where you should begin in learning about the great Nina Simone, and certainly not where you should end, but through the four women onstage--reflecting unique perspectives while loosely representing the unknown adulthood of the murdered lost girls--you should get a decent sense of discontent, struggle, pride and passion.

And how she found her true voice. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Ours Go to 11: Volume 35, Names that Essentially Define an Art Form (and Serve as Shorthand for Greatness)

As some may know, for the last couple years, I've also maintained a blog called 6word Portraits, on which I celebrate a noteworthy artist, leader, athlete, etc. each day, typically on their birthday.

Today's entry of Mikhail Baryshnikov got me thinking about individuals whose names--often just a surname--essentially serve as shorthand for an entire art form or idiom.

As in, "He/she is going to grow up to be a real __________" and the connotation would be widely understood by a large percentage of the population, at least of a certain age.

Obviously, it's an imperfect list, as I am not ranking or reflecting mere virtuosity, but my perception of genre-defining fame (as a white suburban Chicago Jewish male of 50 years old).

But here goes:

1. Shakespeare
2. Mozart
3. Picasso
4. Houdini
5. Hemingway
6. Hitchcock
7. Rodgers & Hammerstein 
8. Baryshnikov
9. Einstein
10. Elvis
11. Sinatra

A few others

"Bird" (Charlie Parker)

Brando (or Olivier)
Lucy (Lucille Ball)
Babe Ruth
Michael Jordan
"Lady Day" (Billie Holiday)
Pele (or Messi for the modern age)
Carson (Johnny)
Vin Scully
Frank Lloyd Wright
Ansel Adams
Beau Brummell

Monday, January 21, 2019

'I Have a Dream' -- Full Text of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Speech at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.

So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy, which has engulfed the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, “When will you be satisfied?”

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality; we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one; we can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No! no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations.  Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering.

Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama — with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado; let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia; let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee; let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Ramble On: A Fun Night Watching Loyola Beat Valparaiso in College Basketball

Unlike some previous years, my recent barrage of Best of 2018 blog posts didn't contain any references to my sports fandom, whether in noting games attended, teams followed, athletes admired or moments savored.

But along with largely stellar and highly enjoyable seasons by the Chicago Cubs and Bears--which ended all too abruptly, in the former case with me in attendance at a marathon Wild Card loss--the Loyola Ramblers' run to the NCAA Final Four was a definite highlight.

I don't follow college basketball very closely during the regular season, and didn't know the 2017-18 Ramblers were doing really well until just days before they made the tourney.

So although I probably could've gone to a game last season--or many others--I never gave it much thought.

But it was a thrill following Loyola through the tournament, and although they haven't played that well to date this season--they now stand at 11-7--I've had in mind that I should get to a game.

Although it may have been just as easy on prior occasions, I seized the opportunity last night, as Coach Porter Moser, the world's most famous nun--99-year-old Sister Jean, who delivered an invocation--and the Ramblers hosted the Crusaders from Valporaiso University.

Valpo, at 4-0, had been atop 3-1 Loyola in Missouri Valley Conference play, but somewhat surprisingly, the matchup failed to fill the Gentile Arena, with less than 4,500 seats on the lakefront campus.

I would've been able to buy a seat at the box office for $14-$20, but on Monday night found one for just $6+ fees on StubHub.

And getting to the game after work downtown was as easy as can be, with the arena just steps from the Loyola stop on the CTA Red Line.

From the tourney run I had come to recognize a few Ramblers still on the team--Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, Cameron Krutwig--and they were among six Loyola players in double figures.

Valparaiso's starting center was a 7'1" junior named Derrik Smits, who I assumed and was able to corroborate as the son of longtime Indiana Pacers center, Rik Smits.

Moser seemed considerably more demonstrative than I'd perceived from TV, as he seemed to be screaming at someone after nearly every play. But the Ramblers crushed the Crusaders 71-54--they had been up 29 with 6:31 left to play--and this seemed the kind of game that could be a catalyst to better fortunes going forward.

Having attended Northern Illinois University in the late '80s, when the football and men's basketball teams were so-so at best, I've never acutely experienced big-time college athletics.

Over the years, I've been to a handful of Northwestern, DePaul and UIC games, but never Loyola, whose hardcourt success was typically middling (or not even) in the past few decades until last season.

Given its smallish capacity, the Gentile--pronounced genteel--Arena presumably doesn't compare to the atmosphere my nephews are experiencing at Indiana University.

The student section--which I was not in--was boisterous, but not quite rocking. The environment around the arena actually seemed to be a good one for families, which is only kinda complimentary

Still, the Ramblers played well and the crowd was excited, so my evening was sufficiently fun.

I'm glad I went, don't know why I hadn't before, and hope the Ramblers can ride a hot streak the rest of the season into another NCAA tourney bid.

And the right opportunity presents itself, I'd happily ramble over again.

Here's a clip of the Loyola band playing "Sweet Caroline" before the game, followed by a bunch more photos.

Coach Moser in the middle.

All photos by Seth Arkin. Please do not repost without permission and attribution.