Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Cubs Are Still Winners To Me, Even As the Dodgers or Astros Will Take Their Title

Graphic by Seth Arkin (except for Cubs logo)
Contrary to the Gospel of Gordon Gekko, I don't believe greed is good.

Sure, desire, ambition and wishing for things to go your way are laudable--if devoid of any real detriment to others as a direct correlation--whether in real life or this rather inane sports fandom analogy.

But all too often it seems, we don't contently savor getting what we want--on the occasions that we actually do--without quickly longing for more of it.

Once is Enough for
Happily Ever After
(Though winning again and again is certainly welcome.)

As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I wished that they would win a World Series for literally as long as I can remember. As soon as I knew of the Cubs' nearly-eternal lack of baseball's ultimate success--probably around 1975 or so--I hoped that one day I would see them win it all.

Clearly, I wasn't the only one with this at or near the top of my wishlist. And millions of diehards never saw it come true.

While the Cubs' consistent failure to play even .500 ball in most seasons was hard to take, even more crushing was when they teased us with the possibility that "this could be the year."

I won't count 1969 (being born in 1968) but you might. But I certainly, painfully, recall...

1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2015.

Some Cubs fans might now include 2017 as a rueful year that seemed promising but ended without the ultimate goal achieved.

And though I--seemingly heretically--also consider myself a Chicago White Sox fan, who cheered and celebrated when they won the World Series in 2005 and continue to attend several games each season, I couldn't help but note that some more vitriolic Sox boosters felt the need to demean these Cubs with words such as "quit," "embarrassed" and "losers."

As chronicled in this Chicago Tribune column by forthright Sox fan John Kass, a far south side bar is adorned in a "L" fan, mocking the Fly the "W" banner that has become synonymous with Cubs victories.

But while I don't mean to parallel the gravity of the situations, certain Sox fans (and even some fellow Cubs fans) assuming the North Siders badly bowing out to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS somehow ruins my world seems a bit akin to silly Conservative notions that the vile disgrace of Harvey Weinstein is somehow devastating to me because he has supported some of the same liberal and Democratic candidates & causes I have.

Understanding that I have taken this Cubs consolation piece--not so thematically dissimilar from this one from 2015 and this one from July--in strange directions, let me hopefully be a bit less obtuse.

First, briefly, about Weinstein: I have long perceived him as a smarmy, megalomaniacal creep, and while revelations about the depth of his depravity are shocking, they--sadly--aren't truly not all that surprising.

Truth is, I know wonderful conservatives, Republicans and even Trump voters, and rather wretched liberals and Democrats. And though I voted for Barack Obama (twice) and Hillary Clinton, I'm far from their biggest fans.

That Weinstein donated large amounts of money to their campaigns was nice of him, I guess, but obviously didn't make him a good person or me, ever, an admirer of his. Though clearly not alone in Hollywood or among powerful (and not so powerful) white men, he seems about as vile as they come. He deserves whatever's coming to him, and probably far worse.

Liberal hero, my ass. 

As for the Cubs, I want them to win every game.

But I obviously know that won't happen. And while I predicted at the start of this season that they would win the World Series again--I had correctly picked them in 2016--it was pretty apparent throughout that they weren't playing at the same level.

But every other team that wound up making the 2017 playoffs was positioned to do so on July 3.

That the Cubs were 41-41 and 2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Division, makes their ultimate 92-70 record and 6-game besting of the 2nd place Brewers all the more impressive.

Yet even in losing 22 of their last 35 regular season games, the 104-58 Dodgers clearly seemed to be the best team in baseball in 2017, and their trouncing of the Cubs in the NLCS--after the Cubs getting past the Nationals in the NLDS was far from automatic--certainly couldn't be considered shocking.

Yes, it was distressing how badly the Cubs played--they couldn't hit, their pitching (particularly out of the bullpen) was awful, they made some egregious errors and Joe Maddon was largely outmanaged by Dave Roberts--with his decision to use John Lackey late in game 2 particularly dubious--but the Dodgers were clearly the better team.

This just happens in baseball. Many teams that are expected to be dominant heading into a season fail to live up to expectations. Several World Series winners haven't even made the playoffs the following season. And no National League team has won back-to-back World Championships since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.

So that the Cubs made the NLCS three straight years--for the first time ever--is pretty amazing.

Including the regular and postseason, they won 310 games from 2015-2017.

And, of course, they won the friggin' World Series in 2016!

For the first time in 108 years.

Fulfilling my lifelong dream.

And fantasy.

When really, despite being baseball's best team throughout last season, they probably shouldn't have won.

Treachery loomed in the NLDS against the Giants until a 9th inning Game 4 miracle.

The Cubs looked dead in the water against the Dodgers after 3 games of the NLCS, before coming back to life.

They trailed the Cleveland Indians 3 games to 1 in the World Series, with the Indians having home field advantage.

And in Game 7, just when it looked liked the Cubbies had overcome both the Tribe and the curse...

Rajai Fucking Davis.

At which point, I can't say I prayed to any known deity. That isn't my style, particularly about sporting matters.

But like many, I certainly wished for the Cubs to somehow pull out the game...even if it meant karmically--in some Faustian deal--dooming any future chance for success.

And they did.


The World Series.

I haven't forgotten.

And at least internally, I haven't stopped smiling.

Even now.

So while I'm disappointed that they didn't do better this year and that they won't be in a second straight World Series--congratulations and best of luck to both the Dodgers and the Houston Astros--I'm far from distraught.

There will undoubtedly be changes to be made, with pitching coach Chris Bosio already fired and pitchers Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Wade Davis among those unlikely to back next year.

I have some questions, even trepidations, about other Cubs players, and probably won't agree with everything Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Maddon will and won't do to prepare the team for 2018.

But for now, it's fine.

It's good even.

I'm content.

And even grateful.

Thanks, Cubs.

I truly can't wait 'til next year.

Win or lose.

Go Cubs Go!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ours Go to 11: Volume 26, My Favorite New Stage Musicals of the 21st Century

All of the following are shows I've seen as professional productions, including (mostly) at least once on Broadway, a National Tour in Chicago or in London.

Though inexact, I mean to rank my fondness for the source musicals themselves, not particular productions.

1. The Producers
2. Hamilton
3. Hairspray
4. Avenue Q
5. Wicked
6. The Book of Mormon
7. Billy Elliot
8. Spring Awakening
9. In The Heights
10. The Visit
11. Jersey Boys

Special note: Mamma Mia
(premiered in London in 1999 but not in America until after the turn of the century)

And some more
Next to Normal
Mary Poppins
Legally Blonde
Bat Boy
Kinky Boots
A Christmas Story
Come From Away
Fun Home
Sister Act
The Million Dollar Quartet
Thoroughly Modern Millie
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
On Your Feet
Ride the Cyclone
The Last Ship
Bounce/Road Show
Caroline, or Change
The Bridges of Madison County 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Go Cubs Go! Photos -- and a Video -- I Took at NLCS Game 4 vs. the Dodgers (a 3-2 Cubs Win)

Julianna Zobrist singing the National Anthem. Her husband Ben is the third Cub in line.
Ryne Sandberg throws the first pitch.
The Cubs take the field.
First pitch from Jake Arrieta, in possibly his last ever start for the Cubs.
Javier Baez launches his first of two home runs.
Baez scoring on his second home run.
Arrieta hears the Wrigley cheers. For the last time?
Hey, Hey, Cubs win!

All photos by Seth Arkin, copyright 2017. Please do not repost without permission and attribution.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Born to Boogie: 'Billy Elliot' Remains a Musical Delight Even With Some Moss Under Its Feet -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Billy Elliot: The Musical
Porchlight Music Theatre
at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Chicago
Thru November 26

I was quite fond of the 2000 British film Billy Elliot long before there was thought of turning it into a stage musical.

And when it was, premiering in London's West End in 2005--I didn't see it there until 2008--I instantly found it to be one of the best, and most natural, screen-to-stage adaptations.

Not only is it about an 11-year-old boy finding his desire to become a ballet dancer amid philistine resistance--led by his own father and brother--but the "championing of individuality" story fairly common on Broadway is well-complemented by threads pertaining to the recent passing of Billy's mother and an ongoing miner's strike in his hardscrabble hometown, which seems to have happened often under Margaret Thatcher's Prime Ministership. (British films such as Brassed Off, The Full Monty and Pride cover similar historical terrain.)

The musical, like the movie, was directed (originally) by Stephen Daldry, with the show's book by the film's screenwriter, Lee Hall. So much care was taken in the transition.

Photo credit: Austin Packard
And while, for pure delight, the movie's wonderful soundtrack (heavy on T-Rex, with Clash and Jam classics) isn't topped by the show's score, no less a talent than Elton John--whose interest largely drove the musical's development--wrote all the music, to which Hall penned the lyrics.

Having run for over 10 years in London, with 3+ years on Broadway impressive given the show's heavy Anglophile themes, Billy Elliot: The Musical began its touring cycle with almost a year at Chicago's Oriental Theater in 2010 (which was actually shorter than expected).

I saw it twice then, and also as a fantastic regional production--i.e. no longer under the auspices of the original creators--at the Drury Lane Oakbrook in April 2015

Though just a tad less ravishing, the current staging by Porchlight Music Theatre at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts--the company's new home after several years at Stage 773 on Belmont--is likewise superb.

Photo credit: Michael Courier
No one who has or hasn't seen Billy Elliot: The Musical previously should be anything but delighted by what the present cast, musicians and crew are able to achieve under the direction of Brenda Didier.

Sure, while the set design by Christopher Rhoton is mighty impressive, for both budgetary and spatial reasons it understandably doesn't match that in London, on Broadway (I didn't see it there) or the National Tour.

And although sitting next to a proud mother and grandma of one of the 17 kids in the ensemble only added to my appreciation for the effort involved, at multiple levels, some of the singing and dancing--while estimable--didn't quite wow like in the past.

But though largely unavoidable to patrons who may have seen a title such as Billy Elliot earlier in its theatrical life cycle, theater should be about enjoyment and entertainment in the present, not comparison with the past.

Photo credit: Austin Packard
And as with most Porchlight productions I've seen--including Marry Me a Little, In the Heights, Sondheim on Sondheim and Far From Heaven in recent years--the quality is quite estimable.

As Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber noted in welcoming the audience, this is the troupe's 23rd season, and its reputation should only grow as the resident company at Ruth Page, just a smidgen north of what would truly be considered downtown Chicago.

Lincoln Seymour played Billy Elliot at the performance I attended--he shares the role with Jacob Kaiser--and with strong training in dance, he was impressive in both the ballet and singing aspects of the role, as well as employing a passable English accent.

I've seen local starwart Sean Fortunato in enough shows to have expected a stellar performance as Billy's dad, even if he doesn't look akin to others I've seen play the part.

Adam Fane is strong as Billy's older brother Tony, a striking miner like their dad, while Iris Lieberman is a delight as Grandma, including on the aptly named, "Grandma's Song."

Photo credit: Michael Courier
The entire cast is excellent, including Nicole Cready, who warmly appears as Billy's deceased but eternally loving Mom, and young Peyton Owen as Billy's best friend, Michael.

Particularly wonderful is Shanésia Davis as Mrs. Wilkinson, the local ballet teacher who becomes Billy's personal mentor, champion and confidant.

After the show begins with the powerful choral number, "The Stars Look Down," Davis and her class of young girls--including Mrs. Wilkinson's cheeky daughter, Debbie (Princess Isis Z. Lang)--"Shine" nicely on the song of that name.

Even better, under Didier's direction and co-choreography (with Craig V. Miller), is "Solidarity," which--in reflecting Daldry and choreographer Peter Darling's original rendition--is one of the most brilliant production numbers ever crafted for musical theater. It quite powerfully intertwines the dancing class, now including Billy, with clashing miners and police.

Photo credit: Michael Courier
It is because of such narrative interconnectivity, and societal concerns, that I feel Billy Elliot is a superior musical--at least at this point--than the somewhat similar Trevor, which quite enjoyably world premiered at Writers Theatre recently on its way to Broadway, but could use a good bit more grit.

If you haven't seen Billy Elliot on stage or screen, I shouldn't provide many more narrative specifics about what unfolds, and if you have, I needn't.

I'll simply say that songs such as "Expressing Yourself," "The Letter," "Born to Boogie," "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher," "Electricity" and "Once We Were Kings" are well-delivered by the Porchlight cast (and unseen band), while the adroit handling of a scene in which miners descend in an elevator demonstrates this production's creativity in replicating the original with considerably less space and money.

Photo credit: Michael Courier
Also deserving mention is Ivan Bruns-Trukhin, who gracefully handles ballet solos as an older embodiment of Billy.

I haven't made an updated list of my favorite 21st century musicals since the end of 2009--perhaps soon--but Billy Elliot would likely still reside in the Top 10.

And barring a revival at some point, one is unlikely to again see it with quite the production values of London, Broadway or a national tour.

So it will be dependent on local self-producing theaters to keep breathing new life into the strikingly rich tale of a boy who just wants to dance, even if it means scouring the land for terrifically talented kids (and devoted parents, happy to support such noble if time-consuming pursuits).

At its new home, Porchlight impressively achieves that feat. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Resolute Modfather: Above Nostalgia, Paul Weller Shows Great Songwriting Remains in Style -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Paul Weller
House of Blues, Chicago
October 12, 2017

To be forthright off the bat, and fair to Paul Weller and fans who felt the Modfather and his band were absolutely fantastic for the entirety of Thursday's generous 130-minute show at House of Blues, my focus was--atypically--not 100% on the music.

Sure, I watched and heard every song performed, often sang along and jotted down all 29--except a few I didn't recognize--into my mini-notebook. (Chicago setlist here.)

But on a night when my beloved Chicago Cubs were in a fight for their playoff lives, with Game 5 of the NLDS going down to the last pitch against the Washington Nationals, the combination of free HOB Wi-Fi and my Sony PlayStation Vue membership enabled me to not only check the score, but watch significant portions of the later innings on my phone.

For those who will contend this to be: A) Not the way to best enjoy or judge a concert, B) Rude to the performers onstage and fans around me, and C) Contrary to the codes of conduct at live events that I posted about back in June, I cannot strongly disagree.

But I was sitting nowhere near the stage--having been graciously been granted a seat in the Back Bar section--was able to largely cloak my phone in a recessed countertop in front of me and was repeatedly assured by those nearby that their enjoyment of the concert was not being impacted.

In fact, many others--including HOB personnel--appreciated getting score updates and even watched with me.

And it wasn't like I was ignoring Weller, just keeping an eye on the game while watching the show.

That I didn't forego attending the concert given the deciding game--and would have even if there was no way to see the Cubs while there--bespeaks how much I like his music. (Incidentally, Weller's last Chicago concert, in June 2015, would have coincided with Game 7 of the Stanley Cup had not the Blackhawks clinched in 6, and I wouldn't have missed that show either.)

But I was unable to pass up the ability to watch the Cubs while also enjoying the concert, without seemingly being too much of an overt jackass. Especially as the Cubs wound up winning in about the most nerve wracking way possible, with the Nats seriously threatening to change the outcome in every inning.

Yet while I believe the above candor requisite in writing this review, I don't feel the split focus impaired my appreciation of what Weller & Co. were doing onstage.

In truth, while trying to fairly factor in the situation and perhaps cut a bit of slack, I actually think I may have liked the show a bit less without the Cubs' diversion (and a comfortable seat).

I was certainly glad to be seeing Weller live for the 6th time in the past 14 years, and happy to be joined by my likewise avid concertgoing pal, Paolo, especially in knowing that his affinity for Paul Weller--and his original band, The Jam--has quite a lot to do with my influence.

Because it is mostly standing room only, the House of Blues is a venue I don't frequent, but I was willing to due the relative rarity of Weller playing Chicago.

So I was delighted when the venue honored my request for a seating option. (And must note, more than previously experienced, the complete coolness and kindness of all HOB personnel I encountered, from the bartender/waitress in the restaurant to the security personnel downstairs and in the music hall. If you're reading this: Thank you.)

Hence, less so that had I been laser-focused and/or standing uncomfortably for 3+ hours--including a nice if muted opening set from Lucy Rose--I didn't really mind when Weller's setlist selections were a bit esoteric for my preferences.

It was a great night regardless, including some fantastic music by the ever-stylish Englishman and the five members of his touring band, which features a pair of drummers.

And having seen Weller so many times, and paying attention to his setlists in other locales, I knew this gig would be far from Jam-packed.

This is the 40th anniversary of the release of The Jam's debut album, In The City, and I would surmise that Weller remains quite proud of the work he did with that trio through 1982.

But despite the objections of his bandmates, he broke up the Jam at the height of their popularity--though never big in the U.S., in the UK they rivaled The Clash--and formed the Style Council, which lasted until 1989.

Since 1992, Weller has released several solid, stellar or even superlative solo albums, with many wonderful songs in a variety of styles he has chosen to explore.

Thursday night, Weller and his fine band played several of his older solo gems ("Friday Street," "Out of the Sinking," "From the Floorboards Up," "Into Tomorrow," "You Do Something To Me," "Wild Wood," "Peacock Suit" and "The Changingman") along with three tunes from his latest album, A Kind Revolution and--a bit oddly--six from the one just prior, Saturns Pattern.

A bit more to Paolo's delight than mine, three Style Council chestnuts ("My Ever Changing Moods," "Have You Ever Had It Blue" and "Shout to the Top") were heard but "Start!" was the only representation of The Jam, who remain among my 10 favorite rock artists of all-time even though I didn't learn of them until years after their disbandment.

But this isn't a simplistic, "Play more Jam!" critique, although the gripe is nothing new; my 2015 Weller review is thematically rather similar.

As noted above, Weller--ever-svelte at 59 and in great voice--sounded terrific as he rotated through electric & acoustic guitars and the piano, even once playing a guitar while seated at a keyboard.

Along with those already mentioned, the opening "White Sky," "Long Time," "Going My Way" and "Woo Sé Mama"--the latter a highlight from the new album--brought considerable delight.

I won't whine about any specific songs, but after about an hour things started to bog down (though I didn't mind too much given the excitement occurring at Nationals Park).

And while a 5-song acoustic encore was ever classy--begun with the new "Hopper": "In late night bars / The ghost of Hopper / Paints such melancholy colours / With sullen neon lights"--I know I'm not the only one who felt the Jam's "That's Entertainment" would have fit in wonderfully, while amping things up a bit.

But while it's a song Weller has played at solo shows over the past decade, he eschewed not only it but a closing romp through "Town Called Malice," which has ended things on a delirious note often, including on this U.S. tour.

The argument "Why do you keep seeing him if he doesn't play what you want?" holds some water, and could have also pertained to the late, great Tom Petty, who never mined his catalog as much as I wanted, yet whom I kept paying to see with the Heartbreakers.

In both cases, I love them and the music they did play enough to always remain a fervid fan. Their shows have never merited less than @@@@ or @@@1/2 out of 5, so I'm not saying any were "bad."

And as with Petty, I admire Weller for doing what he wants to, not what I or anyone else wants him to. However wealthy he may be, he could be far more so if he wanted to reunite The Jam, so he truly believes in his vision, and I have to respect that.

But I truly believe that without expecting to turn them into Jam jukebox affairs, his shows would be far more fully pleasing--at least to me; I noted some others raving about the setlist--with just a few more well-placed relics.

And had he pulled out "Going Underground"--my favorite Jam song, seemingly never played solo--I would've thrown my phone, and the Cubs, across the room.

As it was, I clearly wasn't the only one following the game. When the Cubs won, one of the night's loudest cheers erupted. Not that Paul Weller, to his steadfast credit, seemed to notice.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Here Today: Brian Wilson and His Impressive Current Band Make 'Pet Sounds' Feel Alive -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Brian Wilson
with Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin and band
Rosemont Theatre
October 6, 2017

Brian Wilson was both the most and least important person onstage Friday night at the Rosemont Theatre.

Certainly, his was the name on the ticket and--while the venue was well short of full--undoubtedly the impetus for everyone being there.

This, of course, is due to the boatloads of magnificent songs he wrote with the Beach Boys--including the majestic Pet Sounds album, which was performed in full--and even some rather fine ones as a solo artist.

But along with his inarguable genius, Wilson is equally famed for mental and psychological difficulties that have beset him to various extents for 50+ years--since he created Pet Sounds in 1966, fought with his brothers/bandmates & overbearing dad, overindulged in psychedelic drugs and suffered several nervous breakdowns, including supposedly upon hearing the Beatles' brilliant Sgt. Peppers and the Lonely Hearts Club Band album on its 1967 release.

And while at age 75 he is thankfully well enough to maintain a near constant touring cycle, Wilson was the steadfast focal point behind a centerstage piano on Friday but--other than perhaps some sporadic tinkering--he didn't actually play it.

Lead vocals were spread around to several of the 11 other musicians onstage--including original Beach Boy Al Jardine and his golden-voiced son Matthew--and when Brian did sing, his timbre, phrasing and power clearly lagged behind his famed recordings and current cohorts.

But understandably, Wilson--whose famed ability to hear and compose music in his head and channel it through ace musicians may be historically second to none--has surrounded himself with sensational players and singers who do most of the heavy lifting.

This includes his stalwart pal, the elder Jardine, who after the 2012 Beach Boys 50th anniversary tour that included but then ousted Brian--at the hands of his seemingly cruel cousin, Mike Love--has opted to stay literally by Wilson's side.

On Wikipedia, you can find the full list of musicians accompanying Brian Wilson on the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour, which has run since March 2016 with 100+ worldwide shows and is wrapping up this week, at least for now.

But not only were all those onstage highly skilled at their craft--with many playing more than one instrument, singing harmonies and taking occasional lead turns--it seemed apparent that they too were there out of reverence for the music Wilson has given the world.

So while at times the concert reminded of a tribute band, jukebox musical, Las Vegas revue, music-infused religious service (with a central point of worship) or even a museum exhibit, even with showmanship far short of his 75-year old peer, Paul McCartney, and a focus that seemed to wander, it would be inaccurate to call Brian Wilson's acute contributions inconsequential.

If the main attraction didn't earn high marks for technical merit, over the course of 2-hours (plus a set break) I heard some of the greatest songs ever written sung and played quite well.

Preceding the Pet Sounds playthrough was a solid hour that blended Beach Boys mega-hits--"California Girls," "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby"--with much juicy fruit beyond the low hanging variety.

There isn't yet a setlist posted for the Rosemont show, but assuming I have the titles right, Matthew Jardine delivered a beautiful "Let the Wind Blow," his ever-dapper pop delivered a Beach Boys rarity that he wrote ("Susie Cincinnati"), the heralded sideman Blondie Chaplin sang and played sizzling guitar on "Wild Honey," and "Darlin'" was among several lesser-known tunes that delighted.

I am one of those who believes Pet Sounds to be one the 10 greatest rock albums ever produced but also--if dictated by putting it behind Sgt. Peppers, Sticky Fingers, Are You Experienced, Who's Next, Led Zeppelin IV, Born to Run, London Calling and Nevermind--just a tad overrated. 

Yet it was magical to hear it delivered live with such care and meticulousness.

And while the parts where Brian sang lead--most notably on the heavenly "God Only Knows," a bit interestingly given that his brother Carl sang it on the album--were the ones short of note perfect, there was something beautifully poignant about his boldly doing the best he could on such sacred material of his creation.

Songs such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "I'm Waiting for the Day," "Sloop John B," "I Know There's an Answer," "Here Today" and "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" brought inherent joy and/or wistfulness and--preceded by Brian unnecessarily but movingly telling us that they were instrumentals--"Let's Go Away For Awhile" and the album's title tune had me imagining the maestro hearing/conjuring the melodies in his head.

Pet Sounds was followed out the door by one blast from the past after another--"Good Vibrations," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Barbara Ann," "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Fun, Fun, Fun"--before Wilson's solo "Love and Mercy" (..."that's what we need tonight") not only reminded of Brian's amazing journey as depicted in the biopic of the same name, it punctuated a dark week in America with a musical genius' heartrending pleading.

Hence, even more than on most of my reviews, my star rating--of @@@@ out of 5--is imprecise and unnecessary.

This won't rank as one of the top concerts I've seen this year, and Brian Wilson himself, in the here and now, is well short of musically spectacular.

But even though I had to skip watching a Cubs playoff game to attend, and although this was my 4th time seeing Wilson in the past 10 years--once with the Beach Boys--it was a wonderfully entertaining night I'm glad I didn't miss.

And with whatever disclaimers and delineations, Brian Wilson earned an avid standing ovation--and my abiding affinity--both for what he once did and who he still remains.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

A Worthwhile Quest: At Writers Theatre, Henry Godinez Makes 'Quixote: On the Conquest of Self' a Rather Fun & Engaging Knight -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Quixote: On the Conquest of Self
by Mónica Hoth and Claudio Valdés Kuri
English translation by Georgina Escobar
Directed by Claudio Valdés Kuri
Writers Theatre, Glencoe, IL
Thru December 17

My appreciation of great literature being admittedly more theoretical than actionable, I have never read Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, which was actually published in two early 17th century volumes.

I primarily know of the most widely read-about fictional character in history--a commoner who imagines himself a knight on a valiant quest--via the brilliant classic musical, Man of La Mancha.

As such I was intrigued by a recent, non-musicalized Quixotic stage work that originated in Mexico and is getting its Chicago area premiere a Glencoe's Writers Theater with acclaimed Mexican director Claudio Valdés Kuri at the helm.

Henry Godinez, an Resident Artistic Associate at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and an acclaimed director in his own right, stars here as Don Quixote, albeit one who is familiar with cell phones and--per one of the biggest laugh-inducing lines of a show that almost entirely breaks the fourth wall--the Writers Theatre's origins in a bookstore.

Photo credit on all: Michael Brosilow
Quixote: On the Conquest of Self also relies on considerable good-natured audience participation as our would-be hero bounces around chapters Cervantes wrote about him, acts out selected scenes and speaks to patrons within the intimate Gillian Theatre--the smaller of two spaces in Writers' glorious new home--with a combination of droll self-awareness and acerbic contemporary day observation.

With Godinez truly wonderful as he pretty much speaks for 95 straight minutes, this take on Quixote is among the more imaginative pieces of theater I've ever seen.

Which doesn't mean I loved it through and through, although I do recommend it to those who appreciate literature, the themes of Don Quixote and inventive, unique, rather humorous theater that ventures into the realm of performance art.

As per my @@@@ rating (out of 5), Godinez--working from a script by the director (who originally staged it in Mexico City) and Mónica Hoth, with English translation by Georgina Escobar--clearly does yeoman's work in keeping things moving.

And at the opening night performance, those he pulled from the audience played along so well I wondered if more than one was a plant.

But I can't deny getting to a point where I wished the show would end sooner than it did.

And while I applaud the notions Quixote: On the Conquest of Self puts forth about daring to dream, failing only if one doesn't try and the imaginative power of language--at one point our license plate and bottle cap clad Quixote shares that over 16,000 different words were used to tell his tale vs. the 300 most of us use with regularity today--I can't say I came to much better know & appreciate the source novel or found myself consistently riveted in a theatrical sense.

"The limits of language are the limits of mind," states Godinez at one point, and it is the charming verbosity and wonderment of his character--blending both classic and modern embodiments--that make the show work as well as it does.

Though there are also some things that happen onstage I best not reveal which add considerably to Quixote: On the Conquest of Self being not only an engaging, but heartwarming piece of theater.

A noble quest indeed.

With even a knowing wink to Man of La Mancha's wondrous "The Impossible Dream" thrown in for good measure.

It may be a tad unwieldy and ponderous at times, but overall this highly unique show and exemplary performance make for a rather enjoyable knight.