Monday, September 16, 2019

Be Well-Advised: Nicely Staged 'Tiny Beautiful Things' Offers Perceptivity and Poignancy-- Chicago Theater Reviews

Theater Review

Tiny Beautiful Things
Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed
Adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago
Thru October 13 @@@@

Dear Sugar: (which is the name author Cheryl Strayed used in anonymously serving as an advice columnist for the literary website The Rumpus from 2010-12, with columns compiled into Tiny Beautiful Things and then turned into a play by Nia Vardalos, who starred at NYC's Public Theater in late 2017. A Chicago production by the Victory Gardens Theater has just opened.)

How might I fairly assess a play that is well-intentioned, well-written, well-acted and well-staged, which I liked far more than I didn't--and can readily perceive others loving far more than me--but which I just didn't quite find phenomenal?

Signed, Seth Saith

Presumably, given the perceptive and poignant responses enacted onstage under the direction of Vanessa Stalling, the reply from Sugar/Strayed would be more sage than my supposition, but perhaps she might offer:
Dear Seth Saith:  
You answered your own question. Review the show “fairly,” reflecting how you engaged with it, not how you think others might. 
Photo credit on all: Liz Lauren
Fair enough, especially as I did like the show.

And while I don’t have much familiarity with Strayed beyond seeing the movie Wild based on her memoir of embarking on a long, therapeutic hike, I highly respect her talents and accomplishments. I think a friend of mine even knew her personally back in the day.

Like probably everyone, I loved Vardalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which she wrote as well as starred in, and she was really sweet a few years ago when I met her at the Skokie Public Library. 

She was encouraged to adapt Strayed’s advice columns into a play by Thomas Kail, who directed it at the Public. He also happens to be the director of a show called Hamilton.

So the pedigrees behind the creation of Tiny Beautiful Things are obviously strong, and Stalling has become one of Chicago’s top directors while Victory Gardens regularly does fine work.

Per what I’ve read, in New York the play was set in Sugar’s apartment, but I like how Stalling decided to base it in a homey diner, complete with a blueish hue and faded Edward Hopper reprints on the wall.

Starring as Sugar at Victory Gardens is Janet Ulrich Brooks, and she is terrific. This isn’t a surprise, as I’ve seen her before—notably in 33 Variations at TimeLine—but she’s really well cast. 

Accompanying her are three actors/actresses—August Forman, Eric Slater and Jessica Dean Turner—who each serve as a variety of letter writers seeking Sugar’s advice.

As selected by Vardalos—who to be clear, does not appear in the show in Chicago; Strayed doesn’t
either but was on-hand Friday night—many of the included queries are rather weighty, including from individuals trying to understand love, deal with a miscarriage, facing the challenges of being transgender and cope with the death of a child.

I won’t reveal any of Sugar’s specific responses, but several rather incisively extend beyond the question at hand, as Strayed reflects on her own personal tragedies, as well as experiences from a job in which she counseled abused teen girls.

So Tiny Beautiful Things is certainly a show that pulls at your heartstrings. And I surmise this might be enough for many to love it.

But without suggesting that its brevity and unique structure are automatically imperfections, as an 80-minute show without a true narrative arc and a few moments that lag, it’s very good without feeling theatrically transcendent.

Undoubtedly, acutely to some letter writers and more widely to many readers, Sugar’s advice—and truly intuitive words—actually changed people’s lives.

But with great respect and regard, I can’t say that Tiny Beautiful Things as a stage work, affected me to such a degree.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Strangers in the Wrong Town: 'The Band's Visit' is Brief, Reserved but Rather Pleasant -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Band's Visit
a recent musical
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru September 15
@@@@1/4

The Band’s Visit is a lovely musical.

It’s not a musical I absolutely love, but its merits are many, and I found myself a bit more smitten in seeing it for the second time, on its first national tour, than I had in catching it on Broadway in late 2017. 

Though only a 90-minute, one-act affair, the musical is a tad too slow for me, and while I appreciate—especially post Once, Fun Home, Dear Evan Hansen, etc.—that first-rate musicals can have considerable dramatic heft and a lack of chorus lines, high-energy production numbers, lavish choreography, etc., The Band’s Visit is really rather low-key.

This kept me from buoyantly embracing it on Broadway—where I had seen an up-against-flying-home matinee after attending Springsteen on Broadway the night before—and makes the upper balcony of Chicago’s spacious Cadillac Palace not the idyllic perch from which to appreciate all the tenderness, especially as Israeli and Egyptian accents are employed.

As they should be, given that the musical--based on a 2007 film of the same name--tells the story of an Egyptian Ceremonial Police Orchestra, invited to play at an Arab community center in Petah Tikvah, Israel, that instead winds up in the sleepy desert town of Bet Hatikva.

Somewhat similar in storyline and underlying themes to another fine musical of recent vintage, Come From Away, The Band's Visit likewise chronicles how villagers treat their unexpected guests.

Nicely directed by David Cromer--who, like me, hails from Skokie, IL--the musical is humane and heartwarming, quite welcome at this time...or anytime.

On tour, Sasson Gabay stars at the leader and conductor of the Egyptian band, Tewfiq Zakaria, as he did in the movie. The great Tony Shalhoub played the role on Broadway and won a Tony Award, but Gabai is likewise terrific.

So too is Chilina Kennedy as Dina, a single woman who runs a small cafe in Bet Hatikva. Also earning a Tony, Katrina Lenk was brilliant on Broadway but this tour clearly has been skillfully cast with quality talent.

With the bus needed to move the band along not due until the next day, Dina and other locals let the musicians stay with them overnight, making for some nice scenes of interaction and adjustment from both parties.

Reference Wikipedia if you want a full plot summary and run-down of characters. I'll share simply that there is a nice scene with a couple of the Egyptians interacting with the Israeli Itzik (Pomme Koch), his wife and father-in-law, and another that involves the visiting Haled (Joe Joseph) helping Papi (Adam Gabay) address his bashfulness around women.

The score, with music & lyrics by David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Tootsie) features some excellent instrumental pieces by the band members, as well as some quite nice songs, including "Waiting," "Welcome to Nowhere," "It Is What It Is," "Beat of Your Heart" and "Omar Sharif."

Several cast members have fine vocal moments, but Kennedy--who played Carole King as a replacement in Beautiful--shines brightest in this regard.

While several of the songs here are beautiful, many are more touching than vibrant or soaring.

It's great that Broadway musicals, including the most highly decorated ones--this show won 10 Tony Awards out of 11 nominations--come in many varieties, and The Band's Visit should strike a nerve, particularly among those who don't love over-the-top, big boisterous "tuners."

Yet while there is much to appreciate, especially in this richly enacted touring rendition--pushing it to a @@@@1/2, up 1/2@ from my perception on Broadway--I still would have liked a tad more oom-pa-pa in The Band's Visit.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Rare Candor: Ed Asner Shares His Innermost, um, Feelings in 'A Man and His Prostate' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A Man and His Prostate
a one-man show starring Ed Asner
written by Ed. Weinberger
presented by Piven Theatre Workshop
Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston, IL
2-Performance Run Ended
@@@1/2

I could tell you that A Man and His Prostate is rather funny, informative and even potentially life-saving.

Yet while none of this is untrue, the reason I saw it—and theoretically why you may want to, though the current two-performance opportunity in Evanston has passed—is because it offered the chance to see an actor I’ve long enjoyed, Ed Asner, in a small theater for a reasonable price. 

Asner, who in playing Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, then on a drama bearing the character’s name, won more performance-based primetime Emmy Awards than anyone: 7.

And two months from turning 90 on November 15, he remains a unique and engaging performer.

It’s understandable why writer Ed. Weinberger—who wrote for the Mary Tyler Moore Show and created Taxi, The Cosby Show and more—penned a pained-but-humorous recollection of a personal true-life episode specifically for Asner to perform as those the medical circumstance had happened to him.

Essentially, Weinberger—as Asner enacts—was off-ship in Florence while on an Italian cruise when, having previously experienced some urinary distress, he collapsed right in front of one the world’s most famous works of art (and one noted for its exposed male genitalia).

This leads to being taken to an Italian hospital, having tests run, getting in touch with his primary care physician and re-connecting with his wife, who had stayed aboard the ship.

I’ll refrain from revealing any more details about the medical condition, test, findings, treatment, etc., but beware that the famously irascible Asner is entirely graphic—including utilizing on-screen graphics—in speaking about masculine body parts.

For those who aren’t too squeamish, A Man and His Prostate is enjoyable in its frankness.

And as a life-lesson, let’s just say that the basic prostate check of having one’s doctor still a finger up your rear end shouldn’t be avoided—as seemingly it was for Weinberger—due to embarrassment, momentary discomfort, etc.

So this wasn’t a bad use of 80 minutes at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, particularly as I can now say I’ve seen Ed Asner onstage, as I previously had—among many others—his late MTM co-stars Valerie Harper and Georgia Engel, as well as noted TV performers such as John Mahoney, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, Bebe Neuwirth, Marilu Henner, Jason Alexander, Richard Kind, Linda Lavin, Linda Evans, Joan Collins, Holland Taylor, Alan Thicke, David Soul, Christina Applegate, Carol Kane, Michael McKean, Stacy Keach, John Lithgow, William Petersen and more.

Unlike most of the theater I attend and review, this wasn’t based on a press invite. I bought my own ticket, for $40, which seemed reasonable to sit 5 rows from an actor I’ve long admired.

Though this is a show Asner has been touring for a couple years, in Evanston it was presented by the Piven Theatre Workshop, which has long been housed in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.

As something of a nifty twist, the Piven was founded by Joyce and Byrne Piven, the latter now deceased. They are the parents of Jeremy Piven, whom they trained along with John and Joan Cusack and many others.

But back in the 1950s, the Pivens were two of the founding members of the Playwrights Theatre Club, along with Paul Sills and David Shepard. Also part of Playwrights were such budding stars as Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Barbara Harris and, yes, Ed Asner. (They later formed the Compass Players, a forerunner to The Second City.)

If Joyce Piven was present on Sunday afternoon, I didn’t notice or recognize her, and from the stage Asner made no ad hoc comments about her, Chicago, the recently passed Valerie Harper, Mary Tyler Moore, his time on television or anything else.

He stuck to the script, of A Man and His Prostate, which he actually read (rather than recited from memory).

Again, I was there to see Ed Asner, and I did.

And I don’t mean to imply that it wasn’t a performance or enjoyable for what it was. There are reasons to attend theater beyond acute artistic greatness; such was the case here.

But as a one-man performance, this was OK, not fantastic.

And even the gist of Weinberger’s script—beyond the smart suggestion to get prostate exams with some regularity—didn’t seem all that consequential.

So really, just in the realm of wanting to see Ed Asner, there could’ve been far preferable things to hear him talk about.

As it was, I’ve now seen Ed Asner.

Monday, September 09, 2019

I Want You To Gimme All Your Lovin': ZZ Top and Cheap Trick Pair for a Fun Evening -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

ZZ Top
w/ opening acts
Cheap Trick
Marquise Knox
Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Tinley Park, IL
September 7, 2019
@@@@ (ZZ Top/Cheap Trick composite)

Cheap Trick has been one of my favorite bands for about as long as I've had favorite bands.

The Rockford, IL native's 1979 live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, was either the first LP I bought with my own money or close to it. (This remembrance recently re-arose in fun fashion when I visited Tokyo and saw the Budokan's exterior.)

I've seen Cheap Trick numerous times over the years--first in 1983--and especially with singer Robin Zander still in fine voice and guitarist Rick Nielsen an exuberantly kooky stage presence, every few years I look for and relish another opportunity.

This one was provided by a tour supporting ZZ Top, a band celebrating its 50th anniversary--with the same three longtime members--that deserves being seen more that the one time I did, in 1986.

So while I really don't like the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre--its dull utilitarian design, poor acoustics, bland ambiance and especially the time it takes to get to & from its Tinley Park location--when Live Nation offered $20 pavilion seats, I couldn't resist buying one...in the last row of the pavilion.

After aptly, in my mind, preceding Cheap Trick with sushi at a nearby strip mall, I arrived at my seat as the evening's first performer--blues singer/guitarist Marquise Knox--was about half-way through his half-hour set. He sounded good as he teased a couple cover song riffs, including "Layla," that I wish he actually played in full. 

Cheap Trick played for about an hour, opening--as they did at Budokan--with "Hello There."

Despite wearing a police cap at the start that made me wonder if--at age 66--his trademark long blond hair was a thing of the past, Zander soon revealed that it isn't.

And more importantly, his voice sounded great, perhaps most demonstrably on Cheap Trick's #1--if somewhat saccharin--hit, "The Flame."

Drummer Bun E. Carlos is the only original Trickster no longer part of the band, replaced by Nielsen's son Dax, who well-powered the intro of "Ain't That a Shame," a highlight of the night and the Budokan set.

Actually, of the 10 songs that were on the original Cheap Trick at Budokan LP--which wasn't the full Tokyo concert, more of which came out on later editions--seven were performed Saturday night.

These included “Clock Strikes Ten,” “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender,” all rather delectably, the last one accompanied by Scott Lucas of Local H.

It’s never not fun to hear Cheap Trick play these songs plus "Dream Police" and some others—
including a cover of Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for My Man” led by bassist Tom Petersson on guitar and vocals—and the hour-long, 14-song set was generous for an opening act (not co-headliner).

But as such, Cheap Trick didn’t have much in the way of visual accoutrements—beyond Nielsen’s plethora of cool guitars, including one that looks like him and another with five necks—and though there was nothing wrong with what the band delivered, I can’t say this was Cheap Trick at their most exciting.

And I would basically say the same about ZZ Top, who I recalled being particularly phenomenal back in 1986, but largely felt like nostalgic fun here.

Certainly it’s cool that with the “tres hombres” now at or near 70, guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill have truly aged into their navel-length beards—and the ironically-named drummer Frank Beard still hasn’t grown one—but while undoubtedly enjoyable, their performance felt a bit too by the book.

For a band celebrating 50 years together, the 90-minute set principally found me loving the three MTV-era gems, “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs”—though the nostalgic videos of yore actually detracted—and two wonderful earlier classics, “La Grange” and “Tush.”

This doesn’t mean that other songs weren’t enjoyable; “I Thank You,” “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” certainly were, among others. (See ZZ Top's setlist here and Cheap Trick's here)

But including the standard-on-this-tour show closer—a quick cover of “Jailhouse Rock”—the show suffered for feeling like a band playing all the same songs in every city.

In the home of the blues, the affable Gibbons and Hill paid some lip-service homage to Chicago, and
Gibbons remains a terrific guitarist.

But did they conjure up some rip-roaring blues cover to bring a particular vitality to this show? Or just to differentiate a bit from what the folks in St. Louis and Milwaukee had heard?

No.

It’s admirable that it’s still just Gibbons, Hill and Beard onstage, and if some of the lead vocals—mainly delivered by Gibbons but also Hill—weren’t all that powerful, well, they ain’t youngsters anymore.

But for lack of a better way to put it, I wanted their performance—again, in the Tinley Park “shed” that brings built-in sterility—to have some stomp and swagger.

Unfortunately, it really didn’t.

Sure, including Cheap Trick and even Marquise Knox, there were enough great songs to make it a fun, satisfying night for my $20.

Even given the venue, I can say the long trek from and back to Skokie was worthwhile.

But I just can’t say it was all that special.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

No One Is Alone: In the Round at Writers, 'Into the Woods' Makes for an Enchanted Evening -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Into the Woods
Writers Theatre, Glencoe
Thru September 29
@@@@@

In terms of artistic appreciation, I think I've greatly expanded my horizons in the 21st century, across many idioms, genres and creators.

But I don't think there is any artist who has freshly come to mean more to me in this millennium than Stephen Sondheim.

Certainly, this dovetails with a widespread, voluminous embrace of musical theater that--after a childhood introduction gone latent--emerged around the turn of the century.

And though I love the work of many esteemed composers & lyricists--Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Kander & Ebb, Bock & Harnick, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lin-Manuel Miranda, etc., etc.--I believe Sondheim is the greatest ever.

Generally he writes both music & lyrics, although early on--with West Side Story and Gypsy--he handled just the lyrics. And with universal insights that go beyond what anyone else has consistently brought to the genre, I'm comfortable with dubbing the man a genius, who has appreciably added not only to my fandom of musicals, but my everyday outlook.

In the 21st century--but not really before save for a high school production of Sweeney Todd--I've seen roughly 60 productions of 16 Sondheim musicals, plus a number of revues and tribute concerts.

From local park districts to Broadway, a great number of directors have been responsible for these productions, but most importantly has been Gary Griffin.

At the Chicago Shakespeare Theater since 2001, Griffin has directed eight stellar productions of Sondheim works--Pacific Overtures, Sunday in the Park with George (twice), A Little Night Music, Passion, Follies, Gypsy and Road Show--and I've seen and loved all of them.

So I was thrilled to note that Griffin is helming Into the Woods at Glencoe's Writers Theatre, which in 2016 staged a sublime rendition of yet another Sondheim show, Company (directed by William Brown, not Griffin).

And I'm pleased to report that this version of the maestro's brilliant concoction--with writer James Lapine--of fractured fairy tales is as good as I could have hoped.

In full disclosure, still a bit jet-legged after a trip to Japan, my synapses weren't fully firing during parts of Act I, but I nonetheless soaked in superlative singing as Cinderella (Ximone Rose), the Baker (Michael Mahler), his wife (Brianna Borger), Jack of beanstalk fame (Ben Barker) and Little Red Riding Hood (Lucy Godinez) headed into the woods.

Writers' artistic director Michael Halberstam serves as the show's narrator, while Bethany Thomas plays a witch that helps drive the action.

Also on hand are Jack's mom (McKinley Carter) and beloved cow (wonderfully embodied by Mary Poole), as well as as Cinderella's mother (Harriet Nzinga Plumpp), stepmother (Kelli Harrington), step-sisters (Molly Hernandez and Nicole Armold), Rapunzel (Cecilia Iole), a couple of charming princes (Alex Benoit, Ryan McBride), a mysterious man (William Brown) and a wolf (Matt Edmonds).

In his remarkable score, Sondheim mines universal truths about childhood discovery via exploration ("I Know Things Now," "Giants in the Sky"), collaboration among husband & wife ("It Takes Two"), unrequited love ("Agony"), the desire of a parent to keep a child sheltered ("Stay With Me"), the realities of lust even if taboo ("Moments in the Woods"), choices having consequences and how everyone is interconnected ("No One is Alone") and more.

I pretty much love all of the songs of Into the Woods--including the long, self-titled prologue--and with terrific vocalists and a fine trio of musicians, they are sublimely rendered here.

In marketing the show, Writers seems to driving much focus to it being done in the round, but most of the seats in the Nichols Theater have always been set around an arc. For patrons filling in the circle on banks of seats unique to this production, the perspective is likely rather nifty, but I really didn't find this to be a major aspect of Griffin's production.

Appreciating the considerable effort to make it seem so seamless, basically you have a terrific musical in the hands of a first-rate cast under the direction of a venerated pro who clearly knows his Sondheim.

Many who worked on this rendition--including scenic designer Scott Davis and costumer Mara Blumenfeld--clearly deserve particular commendation, but Sondheim + Griffin + Writers is a formula that should work wonders.

And indeed it does.

Ever after.

Especially with a nifty twist at the end, which if I was wondering if perhaps @@@@1/2 was merited--just because I recalled some of the Shakespeare Theater Sondheim shows a tad more exquisitely--clarified that this is a pretty much perfect take on a musical that delights across the ages.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Reflections on Kyoto on My Way to Osaka (as a day trip)

I can't say I knew that much about Kyoto before planning to go there.

My perception was that it's a smaller, more charming counterbalance to Tokyo, a mega-metropolis with nearly 14 million residents and about 38 million in the metropolitan area.

But though Kyoto--with a city population of about 1.5 million is quite a lot smaller than Tokyo--as part of a metropolitan area with Osaka and Kobe, it's one the largest in the world, although with roughly 19 million residents, about half of Tokyo's.

So while Kyoto was Japan's capital for hundreds of years before Tokyo got that designation in 1868 as part of the Meiji Restoration, for the most part it feels like a big city.

Yes, there are some amazingly beautiful sights that I'm delighted to have visited. But these tend to be on the edges of town--though there are tons of temples everywhere--and predominantly the Kyoto I've seen is modern, Western and/or somewhat ramshackle.

So it isn't like walking around Cusco, or Krakow, eminently historic cities that are compact and walkable to the main sights.

Kyoto does have a decent public transit system--far more bus-based than subway, as opposed to Tokyo--and lots of taxis, so it hasn't been hard getting where I wanted to go.

But each of the great attractions I went to--the golden temple of Kinkaku, its counterpart of Ginkaku, the bamboo grove, Tenryu-ji Temple, Togetsu Bridge and Iwatayama Monkey Park of the Arashiyama district, the striking Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple are each more along Kyoto's edges.

Most involved a good shlep, often uphill, through a gauntlet of shops that felt quite touristy. 

I have no issue with locals trying to make money off visitors--many of whom seemed to be from elsewhere in Japan--but this lessened much sense of quaintness.

I've never seen places such as Kinkaku, the bamboo forest, the orange mountain gates of Fushima Inari and they and more are endearingly, eternally beautiful.

And reason enough to visit Kyoto.

It's a cool place to be, but you kinda have to seek to find the wonder within.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Kindness Can Change Everything

A Travel Vignette...

...as I sit at a Vie de France in the Akihabara district of Tokyo and contemplate eating a turtle-shaped melon bun, and smiled as a tiny little girl adorably did a funky dance in front of me.

First of all, it's a small world. Anyone in the USA who is xenophobic about the rest of the world clearly hasn't explored it.

But anyway. I'm comfortable (enough) in my own shoes and clearly don't mind traveling the world alone. This is probably less preference than happenstance but so be it. And in the most densely populated city in the world, there is something oddly liberating about the sense of intrepid isolation.

But on my fifth waking day in Tokyo, I was feeling a bit leg weary and a tad over touristed. You may have sensed this from my post earlier today.

So after getting to Shibuya Crossing to start my day, supposedly the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, I got a random subway line without any intended destination.

I opted to get off at Jimbocho, and noted several used book stores (there seems to be a college in the area), and saw a unique looking building across the street that appreared to have a restaurant drawing my interest.

But when I got there, I wasn't that intrigued by the lunch pictogram. Around the corner was a place far more non-descript but somehow more appealing.

It was down a set of stairs in a basement space, and was empty when I arrived (eventually it would fill, seemingly with local business people).

The lunch specials menu was entirely in Japanese, but the waitress--a pretty young Japanese woman who spoke better English than anyone I've yet encountered on the trip--helped me as I fumbled through the regular menu that had translations on it.

And together we got things wrong, as one of the two things I ordered wasn't available then. But I did get some shrimp tempura.

I don't want to overtell or oversell this. It's not a Lost in Translation or Before Sunrise story. The waitress, easily young enough to be my daughter, didn't need an old American schlub hitting on her.

She was just nice.

Asking me where I was from and why I was visiting Japan, she told me she'd lived in Vancouver for awhile and had been to Seattle. 

And when I asked if she had suggestions for less-touristy places I might want to venture, she brought over her laptop computer and showed me a PowerPoint of Tokyo attractions she'd made for a friend.

Most of her selections matched the guide book choices, and I've already been to most (and not much interested in shopping hotspots, though I've also been to some of those too).

So there's no tangible outcome from my interaction with--as I learned by asking her--Liza. It was just a pleasant chat at the place where I had lunch.

And a long way from home, that goes a long way.

I did give her my Facebook link and this blog address and invited her to connect.

Who knows if she will, and it's virtually certain I will never see her again.

Still, Liza, if you see this--or even if you don't--I just want to say...

Arigatō

You brightened my day just by being nice. And prompted me to write this from a Vie de France.

Random kindness from a stranger. 

It really can change the tenor of a trip, whether across the street or around the world.

Heck, it might even change the world.

The Mind-Blowing Dichotomy of Tokyo

It's technically a lie to say I live in Chicago; I never actually have.

But for all practical purposes, that's where I'm from.

Though I'm a lifelong suburbanite--save for 3 years living in Los Angeles, but there I lived in suburban-like Encino--from having commuted via the CTA to & from the Loop at rush hour to attending huge concerts, ballgames, Taste of Chicago and more, I'm quite familiar with the "big city"ness of Chicago.

I have also visited many of the largest cities in the world.

New York, London, Paris, Rome, St. Peterburg, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Cairo, Delhi, Mumbai and many more.

So I've experienced hordes of people, and masses taking mass transit--hence the name. 

And the intimidation factor I would imagine many might feel upon arriving in Tokyo like a commoner--to take a cab from Narita Airport to my hotel would've supposedly cost $260 or so; hence prohibitive--hasn't been too bad for me in terms of figuring out the subways and getting where I want to go.

Numerous subway lines--actually operated by two different companies but both accepting the Suica Card--essentially like Chicago's Ventra card for transit payment--criss-cross Tokyo.

Even more so than Chicago's largely perpendicular subway & 'L' lines, this is reminiscent of New York, London and Paris, and it's kind of fun to figure out the connections one needs to make.

I can't say I did arduous research to select my hotel, the APA Hotel & Resort Nishishinjuku-Gochome-Eki Tower. I forget how, but I had come across BookAAHotels.com, affiliated with American Airlines and it's frequent flyer program. The relatively new APA--part of a chain throughout Tokyo and Japan if not further--offered a rate under $100/night as well as giving me 7,000 AA miles. 

A rather good deal and as it turns out the hotel is just steps from a subway stop. Not a major one and I frequently have to transfer but still that's a major plus.

So I've been getting around Tokyo pretty well and do not feel overwhelmed, although the combination of ALL the people--in some spots it is just crazy--and the 95 degree heat has threatened to overwhelm.

Although my hotel name includes the word resort, there's really just a small pool that costs $10/hr. to use. And unless I haven't figured it out, I get no TV channels for free.

Hence I'm not really going to just hang out and relax all day but the truth is, at 50, I'm older and yes fatter than I've ever been.

Generally my health is good and I've had no real problems on this trip. And rare is the vacation--going back 20+ years--where I haven't worn myself out on a daily basis.

So to simple "How's the trip?" the answer is it's been great in terms of what I've seen and photographed--the Imperal Palace grounds, Senso-ji temple, Tokyo Tower, the Great Buddha of Kamakura--and even various experiences such as attending a Yakult Swallows baseball game and chatting with the fan next to me.

I've also had some good food--such as at the food stands of Tsukiji Fish Market, though the actual market recently moved--but though Tokyo's is known for its plethora of high-end Michelin starred restaurants I don't think there will be any gourmet splurges on this trip. Which is fine.

So I'm having fun and enjoying some quieter spots--even for meals--to balance the intensity.

But even with some time in a whirlpool and a good night's sleep, my legs still hurt.

We'll see what today brings.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

On Point: With Excellent 'Black Ballerina,' Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre Explores World of Classical Dance, Discrimination -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Black Ballerina
a world premiere play with music & dance
by Stephen Fedo and Tim Rhoze
directed by Tim Rhoze
Black Ensemble Theatre, Evanston, IL
Thru August 25
@@@@1/2

The unfortunate thing about Black Ballerina--a genuinely terrific original work being staged by Evanston's erstwhile Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre--is that its underlying themes feel, regrettably, all too familar.

The scourge of racism, whether heinously direct or horridly veiled, remains a terrible stain on the USA and beyond.

Certainly, FJT--which focuses on works about the African-American experience--needs to keep bringing audiences shows that reflect the disturbing realities in hopes of furthering enlightenment and facilitating change.

And Black Ballerina--in which the gifted dancer Kara Roseborough plays women who face racial resistance across three generations--may well be the best production I've yet seen at the theater.

Reminiscent of how adroitly they handled the multi-generational narrative of last year's Home on the Lake--which was also a co-production with the Piven Theatre--Fedo & Rhoze cover essentially the 1950s to the present day.

In doing so, they're able to touch upon the strides made by Misty Copeland--who in 2015 became the first African-American woman to become principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre--and long before her, Raven Wilkinson, credited with having been the first African-American woman to dance for a major classical ballet company, in 1955. 

Black Ballerina begins in 1956 with Roseborough as Olivia, dancing up a storm but being told by a ballet administrator (Jen Gorman) that while she loves her athleticism--à la rising track star Wilma Rudolph--the world of ballet is one of "tradition" and "purity."

The setting will then shift, rather abruptly--but Rhoze's direction minimizes confusion--to the present, with Roseborough as Adrienne, the granddaughter of Olivia. She is about to go on an audition and speaks with her mom, Marie (a strong Shariba Rivers), who was also a dancer.

In other scenes, Marie is represented as a child--of Olivia's--by Bijou Carmichael.

Also figuring in are Adrienne's brother Saiku (Eldridge Shannon) and friend Harvey (Brennan Roche), a friend of the adult Marie named Reuben (Zach Finch), a school administrator (Julie Mitre) and a white ballerina named Taylor (Mikey Gray), who attends the same audition as Adrienne.

Daniela Rukin does a fine job as the onstage pianist, dubbed Miss Molly, while the unseen Béa Rashid serves as co-choreographer with Roseborough.

I won't spell out more specifics of the narrative, but as you might guess, across the generations progress is made but not enough.

Though Copeland's success represents achievement--and, to a degree, acceptance--of African-Americans into the rarefied world of elite ballet that Adrienne so wishes, and seemingly deserves, to enter, ugly perceptions, presumptions, insults and quotas remain.

The injustice is abhorrent; the rationalizations archaic.

It's quite moving and with Roseborough's wondrous dancing and fine acting--among all in the cast--the world premiere is remarkably entertaining and insightful as a well-paced one-act.

And that it feels familiar is much more a knock on our society than FJT's undertaking or Fedo & Rhoze's script.

Showcasing the narrow-mindedness within the classical dance arena is fresh yet will remind of many artistic creations chronicling racism and those with the guts to fight it--films Selma, 42 and Hidden Figures readily came to mind for me--and the narrative arc of Black Ballerina is somewhat predictable.

Sadly.

But it excellently adds insight to the challenges many egregiously must face, very much so still today.

Only four performances of Black Ballerina remain; I strongly suggest you see it.

For even if it sounds like a story you've heard before, in various contexts, the battle against bigotry is one that merits much reiteration. 

And always keeping you on your toes.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Guest Post by Ken: Chance the Snapper. Not a Croc.

So, Chicago has a herpetological reputation, i.e. snakepit of corruption.

But this summer, for a week, Chicago's reptilian reputation was redeemed by an errant alligator.

Someone secretly released a five foot alligator into a city park lagoon.

Public reaction was at first, shock and disbelief. After a few days it morphed into amusement, then finally enthusiastic support as the critter evaded capture.

As the farce continued, quintessential Chicago behavior was put on display.

First authorities obtained a volunteer alligator catcher nicknamed Alligator Bob. (The guy didn't want his last name used for reasons which will soon become apparent.)

News pictures of Alligator Bob showed him endlessly paddling the lagoon in circles while peering into the watery depths with laser-like concentration. After six days this made Alligator Bob look like a befuddled buffoon.

The alligator was now gaining renown and became an underdog (or, I guess, undergator?) for his valiant efforts to remain free.

Remember, this is Chicago, the place that rooted for a guy named John Dillinger for eluding the cops, too.

An online metropolitan contest was conducted and the wily reptile was named "Chance the Snapper".

Even the governor submitted an entry.

Note the name resemblance to the homegrown rapper. He even got into the act via Twitter, lending his support to the little guy's escape attempts.

Then a week long circus commenced.

People, families with children, joggers, fishermen and even tourists came to the lagoon for a chance to see Chance. Food vendors did particularly well. Tee shirt and balloon vendors sold out while stuffed alligator toys were snapped up.

True to form, Chicago always is the "City on the make..."

The lagoon may even have outdrawn the local zoo, especially when Chance became a national news figure. Not as big as Trump but definitely more than Pelosi. (Meanwhile, Alligator Bob was still paddling in circles looking for... something.)

The Saturday night salsa party at the park's boathouse was particularly well attended but Chance didn't feel like busting a move.

I'm not sure if Alligator Bob attended. There were rumors that he went across the border to obtain fireworks in Indiana so he could come back and fish with dynamite.

After a week city officials realized that Alligator Bob had bitten off more than he could chew and did what Chicago pols always do: they brought in a ringer.

An alligator specialist from Florida, Crocodile Frank, was flown in.

Taking a chance at night he snagged Chance with a fishing rod.

Crocodile Frank became an instant hero and even threw out the first pitch at the next day's Cubs game.

And Chance? He won an all expenses paid trip to a 5-star alligator resort, I mean preserve, in Florida.

Crocodile Frank says Chance has it made in the shade for the rest of his life.

Chance happily acknowledged his good fortune by jauntily showing up to his press conference looking dapper in his red bow tie.

The above are just the facts. But those of us who been around Chicago awhile know the real inside story.

Chance might be an alligator but he's no dummy.

After getting stuck with hundreds of dollars in parking tickets and getting shafted by yet another horrendous property tax increase, Chance got fed up. He got into the lagoon, ran everybody around in circles, put on a helluva show... and got the hell out of Dodge by convincing the taxpayers to pay for an all-expenses-paid trip to Florida followed up with a lifetime pension.

Chance learned from the many Chicago politicians who preceded him.

Can't beat 'em... Join 'em.

That's not a crock.

See ya later.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sly and Superfreaky: Black Ensemble Theater Aptly Proves 'You Can't Fake the Funk' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

You Can't Fake the Funk
A Journey Through Funk Music
written & directed by Daryl D. Brooks
Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago
Thru Sept. 22
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Funk

It's a great word and a fantastic form of music.

But particularly in the latter parlance, it's hard to define.

Per Wikipedia:

Funk is a music genre that originated in African-American communities in the mid-1960s when African-American musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). 

Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bass line played by an electric bassist and a drum part played by a drummer, often at slower tempos than other popular music. Like much of African-inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments playing interlocking grooves that created a "hypnotic" and "danceable feel". Funk uses the same richly colored extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths and thirteenths.

OK, but what does that really mean?

Principally because of their name, I can confidently say that Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk--led by George Clinton and long featuring the great bassist, Bootsy Collins--primarily plays funk.

And sure, I can cite James Brown--often referenced as the progenitor of funk--as well as Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and many other great African-American artists, but some of their songs were funk, and others weren't.

So in attending You Can't Fake the Funk at Black Ensemble Theater and pretty much knowing it would be terrifically enjoyable--I've seen several BET shows and the entertainment value is consistently stellar--I wondered how much Daryl D. Brooks' script might enlighten me. 

Brooks also directs the show, and in the program notes he writes:

"While writing and directing this show, I wanted it to just be a big party."

In that regard, he certainly succeeds. 

Clearly inspired by George Clinton, as well as others, Dwight Neal's "Dr. Funk" character serves as a groovy Master of Ceremonies who introduces the many funk luminaries represented onstage. 

And as you can't have funk without fun, the whole affair most definitely is.

Accompanied by BET's funky band--backed by musical director Robert Reddrick on drums--every song performed is pretty much a joy. 

I won't name every tune, as some surprise adds to the element of glee, but we get James Brown's "Cold Sweat," Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music," the Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster," Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" and much more, and that's just in Act I. 

Yes, there's also some P-Funk, but acts such as Rufus & Chaka Khan, GAP Band, Dazz Band and Cameo are also represented, with many songs I did know and some I didn't. 

The show's talented ensemble of nine singers & dancers besides Neal nicely rotate the through the various funk icons--including a properly coiffed Rick James--so I'll just list everyone.
 
First the men: Michael Adkins, Blake Hawthorne, Lemond Hayes, Vincent Jordan--who I believe was the one who wowed as Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire--Brandon Lavell, Stewart Romeo and David Simmons. 

Jayla Williams Craig and Thera Wright were both delightful as well, including in representing the Mary Jane Girls, whom Rick James produced. 

If you're looking for a good time, you'll assuredly get it at You Can't Fake the Funk.

But while I loved the 2 hours spent in the BET's lovely auditorium, I didn't get much more clarity as to what defines funk. 

It's possible some of the song selections and omissions have to do with rights clearances, but I would've expected something by Stevie Wonder--"Higher Ground" perhaps--and while I know a song like "Good Times" by Chic gets automatically categorized as disco, it seems it could have correlated nicely with some of the second act numbers. 

Also, whither Prince. 

Obviously, not everything can or should be included, but I was left without much more awareness as to what constitutes "funk"--and why--and what doesn't. 

BET shows are usually heavier on music and paying tribute than on biography or theatricality, and I don't say that as a great detriment.

Particularly in this case, Neal's Dr. Funk kept the pacing strong and did provide decent capsulized introductions to the artists being showcased. 

So by all means, this is a recommendation if you know you love funk, or the acts I mentioned as being celebrated here.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with loosening up and shaking your ass to some great music, well-performed. 

I was just hoping to learn a bit more while having my mind--rather delightfully--kept in a funk.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Way She Was: Barbra Streisand Sings Superbly, Kibbitzes Warmly, Welcomes Ariana and Trashes Trump -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Barbra Streisand
United Center, Chicago
August 6, 2019
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In terms of pure vocal quality, is Barbra Streisand the greatest singer I’ve ever heard live?

I don’t know, especially as at her concert Tuesday night at Chicago’s United Center—the first time I’ve ever seen “Babs”—her famed voice seemed a tad huskier than it likely was years ago.

And I’ve been fortunate to have seen not only hundreds of rock ‘n roll luminaries, but most of the top Broadway vocalists of recent decades, numerous top-flight opera singers and star crooners like Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. Though late in her life, I’m glad I saw Aretha Franklin a few years ago, and just last month caught Diana Ross for the first time. Among many others, I was also truly wowed by Adele.

So who knows? But that at age 77, Streisand still begs the above question, means that she was pretty damn impressive on my initial foray.

Though her whole performance was enjoyable, and she always sounded terrific, the truly “OMG!” vocal moments were somewhat sporadic.

But when they came—on “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “The Way We Were,” “Send in the Clowns,” “People,” “My Man” and in other spots—they were really, truly special.

So while it may strike some as surprising that I would see Barbra Streisand—especially now, for the first time—it really shouldn’t.

I love the art of live performance, relish seeing gifted, noteworthy artists across many genres and am now happy to catch almost anyone I haven’t (or may one day wish I had).

Though there are still some genres I don’t much embrace—modern country (particularly by men), boy bands, hip hop—I have seen pretty much every style represented on theatrical stages, so I tend not to be too parochial (within time, budgetary and other logical limits). 

While it’s been 5-1/2 decades since Streisand was an actual Broadway star—in Funny Girl—we both clearly share a love of show tunes, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach and finely-wrought standards.

Not to mention a disdain for the current occupant of the White House.

Coming after a tragic weekend of massacres in El Paso and Dayton, Streisand strongly advocated for gun control laws and, yes, engaged in some Trump-bashing.

Clearly not the entire crowd—close to full at the UC, but with some noticeable gaps—concurred with her sentiments, but Babs got plentiful applause when she knocked the president, particularly in reprising “Send in the Clowns” with lyrics mocking the orange one.

Perhaps it's because I agree with her, but I don’t mind artists making political statements, and it’s not like Streisand has ever been coy about her liberal leanings. So anyone who was offended by her remarks pretty assuredly had paid their money knowing where Babs stood.

But lest anyone think this was a political rally, it wasn't.

A sizable band (though not quite an orchestra) preceded Streisand’s entrance with an overture—which the singer revealed was composed for her 1967 concert in Central Park—and Barbra, adorned in black dress by Chicago fashion designer Azeeza, took the stage singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard musical.

She altered the song’s lyrics to slip in Chicago references: deep-dish pizza, Lake Shore Drive, Rush Street, though notably to me, not Barack Obama (whose name wasn’t dropped all night).

Later she would speak of early performances in the city, at Mister Kelly’s nightclub (where she initially played on June 11, 1963 at the age of 20).

Streisand nicely culled songs from throughout her long, esteemed and diverse career and occasionally showed age-old photos or video clips—most overtly from her role in the 1976 version of A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson, who had joined her onstage at the huge recent London gig in Hyde Park—but Babs’ charming repartee kept things from feeling overly soaked in nostalgia.

After "Evergreen," the love theme from that film, midway through her first set Streisand performed a medley—I would’ve preferred full versions—of some pop hits, including “Guilty” and “A Woman in Love,” both written for her by Barry Gibb.

Then came the evening’s social media buzzworthy moment as on “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” a duet Streisand did with Donna Summer in 1979, current pop sensation Ariana Grande appeared to handle the Summer parts. (Grande was in town headlining Lollapalooza over the weekend.)

I appreciate that Grande has a great voice and believe she’s handled tragedy—including deadly terrorism at her Manchester, UK concert and the death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller—with graceful aplomb. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of her music—the livestream of her Lollapalooza set literally put me to sleep—but it was fun to see the intersection of gifted songstresses.

Sans Ariana, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from Funny Girl delectably closed out the first set.

After intermission, wearing an off-white dress by Donna Karan, Barbra delivered a fantastic rendition
of "The Way We Were," perhaps quite slyly leading into the more socially commentative portion of the evening.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You've Got to Be Taught" coupled well with Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" as songs that speak shrewdly to how kids glean proclivities for both love and hate from  adults.

Then came "Send in the Clowns," first as Sondheim beautifully wrote it for A Little Night Music, then with Trump parodying lyrics such as:

He says he’s rich / Maybe he’s poor / ‘Til he reveals his returns / Who can be sure / Who is this clown? 

Obviously, Streisand is a veteran star who's worth a fortune, so it's not like she's exactly risking much by stating her contempt for Trump. Still, I applaud her for standing by her beliefs and even telling some hecklers to "Shut up."

Yet while I loathe the president, the hate he spews and the tenor he's set for the country--not that racism, bigotry and murderous lunatics didn't exist before--I actually liked it more when Barbra's attacks were artfully implied, rather than direct.

"Walls" from her 2018 album clearly denounced racial divides while being a nice song, while beautiful deliveries of "People," "Sing," (from Sesame Street), "Happy Days are Here Again" and "What The World Needs Now Is Love" strongly championed tolerance, togetherness, love, hope, etc. even in the face of treacherous times.

From the looks of it, Streisand made a last-second choice--via a brief pow-wow with her musical director, who's name I didn't catch and can't find--to end the show with “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

Honestly, it's a question I can't answer, but I imagine I'll keep appreciating the arts and hope to attend many more shows by great performers. (Hopefully again in the company of my good pal Paolo, who joined me for this one but will soon be sojourning for awhile.)

I don't know if I'll ever see Barbra Streisand in concert again--I wouldn't mind, but even this "tour"  had only 3 shows, and while seemingly healthy and well, she is 77--but I'm genuinely glad I did.

It wasn't quite my favorite concert, and maybe not even Babs at her best, but it clearly bespoke why she has been such a revered and legendary star for so long.

And that voice, oh that voice, at least in spurts, truly...like buttah.   

Monday, August 05, 2019

And They're Still Together: Years Down the Road, REO Speedwagon Remains a Fun Ride -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

REO Speedwagon 
w/ opening act Charlie Farren
Rosemont Theatre
August 3, 2019
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As if the world needed further proof of my lack of hipness, Saturday night I was not out at Lollapalooza catching Twenty One Pilots, J Balvin, AJR or anyone else those under 30 might know well.

I also wasn't at any Lolla aftershows, nor seeing genuine rock legend Ringo Starr at Ravinia.

Rather, with a decidedly mature, somewhat paunchy white crowd at the rather vanilla Rosemont Theatre, I saw...

REO Speedwagon

...who weren't even cool when they were the most popular rock band in the world.

I still recall, back when I was in junior high, buying REO’s double-album hits collection, A Decade of Rock and Roll 1970 to 1980, because some kids at school opened my ears to “Roll With the Changes,” “Time for Me to Fly” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”

Then in November 1980, the band released Hi Infidelity, which I bought almost instantly, and thanks in part to lead single “Keep on Loving You” hitting to #1—as did the album—REO Speedwagon became huge. Hi Infidelity would be the biggest-selling album of 1981.

And it was cool, because along with Styx and Cheap Trick—who had peaked a bit earlier but was my favorite of the trio—three of the biggest bands of the day hailed from Illinois.

But almost as soon as REO exploded, the 7th Grade intelligentsia decreed them uncool, seemingly due to the saccharin stylings of “Keep on Loving You” and “Take It on the Run,” and the effeminate nature of lead singer Kevin Cronin (who happens to be long married to the same woman).

I was too young to attend REO’s 4-night stand at the International Amphitheatre in February 1981, or see them at Poplar Creek the next summer, and with 1984’s #1 single, “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” being particularly schmaltzy, any acute Speedwagon fandom—aside from an enduring affinity for a few favorites—had largely stalled.

At some point, I did see REO Speedwagon at a free 4th of July show at Great Lakes Naval Base—Cronin’s long curly brown hair was then short and blond—but was somewhat shocked to recently discover that that was back in 1999.

In recent years, I’ve been acutely trying to fill in some gaps in my “Seen Live” roster, seeing several acts for a first time or, even if not, better appreciating some enduring bands I once avoided.

In part, I stopped giving a shit about what might be considered unhip.

Last year, I saw Journey for the first time—albeit without Steve Perry—on a bill with Def Leppard, and this past May, caught Dennis de Young, the former mainstay in Styx, at the Rosemont Theatre.

That show in particular made me think, “I really should see REO again.”

I knew that Gary Richrath, the lead guitarist from REO’s heyday, had left in 1989 and passed away in 2015. But a check of Wikipedia informed that otherwise, the band has remained relatively intact. 

Keyboardist Neal Doughty, who helped form the band in Champaign in 1967, continues to tour, as does Cronin—now sporting white hair--and Bruce Hall, a bassist since 1977.

And “new” members, guitarist Dave Amato and aptly-named drummer Bryan Hitt, have been around for 30 years.

I was also somewhat surprised at how well sold the essentially packed 4,400-seat Rosemont Theatre was, but was able to get myself a single balcony seat for a reasonable price a few weeks ago.

After a solo set by a singer/guitarist named Charlie Farren, who did a lot of talking I couldn’t make out, REO Speedwagon took the stage around 8:50pm with Hi Infidelity’s “Don’t Let Him Go.”

It was the first of seven songs—of 18 total—to come from the landmark album, including the record’s last two tracks, "Someone Tonight" (sung by Hall) and "I Wish You Were There."

The amiable Cronin, who hails from Oak Lawn, noted on multiple occasions that it was great to be home, and even spoke of his mom still living in the house where he grew up.

Especially in having Spotifamiliarized myself with recent setlists, it was nice that along with other Hi Infidelity album cuts like “In Your Letter” and “Tough Guys,” and, understandably, “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” REO reached quite a ways back for “Music Man,” “Son of a Poor Man”—with Cronin’s intro having paid warm tribute to Richrath—and “Golden Country,” which Cronin performed acoustically by himself.

Following that song, he also did a solo “Building a Bridge,” after having told a warm story of playing
it in Israel for both Jews and Palestinians, albeit separately.

“Take It on the Run” made for a great singalong, and “Time for Me to Fly” an even better one.

Hall nicely took center stage again for “Back on the Road Again” before “Ridin’ the Storm Out” closed the main set.

I can’t call it the most dynamic performance I’ve ever seen, but with Cronin in good voice, the show was pretty much all I could’ve hoped for.

Though I imagine it’s been the case for decades, “Keep on Loving You” and “Roll With the Changes”—both with Cronin on piano—made for a perfect encore pairing.

And as many in the balcony were shuffling out, REO gave Chicago/Rosemont a somewhat rare “157 Riverside Avenue,” the band’s first single from 1971, before Cronin had even joined the band.

I don’t mean any great disrespect or disparagement to the popular American duo Twenty One Pilots.

That they can regularly sell out the United Center and fill a field at Lollapalooza is impressive, and they supposedly put on a fun show on Saturday.

More power to them, and their fans.

But on several occasions I’ve tried to listen to them on Spotify or watch concert clips on YouTube, and there is nothing I’ve found particularly enjoyable or memorable.

So call me uncool, unhip, an old dorky dweeb, etc..

That’s fine.

But even though I still wouldn’t call REO Speedwagon one of my very favorite rock bands, I know that singing along to “Time for Me to Fly” and “Roll With the Changes” and even “Keep on Loving You,” I had more fun than I would’ve with the hipsters at Lollapalooza.

Say what you want but REO Speedwagon remains a fun ride.

---
Here's just a brief snippet of "Time for Me to Fly":