CHESS: What just happened?


(from L to R:Jeremy Trager, Maggie Portman and Anthony Anthony Apodaca)

While I had never seen the musical CHESS on stage, here are the things I knew about CHESS going in:

1. The music is written by the dudes of ABBA, Benny Anderson & Björn Ulvaues, as a concept album before it was a full production.

2. Lyrics were by Tim Rice, yes THAT Tim Rice

3. the book has gone threw many, many, many versions, this one by Chicago native, Richard Nelson written for the American version that opened on Broadway in 1988

4. The songs are sung by every musical theater performer at endless benefits and auditions around the globe.

and

5. The rocking One Night in Bangkok hit from the eighties is in this show! I love the eighties! I will therefore LOVE this show!

So with my expectations 1988 high as I walk into Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s CHESS at the No Exit Cafe’ in Rogers Park, I was ready for my Lion King meets the Dancing Queen evening of 80s royalty, and I would not be disappointed.

The set, by Nate Crawford, mimicked the black and white chess board, everywhere. The No Exit Cafe’ is a small cabaret style space where the audience sits at tables with white table cloths and do have the choice to make the show dinner theater if they reserve the dinner package before hand. The waiters are the actors and are mostly dressed in costume while they feed and fetch. I sat at the bar off to the side and skipped the dinner.

Then it begins. Full rock band, tucked off to the side of the playing space. The ensemble enters threw the house singing as they move to the stage. Black and white costumes by Bill Morey echo the set. The origins of the game of Chess are being explained by escaping Hungarians in 1956, or so the program tells me, the script, on the other hand, does not tell me that. Nope. Just dialects and immigrants running from something scary in the night while the father of some child, female, she has a teddy bear, spins some fairytale magic about the game that will be the focus of the night. When running from scary people, shouldn’t we be running and not talking about a game? I’m just saying.

The Book has problems. I mean Prob-le-eh-ehms. No offense to a fellow Chicagoian, but what happens in this play Mr. Nelson? Yes, an international CHESS competition between an Arrogant American, Freddie (Courtney Crouse) and the Soviet Union’s Anatoly, the returning World Champ (Jeremy Trager). Got it. Then there is Florence (Maggie Portman), Freddie’s, coach, or is it “second”? Should Freddie be unable to serve his duties as the US Chess Champ, Florence will take the crown and open super markets across the country? Is that what they mean by “second”? Why is she coaching him if she is his second? Wait, now it seems they had a thing. Like a thing, thing. Some time before the play? They dated? What?

On the Soviet side the second is Molokov (John B. Leen), I think. Or is he just KGB? What is his job, exactly? And then there is the Blonde guy who MUST be KGB. I like the blonde guy. He speaks in Russian and he lets me know exactly what he is saying by how he moves and reacts. Love the blonde guy, I get what he is about.(Travis Walker)

As the play goes, at one of the matches Florence falls instantly in love with Anatoly and Freddie is a jerk, he is just a jerk. Nothing more to him. Yep, oh maybe, nope, just a jerk. Anatoly wants to defect to The States and Walter (Anthony Apodaca), Freddie’s Agent? Manager? Sleaze ball for no apparent reason? is going to help that all go down.

With all the confusion of the book I just wanted something grounded and honest to happen, and it did. Jeremy Trager’s Anatoly is acted to perfection. His choices are so simple and specific, I fall for him and want him to be free. I care about his character, despite the constant confusion. Then he sings. His voice is that of an Opera star and I am completely won over. Maggie Portman is also a mighty force on the stage and she can work a sweet leather coat.

So, it’s about a game, an honored game, a game of intelligence and thought. It’s also maybe about love and freedom. That’s what I understood. The thing I did come out with is that Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre and directors Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier, will not be limited by their small space. While this was not my first production at Theo Ubique, it will also NOT be my last. Even though I did not love the book, the show was still of the highest level I have come to expect from Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. Next up for Theo Ubique? SWEET AND HOT: THE SONGS OF HAROLD ARLEN June 14-August 18

For more Info, go here: http://www.theoubique.org/

Art Institue Partners with ArtBabble.org

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The Art Institute of Chicago recently joined in an online partnership of world-class art museums, officially becoming a partner of the online art video site ArtBabble.org

The website showcases hundreds of  art-centric videos, providing high-def and personal access to works of art,  interviews with artists and curators, documentaries, poetry readings, and videos of art installations.

Founded by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the site partners currently include Art21, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Rubin Museum of Art, the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Museum of Arts and Design and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“We are thrilled to be joining ArtBabble,” Sam Quigley, vice president of Collections Management, Imaging and Information Technology at the Art Institute, said in a statement. “ArtBabble is really a great leap forward both for museums and for Web users looking for information related specifically to the visual arts. It offers content of extremely high quality, technological innovation and the opportunity for us to dynamically and directly engage those who share our interests.”

ArtBabble.org describes the Art Institute as “one of the world’s leading art museums.”  Doubled with the recent opening of the Modern Wing, the Art Institute is the second largest encyclopedic art museum in the United States.

There are currently about a dozen videos from the Art Institute on the site, surely with more to come.

Real Pirates at the Field Museum

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Running now through October 25, 2009, Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship brings the age of pirates to Chicago and the Field Museum. More than 200 artifacts recovered from the wreck of the Whydah—the first fully authenticated pirate ship ever to be ascertained in U.S. waters.

The Whydah was on of the most technologically advanced vessels of the era, but was captured on her maiden voyage as a slave ship by legendary pirate Sam Bellamy and his team. A couple modifications and a quick hoist of the Jolly Roger, the Whydah became the crown jewel of Bellamy’s flotilla, spreading terror throughout the Caribbean the Atlantic coastlines.

Then on April 26, 1717, a perfect storm put an end to the Whydah’s pirating days, and the vessel sank with most of her crew aboard—as well as the bounty from more than 50 pirated ships. Almost 300 years later, underwater explorer Barry Clifford and his team managed to locate the wreck of theWhydah and carefully unearthed her riches from the bottom of the sea.

Organized by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International, the exhibition details the colorful history of Caribbean trading routes during the 18th century and the link between the slave trade and piracy, as well as true stories from those on both sides of the story.

The 8,400-square-foot exhibition is fully interactive, so you can experience pirate life by hoisting the skull-and-crossbones, tying pirate knots, learning how to fire a cannon, and more. Treasure chests of gold and jewelry, as well as armories of cannons and swords, aim to show how these men lived and died in the “Golden Age of Piracy.”

[mappress]

Printers Row Lit Fest

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The newly renamed Printers Row Book Fair is back June 6 and June 7, 10-6pm. It’s the largest literary event in the Midwest and it feels like it. A variety of books are for sale, featuring new, used, specialty, and collectible items. There are also author signings, storytelling, discussions and more. Booksellers, publishers, literacy and cultural organizations sell and promote books and book-related merchandise and distribute related information. Many of the independent booksellers participating in the Fest represent the diverse ethnic and cultural communities of the Chicagoland area and sell books of different languages and genres.

The Printers Row Lit Fest was founded in 1985 by the Near South Planning Board to draw tourists to the Printers Row neighborhood (once the city’s bookmaking hub). By 2002, it had grown to five city blocks (on Dearborn, from Congress to Polk), attracting more than 200 booksellers from across the country displaying new, used and antiquarian books, and featuring seven stages with more than 100 free literary programs.

As part of its ongoing commitment to the written word and its support of literacy and literary endeavor, the Chicago Tribune purchased the Printers Row Book Fair in 2002 from the Near South Planning Board. Recently renamed to be the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, it is considered the largest free outdoor literary event in the Midwest-drawing more than 125,000 book lovers to the two-day showcase.

It’s a great event to people watch and to rub elbows with literary types as well. The Chicago Public Library is also hosting events, one of which is author Neil Gaiman being presented with the Chicago Tribune Young Adult Book Prize.

[mappress]

Radiohead: Working on New Album

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Well, god damn. It seems like just yesterday Radiohead released the beautiful and brilliant “In Rainbows,” but it looks like the boys are at it again. Radiohead reminds me in so many ways how bad other bands suck. Groundbreaking, with most steps — musically and business wise — Radiohead pushing out another obviously awesome record is like the goose laying a golden egg.

According to a new BBC interview with bassist Colin Greenwood,  they are working with longtime producer Nigel Godrich, man behind previous Radiohead smashes. “It’s at the stage where we’ve got the big Lego box out and we’ve tipped it out on the floor and we’re just looking at all the bits and thinking what’s next?…It was very noisy and chaotic and really fun,” says Greenwood.

The band have just finished touring with electro pioneers Kraftwerk in South America which Greenwood described as a “brilliant experience”.

“They are one of our musical heroes and it was a real privilege to share a stage with them,” he enthused.

I wonder if we can expect some influence there? Kraftwerk inspired Radiohead songs?

That was all Greenwood really mentioned, no word on release dates, etc., but expct a big to-do.

Fashion Treasures of Chicago

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Filed under Arts and Theater, Events

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Normally high-fashion design conjures up images of Parisian catwalks, the streets of New York City, and the station of the Harajuku district of Tokyo. But a current exhibit at the Chicago History Museum wants to expose yet another side of Chicago: fashion capital. Chic Chicago: Couture Treasures from the Chicago History Museum is currently running through July 26, 2009.

The exhibit is a highlight of fashion specific to Chicago from the 1860’s through 2004. Cool fact: The Chicago History Museum has one of the largest and oldest costume and garment collections in the world. Each article on display not only is intended to present as an example of truest fashion, but also to represent historical significance within each piece. Curator of Costumes Timothy Long stresses the Windy City’s presence in the collection. “It is the connection to Chicago–that is the number one importance to the costume collection [and] to the museum as a whole,” he says. Every article featured is also part of the museums permanent collection.

A collection of Chicago fashion since the 1860’s made me wonder if there would be butcher’s attire or mob boss suits included, given Chicago’s notorious reputation as Hog Butcher to the World, Gangland, and the Second City. These ideas about Chicago not being a ‘major’ fashion city still exist today. But the ladies of the last 150 years are not too different from the ladies of today in our love of glamour and garments as self expression and luxury. And the high-society women of Chicago have always had the money and taste for couture–sometimes choosing to let these pieces speak for the sophistication of Chicago when Midwestern reputation precedes it.

Leonard Cohen Playing Chicago

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Filed under Arts and Theater, Music

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Leonard Cohen will play the Chicago Theater next week for two sold out shows. This is the Canadian poet, novelist, and singer-songwriters first tour in 15 years. He also plans to tour major American and World cities including Paris, Berlin and Tel Aviv.

A serious bout of bad luck may have been responsible for Cohen’s decision to tour. Unknown to him, his former business manager stole and spent most of his life savings. While it’s a major bummer for Cohen, it’s pretty awesome for us. Impetus aside, I can’t wait to actually see this icon in the flesh.

Cohen published his first poetry works in 1956 and his first novel in 1963. In 1967 Cohen released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, after a move to the US in order to pursue his songwriting and singing.

Cohen was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, with Lou Reed describing Cohen as the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.” His songs have been covered over 1000 times in different renditions. Jeff Buckley, REM, Pixies, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave and Willie Nelson have all recorded Cohen songs.

The show is said to be a collective of the artist’s stories and songs that span his career. The Decider had this to say about the show’s opening night in New York: “Cohen spent a lot of time singing on his knees, crouched down with his lanky shoulders drawn in and his hands holding the microphone with something like tranquil desperation; it wasn’t clear that Cohen even realized there were thousands of other people in the room with him … The whole show was a triumph for a kind of earned wisdom and slow, creeping staying-power that’s easy to forget the value of these days.”

He will be performing at the Chicago Theater on May 4 and May 5.

Chicago Latino Film Festival

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The Chicago Latino Film Festival celebrates its Silver Anniversary, as the “largest, oldest and best Latino film festival in the country,” notes Hispanic magazine. It represents over 100 films in an array of genres –fiction, animation, documentary, and shorts that demonstrate the vast diversity of Latino culture from the United States, Latin America, Portugal, and Spain.

For two weeks each year, over 35,000 audience members from all walks of life enjoy the cultural and enlightening programming including screenings, workshops, and special events held in various venues, colleges, universities and community base organizations around the area.

Presented by the International Latino Cultural Center, the 25th Chicago Latino Film Festival runs Friday, April 17, through Wednesday, April 29, at Beverly Arts Center, Facets Cinematheque, Landmark’s Century Centre, River East 21, and smaller venues throughout the city and suburbs. Tickets for most events are $10, $9 for students, and $8 for ILCC members. For more information call 312-409-1757 or see latinoculturalcenter.org.

Showing this week: The Ballroom, Sat 4/18, 7:30 PM, and Tue 4/21, 6 PM, Landmark’s Century Centre; Empty Nest, Sat 4/18, 9:15 PM, and Sun 4/19, 8:30 PM, Landmark’s Century Centre; A Forgotten Injustice, Sat 4/18, 9 PM, Facets Cinematheque; The Gift, Fri 4/17, 6 PM, River East 21; Pindorama, Sat 4/18 and Mon 4/20, 6:30 PM, Landmark’s Century Centre; The Watercolorist, Fri 4/17, 7 PM; Sun 4/19, 8 PM; and Mon 4/20, 8:30 PM, Landmark’s Century Centre.

Art Show: Gallery Cabaret

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Filed under Arts and Theater

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Gallery Cabaret hosted local artists Mikey Rudnicki, Morgan Flahive-Foro, and Adam Mitchell Friday, April 3, with musical guests Mos Scocious and Brighten Up. In addition to Gallery Cabaret’s already full walls, each artist exhibited new pieces (traditional and mixed media) and older works.

This cozy and charming Bucktown tavern/gallery has the look and feel of the coolest basement bar you could dream up.

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