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.


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:

International Night at Map Room


Map Room really doesn’t need to do much to lure people into this beer lover’s paradise, but International Night, which takes place every Tuesday, is hard to pass up. Here’s the concept: buy two drinks, receive a stamped ticket for the meal of the night. Each Tuesday features a different cultural cuisine; this month was Israel, Soul Food, Costa Rica, Nigeria and BBQ.

Map Room boasts over 200 brands of beer, plus 30 something styles of brewing. They really mean business. If you really want to have a proper beer experience, I would probably advise coming on a less crowded night though. International night is definitely a bit of a circus. Expect to see broke hipsters along side beer nerds and suits. If you can handle the crowd and line to the food, this is a must do.

Here’s a tip: The line forms when the food attendees announce that it is feeding time. Don’t ask for anything extra, different, or modified. These guys serve up no less than 100 plates and have it down pat. It’s standard issue–everyone gets the same meal. If there are extras, the guys will alert the feeders that seconds are available. Also, try to get there before 6pm, so you can score a table. It’s no fun to stand and eat.

Real Pirates at the Field Museum

pirate gold

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.”

Printers Row Lit Fest


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.

Ribfest Chicago

Filed under Drink and Eat, Events


Ribs! The annual event upped the ante and is up to three days now. Averaging 65,000 pounds of ribs and featuring 25 bands in 25 hours, more than 50,000 people are expected to kick­off summer at the three­-day long Ribfest Chicago. Proceeds of the festival are utilized to fund community activities, area greening efforts and local outreach programs such as the innovative School Grant Program.

You can sample ribs and BBQ and listen to the sounds of Harlem Shakes and Margot and Nuclear So and So’s. The festival will feature a crowd-voted award presentation for Northcenter’s Best Ribs (you can vote by text). Kids Square, which offers rides, live entertainment and hands-on activities, will run from noon-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Sony Playstation is sponsoring a Gaming Rig where you can play your favorite video games.

But does any of that really matter when there 65,000 pounds of ribs? Participating restaurants include Chicago faves Smoke Daddy and Robinson’s #1 Ribs and many more. Remember to bring extra wet napkins.

$5 suggested donation. June 12-14.

Sure Thing: Phoenix at Park West 6/13

Filed under Events, Music


If you have not heard of French quartet Phoenix, currently on tour promoting new album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”, you will be familiar with their catchy alt-pop soon. “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” is the fourth studio record from the alt-rockers, whose music can be likened to French friends like Justice, Air and Daft Punk.

Phoenix is Thomas Mars (who is also married to fellow hipster director Sofia Coppola), Deck, Branco, and Christian Mazzalai.

The band is touring North America as well as Europe through out summer and fall, and recently did a spot on SNL; the new album is set to drop on May 25.

The new music is a mix of their signature late 70’s – early 80’s light rock sound, mixed in with jumpy drums and hooky guitars. Nothing cheesy though, I promise. Listen to: “Fences”.

Currently sold out, expect more tickets to  be released close to the date of the show.

Park West, 6/13/2009

Pitchfork vs. Lollapalooza

Filed under Events, Music


The two major musical festivals Chicago offers, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza have released their lineups, and it’s got me wondering which festival is actually “better?”

It is sort of unfair to completely compare the two, since they are not trying to do the same thing…exactly.

First of all, Lollapalooza (Lolla) is massive in every imaginable way. Hundreds of bands and sprawled out across Grant Park. When moving with the herd from one end to the next, the crowd can be atrocious. And it really is something of a trek to go back and forth a few times, particularly in Chicago heat — and don’t let the lakefront fool you, that mother is HOT. Layout and comfort-wise, Lolla loses big time. And don’t even get me going on the porta-potties. However, with the huge selection of bands, there is bound to be something you want to see, most likely a couple things you want to see. Lolla just has so many acts that it’s impossible to see more shows at any other event; Lolla wins the numbers game.

Pitchfork is much smaller and a helluva lot easier to cruise around in. The crowds are very different from one to the next. Pitchfork seemed (last year, imho) to be a little younger, a little more hip. Pitchfork costs $80 for the whole shebang, and Lolla rolls in around 3 x’s that much. As a value, Pitchfork kicks Lolla’s ass. The headliners for each event are different as night and day. Lolla’s are dated and uninteresting (appealing to an older crowd) and Pitchforks are more current and less ‘overexposed.’ I think I actually yawned when I heard Depeche Mode would be headlining Lolla. They are great, but this is 2009. Sorry Lolla, but Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo and Flaming Lips are simply more attractive to music fans.

It also seems that if you miss a band at Pitchfork, you can probably catch them next year at Lolla. Or be irritated you wasted an hour listening to a “buzz band” whose fifteen minutes should have been up already. I guess it all depends how you like it. I think that Pitchfork is the better festival this summer. But last year, I would have not missed Radiohead for the world. Bottom line: they are both great and Chicago is lucky to have both. It just depends on the year.


Fashion Treasures of Chicago

Filed under Arts and Theater, Events


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.

Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day, 4/21 or Free Stuff is like the Golden Girls

Filed under Drink and Eat, Events


I was going to write a piece on the great parking meter tragedy of 2009, but my lofty goal seemed well–lofty. Parking meter downer? NO! Calorie filled happiness! YES! Ice cream cheers everyone up, right? And in these hard times (side note: I am really sick of writing, reading, and generally observing that adage) it seems appropriate to type about the treats in life instead of the tricks for a change.

The hippie-ish ice cream chain has been scooping out the freebies since ’79 and there will no doubt be a line longer than the Navy Pier outpost that will be dishing out the goodies. (Navy Pier Scoop Shop, 700 E Grand) Free ice cream might be a faithful customer appreciation act, but it is also a way to lure in new converts or tempt old members to return to the gluttonous club. Conspiracy theory? Personally, I am a huge ice cream fan, but if you keep anyone away from something long enough, they could forget. Think of watching Golden Girls, for example. Its always on, but you never watch it because its (groan) Golden Girls. But then the day comes where you are too lazy to change the station and lo, the girls are cracking you up with Blanche’s sleazin’ around the hood, Rose’s idiot blunders, and Dorothy’s Dorothy-ness. Ah, Bea Arthur, I missed you!

That’s just what these free cones are going to do. You (try) to diet and work out. Avoid high fat and sugar desserts at all costs. Ice cream is honestly lacking in nutrition. But a bad day and a free cone later, it all comes flooding back to you. Cool, sweet, creamy memories will take over good sense and you will forget why you stopped eating it in the first place. Welcome back, friend. It’s just a sleigh ride into plus-sized pants now.

Chicago Latino Film Festival


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

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.

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