Hopes were really high this season when not one, but two major New York-bound shows chose to tryout in Chicago. But by the time Cirque du Soleil's vaudeville-inspired Banana Shpeel and the new musical The Addams Family both opened in December, the critical reception was either mixed or as chilly as the weather.
At the Chicago Theatre, the just-closed Banana Shpeel received a major critical drubbing. It was a shock since most Cirque du Soleil productions prove to be such crowd-pleasers.
Cirque producers have now postponed the start of previews at New York's Beacon Theatre from the original start date of Feb. 4 to Feb. 25.
"The shift in dates will allow the production to have a full month of rehearsals at the Beacon," said Cirque producers in a statement. "The ideas continue to develop and the additional rehearsal time on stage will allow the best opportunity to fully realize the show's potential."
Meanwhile, The Addams Family received far kinder reviews when it officially opened Dec. 9, 2009, at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre. But many critics had complaints about the show's second act, plus many other reservations.
In response, the largely Chicago-based Addams Family producers have hired four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks to oversee the production as a creative consultant. ( Zaks was originally attached to direct the new Broadway-bound Dame Edna/Michael Feinstein show All About Me, but he was released from that contract. ) Zaks previously directed Tony-winning Addams Family star Nathan Lane on Broadway in Guys and Dolls in 1992 and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1996.
"We are very pleased that Jerry is willing and eager to come on board at this point in the process to collaborate with our creative team to insure that the show achieves its full potential for its Broadway debut," stated producer Stuart Oken to Playbill.com .
The production's original team of British directors/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch will also stay on while composer Andrew Lippa and playwrights Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice continue to reshape the show. The Chicago run of The Addams family concludes Jan. 10. The Addams Family performances on Broadway have also been postponed, but only by four days. Previews now begin at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre March 8.
Film fans everywhere wade through winter weather to get to the Sundance Film Festival every January in Park City, Utah. But in Chicago, there are four theater festivals starting up in January that make it worthwhile to bundle up and brave the cold.
First up is The Ninth Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival ( a.k.a. the Chicago SketchFest ) . If you couldn't get into the Second City's big 50th anniversary bash ( or if you didn't want to pay the outrageous scalper fees ) , check out these sketch comedy troupes from around the world.
On Jan. 7-17, 100 sketch comedy troupes perform 125 shows within two weekends. But it's not all performances. Networking events, workshops and even kids' shows are also part of the mix at the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets to each show are $12.50, or $150 for an all-festival pass. Call 773-327-5252 or visit www.chicagosketchfest.com .
Halcyon Theatre feels that women playwrights are unfairly underrepresented in the theater world. So the company is doing its part to right the imbalance through its Alcyone Festival, which was created specifically to showcase the theatrical writings of women.
The 2010 festival celebrates the work of influential Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes. Six of her playsLetters from Cuba, Manual for a Desperate Crossing, Sarita, Summer in Gossensass, Tango Palace and What of the Nightrotate in repertory Jan. 21-Feb. 27 at Lincoln Square Theatre in Barry United Methodist Church, 4754 N. Leavitt. Single tickets are $10-$20, while a $50 festival pass gets you into each show. Call 773-413-0453 or visit www.halcyontheatre.org .
Also back is the Rhinoceros Theater Festival ( a.k.a. Rhino Fest ) , now in its 21st year. This month-long festival, sponsored by Curious Theatre Branch and Prop Thtr, spotlights the best and brightest Chicago fringe artists and troupes that do experimental and off-beat theater and music.
This year's line-up includes artists such as Julie Caffey, BoyGirlboyGirl, Idris Goodwin and Hermit Arts, Bruised Orange, Silent Theatre and more. Featured events include Jeff Kowalkowski's porcine opera King Pignacious, a group show by faculty in The School of The Art Institute of Chicago's Writing Program and a special Valentine's Vaudeville show curated by Jenny Magnus.
RhinoFest runs Jan. 22-Feb. 14 at the Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston. Tickets are $12-$15 for each show. Call 773-508-0666 or visit www.rhinofest.com
The newest theater festival is the Bricks and Mortar Fest, which showcases old and new work by Chicago company The Bricklayers and Collectif Masque from France.
The two major productions in this festival are 2008 revivalsTwelfth Night: Galaxy 4.2 ( previously seen at the Athenaeum Theatre ) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( previously work-shopped at the old Bailiwick Repertory space ) .
Both works feature unconventional staging techniques. Twelfth Night slips a sci-fi sheen over Shakespeare's classic romantic comedy, while puppets populate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
On the newer side, the Bricks and Mortar Fest presents a slew of one-night-only readings of new works from other companies. Piccolo Theatre presents The Return of the Lump Bros. and Other Vaudeville Gems Feb. 5, Chicago dell'Arte presents I'll Miss You Lop Zhang Feb. 6, while Filament Theatre Ensemble presents The Odyssey of Arlecchino Feb. 7.
The Bricklayers also presents previews of its upcoming works this season, which include a mask version of Mother Courage and Her Children Feb. 3, and an Appalachian rethinking of the fairy tale The Juniper Tree called Drainpipe Feb. 10.
The Bricks and Mortar Fest plays Jan. 28-Feb. 14 at the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets prices to each show varies. Call 773-327-5252 or visit www.theatrebuildingchicago.org for more information.