Friday, June 19, 2009

Ghost, glitz and good old rock 'n' roll

Photos left to right:
Gwendolyn Whiteside stars in "K of D: An Urban Legend" at A Red Orchid Theatre (see review below). Matt Raftery heats up the stage in "Footloose," coming to Theatre at the Center.
Dear Readers, 
Thank you for your growing support of this blog. I hope many of you took time to read the interim review of the Drama Group's now closed production of "The Laramie Project," a phenomenal play carried off by a cast that met and exceeded the demands of the script. More important, my wish is that many of you saw this remarkable piece of theatre.
The Southland is bursting with entertainment this summer and Southlanders appearing all over Chicagoland bring a potpourri of whatever you want to do and see within reach, most just a short drive away. Doo Wop is coming to the Starry Nights Concert Series and the Orland Park Theatre Troupe heads to Broadway, well really the Orland Chateau. Billy Vitucci heads for the woods at GSU and Matt Raftery takes on the explosive 'Footloose' in Munster. The list goes on and on.
Sarah R. Gross, my daughter, took the time to see and review what turned out to be a riveting production, a summer ghost story, at A Red Orchid Theatre. Sarah's review follows my comments here.
She was a south suburban resident and world-famous entertainer. Koko Taylor, Queen of the Blues, died on June 3. She had lived in Country Club Hills for years. Press reports said she was 80 when she died but when I interviewed her -- many times for The Star -- she declined to reveal her age noting, "A lady doesn't tell." Born Cora Walton in Memphis, Koko acquired her nickname because she loved chocolate. Her passion for music began when she and her five siblings picked cotton for their sharecropper parents. "We'd sing in the fields," she told me. "We's sing blues, but when we'd see our father coming, we'd switch to gospel."
Taylor described her blues as "feel good songs. I want people to feel like clapping, laughing hard and having a good time. Even when I say, 'We're gonna take it down to the basement, slow like, those songs are not depressing."
She was oh-so right. The award-winning Taylor's high energy live performances will live on in the hearts of those who were lucky enough to have seen her perform on stage.
But Taylor's proudest moment had nothing to do with awards shows or huge audiences. It was an accolade that topped all others. "That was when I had the opportunity to sing 'Happy Birthday' to President Bill Clinton. I never thought I'd have a chance to do that.'"
I hope you will read the parts of this blog that interest you. If you want to tell me anything or have any corrections -- or events to add for the next blog, please e-mail me at
Happy Summer.               
Review by Sarah R. Gross
Riveting.  Simply put, this one word aptly characterizes Route 66 Theatre Company's production "The K of D: An Urban Legend," running at A Red Orchid Theatre through July 12.  To call this a one-woman show is almost a misnomer, as the extraordinarily talented Gwendolyn Whiteside (see photo above) fills the stage with her rich, believable portrayals of a dozen different characters.  
Whiteside seamlessly transforms from one character to the next, recreating conversations among four or five people at once; her masterful use of voice, body language and mannerisms allows the audience to know effortlessly which character she's portraying at any given moment.   The main character and narrator, known only as "the girl," recounts the urban legend of a small Ohio town, and the mysteries surrounding the kiss Charlotte McGraw received from her adolescent twin brother upon his dying breath.  
Some people thought the kiss was merely a "sweet, strange goodbye," the girl tells us, but "Some of us...some of us thought there was more to it than that."  
As the story unfolds, with its laugh-out-loud humor and touchingly poignant truths, it evokes eternal questions about the meaning of life and death, through the innocent yet insightful perspective of our narrator.   "This is the thing about legends," the girl proclaims near the beginning of the play, "If you tell them right, you can keep a person breathing."  She then proceeds to do just that, breathing life into each unique character of this compelling small-town urban legend.
Laura Schellhardt's haunting drama runs from June 9 to July 12 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St., Chicago. Tickets are $20 to $25 at (773) 308-6927 and at
It's Sunday brunch, music and a potpourri of entertainment. Yes, it's the Diva Brunch, a Chicago cabaret brunch extravaganza at The Spot, 4437 W. Broadway, Chicago. At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Sunday, the stars of the Scooty and JoJo Show delight guests with cabaret music, gender illusionists, stand-up comics and more performers from the grand scene of Chicagoland theater. Special guest ZaZa with Leslie Lee joins the stage on July 12 only. ZaZa, known to many area theater-goers as John Boss, brings his genderbending character to life for two delightful performances. Brunch and show packages start at $35 and reservations are limited, (773) 728-8934.
MUSIC FOR PEACE Secular compositions intrigue many classically attuned listeners and performers. For those music lovers, a blockbuster in the genre is headed to Dominican University, Lund Theatre in the Performing Arts Center, 7900 Division St., River Forest. To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order, Chiesa Nuova, a ministry for the performing arts in Chicago, will present "A Celebration of Hope and Peace" at 7:30 p.m. June 26 and 27. Program details are at Tickets are $40 to $50 at (708) 488-5000. OLD TIME ROCK 'N' ROLL
The Homewood-Flossmoor Park District's annual Starry Nights concert series at Irwin Park, Highland Avenue and Ridge Road, Homewood continues with the July 26 Doo Wop Spectacular starring Terry Johnson's Flamingos, the El Dorados and Jonny Keyes & the Magnificents. Bring or buy food 'n drinks and blankets and chairs are good too. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and showtime is 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $20 and $7 for children 3 to 15, (708) 957-0300 and at Park District offices. Tickets on day of concert are an additional $5. 
One of my all-time fave local bands brings the rock and roll experience to life at loads of outdoor festivals and village concerts. Unless you've shared an hour or two with the phenomenal Neverly Brothers -- Kevin, Kegham and Craig -- you can't imagine what this trio does to retro. You won't be able to sit this band out. Upcoming concerts include the 7 p.m. Hickory Hills Park District Summer Concert, Krueger Park Recreation Center, 9100 S. 88th Ave.; the 4-7 p.m. outdoor concert July 3 at Main Square, corner of Ridge Road and 5th Street, Highland, Indiana; 8 p.m. July 10 at Fred P. Hall Amphitheatre, 262 E. Palatine Road, Palatine; 6-8 p.m. at the Evergreen Park Recreation Department Concert, Circle Park, 97th Street and Homan Avenue. Check out the band's gazillion village fest appearances at
The Buffalo Theatre Company presnts the John Ford Noonan comedy "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking" from July 3 to 26 at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn. According to show information, the story focuses on a "waspy pictur-perfect housewife" in Westchester, N.Y. and her new neighbor from Austin, Texas. "Throughout this romp, (they) fight, scheme, cheat, laugh and love" and come to a "deeper understanding of their husbands and their marriages," as well as each other. "White Chicks" runs from  July 2 to 26; tickets $25 to $33 at (630) 942-4000 and ANYONE SEEN MY SADDLE SHOES? Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, continues its production of "Pump Boys and Dinettes," through Aug. 2. Tickets are $29 to $33, dinner theater packages available. Tickets are at (630) 530-0111 and
DEBBIE DOES DRURY LANE Tickets are now on sale for the Aug. 6 to 9 appearances of the legendary Debbie Reynolds. She continues her inside Hollywood stories as well as kicks up her heels -- all to adoring audiences and great reviews. The legendary Reynolds will take the Drury Lane stage Aug. 6-9. Tickets (info above) are $33 and dinner packages are available. 
Yes, thanks to Illinois Theatre Center, William Shakespeare returns to the South Suburbs, this summer via "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Yes, it's Shakespeare in the Park, or actually the Village Green in Downtown Park Forest, at 7:30 p.m. June 26, 27 and 28. The raucous comedy about the lusty, liquor-soaked Sir John Falstaff finds him trying to seduce two married ladies who do get even with him. All the fun is free. Audience members may bring picnic suppers and vendors will sell soft drinks. Also bring a blanket or chair if you wish. In case of rain, the show moves inside to Illinois Theatre Center. More details are at (708) 481-3510. CAN YOU SPELL L-A-F-F? Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire's production of  'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the Tony Award-winning musical at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, continues through July 19," Show tickets are $45 and dinner theater packages are available Wednesdays through Sundays, phone (847) 634-0200.
"Cinderella" heads for the Marriott Theatre stage beginning July 8 and running through Aug. 29. Marc Robin, an all-time favorite theater Renaissance man and a brilliant director, choreographer and composer, wrote this imaginative musical of this classic fairy tale. While the production follows the original story, everyone must help to make the magic happen. With whimsical music and audience participation, children of all ages and children at heart will join in the wonders as Cinderella learns dreams really do come true. All tickets are $12. Times and performance dates are at (837) 634-0200 and LIGHTS OF BROADWAY Orland Park Theatre Troupe presents "Back II Broadway" dinner theater, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., July 10 and 19 at Orland Chateau, 14500 LaGrange Road, Orland Park. Tickets are $40 a person at (708) 403-7275 and at Cash bar will be open. BACK TO THE WOODS
Billy Vitucci stars as the Baker and Meghan Hoyt as the Witch when the all-new Southland Area Theatre Ensemble, or SLATE, opens its debut production, Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," on Aug. 14 and 15 at Center for Performing Arts, Governors State University. Tickets are $18-$21 adults, $16-19 students at (708) 235-2222 and UP, UP AND AWAY We all day dream, letting our minds drift away into some real or imaginary place where life is calm and the brain can take a brief respite from the real world. Chicago's famous Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, concludes the current season with "Up," written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro. "On the best day of his life, Walter built a flying machine that reached the clouds," the press release states. "Ever since, he's tried to invent new ways to fly while his wife keeps the family afloat. 'Up' is a quirky, bittersweet tale about escaping the boundaries of the everyday and how we dream ourselves into a future." The show runs from June 18 - June 27 (previews) and then June 28 - Aug. 23 (regular run). Preview tickets are $20 to 45; regular run, $20-$70 at (312) 335-1650 and at
Back from Broadway, South suburban native Matt Raftery (see photo above) stars as Ren when the energetic musical "Footloose" explodes on stage beginning July 10 at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster. Tickets are at (219) 836-3255 and at VISUAL ARTS
The Tall Grass Art Film series continues with the 6:30 p.m. July 19 showing of "The Visitor," directed by Thomas McCarthy. According to the Tall Grass press release, "Visitor" is the story of a widowed professor who inadvertently becomes involved in the lives of an immigrant couple he finds squatting in his New York apartment. The film is in English and a discussion will follow. Tall Grass art films are at the Marcus Theatres, 1301 Hiltop Ave., Chicago Heights. Information is at the Tall Grass Gallery, (708) 748-3377.
Elmo's coming to Adler. Yes, you read that right and yes, I'm talking about the one and only Elmo of Sesame Street fame. Walkaround Elmo will greet families in the Adler main lobby on June 26, 27 and 28 during five set time periods (see for times). Those who bring cameras can grab a shot of Elmo with the kid(s), no charge. Elmo's celebrity appearance will remind families that he and friends all star in "One World, One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure," the latest sky show for the young set, now running in the Definiti Theatre. For those of us who were born then, it's hard to believe but July 20 marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Adler will celebrate with events throughout the month. Space programs of the last century are very much alive at Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Visitors should not miss "Shoot for the Moon," a two-gallery exhibit focused the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo years. The actual Gemini 12 capsule that launched Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin into space on Nov. 11, 1966, has been restored and is considered the centerpiece in "Shoot for the Moon." The exhibit is entirely free as is almost the entire museum. Shows are extra.
An all-new exhibit, "Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass," takes visitors back in time and then into the universe of today and tomorrow via the development of the telescope. Visitors can plan their excursions at
Guess who's having a birthday gala on July 1. Yup. Brookfield Zoo. It opened on July 1, 1934, and has been a world-class leader in animal care, conservation and education. To celebrate the decades plus of community support, the zoo is planning a year of activities beginning June 29 to July 1. For starters, kids 11 and younger get in free those days. The July 1 bash including comments and some zoo history from the president of the Chicago Zoological Society. Then guests can sing, "Happy Birthday Dear Brookfield Zoo" and enjoy a piece of birthday cake. 
Tributosaurus will entertain guests on the East Mall and other performances will be scattered around the zoo during the day. Maybe best of all, hot dogs will be 75 cents at the many restaurants around the zoo. Brookfield is open every day of the year, located off First Avenue between the Stevenson and Eisenhower expressways; also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway and via public transportation. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for children 3 to 11 and the over 65 zoo-goers. All the zoo to-do stuff is at
FIELD MUSEUM Say "hi' to Sue. There's something exciting about dinosaurs, and kids as well as the kid within each of us, find adventure and intrigue in the giant animals that walked Earth millions of years ago. Alas, far too many people have never met Sue, the ginormous T. rex that greets visitors in the huge open area immediately past the entrance at Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Sue's relatives appear in an all-new 3D film, "Dinosaurs Alive," in the museum's new theatre.  "Real Pirates," continue to ride the seas through Oct. 25 at Field. These are the pirates of yesteryear. Tickets to the museum and special events, as well as the schedules, can be found at
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY Harry Potter and friends continue to whip up magic while bringing guests into Hogwarts at "Harry Potter, the Exhibition," through Sept. 27 at Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Special timed tickets, in addition to museum admission charge, are required for this exhibit. Don't forget the extraordinary permanent exhibits including the legendary U-505, the German sub captured by U.S. sailors during the war. Anyone who hasn't seen the sub exhibit in years will find the breathtaking exhibit, starting with the gallery of history leading up to the huge room built around the sub, an awesome experience in American history. All the details, including prices and exhibit details are at SHEDD AQUARIUM They're back and there are more cetaceans than before. After 18 months of absence, the wonderful sea creatures at Shedd Aquarium's Oceanarium have returned, with many related species in the new, greatly expanded and reinvented, Oceanarium. Now open to the public, the new Oceanarium should be spectacular. Shedd Aquarium is at 1200 Lake Shore Drive and details are at I hope to have more details in the near future.


photo by sarah gross

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Tinley Park, Illinois
As a longtime newspaperwoman who left the business to freelance, I want to keep in touch with the world. This is my place to reach out with words.