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Theatre & Dance   


"A Night with Hamilton"


I don't have much to say except this wonderful production entitled "Hamilton" is no unique, so avant garde, so brilliant that I am determined to see it again!  I would suggest prior to seeing it that you listen to the soundtrack via Pandora where it's free and you can hear it often so that when you actually see this masterpiece, you are not too thrown by the lightening quick pace of the production.

Lin-Manuel Miranda had to be born specifically to bring "Hamilton" to the stage because it was unlike any stage production I've seen! The story is presented through continuous music, great costuming, witty humor and choreography that adds tat special touch.

Ironically, for me it's not so much the story line itself, but how it is presented. The actors are outstanding, the set design is splendidly multi- functional, and you will be amazed at the extremely multicultural cast. Imagine Andrew Jackson or Thomas Jefferson presenting as a dark skinned African American. How about a pure and virginal Eliza Hamilton expressing sexual desire? 

You will be enthralled and entranced!



On Saturday, February 4, 2017, I along with 14 This…I…Do…For…Me… clients were able to see a movie classic turned into a stage play – The Bodyguard.  Yes, the one based on the moving featuring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner back in the 90s.
I was curious to see how they would transform the movie into a stage play, and although the story line remained the same, many of Whitney Houston’s all time hits were included in the play.  I found myself saying to myself “I don’t remember ‘Dance with Somebody’ being featured in the film.”  Then it dawned on me, it was the producers and Deborah Cox way of paying tribute to the legendary Houston.
 
The acting was good, but the vocal renditions of Houston’s songs performed were phenomenal!  The audience responded to the music enthusiastically, and at times (if you closed your eyes), you thought you were listening to Whitney! 

This production not only took you down Whitney Houston memory lane, but I walked away feeling like I needed to go home and play all of her hit and remembering just how prolific an artist she was!

      
            THE BODYGUARD THEATRE OUTING ! FEBRUARY 4, 2017

                      

THIS...I...DO...FOR...ME WILL HOST AN AFTERNOON AT THE ORIENTAL THEATER
IN DOWNTOWN CHICAGO!!  STARRING VOCALIST DEBORAH COX!

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2017 ~ 2:00 P.M.

SPECIAL RATE AVAILABLE FOR GROUPS OF 10 OR MORE
NOTE: SERVICE FEE APPLIES

IF INTERESTED, PLEASE CONTACT ME AT robin@thisidoforme.com
or call me at 773/759-1374




All Reviews are by Robin Tillotson


REVIEW OF “FUNDAMENTALS"


On Sunday, November 27, 2016, I was invited by a friend to view the Steppenwolf Theater’s production of “Fundamentals.”  This production, written by Erika Sheffer, was nuanced throughout with references about all of the trappings of upward mobility and how the illusion of being progressive and in sync with company values will land you not only a coveted spot in your career, but how linking your identify with your company’s exclusive corporate culture legitimizes your existence.

This in and of itself, poses a dilemma for Millie, the main character, because ironically, this exclusivity is not to be obtained by one’s own merit and hard work, but by connecting to an identify that practically forces you to forsake your own cultural norms and heritage.

Millie, played brilliantly by Alana Arenas, is from an immigrant family that came to the U.S., and like so many immigrants and their children, she has an incredible drive to achieve and make a better life for herself.  Millie experiences inner turmoil between wanting to build a successful work life and balancing that with raising her daughter and trying to maintain her marriage. 

This dichotomy is always problematic for those wanting to succeed in an environment that is unlike any they’ve known before.  Immigrants are often in the midst of identifying the game rules of survival and success and diligently working to master them.  Ironically, "Fundamentals" illustrates that when those rules have been mastered, they often change once again leaving one frustrated, and like with Millie, there is still a strong desire to conquer a dream that seems so close but continues to be eluded. 

The inherent humor, subtleties and inside view of human nature is what makes this play. The other characters -- Millie's husband, supervisor, coworker and senior manager all represent mirrors and other aspects  of her inner self and inner struggles that must be reconciled in order to move forward.




Review of "Leavings"

On Saturday, November 12, 2016, I was in the audience at The Greenhouse Theater in Lincoln Park (Chicago) riveted by one of the most powerful plays I've seen in a long while.

Set in current day Chicago, the play's central character Bea Wiley, is the catalyst for bringing healing to her family after living through decades of the painful impact of slavery.

This reconciliation begins to take shape as Bea demands to connect with the governor of the Mississippi town.  He is the blood relative of the play's antagonistic rapist, who has had a successful political career. The theme that is highlighted (both subtly and not so subtly) is the devastation that is caused a family when countless white fathers not willing to be accountable for their actions are absent.

Now, this is not the story of some deadbeat dad who after getting his needs met sexually leaves the family out of callousness and irresponsibility, but matriarch Bea helps the audience to see the impact of how countless white men raped Black women, impregnated them and left them to raise mixed race children alone and forgotten.

Another aspect of the impact of this irresponsibility and misuse is highlighted in how African American families have had to compensate in ways that were just plain unhealthy. For instance, the character of ----- after having been raped, must not only raise and nurture a child born from that violence, but she must ignore her own healing from the incident of rape and move beyond her own grief due to having to maintain a facade of strength in order to keep her family intact. I am convinced that out of a need to maintain these families, the stereotype of The Strong Black Woman who carries the weight of the world was borne.

"Leavings" playwright Gail Parrish's inner vision and spiritual insight not only brings the traumatic impact of slavery to the forefront, but she illustrates how until this historic atrocity is confronted by the entire country collectively, this entire nation will not truly prosper. WE ARE OUR BROTHER'S KEEPER.



Review of "Man In The Ring"

I would never intentionally choose to see a play about a boxer or boxing, however, when I sat in the audience at The Court Theatre on Sunday, October 16, 2016 and saw "Man in the Ring, written by Michael Cristofer, I found that this was not just about the life of a boxing, but of that of acknowledging the humanity of everyone on earth.

Emile Griffith, a world renowned Welter Weight boxer, immigrated to New York City, along with his mother Emelda from the Virgin Islands. Not having had any aspirations of becoming a boxer, Emile actually has a strong interest and talent for women's hat making. The owner of the factory notices that Emile had the perfect body for a boxer, becomes his coach/agent and the newly minted boxer happily begins to make a name and a better life for himself.

Emile gets the opportunity to box a neighborhood friend, and wins two fights against his opponent, but just before the third fight in 1962, Cuban born Bennie Paret decides to unnerve Emile by constantly calling him a Maricon (a Spanish word for faggot) hoping to increase him chances of beating Emile.  The two practically come to blows at that moment. Within minutes of this "almost" brawl, the two are in the ring. It is at this point that Emile's angry energy causes him to apply repeated blows to Paret's head causing him to lapse into a 10 day coma. The bout was even televised on ABC's "Wide World of Sports."  Ten days later, Paret dies.

Guilt ridden for years, Emile still manages to win countless fights, lives a wealthy lifestyle, marries and engage in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. In the 1990s, Emile was severely beaten outside of a gay bar. The beating was so bad that he spent four months in the hospital. Emile states, "I beat a man and the world loves me; I love a man and the world hates me."

"Man in the Ring" is superbly written and directed as the scenes vacillate between a younger and older Emile. We are especially affected by an aging Emile, who is now showing signs of Dementia Pugilistica.

This is a story of great redemption for Emile -- both internally and externally. He even gets the opportunity to meet Paret's son, who embraces and offers forgiveness to Emile. After living  some years in an extended-care facility, in Hempstead, New York, Emile passes away in 2013.

Emile Griffith helped to create a more accepting environment for gay athletes, and boxers in particular. Just ask boxer Orlando Cruz.

scene from The Court Theatre's production of "Man in the Ring"



Review of Bahalia, Mississippi

“Byhalia, Mississippi!” The title, alone, makes you curious and ready to purchase a ticket to The Steppenwolf’s (Chicago, Illinois) latest production.  Written by Evan Linder and directed by the phenomenally talented Tyrone Phillips, the production “Byhalia, Mississippi highlights the story of a young couple embedded with themes of race, class, gender and even sexuality.  Self-determination is also a key theme that resonated for me while viewing the play.

Madly in love with each other, the characters Laurel and Jim are poor but rich in dreaming and dream making.  What is the big deal, you might ask?  Well, given all of the issues surrounding the aforementioned themes and their relevance in today’s America, this story is a timely one.

As the lights go down, we see a Laurel who is pregnant, and her husband who is extremely  excited about  the impending arrival of his child.  It seems that everything Jim wished for himself  is transferred to his unborn child.  He connects so strongly with the child while still in the womb that it is easy to understand why he is virtually devastated once it revealed during the delivery of the child that the father is black.

With the story line being as simple as that, it’s the underlying themes, the hidden messages and age-old nuances around race and gender that stand out.  The following is a listing of the four characters played by four outstanding actors and a description of what that character represents.

  1.  Laurel – A young white woman who has a history of making decisions based on her own selfish needs.  Her mom Celeste played by Cecelia Wingate, delivers a scathing soliloquy on Laurel’s history of this behavior and wants her to “get rid” of the black child. Of course, getting rid of the child speaks to Celeste’s irresponsibility.  The fruit seems to fall not too far from the tree.
  2. Jim – A young white man who seems to bond with the child so deeply prior to the delivery  that his world come crashing down when he finds out the child is black.  The underlying theme here is that he is more in love with the idea of fatherhood than the actual carrying out of the role – the child being black seems to destroy this.
  3. Karl – a young black man who is Jim’s best friend and immediately assumed to be the father of the black child.  He is so loyal to Jim, that it takes him a while to realize that Jim has some deep seated issues around his black maleness.  Additionally, it’s Karl’s later (prompted by Ayesha’s pain) inner revelation that “wakes” him up to a world of racism (even though Jim doesn’t have a clue as to why Karl now sees their relationship differently.
  4. Celeste – Laurel’s mother, who is exceptionally concerned about the hardships that Laurel will have raising a black child and the equally troublesome time the child will have.  She feels that Jim is a great husband, and she doesn’t want to her daughter to lose him.
  5. Ayesha – a young, black woman , who is married to Paul (who the audience never sees), an upstanding educator and the real father of Laurel’s child. 

Ayesha’s character, in my estimation, has the deepest character representation in the entire production.  She has placed a lot of time, energy and value into being the quintessential  wife and mother , an upstanding citizen and co-credit to her race.  These traits, along with her self-sacrificing nature has been created and built over the years, and for what purpose?

Ayesha is still betrayed by Laurel despite their numerous years of being friendship; she is still disrespected by her husband Paul who could care less about how his actions hurt others, and the whole town knows about Paul’s history making Ayesha’s sacrifices really worthless. 

The scenes between Laurel and Ayesha highlight longstanding tensions between white and black women around men, status and stature.  Ayesha even writes Laurel a check to high tail it out of town – anything so that she can maintain her dignity and save face.

The remainder of the play is spent allowing the characters to move into their own truth.  For Laurel and Jim that translates into forgiveness.




Review of The Sign In Sidney Brustein's Window


Lorraine Hansberry -- when you hear that name, the classic "A Raisin in the Sun" comes to mind, and even though that is the work that she is known for all over the world, believe it or not, it's not the only beautifully written play that she has produced.

"The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" is that gem that goes unnoticed because of our tendency to cling to the familiar.   Could it be that this play has (with the exception of one black character) an all white cast?  And think -- this comes after "A Raisin in the Sun's" all black cast made such a profound on the American literary landscape.

Just as we were getting used to relegating Hansberry to being the voice of The Negro/African America, she whips out this incredible tour de force about Sidney Brustein and his wife Iris.

 

If there is one thing this often overlooked Hansberry classic has taught me is that the author did not write about the "black problem" or the "white problem." 
She wrote about issues and problems that happened to feature a black family like we find in a "A Raisin in the Sun" or a white family found in Sidney Brustein.

This play takes place in 1960s Greenwich Village/New York. The central characters Sidney and Iris (the latter is eight years younger than Sidney), are committed to living an arts based life minus political entanglements. The two love each other despite two way dialogues comprised of put downs and hurtful language.

 

Also, a standout is Hansberry's showcasing of feminist  thought, and it really comes through in this work as she brings to life Iris's evolution of being an admiring 29 year old wife, to someone who is growing into her own skin -- remembering that she, too has dreams, desires and goals. This feminism also is evident in the characters of both of Iris's sisters -- Mavis and Gloria. Despite certain circumstances that make the sisters come across as victims, both have taken ownership of their choices. They are indeed strong women.

As a person struggling and in a sense suffering through life, Sidney is desperately searching for meaning n his life, but in that search, he gets even more mired in discontent as he realizes that Wally O'Hara is a dishonest politician and a major disappointment.  Even Wally's campaign mottos contribute to the death.  It comes to light that Gloria is a prostitute and these campaign slogans, in addition to the loss of love, lead her to suicide.

It is at this point, that Sidney and Iris  become closer as they take in the devastation of Gloria's death, and find themselves clinging to each other symbolizing a recommitment to their marriage and to their values.

The plot is not complex, but Hansberry's writing -- her usage of dialogue, multiple monologues and tragedy -- is quite complex. It's mesmerizing. It's sophisticated and it's healing. It's a damn good piece of work!



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Review of 42nd Street

I finally saw it --the stage version of 42nd Street!  I had not even seen the movie version, but I hadheard some of the soundtrack throughout my life. The songs are iconic -- you may find yourself singing the words to one of the songs but totally oblivious to the fact that it is a number from 42nd Street. 

This production was only in Chicago for two weeks in March, so I organized a group of 20 women, who like me were just as excited to see it.  The costuming and the set design amazingly transported the audience back to the 1930s. 

The lyrics for 42nd Street were written by Al Dubin and the very recognizeable music was written by Harry Warren. Ask anyone around the globe, they can hum the music or lip sync the lyrics even if they can not speak English. 

The general plot is centered around auditions for a 30s production of "Pretty Lady" and one of the central characters Peggy Sawyer from Allentown, PA comes to New Your City ready to take on the world. Billy Lawlor, who is a cast member in "Pretty Lady"  is determined to woo Peggy by vowing to set things up in a way that allow her to bypass the auditions completely. 

In the meantime, the character Dorothy Brock, an illustrious star of the day, expects to get the major role without auditioning. However, what Dorothy hadn't come to except is that her fame is waning. 

Without giving away too much, the remainder of the play is devoted to the interplay between massaging Dorothy's ego, even after she had broken her ankle. This prevents her from appearing in the production and Peggy's talent pushes her into the forefront and ultimately into stardom. The plot is not complicated, and that allows you to focus on the music and dancing. 

The final dance number will blow your mind with the synchronization of some 40 plus dancers. 

Here are just a few of 42nd Street's famed musical numbers:

1.         "I Only Have Eyes for You"
2.         "Lullaby of Broadway"
3.         "Shuffle Off to Buffalo"
4.         "Forty Second Street"
5.         "About a Quarter to Nine"
6.         "We're in the Money"

I and my guests, many who had not seen the play nor the film, enjoyed a delightful afternoon at the theater. If you ever have a chance to see 42nd Street, you will walk away humming one of those familiar tunes. 



Review of my Weekend Of Theatre - by Robin Tillotson

On Friday, February 5, 2016, I was able to see the production of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical!”  While I was in New York City in 2015, I opted to pass on seeing “Beautiful” in order to see two other Broadway productions — “Kinky Boots” and “Brothers in the Bottom.”

When the Carole King musical production arrived in Chicago, I still was not motivated to see it.  It wasn’t because I didn’t like the music of King — after all, I knew all too well the lyrics of “Natural Woman”, “I Feel the Earth Move”, “Will You Still Love Me” and the ever recognized “You’ve Got A Friend.”  I think I wasn’t motivated  to see it mainly because I wasn’t interested in another biographical tale of yet another musical artist UNTIL…I started having conversations with people who shared just how many other artists King either wrote for or how many artists (that I adored) covered her music.

“Locomotion” — Little Eva, “One Fine Day” — The Chiffons, “Will You Still Love Love Me” — The Shirelles, “Chains” — The Beatles, “Up on the Roof” — The Drifters, and of course Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” and James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” — these are all classic songs, thanks to King, that are woven throughout the American songbook.

During the performance, I was amazed at how many King compositions I didn’t know she wrote.  With my head bopping back and forth, feet tapping and snapping fingers, I openly sang along with the cast, and I was proud that I knew all the words to most of the musical numbers featured in the production.

It is also important to note that despite her prolific composing career, this delightful musical production highlights her emotional roller coaster marriage and partnership with one of the world’s best known lyricists — Gerry Goffin.  That aspect, deeply focused on in the production, illustrates King’s vulnerability, her human desire to hold on to love even when it is not healthy to do so, and her talent for incorporating those painful experiences in her music, along with the greatest gift of all — human resilience!

I also had the opportunity to see another production at The Court Theater “Satchmo At The Waldorf” two days after seeing “Beautiful.” Based on the book “Pops” by Terry Teachout, the drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, this is a moving story line bound to cause you to reexamine Armstrong.




The Court Theater (Chicago) production centers around Armstrong’s performance in the famed Empire Room of The Waldorf Astoria as the landscape for a virtual one man performance (the only other voice in the play belongs to Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser) showcasing his life as an African American musician and all of the challenges that accompanies that journey, particularly as it relates to racism.



This production of “Satchmo” features famed actor Barry Shabaka Henley as Armstrong, and he channels him expertly.  Henley’s portrayal provides great depth, elicits an emotional intimacy with the audience that comes forth as you are immersed in the dialogue of some of Armstrong’s painful memories and the unfortunate destruction of his relationship with his manager.

It isn’t happenstance that Henley, himself, is a native of New Orleans; his understanding of jazz and the spirit of one of our great American cities permeates throughout his performance.  Henley has appeared in numerous films —  “Ali” with Will Smith, “Collateral” with Jaime Foxx and Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg’s “Terminal,” and after Edward James Olmos left television’s “Miami Vice” as the superior officer, Henly took over in the role as Lieutenant Martin Castillo.  He is a great character actor, and his performance in “Satchmo at The Waldorf Astoria” showcases his solo acting skills. He did one outstanding job! “Satchmo at The Waldorf” is currently on the San Franscisco stage, as well.

view photos from "Satchmo" outing



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                                                      66 (Old) Movie Danced Scenes Mashup
                                                  (Mark Ronson - Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars)       

                                   

                                             

                                             "Fix Me Jesus - Revelations" by Alvin Ailey

                                    
                                        (View more dance videos at the bottom of the page)




aileyThere is nothing like seeing a staged version of one of your favorite classics, or to see a world premier of a play written by an emerging playwright.  There is also something very magical about seeing a dance performance and the amazing ways that dancers use their bodies to convey a story or a simple emotion.

From The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to The Dance Theatre of Harlem to The Joffrey Ballet, theater and dance are art forms that soothe the soul, encourage you to think critically and assist you in seeing the world in an entirely new way. 

You can join me through my virtual dance performance memory as I witness and explore traditional, contemporary and the fusion of new and exciting dance movement. 




kinkyboots
In the realm of theater, I hope to share with you photos and my impressions of  the numerous stage productions that I attend, along with encouraging you to add these activities to your “To Experience List.”




colorpurple
This was an excellent play, cast with mostly local (Chicago) talent and a couple from the Broadway version of "The Color Purple, The Musical About Love".

These young men and women were very talented in both performance art and dance.  The play was well choreographed and produced and was performed at the Mercury Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

At the end of the play the entire cast & producers came back on stage for a Q&A especially for our group of 35 African Americans men and women seated in the first rows of the intimate theater. Following the Q&A some of the cast members joined us for dinner at Deleece Restaurant, which is just off the lobby of the theatre. 

They told us they felt so proud to look out into the audience and see a group of people that look like them whom they felt understood the messages that they were trying to convey.  They were happy that we appreciated the arts and they loved the warm feeling that we extended to them.  They felt that the questions were great in the Q&A and they were sorry that the talk back had to be so short. They said they could have sat there for another hour, so could we, but dinner reservations had been made in advance. 

Keithon (cast as Mister) said he is from a small town in Texas so he was impressed with a group of distinguished African Americans with intelligent questions and the appreciation of theater. He said he could see the pride and it made him proud. Trish (cast as Celie) is from New York and she felt the family vibe and friendliness of the group. She loved the smiles and the feeling that the cast received.

They could all see and feel the love and pride coming from us and it made them work even harder to please.  They all said "Thank You" a million times over.

One of our group members had a niece who performed in the production and presented her aunt and our group with a plaque thanking us for the support.   

All in all it was a wonderful outing, enjoyed by both audience and performers.

- Submitted by Toni Pope

view photos from "The Color Purple"

view photos of our Playbills & Memorabilia

 

                                                      Top 10 Movie Dance Scenes Of All Time                                                                                    

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