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Pen

August in Chicago means many things. Obligatory Street Festivals, requisite tourist season, oppressive humidity and the return of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival at Victory Gardens Theatre. This three week festival staged fourteen new musicals, all presented in varying forms, best described as “workshops in development.” What this actually means is each is performed with minimalist sets and costumes mostly likely crafted by whatever is currently hanging in each participatory actor’s closets. One show that caught my fancy and shows potential was Pen. Directed by Michael Driscoll, Pen was a most unusual romantic comedy. With music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz & a book and lyrics by DC Cathro, the show featured two leads who started, innocently enough, as pen pals and became more. The rub, one of these two men is in jail. Their entire romance is cultivated through nothing more than written correspondence. In a modern world of texting, snapchat, e-mail, and a plethora of additional electronic communication formats, I found the concept of the hand written love letters of Pen enthralling. I personally find all of these additional formats of communication fundamentally more isolating and detached then cohesive. Add in clever musical direction from the immensely talented Aaron Benham, and I was intrigued.

Pen

From the opening song, “Deal Paul,” it was clear Pen would be mining major laughs from its supporting characters. Recently dumped Paul (Shaun Baer) leans on his two best gal pals to help him cope. The outrageous, Susan (Lauren Paris) and the outlandish, Lee (Jenna Schoppe) both advertising executives who are the Grace and Karen to Baer’s Will. These two sprinkle every scene they are in with nonstop giggles. When Paul’s ex, Grayson (Paul Michael Thomson) returns, Susan welcome’s him with an icy, “See you, Greyskull!” Lee, in between kvetching about her litany of current clients and strategizing plans for her upcoming nuptials, cannot see that her colleague is hurting from the breakup. A hurt that finds him trolling the internet and diving, headfirst, or maybe, heart first, into instigating a correspondence based relationship with an incarcerated convict named Rod (Michael Owen Achenbach). Their innocent flirtation quickly becomes a more passionate prison pen pals situation. When Susan discovers Paul’s bourgeoning romance, she swiftly and comically confronts him. Defending his actions, he exclaims this is just a “a mutually beneficial living journal” and concludes “I need that.” She continually chides him how this incarcerated Casanova will just try to shake him down for money. She cautions him, “this is all just fantasy, right?”

On the flip side, we have Ron, sitting in jail, who converses with the Prison Guard (Randolph Johnson) a chap who negotiates between wanton matchmaker and warden. No correspondence occurs with the outside world that the guard doesn’t read first. Ron has an additional secret that the guard knows and holds over him, but Paul (and the audience) are left in the dark for most of the piece. As Paul and Ron grow more attached through their letters, Grayson, Paul’s superfluous ex, decides he wants Paul back. Singing “little words will clarify, but little words will terrify” he equates “love’s a trap. It’s just like jail.” What is our hero to do? Continue fostering a relationship with a man he loves but cannot have or be with a man he can have, but doesn’t love? Which is the real prison? When Grayson finds out about Ron from a meddlesome Susan, ha asks what Ron does for a living? “He’s in…….concrete” Lee retorts as an answer better then saying he is behind bars. The one-liners flow freely and silliness is on display in abundance. The fantasy sequence “Don’t Piss Off the Girlfriends” performed by Susan & Lee, as they intimidate, bully, coerce and strong-arm criminal Ron, is a hysterical showstopper. The ladies are just looking out for their buddy, so naturally they both intervene on his behalf. Metaphorically in song and by each writing to the prisoner themselves. You would think Paul would be able to corral them into not meddling, setting up some type of boundaries, but he is so passive in all of his relationships, it is no wonder he is only truly connected to the one man he cannot see or touch.

Which brings me to the ending. Pen is very much a work in progress. The pendulum of tone swings widely from silly sitcom hijinks to potential poignancy of the budding romance against insurmountable odds. When the characters do finally come face to face at the tale’s conclusion, as Paul has flown out to meet Ron for the first time, the momentum and tension which had been slowly mounting over the proceeding hour was inexplicably and instantaneously lost. Their dialog was so off-putting and disjointed, like a cold bucked of water thrown directly at the audience’s collective face. I didn’t expect a Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, happily ever after resolution, Ron has at least another 13 years to life on his sentence, but I also didn’t expect the characters’ journey to end with such abrupt rejection. Why spend all this time slowly cultivating this potential romance, not to mention finally allowing the characters to meet in person, only to have them encounter one another to quickly discard their connection? The collaborators behind Pen must refine their focus. Is this a cautionary tale about the dangers of communication in the electronic age? Is this a unrequited love story between two opposites destined to not be together? Or Is this just a sitcom pitch cleverly disguised as a musical? I think all involved need to apply a little more ink to paper to enhance their concept of Pen.

Chicago Musical Theatre Festival at Victory Gardens Theatre presents Pen now playing through August 26, 2016

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

Events

Baccarat and Basil Hayden Host Glorious Speakeasy at Tony Awards

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Talk about a glorious night!

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 16: (L-R) Taraji P. Henson and Anna Wintour attend Baccarat x Basil Hayden Speakeasy at the 77th Annual Tony Awards at David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on June 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

Baccarat x Basil Hayden VIP speakeasy room at the Tony Awards this year kicked things off in a lavish way.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 16: (L-R) Adrienne Warren, Nick Jonas, Billy Porter and Elle Fanning attend Baccarat x Basil Hayden Speakeasy at the 77th Annual Tony Awards at David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on June 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

It was where celebrities from Anna Wintour to Julianne Hough to Daniel Radcliffe to Ekin-Su Cülcülogu relaxed, sipped a Basil Hayden 75 cocktail, mingled and took selfies.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 16: Ashley Park attends Baccarat x Basil Hayden Speakeasy at the 77th Annual Tony Awards at David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on June 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

Inside the exclusive speakeasy, Anna Wintour donned her signature oversized onyx sunglasses but this time with a smile as she giggled with Taraji P Hensen – perhaps it’s Taraji’s contagious personality shining through, her mesmerizing Oscar De La Renta gown or maybe the result of a few Basil Hayden 75’s but either way, the queen of fashion was beaming.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 16: (L-R) Jeremy Strong, Jessica Lange, Andrew Rannells and Eddie Redmayne attend Baccarat x Basil Hayden Speakeasy at the 77th Annual Tony Awards at David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on June 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

Elle Fanning, Billy Porter, Nick Jonas and Adrian Wallen dazzled as they posed for pictures while Ben Platt and partner Noah Galvin received some ‘awwws’ from the elite crowd as they embraced each other.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 16: Shaina Taub attends Baccarat x Basil Hayden Speakeasy at the 77th Annual Tony Awards at David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on June 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

Ashley Park was ready to rock in a mind blowing Harris Reed floor length gown and Pandora jewelry as she toasted the camera while Daniel Radcliffe quietly made his way around the room chatting with other nominees before winning his Tony later on that night.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 16: Ariana DeBose attends Baccarat x Basil Hayden Speakeasy At The 77th Annual Tony Awards at David Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center on June 16, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images)

Three cheers for this very Tony-licious moment!

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Events

Tribeca Festival Wraps Up with Big Apple Moment with ‘Satisfied’ Premiere

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The final day of the 2024 Tribeca Festival closed out with the film “Satisfied” at the Beacon Theater. The night also showcased a “Hamilton” pre-Tony anniversary moment with Renee Elise Goldsberry. After the premiere and performance guests gathered at Allure Lounge to sip on Hendrick’s Gin cocktails and to honor the indelible moment.

Roxstar Entertainment’s popular Cinema Center finished its premiere party run with the late-night soiree attended by director Chris Bolan and actress Kelli O’Hara as well as the fleet of producers on the film including executives from Stick Figures Productions and Amblin Documentaries.

Guests enjoyed a gourmet selection of canapes catered by Allure Restaurant as well as featured cocktails by Hendrick’s Gin including the Hendrick’s Grapefruit Collins.

“Roxstar Entertainment is pleased to continue to support independent filmmakers and distributors especially in its mission to get movie fans back into their true intended viewing medium, the movie theaters.  We are so grateful to be able to work with like-minded companies to sponsor and support the events and help drive the promotion and celebration for the films, filmmakers, and respective casts,” says David Manning, Roxstar Entertainment’s Executive Producer of the Cinema Center.

 

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Broadway

And The Winners Of The 77th Tony Awards Are: The Outsiders, Merrily We Roll Along, Stereophonic and Appropriate

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Hillary Clinton did show and the Tony’s gave her a standing ovation, but against all odds the best musical of the year The Outsiders won. I have never been so happy to be wrong in my predictions as The Outsiders was my favorite show this year. I am so proud of this industry for honoring this amazing production.

Merrily We Roll Along, Stereophonic, Sarah Paulson, Appropriate, Maleah Joi Moon and so many other predicted choices took home the coveted award.

Ariana DeBose hosted the night, where the surprises were Jeremy Strong, Danya Taymor for The Outsiders, Kecia Lewis for Hell’s Kitchen.…yeah! 

The playbill for the night and the 77th Tony Awards, had speeches that were powerful. Especially in Act One. The theatre before the event.

In the show a tribute to Chita Rivera, Chita you will be missed.

Here is the list of the winning shows and performers:

BEST MUSICAL: The Outsiders

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez in NYTW’s Merrily We Roll Along. Photo: Joan Marcus.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL: *Merrily We Roll Along

BEST ACTRESS (MUSICAL): *Maleah Joi Moon, Hell’s Kitchen

BEST ACTOR (MUSICAL): *Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along. 

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS (MUSICAL):***Kecia Lewis — Hell’s Kitchen

BEST FEATURED ACTOR (MUSICAL): *Daniel Radcliffe, Merrily We Roll Along

BEST DIRECTOR (MUSICAL): ***Danya Taymor — The Outsiders. This win gives me such hope as Danya Taymor directs with heart. Her directorial performance in Jonah also was a tour de force. Taymor makes you feel.

BEST BOOK Of A MUSICAL: *Shaina Taub for Suffs

BEST MUSICAL SCORE: * Shaina Taub for Suffs

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS: *Jonathan Tunick, Merrily We Roll Along

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY: *Justin Peck, IIinoise

SCENIC DESIGN (MUSICAL): Tom Scutt — Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

COSTUME DESIGN (MUSICAL): *Linda Cho, The Great Gatsby 

LIGHTING DESIGN (MUSICAL): ***Brian MacDevitt and Hana S. Kim — The Outsiders

SOUND DESIGN (MUSICAL): ***Cody Spencer — The Outsiders

PLAYS

Tom Pecinka and Sarah Pidgeon Photo by Julieta Cervantes

BEST PLAY: * Stereophonic

Sarah Paulson and Elle Fanning in 2ST’s Appropriate. Photo by Joan Marcus.

BEST PLAY REVIVAL: *Appropriate 

BEST ACTRESS (PLAY): *Sarah Paulson, Appropriate

BEST ACTOR (PLAY): Jeremy Strong — An Enemy of the People

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS (PLAY): *Kara Young, Purlie Victorious

BEST FEATURED ACTOR (PLAY): **Will Brill, Stereophonic. Thrilled for this win. One of my favorite performances of the year.

BEST DIRECTOR (PLAY): *Daniel Aukin, Stereophonic

BEST SCENIC DESIGN (PLAY): David Zinn, Stereophonic

BEST COSTUME DESIGN (PLAY): *Dede Ayite, Jaja’s African Hair Braiding 

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN (PLAY): Jane Cox — Appropriate

BEST SOUND DESIGN (PLAY): *Ryan Rumery, Stereophonic

Audra McDonald

Given special awards were: The Wilma Theatre Outstanding Regional Theatre,

lifetime Achievement to George C. Wolfe, Excellence in Theatre Education to CJay Philip

Harvey Fierstien

lifetime Achievement to Jack O’Brien

Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter

Isabelle Stevenson Award Billy Porter

*our prediction to win.

** our prediction to what should win

*** our prediction for Best but we did not think would win

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Entertainment

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents His Highness Dr. Mag. Prince Mario-Max zu Schaumburg-Lippe of Germany, MAS, LL.M

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We are so pleased to announce our guest this week is His Highness Dr. Mag. Prince Mario-Max zu Schaumburg-LippeI of Germany, MAS, LL.M. Yes, I really do know a prince and he is coming to be my guest.

Prince Mario-Max is an Award winning actor, event and TV-host, Bertelsmann Randomhouse author, public speaker and philanthropist.

Prince Mario-Max is a German, H.H. Dr. Princess Antonia zu Schaumburg-Lippe and H.H. Waldemar Prinz zu Schaumburg-Lippe

Prince Mario-Max is a German Prince and Royal as the birth son of H.H. Dr. Princess Antonia zu Schaumburg-Lippe and H.H. Waldemar Prinz zu Schaumburg-Lippe, being descendends from the Royal Danish Nachod Line of The Princely House of Schaumburg-Lippe, Founding Family of Hamburg, Lübeck and Kiel in Germany.
He is now bi-coastal living both in Hollywood and NYC.

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a show filmed at the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our past episodes; First episode click here second episode click here,  third episode click here, fourth episode click here, fifth episode click here, sixth episode here, seventh episode here, eighth episode here, ninth episode here, tenth episode here, eleventh episode here, our twelfth episode here, thirteenth episode here, fourteenth here, fifteenth here , 16th here, 17th here, 18th here and 19th here.

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Entertainment

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents: Tina Louise

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We are so pleased to announce our guest this week is Tina Louise.

Tina Louise is widely known for her role as movie star Ginger Grant in the CBS television situation comedy Gilligan’s Island. Louise is the last surviving cast member of the TV series.

Louise got her first role at age two after being in an ad for her father’s candy store. She began studying acting, singing, and dancing at age 17 under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in Manhattan. Her acting debut came in 1952 in the Bette Davis musical revue Two’s Company, followed by roles in such other Broadway productions as John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and the hit musical Li’l Abner. She appeared in the live television dramas Studio One and Producers’ Showcase.

Her breakthrough role in 1958 drama film God’s Little Acre for which she received the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year.

Louise left the Broadway musical Fade Out – Fade In to portray movie star Ginger Grant.

Louise had starring roles in The Trap, The Hangman, Day of the Outlaw, and For Those Who Think Young. She also appeared in The Wrecking Crew, The Happy Ending, and The Stepford Wives (1975). Later film roles included a co-starring appearance in the Robert Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs (1987) as well as the independently made satire Johnny Suede (1992) starring Brad Pitt. She appeared in the situation comedy Married… with Children as Miss Beck in episode “Kelly Bounces Back” (1990). In 2014, Louise starred in the spiritual drama Tapestry and the horror film Late Phases.

She also wrote a book that has been re-released called Sunday: A Memoir, a vivid portrait of the betrayal of the heart, trust, and the magical belief that only children have, in a poetic expression of the power of memory and the legacy of a lost childhood, as seen through the eyes of a young girl who became a celebrated actress.

An Audible sample – https://www.amazon.com/Sunday-Memoir-Tina-Louise/dp/0307440176

The below is a good page from her amazing book –

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&opi=89978449&url=https://tinalouise4ever0.tripod.com/tinalouiseclassicgoddess/id17.html&ved=2ahUKEwjs_f-VmuGGAxVxEVkFHegFCU4QFnoECBEQAQ&usg=AOvVaw1IMp5uBP2YY2SGYXdTqqWu

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a show filmed at the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our past episodes; First episode click here second episode click here,  third episode click here, fourth episode click here, fifth episode click here, sixth episode here, seventh episode here, eighth episode here, ninth episode here, tenth episode here, eleventh episode here, our twelfth episode here, thirteenth episode here, fourteenth here, fifteenth here , 16th here, 17th here, 18th here and 19th here.

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