July 13, 2006


 "MacHomer" Shakespeare by any other name would still be Shakespeare, right?

Not really. In the case of “MacHomer,” it’s much more Simpsons than Shakespeare. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

My two sons and I caught this one-man show, which runs through July 23 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. And four days after seeing Rick Miller, the creator and performer, give his take on the Bard’s classic play, I am still smiling.

Yes, it pandered to commercialism, but Miller readily admits to that in the play. And yes, it is taking one literary classic, “MacBeth,” and bastardizing it to accommodate the pop culture TV classic “The Simpsons.” But no matter what you think of the premise, it’s incredible to watch and hear the vocal dexterity of this guy as he does the whole play by himself with a cast of more than 50 different voices from the TV show. It may not be in the same category as great acting, but it is great entertainment.

We had no idea what to expect when we went to the intimate upstairs theater at Chicago Shakespeare. The set was a large television screen mounted on the wall in back of a 1950s-style wooden TV set tipped over on its side.

And then there was Miller, who did it all. Simpsons characters flashed on the screen behind him to give the audience a sense of who was playing whom. Homer was MacBeth, Marge was Lady MacBeth and Barney was McDuff. A host of ancillary Simpson characters also made appearances. Not much of Bart or Lisa—my boys decided that was because Miller really could not do those two well.

There are some additions to the script, but Miller claims it is still 85 percent Shakespeare. I loved the musical round-up of the plot before the intermission—which is a “commercial’’ for Duff beer—and the finale, which also is a song. 

Miller was relentless. I kept thinking, “How can he do this? Does this guy breathe?” It was almost too much.

Both my boys are big fans of "The Simpsons," but they did not like this show as much as I did. My younger son said he had a hard time following one man doing everyone and would have preferred many characters on stage. My older boy said it was just a bit too much, as though Miller needed to edit the show. My brain did start flat-lining in the second act. But Miller’s doggedness in telling the story and doing all the characters won me back. And I laughed so hard at the encore, which was his version of the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody” as sung by the 25 most annoying voices.

The promotional material says this is a must-see for Simpsons fans. In my book, it is simply a must-see, for Miller’s amazing mimicry talents. Susy Schultz

“MacHomer.” $18 students, $23 adults. Through July 23.  Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. (312) 595-5600. www.chicagoshakes.com.

 "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest"

The new adventure featuring Captain Jack Sparrow, the pirate we all learned to love in his debut, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” lacks the magic, the mystery, even the quirky story line of the first film. This sequel spends far too much energy on the weird make-up of the bad guys and not nearly enough on story development. The ending, a shameless and abrupt finish that does nothing but invite viewers back for Pirates III, is the final disappointment.

The creepy collection of bad guys who are some human form of sea creatures is the stuff of nightmares-even before you get to the scene where the prisoner’s eye gets plucked out. It’s rated PG-13 and only the heartiest younger kids should see it, at least while it’s still in the movie theaters. (These things all seem less frightening at home on the small screen.)

There are a few moments of fun, mostly featuring Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack as a supposed god to a tribe of island cannibals that is just waiting for the right moment to cook him. Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner character is more fully developed in this film, although Kiera Knightly’s Elizabeth Swann is given little to do. And, at two hours, 31 minutes, the entire thing is overdone.

Here’s hoping Pirates III, which reportedly was shot at the same time as “Dead Man’s Chest” and is due out next year, remembers that a good story line with a reasonable ending, and not just over-the-top special effects and costuming, are the ways to an audience’s heart. Cindy Richards

 "Moby Dick: Rehearsed"

There are two good things to say about the current Theater-Hikes at The Morton Arboretum: The actors are terrific and the setting is gorgeous. The problem with this production is the play.

“Moby Dick: Rehearsed,” written by Orson Welles and adapted from the Herman Melville classic, is simply unfathomable. The kids quickly gave up trying to follow it and one scene even left us adults scratching our heads--I had to ask the producer after the play ended what was supposed to be going on. The entire play was confusing at best.

Having said that, however, it is important to note that a theater hike at the Morton Arboretum is a good reason to walk the grounds of the nature center and enjoy a summer afternoon. Each scene is played in a different venue, from a picnic shelter to a creek bank, all offering a beautiful backdrop to the production.

It’s best to bring your own folding chairs and bug spray, but the arboretum volunteers have blankets and bug spray to share in case you forget.

Our reviewers have loved past arboretum productions and next month, the theater troupe will be performing “Heidi,” which we hope will be more kid- and adult-friendly. Cindy Richards

“Moby Dick: Rehearsed." The Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle. Families. 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, $15, $12 members. Dinner theater hike, 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, $40 adults, $37 members; $30 kids, $27 members. (630) 725-2066, www.mortonarb.org

 "Imagine Tap!"

The last tap dancing I witnessed before “Imagine Tap!” was at a recital two years ago. It was performed by seven small 4-year-old girls with a collectively clumsy shuffle-hop-step down in the basement of a YMCA.

I asked my husband if he remembered any other tapping.

“Gregory Hines. ‘White Nights,’” he said.

We were limited in our experience with tap dancing, but thanks to fast-paced segments, energetic performers and high-quality music, the show proved to be a hit with both kids and parents.

After we found our seats, we reviewed the program with our three 6-year-olds. I inwardly groaned after counting eight scenes (or stories, as they call them) in Act I and eight in Act II. After the show began, though, I knew that it would zip along. The first story called “Echoes,” performed by the show’s director and choreographer Derick K. Grant, is one of the show’s best. In it, Grant engages in playful and powerful banter between singers and instrumentalists, showcasing how expressive and musical his simple steel shoes can be.

The show’s stories and music are as diverse as its cast, comprised of a refreshingly multi-racial bunch reminiscent of the STOMP troupe. Stories showcased tapping basketball players, tapping chefs, tapping samurai and a tapping pastor. The orchestra played jazz, gospel and hip-hop. The choir members sang solos, duets and a few Broadway-worthy numbers (although the sound system failed repeatedly so lyrics were hard to decipher). The cast’s diversity bridged races and the music bridged generations. The variety resulted in a production fit for a family—a rarity these days.

As a bonus (mostly to the kids), the show featured two hip-hop dancers. Their two solo stories were average, but both shined in the “Samurai Shuffle.” Evoking images of Brian Boitano spinning (right side up) on ice, the dancers spun on their heads for a seemingly impossible length of time.

“That was insane,” said our son Eric.

The parents enjoyed each story, but felt there was little connection between them and the show lacked an overall theme. Also, some of the singing wasn’t so stellar; the parents would vote to keep the spotlight on the tapping and shorten the show a tad. The kids, however, didn’t miss a plot. The frenetic pace kept them engaged and clapping.

There were a few very young children in the audience. Given the total show time of almost two hours, though, this is a show better geared for patient school-age kids and above.

The nearly-new venue of the Harris Theater at Millennium Park is family friendly with its easy-to-find seats, convenient parking and plentiful potties. The price might give some pause; $29 to $69 per ticket is steep, especially for those with large families. But if you want to splurge and experience the active and energetic world of tap, “Imagine Tap!” is the ticket. Jill S. Browning

“Imagine Tap!” $29 - $69. Through August 6. Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park. 205 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago. (312) 334-7777, www.imaginetap.com.


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