Tonight we're gonna party like it's…1916?

For those of you who read my column regularly, you know that I love when theatre companies produce original work and take chances. You could only imagine my pleasant surprise when I wandered upon Extended Play Productions' "Vaudeville Vivat!" running now through May 22nd at the Playground Theater.  Part improvised, part scripted with a bit of clowning and burlesque, "Vaudeville Vivat!" takes us back to the revue-style comedy of our great-grandparents.   You might be asking, why would a 1916 throwback show be of any interest to me?  I've seen "Titanic."  Well, you know The Second City?  Consider Vaudeville its great-aunt.

First-time Chicago Director, David Jennings, does a commendable job at the helm.  He definitely took a risk with this production. 1916 Vaudeville doesn't immediately scream commercial success to most.  However, by the time I caught the show, "Vaudeville Vivat!" was pulling in a pretty decent sized audience.

I am pleased that someone attempted to transform the Playground Theater, which traditionally has the charm of a basement with a drippy leak.   Was this production hampered by the space restrictions of the theatre?  Probably.  The stage was cramped and crowded. The lighting was rough, many times resulting in the actors being in darkness.  Prop usage was questionable.  Sometimes they had them.  Sometimes they were improvised.  Sometimes a great prop sat on stage the entire time, never used, driving me nuts.  Sigh... Regardless, "Vaudeville Vivat" definitely has the kernel of a great idea.

Jennings and Extended Play did a great job discovering some relative unknowns to the Chicago theatre community. If they play their cards right though, they shouldn't be unknowns for too long.  Amanda Murphy, who plays the Gypsy and also serves as Music Director, brings fun comic relief as the revue's eccentric. Frankly, this lady also rocks on the keys.  Wolfgang Stein, whose Chaplin-esque physicality is underused, has incredible comic timing.  You can't help but perk up when he's on stage.  Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Todd Obuchowski.  Wow!  This man has talent. Juggling, spinning plates, you name it and he can do it.  Also, did I mention this guy can act? His facial expressions say more than most people can say in a monologue.  Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd live on in Mr. Obuchowski's work.

Although it's a work in progress, "Vaudeville Vivat" is still a great time.  If you want to see something interesting and different, you unfortunately only have until May 22nd to do so.  If anything go to see the work of Wolfgang Stein and Todd Obuchowski with Amanda Murphy on the keys.  They are worth the price of admission.

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From This Author Trish Vignola

Trish Vignola comes to BroadwayWorld New York from BroadwayWorld Chicago. When she is not reviewing Theatre, Trish also writes for and the Yes Network. (read more...)

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