Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicagoist love "Prine: A Tribute Concert", which is heading (sliding) into it's final Chicago weekend....

It's Thursday, and I'm still in Indianapolis, my second day of beating through our currently never-ending landscape of solid ice, trying (unsuccessfully, repeatedly) not to fall down. Our brothers and sisters in Chicago are digging out from their 3rd worst snowstorm in history - and it takes a whopper of historic proportions to slow them down. But the show must - I'm assuming, at this point - go on.

So, here we go, about to launch into our fourth and final weekend of "Prine: A Tribute Concert" at the Viaduct Theater in Chicago (this Friday 2.4 at 7:30PM, Saturday 2.5 at 5PM and 7PM, and Sunday 2.6 at 3PM.) It's been an amazing experience for me: reconnecting with Chicago and with Chicago friends, making new friends, and participating in the continuing evolution of this show.

Two new, can't-believe-they-like it-as-much-as-we-do reviews to share. The first is a full review by Mary Houlihan in the Chicago Sun-Times:

by Mary Houlihan ( / Jan. 21, 2011, 4:21PM

Failed jukebox musicals are many. “Ring of Fire” (Johnny Cash), “Lennon” (John Lennon) and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (Bob Dylan) all debuted on Broadway with much fanfare and quickly disappeared. But Indianapolis-based Phoenix Theatre has come up with a winning formula in the music-drenched show “Prine: A Tribute Concert,” running at the Viaduct Theater through Feb. 6.

Here, director Bryan Fonseca gets it right by keeping it simple.

It doesn’t hurt that he has great music to work with and six talented performers to present it. Each obviously loves a song made complex by stunning wordplay and simple chords, all of which Prine does throughout his vast songbook.

The two-hour show, which debuted earlier last year at Phoenix where Fonseca is producing director, is presented locally by Here Today Enterprises, in association with Phoenix and Prop Thtr. The performers are Tim Brickley, Tim Grimm, Bobbie Lancaster, Jan Lucas-Grimm, Megon McDonough and Michael Shelton.

Of course, the show should easily find an audience here since Chicago fans call the Nashville-based Prine their own. He grew up in Maywood and was a central figure in the Chicago folk movement, performing at clubs like the Earl of Old Town and the Quiet Knight along with pals such as Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, Fred Holstein and Jim Post. But those days were decades ago and much of the music has fallen by the wayside.

What “Prine: A Tribute Concert” does is prove just how lasting the songs are, allowing the audience to really absorb Prine’s lyrics and the messages behind them.

The songs — more than 30 are performed — have a country-folk charm. They can be silly and whimsical (“It’s a Big Old Goofy World”) or realistically heartbreaking (“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”).

Fonseca lets the songs unfold organically in a simple barroom setting. There is no dialogue, no real storyline. Yet hints of a story about relationships come through thanks to Prine’s story songs and the subtle interactions of the performers, all of whom are actors as well as fine musicians and singers.

Lancaster’s sassy twang is perfect on “They Oughta Name a Drink After You” and heartbreaking on “Bruised Orange.” McDonough smoothly beautiful vocals shown on “Sam Stone” and “Angel from Montgomery.” Scattered among the solo performances were nicely calibrated duets, including the Grimms’ crowd-pleasing take on Prine’s silly rant “In Spite of Ourselves.”

What gives the show cred is the fact that the singers never try to imitate Prine but rather to interpret the songs in their own individual way, drawing out the humor, pain, truth and beauty of each. In the end, Prine’s lyrically rich songbook is the true star of this performance piece."

The second is in the outstanding arts and entertainment website "The Chicagoist", by Michele Lenni. (If you have time, follow the well-researched links in her article, very nicely done!)

by Michele Lenni / January 28, 2011, 2PM

One of the most forgotten musical treasures of the grand history of music in Chicago has to be John Prine. Born and raised here in the city limits, he is probably one of the most prolific and discerning lyricists of his or any generation. Prine began his musical journey at 14 when he learned the guitar from his brother David Prine and ended up being lauded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson to name a few. After serving a term in Vietnam in the mid '60s he returned to Maywood Illinois to take a job as a postman. In his spare time he attended open mic nights at Fifth Peg on Armitage Avenue, where eventually he brought his compositions to the stage. He was then reviewed by Roger Ebert and eventually rose to fame as a central figure in Chicago Folk Revival, which also included such singer-songwriters as Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, Jim Post and Fred Holstein.

Years later, after much critical success, he has recieved a Grammy, a Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting by the UK's BBC Radio 2 and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. It is no surprise to us that his hometown is choosing to honor his ability and achievement this weekend with a Tribute concert at Roscoe Village's Viaduct Theater.

Prine: A Tribute Concert, directed by Bryan Fonseca, is a stellar line-up of 30-plus Prine compositions, and a prestigious cast including Chicago-based singer-songwriter Megon McDonough. The Sun Times recently heralded the virtues of this production:

"...Fonseca lets the songs unfold organically in a simple barroom setting. There is no dialogue, no real storyline. Yet hints of a story about relationships come through thanks to Prine’s story songs and the subtle interactions of the performers, all of whom are actors as well as fine musicians and singers."

In the dark and velvety theater musical director Tim Brickley is setting Prine's pennings center-stage with no narration what-so-ever. Minimal lighting, staging and an ever-so-subtle multi-generational ensemble characterazation. The shining star of these performances is truly Prine's poetic and complex songs, which really, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Prine: A Tribute Concert, Viaduct Theater, 3111 N Western Ave, Through 2/6: Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., $20-$25, All Ages"

Also this week:  I just wrote some music and created sound design for the next Phoenix show, "Goldie, Max and Milk" which opens tonight. Bryan Fonseca directs. It's a new play, an edgy, darkly-comic piece concerning a brand-new mother, who has just broken up with her girlfriend (whose pot-dealing brother is the bio dad) and who is now working with a devoutly Jewish lactation consultant. Got it? In short, the sort of play the Phoenix was founded upon, lo those many years ago! It's set in current-day Brooklyn, the cast and crew have really risen to the new play challenge and I'm happy with how the music turned out, which I'll post soon somewhere so you can hear it. Better yet - go see the play if you're not coming to Chicago! (It runs through 2.27.)

And then it's back to work here for the rest of February, upcoming shows at The Fountain Square Theatre Swing Night (2.11) and The Chatterbox (2.20) with the Quintet, solo acoustic shows at Greek's in Anderson (2.24) and Chateau Thomas in Fishers (2.25), plus an upcoming triumphant return of the rock band to the always-festive YATS Fat Tuesday fling in March.....

Hang in there, kids. Predicted temps above freezing this weekend......

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