Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Aurora's Paramount Theatre scores again with riveting version of "Cabaret"

Photo by Liz Lauren
By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The Paramount Theatre could play it safe and only stage musicals that leave crowds smiling and humming the songs from the production.

But the Paramount chose not to go that route when it launched its Broadway series in 2011. Time and time again, the theater has shown that it not only wants to entertain audiences, it also wants them to think as well.

That most certainly is the case with its latest production, "Cabaret," which runs through March 18. "Cabaret" is set in 1930s Berlin as the Nazis begin their rise to power. What starts out as a night of decadent fun at the Kit Kat Club quickly becomes a commentary on what can happen when you ignore the dangers around you.


Making her Paramount directing debut is Katie Spelman, who has already proven her chops through being nominated for a Jeff award for choreography in the Paramount's production of "Oklahoma!" Through her direction, Spelman immerses the audience in a world that at first seems enchanting until the storm clouds start rolling in.

Strong performances abound throughout the production, including Joseph Anthony Byrd's devilishly humorous take as the Emcee. And it is a feather in the Paramount's hat that the theater is able to attract cast members of such high caliber. Byrd recently was in Broadway production of "Kinky Boots" as well as national productions of "The Lion King" and "Mamma Mia!"


With 12 Jeff awards already under her belt, Hollis Resnik  delivered yet another stellar performance as Fräulein Schneider. She fully embodied the character and her scenes with love interest Herr Schultz were touching.

Kelly Felthous also turns in an enchanting performance as Sally Bowles, who was nominated for a Jeff award for playing Roxie Hart in Drury Lane's production of "Chicago." We watch with interest as the blinders that she has put on to shield herself from the reality outside of the Kit Kat Club slowly come off.

The Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. For tickets, go to ParamountAurora.com or call 630-896-6666.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

As part of Paramount's second act, theatre plans to open a school of performing arts, refurbish Copley Theatre


Paramount School of Performing Arts

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Aurora's Paramount Theatre plans to expand its entertainment footprint through opening the Paramount School of Performing Arts and staging original theatrical productions at a renovated Copley Theatre.

"The Paramount has already made a major impact on the city of Aurora," Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said, in helping announce the plans during a press conference on Jan. 25. "For example, since starting its Broadway series in 2011, the number of patrons has grown from 52,000 to more than 320,000 [a year]. The addition of a new school of performing arts will provide new opportunities for Aurora's youth and excitement to our city."

The new school, set to open in January 2019, will be located in the former Waubonsee Community College building located directly adjacent to the Paramount Theatre. The school will be the anchor tenant in the John C. Dunham Aurora Arts Center, the official name of the new 80,000-square-foot development that will also include a restaurant along with 38 affordable, loft-style apartments for working artists.

Rendering of Paramount School of Performing Arts studio theater by Vara Design

Also part of the Paramount's $4.5 million fundraising campaign – fittingly called Act 2 – is the modernization of the Paramount's 173-seat sister stage, the Copley Theatre, which is located in North Island Center across the street from the Paramount Theatre. Plans include the replacement of carpeting and seats in the 1981 Copley Theatre, updating technical equipment, expanding restrooms, new heating and air conditioning systems and remodeling backstage and dressing areas.

The Paramount plans to use the updated space for smaller shows as well as a place to debut original productions. Along with those projects, plans are to replace all 1,888 seats in the Paramount Theatre, which first opened in 1931.



The fundraising campaign kicked off with a $2.5 million donation from the Dunham Fund. 

"The [Paramount's] Broadway series has propelled our area into the limelight," said Wendy Hirsch, chairperson of the Dunham Fund, in presenting the donation to the Paramount Theatre. "And what an impact the Paramount is having on Aurora's downtown. The new Arts Center and the School of Performing Arts in particular will be another step toward improving lives in and around Aurora."

She said the Dunham Fund "is extremely proud to support the Paramount's capital campaign with this lead gift."

"We encourage everyone to support the campaign to the best of their ability and thank you to the entire Paramount organization for your willingness to push the envelop and for your tireless efforts to continue to change the face of Aurora's downtown," Hirsch said.

Former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner chairs the Paramount Theatre's Act 2 capital fundraising campaign. Weisner called the Paramount the "cultural soul of Aurora," and he spoke enthusiastically about the project and what it will mean for downtown Aurora.

"I've been around for a while and I've seen a lot of good things happen in this community," Weisner said. "But I have to say that I'm more excited today than I think I ever have been about the prospects for the future for this community."

To donate to the Act 2 capital fundraising campaign, go to: www.paramountaurora.com/support.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Chicago band Fischer's Flicker releases new album, will perform at Emporium in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

On its latest album, "Open 28 Hours," Chicago band Fischer's Flicker once again paints a rich musical tapestry as the album veers from funk to prog to pop and everything in between.

The band will perform Jan. 18 at Emporium Arcade Bar Chicago, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Tautologic and Wes John Cichosz also are on the bill, and the music starts at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

I had the chance to talk to frontman Scott Fischer about his goals for the new album.


Q – Great talking to you. "Open 28 Hours" is your seventh album. What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

Hey Eric - thanks for having me. I suppose the biggest ambition of this album was “giving birth” to the 10-minute track "Mother of a Ship." I’d say that it was probably my most ambitious recording to date. 

Granted, there have been a few other tracks over the years that have pushed further as far as duration goes (“Alone on the Moon” was about 18 minutes itself), but this one’s production and arrangement was beyond over-the-top. Then it becomes a matter of taking the right things away as opposed to making sure there’s enough there to work with.



As far as the rest of the album went goal wise, I don’t really think there were particular goals in mind other than continuing to maintain my high-standard in execution and production value as well as writing in styles that don’t confine me to one particular genre.

I definitely accomplished that this time around as well with heavy hitters like “3 6 9” (and “At Least The Boy Dreams” which was lopped off of the official release and included as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of the album), all the way to the lighter extreme of songs like “Zen."

Q – The album kicks off with some '70s style funk on the song "The In-Betweener." Musically, how did you want the album to stand out from your other albums? Was it hard to convince the other members of the band to dress in drag for the video for the song?


Musically, I wasn’t really going for anything specific – just writing in different genres. “The In-Betweener” is definitely a “poppier” feel than I typically go for but I think it works great as an opener (and an introductory single).


Funny about convincing the other members to dress in drag….. those that I thought would have no problem with it were probably the most reserved while those that I thought would “put up the biggest fight” embraced it in a way that was a bit too comfortable – ha! Overall, everyone  had a lot of fun that night and I think it helped a lot of entertainment to the video.

I have illusions of grandeur right now and I’m trying to put together a full video for the 10-minute “Mother of a Ship” and try to tell at least some of the in-depth story there. After thinking back to how much work went into the 4-minute “In-Betweener” video,  I’m wondering what I’m getting myself into on the “Mother” video!  ;)

Q – I understand the idea for the album's title came from an episode of "Futurama."
 

Yup!  The album was going to be called “Mother of a Ship” all along but the actual spaceship that I’ve been building out for the coming video wasn’t quite done in time for the album release, so I was a bit torn on how to handle it.

A few friends had recommended that I go back and give “Futurama” another try as the series never really pulled me in and I got a big kick out of a tiny moment where they showed a 7-11 convenient store in the future and it boasted that it was “Open 28 Hours."

I thought that did a great job of speaking towards my work ethic with the band.

Anyone who knows me would say that I have a tendency to put way too much time into my projects and often wonder how I squeeze it all in. The title seemed to tie it up nicely and the idea for the cover sort of instantly fell into place to “seal the deal."

Q – I heard that your fellow band members are longtime friends. Do you think that type of relationship has helped the music?
 

Yes, we actually just went through the process of “saying goodbye” to our rehearsal space (dubbed ‘The Cooler’) that we had been rehearsing in off-and-on since high school days. What a weird experience!  While I do sometimes have a concern that I get a little too comfy with the guys, our lineup has still changed a bit over the years.

However, the majority of the time, the “new member” is typically someone we’ve been friends with forever in our musician circle of friends and it usually helps us to get back on track at a quicker pace that way.  Not to mention the “in” jokes all still work out!

Q – What made you want to cover The Kinks' song "No More Looking Back"? What did you try to do with the song?  
 

Great question.  I always feel that there are two different methods of covering others’ songs: either make it completely your own or go for a note-for-note mimicry. 

I’ve certainly tried both approaches but lately, these note-for-note mimicries tend to work well for me. I usually pick the “unsung hero” songs that, to me, are the highlights of someone else’s career but never got the attention they deserved.

On the last album, it was Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies." This time around, it happened to be “No More Looking Back." In the past, we tend to set up recording sessions around four-song increments and, when going that route, we’d often throw in a cover or two since we’re all there and setup.

I had been holding on to the shell of this tracking session for quite a while (since sessions that led to the "Fornever and Never" album), and it seemed to work really nicely with the sequencing of this album.  The song has always met so much to me in my personal life.

When a relationship of intimacy ends, it’s not a clear, defined line that is drawn but rather something that affects you in waves and often lingers longer than you care to admit to.  Some of Ray Davies’ lyrics in there: “Just when I think you’re out of my head, I hear a song that you sang or see a book that you read. Then you’re in every bar, you’re in every cafe, you’re driving every car, I see you every day….”

I just love that internal conflict.  I feel that’s something that nearly everyone can relate to – and certainly something that resonates with me!

Q – You also are a contributor to the Frank Zappa podcast, Zappacast. What kind of impact did Frank Zappa have on your music and your approach to music?

Great question!  Zappa is such an enigma to the world. I hate the overuse of the term, but he was absolutely a freakin’ GENIUS!


He is someone I aspire to in many ways.  His work ethic was unprecedented so that’s definitely my largest takeaway!

I often feel that my writing isn’t very much like him though, so it’s weird when he often comes up in comparison. However, on this album,  I would definitely say that you can hear Zappa elements in the track “Mother of a Ship” for sure.

But Frank is certainly not the only source of inspiration on that piece either!  I also love his whole AAAFNRAA philosophy (stands for "Anything Anytime Anywhere for No Reason At All”).

As a matter of fact, that’s pretty much the cause of the track “Farther to the Sun” that acts as a sort of odd prelude to “Mother of a Ship." I felt like the more serious pieces on the album could use a sort of “palette cleanser” from diving into the insanity in “Mother” so I came up with that “Farther to the Sun” one day with not much to work with in advance. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I’m not sure if it’s a “sign of the times” or my age but I don’t feel that I “fit into it” much at all. Most of the bands that I have a tendency to share bills with tend to be out of mutual circles of friends than shared musical interests. 



It works out nice that way though because the event offers a little bit of something for everyone.  However, I’ve felt that a lot of venues have changed in the scene and it feels like, year by year, the emphasis on draw over talent, ingenuity, creativity, etc., seems to take hold. 

I still love the live aspect though and 2017 has sort of shot us in the foot there for a multitude of reasons. I’m looking forward to changing that this new year and will hopefully have a lot more live shows to offer.

Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
 

Hmm….. yes and no! Yes, in that I constantly have a million ideas and they don’t always fit into the Fischer’s Flicker umbrella or, for that matter, whatever current project we are undergoing.  However, I’d have to answer “no”, in that I typically pursue any of those dream projects or collaborations.  

Some of the other members of the band have expressed wanting to contribute to the writing lately so, presently, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from that. In the meantime, I’ll continue throwing everything I can at the wall and seeing what sticks!  ;)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chicago bands to perform as part of holiday clothing drive


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Once again, a group of local musicians are getting together to help make this holiday season a little merrier for those who are economically disadvantaged.

In 2011, musician Matthew Kayser started Warm, Safe & Sound, a concert and clothing drive that will be held Dec. 21 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago. The concert will feature North by NorthSecret ColoursMonomaniaThe Handcuffs, and Star Tropics.

Tickets to the show are $10, or free with a coat donation. The organization that will receive the clothes is Cornerstone Community Outreach.  Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com.

I had the chance to talk to Kayser about the benefit.
 

Q. Great talking to you again. You started Warm, Safe & Sound in 2011. Has it lived up to your goals? What goals do you have for this year's event?

Thanks for reaching out. I've been very pleased with what we've accomplished with Warm, Safe & Sound.
 
We've been able to gather thousands of coats and sweaters for our fellow Chicagoans. This year should be even better.
 
My goal is to gather 250+ pieces of clothing. Between the top-notch lineup, the legendary venue (The Empty Bottle), the timely cause, and the assistance of the fine folks at Cornerstone Community Outreach, I'm confident that we will top our goal.
 
I'm thrilled at the prospect of helping some of our homeless neighbors. 

Q. How did you go about putting together this year's lineup of bands? How do you think this year's lineup stacks up to past years?

In the past, I focused primarily on booking bands that fit a certain style of music. This year I booked local bands that I knew would draw extremely well.
 
To be honest, this time I wanted Warm, Safe & Sound to offer the best of both worlds. I believe it will, as I was able to build a bill that features buzz bands North by North, Secret Colours, The Handcuffs, and Star Tropics, all of whom are capable of packing out Chicago venues on their own.
 
 
Having them all on the same bill and excited about the show is a godsend. 

Q. Congratulations on being a new dad. How is that going? Has that been a balancing act?

Thank you! This pregnancy was exceptionally difficult for my wife, and we had our share of scary moments.
 
Unsurprisingly, she was amazing throughout, and now we are beyond blessed to have a healthy son. He's our fourth child, but it's been 10 years since our last one. We are having to quickly relearn all the tricks of parenting an infant.
 
It's slowly but surely coming back to us. And yes, it is always a balancing act. But I adore my family, my teaching career, and my music, so making time for everything is not as difficult as it might seem. 

Q. What can we expect from your latest musical project, Monomania, in the future?

I am beyond excited about Monomania. I have reunited with Joe O'Leary, who was my guitarist in The Bright White, and our good pal Curtis Schreiber.
 
Monomania is all about triumphant and driving rock n' roll, with a bit of jangle and a whole lot of energy. We are inspired by early R.E.M., Television, and Guided by Voices.  
 
Monomania is a brand new project, though, so we're still hashing out our goals. We do want to record in the early part of 2018.
 
We will be making our live debut at Warm, Safe & Sound, so I can't wait to reveal the band to everyone. Good times ahead.