This past Sunday, December 7th, Griffin Theatre's "Titanic" closed after a very successful run at Theater Wit in Chicago, IL. This has been the most special theatrical experience I've had, and one of the most special life events I've ever had. It's so rare to have a cast of 20 people where they are all amazing people, and to top it off, all amazingly talented. As we all waved goodbye to this show during the final number with tears in our eyes, I felt a mix of emotions. But, most importantly, a joy that the experience had happened and that it was well lived.
This time, it's the ABC Cafe! Tonight marks the 8th preview performance of Les Miserables at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, IL and I couldn't be more excited. It has been an enthralling experience to be able to work with the caliber of talent our cast and directing team possess. Not only that but in the mere matter of 3.5 weeks (since our first rehearsal), iron-clad friendships have been forged that will be held dear until I am an old man.
Having the opportunity to observe, appreciate, and study the performances of Broadway-seasoned performers like Ivan Rutherford ( Jean Valjean) and Quentin Darrington (Javert) has been a true pleasure and an invaluable experience. On top of their performing chops, they are just really cool guys. Factoring in the immense talents of the remaining principle players, the incredible ensemble (which does a remarkable job of creating the world and environment for the play), our resplendent directing team, and the unbelievable technical crew we have - Les Mis will be a huge summer Chicago theater hit!
After a successful 4 month commercial transfer to the Royal George Cabaret Theatre in Lincoln Park, Smokey Joe's Cafe is officially closed after tonight's last performance. This last weekend the cafe was visited by some amazing audience members, whether they be Tony-winning Chicago-based performers, or the everyday, wonderful theatre-goer.
It's a rare thing for a Non-Equity theatre company like Theo Ubique to have a commercial transfer of a show. In fact, with all its successes, Smokey Joe's Cafe was the first show Theo has ever had the opportunity to do this with. This last weekend was filled with memory-making performances, sentimentality and a few tears, but the friendships created with everyone involved will endure. That's the amazing and unique thing about theater - the relationships you create are lifelong.
One of the best moments of tonight for me was when the director Brenda Didier and the associate director/associate producer Steve Hiltebrand gave me the guitar I used in the show as a gift! It was a wonderful moment and one that I won't forget. It is a "Washburn" acoustic, which is interesting since the song "D.W. Washburn" is in the show.
It's always strange to stop performing a show, but we enjoyed it in the moment and I look forward to the future and continuing the friendships that were created.
Tonight was the closing night performance of our first cabaret adventure. And we sold it out. Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret in Wicker Park seats around 50, can be stretched to 80, but we sat 88! I cannot put into words the excitement and blessings Amanda and I experienced tonight. All I can say is that we have a wonderful group of family and friends, old and new, and so many of them came to the performance. Their presence was filled to the brim with support and they energized the entire evening.
Goodnight, moon, world, family, friends.
This past Monday, my girlfriend Amanda Horvath and I accomplished some important goals of ours: we performed on a Chicago stage together; we finally created our own show; and, we delved into the world of cabaret. All of this happened at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret in Wicker Park. Our show is titled "Amanda and Justin Sing the Movies" and includes movie music from the 1960s to today. We had the pleasure of working with our friend Dana Brown who music directed the show. I feel like cabaret is one of the those performance opportunities that many performers don't really think about. It allows you to be in full artistic control of your project and perform music that you might not ever get the chance to outside of the venue. It was an amazing experience to be able to sing so many amazing songs with Amanda and tell our stories through the movies. Movies have always been an important part of our relationship. If you are a performer and you have never tried to put on your own cabaret, do it! If you are not a performer, go and support anybody you know or don't know in this highly unique art form. One, for sure, that Amanda and I are going to keep performing for the rest of our lives.
Yesterday, Amanda and I went to see Barbara Cook sing at Ravinia with the CSO. Ms. Cook is 85 years old, but she can still bring it. I naively knew that she was famous but not what for. After reading a short bio, it brought the magnitude of seeing her perform into perspective. Although a voice may grow old and lose its beauty over time, a singer's musicality must keep on being refined. Ms. Cook was a beautiful example of this. A favorite part of the concert was when she was singing "A Wonderful Guy" and went to the extended ending after each verse! At one point she let out a cute "shit!" because it was the second time she messed up the ending of the verse. It reminded me of my grandmother because it's the one and only curse she'll use and in the same hushed way to boot. To hear what Ms. Cook used to sound like, check out an old recording of her "Glitter and Be Gay," hear the voice that originated Cunegonde and be amazed!