Uncle Lar: A Chicago Comedy Classic

September 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

photo-4-1 copyChicago has earned a worldwide reputation as the training ground for future comedy stars. While Chicago is renowned as the birthplace of improvisational comedy and has been the training ground for everyone from Bill Murray to Tina Fey and too many more stars to count, it has also been noted as a blast furnace for the stand-up comedy industry. Some of the greatest minds of solo/duo comedy started in tiny clubs dotted across the Chicago area landscape: Bob Newhart, Shelly Berman, Nichols and May, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor and many more artists. History shows that the great Joe E. Lewis virtually invented stand-up comedy in 1930s Chicago.

Comics in the 50s, 60s and 70s performed in nightclubs, on the billboard with singers, musical acts, dancers and novelty acts, as stand-up comedy clubs didn’t exist in that era. In fact, my first professional comedy gigs – as one/third of the comedy trio ridiculously titled Joe Mackburn – were at 1970s coffeehouse/nightclubs like Amazing Grace, The Spot, and Mr. Kelly’s.

In the mid-late 70s, comedy clubs started to pop up: The Comedy Cottage, Chicago Comedy Showcase and the grandfather of them all: Zanies. It was mid-frigid-Chicago-winter and I forget the year but Zanies had been open for about 3 weeks. I chattered through a 9 degrees below zero Thursday night to reach Zanies, my goal to pick up tips (steal) from some of the hot new standups.

The night was transformational, a revelation. The late, great Jim Fay opened with his chaotic audience-interactive set and then John Caponera came on for a short 15 and then. Then. Uncle Lar, Larry Reeb took the stage. Uncle Lar ripped through a comedy set which is nearly beyond description: part vaudeville comic, part incisive hilarity, part what-the-h-was-that? Every moment seemed to build funnier than the last. There are 3 times in my extensive career that I laughed so hard I thought I might pass out: Bob Hope in his late-prime, George Carlin in his mid-prime and Uncle Lar who is always primed.

It was a transformational night as Uncle Lar bridged the span between classic comedy delivery and outrageous new material. He teetered across a tightrope of one sharp punchline to the next bizarre setup.

Forty years later, Uncle Lar is even funnier than back in those pioneering days of comedy. I saw him in the spring of this year and again, I nearly passed out from the laughing lack of oxygen. If you’re in need of a jolt of comedy this mid-fall, do not miss the opportunity to see a Chicago Comedy Classic. Uncle Lar will make you glad you made the trip.

Joe+Keefe

Joe Keefe                                                  jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

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Joe Keefe: A New Season at Metropolis

September 18, 2018 § Leave a comment

A New Season

It’s the time of year when seasons change, both the weather and our theater, and as we open our 2018/19 productions, let’s take a look back to the shows from last season’s wonderful slate. I hope these observations provide interesting context for our selection process and a view into the workings of professional theater.

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Into The Woods

The Sondheim classic graced the Metropolis stage with an abundance of talent, energy and wit. Based on an adult’s view of the classic Grimm Fairy Tales, Into the Woods showcased the wry, funny and anguished effects of wishes come true. Production values for this delicate show were powerful across the board.

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My nickname for this production was “the little show that could”. Boeing Boeing was hilarious, taut, startling and breathtaking in its leaps from one moment of comic mayhem to the next. Through the laughter, the audience almost got the high-aerobic workout the actors experienced every show. This high-wire 1960s comedy struck many chords with our patrons.

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I described Avenue Q as “Sesame Street meets a burlesque show”. While the comedy was broad, adult and non-stop, this production was remarkable by featuring sweet innocence and profound sincerity in its characters. It was a hilarious show but the funny was balanced by genuine characterizations – yes, even puppets have real feelings – and moments of tender pain and joy. Avenue Q proved to be a breakout hit both with our audience and the new patrons who sought out this great show.

Note: These areas – depth of character interpretations and exploration of true moments – are the bedrock of our artistic direction. Blending these qualities with the best production values within our budget, we produce consistently high-quality musicals and plays. Simply put, we are committed to the finest artistic production possible.

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Beehive

A powerhouse, finger-snapping, dancing tribute to the great female voices of the 1960s, Beehive generated a buzz louder than we could have imagined. Six dynamic dancing women and a rocking band hovering above the stage crafted a great production of musical theater, attracting record numbers of patrons, and establishing Beehive as one of the most profitable shows in Metropolis history.

A Christmas Carol (Annual)

A Metropolis holiday tradition, we tested a new script during the 16/17 season and determined to return to the more classic version for 17/18. This show proved to be not only a production delight but also a huge hit with our audiences. We are bringing back this Scott Woldman adaptation for the upcoming holiday season.

Theater, like life, is constant evolution with each season blending into the next, the cycle of art starting anew. While we gaze back on the fantastic season behind us, we look forward to the magnificent shows ahead: A Chorus Line, The Mousetrap, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. I’ll be writing about these great shows in our next installment. Please contact me with your thoughts, ideas, wishes and wonders.

As always, thanks for your wonderful support.
Joe Keefe
jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

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