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                                                  jkeefe@metropolisarts.com

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.


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.

BoeinBoeing4g Boeing

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.

Avenue Qave q151-1

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.



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

Avenue Q Prop Designer & Dramaturg Linda Scheufler

May 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

Winner of the Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, Avenue Q is part flesh, part felt and packed with heart.

Before the “Book of Mormon”, there was “Avenue Q”. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx created humor, songs and outrageousness with grown up puppets in 2003.  Imagine what happened after the next-door neighbors of Sesame Street grew up and moved out on their own. Life after college isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  Jobs are hard to find, friends look different than before, and grown up temptations pop up everywhere. Idealistic dreams become muddled when reality hits.

Using bright and catchy songs, filled with racy and irreverent language, puppets and humans explore social issues such as racism, self-identity, uncertainties and  the loneliness of living on the streets of New York City.

Although the show addresses humorous adult issues, it is similar to a beloved children’s show; a place where puppets are friends, monsters are good and life lessons are learned on the path to one’s purpose in life.


Rehearsal Photo – Avenue Q

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization.

On Avenue Q and Growing Up by Cast Member Aaron Lockman

May 29, 2018 § Leave a comment

by Aaron Lockman

My high school was a bit of an aberration in terms of social structure – at least compared to the fictional high schools I saw on TV. In your stereotypical American high school, there is a strict triangle of social hierarchy in place, with the athletics and cheerleaders at the narrow top, and  then working its way down through the normal kids, the speech team, winding down through the anime club, finally landing on the wide base of sad, lonely nerds.

I don’t want to say that my high school was completely free of this triangle – we were, after all, a generation raised on John Hughes knockoff movies – but largely, the sheer size of Thornton Academy rendered such a strict caste system unworkable. Instead, a bizarre sort of highly tribal anarchy took over. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the anime club, and the nerds still existed, but each separate tribe just sort of floated along in an uneasy lateral equality, and there was little power that one clique could hold over another. If any Yertle the Turtle figure ever tried to climb on top, they were subjected to what is perhaps a more realistic interpretation of the physical capabilities of turtles than Dr. Seuss’s, and the neat stack of reptiles collapsed into a wet, messy pile.

Of course, each individual clique had its own micro-hierarchies. The clique I found myself in around my sophomore year, the theater geeks (as if you had to guess), valued onstage talent and physical attractiveness above all else. But other factors were considered as well. And familiarity with the musical Avenue Q was one of them.

Ever since my brother and I had stumbled across “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” while listening to Sirius XM radio in my dad’s car a few years previously, I had been a fan of the Avenue Q soundtrack. And so you can imagine my joy when knowledge of these obscure, raunchy show tunes turned out to be precious social capital in my new surroundings – such an occurrence in the district where I went to middle school was highly unlikely. My new friends and I listened to Avenue Q, talked about Avenue Q, and imagined how we would cast ourselves if the school ever got the balls to do it as our spring musical. We ragged on the Avenue Q School Edition when it came out (rightly so, I’m afraid). We memorized the harmonies and sang them together as we swerved through the suburban sprawl of southern Maine in each other’s cars.

I’m not exactly sure why this musical resonated with us so much. There was the artistry of it, sure, and the previously unheard-of combination of bacchanalian humor, Broadway-style music, and Muppet-like voices. Teenagerdom is a strange, interstitial time when you have the brainpower of an adult but none of the emotional discipline to handle that power – and so this music, that juxtaposed the earnestly childlike with the hilariously adult, probably struck something quite deep. But still – none of us were dealing with the central emotional question in the show, the question of how to exist in a meaningless, post-college world. You can’t wish you could go back to college if you haven’t been to college yet. We just thought it was funny.

In the past couple of years, I hadn’t thought about Avenue Q much until I heard about Metropolis’s audition notice. I was cast in this show roughly a year after graduating from college myself, and I am fascinated by the ways it has changed in my mental absence from it.

Some of the comedy, for instance, has not aged well. The way we talk about racism in this country, for instance, has changed so completely post-Obama and post-Black Lives Matter that the jokes in the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” mostly seem awkward now. They’re still quite hilarious, don’t get me wrong (and our cast does a great job with that number), but the song seems to perceive racism primarily as individual people being mean to each other –instead of a systemic issue that is ingrained into every aspect of society. Nowadays, accepting that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” is just the first step of a much longer and more difficult process, rather than an end unto itself.

The show’s final number, “For Now,” faces a similar problem. There’s a spot in that song where we shout “TRUMP. . . is only for noooooww!” as we sing about the many things in life, good and bad, that are temporary. The original Broadway cast shouted “Bush!” of course, and various casts in between have shouted various political references. Our audience in Arlington Heights always goes crazy for that joke, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t depress me a little. The truth is, we are living in the aftermath of George Bush as we speak – and the damage wrought by Trump’s presidency could take decades to unwind. Politics, sadly, is rarely “For Now.” Things do have lasting consequences. Satire is important, of course, but so is perspective.

Other aspects of the show, however, have only grown in meaning since my high school days. I am now essentially Avenue Q’s target demographic – a broke, twenty-something college grad fumbling for meaning as I try to find my purpose in life. Since my teenage years, I have gained experiences like pining for a same-sex roommate whom I knew could never reciprocate (like Rod), engaging in a swift, ill-advised relationship in order to stave off loneliness that ended up making it worse (like Princeton and Lucy), and having my various dreams crushed over and over again as Kate does.

And the realization the characters get in the final number is something that I’ve been trying to internalize since. . . well, honestly, ever since I started going to therapy last year:

Nothing in your life is too terrible to bounce back from. But also, your life will never be as meaningful or happy as you want it to be. And that’s. . . okay?

Life, I’ve observed, is better when you accept that it’s mostly gonna be a whole lot of medium. And what Avenue Q does so well is making that medium feel miraculous by bringing it into razor-sharp focus. No character really gets what they want. Not everyone is happy or fulfilled by the end. But they have each other, and they have the music, and they have themselves.

There is palpable joy to be found in the tiniest, simplest things. And those are what let you soldier on.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the organization.

A Signature Into the Woods Cocktail Created by Understudy Kim Buck

October 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

Hi friends of Metropolis –

Hope you’ve seen, or plan to see, our spectacular production of Into The Woods! I’m Kim Buck, one of the understudies, so you won’t see me – unless Cinderella’s mother or stepmother gets sick (don’t want that) or gets a too-great- to-pass- up audition (that’d be OK).

Waiting to be called to understudy gives you lots of time to focus on other pursuits. One of mine is mixology! I especially love to customize cocktails for people and events. This Into The Woods cocktail practically created itself – as if by magic! It’s called “Last Midnight,” and it’s based on a potion that you will recognize if you’ve seen the show:

1. A base as white as milk
(Baileys® Almande almond-milk liqueur)

2. Cherries, red as blood
(Cherry simple syrup)

3. Whiskey, made from corn
(Jim Beam® Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey)

4. A brew as pure as gold
(Cold Brew coffee with almond milk)

Shake the ingredients (in a shaker over ice for a single drink; in a pitcher/bottle/container for a bigger batch) and pour – straight or on the rocks. Serve right away, or prepare and refrigerate a few days ahead of time (the flavor blend gets even better over time). It tastes like a cross between an Irish coffee and a chocolate martini – definitely desserty, but not overly heavy or sweet. It makes a nice post-show nightcap, and it’s easy to make enough to share with friends!

                                         1 drink–Sm.batch (4 drinks)–Lg. batch (8 drinks)
Baileys Almande                 2 oz–8 oz (1 cup)–16 oz (2 cups)
Cherry simple syrup*        1 oz–4 oz–8 oz
Bourbon                            1 oz–4 oz–8 oz
Gold brew                         3 oz–12 oz–24 oz

* Equal parts black cherry juice (black cherry, not tart cherry), and simple syrup or sugar.
** Equal parts cold brew coffee and original sweetened almond milk (sweetened, not flavored – no vanilla, etc.). You can buy the brew pre-mixed (e.g. Califia Farms® Black & White Cold Brew Coffee) or mix it yourself.

Play with the balance of ingredients to suit your taste.

Cheers! Enjoy! Hope to see you in the woods!

Executive Director, Joe Keefe on Into the Woods

September 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

Updated Group ITW

Organized theater is about 4500 years old and despite its age, live theater is more relevant and necessary today than ever before. As screens and faceless media intrude more and more on our lives, personal, intimate, human shared experiences take on even more significance, comprising the moments we truly cherish – our memories.

These intimate shared experiences, wonderful moments of memory and discovery, are the basis for Into The Woods, a touching, funny, spooky and quirky retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales set to Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant words and music, backed by James Lapine’s book. While the shows illuminates Grimm’s tales, it is very much a show for adults with themes we all share: the unforeseen consequences of our hopes, dreams and wishes fulfilled.

The re-imagined stories, at the same time pleasant and ominous, are the cautionary tales that became our first lessons and our elementary entertainment. The Wolf pursuing Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and his magic beans, Cinderella and her Prince – these stories are brought to strange life through subtle humor, witty torment and wonderful music.

Into The Woods thrived in a two-year run on Broadway and has become a touring and regional theater staple. We have nurtured it at Metropolis for the richness of its words and music, the quirky retelling of classic tales, while featuring a cast of excellent voices and characters. As with all our shows, the cast is what I devotedly call our “All Stars”, the best young talent in the Midwest.

If you’re even a casual fan of musical theater, Into The Woods is a show for you: rich in texture, quirky in telling, funny when needed and a glorious night of story, words and music. Join us for a great night of this theatrical classic.

Life in the Wings – An actor’s view from offstage

September 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

Into the Woods actor Kent Joseph                                                                                

Hey there fans of Metropolis. My name is Kent, I play Cinderella’s Father and I am sitting backstage during spacing rehearsal for Into the Woods.

A spacing rehearsal is quite a tiring, trying, labor intense, but very necessary, part of the rehearsal process. For the past month our huge cast and production team have been squeezed into a rehearsal room (with stairs, ramps, and platforms labeled with colored tape on the floor), while the mainstage has been used for other amazing productions here at MPAC. Now we move Into the Woods into the theater, which has not only more space to move about in, but also levels. Lots and lots of levels. Soon Rapunzel’s tower, several trees and other stage decorations will be added. It’s quite an exciting week, both onstage and off!

Now 9 times out of 10 the staging done in the rehearsal room works on the stage as planned, with a minimal amount of “tweaking” needed. It’s that 10th time however that challenges us all (especially our production team); having to restage the actors onstage, run it, run it, run it again, making additional changes if necessary before moving on. Those of us not onstage at the time, in turn, have to wait…

and wait…

and wait…

Got to run! It’s my scene coming up…
(Drops iPad, picks up a prop, and gallops onto the stage)
image2 image1.jpeg
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