The Mid-Week Beat: 147 Years of the Musical!

This week on the Mid-Week Beat, we pay tribute to the art of musical theater because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a musical? Okay, maybe some of you don’t but even the most ardent detractors of the art form will admit a love for at least one musical, be it West Side Story or Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

We can trace the roots of “musical theater” back to ancient Greece, where music and dance was incorporated into stage comedies and tragedies, but the modern Western “musical” as we know them, gained prominence in the late 19th Century with the basic structural elements established by the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in Britain and by Harrigan and Hart in America. The first modern “musical,” which is generally defined as a theatrical work that is enhanced by adding dance and original music to help tell the story, was The Black Crook, which debuted in New York on September 2, 1866. The show was five and half hours long and ran for a record-breaking 474 performances.

That record was broken in the late 1800’s by a series of long-running, family-friendly comic opera hits by309px-Circa-1879-DOyly-Carte-HMS-Pinafore-from-Library-of-Congress2 Gilbert and Sullivan including 1878’s H.M.S. Pinafore and 1885’s The Mikado. Gilbert and Sullivan revolutionized musical theater by creating examples of how to better integrate music into theatrical pieces so that the lyrics and dialogue advance the story and make it more coherent. Their works would influence many composers of subsequent musicals by the likes of Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

American composers like George and Ira Gershwin, Irivng Berlin and Rodgers and Hart would eventually take away Britain’s dominance in the musical theater world by replacing the operatic and theatrical styles of the 19th century with a modern approach more fitting to 20th century sensibilities. They began to incorporate popular musical styles like ragtime and jazz and, by the 1920s, the focus began to shift away from the plot and more towards star actors or actresses, big musical numbers and popular songs. Many of today’s “standards” were written during this time period and the careers of early Broadway legends like Fred Astaire were launched.
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Arts >

Spit Take Saturday: Anjelah Johnson at Just For Laughs Chicago

just for laughsWelcome to Spit Take Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No a**-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.” 

Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that she feels all you comedy lovers out there will appreciate.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

Threats of a torrential derecho kept some Chicagoans home instead of braving the storm and put a damper on the Just for Laughs-branded pedicabs that shuttled fans around the city. But they didn’t stop eager Anjelah Johnson fans from lining up with their umbrellas and galoshes outside The Vic Theatre, the former vaudeville venue on Chicago’s north side, to snag good general-admission seats for the former MADtv cast member’s Wednesday night performance.

Nashville-based opener T.C. Cope had an undeniably energetic stage presence, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for his dated material. Large, stagnant chunks devoted to Tickle Me Elmo, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and a SeaWorld drowning that happened in 2010 made it feel as though Cope hadn’t read a newspaper or been online much recently. He showed versatility with his Luther Vandross impression and preached the efficacy of R&B as an aphrodisiac, but somewhere along the line he meandered, reaching the halfway point of Toby Keith’s “Angry American” before it became difficult to remember how the joke began in the first place. The crowd seemed to like Cope well enough nevertheless, though perhaps Johnson’s younger, hipper fans weren’t his usual audience.
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Comedy >

Non-profit of the Month: One Tail at a Time

After spending some time with different animal shelters, foster programs and animal help clinics, I ran across this organization in Chicago: One Tail at a Time. They are a non-profit foster program that is a no-kill, all-breed dog rescue program.  This is their mission statement:

One Tail at a Time…serves to lower euthanasia rates in the greater Chicagoland area and provide education on the humane treatment of companion animals. The rescue concentrates its efforts on dogs that are in danger of being euthanized, or those that are physically and/or mentally deteriorating in a shelter environment, works to rehabilitate them, and then matches each dog with a permanent home. Focused on keeping pets as a part of our family, One Tail at a Time offers fosters and adopters continued support and education on how best to keep dogs happy, healthy and part of the family.

What is very unique about this dog foster program is they pay for everything a person needs (food, medical, dog walkers, daycare, etc.) to ensure that all the dogs in their program are well taken care of. They don’t just go out and pick the best of the best animals from the shelters for quick adoption turn-around, they find the best in all dogs and try to give as many of them as possible a chance at a better life. If, for some reason, the adoption isn’t a good fit, they will take the dog back into their program. In fact they prefer it! This allows them to ensure that the dog finds the best family possible. Even if a family can no longer keep the dog years after the adoption, One Tail at a Time will take the dog back into their program and find it a new, happy home.

A current foster for One Tail at a Time, Juli Zagrans, stated: “I’ve been volunteering and fostering for OTAT for about 2 years. I’ve had 17 of their dogs in my home and consistently work with this organization because they make doing the right thing easy. It was started by a group of friends with a vision that they could offer something to the Chicago rescue community, and they have. They choose quality over quantity, and once an OTAT dog, always an OTAT dog.”


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Good Causes >