Play On! | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Play On!

Twenty-six years ago the Organic Theater took Chicago by storm with its long-running comic book for the stage, Warp. Five years before George Lucas's Star Wars trilogy began, "the world's first science fiction epic adventure play in serial form" dazzled off-Loop audiences with its fanciful theatricality. A big part of its appeal arose from Andre De Shields's stylishly over-the-top performance--in a gold fishnet tunic, yet--as Xander the Unconquerable, Ruler of the Sixth Dimension. Though Warp bombed on Broadway (in an ill-advised attempt to replicate the Chicago-to-New York success of Grease), it paved the way for De Shields's Big Apple career: he went on to create the title role in The Wiz before playing the supercool, reefer-smoking Viper in the Fats Waller tribute Ain't Misbehavin'. Now the Tony-winning De Shields is back in the Goodman's Play On!--his first appearance here in a theatrical production since he moved east. Grizzled but as playfully flamboyant as ever as the streetwise, slyly slithery music promoter, De Shields is part of a phenomenal quintet of principal performers. The others are Wiz and Cats veteran Ken Prymus (De Shields's partner in the showstopping duet "Rocks in My Bed"), off-Loop regular Paul Oakley Stovall, Cynthia Jones, and another Tony-winning ex-Chicagoan, Tonya Pinkins, in magnificent Lena Horne form as she morphs from sultry chanteuse to gritty blues belter in this rousingly entertaining musical, which jazzes up Shakespeare's Twelfth Night with a Duke Ellington score and 1940s Harlem setting. Now Play On!--like Warp, a Broadway disappointment but a Chicago smash--has been extended through mid-month. Goodman Theatre, 200 S. Columbus, 312-443-3800. Through August 16: Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 PM; no show Friday, August 14. $28-$40; day-of-show rush discounts and dinner-show packages available. --Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Theater still by Liz Lauren.

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