Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lion King Opens in Chicago

Ok, now I get it. I REALLY get it. I finally understand what all the fuss was about when The Lion King first came onto the scene and everyone raved about Julie Taymor’s costume design. I couldn’t have possibly imagined the magnificence of this production without seeing it firsthand.

I have always tended to literally get the chills when a live production starts out on just the right note, and that’s exactly how things started off for me last night. With a call of ““Nants ingonyama! Bagithi baba!” (the loud chant you’ve probably heard in the commercials - and yes, I did need to look up the spelling), a procession of actor/puppets/animals begins parading down the aisles of the theater, converging on the stage for a spectacular opening number. From the start, there’s an immediate sense of the brilliant puppetry, costume design and mechanisms that bring this production to life.

Tall, lanky giraffes are played by actors using stilts on their legs and arms; an enormous elephant rambles down the aisle with a puppeteer in each leg; a cheetah’s back legs belong to an actor/puppeteer, and his front legs are being moved by a mechanism that he controls. Every animal is fascinating, and I found myself as interested in the mechanics of how things worked as I was in the music and dance. And here's where I insert a visual aid, to best explain what I can't really convey through words:

Julie Taymor was the original director and costume designer for The Lion King, which opened on Broadway in 1997. Rather than hide the actors in masks while they played the roles of animals, it was her idea to instead have the actors wear the masks on their heads, leaving their faces visible. And it was her vision to represent the animals using enormous, complex puppets, which are a big part of what makes this production so memorable.

Obviously I was blown away by the costume design and mechanics, but I can’t really review a musical without mentioning the music, right? The music and dance were fantastic. The African rhythms and dance were pervasive, and were infused with modern dance, ballet and contemporary music.

The story itself is about a lion cub named Simba, whose father Mufasa is king and whose evil uncle Scar decides that he wants the throne for himself. Scar plots with some hyenas and kills Mufasa, and when Mufasa gets into a tight spot during a stampede, Scar kills him off. Scar convinces Simba that it’s his fault his father died, and tells Simba to go away and never come back. Simba stays away, grows up spending time with the comedic duo of Timon and Pumbaa (a meerkat and a warthog), and he eventually comes back to settle the score. (It’s far more complicated than that, but that’s the gist.)

I must say, I was fascinated by the hyenas. There are three main hyenas, and they are creepy as hell and utterly fascinating to watch. The actors/puppeteers in these roles must walk around in a hunched position, while alternately using their arms to work the hyena legs and the hyena heads that are suspended out in front of their bodies. Their costumes are designed so that there’s an arch of fur reaching from their backs, into the air, and onto these suspended heads, pulling it all together and giving them the shape of a hyena. It’s amazing to watch them, and many of the other “animals,” realizing that these actors are doing the ultimate multi-tasking: singing, speaking, moving, and operating their “costumes” all at the same time.

Overall, I absolutely loved the show and it’s now on my short list of all time favorites.

The show is recommended for ages 5 and up, and this sounds about right since some of the subject matter could be a bit heavy for younger kids. There’s some violence, the hyenas are just plain creepy, and of course the death of Simba’s father could be a bit much for some kids. Kids will love the costumes and puppetry, the storyline will have them engaged, and the antics of the Timon and Pumbaa (including Pumbaa's gas issues) will have them laughing.

Playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through November 27.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Halloween Fall Fun

It's a crisp Monday and it sure feels like Fall... time to start thinking about Halloween!

There are lots of great pumpkin farms around the Chicago area that transform into full-on fun Halloween destinations. (Interestingly, many of them also turn into mini-zoos, which may not have much to do with Halloween but it sure is fun for the kids.) You can visit the Halloween Zone for details on dozens of great Halloween activities and events. Here's just a sampling below. And make sure you check ahead regarding specific dates for activities, as some of the fun might happen only on weekends or certain dates.

Goebbert's Farms Pumpkins and More
2 locations - South Barrington and Hampshire
Halloween activities at Goebberts include wagon rides, pony rides, camel rides, pig racing, a corn stalk maze and a little straw town maze for your tiny ones. There's also Animal Land, where kids can get up close to animals you'd expect to see on a farm, like cows, pigs, goats and baby chicks, plus camels, kangaroos, llamas, zebras, lions and a giraffe. Admission is free, but some attractions require ticket purchase.

Dollinger Pumpkin Farm and Fun
7502 E. Hansel Rd., Channahon
At Dollinger Pumpkin Farm, pick a pumpking and then carve, decorate or make a pie. Then check out the Corn Maze, Petting Zoo, miniature steam train, horse drawn hayrides and more. Pumpkin farm entry is free, ut some activities like the train rides, corn maze and hayrides may require a fee.

Bengston Pumpkin Fest 2010
13341 W, 151st St., Homer Glen
At Bengston Pumpkin Farm, you can experience an animated Haunted Barn, a giggling animated Fun Barn, the "famous" action-packed Pig Races (running 10x a day on the 1/2 hour), an adorable Petting & Feeding Zoo, The Giant Crazy Corn Maizey & Pony Rides, plus a variety of entertaining animation throughout the barnyard and farm. Treats available for purchase include hot apple cider, funnel cakes, chili in a bread bowl, kettle corn and nore. Admission is adult $13, 3-11 $12, 2 and under Free.

Didier Farms Pumpkinfest
16678 W. Aptakisic Rd., Prairie View - Lincolnshire
Featuring mechanical rides, a corn maze, fresh donuts, an educational barn, farm animals, a petting zoo, hayrides, Indian teepees, a pony ride, crafts and more. Woody's Menagerie has over 200 creatures including lions, tigers, a bear, and a liger - a cross between a lion and a tiger (now THAT is scary!) Free admission but most activities require ticket purchase.

North Shore Pumpkin Patch
1024 Lake Ave, Wilmette
North Shore Pumpkin Patch is a non-profit pumpkin patch in Wilmette, with all proceeds going to support a local homeless shelter, Good News Partners, and a program to feed needy children in Senegal. Featuring a kiddie play area, scarecrow making, and weekend pumpkin painting, crafts and story time. Free.

Find more fall and Halloween fun in the Halloween Zone.

Got a favorite fall or Halloween spot? Let's hear about it!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jim Hensen's Fantastic World Now Open

Jim Hensen’s Fantastic World opened Friday at the Museum of Science and Industry, and walking through this exhibit was like stepping into the mind of a creative genius. Hensen is known for his iconic characters and creations like Kermit the Frog, Ernie and Bert, Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Dark Crystal, Miss Piggy and many others. The exhibit celebrates Hensen’s remarkable genius and his brilliant creative process, showcasing the sketches, storyboards, props, puppets and other elements that he used to bring his visions to life.
For adults, the exhibit will bring back a lot of memories, and for me it was fascinating to see how some of these memories literally got their start.

Here’s a storyboard for The Muppet Show theme song, one of my favorites items in the exhibit:

And who can forget Mahna Mahna??

And here’s an illustrated storyboard for the old Sesame Street counting bits - “How many is 5?”

Kids can try their hands at the creative process with some hands-on activities, including:

  • Puppet Theater – Kids can choose from a selection of props and design their own set, then direct their own puppet show and watch it on a tv screen.
  • Storyboarding – The storyboard wall lets kids draw out their storylines with etch-a-sketches.
  • Create-A-Character – this fun wall of parts lets kids pull together the pieces they want to create their own fun character.
  • Foley Stage – Kids can learn about sound effects, using objects to make sounds and creating their own soundtracks.

Aside from the obvious entertainment that these activities provide for kids, it can teach older kids how the creative process works. Heck - it could even inspire them to a career path that they didn’t even know existed. Perhaps if I’d seen this as a kid, I’d have been ready with a semi-intelligent argument to make against my parents when they dissuaded me from being an art major.

But I digress. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Jim Hensen’s creations, you’ll get a new sense of appreciation awe for where these creations came from. The exhibit will be best enjoyed by adults and older kids, especially those with a creative side. And while the exhibit made me wonder what might have happened had I continued on my own creative path, I mostly wonder what fantastic creations the world has missed out on with Hensen’s untimely passing. We’ll never know.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 Fall Guide to Free Family Fun

It certainly seems odd to release a guide to Fall Fun on a day when the temperature will be nearing 90, but it's officially Fall and we're ready for it!

I've just finished up the Fall Guide to Free Family Fun, a downloadable, printable booklet of free activities that your family can enjoy. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a sampling of fun ideas that are FREE. You can find more events and activities by visiting

The list includes ideas for pumpkin patches, story hours, nature centers, farms, indoor fun and even some great free fall festivals that are taking place.

You can download the guide at

Monday, September 13, 2010

Spectacle 2010: The Astronaut's Birthday

If you didn’t already know about Redmoon’s totally fantastical productions and performances, we tried to bring you up to speed with our posts about their recent J.O.E. (Joyous Outdoor Event.) And now, the far out fun continues with Spectacle 2010: The Astronaut’s Birthday, created in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Astronaut’s Birthday is a bigger-than-life storybook adventure that you’ll view on the 5-story high fa├žade of the MCA. The outer walls of the MCA have been transformed into a stage for this story, which Redmoon describes as a “collision of science fiction, comic book spectacle performance, wild shadow, silhouette performers and berserk music.” (I couldn’t possibly say it better!)

The actually storyline is about a single astronaut on a mission to save the Earth, and it’s a story delivered like none you’ve ever seen before. The performances take place at 7:30pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays through September 26. Tickets are $15 Thursdays and $20 for Friday and Sunday; $10 for kids under 10 and free for kids under 3.

Get tickets HERE, or call the Redmoon Box Office at 312-850-8440 ×111.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beat Kitchen's Concerts for Kids Block Party, sponsored by

Beat Kitchen's Concerts for Kids!
Kick-off Block Party this Saturday, September 11 is excited to sponsor this family concert series!

In a past life, I was a huge local live music fan who couldn’t wait to flip through each new issue of The Reader to find out where my favorite bands were playing that weekend. Flash forward to my current life, where I’m still a huge live music fan but my most preferred genre has certainly changed. Never would I have imagined the last time I was at the Beat Kitchen that I could get as excited as I currently am about their upcoming schedule of acts, which will be attracting audiences in the 36-48” height range!

That’s what happens when we grow up and have kids. Beat Kitchen owner Robert Gomez has 2 kids of his own now, and the idea for hosting kids concerts came to him after attending a Wiggleworms class with his then 2-year-old daughter. Beat Kitchen’s Roscoe Village neighborhood is teeming with families and small kids, so it seemed like a logical idea – and something that lots of little budding rockers will love!

The first concerts started at Beat Kitchen and then began to include some shows at Gomez’s other venue, Subterranean, in Wicker Park. This year, the schedule is full, with a show every weekend from September 19 all the way through Memorial Day (with some breaks for holidays.)

Kick Off Block Party
The series kicks off with a rockin’ block party this Saturday, September 11, from 11:30am – 5pm at Beat Kitchen. Family activities include maraca building with Easel Art Studio, punk rock hair styling by Psycho Baby, drum building with Bucktown Music, The Children's Learning Place Tot Zone and fun Penguin decorating crafts with yours truly,! Admission is $7 and the event will be held indoors in case of rain.

Say Hello to and ENTER TO WIN!
Stop by and say hello to me in the area, where we’ll be doing fun Penguin decorating, and you can and enter to win a an adorable, oversized stuffed golden retriever donated by our friends at Building Blocks Toy Store! “Ruff Ruff” is 36” tall with lifelike details, ready to be a devoted companion to some lucky winner. We're also giving away passes to Fantasy Kingdom, one of our favorite indoor play places.

Saturday's Schedule
12:00: Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies
1:30: Human Tim + Robot Tim
2:30: Bucktown Music Kindermusik Family Fun Time
3:30: Little Miss Ann Band

This Season’s Schedule

Sept 19: Mary Macaroni - Beat Kitchen
Sept 26: Human- Tim + Robot-Tim - Beat Kitchen
Oct 3: Shana Sings! - Beat Kitchen
Oct 9: Laura Doherty - Subterranean
Oct 10: Super Stolie & the Rockstars! - Beat Kitchen
Oct 17: Jeanie B! - Beat Kitchen
Oct 23: Poochamungas - Subterranean
Oct 24: Mr. Singer & the Sharp Cookies - Beat Kitchen
Oct 30: Little Miss Ann Band's Halloween Party - Subterranean
Nov 6: Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans - Subterranean
Nov 7: Little Miss Ann Band - Beat Kitchen
Nov 13: AmeriKid Idol hosted by Andy Moy - Subterranean
Nov 14: Karen 4 Kids! - Beat Kitchen
Nov 21: Kara Kesselring & Sugarcreek Road @ 4PM - Beat Kitchen
Nov 21: Suzi Shelton and Little Miss Ann Band
Upstairs at SubT, show at 11am - Subterranean
Dec 5: The Dreamtree Shakers - Beat Kitchen
Dec 11: The Boogers - Subterranean
Dec 12: Mary Macaroni - Beat Kitchen
Jan 9: The Okee Dokee Brothers - Beat Kitchen

Get more details at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Circus in the Parks featuring Midnight Circus

Step right up! The circus is in town, and it's coming right to five northside Chicago parks. Circus in the Parks, featuring the Midnight Circus, is a whimsical assortment of acrobats, aerialists, clowns and contortionists. Kids can get up close to watch daring feats while helping raise money for the parks. Circus in the Parks raises funds that will be equally split between all participating parks.

Circus in the Parks schedule:

Gompers Park - 4222 W. Foster - 773-685-3270
September 11th - 2pm & 5pm
September 12th - 1pm & 4pm

Welles Park - 2333 W. Sunnyside - 312-742-7511
September 18th 2pm & 5pm
September 19th 1pm & 4pm

Holstein Park - 2200 N. Oakley - 312-742-7554
September 25th - 2pm & 5pm
September 26th - 1pm & 4pm

Portage Park - 4100 N. Long - 773-685-7235
October 9th - 2pm & 5pm
October 10th - 1pm & 4pm

Chase Park - 4701 N. Ashland - 312-742-7518
October 16th - 2pm & 5pm
October 17th - 1pm & 4pm

Tickets are $15 per person, and children under 2 years old are free. In case of rain, the Circus will move into the Park Field House. Space is limited if the performance needs to be moved inside, so consider buying your tickets in advace!

To purchase tickets online, visit

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Last chance summer events

It's September (*sigh*) and kids are back in school, but you still have a few days left to enjoy some of the best things that took place around Chicago this summer. Act fast though, these fun activities are truly just about over!

If you miss out on these events, don't fret - there's always something fun around the corner!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Win tickets to the Lion King

The Lion King will be roaring into Chicago on September 29, and we're giving away tickets to this amazing show! Enter at for your chance to win a family four-packs of tickets to the 7:30pm show on September 29 at Cadillac Palace Theatre.

The show is here for a limited engagement from September 29 - November 27. You can purchase tickets online at

Winners names will be drawn September 16.