There are often time when a play is not a play, or even theater, per se, but an evening of solid entertainment and just plain “FUN” (with all caps). Hell in a Handbag Productions is known for its camp productions and the fun stuff they bring to the stage. Their current production is in fact a tribute to the one and only Bette Midler- the early years, when she played the Continental Baths in New York accompanied by none other than Barry Manilow. I must tell you, Hell in a Handbag does one hell of a job with this one. Under the stylish direction of Christopher Pazdernik and musical direction by Jeremy Ramey (who does a strikingly solid performance as Manilow at the keyboards), we are treated to 80 minutes of solid entertainment. Yes there are great number of “Gay” references as Bette and her Bathhouse Boys, TJ Crawford and Will Wilhelm bring the house down with great sounds of her music and comic touches. Incidently, these are not the Bathhouse Boys that were scheduled to appear, but they never missed a beat (if they did, we probably would not have known it anyway) except that the names they used were played with by THE Divine Miss M ( played to perfection by Caitlin Jackson, who has the audience on their feet for her solid work).
Don’t recall the early days? That is okay. Most of the audience at tonight’s opening had faint memories of her early days and mostly from what they were told or heard. That was many years ago, another time, another era. But, it is true that she was discovered working in the Gay Bathhouse in New York. A legendary place where people heard her voice and knew that she was destined for stardom. Songs like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”, “Superstar” ( a lot different rendition than Karen Carpenter),” Chapel of Love” as you never heard it, “Hey Mambo” to show she is “BI” (lingual, of course) and of course “Do You Wanna Dance” and her incredible “You Gotta Have Friends” as her encore with “the Boys” who opened with a few songs and has a clever bit to open the second act with an audience member participating-he was into it and brought the house down.
Which “Schvitz”/bathhouse is this production at? It is at Mary’s Attic upstairs of Hamburger Mary’s locate at 5400 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. I must say, watching the diners IN the restaurant eat those burger and onion rings on the way in, really made me think, I am missing something here, so next time I come here, I am coming early to taste the vittles. Once you get upstairs (use the powder room in the restaurant first as there is none up in the attic) you will find that you are now in the steam room that represents Miss M’s start. The steam however comes from the talent that is on the stage and while it seems odd for an 80 minute show to have an intermission, I can understand Ms Jackson needing a break for her voice and to make sure she is fully in her costume.
This splendid production will continue at Mary’s Attic thru August 21st with performances as follows:
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. (no Saturday on 8/15 and 8/22)
There will be added performances on Thursdays 8/13 and 8/20 at 8 p.m.
I must say, this is a limited run so if you plan to take this trip down memory lane and have a great time at the “cabaret”/theater, better move quickly. Tickets are only $20 (at the door $22) but I have the feeling at the door would be a tactical error, so I suggest that you visit www.handbagproductions.org or call 1-800-838-3006
Street parking is available, metered and not in the neighborhood and public transportation is easy as the number 22 Clark Street.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Bette Live at the Continental Baths”