The Down Low

Sun. March 7, 2004 12:00 AM
by David Viggiano

I'm not a fan of Reality TV. In fact, I'd just as soon see it all go away. It's all too contrived for me. No one is real; they're coached to be "good TV". The situations aren't real and don't even pretend to be. Yet somehow viewers are okay with that. They embrace it. They love to talk about it and they still get caught up in all the phony personalities dealing with phony circumstances.

What am I missing? Can someone explain it to me? I prefer to keep reality and fantasy separate. Life is confusing enough.

There is one show that, I hate to admit, always gets me hooked. It's American Idol. Maybe it's because I can relate to these struggling kids who want their chance to make it big. At least they have to show some kind of talent to survive. It's not about who can be the most deceptive or the biggest backstabber. I also love the innocence of the show. It's a simple premise. Sing, and America decides whom they like best. It's the first show in years that appeals to people of all ages, that families can watch together and discuss their favorites (much like The Miss America Pageant was for my family when I was young).

Okay, sometimes the music is corny. Sometimes Simon is over the top. Sometimes Paula is nauseating. Sometimes I marvel at Ryan's hair. But it can be addicting.

Although, if things don't change this quickly this season, they may be losing a viewer. The talent is less than impressive, and these kids need to start stepping up and showing what they got. Watching one bad singer after another starts to get to you.

Thank god for the Wild Card Round which will air this week. The judges choose who they want to see again and give them another chance to wow them and make it into the final 12.

Enter Chicago's Great Hope, Jennifer Hudson. Mark my words, this 22 year old from Chicago's South Side will not only make it to the finals, she has a good chance to go all the way. This girl's got the pipes, personality, and perseverance to win over America and the judges. What I think will set her apart will be the versatility she'll get to showcase over the coming weeks. So ban together and support your hometown idol. She's going far.

In two short seasons, many Idol finalists have come and gone. We're already asking, "Whatever happened to…" and that's not surprising. Most of these kids are young and green. One who is resurfacing is last year's Diva, Trenyce. I loved her, but Simon, in his book, "I Don't Mean to be Rude, But…" claims she was the most hated of the group and there was a celebration when she was finally voted off the show. But no matter. Talent is talent, and Trenyce gets to strut her stuff in a new musical production, Not a Day Goes By. Based on the E. Lynn Harris best selling novel, Trenyce plays an up and coming Broadway Diva who's planning to marry the perfect man, an Adonis-type lusted after by both women and men. This causes many problems for the seemingly perfect couple. If you don't know the double meaning of the title of my column, "The Down Low", you'll find out if you see this show. If you still need convincing to see the show, here's the clincher. It co-stars that Queen of camp, Jackee Harry of "Sister, Sister" and "227". It runs Tuesday through Sunday, March 9-14 at the Arie Crown Theatre at McCormick Place East.

If you're looking for something different this weekend, one of the most impressive impressionists of all time, Frank Gorshin brings his Broadway hit, "Say Goodnight, Gracie" to Centre East in Skokie. Though nearly 70, Gorshin is at the top of his game as he utterly transforms himself into the hilarious and loveable George Burns. It's a one man tour de force performance that will make you think Burns himself came back to earth for an encore. Casting "Grease" veteran Didi Conn as the voice of Burn's wife, Grace Allen is inspired. Ironically, the incredibly talented and versatile Gorshin is still, to this day, best know for his Emmy nominated role as The Riddler in the 60's TV series, "Batman". Go see this show. Gorshin will POW! BAM! ZAP! you.

Great news for a local dance company: Tony Award winner, Ann Reinking has been working with Melissa Thodos & Dancers to debut her latest project, a world premiere dance. Reinking is legendary for her work with Bob Fosse and her numerous starring roles on Broadway and in films. The choreographer was in Chicago last month to work with the dancers and will be back on Thursday, March 11 for "The Big Swing" Gala Benefit. This event takes place at 6pm at the Howard Washington Library Auditorium, 400 S. State St. Tickets for the Gala Benefit range from $150-$300 but include a fabulous Gala party at the Standard Club and the chance to meet Reinking and the Dancers. Public performances continue through Sunday. For tickets and information got to

Another World Premiere will be happening in Chicago this December. "Monty Python's SPAMALOT", a brand new, fully staged musical officially ripped from the hilarious 1975 film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". Original cast member Eric Idle has written the book and music. Oscar and Tony winning Director, Mike Nichols will helm the production.

The show will debut at the Shubert Theatre and tickets will go on sale next month. Idle says the show will be "almost as good as anything else opening in Chicago that week."

Until next week, have fun, be fun, make fun.