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Interview Wed Nov 06 2013

Plucky and Friends Head to Gorilla Tango

plucky rosenthalThere are some performers that you just know you want to spend time with, from the very first moment you meet them. Plucky Rosenthal, the "Jewish Star of Stage and Stage," is one of those performers. Endlessly bubbly, charismatic and a darling throwback to vintage vaudeville, Plucky plays the banjo and ukulele, sings, cracks corny jokes and generally lights up a room. I had the opportunity to sit down with her about her upcoming show, Plucky and Friends, which opens tomorrow at Gorilla Tango.

Talk to me about the show -- what is it?

Plucky and Friends is an all-new original variety show. I host it as my vaudeville alter ego Plucky Rosenthal, backed by a killer band, and my friends come in an out of the show as hilarious characters that they've come up with to share their talents... whether Plucky wants them to or not. It's at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Bucktown, so you can hit up Margie's Candies or Belly Shack after the show!

How did you come up with the idea for a variety show?

When you do a modern day vaudeville act... you are somewhat limited in the types of shows you're eligible to be booked in. But luckily there's an awesome variety and burlesque scene in the city, so as I learn more about my act, I'm learning more about what people want to see.

I've been doing solo work for a few years now — short acts to full-length one-woman shows, and it's been a rewarding experience but a stressful one. My last solo show I relied heavily on the awesomeness of my friends to come watch the show, give feedback, etc., and this lightbulb went off in my head like OH. I SHOULD DO AN ENSEMBLE SHOW.

This show has been truly devised by the whole group, and I'm continuously in awe of what the ensemble has come up with.

Who are your inspirations in terms of comedy, variety shows and vaudeville?

In no particular order: Fanny Brice, Groucho Marx, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett... "The Muppet Show," "Pee Wee's Playhouse," "Viva Variety" from back in the day Comedy Central... I loved all of the old variety shows and sitcoms from Nick and Nite, and my brain definitely still thinks in cartoon from years of growing up on Looney Toons and Nickelodeon cartoons like "Ren and Stimpy." LOVED that stuff. I'm also very visually and thematically inspired by silent movies and old film stars. So beautiful and innocent, but with a bit of an edge.

There are some other amazing variety shows in the city that I find incredibly inspiring: The Curio Show, Sweethearts, the Sweater Kittens Variety Hour, Wes Perry and Friends... all definitely worth checking out.

Talk to me about Plucky. Who is she? How did she come about?

Plucky is basically my normal persona but amplified. She's way louder, way brassier, and way more Jewish. She loves entertaining and putting on a show... and a lot of times is pretty enamored with the fact that she gets to deliver her own highly funny jokes.

When I first moved to Chicago about five years, I was unemployed and uncastable as an actor. I was constantly auditioning for stuff and applying for jobs but not getting a thing... I started to think a little more out of the box and saw that there were all of these burlesque and variety shows looking for non-burlesque variety acts. I play the ukulele and can tell a few jokes, so I thought why not. I actually auditioned for the Girlie-Q Variety Hour first! I got cast in Girlie-Q after they heard me play two songs on the ukulele and I thought, dang, I better come up with a full act! Quickly the persona started to take shape, and they also helped me come up with the name! (I was dead set on "Fingers" Rosenthal since I play the ukuele but they reminded me that this was a lesbian burlesque troupe so that was maybe not the smartest route to go.)

And thus was born Plucky! I never set out to "play a character" in this way, but I love it. I continue to get (modest) work as an actor, but I love that I can write my own show, book it, make it happen when I want.

Tell me a little bit about your guests. Who are they and what do they do?

My guests are the best. I have a core ensemble of burlesque tap-dancer Ramona Mourir, comedian/director/dancer Erica Reid from Blewt! Productions, the hilarious Kallie Rolison out of the Cornservatory, and music from the amazingly talented duo of Jeff Rukes on drums and Tim Joyce and dobro and accordian. The featured players shuffle every night, but they are fantastically talented improvisers, comedians, and clowns including Amber Gerencher, Erin Thorn, Alexandra Tsarpalas, Ellie Mae Wasserman, Vanessa Valliere, and Mary Cait Walthall. Every night I have two additional variety acts, which are rotating slots to give a-typical performers like myself a platform. For this mini-run we have the Noah Ginex Puppet Company, comedian and mime Ryan Ben, burlesque artist Bella Ciao, and bellydancer Phaedra Darwish.

What's your favorite part of the show?

I love that this is a new take on the classic variety show. There's forward-moving action; things happen; acts fall in love with each other. I love that the show isn't afraid to be stupid and isn't afraid to be sweet — both of which I think make it a really satisfying kind of funny. I don't have a single favorite part — I love everything that all of my friends do. Their characters are so nuanced and hilarious.

What should an audience member expect from the show?

An audience member should expect to see it all — we've got singing and dancing, but also some special treats like poetry and even a lip synch number. It's short and breezy at just an hour, so definitely make use of the wonderful area and make a night of it.

The show actually manages to be PG! It's very sweet with just a little bit of cheekiness, so families are definitely welcome.

~*~

Plucky and Friends runs three nights only: Thursday 11/7, 11/14, and 11/21 at 7:30pm at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets are $10 online/$15 at door. Purchase tickets by calling 773-598-4549 or by visiting gorillatango.com. The cast changes every night so refer to alisarosenthal.com to see who will be at which one.

 
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By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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