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As I entered the Cadillac Palace Theatre – originally the Orpheum Circuit’s lavish vaudeville flagship before keeping up with the times to become a golden age movie palace – the simple, classy screen that hung over the stage gave me hope for the evening’s entertainment. There was the show’s title and logo, red and white on a bright blue backing, all nostalgia, all sheen, all promise of a combination of the silver screen, of classic composition, of live theatrical talent. I could hardly wait for the screen to rise and the show to start.

But first, in full disclosure, I’ve never watched the movie straight through. Sure, I’ve seen the whole thing in fits and starts and bits and pieces through the years (married, as I am, to one of its biggest fangirls). But I’m more of a fan of the rock and rollers – the Little Richards, the Orbisons, the Chucks and Jerry Lees and Buddies with something a little randier and a little rowdier and a little more real – who came along and did away with the post-war schmaltz. What I mean is, while I appreciate, no, adore, earlier Hollywood musicals like The Wizard of Oz or even Berlin’s Easter Parade, as well as later ones like The Music Man, I have no real sentimental attachment to Bing and Rosemary. I figured I’d be an objective audience, a fresh set of eyes and ears for this production.

The show began and these eyes and ears weren’t impressed. The sets were bright and looked the part – the scene with the song “Snow” on a train car was beautiful, a real mid-century-modern knockout – but they weren’t the 1950's real thing. The actors, too, were talented and pleasant as they played their parts, but they weren’t Bing or Rosemary or Danny or Vera. Nobody could be.

So, as the first act progressed, I remained unimpressed. The story (and the music, and the sets, and the cast) were fine, but the show needed some charisma, it needed some pizazz, it needed something.

Where that something did come up was when the show added tunes by Berlin that weren’t in the movie. These songs hadn’t been staked out by the film’s icons, and the current production’s cast wasn’t forced to approximate the ideal they’d set. They were fresher. They gave this cast room to show their talents, to show themselves, and not just takes on someone else. An example was “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.” Throughout the night, the female lead, Kerry Conte, had Rosemary Clooney’s shoes to fill, a task I did not envy. But during this number, she fit right into an Andrews-esque trio, her vocals polished, her moves authentic. The lead singer in said number, Karen Ziemba’s Martha, stood out not just here, but in her own featured piece earlier that also strayed from the film and added to the show. Other standouts included: young Makayla Joy Connolly, who had a fine feature of her own; Kristyn Pope, who lit up the stage as recurring Rita and part of the ensemble; and Conrad John Schuck, whose General Waverly/Innkeeper Hank was equal parts Patton and grandpa.

And as I said, while the first act dragged, the second act moved at a much better pace, better utilized the cast, and ended the night with some holiday cheer (spoiler alert: the show is called White Christmas). So if it’s an exact reproduction of the Technicolor glow and the old-microphone glisten of the film you’re after, stay in and watch it on TV. But if you’re just looking for a feel-good family jumpstart to the holiday season, then this might be the show to see.

White Christmas is being performed at Cadillac Palace Theatre through December 3rd. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

In reviewing Jimmy Buffett’s new musical Escape to Margaritaville I was seated in the last row of the Oriental Theatre but since the row was reserved and nearly empty, I settled in for a nice relaxing show with no one coughing on me or knocking my elbow off the armrest. The show began and a few minutes later two smiling, enthusiastic, knee tapping men came in and sat next to me on the aisle.
They were whispering excitedly back and forth and one of the men, who was small-framed with glasses, took out his cellphone and began typing into it every few minutes.


They seemed like such excited fans, as the phone activity continued. I didn't want to say anything but finally buckled and leaned over and gently brushed his hand, smiling like "Hey, that's a no- no." But he just smiled at me and moments later kept typing. After another ten minutes or so, I again leaned over and said, "Darlin', I know you're super excited to be here (and I pointed to my Press Kit), but I'm trying to review this show." The bouncy, Larry David lookalike laughed and said, "Darlin', I’m Jimmy Buffett!" I didn’t recognize him in the dark! 

We laughed together and naturally I told Jimmy to take as many notes as he needed! And thus began a wonderful night of celebrating this Broadway bound production based on Jimmy Buffett's life. 
The script written by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley (with book also by Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia) tells a classic story of romance between Tully, a handsome singer/songwriter living the island life, and drifting from one cute tourist to another without falling in love. Tully's world is changed however when a beautiful, intelligent, but over worked, scientist named Rachel visits the resort with her best friend Tammy who is about to be married - to the wrong man. On this island the word “work” is identified as a " dirty word" and Rachel is warned gleefully by Tully that if she says it too often her mouth will be "rinsed out with tequila!" 

The book includes original music and at least twenty-seven of Buffett's classic hits including "Come Monday", "Volcano", "Cheeseburger in Paradise", and a hilarious PG-rated version of "Let's Get Drunk (And Screw)”. 

The two youthful leads, Tully played by Paul Alexander Nolan - and Rachel (Alison Luff), have very nice chemistry, rich voices and give the rowdy, drunken fun of the play a real love story to ground it and make you care about the characters despite the constant joking around. 

Parrotheads will love the free living, take it easy on yourself moral of the story, which simply put echoes Buffett's own successful take on "living life in the moment to the fullest, and loving the one you are with.

I really love the way Rachel's character is written as both very intelligent and nature loving. The entire audience loved the way her best friend Tammy is encouraged to go ahead and EAT "the cheeseburger she desires whether she fits into her wedding dress or not and then has her literally flying across the stage (Peter Pan style) when she frees herself from the critical and unappreciative man she was about to marry before being rescued by Tully's funny, free living, best friend. 

Walt Spangler created a beautiful sparkling set full of water and sunny blue skies. The only thing I wanted to see more of in this wonderful, constantly changing island paradise set was palm trees and green. But this already winter-weary Chicago audience was delighted by the many hues of clear blue water, colorfully lit Tiki Huts and cloudless skies, nonetheless. 

The lesser known, but deeply touching Buffett songs “We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About”, “Love and Luck”, “He Went to Paris” and “License to Chill” were used to nice effect to deepen and round out the overall feelgood, life's a party feeling of the show, especially when the audience realizes even the seemingly shallow Tully understands there is something very important missing from his idyllic island lifestyle when he meets Rachel and finally feels true love for the first time. 

Opening night attendees were treated to a real Buffett experience when Jimmy joined the cast for the show’s final few numbers.

After the show I got to speak with Buffett and his fans a little more in depth at the Maragaritaville-themed after party. We laughed again at my own "work, work, work" uptightness even as Jimmy apologized profusely for having to take notes on his phone during the show and he asked me if I noticed his mature adult fans gleefully swaying and dancing in their seats. 

I DID come to the realization after talking with Parrotheads from twenty to eighty-years-old at the party, that although I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, I had no idea how vast and successful the Jimmy Buffett brand has become and stayed over past decades. I really got a sense of how happily devoted his fans are to him as a musical artist and his never give up - do it yourself lifestyle guru, if you will.  

I know the play needs to move along and stay fictional to a degree, but I would have loved to have seen a few scenes about Buffett's real-life tales of trying and failing at a music career in NY and Los Angeles. Those years of being rejected while trying to find his niche which caused him to say, "Screw You" to record execs and move his whole life to the "the farthest key in Florida", finally building his own internationally loved and recognized brand in true maverick style with his own fans from Key West. These true tales of overcoming small-minded criticisms and his so-called failures along the way are so inspirational I wish they had been addressed in this production. 

Since there is still time to tweak this fun-tastic production before it moves on to Broadway and on tour, I have to say I agree with other reviewers who were put off by the dance numbers by the dead insurance salespeople, the "LSD flashbacks" dreamt up by Tully's sidekick during stressful moments. The choreography in these dance numbers was great but the creepy, scary, gray and white ash covered insurance salespeople (whom he was told died in a volcanic eruption on the island) would have been better spent on dance numbers for the main cast members or more of the bikini and swimsuit clad vacationers to keep the fun, psychedelic friendly mood coming without interruption. 

Loved it. I highly recommend this fun loving, musically delightful production to remind everyone to SLOW DOWN, and stop towing the line at "work, work, work!" thereby letting their dreams of love and romance die a slow, painful death. Buffett's philosophy of living and acting spontaneously reminds the audience in a wonderful way that life changing chances at love (like the one when he met his wife) come and go which might never come again. 

Once I realized I was seated next to Jimmy Buffett himself during the show, I couldn't help noticing the touching way he sang along quietly to himself with his own music, these are his babies after all, and the foundation of a hugely successful $500 million dollar plus industry of restaurants, vacation cruises and music, etc., that his devoutly loyal fans, the Parrotheads, have enjoyed for thirty years. As I watched Jimmy Buffett's fans dance around their "leader in paradise" at the after party and the screams of laughter and joy during the show as beach balls came raining down on them from above, I became certain that they will continue to honor Buffet's legacy and frequent his now very real "Margaritaville" for the rest of their lives. 

Escape to Margaritaville is being performed at Oriental Theatre through December 2nd. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

It only takes a few moments into Lizzie’s opening number that audience members realize they are in for quite the unusual theatre experience. Haunting, yet beautiful, the creepiness quickly sets in as Lizzie’s four Victorian-clad characters solemnly sing the tale of the infamous Lizzie Borden who was accused of butchering her father and stepmother in August of 1892.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Based on true accounts of the double murder that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, the grim tale reimagined by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner is told by Lizzie, her sister Emma, her neighbor Alice and the family’s maid, Bridget. Presented by Firebrand Theatre, whose claim is that of being the first feminist musical theatre company, Lizzie is a detailed account of the legendary crime that is one of the most talked about grisly murders in our Nation’s history.

Firebrand hits a homerun with their first ever production by delivering a deliciously enticing story that engrosses from beginning to end thanks to its strong acting performances and punchy soundtrack that is both powerful and, when called for, dreamlike.

The play offers great insight to Lizzie herself and speculates the heinous crime may have been prodded by the home’s maid while also suggesting she may have been lovers with her neighbor Alice. Liz Chidester is Lizzie Borden and dominates in the role. Chidester so well captures the essence of a girl who loses her grip on reality after years of being abused by her father and is subjected to a newly introduced stepmother who has manipulated her way into inheriting the family wealth.

Ingeniously directed by Victoria Bussert, Lizzie is stacked with commanding performances. Leah Davis fiercely takes the reigns as the mischievous housemaid Bridget, injecting well-timed humor and velvety smooth vocals that make her character a powerhouse. Camille Robinson as Emma and Jacquelyne Jones as Alice round out what makes for an excellent cast. Our four characters deliver amazing vocal performances, each as unique as the other while smartly straying from the standard Broadway-esque sounds we are used to hearing in so many big musicals. No. These women truly rock. 

Instead we get a conceptual rock concert. Hypnotic, sexy and plot-rich, Lizzie is presented by a female-fronted rock group heading a talented band that sits rear stage. As engrossing as the music is the show’s often pithy dialogue exchanges, it’s costumes and creative effects (hint - ponchos are available for those who choose to sit in the first row).

Lizzie is a fun show that has it all – murder, treachery, sex and scorching music.

It is with high recommendation that I urge theatre lovers to see the story of Lizzie Borden that is presented in the most imaginative way. If such a brilliantly inventive production such as Lizzie is an example of what Firebrand has in store for theatre goers in the future, we can only look forward to what the young theatre company will bring us next time around.

Lizzie is being performed at The Den Theatre through December 17th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firebrandtheatre.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s that magical time of the year when The House Theatre of Chicago brings the inhabitants of Clara’s toy box back to life in their annual all-original The Nutcracker. For the eight’s straight year this exciting Christmas tale brings the spirit of Christmas to the Chopin theatre in Ukrainian village. The production of The Nutcracker originally premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 under the Visiting Company Initiative and has been produced at The House every year since 2010. The House Theatre is well known for its playful approach to classic tales, and The Nutcracker is one of its best examples. Loosely based on the story by E.T.A Hoffmann, it has the traditional elements of the original story, only with a few major changes. In House’s ballet-free version Clara’s family learns that Fritz, their beloved son and brother who is a soldier, had been killed and won’t be coming home for Christmas. Darkness descends on the family and in their grief, they stop paying attention to each other not to mention forget all about Christmas. It’s when Clara’s favorite Uncle Drosselmeyer shows up the following Christmas with a new hand-made Nutcracker toy for Clara that looks exactly like Fritz, is when the family’s wound starts to heal. The cornucopia of fun characters includes a couple of Scary Rats with British accents, giant puppets and much more.

If seeing another Nutcracker seems like a tired proposition during the holiday season, wait till you experience this. Witty dialogue, skilled puppetry, live music, singing and dancing - creators Tommy Rapley, Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich and Kevin O’Donnell really packed the show with action. There’s even a great mini orchestra consisting of piano, cello, French horn, violin and percussion (under music director Matthew Muniz) seated by the back wall and providing live score during the show. Superb original choreography by Tommy Rapley and Hillary Aarons makes all that seemingly chaotic running through the stage and numerous lightning fast scene changes completely effortless.

Talented cast includes a very young newcomer this year: Haley Seda is excellent as Clara, and her beautiful singing voice is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the show. Returning cast members - Rachel Shapiri as Phoebe, Desmond Gray as Fritz, Torrey Hanson as Drosselmeyer, Amanda de la Guardia as Martha, Nicholas Bailey as David and Ian Maryfield as Monkey all make the show pure magic.
Whether or not a Christmas show is on your list this holiday season, The House’s The Nutcracker will not disappoint; it’s lively yet intimate, wise yet playful, and you might want to bring your out of town guests with you (both adults and children) to brag about Chicago’s lively theatre scene. Because the magic is real!

The Nutcracker is being performed at Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park through December 30th. For more information visit www.thehousetheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

The current production of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theater left me breathless! With book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, the newly updated and improved 42nd Street blends different periods of dance from the sixties to the present including some of the best tap dancers (don't call them hoofers) I have seen assembled for one show. 

Telling the age-old fantasy of Broadway performers everywhere as newcomer to New York, Peggy Sawyer, gets her chance at stardom and saving the show when the star falls during rehearsals and breaks her ankle. But this version is sympathetic to both the aging star, Suzzanne Douglas as Dorothy Brock, who has worked a long time and entertained the advances of a sexist producer just to finally have her stage time. Douglas has a beautiful rich, soulful singing voice and is very beautiful in this role. 

Kimberly Immanuel as Peggy Sawyer is also seen more realistically as a starving artist who just wants a break instead of a conniving backstabber out to hurt the leading lady. She is cute and unassuming as the newcomer who really has flying feet. Immanuel does a great job staying likable in her singing and acting and then dazzles the audience with some "out of this world" tap dancing which truly pleases the ears and eyes.  

Gene Weygandt as Julian Marsh, a Broadway director with the power to make stars and break them, also turns in a lovely performance with top-notch vocals, which make the character of Marsh more concerned with the dream world of Broadway life and less scary and sexist than I have seen director portrayals in other productions. 

This spectacularly energetic, colorful and sparkly, yes sparkly, production is directed artfully by Michael Heitzman, with choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Roberta Duchak, scenic design by Collette Pollard, costume design by Emilio Sosa, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Ray Nardelli, and music arrangements by Everett Bradley.

The set and lighting changes and costume design really do satisfy Chicago audiences’ need to see productions that dazzle just as much as the run on Broadway on every level and leaves the audience energized and happy to have seen this show. 

I want to name the other stars and the ensemble because every single character was fully drawn in this wonderful production with Phillip Attmore as Billy Lawler, Justin Brill as Bert Barry, Donica Lynn as Maggie Jones, Brandon Springman as Pat/Ensemble, Cedric Young as Abner Dillon, Erica Evans as Andy Lee/Ensemble, and Sierra Schnack as Annie/Ensemble. The cast also includes Bret Tuomi, Time Brickey, Lamont Brown, Tristan Bruns, Joe Capstick, Joel Chambers, Andrea Collier, Gabriela Delano, Annie Jo Ermel, Rachel Marie LaPorte, Mandy Modic, Thomas Ortiz, Allie Pizzo, Marisa Reigle, Anthony Sullivan Jr., and Davon Suttles.

Full of fun hits such as “We’re in the Money”, this is a show that doesn’t stop. One of the most memorable scenes I have ever witnessed is a highly complex, mind blowingly and highly difficult six person tap piece that eventually turns into a full cast number worthy of anything I have seen in Broadway productions or at larger theaters in downtown Chicago or New York.

I highly recommend this run of 42nd Street at The Drury Lane for an exciting, feel good, upbeat Holiday spectacle about the joy of showbiz as we used to all envision it unfolding for a young star in the making. 

42nd Street is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through January 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Saturday, 11 November 2017 06:28

"This Wonderful Life" is just that - wonderful

Most of us have seen Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at some point in their lives. Whether a Holiday tradition or by happenstance as television stations run their yearly marathons, there’s a very good chance you have experienced the heartfelt 1946 film classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. We have since seen many stage adaptations, from live radio broadcasts to large scale productions. In American Blues Theater’s “This Wonderful Life” written by Steve Murray we get an entirely different spin on this definitive piece of Americana as American Blues founding member James Leaming boldly takes on each character in the film himself in this brilliant one-man show.

For the small percentile of those who are not familiar with “It’s A Wonderful Life”, the story revolves around George Bailey during the late 1930’s through early 1940’s, taking place in the small town of Bedford Falls. The evil Mr. Potter runs the biggest bank in town and has most of its residents and small business owners in the palm of his hand. The only person to stand in his way is Pa Bailey, George’s father, who runs a small building and loans company where people can obtain funds for housing without paying exorbitant interest to Potter. George has high expectations for himself and plans to see the world while working for National Geographic once he finishes high school. After his stint around the world, George would return for college and proceed to live to his fullest potential. George’s life then takes another turn for the better when he meets Mary, his true soul mate. Though his father wants George to take over the building and loans one day, George is adamant that he wants to pursue bigger things and rejects the offer.

All is well for George until his father dies, leaving the building in loans in a state of flux. George agrees to take over temporarily, but soon finds he is needed permanently much to his chagrin. Married to Mary with a handful of kids, life is still fulfilling for George until the bank calls a loan and the money is missing. Instantly put into state of desperation, George comes to the realization that he is better off dead than alive after summing up his life to the worth of a life insurance policy. It is then that Clarence, an angel from Heaven, is sent down to help George get back on track. George wishes he was never born and Clarence grants that wish showing George what life would be without him in Bedford Falls. George is shown the positive affect that he has had on so many people, eventually seeing that he had a pretty wonderful life after all. It becomes a Christmas to remember when George's friends rally to his aid.

So that’s the gist of it.

It is a story over humanity overcoming hopelessness, a story of giving and the importance of friends. After all, as Clarence says, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

In “This Wonderful Life” James Leaming is nothing short of brilliant as he retells the famous classic, acting out each character from beginning to end. Throughout, Murray’s script adds a healthy pinch of additional humor that takes occasional jabs of the film in a fun-loving way. With a handful of very creative props and a backdrop that displays images of the story, Leaming is able to successfully pull off each character he tackles (especially his Mr. Potter and George Bailey) to give the audience a cohesive, engaging and highly entertaining theatre experience. Leaming’s ability to shift from character to character so effortlessly and so convincingly is a testament to his fine acting skills. Whereas one moment he seemingly channels the deep seeded bitterness and craftiness of Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter, his ability to so quickly change gears to become the warm, likeable George Bailey or scatter-brained Uncle Billy is simply impressive.

This play is Jeff Recommended for good reason as Leaming’s performance is something to behold. Whether you’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” via film or stage, it is unlikely you’ve seen a unique version such as this.

Skillfully directed by Carmen Roman, “This Wonderful Life” is highly recommended as a holiday treat the whole family can enjoy.

“This Wonderful Life” is being performed at The Edge Theater (5451 N Broadway) in Edgewater and is running through November 26th. For more show information visit www.americanbluestheater.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Here comes the feel-good show that both adults and kids will enjoy. Based on the 2003 movie by the same name starring Jack Black, School of Rock-The Musical is featuring music from the movie, as well as an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater.

If you have not seen the movie (shame on you), here’s the basic plot: Dewey Finn, a desperately broke musician who lives on his best friend’s couch, gets an opportunity to pose as a substitute teacher at a posh $50,000/year tuition prep school, where well-to-do kids aim for “Harvard, or at least Cornell”. Unbeknownst to the school staff or the parents, Dewey jump-starts kids’ rebellious stage by organizing his class into a band and teaching them to play rock instead of learning math and history. In the process he builds kids’ self-esteem, gets them to forget about the troubles at home (yep, rich kids have problems too), and turns them into rock stars. Dewey falls in love with a beautiful, albeit uptight, school principal and gets her to reconnect with her inner rocker chick, and the parents change their minds on education.

Multitalented cast includes Broadway veterans Rob Coletti who is absolutely fabulous as Dewey, Lexie Dorsett Sharp (a cartoonishly entertaining Rosalie), very capable Matt Bittner as Ned, and Emily Borromeo (as hilariously played Patty), to name just a few. A slew of adorable, not to mention quite accomplished, kids will melt your heart and win you over without even trying. Ava Brigliawho, who plays Summer, already has a few shows under her belt (Matilda the Musical, and Gypsy), and Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (Freddy, a New-York native, had been named “Musician of the year 2017” by the Boys Club of NYC; he plays drums (in the show), as well as piano, bass, xylophone and percussion. For most of the remaining young actors, School of Rock – The Musical is their debut. These kids are so cool, and they play their instruments live in every show!

This high energy production is moved along by the dynamic ever-changing set (scenic and costume design by Anna Louizos, lighting design by Natasha Katz) that moves seamlessly between Dewey’s apartment, school’s different rooms and the rock band stage. Great music hits are born in the kids’ classroom, and everyone wants to jump up and down to “Stick It To The Man”.

School of Rock- The Musical premiered on December 2015, and was nominated for four 2016 Tony awards, including Best Musical, Best score (Lloyd Webber and Slater), best Book (Fellowes). It also won the 2017 Oliver award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.

School of Rock – The Musical will play at the beautiful Cadillac Palace Theatre for a limited three-week engagement November 1-19, 2017. For more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Newsies, the Disney film from 1992 by Alan Menken (whose run around the same time of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin I’d put up against the work of any songwriter, on tape, on film, or on stage), was one I saw back when it hit VHS. But I don’t remember it too well. At least not the story. So, having not yet seen the Broadway adaptation of Newsies, I was curious to see if the Marriott Theatre’s production made more of an impression. And boy, did it ever.

The story’s still nothing that’ll make the “papes” (that’s what newsies call those inky, stinky things that used to provide the daily headlines), but I quickly realized we weren’t there for story. We were there for spectacle. And boy, did this production deliver.

In the round, the set is dominated by three steel girders that move to change the feel and figure depending on the needed background, but mostly harken back to turn-of-the-century NYC (partying like it’s 1899, not 1999), a city that’s growing and figuring it all out. So, too, are the newsies of the title, a pack of newspaper delivery boys of all shapes and shades and sizes, but who’ve got one thing in common – servitude to the media titans of the day. The story – one of standing up to the wealthy bullies who run things – is inspiring and as apt today as it was over a century ago, even if it doesn’t hold up to the spectacle. So let’s get to that spectacle!

Patrick Rooney as principal paperboy Jack Kelly works well as the lead. He’s got old-timey leading man looks and allure – “pizazz” they probably would’ve called it back in ‘99. And he’s got pipes, too, really letting loose on Menken’s “Santa Fe” to close the first act.

Jack’s fellow newsies have pizazz from the Bronx to Brooklyn, too. Athletes, all, they leap and bound, frolic and flip all across the square stage, charming the audience on all sides with spot-on choreography. Nick Graffagna as Davey looks and talks the part of a lad of that era, and Garrett Lutz’s bushy-haired Irishman does, too. Laura Savage and Adrienne Storrs as two newsgirls provide even more spunk and theater talent to the gang. And when the newsies storm the simple stage for ensemble numbers like “Seize the Day” and “King of New York” they make Lincolnshire’s modest forum seem simply metropolitan.

But from the get-go, the newsie who stands the tallest is young Matthew Uzarraga. As Crutchie, a disabled orphan armed with his namesake walking stick, Uzarraga first shows his skills when he joins Jack in harmony on an early take of “Santa Fe” – I’m a sucker for spot-on harmonizing, one of the things that’s hardest to do as a vocalist and when done right gives the listener goosebumps – giving me the chills. And throughout the show, Uzarraga’s crippled but plucky street urchin steals the stage whenever he’s on it, hobbling along happily and even bubbly and bright when consigned to a poorhouse bed.

My teen daughter, who accompanied me to the Marriott and who did catch the traveling cast of Newsies at the downtown Cadillac Theater a couple years back, said she enjoyed this production even more – delighted at seeing the footwork and old-timey fashions up close. So, too, did the rest of the audience – old and young, alike. So if it’s a story you’re looking for, I’ll tell you right now, Newsies is pretty much Annie, but with Worlds and Suns and Tribs instead of mops and buckets and baldheaded tycoons. But if it’s a show, a spectacle, you wanna see, then head to Lincolnshire for the Marriott’s production of Newsies, and pony up for the pomps and papes they’re sellin’!

For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

“I’ve always favored unbridled passions,” sings Wotan in the Lyric Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walküre” This is the second installment in Wagner’s epic 4-opera cycle “Das Rheingold” Lyric produced the first opera last season and will sequentially include the next two operas in their forthcoming seasons. In 2020, there will be a special presentation of all four productions.

Five hours is a long time to spend in a theater. Wagner is especially challenging for those not particularly versed in classical music. That said, this gorgeous production by David Pountney is well worth the time. If you’re wondering if you needed to see the first opera to understand the second, you absolutely do not. “Die Walküre” is a standalone with a clear conclusion. Most will at least be familiar with “The Ride of the Valkyries”

“Die Walküre” is sung entirely in German with projected subtitles. Try to imagine a time in which there were no subtitles. The plot is very weird, perhaps it was best to only assume what’s going on. Essentially, this is an opera about incest and that seems pretty racy for its 1870 premiere. The music is incredible though, which likely contributed to its cannon status.

The first act is surely what to come for, coincidentally it’s also the shortest. In the first act we meet the incestuous lovers Siegmund (Brandon Jovanovich) and Sieglund (Elisabet Strid). Siegmund rescues Sieglund from an unhappy marriage and wards off her husband with a magical sword only he’s able to pluck from a tree stump. He then impregnates his sister wife, despite that they know they’re related. Insert shrug emoji here. Staging in the first act is pretty sexual for a 19th Century opera. Siegmund’s sword is an obvious phallic symbol and Pountney’s blocking leaves little to the imagination. The blatant eroticism helps spice up the melodrama.

Logically, this affair angers the gods and they send favored Valkyrie Brünnhilde to kill Siegmund. Reknown soprano Christine Goerke reprises the role of Brünnhilde, which she’s previously sung for a few other companies. For those unfamiliar with this opera, it would seem like a bit of a surprise that the story really ends up being about Brünnhilde and her relationship with her father Wotan (Eric Owens). The two shine together in the final act, despite the nearly agonizing repetition of dialogue.

This is an exciting and beautiful production. The aesthetic is almost like an old movie set. The horses upon which the Valkyries fly are hand operated by the ensemble. It makes you wonder, how did Wagner envision this special effect at the time he wrote it? Each scene is darkly lit and costumes are trimmed in red. The time period seems to be undecided as costumes appear to span the decades.

With only seven performances, this special production is a must-see for local opera enthusiasts. For those unfamiliar with opera, attend without trepidation. The production may run just a little under five hours (with two 30-minute intermissions), but the evening seems to fly by.

Through November 30th at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 20 N Wacker Drive. 312-332-2244

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 01 November 2017 17:37

Yasmina's Necklace touches the heart

Playwright Rohina Malik and director Ann Filmer have reunited and have collaborated on something special. Goodman Theatre’s current run of Yasmina's Necklace is one of my favorite plays of 2017. Here's why. 

In Yasmina’s Necklace, we are treated to a uniquely told love story that is as moving as it is thoughtful. It is funny, and it is beautifully staged. A story this wonderfully crafted and so well acted that delivers such a poignant message only comes around so often.

Yasmina and her father, Musa, are refugees from Iraq and they meet an upper middle-class family in Chicago who are looking for a wife for their divorced son Sam. We are reminded that it is very common in the Muslim faith to have an arranged marriage, prompting one of my favorite lines from the play, "real love comes after marriage, not before." 

Sam, played to perfection by Michael Perez, had moved away from the Islamic faith and married a non-Muslim American. He talks a bit about the challenges he had after the marriage and the many medications he had to be on due to his infidelity. Yet he strives for all things you would see in someone who is first generation like acclimating to the Western culture by changing his name, as well as pushing himself in his career. 

The true magic happens in the connection Sam makes with Yasmina, who is wonderfully played by Susaan Jamshidi, but the two didn't start off so smoothly. Yasmina is a thirty-four-year-old woman who is empowered, self-aware, an artist. This is not a common perspective you see of Muslim woman and I loved how Yasmina pushed back on what she wanted and strived to help others not only in Baghdad but also in Chicago. 

What drew me to the play immediately was the simplicity and peace shown around the Islamic faith. In today's society, I believe this is the most misunderstood religion even with close to two billion followers globally. The journey Yasmina and her father made to the United States from war torn Baghdad was something no human should ever experience. War is ugly, cruel, and unjust. The play is able to highlight the challenges of being a refugee and painted a vividly raw picture of what they went through. 

You have a bit of everything in this play that I could go on and on about but want you to experience for yourself. All the ingredients are in place for a thoroughly engaging production that will touch your heart, make you laugh and is sure to enlighten. I highly recommend Yasmina's Necklace.

Yasmina’s Necklace is being performed at the Goodman's Theatre through November 19th. Tickets range from $10-40. Yasmina’s Necklace has an approximate running time of two hours including one intermission. Oh, there is a special surprise at the closing for all the Bruce Springsteen fans out there. 

For more show information visit www.goodmantheatre.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Page 1 of 21

 

 

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