Dance in Review

Writers Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma, concludes its 2016/17 season with the musical Parade, with book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, co-conceived by Harold Prince.  The Writers Theatre production of Parade is directed by Gary Griffin and features musical direction by Michael Mahler and choreography by Ericka Mac.  Parade runs May 24 – July 2, 2017 in the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. 

 

This stirring, Tony Award-winning musical explores the endurance of love and hope against seemingly insurmountable odds, telling the true story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jewish man falsely accused of murder in 1913 Atlanta. Innovative and daring, and filled with soaring music, Parade is a moving love story, a riveting murder mystery, a gripping courtroom drama and a powerful exploration of innocence and naïveté coming face-to-face with ignorance and prejudice.

 

Acclaimed director Gary Griffin, who directed the original Broadway production of Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas and the world premiere of his The Trumpet of the Swan at the Kennedy Center, stages an intimate revival of this celebrated musical. With a book by playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and a score by Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County) that combines folk, rock, R&B and gospel, Parade ends WT’s 25th Anniversary Season with spectacular impact.

 

“I had the pleasure of being directed by Gary in a Writers Theatre production of Joe Orton's Loot. He is one of my favorite directors and one of my closest friends, and it is a privilege to be in collaboration with him again,” said Artistic Director Michael Halberstam.  “I have enjoyed many, many years of conversation with him over copious glasses of wine discussing masterwork musicals and how best to make them work. I cannot express how happy I am then to be working on supporting Gary’s vision for Parade, a musical that has suddenly become disturbingly relevant given the deeply unsettling swell of anti-semitism.  The Anti-Defamation League recently announced that cases of anti-semitism have spiked 86% in the first quarter of this year, proving the old adage that ‘the more things change the more they stay the same.’

 

“Gary has assembled a first-rate cast with breathtaking vocal prowess and a first-rate design team to create the world in which they bring Mr. Brown and Mr. Uhry’s bravura masterwork to life.  Parade is a fully cohesive musical voyage into the triumph of love and the dangers of what can happen when the fires of hatred are irresponsibly stoked within an unhappy and angry populace. Musically, it defies simple definition while maintaining accessibility and a deep emotional core. It is a fitting way to close the season and it passes a symbolic baton to Trevor, a brand new musical which opens next season and strikes open a whole new adventure of its own.”

 

The cast of Parade includes: Larry Adams (Old Soldier/Judge Roan/Ensemble), Patrick Andrews (Leo Frank), Brianna Borger (Lucille Frank), Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (Jim Conley), McKinley Carter (Mrs. Phagan/Sally Slaton), Devin DeSantis (Britt Craig/Young Soldier/Ensemble), Kevin Gudahl (Hugh Dorsey/Ensemble), Derek Hasenstab (Governor John Slaton/Ensemble), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Minola "Minnie" McKnight/Angela), Caroline Heffernan (Mary Phagan/Essie/Ensemble), Zoe Nadal (Monteen/Ensemble),Jake Nicholson (Frankie Epps/Ensemble), Jeff Parker (Tom Watson/Ensemble), Leryn Turlington (Iola Stover/Ensemble), andJonah D. Winston (Newt Lee/Riley).

 

The creative team includes: Matt Deitchman (Associate Music Director & Piano/Conductor), Scott Davis (Scenic Designer), Mara Blumenfeld(Costume Designer), Christine Binder (Lighting Designer), Ray Nardelli (Sound Designer) and Scott Dickens (Properties Master). Bobby Kennedy is the Dramaturg, David Castellanos is the Production Stage Manager and Nick Moran is the CFM Contractor.

 

Single tickets for Parade, priced $35 - $80, are available online at www.writerstheatre.org, by phone at 847-242-6000, or in person at the box office at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe.

 

PARADE On-stage Seating

For adventurous theatregoers who want to be part of the action, Writers Theatre is offering a limited number of special on-stage seats for every performance of Parade!

 

These special on-stage seats, reachable via curved staircases, will be on a raised platform at the back of the stage so that the audience will fully surround the action on stage. This exclusive vantage point provides audience members an immersive experience of Parade, as the area will be located near the orchestra and will also be used by actors during the performance…

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

PigPen’s “The Hunter and the Bear” is one of the best theatre productions of 2016. It’s really that simple. Staged at the state of the art, newly constructed, Writers Theatre in Glencoe, audience members are in for a unique experience that is as haunting as it is moving. The story follows a group of loggers that find themselves camping in a densely wooded area sometime in the mid-1800’s. It’s not long after a mysterious stranger arrives that unexplained occurrences begin to take place that leads to an unbelievable chain of events, affecting each the loggers, a hunter and a boy with a wild imagination. Exciting, suspenseful and often heartfelt, we are thrust into a ghost story like no other that not only explores the afterlife but also delves into the darkness in all of us.

Impressively staged within a striking set complete with flickering campfire light, “The Hunter and the Bear” uses very clever puppetry and shadow imaging to enhance the play’s powerful storytelling. Adding to its originality are the many extras that go a long way from the authenticity of each costume, and sound effects created solely by instrumentation. The story is intertwined with a handful of songs and backing music reminiscent of a hybrid folk and jug band sound. Each talented actor doubles as an equally talented musician forming quite the formidable band.

The production’s strong acting performances are many. Alex Falberg impresses as the fast-talking Prescott, who, as the boss of the operation, often throws caution to the side concerned mainly with his company’s bottom line. Tobias, whose emotional search for his son becomes a focal point, is very well played by Ben Ferguson who is convincing as the scared, anguished father. While Curtis Gillan (Pete), Matt Nuernberger (Bailey or “Sheriff”), Arya Shahi (John) and Dan Weschler (Lewis) all put forward notable performances, Ryan Melia stands out in his role as Elliot, Tobias’ son, masterfully working a puppet that portrays the boy. 

Moving at a perfect pace, the engaging story is not only memorable, thanks to its fine acting and its haunting music and lighting, it also raises many questions about life after death, giving hope that there is a path we can follow to a peaceful existence, but warning that some can be lost, needing a little nudge in the right direction, perhaps from the living. It is profoundly asked at one point if the dead guide the living or if it is the living who guides the dead. 

Pigpen Theatre Co. masterfully co-directs this enthralling campfire tale along with Stuart Carden. Says Artistic Director Michael Halberstam of PigPen’s return to Writers Theatre “The gifted gentlemen who make up PigPen Theatre Co. brought us a sense of energy and excitement the last time they were here in Glencoe, and we look forward to their signature style of storytelling in this new world premiere.” PigPen had performed in the theatre three years prior in their production “The Old Man and the Moon”. 

“The Hunter and the Bear” is a story that justly makes an impression on its audience getting help from creative team members Collette Pollard who presents to us an incredible visual as the Scenic Designer and Lydia Fine whose costumes and puppetry truly bring this gripping tale to life.

Highly recommended as one of the year’s best plays, “The Hunter and the Bear” is being performed at Writers Theatre through January 22nd. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.WritersTheatre.org.

Pigpen will also be performing a concert at The Old Town School of Folk Music on December 19th at 8pm. More information can be had at www.oldtownschool.org. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 24 June 2016 11:22

Review: Company at Writers Theatre

Imagine a 70s-era Woody Allen movie set to music. That's basically "Company" by Stephen Sondheim. It premiered in a time when many Broadway musicals were just collections of songs loosely connected by a simple plot. In 1970, Sondheim's "Company" challenged that formula by presenting a musical that was more book than music. The story is even less clear than a classic Broadway show. It's the story of Bobby, a bachelor living in New York City with mixed-up ideas about marriage. 

 

Though Bobby (Thom Miller) is the main character, "Company" is about the women in his life. Writers Theatre director William Brown has assembled a stellar cast of Chicago actresses. Each scene is a vignette in which Bobby learns about his friends' marriages. Blair Robertson as uptight Jenny is charmingly neurotic. Tiffany Scott playing urban Southern bell, Susan, and with costumes by Rachel Anne Healy, looks like a young Cybil Shepard. With distinct performances from the female ensemble, it's hard to pick out a favorite scene from the show, however Allison Hendrix singing "Getting Married Today" is a highlight. For Sondheim groupies, this is one of the show's most popular numbers but also its most challenging with a unique staccato rhyming scheme. Hendrix pulls it off, and makes the comedy relatable. Jess Godwin as April, is the show's last stop. Her portrayal of an awkward bachelorette is sure to make everyone laugh. 

 

"Company" concludes on the bittersweet song "Being Alive" and while Thom Miller's performance as Bobby is a little uneven throughout, he brings a lot to the cathartic final number. In one song, the musical goes from odd-ball romantic comedy to a philosophical question about the nature of long term love.

 

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is rightfully proud of their new space designed by Jeanne Gang. "Company" is presented as part of their Inaugural Season. The show, like the space is sleek, stylish and sexy. William Brown's production will likely be remembered as a definitive presentation of this not-often produced Sondheim classic. With more space, it’s nice to see a show at Writers with some breathing room. 

 

Through July 31st at Writers Theatre. 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. 847-242-6011.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

There is an expectation when one sees a play that they will be taken on a journey. Audiences want to get lost in a story line, lose all sense of time enjoy the escapism. When an audience is reminded that they are watching a play, however, and that play goes on seemingly for ages, it ceases to become escapism and becomes a classroom lecture. “Arcadia” is just such a play. Written by Tom Stoppard, it is not an easy play to describe in brief. It confusedly intertwines the past and present with multiple story lines following intellectual theories that verge on the point of being arrogant and difficult to grasp in a play like setting.

 

The play bounces between the early 1800's and the present day in a stately manor in England. At the core of play, the present day is trying to uncover what took place at the manor in the 1800's. In the past, a gifted 13-year-old girl, Thomasina, delves into deep theoretical analysis of higher mathematics and physics, jotting down her theories and equations, unknowingly for the future to see. Paralleling that story line is her tutor, Septimus, who cheats with the wife of a visiting poet while pinning for the master of the manor’s wife, and who was somehow-possibly-connected to the famous Romantic poet, Byron. Flash forward to the present day where an academic hopes to uncover if the tutor, Septimus, might have had some involvement with the death of that visiting poet, and that his possible connection to Byron might mean that Byron was involved in this death as well. But wait! There’s more! Paralleling that story line in the present day, one of the family members of the estate combs through old hunting logs and notes to see that the young girl, Thomasina might have been a genius on the brink of an intellectual breakthrough, and seeks to dive deeply into her notes to potentially uncover her genius and the work during her young and short life.

 

Underneath all of these story lines is the running theme of “Arcadia,” named for a pair of 17th century paintings that picture shepherds around a tomb with the words “Et in Arcadia ego” on it. The incorrect Latin phrase translates to “Here I am in Arcadia” but it’s more accurate translation is “Even in Arcadia, here I am” the “I” being death. Stoppard is quoted by his biographer as saying he “wanted the presence of death in the title.” Spoiler alert, death does happen and is one of the core subplots, a sort of “who-done-it,” but it is just another element to this complicated play. Another reach for the “intellectual stimulation.”

 

Cliff notes would have a tough time summarizing this play. The play has witty, smart, and biting dialogue, well delivered by an articulate and charismatic cast. But look away, or miss a line and you might miss an introduction to a key character, or their relation to the other characters, or their purpose of being in the play at all. If not for the clothing change and syntax you might get lost in which time period you are in. The audience is obligated to follow along with every line and process all the information rapidly in order to keep pace with this play. With a run time of 2 hour 55 minute and only a brief 15 minute intermission that is a tall order for an audience, and even tougher story to convey for the actors. But the new multi-million dollar Writer’s Theater wants just that, for the audience and actors to meet as one, to journey together and become fully immersed with the story. The immaculate theater is nestled in the cozy tree lined streets of downtown Glencoe, and will be a wonderful location for future high-quality theatrical productions on the North Shore.

 

Overall, “Arcadia” would be better as a novel, where a reader can pause to examine the characters, read internal monologues and gain an understanding of the characters’ motivations and thoughts. It would be easier to follow the time changes and carefully consider the many complex theories being presented and explored. I think the length of such a book would rival a Tolstoy novel, though nothing would be lost to the wings. A play that requires such rapt and intense concentration from an audience for such a long duration makes it unapproachable to someone looking to get lost in a story. Watching “Arcadia” audiences do get lost, but for all the wrong reasons. “Arcadia” runs through May 1st. Tickets are available at http://www.writerstheatre.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

The Diary of Anne Frank - Writers Theatre

According to legend, when Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich's Pulitzer Prize winning stage adaptation made its German premiere, audiences sat in a state of silent shock after the play ended. Nearly sixty years, countless productions, several films and hundreds of books about Anne Frank and the secret annex have made this story one of the most accessible pieces of Holocaust literature. In 1997, Wendy Kesselman adapted the original script for a Broadway revival that heightens intensity and includes more reference to the family's Jewish faith and to Anne's burgeoning sexuality.

Under the suburb direction of Kimberly Senior, Writers Theatre's production of Kesselman's "The Diary of Anne Frank" is as intimate as a story of this nature must be. Inventive staging immediately places the audience within the confines of the attic, fantastically designed by Jack Magaw. The Writers Theatre book store space is already intimate enough, but what Magaw has done to replicate the secret annex is nothing short of theatre magic. The tight quarters of this set paired with the vibrancy of the cast create an atmosphere in which emotional reaction is impossible to avoid.

What Senior extracts from her actors is a perfect storm of the best and the worst of humanity backed into a corner, in which the stakes really are life and death. Heidi Kettenring has the challenge of turning a mostly unlikeable character, Mrs. van Daan, into one of the show's strongest assets.  Kettenring balances warmth and tension in moments so electrifying that its current is contagious.

The title role is played by fourteen-year-old Sophie Thatcher who is the actual age of Anne Frank at the time of her internment. Thatcher plays the role with such surprising honesty and eloquence for an actress of her age. All her choices seem based on genuine instinct rather than what other historical documents tell us about the person Anne Frank was.

Despite the fact that everyone going into this play knows the tragic ending, and the unfortunate irony that Europe was liberated just a few months after their betrayal, it's easy to catch the show's infectious message of hope. The reason why this story lingers in our minds throughout the generations is its optimism. That no matter how dire the circumstances, faith in the good of people is what keeps the world in balance even when all seems lost.

The Diary of Anne Frank at Writers Theatre. 664 Vernon Ave, Glencoe. 847-242-6000. Through June 28th. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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