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This past week I found myself in a movie theater with reclining seats, an overpriced large popcorn, and a two liter cup of soda all to myself. The movie was awful, but the audience more than made up for the bad comedy. With contagious laughter and witty one-liners, the audience of closet suburban comedians turned the otherwise flat movie into a Second City stage. Sometimes the audience is more entertaining than the scheduled entertainment; that was definitely the case as I ventured out with my 3-year-old-daughter to see SLEEPING BEAUTY at The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences.

SLEEPING BEAUTY is Marc Robin's musical adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale with some variations. In a kingdom far away, the vengeful sorceress Magenta has placed a wicked curse on the beautiful Princess Amber and only a true love's kiss can unlock the spell and wake her before it is too late. Prince Hunter must battle dragons, scale mountains, and sail the dark sea to save Princess Amber. Will his journey allow him to make it in time to prove his love to his Sleeping Beauty? This captivating fairy tale creates excitement and thrill for its audience as they root for Prince Hunter and the fate of the beautiful princess!

The play was performed with the over-the-top, flamboyant, campy type of performances that can only be found in children’s theaters. Bouncing excitedly in their seats toddlers watched with wide eyes, captivated by the colorful characters and silly antics of the cast. When the cast called on the audience to help Prince Hunter, played by Garrett Lutz, or to reassure Magenta, played by Meghan Murphy, the children responded faster than they answer their parents with a sense of urgency and enthusiasm only seen before bed times. Girls and boys dressed in princess dresses, waving at fairies and hiding in fear from the dragon. They sat on their feet and stood on their seats, craning their little necks to get better looks at their favorite characters on the stage. Rare moments of silence were punctuated with adorable high-pitched “whispers” of reassurance that princess Amber was “just sleeping;” big sisters calming worried younger siblings. With such pure happiness emanating from the seats around us, it was easy to overlook the many issues with the fairy tale narrative (like how a sixteen year old girl gets married after a single kiss or that a princess who is given courage and strength from her fairies is still not smart enough to stay away from a spinning wheel). But fairy tales often impart simple wisdom to impressionable audiences, and as they get swept up in the magic and majesty of the performance it is easy to look past our adult cynicism and just enjoy the show with childlike wonder.

SLEEPING BEAUTY runs on most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m. with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. Visit MarriottTheatre.com or call 847.634.0200 for exact schedule, as show times and dates may vary. Single ticket prices are $17.23 per person. Groups of 20 or more receive a discount by calling 847.634.5909. Free parking is available at all shows. To reserve tickets, call the Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com<http://www.MarriottTheatre.com>.

Published in Theatre Reviews

The first time I went to the opera was in elementary school to see La Triviata. It was a school sponsored field trip that took kids to Los Angeles to see the opera, the symphony, museums, and the ballet, exposing them to the arts at an early age. Though I had no idea what was being said, or what I was really watching, I loved it, and not just because I wasn’t in class on a school day. The orchestra, the singers, the theater itself, it was all so grand for a child. Though I didn’t have the same reaction to the Lyric Opera on Friday, it was nonetheless that childhood experience that helped to shape my appreciation and love for the opera.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2017 season with Orphée et Eurydice. The plot centers on Orphée (Dmitry Korchak), whose singing was so beautiful that it could charm the fierce guardians of the Underworld. Encouraged by the god of love, Amour (Lauren Snouffer), Orphée travels to Hades to bring his dead wife, Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman), back to earth. This opera was a powerhouse of talent with 60 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, 47 members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, and 43 dancers of The Joffrey Ballet all working to put on this production; not to mention the ushers, the ticket agents, the janitors, and more, just to stage this opera with a run time of a little more than 2 hours.

There wasn’t much to this opera lyric-wise. There are many repetitious lines to accompany the score, but very little substance despite being such an enthralling mythological story line. What made this opera worth seeing was the Joffrey Ballet. Their performance was one of the best I have seen from the company. They added movement and beauty to the opera, bringing visual clarity to the mythical worlds of Hades and Elysium. Overall, it was a spectacular engagement of the fine arts. A performance that should be enjoyed by the masses.

Unfortunately, the opera is inherently old and doesn’t attract the masses. It’s target audience is old. The theater it performs in is old. The Lyric Opera is currently fundraising in order to renovate its theater, but it hasn’t had much luck. Tickets prices are exorbitant and the people who can afford to go are old. Like any passing of the guard, the opera needs to focus on reaching out to the next generation of opera-lovers, otherwise their primary patrons will be gone within the next decade or so with few people left to appreciate, or afford, the opera. And that’s why exposure at a young age is so vital. You’ll be hard pressed to find many millennials who say “I love the opera” or even “I’m going to the opera!” Just in my immediate circle of friends and co-workers, very few people had even seen the opera. What the Lyrics Opera should do is work with local school districts; bus kids in from all area of the city and the surrounding area to see performances throughout their season. They should offer discount nights in order to attract new audiences, or play the show live in the park for discounted tickets or free; anything to increase opera’s fan base and expose the art to different audiences the most important of those being youths. I was lucky as a child to have had the opportunity to see the opera, and I’ve been lucky to have gotten to see shows as an adult. I only hope the Lyric Opera of Chicago does community outreach like this, or increases its outreach or I fear, like Eurydice, it will die, only there might not be an Orphée around to save it.

Remaining performance dates for Orphée et Eurydice are Oct. 12th and 15th at 2pm. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org/orphee.

Published in Theatre Reviews
Friday, 26 May 2017 03:55

Review: Strawdog's "The Night Season"

A small theatre resides on the most unlikely of streets in Chicago. Just steps from the Howard Red Line stop sits the Factory theatre, with only fifty seats in its small storefront property, this little powerhouse has produced original work for nearly 25 years. Adding to its catalog of work is The Night Season by Rebecca Lenkiewwicz and currently performed by the cast of the Strawdog Theatre Company.

When the tiny, seaside hometown of W.B. Yeats gets occupied by an English film crew making his biopic, the Kennedy's figure giving lodging to the lead actor will put a few extra coins in their pockets. They do get plenty of change, and not just Euros, as the family's three sisters and their delusional grandmother all decide it's time to stop letting life pass them by. The mother who ran away, the father who can barely leave the house, a big pile of pent-up desire, it all gets confronted in this skewed romantic comedy.

At times, The Night Season relies too heavily on stereotypes; the drunk Irish father, the senile old grandmother, the romance between a sister and the visiting actor. But one can overlook these unoriginal plot points for witty one liners expertly delivered by the superb cast of Strawdog. Two performers in particular carried the show and commanded attention whenever they were on stage, particularly together. The grandmother, Lily, played by Janice O’Neill, and the middle daughter Rose, played by Michaela Petro. These two characters epitomized the central theme of the play, that they cannot let life pass them by. Both literally and figuratively embrace the English actor played by John Eastman and it becomes clear that Lily and Rose are mirror images of one another, separated by generations but seeing themselves in each other. Both share the same blunt, crass, forceful passion for life and love, and it is through the actor that they discover their similarities and deep understandings of what each woman wants and needs in their lives. Were the play to focus solely on these two characters it would have made for an even better theatre experience.

Overall, The Night Season is funny, honest, and holds its own amidst the incredible theatre in Chicago. The cast of Strawdog Theatre Company is well worth the CTA ride to Roger’s Park to see their plays at Factory Theater. Before Spring leads to Summer, see The Night Season this season. The Night Season runs through June 24th at Factory Theater. Tickets and more can be found at www.thefactorytheater.com.

 

 

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