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Kendall Royzen

Kendall Royzen

I’ve never been to Havana, Cuba. I never even saw Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. But after seeing the world premiere of River North Dance Chicago and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s performance of “Havana Blue,” Havana is definitely a place that I would hop on a plane and visit in a heartbeat. I am of course basing this decision entirely upon the hope that everyone breaks out into expertly choreographed dances to express emotions and feelings for the city they reside in. Regardless, the premiere of “Havana Blue” was a wonderful and entertaining surprise.

Havana Blue 08 Photo by Cheryl Mann

“Havana Blue” was created and collaborated on by choreographer Frank Chaves and jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis. They traveled the streets of Cuba, immersing themselves into the culture, the nightlife, exploring the country’s musical routes. What they came back with was a beautiful ensemble that celebrates the life and exuberance that is Havana.

Entering the theater and the show, I was far from the most knowledgeable about Jazz or Cuban life and culture. Jazz lovers and dance lovers alike flocked to see “Havana Blue” to make it a nearly sold-out performance, a feat I had never seen at the Auditorium Theater. The crowd was energetic and lively, freely swaying back and forth to the music and even jumping up in the aisles to dance. Everyone in the audience, including my friend who accompanied me, knew when Orbert Davis said ‘Dizzy,’ knew to respond with ‘Gillespie.’ But I soon discovered, when the curtain went up and the music started to play, I didn’t need to know a great deal about the show, or jazz history, to appreciate the art forms performing in front of me.

Havana Blue 04 Photo by Cheryl Mann

The curtains rose to reveal a brass jazz band, the brass twinkling under the bright stage lights, set against a dark brick wall. It was an impressive sight, and just as visually stunning as the gorgeous dance pairs of River North Dance Chicago that opened the show, the women in flowing blue dresses, the men in sexy-tight pants and open shirts, muy caliente.

“Havana Blue” is comprised of a several sultry and powerful dance segments, each representing a mood that you could find in the life-pulse of the Cuban city. One of the more notable dances was “Solteras" ("Single Ladies"), which many found to be a sad(ish) dance in which one woman was not being coupled up to dance with male partners. But the solo woman did not dance with a dejected rhythm but a “que sera sera” style, retaining a sexiness and comfortableness with dancing alone. Indeed, the women shifted partners, each woman getting a chance to dance solo while the couples danced around them. As the “Solteras” danced, there were smiles on their faces, not longing. I viewed the dance as empowerment for women, not romantic yearning because they weren’t coupled up. The women danced in spite of not having a partner and danced beautifully and strong, not slumped and saddened. (Cue female empowerment music: 'All the solteras, all the solteras,' kidding). Shortly after that performance was another notable dance segment "Lo Masculino" ("The Masculine"). To sum up the performance in one word: steamy. The males of River North Dance Chicago performed shirtless to a powerhouse number filled with masculinity, sweaty six-pack abs, and moves that would have made Baryshnikov proud. It was the perfect blend of power and rhythm that really made "Havana Blue" pop and sizzle.

Havana Blue 05 Photo by Cheryl Mann

“Havana Blue” completely embodied the sensual, powerful, and allure of the Havana culture. The artistic direction of Frank Chaves with River North Dance Chicago and the artistic direction of Orbert Davis was a match made in the streets of Havana. These two men created a show that will surely be enjoyed for years to come. Should you see “Havana Blue” coming to a city near you, or to our very own Chicago again, be sure to samba your way to see this show, you will not be decepcionado.

The Raven theatre has never disappointed me. Their performances strike an emotional chord with their audiences and their actors are among the best I’ve seen in Chicago. On a rainy Monday night, A Soldier’s Play premiered with mixed reviews, but from my perspective, this play is timeless and one you shouldn't miss.

Soldiers play I

When Captain Davenport, a black man with Captain bars in a white man’s army, comes to a segregated WWII-era Louisiana base to investigate a murder, the interrogation of the soldiers uncovers a web of contempt, expectation, and hatred. The play tackles the tough subjects of racism within races in the heat of the deep south. The play was written by Charles Fuller and premiered Off-Broadway in 1981, less than 20 years after the Civil Rights Act passed and less than 40 years after the end of WWII. Through the interactions between white and black soldiers, and amongst the black soldiers themselves, you can cut the tension with a knife and Captain Davenport, wonderfully played by Frank Pete, tries to unravel the mystery of who murdered Sergeant Vernon C Waters, wonderfully played by Antoine Pierre Whitfield.

The story follows Captain Davenport onto the Army base. We know nothing of what transpired other than Sergeant Waters being shot, but through interviews with the Privates on the base and their flashbacks we begin to see the events that led to the murder of the Sergeant and the palpable hatred that flowed in his veins towards his own soldiers and his own race. Waters is in charge of a black unit which is also the baseball team. They are allowed to fight in the war, but demeaned into playing ball for their white peers and, when not on the baseball diamond, cleaning up after them. One of the most tense and trying scenes of the play is told in a flashback by Private James Wilkie (Bradford Stevens), in which Sergeant Waters recounts his time spent as a black soldier during WWI, and his venomous thoughts towards a "typical" black Private under his command. Waters hatred stems from his inability to understand why people of his own race refuse to want to better themselves by learning to read, write, or anything else that would help them compete with their wither "superiors".  The flashback makes your skin crawl and Whitfield does a superb job portraying the character, in fact you’d actually believe he had those feelings himself, but that, after all, is the craft of the actor.

Soldiers play II

Director Michael Menendian had quite a task on his hands. A Pulitzer Prize winning play, with an original cast that originally included Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Adolph Caesar, the feat to bring A Soldier’s Play to life at The Raven was no small task. But the director succeeded with an excellent cast, seamless set design, and impeccable blocking. Menendian really brought the WWII Army base to life. At times, we were so enthralled with the scene, that you would forget characters blacked out on stage, though they were the characters recounting the scenes we were watching. The fight scenes were so realistic, you’d forgotten it was just excellent fake stage combat. Much of that is written in the play already, but this cast and its Director brought a fresh energy to the performance.

A Soldier’s Play had quite the challenge: a rich play pedigree, sensitive material, a challenging emotional depth, but I believe it met that challenge, and most definitely earned its stripes. A Soldier’s Play is playing at The Raven Theater (6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60660) through March 30th. Enlist today and see this play while it lasts.

Soldiers play III

Inevitably, in every ballet review, you’ll find some keys words: genius, perfection, flawless. Throw in a few lines about choreography, music, and storyline and you’ve got yourself a puffed up piece that radiates with fabulosity about the performance. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can use any of those words or puffy pieces to describe the Joffrey ballet’s new American Legends.

Ballet enthusiasts and Joffrey loyalists will say American Legends is wonderful and they will recommend it to everyone they know. But if you see one ballet in your life, this should not be it. Most ballets have a single story told, or at the very least an underlying theme throughout the entire performance. It not only makes the performance easy to follow and understand, but it allows you to really enjoy the dancing.  American Legends did not offer any of these things.

Christine Rocas Alberto Velazquez Cara Marie Gary Lucas Segovia Kara Zimmerman John Mark Giragosian Amber Neumann Ricardo Santos

American Legends made its world premiere at the Auditorium Theatre on February 13th. The show was made up by four dance pieces each about 20-40 minutes in length: Interplay, Sea Shadow, Son of Chamber Symphony, and Nine Sinatra Songs. Interplay was the first ballet, and was an upbeat, West Side Story-like, playground romp. You could easily imagine Interplay as an interpretation of children playing at recess (if those kids were talented ballerinas). They even had a dance battle! The whole thing was fun, and best of all, it didn’t take itself too seriously (as some contemporary pieces can).

Victoria Jaiani Temur Suluashvili upcoming cast

Sea Shadows was the best piece of the night, and could be enjoyable as a full length ballet. It was a duet which told the story of a man on a beach falling in love with a sea nymph. The ballet screamed sex, and the performers did an incredible job. But it ended about as soon as it started, much to the chagrin of some of the males in the audience. What followed after the intermission made me wish I had simply left.  Son of Chamber Symphony was an ultra-modern contemporary piece that had no storyline, no purpose. If it were a piece of art it would be a solid black canvas; trying so hard to be deep and meaningful, but falling just shy. The ballet was all over the place. Dark, moody, abrupt, and set to music straight out of a horror film. The whole ballet seemed like a ballerina’s bad dream. It couldn’t end soon enough. After another intermission, the curtain rose and a disco ball hung above the stage. It was time for Nine Sinatra Songs. Sinatra. A disco ball. How could this ballet possibly be bad? Oh, but it was.

April Daly Fabrice Calmels

Nine Sinatra Songs featured, you guessed it, nine songs by Sinatra. Each song featured a duet of ballet dancers dancing an unusual ballroom-contemporary style. You could tell the dancers were not too familiar with ballroom and awkwardly transitioned from traditional ballroom steps to contemporary segments. The dances didn’t interpret the Sinatra songs very well and after about three duets, all three couples would come back on stage, each dancing their own styles to Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ It was another ballet in a string of ballets that night that was all over the place, lacked any sort of consistency, and overall was just disappointing.

Ballet is classic, timeless, and beautiful; no one in Chicago does classic better than the Joffrey. But contemporary is not their strong suit.  Overall, American Legends was a disappointment that won’t deter me from seeing the Joffrey again, but it definitely gave this reviewer second thoughts. American Legends runs through February 24th at the Auditorium Theater. 

southbridge

In a small and unassuming theatre on a low traffic corner in Chicago rests a playhouse that offers some big surprises. We ventured into this playhouse to see, unbeknownst to us, a world premiere production. Southbridge, written by Reginald Edmund and directed by Russ Tutterow was as unassuming as the playhouse it was performed in and left this writer wanting to see what else the playwright and the theatre have in store.

Set in Athens, Ohio in 1881, Southbridge tells the story of a white, widowed woman who is brutally attacked and killed. An angry mob is at the jailhouse door demanding the sheriff lynch the accused murderer, a young black man called ‘Stranger,’ wonderfully played by Manny Buckley. The only way to untangle the truth is for the accused to relive the events that led him to the jailhouse. Stranger’s flashbacks weave a creative who-done-it web filled with surprises, subtlety, and just a touch of sorcery. The stories of the characters intertwine throughout the play and constantly surprise the audience. And while there is an underlying theme of racism throughout the play, as to be expected of a play set in 1881 America, it doesn’t throw it in the audience face. The story feeds off of that tension but is not eclipsed by it, allowing the audience to get fully engrossed in Stranger’s story. The wonderfully cast five person production featured Ashley Honore as Nadia, Stranger’s wife that gave up her dreams, Lance Newton as a slick African-American businessman, Edwin, Wendy Robie as the widow Lucinda, and Gene Cordon as the alcoholic Sheriff Ward, who looked as though he stepped right out of the 1800’s, complete with white handlebar mustache. The cast brought this American play to life and showed what a great group of people, from production to performance, can bring to the stage.

The play was performed at Chicago Dramatists, an organization in Chicago with a single mission: to find and nurture plays and playwrights that bring a new voice to the American stage. It’s a safe and encouraging environment where actors, playwrights, producers, and directors can come together to bring American features to life. It’s a refreshing concept in our oversharing, judgmental, sometimes overly critical society. And while Chicagoans have a plethora of playhouses and stages to choose from, Dramatists offers a raw originality that you can’t find at some of the larger production houses. And if Dramatists continues to have plays like Southbridge grace its stage, then you better reserve some permanent seats in the small theatre; you might just find yourself sitting in front of the next great American play. Southbridge runs through March 3rd at Chicago Dramatists (1105 W Chicago Ave) Run Time: 2hr

Joffrey-The-Green-Table-1-p

Something interesting is showing at Auditorium Theater this weekend. I say interesting because it’s one of the few words I can think of to sum up the Joffrey ballet’s fall program ‘Human Landscapes.’ Comprised of three pieces, Forgotten Land, Pretty BALLET and The Green Table, Human Landscapes explores the human spirit, interpreting life, relationships, romance, and death, in the most interesting of ways.

The first performance, Forgotten Land, was inspired by a painting of women on a beach by Edvard Munch. This piece is supposed to ‘invoke treasured memories of lost homelands, lost lovers and lost time.’ It’s difficult to watch a ballet portraying a painting when one has never seen the painting. And while the dancers were beautiful, I did not get the impression that the choreographer obviously was trying to convey, though I am not an interpreter of ballet or art. It was an interesting piece to say the least, but I had high hopes for the next piece, Pretty BALLET.

I’d like you to close your eyes and imagine a ballet. Any ballet. And now picture the dancers dancing that ballet. Have an image in your mind? If you do, it’s most likely that Pretty BALLET is a pretty accurate representation of your imagination. The performance delivers what its name promises; it is a pretty ballet. The curtain opens and dancers in long tutus stand surrounded by mist, a beautiful dancer with red shoes held in the air, and the women twirl and the men leap; oh what a pretty thing. The ballet is a perfect combination of femininity and masculinity that explores ‘the subject of ballet itself as a balance between romantic ideals and industrious principles.’ Interesting, I guess I am getting better at interpreting ballets.

And finally, like any good tv marathon, the show you want to see is always at the end. The final performance in the evening, The Green Table, was by far the standout performance of the evening for the Joffrey. First premiering in 1932, The Green Table is a rather dated piece, but one that still resonates with audiences. It starts and ends with, what else, a green table. Humorous caricatures of diplomats gather around the table bickering and disputing and until –bang—they incite a war. There enters the character of death, beautifully performed by Fabrice Calmels, which ‘takes’ victims of the war from on and off the battlefield, sometimes in a passionate way, others in a harsh, cruel way. This is the one performance that does not require a whole lot of interpretation, but one that requires thought and appreciation for the ballet as a whole as a representation of death and war.

An interesting evening of ballet awaits you in Human Landscapes. It’s a much more modern, angular fall production, and if you are not a fan of modern ballet, this performance might not be the best for you. However, if you are in the mood for an interesting evening, Human Landscapes shows through October 28th at the Auditorium Theater.

 

The government is feeding you lies. The Numberless are here to bring you the truth of what really happened. No, this isn’t a story ripped from conspiracy theorist’s website; this is RISE OF THE NUMBERLESS, a new glam rock production playing at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park. So don those four cornered glasses, skinny jeans, and scarves and get ready to rebel – hipster style.

 

From the moment you arrive at the Flat Iron you are brought into a rebellious movement that has been going on for generations. You are greeted by ‘the Numberless,’ (the cast already in character) and offered cans of PBR and ear plugs (both of which I highly recommend you take). I thankfully had a seat in front of a speaker, but much of the audience was left standing in true underground-fight-the-power rally fashion. Throughout the 90 minute show (without intermission), the ensemble cast tell their story of a futuristic/historic/quasi realistic/science fiction world where a group of underground throwaway Americans rebel against their government for acknowledgement and equality.

The basic story :: in the future Congress passes a law mandating that each family is only allowed to have one child who is then encoded with a number on their wrist. Any additional child a family produces is illegal, given no number (hence the ‘numberless’) and sent to live in secrecy in pods across the country, their very existence denied by the government. This all occurred 25 years ago according to the play, making this an interesting past/future timeline. The Numberless are now fighting back and we learn the history of the each member, tragic events that lead to the downfall of their first rebellion, and their resurgence into normal society.

 

The interesting story and history of the Numberless are told by the ensemble cast of ‘RISE OF THE NUMBERLESS’ through monologues, reenactments and of course glam rock. Some of the pieces are better than others and some cast members shine much more brightly in this loud, foot stomping performance and as an audience member, you must have a willing suspension of disbelief and an uncanny ability to follow the storyline. It is a little jumpy in parts, but the cast does a fairly good job at distinguishing past events from present events through their eyes. As you are brought into the numberless world of rebellion and rock, try not to dissect the story too much (even the Hunger Games left the reader with a lot questions about the context and environment). The play is not about the finite details, it’s about escapism, and ‘RISE OF THE NUMBERLESS’ is a departure into another world (be it historic or futuristic) for 90 minutes of your life. Enjoy the ride, but be warned if you are not a fan of dark crowded spaces, standing for a 90 minute show, or are simply don’t like loud eardrum-erupting music,  ‘NUMBERLESS’ might not be for you. But the music is actually very good and the songs and lyrics are all original. Audiences looking for a departure, or a little bit of fight-the-power energy, head to Wicker Park and see ‘NUMBERLESS,’ you won’t be disappointed. Careful though, you could be found to be a Numberless sympathizer and be jailed, banished into exile, or killed. Totally worth the risk to see it.

 

As a lover of classic ballet, I’ve never been a huge fan of modern, contemporary dance. Every show I’ve seen was a little to obtuse, it didn’t really tell a story, and frankly it just never made a whole lot of sense. My opinion of modern, contemporary dance has completely changed from seeing the single-night performance of Luna Negra Dance Theater’s modern homage to the opera.

Carmen, choreographed by Luna Negra’s Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, is a powerful, graceful, sexy, and at times humorous, interpretation of Georges Bizet’s classic Carmen. Not familiar with Carmen? Carmen is a fiery story of passion and envy. Don Jose, a Spanish officer, falls for a gypsy named Carmen, a tempestuous woman. Through the four acts, Don Jose’s world crumbles around him as he spirals deeper and deeper into an obsessive love, fueled further by Carmen’s wooing suitor, Escamillo, and Don Jose’s love and envy eventually lead him to devastation and disgrace.

Luna Negra’s interpretation of Carmen was set against Bizet’s original, familiar music. The costumes and set design were extremely minimalist, leaving the eyes to feast upon the intensity of the dance; graceful lines, intimate twists and lifts, technical and mechanical arm movements, all telling the story of infatuation between Don Jose and Carmen. The entire production was beautifully cast, and the whole company deserves a standing ovation for their work and technique. Monica Cervantes as Carmen and Eduardo Zuniga as Don Jose were brilliant as the leads and Stacey’s Aung, who played Don Jose’s other love interest Michaela, had the most graceful, elegant lines of any dancer that took the stage. But Escamillo, performed by Nigel Campbell, was electrifying and enchanting, and when paired with Cervantes’ Carmen, was downright sexy. The whole cast of Luna Negra is talented beyond measure, but that is thanks to the dance theater itself. Luna Negra Dance Theater was founded in 1999 and since its inception the company celebrates the richness and diversity of Latino culture through the creation of works by contemporary Latino choreographers; and what a gem Carmen is to add to the company’s impressive offerings.

It’s a shame Carmen was only one night! Let’s hope Luna Negra’s Carmen is not too much of a tease and decides to give us another taste of this amazing show in the near future.

 

What price would you put on family? On every single object your family owned? What price would you put on memories? On jealousy, envy, bitterness? These are only some of the questions an audience will reflect on about after they see The Price at Raven Theater. The Price, a play written by Arthur Miller, set in 1966, in an old attic piled high with antique furniture, stored away mementos, and buried memories. Two brothers, played by Chuck Spencer and Jon Steinhagen, meet in the attic to sort through their deceased parents’ belongings. Decades of sacrifice, resentment, bitterness and jealousy ignite when the fraternal debate moves beyond the costs and values of the items to the price and successes of their own lives.

The beauty of the play is that is doesn’t require a lot of deep thought and analysis to see what Miller was really trying to get across. As Director Michael Menendian states, “[the play] deals with universal issues of family loyalty, sibling rivalry and commitment to a certain code of conduct. I want the audience to question what they would do in the shoes of the characters.” So what would you do if you were the aging Victor on the brink of retirement, forced to go into active police duty to help support your sick, out-of-work father and ultimately sell away his possessions in order to put the money towards your future? What would you do if you were Walter, the successful brother whose familial loathing caused a chasm between you and your only sibling, a sibling who resents your choices and wants nothing to do with you no matter how many olive branches you extend? All very tough questions for someone to face.

While this play still translates well into our  modern day, ultimately what holds this back is how drastically different of a time this play was set in. As twenty and thirty-somethings, we’ve all read or heard stories from our parents and grandparents of the difficult times the depression and WWII caused. And we know that in the 60’s, most people were able to retire at the age of fifty with a modest retirement fund. But what is hard to gauge from the play are the cultural and socioeconomic pressures that were being placed on the characters of the time. It’s all understated throughout the play, only glimpses through stories and memories of the characters. But it obviously is necessary to truly grasp the weight of the decisions the characters are making, particularly when the appraiser in the play offers Victor $1150 for all his father’s furniture and possessions. That is a small sum by today’s standards, but in the 1960’s that was a huge chunk of change, or as my fiancé said, a new car. It’s the only thing that would come between an understanding of the play and an empathy for the play’s theme. While I can empathize with Victor and Walter’s sibling tension and fighting, I cannot wholly understand the impact of the value they place on the furniture for that time.

The Price really is a multifaceted play. On the one hand, the actual price in the play is focused around the possessions in the brownstone which is about to get demolished. The price being offered for Walter and Victor’s childhood toys, furniture, and the like by the eighty-nine year-old appraiser. On the other hand, and the real deep meaning within the play is the price one has to pay to get to where they end up in life. Walter ends up a wealthy and successful doctor, but his success came with an alienated brother, a wife who divorced him, and an emotional and mental breakdown. Victor ends up a police officer, walking the same beat for twenty eight years, afraid to move on with his life, afraid of ending up like his father, and regretting that he was never able to continue his education. The price they paid for their decisions, and the price we all pay for our decisions, is something no one wants to think about. Arthur Miller brings to light a painful and deeply personal subject in this play. Between the estranged brothers, the disappointed wife, and the philosophical appraiser, the themes of life, loss, and the choices we make are thrust to the forefronts of the audience’s minds. 

What I can say is this very worth the price to see The Price at Raven Theater. That is, if you value my opinion.

I have heard about ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ my whole life and don’t know why I waited so long to see this musical. I remember bits and pieces from seeing it as a child, but probably couldn’t begin to appreciate how true-to-life the play really is. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ embodies the same challenges, struggles and changes that families have had for hundreds, I’d wager thousands, of years; from breaking arranged marriages, to falling in love with a teacher, and even falling in love with an outsider not of the same faith. The themes portrayed in this musical and set to amazing musical numbers and scores you can find in modern society.

Fiddler

For those who have never seen the play, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a musical about Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman, and his five daughters living in the 1905 Tsarist Russian village of Anatevka. Tradition is a way of life in the village, where fathers are the bread winners and teach their sons their trades, like tailoring, butchery and farming; the mothers are the keepers of the household and teach their daughters to sew, cook, clean and maintain a household for their husbands. Throughout the play, Tevye attempts to maintain his religious traditions and his family’s happiness while outsiders, and outside forces, threaten their simple way of life.

The most prominent storyline focuses on Tzeitel, Tevye’s eldest daughter, who objects to the village matchmaker’s ‘match’ for her with the butcher. She confesses to her father her love for the village tailor and beseeches her father to allow her to marry him, thus defying tradition of matchmaker’s making matches for young girls (matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch). But what if you were forced to walk away from the one you love to marry someone your father chose? It was a harsh reality for girls, and a tradition that was thankfully broken long before my generation. In the play, it’s Tevye who must decide if the proposal of marriage with the butcher (a match that would ensure prosperity and financial security) be broken for his daughter’s happiness or if he sticks with tradition and deny his daughter’s heart (but inevitably save her from a life of a tailor’s wife and financial hardship). Sweetly, he rescinds the offer and he allows Tzeitel and the tailor to wed.

Don’t think that sounds scandalous? Well let’s put this into perspective, shall we? In 1905, males ruled the household, tradition ruled the day, and beggars were not choosers. Tzeitel and the tailor were defying a father’s decision, a big no-no in patriarchal society. Also, a ‘match’ like one that Tevye and the village matchmaker struck, would allow a poor man’s daughter to marry into a rich and prosperous marriage. It was one of the greatest things a man could ask for; the betterment of his children (and his female children at that). Tevye embodies a man who chose the happiness of his daughter over that of his better judgment. Which leads him to one of the best numbers in the musical, “If I Were a Rich Man,” a song so true and timeless that Gwen Stefani sampled it in her 2004 hit ‘Rich Girl,’ (a fact which an enthusiastic twelve year old in our audience was too happy to share with us). It was challenge enough for Tevye to allow his daughter to choose her husband, but Tevye is challenged further when his second eldest daughter, Hodel, falls in love with her tutor, Perchik, the idealistic outsider from Kiev. In the second act his next eldest daughter, Chava, elopes with the Russian gentile, Fyedka, whom her father has forbidden her to see, let alone marry. A Jewish girl marry an outsider and a man not of their faith? It was Tevye’s breaking point which made him disown his daughter. Don’t worry, Tevye makes amends before his family and the villagers are viciously cast out of their homes and village by the Tsarist Russians.

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a wonderful show that captures Jewish and family culture and the happiness and hardships that eclipsed the village of Anatevka. The humor and love in the musical are timeless, the humor priceless, and the lively Jewish Klezmer tunes will have you dancing on the Auditorium Theater’s roof. Let’s hope the wandering Fiddler hitches a ride to Chicago on Tevye’s wagon soon, and when he does you won’t want to miss it.

The Merchant of Venice is not one of Shakespeare's most well known plays, in fact few of the people sitting around me in the theater had even read it let alone seen it. But the play is a gem, portraying cultural and religious stereotypes that are still prominent in today's society. The central themes in the play are simple: tolerance/prejudice, justice, mercy, and revenge.

The play is a tragic comedy centered on the wealthy, Christian merchant Antonio. Bassanio, a friend of Antonio asks for money in order to woo Portia, a rich heiress whom he is in love with. Antonio cannot afford the sum, but asks the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, for the funds. Shylock agrees, but only under the condition that if Antonio does not repay him, Shylock will take a pound of flesh from Antonio for payment. The story plays out, culminating in a trial that decides where fault lies, questions justice and fairness, tests forgiveness and ultimately determines right and wrong in the religiously one sided city of Venice.

Merchant_1

With multiple storylines and minor characters, The Merchant of Venice can be difficult to follow on paper, but the cast of the Shakespeare for a New Audience company seamlessly bring to life the play for a new generation. The play is acted out on a single, industrial, technology-enabled set that even incorporates Mac computers and graphic designs. Similar to the styling of “Ten Things I Hate About You” (a modernized portrayal of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew), the company takes the Merchant of Venice and puts the modern, relatable twist on the play. The masquerade in which Leonardo and Jessica, the daughter of Shylock, steal away with her father’s riches is turned into a wild rave featuring techno music, Bassanio’s friends: Solanio, Salarino, and Salerio, work on the stock exchange. Lancelot, the foolish man in the service of Shylock, is a pot smoking delivery-boy who tells it like it is and is hilariously portrayed by Jacob Ming-Trent. Ming-Trent stole the show each and every time he was on stage with his adaptation of the goof Lancelot, from his facial expressions and subtle nuances, to his live delivery. But the true standout performances came from the female powerhouses of Portia and Nerissa, played by Kate MacCluggage and Christen Simon Marabate (respectively). Portia and Nerissa play smart, strong, sharp witted women.

Merchant_II

The big highlight of the play and the company was watching F. Murray Abraham (Scarface, Amadeus) play the Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Shakespeare often made Jews the evil characters in his stories, pitting them against good Christians. In this case, Shylock is the “evil” Jew, who demands flesh in lieu of payment from the good and kind Antonio. We learn about his pains of living in Christian Venice, how others spit on him, cut him down, steal his goods, treat him like an alien. He wants fairness in Venice, and famously beseeches Bassanio’s friends with the heartfelt plea;

"If you prick us do we not bleed?

If you tickle us do we not laugh?

If you poison us do we not die?

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

But as much as we can empathize with his character, we also despise him. He is a man seeking revenge from Antonio but refuses even greater sums than he was owed, viciously demanding blood and flesh. He is also despised by his daughter Jessica, who runs away to escape her father’s household and further betrays and enrages him by running away with Lorenzo and converting to Christianity. It isn’t easy to balance this on the stage, but Abraham beautifully brings the two sides together in his portrayal of Shylock. Abraham brings an art to Shakespeare’s signature character and leaves the audience wanting more.

Chicago is filled with amazing theater, and we’re lucky to have an amazing choice of Broadway productions. The Shakespeare for a New Audience company, along with Broadway in Chicago, put on an incredible performance in the Merchant of Venice that any theater lover will not want to miss. The Merchant of Venice is plays through March 27th, 2011. For tickets and more information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

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11 December 2017 in Dance in Review

For those who may have missed this one time show on December 10th, The return of Tidings of Tap, was…

Review: 'Turandot' at Lyric Opera of Chicago

08 December 2017 in Theatre in Review

Finding love is hard. What someone else wants can sometimes be a riddle, but in the case of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’…

Beautiful: The Story of a Natural Woman

08 December 2017 in Theatre in Review

While I’d yet to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical since it premiered to much acclaim (and a U.S. tour)…

Gobsmacked Brings A Cappella to Chi-aca-cago!

08 December 2017 in Theatre Reviews

It’s fitting that the opening tune of Gobsmacked! declares, “Turn up the radio, blast your stereo right,” because the show…

"Rudolph the Red Hosed Reindeer" is Funnier and more Glamorous Than Ever in 2017!

05 December 2017 in Theatre in Review

This is Hell in a Handbag’s 15th Season and yet every year I look forward more than ever to seeing…

Almost Elton John's Christmas Concert Rocks The MAC

04 December 2017 in In Concert

The McAninch Arts Center (The MAC) located at the College of Dupage kicked off the holiday season with one of…

Joffrey’s "The Nutcracker" is a marvelous Christmas spectacle

04 December 2017 in Dance in Review

A delightful winter holiday ballet staple, Joffrey’s The Nutcracker gets a make-over by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Joffrey’s…

A Bromance for the Ages: Bizet's The Pearl Fishers at the Lyric

04 December 2017 in Theatre Reviews

The Pearl Fishers has been called Bizet’s most beautiful opera. Lyric’s electric production is certainly one of the most beautiful…

Goodman's "A Christmas Carol" still tops list for Holiday fun in Chicago

30 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Chicago has no shortage of Christmas traditions. In other words, if you’re looking for holiday fun it’s not very hard…

TATC's A Wonderful Life is Wonderful Fun

23 November 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

The classic film It’s A Wonderful Life, based on the story The Greatest Gift, is brought to life by Theatre…

Kid Friendly, Parent Approved: Sleeping Beauty shines at Marriott Theatre

22 November 2017 in Theatre Reviews

This past week I found myself in a movie theater with reclining seats, an overpriced large popcorn, and a two…

 

 

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