Theatre

The four performances that comprise “New Works” are also presented in a new venue for the Joffrey Ballet, The Cadillac Palace Theatre. Fitting, for the spring program which highlights four contemporary choreographers and leaves theater goers energized and refreshed. Joffrey’s usual home, the Auditorium Theatre, was being used for the NFL Draft, causing the temporary venue change.

Justin Peck, hailing from the New York City Ballet, holds up to his reputation with “In Creases” as the opening performance. The stage, outfitted with just two pianos, creates the perfect blank pallet to showcase the dancers. Outfitted in light grey, this piece takes all distraction away from the viewer, leaving you to appreciate the dancers ability, athleticism, and passion. The live pianos only amplify the risk of performing such a vulnerable piece. With nothing on stage to distract the viewer, any small mistake would be easily noticed, though the Joffrey ensemble danced this perfectly.

“Liturgy” is a brilliant pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon, with the dancers exuding chemistry and pure passion. It is one of those pieces where you can feel the dancers’ love for what they do. Jeraldine Mendoza and Fabrice Calmels, while physically almost complete opposite, Calmels being an easy head and shoulders taller than Mendoza, the two are perfectly in sync and graceful throughout the entire performance. At parts, it is almost as though the two are connected by strings they are so perfectly timed with one another. The excitement and power coming from the stage is infectious and makes the viewers heart race.  

The story of an anguished poet in “Evenfall” is a romantic progression of a relationship, from the first days through to the later years. The stage is outfitted with four mirrors through which the poet views the couple. The poet seems to be contemplating the relationship, and struggling to do so, as though he is reflecting on what once was and possibly what could be. Once again, Fabrice Calmels is commanding as one half of the older couple, amazing the viewers with his ability to be so fluid and soft. The piece is emotionally charged and gives the dancers a chance to showcase not only their technical ability, but their acting chops as well.

The final performance, “Incantations” by Val Caniparoli, was originally created for the Joffrey in 2012 and is nothing short of thrilling. The high paced and demanding choreography cannot be ignored. The dancers outfitted in tan costumes with flashes of red are mesmerizing as they own the stage. The focus of the performance is on constant and different pirouettes and turns leaving the viewer in awe. Joanna Wozniak and Dylan Gutierrez make a dynamic pair that is thrilling and powerful in every turn.

Joffrey’s “New Works” is just as hopeful and fresh as one would expect. The Cadillac Palace Theater provides a beautiful historic backdrop to the contemporary choreography of these four performances. The Joffrey Ballet once again put together an amazing performance and a great way to kick off the spring season.  

For tickets and/or more show information, visit http://www.joffrey.org/newworks

Published in Dance in Review
Monday, 27 April 2015 05:00

Review: A Coffin in Egypt

A legend in her own right, Frederica von Stade graces the stage with poise and perfection in Chicago Opera Theater's "A Coffin in Egypt". A veteran mezzo-soprano, her performances, recordings and television specials have garnered her six Grammy nominations, a cascade of European awards and recognition, and even an award from President Reagan in 1983 in recognition of her significant contribution to the arts.

The story presented in the opera comes from a tale by revered American dramatist Horton Foote, who's often seen play "The Trip to Bountiful" exemplifies his recurring themes of family, community and the triumph of the human spirit.

Ricky Ian Gordon, award winning composer, crafted this opera specifically to showcase Ms. von Stade's virtuosity. The opera was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, The Wallis Annenberg Center, and Opera Philadelphia.

Bringing together a wealth of skill and experience, unfortunately this show lacks a riveting climax. Essentially it is a monologue of a dying woman, ruminating on the memories and men that shaped her life. Sprinkled with a few strong songs, the majority of the music is asynchronous and wandering. The music stays mostly at the lower end of Ms von Stade's range, disappointing since her most beautiful moments are in the higher, longer notes where her voice is free and stunning. This is ironic and disappointing considering that this is supposed to be a piece to showcase her talent.

Although her emotions revolve constantly as she fixates on each memory, the lighting is too static and realistic to reflect, enhance or build her moods. The lighting did however enhance the boredom that grew until the curtain fell.

The set was charming however, reflecting the place and the lady's emotional turmoil with a simple and elegant design. Veteran scenic and costume designer Riccardo Hernandez met the challenge of being both scenic and costume designer for this production with success! Mr. Hernandez has also collaborated with the Goodman Theatre here in Chicago as well as in Paris, Norway, and the Moscow Art Theatre.

Chicago Opera Theater presents Ricky Ian Gordon's "A Coffin in Egypt" April 25 through May 3 at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph). Tickets are now on sale at chicagooperatheater.org.

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Published in Theatre Reviews
Friday, 24 April 2015 05:00

Review: The Hypocrites' "Three Sisters

"Maybe it's the wanting we want" muses Vershinin in The Hypocrites' version of Chekhov's 'Three Sisters'. At once this new adaptation by Geoff Button (who also directs) is contemporary and charming. Button seems to run with them theme of supressed desires in his production that feels ever-relevant in our #FOMO world (fear of missing out).

If it's only the wanting we want, will we ever be content with what we get? Chekhov leans towards no. Perhaps disappointment is all those who dream are ever rewarded with because they refuse to live in the present. These three sisters seem to have a lot depending on their future in Moscow. As an audience we see that they make no strategic moves to achieve their dreams, which makes their longing all that much more pathetic.

Sadness is personified in color by set designer William Boles. In the first opulent scene, the set is heavily accented with purples and pinks, but when Natasha (Erin Barlow) enters the picture, her love of green brings sadness with it. In each scene as Andrei (Joel Ewing) loses a little more of their estate, a purple accent is pulled away. By the end of the play the stage is washed in green.

While the dialogue of this play is pretty morbid, forcing its audience to confront the delusions we tells ourselves in order to keep living, somehow the cast makes it a lot of fun. There's great deal of chemistry. That's not to say that the punches don't come when necessary, they're even subtle. Mary Williamson's Olga is strong, but it's really Masha (Lindsey Gravel) and Irina's (Hilary Williams) play.

Hilary Williams' outburst at the top of the second act is when the play takes a decidedly darker direction. She has a panic attack, instead of a melodramatic tantrum. Applying a diagnosable pyscological condition to this fragile character is much more convincing than most women are portrayed in literature during this period. It says more about gender inequality and Irina's anxieties than just dismissable female hysteria.

Lindsey Gravel's Masha is a real surprise here. She's sneaky, and likeable in her moodiness. By the middle of the play, her character's future is the only one that seems certain. Costume designer Jeremy W. Floyd does a wise thing by having her Fyoder (D'Wayne Taylor) hand her a green coat. It's a symbol that shows the rest of her life is going to be miserable, but what choice does she have?

Hypocrites' "Three Sisters" is the perfect production for those who fear the classics. For purists it may seem shallow, but really, who wants to sit through three long hours of people complaining? The translation is accessible and the emotions are real. The aesthetic is unique and fresh, without having to modernize it. It's important for this play to remain in a time period in which women were still considered second class citizens. Without these restrictions, we'd be wondering why the heck they don't just move to Moscow and stop whining already?

Through June 6th at Hypocrites Theatre. 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-398-7028. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

“Look, We Are Breathing” at Rivendell Theatre is a powerful drama that deals with the coping of loss. Written by Chicago playwright Laura Jaccqmin, “Look, We Are Breathing” examines the grieving process when the one taken away so unexpectedly never really amounted to much nor has shown the potential to ever become much of anything at all. This is the case when high school hockey player Mike is killed in a drunk driving accident on his way home from a party. Always a troublemaker with a bad attitude, rude and the perennial class clown, Mike is disrespectful to his parents, his teachers and is one to take advantage of a girl’s innocence given the chance. He’s exactly what we don’t want to see in a teenage boy. Passing thoughts wonder if maybe the world would be a better place without someone like Mike.

This hard-hitting four-character play deals with the aftermath of Mike’s tragic accident. A series of flashbacks throughout the play help us get to know Mike while narratives from his English teacher Leticia, his mother Alice and his one-night stand, Caylee, provide us with more of an understanding of Mike’s behavior and the effect it had on those close to him – and those who wanted to be close to him.  

The set is simplistic. A chest-like trunk sits center stage that is used at times for a dining table or a car when need be. But the sets simplicity in this case is a plus as it helps direct focus where it should be – on the characters and story. Cast members Lily Mojekwu (Leticia), Brennan Stacker (Caylee), Tara Mallen (Alice) and Brendan Meyer (Mike) make a special point of making eye contact with the audience members in this intimate thirty-six seat theatre, as they explain themselves and open up as though expecting comforting words in return.

This play works because of its absorbing story and the very heavy-duty acting performances by each and every cast member. “Look, We Are Breathing” is a gripping story that is sure to draw in the average theatre goer, and might relate especially to those who have suffered recent losses. Towards the play’s end Caylee talks about what could have been rather than reflecting on Mike’s past behavioral issues and lack of promise of any sort. Then we stop and think - Even when you question if someone's life is worth it, when they are young, they have no time to grow out of it – and that’s the truest tragedy. They have no time to grow up to be the ENT doctor, to build meaningful friendships, to become a loving parent or to contribute in making this world a better place. We learn compassion and empathy as we grow older and “Look” understands that rather than judging one’s short past.

True to their claim that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women in core roles, “Look” presents three strong characters in a mourning mother, a girl who believes there was more to a relationship than there really was and a teacher who tries desperately to get through to a student who has built many walls.

“Look, We Are Breathing” is playing at Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave, Chicago) through May 16th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-334-7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org.            

                                                                                                                                                      

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 05:00

The Grown-Up - Shattered Globe Theatre

In today’s culture of OnDemand and streaming entertainment, one has to wonder how theatre art will adapt. Accomplished playwright Jordan Harrison also currently writes for the hit Netflix series ‘Orange is the New Black.’ Nobody can argue that Mr. Harrison hasn’t mastered the one-hour drama format, but what we can argue is whether or not that form works in theatre. Often when audiences stand and applaud even poor performances, they’re standing to congratulate themselves, to say we did it! We spent money and sat still for two hours! It’s over! Are we cultured now? Despite the convenience of home entertainment, people still go to the theatre to be intellectually stimulated and even challenged, they expect the playwright to uphold his end of the bargain.

At the conclusion of Shattered Globe’s production of Harrison’s play ‘The Grown-Up’, an audience of albeit mostly theatre critics was pretty quiet. This is usually an achievement for a playwright whose work has left its audience stunned. In this case, it was an audience left without an impression, and without enough material to commend themselves for sitting through.

‘The Grown-Up’ tells the story of Actor A, or Kai (Keven Viol) who’s grandfather, Actor B (Ben Werling) gives him a magic door-knob with which he can fast forward to the unpleasant and unfulfilling realities of his adulthood. Safely packaged in a chronological structure, we see the very brief disappointments and adult anxieties that await little Kai.  While these scenes have glimmers of relatability, they’re too short to invest in character and instead come off as series of clichés.  Rather than relying on dialog to explain how these moments of Kai’s life are fraught with meaning, we’re lazily told by various narrators. The script capitalizes on too many trendy devices, but doesn’t validate their necessity.

Shattered Globe has the talent to justify the one-hour run time of this play. Director Krissy Vanderwarker’s aesthetic inserts some personality to this static drama.  Actor D (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) plays a few of roles, but really becomes a focal point of the play as a secretary trying to keep up in life. Gonzales-Cruz provides most of the laughs and the most intriguing performance.

Plays like ‘The Grown-Up’ are part of a growing trend in American playwriting that protect themselves in metaphysical chow-chow so that if you don’t like it, you just didn’t get it. What counts in a live performance is what the audience takes away, and if there’s not enough script to resonate with a viewer, what’s the point?

@ Shattered Globe Theatre. 1229 W Belmont. 773-975-8150. Through May 23rd

Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 13 April 2015 05:00

"Carousel" Is A Ride to Remember

Roger and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is always a treat, and that holds true especially with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production at the Civic Opera House. A true spectacle of colorful sets, scenic backdrops and larger than life dancing choreography envelope brilliant vocal performances in the fun classic. Of course, the carousel itself is eye candy in itself.

Set in 1873 Maine, the story begins when two young females, Carrie and Julie, visit the carousel where they meet barker, Billy Bigelow. As a “barker”, Billy’s job is to convince crowd members to take a ride on the carousel and does so by shouting out catchy sell phrases and flirting with nearby girls. After Billy puts his arm around Julie for the duration of a ride, Mrs. Mullin, the widowed owner of the carousel ride, lets him go and tells him never to return. Out of work, Billy runs into Julie where a romance blooms and a relationship develops. As sweet and simple as Julie is, Billy’s exterior is tough and carefree. It’s not long after the two are married that Julie surprises Billy with the news that she is pregnant. Billy, already struggling with raising money for he and his wife, is approached by his ex-con, ne'er-do-well whaler friend, Jigger, who presents the idea of robbing Julie’s former boss- and killing him. Billy refuses but has to rethink the idea as he becomes more and more desperate.

There is an overabundance of musical talent in this fifty-plus member cast that provides one beautiful performance after another. In supporting roles, Jenn Gamatese is simply terrific as “Carrie Pepperidge” as is Matthew Hydzik as her love interest “Enoch Snow”. The two are particularly enjoyable when performing together in the numbers “Mr. Snow” and “When the Children Are Asleep”. Charlotte D’Amboise is sensational as “Mrs. Mullin” and gets to really show off her dancing chops in the show’s later afterlife scene – a surreal display put together just dazzlingly by the production team. Also contributing to the show’s beauty and elegance is Denyce Graves whose stunning vocals can be appreciated in “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”. Laura Osnes plays “Julie Jordan” and delivers several breathtaking singing performances, most notably in her solo number “What’s the Use of Wondrin’”.

Taking the lead is Steven Pasquale as our conflicted, good hearted but troubled “Billy Bigelow”. Pasquale’s performance is just magnificent. From the show’s early duet that has Billy and Julie singing “If I Loved You” to each other, it was apparent this would be one special production. Pasquale leads this gifted cast with his amazing vocal prowess, heartfelt passion and just the right amount of bravado. Pasquale melts the audience with his finessed vocals, “The Highest Judge of All” being the perfect example.

Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford and conducted by David Chase, Carousel is a classic that should be seen by everyone young, old and in between.

Carousel is being performed at the Civic Opera House through May 3rd. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.lyricopera.org/carousel or call 312-827-5600. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Throughout the last century, The Phantom of the Opera has taken on many forms. Originally written by Gaston Leroux and published in early 20th century France the Phantom soon found its’ way onto the silver screen right here in the U S of A with Rupert Julian’s silent film depiction. Currently however, The Phantom of the Opera is most well known for the incredibly moving musical adaptation composed primarily by Andrew Lloyd Webber and making its’ debut in 1986 London. The musical received two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Michael Crawford (the Phantom himself) Best Actor, paving the way for a 1988 debut on Broadway where it became an immediate classic and eventually the longest running show in Broadway history. After receiving two Tony Awards for Best Musical and Crawford again achieving Best Actor in a Musical, the Phantom of the Opera would be transcribed into thirteen different languages to be seen by over 130 million people in theaters all over the world.

Now, considering the rich history and evolution in production throughout the many tours The Phantom has undergone, I can’t help but feel my reviewing this most recent version of Lloyd Webber’s adaptation to be somewhat arbitrary. You see, until I experienced this new production by Cameron Mackintosh, my knowledge of the Phantom outside of the Las Vegas version at Venetian was limited solely to Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film depiction and because this film was written and produced by Webber himself it, of course, is a masterpiece. That being said, having only had the pleasure of witnessing only the Vegas-ized production of this beloved theatrical classic, I offer you a fresh perspective on this spectacular new production by Cameron Mackintosh.

Nostalgia filled the air that night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre as the auctioneer presented old relics of an opera house long past. Spirits rose as the enchanting melody emanated from that silly little music box where that bellhop monkey we’ve all grown to adore played the cymbal. Hearing those notes served as a firm reminder of all the gripping music that so effectually captivates the heart and delivers that sense of stirring emotion that comes with much anticipation. But as we all know, the show doesn’t truly begin until the auctioneer presents “lot 666”… as the trademark chandelier is lowered, uncovered and illuminated.

The magnificent display proves a worthy reflection of the production to follow as the stage is, to say the least, impressive. A set such as this, nearly thirty years in the making and after grossing somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion dollars worldwide, certainly shows its extraordinary progress in quality and an unmistakable attention to detail is visible throughout the set. The integration of tracks and mobile parts made for an engaging display. The set itself however, as impressive as it was, merely emphasized the wardrobe which brought life to each character in an undeniably authentic fashion that the audience into the romance and magic of it all. The Phantom of the Opera was brought to life in a truly striking new light and I couldn’t imagine a better venue to bare witness to such a spectacle. The Cadillac Palace offers a wide range of seating options all of which provide an excellent view of the stage and the décor, in one word, grandeur.

I soon took note that some characters added a sense of lightheartedness to this new production that caught me by surprise. Carlotta Giudicelli (performed by Trista Moldovan) and Ubaldo Piangi (Phumzile Sojola) for instance, immediately jumped out to me and the audience both, carrying an untraditionally high-spirited weightlessness that is otherwise uncharacteristic to their personalities. Even amid the wake of the ominous Phantom, Carlotta and Ubaldo’s playful touch manage to lift the audience to a blithesome state of ignorance receiving laughter and applause in nearly every appearance from Scene 1 “The Dress Rehearsal of Hannibal” to Scene 7 “Don Juan Triumphant” in the second act. There is never a dull moment while either shines on the stage.

Nevertheless, their characters serve merely as a distraction only building suspense while The Phantom (exceptionally performed by Derrick Davis) lies wait beneath the stage. Finally making his first appearance in Scene 3 “Corps de Ballet Dressing Room” while singing the masterfully conducted “Angel of Music” his voice struck me as even more than expected from the man chosen to portray The Phantom. It is only in the scenes following that The Phantom must prove his love to Christine (beautifully performed by Katie Travis) and Davis’ portrayal to the audience, for it is in these moments that one falls in love with The Phantom of the Opera. Davis taking on the roll of The Phantom and doing so as well as he has is truly an admirable accomplishment, a milestone to be proud of for the rest of ones’ life. My hat goes off to you sir, for as you led Christine deeper into the labyrinth and ever closer to The Phantoms’ lair I was no longer watching the portrayal of Derrick Davis, but The Phantom himself had entered my mind. Davis and Travis' are brilliantly paired, their chemistry a strong building block for this fervent, heartfelt and beautiful production.  

We’re all aware of The Phantom’s infamous nature behind the mask, while precarious and fraught with danger at the turn of a hat, still somehow affording a mysterious and even seductive quality that continues to draw you in. However, once unmasked, I find that Davis’ portrayal elevates to even a higher realm, capturing the hurt and passion one would so desperately feel as a disfigured “phantom” who longs to be loved so badly. 

From ballet dancer to center stage, Miss Christine Daaé carried the innocence of an angel. Travis’ portrayal of Christine is outstanding. Her voice did more than match that of The Phantom’s, and carried an unwavering familiarity that held true to the classic. Song and word alone could never do her justice and the nature of her performance can only be experienced firsthand. For it is only our beloved Christine, that can bring The Phantom to his knees and the crowd to their feet. 

 

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at Cadillac Palace through January 8th. For tickets and more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
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