Theatre

What makes theater so great is its ability to transport you to different worlds. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened on Wednesday night at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago and it successfully does just that, although where it transports you is not where you may have expected. Based on the bestselling novel written by Mark Haddon in 2013, this play is told from the perspective of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who is somewhere on the autistic spectrum and his teacher, the ever-compassionate Siobhan. Christopher lives with his father Ed, who has told him his mother died of a heart condition. One night, Christopher finds a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, dead having been stabbed with a garden fork and he quickly becomes a prime suspect. Adamant of his innocence, he plays detective to find the real murderer and unexpectedly ends up on an adventure full of surprises, shocks, and challenges. 

 

While his condition is never stated explicitly, it is implied that Christopher is somewhere on the autistic spectrum with savant qualities, especially in the areas of math and science. As the play unfolds the audience experiences the world through Christopher’s mind, realizing how his unique brain makes him an outsider in the world we so often take for granted. These differences are made, all the more evident through stunning visual effects, great use of sound and lighting and a creative approach to telling the story.

 

While the book is written solely in Christopher’s voice, the stage production plays with time and employs two points of view for narration, both Christopher’s and his teacher Siobhan. Christopher has been writing a story about his investigation into Wellington’s murder and that becomes a play within a play as we shift between Siobhan’s reading of the story during school time and Christopher telling it in real time. Christopher is played by Adam Langdon who provided a strong performance, although at times it felt a bit forced and ventured into overdone as he embodied a teen struggling with an exceptional brain and different take on the world. Siobhan, played by Maria Elena Ramirez, was excellent as was Gene Gillette as Ed (Christopher’s father). An ensemble cast rounds out the show playing a number of roles to bring the full story to life.

 

The staging of the show is quite unique, made up of a simple set with digital walls on the sides and back of the stage that boast different visual effects throughout the show, and a series of white rectangle blocks used as chairs, tables, benches, televisions and even a fish tank through creative lighting. Employing creative choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, the actors themselves create movements on stage that transport the audience through the various scenes from outer space to a crowded London Tube station. Coupled with the lighting, sounds and an ever-evolving play train set, the simple set design feels energetic and lively throughout the show.

 

Overall, this play moves along well throwing in some surprises along the way and with brilliant staging it constantly amazes the audience. While there were moments that felt over acted, on the whole it was a strong all-around performance. There is some strong language used and some more mature topics so keep in mind it may not be family friendly for younger children. It is a show that while it entertains, it will also challenge you to think about those among us who experience the world so differently due to their unique brains.  Get your tickets to experience the show for your self, running through December 24th at the Oriental Theater.  

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Richly set in the intimate Royal Cabaret Theatre, The Rosenkranz Mysteries: An Evening of Magic to Lift the Spirits is a magic show with its own unique twist, separating itself from the others with its unusual theme and creative adaptations of age old illusions and tricks. Dining tables surround the prop-filled stage, which presents to us a study circa early 1900’s where one could easily see Harry Houdini practicing his arts. Unlike most magicians, renowned national illusionists Ricardo Rosenkranz is also a respected professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. That he relates magic to healing throughout the show is not just original, it is educational while his performance never loses its entertainment factor.  

The highly-polished show combines astonishing illusions set to haunting music and a series of jaw-dropping acts of mentalism using many audience members as subjects, some eager to participate and some with a nervous acquiescence that only adds to the act’s humor. Rosenkranz’s skillful ability to make his volunteers comfortable, even offering them their own chance of getting their own funny one-liners in, is part of the show’s charm.

The Rosenkranz Mysteries flows well with an even flow of humor, mystery and the seemingly unexplained tricks themselves. Often explaining the origin of an illusion while performing the act, audience members quickly become acquainted with its history, adding even more intrigue while allowing us to grasp a good feel for a turn of the twentieth century era that was rich in magic and the unknown. An era that gave us greats Houdini, Dai Vernon (“The Professor”), Eugene Laurant and Carter the Great to name a few. 

While I won’t go into details into Rosenkranz’s performed feats of magic so as not to soften the blow of their wow factor, I will say that he creates a stunning recreation of the famous Bang Sisters conjuring of spirits from the hereafter that will have you scratching your head in disbelief long afterward. I can also say that each illusion is executed with immaculate precision and done with just the perfect amount of tension building assurance.

As a professor, Dr. Ricardo Rosenkranz, who found magic at a very early age, has been integrating his illusions as a teaching aid for years to help engage his students and inspire involvement. Perhaps an unorthodox way to get your message across, but undoubtedly an effective one. 

Says Rosenkranz, “There is something beautiful and wonderful about the unknown, and I think in that sense magic and medicine share a DNA. I am committed to creating a unique experience that energizes and uplifts every audience.” The Rosenkranz Mysteries does just that.

Whether a magic buff or not, this show comes highly recommended, as it is sure to engage both believers and non-believers of the supernatural unknown. Finely directed by Northwestern graduate Jessica Fisch, featuring Ricardo Rosenkranz as “The Doctor Magician”, Jan Rose as “The Hostess” and a skull named Balsamo, this show offers a night of mystery and suspense one would be hard-pressed to forget anytime soon.

The Rosenkranz Mysteries: An Evening of Magic to Lift the Spirits is being performed at The Royal George Cabaret Theatre through December 24th. Add to the wonder of the holiday season with this true magical phenomenon. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.TheRoyalGeargeTheatre.com.       

          

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Underscore Theatre and Harborside Films hearkens back to a simpler time, when the biggest national tragedy was a young Olympic figure skater getting clubbed in the knees. The year was 1994 and the world couldn't get enough of Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan. Some twenty-two years later, this scandal is ripe fodder for a campy rock opera. 

 

Written by Elizabeth Searle and Michael Teoli, "Tonya and Nancy" is exactly what it sounds like. A sharp, 90 minute campfest akin to "Mommie Dearest." There's no dressing this up as anything other than satire. It almost feels like an extended SNL sketch, but that's not to say it's not interesting. It's questionable how much of this skate tale is true, but it certainly serves to humanize both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. 

 

Since this is billed as a rock opera, the soaring vocals make good sense. In the role of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Tonya Harding is Amanda Horvath, and she lands it well. Despite everything, Horvath's performance gives Harding some extra layers. She's also hilarious. Courtney Mack co-stars as Nancy Kerrigan. Mack also has a tremendously strong voice and it comes across in such campy songs as "Why Me?" While the show may be about two figure skaters, Veronica Garza actually steals the show playing dual-characters, Tonya and Nancy's moms. She seems to relish in playing Tonya Harding's down-on-her-luck mom, and the audience eats her spot-on accents right up. Garza also has an impressive voice. 

 

Director Jon Martinez's choreography stands out as a high point in a show about ice skating that doesn't actually feature any ice skating. It's almost a surprise to see so many group dance numbers in a small space. In fact, the show features ensemble members in a perpetual state of motion which adds a nice visual element. It pairs well with all the lyrcra costuming, which reminisces of a thankfully bygone era. 

 

For those entering this fray with some skepticism, approach this work with confidence. "Tonya and Nancy" is highly polished and well-staged. There's some real potential here. The show may be a little crowded with solos, but otherwise this is a solid script. It's always fun to see a new musical in its debut production. 

 

Through December 30th at Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150.

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Opening in the town square of a small town in Spain, Don Quichotte by Jules Massenet tells the story of a somewhat delusional knight errant, his squire Sancho and their quest to retrieve the stolen necklace of Dulcinée in an effort to win her love and affection. Adventures with the bandit Tenebrun and his bandit gang ensue but Don Quichotte prevails and returns home with the necklace, only to be turned down by his love who wishes to remain unattached and independent. As the opera reaches its fifth act, Don Quichotte and Sancho return to the mountains where Don Quichotte embraces his imminent death much to the dismay of the ever-faithful Sancho. 

 

Before the start of each of the five acts, quotes from the novel are projected onto a screen covering the stage. As the music - conducted by Sir Andrew Davis – swells, creative lighting starts to bring to life the scene behind the screen. With an elaborate set designed by Ralph Funicello, we are transported from the town square to a mountain side adorned with windmills to the bandit’s lair. The creative use of projected animations, and well-constructed set pieces fill the stage with life and energy. 

 

In the main role, Ferruccio Furlanetto is a standout of the show. Capturing the eccentric character of Don Quichotte with his interestingly coifed hair and handle bar mustache, and his somewhat outdated armor all atop his trusty horse Rossinante, Furlanetto brings the role to life. For all the emotion and drama he brings to the show, his loyal squire Sancho, played by Nicola Alaimo in his Lyric Opera debut, brings the comic relief.  The pair together was a joy to watch and had great chemistry on stage throughout the performance to where the final scene will truly tug at your heartstrings. 

 

There is a large chorus for this show and amazingly the moments where only 2-3 actors shared the stage were just as powerful as when there were 20-30 people crowd the stage raising their voices together. The choreography and stage direction by August Tye was well done, with natural movement of large groups on stage that captured the feelings and emotions being portrayed in the scene whether it be the joyous celebration of the beauty Dulcinée, or Don Quichotte’s final prayer to the group of bandits. 

 

Overall, this was a great performance that tells a moving story. Although the show is 5 acts the story moves along quickly, and will keep you entertained. Sung in French, there are subtitles over the stage in English to follow along. While not over the top, the production is quite a spectacle and should be enjoyed by opera lovers and newbies alike.  Be sure to get your tickets soon as the production is only running at Lyric Opera of Chicago through December 7th. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Saturday, 19 November 2016 13:32

Brian Brooks on Hubbard Street's Fall Series

Harris Theater's first ever Choreographer in Residence, Brian Brooks, is ready to make his mark in Chicago. “It’s not just what I might be bringing to the Harris theater, but what Chicago is showing me and being exposed to all of these new dancers and choreographers.” 

 

Brooks residency at the Harris is set last for three years, and so far, collaborations planned include the Miami City Ballet and Brooks own dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Co. Each piece commissioned will be performed at the Harris Theater. “The potential for artistic growth is very liberating. This particular structure of this residency, working with very different and diverse companies, the Hubbard Street versatility and contemporary work that they do, my own company that gets quite adventurous with athletic physicality and pre avante garde original music compositions, and then Miami City Ballet, the classical ballet, and where they want to head in this new era. The range of dancers and aesthetics that his residency is encouraging me to work with, it’s a huge step and a platform I am very honored to be a part of.”  

 

In Hubbard Street Dances Fall Series, Brooks premiered his first work, Terrain and if this is any indication of what is to come the next three years, Chicago is in for a treat. 

 

Terrain certainly lives up to Brooks description. With 17 Hubbard Street Dancers taking the stage “I’m playing a bit with imagery, all of the dancers are integrated with a call and response and cause an effect. Every dancer is navigating in their cave of space in relation of the group” There is constant movement, one dancer always reacting to another’s movement or touch. As if energy is being passed through them, the performance is bright and energetic. 

 

Throughout the piece, the dancers are continuously coming together and moving apart. Brooks says, “The piece is slightly an abstraction, the dancers work as individuals and a community, it has overtones of simple and community integration, using the rapid response and quick fire partnering creating a moment to moment imagery.”

 

Terrain is an exciting and spirited piece from this Chicago newcomer. Chicago should keep their eye on Brooks as he is sure to bring some fresh perspective and inventive collaborations to the Harris Theater over the next three years. 

 

Published in BCS Spotlight
Friday, 11 November 2016 23:15

Lovers and the Dearly Departed

With all the earmarks of a romantic comedy, First Floor Theater’s “Deer and the Lovers,” now playing at The Den Theatre, offers up of a barrel of laughs along with serious reflections threaded throughout.

 

Written by Emily Zemba and directed by Jesse Roth, the 100-minute play dives deep into the relationships of the four main characters that come face-to-face with death and betrayal while on a weekend retreat at a cottage house in the woods of New Hampshire.

 

Deer and the Lovers opens with Peter (Alex Stage) and Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi) arriving for a romantic get-away at her parents’ home. However, those plans were spoiled not only by the discovery of a dead deer that crashed through the front window but also the unexpected arrival of Peter’s sister Marnie (Kay Kron) and brother-in-law Felix (Tony Santiago).

 

With plenty of jokes and puns on the dearly departed animal, it becomes clear that Zemba intends for the deer to serve as a metaphor for Qiana and her path in life. For instance, while Peter is able to madly declare his love, Qiana seems less sure of her affections in comparison. And the later arrival of Marnie and Felix at the cottage shines a bright light on just why that is the case as we watch both couples deal with issues of love, commitment, secrecy and betrayal.

 

Qiana, in particular, seems obsessed with how to dispose of the deer and how it met its current fate: How did it get in the house and why? Where was it going and what was it running from? These are all questions that she can pose about her own path as well and the answers are equally elusive.

 

Later conversations with the mysterious local animal control agent Lenny (Matt Nikkila) in the second half of the play further illustrate Qiana’s connections with the deer.

 

After a dramatic reveal, we see her frantically taking matters in her own hands as she drags the deer into the woods in an attempt to bury it herself. It is almost as if she feels that finding a final resting place for the animal will bring it peace and free her from the soulless, emptiness she feels inside. And it is at that point that the symbolism of the setting in New Hampshire with its motto – Live Free or Die – becomes even more relevant.

 

Fascinating and quirky, Deer and the Lovers is time well spent. The talented cast meshes well and is effective in hitting all of the comedic points in rhythm while also delivering the soul-searching undercurrents.

 

Recommended

 

Deer and the Lovers is currently playing at The Den Theatre until December 3. Tickets are available at www.firstfloortheater.com. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

In 2002, About Face Theater company debuted Doug Wright's play "I Am My Own Wife." It opened on Broadway in 2004, and won both the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Tony award for Best New Play. About Face Theater and director Andrew Volkoff revisit the play twelve years later in an eerily relevant political climate. In it, Wright tells the story of the time he spent in Berlin with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf during the early '90s.

 

Mahlsdorf was the subject of international fame after publishing her autobiography and being awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz by the German government. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf established The Grunderzeit museum, it housed her collection of historical items spanning decades of German history. Her most unique attribute is that she was a transvestite and managed to survive the nazis and the communists.

 

Playwright Doug Wright turned his interview notes into a mostly one-woman show. His character is played here by Scott Duff and functions as the narrator. Charlotte is portrayed by real life transgender actress Delia Kropp. In little stories about the antiques in her museum, Charlotte reveals more about herself. During both authoritarian regimes, gay people were persecuted. Each item is in some way connected to preserving the history of Germany's lgbt community.

 

Volkoff's production is sleek and well dressed. The lighting design by John Kelly adds a nice dimension to this otherwise minimal staging. Delia Kropp gives a fascinating performance. Charlotte labeled herself as a transvestite and never opted for sexual reassignment surgery. Delia portrays her with soft androgyny. Kropp's authenticity in voice and mannerism is striking. Her lengthy passages of monologue illuminate the imagination.

 

It's by no accident About Face selected "I Am My Own Wife" for their season. As the political tides turn, some lgbt communities are worried their legitimacy may be less certain. Doug Wright's play about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is a reassuring testament to everyday heros. As his character says in the play, "I need to believe this."

 

Through December 10th at Theater Wit - 1229 W Belmont. 773-975-8150.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 09 November 2016 23:56

Review: Porchlight's "End of the Rainbow"

To say Judy Garland led a tumultuous life is an understatement. In a way, she was the mid-century equivalent of Amy Winehouse. A once brilliant, and at times triumphant star who faded out much too soon. Maybe some will only remember Judy as Dorothy Gale, but in her short career Judy was an international phenomenon. Her dependence on prescription pills and alcohol created a tortured existence of financial and emotional instability. Judy Garland died of a drug overdose in 1969. Her New York City funeral is often considered the catalyst of the Stonewall Riots.

 

There have been several TV specials, documentaries, and movies made about Judy's life. Some better than others. A small West End show, "The End of the Rainbow" about the final months of Garland's life became a smash hit in 2010. A huge part of the show's success was star Tracie Bennett's uncanny likeness to Judy. Bennett and "Rainbow" transferred to Broadway in 2012.

 

This show is popular right now in regional productions, but Porchlight Music Theatre's production is the Chicago premiere. Playing Judy is Angela Ingersoll. Under the direction of Michael Webber, Ingersoll turns in a tour de force. She's wise not to veer into impression and makes definitive choices for her Judy, focusing on character rather than accuracy. Though, she really brings it home in the cabaret-style musical sequences. She captures Judy's intimate performance techniques that make an audience feel warm.

 

The book by Peter Quilter is more of a dramatic play than musical, but the songs are all selected from Judy's regular repertoire. Quilter's script is a well-rounded account of Judy's life almost entirely composed of actual quotes and first hand accounts from her life. Judy's demise is an unpleasant story and "The End of the Rainbow" covers it without getting morbid or tabloid.

 

Porchlight's production of "End of the Rainbow" starring Angela Ingersoll is a deeply moving account of the hidden side of show business. It's also a bittersweet tribute to one of Hollywood's biggest legends. For Garland fans young and old, this show is not to be missed.

 

Through December 9th at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 



 

Published in Theatre in Review

The Fairy Queen is a baroque opera written by Henry Purcell in 1692 as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream.  On November 5th, in the newly restored Studebaker Theater, the Chicago Opera Theater produced their reimagined version of the opera in collaboration with Culture Clash. The show is set in present day Las Vegas at a nightclub known as Club FQ or Club Fairy Queen, giving a modern perspective on a very traditional and old fashioned show.

 

Three couples, in various phases of their relationships, arrive at the club ready to enjoy their weekend in Vegas; Tanya and Rob to celebrate a birthday, Lysander and Herman to celebrate a marriage and Demetrius and Helena to try and rekindle their romance. After Tanya and Ron get in a big argument over Ron’s wandering eyes (and more) their first night in the club, Puck, the club owner, steps in with a special love potion that is sure to solve all of their problems. Of course, nothing from here out goes as planned and chaos ensues.

 

Now imagine that story set to baroque music by the Haymarket Opera Company - complete with a harpsichord and other period instruments - under the direction of Jory Vinikour. This should be an interesting way to make opera more accessible to a new audience but this strong juxtaposition, combined with overly sexualized characters who are such strong stereotypes it at times feels insulting and pacing that was awkwardly slow, it overall falls short of a production that will do much to attract any new audiences.

 

The show, like its muse, is a comedy and while there are some comedic moments that hit the right moment and tone, garnering laughs from the theater, there are many more that felt dragged out or had poor timing. The show has a run time of over 2 hours with a 20 minute intermission but the pacing of the performance makes that feel much longer. In a possible tribute to the masque style of the original opera, there tends to be significant time where characters who are not speaking are standing still on the stage, as if waiting for their next move, but that ended up detracting from the momentum of the performance.

 

The lyrics are captioned for the audience which is helpful, but they are still quite confusing. If you are familiar with the story of Midsummer Night's Dream, it will be easy to follow along despite that. The stage and lighting design were fitting to set the scene of this Vegas club and the costumes completed that package visually. The cast overall was eclectic and it was refreshing to see good diversity on stage. Tanya, played by Kim Jones, was a saving grace of the show. Her singing was beautiful and definitely made her a stand out member of the cast.  As the cast performed without microphones, there were times when it was difficult to hear the dialog but most of them had excellent projection when it was time to sing.

 

On the whole, this reimagined telling of The Fairy Queen missed the mark. It often felt like it was trying too hard to be hip and relevant which took away from the performance. There was great intent in this creative approach to an adaptation and with some softening of the delivery, and improvements on the pacing it could become a unique and interesting opera. There will be two more performances of the show coming up in the next week so get your tickets here to see for yourself - https://www.chicagooperatheater.org/the-season/fairy-queen. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 18 October 2016 14:04

Dr. Seward's Dracula Finishes Strong

In tradition of the Halloween season, First Folio Theatre keeps with its ongoing classic horror theme, this time presenting the world premiere of “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” in line with past productions “Frankenstein” and “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”. Finely adapted by Joseph Zettelmaier and cleverly directed by Jeff Award nominee Alison C. Vesely, a terrific tale is spun that is as dark as it is suspenseful.

 

The setting is perfect. Performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Brookfield, viewers get a taste of nostalgia, easily associated with that of a classic horror film, the moment they enter the aged mansion. 

 

The story revolves around Dr. Seward, a former practitioner at an asylum who has since left due to a string of tortuous events including the death of his wife and an attack that left him stabbed in the stomach with the jagged leg of a wooden stool. Set in Seward’s home, he is constantly visited by his past wife and shoots morphine on a regular basis to curb the chronic pain he suffers from his stomach wound. Visited regularly by editor and close friend, Bram Stoker, a series of brutal murders piles up and suspicions leading to Seward as a suspect gradually become stronger. When Inspector Louis Carlyse enters the scene, things only get stranger, suspicions pointing more and more to Dr. Seward who is now questioning his own sanity. Seward claims a blood drinking monster named “Dracula” is responsible for the horrific murders, a story not so easily believed.

 

Though fine acting is present from the play’s beginning, Act One moves along at a slow pace, the opportunity of dramatic moments lacking in heavy suspense, leaving something to be desired to the mid-act crescendos that were most likely intended. However, Act Two comes on strong, providing the intriguement and excitement horror fans would have expected, completely redeeming the show and putting it on the must do list for Halloween activities. 

 

Christian Gray is thoroughly gripping as Dr. Seward, capturing the audience for good in just the play’s first scene. He never let’s go of that grip. One of the finest actors in the Chicagoland theatre scene, Gray is able to tackle such a role in a way that most cannot. Already performing in over twenty shows for First Folio, the gifted actor has already made his mark in such productions as the “Jeeves” series, “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten”. Now Gray can confidently add another knock out performance to his resume. 

 

The play rounds out with a handful of strong supporting performances with Craig Spidle as the Inspector, Joseph Stearns as Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Stenholt as Seward’s lost love Emily Covington and most notably Ted Kitterman as The Strange Man.

 

Gray’s performance is reason alone to see this play. However, it’s building story, ominous looking set and well-played roles of its assorted interesting characters add even more justification to see this frightfully tasty Halloween treat. 

 

First Folio’s “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through November 6th. For more show information visit www.FirstFolio.org.

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Page 8 of 29

 

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