Theatre in Review

Flying Elephant Productions is pleased to launch its inaugural season with the world premiere of WE THE PEOPLE – SONGS OF THE RESISTANCE, a political musical song cycle about the turbulent 2016 election, with six actors playing 55 characters. This powerful new musical features a book by Sean Chandler, music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz, direction by Derek Van Barham and music direction by Ty Miles. WE THE PEOPLE will play January 26 – February 10, 2018 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at stage773.com, by calling (773) 327-5252 or in person at the Stage 773 box office. 
 
WE THE PEOPLE features Dwayne Everett, Bradley Halverson, Elizabeth Rentfro, Carmen Fisher Risi, Alyssa Soto and Timothy Swaim.
 
The election of 2016: Disappointment, Chaos, Intrigue, Anger, Response! This new political musical song cycle takes audiences from the party conventions through election night and its immediate aftermath into the realization of “Trump’s America.” It all culminates with a call to action from “We The People.”
 
Comments Flying Elephant Productions Executive Director Leo Schwartz, “Often, an artist’s job is to light dark corners and elucidate a way to a new understanding of the world. We see life differently and we passionately express our vision. Whether it’s to expose the workhouses of Victorian London in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, or the ravages of the Spanish Civil War in Picasso’s Guernica, or the social upheaval of the ‘60s with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, art inspires us to reconsider, to act, to challenge. We the People is a call to action to save those things which we hold most dear, our country and our freedom.”
 
The production team to date includes: Theron Wineinger (scenic design), Cat Wilson (lighting design), G. Max Maxin IV (projections design) and Neill Kelly (stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: WE THE PEOPLE – SONGS OF THE RESISTANCE
Book: Sean Chandler
Music and Lyrics: Leo Schwartz
Director: Derek Van Barham
Music Director: Ty Miles
Cast: Dwayne Everett, Bradley Halverson, Elizabeth Rentfro, Carmen Fisher Risi, Alyssa Soto and Timothy Swaim.
 
Location: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Dates: Preview: Friday, January 26 at 8 pm
Regular run: Sunday, January 28 – Saturday, February 10, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3:30 pm. 
Tickets: Preview $30. Regular run $40. Thursdays “Industry Night” $10 with headshot/resume.
Tickets are currently available at stage773.com, by calling (773) 327-5252 or in person at the Stage 773 box office.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Tuesday, 16 January 2018 03:42

Review: Five Mile Lake at Theater Wit

With the homecoming and family-visit season safely in the rear-view, Shattered Globe presents a new play by Rachel Bonds about the places we come from. “Five Mile Lake” is directed by Cody Estle, his first production with the company.

Bonds writes about a feeling that many city transplants can relate to all too well. “I can’t believe I managed to spend 18 years there,” she says of her small hometown in the stage notes. Though Bonds seems to have escaped small town life at a young age, her script is not a snobby look down her nose at small town America, in fact, it’s almost the opposite. There’s a longing for a perceived simplicity in this play. The irony is that no matter where you live, complexity is unavoidable.

‘Five Mile Lake’ is about five characters in a town outside Scranton, at the edge a frozen lake. The symbolism is not lost. Local coffee shop coworkers Mary (Daniela Colucci) and Jamie (Steve Peebles) live fairly uneventful lives until Jamie’s older brother returns with a new girlfriend and an open-ended visit.

In many ways, this is a retelling of Chekhov’s masterpiece ‘Uncle Vanya’. Mary and Jamie seem to toil endlessly in their dismal lives. Jamie works on a lake house his brother Rufus (Joseph Wiens) and girlfriend Peta (Aila Peck) are suddenly interested in when their impressive city-life turns to shambles. Mary is bogged down by a shell-shocked brother Danny (Drew Schad), all the while dreaming of a life outside Five Mile Lake. Between these desires for other circumstances are subtle, but wholly palpable, moments of truth.

Shattered Globe is an ensemble theater and most of their productions feature familiar faces. The result is a sense of intimacy between actors that translates to an audience. There’s a naturalistic cadence to Rachel Bonds’ dialogue too. Sometimes inside-jokes or silliness between characters seems contrived on stage. Whenever Daniela Colucci is in a scene, you feel like you’ve known her all your life. There’s something really authentic going on here. Estle gets great performances out of even the smallest, non-verbal moments of the play. A scene in which Rufus and Mary’s older brother Danny run into each other after years of estrangement is so fraught that just a searching look from Drew Schad is enough to break your heart.

“Five Mile Lake” is a prime example of why you should see new work. Sometimes it’s a gamble, but other times in the middle of an ordinary Sunday you find yourself completely invested in the problems fictional characters. You take them with you, because they are you.

Through February 24th at Shattered Globe Theatre. Theater Wit. 773-975-8150

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 20:28

For The Loyal is dynamic and brutally honest

Echoing the western world’s most debated issue of late, For The Loyal was inspired by the Penn State sexual abuse scandal involving one of the college football coaches. Written by Lee Blessing and directed by James Yost, the play is presented as part of Interrobang Theatre Project’s ‘RAW Series’. Five actors on a tiny, modestly decorated stage (scenic design by Pauline Olesky), each playing multiple parts and enacting a story with alternative endings – it’s stripped down of anything but the story, acting and analysis of a crime.

Toby (Matthew Nerber) is an assistant coach to Mitch Carlson (very convincing Rob Frankel), the head coach of a top college football program. Toby’s wife Mia (intensely played by Sarah Gise) is pregnant with the couple’s first child. Toby and Mia had just become aware of Carlson’s terrible secret, and now everyone involved, including Carlson’s boss, Hale (Josh Zagoren), is faced with a difficult choice. A lot is at stake: the program’s integrity, coaches’ careers and reputations, but no one but Mia has any concern for Carlson’s victim. Mia is faced with a personal dilemma: stay loyal to the program and keep a secret, or bring Carlson to justice. She spends the evening exploring and playing out different scenarios and outcomes in her head, none of which seems particularly satisfying to her.

The creators of the play did a great job analyzing the dynamic between the sexual predators and their victims, giving us plenty of food for thought: is the sexual predator usually a stranger or is he more often a respected figure? Is the victim (a young boy played by Richard David) still a victim, despite his “consent”? Is Coach Carlson guilty, even though “no boy comes to him who is not ready for him”? And, most importantly, do we, as a society, tend to put certain people on a pedestal and then become protective of them, despite their crimes? Carlson’s remark is priceless: “Watch out for heroes, not strangers”. Indeed.

For the Loyal is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre through February 4th. For tickets and/or show information visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org.  

Published in Theatre in Review

The Neo-Futurists and The Ruffians are thrilled to announce the return of the holiday hit BURNING BLUEBEARD for six performances only, December 27 – 31, 2017 at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago. The fantastical tale inspired by Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire has been an annual Chicago holiday favorite for six years running. Tickets are currently available at neofuturists.org.
 
Written by Jay Torrence and directed by Halena Kays, BURNING BLUEBEARD reunites the full cast from the past three seasons: Pam Chermansky, Anthony Courser, Molly Plunk, Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski and Ryan Walters.
 
Inspired by the true story of Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire, BURNING BLUEBEARD is the story of six singed clown performers who emerge from the burnt remains of history attempting to perform their spectacular Christmas Pantomime once and for all. But this time, they hope to finally reach the true happy ending of their second act and avoid the fateful fire that killed 600 of its audience members. BURNING BLUEBEARD is a whimsical romp with a sensitive heart, a joyful eulogy with a sharp irreverent wit including music, clowning, tumbling, acrobatics and dance. Each performance is a vaudevillian delight with a story that excavates the poetic and poignant remains of a piece of Chicago’s rich history. 
 
The run of BURNING BLUEBEARD will include two performances on the 114th anniversary of the actual Iroquois Theatre fire, Saturday, December 30. An optional New Year’s Eve VIP Package is available which includes performances of BURNING BLUEBEARD (7:30 pm) and THE INFINITE WRENCH, The Neo-Futurists’ popular barrage of two minute plays (11 pm), along with food, drinks and a midnight toast. 
 
Performance Schedule:
Wednesday, December 27 at 7:30 pm (preview)
Thursday, December 28 at 7:30 pm
Friday, December 29 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 30 at 3 pm & 7:30 pm (114th Anniversary Performances)
Sunday, December 31 at 7:30 pm 
 
Tickets:
Preview: pay-what-you-can.
Regular run: $35 ($30 early bird discount through Wednesday, December 13). Students/seniors $25.
New Year’s Eve VIP Package: $75 – In addition to regularly priced tickets to BURNING BLUEBEARD, a limited number of special VIP New Year’s Eve packages will be available, which include tickets to both BURNING BLUEBEARD at 7:30 pm and The Neo-Futurists’ THE INFINITE WRENCH New Year’s Eve performance at 11:00 pm. In between shows, VIP ticket holders will be treated to dinner, live performance and music, brews from Metropolitan Brewery and type-written poetry on demand from Poems While You Wait. The Neo-Futurists' THE INFINITE WRENCH performance will finish just in time for an audience champagne/sparkling apple juice toast at midnight. Tickets are currently available at neofuturists.org.
 
The production team for BURNING BLUEBEARD includes: Lizzie Bracken (scenic, costume and props design), Jay Torrence and Mike Tutaj (sound design), Maggie Fullilove-Nugent (lighting design), Archer Curry (prop master) and Justine Palmisano (stage manager).

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Following its hit production of FOXFINDER, Interrobang Theatre Project is pleased to continue its 2017-18 Season, exploring the urgent question “What is Truth?,” with Lee Blessing's shocking and thought-provoking new play FOR THE LOYAL, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost*. FOR THE LOYAL will play January 6 – February 4, 2018 at The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 1), 2936 N. Southport Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at www.interrobangtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office. The press opening is Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm.
 
FOR THE LOYAL features ensemble members Sarah Gise* as Mia and Matthew Nerber* as Toby with Rob Frankel as Carlson, Richard Hatcher as The Boy and Josh Zagoren as Hale.
 
For Toby and Mia, college football and family are one and the same; he has a new coaching job for a top team, and they are happily expecting their first born. But when Toby gets Mia enmeshed in an unseemly team secret, she is forced to decide where her loyalties truly lie. Inspired by the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, FOR THE LOYAL takes an unconventional and provocative look at how one woman traverses a no-win situation. 
 
FOR THE LOYAL is presented as part of Interrobang's RAW Series. Think of it a bit like theatrical sashimi. Big ideas, bold flavors – everything you’ve come to expect from Interrobang Theatre Project – without the trimmings. We’ve stripped down the classic stage elements to put the story front and center. The RAW Series features passion-projects and bucket-list productions spearheaded by our talented ensemble. In addition to our regularly scheduled plays, the RAW Series aims to bring concise, actor-driven theater to the Chicago stage. 
 
In Conversation with The Playwright
Interrobang Theatre Project with host a talkback with playwright Lee Blessing on Saturday, January 6, 2018 from 4 – 5 pm. Tickets cost $10 (discussion only) or $20 (discussion plus 7:30 pm performance. For additional information, visit www.interrobangtheatre.org.
 
The production team for FOR THE LOYAL includes: Pauline Olesky (scenic design), Rebecca Bartle (lighting design), Christopher Aaron Knarr* (original music), Hannah Wolff (asst. director) and Devonte Washington (stage manager).
 
*Denotes Interrobang Theatre Project Company Member. 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: FOR THE LOYAL
Playwright: Lee Blessing
Director: Co-Artistic Director James Yost
Cast: Sarah Gise (Mia) and Matthew Nerber (Toby) with Rob Frankel (Carlson), Richard Hatcher (The Boy) and Josh Zagoren (Hale).
 
Location: The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 1), 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Dates: Previews: Saturday, January 6 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, January 7 at 2 pm
Press opening: Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Thursday, January 11 – Sunday, February 4, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm & 7:30 pm: Sundays at 2 pm. 
Tickets: Previews: $17. Regular run: $32. Students $17 with ID. (Ticket prices include $2 Athenaeum Theatre restoration fee). 
In Conversation with Playwright Lee Blessing: Saturday, January 6 from 4 – 5 pm $10 (discussion only) or $20 (discussion plus 7:30 pm performance).
Tickets are currently available at www.interrobangtheatre.org, by calling (773) 935-6875 or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 18 December 2017 19:29

The New Colony Presents THE LIGHT

The New Colony is pleased to conclude its ninth season with the world premiere of Loy Webb’s gripping romantic drama THE LIGHT, directed by Toma Langston, playing January 5 – February 4, 2018 at The New Colony’s resident home, The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets are currently available at www.thenewcolony.org. The press opening is Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm.

THE LIGHT will feature TNC Ensemble Member Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr. (Byhalia, Mississippi - TNC, A Wonder in My Soul - Victory Gardens) and Tiffany Oglesby (An Octaroon - Definition Theatre Company, Significant Other - About Face & Theater Wit). 
 
A surprise proposal takes an unexpected turn that upends the world of Genesis and Rashad, forcing them to confront a devastating secret from the past and putting the future of their relationship at risk. Featuring two of Chicago’s most dynamic actors, THE LIGHT is a 70-minute, real-time rollercoaster journey of laughter, romance and despair that uncovers how the power of radical love can be a healing beacon of light.
 
The LIGHT is the 30th world premiere presented by The New Colony since 2008 and marks the final production under the tenure of founding co-artistic directors Andrew Hobgood and Evan Linder, who are stepping down at the conclusion of the company’s ninth season 
 
The production team for THE LIGHT includes: John Wilson (scenic design), Cassandra Kendall (lighting design), Regina Victor (dramaturg), Noelle Simone (assistant director) and Daryl Ritchie (stage manager). 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
Title: THE LIGHT
Playwright: Loy Webb
Director: Toma Langston
Cast: Ensemble Member Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr. (Rashad) and Tiffany Oglesby (Genesis).
 
Location: The Den Theatre (2B), 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Dates: Previews: Friday, January 5 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, January 6 at 7:30 pm
Opening: Sunday, January 7 at 3 pm
Press opening: Monday, January 8 at 7:30 pm
Regular run:  Thursday, January 11 – Sunday, February 4, 2018
Curtain times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm
Industry Night: Monday, January 29 at 7:30 pm 
Tickets: Previews: $15; Regular run: $20. Students/seniors: 25% off. Tickets are currently available at www.thenewcolony.org

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre is pleased to continue its 2017-18 Season with Rachel Bonds’ new drama FIVE MILE LAKE, directed by Cody Estle. This Chicago premiere asks the question, “In this rapidly transforming world, when is the right time to make a major change in your life? What holds you back?” FIVE MILE LAKE will play January 11 – February 24, 2018 at SGT’s resident home Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, November 15 at www.shatteredglobe.org, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office. The press opening is Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 3 pm.
 
FIVE MILE LAKE will feature Shattered Globe ensemble members Steve Peebles*, Drew Schad*, Joseph Wiens* and SGT artistic associate Daniela Colucci+ with Aila Peck. 
 
In a style reminiscent of Chekhov, five spirited young adults approaching thirty try to navigate the emotional undercurrents of unrequited love, loss and possibility. The unexpected return of a sibling sets in motion an inadvertent winter reunion in their small Pennsylvania town – the kind of claustrophobic place that most kids grow up to leave. Looking toward the frozen lake and wrestling with their future, each character aspires to make a new choice – the “right” choice – and comes face-to-face with the choices they have already made.
 
Comments Director Cody Estle, “Five Mile Lake is a funny and moving portrait of small town people –both the people who stayed and the people who moved away. Sometimes everyone else’s life looks better from a distance but what really defines happiness? Coming from a small town myself and being around the age of these characters brings a special connection – it’s a story that I'm eager to tell. It’s filled with family, dreams and hope – I think it will engage, move and inspire audiences.”
 
Producing Artistic Director Sandy Shinner adds, “The writing in Five Mile Lake is a gift to actors as they explore the tension between what the characters say and what they feel. In this season of all Chicago premieres, Shattered Globe is excited to welcome playwright Rachel Bonds to our theater. She’ll be joining us during the creative process and we look forward to introducing her to Chicago’s theater community and our audiences.”
 
The production team for FIVE MILE LAKE includes Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), JR Lederle (lighting design), Christopher Kriz+ (sound design), Vivian Knouse* (props design), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), A.J. Roy (asst. director), Judy Anderson* (exec. production manager), Colin David (production manager), Denise Savas (stage manager) and Ayanna Wimberley (asst. stage manager).
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: FIVE MILE LAKE
Playwright: Rachel Bonds
Director: Cody Estle
Cast (in alphabetical order): Daniela Colucci+ (Mary), Aila Peck (Peta), Steve Peebles* (Jamie), Drew Schad* (Danny) and Joseph Wiens* (Rufus).
 
Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave, Chicago
Dates: Previews: Thursday, January 11 at 8 pm, Friday, January 12 at 8 pm and Saturday, January 13 at 8 pm 
Press Performance: Sunday, January 14 at 3 pm
Regular Run: Thursday, January 18 – Saturday, February 24, 2018 
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there is an added matinee on Saturday, February 24 at 3 pm. 
Touch Tour/Audio Description Performance: Friday, February 2 – 6:30 pm touch tour, 8 pm performance with audio description. $20 tickets available with code “ACCESS.”
Global Perspectives: SGT will be hosting post-show discussions immediately following 3 pm performances on Sundays.
Tickets: Previews: $20 general admission, $10 students, $10 industry tickets with code “FRIEND”. Regular Run: $35 general admission. Discounts: $15 students, $28 seniors, $20 under 30. $15 industry tickets on Thursdays with code “INDUSTRY.” Tickets go on sale Wednesday, November 15 at www.theaterwit.org, in person at the Theater Wit Box Office or by calling (773) 975-8150. Group discounts are currently available by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (773) 770-0333. 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

For those who may have missed this one time show on December 10th, The return of Tidings of Tap, was filled with joy and the love of dance for the 2017 Holiday Season for families, friends and tap lovers of all ages.  Celebrating their 15th Anniversary, Chicago Tap Theatre presents this tapping extravaganza celebrating Chanukah/Christmas and the winter season, performing with a live band directed by Kurt Schweitz. To help celebrate their 15th Anniversary, Chicago Tap Theatre (CTT) is being challenged by The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, to raise and match funds, to support CTT’s mission in producing high quality and innovative tap dance performances and expanding the art form of tap.

The North Shore Center for Performing Arts in Skokie, was the perfect intimate location for this anniversary holiday extravaganza, giving all audience members a perfect view of the dancers, and more importantly their feet. Highlighted throughout the show, the sound of the tappers helped to create and compliment the holiday music featured.  Tidings of Tap includes a syncopated “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” medley during the Carols number, flicks of flame for Candlelight, anger and frustration for our shoppers during Black Friday and even featuring musical stylings from Artistic Director, Mark Yonally and the live band in, Rest Ye, Man. Besides Yonally, the very talented dancing troupe includes Kirsten Ittich, Jennifer Yonally, Aimee Chause, Isacc Stauffer, Sara Anderson, Sarah Owens, Anabel Watson, Bailey Caves, Chris Matthews, Emily Broeker and Dasha Merkulov.

Tidings of Tap, is a fantastic holiday show, that will keep you smiling from beginning to the Shim Sham end, where all tappers from the audience of all ages are encouraged to join the performers on stage for their final dance of the night.  An inspirational show for the season, for new dancers and to reignite the passion of dancers who continue to shuffle in their seats, Tidings of Tap really does bring in the happiest tidings of the season.

For more information on Chicago Tap Theatre including upcoming events, visit www.chicagotaptheatre.com.

 

Published in Dance in Review

This is Hell in a Handbag’s 15th Season and yet every year I look forward more than ever to seeing a Christmas show that's as irreverent and funny as "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer". This year Handbag's Artistic Director and writer of the original, and yearly refreshed, Christmas production, David Cerda, delivers not only his much beloved impression of Gladys Dasher with ruby red lips, jet black bouffant and commanding personality reminiscent of Joan Crawford, he also delights the audience with a spot-on characterization of Ivanka Trump (pronounced Iwanka). Cerda is a delight in this new role playing the mush-mouthed, often victimized, blonde wife of Santa Claus.

There is a wonderful rewrite of the entire opening of " Rudolph" this year regarding Trump and Iwanka and how they have affected the Gay community that resounded well with the audience and got huge laughs of recognition and applause. 

"Rudolph” is a fabulous LGBT version of the old tale where Rudolph is left out of playing reindeer games and is bullied mercilessly because he is too effeminate to pull Santa's sleigh. Along the way we meet many other characters who've been marginalized as well, like the toys banished to the island of badly built toys and even Rudolph's girlfriend Clarice who is secretly a bi-sexual feminist who is perfectly happy with Rudolph as her friend no matter what he likes to wear out in the snow, red hose and heels notwithstanding. 

There was a mix of old and new faces from Hell in a Handbag’s extremely talented singers and dancers from their  revolving base of performers and I really felt like I was seeing the finest lineup and the most energetic, funny cast of this production in past years with Graham Thomas Heacock as Rudolph, Kristopher Bottrall as Herbie, Allison Petrillo as Jane Donner, Chase Wheaton-Werle as Tom Donner, Michael Hampton as Santa, Tommy Bullington as Mrs. Claus, Sydney Genco as Elfina, Colin Funk as Spike, Michael Rawls as Score, Josh Kemper as Coach Comet, Lori Lee as Yukon Cornelia, Terry McCarthy as Connie Blitzen, David Cerda as Gladys Dasher, Christea Parent as Clarice and Matthew Sergot as Sam the Snowman.

Given that this year full of Trump's insane negativity and lawlessness is without a doubt the most frightening, turbulent New Year’s and Christmas ever for all unique individuals, from little girls to grown men and women of every race, gender and religion. Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer is the type of heart lifting entertainment full of really great laughs and gags from beginning to end that Chicago audiences need more than ever!

I highly recommend this classic hilarious tale about being who you really are and fighting back against evil that conspires to divide and punish people based on their perceived frailties for EVERYONE. If you've seen it before you must see it again because this year’s script and cast of Rudolph really delivers the heart and the funny with a comic ferocity like never before.

With a hilarious script and songs that are as relevant to our current political climate as they are funny, "Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer" is being performed at Mary’s Attic through January 1st. More information on this great Chicago holiday tradition can be found at www.handbagproductions.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 08 December 2017 17:44

Review: 'Turandot' at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Finding love is hard. What someone else wants can sometimes be a riddle, but in the case of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ it’s quite literal. The Lyric Opera of Chicago welcomes back the classic Eastern-flavored piece that is new to Chicago but has previously been seen in a few other American cities. Directed by Rob Kearley, this quick opera is an intellectual alternative to the scads of warmed-over holiday specials offered by most other theaters in December.

‘Turandot’ is a somewhat culturally insensitive Chinese fairy tale. In it, Princess Turandot (sung by Amber Wagner) is a mysterious princess who asks her suitors to answer three riddles. Failure to answer correctly results in death. She goes through suitors quickly until a non-noble, Calaf (Stefano La Colla), is able to correctly guess the answers. Calaf is beloved by his father’s slave Liu (Maria Agresta), but he blindly persists in his conquest of Turandot.

While Amber Wagner is a vocal sensation, there’s something missing in her performance. Stefano La Colla on the other hand is both a fantastic vocalist as well as a convincing actor, something not exactly mutually exclusive in opera. Though, the evening’s real stand out may well be Maria Agresta who will be singing Liu for the December performance dates. Her Liu is very moving.

Puccini’s score is stunning. This is a more modern opera in that it was first presented in 1926. The rich choral arrangements and individual songs with melodies and harmonies make this sound like a traditional musical. It’s not hard to hear ‘Les Miserables’ in the large cast choruses. The music is strong enough to overshadow the none-too-subtle themes of Orientalism and misogyny.

Thankfully, the set pieces and costumes (which are mostly very tasteful) are the only uses of what some would call “yellow face.” The intricate sets designed by Allen Charles Klein are beautiful. The colors and contrasting layers are dazzling and the perfect companion to the soaring music.

‘Turandot’ was Puccini’s final work and he died before completing it. There’s a well-accepted conclusion written by Alfano based on sketches left behind. Some productions simply end where Puccini ended, but that seems a bit disappointing. Kearley opts for the Alfano conclusion. Operas can feel a little endless for the uninitiated. Have no fear, ‘Turandot’ is a swift and engrossing three hours. This is a great beginner opera for those looking to culture themselves this holiday season.

Through January 27th at Lyric Opera Chicago. 20 N Upper Wacker Dr. 312-332-2244

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Page 4 of 26

 

 

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