‘Dear Evan mixes great songs with needy plot

The North American touring company of Dear Evan Hanson. (Photos byh Matthew Murphy)
The North American touring company of Dear Evan Hanson. (Photos byh Matthew Murphy)

3 1/2 stars

It’s not breaking news that teenagers experience angst in high school from parental to peer pressure and from wanting to fit in to having a best friend and from feeling insecure or inadequate to not knowing how to express one’s self or experiencing bouts of depression. In addition there are teens on drugs, troubled teens and teens contemplating suicide.

It’s also not breaking news that actions go viral because someone is always around snapping and recording on a cell phone or that some of the so called stories out there are “fake news.”

Add to the mix that either teenagers think their parents don’t understand them or that they want something from them they are not able to manage. There is also the issue of parents who are so busy with other aspects of life that they are not around when needed.

In the hands of songwriters Ben Pasek and Justin Paul (who later did “La La Land”) and playwright Steven Levenson (Days of Rage) those issues coalesce in the Broadway hit musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” directed by Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”).

There have been a lot of shows that deal with family problems but what seemed to set this one apart upon seeing it when the national tour hit Chicago this week, were the extraordinary songs that expressed Evan’s wistful feelings such as “You Will Be Found,” Waving Through a Window and “For Forever.” Evan’s mom, Heidi who after her husband left them, works and goes to class so is seldom around, also gets her heart wrenching song, “So Big, So Small.”

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Five shows to take the mind off winter

 

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

 

If escaping to somewhere warm hasn’t worked out this year then escape instead to a fun or interesting play that takes you to a different time or place.

 

“All Childish Things,” a crazy plan to steal Star Wars toys from a warehouse encounters the Dark Side, at First Folio in Oakbrook through Feb. 24. The show is appropriate for Star Wars fans ages 12 and up.

Seeing a show at First Folio is an experience because it is in the Mayslake Peabody Estate, a supposedly haunted mansion in a Du Page County Forest Preserve.

 

“The Producers,” Mel Brooks zany plot to make money on a show by producing a flop, is at the Paramount  Theatre in Aurora through March 17, 2019.

Paramount is worth the drive to Aurora because the shows there are full-blown, Broadway-style productions with excellent casts and great scenic design, costumes and orchestration.

 

“Dear Evan Hansen,” a complicated scenario dealing with mental health, fitting in, bullying and other problems teens face in high school, is at the James M Nederlander Theatre (formerly Oriental) through March 10.

The Tony-Award winning musical is starting its National tour in Chicago as part of the Broadway in Chicago series.

 

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” a delightful Porchlight  Music Theatre production at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, through March 16.

If you haven’t seen a Porchlight musical, it’s time to add it to your go-to list.

 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a classic August Wilson play, is at Writers Theatre, Glencoe through March 17.

August Wilson presents, rather than tip toes through, confrontation, but he does so in unexpected ways. Plus, Writers Theatre is in an award-winning Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang Architects) designed structure.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

‘Brooke Astor’s Last Affair’ is Fair

 

Underscore Theatre Ensemble, Brook Astor's Last Affair. (Photos by Jesus Ricca)
Underscore Theatre Ensemble, Brook Astor’s Last Affair. (Photos by Jesus Ricca)

2.5 Stars

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival produced by Underscore Theatre through Feb. 24, 2019 is a great opportunity to experience new work from emerging composers, lyricists, and playwrights of this classically American performance genre.

My first festival experience this weekend was “Brooke Astor’s Last Affair” based on the life of New York socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor.

The format is flashback fantasy in which Brooke is forced to review some life choices including the relationship between her and her son (from a previous marriage), Tony Marshall.

I very much wanted to love this show and it has a number of interesting moments but overall it was a miss.

The book and lyrics by Rachael Migler are the heart of the production and get the job done in terms of telling the story but the music by composer Nick Thornton is generally underwhelming with the exception of “Marry for Money” and the very cute “Dachshunds and Men.”Read More

What if Ibsen’s Nora returned

Sandra Marquez (Nora) and Yasen Payankov (Torvald) in A Doll's House Part 2 at Stepponwolf Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Sandra Marquez (Nora) and Yasen Payankov (Torvald) in A Doll’s House Part 2 at Stepponwolf Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

3 1/2 stars

The back story is necessary to really understand playwright Lucas Hnath’s witty “A Doll’s House, Part 2, now at Steppenwolf Theatre. Otherwise audiences might sympathize with Hnath’s portrayal of the people Nora left behind when she slammed the door on her conventional, egotistical banker husband and their three children.

When Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright known for digging below society’s conventions to expose them for what they really are, published “A Doll’s House” in1879 he defied accepted familial and economic norms of the day.

He shocked a society that placed women in subservient roles to men. In many households, women were expected to be ornamental and needy and they had to have their husband’s or father’s signatures and OKs on legal documents.

Hnath, adept at penning plays that are both comedic and tense, (think Isaac’s Eye), takes on the “Doll’s House” iconic feminist heroine to ask how did she fare 15 years after she left her husband Torvald’s household and his demeaning view of her so she could be free to define herself.

Portrayed with gumption and defiance by Steppenwolf ensemble member Sandra Marquez, an extravagantly clothed Nora first challenges her old nanny, Anne Marie, to guess why she looks rich.

Played to perfection by Chicago veteran Barbara E. Robertson as the angry care-giver who stayed on to raise Nora’s three children, Anne Marie guesses traditional women tasks and skills.Read More

‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ finds the right tone

Cyndey Moody and Mike Newquist in Deadman's Cell Phone at Greenhouse theater. (Photo by Paul Goyette
Cyndey Moody and Mike Newquist in Deadman’s Cell Phone at Greenhouse theater. (Photo by Paul Goyette

 

3 stars

Our cell phones have truly become extensions of ourselves, storing bits of personal and secret data with the potential to live-on sharing and connecting pieces of our lives even after we are gone.

In “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” presented by “The Comrades,” Wilmette playwright Sarah Ruhl explores what might happen when a stranger interacts with a deceased man’s cell phone she retrieves in a diner.

This is an absurd tongue-in-cheek noir-style, dark comedic drama directed by Arianna Soloway. It features the winsome, inquisitive and inventive  Cydney Moody as “plain Jane” Jean who is perhaps being a bit voyeuristic  but also just wants to make people feel better. In the process, she finds herself more involved than she probably expected.

Valeria Rosero and Cyndney Moody in Dead Man's Cell Phone
Valeria Rosero and Cyndney Moody in Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Performed by an expert ensemble that includes Bryan Breau as the dead man Gordon, Caroline Dodge Latta as his at times overbearing but loving mother Mrs. Gottleib, Lynnette Li as his somewhat reluctant widow Hermia, Mike Newquist as his neglected brother Dwight and Valeria Rosero as the secretive “Other Woman.”

The stunning simple set design by Sydney Achler is a series of monochromatic paint-splattered trapezoids whose hectic colorization and odd angles contribute visually to the unbalanced surrealistic quality of the story.

There are a few bothersome inconsistencies in the story but they are easily overcome by the outstanding performances of the ensemble and the thought provoking subject matter.

This is a weird ride that makes you want to see what’s around the next turn.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” The Comrades production at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, goes through March 10, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.For tickets and other information call (773) 404-7336 or visit Greenhouse Theater.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Three Valentine’s Day ideas

 

Go as a couple or go as friends but just do something appealing. Either way works if you want to share good food or a really nice experience. Our three suggestions combine food with a fun evening.

 

Celebrate Valentine's Day at Lincolnshire Marriott resort's Three Embers and Marriott Theatre's Million Dollar Quartet. Photo courtesy of Lincolnshire Marriott Resort)
Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Lincolnshire Marriott resort’s Three Embers and Marriott Theatre’s Million Dollar Quartet. Photo courtesy of Lincolnshire Marriott Resort)

 

Dinner and a Show

Three Embers, Lincolnshire Marriott’s upscale restaurant  has a Valentine’s Day Dinner Special but you can also order off the regular menu. However, go early to include “Million Dollar Quartet,” the show currently getting rave reviews in the resort’s theatre.  It’s more than just a show. It’s a terrific concert.

For tickets visit Box Office. For more iknformation call 847-634-0100 or visit Lincolnshire Marriott Resort. Lincolnshire Marriott Resort is at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire.

 

A dessert at the Chocolate Sanctuary. (Photo courtesy of Chocolate Sanctuary)
A dessert at the Chocolate Sanctuary. (Photo courtesy of Chocolate Sanctuary)

Dinner, Chocolate and Band

Expect chocolate to be part of the meal at The Chocolate Sanctuary in Gurnee. You can have chocolate bread, chocolate butter and a chocolate dessert if you’d like, but also get a box of zodiac chocolates from the boutique up front.  The restaurant has a special menu for Valentine’s Day but you can also order from the menu. If you want you can go early for dinner and stay for the entertainment, “Eaglemania.” Ask about a dinner and show package price or when it’s best to go just for dinner.

Call (224) 944.0808 or visit The Chocolate Sanctuary. Also visit Chocolate Sanctuary Boutique. The Chocolate Sanctuary is at 5101 Washington St., Gurnee.

 

Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier. (Photo courtesy of Navy Pier)
Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier. (Photo courtesy of Navy Pier)

Navy Pier Centennial Wheel and Dinner

Navy Pier has free Centennial wheel rides Feb. 14 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. but pre-registration is needed. Don’t worry about the cold, you can cuddle but the gondolas are also heated. There will also be a drawing that combines dinner, dessert and gift basket. Free rides are limited  so register  as soon as possible. After the free tickets are gone there will be paid ticket rides on a first come, first serve basis.For information on reserved VIP gondolas call (312) 595-5021. (Note: The wheel temporarily closes when weather gets really bad)

To enter the dinner for two and other Valentine Day gift drawing, complete this form.  After the Pier has preselected three finalists, he grand prize winning couple will be chosen by public votes via poll on Navy Pier’s Facebook page.  Runner-ups will also receive a small package to be redeemed at a later date.

Several other Navy Pier retailers and restaurants will offer discounts. For more information visit   Navy Pier Valentines Day .

For more wheel information call (312) 595-PIER (7437) and visit Navy Pier.

312-595-PIER (7437) or following Navy Pier on Twitter (@NavyPier). For more information, visit Navy Pier.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Thriller on Clover Road

Philip Earl Johnson explains to Gwendolyn Whiteside how the deprogramming is going to work. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Philip Earl Johnson explains to Gwendolyn Whiteside how the deprogramming is going to work. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

3.5 stars

“On Clover Road” keeps you on the edge of your seat.

It’s not often that a play comes around that creates such drama and suspense,  your heart races and you might have to look away. Such is the case with the live performance of “On Clover Road,” playing at American Blues Theater through March 16, 2019.

The title itself implies a bit of luck that finding a four-leaf clover might bring. In a sense, the play is about luck too, both good and bad, and how it impacts the characters.

Written by Steven Dietz and directed by Halena Kays, “On Clover Road” tells the story of an angry, frustrated mother who meets with a cult de-programmer believing she will be reunited with her runaway daughter. Her daughter has been gone for more than four years and the mother has all but given up hope. Read More

Emotional and explosive ‘Elektra’

Nina Stemme as Elektra at Lyric Opera of chicago. (Photo credit Cory Weaver and Lyric)
Nina Stemme as Elektra at Lyric Opera of chicago. (Photo credit Cory Weaver and Lyric)

3 1/2 stars

A stormy Nina Stemme filled the Lyric Opera House with a powerful interpretation of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra,” Feb. 6.

Known to the Met and European house for her vibrant vocals in Wagner and Strauss operas the Swedish soprano is making her Lyric debut this month as the tragic Elektra whose only motive for living is to avenge the death of her father, Agamemnon.

Stemme not only brings the expected explosive passion to the role, she also tempers the portrayal with wistfulness and contemplative anguish.

A one-act opera, there are no gaps for well-deserved applause and bravo! after each of Stemme’s arias.

The other two important female roles are Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis, sung beautifully by acclaimed South African soprano Elza Van Den Heever and their mother, Klyamnestra, expressively sung by internationally known American mezzo-soprano Michaela Matens.

The two male characters vital to the story, Elektra’s, long lost brother, Orest, and the queen’s lover, Aegisth, don’t appear until the end. Scottish bass-baritone Iain Patterson who was recently Creonte in Medea at the Berlin State Opera sounded right at home in this dark mythological tale as was American tenor Robert Brubaker, a frequent artist at the Met.

Michaela Martens as Klytamnestra with confidante Whitney Morrison and train bearer Emily Pogorelc in Elektra at Lyric Opera of chicago (photo by Cory Weaver)
Michaela Martens as Klytamnestra with confidante Whitney Morrison and train bearer Emily Pogorelc in Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago (photo by Cory Weaver)

Directed by Nicolas Sandys as a revival of Director David McVicar’s production, the 2019 “Elektra”  is not a stand and sing to the audience opera. Instead, it is dramatic theater that combines exceptional singing and acting  with Strauss’ turbulent music played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles.

What audiences may not recall from this tale based on Sophocles’ Electra, is that the queen was enraged by Agamemnon’s supposedly appeasing a goddess by sacrificing another daughter, Iphigenia, before he left for Troy.  But no matter the motivation, Greek mythology makes potent opera.

My only problem with the production was the costumes of Klyamnestra and her court. The rubble in and around the courtyard where the action takes place and the ruinous state of the palace,  itself, seem to symbolize decay. I got that. However, the queen and her court appear to be over grotesquely costumed in apparel from a 1931 “Cabaret” nightmare so they distract from the opera’s action.

DETAILS: “Elektra” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. WackerDrive, Chicago, through Feb. 22, 2019. Running time: 1 hr, 40 min. with no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Getting a roommate leads to unexpected consequences

 

From left, Laurie Carter Rose (Robyn) and Ellen Phelps (Sharon) in The Roommate at Citadel Theatre. (Photo by North shore camera Club)
From left, Laurie Carter Rose (Robyn) and Ellen Phelps (Sharon) in The Roommate at Citadel Theatre. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)

3 ½ starts

While watching the excellent portrayals of Ellen Phelps as Sharon and Laurie Carter Rose as Robyn, in Citadel Theatre’s “The Roommate, you may not agree with all their choices but you clearly get the message that they are seeking ways to begin their lives anew.

There are many quotable lines in this play by Jen Silverman, but one that delivers the show’s “raison d’etre,” is when Sharon says in Scene 2, “I guess everybody wants to start over. Just burn it all down and start over.”

A dark comedy, “The Roommate” brings together a recently divorced Iowan housewife searching for company and a way to split the bills and a lesbian, former Brooklyn con artist who really seems to want to escape her past in a small-town, farming community.

Their seemingly simple plans go awry as Sharon becomes interested in Robyn’s former life and Robyn realizes she may be a dangerously corrupting influence.

In addition, both women seem to have alienated their adult children. Neither Sharon’s son nor Robyn’s daughter want to call Mom until they realize through their parent’s strange, long distance calls that something is changing.

Even though I had seen the play and enjoyed it at Steppenwolf last year, I was appreciating the show once again until the last line which I objected to then and still do.

Depressed by her once again empty house because Robyn leaves, Sharon first says, “I don’t know where to start…. Except over again”  Fine. The play should have ended there.

But then Sharon, handling some stuff Robyn left behind, adds what Robyn had said earlier in another context, “There is a great liberty in being BAD.”

Perceptively directed by Beth Wolf and staged on a believable, well-designed set by Eric Luchen, “The Roommate” offers a somewhat exaggerated but fun and interesting “what if” scenario on life when people reach middle age and wonder what should come next.

“The Roommate” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., in a Lake Forest School District  building, through March 3, 2019. Running time: 90 min., no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554, ext. 1 or visit Citadel Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Chinese New Year food and shopping events

The Peninsula Chicago is ready for Chinese New Year. (Photo courtesy of Peninsula Chicago)
The Peninsula Chicago is ready for Chinese New Year. (Photo courtesy of Peninsula Chicago)

If you have a Chinese restaurant near you it is likely decorated for the Chinese New Year and offering a special menu. During  the Chinese New Year celebrations Feb. 4 through Feb. 17, 2019.

Go. Enjoy. And look at the paper placemat that might be at your place setting because it likely has the Chinese Zodiac on it or information that this is the Year of the Pig.

Then, if looking for something special to eat or do here are some suggestions.

 

Dining

 

The Furama Restaurant in the Uptown Argyle neighborhood is holding the Lunar New Year Celebration for the South-East Asia Center at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 9, 2019. The special event features entertainment and a 10-course traditional, Chinese-style banquet of seafood chowder, taro duck, roast chicken, walnut shrimp, mushrooms, vegetables, noodles with beef and broccoli, plus dessert. Cost $25.

Entertainment will be cross-cultural music and other performances representing Asian and non-Asian cultures because the South-East Asia Center strives to “Build Bridges” of understanding between all cultures. For reservations visit SE Asia Center New YearFurama Restaurant is at 4936 N. Broadway at Argyle.

 

Hing Kee Restaurant holds its annual New Year Dumpling Making Dinner at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, 2019. The event includes storytelling, Lion Dance, dumpling making and a 10-course, traditional Chinese meal. Cost is $40 adults, $35 children under age 12. Call (312) 842-1988 or visit Chinese New Year Dumpling Making Dinner Eventbrite.

Hing Kee Restaurant is at 2140 S. Archer Ave., 2nd floor.  For more Chinese cultural information visit ChicagoCCI .

 

Celebrate the Year of the Pig with a Chinese New Year themed afternoon tea in The lobby at the Peninsula Chicago Feb . 4-10. There will be a Lion Dance show. For tea reservations  call (312) 573-6695 or visit Peninsula Chinese New Year. The Peninsula Chicago is at 108 E. Superior St. at Michigan Avenue.

 

Shopping

Two shopping centers, Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont, and The Shops at Northbridge, Chicago, will be handing out Chinese New Year-style red envelopes with special store offers  Feb. 2-17, 2019.

At Fashion Outlets go to Concierge Services on Level 1 near Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH for an envelope containing : Year of the Pig Savings Pass that provides up to $800 in savings and a complimentary bag. For more information visit Fashion Outlets of Chicago . Fashion Outlets is at 5220 Fashion Outlets Way, Rosemont.

At the Shops at North Bridge go to Concierge Servies on Level One near Nordstrom for the red envelope. In addition,  North Bridge visitors can see the Huaxing Arts Troupe and visit activity booths from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 3. The Shops at North Bridge is at 520 N. Michigan Ave. For more information visit Shops at North Bridge.

Jodie Jacobs

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