Tragedy presented with a different emphasis at CST

‘Romeo and Juliet’

Brittany Bellizeare and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet." (Liz Lauren photo)
Brittany Bellizeare and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” (Liz Lauren photo)

2 ½ stars

We already have “West Side Story,” a tragic love tale of feuding groups based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Beautifully and emotionally interpreted with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it’s parallel to current gang wars was not lost on a tearful audience at Lyric Opera’s closing 2019 production.

That Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Barbara Gaines would like to remind CST audiences that the problems Shakespeare dramatized and Bernstein put to music still exist, is laudable. However, given the set design, cast and costumes of the Gaines production, there probably should be a different title.

Gaines has set the action in Verona a year in the future, which is fine. But the set of fence and basketball court looks like West Side Story. The Capulet’s home looks like a farm house in Iowa complete with a porch swing. And Juliet’s father (James Newcomb) is snoring on an outdoor recliner during the “balcony” scene that turns the famed love scene into a comedy.

Tybalt (Sam Pearson, at center) threatens Benvolio (Cage Sebastian Pierre, with arms raised) as a brawl between the Capulets and the Montagues in Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Tybalt (Sam Pearson, at center) threatens Benvolio (Cage Sebastian Pierre, with arms raised) as a brawl between the Capulets and the Montagues in Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

In attempting to emphasize the needless acrimony and brutal murders in “Romeo and Juliet,” the production has minimized the young teenaged love of its romantic leads, Romeo (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) and Juliet (Brittany Bellizeare). However the fight direction by Rick Sordelet is excellent.

Shakespeare’s famed lines are there but they are sometimes hard to catch and seem out of place in a production that is more parody than tragedy.

“Romeo and Juliet” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Courtyard Theater on Navy Pier through Dec. 22, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 or visit Chicago Shakes.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

An overstuffed suitcase of memories

‘Packing’

Packing presented by About Face Theatre at Theater Wit. (Photo courtesy of About Face Theatre)
Packing presented by About Face Theatre at Theater Wit. (Photo courtesy of About Face Theatre)

4 stars

Each of us have lived lives that are filled with significant situations, emotional events and meaningful memories. If we all possessed an eloquent gift for writing, as well as a talent for emotionally honest storytelling, any one of us could probably condense our childhood, adolescence and early adult years into a 90 minute narrative, like this. But few would be as captivating at sharing his life story as Scott Bradley.

Performing on a simple, white square platform that sometimes serves as a blank canvas for Stephen Mazurek’s colorful and evocative projection artwork, Bradley opens his heart and bares his soul in this incredibly moving solo performance of discord and survival.

Scott Bradley has come a long way. Today he wears many hats. Not only a talented actor and playwright, he’s a gifted and empathetic educator, performer and director.

Chicago audiences may recall his off-the-wall genderqueer-rock-puppet-spectacles of “Alien Queen,” “The Carpenters Halloween,” “Mollywood” and “Tran: The Atari Musical.” His wacky holiday musical fantasy, “We Three Lizas,” which premiered a few years ago at About Face Theatre, was later revised and reprized a couple years later, to great delight.

In addition to About Face, Scott’s work has been enjoyed at The Hypcrites, Walkabout Theatre, Hell in a Handbag, Bailiwick Repertory and many other venues. In short, this isn’t Scott Bradley’s first rodeo.

Bradley unpacks his overstuffed suitcase of memories, removing each episode from his life, piece-by-piece, as if they were treasured articles of clothing.

Read More

The Second City thrives on Chicago craziness

‘Do You Believe in Madness?’

(L-R) Asia Martin, Andrew Knox, Adam Schreck, Mary Catherine Curran, Jordan Savusa, Sarah Dell’Amico in The Second City's Do You Believe In Madness. (Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt.)
(L-R) Asia Martin, Andrew Knox, Adam Schreck, Mary Catherine Curran, Jordan Savusa, Sarah Dell’Amico in The Second City’s Do You Believe In Madness. (Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt.)

3 stars

The Second City began in Chicago in December of 1959, and will have its 60th anniversary next month. It was called “The Second City” because a journalist in New York had written a book titled Chicago: The Second City. Back then, Chicago was the second largest city next to New York City.

Now,six decades later,  The Second City is still going strong with its 108th Mainstage Revue “Do You Believe in Madness?” The show is expected to run at least until the famed improv theatre’s 60th anniversary Dec. 16, 2019.

Directed by Ryan Bernier with musical direction by Nick Gage, the show is written and performed by six fabulous actors: Mary Catherine Curran, Sarah Dell’Amico, Andrew Knox, Asia Martin, Jordan Savusa and Adam Schreck.

Even though the production features several different scenes the format works because the transition is so smooth. One scene takes place in a high school where a teacher tells her most misbehaved students that they are the reason that all of the teachers went on strike.

Another scene deals with many people whose dogs and cats were lost or died, and the owners relate it to deaths of siblings. Then a human family has a bird in the house, and then a bird family has a human in the house – both are unsettling to the families.

 

(L-R) Sarah Dell’Amico, Andrew Knox, Asia Martin, Jordan Savusa, Mary CatherineCurran, Adam Schreck. (Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt.)
(L-R) Sarah Dell’Amico, Andrew Knox, Asia Martin, Jordan Savusa, Mary CatherineCurran, Adam Schreck. (Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt.)

 

A scene with a dating couple asked each other why they were so normal. They felt that normal must be something wrong! The revue’s title, “Do You Believe in Madness?” seems very appropriate.

Most of these fun scenes include jumping around, dancing, singing, laughter, background music and more. Perhaps in the future, these professional actors and actresses may follow in the footsteps of those from The Second City many decades ago – Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Rivers, John Belushi, Tina Fey, and others.

DETAILS: “Do You Believe in Madness?” is at The Second City Mainstage Theater. 1616 N. Wells St., Chicago as an open run.  Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (312) 337-3992 or visit Second City.

 

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

A Dickens of a tale

 

William Brown (center) stars as aging pickpocket Fagin in “Oliver!” at the Marriott Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)
William Brown (center) stars as aging pickpocket Fagin in “Oliver!” at the Marriott Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)

‘Oliver!’

3 stars

Marriott Theatre’s “Oliver!”  is among the best productions of a Charles Dickens-based show that, unlike “A Christmas Carol,” has few redeeming factors.

Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical based on Dickens’  Oliver Twist, an 1838-39 novel revealing England’s brutal underbelly at the time, contains the excellent “Where is Love?” “As Long as He Needs Me” and “Consider Yourself (one of us)” musical numbers.

The story features Fagin, an aging thief characterized by Dickens as a Jew who teaches youngsters how to pick pockets.  However, Marriott has dropped stereotyping the character which is well-portrayed by William Brown as an elderly, caring person who now depends on his possessions and on others to take care of him in his old age.

 But its sub-theme of domestic violence has Bill Sikes (Dan Waller), a dangerous adult thief, beating (later murdering) his girlfriend, Nancy, a sympathetic character delightfully interpreted by Lucy Godinez.

It also portrays how Oliver, the son of a high-born, unwed mother fares in an unforgiving society.

L to R Kayden Koshelev, (Oliver) and Patrick Scott McDermott (The Artful Dodger). (Liz Loren photo)
L to R Kayden Koshelev, (Oliver) and Patrick Scott McDermott (The Artful Dodger). (Liz Loren photo)

 

The star/s of Marriott’s production are the two young boys who alternately portray Oliver, Kai Edgar and Kayden Koshelev. It doesn’t matter whom you see when you go, they are both outstanding.

A fine, atmospheric mist and Sally Dolembo’s period costumes transports audiences to mid-19th century London.

Directed by Nick Bowling, the acting is on the mark. My problem is not the cast but the musical, itself.

“Oliver!” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, IL, through Dec. 29, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A new Christmas pantomime tradition

‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’

Cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

Returning for a second holiday season at Lookingglass Theatre, Mary Zimmerman’s gorgeous adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story of love and valor warms the heart and nourishes the soul.

From the moment we enter, we’re put in the holiday mood by a curtain transformed into a gigantic Advent calendar.

While four powdered-wigged musicians begin playing in the show’s petite orchestra pit, the cast enters the stage, one-by-one, clothed in Ana Kuzmanic’s delicious, brightly colored, exquisitely detailed costumes. Each character opens one of 25 tiny doors and reacts to the images behind them.

The final door reveals the titular character and the pantomime begins. By the conclusion of the play the audience will understand the significance of each image.

In the first scene, a very young boy opens his Christmas gift. Inside one of the boxes, he discovers a collection of tiny, tin, toy soldiers. One of the soldiers, however, was the last one to be cast from the metal which apparently ran out, so he’s missing a leg.

Read More

Political humor is nothing new

 

L-R: Megan DeLay, Lucinda Johnston. (Photo by Heather Mall)
L-R: Megan DeLay, Lucinda Johnston. (Photo by Heather Mall)

‘The Suffrage Plays’

3 stars

It might be difficult for some to conceive of a notion that denied roughly fifty percent of the population from having a say in what was considered to be a modern democratic process. But indeed, this was the case deep into the first part of the twentieth century, both here and in Britain.

These three pithy, well performed, one-act plays directed by Beth Wolf and presented by Artemisia Theatre as “The Suffrage Plays” provide insight through a good deal of levity and snarky repartee that give voice to the debate that 100 years ago provided women with the right to vote.

Before the age of TV and the Internet, people looked to the theater for entertaining political commentary the equivalent of Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, or Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. Read More

An honest country musical

 

(left to right) Kelly Combs, Lena Dudley and Charlie Irving in New American Folk Theatre's world premiere of My Life is a Country Song.. Photo by Joseph Ramski Photography.
(left to right) Kelly Combs, Lena Dudley and Charlie Irving in New American Folk Theatre’s world premiere of My Life is a Country Song.. Photo by Joseph Ramski Photography.

3.5 stars

Country music has been described as three chords and the truth. The world premiere of Anthony Whitaker’s “My Life is a Country Song” presented by New American Folk Theatre has taken that adage to heart and crafted a well told musical tale of love, friendship, and personal triumph.

Donna (Kelly Combs), a receptionist at the Lincoln Ford dealership, has divorced her abusive husband, Gary (Kirk Jackson), and rented an old mill house from Shirley (Judy Lee Steele) who is a photographer for the local paper.

After explaining that she has never before had keys of her own which weren’t also shared with her parents or husband, Donna sings the poignant ballad “My Front Door.”

Soon thereafter ex-husband Gary tries to suggest that he has changed, worming his way back with “A New Coat of Paint.”

Read More

Three sip and savor and shop events

 

Sip and Shop (Photo courtesy of Morton Arboretum)
Sip and Shop (Photo courtesy of Morton Arboretum)

When the weather turns frightful (even though Halloween is over)   it’s time to look forward to something delightful. First up are some wine, culinary and shopping events coming in the next two weeks.

Holiday Sip and Shop

In Chicago’s western suburbs, seasonal bites, spirits and shopping the Morton Arboretum way with botanical designer showcased “tablescapes” and browsing the store, welcome the coming holiday season.  The event is Nov. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. and includes a Patricia Locke Trunk Show and mixology demonstrations. Tickets are members $45.00, nonmembers $50.00.

The Morton Arboretum is at 4100 IL Highway 53, Lisle, IL 630-446-0537.

 

Antiques + Modernism Show

In the northern suburbs, an annual show benefiting the Winnetka Community Housegoes the whole weekend of Nov. 8-10, 2019. But a fun preview party known for its buffet stations and open bar is Nov. 7 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.. This is when collectors and people in the know go for the first peek at exceptional jewelry, furniture and art. Tickets are $150 but $30 of the ticket price will be donated back to the North Shore Art League.

The Winnetka Community House is at 620 Lincoln Ave. Winnetka, IL , 847-446-2870 or 847-446-0537.

 

Chill LuxeHome

Downtown Chicago, Chill, an international wine and culinary event co sponsored by Luxehome and Wine Spectator Magazine, features terrific food from Chicago chefs and excellent wines from around the world. It’s held Downtown Chicago at theMART, Nov. 14 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.. Tickets are $145. Funds raised go to different charities.

the MART is at 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Around town goes to wine tasting and kids architecture events plus the Jewish Theater Festival

A Chicago Architecture Biennial event for youngsters is at Navy Pier Nov. 2, 2019. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
A Chicago Architecture Biennial event for youngsters is at Navy Pier Nov. 2, 2019. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

 

There are interesting experiences available this weekend so pull out the calendar.

Chicago Architecture Biennial for youngsters

Bring the kids to Navy Pier this Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019  for a free, hands-on, design-it and build-it activities from noon to 4 p.m. Co-sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation with the City of Chicago and Navy Pier, the Architectural Biennial event is geared to ages 5 through 12. Look for it in the Cultural Corner across from Ben & Jerry’s at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago

 

Wine seminars like the one pictured here help educate the palate. (J Jacobs photo)
Wine seminars like the one pictured here help educate the palate. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Professional/Amateur Wine Tasting Contest

Learn about your wine palate knowledge, Nov. 3, beginning at 1 p.m. at Geja’s Cafe, 340 W. Armitage, Chicago. The tasting begins with eight unmarked carafes of wine. Professionals and amateurs are challenged to identify the grape, place of origin and vintage of each wine. To enter the competition, contestants pay a $30 fee and must be 21 years of age or older. To RSVP, call Geja’s Café at (773) 281-9101.

“The world of wine is incredibly diverse,” says Geja’s owner Jeff Lawler. “That is why this contest is such a challenge. It takes a wise nose and an equally sensitive palate to identify the characteristics of each individual wine.”

 

The Ben Hecht Show starring playwright/actor James Sherman will be part of the Jewish theatre Festival. (Photo courtesy of TGeatron)
The Ben Hecht Show starring playwright/actor James Sherman will be part of the Jewish Theatre Festival. (Photo courtesy of Teatron)

TEATRON: Chicago’s Jewish Theatre Festival at Victory Gardens

Held Nov 3 through Nov.10, 2019, primarily at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, the event is the first-ever festival in Chicago that is dedicated to Jewish Theatre.  It overlaps the annual Alliance for Jewish Theatre Conference, hosted by ShPIeL at Victory Gardens Theater and The Theatre School at DePaul University, Nov. 3-5, 2019.

The Jewish Theatre Festival at Victory Gardens includes staged readings, solo performances, storytelling, cabaret, and comedy at Victory Gardens and features “The Ben Hecht Show” with playwright/actor James Sherman, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. For conference information visit All Jewish Theatre

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Dinner and a show from a theater reviewer

Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre)
Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre)

Theater critics tend to return to the same places before covering a show. They are not usually the upscale places gone to for a special occasion or the newest eatery with a gourmet menu or “in” vibe.  They have good food and are convenient to the venues.

Here are my recommendations based on experience for two downtown theaters ( I use theater spelled er) and two places in the northern suburbs. More areas later.

Downtown-Loop

When going to the Goodman Theatre  170 N Dearborn St. or James M  Nederlander Theatre, a Broadway in Chicago venue at  24 W. Randolph St., I reserve a table in the bar at Petterinos (312-422-0150, 150 N. Dearborn St.) at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph Streets.

The bartenders here are terrific. They serve their patrons quickly when they know they have a show. And I like the fried calamari when looking for something light and the amazing chicken pot pie when cold weather calls for a dish to warm the insides.

The restaurant is literally next door to Goodman and just a few steps across Dearborn to the Nederlander (former Oriental). I take public transportation but Petterinos has a valet service for customers who want to park there and see a show.

Downtown – Mag Mile

There are lots of places to dine on and near the Magnificent Mile. But when reviewing a show at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N Michigan Ave. in the historic Water Tower Water Works  on the east side of the Water Tower campus or at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., I reserve a table at Mity-Nice Grill on the Mezzanine Level of Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan Ave., 312.335.4745).

I like their veggie burger and their salads and that they bring tiny Yorkshire pudding bites to start the meal.

North Suburbs – Lincolnshire

I look forward to dining at the Three Embers Restaurant in the Marriott Resort, 10 Marriott Dr., when reviewing a show at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

Executive Chef Pierre Daval and Chef de Cuisine Jesus (Chuy) Medina are currently showcasing their Harvest Dinner. At Three Embers, diners get honey butter for their rolls that is a taste treat made with honey from Daval’s beehives on the property. I also love the Honey BBQ Brisket with smoked grits. But I’m thinking of trying the Sea Scallops dish with butternut squash and a maple glace when I go for the next show because squash and maple are too seasonal to pass up.

North Suburbs – Skokie

Across the road from Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, is a small strip mall that contains the popular Bonefish Grill at 9310 Skokie Blvd. Yes, you need a reservation and tell the waitperson you are going to a show.

I like the restaurant’s bread and dipping oil, its Caesar Salad and any shrimp dish with a variety of sauces.

Feel free to leave your own recommendations.

Jodie Jacobs