Exciting Lyric concert joins worldwide Bernstein celebration

 

Leonard Bernstein’s genius for capturing the soul of America in everything from orchestral works, opera and religious tributes to musicals, ballets, choral pieces and songs for events, is being celebrated at venues throughout the world in honor of his 100th birthday.

Lyric celebrates Leonard Bernstein's 100 birthday with a special concert. Photo by Jack Mitchell.
Lyric celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100 birthday with a special concert. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

Musical tributes began on what would have been his 99th birthday, Aug. 25, 2017 (he died in 1990) but formally kicked off with a program at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Sept. 22, 2017. The celebrations are continuing through his 100th year.

What the Lyric Opera of Chicago is doing promises to be exceptional.

Opera stars mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and baritone Nathan Gunn take on the roles of unhappy suburban couple, Dinah and Sam in Bernstein’s one-act opera ,”Trouble in Tahiti.”  The opera’s jazz interlude is done by Ryan Opera center ensemble members Diana Newman, Josh Lovell and Emmett O’Hanlon.

They and Broadway star Kate Baldwin plus other artists will sing numbers from shows Bernstein did such as “West Side Story,” “Candide,” “Peter Pan,” “Wonderful Town” and “White House Cantata” (Originally titled “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” written with Alan Jay Lerner) and other songs.

There might be a song from “Songfest,” commissioned to celebrate America’s 1976 Bicentennial. Based on poems, it could be “To What You Said” (Walt Whitman). It is about love for another time and conflicted sexuality. Another program possibility is “So Pretty,” a 1968 anti-war song, Bernstein wrote with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Composed for a Broadway for Peace fundraiser at Lincoln Center, it was sung by Barbra Streisand.

“I think it will be revelatory,” said Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines during a recent interview.

“We have Nathan Gunn so we can do “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy,” It’s a tour de force. He as the right voice for it,” said Pines. “It was not sung in the original Broadway show (April, 24 1950) because Boris Karloff was Captain Hook (and also George Darling).

(Note: Bernstein wrote the music and lyrics as a complete score but only a few of the songs were included in the original staging, supposedly because of the leads’ limited musical range.)

The first half of Lyric’s program will be the opera which is sung in English. Pines notes that even though it was written and staged in the early 1950s, “Tahiti’s” marital communication problems are more universal then applicable to one time period.

“Couples now can relate to the problems in their own relationship,” Pines said. He also thought people would appreciate Graham’s aria in her analyst’s office and the one she sings after leaving a horrible movie. “It’s comic,” he said.

As to the second half, Pines said it was important to introduce the wide variety of Bernstein’s music and how it was reflecting events. “Bernstein was so multi-faceted we do not have time to explore every side. But I think it is a good way to see that his music is extremely varied, and its quality.”

DETAILS: Celebrating 100 years of Bernstein, March 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 and visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Cosi features delightful comic romps and beautiful solos

RECOMMENDED

Wolfang Amadeus Mozart’s title, “Così fan tuttie (Thus do all women) and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto will likely elicit more than a few negative shakes of the head while watching Lyric’s current production.

The title and libretto cast women in general as overly emotional, flighty and needy. However, the opera’s subtitle, “The School for Lovers,” gives a bit more insight into the story line or moral that love can be fickle.

The characters going to “school” on love are Ferrando and Guglielmo who agree to a bet with their friend, the cynical Don Alfonso, that when tested, their fiancées Fiordiligi and Dorabella will not stay faithful for 24 hours.

Cosi fan tutti is at Lyric Opera now through March 16, 2018. Cory Weaver photo
Cosi fan tutti is at Lyric Opera
now through March 16, 2018. Cory Weaver photo

The test proposed by Alfonso is that the two men pretend to go off to war but actually return as two Albanian sailors who then woo each other’s fiancée. If the plot sounds a bit like a Shakespearean comedy, know that at one time there was a proposal to set the music to a libretto that matched the Bard’s “Love Labours Lost.”

But no matter how much the libretto is out of sync with more enlightened views of women, Mozart’s music for Così, expertly conducted by James Gaffigan to bring out all its nuances and playfulness, is a delightful combination of a joyful romp and beautiful solos and duets.

American tenor Andrew Stenson as Ferrando and Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins as Guglielmo are wonderfully nutty in this revival directed by Bruno Ravella (Original Director Jon Cox).

Puerto Rican-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Fiordiligi and French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa as Dorabella are the stand-out voices in this production.

It’s possible the Lyric stage’s depth was not friendly for the male leads or to Italian baritone Allessandro Corbelli who could barely be heard as Don Alfonso. But the female vocalists, including Russian lyric soprano Elena Tsallagova (maid Despina) were always excellent even when blending with the others.

The second act takes on a different tone with the passionate “Fra gli amplessi” (“In the embraces”) duet of Fiordiligi and Ferrando that reveals real rather than the type of put-on emotions  displayed as a farce in Act I. And then there is Dorabella and Guglielmo’s lovely “Il core vi dono” (I give you a heart) duet where a medallion she was given with her lover’s picture in Act I is now exchanged for a heart locket.

Robert Perdzioa’s set design of a fancy, Mediterranean resort works quite well with Mozart’s plot as does Perdziols’s costume design for this Così’s placement in 1914.

The problem I have with the opera is not the Lyric production but the libretto and its unsatisfying ending which I won’t reveal here.

“Così fan tuttie” is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, now through March 16, 2018. Running time; 3 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission. For tickets and other information call 312.827.5600 and visit Lyric Opera Cosi.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

 

Phantom moves to Coney Island

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Love Never Dies'
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies’

RECOMMENDED

After several attempts at mounting a sequel to his record breaking ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ Andrew Lloyd Webber has likely come up with a winner. Called ‘Love Never Dies’ it is touring the US with a stop in Chicago now through March 4, 2018.

It has the eerie trepidations, behind the scenes staircases and gorgeous staging of ‘Phantom’ but appropriately moved to Phantasma, an over-the-top Coney Island show populated by freaks, dancers and singers. It also still has Madame Giry, her daughter, Meg, Christine Daaé and Raoul.

Only this time, 10 years after the opera house fire, Christine and Raoul’s marriage is in trouble and they are accompanied by Gustave, a 10-year-old son. It’s no spoil alert to note who Gustave’s father is because that is quite clear by the end of Act I.

Gustave and Christine
Gustave and Christine

However, there is a fear of what’s to come when Madame Giry is infuriated by the Phantom’s lack of acknowledging that he owes his present lifestyle to her and Meg.

Without letting on what happens, just know that the sequel has an interesting but not a particularly happy-ever-after ending.

What makes this touring production stand out is the soaring, operatic voice of Meghan Picerno as Christine, the amazing vocalizations of Chicago native Casey Lyons as Gustave, and the dazzling set and costume designs of Gabriella Tylesova.

Director Simon Phillips and choreographer Graeme Murphy AO, move  the musical scarily along its romantic but dangerous “Love Never Dies” theme.

The lyrics are by Glenn Slater with additional lyrics by Charles Hart. Ben Elton did the book and David Cullen with Webber did the orchestration.

DETAILS: ‘Love Never Dies’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Broadway in Chicago

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

The misbegotten are still needy at Writers Theatre

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Theater goers who have read or have seen Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ and its sequel, ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten,’ and so are familiar with the character of James Tyrone Jr. (based on O’Neill’s alcoholic brother Jamie), might wonder why Writers Theatre is going for laughs in the first part of ‘Moon’ instead of building on its premise of needy people.

Jim De Vita (James) l, A.C. Smith (Phil) and Bethany Thomas (Josie) in 'A Moon for the Misbegotten' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Jim De Vita (James), A.C. Smith (Phil) and Bethany Thomas (Josie) in ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

There is a playful mood in the first act instead of one that emphasizes the problems faced by O’Neill’s characters, tenant farmers, dad Phil Hogan (A.C. Smith) and daughter Josie (Bethany Thomas), and their landlord, James Tyrone (Jim De Vita).

Instead of the Irish family that O’Neill wrote about, director William Brown has transferred the Hogan’s woes into that experienced by a black family. That change doesn’t matter as to the story line’s legitimacy. The roles are played by consummate actors. Watching them is usually a pleasure but perhaps in a different context.

More tension needs to build to the third act which is the exceedingly important culmination of really looking at themselves, stripping off their persona covers and finding the love that they desperately seek is with each other.

Josie who thinks she’s not attractive has been trading promiscuity for real love. James who has been drowning his grief for his late mother with alcohol, needs mothering and thinks he finds it with Josie.

Thus the scene should be more emotionally draining. Their lives may have been “misbegotten”so far, but now they have the moon to help them.

An underlying plot is to stop James from selling their farm to Harder, a wealthy neighbor who doesn’t like the Hogan’s pigs to break through his fence and get into his ice pond. Drink and seduction enter into that plot but become unnecessary when James admits he was just kidding about selling. Thus Josie and James are really free to find each other and themselves.

The production’s setting is still O’Neill’s Connecticut farm in 1923 but neither the time period nor the state make a difference to the playwright’s theme of finding inner truth and love.  Without continual focus and buildup, the play’s nearly three hours is difficult to sit through which is a shame because Josie’s and James emotional revelations are at the classic’s core.

DETAILS: ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ is at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 18, 2018. Running time is about 3 hours 50 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

A Cautionary Tale

RECOMMENDED

This play may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy intellectual stimulation and are willing to sit back and contemplate some of the harsh realities and complexities of the human experience, this is a performance you will not soon forget.

Just the title, ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,’ a grim tale by Bertolt Brecht and translated by Eric Bentley, is enough to discourage a sizeable percentage of theater goers looking for the next feel good musical but this is theater at its best, relevant and thought provoking.

Simon Hedger, l, and Joe Bianco in Haven Theatre's production of 'Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. Photos by Emily Schwartz.
Simon Hedger, l, and Joe Bianco in Haven Theatre’s production of ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. Photos by Emily Schwartz.

Brecht is one of the leading playwrights of the twentieth century who courageously stood up for injustice and openly shed a light on the social and political changes that were transforming his life and the lives of people around him.

Let’s address the “elephant in the room.” It’s a Haven Theatre production that is a two-hour, forty- minute commitment (with ten minute intermission). Before it began I wondered, “Why did they not consider trimming this down a bit?”

Then it occurred to me that it would be like taking a few movements out of a Beethoven symphony.  It is as long as it needs to be.

The production is a series of well orchestrated vignettes that explore the impact of Nazism on German society. Each carefully crafted segment represents a different aspect of the social strata and/or one of the essential institutions that comprise our sense of community.

These include the institutions of friendship, love, marriage and family as well as public institutions of mercantile, manufacturing, and government. All of which require “trust” and “honesty” to function properly.

It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that this play was first performed in 1938, a full two years before the U.S. officially entered the war in Europe. The author was describing the events of the day without benefit of hindsight. He was saying, “Wake up people and look at what is happening around you.”

To some, the themes will resonate with the politics of today. That is not to say that life in the U.S. in 2018 is anything like Nazi Germany in 1938 but it may be a cautionary tale of what can happen when the seeds of mistrust are sewn and paranoia blooms.

Alys Dickerson and Siddhartha Rajan with Amanda De La Guardia (back) in 'Fear and Misery in the Third Reich.
Alys Dickerson (center) and Siddhartha Rajan with Amanda De La Guardia (back l.) in ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich.’

Brecht was writing in an era before television and the Internet, where newspapers, theater and radio were the communication technology of the day. Even talking pictures were a relatively new phenomenon. The point being that words and the subtlety of language was paramount.

A genius of dialogue, in this play Brecht has a way of writing conversations that sound like a person’s inner thoughts or self-talk being spoken aloud. The result for the audience is a sense that these are your own thoughts. It puts you into the brain of the character and creates a strong feeling of intimacy.

Psychodrama is a therapeutic tool developed around this period intended to help people struggling with inner conflicts to confront their most intimate thoughts by acting them out. No doubt Brecht was inspired by this technique but used it in a most public way.

Director Josh Sobel has done a good job with this group of young actors. The competent Haven Theatre ensemble made their way through this marathon production at a good pace with a few outstanding individual performances.

This is the kind of play that brought about method acting. It requires the actor to “dig deep” and expose his or her own emotions. I am not certain that every cast member has gotten to that level at every moment but this will be a process that will certainly develop over the run and will no doubt have inconsistencies from day to day, but that is the beauty of live theater.

The austere set design by Yu Shibagaki may shock you as you enter the performance space, but it is thought provoking and lends itself well to the production. The lighting (Claire Chrzan) and sound design (Sarah D. Espinoza) as well as the movement direction of dramaturge Abhi Shrestha adds thoughtful artistic depth.

A personal note. I had the good fortune to witness history as an eleven year old actor (Crown Prince Medici) in the Goodman School Theatre production “Life of Galileo” starring blacklisted stage legend Morris Carnovsky, directed by blacklisted actor Howard Di Silva in a play written by a blacklisted playwright Berthold Brecht. Though Brecht wrote this play about the censored astronomer in reaction to the Nazi experience it unfortunately found new relevance in the McCarthy Era illustrating the importance to remain ever vigilant to potential fascism.

DETAILS:  ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,’ a Haven Theatre production,  runs now through March 11, 2018 at The Den Theatre 1331, N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Running time 2 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit

Reno Lovison

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

Celebrate Chinese New Year with food and a parade

 

Special dinners, teas and parades mark Chicago’s Chinese New Year celebration of the Year o the Dog 4716.

With a vibrant Chinatown and several excellent Chinese restaurants plus venues such as the Chicago Cultural Center and Navy Pier promoting Chicago’s ethnic groups, there are plenty of places to learn more, see more and enjoy more Chinese dancing and dishes.

Often called the Lunar New Year and sometimes known as the Chinese Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year in 2018, begins Feb. 16 and ends 15 days later. However, tied to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, celebrations start the eve of the first day and culminate in the Lantern Festival.

If you go to any of Chicago’s Chinese festivals or restaurants, expect to see lots of red and the words “happiness” and “good fortune.”

Here are some Chinese New Year events to put on your go-to calendar.

 

The Peninsula Chicago is decked out for Chinese New Year.
The Peninsula Chicago is decked out for Chinese New Year.

Feb. 15-18

Decorated with red lanterns and a décor that celebrates the Year of the Dog, The Peninsula Chicago is a thoroughly Asian hotel (it is celebrating its 90th anniversary in Hong Kong).

This is a good place to stop in for Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea in The Lobby where tangerine trees and red flowers wish everyone good fortune. The tea includes special savories and sweets for $65. The Peninsula is at 108 East Superior Street.

In addition, there will be a Lion Dance that weaves through The Lobby during Afternoon Tea at 3:30 pm., Feb. 17. Children can “feed” lettuce to the lion for good luck in the coming year. The Lion Dance begins at the hotel’s front entrance amid drumbeats and cymbals (scares evil spirits) at 3:15 p.m.

Feb. 15-22

For an authentic, eight-course Chinese dinner, reserve a table at The Peninsula Chicago’s award winning Shanghai Terrace. It includes, among many other dishes, ginger wild chicken, seafood siewmai with black truffle, pan-fried prawns and kung pao beef tenderloin. Cost is $138.

For more information please call (312) 573-6620 or (866) 288-8889 and visit Peninsula Chicago.

Lion dancers will be prancing through some Chicago restaurants and at parades during Chinese New Year. Peninsula photo
Lion dancers will be prancing through some Chicago restaurants and at parades during Chinese New Year. Peninsula photo

Feb. 15-Feb. 28

Stop in at  Koi Fine Asian Cuisine in Evanston for dishes from its “Lucky Menu.” Different dishes represent wealth, long life, happiness, prosperity, good relationships and family. Reservations will be needed for the Lion Dance there Feb. 24.  Koi is at 624 Davis St., Evanston. Call 847-866-6969 and visit Koi.

Feb. 16

Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center hosts Chinese dancers, martial arts and music from noon to 1 p.m. There will also be a peek at the Chongqing Chuanju Theater Troupe which performs at Symphony Center the next day. The Chicago Cultural Center is at 78 E Washington St. For more information visit Chinese Fine Arts Events.

Feb. 17

See acrobatic choreography, gorgeous costumes and enjoy Chinese arts during an afternoon at Symphony Center, home of the CSO. Performances featuring the Dong Fang Performing Arts and the Yellow River Performing Arts are from 1:45 to 2:30 p.m. in Buntrock Hall.

This is followed with opera segments by the Chongqing Chuanju Opera Theatre and folk music by Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra at 3 p.m. in Orchestra Hall.

The first program is free to ticket holders of the second program. Symphony Center is at 220 S. Michigan Ave. For tickets and other information visit CSO tickets.

Feb. 24

Head over to Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom for Chinese activities, shows and food. Navy Pier partners with the Chinese Fine Arts Society to present the Chicago Chinese Cultural Center Lion Dancers, Martial arts, Chinese music and the Flying Fairies dance troupe from 1 to 5 p.m.

The event is part of Navy Pier’s free Global Connections sponsored by ComEd. Navy Pier is at 600 E. Grand Ave. For more information call (800) 595 Pier (7437) and visit Navy Pier Global.

Feb. 24

The Uptown neighborhood’s Argyle Street has a parade with floats, dragon dancers and marchers from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The procession goes from Argyle and Broadway Streets to Winthrop Avenue. For more information visit Explore Uptown.

 

Argyle Lunar New Year 2016 parade. Photo compliments Uptown
Argyle Lunar New Year 2016 parade. Photo compliments Uptown

 

Feb. 25

Go to Chinatown for the community’s annual lunar parade and to celebrate this neighborhood’s 106th anniversary.  It’s a fun, colorful event featuring lion and dragon dancers, marching bands, floats and Ronald McDonald.  The parade starts at 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue at 1 p.m. then goes north on Wentworth and west on Cermak. For more information visit  CCC Foundation.

For more Chicago Chinese New Year information visit Choose Chicago.

 

Around Town: February

Instead of organizing the desk (or you name it), and wishing the groundhog prognosticators were wrong about six more weeks of winter, take in a show, find a special event to dispel gray skies and moods and take advantage of museum free days.

Theatre

The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

If the family has a Saturday available, get tickets to ‘Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at The Yard, Chicago Shakespeare’s newly added theater on Navy Pier . The show is a fun 75 minutes that merges the Bard’s humorous mismatching of characters in his comedies. The production is offered Saturdays now through March 10, 2018 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.. To get tickets visit Chicago Shakes Plays.

 

Concert

Listen as famed tenor Lawrence Brownlee performs ‘Cycles of My Being,’ a recital that puts forth what it is like to live as a black man in America. Co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Lyric Opera/Lyric Unlimited and Opera Philadelphia, the program will only be in chicago Feb. 22, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the DuSable Museum of African American History. For more information visit Lyric Opera Cycles or call (312) 827-5600.

 

Walk around gorgeous, delicate orchids at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Walk around gorgeous, delicate orchids at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Botanics

Go to the Chicago Botanic Garden  Feb. 10 through March 25, 2018 to see orchids with an Asian accent. This year, the Garden’s Orchid Show blooms among kimonos, parasols and Asian plants. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. plus open later Thursdays to 8 p.m. For more information visit Chicago Botanic Garden orchid.

 

 

 

Museums

How about a night at the   museum,  that is among the fish?

Explore the Shedd during an overnight stay.
Explore the Shedd during an overnight stay.

 

For Presidents Day weekend stay the night Feb. 16, 2018 in a special program at the Shedd Aquarium that allows participants to explore the museum, see an aquatic presentation and do a scavenger hunt. The cost is $75 per person ($60 members).  For tickets and more information visit Shedd Aquarium Overnight.

 

Free Days

Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday when most schools in Illinois are closed to celebrate Presidents Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays, is Feb. 19, 2018. Fortunately, some of Chicago’s museums are free that day.

Some Chicago museums have free admission.
Some Chicago museums have free admission.

The Adler Planetarium’s general admission is waved for Illinois residents Feb. 19-22.  For more information visit Adler.

Art Institute of Chicago has free admission to Chicago residents under age 18, every day. See ARTIC.

Chicago History Museum is free every day to children under 18 who are Illinois residents. Visit Chicago History.

The Field Museum has free general admission for Illinois residents all of February. Visit Field Museum free days.

 

Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art always has free admission. See National Museum of Mexican Art.

Find this amazing dome and room at the Chicago Cultural Center
Find this amazing dome and room at the Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center has a new exhibition on its fourth floor. Titled “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush,” it was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The Cultural Center also has other exhibits on its first floor. While in the building go to the third floor to see gorgeous glass domes and rooms. Admission is always free. Visit Chicago Cultural Center.

Get out and enjoy Chicago

Jodie Jacobs

 

Daltrey plus Sugarland and David Foster added to Ravinia schedule

When winter deals out icicles it’s time to warm the spirit by penciling in great summer calendar dates for 2018.

Roger Daltrey of The Who
Roger Daltrey of The Who

So, here are some top entertainers coming to Ravinia Festival this summer.

First, Roger Daltrey, the frontman of British rock band The Who, will perform the iconic “Tommy” rock opera with his band June 23 and 25. The Ravinia Festival Orchestra will join them to do “See Me, Feel Me,” “Pinball Wizard” and other classics from “Tommy.”

Tickets for this concert are already available to donors. The public can request tickets beginning Feb. 9. Tickets are, $125 and lawn is $49. Visit Ravinia Details.

Multi Grammy and Oscar award winning composer David Foster comes to Ravinia Aug. 5  Tickets: $80 / $70 Lawn: $27.

Sugarland returns to Ravinia
Sugarland returns to Ravinia

Sugarland’s Frankie Ballard and Lindsay Ell will be back Aug. 23 with Jennifer Nettles and Kristian performing their award winning country music.  Tickets are $150 / $140 Lawn: $49*

For more information visit Ravinia Announces. For general ticket information visit Ravinia or  call (847)266-5000. Ravinia Festival is at 200 Ravinia Park Rd., Highland Park.

 

Excellent cast and relevant story make Marriott production a must see

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Audiences can enjoy the musical ‘Ragtime’ with its book by  Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty without knowing where its theme and main rhythm were born. The tales are compelling as are the show’s superb voices.

But knowledge of the times portrayed from the early 1900s to 1917, a time rife with prejudice and important movements for women’s rights and better labor conditions, is helpful to appreciating the messages of the musical’s origin, novelist E.L. Doctorow’s famed 1975 novel,  Ragtime.

It is appropriately named after the syncopated “rags” music popular with African Americans in the 1890s up to the First World War.

Cast of 'Ragtime' at Marriott Theatre. Liz Lauren photo
Cast of ‘Ragtime’ at Marriott Theatre. Liz Lauren photo

When translated into the musical, first appearing in Toronto in 1996 and opened on Broadway in 1998, the prominent background and piece tinkled on the keys by Doctorow’s character, Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker, Jr., was “Maple Leaf Rag.”

Written by African American composer Scott Joplin, the piece became the “face” of a sound arguably first written by another African American composer, Ernest Hogan, who called his pieces “rags.”

Doctorow’s novel, and later a film and the musical, follows the fictional fortunes of a wealthy white suburban New York family, an African American couple and a Jewish immigrant and his daughter. They served as a way to zoom in on prejudices against Negros, the term used at the time, and bigotry towards immigrants.

The tales are intermingled with actual historical figures such as  Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, Standford White, Harry Kendall Thaw and Admiral Peary.

You know the period is the early 1900s by the terrific costumes designed by Sarah Laux and by the story’s historical figures. However, similar to the many Shakespearean plays now set in other years, ‘Ragtime’ could be moved to now, more than a century later, and still have a similar impact.

The joy of seeing the Marriott show is listening to Kathy Voytko as Mother, the wealthy, caring mom in New Rochelle, and Katherine Thomas as Sarah, Coalhouse Walker, Jr.’s abandoned lover whom he wants to reclaim.

It is also the excellent acting of Nathaniel Stampley as Coalhouse and Benjamin Magnuson as Tateh, a Jewish artist immigrant.

Indeed, directed by Nick Bowling, the entire cast, a large one at 29 players, is excellent.

However special kudos go to Patrick Scott McDermott as Mother’s The Little Boy who has a fairly large role innocently reflecting the thoughts and terms he hear, and Paula Hlava as Tateh’s daughter, The Little Girl who heightens the plight of immigrant’s conditions.

The only problem I had with the production was that at 2 hours, 40 minutes, it became too long to appreciate all the fine singing and dancing.

DETAILS: ‘Ragtime- the Musical” is at Marriott Theatre , 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, now through March 18, 2018. Running time 2 hours, 40 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Note: Ragtime contains strong language and content relating to race. It is recommended for ages 13 and older.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

Family secrets and problems on Thanksgiving dinner menu

 

RECOMMENDED

You are not likely to walk away unaffected If you join playwright Stephen Karam’s Blake family dinner table in ‘The Humans.’

As you sit through 95 minutes of its members’ litany of problems you may wish you were somewhere else. Or you may care so much about the family you may wish for a sequel to this beautifully acted play so you see if they can surmount their issues.

Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan, Luis Vega. in 'The Humans' at Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by_Julieta Cervantes.
Richard Thomas, Therese Plaehn, Pamela Reed, Lauren Klein, Daisy Eagan, Luis Vega. in ‘The Humans’ at Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

At times funny, at times heartbreaking, the play has Scranton, PA dad Erik Blake  (Richard Thomas) and wife Dierdre (Pamela Reed), accompanied by their wheelchair-bound, dementia-disabled mom, Fiona “Momo” Blake (Lauren Klein), visiting their New York City daughters for Thanksgiving dinner.

The action takes place in Brigid Blake’s (Daisy Eagan) rundown Chinatown duplex she shares with  boyfriend, Richard Saad (Luis Vega). Their other daughter, Aimee Blake, a New York attorney, joins the family dinner.

First, don’t expect a family that is dysfunctional in their relationships with each other. Karam injects the play with a familial feeling of warmth and love that overshadows typical parental comments about marriage, apartment conditions and careers.

The problems revealed during the play are individual matters of illness, love and career disappointments, and finally, an uncertain chilling feeling that follows Erik’s admission of wrong doing and future poverty. The admission explains his somewhat distracted air during most of the play.

The acting is so exceptional that you really care about these people.

You unhappily listen in on Aimee’s difficult phone conversation with her former lover and that unhappiness grows as she tries to explain to her family that she is about to lose her job because of prolonged illness.

It’s disturbing and believable to hear how Momo’s dementia is difficult for the Blakes to handle financially and emotionally. It’s also understandable though dismaying that Brigid, a former music  composition major, can’t find appropriately related work so has taken on two bar-tending jobs to try to pay her student loans.

You learn that long-time office manager Dierdre works hard for very little pay and, eventually, you find out that her husband, Erik, is losing his job at a private school.

Richard has his problems too. Serious bouts with depression had led him to drop out of school so that at age 38 he is still working to complete his social worker degree.

Indeed, the entire picture that Karam paints is one of societal ills and poverty balanced by such traditional trappings of, in this case, Irish songs and religion.

Joe Mantello (‘Wicked’) directs the show with such empathy that you hate what’s happening to these characters.

A problem I have with “Humans’ is that though the issues are real today, I felt that assigning them to each character in a single play felt a bit contrived.

DETAILS: ‘The Humans’  is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre,  151 W Randolph St, Chicago, now through Feb. 11, 2018. Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway In Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago