Suspenseful British theater

Ensemble in An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley, (Photo by Mark Douet)
Ensemble in An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley, (Photo by Mark Douet)

4 stars

JB Piestley’s classic “An Inspector Calls” has landed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater just shy of it 75th birthday. But its scenario is as interesting and suspenseful today as it was when first performed in 1945.

The time is an April night in 1912. The place is the home of the Birlings, a wealthy, British, class-conscious family. They are celebrating the engagement of daughter Shelia to Gerald Croft when Inspector Goole arrives to question their connection to a young girl who has committed suicide.

Picture melodramatic fog, lighting, staging and pauses in conversation for the greatest effect as Inspector Goole’s relentless questioning extracts honesty and confessions from the Birlings and Croft.Read More

‘Twilight Bowl’ where life changes expectations

 

Twilight Bowl at Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman
Twilight Bowl at Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman)

2 1/2 stars

As four girls, Clarice (Hayley Burgess), Jaycee (Heather Chrisler), Sam (Becca Savoy and Sharlene (Anne E. Thompson) living in a small Wisconsin town periodically meet at their local bowling alley, audiences watch them change their ideas, their focus, their influences and their expectations.

The girls are joined by friends Maddy from Winnetka (Angela Morris) and bartender Brielle (Mary Taylor).

Written by playwright Rebecca Gilman, the concept is excellent. However the first meeting we see as the girls graduate from high school makes little sense and is hard to buy into until later in the show.

Apparently they are having a party with presents and cake to say goodbye, at least temporarily, to Jaycee who is going off to prison. Maybe this would have worked better for me as a flashback after seeing the last act.

Maddy, who later met one of the girls at OSU joins them later but her character seems to be added simply to have a comparison to someone who went to New Trier High School.

The leavening factor is the bartender, a good personality to add to the mix.

As a female coming of age story it has some interesting points about making choices and how background matters even if these girls set down in a different place would have a different perspective.

Regina Garcia’s set design of an old bowling alley bar is perfect as the place the girls get together.

“Twighlight Bowl” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through March 10, 2019 in the Owen Theatre. Approximate running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Goodman.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

‘Pipeline’ points to black lives matter

 
Tyla Abercrumbie and Matthew Elam in 'Pipeline' at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)
Tyla Abercrumbie and Matthew Elam in ‘Pipeline’ at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photos)

2 1/2 stars

 

In 90 short, uninterrupted minutes, playwright Dominique Morisseau lays out how the direct route from school to prison has become the American norm for young, black men. That is, if they’re not being gunned down by some trigger-happy police officer.

This is the hopeless existence depicted by the playwright of such important dramas as “Sunset Baby,” “Skeleton Crew” and the upcoming musical, “Ain’t Too Proud—the Life and Times of the Temptations.”

In director Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s new production at Victory Gardens Theater, a topic the playwright explored in a solo documentary, “Notes From the Field,” is starkly played out upon Andrew Boyce’s sparse, flexible scenic design. It’s a theatrical environment that wisely offers more focus upon the characters than the setting.

Tyla Abercrumbie, as Nya, commands the audience as a stressed out teacher at a crowded urban high school, a place where the security guards are just as important as the instructors. Coping with dozens of violent infractions every day is almost de rigueur.

Besides dealing with difficult students, Nya is a poorly paid, divorced single mother. She has tried hard to protect her teenage son, Omari, by getting him out of this dangerous environment and sending him to a private boarding school.

Now Nya has to address her son’s recent personal problem, while enduring the overbearing bullying of her estranged husband, Xavier, a man who’s been all but missing from his son’s life.

 

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‘An Artist and The Ember’ has a warm glow

Maddie Sachs and Zach Tabor in ‘An Artist and the Ember’ (Photos by Nick Murhling)
Maddie Sachs and Zach Tabor in ‘An Artist and the Ember’ (Photos by Nick Murhling)

In “An Artist and The Ember,” long suffering musical composer Eve (Maddie Sachs) struggles to create songs and a libretto for a musical she is writing based on a premise provided by her collaborators Sam (Taylor Snooks ) and Daniel (Quinn Rattan).

At the same time, she is constantly tormented and cajoled by her alter ego and fiery inner passion personified in the character, Ember (Zach Tabor).

The device of the character, Ember, is the genius of this play. Who among us has not been (at least from time-to-time) bedeviled by our inner voice? Ember has a Faustian quality though he makes no promises. It is a more cerebral or modern psychological spin on an old theme.

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Shagimuratova worth the ticket to ‘La traviata’

L-R: Giorgio Berrugi/Alfredo, Mario Rojas/Gastone, Albina Shagimuratova/Violetta -- in La Traviata at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
L-R: Giorgio Berrugi/Alfredo, Mario Rojas/Gastone, Albina Shagimuratova/Violetta — in La Traviata at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

3 stars

Giuseppe Verdi’s music always gets four stars and played by the Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by Michael Christie, the popular La traviata, certainly is no exception.

The music and Francesco Maria Plave’s libretto  beautifully express the emotions of fun-loving, delightful, but doomed (think Camillia ) courtesan Violetta.

Gloriously sung by Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, her “È strano! … Ah, fors’ è lui…” (“Ah, perhaps he is the one”) and her famed, declared choice of freedom “Sempre libera” (“Always free”) are opera highlights. Just hearing her is worth the trip.

La traviata also has one of opera’s great drinking songs. Alfredo Germont, who loves Violetta toasts her with the crowd at her party in “libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (“Let’s drink from the joyful cups”).

Italian Giorgio Berruci making his Lyric debut as Alfredo, is OK, but he doesn’t have the full, soaring voice of other tenors who have played the role. However, as the opera ends and the lovers are reunited though Violetta is fading away, their  “Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo,” (“We will leave Paris, O beloved”) and their “Gran Dio!…morir sì giovane” (“Great God!…to die so young”) are beautiful and touching.Read More

‘Anna Karenina’ impresses with new choreography and sets

 

Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in The Joffrey Ballet’s 'Anna Karenina..' (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in The Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Anna Karenina..’ (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

4 stars

The Joffrey Ballet has accomplished a a near impossible feat. With Yuri Possokhov’s choreography to Ilya Demutsky’s score and dramaturg Valeriy Pecheykin’s libretto, the Joffrey has turned Leo Tolstoy’s 800-page “Anna Karenina” into an extraordinary ballet only a little over two hours long that is both classic and contemporary.

A co-production with The Australian Ballet, “Anna Karenina” is an exciting new work commissioned by The Joffrey that opened Feb. 13. Unfortunately, it is only at the Auditorium Theatre through Feb. 24, 2019 before touring.

From the steamy, sensuous divan scene between the illicit lovers, Victoria Jaiani as Anna and Alberto Velazquez as Count Vronsky, and the gorgeous  Joffrey company’s dance scenes, to the fascinating,  evocation of cinema-like atmosphere by Tom Pye’s set designs, David Finn’s lighting and Finn Ross’ projections, this new work is destined to be in high demand.

Other notable performances during its opening week (I saw the Feb. 16 matinee) were Fabrice Calmels as Anna’s unhappy, aristocratic husband, Count Alexey Karenin, Anais Bueno as Princess Kitty Shcherbatsky and Yoshihisa Arai as her pursuer, Konstantin Levin.

Possokhov’s choreography, backed by Dtmustskhy’s score played by the Chicago Philharmonic, totally puts across the ardor, agony and expectations of the Russian aristocracy of Tolstoy’s “Anna.”

This is a ballet to see again and again.

DETAILS: The Joffrey Ballet production of “Anna Karenina” is at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Ida B. Wells (Congress Expressway at Michigan Avenue)  through Feb. 24, 2019. Running time: about 2 hrs. 10 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Joffrey/Anna.

Jodie Jacobs

Related article: Joffrey to debut new ballet.

Five things to do Presidents’ Day weekend

 

The Weyard Sisters (Caitlan Taylor, Caroline Chu, and Emma Ladji) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Short Shakespeare! Macbeth. (Liz Loren photo)
The Weyard Sisters (Caitlan Taylor, Caroline Chu, and Emma Ladji) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Short Shakespeare! Macbeth. (Liz Loren photo)

Saturday

Shortened Shakespeare

See the 75 minute “Short Shakespeare! Macbeth” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Saturday at 11:00 a.m., Feb. 16. It will continue Saturdays through March 16, 2019. Chicago Shakespeare Theater is on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. For tickets and more information visit ChicagoShakes/Macbeth.

 

Seussical: The Musical

Dr. Seuss’ creative genius is on stage at the  Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences Feb. 16 at 10 a.m. The show continues through March 31, 2019. The theatre is at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Created by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (the Tony Award-winning team behind the acclaimed musicals Ragtime and Once on this Island), the production combines more than 14 Dr. Seuss stories. For tickets or more information call (847) 634-0200 or visit Marriott Theatre

 

Orchid in Chicago Botanic Garden Greenhouse. (photo by J Jacobs)
Orchid in Chicago Botanic Garden Greenhouse. (photo by J Jacobs)

Sunday

Orchids at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Warm up with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s annual Orchid Show, called “The Tropics” this year. The show is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For tickets and other information visit Chicago Botanic.

 

Monday 

Story Time

Chicago Botanic Garden holds Story Time for ages 2 to 5 on Mondays through March 25, 2019, including Presidents’ Day March18. Story Time goes from 10 to 11 a.m. in Lenhardt Library. Afterwards, get a bingo card to go find objecgts in the garden and greenhouses. No drop offs.A caregiver must be present.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, just east of the Edens Expressway. For more information visit Chicago Botanic or Story Time.

 

 

Hall leading to the Grainger Theater has fascinating space images. (J Jacobs photo taken of one of the hall's images)
Hall leading to the Grainger Theater has fascinating space images. (J Jacobs photo taken of one of the hall’s images)

Chicago Museum Campus

Go to the Chicago Museum Campus. All three of the museums on the Campus, the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, have free general admission for Illinois residents on Feb. 18, 2019. (Free days’ general admission does not include special exhibits and shows.)

 

Adler Planetarium

The Adler Planetarium is at the far east end of the Museum Campus at 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr. General admission is free to Illinois residents Feb. 18-21. For more information on what to see and admissions visit Adler Planetarium .

 

The Field Museum

At the Field, all of February is free to Illinois residents. There is a lot to see that does not require a special exhibit ticket. The Field is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. at the west end of the campus. For more information visit Field Free.

 

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd is in the middle of the Museum Campus at 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr Free admission for Illinois residents is Feb. 18-22. For more information visit Shedd Free Days.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

‘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