Can a brilliant Jewish philosopher and her celebrated German professor, turned lover, exist on two opposite tracts? The answer, of course, is no.
But the production of “Hannah and Martin” by Shattered Globe Theatre takes the audience through an ideological and moralistic journey with deep, thought-provoking, dialogue.
Written by Kate Fodor, the play is based on the clandestine love affair between German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt and her teacher, the well-known German philosopher Martin Heidegger. After the war, Arendt was considered one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.
On a collision course with politics and destiny, this powerful drama takes place in Germany from 1924 – 1946. Disappointment looms when Arendt discovers that her beloved Heidegger is working to promote the goals of the Nazis.
Chicago area theaters put on so many excellent productions that picking our top 10 shows is not merely challenging, it also reflects individual points of view, entertainment preferences and theater and music backgrounds. Readers are welcome to disagree and comment with their own suggestions.
This year, we also are including Broadway in Chicago and Lyric Opera contenders because Chicago audiences attend those productions and support those organizations with subscriptions.
A bit about our reviewers: Reno Lovison, Pam McKuen, Francine Friedman, Mira Temkin and editor Jodie Jacobs are professional writers who have contributed over the years to a variety of publications. Read more in the About section of Chicago Theater and Arts. Their selections could each have extended to five and more but were narrowed down to two apiece.
“Haymarket” was an important Chicago story, well performed and included appropriate Bluegrass music reminiscent of labor-oriented folk songs. See review of this Underscore Theatre Company’s production at Haymarket.
“The End of TV”
“The End of TV” made me a Manual Cinema fan, offering a fresh way to experience live performance utilizing old and new technologies. See review of the Manual Cinema production at The End of TV.
(***: In spite of my two picks I find myself periodically thinking about “Arcadia” and “Fear and Misery in the Third Reich” but probably more as a result of the playwright than the players.)
A Paramount Theatre production, “Once” is a sweet but short-lived romance with an imaginative set and an upbeat cast of congenial music-makers that was put on at a suburban jewel. See review of Once.
“On Your Feet”
A Broadway in Chicago presentation at the Cadillac Palace, “On Your Feet” is the life story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. It has everything you’d want in a musical: global hits, glitzy costumes, dramatic lows and comedic punches. I’d see it again. See review at On Your Feet.
Loosely based on the opera “Madame Butterfly,” the musical “Miss Saigon” embraces the relationship between an American GI and a young Asian woman while it follows the final days of the Vietnam War. The play’s touring company of wonderful actors, singers and dancers, along with real photos of orphaned, war-born American/Asian children displayed in its second act, brought the musical to life. See review at Miss Saigon.
“Women of Soul”
At the Black Ensemble Theater through Jan. 21, 2019, “Women of Soul” is a tribute to many well-known female singers, covering their different genres and numerous years. In addition to the wonderful performers who sing their famous tunes, many newly-revealed details of how their careers blossomed and how some of their lives ended adds insight to their backgrounds. And the closing tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, brought everyone to their feet. See the review of Women of Soul.
“The Buddy Holly Story”
An American Blues Theater production, this high-energy biopic of singer/songwriter Buddy Holly kept the music going at a frenetic pace as a testament to the amazing talents of star, Zachary Stephenson and the entire cast. Even though “it was day the music died, according to Don McLean,” the audience never wanted it to end. See review at Buddy Holly Story.
“A Shayna Maidel”
What is family? Can it be created or reborn? “A Shayna Maidel” performed as a revival by TimeLine Theatre, answers these thoughtful questions in a most profound way. See review at A Shayna Maidel.
(*** Also agree that “Miss Saigon” is among the year’s best. This new versio, now on on tour ,takes out all the stops in theatrics, wowing audiences as one of the most spectacular musicals ever written and produced. Contemporary theatre goers can’t help but get caught up in the past, knowing how the war ended with the cost in human life and how many Vietnamese orphans the U.S. left behind.)
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “La boheme” was extraordinary theater. It had everything from inventive scenery and creative staging to exceptional acting, singing and orchestration. Fortunately, it continues in January, 2019. See the review at La boheme.
“Steadfast Tin Soldier”
Audiences have come to expect unusual presentations from Lookingglass Theatre. However, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation and direction of the “Steadfast Tin Soldier,” has to be seen to really appreciate its outstanding pantomime and puppetry. See the review at Steadfast Tin Soldier.
First performed on Broadway in 1982, this interpretation of the Old Testament’s story of Joseph and his brothers through contemporary eyes is a fun, high-energy show featuring a delightful chorus of local children.
Based on Joseph’s “coat of many colors” from the Book of Genesis, the story shows what can happen when a parent plays favorites.
From the get-go, the show begins with two narrators instead of the traditional one and takes off like a rocket from the very first musical number, “Any Dream Will Do.”
Catch “On The Town,” a high-energy wartime musical about three sailors on a 24-hour leave who are looking for love and adventure in New York City. Performed by the Highland Park Players through October 28, this Tony Award-nominated musical features thrilling music by Leonard Bernstein with playful lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
What makes this show so unique (and challenging) is the blending of musical comedy with ballet, just as the young Bernstein envisioned and would go to recreate in “West Side Story” as well. If you listen carefully, you can hear some of the same musical arrangements made famous in “West Side Story,” yet Bernstein was only 26. The Highland Park Players pull it off with amazing choreography, beautiful singing and impressive costumes.
Based on the 1944 Broadway show and 1949 film starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munchin, On the Town captures a time when anything and everything was possible. While humor runs throughout the show, it leaves the audience with an uncertain, but hopeful ending.
“On The Town” is directed and choreographed by Dina DiCostanzo. The production stars Aaron Stash as Ozzie, Christopher Johnson as Gabey, Steven Schur as Chip, Brittny Goon as Claire, Justine Klein as Hildy, Ariana Cappuccitti as Ivy, Naomi Hershman as Madame Dilly and Geoff Isaac as Pitkin.
Cast standouts include Goon who has an amazing powerful voice and Hershman is hysterical as the drunken Madame Dilly. Mention must be made of Cappuccitti who oozes charm and innocence as “Miss Turnstyle of the Month.”
Music Director/Conductor Aaron Kaplan leads a dazzling 22-piece orchestra that has never sounded better. Also, kudos to scenic designer Brett Baleskie for his imaginative subways cars used throughout the show and to Rachel Parent for her authentic costume designs that reflect the times.
DETAILS: “On the Town” is at Northbrook Theatre, 3323 Walters Ave., Northbrook. Running time: Approximately 2.5 hours with intermission. For tickets and other information, call the Northbrook Theatre at (847) 291-2995 or visit Highland Park Players.
Roald Dahl’s timeless 1964 classic comes to life on stage in this phenomenal, highly-imaginative production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” now playing through October 21 at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago.
Capturing the dreams of the young and young at heart, the musical tells the story of the world-famous chocolatier Willy Wonka. Sales of his candy are down, so he holds a contest to award a tour of his factory to five lucky “golden ticket” winners.
Featuring a cast of zany characters, including an impoverished Charlie Bucket, the children and their families go on a life-altering journey through Wonka’s factory with surprising results.
With direction by three-time Tony Award® winner Jack O’Brien, the show features music by Grammy®, Emmy® and Tony Award® winner Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Grammy® and Tony Award® winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.
Superb scenic and costume design by Mark Thompson recreates the colorful world of Willy Wonka. Innovative choreography by Joshua Bergasse highlights the show.
Gene Wilder starred in the 1971 film with such wonderful songs as “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man,” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.” New music has been added to the show from the songwriters of “Hairspray,” including the powerful and visually beautiful, “The View from Here.”
It was fun to watch the numerous children in the audience as they experienced the Oompa-Loompas, eye-popping visuals, glass-elevator and crazy demise of the “spoiled” children.
My only issue with the show is the lack of consistent sense of place. Charlie’s family looks like they’re from the 1940s, Mike Teavee’s mom is straight out of the 1950s, while Mike has an I-PAD and Violet Beauregarde is a contemporary “Queen of Pop.”
Noah Weisberg is delightful as the purple-caped, top-hat-wearing Willy Wonka. He portrays Wonka with innocence and charm, yet a touch of evil.
Henry Boshart (Collin Jeffery and Rueby Wood alternates) steals the show as the downtrodden Charlie Bucket. He dreams of a better life for himself, his widowed mom and four beloved grandparents. He’s adorable, high energy with a sweet singing voice.
The real stars of the show are the Oompa-Loompas, creatively imagined as puppets and humans dancing together and the incredible dimensional visuals showcasing a world of candy, color and animation that are pure magic. The entire show is a graphic feast to behold.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is an ideal show to introduce children to the world of musical theater.
DETAILS: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. through Oct. 21, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs. 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information, visit Broadway in Chicago.
What is family? Can it be created or reborn? “A Shayna Maidel” answers these thoughtful questions in a most profound way. Written in 1984 by Barbara Lebow and now performed as a revival by TimeLine Theatre, the play confronts the horrors and aftermath of the Holocaust.
Two sisters and their father, reunited after years of separation, are now forced to examine their roles, responsibilities and guilt.
Daughter Rose and father Mordechai Weiss were fortunate to escape from Poland before the war. Not so lucky were daughter Lusia, who had scarlet fever and their mother who were left behind. Read More
Get ready to cheer! Based on the life of legendary Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne, “Something in the Game – An All-American Musical” kicks off with all the excitement of a season opener.
Featuring a cast of 23 professional and student actors, this dynamic musical enthralls the audience with an inspiring story, high-energy dancing and memorable music.
On the football field, Knute Rockne is regarded as one of the greatest football coaches of all time winning more than 100 games, three national championships and five undefeated seasons. But at what cost?
As he chased fame and glory for his Fighting Irish as well as his own personal success, he left his family on the sidelines. Using football as a metaphor for the “game of life,” the musical traces one man’s journey to discover what’s really important before it’s too late.
Stef Tovar as Knute recreates his 2008 role from the production of the show at Theater at the Center. He does an excellent job as an ambitious man looking to capture the American Dream. Adrian Aguilar as George Gipp, the promising young star who lets his demons destroy him, is captivating.
But it’s the women who command the stage. Dara Cameron as wife, Bonnie, is a standout with a voice so strong and pure, it practically melts your heart. Rashada Dawan belts it out as Thelma, hostess of Jimmy the Goat’s place, with non-stop energy.
The production, put on by the American Music Theatre Project and Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, is presented by special arrangement with Coaches, LLC, John Girardi and Greg Schaffert.
With book by Buddy Farmer, music by Michael Mahler and lyrics by David H. Bell and Michael Mahler, the show is expertly directed and choreographed by Jefferson Award-winner Bell.
Mention must be made of the outstanding choreography that simply takes your breath away. It is fast-paced, innovative and imaginative. Coupled with the gorgeous costumes by Robert S. Kuhn, the entire production creates an unforgettable visual feast!
For those who’ve heard the battle cry, “Win one for the Gipper,” you’ll come away with a new understanding of where this came from.
“Something in the Game: An All-American Musical” is at the Josephine Louis Theatre, 29 Arts Circle Drive, on the Northwestern University Evanston campus through Aug. 5, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets and other information, call( 847) 491-7282 and visit Wirtz Center.
Refresh your memory. How rock ‘n roll was changed by the guy with the big glasses from Lubbock, Texas is worth the trip back in time when taken there by the American Blues Theater’s “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.”
“Buddy” tells the tale of singer/songwriter Buddy Holly and the Crickets through an all too brief career ended by tragedy. Yet, some 50 years later, his music continues to be played and loved by a whole new generation.
Classic songs include: “That’ll be the Day,” “Maybe Baby,” “Peggy Sue,” “It’s so Easy to Fall in Love,” “The Big Bopper’s,” “Chantilly Lace,” “Ritchie Valens,” “La Bamba,” plus many more.
When performing the biography of a legend, how successful the show is depends on who plays the star. In this case, Zachary Stevenson who performed in Paramount’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” is spectacular.
Not only does he physically resemble Holly, but he exudes Holly’s dynamic energy and has all his dance moves down pat, such as hopping on one foot as he plays the guitar. Stevenson’s portrayal of Holly is a joy to watch.
But credit must be given to the entire ensemble whose amazing performances, both vocally and with a range of instruments, are stellar.
Piano, violins, bass, electric guitar and drums glide in and out throughout the show. Although they don’t appear until late in the second act, Cisco Lopez as Ritchie Valens and Vasily Denis as Big Bopper are outstanding.
“Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” an American Blues Theater revival is written by Alan Janes and directed with precision by Lili-Anne Brown. Musical direction is by ensemble member Michael Mahler and costume design is by Samantha C. Jones who must have a ball putting these 1950’s costumes together.
The first act is filled with lots of upbeat Holly music as his career ascends. But it’s a hard act to follow since the audience knows what’s going to happen
However, instead of ending on a downer the show explodes with more of Holly’s music as an enduring testament to his legacy. The audience never wanted it to end.
Prepare yourself for one fabulous night of theater!
DETAILS: The Buddy Holly Story is an American Blues Theater production at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, through May 26, 2018. For tickets and other information call (773) 327-5252 or visit American Blues Theater.
This classic, Tony-Award-nominated musical comes to life in the hands of Kokandy Productions in Theater Wit. The moment you enter, the elegant set creates a warm ambience and violin and percussion sounds welcome you.
Up above and off stage, you hear the sounds of a crowd. Then, once the narrator, the good Colonel Doctor begins, the production takes off like a shot.
With book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright, George Forrest and Maury Yeston, ‘Grand Hotel’s 1989 Broadway production earned 12 Tony Award nominations and won five.
Based on the 1928 play/novel “Menschen im Hotel” (People in a Hotel) and the 1932 MGM movie, the musical focuses on life and death, success and failure, love and murder all told through music and dance.
People come and go through the revolving door, with everything happening in the Grand Hotel’s lobby during one defining weekend. Read More
Every child who hears the words from the song, “I won’t grow up” can relate to Peter Pan who runs away from home so he doesn’t have to grow up.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1954, ‘Peter Pan’ has been a traditional favorite in its many incarnations on TV and the live stage throughout the years.
Bring your children as well as your inner child to the Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) to see this wonderful production of ‘Peter Pan,’ now through Jan. 1, 2018.
This family classic includes the songs “I Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” “I’m Flying” and “Neverland” accompanied by a full orchestra.
‘Peter Pan’ is directed by Music Theater Works artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller, conducted by music director Roger L. Bingaman and choreographed by Clayton Cross.
The sets are purely magical and depict the wonderful imagination of Adam Veness (scenic) and Robert S. Kuhn (costumes).
Aubrey Adams as Peter can sing, dance and keep up with the Lost Boys. She brings high energy and excitement to the role.
The remarkable Larry Adams shines in his role as irrepressible Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, especially as Captain Hook who lives in fear for the time-ticking crocodile.
Stand outs include Elizabeth Stenholt (Wendy Darling/Jane) with her beautiful, sweet voice, Anna Marie Abbate (Tiger Lily) and Cary Lovett (Smee).
The children in the audience were completely mesmerized by Peter and the Darling children as they flew through the air. I heard one child say, “Are they really flying?”
The antics of the Lion, Kangaroo, Ostrich and of course, Nana the dog, brought gales of laughter from the children.
Bring your family and share the ‘Peter Pan’ you loved as a child with your own youngsters.
‘Peter Pan’ is Music Theater Works’ final production of 2017. The 2018 season will begin with ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ (June 9-17), and continues with ‘Anything Goes’ (Aug. 18-26), the concert performance ‘Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine ‘starring Angela Ingersoll (Oct. 5-14) and ‘Into the Woods’ (Dec. 22-31).
DETAILS: ‘Peter Pan’ is a Music Theater Works production at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston. Running time is 2 hours 30 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets or for more information, call (847) 920-5360 or visit Music Theater Works.