It is all relative

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mike Nussbaum (Albert Einstein) and Katherine Keberlein (Margaret Harding) in 'Relativitiy' at Northlight Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo
Mike Nussbaum (Albert Einstein) and Katherine Keberlein (Margaret Harding) in ‘Relativitiy’ at Northlight Theatre.
Michael Brosilow photo

Theater-goers lucky enough to have seen Mark St. Germain’s ‘Freud’s Last Session’ at Mercury Theater when Mike Nussbaum took on the role of Freud (as of June 3, 2012) will have an idea of how Albert Einstein is portrayed in the world premiere of ‘Relativity’ at Northlight Theatre.

Once again, Nussbaum, now 93, is brilliant and St. Germain’s intelligent writing presents interesting insights into a world-renown, intellectual figure.

The story line revolves around a daughter born to him in 1902 by first wife Mileva Marić before the two were married. The world knew about his two sons born later, but not about daughter Lieserl until correspondence came to light in 1987.

What was known then was that Lieserl had contracted scarlet fever but no mention was made later about her. Although conceived in Switzerland where her parents were at the Zurich Polytechnic, Lieserl wasn’t brought back there to by her mother following the birth and Marić’s convalescence with her parents in Serbia.

St. Germain builds his new play on the premise that Lieserl survives.

Einstein is working at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study where his cantankerous housekeeper/secretary Helen Dukas, delightfully played by Chicago theater veteran Ann Whitney, protects him from interruptions by curiosity seekers and reporters.

Dukas successfully stops Margaret Harding, well depicted by Katherine Keberlein. The forty-something Harding who says she is a reporter from a Jewish publication finally waylays Einstein outside. Noting that it is cold he asks her in.

What follows are personal questions because Harding says her article will be different.

Using known quotes by Einstein, St. Germain has him field and rebuff Harding’s piercing questions about family, personal relations and views on mankind with statements about the importance of solving the mysteries of the universe.

Similar to ‘Freud’s Last Session’ where two protagonists, Freud and allegorist C. S. Lewis, argue their points of view, ‘Relativity’s  arguments, though more personal, are between Harding and the originator of the famous E=MC2 formula. Theories, including those in quantum physics are mentioned, but Harding’s arguments keep returning to the definition of a “great” person.

Directed by BJ Jones, the play is a fascinating, fictionalized, 80-minute look at Albert Einstein.
Details: Relativitiy’ is at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, through June 18, 2017. For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 and visit Northlight.

 

Old-fashioned romance makes a nice break from serious messages

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

With so many reality, edgy plays pricking the conscience of today’s highly  news-aware theater-goers, an old-fashioned, enchanting boy-girl attraction can become a refreshing change.

Georg Nowack (Alex Goodrich), Ladislav Sipos (James Earl Jones II) and Mr. Maraczek (Terry Hamilton) in "She Loves Me" at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Georg Nowack (Alex Goodrich), Ladislav Sipos (James Earl Jones II) and Mr. Maraczek (Terry Hamilton) in “She Loves Me” at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

Luckily, Marriott Lead Artistic director Aaron Thielen recognized the need by bringing composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s and writer Joe Masteroff’s delightful 1963 musical,  ‘She Loves Me,’ to this Lincolnshire theatre.

The plot: two people fall in love with each other through letters and later find out that their correspondents are people they know and don’t think they like.

That story line has been too good not to repeat in different forms over the years. Think “The Shop Around the Corner,” “In the Good Old Summertime” and more recently, “You’ve Got Mail.” Read More

Who can be trusted when there are ‘Objects in the Mirror?’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

If you paint over a color you lived with for years would you be able to forget the original, familiar shade? What about your identity? If you identify your name with your family, could you comfortably give it up and adopt a different name and identity?

Luopu Workolo (Lily Mojekwu) makes son Shedrick Kennedy Yakpai (Daniel Kyri) promise to do whatever necessary to survive as he leaves Liberia for a safe country. Photo by Liz Lauren
Luopu Workolo (Lily Mojekwu) makes son Shedrick Kennedy Yakpai (Daniel Kyri) promise to do whatever necessary to survive as he leaves Liberia for a safe country. Photo by Liz Lauren

In ‘Objects in the Mirror’ now at Goodman Theatre, Shedrick Kennedy Yarkpai,  a young  man who escaped to Australia from war-torn Liberia with his uncle John Workolo’s family, had to leave his mother,  Luopu Workolo, and adopt his dead cousin Zaza’s name so that his uncle could use his name for another family member who also needed papers.

The name change haunts Shedrick throughout the play.

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Glorious voices do justice to Lerner and Loewe music and lyrics

 

RECOMMENDED

The wonderfully lyrical songs and the delightfully fun numbers in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s ‘My Fair Lady’ plus the gorgeous voice of Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle and Anthony Powell’s costumes are reasons enough to see the Lyric’s show.

Eliza Doolittle (Lisa O'Hare) and Mrs. Higgins (Helen Carey) and cast at Ascot. Todd Rosenberg Photography
Eliza Doolittle (Lisa O’Hare) and Mrs. Higgins (Helen Carey) and cast at Ascot. Todd Rosenberg Photography

Bryce Pinkham who played  Monty Navarro on Broadway in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” was a treat to hear as he sang “On the Street Where You Live” as Freddy Eynsford Hill. So was the ensemble, many of whom either hailed from the Lyric Opera Chorus or past Lyric operas.

Powell’s period costumes made exceptional fashion statements that defined the characters.

The voices, music, lyrics and the story based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” make up for some of the production’s deficiencies.

Richard E. Grant as Henry Higgins appears unaccountably childish, particularly when he waves his arms about in his mother’s home and when back at his office.

In addition, the acts don’t flow well. There is a what-are-we-supposed–to-do-now moment when Eliza visits her father after she has become a lady, and the excellent dancers in Alfred Doolittle’s drunken pre-marriage morning scene move in a way more appropriate for a Parisian Apache street then one in London.

Eliza appears dressed for the ball with Henry Higgins (Richard E. Grant) at his desk and Colonel Pickering (Nicholas Le Prevost) standing. Todd Rosenberg Photography
Eliza appears dressed for the ball with Henry Higgins (Richard E. Grant) at his desk and Colonel Pickering (Nicholas Le Prevost) standing. Todd Rosenberg Photography

Set Designer Tim Hatley’s Ascot scene, shown first in silhouette, perfectly emulated the stiff, no emotion can be shown, restraint expected of the British upper class and O’Hare was grandly shocking in her close encounter with the race and Mrs. Higgins friends.

However, that same stiffness seemed to pervade the production except for Hill’s song and when Eliza encounters him outside Henry Higgens home.

The music, conducted by Broadway veteran David Chase, reminded audiences why “My Fair Lady” continues to be a draw more than 60 years after it debuted.

Directed by Olivier Fredj, the Lyric’s show is the Robert Carsen production for Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet starring a new cast.

Details: ‘My Fair Lady’ is at the Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, April 28 through May 21, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 or visit My Fair Lady.

 

Old is new again in refreshed ‘Chicago’

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

It was a very appreciative audience, some dressed as flappers, who packed the house opening night of “Chicago” at Drury Lane Oak Brook.

Alena Watters (Velman Kelly) and ensemble in 'Chicago' at Drury Lane Theatre, photo by Brett Beiner
Alena Watters (Velman Kelly) and ensemble in ‘Chicago’ at Drury Lane Theatre, photo by Brett Beiner

The Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb script with music by John Kander is iconic due in no small part to its signature song “All that Jazz.”

This new production is fresh and energetic with a set worthy of a full-fledged Broadway production. The costumes (or lack thereof) were tastefully sensuous with no hint of vulgarity.  Every performance was spot on and the choreography of Jane Lanier was an entertaining mix of classic Fosse with a hint of Busby Berkeley.

It’s hard to explain how a story line that follows the escapades of a number of imprisoned female murderers plotting their strategies to elude prosecution can be so amusing. However this dark subject matter manages to find humor in the abject cynicism of the characters and the media’s interest in salacious subject matter.

The two co-equal leading ladies Alena Watters (as Velma Kelly) and Kelly Fethous (as Roxie Hart) are smitten with the idea of parlaying their infamy as murderesses into bankable fame on the vaudeville stage upon their seemingly inevitable acquittals.

Velma and Roxie’s certainty of release is based on the flawless record of their attorney one Billy Flynn skillfully played by Guy Lockhard.

Cast of 'Chicago' at Drury Lane Theatre, photo by Brett Beiner
Cast of ‘Chicago’ at Drury Lane Theatre, photo by Brett Beiner

These three characters drive the story aided by Matron Mama Morton (E. Faye Butler) and Roxie’s pathetic husband Amos Hart (Justin Brill) who interject a good deal of humor, notably Amos’ song “Mr. Cellophane” and a charming duet, “Class” by Velma and Mama Morton.

The character of Mary Sunshine (J. London) is also delightful as is her solo “A Little Bit of Good” dynamically sung in an operatic style.

The action takes place in the 1920’s, so suitably, the play’s style harkens back to productions from that era.

It is more of a musical revue based around a loose storyline, rather than a more traditional play that utilizes songs to further the plot – – which is the formula of modern American Musicals of the post WWII era

In this way the production is closer in style to George Cohan than Rodgers and Hammerstein while the overall mood is reminiscent of ‘ Cabaret’ and ‘A Three Penny Opera.’

‘Chicago’ is a fun evening, suggested as appropriate for children 13 and older.

Details: ‘Chicago’  is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL now through June 18, 2017.  For tickets and other information call (630) 530-0111 and visit Drury Lane.

By Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison produces business videos. His interest in theater began very young. He studied with the Jack & Jill Players Children Theater and earned his Equity Card appearing in several professional Chicago productions at the Goodman Theatre, Mill Run, Melody Top and Ivanhoe. Reno does content writing, blogging and business articles and has authored two non-fiction books. See business video at Renoweb.)

 

 

Chekhovian takeoff is serious fun

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Imagine children named for popular characters who then take on some of those people’s  characteristics in situations similar to their namesake’s and you get some idea of what to expect in ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha And Spike.’

Ellen Phelps (sonia), Billy Minshall (Vanya) and Sisie Steinmeyer (Masha) at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Ellen Phelps (Sonia), Billy Minshall (Vanya) and Susie Steinmeyer (Masha) at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club

Written by satirist and witty playwright Christopher Durang, and directed  by Mark E. Lococo, Loyola University Director of Theatre, the play is currently bringing chuckles to the Citadel stage in Lake Forest.

When Vanya’s adopted sister, Sonia, says she had a bad dream – “I’m 52 and not married,” he answers, “You are 52 and not married.” He asks her if her dream was a documentary.

Seriously funny, the play is, in a sense, a tribute to Anton Chekhov’s understanding of sibling relationships, middle-aged angst and boredom.

A mash-up of Chekhov’s characters in ‘The Seagull,’ ‘Uncle Vanya’ and ‘The Three Sisters,’  the action plays out in a Bucks County, PA farmhouse in an increasingly attractive region outside of Philadelphia. Kudos to Scenic Designer Michael Lewis for creating a terrific setting on Citadel’s intimate stage.

Vanya and Sonia, named by their late parents who were professors, still live in the house where they grew up but it is owned by their sister Masha, a successful actress who pays the bills instead of an aging, male relative. Of course the land includes somewhat of a cherry orchard.

The play’s title, alone, clues audiences in to Durang’s play as a Chekhovian takeoff. Instead of an aging professor bringing his young, beautiful wife home, Masha shows off her young lover, Spike who likes to undress to show off his bod.

Add to the mix, Cassandra, a colorful psychic cleaning lady, blends Greek tragedy with Haitian voodoo for some delicious, almost Carol Burnett-style comedy.

It all works because of perfect, inspired casting.

Billy Minshall, Father Mark in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is the ideal, philosophical, gay Vanya. He is writing a play seen through the eyes of a molecule that is left when the earth destructs. His rage at Spike’s representing current cultural and societal change, is worth the price of admission.

Multi-talented actress/director Ellen Phelps wears the life-has-passed-me-by Sonia role so well she might have just stepped out of Chekhov’s world. But unlike a Chekhov play, she goes to a costume party, her first outing in years, and dresses as Maggie Smith going to an Oscar ceremony. Afterwards, Phelps does an amazing phone piece as a woman who doesn’t know how to respond when a man she met at the party calls for a dinner date.

Susie Steinmeyer, outstanding in Citadel’s ‘Lend Me A Tenor’ and ‘Jake’s Women,’ projects just the right amount of celebrity aura and angst as an  actress who doesn’t want to admit shes aging.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater regular Colin Morgan is superb as the witless boy-toy Spike. Lizzie Schwarzrock is delightful as ingénue Nina, a next door neighbor who admires Masha and wants to be an actress.

Judy Lea Steele, a veteran of Chicago theater, brings the house down when she crazily warns of various misfortunes as Cassandra.

North Shore theater goers are lucky to have the production so close but it is worth a trip north for Chicagoans.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha And Spike’ is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd. lake forest, now thru May 28, 2017. For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 or visit Citadel.

 

‘Marry Me A Little’ entertains big

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Joy, passion, happiness, pessimism, satire and angst, the various moods of brilliant composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim are all represented in ‘Marry Me A Little’ at Porchlight Music Theatre.

Austin Cook (The Man) and Bethany Thomas (The Woman) in 'Marry Me A Little' at Porchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Brandon Dahlquist
Austin Cook (The Man) and Bethany Thomas (The Woman) in ‘Marry Me A Little’ at Porchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Brandon Dahlquist

Magnificently performed with an amazingly broad vocal range by Bethany Thomas and artfully sung and played on the piano by multi-talented Austin Cook, the Porchlight production is a special treat for Sondheim fans.

The 21 pieces that make up the show include rarely heard songs.

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Ethel becomes Juliet when Shakespeare falls in love

RECOMMENDED

Try saying ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’ as the name of a play by William Shakespeare.

After hearing that phrase in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and thinking “you’ve got to be kidding,” the reason for the nutty title makes sense if willing to accept that the bard started out like an embryonic chick breaking through its eggshell rather than a fully developed hen ready to produce offspring.

Marlowe (Michael Perez) works with a frustrated Will Shakespeare (Nick Rehberger) in 'Shakespeare in Love' at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, now through June 11, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Marlowe (Michael Perez) works with a frustrated Will Shakespeare (Nick Rehberger) in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, now through June 11, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay of the same title, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ starts with a young, struggling but talented Will Shakespeare.

He’s under pressure to hand over a new play to two different sponsors but is unable to go beyond a beginning phrase and a working title with “Ethel” as the heroine.

In the witty minds of Norman and Stoppard, Will needs help from friends, foes and rivals to replace Ethel and pirates with better protagonists.

What develops is the play that eventually becomes his famed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tragedy and also the germ of an idea that leads to the ‘Twelfth Night’ comedy.

Along the way, expertly guided by Director Rachel Rockwell and with spot-on portrayals from a talented cast, the Chicago Shakespeare version provides fascinating insight into the precarious profession of play writing and production,  men-only acting companies and the lack of women’s rights in the sixteenth century England of Queen Elizabeth I.

Kate McGonigle is delightful as Shakespeare’s muse, Viola de Lesseps. She dresses as a boy to be Romeo in his new play, but unmasked, she is the inspiration for his Juliet. Viola is also the name of the heroine disguised as a male in  ‘Twelfth Night.’

Nick Rehberger successfully depicts a somewhat bumbling, young, penniless Will Shakespeare who falls in love with Viola. He becomes so tongue tied talking to her he needs descriptive poetic phrases from his friend, playwright Kit Marlowe, well interpreted by Michael Perez.

Part of the fun of the play is that the characters, from theater owners and acting company managers to actors and playwrights, were real people back in Shakespeare’s time.

Viola (Kate McGonicale) dances with the uninvited Will (Nick Rehberger) at a ball held by her father. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Viola (Kate McGonicale) dances with the uninvited Will (Nick Rehberger) at a ball held by her father. Photo by Liz Lauren.

However, the play’s  message turns out to be that the Romeo-style Will and Juliet-style Viola don’t turn to suicide just because their romance can’t lead to a happily-ever-after ending.

Viola has been pledged to a titled gentleman who wants her family’s money to establish plantations in Virginia so she has to leave England with him. Will is already married although he says they are separated.

Of course Chicago Shakespeare’s physical theater complemented by Scott Davis’ scenic design adds the right historic setting, but Susan E. Mickey’s wonderful period costumes are important to set the characters into their station in English life.

Details: ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago,  now through June 11, 2017.  For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.

 

 

 

Scientific moral dilemma bumps against friendship and ambition

RECOMMENDED

Two doctoral candidates are compelled to examine their morals, their friendship and their futures as they re-examine the data that has driven their scientific careers for the past six years.

Adam Poss (Arvind Patel) and Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah) in 'Queen' at Victory Gardens. Liz Lauren Photo
Adam Poss (Arvind Patel) and Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah) in ‘Queen’ at Victory Gardens. Liz Lauren Photo

Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah), a statistician, and Darci Nalepa (Ariel Spiegel), an apiologist, are on the verge of presenting scientific evidence proving that pesticides are responsible for colony collapse disorder, a worldwide epidemic causing honey bees to abandon their hives and disappear.

The problem could potentially threaten the food supply and the very existence of life on this planet.

The two women have been the backbone of the soon to be published findings conducted on behalf of a liberal California university research lab headed by Stephen Spencer (Dr. Philip Hayes) who has his own professional ambitions that rely on the cooperation of his two junior associates.

Even though the play is intelligently written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Joanie Schultz, “Queen” has the potential to get bogged down in its own dialogue.

Luckily in the hands of this capable cast, this premier performance avoids becoming too technical and laborious and, if anything, at times sounds a bit like an episode of CSI some city or another.

Adam Poss(Arvind Patel) lightens the entire mood of the production and helps keeps the story moving. Arvind is a successful New York derivatives trader and Sanam’s current candidate for marriage. He is concerned more with enjoying life and far less with global environmental issues or the associated moral challenges.

Their relationship has been mutually arranged by the couple’s parents, on the basis that their two grandfathers played golf together in India. On their first date Arvid is explaining to Sanam, his decision to move “all-in” on an opponent during a Texas Hold’em poker game.

The scene is genius and insightful on the part of the playwright as it helps define Arvind’s character while providing an opportunity for the two to bond over a statistical observation.

This play is very millennial. It is filled with cell phones, laptops and cultural diversity while dealing with women’s career issues, relationship issues and environmental issues that are all wrapped up in a very smart package.

Shekar considers the conflicts and uneasy alliances between the academic scientific community and commercial enterprise. It’s timelessness is the moral struggle that reinvents itself in every generation, testing our humanity.

Details: ‘Queen’ is at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, through May 17, 2017. For tickets and more information call (773) 871-3000) or visit Victory Gardens.

By Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison produces business videos. His interest in theater began very young. He studied with the Jack & Jill Players Children Theater and earned his Equity Card appearing in several professional Chicago productions at the Goodman Theatre, Mill Run, Melody Top and Ivanhoe. Reno does content writing, blogging and business articles and has authored two non-fiction books. See business video at Renoweb.)

 

‘Aladdin’ has it all

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

If looking for a spectacular family show with fantastic music and dance numbers, eye-popping staging and costumes and an exotic fairy-tale style rags to riches, princess and palace story, then ‘Aladdin’ fulfills all those wishes.

'Aladdin' at the Cadillac Theatre. Deen vanMeer Photo
‘Aladdin’ at the Cadillac Theatre. Deen van Meer Photo

The Broadway musical, now at the Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre on its 2017 national tour,  is everything a show-goer would expect from Disney.

Although based on Disney’s 1992 movie, ‘Aladdin,’ the stage musical, has the type of fabulous dance numbers and costumes loved by Broadway impresario Flo Ziegfield.

Of course Tony Award winners are involved.  Casey Nicholaw from ‘The Book of Mormon’ is the director and choreographer and Gregg Barnes (‘The Drowsy Chaperone’) is the costume designer.

But families who loved the film will still have the score by Grammy and Academy Award winners Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice plus new numbers by Menken and Chad Beguelin who did the book

And there are the wonderfully familiar characters of the Genie, exquisitely interpreted by Anthony Murphy, Aladdin, delightfully portrayed by Adam Jacobs who played the title character on Broadway, and Princess Jasmine, the contemporary female role nailed by Isabelle McCalla.

Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine). Photo by Deen van Meer
Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine). Photo by Deen van Meer

Naturally, there is the diabolical Jafar played by Jonathan Weir with old-fashioned foiled-again style characterization and evil laughter who is joined in his quest for the sultan’s throne by the comic Iago (Reggie De Leon) who is human, not a parrot this time.

Aladdin’s three street pals are fun to watch in a skillfully done fight scene with palace guards. The trio are Zach Bencal as Babkak, Philippe Arroyo as Omar and Mike Longo as Kassim.

The whole story: an Arabian tale of poor boy meets titled girl, they fall in love, girl doesn’t want to have to marry a prince who will rule her or her kingdom, boy locates magic lamp whose genie turns him into a prince, girl and boy re-connect, are separated by an evil person and finally, wed, takes about 2 hours and 25 minutes including intermission.

Details: ‘Aladdin’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph St., now through Sept. 10, 2017. For tickets and more information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago.