A spectacular evening at Ravinia

 

The annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular fills the lawn at Ravinia Festival. (J Jacobs photo)
The annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular fills the lawn at Ravinia Festival. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Tchaikovsky, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Itzhak Perlman brought friends and families out to Ravinia Festival Sunday. After storming in the morning, the weather was cooperating for Ravinia’s annual “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” in early evening.

Blanket carrying, luggage-rolling, chair-toting, concert goers kept pouring through the park’s gates even past the early 5 p.m. program start.

Each year, the popular concert fills the lawn with music lovers who know that the final notes of the “1812 Overture” are also an appropriate cannon  send-off to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra that is at Orchestra Hall downtown during the winter but plays at Ravinia in Highland Park in summer.

Heads, nodded and even feet seemed to join in from the blankets and chairs behind the Pavilion and across the lawn as Perlman expertly conducted Tchaikovsky’s familiar Symphony No. 4.

Regular Ravinia goer Patsy Haase, Arlington Heights, chats with daughter Julie Haase and Sydney Burks, MO berore the program begins and the lawn starts to fill. (J Jacobs photo)
Regular Ravinia goer Patsy Haase, Arlington Heights, chats with daughter Julie Haase and Sydney Burks, MO before the program begins and the lawn starts to fill. (J Jacobs photo)

After intermission, the 2017 Credit Swisse Young Artist Award winner, cellist Kian Soltani, a Deutsche Grammophon recording artist, wowed listeners with his deft handling of “Variations on a rococo theme for cello and orchestra and its virtuosic coda.

For the “1812” some lawn sitters with youngsters on shoulders, strolled over to the space on the northeast side of the Pavilion to watch the cannon shots.

Ravinia Festival was living up to its name. A festival mood had spread across the park as youngsters skipped around blankets and many picnickers, reluctant to leave on this balmy concert night, continued sipping, eating and chatting.

Frequent Revinia goers, Donna and Dan Berman, Deerfield, know to get to popular concerts early. and Dan knows to bring a hat because the sun changes. (J Jacobs photo)
Frequent Revinia goers, Donna and Dan Berman, Deerfield, know to get to popular concerts early. and Dan knows to bring a hat because the sun changes. (J Jacobs photo)

They had come well-supplied with wine bottles, dishes to share and other stuff.

Although this was the first time Sidney Burks and Julie Haase from Southern  Missouri had been to Ravinia, they were visiting Julie’s folks, Patsy and Roger Haase, regular Ravinia goers from Arlington Heights. What was important to bring?

“A light,” said Patsy, pointing to a very attractive decorated glass container sitting by their table that would be good for concerts continuing after dark. “This way we can find our way back to our table,” she said.

Dan and Donna Berman who lived a lot closer in Deerfield, had already seen several concerts and had more planned on their calendar including the Michael Feinstein program.

Why come?

“I love Ravinia,” said Dan. “I love music.” He added. “Not necessarily in that order.”

“We come every year for the ‘1812,’” said Donna.

To see the schedule for remaining Ravinia concerts visit Ravinia Festival/calendar.

Jodie Jacobs

‘Hunchback’ has melodious ring

 

Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

4 stars

I was curious to imagine how this epic story that features a soaring gothic cathedral in the heart of Paris would be portrayed at Music Theater Works’ Cahn Auditorium venue.

But from the moment the curtain rose revealing the stunning scenic set design and twenty-four member choir for MTWs’ “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the audience was thoroughly captivated.

Set around 1492 the essence of this operetta is derived from Victor Hugo’s  epic novel of the same name with similar themes of intolerance, injustice, abuse of power, and “man’s inhumanity to man” as in his “Les Miserables.”

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Always remember ‘All That He Was’

 

'All That He Was.'  L to R:  Ethan Warren,  Rick Rapp. (Photos by Nicholas Swatz)
‘All That He Was.’
L to R: Ethan Warren, Rick Rapp. (Photos by Nicholas Swatz)

4 stars

 

First, a gentle warning to theatergoers planning to see”All That He Was,” a deeply moving, sometimes humorous new musical by Pride Films & Plays at The Buena: bring along lots of Kleenex.

When theatergoers walk into The Buena, they may be surprised to discover that they’re about to attend a funeral. The entire theatre has been transformed into an outdoor, park-like space.

This sepulchral space is highlighted by a tasteful garden of plants and flowers surrounding an arbor and peppered with places to sit and the stage is festooned by strings of tiny white lights.

A poignant AIDS-inspired, mostly sung-through musical, “All That He Was” is a newly revised version of the original, award-winning one-act by Larry Todd Cousineau (book and lyrics) and Cindy O’Connor (music).

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‘Women of 4G’ – Lost in space

 

Fast forward to the year 2094, 75 years in the future when”Women of 4G,” presented by Babes with Blades, tackle Earth’s uninhabitable air.

Cast of Women of 4G (Photo courtesy of Babes With Blades)
Cast of Women of 4G (Photo courtesy of Babes With Blades)

3 stars

Because of the arrogance and stupidity of our world leaders, the earth’s fragile environment has now been totally destroyed. With the planet’s atmosphere almost completely polluted, mankind is literally gasping its last breath.

In one final, heroic attempt to insure  another 500 years of life, a team of seven superior female scientists and their lone male Captain, have been sent on a life-and-death mission into outer space.

Once into the cosmos, the crew of 4G plan to launch a lifesaving satellite, brilliantly developed by one their own, LT Wollman. This celestial orb promises to reverse the harmful gases and lethal rays that have destroyed earth’s precious oxygen supply.

But something else has gone deadly awry. At the top of the play, the audience learns that the ship’s captain has been murdered. Playwright Amy Tofte’s often funny, frequently violent feminist science fiction melodrama quickly evolves into an intergalactic whodunnit?

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Perfect Junie B Jones timing: How to overcome school problems

Cast of Junie B Jones at Marriott Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Cast of Junie B Jones at Marriott Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

3 stars

In her Junie B Jones stories, children’s author Barbara Park found interesting solutions to problems youngsters face at school. Which means that “Junie B. Jones, The Musical,” put together by the “Dear Edwina” team of Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, is perfect for youngsters to see right before school starts this fall.

Now at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire just through Aug. 11, 2019, the show is for all elementary-middle school youngsters.

On the first day of school, Junie B encounters problems right away on the bus when her best friend from last year now has two other best friends so won’t sit with her.

Once at school, Junie B doesn’t understand why she can’t read words on the board. She’ll have to wear glasses but what will her classmates think and say.

And the problems keep happening.

Elizabeth Telfore is a terrific Junie B. Adam LaSalle is great as her piano-playing day (and teacher Mr. Scary and others). Rashada Dawan is perfect as mom, (and the cafeteria cook and others).

Marriott shows, whether for a general or young audience, always have excellent voices and choreography. “Junie B” is no exception.

But the reason to take youngsters to the show is for them to see that there are ways to work through things that sometimes go wrong at school.

DETAILS: “Junie b. Jones, the Musical,” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Running time: 1 hour. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

A Ravinia night to remember: Emanuel Ax plays Brahms Concerto 2 and Rafael Payare conducts CSO in Beethoven Symphony 3

 

Rafael Payare conducts the CSO in Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 at Ravinia Festival. (photo credit Ravinia Festival and Kyle Dunleavy)
Rafael Payare conducts the CSO in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 at Ravinia Festival. (photo credit Ravinia Festival and Kyle Dunleavy)

 

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conductor Rafael Payare and pianist Emanuel Ax gave bravo performances at Ravinia Festival Aug. 2, 2019.

Payare, a Venezuelan conductor who has led ensembles and orchestras across the globe and will lead the San Diego Symphony as its new music director this fall, infused Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 with extra exuberance and sensitivity to its Napoleonic themes.

Although the themes are familiar to classical musical lovers, Eroica in less able hands has sometimes come across as too predictable and automatically played. But when Payare opened the symphony by (I think appropriately) upping the pace on the Allegro con brio, there was a new feeling of excitement stretching across the Pavilion and lawn.

It was in perfect contrast to what became the very expressive Marcia funebre movement in C minor followed by the CSO strings’ nimble and delightful Scherzo that went back to the symphony’s key of E-flat major.

During the symphony, the cameras for ravinia’s screens’ focused on the orchestra’s exceptional oboist, flutist and French horns.

They deserved the extra acknowledgement accorded them by Payare after the heroic symphony’s exuberant final notes drew enthusiastic applause.

 

Emanuel Ax plays Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 at Ravinia. Rafael Payare conducts the CSO in Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 at Ravinia Festival. (Ravinia Festival and Kyle Dunleavy photo)
Emanuel Ax plays Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 at Ravinia. Rafael Payare conducts the CSO in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 at Ravinia Festival. (Ravinia Festival and Kyle Dunleavy photo)

 

This interpretation of Beethoven’s epic, groundbreaking symphony was among the best I’ve heard.

It would take another epic performance to complement the first half the program.

And that is what Ax delivered with his extraordinary Brahm’s Concerto No. 2 in B –flat major.

Back at Ravinia for his 28th appearance since 1975, the 70-year-old Ax still has the powerful hands, agile fingers and emotion variations that won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv in the 1974 and the Avery Fisher Prize in New York City in 1979.

Among the finest pianists of our time, Ax appeared to be having a love affair with the piano (or with Brahms) on Friday.

From hands crossing to land powerful chords and fingers flying across the keys to their producing lyrical waterfalls and gentle caresses, Ax married technique with sensitivity.

What audiences may not recall is that Brahms pays homage in Piano Concerto No. 2 to another instrument he likes to write for, the cello. In notes on the work, Brahms calls the section of the Andante that features a cello solo, a “concerto within a concerto.”

Ax is familiar with Brahms piano cello pairings. As a frequent partner with cellist Yo Yo Ma, the duo has won several Grammy Awards for their Brahms recordings.

As the strains of the last notes of Brahms second piano concerto echoed through the Pavilion, the audience rose, almost as one body, applauding loudly and long.

The double bill of bravo performances made Friday at Ravinia a night to remember.

(Friday was the second night to feature Beethoven symphonies and Brahms concertos. Thursday’s concert was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor followed by pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 in D minor.)

For more Ravinia concerts visit Ravinia/Calendar.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

When comedy expresses pain at ‘International Falls’

 

Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)
Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle ( Pphoto by Katie Reynolds)

4 stars

Set in a Holiday Inn hotel room in International Falls, Minnesota, traveling comedian Tim has come to the end of the road while front desk clerk Dee wants to escape her life. Together they explore the use of comedy to mask their sadness and express their pain.

Tim (Sean Higgins) shares his unsuccessful quest to find his own unique voice and urges Dee (Marie Weigle) to find hers, stressing that honesty and authenticity is what is important.

In “International Falls,” playwright Thomas Ward evidently understands that struggle and has clearly met the challenge writing some of the most authentic and honest dialogue I have ever heard on stage.

Presented by by the Agency Theater Collective in partnership with End of the Line Production, Ward’s brilliant dialogue comes to life as spoken by Higgins and Weigle. You feel like you are sitting in their hotel room witnessing the events unfold.

Higgins’ cringingly awkward stand-up asides are perfectly painful and his obvious discomfort with himself combined with false bravado is portrayed with appropriate nuance.

Weigle’s pent up frustration, emerging confidence and vulnerability is palpable but never goes over the top.

The blocking was seamless and meaningful.

The naturalness of the actors can only be achieved when they have a critical eye assuring them that what they are doing is right.

Director Cody Lucas clearly gets credit for pulling this small ensemble together into a beautiful unified performance. Orchestrating the emotional level with symphonic accuracy, Lucas dials up the emotions to peak levels that never gets shrill, then dials them back down to create a needed contrast that keeps the audience engaged and caring about the characters.

This voyeuristic experience is further enhanced by the intimate setting of the Nox Arca Theatre which is actually a small industrial space on the 5th floor of a concrete loft building on the corner of Irving Park in the Ravenswood corridor. Scenic Designer Soli Eisenberg has done a brilliant job of incorporating the natural elements of the room to create the effect.

By the way the music mix before the show began was awesome.

DETAILS: “International Falls” is at Nox Arca Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, #405. Chicago, through August 31, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information visit We Are the Agency.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Come From Away’ transforms strangers

 

Touring cast of 'Come From Away' now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)
Touring cast of ‘Come From Away’ now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)

3 ½ stars

Pretty much everyone recalls where they were when they heard that planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Radio announcers guessed it was an accident  when American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston’s Logan International Airport bound for Los Angeles went into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Then United Airlines Flight 175 from Logan, also bound for LA flew into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

(Two other planes were also hijacked, AA Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon  and United flight 93 was brought down by its passengers before it could hit its target in Washington D.C.)

At 9:25 a.m. the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Washington Dulles, directed about 4,300 planes to land, ordering 120 inbound overseas flights to Canada and the rest to return to countries of origin.

The United flight that our daughter was flying from London to Los Angeles was diverted to Edmonton, Canada. All she heard before landing was that the US airspace was closed. (We didn’t know it was a direct flight. She could have gone through Boston.)

Of the planes in the air, 38 were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland where they stayed for five days.

“Come From Away” is the amazing story, told in a musical with a rock beat by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, of how the small town of Gander (9,000 residents) managed to feed, clothe, find facilities and befriend approximately 7,000 passengers and crew members while working through the visitors’ foreign customs, language difficulties and personal distress.

L to R, Megan McGinnis, Emily Walton, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson,Julie Johnson and Daniele K. Thomas on 'Come From Away' touri. (Matthew Murphy photo)
L to R, Megan McGinnis, Emily Walton, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson,Julie Johnson and Daniele K. Thomas on ‘Come From Away’ touri. (Matthew Murphy photo)

The musical tell a mash-up of their stories in just 100 minutes.

Except for a passenger who keeps trying to find out about her son, an NYC fire fighter, and the American Airlines pilot of a plane landing in Gander who learns her friend Charles (Burlingame) was the pilot on the ill-fated Flight 77, the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, were not the story.

Instead, though some moments lead to tears, others result in laughter and smiles. Audiences will be reminded that kindness brings out kindred spirits and understanding can change antagonism to gratitude.

Moving from an Ontario theater workshop in 2012 and through other stops on the way to Broadway in 2017, “Come From Away” garnered seven Tony nominations and won the “Best Director of a Musical” award for Christopher Ashley.

Now, the touring company is in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Aug. 18, 2019.

Gander characters double as passengers and crew, a difficult feat that may occasionally confuse some audience members.

But the show’s talented cast of experienced Broadway and TV actors really are able to convey how Gander’s warmhearted hospitality eventually permeates the awful stress of people who at first are not allowed off a plane even though they’ve landed, can’t communicate easily with family back home and are leery of how their views, fears and needs may be regarded by strangers.

The band is excellent and on stage, sometimes as part of the action.

Award-winning conductor/keyboardist Cynthia Kortman Westphal also does the accordion and harmonium.  Isaac Alderson plays the Irish flute and Uilleann pipes. Kiana June Weber is a skillful fiddler. Adam Stoler is on the electric and acoustic guitars. In addtion, Matt Wong is on acoustic guitar and mandolins, Max Calkin plays the electric and acoustic bass, Steve Holloway  and Ben Morrow handle percussion. 

My only problem with the current, touring show is that it was hard to catch all the spoken and sung words. When asked, others there said they liked the show but also had the same problem.

However, the show’s mood and message comes across well. “Come From Away” is a feel-good musical that is worth seeing for its story about how Gander not only coped but altered their visitors’ views of themselves and others.

DETAILS: “Come From Away” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Aug. 18, 2019. Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call ( 800) 775-2000) or visit Broadway In Chicago.  

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

A Funky Journey at BET

Cast of 'You Can't Fake the Funk' at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).
Cast of ‘You Can’t Fake the Funk’ at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).

2.5 stars

“You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music)” presented by Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater works hard to “turn this mutha out.”

“There’s a whole lot of rhythm goin’ round” in this energetic performance written and directed by the company’s own producing and managing director, Daryl D. Brooks.

The journey through the history of funk is hosted by Dwight Neal as Dr. Funk and takes place aboard the “Mothership,” an allusion to  George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 platinum album “Mothership Connection.”

Clinton actually incorporated a spaceship as part of the scenery into his concerts but BET’s homage does not do it justice and Denise Karczewski’s lighting didn’t do too much to help, particularly if you consider the lighting effects prominent in the disco style shows of this time.

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‘And Then There Were None’ – an intriguing whodunit

 

Cast of 'And Then There Were None' at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of ‘And Then There Were None’ at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

3 Stars

 

Ten strangers of varying ages and occupations arrive at an island mansion off the coast of Devon, England. Their host, who has beckoned them on one pretense or another, is delayed.

In this late 1930s setting, the houseguests start dying–one by one, and by violent means. The island is otherwise uninhabited, and the only boat back to the mainland is thwarted by a storm.

They realize they are stranded with a murderer in their midst. Who is it, and who will be the next victim?

The production, now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, is based on the book by renowned English writer Agatha Christie. One of the best-selling murder mysteries of all time, it was first published in 1939 under a name that today is considered highly racist and will not be repeated here.

A stellar ensemble cast is artfully directed by Jessica Fisch. Cher Álvarez plays former governess Vera Claythorne with great style and composure. Matt DeCaro lends leadership skills and authority to the retired Justice Wargrave, and Marilyn Dodds Frank injects just the right amount of haughtiness into Emily Brent, the judgmental spinster.

Paul-Jordan Jansen, who in real life looks mighty fine wearing a kilt, portrays dual-identity William Blore with boldness and a touch of comic relief.

The houseguests’ British accents can be difficult to translate into modern-day American vernacular. Or maybe it’s the acoustics that muddle voices on the sideline seats. But the players’ fears and suspicions of each other ring clearly.

The entire performance takes place in the mansion’s expansive living room as created by scenic designer Andrew Boyce. With its parquet floors, lavish mill work, velvet fringed sofas and panoramic ocean view, the set is worthy of a photo shoot for “Architectural Digest” magazine.

The period-perfect apparel, particularly as worn by the female actors, by costume designer Jessica Pabst, is equally lovely to behold.

Other members of the creative team include Driscoll Otto as lighting designer and Ray Nardelli as sound designer.

“And Then There Were None” weaves a clever, captivating tale that keeps its secrets until the very end.

DETAILS: “And Then There Were None” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook  (639) 530-0111 or visit DruryLaneTheatre.

Pamela McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago