Idomeneo makes awkward deal with Greek god

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Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart's Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

If you have ever been caught in a storm while sailing or found yourself on a rough boat ride in Lake Michigan you can understand why Idomeneo is ready to bargain with Neptune in return for a safe harbor after being tempest tossed while returning from the Trojan War.

Neptune, willing to make a deal with Idomeneo says he will assure his safe arrival at shore but in return the hero must sacrifice the first person he sees.

Like many mythological Greek gods of yore Neptune seems to really enjoy some irony. As it turns out the first person Idomeneo spots is his very own son Idamante. Ah! The stuff great opera is made of.

This Lyric Opera of Chicago’s revival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Idomeneo with a stellar cast of singers and awesome orchestra led by Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, is indeed lyrical.Read More

The American Revolution in 50 minutes

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The American Revolution is acted out by Theater Unspeakable cast on a tiny, raised platform.
The American Revolution is acted out by Theater Unspeakable cast on a tiny, raised platform.

 

A talented ensemble of seven actors in red union suits depict the salient moments of the American Revolution in an improvisational tableau style on a roughly three foot by seven foot platform, two feet off the ground, in fifty minutes.

Produced by Theater Unspeakable and directed by Marc Frost, the show is oddly compelling and entertaining.

With no scenery or props and using their bodies alone the cast, skillfully choreographed by movement director Thomas Wynne, employ many time honored devices of stagecraft including pantomime, narration, dialogue and a cappella song to guide us through a timeline beginning with the French and Indian war through to the establishment of a new nation while covering events on two continents.

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‘Curious Incident’ offers important themes

 

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Cast of Curious Incident of the dog in the nighttime at Steppenwolf Theatre's Young Adult Program.
Cast of Curious Incident of the dog in the nighttime at Steppenwolf Theatre’s Young Adult Program.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” follows the adventures of Christopher (Terry Bell) who is a fourteen year old boy with an undefined sensory processing disorder (like autism) who is also a kind of math savant.

While he has advanced mental abilities on one hand, he also has limited interpersonal skills which manifest in his aversion to personal contact, his inability to tell a lie, and his propensity to take everything he hears literally.

For instance, he is confused by most idiomatic phrases and metaphors. When his test proctor asks, “Are you ready to roll” Christopher simply looks bewildered.

Intrigued by the mystery of the obviously intentional death of his neighbor’s dog, the young man sets out to find the perpetrator of the act. That leads him to places he has never been. It confronts him with unimagined truths while being forced to manage and overcome some of his own personal challenges.

This is less of a whodunit and more of a why’d-you-do-it that forces Christopher and us to ponder themes of death, infidelity, and betrayal. In the end there is not so much of a resolution as an open ended series of unanswered, perhaps thought provoking questions.

The strength of the play is providing a glimpse into an alternate state of being.

Actor Terry Bell gave an excellent, well=balanced performance as Christopher. It would be easy to overplay this role but his portrayal is sympathetic and sensitive.

This play by Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon and directed by Jonathan Berry, is very much about Christopher and told from his point-of-view.Read More

Stories of Chicago in Music

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Baiocchi performance (Reno Lovison photo)
Baiocchi performance (Reno Lovison photo)

Created as part of the Bach+Beethoven Experience, “Chicago Stories: Book 2” challenges local composers to write a musical suite that utilizes baroque instruments to tell a story about Chicago.

One of the hallmarks of Bach+Beethoven Experience is to create a casual relaxed atmosphere to enjoy music of vintage instruments. There is nothing stuffy about this experience and I venture to say it can be enjoyed by virtually anyone regardless of musical tastes or preferred musical genre.

The premiere performance was presented Sept. 29, 2018 in the Sky Room at the Loyola Park Field House in Rogers Park overlooking Lake Michigan.

The first suite, “Stories of the Bloomingdale Trail” by Ronnie Kuller, was created to evoke memories of the trail’s past as part of an industrial corridor and rail line that contrasted with the present sounds of the walkers, runners, and bicyclists who enjoy the narrow elevated green space. The trail cuts a nearly three-mile path parallel to North Avenue from Ashland on the east to roughly Central Park on the west.Read More

Change Can Be Difficult

 

Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)
Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Set during a changing period in recent history near New Orleans in 1963 “Caroline, or Change” is an emotionally charged story about the power of money and fear of change.

Caroline (Rashada Dawan) is a maid in a modest Jewish household in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her employer Stuart Gellman (Jonathan Schwart) is a widower who has recently married one of his deceased wife’s friends, Rose (Blair Robertson) who hails from the Upper West Side of New York.

For Rose change is manifest in the challenges presented by her new life in the South which include a despondent husband, his eight year-old grieving son Noah (Alejandro Medina) and “negro” housekeeper whose life is slowly unraveling as she quietly struggles to keep it together.

It is the dawn of the civil rights movement, times are changing, President JFK has just been assassinated. Caroline is recently divorced, has three girls (Bre Jacobs, Princess Isis Z. Lang and Lyric K. Sims) at home and a grown son in Vietnam. To make matters worse she is under employed and feeling like she has no skills that would allow her to change her circumstances.

Caroline’s oldest daughter Emmie Thibodeaux (Bre Jacobs ) represents the new generation and the change that is coming.

The term “change” takes on a double meaning as the plot pivots around Noah’s habit of leaving loose change in his pants pockets where Caroline routinely finds it while doing the laundry and where the odd coins become a catalyst for a change in attitudes.

One can nit-pick but every member of this perfect cast turned in wonderful performances in a nearly flawless production directed by Lili-Anne Brown with a nearly flawless script featuring book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, and music by Jeanine Tesori.

The actors are accompanied by the musical direction and keyboard of Andra Velis Simon with her excellent four piece band, Yulia Block (percussion), Kimberly Lawson (violin) Emily Beisel (reeds) and Myles Bacon (guitars).

There is virtually no break in the music from beginning to end so it is difficult to single out individual performances. But, the charming jump rope style song “Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw” sung by  Caroline’s adorable daughters and joined by Noah in Act One, as well as her own show stopping “Lot’s Wife” toward the end of Act Two were memorable moments for me.

If you are unfamiliar with this play I suggest you definitely put it on your “must see” list. And I will venture to say, that you are not going to get a much better chance than this Firebrand Theatre presentation of “Caroline, or Change.”

DETAILS: “Caroline, or Change,” a Firebrand Theatre production, is at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. through Oct. 28, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs., 30 min. For tickets or other information visit Firebrand Theatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’ is a Fuzzy Tale

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A different performer takes on White Rabbit Red Rabbit at each Interrobang production.
A different performer takes on White Rabbit Red Rabbit at each Interrobang production.

It can be said that any piece of literature is a conversation with the author across time and space but Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour takes this to a new level.

For those interested in a nontraditional performance experience, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” presented by Interrobang Theatre Project is an enjoyable, thought provoking, perhaps at times, philosophical, leap into experimental theater.

A different actor every night is presented with a few props and a sealed script which is opened on stage. At this point the actor follows the instructions and performs accordingly. Performers: Stephanie Shum (September 24) JD Caudill (October 1), Echaka Agba (October 8), Michael Turrentine (October 15), Joe Lino (October 22), David Cerda (October 29), Shawna Franks (November 5) and Owais Ahmed (November 12).

For some this may be a trip down a proverbial rabbit hole but others like “Alice” may encounter a splendid adventure.

Part of the intrigue is that no one (including me) is permitted to talk about the details of the play because no one sees exactly the same show twice.

Approximately one hour long, it is a kind of improvisational comedic/dramatic,social experiment.

If you are expecting a traditional night at the theater this may not be your thing but if you are looking for a refreshing break from the ordinary then hop over to see “White Rabbit Red Rabbit.”

DETAILS: “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, through Nov. 12, 2018. For tickets and other information call (312) 219-4140 and visit Interrobangtheatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Radio Golf’ is a Hole-in-One

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From left: Allen Gilmore, James T Alfred and James Vincent Meredith. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left: Allen Gilmore, James T Alfred and James Vincent Meredith. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

A Pittsburgh real estate developer with aspirations of becoming mayor finds himself at odds with his wife and his business partner after encountering a couple of guys from his old neighborhood who bring him closer to his own history and the roots of his community.

This is a story about the quest for success, what is legal, what is fair and ultimately, what is right and what is wrong.

These concepts are not just black and white. They are usually very muddy and predicated on each individual’s point-of-view. On some level this story tries to indicate that there is a clear distinction.

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Saturday in the Park with Porchlight

Michelle Lauto r gives park audiences a preview of some of Porchlight's 2018-19 musical season accompanied by Music Director David Fiorello, l, (Reno Lovison photo)
Michelle Lauto r gives park audiences a preview of some of Porchlight’s 2018-19 musical season accompanied by Music Director David Fiorello, l, (Reno Lovison photo)

An ensemble from Porchlight Music Theatre offered a sneak preview of their upcoming 2018-2019 theater season including selections from “1776,” “Gypsy” and “A Chorus Line.”

The lucky audience in lawn chairs at Washington Square Park across from Chicago’s Newberry Library, heard performances by Leah Davis, James Earl Jones II, Michelle Lauto, Liam Quealy, and Music Director David Fiorello.

Michelle Lauto confidently belted out “He Plays the Violin” from “1776” while James Earl Jones II wrapped up the one-hour preview with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy.”

DETAILS: Porchlight Music Theatre is at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Pkwy. To see more about the season visit Porchlight Season.

Reno Lovison

Video highlights by Reno Lovison can be seen at Chicago Broadcasting Network.

Related:  A Look at the coming Chicago theater season: Part Two

 

 

The Blues Man is the real deal

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Rick Stone is the Blues Man at Black EnsembleTheater.
Rick Stone is the Blues Man at Black EnsembleTheater.

“Rick Stone The Blues Man” at the Black Ensemble Theater is a nightclub style jukebox musical written and directed by Jackie Taylor that stars Rick Stone himself and a cadre of six seasoned blues singers backed up by an awesome house band.

The songs are classic blues led by the very talented BET musical director Robert Reddrick on drums who is joined by “young” Adam Sherrod (Keyboards), Gary Baker (Guitar) and Mark Miller (Bass).  Lamont D. Harris (Harmonica) is considered part of the vocal ensemble but holds his own adding his “blues harp” accompaniment to many of the tunes.

This production works hard to make you feel like you just happened to stroll into a vintage blues club. The cast wanders in, casually greeting individuals along the way. Ushers greet everyone by saying, “Welcome to Rick’s.” The stage has a small bar and few tables and chairs which incidentally are available to audience members as V.I.P. seating.Read More

The end of TV is largely light and shadow

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The End of TV at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal)
The End of TV at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

It seems fitting that The Chopin Theater which began as a local movie house and evolved into a live theater venue, should play host to “The End of TV,” a combination of live action and multimedia that comments so poignantly on the blurred reality between television and human interaction.

Simply speaking, the story-line centers around a chance encounter between a laid-off autoworker turned meals-on-wheels driver, Louise, (Aneisa Hicks) and a QVC home shopping obsessed elderly woman, Flo (Kara Davidson).

The time is the 1990s. The place is a post-industrial Rust Belt city. The action takes place amid advertising promises and commercial bombardment.

In the larger sense it is about isolation and the need for human connection.Read More