Seeking true ecstasy

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Donterrio Johnson (Leading Player) and Koray Tarhan (Pippin); (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Donterrio Johnson (Leading Player) and Koray Tarhan (Pippin);
(Photo by Brett Beiner)

Young Prince Pippin, played by Koray Tarhan, is searching for many things to help him fulfill his happiness.

From his glory of the battlefield to his political aptitude and his sensual seductions, not only does he come closer to finding his jubilation, but the audience gets to know Prince Pippin increasingly better by the minute.

Pippin’s imaginative journey is at the heart of Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz’s classic musical ‘Pippin’ which won four Tony Awards in 2013.

The new Chicago production at Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret Theater is delightful. Its captivating tunes “Corner of the Sky” and “Magic to Do” are beautifully played by musicians Courtney Anne McNally, Andrew Milliken, and Diego Salcedo.

At the end of the play, Pippin finally discovers where his happiness lies. His message is a worldwide, all-embracing theme.

Cast of Pippin at Mercury Theater Chicago (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Cast of Pippin at Mercury Theater Chicago
(Photo by Brett Beiner)

A fabulous cast keeps the delighted audience at the edge of their seats as they watch with amazement as each member displays proficient, multiple skills. The  singing is beautiful and the dancing is incredible.

Leading Player is performed by Donterrio Johnson who brings Pippin together with the following characters: King Charlemagne the Great—aka Charles—Pippin’s father played by Don Forston; his half-brother, Lewis, played by Adam Fane and his grandmother, Berthe, played by Iris Lieberman.

The cast also includes  Nicole Armold, Kayla Boye, Michael Rawls, Gabriel Robert and Sawyer Smith.

“Pippin” is directed by L. Walter Stearns with music direction by Eugene Dizon and choreography by Brenda Didier.

DETAILS: “Pippin” is at the Venus Cabaret Theater of Mercury Theater Chicago, 3741 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, through Dec. 16, 2018. Running time: 2 hours. For tickets and other information, call 7(73) 325-1700 or visit Mercury Theater Chicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ – a silly little musical that feeds on blood

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Will Lidke and Kelly Felthouse in Little Shop of Horrors at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Will Lidke and Kelly Felthouse in Little Shop of Horrors at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

With Halloween 2018 on the horizon, “Little Shop of Horrors” plays into the spookiness of the season. The sort-of-dark musical comedy is now running at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. It’s more spirited, shall we say, than scary.

The action centers around a dilapidated flower shop on Skid Row and its hard-scrabble denizens. The two central characters are Seymour, a hapless employee played by Will Lidke, and Audrey, his tartly dressed coworker and the object of his affection played by Kelly Felthous. Mr. Mushnik, their boss played by Ron E. Rains, is just as down on his luck as everyone else.

Seymour suddenly is offered success beyond his imagination by a demanding, carnivorous, exotic plant on a growth spurt. The condition? The plant is blood thirsty.

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Dark ‘Color Purple’ rings true in revival

The Color Purple at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
The Color Purple at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

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After being told in Alice Walker’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize novel of what Celie Harris, a young African American girl, endured in the first half of the twentieth century and how she survived aided by two other females, her story was turned into a movie in 1985 and a musical that won several Tony nominations in 2006.

What is in now appearing at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre  through July 29, 2018, is the National Tour of the musical’s revival begun in London in 2013. It went on to Broadway to win Tony Awards in 2016 including Best Revival of a Musical.

Directed by Tony Award-winner John Doyle, the current tour features Adrianna Hicks as Celie, Carla R. Stewart as friend Shug Avery and Carrie Compere as friend Sofia. Read More

‘Girl Found’ looks back and forward from heartbreak and abuse to hope and love

 

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L to R front, Clara Byczkowski and Tricia Rogers, Standing, Katherine Swan in Girl found at Idle Muse theatre. (Photo by Steven Townshend)
L to R front, Clara Byczkowski and Tricia Rogers, Standing, Katherine Swan, in Girl Found at Idle Muse Theatre. (Photo by Steven Townshend)

Idle Muse Theatre Company presents the world premier of “Girl Found” which was written by Barbara Lhota and inspired by true events.

The play begins with a very happy ending. An eleven-year old girl disappears from her Detroit home and six years later a 17 year-old called Sophie (Clara Byczkowski) turns up at a homeless shelter in Canada.

Except for her name, she cannot recall much about her past. The lost girl is now found, her family is notified, and they are so relieved. Her Aunt Ellie (Katherine Swan) travels to Canada to pick up Sophie and bring her back home.

“Girl Found” brings up all kinds of questions as the family tries to adjust their past with the present.

While attempting to rectify everything, the play leads the audience into a complex world of drugs, human trafficking and child abuse. Ellie is Sophie’s legal guardian because her sister, Sophie’s mother, Eva (Tricia Rogers), is a former drug addict who finds it difficult to tell the truth.

Noah (James Mercer) is Ellie’s ex-fiancé and Sophie’s father figure who left town after Sophie vanished

Sophie’s return brings Ellie and Noah back together, yet their problems don’t evaporate because trying to attain a compatible domestic life is difficult with the myriad past troubles that are revealed.

As the audience tries to fit the pieces together of Sophie and her family’s missing years, the play is set on a stage that is simultaneously split into various locations with different characters: Sophie’s home and her childhood friend (Whitney Dottery); the Canadian shelter and its social worker (Sara Robinson); an FBI office; and a psychologist, Dr. Cole (Kathrynne Wolf), whose therapeutic sessions with Sophie try to produce explanations of what went on in the past, while uncovering traumas.

Directed by Alison Dornheggen, Idle Muse’s “Girl Found” features a high-quality ensemble of actors.

DETAILS: ‘Girl Found’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway St., Chicago, through June 10, 2018. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 340-9438 or visit IdleMuse.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

 

For ‘Once’ it’s about music and love and chance encounters

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Every once in a while, someone remarkable touches our lives for a short time-and changes everything.

Such is the heartwarming theme of ‘Once,’ the Tony Award-winning musical now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Helmed by artistic director Jim Corti and musical director Tom Vendafreddo, it’s the musical’s first Chicago-area regional staging.

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, ‘Once’ is a story about a couple of Irish musicians in modern-day Dublin who meet and fall in love as they write songs together.

Tiffany Topol (Girl) and Barry DeBois (Guy) perform the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” in Once, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Lauren photos)
Tiffany Topol (Girl) and Barry DeBois (Guy) perform the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” in Once, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Lauren photos)

It started out as a low-budget indie movie in 2007 and its signature song, “Falling Slowly,” won an Oscar for Best Original Song the following year. The film was directed by John Carney; the music and lyrics were written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who also played the lead roles.

‘Once’ saw second life as a Broadway musical based on the book by playwright Enda Walsh. In 2012, it took home eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

But back to Paramount. As the story goes, the encounter between the two leads is so fleeting, only a week, that we never learn their names. Tiffany Topol plays Girl and Barry DeBois plays Guy. Both actors have ‘Once’ national touring credits in real life.

In the Paramount production,  Girl and Guy are accompanied, quite literally, by a cast of congenial music-makers who double as the orchestra. They’re a fun bunch to watch, even though the lyrics sounded muddled half the time.

Topal and DeBois duet well with adequate chemistry, but she stands out better on her own. She’s an enchanting vocalist and charmingly funny without seeming to try.

Other noteworthy players include Alex E. Hardaway, a stuffy bank manager with performance dreams of his own. It’s written as a humdrum role with a solo, “Abandoned in Bandon,” that Hardaway executes as a champion. And Jon Patrick Penick shows great comedic chops as rough-and-tumble music shop owner Billy.

The starlet of the show is red-headed lassie, 6-year-old Everleigh Murphy as Girl’s daughter Ivonka.

Not only is she adorable, but she’s a fine Irish step-dancer and violinist as well. Her talent runs in the family. Cousin Madeleine played the same role on Broadway.

Also, just as on Broadway and in the national tour, the stage is designed as an operational pub. The audience is invited to step up and purchase beverages pre-show and at intermission. With a few props and a little imagination, the stage is segmented for additional scenes. Scenic designer is Jeffrey D. Kmiec.

DETAILS: “Once” is at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, through June 3. For tickets and other information, call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Music of my soul is rock ’n roll

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Liam Quealy (L) as Huey Calhoun and Aeriel Williams as Felicia Farrell in 'Memphis at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photos)
Liam Quealy (L) as Huey Calhoun and Aeriel Williams as Felicia Farrell in ‘Memphis at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photos)

There’s a long list of reasons to see the wonderful musical, ‘Memphis,’ a story of rock ‘n roll in the 1950s at Porchlight Music Theatre.

The dancing is incredible. The singing is fantastic. The acting is superb. But wait . . . there’s so much more.

A Tony Award-winning Best Musical with lyrics and music by David Bryan and lyrics and book by Joe DiPietro, the story takes place in underground nightclubs in Memphis, TN.

The audience is swinging and swaying when the music begins playing but as the story continues many important issues are revealed.

Huey Calhoun, played by Liam Quealy, is loosely based on DJ Dewey Philips, a new white voice on Memphis radio in the 1950s.

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‘South Pacific’ enchants the evening with romance and hi jinks

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Samatha Hill (Nellie), center, Rachel Osting, Erica Evans, Ashley Jane Lanyon, Kayla Boye, Allie Dandy Pizzo and Erica Stephan in 'South Pacific' at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Samantha Hill (Nellie), center, Rachel Osting, Erica Evans, Ashley Jane Lanyon, Kayla Boye, Allie Dandy Pizzo and Erica Stephan in ‘South Pacific’ at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

Nearly 70 years after winning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, ‘South Pacific’ mostly wears well at the Drury Lane Oakbrook revival.

The entire cast is stellar, the beloved Rogers and Hammerstein standards are well-tuned and racial conflict remains a relevant issue.

The action centers around a naval base in the South Pacific island amid World War II. During a lull in the fighting, the players engage in merrymaking and fall in love.

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Nature is perfect in imperfection according to Tchaikovsky but show about him is perfect

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Hershey Felder in his one-man show 'Our Great Tchaikovsky' at the upstairs Steppenwolf Theatre through May 13, 2018. Photos by Hershey Felder Presents.
Hershey Felder in his one-man show ‘Our Great Tchaikovsky’ at the upstairs Steppenwolf Theatre through May 13, 2018. Photos by Hershey Felder Presents.

Can people display numerous professions, some of which merge into one outstanding career, producing the most wonderful theatrical productions?

Not many. But there is one person who is currently in Chicago, pianist, actor, playwright, composer, producer and director Hershey Felder. He  is performing his fabulous play,‘Our Great Tchaikovsky’ upstairs in the Steppenwolf Theatre.

After creating highly regarded stage productions about Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven, Bernstein, Berlin and others, Felder is now garnering some of his best reviews for ‘Our Great Tchaikovsky.’

Beautifully directed by Trevor Hay, the play is a one-man performance in which Felder shares Tchaikovsky’s life through his own acting, writing, and musical talents.

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An everlasting taste

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Courtney Wolfson (Joan Smith), Libby Servais (Connie Olsen), Marissa Rosen (Dottie O'Farrell) and Linedy Genao (Agnes Crookshank) in A Taste of Things to Come at the Broadway Playhouse. Photos by Brett Beiner
Courtney Wolfson (Joan Smith), Libby Servais (Connie Olsen), Marissa Rosen (Dottie O’Farrell) and Linedy Genao (Agnes Crookshank) in A Taste of Things to Come at the Broadway Playhouse. Photos by Brett Beiner

The musical, ‘A Taste of Things to Come,’ written by Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin,  starts out in 1957 with four women living in Winnetka who meet once a week to prepare for an upcoming Betty Crocker cooking contest that they hope to win.

Sharing recipes is how their gatherings begin.  While they chop, mix, and measure ingredients, they also  read current articles in popular magazines, many of which lead their conversations down a non-culinary path of female frustrations, shared worries, and  confidential secrets.

Joan Smith (played by Cortney Wolfson) is the weekly hostess to her three friends: Connie Olsen (Libby Servais), Agnes Crookshank (Linedy Genao) and Dottie O’Farrell (Marissa Rosen).

Joan changed her last name to Smith so that her neighbors won’t care about her real religion. Connie is pregnant and worries that her baby might not be born with her husband’s looks—especially when she reveals to her three friends that she had an affair.

Agnes is a single woman who discovers that her background is more diverse than the suburb where she was raised. And Dottie, a mother of many children, is overweight and takes numerous pills—before and after eating everything in sight—to try to shed pounds.

When Joan introduces them to a different piece of writing, the Kinsey report, they interact in more engaging conversations regarding the sexual revolution.

In the first act, rock ’n roll is ever-present with wonderful voices and fabulous dancing by the four friends to the production’s live music provided by a talented all-female orchestra.

Joan states that “lots of things bubble up in the kitchen.”  That comment comes to life when racial, political, and other issues begin to surface as the women try to understand how to address them along with their personal needs.

The second act takes place ten years later in 1967, All but Dottie are hardly recognizable.

Marissa Rosen (Dottie O'Farrell), Cortney Wolfson (Joan Smith), Libby Servais (Connie Olsen) and Linedy Genao (Agnes Crookshank) in A Taste of Things to Come.
Marissa Rosen (Dottie O’Farrell), Cortney Wolfson (Joan Smith), Libby Servais (Connie Olsen) and Linedy Genao (Agnes Crookshank) in A Taste of Things to Come.

Joan, Connie, and Agnes are dressed like models and hippies and have taken on lives and professions of their own.  This causes Dottie to feel sad and separated from them.

But when she describes how her “profession” is a mother to all of her children no matter what their ages are along with being president of the school’s PTA, not only do her three friends support her, the audience breaks into wild applause.

A Taste of Things to Come, directed and choreographed by Lorin Latarro, is a fantastic musical comedy that pays tribute to generations of females who paved the way for the important lives that many women currently embrace, along with the adventuresome and creative journeys that other women are pursuing.

DETAILS: ‘A Taste of Things to Come is at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, through April 29, 2018. Running time: two hours with one intermission.  For tickets and other information, cal (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

The rhythm is gonna get you ‘On Your Feet!’

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Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan plus the company of On Your Feet! Matthew Murphy photo
Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan plus the company of On Your Feet! Matthew Murphy photo

Gloria and Emilio Estefan are Cuban-American singer-songwriters and superstar entertainers who have inspired conga lines worldwide. But the 100 million-plus records sold and dozens of industry awards earned are only part of their story.

“On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” now playing for Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is a high-spirited, glitzy production that weaves biographical events and global hits. It tracks the couple’s early struggles and discrimination, their rise to global success, the bus crash that nearly took it all away, and their incredible comeback.

If that all sounds familiar, there’s good reason. The musical originated in Chicago in 2015 with its pre-Broadway engagement.

On the national tour, playing the titular roles are Christie Prades as the adult Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio.

Prades, born in Miami of Cuban parents, has previously played multiple parts in the New York production. The real Gloria Estefan asked Prades to lead the tour. Martinez is a Mexican actor and recording artist making his Broadway debut.

The duo has palpable chemistry, and you find yourself rooting for them and the love connection that drives their music. Prades’ vocals are strong and steady throughout the show. Martinez seems to be more at home with a faster beat, but his rendition of “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” as Gloria recovers from surgery, flows straight from the heart and into the far reaches of the theater. He’s the comedian of the family, and Gloria loves him all the more for it.

Two more actors of note are Nancy Ticotin and Debra Cardona. Ticotin plays Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother, whose own singing career was cut short by grown-up responsibilities and who disapproves of her daughter’s choices. Cardona plays Consuelo, Gloria’s supportive grandmother, who lands several well-placed comedic punches. Happily, both have opportunity to showcase their talents as soloists in this production.

The song-and-dance ensemble numbers, especially the finales, are hand-clapping good fun. At the end of Act I, the audience is engaged in a conga line down the aisles. The Act II finale is a medley of Estefan signatures.

The performers’ moves are amplified by the work of costume designer Emilio Sosa who sure knows how to make a razzle-dazzle party dress.

Based on an original book by Alexander Dinelaris, the musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The creative team also includes scenic designer David Rockwell and lighting designer Kenneth Posner.

Playing in the orchestra are several veterans of the Estefans’ Miami Sound Machine, including the production’s musical director Clay Ostwald.

DETAILS: “On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through April 8. For tickets and other information, call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago