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

 

RECOMMENDED

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

 

 

Music of my soul is rock ’n roll

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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

 

Hedda Hopper revealed

 

RECOMMENDED

‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is a very entertaining one-woman show at the Athenaeum Theatre starring Jillann Gabrielle as legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Written by Gabrielle with book and lyrics by Michael Termine and music by with Howard Pfeifer, ‘Hedda’ is a one-act play that takes place from the mid 1940s through the late 1950s in Hedda Hopper’s living room.

Jillian Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse
Jillann Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse

Tasteful furniture, a rolling cart of favorite drinks , clothing racks with  dozens of the hats she was famous for wearing and that prime necessity for a gossip columnist, a phone, set the scene for a fun 90 minute peek into the life Hedda Hopper.

Gabrielle’s performance as Hedda is superb as she walks and sings the audience through a life that went from Quaker upbringing to bit MGM player and then famed columnist.

Lively phone conversations and clever  songs such as as “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood,” “Off the Record” (there’s audience participation), “Elizabeth, “Hats!” and ‘Don’t Drink the Punch” reveal much of her story.

Among the many things that makes this play interesting there is her interaction with the audience. When the phone or doorbell rings, she looks out at the crowd and says, “I’ll be right back.”

And when the audience hears her say, “Hello, Elizabeth” or “Joan,” or “Marlene” and others, everyone knows who’s there.

Hedda had an amazing effect on not only the motion picture industry, but on politics, as well. Her song “I’m Political” describes her conservative values and moral views as her columns go after Charlie Chaplin and other Communist sympathizers.

She also had famous heated discussions with many of Hollywood’s elite including the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds trio.

Her column had a readership of over 30 million, and it set the stage for many types of columns today.

DETAILS: ‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, through March 17, 2018.  Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 773-935-6835 or visit AthenaeumTheatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.

 

Friendship is like a garden…

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

For those who aren’t familiar with the revised musical ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ based on the book by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, prepare yourselves for a wide range of emotions while observing the lives of three close-knit friends over many decades.

The original Broadway play written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1934 evolved into a musical in 1981 that barely survived.  Fortunately, Sondheim and Furth revised the show in 1994, which is now a fabulous production at Porchlight Music Theatre at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

(L to R) Jim DeSelm (Frank, Neala Barron (Mary) and Matt Crowle (Charley) in 'Merrily We Roll along' at Portchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Michael Courier.
(L to R) Jim DeSelm (Frank, Neala Barron (Mary) and Matt Crowle (Charley) in ‘Merrily We Roll along’ at Portchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Michael Courier.

Directed by Michael Weber with music director Aaron Benham, this remarkable musical is presented in reverse chronological order with the years posted on the stage’s backdrop so that the audience can easily follow the three friends’ relationship— easily, but not always merrily.

The trio of friends includes Franklin “Frank” Shephard (Jim DeSelm), a talented musician whose objective is to make money—and who eventually succeeds by marketing to influential folks who can help him.

His longtime friend is Charley Kringas (Matt Crowle), a wonderful lyricist who doesn’t want to follow Frank’s ways of reaching his goal.

The trio includes Mary Flynn (Neala Barron), a writer and friend to Frank and Charley but whose longing for Frank is slowly uncovered while the play continues going back in time.

Frank, Charley and Mary’s early friendship started out like a song. And on that note, most of their relationship is told through many musical numbers, such as “Old Friends/Like It Was,” sung by the trio with lyrics such as “we were nicer then” . . . and “old friends fade—they don’t make the grade.”

‘Merrily We Roll Along’ also reveals other relationships. Frank’s marriage to his first wife, Beth, (Aja Wiltshire), is destroyed by his affair with Gussie Carnegie (Keely Vasquez).  Beth sings “Not a Day Goes By” as she gains custody of their young son while she and Frank divorce.

We first observe the three friends at beginning of the play where they’ve already achieved success despite painful experiences that ruined their relationship. Then we travel back so that at the end of the play, we see their friendship decades earlier as they try to launch their careers.

In addition to the five major outstanding cast members, the rest of the exceptionally talented cast of over twenty men and women also bring their extraordinary voices to the musical numbers. They are accompanied by seven marvelous musicians.

Many of the play’s lyrics are memorable, but one line is unforgettable: “Friendship is like a garden . . . you have to water it and care for it.”

DETAILS: ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ is at Porchlight Music Theatre at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through March 17th, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. For tickets and other information, call (773) 777-9884 or visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows, visit TheatreInChicago.

 

Scathing and honest are interchangeable with ‘Traitor’

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The World Premiere of ‘Traitor’ at A Red Orchid Theatre is an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People. Red Orchid ensemble member and playwright, Brett Neveu, adapted Ibsen’s drama and placed it in a fictional northern suburb of Illinois called East Lake.

Directed by Michael Shannon who is also an ensemble member, a founding member of A Red Orchid Theatre and a Tony Award-nominated and Oscar-nominated actor, ‘Traitor ‘is filled with one dozen inter-related characters whose different opinions and goals lead to heated discussions, sudden humor, angry arguments, profanity, and physical fights.

Dr. Tom Stock (Guy Van Swearingen) is the play’s lead, a science teacher who was raised in East Lake, moved away, and returned to his hometown many years later to help establish a new charter school to revitalize the small suburb of East Lake and bring others to the suburb.

Frank Nall, Guy Van Swearingen in 'Traitor' at A Red Orchid Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo
Frank Nall, Guy Van Swearingen in ‘Traitor’ at A Red Orchid Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo

His wife, Karla (Dado), is a book editor.  Their two children, Molly (Missi Davis) is a first-grade teacher and Randal (Nation Henrikson), is a student at the new charter school.

While teaching at the charter school Tom notices the sluggishness and apathy of some of his students. That leads him to send samples of the school’s area soil to another scientist who finds it contaminated with dangerous levels of lead.

Tom is adamant to bring this severe problem to the town’s attention. He is convinced that with many of his contacts he will be successful.

His outspoken sister, Patty Stock (Kirsten Fitzgerald), is the town’s mayor.  A close friend of his is Walter Hove (Larry Grimm), a newspaper editor.  Madison Bills (Kristin Ellis) is an associate editor.

Most of the play’s scenes take place in Tom and Karla’s home where their friends and family are constantly coming in and out to visit, share meals, have drinks, and smoke.

But when Tom learns that many local investors in the charter school, including his father-in-law, Howard Kihl (Frank Nall, do not want to expose the school’s lead contamination, he realizes that he alone must release the truth.

Tom is reminded by his wife that many people in his past didn’t like his energy, especially when he stood up for what he believed in, regardless of others’ opinions.

Tom’s retort compares “scathing with honesty” and calls them “interchangeable,” as he devotes every minute to exposing the soil’s contamination.

Following intermission, the audience is led from Red Orchid Theatre to an empty storefront a few doors down. It is set up as the location for East Lake’s town council meeting which grows from verbal arguments over the school’s lead contamination to physical violence.

After feeling like town residents attending the council’s meeting, the audience is led back to their seats at the Red Orchid Theatre for the final scene which focuses on Tom’s goal to convince the East Lake residents to face their town’s serious health issue.

Tom’s wife, Karla, finally sides with her husband when their son, Randal, is rushed to the hospital with lead poisoning.

The rest of the very talented cast includes Jenn Sheffer (Natalie West), a shop owner and council member. The other council members are Fran Wysocki (Mary Jo Bolduc), Bill Strand (Stephen Walker) and Eric Rhyde (Jacob Alexander).

DETAILS: ‘Traitor’ is at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells Street, Chicago, through February 25, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. For tickets and other information, call (312)943-8722, or visit A Red Orchid Theatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

A deep promise of what’s to come . . .

RECOMMENDED

Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) playing Othello (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) playing Othello
(Photo by Liz Lauren)

‘Red Velvet’ transports audiences to the tumultuous world backstage in the mid-1800s of London’s Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.  Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Gary Griffin, the award-winning play reminds us of who is veiled into the history of Shakespearean performers.

‘Red Velvet’ tells the story of a black actor, Ira Aldridge, who leaves New York in 1822 as a teenager and heads to London because actors of color were not being hired to perform in Shakespearean plays in the United States.  Aldridge’s life on stage confronts the belief that Shakespeare is for everyone.

In 1833 at London’s Theatre Royal, Edmund Kean, a great Shakespearean actor, collapses on stage while performing the lead in Othello.  Edmund’s son, Charles, wants to take over his father’s role, but Edmund is replaced by the young black American actor, Ira Aldridge, who had portrayed Othello in the provinces with much success.

Aldridge’s performance in one of London’s most prestigious theaters was mesmerizing.  But the reviews by many of London’s theater critics were conflicting, revealing their racial prejudices as they pointed out Aldridge’s physical features and unusual accent that made it difficult for him to pronounce English impeccably.

Following Aldridge’s first two performances, the production was cancelled.  Unfortunately, other major theaters in London were closed to him, so Aldridge launched his first continental tour in 1852, becoming one of the most famous and celebrated actors of the nineteenth century in eastern Europe.

Dion Johnstone who portrays Aldridge in ‘Red Velvet’ said, “Ira Aldridge used his platform on the stage to convince European audiences that people of color had souls and intellects as wise and as deep as theirs.”

Aldridge became known across the continent for other great Shakespearean roles, including Shylock, Macbeth and King Lear.  As was customary at the time, he played what were held as traditionally white roles in “whiteface.”

‘Red Velvet’ makes audiences ponder about racial performances.  There are few black Hamlets, King Lears, and others.  Shakespeare’s plays are powerful, but actors of color can make them seem political.  In ‘Red Velvet,’ Aldridge deliberates at length that there is “something about velvet . . . a deep promise of what’s to come.”

Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) as Othello and Chaon Cross (Ellen Tree) as Desdemona (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) as Othello and Chaon Cross (Ellen Tree) as Desdemona.
(Photo by Liz Lauren)

In addition to Dion Johnstone’s outstanding performance as Ira Aldridge, Chaon Cross plays the famous stage actress Ellen Tree, who appears as Desdemona opposite Aldridge’s Othello.  The rest of the remarkable cast includes Greg Matthew AndersonMichael HaydenJürgen Hooper,  Tiffany Renee JohnsonRoderick PeeplesAnnie Purcell and Bri Sudia.

 

DETAILS:  ‘Red Velvet’ is at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago, through January 21, 2018.  Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes.  For tickets and other information, call 312-595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com .

 

Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

Give us back the earth . . .

 

RECOMMENDED

Many themes in the arts have universal relevance. ‘The Consul,’ currently in production by the Chicago Opera Theater, is a great example.

People from villages, cities, and countries all over the world can identify with this modern opera composed by Gian Carlo Menotti.  Based on immigrants and political refugees, the opera takes place in an anonymous totalitarian country.

Audrey Babcock (Secretary), Justin Ryan (John Sorel) and Patricia Racette (Magda Sorel) in 'The Consul', a Chicago Opera theater production. Liz Lauren photo
Audrey Babcock (Secretary), Justin Ryan (John Sorel) and Patricia Racette (Magda Sorel) in ‘The Consul’, a Chicago Opera theater production. Liz Lauren photo

‘The Consul’ debuted in 1950 and went on to win the New York Drama Critic Circle’s award as the Best Musical Play. Menotti also garnered a Pulitzer Prize. ‘The Consul’ was described by The New York Times as “an opera of eloquence . . . written from the heart.”  Andreas Mitisek, the director, reflected on his own experiences as an immigrant which drew him to this opera.

Award-winning Metropolitan Opera Soprano Patricia Racette plays Magda Sorel, the wife of  John, played by Justin Ryan, a dissident who escapes from the police, hurries home and explains to his wife that she must apply for a visa in order to leave the country. John tells Magda to take their frail infant and his mother to the consulate and while they are awaiting their visas, he will hide at the border’s edge and join them once they’ve safely crossed over.

At the consul’s office, Magda fills out the paperwork and submits her application to the clerk and then joins the large group of refugees.   The secretary gains everyone’s attention and announces that she cannot guarantee that anyone will receive their visas.

While Magda’s child’s health is failing, she is approached by the police who want information about John, but she refuses to answer any of their questions.

The brilliant voices and beautiful music conducted by Kristof van Grysperre are what increases the emotional depth of this exceptional story. After both her child and mother-in-law pass away, Magda cannot bear to imagine any additional losses, as she descends into a morose state of depression.

‘The Consul’ remains relevant today, as Magda sings “Give us back the earth and make us free.”  Unfortunately, our world’s refugees do not have the libretto, arias, scenic design and beauty that this opera provides its audience.

In addition to Patricia Racette and Justin Ryan, the rest of the marvelous performers are Audrey Babcock, Victoria Livengood, Cedric Berry, Kyle Knapp, Vince Wallace, Kimberly E. Jones, Kira Dills-DeSurra, Zacharias Niedzwiecki, and Lani Stait.

DETAILS: ‘The Consul’is at the Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave. through Nov. 12, 2017. For tickets and more information, call (312) 704-8414 or visit Chicago Opera Theater.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

Wonderful is an understatement

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘This Wonderful Life,’ and adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,”  could have many other adjectives added to its title, such as “fabulous, extraordinary, unique and marvelous” to name just a few.

James Leaming in This Wonderful Life. Photo by Michael Brosilow
James Leaming in This Wonderful Life. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Playing at the American Blues Theater, it’s a one-man show  written by Steve Murray, directed by Carmen Roman and starring James Leaming.

After doing the production across the country for the past ten years, Leaming has now brought the play to Chicago, garnering numerous awards along the way.

If familiar with the movie, you know the story encompasses several characters. Learning successfully portrays them all in eighty uninterrupted minutes.

He begins the play in a story-telling style as George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence the angel, Uncle Billy, Mary Bailey and many more.

While the play is both touching and hilariously entertaining, he keeps it simple for the audience to follow with their imaginations.

In addition, the sparse but effective props and beautiful photos displayed as scenery contribute to one’s memories of the famous film.

Leaming accurately describes the play as a love story, especially when Clarence the angel shows George how different the small town of Bedford Falls would be if George had never been born.

He quotes Clarence who says “Each man’s life touches so many others” and “No man is a failure to his friends.”

When Leaming asked the audience members how many had seen the iconic film before the play began, 99% raised their hands. The movie has become a regular showing on television as the year-end holidays approach.

As with the film, the play, ‘This Wonderful Life,’ is a must-see production!

Leaming brings quite an impressive dramatic background to the production. He trained at American Conservatory Theater and Second City, and he has appeared at Steppenwolf, Northlight, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Drury Lane, Peninsula Players, and other venues. He also has many credits in films and television, and is a founding Ensemble member of the American Blues Theater.

DETAILS: ‘This Wonderful Life’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and more information, call (773) 654-3103 or visit American Blues Theater.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.