‘Choir of Men’ pub crawl serves up 90 minutes of pop

Choir of Man at Broadway In Chicago Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Choir of Man at Broadway In Chicago Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

3 Stars

In spite of the venue “The Choir of Man” is more boy band concert than Broadway musical. It features nine very energetic, vocally talented, male singers who purport to be “regulars” at a traditional Irish Pub named “The Jungle,” that serves up pop.

This musical extravaganza is loosely narrated by Denis Grindel who introduces his mate. He provides a bit of backstory about each of their characters as a way of establishing the iconic stereotypes we have all encountered in every tavern and public house the world round.

Grindel’s introductions explain that this is one of those places where we go to be who we are and where people accept us for who we are — good, bad and ugly. Though in this case the boys are not too “bad” and nary a one, would be accused of being ugly.

This being the case, “The Choir of Man” is a perfect fantasy for those looking for a bit of testosterone flavored eye-candy, perhaps a “girls night out,” that’s not too naughty.

I could not help thinking that after taking little sister to the American Girl store, a few steps away, Mom could take bigger sister here for her share of fun.

Yes, there is plenty of beer flowing but I do not think there is anything said or done that an average thirteen year-old has not seen or heard on prime-time TV. And in fact, there were a number of youngsters on hand opening night.

Sadly, the program does not include a list of songs so I suspect they change it up as they get a sense of what’s working. It is basically about 15 or so cover tunes by Adele, Queen, Paul Simon, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others that everyone will find enjoyable and most will find familiar.

The harmonies are awesome with onstage guitar accompaniment by Peter Lawrence, occasional piano by Connor Going and random percussion including a foot stomping tap dance by Matt Cox.

This is good clean well-intentioned, high caliber, fun. Perfect, if you happen to be in town for a visit or just looking for something to do before or after a nice dinner near Michigan Avenue or Rush Street.

“The Choir of Man” is at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, through March 17, 2019 (before continuing their US tour). For more information, visit BroadwayInChicago.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Where to go for a fun and interesting spring break day

© Isak Pretorius, South Africa 2017 photo. A Wildlife photographer of the year winner (Photo courtesy of Field Museum)
© Isak Pretorius, South Africa 2017 photo. A Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner (Photo courtesy of Field Museum)

We often put a place on the “some day” go-to list. But with school’s Spring Vacation days to fill, that chance is now.

The four places suggested here have something new to see or have something that is fun in addition to their regular attractions.


Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

You probably know the museum has more than 1,000 butterflies flitting around its Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. But it also has an indoor tree house and visitors can roam from tree to tree to see what lives in a forest canopy.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for butterflies, tree houses and the Thomas D. Mangelsen photography exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the Nature Museum)
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for butterflies, tree houses and the Thomas D. Mangelsen photography exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the Nature Museum)

However, Spring Break is also a great time to visit because the “Thomas D. Mangelsen-A Life in the Wild” photography exhibit is there. The exhibit includes his famous photo of a bear catching a fish. Photography buffs will also want to catch Mangelsen’s lecture and book signing of “The Last Great Wild Places,” March 19 at 2 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m. (reservations needed).

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is at 2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago.  Hours: Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-5p.m., Sat-Sun 10 a,m,-5 p.m. For more information  call (773) 755-510 and visit Nature Museum.



At 'Sensing Chicago' young visitors can become a Chicago-style hot dog. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)
At ‘Sensing Chicago’ young visitors can become a Chicago-style hot dog. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)

Chicago History Museum

Youngsters can see, feel, hear and smell bits of the city’s history in ‘Sensing Chicago,” They will get their own toolkit to go around the exhibit where they can ID a Chicago item such as chocolate  or the Great Chicago Fire, by its smell and sit in a stadium seat to activate a baseball clip. They can pretend to fly over the city or pretend to be a Chicago-style hot dog.

However, an exhibit coming April 8, 2019, “Silver Screen to Mainstream: American Fashion in the 1930s and ‘40s,” will look at Hollywood’s glamour influence on American styles after 1929 on catalogues, home-made clothes, man-made materials and the use of the newly invented zipper.

The Chicago History Museum is at 1601 N. Clark St.,Chicago. Hours: Mon. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tues. 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed.-Sat. 9:30a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. For more information call (312) 642-4600 and visit Chicago History.


Putting together Maximo the Titanosaurin the Field Museum. (J Jacobs photo)
Putting together Maximo the Titanosaur in the Field Museum. (J Jacobs photo)

Field Museum

Go upstairs in the Field to see where SUE now resides among other interesting, ancient skeletons and fossils.  SUE, who used to be in the Great Hall on the main floor, is  a 40-foot-long and 90-percent-complete Tyrannosaurus rex.

And go what feels like descending into an Egyptian tomb. It is replica of a mastaba that has two chamber rooms from the burial site of 5th Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Unis’s son Unis-Ankh, dating to 2400 BC. See one of the largest collections of mummies in the United States.

However, a fascinating new exhibit, “Wildlife Photographer of the Year,” features the winners from several years. (See Isak Pretorius photo at top) They bring visitors up close and personal to wild animals and other amazing nature pictures. The exhibit opens March 22,2019.

(Ed Note: Exhibitions Project Manager Janet Hong pointed out something that is also true of the Mangelsen exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Museum. “Sometimes, the animal in the photo is the protagonist —you identify with that animal and its story. But the hero of a photograph can also be its photographer,” Hong said. “It takes perseverance to get a great shot. Understanding an animal’s behavior can mean tracking it for days and a great visual composition often comes from deep knowledge of a place or plant or animal.”)

The Field Museum is at 1400 S.Lake Shore Dr. on Chicago’s Museum Campus. Hours: 9 a.m,.-5 p.m. daily For more information call (312) 922-9410 and visit Field Museum.


Art Institute of Chicago is a popular destination for tourists and residents. (J Jacobs photo)
Art Institute of Chicago is a popular destination for tourists and residents. (J Jacobs photo)

Art Institute of Chicago

Visit paintings that are old friends and wander to make new friends. Go down to the Thorne Miniature Rooms to see 68 European and American interiors. Visit the Artist’s Studio to see what family programs are taking place.

However, “Rembrandt Portraits,” opened March 8, goes through June 9, 2019  in Gallery 213. It’s an interesting analysis of what went into doing a portrait.

The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., and open until 8 p.m. Thursday. For more information call (312) 443-3600 and visit ARTIC.



What do we want God to be

Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in "Act(s) of God" by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)
Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in “Act(s) of God” by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)

2 1/2 stars

Take a dysfunctional family, yes, another one, add intellectual rhetoric, several different ideas (make them existential, religious, morality bent, etc.) and wrap the action in somewhat comic absurdism and you have “Act (s) of God” by Kareem Bandealy at Lookingglass Theatre.

Given that Lookingglass has afforded ensemble member Bandealy a top notch cast and placed it under the smart direction of Heidi Stillman for what is his debut venture on the other side of a script, we should have a four-star evening.

Instead, we have a mish-mosh of a play, probably two or three plays. It needs reworking and shortening from three to two acts so that even though it might fall in the absurdist category, theater-goers will leave with a sense of the playwright’s message.

Except for an overly-long religious ritual, I liked Act One when everyone (but G..D) is introduced. I liked the idea that Eldest daughter Kristina Valada-Viars, an atheist, could open a sealed missive that seemed to have come with ads to the household’s mailbox.

When others tried they couldn’t open it. When they dropped it, the house experienced a power outage.

Eldest said it was blank but when she loudly told her family to read it, they were able to and found that it announced an unexpected dinner guest the next day.

Not sure why in Act II the guest was supposedly a being who farted a lot in the computer room or why the three children of Mother and Father (no given names) disliked themselves and each other so much even though lots of trite reasons were bandied about along with personal attitudes towards religion and humanity.

Supposedly, an apocalyptic event occurs so that in the third act the furniture is taken from the stage. I liked that it included the comfortable chair in which Father was seated and barely moved from.

Lookingglass does repeat it’s productions so maybe we’ll see a new, shorter version of Bandealy’s play sometime. I’m looking forward to that.

Act(s) of God” is at Lookingglass Theatre in the Chicago WaterWorks, 821 N. Michigan Ave., through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (312) 337-0665 or visit LookingglassTheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago




‘Seussical’ delights with sounds and sights

Cast of Seussical at Marriott Theatre. (Justin Barbin photo)
Cast of Seussical at Marriott Theatre. (Justin Barbin photo)

3.5 stars

You don’t have to be a kid to laugh, tear-up, applaud and walk out grinning from Marriott Theatre’s latest musical supposedly geared to young audiences.

Certainly there is Marriott’s terrifically designed costumes and choreography that show goers are used to for the regular subscription season.

And there are such fun Dr. Seuss  characters as the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, the “Whos” and jungle denizens – all mixing together in lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty’s creative “Seussical.”

But what’s special for adults and youngsters is that the players are all featured actors in Chicago area musicals.Read More

‘Ariodante:’ love and lust, deception and trust


'Ariodante'in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)
‘Ariodante’ in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)

4 Stars

The Lyric Opera’s “Ariodante” by George Frideric Handel (of “Messiah” fame) satisfies the sensibilities of a modern audience.

The storyline of this eighteenth century Baroque opera has elements familiar to a twenty-first century TV audience including love, sex, drugs, infidelity, deception and a missing person. Oh! and puppets.

The plot-line would benefit from a chart. But essentially, Ginevra and Ariodante are in love and soon to be married, however, the villainous Polinesso is also in love with Ginevra who incidentally, can’t stand the sight of him.

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‘The Realistic Joneses’ rings true

From left, Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter in Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit's "The Realistic Joneses." (Evan Hanover photo)
From left, Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter in Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit’s “The Realistic Joneses.” (Evan Hanover photo)

3.5 Stars

Bob (H.B. Ward) and Jennifer (Linda Reiter) Jones are surprised to meet their new neighbors who also share the same last name.

The second Jones couple, Pony (Cortney McKenna), and John (Joseph Wiens) are a quirky duo. Pony is a bit scatter brained, maybe even clueless while John is prone to outlandish non-sequiturs and pseudo philosophical profundities.

We learn that Bob, who prefers to communicate in one word sentences, is suffering from a mortal neurological illness that he is dealing with by trying to ignore it and which is causing Jennifer and him a good deal of stress.Read More

Mamma Mia! Super trouper

Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

4 stars

Artistic Director, William Osetek has staged a fresh and exciting new production of “Mamma Mia!, the 1999 smash hit musical that became a cult classic for Baby Boomers twenty years ago and is one of Broadway’s original juke box musicals.

Taking almost two dozen hit tunes from the ABBA songbook, Drury Lane’s stage version makes audiences forget Chicago’s cold, snowy winter, as well as a rather disappointing 2008 film version.

Here, live and on stage, is a great opportunity to enjoy a polished, professional production of how that musical is suppose to look and sound. And this production is not only pitch perfect but, decked out in shiny spandex, platform heels and a ton of glitter and glitz, it’s a feast for the eyes as well.

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Powerful look at 1920s black experience

From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson in 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

To see August Wilson’s plays is to look through a window on the life and times of black Americans, to feel their frustrations, challenges and desires, not just in one period, but in 10 decades of the 20th century. To witness actors tell those stories is to hear Wilson’s ear for the cadence and poetry of language.

In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now at Writers theatre through March 17, 2019, we visit a Chicago of the1920’s when white record producers were turning to black music they called “race music” because it sold well.

The play is the only one of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” to be set in Chicago. The others, such as “Radio Golf” (1990’s) done by Court Theatre last year and “Two Trains Running”  (1960s) that appeared at Goodman Theatre in 2015, took place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

The incomparable Felicia P. Fields (Tony nominated for “Color Purple”) is terrific as a feisty Ma Rainey who really was a popular blues singer. Her rendition of “Black Bottom” is great and I would have liked to her sing more.

Felicia P. Fields in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." (Michael Brosilow photo)
Felicia P. Fields in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ (Michael Brosilow photo)

But this play is about the thoughts, experiences and desires of her black band members and how white record producer Sturdyvant (Thomas J. Cox) and Rainey’s manager, Irvin (Pete Moore), behave before, during and after the taping.

While waiting for Rainey, who turned out to be delayed by a difficult traffic confrontation and bad cab experience, her quartet, hot-headed trumpeter Levee (Kelvin Roston Jr.), philosophical pianist Toledo (David Alan Anderson), easy-going bassist/backup vocal “Slow Drag,” (A.C. Smith) and band leader/trombonist Cutler (Alfred H. Wilson), tell stories and debate ideas during rehearsal.

After a couple of problems including Sturdyvant finally letting Levee know that the trumpet player’s songs will not be optioned, Levee erupts, and the play has a tragic ending.

However, directed by Ron OJ Parson, the band members present the perfect ensemble to tell Wilson’s story. Todd Rosenthal’s backdrop of a former church turned recording studio sets the right period tone. Using the front of the stage as the downstairs rehearsal room is genius because it brings the audience close to the band members.

Other cast members are Dussie Mae( Tiffany Renee Johnson) as Ma Rainey’s likely lover, Sylvester, (Jalen Gilbert) as Rainey’s stuttering nephew and policeman (Blake Montgomery) who brought Ma and her retinue to the recording studio after the traffic confrontation.

DETAILS: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is at Writers Theatre, 325Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 17, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Related article: ‘Radio Golf’ is a hole in one


‘Twilight Bowl’ where life changes expectations


Twilight Bowl at Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman
Twilight Bowl at Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman)

2 1/2 stars

As four girls, Clarice (Hayley Burgess), Jaycee (Heather Chrisler), Sam (Becca Savoy and Sharlene (Anne E. Thompson) living in a small Wisconsin town periodically meet at their local bowling alley, audiences watch them change their ideas, their focus, their influences and their expectations.

The girls are joined by friends Maddy from Winnetka (Angela Morris) and bartender Brielle (Mary Taylor).

Written by playwright Rebecca Gilman, the concept is excellent. However the first meeting we see as the girls graduate from high school makes little sense and is hard to buy into until later in the show.

Apparently they are having a party with presents and cake to say goodbye, at least temporarily, to Jaycee who is going off to prison. Maybe this would have worked better for me as a flashback after seeing the last act.

Maddy, who later met one of the girls at OSU joins them later but her character seems to be added simply to have a comparison to someone who went to New Trier High School.

The leavening factor is the bartender, a good personality to add to the mix.

As a female coming of age story it has some interesting points about making choices and how background matters even if these girls set down in a different place would have a different perspective.

Regina Garcia’s set design of an old bowling alley bar is perfect as the place the girls get together.

“Twighlight Bowl” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through March 10, 2019 in the Owen Theatre. Approximate running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Goodman.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



‘Pipeline’ points to black lives matter

Tyla Abercrumbie and Matthew Elam in 'Pipeline' at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)
Tyla Abercrumbie and Matthew Elam in ‘Pipeline’ at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photos)

2 1/2 stars


In 90 short, uninterrupted minutes, playwright Dominique Morisseau lays out how the direct route from school to prison has become the American norm for young, black men. That is, if they’re not being gunned down by some trigger-happy police officer.

This is the hopeless existence depicted by the playwright of such important dramas as “Sunset Baby,” “Skeleton Crew” and the upcoming musical, “Ain’t Too Proud—the Life and Times of the Temptations.”

In director Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s new production at Victory Gardens Theater, a topic the playwright explored in a solo documentary, “Notes From the Field,” is starkly played out upon Andrew Boyce’s sparse, flexible scenic design. It’s a theatrical environment that wisely offers more focus upon the characters than the setting.

Tyla Abercrumbie, as Nya, commands the audience as a stressed out teacher at a crowded urban high school, a place where the security guards are just as important as the instructors. Coping with dozens of violent infractions every day is almost de rigueur.

Besides dealing with difficult students, Nya is a poorly paid, divorced single mother. She has tried hard to protect her teenage son, Omari, by getting him out of this dangerous environment and sending him to a private boarding school.

Now Nya has to address her son’s recent personal problem, while enduring the overbearing bullying of her estranged husband, Xavier, a man who’s been all but missing from his son’s life.


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