‘Imagine the Moon’ at the Adler


Earth Rising (Photo courtesy of NASA
Earth Rising (Photo courtesy of NASA


Maybe you knew that Dec. 24, 2018 was the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon. Instead of watching the moon rise from earth, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders saw the earth rising from the lunar orbit, photographed it and did a live broadcast.

“The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth,” Lovell said. It was Christmas Eve. The crew ended the broadcast reading from Genesis.

Almost 50 years from that memorable date, the Adler Planetarium’s own crew, that of astronomers and other staff members, were considering what they could do to not just mark the Apollo 8 crew’s occasion, which they did with a program that included Lovell, but also put it into perspective with a program that wasn’t just one day or week long.

The result is “Imagine the Moon,” a fun and exciting half-hour movie in the Grainger Sky Theater that includes Apollo 8’s earth-rising moments, the Apollo 11 landing with Neil Armstrong’s famed first words and a lot of literary and historic views of this orb that is Earth’s night light.

“We wanted the audience to reconsider the Moon as an object in the sky.  It is something we might notice but not really pay attention to, but our hope is that the audience will pay attention to it the next time they see it, be awed by it, and be inspired to consider what else they might have taken for granted in the sky,” said  Adler Presentation Leader, Nicholas Lake, the movie’s writer.

Among the interesting thoughts about the moon and even how to reach it that the show considers are mythological and early astronomical associations plus literary references and wishful attempts such as the use of a bullet and cannon.

Indeed, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon 1865 novel told of a Baltimore gun club’s idea to build a Columbiad space gun to send the club’s president and two others to the moon.

Beautifully illustrated, the show’s imagery was produced by Adler Director Patrick McPike and project animators using material from the Adler collection, the European Southern Observatory and such institutions as Harvard, New York University, and the Smithsonian.

So, go. Sit back in the theater as far as you can, look up and enjoy.

For ticket and other show information visit Adler Imagine the Moon or call (312) 922-7827. To see some of the stories in the show scroll down to exhibition.

The Adler Planetarium is at 1300 Lake Shore Drive at the far east end of the Museum Campus.

Jodie Jacobs





A million dollar evening’s worth

Nat Zegree, Shaun Whitley, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex around the piano as in their characters' pose in the famed Million dollar Quartet photo
Nat Zegree, Shaun Whitley, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex around the piano as in their characters’ pose in the famed Million dollar Quartet photo

4 stars

Going to Marriott Theatre for “Million Dollar Quartet” is like going to an amazing concert.

Some of the story-line is there on how and why future pianist extraordinaire Jerry Lee Lewis, the already famous Elvis Presley, the growingly popular Johnny Cash and the originator of “Blue Suede Shoes,” singer Carl Perkins, had all stopped by Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Memphis recording studio and service on the same December day in 1956.

But the reason to go to the show is to hear and see those four personalities come alive  during an extraordinary 90 plus minutes jamming of “I Walk the Line,” “That’s All Right (Mama),” Who Do You Love,” “Great Balls of Fire”  and their other hits.

The event, the only time these four future legendary entertainers were at the same place at the same moments, was captured by Phillips in a photo that would become famous. I saw it in the museum that is the Sun Records building in Memphis. The building is definitely worth a visit.

Phillips who became known as the “Father of Rock and Roll,” had recognized a future in syncing what was considered at the time to be “Negro” sounds and rhythms with other beats.

What the Marriott show doesn’t go into is the part radio personality Marion Keisker, a collaborator at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, played in bringing Elvis on board.

Originally conceived and directed by Floyd Mutrux with book by Colin Escott and Mutrux, the show is basically a jukebox musical. Premiered in Florida in 2006, it was produced in Chicago in 2008 first at Goodman Theatre and then moved to the Apollo Theater where it ran until fall 2014.

However, it does include short, spotlit, freeze points where Phillips interacts with each performer he developed while the other entertainers are in stop-action shadows.

It has Elvis accompanied by girlfriend Dyanne, portrayed with pizzazz by Laura Savage. She does a great “Fever” torch song during the jam session. As an aside, some stories about the event say he was accompanied by girlfriend Marilyn Evans.

From L. Laura Savage, Nat Zegree, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
From L. Laura Savage, Nat Zegree, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

What does matter is that the whole Marriott cast is terrific. Christopher J. Essex who has played the role elsewhere, really sounds like Johnny Cash. Rustin Cole Sailors who has been in several musicals on the West Coast does a fine Elvis impression. Shaun Whitley who reprises his Carl Perkins role during part of the Apollo Theater run has the perfect voice and plays a mean guitar.

But the person who usually makes this musical fun and exciting for me is the pianist portraying Jerry Lee Lewis. After more than 300 performances as Jerry Lee, as the famed entertainer is often called, Nat Zegree can not only play the piano with one hand, backwards, upside-down and certainly not sitting, but he can also do it blind-folded and does so during the encore.

Longtime actor David Folsom who has performed in shows from California to New York is a believable Sam Philips. Other important characters, although they are off to the side, are Zach Lentino reprising his role in the Apollo production as Jay Perkins, brother of Carl Perkins, on bass, and Kieran McCabe as drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland which he has also played in other “Million Dollar” productions.

I also liked the use of the usually darkened, glassed-in room where Marriott Theatre’s  musicians usually perform turned into Sun Records’ recording room.

Indeed, the entire staging was handled well. It felt as if we were all there at Sun Records.

So kudos to director James Moye, music director Ryan T. Nelson, set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, sound designer  Robert E. Gilmartin and lighting designer Jesse Klug.

On the nit-picking side of what is otherwise a great show, I found the constant lighting up of cigarettes to be a distraction even though smoking was very popular mid last century. I also thought there were too many dead spots mixed in with Zegree’s rant about devil music. The other characters looked as though they were supposed to say something but didn’t and those time lapses were too long.

But the Marriott production is good enough to see more than once and share with friends.

DETAILS:  “Million Dollar Quartet” is at Marriott Theatre, Ten Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL through March 16, 2019. Running time: approximately 100 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Puppet Master: Global Fest returns

Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)
Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)

Depending on your generational reference, the word “puppet” may elicit memories of Shari Lewis’ adorable Lamb Chop or the stage-managing Kermit the Frog of “The Muppets Show.”

But puppetry actually is an ancient tradition of storytelling that is rooted in diverse global cultures. More recently, technical and creative innovations have launched the art to new heights of theatrical expression.

The 3rd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival celebrates this renaissance through Jan. 27. More than 100 performances of 24 shows and events are being given at 19 Chicago venues by professional puppeteers from 11 countries.

The 2019 edition of the biennial Festival showcases an entertaining and eclectic array of experiences and cultures from around the world. A wide range of puppet styles and approaches are presented including marionettes, shadow puppets, Bunraku puppets, paper scrolls and even anthropomorphized plastic shopping bags.

Some of the productions are lighthearted and family-friendly, while others are dramatic or political. Some incorporate dance, song, multimedia, live music, kites–or total silence. All are thought-provoking and moving examples of the power of puppetry to foster compassion and spark insight into lives beyond our own..


A few of the shows that are coming up

“Pescador/Fishermen” by Silencio Blanco of Chile is a series of quiet portraits of men at sea. Engrossed in their solitary work, fishermen absorb nature’s overwhelming immensity.

In “Suspended Animation,” the stunning Huber Marionettes from Cookeville, Tenn., dance, play musical instruments and perform complex acrobatic tricks.

“Schweinehund” is inspired by the true story of Pierre Seel, a Frenchman deported to a concentration camp in 1941 on suspicion of homesexuality. Performed on a wooden table, skeletal puppets interact with projected video-animations evoking powerful snapshots of the atrocities Seel endured juxtaposed with wistful memories of yesteryears. It was produced by puppeteers Andy Gaukel of New York and Myriame Larose of Montreal.

This year’s schedule also includes the Neighborhood Festival Tour, a series of 12 free performances by Italian and Puerto Rican puppeteers.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival was formed in 2014 to establish Chicago as a center for the advancement of the art of puppetry. Founder and artistic director Blair Thomas, known for his work in spectacle theater, previously co-founded the now-defunct Redmoon Theater.

DETAILS: The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival runs in various city theaters and venues through Jan. 27. For tickets and a full schedule, visit  ChicagoPuppetFest.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

(Ed note: McKuen saw the first show, “Ajijaak on Turtle Island” but because it isn’t on the continuing agenda, she didn’t write a review for readers who might want to go. However she said she would have given it our top rating of 4 stars.)

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Theater critic reviews own acts


Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks
Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks

3 stars

“…Power… I was a theater critic…,” says Brendan Coyle in “St. Nicholas.” The show, a one-person play by Conor McPherson is at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre fresh from its success at London’s popular Dormar Warehouse.

An Olivier Award winning actor from McPherson’s “The Weir,” Coyle drew laughter from Goodman’s opening night crowd of theater critics and patrons almost every time he said the word “critic.”

However, given that McPheron’s portrait of a critic contains more than a few resemblances to Oscar Wilde’s philosophical and Gothic  “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” it arguably would be better to ask a Goodman Theater patron how that person liked or felt about the play.

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Delightful ‘La boheme’ revisited

Parisian street scene in "La boheme at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Parisian street scene in “La boheme at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3 stars

Opera lovers who hoped to see “La boheme,” Lyric’s attractively updated version  directed by Richard Jones when the 2018-19 season opened in the fall, still have a few opportunities.

After the musician’s strike cancelled one performance, this fresh version of Giacomo Puccini’s popular opera is back with more January dates added to the schedule.

The new production is beautifully sung, featuring Zachary Nelson (Marcello), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi). In the performance I saw, Ann Toomey (Musetta) stood in for Danielle De Niese who had a cold.

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Greek gods and monsters populate Percy Jackson musical


Kristin Stokes,l, Chris McCarrell and Jorrel Javier go on a hero quest in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Kristin Stokes,l, Chris McCarrell and Jorrel Javier go on a hero quest in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

2 ½ stars

Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series about the trials and friendships among children of god and mortal coupling should understand and enjoy “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” now playing at the Oriental Theatre.

Adults not familiar with the series will get the idea from this low-budget (no real scenery changes), touring show that yeah, what Riordan calls “half-blood” youngsters not only have to please their mortal parent but also put up with and please their Greek god dad or goddess mom.

Because my granddaughter liked the series, I read the books, was hooked on their adventures and thought the show might be fun.

Well, it’s not bad. All it needs are some decent-singing voices aside from Chris McCarrell who does a fine job as Percy and his mom Sally, played by Jalynn Steele, who has the best voice in the cast.

The rest of the cast are certainly in character but it’s hard to understand all the words because they shout-sing in nasally, tinny voices.

Percy fans might not care but if a song is worth writing and singing it ought to be sung so audiences hear more than a couple of words.

And the songs, with music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki, are basically good. McCarrell puts over his frustration well in the “The Day I Got Expelled” and “Good Kid.”

Riordan’s page-turning story-telling, cleverly interpreted in the book by Joe Tracz, keeps audiences wondering what will happen next and how will these “kids” handle the next obstacle.

Director Stephen Brackett, scenic designer Lee Savage and lighting designer David Lander move the story along with obviously low-budget staging. Riordan fans likely don’t care. They just enjoy seeing how Percy, the love-child of powerful god Poseidon, handles his “hero quest” to bring his mom, struck down by a Minotaur,  back from the Underworld and also recapture Zeus’ lightning stolen by Hades.

The show is only in Chicago for a short time so Percy Jackson fans who want to see how Riordan’s story is interpreted on stage need to snag a ticket now.

DETAILS: “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Jan. 13, 2019. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Thoughts about how print and podcasts tell a story

Cecelia Iole (Little Red Riding Hood) and Benjamin Sprunger (Wolf) In Music Works production of Into the Woods. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cecelia Iole (Little Red Riding Hood) and Benjamin Sprunger (Wolf)
In Music Works production of Into the Woods. (Brett Beiner photo)

When writing for a suburban weekly, a county-wide daily, contributing to the Chicago Tribune for 25 years and doing articles for other publications, the articles seemed to live on in archives, on line and in my closet. They were fun and thoughtful reminders of what was going on where.

The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

But when invited to guest on a podcast about the past Chicago theater season I found that an oral conversation that was well-guided by thought-provoking questions with some give and take on critical review points could be just as rewarding.

So, here is the podcast tape I just did with Reno Lovison of Chicago Broadcasting Network. It goes back over some of the shows that appeared in Chicago this past year. It was fun and enlightening because it revealed themes and trends.

(front L-R) Ian Paul Custer, Brandon Dahlquist, John Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
(front L-R) Ian Paul Custer, Brandon Dahlquist, John Mohrlein
(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Reno has also made podcasts of the reviews he does for ChicagoTheaterAndArts.com.

His podcasts can be found at iTunes, Spotify, and GooglePlay.

Hope you enjoy listening to this theater year in review podcast. It is about an hour long show with a very short announcement break halfway through it.

Front, l to r, Andrea San Miguel, Jennifer Latimore, and Matthew C. Yee, and back, William Brown in Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Front, l to r, Andrea San Miguel, Jennifer Latimore, and Matthew C. Yee, and back, William Brown in Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

To hear Click  podcast


Jodie Jacobs


‘La Ruta’ exposes a dangerous journey


Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf
Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf

4 stars

For his world premiere of “La Ruta” at the Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago based playwright Isaac Gomez has commandeered a bus transporting “maquila” workers to and from their jobs in Juarez, pointing its headlights into the vast darkness. It exposes the despair and anguish of the mothers and sisters of an estimated 1,400 women kidnapped, used as sex slaves, murdered and disposed of like trash in the Mexican desert.

According to Gomez this is a story that has been systematically silenced through intimidation and adherence to a Latin American culture of toxic masculinity, or “machista.”

Based on a true story and directed by Sandra Marquez, “La Ruta” is performed by an all Latinx cast of eight that centers around the few days leading up to and the nearly three years following the disappearance of Brenda (Cher Alvarez).

Gomez is careful to point out in the program notes that this is not a docu-drama but rather a “creative re-imagining.”

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A pleasant adventure ‘Into the Woods’


Cast of Into the Woods at Music Works. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of Into the Woods at Music Theater Works. (Brett Beiner photo)

4 stars

Music Theater Works in Evanston has put together a visually stunning production of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale musical mashup, “Into the Woods.”

The opening tableau is like the first page of a richly illustrated children’s picture book that literally sets the stage for the primary characters.

Stage right is Cinderella (Kelly Britt) tending to the fire; center stage is the Baker (Daniel Tatar) and his wife (Alexis Armstrong) in their kitchen; and stage left is Jack (Christopher Ratliff) of beanstalk fame with his mother (Anne Marie Lewis) and cow Milky White (Milky White).

Behind the vignettes are the slightly ominous birch tree “woods” accented against a deep blue twilight sky hung with the words “Once Upon a Time.” But of course, this is not your child’s version of the stories presented.

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Reflective and joyous ‘Fiddler’ deserves applause

Fiddler on the Roof (Joan Marcus photo)
Fiddler on the Roof (Joan Marcus photo)

3.5 stars

The exceptional voice and expressive movements of Israeli actor, dancer  Yehezkel Lazarov, alone, make the “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 2015 Broadway revival, worth the ticket.

Add  in the fine cast, Michael Yeargan’s creatively low-contrasting set design, Catherine Zuber’s dream-scene costumes and Christopher Evens’ recreated choreography  inspired in part by Jerome Robbins, and audiences see a memorable, highly charged, redo of the 1964 Tony-Award winning musical.

Current audiences may not remember that this musical with book by Joseph Stein based on tales by Sholem Aleichem including his “Tevye and his Daughters,” end with the villagers being forced by the Russia’s tsar to leave their homes.

But this revival has Lazarov, somewhat clothed contemporary-styled and holding a book, looking at the village’s railroad sign against the background noise of a speeding train.

Remember it because the show ends with Lazarov back in his opening apparel, pulling the “fiddler,” nicely done by Paul Morland, in to the exodus with him to the station.

And that is just the opening and closing of what Lincoln Center Theater Director (“My Fair Lady”) Bartlett Sher has wrought. Every song and every dance number elicited highly appreciative applause. Every interaction of the daughters fighting tradition in their quest for happiness had the audience worriedly wondering how Tevia would react and handle breaks with tradition.

Lazarov as a philosophical Tevye didn’t disappoint. What was disappointing was Maite Uzal’s shrewish interpretation of Tevye’s wife, Golde. The director ought to have her dial back her harsh, mean-spirited sounding responses. She can be strong-willed and even demanding without sounding nasty.

Of course the show features such memorable Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) songs as “Tradition” “If I Were A Rich Man,” “Sunrise Sunset” and “To Life,”  with new orchestrations by “Ted Sperling.

However, except for Lazarov and the wonderful voice of Ruthy Froch as  second oldest daughter Hodel, the voices blend well instead of standing out on their own. Jesse Weil as Motel the tailor, sounded particularly weak making me wonder if he was nursing a cold.

The touring revival was the best-staged “Fiddler” I’ve seen in a long time. Just expect a long first act and a total 2 hours, 55 minutes (one intermission).

It’s an excellent production but given the musical’s length of almost three hours (15 min intermission) because of well-executed but too long dance sequences, a few minutes could be cut from the dances in both the first and second act and still have an exciting show.

DETAILS: “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented by Broadway in Chicago, is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicag0,  through Jan. 6, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 55 minutes (one intermission). For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago