Elvis is back

Heartbreak Hotel playing now at Broadway PLayhouse at Water Tower Place (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Heartbreak Hotel playing now at Broadway PLayhouse at Water Tower Place (Photos by Brett Beiner)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Chicago audiences may remember how in “Million Dollar Quartet,” a musical about an historic moment in recording history, Elvis Presley was unhappy with his agent and RCA Victor. He wanted to be back in the understanding arms of Sun Records’ Sam Phillips.

We don’t see everything that led up to that notable time, an unexpected jam session of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in December 1956, but we do learn about some of the problems he faced in “Heartbreak Hotel,” the prequel to that million dollar jukebox musical.

No question it’s hard to recapture the magic of seeing amazingly talented pianists play Jerry Lee and wonderful vocalists echo “I Walk the Line,” ”Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

But written and directed by Floyd Mutrux who co-wrote “Million Dollar Quartet” with Colin Escott and had co-directed the show in Chicago with Eric Schaeffer, his “Heartbreak Hotel” has enough talent on stage and background videos as scenery to keep audiences enthralled.Read More

‘Waitress’ makes a tasty Chicago pie

RECOMMENDED

L to R, Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman in the national tour of Waitress The Musical now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago (Photos by Joan Marcus)
L to R, Charity Angel Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman in the national tour of Waitress The Musical now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago (Photos by Joan Marcus).

It would have been a terrific add-on when “Waitress” opened at the Cadillac Palace Theatre July 3 to have had some of Jenna’s recipes along with the pocket pies now traditionally sold during the shows national tour.

Because when waitress/cum/pie expert Jennna  (Desi Oakly) encounters an obstacle or interesting situation she tailors a pie to match with ingredients ranging from luscious dark chocolate and exotic spices to strange vegetables and items likely not found in a grocery store.

At small-town Joe’s Diner where she bakes and waits tables, there are plenty of pie-inspiring people and situations from what to enter in a pie contest and what to make for her ob-gyn appointments with Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkhart) to what will de-stress her when dealing with her abusive husband Earl (Nick Bailey).

The Diner’s trio of waitresses, Jenna, gospel-singer-style Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) and shy, nervous Dawn (Lenne Klingaman)  carry the show with their personalities, the unexpected ways they each tie up with a lover and the songs and ways they support each other. Read More

“Support Group For Men” makes a good onetime sitcom

RECOMMENDED

A yoga style exercise helps the guys in Support Group For Men at Goodman Theatre. )Photo by Liz Lauren)
A yoga style exercise helps the guys in Support Group For Men at Goodman Theatre. )Photo by Liz Lauren)

Whether you like “Support Group for Men,” a new play by Ellen Fairey, author of the highly successful “Graceland” and “Girl 20,”may depend on how you feel about comical TV sitcoms that are funny because they reveal underlying insecurities. No stranger to television, Fairey was a writer/producer on “Nurse Jackie and is executive co-producer of “The Sinner.”

Fairey’s play artificially brings together four ethnically and culturally diverse guys who encourage each other to reveal their problems and thoughts during their weekly Thursday night get together. Some of them are finding it hard to keep up with or adjust to all the changing movements and attitudes.

The facilitators are a fraternity-like ritual with supposedly American Indian tribal overtones and a bat they call a stick covered with supposedly native-American decorations.

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Taking on a roommate can be life changing

RECOMMENDED

Sandra Marquez (Sharon) l, and Ora Jones (Robyn) in The Roommate st Steppenwolf (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Sandra Marquez (Sharon) l, and Ora Jones (Robyn) in The Roommate st Steppenwolf (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

What can happen when a lonely, middle-aged woman takes in a roommate for companionship and to share expenses?

In playwright Jen Silverman’s “The Roommate,” now at Steppenwolf Theatre, the answers are surprising and problematic.

Adeptly directed by Phylicia Rashad to achieve the highest impact possible during the 90 minute show, “The Roommate” transforms Sharon, an uptight, judgmental, highly moral, 50-something, empty-nester into an amoral woman willing to try anything.

The setting, perfectly depicted by scenic designer John Lacovelli, is Sharon’s kitchen in her large, old Iowa City home.

The catalyst for change is Robyn, another 50-something empty-nester from the Bronx, who, in photography terms, turns out to be the negative of Sharon.

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Delightful Cher musical almost ready for Broadway

 

RECOMMENDED

Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. block and Micaela Diamond in The Cher Show at Broadway inCchicago's Oriental theatre. (Photo by Joan Marchus)
Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. block and Micaela Diamond in The Cher Show at Broadway inCchicago’s Oriental theatre. (Photo by Joan Marchus)

Cher, born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946 to Georgia Holt and John Sarkisian, also carries the names La Piere (step dad) Bono (husband) Allman (husband). Theater audiences will understand that those names are important in her life when they see “The Cher Show,” a new musical now at the Oriental Theatre.

Sarkisian left after she was born but his genes gave Cher her distinctive coloring and facial features. Her mom was fair skinned and blond.

Sonny Bono gave Cher stage presence and love when she was a teenager, several of her songs,  son Chaz Bono and pushed her into television. Gregg Allman gave her companionship and unconditional love and son Elijah blue.

However, what audiences learn as “The Cher Show” plays out in its pre-Broadway tryout, is that mom was always there for her, that Bono, while married to Cher, totally took charge of her career, made a lot of money from it and left her with nothing. They also learn that she had a rocky marriage to Allman, a famed singer, song-writer, musician.

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‘Flesh’ exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago explores Ivan Albright

Ivan Albright. Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943/44. Gift of Ivan Albright. © The Art Institute of Chicago.
Ivan Albright. Picture of Dorian Gray, 1943/44. Gift of Ivan Albright. © The Art Institute of Chicago.

No one looked at the aging process of the human body quite like Chicago artist Ivan Albright (1897–1983). His obsession with the body’s physical decay earned him the well-deserved title, “master of the macabre.”

The Art Institute of Chicago has curated more than 30 Albright in a retrospective called “Flesh,” now showing through August 5, 2018.

Based on Albright’s 1928 “Flesh,” the exhibit covers many of his paintings. They demonstrated every wrinkle, boil and fold of human skin, equally depicting unflattering portraits of men and women.

Albright’s process was painstaking and labored, often taking him many years to complete a work. Some paintings he just gave up on to pursue other projects.

“That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door),” considered his most important work, is a prime example of a painting that took him ten years. But it leaves us with an acknowledgement of life’s brevity and the road often not taken.

Former Indiana University faculty member, Jerry Findley, PhD, said, “This work focuses on moments that humanity finds hard to address –  about regrets and the human experience.”

Albright’s portrayal of the body’s decay led him to his most important commission – painting The Picture of Dorian Gray for the 1945 film of Oscar Wilde’s haunting novel. This hideous, well-detailed portrait captures the essence of Wilde’s “Gray” as he descends into madness.

“The works they selected were excellent choices of Albright’s depiction of flesh of the human body… the vulnerability of time that overtakes all of humanity,” said Findley.

In exploring “the way of all flesh” throughout his career, Albright purposefully pushes the envelope of decency to shock his viewers.

“Flesh” is at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, through Aug. 5, 2018.  For more admission and other information, call (312) 443-3600 and visit AIC/IvanAlbright.

Mira Temkin

 

 

Simple Elegance of ‘Pink Orchids’ at Chicago’s Pride Center

RECOMMENDED

Originally presented as “The HIV Monologues” by Dragonflies Theatre, London in 2017, this production renamed “Pink Orchids” at The Buena, Pride Arts Center  is five soliloquies presented by  four different actors intertwined to tell one connected story.

Barney (Nick Dorado) is producing a semi-autobiographical play about his lover who died of aids.

Alex wins the coveted role, assuring Barney that he is sympathetic to the challenges by claiming his support for his own HIV-positive lover, Nick (Don Baiocchi).

In reality, at that moment, Nick is merely a passing acquaintance who Alex tried to ditch once he found out about Nick’s positive status.

Irene (Kathleen Puls Andrade) is a nurse who cared for Barney’s lover. She gives witness to the story of his humanity, humor, and pathos while in the process of losing his struggle with the dreaded disease.

The performance is a bit like a storytelling “slam” a la the “Moth,” where individuals tell well-crafted, entertaining but often heart rending personal tales.

Each vignette was skillfully written by Patrick Cash and directed by Brennan T. Jones.  Both the writer and director were obviously cognizant of the need to keep this subject matter from becoming too dark.

While humorous at times, it is not a joke. Rather, it is a sincere portrayal of a serious fact of life for a considerable number of individuals who contend daily with an inescapable reality.

Each character is a distinctive personality type and each actor makes a point of connecting personally with the audience in this very intimate space.

The simple set by Evan Frank cleverly consists of a series of hanging shelves with a variety of mementos alluded to during the various sketches including a couple of bags of crisps, a plate of mini-cupcakes, a few photos and a number of potted pink orchids.

Produced by Pride Films and Plays, this well-performed presentation is part of the Pride Arts Center Summer Pride Fest.

DETAILS: “Pink Orchids” is at The Buena at Pride Arts Center  4147 N. Broadway, Chicago, through July 7. Running time: about 80 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (866) 811-4111 or (773) 857-0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Blue collar history and bluegrass music

 

Cast of Hayarket, tUnderscore Theatre Company and The den Theatre's new musical. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Cast of Haymarket, Underscore Theatre Company and The Den Theatre’s new musical. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Chicago has long been known as a city of industry and labor. As Carl Sandburg said, “Hog Butcher for the  World….Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.” It is against the post-civil-war backdrop of this version of Chicago that “Haymarket” presented by Underscore Theatre Company at The Den Theatre plays out.

The energetic cast of twelve talented actor/musicians, tell the story of four ill-fated so called “anarchists” and their wives through approximately 19 bluegrass/folk songs with limited dialogue.

The “co-conspirators” were nascent labor activists fighting for among other things an eight hour work day, which we, of course, take for granted with little thought of those who fought and died to make this and other fair labor practices a reality.

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A fair production

SOMEWHAT RECOMMEND

Laura Degrenia (Margaret Burnham), Pavi Proczko (Daniel Burnham) and Sam Massey (John Root) in Burnham's Dream
Laura Degrenia (Margaret Burnham), Pavi Proczko (Daniel Burnham) and Sam Massey (John Root) in Burnham’s Dream

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Daniel Burnham.

Daniel Burnham is probably best known as the person who gave Chicago its grid layout and network of municipal parks.

Architectural partners Burnham & Root or maybe Root & Burnham submit the winning proposal to design and supervise the building of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to commemorate Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas.

The massive world’s fair project was not without its many business and personal challenges.

Spoiler alert: “Burnham’s Dream: The White City,” A Lost and Found Productions (visiting company at Theater Wit), shows how Burnham and group manage to pull the fair project off so the event is a huge success.Read More

‘Pirates of Penzance’ delivers a treasure

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)

Mix really funny song interpretations with fine operatic voices and you have the hilarious, wonderfully entertaining “The Pirates of Penzance” at Music Theater Works.

Director Rudy Hogenmiller and choreographer Clayton Cross have the not so ferocious Pirate King  (Larry Adams) stretched out horizontally across his comrades in his name song. They have the daughters of the Major- General stumbling as they take-off shoes and stockings to wade then, hurriedly attempt to put them back on when pirate apprentice Frederic (Ben Barker) announces his presence.

After all, Frederic feels it’s his duty and the honorable thing to do to say he is watching. Similarly, if you listen to his lyrics, he doesn’t sugar coat his plea to the daughters for one of them to come with him, even if she is too pimply or plain to attract other beaus.Read More