‘Mamma Mia’ moves to a vibrant disco beat

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

It doesn’t matter if you have seen’ Mamma Mia’ before. As an audience member sitting next to me at the Marriott Theatre said, “I saw it on Broadway. This is better.”

Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in 'Mamma Mia!' at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin
Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin

A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, the Marriott production has it all: terrific solos, great dance numbers, fine staging and a perfect combo of light and sound that brings back the 1970s disco era. A Swedish group, ABBA was performing, basically from 1972 to 1982. Read More

‘Straight White Men’ offers a different view of family interaction

RECOMMENDED

In spite of the title ‘Straight White Men,’ Young Jean Lee’s play now on stage at Steppenwolf, there is more than one theme presented to the audience.

Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in "Straight White Men" at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in “Straight White Men” at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow

First, there is the question of what makes people uncomfortable. Before the play starts, audiences are subjected to exceedingly loud music with lyrics some might find objectionable.

However Elliott Jenetopuloes who is working on a platform for non straight white artists, and Wil Wilhelm  who has acted at Northlight and other Chicago theatres, sashay through the aisles handing out earplugs if requested.

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Historically important story still relevant

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘The Book of Joseph’ now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through March 5, 2017, is scary.   That’s not in a ghostly sense, but in the way past signs seem to repeat themselves.

JIn America oseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Doola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle). Photo by Liz Lauren
In America, Joseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Dola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle).
Photo by Liz Lauren

The play, a world premiere by Karen Hartman developed with Creative Producer Rick Boynton, relates the Hollander family’s horrific experiences during World War II and then continues the story in current times in the United States.

The first half of the play is based on letters that Joseph Hollander, brilliantly portrayed by Sean Fortunato, received and saved from his large family in Krakow, Poland.

His mother, sisters and spouses plus two nieces were not willing to leave when Joseph got them all the needed papers and visas. A wealthy, well-traveled lawyer who saw what was happening, Joseph leaves for Portugal with wife Felicja Hollander (Gail Shapiro) and  a ward, the 14-year-old son of a friend. Entry to Portugal was denied so they were taken to the US and Ellis Island.

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Elemeno Pea’ takes a satiric view of society angst and sibling squabbles

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It would likely be hard for some people to fault Simone (Sarah Hect) for enjoying her lifestyle among Nantucket’s wealthy second-home residents even if as an assistant she has to cater to Michaela’s (Grayson Heyl) every insecure whim.

Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in 'Elemeno Pea' at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in ‘Elemeno Pea’ at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club

It is also understandable that Simone’s sister Devon (Maggie Kettering) who has made a shambles of her own life, despises what she sees as snobbish attitudes.

During the show it is learned that ‘Elemeno Pea’ refers to a section of the alphabet song that one of the sisters was unable to distinguish as individual letters.

The sisters squabble about everything while Michaela’s life tumbles downhill when she realizes her husband, often mentioned but never seen, is going to divorce her.

A sort of stand in for the husband is Ethan (Nic Fanti) who is a family friend with little more to do than manage his portfolio and travel.

Debuted at the 2011 Humana Festival of New Plays, the show is currently at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest where it is well acted, staged and directed.

What stops this satire from being a great play is that it would benefit from some judicious editing of the sisters’ squabbles and Michaela’s hand-wringing.

In addition, it could use some intelligent dialogue on marriage, spousal expectations and family obligations.

It is also learned way too late in the play why Michaela’s marriage is in trouble. Playwright Molly Smith Metzler had employee Jos-B (Ray Andrecheck) reveal the cause near the show’s end instead of dropping hints earlier. Audiences like clues.

At 90 minutes, the play is not long but it feels lengthy. There is too much building the background. It delays understanding several complex, important points.

Details:b“Elemeno Pea” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, IL now through March 5, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Citadel and call ( 847) 735-8554 ext. 1.

 

Oh what a Chicago night

 

It was Feb., 4, 2017, not December, 1963. But the people who attended the ‘Chicago Voices Concert’ at the Lyric’s Civic Opera House will arguably remember the night.

The Handsome Family, John Pine and Shemekia Copeland were among the performers at the Chicago Voices Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver
The Handsome Family, John Pine and Shemekia Copeland were among the performers at the Chicago Voices Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver

One famed musician after another performed on stage. Their common denominator was a Chicago tie.

Put together by Renée Fleming to showcase sounds of Chicago, the opera star pointed out that music brings people together. “Amongst the fear and heartbreak we do what we do best,” Fleming said.

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‘Faceless:’ A remarkable play about Islam, fear and vulnerability

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Playwright Selina Fillinger’s brilliant dialogue and profound character interaction, alone, should enter ‘Faceless’ into the ranks of important courtroom dramas.

'Timothy Edwards Kane (L to R), Susaan Jamshidi, Lindsay Stock and Ross Leman in 'Faceless at Northlight Theatre
Timothy Edwards Kane (L to R), Susaan Jamshidi, Lindsay Stock and Ross Leman in ‘Faceless’ at Northlight Theatre

Add the spot on direction of B.J Jones, the insightful scenic design by John Culbert lighting by Heather Gilbert, costumes by Izumi Inaba, music and sound by Andre Pluess and projection design by Stephan Mazurek, and you have a must-see world premiere at Northlight Theatre.

On trial is a white, teenage girl who has been radicalized on the Internet and wants to emigrate to join ISIS. A federal prosecutor has asked a U.S. born, Harvard educated, Muslim  female in his office to take on the case.

The action unfolds in a spellbinding 80 minutes that should give audiences a clearer picture of some of society’s and family problems currently making headlines.

Susaan Jamshidi, who has been seen in Chicago with Remy Bumppo, Lookingglass and Victory Gardens (among others) is exceptional as prosecutor Claire Fathi. Lindsay Stock who has been in Goodman and Collaboraction productions is amazingly believable as defendant Susie Glenn.

Chicago veteran actor Timothy Edward Kane (Northlight, Court, TimeLine, Writers, et al.), does a fine job as Scott Bader, an arrogant lead federal prosecutor. Joe Dempsey, another Chicago veteran who was in Northlight’s ‘Inherit the Wind’ and productions at Goodman, Paramount, Lookingglas, Court, et al.), plays the highly sympathetic figure of Susie’s father, Alan Glenn.

Audiences are very familiar with five-time Jeff Award Winner Ross Lehman who is masterful as Mark Arenbergb, Susie Glenn’s defending attorney.

The show should spark discourse. Post show discussions will be held Feb. 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 23 and March 1, 2.

Details: ‘Faceless’ is at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL, now through March 4, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Northlight and call (847) 673-6300.

 

 

The disco beat is hot at drury Lane’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’

 

RECOMMENDED

When life is going nowhere, dance it out. That’s the gist of “Saturday Night Fever,” the latest musical to open at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

Erica Stephan (Stephanie Mangano and Adrian Anguilar (Tony) in Drury Lane's Saturday Night Fever Photo by Brett Beiner
Erica Stephan (Stephanie Mangano) and Adrian Anguilar (Tony) in Drury Lane’s Saturday Night Fever Photo by Brett Beiner

Based on the 1977 hit film, “Saturday Night Fever” the musical follows Brooklyn teenager Tony Manero, who escapes his dead-end job at a paint store by spending weekends at the 2001 Odyssey disco. It’s the role that launched John Travolta to stardom and made white suits a style icon of that generation.

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Opening night crowd appreciates Bellini’s challenging bel canto ‘Norma’

 

RECOMMENDED

A love triangle, betrayal, an ominous war, a necessary death – all centered on a strong woman, is perfect opera fare.

Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) and Elizabeth DeShong (Adalgisa) in Norma at the Lyric Opera of chicago
Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) and Elizabeth DeShong (Adalgisa) in ‘Norma’ at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

The brilliant 19th century composer Vincenzo Bellini found such a plot in “Norma, ou L’infanticide” a play by Alexandre Soumet.

Don’t worry, in the opera Norma threatens her betraying lover with infanticide but doesn’t kill their children. What Bellini did was to turn the story into what has become the iconic bel canto opera.

Now, the Lyric Opera of Chicago which has only done “Norma” three previous times beginning with Maria Callas in 1954, is doing a new-to-Chicago, co-production starring opera’s current Norma favorite, Sondra Radvanovsky.

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‘Gloria’ views tragedy through the satirical lens of publishing

RECOMMENDED

REVIEW

‘Gloria,’ a dark satire now at Goodman Theatre, is a perfect example of don’t judge a play by its first half hour.

'Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra) and Catherine Combs (Ani) in "Gloria' at the Goodman Theatre.
Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra) and Catherine Combs (Ani) in ‘Gloria’ at the Goodman Theatre.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins first lulls audiences into “so-what” mode with the irritating whining of editorial assistants at a New York magazine.

But then, the first act ends with a jolt that has audiences coming back after intermission wondering what will happen next. Read More

Chicago arts venues celebrate Chinese New Year

UPCOMING

Arts venues from the Art Institute and Auditorium Theatre to the Chicago Cultural Center and Navy Pier are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year from mid January to Mid February, 2017.

Griffin Court in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Griffin Court in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute has a full Chinese menu of activities the last Saturday of January. If you at the Art Institute of Chicago Jan. 28, follow the exotic sounds you hear.

They will pull you into Gallery 101 at 10:30 a.m. and noon for Chinese Guzheng performances and to the Griffin Court in the Modern Wing at 11:30 a.m. for a Lion Dance. Then, it’s back to Griffin Court at 1 and 2 p.m. for the China National Peking Opera.

In addition to the performances there is a Mandarin tour of the museum’s Asian collection at noon and calligraphy demonstrations in the Ryan Learning Center (near the Modern Wing entrance) from 1:30 through 4 p.m.

But even before Jan. 28, the Art Institute is celebrating with drop-in Chinese New Year fun for kids in the Ryan Center, Jan. 17 through Feb. 11.

Best entrance to use for the celebration and Ryan Center is the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing at 159 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603.  General admission fee and free to children age 13 and younger and free to Chicago teens 14-17. Visit AIC.

Chicago Cultural Center

If all you have is the lunch hour to celebrate, go over to the Chicago Cultural Center Jan. 30 for Chinese dances, martial arts and music in the very impressive Preston Bradley Hall. Jackie Chan’s Long Yun Fung Fu Troupe will be performing from noon to 1 p.m (free).

For more information visit DCAS  The Chicago Cultural Center is across from Millennium Park at 78 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL 60602.

Celebrate Chinese culture at Navy Pier. Photo complements of Chinese Fine Arts Society
Celebrate Chinese culture at Navy Pier. Photo complements of Chinese Fine Arts Society

Auditorium Theatre

To see the full Long Yun Kung Fu Troupe’s program get tickets to show at the Auditorium Theatre Feb. 4. Tickets start at $33. Show time is 7:30 p.m. The discount code is CFAS. The program blends dance and martial arts. The Auditorium Theatre is  at 50 E Congress Pkwy, Chicago, IL 60605. Visit Auditorium  and call (312) 341-2300.

Navy Pier

The following week, Navy Pier’s ‘Neighborhoods of the World’ series spotlights the Chinese culture on Feb 12, from noon to 4 p.m. Go up to the Crystal Gardens for arts performances and a Chinese marketplace. Navy Pier is at 600 E Grand Ave Chicago, IL 60611. Visit CFA