Check into the Grand Hotel

Leryn Turlington and Jonathan Schwart with cast of Grand Hotel. (Evan Hanover photos)
Leryn Turlington and Jonathan Schwart with cast of Grand Hotel. (Evan Hanover photos)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This classic, Tony-Award-nominated musical comes to life in the hands of Kokandy Productions in Theater Wit. The moment you enter, the elegant set creates a warm ambience and violin and percussion sounds welcome you.

Up above and off stage, you hear the sounds of a crowd. Then, once the narrator, the good Colonel Doctor begins, the production takes off like a shot.

With book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright, George Forrest and Maury Yeston, ‘Grand Hotel’s 1989 Broadway production earned 12 Tony Award nominations and won five.

Based on the 1928 play/novel “Menschen im Hotel” (People in a Hotel) and the 1932 MGM movie, the musical focuses on life and death, success and failure, love and murder all told through music and dance.

People come and go through the revolving door, with everything happening in the Grand Hotel’s lobby during one defining weekend. Read More

Marriott meshes veteran cast and outstanding dance numbers in ‘Oklahoma’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Brandon Springman (Curly) and Jennie Sophia (Laurey) imagine riding on a surrey driven by snow-white horses in 'Oklahoma' at Marriott Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
Brandon Springman (Curly) and Jennie Sophia (Laurey) imagine riding on a surrey driven by snow-white horses in ‘Oklahoma’ at Marriott Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

Of course audiences going to Marriott Theatre’s ‘Oklahoma’ will hear and love Rogers and Hammerstein’s highly singable “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” “Kansas City,” “I Can’t Say No,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Oklahoma.”

Some folks were singing those popular, ingrained –in-American-culture songs as they left the theatre Wednesday night after the show’s official opening.

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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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Global politics and power skewered in new farce

 

RECOMMENDED

Cast of Doppelganger at Steppenwolf. Photos by Michael Brosilow.
Cast of Doppelganger at Steppenwolf. Photos by Michael Brosilow.

You know when you see a stage set with multiple doors that the play will likely be a farce. Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s set of ‘Doppelgänger,’ a world premiere with the sub title of ‘an international farce,’ has all the elements needed to keep audiences  laughing, including 11 doors and another entrance.

Erlbach’s presentation of global political, economic and social issues of today works superbly well as a farce.

Clever lines come so quickly and author Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s obvious love of words so mesh in rhymes and tongue twisters that the first two hours speed by quickly.

No stereotype is spared from a hawkish general and a skinny, uptight  female British politician to an exiled African nation’s former brutal president, a bisexual Arab prince and a buxom, Brazilian money launderer.

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Another hit show debuts in Chicago

Terrific songs, cast and staging should take ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ all the way to Broadway

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

If you loved the 1990 romantic comedy movie starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, directed and choreographed by Garry Marshall, you won’t be disappointed in the show turned into a musical. Pretty Woman: the Musical opened its world premiere at Broadway in Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, March 28, complete with red carpet, flashing lights and New York and LA industry VIPS.

But it was the magic on stage wrought by Samantha Barks as Vivian, a Hollywood Blvd. upwardly-mobile-dreaming prostitute who knows cars, Steve Kazee as Edward, a heartless take-over mogul, Orfeh as Vivian’s friend Kit and Eric Anderson as Mr. Thompson the friendly hotel manager of  the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel (also plays Happy Man, a Hollywood Blvd. denizen) that captured the audience’s attention and got a well-deserved standing ovation.

Samantha Barks (Vivian) and Steve Kazee (Edward) and Company in Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018
Samantha Barks (Vivian) and Steve Kazee (Edward) and Company in Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago
Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018

Directed by Jerry Mitchell, the musical moves seamlessly through memorable film scenes from bathtub singing to Rodeo Drive shopping.

Blessed with a book by Garry Marshall and the movie’s screenwriter, J. F. Lawton, it closely follows the film, aping similar although not always the same lines.Read More

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

 

The rhythm is gonna get you ‘On Your Feet!’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan plus the company of On Your Feet! Matthew Murphy photo
Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan plus the company of On Your Feet! Matthew Murphy photo

Gloria and Emilio Estefan are Cuban-American singer-songwriters and superstar entertainers who have inspired conga lines worldwide. But the 100 million-plus records sold and dozens of industry awards earned are only part of their story.

“On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” now playing for Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is a high-spirited, glitzy production that weaves biographical events and global hits. It tracks the couple’s early struggles and discrimination, their rise to global success, the bus crash that nearly took it all away, and their incredible comeback.

If that all sounds familiar, there’s good reason. The musical originated in Chicago in 2015 with its pre-Broadway engagement.

On the national tour, playing the titular roles are Christie Prades as the adult Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio.

Prades, born in Miami of Cuban parents, has previously played multiple parts in the New York production. The real Gloria Estefan asked Prades to lead the tour. Martinez is a Mexican actor and recording artist making his Broadway debut.

The duo has palpable chemistry, and you find yourself rooting for them and the love connection that drives their music. Prades’ vocals are strong and steady throughout the show. Martinez seems to be more at home with a faster beat, but his rendition of “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” as Gloria recovers from surgery, flows straight from the heart and into the far reaches of the theater. He’s the comedian of the family, and Gloria loves him all the more for it.

Two more actors of note are Nancy Ticotin and Debra Cardona. Ticotin plays Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother, whose own singing career was cut short by grown-up responsibilities and who disapproves of her daughter’s choices. Cardona plays Consuelo, Gloria’s supportive grandmother, who lands several well-placed comedic punches. Happily, both have opportunity to showcase their talents as soloists in this production.

The song-and-dance ensemble numbers, especially the finales, are hand-clapping good fun. At the end of Act I, the audience is engaged in a conga line down the aisles. The Act II finale is a medley of Estefan signatures.

The performers’ moves are amplified by the work of costume designer Emilio Sosa who sure knows how to make a razzle-dazzle party dress.

Based on an original book by Alexander Dinelaris, the musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The creative team also includes scenic designer David Rockwell and lighting designer Kenneth Posner.

Playing in the orchestra are several veterans of the Estefans’ Miami Sound Machine, including the production’s musical director Clay Ostwald.

DETAILS: “On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through April 8. For tickets and other information, call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is Delicious!

 

Cast of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre. Michael Brosilow photos
Cast of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre. Michael Brosilow photos

Twenty-three year old Joanna “Joey” Drayton (Bryce Gangel) returns home from an extended absence anxious to share the news with her parents that she has found the love of her life, and that the two are planning to marry.

The couple’s news will test everyone’s commitment to their own values, revealing their previously acknowledged and unacknowledged prejudices.

The year is 1967, the height of the civil rights era. The Draytons are best described as an affluent liberal white family. Joey’s new boyfriend, Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue), is black.

Dad, Matt Drayton (Tim Hopper) is the publisher of a progressive newspaper while mom, Christina (Mary Beth Fisher) is the owner of an upscale art gallery.

Joey has secretly decided to surprise everyone by inviting the Dr. Prentice’s mother and father (Jacqueline Williams and Dexter Zollicoffer) to a family dinner that includes her dad’s close friend, Monsignor Ryan (Dan Waller).

The meal will be prepared by the Drayton’s long-time African-American domestic helper, Matilda “Tillie” Binks (Sydney Charles). Both the Monsignor and Tillie are considered to be a part of the Drayton’s extended family.

However, Christina’s assistant, Hilary St. George (Rachel Sledd), catches wind of the relationship and immediately goes into action to avoid what she perceives to be a potential scandal that might be bad for business as well as the Draytons’ social standing

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at the Court Theatre by Todd Kreidler is based on the screenplay by William Rose for the movie of the same title.

Joey Drayton (Bryce Gange) and Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue) in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre.
Joey Drayton (Bryce Gangel) and Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue) in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre.

The movie version featuring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, was a turning point in “race relations” in the late 1960s. Tracy’s final soliloquy is often excerpted as an example of racial tolerance as well as an example of fine acting.

In short these current actors have big shoes to fill, ultimately doing a really fine job of finding their own voice and putting their own interpretation on each of their roles.

This production is expertly directed by Marti Lyons who keeps the pace lively and helps the actors adeptly avoid the challenges related to performing this iconic material.

This is a perfect ensemble in which there is no need to draw attention to any one actor except to say that the roles of Tillie and Monsignor Ryan bring much appreciated, occasional comic relief which each of the respective performers do without distracting from the essence of the story-line.

Likewise Bryce Gangel as the ingénue character at the center of the storm perfectly presented bright eyed optimism and youthful exuberance tempered with an undeniable realism.

The monochromatic set by Scott Davis includes white cacti on the patio and unornamented, mid-century furnishings with avant-garde artwork prepared by scenic artists Scott Gerwitz and Julie Ruscitti.

The black and white palette  reminds us that we are literally dealing with a black and white issue that have shades of gray with only occasional hopeful bursts of color.

Costume Designer (Samantha Jones) whom I remember from The Court Theatre’s “Belle of Amherst,” really knows how to make exceptional clothing for her women that complements the production.

In this case the colorful artistic outfit for Hilary St. George who appears at the very beginning of the play immediately helps to set the time period and give us some insight into the flamboyant aspect of the character. Christina Drayton’s dinner outfit with shawl is the perfect at-home informal hostess attire, and Joey’s simple cocktail dress with gray tights is exquisitely tailored with a sixties vibe. Both used tone-on-tone fabrics that stay in the monochromatic color range without being simply black and white.

It was fun to be a part of this mixed age group audience for this particular play in the center of Hyde Park, long recognized as a liberal multi-racial and multi-cultural community. The laughs and gasps were more audible and more frequent then I have heard in a while and which I am certain was a result of many of the audience members understanding this material in a more intimate and first hand way, as either participants or witnesses to similar real life stories.

DETAILS: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is at the Court Theatre (on the campus of the University of Chicago) at 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, through April 15, 2018. For tickets and other information call (773)753-4472 or visit CourtTheatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Ibsen classic still rings true at Goodman

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Take a town with a water system that is polluted and put it into a play.

Or take a town or company where the powers that be would rather cover-up a health hazard than pay for a costly fix.

Or take a media outlet that enjoys being in the good graces of a powerful politician so it will publicize fake information rather than the truth.

Flint, Michigan may come to mind, or a nuclear facility worthy of a movie, or name a media outlet you love to hate. Then go see ‘An Enemy of the People,’ written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882 and now playing at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Rebecca Hurd (Petra), Jesse Bhamrah (Billing), Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockman), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Katherine) and Aubrey Deeker Hernandez (Hovstad) in An Enemy of the People at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz L:auren
Rebecca Hurd (Petra), Jesse Bhamrah (Billing), Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockman), Lanise Antoine Shelley (Katherine) and Aubrey Deeker Hernandez (Hovstad) in ‘An Enemy of the People’ at Goodman Theatre. Photos by Liz Lauren

Adapted and directed by Robert Falls who points out in an online video that the choice is in “response to where the country may be headed,” and that its themes of corruption and environmental disaster make the play “contemporary,” the production ought to be playing all year but will only be at Goodman through April 15, 2019.

Well cast, Philip Earl Johnson brilliantly portrays Thomas Stockmann as a doctor worried about the illnesses he has seen as medical officer of the new Municipal Baths and as an idealist willing to take on townspeople and officials including his elder brother, Peter Stockmann. Peter, the town’s mayor and Thomas’ Baths boss, is depicted perfectly by Scott Jaeck

Lanise Antoine Shelley handles the role of Thomas’ pregnant, second wife Katherine with grace and restraint. Rebecca Hurd is very believable as Thomas’ adult daughter Petra who teaches school and follows her father’s ideals.

David Darlow is Katherine’s cantankerous, sly father Morten “the Badger,” Kiil, the wealthy owner of a tannery that is polluting the water.

Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockmann) and Scott Jaeck (Peter Stockmann) in An Enemy of the People.
Philip Earl Johnson (Thomas Stockmann) and Scott Jaeck (Peter Stockmann) in ‘An Enemy of the People.’

Moving through the plot are Editor Hovstad (Aubrey Deeker Hernandez) of “The Peoples’ Messenger,” Asst. Editor Billing (Jesse Bhamrah) and  Aslaksen (Allen Gilmore), a publisher and the paper’s printer. They are characters who profess one thing then change direction when so determined by political winds.

Clever staging puts the backs of the townspeople to the audience when Thomas tries to hold a meeting to explain scientific findings that declare the bath waters to be toxic. Playing the townspeople are Larry Neumann, Jr. (The Drunk), Carley Cornelius, Arya Daire, Guy Massey, Roderick Peeples and Dustin Whitehead.

Instead of winning friends to his side at the meeting, Thomas insults the townspeople calling them stupid and comparing them to dogs. Even though the opening night theater-goers understood that Thomas’ belittling speech wasn’t going to convince anyone in the town to change, the Goodman audience broke into applause when Thomas pointed out that stupid leaders were elected by stupid people.

Indeed, the play is filled with interesting insights such as “The public doesn’t want new ideas. They are perfectly happy with the old ones.

‘An Enemy of the People’ is at Goodman Theatre , 170 N Dearborn St., Chicago, now through April 15, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.  For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

Green Book gives historic look at Southern racism and bigotry

Highly Recommended

Once upon a time, there was a historic traveler’s guide called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book” that directed blacks traveling through the South to homes, restaurants and gas stations that were a safe haven.

For blacks traveling during the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the Green Book was a lifesaver, telling them where they could enjoy true southern hospitality in comfort and safety.

It was the hope of “The Green Book” founder Victor Green that one day his book would no longer be needed.

Now comes the play, “The Green Book” from playwright Calvin A. Ramsey that brings racism front and center to the stage. The multi-talented Ramsey co-authored the award-winning “Ruth and the Green Book,” written numerous other works and does photography and painting.

This play is an homage to the famous guide, published from 1936-1967.

It centers on the Davis family of Jefferson City, Missouri, an African-American family who opened their home to black travelers before the birth of Civil Rights activism.

(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.
(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.

The couple, Barbara and Dan, are highly educated; he a lawyer and she a college librarian. Their daughter, Neena, is soon to graduate high school and off to college, far from home.

“The Green Book” is set in the mid 1950’s as the Davises are celebrating the arrival of the prominent Dr. W.E.B. DuBois for a lecture.

The appearance of a  Jewish Holocaust survivor sets off a chain of events that showcases the prevalence of racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe came to the U.S. and continued to face intolerance, fear and hatred.  Because of the similarities, alliances were formed between the Jewish people and African-Americans. Both were subjected to prejudice, the “red scare” of McCarthyism and restrictions from signs that said, “No Blacks, No Jews, No Dogs.”

Stacie Doublin as Barbara Davis and Henri Watkins as Dan Davis are outstanding. They convey their characters as believable and sincere. They struggle with their daughter, Demetra Drayton as Neena, who serves as their brightest hope for the next generation. She is excellent as the young girl who varies her position as the real truths begin to emerge.

But Malcom Banks who gives a powerful performance as Keith Chenault, the Yankee from Harlem with big, misplaced ideas, is a powerful force that must be reckoned with.

Michael Stock as Jake Levinsky does an outstanding job as he recalls the horrors of the camps and losing his family. His pain is real and raw. The ensemble comes together to tell a story that resonates with today’s headlines of bigotry and hate.

The play is wonderfully directed by Producing Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan. Mention must also be made of the glorious costumes by Uriel Gomez, who dresses all of the characters in handsome 1950s attire that is both authentic and mesmerizing.

DETAILS:  “The Green Book” is at the Pegasus’s resident home, Chicago Dramatists, 765 N. Aberdeen, Chicago, in conjunction with ShPIeL  Performing Identity, now through April 1,  Running time: just over two hours with intermission. For tickets and other information visit PegasusTheatreChicago.org.

Mira Temkin

For more shows, visit TheatreInChicago