‘Rock of Ages’ strobes into Chicago

L-to-R-Anthony Nuccio (Drew) and Katie LaMark (*Sherrie) in Rock of Ages. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
L-to-R-Anthony Nuccio (Drew) and Katie LaMark (*Sherrie) in Rock of Ages. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

3 Stars

How you feel about “Rock of Ages,” a classic rock “Jukebox musical” now in Chicago, depends on whether you saw the original show ten years ago and liked it or if you don’t mind and even appreciate that this version is a parody of itself.

At the Nederlander Ttheatre (formerly Oriental) through Aril 28 2019, the current show is taking its 10th anniversary tour through the U.S. with more flashing concert rock-band lights and amps than when it came out in 2009.

Directed by Martha Banta, everything is highly exaggerated which makes this version funnier but it also gallops through several of the songs and turns up the volume so that you may catch the beat rather than the words even though the show includes such standards  as “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” and “Here we Go Again.”

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Non Equity Jeff nominations announced

One of the spaces at The Den, a popular multi-show venue. (The Den photo)
One of the spaces at The Den, a popular multi-show venue. (The Den photo)

The number of theater companies in Chicago varies each year with some going “dark” more than Monday nights and some opening or reforming but a number often used is 250. That’s companies, not venues which are often shared.

Some use mostly equity (union) players. Others can’t afford to. The Jeff Committee divides its awards into non-equity, announced early June, and equity, announced mid October. Both awards are important recognition of excellence.

Non-equity nominees were announced today, April 22 2019 regarding the 68 productions recommended for awards out of 144 eligible productions submitted for Jeff recommendation.

The eligible non-equity shows were produced between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019 and included 14 world premieres. Thirty-three theater companies had works receiving at least one nomination.

Of these Raven received 12 nominations, BoHo theatre 11 and Haven theatre company 10. Other companies receiving nominations include Steep Theatre Company, The Artistic Home, Black Button Eyes Productions, Sideshow Theatre Company, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, Underscore Theatre Company,Jackalope Theatre Company, Kokandy Productions, Lifeline Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre, First Floor Theater, Pegasus Theatre Chicago, Pride Films and Plays, Redtwist Theatre, Refuge Theatre Project, City Lit Theater Company, Griffin Theatre Company, Interrobang Theatre Project, Red Tape Theatre, Trap Door Theatre and UrbanTheater Company.

The list of the 2019 Non-Equity Jeff Award Nominees is quite extensive as it covers 22 categories ranging from Ensemble, Production-Musical, Production-Play to individual contributions as performers, directors, choreographers and design.  For a complete list, visit  Jeff Awards.

A quick peek shows the following nominees

Production-Musical category
“The Bridges of Madison County” – Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
“Bright Star” – BoHo Theatre
“Grand Hotel” – Kokandy Productions
“Haymarket” – Underscore Theatre Company
“The Total Bent” – Haven Theatre Company

Production -Play category
“Birdland” – Steep Theatre Company
“Dutch Masters” – Jackalope Theatre Company
“Eclipsed” – Pegasus Theatre Chicago
“Hooded, Or Being Black for Dummies” – First Floor Theater
“Requiem for a Heavyweight” – The Artistic Home
“Tilikum” – Sideshow Theatre Company
“Yen” – Raven Theatre

The 46th Annual Non–Equity Jeff Awards will be announced June 3, 2019 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m. with several cash bars ). Tickets are $45 in advance and $50 on June 3. For tickets visit Athenaeum.

The Equity Awards will be held on October 21 at Drury Lane Oakbrook.

Jodie Jacobs

Hamilton: The Exhibition opens

Hamilton The Exhibition opens on Northerly Island (Photo courtesy of Broadway In Chicago)
Hamilton The Exhibition opens on Northerly Island (Photo courtesy of Broadway In Chicago)

Heads up “Hamilton” lovers and anyone interested in Alexander Hamilton’s life.

“Hamilton: The Exhibition” (also called “Ham”), situated in an all-weather structure on Northerly Island, opens April 27. The island stretches south of the Museum Campus just west of the Adler Planetarium. The exhibition is at 1536 S. Linn White Drive.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates the audio tour with the musical’s original Broadway actors, Phillipa Soo (Eliza Schuyler) and Christopher Jackson (George Washington).

Go to learn more about Hamilton’s early years and the start up of the United States of America through multi-media and historical artifacts that take visitors to St. Croix, New York of 1776 and George Washington’s war tent.

To learn more visit Hamilton Exhibition.

To hear Creative Director David Konins talk about the exhibition visit YouTube.

For tickets visit TicketMaster/HamiltonExhibition.  And for CPS and groups go to BroadwayInChicago/Groups.

Jodie Jacobs

‘A Chorus Line’ is the back story

Company of 'A Chorus Line (Richard Strimer as Zach) center) at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photo)
Company of ‘A Chorus Line (Richard Strimer as Zach) center) at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photo)

4 stars

Not sure how many times I’ve seen ‘A Chorus Line,” but director Brenda Didier and choreographer Chris Carter’s version now at Porchlight Music Theatre, is not a copy.

It goes back to director Michael Bennett’s concept to present the story behind who are the dancers/singers in a musical’s chorus line.

He was interested in why do they want to be in a chorus line, when did they decide they wanted to dance as a career, what happens if they are accepted or not when they audition and finally, what will they do after they no longer can dance. In January 1974, he now famously asked a group of dancers to talk about themselves and if he could record it. Their responses make up the show.Read More

Cut loose with ‘Footloose’

Aiden Wharton as Ren McCormack (center). (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘Footloose’ at Marriott Theatre. led by Aiden Wharton as Ren McCormack (center). (Liz Lauren photo)

3 stars

If you bring the family (middle-school age and up) to see “Footloose” at Marriott Theatre, you will likely have interesting talking points after the show. This is a high energy musical that is perfect for adolescent audiences tired of rules, curfews and their town or suburb.

Based on the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon, the story’s roots are the ideology and actions of a small, rural town in Oklahoma that had banned dancing for almost a century.

In the musical, originally written for the film by Dean Pitchford, with music by Tom Snow, Jim Steinman, Kenny Loggins and Pitchford, (additional music by Sammy Hagar and Eric Carmen and others) Chicago teenager Ren McCormack moves to Bomont, Utah with his mom, Ethel, after their dad leaves home.Read More

It is ‘Lottery Day’ in the Rightlynd ward


James Vincent Meredith (Avery) and J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
James Vincent Meredith (Avery) and J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 stars

Rightlynd is Holter’s fictional ward in Chicago. When guests enter Owen’s lobby they see a colorful board map of the neighborhood with places and names that have been mentioned in the saga’s plays that precede “Lottery Day.” Maybe a copy of that map ought to be in the playbill.

If you think of playwright Ike Holter’s “Lottery Day,” the seventh play in his Rightlynd saga, from an opera format view point, you may not mind that you don’t hear what the characters are saying when they all talk at the same time. Maybe, just consider it a duet or blending of emotions and voices.

According to Holter’s comments in Goodman Theatre’s On Stage Q&A the cadence and very fast dialogue beats in his series are deliberate.

I understand that. But when watching “Lottery Day,” now in its world premiere at Goodman’s Owen Theatre, I felt I needed to actually hear what they were saying to help me define each character’s place in the story, their concerns and background.

Not having seen any of the plays that preceded “Lottery Day” in the saga, I felt I had come upon preparations for a party and then the party, itself, quite accidentally without knowing any of the participants, their back story or why they interacted the way they did.Read More

Oh what a night!

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre
Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre

4 stars

Opening in New York in 2005 and winning the Tony and Grammy Awards for Best Musical in 2006, “Jersey Boys” has now been seen by more than 25 million people.  And I’ll bet that some have seen it more than once—like I have.

The book, “Jersey Boys,” was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Amusing dialogue is interspersed with the tremendous songs that keep the audience laughing.

Directed by Des McAnuff, “Jersey Boys” is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons—four guys from New Jersey who weren’t known at all until they started singing outdoors on a corner. And once they did, their songs became more than popular and played on radios every day and night.

The songs by The Four Seasons in “Jersey Boys” not only bring back so many memories, but have younger audience members swinging and swaying in their seats.

(l to r) Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, Corey Greenan, Jonathan Cable and compnay of Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photos by Joan Marcus)
(l to r) Eric Chambliss, Jonny Wexler, Corey Greenan, Jonathan Cable and compnay of Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Songs such as “Walk Like a Man,” “Sherry,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Rag Doll,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” hook-up with the musical’s story of a gang leader with a money problem that involves the mob and the record industry, along with many things that relate to true friendships and loving relationships.

The original Four Seasons were Bob Gaudio, the musical composer played by Eric Chambliss, Frankie Valli, played by Jonny Wexler, Nick Massi, played by Jonathan Cable and Tommy DeVito, played by Cory Greenan. The lyricist and producer, Bob Crewe, is played by Wade Dooley.

“My Boyfriend’s Back” is sung by the Angels portrayed by Ashley Bruce, Chloe Tiso, and Jessica Wockenfuss, all of whom also play other female roles.

The rest of the fabulous cast is Tony L. Clements, Caitlin Leary, Jeremy Sartin, and Kit Treece. Many of the cast members move on stage as they play musical instruments.

A Broadway in Chicago presentation now at the Auditorium Theatre, it’s a show not to miss . . . “Let’s Hang On to What We’ve Got!”

DETAILS: “Jersey Boys” is at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells (Congress Pkwy. at Michigan Avenue), Chicago, through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call Ticket Master at 1-800-775-2000, or visit BroadwayInChicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

What is needed to get parenting right


Nathan Burger (Bernard) and William Brown (Salter) in 'A Number' at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Nathan Burger (Bernard) and William Brown (Salter) in ‘A Number’ at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

3 1/2 stars

During the course of “A Number” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe, a father admits he was an awful parent the first time around as his sons try to extract the full story of their existence.

It’s sort-of a two person play with stage veteran, actor/director  Nate Burger (Writers Theatre, Americanh Players Theatre, Timeline) as the father, Salter, and popular Chicago actor Nate Burger (Chicago Shakespeare, Timeline, Goodman) as Bernard, his sons, 1, 2 and 3.

The play is only 65 minutes long but its high intensity acting and twists made it feel as if I sat through two hours of a suspenseful drama.

Eerie music and lighting enhance Robin Witt’s spot-on direction of clipped responses from the father in contrast to the emotions of Salter’s original and cloned sons.

Nathan Burger and William Brown in 'A Number'
Nathan Burger and William Brown in ‘A Number’

Yes the show, written by Caryl Churchill back in 2002 when copying mammals’ DNA and genetic make-up  was in the news, is about cloning. It’s also about examining uniqueness, identity, upbringing, abandonment and truth.

Salter, who felt he was not a good father the first time around, wanted to try again from scratch. He had scientists clone his first son so he could be a better father the second time.

What happens on how the son and clones react will be a surprise therefore there will not be an alert here. You have to go to find out.

But a word of warning. Don’t believe most of what Salter says. The real story emerges from the mist of his twisted mind in bits and pieces.

DETAILS:”A Number” is in the Gillian Theatre of Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court Glencoe  through June 9, 2019. Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call  847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago






 Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) (Photo courtesy of Broadway In chicago)
Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) (Photo courtesy of Broadway In chicago)

3 stars

There is plenty to like about this Broadway in Chicago theatrical extravaganza. It is loosely based on the true story of a woman who claimed to be the surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and whose family was assassinated along with him by the Bolsheviks following the Communist uprising in July 1917.

But don’t worry this version of “Anastasia” has little to do with reality. Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox animated film (later acquired by Disney Corporation), it refers to the tragedy but is scrubbed clean of most of the ugly parts, leaving behind the tale of a young, beautiful and strong heroine striving to find her true identity while struggling to come to terms with her inner princess.

It was an enthusiastic and appreciative, mostly female audience that packed Chicago’s Nederlander Theater opening night. The book by Terrence McNally is expertly crafted to suit its intended audience of preadolescent girls who themselves are likely exploring their own future and place in the world.Read More

Concert saluted singer Renée Fleming

Renee Fleming at the Lyric of Chicago in an anniversary concert. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
Renee Fleming at the Lyric of Chicago in an anniversary concert. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Fans of opera, American soprano Renée Fleming and the Lyric Opera of Chicago were treated to an extraordinary program March 23 to honor Fleming on the 25th anniversary of her Lyric debut in1993 with Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.”

Chicago audiences may have heard her in other operatic roles such as Marguerite in “Faust” in the 1995-6 season and more recently as Hanna Glawari, in “the Merry Widow” in the 2016-17 season.

But what the program and Lyric President Anthony Freud mentioned during the concert is that  there is a lot more to Fleming’s accomplishments than her vocal talent. As an advisor and innovator of public programs through the Lyric in Chicago and through the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Fleming has been behind several outreach initiatives.

Arguably less known is that she was on the soundtrack of Best Picture and Best soundtrack 2018 Academy awards for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and  “The Shape of Water,” is a 16-time Grammy nominee (four-time winner) and is on the movie soundtrack of the “Lord of the Ring” and “The Return of the King.”

Hosted by Tituss Burges, the program also featured well-known opera stars soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, baritone Quinn Kelsey, and bass-baritones Eric Owens and Christian Van Horn,  plus members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. Patrick summers conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

Fleming started out with what some consider her trademark piece of “Porgi amor” from Mozart’s “the Marriage of Figaro.”

Other pieces in the first part of the program were Eric Owens doing “O tu Palermo “ from Verdi’s “I vespri sicilarni,” Radvanovsky singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca,” Brownlee doing “Ahmes amis…” from Donizetti’s ”La fille du regiment,” Van Horn singing “Eddo il mondo” from “Boito’s La Mefistofele” and the Ryan Opera Center artists doing Faltaff’s “Un oro e terminiam la scena…”

Radvanovsky sang an aria from “Susannah” later in the concert. Then, to herald her role in a special musical production in December, Fleming did “Fable,” from Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza.” Tickets to the run,  Dec. 14-29, 2019,  go on sale March 28, 2019. For tickets and more information visit LyricOpera/light.

As a bonus Saturday, many of the designer gowns worn by Fleming were on display at the Lyric.  For the concert she wore a  navy tulle gown designed by Carolina Herrera and a rose-gold sequined gown by Vivienne Westwood.

Another interesting not is that the acoustic Pritzker Family Concert Shell designed by Studio Gang for Lyric’s 60th Anniversary Gala Concert in 2014 was the backdrop for Saturday’s concert.

Jodie Jacobs