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)


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


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

One minute plays are back in town


One Minute to express a view
One Minute to express a view

For am interesting night at the theater and a chance to catch how playwrights view the world, get tickets to the Chicago One-Minute Play Festival, 8 p.m. June 26 or the 27th.


Audiences see different takes on current topics by about 70 Chicago playwrights. Known as 1MPF, the event will be at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. 


“We’ve reached nine years of 1MPF in Chicago, at a cultural and political moment in our nation that is full of strife, uncertainty and a feeling that we are more divided than ever,” said 1MPF Producing Artistic Director Dominic D’Andrea.


Tickets are $20. For tickets visit The Den Theatre. For more 1MPF information visit OneMinutePlayFestival.


A few thoughts on Chicago at the Tony Awards

If watching the 2018Tony Awards this past Sunday, June 10, you wouldn’t have heard much about the winners’ backgrounds or that of the people listed in the Tony Memorial to playwrights, directors, actors, choreographers and producers who recently died.

Steppenwolf in Chicago (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)
Steppenwolf in Chicago
(Photo by Kyle Flubacker)

But when Chicago audiences heard the name Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, David Cromer, Rachel Rockwell or Jessie Mueller they were likely to nod, particularly if they have been longtime theater patrons.

Metcalf likely received cheers from colleagues back at Steppenwolf when she won Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Edward Albee’s “Three tall Women.”

When Mahoney’s death (Chicago, Feb. 4, 2018) scrolled down the Memorial screen, his long time Steppenwolf and Chicago theater fans likely nodded or sighed.

Both members of Steppenwolf’s  Ensemble, Metcalf and Mahoney had performed together in such productions as “You Can’t take It With You.”  Even with her demanding film and New York/London stage schedule Metcalf has returned to do shows at Steppenwolf as she did summer of 2016 for “Voice Lessons.”

I last saw Mahoney when he gave a terrific performance with Francis Guinan in Steppenwolf’s “The Rembrandt.”

When Cromer stepped up to receive the Tony Award for Best Direction Of A Musical, he did so to loud applause for his insightful handling of “The Band’s Visit.” A remarkable musical by David Yazbek about Egyptian musicians who were lost in an Israeli desert town where their visit changed them and the town. The musical walked off with 10 Tony Awards, as it should have.

However, Chicago audiences may remember that Cromer an Illinois native, had won Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Awards for “Angels in America Parts I and II” in 1998, “The Price” in 2002 and “The Cider House Rules” in 2003. Will Chicago see him again?

With Rachel Rockwell’s recent death (May 28, 2018) still fresh in the minds of the Chicago theater community as an outstanding director and choreographer, it was an “oh, thank you” moment for some of us watching back home when it made the Tony Memorial.

Evanston native Jessie Mueller was also on the Tony program, nominated for her starring role as Julie Jordan in “Carousel” revival on Broadway, The Tony winner in 2014 for her performance as Carol King in “Beautiful,” Mueller had won the Joseph Jeffereson award as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel in 2008.

With all the theater talent we have here in the Chicago area it really isn’t a surprise to see some of it recognized during the Tony Awards. Let’s see what next year brings.

Jodie Jacobs


‘Pirates of Penzance’ delivers a treasure


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

A performance collage of Shakespeare and song


Len Cariou in Broadway and the Bard at Stage 773
Len Cariou in Broadway and the Bard at Stage 773

Len Cariou’s solo performance of “Broadway & The Bard, An Evening of Shakespeare and Song” is best described as a “performance collage” ripped from fragments of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” and bits of faded American musical librettos. They are pasted together to create a new work of art representing the autobiographical portrait of a noted actor’s life in the theater.

During roughly eighty minutes, the audience is treated to non-stop snippets from “Twelfth Night” “Henry V,” “Richard II,” “Othello,” “King Lear” and more, as well as melodic strains borrowed from Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Charles Strouse, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and others.

A worthy theatrical experience cannot stand on reference and nostalgia alone, and in this regard collaborators Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort and Mark Janas have sidestepped that pitfall by doing an admirable job of creating a piece that may be enhanced by one’s own theatrical insight but does not require you to come equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge of the material included.Read More

An outstanding adventure awaits in ’20,000 Leagues’ at Lookingglass


L to R, Walter Briggs, Kasey Foster and Lanise Antoine Shelley. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
L to R, Walter Briggs, Kasey Foster and Lanise Antoine Shelley. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

French author Jules Verne’s farsighted (1870) Nautilus submarine takes readers on a voyage below the oceans’ surface where Captain Nemo encounters sea creatures and destroys ships in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A Tour of the Underwater World.” BTW twenty thousand depicts the journey’s length not ocean depth.

Disney productions saw wonderful, pictorial possibilities  so came out with a fine adventure film in 1954 that starred Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre.

Now Lookinglass Theatre, known for creatively depicting such stories enjoyed by youngsters and adults, alike, as “Alice” from Lewis Carroll’s stories, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” has brought the Verne adventure to life on stage with David Kersnar and Althos Low’s adaption and Kersnar’s direction in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas.” (Yes, the play say Seas).Read More

‘The Cher Show’ joins list of Broadway shows to first try out Chicago audiences

Stars of The Cher Show pose before rehearsal at the Oriental Theatre. (Jodie Jacobs photos)
Stars of The Cher Show pose before rehearsal at the Oriental Theatre. (Jodie Jacobs photos)

Stephanie J. Block (“Falsettos,” ” Wicked”), Teal Wicks (“Wicked,” “Finding Neverland”), and Micaela Diamond (NBC’s recent “Jesus Christ Superstar”) are all currently in Chicago.

So are Jarrod Spector (“Beautiful, “Jersey Boys”), Michael Berresse (“Kiss Me Kate;” “A Chorus Line”), Michael Campavno, (“Wicked”) Matthew Hydzik (“It Shoulda Been You,” “Side Show”) and Emily Skinner (“Prince of Broadway” “Side Show”).

They are in town for their new starring roles in “The Cher Show,” a new musical by producers Jeffrey Seller and Flody Suarez who want to try out the show on Chicago audiences before taking it to Broadway.

As Seller explained during a recent press conference, presenting a show in Chicago to work out kinks before its Broadway debut “is a repetitive and great tradition for the past 10 plus years.”

(Audiences may remember that “Pretty Woman” was just here for its pre-Broadway premiere and “Kinky Boots” was here in 2012 before going to Broadway in 2013)

The Cher Show producers Jeffrey Seller, R. and Flody Suarez talk about why they are in Chicago
The Cher Show producers Jeffrey Seller, R,. and Flody Suarez talk about why they are in Chicago

After introducing Suarez and commenting that he was recently in Chicago to talk about the Hamilton Exhibition (going up this fall), Seller, producer of the block-buster “Hamilton,” said he was hopeful that the “The Cher Show” will “move people, affect people and delight people.”

A “jukebox musical” with a book by “Jersey Boys” Tony, Grammy and Oliver Award winner Rick Elice, the creative staff is no less star-studded.

What would a show about Cher be without Emmy Award winning costume designer Bob Mackie? He is not only on the team but his role in Cher’s life is played by by Tony nominee  Michael Berresse.

Also on the team are Tony Award winner set designer Christine Jones (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “American Idiot”), sound designer Nevin Steinberg (“Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen”)  Tony Award lighting designer Kevin Adams (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) video designer Darrel Maloney (“On Your Feet”), and set designer Brett J. Banakis.

Block, Wicks and Diamond are playing Cher, an iconic pop star, rock star, Grammy Oscar, Golden Glove and Emmy winner with so many facets that each actress takes on a different part of her life.

As to the rest of the stars, Spector is Sonny Bono,  Campavno is Rob Camilletti, Hydzik is Gregg Allman and Skinner is Georgia Holt.

Of course the musical will feature such hits as “I Got You Babe,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Believe” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

“The Cher Show” will be at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, June 12 through July 15. 2018.  It moves to Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre for previews Nov. 1 and officially opens there Dec. 3, 2018. For other information visit BroadwayInChicago.


‘Girl Found’ looks back and forward from heartbreak and abuse to hope and love



L to R front, Clara Byczkowski and Tricia Rogers, Standing, Katherine Swan in Girl found at Idle Muse theatre. (Photo by Steven Townshend)
L to R front, Clara Byczkowski and Tricia Rogers, Standing, Katherine Swan, in Girl Found at Idle Muse Theatre. (Photo by Steven Townshend)

Idle Muse Theatre Company presents the world premier of “Girl Found” which was written by Barbara Lhota and inspired by true events.

The play begins with a very happy ending. An eleven-year old girl disappears from her Detroit home and six years later a 17 year-old called Sophie (Clara Byczkowski) turns up at a homeless shelter in Canada.

Except for her name, she cannot recall much about her past. The lost girl is now found, her family is notified, and they are so relieved. Her Aunt Ellie (Katherine Swan) travels to Canada to pick up Sophie and bring her back home.

“Girl Found” brings up all kinds of questions as the family tries to adjust their past with the present.

While attempting to rectify everything, the play leads the audience into a complex world of drugs, human trafficking and child abuse. Ellie is Sophie’s legal guardian because her sister, Sophie’s mother, Eva (Tricia Rogers), is a former drug addict who finds it difficult to tell the truth.

Noah (James Mercer) is Ellie’s ex-fiancé and Sophie’s father figure who left town after Sophie vanished

Sophie’s return brings Ellie and Noah back together, yet their problems don’t evaporate because trying to attain a compatible domestic life is difficult with the myriad past troubles that are revealed.

As the audience tries to fit the pieces together of Sophie and her family’s missing years, the play is set on a stage that is simultaneously split into various locations with different characters: Sophie’s home and her childhood friend (Whitney Dottery); the Canadian shelter and its social worker (Sara Robinson); an FBI office; and a psychologist, Dr. Cole (Kathrynne Wolf), whose therapeutic sessions with Sophie try to produce explanations of what went on in the past, while uncovering traumas.

Directed by Alison Dornheggen, Idle Muse’s “Girl Found” features a high-quality ensemble of actors.

DETAILS: ‘Girl Found’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway St., Chicago, through June 10, 2018. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 340-9438 or visit IdleMuse.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago



Metzler play spotlights new mom struggles


At Northlight Theatre Darci Nalepa, l, and Laura Lapidus chat about how life changes when a baby enters their lives. (Michael Brosilow photos)
At Northlight Theatre, Darci Nalepa, l, and Laura Lapidus chat about how life changes when a baby enters their lives. (Michael Brosilow photos)

Maybe audiences watching the deeply felt new mother issues playing out at Northlight Theatre’s “Cry It Out” remember when, about a decade ago, such child-parent  support concerns as maternity/paternity leave and day-care availability were in the news. Companies even were rated as best to work for regarding those benefits.

Those worries are potently brought to life again in playwright  Molly Smith Metzler’s “Cry It Out.”

Author of the highly successful  “Elemeno Pea” that premiered in 2011 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Metzler’s “Cry It Out” was commissioned by the Actors Theatre and then premiered there last year.

BTW, cry it out is a phrase some people use for letting a baby bawl until worn out instead of picking the child up, walking with it or taking other soothing actions. But Metzler’s play goes far deeper than baby-rearing techniques.Read More