‘Annie’ celebrates bright optimism at Citadel

 

Annie at Citadel Theatre (Photo courtesy of Citadel theatre)
Annie at Citadel Theatre
(Photo courtesy of Citadel theatre)

4 stars

One of the most popular comic strips of all time, “Little Orphan Annie” comes to life at the Citadel Theatre. recently extended until January 5, 2020.

Staged in a small, intimate space, the show features talented singers and dancers, a happy musical score, a delightful group of ragtag orphans and one adorable mutt, Sandy.

The plot revolves around poor Annie who lives in an orphanage, believing her parents are out there somewhere. She escapes her miserable life and tries to find them in New York City, without success.Read More

Celebrate the Holidays with a ‘White Christmas’

Cast of White Christmas at Theatre at the Center (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of White Christmas at Theatre at the Center (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 stars

Who doesn’t love a rousing tap number? If you do, then “White Christmas,” the holiday offering from Munster’s Theatre at the Center, is the holiday song-and-dance show for you.

The musical is the stage adaptation of my mom’s favorite Christmas movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Dean Jagger. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was turned into a stage show in 2000.

Munster’s version stars Matt Edmonds as Bob, Justin Brill as Phil, Casiena Raether as Judy, Erica Stephan as Betty and Neil Friedman as General Waverly.

It follows the story of Bob and Phil, singers who served under “The Old Man” in World War II before gaining fame and fortune as entertainers. Looking for romance, they follow sisters Judy and Betty to Vermont where the women are slated to perform on Christmas Eve.

When Bob and Phil learn that the inn is owned by the General who is facing financial ruin because there’s no snow, they rally the old troops to save him.

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A Dickens of a tale

 

William Brown (center) stars as aging pickpocket Fagin in “Oliver!” at the Marriott Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)
William Brown (center) stars as aging pickpocket Fagin in “Oliver!” at the Marriott Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)

‘Oliver!’

3 stars

Marriott Theatre’s “Oliver!”  is among the best productions of a Charles Dickens-based show that, unlike “A Christmas Carol,” has few redeeming factors.

Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical based on Dickens’  Oliver Twist, an 1838-39 novel revealing England’s brutal underbelly at the time, contains the excellent “Where is Love?” “As Long as He Needs Me” and “Consider Yourself (one of us)” musical numbers.

The story features Fagin, an aging thief characterized by Dickens as a Jew who teaches youngsters how to pick pockets.  However, Marriott has dropped stereotyping the character which is well-portrayed by William Brown as an elderly, caring person who now depends on his possessions and on others to take care of him in his old age.

 But its sub-theme of domestic violence has Bill Sikes (Dan Waller), a dangerous adult thief, beating (later murdering) his girlfriend, Nancy, a sympathetic character delightfully interpreted by Lucy Godinez.

It also portrays how Oliver, the son of a high-born, unwed mother fares in an unforgiving society.

L to R Kayden Koshelev, (Oliver) and Patrick Scott McDermott (The Artful Dodger). (Liz Loren photo)
L to R Kayden Koshelev, (Oliver) and Patrick Scott McDermott (The Artful Dodger). (Liz Loren photo)

 

The star/s of Marriott’s production are the two young boys who alternately portray Oliver, Kai Edgar and Kayden Koshelev. It doesn’t matter whom you see when you go, they are both outstanding.

A fine, atmospheric mist and Sally Dolembo’s period costumes transports audiences to mid-19th century London.

Directed by Nick Bowling, the acting is on the mark. My problem is not the cast but the musical, itself.

“Oliver!” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, IL, through Dec. 29, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

An honest country musical

 

(left to right) Kelly Combs, Lena Dudley and Charlie Irving in New American Folk Theatre's world premiere of My Life is a Country Song.. Photo by Joseph Ramski Photography.
(left to right) Kelly Combs, Lena Dudley and Charlie Irving in New American Folk Theatre’s world premiere of My Life is a Country Song.. Photo by Joseph Ramski Photography.

3.5 stars

Country music has been described as three chords and the truth. The world premiere of Anthony Whitaker’s “My Life is a Country Song” presented by New American Folk Theatre has taken that adage to heart and crafted a well told musical tale of love, friendship, and personal triumph.

Donna (Kelly Combs), a receptionist at the Lincoln Ford dealership, has divorced her abusive husband, Gary (Kirk Jackson), and rented an old mill house from Shirley (Judy Lee Steele) who is a photographer for the local paper.

After explaining that she has never before had keys of her own which weren’t also shared with her parents or husband, Donna sings the poignant ballad “My Front Door.”

Soon thereafter ex-husband Gary tries to suggest that he has changed, worming his way back with “A New Coat of Paint.”

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Fanfare For the Man in the Mirror

A Man of No Importance

Cast of “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)
Cast of “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)

4 stars

Mild-mannered, middle-aged Alfie Byrne works as a ticket agent on a Dublin bus. It’s 1964, back when acceptance and equal rights were something only dreamed about by members of the gay community. But Alfie harbors a secret love for Robbie Fay, the handsome, young bus driver with whom he works side-by-side every day.

Unable to share his buried emotions with anyone else, Alfie secretly communes with the spirit of Oscar Wilde, his literary idol and imaginary confidante.

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Another Trip to the Bright Side of Life

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Monty Python's Spamalot at Mercury Theater. (Photos by Bret Beiner)
Monty Python’s Spamalot at Mercury Theater. (Photos by Bret Beiner)

 

4 stars

At some point in this hilarious musical, the plot simply goes out the window and unbridled hilarity and bawdy humor takes over the Mercury Theater stage.

Eric Idle’s brilliant adaptation of his  popular film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which features an infectious score by both Idle and John DuPrez, won the coveted Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005.

The show first hit the boards in its Chicago Pre-Broadway preview. It went on to become a Big Apple and West End hit, as well as everywhere around the world.

The musical is an uproarious, irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend with nonstop nods to many classic comedy bits from the television show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

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Some thoughts on the Jeff Awards

 

Chicago cast of ‘Six’ (Photo by Liz Lauren) “Six” the British musical mounted by Chicago Shakespeare received Beat Musical (large category) and Best Ensemble Musical/Revue. It will return to Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse July 2010.

When the 2019 Jeff Awards Ceremony took place Oct. 21 at Drury Lane Oakbrook, two production companies received five awards each from the volunteer Jeff Committee.

In the Midsized category, RemyBumppo’s multiple recognition included Best Production for “Frankenstein.” In the Large category, Court Theatre’s multiple awards included  “Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” and ”Photograph 51.”

Other theater companies receiving multiple awards for their productions were as follows: Lookingglass (4) Chicago Shakespeare (3), Steppenwolf (3) Black
Ensemble (3) Windy City Playhouse (3) Firebrand partnering with TimeLine (2) TimeLine (alone 2), Paramount (2) and Porchlight (2).

First Folio, Goodman, American Blues Theater, Marriott and Theatre at the Center each received one award as did the new musical, “Miracle” about the Chicago Cubs, staged at the commercial (rented out space) Royal George Theatre.

Cast of Miracle The Musical 108 years in the Making at Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow) The Michael Mahler and Jason Brett - "Miracle" - William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat production won a New Work-Musical Award
Cast of Miracle The Musical 108 years in the Making at Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow) The Michael Mahler and Jason Brett – “Miracle” – William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat production won a New Work-Musical Award

Those shows were excellent. But the Chicago area has 250 theater companies, many of which, such as Writers Theatre, also turn out excellent productions. Some of those productions received nominations.

However, when the voting was in, the Jeff committee focused on a very few productions and  even ignored some outstanding individual performances in productions by companies that had been recognized for another show.

Given that theater here is amazingly alive and well, maybe the Jeff Committee needs to be expanded or some of its criteria changed or we need an additional award organization.

Feel free to leave a comment on this site.

For a complete list of the Jeff Award recipients see Jeff Awards.

To learn which shows were nominated and an explanation of the Jeff Awards visit  Jeff Nominations Announced.

Jodie Jacobs

‘Sunset Boulevard’ starts Porchlight season with Hollywood flair

 

 (L to R) Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond and Billy Rude as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre .(Photo by Michael Courier )
(L to R) Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond and Billy Rude as Joe Gillis in
Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre .(Photo by Michael Courier )

3 1/2 stars

Popular Chicago stage veteran Hollis Resnik has joined such leading ladies as Glenn Close and Patti LuPone to inhabit the delusional figure of Norma Desmond in the musical version of “Sunset Boulevard.”

Resnik does so with such believability and panache as to make viewers wonder if she is able to shed the role when leaving Porchlight Music Theatre each night.

A 1993 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the stage show is based on a 1950 Billy Wilder film noir about a one-time silent screen star desperate for a comeback.

Her unwitting victim is Joe Gillis (Billy Rude), a struggling Hollywood movie writer who needs the script rewrite job Desmond offers so he can pay off his car loan.

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A memorable mid-century musicale

Cast of Lerner and Loewe. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Cast of Lerner and Loewe. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

Music Theater Works presents the clever lyrics and memorable mid-century melodies of Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe in “Lerner and Loewe’s Greatest Hits” at Evanston’s Nichols Concert Hall.

Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller with musical director Linda Madonia the show is an enjoyable trip down memory lane. It starts in the Highlands of Scotland, goes over the bumpy trails of the American West then travels through the streets of London, the salons of Paris and ends up in the woods and palaces of historic old England.

This cabaret style performance begins with the ensemble of Samantha Behen, Alicia Berneche, Billy Dawson and Martin L. Woods harmonizing to the theme from the far off sleepy village of “Brigadoon” which rising from the Scottish mist, awakens once every one hundred years.

Songs include “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” featuring tenor Dawson, “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Heather on the Hill.”

Part one continues before a fifteen minute intermission with selections from the Western themed “Paint Your Wagon” with Woods’ powerful baritone rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria” and an ensemble version of “Wand’rin’ Star.”

The production continues in Part Two with perhaps Lerner and Loewe’s most successful musical, “My Fair Lady,” in which virtually every song was a hit.

The audience enjoyed hearing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” and the insomniac favorite “I Could Have Danced All Night” belted out by the soprano, Berneche.

The story of  “Gigi” deals with love and romance in a most Parisian way and includes a nod to mature romance in songs like “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” and  “I Remember it Well,” charmingly performed by Berneche and Woods.

He opens the final segment with Lancelot’s self-aggrandizing “C’est Moi” from “Camelot” that tells the story of a brief and shining moment from the legendary court of Arthur.

Behan as the ingénue gets a few slightly bawdy moments in “Lusty Month of May” before the emotional “Camelot” Finale Ultimo which I am certain brought the majority of this audience back to memories of a hopeful time in 1960 when the show premiered.

The singers are accompanied by Madonia (piano), Nina Saito (violin), Joseph Krzysiak (bass), and Joey Zymonas (drums).

Music Theater Works will end the 2019 season with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opening Dec. 21, 2019.”

The company’s Founder/General Manager Bridget McDonough and Artistic Director Hogenmiller are retiring on New Year’s Eve this year. Hogenmiller has personally told me he intends to travel and relax.

Incoming Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan assumes management of MTW on Jan. 1, 2020 when the new season will include “Mamma Mia!,” “Ragtime” and “Billy Elliot.”

DETAILS: “Lerner and Loewe’s Greatest Hits” is at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL through Oct. 13, 2019. Running time: about 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and information call (847) 920-5360 or visit musictheaterworks.

Reno Lovison

Related: Top Leadership at Music Theater Works talk about the company they helmed and their retirement

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Something Rotten’ turns Shakespeare Bottoms up

 

High-kicking, high-energy cast of Something Rotten at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
High-kicking, high-energy cast of Something Rotten at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 stars

It’s silly, It’s clever. It’s creative. It’s laugh-out-loud absurd

It’s “Something Rotten,” the 2015 Tony nominated musical with witty lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and unusual book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell that is now making its regional debut at Marriott Theatre.

In 1595 England, show manager/ director Nick Bottom and his brother, playwright/poet Nigel, aren’t worried that something is rotten in Denmark. As their acting troupe fails to put on a successful show, they worry about financing, finding an original play idea and their inability to compete with William Shakespeare.

To set the character of the era, the opening number has the Minstrel (Jonathan Butler Duplessis) gloriously sing out, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” joined by a large company of dancers and singers. The era is also well set by Theresa Ham’s costumes

Something Rotten” moves from one fun musical number “God, I Hate Shakespeare” sung by the brothers and their troupe, to another – “Will Power” sung rock-concert style by Shakespeare and his ensemble of fans.Read More