‘Hunchback’ has melodious ring

 

Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

4 stars

I was curious to imagine how this epic story that features a soaring gothic cathedral in the heart of Paris would be portrayed at Music Theater Works’ Cahn Auditorium venue.

But from the moment the curtain rose revealing the stunning scenic set design and twenty-four member choir for MTWs’ “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the audience was thoroughly captivated.

Set around 1492 the essence of this operetta is derived from Victor Hugo’s  epic novel of the same name with similar themes of intolerance, injustice, abuse of power, and “man’s inhumanity to man” as in his “Les Miserables.”

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Always remember ‘All That He Was’

 

'All That He Was.'  L to R:  Ethan Warren,  Rick Rapp. (Photos by Nicholas Swatz)
‘All That He Was.’
L to R: Ethan Warren, Rick Rapp. (Photos by Nicholas Swatz)

4 stars

 

First, a gentle warning to theatergoers planning to see”All That He Was,” a deeply moving, sometimes humorous new musical by Pride Films & Plays at The Buena: bring along lots of Kleenex.

When theatergoers walk into The Buena, they may be surprised to discover that they’re about to attend a funeral. The entire theatre has been transformed into an outdoor, park-like space.

This sepulchral space is highlighted by a tasteful garden of plants and flowers surrounding an arbor and peppered with places to sit and the stage is festooned by strings of tiny white lights.

A poignant AIDS-inspired, mostly sung-through musical, “All That He Was” is a newly revised version of the original, award-winning one-act by Larry Todd Cousineau (book and lyrics) and Cindy O’Connor (music).

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‘Six’ returns to Chicago next summer

 

Chicago cast of 'Six' (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Chicago cast of ‘Six’ (Photo by Liz Lauren)

If you tried but couldn’t get tickets to “Six” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater before it recently closed, you will have another chance to see the show. However, it will be at a different Chicago venue as part of the Broadway in Chicago series.

Yes, that means it is on its way to Broadway.

How the six wives of Henry VIII, Aaragon, Boleyn, Seymour, Cleves, Howard and Parr, viewed him and themselves is the unlikely story behind a British concert-style musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.

First opening in Edinburgh and England, it just left its North American premiere in Chicago to visit other towns before its debut on Broadway. “Six” will be at the American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 21 – Sept. 7, Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, AB Canada, ‪Nov. 2-24 and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul, MN, Nov. 29 – Dec. 22.

it will be in previews in February and open at New York City’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, March 12, 2020.

As with other shows that have pre-Broadway Chicago premieres, the tour form of the show will return as part of the Broadway in Chicago series. But in the case of ‘Six,’ a sell-out at Chicago Shakespeare, the hit musical will be back within a year instead of the usual two or three years.

According to Broadway in Chicago folks, “Six” will open at the Broadway Playhouse next to Water Tower Place and the Ritz-Carlton July 8, 2020. Also unlike most other tour shows it is currently scheduled to stay through Oct. 25, 2020.

“We would like to thank Chicago Shakespeare Theater for their overwhelming support of our North American premiere over the past few months,” said producers Wendy and Andy Barnes.  “It was such a thrill to watch American audiences lose their heads for SIX.  We cannot wait to return to Chicago next summer, where our US journey began.”

Groups of 10 or more can get tickets now. Broadway in Chicago will be opening subscription and single ticket sales this fall. .

To see what else Broadway in Chicago has in store visit “Looking ahead to the next theater season.”

Jodie Jacobs

Four tickets to get now

 

Cast of ‘Miracle’ at Royal George.

Three shows leave and a hit returns

Instead of saying “oops” after “Miracle,” “Manet” and “Head Over Heels” have left Chicago, fit in the one you really hoped to see. Then, if good at planning ahead, look for tickets to “Six.”

 

“ Miracle”

Tickets are available just through Sept. 29, 2019 for this fun show that ties the life of a Wrigleyville bar-owning family to the Chicago Cubs. “Miracle,” whose full title adds on “A musical 108 years in the making,” is at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St. For Tickets and other information call (312) 988-9000 or visit MiracletheMusical. For the review visit Wrigleyville and Cubs story make great theater.  For the backstory see Miracle Musical.

 

“Manet and Modern Beauty”

At the Art Institute of Chicago, this extensive exhibit on Manet’s later works and transitions of style leaves Sept. 8, 2019. This is a ticketed, dated exhibition. For tickets and more information visit ARTIC/manetand modernbeauty.  For a review see Art Institute turns the spotlight on Edouard Manet.

 

“Head Over Heels”

Two weeks have been added to Kokandy Productions’ hit musical comedy but after Sept. 8, 2019 it will be gone. The show is at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. For tickets call (773) 975-8150) or visit KokandyProductions or stop by Theater Wit. For the review please see Head over Heels has got the beat.

 

“Six”

The sold-out concert-style show about Henry VIII’s wives just closed at Chicago Shakespeare but even though it is headed to Broadway it will return to Chicago in 2020. The touring production will open July 8 at the Broadway Playhouse next to Water Tower Place and the Ritz-Carlton through the Broadway in Chicago series. Groups of 10 or more can get tickets now. Watch for the Broadway in Chicago single tickets this fall. For group tickets visit GroupSales@BroadwayInChicago.com. For more information and single tickets visit BroadwayInChicago.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Perfect Junie B Jones timing: How to overcome school problems

Cast of Junie B Jones at Marriott Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Cast of Junie B Jones at Marriott Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

3 stars

In her Junie B Jones stories, children’s author Barbara Park found interesting solutions to problems youngsters face at school. Which means that “Junie B. Jones, The Musical,” put together by the “Dear Edwina” team of Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, is perfect for youngsters to see right before school starts this fall.

Now at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire just through Aug. 11, 2019, the show is for all elementary-middle school youngsters.

On the first day of school, Junie B encounters problems right away on the bus when her best friend from last year now has two other best friends so won’t sit with her.

Once at school, Junie B doesn’t understand why she can’t read words on the board. She’ll have to wear glasses but what will her classmates think and say.

And the problems keep happening.

Elizabeth Telfore is a terrific Junie B. Adam LaSalle is great as her piano-playing day (and teacher Mr. Scary and others). Rashada Dawan is perfect as mom, (and the cafeteria cook and others).

Marriott shows, whether for a general or young audience, always have excellent voices and choreography. “Junie B” is no exception.

But the reason to take youngsters to the show is for them to see that there are ways to work through things that sometimes go wrong at school.

DETAILS: “Junie b. Jones, the Musical,” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Running time: 1 hour. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Come From Away’ transforms strangers

 

Touring cast of 'Come From Away' now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)
Touring cast of ‘Come From Away’ now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)

3 ½ stars

Pretty much everyone recalls where they were when they heard that planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Radio announcers guessed it was an accident  when American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston’s Logan International Airport bound for Los Angeles went into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Then United Airlines Flight 175 from Logan, also bound for LA flew into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

(Two other planes were also hijacked, AA Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon  and United flight 93 was brought down by its passengers before it could hit its target in Washington D.C.)

At 9:25 a.m. the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Washington Dulles, directed about 4,300 planes to land, ordering 120 inbound overseas flights to Canada and the rest to return to countries of origin.

The United flight that our daughter was flying from London to Los Angeles was diverted to Edmonton, Canada. All she heard before landing was that the US airspace was closed. (We didn’t know it was a direct flight. She could have gone through Boston.)

Of the planes in the air, 38 were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland where they stayed for five days.

“Come From Away” is the amazing story, told in a musical with a rock beat by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, of how the small town of Gander (9,000 residents) managed to feed, clothe, find facilities and befriend approximately 7,000 passengers and crew members while working through the visitors’ foreign customs, language difficulties and personal distress.

L to R, Megan McGinnis, Emily Walton, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson,Julie Johnson and Daniele K. Thomas on 'Come From Away' touri. (Matthew Murphy photo)
L to R, Megan McGinnis, Emily Walton, Becky Gulsvig, Christine Toy Johnson,Julie Johnson and Daniele K. Thomas on ‘Come From Away’ touri. (Matthew Murphy photo)

The musical tell a mash-up of their stories in just 100 minutes.

Except for a passenger who keeps trying to find out about her son, an NYC fire fighter, and the American Airlines pilot of a plane landing in Gander who learns her friend Charles (Burlingame) was the pilot on the ill-fated Flight 77, the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, were not the story.

Instead, though some moments lead to tears, others result in laughter and smiles. Audiences will be reminded that kindness brings out kindred spirits and understanding can change antagonism to gratitude.

Moving from an Ontario theater workshop in 2012 and through other stops on the way to Broadway in 2017, “Come From Away” garnered seven Tony nominations and won the “Best Director of a Musical” award for Christopher Ashley.

Now, the touring company is in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Aug. 18, 2019.

Gander characters double as passengers and crew, a difficult feat that may occasionally confuse some audience members.

But the show’s talented cast of experienced Broadway and TV actors really are able to convey how Gander’s warmhearted hospitality eventually permeates the awful stress of people who at first are not allowed off a plane even though they’ve landed, can’t communicate easily with family back home and are leery of how their views, fears and needs may be regarded by strangers.

The band is excellent and on stage, sometimes as part of the action.

Award-winning conductor/keyboardist Cynthia Kortman Westphal also does the accordion and harmonium.  Isaac Alderson plays the Irish flute and Uilleann pipes. Kiana June Weber is a skillful fiddler. Adam Stoler is on the electric and acoustic guitars. In addtion, Matt Wong is on acoustic guitar and mandolins, Max Calkin plays the electric and acoustic bass, Steve Holloway  and Ben Morrow handle percussion. 

My only problem with the current, touring show is that it was hard to catch all the spoken and sung words. When asked, others there said they liked the show but also had the same problem.

However, the show’s mood and message comes across well. “Come From Away” is a feel-good musical that is worth seeing for its story about how Gander not only coped but altered their visitors’ views of themselves and others.

DETAILS: “Come From Away” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Aug. 18, 2019. Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call ( 800) 775-2000) or visit Broadway In Chicago.  

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

A Funky Journey at BET

Cast of 'You Can't Fake the Funk' at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).
Cast of ‘You Can’t Fake the Funk’ at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan davis photo).

2.5 stars

“You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music)” presented by Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater works hard to “turn this mutha out.”

“There’s a whole lot of rhythm goin’ round” in this energetic performance written and directed by the company’s own producing and managing director, Daryl D. Brooks.

The journey through the history of funk is hosted by Dwight Neal as Dr. Funk and takes place aboard the “Mothership,” an allusion to  George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 platinum album “Mothership Connection.”

Clinton actually incorporated a spaceship as part of the scenery into his concerts but BET’s homage does not do it justice and Denise Karczewski’s lighting didn’t do too much to help, particularly if you consider the lighting effects prominent in the disco style shows of this time.

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‘Les Miserables’ still magnificent

Josh Davis (Javert) and Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean) in US tour of 'Les Miserables.' (Matthew Murphy photo)
Josh Davis (Javert) and Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean) in US tour of ‘Les Miserables.’ (Matthew Murphy photo)

4 stars

Don’t worry If you missed “Les Miserables’” revival on the Oct. 2017, Chicago tour stop.

The Cameron Mackintosh production now in town at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through July 27, 2019, is still composer Claude Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boubil and Herbert Kretzmer’s stirring musical. (Original French text by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel and additional material is by James Fenton and was adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird.)

Also don’t worry if some of the scenes in your mind’s eye from earlier productions have changed. What is important is that directors Laurence Connor and James Powell bring the conditions that spawned Victor Hugo’s famed 1862 novel, to life.

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Interesting ‘Music Man’ production on Goodman stage

 

Geoff Packard (Harold Hill) and Monica West (Marian Paroo) in 'The Music Man at Goodman (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Geoff Packard (Harold Hill) and Monica West (Marian Paroo) in ‘The Music Man at Goodman (Photo by Liz Lauren)

 

3 stars

If old enough to have seen and loved the 1962 film “The Music Man” you’ll likely be expecting someone like Robert Preston to be portraying con man Harold Hill and someone like Shirley Jones as the reserved librarian/music teacher Marian Paroo in the production now playing at Goodman Theatre.

And maybe you would expect the townsfolk to be human beings rather than stereotyped small-town farm characters.

Helmed by the amazingly creative Mary Zimmerman, the Goodman show has several fun moments from the superb opening “Rock Island” salesmen (and woman) train scene and the “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” hen-clucking number to the delightful quartets by formerly bickering board members.

Heidi Kettenring (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Alma Hix), Bri Sudia (Maud Dunlop), Lillian Castillo (Ethel Toffelmier) and Danielle Davis (Mrs. Squires) (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Heidi Kettenring (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Alma Hix), Bri Sudia (Maud Dunlop), Lillian Castillo (Ethel Toffelmier) and Danielle Davis (Mrs. Squires) (Photo by Liz Lauren)

But the strong emotions of the lead characters and townsfolk found in the film, the Broadway revivals and some other Chicago and regional productions are missing.

Part of the problem may be that even though the dancers are excellent, the many dance numbers run too long in a show that really is about changing people’s attitudes.

That change was accorded a small nod at the end. However, I was disappointed that the band didn’t march onto the stage from the wings in a more stirring finale.

Broadway and national tour regular and Chicago stage veteran Geoff Packard does an OK impression of Harold Hill but something seems to be lacking in his interaction with Paroo played by Chicago and regional theater veteran Monica West. They have the credentials, (a request often asked of Hill by River city’s mayor) but their interaction seems more surface than substance.

Chicago actor Mary Ernster was delightful as usual as mom Mrs. Paroo. And a shout-out goes to the charming quartet of James Konicek, Christopher Kale Jones, Jeremy Peter Johnson and Jonathan Schwart.

The production is worth seeing for the fine book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, the excellent musical direction by Jermaine Hill (not related) and hearing the exciting “Seventy Six Trombones.”

DETAILS: “The Music Man” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through Aug. 18, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3811 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

 For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

New Marriott musical is spellbinding

 

Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in 'Darling Grenadine' at Marriott Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in ‘Darling Grenadine’ at Marriott Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

3 ½ stars

When the music is good, the songs are good, the voices are good and the staging is good, the show, in this case, “Darling Grenadine,” deserves to be seen and appreciated even if the subject is not at the top of theater-goers’ list of musicals must-do.

Conceived and written by Daniel Zaitchick about stress leading to alcohol addiction that is often experienced by musicians and others in the entertainment industry , the show is more in line with the personal battles of “Next to Normal” than Marriott’s next play, “Something Rotten,” that is a comedic musical about trying to write a hit show.

Whereas “Something Rotten,” was a full-fledged, 2015 Broadway musical comedy hit, “Darling Grenadine”  is more an intimate, chamber musical that is making its way from its concert form at LA;s Rockwell Table & Stage and continued its fleshing out at Johnny Mercer Writers Colony  of Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, CT before presented by Marriott in what is labeled a Midwest premiere.

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