‘How to Catch Creation’ is not a directional guide

 

Ayanna Bria Bakari (Natalie), Jasmine Bracey (G.K. Marche), Maya Vinice Prentiss (Riley) and Bernard Gilbert (Stokes) in the world premiere of How to Catch Creation. (Liz Lauren photos)
Ayanna Bria Bakari (Natalie), Jasmine Bracey (G.K. Marche), Maya Vinice Prentiss (Riley) and Bernard Gilbert (Stokes) in the world premiere of How to Catch Creation. (Liz Lauren photos)

3 ½ stars

“How to Catch Creation,” a world premiere at Goodman Theatre, may sound like a how-to guide. But Christina Anderson’s new play is nothing like a step-by-step process.

Six people making up three intellectual couples search for fulfillment. Two couples are presented in the present in 2014. The third couple’s actions begin back in the 1960’s. But their lives are all presented at the same time, almost as two syncopated poetry readings.

During their journey of personal exploration they encounter snags of same and opposite gender attractions, divergent artistic paths and stereotypical thinking.

And it’s all done on scenic designer Todd Rosenthal’s stunning set. It revolves as two halves – one for the two contemporary couples, the other for most of the 1960’s situation.

The location is a California town similar to San Francisco and its area.

Sorry we’ve been asked not to reveal the plot’s unusual twists. What you would realize early into the show, is that all the characters are black and that Anderson deliberately presents the actions and dialogue from a black perspective.

But important as that perspective is, fulfillment desires and gender issues transcend race. Thus the play is meaningful on many levels. And under the direction of Niegel Smith who did “Father Comes home from the Wars” the cast superbly interprets Anderson’s sharp and clever dialogue.

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‘Photograph 51’ is a portrait of life

 

Chaon Cross Rosalind Franklin) in Court Theatre's Photograph 51 (Michael Brosilow photo)
Chaon Cross Rosalind Franklin) in Court Theatre’s Photograph 51 (Michael Brosilow photo)

3.5 Stars

“Photograph 51” written by Anna Ziegler and Directed by Vanessa Stalling at the Court Theatre is a snapshot of the life of British chemist Rosalind Franklin (Chaon Cross).

Until recently she had gone virtually un-credited for her contribution to the discovery that revealed the structure of DNA to be a double helix. But the discovery earned her research colleague Maurice Wilkins (Nathan Hosner) and two rival collaborators James Watson (Alex Goodrich) and Francis Crick (Nicholas Harazin) the Nobel Prize.

Franklin was hired by King’s College London for her cutting edge expertise in the field of X-ray crystallography and assured that she would be in charge of her own research. Instead, she was assigned to Wilkins’ DNA project thus leaving her status of independence unresolved at best. Read More

A million dollar evening’s worth

Nat Zegree, Shaun Whitley, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex around the piano as in their characters' pose in the famed Million dollar Quartet photo
Nat Zegree, Shaun Whitley, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex around the piano as in their characters’ pose in the famed Million dollar Quartet photo

4 stars

Going to Marriott Theatre for “Million Dollar Quartet” is like going to an amazing concert.

Some of the story-line is there on how and why future pianist extraordinaire Jerry Lee Lewis, the already famous Elvis Presley, the growingly popular Johnny Cash and the originator of “Blue Suede Shoes,” singer Carl Perkins, had all stopped by Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Memphis recording studio and service on the same December day in 1956.

But the reason to go to the show is to hear and see those four personalities come alive  during an extraordinary 90 plus minutes jamming of “I Walk the Line,” “That’s All Right (Mama),” Who Do You Love,” “Great Balls of Fire”  and their other hits.

The event, the only time these four future legendary entertainers were at the same place at the same moments, was captured by Phillips in a photo that would become famous. I saw it in the museum that is the Sun Records building in Memphis. The building is definitely worth a visit.

Phillips who became known as the “Father of Rock and Roll,” had recognized a future in syncing what was considered at the time to be “Negro” sounds and rhythms with other beats.

What the Marriott show doesn’t go into is the part radio personality Marion Keisker, a collaborator at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, played in bringing Elvis on board.

Originally conceived and directed by Floyd Mutrux with book by Colin Escott and Mutrux, the show is basically a jukebox musical. Premiered in Florida in 2006, it was produced in Chicago in 2008 first at Goodman Theatre and then moved to the Apollo Theater where it ran until fall 2014.

However, it does include short, spotlit, freeze points where Phillips interacts with each performer he developed while the other entertainers are in stop-action shadows.

It has Elvis accompanied by girlfriend Dyanne, portrayed with pizzazz by Laura Savage. She does a great “Fever” torch song during the jam session. As an aside, some stories about the event say he was accompanied by girlfriend Marilyn Evans.

From L. Laura Savage, Nat Zegree, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
From L. Laura Savage, Nat Zegree, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

What does matter is that the whole Marriott cast is terrific. Christopher J. Essex who has played the role elsewhere, really sounds like Johnny Cash. Rustin Cole Sailors who has been in several musicals on the West Coast does a fine Elvis impression. Shaun Whitley who reprises his Carl Perkins role during part of the Apollo Theater run has the perfect voice and plays a mean guitar.

But the person who usually makes this musical fun and exciting for me is the pianist portraying Jerry Lee Lewis. After more than 300 performances as Jerry Lee, as the famed entertainer is often called, Nat Zegree can not only play the piano with one hand, backwards, upside-down and certainly not sitting, but he can also do it blind-folded and does so during the encore.

Longtime actor David Folsom who has performed in shows from California to New York is a believable Sam Philips. Other important characters, although they are off to the side, are Zach Lentino reprising his role in the Apollo production as Jay Perkins, brother of Carl Perkins, on bass, and Kieran McCabe as drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland which he has also played in other “Million Dollar” productions.

I also liked the use of the usually darkened, glassed-in room where Marriott Theatre’s  musicians usually perform turned into Sun Records’ recording room.

Indeed, the entire staging was handled well. It felt as if we were all there at Sun Records.

So kudos to director James Moye, music director Ryan T. Nelson, set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, sound designer  Robert E. Gilmartin and lighting designer Jesse Klug.

On the nit-picking side of what is otherwise a great show, I found the constant lighting up of cigarettes to be a distraction even though smoking was very popular mid last century. I also thought there were too many dead spots mixed in with Zegree’s rant about devil music. The other characters looked as though they were supposed to say something but didn’t and those time lapses were too long.

But the Marriott production is good enough to see more than once and share with friends.

DETAILS:  “Million Dollar Quartet” is at Marriott Theatre, Ten Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL through March 16, 2019. Running time: approximately 100 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Puppet Master: Global Fest returns

Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)
Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)

Depending on your generational reference, the word “puppet” may elicit memories of Shari Lewis’ adorable Lamb Chop or the stage-managing Kermit the Frog of “The Muppets Show.”

But puppetry actually is an ancient tradition of storytelling that is rooted in diverse global cultures. More recently, technical and creative innovations have launched the art to new heights of theatrical expression.

The 3rd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival celebrates this renaissance through Jan. 27. More than 100 performances of 24 shows and events are being given at 19 Chicago venues by professional puppeteers from 11 countries.

The 2019 edition of the biennial Festival showcases an entertaining and eclectic array of experiences and cultures from around the world. A wide range of puppet styles and approaches are presented including marionettes, shadow puppets, Bunraku puppets, paper scrolls and even anthropomorphized plastic shopping bags.

Some of the productions are lighthearted and family-friendly, while others are dramatic or political. Some incorporate dance, song, multimedia, live music, kites–or total silence. All are thought-provoking and moving examples of the power of puppetry to foster compassion and spark insight into lives beyond our own..

 

A few of the shows that are coming up

“Pescador/Fishermen” by Silencio Blanco of Chile is a series of quiet portraits of men at sea. Engrossed in their solitary work, fishermen absorb nature’s overwhelming immensity.

In “Suspended Animation,” the stunning Huber Marionettes from Cookeville, Tenn., dance, play musical instruments and perform complex acrobatic tricks.

“Schweinehund” is inspired by the true story of Pierre Seel, a Frenchman deported to a concentration camp in 1941 on suspicion of homesexuality. Performed on a wooden table, skeletal puppets interact with projected video-animations evoking powerful snapshots of the atrocities Seel endured juxtaposed with wistful memories of yesteryears. It was produced by puppeteers Andy Gaukel of New York and Myriame Larose of Montreal.

This year’s schedule also includes the Neighborhood Festival Tour, a series of 12 free performances by Italian and Puerto Rican puppeteers.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival was formed in 2014 to establish Chicago as a center for the advancement of the art of puppetry. Founder and artistic director Blair Thomas, known for his work in spectacle theater, previously co-founded the now-defunct Redmoon Theater.

DETAILS: The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival runs in various city theaters and venues through Jan. 27. For tickets and a full schedule, visit  ChicagoPuppetFest.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

(Ed note: McKuen saw the first show, “Ajijaak on Turtle Island” but because it isn’t on the continuing agenda, she didn’t write a review for readers who might want to go. However she said she would have given it our top rating of 4 stars.)

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Chicago Theatre Week has deals for you

 

Steppenwolf is among the theatre companies participating in Chicago Theatre Week. Kyle Flubacker photo
Steppenwolf is among the theatre companies participating in Chicago Theatre Week. Kyle Flubacker photo

Just as many Chicago restaurants are offering special prices and deals during Restaurant Week Jan. 25-Feb. 7, 2019, several Chicago theater companies will have particularly low ticket prices for shows the following week, Feb. 7 to Feb.17. ( BTW don’t be bothered that some companies spell theater the old-fashioned and British way of theater and others spell it theatre).

Ranging from $15 to $30 a ticket, Theatre Week deals are too good to pass up. The catch is that there are a limited number of tickets at the bargain price so theater-goers in the know snap them up ahead of time.

Of the Chicago area’s 250 theater companies, about 120 are participating with their current productions. A sampling includes Goodman Theatre’s “How to Catch Creation,” Paramount Theatre’s “The Producers,” Windy City Playhouse’s “Noises Off,” Shattered Globe Theatre with Theater Wit’s, “The Realistic Joneses” and Steppenwolf’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

To see what shows are available at what discount price during Chicago Theatre Week visit, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism site. Choose Chicago is working with the League of Chicago Theatres  (also known as ChicagoPlays).

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

Theater critic reviews own acts

 

Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks
Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks

3 stars

“…Power… I was a theater critic…,” says Brendan Coyle in “St. Nicholas.” The show, a one-person play by Conor McPherson is at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre fresh from its success at London’s popular Dormar Warehouse.

An Olivier Award winning actor from McPherson’s “The Weir,” Coyle drew laughter from Goodman’s opening night crowd of theater critics and patrons almost every time he said the word “critic.”

However, given that McPheron’s portrait of a critic contains more than a few resemblances to Oscar Wilde’s philosophical and Gothic  “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” it arguably would be better to ask a Goodman Theater patron how that person liked or felt about the play.

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Greek gods and monsters populate Percy Jackson musical

 

Kristin Stokes,l, Chris McCarrell and Jorrel Javier go on a hero quest in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Kristin Stokes,l, Chris McCarrell and Jorrel Javier go on a hero quest in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

2 ½ stars

Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series about the trials and friendships among children of god and mortal coupling should understand and enjoy “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” now playing at the Oriental Theatre.

Adults not familiar with the series will get the idea from this low-budget (no real scenery changes), touring show that yeah, what Riordan calls “half-blood” youngsters not only have to please their mortal parent but also put up with and please their Greek god dad or goddess mom.

Because my granddaughter liked the series, I read the books, was hooked on their adventures and thought the show might be fun.

Well, it’s not bad. All it needs are some decent-singing voices aside from Chris McCarrell who does a fine job as Percy and his mom Sally, played by Jalynn Steele, who has the best voice in the cast.

The rest of the cast are certainly in character but it’s hard to understand all the words because they shout-sing in nasally, tinny voices.

Percy fans might not care but if a song is worth writing and singing it ought to be sung so audiences hear more than a couple of words.

And the songs, with music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki, are basically good. McCarrell puts over his frustration well in the “The Day I Got Expelled” and “Good Kid.”

Riordan’s page-turning story-telling, cleverly interpreted in the book by Joe Tracz, keeps audiences wondering what will happen next and how will these “kids” handle the next obstacle.

Director Stephen Brackett, scenic designer Lee Savage and lighting designer David Lander move the story along with obviously low-budget staging. Riordan fans likely don’t care. They just enjoy seeing how Percy, the love-child of powerful god Poseidon, handles his “hero quest” to bring his mom, struck down by a Minotaur,  back from the Underworld and also recapture Zeus’ lightning stolen by Hades.

The show is only in Chicago for a short time so Percy Jackson fans who want to see how Riordan’s story is interpreted on stage need to snag a ticket now.

DETAILS: “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Jan. 13, 2019. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Around Town: Lunapalooza and MLK event

 

Adler Planetarium is on the eastern edge of chicago's Museum Campus. (J. Jacobs photo)
Adler Planetarium is on the eastern edge of chicago’s Museum Campus. (J. Jacobs photo)

 

No, Lunapalooza is not a typo. The Adler Planetarium is celebrating the total eclipse of the moon late into the night of Jan. 20 with Lunapalooza and Writers Theatre is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a free Civil Rights production Jan. 21.

Lunapalooza

Pretty much every time our universe puts on a sky show, the Adler celebrates by sharing its astronomers and equipment. During the solar eclipse last August, the Adler was handing out the proper sunglasses and had a companion craft activity to safely watch the event.

For the lunar eclipse the night of Jan 20, Chicago’s world-class planetarium is celebrating with a free outdoor experience, no telescope or glasses needed but PJs are OK because the event goes from 8 p.m. to midnight.

But there’s a lot going on inside.

With the admission pass of $14 adults and $8 children age 3 to 11, guests can go to “Eclipse HQ” in the Space Visualization Lab which has a live feed and chat opportunities with astronomers.

The pass also is good for seeing the Adler’s new show, Imagine the Moon that opens Jan. 18 and charts how the moon was part of people’s lives through the ages.

Indoor activities include a glow-in-the-dark PJ party in the Family Zone and grabbing a cup of hot chocolate before going outside to witness the event.

There are more things to see and do so go to  Lunapalooza. To find out how to get tickets go to  Adler Planetarium shop. To learn more about Adler’s new show visit Imagine the Moon.

The Adler Planetarium is at 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago.

 

Chicago History Museum. (Photo courtesy of Chicago History Museum and choose Chicago)
Chicago History Museum. (Photo courtesy of Chicago History Museum and choose Chicago)

 

The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Right

 Produced by Writers Theatre, the annual, one-person- show written by Yolanda Androzzo and featuring Angela Alise, will be performed free at the Chicago History Museum Jan. 21, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. The Chicago History Museum is at 1601 N. Clark St. and Lincoln Park. The hour-long show will be followed by a discussion.

 Writers Theatre takes the show, a meshing of interviews of Chicago-based Civil Rights activists with poetry and hip-hop expression that is directed by Tasia A. Jones, to 35 Chicago Public Schools, community centers and juvenile detention centers during a 6-week tour.

 The production can also be seen earlier at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe,on Feb. 2 at both 4 and 7 p.m. Those tickets are Adults $20, students $10. They are available by calling (847) 242-6000 and at WritersTheatre MLK Project.

 

 

Three theater festivals brighten January landscape

 

Fillet of Solo Festival brightens January. (Fillet of Solo photo)
Fillet of Solo Festival brightens January. (Fillet of Solo photo)

What to do in long, blah January? These three festivals: Chicago Sketch Comedy, Fillet of Solo and Rhinoceros Theater turn that gray month between red and green December and red and pink February into a multi-colored vision of comic moments, heartfelt songs and thought-provoking stories.

 

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Jan. 10 -20, 2019

The Chicago mayor’s race may be a local subject for sketch comedy or politics in Britain and the US may be skewered from the stage but part of the fun of attending the annual festival is to hear how comedic entertainers view what is going on in the world or in families or in their own lives that may turn out to be similar to yours.

Started in 2002 with 35 comedy groups sharing their thoughts, the festival now attracts more than 180 groups from all over. They will be performing about 200 shows beginning Jan 10 and going through Jan. 20, 2019. So check out the performers and their dates at Chicago Sketch Comedy Lineup, get tickets and head over to Stage 773, a multi space venue at 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago.

 

Fillet of Solo Festival  Jan. 18 – Feb. 2, 2019

Fillet of Solo  celebrates storytelling by groups and solo performers. The performances are at Lifeline Theatre 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. and the Heartland Studio Theatre, 7006 N. Glenwood Ave. (Free parking and shuttle available). To find out who is performing where and when visit Performances.

 

Rhinoceros Theater Festival  Jan. 18 – Feb. 24, 2019 

Begun in 1988 as the Curious theatre Branch, this fringe theater festival brings together music and theater performers. Originally located in Wicker Park and then moving to Rogers Park, the festival took root at Prop Thtr in 2009 which co-produces the festival with Curious. Events are at Prop at3502-04 Elston Ave., Chicago.

For music, stories and plays schedules visit Rhinofest titles. For more information call visit Rhinofest.

 

Jodie Jacobs

‘La Ruta’ exposes a dangerous journey

 

Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf
Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf

4 stars

For his world premiere of “La Ruta” at the Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago based playwright Isaac Gomez has commandeered a bus transporting “maquila” workers to and from their jobs in Juarez, pointing its headlights into the vast darkness. It exposes the despair and anguish of the mothers and sisters of an estimated 1,400 women kidnapped, used as sex slaves, murdered and disposed of like trash in the Mexican desert.

According to Gomez this is a story that has been systematically silenced through intimidation and adherence to a Latin American culture of toxic masculinity, or “machista.”

Based on a true story and directed by Sandra Marquez, “La Ruta” is performed by an all Latinx cast of eight that centers around the few days leading up to and the nearly three years following the disappearance of Brenda (Cher Alvarez).

Gomez is careful to point out in the program notes that this is not a docu-drama but rather a “creative re-imagining.”

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