Based on the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” originally written in French verse by Edmond Rostand in 1897, this translation by Michael Hollinger adapted for the stage with Aaron Posner is a successful reinterpretation using a more modern dialog that preserves much of the courtly charm necessary to the play’s setting.
The title character of Cyrano (Michael B. Woods) is an accomplished courtier in 17th Century France, an unparalleled master of the sword and the word whose personal relationships are hampered by what he perceives as a hideous deformity, namely a grotesquely enormous and unsightly nose.
Cyrano conspires with a fellow comrade-in-arms, Christian (Zach Livingston) to woo and win the affection of the lovely Roxane (Vahishta Vafadari). Christian will supply the good looks while Cyrano supplies the requisite language of love.
Cyrano’s own self-hate is his worst enemy that keeps him separated from his desire.
The fight choreography by Jon Beal was a highlight of this production making me wish that the same level of effort was put into the rest of the lackluster performances.
Since none of the actors seemed fully invested in their characters I must set the fault at the feet of Director Steve O’Connell’s ability to rally the troupe.
Though this adaptation aims to “ditch the pretentions” it should not be at the expense of nuance and the basic humanity of the characters nor the charm of the language. Here the actors rely too heavily on the words to do all of their heavy lifting and doing little to breathe life into their respective roles.
BoHo is intended to be “a launching pad for up-and-coming actors” but in this case was a lost opportunity to show us what you got.
This Cliff’s Notes version provides a few memorable moments provided mostly by the text and is a good introduction to the book however, it definitely lacks panache.
DETAILS: ‘Cyrano’ by BoHo Theatre at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago runs through April 15, 2018. For tickets and other information call or call (773) 975-8150 or visit BoHoTheatre.com.
‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is a very entertaining one-woman show at the Athenaeum Theatre starring Jillann Gabrielle as legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.
Written by Gabrielle with book and lyrics by Michael Termine and music by with Howard Pfeifer, ‘Hedda’ is a one-act play that takes place from the mid 1940s through the late 1950s in Hedda Hopper’s living room.
Tasteful furniture, a rolling cart of favorite drinks , clothing racks with dozens of the hats she was famous for wearing and that prime necessity for a gossip columnist, a phone, set the scene for a fun 90 minute peek into the life Hedda Hopper.
Gabrielle’s performance as Hedda is superb as she walks and sings the audience through a life that went from Quaker upbringing to bit MGM player and then famed columnist.
Lively phone conversations and clever songs such as as “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood,” “Off the Record” (there’s audience participation), “Elizabeth, “Hats!” and ‘Don’t Drink the Punch” reveal much of her story.
Among the many things that makes this play interesting there is her interaction with the audience. When the phone or doorbell rings, she looks out at the crowd and says, “I’ll be right back.”
And when the audience hears her say, “Hello, Elizabeth” or “Joan,” or “Marlene” and others, everyone knows who’s there.
Hedda had an amazing effect on not only the motion picture industry, but on politics, as well. Her song “I’m Political” describes her conservative values and moral views as her columns go after Charlie Chaplin and other Communist sympathizers.
She also had famous heated discussions with many of Hollywood’s elite including the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds trio.
Her column had a readership of over 30 million, and it set the stage for many types of columns today.
DETAILS: ‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, through March 17, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 773-935-6835 or visit AthenaeumTheatre.
Go to Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave., March 10 or 11 for writer/performer Neil Tobin’s Necromancer: Near Death Experience, an interactive Magical theatre about life and death. The performances begin at 3 p.m. in the May Chapel and lasts an hour. (Also takes place April 14-15 and May 5-6). For tickets and other information visit Near Death X.
Male relationship depicted through opera
Hear “Fellow Travelers,” a new opera by Gregory Spears with a libretto by Greg Pierce at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave., March 17-25. Presented by Lyric Unlimited, an arm of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the opera is based on the Thomas Mallon novel about two men in love during the 1950s McCarthy era in Washington D.C. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera/Fellow Travelers.
Native art combines with immigration
See Contemporary Native American Art at the Art Center of Highland Park, 1957 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. The exhibit, open to the public March 10 and continuing through April 6, 2018, combines with personal stories of Immigration. For more information call (847) 432-1888 and visit TAC.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Mary Stuart” stands regally tall. It has superb casting, direction, costumes and a simple but clever set design by Andromache Chalfant that complements the action.
What is on the CST stage now is the powerful, new version of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” written in 1800 that has been reworked by playwright Peter Oswald in 2005.
Schiller had written a five-act, multi scene play that portrayed Mary, Queen of Scots’ last days before ordered to be beheaded by her half-sister (and cousin), Elizabeth I, Queen of England.
Premiered in Germany in 1800, Schiller’s play was turned into an opera in 1835 by Gaetano Donzetti titled “Maria Stuarda.”
Oswald has pulled together its personalities, motivations, politics, Catholicism versus Protestantism, conspiracies, sex, feminism and royal succession into a “Game of Thrones” style, two-act, multi-scene drama.
The focal point is what could take place if the two queens faced each other before Elizabeth signed Mary’s beheading order.
Mary, who sought refuge with Elizabeth after Scotland had become increasingly hostile, had been imprisoned by her ruling relative in Fotheringhay Castle and charged with conspiracy to assassinate said relation.
Astutely directed by Jenn Thompson, the motivations of the two royals and the politics that surrounded them make for an exciting two and a half hours even though the ending is known.
The role of Elizabeth, taken on by Kellie Overbey, is arguably harder because she is not portrayed in a positive light. She appears somewhat stiff and haughty. And even though encouraged to marry to beget an heir, she is not interested because she doesn’t want her consort or another ruling family to take control.
In contrast, K.K. Moggie can let loose as Mary Stuart, a woman who has already married, produced what ironically would be the heir to the English throne, James I, and appears kindhearted.
The people around them include Kevin Gudahl as Sir Amias Paulet, a knight who guards Mary but is sympathetic to her plight, Mary’s former nurse Hanna Kennedy, nicely acted by Barbara Robertson, Mortimer, Paulet’s nephew played by Andrew Chown as a secretly converted Catholic who wants Mary to escape and his friend, O’Kelly, played by Kai Alexander Ealy.
On Elizabeth’s side are Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, portrayed by Tim Decker as an ambitious schemer who tries to work both sides of the royal debate, Lord Burleigh, the High Treasurer depicted by David Studwell, Robert Jason Jackson who is George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbuty, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth who cautions restraint instead of beheading and
Because the French are interested in a royal merger, there is Patrick Clear as French Ambassador Count Aubespine and Michael Joseph Mitchell as French Envoy County Bellievre and also Secretary of State William Davison.
Succession is important to the British throne so audiences should take a look at the program’s Playgoer’s Guide for its “Cliff” type notes and chart to better understand who descended from whom.
DETAILS: “Mary Stuart” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s, Courtyard Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. through April 15. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.
The first clue that the Lyric’s 2018 production of Charles Gounod’s ‘Faust’ will have an unusual rendering comes immediately in the opening scene during the opera’s lyrical introductory music.
While Faust, portrayed as an aged artist and sculptor, is lying on a bed in his studio, a video, possibly of his anxious dreams about the world outside, is projected on a large drape at the other side of the room.
He wakes and while singing of his frustration of a loveless life (Rien! En vain j’interroge ) climbs his scaffolding to a surreal, sculptured figure holding a scientific styled telescopic instrument.
When his attempts to drink a poison there are interrupted by a choir he descends to a table with wood blocks and calls for help from the devil.
It is Faust’s own carving of the devil’s agent, Méphistophélès, shown as a projection on a drape near him, that is another important clue to this production’s tone.
It presents the possibility that Méphistophélès and the demons that will be surrounding him during the opera are the creation of Faust’s own tormented self. The demons definitely look like carved figures.
Faust’s carving of Méphistophélès comes to life behind the drape near him and they sing the fine duet (Me voici). After tempting Faust with a projection of the beautiful, young Marguerite, the suicidal artist is willing to sell his soul to the devil to become young and experience love.
And so, Act I sets the atmosphere created by the opera’s production designer, California sculptor /film maker John Frame, set and costume designer Vita Tzykun, video designer David Adam Moore and lighting designer Duane Schuler.
Under the superb direction of Kevin Newbury, the production team’s magic and the remarkable voices and fine acting of the entire cast all come together for a magnificent “Faust.”
Making his American debut, French tenor Benjamin Bernheim brings wonderfully rich nuances to the arias of Faust, including a beautiful rendition of (Salut, demeure chaste et pure) in Act III.
Ryan Opera Center alumnus Christian Van Horn’s fine bass-baritone is perfect for Méphistophélès. He has the flashy, jazzy demeanor of a ringmaster conducting the action.
It was evident by enthusiastic applause for Bernheim and Van Horn at the end of the first act, that audiences knew they were in for an operatic treat.
A highlight of Act II is baritone Edward Parks singing (O sainte médaille … Avant de quitter ces lieux) as Valentin, Marguarite’s brother. He tells the young boy, Siébel who adores Marguarite, to watch over her. There were more than a few “bravos”for Parks.
Although there seemed to be no worthy reason to make the character of Marguerite handicapped and give her a crutch, soprano Ailyn Pérez impressively takes hold of the role of a young, guileless, religious girl who is seduced, becomes pregnant and then abandoned.
She moves from sparkling in the famed Jewel Song (Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir) to sadness in the aria (Il ne revient pas) after abandoned by Faust and then to emotional strength in the love duet she sings with him (Oui, c’est toi que j’aime) when she is in prison.
The excellent cast also includes two mezzo sopranos, Jill Grove as Marguerite’s nosy neighbor Marthe and Annie Rose as Siébel.
As always, the Lyric’s chorus and orchestra sound grand but kudos must also go to Conductor Emmanuel Villaume who beautifully interprets Gounod’s music. Villaume is often called upon to conduct French operas.
Sung in French with English subtitles (often called projected translations), the libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. It is based on “Faust et Marguerite” by Carré that was somewhat based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust, Part One.”
The character of Faust has become so popular that similar to Scrooge as a name for someone who is a miser, Faustian has been coined to mean a bargain with the devil or a greedy or promoting action made without thought or care about the consequences.
The Lyric production takes advantage of current technology to project death symbols, the devilishly persuasive magic of a Méphistophélès type of person and the yearnings of someone who knowingly opts for the Faustian path. It does overuse skeletons by having them move too much instead of occasionally shadowing the action.
However, Lyric’s 2018 “Faust” amazingly couples surrealistic art with the story’s surreal aspects while it keeps its centuries-old German flavor. Of course, outstanding voices and Gounod’s lyrical music truly put this production on the must-see list.
DETAILS: ‘Faust’ is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, now through March 21, 2018 (Ana María Martínez assumes the role of Marguarite on Mar. 21). For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera/Faust.
For those who aren’t familiar with the revised musical ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ based on the book by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, prepare yourselves for a wide range of emotions while observing the lives of three close-knit friends over many decades.
The original Broadway play written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1934 evolved into a musical in 1981 that barely survived. Fortunately, Sondheim and Furth revised the show in 1994, which is now a fabulous production at Porchlight Music Theatre at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts.
Directed by Michael Weber with music director Aaron Benham, this remarkable musical is presented in reverse chronological order with the years posted on the stage’s backdrop so that the audience can easily follow the three friends’ relationship— easily, but not always merrily.
The trio of friends includes Franklin “Frank” Shephard (Jim DeSelm), a talented musician whose objective is to make money—and who eventually succeeds by marketing to influential folks who can help him.
His longtime friend is Charley Kringas (Matt Crowle), a wonderful lyricist who doesn’t want to follow Frank’s ways of reaching his goal.
The trio includes Mary Flynn (Neala Barron), a writer and friend to Frank and Charley but whose longing for Frank is slowly uncovered while the play continues going back in time.
Frank, Charley and Mary’s early friendship started out like a song. And on that note, most of their relationship is told through many musical numbers, such as “Old Friends/Like It Was,” sung by the trio with lyrics such as “we were nicer then” . . . and “old friends fade—they don’t make the grade.”
‘Merrily We Roll Along’ also reveals other relationships. Frank’s marriage to his first wife, Beth, (Aja Wiltshire), is destroyed by his affair with Gussie Carnegie (Keely Vasquez). Beth sings “Not a Day Goes By” as she gains custody of their young son while she and Frank divorce.
We first observe the three friends at beginning of the play where they’ve already achieved success despite painful experiences that ruined their relationship. Then we travel back so that at the end of the play, we see their friendship decades earlier as they try to launch their careers.
In addition to the five major outstanding cast members, the rest of the exceptionally talented cast of over twenty men and women also bring their extraordinary voices to the musical numbers. They are accompanied by seven marvelous musicians.
Many of the play’s lyrics are memorable, but one line is unforgettable: “Friendship is like a garden . . . you have to water it and care for it.”
DETAILS: ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ is at Porchlight Music Theatre at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through March 17th, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. For tickets and other information, call (773) 777-9884 or visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org
After several attempts at mounting a sequel to his record breaking ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ Andrew Lloyd Webber has likely come up with a winner. Called ‘Love Never Dies’ it is touring the US with a stop in Chicago now through March 4, 2018.
It has the eerie trepidations, behind the scenes staircases and gorgeous staging of ‘Phantom’ but appropriately moved to Phantasma, an over-the-top Coney Island show populated by freaks, dancers and singers. It also still has Madame Giry, her daughter, Meg, Christine Daaé and Raoul.
Only this time, 10 years after the opera house fire, Christine and Raoul’s marriage is in trouble and they are accompanied by Gustave, a 10-year-old son. It’s no spoil alert to note who Gustave’s father is because that is quite clear by the end of Act I.
However, there is a fear of what’s to come when Madame Giry is infuriated by the Phantom’s lack of acknowledging that he owes his present lifestyle to her and Meg.
Without letting on what happens, just know that the sequel has an interesting but not a particularly happy-ever-after ending.
What makes this touring production stand out is the soaring, operatic voice of Meghan Picerno as Christine, the amazing vocalizations of Chicago native Casey Lyons as Gustave, and the dazzling set and costume designs of Gabriella Tylesova.
Director Simon Phillips and choreographer Graeme Murphy AO, move the musical scarily along its romantic but dangerous “Love Never Dies” theme.
The lyrics are by Glenn Slater with additional lyrics by Charles Hart. Ben Elton did the book and David Cullen with Webber did the orchestration.
DETAILS: ‘Love Never Dies’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Broadway in Chicago
Theater goers who have read or have seen Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ and its sequel, ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten,’ and so are familiar with the character of James Tyrone Jr. (based on O’Neill’s alcoholic brother Jamie), might wonder why Writers Theatre is going for laughs in the first part of ‘Moon’ instead of building on its premise of needy people.
There is a playful mood in the first act instead of one that emphasizes the problems faced by O’Neill’s characters, tenant farmers, dad Phil Hogan (A.C. Smith) and daughter Josie (Bethany Thomas), and their landlord, James Tyrone (Jim De Vita).
Instead of the Irish family that O’Neill wrote about, director William Brown has transferred the Hogan’s woes into that experienced by a black family. That change doesn’t matter as to the story line’s legitimacy. The roles are played by consummate actors. Watching them is usually a pleasure but perhaps in a different context.
More tension needs to build to the third act which is the exceedingly important culmination of really looking at themselves, stripping off their persona covers and finding the love that they desperately seek is with each other.
Josie who thinks she’s not attractive has been trading promiscuity for real love. James who has been drowning his grief for his late mother with alcohol, needs mothering and thinks he finds it with Josie.
Thus the scene should be more emotionally draining. Their lives may have been “misbegotten”so far, but now they have the moon to help them.
An underlying plot is to stop James from selling their farm to Harder, a wealthy neighbor who doesn’t like the Hogan’s pigs to break through his fence and get into his ice pond. Drink and seduction enter into that plot but become unnecessary when James admits he was just kidding about selling. Thus Josie and James are really free to find each other and themselves.
The production’s setting is still O’Neill’s Connecticut farm in 1923 but neither the time period nor the state make a difference to the playwright’s theme of finding inner truth and love. Without continual focus and buildup, the play’s nearly three hours is difficult to sit through which is a shame because Josie’s and James emotional revelations are at the classic’s core.
DETAILS: ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ is at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 18, 2018. Running time is about 3 hours 50 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Writers Theatre.
This play may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy intellectual stimulation and are willing to sit back and contemplate some of the harsh realities and complexities of the human experience, this is a performance you will not soon forget.
Just the title, ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,’ a grim tale by Bertolt Brecht and translated by Eric Bentley, is enough to discourage a sizeable percentage of theater goers looking for the next feel good musical but this is theater at its best, relevant and thought provoking.
Brecht is one of the leading playwrights of the twentieth century who courageously stood up for injustice and openly shed a light on the social and political changes that were transforming his life and the lives of people around him.
Let’s address the “elephant in the room.” It’s a Haven Theatre production that is a two-hour, forty- minute commitment (with ten minute intermission). Before it began I wondered, “Why did they not consider trimming this down a bit?”
Then it occurred to me that it would be like taking a few movements out of a Beethoven symphony. It is as long as it needs to be.
The production is a series of well orchestrated vignettes that explore the impact of Nazism on German society. Each carefully crafted segment represents a different aspect of the social strata and/or one of the essential institutions that comprise our sense of community.
These include the institutions of friendship, love, marriage and family as well as public institutions of mercantile, manufacturing, and government. All of which require “trust” and “honesty” to function properly.
It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that this play was first performed in 1938, a full two years before the U.S. officially entered the war in Europe. The author was describing the events of the day without benefit of hindsight. He was saying, “Wake up people and look at what is happening around you.”
To some, the themes will resonate with the politics of today. That is not to say that life in the U.S. in 2018 is anything like Nazi Germany in 1938 but it may be a cautionary tale of what can happen when the seeds of mistrust are sewn and paranoia blooms.
Brecht was writing in an era before television and the Internet, where newspapers, theater and radio were the communication technology of the day. Even talking pictures were a relatively new phenomenon. The point being that words and the subtlety of language was paramount.
A genius of dialogue, in this play Brecht has a way of writing conversations that sound like a person’s inner thoughts or self-talk being spoken aloud. The result for the audience is a sense that these are your own thoughts. It puts you into the brain of the character and creates a strong feeling of intimacy.
Psychodrama is a therapeutic tool developed around this period intended to help people struggling with inner conflicts to confront their most intimate thoughts by acting them out. No doubt Brecht was inspired by this technique but used it in a most public way.
Director Josh Sobel has done a good job with this group of young actors. The competent Haven Theatre ensemble made their way through this marathon production at a good pace with a few outstanding individual performances.
This is the kind of play that brought about method acting. It requires the actor to “dig deep” and expose his or her own emotions. I am not certain that every cast member has gotten to that level at every moment but this will be a process that will certainly develop over the run and will no doubt have inconsistencies from day to day, but that is the beauty of live theater.
The austere set design by Yu Shibagaki may shock you as you enter the performance space, but it is thought provoking and lends itself well to the production. The lighting (Claire Chrzan) and sound design (Sarah D. Espinoza) as well as the movement direction of dramaturge Abhi Shrestha adds thoughtful artistic depth.
A personal note. I had the good fortune to witness history as an eleven year old actor (Crown Prince Medici) in the Goodman School Theatre production “Life of Galileo” starring blacklisted stage legend Morris Carnovsky, directed by blacklisted actor Howard Di Silva in a play written by a blacklisted playwright Berthold Brecht. Though Brecht wrote this play about the censored astronomer in reaction to the Nazi experience it unfortunately found new relevance in the McCarthy Era illustrating the importance to remain ever vigilant to potential fascism.
DETAILS: ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,’ a Haven Theatre production, runs now through March 11, 2018 at The Den Theatre 1331, N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Running time 2 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit
Instead of organizing the desk (or you name it), and wishing the groundhog prognosticators were wrong about six more weeks of winter, take in a show, find a special event to dispel gray skies and moods and take advantage of museum free days.
If the family has a Saturday available, get tickets to ‘Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at The Yard, Chicago Shakespeare’s newly added theater on Navy Pier . The show is a fun 75 minutes that merges the Bard’s humorous mismatching of characters in his comedies. The production is offered Saturdays now through March 10, 2018 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.. To get tickets visit Chicago Shakes Plays.
Listen as famed tenor Lawrence Brownlee performs ‘Cycles of My Being,’ a recital that puts forth what it is like to live as a black man in America. Co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Lyric Opera/Lyric Unlimited and Opera Philadelphia, the program will only be in chicago Feb. 22, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the DuSable Museum of African American History. For more information visit Lyric Opera Cycles or call (312) 827-5600.
Go to the Chicago Botanic Garden Feb. 10 through March 25, 2018 to see orchids with an Asian accent. This year, the Garden’s Orchid Show blooms among kimonos, parasols and Asian plants. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. plus open later Thursdays to 8 p.m. For more information visit Chicago Botanic Garden orchid.
How about a night at the museum, that is among the fish?
For Presidents Day weekend stay the night Feb. 16, 2018 in a special program at the Shedd Aquarium that allows participants to explore the museum, see an aquatic presentation and do a scavenger hunt. The cost is $75 per person ($60 members). For tickets and more information visit Shedd Aquarium Overnight.
Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday when most schools in Illinois are closed to celebrate Presidents Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays, is Feb. 19, 2018. Fortunately, some of Chicago’s museums are free that day.
The Adler Planetarium’s general admission is waved for Illinois residents Feb. 19-22. For more information visit Adler.
Art Institute of Chicago has free admission to Chicago residents under age 18, every day. See ARTIC.
Chicago History Museum is free every day to children under 18 who are Illinois residents. Visit Chicago History.
The Field Museum has free general admission for Illinois residents all of February. Visit Field Museum free days.
The Chicago Cultural Center has a new exhibition on its fourth floor. Titled “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush,” it was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The Cultural Center also has other exhibits on its first floor. While in the building go to the third floor to see gorgeous glass domes and rooms. Admission is always free. Visit Chicago Cultural Center.