Even though the set and costumes set the Victorian period and the mannerisms of Oscar Wilde’s witty take down of English high society was time appropriate, so many of his comments continue to hit the mark on social climbing and pseudo intellectualism today that ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is still a joy to watch.
Indeed, the Writers Theatre production, on stage through Dec. 23, 2017, takes the author’s subtitle: “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” quite seriously so that the audience “gets it” when the male leads, John Worthing (Alex Goodrich) and Algernon Moncrieff (Steve Haggard) behave in an absurd, languid manner while stating rather profound observations.
The only problem is that the observations come too quickly or are sometimes slurred so that not all Wilde’s bon mots are caught.
The two female leads, the women the men fall in love with, Gwendolen Fairfax (Jennifer Latimore) and Cecily Cardew (Rebecca Hurd), banter beautifully with each other and their beaux.
The leads’ farcial actions bounce off each male’s butler, the sarcastic Lane and drunken Merriman (both brilliantly played as foils for the show’s asides by Ross Lehman).
Other catalysts in separating the couples and bringing them back together are Lady Bracknell (Shannon Cochran) as Gwendolen’s formidable mother, Miss Prism, (Anita Chandwaney) as Cecily’s governess and a wannabe novelist, and Reverend Canon Chasuble (Aaron Todd Douglas).
The action takes place aided by Colette Pollard’s charming sets that are nicely void of Victorian excess and Mara Blumenfeld’s delightful, somewhat “My Fair Lady” style costume designs.
Directed by Michael Halberstam as a seriously funny look at Victorian and therefore, society’s sometimes artificial values, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a delightful addition to a holiday season filled with Dickens’ views of Victorian England.
DETAILS: ‘The Importance of Being Earnest” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 23, 2017. Running Time: two hours, 20 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or Writerstheatre.
If what you remember of Emily Dickinson from high school literature is that she was a spinster recluse who wrote free verse poetry about death you will be happy to know that at the Court Theatre you will be spending time with a much different Dickinson. This one imagined herself to be “The Belle of Amherst.”
Maybe you asked, how could anyone who in adulthood never traveled more than a few miles from home, avoided her neighbors and had few if any friends, be an interesting subject for a one actor play.
But, sharing insights into her writing process, familial relations, lost loves and admirers, Kate Fry portrays a much spunkier, wittier version of the poetess than most of us imagined.
Fry grabs our attention the moment she makes her entrance and keeps the audience captivated for the remainder of the two-act play.
Captivated – now there is a word I believe Emily Dickinson “could take her hat off to.” She speaks of her love of words, how they look, how they sound and what they mean.
We learn that Dickinson did not have a love of life as we traditionally think of it. Rather she had a love of living. She says that just having life is the greatest thing imaginable.
When her poems are rejected for publication she says that like a bird she does not sing for others, she sings because she must sing. Likewise she lives because she must live and revels in the simple acts of living.
The action takes place on a visually stunning set designed by Arnel Sanciano – a kind of floating box within a box presented on an angle and a bit off center like the title subject.
The inner box is mostly monochrome with the only bright colors coming from glimpses of nature outside her windows and the numerous plants brought inside.
Sanciano’s set is perfectly complimented by the luminous effects of Lighting Designer Mike Durst who paints the monotone interior with wonderful shades of lavender and thoughtful shadows that augment the various moods of the many stories being told.
Since this is a play about words and a person who built her life around choosing just the right one, it is imperative that the dialogue can be heard distinctly and Sound Designers Andre Pluess and Christopher LaPorte do not disappoint us.
It may be a function of the excellent third row center seat I had but every word was clear as a bell (no pun intended) and did not have that artificial electronic sound.
My one minor criticism was the use of some background music that was periodically intended to enhance the mood. I found it more of a distraction particularly in one scene where it sounded like someone’s annoying cell phone melody.
Samantha Jones’ dresses for Fry were beautifully crafted, detailed and suited to the period.
A one performer play is indeed largely about the actor, who in this case was perfection but the overall production is all about the director.
In such a play the director is more important than ever because it is through him, in this case, Sean Graney that the performer gets all of her feedback.
It is up to the actor and the other crafts people to provide options and have the talent to execute ideas that emerge, but the director is truly the holder of the vision. He is the one who will decide what we all will see, and I like what I saw.
So in the end this is a true collaboration of stage craft. There is only one actor so the set, sound, and costumes are essential to help paint a fuller picture. Everything must be perfect and it really was.
DETAILS: ‘The Belle of Amherst’ by William Luce’ is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. on the University of Chicago campus through Dec. 3, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 or visit Court Theatre.
Many themes in the arts have universal relevance. ‘The Consul,’ currently in production by the Chicago Opera Theater, is a great example.
People from villages, cities, and countries all over the world can identify with this modern opera composed by Gian Carlo Menotti. Based on immigrants and political refugees, the opera takes place in an anonymous totalitarian country.
‘The Consul’ debuted in 1950 and went on to win the New York Drama Critic Circle’s award as the Best Musical Play. Menotti also garnered a Pulitzer Prize. ‘The Consul’ was described by The New York Times as “an opera of eloquence . . . written from the heart.” Andreas Mitisek, the director, reflected on his own experiences as an immigrant which drew him to this opera.
Award-winning Metropolitan Opera Soprano Patricia Racette plays Magda Sorel, the wife of John, played by Justin Ryan, a dissident who escapes from the police, hurries home and explains to his wife that she must apply for a visa in order to leave the country. John tells Magda to take their frail infant and his mother to the consulate and while they are awaiting their visas, he will hide at the border’s edge and join them once they’ve safely crossed over.
At the consul’s office, Magda fills out the paperwork and submits her application to the clerk and then joins the large group of refugees. The secretary gains everyone’s attention and announces that she cannot guarantee that anyone will receive their visas.
While Magda’s child’s health is failing, she is approached by the police who want information about John, but she refuses to answer any of their questions.
The brilliant voices and beautiful music conducted by Kristof van Grysperre are what increases the emotional depth of this exceptional story. After both her child and mother-in-law pass away, Magda cannot bear to imagine any additional losses, as she descends into a morose state of depression.
‘The Consul’ remains relevant today, as Magda sings “Give us back the earth and make us free.” Unfortunately, our world’s refugees do not have the libretto, arias, scenic design and beauty that this opera provides its audience.
In addition to Patricia Racette and Justin Ryan, the rest of the marvelous performers are Audrey Babcock, Victoria Livengood, Cedric Berry, Kyle Knapp, Vince Wallace, Kimberly E. Jones, Kira Dills-DeSurra, Zacharias Niedzwiecki, and Lani Stait.
DETAILS: ‘The Consul’is at the Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave. through Nov. 12, 2017. For tickets and more information, call (312) 704-8414 or visit Chicago Opera Theater.
If you’re looking for a festive family outing this holiday season, ‘42nd Street’ delivers the goods along with lots of glitz. Now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, the much-beloved musical is charged with perky tunes and high-energy dancing. Tap dancing, that is.
It’s a dreams-come-true story of a sweet, aspiring young chorus girl named Peggy Sawyer. She fumbles her first big audition and ultimately lands the starring role in a new Broadway production called “Pretty Lady.” Woven throughout are show-stopping song-and-dance numbers and subplots of love triangles and financial woes. All are wrapped up neatly by the end of the show.
Directed by Michael Heitzman, the Drury Lane production features a stellar cast of actors, singers and dancers. Kimberly Immanuel plays Peggy with both innocence and strength.
Suzzanne Douglas as the aging prima donna Dorothy Brock and Donica Lynn as songwriter Maggie Jones are powerhouse solo artists but in different ways. Douglas sings with crystal clarity while Lynn gets sultry and soulful. Gene Weygandt, who plays “Pretty Lady” director Julian Marsh, has a voice that is honest and heroic.
Special mention goes to the ensemble of tap dancers, whose work appears effortless and truly joyful, and to choreographer Jared Grimes who managed to incorporate dress racks and stock pots into dance numbers. The showiest, at the end of Act One, takes “We’re In The Money” literally.
The set design by Collette Pollard is more spartan than that of other Drury Lane productions, but it works. Most of the action takes place in a weary rehearsal hall, and the scenery is the dancers themselves.
Also on the creative team are costume designer Emilio Sosa and lighting designer Mike Baldassari. The ’42nd Street Orchestra’ is conducted by Chris Sargent, who also plays keyboard.
The original 1980 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was produced by David Merrick and directed and choreographed by an ailing Gower Champion, who passed away only hours before opening night. The musical, however, lives on.
DETAILS: ’42nd Street’ is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through Jan. 7. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.
‘This Wonderful Life,’ and adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” could have many other adjectives added to its title, such as “fabulous, extraordinary, unique and marvelous” to name just a few.
Playing at the American Blues Theater, it’s a one-man show written by Steve Murray, directed by Carmen Roman and starring James Leaming.
After doing the production across the country for the past ten years, Leaming has now brought the play to Chicago, garnering numerous awards along the way.
If familiar with the movie, you know the story encompasses several characters. Learning successfully portrays them all in eighty uninterrupted minutes.
He begins the play in a story-telling style as George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence the angel, Uncle Billy, Mary Bailey and many more.
While the play is both touching and hilariously entertaining, he keeps it simple for the audience to follow with their imaginations.
In addition, the sparse but effective props and beautiful photos displayed as scenery contribute to one’s memories of the famous film.
Leaming accurately describes the play as a love story, especially when Clarence the angel shows George how different the small town of Bedford Falls would be if George had never been born.
He quotes Clarence who says “Each man’s life touches so many others” and “No man is a failure to his friends.”
When Leaming asked the audience members how many had seen the iconic film before the play began, 99% raised their hands. The movie has become a regular showing on television as the year-end holidays approach.
As with the film, the play, ‘This Wonderful Life,’ is a must-see production!
Leaming brings quite an impressive dramatic background to the production. He trained at American Conservatory Theater and Second City, and he has appeared at Steppenwolf, Northlight, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Drury Lane, Peninsula Players, and other venues. He also has many credits in films and television, and is a founding Ensemble member of the American Blues Theater.
DETAILS: ‘This Wonderful Life’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and more information, call (773) 654-3103 or visit American Blues Theater.
Catch your breath! First and foremost, ‘Newsies’ is known for its powerhouse, high energy dancing.
Based on the 1992 movie and inspired by the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, this Tony-award winning musical boasts a delightful score by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.
It’s a David versus Goliath story that shook the ivory towers of publishing titans William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in New York City at the turn of the last century.
The story could just as well have come from the headlines of today’s newspapers about social injustice and workers striking for well-deserved benefits.
It’s the ultimate story of courage and believing in one’s self. ‘Newsies’ follows orphan Jack Kelly and his rag-tag band of young newsboys who dream of a better life than living on the streets.
Choreographer and Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez (Marriott Theatre: Evita, On the Town, Mary Poppins) brings his high-octane energy and brilliance as director of the heartwarming piece with Musical Direction by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson.
Patrick Rooney stars as Jack Kelly who’s got enough swagger and spit to win the heart of beautiful Eliza Palasz as Katherine Plumber.
Stand-outs include the wonderful Stephanie Pope as Medda Larkin, Nick Graffagna as Davey, the brains behind the union and Matthew Uzarraga as Crutchie. The ensemble earn well-deserved kudos for their passionate, powerful dance moves.
DETAILS: ‘Newsies’ is at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.
Take playwright Mike White’s solution to how to turn an uptight middle-school class at a snooty private school into a group of fun-loving youngsters then add Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rousing music, Glenn Slater’s lyrics and book by Julian Fellowes and you have ‘School of Rock, the musical.’
Begun life as a high grossing musical comedy film by Paramount in 2003, the story morphed into a Broadway musical in 2015. Although not among the top musicals of all time, the show is a delightful reminder that there is more to school and life than gold-star rewards and meeting other people’s expectations.
Now on tour, the show is rocking the aisles of the Cadillac Palace Theatre with laughter and high-energy rhythm.
The catalyst for change is guitarist Dewey Finn, a debt-ridden, rock-star wannabe. Finn takes a call for a classroom substitute meant for his friend, Ned, as a way to make some money. The first impression is that he is totally wrong for the school, its parents and kids but…
As he works with the students on his strength which is the history, playing and love of rock music, they change.
There is also the first impression of the musical itself as it starts out with a “but” and even a “so what” as Finn is kicked out of “No Vacancy,” the band that he started. His problem is that the band is on its way to entering an important Battle of the Bands competition.
By intermission, audiences know that Finn is redeemed as his talented class is accepted into the band competition.
Directed by Laurence Connor, the touring company appears perfectly cast with Broadway actor Rob Colletti playing Dewey Finn, touring veteran Lexie Dorsett Sharp as school-head Rosalie Mullins, Broadway actor Matt Bittner as friend Ned Schneebly and Broadway’s ‘School of Rock’s’ Emily Borromeo as Patty Di Marco, Ned’s bossy, live-in girlfriend.
However, it wouldn’t work if not for the show’s very talented youngsters. They beautifully portray kids whose parents don’t listen to them or consider what they want and need. And yes, the kids really do play the instruments they use in the show.
DETAILS: ‘School of Rock, the musical’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, through Nov. 19, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway In Chicago.
Imagine two very different families trying to pair up their children with not very successful results. That’s a traditional rom-com format you’d see on TV. But now imagine these families are a well-established Muslim family paired with new refuges from Iraq. And yes, it’s a comedy.
‘Yasmina’s Necklace,’ playing now at The Goodman Theatre, is about overcoming tragedy and moving on with your life in a new land with new opportunities and challenges.
What makes the play so compelling is that everyone can identify with this family situation no matter what their race, religion or ethnicity.
The show by Chicago playwright Rohina Malik is both funny as well as dramatic and thought-provoking, as the audience navigates the pain of both Yasmina and her father when settling in Chicago from Bagdad.
Yasmina uses her art talent to communicate the horrors of her past. The necklace, always around her neck, represents her love for the country she was forced to leave and will always be in her heart.
Potential suitor Sam recently changed his Arabic name to avoid Anti-Muslim bias and move up the career ladder. He’s also recovering from a bad divorce and is not interested in meeting anyone. But when he volunteers to support Yasmina with her non-profit organization helping other refuges, their relationship begins to warm.
Led by director Ann Filmer, actor Susaan Jamshidi as the vulnerable Yasmina is outstanding as her character moves from anger to acceptance to strength.
Michael Perez as Sam is also excellent as his character develops from someone who is conflicted about his identity to someone who stands proud of his traditions. Always in the background is a sense of fear and loss.
The set revolves around the very different apartments of the two families, one who is settled and well-off, and the other of newly arrived immigrants.
The play was scripted by Malik who was concerned about how Muslims are portrayed in the media and wanted to show them without stereotype. She has done a masterful job and the result is one powerful evening of theatre.
DETAILS: ‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ is in the Owen at The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. through Nov.19, 2017. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443- 3800 and visit Goodman.
So that in the coming weeks you don’t have to say “oops, I forgot” or “oh, I wish I had known,” here are some fun and interesting choices of what to do now through Nov. 5, 2017.
Short Story Theatre
Short story theatres are trending now in the Chicago area. (See StorySlam). Highwood, a tiny city between Highland Park and Lake Forest known for its restaurants, also hosts short story telling.
Its next time is Oct. 26 when the theme is Survival. Stories are likely to be about lost wives, geese, road trips or angels.
So come to Miramar Bistro at 301 Waukegan Ave. east of the North Line train tracks at 7:30 p.m. Or come earlier and eat there first. Just tell them when making a reservation that you are staying for the Short Story Theatre. Show tickets are $10 at the door, cash or check. Phone 847-433-1078.
Boo at the Chicago Botanic Garden
Hand-carved pumpkins line the paths Oct. 26-29 for Night of 10000 Jack-O-Lanterns. Tickets are date and time specific so get yours before you go to avoid disappointment. Times are from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, east of Edens Expressway. For tickets and other information call (847) 835-5440 or visit CBGHalloween.
Broadway in Chicago
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, ‘Les Miserables, Cameron Mackintosh’s new production that is garnering rave reviews, closes Oct. 29. For tickets visit BroadwayinChicago.
Then, School of Rock’ an exuberant show with new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber opens Nov. 1. For tickets and other information visit Broadway Rock.
Verdi and Wagner
If you enjoy opera at its best know that Lyric Opera of Chicago has openings, closings and reviews similar to many downtown shows. Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ that also received rave reviews, has only three performances left: Oct. 26, Oct. 30 and Nov. 3. Wagner’s next Ring cycle opera, ‘Die Walküre,’ opens Nov. 1. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.
Sip and Stroll Festival
Visit more than restaurants and other businesses in Lincoln Square for the semi-annual Ravenswood Wine Stroll. Nov. 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 and are for one of five different routes: three in Lincoln Square and two in Ravenswood. For tickets and route information see Lincoln Square Wine Stroll.
Really old and last century modern
Winnetka Community House’s famed Antiques + Modernism show runs Nov. 3-5 with an evening, first peek party Nov. 2. Because it’s a 60-year-old nationally known event, dealers bring their fine antiques and excellent mid-last-century modernism jewelry and furniture. For ticket and other information visit Winnetka Show.
Where high-end art and superior design mix
Known as SOFA for bringing together Sculpture Objects Fine Art plus Design, the annual Chicago event is back at Navy Pier Nov. 2-5. Go upstairs to the Festival Hall to see what the international galleries say are trending now in the art world. For tickets and other information visit SOFA.
What if you have a dream or passion that does not fit other people’s notion of you?
‘Billy Elliot the Musical,’ playing now at The Prochlight Music Theater through Nov., 26, 2017 is about managing change and redefining who others say you are and who you think you can be.
The stage play with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall is adapted from the 2000 movie “Billy Elliot.” The time frame Is Thatcher era 1980’s in a small coal mining town near Newcastle in England. Union miners have been on strike for nearly a year and tensions between them and the “scabs” brought in to replace them is violent.
Billy Elliot (Jacob Kaiser) is 12 years old, his mum (Nicole Cready) is dead, his grandmother (Iris Lieberman) is senile and his brother (Adam Fane) and father (Sean Fortunato) are on the picket line, struggling to survive.
One day Billy happens into the community gym and gets involved with a rag-tag ballet class run by Mrs. Wilkinson (Shanesia Davis). The chance encounter ultimately helps Billy find a way to express his budding adolescent angst, repressed grief, and shared frustration of what seems to be the impossible social situation that seemingly defines his life.
This expression is interpreted in two emotionally powerful dance numbers “Angry Dance” and “Electricity,” each skillfully co-choreographed by Brenda Diddier / Craig V. Miller and brilliantly performed by Kaiser with Ivan Bruns-Trukhin as Older Billy.
In his transformation to adulthood Billy begins to consider his sexual identity which is tested by Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter Debbie (Princess Isis Z. Lang), his best friend Michael (Peyton Owen) and a testosterone filled environment that does not necessarily consider ballet dancing a viable or proper gender conforming career path.
His dilemma, as well as economic realities, requires that he and those who are concerned for his future re-imagine another way of being.
Everyone must come to terms with the fact that times are changing. Coal is no longer part of the future. The jobs and the community that supported the industry are no longer an accepted surety.
Led by Director Brenda Didier, the company is outstanding from beginning to end starting with Jacob Kaiser who is an energetic and expressive dancer, singer and actor.
His transformation from beginner to advanced dancer was well controlled. His voice has a gravelly quality that is perfect for his age. It is clear this young man understands the part he is playing. Every line and every step was just right. He handles this demanding role with subtlety and maturity, devoid of annoying precociousness. Bravo!
Adam Fane, Billy’s older brother kept his emotional performance in bounds. Sean Fortunato, Billy’s Dad portrayed a perfect mix of stoicism and compassion.
Chicago stage veteran Iris Lieberman was spot-on as Grandma avoiding what could become a cliché performance. Peyton Owen as Billy’s best friend embraced his character with charm and elegance. Shenesia Davis manages the demands of her straight talking character Mrs. Wilkinson whose somewhat aloof nature could be misconstrued as harsh.
The ensemble was excellent, and it was clear that the girls of the ballet were having a blast.
Recognition must be given to dialect coach, Sammi Grant because there was never a time that anyone’s “English” accent was a distraction or got in the way of their performance.
Staging provided by this comparatively small venue at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts allows you to experience this production of “Billy Elliot the Musical” in a very intimate way.
The score has a unique quality that is difficult to define. It is contemporary but not “pop” or “rock.” It has aspects of classic musical theater but is not driven by the melody.
The play’s anthem, “Solidarity,” is rousing and powerful. “Grandma’s Song” is humorous and poignant. “Expressing Yourself” is a showstopper while “Born to Boogie” offers a bit of lightness and levity. In the case of “The Letter” I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.
Conductor/ Pianist Linda Madonia and her musicians Justin Kono, Cesar Romero, Greg Strauss, Cara Hartz, Dan Kristan and Sarah Younker provided the cast with a wonderful accompaniment behind the set’s sliding glass panels in the back of the stage which provided an effective illusion of the miners’ elevator decent at the end of the play.
In short this production is perfection.
Note: The part of Billy Elliot is shared at various performances by Lincoln Seymour.
DETAILS: ‘Billy Elliot’is at The Porchlight Music Theater in the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. For tickets and other information call (773) 777-9884 or visit Porchlight Music Theatre.