‘A Bronx Tale’ offers lessons of fear and love

 

Touring company of 'A Bronx Tale' (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Touring company of ‘A Bronx Tale’ (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

4 stars

This version of the coming of age story “A Bronx Tale” is based on an off-Broadway, one-man play by Chazz Palmintiri later turned into the 1993 Robert De Niro movie of the same name.

Adding music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Glenn Slater this is a very successful adaptation appearing in Chicago on tour.

Narrated by Calogero (Joey Barreiro), he tells of growing up in an Italian/American section of the New York borough of The Bronx during the tumultuous and racially charged era of The Sixties. And that he is mentored by a local mobster, Sonny (Joe Barbara), and is hanging out with “the wrong crowd.”Read More

Chicago designates Water Tower area as arts district

 

Commissioner Mark Kelly is among Chicago dignaeries and arts organization representatives that launched the Water Tower Arts District March 12, 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)
Commissioner Mark Kelly is among Chicago dignaeries and arts organization representatives that launched the Water Tower Arts District March 12, 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)

 

Do you know Chicago’s WTA District?

Visitors and Chicago area residents are arguably familiar with the city’s Theatre District of show venues in the Loop and the Museum Campus next to Soldier Field.

Now add the Water Tower Arts District to Chicago’s cultural district scene.

Now, the city has officially designated an area both sides of North Michigan Avenue that stretches approximately from Streeterville to the Gold Coast as the WTAD.East of LaSalle Street from Illinois Street to North Avenue .

Launched at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago by Commissioner Mark Kelly of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events on March 12, 2019, the new district includes these 15 cultural organizations: (1) The Arts Club of Chicago, (2) Broadway in Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, (3) City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower, (4) Graham Foundation, (5) International Museum of Surgical Science, (6) Lookingglass Theatre Company, (7) Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), (8) Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), (9) the Newberry Library, (10) Poetry Foundation, (11) Porchlight Music Theatre, (12) Richard Gray Gallery, (13) the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, (14) the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, and (15) the Society of Architectural Historians.

Water Tower Arts District map with 15 arts institutions (Photo courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art)
Water Tower Arts District map with 15 arts institutions
(Photo courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art)

Anyone old enough to recall “Bug House Square,” the once popular tag for Washington Square Park south of Newbery Library where people would debate social issues, will understand Kelly’s reference during the launch to the area as Bohemian.

Plus, he and Chicago historian Pamela Bannos noted that the area around the Water Tower, was once known as “Towertown,”  a Bohemian arts stronghold, so the new designation was really a return to its roots.

“This tightly knit group of arts organizations raises the same spirit of camaraderie and collaboration as they reclaim the District and invite visitors to experience a diverse array of cultural activities…,” Kelly said.

Lookingglass Theatre Company resides in the historic Chicago Water Works across from its sister, the historic Water Tower. (J Jacobs Photo)
Lookingglass Theatre Company resides in the historic Chicago Water Works across from its sister, the historic Water Tower. (J Jacobs Photo)

Lookingglass Executive Director Rachel Fink likes that the arts organizations are joining together to attract attention. “It felt a little isolated over here…,” said Fink. “The Mag Mile  has a different focus.”

The process of gathering together, which she recalled started about five months ago, has also introduced her to other arts organizations in the neighborhood.

“I like meeting our neighbors. It’s been an incredible opportunity for me” she said. “Now I know more the Driehaus Museum and I learned about the interesting (International) Museum of Surgical Science.”

She added, “It helps to do things as a community. Now we’re celebrating and  brainstorming together.

For more information and descriptions of the 15 organizations and activities, visit the website Watertowerarts.  The site and the graphic designation were created by Chicago designers Michael Savona, and Tobey Albright plus Mollie Edgar from Hour. Photographs of the institutions were done by Chicago artist Assaf Evron.

Jodie Jacobs

‘Choir of Men’ pub crawl serves up 90 minutes of pop

Choir of Man at Broadway In Chicago Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Choir of Man at Broadway In Chicago Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

3 Stars

In spite of the venue “The Choir of Man” is more boy band concert than Broadway musical. It features nine very energetic, vocally talented, male singers who purport to be “regulars” at a traditional Irish Pub named “The Jungle,” that serves up pop.

This musical extravaganza is loosely narrated by Denis Grindel who introduces his mate. He provides a bit of backstory about each of their characters as a way of establishing the iconic stereotypes we have all encountered in every tavern and public house the world round.

Grindel’s introductions explain that this is one of those places where we go to be who we are and where people accept us for who we are — good, bad and ugly. Though in this case the boys are not too “bad” and nary a one, would be accused of being ugly.

This being the case, “The Choir of Man” is a perfect fantasy for those looking for a bit of testosterone flavored eye-candy, perhaps a “girls night out,” that’s not too naughty.

I could not help thinking that after taking little sister to the American Girl store, a few steps away, Mom could take bigger sister here for her share of fun.

Yes, there is plenty of beer flowing but I do not think there is anything said or done that an average thirteen year-old has not seen or heard on prime-time TV. And in fact, there were a number of youngsters on hand opening night.

Sadly, the program does not include a list of songs so I suspect they change it up as they get a sense of what’s working. It is basically about 15 or so cover tunes by Adele, Queen, Paul Simon, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others that everyone will find enjoyable and most will find familiar.

The harmonies are awesome with onstage guitar accompaniment by Peter Lawrence, occasional piano by Connor Going and random percussion including a foot stomping tap dance by Matt Cox.

This is good clean well-intentioned, high caliber, fun. Perfect, if you happen to be in town for a visit or just looking for something to do before or after a nice dinner near Michigan Avenue or Rush Street.

“The Choir of Man” is at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, through March 17, 2019 (before continuing their US tour). For more information, visit BroadwayInChicago.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

What do we want God to be

Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in "Act(s) of God" by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)
Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in “Act(s) of God” by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)

2 1/2 stars

Take a dysfunctional family, yes, another one, add intellectual rhetoric, several different ideas (make them existential, religious, morality bent, etc.) and wrap the action in somewhat comic absurdism and you have “Act (s) of God” by Kareem Bandealy at Lookingglass Theatre.

Given that Lookingglass has afforded ensemble member Bandealy a top notch cast and placed it under the smart direction of Heidi Stillman for what is his debut venture on the other side of a script, we should have a four-star evening.

Instead, we have a mish-mosh of a play, probably two or three plays. It needs reworking and shortening from three to two acts so that even though it might fall in the absurdist category, theater-goers will leave with a sense of the playwright’s message.

Except for an overly-long religious ritual, I liked Act One when everyone (but G..D) is introduced. I liked the idea that Eldest daughter Kristina Valada-Viars, an atheist, could open a sealed missive that seemed to have come with ads to the household’s mailbox.

When others tried they couldn’t open it. When they dropped it, the house experienced a power outage.

Eldest said it was blank but when she loudly told her family to read it, they were able to and found that it announced an unexpected dinner guest the next day.

Not sure why in Act II the guest was supposedly a being who farted a lot in the computer room or why the three children of Mother and Father (no given names) disliked themselves and each other so much even though lots of trite reasons were bandied about along with personal attitudes towards religion and humanity.

Supposedly, an apocalyptic event occurs so that in the third act the furniture is taken from the stage. I liked that it included the comfortable chair in which Father was seated and barely moved from.

Lookingglass does repeat it’s productions so maybe we’ll see a new, shorter version of Bandealy’s play sometime. I’m looking forward to that.

DETAILS:
Act(s) of God” is at Lookingglass Theatre in the Chicago WaterWorks, 821 N. Michigan Ave., through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (312) 337-0665 or visit LookingglassTheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Seussical’ delights with sounds and sights

Cast of Seussical at Marriott Theatre. (Justin Barbin photo)
Cast of Seussical at Marriott Theatre. (Justin Barbin photo)

3.5 stars

You don’t have to be a kid to laugh, tear-up, applaud and walk out grinning from Marriott Theatre’s latest musical supposedly geared to young audiences.

Certainly there is Marriott’s terrifically designed costumes and choreography that show goers are used to for the regular subscription season.

And there are such fun Dr. Seuss  characters as the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, the “Whos” and jungle denizens – all mixing together in lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty’s creative “Seussical.”

But what’s special for adults and youngsters is that the players are all featured actors in Chicago area musicals.Read More

‘Ariodante:’ love and lust, deception and trust

 

'Ariodante'in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)
‘Ariodante’ in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)

4 Stars

The Lyric Opera’s “Ariodante” by George Frideric Handel (of “Messiah” fame) satisfies the sensibilities of a modern audience.

The storyline of this eighteenth century Baroque opera has elements familiar to a twenty-first century TV audience including love, sex, drugs, infidelity, deception and a missing person. Oh! and puppets.

The plot-line would benefit from a chart. But essentially, Ginevra and Ariodante are in love and soon to be married, however, the villainous Polinesso is also in love with Ginevra who incidentally, can’t stand the sight of him.

Read More

‘The Realistic Joneses’ rings true

From left, Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter in Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit's "The Realistic Joneses." (Evan Hanover photo)
From left, Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter in Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit’s “The Realistic Joneses.” (Evan Hanover photo)

3.5 Stars

Bob (H.B. Ward) and Jennifer (Linda Reiter) Jones are surprised to meet their new neighbors who also share the same last name.

The second Jones couple, Pony (Cortney McKenna), and John (Joseph Wiens) are a quirky duo. Pony is a bit scatter brained, maybe even clueless while John is prone to outlandish non-sequiturs and pseudo philosophical profundities.

We learn that Bob, who prefers to communicate in one word sentences, is suffering from a mortal neurological illness that he is dealing with by trying to ignore it and which is causing Jennifer and him a good deal of stress.Read More

Mamma Mia! Super trouper

Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

4 stars

Artistic Director, William Osetek has staged a fresh and exciting new production of “Mamma Mia!, the 1999 smash hit musical that became a cult classic for Baby Boomers twenty years ago and is one of Broadway’s original juke box musicals.

Taking almost two dozen hit tunes from the ABBA songbook, Drury Lane’s stage version makes audiences forget Chicago’s cold, snowy winter, as well as a rather disappointing 2008 film version.

Here, live and on stage, is a great opportunity to enjoy a polished, professional production of how that musical is suppose to look and sound. And this production is not only pitch perfect but, decked out in shiny spandex, platform heels and a ton of glitter and glitz, it’s a feast for the eyes as well.

Read More

Powerful look at 1920s black experience

From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson in 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

To see August Wilson’s plays is to look through a window on the life and times of black Americans, to feel their frustrations, challenges and desires, not just in one period, but in 10 decades of the 20th century. To witness actors tell those stories is to hear Wilson’s ear for the cadence and poetry of language.

In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now at Writers theatre through March 17, 2019, we visit a Chicago of the1920’s when white record producers were turning to black music they called “race music” because it sold well.

The play is the only one of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” to be set in Chicago. The others, such as “Radio Golf” (1990’s) done by Court Theatre last year and “Two Trains Running”  (1960s) that appeared at Goodman Theatre in 2015, took place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

The incomparable Felicia P. Fields (Tony nominated for “Color Purple”) is terrific as a feisty Ma Rainey who really was a popular blues singer. Her rendition of “Black Bottom” is great and I would have liked to her sing more.

Felicia P. Fields in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." (Michael Brosilow photo)
Felicia P. Fields in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ (Michael Brosilow photo)

But this play is about the thoughts, experiences and desires of her black band members and how white record producer Sturdyvant (Thomas J. Cox) and Rainey’s manager, Irvin (Pete Moore), behave before, during and after the taping.

While waiting for Rainey, who turned out to be delayed by a difficult traffic confrontation and bad cab experience, her quartet, hot-headed trumpeter Levee (Kelvin Roston Jr.), philosophical pianist Toledo (David Alan Anderson), easy-going bassist/backup vocal “Slow Drag,” (A.C. Smith) and band leader/trombonist Cutler (Alfred H. Wilson), tell stories and debate ideas during rehearsal.

After a couple of problems including Sturdyvant finally letting Levee know that the trumpet player’s songs will not be optioned, Levee erupts, and the play has a tragic ending.

However, directed by Ron OJ Parson, the band members present the perfect ensemble to tell Wilson’s story. Todd Rosenthal’s backdrop of a former church turned recording studio sets the right period tone. Using the front of the stage as the downstairs rehearsal room is genius because it brings the audience close to the band members.

Other cast members are Dussie Mae( Tiffany Renee Johnson) as Ma Rainey’s likely lover, Sylvester, (Jalen Gilbert) as Rainey’s stuttering nephew and policeman (Blake Montgomery) who brought Ma and her retinue to the recording studio after the traffic confrontation.

DETAILS: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is at Writers Theatre, 325Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 17, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Related article: ‘Radio Golf’ is a hole in one

 

Suspenseful British theater

Ensemble in An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley, (Photo by Mark Douet)
Ensemble in An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley, (Photo by Mark Douet)

4 stars

JB Piestley’s classic “An Inspector Calls” has landed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater just shy of it 75th birthday. But its scenario is as interesting and suspenseful today as it was when first performed in 1945.

The time is an April night in 1912. The place is the home of the Birlings, a wealthy, British, class-conscious family. They are celebrating the engagement of daughter Shelia to Gerald Croft when Inspector Goole arrives to question their connection to a young girl who has committed suicide.

Picture melodramatic fog, lighting, staging and pauses in conversation for the greatest effect as Inspector Goole’s relentless questioning extracts honesty and confessions from the Birlings and Croft.Read More