A deep promise of what’s to come . . .

RECOMMENDED

Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) playing Othello (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) playing Othello
(Photo by Liz Lauren)

‘Red Velvet’ transports audiences to the tumultuous world backstage in the mid-1800s of London’s Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.  Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Gary Griffin, the award-winning play reminds us of who is veiled into the history of Shakespearean performers.

‘Red Velvet’ tells the story of a black actor, Ira Aldridge, who leaves New York in 1822 as a teenager and heads to London because actors of color were not being hired to perform in Shakespearean plays in the United States.  Aldridge’s life on stage confronts the belief that Shakespeare is for everyone.

In 1833 at London’s Theatre Royal, Edmund Kean, a great Shakespearean actor, collapses on stage while performing the lead in Othello.  Edmund’s son, Charles, wants to take over his father’s role, but Edmund is replaced by the young black American actor, Ira Aldridge, who had portrayed Othello in the provinces with much success.

Aldridge’s performance in one of London’s most prestigious theaters was mesmerizing.  But the reviews by many of London’s theater critics were conflicting, revealing their racial prejudices as they pointed out Aldridge’s physical features and unusual accent that made it difficult for him to pronounce English impeccably.

Following Aldridge’s first two performances, the production was cancelled.  Unfortunately, other major theaters in London were closed to him, so Aldridge launched his first continental tour in 1852, becoming one of the most famous and celebrated actors of the nineteenth century in eastern Europe.

Dion Johnstone who portrays Aldridge in ‘Red Velvet’ said, “Ira Aldridge used his platform on the stage to convince European audiences that people of color had souls and intellects as wise and as deep as theirs.”

Aldridge became known across the continent for other great Shakespearean roles, including Shylock, Macbeth and King Lear.  As was customary at the time, he played what were held as traditionally white roles in “whiteface.”

‘Red Velvet’ makes audiences ponder about racial performances.  There are few black Hamlets, King Lears, and others.  Shakespeare’s plays are powerful, but actors of color can make them seem political.  In ‘Red Velvet,’ Aldridge deliberates at length that there is “something about velvet . . . a deep promise of what’s to come.”

Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) as Othello and Chaon Cross (Ellen Tree) as Desdemona (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Dion Johnstone (Ira Aldridge) as Othello and Chaon Cross (Ellen Tree) as Desdemona.
(Photo by Liz Lauren)

In addition to Dion Johnstone’s outstanding performance as Ira Aldridge, Chaon Cross plays the famous stage actress Ellen Tree, who appears as Desdemona opposite Aldridge’s Othello.  The rest of the remarkable cast includes Greg Matthew AndersonMichael HaydenJürgen Hooper,  Tiffany Renee JohnsonRoderick PeeplesAnnie Purcell and Bri Sudia.

 

DETAILS:  ‘Red Velvet’ is at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago, through January 21, 2018.  Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes.  For tickets and other information, call 312-595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com .

 

Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

More ‘Hamilton’ tickets become available

 

Listen up if you haven’t yet snagged tickets to ‘Hamilton.’ Yeah that mega hit show whose seats are still hard to get, is now extending performances through Sept. 2, 2018, Producer Jeffrey Seller announced Dec 1, 2017.

That means a new, 18 week block of tickets, are now available.

Cast of 'Hamilton'. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Cast of ‘Hamilton’. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The new tickets go on sale, 10 a.m. Dec. 5, 2017 at its venue, CIBC Theatre,  18 W. Monroe, according to Broadway in Chicago officials.

Tickets will also be sold at the Chicago Ticket Line (800) 775-2000 and on line at Broadway In Chicago.

Prices go from $75 to $195 for regular performances. Some premium seats are available for all performances. The online lottery of 44 seats at $10 will continue.

The maximum number of tickets per household from May 1 through Sept. 2 is 12 for seats.

Tip: Don’t be fooled by non official ticket offers. Best plan is to buy through one of the authorized outlets mentioned above.

For more lottery information visit Broadway in Chicago lottery.

In case your kids haven’t been singing the lyrics to ‘Hamilton’ and haven’t now shown more interest in the history of the United States of America’s founding, you should know the show is tells that story as put to hip-hop, rap, jazz, pop, R&B beats by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.

BTW, Hamilton was an immigrant from the West Indies who then served George Washington and became the the country’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

For more ‘Hamilton’ information visit Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

 

At Goodman Theatre: A Dickens tale worth repeating

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Even if you have seen Charles Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol” before at Goodman Theatre, the current production is a show not to be missed. It has aged like fine wine.

Cast of 'A Christmas Carole' at Goodman Theatre. ACC Productions
Cast of ‘A Christmas Carole’ at Goodman Theatre. ACC Productions

On its 40th anniversary, the Goodman production was perfect from Todd Rosenthal’s set, Keith Parkham’s lighting and Heidi Sue McMath’s costume design to appropriately scary, tear jerking and joyous scenes played by many “Christmas Carol” regulars.

Right from the start, you feel the holiday spirit while walking into the lobby and hearing carolers serenading from the balcony (at scattered performances).

The singers were terrific but opening night was even more special as it was filled with an audience that appreciated each scene, ghostly special effects and actors’ monologues with enthusiastic applause.

In his 10th year as Scrooge, Larry Yando was at his bah humbug best in the first third of the play and delightfully nutty with joy as a reformed Scrooge in the last third. In between you felt his gradual character change.

Molly Brennan, the Actors Gymnasium’s director of physical theater, was fun to watch as she managed her flying apparatus as Christmas Past with acrobatic ease. She guided Scrooge with empathy to his school yard and past employment at Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment.

In the Fezziwig scenes Kareem Bandealy, as Scrooge as a Young Man, believably battled with his character’s interest in money, choosing it rather than love.

Joe Faust (Ghost of Jacobs Marley) warns Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) to change his ways. Acc Productions
Joe Faust (Ghost of Jacobs Marley) warns Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) to change his ways. Acc Productions

Lisa Gaye Dixon once again portrayed Christmas Present with an appreciation of holiday abundance.

It was balanced with dart like precision when Dixon threw Scrooge’s bad attitude towards holiday giving back in his now drooping face.

Breon Arzeli was imposing as the deathly, towering figure of Christmas Future.  Of course, by this time Scrooge is ready to do anything to make amends for his anti-humanity outlook.

He now understands what the Ghost of Jacob Marley, perfectly portrayed again by Joe Foust, said when admonishing him that humanity was his business, not the business of money changing.

He now cares about his clerk, Bob Cratchit, played with humor and tenderness by Ron E. Rains, and for Tiny Tim, portrayed by a girl for the first time here, fourth-grader Paris Strickland.

On another note, the live on stage music plus the singing and dancing bits really added to the show’s uplifting aura.

Adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” is not just for youngsters. It really is a show for the entire family.

On opening night, the joy didn’t end with the first curtain call.  Artistic Director Robert Falls, walked out, mike in hand, to bring on stage more than 40 past participants in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol.”

By the way, some attendees tend to collect play programs. However,  this edition of Goodman’s “On Stage” should be kept even if not a collector. It contains, history and important notes.

DETAILS: “A Christmas Carol” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St, Chicago, through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

 

 

A new twist on Dickens – ‘Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits’

 

Recommended

Who says you can’t change tradition?  Certainly not Doug Post, who wrote this world premiere musical based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Cast of 'Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits' Citadel Theatre. North Shore Camera Club photo
Cast of ‘Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits’ at
Citadel Theatre.
North Shore Camera Club photo

‘Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits,’ now playing at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, is delightful family entertainment that is perfect for the holiday season.

Once again, Scrooge is the main character, but the ghostly spirits go deeper into why he’s grown into such a flawed soul.

When Scrooge sees what people really think of him and his actions, he takes steps to redemption, transforming from darkness and gloom to joy and love for humanity.

In between, the beautiful, haunting music played by three on-stage musicians, serves to uplift the characters and the story.

Veteran Chicago actor, Frank Farrell, leads the cast as Ebenezer Scrooge, mean and miserly as ever.  He previously played the role of Scrooge in Citadel’s 2011 non-musical production of “A Christmas Carol” and understands the role and its transformation.

The show is masterfully directed by Citadel Artistic Director Scott Phelps with music direction by Benjamin Nichols and choreography by Ann Delaney.

Post’s all-new musical score pays homage to 19th Century English songs in a highly theatrical way.  Post says, “The first song that came to me, and it practically wrote itself, is called ‘Mankind Was My Business.’ It’s Jacob Marley’s lament to Scrooge that in life, Marley neglected his “business” of concern for others.”

Stand outs include Coco Kasperowicz in multiple roles with a magnificent voice that beautifully interprets the score, and baritone Will Rogers, an affable delight every time he appears on stage.

DETAILS: ‘Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits’ is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through Dec. 23, 2017. Running time: 90 minutes without intermission.For tickets and more information call(847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.

Mira Temkin

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

‘White Christmas’ sings and dances into your heart

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

First a caveat, this critic loved Paramount’s 1954 movie and the musical’s theme’s of romance and military camaraderie and caring so was prepared to also love the show, now touring with a stellar cast of Broadway and tour veteran actors, singers and dancers. It didn’t disappoint. Instead, it seemed to this writer to be a perfect holiday ornament.

'White Christmas' at Cadillac Palace has a great "Snow" scene. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
‘White Christmas’ at Cadillac Palace has a great “Snow” scene. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Based on the book by David Ives and Paul Blake with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the musical has some fun songs such as “Snow” sung on a train ride from New York up to Vermont.

There are also some dated but fun pieces such as “What Can You Do With a General,” sung about the post-army job market for high-ranking officers.

But it’s the famous ones that audiences will likely be humming as they leave such as “I’ve got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and of course, “White Christmas.”

The story pairs Bob Wallace(Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), two very successful male entertainers who served in the same unit in WWII, with Betty (Kerry Conte) and Judy (Kelly Sheenan) Haynes who have a sister act.

The gals are headed to a holiday gig at a Vermont ski resort where there is supposed to be snow. Davis tricks Wallace into joining them.

When they arrive, the gig turns into an effort to keep the resort, an inn owned by General Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck), from going bankrupt.

"Blue Skies" is a fun, Fosse-style dance number in White Christmas. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
“Blue Skies” is a fun, Fosse-style dance number in White Christmas. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

How they pull it off and the general’s reaction still brings tears to my eyes.

Along the way you meet inn receptionist Martha Watson (Karen Ziemba), a former Martha Raye style entertainer who also is too nosy for anyone’s good.

Plus there is inn employee Ezekiel who is also the train’s snoring man (Cliff Bemis who has a great voice and originated the Broadway role), Gen. Waverly’s granddaughter Susan (delightfully played in the opening by Makayla Joy Connolly), Stage Manager Mike Nulty (Aaron Galligan-Stierle who is also the Ed Sullivan and Regency Room announcer), and Davis and Wallace promoter Ralph Sheldrake (Gil Brady who always has a “million dollar proposition”).

The musical is also a showcase for exceptional dance numbers including “Blue Skies.” Kudos to Director/ Choreographer Randy Skinner. In addition, Anna Louizos’ creative scenic design really helps tell the story.

Cast of "White Christmas" at Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Cast of “White Christmas” at Cadillac Palace Theatre.

DETAILS: ‘White Christmas’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre , 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Dec. 3, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and  visit  Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

‘Minutes’ shines scary spotlight on small town politics

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Audiences are likely to be lulled into a state of boring normalcy during the first part of actor/playwright Tracy Letts’ new play, ‘The Minutes.’

Premiering now at Steppenwolf Theatre through Dec. 31, 2017, ‘The Minutes’ is a dark comedy which turns out to be a scary, unfunny, toe-dip into the troubled waters of small-town USA. The scene is a city council meeting in Big Cherry (you pick a state).

Cast of 'The Minutes' at Steppenwolf. Michael Brosilow photo
Cast of ‘The Minutes’ at Steppenwolf. Michael Brosilow photo

As a former reporter who has covered meetings at the city, county and school board level, I can attest that David Zinn’s set design is right on as far as the seats, desks and ceiling are concerned. (The mural is an added patriotic touch).

However, you know something is wrong when the meeting is announced as closed, even though no legal reason is given such as personnel or law suit. Even if those items are only briefly mentioned during the closed session, they still should have been offered at the start of the meeting as an excuse for going into a closed session.

Apparently there was no public to complain but maybe the public in this town knows that all council meetings are held in closed session.

But then, as each council member  states an item of business, from Francis Guinan as the doddering Mr. Oldfield to Danny McCarthy as Mr. Hanratty who has drawn up plans to redo the town’s fountain with a ramp for disabled visitors, the meeting appears to be routine. At least in the beginning.

One of the worms that rots the fabric of life in Big Cherry is that its founding is based on a battle that happened almost just the opposite of what is celebrated in town every year, as researched by Mr. Carp, one of the council members.

The other problem is that Carp, well portrayed by Ian Barford, also uncovered a city official’s criminal action regarding the disposal of stolen bikes.

But in this small town that does not want rotten apples to upset its rosy apple cart, politics and threats make the worms disappear.

The play’s title refers to the uncovering of the worms when  Cliff Chamberlain as new council member, Mr. Peel, wants to hear the minutes from the meeting he missed when he was at his mother’s funeral. Those minutes reflect Carp’s complaints and concerns. Peel is told by Mayor Superba, the forcefully restrained William Petersen, that the minutes have not been prepared for distribution.

All is revealed when the Ms Johnson, an honest clerk nicely interpreted by Brittany Burch, says they have been prepared.  The other council members who always go along with the Mayor are Mr. Breeing (Kevin Anderson), Mr. Blake (James Vincent Meredith)  Mrs. Matz (Sally Murphy), Ms Innwa (Penny Slusher) and Mr. Assalone (Jeff Still).

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the acting is superb. The problem I have with the play is that its ending feels a bit off given the town’s attitude toward its heritage. Though the ending, (no spoiler alert here) delves into what may be the true nature of a group when divested of its respectable trappings, it would have been more understandable if the group circled in the dark with candles or adopted another ritual.

DETAILS: ‘The Minutes’ is at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St, through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call 312-335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

Escape to Margaritaville is Paradise Lost

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Dressed in a never been worn Hawaiian shirt and accompanied by one of the biggest Jimmy Buffett fans I know we were ready to “Escape to Margaritaville” and party. Unfortunately this ship barely left port. In fact it will be moored at the Oriental Theatre on State and Randolph Streets in Chicago through December 2, 2017.

Cast of Escape to Margaritaville. Mathew Murphy photo
Cast of Escape to Margaritaville. Mathew Murphy photo

A new musical that premiered at the LaJolla Playhouse near San Diego, CA in May 2017, “Escape to Margaritaville” is based on popular favorites and some new songs of singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

Essentially, two young women embark on a paradise bound, girls pre-nuptial buddy trip. Rachel (Alison Luff) hopes to distract her best friend Tammy (Lisa Howard) away from her fat shaming fiancé Chad (Ian Michael Stuart) while also gathering volcanic soil samples for her super potato battery invention. Yes that’s right.

Soon after their arrival at the “not as described in the brochure” Margaritaville Resort the two become entangled with Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan) the house acoustic guitar strumming musician and his sidekick Brick (Eric Petersen) the beach side bartender.

The predictable and sophomoric story line suffers in a valiant attempt to humorously weave elements of various Jimmy Buffett lyrics into the plot. The sitcom inspired dialogue by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley is not all that funny, though the performance of aging beach bum J.D. (Don Sparks) and his perpetual search for salt was cringingly amusing.

J.D. hopes to reignite his relationship with Margaritaville proprietress Marley (Rema Webb) who seems to have been (through no fault of her own) left behind from a previous production of South Pacific.

The entire cast does an admirable job of wading through this low waterline script. But neither they nor the spectacular set designs of Walt Spangler could lift this vessel. One inspired moment was an all too brief swimming sequence compliments of “Flying by Foy” who provided the aerial expertise and apparatus.

The winsome secondary duo of Tammy and Brick shone the brightest.  Their singing and acting performances, together with the theme that Brick loves Tammy just as she is, seems timely and charming.

A peculiar highlight for me was Brick’s flashback induced dancing dead insurance salesman zombies.

I know that Jimmy Buffett fans are crazy about his music and love him as an entertainer but in this production the music never really pays off.

You’ll hear favorites like “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “I Will Play for Gumbo,” “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” and of course the title number, “Margaritaville.”

At this performance the cast was joined at the curtain call by the man himself, Buffett, and the audience was thrilled. The excitement level rose tenfold.

The production should strike a chord with Jimmy Buffett fans and might play well in island resort venues but for general theater goers who are looking for a memorable experience I can only somewhat recommend..

DETAILS: Escape to Margaritaville’ is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., through Dec. 2, 2017. For tickets and other information call (800) 775 2000 and visit Broadway in Chicago.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

Witty Wilde endears at Writers Theatre

 

RECOMMENDED

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.

Cast of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo
Cast of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ at Writers Theatre.
Michael Brosilow photo

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.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

Belle of Amherst Rings True

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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.”

Kate Fry is the Belle of Amherst at Court Theatre. Court Theatre photo
Kate Fry is the Belle of Amherst at Court Theatre. Court Theatre photo

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.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

 

Give us back the earth . . .

 

RECOMMENDED

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.

Audrey Babcock (Secretary), Justin Ryan (John Sorel) and Patricia Racette (Magda Sorel) in 'The Consul', a Chicago Opera theater production. Liz Lauren photo
Audrey Babcock (Secretary), Justin Ryan (John Sorel) and Patricia Racette (Magda Sorel) in ‘The Consul’, a Chicago Opera theater production. Liz Lauren photo

‘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.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.