Unique gifts that work double time

 

A penguin with a purpose. A Wright that is right. Those are just some of the special gifts that can be found in Chicago museums.

Instead of fighting crowds on Black Friday, use the day off to visit a favorite museum and its gift shop. Museum stores are not only filled with fun and artistic gifts, they also funnel that money you spend back into programs and other costs.

Plus, holiday shopping when you can also watch penguins play or visit a favorite art period adds to the fun of finding a present that matches a person’s interest.

However, if you don’t make it down to Chicago, browse the museum stores’ web sites. They are easy to maneuver because most are broken into different categories so don’t worry if the first link you find merely says store. Watch for scrolling options and look for such links as jewelry, toys and home decor.

On Chicago’s Museum Campus

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd, in the middle of the Museum campus at 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., is a favorite destination when youngsters and adults have a day off. However, you can also look in the shop on line to find everything from toddler shark hoodies to soft, plus animals that have wallett friendly prices. Visit Shedd Shop and call (312) 939-2438 if you have some questions.

A plush baby penguin is just one of the delightful items found on line in the Shedd Aquarium store. Shedd photo
A plush baby penguin is just one of the delightful items found on line in the Shedd Aquarium store. Shedd photo

Adler Planetarium 

Past the Shedd, all the way out to the eastern point of the museum campus is the Adler Planetarium,  at 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive.

The shop is perfect for the budding astronomer or astronaut wannabe. Think telescope, NASA hoodie or night sky projection.

The products are high quality and come in all prices. Check out Adler Shop and call (312) 922-7827 with questions.

Field Museum

First museum on the campus, the Field at 1400 S. Lake shore Dr., has a huge store worth a visit anytime you are on the museum campus. However, the store’s website is also huge. Note that different shop areas scroll across the Field store site. Click on one that particularly catches your attention or merelyh look for such categories as home  décor and toys. Among the sites is one for Ancient Mediterranean objects.  For other information call (312) 922-9410.

Art Museums

Art Institute of Chicago

Both sections of theArt Institute of Chicago, the traditional building at 111 S. Michigan Ave. and the Modern Wing at 159 E. Monroe St. have wonderful gift shops near their entrances so visitors can shop without paying admission. But if there, it is hard to resist visiting a favorite gallery.

If shopping  on line look for different categories such as apparel, stationary, books (even coloring books for famous paintins or architectural items, glass objects or a particular artist at AICShop.  There is even a site for all Frank Lloyd Wright items.  For other information call (312) 443-3600.

Frank Lloyd Wright decorative items, tgies and clock can be found on the Art Institute of Chicago's store website. Art Institute of chicago photo
Frank Lloyd Wright decorative items, tgies and clock can be found on the Art Institute of Chicago’s store website. Art Institute of chicago photo

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Visit the MCA, as it is popularly known, to see its latest exhibition of important contemporary works upstairs on the Fourth Floor but also to dine in its new restaurant on the ground floor. The museum is at 220 E. Chicago Ave.

But if saving that visit for a day after the holidays, go on line to the MCA Store to vfnd such fun objects as desktop and hanging mobiles or fun, objects by artist Murakami.

For more information call (312) 289-2660.

 

Other Museums

Chicago History Museum

If trying to match a present to a history buff or someone interested in Chicago, a great place to find a book or related gift is at the Chicago History Museum Shop. The building, situated in Lincoln Park at 1601 N. Clark St., is  also an easy bus ride from downtown Chicago.

Museum of Science and Industry

Visit MSI to see its Robots, Lego or Mirror Maze exhibit or for its fairy castle or coal mine. You will find related items and gifts for you young scientiist in the museum gift shop. The museum is at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive near the Hyde Park/ University of Chicago neighborhoods.

But you can also shop on line for toys, books and other gift items. The store has a gift guide.

Happy shopping and have a joyous holiday.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Marriott Sleeping Beauty contains perfect holiday message

 

RECOMMENDED

‘Sleeping Beauty’ at Marriott Theatre, a charmer for all ages, is Marc Robin’s non-traditional adaptation of Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Princess Amber, beautifully sung and interpreted by Elizabeth Telford, does prick her finger on the deadly spinning wheel but she’s a figure that today’s young girls should love because she‘s adventurous instead of prim and proper.

'Sleeping Beauty' at Marriott Theatre. Marriott Theatre photo
‘Sleeping Beauty’ at Marriott Theatre. Marriott Theatre photo

And instead of just another handsome guy to the rescue, Prince Hunter, played with humor by Garrett Lutz, has to overcome allergies and insecurities in order to come to Amber’s aid. He does so with “you can do it” audience help reminiscent of Peter Pan’s “do you believe in fairies.”

As to the three good fairies who bestow good personality traits, they are the very colorful Ruby (Danni Smith), Periwinkle (Cassie Slater) and Marigold (Sharrissee Hamilton).

The supposedly wicked Magenta (Meghan Murphy) casts the death spell as revenge for being snubbed by the father of current King Lapis, played as a nice but foolish man by Steven Strafford.

The characters’ helper is the elf, Topaz, interpreted with a few Spanish phrases thrown in by William Angulo.

Names are important to the show because this is the kingdom of Colors which had made the fairy, Magenta, and purple illegal. In the end, King Lapis changes the law so that all colors are welcome.

Directed and choreographed by Scott Weinstein, the is a nice, low key message that is a perfect as a conversation starter now at holiday time and throughout the year.

DETAILS: ‘Sleeping Beauty is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire through Dec. 30, 2017. Running time: 1 hour plus a Q and A period after the show. For tickets and information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

Brilliant play conclusion confirms value of printed words

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The paradox of William Shakespeare is that his works reflect the motives of people at all levels of society from kings to working classes and peons and from husbands and wives to scoundrels and mistresses, but  even though his works were popular with all classes during his lifetime and his plays contain an amazing amount of dead-on observations still quoted now, those plays tend to attract an intellectual audience today rather than the general audience of his time.

Black, Altay, Linington, Ortlieb and Carter in 'The Book of Will' at Northlight Theatre. Liz Lauren photo
Black, Altay, Linington, Ortlieb and Carter in ‘The Book of Will’ at Northlight Theatre. Liz Lauren photo

But Shakespeare’s company members, usually referred to as the Kings’ Men, their title when King James I became their patron in 1603, really appreciated the value of the words they were saying.

In ‘The Book of Will,’ now at Northlight Theatre, playwright Lauren Gunderson shows how that appreciation likely led to the publication of the Bard’s works in the 1623 First Folio.

The play introduces audiences to the company’s players, their relatives and their friends as they struggle to get the original comedies, tragedies and histories into a quality book. These people wanted to preserve the words as originally written for them rather than the bastardized versions some people were promoting at the time.

The time? This was the early 1600s. Paper was costly and at a premium. Other issues were how to gather all the original works and obtain the rights to them.

Nevertheless the plays did come out in one tome. What Gunderson has done after considerable research is re-create how that First Folio came into existence. The characters in her play are real though some poetic license and assumptions are made.

Audiences will meet actor John Heminges (Jim Ortlieb) who became the company’s manager, his wife, Rebecca (Rengin Altay), their daughter, Alice (Dana Black) and actor Henry Condell (Gregory Linington) who became co-owner of the Globe Theatre and then the Blackfriar’s playhouse and his wife, Elizabeth (McKinley Carter.

Audiences will also see playwright and English Poet Laureate Ben Jonson (William Dick), Richard Burbage (Austin Tichenor and the Jaggards, William (Tichenor) and son Isaac (Luigi Sottile) who published the First Folio, Ralph Crane (Thomas J. Cox) who produced transcripts of the King’s Men’s plays and Ed Knight (LSottile) who was a King’s Men promoter.

In addition, Altay is also Anne Hathaway, Black is also Susannah Shakespeare, Carter is also Shakespeare’s mistress and poet Emilia Bassano Lanier. The characters of Boy Hamlet, Marcus and Bernardo are portrayed by Sam Hubbard.

Excellent program notes in the program help identify the players and other people involved in The Folio.

The cast, directed by Jessica Thebus, is superb. However, several Shakespearean characters and situations are mentioned so quickly and in a supposedly appropriate accent that not all references are easily caught.

Indeed, if going to see ‘Book of Will’ it wouldn’t hurt to go back and re-read some of those plays analyzed in high school or pick up a book of quotes from the library to see all of the Bard’s phrases that have become common usage.

Fine scenic design by Richard and Jacqueline Penrod and costumes by Janice Pytel perfectly  set the time period of London, 1619 to 1623.

As great as the First Folio achievement was, its importance is truly not felt until the last scene. You have to go Northlight to feel it and see how brilliant staging brings it all together.

DETAILS: ‘The Book of Will’ is at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, through Dec. 17, 2017. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 and visit Northlight.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

 

 

See holiday lights festivals at the zoos and by trolley

 

Holiday Lights Tour

You know that Chicago celebrates the holidays with sparkling lights but if you don’t want to have to walk or drive all over to see them then check out the Holiday Lights Tour that takes folks to them on a double-decker trolley.

The tour starts its rounds from the John Hancock Plaza Tree at 875 N. Michigan Ave. It continues for 2 hours, 30 minutes with a stop at nearby Sprinkles Cupcakes, then over to the Christkindlmarket followed by a stop at Lincoln Park for ZooLights before ending back at the Hancock Center.

Lincoln Park ZooLights. Todd Rosenberg Photo
Lincoln Park ZooLights. Todd Rosenberg Photo
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

The Holiday Lights Tour goes from Nov. 24 through Dec. 23. For tickets, tour dates and hours visit Chicago Trolley.

 

ZooLights Festival

ZoolLights at Lincoln Park is more than a walk on the wild side. Along with checking out the animals to glowing, color-changing light there is a Light Maze labyrinth ($3) to walk through and rides on the Endangered Species Carousel and a Lionel Train Adventure. ZooLights entry is free but on Family Nights of Dec. 11, 18 and Jan. 1, the rides are also free.

ZooLights is Nov. 24-26 and Dec. 1-3  and then every night from Dec. 8 through Jan. 7 except Dec. 24-25. Hours are from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Lincoln Park Zoo is at 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago. For ticket and other information call (312) 742-2000 and visit Lincoln Park Zoo/events.

 

Holiday Magic 

The Talking Tree at Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic draws young and old visitors. Brookfield Zoo photo
The Talking Tree at Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic draws young and old visitors. Brookfield Zoo photo

 

Brookfield Zoo glows with more than a million LED lights during Holiday Magic, weekends Dec. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17 and during the week Dec. 26-31. Don’t miss the events 41-foot high talking Tree, other trees that seem to dance to music and large light-shaped animals. Lights go on at 4 p.m.

Brookfield Zoo’s main parking lot is at First Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield, IL. For more date, hours and specific holiday events call (708) 688-8000 and visit Holiday Magic.

 

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.

Holiday shows that are here and coming soon

 

Chicago’s gift bag of holiday shows has something for everyone from Scrooge’s dreams  and dreaming of a white Christmas to Santa’s naughty and nice lists and his overgrown Elf.

Cast of 'A Christmas Carol' at Goodman Theatre. Liz Lauren photo
Cast of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Goodman Theatre. Liz Lauren photo

Already Playing

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,’ a Ken Ludwig’s Emerald City Theatre production, is at the Broadway Playhouse now through Dec. 31. The show is a a fun take on Santa’s list which mysteriously disappears and how it is recovered in time for his gift deliveries.At just 45 minutes long, the show is perfect for elementary age youngsters. The Broadway Playhouse  is at Water Tower Place 175 E. Chestnut. For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago Twas.

‘Scrooge And The Ghostly Spirits,’ is a new musical for the entire family based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Written by Douglas Post, it is at Citadel Theatre Nov. 17 through Dec. 23. Citadel is in a Lake Forest School property at 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest. For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 or visit Citadel Theatre.

‘A Christmas Carol,’ a beloved Goodman Theatre creative but traditional holiday retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic, goes from Nov. 18 through Dec. 31. Goodman Theatre is at 170 N. Dearborn St., For tickets call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre

(The non-ballet) ‘Nutcracker,’ a House Theatre production is at the Chopin Theatre. It does use dance and songs to tell the story. The show runs now through Dec. 30 at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St. For tickets visit House Theatre.

Touring cast of 'White Christmas' Jeremy Daniel Photography
Touring cast of ‘White Christmas’
Jeremy Daniel Photography

 

Coming Thanksgiving week

‘White Christmas,’ Irving Berlin’s classic musical is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre Nov. 21 through Dec. 3. The Cadillac Palace is at 151 W. Randolph St. For tickets and other information visit Broadway In Chicago.

‘Q Brothers Christmas Carol,’ a very hip hop take on Dickens’ story is in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare  on Navy Pier,  Nov. 21- Dec. 31. For tickets visit ChicagoShakes.

‘Elf: The Musical,’ based on the 2003 Will Ferrell movie, is at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd, Aurora, Nov.  22, 2017 through Jan. 7, 2018. For tickets and other information call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount Aurora.

‘The Christmas Schooner,’ a moving, true-story musical that has become a Chicago tradition is at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Nov. 24 through Dec. 31. For tickets and other information call (773) 325-1700 and visit Mercury Theater.

Chicago Tap Theatre does 'Tidings of Tap' at North Shore Center for Performing Arts, Skokie
Chicago Tap Theatre does ‘Tidings of Tap’ at North Shore Center for Performing Arts, Skokie

 

On stage from the beginning of December

‘The Nutcracker,’ The Joffrey’s re-imagined production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon is at the Auditorium Theatre Dec 1-30. The Auditorium Theatre is in Roosevelt University at 50 E. Congress Parkway at Michigan Avenue. For tickets visit Joffrey.

 

Appearing later

‘Tidings of Tap’ presented by the Chicago Tap Theatre is at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts at 3 p.m. Dec. 10, only.  The venue is at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie. For tickets and other information visit Tap.

‘Peter Pan’ is a delightful Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) musical based on J.M. Barrie’s play. It will run at cahn auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston, Dec. 23, 2017 through Jan.1, 2018. For tickets call (847) 920-5360 or visit Music theater Works.

Enjoy the season!

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

Baroque music soars with Quint artistry

 

Violinist Philippe Quint and the Lake Forest Symphony’s strings led by Vladimir Kulenovic dispelled any image that listeners might have had that Baroque music is sedate or boring.

Playing last weekend first Lake Forest Academy’s Cressey Center for the Performing Arts and then at the College of Lake County’s James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts, Quint introduced concert goers to Baroque works by playing Johan Adolph Hasse’s melodic “Sinfonia” with dramatic and joyous gusto. Although Hesse is arguably better known for operatic works, his “Sinfonia” interpreted by Quint showed that Baroque could be both exuberant and elegant.

Grammy award-winning violinist Phillipe Quint. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, from Lake Forest Symphony
Grammy award-winning violinist Phillipe Quint. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, from Lake Forest Symphony

To educate the audience on the difference between a shorter, differently constructed bow used for Baroque music and the sound that emanates when a violinist uses the classical longer bow, Kulenovic had concert master Netanel Draiblate  play the next piece, Arcagelo Corelli’s “La Folia” on one side of the podium and Quint do his bowing on the other side.

The piece used was the 1729 Francisco Geminiani edition which was perfect for the demonstration since there are solos for two violins and also the viola and cello.

The Baroque education continued with Tomaso Antonio Vitali’s “Chaconne in G minor with the recommendation to listen for the organ. But what really drew the audience’s attention was Quint’s passionate interpretation.

Of course no Baroque program is complete without something by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case it was his “Air in D Major” from his Orchestral Suite #3 which reminded the audience how perfectly the harpsichord fitted the piece’s melodic musings.

Quint continued his remarkable showmanship in the second half with Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” from Op. 8. Really for concertos for violin and strings, they are tone poems whose sounds evoke birds in spring, other animals and breezes in summer, harvest celebrations and hunting in autumn and running, stamping feet and chattering teeth in howling storms in winter.

But along with the descriptive parts already in Vivaldi’s music, Quint used the concertos to add several embellishments. Some seemed planned ahead while others appeared to be impromptu.

The concert turned out to be a delightful survey of baroque music, a powerful introduction to the high quality of the Lake Forest Symphony under Kulenovic and an unforgettable demonstration of Quint’s artistry. This reviewer will be looking for more programs featuring Philippe Quint.

For Lake Forest Symphony information call (847) 295-2135 and visit LFSymphony.

Jodie Jacobs

 

A look at Chicago Composer Regina Harris Baiocchi

Regina Harris Baiocchi
Regina Harris Baiocchi

It seems virtually every day there are fabulous artistic programs being offered all around Chicago, many of which no one ever hears about. These gallery exhibits, theatrical productions and musical performances are often presented by individuals of exceptional quality and sadly only have one presentation.

On Nov. 10, 2017 a concert of the music composed by Chicago native Regina Harris Baiocchi was one of those exceptional events at Sherwood Community Music School / Columbia College on South Michigan Avenue.

Baiocchi’s music has been performed by the Chicago and Detroit Symphony Orchestras and in concerts around the world. Her refined and sophisticated compositions are inspired by various musical genres and are often informed by the experiences of African Americans, women and poets.

A poet herself, her music is very lyrical but she likes to play with percussion and the dynamics of sound.

In the opening piece, “Miles per Hour” the lone trumpet of Edgar Campos is heard only offstage for a full minute or two before he slowly emerges from the wings.  Providing a sense of musical motion heard at first in the distance then moving toward you.

The impressionistic “Deborah” is inspired by a painting by Lillian Brulc has the most talented and versatile Dr. Jimmy Finnie, percussion chair at Indian State University, moving adroitly between marimba, vibes and drums accompanied by Beverly Simms, piano.

“Ask Him” is a page from the composer’s jazz book it has a sultry quality fully enhanced by the vocals of Dee Alexander with Dr. Thomas Wade Jefferson (North Park University & Sherwood Conservatory) on piano, accented by the saxophone of Edwin Daugherty.

Baiocchi returns to her “classical” sensibilities in a modern solo cello (Jill Kaeding)  performance “Miriam’s Muse” accompanied by Michael Keefe, piano.

“Farafina” described as a vocal jazz suite work in progress is translated as “Land of the Black Skin,” features an un-ornamented vocal by Cherresa Lawson giving it a haunting call and response quality, accompanied by Jimmy Finnie on marimba and David Bugher on vibraphone with an African style rhythm.

Flutist Nathalie Joachim performed “Praise Dance” unaccompanied and reminiscent of a shepherd on a hillside revisits the composers’ penchant to explore the way brass and wind instruments interact with the atmosphere and seemingly hang in the air.

“Hold Out for Joy” is from the opera “Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child” by Regina Harris Baiocchi based on the lives of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes.  A soulful melody performed by Cherresa Lawson with vibraphone accompaniment (David Bugher).

Natalie Joachim (flute) returns with “Three Brevities” composed by Regina’s mentor Dr. Hale Smith providing some insight into her own musical inspiration.

“Nilisikia Sauti Kubwa” is a holiday choral music based on Swahili poetry arranged for tenor (Kameron Locke), trumpet (Edgar Campos), crotales (Jimmy Finnie) and piano (Michael Keefe). Once again with a beautiful lyrical melody Ms. Baiocchi allows the lone trumpet to sound like a voice in the distance as the tenor vocal rises slowly above the instrumental in this piece translated as “I Heard a Voice.”

The concerts concluded with two contemporary jazz songs, the cool “Lovers & Friends” and the upbeat “Dream Weaver” with Dee Alexander (vocal), Edwin Daugherty (saxophone) and Thomas Jefferson (piano).

Regina Harris Baiocchi is a thoughtful, versatile, and accomplished composer. Selected works can be heard at a concert of “6 Degrees Composers” 2:30 PM on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at Roosevelt University, Ganz Hall, 430 South Michigan Ave., Chicago.  Admission is Free.

Learn more at Baiocchi

Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison produced the video of the concert that will be seen in Chicago on CANTV in January 2018.)

 

 

 

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.