Remarkable ‘Mass’ performance reveals another Bernstein dimension

Paulo Szot as the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein's Mass at Ravinia Festival (Ohotos by Patrick Gipson)
Paulo Szot as the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass at Ravinia Festival (Photos by Patrick Gipson)

To report that Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” performed under the baton of Marin Alsop and directed by Kevin Newbury at Ravinia Festival July 28, received a long standing ovation would merely relate the overwhelming response to this seldom done, lesser known work.

Even though it is an appropriate bow to Bernstein on the anniversary of his 100th birthday, it is hoped that “Mass” will be presented more often.

Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the 1971 Kennedy Center opening, “Mass” goes way beyond a tribute to John F. Kennedy and his religion. As Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein, explained during a pre-concert talk Saturday, the work is autobiographical.

The music is really a journey that takes the audience from dutiful respect to protest, from moody contemplation to rapture, from disbelief and madness to acceptance and peace.

At Ravinia, it was accomplished through the extraordinary interpretation of Brazilian operatic baritone Paulo Szot as the Celebrant.

The operatic world knows of Szot through his appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and other houses. But he is also perfect for the Bernstein Celebrant role because “Mass” is described in its subtitle as  “A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers. Szot received the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance as Emile De Becque in the 2008 revival of “South Pacific.”

But this is a also a work best performed with several singers, musicians and several talented players.

Bernstein's Mass at Ravinia
Bernstein’s Mass at Ravinia

To fill those roles Ravinia pulled in the Chicago Children’s Choir, the Highland Park High School Marching Band and a really fine “Street Chorus” of Sumayya Ali, Aaron Blake, Matt Boehler, John Clay III, Nicholas Cunningham, Alexander Elliot, Erica Everett, Nicole Fragala, Devon Guthrie, Devin Ilaw, Morgan James, Alexa Jarvis, Mykal Kilgore, Meredith Lustig, Timothy McDevitt, Michael Maliakel, Barrie Lobo McLain, Kaitlin Mesh, James Onstad, Michael Preacely, Isabel Santiago and Karim Sulayman.

A shout-out has to go to Altar Children Wyatt Parr and Myra Sahal. It was Parr’s “Lauda, Laude” that brought peace to the Celebrant and congregation on stage and wonderment to audiences on the grass who didn’t catch everything happening on stage.

However, it was the brilliant interpretation of Bernstein’s conflicting, pensive and joyous mood swings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Alsop that moved the journey along.

Sadly, Ravinia’s “Mass” was a one-night experience but there are two more Bernstein programs on the schedule this summer. “Bernstein and Friends” will present songs and arias by Nadine Sierra and Michael Fabiano in the Martin Theatre, Aug. 10 that includes two Bernstein pieces.

Then Marin alsop will return to the Pavilion on Aug. 19 with the CSO playing the First Symphonies of Bernstein and Mahler.

Ravinia Festival is at 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For tickets and other information call (847) 266-5100 and visit Ravinia Tickets.

For the complete Ravinia schedule visit Ravinia Calendar.

Jodie Jacobs

Related: Massive Bernstein “Mass” comes to Ravinia




The Blues Man is the real deal



Rick Stone is the Blues Man at Black EnsembleTheater.
Rick Stone is the Blues Man at Black EnsembleTheater.

“Rick Stone The Blues Man” at the Black Ensemble Theater is a nightclub style jukebox musical written and directed by Jackie Taylor that stars Rick Stone himself and a cadre of six seasoned blues singers backed up by an awesome house band.

The songs are classic blues led by the very talented BET musical director Robert Reddrick on drums who is joined by “young” Adam Sherrod (Keyboards), Gary Baker (Guitar) and Mark Miller (Bass).  Lamont D. Harris (Harmonica) is considered part of the vocal ensemble but holds his own adding his “blues harp” accompaniment to many of the tunes.

This production works hard to make you feel like you just happened to stroll into a vintage blues club. The cast wanders in, casually greeting individuals along the way. Ushers greet everyone by saying, “Welcome to Rick’s.” The stage has a small bar and few tables and chairs which incidentally are available to audience members as V.I.P. seating.Read More

The end of TV is largely light and shadow


The End of TV at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal)
The End of TV at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

It seems fitting that The Chopin Theater which began as a local movie house and evolved into a live theater venue, should play host to “The End of TV,” a combination of live action and multimedia that comments so poignantly on the blurred reality between television and human interaction.

Simply speaking, the story-line centers around a chance encounter between a laid-off autoworker turned meals-on-wheels driver, Louise, (Aneisa Hicks) and a QVC home shopping obsessed elderly woman, Flo (Kara Davidson).

The time is the 1990s. The place is a post-industrial Rust Belt city. The action takes place amid advertising promises and commercial bombardment.

In the larger sense it is about isolation and the need for human connection.Read More

Dark ‘Color Purple’ rings true in revival

The Color Purple at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
The Color Purple at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)


After being told in Alice Walker’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize novel of what Celie Harris, a young African American girl, endured in the first half of the twentieth century and how she survived aided by two other females, her story was turned into a movie in 1985 and a musical that won several Tony nominations in 2006.

What is in now appearing at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre  through July 29, 2018, is the National Tour of the musical’s revival begun in London in 2013. It went on to Broadway to win Tony Awards in 2016 including Best Revival of a Musical.

Directed by Tony Award-winner John Doyle, the current tour features Adrianna Hicks as Celie, Carla R. Stewart as friend Shug Avery and Carrie Compere as friend Sofia. Read More

‘Something in the Game’ wins big on Northwestern stage

Highly Recommended


Knute and Fighting Irish in Something in the Game
Knute and Fighting Irish in Something in the Game (Photos by Justin Barbin)

Get ready to cheer! Based on the life of legendary Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne, “Something in the Game – An All-American Musical” kicks off with all the excitement of a season opener.

Featuring a cast of 23 professional and student actors, this dynamic musical enthralls the audience with an inspiring story, high-energy dancing and memorable music.

On the football field, Knute Rockne is regarded as one of the greatest football coaches of all time winning more than 100 games, three national championships and five undefeated seasons. But at what cost?

As he chased fame and glory for his Fighting Irish as well as his own personal success, he left his family on the sidelines. Using football as a metaphor for the “game of life,” the musical traces one man’s journey to discover what’s really important before it’s too late.

Stef Tovar as Knute recreates his 2008 role from the production of the show at Theater at the Center. He does an excellent job as an ambitious man looking to capture the American Dream. Adrian Aguilar as George Gipp, the promising young star who lets his demons destroy him, is captivating.

Jimmy the Goat, Thelma and ensemble in Something in the Game
(James Earl Jone II (Jimmy the Goat), Rashada Dawan (Thelma) and ensemble in Something in the Game

But it’s the women who command the stage. Dara Cameron as wife, Bonnie, is a standout with a voice so strong and pure, it practically melts your heart.  Rashada Dawan belts it out as Thelma, hostess of Jimmy the Goat’s place, with non-stop energy.

The production, put on by the American Music Theatre Project and Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, is presented by special arrangement with Coaches, LLC, John Girardi and Greg Schaffert.

With book by Buddy Farmer, music by Michael Mahler and lyrics by David H. Bell and Michael Mahler, the show is expertly directed and choreographed by Jefferson Award-winner Bell.

Mention must be made of the outstanding choreography that simply takes your breath away. It is fast-paced, innovative and imaginative. Coupled with the gorgeous costumes by Robert S. Kuhn, the entire production creates an unforgettable visual feast!

For those who’ve heard the battle cry, “Win one for the Gipper,” you’ll come away with a new understanding of where this came from.

“Something in the Game: An All-American Musical” is at the Josephine Louis Theatre, 29 Arts Circle Drive, on the Northwestern University Evanston campus through Aug. 5, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets and other information, call( 847) 491-7282 and visit Wirtz Center.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Madcap ‘Murder for Two’ fits summer breezes

Jason Grimm, l, and Noel Carey in Murder for Two at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
Jason Grimm, l, and Noel Carey in Murder for Two at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)


“Murder for Two,” creatively staged and directed by Scott Weinstein at Marriott Theatre, will delight audiences seeking light, hilarious comedy. A fast-paced musical with book and lyrics by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, the show revolves around which guest at a surprise birthday party shot the guest of honor, a successful novelist.

The kicker is that it is a two-actor show where one person plays the suspects and the other is a policeman who wants to nail the perpetrator so he can be promoted to detective status.

As to motivation, it turns out that most of the suspects used the same psychiatrist and he fed the novelist with patients’ secrets for each of best sellers.

What makes this show fun is the breathless pace of Jason Grimm as he transforms himself into female and male suspects while alternatively playing the piano with Noel Carey, the investigating cop, Marcus Moscowicz. Then there is Scott Davis’ item-jammed, rotating stage which is almost a character in itself.

The first hour is a laugh-a-minute hoot, let the puns and rhymes fall where they may. By the last 15 minutes of this 90-minute farce, audiences may be excused if they don’t care who shot the novelist. Probably it doesn’t matter anyway because this isn’t “Murder She Wrote.” It’s a hilarious theatrical bit that is perfect for summer and that shows off the amazing talents of Carey and Grimm.

“Murder for Two,” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, through Aug. 26, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Popular ‘Haymarket’ extends run and moves to new venue

Haymarket at the Den moves to theater Wit. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Haymarket at the Den moves to theater Wit. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Underscore Theatre Company in association with Theater Wit is moving “Haymarket” from the Den Theatre to Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave, Chicago to extend the run from Aug. 3 to Sept. 2, 2018.

Performances of the show which tells the story of the infamous Haymarket riot will continue at
The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago through July 22. For tickets and more information and tickets call (773) 975-8150 and visit Underscoretheatre.

Related:  Blue collar history and bluegrass music.

Hemingway takes over Goodman stage via Stacy Keach

Stacy Keach is Ernest Hemingway in the world premiere of Pamplona at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren Photo)
Stacy Keach is Ernest Hemingway in the world premiere of Pamplona at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren Photo)


Stacy Keach is the consummate actor who totally wraps himself within the character he portrays so that audiences forget who the actor is and just see the character.Yes, actors are supposed to do that but so often when an actor portrays a celebrity you see an actor portraying a celebrity. In Pamplona at the Goodman Theatre you don’t see Keach, you see Ernest Hemingway.

The author is struggling with the words he wants to use to convey the feelings of the matador he is writing about for a Life Magazine article. But while trying to find  the right phrase, he relives moments in his life.

Projections of the “running of the bulls and the Paris of Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald flash across the walls of his hotel in Pamplona, Spain. You meet his first love, his wives, his parents through snapshots of people who influenced him and moved in and out of his life.

You learn a bit about what led to “The Sun Also Rises,” The Old Man and the Sea,” Farewell to Arms”, how he hated his mother and his regrets over how he treated his wives and his father.

Certainly, it is difficult to portray the life of “Papa” Hemingway in 90 minutes but by the time Stacy Keach takes his bow you feel you and this author from Oak Park, IL have become better acquainted.

There is a PS to this production. It was on the Goodman schedule more than a year ago and had an excellent preview. But during the official opening night, it became obvious to those of us in the audience that Keach was ill. Director Robert Falls stopped the performance. It turned out that Keach was suffering a minor heart attack. Following bypass surgery and a recovery period, Keach returned to his TV work and has now returned to continue Pamplona. Hemingway would have understood that kind of determination.

DETAILS: “Pamplona” by Jim McGrath and directed by Robert Falls is in Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago,  through Aug. 19, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Elvis is back

Heartbreak Hotel playing now at Broadway PLayhouse at Water Tower Place (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Heartbreak Hotel playing now at Broadway PLayhouse at Water Tower Place (Photos by Brett Beiner)


Chicago audiences may remember how in “Million Dollar Quartet,” a musical about an historic moment in recording history, Elvis Presley was unhappy with his agent and RCA Victor. He wanted to be back in the understanding arms of Sun Records’ Sam Phillips.

We don’t see everything that led up to that notable time, an unexpected jam session of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in December 1956, but we do learn about some of the problems he faced in “Heartbreak Hotel,” the prequel to that million dollar jukebox musical.

No question it’s hard to recapture the magic of seeing amazingly talented pianists play Jerry Lee and wonderful vocalists echo “I Walk the Line,” ”Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

But written and directed by Floyd Mutrux who co-wrote “Million Dollar Quartet” with Colin Escott and had co-directed the show in Chicago with Eric Schaeffer, his “Heartbreak Hotel” has enough talent on stage and background videos as scenery to keep audiences enthralled.Read More

Massive Leonard Bernstein ‘Mass’ comes to Ravinia

Ravinia Festival (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Ravinia Festival (Jodie Jacobs photo)

Several orchestral works by Leonard Bernstein, the composer popularly known in musical theater circles for “West Side Story” can be heard at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park as part of a world-wide celebration of the 100 birthday of this musical genius (Aug. 25-1918-Oct. 14, 1990).

On the Ravinia schedule is “Mass,”commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center. The work will now be making its CSO and Ravinia debut with a star-studded cast, July 28, 2018.

When the Lyric Opera of Chicago celebrated Bernstein’s birthday with his one-act opera, “Trouble in Tahiti” plus other vocal works, March 10 this year, Lyric Dramaturg Roger Pines said during a phone interview, “I think it will be revelatory.”

The same will undoubtedly be true of “Mass.”

Read More