Chicago has a new museum

 

Up on the second floor of 180 N. Michigan Avenue beginning mid May, 2017 you will find Samuel Clemens and Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway and Nelson Algren, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Gwendolyn Brooks.

A story board in the American Writers Museum shows where a 60 foot long "American Voices" wall will go. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
A story board in the American Writers Museum shows where a 60 foot long “American Voices” wall will go. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The list of great American and Chicago writers could easily fill a few large tomes.

Instead the famed writers will be filling the American Writers Museum with their personalities, words and, hopefully, inspiring new generations of writers. Read More

Alluring music, seductive leading lady and golden voiced lover makes this ‘Carmen’ a must see

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘Carmen,’ the popular opera by Georges Bizet’ where nearly all the music sounds very familiar, is an audience pleaser at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

A new production directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford who did the Lyric’s Carousel’ two seasons ago, the opera has the kind of important touches that make Broadway musicals special.

Ekaterina Gubanova (Carmen) teases Joseph Calleja (Don Jose) in 'Carmen' at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Ekaterina Gubanova (Carmen) teases Joseph Calleja (Don Jose) in ‘Carmen’ at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

There is fine acting of major roles, an outstanding voice, that of tenor Joseph Calleja as Don José, a leading lady, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova who seems born to the part of Carmen, modern dance movements that capture audience attention during musical interludes, and exciting music thrillingly played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra that has people tapping their toes during the opera and humming during intermission.

Ashford’s staging is creative. The final scene where Don José stabs Carmen rather than have her go to her most recent lover, the dashing bullfighter Escamillo (Christian Van Horn), is  set against the dramatic, high back of a bullfighting arena where its audience is silhouetted against a red-orange sky.

Excellent set design by David Rockwell and costumes by Julie Weiss beautifully fit the period, location and atmosphere.

But make no mistake. This is opera. Bizet’s music and the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy have turned Prosper Mérimée’s ‘Carmen’ novella about seduction, jealousy and death into a dramatic opera, beautifully sung at the Lyric.

The takeaway from Lyric’s ‘Carmen’, a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera, is Gubanova’s ‘Habanera’ and ‘Seguidilla,’ Van Horn’s ‘Toreador Song’ and Calleja’s gorgeous ‘Flower Song.’

Details: ‘Carmen’ by Georges Bizet is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, now through March 25. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera and call (312) 827-5600.

 

‘Love’s Labor’ becomes lost in translation

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

A parody of William Shakespeare is clever when performed by Second City or by another theater when advertised as a take-off by one of Chicago’s many production companies.

Rosaline (Laura Rook) and Berowne (Nate Burger) are attracted to each other. Others are Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), Dumaine (Juliam Hester), King of Navarre (John Tufts) and Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) in 'Love's Labor Lost' at Chicago sheakespeare Theater. Photo by Liz Lauren
Rosaline (Laura Rook) and Berowne (Nate Burger) are attracted to each other. Others are Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), Dumaine (Julian Hester), King of Navarre (John Tufts) and Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) in ‘Love’s Labor Lost’ at Chicago Sheakespeare Theater. Photo by Liz Lauren

But it was a surprise when opening night of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ an early Shakespeare comedy, lines were intentionally overly emoted and humorous characters became caricatures.

Written in the 1590’s, CST’s version is nicely placed in the 18th century with a romantic, beautiful set by scenic designer Kevin Depinet and gorgeous costumes by Christina Poddubiuk.

There’s no question that the play, an ironic exposure of good intentions foiled by man’s innate nature, is a comedy.

Ferdinand, King of Navarre (John Tufts), and his three companions, Lords Berowne (Nate Burger) , Dumaine (Julian Hester), and Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), pledge to three years of study and fasting without the company of women. The King subsequently decrees that women will not be allowed within a mile of the court.

Complicating matters is a subplot of Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado (Allan Gilmore) betraying an affair between local lad Costard (Alex Goodrich) and local wench Jaquenetta (Maggie Portman). Adriano also likes her and discusses it with his page, Moth (Aaron Lamm).

Then the Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) and her ladies, Maria (Jennifer Latimore), Katherine (Taylor Blim) and Rosaline (Laura Rook) arrive to speak with the King but they have to camp outside the court.

Of course, since this is a Shakespearean comedy, the king and his lords fall for the Princess and her ladies and messages are given to the wrong people.

Taking a playful approach similar to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ a comedy also written in the 1590’s, should work. The problem, at least for fans of Shakespeare’s sophisticate language,  is when actors’ overblown actions distract from clever dialogue.

Details: ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ directed by Marti Maraden, is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Chicago’s Navy Pier, now through March 26, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.

 

‘Mamma Mia’ moves to a vibrant disco beat

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

It doesn’t matter if you have seen’ Mamma Mia’ before. As an audience member sitting next to me at the Marriott Theatre said, “I saw it on Broadway. This is better.”

Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in 'Mamma Mia!' at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin
Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin

A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, the Marriott production has it all: terrific solos, great dance numbers, fine staging and a perfect combo of light and sound that brings back the 1970s disco era. A Swedish group, ABBA was performing, basically from 1972 to 1982. Read More

Where orchids are in vogue

Valentine’s Day rose delivery has passed so should we be thinking about orchids now for Mother’s Day or prom?

Orchids fill the Regenstein Center and green houses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Orchids fill the Regenstein Center and green houses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

It’s funny how potted orchids have become a popular grocery store item and how they are even on the shelves of big box hardware stores such as Home Depot. So instead of cut flowers, maybe an orchid in a pot makes a nice gift.

But if you want to see a lush variety hanging from trees or peeping out through tropical vegetation and you are in the Chicago area, go over to the Chicago Botanic Garden in North Suburban Glencoe.

The Botanic Garden’s popular annual Orchid Show has taken over the Regenstein Center and green houses, now through March 26, 2017.

The show’s theme this year is ‘Orchids in Vogue‘ so as you look at a wall of photos reminding visitors of how orchids were used through the ages maybe you recall giving or receiving an orchid for Mother’s day or a prom.

The show might even inspire you to buy an orchid for yourself or as a gift.

Tips: Experts are on hand weekends to answer questions on growing orchids. To see orchid artistry, go to The Illinois Orchid Society for its Spring Show and Sale March 11 and 12.

But mostly go to the show any day of the week to enjoy their beauty.

Cost: Adults: members/nonmembers: $10/$12, seniors 62+  $8/$10, children age 3–12: 8/$10. Nonmember parking is extra but can be bought in advance for easier garden entry and there is a Two Pack deal for parking and two tickets.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022. For tickets and other information visit CBG and call  (847) 835-5440.

 

‘Common Time’ concept of famed dancer and choreographer separates and unites the arts

‘Merce Cunningham: Common Time,’ now at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, is an excellent example of how the arts can fall into neatly separated compartments and yet be integrated into an astonishingly workable whole.

Robert Rauschenberg, "Tentric Geography, decor and costumes for Travelogue 1977 at MCA exhibit of 'Merce Cunnngham: Common Time. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Robert Rauschenberg, “Tentric Geography” decor and costumes for Travelogue 1977 at MCA exhibit of ‘Merce Cunnngham: Common Time.’ Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Videos zoom in on Cunningham’s innovative choreography so that viewers understand that this famed dancer’s concentration on body movements revolutionized modern dance.

But although the title ‘Common Time’ may seem unusual for an exhibit that is a retrospective of a brilliant dancer and choreographer, it quite succinctly sums up how Cunningham pulled in art and music for his company’s performances.

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‘Straight White Men’ offers a different view of family interaction

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In spite of the title ‘Straight White Men,’ Young Jean Lee’s play now on stage at Steppenwolf, there is more than one theme presented to the audience.

Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in "Straight White Men" at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in “Straight White Men” at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow

First, there is the question of what makes people uncomfortable. Before the play starts, audiences are subjected to exceedingly loud music with lyrics some might find objectionable.

However Elliott Jenetopuloes who is working on a platform for non straight white artists, and Wil Wilhelm  who has acted at Northlight and other Chicago theatres, sashay through the aisles handing out earplugs if requested.

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Historically important story still relevant

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘The Book of Joseph’ now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through March 5, 2017, is scary.   That’s not in a ghostly sense, but in the way past signs seem to repeat themselves.

JIn America oseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Doola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle). Photo by Liz Lauren
In America, Joseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Dola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle).
Photo by Liz Lauren

The play, a world premiere by Karen Hartman developed with Creative Producer Rick Boynton, relates the Hollander family’s horrific experiences during World War II and then continues the story in current times in the United States.

The first half of the play is based on letters that Joseph Hollander, brilliantly portrayed by Sean Fortunato, received and saved from his large family in Krakow, Poland.

His mother, sisters and spouses plus two nieces were not willing to leave when Joseph got them all the needed papers and visas. A wealthy, well-traveled lawyer who saw what was happening, Joseph leaves for Portugal with wife Felicja Hollander (Gail Shapiro) and  a ward, the 14-year-old son of a friend. Entry to Portugal was denied so they were taken to the US and Ellis Island.

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Around Town

 

Now that Super Bowl 51 is history, and yes, it made history, and Spring Training doesn’t start for a couple of weeks, it’s time to think about what to do away from the flat screen.

Fortunately Chicago has plenty of attractions to lure folks out of the house. Three ideas are offered here because they are either starting this weekend or will be free or discounted.

 

Chicago Botanic Garden 2017 Orchid Show opens this weekend. Photo by Maria Rebelo
Chicago Botanic Garden 2017 Orchid Show opens this weekend. Photo by Maria Rebelo

Chicago Botanic Garden Orchid Show

You can beat the crowd by going to the Members’ Preview Feb. 10, 5-7:30 p.m.  for cocktails and music  ($30). Or go Feb. 11 or 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when  orchids will be sold in the Orchid Marketplace and experts will be around to answer your orchid questions. The show starts this weekend but is extended to March 26, 2017 so there is time to return with more friends and orchid growing questions.

Cost: Adults: members/nonmembers: $10/$12, seniors 62+  $8/$10, children age 3–12: 8/$10. Nonmember parking is extra but can be bought in advance for easier garden entry and there is a Two Pack deal for parking and two tickets.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022. Call  (847) 835-5440.

 

Museum of Science and Industry Black Creativity Program

It’s always interesting to see what’s going on at the museum and to check out two special programs there during Black History Month. But if you are an Illinois resident you can do so free of charges this week, Feb. 7-9, and next week, Feb. 14-16.

The Juried Art Exhibition, an annual show since 1970, features professional and aspiring black artists from across the country, now through Feb. 19, 2017.

The other program is the Innovation Studio where visitors learn about African American contributions to the sciences and can add their own ideas and solutions. It is there now through March 4, 2017. The Museum of Science and Industry is at 5700 S. Lake shore Drive, Chicago.

 

Bigfin Reef Squid are now swimming at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo compliments of Shedd Aquarium.
Bigfin Reef Squid are now swimming at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo compliments of Shedd Aquarium.

Weird squid at Shedd Aquarium

What has eight arms, two long tentacles, looks right at you and isn’t venomous?

It’s a Bigfin Reef Squid. It’s fun to watch them glide on the mezzanine level of the Abbott Oceanarium. Having just been raised by the Shedd, they are new to the tank where visitor can see them.

Illinois residents have free entry Feb. 10-14, so this week –weekend is a good time to go. A free general admission day is also a discount day which means the Oceanarium charge is less.

The Shedd Aquarium is at 1200 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. For other information visit Shedd and call (312) 939-2438.

 

Elemeno Pea’ takes a satiric view of society angst and sibling squabbles

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It would likely be hard for some people to fault Simone (Sarah Hect) for enjoying her lifestyle among Nantucket’s wealthy second-home residents even if as an assistant she has to cater to Michaela’s (Grayson Heyl) every insecure whim.

Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in 'Elemeno Pea' at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in ‘Elemeno Pea’ at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club

It is also understandable that Simone’s sister Devon (Maggie Kettering) who has made a shambles of her own life, despises what she sees as snobbish attitudes.

During the show it is learned that ‘Elemeno Pea’ refers to a section of the alphabet song that one of the sisters was unable to distinguish as individual letters.

The sisters squabble about everything while Michaela’s life tumbles downhill when she realizes her husband, often mentioned but never seen, is going to divorce her.

A sort of stand in for the husband is Ethan (Nic Fanti) who is a family friend with little more to do than manage his portfolio and travel.

Debuted at the 2011 Humana Festival of New Plays, the show is currently at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest where it is well acted, staged and directed.

What stops this satire from being a great play is that it would benefit from some judicious editing of the sisters’ squabbles and Michaela’s hand-wringing.

In addition, it could use some intelligent dialogue on marriage, spousal expectations and family obligations.

It is also learned way too late in the play why Michaela’s marriage is in trouble. Playwright Molly Smith Metzler had employee Jos-B (Ray Andrecheck) reveal the cause near the show’s end instead of dropping hints earlier. Audiences like clues.

At 90 minutes, the play is not long but it feels lengthy. There is too much building the background. It delays understanding several complex, important points.

Details:b“Elemeno Pea” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, IL now through March 5, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Citadel and call ( 847) 735-8554 ext. 1.