Top 10 shows of the year

 

Lyric Opera House (J Jacobs photo)
Lyric Opera House (J Jacobs photo)

Chicago area theaters put on so many excellent productions that picking our top 10 shows is not merely challenging, it also reflects individual points of view, entertainment preferences and theater and music backgrounds. Readers are welcome to disagree and comment with their own suggestions.

This year, we also are including Broadway in Chicago and Lyric Opera contenders because Chicago audiences attend those productions and support those organizations with subscriptions.

A bit about our reviewers: Reno Lovison, Pam McKuen, Francine Friedman, Mira Temkin and editor Jodie Jacobs are professional writers who have contributed over the years to a variety of publications. Read more in the About section of Chicago Theater and Arts. Their selections could each have extended to five and more but were narrowed down to two apiece.

 

Reno Lovison

“Haymarket”

“Haymarket” was an important Chicago story, well performed and included appropriate Bluegrass music reminiscent of labor-oriented folk songs. See review of this Underscore Theatre Company’s production at Haymarket.

“The End of TV”

“The End of TV” made me a Manual Cinema fan, offering a fresh way to experience live performance utilizing old and new technologies. See review of the Manual Cinema production at The End of TV.

(***: In spite of my two picks I find myself periodically thinking about “Arcadia” and “Fear and Misery in the Third Reich” but probably more as a result of the playwright than the players.)

 

Pam McKuen

“Once”

A Paramount Theatre production, “Once” is a sweet but short-lived romance with an imaginative set and an upbeat cast of congenial music-makers that was put on at a suburban jewel. See review of Once.

“On Your Feet”

A Broadway in Chicago presentation at the Cadillac Palace, “On Your Feet” is the life story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. It has everything you’d want in a musical: global hits, glitzy costumes, dramatic lows and comedic punches. I’d see it again. See review at On Your Feet.

 

Francine Friedman

“Miss Saigon”

Loosely based on the opera “Madame Butterfly,” the musical “Miss Saigon” embraces the relationship between an American GI and a young Asian woman while it follows the final days of the Vietnam War.  The play’s touring company of wonderful actors, singers and dancers, along with real photos of orphaned, war-born American/Asian children displayed in its second act, brought the musical to life.  See review at Miss Saigon.

“Women of Soul”

At the Black Ensemble Theater through Jan. 21, 2019, “Women of Soul” is a tribute to many well-known female singers, covering their different genres and numerous years.  In addition to the wonderful performers who sing their famous tunes, many newly-revealed details of how their careers blossomed and how some of their lives ended adds insight to their backgrounds. And the closing tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, brought everyone to their feet. See the review of Women of Soul.

 

Mira Temkin

“The Buddy Holly Story”

An American Blues Theater production, this high-energy biopic of singer/songwriter Buddy Holly kept the music going at a frenetic pace as a testament to the amazing talents of star, Zachary Stephenson and the entire cast. Even though “it was day the music died, according to Don McLean,” the audience never wanted it to end. See review at Buddy Holly Story.

“A Shayna Maidel”

What is family? Can it be created or reborn? “A Shayna Maidel” performed as a revival by TimeLine Theatre, answers these  thoughtful questions in a most profound way. See review at A Shayna Maidel.

(*** Also agree that “Miss Saigon” is among the year’s best. This new versio, now on on tour ,takes out all the stops in theatrics, wowing audiences as one of the most spectacular musicals ever written and produced. Contemporary theatre goers can’t help but get caught up in the past, knowing how the war ended with the cost in human life and how many Vietnamese orphans the U.S. left behind.)

 

Jodie Jacobs

“La boheme”

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “La boheme” was extraordinary theater. It had everything from inventive scenery and creative staging to exceptional acting, singing and orchestration. Fortunately, it continues in January, 2019.  See the review at La boheme.

“Steadfast Tin Soldier”

Audiences have come to expect unusual presentations from Lookingglass Theatre. However, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation and direction of the “Steadfast Tin Soldier,” has to be seen to really appreciate its outstanding pantomime and puppetry. See the review at Steadfast Tin Soldier.

 

Two drinks or desperate for sophomoric comedy needed for this show

 

Cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

2 1/2 stars

The “clues” are all there before “The Play That Goes Wrong” supposedly starts that the title is justified.

Now at the Oriental Theatre the farce that goes over-the top to be wrong begins with audience interaction when the “manager,” says something about ticket problems and the guy at the controls and his stage crew member point out problems with the set and auditorium as needing more duct tape.

More than duct tape is needed to fix this farce, a touring “hit” of a show that began in England then moved to Broadway.

But audiences are warned that what they will see is supposed to be an amateur production by a university drama society of “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” an Agatha Christie- “Mousetrap” style mystery somewhat akin to the “Noises Off” farce.

Thus scenery mishaps and missed lines and are to be expected. After all, this is supposed to be farcical take-off of an amateur college production.  And some of the antics are funny.

The problem is that the longer the show goes on, sophisticated theater audiences will find it less witty and more juvenile. It probably does belong in the category frat house entertainment for visiting parents.

That said, designer/prop maker Chris Bean who is also the director, costume designer, voice coach, etc. etc. etc. nicely creates a flawed British manor house where doors don’t work, pictures fall of the walls and windows don’t open as they should.

DETAILS: “The Play That Goes Wrong” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randoph St., Chicago through Dec. 16, 2018. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago Shows.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Miss Saigon’s’ heat is on!

Anthony Festa (Chris) and Emily Bautista (Kim) in Miss Saigon at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)
Anthony Festa (Chris) and Emily Bautista (Kim) in Miss Saigon at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photos)

4 stars

After its 25th anniversary revival on Broadway in 2017, “Miss Saigon” is reappearing this year on a national tour.  Directed by Laurence Connor, the music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.

Loosely based on Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly,”  “Miss Saigon” follows the final days of the Vietnam War.

The first lead character that opens the show is The Engineer played by Red Concepcion. The Engineer runs Dreamland, a steamy bar and brothel in Saigon that’s packed with beautiful Vietnamese women whom he has lined up for American soldiers.

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‘Hello Dolly’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Betty Buckley & Hello, Dolly! National Tour Company. (Photos by Julieta Cervantes)
Betty Buckley & Hello, Dolly! National Tour Company. (Photos by Julieta Cervantes)

I’m glad you’re on stage in Chicago where you belong.

It doesn’t matter if Carol Channing, Bette Midler or Barbara Streisand come to mind, the current touring version with Theatre Hal l of Famer Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi, that  brash New York “meddler, matchmaker and miraculous handler of anything needed, is making her endearing way into audiences hearts.

Fortunately the tour is currently in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre where audiences also get a terrific Horace Vandergelder in the person of consummate film and stage actor Lewis J. Stadlen and a talented supporting cast.

Both Nic Rouleau (Book of Mormon) as head Vanergelder clerk  Cornelius Hackl and his love interest, Analisa Leaming who  reprises her Broadway role as hat shopper owner Irene Malloy,enchant audiences with their wonderful rendition of  “It only Takes a Moment.”

While Jess LeProtto (Broadway “Hello, Dolly! Ensemble) pulls off exciting dance moves as junior clerk Barnaby Tucker and his love interest Kristen Hahn (Broadway, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), adds delightful comic relief as hat shop employee Minnie Fay.

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Four very different Chicago shows extend performances

 

Chicago’s theater productions are not only numerous and doing well, they are often extended to accommodate demand. Here are four show extensions with widely-different styles and themes that you might want to see.

Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)
Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)

Caroline, Or Change

A moving story with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and score by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Violet) the show has been extended to Nov. 11, 2018. It is a Firebrand Theatre/ TimeLine Theatre production at The Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. For tickets and other information call (773) 697-3830 and visit Firebrandtheatre. For more about the show visit Change can be difficult.

 

Downstate

Steppenwolf Theatre Company extends its world premiere production of a difficult subject by Pulitzer Prize-winning ensemble member Bruce Norris through Nov. 18, 2018. For reviews of the show visit TheatreInChicago. For tickets call (312) 335-1650 and visit Steppenwolf.

 

WaistWatchers The Musical

The Chicago premiere of this funny salute to friendship, fitness and food at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N Halsted St.,has been extended through Dec. 31, 2018.  For tickets and more information visit WaistWatcher the Musical. For a review of the show visit WaistWatchers.

 

Hamilton Company at Private Bank Theatre Photo by Joan Marcus
Hamilton Company at Private Bank Theatre Photo by Joan Marcus

 

Hamilton

Once again, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mega hit about Alexander Hamilton co-starring his wife and her family and his fellow founding fathers, has been extended. Tickets are available through May 26, 2019. The show is at the Private Bank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. For tickets and other information visit Broadway In Chicago. For more about the show and to see a review visit Hamilton is worth the hype.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Pure magic beyond your imagination

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Henry Boshart as Charlie Bucket and Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolagte Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Henry Boshart as Charlie Bucket and Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Roald Dahl’s timeless 1964 classic comes to life on stage in this phenomenal, highly-imaginative production of  “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” now playing through October 21 at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago.

Capturing the dreams of the young and young at heart, the musical tells the story of the world-famous chocolatier Willy Wonka. Sales of his candy are down, so he holds a contest to award a tour of his factory to five lucky “golden ticket” winners.

Featuring a cast of zany characters, including an impoverished Charlie Bucket, the children and their families go on a life-altering journey through Wonka’s factory with surprising results.

With direction by three-time Tony Award® winner Jack O’Brien, the show features music by Grammy®, Emmy® and Tony Award® winner Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Grammy® and Tony Award® winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.

Superb scenic and costume design by Mark Thompson recreates the colorful world of Willy Wonka. Innovative choreography by Joshua Bergasse highlights the show.

Gene Wilder starred in the 1971 film with such wonderful songs as “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man,” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.” New music has been added to the show from the songwriters of “Hairspray,” including the powerful and visually beautiful, “The View from Here.”

Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

It was fun to watch the numerous children in the audience as they experienced the Oompa-Loompas, eye-popping visuals, glass-elevator and crazy demise of the “spoiled” children.

My only issue with the show is the lack of consistent sense of place. Charlie’s family looks like they’re from the 1940s, Mike Teavee’s mom is straight out of the 1950s, while Mike has an I-PAD and Violet Beauregarde is a contemporary “Queen of Pop.”

Noah Weisberg is delightful as the purple-caped, top-hat-wearing Willy Wonka. He portrays Wonka with innocence and charm, yet a touch of evil.

Henry Boshart (Collin Jeffery and Rueby Wood alternates) steals the show as the downtrodden Charlie Bucket. He dreams of a better life for himself, his widowed mom and four beloved grandparents. He’s adorable, high energy with a sweet singing voice.

The real stars of the show are the Oompa-Loompas, creatively imagined as puppets and humans dancing together and the incredible dimensional visuals showcasing a world of candy, color and animation that are pure magic. The entire show is a graphic feast to behold.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is an ideal show to introduce children to the world of musical theater.

DETAILS: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. through Oct. 21, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs. 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information, visit  Broadway in Chicago.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Tootsie’ is ready for Broadway

Santino Fontana in 'Tootsie' at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Julieta Cervantes photo)
Santino Fontana in ‘Tootsie’ at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Julieta Cervantes photo)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When “Tootsie,” a Columbia Motion Pictures film  based on a book by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart, came out in 1982, it received 10 Academy Award nominations. Adapted by Gelbart with uncredited assistance from Elaine May, Barry Levinson and Murray Schisgal, its cast had Dustin Hoffman starring and included, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Bill Murray.

Tthe movie, a tale of how an actor who has trouble finding a job adopts a female persona in order to land a role, presents a myriad of riotous scenarios.

Although really funny, the telling point of the film was that the Library of Congress decided to preserve it in the National Film Registry in 1998 because it was culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Given the current culturally and historically significant climate of women’s issues, “Tootsie” as a musical comedy with a clever book by Robert Horn (“13”) and witty and insightful score by Tony winner David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit), promises to be a Tony winner when it goes to Broadway Spring of 2019.

Nods to the “Me Too” and other concerns are scattered throughout the musical from a show director guiding a female cast member off stage while saying “I’m not touching you” to a character noting that female actors are paid less than the males.

Instead of following the film and having the lead don female garb to tryout and land a soap opera role, the musical has Michael Dorsey snagging the role of Dorothy Michaels, Juliet’s nurse, in a crazy adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.”  In cahoots with Juliet, he takes over the show to make a feminist statement and promote the character of Dorothy.

It is hard to picture the role played any better than it is currently handled by Tony Award nominee Santino Fontana (“Cinderella”) who nails the character’s angst and Dorothy’s feminine side while holding onto his own masculinity, his natural attraction to Juliet (Julie Nichols) plus his feelings for his girlfriend, Sandy Lester (Sarah Stiles).

Lilli Cooper is well cast as Julie, innocent of her attraction to Dorsey as Dorothy. Stiles is amazing as Sandy who sings a rapid-fire accounting of all her problems in a style reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The rest of the cast is also sterling with Broadway actors John Behlmann playing Max Van Horn, Andy Groteluesche as Jeff Slater, Julie Halston as Rita Marshall and Michael McGrath as Stan Fields and theater, film and TV actor as Ron Carlisle.

Superb choreography by Denis Jones, gorgeous costumes by William Ivey Long and spot-on set design by David Rockwell are all worthy of Broadway nominations.

Just as important, under the fine direction of Scott Elis the show moves at an energetic pace that enhance comedic and startling moments.

Lucky for Chicago audiences it is following in the steps of such other Broadway hits as “Kinky Boots,” previewing in our city before heading to New York. It is currently showing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

DETAILS: “Tootsie” is at the Cadilac Palace theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Oct. 14, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

A peek at the next theater season

 

Ford Oriental Theatre in the foreground and Cadillac Palace Theatre in the background are two Broadway in Chicago venues. (Broadway in Chicago photo)
Ford Oriental Theatre in the foreground and Cadillac Palace Theatre in the background are two Broadway in Chicago venues. (Broadway in Chicago photo)

Chicago is blessed with a terrific pool of actors, directors, choreographers and theater technicians and a community of theater-goers who really appreciate a good production. But it is still amazing that the Greater Chicago area has 250 theater companies. They share venues throughout the city and suburbs. Thus, there are lots of choices of where to go and what to see. (BTW, some of them like to spell theater as theatre. That’s OK.)

Because there are so many companies it is arguably hard to keep track of what everyone is doing so we’ll look at the 2018-2019 season by area starting with downtown from the Broadway Playhouse to Lookingglass Theatre and more.

First off, the expensive ticket shows seen in New York are brought to the Cadillac Palace, CIBC, Ford Oriental, Broadway Playhouse and sometimes  Auditorium, by Broadway in Chicago. Here is what to expect so far at those venues during the 2018-2019 season.

Broadway Playhouse

Located at 175 E. Chestnut St.at Water Tower Place, it has “Heartbreak Hotel” now extended through Oct. 28, 2018.

Cadillac Palace Theatre

The theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. has the pre-Broadway world premier of “Tootsie” beginning Sept. 11 followed by “Miss Saigon” on Nov. 13 and “Fiddler On The Roof” Dec. 18. Then “Kinky Boots” opens on Jan 22, 2019 followed by “Dear Evan Hansen” on Feb. 12, “Come From Away” opens on July 30 and “The Band’s Visit opens next fall on Sept. 10.

CIBC Theatre

At18 W. Monroe, the theatre still has “Hamilton” which is expected to go through Jan. 20, 2019.

Ford Oriental Theatre

Located at 24 W. Randolph St., the theatre has ” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” coming Oct. 2, followed by “Hello, Dolly” Oct. 23, then “The Book of Mormon” Nov. 20 and “The Play That Goes Wrong,” Dec. 4. Starting off 2019 is “The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson Musical” opening Jan. 8, followed by “A Bronx Tale” Mar. 12, “Anastasia” Mar. 26, then “Falsettos” May 28 and “Cats” on July 16.

For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago and call (800) 775-2000.

 

 

The Yard is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
The Yard is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Situated on Navy Piere at 800 E. Grand Ave. (On Navy Pier), CST currently has “Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” through Aug. 19.

Coming this fall are “Big Mouth” Sept 12, “Nell Gwynn” opening Sept. 20, Circolombia’s “Acelere” on Oct. 23, “Fight Night,” also on Oct. 23, “Q Brothers Christmas Carol” on Nov. 20 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Dec. 6.

The season continues with “Us/Them” opening Jan. 22, 2019, “L’Apres Midi D’un Foehn” on Jan. 23, then “Short Shakespeare Macbeth” opens Feb. 16 and “An Inspector Call’s opens Feb. 19, “Two Pints” starts Mar. 6, “Hamlet” opens Apr. 17 and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” on May 30.

For tickets and more information visit Chicago Shakes and call (312) 595-5600.

 

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Two concerts preview coming theater season

Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a concert venue in Millennium Park designed by Fran Gehry.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a concert venue in Millennium Park designed by Frank Gehry.

Hear the voices from the Broadway and opera stages at two free concerts in Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Paviion at Millennium Park

First, and this comes quickly on the calendar, is the Broadway In Chicago Summer Concert, Aug. 13 at 6:15 p.m. So grab a blanket for the grass or get there early for a seat to hear songs from the following shows on the Broadway tour:

“The Book of Mormon,” “Hello Dolly,” “A Bronx Tale: The Musical,” “ Ronald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Dear Evan Hansen,”  “Anastasia,” “ Miss Saigon,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cats,” “ Falsettos” and “Come From Away.”

Hosted by ABC 7 Chicago entertainment reporter Janet Davies Pre=Broadway “Tootsie” star Santino Fontana, the concert is sponsored by Channel 7 and presented by the City of Chicago department of cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is at 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago but it’s a can’t miss venue because of its billowing steel ribbons topping The Pavilion was designed for Millennium Park by award-winning architect Frank Gehry. For more information visit Broadway In Chicago.Read More

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)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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