Shakespeare Theater Chicago puts a slightly modern twist to an old favorite, one of “The Bard’s” most well-known and beloved plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
As is not unusual for Shakespeare this story is something of a three ring circus.
Oberon, King of the Fairies (Edward O’Blenis) directs his minion Puck (Sam Kebede) to put a spell on Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Alexandra Silber) to teach her a lesson.
The spell uses the essence of a special flower that will cause Titania to fall madly in love with the first being she sees whether it be man, beast or fairy. Oberon prefers the more beastly the better.
With everything you have to do, places to go, people to visit there might not have been time to fit in everything you hoped to see by Dec. 31. No worries. Some of the fun shows, exhibits and festivals will still be around in January, 2019.
Lyric Opera’s delightful “Cendrillon” (Cinderella ) runs through Jan. 20 and its exceptional “La boheme” continues at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through Jan. 31. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera.
“Steadfast tin Soldier at Lookinggglass Theatre in the Chicago Water Works at 821 N. Michicagn Ave. runs through Jan. 13. For tickets and other information visit Lookingglass.
“Wonderland Express” is at the Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe (just east of Edens Expressway) through Jan. 6. (This is a time and date ticketed show) For tickets and other information visit . For parking check Chicago Botanic.
“Zoo Lights” at Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St.,, Chicago, is open New Year’s Day and continues through Jan. 6.
Certainly Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” and Macy’s State Street holiday windows are on many folks’ traditional “do” list. But there are also other good shows to see and fun places to go as December 2018 turns into January 2019.
“Into the Woods,” Stephen Sondheim’s “not happily ever after” take on traditional fairy tales, is at Music Theater Works at Cahn Auditorium on Sheridan Road in Evanston Dec. 22-31. Music Theater Works was formerly called Light Opera Works.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is about magic, love, and in this production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is backed by a mash-up of rock, jazz, blues and doo-wop., Dec. 6, 2018 -Jan 27, 2019.
“La Ruta” world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Dec. 13-Jan. 27. At U.S.-owned factories in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, La Ruta is just a bus. But to the women who live, work and often disappear along the route, it’s much more.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass plays numbers from Holst to Tchaikovsky, 8 p.,. Dec. 19, at Chicago Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. and the CSO does Handel’s “Messiah” at 8 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Symphony Center.
Ice skate free in Millennium Park if you bring your skates, skate rental is $13 weekdays and $15 Friday-Sunday and holidays. Skating rink is street level on Michigan Avenue below Cloud Gate (The Bean) between Washington and Madison Streets. Hours and more information at Millennium Park.
Take a “Holiday Lights, City Lights’ bus tour with the Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago and then check out CAC’s diorama on the main floor and skyscraper exhibit upstairs.
Seen in London where treatments of royals and theatrical history fit the English bent for farce, Jessica Swale’s comedy, “Nell Gwyn,” was well-received.
It showcases a woman known for her wit who called herself a “Protestant whore.” More than that, Nell Gwyn’s story is a true “My Fair Lady” tale.
The Kings Company’s leading actor, Charles Hart, discovered her teasing his group’s members from an aisle where she was selling oranges. But instead of chiding Gwyn, he pulls her on stage.
Hart saw her potential to become an actress and tutored her in current accepted mannerisms. While performing, she caught the eye of Charles II and became his long-time mistress.
That said, Chicago audiences do appreciate a really good farce and well-presented historic tales but Swale’s play, now appearing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in its North American Premiere, feels as if it isn’t sure what to emphasize and how to balance comedy with historical facts or how to play up the serious, indeed, ground-breaking, changes to women’s roles on stage and in society.
Dubbed “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys, Gwyn embodied the Restoration Theater period that came when Charles II was restored to the throne after England’s Cromwell and Puritanical years. He promoted French and Italian-style theater and wanted actresses on stage instead of men taking female characters.
But given that Restoration comedy is supposed to be onstage, there seemed little point to turning Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine, into a raving shrew. The Catholic queen was much maligned by Charles’ subjects.
However, a reason to see the play is to enjoy Olivier Award nominee Scarlett Strallen’s delightful performance as Nell Gwyn. She dances, sings and flirts her way into viewer’s hearts as she bewitches the king (Timothy Edward Kane) and Hart (John Tufts).
Chicago audiences will see local favorites such as Larry Yando (Goodman Theatre’s Scrooge) as Charles’ minister, Lord Arlington, and multi-Jeff Award-winning actor, Hollis Resnik, as Catherine and Ma Gwyn.
British Olivier Award-winning actor David Bedella is perfection as Edward Kynaston who had to give up playing female characters.
Kudos also to set and costume designer Jermaine Hill, augmented by CST wig and make-up designer Richard Jarvie.
DETAILS: “Nell Gwyn” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier through Nov. 4, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs. 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ah, the “Scottish play,” in all its gory allegorical ambition, madness and magic, closes the 2017-18 Chicago Shakespeare’s season.
Adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, who did Chicago Shakes’ “Tempest” production, their “Macbeth” proves a worthy vehicle for ghostly special effects and a bit of audience participation.
Maybe engaging the audience as the drunken porter (Matthew Floyd Miller) does immediately after the blood splotched Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear following the murder of Duncan (Christopher Donahue), offers welcome comic relief. This is the first time I have heard audiences laugh and converse with the Porter during “Macbeth.”
But then the play descends into the darkness of never-ending death as Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth finds that one murder has to lead to another and Chaon Cross as Lady Macbeth realizes their murderous ambition ends in madness. Cross’ sleeping-walking “Out damn spot” scene declares her formidable talent.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Mary Stuart” stands regally tall. It has superb casting, direction, costumes and a simple but clever set design by Andromache Chalfant that complements the action.
What is on the CST stage now is the powerful, new version of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” written in 1800 that has been reworked by playwright Peter Oswald in 2005.
Schiller had written a five-act, multi scene play that portrayed Mary, Queen of Scots’ last days before ordered to be beheaded by her half-sister (and cousin), Elizabeth I, Queen of England.
Premiered in Germany in 1800, Schiller’s play was turned into an opera in 1835 by Gaetano Donzetti titled “Maria Stuarda.”
Oswald has pulled together its personalities, motivations, politics, Catholicism versus Protestantism, conspiracies, sex, feminism and royal succession into a “Game of Thrones” style, two-act, multi-scene drama.
The focal point is what could take place if the two queens faced each other before Elizabeth signed Mary’s beheading order.
Mary, who sought refuge with Elizabeth after Scotland had become increasingly hostile, had been imprisoned by her ruling relative in Fotheringhay Castle and charged with conspiracy to assassinate said relation.
Astutely directed by Jenn Thompson, the motivations of the two royals and the politics that surrounded them make for an exciting two and a half hours even though the ending is known.
The role of Elizabeth, taken on by Kellie Overbey, is arguably harder because she is not portrayed in a positive light. She appears somewhat stiff and haughty. And even though encouraged to marry to beget an heir, she is not interested because she doesn’t want her consort or another ruling family to take control.
In contrast, K.K. Moggie can let loose as Mary Stuart, a woman who has already married, produced what ironically would be the heir to the English throne, James I, and appears kindhearted.
The people around them include Kevin Gudahl as Sir Amias Paulet, a knight who guards Mary but is sympathetic to her plight, Mary’s former nurse Hanna Kennedy, nicely acted by Barbara Robertson, Mortimer, Paulet’s nephew played by Andrew Chown as a secretly converted Catholic who wants Mary to escape and his friend, O’Kelly, played by Kai Alexander Ealy.
On Elizabeth’s side are Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, portrayed by Tim Decker as an ambitious schemer who tries to work both sides of the royal debate, Lord Burleigh, the High Treasurer depicted by David Studwell, Robert Jason Jackson who is George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbuty, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth who cautions restraint instead of beheading and
Because the French are interested in a royal merger, there is Patrick Clear as French Ambassador Count Aubespine and Michael Joseph Mitchell as French Envoy County Bellievre and also Secretary of State William Davison.
Succession is important to the British throne so audiences should take a look at the program’s Playgoer’s Guide for its “Cliff” type notes and chart to better understand who descended from whom.
DETAILS: “Mary Stuart” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s, Courtyard Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. through April 15. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.
OK, so a famous rock and roll group, a mega-hit musical and a play that has inspired musicals and operas may or may not appeal to different audiences. But they all are Chicago performance news.
Romeo and Juliet reenact their love story in Chicago parks
The internationally renowned Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is returning for a sixth year to put on a free show in Chicago’s city parks. This year, the production is a 75 minute version of “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy of two young lovers from feuding families.
Starting off at the just completed Polk Bros Park at the entrance to Navy Pier, performances will be at 7 p.m. July 26-28.. From there it will move to 17 Chicago neighborhoods through Aug. 27, 2017.
Shakespeare in the Parks has been the basis for 1,300 free Chicago ark District’s “Night Out in the Parks” summer events.
The free Shakespeare shows is possible through a partnership of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Boeing and BMO Harris Bank.
“Memphis Tony nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Montego Glover will be taking the part of Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago company of “Hamilton” in early September, according to producer Jeffrey Seller. In addition, Broadway cast member Gregory Treco is moving to the Chicago company to play Aaron Burr Sept. 8.
“Hamilton,” the mujlti-Tony Award winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is at The PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago. A touring company will open in LA at at the Pantages Theatre Aug. 8, 2017.
Historian Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” a biography about the West Indies immigrant who instrumental in the Revolutionary War and became the first US Secretary of the Treasury.
Try saying ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter’ as the name of a play by William Shakespeare.
After hearing that phrase in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and thinking “you’ve got to be kidding,” the reason for the nutty title makes sense if willing to accept that the bard started out like an embryonic chick breaking through its eggshell rather than a fully developed hen ready to produce offspring.
Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay of the same title, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ starts with a young, struggling but talented Will Shakespeare.
He’s under pressure to hand over a new play to two different sponsors but is unable to go beyond a beginning phrase and a working title with “Ethel” as the heroine.
In the witty minds of Norman and Stoppard, Will needs help from friends, foes and rivals to replace Ethel and pirates with better protagonists.
What develops is the play that eventually becomes his famed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tragedy and also the germ of an idea that leads to the ‘Twelfth Night’ comedy.
Along the way, expertly guided by Director Rachel Rockwell and with spot-on portrayals from a talented cast, the Chicago Shakespeare version provides fascinating insight into the precarious profession of play writing and production, men-only acting companies and the lack of women’s rights in the sixteenth century England of Queen Elizabeth I.
Kate McGonigle is delightful as Shakespeare’s muse, Viola de Lesseps. She dresses as a boy to be Romeo in his new play, but unmasked, she is the inspiration for his Juliet. Viola is also the name of the heroine disguised as a male in ‘Twelfth Night.’
Nick Rehberger successfully depicts a somewhat bumbling, young, penniless Will Shakespeare who falls in love with Viola. He becomes so tongue tied talking to her he needs descriptive poetic phrases from his friend, playwright Kit Marlowe, well interpreted by Michael Perez.
Part of the fun of the play is that the characters, from theater owners and acting company managers to actors and playwrights, were real people back in Shakespeare’s time.
However, the play’s message turns out to be that the Romeo-style Will and Juliet-style Viola don’t turn to suicide just because their romance can’t lead to a happily-ever-after ending.
Viola has been pledged to a titled gentleman who wants her family’s money to establish plantations in Virginia so she has to leave England with him. Will is already married although he says they are separated.
Of course Chicago Shakespeare’s physical theater complemented by Scott Davis’ scenic design adds the right historic setting, but Susan E. Mickey’s wonderful period costumes are important to set the characters into their station in English life.
Details: ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, now through June 11, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.
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.
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.