If you’re looking for a festive family outing this holiday season, ‘42nd Street’ delivers the goods along with lots of glitz. Now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, the much-beloved musical is charged with perky tunes and high-energy dancing. Tap dancing, that is.
It’s a dreams-come-true story of a sweet, aspiring young chorus girl named Peggy Sawyer. She fumbles her first big audition and ultimately lands the starring role in a new Broadway production called “Pretty Lady.” Woven throughout are show-stopping song-and-dance numbers and subplots of love triangles and financial woes. All are wrapped up neatly by the end of the show.
Directed by Michael Heitzman, the Drury Lane production features a stellar cast of actors, singers and dancers. Kimberly Immanuel plays Peggy with both innocence and strength.
Suzzanne Douglas as the aging prima donna Dorothy Brock and Donica Lynn as songwriter Maggie Jones are powerhouse solo artists but in different ways. Douglas sings with crystal clarity while Lynn gets sultry and soulful. Gene Weygandt, who plays “Pretty Lady” director Julian Marsh, has a voice that is honest and heroic.
Special mention goes to the ensemble of tap dancers, whose work appears effortless and truly joyful, and to choreographer Jared Grimes who managed to incorporate dress racks and stock pots into dance numbers. The showiest, at the end of Act One, takes “We’re In The Money” literally.
The set design by Collette Pollard is more spartan than that of other Drury Lane productions, but it works. Most of the action takes place in a weary rehearsal hall, and the scenery is the dancers themselves.
Also on the creative team are costume designer Emilio Sosa and lighting designer Mike Baldassari. The ’42nd Street Orchestra’ is conducted by Chris Sargent, who also plays keyboard.
The original 1980 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was produced by David Merrick and directed and choreographed by an ailing Gower Champion, who passed away only hours before opening night. The musical, however, lives on.
DETAILS: ’42nd Street’ is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through Jan. 7. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.
‘This Wonderful Life,’ and adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” could have many other adjectives added to its title, such as “fabulous, extraordinary, unique and marvelous” to name just a few.
Playing at the American Blues Theater, it’s a one-man show written by Steve Murray, directed by Carmen Roman and starring James Leaming.
After doing the production across the country for the past ten years, Leaming has now brought the play to Chicago, garnering numerous awards along the way.
If familiar with the movie, you know the story encompasses several characters. Learning successfully portrays them all in eighty uninterrupted minutes.
He begins the play in a story-telling style as George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence the angel, Uncle Billy, Mary Bailey and many more.
While the play is both touching and hilariously entertaining, he keeps it simple for the audience to follow with their imaginations.
In addition, the sparse but effective props and beautiful photos displayed as scenery contribute to one’s memories of the famous film.
Leaming accurately describes the play as a love story, especially when Clarence the angel shows George how different the small town of Bedford Falls would be if George had never been born.
He quotes Clarence who says “Each man’s life touches so many others” and “No man is a failure to his friends.”
When Leaming asked the audience members how many had seen the iconic film before the play began, 99% raised their hands. The movie has become a regular showing on television as the year-end holidays approach.
As with the film, the play, ‘This Wonderful Life,’ is a must-see production!
Leaming brings quite an impressive dramatic background to the production. He trained at American Conservatory Theater and Second City, and he has appeared at Steppenwolf, Northlight, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Drury Lane, Peninsula Players, and other venues. He also has many credits in films and television, and is a founding Ensemble member of the American Blues Theater.
DETAILS: ‘This Wonderful Life’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and more information, call (773) 654-3103 or visit American Blues Theater.
Catch your breath! First and foremost, ‘Newsies’ is known for its powerhouse, high energy dancing.
Based on the 1992 movie and inspired by the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, this Tony-award winning musical boasts a delightful score by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.
It’s a David versus Goliath story that shook the ivory towers of publishing titans William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in New York City at the turn of the last century.
The story could just as well have come from the headlines of today’s newspapers about social injustice and workers striking for well-deserved benefits.
It’s the ultimate story of courage and believing in one’s self. ‘Newsies’ follows orphan Jack Kelly and his rag-tag band of young newsboys who dream of a better life than living on the streets.
Choreographer and Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez (Marriott Theatre: Evita, On the Town, Mary Poppins) brings his high-octane energy and brilliance as director of the heartwarming piece with Musical Direction by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson.
Patrick Rooney stars as Jack Kelly who’s got enough swagger and spit to win the heart of beautiful Eliza Palasz as Katherine Plumber.
Stand-outs include the wonderful Stephanie Pope as Medda Larkin, Nick Graffagna as Davey, the brains behind the union and Matthew Uzarraga as Crutchie. The ensemble earn well-deserved kudos for their passionate, powerful dance moves.
DETAILS: ‘Newsies’ is at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.
Imagine two very different families trying to pair up their children with not very successful results. That’s a traditional rom-com format you’d see on TV. But now imagine these families are a well-established Muslim family paired with new refuges from Iraq. And yes, it’s a comedy.
‘Yasmina’s Necklace,’ playing now at The Goodman Theatre, is about overcoming tragedy and moving on with your life in a new land with new opportunities and challenges.
What makes the play so compelling is that everyone can identify with this family situation no matter what their race, religion or ethnicity.
The show by Chicago playwright Rohina Malik is both funny as well as dramatic and thought-provoking, as the audience navigates the pain of both Yasmina and her father when settling in Chicago from Bagdad.
Yasmina uses her art talent to communicate the horrors of her past. The necklace, always around her neck, represents her love for the country she was forced to leave and will always be in her heart.
Potential suitor Sam recently changed his Arabic name to avoid Anti-Muslim bias and move up the career ladder. He’s also recovering from a bad divorce and is not interested in meeting anyone. But when he volunteers to support Yasmina with her non-profit organization helping other refuges, their relationship begins to warm.
Led by director Ann Filmer, actor Susaan Jamshidi as the vulnerable Yasmina is outstanding as her character moves from anger to acceptance to strength.
Michael Perez as Sam is also excellent as his character develops from someone who is conflicted about his identity to someone who stands proud of his traditions. Always in the background is a sense of fear and loss.
The set revolves around the very different apartments of the two families, one who is settled and well-off, and the other of newly arrived immigrants.
The play was scripted by Malik who was concerned about how Muslims are portrayed in the media and wanted to show them without stereotype. She has done a masterful job and the result is one powerful evening of theatre.
DETAILS: ‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ is in the Owen at The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. through Nov.19, 2017. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443- 3800 and visit Goodman.
What if you have a dream or passion that does not fit other people’s notion of you?
‘Billy Elliot the Musical,’ playing now at The Prochlight Music Theater through Nov., 26, 2017 is about managing change and redefining who others say you are and who you think you can be.
The stage play with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall is adapted from the 2000 movie “Billy Elliot.” The time frame Is Thatcher era 1980’s in a small coal mining town near Newcastle in England. Union miners have been on strike for nearly a year and tensions between them and the “scabs” brought in to replace them is violent.
Billy Elliot (Jacob Kaiser) is 12 years old, his mum (Nicole Cready) is dead, his grandmother (Iris Lieberman) is senile and his brother (Adam Fane) and father (Sean Fortunato) are on the picket line, struggling to survive.
One day Billy happens into the community gym and gets involved with a rag-tag ballet class run by Mrs. Wilkinson (Shanesia Davis). The chance encounter ultimately helps Billy find a way to express his budding adolescent angst, repressed grief, and shared frustration of what seems to be the impossible social situation that seemingly defines his life.
This expression is interpreted in two emotionally powerful dance numbers “Angry Dance” and “Electricity,” each skillfully co-choreographed by Brenda Diddier / Craig V. Miller and brilliantly performed by Kaiser with Ivan Bruns-Trukhin as Older Billy.
In his transformation to adulthood Billy begins to consider his sexual identity which is tested by Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter Debbie (Princess Isis Z. Lang), his best friend Michael (Peyton Owen) and a testosterone filled environment that does not necessarily consider ballet dancing a viable or proper gender conforming career path.
His dilemma, as well as economic realities, requires that he and those who are concerned for his future re-imagine another way of being.
Everyone must come to terms with the fact that times are changing. Coal is no longer part of the future. The jobs and the community that supported the industry are no longer an accepted surety.
Led by Director Brenda Didier, the company is outstanding from beginning to end starting with Jacob Kaiser who is an energetic and expressive dancer, singer and actor.
His transformation from beginner to advanced dancer was well controlled. His voice has a gravelly quality that is perfect for his age. It is clear this young man understands the part he is playing. Every line and every step was just right. He handles this demanding role with subtlety and maturity, devoid of annoying precociousness. Bravo!
Adam Fane, Billy’s older brother kept his emotional performance in bounds. Sean Fortunato, Billy’s Dad portrayed a perfect mix of stoicism and compassion.
Chicago stage veteran Iris Lieberman was spot-on as Grandma avoiding what could become a cliché performance. Peyton Owen as Billy’s best friend embraced his character with charm and elegance. Shenesia Davis manages the demands of her straight talking character Mrs. Wilkinson whose somewhat aloof nature could be misconstrued as harsh.
The ensemble was excellent, and it was clear that the girls of the ballet were having a blast.
Recognition must be given to dialect coach, Sammi Grant because there was never a time that anyone’s “English” accent was a distraction or got in the way of their performance.
Staging provided by this comparatively small venue at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts allows you to experience this production of “Billy Elliot the Musical” in a very intimate way.
The score has a unique quality that is difficult to define. It is contemporary but not “pop” or “rock.” It has aspects of classic musical theater but is not driven by the melody.
The play’s anthem, “Solidarity,” is rousing and powerful. “Grandma’s Song” is humorous and poignant. “Expressing Yourself” is a showstopper while “Born to Boogie” offers a bit of lightness and levity. In the case of “The Letter” I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.
Conductor/ Pianist Linda Madonia and her musicians Justin Kono, Cesar Romero, Greg Strauss, Cara Hartz, Dan Kristan and Sarah Younker provided the cast with a wonderful accompaniment behind the set’s sliding glass panels in the back of the stage which provided an effective illusion of the miners’ elevator decent at the end of the play.
In short this production is perfection.
Note: The part of Billy Elliot is shared at various performances by Lincoln Seymour.
DETAILS: ‘Billy Elliot’is at The Porchlight Music Theater in the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. For tickets and other information call (773) 777-9884 or visit Porchlight Music Theatre.