Be careful what you wish for

 

Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 ½ stars

In Act II of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” the Baker and Cinderella, two of four main fairy-tale characters who survive the whole, Hamlet-like second act (Little Red and Jack (of beanstalk fame are the other two), explain that choices have consequences and everyone is connected in “No One Is Alone.”

It the characters sound like those folks encountered during childhood bedtime stories they may possibly come to life for some audience members during Act I. but that familiarity ends when Sondheim who composed the music and lyrics and Lapine who wrote the book, offers a scathing reality check in Act II.

The musical, garnering several Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Book when premiering on Broadway in 1987, pulls a moralistic, anti-happily after plot from stories primarily conceived  or popularized by 17th century French fairy-tale founder Charles Perraultan (“Cinderella,”  Little Red Riding Hood”) and 19th century German folklore authors and collectors, the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Snow White).  “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English Fairy tale popularized by Joseph Jacobs started out n 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”

It all starts with “Rapunzel”  when a husband steals veggies called rampion or rapunzel from the garden of a next-door neighboring witch to make his pregnant wife happy. The witch catches him and makes a deal to leave the couple alone if they will give her theirthe baby to raise. This story is uncovered when that man’s son, the Baker, and his wife are lonely without children and learn it’s because of the witch’s curse.

And so the musical is about what people wish for and their journey to achieve it. The witch tells them the curse will be removed if the couple brings her a “cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and slipper as pure as gold” in three days.

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‘Next to Normal’ dives into mental illness with clarity

 

From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe). (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe). (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

“Next to Normal” brilliantly and unerringly brings to the stage what life is like in a home where a family member is mentally ill.

Penned by Brian Yorkey who also did the lyrics and with music by Tom Kitt, the show took three Tony awards in 2009. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama because even though it has highly expressive musical numbers, it is not a feel-good musical.

“Next to Normal” is a heart-wrenching drama about a husband who keeps trying to help his wife combat what has been diagnosed as bi-polar depression triggered by the death of their young son early in their marriage and about their teenage daughter who no matter how successful she is in school, can’t get the attention she deserves and craves.

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Lookingglass takes ‘Steadfast Tin Soldier’ to another level

The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

At Lookingglass Theatre audiences see a charming screen a few minutes before Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” story is pantomimed on stage.

The actors, dressed as figures that might be found in a young European child’s nursery or at a “Panto,” take turns on stage opening  windows that reveal children’s toys – except one that shows a fire.

And thus, perceptive audiences might pick up the clue that as with many of the famed Danish author’s fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” life will not be very smooth for the lead character but the ending can offset what appears to be devastating consequences. Read More

Fun Museum exhibits for summer vacation

 

Find out about how the characters, objects and scenery are created in Pixar movies. (Jodie Jacobs photos)
Find out about how the characters, objects and scenery are created in Pixar movies. (Jodie Jacobs photos except from the MCA)

It’s no accident that Chicago’s museums plan fun exhibits to open right when youngsters are out of school and tourists jam downtown streets.

Recent fruitful pop-ins at a few of the city’s museum’s revealed the following summer bucket list of exhibits. They either just opened or will do so soon. Go because they are perfect for kids or go to satisfy your own curiosity..

A fascinating, hands-on exploration of the “The Science Behind Pixar” used in “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” opened May 24 at the Museum of Science and Industry. The Shedd Aquarium’s stunning “Underwater Beauty” exhibit that opened May 25 shows off the colors, patterns and movements of more than 100 species.

The Field Museum’s eye-opening “Antarctic Dinosaurs” opened June 15 and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s insightful “I Was Raised on the Internet” opens June 23.

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A few thoughts on Chicago at the Tony Awards

If watching the 2018Tony Awards this past Sunday, June 10, you wouldn’t have heard much about the winners’ backgrounds or that of the people listed in the Tony Memorial to playwrights, directors, actors, choreographers and producers who recently died.

Steppenwolf in Chicago (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)
Steppenwolf in Chicago
(Photo by Kyle Flubacker)

But when Chicago audiences heard the name Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, David Cromer, Rachel Rockwell or Jessie Mueller they were likely to nod, particularly if they have been longtime theater patrons.

Metcalf likely received cheers from colleagues back at Steppenwolf when she won Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Edward Albee’s “Three tall Women.”

When Mahoney’s death (Chicago, Feb. 4, 2018) scrolled down the Memorial screen, his long time Steppenwolf and Chicago theater fans likely nodded or sighed.

Both members of Steppenwolf’s  Ensemble, Metcalf and Mahoney had performed together in such productions as “You Can’t take It With You.”  Even with her demanding film and New York/London stage schedule Metcalf has returned to do shows at Steppenwolf as she did summer of 2016 for “Voice Lessons.”

I last saw Mahoney when he gave a terrific performance with Francis Guinan in Steppenwolf’s “The Rembrandt.”

When Cromer stepped up to receive the Tony Award for Best Direction Of A Musical, he did so to loud applause for his insightful handling of “The Band’s Visit.” A remarkable musical by David Yazbek about Egyptian musicians who were lost in an Israeli desert town where their visit changed them and the town. The musical walked off with 10 Tony Awards, as it should have.

However, Chicago audiences may remember that Cromer an Illinois native, had won Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Awards for “Angels in America Parts I and II” in 1998, “The Price” in 2002 and “The Cider House Rules” in 2003. Will Chicago see him again?

With Rachel Rockwell’s recent death (May 28, 2018) still fresh in the minds of the Chicago theater community as an outstanding director and choreographer, it was an “oh, thank you” moment for some of us watching back home when it made the Tony Memorial.

Evanston native Jessie Mueller was also on the Tony program, nominated for her starring role as Julie Jordan in “Carousel” revival on Broadway, The Tony winner in 2014 for her performance as Carol King in “Beautiful,” Mueller had won the Joseph Jeffereson award as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel in 2008.

With all the theater talent we have here in the Chicago area it really isn’t a surprise to see some of it recognized during the Tony Awards. Let’s see what next year brings.

Jodie Jacobs

 

‘Pirates of Penzance’ delivers a treasure

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)

Mix really funny song interpretations with fine operatic voices and you have the hilarious, wonderfully entertaining “The Pirates of Penzance” at Music Theater Works.

Director Rudy Hogenmiller and choreographer Clayton Cross have the not so ferocious Pirate King  (Larry Adams) stretched out horizontally across his comrades in his name song. They have the daughters of the Major- General stumbling as they take-off shoes and stockings to wade then, hurriedly attempt to put them back on when pirate apprentice Frederic (Ben Barker) announces his presence.

After all, Frederic feels it’s his duty and the honorable thing to do to say he is watching. Similarly, if you listen to his lyrics, he doesn’t sugar coat his plea to the daughters for one of them to come with him, even if she is too pimply or plain to attract other beaus.Read More

‘The Cher Show’ joins list of Broadway shows to first try out Chicago audiences

Stars of The Cher Show pose before rehearsal at the Oriental Theatre. (Jodie Jacobs photos)
Stars of The Cher Show pose before rehearsal at the Oriental Theatre. (Jodie Jacobs photos)

Stephanie J. Block (“Falsettos,” ” Wicked”), Teal Wicks (“Wicked,” “Finding Neverland”), and Micaela Diamond (NBC’s recent “Jesus Christ Superstar”) are all currently in Chicago.

So are Jarrod Spector (“Beautiful, “Jersey Boys”), Michael Berresse (“Kiss Me Kate;” “A Chorus Line”), Michael Campavno, (“Wicked”) Matthew Hydzik (“It Shoulda Been You,” “Side Show”) and Emily Skinner (“Prince of Broadway” “Side Show”).

They are in town for their new starring roles in “The Cher Show,” a new musical by producers Jeffrey Seller and Flody Suarez who want to try out the show on Chicago audiences before taking it to Broadway.

As Seller explained during a recent press conference, presenting a show in Chicago to work out kinks before its Broadway debut “is a repetitive and great tradition for the past 10 plus years.”

(Audiences may remember that “Pretty Woman” was just here for its pre-Broadway premiere and “Kinky Boots” was here in 2012 before going to Broadway in 2013)

The Cher Show producers Jeffrey Seller, R. and Flody Suarez talk about why they are in Chicago
The Cher Show producers Jeffrey Seller, R,. and Flody Suarez talk about why they are in Chicago

After introducing Suarez and commenting that he was recently in Chicago to talk about the Hamilton Exhibition (going up this fall), Seller, producer of the block-buster “Hamilton,” said he was hopeful that the “The Cher Show” will “move people, affect people and delight people.”

A “jukebox musical” with a book by “Jersey Boys” Tony, Grammy and Oliver Award winner Rick Elice, the creative staff is no less star-studded.

What would a show about Cher be without Emmy Award winning costume designer Bob Mackie? He is not only on the team but his role in Cher’s life is played by by Tony nominee  Michael Berresse.

Also on the team are Tony Award winner set designer Christine Jones (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “American Idiot”), sound designer Nevin Steinberg (“Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen”)  Tony Award lighting designer Kevin Adams (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) video designer Darrel Maloney (“On Your Feet”), and set designer Brett J. Banakis.

Block, Wicks and Diamond are playing Cher, an iconic pop star, rock star, Grammy Oscar, Golden Glove and Emmy winner with so many facets that each actress takes on a different part of her life.

As to the rest of the stars, Spector is Sonny Bono,  Campavno is Rob Camilletti, Hydzik is Gregg Allman and Skinner is Georgia Holt.

Of course the musical will feature such hits as “I Got You Babe,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Believe” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

“The Cher Show” will be at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, June 12 through July 15. 2018.  It moves to Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre for previews Nov. 1 and officially opens there Dec. 3, 2018. For other information visit BroadwayInChicago.

 

Director and choreographer Rachel Rockwell dies but lives on in theater memories

 

Rachel Rockewell at a Goodman Theatre rehearsal for Brigadoon. (Liz Lauren photo)
Rachel Rockewell at a Goodman Theatre rehearsal for Brigadoon. (Liz Lauren photo)

When Chicago audiences enjoy a musical at Marriott Theatre, Drury Lane, Goodman or Paramount they may leave thinking that the theater knows how to produce a great show. But how often do audiences look at the program to see who directed or choreographed it?

This week, the “who” was brought to our attention with the obit of Ms. Rachel Rockwell, an extraordinary choreographer and director who died of ovarian cancer at age 49, May 28, 2018.

With Ms. Rockwell at the helm, shows seen several times before, such as “Mamma Mia!” and “Brigadoon”  appeared refreshed, renewed, and with more nuance under her direction when she did them respectively at Marriott Lincolnshire and Goodman Theatre.

“Rachel is a true Chicago theatre success story. The theatre community is heart-broken today for one of its own,” said Marriott Theatre Executive Producer Terry James in a statement. “Rachel traversed a highly successful theatrical path throughout Chicagoland’s major theatres and beyond,” said James.

He pointed out Ms. Rockwell’s close ties to the Marriott. “Lucky for us, Rachel called Marriott one of her homes for almost 25 years. Starting out as accomplished dancer and actress, then choreographer, director of our children’s shows and as director/choreographer of some of Marriott’s most successful productions from “Nunsense”to “42nd Street,” “A Chorus Line to “October Sky.”

 Mamma Mia! is directed by Rachel Rockwell. A multi Jeff award winner in the categories of Best Musical, Choreography and Director, Rockwell has a finely-tuned dancer’s instinct for how to pull together music and movement. (Photo by Justin Barbin)
Mamma Mia! is directed by Rachel Rockwell. A multi Jeff award winner in the categories of Best Musical, Choreography and Director, Rockwell has a finely-tuned dancer’s instinct for how to pull together music and movement. (Photo by Justin Barbin)

James was aware of Ms. Rockwell’s cancer battle. “While directing last season’s “Mamma Mia!” Rachel was taking chemo treatments on her days off and never missed a day. Old school!” he said. “The possibilities were just blossoming. She possessed all the qualities needed other than the time to realize what was definitely ahead for her.”

He felt deeply about Ms. Rockwell’s death and contributions. “Personally, this is a heartfelt loss of a decades old friendship. A loss of one of the greats of Chicago theatre,”  said James.

“Our love and prayers go out to Rachel’s family, especially mother Gloria, husband Garth and son Jake,” he said.

Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls also weighed in on the death of Rachel Rockwell.

“The world has lost a great artist who brought love and joy, and a blazingly original vision to every work she touched,” said Falls in a statement for Chicago Theater and Arts.

Cast of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon at Goodman Theatre (2014).  (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Cast of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon at Goodman Theatre (2014). (Photo by Liz Lauren)

“Rachel Rockwell made it look so effortless. She directed the great musicals of the American canon—including “Brigadoon,” which was among the most successful productions in Goodman history—and one can only imagine what remarkable work she would have created in the decades to come,” said Falls.

He added, “My deepest condolences to her beloved family, and the many friends and colleagues who adored her.”

Ms Rockwell also did shows for Chicago Shakespeare, Paramount in Aurora and several productions for Oakbrook’s Drury Lane Theatre.

Born Natalie Rachel Heyde in Columbia, Missouri, then moving to Indiana, she graduated from Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts, then obtained a BFA in Theater Performance from the University of Evansville.

Ms. Rockwell started out as dancer then added acting roles. She was in the Broadway and National Tour productions of “Mamma Mia!”

She reportedly changed her last name to Rockwell when urged by her father, Gary Heyde, to find a name that worked well with her stage career.

Ms. Rockwell is survived by husband Garth Helm, son Jake, her father, mother Glory Kissel Heyde and brother Jeremy Spencer. A memorial service is planned for July 9, 2018 at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Take in an art fair in Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs

 

Art fairs, such as at the Chicago Botanic Garden, are a chance to enjoy the weather, see a different place and pick up an art piece for home. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Art fairs, such as at the Chicago Botanic Garden, are a chance to enjoy the weather, see a different place and pick up an art piece for home. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Art fairs are a great excuse for forays to Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. Fortunately, there are plenty to match destination and date. These are some of the area’s better, larger art festivals.

Memorial Day Weekend, May 26 & 27

Two annual festivals come up this weekend in the western suburbs: the Barrington Art Festival and the St. Charles fine Art Show.

Go to downtown Barrington from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see about 130 artists along  Cook & Station Streets. For more information visit Amdur Productions.

Or go downtown St. Charles Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see about 100 artists on Riverside Avenue from Main Street (Hwy 64) to Illinois Avenue. For more information visit Downtown St. Charles.

JUNE

June 2-3

The famed 57th Street Art Fair returns to Hyde Park for its 71st fair Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. There will be more than 250exhibitors near William H. ray Elementary School at 5631 S. Kimbark St. For more information visit 57 Street Fair.

June 9-10

There are three good art fair choices the second weekend of June. The Hinsdale Fine Arts Festival and two Near North mega fairs: Wells Street Art Festival and Old town Art Fair. Both have admission charges.

See about 130 artists in Hinsdale’s Burlington Park, 30 E. chicago Ave., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. For More information visit Hinsdale chamber.

Or go downtown St. Charles Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see about 100 artists

Visit more than 225 exhibitors at the Wells Street Art Festival between North Avenue and Division Street, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information see Wells Street Art.

To stroll by an additionalt 250 exhibitors stay in the area and go over to the Old Town Triangle in the 1800 block of Orleans Street from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information visit Old Town Fair. June 16-17

A couple of large art festivals return each year on the third weekend of June, one in Evanston and the other in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Evanston hosts Custer’s Last Stand an arts with an “s” festival in the Main Street Shopping area sponsored by the Evanston Festival Theatre. Visit with about 375 exhibitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.  For more information visit Custer Fair.

At the Gold Coast Art Fair, held the past few years in Grant Park’s Butler Field, see about 300 artists from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. For more information visit Amdur Productions.

June 23-24

For Head for the northern suburbs for art festivals in Highland Park and Evanston the fourth weekend of June.

The Art center (TAC) holds its annual Fetival of Fine Arts along sheridan Road east of the Metra traks downtown Highland Park 10 a.n. to 5 p.m. both days. This is a relatively small fair but it has high quality artists.For more information visit Amdur Productions.

The Evanston Chamber Artisan Summerfest features 225 exhibitors at Sherman Avenue and Church Street, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information visit Evanston Festivals.

June 29 – July 1

An art festival based on a garden theme takes place in Glencoe the last weekend of June.

About 100 artists show at the Chicago Botanic Garden Art Festival in the Esplande area from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. both days. For more information visit Amdur Productions.

Enjoy!

Jodie

Upcoming Physical Festival brings a different theater experience

Physical Festival Chicago coming to Stage 773.
Physical Festival Chicago coming to Stage 773.

Chicago’s sophisticated theater audience has seen and admired gymnastically able actors, puppetry and story-telling-style body motions at such influential theater venues as Lookingglass, Chicago Shakespeare and Writers Theatre.

However, the Physical Festival Chicago, coming to Stage 773 June 1 through June 9, 2018, is a chance to see what is happening in those and other exciting genres on the international and Chicago scene.  

Among the productions are “Nobody’s Home” by United Kingdom’s Theatre Témoin and Grafted Cede that places PTSD into Homer’s Odyssey, solo puppet and mask performances by Theatre Zarko’s (Evanston) Michael Montenegro and Franco-Brazilian Gael le Cornec’s thriller “The Other.”

“It’s all original work created by each company,” said Marc Frost who co-founded the festival in 2014 with wife Alice da Cunha. They met in London while studying at London International School of Performing Arts. Commonly known as LISP, the school recently relocated in Berlin.   

Alice da Cunha and Marc Frost of Physical Festival Chicago
Alice da Cunha and Marc Frost of Physical Festival Chicago

Chicago audiences may have seen da Cunha in House Theatre’s Jeff award winning “United Flight 232.” Frost will be bringing the national touring company of Theater Unspeakable’s two current productions, one about the American Revolution and the other a moon shot, to the Kennedy Center fall, 2018.

Theater companies from around the world who apply each year are curated by the couple to bring a balance of genres.

“It can be puppets. It can be bouffon,” said da Cunha.

They explain that Michael Montenegro is a puppeteer but his Theatre Zarko is not traditional and Gael le Cornec uses projections and shadow puppetry in “The Other.” Bouffon is the late night show “The Red Bastard: Lie With Me.”

Frost said, “We have said physical to start with but now have added visual and contemporary. We are trying to bring to Chicago shows of the kind not seen very often.” 

He liked that an actor’s body could become scenery and or props to tell a story. In “The ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha” by the Spain/UK-based Little Soldier Productions, an actor uses his body to put across the Cervantes’ tale.

“He is using the body to express much of the text. It shows what the body can express,” said Frost.

Physical Festival also includes workshops. Among them “How to audition for “Cirque du Soleil”  and one by le Cronec on how to create a solo work.

“It’s a festival experience,”  said Frost.

Physical Festival Chicago is at Stage 773 is at 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, June 1-9, 2018. For show listings and tickets, visit Physical Festival/showsFor workshop information visit Physical Festival/Workshops

Jodie Jacobs