Exciting Lyric concert joins worldwide Bernstein celebration

 

Leonard Bernstein’s genius for capturing the soul of America in everything from orchestral works, opera and religious tributes to musicals, ballets, choral pieces and songs for events, is being celebrated at venues throughout the world in honor of his 100th birthday.

Lyric celebrates Leonard Bernstein's 100 birthday with a special concert. Photo by Jack Mitchell.
Lyric celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100 birthday with a special concert. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

Musical tributes began on what would have been his 99th birthday, Aug. 25, 2017 (he died in 1990) but formally kicked off with a program at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Sept. 22, 2017. The celebrations are continuing through his 100th year.

What the Lyric Opera of Chicago is doing promises to be exceptional.

Opera stars mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and baritone Nathan Gunn take on the roles of unhappy suburban couple, Dinah and Sam in Bernstein’s one-act opera ,”Trouble in Tahiti.”  The opera’s jazz interlude is done by Ryan Opera center ensemble members Diana Newman, Josh Lovell and Emmett O’Hanlon.

They and Broadway star Kate Baldwin plus other artists will sing numbers from shows Bernstein did such as “West Side Story,” “Candide,” “Peter Pan,” “Wonderful Town” and “White House Cantata” (Originally titled “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” written with Alan Jay Lerner) and other songs.

There might be a song from “Songfest,” commissioned to celebrate America’s 1976 Bicentennial. Based on poems, it could be “To What You Said” (Walt Whitman). It is about love for another time and conflicted sexuality. Another program possibility is “So Pretty,” a 1968 anti-war song, Bernstein wrote with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Composed for a Broadway for Peace fundraiser at Lincoln Center, it was sung by Barbra Streisand.

“I think it will be revelatory,” said Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines during a recent interview.

“We have Nathan Gunn so we can do “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy,” It’s a tour de force. He as the right voice for it,” said Pines. “It was not sung in the original Broadway show (April, 24 1950) because Boris Karloff was Captain Hook (and also George Darling).

(Note: Bernstein wrote the music and lyrics as a complete score but only a few of the songs were included in the original staging, supposedly because of the leads’ limited musical range.)

The first half of Lyric’s program will be the opera which is sung in English. Pines notes that even though it was written and staged in the early 1950s, “Tahiti’s” marital communication problems are more universal then applicable to one time period.

“Couples now can relate to the problems in their own relationship,” Pines said. He also thought people would appreciate Graham’s aria in her analyst’s office and the one she sings after leaving a horrible movie. “It’s comic,” he said.

As to the second half, Pines said it was important to introduce the wide variety of Bernstein’s music and how it was reflecting events. “Bernstein was so multi-faceted we do not have time to explore every side. But I think it is a good way to see that his music is extremely varied, and its quality.”

DETAILS: Celebrating 100 years of Bernstein, March 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 and visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

 

Cosi features delightful comic romps and beautiful solos

RECOMMENDED

Wolfang Amadeus Mozart’s title, “Così fan tuttie (Thus do all women) and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto will likely elicit more than a few negative shakes of the head while watching Lyric’s current production.

The title and libretto cast women in general as overly emotional, flighty and needy. However, the opera’s subtitle, “The School for Lovers,” gives a bit more insight into the story line or moral that love can be fickle.

The characters going to “school” on love are Ferrando and Guglielmo who agree to a bet with their friend, the cynical Don Alfonso, that when tested, their fiancées Fiordiligi and Dorabella will not stay faithful for 24 hours.

Cosi fan tutti is at Lyric Opera now through March 16, 2018. Cory Weaver photo
Cosi fan tutti is at Lyric Opera
now through March 16, 2018. Cory Weaver photo

The test proposed by Alfonso is that the two men pretend to go off to war but actually return as two Albanian sailors who then woo each other’s fiancée. If the plot sounds a bit like a Shakespearean comedy, know that at one time there was a proposal to set the music to a libretto that matched the Bard’s “Love Labours Lost.”

But no matter how much the libretto is out of sync with more enlightened views of women, Mozart’s music for Così, expertly conducted by James Gaffigan to bring out all its nuances and playfulness, is a delightful combination of a joyful romp and beautiful solos and duets.

American tenor Andrew Stenson as Ferrando and Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins as Guglielmo are wonderfully nutty in this revival directed by Bruno Ravella (Original Director Jon Cox).

Puerto Rican-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Fiordiligi and French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa as Dorabella are the stand-out voices in this production.

It’s possible the Lyric stage’s depth was not friendly for the male leads or to Italian baritone Allessandro Corbelli who could barely be heard as Don Alfonso. But the female vocalists, including Russian lyric soprano Elena Tsallagova (maid Despina) were always excellent even when blending with the others.

The second act takes on a different tone with the passionate “Fra gli amplessi” (“In the embraces”) duet of Fiordiligi and Ferrando that reveals real rather than the type of put-on emotions  displayed as a farce in Act I. And then there is Dorabella and Guglielmo’s lovely “Il core vi dono” (I give you a heart) duet where a medallion she was given with her lover’s picture in Act I is now exchanged for a heart locket.

Robert Perdzioa’s set design of a fancy, Mediterranean resort works quite well with Mozart’s plot as does Perdziols’s costume design for this Così’s placement in 1914.

The problem I have with the opera is not the Lyric production but the libretto and its unsatisfying ending which I won’t reveal here.

“Così fan tuttie” is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, now through March 16, 2018. Running time; 3 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission. For tickets and other information call 312.827.5600 and visit Lyric Opera Cosi.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

 

Phantom moves to Coney Island

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Love Never Dies'
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies’

RECOMMENDED

After several attempts at mounting a sequel to his record breaking ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ Andrew Lloyd Webber has likely come up with a winner. Called ‘Love Never Dies’ it is touring the US with a stop in Chicago now through March 4, 2018.

It has the eerie trepidations, behind the scenes staircases and gorgeous staging of ‘Phantom’ but appropriately moved to Phantasma, an over-the-top Coney Island show populated by freaks, dancers and singers. It also still has Madame Giry, her daughter, Meg, Christine Daaé and Raoul.

Only this time, 10 years after the opera house fire, Christine and Raoul’s marriage is in trouble and they are accompanied by Gustave, a 10-year-old son. It’s no spoil alert to note who Gustave’s father is because that is quite clear by the end of Act I.

Gustave and Christine
Gustave and Christine

However, there is a fear of what’s to come when Madame Giry is infuriated by the Phantom’s lack of acknowledging that he owes his present lifestyle to her and Meg.

Without letting on what happens, just know that the sequel has an interesting but not a particularly happy-ever-after ending.

What makes this touring production stand out is the soaring, operatic voice of Meghan Picerno as Christine, the amazing vocalizations of Chicago native Casey Lyons as Gustave, and the dazzling set and costume designs of Gabriella Tylesova.

Director Simon Phillips and choreographer Graeme Murphy AO, move  the musical scarily along its romantic but dangerous “Love Never Dies” theme.

The lyrics are by Glenn Slater with additional lyrics by Charles Hart. Ben Elton did the book and David Cullen with Webber did the orchestration.

DETAILS: ‘Love Never Dies’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Broadway in Chicago

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

Celebrate Chinese New Year with food and a parade

 

Special dinners, teas and parades mark Chicago’s Chinese New Year celebration of the Year o the Dog 4716.

With a vibrant Chinatown and several excellent Chinese restaurants plus venues such as the Chicago Cultural Center and Navy Pier promoting Chicago’s ethnic groups, there are plenty of places to learn more, see more and enjoy more Chinese dancing and dishes.

Often called the Lunar New Year and sometimes known as the Chinese Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year in 2018, begins Feb. 16 and ends 15 days later. However, tied to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, celebrations start the eve of the first day and culminate in the Lantern Festival.

If you go to any of Chicago’s Chinese festivals or restaurants, expect to see lots of red and the words “happiness” and “good fortune.”

Here are some Chinese New Year events to put on your go-to calendar.

 

The Peninsula Chicago is decked out for Chinese New Year.
The Peninsula Chicago is decked out for Chinese New Year.

Feb. 15-18

Decorated with red lanterns and a décor that celebrates the Year of the Dog, The Peninsula Chicago is a thoroughly Asian hotel (it is celebrating its 90th anniversary in Hong Kong).

This is a good place to stop in for Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea in The Lobby where tangerine trees and red flowers wish everyone good fortune. The tea includes special savories and sweets for $65. The Peninsula is at 108 East Superior Street.

In addition, there will be a Lion Dance that weaves through The Lobby during Afternoon Tea at 3:30 pm., Feb. 17. Children can “feed” lettuce to the lion for good luck in the coming year. The Lion Dance begins at the hotel’s front entrance amid drumbeats and cymbals (scares evil spirits) at 3:15 p.m.

Feb. 15-22

For an authentic, eight-course Chinese dinner, reserve a table at The Peninsula Chicago’s award winning Shanghai Terrace. It includes, among many other dishes, ginger wild chicken, seafood siewmai with black truffle, pan-fried prawns and kung pao beef tenderloin. Cost is $138.

For more information please call (312) 573-6620 or (866) 288-8889 and visit Peninsula Chicago.

Lion dancers will be prancing through some Chicago restaurants and at parades during Chinese New Year. Peninsula photo
Lion dancers will be prancing through some Chicago restaurants and at parades during Chinese New Year. Peninsula photo

Feb. 15-Feb. 28

Stop in at  Koi Fine Asian Cuisine in Evanston for dishes from its “Lucky Menu.” Different dishes represent wealth, long life, happiness, prosperity, good relationships and family. Reservations will be needed for the Lion Dance there Feb. 24.  Koi is at 624 Davis St., Evanston. Call 847-866-6969 and visit Koi.

Feb. 16

Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center hosts Chinese dancers, martial arts and music from noon to 1 p.m. There will also be a peek at the Chongqing Chuanju Theater Troupe which performs at Symphony Center the next day. The Chicago Cultural Center is at 78 E Washington St. For more information visit Chinese Fine Arts Events.

Feb. 17

See acrobatic choreography, gorgeous costumes and enjoy Chinese arts during an afternoon at Symphony Center, home of the CSO. Performances featuring the Dong Fang Performing Arts and the Yellow River Performing Arts are from 1:45 to 2:30 p.m. in Buntrock Hall.

This is followed with opera segments by the Chongqing Chuanju Opera Theatre and folk music by Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra at 3 p.m. in Orchestra Hall.

The first program is free to ticket holders of the second program. Symphony Center is at 220 S. Michigan Ave. For tickets and other information visit CSO tickets.

Feb. 24

Head over to Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom for Chinese activities, shows and food. Navy Pier partners with the Chinese Fine Arts Society to present the Chicago Chinese Cultural Center Lion Dancers, Martial arts, Chinese music and the Flying Fairies dance troupe from 1 to 5 p.m.

The event is part of Navy Pier’s free Global Connections sponsored by ComEd. Navy Pier is at 600 E. Grand Ave. For more information call (800) 595 Pier (7437) and visit Navy Pier Global.

Feb. 24

The Uptown neighborhood’s Argyle Street has a parade with floats, dragon dancers and marchers from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The procession goes from Argyle and Broadway Streets to Winthrop Avenue. For more information visit Explore Uptown.

 

Argyle Lunar New Year 2016 parade. Photo compliments Uptown
Argyle Lunar New Year 2016 parade. Photo compliments Uptown

 

Feb. 25

Go to Chinatown for the community’s annual lunar parade and to celebrate this neighborhood’s 106th anniversary.  It’s a fun, colorful event featuring lion and dragon dancers, marching bands, floats and Ronald McDonald.  The parade starts at 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue at 1 p.m. then goes north on Wentworth and west on Cermak. For more information visit  CCC Foundation.

For more Chicago Chinese New Year information visit Choose Chicago.

 

Four Chicago shows to see before they close

With so many shows in Chicago it is easy to miss one you really meant to see. So here is a reminder of really fine productions that end this month of January, 2018.

‘Turandot,’  Puccini’s glorious fantasy musical portrayal of a cold-hearted princess in ancient China is at the Lyric Opera for just two more performances: Jan. 21 and Jan. 28. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Turandot and Lyric Opera.

 Amber Wagner, Stefano La Colla and Maria Agresta in Turandot. Todd Rosenberg photo.

Amber Wagner, Stefano La Colla and Maria Agresta in Turandot. © Todd Rosenberg Photography

‘Wicked,’ that musical story about the two witches of OZ, closes at the Oriental Theatre, Jan. 21. For more information and tickets visit Broadway in Chicago Wicked.

‘BLKS,’ a play that tells about a day in the life of four young black women in New York City is at Steppenwolf just through Jan. 21. For more information and tickets visit Steppenwolf.

‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ has its final performance at the Cadillac Palace Theatre  Jan. 28. For more information and tickets visit Broadway in Chicago Beautiful.

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

Museums and celebrations offer quality ways to spend MLK Day

Many Chicago museums have free admission for MLK Day.
Many Chicago museums have free admission for MLK Day.

Fortunately when schools close for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, several Chicago museums answer the what-to-do question with free or discounted admission for Illinois residents. In addition, the Black Ensemble Theater and the Chicago Children’s Theatre also have programs.

Here are some places to spend quality time Jan. 15, 2018.

 

Museums

On Chicago’s Museum Campus, Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 922-7827,  The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 922-9410 and the Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake shore Dr., (312) 939-2438, all have free general admission to Illinois residents. (Not included: all access to special exhibits).

At the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ryan Learning Center (entrance at the Modern Wing, 159 East Monroe St. is doing “Say it Loud” program of  story telling, arts and discussions from 10 :30 a.m. to 3 p.m. No registration needed. However, admission to the museum is also free that day for all Illinois residents as part Free Winter Weekdays, January 8–February 15, 2018.

The Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr., (773) 684-1414, also has free general admission on Jan. 15 and is celebrating Black Creativity Family Day with special programs and art.

Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark Street (312) 642-4600, has free programs all day with free general admission to Illinois residents on MLK Day.

 

Theater

Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave. at Monroe, has a free Martin Luther King Birthday party from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Black Ensemble Theater at 4450 North Clark St., celebrates “And still we rise,”  from 6 to 9 p.m. with programs by the African American Arts Alliance. Tickets are $20 and includes a reception.

 

 

 

At Goodman Theatre: A Dickens tale worth repeating

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Even if you have seen Charles Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol” before at Goodman Theatre, the current production is a show not to be missed. It has aged like fine wine.

Cast of 'A Christmas Carole' at Goodman Theatre. ACC Productions
Cast of ‘A Christmas Carole’ at Goodman Theatre. ACC Productions

On its 40th anniversary, the Goodman production was perfect from Todd Rosenthal’s set, Keith Parkham’s lighting and Heidi Sue McMath’s costume design to appropriately scary, tear jerking and joyous scenes played by many “Christmas Carol” regulars.

Right from the start, you feel the holiday spirit while walking into the lobby and hearing carolers serenading from the balcony (at scattered performances).

The singers were terrific but opening night was even more special as it was filled with an audience that appreciated each scene, ghostly special effects and actors’ monologues with enthusiastic applause.

In his 10th year as Scrooge, Larry Yando was at his bah humbug best in the first third of the play and delightfully nutty with joy as a reformed Scrooge in the last third. In between you felt his gradual character change.

Molly Brennan, the Actors Gymnasium’s director of physical theater, was fun to watch as she managed her flying apparatus as Christmas Past with acrobatic ease. She guided Scrooge with empathy to his school yard and past employment at Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment.

In the Fezziwig scenes Kareem Bandealy, as Scrooge as a Young Man, believably battled with his character’s interest in money, choosing it rather than love.

Joe Faust (Ghost of Jacobs Marley) warns Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) to change his ways. Acc Productions
Joe Faust (Ghost of Jacobs Marley) warns Larry Yando (Ebenezer Scrooge) to change his ways. Acc Productions

Lisa Gaye Dixon once again portrayed Christmas Present with an appreciation of holiday abundance.

It was balanced with dart like precision when Dixon threw Scrooge’s bad attitude towards holiday giving back in his now drooping face.

Breon Arzeli was imposing as the deathly, towering figure of Christmas Future.  Of course, by this time Scrooge is ready to do anything to make amends for his anti-humanity outlook.

He now understands what the Ghost of Jacob Marley, perfectly portrayed again by Joe Foust, said when admonishing him that humanity was his business, not the business of money changing.

He now cares about his clerk, Bob Cratchit, played with humor and tenderness by Ron E. Rains, and for Tiny Tim, portrayed by a girl for the first time here, fourth-grader Paris Strickland.

On another note, the live on stage music plus the singing and dancing bits really added to the show’s uplifting aura.

Adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” is not just for youngsters. It really is a show for the entire family.

On opening night, the joy didn’t end with the first curtain call.  Artistic Director Robert Falls, walked out, mike in hand, to bring on stage more than 40 past participants in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol.”

By the way, some attendees tend to collect play programs. However,  this edition of Goodman’s “On Stage” should be kept even if not a collector. It contains, history and important notes.

DETAILS: “A Christmas Carol” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St, Chicago, through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago

 

 

 

‘Pearl Fishers’ soars at Lyric

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No question that opera goers and even many members of the general public are familiar with the music of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” Arguably less known is his earlier work, “Les pêcheurs de perles” (The Pearl Fishers).

Now appearing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the opera is particularly known for “Au fond du temple saint,” my favorite duet for tenor and baritone. Its gorgeous, lyrical strains are delightfully repeated at the end of the opera.

Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecien in The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera. Todd Rosenberg photo
Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecien in ‘The Pearl Fishers’ at Lyric Opera. Todd Rosenberg photo

But, featuring Evanston born tenor Matthew Polenzai as Nadir, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as his friend, Zurga, and Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka as Leïla, the priestess both men love, what the Lyric production really accomplishes is to remind music lovers that the entire opera contains one beautiful aria after an other.

There is Polenzai’s bravissimo rendering of “Je crois entendre encore” and Rebeka’s passionate “Comme autrefois dans la nuit somber,” then her duet with Nadir, “Léïla! Léïla!…Dieu puissant, le voilà!”.

The production’s charmingly bold sets and costumes, both designed by British fashion artist Zandra Rhodes, reflect the joyous, sunlit culture of an exotic Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Directed by Andrew Sinclair, the Lyric production was first staged at the San Diego Opera in 2004.

Comparatively short at two hours, 25 minutes including a 30 minute intermission, it is sung in French aided by English subtitles using a libretto by Michel Carré  and Eugene Cormon.

This opera, like many of the genre’s plots, whirls around forbidden love and its consequences. The story pits two friends against each other as they grapple with the consequences of loving the priestess who is supposed to protect Ceylon fishermen from the island’s treacherous waters. If she breaks her vow she could die and so would the man she loved.

When it happens and is witnessed by the high priest of Brahma sung by Italian bass, Andrea Silvesrtrelli, he decrees the lovers’ death.

The orchestra led by Andrew Davis and the chorus under Michael Black were both superb. The only problem I had with the production were the dance scenes. They may be true to the culture but they detract from rather than add to the opera.

DETAILS: ‘The Pearl Fishers’ is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through Dec. 10, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission.  For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera.

The production, seen on Nov. 22, 2017, was dedicated to Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky whose death by brain cancer was announced in London that morning.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

‘White Christmas’ sings and dances into your heart

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

First a caveat, this critic loved Paramount’s 1954 movie and the musical’s theme’s of romance and military camaraderie and caring so was prepared to also love the show, now touring with a stellar cast of Broadway and tour veteran actors, singers and dancers. It didn’t disappoint. Instead, it seemed to this writer to be a perfect holiday ornament.

'White Christmas' at Cadillac Palace has a great "Snow" scene. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
‘White Christmas’ at Cadillac Palace has a great “Snow” scene. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Based on the book by David Ives and Paul Blake with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the musical has some fun songs such as “Snow” sung on a train ride from New York up to Vermont.

There are also some dated but fun pieces such as “What Can You Do With a General,” sung about the post-army job market for high-ranking officers.

But it’s the famous ones that audiences will likely be humming as they leave such as “I’ve got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and of course, “White Christmas.”

The story pairs Bob Wallace(Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), two very successful male entertainers who served in the same unit in WWII, with Betty (Kerry Conte) and Judy (Kelly Sheenan) Haynes who have a sister act.

The gals are headed to a holiday gig at a Vermont ski resort where there is supposed to be snow. Davis tricks Wallace into joining them.

When they arrive, the gig turns into an effort to keep the resort, an inn owned by General Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck), from going bankrupt.

"Blue Skies" is a fun, Fosse-style dance number in White Christmas. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
“Blue Skies” is a fun, Fosse-style dance number in White Christmas. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

How they pull it off and the general’s reaction still brings tears to my eyes.

Along the way you meet inn receptionist Martha Watson (Karen Ziemba), a former Martha Raye style entertainer who also is too nosy for anyone’s good.

Plus there is inn employee Ezekiel who is also the train’s snoring man (Cliff Bemis who has a great voice and originated the Broadway role), Gen. Waverly’s granddaughter Susan (delightfully played in the opening by Makayla Joy Connolly), Stage Manager Mike Nulty (Aaron Galligan-Stierle who is also the Ed Sullivan and Regency Room announcer), and Davis and Wallace promoter Ralph Sheldrake (Gil Brady who always has a “million dollar proposition”).

The musical is also a showcase for exceptional dance numbers including “Blue Skies.” Kudos to Director/ Choreographer Randy Skinner. In addition, Anna Louizos’ creative scenic design really helps tell the story.

Cast of "White Christmas" at Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Cast of “White Christmas” at Cadillac Palace Theatre.

DETAILS: ‘White Christmas’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre , 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Dec. 3, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and  visit  Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

‘Minutes’ shines scary spotlight on small town politics

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Audiences are likely to be lulled into a state of boring normalcy during the first part of actor/playwright Tracy Letts’ new play, ‘The Minutes.’

Premiering now at Steppenwolf Theatre through Dec. 31, 2017, ‘The Minutes’ is a dark comedy which turns out to be a scary, unfunny, toe-dip into the troubled waters of small-town USA. The scene is a city council meeting in Big Cherry (you pick a state).

Cast of 'The Minutes' at Steppenwolf. Michael Brosilow photo
Cast of ‘The Minutes’ at Steppenwolf. Michael Brosilow photo

As a former reporter who has covered meetings at the city, county and school board level, I can attest that David Zinn’s set design is right on as far as the seats, desks and ceiling are concerned. (The mural is an added patriotic touch).

However, you know something is wrong when the meeting is announced as closed, even though no legal reason is given such as personnel or law suit. Even if those items are only briefly mentioned during the closed session, they still should have been offered at the start of the meeting as an excuse for going into a closed session.

Apparently there was no public to complain but maybe the public in this town knows that all council meetings are held in closed session.

But then, as each council member  states an item of business, from Francis Guinan as the doddering Mr. Oldfield to Danny McCarthy as Mr. Hanratty who has drawn up plans to redo the town’s fountain with a ramp for disabled visitors, the meeting appears to be routine. At least in the beginning.

One of the worms that rots the fabric of life in Big Cherry is that its founding is based on a battle that happened almost just the opposite of what is celebrated in town every year, as researched by Mr. Carp, one of the council members.

The other problem is that Carp, well portrayed by Ian Barford, also uncovered a city official’s criminal action regarding the disposal of stolen bikes.

But in this small town that does not want rotten apples to upset its rosy apple cart, politics and threats make the worms disappear.

The play’s title refers to the uncovering of the worms when  Cliff Chamberlain as new council member, Mr. Peel, wants to hear the minutes from the meeting he missed when he was at his mother’s funeral. Those minutes reflect Carp’s complaints and concerns. Peel is told by Mayor Superba, the forcefully restrained William Petersen, that the minutes have not been prepared for distribution.

All is revealed when the Ms Johnson, an honest clerk nicely interpreted by Brittany Burch, says they have been prepared.  The other council members who always go along with the Mayor are Mr. Breeing (Kevin Anderson), Mr. Blake (James Vincent Meredith)  Mrs. Matz (Sally Murphy), Ms Innwa (Penny Slusher) and Mr. Assalone (Jeff Still).

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the acting is superb. The problem I have with the play is that its ending feels a bit off given the town’s attitude toward its heritage. Though the ending, (no spoiler alert here) delves into what may be the true nature of a group when divested of its respectable trappings, it would have been more understandable if the group circled in the dark with candles or adopted another ritual.

DETAILS: ‘The Minutes’ is at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St, through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call 312-335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.