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.

 

Around town in December

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.

Cendrillon (Cinderella)at Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago)
Cendrillon (Cinderella)at Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Shows

“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.

Opera

“Cendrillon” (Cinderella) at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, select dates from Dec. 1 through Jan. 20.

Concerts

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.

Activities

Ice skating at rink in Millennium Park (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)
Ice skating at rink in Millennium Park (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago)

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.

However, you can still find traditional holiday ideas at After Thanksgiving and Holiday shows and shopping plus light sights.

Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

 

Superb voices meet Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’ challenge

Tamara Wilson (Lenora) in Il Trovatori at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Tamara Wilson (Lenora) in Il Trovatori at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3.5 stars

Thanks goodness, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Il Trovatore” has much more going for it than the famed “Anvil Chorus” (“Vedi le fosche notturne”) in which some of the workers overdo their loud clangs, forgetting that the gypsies are singing to Verd’s music and the anvils ought to be an interesting accompaniment.

This production is an opportunity to hear Soprano Tamara Wilson, making her Lyric debut as Leonora . Wilson lets the audience know right away that she was well chosen as the doomed heroine with her “Tacea la note placida, a beautiful cavatina with its high c, and the passionate “Di tale amor che dirsi” aria made even more impressive by its trills.

It is also an opportunity to hear mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, last heard at the Lyric in as Giovanna in Donizett’s Anna Bolena in 2014. Read More

Around Town: After Thanksgiving

Once the food and fuss of Thanksgiving has been set aside in the fridge and dishwasher there should be more to holiday fun than trying brave the crowds in stores on Friday and shop on line on Monday.  There is a wonderful ballet and opera that opens, an art show full of gift ideas and a zoo that becomes magical on the weekends.

Shop the art at the One of a Kind Show. (OOAK photo)
Shop the art at the One of a Kind Show. (OOAK photo)

One of a Kind Show

Find gifts  at the One of a Kind Show at the Mart. Artists bring their sculptures, paintings, jewelry, ceramics, furniture and fashions. And vendors bring gourmet foods. The show is fun and it’s hard to leave without finding something for others or oneself.

The show runs Dec.6 through 9 at Merchandise Mart, on the north side of the Chicago River bordered by Kinzie, Wells and Orleans Streets. For tickets, hours and other information visit One of a Kind Show.

Enjoy Brookfield Zoo at Night during Holiday Magic (CZS photo)
Enjoy Brookfield Zoo at Night during Holiday Magic (CZS photo)

Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic

Visit Brookfield Zoo when more than a million colorful lights edgbe buildings, form larger-than-life animal shapes and line the paths – thanks to Comed and Meijer. Holiday Magic is on Saturdays and Sundays of December weekends and also Wednesday through Monday of Dec. 26-31.

Tip: look for the Talking Tree and the special entertainment scheduled each weekend. Park and enter at the North Gate, 8400 31st St. (1st Avenue at 31st Street), Brookfield. For admission, hours and a complete schedule of Holiday Magic activities and entertainment call (708) 688-8000 and visit CZS Holiday Magic.

Alberto Velazauez in The Nutcracker. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Alberto Velazauez in The Nutcracker. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

Two December First show openings

Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Cinderella” open Dec. 1, 2018.  “The Nutcracker” runs through Dec. 30,2018 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on Congress Blvd. at Michigan Avenue. This is the re-imagined staging by choreographer/director Christopher Wheeldon that takes place at the 1893 World’s Fair. The music is Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet. For tickets and more information visit Joffrey Nutcracker.

“Cinderella,” Jules Massenet” magical “Cendrillon” comes to life with funny, wicked, charming characters and delightful arias at the Lyric Opera House at six performances from Dec. 1, 2018 to Jan. 20, 2019.  For tickets and information visit Lyric Opera Cendrillon.

Jodie Jacobs

Idomeneo makes awkward deal with Greek god

RECOMMENDED

 

Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart's Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

If you have ever been caught in a storm while sailing or found yourself on a rough boat ride in Lake Michigan you can understand why Idomeneo is ready to bargain with Neptune in return for a safe harbor after being tempest tossed while returning from the Trojan War.

Neptune, willing to make a deal with Idomeneo says he will assure his safe arrival at shore but in return the hero must sacrifice the first person he sees.

Like many mythological Greek gods of yore Neptune seems to really enjoy some irony. As it turns out the first person Idomeneo spots is his very own son Idamante. Ah! The stuff great opera is made of.

This Lyric Opera of Chicago’s revival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Idomeneo with a stellar cast of singers and awesome orchestra led by Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, is indeed lyrical.Read More

Lyric Opera back in business

Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret in La boheme. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret in La boheme. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Opera lovers expecting to see the second performance of Puccini’s “La boheme” and the opening of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” last week found that they had to reschedule because the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208 (CFM) went out on strike last Tuesday. The notes of contention were salary and number of performances.

But after a short week of back and forth negotiations, CFM and the Lyric Opera of Chicago have reached a contract agreement that goes through the 2020-2021 season.

As a result of the compromise, the Lyric Orchestra receives a 5.6 percent weekly salary increase over three years, the orchestra will be reduced by four instead of five musicians beginning next season, the main portion of the opera season will be 22 weeks, instead of 24 and Wagner’s “Ring Cycle will include five additional weeks.

Lyric has added gwo performances of La Boheme in January 2019 to make up for the canceled performances. They are Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.

Ticket holders to cancelled performances can exchange them this week. New tickets to the added performance go on sale to the public Oct. 19.
But tickets for Puccini’s “La Boheme” Wednesday performance and the opening of Mozart’s “Idomeneo”  Thursday are now on sale as are other operas. For tickets and more information call (312)827-5600 and visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Extraordinary ‘La bohème’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème”opened the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 64th season Oct. 6. And what an opening it was.

Not only is the set more creatively stylized from the one opera goers have seen at the Chicago Opera House for more than 40 years, Puccini’s lyrical music and the drama in Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa’s libretto were also given more depth by English director Richard Jones and Venezuelan-Swiss conductor Domingo Hindoyan then in earlier Lyric productions.

Based on Henri Murger’s  “Scènes de la vie de bohème,”the playful interactions of poet Rodolfo (American tenor Michael Fabiano) and his friends, painter Marcello (American baritone Zachary Nelson), musician Schaunard (Puerto Rican baritone Ricardo José Rivera) and philosopher Colline (Romanian bass Adrian  Sampetrean), are emphasized as are Marcello’s  temperament and Rodolfo’s multi-faceted character.

But what really made the opening a “happening” was Fabiano’s soaring delivery of each aria from “Che gelida manina” to “La più divina delle poesia,” to  “Ebenne no, non lo so.”

Thank you, Lyric, for introducing this amazing tenor and his powerfully rich voice to Chicago audiences. Fabiano has already wowed audiences with his Rodolfo at London’s Royal Opera House in 2017 and at the Met earlier in 2018.

Read More

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.

 

Read More

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

Warm our blustery April weather with glorious music

When February weather sticks around for early April then warm up with good music. Go to the Lyric to hear some of the Ryan Opera Center members who sang this season. Or let Rogers and Hammerstein’s lyrical Broadway hits bring back memories. Or turn to Haydn and Beethoven to forget that Mother Nature’s Ap[ril Fool’s day joke has continued through the weekend.

Rising Stars in Concert

Singers with the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center Ensemble perform works by Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Puccini and other masters, April 7, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. The program is backed by a pianist and members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Edwin Outwater. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera. The Lyric Opera of Chicago is at 20 N. Wacker Drive.

The Sound of Their Music: 75 Years of Rogers and Hammerstein on Stage

Hosted by Daryl Nitz and Laura Freeman with music direction by Andrew Blendermann, the program is at the Skokie Theatre April 7 and April 8 at 7:30 p.m. It features artists Ken Baker, Cynthia Clarey, Sophie Grimm, and Tom Olickal performing songs from eight shows. Tickets are $35. For tickets and other information visit Skokie Theatre.   Skokie Theatre is at 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie.

MASTERWORKS 4: Haydn and Beethoven

The Lake Forest Symphony with Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic are doing Haydn’s Symphony No. 4, Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 featuring Cellist Jay Campbell and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 April 7 at 8 p.m. and April 8 at 2 p.m. The Saturday concert is at the Cressey center for the Arts at Lake forest Academy. 1500 West Kennedy Road
Lake Forest. Sunday’s concert is at the James Lumber Center of the college of Lake County19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake. For tickets and other information visit Lake Forest Symphony.