After its 25th anniversary revival on Broadway in 2017, “Miss Saigon” is reappearing this year on a national tour. Directed by Laurence Connor, the music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Loosely based on Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly,” “Miss Saigon” follows the final days of the Vietnam War.
The first lead character that opens the show is The Engineer played by Red Concepcion. The Engineer runs Dreamland, a steamy bar and brothel in Saigon that’s packed with beautiful Vietnamese women whom he has lined up for American soldiers.
The Black Ensemble Theater, founded in 1976 by Jackie Taylor, has been dazzling audiences ever since with original musicals. Its current production, “Women of Soul,” written and directed by Associate Director Daryl D. Brooks, is a tribute to many powerful female singers who cover different genres and numerous years.
The female cast includes Cynthia Carter, Robin DaSilva, Hannah Efsits, Jerica Exum, Colleen Perry, Rhonda Preston, Jessica Seals, Ariel Williams and Jayla Williams-Craig.
These nine talented women —with one wonderful male cast member, Dwight Neal who plays their various partners—portray well over fourteen famous soulful singers.
The production also includes these fabulous musicians: Robert Reddrick, Adam Sherrod, Gary Baker, Mark Miller and Dolpha S. Fowler.
Cast members give the background of each of the well-known singers plus some newly-revealed details such as how their careers blossomed and how some of their lives unfortunately ended. Then the singer portrayed performs one of her hits.
From Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble of the World,” Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” and Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” to Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” and Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be An Everlasting Love,” the fabulous cast practically rocks people out of their seats.
An amazing salute to female vocalists, the production also includes hits of Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Janet Jackson, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan and more.
The musical ends with a medley of songs giving tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, with “Ain’t No Way,” ” I Say a Little Prayer for You,” ” Respect” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”
When the cast lined up in the lobby while audience members were leaving the theater, two statements came from my heart: their performances were fabulous and the closing tribute to Aretha Franklin brought joyful tears to my eyes. “Women of Soul” celebrates all women!
DETAILS: “Women of Soul” is at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St., Chicago, through Jan. 27, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 769-4451 or visit Black Ensemble Theater.
I’m glad you’re on stage in Chicago where you belong.
It doesn’t matter if Carol Channing, Bette Midler or Barbara Streisand come to mind, the current touring version with Theatre Hal l of Famer Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi, that brash New York “meddler, matchmaker and miraculous handler of anything needed, is making her endearing way into audiences hearts.
Fortunately the tour is currently in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre where audiences also get a terrific Horace Vandergelder in the person of consummate film and stage actor Lewis J. Stadlen and a talented supporting cast.
Both Nic Rouleau (Book of Mormon) as head Vanergelder clerk Cornelius Hackl and his love interest, Analisa Leaming who reprises her Broadway role as hat shopper owner Irene Malloy,enchant audiences with their wonderful rendition of “It only Takes a Moment.”
While Jess LeProtto (Broadway “Hello, Dolly! Ensemble) pulls off exciting dance moves as junior clerk Barnaby Tucker and his love interest Kristen Hahn (Broadway, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), adds delightful comic relief as hat shop employee Minnie Fay.
Audiences know that when the lights go off the show will start after actors take their places on stage. But in ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ a multi-Tony Award winning musical at Skokie Theatre, the lights stay off while a voice is heard moving closer to the stage.
“I hate theater,” says a man’s voice. As he approaches the stage he explains that what he wants is a short show of about two hours. “Three hours is too much,” he says.
He notes that he wants the show to take him to another place so he can escape from the horrors of the real world. He wants to be entertained.
After the stage lights come on and he sits down in an old chair next to a record player, he asks the audience if they mind if he puts on one of his favorite musicals, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone.’ Of course, the audience agrees.
And so, James Spangler who is perfect as The Man in the Chair, has broken down that fourth wall of the stage as he addresses the audience throughout the show.
And yes, the musical that he asks the audience to imagine coming to life while he plays his record, is short. Running time is two hours, including a 15 minute intermission. But as The Man in the Chair requested, the show entertains.
A spoof of 1920s musicals populated by predictable characters, it has a Broadway producer and his ditsy girlfriend, gangsters, a talented musical star who will leave show business for love, her wealthy boyfriend, a Latin lover, an alcoholic dame and an aviatrix.
Across his sparse, care-worn flat, the first characters to appear are Mrs. Tottendale (Debby Shellard), owner of the mansion where the action takes place and Underling (Mark Anderson), a butler who caters to her whims. After wondering why she has on a fancy dress, he explains they are hosting a wedding.
Groom Robert Martin (Christopher Johnson) enters saying he may be getting “cold feet.” When followed by best man, George (Joe Lewis) the two do a terrific “Cold Feet” tap dance number.
The plot, as is appropriate for spoofs, thickens. Broadway producer Feldzieg (Bob Sandders) is confronted by The Tall Brothers gangsters (Zeke Dolezalek and Connor Hernandez), who pose as bakers and say their boss, a backer, seriously doesn’t want the show‘s star to wed and leave the production.
Feldzieg’s girlfriend, Kitty (Abby Boegh), says she’s ready to step in with a different kind of act when the star and bride-to-be, Janet Van De Graff (Rachel Whyte) leaves to marry.
Asked if she is serious bout leaving show business, Whyte brings down the house with her “Show Off” song and dance, full-company number. While showing off everything she can do including splits she insists she doesn’t want to “show off” anymore.
Beautifully choreographed by Julie Salk and performed with acrobatic agility by Whyte, the surprise it that the number can be performed on the Skokie Theatre’s small stage.
Convinced his star does mean what she says, Feldzieg plots to change her mind by bringing in Adolpho, nicely overacted with the right amount of flamboyancy and vanity by Sean Barett.
Adolpho is sent to the bride’s room where he finds The Drowsy Chaperone, interpreted with zestful fun and sophistication by Mani Corrao.
Meanwhile, the bride tests the groom to see if he really loves her.
Act II brings resolution. It also brngs Trix the Aviatrix, played with pizzazz by the Sabrina Edwards, down to ground to perform a quadruple wedding.
As The Man in the Chair says, “Everything always works out in musical.”
Along the way, the audience is reminded that they are merely seeing a musical as explained by the Man in the Chair when he pauses the record player needle and the actors stop mid-movement, or when he has to correct the needle when it sticks. Yep, picture it.
Patty Halajian’s costumes add nostalgic charm. Directed by Stephen M. Genovese with musical direction by Aaron Kaplan, the Skokie Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone, offers a delightful, high-quality, tongue-in-cheek view of 1920s musicals.
First shown in 1998 in Toronto, then opening on Broadway in 2006, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a musical comedy with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
DETAILS: ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a MadKap Productions show at Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, now through Oct 7, 2017. For tickets and other information call (847) 677-7761 and visit Skokie Theatre.
Just when you think you have seen as many fine interpretations of how Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic ‘King and I’ musical ought to be done, along comes director Bartlett Sher’s beautiful and insightful Lincoln Center production.
Not only are all the voices in the outstanding category (and how often can you say that), Sher’s direction has brought forth all the characters’ strong motivations.
The songs everyone has come to know and love such as “I Whistle a Happy Tune and Hello Young Lovers” are beautifully sung by Laura Michelle Kelly as governess Anna Leonowens.
“We Kiss in the Shadow” and “I have Dreamed” take on an added coating of sadness and desire when exquisitely sung Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao as doomed lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha.
But you also have Jose Llana who really makes you understand the crossroads where he’s at between Siam’s traditional views and the “westernization” of his court he thinks will keep his country from colonization. He not merely sings, but acts “A Puzzlement.”
Based on the real Anna Leonowens’ memoirs as told by Margaret Landon in the 1944 novel, “Anna and the King of Siam,” the musical depicts how two strong characters, the independent governess Leonowens, and the King, known as Mongkut who sees women as servants, move from strongly-held beliefs to mutual respect, admiration and caring.
Then there is Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang (First Wife) singing “Something Wonderful.” The song does more than describe her feelings towards her husband, the King.
Almedilla’s exceptional expression of the words seemed to speak to many of the wives in the audience.
As to the youngsters in the show, “The March of Siamese Children” is charming and lighthearted but Graham Montgomery does a particularly fine job as Anna’s son, Louis, and Marcus Shane presented just the right amount of royal demeanor as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn when he stepped into a role opening night usually played by Anthony Chan.
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a ballet meant to entertain visiting English dignitaries but actually is a message from Tuptim that slavery is wrong, is well put across by dancers Lamae Caparas as Eliza, Amaya Braganza as Uncle Thomas, Yuki Ozeki as Topsy, Rommel Pierre O’Choa as Simon Legree, Michiko Takemasa as Little Eva and Nobutaka Mochimaru as the Angel/George.
The set design by Michael Yeargan was a creative mix of an Asian style wall backdrop, pillars and Buddha that places more emphasis on the action than ornamentation. That said, the set immediately captures attention when the curtains open with a a life-size boat coming onto the stage carrying Anna and Louis Leonowens.
Catherine Zuber’s costumes perfectly place the show into Leonowen’s period and location.
‘The King and I’ is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, now through July 2, 2017. For tickets and more information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago.
The Writers Theatre production of ‘Parade, a powerful, Tony Award-winning musical about the wrongful conviction and death of a Jewish factory manager, is so well acted and sung that many audience members seemed to have bought the false witnesses’ stories.
They must have believed the manager was guilty because there were gasps from the show’s opening night audience when in the second act the stories turned out to be no more than lies coached by a prosecutor with an eye on the governorship.
The story is a true tale of how Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew, is deliberately convicted and killed for the rape and death of a young Atlanta, GA factory girl in 1913.
Although married to a lass Georgia born and bred, Frank was a Yankee and a Jew. He appeared cold and unfriendly and didn’t appreciate his wife in the beginning.
There is nothing ragged about this Griffin Theatre version of Tony Award-winning ‘RAGTIME.’
Re-imagined by Director Scott Weinstein, the 1996 musical with book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, has new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman and is perfectly scaled to the intimate Den Theatre stage.
A tight ensemble follows the adventures of three groups of individuals from various cultural and socio-economic strata at the turn of the 20th century by using the new music of the era – Ragtime. It has become the soundtrack of the age.
The new sound’s syncopation punctuates the changing rhythms of the increasingly fast-paced times that introduced industrialization along with such social challenges that defined pre-WWI America as European immigration, urban racial integration, unionization and women’s independence.
Taken from E.L. Doctorow’s novel, the musical throws together African American domestic worker Sarah (Katherine Thomas), her baby and the baby’s piano playing daddy, “Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Denzel Tsopnang), into the household of an upper middle class, white suburban (New Rochelle) family
“Father” (Scott Allen Luke) is a fireworks manufacturer and part-time world explorer who leaves his wife to manage the business. In the process she finds opportunities to explore her own independence.
This brings “Mother” (Laura McLain) into contact with “Teteh,” a recent Jewish immigrant (enthusiastically played by Jason Richards), and his pre-teen daughter (Autumn Hilava) who recently arrived in New York seeking the American dream.
“Little Boy” (Ben Miller) opens the play by introducing the characters to the title tune “Ragtime.” “The Little Boy” weaves among the characters throughout the rest of the production and is on some level the thread that pulls them together and toward one another.
The “Family” household additionally includes “Grandfather” (Larry Baldacci who also appears as industrialist J.P. Morgan). He just wants some quiet.
Then there is “Mother’s Younger Brother” (Matt Edmonds). He finds meaning in his life by embracing the plight of the underclass “Negroes” and mistreated workers.
There are appearances by historical notables Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman and “Specialty Entertainer/Celebrity” Evelyn Nesbit (Caitlain Collins), who provides periodic comic relief. Their vignettes supply political and social context of the time that drives the action.
Every character has a musical opportunity to shine resulting in a production with many glittering gems that come together like a charm bracelet; each with an individual tale commemorating a specific experience but in the end working together to tell the story of one grand shared adventure.
The entire cast is comprised of excellent singers. Laura McClain gave us everything she had in “Back to Before.” Katherine Thomas was a joy every moment she sang including “Your Daddy’s Son” and the show stopper duet “Wheels of Dream” with Denzel Tsopnang.
Pianists Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris with Clarinet Dan Hickey perform in costume onstage providing outstanding accompaniments in a production where the music virtually never ends.
Details RAGTIME is at the Den Theatre at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, now through July 16, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Griffin Theatre or call (866) 811-4111.
If you sometimes think you “Could have danced all night” or become exasperated when others take credit and say “You Did It” to each other for something brilliant that you worked hard to achieve, you can relive those experiences and appreciate how Eliza Doolittle felt in ‘My Fair Lady.’
An Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe hit musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion,’ ‘My Fair Lady’ will be Lyric’s fifth Broadway show to come at the end of its regular opera season.
Opening April 28 and running through May 21, 2017, the Lyric’s offering stars TV, film and stage veteran Richard E. Grant as Henry Higgins and opera, Broadway and TV regular Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle.
Directed by Olivier Fredj and conducted by David Chase, the show is the American premiere of Robert Carsen’s production for Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet but with a new cast.
Lyric goers know that fair ladies, transformations, thwarted dreams, unusual relationships and not perfect happily-ever-afters are typical opera fare, so presenting such issues in a hit musical by American composers at the Civic Opera House should be expected.
Indeed, the Lyric opera stage is a natural setting for shows by American musical composers, according to Diva Renée Fleming, Lyric’s creative consultant since 2010.
“After 100 years in this country, the American musical has achieved “classic” status, and opera companies with extraordinary artistic resources are uniquely positioned to present productions at the highest level as part of the standard repertory. We needn’t wait for Broadway touring companies to present works that are tailor-made for the Chicago community,” Fleming said when Lyric launched the series.
Details: ‘My Fair Lady’ is at the Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, April 28 through May 21, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 or visit My Fair Lady.