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.

 

Sneak Peak Part Six: Chicago suburban theater scene

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

Not all memorable theater is in the city. Chicago’s suburban theaters put on Jeff award-winning productions. But whether looking to the city or suburbs or both, one way to not miss a show you want to see is to save this Sneak Peak Series and mark productions for tickets or theaters for subscriptions. Enjoy! (Note: Some companies spell their work and space theater but others use theatre. Both are correct.)

North

 

Citadel Theatre

The theatre is in a school building at 300 S. Waukegan Rd. Lake Forest.

Citadel is doing “The Little Foxes, Sept. 28-Oct. 28 followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”  Nov. 16-Dec. 23.  An early 2019 show is TBA but then “Sentimental Journey” is Apr. 26-May 26.

For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.

 

Marriott Theatre

The theatre does professional musical productions in the Marriott Resort at 10 Marriott Dr,. Lincohnshire.

The season continues with “Murder for Two” through Aug. 26 followed by Sweet Charity” Sept. 5-Oct. 28, “Shrek the Musical” (children’s show) Oct. 5-Dec 30 and concludes with “Holiday Inn” Nov. 7-Jan. 6.

In addition to the shows, the theatre is hosting  a fundraising concert in memory of director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell Sept. 17 called “We Three” featuring the stars of Marriott’s “Mama Mia,” Meghan Murphy, Cassie Slater and Danni Smith.

For show tickets call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.  To get tickets to “We Three” call the Marriott or order on line tickets at  Ticket Master.

 

Metropolis Performing Arts Center

The Center, at 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, is currently doing   “Beehine” through Aug. 25, then “Chorus Line” Sept. 20-Nov. 3 and “James and the Giant Peach Jr. Nov. 8-10. In 2019, productions continue with “Mouse Trap” Jan. 31-March 16 and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” May 16-June 29 and “Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story” July 18-Aug. 24.

For tickets and other information call (847) 577-2121 and visit Metropolis Performing Arts Center.

 

Music Theater Works

Productions are usually in Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern University’s campus at 600 Emerson St. at Sheridan Road, Evanston.

Currently “Anything Goes” continues through Aug. 25 then it’s “Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine” Oct. 5-14 and “Into the Woods” Dec. 22-31 .

For tickets and other information call (847) 920-5360 and visit Music Theater Works.

Read More

For ‘Once’ it’s about music and love and chance encounters

RECOMMENDED

Every once in a while, someone remarkable touches our lives for a short time-and changes everything.

Such is the heartwarming theme of ‘Once,’ the Tony Award-winning musical now playing at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Helmed by artistic director Jim Corti and musical director Tom Vendafreddo, it’s the musical’s first Chicago-area regional staging.

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, ‘Once’ is a story about a couple of Irish musicians in modern-day Dublin who meet and fall in love as they write songs together.

Tiffany Topol (Girl) and Barry DeBois (Guy) perform the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” in Once, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Lauren photos)
Tiffany Topol (Girl) and Barry DeBois (Guy) perform the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” in Once, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Lauren photos)

It started out as a low-budget indie movie in 2007 and its signature song, “Falling Slowly,” won an Oscar for Best Original Song the following year. The film was directed by John Carney; the music and lyrics were written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who also played the lead roles.

‘Once’ saw second life as a Broadway musical based on the book by playwright Enda Walsh. In 2012, it took home eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

But back to Paramount. As the story goes, the encounter between the two leads is so fleeting, only a week, that we never learn their names. Tiffany Topol plays Girl and Barry DeBois plays Guy. Both actors have ‘Once’ national touring credits in real life.

In the Paramount production,  Girl and Guy are accompanied, quite literally, by a cast of congenial music-makers who double as the orchestra. They’re a fun bunch to watch, even though the lyrics sounded muddled half the time.

Topal and DeBois duet well with adequate chemistry, but she stands out better on her own. She’s an enchanting vocalist and charmingly funny without seeming to try.

Other noteworthy players include Alex E. Hardaway, a stuffy bank manager with performance dreams of his own. It’s written as a humdrum role with a solo, “Abandoned in Bandon,” that Hardaway executes as a champion. And Jon Patrick Penick shows great comedic chops as rough-and-tumble music shop owner Billy.

The starlet of the show is red-headed lassie, 6-year-old Everleigh Murphy as Girl’s daughter Ivonka.

Not only is she adorable, but she’s a fine Irish step-dancer and violinist as well. Her talent runs in the family. Cousin Madeleine played the same role on Broadway.

Also, just as on Broadway and in the national tour, the stage is designed as an operational pub. The audience is invited to step up and purchase beverages pre-show and at intermission. With a few props and a little imagination, the stage is segmented for additional scenes. Scenic designer is Jeffrey D. Kmiec.

DETAILS: “Once” is at Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, through June 3. For tickets and other information, call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

A million dollar group jams at Paramount

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips, seen here under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Records Studio on December 4, 1956, in Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Series opener 'Million Dollar Quartet.' Liz Lauren photo
Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips,  under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Studio on December 4, 1956. Liz Lauren photo

Go to Paramount Theatre’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ if you love Johnny Cash. Go if you appreciate really good boogie piano. Or go if you are interested in the Sam Phillip’s Sun Studio’s handling of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It’s nice to have the show back in the Chicago area, if even for its short, little over a month, duration.

The story, captured in a photo and on tape at Sun Records Studio, Memphis, tells of the only time that four of Sam Phillip’s top stars jammed together.

They happened to stop by his recording studio when Carl Perkins was supposed to be taping. Some were going to tell Phillips that they were not renewing their contract but Lewis was looking for a long contract at Sun.

The important incident was turned into a “jukebox” show of great mid-last century songs by Floyd Mutrux who wrote the book with Colin Escott and directed the original productions.

Started in Daytona Beach in 2006 before going to Seattle in 2007, the show was developed further at the Goodman Theatre in fall 2008.

It transferred to the Apollo Theatre where it ran until recently, closing early in 2016. But the original cast went on to NYC where ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ ran on Broadway from mid 2010 to mid 2011 while still playing the Apollo. It brought Levi Kreis a Tony Award as Jerry Lee Lewis.

The phrase “blown away” is often used but that was how I felt when seeing Kreis. Paramount guests will feel the same way when watching Gavin Rohrer as Lewis. Rohrer is incredible. He has already portrayed Lewis in two other shows including the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.

Nor will long time fans of Johnny Cash feel cheated when they see Bill Scott Sheets in the role. An operatic baritone who has all played such musical theatre rolls as Don Quixote, Sheets nails Cash’s sound and microphone approach.

Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis - where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo
Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis – where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo

While some rockabilly aficionados might know that “Blue Suede Shoes” was written by Perkins who epitomized the genre, the fact that his hit song was closely identified with Elvis Presley is important to the show.

That frustration comes across with Broadway actor Adam Wesley Brown, a veteran of Chicago theatre and film, taking on the role of Perkins with the characteristic knee raise and emphasis.

It’s easy to see that Kavan Hashemian who has appeared in other ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ productions as Elvis, really enjoys the role. He has the moves down pat and can probably sing the songs in his sleep because he has been performing them since age three.

The surprise of the Paramount show which is all about male performers, is the wonderful turn as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, by Courtney Mack. Her “Fever” in Act I and “I Hear You Knockin” in Act II, brings the house down. Of course, Paramount regulars likely remember her from “Mamma Mia”

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo
Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo

Another unexpected musical treat comes when Zach Lentino as Perkins’ brother Jay shows off his skills as an upright bassist. BTW Lentino was in ‘Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo.

Drummer Scott Simon who plays in several Chicago productions is Fluke, a member of Perkins’ group. He’s excellent but not really noticed until near the end.

Perhaps the most unappreciated role in the show is that of Sam Phillips. Played by Nicholas Harzain, a film actor who is also in several regional shows, Phillips comes across as a hard-working, small-town, talent developer.

A note about Kevin Depinet’s set design: folks who have been to Memphis and walked through what is now, basically a museum, know Depinet has totally captured Sun Studio.

Directed by Jim Corti with music direction by Kory Danielson, ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ has a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

DETAILS: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is at Paramount Theatre, 23 Galena Blvd., Aurora, now through Oct. 29, 2017. Running time is two hours. For tickets and other information visit Paramount or call (630) 896- 6666.