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.

 

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

Top holiday shows and shopping plus light sights

The Joffrey Ballet's Nutcraker at Aurditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcraker at Aurditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

If you don’t want to be saying “Oops” this holiday season then 1. Don’t wait to get tickets to the shows you or your family want to see and  2. Do put those holiday events you want to go to on the calendar.

The good news is that there are numerous great holiday shows and happenings in the Chicago area. The problem news is that the many places to go, things to do and see make it hard to narrow down the choices to what is doable.

Tip: Be realistic when weighing what is manageable with kids, tired feet and meal breaks.

The following suggestions offer three Chicago area choices in each category – shows, shopping and spectacular lights and sights:

 

Shows

A Christmas Carol At Goodman Theatre (2017 photo by Liz Lauren)
A Christmas Carol At Goodman Theatre (2017 photo by Liz Lauren)

What: Goodman Theatre’s “The Christmas Carol” Nov. 17-Dec. 30, 2018

Where: In Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago

Why: Goodman’s production of Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” is  a Chicago tradition that never gets old with new staging often added. But the show is also a talking point for families on what is important.

How:: See ticket and other information at Goodman Theatre/Carol

 

What:  Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” Dec. 1-30, 2018

Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr. (50 E. Congress Pkwy) at Michigan Ave.

Why: Going to the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” is also a Chicago holiday tradition. It was beautifully re-imagined  last year by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon as a visit by Marie and her mother to the 1893 World’s Fair. The mysterious Great Impresario turns the visit into an adventure. And it is all set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music.

How: Find tickets and information at Joffrey Nutcracker

 

What: Lookingglass Theatre’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Nov. 7, 2018 through Jan. 13, 2019.

Where: Lookingglass theatre is in the Chicago Water Works at 821 N Michigan Ave, Chicago.

Why: Lookingglass productions are highly innovative, well acted and engrossing. This tale based on a Hans Christian Andersen story is being staged as an exciting spectable by ttalented, creative Mary Zimmerman.

How: Tickets and information are at Lookingglass Theatre.

 

Shopping

Good gift shopping at the Field Museum (J Jacobs photo)
Good gift shopping at the Field Museum (J Jacobs photo)

What: The Field Museum Store, anytime

Where: The Field is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, the furthest west building on the Museum Campus.

Why: The museum has a fantastic gift shop with items that would appeal to all ages.

How: For hours and admission visit Field Museum or shop on line

 

What: Christkindlmarket Chicago, daily Nov. 16-Dec. 24, 2018 and Naperville Thursday through Sunday Nov. 23-Dec. 24 2018.

Where: In Chicago at Daley Plaza on Washington Street between Dearborn and Clark Streets and in Naperville  at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St.

Why: It’s fun to see, buy and taste the type of Bavarian gifts and treats popular at holiday markets in Germany.

How: More information is at Christkindlmarket

 

What: Art Institute of Chicago Gift Shop, anytime

Where:  On line and at the museum, front entrance at 111 S. Michigan Ave. and the Modern Wing entrance at 159 E. Monroe St.

Why: Gift shop entrances do not need admission fees or tickets. The shops carry one-of-a kind gifts that won’t bust the budget. The Modern Wing has good glass items and the main gift shop has excellent jewelry and ties. Both  shops have Frank Lloyd Wright  items and gifts inspired by other artists. Also visitors like to take holiday  photos with the wreathed lions in front.

How: For hours visit the museum at artic.

Spectacular lights and sights

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo

What: Lincoln Park Zoo Lights Nov. 23-Jan.6

Where: In Lincoln Park at 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago

Why: See the animals while strolling among 2,5 million lights thanks to Com Ed and Invesco. Also visit Santa, watch ice carving, sip warm spiced wine, snack on holiday treats and watch a 3D light show.

How: Find hours and admission at LPZoo Zoolights.

 

What: Chicago Botanic Garden Lights and Wonderland Express Nov. 23-Dec. 21,2018

Where: 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

Why: the Garden’s event is called Wonderland Express but before going into the building that has trains zipping through Chicago landmarks, see trees and walkways lit by thouands of lights and visit the greenhouses’ topiaries and poinsettias. Then don’t worry about the “snow” falling on shoulders inside the exhibit building. It’s all about fun and winter wonders.

How: For hours and admission visit Chicago Botanic/Wonderland

 

What: Morton Arboretum Illumination Nov. 17, 2018-Jan 1, 2019

Where: The grounds of the Morton Aroboretum at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle.

Why: These lights don’t stay still. They change color, they move to music, they’re interactive and Illumination, supported by Com Ed and Invesco, is fun.

How:: See hours and admission at MortonArb/Lights

 

Jodie Jacobs