Greek gods and monsters populate Percy Jackson musical

 

Kristin Stokes,l, Chris McCarrell and Jorrel Javier go on a hero quest in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Kristin Stokes,l, Chris McCarrell and Jorrel Javier go on a hero quest in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

2 ½ stars

Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series about the trials and friendships among children of god and mortal coupling should understand and enjoy “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” now playing at the Oriental Theatre.

Adults not familiar with the series will get the idea from this low-budget (no real scenery changes), touring show that yeah, what Riordan calls “half-blood” youngsters not only have to please their mortal parent but also put up with and please their Greek god dad or goddess mom.

Because my granddaughter liked the series, I read the books, was hooked on their adventures and thought the show might be fun.

Well, it’s not bad. All it needs are some decent-singing voices aside from Chris McCarrell who does a fine job as Percy and his mom Sally, played by Jalynn Steele, who has the best voice in the cast.

The rest of the cast are certainly in character but it’s hard to understand all the words because they shout-sing in nasally, tinny voices.

Percy fans might not care but if a song is worth writing and singing it ought to be sung so audiences hear more than a couple of words.

And the songs, with music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki, are basically good. McCarrell puts over his frustration well in the “The Day I Got Expelled” and “Good Kid.”

Riordan’s page-turning story-telling, cleverly interpreted in the book by Joe Tracz, keeps audiences wondering what will happen next and how will these “kids” handle the next obstacle.

Director Stephen Brackett, scenic designer Lee Savage and lighting designer David Lander move the story along with obviously low-budget staging. Riordan fans likely don’t care. They just enjoy seeing how Percy, the love-child of powerful god Poseidon, handles his “hero quest” to bring his mom, struck down by a Minotaur,  back from the Underworld and also recapture Zeus’ lightning stolen by Hades.

The show is only in Chicago for a short time so Percy Jackson fans who want to see how Riordan’s story is interpreted on stage need to snag a ticket now.

DETAILS: “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Jan. 13, 2019. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘La Ruta’ exposes a dangerous journey

 

Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf
Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf

4 stars

For his world premiere of “La Ruta” at the Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago based playwright Isaac Gomez has commandeered a bus transporting “maquila” workers to and from their jobs in Juarez, pointing its headlights into the vast darkness. It exposes the despair and anguish of the mothers and sisters of an estimated 1,400 women kidnapped, used as sex slaves, murdered and disposed of like trash in the Mexican desert.

According to Gomez this is a story that has been systematically silenced through intimidation and adherence to a Latin American culture of toxic masculinity, or “machista.”

Based on a true story and directed by Sandra Marquez, “La Ruta” is performed by an all Latinx cast of eight that centers around the few days leading up to and the nearly three years following the disappearance of Brenda (Cher Alvarez).

Gomez is careful to point out in the program notes that this is not a docu-drama but rather a “creative re-imagining.”

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Reflective and joyous ‘Fiddler’ deserves applause

Fiddler on the Roof (Joan Marcus photo)
Fiddler on the Roof (Joan Marcus photo)

3.5 stars

The exceptional voice and expressive movements of Israeli actor, dancer  Yehezkel Lazarov, alone, make the “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 2015 Broadway revival, worth the ticket.

Add  in the fine cast, Michael Yeargan’s creatively low-contrasting set design, Catherine Zuber’s dream-scene costumes and Christopher Evens’ recreated choreography  inspired in part by Jerome Robbins, and audiences see a memorable, highly charged, redo of the 1964 Tony-Award winning musical.

Current audiences may not remember that this musical with book by Joseph Stein based on tales by Sholem Aleichem including his “Tevye and his Daughters,” end with the villagers being forced by the Russia’s tsar to leave their homes.

But this revival has Lazarov, somewhat clothed contemporary-styled and holding a book, looking at the village’s railroad sign against the background noise of a speeding train.

Remember it because the show ends with Lazarov back in his opening apparel, pulling the “fiddler,” nicely done by Paul Morland, in to the exodus with him to the station.

And that is just the opening and closing of what Lincoln Center Theater Director (“My Fair Lady”) Bartlett Sher has wrought. Every song and every dance number elicited highly appreciative applause. Every interaction of the daughters fighting tradition in their quest for happiness had the audience worriedly wondering how Tevia would react and handle breaks with tradition.

Lazarov as a philosophical Tevye didn’t disappoint. What was disappointing was Maite Uzal’s shrewish interpretation of Tevye’s wife, Golde. The director ought to have her dial back her harsh, mean-spirited sounding responses. She can be strong-willed and even demanding without sounding nasty.

Of course the show features such memorable Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) songs as “Tradition” “If I Were A Rich Man,” “Sunrise Sunset” and “To Life,”  with new orchestrations by “Ted Sperling.

However, except for Lazarov and the wonderful voice of Ruthy Froch as  second oldest daughter Hodel, the voices blend well instead of standing out on their own. Jesse Weil as Motel the tailor, sounded particularly weak making me wonder if he was nursing a cold.

The touring revival was the best-staged “Fiddler” I’ve seen in a long time. Just expect a long first act and a total 2 hours, 55 minutes (one intermission).

It’s an excellent production but given the musical’s length of almost three hours (15 min intermission) because of well-executed but too long dance sequences, a few minutes could be cut from the dances in both the first and second act and still have an exciting show.

DETAILS: “Fiddler on the Roof,” presented by Broadway in Chicago, is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicag0,  through Jan. 6, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 55 minutes (one intermission). For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ gets a contemporary vibe

 

Led in revels by the First Fairy (Adrienne Storrs) and Puck (Sam Kebede), the fairy ensemble gather to "Rock the Ground" in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (Liz Lauren photo)
Led in revels by the First Fairy (Adrienne Storrs) and Puck (Sam Kebede), the fairy ensemble gather to “Rock the Ground” in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (Liz Lauren photo)

4 stars

Shakespeare Theater Chicago puts a slightly modern twist to an old favorite, one of “The Bard’s” most well-known and beloved plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

As is not unusual for Shakespeare this story is something of a three ring circus.

Oberon, King of the Fairies (Edward O’Blenis) directs his minion Puck (Sam Kebede) to put a spell on Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Alexandra Silber) to teach her a lesson.

The spell uses the essence of a special flower that will cause Titania to fall madly in love with the first being she sees whether it be man, beast or fairy. Oberon prefers the more beastly the better.

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Cendrillon perfect for family outing

Siobhan Stagg in Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera
Siobhan Stagg in Cendrillon at the Lyric Opera

4 stars

Adults and youngsters alike should easily laugh, applaud and fall in love with “Cendrillon,” Jules Massenet’s operatic interpretation of “Cinderella.”

Certainly the version now at the Lyric has been traveling the opera circuit since opening at the Santa Fe Opera in 2006, but the telling clue to its humor is that when it premiered in 1899 it was at Paris’ Opéra-Comique where it was also remounted in 1911.

That the opera is a fairy tale comes across immediately with Barbara De Limburg’s delightful storybook set design.

That this opera, unlike Gioachino Rossini’s operatic drama “Cenerentola” (Cinderella), is a lighthearted version of the familiar fairy tale,  becomes obvious with Laurent Pelly’s hysterical, balloon-shaped costumes for the step sisters and the comedic costumes worn by the step mother and other female hopefuls at the prince’s ball.

From left: Kayleigh Decker, Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Pogorelc in “Cendrillon.” (Todd Rosenberg photos)
From left: Kayleigh Decker, Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Pogorelc in “Cendrillon.” (Todd Rosenberg photos)

And that the prince also stepped out of an amusing story book comes across when Pelly, who is also the opera’s director, introduces him as somewhat peevish, uncooperative, hardly charming, pajama-wearing kid in his bed chambers.

Revival choreographer Karine Girard (and original choreographer Laura Scozzi) play up the  opera’s nose-thumbing, pseudo-sophistication side with wonderful marching steps by palace couriers and the introduction of females who hope to win the prince.

But humor aside, the Lyric’s Cendrillon is still an opera that requires fine voices. And they are.

English mezzo-soprano Alice Coote is superb in the “trouser” role of the prince and a good contrast (as it should be) to Australian soprano Shobhan Stagg’s quieter, sweet, Cendrillon in her American debut.

Bass-baritone Derek Welton, another Australian making his American operatic debut, convincingly portrays Cendrillon’s comically pathetic father, Pandolfe. And French-Canadian coloratura Marie-Eve Munger stands out in her Lyric debut as the Fairy Godmother.

Cinderella (Siobhan Stagg) far left, Fairy godmother (Maie-Eve Munger) atop the books center and Prince charming (Alice Coote) far right kneeling with cast of Cenrillon at the Lyric Opera.
Cinderella (Siobhan Stagg) far left, Fairy godmother (Maie-Eve Munger) atop the books center and Prince charming (Alice Coote) far right kneeling with cast of Cenrillon at the Lyric Opera.

In the step family, American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop making her Lyric debut is a perfect Mme. De la Haltiere. She’s backed up by daughters Noémie sung by American soprano Emily Pogorelc, and American mezzo-soprano Dorothée sung by Kayleigh Decker, both a Ryan Opera Center members.

As with many fairy tales there still is a poignant side, but the story still turns out well.

Although Rossini’s “Cenerentola” has appeared at the Lyric, Massent’s “Cendrillon” has only now come to town. It’s magic is perfect for the holiday season or anytime.

DETAILS: “Cendrillon”  is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago through Jan. 20, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs. 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Two drinks or desperate for sophomoric comedy needed for this show

 

Cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

2 1/2 stars

The “clues” are all there before “The Play That Goes Wrong” supposedly starts that the title is justified.

Now at the Oriental Theatre the farce that goes over-the top to be wrong begins with audience interaction when the “manager,” says something about ticket problems and the guy at the controls and his stage crew member point out problems with the set and auditorium as needing more duct tape.

More than duct tape is needed to fix this farce, a touring “hit” of a show that began in England then moved to Broadway.

But audiences are warned that what they will see is supposed to be an amateur production by a university drama society of “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” an Agatha Christie- “Mousetrap” style mystery somewhat akin to the “Noises Off” farce.

Thus scenery mishaps and missed lines and are to be expected. After all, this is supposed to be farcical take-off of an amateur college production.  And some of the antics are funny.

The problem is that the longer the show goes on, sophisticated theater audiences will find it less witty and more juvenile. It probably does belong in the category frat house entertainment for visiting parents.

That said, designer/prop maker Chris Bean who is also the director, costume designer, voice coach, etc. etc. etc. nicely creates a flawed British manor house where doors don’t work, pictures fall of the walls and windows don’t open as they should.

DETAILS: “The Play That Goes Wrong” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randoph St., Chicago through Dec. 16, 2018. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago Shows.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

This ‘Hellcab’ not worth the ride

(left to right) Adam Mengesha, Jack Schultz, Audrey Gladson and Regina Linn (Photo by Katie Reynolds)
(left to right) Adam Mengesha, Jack Schultz, Audrey Gladson and Regina Linn
(Photo by Katie Reynolds)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

This popular play by Will Kern has been trotted out by several companies since its debut in the nineteen- nineties and was even made into a movie in 1998.

“Hellcab” is comprised of a number of vignettes all taking place within the confines of a cab trolling the streets of Chicago during an evening leading up to the Christmas holiday.

There are highs and lows, there is happiness and sadness, violence and love. Some people are in good cheer, others not so much.  Through each experience the stoic cabbie (in this case played by Regina Linn) absorbs the emotional impact of each encounter. Read More

Santa’s elf gives us a break

Matt Crowle as Crumpet the Elf in the Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Erik Erik Scanlon photo)
Matt Crowle as Crumpet the Elf in the Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Erik Erik Scanlon photo)

3 stars

“The Santaland Diaries,” a humorous, naughty-nice take on the holidays now at  Goodman Theatre, evolved more than 25 years ago from an essay written by the then unknown comedian David Sedaris. Coupled with other stories, he told on the nightclub circuit, it was picked-up by the National Public Radio broadcast in 1992 as the “Santaland Diaries.”

The rest, as they say (whoever they are) is history. Sedaris published the collection in 1994 and his reputation took off as a humorist, comedian, author, and radio contributor.

Adapted by Joe Mantello, “The Santaland Diaries”presented in Goodman’s more intimate Owen Theatre, is a one-man, hilarious tale about becoming a department store elf for the season.

Played by Matt Crowle, the fabulous actor talks non-stop to the audience as he tells them he has decided to take a job at Macy’s in New York City as a Santaland elf by the name of Crumpet.

The audience gets to know Crumpet very well, as he changes his clothes on stage from casual, worn clothing to the elf’s red-and-white striped tights, attractive green velvet jacket, adorable elf boots and flashy hat.

Crumpet portrays the different elf jobs that he takes on—appearing in Macy’s windows, greeting visitors, and directing the people waiting in line to see Santa.

No one is spared as he describes what’s happening with the various parents who bring their children to sit on Santa’s lap.

The challenge is to keep a smile pasted on as the job becomes less enchanting and more boring.

Directed by Steve Scott, the play’s humor is endless. The audience feels as if they are traveling every minute with Crumpet, an elf whose imperfect behavior and naughty remarks make everyone laugh out loud.

“The Santaland Diaries” gives audiences a break from their overwhelming pre-holiday schedule.

DETAILS: “The Santaland Diaries” is at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through Dec. 30, 2018. Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

1940’s come alive in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Custer, Cameron, Robinson, Dahlquist, Joseph, Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Custer, Cameron, Robinson, Dahlquist, Joseph, Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

If you haven’t been invited to a holiday party yet or are just feeling ready to get into the Christmas spirit, you can’t do much better than the American Blues Theater’s staged radio show version of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life-Live in Chicago!.”

In this production, the theater is set up to give the illusion that you are part of the studio audience for a live radio broadcast in 1944 at WABT Studio on Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

There is a spinet piano, stage left, and three old-timey microphones on stands across the front where most of the action takes place.

Stage right is an array of apparatus where Foley artist Shawn J. Goudie will add sound effects. Above the piano is a lighted sign which displays the words “On Air” and “Applause.”

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‘The Nutcracker’ magic still exists

Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

4 stars

Imagine what if. What if Marie Stahlbaum’s nutcracker Christmas gift and her dream, a tale by E.T. A. Hoffmann, and adapted by Alexandre Dumas that was first presented with Tchaikovsky’s music in 1892, changed location and style.

What if it moved from a wealthy, European estate to Chicago where dreams were possible for a young girl who lived in a shack. And, what if the story kept the late 19th century date.

What was going on in Chicago that year was preparation for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition also called the Chicago World’s Fair. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’1492 landing in the “new world.”  Indeed, the Chicago World’s Fair dedication was in 1892 but the fair didn’t open until 1893.

Imagine all the possibilities the fair with its multi-cultural pavilions and its noted (first) Ferris Wheel as a background might hold for a ballet.

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