‘Holiday Inn’ dances joyous path through the holidays

 

Holiday Inn cast at Marriott Theatre with Johanna McKenzie Miller and Will Burton in the center. (Liz Lauren photos)
Holiday Inn cast at Marriott Theatre with Johanna McKenzie Miller and Will Burton in the center. (Liz Lauren photos)

3.5 stars

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” now playing at Marriott Theatre, is among the composer’s delightful story-telling songs in “Holiday Inn.” But don’t confuse Berlin’s “Holiday Inn,”  a musical that has a book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, with the show, “White Christmas.”

Based on the 1942 Universal film with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, “Holiday Inn” packs “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Heat Wave,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” and “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” into a delightful, old-fashioned-style hokey, song and dance musical that ends with happily ever after.Read More

‘Frankenstein’ viewed through Manual Cinema eyes

Cast and production crew of Manual Cinema's Frankenstine at Court Theatre (Michael Brosilow photos)
Cast and production crew of Manual Cinema’s Frankenstine at Court Theatre (Michael Brosilow photos)

4 Stars

It is supposed that our most ancient cave dwelling predecessors told supernatural cautionary tales of adventure that included encounters with fantastic creatures.

Their flickering fires casting out-sized, ominous, and at times, grotesque shadows on the wall amplified the sense of dread and danger. Add the slow beating of a drum mimicking the ever increasing beating of hearts, mixing with the mysterious sounds of nature lurking in the darkness and you begin to see the primeval recipe that Manual Cinema has tapped into in the telling of their version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Manual Cinema is a singular theatrical experience that has elements of street theater and silent film. The company mixes live action, silhouettes, puppets, shadow puppetry, masks, video, slide projection and all manner of theatrical techniques, ancient and modern to create a captivating monochromatic video mash-up, reminiscent of a nickelodeon feature, assembled and projected on stage before your eyes.

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In ‘Siegfried’ playful staging mixes with outstanding voices

 

Matthias Klink (Mime) in playpen and Burkhard Fritz (Siegfried) in the third segment of Wagner's Ring cycle at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photos)
Matthias Klink (Mime) in playpen and Burkhard Fritz (Siegfried) in the third segment of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photos)

3.5 stars

Opera goers who saw “Das Rheingold” in 2016 and “Die Walküre” in 2017, Lyric’s first two operas segments of Wagner’s four-part “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” will find the next segment, “Siegfried,” still has tall scenery towers bookending the stage. They deliberately remind audiences that Wagner’s The Ring cycle is theater.

It is theatrical and musical drama. But where the productions of the first two segments were highly creative but serious, “Siegfried” is playful, fanciful, serious fun.

The tone is set when a somewhat menacingly large, three-nail-claw and an eye of Fafner, the giant-turned dragon who guards the ring, appear under the curtain and draw audience laughter. The curtain then rises to reveal Siegfried’s playroom of oversized art work and children’s furniture including a tall playpen.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost – A timeless tale

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

L-R: Amber Cartwright, Katherine Duffy, Rachael Soglin, Raina Lynn (Photos by Brian McConkey Photography
L-R: Amber Cartwright, Katherine Duffy, Rachael Soglin, Raina Lynn
(Photos by Brian McConkey Photography

This delightful Invictus Theatre experience proves once again that little has changed since Shakespeare penned this early comedy about the powerful drive of the passions of youth.

The young Ferdinand King of Navarre (Chad Bay) challenges his three besties  Berowne (Charles Askenaizer), Longaville (Taylor Glowac) and Dumain (Sam Cheeseman) to forsake romance and other distractions of the flesh such as eating for the purpose of devoting themselves fully to their studies for three years.

The pact does not last long due to the hunger of youth and the arrival of a young French Princess (Raina Lynn) and her posse of eligible young maids in waiting Rosaline (Rachael Soglin), Katherine (Amber Cartwright) and Maria (Katherine Duffy). Conveniently there is the requisite number of each sex for the two respective royal crews to square off.

The young men have soon forsaken their fasting and studies and have instead turned their hand to verses of love, while the ladies delight in disguising themselves and otherwise confounding their suitors for sport.

As with most of The Bard’s theatricals there are a few side trips not the least of which is a Spanish Lord Don Armado (Martin Diaz-Valdes) and doltish slave Costard (Johnny Kalita) pursuing the same country wench Jaquenetta (Daniela Martinez); and the play-within- a-play featuring the self-important teacher Holofernes (Alisha Fabbi) and his sycophant the curate Nathaniel (Jack Morsovillo).Read More

Harry Truman anti-Semite or doula at birth of Israel

SOMEWHAT RECOMMEND

(left to right) Tim Kough and Catherine Dvorak in Greenhouse Theater Center and Forum Productions’ world premiere of Truman and the Birth of Israel. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
(left to right) Tim Kough and Catherine Dvorak in Greenhouse Theater Center and Forum Productions’ world premiere of Truman and the Birth of Israel. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

“Truman and the Birth of Israel” is a politically wonkish tale about a fictional encounter between the retired 33rd President and a young, future congresswoman, Bella Abzug (Catherine Dvorak).

At this point she is a rising New York attorney already showing a penchant for championing Zionist, feminist and civil rights ideals that will be her trademark in later years.

The action takes place in the home study and garden of Harry S. Truman (Tim Kough).  Abzug has been assigned to represent “Give’m Hell Harry” in a libel action the former President intends to initiate against an East Coast newspaper reporter who has allegedly defamed him by insulting his daughter’s singing talent.

Truman’s law firm assigns Bella Abzug to the case presumably because both she and the reporter are Jewish. Abzug feels certain that the defense will attack Truman for his past anti-Semitism and sets out to understand the complexities of a man who was once a card carrying member of the KKK but is also credited with helping to make the State of Israel a possibility.

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Loss expressed with a Danish accent

RECOMMENDED

Linda Gehringer in Lady in Denmark at Goodman Theatre (Liz Loren photo)
Linda Gehringer in Lady in Denmark at Goodman Theatre (Liz Loren photo)

Maybe despair and loss can be emotionally handled when countered or balances with glimmers of hope.

In “Lady in Denmark,” a one-person show currently playing at Goodman Theatre, Helene recounts her life in Denmark including rape when she was 14 and her current situation of desperate loneliness upon the recent death of husband Lars.

She replays their favorite Billy Holiday songs for the memories but try as she does, it doesn’t seem to work for her and is not enough to leave audiences feeling good about loss.

Indeed, theater goers who are experiencing or have gone through the kind of cancer battle that Helene just went through with her beloved Lars, might want to skip the show or see it at a much later time.

Part of the problem is that Linda Gehringer who received a Jeff nominee for “The Crowd You’re In With,” portrays Helene so well and with such intensity and depth of understanding it is easy to believe the person on stage is recounting her own experiences.

Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith, the playwright and actress of the highly acclaimed “Until the Flood,” her current play appears on the surface to be a tribute to Holiday, the “Lady” who visited Denmark and was happier in Europe than in America where she was subject to racial hatred and discriminatory laws.

It does partially retell Holiday’s interaction with a family in Denmark, the inspiration for “Lady in Denmark.” But with Gehringer’s heartfelt portrayal under Chay Yew’s direction, what the play does in its brief 90 minutes is to remind people that “rape lasts a lifetime” and that trying to get through loss “doesn’t get better.”

The action takes place in a home in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, an elaborate, excellent set designed by Andrew Boyce, furnished in Danish Modern. Gehringer competently interjects Danish phrases and mentions favorite foods that add to the show’s ethnic angle.

Even told with a Danish flavor that has Billy Holiday songs in the background and referred to in the title, “Lady in Denmark” is about loss., an emotion that is universal.

DETAILS: “Lady in Denmark” is in the Owen theatre and Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago through Nov. 18, 2018. Running time: 90 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre .

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

A salute to the queen . . . and other fabulous women

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Cast of A Woman of Soul at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan Davis photo)
Cast of Women of Soul at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan Davis photo)

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.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

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‘Hello Dolly’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Betty Buckley & Hello, Dolly! National Tour Company. (Photos by Julieta Cervantes)
Betty Buckley & Hello, Dolly! National Tour Company. (Photos by Julieta Cervantes)

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.

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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

The American Revolution in 50 minutes

RECOMMENDED

The American Revolution is acted out by Theater Unspeakable cast on a tiny, raised platform.
The American Revolution is acted out by Theater Unspeakable cast on a tiny, raised platform.

 

A talented ensemble of seven actors in red union suits depict the salient moments of the American Revolution in an improvisational tableau style on a roughly three foot by seven foot platform, two feet off the ground, in fifty minutes.

Produced by Theater Unspeakable and directed by Marc Frost, the show is oddly compelling and entertaining.

With no scenery or props and using their bodies alone the cast, skillfully choreographed by movement director Thomas Wynne, employ many time honored devices of stagecraft including pantomime, narration, dialogue and a cappella song to guide us through a timeline beginning with the French and Indian war through to the establishment of a new nation while covering events on two continents.

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