A Touching, Tragic Tale

Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Theo Ubique. (Austin D. Oie Photography)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Theo Ubique. (Austin D. Oie Photography)

 3 1/2 stars

First of all be warned. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch, may not appeal to every taste. Audiences who attend this four-time, 2014 Tony Award-winning musical should be comfortable with in-your-face performances, deafening rock music, blinding concert lighting and 95 minutes of adult humor and a brazenly bold backstory.

The theatergoer who considers Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Loewe the hallmarks of the American musical probably won’t love a show that’s this garish and loud. However, younger, less conservative audiences, as well as the many devotees of this cult musical, will find everything to love about Theo Ubique’s finale to their first season, now playing in Evanston through July 28.

The show began as a modest little rock musical that told the story of Hedwig Schmidt, a young, queer, glam, rock singer who underwent gender reassignment surgery.

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Let’s live life through music . . .

Cast of Falsettos. (Joan Marcus photo)
Cast of Falsettos. (Joan Marcus photo)

4 stars

In 2017 when “Falsettos” returned to Broadway, it was nominated for five Tony Awards, including the Best Revival of a Musical.  Now two years later, this fabulous musical is in Chicago, directed by playwright James Lapine with music and lyrics by William Finn.

Taking place in New York in the 1970s, we meet a charming, neurotic gay man, Marvin, played by Max Von Essen; along with his 10-year-old son, Jason, played by Thatcher Jacobs.

We also meet psychiatrist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire) and Marvin’s wife Trina (Eden Espinosa)whom he leaves for his lover, Whizzer (Nick Adams).

“Falsettos” second act introduces two lesbian neighbors of Marvin’s, Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell).

Performed by phenomenal voices, “Falsettos’ ” wonderful songs tell the story throughout the show.

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‘Next to Normal’ dives into mental illness with clarity

 

From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe). (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe). (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

“Next to Normal” brilliantly and unerringly brings to the stage what life is like in a home where a family member is mentally ill.

Penned by Brian Yorkey who also did the lyrics and with music by Tom Kitt, the show took three Tony awards in 2009. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama because even though it has highly expressive musical numbers, it is not a feel-good musical.

“Next to Normal” is a heart-wrenching drama about a husband who keeps trying to help his wife combat what has been diagnosed as bi-polar depression triggered by the death of their young son early in their marriage and about their teenage daughter who no matter how successful she is in school, can’t get the attention she deserves and craves.

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‘The Memo’ brings a dystopian message from Vaclav Havel

Tricia Rogers (Director Gross) in 'The Mem.' (Photo by Anna Gelman)
Tricia Rogers (Director Gross) in ‘The Mem.’ (Photo by Anna Gelman)

 

3 Stars

“The Memo” is an interesting if not important piece of theater as it was written by Vaclav Havel who went on to become a player on the world stage in the role of reformer. Havel served as the last President of Czechoslovakia, then as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

Written in 1965, it was originally translated into English as “The Memorandum” by British writer Vera Blackwell in 1967. The Organic Theatre production is using the later translation from 2006, encouraged and approved by Havel, written by Canadian Paul Wilson and re-titled “The Memo.”

This is an absurdist black comedy that might be described as Monty Python meets “Office Space” in the “Twilight Zone.”

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Chicago shakes “Six” wives

 

Cast of 'Six" at Chicago Shakespeare. (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘Six” at Chicago Shakespeare. (Liz Lauren photo)

3 Stars

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents the North American premiere of the energetic pop-concert musical “Six” by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss featuring the story of the six wives of England’s 16th Century monarch Henry VIII.

The fate of the queens are apparently remembered by English school children using the rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived” which becomes the leitmotif of the opening number as the women introduce themselves to the audience.

A series of nine musical numbers centered around a common theme with virtually no dialog, this production is more of a pop-concert than what you think of as traditional musical theater.

Presented as a kind of musical competition, each of the “Six” wives takes turns telling her life story, including her relationship with the notorious Henry.

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Understanding the Frankenstein story

Walter Briggs, Cordelia Dewdney and Debo Balogun in Mary Shelly's 'Frankenstein' at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Walter Briggs, Cordelia Dewdney and Debo Balogun in Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

3 stars

To understand director/playwright David Catlin’s production of “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein” at Lookingglass Theatre, you probably should go back to the original story conceived during competitive ghost, story-telling sessions at Lord Byron’s Swiss Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva.

Eighteen-year-old Mary Godwin was at Byron’s retreat with lover Percy Bysshe Shelley whom she would marry after his wife, Harriet, died. Also there, aside from British romantic poet George Gordon Byron (6th Baron Byron), was Godwin’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont and Dr. John Polidori.

Mary, using the last name of Shelly before they’re married, directs the people at the Villa to join her in playing the characters in her competitive entry. It’s a clever devise.

Knowing all parts of her “Frankenstein” novel sahead of time will help explain Lookingglass’ opening scene in the arctic where Captain Robert Walton and crew are temporarily iced-in at the North Pole.

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A Wrigleyville and Cubs story make great theater

Cast of Miracle The Musical 108 years in the Making at Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Cast of Miracle The Musical 108 years in the Making at Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

Audiences at “Miracle: A musical 108 years in the making” know the outcome of the 2016 World Series but they don’t know what will happen to the Delaney’s who own “Maggies,” a longtime, neighborhood friendly, Wrigleyville bar. Maggie is Pops deceased wife who is represented by a lit picture on the wall and the gravestone Pops  visits.

Directed by Damon Kiely, the entire cast is so good that everyone gasps when it looks like Charlie (Brandon Dalquist) will sell the bar to Weslowski (Michael Kingston) because Pops (Gene Weygandt) missed a few property tax payments and because he worries that daughter Dani will grow up stuck in the family bar like he did.

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Augie March misadventures

Cast of Augie March at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of Augie March at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

2 ½ stars

Free-Style Chaos Defines Augie March

This theatrical version of “The Adventures of Augie March,” at the Court Theatre perhaps serves to illustrate why the popular novel by Chicagoan Saul Bellow has never before been adapted to the stage.

The story line basically follows everyman hero Augie March (Patrick Mulvey) as he meanders aimlessly through life allowing the people he meets to shape his journey. In this way Bellow suggests the arbitrariness of life and is perhaps a cautionary tale of the dangers of undefined goals.

The play opens in the Atlantic Ocean with Augie and his maniacal companion (John Judd) floating in a lifeboat after the sinking of their merchant ship.

During a flashback, Augie’s odyssey begins in the 1930s depression era crowded apartment he shares with his mother (Chaon Cross), two brothers and an overbearing Russian Jewish grandmother (Marilyn Dodds Frank).

Along the way Augie meets an odd assortment of characters which is one of the hallmarks of Bellow’s writing as he reveled in the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of humanity.

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Two tales in one Shakespearean play

Kate Fry (Hermione), Dan Donohue (Leontes) and Nathan Hosner (Polixenes) in The Winter’s Tale at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)
Kate Fry (Hermione), Dan Donohue (Leontes) and Nathan Hosner (Polixenes) in The Winter’s Tale at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)

3 stars

How you react to “The Winter’s Tale” at Goodman Theatre depends on if you like an intensely acted, disturbing tragedy immediately followed by a whimsical, comedic romance that tries to make the tragedy all right in the end.

Among William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) late plays (published in the 1623 First Folio) is “The Winter’s Tale” which combines many of his themes such as murderous jealousy as in “Othello” with comedy and romance similar to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Expect to see unconscionable actions and reactions during the tragedy but Act I ends with a foretelling of funny things to come by a bleating shepherd and his son followed by the personification of a wildly announced “Time.”Read More

‘August Rush’ not ready for prime time

The cast of August Rush at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Luaren photo)
The cast of August Rush at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Luaren photo)

2  1/2 Stars

There’s no denying that John Doyle is a gifted genius. The artistic director of Classic Stage Company in New York City, Doyle has won awards for his productions of beautiful “Passion,” “Carmen Jones” and “The Visit.”

He’s primarily known for his much-acclaimed, pared down productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” where, in addition to acting, singing and dancing, the reduced cast also provided all the musical accompaniment.

His latest production, adapted from a popular 2007 film of the same name, is now enjoying a pre-Broadway tryout at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora where Doyle has simplified the story and amped up the musical component with mixed results.

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