‘WaistWatchers – The Musical’ a woeful tale

Somewhat Recommended

 Waistwatchers the Musical is at the Royal George Theatre

Waistwatchers the Musical is at the Royal George TheatreNo subject in “Waistwatchers – The Musical,” premiering now at the Royal George Theatre, is taboo

Take a talented group of ladies who belt out a powerhouse of hits about the traumas of growing older, getting heavier, and feeling somewhat invisible and you have the basics of a very funny show.  You’ll find yourself laughing hysterically and nodding in agreement with their tales of universal woe.

The musical romp stars two-time Grammy nominee vocalist Martha Wash, the queen of disco and half of the Weather Girls, known for their hit single, “It’s Raining Men.”

While the three women commiserate at “Miss Cook’s Women’s Gym,” they sing the praises of younger owner Carla who does her best to keep her favorite customers motivated and on track. Yes, that anthem is an adaptation of “YMCA” and the audience is invited to sing along.

Lighthearted and full of high-energy dancing and non-stop fun, the musical features more than 20 numbers that focus on women’s relationship to food, friendship, loss, sex, Botox and working out.  And candy. Lots of candy.

Wash is Connie through October 28. The show also stars Kiley McDonald as Carla, Sarah Godwin as Cindy, Krissy Johnson as Cheryl, and Katherine S. Barnes as the MC.

Walsh knocks it out of the park with her powerful vocals and she simply commands the show every time she’s on the stage. She was a joy to watch.

Produced by Dana Matthow, the creative team includes Matthew E. Silva (Director), Alan Jacobson (Creator, Book and Lyrics), Vince Di Mura (Music) and Dani Tucci-Jurraga (Choreography).

The audience included several groups with a few men who were picked on for fun. In the end, the show empowers women to band together, relax and just be who they are.

DETAILS:  “WaistWatchers the Musical” is at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St., Chicago, through Dec. 30, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 988-9000 or visit Waist Watchers the Musical.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Seeking true ecstasy

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Donterrio Johnson (Leading Player) and Koray Tarhan (Pippin); (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Donterrio Johnson (Leading Player) and Koray Tarhan (Pippin);
(Photo by Brett Beiner)

Young Prince Pippin, played by Koray Tarhan, is searching for many things to help him fulfill his happiness.

From his glory of the battlefield to his political aptitude and his sensual seductions, not only does he come closer to finding his jubilation, but the audience gets to know Prince Pippin increasingly better by the minute.

Pippin’s imaginative journey is at the heart of Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz’s classic musical ‘Pippin’ which won four Tony Awards in 2013.

The new Chicago production at Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret Theater is delightful. Its captivating tunes “Corner of the Sky” and “Magic to Do” are beautifully played by musicians Courtney Anne McNally, Andrew Milliken, and Diego Salcedo.

At the end of the play, Pippin finally discovers where his happiness lies. His message is a worldwide, all-embracing theme.

Cast of Pippin at Mercury Theater Chicago (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Cast of Pippin at Mercury Theater Chicago
(Photo by Brett Beiner)

A fabulous cast keeps the delighted audience at the edge of their seats as they watch with amazement as each member displays proficient, multiple skills. The  singing is beautiful and the dancing is incredible.

Leading Player is performed by Donterrio Johnson who brings Pippin together with the following characters: King Charlemagne the Great—aka Charles—Pippin’s father played by Don Forston; his half-brother, Lewis, played by Adam Fane and his grandmother, Berthe, played by Iris Lieberman.

The cast also includes  Nicole Armold, Kayla Boye, Michael Rawls, Gabriel Robert and Sawyer Smith.

“Pippin” is directed by L. Walter Stearns with music direction by Eugene Dizon and choreography by Brenda Didier.

DETAILS: “Pippin” is at the Venus Cabaret Theater of Mercury Theater Chicago, 3741 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, through Dec. 16, 2018. Running time: 2 hours. For tickets and other information, call 7(73) 325-1700 or visit Mercury Theater Chicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Shrek is more than a simple tale

RECOMMENDED

Cast of Shrek the Musical at Marriott Theatre
Cast of Shrek the Musical at Marriott Theatre

There are many reasons to see “Shrek the Musical,”   now playing in Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences’ series.

As has come to be expected of Marriott shows whether for adult, general or young audiences, the singing, choreography and costumes are first rate.

Directed by Scott Weinstein, with musical direction by Matt Deitchman and choreography by William Carlos Angulo, “Shrek” has a cast actors known to Chicago audiences. Shea Coffman is Shrek, Jacquelyn Jones plays Fiona, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis is Donkey and Steven Strafford portrays Farquaad.

Then there is Marriott’s understanding that a show for young audiences shouldn’t be more than an hour and that scary creatures such as dragons should be shown as merely clever representations actually moved by actors they can see yet still ferocious enough to interest older children.

But what these shows really come down to for parents and grandparents of grade-school youngsters are talking points for discussions on the way home.

Adapted by Jeanie Tesori and David Lindsay Abaire form DreamWorks’ Oscar-winning movie, “Shrek the Musical,” the show revolves around fairy-tale characters sent to ogre Shrek’s swamp because they have no place to go after being ousted from Farquaad’s kingdom. Farquaad considers them weird and he wants what he considers to be an ideal realm.

Families who think this theme is similar to what is going on now and in the past across the globe or merely want to ask their youngsters what they think about Farquaad and his ideas have a strong basis for discussion in “Shrek.”

Shea Coffman, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, and Jacquelyne Jones in Shrek the Musical.
Shea Coffman, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, and Jacquelyne Jones in Shrek the Musical.

However, the ending also  leaves a lot open to discussion. Shrek accedes to Farquaad’s wishes to bring him a princess in order to become a king and have a queen . Shrek does so because his reward is to have total ownership and control of the swamp.

The proposed match doesn’t work out. The ogre and the princess realize they’re in love . Shrek welcomes the princess and fairy tale characters to his swamp and everyone is supposedly happy.

So first, there is the argument that love’s first kiss can reveal one’s true self which is what the princess was told when a spell was cast upon her. In the musical  the princess and Shrek find out they are alike.  And there is the question of do princesses still need rescuing?

Then, there is the talking point, not made in the show, of why should characters who are unlike those in a kingdom, country or area have to reside outside it even if they are welcome elsewhere, such as the show’s swamp.

DETAILS; “Shrek the Musical” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, through Dec. 30, 2018. Running time: One hour. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Extraordinary ‘La bohème’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi) meet when she comes to his garret. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème”opened the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 64th season Oct. 6. And what an opening it was.

Not only is the set more creatively stylized from the one opera goers have seen at the Chicago Opera House for more than 40 years, Puccini’s lyrical music and the drama in Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa’s libretto were also given more depth by English director Richard Jones and Venezuelan-Swiss conductor Domingo Hindoyan then in earlier Lyric productions.

Based on Henri Murger’s  “Scènes de la vie de bohème,”the playful interactions of poet Rodolfo (American tenor Michael Fabiano) and his friends, painter Marcello (American baritone Zachary Nelson), musician Schaunard (Puerto Rican baritone Ricardo José Rivera) and philosopher Colline (Romanian bass Adrian  Sampetrean), are emphasized as are Marcello’s  temperament and Rodolfo’s multi-faceted character.

But what really made the opening a “happening” was Fabiano’s soaring delivery of each aria from “Che gelida manina” to “La più divina delle poesia,” to  “Ebenne no, non lo so.”

Thank you, Lyric, for introducing this amazing tenor and his powerfully rich voice to Chicago audiences. Fabiano has already wowed audiences with his Rodolfo at London’s Royal Opera House in 2017 and at the Met earlier in 2018.

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‘Little Foxes’ still powerful

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Saren Nofs Snyder (Regina Giddens), Alicia Kahn (Birdie Hubbard) and Thom Thomas (Ben Hubbard) in the Little Foxes at Citadel Theatre. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)
Saren Nofs Snyder (Regina Giddens), Alicia Kahn (Birdie Hubbard) and Thom Thomas (Ben Hubbard) in the Little Foxes at Citadel Theatre. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)

Revived on Broadway in 2017 where it received six Tony Award nominations, “The Little Foxes,” Lillian Hellman’s blistering tale of a Southern family’s greed is replayed at Citadel Theatre with all the destructive power that made this drama a classic.

Brilliantly cast with Jeff Award-nominated Saren Nofs as the ruthless Regina Giddens, frustrated by not holding the family’s financial reins, the drama steam rolls to its necessary conclusion leaving audiences saying “whew.”

Regina is not the only family member who suffers under the accepted norm of male inheritance and domination prevalent at the turn of the last century.

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‘Nell Gwyn’

RECOMMENDED

Nell Gwyn (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Nell Gwyn
(Photo by Liz Lauren)

Seen in London where treatments of royals and theatrical history fit the English bent for farce,  Jessica Swale’s comedy, “Nell Gwyn,” was well-received.

It showcases a woman known for her wit who called herself a “Protestant whore.” More than that, Nell Gwyn’s story is a true “My Fair Lady” tale.

The Kings Company’s leading actor, Charles Hart, discovered her teasing his group’s members from an aisle where she was selling oranges. But instead of chiding Gwyn, he pulls her on stage.

Hart saw her potential to become an actress and tutored her in current accepted mannerisms. While performing, she caught the eye of Charles II and became his long-time mistress.

That said, Chicago audiences do appreciate a really good farce and well-presented historic tales but Swale’s play, now appearing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in its North American Premiere, feels as if it isn’t sure what to emphasize and how to balance comedy with historical facts or how to play up the serious, indeed, ground-breaking, changes to women’s roles on stage and in society.

Dubbed “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys, Gwyn embodied the  Restoration Theater period that came when Charles II was restored to the throne after England’s Cromwell and Puritanical years. He promoted French and Italian-style theater and wanted actresses on stage instead of men taking female characters.

But given that Restoration comedy is supposed to be onstage, there seemed little point to turning Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine, into a raving shrew. The Catholic queen was much maligned by Charles’ subjects.

However, a reason to see the play is to enjoy Olivier Award nominee Scarlett Strallen’s delightful performance as Nell Gwyn. She dances, sings and flirts her way into viewer’s hearts as she bewitches the king (Timothy Edward Kane) and Hart (John Tufts).

Chicago audiences will see local favorites such as Larry Yando (Goodman Theatre’s Scrooge) as Charles’  minister, Lord Arlington, and multi-Jeff Award-winning actor, Hollis Resnik, as Catherine and Ma Gwyn.

British Olivier Award-winning actor David Bedella is perfection as Edward Kynaston who had to give up playing female characters.

Kudos also to set and costume designer Jermaine Hill, augmented by CST wig and make-up designer Richard Jarvie.

DETAILS: “Nell Gwyn” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier through Nov. 4, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs. 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Pure magic beyond your imagination

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Henry Boshart as Charlie Bucket and Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolagte Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Henry Boshart as Charlie Bucket and Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Roald Dahl’s timeless 1964 classic comes to life on stage in this phenomenal, highly-imaginative production of  “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” now playing through October 21 at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago.

Capturing the dreams of the young and young at heart, the musical tells the story of the world-famous chocolatier Willy Wonka. Sales of his candy are down, so he holds a contest to award a tour of his factory to five lucky “golden ticket” winners.

Featuring a cast of zany characters, including an impoverished Charlie Bucket, the children and their families go on a life-altering journey through Wonka’s factory with surprising results.

With direction by three-time Tony Award® winner Jack O’Brien, the show features music by Grammy®, Emmy® and Tony Award® winner Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Grammy® and Tony Award® winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.

Superb scenic and costume design by Mark Thompson recreates the colorful world of Willy Wonka. Innovative choreography by Joshua Bergasse highlights the show.

Gene Wilder starred in the 1971 film with such wonderful songs as “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man,” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.” New music has been added to the show from the songwriters of “Hairspray,” including the powerful and visually beautiful, “The View from Here.”

Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

It was fun to watch the numerous children in the audience as they experienced the Oompa-Loompas, eye-popping visuals, glass-elevator and crazy demise of the “spoiled” children.

My only issue with the show is the lack of consistent sense of place. Charlie’s family looks like they’re from the 1940s, Mike Teavee’s mom is straight out of the 1950s, while Mike has an I-PAD and Violet Beauregarde is a contemporary “Queen of Pop.”

Noah Weisberg is delightful as the purple-caped, top-hat-wearing Willy Wonka. He portrays Wonka with innocence and charm, yet a touch of evil.

Henry Boshart (Collin Jeffery and Rueby Wood alternates) steals the show as the downtrodden Charlie Bucket. He dreams of a better life for himself, his widowed mom and four beloved grandparents. He’s adorable, high energy with a sweet singing voice.

The real stars of the show are the Oompa-Loompas, creatively imagined as puppets and humans dancing together and the incredible dimensional visuals showcasing a world of candy, color and animation that are pure magic. The entire show is a graphic feast to behold.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is an ideal show to introduce children to the world of musical theater.

DETAILS: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. through Oct. 21, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs. 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information, visit  Broadway in Chicago.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Witch’ confronts devilish problems

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Audrey Francis (Elizabeth) and Ryan Hallahan (Scratch) in 'Witch' at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo)
Audrey Francis (Elizabeth) and Ryan Hallahan (Scratch) in ‘Witch’ at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo)

There’s a lot to think about in “Witch,” Jen Silverman’s new play now at Writers Theatre. Staged in Writers’ intimate Gillian Theatre, the acting is first rate as cast members portray issues and problems Silverman raises that are both age-old and au courant.

Six characters, Sir Arthur David Alan Anderson), lord of the castle and village Elizabeth (Audrey Francis), viewed by the village as a witch, Cuddy (Steve Haggard), Sir Arthur’s son, Frank Thorny (Jon Hudson Odom), a villager that Sir Arthur sees as the son he wishes he had , Winnifred (Arti Ishak) a villager/cum castle maid supposedly married to Frank, and Scratch (Ryan Hallahan, a handsome devil, grapple with issues ranging from homosexuality, women’s status, ambition and using violence to solve problems to patriarchal desires, community biases based on underlying fear, despair, revolution maybe, and hope.

If that isn’t enough, there is are underlying themes of achieving one’s wish through outside forces such as help from the devil or by one’s self and what would drive a person to sell one’s soul.

Wow, those are a lot of issues to cover in a 95 minute show and would likely bring about lively post show discussions.  There will be post show conversations after Tuesday and Wednesday night shows and at special events Oct. 28 at 11:30 a.m. and Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

The play, inspired by “The Witch of Edmonton” written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford in 1621, is set during the Jacobean era. However, it uses contemporary phraseology such as the discussion between Elizabeth and devil where she asks if they are “on the clock” meaning are his arguments an effort to get her to agree to trade her soul for what she wants or are they merely having an intriguing conversation.

Jon Hudson Odom (Frank Thorny), l, David alan Anderson (Sir Arthur), Arti Ishak (Winnifred) and Steve haggard (Cuddy) in 'Witch' at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Jon Hudson Odom (Frank Thorny), l, David alan Anderson (Sir Arthur), Arti Ishak (Winnifred) and Steve haggard (Cuddy) in ‘Witch’ at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

The Jacobean-period setting when King James VI of Scotland ruled 1567 to 1625 and became King of England as James I in 1603, was interesting but arguably conflicted with 21st century vocabulary.

The same issues have existed for centuries as was noted by Jean-Bapatiste Alphonse Karr’s quote, “plus ca change…” (the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Given that the problems still exist and the idea of witches among us still exists, Silverman’s play could be placed at any time similarly to how the plays of William Shakespeare have been re-set.

But because the play is well-directed by Marti Lyons, the acting is exceptional and the thoughts are compelling, maybe audiences won’t mind the discrepancy between the period and the vocabulary.

DETAILS: “Witch” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 16, 2018. Running time: 95 min., no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

Change Can Be Difficult

 

Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)
Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Set during a changing period in recent history near New Orleans in 1963 “Caroline, or Change” is an emotionally charged story about the power of money and fear of change.

Caroline (Rashada Dawan) is a maid in a modest Jewish household in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her employer Stuart Gellman (Jonathan Schwart) is a widower who has recently married one of his deceased wife’s friends, Rose (Blair Robertson) who hails from the Upper West Side of New York.

For Rose change is manifest in the challenges presented by her new life in the South which include a despondent husband, his eight year-old grieving son Noah (Alejandro Medina) and “negro” housekeeper whose life is slowly unraveling as she quietly struggles to keep it together.

It is the dawn of the civil rights movement, times are changing, President JFK has just been assassinated. Caroline is recently divorced, has three girls (Bre Jacobs, Princess Isis Z. Lang and Lyric K. Sims) at home and a grown son in Vietnam. To make matters worse she is under employed and feeling like she has no skills that would allow her to change her circumstances.

Caroline’s oldest daughter Emmie Thibodeaux (Bre Jacobs ) represents the new generation and the change that is coming.

The term “change” takes on a double meaning as the plot pivots around Noah’s habit of leaving loose change in his pants pockets where Caroline routinely finds it while doing the laundry and where the odd coins become a catalyst for a change in attitudes.

One can nit-pick but every member of this perfect cast turned in wonderful performances in a nearly flawless production directed by Lili-Anne Brown with a nearly flawless script featuring book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, and music by Jeanine Tesori.

The actors are accompanied by the musical direction and keyboard of Andra Velis Simon with her excellent four piece band, Yulia Block (percussion), Kimberly Lawson (violin) Emily Beisel (reeds) and Myles Bacon (guitars).

There is virtually no break in the music from beginning to end so it is difficult to single out individual performances. But, the charming jump rope style song “Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw” sung by  Caroline’s adorable daughters and joined by Noah in Act One, as well as her own show stopping “Lot’s Wife” toward the end of Act Two were memorable moments for me.

If you are unfamiliar with this play I suggest you definitely put it on your “must see” list. And I will venture to say, that you are not going to get a much better chance than this Firebrand Theatre presentation of “Caroline, or Change.”

DETAILS: “Caroline, or Change,” a Firebrand Theatre production, is at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. through Oct. 28, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs., 30 min. For tickets or other information visit Firebrand Theatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Tootsie’ is ready for Broadway

Santino Fontana in 'Tootsie' at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Julieta Cervantes photo)
Santino Fontana in ‘Tootsie’ at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Julieta Cervantes photo)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When “Tootsie,” a Columbia Motion Pictures film  based on a book by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart, came out in 1982, it received 10 Academy Award nominations. Adapted by Gelbart with uncredited assistance from Elaine May, Barry Levinson and Murray Schisgal, its cast had Dustin Hoffman starring and included, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Bill Murray.

Tthe movie, a tale of how an actor who has trouble finding a job adopts a female persona in order to land a role, presents a myriad of riotous scenarios.

Although really funny, the telling point of the film was that the Library of Congress decided to preserve it in the National Film Registry in 1998 because it was culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Given the current culturally and historically significant climate of women’s issues, “Tootsie” as a musical comedy with a clever book by Robert Horn (“13”) and witty and insightful score by Tony winner David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit), promises to be a Tony winner when it goes to Broadway Spring of 2019.

Nods to the “Me Too” and other concerns are scattered throughout the musical from a show director guiding a female cast member off stage while saying “I’m not touching you” to a character noting that female actors are paid less than the males.

Instead of following the film and having the lead don female garb to tryout and land a soap opera role, the musical has Michael Dorsey snagging the role of Dorothy Michaels, Juliet’s nurse, in a crazy adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.”  In cahoots with Juliet, he takes over the show to make a feminist statement and promote the character of Dorothy.

It is hard to picture the role played any better than it is currently handled by Tony Award nominee Santino Fontana (“Cinderella”) who nails the character’s angst and Dorothy’s feminine side while holding onto his own masculinity, his natural attraction to Juliet (Julie Nichols) plus his feelings for his girlfriend, Sandy Lester (Sarah Stiles).

Lilli Cooper is well cast as Julie, innocent of her attraction to Dorsey as Dorothy. Stiles is amazing as Sandy who sings a rapid-fire accounting of all her problems in a style reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The rest of the cast is also sterling with Broadway actors John Behlmann playing Max Van Horn, Andy Groteluesche as Jeff Slater, Julie Halston as Rita Marshall and Michael McGrath as Stan Fields and theater, film and TV actor as Ron Carlisle.

Superb choreography by Denis Jones, gorgeous costumes by William Ivey Long and spot-on set design by David Rockwell are all worthy of Broadway nominations.

Just as important, under the fine direction of Scott Elis the show moves at an energetic pace that enhance comedic and startling moments.

Lucky for Chicago audiences it is following in the steps of such other Broadway hits as “Kinky Boots,” previewing in our city before heading to New York. It is currently showing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

DETAILS: “Tootsie” is at the Cadilac Palace theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Oct. 14, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs, 20 min. 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