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

 

 

‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’ is a Fuzzy Tale

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

A different performer takes on White Rabbit Red Rabbit at each Interrobang production.
A different performer takes on White Rabbit Red Rabbit at each Interrobang production.

It can be said that any piece of literature is a conversation with the author across time and space but Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour takes this to a new level.

For those interested in a nontraditional performance experience, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” presented by Interrobang Theatre Project is an enjoyable, thought provoking, perhaps at times, philosophical, leap into experimental theater.

A different actor every night is presented with a few props and a sealed script which is opened on stage. At this point the actor follows the instructions and performs accordingly. Performers: Stephanie Shum (September 24) JD Caudill (October 1), Echaka Agba (October 8), Michael Turrentine (October 15), Joe Lino (October 22), David Cerda (October 29), Shawna Franks (November 5) and Owais Ahmed (November 12).

For some this may be a trip down a proverbial rabbit hole but others like “Alice” may encounter a splendid adventure.

Part of the intrigue is that no one (including me) is permitted to talk about the details of the play because no one sees exactly the same show twice.

Approximately one hour long, it is a kind of improvisational comedic/dramatic,social experiment.

If you are expecting a traditional night at the theater this may not be your thing but if you are looking for a refreshing break from the ordinary then hop over to see “White Rabbit Red Rabbit.”

DETAILS: “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, through Nov. 12, 2018. For tickets and other information call (312) 219-4140 and visit Interrobangtheatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Powerful solo show commands Goodman stage

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

David Cale in his show at Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Liz Loren)
David Cale in his show at Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Liz Loren)

We’re told not to give away plot points  of “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time,” British born, American actor, singer, composer David Cale’s musical memoir now in its world premiere at Goodman Theatre.

So suffice it to say Cale takes audiences from his unusual growing up years through how an early tragedy impacted him and his family to his leaving England for a new life in the United States where he blossoms as an adult and loves being alive.

OK, that’s an oversimplification.

“We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time” is a commanding performance that combines acting and singing.

Cale adopts the mantle of each of his characters. His change of voice, movements, prose and lyrical poetry set to music, pull audiences into how he thinks family members and he viewed life and each other.

The changes are complemented by a superb six-piece orchestra on stage directed by co-composer/arranger pianist Matthew Dean Marsh. They are adroitly lit in parts and whole by Jennifer Tipton. Kevin Depinet’s creative set design enhances the verbal pictures painted by Cale.

No matter what else the show is and does for audiences, it is his tribute to his mother. If viewers look at the playbill cover they will see a woman pictured on his shirt. It is no accident that her picture is placed over his heart.

What is hard to believe is that he tells his story in 90 minutes, a short amount of time given that it has enough plot points to fill a two hour play or three-hour opera.

But Cale who has written one-person shows before, likely understands that brief exposure makes powerful statements.

Directed with great insight and empathy by Robert Falls, “We’re Only alive for A Short Amount of Time” is definitely powerful.

DETAILS: “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago through Oct. 21, 2018. Running time: 90 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodmantheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Curve of Departure’ raises interesting family issues

RECOMMENDED

From left, Rudy (Mike Nussbaum),Linda (Penelope Walker), Jackson (Danny Martinez) and Felix (Sean Parris in 'Curve of Departure' at Northlight Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left, Rudy (Mike Nussbaum),Linda (Penelope Walker), Jackson (Danny Martinez) and Felix (Sean Parris in ‘Curve of Departure’ at Northlight Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In Rachel Bonds’ “Curve of Departure,” now at Northlight Theatre, you see four characters who face different issues they sort of resolve by the end of the 75-minute play.

The characters, Rudy (Mike Nussbaum), ex-daughter-in-law Linda (Penelope Walker), her son, Felix called Fe, (Sean Parris) and Fe’s boyfriend, Jackson ,(Danny Martinez) have come together for the funeral of Rudy’s son, and Linda’s former husband, Cyrus, who is only a presence by their discussion of how awful he was.

Rudy’s grandson and his friend share a New Mexico motel room with Rudy and Linda to save money.

It is easy to get caught up in their troubles without realizing the big picture.

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Good song and dance numbers sweeten Marriott’s ‘Charity’

The cast of 'Sweet Charity' goes into the 'Big Spender' song and dance number. (Photo by Justin Barbin)
The cast of ‘Sweet Charity’ goes into the ‘Big Spender’ song and dance number. (Photo by Justin Barbin)

RECOMMENDED

When Charity Hope Valentine is asked why she believes in love, she replies, “You have to have some religion.”  In “Sweet Charity,” a show replete with good lines, after all Neil Simon wrote the musical’s book, this expression lies at the heart of the story.

However, audiences who have seen the 1969 movie and are seeing the show now at Marriott Theatre, will also catch that the theme that frames the show is Charity’s middle name, Hope.

No matter how often she is disappointed, Charity, a dance-hall hostess, rebounds. Instead of following the typical “and they lived happily ever after,” in “Sweet Charity” she moves forward, “hopefully.”

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‘Vietgone’ translates love and war into a romcom

Matthew C. Yee and Aurora Adachi-Winter are the leads in 'Vietgone' at Writers Theatre, Glencoe. (Michael Brosilow Photo)
Matthew C. Yee and Aurora Adachi-Winter are the leads in ‘Vietgone’ at Writers Theatre, Glencoe. (Michael Brosilow Photo)

RECOMMENDED

Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone” at Writers Theatre offers a fascinating  perspective on immigration that shatters stereotypes while basically telling a love and adventure story that is funny (think rom-com).

It also is a musical but instead of sentimental arias as in “Madam Butterfly” or ballads as in “South Pacific” you have the leads Quang (Matthew C. Yee) and Tong (Aurora Adachi-Winter) rap and sing to Gabriel Ruiz’s music. Read More

‘Heartbreak House’ provides exellent reason to visit American Players Theatre

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tracy Michelle Arnold, Jonathan Smoots & Jim DeVita, Heartbreak House. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)
Tracy Michelle Arnold, Jonathan Smoots & Jim DeVita, Heartbreak House. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Watching “Heartbreak House” at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI, I am wondering what George Bernard Shaw would make of today’s world and most of all, the U.S’s current political scene.

With the subtitle “A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes,” “Heartbreak” proclaims the writer’s admiration for Anton Chekhov. However, though Chekhov appears to present his characters’ flaws and inability to do much about them as in “Cherry Orchard,” he still seems to have a fondness for them and likes them as if they should be tolerated as one does family members.

Shaw has a more critical attitude. He not only populates the English home of Captain Shotover with characters who sound as if they mean well but are so into their own little worlds that they do little to change anything, he also paints them as caricatures in a society that that won’t accept responsibility for its country’s problems.

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Madcap ‘Murder for Two’ fits summer breezes

Jason Grimm, l, and Noel Carey in Murder for Two at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
Jason Grimm, l, and Noel Carey in Murder for Two at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

RECOMMENDED

“Murder for Two,” creatively staged and directed by Scott Weinstein at Marriott Theatre, will delight audiences seeking light, hilarious comedy. A fast-paced musical with book and lyrics by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, the show revolves around which guest at a surprise birthday party shot the guest of honor, a successful novelist.

The kicker is that it is a two-actor show where one person plays the suspects and the other is a policeman who wants to nail the perpetrator so he can be promoted to detective status.

As to motivation, it turns out that most of the suspects used the same psychiatrist and he fed the novelist with patients’ secrets for each of best sellers.

What makes this show fun is the breathless pace of Jason Grimm as he transforms himself into female and male suspects while alternatively playing the piano with Noel Carey, the investigating cop, Marcus Moscowicz. Then there is Scott Davis’ item-jammed, rotating stage which is almost a character in itself.

The first hour is a laugh-a-minute hoot, let the puns and rhymes fall where they may. By the last 15 minutes of this 90-minute farce, audiences may be excused if they don’t care who shot the novelist. Probably it doesn’t matter anyway because this isn’t “Murder She Wrote.” It’s a hilarious theatrical bit that is perfect for summer and that shows off the amazing talents of Carey and Grimm.

“Murder for Two,” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, through Aug. 26, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Elvis is back

Heartbreak Hotel playing now at Broadway PLayhouse at Water Tower Place (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Heartbreak Hotel playing now at Broadway PLayhouse at Water Tower Place (Photos by Brett Beiner)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Chicago audiences may remember how in “Million Dollar Quartet,” a musical about an historic moment in recording history, Elvis Presley was unhappy with his agent and RCA Victor. He wanted to be back in the understanding arms of Sun Records’ Sam Phillips.

We don’t see everything that led up to that notable time, an unexpected jam session of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in December 1956, but we do learn about some of the problems he faced in “Heartbreak Hotel,” the prequel to that million dollar jukebox musical.

No question it’s hard to recapture the magic of seeing amazingly talented pianists play Jerry Lee and wonderful vocalists echo “I Walk the Line,” ”Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

But written and directed by Floyd Mutrux who co-wrote “Million Dollar Quartet” with Colin Escott and had co-directed the show in Chicago with Eric Schaeffer, his “Heartbreak Hotel” has enough talent on stage and background videos as scenery to keep audiences enthralled.Read More