‘Nell Gwyn’

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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

 

 

‘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

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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