‘The Nutcracker’ magic still exists

Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

4 stars

Imagine what if. What if Marie Stahlbaum’s nutcracker Christmas gift and her dream, a tale by E.T. A. Hoffmann, and adapted by Alexandre Dumas that was first presented with Tchaikovsky’s music in 1892, changed location and style.

What if it moved from a wealthy, European estate to Chicago where dreams were possible for a young girl who lived in a shack. And, what if the story kept the late 19th century date.

What was going on in Chicago that year was preparation for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition also called the Chicago World’s Fair. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’1492 landing in the “new world.”  Indeed, the Chicago World’s Fair dedication was in 1892 but the fair didn’t open until 1893.

Imagine all the possibilities the fair with its multi-cultural pavilions and its noted (first) Ferris Wheel as a background might hold for a ballet.

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‘The Safe House’ at City Lit is a safe bet

 

 marssie Mencotti, L. and Kat Evans in City Lit's The Safe House. (Photo by Steve Graue)
marssie Mencotti, L. and Kat Evans in City Lit’s The Safe House. (Photo by Steve Graue)

3.5 Stars

This world premiere slice of life drama is sure to strike close to home.

For many, the place they have lived and raised a family is more than an assembly of bricks and wood, it is a repository of memories and the physical manifestation of a life’s work. When it comes time to consider leaving it behind there are more considerations than a change of address.

“The Safe House,” commissioned by City Lit and based on a true story by Chicago playwright Kristine Thatcher, is expertly supervised by Producer/Artistic Director Terry McCabe.

You get a feeling you know where the cookie jar is in designer Ray Toler’s cozy retro kitchen/dining room stage setting It brings us right into the domain of “Grandma” Hannah (marssie Mencotti) who must confront the realities of her changing condition and abilities.Read More

‘Arcadia’ is close to ideal

Chris Smith, Megan DeLay, Chris Woolsey (Photos by Tim McGrath, TCMcG Photography)
Chris Smith, Megan DeLay, Chris Woolsey (Photos by Tim McGrath, TCMcG Photography)

3.5 Stars

“Arcadia” begins with thirteen year-old Thomasina Coverly (Meghann Tabor)asking her tutor Septimus Hodge (Chris Woolsey) the meaning of the term “carnal embrace.” Hodge replies essentially that the word carnal is derived from the Latin “carne” meaning meat and it is therefore referring to an embrace with a “side of beef” or “leg of mutton.”

From this opening dialog playwright Tom Stoppard is creating an atmosphere of inquiry and humor. He is sending a message that though this may be challenging at times, we are going to have fun with it.

The action takes place around a table in an historic and aristocratic English manor house in which there are two intersecting story lines set roughly two hundred years apart.

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Lookingglass takes ‘Steadfast Tin Soldier’ to another level

The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

At Lookingglass Theatre audiences see a charming screen a few minutes before Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” story is pantomimed on stage.

The actors, dressed as figures that might be found in a young European child’s nursery or at a “Panto,” take turns on stage opening  windows that reveal children’s toys – except one that shows a fire.

And thus, perceptive audiences might pick up the clue that as with many of the famed Danish author’s fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” life will not be very smooth for the lead character but the ending can offset what appears to be devastating consequences. Read More

Appreciate Jane Austin once again with ‘Mansfield Park’

Heidi Kettenring (Mrs. Norris) tells Kayla Cargter (Fanny Price) she can never say no at Mansfield Park while Kate Hamill (a maid) helps change Price's clothing. (Michael Brosilow photos)
Heidi Kettenring (Mrs. Norris) tells Kayla Cargter (Fanny Price) she can never say no at Mansfield Park while Kate Hamill (a maid) helps change Price’s clothing. (Michael Brosilow photos)

3 stars

Readers familiar with Jane Austen’s novels know this author sees through surface-only charm, social pretense and people who talk about manners but are not at all well-mannered.

These readers also know to expect thinly cloaked feminism about a century before the women’s rights movements were causing waves and making some progress in England and the United States.

But given Austen’s first two books, “Sense and Sensibility” in 1811 and “Pride and Prejudice” in 1813, audiences who see “Mansfield Park,” now at Northlight Theatre, will find in Austen’s third novel, out in 1814, that practicality no longer wins arguments. They will also note that one of “Mansfield Park’s theme stresses that financial benefit doesn’t excuse slavery.

“Mansfield Park’s heroine Fanny Price is portrayed to perfection by Kayla Carter. She convincingly takes her character from a young girl trying to adapt to her relative’s moneyed and mannered life when sent there as a servant and companion, to her metamorphosis as an independent young lady who does not succumb to pressure and who is willing to lead an impoverished life.

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‘Joseph:’ A Citadel show of biblical proportions

Joseph (Jacob Barton) shows off his “coat of many colors” to his jealous brothers. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)
Joseph (Jacob Barton) shows off his “coat of many colors” to his jealous brothers. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)

3.5 stars

First performed on Broadway in 1982, this interpretation of the Old Testament’s story of Joseph and his brothers through contemporary eyes is a fun, high-energy show featuring a delightful chorus of local children.

Based on Joseph’s “coat of many colors” from the Book of Genesis, the story shows what can happen when a parent plays favorites.

From the get-go, the show begins with two narrators instead of the traditional one and takes off like a rocket from the very first musical number, “Any Dream Will Do.”

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Superb voices meet Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’ challenge

Tamara Wilson (Lenora) in Il Trovatori at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Tamara Wilson (Lenora) in Il Trovatori at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3.5 stars

Thanks goodness, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Il Trovatore” has much more going for it than the famed “Anvil Chorus” (“Vedi le fosche notturne”) in which some of the workers overdo their loud clangs, forgetting that the gypsies are singing to Verd’s music and the anvils ought to be an interesting accompaniment.

This production is an opportunity to hear Soprano Tamara Wilson, making her Lyric debut as Leonora . Wilson lets the audience know right away that she was well chosen as the doomed heroine with her “Tacea la note placida, a beautiful cavatina with its high c, and the passionate “Di tale amor che dirsi” aria made even more impressive by its trills.

It is also an opportunity to hear mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, last heard at the Lyric in as Giovanna in Donizett’s Anna Bolena in 2014. Read More

‘Miss Saigon’s’ heat is on!

Anthony Festa (Chris) and Emily Bautista (Kim) in Miss Saigon at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photo)
Anthony Festa (Chris) and Emily Bautista (Kim) in Miss Saigon at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Matthew Murphy photos)

4 stars

After its 25th anniversary revival on Broadway in 2017, “Miss Saigon” is reappearing this year on a national tour.  Directed by Laurence Connor, the music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.

Loosely based on Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly,”  “Miss Saigon” follows the final days of the Vietnam War.

The first lead character that opens the show is The Engineer played by Red Concepcion. The Engineer runs Dreamland, a steamy bar and brothel in Saigon that’s packed with beautiful Vietnamese women whom he has lined up for American soldiers.

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‘Twelfth Night’ is wickedly funny

Front, l to r, Andrea San Miguel, Jennifer Latimore, and Matthew C. Yee, and back, William Brown in Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Front, l to r, Andrea San Miguel, Jennifer Latimore, and Matthew C. Yee, and back, William Brown in Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” (subtitled “Or What You Will”) must be Writers Theatre’s holiday gift to show lovers who enjoy witty entertainment.

Its outstanding cast and superb direction bring out all the deliberate jests, entertaining horseplay, subplots and musical interludes that mark the Bard’s wicked sense of humor.

Meant as entertainment that befits the bawdy disorder that had traditionally been part of the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany, the play hinges on Shakespeare’s fondness for females dressed as males and the ensuing falling-in love confusion.

There are also the playwright’s deceptively honest answers such as when Olivia, a woman in mourning whom Duke Orsino hopes to wed, asks his emissary, Cesario (really Viola, dressed as a young man), if she is a comedian (another term for actor). She answers “I am not that I play.”

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‘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