‘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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What is needed to get parenting right

 

Nathan Burger (Bernard) and William Brown (Salter) in 'A Number' at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Nathan Burger (Bernard) and William Brown (Salter) in ‘A Number’ at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

3 1/2 stars

During the course of “A Number” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe, a father admits he was an awful parent the first time around as his sons try to extract the full story of their existence.

It’s sort-of a two person play with stage veteran, actor/director  Nate Burger (Writers Theatre, Americanh Players Theatre, Timeline) as the father, Salter, and popular Chicago actor Nate Burger (Chicago Shakespeare, Timeline, Goodman) as Bernard, his sons, 1, 2 and 3.

The play is only 65 minutes long but its high intensity acting and twists made it feel as if I sat through two hours of a suspenseful drama.

Eerie music and lighting enhance Robin Witt’s spot-on direction of clipped responses from the father in contrast to the emotions of Salter’s original and cloned sons.

Nathan Burger and William Brown in 'A Number'
Nathan Burger and William Brown in ‘A Number’

Yes the show, written by Caryl Churchill back in 2002 when copying mammals’ DNA and genetic make-up  was in the news, is about cloning. It’s also about examining uniqueness, identity, upbringing, abandonment and truth.

Salter, who felt he was not a good father the first time around, wanted to try again from scratch. He had scientists clone his first son so he could be a better father the second time.

What happens on how the son and clones react will be a surprise therefore there will not be an alert here. You have to go to find out.

But a word of warning. Don’t believe most of what Salter says. The real story emerges from the mist of his twisted mind in bits and pieces.

DETAILS:”A Number” is in the Gillian Theatre of Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court Glencoe  through June 9, 2019. Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call  847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

Powerful look at 1920s black experience

From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson in 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

To see August Wilson’s plays is to look through a window on the life and times of black Americans, to feel their frustrations, challenges and desires, not just in one period, but in 10 decades of the 20th century. To witness actors tell those stories is to hear Wilson’s ear for the cadence and poetry of language.

In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now at Writers theatre through March 17, 2019, we visit a Chicago of the1920’s when white record producers were turning to black music they called “race music” because it sold well.

The play is the only one of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” to be set in Chicago. The others, such as “Radio Golf” (1990’s) done by Court Theatre last year and “Two Trains Running”  (1960s) that appeared at Goodman Theatre in 2015, took place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

The incomparable Felicia P. Fields (Tony nominated for “Color Purple”) is terrific as a feisty Ma Rainey who really was a popular blues singer. Her rendition of “Black Bottom” is great and I would have liked to her sing more.

Felicia P. Fields in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." (Michael Brosilow photo)
Felicia P. Fields in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ (Michael Brosilow photo)

But this play is about the thoughts, experiences and desires of her black band members and how white record producer Sturdyvant (Thomas J. Cox) and Rainey’s manager, Irvin (Pete Moore), behave before, during and after the taping.

While waiting for Rainey, who turned out to be delayed by a difficult traffic confrontation and bad cab experience, her quartet, hot-headed trumpeter Levee (Kelvin Roston Jr.), philosophical pianist Toledo (David Alan Anderson), easy-going bassist/backup vocal “Slow Drag,” (A.C. Smith) and band leader/trombonist Cutler (Alfred H. Wilson), tell stories and debate ideas during rehearsal.

After a couple of problems including Sturdyvant finally letting Levee know that the trumpet player’s songs will not be optioned, Levee erupts, and the play has a tragic ending.

However, directed by Ron OJ Parson, the band members present the perfect ensemble to tell Wilson’s story. Todd Rosenthal’s backdrop of a former church turned recording studio sets the right period tone. Using the front of the stage as the downstairs rehearsal room is genius because it brings the audience close to the band members.

Other cast members are Dussie Mae( Tiffany Renee Johnson) as Ma Rainey’s likely lover, Sylvester, (Jalen Gilbert) as Rainey’s stuttering nephew and policeman (Blake Montgomery) who brought Ma and her retinue to the recording studio after the traffic confrontation.

DETAILS: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is at Writers Theatre, 325Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 17, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Related article: ‘Radio Golf’ is a hole in one

 

Five shows to take the mind off winter

 

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

 

If escaping to somewhere warm hasn’t worked out this year then escape instead to a fun or interesting play that takes you to a different time or place.

 

“All Childish Things,” a crazy plan to steal Star Wars toys from a warehouse encounters the Dark Side, at First Folio in Oakbrook through Feb. 24. The show is appropriate for Star Wars fans ages 12 and up.

Seeing a show at First Folio is an experience because it is in the Mayslake Peabody Estate, a supposedly haunted mansion in a Du Page County Forest Preserve.

 

“The Producers,” Mel Brooks zany plot to make money on a show by producing a flop, is at the Paramount  Theatre in Aurora through March 17, 2019.

Paramount is worth the drive to Aurora because the shows there are full-blown, Broadway-style productions with excellent casts and great scenic design, costumes and orchestration.

 

“Dear Evan Hansen,” a complicated scenario dealing with mental health, fitting in, bullying and other problems teens face in high school, is at the James M Nederlander Theatre (formerly Oriental) through March 10.

The Tony-Award winning musical is starting its National tour in Chicago as part of the Broadway in Chicago series.

 

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” a delightful Porchlight  Music Theatre production at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, through March 16.

If you haven’t seen a Porchlight musical, it’s time to add it to your go-to list.

 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a classic August Wilson play, is at Writers Theatre, Glencoe through March 17.

August Wilson presents, rather than tip toes through, confrontation, but he does so in unexpected ways. Plus, Writers Theatre is in an award-winning Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang Architects) designed structure.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Around Town: Lunapalooza and MLK event

 

Adler Planetarium is on the eastern edge of chicago's Museum Campus. (J. Jacobs photo)
Adler Planetarium is on the eastern edge of chicago’s Museum Campus. (J. Jacobs photo)

 

No, Lunapalooza is not a typo. The Adler Planetarium is celebrating the total eclipse of the moon late into the night of Jan. 20 with Lunapalooza and Writers Theatre is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a free Civil Rights production Jan. 21.

Lunapalooza

Pretty much every time our universe puts on a sky show, the Adler celebrates by sharing its astronomers and equipment. During the solar eclipse last August, the Adler was handing out the proper sunglasses and had a companion craft activity to safely watch the event.

For the lunar eclipse the night of Jan 20, Chicago’s world-class planetarium is celebrating with a free outdoor experience, no telescope or glasses needed but PJs are OK because the event goes from 8 p.m. to midnight.

But there’s a lot going on inside.

With the admission pass of $14 adults and $8 children age 3 to 11, guests can go to “Eclipse HQ” in the Space Visualization Lab which has a live feed and chat opportunities with astronomers.

The pass also is good for seeing the Adler’s new show, Imagine the Moon that opens Jan. 18 and charts how the moon was part of people’s lives through the ages.

Indoor activities include a glow-in-the-dark PJ party in the Family Zone and grabbing a cup of hot chocolate before going outside to witness the event.

There are more things to see and do so go to  Lunapalooza. To find out how to get tickets go to  Adler Planetarium shop. To learn more about Adler’s new show visit Imagine the Moon.

The Adler Planetarium is at 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago.

 

Chicago History Museum. (Photo courtesy of Chicago History Museum and choose Chicago)
Chicago History Museum. (Photo courtesy of Chicago History Museum and choose Chicago)

 

The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Right

 Produced by Writers Theatre, the annual, one-person- show written by Yolanda Androzzo and featuring Angela Alise, will be performed free at the Chicago History Museum Jan. 21, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. The Chicago History Museum is at 1601 N. Clark St. and Lincoln Park. The hour-long show will be followed by a discussion.

 Writers Theatre takes the show, a meshing of interviews of Chicago-based Civil Rights activists with poetry and hip-hop expression that is directed by Tasia A. Jones, to 35 Chicago Public Schools, community centers and juvenile detention centers during a 6-week tour.

 The production can also be seen earlier at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe,on Feb. 2 at both 4 and 7 p.m. Those tickets are Adults $20, students $10. They are available by calling (847) 242-6000 and at WritersTheatre MLK Project.

 

 

‘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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‘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

 

 

 

‘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

Sneak Peak Part Six: Chicago suburban theater scene

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

Not all memorable theater is in the city. Chicago’s suburban theaters put on Jeff award-winning productions. But whether looking to the city or suburbs or both, one way to not miss a show you want to see is to save this Sneak Peak Series and mark productions for tickets or theaters for subscriptions. Enjoy! (Note: Some companies spell their work and space theater but others use theatre. Both are correct.)

North

 

Citadel Theatre

The theatre is in a school building at 300 S. Waukegan Rd. Lake Forest.

Citadel is doing “The Little Foxes, Sept. 28-Oct. 28 followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”  Nov. 16-Dec. 23.  An early 2019 show is TBA but then “Sentimental Journey” is Apr. 26-May 26.

For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.

 

Marriott Theatre

The theatre does professional musical productions in the Marriott Resort at 10 Marriott Dr,. Lincohnshire.

The season continues with “Murder for Two” through Aug. 26 followed by Sweet Charity” Sept. 5-Oct. 28, “Shrek the Musical” (children’s show) Oct. 5-Dec 30 and concludes with “Holiday Inn” Nov. 7-Jan. 6.

In addition to the shows, the theatre is hosting  a fundraising concert in memory of director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell Sept. 17 called “We Three” featuring the stars of Marriott’s “Mama Mia,” Meghan Murphy, Cassie Slater and Danni Smith.

For show tickets call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.  To get tickets to “We Three” call the Marriott or order on line tickets at  Ticket Master.

 

Metropolis Performing Arts Center

The Center, at 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, is currently doing   “Beehine” through Aug. 25, then “Chorus Line” Sept. 20-Nov. 3 and “James and the Giant Peach Jr. Nov. 8-10. In 2019, productions continue with “Mouse Trap” Jan. 31-March 16 and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” May 16-June 29 and “Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story” July 18-Aug. 24.

For tickets and other information call (847) 577-2121 and visit Metropolis Performing Arts Center.

 

Music Theater Works

Productions are usually in Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern University’s campus at 600 Emerson St. at Sheridan Road, Evanston.

Currently “Anything Goes” continues through Aug. 25 then it’s “Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine” Oct. 5-14 and “Into the Woods” Dec. 22-31 .

For tickets and other information call (847) 920-5360 and visit Music Theater Works.

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Race and sex can be serious and entertaining among smart people

 

RECOMMENDED

Julian Parker (Jackson Moore, MD), Kayla Carter (Valerie Johnston, Deanna Myers (Ginny Wang) and Erik Hellman (Brian White) in 'Smart People' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Julian Parker (Jackson Moore, MD), Kayla Carter (Valerie Johnston), Deanna Myers (Ginny Wang) and Erik Hellman (Brian White) in ‘Smart People’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Do you sometimes assume that someone with the name of Goldstein is Jewish or that someone who is Asian has to be aggressive to be successful?

In ‘Smart People,’ now playing at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, playwright Lydia R. Diamond has four people, a black man, black woman, white man and an Asian woman, interact in Cambridge, MA. Both issue raised here did occur.

All are ‘smart people’ but they each encounter stereotypical problems with others and with each other when play and pursue their careers. The time is between 2007 and 2009 with the Barack Obama campaign and win in the background.

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