Felder reveals life of Chopin

 

Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin - A Play with Music

Pianist/ theater performer Hershey Felder as Chopin

Highly Recommended

Billed as “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin – A play with music,” the title doesn’t even come close to offering clues on what to expect when you enter the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre at Writers Theatre in Glencoe.

Composer Fryderyk Chopin did speak French and spent some happy times in Paris where he did have a salon. But he was Polish and longed for his country.

Hershey Felder, a highly skilled pianist and performer does become Chopin to take audiences through the composers’ short but momentous life. But to call what is on stage “a play with music” hardly does justice to Felder’s amazing dexterity at the piano and his ability to enthrall audiences with his interpretation of Chopin’ musical compositions and tragic life.

It’s a tale that bounces in both enacting Chopin’s life and playing his compositions from romantic moments to mental illness and from depression to exuberance.

Felder starts by addressing the audience as if they are music students at his salon, 9 Square d’Orleans, Paris on the afternoon of March 4, 1848.

The scenic design is by Felder who carefully researched the time, place and salon. But along with the elegant setting, audiences will also be watching the wall behind him where projections change to what is going on in Poland and Paris thanks to production manager Erik Carstensen’s excellent video Design. 

Directed by Joel Zwick, Chopin’s music and Felder’s “book” or “play” if you want to call it that, “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin” provides an extraordinary glimpse into the life of a famous composer that is arguably little known beyond his compositions.

Felder is also known for his performances as other composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Ludwig von Beethoven. 

Details: “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin” is at  Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL April 10 through May 12, 2024. Running time: between 90 and 110 minutes (depends on questions from the audience) with no intermission. For tickets and more information visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

April events to know and go

EXPO Chicago (2023) at Navy Pier (Photo by Justin Barbin)

After experiencing the extraordinary solar eclipse, other good, yet less unusual April events are likely to be missed. But two art experiences are on this month’s agenda for people who appreciate and enjoy really special artistic events.

EXPO Chicago

Expo Chicago, both an exhibit of the best art examples filling the top contemporary and modern galleries in 29 countries, and art programs, are going on now, April 11 through April 14, 2024 at Navy Pier and several Chicago area locations.

Begun in 2012, Expo Chicago, brings 170 international galleries to Chicago. This year, they come from Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

For more information see ArtWeek.

Among the local participating museums and institutions are the Art Institute of Chicago, Peninsula Chicago, Art on the Mart, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Driehaus Museum and the Block Museum of Art on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus in addion tgo the Barely Fair at the Color Club at 4146 N. Elston.  A loop shuttle will run between some of those venues. See ESPO Chicago. Visit Alignments.

 

One of a Kind Show (J Jacobs photo)
One of a Kind Show (J Jacobs photo)

 One of a Kind 

Also in April is the One of A Kind Spring Show April 26-28, 2024. Held at The Mart, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza at the Chicago River between Wells and Franklin Street, it features, 350 artists, makers and designers in such areas as glass, furniture, sculpture, paintings and gourmet food. For more information visit Attend/One of a kind.

Jodie Jacobs

Tragic Tennessee Williams well told Streetcar

 

(Photo by Liz Lauren)

Highly recommended

Having seen Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire” numerous times before, the wonder was how the Paramount Theatre’s “Bold Series” production could be interpreted any differently.

The answer came immediately as Blanche Dubois wandered shakily as she made her way across the small stage of the Copley Theatre, obviously having had one too many shots of the hard stuff.

In the Copley, an intimate secondary venue across the road from its parent Paramount building, the lighting design of Cat Wilson and the scenic design of Angela Weber Miller cast just the right mood for Williams’ hot and sweaty New Orleans. But the show is not really hot or sweaty. It is about a character shaped by a Southern culture. 

We might guess that when we see the almost, but not quite well-put-together Blanche as dressed by costumer designer Mara Blumenfeld, that this seemingly refined person would be the story’s tragic character.

As the long, nearly three-hour show, uncovers Blanche’s history, it no longer matters that the show is set in steamy New Orleans even though its title picks up on a real streetcar in the French Quarter that is named “Desire.”

Unlike many other productions, this interpretation is not particularly dripping with atmosphere. It is merely telling a story. And it is tells it well.

Perfectly portrayed by Amanda Drinkall, Blanche is another of Williams’ way to portray a dissolute South trying to hold on to its plantation culture.

Co-directed by Jim Corti and Elizabeth Swanson, the acting is superb. Along with Drinkall, kudos also go to Alina Taber who is believable as Blanche’s sister Stella, and to Stella’s husband, Stanley (well played by Casey Hoekstra).

Even if you have seen “Streetcar” before, see it again as a Paramount production.

Details: “A Streetcar Names Desire” is at the Copley Theatre, 8 East Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL through April 21, 2024. For tickets and more information call (630) 896-6666 or visit  Paramount Aurora.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Oh what a night with Jersey Boys

 

Jersey Boys

Highly Recommend

Seeing “Jersey Boys” is about having a great time watching a “jukebox” musical.

“Jersey Boys” must be the hardest working cast on stage in Chicago. This nearly three-hour production, now at the Mercury Theater, is a physical workout for the four primary characters. They perform over 30 musical numbers while walking us through the life and times of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

The Four Seasons were a Jersey-based rock and roll quartet that appealed nationwide to largely blue collar teens in the 1960s with songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man.”

Lead singer Frankie Valli with his distinctive falsetto transitioned successfully to the top of the pop charts as a single with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” composed by his creative partner Bob Gaudio.

In this Chicago based production, the group’s founder, Tommy DiVito (Adrian Aguilar), starts the narration explaining the tumultuous beginnings of a few street-smart kids with a foggy vision of an exciting future. Tommy says their options were, “the military, the mob or music.”

As the story goes, Tommy became aware of a kid in the neighborhood, with “a voice like an angel.” It was Frankie Castelluccio or Frankie Valli (Michael Metcalf) as he came to be known.

With the help of another neighborhood friend, Joe Pesci (Grant Alexander Brown) – Yes the same guy who went on to become a famous actor – – they were introduced to Bob Gaudio (Andrew MacHaughton) a local musician and songwriter who had a recent hit with “Who Wears Short Shorts?”

The three struggled to find their sound. Ultimately, another old friend, Nick Massi (Jason Michael Evans), joined them and in a moment of inspiration they restructured themselves as the “Four Seasons.” Not inspired by Vivaldi but rather by the name of a bowling alley in New Jersey.

The final character in the puzzle is their record producer and lyricist Bob Crewe (Adam Fane) portrayed here with a good amount of humor as an over-the-top gay man with a great ear for music.

A theme running through the story is the group’s association with local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Carl Herzog) and the fact that the boys can’t quite shake their Jersey roots.

This manifests as Tommy’s desire for largely undeserved respect, and a quest to find short cuts or easy money that he evidently felt was what led to the stature and apparent success of figures like Gyp.

The other side of the “Italian Jersey code” was a sense of honor which Valli took very seriously and is behind his arguably over developed sense of loyalty and an admirable adherence to his word.

Aguilar’s performance as Tommy carries the first act with his charming tough-guy persona. Grant Alexander Brown as Pesci and Adam Fane as Crewe interject much of the comic relief throughout the production.

MacHaughton as Gaudio lets his presence be known with an outstanding strong delivery of his first number, “Cry for Me,” and later on in “Oh What a Night.”

The weight of the production, of course, falls on the shoulders of Michael Metcalf as Frankie Valli who does an outstanding job on every level.

We see the character transition from a naïve young man to a global superstar with his own demons and life challenges. Valli’s well known falsetto is not easy, if not nearly impossible, to duplicate, but Metcalf manages it admirably.

The entire support ensemble does yeomen’s work keeping the high energy, fast-paced storyline going. Kudos specifically to Eric A. Lewis who plays Barry Belson and others who belts out a few high notes of his own.

One of the highlights of this production is the terrific orchestra led by Linda Medonia (keyboards) with Justin Kono (percussion), Jonathan Golko (bass), Samuel Shacker (guitar), Cara Strauss (reeds), and Greg Strauss (trumpet).

Jersey Boys seems as much like a great concert as it is a play with a substantial and interesting book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Whether you are coming to this as a nostalgic experience or you’re new to the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons you will be in for an entertaining event suitable for all ages (PG-17 for language).

Details: Jersey Boys at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL, through May 19, 2024. Running time is about 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and information visit mercurytheaterchicago.com or call (773) 360-7365.\

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

All Mozart Program at Lyric Opera

 

 

Lyric opera preprogram shot (J Jacobs)
Lyric opera preprogram shot (J Jacobs)

 

The Lyric Opera showcased their superb chorus and orchestra in an all Mozart program including two dramatic works, “Incidental Music from Thamos, King of Egypt” and the ever popular “Requiem.”

Conducted by Enrique Mazzola, performances were presented Friday March 22 and Sunday March 24, 2024,  with soloist Heidi Stober, soprano, Elizabeth DeShong, mezzo-soprano, Matthew Polenzani, tenor and Kyle Ketelsen, bass. Michael Black is the chorus director.

“Requiem” is arguably the most beautiful choral work ever written. It is purported that while creating the work Mozart had a premonition of his own death. The composer did indeed die before the work was fully completed causing Franz Xaver Süssmayr to be engaged to complete the task. According to program notes Süssmayr, orchestrated the Kyrie and completed the Lacrymosa.

We attended Sunday’s performance to a sold out and very appreciative audience.

Featuring the exceptional Lyric Opera chorus and orchestra the program is essentially an annual event that should not be missed.

Next year Lyric will conclude its regular season with Lyric in Concert: A Wondrous Sound, April 16 and 18, 2025. Maestro Mazzola will present an original program of some of opera’s choral favorites and most thrilling overtures, perfect for opera aficionados and newcomers alike.

The program will be designed to demonstrate the truly grand scale of the more than 100 artists of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and the Lyric Opera Chorus. In addition to the two performances at the Lyric Opera House, Lyric in Concert: A Wondrous Sound will also have a pair of performances presented at venues around the Chicagoland area, with more details to be announced soon.

This season tickets are available for the Rising Stars Concert April 13, 2024.

Details: Lyric Opera of Chicago is at 20 N. Wacker Dr. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera Chicago.

 

Reno Lovison

How and where to be a little Irish: Around Chicago

 

(Photo courtesy of South Side Irish)

Chicago really knows how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day-make that St. Patrick’s Week.

Hopefully, you already saw turning the Chicago River green and downtown’s St. Patrick’s parade and where to watch from a cruise.

The two events pretty much fill Saturday, March 16. But here are more events and ideas to celebrate the Irish festival when everyone wants to get a bit of Irish luck.

Two more parades take place at noon March 17. Tinley Park already had theirs early in the month but the South Side Irish march on Western Avenue between 103rd and 115th Streets in the Beverly neighborhood at noon (and stop for a pint) and the Northwest Side Irish Parade also starts at 12. The route winds through the Norwood Park neighborhood, beginning at William J. Onahan School running south on Neola Avenue to Northwest Highway, then heads north on Northwest Highway to Harlem Avenue. 

Where to celebrate 

It’s hard to get more Irish on March 16-17 than at the Irish American Heritage Center where you can hear such bands as The Screaming Orphans, down a pint, eat and see Irish dancers. You will likely need a ticket for some of the concerts. Children admitted free.

Also try the Old St. Patrick’s Church on March 16 for
Shamrock’n the Block for entertainment, food, a raffle, and a heated tent beer garden. This all-ages event will also feature activities for kids.

The pubs are all doing Irish -related specials but here are a few to try during St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

 Check out

Cork & Kerry:  in Bridgeport or Beverly.

Lizzie McNeill’s Irish Pub: On the Chicago River, it will have a tent up, live music Friday and Saturday. You can get tickets online.

Guinness Open Gate Brewery: A real Guinness tap, the West Loop brewery will have live music, brewery pours, food service, and more.

The Dearborn Tavern: Owned by two Irish sisters, The Dearborn will feature Irish food, drink specials, Guinness swag and more.

Chief O’Neill’s: Voted one of the world’s 10 best Irish pubs it is considered by many to be the place to go now and all week for so reserve a table, enjoy the buffet, have a pint and hear live Irish music.

Mrs. Murphy’s & Sons Irish Bistro: Located in the North Center neighborhood, the bistro specializes in traditional Irish food, drink and live Irish music. Tip: reserve a table upstairs.

Jodie Jacobs

Inventing the World of James Bond

 

OO7 James Bond at MSI (Photo Reno Loviso)

OO7 – James Bond at MSI (Photo Reno Lovison)

 

Fantasy and reality merge in the world of fictional espionage as seen in “007 Science- Inventing the world of James Bond” now at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. 

You don’t have to be a James Bond movie fan to enjoy this latest exhibit. Just consider what was make believe and what might be real, then and now.

You can see the prototype jetpack used in ” Thunderball” (1965) as well as suction cup climbers used in “You Only Live Twice” (1967).

Co-produced with Eon Productions who owns the rights to everything Bond, the exhibit features automobiles and an array of gadgetry found in several of the 27 films that make up reportedly the longest-running movie franchise.

Thirteen vehicles and over 90 additional artifacts are on display including a Jaguar, at least two Aston-Martins, a couple of motorcycles, the iconic lipstick and earpieces that allowed for secret communication in “No Time To Die” (2021), a Retina Scanner that enabled entry into the MI6 communications room in “Golden Eye” (1995), and other futuristic devices that indeed became part of our present.

The museum curators explained that they wanted to inspire a new generation of visionary inventors and show the intersection between art and science.

Various displays encourage visitors to consider the science behind many of the artifacts and why they might or might not actually work in the real world from a scientific point-of-view.

“007 Science: Inventing the World of James Bond”is open March 7 through October 27, 2024. There is a separate fee in addition to the museum’s general admission.

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, is at 5700 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL . For more information visit msichicago.org

Reno Lovison

Love Jealousy War in Aida

 

Artistic designer Marquis Lewis, aka RETNA, brings a calligraphy motif to the sets of "Aida."

‘Aida’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Highly Recommended

 

“Aida” by Giuseppe Verdi has returned to the Lyric Opera of Chicago after more than a decade. Under the direction of Francesca Zamnello and conducted by Enrique Mazzola, it is opera in the grand tradition but interpreted through a nontraditional lens. 

Military leader Radames (tenor Russell Thomas) is in love with the captive Aida (soprano Michelle Bradley) who is enslaved in the household of princess Amneris (mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton) who happens to be in love with Radames. Therein lies the love triangle and principal conflict of this epic tragedy.

Rather than opening with a traditional crowd scene with an explanation of where we are and what is to come, this opera has a cold start with Radames ruminating on his love for Aida while sitting in what is apparently the war room of the unnamed kingdom. The highlight of this scene is Radames singing of “Celeste Aida” arguably the most lyrical aria in this opera and a favorite solo piece of tenors.

Amneris passes through the room and inquires as to why Radames is so distracted. When Aida enters, Radames’ demeanor changes and Amneris begins to suspect there may be something going on between the two.

The first two acts of the four-act opera are concerned largely with the armed conflict between the kingdom in which Radames serves and the kingdom of Amonasro (baritone Reginald Smith, Jr) who, unbeknownst to everyone, is the father of Aida.

The roughly sixty-voice men’s ensemble performs a thrilling chorus of preparation for battle, and shortly thereafter, a celebration of victory with Radames as the conquering hero.

Likewise, six dramatic trumpets play an impressive, well known, Verdi fanfare that at the end of Act Two, culminates in an impressive surprise celebration with 200 cast members on stage.

The preparation for battle and victory are further punctuated by ballet scenes choreographed by Jessica Lang that feature dancer Anne O’Donnell Passero who seemingly floats across the stage with dramatic lifts and leaps in a flowing white gown with golden lining that is truly angelic.

Originally conceived as a conflict between ancient Egypt and the kingdom of Ethiopia this updated version has a dystopian post-modern and mid-century vibe.

The costumes by Anita Yavich are a kind of mixed bag with some colorful gowns and drab dresses. Military uniforms are reminiscent of the fascist regimes of WWII with some more decorative officers looking like part of the Russian Imperial Army and the priests seeming to be part of the Greek Orthodox or ancient Jewish pharisees.

The mostly monochromatic set design led by set-designer Michael Yeargan is primarily a steely gray with tone-on-tone impressions of cryptic symbols reminiscent of hieroglyphs or Chinese pictographs.

Creating a dramatic and assaulting pop of color that commands your attention, the symbols also appear painted in blood red during powerful moments and at the tops of the ceremonial staff carried by the high priest Ramfis (bass Önay Köse).

The production’s striking original concept is conceived by artistic designer RETNA, a celebrated street artist based in Los Angeles.

As Radames is celebrated, a tormented Aida admonishes herself for praying for his victory at the expense of her father and homeland.

Longing for her homeland, Aida sings the emotional aria “O patria mia.” She soon learns that her father is among the captives.

Meanwhile, the King (bass Wm. Clay Thompson) announces that he will give his daughter Amneris to Radames as reward for his victory and furthermore, will grant him any wish he desires.

In spite of his victory, Radames has pity on the countrymen of Aida for her sake and asks the King to grant the release of the prisoners of war. The King agrees to grant his wish with the caveat that Aida and her father must remain as ransom against any further reprisals.

Aida and her father conspire to persuade Radames to flee with them back to their home country. In doing so, they have him reveal further military plans. Aida is motivated by her sincere love for Radames and him for her and thus wins him over.

Almost immediately, Radames regrets his action from the point-of-view of his love of country that is in direct conflict with his love for Aida. He is shortly arrested and sentenced to death by the high priest.

The nature of Radames’ execution is to be entombed alive to suffer an agonizing death by suffocation and starvation. When his fate is sealed, he finds that Aida has hidden herself away and is entombed with him. Thus, the two are united in death while Amneris prays for the end of conflict, the peace of her lost love and peace for her grief-stricken self.

Unfortunately, this theme of conflict on a national level juxtaposed with the most intimate desires of individual lives has its roots in the ancient world and sadly no doubt is repeating itself in the world today.

Details: ‘Aida’ is performed in Italian with projected English titles at the Lyric Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago through April 7, 2024. Running time is about 3 hours with one intermission. For tickets and information, call 312.827.5600 or go to lyricopera.org/aida.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

Maple syrup time

Tapping a maple tree at Ryerson. (J Jacobs photo)
Tapping a maple tree at Ryerson. (J Jacobs photo)

That sweet gooey stuff you put on your pancakes starts with tapping maple trees. In Lake County, IL it starts with a hike through the maple trees of the Ryerson Conservation Area, 21950 N. Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods.

Operated by the Lake County Forest Preserves, the hike are going on right now, Saturdays and Sundays during the tapping season when the weather is changing and the sap is running. Most of the maple hikes have already filled up but there is still one open March 16.

“Starting a maple syrup hike is not just a journey into the woods; it’s a journey into learning about nature’s sugary secret,” said Director of Education Alyssa Firkus.

‘The temperature dictates what visitors will see along the trails’, said Environmental Educator Jen Berlinghof. “The timing for tapping maple trees comes down to temperature–above freezing during the day but still below freezing at night–plus precipitation and the hours of sunlight in a day,” Berlinghof said.

She explained that changing temperature causes the sap to surge upward from the roots toward the branches, where it helps the leaves grow and the buds bloom. Then in the summer, the leaves will produce more sap, which will settle back down in the roots by winter.

“Visitors can witness the science of turning sap from sugar maple trees into maple syrup. All registered participants can have a taste,” she said.

Tickets for Maple Syrup Hikes are required and hikes fill up quickly. Cost is $7 per person for residents and $9 for nonresidents. Children ages 3 and under are free. Purchase tickets online or call 847-968-3321. Special sessions designed for scouts or other large groups are also available. Call 847-968-3321 to register a group.

In addition, free, self-guided Maple Syrup Hikes are available March 18 through March 31. Explore the maple magic at your own pace as you stroll along a designated trail with a series of informational signs.

“Uncover the fascinating science behind the sap’s journey from tree to syrup, transforming your walk into an educational and delightful experience,” Berlinghof said.

Browse education programs and register online at LCFPD.org/calendar, or call 847-968-3321.

Other forest preserves in the Chicago area also hold maple syrup programs so check with your county’s forest preserves.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

River turns green and Chicago holds a major parade

 

Chicago River turns green. (Photo courtesy City of Chicago)
Chicago River turns green. (Photo courtesy City of Chicago)

Plan ahead to watch the Chicago River turned to green then watch Chicago’s big St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

February gave us better weather than the usual cold and snow for many readers. And a St. Valentines Day celebrated with flowers, chocolate and or dinner out broke up the month in the middle.

Now, March is already seeing tulips and hyacinths poking their heads through the soil due to our still unseasonably warm weather. And we have such St. Patrick’s weekend events as turning the Chicago River a charming Irish color of green.

More is coming about other parades and places to be in the next article. But this one is about the river because you should start thinking now about going downtown Chicago to watch this annual event a week from this Saturday on March 16, 2024. The coloration is due to start at 10 a.m. Then the downtown parade starts at 12:15 p.m.

First colored in 1962 thanks to the local plumbers union, the river dyeing is still done by them with a secret, environmentally-friendly dye.

What to know: The dyeing of the Chicago River, now celebrating 69 years, is held the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day and is followed by the city’s main parade which starts at Balboa Drive and pipes its way north on Columbus Drive to Monroe Drive. In the parade are politicians, Irish dancers, marching bands and bagpipers.

Where to watch: First colored in 1962 thanks to the local plumbers union, the river dyeing is still done by them with a secret, environmentally-friendly dye. Today, more than one boat is used to drop in the coloring. Best is to find a spot on the Michigan Avenue bridge or just west of it along the river. (The lower Riverwalk will be closed.) You need to get there early because the best spots fill quickly.

You can also watch from a river cruise such as Chicago’s First Lady  (Wendella. is sold out) Afterwards, grab a snack or coffee and head west of Michigan Avenue to Columbus Drive for the parade.

Jodie Jacobs