Closed for two years due to COIVD-19, Writers Theatre has reopened its 2021/2022 season with “Dishwasher Dreams.” A one-man show written and performed by Alaudin Ullah, it highlights the immigrant experience through the eyes of a father and son.
The show opens with and is accompanied by tabla percussionist Avirodh Sharma who adds a sense of cultural authenticity to the performance. Sharma is considered one of today’s leading exponents of the tabla, carrying on the tradition of percussion rhythm that originated in India.
Ullah is a stand-up comedian whose family came from a very small town in Bangladesh. He grew up in New York City but is in L.A. auditioning for a major film role that could change the course of his career. Unfortunately, a family crisis hurls him back to New York and puts his own dreams on hold.
He takes the audience on a hilarious journey through his family’s history from colonial India in the 1930s to Spanish Harlem in the 1970s to present-day Hollywood.
This exhilarating trek will have you laughing and crying at the same time as Ullah shares his experiences of immigration, the Yankees and the pursuit of the American Dream.
At heart, Ullah is a storyteller dedicated to changing the misperceptions of South Asians and Muslims in our society. His performance covers a range of emotions dealing with prejudice and racism on stage as he tries to become a successful American.
For both father and son, there is more to life than being an undocumented worker with little opportunity for advancement. Ullah shows us with humor and commitment how he overcame this!
A playwright and performer with several TV and film acting credits, Ullah was one of the first South Asian comedians featured nationally on HBO, MTV, BET, PBS and Comedy Central. He is currently working on a documentary of his book, “Bengali Harlem,” to be out next year.
The show is directed by Chay Yew, (formerly of Victory Gardens Theater) in association with Hartford Stage. Writers Theatre which recently changed leadership, is helmed by Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma and Interim Artistic Director Bobby Kennedy.
DETAILS: Dishwasher Dreams is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through January 16, 2022. Run Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information, visit writerstheatre.org. (Visitors must show a valid Covid vaccination card and must be masked through the entire presentation.)
“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues to delight audiences.
Can an off-Broadway musical based on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s well-loved “Peanuts” comic strip characters that is more than 50 years old still be relevant?
The answer is Yes!
With music and lyrics by Clark Gesner, the musical opened off-Broadway in 1967 and ran for almost four years.
Popular with regional theaters, a new version directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening and Thoroughly Modern Millie) featuring additional songs by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) ran on Broadway in 1999. It won the Drama Desk Award for “Outstanding Revival of a Musical.”
Citadel Theatre, in Lake Forest s playing this updated, fast-paced and high-energy award-winning version, now through Dec. 23, 2021.
The play features a series of vignettes, almost like a cartoon strip, that chronicles the trials and tribulations of childhood.
Fifty years later, the characters have the same insecurities, the same issues about friendship, sports and their own failures.
Charlie Brown continues to have a crush on sweet little red-headed girl whom he discovers chews her pencil, too.
He is the eternal optimist, but he never gets a break. He is still the same blockhead.
In this updated production, the audience will encounter some references to present-day items such as “bit coin.”
Directed by Joe Lehman and choreographed by Jake Ganzer with music direction by David Zizic, memorable music includes the title song, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Happiness,” a piece that highlights enjoying the little things in life.
The cast, top-rated with hapless Charlie Brown played by Neil Stratman and Lucy played by Actor Equity member Sierra White, also includes Jimmy Hogan (from Citadel’s “Annie) as Schroeder; Marcellus Burt (of Griffin’s Ragtime) as Linus and Alley Ellis as Sally. Tuesdai B. Perry is Snoopy. It’s hard enough to play a role, much more so, that of a pup.
Kudos to Sally and Schroeder whose tap dance knocks it out of the park.
Mention must be made of the incredible, colorful lighting design by Samuel Stephen that almost takes on a role by itself. Flashing emotions help showcase the feelings of the cast.
Also, the props design by Jonathan Berg Einhorn are larger-than-life, adorable and infinitely better than using the real things.
DETAILS: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through Dec. 23, 2021. Run Time: approximately 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre.
State COVID restrictions in effect at the time will be enforced at Citadel’s 144-seat performing space. The show is suitable for general audiences aged 5 and older.
Based on a true story by playwright Heidi Schreck, “What the Constitution Means to Me” focuses on 15-year Schrenk’s experiences participating in debates across the country for the American Legion to earn money for college tuition. The truth is, she earned enough money from the debates to pay for her entire college education.
The audience participates in the show as well, creating powerful theatre about the relevancy of the U.S. Constitution. This interactive play questions whether our 230-year-old document is still applicable today and for future generations of America. After experiencing this powerful show, theatregoers will have a new appreciation for this historic document.
The play goes from hilarity to tragedy. As Heidi goes back in time, she traces the intimate connection of four generations with the founding document that shaped their lives.
The U.S. Constitution and amendments were drafted to protect its citizens, but unfortunately, not everyone.
Women, immigrants and people of color are left out, not included in police, voting and civil rights laws. She raises the question of what would have happened if the Equal Rights Amendment had passed in 1982?
Cassie Beck plays Heidi Schreck, who vacillates between a teenager and an adult, displaying a wide range of emotions. She handles the role with precision, humor and class. Mike Iveson, who originated the part of the Legionnaire on Broadway, moderates the debate as one of “those old men.”
Suddenly, the show moves into a different direction, creating an actual debate between the adult Schreck and a high-school student from L.A. about whether or not the Constitution should be abolished or kept. Everyone listens to the debate and one audience member decides the verdict.
There are also a few surprises thrown in that make the play even more fun and meaningful.
Directed by Oliver Butler, the show became a hit on Broadway with two Tony Award® nominations, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama nomination and broadcast on Amazon Prime Video.
“What the Constitution Means to Me” will have you thinking about the Constitution and your own government long after the final bow.
Details: “What the Constitution Means to Me” is at the Broadway Playhouse Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut in Chicago through Nov. 21, 2021 Running time: 100 minutes without intermission.
All audience members are required to wear masks throughout the play and must show proof of vaccination with ID card. For those with exemptions, proof of a negative COVID 19 test is required. For tickets go to BroadwayinChicago.com.
Live theatre is now alive and well at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest!
Opening their season after the pandemic is playwright Neil Simon’s warm and wonderful, “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” tells the story of Eugene Jerome, a young man who desires to be a writer and starts with what he knows best, his own downtrodden family. The time is 1937 in Brooklyn and undertones of the brewing war in Europe are laced throughout the play. America is well aware of the news, but wants no part of it.
Eugene, who also serves as the narrator and talks to the audience about his plight, has his own issues of teenage angst while dreaming of being a baseball player and lusting after his older cousin.
The trials and tribulations of not having enough money for his two parents, brother Stanley, widowed Aunt Blanche and her two daughters who live with them — loom large. Unemployment, gambling, sickness are all part of daily life.
Yet in typical Neil Simon fashion, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry, all within a few minutes.
Siah Berlatsky as Eugene has just the right amount of high energy and pathos to light up every scene. The audience really sympathizes with him and at the same time, recognizes his bright, successful future ahead.
Standouts include his put-upon mother Kate, played by Monica Castle, who carries the weight of everyone’s problems and must convey a range of raw emotions. She does so with great style. Ron Quade as patriarch Jack, who everyone relies on, plays his role with power, heart and a little bit of vulnerability
The cast also includes Abby Lee (Blanche), Danny Mulae (Stanley), Shaya Harris (Laurie), and Juliana Liscio (Nora) who work together to create a realistic family group and share their challenges. You’ll cheer them on and hope for the best.
Citadel Theatre Artistic Director Scott Phelps and director of the production makes great use of the theatre space. Having the dining room table where much of the dialogue takes place creates a very intimate stage, making the audience feel like they are right there.
Also on the production team are Jeff award-winner Eric Luchen (Set Design), Colin Meyer (Costume Design) and Samuel Stephen (Lighting Design).
DETAILS: “Brighton Beach Memoirs” runs through October 17, 2021 at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan, Lake Forest. Run time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission. Seating is limited and masks are required.
For tickets and other information visit Citadel Theatre or call (847) 735-8554, ext. 1.
In March of 2020, three days before “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” was set to open, Goodman Theatre was forced to shut down due to COVID. It was thought the shutdown would be temporary.
When it wasn’t, the organization pivoted and turned to streaming. The play was viewed in 45 states, 13 countries and was seen by more than 1,600 Chicago Public School students.
“School Girls” is now back in session, live.
Deceptively funny with dark undertones, the play revolves around a group of high school girls at an exclusive boarding school in Ghana.
The reigning “Queen Bee” has her sights on the Miss Ghana beauty pageant to compete for “Miss Universe.” But then new girl, Ericka, enters the scene and it’s a game-changer for everyone.
Expect a laugh every few minutes as the girls engage in comedic banter about clothes, looks, and family background that showcase the similarities of teenage girls across the globe.
What was truly funny was their perception of American cultural icons like White Castle, Nike Shoes and Wal-Mart.
But bullying, blackmail and deception all come into view.
Starring Adia Alli (Gifty), Kyrie Courter (Ericka Boafo), Ashley Crowe (Nana), Ciera Dawn (Paulina Sarpong), Tiffany Renee Johnson (Mercy), Adhana Reid (Ama), Tania Richard (Headmistress Francis) and Lanise Antoine Shelley (Eloise Amponsah, the eight actors show powerful performances in a range of emotions from silly joy to deep frustration.
Mention must be made of Kyrie Courter’s amazing voice when she sings Whitney Houston’s, “The Greatest Love of All.”
The play was written by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh, who was inspired by the 2011 beauty pageant in Ghana.
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown with quick precision and impeccable comedic timing, the ambience on the stage slowly turns into something more realistic, frightening and contemporary – as racism rears its ugly head.
Kudos to costume designer Samantha C. Jones for the girls’ beautiful gowns and elegant dress for Eloise Amponsah.
“School Girls” runs through August 29, 2021 in the Albert Theatre. Run time: Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission. Seating is limited and masks are required.
Goodman theatre is at 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago. For tickets and other information visit Goodman Theatre/Here.
It’s sure to feel like spring is reawakening with glorious sunflowers when you visit the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, now showing through September 6.
This visually spectacular digital art exhibition invites audiences to “step inside” the iconic works of post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. It evokes his highly emotional and chaotic inner consciousness through art, light, music and movement.
With more than 50 projectors illuminating over 14,000 square-feet, visitors are surrounded by Van Gogh’s brushstrokes and colors, including animated details from Self Portrait with Felt Hat (1888), The Bedroom in Arles (1889), Irises (1889) and The Starry Night 1889).
Immersive Van Gogh is a glorious experience that will envelop the visual and audio senses. Classical music, Edith Piaf’s “No Regrets” and other French songs stimulate the mind.
Stand in one of the circles on the main floor, then step up to the balcony to get a higher perspective.
The 1-hour Van Gogh exhibit has been designed in accordance with the latest health and safety protocols. Capacity is limited and masks are required at all times. Digitally projected social distancing circles on the gallery floors ensure appropriate spacing.
Ticket prices start at $39.99 for adults ($24.99 for children 16 or younger) with untimed and flexible ticket options available.
Immersive Van Gogh is at the Lighthouse Art Space, 108 Germania Place, Chicago. For more information, visit vangoghchicago.com or call 844-307-4644.
Imagine what it was like in 1964 when Judy Garland and her daughter, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli, performed together for the first time at The Palladium Theatre in London. This was the only time these two superstars performed in a live concert together and it was electrifying.
Now, Chicago theatre-goers can experience the thrill of “Judy & Liza — Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert – A Tribute” at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The show is co-produced by Greenhouse and Nancy Hays Entertainment, Inc.
A “Salute to the Duke” with concept by Donald McKayle, direction and choreography by Brenda Didier and Florence Walker Harris, “Sophisticated Ladies” celebrates Porchlight’s 25th Anniversary Mainstage season by taking the big jazz band era of the Duke to new heights.
Featuring music by jazz composer, pianist and band leader Duke Ellington who composed thousands of songs during his 50-year career, the Duke is recognized as one of the most important composers in American musical history.
The show, a Porchlight Theatre production, takes the audience through Duke’s legendary career with a treasure trove of hits, that include “Mood Indigo,” “Take the “A” Train,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Satin Doll.”
Prepare to be dazzled by Ronnie Marmo who plays the tragic Lenny Bruce in “I’m Not a Comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce,” now extended at the Royal George Theater.
Written by and starring Marmo, the playwright/actor plays Bruce and other characters as he takes audiences through the highs and lows of Bruce’s life, including his relationships with his mother, wife Honey Harlow and daughter Kitty.
Of course, theater audiences want different things before going ahead to spend money and time on a show. Some folks prefer musicals, others like Shakespeare and some gravitate to shows that are different or particularly creative. Because opera is also dramatic theater that requires excellent acting, compelling story lines and fine voices, we include Lyric Opera productions when applicable.
Here is Chicago Theater and Arts reviewers’ list of favorite productions seen during 2019 which was designated by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres as the Year of Chicago Theatre.
Francine Pappadis Friedman
“Jersey Boys” at the Auditorium Theatre in April, 2019. I headlined it: ‘Oh, what a night!” Amusing dialogue was interspersed with tremendous songs by four guys, the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons who were living in New Jersey. Not only did their songs keep the audience laughing, but even younger audience members were swinging and swaying in their seats. And many of their songs sang about love!
“Falsettos” at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in May/June 2019. I headlined it: “Let’s live life through music.” It was a fabulous musical taking place in New York in the 1970s, with a psychiatrist, gay men and women, and a little boy—one of the main characters—who was worried about his father’s sexuality when his parents got divorced. The story moved along with songs and the boy, whose father sang “Father to Son,” that said he’d always be there for him.
“Next to Normal” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe in June. Writers Theatre unerringly brought 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.
“Oslo” a Timeline Theatre production at the Broadway Playhouse in October, brilliantly revealed the behind the scenes negotiations in Norway that led up to the famed handshake on the White House lawn between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. What “Oslo,” the multi-award-winning play by J. T. Rogers does is introduce audiences to Mona Juul, superbly acted by Bri Sudia whose sensible but passionate portrayal of the Norwegian diplomat who initiated the behind the scenes action, glides from serious to charming to comic, and to Scott Parkinson who as facilitator Rød-Larsen has the difficult task of making all the players in the sensitive negotiations, look good.
Don Giovanni” at the Lyric Opera House in November and December is an 18th century Mozart opera in perfect tune with #MeToo times. If you knew before seeing Lyric’s outstanding production of “Don Giovanni” that (Il dissouto punita, ossia il Don Giovanni), translates as “The Rake Punished, namely Don Giovanni “ (also The Libertine Punished), you would have some idea that the opera was not about a lover but about a powerful man who felt entitled to take sexual liberties. However, directed by Robert Falls, artistic director at Goodman Theatre, the Lyric production skillfully makes the comic moments funnier, the sexual attempts more offensive, the violence more dramatic and the punishment more tumultuous.
“International Falls” by Agency Theater Collective and End of the Line Production at the Nox Arca in August. It was an intimate play with truthful dialog that was well acted.
“My Life as A Country Song” by New American Folk Theatre at Chief O’Neill’s in October. It had very good original music.
My favorite is a theatrical event: the 3rd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. More than 100 performances of 24 shows were given by professional puppeteers from 11 countries at 19 venues. I had the privilege of seeing “Ajijaak on Turtle Island,” the story of a young whopping crane who was accidentally separated from her parents during her first migration. Along the way to unification, she learned valuable life-lessons about herself and living in harmony with nature. Puppets of all sizes and styles, their handlers, musicians and dancers interacted seamlessly to present an engaging and unforgettable experience.
Comedy Kills in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” at Porchlight Music Theatre” mid January to mid March. This was my favorite show of the year because of the fine acting of Jefferson- Award Winner Matt Crowle who plays multiple roles of both men and women. This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of Monty Navarro, a conniving, down-on-his-luck Englishman who finds out he stands to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and substantial wealth if only he could eliminate his eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. Quickly as you can imagine, things start to go awry. But Navarro must keep on his toes with both his mistress and his fiancée… and not get put in jail. And those darting eyes… hysterical!
Well, even though the designation of Year of Chicago Theatre is about over, all of us at Chicago Theater and Arts think we’re lucky to have great theater on stages large and small throughout the Chicago area every year.
We know that the theater season doesn’t go by the calendar year at every venue but no matter how the season is divided, we are very much looking forward to seeing and reviewing the best of 2020.
We wish everyone an interesting theater experience in the new year.