The World Goes Round thanks to outstanding Marriott cast

 

Broadway, regional and Marriott stars in Kander and Ebb revue at Marriott Theatre. L, Amanda Rose, Allison . Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.(Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)
Broadway, regional and Marriott stars in Kander and Ebb revue at Marriott Theatre. L-R, Amanda Rose, Allison Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.(Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)

4 Stars

 

“We’re back!”  The opening line, really a shout from the five performers of Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire’s “The World Goes Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb,” was met with a roar and applause from the audience on opening night, Sept. 23,  2021  The show, a musical revue, was in previews since Sept. 15 and continues through Nov. 7, 2021.

What the audience saw as they took their seats was a stage that looked as if one of Kander and Ebb’s shows was “struck” as long as a year and a half ago and joined by props from past shows.

It was all brought back to life with superb solos, duets, trios and dance numbers by Broadway, regional and Marriott performers Amanda Rose, Allison E. Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.

Blackwell started the show on a fine mezzo soprano note with a beautiful rendition of “And the World Goes ‘Round.”

The revue moved from strength to strength with a funny version of “Coffee in Cardboard Cup sung by the cast followed by “The Happy Time” by versatile baritone Earley who later did a fantastic “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Murphy, an  exuberant redhead, infused numbers such as “Colored Lights” and “Ring Them Bells” with the joyous fervor needed now. Byrd, an accomplished character-style singer who can easily  move from a funny “Sara Lee” to a not so funny “Mr. Cellophane,” excels in the show’s dance movements. He and  Rose did a long “Shoes Dance” number that  brought a collective audience “Wow.” Rose , an actor/singer performed a wickedly funny “Arthur in the Afternoon.”

My favorite number, watch for it, was a gorgeous blending of songs by a trio of Blackwell, Murphy and Earley.

Of course, since this was a Kander and Ebb revue, it included “And All That Jazz, “Money, Money” and “Cabaret” but the number some people were humming was the final number “New York, New York.”

Kudos have to go to director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, orchestra conductor Patti Garwood, music director Ryan t. Nelson, Set designer Christopher Rhoton and the costume designer Sally Ratke.

DETAILS: “The World Goes Round: The songs of Kander and Ebb” is at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire now through Nov. 7, 2021. Run time: 90 minutes (an approved abridged version).  Attendees must wear face coverings and present a vaccination card. For tickets and more information visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Thirteen Days on the verge of World War III

 

 Left to right: Shawna Tucker, Delia Ford, Andrea Conway-Diaz, Julia Kessler, Cameron Feagin, Sheila Willis, Maggie Cain, Noelle Klyce, Kat Evans in City Lit Theater's Thirteen Days. (Photos by Steve Graue)
Left to right: Shawna Tucker, Delia Ford, Andrea Conway-Diaz, Julia Kessler, Cameron Feagin, Sheila Willis, Maggie Cain, Noelle Klyce, Kat Evans in City Lit Theater’s Thirteen Days. (Photos by Steve Graue)

4 Stars

In 2020, the world premiere adaptation of Robert F. Kennedy’s “Thirteen Days” was in rehearsals and set to open in March. Due to the pandemic, it was forced to shutter. Fast forward to September of 2021 and the show has finally opened.

“Thirteen Days, presented by City Lit Theatre,” tells the suspenseful story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Based on a memoir by Robert F. Kennedy, who served as the Attorney General under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, the story is authentic and presented as a cat and mouse game played on the world stage.

On October 16, 1962, long-range Soviet missiles carrying nuclear warheads aimed at the United States were discovered in Cuba. For the next 13 days all eyes were on the White House as President John Kennedy and his team maneuvered around this international crisis.

Communications were conflicting, confusing and constantly changing during the stand down with Nikita Khrushchev and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.

President Kennedy did not want to make another mistake like he did in the “Bay of Pigs.” His cabinet could not agree on the best strategy and military response. One wrong move could cause World War III.

 Kat Evans as Robert Kennedy in City Lit Theater's 'Thirteen Days.'
Kat Evans as Robert Kennedy in City Lit Theater’s ‘Thirteen Days.’

Adapted for the theatre and directed by Brian Pastor, City Lit’s Resident Director, this production features a cast totally comprised of women. While all of the characters in the book are white males, this ambitious twist creates a unique reflection of gender issues in the body politic.

The show’s cast includes Cameron Feagin (President John F. Kennedy), Kat Evans (Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy), Sheila Willis (Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara), Julia Kessler (Secretary of State Dean Rusk), Maggie Cain (Director of Central Intelligence John A. McCone and Soviet U.N. Ambassador Valerian Zorin), Andrea Conway-Diaz (McGeorge Bundy), Delia Ford (Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Maxwell D. Taylor), Noelle Klyce (Ted Sorenson), Kim Fukawa (Arthur C. Lundahl, the aerial photography expert who detected missile installations in Cuba and Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Dobrynin), Shawna Tucker (National Security Council member Llewellyn “Tommy” Thompson and Anne Wrider (Adlai Stevenson, United State Ambassador to the United Nations).

On the production team are Liz Cooper (lighting design), Jeremy Hollis (set designer) and Satoe Schechner (costume designer.)  Kudos to Schechner for dressing the women in business suits, ties, and shoes that make them look powerful and professional.

Cameron Feagin as JFK knows when to be tough and how to react to the building pressure. Kat Evans as Bobby Kennedy narrates this nerve-wracking drama, creating real tension until the final showdown.  Both of these lead actors bear an uncanny physical resemblance to the Kennedy family, adding to the performance.

Covid protocols include masks and proof of vaccination for entrance. The theatre will also be following CDC ventilation guidelines to ensure a complete exchange of air in the theatre between performances.

“Thirteen Days” runs through Oct. 24, 2021 at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago. Run time:  90 minutes with no intermission.

For tickets and other information visit citylit.org or call (773) 293-3682.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

‘Live at Mr. Kelly’s:’ A documentary for Chicago fans and history buffs

 

 

Live at Mr. Kelly's documentary. (Photo courtesy of the film's producers
Live at Mr. Kelly’s documentary. (Photo courtesy of the film’s producers

4 Stars

If you’re new to the city or younger than 60 you might not know that on the corner of Rush and Bellevue where Gibson’s Steakhouse now stands was one of the premiere entertainment venues in the country, a nightclub called Mr. Kelly’s that was the center of the city’s midcentury bohemian nightlife.

Kelly’s was ground zero for the local jet set, Michigan Avenue “Mad Men” and visiting businessmen from around the country who came to the Windy City to cut monumental deals.

It was virtually guaranteed that executives visiting between 1955 and 1975 would be treated to a night at Kelly’s that included a great steak and world class entertainment.

The venue was the brainchild of brothers Oscar and George Marienthal. This documentary film “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” is a love letter from George’s son, Executive Producer David Marienthal.

About 90 minutes long, “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” is  jam packed with testimonials and stories from many entertainers including Barbra Streisand, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Herbie Hancock, Shecky Green, Ramsey Lewis, Bette Midler, The Smothers Brothers, Lainie Kazan, Tom Dreesen, Tim Reed, Mort Sahl and others who, while in Chicago, called Mr. Kelly’s home or who attribute their appearance at the local club as a significant contribution to their success.

Many of the comedians credit Mr. Kelly’s with helping to fashion the unique American art form of standup comedy. Certainly the club championed the best of the best with early appearances by the likes of Lenny Bruce and Peoria native Richard Pryor.

Barbra Streisand opens the film with a story about shooting publicity photos on Oak Street Beach, one of which went on to win a Grammy for best album cover.

Did you know that the famed poet, Maya Angelou, was once a calypso singer who played congas? It’s true and she performed at Mr. Kelly’s.

The title of this film is something of a misnomer since it gives nearly equal time to the history of the London House, which by the way, also featured great steaks, peerless piano players and  top executives, and mentions the popular Happy Medium. Those venues were also owned and operated by the Marienthal brothers.

I learned from this film that one thing I have in common with Herbie Hancock is we both took prom dates to the London House. I don’t know about Herbie but I married my date

It was actually my now wife’s prom. She was graduating from Senn High School on the northside and going on to study piano at Millikin University in Decatur so of course she wanted a dinner venue with piano music. What could be better than Ramsey Lewis at the London House on Michigan Avenue and Wacker with a romantic late night boat ride afterwards.

The London House was the cool jazz version of Kelly’s, concentrating nearly exclusively on the hippest of the hip including greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Andre Previn and Oscar Peterson.

Both Mr. Kelly’s and London House made live recordings that added to their fame. Luckily for us they’re available to listen to and get a sense of the ambiance of each of the intimate spaces.

This is a bit of Chicago history that with each passing day fades further into obscurity. Thankfully this film has made an effort to stop the clock and capture a snapshot of the past from a few of those who were there to witness it in its heyday.

Directed by Ted Bogosian “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” had a premiere showing at the Siskel Center September 17-19, 2021. It will be released as a video on demand (VOD)  in 2021 on Oct. 12 and on DVD Oct. 19. For information visit www.misterkellyschicago.

 

Reno Lovison

Brighton Beach Memoirs captures family life on brink of WWII

 

Brighton Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre L-R: Siah Berlatsky, Ron Quade, Shaya Harris (back to camera), Abby Lee, Juliana Liscio, Danny Mulae (face obscured), and Monica Castle (Photos by North Shore Camera Club))
Brighton Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre L-R: Siah Berlatsky, Ron Quade, Shaya Harris (back to camera), Abby Lee, Juliana Liscio, Danny Mulae (face obscured), and Monica Castle
(Photos by North Shore Camera Club)

4 Stars

 

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.

Siah Berlatsky as EugeneBrighton in Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre.
Siah Berlatsky as EugeneBrighton in Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre.

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.

Mira Temkin

(For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago)

‘Searching for Mister Rugoff’

 

Documentary film Searching for Mr Rugoff. (Photo courtesy of Ira Deutchman
Documentary film Searching for Mr Rugoff. (Photo courtesy of Ira Deutchman

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” is a documentary film about a man who’s taste in film contributed to shaping the culture of the 1960s and 70s. However, this is also a story how a once powerful individual can fall almost instantly into obscurity.

Rugoff was responsible for distributing and promoting  Elvira MadiganZ,  The Sorrow and the PityPutney SwopeTrashMarjoeGimme Shelter,  Scenes From a Marriage Swept AwayMonty Python and the Holy GrailThe Man Who Fell to Earth or Pumping Iron to name a few.

If these are familiar to you it is probably at least in some part due to the decisions and possibly the “P.T. Barnum” tactics of film distributor Donald Rugoff.

Producer / Director Ira Deutchman provides a peek at the inner workings of the business of film distribution and how one person like Rugoff can make decisions that influence each of us subtly or even in direct and profound ways.

Deutchman acquaints us with the role of the film distributor as having the responsibility of introducing new films to moviegoers and is thereby charged with creating the needed momentum that will ultimately lead to a film’s monetary success or not. It is at this point that many worthy films live or die.

If you are unfamiliar with these titles I can assure you that they each in their own way either expressed  or reflected back to the audience images of the counter-culture and for many provided a virtual roadmap of changing values and shifts in social discourse.

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” is obviously a labor of love, or at least a labor of deep appreciation and respect for the man who Deutchman describes as his mentor. He says Rugoff taught him everything he knows about film distribution.

The release of the 94 minute film was delayed due to COVID and is now enjoying  a limited screening schedule at the Music Box Theater on Southport.

Alternatively it can be downloaded at musicboxdirect.com for streaming online at home. For more viewing options nationwide visit Mrrugoff.com and to learn more about the producer / director. To see outtakes from the film visit iradeutchman.com.

Reno Lovison

‘Kinky Boots’ kicks off delayed Paramount season with joy and stilettos

 

Devin DeSantis (L) is Charlie and Michael Wordly is Lola in Kinky Boots at Paramount Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Devin DeSantis (L) is Charlie and Michael Wordly is Lola in Kinky Boots at Paramount Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

4 Stars

Nearly a year and a half after Paramount Theatre was abruptly forced to lower the curtains and dim the marquee due to COVID-19, the historic Aurora venue returns to live–and lively–performances with the regional premiere of “Kinky Boots.”

Directed by associate artistic producer and casting director Trent Stork, the Paramount production opens the theater’s 10th Anniversary Broadway Series season.

The feel-so-good musical, decked with high energy and loads of razzle-dazzle, is the perfect choice to lead theater-goers out of the darkness and into light and laughter. The 2013 Tony award winner for Best Musical features music and lyrics by Grammy-winner Cyndi Lauper, and a book rooted in fun, love and acceptance by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein.

“Kinky Boots” tells the story of Charlie Price who reluctantly takes over his late father’s failing shoe manufacturing company. By chance, he finds an unlikely partner in drag queen Lola, and the two learn they have more in common than they thought.

Paramount’s stellar cast of 34 actors, singers and dancers seems to exude exceptional vigor. They must be thrilled to be back on stage again. They’ve waited a long time for this.

All eyes are on Lola played by Paramount newcomer Michael Wordly. He shows extensive range, musically and dramatically from flamboyant to melancholy.

Charlie is expertly played by Devin DeSantis whose Paramount credits include “The Little Mermaid” and “Hairspray.” Wordly and DeSantis are strong soloists but their duet, “Not My Father’s Son,” is perhaps the most heartrending number in the show.

Another standout is Sara Reinecke playing Lauren, a factory worker who has eyes on Charlie. Her voice rings clear and powerfully, and every woman can relate to her mighty rendition of “The History of Wrong Guys.”

Fun fact: Cast members learned to make shoes from the Chicago Shoe Academy to be able to realistically act like factory workers.

The dance numbers, choreographed by Isaiah Silvia-Chandley and Michael George, impart high kicks, deep splits and leaps for joy. We were happy to see each of Lola’s Angels has a chance to strut her individual acrobatic moves.

The over-the-top embellishments of costume designer Ryan Park and wig, hair and makeup designer Katie Cordts are visually stunning. Their sartorial eye candy is flashy, splashy and sassy with just the right amount of trashy. Creative lighting effects by Greg Hofmann magnify the visual excitement on stage.

Also on the creative team are co-scenic designers Kevin Depinet and Christopher Rhoton. Music director Kory Danielson conducted the 12-piece Paramount Orchestra. In addition to serving as associate director, Darren Patin is a Chicago drag queen named Ari Gato.

COVID-19 safety guidelines as mandated by the State of Illinois are in place. Attendees must show proof of vaccination and photo ID. Masks must be worn throughout the building and during the performance. Covid restrictions are in place.

DETAILS: “Kinky Boots” is presented by Paramount Theatre in Aurora, 23 E. Galena Blvd., through Oct. 17, 2021. Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and other information, call 630-896-6666 or visit www.ParamountAurora.com.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

A new view of Pagliacci from the Lyric

Ailyn Perez and Russell Thomas_Pagliacci_Lyric-Opera of Chicago (photo by Kyle Flubacker)

Ailyn Perez and Russell Thomas_Pagliacci_Lyric Opera of Chicago (photo by Kyle Flubacker)

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is providing the world with a fine gift in the form of “Pagliacci.” A recorded version of Rugerro Leoncavallo’s iconic opera is available to view online free of charge for an indefinite period of time beginning at once.

It is difficult to say where the first reference to a sad clown who is laughing on the outside but crying on the inside begins but surely the character of Pagliacci is one of the best known. It is a short opera at roughly 90 minutes with a fairly straightforward plot and lyrical melodies that makes it a very good first opera for the uninitiated and a perennial favorite among many aficionados.

“Pagliacci” was indeed my introduction to opera at about age 10 when my mother sang as a chorus member in the Chicago Opera Guild based in the Fine Arts Building.

Of course the great Caruso gave “Pagliacci” to the word in 1907 when the composer himself directed the famed tenor in the first phonograph recording of an entire opera making them both worldwide sensations.

Similar to a number of Shakespeare plays “Pagliacci” is based on a play within a play. The story is centered around a troupe of actors performing a commedia dell’arte performance, a theater style that originated in Venice and features standard character types that included at least three clowns. In the opera’s commedia dell’arte company the character of Pagliacci is played by Canio and his wife Nedda plays Columbine while Tonio plays one of the lesser parts.

In this updated Lyric version Nedda (Ailyn Pérez) is an unfaithful wife whose current love interest is stagehand Silvio (Lucas Meachem). Tonio (Quinn Kelsey) is secretly in love with Nedda but she rejects him. His adoration turns to resentment. Seeking revenge, Tonio leads Canio (Russell Thomas) to witness for himself Nedda’s unfaithfulness. In a rage, Canio pursues Silvio who escapes.

In good theatrical tradition the troupe evidently decides “the show must go on.” In preparation for his performance as Pagliacci Canio sings the famed aria “Vesti la giubba” where he laments that the world sees him as a ridiculous clown when he is in fact a man with deep emotions.

It is no doubt at this point that Canio resolves to redeem his manhood, then during the performance demands that Nedda reveal the identity of her lover. She refuses to give him up and Canio kills her. Silvio, working nearby, leaps to her defense and is likewise dispatched by the enraged clown.  Somewhat amused Tonio announces that the “comedy is over.”

Lyric Opera stage (during a recent concert) Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago
Lyric Opera stage (during a recent concert) Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

The brilliant part of this Lyric Opera of Chicago’s streaming version of “Pagliacci” (directed by Peter McClintock, with film direction by Matt Hoffman and scenic design by Maria DeFabo Akin and Scott Wolfson) is the use of the Lyric Opera House itself as the set location.

The action begins outside the building with baritone Quinn Kelsey singing the prologue as he strolls into and through the building ultimately on to the empty stage where the bulk of the performance will take place. This is a story about actors so the Lyric creative team takes full advantage of the company’s readily available stagecraft apparatus as the backdrop. The performers are in modern dress and the play-within-a- play substitutes iconic commedia dell’arte characters for those of a more modern art form referencing a television situation comedy.

This is where it gets a bit muddy for me. I love the concept but in my view costume designer Scott Marr is missing something by not having Pagliacci in a more comic costume. After all it is Pagliacci’s ridiculous visual persona contrasted with his depth of emotion that is the essence of the character and the story.

Additionally, tenor Thomas who has an outstanding voice, does not give “vesti la giubba” full throttle. No doubt the feeling is that since this a more intimate filmed version he did not want to seem “over the top.” However, the result is a kind of tepid emotion that does not fully convey the character’s torment that will ultimately lead him to murder. This, together with his lack of costume or make-up as a reference flattens the storyline.

There is still plenty to love about the production with its backstage views and enjoyable melodies. The always brilliant Lyric Chorus led by Michael Black seems to be having a great time singing towards the proscenium for an entirely new point-of-view while Enrique Mazzola conducts the thrilling orchestra from some unknown location, presumably a practice room onsite.

Details: “Pagliacci” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago is online through January 2022 (at least). Running time is about 90 minutes. Visit LyricOpera 

Reno Lovison

(Ed note: Viewing the film is free but requires registration. To register go to Pagliacci Lyric Opera of Chicago.)

Chicago theaters open for fall season with COVID mandates

 

Chicago area theaters are back. (Photos by Jodie Jacobs)
Chicago area theaters are back. (Photos by Jodie Jacobs)

After more than a year of stages going dark due to the COVID pandemic, Chicago area theater venues from music and opera to drama and dance are reopening their doors with the beginning of the fall 2021-22 season.

However, expect to see mask and vaccination or negative test result requirements, As much as they want the lights back on, the theater groups also want everyone, including staff and actors to be safe.

“The health and safety of our patrons is our main concern” said Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin. “The theatre community was the first to close and the last to reopen and this has been a tremendous loss for the City of Chicago and the economic generator that the arts provide.”

He explained the impact. “On an annual basis pre-pandemic Chicago’s creative industries produced more than $17.6 billion in economic output, supported 81,300 jobs and generated more than $4.8 billion in household earnings—delivering $336.5 million in local and state government revenue.”

Raizin added, “Given the necessity for theatres to open with 100% capacity our working together with fellow Chicago arts organizations has given us the opportunity to chart our way back to opening our doors and bringing our stages alive again safely.”

To pull together with one voice the list of cooperating show venues can be found on the League of Chicago Theatres  website. Protocols  will be enforced for indoor venues through 2021 and then revisited. The requirements will vary by venue so best plan is to check the venue’s safety measures when purchasing tickets.

 

 

 

 

Goodman Theatre reopens with ‘African Mean Girls Play’

 

Mean girls Play at Goodman Theatre. : (L to R) Adhana Reid (Ama), Tiffany Renee Johnson (Mercy), Adia Alli (Gifty), Ashley Crowe (Nana) and Tania Richard (Headmistress Francis). (Photo by Flint Chaney).
Mean girls Play at Goodman Theatre. : (L to R) Adhana Reid (Ama), Tiffany Renee Johnson (Mercy), Adia Alli (Gifty), Ashley Crowe (Nana) and Tania Richard (Headmistress Francis). (Photo by Flint Chaney).

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.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Mira Temkin

 

Seeing the world through dark glasses

 

'I Hate It Here' live online at Goodman theatre. (Photo by Flint Chaney)
‘I Hate It Here’ live online at Goodman theatre. (Photo by Flint Chaney)

2 stars

If someone you know or maybe even an anonymous someone on Facebook asks how are you coping with COVID, what do you say?  In “I Hate it Here,” a live streaming Goodman Theatre play by Ike Holter, actors representing different economic strata, backgrounds and race spew out their negative views of the world, often on top of each other’s thoughts.

Yes, we all often do talk at the same time. Fortunately, if you want to know what they said, there are subtitles because much of the spoken dialogue tumbles out like rushing water.

What in the first few of a dozen segments of complaints about people’s rudeness and empty or uncaring attitudes come across as brilliant in an “I’ can’t take it anymore” framework yelled from a window, merely becomes noise. As meaningful as the complaints are, and as good as the acting is,  the diatribe starts to sound like a broken record.

The exception was a verbal slow-down of a poignant dialogue between a white nurse and an injured black man who told her she could have said. “stop,” when she saw him attacked.

The pandemic’s lockdowns, mask wearing mandates and deaths of loved ones all coming on top of already existing societal evils have twisted our universe.

Hearing about societal problems in a play has historically been thought provoking and even led to change. But to accomplish that audiences, and later on, readers, need more contrasting elements and character depth than found in “I Hate It Here. The title sounds like a teenager’s slamming a bedroom or front door.

“I Hate It Here” streams live July 15-18, 2021. It is the third play of a live online trilogy presented by Goodman Theatre that began with ‘The Sound Inside,” May 13 16, followed by “Ohio State Murders”  June 17-20.  Individual tickets are $30. The trilogy was $60.

For tickets and other information visit Goodman Theatre/Here.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Related: ‘The Sound Inside

Jodie Jacobs