A cautionary island tale

 

Cassondra James as 'Erzulie' Tamyra Gray as 'Papa Ge' (Photo by Joan Marcus
Cassondra James as ‘Erzulie’ Tamyra Gray as ‘Papa Ge’ (Photo by Joan Marcus)

‘Once on This Island’

4 Stars 

Walking in from the chilly lobby of the Cadillac Palace Theatre and getting my first glimpse of the stage on opening night made me immediately think that they were woefully behind getting the stage ready for the performance.

Strewn with an odd piece of corrugated metal, a shipping container, bits of lumber, a fifty gallon petroleum drum, some milk crates and what appeared to be a downed telephone pole all being adjusted and repositioned by people in a colorful array of mismatched clothing, I soon to realize that we were entering into a world created by set designer Dane Laffrey and costume designer Clint Ramos. They were depicting the everyday life of a small, remote village on an island in the French Antilles.

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Around Town finds a few lesser known Chinese Lunar celebrations

 

Year of the Rat begins with the eve Jan. 24. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Cultural Alliance)
Chinese New Year festive vector card design with rat, zodiac symbol of year 2020

Restaurants and neighborhoods are celebrating Chinese Lunar Year of the Rat for 15 days. Lunar New Year’s Eve is Jan. 24 and the first day is Jan. 25, 2020. Here are some celebrations that may not have made your radar.

 

Asian-based Peninsula Chicago Hotel celebration

Go to the Peninsula Chicago, Jan. 25 at 3 p.m. for a colorful lion dance, complete with noises to scare away evil spirits. Then follow the dance inside to the lobby where you see lanterns, red flowers and tangerine trees. The outside of the hotel will be illuminated in red for the season. Peninsula Chicago is at 108 E. Superior St. at North Michigan Avenue.

South-East Asia Center celebration

Make a reservation for a family-style lunch Feb. 1, 11:30 a.m. at Eurama Restaurant. Hosted by the South-East Asia Center in Uptown the event includes cross-cultural entertainment. Cost is $25. Eurama is at 4936 N Broadway. For reservations and more information visit seasiacenter.

Chinese American Museum celebration

Reserve attendance ahead for the annual Chinese American Museum of Chicago Lunar Celebration Feb. 9 from 2 to 6 p.m. There will be music, food, arts, crafts and the Chinese Lion Dance. Cost ahead is $10-$15. Same day walk-in is not guaranteed but will cost an extra $5. The museum is at 238 W. 23rd St.  For more tickets and more information visit Eventbrite or Chicago Cultural Alliance event.

For other Chinese New Year celebrations visit Chicago Theater and Arts/Parades to Performances. For more restaurants visit Dining Out-Eating In.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

 

‘Grease’ returns to the not so golden high school days

 

The Burger Palace Boys and car in 'Grease' at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
The Burger Palace Boys and car in ‘Grease’ at Marriott Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 1/2 stars

Director Scott Weinstein has chosen a cast that works together beautifully in Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s hit musical, “Grease,” a two-hour snapshot of late 1950’s Chicago-area (William Howard Taft High School) teenagers dealing with peer pressure, physical attraction and values.

Named after youth who called themselves greasers, the musical looks in on the lives of two groups at fictional Rydell High School, the Burger Palace Boys who sport leather jackets and their girl friends, the Pink Ladies. Nerds, cheerleaders and teachers also put in appearances.

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Academy Award nominations announced

Oscar nominations announced. (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science photo)
Oscar nominations announced. (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science photo)

Given that plays sometimes are made into movies and that movies sometimes move to the stage, it’s good to follow what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science thinks is worth an award come Oscar time.

The Academy announced its 92nd Oscars® nominations today (January 13), live from the David Geffen Theater in Los Angeles. Actor-producer John Cho and actress-producer-writer Issa Rae first announced nominees in eight categories followed by nominees in the remaining 16 categories.

Before looking at who and what has been nominated, it’s good to know the how.

Academy members from 17 branches vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories meaning that actors nominate actors, film editors nominate film editors, etc.

In the Animated Feature Film and International Feature Film categories, nominees are selected by a vote of multi-branch screening committees. All voting members are eligible to select the Best Picture nominees.

Active members of the Academy can vote for the winners in all 24 categories Jan.30, through Feb. 4 at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and via digital platforms that global live stream on Oscar.comOscars.org.

The Oscars, to be held Feb. 9, 2020, 8 p.m. ET at the Dolby ® Theatre in Hollywood, will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories.

Now for some of the nominations:

Performance by an actor in a leading role

  • Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory”
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once upon a Time…in Hollywood”
  • Adam Driver in “Marriage Story”
  • Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker”
  • Jonathan Pryce in “The Two Popes”

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

  • Tom Hanks in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
  • Anthony Hopkins in “The Two Popes”
  • Al Pacino in “The Irishman”
  • Joe Pesci in “The Irishman”
  • Brad Pitt in “Once upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Performance by an actress in a leading role

  • Cynthia Erivo in “Harriet”
  • Scarlett Johansson in “Marriage Story”
  • Saoirse Ronan in “Little Women”
  • Charlize Theron in “Bombshell”
  • Renée Zellweger in “Judy”

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

  • Kathy Bates in “Richard Jewell”
  • Laura Dern in “Marriage Story”
  • Scarlett Johansson in “Jojo Rabbit”
  • Florence Pugh in “Little Women”
  • Margot Robbie in “Bombshell”

Achievement in cinematography

  • “The Irishman” Rodrigo Prieto
  • “Joker” Lawrence Sher
  • “The Lighthouse” Jarin Blaschke
  • “1917” Roger Deakins
  • “Once upon a Time…in Hollywood” Robert Richardson

Achievement in costume design

  • “The Irishman” Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
  • “Jojo Rabbit” Mayes C. Rubeo
  • “Joker” Mark Bridges
  • “Little Women” Jacqueline Durran
  • “Once upon a Time…in Hollywood” Arianne Phillips

Achievement in directing

  • “The Irishman” Martin Scorsese
  • “Joker” Todd Phillips
  • “1917” Sam Mendes
  • “Once upon a Time…in Hollywood” Quentin Tarantino
  • “Parasite” Bong Joon Ho

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

  • “Joker” Hildur Guðnadóttir
  • “Little Women” Alexandre Desplat
  • “Marriage Story” Randy Newman
  • “1917” Thomas Newman
  • “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” John Williams

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

  • “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4”
    Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from “Rocketman”
    Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin
  • “I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough”
    Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
  • “Into The Unknown” from “Frozen II”
    Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
  • “Stand Up” from “Harriet”
    Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

Best motion picture of the year

  • “Ford v Ferrari” Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers
  • “The Irishman” Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers
  • “Jojo Rabbit” Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers
  • “Joker” Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers
  • “Little Women” Amy Pascal, Producer
  • “Marriage Story” Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers
  • “1917” Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers
  • “Once upon a Time…in Hollywood” David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers
  • “Parasite” Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

‘Whisper House’ needs to kick-up the volume.

Whisper House (Black button eyes photo)
Whisper House (Black button eyes photo)

2 1/2 stars

After his fighter pilot father is killed during WWII and his emotionally despondent mother is deemed incompetent, young Christopher (Leo Spiegel) is sent to live with his Aunt Lily (Kate Nawrocki), a lamp tender in a haunted lighthouse in Maine.

Since before the war, Aunt Lily has employed Yasuhiro (Karmann Bajuyo), a Japanese-American, as a kind of helper and all-around handyman. It becomes clear that over three years together the two have formed a bond that transcends their working relationship.

Continue reading “‘Whisper House’ needs to kick-up the volume.”

Joseph struts his dreamcoat at Cahn Auditorium

 

Joseph at Music Theater Works. (Brett Beiner photo)

3 stars

“Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is the 2019 holiday fashion choice for Music Theater Works in Evanston and swan song of retiring stage director Rudy Hogenmiller.

The upbeat Vegas style variety show extravaganza commonly known as “Joseph” is – and in my mind – the least refined of the blockbuster musicals of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.

None-the-less, it enjoys wide acclaim and provides an evening’s worth of solid cheerful entertainment.

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An overly exuberant new holiday nusical

‘The Land of Forgotten Toys’

Mary-Margaret Roberts and Bre Jacobs in "Land of Forgotten Toys" at Greenhouse Theater. (Zeke Dolezalek photo)
Mary-Margaret Roberts and Bre Jacobs in “Land of Forgotten Toys” at Greenhouse Theater (Zeke Dolezalek photos)

 

2 ½ stars

Amidst a growing crop of holiday productions, Chicago is being treated to yet another new family friendly show. Chirpy, relentlessly over-exuberant and with very few moments of reflection or subtlety, this new holiday musical could really use some layers and a bit of variety. As it now plays in its world premiere, the production is a little overpowering. It’s a little like sitting in the front row of an IMAX theatre: there’s no escape.

Created by the writing team of twins Jennifer and Jaclyn Enchin, the plot of this new play is fresh and fun, although vaguely familiar. The songs are a different matter.

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A holiday reality show

America’s Best Outcast Toy

 

Cast of America's Best Outcast Toy. Photo courtesy of Pride Films and Plays)
Cast of America’s Best Outcast Toy. (Photos courtesy of Pride Films and Plays)

3 stars

A delightfully original holiday musical is debuting in the Buena neighborhood that  is both nostalgic and current. The shift in television entertainment from sitcoms and dramas to reality shows inspired this spunky musical spectacular.

With a brilliant book and lyrics by Larry Todd Cousineau and a catchy score by Cindy O’Connor (the team that wrote the Jeff Recommended “All That He Was”), savvy theatergoers have a brand new holiday alternative available to them, premiering at Pride Films and Plays.

The premise for this 80-minute, one-act is pretty clever. The musical is a mashup between a particular scene inspired by the 1964 cartoon classic, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and the turning points from an array of popular TV reality contests.

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‘Burning Bluebeard’ a tragic Christmas story

Porchlight Music Theatre. (Photo Michael Courier)
Burning Bluebeard at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Photo Michael Courier)

3 stars

 “Burning Bluebeard” literally comes alive in front of a scorched proscenium arch on a ruined stage depicting the aftermath of an inferno that destroyed the Iroquois Theater in Chicago (set design by Jeff Kmiec based on the original design of Lizzie Bracken).

The Ruffians with director Halena Kays and choreographer Ariel Triunfo have devised a clever way to tell this story based on an actual 1903, tragic event that claimed the lives of 600 theater patrons, many of them children and their mothers, attending a Christmastime performance of a popular Broadway blockbuster entitled “Mr. Bluebeard.”

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Renee Fleming shines a light in ‘Piazza’

 

Solea Pfeiffer and Renée Fleming in LThe Light in the Piazza. (Liz Lauren photo)
Solea Pfeiffer and Renée Fleming in The Light in the Piazza. (Liz Lauren photo)

 

3stars

No question that soprano Renée Fleming, an opera superstar who has sung leading ladies from Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to Nettie Fowler in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a fine fit as Margaret Johnson in Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ “The Light in the Piazza.”

Her remarkable voice, joyfully greeting  Florence  in the opening scene, heartbreaking in “Dividing Day” following a phone call back home when she realizes her own marriage lacks love, and later swelling with a renewed understanding of love versus risks in her final song, “Fable,” makes going to this production at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House worth attending.

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