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.
“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.”
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.
If I might borrow from Chicago’s city motto “Urbs in Orto” (translated as “City in a Garden”) this production of “Twelfth Night” can be described as “Theatrum in Orto” (“Theater in a Garden”) as Midsommer Flight presents their popular perennial production of one of Shakespeare’s silliest plays, energetically performed, amid the (house-plants run amok) tropical flora collection in the Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Show House Room.
Directed by Dylan S. Roberts the comedy is intimately staged more-or-less in-the-round, costumed in 20th Century modern dress.
Five men in a small mining camp circa 1850s California find the meaning of family with the addition of a baby boy. It is an upbeat holiday story that explores the meaning of family and serves to illustrate the need for humans to band together forging family bonds in whatever circumstances they happen to be while also exploring the tug of bloodline ties.
This sentimental Pride Films & Plays (PFP) production directed by Danne W. Taylor will rival anything you might find on the Hallmark Channel this holiday season and may require an extra dose of insulin.
The well written script by Normal Allen is inspired by stories of 19th Century author Bret Harte and is best served by Michael D. Graham as Old Jake, the glue that keeps this production together. Graham seems to have the best grasp of the cadence and pace of the men of this period and circumstance.
It’s the 1940s and veteran detective Max Forthright (Guy Wicke) is throwing a lavish party to celebrate the publication of his upcoming memoirs.
Max has invited a number of distinguished guests including his best friend (the square jawed man of action) screen actor Roman Powell (Stephen J Bryant) accompanied by the lovely young socialite Ainsley Hyde (Taylor Toms) whose father is a well-known politician.
It might be difficult for some to conceive of a notion that denied roughly fifty percent of the population from having a say in what was considered to be a modern democratic process. But indeed, this was the case deep into the first part of the twentieth century, both here and in Britain.
These three pithy, well performed, one-act plays directed by Beth Wolf and presented by Artemisia Theatre as “The Suffrage Plays” provide insight through a good deal of levity and snarky repartee that give voice to the debate that 100 years ago provided women with the right to vote.
Before the age of TV and the Internet, people looked to the theater for entertaining political commentary the equivalent of Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, or Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. Continue reading “Political humor is nothing new”
Country music has been described as three chords and the truth. The world premiere of Anthony Whitaker’s “My Life is a Country Song” presented by New American Folk Theatre has taken that adage to heart and crafted a well told musical tale of love, friendship, and personal triumph.
Donna (Kelly Combs), a receptionist at the Lincoln Ford dealership, has divorced her abusive husband, Gary (Kirk Jackson), and rented an old mill house from Shirley (Judy Lee Steele) who is a photographer for the local paper.
After explaining that she has never before had keys of her own which weren’t also shared with her parents or husband, Donna sings the poignant ballad “My Front Door.”
Soon thereafter ex-husband Gary tries to suggest that he has changed, worming his way back with “A New Coat of Paint.”
If you agree that in an opera or ballet the storyline is incidental to the performance you will understand my reaction to “You Are Happy,” an interesting, innovative and thoroughly enjoyable production co-directed by Aaron Sawyer and Mary Kate Ashe at the Red Theater. It leaves you wanting more – but in a good way.
For the record, Bridget who ironically claims to find happiness in her own company and solitude, wants her suicidal brother, Jeremy, to find happiness with a true love.