Charlie Brown stands the test of time


Charlie Brown at Marriott Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Charlie Brown at Marriott Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Highly Recommended

A perfect introduction to children’s theatre, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” is a one-hour production in the Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences series.

It’s amazing how timeless this musical, written in 1967, continues to be as it highlights the anxieties and insecurities of children in every generation.

Based on the characters created by cartoonist Charles M. Schultz in his comic strip, Peanuts, the play remains delightful in its simplicity and poignancy.

Charlie Brown and his rag-tag group of friends create a series of vignettes that explore life’s great questions and their relationships with one another. Through it, they play baseball, struggle with sibling rivalry, sing and celebrate their own happiness.  

The production stars Patrick Michael Tierney who is a perfect Charlie Brown. Tafadzwa Diener is Lucy who is not only bossy but delivers wonderful vocals as well. Matthew Bettencourt plays Schroeder. Jackson Evans is Linus and Amanda Walker is Sally.

The star of the show really is Andres Enriquez who, as Snoopy, must convey a variety of “doggie” emotions. Hysterical.

 One of the lyrics to the final song, “Happiness,” is “Happiness Is anyone or anything that is loved by you.” Could there be anything sweeter?

This production is directed and choreographed by Linda Fortunatowith musical director/conductor Rick Bertone and musical supervisor Ryan T. Nelson.

The show includes additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and dialogue by Michael Mayer from the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival.

This is the first show in the 2023 Young Audience season. Next up is “Elephant and Piggies: We Are in a Play” from July 14 to August 1.

Details: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, through April 1. For tickets and more information visit Marriott Theatre Charlie Brown and Marriott Theatre.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A show to see more than ‘Once’


Dana Saleh Omar and Matt Mueller in Once at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Dana Saleh Omar and Matt Mueller in Once at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

3/1/2 Stars

I fell in love with “Once,” a musical based on a John Carney 2007 film, when it first played in Chicago in 2013 and again in 2015.

But the word, “musical,” may erroneously bring images to mind of such full-stage touring shows as “Chicago and “Les Miserable.”

Appearing now at Writers Theatre where it can intimately be performed almost in-the-round, the audience’s focus is on its main characters beautifully portrayed by two popular regional theater actors: Dana Saleh Omar (national tour of “The Band’s Visit) as Girl, and Matt Mueller (“The Play that Goes Wrong” tour) as Guy.

Girl is a sympathetic but stubborn musician who pulls Irish musician/song writer Guy away from severe mental despondency when the person he wrote and sang about leaves him for New York City.

Her vehicle to getting through to him is, surprisingly enough, a Hoover Vac that he can fix for her in his father’s shop where he lives above the store and works when not writing and performing.

The dialogue, a creative play on words often infused in the script, is something like: “It (the Hoover) doesn’t suck,” she tells him. “Are you serious,” he asks. “I’m always serious. I’m Czech,” she says.

On the way to bringing Guy back to a mental state where he wants to live and perform, the audience meets her Czech family, Guy’s father, Da, the Irish bartender and band members.

They all make up the show’s musician/performing cast. And they all, including Girl’s 8-year-old daughter, Ivonka, played by Kajsa Allen, are terrific. (She alternates with 11-year old Viva Boresi.)

As with the national tour production, they also (except for Ivonka) stay on stage, usually seated when not performing. The staging is simple. 

The main differences I found were that the focal point is an upright piano instead of a stocked bar and the musicians/performers had more choreographed stage time that included pre-curtain Irish music.

Kudos to the talented supporting cast: Elisa Carlson (Reza), Yuchi Chiu (Bank Manager), Matt Deitchman (Band music director/ Eamon), Elleon Dobiaa (Ex Girlfriend), Matt Edmonds (Billy), Jordan Golding (Emcee), Lucas Looch Johnson (Svec), Liam Oh (Andre), Ron E Rains (Da) and Bethany Thomas (Baruska).

The show is well directed and choreographed by Katie Spelman with excellent music direction by Deitchman.

 Music and lyrics are by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with book by Enda Walsh.

“Once” picked up 11 Tony Award nominations in 2012, winning eight awards that included Best Actor, Book and Musical. It had also won the Academy Award for best song “Falling Slowly.”

Details: “Once is at Writers theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe now through April 2, 2023. Running time 2 hrs, 20 min. with one intermission. For more information and tickets visit. Writers Theatre

Jodie Jacobs

 For more shows visit Theatre In Chicago


Chicago Theatre Week Now


Goodman Theatre ((Photo courtesy of Goodman)
Goodman Theatre ((Photo courtesy of Goodman)

Downtown, see “Les Miserables,” a Broadway in Chicago production at CIBC, “Cabaret” at Porchlight Music Theatre or “Toni Stone” at Goodman. In the burbs go to “Into the Woods at Paramount in Aurora, “A Chorus Line” at Drury Theatre in Oakbrook, “The Christians” at Citadel in Lake Forest or ” Andy Warhol in Iran” at Northlight in Skokie.

Those are just a few of the highly recommended shows now playing in the Chicago area that are at theaters whose tickets are discounted during Chicago Theatre Week, Feb 16-26, 2023.

With more than 60 theatres in and around Chicago participating, now is a good chance to get good value for good theatre. Tickets range from $15 to $30.

To see some of what is available each day visit the city’s tourism website Theatre Week Events in Chicago | Choose Chicago.

 To learn more about the shows go to Theatre in Ghicago

Jodie Jacobs





Two Mormans plus one Merman equal total mayhem in ‘Book of Merman’


L to R: Danny Ferenczi as Elder Shumway, Julie Peterson as Ethel Merman and. Alex Iacobucci as Elder Braithwaite. (Photo courtesy of MadKap Productions
L to R: Danny Ferenczi as Elder Shumway, Julie Peterson as Ethel Merman and. Alex Iacobucci as Elder Braithwaite. (Photo courtesy of MadKap Productions


3 1/2 Stars 

Fans of the late, great Ms. Ethel Merman will love this spoof on the Broadway Diva as it comes to life at Skokie Theatre. The show has everything – memorable music, high-energy dancing, gorgeous costumes, and a heartfelt message about being true to yourself. It’s no wonder the performance was sold out the night we went.

Two Mormon missionaries who are down on their luck in selling souls ring the doorbell of the brash and brassy Ethel Merman. Misunderstandings of all kinds take place and hilarity ensues.

The audience gets the benefits of fabulous show-stopping numbers belted out by the trio. But listen carefully as the lively songs with music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz and book by DC Cathro play off Merman’s greatest hits; some subtle, others not so subtle, because you’ll recognize this legend’s most beloved music among Broadway’s best.

The two Mormon missionaries are played by Alex Iacobucci as Elder Braithwaite and Danny Ferenczi as Elder Shumway who are funny and talented. They will sing and dance their way into your heart. Perhaps if start singing as soon as they ring the doorbell they will get better results!

Julie Peterson is the soul of the show as Ethel Merman. She has the same loud, booming belter voice that was Merman’s trademark.

No wonder. Peterson was the understudy and performer in the role when it launched off-Broadway in 2018. She perfectly captures the mannerisms, intonations, and sassiness of the star.

Produced by Wendy Kaplan of MadKap Productions with Wayne Mell as associate producer, the show is directed and choreographed by Ty Perry. Musical direction is by pianist Jeremy Ramey and percussionist Craig Buckner who sit behind the stage.

Set design is by Scott Richardson, lighting design is by Pat Henderson and kudos once again, to costume designer Patti Halajian whose dresses for Ethel are simply dazzling.  

In Act 2, the show changes and real identities step forward giving the audience new appreciation for the characters and the show.

Concluding the season for Skokie Theatre is Neil Simon’s hilarious farce, “Rumors,” March 31 to April 25, 2023.

Details: “Book of Merman” is at Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave in downtown Skokie, IL through Feb 26, 2023. Run time: 2 hours with one intermission. For information and tickets visit or call (847) 677-7761.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Profound Citadel play tackles religious divides


L-R (far back) Ellen Phelps,(front left) Abby Chafe), Scott Phelps and Manny Sevilla in 'The Christians' at Citadel Theatre. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)
L-R (far back) Ellen Phelps, (front left) Abby Chafe), Scott Phelps and Manny Sevilla in ‘The Christians’ at Citadel Theatre. (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)

4 Stars

No matter what the religion espoused at home, “The Christians,” an Obie Award winning drama by Lucas Hnath, is bound to provoke discussion on the way home.

A remarkable production in both acting and set design, the play does not advocate a specific organized religion but raises theological questions about heaven, hell, G..d, the bible, sin and why members attend – all in an approximately 80 minutes of action and debate.

The setting is primarily Pastor Paul’s mega-church, enhanced by Pangaea Technology’s grid of 90 two-foot-square, state of the art digital video monitors to crate the church’s large interior. Also creating the right look are Intelligent Lighting Creations, BI (background Images), cinematographer Ian Merrin and scenic designer Johnathan Berg-Einhorn.

Audience members immediately become part of the congregation as Pastor Paul, played by Scott Phelps, walks in through the same door they used to enter, and welcomes the people he passes to the service.

Phelps then proceeds to mesmerize the audience with the first part of Hnath’s viewpoints in his sermon followed by theological disagreements argued by Associate Pastor Joshua, well portrayed Manny Sevilla.

Adding to the interplay are temperate thoughts from Church Elder Jay, quietly presented by actor Frank Nall, and agitated disagreement from Pastor Paul’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Scott Phelps wife, Ellen Phelps. (Both the Phelps are also production managers.)

 In addition, Jenny, a congregant played with just the right emotional intensity by Abby Chafe, relays the problems she is facing from people who agree with the now former Pastor Joshua.

Members of Forte Chicago singers are in the choir who seem to be seated behind a screen at the back of the stage.

Tying it all together to create an atmosphere about to explode atmosphere is Director Scott Westerman who explains in the program how important the particular technical aspects used by Citadel are to a production on stage in the age of Zoom and selfies.

His note also raises meaningful questions about being good and doing good, rightness and righteousness and the source of people’s beliefs.  

Hnath certainly deserves the Obie and Citadel and its excellent actors and crew deserve the standing ovation they received opening night.

Details: “The Christians” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL, now through March 12, 2023.

For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Catch Big Fish at Marriott Theatre


L-R Alexander Gemignani and Heidi Kettenring in Big Fish at Marriott Theatre (Liz Lauren photo)
L-R Alexander Gemignani and Heidi Kettenring in Big Fish at Marriott Theatre (Liz Lauren photo)

3 Stars

The movie and other plays aside, having just seen Broadway actor Alexander Gemignani (Carousel, Les Miserable, Sweeny Todd) as Edward Bloom at Marriott Theatre, it is now arguably hard to see anyone else playing the pivotal character role in “Big Fish.”

 In the hands of Director Henry Godinez, (Goodman Theatre’s Resident Artistic Associate), backed by a talented cast, Bloom’s seemingly fantastical journey through life is delightful. His character is likely to have audiences relating to dad jokes and dad’s experience stories.

 But in the end the theme really is about father-son relationships. The audience is challenged to empathize with his son, Will Bloom, played by Michael Kurowski who appears uncomfortable in the role.

 A shoutout has to go to Heidi Kettenring, a favorite Marriott and Chicago theater community actress/singer, who as Edward’s wife, Sandra, has no trouble understanding and appreciating him.

 “Big Fish” is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel and the 2003 (in theaters early 2004) Columbia Motion Picture by John August directed by Tim Burton. The play’s book is by John August with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.

Details: “Big Fish” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, IL now through March 19, 2023.  Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For information and tickets visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Celebrating Mozart at Lighthouse Immersive


Visitors get a sneak peek of Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius, Opening March 10, 2023 at Lighthouse Immersive. (Photo Credit: Reno Lovison)
Visitors get a sneak peek of Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius, Opening March 10, 2023 at Lighthouse Immersive. (Photo Credit: Reno Lovison)

Lighthouse ArtSpaceChicago, known for its presentations of visual artists, celebrated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 267th birthday with a sneak-peak kickoff of “Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius,” The birthday celebration included complimentary treats of Prosecco and Eli’s Cheesecake.”

Past Artspace presentations featured the works of such artists as Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo by utilizing cutting-edge projection techniques to create a 360-degree immersive visual experience.

The Mozart presentation is the first to feature a musician. To craft dream-like 18th century inspired imagery, the producers partnered with the creative team of Massimilliano Siccardi and Vittorio Guidotti.  

Mozart Immersive’s world premiere is currently scheduled to open March 10, 2023 at the Lighthouse ArtSpace at the corner of Clark Street and Germania Place with no immediate plans for the exhibit to travel. All the more reason to be sure to check it out.

Terri Hemmert of WXRT Radio hosted the birthday bash with live music by the Ryan Center Ensemble featuring Wm Clay Thompson (Bass) singing an aria from Don Giovanni with Chris Reynolds on piano.

The excellent young basso and pianist duo were followed by an expert chamber ensemble comprised of four string players from The Music of the Baroque performing two Mozart compositions, the ever popular “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” and “Divertimento in D Major.

The experiential projected images thoughtfully incorporated the monochromatically painted architectural interior features of the former Germania Club that is now the home of Artspace.

For instance, the inside frames of what had been windows were replaced by projected vintage images of the Austrian countryside.

They added to the enjoyment of the string ensemble by transporting us back in time to a place that might have hosted an elegant soiree, perhaps in a stately home or castle of one of Mozart’s benefactors.

The final production, a retrospective with highlights from Mozart’s short life, integrates video re-enactments with live actors alongside the animation.

Mozart Immersive (Photo credit Kyle Flubacker.)
Mozart Immersive (Photo credit Kyle Flubacker.)

Many visitors will be delighted to see legendary dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov in the heart-rending role of Mozart’s father, Leopold, who is credited for launching his son’s early career. They became estranged later in life.

Constantine Orbelian, New York City Opera’s music director and principal conductor, joined Hemmert onstage to discuss the production.

The music, arranged by composer Luca Longobardi, will accompany Mozart Immersive.  It was recorded by the Lithuanian Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra led by Orbelian.

Before the doors opened, I had an opportunity to interview the Maestro for my podcast. The four-time Grammy-nominated musician shared that he had not yet seen the visuals associated with the music and was as eager as the rest of us to get a sneak peek.

Details: Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago is at 108 Germania PL. For tickets visit Mozart Immersive.

Reno Lovison




Photo: Reno Lovison (R) recorded a podcast interview with Maestro Orbelian (L) which can be heard at (Photo Credit: Julie Lovison)

Photo: Julie Lovison, Director of The Lake Shore Music Studio with Constantine Orbelian, Director and Principal Conductor of the New York City Opera celebrating Mozart’s birthday at Lighthouse ArtSpace in Gold Coast / Lincoln Park. (Photo Credit: Reno Lovison)

Photo: Visitors get a sneak peek of Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius, Opening March 10, 2023 at Lighthouse Immersive. (Photo Credit: Reno Lovison)

White Christmas wraps up magical holiday entertainment


Music Theatre Works cast of White Christmas at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. (All photos by Brett Beiner.

Music Theatre Works cast of White Christmas at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. (All photos by Brett Beiner.

Highly Recommended

 When it comes to holiday shows, “White Christmas” has it all. An amazing score with music and lyrics by composer Irving Berlin, breathtaking choreography, gorgeous costumes and a heart-warming story of loyalty and holiday spirit.

In the capable hands of Music Theater Works and directed by Sasha Gerritson with musical direction by Roger Bingaman and choreographed by Clayton Cross, “White Christmas” soars to even greater heights.

Based on the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney, “White Christmas” continues to be a holiday favorite. Featuring a new book by David Ives and Paul Blake, the musical features such classic Berlin songs as “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep, and “White Christmas.”

The plot centers on two World War II veterans, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who turn their army show into a successful song-and-dance act. They follow a “sister act” to a Christmas stage show and end up at the Vermont inn owned by their former army commander, General Waverly. Sadly, the inn has fallen on hard times, but Bob and Phil decide a big show will drum up business. Will misunderstandings stop the performance, and can they save the inn?

Kelly Britt as Judy Haynes; Jimmy Hogan as Phil Davis; Anna Marie Abbate as Betty Haynes and Tommy Thurston as Bob Wallace in “White Christmas.”
Kelly Britt as Judy Haynes; Jimmy Hogan as Phil Davis; Anna Marie Abbate as Betty Haynes and Tommy Thurston as Bob Wallace in “White Christmas.”

Tommy Thurston, who plays Bob Wallace, can hoof with the best of them. Tall and lanky, he interprets the music with his ultra-smooth movements. Jimmy Hogan offers beautiful vocals with sincere sentiment and matches Thurston’s dance chops. Kelly Britt as Judy Haynes has a gorgeous voice, while Anna Marie Abbate as sister Betty charms the audience with her solid performance. Lea Biwer as General Waverly’s granddaughter gets a chance to show off her voice later in the show and she is outstanding.

But it’s Alicia Berneche as Martha Watson who steals the show every time she’s on stage. Her comedic antics, and powerful, booming voice garner the well-deserved applause at every turn.

Kudos to costume designer Elizabeth Monti for her exquisite costumes that brilliantly capture the elegance of the era.  

Irving Berlin’s music never sounded better in the Center Theatre and the whole production looks like a giant snow globe come to life…don’t miss it!

Details: “White Christmas is in the Center Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, now through Jan. 1, 2023. Run time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information call (847) 673-6300 or visit Face masks are recommended for all guests.  

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Dear Evan Hansen puts teen angst in the spotlight


Anthony Norman as Evan Hansen,All photos by Evan Zimmerman.
Anthony Norman as Evan Hansen, (All photos by Evan Zimmerman).

Highly Recommended

In “Dear Evan Hansen,” a lonely, high school senior gets in way over his head when another student, Connor Murphy, takes his own life. Through a series of misunderstandings, a letter that Evan Hansen writes to himself becomes mistaken for Connor’s suicide note and Evan becomes a high school hero and a comfort to the boys’ grieving family.

Evan’s mother must deal with her son’s issues as well as her own as a single mom who has a full schedule of work and school. From Evan’s perspective, she is never there for him.

Instead, he finds solace in Connor’s family as a surrogate family he doesn’t have. And Connor’s sister, Zoe? That’s his crush.

Evan finally has a chance to fit in. But it’s all based on a lie. What happens when the truth comes out?

The musical, which first premiered in 2016, takes the audience on a journey of what it’s like to be a teen during the social media era. Continually flashing on stage are feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, showcasing the immediacy of social media and its impact.

Anthony Norman, John Hemphill, Lili Thomas and Alaina Anderson in the touring musical "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Nederlander Theatre
Anthony Norman, John Hemphill, Lili Thomas and Alaina Anderson in the touring musical “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Nederlander Theatre

Featuring a book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson (Fosse/Verdon), a score by Grammy®, Tony® and Academy Award®-winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman), and direction by four-time Tony Award-nominee Michael Greif (Rent, Next to Normal), “Dear Evan Hansen” sheds light on the continuing issues of mental health.

The show went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and numerous other awards.

The haunting music celebrates such songs as, “You Will Be Found,” “Words Fail,” and “So Big, So Small.”

The revolving set is simple with the orchestra playing at the top of the set. 

Starring as Evan Hansen is Chicagoan Anthony Norman who is stellar. His physical movements, pained expressions, and socially awkward conversations plant the audience firmly in his head.  Yet, we can see how Evan matures from this entire experience, changing him for the better.

Anthony Norman (with Alaina Anderson) in Dear Evan Hansen.
Anthony Norman (with Alaina Anderson) in Dear Evan Hansen.

Coleen Sexton as his mother, Heidi, is excellent with her own angst that she both defies and embraces. Her voice is powerful and memorable.

It was gratifying to see that Connor Murphy, played by the outstanding Nikhil Saboo, maintained a presence throughout the play, showcasing his legacy.

Kudos for the innovative projection design by Peter Nigrini showing the impact of social media on all our lives.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a play that will stay with you long after the final applause.

Details: Dear Evan Hansen is at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago through December 31. For tickets and more information, visit or Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Around Town Favorite Shows this past year


Ben Rappaport as Jack Paar and Sean Hayes as Oscar Levant in Doug Wright’s "Good Night, Oscar." (Liz Lauren photographer)
Ben Rappaport as Jack Paar and Sean Hayes as Oscar Levant in Doug Wright’s “Good Night, Oscar.” (Liz Lauren photographer)

The almost post-pandemic year of 2022 saw life return to Chicago’s stages. Here are a couple of our critic’s thoughts on some really well-done shows seen in 2022..

My favorite was the Goodman Theatre’s production of “Goodnight, Oscar” starring Sean Hayes. The play was funny, poignant and dealt with the issues of mental health, something even more relevant today than when the play took place in 1958. I knew when I reviewed it, that I had seen something quite extraordinary on stage. The ending was a triumph. The play is now headed to Broadway. Bravo! – Mira Temkin


Lizi Breit and LaKecia Harris in "Manual Cinema's Christmas Carol" at Writers Theatre (Liz Lauren photographer)
Lizi Breit and LaKecia Harris in “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre (Liz Lauren photographer)

Wow! “How (do) you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” It’s what I felt I learned walking out of Marriott Theatre Linconshire’s “The Sound of Music.”  Yes, the musical has been done countless times, but it’s been a while since I have left a show thinking it was perfect. With so many factors to consider from vocals, acting and dance to script and music, some elements tend to outshine or are weaker than others in various productions. But upon leaving opening night of Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire’s “The Sound of Music,” April 20, 2022, the word that came to mind was “perfect.” – Jodie Jacobs

One of the best shows I was lucky enough to see in 2022 is still appearing through Dec. 24. It is “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL.  An award-winning film/video and live performance and design company, Manual Cinema brings extra layers of meaning to stories we think we know. That was definitely true to Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” reworked to apply to current situations and characters. If you go, be prepared for an unusual theatrical experience that includes ghosts, shadow puppets, an old film screen using an old projector (they call it “vintage,” and outstanding acting by LaKecia Harris as the main character, Aunt Trudy. – Jodie Jacobs