Hit Songs from the Fifties and Sixties to Hear Now

 

Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50's and 60's. (Photo by Bret Beiner))
Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50’s and 60’s. (Photo by Bret Beiner)) production

4 stars

Grab a seat. Enjoy summer outdoors listening to talented singers and musicians perform nearly 60 classic and cherished songs from the 1950s to the 1960s. Music Theater Works, the North Shore’s famed musical production company typically performing from Evanston venues, is doing  Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits outside Skokie’s North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, June of 2021.

While it is often a challenge to get audiences engaged, the performers and band faced no difficulty in doing so. Anyone who watches this show will undoubtedly want to join along in song and dance due to both the pure talent of the performers.

Co-directed by Music Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan and Martin L. woods, the performers’ strong and vibrant voices made the entire show come alive as they moved through the hit songs of such talents as Buddy Holly, Doris Day, The Supremes, Elvis, The Temptations,  George Harrison, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.

Additionally, the performance was heightened by the performers’ pure professionalism. The show flew smoothly from high energy number to number without missing a beat.

This show is an excellent choice for music lovers and a great escape to share with family and friends. Though the music might appeal more to older generations, younger people will definitely find enjoyment as they are introduced to less familiar classics. It is a must-see for anyone in the Chicagoland area looking for a talent-filled fun event.

Details: Music Theater Works’ Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits is  outside the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL 60076 from June 18th through June 27, 2021. Run time: Two hrs. 20 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission. For more show information and tickets visit MusicTheaterWorks.com/BoxOffice or call (847) 673-6300.

Charles Babikian

For more shows see Theatre in Chicago

 

Awesome musical production from Lyric Opera

 

T

Vocalist Norm Lewis in The New Classics at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)
Vocalist Norm Lewis in The New Classics at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)

he Lyric Opera of Chicago has come up with an amazing substitute for the large-scale musical it produces on its large-scale stage at the end of its operatic season.

Titled “the New Classics-Songs from the New Golden Age of Music Theater,” it is about a 70-minute-long mix of dramatic, sad, wistful and powerful show numbers that some listeners will know but others may not find familiar.

And instead of coming from the Lyric’s grand stage, the production was mostly recorded back stage in an intimate, former Civic Opera space.

Hosted by David Chase who also accompanies the singers along with  members of the Lyric Orchestra, the program reintroduces some notable musical theater by notable composers.

Vocalist Gavin Creel opens the program with the obscure Stephen Sondheim “What More Do I Need” from Saturday Night followed by Nikkie Renée Daniels’ wistful rendering of the well-known “The Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon. Norm Lewis then wows with “Stars” from Les Miserables.

Jenn Gambatese changes the mood with “Gimme Gimme” (Love) from Thoroughly Modern Millie and Heath Saunders offers a moving “Something Wonderful” from The King and I.

Jo Lampert puts the best interpretation I’ve heard on “Omar Sharif” from The Band’s Visit and Amanda Castro “flamingo” taps the way to the top of her building with “Raise the Roof” from The Wild Party.

Chase segues to historic references between numbers to the Civic Opera and more show tunes sung by the cast (introduced above) that also include “Love Changes Everything” “I Will Never Leave You,” “Dear Theodosia,” ”Way Back to Paradise,” “I’d Rather be Sailing,” “Popular,” “If Only” and “Rain.”

Guess which shows those songs came from or better yet, click on the production. It  premiere this Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. CT on Lyric’s Facebook and YouTube channels. For more information visit The New Classics.

Jodie Jacobs

Not your typical streaming show

 

'Master of the House' from Les Miserables (photo courtesy TPS and Marston McCoy Media
‘Master of the House’ from Les Miserables (photo courtesy TPS and Marston McCoy Media)

Stacey Flaster and Liz Fauntleroy, founders of Highwood, IL-based The Performer’s School, had their 40-member cast set for Les Miserables and 26-member cast for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. when Covid-19 shut down stages and venues everywhere including Ravinia Festival where they put on one of their shows.

“We didn’t know how long the quarantine would last but the kids had signed on,” said Flaster.

In addition, their staff orchestrator, editor, costumer and props people were still working on the shows and still hoped to do Les Mis and Beauty.

“So, we had to do something,” said Fauntleroy.

The something was to ask Peter Marston Sullivan, associate artistic director of Marriott Theatre and founder with wife Elizabeth Telford of the new, digital production company Marston McCoy Media, to turn the two musicals into digital productions where everyone looked as if they were performing at one time on the same stage.

Beauty and the Beast Jr (A Performer's School production by Marston McCoy Media
Beauty and the Beast Jr (A Performer’s School production by Marston McCoy Media

The kicker was that everyone couldn’t be filmed at once. CDC and Illinois Covid protocols meant keeping everyone safe with separate rehearsals, separate costuming, separate dance moves and separate singing, but it all had to look like one show, one backdrop, one taping.

Sullivan had already been working with them on workshops and knew they needed a way to present the musicals.

In 2020 Elizabeth and I sat in our basement to experiment. We didn’t want something as bland as zoom. Then Elizabeth, sang “One Day More” for a demo to show what is possible,” said Sullivan explaining that his wife,  Elizabeth Telford, was a musical theater performer who had done several shows  Marriott and around Chicago.

“I sent to The Performer’s School. They said they were thinking of doing Les Mis. So we all took a risk,” he said.

“Peter came to us and said he had this idea on how to make it happen,” said Flaster. She added, “We were willing to take a chance. So we all just dived in.

“We presented it to the students. They  all said yes!” said Fauntleroy.

The students involved are 26 fourth and fifth graders in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. and 40 sixth through eighth graders in the school edition of  Les Miserables.

What comes across when watching either of the completed productions is that the youngsters could easily go on to post college or academy careers in musical theater. Past Performer’s School students have performed on Broadway, in regional theaters and commercials.

The P:erformer's School founders Stacey Flaster and Liz Fauntleroy,
The P:erformer’s School founders Stacey Flaster and Liz Fauntleroy,

Flaster and Fauntleroy, explained that talent agencies, casting directors and local theaters often ask the school to suggest students for particular shows and roles.

The two school founders are themselves, veterans of Chicago area musical theater who then went on to teach workshops before founding their school eight years ago.

They noted that some of the students just enjoy performing while others are very talented, have agents already and often go on to related fields in college.

The back story is that after a few months of experimentation and six months of multiple takes of each cast member in front of the type of screen similar to one used by TV weather forecasters, the results were two astounding productions.

“It’s not like zoom. It’s a cinematic experience,” said Flaster.

Elizabeth Telford, baby McCoy and Peter Marston Sullivan (Photo courtesy of Marston McCoy Media
Elizabeth Telford, baby McCoy and Peter Marston Sullivan (Photo courtesy of Marston McCoy Media

Sullivan explained the process as “long” “complicated” and “layering.”

“We record  the performers individually in front of a green screen then edit that so they appear to be together,” he said. “There are multiple takes with each kid, then they are cut out and all put together so then when we animate it feels like a movie.”

He added, “My wife had the great idea to have them looking where they would in a scene. So,  in one take Jean Valjean would be looking left toward Marius (Pontmercy) who would be looking right in his take.”

He then edits the tapes and stacks them one behind or in front of another. “It’s hard. ‘One Day More’ took two weeks to edit,” he said. Then added, “The battle scene is amazing. It’s really layered editing, like animation.”

Sullivan said kudos had to go to TPS Music Director/editor Jeff Poindextor, “The orchestral track was all done at Marriott’s large rehearsal warehouse,” and to other staff of The Performer’s School who worked on the project.

“It’s hard, but what you see is cool. People will see what is possible,” said Sullivan. “And what was done with the students is amazing. They learned a whole different medium. The shows were perfect for film and the kids see themselves as movie stars.  They’re glowing.”

For performances and ticket information visit The Performer’s School

To see about making the show and a teaser visit YouTu.be.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

Psychological ‘The Sound Inside’ opens Goodman live series

Bella, Mary Beth Fisher and Christopher John Drea, in Adam Rapp's 'The Sound Inside' streaming live from Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Cody Nieset
Bella, Mary Beth Fisher and Christopher John Drea, in Adam Rapp’s ‘The Sound Inside’ streaming live from Goodman Theatre.
Photo by Cody Nieset)

3 stars

“The Sound Inside,” by Adam Rapp, the Jefferson Award winning and Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright of “Red Light Winter,” is a perfect choice for Goodman Theatre’s first live performance on its Owen Theatre stage.

A 90-minute drama that will have audiences wondering what happens next, the play follows the high intensity interaction between a Yale professor who teaches a writing class and a student.

The difference in watching this play from last year’s pre-pancemic, in-person shows and the streaming plays mounted in 2020 and still going on, is that the audience is not filling Owen’s seats and that the action is not pre-taped.

Viewers are at home watching the action as it happens. (Camera angles are important and included in the photos)

Because some scenes seem to be wordy and others might make audiences who think too much information might want to fast forward, which of course, they can’t, the fact that this is live is actually good.

What may sound like background information is crucial to the psychological buildup behind each character’s behavior, responses and the play’s conclusion.

The characters are Bella Lee Baird, interpreted brilliantly by Mary Beth Fisher as a 50-something creative writing professor who is struggling with a recent diagnosis of stage 2 cancer, and Christopher Dunn, superbly played by John Drea as an antisocial, anti- technology  freshman in her Reading Fiction for Craft course.

Christopher sees Twitter as an outlet for those people “scared of loneliness.” Bella who somewhat narrates the actions, describes herself as unremarkable and the equivalent of a “collectible plate on the wall.”

Not so incidentally, Rapp’s mother’s maiden name was Mary Lee Baird. She died in 1997.

Director Robert Falls cloaks the opening scenes.in darkness mirroring Bella’s mood as first she describes the dark park where she comes as night when she can’t sleep as filled with trees that look arthritic.”

She then recalls her mother’s illness and death and wonders what she could have done wrong to bring on cancer because she eats healthfully and doesn’t overdo anything..

The scenes between the two characters contain a minimal number of props and lighting so that the audience can focus on Bella’s and Christopher’s changing relationship and the information slowly released about a book he is writing and about a book Bella wrote.

Among the worrisome and telling features of “The Sound Inside” is that both books are tragic and that Christopher believes good, successful authors commit suicide. He names several.

Another telling point is Christopher’s response to Bella’s use of Dostoyevsekyh’s “Crime and Punishment” to discuss antiheros as in the murder of the pawnbroker and his sister. Christopher cries, “Someday, I’m going to write a moment like that.”

“The Sound Inside,” is streaming live from May 13 16. Running time: 90 Minutes.

“Ohio state Murders’ streams live June 17-20. “I Hate It Here streams live July 15-18, 2021. Individual tickets are $30. Three p;roductions tickets with a Live Membership is $60..

For tickets and more information visit Goodmantheatre/live.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Jodie Jacobs

Around Town: Theater News

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

COVID cases are dwindling in Illinois and thus museums and many restaurants are re-opening but most of the news from Chicago’s theaters is what is still happening digitally.

Goodman

Goodman Theatre started an Encore series of OnDemand video streaming free from March 15 through May 9. Pulled from Goodman’s video vault, they are “How to Catch Creation” by Christiana Anderson, Teatro Buendia’s “Pedro Paramo” by Raquel Carrio, “Smokefall” by Noah Haidle and “Measure for Measure” by the Bard, William Shakespeare.

All the productions were impressive but the one that really stuck in a corner of my obscure consciousness was “Smokefall”,presented in the fall of 2013.

A beautiful and though provoking play about life and love, it features Violet (Katherine Keberlein) as a wife whose husband is leaving and a mother whose daughter has problems. Violet is also about to birth twin boys whose thoughts on leaving the womb are astonishing and scary.

Her father, the Colonel, superbly portrayed by Mike Nussbaum (whom I admit is one of my favorite actors) is an elderly person whose mind is slipping, but has an important role in the life of this family.

Goodman is also continuing its stream of “Until the Flood” by Dael Orlandersmith, a powerful play that sheds light on Ferguson, MO from a variety of perspectives.

“Live theater is ephemeral; once a performance ends, it’s gone forever,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “But as we anticipate the day we can reopen our doors and resume in-person events, we are thrilled to offer this rare chance to watch a handful of signature Goodman productions—including world premieres, a re-imagined classic and a ground-breaking international collaborate—from our video archives.”

Encore tickets are free with reservations at GoodmanTheatre.org/Encore and check for all productions at GoodmanTheatre.org.

 

Steppenwolf (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)
Steppenwolf (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)

Steppenwolf

At Steppenwolf Theatre, Scout, a new play development program, is doing a free virtual reading of “Mosque4Mosue” by Omer Abbas Salem on March 28 at 2 p.m. CST. The play,  comedy about how what might be considered an average 30something Arab American Muslim who is queer, handles a caring mother who wants the ideal man for him. To obtain a ticket call (312) 335-1650 or go to Steppenwolf Theatre/forms.

Jodie Jacobs

Porchlight does Broadway with a rock and roll beat

 

3 Stars

Felicia P. Fields with the Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago to be presented to her at Chicago sings Rock & Roll Broadway from Porchlight Music Theatre, ((Photo courtesy of Porchlight )
Felicia P. Fields with the Guy Adkins Award for Excellence in the Advancement of Music Theatre in Chicago to be presented to her at Chicago sings Rock & Roll Broadway from Porchlight Music Theatre. ((Photo courtesy of Porchlight )

Watching Porchlight Theatre’s “Chicago Sings Rock and Roll Broadway” on Youtube last night, made me realize how much I missed going to Chicago area venues for good musicals and plays.

Well-staged with superb instrumental back-up, the cast takes on the mammoth task of covering musicals through the decades from “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Hair” in the 1960s and “The Wiz” and “Promises Promises” in the 1970s  to more recent shows such as “Kinky Boots,” “Waitress,” “Beautiful”  and “Head over Heels.”

Past benefit concerts were, among others, covers from Disney, Stephen Sondheim, The Beatles and Motown.

Choosing a song or a couple of stanzas from each show, their theme this year is Rock and Roll but not all music chosen fall in that genre. So, if deciding to tune in to support local artists, Porchlight and, just as important, the theatre’s education arm to area youth, don’t worry if your ear prefers other musical genres.

The benefit is fun to watch and hear because the music ranges from standards to lesser- known songs. You are bound to find a favorite performance. Among mine was Sawyer Smith’s magnificent take on “Wig in a Box” from “Hedwig & the Angry Inch, (1998).

A virtual event that can be viewed through April 18, 2021, Chicago Sings is a fundraiser similar to the broadcasts that have aired since COVID shuttered arts and entertainment venues a year ago, except this event brings the cast and musicians together.

It also includes the presentation of the 2021 Guy Adkins award for “excellence in the advancement of music theatre” to Felicia P. Fields and greetings from several Broadway stars including E. Faye Butler and Sean Allan Krill.

Porchlight Theatre’s “Chicago Sings Rock and Roll Broadway is on YouTube through April 18, 2021. Tickets are $25. Running time is about 90 minutes. For  tickets see Porchlight and for information visit  Porchlight Music Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

 

A dark tale of a white whale

Moby Dick by Theatre in the Dark. Clockwise from top L: Robinson Cyprian, Corey Bradberry, Elizabeth McCoy, composer Nick Montopoli, and Mack Gordon. (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)
Moby Dick by Theatre in the Dark. Clockwise from top L: Robinson Cyprian, Corey Bradberry, Elizabeth McCoy, composer Nick Montopoli, and Mack Gordon. (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)

3 Stars

Theatre in the Dark metaphorically sets sail to harpoon the quintessential fish story that is “Moby Dick.”

Maybe you read it in high school or enjoyed Gregory Peck in the screen adaptation proffered one Sunday afternoon by Frazier Thomas on Family Classics, or maybe you’ve missed the story all together.

This 90-minute version of the tale crafted by producing artistic director Corey Bradberry captures the essence of Herman Melville’s classic seafaring novel. It does so in a kind of CliffsNotes fashion that preserves the storyline while doing fair justice to the primary characters including vivid descriptions of the elusive and menacing great white whale, itself.

No need to keep your eyes peeled. Theatre in the Dark is a Chicago based  company specializing in telling stories through sound so this production can be more accurately described as a live radio drama. In this case, it is broadcast via the Internet on Zoom.

The voice of Elizabeth McCoy as the narrator, Ishmael, has a fresh and active timbre. She provides a colorful tone that becomes the foundation of the aural composition.

However, her delivery, at times, is more reminiscent of a Saturday morning children’s librarian than that of an experienced youth intimately recounting details of a horrific, bone-chilling odyssey.

In his portrayal of third mate Stubb, Mack Gordon provides a grizzled gruff but kindly attitude that is imbued with a sense of camaraderie and discipline as well as a longing for home.

“Thar she blows!” He gives it the sweet taste of simple pleasures that have come to define the mental portrait of those hearty souls whose livelihood and willingness for adventure caused them to choose one of the most perilous vocations of all time.

The velvety basso tones of Robinson J. Cyprian as the vengefully obsessed and austere Captain Ahab offers the contrast needed to add aural dimension to the production while simultaneously suggesting the underlying foreboding of his true quest.

Augmented by original music of Nick Montopoli, the soundscape design of Bradberry and Gordon fully delivers the background auditory impressions required to set the stage. It puts the listener on the deck of the Pequod in the midst of the action.

Dim the lights. Don your foul weather gear. Then, settle down with your mug of grog to enjoy the recounting of this time-honored maritime adventure.

“Moby Dick” runs 90 minutes plus a 10 minute intermission. It is online through April 10, 2021. For tickets and information visit theatreinthedark..

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Around Town: Bolero at Joffrey and Secretaries at Goodman

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

Chicago Theater and Arts used to list all the shows downtown and neighborhood venues for the coming season. Now, for the 2020-21 season we’re typing in virtual events and shows that are streaming.

Here’s a couple that may be missed if not immediately clicked.

  • “Boléro” presented by The Joffrey Studio Series, streams Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. CT. However, it just extended the streaming through March 2, 2021.

A world premiere with choreography by Yoshihisa Arai, costumes by Temur Suluashvili, Maurice Ravel’s iconic score will be interpreted in the Gerald Arpino Black Box Theater at Joffrey tower. Running time is 16 minutes. To watch visit Boléro | Joffrey Ballet.

  •  “The Secretaries,” a virtual Goodman Theatre reading, premieres Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. CT.

Written by Omer Abbas Salem and directed by Audrey Francis, the story revolves around four women in Aryan drag who want to be the Fuhrer’s personal secretary in 1944.

Running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes with one 10 minute intermission. Registration is needed for this free event. For more information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/TheSecretaries.

Related: Chicago Theatre Week

Jodie Jacobs

 

Chicago Theatre Week adapts to the pandemic

 

Chicagoland's more than 200 theater venues include Lookingglass Theatre in the historic Water Works (top left) and the Lyric Opera House, bottom left plus Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building and the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)
Chicagoland’s more than 200 theater venues include Lookingglass Theatre in the historic Water Works (top left) and the Lyric Opera House, bottom left plus Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building and the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)

Instead of trying to snag tickets to hot shows at bargain prices during Chicago Theatre Week, the annual event happens online in 2021 from Feb. 25 to March 7.

Coordinated by the League of Chicago Theatres with Choose Chicago the event will switch to digital content and theatre support.

Along with enabling theater-lovers to see shows without changing out of sweats and pjs, it will be a good chance to discover different theatre companies and use money saved to keep Chicago’s vibrant theatre scene alive for another year.

While nothing can truly replace in-person performances, theatres across Chicagoland have been finding new ways to produce their art,” said Deb Clapp, League of Chicago Theatres executive director.

He added, This year, we invite the community to engage with their favorite companies—or discover new ones—during Theatre Week. Until we can welcome audiences back into our theatres, we invite you to learn about, engage with, and support Chicago theatres during Chicago Theatre Week 2021.”

For more information visit  Chicago Theatre Week | Choose Chicago on Feb. 25, 2021.

Jodie Jacobs

Around Town: Three shows to consider seeing now

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Not a Christmas show

“Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” taped live at Chicago Shakespeare Theater two years ago, is now streaming live free of charge (donations appreciated) through Jan. 1, 2021.  It is a newly re-mastered recording of the company’s 2018 production.

Directed and choreographed by Amber Mak, it delightfully proves that not everything watched this time of year has to have a Christmas or Hanukkah theme. Really good for youngsters ages 8-10, its music, story, aerial choreography and 80-minute run-time, makes it entertaining for all ages. For more information visit Chicago Shakespeare Theater

 

An extended Christmas show

“Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol,” Dicken’s moralistic holiday story but with an updated twist, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2020. Originally seen live at specific ticketed times through Dec. 20, the production is now streaming 24/7 through Marquee TV. Tickets are $15.

For Chicago Theater and Arts’ review see A broader Christmas Carol message.   For tickets and more information visit Marquee.tv/videos

 

An annual Chicago live Christmas radio show

American Blues Theater has been doing a live retelling of “It’s a wonderful Live: Live from Chicago,” for more than 19 years. Patterned after the Frank Capra classic as a 1940s radio broadcast with terrific sound effects, the show is continuing through Jan. 2, 2021. For more information visit AmericanBluesTheater/Wonderful Life.

Jodie Jacobs