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

 

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

 

Around Town: Filling December with joy

 

Larry Yando as Scrooge in Goodman theatre's audio version of 'A Christmas Carol' (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre
Larry Yando as Scrooge in Goodman theatre’s audio version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre

 

 Marley as undead as a 1940s-50’s radio program

It’s OK not to reveal your age but does anyone remember sitting by the radio to hear the weekly broadcast of a favorite program? The “spirits” of good old family entertainment are back thanks to Goodman Theatre.

With renown Chicago actor Larry Yando once again portraying Scrooge, Goodman will put on its annual holiday treat, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens as a free, audio broadcast beginning 7 p.m. Dec. 1.  The story line is adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Jessica Thebus. It is  adapted for audio by Neena Arndt, Jessica Thebus and Richard Woodbury.

Visit Carol/goodmantheatre for more information. You can also tune in to WBEZ 91.5 FM and Vocalo 91.1 F.M. Dec. 24 at 3 p.m. and Dec. 25 at 11 a.m. The program will also be available through On Demand.

 

Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)
Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker (Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)

A Joffrey “Nutcracker’ dance class

Remember when short, Nutcracker dance classes were available for youngsters at the Chicago Cultural Center? The Joffrey Academy of Dance is offering “Virtual enchanted Evening: The Nutcracker” in two sessions: ages 4-6, Dec. 4 and ages 7-9 Dec. 11. Hours are 6:30-7”30 p.m. CT. The fee is $15. To find out what is needed and for more information or to register visit Virtual enchantged evening/Evenbrite.

 

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure (Photo courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater)
Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure (Photo courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure

It’s time after months of the pandemic for some faith and maybe,  a little pixie dust. You can visit Neverland via Chicago Shakespeare Theater, free, from noon Dec. 19, 2020 to 11:59 Jan. 1, 2021.

The production is a newly re-mastered, 80-minute feature film that was shot live of the 2018 production. Music is by the award-winning duo of Broadway’s “Mary Poppins” with a score by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewer.

Adapted from the play by J.M. Barrie with permission from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children the production is presented by special arrangement with Concord Theatricals.

For more information and to get the stream visit ChicaoShakespeareTheatre/PeterPan.

 

Music Works and Goodman do outdoor shows this week

With the pandemic still haunting the indoor entertainment scene, some show venues have taken their artistry to parks and parking lots.

Among them are Goodman Theatre which has been working with the Chicago Park District and Music Theater Works which has been using the parking lot of its new home, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

Music Theater Works new home at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (Music Theater Works and Performing Arts photo)
Music Theater Works new home at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (Music Theater Works and Performing Arts photo)

Music Theater Works

The longtime Evanston based production company formerly known as Light Opera Works, presents “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits” Sept. 29, 2020 at 7 p.m. CT.

Divided into two parts of 15 numbers each, songs range from “I wish I were in love again” from Babes in Arms to “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel.

The program is presented live in the Center’s rear parking lot, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie and then online from October 2-11. For tickets and more information visit MusicTheaterWorks/summerconcertencore.

 

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

Goodman Theatre

The Goodman show, “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak on It! featuring E. Faye Butler, is being performed in some Chicago parks. Directed by Henry Godinez and adapted from Cheryl L. West’s play “Fannie,” the show brings back famed civil and voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer through storytelling and music.

Currently, it is scheduled for the front of Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.,  for 6 p.m. Oct. 1, Homan Square in North Lawndale at 3559 W. Arthington St. at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 and  in Ellis Park at 3520 Cottage Grove Ave. in Bronzeville at  3 p.m. Oct. 3. The Ellis Park performance is sold out.

Please check GoodmanTheatre/SpeakOnIt for more details.

 

 

The Chicago Theater Season

heater venues range from Chicago's Lookingglass theatre in the historic Water Works (top left) and the lyric Opera House, bottom left to Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building to the new Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)
Theater venues range from Chicago’s Lookingglass in the historic Water Works (top left) and the lyric Opera House, bottom left to Goodman Theatre in a remodeled former movie theater building to the new Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, bottom right. (J Jacobs photo)

Normally we would be talking about what productions are coming this fall and winter to the Lyric Opera, Goodman, Chicago Shakespeare, Steppenwolf, Broadway in Chicago, Lookingglass, Northlight, Court, Music Works, Citadel and several other Chicago area theater stages.

And normally, what’s coming would be divided up by regions because in 2019 there were about 250 theater companies in the area.

Maybe when the coronavirus is under control and artists and patrons feel safe attending live rather than virtual shows, we will know which Chicago theater groups survived the pandemic.

But here is a sample of what we are hearing now about our next theater season.

 

Goodman

Calling the season “Our Next Act,” Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer announced that the Goodman Theatre would have eight plays in its 2021 subscription (membership) series when safe for everyone. That number doesn’t include “A Christmas Carol” which isn’t a subscription show but details on the popular holiday show are expected to be out soon.

“We’re proud to announce four exciting world premieres, including a Goodman commission – Cheryl L. West’s “Fannie.” Directed by Henry Godinez, it is a passionate rallying cry inspired by the life of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer that features E. Faye Butler in the title role,” said Falls.

Another world premiere is “the ripple, the wave that carried me home” by Christina Anderson, a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. “It is a stunning meditation on protest, legacy and reconciliation; and we’re delighted to welcome back Christina, whose bold, imaginative How to Catch Creation was a memorable favorite last year,” said Falls.

The third world premiere is “Good Night, Oscar” by Doug Wright, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as Oscar Levant.

Falls added, “Finally, we’ll produce the highly anticipated new musical we postponed due to COVID-19—”The Outsiders” based on the novel by S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola’s film. A beloved story of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ that defined a generation it is told anew.” (Book is by Adam Rapp, music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine, choreography by Lorin Latarro and directed by Liesl Tommy.)

Three Chicago premiers include “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Lili-Anne Brown that was interrupted by the pandemic, “A Paris Love Story” featuring the Music of Claude DeBussy that is written and performed by Hershey Felder and directed by Trevor Hay and “American Mariachi” by José Cruz González, directed by Henry Godinez and is a coproduction with Dallas Theater Center.

In addition, Goodman will be doing “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman.

“We can’t wait to welcome back our audiences for our dynamic 2021 Season that exemplifies the very best of our art form,” said Falls. “As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our artists and audiences, we remain flexible in our planning and will share production dates when the time is right.”

Subscription memberships to the upcoming season are available, including the “Whenever Membership” flexible package. A five-play Membership package starts at $100. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/2021season. Single tickets will be available at a later date.

 

Lyric Opera

The Lyric will open a reimagined fall season with “For the Love of Lyric,” a virtual concert from the Lyric Opera House, that will be available for free streaming beginning at 5 p.m. CDT Sept. 13, 2020.

The event is in place of the opening night opera and ball, according to Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and CEO.  “…we are proud to present “For the Love of Lyric- a very special concert presentation available to the largest possible audience via streaming,” said Freud.

Renowned soprano Renee  Fleming teams up with special guests including Tony and Grammy award-winner Heather Headley (Aida, Lion King), soprano Ailyn Perez, bass Soloman Howard and mezzo soprano J’Nai Bridges.

For more information visit For the Love of Lyric. A first screening at sponsor level will be available Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and can be found at LyricOpera/Support.

 

Music Theatre Works

Formerly called Light Opera Works, Music Theatre Works is moving from its Evanston home at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie,  beginning with its 2021 season.

A 40-year-old, not-for-profit company that has produced several highly recommended shows, Music Theatre Works has basically honored the classics with great direction, voices and orchestrations that range from the best “Pirates of Penzance” and “Mame” that I have seen to what other CTA writers say is the best “Anything Goes” and “Into the Woods” that they have seen.

Administration and rehearsals will continue at the Paul S. Mavros Center and Joyce Saxon Rehearsal Hall.

The performance move to North Shore Center’s large and small venues means the organization can do more productions and have longer runs, better parking and more exposure.

“For 40 years, Music Theater Works has been a cornerstone of high-quality professional music theater in the Chicago area. Our history demonstrates our dedication to bringing great music and great theater to our audiences. The community along with the many artists, board members and staff have built the company to what it is today,” said Music Theater Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan.

“Music Theater Works’ move to its new performance home at the North Shore Center is a testament to our community’s support for our art. In addition, this outlet strengthens Music Theater Works’ pledge to explore the full spectrum of music theater with the availability of multiple performance spaces within the North Shore Center,” Dougan said.

North Shore Center for the Performing Arts General Manager Michael Pauken said, “It is very exciting to welcome this well-respected organization and its productions to the North Shore Center as I have long admired them as an audience member.”

Pauken added, “I know Music Theater Works’ customers will find the North Shore Center’s location near numerous restaurants, convenient access to public transportation and free parking to be an enhancement to their theatergoing experience and Music Theatre Works performers will enjoy ample backstage space and the technical capabilities of our facility.”

In advance of its formal move to the Center next year, Music Theater Works presented two sold out performances of “Richard Rodgers’ Greatest Hits,” August 28 and 29, as part of the North Shore Center’s outdoor concert series, “Out Back Summer Sessions.”

For more information visit  Music Theater Works/New Home and Music Theater Works/About Us.

 

Black Ensemble presents a battle cry

 

Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater
Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater

‘Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’

3 stars

Jackie Taylor, the amiable creative heart and soul of Chicago’s beloved Black Ensemble Theater, has declared 2020 as the company’s Season of Change. She opens with this original, ambitious, musical battle cry, a movement against the injustice and bigotry that’s overtaking our country today thanks to an administration that has set our country back 200 years.

And this is just the beginning of Taylor’s aggressive theatrical approach to helping combat the racism that’s reared its ugly head in America.

Continue reading “Black Ensemble presents a battle cry”

Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!

 

Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)
Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)

4 stars

Imagine what it was like in 1964 when Judy Garland and her daughter, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli, performed together for the first time at The Palladium Theatre in London. This was the only time these two superstars performed in a live concert together and it was electrifying.

Now, Chicago theatre-goers can experience the thrill of “Judy & Liza — Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert – A Tribute” at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The show is co-produced by Greenhouse and Nancy Hays Entertainment, Inc.

Continue reading “Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!”

‘Hit Her With The Skates’ at Royal George

 

Hit Her With The skates (Press conference photo)
Hit Her With The skates (Press conference photo)

 

We were invited to attend a kick-off event and sneak preview for “Hit Her WithThe Skates” a new regionally inspired musical that will have its world premiere March 18, 2020, at the Royal George Theatre on North Halsted Street in Chicago.

The show is produced by Mary Beidler Gearen with book and lyrics by Lansing native and co-producer Christine Rea. The two met while working with the Bailiwick Repertory Company where Gearen earned five Jeff nominations. Continue reading “‘Hit Her With The Skates’ at Royal George”