‘Anastasia’

 

 Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) (Photo courtesy of Broadway In chicago)
Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) (Photo courtesy of Broadway In chicago)

3 stars

There is plenty to like about this Broadway in Chicago theatrical extravaganza. It is loosely based on the true story of a woman who claimed to be the surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia and whose family was assassinated along with him by the Bolsheviks following the Communist uprising in July 1917.

But don’t worry this version of “Anastasia” has little to do with reality. Inspired by the Twentieth Century Fox animated film (later acquired by Disney Corporation), it refers to the tragedy but is scrubbed clean of most of the ugly parts, leaving behind the tale of a young, beautiful and strong heroine striving to find her true identity while struggling to come to terms with her inner princess.

It was an enthusiastic and appreciative, mostly female audience that packed Chicago’s Nederlander Theater opening night. The book by Terrence McNally is expertly crafted to suit its intended audience of preadolescent girls who themselves are likely exploring their own future and place in the world. Continue reading “‘Anastasia’”

Concert saluted singer Renée Fleming

Renee Fleming at the Lyric of Chicago in an anniversary concert. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
Renee Fleming at the Lyric of Chicago in an anniversary concert. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Fans of opera, American soprano Renée Fleming and the Lyric Opera of Chicago were treated to an extraordinary program March 23 to honor Fleming on the 25th anniversary of her Lyric debut in1993 with Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.”

Chicago audiences may have heard her in other operatic roles such as Marguerite in “Faust” in the 1995-6 season and more recently as Hanna Glawari, in “the Merry Widow” in the 2016-17 season.

But what the program and Lyric President Anthony Freud mentioned during the concert is that  there is a lot more to Fleming’s accomplishments than her vocal talent. As an advisor and innovator of public programs through the Lyric in Chicago and through the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Fleming has been behind several outreach initiatives.

Arguably less known is that she was on the soundtrack of Best Picture and Best soundtrack 2018 Academy awards for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and  “The Shape of Water,” is a 16-time Grammy nominee (four-time winner) and is on the movie soundtrack of the “Lord of the Ring” and “The Return of the King.”

Hosted by Tituss Burges, the program also featured well-known opera stars soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, baritone Quinn Kelsey, and bass-baritones Eric Owens and Christian Van Horn,  plus members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. Patrick summers conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

Fleming started out with what some consider her trademark piece of “Porgi amor” from Mozart’s “the Marriage of Figaro.”

Other pieces in the first part of the program were Eric Owens doing “O tu Palermo “ from Verdi’s “I vespri sicilarni,” Radvanovsky singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca,” Brownlee doing “Ahmes amis…” from Donizetti’s ”La fille du regiment,” Van Horn singing “Eddo il mondo” from “Boito’s La Mefistofele” and the Ryan Opera Center artists doing Faltaff’s “Un oro e terminiam la scena…”

Radvanovsky sang an aria from “Susannah” later in the concert. Then, to herald her role in a special musical production in December, Fleming did “Fable,” from Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza.” Tickets to the run,  Dec. 14-29, 2019,  go on sale March 28, 2019. For tickets and more information visit LyricOpera/light.

As a bonus Saturday, many of the designer gowns worn by Fleming were on display at the Lyric.  For the concert she wore a  navy tulle gown designed by Carolina Herrera and a rose-gold sequined gown by Vivienne Westwood.

Another interesting not is that the acoustic Pritzker Family Concert Shell designed by Studio Gang for Lyric’s 60th Anniversary Gala Concert in 2014 was the backdrop for Saturday’s concert.

Jodie Jacobs

 

The ‘Miracle’ musical

Cubs championship photo (Courtesy of William Marovitz)
Cubs championship photo (Courtesy of William Marovitz)

Certainly “Miracle,” a musical directed by Damon Kiely and premiering at the Royal George Theatre May 8, 2019,  refers to the Chicago Cubs 2016 Championship.

But during a phone interview with lead producer William “Billy” Marovitz, the concept’s originator, what comes across is how much baseball is a part of many people’s lives.

And yes, Marovitz, who has followed baseball “for as long as I can remember,” is the former, long-time IL State Senator instrumental in working out the compromise that brought lights to Wrigley Field in 1988.

Marovitz had earlier conceived a Chicago show about what happened in the city during the two Daley administrations. But when he realized the concept wasn’t going anywhere when Richard M. Daley didn’t run again, his love of baseball sparked another show idea.

“It was Feb. 16, 2016 and I thought the Cubs have a good team. So I though let’s look at the season through a family. I needed to tell a story, not one just about baseball, but about real people, their ups and downs,” he said.

The story, fleshed out by film and TV writer Jason Brett, co-founder of Chicago’s Apollo Theater, follows the Delaneys, a Wrigleyville bar-owning family, through changing times.

Marovitz tells how in one part of the show the Delaney’s 11-year old daughter asks her grandfather who is always going over to Cubs’ park, how he got his limp.

“He explains he was in Vietnam, in a fox hole when he got shot up, and said he thought would lose his leg,” Marovitz said. He continued, “And then the grandfather says “The only thing that kept me going was a transistor radio. I could listen to the games.” Continue reading “The ‘Miracle’ musical”

‘A Bronx Tale’ offers lessons of fear and love

 

Touring company of 'A Bronx Tale' (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Touring company of ‘A Bronx Tale’ (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

4 stars

This version of the coming of age story “A Bronx Tale” is based on an off-Broadway, one-man play by Chazz Palmintiri later turned into the 1993 Robert De Niro movie of the same name.

Adding music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Glenn Slater this is a very successful adaptation appearing in Chicago on tour.

Narrated by Calogero (Joey Barreiro), he tells of growing up in an Italian/American section of the New York borough of The Bronx during the tumultuous and racially charged era of The Sixties. And that he is mentored by a local mobster, Sonny (Joe Barbara), and is hanging out with “the wrong crowd.” Continue reading “‘A Bronx Tale’ offers lessons of fear and love”

Chicago designates Water Tower area as arts district

 

Commissioner Mark Kelly is among Chicago dignaeries and arts organization representatives that launched the Water Tower Arts District March 12, 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)
Commissioner Mark Kelly is among Chicago dignaeries and arts organization representatives that launched the Water Tower Arts District March 12, 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago)

 

Do you know Chicago’s WTA District?

Visitors and Chicago area residents are arguably familiar with the city’s Theatre District of show venues in the Loop and the Museum Campus next to Soldier Field.

Now add the Water Tower Arts District to Chicago’s cultural district scene.

Now, the city has officially designated an area both sides of North Michigan Avenue that stretches approximately from Streeterville to the Gold Coast as the WTAD.East of LaSalle Street from Illinois Street to North Avenue .

Launched at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago by Commissioner Mark Kelly of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events on March 12, 2019, the new district includes these 15 cultural organizations: (1) The Arts Club of Chicago, (2) Broadway in Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, (3) City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower, (4) Graham Foundation, (5) International Museum of Surgical Science, (6) Lookingglass Theatre Company, (7) Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), (8) Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), (9) the Newberry Library, (10) Poetry Foundation, (11) Porchlight Music Theatre, (12) Richard Gray Gallery, (13) the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, (14) the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, and (15) the Society of Architectural Historians.

Water Tower Arts District map with 15 arts institutions (Photo courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art)
Water Tower Arts District map with 15 arts institutions
(Photo courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art)

Anyone old enough to recall “Bug House Square,” the once popular tag for Washington Square Park south of Newbery Library where people would debate social issues, will understand Kelly’s reference during the launch to the area as Bohemian.

Plus, he and Chicago historian Pamela Bannos noted that the area around the Water Tower, was once known as “Towertown,”  a Bohemian arts stronghold, so the new designation was really a return to its roots.

“This tightly knit group of arts organizations raises the same spirit of camaraderie and collaboration as they reclaim the District and invite visitors to experience a diverse array of cultural activities…,” Kelly said.

Lookingglass Theatre Company resides in the historic Chicago Water Works across from its sister, the historic Water Tower. (J Jacobs Photo)
Lookingglass Theatre Company resides in the historic Chicago Water Works across from its sister, the historic Water Tower. (J Jacobs Photo)

Lookingglass Executive Director Rachel Fink likes that the arts organizations are joining together to attract attention. “It felt a little isolated over here…,” said Fink. “The Mag Mile  has a different focus.”

The process of gathering together, which she recalled started about five months ago, has also introduced her to other arts organizations in the neighborhood.

“I like meeting our neighbors. It’s been an incredible opportunity for me” she said. “Now I know more the Driehaus Museum and I learned about the interesting (International) Museum of Surgical Science.”

She added, “It helps to do things as a community. Now we’re celebrating and  brainstorming together.

For more information and descriptions of the 15 organizations and activities, visit the website Watertowerarts.  The site and the graphic designation were created by Chicago designers Michael Savona, and Tobey Albright plus Mollie Edgar from Hour. Photographs of the institutions were done by Chicago artist Assaf Evron.

Jodie Jacobs

‘Seussical’ delights with sounds and sights

Cast of Seussical at Marriott Theatre. (Justin Barbin photo)
Cast of Seussical at Marriott Theatre. (Justin Barbin photo)

3.5 stars

You don’t have to be a kid to laugh, tear-up, applaud and walk out grinning from Marriott Theatre’s latest musical supposedly geared to young audiences.

Certainly there is Marriott’s terrifically designed costumes and choreography that show goers are used to for the regular subscription season.

And there are such fun Dr. Seuss  characters as the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, the “Whos” and jungle denizens – all mixing together in lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty’s creative “Seussical.”

But what’s special for adults and youngsters is that the players are all featured actors in Chicago area musicals. Continue reading “‘Seussical’ delights with sounds and sights”

Mamma Mia! Super trouper

Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

4 stars

Artistic Director, William Osetek has staged a fresh and exciting new production of “Mamma Mia!, the 1999 smash hit musical that became a cult classic for Baby Boomers twenty years ago and is one of Broadway’s original juke box musicals.

Taking almost two dozen hit tunes from the ABBA songbook, Drury Lane’s stage version makes audiences forget Chicago’s cold, snowy winter, as well as a rather disappointing 2008 film version.

Here, live and on stage, is a great opportunity to enjoy a polished, professional production of how that musical is suppose to look and sound. And this production is not only pitch perfect but, decked out in shiny spandex, platform heels and a ton of glitter and glitz, it’s a feast for the eyes as well.

Continue reading “Mamma Mia! Super trouper”

Five things to do Presidents’ Day weekend

 

The Weyard Sisters (Caitlan Taylor, Caroline Chu, and Emma Ladji) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Short Shakespeare! Macbeth. (Liz Loren photo)
The Weyard Sisters (Caitlan Taylor, Caroline Chu, and Emma Ladji) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Short Shakespeare! Macbeth. (Liz Loren photo)

Saturday

Shortened Shakespeare

See the 75 minute “Short Shakespeare! Macbeth” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Saturday at 11:00 a.m., Feb. 16. It will continue Saturdays through March 16, 2019. Chicago Shakespeare Theater is on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. For tickets and more information visit ChicagoShakes/Macbeth.

 

Seussical: The Musical

Dr. Seuss’ creative genius is on stage at the  Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences Feb. 16 at 10 a.m. The show continues through March 31, 2019. The theatre is at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Created by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (the Tony Award-winning team behind the acclaimed musicals Ragtime and Once on this Island), the production combines more than 14 Dr. Seuss stories. For tickets or more information call (847) 634-0200 or visit Marriott Theatre

 

Orchid in Chicago Botanic Garden Greenhouse. (photo by J Jacobs)
Orchid in Chicago Botanic Garden Greenhouse. (photo by J Jacobs)

Sunday

Orchids at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Warm up with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s annual Orchid Show, called “The Tropics” this year. The show is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For tickets and other information visit Chicago Botanic.

 

Monday 

Story Time

Chicago Botanic Garden holds Story Time for ages 2 to 5 on Mondays through March 25, 2019, including Presidents’ Day March18. Story Time goes from 10 to 11 a.m. in Lenhardt Library. Afterwards, get a bingo card to go find objecgts in the garden and greenhouses. No drop offs.A caregiver must be present.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, just east of the Edens Expressway. For more information visit Chicago Botanic or Story Time.

 

 

Hall leading to the Grainger Theater has fascinating space images. (J Jacobs photo taken of one of the hall's images)
Hall leading to the Grainger Theater has fascinating space images. (J Jacobs photo taken of one of the hall’s images)

Chicago Museum Campus

Go to the Chicago Museum Campus. All three of the museums on the Campus, the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, have free general admission for Illinois residents on Feb. 18, 2019. (Free days’ general admission does not include special exhibits and shows.)

 

Adler Planetarium

The Adler Planetarium is at the far east end of the Museum Campus at 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr. General admission is free to Illinois residents Feb. 18-21. For more information on what to see and admissions visit Adler Planetarium .

 

The Field Museum

At the Field, all of February is free to Illinois residents. There is a lot to see that does not require a special exhibit ticket. The Field is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. at the west end of the campus. For more information visit Field Free.

 

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd is in the middle of the Museum Campus at 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr Free admission for Illinois residents is Feb. 18-22. For more information visit Shedd Free Days.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

‘Dear Evan mixes great songs with needy plot

The North American touring company of Dear Evan Hanson. (Photos byh Matthew Murphy)
The North American touring company of Dear Evan Hanson. (Photos byh Matthew Murphy)

3 1/2 stars

It’s not breaking news that teenagers experience angst in high school from parental to peer pressure and from wanting to fit in to having a best friend and from feeling insecure or inadequate to not knowing how to express one’s self or experiencing bouts of depression. In addition there are teens on drugs, troubled teens and teens contemplating suicide.

It’s also not breaking news that actions go viral because someone is always around snapping and recording on a cell phone or that some of the so called stories out there are “fake news.”

Add to the mix that either teenagers think their parents don’t understand them or that they want something from them they are not able to manage. There is also the issue of parents who are so busy with other aspects of life that they are not around when needed.

In the hands of songwriters Ben Pasek and Justin Paul (who later did “La La Land”) and playwright Steven Levenson (Days of Rage) those issues coalesce in the Broadway hit musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” directed by Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”).

There have been a lot of shows that deal with family problems but what seemed to set this one apart upon seeing it when the national tour hit Chicago this week, were the extraordinary songs that expressed Evan’s wistful feelings such as “You Will Be Found,” Waving Through a Window and “For Forever.” Evan’s mom, Heidi who after her husband left them, works and goes to class so is seldom around, also gets her heart wrenching song, “So Big, So Small.”

Continue reading “‘Dear Evan mixes great songs with needy plot”

Five shows to take the mind off winter

 

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

 

If escaping to somewhere warm hasn’t worked out this year then escape instead to a fun or interesting play that takes you to a different time or place.

 

“All Childish Things,” a crazy plan to steal Star Wars toys from a warehouse encounters the Dark Side, at First Folio in Oakbrook through Feb. 24. The show is appropriate for Star Wars fans ages 12 and up.

Seeing a show at First Folio is an experience because it is in the Mayslake Peabody Estate, a supposedly haunted mansion in a Du Page County Forest Preserve.

 

“The Producers,” Mel Brooks zany plot to make money on a show by producing a flop, is at the Paramount  Theatre in Aurora through March 17, 2019.

Paramount is worth the drive to Aurora because the shows there are full-blown, Broadway-style productions with excellent casts and great scenic design, costumes and orchestration.

 

“Dear Evan Hansen,” a complicated scenario dealing with mental health, fitting in, bullying and other problems teens face in high school, is at the James M Nederlander Theatre (formerly Oriental) through March 10.

The Tony-Award winning musical is starting its National tour in Chicago as part of the Broadway in Chicago series.

 

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” a delightful Porchlight  Music Theatre production at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, through March 16.

If you haven’t seen a Porchlight musical, it’s time to add it to your go-to list.

 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a classic August Wilson play, is at Writers Theatre, Glencoe through March 17.

August Wilson presents, rather than tip toes through, confrontation, but he does so in unexpected ways. Plus, Writers Theatre is in an award-winning Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang Architects) designed structure.

 

Jodie Jacobs