Wrap that towel around you, settle back with a stiff one and get ready to enjoy The Divine Miss M, at her holiday best.
Once again it’s the early 1970’s, and we’re at Manhattan’s popular gay bathhouse where Bette Midler, portrayed at Mary’s Attic by the incomparably talented Caitlin Jackson, came to prominence.
Jackson, her tumbler filled with vodka, is cheerfully serving up an hour of some of Midler’s best, most beloved tunes. She also treats the audience to a few of Bette Midler’s bawdy Sophie Tucker jokes.
It didn’t matter that outside temperatures were diving into the icy teens because inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Tuesday, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” was warming the hearts of families and veterans with “Happy Holidays,” “Count Your Blessings” and “We’ll Follow the Old Man.”
But good as Berlin’s music and lyrics and David Ives and Paul Blakes’ book are, what makes the touring production now playing in Chicago worth its four stars is its talented cast and Randy Skinner’s excellent choreography and direction.
There are the perfectly executed dance numbers by a superb ensemble and the wonderful dancing of Kelly Sheehan as Judy Haynes and Jeremy Benton as Phil Davis. Plus, there is the beautiful voice of Kerry Conte as Betty Haynes and the Martha Raye-style singing and acting of Lorna Luft as Martha Watson.
Adapted from Eric Kimmel’s beloved holiday picture book which earned the 1990 Caldecott Honor Award, this 60-minute holiday presentation of “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins”is back for another Hanukkah season at Strawdog Theatre. The production is done almost totally in-the-round and without an intermission.
Written by ensemble member Michael Daily, this is a family entertainment piece that features spirited ethnic music and lyrics by Jacob Combs . A six-member troupe portray an array of characters who play a variety of musical instruments, pack up their belongings and take their act on the road.
Resembling a holiday variety show aimed at younger audiences, this lively, laugh-provoking entertainment is actually a play-within-a-play. Through music, folk dance, puppetry and the audience’s own imagination, the play tells the story of a Jewish folk hero named Hershel of Ostropol.
A clever trickster, kind of like a European version of Anansi the Spider or a witty Hebrew cousin of the American Br’er Rabbit, Hershel is portrayed this year with glee by ensemble member Jack Morsovillo.
He’s supported by a company of multi-talented actors and musicians who include Sarah Bacinich, Brianna Joy Ford, Cohen Kraus, Josh Pennington and Leo Zhu.
After traveling a long way, the troupe stops at a village where they ask the local innkeeper for food and a place to sleep. Penniless, the troupe leader offers to entertain the man and his guests (the audience) in exchange for his generosity. Finally, given the opportunity, the company of players perform the tale of Hershel of Ostropol.
In the play, Hershel has discovered a sad little town where Hanukkah is no longer celebrated. The reason for this, the townsfolk lament, is that their temple has been overtaken by goblins who forbid the townspeople to light the Menorah candles.
Hershel accepts the town’s challenge to spend the next eight nights in their temple, whereupon he’ll try to trick the goblins, including the fearsome Goblin King, into lighting the Menorah themselves, and thus bring brightness and holiday joy back to the village.
The production is guided with spirit and sparkle by Lauren Katz. She artfully draws out the skills and strengths from each of her ensemble members and keeps her production in constant motion. Yair Farkas musically directs this talented cast, all suitably attired in clownish costumes courtesy of Elle Erickson.
Prior to each performance, there are arts and crafts activities in the lobby. Strawdog Theatre’s second helping of the family holiday entertainment is foxy, fun and filled with music. It radiates with warmth, wonder and humor.
Youngsters already familiar with Eric Kimmel’s delightful picture book will enjoy seeing the story come to life. Learning how Hershel gets the best of a band of bogeymen in order to restore Hanukkah to a town plunged into darkness, is great fun for audiences of all ages.
DETAILS: “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” is at Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice, Chicago, Saturdays and Sundays, Dec.7-29, 2019. Running time: one hour. For tickets and other information visit Strawdog.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting TheatreInChicago.
If I might borrow from Chicago’s city motto “Urbs in Orto” (translated as “City in a Garden”) this production of “Twelfth Night” can be described as “Theatrum in Orto” (“Theater in a Garden”) as Midsommer Flight presents their popular perennial production of one of Shakespeare’s silliest plays, energetically performed, amid the (house-plants run amok) tropical flora collection in the Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Show House Room.
Directed by Dylan S. Roberts the comedy is intimately staged more-or-less in-the-round, costumed in 20th Century modern dress.
Five men in a small mining camp circa 1850s California find the meaning of family with the addition of a baby boy. It is an upbeat holiday story that explores the meaning of family and serves to illustrate the need for humans to band together forging family bonds in whatever circumstances they happen to be while also exploring the tug of bloodline ties.
This sentimental Pride Films & Plays (PFP) production directed by Danne W. Taylor will rival anything you might find on the Hallmark Channel this holiday season and may require an extra dose of insulin.
The well written script by Normal Allen is inspired by stories of 19th Century author Bret Harte and is best served by Michael D. Graham as Old Jake, the glue that keeps this production together. Graham seems to have the best grasp of the cadence and pace of the men of this period and circumstance.
I still remember the first time I heard the caustic wit of David Sedaris as he performed his “The Santaland Diaries” monologue on NPR’s “This American Life.” I was gobsmacked. This snarky, irreverent essay quickly became a holiday staple in our house, revered as much as our other annual, if slightly less irreverent, family favorite, “A Christmas Story.”
Goodman Theatre’s annual “A Christmas Carol,” now in its 42 appearance, continues to draw thousands of families downtown Chicago for Charles Dickens’ 19th century story about redemption.
Originally called A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas when published in 1843, the tale does feature four ghosts. At Goodman, the production also features Larry Yando making his 12th appearance as Ebenezer Scrooge, the Charles Dickens character whose name is synonymous with miser.
What’s undoubtedly the most popular, best-loved holiday movie of all time? Well, here’s a hint: The name George Bailey has become synonymous with Christmas since Frank Capra’s holiday classic first began airing on television during the 1980’s.
Based upon “The Greatest Gift,” a short story privately published in 1945 by Philip Van Doren Stern, this captivating tale of a man who sacrifices all of his own dreams to help his family and friends has now become a timeless classic.
Most audiences will be familiar with the 1946 b&w film which is just about as perfect as anyone can expect. But American Blue Theater’s version takes this classic one step further, especially in this polished, eighteenth anniversary remounting.
When audiences walk into the Stage 773 theatre they’ll step back in time to the Golden Era of Radio. Cast members greet theatergoers with refreshments and ask if you’d care to fill out an audiogram that’ll be read during one of several commercial breaks during the broadcast. These may include birthday greetings, anniversary wishes or other personal messages of love and encouragement.
Before the actual radio play begins, the audience is introduced to the talented eight-member ensemble who play all the roles including supplying the real-life musical commercials, and even provide all the sound effects and incidental music.
Following a short Christmas carol sing-along, the radio play begins. The story has become so familiar that a synopsis isn’t necessary, but if it’s a new Christmas chronicle for theatergoers, then this unique theatrical performance will offer a terrific introduction.
The company also salutes a member of the armed forces in the audience at each performance. The entire evening is, quite simply, just plain heartwarming. Suffice it to say that despite the story’s familiarity, most of the audience was choking back tears by the end.
Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside has expertly guided this eighteenth annual revival of Capra’s beautifully-written piece. She paces her production at such a brisk tempo that audiences barely notice the lack of an intermission in the 90-minute production.
Each of the eight talented ensemble members perform a range of roles with such vocal versatility that, if you close your eyes, you’ll imagine a far larger cast.
This radio adaptation is both faithful to the Capra classic and yet economical, providing every major plot point and subtle nuance from the movie. The show’s performed with energy, humor and pathos.
Brandon Dahlquist captures all the warmth and humor of George Bailey without being an impersonation of Jimmy Stewart. In addition to guiding this production, artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside beautifully plays Mary Bailey, practically a dead ringer for the film’s leading lady, Donna Reed. Whiteside also plays several other characters including George Bailey’s loving mother.
The incomparable John Mohrlein offers unbelievable versatility playing, among several roles, both ornery Mr Potter and Clarence, George’s guardian angel. As profit-hungry Potter, he subtly brings to mind America’s current Commander-in-Chief.
Another versatile voice actor is the talented Ian Paul Custer as George’s brother Harry plus a variety of other characters. The charismatic and mega-talented Michael Mahler is not only the show’s emcee and musical director, but he provides the smooth, live piano soundtrack for the radio play, composed by Austin Cook.
Mahler also wrote the clever commercial jingles which he sings with glee, assisted by his wife, the lovely, talented actress/singer, Dara Cameron. She also plays Zuzu, Violet and several other roles in the play
Rounding out this adaptable cast are eloquent James Joseph portraying, among others, Uncle Billy, and Shawn J. Goudie, as an accomplished Foley artist, who provides all of the sound effects for the story.
A nostalgic ambiance envelopes the intimate venue at Stage 773, thanks in part, to Grant Sabin’s rich, gold, red and green velvet holiday setting festooned with colorful wreaths and Christmas trees courtesy of Elyse Dolan’s set dressing and properties design.
The stage is beautifully bathed in mood lighting designed by Katy Peterson and Christopher J. Neville’s authentic-looking 1940’s costumes provide the actors with just the right look.
But much of the warm tenderness of this production must be attributed to the sincerity and commitment of American Blues Theater’s outstanding company of actors.
Thanks to this remarkable ensemble cast, all the residents of Bedford Falls fully emerge in our imagination. Watching this story of one man who admirably sacrifices all of his own ambitions in order to help others is truly inspiring, especially today. Theatergoers may tear up as they witness an angel finally getting his wings.
Frank Capra’s Christmas classic hasn’t looked or sounded this glorious since it first appeared in movie theaters back in 1946. But American Blues Theater’s annual production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” would’ve definitely made Capra proud.
DETAILS: “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” is an American Blues theater production at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicgo, through Jan. 4, 2020. Running time: 90 minutes. For tickets and other information call (773) 654-3103 or by visit AmericanBluesTheater.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting theatreinchicago.
Who doesn’t love a rousing tap number? If you do, then “White Christmas,” the holiday offering from Munster’s Theatre at the Center, is the holiday song-and-dance show for you.
The musical is the stage adaptation of my mom’s favorite Christmas movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Dean Jagger. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was turned into a stage show in 2000.
Munster’s version stars Matt Edmonds as Bob, Justin Brill as Phil, Casiena Raether as Judy, Erica Stephan as Betty and Neil Friedman as General Waverly.
It follows the story of Bob and Phil, singers who served under “The Old Man” in World War II before gaining fame and fortune as entertainers. Looking for romance, they follow sisters Judy and Betty to Vermont where the women are slated to perform on Christmas Eve.
When Bob and Phil learn that the inn is owned by the General who is facing financial ruin because there’s no snow, they rally the old troops to save him.