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)

Shows to see January and February this year


Photo courtesy of the North Shore Center for Performing Arts.
Northlight Theater is in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie

Many Chicago area theater companies operate on a fall through spring/early summer season so look for check January and February offerings to start 2023 with fun and fascinating  entertainment.

” The Golden Girls” is opening at the Mercury Theatre, 1745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, this weekend. A new, original show, it has the fabulous girls we’ve come to know and love. The show runs Jan. 13 through Feb. 12, 2023. For tickets and info visit  THE GOLDEN GALS LIVE! — Mercury Theater Chicago.

  Among other interesting shows on the docket is MadKap Productions: “The Book of Merman” (That’s not a typo). It is coming to the Skokie Theatre 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, Feb. 3- 26, 2023. “The Book of Merman” starring Julie Peterson as Ethel Merman is about a visit by two Mormon missionaries. For tickets and more info call (847) 677-7761 or visit

And check out “Andy Warhol in Iran” at Northlight Theatre. The artist goes to Tehran to take photos of the Shah’s wife but learns more. The show runs Jan. 19-Feb. 19. Northlight is in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts at 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. For tickets and more information visit Northlight Theatre | Andy Warhol in Iran.

Another show to catch is “Big Fish” at Marriott Theater, Lincolnshire.  A family-friendly musical adventure by John August and Andrew Lippa, previews start Jan. 25 with the run going from Feb.1 through March 19, 2023. Based on the film screenplay by August and novelist Daniel Wallace the story couples an adult and his childhood timeline with his relationship with his son, Will. For tickets visit  For more information see

 Raven Theatre is doing the Chicago premiere of “Right To Be Forgotten”, by Sharyn Rothstein. Directed by Sarah Gitenstein, the story is a timely plot about human forgiveness in the age of the internet “Right to be forgotten runs Feb. 9 – March 26, 2023 in Raven’s 85-seat East Stage, 6157 N. Clark St. (at Granville), Chicago. For tickets and more information visit or call (773) 338-2177.

Enjoy a new year of theater!


A few shows to add before toasting a new year


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

Certainly, holiday shows such as Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker,” on stage to Dec. 27, and Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” up through Dec 31, were on our calendars two months ago to plan the outing. Both are traditional go-to shows for many Chicagoans.

But the season for holiday shows won’t be over until the last toast hails a new year. So here are a few shows that may not have caught your attention. One is a good-old standby that still merits a seat while one is a startling new take on an old stand-by and one is fun for youngsters. They can fit into the remaining count-down days of 2022.

 “White Christmas” just opened at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie with Irving Berlin’s music and lyrics and a new book by David Ives and Paul Blake. it’s a post WWII feel-good, rom/com with joyous music and such lasting melodies as “Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings,” and “How Deep is the Ocean.” Presented by Music Theater Works which used to use Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, “White Christmas” continues through Jan. 1, 2023 at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie. For tickets call (847) 673-6300 or visit musictheaterworks


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)

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre is not a  Goodman Theatre-style production although it mostly uses Dicken’s storyline.  Aunt Trudy has been asked by her late husband Joe’s relatives to do the “Christmas Carol” puppet show that he did annually. She says she’s not really an aunt to the relatives watching on zoom since she never married “husband” Joe and her unhappiness comes across at the start of the show. A storm arrives, the power goes out and ghostly “puppets” intervene until  Trudy realizes she has no choice but continue the Christmas Carol story with shadow puppets and ghosts. She, as was Scrooge, is a different person by the end of the play. Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 24. For tickets and more information visit Writers Theatre.  Masks are highly recommended. (Audience most be age 6 and older).


“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” is playing at Strawdog Theatre in the Edgewater neighborhood. Based on the Caldecott Honor award-winning book by Eric Kimmel and adapted by ensemble member Michael Dailey with music and lyrics by Jacob Combs, the play follows a traveling troupe of actors who find no one in a town they visit are celebrating Hanukkah because goblins haunt the old synagogue. The production continues through 31, 2022 at The Edge Off-Broadway Theater. Tickets are free with reservations at (COVID protocol: Audience members aged 2+ years must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth. Audience members aged 5+ years must provide, before entering the venue proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or proof of negative PCR test.)


Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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

Four different holiday themed shows


Joffrey Ballet does The Nutcracker (Joffrey ballet photo)
Joffrey Ballet does The Nutcracker (Joffrey ballet photo)

Two shows, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” and Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” top many holiday lists. Whether they are a family tradition or now on the calendar’s bucket list to do this year, they are such good productions that they deserve the annual visit.

“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ ghostly tale of the redemption of a miser named Scrooge, is at the Goodman Theatre Nov. 19-Dec. 31. Famed Chicago actor Larry Yando is back for his 15th year in the starring role. For tickets and more information visit Goodman TheatreGoodman Theatre is at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.

“The Nutcracker,” The Joffrey Ballet’s wonderous story of Marie and the Nutcracker Prince’s adventures choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music. Formerly at the Auditorium Theatre, it is on stage at the Civic Opera House, Dec. 3-27, 2022. The Civic Opera House, home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, is at 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. For tickets and more information visit Joffrey Ballet The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker | Joffrey Ballet.

Cast of Steadfast Tin soldier at Lookingglass Theatre (Photo by Liz Loren)
Cast of Steadfast Tin soldier at Lookingglass Theatre (Photo by Liz Loren)

Two unusual shows to see this season are the “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago and Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe.

Both productions use puppetry, are artistic and creative. Only Manual Cinema’s contains a parental advisory but it could apply to both shows. MC’s advisory reads “brief moments of profanity and themes of grief and losing a loved one. Children under six are not permitted. 

“The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is a Hans Christian Andersen tale told with the flare of ensemble member/director Mary Zimmerman. Adults would appreciate her creativity and the high quality of the production. However, the story and ending could be frightening to a young child as the Tin Soldier perseveres through a myriad of trials that ends with him and his ballerina love getting incinerated together.  “The Steadfast Tin soldier” is at Lookingglass theatre now through Jan. 8, 2023. Lookingglass Theatre Company

Lookingglass Theatre is at the historic Waterworks at 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. For tickets and more information visit Lookingglass.  

 Manual Cinema takes a different path to the telling of Dickens ghost story in “Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre. Using puppets, cinematography, modern themes and music, the story starts when Aunt Trudy is asked to put her diseased husband’s Christmas cheer on a family Zoom call. The action changes as the puppets move into Ebeneezer and Dickens storytelling. Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol” runs Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 2022.

Writers Theatre is at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. For tickets and more information visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Imagine what can happen in a Cooney Farce

(Top l-r) Aimee Kleiman, Debra Rodkin, Declan Poll bottom David Whitlock and Tim Walsh) Photo by North Shore Camera Club


Instead of going the Dickens or Christmas Story route, Citadel Theatre is doing “It Runs in the Family,” a classic British farce by comedic playwright Ray Cooney of “Run For Your Wife” and “Funny Money” fame. 

Its setting is a London hospital right before Christmas where presents for children are hidden like a body beneath a covered gurney and references to a Christmas Panto (a nutty pantomime) give it the requisite holiday note.

But anyone familiar with farces know that what really is important is a fast-paced rhythm of entrances and exits, revelations, mistaken (or not) identities and flow of ribald, fat fanny and rear-end gags.

The Citadel cast is excellent but on the Sunday I went, the first half of the first act felt slow and the audience didn’t pick up the gags until later.

Timing and pace is everything in a farce. It finally picked up speed and the characters threw their lines out with gusto during the second half of the first act which the audience appreciated with loud snickers, guffaws and applause. 

All the action takes place in the doctors’ common room where Dr.  David Mortimore is trying to prepare for his important, possibly career-making, speech to a conference of neurologists- when.

The not-so-morally-good doctor, played by Tim Walsh, had lots of reasons to be overly anxious. Walsh is believable as Mortimore if this were a regular play and not a farce. It’s actually OK to overplay anxiety.  

Former nurse Jane Tate (Aimee Kleiman who also played her role as if it were a regular play) confronts Dr. Mortimore with the reason she had to quit 18 years and 9 months ago. Their illegitimate son, Leslie, is downstairs with a policeman because he drove drunk but wants to meet his father.

Mortimore’s wife, Rosemary Mortimore, portrayed by the consummate actress Ellen Phelps, shows up, is not supposed to know about the nurse or Leslie but sympathizes with all the tall tales her husband tells to cover up everything that is going on.

Matron, a terrific foil for all the goings on is perfectly played by Debra Rodkin as she is in and out with the gurney, holds a needle to subdue Leslie who has made his way upstairs to the doctors’ room, and she is yelling outside the window that she can’t hold on any longer while stopping Leslie from falling, entering or leaving.

Dr. Hubert Bonney, a good friend of Dr. Mortimore, well-portrayed by David Whitlock is also an excellent foil for the shenanigans and agrees to temporarily pretend he is Leslie’s father.

Leslie, the misbegotten reason for the action, is done by Declan Poll as a punk-rocker-style teenager who elicits sympathy because he just wants to meet his Dad.

Pompous Sir Willoughby Drake who wants to go over Dr. Mortimore’s speech, is well-handled by Ed Kufferft and elicits a fine chuckle when he sees Leslie bending in front of Mortimore.

Dr. Mike Connolly whom we meet early on when he tries on a tutu and other costume items for the Panto is delightfully portrayed by Philip J. Macaluso.

Police Sergeant. Don’t most farces need a policeman? Chris Bruzzini takes on that role but he could be played as more befuddled or with more personality than shown.

Scenic designer Eric Luchen makes full use of the small Citadel stage with two hospital-like doors, two regular doors and a window that is just right for some hilarious scenes.

Costume designer Elizabeth Monti had us believing we were in a hospital and Leslie was a nutty punk rocker.

Directed by Pat Murphy, the show is a nice change from the tear inducing Christmas dramas trying to make a statement this time of year.

DETAILS: “It Runs in the Family” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 South Waukegan Rd, Lake Forest, IL., through Dec. 18, 2022. For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre. Citadel Theatre or call (847) 735-8554.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A delightful Christmas Story works well on Marriott stage


Leg lamp award dance sequence featguring Lorenzo R ush Jr at the Old Man (Photo courtesy of Mariott theatre)
Leg lamp award dance sequence featuring Lorenzo Rush Jr at the Old Man (Photo courtesy of Mariott theatre)

3 Stars Recommended

In a city filled with theater companies producing traditional holiday fare, Marriott Theatre has chosen a show usually seen as a film replayed on TV but seldom performed live.

First, what it’s not. “A Christmas Story Is not a moralistic Dickens’ style redemption piece that appeals to the whole family or a Jane Austen type upstairs, downstairs manners piece with sophisticated appeal.

Marriott Theatre’s “A Christmas Story: the Musical,” is a comedy that captures some of the frustrations and coping mechanisms of the middle-class, Midwestern Parker family, and particularly, those of its nine-year-old boy named Ralphie. Middle school aged kids and their parents would appreciate Ralphie’s and the Old Man’s challenges.

Based on a 1983 movie by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and Shepherd’s collection of vignettes published in 1966 as “In God we trust: All others pay cash,” the musical version has a book by Joseph Robinette with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The songs, such as “The Genius on Cleveland Street” and “When You’re a Wimp,” are insightful instead of memorable and hummable. 

Playing during the holiday season through Jan. 1, 2023, the show introduces another generation to Shepherd’s famed, sexy “Leg Lamp” that sits in the Parker family’s front window in Homan, IN.

Actually, filmed in Cleveland, OH in an old yellow house that has since been turned into a museum, the “Lamp” is still there and can be seen despite having supposedly been broken and buried during the play.

Won by “the Old Man,” the Parker family dad who means well, works hard, battles neighbors’ dogs and is not as smart as his wife, he is excited to receive the lamp as a “Major Award” for a contest he entered and won. To the Old Man, the lamp award redeems his self-worth.

The Parker family, in A Christmas story the Musical at Marriott Theatre (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
The Parker family, in A Christmas story the Musical at Marriott Theatre (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

More importantly, Marriott has introduced another generation to nine-year-old Ralphie who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Made by the Daisy company, it is named for a heroic comic strip cowboy.

Ralphie fantasizes how he can stop the terrorizing by bullies Scut Farkus and Grover Dill of him, friends, Flick (of tongue stuck on icy pole fame) and Schwartz and classmates if he had a bb gun that looks like a Winchester rifle.

Set about the early 1940s, warnings by his mom, teacher and the Santa at Higbee’s Department Store that you’ll “shoot your eye out,” would have been a sufficient talking point.

However, given today’s anti-gun legislation and school shootings attributed to bullying, families seeing the show may either object to a bb gun that looks like a rifle or want to take the discussion several steps further. 

Directed perfectly by Scott Weinstein as both entertaining and perceptive of family and school dynamics, “A Christmas Story: the Musical” has several funny incidents, excellent character portrayals, terrific dance sequences and wonderful vocals.

Kavon Newman who has appeared on TV and New York’s Radio City stage, is amazing as Ralphie

 Local theater veteran Sara Reinecke is the can-do mother the Parker family needs and has a terrific voice. Her role is well matched with that of the Old Man, delightfully portrayed by another local veteran, Lorenzo Ruch, Jr.

Levi Merlo who has a string of TV credits, is adorable as Ralphie’s young brother, Randy. He will likely be remembered by audiences as the kid who couldn’t move his arms or get up because of his ballooning-style snowsuit.

The fun, over-the-top character of teacher Miss Shields was deftly handled by local veteran Jenna Coker-Jones.

Narrator Kevin McKillip as Jean Shepherd (Marriott photo)
Narrator Kevin McKillip as Jean Shepherd (Marriott photo)

A “Christmas Story” is narrated by Kevin McKillip who as Jean Shepherd, reminisces as he somewhat relates to each scene and experience as a much older, adult Ralphie.

After seeing a very strong Marriott production of “Sound of Music” with a terrific cast of child actors, I was not surprised by the high quality of the “Kids” ensemble that appeared in several sequences.

Which brings us to Tiffany Krause’s choreography. Marriott typically has superb dance numbers. But they are usually performed by the main characters backed by a dance ensemble. In “a Christmas Story,” it’s the talented Kids and Ralphie who primarily take center stage.

That is except for Rush, Jr’s exuberant dance celebration of “A Major Award” and talented song and dance actor Jackson Evans delights audiences in the second act as the Higbee’s department stores’ disgruntled  Santa Clause in “Up on Santa’s Lap.”

A shout out has to go to costume designer Izumi Inaba for setting the period and mood.

Details: “A Christmas Story: the Musical,” is at Marriott Theatre at 10 Marriott Dr. Lincolnshire, off Milwaukee Avenue just south of Rt. 22, through Jan. 1, 2023. For tickets and more information visit or call (847)- 634-0200.

Note: A Christmas Story Christmas begins streaming Nov. 17 on HBO Max with Peter Billingsley reprising his Ralphie, who is now an adult, a struggling writer and the head of the Parker household.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Xanadu is a relaxing trip to nowhere.


Xanadu an audio play by Theater in the Dark
Xanadu an audio play by Theater in the

Somewhat Recommended

2 Stars

Skillfully presented, this streaming audio play “A murder in the court of Xanadu” presented by A Theater in the Dark is a jumble of characters and events that in the end I simply did not care about.

I truthfully cannot give you a synopsis of this play. I enjoyed listening to it but ultimately do not understand anyone’s motivation for doing whatever they did and am not sure why it was interesting or important.

It was kind of like listening to a Chinese opera. I do not speak Chinese but I might walk away understanding that someone was rich, someone was a conniving trusted advisor, someone got killed, and in the end, someone got something of value that maybe was surprising and undeserved. But I could not catch the details. In the meantime, it was oddly enjoyable to listen to because the vocal tones and rhythm of the presentation with its evocative incidental music was pleasing.

The place of Xanadu is known to most of us a symbol of utopian excess perhaps best remembered from the Samuel Coleridge poem of the same name. In fact, as a result of a recent Jeopardy question on the popular TV game show, I was able to immediately recall the opening words “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree,” though I have no recollection of ever reading the entire poem.

We might also be familiar with “Xanadu” as the name of the mansion in the well know movie “Citizen Kane.” In this case I can tell you that Kane was a Khan-like business ruler with a strong desire for beauty and excessive wealth. I know this because I learned as much through the storyline. The story of Citizen Kane challenges us to try to understand the motivation behind the main character’s actions.

In “A murder in the court of Xanadu” we are basically told, though a narrator, who the characters are rather than have them reveal themselves to us. There is no discernible mystery to unravel and no reason to be interested in the fates of a number of greedy self-centered individuals who do not seem to have derived their wealth or status through any particular talent or ability of their own.

The standout performance for me was Erin Lin as Marla who acts as a kind of narrator. Her voice was clear, expressive and well modulated with a kind of musical quality. I would be happy to listen to her read or recite virtually anything.

The theater’s website suggests that the character of Marla is inspired by Marco Polo who incidentally provided the earliest description of the Khan’s pleasure retreat. However, this relationship is totally lost to the uninformed listener, and one or two periodic allusions to Venice in my mind only added to the confusion. I feel strongly that a theatergoer should not have to bring any previous knowledge to the experience in order to understand the action.

Nessa Amherst as Marigold provided nearly all of the much needed auditory contrast, providing a kind of comic quality and strong characterization.

I felt that all of the male actors including Robinson J. Cyprian (Kane), Van Ferro (An Actor Who Plays Many Parts), and Gabriel Fries (Ahmad) understood what they were saying (even if I did not), delivering their lines with conviction. I would have enjoyed more vocal variety between the three of them and a little more resonance from Cyprian who I remember gave us more vocal depth in his performance of Ahab in the company’s performance of “Moby Dick.”

If there is any fault to be assigned it belongs to the author Cory Bradberry who has demonstrated through his previous works a real ability and commitment to this genre. That said, this is not a disaster but rather a miss. Perhaps with a bit more work and revision he can overcome whatever it is that is lacking.

Bradberry does partially cover his tracks through his exceptional direction. The performance does have an overall lyrical quality and pleasing tone that is enhanced through just enough foley work to provide some needed ambiance with a very enjoyable use of an original musical score by Paul Sottnik.

DETAILS: “A murder in the court of Xanadu” presented by A Theater in the Dark is available for streaming beginning November 3, 2022 at Runtime is about 90 minutes.

Reno Lovison

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