Around Town: Three shows to consider seeing now

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

Not a Christmas show

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

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

 

An extended Christmas show

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

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

 

An annual Chicago live Christmas radio show

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

Jodie Jacobs

 

A Christmas Carol in the dark

3 Stars

 Theatre in the Dark Christmas Carol (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)
Theatre in the Dark Christmas Carol (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)

Theatre in the Dark celebrates the end of 2020 with their spin on Charles Dickens’ beloved classic tale of self-reflection and repentance.

My first impulse is to suggest that this year more than others in recent memory is a perfect time to reflect on the disparities between the haves and the have-nots. But  I realize that human suffering and greed are continually with us to a greater or lesser degree and  that the Christmas spirit as defined by Dickens is our meager attempt once a year to rise above petty self-interests and consider the greater good. “God bless us, every one.”

“A Christmas Carol” is a fictional expose on the Victorian life and times of  Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, a character whose very name has become synonymous with miserliness, as in “That guy is a real Scrooge.”

In the story, this tightwad scrimps on coal in the winter months, begrudges his only clerk a day off to celebrate the Christmas holiday with the family and, in response to a solicitation of aid to the poor asks, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

When pointed out that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge suggests that “If they would rather die, they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

His comment exemplifies a degree of callousness and disregard for the welfare of others for no reason other than to hoard his wealth which we learn brings him no personal pleasure.

As the story begins, Scrooge is visited by the specter of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner. Marley warns of the torments he has endured in the afterlife as a result of his own greed and indifference. He suggests Scrooge may escape the same fate if he undergoes visitations with three additional apparitions – the ghosts of Christmas present, past and future.

Through a nightmarish one-night odyssey, Scrooge sees his negative effect on others, his disregard of positive role models and a lonely end and lamentable legacy if he does not change.

Dickens’ story continues to work as a modern day parable, revealing the darker nature that lurks within us all.

Scrooge’s journey of self-discovery demonstrates that we can each contribute by paying a little more attention to our place within our community and our part in society.

Observing the loving interactions of the Cratchit family and the kind words of nephew Fred, we realize that it is not just about money. We can be greedy with our emotions and personal interactions as well.

Dickens and the cast of Theater in the Dark also pull at our heart strings through the now iconic character of Tiny Tim who, in contrast to Scrooge, has come to exemplify innocent good cheer in the face of adversity and demonstrates that love does not require monetary wealth but can be given freely in abundance.

This iteration of “A Christmas Carol” is offered as an Internet version of a radio drama designed to be enjoyed in a now, largely bygone, aural tradition. Delivered via zoom it requires only a good set of speakers or a headset. The experience is very much like sitting around your living room reading aloud with friends.

There were no real standout performances though Corey Bradberry as Scrooge did a credible job weaving a thread of continuity throughout the production. The rest of the cast was more than adequate but really broke no new ground nor did they really rise to the level of any of the well-known movie versions or other well regarded stage adaptations.

Still, I do not fault Theatre in the Dark for taking a stab at this. After all, live theater is about having your crack at stepping into the skin of various characters and seeing what it’s like to be them.

This is an ensemble production with each of the actors Sarah Althen, Kathleen Puls, Mack Gordon, and Corey Bradberry playing several roles. The story was adapted and directed by Mack Gordon, featuring original music by Jake Sorgen with sound design by Gordon.

The danger of doing a classic is akin to being a cover band.  If you do not play exactly like the original you will be criticized for not being an exact replica. The other option is to be completely original so it is clear you are doing something fresh.

In this case, think Bill Murray’s version or the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, that has become a classic in its own right.

Unfortunately this company really did neither so the question becomes why choose this version over a number of other options? The main reason is the audio aspect.

If you or your kids have not experienced a radio drama you might find this a refreshing option. If the listener has no previous experience with the play they will be relieved of the burden of comparison.

Finally, Theater in the Dark offers a pay as you please option so it’s a great way to try something new while supporting smaller theater companies during the stay-at-home-period.

To be clear I did not dislike this performance but would put it into the realm of a very good reading as opposed to a thoughtfully well-crafted production. If you’re home with the kids, consider this as a way to develop listening skills sitting in the dark and enjoy some peaceful quiet time together.

Interestingly, the cast is simultaneously in Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver which expands the notion of live theater. The Internet performance is delivered via Zoom with the help of stage manager/sound engineer Cory Bradberry.

I listened via an iPad with amplified computer speakers connected via an analog cable which allowed me to easily adjust the volume in the room. There is no picture to be concerned with so screen sharing is basically a useless option. Also be forewarned that screen sharing via Zoom in most cases will not broadcast the audio so keep it as simple as possible by using a tablet or computer.

Theatre in the Dark is offering Live online performances of “A Christmas Carol” through December  24, 2020. Running time is about 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available at www.theatreinthedark.com.  For info only (no ticketing), call (312) 285-0314.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Reno Lovison

 

A broader Christmas Carol message

Manual Cinema A Christmas Carole (Photo courtesy of Manual Cinema)
Manual Cinema A Christmas Carole (Photo courtesy of Manual Cinema)

3 stars

Manual Cinema, an innovative company that blends story-telling, puppetry, actors, music and sound to tell a story, mixes Charles Dickens’ moralistic holiday tale with current phrases and crises in its premiere of “Manual Cinema A Christmas Carol.”

Given the current pandemic challenges, instead of presenting the show at Court Theatre where the company did “Frankenstein” or Chopin Theatre for “End of TV, its take on the Dickens’ story streams live to audiences per performance from Manual Cinema’s Chicago studio.

An early clue that audiences will be experiencing more than the basic story of Scrooge’s enlightenment, are the cards on a mantel behind actor/puppeteer N. LaOuis Harkins who introduces the story as Aunt Trudy and is the voice behind each character. The cards range from holiday wishes to get well and condolences.

“Trudy,” married to Joe whom she said died of COVID in August, is going through her late husband’s story-telling box of puppets. Her seemingly drawn-out reluctance to use them and present the tale for family members on zoom, makes sense at the end.

But the story needs to unfold so no ALERT here. Just appreciate the tale’s broader message. Oh, and have Kleenex handy for the graveyard scene.

The show is 60 minutes followed by chat time with performers. For tickets and more information visit Manual Cinema/Christmas Carol.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

A Dickens of a story

 

One-Man A Christmas Carol by Writers Theatre (Photo by Joe Mazza)
One-Man A Christmas Carol by Writers Theatre (Photo by Joe Mazza)

3 1/2 stars

So many Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to see On Demand, stream live or hear, such as Goodman Theatre’s audio drama. And so little time. Wait! With the pandemic still going on there is plenty of time to catch a couple more interpretations.

Among them is Writers Theatre’s “One-Man A Christmas Carol” acted, narrated and adopted by Artistic Director Michael Halberstam, reviewed here. Another one that will be reviewed tomorrow is Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol.”

Because each production is different and brings the strengths of a professional team, all three shows merit time and ticket. Given Dickens’ adroit telling of his moralistic, ghostly novella, “A Christmas Carol” is a story worth repeating.

Viewers of the Writers Theatre’s show, produced in collaboration with HMS Media and directed by Stanton Long, are sure to get caught up in Halberstam’s portrayal of Scrooge, the ghosts, the Cratchit family and assorted other characters.

Background projections occasionally add interest to the telling although it would work as well as a radio show. What does work for me is that, though annotated, Halberstam does use Dickens’ original words and phrases.

What I didn’t expect, considering how often I’ve seen different productions of “A Christmas Carol,” is to tear up during the ghost of what’s to come’s visit to the Cratchit household.

That poignant scene really showcased Halberstam’s fine acting.

For ticket and other information visit Writers Theatre or call (847) 242-6000.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

Tis the season for ‘A Christmas Carol’

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

3 stars

Goodman Theatre’s long-running holiday favorite opened Dec. 1, not as a play on Goodman’s Albert Theatre’s stage or a show filmed live to be seen on certain dates or a zoomed show to watch now and later.

Running through Dec. 31 at carol.goodmantheatre.org, Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” in 2020 is a fresh, 80-minute production performed as an audio play.

Starring Larry Yando who after years of portraying Dicken’s transformation of mean miser into giddy, generous gent, can most assuredly do Scrooge’s bah humbug in his sleep. Directed by Jessica Thebus, he and the rest of the cast bring the tale to life even without visuals.

However, it does matter how you listen. When first tried on my computer, I had trouble hearing all the words distinctly pronounced. But when tried later on facebook on my iPhone, it sounded much better. So, tip 1: If happy with the sound don’t worry but if not, try other devices. I didn’t catch all the narration when originally listening. But since the show does not have visuals so you know what is happening, the narration is very important. Chicago actor, writer, director Andrew White does an excellent job guiding listeners through the actions as the show’s narrator.

Secondly, although I do listen to music and news on the radio I felt I needed more to get into the personality of the recording and the  actors doing the show. So, tip 2: Before clicking on the show go to carol/goodman, click on The Play at the top and scroll down to the Behind-the-Scene trailer.

One last thought. The sound effects are excellent as is the music but I needed some magic. So, tip 3: Visit A Christmas Carol/35th Anniversary/ you Tube to learn about the show’s beginning, a director’s and Yando’s thoughts on the story and see a couple of short clips.

Enjoy the retelling in a different way.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

Related: Chicagotheaterand arts.com/around-town

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.

 

Three reconfigured holiday shows

 

The Joffrey Ballet in The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet in The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

Chicago’s theater community has come up with some interesting ways to present their shows for this COVID-directed 2020 holiday season.

 

“The Nutcracker”

The Joffrey Ballet is holding a one-time virtual look “behind the curtain” on the creation of the company’s famed “The Nutcracker” ballet. The event, held 3 p.m. Nov. 3, includes performance clips and interviews.  Tickets are $25. for tickets and more information visit Joffrey/event.

 

“A Christmas Carol”

The perennial Goodman Theatre favorite will be an audio play streaming  free, Dec. 1-31, 2020.

Directed by Jessica Thebus, the classic Charles Dickens holiday tale about compassion and redemption features Larry Yando in his 13th year as Ebenezer Scrooge.

“The notion of a holiday season without our production of “A Christmas Carol”—a favorite annual Chicago tradition for more than four decades—did not seem like an option in spite of the many challenges we face in producing live theater at this moment,” said Goodman Executive Director Roche Schulfer who initiated the production at the Goodman in 1978.

“At a time when this story is needed perhaps more than ever, we are pleased to offer this audio production free of charge as a gift to our city,” Schulfer said.

For more information visit Goodman Theatre.

 

“Christmas Carol”

Manual Cinema’s holiday show created for 2020 features live shows performed in the Chicago studio on specific dates that viewers will see via a streaming digital format on Marquee TV, Dec. 2-20, 2020.

This version follows Aunt Trudy, a holiday skeptic who is supposed to channel her late husband Joe’s Christmas cheer from the isolation of her studio apartment. She reconstructs Joe’s annual “Christmas Carol” puppet show over Zoom while the family celebrates Christmas Eve under lockdown.

As Trudy becomes more absorbed in her own version of the story, the puppets take on a life of their own. The show turns into a cinematic retelling of the classic tale. For information and tickets (15) visit manualcineman.  The event hosting and ticketing platform is mixily.com).

‘A Christmas Carol’ still delights at Goodman

 

Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Goodman theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Goodman theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)

3 ½ stars

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.

Continue reading “‘A Christmas Carol’ still delights at Goodman”

Holiday Happenings Part One

Seeing A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre (2018 production)is a holiday tradition. (Goodman Theatre photo)
Seeing A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre (2018 production)is a holiday tradition. (Goodman Theatre photo)

Instead of going crazy trying to get to even a quarter of the all terrific festivals, shows and events in and around Chicago this holiday season, make a plan. Figure out which show and happening you and/or your family want to see most, put them on the calendar, then list the next couple of things you would like to do.

Because there are so many events, they are divided into two parts with shows (because they need tickets) and special events (because they may be one-time, date-specific)  in Part I which is a sampler and not a complete list.

Continue reading “Holiday Happenings Part One”

Bah humbug turns around!

4 stars

“A Christmas Carol” was written 175 years ago by Charles Dickens—and its popularity has never wavered since, as it appears on stages all over the country. For the past forty years, Goodman Theatre has presented “A Christmas Carol” until going downtown Chicago to see it has become a tradition for many families.

Directed  for several years by Henry Wishcamper, the play tells a basic story of the redemption of the leading character, Ebenezer Scrooge by giving him a glimpse at his past, present and what the future might hold if he doesn’t change..

Played by Larry Yando, Scrooge is the embodiment of what the name has come to represent since written by Dickens. He hates Christmas and only begrudgingly allows his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit (Thomas J. Cox) to take off Christmas Day. He refuses to donate to good causes with comments about where the poor should go.

Scrooge’s selfish business partner, Jacob Marley who died years earlier returns as a ghost (Kareem Bandealy). Clanging chains wrought by miserly deeds, Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits and that Scrooge must listen or be cursed and carry even heavier chains.

Continue reading “Bah humbug turns around!”