Around Town looks at now and then in Chicago theater

 

Steppenwolf Theatre in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. (Kyle Rubacker photo)
Steppenwolf Theatre in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. (Kyle Rubacker photo)

 

Now, brings an updated schedule of Broadway in Chicago play changes

Then, is a wonderful look back at the shows and people of the famed Chicago Steppenwolf ensemble.

 

Visit Steppenwolf Theatre Anniversary Video

Relive the shows or get to know the artists better in a video the company made for its 40th birthday. (So glad friends dragged us to their shows in a Highland Park church basement and then to their other venues when they moved to Chicago.)

 

 

Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower. (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

Visit Broadway in Chicago for show and ticket information.

 

The following is current show information as of March 25, 2020.

“Keane- Cause and Effect Tour, Cadillac Palace Theatre, cancelled.

“My Fair Lady,” Cadillac Palace Theatre, moved to May 12-23, 2021

“What the Constitution Means to Me,” Broadway Playhouse, cancelled.

“Once Upon a One More Time,” James M. Nederlander Theatre, cancelled.

“The Choi of Man,” Broadway Playhouse, moved to Feb. 2-7, 2021.

“The Crown-Live,” Broadway Playhouse, moved to Feb. 23-28, 2021.

“The Office! A Musical Parody,” Broadway Playhouse, moved to Feb. 9-21, 2021.

“The Simon & Garfunkel Story,” CIBC Theatre, moved to Dec. 1-6, 2020.

“Waitress,” CIBC Theatre, moved to Feb. 16-21, 2021.

“Goshen,” Broadway Playhouse, cancelled.

Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards, Broadway Playhouse, cancelled but will take 2020 student submissions and will recognize students virtually and highlight their talent on a virtual stage in “Around Broadway in 80 Days.”

 

Jodie Jacobs

The ‘Queen of Disco’

‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’

The Donna Summer musical in Chicago (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
The Donna Summer Musical in Chicago (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

3 stars

They sound like a good idea on paper, and there have been dozens bouncing around Broadway and on National Tours over the years, but the jukebox musical isn’t much more than a concert with some narrative.

There are two formats in this style of musical theatre. There’s the show that creates an original story and characters, but instead of using new music to further the plot, the songs of one or more artists are featured instead.

Continue reading “The ‘Queen of Disco’”

Dancing near the river

 

Riverdance cast at Cadillac P:alace Theatre in Chicago (Jack Hartin Photo)
Riverdance cast at Cadillac P:alace Theatre in Chicago
(Jack Hartin Photo)

4 stars

“Riverdance” has played for a quarter of a century. Now appearing in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, the company is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Composed by Bill Whelan, produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan, Riverdance’s folk-driven exciting sounds and steps have been loved by people of all ages.

In 1995, the show’s premiere was in Dublin with Irish and international music and dance. Then it went to London followed by a hugely successful tour begn in New York in 1996.

During the next two decades, “Riverdance” toured North America, Asia, Europe, Oceania, South Africa, and South America. It has been a favorite Grammy Award-winning show all over the world!

Trading taps at the Riverdance show in Chicago. (Jack Hartin Photo)
Trading taps at the Riverdance show in Chicago. (Jack Hartin Photo)

The Riverdance Irish troupe was 24 dancers, with the six principals being Will Bryant, Maggie Darlington, Anna Mai Fitzpatrick, Patrick O’Mahony, Jason O’Neill, and Gianna Petracic.

The Riverdance tappers were Lamont Brown and Tyler Knowlin. And there were also additional dancers in the Russian folk dance troupe.

Not only was the audience thrilled with the dancing, but the singers, drums, saxophone, fiddles and whistles made the music fabulous. And the background showed many places, beginning with the river and continuing through many areas with spectacular lighting and beautiful costume designs.

DETAILS: “Riverdance” is at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre at 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago through Feb. 9 2020/. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call Broadway In Chicago at (800) 775-2000, or go visit Broadway in Chicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

A cautionary island tale

 

Cassondra James as 'Erzulie' Tamyra Gray as 'Papa Ge' (Photo by Joan Marcus
Cassondra James as ‘Erzulie’ Tamyra Gray as ‘Papa Ge’ (Photo by Joan Marcus)

‘Once on This Island’

4 Stars 

Walking in from the chilly lobby of the Cadillac Palace Theatre and getting my first glimpse of the stage on opening night made me immediately think that they were woefully behind getting the stage ready for the performance.

Strewn with an odd piece of corrugated metal, a shipping container, bits of lumber, a fifty gallon petroleum drum, some milk crates and what appeared to be a downed telephone pole all being adjusted and repositioned by people in a colorful array of mismatched clothing, I soon to realize that we were entering into a world created by set designer Dane Laffrey and costume designer Clint Ramos. They were depicting the everyday life of a small, remote village on an island in the French Antilles.

Continue reading “A cautionary island tale”

Top Chicago shows list for 2019

 

Of course, theater audiences want different things before going ahead to spend money and time on a show. Some folks prefer musicals, others like Shakespeare and some gravitate to shows that are different or particularly creative. Because opera is also dramatic theater that requires excellent acting, compelling story lines and fine voices, we include Lyric Opera productions when applicable.

Here is Chicago Theater and Arts reviewers’ list of favorite productions seen during 2019 which was designated by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres as the Year of Chicago Theatre.

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre
Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre

Francine Pappadis Friedman

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre in April, 2019. I headlined it: ‘Oh, what a night!” Amusing dialogue was interspersed with tremendous songs by four guys, the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons who were living in New Jersey. Not only did their songs keep the audience laughing, but even younger audience members were swinging and swaying in their seats. And many of their songs sang about love!

Falsettos” at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in May/June 2019. I headlined it: “Let’s live life through music.” It was a fabulous musical taking place in New York in the 1970s, with a psychiatrist, gay men and women, and a little boy—one of the main characters—who was worried about his father’s sexuality when his parents got divorced. The story moved along with songs and the boy, whose father sang “Father to Son,” that said he’d always be there for him.

From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe) in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe) in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Jodie Jacobs

“Next to Normal” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe in June. Writers Theatre unerringly brought to the stage what life is like in a home where a family member is mentally ill. Penned by Brian Yorkey who also did the lyrics and with music by Tom Kitt, the show took three Tony awards in 2009. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama because even though it has highly expressive musical numbers, it is not a feel-good musical.

“Oslo” a Timeline Theatre production at the Broadway Playhouse in October, brilliantly revealed the behind the scenes negotiations in Norway that led up to the famed handshake on the White House lawn between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. What “Oslo,” the multi-award-winning play by J. T. Rogers does is introduce audiences to Mona Juul, superbly acted by Bri Sudia whose sensible but passionate portrayal of the Norwegian diplomat who initiated the behind the scenes action, glides from serious to charming to comic, and to Scott Parkinson who as facilitator Rød-Larsen has the difficult task of making all the players in the sensitive negotiations, look good.

Don Giovanni” at the Lyric Opera House in November and December is an 18th century Mozart opera in perfect tune with #MeToo times. If you knew before seeing Lyric’s outstanding production of “Don Giovanni” that (Il dissouto punita, ossia il Don Giovanni), translates as “The Rake Punished, namely Don Giovanni “ (also The Libertine Punished), you would have some idea that the opera was not about a lover but about a powerful man who felt entitled to take sexual liberties. However, directed by Robert Falls, artistic director at Goodman Theatre, the Lyric production skillfully makes the comic moments funnier, the sexual attempts more offensive, the violence more dramatic and the punishment more tumultuous.

 

Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle in International Falls.
Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle in International Falls. (Photo by Katie Reynolds)

Reno Lovison

“International Falls” by Agency Theater Collective and End of the Line Production at the Nox Arca in August. It was an intimate play with truthful dialog that was well acted.

“My Life as A Country Song” by New American Folk Theatre at Chief O’Neill’s in October. It had very good original music.

 

Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)
Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)

Pamela McKuen

My favorite is a theatrical event: the 3rd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. More than 100 performances of 24 shows were given by professional puppeteers from 11 countries at 19 venues. I had the privilege of seeing “Ajijaak on Turtle Island,” the story of a young whopping crane who was accidentally separated from her parents during her first migration. Along the way to unification, she learned valuable life-lessons about herself and living in harmony with nature. Puppets of all sizes and styles, their handlers, musicians and dancers interacted seamlessly to present an engaging and unforgettable experience.

 

Matt Crowle and Rachel Klippel in Porchlight Music Theatre's "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder." (Michael Courier photo)
Matt Crowle and Rachel Klippel in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” (Michael Courier photo)

Mira Temkin

Comedy Kills in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” at Porchlight Music Theatre” mid January to mid March. This was my favorite show of the year because of the fine acting of Jefferson- Award Winner Matt Crowle who plays multiple roles of both men and women. This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of Monty Navarro, a conniving, down-on-his-luck Englishman who finds out he stands to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and substantial wealth if only he could eliminate his eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. Quickly as you can imagine, things start to go awry. But Navarro must keep on his toes with both his mistress and his fiancée… and not get put in jail. And those darting eyes… hysterical!

 

Some theater venues around town. (J Jacobs photo

Well, even though the designation of Year of Chicago Theatre is about over, all of us at Chicago Theater and Arts think we’re lucky to have great theater on stages large and small throughout the Chicago area every year.

We know that the theater season doesn’t go by the calendar year at every venue but no matter how the season is divided, we are very much looking forward to seeing and reviewing the best of 2020.

We wish everyone an interesting theater experience in the new year.

 

Old fashioned musical fills Cadillac Palace Theatre with joy

 

(L-R) Kelly Sheehan and Jeremy Benton and company itap dancing to “I love a Piano” in Irving Berlin’s White Christams. (Jeremy Daniel Photography

4stars

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.

Continue reading “Old fashioned musical fills Cadillac Palace Theatre with joy”

Dinner and a show from a theater reviewer

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

Theater critics tend to return to the same places before covering a show. They are not usually the upscale places gone to for a special occasion or the newest eatery with a gourmet menu or “in” vibe.  They have good food and are convenient to the venues.

Here are my recommendations based on experience for two downtown theaters ( I use theater spelled er) and two places in the northern suburbs. More areas later.

Downtown-Loop

When going to the Goodman Theatre  170 N Dearborn St. or James M  Nederlander Theatre, a Broadway in Chicago venue at  24 W. Randolph St., I reserve a table in the bar at Petterinos (312-422-0150, 150 N. Dearborn St.) at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph Streets.

The bartenders here are terrific. They serve their patrons quickly when they know they have a show. And I like the fried calamari when looking for something light and the amazing chicken pot pie when cold weather calls for a dish to warm the insides.

The restaurant is literally next door to Goodman and just a few steps across Dearborn to the Nederlander (former Oriental). I take public transportation but Petterinos has a valet service for customers who want to park there and see a show.

Downtown – Mag Mile

There are lots of places to dine on and near the Magnificent Mile. But when reviewing a show at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N Michigan Ave. in the historic Water Tower Water Works  on the east side of the Water Tower campus or at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., I reserve a table at Mity-Nice Grill on the Mezzanine Level of Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan Ave., 312.335.4745).

I like their veggie burger and their salads and that they bring tiny Yorkshire pudding bites to start the meal.

North Suburbs – Lincolnshire

I look forward to dining at the Three Embers Restaurant in the Marriott Resort, 10 Marriott Dr., when reviewing a show at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

Executive Chef Pierre Daval and Chef de Cuisine Jesus (Chuy) Medina are currently showcasing their Harvest Dinner. At Three Embers, diners get honey butter for their rolls that is a taste treat made with honey from Daval’s beehives on the property. I also love the Honey BBQ Brisket with smoked grits. But I’m thinking of trying the Sea Scallops dish with butternut squash and a maple glace when I go for the next show because squash and maple are too seasonal to pass up.

North Suburbs – Skokie

Across the road from Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, is a small strip mall that contains the popular Bonefish Grill at 9310 Skokie Blvd. Yes, you need a reservation and tell the waitperson you are going to a show.

I like the restaurant’s bread and dipping oil, its Caesar Salad and any shrimp dish with a variety of sauces.

Feel free to leave your own recommendations.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

Open a book and oneself to a new adventure

 

David Payne as C.S. Lewis at Broadway Playhouse. (Production photos from Aneesa Muhammad (MKI)
David Payne as C.S. Lewis at Broadway Playhouse. (Production photos from Aneesa Muhammad (MKI)

 

4 stars

In the 1960s, C.S. Lewis was a well-known British author whose collected works made him one of the most famous literary writers of the 20th century. Lewis died over 50 years ago.

David Payne, another Brit was an actor and playwright who hoped he would get a minor role in a previous play about C.S. Lewis. Instead, Payne got the lead role of C.S. Lewis, launching a terrific acting career.

When many audience members saw David Payne playing that lead role, they felt that they had discovered the real C.S. Lewis!

David Payne had read quite a lot of C.S. Lewis’s writing—even Lewis’s personal diary. And Payne was always asked many questions about Lewis. One day, Payne decided it would be fun if he could be Lewis himself and could answer these questions. That’s why Payne wrote, directed, and stars in “An Evening with C.S. Lewis,” a wonderful play which is now being shown at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse.

In Act I, Payne plays the author sitting in Lewis’s living room and hosting a group of American writers in his home near Oxford. Lewis recalls the many events that affect his life and his large number of close friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien, an English author and poet.

In Act II, Payne playing Lewis says he eventually believes in Christianity. He also tells how he just met a divorced woman by the name of Joy who decides to come from the United States and live in London.

It reminds her so much of New York City where she had lived with her previous husband and family. Although Lewis describes London as “noise and chaos.”

He marries Joy who eventually lives with him in his house. Lewis goes on to say how their relationship turned his life upside down.

DETAILS: “An Evening with C.S. Lewis” is at the Broadway Playhouse at 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, through Nov. 3, 2019.  Running time: 90 minutes, with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (800) 775-2000, or visit BroadwayInChicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Oslo’ reveals story behind groundbreaking peace accords

 

L to R Norwegians Jan Egeland (Bernard Balbot) .Johan Jørgen Holst (David Parkes), Mona Juul (Bri Sudia) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Scott Parkinson), strategize how to keep secret the negotiations they are helping to facilitate. (Brett Beiner photography)
L to R Norwegians Jan Egeland (Bernard Balbot) .Johan Jørgen Holst (David Parkes), Mona Juul (Bri Sudia) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Scott Parkinson), strategize how to keep secret the negotiations they are helping to facilitate. (Brett Beiner photography)

4 stars

TV viewers saw Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shake hands with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. The momentous event took place on the White House lawn in Washington D.C. But what led to that famous meeting were the previous, mostly off-the record, mostly unofficial negotiations taking place earlier that year in Oslo, Norway.

What “Oslo,” the multi-award-winning play by J. T. Rogers does is take audiences  into the apartment of husband-wife Mona Juul, a diplomat, and Terje Rod Larsen, a university institute’s social scientist, who together initiated the process, and into Juul’s phone conversations with Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorgen Holst and Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Egeland.

Through somewhat fictionalized conversations of actual meetings, Rogers builds suspense as the process moves from one level to the next with the action continuing in behind-the scenes discussions at an out-of-the public eye Norwegian manor.

 

Continue reading “‘Oslo’ reveals story behind groundbreaking peace accords”

Music dissolves cultural differences

‘The Band’s Visit’

 

Company of The Bands Visit at Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Company of The Bands Visit at Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

4 stars

The curtain at the Cadillac Palace Theatre reads “Turn off your cell phone” in English and in Arabic and in Hebrew.

And so begins “The Band’s Visit,” the multi-Tony Award winning musical that stunned Broadway and premiered off-Broadway in 2016.

Based on an Israeli film in 2007, the show quietly but beautifully depicts what happens when the eight-man Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arrives in Israel from Egypt then takes a bus from the airport to a town whose name sounds similar to Petah Tikva, where they are supposed to be playing a concert, but turns out to be Beit Hatikva, small, fictional, somewhat desolate place in the Negev Desert.

Having recently seen “Come From Away” that showed how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, took care of hundreds of passengers from different countries stranded by the closing of U.S. airspace on 9-11, I expected to see more cultural differences such as food, show up during the band’s overnight stay. (They were able to take another bus out to their destination the next day.)

But this show,  a comedy-drama with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses  is more how music is an international language that speaks to many different situations from soothing a crying baby to bringing lonely people together.

The band is led by Tewfiq, interpreted with careful reserve that later dissolves by Sasson Gabay, a leading Israeli actor who starred in the movie. Opposite him is Dina, a lovely café owner who feels stranded in Beit Hatikva, played with superb emotional vibes by Chilina Kennedy who starred as Carol King in “Beautiful.,” on Broadway.

The rest of the cast is also terrific. It is easy to fall in love with the band members as they skillfully play their instruments. But a special shout-out has to go to Joe Joseph who as Haled, is the band member who brings people together often asking if they like the song, “My Funny Valentine.”

DETAILS: “The Band’s Visit” is presented by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Sept. 15, 2019. Running time: 90 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago