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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you tried but couldn’t get tickets to “Six” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater before it recently closed, you will have another chance to see the show. However, it will be at a different Chicago venue as part of the Broadway in Chicago series.
Yes, that means it is on its way to Broadway.
How the six wives of Henry VIII, Aaragon, Boleyn, Seymour, Cleves, Howard and Parr, viewed him and themselves is the unlikely story behind a British concert-style musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss.
First opening in Edinburgh and England, it just left its North American premiere in Chicago to visit other towns before its debut on Broadway. “Six” will be at the American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 21 – Sept. 7, Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, AB Canada, Nov. 2-24 and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul, MN, Nov. 29 – Dec. 22.
it will be in previews in February and open at New York City’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, March 12, 2020.
As with other shows that have pre-Broadway Chicago premieres, the tour form of the show will return as part of the Broadway in Chicago series. But in the case of ‘Six,’ a sell-out at Chicago Shakespeare, the hit musical will be back within a year instead of the usual two or three years.
According to Broadway in Chicago folks, “Six” will open at the Broadway Playhouse next to Water Tower Place and the Ritz-Carlton July 8, 2020. Also unlike most other tour shows it is currently scheduled to stay through Oct. 25, 2020.
“We would like to thank Chicago Shakespeare Theater for their overwhelming support of our North American premiere over the past few months,” said producers Wendy and Andy Barnes. “It was such a thrill to watch American audiences lose their heads for SIX. We cannot wait to return to Chicago next summer, where our US journey began.”
Groups of 10 or more can get tickets now. Broadway in Chicago will be opening subscription and single ticket sales this fall. .
Instead of saying “oops” after “Miracle,” “Manet” and “Head Over Heels” have left Chicago, fit in the one you really hoped to see. Then, if good at planning ahead, look for tickets to “Six.”
Tickets are available just through Sept. 29, 2019 for this fun show that ties the life of a Wrigleyville bar-owning family to the Chicago Cubs. “Miracle,” whose full title adds on “A musical 108 years in the making,” is at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St. For Tickets and other information call (312) 988-9000 or visit MiracletheMusical. For the review visit Wrigleyville and Cubs story make great theater. For the backstory see Miracle Musical.
Two weeks have been added to Kokandy Productions’ hit musical comedy but after Sept. 8, 2019 it will be gone. The show is at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. For tickets call (773) 975-8150) or visit KokandyProductions or stop by Theater Wit. For the review please see Head over Heels has got the beat.
The sold-out concert-style show about Henry VIII’s wives just closed at Chicago Shakespeare but even though it is headed to Broadway it will return to Chicago in 2020. The touring production will open July 8 at the Broadway Playhouse next to Water Tower Place and the Ritz-Carlton through the Broadway in Chicago series. Groups of 10 or more can get tickets now. Watch for the Broadway in Chicago single tickets this fall. For group tickets visit GroupSales@BroadwayInChicago.com. For more information and single tickets visit BroadwayInChicago.
Pretty much everyone recalls where they were when they heard that planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Radio announcers guessed it was an accident when American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston’s Logan International Airport bound for Los Angeles went into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Then United Airlines Flight 175 from Logan, also bound for LA flew into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
(Two other planes were also hijacked, AA Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon and United flight 93 was brought down by its passengers before it could hit its target in Washington D.C.)
At 9:25 a.m. the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Washington Dulles, directed about 4,300 planes to land, ordering 120 inbound overseas flights to Canada and the rest to return to countries of origin.
The United flight that our daughter was flying from London to Los Angeles was diverted to Edmonton, Canada. All she heard before landing was that the US airspace was closed. (We didn’t know it was a direct flight. She could have gone through Boston.)
Of the planes in the air, 38 were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland where they stayed for five days.
“Come From Away” is the amazing story, told in a musical with a rock beat by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, of how the small town of Gander (9,000 residents) managed to feed, clothe, find facilities and befriend approximately 7,000 passengers and crew members while working through the visitors’ foreign customs, language difficulties and personal distress.
The musical tell a mash-up of their stories in just 100 minutes.
Except for a passenger who keeps trying to find out about her son, an NYC fire fighter, and the American Airlines pilot of a plane landing in Gander who learns her friend Charles (Burlingame) was the pilot on the ill-fated Flight 77, the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, were not the story.
Instead, though some moments lead to tears, others result in laughter and smiles. Audiences will be reminded that kindness brings out kindred spirits and understanding can change antagonism to gratitude.
Moving from an Ontario theater workshop in 2012 and through other stops on the way to Broadway in 2017, “Come From Away” garnered seven Tony nominations and won the “Best Director of a Musical” award for Christopher Ashley.
Now, the touring company is in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Aug. 18, 2019.
Gander characters double as passengers and crew, a difficult feat that may occasionally confuse some audience members.
But the show’s talented cast of experienced Broadway and TV actors really are able to convey how Gander’s warmhearted hospitality eventually permeates the awful stress of people who at first are not allowed off a plane even though they’ve landed, can’t communicate easily with family back home and are leery of how their views, fears and needs may be regarded by strangers.
The band is excellent and on stage, sometimes as part of the action.
Award-winning conductor/keyboardist Cynthia Kortman Westphal also does the accordion and harmonium. Isaac Alderson plays the Irish flute and Uilleann pipes. Kiana June Weber is a skillful fiddler. Adam Stoler is on the electric and acoustic guitars. In addtion, Matt Wong is on acoustic guitar and mandolins, Max Calkin plays the electric and acoustic bass, Steve Holloway and Ben Morrow handle percussion.
My only problem with the current, touring show is that it was hard to catch all the spoken and sung words. When asked, others there said they liked the show but also had the same problem.
However, the show’s mood and message comes across well. “Come From Away” is a feel-good musical that is worth seeing for its story about how Gander not only coped but altered their visitors’ views of themselves and others.
DETAILS: “Come From Away” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Aug. 18, 2019. Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call ( 800) 775-2000) or visit Broadway In Chicago.