In an age when social media has usurped our lives, it’s refreshing to visit a time when people actually spoke to each other, and with eloquence. As in all her stories, Jane Austen’s fourth novel is an 1815 comedy of manners set in Georgian-Regency England. The title character, however, is unlike Austen’s other heroines in that Emma is pretty, smart and rich, but also strong-minded, overindulged and rather full of herself.
Victorian author Charles Dickens might be surprised, and maybe a little proud, at how his story about one curmudgeon’s redemption has been adapted for the stage, film, opera and every other form of media.
This production, “Q Brothers Christmas Carol,” back by popular demand at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, has fast become one of the Windy City’s favorite holiday events, especially among younger, hipper audiences. It’s a terrific, cleverly-written and utterly captivating piece of theatre that deserves the high praise it’s received.
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.
We already have “West Side Story,” a tragic love tale of feuding groups based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Beautifully and emotionally interpreted with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it’s parallel to current gang wars was not lost on a tearful audience at Lyric Opera’s closing 2019 production.
That Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Barbara Gaines would like to remind CST audiences that the problems Shakespeare dramatized and Bernstein put to music still exist, is laudable. However, given the set design, cast and costumes of the Gaines production, there probably should be a different title.
Although “The King’s Speech” playwright David Seidler’s script about how King George VI overcame his stutter while ascending to the British throne was a 2010 Oscar-winning movie, it started life as a play after Seidler researched the process in the 1970’s.
Seidler had learned that the man who would be king, known as Bertie to family and close friends, worked with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, a man who had come with his wife to London with hopes of finding an acting job.
The information revealed in the script came from Lionel’s son, Valentine Logue. But Queen Elizabeth, the King’sGeorge’s wife, didn’t want the play produced until after she died.
Work on the script began again in 2005, a few years after the Queen Mother died in 2002. However, it became the highly acclaimed Academy-Award winner Best Picture of the Year and also Best Director, Best Actor and won Seidler the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Since “The Wizard of Oz,” first delighted children and grownups back in 1939, L. Frank Baum’s glorious fantasy, has been a continual favorite whether on film, in print or live on stage, as it is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
This road story, directed with spirit by Brian Hill and imaginatively choreographed by Kenny Ingram, is about how friends help, comfort and support each other. It also shows how experiencing new places can delight and educate, but ultimately reminds the traveler that, in the end, there’s no place like home.
Living on a colorless Kansas farm with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (played by Emily Rohm and Jared D.M. Grant), lovely Leryn Turlington winningly steps into the ruby slippers as Dorothy Gale.
After being threatened by grouchy Almira Gulch, portrayed by Chicago stage veteran Hollis Resnik, Dorothy runs away with her little dog Toto (played perfectly by Derby, the dog), meets clairvoyant Professor Marvel and is swept away to the Land of Oz by a powerful cyclone.
Earnest and charming, with a smile that lights up the stage, Turlington puts her own touching stamp on the soulful ballad “Over the Rainbow.”
On her travels through Oz, Dorothy meets Emily Rohm, transformed into a glittering, pink Glinda, the Good Witch. Dorothy also makes friends with the local Munchkins played by Karla Boye, Timothy P. Foszcz, Jarod D.M. Grant, Haley Gustafson, Aalon Smith, Lauren Smith, Anthony Sullivan Jr. and Kaleb Van Rijswijck who advise her to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
Located on the city’s popular Navy Pier, CST is currently doing “Six” a fun, pop-concert-style musical about Henry VIII’s wives that has been so popular it’s been extended through Aug. 4. Also there is the family musical “The Wizard of Oz” which opens July 6 and continues through Aug. 25, 2019.
The theatre is on Dearborn Street at Randolph Street near downtown attractions such as Millennium Park and the city’s Piccasso. Shows are on stage in the Albert Theatre and smaller Owen Theatre.
Currently, Goodman is doing “The Music Man” helmed by famed director Mary Zimmerman, June 29-Aug. 11, 2019 (Albert). Then “Hanna H. is Sept. 6-Oct. 6 (Owen) and “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” Sept. 14- Oct. 20 (Albert). “A Christmas Carol,” a family holiday favorite, continues for its 42nd annual production Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, 2019 (Albert).
The Lyric Opera House. a historic building on north Wacker Drive at Madison Street, will resound with the sounds of Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and (Jake) HeggieL as the 2019-2020 season mixes the popular with the provocative.
Opening the season is Rossini’s popular “The Barber of Seville” Sept. 28-Oct. 27 followed by Verdi’s “Luisa Miller”Oct. 12-31. Then Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s unusual “Dead Man Walking” opera is Nov. 2-11. The series returns to the classics with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” Nov. 14-Dec. 8 but offers a gorgeous vocal treat with Sondra Radvanovsky singing the finales of Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux in a semi-staged performance of Donizetti “The Three Queens” Dec 1-7, 2019.
Now located in the Ruth Page Center, Porchlight will open the 2019-20 season with “Sings: 25 years of Porchlight,” a benefit concert Aug. 5 that celebrates its past 25 years on Chicago’s musical theater scene.
A leading lady of Chgo theater, Hollis Resnik, makes her Porchlight debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” Oct. 11- Nov. 24. However, there will also be a quick revisit to Irving Berlin’s “Cal Me Madam,” Nov. 20-21. Next is the Ruffians’ “Burning Bluebeard” Dec 13-27.
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents the North American premiere of the energetic pop-concert musical “Six” by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss featuring the story of the six wives of England’s 16th Century monarch Henry VIII.
The fate of the queens are apparently remembered by English school children using the rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived” which becomes the leitmotif of the opening number as the women introduce themselves to the audience.
A series of nine musical numbers centered around a common theme with virtually no dialog, this production is more of a pop-concert than what you think of as traditional musical theater.
Presented as a kind of musical competition, each of the “Six” wives takes turns telling her life story, including her relationship with the notorious Henry.
Audiences hardly need to be reminded that William Shakespeare had a phrase, soliloquy or advice for almost every conceivable motivation, experience or outlook.
But when Broadway actor Maurice Jones, Chicago Shakespeare’s Hamlet, considers life’s unfairness and contemplates death in the famed “To be, or not to be, that is the question,” soliloquy, he is so natural in his musing that he could be any being who grieves for a murdered loved one instead of an actor playing one of the theater’s most famous roles.
And that is the strength of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines simple, but masterfully presented “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.”
Even when Polonius, Shakespeare’s overly verbose, elderly advisor to the Danish court, tells son Laertes “to thine own self be true, (and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”) ” a contradiction to everyone’s actions, stage veteran Larry Yando nicely throws out the lines as if they were simply fatherly advice instead of among the Bard’s very famous quotes.
The production really succeeds because Jones is so good at Hamlet, he’s fine in modern dress rather than period costume as he sincerely becomes a distressed son whose father is killed by a brother and whose mother then marries, possibly unknowingly, her husband’s murderer.
Scott Davis’ minimal scenic design and Robert Wierzel’s lighting focus the action where it should be, on the players, rather than offering the trappings of a castle in Denmark. Booming sound design by Lindsay Jones portends tragedy waiting.
A nice touch is having long-time beloved Chicago and New York theater actor Mike Nussbaum play a comic gravedigger along side Greg Vinkler who is also the king with the players who come to court to perform.
The rest of the cast is fine, although not at the same level of Jones’ delivery. It’s likely audiences will be talking about this Hamlet for quite awhile.
“Hamlet” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier, Chicago, through June 9, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600) and visit Chicago Shakes.
JB Piestley’s classic “An Inspector Calls” has landed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater just shy of it 75th birthday. But its scenario is as interesting and suspenseful today as it was when first performed in 1945.
The time is an April night in 1912. The place is the home of the Birlings, a wealthy, British, class-conscious family. They are celebrating the engagement of daughter Shelia to Gerald Croft when Inspector Goole arrives to question their connection to a young girl who has committed suicide.
Picture melodramatic fog, lighting, staging and pauses in conversation for the greatest effect as Inspector Goole’s relentless questioning extracts honesty and confessions from the Birlings and Croft. Continue reading “Suspenseful British theater”