Good ‘Lucy and Charles’ music and cast are not enough


Aurora Adachi-Winter and Matthew C. Yee in“Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Aurora Adachi-Winter and Matthew C. Yee in “Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Somewhat recommended

Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon by Matthew C. Yee is a light romp with a dark twist followed by a hasty, muddled ending wrapped up in a cloud of very good music – all of which is performed by a remarkable cast of actor musicians.

This adventure revolves around Asian identity, Asian stereotypes and the experience of being Asian in America so I will simply set the stage now.

The following characters are all presented in the production as Asian or Asian-American: Charlie (Matthew C. Yee) and Lucy (Aurora Adachi-Winter), Grandma (Wai Ching Ho), Peter (Rammel Chan), Jeff (Daniel Lee Smith) and Bao (Harmony Zhang).

Characters presented as non-Asian are senior security professional agent Feinberg (Mary Williamson), Gabriel (Matt Bittner) and Martin (Doug Pawlik).

Lucy and Charlie met two weeks ago. Charlie has dubbed himself an Asian-American renegade and recently reinvented himself as a cool cowboy which attracted Lucy to him. They married and are on a poorly conceived amateurish crime adventure.

Charlie’s brother Peter, a security agent trainee, finds himself in the awkward position of investigating a convenience store robbery involving the pair.

In the meantime, at a rest stop, Lucy befriends Bao, a recent arrival from China, who is waiting to be picked-up by her sponsor, ostensibly to work for a cleaning company which Lucy quickly determines is really a front for a sex slave operation.

Peter gets his boss Feinberg, his grandma, and uncle Jeff involved to help rescue the couple, who, with Bao, have taken refuge at Grandma’s cottage in Winnebago, WI where the two hope to elude the sex-slave operators, Gabriel and Martin.

Kudos to Matthew C. Yee who wrote the book and music, plays the role of Charlie and performs a significant amount of the accompaniment as an onstage guitarist and does it all very well.

I feel Yee shot himself in the foot by not making his songs a little more universal and slightly less specific to the production.

All of the great commercially successful musicals have songs that can break out of the confines of the story and speak to a larger human condition. allowing them to stand apart and take on a life of their own.

The storyline had a spark of brilliance in the tradition of many classic screwball comedies, crime mysteries or culture clash stories. My major complaint is the use of gratuitous gun violence to resolve and ultimately squander the conflict that Yee spent the first act rather expertly crafting.

Additionally waving guns around in a post Alec Baldwin “Rust” era can be a bit disconcerting to audience members who find themselves looking down the barrel for extended periods of time. (Note to violence designers R+D Choreography, direct the action upstage as much as possible).

In act two the story takes a jarring turn, resulting in a schizophrenic tone. If you want to have fun then have fun. If you want to be serious then do that. Mixing the two has been done but it takes a deft hand. In this case it just seemed like an easy way out. This might be satisfactory in an improvisation or workshop but not as a finished production in a downtown theater especially if there is any thought of wider distribution.

Much of the overall production credit goes to director Amanda Dehner. The entire cast is outstanding, while also being exceptional musicians, breathing life into the material provided by Yee.

It was apparent they understood his vision and executed it expertly in front of a dizzying and whimsical array of floor to ceiling Western and Far East artifacts assembled by scenic director Yu Shibagaki.

Screen projections by projection designer Paul Deziel were helpful for sharing song lyrics and interjecting a bit of humor when referencing images we would were not be able to see. Sully Ratke provided a thoughtful and amusing costume selection.

Yee’s portrayal of Charlie affects a kind of deep silent type cowboy image that definitely takes a backseat to the over-the-top energy of Lucy who is driving much of the action. Peter, Grandma, and Jeff as a comical triumvirate of stereotypes handle the material well. It is obvious the playwright and the actors understand how far they can go when working with ethnic humor.

This group would make a very effective sitcom or web series. But I caution Yee to treat them and their situations with more respect.

Here is my dilemma. I work with an Asian non-profit organization in Uptown, have a number of close Asian friends and some individuals of Asian descent in my extended family. When I think about recommending Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon to them, I cringe.

The Boomers and GenX folks especially those who were not born here might find some of the content offensive or at least sophomoric and it’s a bit too rough for the teen and preteen crowd.

That leaves the middle 20- to 40-year-olds who were born here and grew up in a cross-cultural environment that at times, confused and maybe even embarrassed their elders. It’s full of a lot of insider humor. I get this and I know two thirty-something Asian guys who would love this and totally get it. Though this limited target audience is probably not adequate to create the level of success the essence of this play deserves.

Every American-ethnic group has experienced what Yee is trying to convey and it’s an important story. But it has to be told in a way that a general audience can understand and appreciate.

Sex-trafficking and other exploitation of immigrants is a very serious topic that deserves more than a cursory glance and cartoonish treatment.

So as much as I love the actors, characters and the music and appreciate the premise, I can only somewhat recommend Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon. 

It’s an entertaining Asian-American rockabilly musical but playwright Yee should give “Lucy and Charlie” a second look.

Details: Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon is at the Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Avenue through July 16, 2023. Runtime is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A modern spin on a classic toy story

The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre (Photo courtesy of Lookingglass)
The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre (Photo courtesy of Lookingglass)

3 stars

“Steadfast Tin Soldier” is reprised for the third year (this year online) by Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company.

The plotline devised by nineteenth century Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen might be described to a modern audience as Toy Story 1.0.

It is difficult to say when or where the idea of a theatrical performance about the secret life of toys may have begun. There is of course The Nutcracker Suite, another perennial favorite and no doubt others that predate them both.

In this toybox tale a damaged tin soldier falls in love with a beautiful dollhouse ballerina who is already evidently in a relationship with the somewhat hideous jack-in-the-box.

An unfortunate turn of events sends our soldier hero on an odyssey that separates the lovers until their surprising reunion with a shocking twist.

This version written and directed by Mary Zimmerman presented as a pantomime, has no dialog, relying heavily on the physicality of the actors to tell the story.

The five person cast features Lookingglass Ensemble Members Kasey Foster (Ballerina) and Anthony Irons (Goblin), with Joe Dempsey (Nursemaid), John Gregorio (Rat), and Alex Stein (Steadfast Tin Soldier). In addition to their primary roles each member plays a variety of subordinate roles as well.

Joe Dempsey and John Gregorio are responsible for much of the comedic action with the highlight being a romantic encounter between a Fish Monger and the Nursemaid.

Foster and Irons perform an amusing, slow-motion skirmish as two boys who tussle over the found toy soldier with choreography by Tracy Walsh.

The evocative original music score composed by Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert is skillfully executed by Leandro López Várady (Music Director/Piano), Greg Hirte (Violin), Juan Horie (Cello), and Constance Volk (Flutes) in a post-modern genre with jazz elements. The effect is reminiscent of a silent movie with the music setting the tempo of the action and providing emotional accents.

There are no songs per se but rather a series of instrumental vignettes and therefore no lyrics except for the finale number that sort of sums up the moral of the story for those who might be a bit confounded by the various goings on.

My first impulse is to say that this is a non-traditional performance but then I realize that is only true in a modern sense. Actually this production is full of ancient stage craft borrowed from a number of traditions.

There is of course pantomime, music, puppetry large and small designed by Chicago Puppet Studio, circus choreography by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi, and body movement that can certainly be included in the realm of dance, though this is not a ballet to be sure.

Virtually any person from essentially any language group or culture would be able to understand the essence of this story that portrays basic archetypes experiencing universal human relationships.

Costume designer Ana Kuzmanic along with her team provide a kaleidoscope of color and bold fabrics that would rival a Venetian masquerade. Dramatic oversized hats and body silhouettes give the production a kind of Alice in Wonderland feel that accentuates the fantasy.

A two legged deer in fancy dress offers a dreamlike effect with a touch of absurd elegance. The giant baby head and hands, big eyeball peeping inside the dollhouse and anthropomorphized rat, all contribute to the phantasmagorical quality that borders on a nightmare or at least an oversized children’s book.

As a kind of caution, it is fair to say that by some modern standards the characters of the steadfast soldier and ballerina might be regarded as predictable and cliché so should be considered within the context of the time in which they were written.

It is also important to remember that Anderson like the Brothers Grimm did not avoid tough subjects that warned of the harshness and unfairness of life. After all Anderson wrote of a ballerina whose feet are cut off to break a dancing spell and a little match girl who ironically dies in the cold.

At a time when we are all challenged by outside forces, when little boys are taught that they do not always have to be “good soldiers” and little girls can be something other than ballerinas, this could be a good catalyst for discussion about gender roles and in the age of COVID, how each of us deal with adversity and even death.

The entire performance is notably only one hour long which combined with the amusing storyline and delightful theatrics makes this an ideal first experience for younger or otherwise uninitiated theater goers.

I am sure it was originally conceived to capture the attention of Michigan Avenue shoppers who would be happy to have a short respite to round off their holiday excursion before returning home.

However, I think it is fair to say that though an entertaining visual spectacle, this is not exactly a feel good holiday story.

Parents who bring children with curious minds should be prepared for some difficult questions relating to the fate of the main characters.  I would not recommend this for children under twelve.

The production holds up well as an Internet presentation though I suggest trying to get it displayed on the largest screen possible, and perhaps most importantly, with the best sound system you have available. Both of these factors are likely to enhance your enjoyment especially if you are viewing it with other people.

I briefly previewed the performance on my desktop with a 19” monitor and some decent speakers but watched the entire production via Roku using the Stellar app on a 32” TV (sitting pretty close) with headphones that provided exceptional sound. This proved to be quite an effective experience.

If you have a large screen TV 50” or more with a good sound-bar or speakers I think you will be quite pleased when viewing this via the Stellar app with multiple people.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier runs 1 hour with no intermission through December 27, 2020 online. The production will stream through Stellar which manages ticket validation and program delivery. Tickets and information is available at

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Reviewer Reno Lovison is maintaining social distance and enjoying the intersection of theater and technology.

A new Christmas pantomime tradition

‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’

Cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

Returning for a second holiday season at Lookingglass Theatre, Mary Zimmerman’s gorgeous adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story of love and valor warms the heart and nourishes the soul.

From the moment we enter, we’re put in the holiday mood by a curtain transformed into a gigantic Advent calendar.

While four powdered-wigged musicians begin playing in the show’s petite orchestra pit, the cast enters the stage, one-by-one, clothed in Ana Kuzmanic’s delicious, brightly colored, exquisitely detailed costumes. Each character opens one of 25 tiny doors and reacts to the images behind them.

The final door reveals the titular character and the pantomime begins. By the conclusion of the play the audience will understand the significance of each image.

In the first scene, a very young boy opens his Christmas gift. Inside one of the boxes, he discovers a collection of tiny, tin, toy soldiers. One of the soldiers, however, was the last one to be cast from the metal which apparently ran out, so he’s missing a leg.

Continue reading “A new Christmas pantomime tradition”

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.


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





What is coming to theaters downtown and on the Mag Mile


Chicago Theater and Arts has been looking at what area theater production companies have in store for the 2019-2020 season. The lineup is impressive.

Because Chicagoland has approximately 250 companies the coming season is divided into a series that starts downtown, then winds around  Chicago’s neighborhoods and suburbs.

The series started off with Broadway in Chicago’s coming shows and now moves to other downtown theater venues including a couple on and near North Michigan Avenue.

Shows often sell out as soon as they open so best plan is to print the series, circle what you want and pick up tickets in advance.


Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. (CST photo)
Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. (CST photo)

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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.

Coming this fall are “The King’s Speech” Sept 12-Oct. 20 , “A Man of Good Hope,”  Oct. 4-13 and “Romeo and Juliet” Oct. 31-Dec. 22, 201. After the new year “Emma” is Jan 28 -March 15, 2020 followed by the Royal Shakespeare Company with a production TBA, April 1-30. The season closes with “As You Like It” April 30-June 21

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is at 800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier. For tickets and more information visit Chicago Shakes or call (312) 595-5600.



Goodman Theatre on Dearborn at Randolph (Goodman photo)
Goodman Theatre on Dearborn at Randolph (Goodman photo)

Goodman Theatre

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).

Into the new 2020 year “Roe” is Jan. 18-Feb 20, (Albert). “Graveyard Shift” Feb. 7-Mar. 8 (Owen) and “Molly Sweeney” is  Mar. 7-April 12  (Albert) followed by “School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play  Mar. 27-April 26 (Owen). “American Mariachi” is April 25-May 31 (Albert). Then “The Outsiders” completes the season June 19-Aug. 2 (Albert).

Goodman Theatre is at at 170 N. Dearborn Street. For tickets and other information visit Goodman Theatre  or call (312) 443-3800.



Lookingglass Theatre is in the Historic Water Works (J Jacobs photo)
Lookingglass Theatre is in the Historic Water Works (J Jacobs photo)

Lookingglass Theatre

Located in Chicago Water Works, Lookingglass is currently doing “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” through Aug. 4 then “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Nov. 1, 2019-Jan. 26, 2020.

The season continues with “Her Honor Jane Byrne” Feb 26-April 12, 2020. Then the ever popular, landmark production, “Lookingglass Alice,” returns May 13-Aug. 16, 2020.

Lookkingglass Theatre is at 821 N. Michigan Ave. For tickets and more information visit Lookingglass Theatre and call (312) 337-0665.




Lyric Opera House on North Wacker Drive (J Jphoto)
Lyric Opera House on North Wacker Drive (J Jphoto)

Lyric Opera of Chicago

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 BolenaMaria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux in a semi-staged performance of Donizetti  “The Three Queens” Dec 1-7, 2019.

The second half opens 2020 with an all-time favorite, Puccini’s  “Madam Butterfly” Feb. 6-Mar. 8. Then Tchaikovsky’s eerie “The Queen of Spades” is Feb. 15-Mar. 1 . Wagner”s Götterdämmerung” closes the Lyrics Ring cycle  April 4 & 11, 2020.

However, the lyric ends each season with a Broadway musical. In 2019 it was “West Side Story. ” For 2020 it will be “42nd Street” May 29 – June 21, 2020.

The Lyric Opera House is at 20 N.  Wacker Dr. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera/Contact or call (312) 332-2244.



Porchlight is in the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. (J Jacobs and Ruth Page Center photo)
Porchlight is in the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. (J Jacobs and Ruth Page Center photo)


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 year 2020 opens with Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” Jan 24- Mar. 6. The season with the Chicago premiere of Disney’s “Freaky Friday” April 10-May 24.

Porchlight Music Theatre moved last year to the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Pkwy.


Jodie Jacobs


Understanding the Frankenstein story

Walter Briggs, Cordelia Dewdney and Debo Balogun in Mary Shelly's 'Frankenstein' at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Walter Briggs, Cordelia Dewdney and Debo Balogun in Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

3 stars

To understand director/playwright David Catlin’s production of “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein” at Lookingglass Theatre, you probably should go back to the original story conceived during competitive ghost, story-telling sessions at Lord Byron’s Swiss Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva.

Eighteen-year-old Mary Godwin was at Byron’s retreat with lover Percy Bysshe Shelley whom she would marry after his wife, Harriet, died. Also there, aside from British romantic poet George Gordon Byron (6th Baron Byron), was Godwin’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont and Dr. John Polidori.

Mary, using the last name of Shelly before they’re married, directs the people at the Villa to join her in playing the characters in her competitive entry. It’s a clever devise.

Knowing all parts of her “Frankenstein” novel sahead of time will help explain Lookingglass’ opening scene in the arctic where Captain Robert Walton and crew are temporarily iced-in at the North Pole.

Continue reading “Understanding the Frankenstein story”

What do we want God to be

Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in "Act(s) of God" by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)
Walter Briggs, Kristina Valada-Viars, Emjoy Gavino, Anthony Irons, Rom Barkhordar and Shannon Cochran in “Act(s) of God” by Lookingglass Theatre Company. (Liz Lauren photo)

2 1/2 stars

Take a dysfunctional family, yes, another one, add intellectual rhetoric, several different ideas (make them existential, religious, morality bent, etc.) and wrap the action in somewhat comic absurdism and you have “Act (s) of God” by Kareem Bandealy at Lookingglass Theatre.

Given that Lookingglass has afforded ensemble member Bandealy a top notch cast and placed it under the smart direction of Heidi Stillman for what is his debut venture on the other side of a script, we should have a four-star evening.

Instead, we have a mish-mosh of a play, probably two or three plays. It needs reworking and shortening from three to two acts so that even though it might fall in the absurdist category, theater-goers will leave with a sense of the playwright’s message.

Except for an overly-long religious ritual, I liked Act One when everyone (but G..D) is introduced. I liked the idea that Eldest daughter Kristina Valada-Viars, an atheist, could open a sealed missive that seemed to have come with ads to the household’s mailbox.

When others tried they couldn’t open it. When they dropped it, the house experienced a power outage.

Eldest said it was blank but when she loudly told her family to read it, they were able to and found that it announced an unexpected dinner guest the next day.

Not sure why in Act II the guest was supposedly a being who farted a lot in the computer room or why the three children of Mother and Father (no given names) disliked themselves and each other so much even though lots of trite reasons were bandied about along with personal attitudes towards religion and humanity.

Supposedly, an apocalyptic event occurs so that in the third act the furniture is taken from the stage. I liked that it included the comfortable chair in which Father was seated and barely moved from.

Lookingglass does repeat it’s productions so maybe we’ll see a new, shorter version of Bandealy’s play sometime. I’m looking forward to that.

Act(s) of God” is at Lookingglass Theatre in the Chicago WaterWorks, 821 N. Michigan Ave., through April 7, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (312) 337-0665 or visit LookingglassTheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago




Top 10 shows of the year


Lyric Opera House (J Jacobs photo)
Lyric Opera House (J Jacobs photo)

Chicago area theaters put on so many excellent productions that picking our top 10 shows is not merely challenging, it also reflects individual points of view, entertainment preferences and theater and music backgrounds. Readers are welcome to disagree and comment with their own suggestions.

This year, we also are including Broadway in Chicago and Lyric Opera contenders because Chicago audiences attend those productions and support those organizations with subscriptions.

A bit about our reviewers: Reno Lovison, Pam McKuen, Francine Friedman, Mira Temkin and editor Jodie Jacobs are professional writers who have contributed over the years to a variety of publications. Read more in the About section of Chicago Theater and Arts. Their selections could each have extended to five and more but were narrowed down to two apiece.


Reno Lovison


“Haymarket” was an important Chicago story, well performed and included appropriate Bluegrass music reminiscent of labor-oriented folk songs. See review of this Underscore Theatre Company’s production at Haymarket.

“The End of TV”

“The End of TV” made me a Manual Cinema fan, offering a fresh way to experience live performance utilizing old and new technologies. See review of the Manual Cinema production at The End of TV.

(***: In spite of my two picks I find myself periodically thinking about “Arcadia” and “Fear and Misery in the Third Reich” but probably more as a result of the playwright than the players.)


Pam McKuen


A Paramount Theatre production, “Once” is a sweet but short-lived romance with an imaginative set and an upbeat cast of congenial music-makers that was put on at a suburban jewel. See review of Once.

“On Your Feet”

A Broadway in Chicago presentation at the Cadillac Palace, “On Your Feet” is the life story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. It has everything you’d want in a musical: global hits, glitzy costumes, dramatic lows and comedic punches. I’d see it again. See review at On Your Feet.


Francine Friedman

“Miss Saigon”

Loosely based on the opera “Madame Butterfly,” the musical “Miss Saigon” embraces the relationship between an American GI and a young Asian woman while it follows the final days of the Vietnam War.  The play’s touring company of wonderful actors, singers and dancers, along with real photos of orphaned, war-born American/Asian children displayed in its second act, brought the musical to life.  See review at Miss Saigon.

“Women of Soul”

At the Black Ensemble Theater through Jan. 21, 2019, “Women of Soul” is a tribute to many well-known female singers, covering their different genres and numerous years.  In addition to the wonderful performers who sing their famous tunes, many newly-revealed details of how their careers blossomed and how some of their lives ended adds insight to their backgrounds. And the closing tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, brought everyone to their feet. See the review of Women of Soul.


Mira Temkin

“The Buddy Holly Story”

An American Blues Theater production, this high-energy biopic of singer/songwriter Buddy Holly kept the music going at a frenetic pace as a testament to the amazing talents of star, Zachary Stephenson and the entire cast. Even though “it was day the music died, according to Don McLean,” the audience never wanted it to end. See review at Buddy Holly Story.

“A Shayna Maidel”

What is family? Can it be created or reborn? “A Shayna Maidel” performed as a revival by TimeLine Theatre, answers these  thoughtful questions in a most profound way. See review at A Shayna Maidel.

(*** Also agree that “Miss Saigon” is among the year’s best. This new versio, now on on tour ,takes out all the stops in theatrics, wowing audiences as one of the most spectacular musicals ever written and produced. Contemporary theatre goers can’t help but get caught up in the past, knowing how the war ended with the cost in human life and how many Vietnamese orphans the U.S. left behind.)


Jodie Jacobs

“La boheme”

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “La boheme” was extraordinary theater. It had everything from inventive scenery and creative staging to exceptional acting, singing and orchestration. Fortunately, it continues in January, 2019.  See the review at La boheme.

“Steadfast Tin Soldier”

Audiences have come to expect unusual presentations from Lookingglass Theatre. However, Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation and direction of the “Steadfast Tin Soldier,” has to be seen to really appreciate its outstanding pantomime and puppetry. See the review at Steadfast Tin Soldier.


Lookingglass takes ‘Steadfast Tin Soldier’ to another level

The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
The cast of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

4 stars

At Lookingglass Theatre audiences see a charming screen a few minutes before Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” story is pantomimed on stage.

The actors, dressed as figures that might be found in a young European child’s nursery or at a “Panto,” take turns on stage opening  windows that reveal children’s toys – except one that shows a fire.

And thus, perceptive audiences might pick up the clue that as with many of the famed Danish author’s fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” life will not be very smooth for the lead character but the ending can offset what appears to be devastating consequences. Continue reading “Lookingglass takes ‘Steadfast Tin Soldier’ to another level”

Top holiday shows and shopping plus light sights

The Joffrey Ballet's Nutcraker at Aurditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcraker at Aurditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

If you don’t want to be saying “Oops” this holiday season then 1. Don’t wait to get tickets to the shows you or your family want to see and  2. Do put those holiday events you want to go to on the calendar.

The good news is that there are numerous great holiday shows and happenings in the Chicago area. The problem news is that the many places to go, things to do and see make it hard to narrow down the choices to what is doable.

Tip: Be realistic when weighing what is manageable with kids, tired feet and meal breaks.

The following suggestions offer three Chicago area choices in each category – shows, shopping and spectacular lights and sights:



A Christmas Carol At Goodman Theatre (2017 photo by Liz Lauren)
A Christmas Carol At Goodman Theatre (2017 photo by Liz Lauren)

What: Goodman Theatre’s “The Christmas Carol” Nov. 17-Dec. 30, 2018

Where: In Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago

Why: Goodman’s production of Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” is  a Chicago tradition that never gets old with new staging often added. But the show is also a talking point for families on what is important.

How:: See ticket and other information at Goodman Theatre/Carol


What:  Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” Dec. 1-30, 2018

Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr. (50 E. Congress Pkwy) at Michigan Ave.

Why: Going to the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” is also a Chicago holiday tradition. It was beautifully re-imagined  last year by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon as a visit by Marie and her mother to the 1893 World’s Fair. The mysterious Great Impresario turns the visit into an adventure. And it is all set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music.

How: Find tickets and information at Joffrey Nutcracker


What: Lookingglass Theatre’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Nov. 7, 2018 through Jan. 13, 2019.

Where: Lookingglass theatre is in the Chicago Water Works at 821 N Michigan Ave, Chicago.

Why: Lookingglass productions are highly innovative, well acted and engrossing. This tale based on a Hans Christian Andersen story is being staged as an exciting spectable by ttalented, creative Mary Zimmerman.

How: Tickets and information are at Lookingglass Theatre.



Good gift shopping at the Field Museum (J Jacobs photo)
Good gift shopping at the Field Museum (J Jacobs photo)

What: The Field Museum Store, anytime

Where: The Field is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, the furthest west building on the Museum Campus.

Why: The museum has a fantastic gift shop with items that would appeal to all ages.

How: For hours and admission visit Field Museum or shop on line


What: Christkindlmarket Chicago, daily Nov. 16-Dec. 24, 2018 and Naperville Thursday through Sunday Nov. 23-Dec. 24 2018.

Where: In Chicago at Daley Plaza on Washington Street between Dearborn and Clark Streets and in Naperville  at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St.

Why: It’s fun to see, buy and taste the type of Bavarian gifts and treats popular at holiday markets in Germany.

How: More information is at Christkindlmarket


What: Art Institute of Chicago Gift Shop, anytime

Where:  On line and at the museum, front entrance at 111 S. Michigan Ave. and the Modern Wing entrance at 159 E. Monroe St.

Why: Gift shop entrances do not need admission fees or tickets. The shops carry one-of-a kind gifts that won’t bust the budget. The Modern Wing has good glass items and the main gift shop has excellent jewelry and ties. Both  shops have Frank Lloyd Wright  items and gifts inspired by other artists. Also visitors like to take holiday  photos with the wreathed lions in front.

How: For hours visit the museum at artic.

Spectacular lights and sights

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo

What: Lincoln Park Zoo Lights Nov. 23-Jan.6

Where: In Lincoln Park at 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago

Why: See the animals while strolling among 2,5 million lights thanks to Com Ed and Invesco. Also visit Santa, watch ice carving, sip warm spiced wine, snack on holiday treats and watch a 3D light show.

How: Find hours and admission at LPZoo Zoolights.


What: Chicago Botanic Garden Lights and Wonderland Express Nov. 23-Dec. 21,2018

Where: 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

Why: the Garden’s event is called Wonderland Express but before going into the building that has trains zipping through Chicago landmarks, see trees and walkways lit by thouands of lights and visit the greenhouses’ topiaries and poinsettias. Then don’t worry about the “snow” falling on shoulders inside the exhibit building. It’s all about fun and winter wonders.

How: For hours and admission visit Chicago Botanic/Wonderland


What: Morton Arboretum Illumination Nov. 17, 2018-Jan 1, 2019

Where: The grounds of the Morton Aroboretum at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle.

Why: These lights don’t stay still. They change color, they move to music, they’re interactive and Illumination, supported by Com Ed and Invesco, is fun.

How:: See hours and admission at MortonArb/Lights


Jodie Jacobs