‘James and the Giant Peach’ is a sweet treat at Marriott Theatre


Cast of “James and the Giant Peach” at Marriott Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)


Introducing young theatregoers to the delights of musical storytelling leaps off the page of the famous Roald Dahl novel at the Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences in Lincolnshire.

“James and the Giant Peach” is the perfect way to introduce young theatergoers to enjoying live musical theatre. The hour-long performance is suited for audiences of all ages as they watch the fantastical musical come to life. 

In traditional Roald Dahl fashion, James is an orphan forced to live with his two screechy aunts who are anything but nice to him. When he is sent to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion that turns an ordinary peach tree into a gigantic peach.

All of a sudden, he finds himself among a group of larger-than-life insects who quickly become the family he is missing. They go on adventures in the ocean ending up at the Empire State Building in New York City. Along the way they learn that they must work together to survive.

Humor, music, and comedic antics weave their way through this wonderful performance. The music by the Tony Award-nominated team of Pasek and Paul (La La LandDear Evan Hansen) is catchy and fun.

Starring is the always wonderful Alex Goodrich as Ladahlord. Lucy Godinez as Aunt Sponge and Leah Morrow as Aunt Spiker are hysterical with quirky costumes to match. The young James is played by the talented Kai Edgar.

The show is directed and choreographed by Tommy Rapley with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson. Kudos to costume designer Amanda Vander Byl for her amazing insect and character costumes.  They are colorful and fun.

Each performance is followed by a question-and-answer session with the cast.  The show plays most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10 am with select 12:30 pm performances and plenty of Spring Break performances. 

Also currently playing at the Marriott is Lin Manuel’s “In the Heights” now through March 17, 2024. Next up is The Music Man opening April 10.

“James and the Giant Peach” is the perfect way to introduce young theatergoers to enjoying live musical theatre.

Details:” James and the Giant Peach” runs through March 30 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire. For tickets, call Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit   www.MarriottTheatre.com

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

Reclamation of Invisible Lives


Manny Buckley and Jon Hudson Odom in "The Reclamation of Madison Hemings" by American Blues Theater. (Michael Brosilow)

(L to R) Manny Buckley and Jon Hudson Odom in “The Reclamation of Madison Hemings” at American Blues Theater. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 Stars

Can you free yourself from the past, particularly if your past was filled with unhappiness? Can you find the good times you remembered? Can you shake loose the pain or reclaim your legacy? These are some of the themes explored by playwright Charles Smith in “The Reclamation of Madison Hemings” on stage at the American Blues Theater. 

Shortly after the end of the Civil War two former slaves ruminate on their experiences living and working within Monticello, the estate of former President Thomas Jefferson.

Arriving at Monticello as a boy, Israel Gillette Jefferson (Manny Buckley) was originally assigned to making nails in the nailery with his brother, Moses. Eventually he was moved into the house as a fetcher, rising to the position of footman at the time of Jefferson’s death.

Madison Hemings (Jon Hudson Odom), together with his siblings, lived a life of comparative privilege by slavery standards. They were the product of the union between the former President of the United States and his slave, Sally Hemings.

Brothers Israel and Moses were auctioned off after the death of Jefferson and had vowed to meet at Montecillo on the anniversary of their purchase date if ever they were freed. Madison was freed as part of a stipulation in Jefferson’s will. After emancipation they found themselves as neighbors settled in Pike County, Ohio.

Madison has now agreed to accompany Israel to reclaim a bit of their past. In doing so they are reunited in spirit with family and friends who lived and died alongside them in bondage and provided what little love and support they were able to find in a cruel and oppressive system.

Centered around a campfire, the banter between the two is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” as the two men, seemingly suspended in time, conjecture and bicker about whether Moses has come and gone, whether he is delayed or whether he will come at all.

The playwright’s dialog in this well produced production gives voice to a traditionally unheard side of American History. It is peppered with humor that establishes an obvious underlying bond between the two men who do not always share the same point-of-view regarding the effects of the war, their new station in life, their view of the man who controlled them, nor how much longer they should linger.

Credit to director Chuck Smith who no doubt contributed to the natural cadence and rhythm that comes to life from the mouths of Odom and Buckley. Their conversations enlighten us as to the peculiar realities of the Monticello household, including the obvious hypocrisy of the person who penned “All men are created equal” into the Constitution of the United States. This is all done without preaching or lecturing.

There is the matter of a reference to a blind white mule often heard braying offstage. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this device represents echoes of slavery. Though out-of-sight, starving and debilitated it is not easily silenced and not yet dead.

In regard to stagecraft the scenic design and props by Jonathan Berg-Einhorn were suitably evocative, with the presence of a large buckboard wagon offering an imposing sense of time and place.

The costumes of Lily Wallis demonstrated an appreciative attention to detail down to the bow-tied gatherings of Israel’s long-johns. I did however find the lighting by Jared Gooding and Rachel West to be flat. With the exception of an impending storm it did not add much to the atmospherics or mood.

This was my first visit to the new home of the well-respected award-winning American Blues Theater one block north of Bryn Mawr on Lincoln Avenue.

It was refreshing to see that the theater’s board, under the leadership of Executive Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, elected to add a bit of style to the design rather than go with a simply barebones “get away as cheap as we can” approach. The seats are comfortable and relatively spacious in terms of leg room.

The proscenium stage proportionally seems unusually wide compared to its depth especially as the theater seating area is also more wide than deep. Though not technically a thrust the generous apron provides a gentle curve that adds an even greater sense of intimacy for the 137-seat audience.

The spacious contemporary look of the lobby and theater, sporting wood paneling with metal detailing, belies the building’s humble history as a former Walgreen’s and most recently a Dollar General. I live only about three blocks away and am happy to have ABT as a new neighbor.

DETAILS: “The Reclamation of Madison Hemings” is at American Blues Theater, 5627 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, through March 24, 2024. Running time is a little more than 90 minutes with a short intermission. For tickets and information visit  www.americanbluestheater.com or call (773) 654-3103.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Two diverse cultures wonderously offer support during an accidental overnight visit


Egyptian band members, Rom Barkhordar and Armand Akbari, hear Israeli cafe owner Dina’s (Sophie Madorsky) thoughts in “The Band Visit – The Musical” at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow).

Highly Recommended

When an Egyptian Police Unit’s professional band ends up in the desert Israeli town of Bet Hatikva overnight instead of at the cultural center in a large Israeli community due to the similarity in town names, both sides, the musicians and town residents, take away a better understanding of their own lives by dawn. That is the basic plot of “The Band’s Visit.”

I loved the show when it was simply a 2007 screenplay by Eran Kolirin because it delicately entered the life situations of the band members and of the residents.

Audience members of Writers Theatre in Glencoe where it is now appearing through March 17, will find the basic premise is still there but the production, now a 2018 multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway musical by composer David Yazbek and book writer Ithamar Moses, has drastically changed the show. I don’t think it is better or worse. It’s just different. There is even a roller-skating rink (with appropriate musical number) in this desert town.

Audiences who saw “Once” at WT will recognize and love the introductory musical number and closing number as similar in beat, musical instruments and choreography. Not sure why they were used here unless they somehow represent the music at the destination’s cultural center but they don’t change the story line.

Directed by Zi Alikhan, the characters present their situations with sensitivity and also compassion for each other.

Dina, a cafe owner interpreted by Sophie Madorsky, is both sensual and empathetic as she interacts with Tewfiq, the band’s leader played by Rom Barkhordar. They sing “Something Different.” By the story’s end you learn of  Tewfiq’s tragic family story.

During the show you watch other band members getting to know and interact with residents who are having relationship problems. However different the musical is from its original intent, ‘The Band’s Visit” is a heartwarming and beautiful short story of two cultures coming together with support for each other.

DETAILS: “The Band’s Visit” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL., now through March 17,2024. Run time: 95 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information call (847) 242-6000) or go to www.writerstheatre.org.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit www.theatreinchicago.com.



Superb ‘Silent Sky’ reminds how gender matters

(L-R) Cameron Feagin, Anne Lentino, and Melissa Harlow (Photo by North Shore Camera Club

Highly recommended

First, I must reveal that Lauren Gunderson is my favorite contemporary playwright.  I loved her ATCA award-winning “The Book of Will,” a play about saving the works of William Shakespear and how they got published. She is among the most produced current American playwrights.

Gunderson often intertwines witty dialogue with historical matter while developing themes that have been overlooked. Such is “Silent Sky,” currently on stage at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest.

A true story based on what Ratcliff grad and astronomer Henrietta Leavitt faced in 1900 when she left Wisconsin and family to join the Harvard University Observatory, (she used her dowry to move and get settled), the play follows her discoveries and interaction with female coworkers called “computers” and a male who is the boss’ assistant.

Now imagine what it must have been like to be told she couldn’t touch much less use the famed telescope there. Picture her working after hours to explore the universe through photos that she and coworkers used in an office space called “the Harem” (really).

Do you think much has changed since then? Did you see the true NASA-related movie, “Hidden Figures?”

Through Gunderson’s words, finely interpreted by Melissa Harlow, Henrietta comes to life in the beautifully done Citadel show. 

The entire production is well cast with Cameron Feagin and Anne Lentino, both of the Promethean Theatre Ensemble that did the excellent “Blue Stocking,” as fellow computers in the Harem and Adam Thatcher as Peter Shaw, the assistant boss. Thatcher just did Citadel’s “She Loves Me.”

Even though the theater space is small and the stage is tiny, Trevor Dotson’s set design includes a proper area for Henrietta’s Wisconsin’s home that includes her sister Margaret’s piano.

Margaret, now a young mother played by the very talented Laura Michele Erle (also the co-writer of “Three Sisters, Four Women”), is composing a symphony.

Pulling it all together is Director Beth Wolf, a Jeff award nominee for Citadel’s “Outside Mullingar” production.

Details: “Silent Sky is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S, Waukegan Rd, Lake Forest, (West Campus of Lake Forest School District) now through March 17, 2023. Run time is about 2 hours including one intermission. For tickets and other information visit www.citadeltheatre.org or call 847-735-8554.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago





‘Heights brings hip hop and rap to Marriott Theatre


The cast of “In the Heights” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

The cast of “In the Heights” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. (Photo by Liz Lauren)


With “In the Heights” Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire takes on Lin-Manuel Miranda (music and lyrics) and Quiara Alegria Hudes (book) musical that is arguably very different from the longtime traditional shows presented there.

And audiences know that immediately when a street artist Graffiti Pete (Phillip Wood) opens the show by spray painting an awning outside a neighborhood store and performs hip-hop style. 

The musical goes on to tell about a distraught, mostly Domincan Latino community in Upper Manhattan’s NYC’s Washington Heights  neighborhood that s worried about family, work, rent and changing times.

It centers on Usnavi (Joseph Morales) who runs the community’s bodega (small grocery/convenience store) inherited from his parents.

 But it also deals with problems of love, parental approval and making it outside the community’s cultural boundaries.

If you go: Don’t expect “West Side Story” style songs and dances. “In the Heights” pulses to a very different beat. Think “Hamilton” which Miranda wrote and uses different rhythms.

“In the Heights” is at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, through March 17u, 2024.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Old romance conflict revived at Citadel Theatre



On the one hand it’s hard to review a show that is dated. At least, that is the feeling audience members may get watching “She Loves Me” at Citadel Theatre. The show is a Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick, Joe Masteroff muscial with award-winning revivals that started out in 1937 as “Perfumerie” by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo.

It went on to become the film “The Shop Around the Corner” in 1940 then redone as “In the Good Old Summertime.”

The action takes place as the seasons change but mainly during the holidays. However, this is not a family Christmas show. (except for older teens who may appreciate the more risqué parts in a café and the excekkent choreography by Amanda Schmidt in the Perfumerie.)

By the end of the first act, and it is a long first act, minds can also be changed.

What started out as somewhat stilted workplace activities, conversations and rifts, developed into a romantic confrontation, resolution and possible workplace disasters.

Once we meet and get to know Amalia Balash well-played by Hannah Louise Fermandes and nicely done by Georg Nowack portrayed by Travis Ascione as the verbally dueling couple who start out on the wrong foot, the action, directed by Director Matthew Silar, grows on you until you care about their conflict resolution and those of other characters. Kudos also go to Jake Busse as the café waiter.

Considering how small Citadel’s stage is the scenic design by Eric Luchen is perfect.  It includes an excellent side balcony style space for a quintet led by keyboardist Rex Mayer.  

“She Loves Me” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL from  Nov. 17 through Dec. 17/   Running time 2 ½ hrs. For tickets and other information visit Citadel Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago



Beautiful tells how King classics came to be


(Kaitlyn Davis as Carole King in “Beautiful” at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire)

3 1/2 Stars

The audience at the Wednesday Marriott opening of “Beautiful: the Carole King Musical,” are likely familiar with such classic songs as “You’ve Got a Friend,” “So Far Away,” “Up on the Roof,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

But I wonder if they know that the person who wrote them started out as a teenage songwriting phenom who had skipped two grades in school and whose mom wanted her to continue her classical piano studies.

Or that she started out as a pop composer whose first husband, Gerry Gofin, did the lyrics while she wrote the music.

Or that the grand piano on stage at the show’s start would actually reappear at the show’s end in Carnegie Hall.

With terrific dance and song examples, “Beautiful’s” long Act I showed  how the music of the King-Gofin partnership was picked up and performed by well-known groups.

(“Beautiful” at Marriott shows how major performers adopted the King-Gofin songs) 

The shorter Act II is about that partnership’s on-off crises and split up that led King to going it alone and her concert at Carnegie Hall. The show could have an Act III about all her awards, more partnerships and more songs plus her award-winning “Tapestry” album.

However, King’s “Beautiful” journey as performed at the Marriott Theatre is in the wonderful, over-the-top hands of Kaitlyn Davis from the national tour of “Beautiful.” BTW, Davis is also an accomplished pianist and songwriter.

Her co-star, Andrew Mueller, who is the brother of the Mueller sisters who performed “Beautifu”l on Broadway and the national tour, has impressive credits in Chicago area theater. He does an excellent portrayal of Gofin.

(Song-writing rivals and friends, Cynthis Weil (Erica Stephan) and Barry Mann, (Justin Albinde) )

A good picture of the song business is the delightfully done inclusion of couple Cynthis Weil portrayed by Erica Stephan, and Barry Mann, played by Justin Albinder. 

Well directed by Jessica Fisch, “Beautiful” is basically a “jukebox” show that will bring back lots of musical memories.  

“Beautiful: the Carole King Musical” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, Il now through Dec. 31, 2023.

For tickets and more information visit Beautiful/MarriottTheatre

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago





Brigadoon has reappeared


(Conor Jordan and Zachery Linnert)

4 Stars

With such Lerner and Lowe songs as “Almost Like Bein’ in Love” and “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” it would be hard to not put on a fine musical. However, Brigadoon, now presented at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts by Music Theater Works, goes beyond merely “fine.”

Everything, from the voices and acting to dance numbers by Clayton Cross and costuming by Jazmin Aurora Medina, are spectacular. And that is happening, unlike the last Music Theater Works of “Springtime for Hitler” on the large stage. This production is crammed onto the small North Theatre stage.

But it works.

Directed by Sasha Gerritson and choreographed by Cross, the show features a sterling cast of ballet-style dancers and such exceptional singers in the lead as Conor Jordan as Tommy Albright and Sarah Obert as Fiona.

Albright and Fiona fall in love but the catch is the Scottish town of Brigadoon will disappear for one hundred years. Albright, an American who stumbled on it while exploring the country with his friend, Jeff (Zachery Linnert), returns with him to America and his somewhat jaded existence.

What happens next is that Love conquers all. 

As with “Springtime,” the show has a large supporting cast of singers, actors and dancers – Madison Kauffman, Luke Nowakowski, Stan Austin , Will Leonard, Bob Sanders, Susannah Harvey, Kent Joseph, Timothy Wolf, Adam Raso, Delaney Good, Isa Ramirez, Jimmy Hogan, Anna Marie Abbate, Emma Jean Eastlund, Theresa Egan, David Geinosky, Dee Kimpel, Olivia Russell, Alex Villasenor, Chad Gearig-Howe and Renee Dwyer.

Go see it before Brigadoon disappears. The production is at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL through Nov. 12, 2023. For more information and tickets visit Music Theater Works | Great Music. Great Theater. The Works.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Chrisite defines what is a mousetrap


Cast O Mousetrap at Citadel Theater. (North Shore Photography Club photo)
Cast O Mousetrap at Citadel Theater. (North Shore Photography Club photo)



If you have seen “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s 1952 murder mystery that is still alive on stage in London, don’t give away the “who done-it” part.

 With a reasonable run time of 2 hours, 20 minutes that includes a 15-minute intermission, the first act ends the play with you likely wondering, who is the next murder victim.

Directed by Scott Westerman who brilliantly presented Citadel’s award-winning “The Chrisians,” he has staged “Moustrap similar to a farce with characters moving in and out of doorways then appearing elsewhere.

 As to the cast, they are mostly projected as somewhat overblown stereotypical characters that fit the “farce” slant.

So ask yourself who are these people, really? All the audience knows is that they are guests in the newly opened Monkswell Manor operated by newlyweds Mollie Ralston (Mary Margaret McCormack) and husband Giles (Jack Sharkey).

Next on the scene is a young, overly hyper lad named for architect Christopher Wren played by Jesus Barajas.

He is followed by Kristie Berger as the old maidish, times-have-changed Mrs. Boyle and William Ryder as  the pleasant Major Metcalf.

Into the mix is Amy Stricker as Miss Casewell will drops hints that she had a difficult childhood.

The seemingly strangest character is Mr. Paravicini portrayed by Reginald Hemphill as an uninvited guest. He seems inordinately pleased with the guests’ makeup.

Last on stage is Detective Sergeant Trotter. Played by Sean Erik Wesslund, he first appears in the Inn’s big window on skis because the house is cut off by a persistent snowstorm.

Speaking of snow, the video created by cinematographer Ian Merritt adds drama to the show as does a strange mirror and other special effects.

So, don’t misread Westerman’s farcical handling of “Mousetrap.” Christie and Westerman are “dead” serious about the plot.

It supposedly was inspired by a real case about gravely mistreated children. It may lead some viewers to consider a case now in the news and the Illinois legal system.

 Originally called “Three Blind Mice,” the nursery rhyme’s song is played in the background and thus raising the questions who are the mice and is the inn acting as a mousetrap?

DETAILS:  Mousetrap is Sept. 15-Oct. 15 at Citadel Theatre Company, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL. For tickets and information call (847) 735-8554, x1, or visit Citadel Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

For the Love of Dance


(Maddy Shilts, Whitney Wolf, Ben Isabel, Ben Paynic,  Luis Del Valle, Elizabeth Bushell, Madelynn Oztas) 


Directed by Wayne Mell, this Madkap Production of “A Chorus Line” at the Skokie Theatre, is on pointe. It taps into the essence of love and dedication to the art of dance.

“A Chorus Line” is an anthology of songs and monologues bringing to light the collective motivations and inspirations that keep people involved in a mentally and physically demanding occupation.

Through the individual stories and seemingly endless rehearsals we are reminded of the hard work and athleticism required to make moving to music look artful and effortless. All of that requires intense dedication while offering only rare substantial successes.

Onerous choreographer Zach played by Sean M.G. Caron, cajoles a select group of hopeful chorus applicants into revealing some of their deepest secrets while continually drilling them on numerous dance routines. He is barking orders all the time to lift their chin, raise their arms and smile less while looking like they’re having fun.

From those who survive the ordeal only a handful will be selected.

In the song “What I Did For Love,” (music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban) beautifully sung by Diana (Marcela Ossa Gomez), she says of the grueling work and unmet promises “We did what we had to do – – Won’t forget, can’t regret — What I did for love.” In this context it’s the love of the craft, the love of dance.

It may be a useful reminder that when first staged in in 1975, frank conversations about sexuality in general and homosexuality specifically were unusual and a bit shocking for theater goers. In “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” the ensemble shares stories of puberty, adolescence and sexual awakening.

But in “Dance 10: Looks 3” (a reference to her performance score) dancer Val (Lili Javorka) lightens the mood in a song more commonly referred to as “Tits and Ass” where she reveals that surgically enhancing those assets improved her career.

It cannot be overlooked that the intense, nearly nonstop two-hour score by Hamlisch is a workout for the production pianist, in this case, the extremely capable musical director Jeremy Ramey who must also be credited with the precision of the ensemble vocal numbers and that the musical subtleties and multi-voice harmonies within the songs were preserved and celebrated.

Though there were a few obvious “ringers” the vocal capabilities of the cast exceeded their dancing “chops.” But that does not detract from their earnest effort led by choreographer Susan Pritzker.

The production is a substantial aerobic workout that requires continual attention to complicated footwork and challenging movements, all while singing, talking or being otherwise engaged with what is happening on stage

The onstage leadership of dance captain Ben Paynic, echoed by his character of Larry, was amusing and quietly assuring. In a sense he represented the ideal that all of the rehearsal was supposed to finally achieve.

Set design by Scott Richardson could not be more minimal, consisting of a few mylar sheets as mirrors on the back wall flanking an opening that exposed the backstage area and pianist.

I get that this was supposed to be a rehearsal area and admittedly the Skokie Theatre stage is already a bit small for a show with a large dance ensemble. But when there were only one or two people in a scene, they seemed lost in space.

For instance, in the scene between Zach and Paul (Luis Del Valle) a simple chair might have grounded them and given them a reference point.  Likewise, the lighting was virtually nonexistent, being fully up most of the time. This made me as an audience member feel like I was watching a rehearsal and not in a good way

Again, in the previously mentioned scene or during Cassie’s (Sarah Sapperstein) solo dance, some isolating lighting might add to the intimacy of these moments.

Sadly, the costumes by Patti Halajian were overall a miss for me, in this show, where there is so much fun and interesting off-the-rack potential.

The biggest faux pas was the finale which aside from being generally ill-fitting was way too much bling for this small space. What’s important in the finale is that the chorus line be uniform and synchronized. Save the glitter for a larger venue.

Each individual cast member did an outstanding job on their spotlight performances. A standout for me was Emma Drazkowski as Maggie while my wife thought Whitney Marie Wolf as Judy “was the real deal.” I also thought Del Valle’s scene was very moving.

Aside from a few minor gaffs as mentioned this show was great fun and very enjoyable. The full house is a further indication that Madkap provides an important function in Skokie, offering competent entertaining live theater experiences to the Northshore communities in a convenient, comfortable, modern venue.

DETAILS: “A Chorus Line” is at the Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave, Skokie, IL through October 8, 2023. Running time is 2 hours with no intermission. For tickets and information visit http://skokietheatre.org or call (847)677-7761.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

Photo by MadKap Productions