The World Goes Round thanks to outstanding Marriott cast

 

Broadway, regional and Marriott stars in Kander and Ebb revue at Marriott Theatre. L, Amanda Rose, Allison . Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.(Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)
Broadway, regional and Marriott stars in Kander and Ebb revue at Marriott Theatre. L-R, Amanda Rose, Allison Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.(Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)

4 Stars

 

“We’re back!”  The opening line, really a shout from the five performers of Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire’s “The World Goes Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb,” was met with a roar and applause from the audience on opening night, Sept. 23,  2021  The show, a musical revue, was in previews since Sept. 15 and continues through Nov. 7, 2021.

What the audience saw as they took their seats was a stage that looked as if one of Kander and Ebb’s shows was “struck” as long as a year and a half ago and joined by props from past shows.

It was all brought back to life with superb solos, duets, trios and dance numbers by Broadway, regional and Marriott performers Amanda Rose, Allison E. Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Meghan Murphy and Kevin Earley.

Blackwell started the show on a fine mezzo soprano note with a beautiful rendition of “And the World Goes ‘Round.”

The revue moved from strength to strength with a funny version of “Coffee in Cardboard Cup sung by the cast followed by “The Happy Time” by versatile baritone Earley who later did a fantastic “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Murphy, an  exuberant redhead, infused numbers such as “Colored Lights” and “Ring Them Bells” with the joyous fervor needed now. Byrd, an accomplished character-style singer who can easily  move from a funny “Sara Lee” to a not so funny “Mr. Cellophane,” excels in the show’s dance movements. He and  Rose did a long “Shoes Dance” number that  brought a collective audience “Wow.” Rose , an actor/singer performed a wickedly funny “Arthur in the Afternoon.”

My favorite number, watch for it, was a gorgeous blending of songs by a trio of Blackwell, Murphy and Earley.

Of course, since this was a Kander and Ebb revue, it included “And All That Jazz, “Money, Money” and “Cabaret” but the number some people were humming was the final number “New York, New York.”

Kudos have to go to director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, orchestra conductor Patti Garwood, music director Ryan t. Nelson, Set designer Christopher Rhoton and the costume designer Sally Ratke.

DETAILS: “The World Goes Round: The songs of Kander and Ebb” is at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire now through Nov. 7, 2021. Run time: 90 minutes (an approved abridged version).  Attendees must wear face coverings and present a vaccination card. For tickets and more information visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Brighton Beach Memoirs captures family life on brink of WWII

 

Brighton Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre L-R: Siah Berlatsky, Ron Quade, Shaya Harris (back to camera), Abby Lee, Juliana Liscio, Danny Mulae (face obscured), and Monica Castle (Photos by North Shore Camera Club))
Brighton Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre L-R: Siah Berlatsky, Ron Quade, Shaya Harris (back to camera), Abby Lee, Juliana Liscio, Danny Mulae (face obscured), and Monica Castle
(Photos by North Shore Camera Club)

4 Stars

 

Live theatre is now alive and well at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest!

Opening their season after the pandemic is playwright Neil Simon’s warm and wonderful, “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” tells the story of Eugene Jerome, a young man who desires to be a writer and starts with what he knows best, his own downtrodden family. The time is 1937 in Brooklyn and undertones of the brewing war in Europe are laced throughout the play. America is well aware of the news, but wants no part of it.

Eugene, who also serves as the narrator and talks to the audience about his plight, has his own issues of teenage angst while dreaming of being a baseball player and lusting after his older cousin.

The trials and tribulations of not having enough money for his two parents, brother Stanley, widowed Aunt Blanche and her two daughters who live with them — loom large. Unemployment, gambling, sickness are all part of daily life.

Yet in typical Neil Simon fashion, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry, all within a few minutes.

Siah Berlatsky as Eugene has just the right amount of high energy and pathos to light up every scene. The audience really sympathizes with him and at the same time, recognizes his bright, successful future ahead.

Siah Berlatsky as EugeneBrighton in Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre.
Siah Berlatsky as EugeneBrighton in Beach Memoirs at Citadel Theatre.

Standouts include his put-upon mother Kate, played by Monica Castle, who carries the weight of everyone’s problems and must convey a range of raw emotions. She does so with great style. Ron Quade as patriarch Jack, who everyone relies on, plays his role with power, heart and a little bit of vulnerability

The cast also includes Abby Lee (Blanche), Danny Mulae (Stanley), Shaya Harris (Laurie), and Juliana Liscio (Nora) who work together to create a realistic family group and share their challenges.  You’ll cheer them on and hope for the best.

Citadel Theatre Artistic Director Scott Phelps and director of the production makes great use of the theatre space. Having the dining room table where much of the dialogue takes place creates a very intimate stage, making the audience feel like they are right there.

Also on the production team are Jeff award-winner Eric Luchen (Set Design), Colin Meyer (Costume Design) and Samuel Stephen (Lighting Design).

DETAILS: “Brighton Beach Memoirs” runs through October 17, 2021 at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan, Lake Forest. Run time:  Approximately 2 hours with one intermission.  Seating is limited and masks are required.

For tickets and other information visit  Citadel Theatre or call (847) 735-8554, ext. 1.

Mira Temkin

(For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago)

‘Kinky Boots’ kicks off delayed Paramount season with joy and stilettos

 

Devin DeSantis (L) is Charlie and Michael Wordly is Lola in Kinky Boots at Paramount Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Devin DeSantis (L) is Charlie and Michael Wordly is Lola in Kinky Boots at Paramount Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren.)

4 Stars

Nearly a year and a half after Paramount Theatre was abruptly forced to lower the curtains and dim the marquee due to COVID-19, the historic Aurora venue returns to live–and lively–performances with the regional premiere of “Kinky Boots.”

Directed by associate artistic producer and casting director Trent Stork, the Paramount production opens the theater’s 10th Anniversary Broadway Series season.

The feel-so-good musical, decked with high energy and loads of razzle-dazzle, is the perfect choice to lead theater-goers out of the darkness and into light and laughter. The 2013 Tony award winner for Best Musical features music and lyrics by Grammy-winner Cyndi Lauper, and a book rooted in fun, love and acceptance by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein.

“Kinky Boots” tells the story of Charlie Price who reluctantly takes over his late father’s failing shoe manufacturing company. By chance, he finds an unlikely partner in drag queen Lola, and the two learn they have more in common than they thought.

Paramount’s stellar cast of 34 actors, singers and dancers seems to exude exceptional vigor. They must be thrilled to be back on stage again. They’ve waited a long time for this.

All eyes are on Lola played by Paramount newcomer Michael Wordly. He shows extensive range, musically and dramatically from flamboyant to melancholy.

Charlie is expertly played by Devin DeSantis whose Paramount credits include “The Little Mermaid” and “Hairspray.” Wordly and DeSantis are strong soloists but their duet, “Not My Father’s Son,” is perhaps the most heartrending number in the show.

Another standout is Sara Reinecke playing Lauren, a factory worker who has eyes on Charlie. Her voice rings clear and powerfully, and every woman can relate to her mighty rendition of “The History of Wrong Guys.”

Fun fact: Cast members learned to make shoes from the Chicago Shoe Academy to be able to realistically act like factory workers.

The dance numbers, choreographed by Isaiah Silvia-Chandley and Michael George, impart high kicks, deep splits and leaps for joy. We were happy to see each of Lola’s Angels has a chance to strut her individual acrobatic moves.

The over-the-top embellishments of costume designer Ryan Park and wig, hair and makeup designer Katie Cordts are visually stunning. Their sartorial eye candy is flashy, splashy and sassy with just the right amount of trashy. Creative lighting effects by Greg Hofmann magnify the visual excitement on stage.

Also on the creative team are co-scenic designers Kevin Depinet and Christopher Rhoton. Music director Kory Danielson conducted the 12-piece Paramount Orchestra. In addition to serving as associate director, Darren Patin is a Chicago drag queen named Ari Gato.

COVID-19 safety guidelines as mandated by the State of Illinois are in place. Attendees must show proof of vaccination and photo ID. Masks must be worn throughout the building and during the performance. Covid restrictions are in place.

DETAILS: “Kinky Boots” is presented by Paramount Theatre in Aurora, 23 E. Galena Blvd., through Oct. 17, 2021. Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and other information, call 630-896-6666 or visit www.ParamountAurora.com.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

Seeing the world through dark glasses

 

'I Hate It Here' live online at Goodman theatre. (Photo by Flint Chaney)
‘I Hate It Here’ live online at Goodman theatre. (Photo by Flint Chaney)

2 stars

If someone you know or maybe even an anonymous someone on Facebook asks how are you coping with COVID, what do you say?  In “I Hate it Here,” a live streaming Goodman Theatre play by Ike Holter, actors representing different economic strata, backgrounds and race spew out their negative views of the world, often on top of each other’s thoughts.

Yes, we all often do talk at the same time. Fortunately, if you want to know what they said, there are subtitles because much of the spoken dialogue tumbles out like rushing water.

What in the first few of a dozen segments of complaints about people’s rudeness and empty or uncaring attitudes come across as brilliant in an “I’ can’t take it anymore” framework yelled from a window, merely becomes noise. As meaningful as the complaints are, and as good as the acting is,  the diatribe starts to sound like a broken record.

The exception was a verbal slow-down of a poignant dialogue between a white nurse and an injured black man who told her she could have said. “stop,” when she saw him attacked.

The pandemic’s lockdowns, mask wearing mandates and deaths of loved ones all coming on top of already existing societal evils have twisted our universe.

Hearing about societal problems in a play has historically been thought provoking and even led to change. But to accomplish that audiences, and later on, readers, need more contrasting elements and character depth than found in “I Hate It Here. The title sounds like a teenager’s slamming a bedroom or front door.

“I Hate It Here” streams live July 15-18, 2021. It is the third play of a live online trilogy presented by Goodman Theatre that began with ‘The Sound Inside,” May 13 16, followed by “Ohio State Murders”  June 17-20.  Individual tickets are $30. The trilogy was $60.

For tickets and other information visit Goodman Theatre/Here.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Related: ‘The Sound Inside

Jodie Jacobs

Hit Songs from the Fifties and Sixties to Hear Now

 

Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50's and 60's. (Photo by Bret Beiner))
Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50’s and 60’s. (Photo by Bret Beiner)) production

4 stars

Grab a seat. Enjoy summer outdoors listening to talented singers and musicians perform nearly 60 classic and cherished songs from the 1950s to the 1960s. Music Theater Works, the North Shore’s famed musical production company typically performing from Evanston venues, is doing  Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits outside Skokie’s North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, June of 2021.

While it is often a challenge to get audiences engaged, the performers and band faced no difficulty in doing so. Anyone who watches this show will undoubtedly want to join along in song and dance due to both the pure talent of the performers.

Co-directed by Music Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan and Martin L. woods, the performers’ strong and vibrant voices made the entire show come alive as they moved through the hit songs of such talents as Buddy Holly, Doris Day, The Supremes, Elvis, The Temptations,  George Harrison, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.

Additionally, the performance was heightened by the performers’ pure professionalism. The show flew smoothly from high energy number to number without missing a beat.

This show is an excellent choice for music lovers and a great escape to share with family and friends. Though the music might appeal more to older generations, younger people will definitely find enjoyment as they are introduced to less familiar classics. It is a must-see for anyone in the Chicagoland area looking for a talent-filled fun event.

Details: Music Theater Works’ Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits is  outside the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL 60076 from June 18th through June 27, 2021. Run time: Two hrs. 20 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission. For more show information and tickets visit MusicTheaterWorks.com/BoxOffice or call (847) 673-6300.

Charles Babikian

For more shows see Theatre in Chicago

 

A dark tale of a white whale

Moby Dick by Theatre in the Dark. Clockwise from top L: Robinson Cyprian, Corey Bradberry, Elizabeth McCoy, composer Nick Montopoli, and Mack Gordon. (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)
Moby Dick by Theatre in the Dark. Clockwise from top L: Robinson Cyprian, Corey Bradberry, Elizabeth McCoy, composer Nick Montopoli, and Mack Gordon. (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)

3 Stars

Theatre in the Dark metaphorically sets sail to harpoon the quintessential fish story that is “Moby Dick.”

Maybe you read it in high school or enjoyed Gregory Peck in the screen adaptation proffered one Sunday afternoon by Frazier Thomas on Family Classics, or maybe you’ve missed the story all together.

This 90-minute version of the tale crafted by producing artistic director Corey Bradberry captures the essence of Herman Melville’s classic seafaring novel. It does so in a kind of CliffsNotes fashion that preserves the storyline while doing fair justice to the primary characters including vivid descriptions of the elusive and menacing great white whale, itself.

No need to keep your eyes peeled. Theatre in the Dark is a Chicago based  company specializing in telling stories through sound so this production can be more accurately described as a live radio drama. In this case, it is broadcast via the Internet on Zoom.

The voice of Elizabeth McCoy as the narrator, Ishmael, has a fresh and active timbre. She provides a colorful tone that becomes the foundation of the aural composition.

However, her delivery, at times, is more reminiscent of a Saturday morning children’s librarian than that of an experienced youth intimately recounting details of a horrific, bone-chilling odyssey.

In his portrayal of third mate Stubb, Mack Gordon provides a grizzled gruff but kindly attitude that is imbued with a sense of camaraderie and discipline as well as a longing for home.

“Thar she blows!” He gives it the sweet taste of simple pleasures that have come to define the mental portrait of those hearty souls whose livelihood and willingness for adventure caused them to choose one of the most perilous vocations of all time.

The velvety basso tones of Robinson J. Cyprian as the vengefully obsessed and austere Captain Ahab offers the contrast needed to add aural dimension to the production while simultaneously suggesting the underlying foreboding of his true quest.

Augmented by original music of Nick Montopoli, the soundscape design of Bradberry and Gordon fully delivers the background auditory impressions required to set the stage. It puts the listener on the deck of the Pequod in the midst of the action.

Dim the lights. Don your foul weather gear. Then, settle down with your mug of grog to enjoy the recounting of this time-honored maritime adventure.

“Moby Dick” runs 90 minutes plus a 10 minute intermission. It is online through April 10, 2021. For tickets and information visit theatreinthedark..

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

A Christmas Carol in the dark

3 Stars

 Theatre in the Dark Christmas Carol (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)
Theatre in the Dark Christmas Carol (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)

Theatre in the Dark celebrates the end of 2020 with their spin on Charles Dickens’ beloved classic tale of self-reflection and repentance.

My first impulse is to suggest that this year more than others in recent memory is a perfect time to reflect on the disparities between the haves and the have-nots. But  I realize that human suffering and greed are continually with us to a greater or lesser degree and  that the Christmas spirit as defined by Dickens is our meager attempt once a year to rise above petty self-interests and consider the greater good. “God bless us, every one.”

“A Christmas Carol” is a fictional expose on the Victorian life and times of  Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, a character whose very name has become synonymous with miserliness, as in “That guy is a real Scrooge.”

In the story, this tightwad scrimps on coal in the winter months, begrudges his only clerk a day off to celebrate the Christmas holiday with the family and, in response to a solicitation of aid to the poor asks, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

When pointed out that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge suggests that “If they would rather die, they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

His comment exemplifies a degree of callousness and disregard for the welfare of others for no reason other than to hoard his wealth which we learn brings him no personal pleasure.

As the story begins, Scrooge is visited by the specter of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner. Marley warns of the torments he has endured in the afterlife as a result of his own greed and indifference. He suggests Scrooge may escape the same fate if he undergoes visitations with three additional apparitions – the ghosts of Christmas present, past and future.

Through a nightmarish one-night odyssey, Scrooge sees his negative effect on others, his disregard of positive role models and a lonely end and lamentable legacy if he does not change.

Dickens’ story continues to work as a modern day parable, revealing the darker nature that lurks within us all.

Scrooge’s journey of self-discovery demonstrates that we can each contribute by paying a little more attention to our place within our community and our part in society.

Observing the loving interactions of the Cratchit family and the kind words of nephew Fred, we realize that it is not just about money. We can be greedy with our emotions and personal interactions as well.

Dickens and the cast of Theater in the Dark also pull at our heart strings through the now iconic character of Tiny Tim who, in contrast to Scrooge, has come to exemplify innocent good cheer in the face of adversity and demonstrates that love does not require monetary wealth but can be given freely in abundance.

This iteration of “A Christmas Carol” is offered as an Internet version of a radio drama designed to be enjoyed in a now, largely bygone, aural tradition. Delivered via zoom it requires only a good set of speakers or a headset. The experience is very much like sitting around your living room reading aloud with friends.

There were no real standout performances though Corey Bradberry as Scrooge did a credible job weaving a thread of continuity throughout the production. The rest of the cast was more than adequate but really broke no new ground nor did they really rise to the level of any of the well-known movie versions or other well regarded stage adaptations.

Still, I do not fault Theatre in the Dark for taking a stab at this. After all, live theater is about having your crack at stepping into the skin of various characters and seeing what it’s like to be them.

This is an ensemble production with each of the actors Sarah Althen, Kathleen Puls, Mack Gordon, and Corey Bradberry playing several roles. The story was adapted and directed by Mack Gordon, featuring original music by Jake Sorgen with sound design by Gordon.

The danger of doing a classic is akin to being a cover band.  If you do not play exactly like the original you will be criticized for not being an exact replica. The other option is to be completely original so it is clear you are doing something fresh.

In this case, think Bill Murray’s version or the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, that has become a classic in its own right.

Unfortunately this company really did neither so the question becomes why choose this version over a number of other options? The main reason is the audio aspect.

If you or your kids have not experienced a radio drama you might find this a refreshing option. If the listener has no previous experience with the play they will be relieved of the burden of comparison.

Finally, Theater in the Dark offers a pay as you please option so it’s a great way to try something new while supporting smaller theater companies during the stay-at-home-period.

To be clear I did not dislike this performance but would put it into the realm of a very good reading as opposed to a thoughtfully well-crafted production. If you’re home with the kids, consider this as a way to develop listening skills sitting in the dark and enjoy some peaceful quiet time together.

Interestingly, the cast is simultaneously in Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver which expands the notion of live theater. The Internet performance is delivered via Zoom with the help of stage manager/sound engineer Cory Bradberry.

I listened via an iPad with amplified computer speakers connected via an analog cable which allowed me to easily adjust the volume in the room. There is no picture to be concerned with so screen sharing is basically a useless option. Also be forewarned that screen sharing via Zoom in most cases will not broadcast the audio so keep it as simple as possible by using a tablet or computer.

Theatre in the Dark is offering Live online performances of “A Christmas Carol” through December  24, 2020. Running time is about 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available at www.theatreinthedark.com.  For info only (no ticketing), call (312) 285-0314.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Reno Lovison

 

A broader Christmas Carol message

Manual Cinema A Christmas Carole (Photo courtesy of Manual Cinema)
Manual Cinema A Christmas Carole (Photo courtesy of Manual Cinema)

3 stars

Manual Cinema, an innovative company that blends story-telling, puppetry, actors, music and sound to tell a story, mixes Charles Dickens’ moralistic holiday tale with current phrases and crises in its premiere of “Manual Cinema A Christmas Carol.”

Given the current pandemic challenges, instead of presenting the show at Court Theatre where the company did “Frankenstein” or Chopin Theatre for “End of TV, its take on the Dickens’ story streams live to audiences per performance from Manual Cinema’s Chicago studio.

An early clue that audiences will be experiencing more than the basic story of Scrooge’s enlightenment, are the cards on a mantel behind actor/puppeteer N. LaOuis Harkins who introduces the story as Aunt Trudy and is the voice behind each character. The cards range from holiday wishes to get well and condolences.

“Trudy,” married to Joe whom she said died of COVID in August, is going through her late husband’s story-telling box of puppets. Her seemingly drawn-out reluctance to use them and present the tale for family members on zoom, makes sense at the end.

But the story needs to unfold so no ALERT here. Just appreciate the tale’s broader message. Oh, and have Kleenex handy for the graveyard scene.

The show is 60 minutes followed by chat time with performers. For tickets and more information visit Manual Cinema/Christmas Carol.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

A Dickens of a story

 

One-Man A Christmas Carol by Writers Theatre (Photo by Joe Mazza)
One-Man A Christmas Carol by Writers Theatre (Photo by Joe Mazza)

3 1/2 stars

So many Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to see On Demand, stream live or hear, such as Goodman Theatre’s audio drama. And so little time. Wait! With the pandemic still going on there is plenty of time to catch a couple more interpretations.

Among them is Writers Theatre’s “One-Man A Christmas Carol” acted, narrated and adopted by Artistic Director Michael Halberstam, reviewed here. Another one that will be reviewed tomorrow is Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol.”

Because each production is different and brings the strengths of a professional team, all three shows merit time and ticket. Given Dickens’ adroit telling of his moralistic, ghostly novella, “A Christmas Carol” is a story worth repeating.

Viewers of the Writers Theatre’s show, produced in collaboration with HMS Media and directed by Stanton Long, are sure to get caught up in Halberstam’s portrayal of Scrooge, the ghosts, the Cratchit family and assorted other characters.

Background projections occasionally add interest to the telling although it would work as well as a radio show. What does work for me is that, though annotated, Halberstam does use Dickens’ original words and phrases.

What I didn’t expect, considering how often I’ve seen different productions of “A Christmas Carol,” is to tear up during the ghost of what’s to come’s visit to the Cratchit household.

That poignant scene really showcased Halberstam’s fine acting.

For ticket and other information visit Writers Theatre or call (847) 242-6000.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

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 lookingglasstheatre.org

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

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