‘Mlima’s Tale’

Mlima's Tale at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Mlima’s Tale at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

“Mlima’s Tale,” a Midwest Premiere by Griffin Theatre, is a sensitive and heartrending depiction of greed, and specifically, the corruption associated with the illegal sale of elephant ivory that results in the daily  slaughter of approximately 100 of these endangered animals.

The production follows the life and death of Mlima, a roughly 45-year-old male African elephant. Described as a “big tusker,” he is killed by poachers while living in a protected refuge in Kenya.

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‘Almost Heaven’ in Munster

 

"Almost Heaven: John Denver's America" at Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN. ( Photo by Guy Rhodes0
“Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America” at Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN. ( Photo by Guy Rhodes0

3  stars

Seeing “Almost Heaven,” will bring recollections of John Denver’s backstory.

Denver’s music was considered to be more or less middle-of-the-road if not downright conservative in the wake of rising stars like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

This issue is confronted early in the latest jukebox boomer music revival, “Almost Heaven-John Denver’s America,” at The Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN..

The popular singer/songwriter eventually emerged as the nascent voice of the environmental movement with songs like “Calypso” that championed the work of Jacques Cousteau, as well as “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Wild Montana Skies” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” They unabashedly and exuberantly celebrated the magnificence and simple beauty of nature.

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Charming update of classic fairytale

 

Ruth (Marielle Nada Issa) finds it hard to sleep in The Princess and the Pea. (Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)
Ruth (Marielle Nada Issa) finds it hard to sleep in The Princess and the Pea. (Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre)

3 stars

Youngsters recently made up the majority of the “Princess and the Pea” audience, now at Marriott Theatre.  But their parents and grandparents were also in for a treat.

Although the show, a new musical, is part of Marriott’s series geared to the young set with  productions a mere hour long, followed by a Q and A, the cast is made-up of in-demand Chicago actors.

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The ‘Queen of Disco’

‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’

The Donna Summer musical in Chicago (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
The Donna Summer Musical in Chicago (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

3 stars

They sound like a good idea on paper, and there have been dozens bouncing around Broadway and on National Tours over the years, but the jukebox musical isn’t much more than a concert with some narrative.

There are two formats in this style of musical theatre. There’s the show that creates an original story and characters, but instead of using new music to further the plot, the songs of one or more artists are featured instead.

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A witty and acerbic view of family dynamics and expectations

Latimore, Gerard, Bakari, Henning in Stick Fly at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Latimore, Gerard, Bakari, Henning in Stick Fly at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

4 stars

“Stick Fly,’ Lydia R. Diamond’s intelligent dramedy now at Writers Theatre, has so many angles and thought-provoking lines that audiences are likely not to notice it runs somewhat more than two and a half hours (with an intermission).

Early on there is the realization that “wasps” don’t have a patent on upper-middle class expectations regarding their progeny’s careers or mates. The story presents the wealthy, highly educated African American LeVay family as they settle in for a relaxing weekend at their second home, a well-appointed “cottage” on Martha’s Vineyard.

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‘The Fantasticks’ becomes a delightful throwback at Citadel

Cast of The Fantasticks at Citadel Theatre. (North Shore Camera Club photo)
Cast of The Fantasticks at Citadel Theatre. (North Shore Camera Club photo)

3 stars

There is a lot of leeway when staging the 1960 Harvey Schmiidt (music) Tom Jones (lyrics) “The Fantasticks.” The show, now at the intimate Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, is among the best productions I’ve seen of a play that normally makes my “least favorite” list. I’ve seen it overly long and boring and overly clever and gimmicky.

However, under the direction of Pat Murphy (“A Christmas Carol,” Deathtrap”) Citadel’s show charmingly mixes old-timey, unsophisticated character portrayals with humorous, burlesque-style staging, set design and movement.

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A Gershwin of a Show

 

An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

An American in Paris

4 stars

Five years ago this highly-anticipated stage version of the 1951 Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron musical film classic burst upon Broadway. After playing Paris, New York and the West End, and launching a two-year National Tour that played Chicago, we finally have our own regional production.

It is truly magnificent. It’s elegant, romantic, gorgeously produced and beautifully danced and sung. For anyone who adores those classic movie musicals and big, old-fashioned, splashy theatrical productions, this is the show for you.

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Glorious vocals shine against spare set in ‘Madama Butterfly’

 

Ana María Martínez in Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Ana María Martínez in Madama Butterfly at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

4 stars

Brian Jagde’s powerful tenor and Ana Maria Martinez’s delicate and expressively lyrical soprano were worth the slosh through the snow for Lyric Opera’s opening of “Madama Butterfly,” Thursday.

No matter how audiences feel about Giacomo Puccini’s anti-hero, US Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton, and his callous disregard of a 15-year-old Geisha’s heart, or the disastrous results, it is the composer’s arias, duets and a subtle chorus that make “Madama Butterfly” an opera-house staple and featured in concerts.

However, what original director Michael Grandage’s bare-bones production (revived by director Louisa Muller with set and costume designed by Christoper Oram), does, is to deliberately allow the leads to shine without the distraction of elaborate set changes and people movement.

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Nothing cheesy about ‘The Mousetrap’ at Court Theatre

David Cerda, Allen Gilmore and Kate Fry in Mousetrap at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
David Cerda, Allen Gilmore and Kate Fry in Mousetrap at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

4 stars

Many people familiar with Airbnb these days can probably appreciate issues related to inviting visitors into your home or at least dealing with travelling public.

In this popular Agatha Christie mystery, five distinctly eccentric individuals have each booked their stay on the inaugural weekend opening of Monkswell Manor, a country guesthouse owned and operated by Mollie and Giles Ralston (Kate Fry, Allen Gilmore).

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Dancing near the river

 

Riverdance cast at Cadillac P:alace Theatre in Chicago (Jack Hartin Photo)
Riverdance cast at Cadillac P:alace Theatre in Chicago
(Jack Hartin Photo)

4 stars

“Riverdance” has played for a quarter of a century. Now appearing in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, the company is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Composed by Bill Whelan, produced by Moya Doherty and directed by John McColgan, Riverdance’s folk-driven exciting sounds and steps have been loved by people of all ages.

In 1995, the show’s premiere was in Dublin with Irish and international music and dance. Then it went to London followed by a hugely successful tour begn in New York in 1996.

During the next two decades, “Riverdance” toured North America, Asia, Europe, Oceania, South Africa, and South America. It has been a favorite Grammy Award-winning show all over the world!

Trading taps at the Riverdance show in Chicago. (Jack Hartin Photo)
Trading taps at the Riverdance show in Chicago. (Jack Hartin Photo)

The Riverdance Irish troupe was 24 dancers, with the six principals being Will Bryant, Maggie Darlington, Anna Mai Fitzpatrick, Patrick O’Mahony, Jason O’Neill, and Gianna Petracic.

The Riverdance tappers were Lamont Brown and Tyler Knowlin. And there were also additional dancers in the Russian folk dance troupe.

Not only was the audience thrilled with the dancing, but the singers, drums, saxophone, fiddles and whistles made the music fabulous. And the background showed many places, beginning with the river and continuing through many areas with spectacular lighting and beautiful costume designs.

DETAILS: “Riverdance” is at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre at 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago through Feb. 9 2020/. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call Broadway In Chicago at (800) 775-2000, or go visit Broadway in Chicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago