Luck be a lady

 

Alanna Lovely and the company of "Guys and Dolls" at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner)

Alanna Lovely and the company of “Guys and Dolls” at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beine

Recommended

Frank Loesser’s songs make Drury Lane’s production of “Guys and Dolls” work as a night out.

And hearing Erica Stephan sing in the role of missionary Sarah Brown is worth the price of admission. She is particularly right at home in her tipsy Havanna foray as she rings out “If I were a bell.”

That’s the good news.

But nice as the ensemble with Nicely Nicely Johnson (Nkrumah Gatling) is in “Sit down You’re Rocking the Boat” near the end, the production left me wishing it had moved along with more excitement and vigor.

The book, by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows based on some Damon Runyon stories, pulls up Guys and Dolls’ memorable, (or at least familiar sounding to oldsters) characters as Nathan Detroit played by Jackson Evans, Sky Masterson interpreted by Pepe Nufrio and burlesque performer Miss Adelaide, perfectly taken on by Alanna Lovely.

Just as the songs such as “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” that Sara and Sky sing will sound familiar along with “Take Back Your Mink” and “More I Cannot Wish You.”

 

Pepe Nufrio and Erica Stephan stand on stage in 'Guys and Dolls.'

Professional gambler Sky Masterson (Pepe Nufrio) woos Sarah Brown (Erica Stephan), the prim Save-A-Soul missionary in “Guys and Dolls” at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

Director/choreographer Dan Knechtges’ revival leans more towards “camp” than the classic musical comedy seen in the show’s past film and stage versions.

But this show does revolve around “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.”

Details: “Guys and Dolls” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL through June 9, 2024. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information visit Drury Lane Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows around town visit Theatre in Chicago.

 

Nine to Five: A Retro Romp or Cautionary Reminder?

RECOMMEND

Three overworked, underpaid and unappreciated 1970’s era office secretaries seize the opportunity to kidnap and blackmail their domineering misogynist male boss in an effort to change the power dynamic and improve their working environment.

“9 to 5: The Musical” playing at the Metropolis Theater in downtown Arlington Heights is a kind of women’s lib version of “How to Succeed in Business.” The story is based on the popular 20th Century Fox (non-musical) picture starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

Dolly Parton is responsible for the music and lyrics including the perennial favorite 9 to 5 theme song from the movie. None of the songs for this production stray far from her introspective country style.

In this version, Doralee (Janelle Sanabria) firmly has her roots in the over-the-top persona of Dolly Parton featuring big boobs and big hair with a large dose of southern charm. Sanabria has captured the essence of this Parton inspired pivotal character who has been accused of sleeping with the boss and as a result is alienated from her coworkers.

Violet (Melissa Crabtree) is tired of being overlooked for her much deserved promotion, while new hire Judy (Savannah Sinclair) a recently divorced woman with no work experience is just trying to find her way in this strange new environment.

The tyrannical and chauvinist boss, Mr. Hart (David Gordon- Johnson) takes every opportunity to demean and make sexual advances towards virtually every woman within his domain in an effort to maintain his authority and the male dominated power structure.

While his wife is away on a four week cruise the trio of women manage to hog tie and subdue Hart in his home. Signing his name to numerous memos, they manage to dispatch his trusted administrative assistant Roz (Dani Goldberg) on an extended journey of her own while they commence making much appreciated changes and improvements to staff morale and office productivity.

Goldberg gets to enjoy the spotlight while professing love for the boss in a humorous campy (and very tame) striptease number.

Musical Director Harper Caruso and orchestra, though out of sight, keep the tempo upbeat and energetic. This is a fast-paced romp full of vintage technology allusions and office space humor. Director Landree Fleming and the entire cast does a great job of keeping the story moving forward through several full company musical numbers featuring choreography of Jenna Schoppe assisted by Quinn Simmons which is executed admirably.

The scenic design of Eleanor Kahn is minimal but effective. The very high backwall makes the workers feel small and insignificant in relation to the big corporation they represent. The array of LED fluorescent style fixtures suspended overhead were appreciated and did not go unnoticed further contributing to the sense of place.

Keep in mind that the premise of this show was conceived more than 30 years ago when the idea of a somewhat violent workplace takeover by disgruntled employees, involving a gun, might be considered so outlandish as to be humorous. It was a grim dark humor fantasy. In this case it all works out fine for everyone with little or no harm done.

The point being made is that women are an integral part of the workplace, capable of higher order thinking and not simply flesh and blood machinery. It may be difficult for some younger people today to consider how prevalent this thinking was prior to the 1980s and that the glass ceiling for women was very real.

This show on some level seems archaic and simply a retrospective romp but it also serves as a cautionary tale, a reminder that chauvinist and misogynist thinking still prevails in some circles and there are those who would love to turn back the clock.

DETAILS: “9 to 5: The Musical” is at the Metropolis, 111 W Campbell St., Arlington Heights, IL 60005 through May 26, 2024. Runtime is about 2 hours with one intermission. For tickets and information visit metropolisarts.com or call (847)577-2121.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

Evidence indicates ‘Judgement Day’ a hilarious success

 

Jason Alexander (left) is attorney Sammy Campo trying to get into heaven and Daniel Breaker, right, is the well-meaning Father Michaein, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Judgment Day” by Rob Ulin. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Highly Recommended

Scurrilous self-serving scumbag attorney Sammy Campo (Jason Alexander) seeks redemption after an encounter with an angel (Candy Buckley) during a near-death experience, in “Judgment Day” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Hoping to earn enough points to offset his past indiscretions and avert the torments of Hell, Campo is aided by Father Michael (Daniel Breaker) an anguished, faith challenged, Catholic Priest.

While his skeptical secretary Della (Olivia D. Dawson) does her part to help find charity cases for him to represent, Campo himself attempts to make amends with his estranged wife (Maggie Bofill) and son (Ellis Myers).

Guided by the premise that he will be judged by his deeds rather than what he actually believes Campo and Father Michael begin to explore the essence of morality, what it means to be a good person, and the very fundamentals of faith.

This is what sets up the primary conflict in the story as both Campo and Father Michael, with guidance from local Monsignor (Michael Kostroff), struggle to accomplish their task to do good, but in a way that is not in conflict with their understanding of Catholic doctrine.

Playwright Rob Ulin has skillfully wrapped this rather weighty philosophical discussion inside a fast-paced scenario of virtually non-stop humor. The joke riddled dialogue belies Ulin’s more than 30-year career in the world of television sitcoms learning at the knee of legendary writer/producer Norman Lear.

Jason Alexander in spite of his impressive accomplishments is still best known for his role as the morally ambiguous George Castanza from TV’s “Seinfeld” which undoubtably informs this role. Campo on some level is everything George, who was always looking for an angle, hoped he would grow up to be.

Ulin’s potty mouth dialogue and off-color humor both implied and explicit tumble effortlessly from Alexander’s lips with a naturalness that is funny and acceptable in a way that actually endears you to a character that should be reviled.

Instead, we find ourselves rooting for the underdog and cheering on his success in spite of what are still some otherwise underhanded means to an end.

This world premiere comedy is a thought provoking but thoroughly entertaining production with several guaranteed laugh-out-loud moments from a very capable cast.

DETAILS: “Judgement Day” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier through May 26, 2024. Run time is 2 hours including an intermission. For tickets and more information visit chicagoshakes.com.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Oh Baby

 

Pam (Katie Engler), Arlene (Julie Bayer) and Lizzie (Madison Jaffe-Richter)  (Photo by North Shore Camera Club)

 Highly Recommended

Combine perfect casting with the keen insight of director Scott Shallenbarger and you have the superb production of “Baby,” now on stage at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest.

A high-energy musical that appeared on Broadway in 1983-84, “Baby” explores how three different-aged couples, one in college, one in their thirties, and one who are older with kids in college, react to news that their two-member family might become three.

Lizzie (Madison Jaffe-Richter) and Danny (Ben Ballmer) live together in a basement apartment on a college campus. Instead of suffering from the flu, Lizzie finds out she is pregnant.

Pam (Katie Engler) and Nick (Mark Yacullo) are desperate to have a baby. After missing her period she’s hopeful until she learns the pregnancy diagnosis is a mistake.

 Arlene (Julie Bayer) and Alan (Joe Lehman) are in their 40s and are ready to downsize from their large, older home when Arlene learns during a check-up she is pregnant.

With music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and a book by Sybille Pearson who developed the story with Susan Yankowitz, the show and songs reflect what the couples want from life.

The whole cast is excellent but kudos particularly go to Ballmer who totally fits his college-age musician role and to Engler who appears so physically fit that if she does get pregnant would undoubtedly give the sports ball baby present she received to her kid, a boy or girl.

Best of all, “Baby” likely will get at least a few members of the audience thinking about love and what they want from life.

DETAILS: “Baby” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 s. Waukegan Rd., Lake forest, IL, now through May 19,2024. Run time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit Citadel Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

The Music Man delivers on his promise

Harold Hill (KJ Hippensteel) and Marian (Alexandra Silber)

Highly Recommended 

You may think you know Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

But it doesn’t matter how often you have seen this “feel-good” family show. Each time you go, you are likely to take away something different, something more than recognizing its popular, fun “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

 It might be a song that you didn’t know was from the show such as “Till there was You” or “Goodnight My Someone” or “Lida Rose.” 

For this reviewer, it was the “book ban” political philosophy mentioned by Marian Paroo, the River City librarian, beautifully portrayed by Alexandra Silber.

Harold Hill (Left center) Looks up and admires Marian (center) who talks and sings about books while a library patron (far left) watches.

 It shouldn’t have been a surprise given that an important theme is how the town changes once Professor Harold Hill arrives.

Played by the highly talented KJ Hippensteel as the fast talking, glib salesman, we watch Hill evolve while the town he had planned to scam, changes as he falls in love with its librarian.

The leads, KJ Hippensteel and Alexandra Silber are excellent but so is the entire cast. 

Kudos particularly go to Kai Edgar who is terrific as the young Winthrop Paroo, Marian’s little brother who suffers from a lisp and is painfully shy until Hill reaches him with a musical instrument. And to Janet Ulrich Brooks who returns to Marriott as Marian’s mother after doing “Beautiful – the Carole King Musical” and “The Cherry Orchard at Goodman Theatre.

Most of all, audiences will be treated to the outstanding choreography of director/choreographer Katie Spelman. Yes, the accompanying cast may have partially been chosen by their dance ability, but all their movements across the stage and interactions with others are innovatively thought out to express the town and characters personalities.   

So, sit back and enjoy or clap in time to “Seventy-Six Trombones” as “The Music Man” enhances your evening.

Details: “The Music Man” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Mariott Drive, Lincolnshire, now through June 2, 2024. Run time: 2 hrs., 40 minutes with one intermission. For more information and tickets visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

 For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Felder reveals life of Chopin

 

Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin - A Play with Music

Pianist/ theater performer Hershey Felder as Chopin

Highly Recommended

Billed as “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin – A play with music,” the title doesn’t even come close to offering clues on what to expect when you enter the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre at Writers Theatre in Glencoe.

Composer Fryderyk Chopin did speak French and spent some happy times in Paris where he did have a salon. But he was Polish and longed for his country.

Hershey Felder, a highly skilled pianist and performer does become Chopin to take audiences through the composers’ short but momentous life. But to call what is on stage “a play with music” hardly does justice to Felder’s amazing dexterity at the piano and his ability to enthrall audiences with his interpretation of Chopin’ musical compositions and tragic life.

It’s a tale that bounces in both enacting Chopin’s life and playing his compositions from romantic moments to mental illness and from depression to exuberance.

Felder starts by addressing the audience as if they are music students at his salon, 9 Square d’Orleans, Paris on the afternoon of March 4, 1848.

The scenic design is by Felder who carefully researched the time, place and salon. But along with the elegant setting, audiences will also be watching the wall behind him where projections change to what is going on in Poland and Paris thanks to production manager Erik Carstensen’s excellent video Design. 

Directed by Joel Zwick, Chopin’s music and Felder’s “book” or “play” if you want to call it that, “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin” provides an extraordinary glimpse into the life of a famous composer that is arguably little known beyond his compositions.

Felder is also known for his performances as other composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Ludwig von Beethoven. 

Details: “Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin” is at  Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL April 10 through May 12, 2024. Running time: between 90 and 110 minutes (depends on questions from the audience) with no intermission. For tickets and more information visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

Tragic Tennessee Williams well told Streetcar

 

(Photo by Liz Lauren)

Highly recommended

Having seen Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire” numerous times before, the wonder was how the Paramount Theatre’s “Bold Series” production could be interpreted any differently.

The answer came immediately as Blanche Dubois wandered shakily as she made her way across the small stage of the Copley Theatre, obviously having had one too many shots of the hard stuff.

In the Copley, an intimate secondary venue across the road from its parent Paramount building, the lighting design of Cat Wilson and the scenic design of Angela Weber Miller cast just the right mood for Williams’ hot and sweaty New Orleans. But the show is not really hot or sweaty. It is about a character shaped by a Southern culture. 

We might guess that when we see the almost, but not quite well-put-together Blanche as dressed by costumer designer Mara Blumenfeld, that this seemingly refined person would be the story’s tragic character.

As the long, nearly three-hour show, uncovers Blanche’s history, it no longer matters that the show is set in steamy New Orleans even though its title picks up on a real streetcar in the French Quarter that is named “Desire.”

Unlike many other productions, this interpretation is not particularly dripping with atmosphere. It is merely telling a story. And it is tells it well.

Perfectly portrayed by Amanda Drinkall, Blanche is another of Williams’ way to portray a dissolute South trying to hold on to its plantation culture.

Co-directed by Jim Corti and Elizabeth Swanson, the acting is superb. Along with Drinkall, kudos also go to Alina Taber who is believable as Blanche’s sister Stella, and to Stella’s husband, Stanley (well played by Casey Hoekstra).

Even if you have seen “Streetcar” before, see it again as a Paramount production.

Details: “A Streetcar Names Desire” is at the Copley Theatre, 8 East Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL through April 21, 2024. For tickets and more information call (630) 896-6666 or visit  Paramount Aurora.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Oh what a night with Jersey Boys

 

Jersey Boys

Highly Recommend

Seeing “Jersey Boys” is about having a great time watching a “jukebox” musical.

“Jersey Boys” must be the hardest working cast on stage in Chicago. This nearly three-hour production, now at the Mercury Theater, is a physical workout for the four primary characters. They perform over 30 musical numbers while walking us through the life and times of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

The Four Seasons were a Jersey-based rock and roll quartet that appealed nationwide to largely blue collar teens in the 1960s with songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like A Man.”

Lead singer Frankie Valli with his distinctive falsetto transitioned successfully to the top of the pop charts as a single with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” composed by his creative partner Bob Gaudio.

In this Chicago based production, the group’s founder, Tommy DiVito (Adrian Aguilar), starts the narration explaining the tumultuous beginnings of a few street-smart kids with a foggy vision of an exciting future. Tommy says their options were, “the military, the mob or music.”

As the story goes, Tommy became aware of a kid in the neighborhood, with “a voice like an angel.” It was Frankie Castelluccio or Frankie Valli (Michael Metcalf) as he came to be known.

With the help of another neighborhood friend, Joe Pesci (Grant Alexander Brown) – Yes the same guy who went on to become a famous actor – – they were introduced to Bob Gaudio (Andrew MacHaughton) a local musician and songwriter who had a recent hit with “Who Wears Short Shorts?”

The three struggled to find their sound. Ultimately, another old friend, Nick Massi (Jason Michael Evans), joined them and in a moment of inspiration they restructured themselves as the “Four Seasons.” Not inspired by Vivaldi but rather by the name of a bowling alley in New Jersey.

The final character in the puzzle is their record producer and lyricist Bob Crewe (Adam Fane) portrayed here with a good amount of humor as an over-the-top gay man with a great ear for music.

A theme running through the story is the group’s association with local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Carl Herzog) and the fact that the boys can’t quite shake their Jersey roots.

This manifests as Tommy’s desire for largely undeserved respect, and a quest to find short cuts or easy money that he evidently felt was what led to the stature and apparent success of figures like Gyp.

The other side of the “Italian Jersey code” was a sense of honor which Valli took very seriously and is behind his arguably over developed sense of loyalty and an admirable adherence to his word.

Aguilar’s performance as Tommy carries the first act with his charming tough-guy persona. Grant Alexander Brown as Pesci and Adam Fane as Crewe interject much of the comic relief throughout the production.

MacHaughton as Gaudio lets his presence be known with an outstanding strong delivery of his first number, “Cry for Me,” and later on in “Oh What a Night.”

The weight of the production, of course, falls on the shoulders of Michael Metcalf as Frankie Valli who does an outstanding job on every level.

We see the character transition from a naïve young man to a global superstar with his own demons and life challenges. Valli’s well known falsetto is not easy, if not nearly impossible, to duplicate, but Metcalf manages it admirably.

The entire support ensemble does yeomen’s work keeping the high energy, fast-paced storyline going. Kudos specifically to Eric A. Lewis who plays Barry Belson and others who belts out a few high notes of his own.

One of the highlights of this production is the terrific orchestra led by Linda Medonia (keyboards) with Justin Kono (percussion), Jonathan Golko (bass), Samuel Shacker (guitar), Cara Strauss (reeds), and Greg Strauss (trumpet).

Jersey Boys seems as much like a great concert as it is a play with a substantial and interesting book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Whether you are coming to this as a nostalgic experience or you’re new to the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons you will be in for an entertaining event suitable for all ages (PG-17 for language).

Details: Jersey Boys at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL, through May 19, 2024. Running time is about 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and information visit mercurytheaterchicago.com or call (773) 360-7365.\

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

Music Theater Works does justice to the Pippin dreamworld

Connor Ripperger as Pippin at Music Theater Works in the North Shore Performing Arts Center. (Photo Courtesy of Music Theater Works)
Connor Ripperger as Pippin at Music Theater Works in the North Shore Performing Arts Center. (Photo Courtesy of Music Theater Works)

Highly Recommended

Music Theater works brings Pippin to the North Shore Center for Performing Arts in a production that is a feast for the senses and uses the entire spectrum of theater craft.

Explaining the plot of Pippin is as useful as trying to recall the details of a dream. What exactly happened is not important but the fact that your brain was trying to help you organize your thoughts and work through your anxiety is important.

But for context I’ll tell you that Pippin (Connor Ripperger) who has recently completed his education in Italy is the eldest son of Charlemagne Thomas M. Shea.) Ripperger’s Pippin has a longing boyish quality that is spot on.

The boy is anxious to make his way in the world but the problems in his way are stepmother Fastrada (Savannah Sinclair) and stepbrother Lewis (Andrew Freeland). They want to get rid of Pippin so Lewis will become first heir to the throne.

Though Lewis is purported to be a better warrior, Pippin sets out to prove himself in battle where he learns war is a deadly and dirty business.

Pippin’s grandmother, Berte (Kathleen Puls Andrade), encourages the lad to enjoy life and have more sex. He tries but his experiences bring him little pleasure and take him no closer to a fulfilling life.

Then Pippin falls into the arms of a wealthy widow,, Catherine (Desiree Gonzalez) who has a small b oy, Theo (Di’Aire Wilson). Again the promise of a quiet and distracting domestic life is not fulfilling to the restless youth.

Ultimately, Pippin is back in Charlemagne’s palace where he becomes king after the untimely death of his father. Saddened by the injustices of the world, Pippin attempts to right some wrongs but learns that the problems are more complex than they appear.

The phantasmagoric experience is orchestrated and narrated by the Leading Player (Sonia Goldberg) who promises a finale we will never forget. Goldberg has the needed commanding stage presence that lets you know she is in charge. 

The action will not have anything to do with the actual life of Charlemagne. In fact, it includes video games, tv reports and images on large screens mimicking fragments expected from a dream.

Pippin was co-written and originally directed and choreographed by Chicago native Bob fosse in 1972 at the epicenter of his successful and frenetic career. (Possibly his drug addiction might help explain this bizarre tale of how Pippin’s quest for meaning plays out.) Fosse’s fingerprints (or say footprints) are all over this psychedelic fever dream.

Many of the characters, notably Pippin and The Leading Player, are gloved which is a nod to Fosse’s iconic “Jazz hands” and his desire to accentuate hand movements as part of dance.

This production’s co-choreographers, Mollyanne Nunn and Kaitlyn Pasquinelli, got all they demanded from their talented company who kept the non-stop action energetic and entertaining.

Director Kyle A. Dougan with assistant director Patrick Tierney did an expert job wrangling the large cast of about 20 players around a limited area of the smaller North Theater in the Skokie complex.

Shane Cinal supplied the needed multilevel set design that provided additional room for movement including clever areas for unusual entrances and exits. Andrew Meyers lighting effects were key components of several scenes.

Jazmin Aurora Medina’s colorful fantastical costumes, augmented by Alice Salazar’s hair, wig and makeup, added the right look for the chaotic action. Charlemagne’s toys sealed in plastic and his plastic crown added a subtle brilliance of detail to the array of often absurd imagery. 

The music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz who gave us the highly acclaimed Wicked is high caliber. It doesn’t have a break-out number with the possible exception of “Corner of the Sky.” When performed by the Jackson Five it became #18 on Billboard.  Schwartz almost simultaneously wrote Godspell. My initial response was to characterize Pippin as The Fantastiks meets Godspell.

On the surface, Pippin seems weird and fragmented but in retrospect, the Tony Award winning musical is deeply reflective of the competitive and often, tormented mind of Fosse. In a larger context, its the reflection of us all as we strive to live more meaningful lives.

Details: Pippin, a Music Theater Works production, is at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL ,through June 25, 2023. Running time: 2 and 1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. for tickets and information visit Music Theater Works or call (847) 673-6300.

Note: Though the production has an overall comedic tone it contains adult themes and language as well as allusions to sexual activity, murder and suicide so may not be appropriate for everyone.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

 

A tragic love story and cautionary tale of intolerance

 

West Side Story at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
West Side Story at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Highly recommended

For a professional theater experience in Chicago this month you can’t do much better than West Side Story at the Lyric Opera.  This Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim musical deemed cutting edge and somewhat avantgarde when first introduced, is now a classic.

The story by Arthur Laurents is a rather faithful mid-century modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Rival teenage street gangs, the Sharks and Jets, battle in New York City streets to maintain what they feel is control of this small piece of Manhattan. Caught in the crossfire of this conflict are Tony (Ryan McCatan) and Maria (Kanisha Feliciano) two tragic lovers from opposite ends of the divide.

The production is a natural for this venue. West Side Story leans more toward opera as the story is told primarily through song, with many that found a firm foothold in the Great American Songbook, such as Maria, Tonight, and One Hand One Heart. They are augmented by the accompaniment of a full live pit orchestra led by conductor James Lowe, a  rare treat that would likely not be included in a smaller company.

Director Francesca Zambello has largely remained faithful to the original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins that includes a substantial amount of modern ballet, executed here by choreographer Joshua Bergasse and the production ensemble. The Lyric’s massive Civic Opera House stage gives the dancers ample room to move.

The set design of Peter J. Davison featuring the iconic fire escape, towers over the audience. When Maria sings Somewhere to Tony as they embrace on the balcony while the dance company interprets her message of hope below, the scale of the proscenium provides an opportunity to suggest both the intimacy of the lovers as well as the suggestion of a world beyond.

The depth of the stage allows for a glimpse of the larger city, amplifying the claustrophobic feelings of the gang members whose view of the world is so limited they can not see further than their small neighborhood and the immediate “problems” that they largely have created themselves.

The story of street violence, turf warfare and ethnic battles are all too familiar in today’s environment illustrating that these often-deadly disagreements are nothing new, and difficult if not impossible to eradicate from our communities.

The “Gee, Officer Krupke” musical number comically reminds us of the continuous effort to understand and curb youthful anti-social behavior including psychology, sociology, and criminology as well as the conditions that lead to “delinquency.” Our mothers all are junkies / Our fathers all are drunks / Golly Moses, naturally we’re punks!

In America, Anita (Amanda Castro) and Rosalia (Joy Del Valle) expose the promise versus the realities of “The American Dream,” while in The Jet Song, Riff (Bret Thiele) and The Jets express the perceived value they get from being part of a gang.

I was happy to see a number of young people and children at the matinee performance I attended but caution parents to keep in mind that not all musicals are written for a Disney audience

In the nineteen-fifties and sixties there was a decisive movement to create musical theater with mature themes. Some of these included Carousel and Oklahoma (both of which have been staged at the Lyric) depicting or suggesting domestic abuse, murder and rape. This trend has continued and expanded since then, proving that the American Musical has a place in high art because it has the ability not only to entertain but also to inform, reach us emotionally in a profound way and expand our thinking.

The original West Side Story production ensemble of Laurents, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Robbins with Robert Griffith and Harold Prince did not shy away from difficult topics and instead embraced the trend by exposing the challenges related to depicting racial conflict, disaffected youth, street gang violence, murder and death, through music and dance.

West Side Story is a tragic love story that ultimately encourages us to be more tolerant and thoughtful as to how we perceive, judge and react to each other, particularly those with whom we have perceived differences. It is suggested that there is space for everyone if we open our hearts to each other.

Details: West Side Story is at the Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, through June 25, 2023. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit LyricOpera.org

Reno Lovison 

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago