The movie and other plays aside, having just seen Broadway actor Alexander Gemignani (Carousel, Les Miserable, Sweeny Todd) as Edward Bloom at Marriott Theatre, it is now arguably hard to see anyone else playing the pivotal character role in “Big Fish.”
In the hands of Director Henry Godinez, (Goodman Theatre’s Resident Artistic Associate), backed by a talented cast, Bloom’s seemingly fantastical journey through life is delightful. His character is likely to have audiences relating to dad jokes and dad’s experience stories.
But in the end the theme really is about father-son relationships. The audience is challenged to empathize with his son, Will Bloom, played by Michael Kurowski who appears uncomfortable in the role.
A shoutout has to go to Heidi Kettenring, a favorite Marriott and Chicago theater community actress/singer, who as Edward’s wife, Sandra, has no trouble understanding and appreciating him.
“Big Fish” is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel and the 2003 (in theaters early 2004) Columbia Motion Picture by John August directed by Tim Burton. The play’s book is by John August with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.
Details: “Big Fish” is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, IL now through March 19, 2023. Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. For information and tickets visit Marriott Theatre.
In “Dear Evan Hansen,” a lonely, high school senior gets in way over his head when another student, Connor Murphy, takes his own life. Through a series of misunderstandings, a letter that Evan Hansen writes to himself becomes mistaken for Connor’s suicide note and Evan becomes a high school hero and a comfort to the boys’ grieving family.
Evan’s mother must deal with her son’s issues as well as her own as a single mom who has a full schedule of work and school. From Evan’s perspective, she is never there for him.
Instead, he finds solace in Connor’s family as a surrogate family he doesn’t have. And Connor’s sister, Zoe? That’s his crush.
Evan finally has a chance to fit in. But it’s all based on a lie. What happens when the truth comes out?
The musical, which first premiered in 2016, takes the audience on a journey of what it’s like to be a teen during the social media era. Continually flashing on stage are feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, showcasing the immediacy of social media and its impact.
Featuring a book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson (Fosse/Verdon), a score by Grammy®, Tony® and Academy Award®-winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman), and direction by four-time Tony Award-nominee Michael Greif (Rent, Next to Normal), “Dear Evan Hansen” sheds light on the continuing issues of mental health.
The show went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and numerous other awards.
The haunting music celebrates such songs as, “You Will Be Found,” “Words Fail,” and “So Big, So Small.”
The revolving set is simple with the orchestra playing at the top of the set.
Starring as Evan Hansen is Chicagoan Anthony Norman who is stellar. His physical movements, pained expressions, and socially awkward conversations plant the audience firmly in his head. Yet, we can see how Evan matures from this entire experience, changing him for the better.
Coleen Sexton as his mother, Heidi, is excellent with her own angst that she both defies and embraces. Her voice is powerful and memorable.
It was gratifying to see that Connor Murphy, played by the outstanding Nikhil Saboo, maintained a presence throughout the play, showcasing his legacy.
Kudos for the innovative projection design by Peter Nigrini showing the impact of social media on all our lives.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a play that will stay with you long after the final applause.
Details: Dear Evan Hansen is at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago through December 31. For tickets and more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or DearEvanHansen.com. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Hold onto the change-of-life theme of Charles Dickens’ famed holiday story. But toss aside your idea of puppets and a puppet theater before walking into “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL.
Manual Cinema is an award-winning film/video and live performance and design company, so be prepared for an unusual theatrical experience.
What to expect: Ghosts, hand-designed shadow puppets and their scenic backgrounds, a puppet theater, zoom on a computer and on an old film screen using an old projector (they call it “vintage),” a complicated sound system and outstanding acting by LaKecia Harris as Aunt Trudy.
Aunt Trudy has been asked by her late husband Joe’s relatives to do the Christmas Carol puppet show that he did annually. She says she’s not really an aunt to the relatives watching on zoom since she never married “husband” Joe.
Her unhappiness loudly comes across at the start of the show. An approaching storm arrives, the power goes out, ghostly “puppets” intervene as Trudy realizes she must continue the Christmas Carol story with the shadow puppets, theater and ghosts. She, as was scrooge, is a different person by the end of the play.
The cast is as much behind the scenes as identifiable on stage so shout outs go to puppeteers Lizi Breit, Julia Miller and Jeffrey Paschal and also to Ben Kauffman who does lead vocals, piano, keys, and voice overs, plus Emily Meyer for violin and vocals and Kyle Vegter for cello, keys, bass and voice overs. In addition, Sarah furnace is a puppeteer understudy.
This is a must-see production because Manual Cinema brings extra layers of meaning to stories we think we know.
Left: Laura Leonardo Ownby (Rosemary), Right: Ross Frawley (Anthony). Photo by North Shore Camera Club.
When John Patrick Shanley’s play, “Outside Mullingar,” opened on Broadway, January 2014, it received accolades as a new kind of rom-com. For one thing, instead of young people, it featured older adults embarking on new relationships.
Thus is the play recreated at Citadel Theatre with four outstanding actors who bring the story to life. Set in Ireland, the play involves two families who own farms right next to each other.
Anthony and Rosemary have grown up together. Rosemary has been harboring unrequited feelings of love for Anthony her entire life. Anthony, who is painfully shy and unaware, still lusts over Fiona who went screaming the other way when he revealed his true feelings for her.
The major issue in the show is whether or not Anthony should inherit his family’s farm upon the death of his father. His cranky dad wants to leave the farm to his nephew Adam from New York City.
When I first read of the plot, it seemed vaguely familiar. That’s because the play had been turned into the 2020 movie, “Wild Mountain Thyme” starring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Jon Hamm. The screenplay was written as well as directed by Shanley, based on his play.
Audience members will get caught up in the play from the very beginning as Irish music welcomes them into the theatre.
The four principals include: Susan Hofflander as widow Aoife Muldoon, Jack Hickey as widow Tony, Laura Leonardo Ownby as Rosemary and Ross Frawley as Anthony.
Hofflander is powerful and yet sympathetic as the widow Muldoon, while Hickey is a gruff, crabby old man who is filled with regret at some of his choices. Ownby shines as Rosemary and is the most animated character in the play. Frawley as Anthony plays his part with strong emotion and fervor. You’re rooting for both of them to finally break through.
What’s fascinating about the play is that you meet the parents and experience their interaction with their offspring. Then, it’s just the younger generation who must forge ahead.
Directed by Beth Wolf who was moved by the theme of loneliness in the play, “Outside Mullingar” really draws upon the idea of it’s never too late. Founder and artistic director of the free-Shakespeare-in-the park company Midsommer Flight, Wolf directed Citadel’s production of The Roommate two years ago.
Kudos to Eric Luchen for his innovative set design, flipping one farmhouse kitchen to another, without moving sets.
Outside Mullingar really gets inside its characters with sweetness and charm.
DETAILS: “Outside Mullingar” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through March 13. Run Time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information visit Citadel Theatre.
State COVID restrictions in effect at the time will be enforced at Citadel’s 144-seat performing space.
While “West Side Story” is based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” the tale of the star-crossed lovers remains a contemporary look at rival gangs that’s just as timely as the daily news reports.
But Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire creates a dynamic new twist to this production with a fresh look and new talents who bring this story to life.
For those who haven’t seen Steven Spielberg’s award-winning recent redo of the 1961 classic movie, West Side Story takes place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1950’s.
There’s tension in the hood between the Sharks and the Jets about who controls the turf. Hate, racism and violence rears its ugly head giving way to tragedy and sorrow on both sides of the fence.
This well-loved show features the brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein with such tunes as “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “America.”
Using the traditional choreography from Jerome Robbin’s original production, Marriott’s high energy cast delivers the dance with amazing precision and youthful energy. It will leave you breathless.
Based on the book by Tony Award-winner Arthur Laurents, music by Tony and Grammy Award-winner Leonard Bernstein and Lyrics by Tony, Grammy, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winner Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story is a trifecta of creative excellence.
The production is directed by critically acclaimed, award-winning stage veteran Victor Malana Maog who beautifully captures the passion and power of the show.
Musical direction is by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson and choreography is by Jeff Award nominee, Alex Sanchez.
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)Making her Marriott Theatre debut is Lauren Maria Medina who plays an exquisite “Maria.” She has the voice of an angel with pipes big enough to completely fill the stage.
Also making their debuts on the Marriott stage are Jake David Smith as “Tony” who wins our hearts and Vanessa Aurora Sierra as “Anita” who sings and dances her way into the stratosphere.
Mention must be made of Marisa Fee as “Anybodys” whose gender issues are much more realized in this production. Originally a “tomboy,” Fee appears with the rest of the girls in a ballet, wearing a gown, a strong departure from the original.
Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design makes great use of the in-the-round stage with realistic appearance of a fire escape and other urban settings to reflect the cold stark reality of the neighborhood.
Kudos to costume designer Amanda Vander Byl for her realistic 1950s costumes and of course, to musical supervisor Patti Garwood and her orchestra who play the haunting score to perfection.
Covid Protocols: Marriott Theatre guests are currently required to wear face coverings and present proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or an appropriate negative COVID-19 test to attend performances in the theatre. Details at MarriottTheatre.com
DETAILS: “West Side Story” is at theMarriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire through March 27. Run Time: 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information, call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.
In a season overflowing with feel-good holiday fare, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has chosen to balance the offerings with the controversial “Kiss Me Kate.”
Go for this production’s superb vocals, comedic moments and excellent dance numbers. But beware, the 1948 musical written by Bella and Samuel Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, is based on William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
What you see is a show within a show presented by a traveling troupe as its stars battle on stage and off in a mirror image of the plot.
No matter how good the production is of the Shakespearean version (and I have seen good ones, including at Chicago Shakespeare), it still is misogynistic.
So, if bothered by the theme, blame Shakespeare.
If out for a night at the theater, sit back and enjoy director Johanna McKenzie Miller’s clever staging, Alex Sanchez’s choreography and the outstanding voices of Susan Moniz as leading lady Lilli Vanessi who plays Katharine (supposedly as a shrew) and Larry Adams, Lilli”s ex-husband, Fred Graham, who plays Petruchio (shrew tamer) and who is also directing the troupe.
Also dance shout-outs to Alexandra Palkovic who is Lois Lane, Kate’s overly-sweet little sister, Bianca, and to Jonathan Butler-Duplessis who leads the showstopping “Too Darn Hot” number.
You get to hear such familiar songs as “Wunderbar,” So in Love,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” and “From this Moment On.” To audiences who have missed the theater due to COVID, the opening number “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” offers a hopeful note.
DETAILS: “Kiss Me Kate” at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire, is on now through Jan 16, 2022. Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information visit Marriott Theare. (Check Covid safety protocols.)
Amidst a growing crop of holiday productions, Chicago is being treated to yet another new family friendly show. Chirpy, relentlessly over-exuberant and with very few moments of reflection or subtlety, this new holiday musical could really use some layers and a bit of variety. As it now plays in its world premiere, the production is a little overpowering. It’s a little like sitting in the front row of an IMAX theatre: there’s no escape.
Created by the writing team of twins Jennifer and Jaclyn Enchin, the plot of this new play is fresh and fun, although vaguely familiar. The songs are a different matter.
“Burning Bluebeard” literally comes alive in front of a scorched proscenium arch on a ruined stage depicting the aftermath of an inferno that destroyed the Iroquois Theater in Chicago (set design by Jeff Kmiec based on the original design of Lizzie Bracken).
The Ruffians with director Halena Kays and choreographer Ariel Triunfo have devised a clever way to tell this story based on an actual 1903, tragic event that claimed the lives of 600 theater patrons, many of them children and their mothers, attending a Christmastime performance of a popular Broadway blockbuster entitled “Mr. Bluebeard.”
No question that soprano Renée Fleming, an opera superstar who has sung leading ladies from Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to Nettie Fowler in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a fine fit as Margaret Johnson in Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ “The Light in the Piazza.”
Her remarkable voice, joyfully greeting Florence in the opening scene, heartbreaking in “Dividing Day” following a phone call back home when she realizes her own marriage lacks love, and later swelling with a renewed understanding of love versus risks in her final song, “Fable,” makes going to this production at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House worth attending.
Victorian author Charles Dickens might be surprised, and maybe a little proud, at how his story about one curmudgeon’s redemption has been adapted for the stage, film, opera and every other form of media.
This production, “Q Brothers Christmas Carol,” back by popular demand at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, has fast become one of the Windy City’s favorite holiday events, especially among younger, hipper audiences. It’s a terrific, cleverly-written and utterly captivating piece of theatre that deserves the high praise it’s received.