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

Reno Lovison 

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


Good ‘Lucy and Charles’ music and cast are not enough


Aurora Adachi-Winter and Matthew C. Yee in“Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)
Aurora Adachi-Winter and Matthew C. Yee in “Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon” at Lookingglass Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Somewhat recommended

Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon by Matthew C. Yee is a light romp with a dark twist followed by a hasty, muddled ending wrapped up in a cloud of very good music – all of which is performed by a remarkable cast of actor musicians.

This adventure revolves around Asian identity, Asian stereotypes and the experience of being Asian in America so I will simply set the stage now.

The following characters are all presented in the production as Asian or Asian-American: Charlie (Matthew C. Yee) and Lucy (Aurora Adachi-Winter), Grandma (Wai Ching Ho), Peter (Rammel Chan), Jeff (Daniel Lee Smith) and Bao (Harmony Zhang).

Characters presented as non-Asian are senior security professional agent Feinberg (Mary Williamson), Gabriel (Matt Bittner) and Martin (Doug Pawlik).

Lucy and Charlie met two weeks ago. Charlie has dubbed himself an Asian-American renegade and recently reinvented himself as a cool cowboy which attracted Lucy to him. They married and are on a poorly conceived amateurish crime adventure.

Charlie’s brother Peter, a security agent trainee, finds himself in the awkward position of investigating a convenience store robbery involving the pair.

In the meantime, at a rest stop, Lucy befriends Bao, a recent arrival from China, who is waiting to be picked-up by her sponsor, ostensibly to work for a cleaning company which Lucy quickly determines is really a front for a sex slave operation.

Peter gets his boss Feinberg, his grandma, and uncle Jeff involved to help rescue the couple, who, with Bao, have taken refuge at Grandma’s cottage in Winnebago, WI where the two hope to elude the sex-slave operators, Gabriel and Martin.

Kudos to Matthew C. Yee who wrote the book and music, plays the role of Charlie and performs a significant amount of the accompaniment as an onstage guitarist and does it all very well.

I feel Yee shot himself in the foot by not making his songs a little more universal and slightly less specific to the production.

All of the great commercially successful musicals have songs that can break out of the confines of the story and speak to a larger human condition. allowing them to stand apart and take on a life of their own.

The storyline had a spark of brilliance in the tradition of many classic screwball comedies, crime mysteries or culture clash stories. My major complaint is the use of gratuitous gun violence to resolve and ultimately squander the conflict that Yee spent the first act rather expertly crafting.

Additionally waving guns around in a post Alec Baldwin “Rust” era can be a bit disconcerting to audience members who find themselves looking down the barrel for extended periods of time. (Note to violence designers R+D Choreography, direct the action upstage as much as possible).

In act two the story takes a jarring turn, resulting in a schizophrenic tone. If you want to have fun then have fun. If you want to be serious then do that. Mixing the two has been done but it takes a deft hand. In this case it just seemed like an easy way out. This might be satisfactory in an improvisation or workshop but not as a finished production in a downtown theater especially if there is any thought of wider distribution.

Much of the overall production credit goes to director Amanda Dehner. The entire cast is outstanding, while also being exceptional musicians, breathing life into the material provided by Yee.

It was apparent they understood his vision and executed it expertly in front of a dizzying and whimsical array of floor to ceiling Western and Far East artifacts assembled by scenic director Yu Shibagaki.

Screen projections by projection designer Paul Deziel were helpful for sharing song lyrics and interjecting a bit of humor when referencing images we would were not be able to see. Sully Ratke provided a thoughtful and amusing costume selection.

Yee’s portrayal of Charlie affects a kind of deep silent type cowboy image that definitely takes a backseat to the over-the-top energy of Lucy who is driving much of the action. Peter, Grandma, and Jeff as a comical triumvirate of stereotypes handle the material well. It is obvious the playwright and the actors understand how far they can go when working with ethnic humor.

This group would make a very effective sitcom or web series. But I caution Yee to treat them and their situations with more respect.

Here is my dilemma. I work with an Asian non-profit organization in Uptown, have a number of close Asian friends and some individuals of Asian descent in my extended family. When I think about recommending Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon to them, I cringe.

The Boomers and GenX folks especially those who were not born here might find some of the content offensive or at least sophomoric and it’s a bit too rough for the teen and preteen crowd.

That leaves the middle 20- to 40-year-olds who were born here and grew up in a cross-cultural environment that at times, confused and maybe even embarrassed their elders. It’s full of a lot of insider humor. I get this and I know two thirty-something Asian guys who would love this and totally get it. Though this limited target audience is probably not adequate to create the level of success the essence of this play deserves.

Every American-ethnic group has experienced what Yee is trying to convey and it’s an important story. But it has to be told in a way that a general audience can understand and appreciate.

Sex-trafficking and other exploitation of immigrants is a very serious topic that deserves more than a cursory glance and cartoonish treatment.

So as much as I love the actors, characters and the music and appreciate the premise, I can only somewhat recommend Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon. 

It’s an entertaining Asian-American rockabilly musical but playwright Yee should give “Lucy and Charlie” a second look.

Details: Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon is at the Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Avenue through July 16, 2023. Runtime is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Catch Big Fish at Marriott Theatre


L-R Alexander Gemignani and Heidi Kettenring in Big Fish at Marriott Theatre (Liz Lauren photo)
L-R Alexander Gemignani and Heidi Kettenring in Big Fish at Marriott Theatre (Liz Lauren photo)

3 Stars

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.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



Dear Evan Hansen puts teen angst in the spotlight


Anthony Norman as Evan Hansen,All photos by Evan Zimmerman.
Anthony Norman as Evan Hansen, (All photos by Evan Zimmerman).

Highly Recommended

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.

Anthony Norman, John Hemphill, Lili Thomas and Alaina Anderson in the touring musical "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Nederlander Theatre
Anthony Norman, John Hemphill, Lili Thomas and Alaina Anderson in the touring musical “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Nederlander Theatre

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.

Anthony Norman (with Alaina Anderson) in Dear Evan Hansen.
Anthony Norman (with Alaina Anderson) in Dear Evan Hansen.

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 or Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Dickens tale visited by Manual Cinema puppets and ghosts

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol started out online during the Pandemic and has now moved live to Writers Theatre.

5 Stars

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.  

La Kecia Harris and Jeffrey Paschal in Manual Cinema's Christmas Carol at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
La Kecia Harris and Jeffrey Paschal in Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol at Writers Theatre. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

 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.     

 DETAILS: Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL now through Dec. 24. Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information visit Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol | Writers Theatre. For Manual Cinema info see Manual Cinema | Theater | Film | Music.

Children under age 6 not permitted.

 Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Outside Mullingar’ proves it is never too late


 Left: Laura Leonardo Ownby (Rosemary), Right: Ross Frawley (Anthony). Photo by North Shore Camera Club.
Left: Laura Leonardo Ownby (Rosemary), Right: Ross Frawley (Anthony). Photo by North Shore Camera Club.

Left: Laura Leonardo Ownby (Rosemary), Right: Ross Frawley (Anthony). Photo by North Shore Camera Club.

3 Stars

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.

Left: Laura Leonardo Ownby (Rosemary), Susan Hofflander (Aoife). in Outside Mullingar at Citadel Theatre. (photo by North Shore Camera Club)
Left: Laura Leonardo Ownby (Rosemary), Susan Hofflander (Aoife). in Outside Mullingar at Citadel Theatre. (photo by North Shore Camera Club)


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.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


West Side Story still relevant

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Photo by Liz Lauren)
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 Stars

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.

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)

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)

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

DETAILS: “West Side Story” is at the Marriott 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.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Mira Temkin

‘Kate’ battles Shakespeare and ex at Marriott


Susan Moniz and Larry Adams battle it out in Kiss Me Kate at Marriott Theatre.( Liz Lauren photo)
Susan Moniz and Larry Adams battle it out in Kiss Me Kate at Marriott Theatre.( Liz Lauren photo)


Three stars

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.)

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

An overly exuberant new holiday nusical

‘The Land of Forgotten Toys’

Mary-Margaret Roberts and Bre Jacobs in "Land of Forgotten Toys" at Greenhouse Theater. (Zeke Dolezalek photo)
Mary-Margaret Roberts and Bre Jacobs in “Land of Forgotten Toys” at Greenhouse Theater (Zeke Dolezalek photos)


2 ½ stars

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.

Continue reading “An overly exuberant new holiday nusical”