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.
Wrap that towel around you, settle back with a stiff one and get ready to enjoy The Divine Miss M, at her holiday best.
Once again it’s the early 1970’s, and we’re at Manhattan’s popular gay bathhouse where Bette Midler, portrayed at Mary’s Attic by the incomparably talented Caitlin Jackson, came to prominence.
Jackson, her tumbler filled with vodka, is cheerfully serving up an hour of some of Midler’s best, most beloved tunes. She also treats the audience to a few of Bette Midler’s bawdy Sophie Tucker jokes.
It didn’t matter that outside temperatures were diving into the icy teens because inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Tuesday, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” was warming the hearts of families and veterans with “Happy Holidays,” “Count Your Blessings” and “We’ll Follow the Old Man.”
But good as Berlin’s music and lyrics and David Ives and Paul Blakes’ book are, what makes the touring production now playing in Chicago worth its four stars is its talented cast and Randy Skinner’s excellent choreography and direction.
There are the perfectly executed dance numbers by a superb ensemble and the wonderful dancing of Kelly Sheehan as Judy Haynes and Jeremy Benton as Phil Davis. Plus, there is the beautiful voice of Kerry Conte as Betty Haynes and the Martha Raye-style singing and acting of Lorna Luft as Martha Watson.
If I might borrow from Chicago’s city motto “Urbs in Orto” (translated as “City in a Garden”) this production of “Twelfth Night” can be described as “Theatrum in Orto” (“Theater in a Garden”) as Midsommer Flight presents their popular perennial production of one of Shakespeare’s silliest plays, energetically performed, amid the (house-plants run amok) tropical flora collection in the Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Show House Room.
Directed by Dylan S. Roberts the comedy is intimately staged more-or-less in-the-round, costumed in 20th Century modern dress.
Five men in a small mining camp circa 1850s California find the meaning of family with the addition of a baby boy. It is an upbeat holiday story that explores the meaning of family and serves to illustrate the need for humans to band together forging family bonds in whatever circumstances they happen to be while also exploring the tug of bloodline ties.
This sentimental Pride Films & Plays (PFP) production directed by Danne W. Taylor will rival anything you might find on the Hallmark Channel this holiday season and may require an extra dose of insulin.
The well written script by Normal Allen is inspired by stories of 19th Century author Bret Harte and is best served by Michael D. Graham as Old Jake, the glue that keeps this production together. Graham seems to have the best grasp of the cadence and pace of the men of this period and circumstance.
I still remember the first time I heard the caustic wit of David Sedaris as he performed his “The Santaland Diaries” monologue on NPR’s “This American Life.” I was gobsmacked. This snarky, irreverent essay quickly became a holiday staple in our house, revered as much as our other annual, if slightly less irreverent, family favorite, “A Christmas Story.”
Goodman Theatre’s annual “A Christmas Carol,” now in its 42 appearance, continues to draw thousands of families downtown Chicago for Charles Dickens’ 19th century story about redemption.
Originally called A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas when published in 1843, the tale does feature four ghosts. At Goodman, the production also features Larry Yando making his 12th appearance as Ebenezer Scrooge, the Charles Dickens character whose name is synonymous with miser.