Top Chicago shows list for 2019

 

Of course, theater audiences want different things before going ahead to spend money and time on a show. Some folks prefer musicals, others like Shakespeare and some gravitate to shows that are different or particularly creative. Because opera is also dramatic theater that requires excellent acting, compelling story lines and fine voices, we include Lyric Opera productions when applicable.

Here is Chicago Theater and Arts reviewers’ list of favorite productions seen during 2019 which was designated by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres as the Year of Chicago Theatre.

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre
Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre

Francine Pappadis Friedman

Jersey Boys at the Auditorium Theatre in April, 2019. I headlined it: ‘Oh, what a night!” Amusing dialogue was interspersed with tremendous songs by four guys, the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons who were living in New Jersey. Not only did their songs keep the audience laughing, but even younger audience members were swinging and swaying in their seats. And many of their songs sang about love!

Falsettos” at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in May/June 2019. I headlined it: “Let’s live life through music.” It was a fabulous musical taking place in New York in the 1970s, with a psychiatrist, gay men and women, and a little boy—one of the main characters—who was worried about his father’s sexuality when his parents got divorced. The story moved along with songs and the boy, whose father sang “Father to Son,” that said he’d always be there for him.

From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe) in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From L. Kyrie Courter (Natalie )Keely Vasquez (Diana) David Schlumpf (Dan) and Liam Oh (Gabe) in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Jodie Jacobs

“Next to Normal” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe in June. Writers Theatre unerringly brought to the stage what life is like in a home where a family member is mentally ill. Penned by Brian Yorkey who also did the lyrics and with music by Tom Kitt, the show took three Tony awards in 2009. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama because even though it has highly expressive musical numbers, it is not a feel-good musical.

“Oslo” a Timeline Theatre production at the Broadway Playhouse in October, brilliantly revealed the behind the scenes negotiations in Norway that led up to the famed handshake on the White House lawn between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. What “Oslo,” the multi-award-winning play by J. T. Rogers does is introduce audiences to Mona Juul, superbly acted by Bri Sudia whose sensible but passionate portrayal of the Norwegian diplomat who initiated the behind the scenes action, glides from serious to charming to comic, and to Scott Parkinson who as facilitator Rød-Larsen has the difficult task of making all the players in the sensitive negotiations, look good.

Don Giovanni” at the Lyric Opera House in November and December is an 18th century Mozart opera in perfect tune with #MeToo times. If you knew before seeing Lyric’s outstanding production of “Don Giovanni” that (Il dissouto punita, ossia il Don Giovanni), translates as “The Rake Punished, namely Don Giovanni “ (also The Libertine Punished), you would have some idea that the opera was not about a lover but about a powerful man who felt entitled to take sexual liberties. However, directed by Robert Falls, artistic director at Goodman Theatre, the Lyric production skillfully makes the comic moments funnier, the sexual attempts more offensive, the violence more dramatic and the punishment more tumultuous.

 

Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle in International Falls.
Sean Higgins and Marie Weigle in International Falls. (Photo by Katie Reynolds)

Reno Lovison

“International Falls” by Agency Theater Collective and End of the Line Production at the Nox Arca in August. It was an intimate play with truthful dialog that was well acted.

“My Life as A Country Song” by New American Folk Theatre at Chief O’Neill’s in October. It had very good original music.

 

Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)
Huber Marionettes Gypsy Dancer. (Photo courtesy of Huber Marionettes)

Pamela McKuen

My favorite is a theatrical event: the 3rd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. More than 100 performances of 24 shows were given by professional puppeteers from 11 countries at 19 venues. I had the privilege of seeing “Ajijaak on Turtle Island,” the story of a young whopping crane who was accidentally separated from her parents during her first migration. Along the way to unification, she learned valuable life-lessons about herself and living in harmony with nature. Puppets of all sizes and styles, their handlers, musicians and dancers interacted seamlessly to present an engaging and unforgettable experience.

 

Matt Crowle and Rachel Klippel in Porchlight Music Theatre's "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder." (Michael Courier photo)
Matt Crowle and Rachel Klippel in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” (Michael Courier photo)

Mira Temkin

Comedy Kills in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” at Porchlight Music Theatre” mid January to mid March. This was my favorite show of the year because of the fine acting of Jefferson- Award Winner Matt Crowle who plays multiple roles of both men and women. This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of Monty Navarro, a conniving, down-on-his-luck Englishman who finds out he stands to inherit the earldom of Highhurst and substantial wealth if only he could eliminate his eight pesky relatives who stand in his way. Quickly as you can imagine, things start to go awry. But Navarro must keep on his toes with both his mistress and his fiancée… and not get put in jail. And those darting eyes… hysterical!

 

Some theater venues around town. (J Jacobs photo

Well, even though the designation of Year of Chicago Theatre is about over, all of us at Chicago Theater and Arts think we’re lucky to have great theater on stages large and small throughout the Chicago area every year.

We know that the theater season doesn’t go by the calendar year at every venue but no matter how the season is divided, we are very much looking forward to seeing and reviewing the best of 2020.

We wish everyone an interesting theater experience in the new year.

 

‘Oslo’ reveals story behind groundbreaking peace accords

 

L to R Norwegians Jan Egeland (Bernard Balbot) .Johan Jørgen Holst (David Parkes), Mona Juul (Bri Sudia) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Scott Parkinson), strategize how to keep secret the negotiations they are helping to facilitate. (Brett Beiner photography)
L to R Norwegians Jan Egeland (Bernard Balbot) .Johan Jørgen Holst (David Parkes), Mona Juul (Bri Sudia) and Terje Rød-Larsen (Scott Parkinson), strategize how to keep secret the negotiations they are helping to facilitate. (Brett Beiner photography)

4 stars

TV viewers saw Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shake hands with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat in 1993. The momentous event took place on the White House lawn in Washington D.C. But what led to that famous meeting were the previous, mostly off-the record, mostly unofficial negotiations taking place earlier that year in Oslo, Norway.

What “Oslo,” the multi-award-winning play by J. T. Rogers does is take audiences  into the apartment of husband-wife Mona Juul, a diplomat, and Terje Rod Larsen, a university institute’s social scientist, who together initiated the process, and into Juul’s phone conversations with Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorgen Holst and Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Egeland.

Through somewhat fictionalized conversations of actual meetings, Rogers builds suspense as the process moves from one level to the next with the action continuing in behind-the scenes discussions at an out-of-the public eye Norwegian manor.

 

Continue reading “‘Oslo’ reveals story behind groundbreaking peace accords”

Sneak Peek at next season in Mid-North neighborhoods

 

Lobby of the Athenaeum Theatre on Southport Ave., Chicago. (Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum Theatre )
Lobby of the Athenaeum Theatre on Southport Ave., Chicago. (Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum Theatre )

Chicago Theater and Arts “Sneak Peek” series looks at what will be on stage at a venue you like and also lets you know about some shows you might want to put on the calendar that you didn’t know were coming to Chicagoland.. Part Four searches the area from Athenaeum to Wit.

Part One was Looking ahead to the next theater season starting with Broadway in Chicago. Part Two was Theaters Downtown and on the Mag Mile.) Part three  was what will be on stage in the Lincoln Park and Near North areas. When this series is over, the next will break shows down by category as Halloween, Christmas, world premier, classic.

Enjoy the new season

For more details, tickets and subscriptions click on each theater’s link. Theater is not a typo. Some production companies use theatre others theater.

 

Athenaeum Theatre

A multi venue operation, the building is at 2936 N. Southport Ave. This summer, Eclipse Theatre Company is doing “Beyond Therapy” through Aug. 18, 2019 on Stage Three.

This fall The Right Brain Project presents “(Non) Fiction” Aug. 22-Sept 15, in Studio One. This winter Eclipse Theatre Company  will do “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them as the last part of the 2019 Christopher Durang series.

For tickets and other information call (773) 935-6875 and visit Athenaeum Theatre.

 

Mercury Theater

The building is at 3745 N. Southport Ave.  Monty Python’s “Spamalot” is there Aug. 30 to Nov. 3, 2019. For tickets and future shows call (773) 325-1700 and visit Mercury Theater.

 

Stage 773

A multi-theater venue, Stage 773 is at 1225 W. Belmont Ave.

American Blues Theater is currently doing a revival of “Spitfire Grill – The Musical” through  Aug. 17 in the Pro Theater, Black Button Eyes has “Ghost Quartet” through Aug. 17 in the Box Theater and Fearless Fiction Productions is doing “Murdering Macbeth,” Aug. 29 to Sept. 8 in the Thrust Theater.

In addition, David Gosz & Leo Fotos are presenting their musical about living with mental health, “Tru,”   Nov. 1 to Nov. 24 on the Thrust Stage. Her Story Theater is doing “Invisible” Oct. 3  to Nov. 3 in the Box Theater and American Blues Theater is doing a revival of “Five Presidents’ Sept. 6 to Oct. 19 in the Pro Theater, followed by its annual holiday show, “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago”  Nov. 14, 2019 to Jan 4, 2020, also in the Pro theater.

Stage 773 also hosts cabarets and one-night shows. To see those listings visit Stage 773/All Shows.  For tickets and other information call (773) 327-5252 and visit Stage 773.

 

Strawdog Theatre Company

The theatre is at 1802 W. Berenice. Strawdog is doing “The Effect” Oct. 13 to Nov. 23 and “ Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” Saturdays and Sundays in December, 2019. TBA is the winter of 2020 show. “Welcome to Keene, New Hampshire” is April 16 to May 30, 2020. For tickets and other information call (773) 528-9696 and visit Strawdog.

 

Theater Wit

A shared venue, Theatre Wit is at 1229 W Belmont Ave.

Currently on stage is Kokandy Productions’ “Head Over Heels – The Musical” through Aug. 25, 2019.  Remy Bumppo Theatre, a resident Theater Wit company, presents “Howard’s End” Aug. 29 to Oct. 5, then “Top Girls” comes Jan 16 to Feb. 22, 2020 followed by “The Agitators” April 30 to June 6. In addition,  The Gift Theatre is doing “Kentucky” Oct 17-Nov. 16.

To see Theater Wit’s 2019 Summer Opera productions visit Theater Wit/Box Office. For tickets and other information call (773) 975-8150 and visit Theater Wit.

 

TimeLine Theatre Company

TimeLine, located at  615 W. Wellington Ave. chose shows for 2019-20 on the theme of Exploring today’s issues through the lens of the past” starting with “Oslo,” Sept. 18  to Oct. 20 followed by “Rutherford and Son,” Nov. 14 2019 to Jan. 12, 2020. Then, “Kill Move Paradise” is Feb. 20 to April 5 and “Relentless” is May 14 to June 27, 2020. For tickets and other information call  (773) 281-8463 and visit TimeLine.

 

Windy City Playhouse

The main location is 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. A second site in in the South Loop’s Motor Row.  Currently on stage is “Southern Gothic” through Sept. 1 and “The Recommendation”  through Sept. 22, 2019. Check location when ordering tickets.

Next, “Every Brilliant Thing” opens Sept. 18, 2019. “The Boys in the Band” begins Jan. 29, 2020. For tickets and other information call  (773) 891-8985 and visit Windy City Playhouse.

Jodie Jacobs