Certainly, holiday shows such as Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” on stage to Dec. 27, and Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” up through Dec 31, were on our calendars two months ago to plan the outing. Both are traditional go-to shows for many Chicagoans.
But the season for holiday shows won’t be over until the last toast hails a new year. So here are a few shows that may not have caught your attention. One is a good-old standby that still merits a seat while one is a startling new take on an old stand-by and one is fun for youngsters. They can fit into the remaining count-down days of 2022.
“White Christmas” just opened at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie with Irving Berlin’s music and lyrics and a new book by David Ives and Paul Blake. it’s a post WWII feel-good, rom/com with joyous music and such lasting melodies as “Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings,” and “How Deep is the Ocean.” Presented by Music Theater Works which used to use Cahn Auditorium in Evanston, “White Christmas” continues through Jan. 1, 2023 at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie. For tickets call (847) 673-6300 or visit musictheaterworks.
Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre is not a Goodman Theatre-style production although it mostly uses Dicken’s storyline. 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 and her unhappiness comes across at the start of the show. A storm arrives, the power goes out and ghostly “puppets” intervene until Trudy realizes she has no choice but continue the Christmas Carol story with shadow puppets and ghosts. She, as was Scrooge, is a different person by the end of the play. Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 24. For tickets and more information visit Writers Theatre. Masks are highly recommended. (Audience most be age 6 and older).
“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” is playing at Strawdog Theatre in the Edgewater neighborhood. Based on the Caldecott Honor award-winning book by Eric Kimmel and adapted by ensemble member Michael Dailey with music and lyrics by Jacob Combs, the play follows a traveling troupe of actors who find no one in a town they visit are celebrating Hanukkah because goblins haunt the old synagogue. The production continues through 31, 2022 at The Edge Off-Broadway Theater. Tickets are free with reservations at www.strawdog.org. (COVID protocol: Audience members aged 2+ years must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth. Audience members aged 5+ years must provide, before entering the venue proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or proof of negative PCR test.)
The almost post-pandemic year of 2022 saw life return to Chicago’s stages. Here are a couple of our critic’s thoughts on some really well-done shows seen in 2022..
My favorite was the Goodman Theatre’s production of “Goodnight, Oscar” starring Sean Hayes. The play was funny, poignant and dealt with the issues of mental health, something even more relevant today than when the play took place in 1958. I knew when I reviewed it, that I had seen something quite extraordinary on stage. The ending was a triumph. The play is now headed to Broadway. Bravo! – Mira Temkin
Wow! “How (do) you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” It’s what I felt I learned walking out of Marriott Theatre Linconshire’s “The Sound of Music.” Yes, the musical has been done countless times, but it’s been a while since I have left a show thinking it was perfect. With so many factors to consider from vocals, acting and dance to script and music, some elements tend to outshine or are weaker than others in various productions. But upon leaving opening night of Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire’s “The Sound of Music,” April 20, 2022, the word that came to mind was “perfect.” – Jodie Jacobs
One of the best shows I was lucky enough to see in 2022 is still appearing through Dec. 24. It is “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL. An award-winning film/video and live performance and design company, Manual Cinema brings extra layers of meaning to stories we think we know. That was definitely true to Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” reworked to apply to current situations and characters. If you go, be prepared for an unusual theatrical experience that includes ghosts, shadow puppets, an old film screen using an old projector (they call it “vintage,” and outstanding acting by LaKecia Harris as the main character, Aunt Trudy. – Jodie Jacobs
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.
Tis the season for a couple of major changes in suburban theaters.
Most everyone in Chicago’s theater community knows that Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls had announced leaving in 2022 and that Anton Chekhov’s a “A Cherry Orchard” in Goodman’s 2022-23 season would be his last production.
But word is out now that Writers Theatre in north suburban Glencoe has found its new artistic director and that the founding executive director of First Folio Theatre in west suburban Oakbrook is retiring.
First, take advantage of seeing a fine Equity production in an atmospheric estate before this not-for-profit theatre in the western suburbs closes in 2023.
With the retirement of Executive Director David Rice after 25 years, First Folio Theatre will be saying goodbye to the remarkable Mayslake Peabody Estate it calls home in Oakbrook.
It’s worth going to the show just to see the estate, but the acting is excellent and the 2022-23 season has four shows representative of the kind of theater experience that gives First Folio a top-notch reputation.
Its final season features Margaret Raether’s “Jeeves Intervenes,” Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” Ann Noble’s “And Neither do I Have Wings to Fly” and William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
Now, expect even more new shows and projects than Writers Theatre has accomplished in the past. Seattle Repertory Theatre, the largest not-for profit theater in the Pacific Northwest and known for premiers, is losing Artistic Director Braden Abraham to WT in 2023.
He will be coming to town shortly after the late December 2022 closing of the premier of “Mr. Dickens and His Carol” by Samantha Silva that Abraham developed and is directing.
Interim Artistic director Bobby Kennedy has been helming productions since WT co-founder Michael Halberstam resigned in July 2021.
Founded in 1992, WT has done more than 120 productions ranging from re- interpretations of classics to holding more than two dozen world premieres.
It also built a highly acclaimed theater complex designed by Jeanne Gang and her Studio Gang Architects.
Closing out their 2021-2022 season at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe is Pearl’s Rollin’ with the Blues: A Night with Felicia P. Fields now through July 24, 2022.
Singing the blues is what Tony Award nominee Felicia P. Fields does best and boy, does she belt. With the help of her mighty talented 5-piece band, she takes the audience on a road trip through the blues.
Created by Fields and Ron OJ Parson who collaborated on WT’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, they celebrate the pioneers of the past including Big Mama Thornton, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf and other blues greats.
They tell stories, engage with the audience and throw everything up for grabs as people listen in amazement.
Look out if you’re sitting at a table as no subject is taboo. But it’s all in good fun and laughs.
On a more serious side, Fields shares her journey about transferring to a high school on the north side of Chicago and the racism she encountered there.
Pearl’s Rollin’ with the Blues is a joyful concert celebration featuring Fields with music director Chic Street on guitar, Ricardo Jimenez on horn and harp, Frank Menzies at the keyboard, Harold Morrison on drums and Julie Poncé on base.
This show, an original and nothing like you’ve ever seen before, takes the blues to new heights.
(Writers Theatre is helmed by Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma and Interim Artistic Director Bobby Kennedy).
DETAILS: “Pearls Rolling in the Blues” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through July 24,2022. Runtime: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and more information visit Writers Theatre.
(Writers Theatre requires all seated patrons to wear a mask during performances. If you attend without a mask, Writers Theatre will provide one for you. Visit writerstheatre.org/covid-safety for details).
Closed for two years due to COIVD-19, Writers Theatre has reopened its 2021/2022 season with “Dishwasher Dreams.” A one-man show written and performed by Alaudin Ullah, it highlights the immigrant experience through the eyes of a father and son.
The show opens with and is accompanied by tabla percussionist Avirodh Sharma who adds a sense of cultural authenticity to the performance. Sharma is considered one of today’s leading exponents of the tabla, carrying on the tradition of percussion rhythm that originated in India.
Ullah is a stand-up comedian whose family came from a very small town in Bangladesh. He grew up in New York City but is in L.A. auditioning for a major film role that could change the course of his career. Unfortunately, a family crisis hurls him back to New York and puts his own dreams on hold.
He takes the audience on a hilarious journey through his family’s history from colonial India in the 1930s to Spanish Harlem in the 1970s to present-day Hollywood.
This exhilarating trek will have you laughing and crying at the same time as Ullah shares his experiences of immigration, the Yankees and the pursuit of the American Dream.
At heart, Ullah is a storyteller dedicated to changing the misperceptions of South Asians and Muslims in our society. His performance covers a range of emotions dealing with prejudice and racism on stage as he tries to become a successful American.
For both father and son, there is more to life than being an undocumented worker with little opportunity for advancement. Ullah shows us with humor and commitment how he overcame this!
A playwright and performer with several TV and film acting credits, Ullah was one of the first South Asian comedians featured nationally on HBO, MTV, BET, PBS and Comedy Central. He is currently working on a documentary of his book, “Bengali Harlem,” to be out next year.
The show is directed by Chay Yew, (formerly of Victory Gardens Theater) in association with Hartford Stage. Writers Theatre which recently changed leadership, is helmed by Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma and Interim Artistic Director Bobby Kennedy.
DETAILS: Dishwasher Dreams is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through January 16, 2022. Run Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information, visit writerstheatre.org. (Visitors must show a valid Covid vaccination card and must be masked through the entire presentation.)
So many Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to see On Demand, stream live or hear, such as Goodman Theatre’s audio drama. And so little time. Wait! With the pandemic still going on there is plenty of time to catch a couple more interpretations.
Among them is Writers Theatre’s “One-Man A Christmas Carol” acted, narrated and adopted by Artistic Director Michael Halberstam, reviewed here. Another one that will be reviewed tomorrow is Manual Cinema’s “Christmas Carol.”
Because each production is different and brings the strengths of a professional team, all three shows merit time and ticket. Given Dickens’ adroit telling of his moralistic, ghostly novella, “A Christmas Carol” is a story worth repeating.
Viewers of the Writers Theatre’s show, produced in collaboration with HMS Media and directed by Stanton Long, are sure to get caught up in Halberstam’s portrayal of Scrooge, the ghosts, the Cratchit family and assorted other characters.
Background projections occasionally add interest to the telling although it would work as well as a radio show. What does work for me is that, though annotated, Halberstam does use Dickens’ original words and phrases.
What I didn’t expect, considering how often I’ve seen different productions of “A Christmas Carol,” is to tear up during the ghost of what’s to come’s visit to the Cratchit household.
That poignant scene really showcased Halberstam’s fine acting.
For ticket and other information visit Writers Theatre or call (847) 242-6000.
“Stick Fly,’ Lydia R. Diamond’s intelligent dramedy now at Writers Theatre, has so many angles and thought-provoking lines that audiences are likely not to notice it runs somewhat more than two and a half hours (with an intermission).
Early on there is the realization that “wasps” don’t have a patent on upper-middle class expectations regarding their progeny’s careers or mates. The story presents the wealthy, highly educated African American LeVay family as they settle in for a relaxing weekend at their second home, a well-appointed “cottage” on Martha’s Vineyard.
Often called MLK Day, the third Monday of January has been officially observed to honor the civil rights leader in all 50 states since 2000. It is an American federal holiday so schools, banks, and some business are closed.
The day has become a chance to honor Martin Luther King Jr with service projects, free museum visits and special programs. Here are some of the events and places to spend quality time on MLK Day this year, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.
Performance of “The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights”
Glencoe-based Writers Theatre holds annual performances of “the MLK Project.” Written by Yolanda Androzzo, directed by Sophiyaa Nayarand featuring Adhana Reid, “The Fight for Civil Rights” production will be held Jan. 20, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N Clark Street in Chicago. The event is free and includes a post-show community discussion. Attendees also have free museum admission for the whole day. Folr more information visit Writers Theatre/Education.
The Writers Theatre production is a tour that goes to schools and community centers then closes at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place, Chicago, 7 p.m. Feb. 28, 2020. The performance is free and can be reserved in advance by calling (773) 947-0600.
The Adler Planetarium at the far eastern end of the Museum Campus at 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., has one of its free General Admission days for Illinois residents on Jan. 20, 2020. It is also an Illinois Resident Discount Day which means that tickets to other exhibits and shows not included in General Admission can be obtained at discount prices. For more information call (312) 922-7827 or visit Adler Planetarium/special offers.
The Shedd Aquarium, located in the middle of the Museum Campus at 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., has a similar arrangement for MLK Day. There is free general admission and discounts for special exhibit and shows for Illinois residents. For more information call (312) 939-2438 or visit Shedd Aquarium/discount and free days.
The Field Museum, sitting at the entrance to the Museum Campus at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., also has one of its free general admission days on Jan. 20, 2020. As part of the Illinois Resident Discount Days, passes to special exhibits are available at lower prices. For more information call (312) 922.9410 or visit Field Museum/free admission days.
Free Museum of Science and Industry admission.
MSI, south of downtown near Hyde Park neighborhood at 57oo s. Lake Shore Dr., has an Illinois Resident Free Day Jan. 20, 2020 so general admission is free plus special exhibits can be seen at discounted prices. For more information visit MSI tickets.
(See other free general admission and discount days at each museum link listed. The free days are for Illinois residents so valid ID is needed. Also check for other categories such as active military and education personnel.)
Martin Luther King Day of Service
Some communities have projects planned for MLK Day. North suburban Highland Park is holding its 11th annual Day of Service 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 20, 2020 at the Recreaction Center of Highland Park, 1207 Park Ave West, just east of IL Hwy 41. The projects will help area agencies. For more information visit Park District of Highland Park/MLK.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.