Category: Tony Awards

Review: My Fair Lady (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Donald Maxwell and Lisa O'Hare in My Fair Lady -Andrew Cioffi           
      
  

My Fair Lady

By Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics)
   and Frederick Loewe (music)
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
thru May 21  |  tix: $22-$199  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     

May 2, 2017 | 0 Comments More

After 8 record-breaking years, Million Dollar Quartet to bid farewell to Chicago

         
 Brandon Bennett, Adam Lee, Lance Lipinsky, Shaun Whitley, Robby Kipferl, Chris Damiano, Andy Ahrens, Patrick Morrow, Jay Perkins and Kelly Lamont star in "Million Dollar Quartet" at Chicago's Apollo Theater.

Chicago’s longest-running Broadway musical to close

With almost 3,000 performances and now in its eighth year in Chicago, Million Dollar Quartet, Chicago’s longest-running Broadway musical (our review ★★★½), is set to close this coming January.  The Tony Award winning rock ‘n’ roll musical has been breaking box office records at the Apollo Theater, where it will be running for only twelve weeks more.  (read more) 

October 19, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Broadway in Chicago)

Adrienne Eller and Kevin Massey star in Broadway in Chicago's "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" by Robert L. Friedman and Steven Lutvak, directed by Darko Tresnjak. (photo credit: Joan Marcus)            
      
A Gentleman’s Guide
to Love and Murder
 

Book/Lyrics by Robert L. Friedman
Music/Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru Oct 11 | tix: $33-$100  | more info
       
Check for half-price tickets  

October 6, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: Metamorphoses (Lookingglass Theatre)

Larry DiStasi stars in Lookingglass Theatre's "Metamorphoses", written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)        
       
Metamorphoses 

Written and Directed by Mary Zimmerman 
From myths by Ovid, David R. Slavitt translator
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map)
thru Nov 18 Jan 6 |  tickets: $28-$70   |  more info

Check for half-price tickets
    
        
        Read entire review
     

October 1, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Last Act of Lilka Kadison (Lookingglass)

     
     

Now extended through August 21st!

Recent Tony Award not Lookingglass’ last act

  
  

Marilyn Dodds Frank (Lilith Fisher), Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) and Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

  
Lookingglass Theatre presents
   
   
The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
   
Written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Abbie Phillips
         Heidi Stillman and Andrew White
Directed by David Kersnar
at Lookingglass Theatre, Water Tower Water Works. (map)
through July 24 August 21  |  tickets: $30-$58  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel 

This weekend, most of the people that put Lookingglass Theatre Company on the map were not at the opening for their latest show, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison. Instead, they were sitting in the Beacon Theatre in New York City—that other theatre town—scooping up the 2011 Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre. This marks the fifth such award belonging to Chicago, making one wonder if maybe the whole Tony venture should shift more Midwest. That’s not too likely happen, no matter how much tepid material Broadway churns out (with a few bright spots, of course).

Marilyn Dodds Frank (Lilith Fisher), Usman Ally (Menelik Kahn), Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)Lilka Kadison, then, finds itself in an odd position. Considering the timing, it should prove that Lookingglass deserves that little statue. The play, collectively written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar (who also directs), Abbie Phillips, Heidi Stillman and Andrew White, is stylistically different from any Lookingglass piece I’ve seen—it’s in proscenium. But what seems like a conservative choice on the surface is really a storytelling maneuver. Kadison is still infused with the whimsy-tinged yet socially conscious ethos that made the company famous. While the story is jerky, there’s a heart-tugging journey with plenty of breathtaking moments.

As you might expect with a play containing the words “The Last Act” in the title, Kadison is a concise meditation on death. And life. Kersnar and friends based the piece on the writings of the late Johanna Cooper, who worked with Phillips on a radio series called “One People, Many Stories.” The duo recorded the stories of Jews from all over the planet and put them on the radio. The far-reaching narrative of Cooper’s tales resonate with this script, which traverses the Atlantic and the multiple lives of Lilka.

The play splits focus between two periods in the life of the titular female. In one, she’s a young, romantic Jewish girl (Nora Fiffer) living in Poland days before the Nazis strolled in. The other is the “last act,” where we find an embittered, cranky old woman (Marilyn Dodds Frank) left to die in her cluttered house. Her only companion is her live-in caretaker, Menelik (Usman Ally). Moving throughout both these realms is the charming Ben Ari Adler (Chance Bone), Lilka’s first love. He was there to protect her during the invasion and his spirit later haunts her, begging her to tell their unknown story to someone.

     
Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison), Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Usman Ally (Menelik Kahn) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams) Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) do the dip in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) and Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

The narrative moves along at a chipper pace, clocking in at 90 minutes with no intermission. The obligatory quirky theatricality here is the show’s homage to Yiddish theatre of the 1930’s. Adler drags around a toy theatre where he puts up elaborate puppet shows and schemes his larger theatrical ventures. Kersnar throws too much time and attention on these moments, though they never get close to boring. The actual love story is ill-developed, jumping through the courtship at an unbelievable pace. I can chalk some of this up to radical world circumstances and the story gets the emotional job done in the end, but I was longing for some more scenes detailing Lilka and Adler’s relationship.

Each of the performers holds their own against the technical hullabaloo going on. Bone is the highlight, exuding the urbanity of an old time movie hero, even when he’s operating puppets or doing some magic trick. Fiffer and Frank are interesting foils and both funny in their own way. Ally steals his fair share of scenes as the much-abused nurse. Props to the writing committee for giving Melenik enough depth so he’s not just another throw-away supporting character.

Kadison works because of its heart, plain and simple—though the delightful stage pictures help. The play’s final message is terse yet touching—give your mom a call.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Extra Credit: Check out this production’s wonderful study guide!!

   

Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) with their toy theater, in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

All photos by Sean Williams

     
     
June 13, 2011 | 1 Comment More

Review: Next to Normal (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

A harshly relevant, yet gloriously hopeful masterpiece

     
     

The cast of 'Next to Normal' - Clockwise from top: Curt Hansen, Jeremy Kushnier, Preston Sadleir, Emma Hunton, Asa Somers, and Alice Ripley

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Next to Normal
  
Book/Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Michael Greif
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through May 8  | 
tickets: $32 – $95  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Last year, the Pulitzer Prize board took a look at the short list from the subcommittee that makes recommendations on who should win the coveted award for drama. The board tossed the recommendations out, and instead bestowed the Pulitzer on Next to Normal, a show that the recommending body didn’t even rate as a semi-finalist. In some circles, the decision was viewed as an autocratic move illustrating the limitations of an unchecked board. Others applauded the decision, overjoyed that a musical about mental illness had catapulted the difficult topic into the national spotlight. Revisiting Next to Normal for the second time in as many years, we’re more certain than ever that the Pulitzer went to the right people.

Alice Ripley and Curt Hansen in 'Next to Normal'.On paper, the show sounds like the worst idea for a musical since “Springtime for Hitler”. Next to Normal has no dance numbers to speak of, no chorus line of cute chorines, no happy ending. It is about a woman who has shock treatments. It is also about a family that has been devastated by tragedy, perhaps beyond repair. It is about doctors who admit that nobody really knows how to cure mental illness and that finding an effective treatment for mood disorders is like locating a silver thread in a huge, cloudy swamp. It is about the futility of stumbling blindly through ad lib regimes of SRO inhibitors, benzodiazepines, lithium, Prozac, Cymbalta, Zoloft, Seroquel, and an endless alphabet soup of other chemistry-altering pills whose side effects range from dizziness to death. Clearly, we’re not in Shuffle-off-to-Buffalo territory here.

Yet in a country where, year after year, suicides outnumber homicides, Next to Normal is about as relevant, compelling and urgently necessary as theater gets. It also benefits from composer Tom Kitt’s gorgeous score, Brian Yorkey’s smart, insightful lyrics and direction by Michael Greif that grabs your heart within the first 10 seconds and doesn’t let go until long after the final curtain call. Next to Normal is not an easy show: It confronts you relentlessly with the despair, absurdity and in-curability of mood disorders. But it is also gloriously hopeful as it shines a compassionate spotlight on a topic about which there is far too much ignorance.

And make no mistake – that ignorance is rampant. Consider the language of suicide: We say “Diana killed herself,” as if the act were a choice, a decision uninfluenced by the very real illness of depression. When people die of cancer, the disease is blamed. When people die of depression, the victims are blamed.

So much for background on the societal necessity of this particular show. This is theater, so the real question isn’t about its social value. It’s about whether it is any good. The answer is yes. With significant caveat. The cast for the touring production is mostly as good as the Broadway ensemble, but the player who falls outside that “mostly” is crucial.

     
Curt Hansen (Gabe), Alice Ripley (Diana) and Asa Somers (Dan) in Broadway in Chicago's 'Next to Normal' Emma Hunton as Natalie in the national tour of 'Next to Normal'.
Asa Somers as Dan in Broadway in Chicago's 'Next to Normal'. Preston Sadleir as Henry in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal" Curt Hansen as Gabe in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal"

Next to Normal is anchored by Alice Ripley, who won the Tony for her performance as Diana Goodman on Broadway. But Ripley’s voice is not what it was on Broadway a year ago. Performing this vocally demanding score eight times a week has taken a toll. She struggles significantly with both pitch and with diction. Crucial lyrics are muddy, soaring top notes falter painfully. Pivotal numbers – I Miss the Mountains, You Don’t Know, Didn’t I See This Movie – don’t get the clarity the plot needs or the musicality the score contains.

Acting, Ripley remains superb, capturing the highs, lows and utter absurdities of mood disorders with an accuracy that is both deeply moving and blackly hilarious. But Next to Normal demands a great vocalist as well as a great actress. Opening night at the Bank of America (Shubert) Theatre, Ripley simply wasn’t consistent in the former capacity.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal"Still – perhaps paradoxically – Next to Normal remains a four star, must-see show. The supporting cast is pitch perfect. As Diana’s struggling 16-year-old daughter, Emma Hunton is heart-breaking in her vulnerability and defensive anger. With the short, bittersweet “Everything Else”, she delivers an ode to the crystalline order of Mozart’s music, with a poignant wistfulness that’s as sad as it is beautiful. As Diana’s son Gabe, Curt Hansen is thrilling, at once alluring and menacing and positively electrifying on the rock-infused “I’m Alive.” As Diana’s husband, Asa Somers’ Dan, delivers both the all-but unbearable frustration that results when a loved one’s struggle with mental illness seems never ending and years of treatment prove to be of dubious value. And as Diana’s psychiatrist, Jeremy Kushnier deftly portrays both the expertise and the impotence of a science that is more guess work than anything.

Next to Normal remains a magnificent musical. But with Ripley no longer in prime voice, it isn’t as magnificent as it might be.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

The cast of "Next to Normal", now playing at the Bank of America Theatre in downtown Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

     

    

April 29, 2011 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: A Chorus Line (Marriott Theatre)

Gotta Dance!

 

Chorus Line at Marriott

   
Marriott Theatre presents
   
A Chorus Line
   
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Directed by Mark Lococo
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (map)
Through October 31  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Mara Davi as Cassie - Chorus Line MarriottCelebrating its 35th anniversary in a terrific revival staged by Mark Lococo, A Chorus Line remains the late Michael Bennett‘s breakthrough backstage musical, winner of nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In this "show before a show" the parts–the 17 dancers–outweigh the whole. That greater good is an imaginary musical where, as the hoofers swagger in Nancy Missimi’s gold lamé suits against massive mirrors, their Broadway fantasies come true. But by then we know “what they did for” dance.”

Most musicals are examples of art imitating life. Not so A Chorus Line. It fascinates because its constantly young cast insure that this show is a textbook case of life imitating art imitating life. (Actors in 2010 who could be the children of the 1975 cast are creating the 1975 creation that was itself inspired by the reality of 1975 dancers.) The recessed mirrors in Marriott’s Production perfectly symbolize the backstage, show-before-a-show nature of this unconventional depiction of the creation of a very conventional Broadway musical. (Remember: The finale, “One Singular Sensation,” is really intended as a backup to a star of the Streisand, Verdon or Ann Miller persuasion. “Chorus Line” may be all about dance but the “outside” musical that they’re creating is not.)  

It’s ironic that, after we get to know the "dance gypsies" chosen from the 24 who endure this grueling try-out, the survivors get swallowed up in "One," this massive finale where what counts is the lockstep anonymity of a kick line. The humanity that went into the song-confessionals, where the auditioners testified to the resilience, sexiness, escapism and transience of their trade, yields to the conformity of interchangeable parts. This "one singular sensation" is American individuality feeding American efficiency. Another all-too-American quality, at least at this stage of the recession, is the desperation that surges through “I Need This Job.”

 

Anika Ellis as Shiela - Chorus Line Marriott Bryan Knowlton as Paul - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation Nina Fluke as Val - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line Cast - Marriott

Before that chorus/assembly line closes ranks, we’ve felt the full diversity of the dancers, as preserved from interviews that Bennett did with the original dancers some 35 years ago. It’s ironic that the current dancers may have their own stories but they’re in effect prisoners of the musical’s now-distant past.

In Lococo’s devoted reprise of this not-so-retro musical, a second (or third?) generation solidly replay the life stories of the 1975 originals, slinking and strutting their way through Bennett’s pizzazz-packed choreography (here re-imagined by Rachel Rockwell) and tearing into Marvin Hamlisch‘s sturdy score. This arena staging may be in the round but the mirrors work even better than in a proscenium  production. They may not suggest many more dancers than the cast itself but the recessed effect makes it look like we’re seeing memories as much as moments here.

Adam Estes as Gregory - Chorus Line MarriottFleshing out showbiz stereotypes with true-life immediacy, Alexander Aguilar relishes the effortless bravura of "I Can Do That" and Pilar Millhollen belts out the tough-girl wisdom of "What I Did for Love." As Sheila, the aging but indomitable siren, Anika Ellis purges her past in "At the Ballet," while Nina Fluke reinvents Val’s surgical saga in "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."

In the one unsung solo, Bryan Knowlton digs heartache from Paul’s tale of a gay dancer unexpectedly accepted by his family. Registering the full joy of moving fast, buffed-up Max Kumangai is a blurry revelation.

As he shapes the audition-rehearsal with God-like omniscience, Chicago favorite Tim Gregory brings easy authority to confessor-choreographer Zach, though his soap-opera showdown with Cassie, his old flame, seems perfunctory. Undeterred, Broadway notable Mara Davi (who appeared in the recent revival) throws herself into "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie’s tour-de-force dance sequence. It should feel as if everyone who ever danced the part were with her but on opening night she seemed to lose her terpsichorean motivations and it fell flat.

First and always, the revival confirms the continuing cause for its docu-tribute: Bennett’s high-strutting, soul-stirring dances are a perfect match for the aspirations this musical will always extol.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation2

 

   
   
September 13, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Into the Woods (Porchlight Music Theatre)

Enchanted cast serves up skewered storybook characters

 Jeny Wasilewski as Little Red Ridinghood, Henry Michael Odum as Narrator, Steve Best as The Baker

 
Porchlight Music Theatre presents
 
Into the Woods
 
Book by James Lapine
Music/Lyrics by
Stephen Sondheim 
Directed by
L. Walter Stearns
Music Direction by Eugene Dizon
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through May 30th | tickets: $38 | more info

By Katy Walsh

What happens after happily everafter? What is next after Cinderella gets married, Jack kills the giant, Rapunzel has short hair? Porchlight Music Theatre presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Into The Woods. The baker learns his witch-of-a neighbor has cursed him with infertility. To break the barren spell, the baker is instructed by the  Rachel Quinn as Cinderellawitch to produce a red cape, golden slipper, white cow and blonde hair strands. He and his wife go into the woods to secure the hex-breaking ingredients. Among the trees, they find storybook characters struggling with their own predetermined storybook ending. Into The Woods intersects multiple fairytale classics to create non-traditional ever-afters.

The set designed by Ian Zywica establishes the woods location. Although the five piece orchestra is visibly on stage, they vanish just beyond a hill and bramble. Center stage is a large full moon-shaped screen doubling as forest projections and shadowboxing scenes (designed by Liviu Pasare). The multi-media effect adds a mystical quality for dead people speaking or being regurgitated. Although simplistic, it has all the makings for a magical forest for close encounters of the fable kind.

Under the direction of Artistic Director L. Walter Stearns, the talented ensemble cast are enchanting(!). Bethany Thomas (witch) is spellbindingly marvelous belting out the punch line and song. Her rendition of “Children Will Listen” is an inspiring memorable moment. With exaggerated prince-like debonair, Cameron Brune and William Travis Taylor are hilarious leaping in and out of scenes. Their double duet of “Agony” is suave buffoonery, as Taylor quips, “I was taught to be charming not sincere.” Although sometimes overpowered by the band, Jeny Wasilewski (Red Riding Hood) sings and skips with spunky determination. Channeling Amy Adams’ “Enchanted” performance, Rachel Quinn (Cinderella) is a wistful and underwhelmed target of the prince’s affection. Steve Best and Brianna Borger (Baker/Baker’s Wife) sing an amusing duet of marital expectations. The large cast adds harmonious voice to the finale… both of them.

Cameron Brune as Rapunzel's Prince and William Travis Taylor as Cinderella's Prince Cameron Brune as The Wolf and Jeny Wasilewski as Little Red Ridinghood
Henry Michael Odum as Mysterious Man Steve Best as The Baker and Brianna Borger as The Baker's Wife Rachel Quinn as Cinderella and Jeny Wasilewski as Little Red Ridinghood

Initially, Into The Woods is a clever and witty flashback to childhood stories. In a ninety minute first act, playwright James Lapine succinctly intertwines various fairytales with additions of each character’s back story. The happily-ever-after finale is amusing, satisfying and surprising. The projected words “to be continued” initiates a program book revisit. Apparently, something does happens after ‘happily ever after.’ Act II starts where the traditional fairytale ends. The results are less than whimsical with a giant’s village domination, philandering spouses, and serial killing. It’s a harsh twist for following your dream. Sure, there are adult lessons to be learned about the consequences of pursuing your heart’s desire. It’s called reality. I prefer to keep my childhood heroes in a perpetual state of Act I make believe.

 
   
Rating: ★★★
    
    

 

Kristen Leia Freilich as Jack's Mother and Scott J. Sumerak as Jack Bethany Thomas as The Witch

 

April 14, 2010 | 0 Comments More