Category: Congo Square

Review: Twisted Melodies (Congo Square Theatre)

Kelvin Roston Jr. stars as Donny Hathaway in Congo Square Theatre's remount of "Twisted Melodies" by Kelvin Roston, directed by Samuel G. Robertson, Jr.       
      
Twisted Melodies

Written by Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru Sept 13 | tix: $17-$37 | more info
       
Check for half-price tickets    
    

August 29, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: Broken Fences (16th Street Theater)

Scott Allen Luke and Kirsten D'Aurelio in "Broken Fences" by Steven Simoncic, directed by Ann Filmer and Ilesa Duncan. (photo credit: Anthony Aicardi)        
       
Broken Fences 

Written by Steven Simoncic  
Co-Directed by Ann Filmer and Ilesa Duncan
at 16th Street Theater, Berwyn (map)
thru Date  |  tickets: $18   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
                   Read review
     

September 28, 2013 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: The Nativity (Congo Square)

  
  

Beautiful to Behold

  
  

Congo Square - The Black Nativity - Celebrating the Birth

   
Congo Square Theatre presents
  
   
The Nativity
  
Written by McKinley Johnson
Inspired by
Langston Hughes
Directed by
Aaron Todd Douglas
at Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through Dec 31  |  tickets: $30-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I have been going to the theater in Chicago for over 40 years and Black-themed productions have a special place in my heart since I first witnessed Purlie Victorious! at what was the Monroe Theater in 1969. The power of seeing and hearing the old traditions, colloquialisms, and gospel or blues tinged singing remains with me. This year, I wasn’t feeling the so-called Christmas Spirit in full. The commercials started before I could plow through my Halloween stash of candy and make the turkey sandwiches from Thanksgiving. Thank goodness I got my hallelujah infusion from Congo Square’s production of The Nativity.

Kathleen Purcell Turner and Pierre Clark as Mary and JosephThis musical and dance extravaganza is written by McKinley Johnson and inspired by one of my favorite writers: Langston Hughes. The plot is the traditional Nativity story of the Visitation from the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary and the adventures that ensued in the birthing of the man known as Jesus.

The Black Nativity, which inspired this work, is one of the sacred plays written by Langston Hughes in the late 40’s and early 50’s as the Harlem Renaissance gave way to a stronger Civil Rights Movement in America. The Black theater had always been a strong presence due to segregation and discrimination. Hughes was always unabashed in his support and pride for Black traditions in music, poetry, and other art forms. Director Aaron Todd Douglas, Musical Director Jaret Williams and Choreographer Kevin Iega Jeff have built a beautiful monument on the foundations laid by Hughes and McKinley.

The combination of dance and spoken word make for a powerful and emotional tribute. Dancers Kathleen Purcell Turner and Pierre Clark portray the characters of Mary and Joseph. They never speak but project power, emotion and pain with dance. Ms. Turner is a wonder to watch as she portrays the birth pains, terror and exhaustion of travel on the run. If I had not been sitting so close I would wonder if she was held up or manipulated by invisible cords. Her beautiful and expressive face shows innocence, giddy youthful love, fear, and finally a maternal glow. She and Mr. Clark play perfectly off of each other as a couple in love.

Pierre Clark is an amazing high school senior who has perfected the role of Joseph. He emotes the youthful lust and royal bearing befitting a descendant of King Solomon. His acting is wonderful and the protection and joy of fatherhood is beautifully played through his dance moves. The choreography is reminiscent of Capoeira dancing – a blend of dance and martial arts that was forbidden during the slave trade in Colonial Brazil. It is a stunning and innovative take on choreography in a sacred work.

The cast of singing actors in The Nativity is from the ranks of Chicago’s finest actors. John Steven Crowley commands the stage as the Angel Gabriel and the narrator of the story. Alexis Rogers and Jeniel Smith shine as Athaliah and Johashobah. They are best friends at the washing creek and wives the fearsome King Herod. They have some funny and contemporary lines that ring true in modern society as well as ancient times.

Pierre Clark and Kathleen Purcell Turner as Joseph and MaryBlack Ensemble Theater regular, Kelvin Roston Jr., joins Ms. Rogers and Ms. Smith. Mr. Roston brings his handsome and convivial charm to the roles of Tax Collector, Inn Keeper, and Centurion. It is always a pleasure to see him perform.

Dwelvan David is a standout as King Herod. Mr. David’s striking features and imposing projection give him a perfect balance of fierce warrior, cunning politician, and comic foil.

The singing in this play is exceptional and pure gospel. The selections by Jaret Williams are soul-rousing and seemingly tailored to the singing talents of the cast. The moment the piano played I felt that I was ‘back in the day’. A special mention of Melody Betts and Dawn Bless is warranted for their roles of Mother of Mary and Elizabeth. They each have wonderful solos and shine in the roles of mother, confidant, and protectors of the Virgin Mary. Two other highlights are the song and dance combination of ‘Her Way’s Cloudy’ and the appearance of the Three Kings. The costumes are perfection in the choice of fabric and tailoring. (I was really close to the stage). The song ‘You Ought To Try The Lord’ is rocking, as is the ‘get happy in church’ dance by Jon Pierce.

I recommend The Black Nativity as a holiday tradition for everyone no matter your race or religious tradition. It’s perfect for the whole family and as an introduction to musical theater for younger children. Kudos to all of the parents in the audience as this was one of the best intergenerational audiences I have had the pleasure to be in. Happiest of Holidays to Everyone!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Ensemble

The Congo Square Theatre production of The Nativity runs through December 31st at the Goodman Theatre,170 N. Dearborn in vibrant downtown Chicago. Please call 312-443-3800 for ticket information.

      
      
December 23, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Chris Jones announces 10 best plays of 2009

The Tribune’s Chris Jones announces Top 10 Plays of 2009

For the complete description, explanations and reviews of these plays (and others), be sure to visit Chris Jones’ excellent blog: The Theater Loop


1. The Arabian Nights by Mary ZimmermanLookingglass Theatre  (our review)

 

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2. The History Boys by Nicholas HytnerTimeline Theatre 

 

3. The Overwhelming by J.T. RogersNext Theatre 

4. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer DiazVictory Gardens (our review)

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5. Blackbird by David HarrowerVictory Gardens (our review)

 

6. Cabaret by Kander and EbbDrury Lane Oakbrook (our review)

 

7. The Mystery of Irma Vep by Sean GraneyCourt Theatre (our review)

 

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8. Graceland by Ellen FaireyProfiles Theatre (our review)

 

9. Oh Coward!devised by Roderick CookWriters’ Theatre (our review)

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10. Stud Terkel’s Not WorkingSecond City e.t.c.

 

Chris Jones’ list of 10 shows that “should have made the list”

Desire Under the ElmsGoodman Theatre

Little Foxes Shattered Globe Theatre 

Miss SaigonDrury Lane Oakbrook

Old Glory Writers’ Theatre

Our Lady of the Underpass Teatro Vista Theatre

Rock ‘n’ RollGoodman Theatre

Top Dog/Underdog American Theater Company and Congo Square Theatre

 Twelfth NightChicago Shakespeare Theatre 

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Marriott Theatre

December 27, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: Court Theatre’s “The Piano Lesson”

Blossoming with music, Court’s ‘Piano Lesson’ mixes family tensions and struggles with a dash of the paranormal.

Chicago's Court Theatre produces August Wilson's masterpiece "The Piano Lesson" 

The Piano Lesson 
Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Watching Court Theatre’s production of “The Piano Lesson,” by August Wilson, I couldn’t help comparing it to “The Cherry Orchard.”, by Anton Chekov. Although the play is distinctively American, elements in the Pulitzer Prize-winner are very similar to Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece. Set in 1936, characters descended from slaves attempt to move up in the world as the sons of plantation owners join the ranks of the rural poor; Wilson’s Boy Willie is sort of a black Lopakhin. Directed by Wilson veteran Ron OJ Parson, the Court’s “Piano Lesson” is a very effective snapshot of the American experience, with a tantalizing ghost story weaved in.

_msb1226__large Along with “Wait Until Dark,” this is the second production in the Court’s season that has features of a thriller flick. The fourth entry in Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” but the fifth to be written, “The Piano Lesson” records family tension and the African-American struggle in the 20th Century with a dash of the paranormal.

Like most of the cycle, the central conflict pits progressing in the modern world against reverence for the past. This conflict is symbolized by a beautiful piano that has a haunting presence around it. The piano is inherited to siblings Boy Willie (the lively Ronald L. Conner) and Berneice (Tyla Abercrumbie), with the former wishing to sell it to buy land and the latter fighting to keep the ancestral instrument. It is slowly revealed that piano has cost a lot of blood over its lifetime, and a few of the deceased may have followed the piano to Berneice’s home in Pittsburgh.

The cast shines with many experienced August Wilson actors, many of whom have been in productions of “Piano Lesson” across the country. Although no one actually teaches a piano lesson, the production blossoms with music. Mournful jazz numbers are played by musician Wining Boy (Alfred H. Wilson), and Boy Willie lays down a short dancehall tune. One of the best scenes of the play is when nearly all of the male characters join together in a powerful, rhythmic work song. Just like the piano, the music is a child of the characters’ heritage, offering them (and the audience) an escape, a celebration, and a shared experience. The songs are brilliantly scripted and nailed by this talented cast, tapping deep into the underlying themes.

The cast shines with many experienced August Wilson actors, many of whom have been in productions of “Piano Lesson” across the country. Conner is an energetic and stubborn Boy Willie, bristling with youthful drive. He’s grounded by his friend Lymon, played by a charismatic Brian Weddington. The older generation in the play, Alfred H. Wilson’s funny Wining Boy and A.C. Smith as the peacekeeping Doaker, add a deeper level of humanity to the play and present a welcome break from Boy Willie’s and Berneice’s constant bickering.

PianoLesson-hairThe fighting between the siblings is where the production falters. The battle quickly stalemates and the repeated arguments loose focus. Abercrumbie’s cold portrayal of Berneice doesn’t help, either. It seems like the production wants the play to be Berneice’s story, but Conner’s Boy Willie is much more interesting and sympathetic. Another stumbling block for the play is the character of Grace (Alexis J. Rogers), Boy Willie’s and Lymon’s 10-second love interest that doesn’t seem to have much of a point for the story.

Parson’s interpretation of the script, though, is layered and gives credence to both sides of the conflict. The realistic heart of the play, the music, and the campfire ghost story aspects are all well-realized. Keith Pitts’ set is intricate and allows for plenty of play for the actors. The physical presence of the paranormal is fascinatingly done, and the titular piano is elaborately detailed. The ghosts are far from a hokey gimmick. The invisible characters that encroach on the family’s struggle illuminate Wilson’s themes of family, tradition, and connection to the past.

Rating: «««

Other reviews of The Piano Lesson:  TimeOut Chicago, SteadStyle Chicago

 

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Cast List and Creative Team – after the fold…

May 27, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Chicago Theater Openings and Closings – don’t miss out!

ChicagoTheaterOpenings

THE BIRD SANCTUARY – the side project

THE COUCH – Cornservatory

GHOSTWRITTEN – Goodman Theatre

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH – American Theater Company

HOW CAN YOU RUN WITH A SHELL ON YOUR BACK? – Northwestern University Theatre

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH – Paramount Theatre

PUMPGIRL – A Red Orchid Theatre

THE ROCKS – the side project

SATELLITES – Gorilla Tango Theatre

STOREFRONT THEATER MUSICAL – Cornservatory

WHITE JAZZ – Annoyance Theatre

WINK WINK, SKYPE SKYPE – Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Show Closings – don’t miss out!

THE CHANGELING – Caffeine Theatre

THE GATHERING – Improv Playhouse

IDIOT TANGO – Annoyance Theatre

MODIGLIANI – The Artistic Home

RENT – Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre

SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY – Congo Square Theatre

TALLGRASS GOTHIC – Caffeine Theatre

WATER – Gorilla Tango Theatre

April 9, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Random Thoughts – Jonas Brothers ‘n Stuff

Is silver the new black???

  • I’m saddened to hear that the Borders on Michigan Ave. will be closing within the next year.  🙁    This has been my hangout whenever friends/family come to visit, and want to shop ALL day on Michigan Avenue.  Now where do I seek refuge?

target_bullseyeSeeing how much Target contributes to the local arts scene, I promise (for Lent?) to do more of my shopping there.  For example, check out Target’s 2-for-1 ticket deals at Congo Square, Steppenwolf, and Lookingglass Theatre, as well as $20 Sundays at Goodman

 

Jonas Brothers skit on Saturday Night Live

Sears Tower photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

March 1, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Chicago Theaters offer up stocking-full of Christmas Shows

A Wonderful Life  (info)   A Christmas Story  (info)
Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN   Noble Fool Theatre, St. Charles
Nov 17 – Dec 14   Nov 15 – Dec 27
     
Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure  (info)   A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol  (info)
Lifeline Theatre, Chicago   The Neo-Futurists, Chicago
Dec 14 – Jan 4   Nov 22 – Dec 23
     
A Christmas Carol  (info)   Dublin Carol  (info)
Goodman Theatre, Chicago   Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Nov 21 – Dec 31    Half-Off Tickets!   Nov 19 – Jan 9
     
Radio City Christmas Spectacular  (info)   Anung’s First American Christmas  (info)
Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont   Vitalist Theatre, Chicago
Nov 19 – Dec 21   Nov 18 – Jan 4
     
Meet Me In St. Louis  (info)    500 Clown Christmas  (info)
Drury Lane Water Tower, Chicago    North Central College, Naperville
Nov 20 – Dec 7   Dec 18 – Dec 23
     
Christmas Schooner  (info)    The Santaland Diaries  (info)
Bailiwick Repertory, Chicago   Theatre Wit, Chicago
Nov 28 – Jan 4   Nov 22 – Dec 28
     
Tommy Guns Garage Holiday Show  (info)    A Christmas Memory; The Thanksgiving Visitor  (info)
2114 S. Wabash, Chicago   Provision Theater, Chicago
Nov 28 – Dec 31   Nov 10 – Dec 21
     
 Snow Queen  (info)    Black Nativity (info)
Victory Gardens, Chicago   Congo Square Theatre, Chicago
Nov 28 – Dec 28    $15 Tickets!   Nov 21 – Dec 28
     
 Winter Pageant Redux  (info)   2nd City’s Holiday Show  (info)
Redmoon Theater, Chicago   Second City Improv, Chicago
Nov 10 – Dec 21   24-hours non-stop, Dec 9 – 10
     
Jacob Marley’s Xmas Carol    Holiday Sing-Along  (info)
Theatre Wit, Chicago (info)   Porchlight Music Theatre, Chicago
Nov 22 – Dec 28   December 15th, 7:30pm
     
A Holiday Evening of Mime    A White Christmas (info)
The Mime Company, Chicago (info)   Village Players Theatre, Oak Park
December 11 – 28   December 13 – 14
     
Sexy Santa’s Spectacular    A Christmas Carol    (more info)
Gorilla Tango Theatre, Chicago   Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe
Nov 28 – Dec 20    (more info)   Dec 13 – Dec 23         Tickets for $14 !

November 28, 2008 | 0 Comments More