The Tribune’s Chris Jones announces Top 10 Plays of 2009
10. Stud Terkel’s Not Working – Second City e.t.c.
Chris Jones’ list of 10 shows that “should have made the list”
Desire Under the Elms – Goodman Theatre
Little Foxes – Shattered Globe Theatre
Miss Saigon – Drury Lane Oakbrook
Old Glory – Writers’ Theatre
Our Lady of the Underpass – Teatro Vista Theatre
Rock ‘n’ Roll – Goodman Theatre
Twelfth Night – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Marriott Theatre
Chicagoland servicemen ring in the new year at the Goodman
WITH FREE TICKETS TO A CHRISTMAS CAROL ON DECEMBER 31
To celebrate the brave men and women in the armed forces, Goodman Theatre will provide over 500 free tickets to its closing day performance of A Christmas Carol on New Years Day (2pm). The local servicemen and their families invited to attend include companies deploying to Afghanistan in January. The audience will be rocking to the holiday spirit with the music of Chicago band, Fair Herald, in the Goodman’s lobby prior to the performance. Community Day is coordinated by Goodman Theatre Director of Education and Community Engagement and U.S. Navy veteran Willa J. Taylor.
"There’s not a single person on the Goodman’s staff or stage who does not recognize the tremendous sacrifices military families make each day," said Willa J. Taylor, Director of Education and Community Engagement. "It is especially difficult during the holidays; as a U.S. Navy vet, I understand it firsthand. This performance, this celebration is just one small thing Goodman could do to say ‘thank you’ to all the men and women serving their country both here and abroad, and to support the families who love them."
The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.
— Dee Hock
Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.
— Native American Proverb
Content makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.
— Benjamin Franklin
One must have a good memory to be able to keep the promises one makes.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
If I had my life to live over… I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
— Nadine Stair
It is cruel to discover one’s mediocrity only when it is too late.
— W. Somerset Maugham, ‘Of Human Bondage’, 1915
Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay etc, especially if you haven’t sold it yet. And the ones that aren’t, you don’t want in your life anyway.
— Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative: 22. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.
Urban Dictionary – words for the Holidays
Gift Parasite – A person who adds their name to a gift tag in order to claim partial credit for giving the gift.
I’m totally broke so I had to be a gift parasite and sign on that present you’re giving Grandma.
santaclaustrophobia – fear of too many santa clauses
He felt a bout of santaclaustrophobia coming upon him as the holiday season approached.
An Interview with Wednesday and Lucas
(From Addams Family – the Musical)
By Timothy McGuire
From left to right – Wesley Taylor (playing ‘Lucas’ in Addams Family) and Krysta Rodriguez (playing ‘Wednesday’)
It was fun as a fan as well as a reviewer to see how excited both Krysta Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor are to be a part of the new Addams Family Musical. The two played off each other like old friends with inside looks and slight teasing to go along with their praise of one another. Relaxed and enjoying the moment, both Krysta and Wesley expressed how much of a thrill it has been to be a part of creating an original Broadway production.
Krysta is playing The Addams Family character ‘Wednesday’, but this is not the Wednesday Addams that TV-viewers are familiar with: Wednesday is all grown up now. She is at the difficult age of eighteen where childhood and adulthood tear at you from opposite directions. As Krysta puts it, “Wednesday is torn between her bizarre family’s norms that she grew up with and her new feelings that are more in line with regular people outside of the Addams family.” She is getting softer, not mushy, and she expresses this in the beginning of the show through her song “Pulled (in the wrong direction). “
After Wednesday’s song we meet Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor), the boy from school that Wednesday is dating, and this introduces the storyline of the musical. When Lucas Beineke’s parents (your average American Mom and Dad) meet the spooky outrageous Addams family when they get together for dinner at the Addams’ mansion, madness ensues.
Wesley Taylor will be originating a brand new character in his role as Lucas. Wesley auditioned multiple times for the original role of Lucas, without being cast. So when he was not asked to be a part of the first public reading, he assumed that he did not get the part. Something changed after his performance in the successful Broadway production of Rock of Ages. He was again asked to audition and this time he got the part. Telling that story, Wesley admits that he was rather frustrated, and did not understand why he had to read again when they were going to go another way – but in the end it just made his getting the part that much sweeter. With a smile stretching across his face, Wesley acknowledges how lucky he is to encounter the challenges and rollercoaster processes of creating a brand new role within a brand new musical.
Both Wesley and Krysta tell a story, literally interchanging sentences and checking with each other for confirmation, about a day in rehearsal when the show’s composer and lyricist, Andrew Lippa, called Wesley over to his piano and played a song he was currently working on. They started playing a duet together, and Wesley tells me that he was so excited and knew this show was going to be a big original hit. “They were both totally freaking out” interjects Wednesday.
Krysta and Wesley have said that they have had no choice but to become good friends, which is understandable when you work with someone all day everyday. They have been enjoying their free time together in Chicago, eating a lot as both of them will admit. Actually the topic of food brought some big smiles and elbow pokes from both Krysta and Wesley which made me ask where they have been dining out. It appears our good old Chicago style hotdogs are on top of their list.
Go see The Addams Family. (★★★ – our review here)
Christmas Show Round-Up
By Barry Eitel
With all those holiday shows out in Chicago right now, it’s hard to decide what to see on top of all the shopping and avoiding extended family. And there is something for everyone out there, from Dickensian classics to ones celebrating the seedier side of December. This season has seen a fairly controversial Christmas on the Chicago theatre scene. For one, there is the on-going feud between American Theatre Company and American Blues Theatre, both of which are simultaneously visiting the village of Bedford Falls with “radio” productions of It’s a Wonderful Life. Just a bit awkward. And then there is the whole Civic Opera Christmas Carol fiasco, where producer/ex-convict Kevin Von Feldt promised a cavalcade of stars and then the whole project somehow fell through. Not to worry, though. There is plenty of goodwill towards man out there to keep you entertained until January.
Luckily for you, the elves at Chicago Theatre Blog have put together a Holiday Theatre Guide to find the perfect show for you. So bust out the coffee and pumpkin pie, and enjoy our sleigh ride through the holiday theatre season.
IF YOU’RE IN TO LONG-STANDING TRADITIONS…
Go see the Goodman’s Christmas Carol (★★★½). The show has 32 years behind it and the list of actors who have played past Scrooges reads like a Hall of Fame for Chicago actors. This year’s version has a nice mix of the time-honored and the refreshing. Larry Yando does a remarkable job as Scrooge, bringing out new facets of the usually stiff character. Most of the production in terms of design has not changed over the years, but it still gets results emotionally (and financially). Even without overhauling the dusty script or design, Bill Brown’s strikingly honest production can melt even the most cynical Scrooges in the audience (our review here).
IF YOU DON’T MIND TRAVELING TO INDIANA…
Then The Christmas Schooner at Theatre at the Center (★★★★) is the show for you. Once usual fare at the now-deceased Bailiwick Arts Center, the show has moved on to its new home in Munster, Indiana. The Theatre at the Center production revels in furthering the orchestrations and design. Called the “most Midwestern” of the Christmas shows out there, the musical tells the tale of 19th Century German immigrants, Christmas trees, and a ship carrying very important holiday cargo. With the vast amount of Equity actors and Christmas cheer, The Christmas Schooner is worth the trip (our review here).
IF YOU’RE A FAN OF ROCK OPERAS…
You should see the musical stylings in The Snow Queen (★★★), the annual Christmas show at Victory Gardens. Adapted by Frank Galati from a Hans Christian Anderson story, this little musical tells the story of a girl battling an evil snow queen in order to rescue her friend. There’s puppets, live music, and plenty of reindeer. If you like your Christmas carols with a little more guitar and a little less pipe organ, you should head on down to Victory Gardens to catch this gem (our review here).
IF YOU LOVE SPECTACLE…
Then check out Redmoon’s Winter Pageant (★★½). The famously choreography-and-spectacle-oriented company’s foray into holiday shows is a wonder to behold. The show boasts a breakneck pace and very little dialogue, so it is sure to delight the entire family. With their focus on magical theatrics, Redmoon have created a show that celebrates what we love about winter (our review here).
IF YOU HATE CHRISTMAS SHOWS…
You should take a look at A Red Orchid Theatre’s A Very Merry Unauthorized Scientology Pageant (★★★). Or take a look at the production going on at Next Theatre (★★½) in Evanston. Either way, you’ll enjoy these children acting out the history and theory of Scientology, as dictated by L. Ron Hubbard. And most likely, you’ll be a little frightened. Your inner cynic, however, will love the fact that children are pulling off this juicy satire about one of the world’s most lucrative religions (our reviews here and here).
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SHOW UNDER 90 MINUTES…
Miracle on 34th Street (★★★½) presented by Porchlight Music Theatre could be the show for you. Taking place at the Theatre Building Chicago, this adaptation is not really a straight musical besides a select number of Christmas carols. Through condensing the most memorable section of the classic 1947 film, director L. Walter Stearns comes in at a kid-friendly 80 minutes. Even with this abridged adaptation, you’ll be reminded why you fell in love with the story in the first place (our review here).
IF YOU’RE JEWISH…
There’s always the snarky Whining in the Windy City: Holiday Edition, the one-woman show at the Royal George featuring the sarcastic Jackie Hoffman. She plays the Grandmama in The Addams Family (review – ★★★) and rants in this show on Mondays, her off-nights. Hoffman whines about children, her current role at the Oriental, and, especially, the holidays, Chanukah or otherwise. It all makes for a pretty cathartic Monday night.
IF YOU WANT TO TAKE A TRIP TO BEDFORD FALLS…
Than two routes are available to you. You could either see American Theatre Company’s It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Play (★★★) or American Blues Theatre (comprised of many former ATC ensemble members) present It’s A Wonderful Life: Live at the Biograph! Even though one does have an exclamation point in the title, both are well-done and feature decent performances and live radio sound effects. Yet both have their subtle differences, ABT relying more heavily on music and the charm of the Biograph Theatre, while ATC sticks a bit closer to the time period. Both stage/radio adaptations capture the charm and sentimentality of Frank Capra’s original film (our review here).
IF YOU’VE HAD A CRAPPY SEASONAL JOB…
Than you’ll identify with Mitchell Fain, who stars in Theater Wit’s one-man show The Santaland Diaries (★★★). A stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ delightfully subversive essay of the same name, the production follows the adventure of Fain as he works at Macy’s as the elf Crumpet. This is not a straight reading of Sedaris’ work. Fain brings his own personality to the play and inserts his own stories, making this quite a different experience than just reading the essay, like all good stage adaptations (our review here).
IF YOU’RE NOSTLAGIC FOR STOP-MOTION ANIMATION…
You might want to take a look at Annoyance Theatre’s live action version of Rankin /Bass’ 1964 television special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (★★★½). Surprisingly, Annoyance does a faithful translation for the stage, considering they’re known for their destruction of anything sentimental (the show is running alongside Cockette’s: A Christmas Spectacular). With the music and characters of the beloved original, this Rudolph is meant to enchant theatergoers from 1 to 92 (our review here).
Although there are only a few days before Santa comes around, there are still plenty of options offered by the bounteous Chicago theatre scene. Don’t be fooled into thinking this guide presents everything out there, either. For some other offerings, check the review listing on the side.
I just stumbled upon this cool video Steppenwolf created to mark their upcoming 2009-2010 Season of Belief. The mob dances occur all over the city, including Water Tower Place, the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.
Take a look/listen:
Latin flavored, hip-hop musical speaks to any community
Broadway in Chicago presents:
In The Heights
Review by Oliver Sava
Lin Manuel-Miranda‘s Tony-award winning music and lyrics for In The Heights are filled with so much passion and life that it would be difficult for any company to turn in low energy performances. The national tour of the 2008 Tony award winner for Best Musical finally arrives in Chicago for a limited two week run, and while the setting may be New York City’s Washington Heights, the show tells a story that will resonate with denizens of any neighborhood. The Latin influence of Miranda’s score, combined with hip-hop beats and raps, creates a beautifully layered musical mosaic with wonderful versatility. Miranda also has a great talent for taking classical musical theater techniques and giving them a fresh, modern flair. The opening number seamlessly introduced characters and their relationship without becoming too expository, a feat accomplished by shifting musical themes.
Usnavi (Kyle Beltran), the musical’s protagonist, primarily resides musically in the world of hip hop and rap. The play’s older characters, Abuela (Claudia Santora) and Kevin (Daniel Bolero) and Camila Rosario (Natalie Toro), in Latin folk, and the women of the Unisex Salon, Daniela (Isabel Santiago) and Carla (Genny Lis Padilla), in Salsa. Benny (Rogelio Douglas Jr.), the only non-Hispanic character of the show, is accompanied by Reggaeton beats, and the female love interests Vanessa (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) and Nina (Arielle Jacobs) bring the flavors of Latin pop. The music brings definition to the characters, making the actors’ jobs much easier. The tightness of the entire team, including the rich book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, brings so many layers to the world of the play.
Nobody soars more than Jacobs as the conflicted, guilt-filled Nina, back home with 20the news that Washington Heights’ sure-fire success is now a college dropout. Her vocals are phenomenal and they blend beautifully with Douglas Jr.’s for their numerous duets. Andy Blankenbuehler‘s choreography finds the perfect balance of dance styles to match the variety of the musical score, combining the hard hitting pops and locks of hip-hop with the smoothness of Latin ballroom choreography. The visual images are stunning, and the unique rhythm of the movement makes the dance sequences unpredictable and completely enthralling.
In The Heights was a labor of love for the original Broadway cast, performing that rare feat of transferring an original musical from Off-Broadway to Great White Way success, but how can someone step into a role that is so defined by the actor that originated it? The main character in particular has become so associated with Miranda that it is difficult to imagine anyone that could step in the composer-actor’s shoes, yet Beltran does a more than serviceable job. The best thing that can be said about the actors is that they have found their homes in this world, and that is what lies at the heart of In The Heights: home. The connection between the characters and their neighborhood is what creates the most dramatic, emotional events of the play, and the actors have fallen into a world of rusty fire escapes and melting Piragua on their fingertips completely.
In The Heights may be a crowd-pleasing combination of musical theater, big dance numbers and hip music and belted ballads, but it’s also very good musical theater. It’s not perfection, and sometimes the energy on stage could be even more explosive, but it has a big heart that shows a love for its musical predecessors. The musical is a love letter to community and to the hundreds of stories the past holds, whether on a street corner or Puerta Plata, and the touring company successfully makes their home our home.
Marriott’s ‘My Fair Lady’ loverly, but risk-free
Marriott Theatre presents:
My Fair Lady
reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
The story of linguistics professor Henry Higgins and the Cockney girl he transforms into a lady may well be the most beloved and best-known musical of all time. Based upon George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion, its original Broadway production in 1956 ran for 2,717 performances and won six Tony Awards. The 1964 film based on the musical won eight Oscars. The musical has had three major Broadway revivals, and a 2001 British production toured both the United Kingdom and the U.S. and won three Olivier Awards. Columbia Pictures has announced an upcoming movie remake.
You’ve surely seen some version of this musical — if not a professional show, then a high-school or college production or the film. Just listing its popular songs — "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time" — will set the tunes ringing through your head. Audiences are hard pressed to keep from singing along.
If you’re one of the lovers, then all I really need to tell you is that Marriott Theatre has produced an exuberant, picture-perfect production of My Fair Lady. Nothing about this show will mar your vision of the musical — from Kevin Gudahl channeling Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins to Nancy Missimi‘s gorgeous Edwardian costumes to Matt Raftery‘s jolly choreography.
If you’re not already an ardent fan, though, nothing about Marriott’s version will challenge your perspective. Dominic Missimi‘s direction breaks no new ground whatsoever. This is "comfort theater" at its safest.
The songs are all beautifully sung, the orchestra is first-rate and the acting never misses. The in-the-round staging works surprisingly well (though I held my breath every time the cast schlepped the office furnishings on and off the stage in the dark).
The cast and ensemble — as one expects from Marriott — do everything right. Heidi Kettenring brings verve to her part as Eliza Doolittle, particularly in her "unreformed" Cockney scenes, making Gudahl’s Higgins seem especially like a stuffed fish. Don Forston makes a feisty Alfred Doolittle (our heroine’s opportunistic father) and Catherine Lord an especially expressive Mrs. Pearce (Prof. Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper); her Scottish accent is a nice touch. David Lively gives a stiff upper lip to Colonel Pickering while Ann Whitney brings dry wit to Higgins’ mother.
Max Quinlan, as Eliza’s yearning suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, gives full measure to "On the Street Where You Live," and George Keating, Brandon Koller, Christian Libonati and Joseph Tokarz are a cheeky Cockney quartet.
The scene at Ascot, when Eliza is first revealed to the upper crust, is particularly delightful, thanks mainly to some amazing hats and staging that gives them all the display they deserve. Apart from that, though, and the intrinsic worth of live performance over recorded media, you might just as well rent the video.
I found myself thinking of all the things a theater company might do with this brilliant but hoary old musical to shake it up. While it’s probably going too far to set the show in the Loop and give Eliza a Bridgeport accent, a production, however beautiful, that merely follows where others have gone before, forms a sadly lost opportunity. Marriott’s My Fair Lady feels as if it’s set in aspic.
Note: Dinner packages available.
Five last-minute gifts for your Chicago theater-loving friends
Still wracking your brain for the perfect gift? Here are a few last minute ideas for the local theater fans on your list.
Theater tour tickets
Take your friends on a tour of a treasure of Chicago’s Theatre District. Modestly priced backstage tours highlight the beautiful architecture and rich performance history of the Loop’s gorgeous historic theaters. Check out the Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour, $12; Auditorium Theatre Tour, $10; and the Broadway in Chicago Venue Tours (each BIC tour covers two theaters from among the Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace and the Bank of America Theatre), $10. If you want to be lavish, throw in a gift card for a post-tour meal at Petterino’s in the Theatre District.
The League of Chicago Theatres’ Play Money is the perfect one- size-fits-all gift. These $25 certificates are redeemable at more than 75 Chicagoland theaters for up to a year, so recipients can choose the play and performance that suits them best. A copy of the Chicagoplays Theater Guide is included. Or, for a versatile gift to a family or a theater-loving friend, a $95 Theatre Building Chicago Pass offers five tickets to any shows at the Lakeview theater complex in the coming year: five admissions at once, one at a time, or in any combination the recipient prefers.
Sign the budding dramatist on your list up for instruction from seasoned playwrights at the award-winning Chicago Dramatists or a musical workshop at Theatre Building Chicago. Of course, you’ll have to promise to attend any resulting performances.
Chicago theater books
With express shipping, there’s still time to get copies of these books on the fascinating history of Chicago’s theater scene: A Theater of Our Own: A History and a Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago by longtime Chicago Tribune critic Richard Christiansen; Steppenwolf: Steppenwolf Theatre Company : Twenty-Five Years of an Actor’s Theater, famed photographer Victor Skrebneski‘s book featuring production highlights and portraits of Steppenwolf’s ensemble; and The Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theater — one of the early directors at the Second City, Sheldon Patinkin traces the origins of Second City back to 1955 in this book with two audio CDs.
For the theater buff who has everything, how about a Shakespeare action figure, complete with removable book and quill pen? Or a set of playing cards each featuring an insulting remark from The Bard? Chicago Shakespeare has it covered.
“Billy Elliot” announced Chicago cast
Including J.P. Viernes as Chicago’s 4th Billy
Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions in association with Weinstein Live Entertainment, has announced, with Broadway In Chicago, casting for the Chicago production of Billy Elliot the Musical, previews beginning March 18th at the Oriental Theatre; opening night being Sunday, April 11th. The cast includes John Peter (J.P.) Viernes who joins the previously announced actors Tommy Batchelor, Giuseppe Bausilio and Cesar Corrales in the role of ‘Billy’.
Below: 3 of the 4 Billy’s
Starring in Billy Elliot are Armand Schultz (Dad); Cynthia Darlow (Grandma); Patrick Mulvey (Tony); Keean Johnson and Gabriel Rush (Michael); Chicagoan Samuel Pergande (Billy’s Older Self); Jim Ortlieb (George); Chicagoan Susie McMonagle (Mum); Chicagoan Blake Hammond (Mr. Braithwaite); and Maria Connelly (Debbie).
Also featured are Matt Allen; Jason Babinsky; Chicagoan Elijah Barker; Madison Barnes; Cindy Benson; Sara Brians; Chicagoan Tony Clarno; Abby Church; Christine DeFillipo; Alexandra Dell’Edera; Faith Fetscher; Susan Haefner; Ryan Kasprzak; Chicagoan Kayla King; Kent Lewis; Will Mann; Kate Marilley; Spencer Milford; Brittany Nicholas; Chicagoan Mark Page; Mitch Poulos; Emily Richardson; Annelise Ritacca; Michaeljon Slinger; Jaclyn Taylor Ruggiero; Jamie Torcellini; Nicholas Torres; Brionna Trilling; and Kayla Vanderbilt. Additional casting will be announced at a later date.
About “Billy Elliot”
Billy Elliot is the funny, heartwarming tale of a young boy with a dream, and a celebration of his triumph against the odds. Set against the historic British miners’ strike of the 1980s, the story follows Billy’s journey as a boy in a small mining town who, after stumbling across a ballet class while on his way to a boxing lesson, realizes that his future lay not in the boxing ring but on stage as a dancer.
Featuring music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreographed by Peter Darling and directed by Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on November 13, 2008 and was the winner of ten 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The perfect Chicago-themed holiday stocking stuffer?
Acclaimed Chicago restaurant Lawry’s Prime Rib, located in the historic McCormick Mansion, has created, just for Addams Family the Musical, a Creepy and Kooky, Mysterious and Spooky themed dinner.
What does this Addams Family Dinner/Theatre package include?
- Starters: Eye of Newt Shooter, Green Pimento Olive Suspended in Citrus Jello, Served with a small wedge of Munsters’ Cheese; The Aristotle Salad, Hearts of Romaine Salad, Cucumbers, Green Onions, Lemon Vinaigrette topped with Grilled Octopus; Mon Cherie, Cara Mia Intermezzo, Cherry Sorbetto.
- The entrée includes Lawry’s Prime Ribs of Beef (8 oz. cut), Au Jus, Yorkshire Pudding, Creamed Spinach a la “Cleopatra,” Mashed Potatoes. Optional entrees include Fresh Grilled Salmon, Vegetarian Pasta.
- Finish with Thing’s Dessert, Lady Finger Trifle.
A perfect holiday stocking stuffer, the dinner-theatre package includes a “snappy” 2 p.m. matinee performance at the theatre, followed by a 5 p.m. dinner at Lawry’s and is priced at $165 for adults, $140 for children ages 11 and under (plus tax and gratuity).
For more information, and to order the Addams Family Dinner-Theatre Package, call Lawry’s at (312) 787-5000 ext. 25.