Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Breaking Barriers: The Chicago Inclusion Project Makes its Debut

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Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque

Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson
Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton
Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque

By Mary Kroeck

Emjoy Gavino, Michael Patrick Thornton and Chay Yew are familiar names in the Chicago theater circuit. Gavino is a teaching artist with Barrel of Monkeys, ensemble member of Remy Bumppo and was recently in Court Theatre’s world premiere of “The Good Book.” Thornton had a recurring role on the television show “Private Practice” and is a Jeff Award-winning actor who recently appeared in Lookingglass’ production of “Title and Deed.” Yew is an Obie Award-winning director and the artistic director of Victory Gardens. Individually, these three have impressive resumes. However, one challenge they, and many others in and out of the theater profession, have struggled with, is how to create a more inclusive and diverse environment within the city of Chicago for artists to grow. So, along with other members of the theater community, Victory Gardens and the League of Chicago Theatres are joining together to launch The Chicago Inclusion Project.

“We have exceptional African-American theater companies and Latino companies and LGBTQ companies, but it’s rare for all these different, vibrant communities to have the chance to share the same stage or even be considered for the same project,” says Gavino, The Chicago Inclusion Project’s founder and producer. “That’s our aim. That’s why this initiative is necessary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Opera or Musical? The Eclectic Sound World of Ricky Ian Gordon

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Norfolk, Virginia - March 26, 2011: Ricky Ian Gordon, 55, the ubiquitous composer at Harrison's Opera House in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, March 26, 2011 where he is preparing for his latest opera, "Rappahannock County". Its worldwide premier is on April 12 in Norfolk.

Ricky Ian Gordon

By Dennis Polkow

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon has written instrumental music over the years, but “there’s no getting around it,” he admits, “I’m most excited by the voice. My mother was a singer, I was her accompanist and a lot of what making music is about to me is my relationship with my mother. Also, when I was eight years old, I became obsessed with opera. But then, I was also obsessed with Joni Mitchell and the Beatles: I was obsessed with words through music. I’m less inclined to go to a symphonic concert than I am to go to the opera. I’m a man of the theater.”

Gordon was writing musical theater pieces early on, “When I thought that musical theater was going in a particular direction. At one point when I was a kid, ‘The Consul’ was done on Broadway. ‘Porgy and Bess’ was done on Broadway—not the recent version that Audra McDonald did, but the actual opera was done on Broadway. Stephen Sondheim’s shows had full orchestras when they originally premiered and were very musically sophisticated. If you listen to Audra McDonald’s first CD, ‘Way Back to Paradise,’ I think it gives you a sense of where we as composers thought the musical theater was going. But that didn’t happen.” Read the rest of this entry »

Family Affairs: Sarah Ruhl Brings Her “Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical” Home to Piven Theatre Workshop

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Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl

By Hugh Iglarsh

The area premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s “Melancholy Play: A Chamber Musical” at Evanston’s Piven Theatre Workshop is a big event in a small venue, and therein lies a tale.

The Wilmette-born Ruhl has been honored by everyone from the Pulitzer and Tony committees to the MacArthur Foundation, PEN and the NAACP. In plays like “In the Next Room,” “The Clean House,” “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” “Passion Play” and “Orlando,” Ruhl has established a reputation as an intellectually ambitious writer with a poet’s voice whose works are redolent of myth and fantasy, yet grounded in today’s social and psychic landscape.

She is, in short, a hot property, her works sought after by major theaters from Yale Rep to the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. to our own Goodman. She also has a powerful, life-long connection to the Piven Theatre Workshop, having begun her dramatic training there in fourth grade. Read the rest of this entry »

Critic’s Postcard: Fairies and Snakes at Moulin Rouge

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Photo: S. Bertrand

Photo: S. Bertrand

By Zach Freeman

There are very few theatrical venues in the world that can boast anything like the history, cachet and all-around tourist-centric sexiness of Moulin Rouge, now celebrating its 125th (!) anniversary. With that in mind my wife and I made our way to the iconic red windmill at the intersection of Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy in the Montmarte district a few weeks ago, expanding our trip to Paris to include the latest offering from “the most famous cabaret in the world.”

Entitled simply “Féerie” (Fairy), it turns out that this production—which has been running since the end of 1999—is every bit as flashy, ephemeral, evocative and simple as the name implies. For clarity’s sake I should add that by “simple” I just mean “nearly plotless”—with 1,000 costumes, eighty dancers, six horses and five pythons (yes, you read those last two correctly)—this show is anything but simple in the technical sense. But more on that in a bit.

Entering the historical eighteenth arrondissement theater through a throng of camera-toting tourists and fellow attendees is a theatrical experience in itself. The bright red carpet and brighter lights successfully immerse you as you check in and are guided to your table. (With 900 seats, it’s no surprise that they don’t trust you to find your way alone.) The space is set up like a massive, two-story restaurant, allowing for customers booking 7pm tickets to eat dinner before the 9pm show. Since we opted for the 9pm show, we arrived at our table post-dinner and were promptly greeted with glasses of champagne. Read the rest of this entry »

Beginning of Days: Windy City Playhouse Aims to Be A New Theater for New Audiences

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Amy Rubenstein, Artistic Director of Windy City Playhouse, on the set of "End of Days"/Photo: Alex Huntsberger

Amy Rubenstein, artistic director of Windy City Playhouse/Photo: Alex Huntsberger

By Alex Huntsberger

Normally when a new theater company opens in Chicago it is cause for little fanfare. Small storefront companies come and go with the transience of a celebrity parody twitter account. However when the Windy City Playhouse announced its inaugural season last summer, the theater community took notice. Unlike the usual bands of scrappy, broke college grads hoarding pennies and launching kickstarters, The Windy City Playhouse announced that they would be opening with a full four-show season cast with Equity actors in its very own brand-new 150-seat theater. It was bold, it was different, and on March 19 it’s going to become a reality.

The seeds that would eventually grow into the Playhouse were first sowed four years ago, when artistic director Amy Rubenstein and her family moved back to Chicago from L.A. Although she has enjoyed a very successful career in real estate, Rubenstein started out as an actress, gigging around Chicago for many years before moving out west. So when she moved back, Rubenstein started attending theater shows around town with her husband. And she was dismayed at what she found—not on the stage, but in the audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Twentieth-Century Sage: The Goodman Theatre Celebrates the Work of August Wilson

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 (L to R) Director Chuck Smith and Anthony Irons (Wolf) in rehearsal for Two Trains Running/Photo: Liz Lauren

Director Chuck Smith and Anthony Irons (Wolf) in rehearsal for Two Trains Running/Photo: Liz Lauren

By Mary Kroeck

In 2007, the Goodman Theatre gave August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” its Chicago debut. With that, the theater did something historic. It became the first theater in the country to have produced all ten works in Wilson’s “20th Century Cycle,” a series of ten plays, each one chronicling the lives of African Americans and set in a different decade of the 1900s. Now, nearly ten years after Wilson’s death, the Goodman is at the helm of a citywide celebration of Wilson’s legacy.

“August Wilson, in my humble opinion, is probably the most important playwright of our time,” says Chuck Smith, a Goodman resident director and curator of the Wilson retrospective. “[The 20th Century Cycle] is something that can be used as a beacon of what African-American life was like in the twentieth century for ages to come. I think it’s going to be a while before any other kind of body of work comes along that depicts a segment of our community over a hundred years that really brings it to life. What he’s done is historic.”

At the center of the Goodman’s August Wilson Celebration is his Tony-nominated play, “Two Trains Running,” which is also being directed by Smith. Not only is the play one of Smith’s personal favorites, but it’s one he believes audiences today will greatly connect with, though it is set in 1969. Read the rest of this entry »

Lend Us a Tenor: Brandon Jovanovich Books an Unusual “Passage”

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brandon_jovanovich

Brandon Jovanovich/Photo: Kristen Hoebermann

Brandon Jovanovich has played heroic tenor roles here and around the world but this month is revealing two other sides of himself: playing the role of Walter, a German diplomat and husband of a former Auschwitz guard in “The Passenger,” the rediscovered Holocaust opera by Mieczyslaw Weinberg at Lyric Opera, and singing diverse material of his own choosing on Harris Theater’s final “Beyond the Aria” recital of the season with soprano Amber Wagner and Ryan Center baritone Will Liverman on March 10.

“It’s a heck of a piece,” says Jovanovich of “The Passenger” in his Lyric dressing room, with scores for oratorios he is also working on visible on the piano. “There is a lot of jazz in it, some swing, there’s some funk happening there. There is some dissonance but it is also transparent in a lot of spots. It’s important to let the music speak for itself and not work against it. Read the rest of this entry »

Near The Center: Indiana Theater Wants Chicago to Know They’re Worth the Trip

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Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre/Photo: Bridget Earnshaw

Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre/Photo: Bridget Earnshaw

By Raymond Rehayem

“It’s really close, I mean it’s about thirty minutes. Some people think it’s Muncie and that’s way far away compared to Munster which is just right next door.”

Artistic Director William Pullinsi is addressing the challenges of convincing Chicagoans to cross the state line for a show. I confess I myself made this geographical error, Googling “Muncie, IN” before looking up his Theatre At The Center. On the verge of its twenty-fifth season, the Northwest Indiana venue has in Pullinsi a seasoned professional well-accomplished in luring unlikely theatergoers. Now in his tenth year with the Munster nonprofit, Pullinsi first gained recognition for introducing and popularizing the dinner theater format at the Candlelight Playhouse. “We thought people would like that—a full evening, dinner and a show—though we were concentrating on the show.” As a student in Washington, DC, Pullinsi set out to find a theater space. “I started to look at any place I could think of. And I found a beautiful place that had a 500-seat room available, one of these buildings that mostly catered dinners and parties for congressional Washington. So I talked these guys into doing the drinks and dinners and they would make their profit on that, and I would sell the tickets for the shows and make the profit on that.” After two seasons in DC, in 1961 Pullinsi opened the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Summit, Illinois. For nearly forty years the Candlelight drew Chicagoans just beyond the city limits, right across Harlem Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Chicago Dramatists Artistic Director Russ Tutterow Steps Down

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Russ Tutterow

Russ Tutterow

On February 3, Chicago Dramatists announced that long-time Artistic Director Russ Tutterow was stepping down. Tutterow has held the role for thirty years and helped shepherd hundreds of new works to the stage. He will be replaced, on an interim basis, by Meghan Beals, who previously served as the company’s Associate Artistic Director from 2010 to 2012.

Tutterow, who had been on medical leave since August of last year, will be moving into the role of Artistic Director Emeritus and will continue to work with the theater in a consultative capacity.

Chicago Dramatists is the only theater institution in the city dedicated solely to both the development and producing of new plays. Under Tutterow’s leadership, the company grew from a small cohort of playwrights in 1979 to a network of more than 150 today, with its Resident Playwright program providing a home for numerous Chicago playwrights.

Tutterow said in a prepared statement, “For more than three decades, Chicago Dramatists has been a place I call home and it will continue to be as I move into an emeritus role. As I pass the torch to Meghan, I’m excited about the direction our organization is taking in blending the traditions that made us successful with a pioneer approach that will take our work into the future.” Read the rest of this entry »

Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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joe-mazza-brave-lux-chicago-newcity-players-50-0032

The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.

Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)

Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »

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