Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Pippin/Broadway In Chicago

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Sam Lipps as Pippin perfoming in Pittsburgh.

Sam Lips as Pippin perfoming in Pittsburgh/Photo: Martha Rial

RECOMMENDED

Mind-numbing with its soft-rocky up-tempo songs and pop-ish ballads, the 1973 and 2014 Tony Award-winning “Pippin” continues to charm all save the occasional music lover. If any song in “Pippin” can be interpolated into any other Stephen Schwartz musical and vice-versa, the fascinating characters and the universal truth of this storyline authorizes this circus-cantata’s continuance in the cannon.

Sam Lips is the triple-threat package and as Pippin he gives an emotionally winsome, wispy-voiced, nimble, bookish, swashbuckling, musical theater-Hamlet; a frequent Broadway understudy, Lips proves his leading-man chops. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird/Sideshow Theatre Company

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Cody Proctor and Nina O'Keefe

Cody Proctor and Nina O’Keefe/Photo: DEF

RECOMMENDED

Something tells me old Anton might have rather enjoyed “Stupid Fucking Bird” if his body had aged as well as his work. Sideshow Theatre Company’s lofty yet godless (re)vision of “The Seagull” is particularly Chekhovian in its absolute conviction of its own pointlessness, lending this one-year-out remount a certain unimpeachable and pitch-perfect irony.

The play is achingly heartfelt and hysterically funny, often simultaneously. Toward the end of the first act, each character is allowed to trump dramatic convention by telling the audience exactly what they want. While most desires are in line with their origin characters—love, admiration, fame, sex—Uncle Sorn (a wonderfully unhurried Norm Woodel) proclaims to want just a hug. “A hug that lasts a month,” he adds melancholically. In an ambitious work full of grand gestures and cutting swipes at grand gestures, it is small moments such as these that key us into the profound subtlety of playwright Aaron Posner’s adaptation.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: [title of show]/Brown Paper Box Co.

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Matt Frye, Anna Schutz, Neala Barron, and Yando Lopez/Photo: CB Lindsey

Matt Frye, Anna Schutz, Neala Barron and Yando Lopez/Photo: CB Lindsey

RECOMMENDED

With four mismatched chairs on the stage of Rivendell Theatre’s cramped Edgewater space, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s “[title of show]” is set within environs which contribute to the perfect piece of self-referential meta-theater that it is.

This is a musical about the creation of a musical. It is a play that starts with two creators Jeff (Yando Lopez) and Hunter (Matt Frye) talking on the phone about wanting to write a musical together. Each scene is supposedly a transcript of their actual discussions along the way. Two of their friends, Heidi (Anna Schutz) and Susan (Neala Barron) come along for the ride. The ensemble put together by director M. William Panek does a wonderful job filling each role with a vitality that shines throughout the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire/American Players Theatre

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Tracy Michelle Arnold and Eric Parks/Photo: Carissa Dixon

(l to r) Tracy Michelle Arnold and Eric Parks/Photo: Carissa Dixon

RECOMMENDED

Watching Tennessee Williams’ classic portrayal of lust and longing in New Orleans under the Wisconsin stars, on an especially hot and humid night, adds an extra element of authenticity to director William Brown’s outstanding take on the work. Though the nature of APT’s large proscenium stage makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create a sense of claustrophobic collision through scenic design in the way that David Cromer’s renowned production at Writers Theatre did back in 2010, Kevin Depinet’s set is nevertheless up to the task at hand, offering a perfectly functional take on French Quarter slumming, circa 1950. But the set is not the point, anyway, in the face of such larger-than-life characters as Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bette: Live at the Continental Baths/Hell in a Handbag

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(left to right) Caitlin Jackson, TJ Crawford, Will Wilhelm and Jeremy Ramey in Hell in a Handbag's BETTE, LIVE AT THE CONTINENTAL BATHS, a musical tribute to the Divine Miss M's legendary NYC concert, directed and choreographed by Christopher Pazdernik with music direction by Jeremy Ramey. Photo: Rick Aguilar Studios.

Caitlin Jackson, TJ Crawford, Will Wilhelm and Jeremy Ramey/Photo: Rick Aguilar

RECOMMENDED

Ever the crowdpleasers, the folks at Hell in a Handbag follow the touchy and pushy “Miracle!” with a loving tribute to Bette Midler, a longtime ally and prominent cultural icon in the gay community. Less openly transgressive than “Miracle!,” “Bette: Live at the Continental Baths” nevertheless contains Handbag’s characteristic mix of tenderness and camp.

The weight of the production rests on the shoulders—and, I suppose, chest—of ensemble member Caitlin Jackson, who captures Midler’s bawdy humor as well as the underlying pathos that guided her to the Continental Baths in the first place. Jackson makes you feel as though you’ve known her, and by extension Midler herself, for decades. Even when the material doesn’t land—and some of it will not for younger audiences—it still works thanks to her confident presence and preternatural delivery. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 15 BREATHS/About Face Youth Theatre

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 (center, left to right) Jimbo Pestano and Nikki R. Veit with the cast of About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s world premiere of 15 BREATHS, directed by Ali Hoefnagel/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

(center, left to right) Jimbo Pestano and Nikki R. Veit and cast/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

RECOMMENDED

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words sum up life’s most difficult struggle and it is precisely what is at the heart of About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s production of “15 BREATHS.”

Through the eyes of nineteen-year-old Harold, we are taken on a journey of his quest for self-determination. He is forced to leave his small town in Texas for the much bigger city of Chicago after it is revealed that he is gay. We encounter a litany of characters that both impede and advance his quest.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Loving Repeating/Kokandy Productions

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Emily Goldberg and Amanda Giles/Photo: Jeff Meyer

Emily Goldberg and Amanda Giles/Photo: Jeff Meyer

RECOMMENDED

The idea of a musical tribute to Gertrude Stein is, on its face, overwhelming. Anyone with passing familiarity with the late poet’s propensity for playful and often anarchic verbosity might imagine an entire evening of single-sentence observations endlessly rearranged to a cyclical, Terry Riley-like score. And yet what we get instead is a play written by one of Chicago’s most celebrated adaptors (Frank Galati), scored by a Tony Award-winning composer (Stephen Flaherty) and helmed by a theater company intent on keeping the musical a relevant modern form. Under the direction of Allison Hendrix, Kokandy Productions presents a work that begins with a bit too much repeating and concludes with just the right amount of loving. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Grand Concourse/Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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Mariann Mayberry, Victor Almanzar and Brittany Uomoleale/Photo: Michael Brosilow

(L to R) Mariann Mayberry, Victor Almanzar and Brittany Uomoleale/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

I’m writing this twenty-four hours after the final blackout and “Grand Concourse” is still making me unsettled. Set in a Bronx soup kitchen run out of the basement of a Catholic church, the play explores the limits of forgiveness with playwright Heidi Schreck putting her nun protagonist Shelley (Mariann Mayberry) through hell and high water. Shelley’s kitchen caters to homeless transients like Frog (Tim Hopper, with Francis Guinan assuming the role starting August 11) who’s friendly and will sell you a joke book for a dollar but has serious mental health problems. She also has to deal with volunteers like the enthusiastic but unstable Emma (Brittany Uomoleale) who keeps all-but-propositioning the church’s handyman Oscar (Victor Almanzar). Shelley has taken to timing her prayers with a microwave clock, so she doesn’t have much inner grace to begin with, and Schreck treats her more like Job than Daniel in the lion’s den. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Whatever/the side project

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(L to R) Aaron Lockman and Grace Melon/Photo: Scott Dray

Aaron Lockman and Grace Melon/Photo: Scott Dray

RECOMMENDED

Given that its first scene contains a teenage girl scheduling an abortion and then her boyfriend showing her a gun—one that might as well come with a giant neon “Chekhov” sign blaring above it—this play is a quiet one. But it’s not a settled quiet, not the calm of a mid-summer afternoon nap on the veranda. It’s the proverbial calm right before the Category 4 storm. Written by Chicago playwright Robert Tenges and directed by Adam Webster, “Whatever” is one long 100-minute drop in barometric pressure.

The play, which not only takes its name from stewing teenage surliness but its attitude as well, centers on two single-parent families and their struggles traversing the spiritual wastelands of suburban Chicago. Chloe (Grace Melon), the girl scheduling the abortion, enjoys an icy detente with her emotionally constipated father Henry (Josh Odor) while waging open war on his newish girlfriend Rachel (Kirsten D’Aurelio). The boyfriend with the gun, Declan (Aaron Lockman) loves Chloe very much, but he’s disturbed, quite medicated and proving maybe too heavy a burden for his mother (Shawna Tucker) to raise by herself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Men of Soul/Black Ensemble Theater

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Kyle Smith/Photo: Danny Nicholas

Kyle Smith/Photo: Danny Nicholas

RECOMMENDED

You know what “Men of Soul” is? It’s a whole lot of fun. The newly put together musical revue of hits from the sixties through the early nineties is an evening’s worth of nostalgia for a time when R&B songs weren’t required to have a rap interlude in the middle.

Black Ensemble Theater’s Daryl D. Brooks has put together a smartly curated show that knows its target audience perfectly. While brief homage is paid to the roots of soul music, the production focuses primarily on the music that played from our radios in the eighties. Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, James Ingram, Prince and Peabo Bryson are the featured musicians here. Bill Withers gets special treatment in a medley at the end of the show. Read the rest of this entry »

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