Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Queenie Pie/Chicago Opera Theater

Opera, Opera Reviews, Recommended Opera No Comments »
Karen Marie Richardson/Photo: Liz Lauren

Karen Marie Richardson/Photo: Liz Lauren


Walking through the cinderblock, cement and steel pipes of the parking structure and into the stark modern lobby of The Harris Theater at Millennium Park, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I wasn’t at my Daddy’s Opera House. Chicago Opera Theater opened its fortieth Anniversary Season, serving the greater community as both an addition and an answer to our famed Lyric Opera of Chicago, with a production of “Queenie Pie,” jazz-great Duke Ellington’s unfinished, flawed, but compelling “street opera.” Calling their 2014 season “Illusions and Delusions,” COT continues to exhibit its ambition to bring both a new audience to opera, and to present an alternative to Chicago’s already established opera-loving constituency, by offering a season completely devoid of any of the standard operatic repertoire. Past attempts to mix both expected and unexpected fare notwithstanding, general director Andreas Mitisek, who began his steerage of COT in June 2012, appears determined to sail into new and under-examined compositional waters. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: B-Real/Dance Center of Columbia College

Dance, Dance Previews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo courtesy Michel Cavalca

Photo: Michel Cavalca


The end of February heats up in the South Loop with two weeks of hip-hop performances, workshops, battles and discussions hosted by the Dance Center of Columbia College. The week of the seventeenth features a panel discussion on masculinity in B-boy culture, an all-day symposium on the history of Chicago House music, breaking and old school workshops, a breaking battle and an MC battle, all leading up to two weekends of performances by visiting artists. February 20-22, France’s Compagnie Kafig presents two pieces created for a cast of young male dancers from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; “Agwa,” in which plastic cups of water become tools for playful acrobatics, and “Correria,” a witty study of running that tricks the eye while eliciting smiles of delight. The following weekend, Raphael Xavier visits from Philadelphia with his reflection on three decades of breaking entitled “The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance,” an evening-length work that uses a blend of dance, storytelling and rhymes to relate one man’s creative evolution. Like hip-hop? This is the month to see it, hear it, do it. (Sharon Hoyer)

Compagnie Kafig performs February 20-22 at 8pm. Raphael Xavier performs February 27-March 1 at 8pm. $26-$30. Both performances at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan, (312)369-8330. Full schedule of events at

Review: Gypsy/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews 1 Comment »
Photo: Liz Lauren

Louise Pitre and Jessica Rush/Photo: Liz Lauren


This production of “Gypsy,” now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, begins gorgeously before the first note, at the silent sight of the ornate gilded frame of a stage that promises showbiz is about to happen. Then, boom, it does. The production’s big brassy crackerjack orchestra delivers “Gypsy’”s spectacular overture.  It would be a fine concert piece in itself, if it did not tease the musical’s rich set of great, now standard, Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim tunes.  Like the kids in the show who are ordered to “Sing Out!” by Madame Rose, the tiger-stage-mother who commands them, this production commits.  This must be one of the best-looking, best-acted and best instrumental stagings of “Gypsy” ever.

The show famously recounts the teen years of Louise, the future Gypsy Rose Lee, as her family, headed by the domineering Rose, travels the 1920s Vaudeville circuit. They’re a kitschy young children’s act composed of aging kids. The show revolves mainly around Rose and how her two daughters and loyal lover deal with, and ultimately reject her machinations. At first, the kids are played by real children. Small Emily Leahy as Louise’s headlining sister Baby June is a singing, tapping baton-twirling wonder. Caroline Heffernan as the young Louise/future Gypsy movingly conveys how being a normal, shy, smart child estranged her from her mother yearning for the family’s stardom. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 4PLAY sex in a series/The Den Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(L to R) Cyra K. Polizzi, Rosa SanMarci, Erin O’Brien/Photo: Jason M. Hammond

Cyra K. Polizzi, Rosa SanMarci, Erin O’Brien/Photo: Jason M. Hammond


Billed as a play “told in a sitcom format” and split into four episodes/acts, “4PLAY sex in a series” thwarts formal expectations more than most sitcoms. The action, dialogue and staging are driven by the intersecting of societal and personal lines—between work and pleasure, gay and straight, science and sport and seduction, friendship and romance, art and life—and build impressively to a rewarding climax.

The script, co-written by cast members Graham Brown (who also directs), Nathan Faudree and Lisa Roth states the central notion of personal entanglement with a brief nod to quantum mechanics during an early interaction between one of the three pairs of lovers central to the play. The Infield Fly Rule, William Shakespeare and Cole Porter all come into play as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dead Broads Yapping/The Public House Theatre

Comedy, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »

dead broads yapping picRECOMMENDED

I would never wish ill upon great women of history Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart and America’s beloved Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Nonetheless, I am glad they all died so I could enjoy their comedic gifts as presented from beyond the grave in “Dead Broads Yapping.”

Staged as a talk show from the afterlife, the evening’s hour provides the talented trio of Courtney Crary (the martyr), Caroline Nash (the aviatrix) and Marie Maloney (the First Lady) in a setting, à la “The View,” in which to dish and riff on current events and historical happenings as well as chat it up with other legends.

The show’s “producer” and our twenty-sixth president Theodore Roosevelt introduces the ladies and interjects throughout with frequently ribald asides. Taking breaks from the winning interplay between them, Teddy and the three Dead Broads each get a solo segment. The most successful of these, featuring fashion commentary from Jackie, uncoincidentally mirrors most closely the known interests and personality of the deceased dame it spotlights. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Into the Woods/The Hypocrites

Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis


Opening a Stephen Sondheim show, even one of his most popular, two days before Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Gary Griffin—the city’s unquestioned master of stellar Sondheim productions—puts up “Gypsy,” is either an act of savvy marketing or foolish bravado. But The Hypocrites, long associated with founder Sean Graney’s over-the-top zaniness, are maturing into a company adept at matching the  freewheeling creativity that earned their reputation with the ability to round up specialized talent and the discipline to deliver musical theater capable of working on its own melodic merits. They’ve proven so recently with a couple of Gilbert & Sullivan classics, but now show they’re far from a one-composer wonder. The Hypocrites’ “Into the Woods” is a wonder on its own: at once a faithful interpretation of Sondheim and James Lapine’s beloved classic—with some terrific voices and a small but sturdy cohort of behind-the-scenes musicians—that never loses sight of the Hypocrites’ signature sense of humor. The musical opens with the cast lollygagging on a stage set created by William Boles to look like a preschool classroom, a perfectly reasonable launching point for a story that mashes up some of the Brothers Grimm’s finest, from Jack and the Beanstalk to Little Red Riding Hood to Cinderella. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Barber of Seville/Lyric Opera

Opera, Opera Reviews No Comments »
Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn, Alek Shrader/Photo: Dan Rest

Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn, Alek Shrader/Photo: Dan Rest

With a current Lyric Opera season so overstuffed with Italian warhorses, there is always the hope that when a company drags out the same works again and again, that something, anything, will at least provide a new perspective on a work so familiar.

Would that were so with Lyric’s new production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” As is the case with so many of general director Anthony Freud’s aesthetic choices, he likes to take chances, a good thing. But his track record thus far on doing so has been spotty, to say the least, and his habit of bringing in theater directors with no musical acumen to direct operas is already proving tedious. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Playboy of the Western World/Raven Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »


It has been more than a century since J. M. Synge’s dark comedy “The Playboy of the Western World” first debuted in Dublin at the Abbey Theatre. To say that opening night did not go well is a bit of an understatement, as audience members rioted in response to the play’s portrayal of Irish ladies. A few years later, a New York City audience threw rotten vegetables at a touring Irish production of the play.  Eventually the touring company was jailed in Philadelphia for daring to stage such an immoral play.

Although not shocking by today’s standards, the plot points are still enough to give one pause. Set on the desolate western coast of Ireland, the play centers on young Christy Mahon (Sam Hubbard), a mysterious stranger who claims to have murdered his own father. The locals quickly take to the young lad with fiery bar maid Pegeen Mike (Jen Short) and the Widow Quinn (Sarah Hayes) especially smitten. He is offered a job, clean clothes and a new lease on life. But things begin to unravel for Mahon when the town folk realize that he may not be exactly who he appears.    Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Option Up!/Stage 773

Comedy, Performance, Performance Reviews No Comments »

Photo: Rob Smith

A casual setting and an enthusiastic pair of hosts don’t quite add up to what “Option Up!” is striving for, but it’s early going and there’s much promise in this new monthly event at Stage 773. Host Christopher Pazdernik and his comic foil, the versatile pianist Aaron Benham, present performers from current Chicago stage productions in a setting akin to a late-night talk show. Pazdernik riffs freely on theater happenings past and present and demonstrates a near-encyclopedic knowledge of musicals while Benham interjects with the occasional quip or anecdote. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play/The Public House Theatre

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
Photo: Patrick Lothian

Photo: Patrick Lothian


Before this hour of booze-soaked sketch comedy even starts, the audience spends plenty of time drinking in the lobby. And again in their seats after the house opens. And don’t worry, there are plenty of waitstaff dashing around throughout the show ready to serve you more shots, cocktails and buckets of beer. Unsurprisingly, there’s a telling scent of alcohol in the air as the show starts, with an emcee (Josh Dunkin, charming and smarmy in equal measure) who broadly states, “I’m assuming everybody here enjoys drinking… otherwise you’re in the wrong show!”

What follows is a cocktail of comedy scenework and interactive drinking games (name that tune, anyone?). The bits are laugh-out-loud funny (particularly a lengthy one between Sherra Lasley and Mike Barton that showcases the effects of various alcohols on a three-year-anniversary date) and the audience participation is engaging and just rowdy enough to remind you that most of the audience is buzzed, if not downright drunk (there’s a reason everyone in the cast is miked). Keyboardist Tilliski Ramey provides a skillfully comedic soundtrack throughout. Read the rest of this entry »