Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo/Isango Ensemble

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cst-magicflute-01-keithpattison-jpg-20140926

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“The Magic Flute” is one of those indelible works of art. Even people who do not like opera will perk up when you mention it’s being performed. Its musical refrains such as the Queen of the Night’s aria and Papageno’s duet with Papagena have imprinted themselves on the popular consciousness. When you see the “Magic Flute” for the first time you think to yourself, “Oh, that’s what that’s from.”

Of course the flipside of this is that it’s easy to become inured to its charms. There are so many productions going up all the time that “The Magic Flute” seems to be just woven into the general social contract, as inevitable as streetlights or the 7-Eleven. Even productions that promise some kind of twist in the staging—such as the pretty ludicrous production I saw in college that came with the sleek, black and chrome modernity of a Sharper Image—offer little more than a change of drapery around the same old view.

So when Chicago Shakespeare brings a thing like “Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo” to town, it is really a cause for celebration. Created by South Africa’s Isango Ensemble in association with The Young Vic, “The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo” brings new, full life to a piece that so often feels like a zombie: perambulatory sure, but still unmistakably dead. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Road Show/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

In “Road Show,” now playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman compress the story of minor American legends Wilson and Addison Mizner into a peripatetic fable. The Mizners lived big, meandering and literally beguiling lives. They crossed paths with, or just crossed, many notable Americans as they made their way. The real Wilson, a Promethean con man, first sought his fortune in Alaska, where he helped create Nome with a saloon and crooked card table. Between 1910 and 1933, he worked both on Broadway and in Hollywood, where he co-wrote sexualized dramas about ambition and cons. When streetcar magnate Charles T. Yerkes died, Wilson married his widow Mary Adelaide Moore Yerkes and moved into her 5th Avenue mansion, selling forgeries of her masters paintings. Wilson had a Johnsonian knack for quips. He presumably was the first to utter “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet the same people on your way down.” Wilson eventually sued the former Mrs. Yerkes for divorce. When his attorney reportedly asked his reasons, Wilson asked “Isn’t marriage enough?” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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(l to r) Heidi Kettenring, Scott Jaeck and Kelli Fox/ Photo by Liz Lauren

There is a grim and calculating excess at the heart of Barbara Gaines’ version of “Merry Wives of Windsor,” overwhelming the music of the playwright’s words and leaving in its place something hard and loud and exhausting. In attempting to popularize Shakespeare’s relatively slight but charming riff on bourgeois life, she has reduced it to one long dirty joke. Worse yet, she has done badly by Sir John Falstaff (a misused Scott Jaeck), turning him into a crotch-grabbing yahoo whose goal seems not so much to have his way with Mistress Ford (Heidi Kettenring) and cuckold her wealthy, jealous husband (Ross Lehman), as to earn a spot on the Elizabethan version of “Jackass.”

As usual with CST’s productions, the externals—especially Susan E. Mickey’s costumes and James Noone’s clever indoor/outdoor set—are little short of perfect. However, they serve mainly to highlight the production’s deficit of purpose and soul. Real theater does more than look pretty; it breathes and flows, thus drawing the audience into its temporary world. But this overdone, trying-too-hard production is as flat as a TV screen and about as evocative as a beer commercial. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Christmas, Holiday, Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran/Photo by Michael Brosilow

Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran/Photo: Michael Brosilow

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Everybody has a favorite rap song. Currently, mine is “Holy Grail.” I know it is a bit overplayed, but man can that Jay-Z rap. I also like Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which consistently spins the overplayed into gold. Methinks, however, the two rarely meet. But last night they did meet during the warmup to “A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” and you know what? It sounded pretty good. It might not work all the time (kind of like swapping out rum for vodka in your eggnog), but now and then it is downright refreshing.

With more flavors than an ice-cream shop, this show brings reggae, hip-hop, old school rap, dancehall sounds and some gritty industrial touches to the old Dickens classic. There’s even a little Blue Man Group thrown into the Ghost of Christmas Future number. Written collaboratively by the four actors on stage (Jackson Doran, GQ, JQ and Postell Pringle), the script may rhyme, but it also stays true to the spirit of the original. The touches they do add (like a loving gay nephew who repeatedly invites Scrooge to his Christmas party) might feel a little contrived, but fit in well with the overall theme of good cheer (otherwise known as Christmas spirit). This is a show that has a lot of fun with the source material (such as giving Tiny Tim every affliction known to man, including scurvy) but does not shy away from being sentimental. The Q Brothers do well at balancing the traditional and non-traditional and in doing so tease together something unique. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cyrano de Bergerac/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Harry Groener, Nick Dillenburg, Julie Jesneck. Photo: Liz Lauren

Harry Groener, Nick Dillenburg, Julie Jesneck. Photo: Liz Lauren

Sometimes Chicago Shakespeare produces bold reinventions of classics. Other times it brings in world-theater innovators as one of the most globally minded cultural entities in Chicago. And then sometimes it produces high-quality but highly conventional productions of iconic works. Director Penny Metropulos’ new production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” is the latter, a perfectly straightforward interpretation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 story about love and deception that engages the wit but fails to move the heart. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Inner Voices/Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Piccolo Teatro di Milano

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Photo: Fabio Esposito

Photo: Fabio Esposito

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“Who can solve the mystery of dreams?” demands actor/director Toni Servillo as the increasingly disheartened Alberto Saporito in Piccolo Teatro di Milano’s production of the darkly comedic Italian play “Inner Voices,” written by the prolific Eduardo De Filippo in 1948. At least that’s how the English translation of the fervent Italian dialogue reads, rapidly projected on three glowing screens above the action taking place on the dramatically raked stage of Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater.

This production, running for a mere five days in Chicago, is part of Italy’s “Year of Italian Culture in America.” Billed as “a journey that will reveal today’s Italy, its brilliance and its excellence anchored in the present and driven by an unparalleled past,” the full year includes showcases of everything from theater to science to light installations and poetry readings. And De Filippo’s text, written shortly after the devastation of World War II, is a prime candidate to reveal Italian excellence on stage, particularly as interpreted here by Servillo (in both his capacities as actor and director). Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Still All In The Timing: Playwright David Ives Is Everywhere In Chicago

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IvesBy Johnny Oleksinski

Playwright and Chicago native son David Ives is receiving a rolling homecoming by happenstance this season and next. Last winter, Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented his adaptation of Molière’s “The Misanthrope,” called “The School for Lies.” Next March, the Goodman Theatre will stage the Chicago premiere of his thunderous Best Play Tony Award-nominated “Venus in Fur” (Nina Arianda won Best Actress). And coming up later this month is “The Liar,” Ives’ modernly classic take on Pierre Corneille’s little-known “Le Menteur” at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe.
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Review: Roadkill/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Tim Morozzo

Photo: Tim Morozzo

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Few works of theater have the adrenaline-fueled urgency of “Roadkill.” But it’s not the familiar rush of exhilaration; it’s the primal clamor for survival that pulsates so fervently in this hopeless crypt. During this brusque, profoundly upsetting performance, the heartbeat quickens to prepare for a gutsy sprint away from your captors. Directed and conceived by Cora Bissett with a text by Stef Smith, “Roadkill” is truly that invasive. Sex trafficking, the subject of this British import, is typically resigned to the police blotter, in one ear and out the other. Knowing of the world’s emotional detachment to a rampant international crime with victims so forlornly voiceless, this team has dragged us screaming into an immersive space to tell their story, that of a young life destroyed by child prostitution. Late in this sickening tale, I found myself saying, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” in a hushed tone on repeat.

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Review: Henry VIII/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

There is churchly ambiance to “Henry VIII,” which opened Wednesday night at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Catholic clergymen clad in red vestments descend the central aisle to the stage in grand and contrived fashion. There’s enough shimmering hung fabric for another papal coronation, and the palpable vibe among the attendees is one of religious obligation—a common drive for Shakespearean theatergoers, believing the Bard to always be of crucial cultural significance, no matter the delivery. That push is even stronger in this particular instance.

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The Players 2013: The 50 People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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PLAYERSThough we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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