Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Don Giovanni/Lyric Opera

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Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago decades ago, a friend suggested I take a class called “The Political Plays and Prefaces of George Bernard Shaw” because it was an easy A and, as a bonus, a great course. Not only did it live up to its billing, but it sparked my nascent devotion to the works of Shaw and a deep respect for his intellect. And one of the things I never forgot from our classroom discussion of “Man and Superman” was that Shaw considered Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” the greatest work of art ever created. No small praise from one of the greatest playwrights in history.

For no good reason, it took me decades to see the work myself, allowing that superlative to age untested in my memory, albeit leavened by the more measured expectations that a lifetime of arts consumption affords. Nevertheless, when Lyric Opera announced it as this year’s season opener, Shaw’s enthusiasm was the first thing I thought about. The second was that a director whose work I’ve admired at the Goodman Theatre where he’s artistic director, Robert Falls, was at the helm, ensuring an interpretation unlikely to get stuck in an unduly reverential treatment, like a musty old museum relic.

And so it does not. Falls’ work at the Goodman always seems to “go big” in both design and ambition; here on the Lyric’s far larger stage and cavernous auditorium, he has found an arena where his scale generates not a spark of friction of conflict with its confines. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Luna Gale/Goodman Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Mary Beth Fisher and Erik Hellman/Photo by Liz Lauren

Mary Beth Fisher and Erik Hellman/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

The best twists in a story are not those that reveal some new and unexpected turn of events but those that reveal something new and unexpected about a character. Something that makes you (or at least the really loud audience member sitting directly behind you) gasp sharply and whisper “Ohhhh noooo” or, alternatively, “Ohhhh yessss” at its revelation. Playwright Rebecca Gilman’s latest work, now appearing at the Goodman Theatre in a world-premiere production directed by Robert Falls, has many such moments. And in the tightly crafted world that Gilman has created and that Falls has brought to life, each realization hits the mark.

The titular Luna Gale is an infant, brought to an Iowa emergency room by her meth-using teenage parents Karlie and Peter (Reyna de Courcy and Colin Sphar) and promptly put into the custody of Karlie’s mother Cindy (Jordan Baker) by veteran social worker Caroline (Mary Beth Fisher). But when the overly religious Cindy pushes for full adoption with the help of her pastor (Richard Thieriot), Caroline begins to wonder if living with her grandmother is really that much better for Luna in the long run. Especially if Luna’s troubled parents can turn their lives around for the sake of their child. Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2014: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

Once was the time, when it came to performing arts, that Chicago was a great place to come from. But thanks to the constant upward trajectory of our community, Chicago is now a great place to come from AND to return to. Every year we see more and more evidence of this, whether it’s the regular homecomings of the likes of Michael Shannon and David Cromer, the Chicago reorientation of international stars like Renee Fleming and Riccardo Muti or the burgeoning national reputations of Tracy Letts and Alejandro Cerrudo, we’ve got quite a perpetual show going on. That means of course, that culling a growing short-list of 300 or so down to the fifty folks who make up this year’s Players, is getting more painful. But we’re crying tears of joy as we do it. What follows are the fifty artists (as opposed to last year’s behind-the-scenesters) in dance, theater, comedy and opera who are making the greatest impact on Chicago stages right now.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke and Sharon Hoyer, with Mark Roelof Eleveld, Hugh Iglarsh and Robert Eric Shoemaker. Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Pictured above: In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

All photos were taken at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

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Review: Measure for Measure/Goodman Theatre

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James Newcomb/Photo: Liz Lauren

James Newcomb/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

As the curtain rises on a nun in rapturous reflection, with the pulsing sounds of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” scoring a sprawling, bawdy set of dirty neon and dirty sex behind her—various other states of rapture—and a man, post-coital with his hooker, holding a pistol to his head, the fever dreams of Calixto Bieito’s “Camino Real” so easily recur that you might feel like you’ve returned for another dose of the Spanish director’s controversial staging at the Goodman last season. But then, with its decadent seventies setting, its garish pimp clothes and graphic glimpses of illicit sex acts taking place upstairs, Steppenwolf’s recent “Hot L Baltimore” comes to mind as well. So too, with its moments of slow-motion choreographed ensemble entrances is a bit of Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” in the mix. But lest you think that this production of the Bard’s “problem play” is derivative, know this: It is all Robert Falls’ “Measure For Measure.” A fair bit of William Shakespeare, too, but I’d suggest that never in the history of this play has such a raw and raucous production been seen as Falls hoovers in a half millennium of influences and spits out something wholly original. Read the rest of this entry »

#M4M: @RobertFalls201 and @JohnnyNewcity Talk @GoodmanTheatre’s “Measure for Measure”

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

By Johnny Oleksinski

On January 28, @RobertFalls201 tweets, “Day before rehearsal begin & completely panicked; haven’t prepared enough, have no idea how to START & shouldn’t someone else be directing?”

Wait, the Robert Falls? The same Robert Falls whose “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and whose “Iceman Cometh” made Chicago ticket-holders the envy of the theatergoing world? That Robert Falls is “completely panicked?”

Yes, the Goodman artistic director regularly tweets the kind of thought-provoking artistic insights that were once confined to program notes, posthumously published memoir-festos and lucky late-night exchanges at the bar, but are now available on the web browsers and mobile devices of anyone who cares to follow. Falls nostalgically compares the sensation of tweeting to his youthful passion for radio; It has certainly opened up the artistic process and personal life of a powerful and gifted director. Yet, despite this useful new conversational mechanism, it’s still rare for an artistic director to have a Twitter account let alone actually make use of it.

Falls and I sit down in the Goodman’s posh Patrons’ Lounge—a room he says he’s only been in a handful of times before and humorously compares to a W Hotel—to talk about his new production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and about his second life on Twitter: two seemingly unrelated topics, but truthfully, all I know of Falls’ production up till now came from his funny and oft-probing tweets. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Players 50 3 Comments »

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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Review: Next Up/Steppenwolf Garage

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Photo: Michael Brosilow

As yet another blistering Chicago summer commences, so too does an outgoing class of talented young theater artists–the future movers and shakers. Reveling in the spirit of commencement, each year Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents the culminating works of Northwestern University’s graduate directing and design students during their month-long “Next Up” festival in the scrappy Garage space. Consisting of three contrasting yet festively complementary works, “Life and Limb,” “South of Settling” and “The Glass Menagerie,” the lineup nicely subscribes to Steppenwolf’s seasonal “war at home” theme, and jointly muses on the nation’s temperamental job market. Graciously thanking the city that has nurtured their artistic growth, all of the plays performed, including one world premiere, actually began their lives right here in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Iceman Cometh/Goodman Theatre

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Photo: Liz Lauren

When it was first announced that Nathan Lane would be taking on the lead role of Hickey in “The Iceman Cometh” at Goodman Theatre, a New York Times reader wondered aloud if this was for real, or an Onion article. Could one of the great song-and-dance men in musical comedy successfully transfer that prowess to epic, angst-ridden drama? Performing comedy has always been serious business and this was a part that Lane lobbied for when he learned that his colleague and friend Brian Dennehy—who played the role of Hickey at Goodman twenty-two years ago—was interested in taking on the role of Larry in the show. Never having worked together, Lane saw this as an opportunity to take on a new challenge with the additional incentive of working with Dennehy’s longtime Eugene O’Neill collaborator, Goodman artistic director Robert Falls.

The play starts in darkness with only the slightest bit of light showing on Dennehy’s granite face and his other booze-soaked companions sprawled out at a bar. All is usual, at least in an O’Neill universe, as we learn of their various squashed pipe-dreams, those delusional hopes of the hopeless that keep them going but which have no basis in reality. Read the rest of this entry »

Goodman Theatre announces 2012-2013 season

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FOUR WORLD AND TWO CHICAGO PREMIERES HIGHLIGHT GOODMAN THEATRE’S 2012/2013 SEASON

***NEW SEASON OPENS WITH DAVID CROMER’S GOODMAN DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, INCLUDES JON ROBIN BAITZ’S BROADWAY HIT, LYNN NOTTAGE’S LATEST WORK, THE 35th ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL AND CULMINATES WITH MARY ZIMMERMAN’S WORLD-PREMIERE MUSICAL ADAPTATION OF DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK***

(Chicago, IL) Artistic Director Robert Falls announced Goodman Theatre’s 2012/2013 subscription season today, featuring four world- and two Chicago-premiere productions. The new season begins in September with Chicago native David Cromer’s revival of Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams. Next up in the Albert Theatre are two consecutive Chicago premieres: Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities directed by Henry Wishcamper, and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage, directed by Chuck Smith. The season culminates with the world-premiere production of The Jungle Book, a new musical based on the Disney animated film and the stories by Rudyard Kipling, adapted and directed by Tony Award-winner Mary Zimmerman. Three Goodman-commissioned plays take the stage in the Owen Theatre: Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Chay Yew; Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara, directed by Evan Cabnet; and The Happiest Song Plays Last by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The 2012/2013 Season also includes the 35th annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Steve Scott. NOTE: one play in the Albert Theatre (in spring 2013) is to be announced. Call now to subscribe to the Goodman’s 2012/2013 Season: 312.443.3800; online subscription sales (GoodmanTheatre.org) start March 6. Individual tickets go on sale beginning in August.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2012: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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Darren Criss (#4) with Team StarKid

With our criteria shifted back to artistic accomplishment in theater, dance, comedy and opera this year, our task got infinitely tougher. Because while the number of performing venues grows at a steady rate, the increase in the number of noteworthy artists seems to grow exponentially. For everyone we name on the list below, we had to leave off five, an embarrassment of riches for Chicago. We made a conscious effort to introduce a meaningful number of new faces to the list this year; the necessary absences should not be construed as a loss of worthiness as a consequence. We often find trends when we do the research these lists require; this year we’re starting to see a more meaningful effort to redefine performance itself in the internet age, from the runaway success of StarKids, to the more calculated endeavors of Silk Road. So what defines a “player”? Consider it some complex stew of career achievement, recent “heat” and, in some cases, rising stardom.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Dennis Polkow

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