By 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.
Read the rest of this entry »
Jason Danieley and Carmen Cusack/Photo: Liz Lauren
Following up on his spectacular production of “Follies” last spring, Gary Griffin returns to Sondheim to open Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s new season with a work he mounted at the venue a decade ago but which, this time around, has fittingly moved into the company’s larger downstairs theater.
Unlike works of the Sondheim canon with a clear narrative and straight-ahead musical numbers, “Sunday in the Park with George” is a more abstract and at times virtually operatic Sondheim opus about the genesis and contemporary significance of a major work of art that is a Chicago institution, namely, Georges Seurat’s “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte” (“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”).
Sondheim, like everyone else, was fascinated with “La Grande Jatte,” and used to make trips to Chicago just to spend time with the painting in the Art Institute. Reading catalogs and anything else he could get his hands on about the work—which signaled a new style of Impressionism, dubbed Pointillism, that used precise dots rather than brush strokes—only to find himself sorely disappointed about how little was actually known about it. We do know it took Seurat two years to paint the giant canvas and that he created various studies for it that have survived. Sondheim combined these details with the curious fact that Seurat himself, who did paint self-portraits, did not include himself in the work and the mystery of his death at age thirty-one of unknown causes, to construct a speculative cross-generational fiction. Read the rest of this entry »
The most important piece of information I must relay unto you, dear reader, is that “Rain: A Tribute To The Beatles,” while residing in one of the Loop’s largest theatrical touring houses, is not, praise Sondheim, a musical. “Rain” is, through and through, a concert. And yet, absent of a jukebox musical’s flimsy plot structures and lame self-referential humor, “Rain” is an unquestionably theatrical experience.
I was born and bred a Beatles fan. In my early teenage years, I would rock out to nothing else. From that perspective, if you do not have, at least, a passing tolerance of the Fab Four’s music, then your body will forcibly reject “Rain” like a nose ring that was never meant to be. But ever since their legendary debut in 1960, not another band has formed a pop-cultural consensus quite like that of the Beatles. I grew up in the nineties, and young Beatlemaniacs were commonplace and proud. I’ve never heard anyone say “I hate the Beatles,” and if I ever do, I expect that person will append it with “Bah humbug!” Read the rest of this entry »
Jonathan Weir and Shannon Cochran/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Although Writers’ Theatre is celebrating its twentieth anniversary season, it only began performing musicals a few seasons ago and with mixed results. But with William Brown on board to direct an all-new production of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” perfectly suited to its intimate stage, Writers is giving us a musical production worthy of an important anniversary year.
“A Little Night Music” is the closest Sondheim work to an operetta, with its consistent use of waltz-like rhythms—virtually everything is in triple meter—and some of his most melodic material, including his most popular song, “Send in the Clowns.” It is also Sondheim’s most elaborate use of the kind of counterpoint that Leonard Bernstein had experimented with in the climax of “West Side Story,” for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics. Musically, it ranks among Sondheim’s most ambitious and adventurous works.
That the acting would be of the highest caliber was no surprise, for that is a Writers’ Theatre trademark. But that the musical component should be rendered so exquisitely was a welcome surprise given the unevenness of past musical productions. Musical director Valerie Maze—who also conducts from the piano and celeste—and her extraordinary tiny orchestra (including a tucked-away harp) render Sondheim’s lush score with surprising richness for such small forces. And each performer sings the score superbly even in the complex ensemble numbers, no small feat for how removed the performers often are from the orchestra. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago Shakespeare Theater announces 2012/13 Season
Chicago—March 12, 2012—Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Hendersonannounced today CST’s 2012/13 Season, which begins with a major new production of Sunday in the Park with George by musical team Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, and also includes the Chicago premiere of The School for Lies by playwright David Ives and productions of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Henry VIII. The Theater’s extensive World’s Stage lineup of international programming for 2012/13 ranges from the American premiere of A History of Everything by Belgian company Ontroerend Goed to the return of the National Theatre of Scotland’s internationally acclaimed Black Watch and its inventive, supernatural The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. CST’s annual CST Family programming kicks off this summer with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Additional productions will be announced for the 2012/13 Season later this summer, including an ongoing collaboration between Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Australia’s one step at a time like this (en route) creating for the City of Chicago a world premiere pedestrian-based live art event inspired by Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and set in the city’s urban landscape. Read the rest of this entry »
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
Read the rest of this entry »
Brent Barrett, Jenny Guse, Christina Myers, Amanda Tanguay and Amanda Kroiss/ Photo: Liz Lauren
Back in the 1990s when Gary Griffin was artistic director of Drury Lane Oakbrook where he had directed some of his first musicals, he programmed Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” Curiously, despite his longtime love for that show, he allowed his associate director to take it. Thus, despite Griffin’s later reputation for directing Sondheim as associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, this much-anticipated production opening CST’s twenty-fifth-anniversary season is actually the first time that Griffin himself has directed “Follies.” Read the rest of this entry »
Aja Goes, Alex Weisman, Michael Reckling, McKinley Carter & Adam Pelty/Photo: Jeremy Rill
Unless you happened to catch one of the first five performances of Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of the Stephen Sondheim revue “Putting It Together,” you missed the principal reason for seeing this show, i.e., Austin Cook’s piano playing and music direction. It seems that Cook became cast as Jerry Lee Lewis in the national touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet” and played only the first week, which was itself two shows short, before departing. The rave reviews being touted about are based on Cook’s initial presence and the only indication theater goers have been given of this monumental change is a program insert with the biography of another pianist. Read the rest of this entry »
Gregg Edelman and Liz McCartney/Photo: Brett Beiner
Stephen Sondheim has garnered considerable attention recently about how miffed he was concerning changes being made in an upcoming Broadway adaptation of “Porgy and Bess.” Many have applauded his purist stance. Others are genuinely puzzled by it: not so much because of his defense of Gershwin’s original work as the fact that Sondheim himself allowed equally—if not more—radically destructive changes to the film version of the work usually considered his masterpiece, “Sweeney Todd.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the most daring piece of music ever composed for a Broadway musical, Leonard Bernstein’s climactic “Quintet (Tonight)” near the end of Act I in “West Side Story” uses the template of a grand operatic ensemble combined with a Bach-like sense of counterpoint with spicy Latin rhythms and contemporary jazz harmonies. Acting as a beacon of clarity within that complex structure are Stephen Sondheim’s masterful lyrics, the best he ever wrote for any show, including his own.
It speaks to the best and to the worst aspects of the current touring production of the 2009 Broadway revival of the show that most musical theater cognoscente would consider the greatest musical ever written that this “Quintet” is delivered with remarkable transparency musically and yet, its meaning muddled by the bizarre inclusion of Spanish—actually Spanglish, in this case—into the mix. Read the rest of this entry »