Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

A Holiday Showdown: Ron Rains and Peter K. Rosenthal on “A Christmas Carol”

Christmas, Holiday, Profiles, Theater No Comments »

Ron-Peter vertical

By Kevin Greene

First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” has since gone on to be one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time. Furthermore, it has proved to be surprisingly adaptable to the stage and screen. To honor Dickens’ legacy and usher in the holiday season, I sat down with actor Ron Rains and his alter ego, film critic Peter K. Rosenthal, to talk about the lasting impact of the story, mercy and capitalism, and which Ghost of Christmas would win in a three way free-for-all.

Ron, this is now your ninth year in a row playing Bob Cratchit at the Goodman. What’s changed between the first time and now? What’s new for Bob and for yourself?
Ron: Yes, it’s my ninth year, which makes my tenure as Mr. Cratchit the longest in the Goodman’s history. There’s a comfort to the role now. Bob is an old shoe I’m lucky enough to slip on every November. And every performance is new. It’s absolutely true that every performance is different, as every audience is different. I try to be as present and open as I can be and experience Mr. Cratchit’s track new and fresh each time. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Burning Bluebeard/The Ruffians & The Hypocrites

Christmas, Holiday, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

Jay Torrence, Anthony Courser, Pam Chermansky, Molly Plunk, Leah Urzendowski and Ryan Walters/Photo: Evan Hanover


For all but the cult-like fans of “Mr. Show,” the appearance of “W/ Bob & David” on Netflix is likely little more than a curiosity. For the inquisitive, I recommend a quick scan of the infamous “Mr. Show” sketch “The Story of Everest,” wherein a young climber returns from his daring exploit only to ritualistically make himself a fool in a far more domestic setting. From there, “The Story of Everest” evolves into “The Story of ‘The Story of Everest’,” proving how the “reality” behind the fiction can often be far more entertaining than the fiction itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: It’s a Wonderful Santaland Miracle, Nut-Cracking Christmas Story… Jews Welcome!/Stage 773

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Santaland 2015


What’s not to like about a holiday show that ushers you to your seat with a freshly made cookie in hand? The spirit that whisks you through the door into the Box Theatre at Stage 773 is relentlessly cheery. The energy peaked just before the scripted show began but the high that filled the house was enough to carry the audience through the clunky first number that stalled out and caused concern that perhaps this ninety-minute holiday revue was destined for lesser things. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’/Porchlight Music Theatre

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Robin DaSilva, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Lina Wass, Donterrio Johnson and Sharriese Hamilton/Photo: Kelsey Jorissen

Robin DaSilva, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Lina Wass, Donterrio Johnson and Sharriese Hamilton/Photo: Kelsey Jorissen


There is something wonderful about watching a musical revue that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. The folks over at Porchlight know when to let a good thing stand on its own and that’s exactly what they do with their treatment of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Director and choreographer Brenda Didier guides her cast through the songs of Fats Waller with little to detract from the tremendous music and dance sequences. There’s not really a plot here and that’s just fine. In fact, if there were any sort of construct upon which these pieces were hung it would most certainly take away from the overall product. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Clara and the Nutcracker/Piccolo Theatre

Christmas, Holiday, Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »



If you’ve groused about Christmas decorations already taking over the seasonal aisle of Walgreens, grumbled about the Christmas tree already glistening from behind the draperies at the Jones’ house, or glared at a co-worker after overhearing that if they could just find that rare Etruscan urn Aunt Harriet covets all of their holiday shopping would be complete, you may have a pretty serious case of holiday-itis. Before this disease turns you into a bellowing Scrooge and you pass it along to innocent children, you should know that Evanston’s Piccolo Theatre has created the perfect cure. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Nutcracker/The House Theatre of Chicago

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Desmond Gray, Andrew Lund, Jaclyn Hennell, Rachel Shapiro, Chris Mathews, Marika Mashburn/Photo: Michael Brosilow


Every person who sees blasphemy in a red Starbucks cup that lacks the adornment of decorated pine trees and jolly old St. Nicholas ought to sit down for a nice, long chat with those who believe that mid-November is far too early to be invoking the winter holidays. The rest of us in-between understand that context—and content—is everything. Such is the case with The House Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker,” a play of such finely balanced sentimentality that it would be welcome even in throes of a summer heat wave. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Nativity Story: More Than A Miracle/Congo Square Theatre

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Photo: Samuel G

Photo: Samuel G


A frequently cited frustration for those of the Christian faith is the supposed secularization of one of their most sacred observances. As the holiday hustle and bustle is increasingly built around wish lists, presents, elaborate decorations and Santa Claus—all things that have now become embedded in our traditional Christmas culture—they ask that we remember that Christmas didn’t begin with Santa Claus but with the birth of Jesus Christ.

And this is what writer/director Alexis J. Rogers —who has appeared in every Congo Square Theatre production of Langston Hughes’ time-honored classic “Black Nativity” and its derivatives since 2004—does in “A Nativity Story: More Than A Miracle,” expanding her artistic wings and creating her own version, inspired by Hughes’ work.

Gabriel (Kelvin Roston Jr.), a biblical angel, is sent on a mission from God to help save a fractured relationship between Diane (E. Faye Butler) and her son Nathan (Mark J.P. Hood), who is angry about not knowing the identity of his absentee father. Nathan, who is also a young aspiring playwright, has assembled his church’s drama ministry to put on his play recreating the events surrounding the birth of Jesus for a producer who might be interested in taking it further. Nathan and his mother get more than they bargained for through the journey of gospel music and modern dance in Nathan’s play. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cirque Dreams Holidaze/Cirque Dreams

Christmas, Holiday, Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Performance No Comments »

Ornaments on Tree
“Once upon a dream…” begins the brief narrative introduction for this trippy holiday dazzler, before launching into more than two hours (including a twenty-minute intermission) of singing, stunt-work and spectacle. And it certainly feels like a dream, offering escapist entertainment with no real through-line—aside from the very clear, often intentionally over-the-top, focus on Christmas and cold weather. Scenes shift at a moment’s notice: a twirling pair of skaters giving way to jump-roping reindeer (Elizabeth Butterfield, Brandon Harrison, Anthony Lee, Gary Schwartz) or a vaguely elfin guy (Aleksandr Rebkovets) balancing an ever-growing stack of glasses and candles on his forehead.

The set is an almost overbearing Alice in Winterland fantasy world, consisting of monstrous inflatables, a giant climbable Christmas tree and innumerable moving parts that get pushed, thrown, pulled, ridden and slid onto the stage throughout. The impressive and (mostly) endearing cast of thirty pop in and out of the action sporting various crazy costumes and even crazier talents (along with constant crazed grins—the holidays are beyond exciting, after all). “This seems like a show put together by a communist leader to lull us into submission,” a nearby patron whispered about thirty minutes in. This is not untrue. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose/Raven Theatre

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(l to r) Damian Conrad, Graham Emmons/Photo: Dean La Prairie

Damian Conrad, Graham Emmons/Photo: Dean La Prairie


Light as down, raucous as the title bird and quick as the famous Baker Street sleuth’s brain cells, Raven Theatre’s revival of its mystery-cum-musical-cum-sing-along is a delightful way to pass a holiday-season hour.

Adapters Michael Menendian (who also directs this show with a sure, knowing hand) and John Weagly use Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” as the scaffolding of this bit of wintry whimsy, festooning it with Christmas carols, dance numbers, sound effects and gags, both wholesome and gross-out. All that’s missing for a latter-day vaudeville experience are jugglers and a trained seal. (Maybe next year.)

The plot-driving MacGuffin here is a priceless jewel, found like a Cracker Jack toy in the crop of a fat Christmas fowl. Holmes (played by Graham Emmons, who radiates a comical smugness) is on the scent, along with much-abused sidekick Watson (a sturdy if slightly touchy Damian Conrad). Literature’s most famous sadomasochistic couple delves from top to bottom of Victorian London in search of truth, justice and the aesthetic satisfaction of a puzzle solved. Along the way, we meet a series of apparently random characters, played with tongue-in-cheek earnestness and sometimes wavering accents by Matt Bartholomew, Lane Flores, Rudy Galvan, Sarah Hayes, Sophia Menendian and Symphony Sanders. Only that great brain of Holmes can connect them, thus finding pattern and moral order within the buzzing chaos of the nineteenth century’s great metropolis, which is organized around the impersonal activities of buying, selling… and stealing. This capability of Holmes, and our own continuing need to find form and meaning within the urban hubbub, accounts for the sleuth’s evergreen appeal. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Burning Bluebeard/The Ruffians

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(l to r)Anthony Courser, Molly Plunk, Leah Urzendowski, Pam Chermansky, Jay Torrence and Ryan Walters/Photo: Evan Hanover

Anthony Courser, Molly Plunk, Leah Urzendowski, Pam Chermansky, Jay Torrence and Ryan Walters/Photo: Evan Hanover


I must confess that I came to this year’s production of The Ruffians’ “Burning Bluebeard” as an in-the-tank fan. Since seeing it last year, any conversation I have had concerning the show has either consisted of either exchanging yips of adulation with fellow fans (which consisted of anyone who saw the show) or just yelling “I don’t care what you have to do just see it!” to anyone who had not. Of course there was always the chance, however small, that the show would get terrible in the intervening year. Fortunately this is not the case. With one small exception, “Burning Bluebeard” is the same as it ever was: a devastatingly funny, singing and dancing and flying and lip-synching apology for the famous Iroquois Theatre fire that claimed the lives of 600 Chicagoans in 1903.

Describing the plot of the show is a bit like describing the plot of the pantomime “Mr. Bluebeard” that was being performed when the theater went up: it’s tricky because the plot isn’t really the point. The show is presented to us by the ghosts of the “Mr. Bluebeard” cast and crew. They want to perform the show again, and this time to get it right; “Get it right” in this case meaning “to not burn the audience to death.” It was a special effect for moonlight at the beginning of Act Two that began the blaze, and as the moment grows ever closer so does their anxiety that this time will be just like all the others. Throughout the show, each character fills us in on their own back story as well as their role in the events of the fire itself. They feel a great deal of guilt at their actions and would really like to simply put on a good show for us: something that would make us happy. But to say that the show has a “plot” is really a misnomer because it doesn’t so much have a plot as it has a dramatic arc. All the action moves closer and closer to the moment of the fire, but no one’s embarking on the Hero’s Journey here. Instead, the script—written by Jay Torrence, who also performs—mimics the pantomime form of “Mr. Bluebeard” with frequent breaks for music and dance numbers, clown shows, etc. The rhythm is that of a dream, one that starts as a pleasant, laugh-filled lark and ends in full nightmare mode. Read the rest of this entry »

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