Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Far From Heaven/ Porchlight Music Theatre

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Summer Naomi Smart/Photo: Brandon Dahlquist

Summer Naomi Smart/Photo: Brandon Dahlquist

RECOMMENDED

“Far From Heaven,” the acclaimed 2002 film starring the translucent Julianne Moore, was penned and directed by Todd Haynes and shot using the carefully composed color schemes, camera angles and incandescent lighting of the 1950s when the film is set. An Off-Broadway telling burned brightly and closed quickly in the summer of 2013. Kelli O’Hara, possessed of a nearly impossible soprano voice like a computer powered by the oldest soul on the planet, created a heart string-searing portrayal, preserved in the revered original cast recording. It may be difficult for the film and musical theater buff not to make comparisons between these expansive constructions and Porchlight’s intimate production. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes/Mercury Theater Chicago

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Nick Sandys and Michael Aaron Lindner/Photo: Brett Beiner

Nick Sandys and Michael Aaron Lindner/Photo: Brett Beiner

RECOMMENDED

As this sprightly new musical opens, Arthur Conan Doyle has just committed what his myriad readers see as the ultimate crime: killing off iconic super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. “He’s been smashed to smithereens/And I don’t care a hill of beans,” flippantly sings the Scottish doctor turned writer, who is sick to death of the fictional construct who has overshadowed every other aspect of his existence. Now Holmes, along with his nemesis Professor Moriarty, lies drowned at the foot of the Reichenbach Falls, so that Doyle can live. What the good doctor fails to reckon with is the objections of his own creation, who materializes from a late-Victorian twilight zone to remonstrate with the writer about his premature demise and, incidentally, to help him solve a real-life mystery. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gotta Dance/Broadway In Chicago

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The cast of "Gotta Dance"/Photo: Matthew Murphy

The cast of “Gotta Dance”/Photo: Matthew Murphy

RECOMMENDED

The trial run of a musical comedy on its way to Broadway is probably not the first place you’d expect to find an exploration of systematic disempowerment. Reasonably so, given theater’s impressive batting average with Caucasians who can qualify for the senior discount (not that they need it). Still, as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. With its ingenious conceit and pleasantly whitewashed vision of cultural crossover, “Gotta Dance” succeeds by holding up a mirror to its audience and encouraging them to like what they see.

Featuring the milieu of nursing homes and bingo nights, “Gotta Dance” is atmospherically suburban and unapologetically moral. The book’s myriad holes and limited number of locations occasionally stretch the limits of plausibility. With all good intentions, director Jerry Mitchell tends to make matters worse with his persistent use of LCD screens, which symbolically—and quite blatantly—ignore the musical’s overwhelming conviction that the old ways are best. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Lion King/Broadway In Chicago

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Nia Holloway/Photo: Joan Marcus

Nia Holloway/Photo: Joan Marcus

RECOMMENDED

“The Lion King” is undeniably magical. As the show begins, Rafiki–the mandrill shaman–sings the first lines of “The Circle of Life” while a host of actors in brilliantly designed animal costumes (including giraffes, elephants, zebras and birds) appear against a sunrise to pay tribute to the lion cub, Simba (Tré Jones and, later in the show, Blaine Alden Krauss as his adult counterpart), who is destined to become king of the jungle. In less than a minute, audience members of all ages are completely hooked.

The stage version features the critically acclaimed songs by Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer that were first featured in the animated film (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Hakuna Matata” etc.) along with a few additions. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical/Broadway In Chicago

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(L to R) Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser, Becky Gulsvig and the Company of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"/Photo: Joan Marcus

Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser, Becky Gulsvig and the Company of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”/Photo: Joan Marcus

RECOMMENDED

What do the songs “The Locomotion,” “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “It’s Too Late” all have in common? Aside from being number-one hits, they were all penned by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Carole King. The first two–along with a slew of others–were co-written with King’s ex-husband Gerry Goffin. However, King is a legend in her own right and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” directed by Marc Bruni with musical direction by Susan Draus, explores why. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Seussical/Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences

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Michael Aaron Lindner, Landree Fleming/Photo: Amy Boyle

Michael Aaron Lindner, Landree Fleming/Photo: Amy Boyle

RECOMMENDED

If run-of-the-mill holiday fare has got you down, perhaps what you need is a bit of a pick-me-up courtesy of Dr. Seuss. If that’s the case, you’re in luck: Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences is putting the good Doctor’s creations onstage with “Seussical.” The Cat in the Hat (George Keating) and Horton the Elephant (Michael Aaron Lindner) are the central characters in this show. Along with a handful of other wild and weird individuals, they are thrown together in a mishmash of colorful stories set to music. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

Santaland 2015

RECOMMENDED

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

RECOMMENDED

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 »

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RECOMMENDED

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 Thanksgiving Circumcision/MCL Chicago

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Sophia Shrand, Mike Gospel/Photo: Heather Scholl

Sophia Shrand, Mike Gospel/Photo: Heather Scholl

RECOMMENDED

Going into a show entitled “The Thanksgiving Circumcision” gives one a certain set of expectations. Most of those are that the show will be comprised primarily of cheap, one-liner dick jokes. While MCL Chicago’s newest offering does have its fair share of penile puns, it is a surprisingly well-developed show with multiple levels of dramatic and musical merit. Read the rest of this entry »