Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Sherlock Holmes/Broadway In Chicago

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Renee Olstead, James Maslow, David Arquette and company members of "Sherlock Holmes"/Photo: Brian To

Renee Olstead, James Maslow, David Arquette and company members of “Sherlock Holmes”/Photo: Brian To


The tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth wonderfully come to life in this new adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes” by Greg Kramer. Directed by Andrew Shaver with production, set and costume designs by James Lavoie (who has designed for Cirque du Soleil), this version of Sherlock Holmes is funny, fast-paced and most certainly a test of Holmes’ best-known skills: observation and deduction. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unspeakable/Broadway In Chicago

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Taryn Reneau, James Murray Jackson, Jr/Photo: Justin Barbin

Taryn Reneau, James Murray Jackson, Jr/Photo: Justin Barbin

“Unspeakable” by James Murray Jackson, Jr. and Rod Gailes OBC can be summed up in one word: inexplicable. Sure, the play is loosely based on the life story of Richard Pryor. Sure, Jackson’s portrayal of Pryor is remarkable—his appearance, voice and mannerisms are spot on. Sure, there are vignettes that introduce members of his family and tell tales that even some of the biggest Pryor fans do not know. But clarity is lacking. It seems that one must be on as many drugs as Pryor was to make sense of what is presented here. I mean, how do you wrap your head around a character who is the physical embodiment of the memory of a dead and desiccated rat (Taryn Reneau)? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder/Broadway in Chicago

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Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller/Photo: Joan Marcus

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller/Photo: Joan Marcus


This little operetta dinghy overcame modest box office and, proving the critics right for once, sailed away with the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical. No small feat in an era where audiences crowd into Broadway theaters to hear actors covering the tunes of deceased pop music artists. A celluloid step-cousin of the British film “Kind Hearts and Coronets” that featured an eye-bulging performance by Alec Guinness playing eight greedy, hard-hearted members of the D’Ascoyne family, murdered one-by-one by a disinherited heir, it was rendered musically transatlantic, the family name changed to D’Ysquith, and Jefferson Mays of “I Am My Own Wife” fame did Guinness one better by creating all eight characters while, after a fashion, singing. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage/Broadway in Chicago

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Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and Gillian Abbott (Baby) in the North American tour of "Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage" / Photo: Matthew Murphy “Dirty Dancing” is undoubtedly one of my favorite films. I remember watching it in grade school for the zillionth time with one of my best friends and getting in trouble for jumping off of her parents couch as we tried to do the dance jumps and imagine what it would be like to fall into Johnny’s arms after landing that iconic lift.

If you’re as big of a fan of the film as I am, this staged version might leave you itching to watch the movie when you get home rather than feeling that you’ve had the time of your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan/Broadway In Chicago

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Photo: Matthew Murphy


Seven Grammys. Over 100 million albums sold worldwide. A true-life story that so many can relate to in its triumph and tragedy. That’s the life of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and their incredible rise to fame, brilliantly captured in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” now in its pre-Broadway world premiere here in Chicago.

From stunning costumes (designed by Emilio Sosa—who also did the costumes for “Motown: The Musical”), gorgeous sets, a phenomenal cast, a solid book and, of course, some really great music, this show is absolutely worthy of a Broadway stage.

The show begins as a show like this should—making the audience feel like they are at a concert. A full band is live on stage, colorful lights fill the room and, if you’re sitting close to the stage, you feel the beat of the drums in your chest as the hit “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” begins to play. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Once/Broadway In Chicago

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Alex Nee and Dani de Waal

Alex Nee and Dani de Waal


Back in 2007, the film “Once” struck a chord with anyone who’d ever witnessed a mysterious, brooding stranger leave it all on stage at a small-town open-mic night. Likely it resonated even more intensely with legions of struggling musicians hoping for even minor success. Separated from the tide of performance-centric musicals—from “Drumline” to “Pitch Perfect”—by its micro-budget, personable songwriting and DIY ethos, “Once” is certainly one of the least-engineered success stories of the last ten years. The first national tour of the Tony Award-winning adaptation allows this endearing story of love, consequence and music to be seen as it should be: live on stage.

Retaining much of the original music and lyrics written by the stars of the film (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová), the stage version of “Once” benefits tremendously from its cast of multi-talented performers. The romance between Alex Nee (filling in for Stuart Ward as Guy) and Dani de Waal (Girl) is natural, even if the suspiciously handsome and clean cut Nee does have to work a little harder than Hansard to prove that he’s the wistful nice guy we want him to be. Enda Walsh’s addition of a trio of Czech roommates succeeds in capturing the multicultural landscape of Ireland though it skirts any kind of politicizing. In fact, as one might expect, the greatest conflict arises between two hot-blooded Dubliners. The larger cast draws the story into wider focus and adds depth to the music, which is truly the main event. Read the rest of this entry »

Career Candor: Gloria Estefan goes Off the Cuff about “On Your Feet”

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(l to r) Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra/Photo: Bruce Glikas

Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra/Photo: Bruce Glikas

By Dennis Polkow

Gloria Estefan has made an international career out of singing and dancing, the very essence of what happens in a Broadway musical. As such, it might seem she would be a natural to play herself in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” which is having its pre-Broadway world premiere performances in Chicago.

“I’m too old,” Estefan admits. “The span of time is me between seventeen and thirty-two, which is the age I was when I had my accident and broke my back and they said I would probably never walk again, let alone perform.

“And it’s kind of weird to play yourself. You know, it’s funny, my daughter is an amazing singer and she’s at Berklee College of Music and is just stepping out. Everybody is saying ‘Oh my God, she should play you,’ because she’s like my clone, this little girl. Ridiculous pipes, she plays every instrument, she’s an amazing drummer, so musical. Her reaction was, ‘Mom, I’d have to kiss Dad!’ She’s not in the play as a character because she didn’t exist at the time that we’re covering in the play. But it’s fantastic to me that she co-wrote an original tune that’s a pivotal scene in the play that is very emotional.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Illusionists—Witness the Impossible/Broadway in Chicago

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Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus


Magic is tricky (eh?). If it’s not your genre of choice it could be difficult to summon the proper enthusiasm to enjoy yourself. This particular show opens with a montage demonstrating each performer’s special skill. I needed something to get me interested and this montage proved to be more than ample. I muttered “holy shit” in earnest at least twice, once when a full-size train car appeared on stage.

Part of the fun is not knowing what happens next, so I’ll limit the spoilers and focus on the moments you can probably search for on YouTube. Adam Trent, “The Futurist,” opens the show with a few simple tricks that don’t inspire awe until an effect where he focuses a camera on an old man in the crowd, walks over to the old man, zooms on the old man, only to have the old man rip off his old man mask and MAGIC! It’s Adam Trent. Baffling. Jeff “the Trickster” Hobson serves as the de facto host for the evening’s events. He introduces a number of the other illusionists, each with their own accolades. Many are award winners, headlined by Yu Ho-Jin, “The Manipulator” and reigning Magician of the Year, who turns the simple use of cards into a mesmerizing display of legerdemain that leaves the audience totally enraptured. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: First Wives Club/Broadway In Chicago

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Opening night for pre-Broadway shows in Chicago can be fun. The excitement both real (will this be the next “The Producers” or “Kinky Boots”?) and manufactured (red carpets, Klieg lights and TV crews breathlessly interviewing the handful of celebrities and “celebrities” who show up), coupled with a house packed with producers and their enthusiastic friends not only heightens expectations but gives a sense for the personal efforts that such undertakings represent, both creative and financial. At the opening night for “First Wives Club,” the lead producers grabbed a mike at the curtain call and, after pointing out celebrity guests like onetime hit makers Holland, Dozier and Holland (who wrote music and lyrics for this show), along with former TV royalty Linda Bloodworth Thomason (who wrote the book), gave shoutouts to several of the investors in the room, in recognition of the long journey and huge investment a show like this represents. Read the rest of this entry »

Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.

Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)

Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »

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