Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Players 2016: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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“Out with the old, in with the new,” is one of the many well-intentioned platitudes you hear frequently this time of year. Personally, I find that type of sharp-turn resolution a bit difficult to manage. As I see it, change is fluid; the past informs the present and portends the future. Newness grows organically out of the well-tilled soil of history. This also happens to be the way I think about Chicago’s arts community. The open terrain currently being transformed by our promising young upstarts would not exist had the heavy lifters of previous years not worked to cultivate it. And so it is in this space that we honor both parties by highlighting the artists who have served as great beacons and those whose stars are just beginning to rise. What follows is the current crop of our city’s fifty most moving, most shaking, most dream-making Players in theater, dance, comedy and opera.  Make a resolution you actually want to keep: check them out! (Kevin Greene)

Players was written by Zach Freeman, Kevin Greene, Sharon Hoyer, Aaron Hunt and Loy Webb
Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Road Show/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

In “Road Show,” now playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman compress the story of minor American legends Wilson and Addison Mizner into a peripatetic fable. The Mizners lived big, meandering and literally beguiling lives. They crossed paths with, or just crossed, many notable Americans as they made their way. The real Wilson, a Promethean con man, first sought his fortune in Alaska, where he helped create Nome with a saloon and crooked card table. Between 1910 and 1933, he worked both on Broadway and in Hollywood, where he co-wrote sexualized dramas about ambition and cons. When streetcar magnate Charles T. Yerkes died, Wilson married his widow Mary Adelaide Moore Yerkes and moved into her 5th Avenue mansion, selling forgeries of her masters paintings. Wilson had a Johnsonian knack for quips. He presumably was the first to utter “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet the same people on your way down.” Wilson eventually sued the former Mrs. Yerkes for divorce. When his attorney reportedly asked his reasons, Wilson asked “Isn’t marriage enough?” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gypsy/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Louise Pitre and Jessica Rush/Photo: Liz Lauren


This production of “Gypsy, ” now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, begins gorgeously before the first note, at the silent sight of the ornate gilded frame of a stage that promises showbiz is about to happen. Then, boom, it does. The production’s big brassy crackerjack orchestra delivers “Gypsy’”s spectacular overture.  It would be a fine concert piece in itself, if it did not tease the musical’s rich set of great, now standard, Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim tunes.  Like the kids in the show who are ordered to “Sing Out!” by Madame Rose, the tiger-stage-mother who commands them, this production commits.  This must be one of the best-looking, best-acted and best instrumental stagings of “Gypsy” ever.

The show famously recounts the teen years of Louise, the future Gypsy Rose Lee, as her family, headed by the domineering Rose, travels the 1920s Vaudeville circuit. They’re a kitschy young children’s act composed of aging kids. The show revolves mainly around Rose and how her two daughters and loyal lover deal with, and ultimately reject her machinations. At first, the kids are played by real children. Small Emily Leahy as Louise’s headlining sister Baby June is a singing, tapping baton-twirling wonder. Caroline Heffernan as the young Louise/future Gypsy movingly conveys how being a normal, shy, smart child estranged her from her mother yearning for the family’s stardom. 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: Appropriate/Victory Gardens Theater

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Kirsten Fitzgerald,      Cheryl Graeff,      Keith KupfererRECOMMENDED

Each new scene in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ chronicle of family dysfunction and racism is greeted with the progressively louder sound of cicadas, the insects that rise to the surface to sing, mate and die. If you’ve ever seen the return of the cicadas, it is nature at its ugliest and most overwhelming.

The same can be said for the conduct of the LaFayette family as they gather at their ancestral home to settle their deceased father’s estate. Toni (Kirsten Fitzgerald in full force-of-nature mode) and her over-extended mover/shaker brother Bo (a dismissive and detached Keith Kupferer) bicker over who dropped the financial ball regarding their father’s estate. Their sleepy, airhead brother Franz (Stef Tovar) shows up with his eerily focused tree-hugger girlfriend River (Leah Karpel) for a shot at forgiveness and his share of the profits. Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Jud Is Alive and Well and Doing Parkour: David Adam Moore Stars In Lyric Opera’s “Oklahoma!”

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Photo: Magda Krance

Photo: Magda Krance

By Johnny Oleksinski

David Adam Moore is an anomaly in the cast of Lyric Opera’s upcoming production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” A baritone who performs regularly with companies around the world, Moore is the only traditional opera singer of the pack, which quite impressively includes Broadway notables Ashley Brown (“Mary Poppins” and Lyric’s “Show Boat”) and John Cudia (“The Phantom of The Opera”), and is directed by Chicago and New York’s shared son, Gary Griffin.

Moore has come to “Oklahoma!” direct from Lyric’s recent, electrifying production of André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” in which he played Stanley Kowalski during the student performance—a most memorable experience at a company he’s become incredibly fond of. You might expect a guy who regularly inhabits fearsome foes like Stanley and Jud to come across more intimidating than, say, a Curly or a Mitch, but Moore is as pleasant and easygoing as can be. He’s honored to be a part of this production, the first in a five-year series of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows at Lyric, and he doesn’t mind in the least being the only person onstage with an opera background. Read the rest of this entry »

Critic’s Postcard: The 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays at The Actors Theatre of Louisville

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9axoW91-2WG2E4dTfbfyOiikFKp67A0-pU7eVf3JhmwBy Johnny Oleksinski

The 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville has come and gone. It was the first Festival of Les Waters’ artistic directorship, as well as my first visit to the theater (and city, truth be told). Although I only just lost my Humana virginity, the general hubbub around me indicated that this was the finest festival of the last several seasons. I saw six full-length productions over three days, an experience I think more Chicago theater aficionados should take in. It’s a cheap and easy trip too; I took the Megabus.

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Review: Sunday in the Park with George/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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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 Pointillismthat 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 »

Chicago Shakespeare Theater announces 2012/2013 season

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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 »

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Timothy Edward Kane and Tracy Michelle Arnold/Photo: Liz Lauren


Throughout Gary Griffin’s absorbing two-hour and twenty-minute production, Philip S. Rosenberg’s lights and Mike Tutaj’s projections coordinate with Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes to create an arresting wash of lush purples and oranges, working as much dreamy magic on the audience as Timothy Edward Kane’s gleeful fairy king Oberon and Elizabeth Ledo’s gender-bending Puck work on the four young lovers in the forest. Read the rest of this entry »