Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Fantasticks/Light Opera Works

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James Anest and Meredith Kochan/Photo: Mona Luan

James Anest and Meredith Kochan/Photo: Mona Luan

Light Opera Works has launched its thirty-fifth season with a musical that has a great deal of staying power of its own. “The Fantasticks” has the honor of being the longest-running show in history. In New York. In Evanston, it only runs through June fourteenth. And that’s probably for the best. The play is still the solid warhorse that has stood the test of time, but this production lacks some of the magic that one hopes for. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for the first half hour the production verges on boring. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Merry Widow/Light Opera Works

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The Merry Widow

Oh, ho, ho. It appears that a holiday-season association is developing between Christmas, the time of wretched excess, and the comic operetta warhorse “The Merry Widow.”

I hope I’m wrong. I trust this trend will fizzle. I don’t need another reason to despise our national festival of heedless, reckless consumption, maddeningly cheerful Christmas elevator music, gluttony, drunkenness, depression, fake bonhomie and 10,000 repetitions in five weeks of the six mortal minutes of “The Little Drummer Boy.”

So it was with trepidation that I made my way to the Cahn Auditorium in Evanston to hear Franz Lehár’s tribute to the ideals, the spirit of the Parisian flâneur. That spirit is a clumsy sniggering schoolboy furtiveness about sex, a panicky fear of the female body, a shocking selfishness, a disgusting avarice, and limitless male vanity and obliviousness. These qualities should have by now sunk “The Merry Widow” forever.

The Cahn is the perfect size for “The Merry Widow.” When the New York City Opera staged “Widow” in 1996, the acting of the singers never rose above broad, noisy, vulgar caricature. Why? Because these stages are too large for operetta (“little opera”). The cavernous setting demands violent gesticulation, not gestures. Changes of expression never make it over the footlights. Subtle changes in stance or posture escape notice. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cabaret/Light Opera Works

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Photo: Jasmin Shah

Photo: Jasmin Shah


Before Rudy Hogenmiller became the artistic director of Light Opera Works in 2005, he had been a song-and-dance man on stage for more than thirty years. One of the shows that Hogenmiller danced as a young man was “Cabaret,” and he admits that as an ensemble member, the Emcee role was one that he coveted.

Making his Light Opera Works performing debut by taking on the role decades later, Hogenmiller wisely decided to leave aside his usual directorial and choreography duties to someone else and brought in his friend and colleague Stacey Flaster, who directed the company’s memorable 2010 “Carousel.”

Leaving aside that Hogenmiller is more of a dancer than a singer and is severely stretching a trend that began with Joel Grey reprising the role he had originated as a young man as a much older performer in a revival, Hogenmiller certainly places his own unique stamp on the role. This is a humorless, diabolical emcee who reflects, rather than deflects, the decrepitude surrounding the pre-Nazi 1930 Berlin cabaret that is the show’s setting. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Oliver!/Light Opera Works

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Colette Todd/ Photo: Chris Ocken

Colette Todd/ Photo: Chris Ocken


Consider yourself at home with Light Opera Works’ short-run production of “Oliver.” Disguised as community theater, “Oliver” is every bit up to the high standards set by this company. A delightfully vibrant and talented cast make this show worth the commute for city theater-goers. A full orchestra and decidedly dark staging make this show aesthetically pleasing as well.

For many, the idea of singing and dancing children can be nauseating. A show like “Oliver” inherently comes with such misconceptions. What’s surprising about this show is that after the ever-popular “Food, Glorious Food” number, the show primarily focuses on the flawed adults rather than the gamin they’re supposedly helping. Dickens’ twisted sense of irony is thoughtfully paired with upbeat show tunes of the old school and thankfully performed by adults. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Camelot/Light Opera Works

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Nick Sandys and Jennie Sophia Photo: Chris Ocken


Because “Camelot” had been the favorite show of President John Kennedy, the term was quickly applied to the Kennedy era after his tragic assassination—that “one brief shining moment”—as the real Camelot itself was said to have been a millennia and a half earlier.  The original king, Richard Burton, told me in 1980 when he was reprising the role here that as one who used to drink with JFK when he was a young senator, that even he was yearning—back in the “good ol’ days” and just like the rest of us—for the “good ol’ days.”

That road show allowed Alan Jay Lerner to make revisions that kept all of the comedy but following Lerner’s screenplay for the 1967 film version, the melodrama of the story was maximized by removing some of the more abstract, magical scenes and songs, and by framing the entire story as a nocturnal flashback that Arthur has while waiting to go to battle with Lancelot.
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The Players 2012: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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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

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Light Opera Works announces 2012 season

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LIGHT OPERA WORKS Announces 2012 Season

EVANSTON, IL: Light Opera Works’ 2012 season will begin with CAMELOT June 1-10, followed by MAN OF LA MANCHA August 11-26, OPERETTA’S GREATEST HITS October 5-14, and OLIVER! December 22-31.

The 2011 season concludes with THE SECRET GARDEN December 26, 2011-January 1, 2012.

The October operetta concert will be performed at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston. All other productions are at the company’s home base, Cahn Auditorium in Evanston. The Light Opera Works box office is located at 516 4th Street in Wilmette. To purchase tickets call (847) 920-5360 or order online at  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Student Prince/Light Opera Works

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Danielle Knox and William Bennett/Photo: Rich Foreman


Light Opera Works actually giving us—well, light opera works—is always a special treat, given how much emphasis the company has come to place on musicals in recent years. And the only operetta offering of the season is tailor-made for the resources of the Evanston-based company: Sigmund Romberg’s delightful “The Student Prince,” which has not been done at LOW in a decade.

Part “Prisoner of Zenda,” part “Wuthering Heights” set to waltz music and frothy melodies, it is easy to forget that the work is a thoroughly twentieth-century confection that began life on the Broadway stage. It was, in fact, the longest-running show of the 1920s, with more performances during that decade than the far more forward-looking work now so indelibly associated with that time, “Show Boat.” Read the rest of this entry »

Light Opera Works announces 2011 season

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Here’s the press release from Light Opera Works:

LIGHT OPERA WORKS’ 2011 Season continues in October

Evanston, IL: Light Opera Works’ 2011 season continues in the fall with RODGERS & HART: A CELEBRATION (October 2-November 6) on the Second Stage, and Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s THE SECRET GARDEN (December 26-January 1) on the mainstage. To purchase tickets call (847) 869-6300 or order online at Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Swell: Scaled-back “Dolly” with show voices hardly what the opera house ordered

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By Dennis Polkow

Okay, so it’s Christmas week and Newcity isn’t publishing again until January 6, so no print review of this show is able to appear before it closes on January 2. Nonetheless, there are some troubling issues raised by Light Opera Works’ production of “Hello, Dolly.”

As the world knows by now, Lyric Opera announced earlier in the month that soprano superstar Renée Fleming is becoming the company’s first-ever “creative consultant” and wants Lyric to start doing annual musicals, which will commence with “Oklahoma!” Lyric also has now performed operettas two years in a row, once a great rarity at that company which had thought for decades that operetta—let alone musical theater—was beneath the operatic mission and identity of the company.

Less known is that the Evanston-based Light Opera Works was founded thirty years ago to perform the very genre that Lyric ignored—namely, operettas—as its mainstay repertoire and core identity as the company name might suggest, and used to do exactly that, only performing musical theater pieces as a rarity. That formula has reversed itself at LOW to where operetta is now the exception—generally one out of four works per season—and musical theater the rule. The company has justified this by claiming that this is the ratio that its audiences preferred and that LOW was still contributing much to the local arts scene by showcasing musical theater works with trained singers and as they were meant to be heard with original full orchestrations and choruses, something rarely heard even on Broadway these days. Read the rest of this entry »

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