The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of Madeline Sayet’s solo play runs through July 24, 2022
Madeline Sayet proves herself to be a powerful and magnetic storyteller in her one-woman play WHERE WE BELONG. Sayet has structured her text so the story becomes more personal and poetic as it progresses, and under the direction of Mei Ann Teo, she delivers her testimony to the audience in a compelling and dynamic manner.
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The long-awaited Steppenwolf production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s CHOIR BOY was well worth the wait.
With direction by Kent Gash, Steppenwolf’s staging hits all the right notes. Steppenwolf ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play is is a heartwrencing and tuneful story about Pharus— a young gay Black man who relishes nothing more than his role as the choir lead at the prestigious Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. Over the course of the play, Pharus navigates that classic adolescent tension between his desire to be fully himself and his wish to be accepted among his peers. McCraney’s script beautifully demonstrates this push-and-pull in a way that will universally resonate with audiences, but the story is also incredibly specific to Pharus and his classmates.
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Britta Johnson’s LIFE AFTER is a deeply moving and creative new musical that beautifully probes the complexities of grief and the accompanying anxiety and unanswered questions it brings in its wake. This is a profoundly emotional, but also at times surprisingly humorous, musical that sonically takes inspiration from contemporary shows that came before it but has a personality all its own. Under the direction of Annie Tippe, Goodman Theatre’s ensemble brings the story of 16-year-old Alice, who mourns the sudden loss of her father, to life in a visceral and touching production.
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Kokandy Productions’ staging of CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL is a fun romp filled with ‘90s nostalgia and some banging vocals from director Adrian Abel Azevedo’s ensemble. Created by Jordan Ross, LIndsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble and based on Kumble’s 1999 film of the same name, CRUEL INTENTIONS understands its assignment well to deliver camp, fun, and ‘90s hits. While I found the original film quite absurd with its seductive and slightly sadistic tale of lascivious stepsiblings Kathryn and Sebastian and their antics, the musical owns the ridiculousness, and in the end, makes for a clever adaptation that improves upon its source material. Certain elements of the film have not aged well, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the musical compensates for that.
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The Chicago premiere of Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s cullud wattah at Victory Gardens Theater is a heartbreaking and compelling play about a family of resilient Black women living in Flint, Michigan. Dickerson-Despenza’s script intertwines slice-of-life scenes between marion (Brianna Buckley), her sister ainee (Sydney Charles), her daughters plum (Demetra Dee) and reesee (Ireon Roach), and her mother big ma (Renée Lockett) with larger discussions and news clips that reflect the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
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American Idol alumni and real-life married couple Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young take the stage in SKATES: A New Musical. While Christine Rea and Rick Briskin’s musical bills itself on the whole as an exercise in nostalgia, the most nostalgic part of SKATES for me was seeing DeGarmo and Young perform; I rooted hard core for DeGarmo back in her AMERICAN IDOL days. Here, she shows why— she has a tremendous powerhouse voice and an appealing stage presence that make her a consummate performer. Director Brenda Didier and choreographer Christopher Chase Carter work with a cast of Chicago musical theater veterans who perform alongside DeGarmo and Young.
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AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS lives up to its title—the jukebox musical proudly displays a wide array of songs from The Temptations’s iconic catalog. The show, now in its first national tour following the Broadway production, follows a similar structure like predecessors JERSEY BOYS and BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL. It uses The Temptations’s songs to tell the story of the band, and of course, focuses primarily on the Classic Five: Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, and David Ruffin from their early days in Detroit all the way to musical stardom.
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Directed by Helen Young, TimeLine Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of Lloyd Suh’s THE CHINESE LADY is a poignant and well-crafted play centered on Afong Moy, who was supposedly the first Chinese woman to come to America. Although historical record does not have much definitive information about Afong Moy (we even know that was not her real name), Suh uses the play’s well-structured 90 minutes to imagine what she might have said to audiences had she been given the chance. For at least 15 years from 1834 to 1850, Afong Moy was treated like an exhibit in a museum; Nathaniel and Francis Carnes brought her to the United States to showcase her in front of American audiences. Thus, Afong Moy was taken away from her family and stripped of agency. While Suh’s script cleverly allows Afong Moy to take back some of that agency, the play also demonstrates that in reality this young woman didn’t have much of a voice or control over her situation at all.
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Lookingglass Theatre Company’s signature LOOKINGGLASS ALICE has returned to Water Tower Water Works—and it’s just as whimsical and delightful as I remember it when I first saw the production back in high school. Director David Catlin’s charming and inventive adaptation combines storytelling elements from Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS. The production’s partnership with The Actors Gymnasium has also cemented Lookingglass Theatre Company’s unique combination of literary adaptation and impressive aerial artistry. LOOKINGGLASS ALICE not only calls for a talented company of actors but also places considerable physical demands upon its ensemble.
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Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s SEAGULL proves a wry vehicle to showcase the talents of many of his fellow Steppenwolf ensemble members who haven’t graced the stage since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Peyankov’s adaptation is direct, self-aware, and rife with dry (extremely dry) humor. The ennui that pierces SEAGULL is deeply and obviously felt throughout this adaptation of the text. References to Chekhov’s native Russia abound in Peyankov’s script, but the language feels modern and direct.
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