Review: THE RIPPLE, THE WAVE THAT CARRIED ME HOME at Goodman Theatre

Review: THE RIPPLE, THE WAVE THAT CARRIED ME HOME at Goodman Theatre

As implied by the title, Christina Anderson’s the ripple, the wave that carried me home is a narrative of homecoming. The play’s protagonist and narrator, Janice, remarks at the top of the show that she doesn’t often talk to her family back home in the fictional town of Beacon, Kansas— in fact, she shares that she only calls her mother on the first and third Sundays of every month, seven out of 10 bank holidays, and during medical incidents. But then Young Chipper Ambitious Black Woman of the African-American Recognition Committee in Beacon calls Janice and asks her to speak at an upcoming public event in honor of her father. Janice must metaphorically reckon with her homecoming and her childhood in Beacon.

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Review: CABARET at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: CABARET at Porchlight Music Theatre

Porchlight invites audiences into the glittering, gritty world of early 1930s Berlin with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s iconic musical CABARET. Under the direction of Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber and with associate direction and choreography by Brenda Didier, this production largely belongs to Erica Stephan in the role of Sally Bowles. As the seductive and desperate nightclub singer, Sally, Stephan is an absolute dream. She not only plays the character’s arc beautifully, moving from artful seduction to total desperation and panic by the show’s end, but she showcases her powerful belt and vocal control in each of Sally’s solo numbers. In this way, Porchlight’s production mirrors Sally’s character arc; as the other characters in the show are awakened to the realities of the Nazi party’s rise to power, they must contend with the fact that life is not, in fact, a cabaret.

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Review: BALD SISTERS at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: BALD SISTERS at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Steppenwolf presents a new twist on the well-trod territory of the dysfunctional family drama with Vichet Chum’s BALD SISTERS. As far as dysfunctional families go, too, the family in BALD SISTERS doesn’t have the most baggage. That said, Chum’s characters still have plenty to contend with as sisters Him and Sophea mourn the loss of their mother. The play is a meditation on the circle of life, but I appreciate that BALD SISTERS is an exercise in subtlety as far as family dramas go. As a result, some of Chum’s scenes meander and don’t seem to have a purpose within the context of the play, but I like that BALD SISTERS has themes that wash over audiences rather than hit them over the head.

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Review: Porchlight Revisits THE APPLE TREE

Review: Porchlight Revisits THE APPLE TREE

Porchlight Music Theatre invited audiences to take another bite of musical theater history with Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s THE APPLE TREE. The musical, composed of three one-acts centered on the theme of temptation, was the season opener for the Porchlight Revisits series. As usual, Porchight Artistic Director Michael Weber introduced the show with a brief educational talk on THE APPLE TREE’s history.

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Review: TROUBLE IN MIND at TimeLine Theatre Company

Review: TROUBLE IN MIND at TimeLine Theatre Company

Though it took Alice Childress’s 1955 play TROUBLE IN MIND nearly 70 years to make its Broadway debut at Roundabout Theatre Company last year, the play is remarkably prescient. Director Ron OJ Parson helms TimeLIne’s production of Childress’s play about racial and gender dynamics on the Great White Way. TROUBLE IN MIND focuses on Broadway actor Wiletta Mayer, a middle-aged Black woman cast in the “anti-lynching” play CHAOS IN BELLEVILLE. While the show has a predominantly Black cast, Wiletta soon discovers that the play’s white male director has little concept that CHAOS IN BELLEVILLE is a deeply problematic and misrepresentative play. 

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Review: RENT at Porchlight Music Theatre 

Review: RENT at Porchlight Music Theatre 

Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical RENT comes to life in a Porchlight production that captures the ethos of the original Broadway production. It also the fresh energy of the musical’s message about love, acceptance, and living in the moment. 

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Review: SWING STATE at Goodman Theatre

Review: SWING STATE at Goodman Theatre

Rebecca Gilman shows her deftness at writing “slice of life” plays in SWING STATE. In this latest collaboration with outgoing Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls, Gilman introduces four characters at a crossroads in a small town in rural Wisconsin during summer 2021. It’s marketed as a play about the pandemic, and indeed, SWING STATE contains some references to the COVID-19 pandemic, masks, and vaccines. Ultimately, though, SWING STATE is a pure character study with the notions of pandemic and extinction of the human race in the background, and notions of mortality and despair in the foreground. Yes, it’s a post-pandemic play, but really it’s just allowing us to peer into the lives of these characters at a moment in time. That’s not to say that Gilman’s play isn’t moving, but I found the overall execution to not be as overarching as the set-up purports. 

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Review: CLUE at Mercury Theater Chicago

Review: CLUE at Mercury Theater Chicago

Mercury Theater’s CLUE is a comedic delight of a production. The laughs flow freely and easily in this stage adaptation of the farce-meets-murder-mystery based on the iconic 1985 film by Jonathan Lynn and Sandy Rustin, with new material from Hunter Foster and Eric Price, and original music from Michael Holland. Director L. Walter Stearns’s ensemble lands each and every moment, maximizing the laughs but maintaining the integrity. These actors understand the assignment of both farce and murder mystery: The characters in CLUE take themselves and the outrageous situations of the play deeply seriously, and the ensemble finds the comedy in playing those truths. It’s a near masterclass in how farce should be performed. The fact that the play is only 90 minutes also means the stage adaptation doesn’t overstay its welcome: There’s just enough time to set up the mystery, play the antics, and send audiences home after a delightful, hilarious time.

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Review: World Premiere of THE NOTEBOOK at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Review: World Premiere of THE NOTEBOOK at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The world premiere musical THE NOTEBOOK captures the sentimental energy of Nicholas’s Sparks all-encompassing love story about Allie and Noah, two young lovers who come from entirely different social strata, and has a distinct point of view on its source material. With music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson, book by Bekah Brunstetter, and direction by Michael Greif and Schele Williams, THE NOTEBOOK takes a narrative that I frankly found overly maudlin in movie form and softens it as a musical. Michaelson’s cohesive score and lyrics, while not necessarily catchy, provides a wistfulness that befits Allie and Noah’s star-crossed lover journey. Fans of Sparks’s original 1996 novel and the 2004 film will recall that THE NOTEBOOK operates on parallel timelines—We meet the elderly Allie and Noah in the nursing home; Allie suffers from dementia, and Noah diligently reads from a notebook recounting their epic love story in the hopes of helping her recover her memory. When I saw the film, I found it cheesy. But the musical’s intimate production values and lush harmonies make it more moving.

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Review: CABARET ZAZOU LUMINAIRE Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: CABARET ZAZOU LUMINAIRE Presented by Broadway In Chicago

The glittering indoor Spiegeltent ZaZou has unveiled another entertainment confection for downtown Chicago audiences: TEATRO ZINZANNI has now morphed into CABARET ZAZOU. The latest edition, CABARET ZAZOU’s LUMINAIRE, once again combines powerhouse vocals, breathtaking aerial acts, and a little bit of slapstick comedy for over two hours of dinner theater fun. 

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