THE BAND’S VISIT feels like an homage to the fleeting nature of live theater itself: a moment in time in which performers and audience are brought together to share a collective experience, all-encompassing yet passing swiftly and never to be created again. So too goes the narrative of the two characters at the center of this 2018 Tony Award-winning musical, Tewliq, the Egyptian conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and Dina, an Israeli woman living in the small town of Bet Hatikva. When Tewliq and his fellow band members accidentally make their way to Bet Hatikva, instead of the city Petah Tikva in which they have a concert engagement, the cast of characters come together by pure happenstance. The magnetic and mysterious connection that Tewliq and Dina share in the one night in which their lives overlap is similarly ethereal.
The Seattle-based circus, comedy, and cabaret spectacle Teatro ZinZanni has arrived in Chicago with the hybrid show LOVE, CHAOS AND DINNER. And ZinZanni serves up entertainment with a capital “E” in this production. The evening alternates between decidedly low-brow slapstick comedy scenes, musical numbers, and some stunning aerial and circus acts.
The newly opened production of TRUE WEST is a quintessentially Steppenwolf show in the best way possible: it’s a fresh staging of a gritty American drama with a first-rate cast and production values.
Director Mary Zimmerman lends her whimsy to THE MUSIC MAN at Goodman Theatre in a production that pays homage to the small-town charm and iconic score of Meredith Willson’s classic musical. Under Zimmerman’s direction, this MUSIC MAN becomes a joyful company piece showcasing, in particular, the talents of the formidable actors in the supporting and ensemble roles. The production finds all the earnest humor embedded in THE MUSIC MAN, and Jermaine Hill’s music direction ensures that each note rings out fully from the 12-member orchestra.
In IF I FORGET, Steven Levenson provides a close study of the kitchen sink family drama. At its center, the play addresses fundamental questions about what it means to be Jewish in America at the turn of the 21st century (the first act of the play takes place in July of 2000, while the second jumps to the post 9-11 moment of February 2001). IF I FORGET centers on the Fischer family as a means to pose those questions in a specific context through the family’s three generations. In each individual scene, Levenson displays a knack for realistic and specific dialogue. Devon de Mayo’s direction and the tight-knit ensemble also portray family tensions that feel altogether too real.
With MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT, co-creators Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney have created a raucous and welcoming celebration of Queer culture by bringing to life a true story that few audience members might have known previously. The play’s title refers to Joan Jett Blakk (given name: Terence Alan Smith), a drag queen who ran first for mayor of Chicago and then for President of the United States in 1992. By staging a piece about Blakk, McCraney and Landau have poetically brought forward a story that might otherwise have been forgotten by the general populace, just as many American citizens who identify as Queer are often erased from consideration and representation in this country. MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT fully explores this issue of erasure without making the production one that’s defined by tragedy.
The national tour of the 2016 Broadway revival of FALSETTOS, once again helmed by director James Lapine, has landed in Chicago with a first-rate production and cast. The mighty touring ensemble of seven captures all the neuroses and emotional journeys of the musical’s composite “Tight-Knit Family.”
Bow down to the queens of SIX. In this new musical from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (with direction from Moss and Jamie Armitage), the six wives of King Henry VIII are taking back their mics and sharing their stories—in the form of contemporary pop musical songs. This masterful musical sizzles with electric energy and endless delight. SIX remains a fiery and joyous theatrical affair without ever making light of the fact that the musical demonstrates how these six women are best remembered in history as “belonging” to an infamous king. Yet SIX also brilliantly subverts this notion by reminding us that a huge part of this Henry VIII’s legacy stems from the fact that these six women were all his spouses. SIX posits that without this line-up of ex-wives, Henry VIII might not have left such an indelible mark on history.
Under the direction of David Cromer, Writers Theatre presents a NEXT TO NORMAL that is raw and electric. Tom Kitt’s music and Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics have an utter immediacy to them in this production (and each note sounds great thanks to the music direction of Andra Velis Simon and the six-piece band.) It’s beautifully cast and even more beautifully delivered. Each member of the cast rises to the dual challenge of conveying the messy, deeply personal experience of emotional pain while also hitting the notes of Kitt’s complex score with precision.
Under the direction of Artistic Director Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre’s THE WINTER’S TALE is one of the most inventive and playful productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen. In the Shakespearean canon, THE WINTER’S TALE defies easy categorization. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, which can be neatly defined as either tragedy or comedy, THE WINTER’S TALE incorporates both immense despair and immense mirth in the text’s very core.