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 heartwrenching 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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