TREVOR, the soul-stirring and exceptionally executed new musical at Writers Theatre, managed to simultaneously break my heart and make me grin uncontrollably over the course of its two-hour run time. With book and lyrics by Dan Collins, music by Julianne Wick Davis, and direction by Marc Bruni, Writers Theatre has a surefire hit on its hand with this show based upon the Academy Award-winning short film of the same name. Centered on the titular 13-year-old growing up in 1981 and coming to terms with his sexuality, TREVOR captures all the agony of those rough middle school days without ever feeling cliched. As embodied by Trevor, Collins and Davis have so beautifully articulated both the joys and challenges of discovering one’s own identity amidst the turbulence of adolescence. If you have experienced the trying times of middle and high school, I have little doubt that you will identify with this breathtaking piece of theater.
Mercury Theater’s revival of the iconic rock musical HAIR infuses some peace, love, and sunshine into this Chicago summer. While Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s lyrics still resonant today, this production stays firmly rooted in the late 1960s. Brenda Didier’s direction, Robert Kuhn’s costumes, and Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design all have a “traditional” feel—at least traditional by the show’s standards. Certainly HAIR’s call for peace and embrace of the Tribe’s diverse identities echo the present and remind us of the progress yet to be made, but this staging does not underscore that relevance based on production choices.
Christopher Wheeldon’s visually stunning production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS has come dancing into Broadway In Chicago’s Oriental Theatre. Wheeldon’s complex and extensive choreography is the most striking and entertaining element of this new musical, based upon the classic Gene Kelly film and with a new book by Craig Lucas that weaves together George and Ira Gershwin’s lush song catalog. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS enjoyed a successful Broadway run in 2015, and this touring company can certainly keep up with Wheeldon’s moves as well as the original ensemble.
Bottoms up! The national tour of the hilarious, clever, and grin-inducing SOMETHING ROTTEN! has arrived at the Oriental Theatre in a first-rate production that’s worth celebrating. There’s absolutely nothing rotten about director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s fast-paced and beautifully performed staging. While SOMETHING ROTTEN! may be unsubtle in its humor and its desire to please musical theater lovers, that’s precisely why the show works. This is unapologetic, no-holds-barred entertainment. With Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick’s music and lyrics and a book by Karey and John O’Farrel, the storytelling is original and witty. Continue reading “Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! National Tour at the Oriental Theatre”
“This music is magical. My writing is stilted.” So proclaims Erik Jensen as famed rock critic Lester Bangs in HOW TO BE A ROCK CRITIC, now playing as part of Steppenwolf’s Lookout Series. This thought has likely crossed the mind of all art critics out there (certainly it has crossed mine), and it embodies the spirit of this 80-minute solo play as it charts Bangs’s career. Jensen and co-playwright Jessica Blank (the pair are also married) give us a portrait of Bangs—who died of a drug overdose at age 33—that demonstrates the passion, creativity, and self-destructive nature that defined him. This solo play provides an overview of Bangs’s trajectory and allows audiences to learn about the rock music he loved, aided by David Robbins’s sound design.
Taylor Mac’s HIR, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf under the direction of Hallie Gordon, proves itself to be a complete whirlwind from the beginning. Collette Pollard’s strikingly realistic living room/kitchen set is in a tornado-like state when the curtain comes up at the top of the play, with heaps of clothes scattered around, a large tower of miscellaneous household appliances and craft supplies barring the front door, and a general lack of discernible counter and floor space anywhere. This state of disarray echoes the chaotic state of the dysfunctional family at the center of HIR: order has gone entirely by the wayside. Paige (Amy Morton, a commanding spitfire from the start) resides in this mess of a house with her transgender son Max (an earnest and likable Em Grosland) and her husband Arnold, who is deeply mentally incapacitated as a result of a severe stroke (Fran Guinan in a shocking and haunting performance). When Paige and Arnold’s eldest son Isaac (Ty Olwin) arrives home from war, he finds a home and family that he no longer recognizes.
Review: Disney’s ALADDIN at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre
Far from “riff raff,” the national tour of ALADDIN has ascended on Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre in a lavish, gorgeous production with heaps of jaw-dropping Disney magic. Audiences will want to spend far more than just one “Arabian Night” taking in the glitz and glamour of this Agrabah (as the Genie, played here by Anthony Murphy, remarks, “Even the poor people are fabulous.”) Bob Crowley’s massive, extravagant set design and Greg Barnes’s glittering costumes with thousands of Swarovski crystals make ALADDIN an unceasing visual delight. Story-wise, the production lets audiences revisit some stellar classics from the Disney song catalogue delivered by a consistently talented cast. This show is both opulent and well-sung.
Following a successful 2015 run, that great white whale MOBY DICK has returned to Lookingglass in a highly physical, inventive, and visually compelling production that’s fully in keeping with the company’s aesthetic. David Catlin’s adaptation of Herman Meville’s sprawling novel surrounds audiences in the universe of those whalers on board the Pequod in search of that elusive creature. With Courtney O’Neill’s artful and hand-crafted set design, the stage and audience reside in a whale “skeleton,” which cleverly also becomes the structure of the ship. As is common with Lookingglass productions, MOBY DICK also makes use of some talented, athletic performers who take on stunning acrobatic feats (choreography by The Actors Gymnasium’s Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi). But like any voyage, Catlin’s script has a number of slower, narration-heavy moments that lack much action. MOBY DICK vacillates between moments of captivating artistry combined with heightened physicality and lengthy stretches of pure narration.
Bartlett Sher’s 2015 Tony Award winning revival of THE KING AND I has sailed into Broadway In Chicago’s Oriental Theatre in a triumphant touring production. And I do say sailed because most of Michael Yeargan’s opulent set pieces for the 2015 staging at Lincoln Center Theater (which I had the pleasure of seeing at that time) remain intact for the tour. At the top of the show, Anna Leonowens and her young son Louis arrive in Siam onboard a splendid ship—decked out in Catherine Zuber’s beautiful costumes. While the sets and the size of the ensemble are somewhat reduced from Lincoln Center’s grandiose production, this KING AND I still fully demonstrates Sher’s deft vision for this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
Both beautiful and necessarily brutal, Antoinette Nwandu’s PASS OVER is a play that’s entirely essential to this moment.
In this world premiere at Steppenwolf, Nwandu shows us what happens to two young Black men confined to one city block, who hope to escape to an elusive “Promised Land.” Though Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) dream of the Land of Milk and Honey, they remain trapped. As with Estragon and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT, on which PASS OVER riffs, Moses and Kitch are bored. But they’re not just bored: they’re in constant danger, fighting for survival in each moment. We see this as they dive down to the ground at the sound of gunshots, a repeated and hauntingly realistic occurrence in the play. And we see this too in the white interlopers that invade their space-the posh, anachronistic “Mister” and a police officer, both played by Ryan Hallahan. Moses and Kitch wish to escape the block, but the presence of these white authorities gives us the all-too-real sense that even if they do, they’ll remain stuck in other ways.