BoHo Theatre’s production of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’s 110 IN THE SHADE makes the central, fierce, independent female character of Lizzie Curry take center stage. This is particularly true because Neala Barron’s expert performance anchors every moment. Barron mines her character for the maximum amount of meaning and layers she can find: she makes us feel Lizzie’s strong-willed, intelligent presence while also conveying a deep sense of longing to find a husband and start a family. 110 IN THE SHADE strikes a chord precisely because these two facets of Lizzie’s character are not presented as irreconcilable: rather, Lizzie is simultaneously pragmatic and ambitious in her desires. With direction by outgoing Artistic Director Peter Marston Sullivan and music direction by Ellen Morris, Barron also thrives in each musical number backed by a 3-piece orchestra.
In Timeline Theatre Company’s MASTER CLASS, Chicago favorite Janet Ulrich Brooks schools the audience with her commanding performance as famous opera singer Maria Callas.
The touring production of the 2017 Tony Award-winning revival HELLO, DOLLY! has arrived in Chicago with a jubilant, tuneful, and visually pleasing staging. Jerry Zaks’s fast-paced production finds every moment of joy and adventure in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s classic musical. This bright and bold HELLO, DOLLY! offers unapologetic escapist entertainment, but that’s precisely what makes the production such a success. At its core, HELLO, DOLLY! was created to supply fun and farce, and that’s precisely what’s served up.
Here she is, boys. Here she is, world. Here’s E. Faye Butler as Mama Rose in GYPSY. Butler commands the Porchlight stage with a presence that’s both larger-than-life and also at the same time a deeply revealing character study. To say that Butler’s portrayal of Mama Rose is a star turn is almost not enough. Butler seems to live and breathe this role; she does not appear to be acting but rather fully inhabiting this iconic character.
Cue the jazz hands—Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s PIPPIN has arrived at Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret in an intimate staging that brings the actors and the audience together. Mercury Artistic Director L. Walter Stearns’s interprets this cabaret production of PIPPIN in a literal manner: the show’s visual references and presentational style are highly influenced by the 1920s Weimar cabaret in Germany. Thus, the fictional story of Charlemagne’s son Pippin does not at all take place in medieval times but rather seems to occupy a moment all its own. Given the eccentricities in the material for PIPPIN itself, this is a fitting choice.
Under Jonathan Berry’s direction, Simon Stephens’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME has found its emotional center at Steppenwolf. Based upon the novel by Mark Haddon, CURIOUS INCIDENT marks the first Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of this season, and this staging brings the show’s theme of human connection to the forefront. I saw this play both on Broadway and on tour when it passed through Chicago in 2016, and the more poignant parts of the narrative felt swallowed up by the cavernous venues. In Steppenwolf’s comparably smaller Downstairs Theatre, CURIOUS INCIDENT has considerably more emotional heft while also offering up a unique visual and aural landscape.
With Santino Fontana leading the way in the dual roles of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, the Broadway-bound new musical TOOTSIE sings its way to success. Based on the 1982 film of the same name, book writer Robert Horn and composer/lyricist David Yazbek have translated TOOTSIE’S setting to modern-day New York City. It’s a smart move because it enables Yazbek to give the show a lush, contemporary Broadway sound; it also makes sure that TOOTSIE’s farcical tone lends itself to ample laughs while remaining respectful. The show’s design also firmly grounds us in the glitz and glam of NYC showbiz, with David Rockwell’s opulent and modern set showcasing many flashy, stunning elements.
Victory Gardens Theater’s Chicago premiere of Paula Vogel’s Tony nominated INDECENT weaves a beautiful narrative about the transcendence of art and human resilience. Director Gary Griffin’s staging feels both grandiose and intimate at the same time; the play’s action spans a time period from 1906-1950 and travels across continents, but the vignettes contained in Vogel’s story are rife with genuine, powerful human emotion. INDECENT was inspired by the true story of the 1923 Broadway debut of Jewish playwright Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, which had an illicit lesbian romance as one of its main plot points. Vogel’s story charts God of Vengeance’s journey from the moment Asch first presents the script to his wife through to its first reading and multiple staged productions.
Firebrand Theatre’s second season opens with a poignantly fitting musical choice: composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tony Kushner’s CAROLINE, OR CHANGE. In the musical from this renowned writing team, protagonist Caroline Thibodeaux, a black woman working as a maid for a white Jewish family in 1963 Lake Charles, Louisiana goes on a powerful journey of self-discovery. Firebrand, in partnership with TimeLine Theatre Company, has made a production choice that fits the company’s feminist mission like a glove.
David Cale’s solo show WE’RE ONLY ALIVE FOR A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME, now in its world premiere at Goodman Theatre, tells a story of the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Though Cale is no stranger to the Goodman stage (this is his seventh work to be produced here), he’s not made an appearance since 2005 and this “musical memoir” (so called in the program) is among his most personal works. Over the course of 90 minutes, Cale’s solo play with songs allows him to recount his childhood experiences in the industrial British town of Luton.