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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The world premiere of Karen Zacarías’s NATIVE GARDENS at Victory Gardens Theater provides ample humor and wit—even if the playwright’s neighborly metaphor sometimes feels too on the nose.
The play introduces us to two couples living next door to one another in a wealthy D.C. suburb: Tania (Paloma Nozicka) and Pablo Del Valle (Gabriel Ruiz), a young Latino couple new to the neighborhood, and Virginia (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Frank Butley (Patrick Clear), a well-off white couple who are long-time residents with a meticulously maintained backyard. When Tania and Pablo suggest replacing a decrepit chain link fence between the two yards with a new wood one, all seems well. But when a survey of the land reveals Virginia and Frank may be taking up more land than they’re legally entitled, a dispute ensues-and the conversation widens to issues much larger than just the maintenance of backyard gardens.
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Just as Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’s 1999 musical RAGTIME traverses numerous locales on the East Coast and spans the years from 1906-1914, so too does director Scott Weinstein’s dynamic staging make full use of The Den Theatre’s Heath Mainstage. In Griffin Theatre Company’s production, Weinstein’s in-the-round staging often has actors dispersed among the audience (indeed, a handful of performers appeared right in front and me and even made eye contact during the performance). While this is an intimate production of a sweeping musical, this genius device lends RAGTIME the grand air it commands. The closeness of the action also lends pathos to this story of three American families—one white and privileged, one black, and one immigrant—as they navigate a changing country at the beginning of the twentieth century.
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Often we go see musicals to escape. We lose ourselves in the pleasure of song and dance, and narrative conflicts that are neatly resolved in two acts. We see musicals because they are frequently joyous and light-hearted and allow us to forget, if just for a few hours, what’s happening in the world around us.
PARADE, now in a blistering and beautifully minimalist production from director Gary Griffin, is not that musical. Though it is based off the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish pencil factory worker Leo Frank and was written by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry in 1998, this musical feels entirely of this moment. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, the musical follows Leo as he is imprisoned and put on trial after being falsely accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, a pre-teen girl found dead in the basement of the pencil factory. Georgia governor Hugh Dorsey wants to rapidly resolve the case and pins the blame on Leo-and coerces factory janitor Jim Conley to serve as an eye witness. The residents of Atlanta buy into Dorsey’s false narrative, as they’re distrustful of Frank and also want to see Mary’s death avenged.
Continue reading “Review: PARADE at Writers Theatre”
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, now in a regional premiere production at Chicago Theatre Workshop, heartily captures the quirky personality of the 2006 Academy Award winning film upon which it’s based. Writing team William Finn and James Lapine (known for their previous collaborations on FALSETTOS and A NEW BRAIN) have keenly musicalized some of the film’s most oddball moments. In that great tradition of musical theater, Finn has cleverly located all the song buttons in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and all the numbers fall neatly in service of the narrative. Under Maggie Portman’s direction (she also choreographed), this production moves along at a brisk and hilarious pace. Nick Sula provides musical direction that makes nice use of few musicians.
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Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1956 classic Broadway musical MY FAIR LADY has some of the most iconic tunes in the American song catalog. And, of course, relays that tempestuous relationship (perhaps romantic, perhaps not) between the egocentric and language-obsessed Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower seller with aspirations for more. Higgins strikes up a bet with Colonel Pickering, also a language expert, that he can pass Eliza off as a lady of society within six months—and then, it’s off to the races as Higgins and Eliza spar along the way.
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True blue fans of Stephen Sondheim (this reviewer included) will be drooling over Porchlight’s latest offering MARRY ME A LITTLE. This two-hander revue showcases a number of Sondheim’s finest trunk songs—early renditions of numbers that were cut from such musicals as FOLLIES, INTO THE WOODS and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. Conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman René, MARRY ME A LITTLE (which has been revised for this production) introduces audiences to two lonely singles in New York City—known merely as “The Man” and “The Woman.” Living just an apartment floor away, these two lament their loneliness, and it becomes up to audiences to decide if the relationship that transpires in the show is real or imagined. The details are a bit foggy as MARRY ME A LITTLE has no dialogue whatsoever, but the piece is ultimately designed to showcase Sondheim’s work.
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