Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s summer family musical PETER PAN is chock full of dazzling moments that will delight children and adults alike. With music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a new book by Elliot Davis (based upon the book by Willis Hall), this production captures all the magic of the classic story of the boy who refuses to grow up in just 75 minutes. Adult audience members who are fans of J.M. Barrie’s original novel or the iconic Disney animated film will find this PETER PAN a refreshing mix of the familiar and the new. And of course, young audiences seeing the story of PETER PAN for the first time will be altogether surprised and amazed by this telling.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
The national tour of WAITRESS has arrived in Chicago, and it’s serving up a production that’s sweet as pie. Based on the late Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name, WAITRESS made history as the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team. With music and lyrics from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and book by Jessie Nelson, WAITRESS deals with some heavy issues (most notably domestic abuse) at its core. The material always treats these issues with a lighter touch, though the show is never dismissive. With direction by Diane Paulus, the end result means that WAITRESS ultimately uplifts rather than downtrods, and it supplies ample laughs along the way.
Ellen Fairey’s SUPPORT GROUP FOR MEN, now in a world premiere at Goodman Theatre, finds that sweet spot between hilarious and gently critical of modern society. As might be presumed from the title, Fairey’s play concerns a gathering of four Chicago men who come together on Thursday nights in an apartment that borders on the edge of Wrigleyville and Boystown. Fairey’s exploration of gender roles and the increasing need to become more open and embracing of those outside the binary means that the play’s locale is particularly central to its narrative. And while some of the characters in SUPPORT GROUP seem rather set in their ways, Fairey is careful to never point fingers in a mean-spirited way. The play succeeds in large part because Fairey displays such a great deal of empathy for each of her characters.
The lovable and lewd puppets of AVENUE Q have returned to Mercury Theater in a remount of the company’s successful 2014 production. I have a soft spot for this musical gem—which beat out WICKED in 2004 to take home the Best Musical Tony Award—and Mercury’s production reminded me precisely why that appreciation runs so deep. With a book by Jeff Whitty and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (the latter of subsequent THE BOOK OF MORMON and FROZEN fame), AVENUE Q strikes a delectable balance between outrageously funny and unabashedly heartfelt.
The pre-Broadway engagement of THE CHER SHOW has made its way to Chicago in a blaze of colorful, over-the-top energy and replete with the artist’s chart-topping hits. Three utterly talented women share the title role: Broadway veteran Stephanie J. Block as Star, Teal Wicks as Lady, and newcomer Micaela Diamond as Babe. Together, these actors deliver a powerhouse trio of performances worthy of Cher herself. Diehard Cher fans will be pleased to know that such iconic songs as “I Got You, Babe,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and, of course, “Believe” are in more than capable hands.
As the old adage goes “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Rajiv Joseph’s GUARDS AT THE TAJ asks precisely how far we might go to defend that which is beautiful, even if great human suffering and violence are involved. The play centers on Humayun (Omar Metwally) and Babur (Arian Moayed), two low-ranking guards at the Taj Mahal in 1648. The two are so low-ranking, in fact, that their job requires them to face away from the mausoleum. Joseph’s narrative provides his interpretation of the legend that guards like Humayun and Babur were asked to do the unthinkable in order to make sure that the Taj Mahal remained the most beautiful place on earth: cut off the hands of the 20,000 laborers and the architect who constructed the monument.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR ignites the Lyric Opera stage in a never-ending burst of electrifying energy. This production is brilliant from start-to-finish, and it beautifully unites Lyric Opera’s commitment to providing first-rate talent and stunning visuals with director Timothy Sheader’s contemporary, invigorating vision. Originally staged at London’s Regents Park Open Air Theatre in 2016, the Lyric’s production is big and bold in every aspect. Set and costume designer Tom Scutt’s rock concert atmosphere design combines a stark, modern look with a backdrop of lush greenery—a nod to the play’s outdoor theater roots.
Hockadoo! Porchlight Music Theatre’s MEMPHIS bursts onto the stage with joy and earnest energy. Under the direction of Daryl Brooks, this musical sheds light on timely historical issues while milking the show’s sweetest, most exuberant moments for all they’re worth. Set in the 1950s, MEMPHIS follows the fictional white DJ Huey Calhoun (based on the real-life DJ Dewey Phillips) as he strives to overcome the city’s racial barriers—and attract radio listeners—by showcasing music from black artists on the radio. Along the way, Huey meets the aspiring young black singer Felicia Farrell. He aims to help Felicia find her place in the spotlight, and of course, also find a spot for him in his heart. Written by Daryl Adams and Joe DiPietro, MEMPHIS does not at all hide the realities of life in Memphis under the laws of Jim Crow. Yet the musical overall treats its subject matter with an optimistic sunniness and places the emphasis on Huey’s attempts to forge racial unity.
Stephanie Allison Walker’s THE MADRES, now in a Teatro Vista production as part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network, is a gut punch of a play. Set in 1979 Buenos Aires, Argentina, THE MADRES follows three generations of women in a family during La Guerra Sucia (“Dirty War”). Under the Dirty War, the Argentine military went after anyone within the country thought to be subversive or connected to socialism. Those taken hostage became known as Los Desaparecidos (“The Disappeared”). The titular Madres in Walker’s play are the mothers of the disappeared, who would march in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires to demand the return of their loved ones. Though Walker’s play highlights a moment in Argentina’s history, her portrait of the silencing of voices, the torture of loved ones, and the women who rose up against injustice finds complete alignment with the present moment.
Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s THE DOPPELGANGER (AN INTERNATIONAL FARCE), now in its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, is a wild, swift-moving, and hilarious ride. As indicated by the numerous doors on Todd Rosenthal’s opulent set, Erlbach’s play employs many of the hallmarks of classic farce. And under the direction of Steppenwolf ensemble member Tina Landau, the production’s first-rate and comically expert cast take Erlbach’s combination of zippy one-liners and absurd physical antics and run (sometimes literally).