Porchlight’s streaming program BROADWAY BY THE DECADE provides some much needed musical theater cheer in this unprecedented and challenging year for Chicago theater. This streaming offering is an enjoyable virtual take on the Porchlight Revisits series, in which the company mounts limited engagements of rarely produced musicals—complete with a pre-show briefing from Artistic Director Michael Weber. Weber now takes on the role as musical theater historian and revue emcee as he traces the history of the American musical from the late 1800s to the present—all in the span of 45 minutes. BROADWAY BY THE DECADE provides viewers with an insightful overview of American musical theater, without bogging down the program with details.Continue reading “Review: Porchlight Music Theatre’s BROADWAY BY THE DECADE”
Category: Rachel’s Picks
In WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME, playwright Heidi Schreck has pulled off one of the most challenging feats in theater: The seamless blending of the personal and the universal. And the result is remarkable. In the play, Schreck reconstructs the speech she gave at age fifteen about the U.S. Constitution in competitions across the country; she was able to win enough of these contests to pay for her entire college education. The play evolves into an examination of what the Constitution has meant to Schreck at various points in her life, from her initial awe in high school to her present-day questioning of whether this esteemed American document actually protects the rights of all citizens. It’s a blistering examination of our country’s frequent failure to protect the rights of women and minorities (and particularly Native Americans), partly as relayed by Schreck’s inclusion of some haunting stories about the history of the women in her family.
korde arrington tuttle’s graveyard shift, now making its world-premiere following an initial workshop production during Goodman Theatre’s 2018 New Stages Festival, is a haunting and beautiful reflection on police brutality against Black Americans. Inspired by the legacy of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in her prison cell in 2015 after being arrested for failing to signal a lane change, graveyard shift is also remarkable in its capacity for empathy and its meditation on shared humanity. graveyard shift is an undeniably brutal play, as it should be given its subject matter, but tuttle also writes his dialogue in such a poetic way that I was equally stunned by the play’s beauty.
Steppenwolf’s production of ensemble member Tracy Letts’s BUG is positively skin crawling, with magnificent central performances from Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood that make the play all the more unnerving. While Letts’s 1996 play may have seemed far-fetched and ahead of its time when it debuted in the nascent days of the internet, it reads eerily prescient now. BUG’s dual exploration of paranoid schizophrenia and government surveillance becomes even more unsettling in the current digital era.
Liliana Padilla’s HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF offers a brilliant examination of collegiate life, and, more specifically, the ways in which rape culture and the entirely real possibility of sexual assault affect university students. But what makes Padilla’s play so powerful, fascinating, and entertaining is that their playwriting never becomes preachy or pointed. By capturing the parlance and cadence of the language that college students use with acute accuracy, Padilla allows the expertly fleshed out characters to reflect on these issues in a grounded and compelling manner.
DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOPHISTICATED LADIES is a classic Porchlight show: an ebullient musical revue showcasing both the esteemed song catalog of Duke Ellington and also the formidable talents of some of the city’s finest musical theater performers. Conceived by Donald McKayle and here featuring direction and choreography from Brenda Didier and Florence Walker-Harris and music direction from Jermaine Hill, SOPHISTICATED LADIES is a production immense in its capacity to entertain. The revue has no plot, though the ensemble members take on various personas throughout the evening. While some of the performers are given cheeky titles in the program, such as “The Soubrette” or “The Chanteuse,” to name a couple examples, the actors themselves are listed next to each number. It’s a charming twist, for it makes this production unapologetic in its revue identity. Above all, SOPHISTICATED LADIES not only highlights the musical stylings of Duke Ellington, but also the actors themselves.
The first national tour of the MEAN GIRLS musical has arrived in Chicago, and it’s totally fetch. Original screenwriter Tina Fey has partnered with composer Jeff Richmond (her husband), lyricist Nell Benjamin, and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw to create a show in line with its pop musical contemporaries. MEAN GIRLS has an unabashedly pop score, filled with a combination of big belty numbers and upbeat tunes. Benjamin’s lyrics cleverly recreate many iconic moments from the original 2003 film through music, while Fey’s book also introduces many new jokes—particularly when it comes to the use of social media. Cady Heron’s initiation into the vicious halls of North Shore High, and her encounter with reigning clique The Plastics, will surely delight fans of the movie.
The Q Brothers Collective puts a highly inventive and endlessly delightful twist on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale with Q BROTHERS CHRISTMAS CAROL. While the production’s narrative follows the traditional story of the greedy Ebenezer Scrooge and the four spirits that haunt him on Christmas Eve as a harbinger to change his miserly ways, the Q Brothers Collective finds creative ways to breathe new life into their staging at every turn. This hip hop musical, deemed an “ad-rap-tation” of the original CHRISTMAS CAROL, incorporates more modern music influences into the story—as well as contemporary stylings when it comes to the show’s sense of humor.
Firebrand Theatre’s ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE is both a lovely tribute to female friendship and Patsy Cline’s iconic song catalog (the musical features more than 25 of Patsy’s songs). Ted Swindley’s show, here directed by Brigitte Ditmars, is based on the real-life friendship between Patsy and one of her most fervent fans, Louise Seger. After a chance encounter at one of Patsy’s concert engagements in 1961, Louise and Patsy struck up a friendship that lasted the rest of the singer’s life. Because the musical incorporates so many of Patsy’s iconic country songs, however, it manages to avoid becoming too trite in relaying its story. Instead, ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE becomes unquestionably enjoyable as it’s presented more as a concert with a storyline. It’s a format that works, and works well.
The phrase “stranger than fiction” has never seemed more apropos than when it comes to the incredibly real, fascinating, and horrifying story in DANA H., Lucas Hnath’s play now making its Chicago debut at Goodman Theatre. The play, adapted from a series of interviews between Hnath’s mother Dana Higginbotham and theater artist Steve Cosson, allows Dana to tell her wild story in her own words. It is rare to come across a theatrical experience that is genuinely one-of-a-kind, but DANA H. lives up to that description.