Category: Rachel’s Picks

Review: TREVOR THE MUSICAL at Writers Theatre

Review: TREVOR THE MUSICAL at Writers Theatre

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.

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Review: HAIR at Mercury Theater

Review: HAIR at Mercury 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.

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Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! National Tour at the Oriental Theatre

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! National Tour at the Oriental Theatre

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”

Review: HIR at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: HIR at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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.

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ALADDIN Charms With Tons of Stage Magic and Catchy Musical Numbers

ALADDIN Charms With Tons of Stage Magic and Catchy Musical Numbers

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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Review: THE KING AND I at Broadway In Chicago

Review: THE KING AND I at Broadway In Chicago

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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Review: PASS OVER at Steppenwolf

Review: PASS OVER at Steppenwolf

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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Review: RAGTIME at Griffin Theatre Company

Review: RAGTIME at Griffin Theatre Company

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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Review: PARADE at Writers Theatre

Review: PARADE at Writers Theatre

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.

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Lyric Opera’s MY FAIR LADY Will Have Audiences Dancing All Night

Lyric Opera’s MY FAIR LADY Will Have Audiences Dancing All Night

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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