Category: Rachel’s Picks

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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Porchlight’s MARRY ME A LITTLE is a Rhapsodic Love Letter to Sondheim’s Song Catalog

Porchlight’s MARRY ME A LITTLE is a Rhapsodic Love Letter to Sondheim’s Song Catalog

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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Porchlight’s LITTLE ME Leaves a Big Impression

Porchlight’s LITTLE ME Leaves a Big Impression

Porchlight Music Theatre’s three-night-only concert staging of the 1962 Broadway musical LITTLE ME as part of its Porchlight Revisits series is every bit as effervescent as a glass of champagne—and it’s certainly an evening of theater worth toasting. With a classic Broadway score by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, and a charmingly nonsensical book by Neil Simon, LITTLE ME provides ample laughs and Porchlight’s talented ensemble embraces every single moment of this improbable and exaggerated musical. And while the acting may be comically heightened as befits the show, the ensemble takes the vocals quite seriously and they nail every note. With direction from Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber, this is a night of pure Broadway showtune pleasure, and I could not have asked for a better way to spend a rainy Tuesday night. Craig V. Miller’s choreography (with Jane Lanier’s guest choreography for “Rich Kids Rag” delightfully performed by students from Roosevelt University) is icing on this delicious confection of a staged concert.

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THE CHRISTIANS at Steppenwolf Theatre Company Rivetingly Explores Timely, Gripping Themes of Belief and Power

THE CHRISTIANS at Steppenwolf Theatre Company Rivetingly Explores Timely, Gripping Themes of Belief and Power

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of Lucas Hnath’s THE CHRISTIANS is stunningly conceived and highly stylized. In a literal sense, Walt Spangler’s magnificent set captures the enormity of the megachurch in which the play is set—down to the opulent purple carpet—and enhanced by Scott Zielinski’s lighting design and Joseph A. Burke’s visually stimulating projections. But Hnath’s keen and effective playwriting is in itself also inherently theatrical—and sublimely delivered by the production’s ensemble. As the entirety of THE CHRISTIANS takes place inside this megachurch, the line deliveries are quite literally performative. The actors deliver the majority of their lines using hand-held microphones, which emphasizes that this play focuses on more formal, outward expression. The audience’s perspective is also filtered through the lens of the church’s Pastor Paul (Tom Irwin), who controls the play’s narrative.

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Steppenwolf’s World Premiere of THE FUNDAMENTALS Takes A Cheeky, Entertaining Stab at Corporate Culture

Steppenwolf’s World Premiere of THE FUNDAMENTALS Takes A Cheeky, Entertaining Stab at Corporate Culture

Erika Sheffer’s witty and laugh-out-loud funny new play THE FUNDAMENTALS paints a bleak portrait of corporate culture within the New York location of a fictitious major hotel chain. Sheffer sets the tongue-in-cheek tone from the initial moments of the play, which opens with an overly polished film emphasizing the staff’s important role in optimizing the guest experience. This hilarious, dry wit also extends to the natural and biting dialogue.

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