Heidi Schreck’s must-see play makes its local Chicago debut at TimeLine Theatre Company through July 2, 2023
Back in March 2020, WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME was one of the last plays I saw before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all live theater for almost two years. I thought Heidi Schreck’s play was a knockout at that time; it seamlessly interweaves the personal and the political, and she had a cathartic and devastating thesis about the Constitution’s shortcomings when it comes to protecting the rights of women (and especially women of color) in this country.
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It’s hard not to wax poetic about Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS, and the national tour of director Lear deBessonet’s City Center Encores production-turned-Broadway-revival fortunately does this master work of musical theater justice. Watching INTO THE WOODS on Friday night, I was reminded of how this show beautifully expresses the responsibilities that we have to our fellow humans. As with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from which it draws inspiration, INTO THE WOODS is a cautionary tale: A reminder that our actions have consequences. As the ensemble sings in the show’s finale “Children Will Listen, “Wishes come true/not free.”
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Porchlight invites audiences into the glittering, gritty world of early 1930s Berlin with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s iconic musical CABARET. Under the direction of Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber and with associate direction and choreography by Brenda Didier, this production largely belongs to Erica Stephan in the role of Sally Bowles. As the seductive and desperate nightclub singer, Sally, Stephan is an absolute dream. She not only plays the character’s arc beautifully, moving from artful seduction to total desperation and panic by the show’s end, but she showcases her powerful belt and vocal control in each of Sally’s solo numbers. In this way, Porchlight’s production mirrors Sally’s character arc; as the other characters in the show are awakened to the realities of the Nazi party’s rise to power, they must contend with the fact that life is not, in fact, a cabaret.
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Jonathan Larson’s 1996 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical RENT comes to life in a Porchlight production that captures the ethos of the original Broadway production. It also reinvigorates the fresh energy of the musical’s message about love, acceptance, and living in the moment.
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The world premiere musical THE NOTEBOOK captures the sentimental energy of Nicholas’s Sparks all-encompassing love story about Allie and Noah, two young lovers who come from entirely different social strata, and has a distinct point of view on its source material. With music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson, book by Bekah Brunstetter, and direction by Michael Greif and Schele Williams, THE NOTEBOOK takes a narrative that I frankly found overly maudlin in movie form and softens it as a musical. Michaelson’s cohesive score and lyrics, while not necessarily catchy, provides a wistfulness that befits Allie and Noah’s star-crossed lover journey. Fans of Sparks’s original 1996 novel and the 2004 film will recall that THE NOTEBOOK operates on parallel timelines—We meet the elderly Allie and Noah in the nursing home; Allie suffers from dementia, and Noah diligently reads from a notebook recounting their epic love story in the hopes of helping her recover her memory. When I saw the film, I found it cheesy. But the musical’s intimate production values and lush harmonies make it more moving.
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The long-awaited Steppenwolf production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s CHOIR BOY was well worth the wait.
With direction by Kent Gash, Steppenwolf’s staging hits all the right notes. Steppenwolf ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play is is a heartwrenching and tuneful story about Pharus— a young gay Black man who relishes nothing more than his role as the choir lead at the prestigious Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. Over the course of the play, Pharus navigates that classic adolescent tension between his desire to be fully himself and his wish to be accepted among his peers. McCraney’s script beautifully demonstrates this push-and-pull in a way that will universally resonate with audiences, but the story is also incredibly specific to Pharus and his classmates.
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Britta Johnson’s LIFE AFTER is a deeply moving and creative new musical that beautifully probes the complexities of grief and the accompanying anxiety and unanswered questions it brings in its wake. This is a profoundly emotional, but also at times surprisingly humorous, musical that sonically takes inspiration from contemporary shows that came before it but has a personality all its own. Under the direction of Annie Tippe, Goodman Theatre’s ensemble brings the story of 16-year-old Alice, who mourns the sudden loss of her father, to life in a visceral and touching production.
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All hail! The pop queens of SIX are back in Chicago for an epic royal homecoming in their national tour debut. With direction from Lucy Moss and Jamie Armitage and the same creative team behind the show’s 2019 American debut at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Broadway production, the SIX tour is exhilarating and entertaining. Toby Marlow and Moss’s pop musical about the six wives of King Henry VIII remains a master class in original and concise musical theater storytelling.
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KING JAMES is a platonic male love story — and Rajiv Joseph’s world premiere play at Steppenwolf is one slam dunk of a bromance.
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The current national tour of Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s COME FROM AWAY features an ensemble of twelve actors that bring the musical to blazing life; every emotional moment feels raw and real. Based upon the true story of the 7,000 diverted passengers who land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11, the musical calls upon the ensemble to embody both Gander’s residents and the stranded passengers.
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