Category: Rachel’s Picks

Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Writers Theatre

Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Writers Theatre

Under the direction of David Cromer, Writers Theatre presents a NEXT TO NORMAL that is raw and electric. Tom Kitt’s music and Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics have an utter immediacy to them in this production (and each note sounds great thanks to the music direction of Andra Velis Simon and the six-piece band.) It’s beautifully cast and even more beautifully delivered. Each member of the cast rises to the dual challenge of conveying the messy, deeply personal experience of emotional pain while also hitting the notes of Kitt’s complex score with precision.

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Review: THE WINTER’S TALE at Goodman Theatre

Review: THE WINTER’S TALE at Goodman Theatre

Under the direction of Artistic Director Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre’s THE WINTER’S TALE is one of the most inventive and playful productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen. In the Shakespearean canon, THE WINTER’S TALE defies easy categorization. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, which can be neatly defined as either tragedy or comedy, THE WINTER’S TALE incorporates both immense despair and immense mirth in the text’s very core.

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Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Lyric Opera

Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Lyric Opera

Lyric Opera has staged a grand, traditional WEST SIDE STORY that serves as a veritable primer for this iconic musical. With director Francesca Zambello at the helm, who is no stranger to directing classic musicals, Lyric’s production celebrates the beauty and complexity of Leonard Bernstein’s stunning score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. All the hallmarks of a classic WEST SIDE STORY are present here, starting with the urban-yet-polished set design from Peter J. Davison (with that famous balcony intact)

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Review: THE CHILDREN at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: THE CHILDREN at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Lucy Kirkwood’s aptly titled THE CHILDREN, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, poses thought-provoking questions about the responsibilities that humankind has to future generations. Kirkwood’s intentionally crafted play filters these broad themes through the specific narrative of her three characters, all nuclear scientists. The larger repercussions of the characters’ careers means that Kirkwood can dive into the meaty content of the play with both a particular emotional arc and also with a universality that should resonate with all audience members. Because of this, THE CHILDREN comes across as rather pointed in certain moments, but the weight of the issues that Kirkwood presents allows it to resonate deeply.

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Review:  A CHORUS LINE at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: A CHORUS LINE at Porchlight Music Theatre

Under the direction of Brenda Didier and with show-stopping choreography from Christopher Chase Carter, Porchlight’s A CHORUS LINE captures the emotional heart at the center of this classic musical and has plenty of pizzazz. While the production definitely has a 1970s flare and feel (especially with those fabulous leotards selected by costume designer Bob Kuhn), the emotions are raw and fresh.  A CHORUS LINE cannot succeed without heart-wrenching emotional intensity as it relates the story of 17 performers aspiring to be cast in the chorus of an unnamed Broadway show. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, A CHORUS LINE also includes some of the most iconic Broadway tunes, including “One” and “What I Did For Love.”

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Review: LOTTERY DAY at Goodman Theatre

Review: LOTTERY DAY at Goodman Theatre

It seems only fitting that Ike Holter would conclude his seven-play “Rightlynd Saga,” set in the fictional 51st Ward of Chicago, by literally sending it off with a party. And this is no ordinary celebration. A cast of characters from previous installments in the “Rightlynd Saga” gathers in Mallory’s backyard; she’s the neighborhood’s maternal figure, and she’s poised to give away a sizable sum of money to one lucky winner. The play itself mirrors the energy of Mallory’s boisterous gathering; the overall tone of the piece is cacophonous, with characters often shouting and talking over one another so that some lines of dialogue are intentionally indiscernible.

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Review: ADMISSIONS at Theater Wit

Review: ADMISSIONS at Theater Wit

Now in its Chicago debut at Theater Wit under the direction of Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler, Joshua Harmon’s ADMISSIONS is entirely prescient. The play takes a critical look at both prep school and college admissions, and the lengths to which people will go to have their children admitted. The play also asks keen, complicated questions about white privilege, racism, and how we should now be deciding who gets a seat at the table. ADMISSIONS does not offer up any neat solutions to the questions its poses, but it causes the audience to take a hard and needed look at those questions and at how we might relate to the happenings onstage.

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Review: BRIGHT STAR at BoHo Theatre

Review: BRIGHT STAR at BoHo Theatre

Launching BoHo Theatre’s fifteenth season, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s BRIGHT STAR is an earnest and charming show that wears its heart proudly on its musical sleeve. Martin and Brickell have composed a rousing and heartfelt bluegrass-tinged score, which BoHo’s band beautifully and spiritedly delivers. This North Carolina-set musical centers on Alice Murphy and her unusual life story, toggling back-and-forth between 1923 and 1946 as it relays this narrative. While Alice’s backstory and her star-crossed love with Jimmy Ray form the heart of BRIGHT STAR, the show weaves this together with a secondary story of the young, idealistic writer, Billy and his childhood friend and love interest, Margo. Alice and Billy’s stories intersect in a surprising way.

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Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a gripping theatrical experience from start-to-finish. Director Stephen Daldry’s breathtaking revival of J.B. Priestley’s 1946 thriller had its origins in 1992 and comes to Chicago Shakespeare Theater now as part of an international tour from the National Theatre of Great Britain. Though Daldry originally conceived of this staging decades ago and Priestly has set his play in 1912, this production possesses both a timeliness and a timelessness that make it deeply impactful now.  AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a legitimate thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats with its sustained suspense, but the play is also a resonant commentary on humankind’s obligations to one another—and the dire consequences that result from those who forget that basic tenant of kindness. The beauty of Daldry’s production is that neither the mystery nor the messaging feel overwrought; every moment of AN INSPECTOR CALLS maintains integrity and interest.

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Review: A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2, now in its world premiere at Steppenwolf under the direction of Robin Witt, explores the gap between society’s expectations for the central character Nora and how she perceives herself. Lucas Hnath’s sequel to Ibsen’s classic, proto-feminist work A DOLL’S HOUSE sees Nora returning through the very door she slammed fifteen years prior. She now must literally face the consequences of her desire to reclaim her identity and her quest to achieve equal rights to the men of 19th century society. In so doing, Hnath reveals that the chasm between Nora’s societal/familial obligations and her obligations to herself may never be resolved.

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