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.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
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.
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.
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.
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.
The name Judy Garland for many may capture an image of the youthful, vibrant young actor with a powerhouse voice that donned sparkling red shoes as Dorothy Gale in the seminal 1939 film THE WIZARD OF OZ. Peter Quilter’s play END OF THE RAINBOW, now in a production at Porchlight Music Theatre with direction from Michael Weber and a compelling and beautifully realized performance by Angela Ingersoll as Garland, pulls back the curtain and shows us a haunted and broken woman nearing the end of her career. The play’s depiction of Judy Garland plagued by the demons of her past and struggling with alcoholism and a dangerous addiction to prescription medication makes the case that END OF THE RAINBOW is a timely play to mount, even as it also allows us to remember Garland’s glorious song catalog and the glamorous vaudeville tunes for which she was known.
In Caitlin Parrish’s new play THE BURIALS, Steppenwolf for Young Adults has found an informative and moving new play that tackles the realities of gun violence in schools with intensity and heart under the direction of Erica Weiss. Loosely based on the Greek tragedy ANTIGONE, THE BURIALS smartly addresses this topical issue from a personal and human perspective, which will allow school-aged audiences to engage with the material without ever feeling spoon-fed. THE BURIALS follows successful high school senior and social media lover Sophie Martin (the superlative Olivia Cygan), who has her world turned upside down when her younger brother Ben (a haunting Matt Farrabee) opens fire inside her school and kills 16 students and one teacher…using her father’s guns. In the wake of this incident, Sophie, her younger sister Chloe (Becca Savoy) and their father, Ryan Martin (Coburn Goss)—an extremely conservative junior senator running for office—must process the experience under intense scrutiny from the public eye. In the case of Sophie and Chloe, they must also face their high school peers, who have been traumatized and some of whom look to the surviving Martin siblings to blame. When Mr. Martin decides to take a public stance advocating for the mandatory presence of guns in schools as a method of preventing future shootings, Sophie must decide if she will stand by her father—or if she will take a different stance.
Yesterday afternoon, I had the joyous experience of watching a preview of the Chicago production of HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL. After listening to the soundtrack countless times, reading numerous articles, and generally submitting myself to the (much deserved) HAMILTON hype, I went into this experience with high expectations…and the Chicago production honestly blew me away. While there’s certainly nothing I can say about this brilliant musical that will reinvent the wheel, I can’t help but feel compelled to write my reactions to this magical theatrical moment like I’m running out of time. I will never, however, run out of love for #HamiltonCHI. Here’s a few thoughts on this non-stop show that offers 2 hours and 45 minutes of pure elation.
Robert Askins’s fiercely hilarious, dark, and moving HAND TO GOD makes its Chicago debut in a sublime and visceral production at Victory Gardens Theater under the deft (but not sock puppeted) hand of Gary Griffin.
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning play BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, focuses on issues of racism and indignity that are searingly of this moment. But RIVERSIDE is, at its core, also rife with humor and heart.