Firebrand Theatre’s ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE is both a lovely tribute to female friendship and Patsy Cline’s iconic song catalog (the musical features more than 25 of Patsy’s songs). Ted Swindley’s show, here directed by Brigitte Ditmars, is based on the real-life friendship between Patsy and one of her most fervent fans, Louise Seger. After a chance encounter at one of Patsy’s concert engagements in 1961, Louise and Patsy struck up a friendship that lasted the rest of the singer’s life. Because the musical incorporates so many of Patsy’s iconic country songs, however, it manages to avoid becoming too trite in relaying its story. Instead, ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE becomes unquestionably enjoyable as it’s presented more as a concert with a storyline. It’s a format that works, and works well.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
The phrase “stranger than fiction” has never seemed more apropos than when it comes to the incredibly real, fascinating, and horrifying story in DANA H., Lucas Hnath’s play now making its Chicago debut at Goodman Theatre. The play, adapted from a series of interviews between Hnath’s mother Dana Higginbotham and theater artist Steve Cosson, allows Dana to tell her wild story in her own words. It is rare to come across a theatrical experience that is genuinely one-of-a-kind, but DANA H. lives up to that description.
THE BAND’S VISIT feels like an homage to the fleeting nature of live theater itself: a moment in time in which performers and audience are brought together to share a collective experience, all-encompassing yet passing swiftly and never to be created again. So too goes the narrative of the two characters at the center of this 2018 Tony Award-winning musical, Tewliq, the Egyptian conductor of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and Dina, an Israeli woman living in the small town of Bet Hatikva. When Tewliq and his fellow band members accidentally make their way to Bet Hatikva, instead of the city Petah Tikva in which they have a concert engagement, the cast of characters come together by pure happenstance. The magnetic and mysterious connection that Tewliq and Dina share in the one night in which their lives overlap is similarly ethereal.
The newly opened production of TRUE WEST is a quintessentially Steppenwolf show in the best way possible: it’s a fresh staging of a gritty American drama with a first-rate cast and production values.
The national tour of the 2016 Broadway revival of FALSETTOS, once again helmed by director James Lapine, has landed in Chicago with a first-rate production and cast. The mighty touring ensemble of seven captures all the neuroses and emotional journeys of the musical’s composite “Tight-Knit Family.”
Bow down to the queens of SIX. In this new musical from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (with direction from Moss and Jamie Armitage), the six wives of King Henry VIII are taking back their mics and sharing their stories—in the form of contemporary pop musical songs. This masterful musical sizzles with electric energy and endless delight. SIX remains a fiery and joyous theatrical affair without ever making light of the fact that the musical demonstrates how these six women are best remembered in history as “belonging” to an infamous king. Yet SIX also brilliantly subverts this notion by reminding us that a huge part of this Henry VIII’s legacy stems from the fact that these six women were all his spouses. SIX posits that without this line-up of ex-wives, Henry VIII might not have left such an indelible mark on history.
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.
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.”
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.
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.