Here she is, boys. Here she is, world. Here’s E. Faye Butler as Mama Rose in GYPSY. Butler commands the Porchlight stage with a presence that’s both larger-than-life and also at the same time a deeply revealing character study. To say that Butler’s portrayal of Mama Rose is a star turn is almost not enough. Butler seems to live and breathe this role; she does not appear to be acting but rather fully inhabiting this iconic character.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
Under Jonathan Berry’s direction, Simon Stephens’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME has found its emotional center at Steppenwolf. Based upon the novel by Mark Haddon, CURIOUS INCIDENT marks the first Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of this season, and this staging brings the show’s theme of human connection to the forefront. I saw this play both on Broadway and on tour when it passed through Chicago in 2016, and the more poignant parts of the narrative felt swallowed up by the cavernous venues. In Steppenwolf’s comparably smaller Downstairs Theatre, CURIOUS INCIDENT has considerably more emotional heft while also offering up a unique visual and aural landscape.
With Santino Fontana leading the way in the dual roles of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, the Broadway-bound new musical TOOTSIE sings its way to success. Based on the 1982 film of the same name, book writer Robert Horn and composer/lyricist David Yazbek have translated TOOTSIE’s setting to modern-day New York City. It’s a smart move because it enables Yazbek to give the show a lush, contemporary Broadway sound; it also makes sure that TOOTSIE’s farcical tone lends itself to ample laughs while remaining respectful. The show’s design also firmly grounds us in the glitz and glam of NYC showbiz, with David Rockwell’s opulent and modern set showcasing many flashy, stunning elements.
Victory Gardens Theater’s Chicago premiere of Paula Vogel’s Tony nominated INDECENT weaves a beautiful narrative about the transcendence of art and human resilience. Director Gary Griffin’s staging feels both grandiose and intimate at the same time; the play’s action spans a time period from 1906-1950 and travels across continents, but the vignettes contained in Vogel’s story are rife with genuine, powerful human emotion. INDECENT was inspired by the true story of the 1923 Broadway debut of Jewish playwright Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, which had an illicit lesbian romance as one of its main plot points. Vogel’s story charts God of Vengeance’s journey from the moment Asch first presents the script to his wife through to its first reading and multiple staged productions.
The best way to frame Brett Schneider’s solo show COMMUNION: An Evening of Magic, now playing at The Den Theatre, is with the following scenario: Open the book you’re currently reading to a random page. Pick a word, any word on the page, and lock it into your mind’s eye. Got it? So does Schneider. At least he might if you come to COMMUNION.
TimeLine Theatre Company’s season premiere production of A SHAYNA MAIDEL is a beautiful, haunting, and necessary theater experience. Barbara Lebow’s play reunites sisters Rose (Bri Sudia) and Lusia (Emily Berman) in 1946 New York City. Though the play was written in 1984 and takes place in the middle of the last century, A SHAYNA MAIDEL’s emotional story of survival cuts deep. As a young girl, Rose was fortunate to escape from Poland to America with her father Mordechai (Charles Stransky) before the beginning of the Holocaust. Due to a an untimely and devastating bout of Scarlet Fever, however, Lusia was forced to remain in Poland with the girls’ Mama (Carin Schapiro Silkaitis) and did not escape the horrors of the concentration camps. Reunited for the first time in many years, both Rose and Lusia must contend with their own guilty feelings and to rebuild a relationship nearly from scratch.
The touring production of John Doyle’s 2016 Tony Award-winning revival THE COLOR PURPLE has landed at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, where it will make hearts both soar and ache with the blaze of emotion it delivers. Doyle, a director best known for his stripped-down productions of American musicals, has applied that minimalist treatment here as well. And it works beautifully. The set only features a few modest risers flanked by a backdrop wall featuring several wooden chairs (Doyle also designed the scenery). When the actors first make their entrances, they bring more of these simple chairs along with them as they invite the audience into the story. This simplicity, also mirrored in Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes and Jane Cox’s lighting design, brings a profundity to the staging. THE COLOR PURPLE’s modest production values never feel like they’re skimpy, but rather they lay the foundation for the show’s deeply human message.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s summer family musical PETER PAN is chock full of dazzling moments that will delight children and adults alike. With music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a new book by Elliot Davis (based upon the book by Willis Hall), this production captures all the magic of the classic story of the boy who refuses to grow up in just 75 minutes. Adult audience members who are fans of J.M. Barrie’s original novel or the iconic Disney animated film will find this PETER PAN a refreshing mix of the familiar and the new. And of course, young audiences seeing the story of PETER PAN for the first time will be altogether surprised and amazed by this telling.
The national tour of WAITRESS has arrived in Chicago, and it’s serving up a production that’s sweet as pie. Based on the late Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name, WAITRESS made history as the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team. With music and lyrics from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and book by Jessie Nelson, WAITRESS deals with some heavy issues (most notably domestic abuse) at its core. The material always treats these issues with a lighter touch, though the show is never dismissive. With direction by Diane Paulus, the end result means that WAITRESS ultimately uplifts rather than downtrods, and it supplies ample laughs along the way.
Ellen Fairey’s SUPPORT GROUP FOR MEN, now in a world premiere at Goodman Theatre, finds that sweet spot between hilarious and gently critical of modern society. As might be presumed from the title, Fairey’s play concerns a gathering of four Chicago men who come together on Thursday nights in an apartment that borders on the edge of Wrigleyville and Boystown. Fairey’s exploration of gender roles and the increasing need to become more open and embracing of those outside the binary means that the play’s locale is particularly central to its narrative. And while some of the characters in SUPPORT GROUP seem rather set in their ways, Fairey is careful to never point fingers in a mean-spirited way. The play succeeds in large part because Fairey displays such a great deal of empathy for each of her characters.