For this one-man dark side of the holidays show, Goodman Theatre could not ask for a better actor than Matt Crowle. He brings all of David Sedaris’s droll humor to life in THE SANTALAND DIARIES (Joe Mantello adapted Sedaris’s original short story into the play). In the role of Crumpet the Elf, the show’s stand-in for Sedaris, Crowle maximizes every ounce of cynicism and crass humor in the material, while also instantly winning audiences over. Crowle’s malleable facial expressions and ever-changing mannerisms allow him to easily slide into each of the characters in the story. Crowle’s improvisational skills also make the material fresh and allow him to mine the play for even more outrageous jokes (THE SANTALAND DIARIES has been around since 1996).
Category: Rachel’s Picks
Danai Gurira’s FAMILIAR, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf, offers up a lighthearted and laugh-out-loud funny family comedy, even as the play probes questions of identity and assimilation into American culture. Director Danya Taymor’s dynamite ensemble builds on the richness of the characters inherent in Gurira’s script.
The behemoth national tour of the 2017 Tony nominated revival of MISS SAIGON has made its helicopter landing at Broadway in Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, and every single production element is larger-than-life. Nothing about the staging nor the material of MISS SAIGON is subtle. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil’s gargantuan pop opera (with lyrics by Boubil and Richard Maltby, Jr.) paints all of the plot points and characters in broad strokes, but the emotional tensions run big and true. Laurence Connor’s production aims to rectify some of the elements of the musical, which has a reputation as something of a “problem child” in the theater world. The original staging in 1989 was notorious for its use of “yellowface” (white actors playing Asian roles), particularly for the central role of the Engineer.
The touring production of the 2017 Tony Award-winning revival HELLO, DOLLY! has arrived in Chicago with a jubilant, tuneful, and visually pleasing staging. Jerry Zaks’s fast-paced production finds every moment of joy and adventure in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s classic musical. This bright and bold HELLO, DOLLY! offers unapologetic escapist entertainment, but that’s precisely what makes the production such a success. At its core, HELLO, DOLLY! was created to supply fun and farce, and that’s precisely what’s served up.
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.
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.
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.
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.