Category: Rachel’s Picks

Review: RIGHTLYND at Victory Gardens

Review: RIGHTLYND at Victory Gardens

Ike Holter’s RIGHTLYND sets into motion the central theme of the tension between political idealism and the realities that come with power in a complicated, often stagnant political machine. The first in Holter’s seven play cycle all focusing on Rightlynd, the fictional 51st ward of Chicago, this world premiere focuses on Nina Esposito. Nina is a resident of Rightlynd, who still mourns the closing of her mother’s corner store, Esposito Express, as the neighborhood faces gentrification. No longer content with the shifting changes in her neighborhood, Nina runs for alderman of the 51st ward with the hopes of protecting her home. But when she wins the office, will Nina be able to turn her idealistic plans into reality, or will she become another cog in the Chicago political machine? In RIGHTLYND, Holter sets up this tension not just in Nina’s trajectory, but seems to set up this theme of power and change for the cycle as a whole.

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Review: National Tour of MISS SAIGON Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: National Tour of MISS SAIGON Presented by Broadway In Chicago

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.

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Review: HELLO, DOLLY! at Broadway In Chicago

Review: HELLO, DOLLY! at Broadway In Chicago

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.

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Review: GYPSY at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: GYPSY at Porchlight Music Theatre

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.

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CURIOUS INCIDENT Finds Its Emotional Center at Steppenwolf

CURIOUS INCIDENT Finds Its Emotional Center at Steppenwolf

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.

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TOOTSIE Easily Lands the Part with Big Laughs and Big Talent

TOOTSIE Easily Lands the Part with Big Laughs and Big Talent

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.

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Review: INDECENT at Victory Gardens Theater

Review: INDECENT at Victory Gardens Theater

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.

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Review: COMMUNION: An Evening of Magic at The Den Theatre

Review: COMMUNION: An Evening of Magic at The Den Theatre

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.

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Review: A SHAYNA MAIDEL at Timeline Theatre Company

Review: A SHAYNA MAIDEL at Timeline Theatre Company

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.

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Review: Broadway In Chicago Presents THE COLOR PURPLE

Review: Broadway In Chicago Presents THE COLOR PURPLE

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.

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