Director Mary Zimmerman lends her whimsy to THE MUSIC MAN at Goodman Theatre in a production that pays homage to the small-town charm and iconic score of Meredith Willson’s classic musical. Under Zimmerman’s direction, this MUSIC MAN becomes a joyful company piece showcasing, in particular, the talents of the formidable actors in the supporting and ensemble roles. The production finds all the earnest humor embedded in THE MUSIC MAN, and Jermaine Hill’s music direction ensures that each note rings out fully from the 12-member orchestra.
In IF I FORGET, Steven Levenson provides a close study of the kitchen sink family drama. At its center, the play addresses fundamental questions about what it means to be Jewish in America at the turn of the 21st century (the first act of the play takes place in July of 2000, while the second jumps to the post 9-11 moment of February 2001). IF I FORGET centers on the Fischer family as a means to pose those questions in a specific context through the family’s three generations. In each individual scene, Levenson displays a knack for realistic and specific dialogue. Devon de Mayo’s direction and the tight-knit ensemble also portray family tensions that feel altogether too real.
With MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT, co-creators Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney have created a raucous and welcoming celebration of Queer culture by bringing to life a true story that few audience members might have known previously. The play’s title refers to Joan Jett Blakk (given name: Terence Alan Smith), a drag queen who ran first for mayor of Chicago and then for President of the United States in 1992. By staging a piece about Blakk, McCraney and Landau have poetically brought forward a story that might otherwise have been forgotten by the general populace, just as many American citizens who identify as Queer are often erased from consideration and representation in this country. MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT fully explores this issue of erasure without making the production one that’s defined by tragedy.
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.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater Artistic Director Barbara Gaines has staged a HAMLET that captures both the universality of Shakespeare’s language and the equally universal—but also profoundly personal—experience of grief for the title character.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the catchy pop hits of the ‘90s, CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL is just the ticket. By far the most enjoyable element of this musical adaptation of the 1999 film (itself inspired by the 1782 French novel LES LIAISIONS DANGEREUSES) is discovering the surprising ways in which the show incorporates some of the most iconic ‘90s jams. The musical plays somewhere between a faithful recreation of the film and a parody. In detailing the devious exploits of lustful stepsiblings Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont, the original 1999 film was already fairly out there. The musical takes all of that manipulation and teenage lust and heightens it even further. While fans of the original film will recognize the most iconic traits of each character here, all of the teenagers (and Mrs. Caldwell, the lone adult) become even more like caricatures.
Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning SWEAT, now in its Chicago premiere at Goodman Theatre under the direction of Ron OJ Parson, focuses on a group of blue-collar factory workers in Reading, Pennsylvania. Bound together by the toils of working-class life in the town’s steel-tubing factory, these friends and family members gather at a local bar to let off steam and celebrate special occasions. And though the work at the factory may not be fulfilling, Nottage makes clear this work is vital for the characters’ livelihoods. For many of them, a life of working at the factory dates back generations. As the play toggles between 2000 and 2008, Nottage also reflects how her characters’ lives intersect with current events and questions of race, class, and success in America.
In HANDS ON A HARDBODY, now making its Chicago premiere with Refuge Theatre Project, the mobility offered by that titular hardbody truck is not just of the wheeled variety. Instead, the contest among 10 working class Texans to be the last to have their hands on that Nissan truck also becomes a rather obvious symbol of the American Dream. While book writer Doug Wright, lyricist Amanda Green, and composers Green and Trey Anastasio are not subtle in their treatment of that metaphor, HANDS ON A HARDBODY is a thoughtful meditation on how elusive that dream can be.
The national tour of A BRONX TALE, now playing Broadway In Chicago’s newly renamed James M. Nederlander Theatre, tries to fit in many themes in its swift run time of just two hours. Based on the play by Chazz Palminteri, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, the musical introduces us to Calogero, a young man living, of course, in the Bronx. At the age of nine, young Calogero (Frankie Leoni) does a favor for Sonny (Joe Barbara), a mob man of sorts living in the neighborhood. As thanks in kind, Sonny takes Calogero under his wing and tries to teach him the ways of the world. But Calogero’s mother, Rosina (Michelle Aravena) and father, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake, reprising the role from the Broadway run), espouse an entirely different life philosophy based on hard work. Lorenzo, in particular, tells his son he despises nothing more than wasted talent. As Calogero (Joey Barreiro) reaches high school, he must decide how to develop his own moral compass.
Jackie Sibblies Drury’s WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A PRESENTATION…, currently onstage as the second production in Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ season, opens up challenging questions about history, who has the right to tell what story, and how best we can represent critical moments from the past without complete information. In the play, Drury lays bare the white washing of much of history and how the identities that we bring into the room shape our understanding of the past. Under the direction of Hallie Gordon and Gabrielle Randle, the six actors of the ensemble dive into the complexities of this play with full force and with a clear trust and respect for one another. WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A PRESENTATION…offers up issues that are not only provoking and challenging for students, but for any audience member.