Review: LIFE AFTER at Goodman Theatre 

Review: LIFE AFTER at Goodman Theatre 

Britta Johnson’s LIFE AFTER is a deeply moving and creative new musical that beautifully probes the complexities of grief and the accompanying anxiety and unanswered questions it brings in its wake. This is a profoundly emotional, but also at times surprisingly humorous, musical that sonically takes inspiration from contemporary shows that came before it but has a personality all its own. Under the direction of Annie Tippe, Goodman Theatre’s ensemble brings the story of 16-year-old Alice, who mourns the sudden loss of her father, to life in a visceral and touching production. 

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Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL at Kokandy Productions

Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL at Kokandy Productions

Kokandy Productions’ staging of CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE ‘90S MUSICAL is a fun romp filled with ‘90s nostalgia and some banging vocals from director Adrian Abel Azevedo’s ensemble. Created by Jordan Ross, LIndsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble and based on Kumble’s 1999 film of the same name, CRUEL INTENTIONS understands its assignment well to deliver camp, fun, and ‘90s hits. While I found the original film quite absurd with its seductive and slightly sadistic tale of lascivious stepsiblings Kathryn and Sebastian and their antics, the musical owns the ridiculousness, and in the end, makes for a clever adaptation that improves upon its source material. Certain elements of the film have not aged well, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the musical compensates for that. 

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Review: cullud wattah at Victory Gardens Theater

Review: cullud wattah at Victory Gardens Theater

The Chicago premiere of Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s cullud wattah at Victory Gardens Theater is a heartbreaking and compelling play about a family of resilient Black women living in Flint, Michigan. Dickerson-Despenza’s script intertwines slice-of-life scenes between marion (Brianna Buckley), her sister ainee (Sydney Charles), her daughters plum (Demetra Dee) and reesee (Ireon Roach), and her mother big ma (Renée Lockett) with larger discussions and news clips that reflect the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. 

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Review: SKATES: A New Musical at the Studebaker Theater

Review: SKATES: A New Musical at the Studebaker Theater

American Idol alumni and real-life married couple Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young take the stage in SKATES: A New Musical. While Christine Rea and Rick Briskin’s musical bills itself on the whole as an exercise in nostalgia, the most nostalgic part of SKATES for me was seeing DeGarmo and Young perform; I rooted hard core for DeGarmo back in her AMERICAN IDOL days. Here, she shows why— she has a tremendous powerhouse voice and an appealing stage presence that make her a consummate performer. Director Brenda Didier and choreographer Christopher Chase Carter work with a cast of Chicago musical theater veterans who perform alongside DeGarmo and Young. 

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Review: AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS Presented by Broadway in Chicago

Review: AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS Presented by Broadway in Chicago

AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS lives up to its title—the jukebox musical proudly displays a wide array of songs from The Temptations’s iconic catalog. The show, now in its first national tour following the Broadway production, follows a similar structure like predecessors JERSEY BOYS and BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL. It uses The Temptations’s songs to tell the story of the band, and of course, focuses primarily on the Classic Five: Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, and David Ruffin from their early days in Detroit all the way to musical stardom. 

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Review: THE CHINESE LADY at TimeLine Theatre Company

Review: THE CHINESE LADY at TimeLine Theatre Company

Directed by Helen Young, TimeLine Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of Lloyd Suh’s THE CHINESE LADY is a poignant and well-crafted play centered on Afong Moy, who was supposedly the first Chinese woman to come to America. Although historical record does not have much definitive information about Afong Moy (we even know that was not her real name), Suh uses the play’s well-structured 90 minutes to imagine what she might have said to audiences had she been given the chance. For at least 15 years from 1834 to 1850, Afong Moy was treated like an exhibit in a museum; Nathaniel and Francis Carnes brought her to the United States to showcase her in front of American audiences. Thus, Afong Moy was taken away from her family and stripped of agency. While Suh’s script cleverly allows Afong Moy to take back some of that agency, the play also demonstrates that in reality this young woman didn’t have much of a voice or control over her situation at all. 

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Review: LOOKINGGLASS ALICE at Lookingglass Theatre Company

Review: LOOKINGGLASS ALICE at Lookingglass Theatre Company

Lookingglass Theatre Company’s signature LOOKINGGLASS ALICE has returned to Water Tower Water Works—and it’s just as whimsical and delightful as I remember it when I first saw the production back in high school. Director David Catlin’s charming and inventive adaptation combines storytelling elements from Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS. The production’s partnership with The Actors Gymnasium has also cemented Lookingglass Theatre Company’s unique combination of literary adaptation and impressive aerial artistry. LOOKINGGLASS ALICE not only calls for a talented company of actors but also places considerable physical demands upon its ensemble. 

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Review: SEAGULL at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: SEAGULL at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s SEAGULL proves a wry vehicle to showcase the talents of many of his fellow Steppenwolf ensemble members who haven’t graced the stage since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Peyankov’s adaptation is direct, self-aware, and rife with dry (extremely dry) humor. The ennui that pierces SEAGULL is deeply and obviously felt throughout this adaptation of the text. References to Chekhov’s native Russia abound in Peyankov’s script, but the language feels modern and direct. 

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Review: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Review: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

In the Shakespearean canon, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL defies categorization; it doesn’t neatly fit alongside Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies, or history plays. Instead, it’s historically been referred to as a “problem” play. Director Shana Cooper’s current production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater mirrors the liminal nature of the material. Cooper’s direction lacks cohesion, incorporating a variety of different elements into the production. The time period for Cooper’s ALL’S WELL isn’t even specifically defined— a note in the program says it’s “Bohemian-Edwardian.” It might well be that Cooper’s intent was to mirror the transitional identity of the play and its characters in the staging, but the pieces don’t all add up. 

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Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Porchlight Music Theatre

SPRING AWAKENING, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s 2007 Tony Award-winning musical based upon the 1891 play by German playwright Frank Wedekind, brims with teen angst in its rock pop score and its lyrics that relay all the challenges of adolescence. The book and songs take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the messiness of adolescence and the issues it raises: In just over two hours, the musical depicts first sexual experiences, masturbation, suicide, physical and sexual abuse, and illicit abortion. SPRING AWAKENING has always struck me as a heavy musical, but the Brechtian elements of the show also mean that the characters are not specifically developed. As with the original Broadway production, Brenda Didier’s direction for Porchlight carries over the general spareness of the show. Christopher Rhoton’s set design is a plain space: The actors pass over a floor composed of wood planks, and while there are no set pieces, they do use props. Bill Morey’s costume designs root us in the repressed, buttoned up culture of late 1890s Germany, but that’s contrasted with the anachronistic use of handheld mics that the actors pull out at charged moments. The orchestra is also visible on stage, contributing to the stripped down effect of the production design. 

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