Mercury Theater’s I LEFT MY HEART: A SALUTE TO THE MUSIC OF TONY BENNETT incorporates an astounding number of songs into its 80-minute run time. These tuneful numbers will be recognized both by fans of Tony Bennett but also by those who enjoy the work of such accomplished composers as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and more. Under the direction of Kevin Bellie and music direction of Linda Madonia, a four-piece band accompanies the music-filled evening (Madonia on piano, Ryan Hobbs on trumpet, Dan Kristin on bass, and Lindsay Williams on percussion). These musicians set the backdrop for a lovely, relaxing night of music at Mercury Theater.
THE BODYGUARD, based on the eponymous film starring Whitney Houston as pop star Rachel Marron and Kevin Costner as her bodyguard Frank Farmer, has plenty of glitz and glamour to go around in its current engagement at Broadway In Chicago’s Oriental Theatre. Throughout the night, lead Deborah Cox shines as Rachel in a never-ending array of glittery costumes from Tim Hatley (who also designed the set). And when Cox tears into one of Houston’s classic numbers, it’s also a joy.
In the spirit of the many “Top 5” song lists offered up in Refuge’s HIGH FIDELITY: THE MUSICAL, I present five reasons to see this entertaining, feel-good pop musical production rife with charm and delectable harmonies. There’s much to enjoy in Refuge Artistic Director Christopher Pazdernik’s delightful production, which is a remount of a 2016 staging of this musical based upon the 2000 film with John Cusack. Here are some of the reasons why this musical is worth a visit to Wicker Park:
Over the course of Mike Bartlett’s three-hour play EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON, now in its U.S. premiere at Steep Theatre Company, he attempts to tackle themes both universal—quite literally atmospheric and cosmological—and personal. The result is a sprawling play with seismic shifts in tone ranging from the hyperrealistic to the experimental to the just plain bizarre. And because EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON attempts to pack so much into its run-time, it never landed on any compelling takeaways for me.
I had a bit of a revelation after seeing Timeline Theatre Company’s production of A DISAPPEARING NUMBER on Wednesday night. While the immediacy of Complicite’s 2007 play did not strike me immediately upon entering the theater (Timeline’s production is only the fourth staging in the United States), it struck me quite clearly on the journey home. A DISAPPEARING NUMBER spans time and geographical space to follow the narratives of multiple mathematicians—and their loved ones— in their numerical pursuits: the pursuit of patterns and equations, and ultimately, the pursuit of order.
It seems rather poetic that newly appointed Artistic Director Will Davis’s first production at American Theater Company, MEN ON BOATS, focuses rather literally on charting new frontiers. Jaclyn Backhaus’s witty, entertaining play (which Davis previously helmed with a different ensemble off-Broadway) offers a fictionalized account of Major John Wesley Powell’s expedition along the Colorado and Green Rivers towards the then-unknown Grand Canyon. The titular men on boats comprise a crew of ten split among four vessels—and all are played by women or gender non-conforming performers.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of Lucas Hnath’s THE CHRISTIANS is stunningly conceived and highly stylized. In a literal sense, Walt Spangler’s magnificent set captures the enormity of the megachurch in which the play is set—down to the opulent purple carpet—and enhanced by Scott Zielinski’s lighting design and Joseph A. Burke’s visually stimulating projections. But Hnath’s keen and effective playwriting is in itself also inherently theatrical—and sublimely delivered by the production’s ensemble. As the entirety of THE CHRISTIANS takes place inside this megachurch, the line deliveries are quite literally performative. The actors deliver the majority of their lines using hand-held microphones, which emphasizes that this play focuses on more formal, outward expression. The audience’s perspective is also filtered through the lens of the church’s Pastor Paul (Tom Irwin), who controls the play’s narrative.
Erika Sheffer’s witty and laugh-out-loud funny new play THE FUNDAMENTALS paints a bleak portrait of corporate culture within the New York location of a fictitious major hotel chain. Sheffer sets the tongue-in-cheek tone from the initial moments of the play, which opens with an overly polished film emphasizing the staff’s important role in optimizing the guest experience. This hilarious, dry wit also extends to the natural and biting dialogue.
The name Judy Garland for many may capture an image of the youthful, vibrant young actor with a powerhouse voice that donned sparkling red shoes as Dorothy Gale in the seminal 1939 film THE WIZARD OF OZ. Peter Quilter’s play END OF THE RAINBOW, now in a production at Porchlight Music Theatre with direction from Michael Weber and a compelling and beautifully realized performance by Angela Ingersoll as Garland, pulls back the curtain and shows us a haunted and broken woman nearing the end of her career. The play’s depiction of Judy Garland plagued by the demons of her past and struggling with alcoholism and a dangerous addiction to prescription medication makes the case that END OF THE RAINBOW is a timely play to mount, even as it also allows us to remember Garland’s glorious song catalog and the glamorous vaudeville tunes for which she was known.
Now making its national touring and Chicago debut, FUN HOME is a lovely and genuinely original new musical based on the eponymous graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel. It’s worth noting that the show’s name comes from the fact that the Bechdel family business, was indeed, a funeral home in the small town of Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. But it also underscores that this is a show in which Alison must confront the memories of her father and “straighten” out the fun house mirrors of her past to try to make sense of it. Many readers will also know that FUN HOME won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical and was notably the first show with an all-female writing team (composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist/lyricist Lisa Kron) to win that award.