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By J. Scott Hill

Few works of fiction have ever been as dear to so many for so long as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  The book was an instant classic, and almost immediately adapted for the stage by Dickens himself.  The Goodman Theatre has spent thirty-seven holiday seasons telling and re-telling the greatest ghost story ever told — the past seven with Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Yando is among Chicago’s finest and busiest actors.  Over the last few years, he has wowed audiences and critics in a constant variety of roles at theatres all over Chicagoland, including his work at Theatre at the Center as Andrew in Sleuth, at Court Theatre as Roy Cohn is Angels in America, and at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre as Casca in Julius Caesar and (most recently) as the eponymous King Lear.

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After absolutely killing it night after night in role after role, it might be reasonable for Larry Yando to treat his standing gig in A Christmas Carol as a soft place for him to land for the holidays, but Yando keeps his Scrooge hard and sharp and thorny.  Yando’s Scrooge does not fly off into a prolonged mad panic at the appearance of a few spirits, and quickly resigns himself to the inevitability of being dragged through time and space by his preternatural guides.  He is as tough a master as any a Scrooge, but he is a man who can and does learn from his past, his present, and his probable future.  So many Scrooges are broken by their glimpses into their own cruelty and greed and their fear of repeating Marley’s fate, but Yando’s Scrooge comes across as a man who has been thoroughly convinced by what he sees into following the road less traveled.  In short, Larry Yando’s portrayal of Scrooge is broad and subtle, hateful and endearing, conniving and convivial — and brilliant.

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Of course, the Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is not a one-person show.  Ron E. Rains gives poor, longsuffering Bob Cratchit an inescapable warmth; Rains excels when doing a bit of stage business in the background, bringing it to the foreground to take a devilishly comic turn, and then receding once again into the background like an obedient clark.  The always-engaging Joe Foust plays Marley’s Ghost as both haunting and haunted. Larry Neumann, Jr. plays four different parts and disappears into each character so completely that I had to check the Playbill more than once to be absolutely certain whom I was watching.  Neumann, Foust, and Yando are three masters of their art; knowing any one of them is appearing in a show is enough reason to buy a ticket.

But wait, there’s more.

Kim Schultz steals wonderful moments while playing several different characters. Kareem Bandealy cunningly bends the fourth wall without completely destroying it as the Narrator, and shines portraying Scrooge as a Young Man’s ruinous obliviousness to his decent into avarice. Young Ava Morse has a singing voice so pitch-perfect and so sweet that it fills the stage with joy.

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Joy.

The Goodman Theatre’s thirty-seventh annual production of A Christmas Carol is pure joy.  Whether the Goodman’s Christmas Carol is already one of your holiday traditions, or whether you hardly ever go to see live theatre, give yourself a gift: go see this production.

4 STARS

(“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 28 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago. 312-443-3800)

Goodman Theatre ~ Official Site of the Tony Award® winning Goodman Theatre 

A Christmas Carol production photos by Liz Lauren.

PorgyandBess

Porgy and Bess

By George Gershwin

Lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

Most American musical theater fans are familiar with Porgy and Bess. It is believed by many to be the first truly American opera (it opened on Broadway in 1935) and was certainly the first to focus on African American (then called “Negro”) culture. In fact, composer George Gershwin felt so strongly about the cultural integrity of the work that he insisted that Porgy and Bess never be presented without an African American cast. This decision was also informed in no small part by his belief that classically trained opera singers could not do justice to the opera’s jazz idiom. Though successfully revived in 1942 and again in 1952 (when revisions to the production made it more an opera and less a stage musical), Porgy and Bess remained on the fringes of American theater culture until a landmark production by the Houston Grand Opera in 1976 brought the work full circle. With the full score of the piece restored, audiences experienced Porgy and Bess as the composer envisioned it for the first time since 1935 and its full potential as a cultural narrative and as a true opera was restored. This is the story audiences are experiencing in the current Lyric Opera of Chicago production, and despite the controversy that will always surround its relevancy to African American culture, Porgy and Bess remains a compelling piece of theater and a wonder of modern composition.

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Based on DuBose Heyward’s 1925 play Porgy, Gershwin’s folk opera chronicles Negro life on Catfish Row, (inspired by the Cabbage Row neighborhood in Heyward’s native Charleston, SC.) populated by crab fishermen, dockworkers, and street hustlers. The plot revolves around the hustler Crown, his lover Bess, and the crippled beggar Porgy. During a craps game, Crown kills a popular local man and abandons the drug-addicted Bess when he goes on the run from the local police. The boozy party girl, whose brazen behavior has not endeared her to the local religious ladies, takes shelter with the only person who will have her. Porgy, for his part, sees the good in Bess as he knows what it’s like to be judged on appearances. Bess cleans up, and eventually his neighbors’ respect and affection for Porgy begins to extend to his lady as well. Happy days for Porgy and Bess, as for most residents of Catfish Row, are unfortunately short-lived. Crown returns to claim his “property” in a brutal rape scene and Porgy exacts deadly revenge. Bess disappears, bound for her old life in New York, and as the final curtain falls Porgy prepares to follow her and bring her home.

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Celebrated director Francesca Zambello, whose acclaimed productions of Porgy and Bess have graced the stages of the National Opera in Washington, The Los Angeles Opera and The San Francisco Opera, brings a cast of seasoned singers to the stage for this Lyric Opera of Chicago production. The women are, without exception, marvelous singers and actresses. From the first refrain of the iconic “Summertime” (soprano Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi as Clara) to the gospel mourning of widow Serena (soprano Karen Slack) to the hilarious in-your-face proclamations of matriarch Maria (contralto Gwendolyn Brown), the voices in the female roles are top-notch. And of course, there is Adina Aaron’s Bess, portrayed with a powerful combination of raunchy sexuality and bruised self-image. The men’s supporting roles don’t fare quite as well. Despite solid vocal performances, the male voices as a group don’t have the confidence and power to push excellent dramatic performances from Eric Greene as Crown and Norman Garrett as Jake over the top. Jermaine Smith does a good job of channeling Cab Calloway (the original Sportin’ Life, for whom the role was written) and Ryan Center alum Will Liverman creates a highly entertaining and humorous Lawyer Frazier. In the role of Porgy however, bass-baritone Eric Owens shows complete mastery of his character. Previous portrayals of the kind-hearted beggar (most recently the 2008-09 production at San Francisco Opera) have obviously given Owens the opportunity to delve deeply into Porgy’s character, and to make it his own. Those in the audience expecting just the handsome delivery of Porgy’s famous musical numbers (I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’, Bess, You Is My Woman Now) are getting much more than they bargained for. Owen’s Porgy is a simple man struggling with complex moral issues and, for the first time in his life, experiencing love. He delivers a totally engaging and masterful performance.

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Despite the entire package of top-notch production values, powerful dramatic performances, skillful and evocative choreography, excellent singing (by cast and the Lyric Opera Chorus); one must recognize that the biggest star of Porgy and Bess is its amazing score. With inspiration drawn from soaring Gospel choruses, soulful spirituals, and 1920′s roadhouse jazz, Gershwin’s music is uniquely vibrant and 100% American. Dynamic young conductor Ward Stare (a former principal trombonist with the Lyric Opera Orchestra) has a deep affinity for this music and for the players, his former colleagues. He is able to draw a phenomenal performance of Gershwin’s work from the Lyric Orchestra. It embodies a subtlety and style that many in the audience have never encountered in this music before. Who knew there was so much soul in that orchestra pit? Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current season continues to surprise and inspire us.

3 ½ STARS

(“Porgy and Bess,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through December 20th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Porgy and Bess production photos by Todd Rosenberg. 

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Jillian Erickson’s Original Solo Show 3:00 a.m.: Slipping Beyond the Boundaries of a Bruised Mind (Directed by Michelle Power) is a reflection of two of different phases of bi-polar, insomnia-filled evenings. From Colorado to Chicago… from Ralph Machio to Religion… from Biological Clocks to a Norwegian band  obsession… 3:00 a.m. is an interweaving of years gone by and the segments that have steered her towards her current path.. Join the Beast Women Saturday nights at The Den Theatre. Your Nights Belong To The Beast! $20 Tickets at the door or online.

 

3:00 a.m.: Slipping Beyond the Boundaries of a Bruised Mind

Friday, Nov 21 & Saturday, Nov 22 at 10:30 pm

@ The Den Theatre

1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago ~ Steps from the Division Blue Line Stop

Show Type: Performance Art

 

Read the 4 STAR ChicagoStageReview here: 3:00 a.m. – REVIEW – Chicago Stage Review

 

The Den Theatre

Beast Women Productions

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Il-Trovatore

 Il Trovatore

By Giuseppe Verdi

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

American opera fans that are yet unaware of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center’s tremendous contributions to the art form need look no further than Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Il Trovatore for confirmation.  The Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s professional development program, is celebrating it’s 40th year. Two distinguished alumni of this remarkable institution within the Lyric, Amber Wagner and Quinn Kelsey, are featured characters in Verdi’s classic tale of mistaken identity and revenge, and the quality of their performances leaves no doubt that the Ryan Center is an incubator for world class opera singers.

In a production brimming with laudable aspects: a subtly ominous revolving set by Charles Edwards, the insightful lighting of Jennifer Tipton, wonderfully witty choreography–with contemporary sensibilities–by director Leah Hausman, and superlative performances by the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus; Il Trovatore is most definitely all about the singing. The casting here is sheer perfection. From the opening strains of Andrea Silvestrelli’s glowing basso narrative to Stephanie Blythe’s final dramatic declaration of revenge, the audience is captivated by a group of thoroughly developed characters. The excellent acting extends even to the chorus in the crowd scenes. None of these roles are just the route to the next aria; marvelous singing actors who bring each personality into sharp emotional and physical focus inhabit them.

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As the story’s narrators, Silvestrelli and Blythe provide opposing perspectives on the sad story of Count di Luna (Quinn Kelsey). Silvestrelli (as Ferrando, di Luna’s captain of the guard) opens the first act with the haunting tale of an aristocrat who believes his infant brother was kidnapped and murdered by a gypsy (Blythe as Azucena) to avenge the death of her mother, who was burned as a witch by the Count’s father. For her part, Ms. Blythe who has excelled in over-the-top, menacing roles in recent years (Ulrica/Un Ballo in Maschera, Amneris/Aida), shares the story of her mother’s death with her own son, the revolutionary Manrico (Korean-born tenor, Yonghoon Lee). After throwing the baby into the funeral pyre, Azucena turned to find not her own baby, but the child she had kidnapped. Having failed to avenge her mother’s death, the gypsy took in the kidnapped child as her own.

Fast forward to the present. The dashing and handsome Manrico has fallen in love with the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, the lovely Leonora (Amber Wagner). This Ryan Opera Center alum’s enviable range and evocative delivery are a pure pleasure to hear, and voices supremely matched make Wagner’s duets with Lee achingly romantic. (Also outstanding is current Ryan Center member Janai Bridges as Leonora’s servant, Inez.)

Leonora knows nothing of Manrico. She has fallen in love with an unknown knight who has taken to serenading her, troubadour-style, outside the castle walls in the evening. She is also being pursued by the young Count di Luna and, despite her indifference to his affections, he is not taking no for an answer. The audience knows, of course, that Manrico and the Count are brothers in love with the same woman. Once the Count discovers that his romantic rival is also his political nemesis, and further that Manrico’s mother is the gypsy responsible for the “death” of his brother, Count di Luna’s tragic path is set.

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Baritone Quinn Kelsey’s portrayal of Count di Luna makes him the break out star of Lyric’s Il Trovatore. This Ryan Opera Center alum’s perfect synthesis of fine singing and acting takes what could have been a one-dimensional villain and imbues him with great humanity. Verdi’s tragedy is made deeply real to the audience by this sympathetic portrayal of a good man robbed of his family, a man who sees history about to repeat itself. Kelsey’s Count di Luna is not so much the unintentional villain, as the unintentional victim of a cruel fate. This subtlety of performance, staging and direction is indicative of the creative path our “new” Lyric Opera is taking, to realize greater levels of perfection and transformative power. Bravo.

4 STARS

(“Il Trovatore,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through November 29th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Il Trovatore production photos by Michael Brosilow and Robert Kusel. 

Capriccio

Capriccio

By Richard Strauss

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

Before the music even begins, we know that Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Capriccio is going to be something out of the ordinary. The house lights dim, but do not go dark; creating a warm glow that captures the intimate scene revealed by the rising curtain. A drawing room in a grand manor house, where a string sextet (playing first in the orchestra pit and then, just offstage) plays the composer Flamand’s latest ode to his lady love and patron, Countess Madeleine. Two other houseguests are keeping company with Flamand (tenor William Burden) in the drawing room. Olivier (Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen, in his Lyric Opera debut), a writer, scribbles in his notebook while another gentleman reclines in a chair while snoring loudly. The composer and writer strike up a conversation and in doing so, discover that they are both courting the widowed Countess. This introduces the central debate on which the plot of Capriccio revolves: music or poetry, which will she choose? And in the bigger picture, which craft is the more sublime creative pursuit? The voice of reality and reason splutters awake as the sleeping man, revealed to be a renowned theater impresario, La Roche (Peter Rose), joins the conversation. Theater is the greatest of the arts in his opinion, served by both music and the written word. LaRoche is bemoaning the sorry state of material and talent for his current production when the Countess and her brother, a sometime thespian, enter the drawing room. The bombastic and self-important Count is played and sung with great gusto by baritone (and Strauss specialist) Bo Skovhus. At the confluence of so much blustering male ego, Reneé Fleming’s Countess is an island of cultured calm and self-confidence.  One of the finest interpreters of Strauss on the opera scene today, Ms. Fleming not only demonstrates that her maturing vocal range still has mastery of the material, but the music is further enhanced by her deep connection to the character. Superb acting, flawless singing and a completely natural grace on the stage combine to make her performance the dramatic lynchpin that Capriccio demands.

When Fleming sparkles, everyone else on the stage draws energy from the glow. As the members of the house party try to outdo one another to impress the Countess (in one hilarious scene, La Roche has singers and dancers audition for the Countess’ birthday celebration during dinner, and a ballerina puts some saucy moves on the handsome Count) it is decided that Flamand and Olivier will write an opera…about the house party weekend and the creative debate at its center. Enter the production’s second superb soprano, Swedish star Anne Sophie Von Otter as the actress Clairon, who happens to be starring in Olivier’s current play. She agrees to play the lead in the new opera. Appearing on the Lyric stage for the first time since 1990, this popular European diva is a marvelous dramatic foil and delightful vocal contrast to Fleming’s rich, burnished mezzo.

While the story of Capriccio is a fine balance between serious artistic debate and self-deprecating humor, Strauss’ sumptuous, romantic music never lets us forget that at its heart it is a paean to the glory of opera. Lyric’s exceptionally talented cast, skillfully directed by Peter McClintock and strongly supported in the minor roles by several talented members of the Ryan Opera Center; as well as a luscious performance by Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra, make Capriccio more than just a delightful confection. It is a richly layered and thoughtful study on the nature of creativity and a very funny look at the opera.

4 STARS

(“Capriccio,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through October 28th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Don Giovanni

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Lyric Opera of Chicago

By Lori Dana

At the recent opening of its Diamond Anniversary (60th) season, Lyric Opera of Chicago demonstrated in world-class fashion, just how far it has come under the collaborative leadership of General Director Anthony Freud, Board President Kenneth Piggott, and the entire Lyric creative team. A wonderfully reimagined production of Mozart’s take on the myth of Don Juan is kicking off the 2014-15 season and setting yet another performance benchmark for the venerable opera company.

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Directed by renowned theatrical innovator Robert Falls, Lyric’s Don Giovanni is set against contrasting backdrops of classic facades, modern signage, and dramatically oversized set pieces. The outsized props set at steep angles to the stage create a kind of surreal world where the visual scale matches the outsized libido of the story’s main character. Dashing Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien´ portrays Giovanni as a Jazz Age lothario, with Lyric favorite Kyle Ketelsen in the role of his beleaguered sidekick Leporello. Ketelson’s velvety recitative and insightful interpretation have made Leporello one of the American bass’ signature roles. Leporello’s alternately world-weary and outraged attitude is the perfect foil for Giovanni’s lascivious bravado. Kwiecien´ and Ketelson are also well matched vocally. With the addition of well-loved Italian basso Andrea Silvestrelli in the role of the Commendatore, we are provided with a veritable feast of manly singing. Not to be outdone, the female roles also feature an enviable depth of talent. With last season’s break out star Marina Rebeka as the vengeful Donna Anna and a dazzling Ana Maria Martinez in a hilarious turn as Donna Elvira, one has no trouble understanding Don Giovanni’s attraction to these two exciting ladies. Ryan Opera Center alumna and rising star Andriana Chuchman rounds out the cast of main characters as the saucy bride Zerlina, yet another of Giovanni’s tempting conquests. Tenor Antonio Poli and bass-baritone Michael Sumuel provide ample dramatic and vocal support in the roles of Don Ottavio and Masetto.

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In Mozart’s version of this classic tale, the voracious lover of the title role has finally pushed the limits of his romantic bravado too far. We get a rather more graphic glimpse of his escapades with Donna Anna behind her lace curtained balcony door than we might have in a more traditional production (as well as in a later choreographed scene with two ladies of the evening). Outraged, Anna chases Giovanni out into the street, demanding his arrest. He is then confronted by Donna Anna’s father the Commendatore, and in the course of a struggle, kills him. Thus begins Anna’s quest for revenge. Don Giovanni gets his final comeuppance as Donna Anna and her beloved Don Ottavio, jilted lover Donna Elvira, and Zerlina’s outraged in-laws all descend upon the slippery scoundrel at once.

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The sterling quality of this opening production extends far beyond its top-flight director and stars. As has been more often the case in the last couple of seasons, the production values at Lyric have been more than keeping pace with the company’s extraordinary musical standards. The wonderfully graphic sets by Walt Spangler, the witty and evocative costuming of Ana Kuzmanic and the always dynamic lighting design of Duane Schuler help elevate this production, creating new relevance for contemporary audiences. Laying the musical groundwork are the spectacular Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, led by music director Sir Andrew Davis and chorus master Michael Black, respectively.

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Now is an exciting time to be a fan of opera in Chicago. Lyric Opera is setting new standards and breaking down barriers. We hope and expect that the new season’s offerings will be as visually compelling and musically satisfying as Don Giovanni.

4 STARS

(“Don Giovanni,” presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, runs through October 29th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600)

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Don Giovanni production photos by Todd Rosenberg and Michael Brosilow.

unnamed  500x72Beast Women — Chicago’s Original All-Female Performance Variety Revue — serving as a platform to showcase the best female talent in Chicago. A diverse assortment of genres are presented each week that highlight female strength through performance including music, poetry, dance, performance art, spoken word, burlesque, etc. This is not your typical show. The artists presented, display their passion, strength, freedom, and sensuality to reveal the very things that make them the women they are today. The only demands placed on them are to be original and be bold. The show is an invigorating and stimulating experience that operates on a concept of revolving individual performances, so every night is different offering a unique, exciting, and memorable experience for audiences. Join the Beast Women Saturday nights at The Den Theatre. Your Nights Belong To The Beast! $20 Tickets at the door or online Presented by Beast Women Productions

Beast Women September Series 2014
Saturdays, Sep 6 - Oct 4 at 10:30 pm

 

Beast Women Rising, a new talent showcase
Sunday, Sep 21 at 7:00 p.m @ The Den Theatre

 

1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago ~ Steps from the Division Blue Line Stop

Show Type: Cabaret

 

The Den Theatre

Beast Women Productions

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Clemente: The Legend of 21

NightBlue Performing Arts Company, in partnership with ArtoCarpus, proudly presents the Chicago Premiere of Clemente: The Legend of 21 at Stage 773. This musical, written and directed by the renowned Luis Caballero, tells the tale of struggle and triumph for one of baseball’s greatest players, Roberto Clemente. Beginning on the day of his death, this musical chronicles Clemente’s life from enduring poverty and racism to becoming an inspiration for generations to come.

Clemente was a Puerto Rican professional baseball player who played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He was the first Latino player to win a World Series as a starter and received numerous awards during his career including National League and World Series MVP, being named All-Star 12 times and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously. His passion, aside from baseball, was charity work in Puerto Rico and Latin American countries where he delivered food and baseball equipment to those in need. He perished in a plane crash on December 31, 1972 while in route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

“Clemente is a monumental figure for everyone,” said David Walters, Artistic Director of NightBlue Performing Arts Company. “You don’t have to be a baseball fan – or even a sports fan to appreciate the impact he made in the world. His story goes well beyond sports to overcoming adversity and hatred. His composure and dedication to helping others less fortunate is an inspiration to this day.”

 

Aug 22, 2014 - Sep 14, 2014

@ Stage 773

1225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago

Show Type: Musical

Box Office: 773-327-5252

Stage 773

GPMF-2014

As Its 80th Anniversary Season Winds Down, The Grant Park Music Festival Still Has Some “Wow Factor” For Late Season Audiences

By Lori Dana

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Since Chicago labor organizer James C. Petrillo first envisioned it, as work for unemployed musicians and a cultural oasis for weary citizens in the midst of the Great Depression, the Grant Park Music Festival has continually grown: in scope, in the depth and breadth of its musical offerings, and in the estimation of critics and audiences from all over the world. From humble beginnings as a volunteer band playing free concerts in the Grant Park music shell named for the fiery Petrillo, the festival has grown into a venue for one of the world’s finest full orchestras and its complementary vocal chorus, performing for thousands of local residents each week and millions more via classical radio station WFMT’s international streaming broadcasts. Musicians flock to Chicago from all over the country every summer, lending musical talent honed in cultural powerhouses like The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, and The Seattle Symphony (as well as our own CSO and Lyric Opera Orchestra) to the festival.

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Thanks to the foresight of its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar, and his colleague and collaborator Chorus Director Christopher Bell, The Grant Park Music Festival has some of the most creative and compelling programming out there. In addition to an orchestral line up which this year included classical favorites (Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”, Handel’s Water Music), some stunning lesser known works by Dvořák, Janáček, Danielpour and Poulenc, mariachi, jazz and opera collaborations, contemporary classical debuts, and themed programs for families (spooky music) and adults (Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins); GPMF also presented community outreach concerts featuring both orchestra and chorus in several Chicago neighborhood locales.

As eclectic as it sounds, the festival programming successfully weaves together wildly different musical genres into surprisingly strong programs. A common thread holds these together, whether cultural, thematic or visual (several programs have had accompanying film or dance components). In doing this, maestro Kalmar and company almost always succeed in delighting and educating their audience. That audience has grown exponentially with the festival’s move to Millennium Park. Ensconced in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion since 2004, The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus now perform in a state-of-the-art space designed by brilliant American architect Frank Gehry. Equipped with a sound system housed in steel arches spanning its Great Lawn, Pritzker puts the sound quality of other, older outdoor venues to shame; and has helped The Grant Park Music Festival reach a performance zenith. It is truly the greatest jewel in Chicago’s lavish crown of summer festivals, and remarkably it is still…FREE.

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Happily, there is still time for those who haven’t yet experienced the amazing sound of a classical symphony rising above the gentle hum of street traffic, punctuated by the cries of gulls from the lakefront or the periodic wail of a siren from Michigan Avenue. There is still time to enjoy the fragrant cool of the freshly mown Great Lawn surrounded by gently swaying trees, while relishing a home made picnic, or a bottle of wine with friends. There are three marvelous weeks of concerts still to be enjoyed, beginning Wednesday August 6 with Pink Martini’s incomparable vocalist Storm Large singing Kurt Weill, and ending on Saturday August 16 with Ravel’s dramatic and dreamy Impressionist ballet, Daphnis and Chloe.

The full concert schedule can be found on line at…

Classical Concerts in Millennium Park ~ The Grant Park Music Festival

Grant Park Music Festival images by Norman Timonera

2  500x72By J. Scott Hill

The first thought I had after seeing Writer’s Theatre’s production of Days Like Today was: who has a four-season vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard?  I don’t doubt the possibility, just the probability.  So many other plays and films and television shows and books depict profoundly wealthy people closing up their Martha’s Vineyard escapes in the fall.  Many of the hotels, shops, restaurants, and other businesses on Martha’s Vineyard completely shut down for the winter.  As the action of Days Like Today hurdles mundane months from scene to scene, the principal characters all just happen to land at the Martha’s Vineyard getaway house on New Year’s Eve.

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Days Like Today is a little farfetched, and a bit pretentious.  Still, Laura Eason’s adaptation is far less farfetched and pretentious than its inspiration, the plays of  Charles Mee (particularly Summertime), and Days Like Today is more engaging.

Days Like Today is the story of a young woman, Tessa, left at the altar for no particularly compelling reason. Tessa’s father, Frank, is a classics professor who is gay and dating a much younger man, a former student of his named Edmund.  Tessa’s mother, Maria, is a cougar who is sexually adventurous and dating a younger man, a former dance instructor of her daughter’s named Francois. (Get it?  Her husband is named Frank and her boyfriend is named Francois and they are both teachers.  Really!?) Tessa’s misery is further complicated by a pizza delivery guy, James, who falls in love with her at first sight, and who just happens to have a Ph.D. in classics, just like her dear old dad.  By the time everybody shows up at the Martha’s Vineyard house on New Year’s Eve, most of them are surprised to find that Tessa has not left there since her wedding day disaster.

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Either Tessa’s job — translating the photo captions of a single Italian coffee table book into English and French — pays extremely well and in advance, or she has a duffel bag full of small unmarked bills, because if she were getting any money from either of her parents they would have known that she was still at the vacation house.  Such inconsistencies, annoyances, and first-world problems are prevalent enough to make even a Glencoe audience raise a skeptical eyebrow.  Laura Eason has done a fine job of rhinoplasty on the upturned nose of Charles Mee’s plays, but a rewrite would make the characters more organic and thereby more sympathetic.

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Luckily, Laura Eason’s book is paired with Alan Schmuckler’s amazing songs.  Tuneful and catchy, poetic and profound,  from “10,000 Times” to “Tuscany” to “Quartet,” Schmuckler’s music and lyrics carry this story into our hearts.  Some of the credit for the wonderment in the music goes to the musicians, particularly the complementary playing of Paul von Mertens on woodwinds and Carmen Kassinger on violin/viola.  Like nearly every piano played in a theatre pit band at any time anywhere, the piano played by Austin Cook should be turned around with the harp facing the wall, and a mattress placed between the piano and the wall to muffle the sound; from a seat in the audience of any reasonably acoustically designed theatre, a piano onstage almost always sounds too loud.

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Days Like Today is graced with a phenomenal cast of singer/actors. The jilting groom Arnaud is played by Jarrod Zimmerman, who is fine in the role, but justifiably doesn’t have a lot to do.  Tessa’s new suitor James is played to charming effect by Will Mobley. Jonathan Weir as Frank, Susie McMonagle as Maria, Stephen Schelhardt as Edmund, and Jeff Parker as Francois could each deftly carry Days Like Today, if the narrative were told from a different angle. Emily Berman’s subtle performance as the emotionally overwhelmed Tessa is only surpassed by her extraordinary alto.

Days Like Today is an unconventional love story full of actors and songs you will likely adore, actors and songs that are able to largely make up for residual pretentiousness in the characters and story that adapting playwright Laura Eason did not quite delouse from the original Charles Mee source material.

 

3 STARS

 

(“Days Like Today runs through July 27 at Writer’s Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. 847-242-6000.)

Writer’s Theatre

Days Like Today production photos by Michael Brosilow.

* Visit Theatre In Chicago for more information on this show. Days Like Today – Writer’s Theatre – Play Detail – Theatre In Chicago

 

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