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‘An Iliad’ at American Players Theatre: Of rage, ruin and the cherished legacy of endless wars

‘An Iliad’ at American Players Theatre: Of rage, ruin and the cherished legacy of endless wars

July 30, 2015 – 10:36 am | No Comment | 63 views

Review: Rage, beyond expression or reason or appeasement, rips through the timeless modernity of “An Iliad,” the dramatic distillation of Homer’s epic by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare that now echoes against the near walls of an intimate space at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. This fraught opus of glory and gore bristles in the one voice but many personas of Jim DeVita, playing the Poet who frames the perpetual folly of war in the single appalling, ever repeating travesty that was Troy. ★★★★★

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As James Conlon epoch winds down at Ravinia, familiar fanfares of Mahler and rumble of trains

July 24, 2015 – 4:28 pm | No Comment | 248 views

As part of his farewell Ravinia Festival season, James Conlon revisited his 1977 Mozart and Mahler debut concert at the Ravinia Festival on July 22. (Patrick Gipson)

Review: Ravinia Festival concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor James Conlon and pianist Garrick Ohlsson. 

By Daniel Hautzinger

For eleven years, James Conlon has had an unexpected enemy: commuter trains.

Since becoming music director of the Ravinia Festival in 2005, he seems to have learned that a roaring Metra train, whose tracks pass near the Ravinia pavilion, can compete even with the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Read the full story »

‘Grand Concourse’ at Steppenwolf: Soup’s on, but it’s boiling over with angst, anger and evil

July 22, 2015 – 7:00 am | No Comment | 238 views
‘Grand Concourse’ at Steppenwolf: Soup’s on, but it’s boiling over with angst, anger and evil

Review: The fascination of Heidi Schreck’s play “Grand Concourse,” now at Steppenwolf Theatre, lies not so much in the personal crisis of a nun whose faith is wavering as it is in the human response of a good person directly affected by unmitigated evil. That moral dilemma keeps us hanging on through the last syllable, or rather sigh, of this well-made drama. ★★★

‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at American Players: Estwhile beauty meets beast, and he’s not kind

July 16, 2015 – 8:43 pm | No Comment | 393 views
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at American Players:  Estwhile beauty meets beast, and he’s not kind

Review: She is a fascinating character, indeed one of the iconic personas in all of theater, Blanche DuBois, the fallen Southern belle of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The undying question is, Why? What’s so intriguing about this dame with the checkered past? Perhaps it’s her vulnerability, or her delusion, or her sheer refusal to go quietly into middle-aged oblivion. I think that’s the thing, her feisty pluck, that makes Tracy Michelle Arnold’s Blanche so compelling at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★★

‘All Our Tragic’ at The Hypocrites: In a fresh spin on Greek tragedy, laughter and pause for dessert

July 12, 2015 – 12:16 am | No Comment | 432 views
‘All Our Tragic’ at The Hypocrites: In a fresh spin on Greek tragedy, laughter and pause for dessert

Review: A hit with audiences last season, “All Our Tragic,” adapted by Hypocrites artistic director Sean Graney, is a marathon retelling of all the surviving Greek plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. It has been reworked and remounted at The Den Theatre, running full-length on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to just past 10:30 p.m. – in eight acts with seven intermissions and food breaks (included with ticket). It’s a sweeping immersion: prodigious, clever, insightful and riveting. ★★★★

From father to son, the sorrows of Catfish Row become cherished pleasure for Bobby McFerrin

July 10, 2015 – 10:46 pm | No Comment | 420 views
From father to son, the sorrows of Catfish Row become cherished pleasure for Bobby McFerrin

Review: In “Porgy and Bess,” the 1959 film version of Gershwin’s musical, the singing voice of Sidney Poitier’s Porgy was dubbed in by Robert McFerrin, a Metropolitan Opera star and Bobby’s father. At the start of the Chicago Symphony’s Ravinia Festival residency, it was the younger McFerrin’s turn to take a serious run through an opera he literally grew up with.

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’: Lighting up Chekhov with laughter at Goodman

July 8, 2015 – 9:05 pm | No Comment | 546 views
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’:  Lighting up Chekhov with laughter at Goodman

Review: I hate going here, I really do, because it’s going to sound like home cooking, but the hysterical truth is – and everything about this is hysterical – that the Goodman Theatre romp through Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” roundly eclipses the production I saw last season in New York. Directed by Steve Scott, this show is so smart and tight, so killingly funny, that seeing it just once may not be possible. ★★★★★

Knights, Dawn Upshaw celebrate folk influence on classical music with ranging fare at Ravinia

July 7, 2015 – 10:40 am | No Comment | 441 views
Knights, Dawn Upshaw celebrate folk influence on classical music with ranging fare at Ravinia

Review: Composers have long been fascinated by folk music. From Josquin des Prez’s late 15th-century “Missa L’homme armé,” based on a popular French tune, to Donnacha Dennehy’s Irish music-inspired “Grá agus bás” from 2007, folk songs have often made their mark on classical music, either through direct transcription or simple inspiration. On July 5 at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, the iconoclastic chamber orchestra the Knights, joined by the likewise singular soprano Dawn Upshaw, gamboled through some of the vibrant repertoire that has emerged from composers’ attraction to folk music.

‘Good People’ at Redtwist: Down on her luck, Boston Southie seeks hope behind lace facade

July 3, 2015 – 5:32 pm | No Comment | 490 views
‘Good People’ at Redtwist: Down on her luck,  Boston Southie seeks hope behind lace facade

Review: Margie’s life is hard, like the “g” in her name. It’s all she’s ever known. She grew up in the rough-and-tumble projects of Boston’s south side – a real “Southie.” She doesn’t have much, but at least she has a job; well, had a job. As we look in on Margie’s lot in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People,” now staged with potent intimacy at Redtwist Theatre, she’s about to be fired. ★★★★

Musical Stars and Stripes will fly all summer as Grant Park celebrates American composers

July 3, 2015 – 5:00 pm | No Comment | 685 views
Musical Stars and Stripes will fly all summer as Grant Park celebrates American composers

Preview: The season programming of a major orchestra may offer a preponderance of German, Russian, and French music, but at this year’s Grant Park Music Festival, Americans make a greater showing. Now in its 81st season, the free Festival in downtown Millennium Park embodies the exploratory spirit of composers who have sought to create an intrinsically American music.

‘The Who & The What’ at Victory Gardens: It’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ meets ‘Other Desert Cities’

June 25, 2015 – 10:22 pm | No Comment | 406 views
‘The Who & The What’ at Victory Gardens:  It’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ meets ‘Other Desert Cities’

Review: Ayad Akhtar’s third play, “The Who & The What,” which now occupies the stage at Victory Gardens, shares with its masterly predecessors — “Disgraced” and “The Invisible Hand” — the core issue of conflict between Muslim heritage and mainstream American culture. But this time, Akhtar’s work verges on ethnic sitcom. ★★

‘Moby Dick’ at Lookingglass: A man’s obsessive drive to annihilate a whale surges to electric life

June 22, 2015 – 7:45 pm | No Comment | 507 views
‘Moby Dick’ at Lookingglass: A man’s obsessive drive to annihilate a whale surges to electric life

Review: Translating a great novel into a successful stage work is hardly a mere matter of reformulation. They are different beasts, novel and play. All the more marvelous, then, is David Catlin’s imaginative, poetic, indeed galvanic adaptation of Herman Meville’s “Moby Dick” for Lookingglass Theatre. ★★★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Classic art of Jaboulet’s new Chapelle mistress

June 20, 2015 – 1:46 pm | One Comment | 529 views
CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL:  Classic art of Jaboulet’s new Chapelle mistress

Tasting Report: Since my earliest forays into French wines, the brightest stars in my firmament have consistently included the patrician Hermitage La Chapelle produced by Paul Jaboulet Aîné in France’s Northern Rhône Valley. So it was little short of enchanting to step back through time at a vertical tasting of this great expression of Syrah at a recent Chicago seminar sponsored by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony salute the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win with a rousing ‘Chelsea Dagger.’

June 19, 2015 – 3:16 pm | One Comment | 416 views
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony salute the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win with a rousing ‘Chelsea Dagger.’

Video: The Blackhawks’ victory parade ended a block away from Symphony Center in downtown Chicago, but Riccardo Muti was still in the mood to celebrate.

Grant Park Orchestra, led by ‘goalie’ Kalmar, heats up Beethoven to kick off festive summer

June 18, 2015 – 5:40 pm | No Comment | 876 views
Grant Park Orchestra, led by ‘goalie’ Kalmar, heats up Beethoven to kick off festive summer

Review: Chicago’s getting everything right at the beginning of this summer season. The day after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, the weather was picnic perfect at Millennium Park, where the free Grant Park Music Festival got underway. Thousands laid down their blankets on the great lawn at Pritzker Pavilion. Even the curse of the overture “Drip” – rained out two seasons running – was finally broken. Check out our top festival picks.

New York Aisle: Philharmonic tops off season with rare bounty of Honegger’s ‘Joan of Arc’

June 16, 2015 – 9:33 am | No Comment | 592 views
New York Aisle: Philharmonic tops off season with rare bounty of Honegger’s ‘Joan of Arc’

Review: From his earliest days as music director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert has indulged New York audiences with an end-of-the-season extravaganza, This year’s offering was Honegger’s dramatic oratorio “Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher,” a work rarely performed if only because of the magnitude of forces, starting with adult chorus, children’s chorus, 11 sung roles, and two lead actors.

From al fresco staging of Williams’ ‘Streetcar,’ American Players promise summer of surprises

June 12, 2015 – 12:23 am | No Comment | 532 views
From al fresco staging of Williams’ ‘Streetcar,’  American Players promise summer of surprises

Review: In her second summer as artistic director of American Players Theatre, Brenda Devita can claim her fingerprints alone on the scheme of eight widely ranging plays that will run in repertory well into the autumn. And DeVita embraces that authorship with pride, starting with the company’s first go at Tennessee Williams’ monumental tragedy “A Streetcar Named Desire.” “We’re taking it outdoors,” she says, referring to the starry-domed 1,148-seat Up-the-Hill Theatre.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Aged Burgundian glory from three négociants

June 10, 2015 – 12:08 am | No Comment | 324 views
CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL:  Aged Burgundian glory from three négociants

Mulling Wine: By chance or perhaps my natural gravitation, I just completed a sort of hat trick – meal accompaniments from three of my favorite Burgundy producers, all of whom fall into the somewhat misunderstood category of négociants.

Role Playing: Francis Guinan embraces conflict of father who fled from grim truth in ‘The Herd’

June 9, 2015 – 5:26 pm | No Comment | 515 views
Role Playing: Francis Guinan embraces conflict of father who fled from grim truth in ‘The Herd’

Interview: The alienated, indeed despised husband and father Francis Guinan portrays in Rory Kinnear’s marvelous first play “The Herd,” at Steppenwolf Theatre, elicits deeply ambivalent feelings, and not just from the audience. Guinan admits he also sees the guy in decidedly conflicted terms.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Burgundy-style Pinot Noir from an Oregon star

May 27, 2015 – 3:35 pm | No Comment | 606 views
CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Burgundy-style Pinot Noir from an Oregon star

Tasting Report: Since its founding in 1989, Domaine Serene in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has emerged as one of the top producers of Pinot Noir in a region famous for that wine. In a horizontal tasting with friends of four different Domaine Serene bottlings from the 2011 vintage, it became readily apparent why this house continues to enjoy such high esteem.

Role Playing: Sophia Menendian reached back (but not far) as plucky Armenian refugee of 15

May 26, 2015 – 6:03 am | No Comment | 676 views
Role Playing: Sophia Menendian reached back  (but not far) as plucky Armenian refugee of 15

Interview: The most disarming, lovable character I’ve seen on a Chicago stage this season has to be 15-year-old Seta, refugee of the Armenian genocide and mail-order bride in Richard Kalinoski’s “Beast on the Moon,” played with big-eyed, open-hearted exuberance by Sophia Menendian, who’s all of 20. She says she captured Seta’s buoyancy by recalling her own unbridled spirit as an adolescent.

CSO’s ‘French Reveries and Passions’: Spirit and imagination set crown on a dream festival

May 24, 2015 – 12:09 am | No Comment | 911 views
CSO’s ‘French Reveries and Passions’: Spirit and imagination set crown on a dream festival

Festival Review: It’s that time of the year when orchestras change their pace, kick back a bit and come a-bloom with new ideas in the spirit of the warming clime. Thus the New York Philharmonic celebrates its 50th season of Concerts in the Parks, the Cincinnati Symphony’s May Festival gets underway, the Boston Symphony is deep into its Pops concerts. But the place to be this season is in the Windy City, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is midway through an extravagant multidimensional festival “French Reveries & Passions.”