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New musical ‘Amazing Grace’ recounts the story of perfect storm that redeemed a slave trader

New musical ‘Amazing Grace’ recounts the story of perfect storm that redeemed a slave trader

October 19, 2014 – 12:23 am | No Comment | 234 views

Preview:The acute historical irony is that the hymn “Amazing Grace” — which is the subject of the Broadway-bound musical that opens Oct. 19 at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre — was written by an English sailor, John Newton, who had prayed in terror during a storm at sea while engaged in the evil of the triangle slave trade.

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‘The Cryptogram’ at Profiles: Waiting up for Dad and absorbing a harsh message about life, lies

October 18, 2014 – 8:00 am | No Comment | 159 views

Donny (Abigail Boucher) finds a quiet moment with her anxious son John (Aaron Lamm). (Michael Brosilow)“The Cryptogram” by David Mamet, at Profiles Theatre through Nov. 16. ★★★

By Lawrence B. Johnson

David Mamet’s eerie play “The Cryptogram” is the kind  of stage experience that follows you home.

Certainly in the wake of a hyper-intense account at Profiles Theatre directed by Joe Jahraus, it continues to work on you, this concise, emotionally fraught and fractured tale of a little boy who’s so excited about a promised camping trip with his dad that he can’t sleep. For that matter, neither can his mother, or an old friend of the family who drops in. Read the full story »

Lyric’s ‘Capriccio’ embraces ensemble flair, patrician milieu of Strauss’ high-minded lark

October 17, 2014 – 7:46 am | Comments Off | 296 views
Lyric’s ‘Capriccio’ embraces ensemble flair, patrician milieu of Strauss’ high-minded lark

Review:To watch Lyric Opera’s “Capriccio” is to put one’s mind inside a blissful dream of wealth and privilege, where the toughest choices facing a glamorous Parisian countess — played by Renée Fleming — concerned which adoring, handsome and talented young man to endow with her philanthropy, and her bed. ★★★★

With fine, broad brush, French troupe paints absurd and logic-challenged world of Ionesco

October 16, 2014 – 4:45 pm | No Comment | 181 views
With fine, broad brush, French troupe paints absurd and logic-challenged world of Ionesco

Review: It was an aha moment, in French. The final madcap flourish of “Ionesco Suite,” the Paris ensemble Théâtre de la Ville’s nonstop 80-minute pastiche drawn from Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist plays, now in a brief run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, sent my mind reeling back through the decades to my college days. ★★★★

‘The Night Alive’ at Steppenwolf: It’s three guys, girl and thug looking for answers in life’s rubble

October 14, 2014 – 10:26 pm | No Comment | 108 views
‘The Night Alive’ at Steppenwolf: It’s three guys,  girl and thug looking for answers in life’s rubble

Review: At the center of “The Night Alive,” Conor McPherson’s wry and compassionate spin on the human comedy, are three men grappling with life near its baseline. And in Steppenwolf Theatre’s unglossed, touching perspective on the play, these ordinary guys find in each other the redemptive qualities of connection, meaning and purpose. ★★★★

‘Smokefall’ at Goodman: Revisiting a family frayed at seams, blessed with magical hope

October 11, 2014 – 8:28 am | No Comment | 153 views
‘Smokefall’ at Goodman: Revisiting a family frayed at seams, blessed with magical hope

Review: Mike Nussbaum, irrepressible at age 90, is like great Bordeaux wine. Need I amplify that? Chicago’s prince of perdurable actors is the single best reason – among many good ones – to catch Goodman Theatre’s almost-instant revival of “Smokefall,” Noah Haidle’s fine-stitched play about family, its profound fractures and its potential for healing. ★★★★★

‘Lear’ at Chicago Shakespeare: A worthy king rules over concept that Frankly doesn’t sing

October 4, 2014 – 9:33 am | No Comment | 197 views
‘Lear’ at Chicago Shakespeare: A worthy king rules over concept that Frankly doesn’t sing

Review: Were it not for Larry Yando’s crushing turn in the title role, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “King Lear” would amount to little more than an ill-advised concept played out by a cast that largely misses both the pulse and the pressure of Shakespeare’s language. Setting aside for the moment this production’s manifold curiosities, at its core reigns the regal figure of Yando, whose portrait of Lear – as imperious fool stripped to his humiliated soul – is an experience not to be missed. ★★★

Dark, funny, musically vibrant ‘Don Giovanni’ raises the curtain on new Lyric Opera season

September 29, 2014 – 5:06 pm | No Comment | 475 views
Dark, funny, musically vibrant ‘Don Giovanni’  raises the curtain on new Lyric Opera season

Review: A more appealing cast could hardly have been assembled for Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” than the vocally resplendent, good-looking singers who inhabit the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production and season opener. And for the most part, Mozart’s opera – dramatically dark and musically brilliant — is well served by director Robert Falls’ heated and funny approach to this tale of the world’s most infamous sex addict, whose recklessness and hubris finally bring him all the way down and then some. ★★★★

Muti summons bravura of Tchaikovsky Fourth and elegance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ with CSO

September 26, 2014 – 5:24 pm | No Comment | 265 views
Muti summons bravura of Tchaikovsky Fourth  and elegance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ with CSO

Review:The crowd went freaking wild at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s whooping finish to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony under music director Riccardo Muti on Sept. 25 at Orchestra Hall. And understandably so. What a blazer of a performance. But the greater experience was an utterly magical account of Debussy’s “La Mer.”

In Mozart’s Don Giovanni, director Robert Falls sees a complex figure worthy of Shakespeare

September 24, 2014 – 9:46 pm | No Comment | 315 views
In Mozart’s Don Giovanni, director Robert Falls sees a complex figure worthy of Shakespeare

Interview: Robert Falls knows a complicated stage character when he sees one, and standing in front of him at the moment is no less intricate a figure than Mozart’s lady killer, Don Giovanni. Actually, notes Falls, artistic director at Goodman Theatre and stage director for the Lyric Opera’s season-opening production of “Don Giovanni,” it’s a different sort of killing that brings this prince of philanderers to his horrific end. The show runs Sept. 27-Oct. 29.

Theater 2014-15: Ready for something new? Drop in any time this season at Steppenwolf

September 23, 2014 – 9:51 pm | No Comment | 182 views
Theater 2014-15: Ready for something new?  Drop in any time this season at Steppenwolf

17th in a series of season previews: The 2014-15 season at Steppenwolf Theatre is for drama buffs with a taste for adventure. Every play on the calendar is new to Chicago. One show is an American first, and also waiting in the wings is a world premiere. Steppenwolf opens with the Chicago unveiling of “The Night Alive” by Conor McPherson, as hot a playwright as you’ll find in the theater world today. If you haven’t seen “The Seafarer,” or if it isn’t at the top of your must-see list, raise your hand. Thought so.

Theater 2014-15: Packed Broadway in Chicago season brings 3 premieres and hit ‘Newsies’

September 23, 2014 – 1:10 pm | No Comment | 350 views
Theater 2014-15: Packed Broadway in Chicago season brings 3 premieres and hit ‘Newsies’

16th in a series of season previews: Is Broadway in Chicago flourishing, or what? Whether you look at this high-profile presenter’s 2014-15 season in terms of sheer quantity or with an eye to its scope of appeal, the fall lineup alone – never mind what’s to come in the season’s second half — pops off the page with three premieres and the mega-hit “Disney’s Newsies.”

Theater 2014-15: Raven revisits Miller tragedy, stages a world premiere in its 32nd season

September 21, 2014 – 1:32 pm | No Comment | 363 views
Theater 2014-15: Raven revisits Miller tragedy, stages a world premiere in its 32nd season

15th in a series of season previews: Out of what co-artistic director Michael Menendian calls “a lot hand-wringing,” Raven Theatre has fashioned a family-business themed season that begins with a company reprise of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” includes a world premiere and ends with a play about Armendian genocide that’s close to Menendian’s heart. “It’s the greatest challenge to pick the season,” he says, “The goal is to balance the tone without essentially repeating the same story.”

Riccardo Muti’s starry Beethoven Ninth opens Chicago Symphony season in cosmic fashion

September 19, 2014 – 10:08 pm | One Comment | 576 views
Riccardo Muti’s starry Beethoven Ninth opens  Chicago Symphony season in cosmic fashion

Review: The cantata Beethoven composed to Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” – that is, the grandiose finale to the Ninth Symphony – may be a rousing crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a good deal more. It’s the peroration of a sweeping dialectic on man’s fate, a closely and tumultuously argued essay spun out in wordless majesty for three-quarters of an hour before the first syllable is uttered.Such was the sum and the magnificence of music director Riccardo Muti’s season opening performance of the Ninth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 18 at Orchestra Hall.

Theater 2014-15: World premieres, ‘Smokefall’ reprise crown plans for Goodman’s 90th year

September 18, 2014 – 3:48 pm | No Comment | 325 views
Theater 2014-15: World premieres, ‘Smokefall’  reprise crown plans for Goodman’s 90th year

14th in a series of season previews: Goodman Theatre has a bountiful 90th season in store, punctuated by a pair of world premieres, an early remounting of Noah Haidle’s “Smokefall” from last season — with returning featured actor Mike Nussbaum, also 90! — and a revival of August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” that will be enhanced by several related events.

Chicago Opera Theater buffs up neglected jewel in high-tech staging of Bloch’s grand ‘Macbeth’

September 17, 2014 – 3:12 pm | No Comment | 306 views
Chicago Opera Theater buffs up neglected jewel in high-tech staging of Bloch’s grand ‘Macbeth’

Review: When Swiss-born Ernest Bloch began to contemplate the creation of his first and only opera, “Macbeth,” he was an untested 25 and would turn 30 before his opus found footing at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. The opera then slipped into oblivion. What is surprising is how staggeringly good Bloch’s result is — for an opera that almost no one knows. ★★★

When leviathan turns fury on ‘Whaleship Essex,’ it’s a rough voyage to salvation in tiny boats

September 16, 2014 – 4:32 pm | No Comment | 307 views
When leviathan turns fury on ‘Whaleship Essex,’  it’s a rough voyage to salvation in tiny boats

Review: Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Shattered Globe Theatre’s ambitious staging of “The Whaleship Essex,” ensemble member Joe Forbrich’s retelling of an early 19th-century whaling catastrophe, is the sheer scope and rigor of the enterprise. It is a tale of man’s hubris meets nature’s fury on the high seas. And to put it mildly, the greedy, ravaging interlopers get sprayed. ★★★

Theater 2014-15: American Blues parlays pluck and alliance to create new take on ‘Native Son’

September 6, 2014 – 3:06 pm | No Comment | 273 views
Theater 2014-15: American Blues parlays pluck and alliance to create new take on ‘Native Son’

13th in a series of season previews: Season themes can sometimes seem like a loose fit, but American Blues Theater’s 2014-15 overarching concept of “Lost and Found” looks well-tailored from a world-premiere adaptation of Richard Wright’s tragic “Native Son” to Warren Leight’s “Side Man,” a dark riff on family alienation that infects the life of a jazz trumpeter. But artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside also offers a larger label that sums up American Blues’ 29-year history: “We’ve got pluck. We don’t have a lot of money, but we go for the stars.”

Theater 2014-15: Five premieres shape season as Victory Gardens observes 40th year

August 27, 2014 – 10:54 am | No Comment | 254 views
Theater 2014-15: Five premieres shape season  as Victory Gardens observes 40th year

Ninth in a series of season previews: Two world premieres anchor the 40th-anniversary season at Victory Gardens Theater, which opens with the Midwest premiere of “Rest,” company ensemble member Samuel D. Hunter’s story of senior citizens and their youthful attendants at a retirement home trapped by a blizzard and forced to confront the chasm between their generations. A second Midwest premiere follows with Colm Tóibín’s one-woman show “The Testament of Mary,” a re-imagined narrative by Mary on the last days of Jesus.

Theater 2014-15: Two world premieres, dear jewel keep Northlight true to its 40-year form

August 21, 2014 – 11:57 pm | No Comment | 476 views
Theater 2014-15: Two world premieres, dear jewel keep Northlight true to its 40-year form

Eighth in a series of season previews: Northlight Theatre enters its 40th anniversary season with a group of plays that exactly fits the model this company has refined through four decades of success. It’s what veteran artistic director BJ Jones describes as “a blend of new work and refreshed classics.” At season’s end comes the world premiere of “Shining Lives: A Musical,” with lyrics by Jessica Thebus and music by Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert. It’s based on Melanie Marnich’s play “These Shining Lives,” about women in the 1920s who painted radium faces on clocks only to become fatally ill from exposure to the paint.

Theater 2014-15: Women finding power set tone for romance, mystery, superheroes at Lifeline

August 20, 2014 – 10:20 am | No Comment | 640 views
Theater 2014-15: Women finding power set tone for romance, mystery, superheroes at Lifeline

Seventh in a series of season previews: A thematic thread of young women connecting with their strength as adults runs through the three main-stage plays of Lifeline Theatre’s 2014-15 season. But what jumps out just as clearly is the wide – or maybe the right word is wild – range of stories sharing that motif.

Theater 2014-15: Writers maps reduced season as company focuses on drama of new digs

August 18, 2014 – 11:16 pm | No Comment | 673 views
Theater 2014-15: Writers maps reduced season as company focuses on drama of new digs

Sixth in a series of season previews: “We have a challenging year coming up,” says Writers Theatre artistic director Michael Halberstam. Yes, and an exciting one — on an electric scale. Writers, in case anyone has missed this, is building a $31 million new home on the site of the company’s former main stage in Glencoe. So the 2014-15 season will be miniaturized , with the main drama focused on the grand house that’s projected to have its grand opening in winter 2016.