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11/11/15 1:21:27 PM -- 
The Lyric Opera of Chicago Presents
"The Merry Widow"
Renée Fleming, 
Nicole Cabell, 
and Thomas Hampson

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

‘The Merry Widow’ at Lyric Opera: Slow start, then Pop! – bubbles and, mais oui, grisettes

Nov 23, 2015 – 2:53 pm |

Review: If it had been opening night for the Lyric Opera production of Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow,” one might have understood the stark contrast between the dismal walk-through of the first act and the sustained vivacity suddenly on display post-intermission. One might have chalked it up to a calming of collective nerves. But as this was the second performance, the first-night excuse hardly applies. I daresay the show is what it seemed to be: egregiously uneven. ★★★

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Theater 2015-16: Remembering PJ Paparelli, American Theater Co. maps ‘Legacy Season’

Nov 13, 2015 – 6:23 pm |

Stephen Conrad Moore and Erin Barlow in 'Fulfillment' at ATC. (Michael Brosilow)

22nd in a series of season previews: To a line-up planned by its late artistic director, ATC adds a celebratory Paparelli fave: “Xanadu.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz

Two world premieres lead off an American Theater Company season dedicated to the memory of PJ Paparelli, the ensemble’s visionary artistic director who died last May after an automobile accident in Scotland.

Thomas Bradshaw’s new play “Fulfillment,” about a successful African-American lawyer whose world gets flipped on its head, opens the season. It will be followed by the premiere of “Bruise Easy,” Dan LeFranc’s play about an adult brother and sister whose meeting at their childhood home offers a chance to iron out old issues. Read the full story »

At Goodman’s New Stages Festival, playwrights count on sharpening assist from the audience

Nov 12, 2015 – 6:44 pm |
Goodman Theatre New Stages Festival 2015

Feature: Three formative plays on the boards in Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival offer an intriguing glimpse into the process of turning a work of promise into a well-honed piece of stagecraft ready for prime time. Now in its 12th year, the 2015 edition of New Stages concludes Nov. 13-15 with final performances of those plays and a cluster of readings.

Theater 2015-16: With premieres, A Red Orchid takes pursuit of life on the edge to new realms

Nov 10, 2015 – 5:40 pm |
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21st in a series of season previews: A Red Orchid Theatre opens its 23rd season with Brett Neveu’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” one of two world premieres during 2015-16. It burrows into layers of conflict within a family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. “It’s brutal and hilarious,” says artistic director Kirsten Fitzgerald, “and it’s the kind of play this company identifies with. We absolutely explore the poetry of life on the edge.”

Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Stark expressionism draped in musical riches

Nov 3, 2015 – 10:43 am |

Review: Tomasz Konieczny is Wozzeck, the low-ranking soldier who sinks into madness as he is subjected to scientific experiments, betrayed in love and persistently harrassed. As envisioned by director David McVicar and conductor Andrew Davis, the 1925 opera is as deeply unsettling visually as it is musically rich. Berg’s account of Wozzeck’s grotesque travails has a way of suddenly panning wide, as if to embrace us all in our human dissonance and complexity.★★★★

Berg’s high-intensity opera ‘Wozzeck’ dual firsts for veteran conductor Davis, director McVicar

Oct 30, 2015 – 9:54 am |
Wozzeck preview feature image

Preview: He could be talking about Puccini’s “La boheme” or Verdi’s “La traviata” or Bizet’s “Carmen,” but when Anthony Freud, general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, says, “I would encourage anyone who has never experienced opera to give it a try,” he’s referring to none of the above. Freud means Alban Berg’s harrowing Expressionist music-drama “Wozzeck.”

Theater 2015-16: The mood is electric at Writers as ‘curtain up’ takes on dramatic new meaning

Oct 28, 2015 – 9:14 am |
Writers 2015-16 feature image

20th in a series of season previews: Writers Theatre artistic director Michael Halberstam sees ideal choices in the two major productions planned for the spring 2016 opening of the company’s brand new home in Glencoe – Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” and the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”

Musically agile maestro Davis bends to match iconoclastic Kissin’s Tchaikovsky with CSO

Oct 16, 2015 – 2:17 pm |
Artistic director PJ Paparelli was killed in a car crash in May 2015. (American Theatre Company)

Review: You could feel the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s crack troop of musicians and their super-flexible maestro Andrew Davis snap to alertness when the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin ignored what he had just heard in the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and simply went his own way in a performance Oct. 15 at Orchestra Hall.

Theater 2015-16: Paint still wet on its new name, Irish Theatre of Chicago expands to third play

Oct 12, 2015 – 9:57 pm |
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19th in a series of season previews: Irish Theatre of Chicago took on its present name last season some 20 years after beginning life under the banner of Seanachai Theatre. Commencing its third decade with Geraldine Aron’s one-woman show “My Brilliant Divorce,” the rechristened Irish Theatre now spreads its wings by adding a third play to its season.

Rossini’s ‘Cinderella’ at the Lyric: Bright voices and colors and wit (plus a Greek chorus of rats)

Oct 5, 2015 – 5:37 pm |
10/1/154:10:43 PM Chicago, IL
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Sir Anthony Davis, Conductor

Cinderella Dress Rehearsal 
Isabel Leonard, Cinderella 
Lawrence Brownlee,  Prince Ramiro, Alessandro Corbelli,  Don Magnifico, 
Vito Priante (debut)  Dandini, 

 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Review: With its blindingly bright colors and brilliant musical hijinks, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production of Rossini’s “Cinderella” plays out like a surreal dream that might possess one in the wee hours of the night. It makes perfect sense while it’s happening, zany and hypnotic at the same time. Rossini’s music is wrapped in a fanciful production that goes well beyond the boring rules of logic. ★★★★★

Theater 2015-16: Shattered Globe celebrates twofold 25th – its own and ‘Marvin’s Room’

Oct 4, 2015 – 9:44 am |
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18th in a series of season previews: Shattered Globe Theatre opens its 25th anniversary season with a memorial tribute to Chicago playwright Scott McPherson, who died at age 33 in 1992, just two years after the premiere of “Marvin’s Room” at the Goodman Theatre. Sandy Shinner, Shattered Globe’s producing artistic director, calls this historic revival “a celebration of Scott’s life.” The season opens Oct. 4.

Mozart and Beethoven shine in hands of CSO; dust sticks to erstwhile premiere from archives

Oct 3, 2015 – 8:11 am |
Riccardo Muti conducts Beethoven

Review: What was good was very good in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert with music director Riccardo Muti on Oct. 1 at Orchestra Hall. Then came the program’s bizarre second half, which recalled the previous week’s fare and left one wondering just how weird – and musically marginal – the CSO’s 125th anniversary season will turn out to be.

Theater 2015-16: Steep gets down and grapples with Linklater premiere, more Simon Stephens

Oct 1, 2015 – 1:06 pm |
Kendra Thulin in the world premiere of 'The Cheats' at Steep Theatre. (Gregg Gilman)

17th in a series of season previews: Founding artistic director Peter Moore says Steep Theatre’s 15th season captures the essence of what this scrappy company is all about – “ground-level views of life.” That low-angle survey begins with the world premiere of Hamish Linklater’s “The Cheats,” about two neighboring couples who suddenly find themselves uncomfortably close.

Theater 2015-16: A gentlefolk’s guide to love, murder, other diversions at B’way in Chicago

Sep 30, 2015 – 4:11 pm |
Poster of 'Kill Floor,' which played Lincoln Center in NY in the fall of 2015. Jonathan Berry will direct a new production of it for ATC in spring 2016. (LCT3)

16th in a series of season previews: Broadway in Chicago’s bountiful fall series of touring shows, crammed into four performance venues – Bank of America Theatre, Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre and Broadway Playhouse – opens with one of the hottest new musical comedies to come out of New York, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” and winds up at the holidays with the pre-Broadway world premiere of “Gotta Dance,” a testament to youth as an expression not of age but of spirit.

‘Marriage of Figaro’ at Lyric Opera: Stellar voices prevail in a farcical take on Mozart’s comic gem

Sep 29, 2015 – 3:17 pm |
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Review: If Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” is inherently and effectively a bittersweet comedy that edges into farce, the new production directed by Barbara Gaines that opens the Lyric Opera of Chicago season reframes it as farce that edges into cartoon. This “Figaro,” conducted by the Hungarian Henrik Nánási in his American debut, fares best where a uniformly strong cast of singers is allowed to stand and deliver Mozart’s witty, touching, brilliant and wise arias and ensemble numbers. ★★★★

‘Gem of the Ocean’ at Court: Setting a spiritual table for Wilson’s canon in a haven of peace

Sep 27, 2015 – 5:32 pm |
Gem of the Ocean at Court

Review: August Wilson’s decade-by-decade portrait gallery of the African-American experience across the 20th century begins just two generations after slavery, indeed with characters who were born into shackles. To grasp the cultural resonance and progression of the last nine plays in the sequence, it’s essential to know the first one, “Gem of the Ocean,” which now unfolds in a perceptive and finely textured production directed by Ron OJ Parson at Court Theatre. ★★★★

Theater 2015-16: Victory Gardens comes out swinging with season of punches, premieres

Sep 24, 2015 – 5:35 pm |
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15th in a series of season previews: The play first up for Victory Gardens Theater this season, Roy Williams’ “Sucker Punch,” might be seen as a summary statement of what fifth-year artistic director Chay Yew has tried to bring to this company. It’s a story steeped in gritty realism about two young black boxers in rundown London struggling to find meaning in life.

Shakespeare director Barbara Gaines modulates to Mozart at Lyric Opera, and sees second Bard

Sep 23, 2015 – 12:10 pm |
Barbaraa Gaines directs Figaro

Interview: The first venture for the Lyric Opera of Chicago this season is also the first Mozart ever taken on by Barbara Gaines, artistic director at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. And in the poignancy – and the comedy – of “The Marriage of Figaro,” Gaines finds the Bard’s own sensibility, his empathy and his compassion.

‘The Tempest’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Magic rules on Prospero’s island, by wand and word

Sep 18, 2015 – 9:31 pm |
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Review: In double magic that beguiles ear and eye with levity and levitation, Chicago Shakespeare Theater has invoked a rare vision of the Bard’s lyrical play of vengeance transcended by forgiveness, “The Tempest.” Co-directed with no slight imagination and great sleight of hand by Adam Posner and the magician Teller (he of Penn and Teller fame), CST’s season opener is pure enchantment – as credibly human and affecting as it is vibrant, fanciful and fresh. ★★★★★

Theater 2015-16: Raven expands to five plays, kicks off season with three Midwest premieres

Sep 17, 2015 – 4:10 pm |
Life's surreal on death row for the Scottsboro Boys; whose bleak farce of incarceration for a crime they didn't commit plays out at Raven.

14th in a series of season previews: Opening with a run of Midwest premieres, Raven Theatre expands from four plays to five this season to capitalize on the opportunity offered by its dual performing spaces. And first up is a Mark Stein’s searing “entertainment” with the long, ironically evocative title of “Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys (An Evening of Vaudeville and Sorrow).”

Theater 2015-16: Steppenwolf 40th anniversary boasts premieres by Frank Galati, Tracy Letts

Sep 16, 2015 – 3:27 pm |
Frank Galati in rehearsal of 'East of Eden' at Steppenwolf. (Joel Moorman)

13th in a series of season previews: Two world premieres and three first-time Chicago stagings form a doubly celebratory season at Steppenwolf Theatre – marking the company’s 40th anniversary and honoring the legacy of its longtime artistic director, Martha Lavey, who stepped down at the end of last season. Steppenwolf opens with the world premiere of Frank Galati’s adaptation of “East of Eden,” John Steinbeck’s sweeping, tumultuous epic novel about family dynamics and fortunes set mainly in California early in the 20th century.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ at Redtwist: Friendly fire at close range, brutal and brilliant

Sep 14, 2015 – 9:07 pm |
Virginia Woolf at Redtwist

Review: Seeing a play at tiny Redtwist Theatre, where a full house of 30 or 40 viewers often encircles the unfolding drama, can be an experience of in-your-face intensity. But the company’s electric burn through Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” takes intensity to a harrowing new place. ★★★★★

Theater 2015-16: Porchlight, in its Chicago style, jumps into season of musicals with ‘Side Show’

Sep 1, 2015 – 6:12 pm |
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Seventh in a series of season previews: Michael Weber, the artistic director at Porchlight Music Theatre, makes no bones about his company being a brash urban Chicago enterprise. That, he says, is why Porchlight’s 2015-16 season opener, a revamped version of the 1997 musical “Side Show,” is going to be special. Then, as if to underscore this true grit, it’s on to another earthy evening with an encore of the company’s Jefferson Award-winning Fats Waller revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Role Playing: Tracy Michelle Arnold debunks madness as force that drives Blanche DuBois

Aug 31, 2015 – 5:55 pm |
Tracy Arnold

Interview: Tracy Michelle Arnold, who portrays a feisty and resourceful Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” at American Players Theatre, doesn’t buy the common perception of this embattled woman as “a crazy person.” Arnold sees Blanche as a scarred fighter who never gives up her struggle to survive, even at the end.

Theater 2015-16: In farewell to Lakeview home, Strawdog maps season with 3 world premieres

Aug 30, 2015 – 12:16 am |
Maggie Scrantom and John Henry Roberts practice a dangerous flirtation in 'After Miss Julie' at Strawdog. (Chris Ocken)

Sixth in a series of season previews: Strawdog Theatre’s 2015-16 season is the last hurrah at its old home up the well-worn stairs on Broadway in the Lakeview neighborhood. While redevelopment will force Strawdog to relocate next year, the season at hand finds the 28-year-old company in peak vigor with plans for seven shows in two full-fledged series. Three world premieres highlight a 2015-16 season that will include four productions on the main stage and three in the company’s intimate Hugen Hall series.

Theater 2015-16: Fearless Redtwist confronts ‘Virginia Woolf’ and takes on a world premiere

Aug 27, 2015 – 10:44 pm |
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf 550

Fifth in a series of season previews: Seven seasons ago, Michael Colucci and Jan Ellen Graves, the married founders and still co-artistic directors of Redtwist Theatre, went at each other as George and Martha, the warring gamers in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” This season they hand over those rhetorical 8-ounce gloves to new sparring mates as Redtwist opens its 2015-16 series with another go at Albee’s dark comedy about love and marriage.

Theater 2015-16: Ever-changeable Hypocrites plan two intense musicals, three dark dramas

Aug 26, 2015 – 9:51 pm |
American Idiot feature image

Fourth in a series of season previews: The Chicago theater company that now appears to be one thing, then slyly becomes completely different (and hence calls itself The Hypocrites), will serve up a typically careening season for 2015-16: two existential musicals framing three plays that peer deeply into the abyss of fate.

Theater 2015-16: American Blues will trumpet three decades with gritty anthem of ‘Rainmaker’

Aug 25, 2015 – 9:55 pm |
The Rainmaker at TimeLine

Third in a series of season previews: Gwendolyn Whiteside, the producing artistic director of American Blues Theater, sees a cosmic – or perhaps the better word is earthly — connection between her company and N. Richard Nash’s play “The Rainmaker,” which opens ABT’s season. “What draws us to ‘The Rainmaker,’” she says, “is its expression of incredible human resilience and the human need for hope.”

Theater 2015-16: It’s an energy surge at TimeLine as timeless Mike Nussbaum opens in ‘The Price’

Aug 24, 2015 – 9:29 pm |
Mike-Nussbaum feature image

Second in a series of season previews: Surveying the scheme of plays, actors and directors for TimeLine Theatre’s 2015-16 season, its 19th, artist director PJ Powers’ voice fills with palpable excitement. The company’s opener, Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” observes the playwright’s 100th birth year – and it stars Chicago’s living legend, Mike Nussbaum, who’s not far behind Miller on that time line.

Theater 2015-16: Reveling in discomfort zone, Profiles leads off with the off-beat ‘Jacksonian’

Aug 23, 2015 – 9:37 pm |
'The Jacksonian' feature image (Profiles Theatre)

First in a series of season previews: Profiles Theatre opens its 27th season with an off-the-wall, grimly humorous, borderline surreal gem of a play fraught with wacky characters and murder, Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian,” that might have been tailored expressly for this devoutly edgy company. It launches a lineup that finds Profiles in its high-intensity groove.

Role Playing: Christopher Donahue, as Ahab, finds sea’s depth in sadness of a vengeful soul

Aug 21, 2015 – 9:48 pm |
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Interview: Christopher Donahue contemplates the weathered, craggy, doggedly vengeful figure of Captain Ahab, the iconic central character of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” whose cosmic persona Donahue brings into vivid focus on the stage at Lookingglass Theatre. And in the driven whale hunter, the actor finds a paradox. “Ahab abides far away from humanity,” Donahue says. “He is as much a creature of the sea as the creature he’s trying to kill. The sea lives in him. I think he believes himself to be as strong and tumultuous as the sea itself.”

‘Pride and Prejudice’ at American Players: Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, with charm and brevity

Aug 19, 2015 – 12:10 am |
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Review: You can’t blame an audience for lapping it up: Skilled and familiar actors playing beloved characters in a story so cherished that everyone can pretty much recite along. But that doesn’t necessarily make for memorable theater. Witness the American Players Theatre stage version of Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” at Spring Green, Wis. ★★★