Wonderful Town

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Jordan Brown (Wreck), Kristin Villanueva (Helen), Bri Sudia (Ruth) and Lauren Molina (Eileen)

 

Last year I went with a close friend to see a staging of “Carousel” at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. A rare Broadway turn for the famous venue, I was excited by the certain high-quality production values as well as a first viewing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

Oh the misogyny! I should have read the script before purchasing a ticket. I was not on critic duty that evening, just trying to enjoy a civilian evening at the theater. And I understand that the material was adapted in 1945 — certainly a different time for American gender relations. I can appreciate that perspective, but I’m just the wrong cat to indulge the sexist horror that is Billy Bigelow — in life and in death. While my pal wept at the production’s well-acted emotional denouement, I wanted to break the third wall for a serious feminist discussion with Julie Jordan.

So when I accepted an invitation to see and review “Wonderful Town,” the latest Mary Zimmerman-helmed production at the Goodman Theatre, I braced myself. The 1953 Tony Award-winner for Best Book of a Musical features 20 songs created by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. The music almost guaranteed to win, I scoffed at the brief plot synopsis. “Two sisters, one city, unlimited possibilities.”

Let me guess: another dated New York love story. Two female siblings, one beautiful and destined for great love, the other creative and intelligent but certainly a supporting character overlooked by the opposite gender. Each woman bound to be defined by male relationships.

I’m eating my prejudices as I type, washing down the cynicism with a refreshing glass of water. Because “Wonderful Town” was — and remains — a creation ahead of its time. Imagine if Lucy and Ethel were unmarried, career ambitious and in possession of more love and loyalty for one another than any man could equal. Think “Sex and the City,” post-WWII style (without the sex).

This is the story of elder sister Ruth, a budding fiction writer and reporter, and Eileen, an ingénue yearning for her big performance break. Director Zimmerman places the action in 1950s Greenwich Village rather the original Depression-era and it’s a great choice. Distant from post-1929 panic with its physical and cultural hunger, Set Designer Todd Rosenthal gives us a dreamlike, cotton candy land of artistic community. Yet the pieces remain functional and when necessary, convey the grime of a working class Big Apple.

What’s not grimy at all are the gorgeous costumes from Designer Ana Kuzamanic. The flounce and color are a perfect match for the rotating set. Even the frumpiest chorus characters are infused with enchanting whimsy.

It would be misleading however, to interpret all the fun shades and soft lighting as a statement of one-dimensional simplicity. No indeed. Ruth (Bri Sudia) and Eileen (Lauren Molina) are much more than their humble Midwestern roots and wide-eyed city freshness imply. They may wonder in song why oh why-o they ever left “Ohio,” but these gritty girls aren’t afraid of a little rejection, mansplaining or even jail time, in their determination to make it.

With delight it eventually dawned on me that Ruth is the main character of “Wonderful Town.” Infused with the power of the pen and far from man hungry, Ruth routinely sets her pride aside in the quest for a good story or better opportunity. I have already said that this work is ahead of its time. Spoiler alert: though she does end up paired with a partner, it’s one who needs her far more than she depends on him.

The soundtrack is delightful, no surprise given the Bernstein legend. Standouts include “One Hundred Easy Ways,” a humorous look at female empowerment as a detractor for the conventional man, and “Pass the Football,” a prescient treatise on celebrity culture.

At over two and a half hours with one brief intermission, “Wonderful Town” is on the longish side. However time flies with all the visual, audio and performance stimulus keeping the audience moving. It’s not a perfect show and there’s certainly some standard musical comedy deus ex machina to tidy the ending. That’s about the only convention viewers will find. Enjoy the precocious, lovely ride.

“Wonderful Town” runs through Oct. 23 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.

 

2016’s Biggest Electoral Casualty: The Media’s Integrity

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“Lies, fear mongering and discreditable boasting right out of the gate. And the media let him get away with it, treating Trump as the serious candidate he never was because man, the story was just too good. He’d never actually secure the Republican nomination, right? There would be plenty of time to course correct and cover the campaign with the gravitas that deciding upon the next Leader of the Free World deserves.

Except that never happened. And mainstream “journalism” has showed itself to be more than a recorder of events over the last 14 months. The industry has flat-out enabled, and in many cases, encouraged, a permanent blight on our political history.”

Read the full post for Contemptor.

Cubs Give Fans the Greatest Gift: Time

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“The Cubs’ first playoff match doesn’t happen until October 7. There are weeks left of the MLB’s regular season – 19 days of joyous, easygoing rest. The Cubs are the best team in baseball and with few exceptions, these guys are an endearing, likeable bunch. I’m just shy of middle age but well-read and acquainted with many a senior fan. There’s never been a better year to be a member of Wrigleyville Nation.

The playoffs and their requisite nail-biting, restless tension will be here soon enough. Let’s try something new, shall we Cub fans? Let’s enjoy the triumph and continue to embrace the target. There’s no reason to disregard Manager Extraordinaire Joe’s Maddon’s directive, stressing about events that haven’t yet occurred. I write these words for myself as much as the other anxiety-riddled citizens of Cubs Nation.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Missing in Action: The Week’s Overlooked News Stories

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We’re back! The BeckySarwate.com Team took a break from this feature over the summer. But with the runup to the November 8 presidential election in full swing, we figured some worthy stories are bound to fall through the cracks. We’re here to help draw attention to the serious, silly and uplifting news items you might have missed this week…

Muslim woman set on fire in suspected hate crime

While Donald Trump has been haranguing Hillary Clinton after her now-famous “basket of deplorables” comment, a disturbing trend of attacks against Muslims continues. One can’t overlook the possible connection between Trump, his hateful rhetoric and proposed ban on Muslims and these misguided vigilantes. Back in August, an Imam and his assistant were murdered near a Mosque in New York City. This week’s hate crime once again took place in New York City when a woman wearing a traditional head covering had her garments set on fire outside a high-end clothing store. The BeckySarwate.com Team members are rabid consumers of cable news, and Trump’s quest for apology after Clinton’s accurate description of some of his supporters has been given exponentially more coverage than this crime. Once again, the media should be ashamed of themselves and its skewed priorities.

NCAA bans North Carolina from championship events

So called ‘religious liberty laws’  have been a hot topic for much of 2016. In fact, prior to the summer hiatus, this weekly feature highlighted the consequences facing the state of Georgia over this very issue.  Apparently North Carolina learned nothing from their neighbor to the south. How is it that certain states refuse to wake up and realize segregation is bad for business and for humanity? Oh, and they also refuse to acknowledge that the civil rights movement happened and was largely successful. It’s time for members of a certain political party to move on and accept that humans are humans. Period.

ABC execs apparently didn’t get the memo that people don’t like Ryan Lochte 

Our team experienced a collective jaw-dropping shock when the cast list for Season 23 of Dancing With the Stars was announced earlier this month. Ryan Lochte? Really? The d-bag who very recently concocted an absurd (read: totally made up) robbery story during the Olympic Games in Rio? The guy who, at the time of his casting, hadn’t yet been handed his punishment for creating international tension by the United States Olympic Committee? Ultimately he received a 10-month ban from the sport. Lochte disgraced this fine nation at the competetive level when we’re already grappling with enough humiliation from The Orange One. Yes indeed, this is who ABC figured would make a fine and popular contestant for their long-running celebrity entertainment program. It seems we weren’t the only ones to object. Click the link above for some semi-hilarious evidence that Lochte is not exactly America’s Sweetheart.

New York Fashion Week makes history 

This week’s feel-good story comes at a time when divisiveness seems to be the norm. Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan debuted her collection this week with models wearing hijab, thumbing her nose at those who protest the modest religious garb. It’s enough that she shared this message of inclusiveness at her first ever NYFW show, but the more touching story is the reaction from the crowd. The display concluded with a standing ovation, something the event’s press manager has never seen in all her years in the industry. We are all about trail-blazing, strong women at BeckySarwate.com and this gal has stolen our hearts.

Obama Says What Clinton Can’t And The Media Won’t

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“Hillary Clinton has to be so careful with everything she says, every look that she gives, it’s quite a marvel she’s avoided agoraphobia over three decades of public service. The pressure and double standards would cause others to crack. But Hillary is nothing if not a fighter and she also has a not-so-secret weapon in her arsenal: POTUS.

In the final weeks before November 8, Team Clinton has vowed to focus on positive messages, pivoting away from haranguing Trump – however deserved. But as she recovered at home from pneumonia this week, Barack Obama had no problem stepping up in her absence. He’s been forcefully critical of Trump throughout campaign season. Earlier this week he reminded America of exactly why he won two terms and continues to enjoy high approval ratings.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.