“Whenever a high-profile theater undertakes the revival of a beloved, oft-staged musical classic, it assumes many risks. Among them is the possibility of the source material failing to connect with a modern audience, or that the given production will fail to say or add anything new. But if there’s one thing Chicago’s artistic community knows about the partnership between Goodman Theatre (Sweat, The Winter’s Tale, The Wolves) and Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman, it’s this: neither party shirks a challenge.
Helming her 16th Goodman production, Ms. Zimmerman offers her visionary take on The Music Man, the timeless tale of a con artist who collectively romances a small town in Iowa – and gets the girl. The musical, with book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, won five Tony Awards during its original Broadway run in the late 1950s and continues to leave a significant imprint on American pop and musical culture. Broadway will be welcoming its own star-studded version with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Fuster in 2020).
Yet Goodman Theatre’s take on The Music Man is not the fusty fodder of 20th Century summer stock. Ms. Zimmerman, her cast and creative team make this abundantly clear in the production’s utterly magical first few minutes. The experience gave me goosebumps, and that’s no small feat considering the scene’s otherwise routine ubiquity in thousands of local productions.”
“By 2012, an institutionally empowered Putin (played here by Red Tape’s Marketing Director, Casey Chapman) was no stranger to taking political prisoners. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an independent commission of the U.S. Federal Government, publishes a short list of people believed to be jailed for political reasons in Russia today. However, most of these incidents failed to garner the international attention that Pussy Riot captured, turning the ‘band’ into a political lightning rod as well as a mass-consumed piece of performance art.
Why, exactly? The play offers a few surface hypotheses (the camera-ready nature of Pussy Riot’s female rebels, renewed distrust between East and West), but isn’t here to soberly judge history. Its mission is to loudly capture the unifying, energizing spirit of mutiny.
We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. does a commendable job of evoking and corralling the chaos. Director Kate Hendrickson untethers her skilled, diverse cast to utilize every inch of space, as well as every body movement and vocal sound to tell a universal story of civilian pushback against Putin’s bizarre interpretation of the nanny/police state. The work offers high-decibel music, mass digital and traditional media, sketch comedy and more than anything, a love letter to the power of the proletariat.”
“The well-cast ensemble executes its broadly stereotypical roles with panache. Trevor Strahan nails his character Matt’s encroaching, The Wolf of Wall Street, seemingly coke-fueled madness. Mr. Strahan is all bug eyes and bulging veins in his expression of the dominant but threatened white male corporate psyche: all panicked, overt misogyny and latent racism. Shanna Sweeney’s Alice, the office’s saintly workhorse, injects her performance with just enough frayed anger to indict the character in the team’s moral and physical collapse.
Most interesting is Jonathan Allsop’s sales newbie Dylan, who devolves from “aw shucks” nice guy to a boorish, patronizing shark in record time. Is this transformation inevitable nature or Trudy-induced nurture? Neither the script nor Mr. Allsop’s performance gives it away.
In an intermissionless 90 minutes, Human Resource(s) morphs from light office comedy to dark absurdity when one of the team members is literally stabbed in the back. There is a whodunit that turns out to be nothing but human self-destruction in the face of real or imagined loss. It takes The Drew Carey Show to Fight Club.
Why so many pop cultural references in this review? Because they all occurred to me as I watched Human Resource(s). There is a fine line between inspiration and derivative, and while the production’s overall experience is successful, it’s a good synthesis of what has come before. Ms. Means’ writing suggests that she has more to say, and it promises to be engagingly original.”
“Younger audience members who’ve come of age in the era of RuPaul’s Drag Race may not immediately recognize Ms. Blakk’s public political crusades as the daring acts of civil disobedience that they were in 1992. To help provide context, the production makes liberal use of historical video footage displayed on old-fashioned tube TVs hung from the Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre ceiling. We are still two years away from President Bill Clinton’s abominable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military service policy, and four years out from the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The AIDS crisis is in full swing and people are dying.
As the candidate representing Queer Nation just four years after Ronald Reagan left the White House, Ms. Blakk and her support team have one real ambition: to get on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, hosted that year in New York City. In a pre-Internet media landscape, global television cameras trained on a man in a dress had the potential to draw significant attention to a modest agenda. In full makeup, tall and dignified, Ms. Blakk goes to New York with a message. The right to life and liberty guaranteed by the American Constitution applies to LGBTQ citizens, too. Those promises have been betrayed by hate, violence and a listless approach to combatting an AIDS epidemic that has legions of America’s finest young men lying in hospital beds.
But no one said important work can’t also be fun. Pulling double duty as writer and lead performer, Tarrell Alvin McCraney has created for himself the role of a lifetime with a semi-fictionalized Ms. Joan Jett Blakk – ‘Two Ts, two Ks.’ Strong, introspective, gifted with song, dance and preternatural stiletto poise, Ms. Blakk’s public bravado is an effective cover for Mr. Smith’s private insecurity, poverty and loss.”
“The Lovable Losers finally ended the sports world’s longest winless streak in 2016 with a long-dreamed-but-never-realized-by-anyone-living World Series trophy. And because nothing about being a Cubs fan is ever easy, the team put its global legion of diehards on an epic, seven-game emotional roller coaster ride that ended in joyous shock, disbelief, and exhausted euphoria. The extra bleary kind that only arrives at 1 a.m., after 108 years of waiting ‘til next year.
The real-life story — from Tinkers to Evers to Chance, to 1945, to the Curse of the Billy Goat, through 1969, 1984 and 2003, and until mercifully, 2016 — is one made for soaring opera: the tears of relief shed by fans old and young, for themselves and for the true believers long departed; the parade that welcomed millions of revelers to downtown Chicago on an unseasonably warm November day that seemed heaven-ordained. There’s so much material and possibility for bringing recent history to vivid narrative life.
Instead, the Royal George offers audiences thirsty to relive the impossible, a pedestrian, disappointing trifle. Miracle, with a book by Jason Brett (co-founder of Chicago’s Apollo Theater), and music and lyrics by Jeff Award-winner Michael Mahler (Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story), makes a few stirring emotional connections. But the production ultimately strikes out by engaging in too much Disneyfication and deus ex machina. The result makes for a bland if well-sung production that perversely siphons away the emotional heft of those fateful events in November 2016.”
“Part of the fun in this Bohemia is that we know more than the silly and angry characters do. We think we can see the story’s ending, and can thus relax and enjoy the show. In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s work, the audience is treated to modern pop cultural breadcrumbs like a cool line dance sequence choreographed by Tommy Rapley, and a joke about the band Queen. Mr. Falls’ production and its 19-member cast invite us all the way in during the show’s second half, after holding us at paranoid arm’s length in Sicilia.
But in a bit of late-career paradigm busting, the Bard throws his audience a science fiction curveball. Or does he? A rushed, climactic ending may leave heads scratching, but after a night to sleep on it, I’ve decided that this is a good thing. Few of Shakespeare’s most famous plays end in mystery. Goodman Theatre’s production of The Winter’s Tale embraces ambiguity with gusto, offering a smartly realized and multi-dimensional realization of one of Shakespeare’s most cryptic works.”
“The global immediacy of man-made climate change, the consumptive guilt of the Baby Boomer generation and a renewed confrontation with an old, complicated love triangle. Any one of these themes is more than enough for a production that runs an hour and 45 minutes (no intermission). Steppenwolf Theatre’sThe Children is, therefore, too much in all the right ways.
Written by dynamic young playwright Lucy Kirkwood (a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature’s “40 Under 40” initiative) and directed by celebrated Chicago theater director Jonathan Berry, The Children is the important, funny, socially conscious gut punch I didn’t know I needed.
A 2018 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, The Children opens per press materials, “on a summer evening in an isolated sea cottage in the East of England.” Due to perfectly understated work from scenic designer Chelsea M. Warren, lighting designer Lee Fiskness and sound designer Andre Pluess, this looks and sounds idyllic.
Audiences learn rather quickly, however, that the enviable bohemian lifestyle of married former nuclear scientists Hazel (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Robin (Yasen Peyankov) is not what it seems. What we witness instead is England’s answer to Chernobyl and two of its architects. Though long retired with four grandchildren and literally vapored dreams of operating an organic farm, the couple’s individual habits communicate a suppressed culpability. Hazel, pushing 70, goes all in on the cult of salads and yoga as the keys to eternal life, as Robin retreats to their abandoned farm to bury dead animals, absorb radiation and weep in peace. Intense stuff.”