Disney’s Aladdin First National Tour

Told with a manic staging and tuneful fun dance numbers including the extravaganza show-stopper number “Friends Like Me,” we are impressed, invigorated and entertained. This show is pure glitz with modern pop cultural comic references presented by a cute genie, a charismatic Aladdin and a host of determined supporting players. This is a fluff piece designed to appeal to fans of the animated film yet also designed more for lovers of Broadway musicals. At 2 hours, 30 minutes, Aladdin may not be for all children?

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Marry Me A Little

. Marry Me A Little has been updated with the help and blessing of Sondheim to include songs cut from the final versions of Follies, A Little Night Music and Company among others. Based on a concept from Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, the original idea was filled with songs from early Sondheim projects such as Saturday Night, The Girls of Summer, Evening Primrose and Road Show.

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For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday

As the political, social and economic discussion, fueled by a bottle of Jameson, ignites the sibling rivalry that has long existed in the family heads in a strange direction. Ann remembers playing Peter Pan in Davenport, Iowa in 1958 then meeting Mary Martin. As the children talk about their youth, the question becomes: “When do you really become a grown-up? is there a moment that defines maturity? Or will you, like Peter Pan, “never wear a tie?

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King of Yees

When her father suddenly goes missing, Lauren (Stephenie Soohyun Park) embarks on a search through San Francisco’s Chinatown where she’ll have to embrace the past in order to get her father back. Filled with much humor, appreciated more my the Chinese-Americans in the audience, King of the Yees comes off as a blend of Chinese past traditions and contemporary beliefs. Lauren fights her past and her father yet she must acknowledge her roots to succeed.

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Beyond Caring

Beyond Caring is a naturalistic drama about the plight of temp cleaning crews working for low wages in horrible conditions without benefits in an American factory. Barely surviving and working extremely hard–we see the four mopping floors, scrubbing walls and cleaning manufacturing machines. They barely have proper cleaning equipment, no insurance and no health benefits. They work late night hours with short breaks. This is a gritty portrait of exploited workers.

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Mary Poppins at the Mercury Theatre Chicago

The magic and mystery of Mary Poppins (is she myth or an angel from heaven?) is effectively played by Nicole Arnold while Matthew Crowle’s Bert guides us through the journey of the Banks family’s awakening with panache and a warm smile. We are totally engrossed and richly rewarded having spent a few hours in Poppins’ world where anything can happen if you take a spoonful of sugar. Matthew Crowle anchors this production.

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In To America

One of the most telling traits of this show is the treatment of common men and women, the real immigrants, not the upper-class privileged immigrants who came here with land grants and armies. This presentation is about common folks in their own words. We hear their plights and their desires – and – their problems one they arrived. We realize that discrimination was always a fabric of the American Experience. That fear of new arrivals, especially those who looked different and had different cultures, was hard to assimilate yet somehow they did become “Americans.”

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Born Yesterday

Featuring an impressive set (designed by Grant Dabin), Garson Kanin’s 1946 dark comedy Born Yesterday is a timely cautionary tale about internal threats to our democracy from corrupt businessmen. (sounds familiar?) Kanin’s clever structured story involves a boorish, crude and loudmouthed millionaire junk dealer who descends on Washington, DC just after World War II to bribe a US Senator in a scheme to salvage all the junk metal (from tanks, trucks, and cannons) in Europe scattered around France Belgium and Germany.

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By the Water

By the Water uses the diaster to trigger deep-seated personal problems and how to move forward from them. Times change, people change, loyalties shift but family core values survive as life moves on. With clever dialogue, surprising humor and realistic characters, By the Water is a smart different family drama. Director Cody Estle has his actors nicely rendering their characters blending their angst with humor and passion. This is a wonderful play that needs to be seen.

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Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

The jazz infused music (conducted by Kelly Kuo) was varied, brassy and nicely conveyed the mood of the piece. Brownlee effectively presented the contradictory side of the troubled genius. We see how heroin destroyed Bird that led to his death at age 35. Much of the best arias in the piece came as the women led a long and heartfelt tribute to the fallen composer. This 90 minute chamber opera is a rare treat about a forgotten jazz giant whom youngsters probably don’t know.

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