By Denis O’ Hare & Lisa Peterson
Based on Homer’s The Iliad
Translated by Robert Fagles
Directed by Charles Newell
At Court Theatre, Chicago
One of the many remarkable things about Timothy Edward Kane’s riveting performance of Homer’s The Iliad is his nimble ability to both reach the depths of despair and the jubilation as the Poet who tells the story of the mythical ten-year Trojan War. Kane’s performance is a major theatrical triumph as he glides through 90 minutes of verbal dexterity that includes speaking in classical Greek, delivering Homer’s lines (translated by Robert Fagles), and adding modern references as extemporized comments to give contemporary relevance to the epic poem.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Book by James Goldman
Directed by Gary Griffin
Kudos to the fabulous Chicago cast members and to director Gary Griffin for mounting a world-class production of Follies. Congratulations to Stephan Sondheim for his pastiche of Broadway show tunes from the Follies Era (Sondheim defines pastiche as “Fond imitations, unlike parodies or satires, which make comment on the work or the style being imitated.”) Lastly, to Chicago Shakespeare Theater for spending whatever it took to mount a costume and set rich production. We can hope that each year, Chicago Shakespeare Theater will mount a seldom-done Broadway musical.
By Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropulos
At Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
Although there are a lot of politics in this play, at its heart George III is about the human condition, the humanity of the “divine” monarch. Four different doctors try to cure the ailment, all using the brutal medical practices of the time; three have no effect, but the fourth may (or may not – George says it was time that cured him). It is a remarkable play; one is reminded of Lear – a fact that does not escape Bennett: he has the King and his men read a scene from the play during his recovery. There is a plethora of powerful monologues and powerful moments.
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Michael Halberstam
At Writers’ Theatre
But it is Stoppard’s characters that are so fascinating and really drive this play. Henry is clever, flippant, glib, but moreover an absolute romantic. He is obsessed with trite 60s pop music. He does not listen to the angry, populist, buzzsaw music of his day. He listens to sappy, romantic ballads from a better, simpler time, when there was a possibility that love, that “our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”
5. My Fair Lady
Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s
Directed & Choreographed by Jim Corti
Music direction by Shawn Stengel
At Paramount Theatre, Aurora
Leave it to Jim Corti to open the new Broadway series of musicals at the wonderful 1800 seat Paramount Theatre in Aurora with a major production of the finest Broadway musical ever- My Fair Lady! With a cast of 31 and a 22 member orchestra , Corti has established an exquisite standard of excellence for his new Broadway series. His production is a sumptuous, funny, witty and romantic take on Edwardian English society filled with colorful costumes, memorable songs and marvelous preferences. Corti’s production is equal, if not a tad finer, than the major national tour that played in Chicago a few years ago.
By Lee Hall
Inspired by a book by William Feaver
Directed by BJ Jones
At TimeLine Theatre
Hilarious yet poignant drama about artistic meaning an expression emerges as wonderful theatre.
“Art makes something possible that wasn’t there before.”
When told that there is no secret to art, Harry says: “If there’s not a secret—how come we don’t knaa what’s gannin’ on?”
They come to be known as the Ashington Group of pitmen painters. The eccentric group consists of George Brown (the officious William Dick), Oliver Kilbourn (Dan Weller in a emotionally strong fine turn), Harry Wilson (James Houton), Jimmy Floyd (the hilarious Steven Pringle) and the Young Lad who observes (Jordan Brown). These miners quickly embrace Robert Lyon’s lessons by putting their working class raw personal instincts on their canvasses. Using Mike Tutaj’s video projections that illustrate actual works by the Pitmen Painters, we see each of their art works and we appreciate the critiques by Lyon and each other.
7. Sweeney Todd
A Musical Thriller
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell
Music Direction by Roberta Duchak
Killer performances in musical thriller
If ever a play deserved a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation, it was the mesmerizing opening night production of Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane. For a moment, the audience sat silent, stunned, and then rose to its feet, almost in unison, to cheer performance and performers.
Why is such a murderous story so compelling? The same question might be asked about many of Shakespeare’s plays – most especially Hamlet and Othello. And the answer is the same: when a body of work is in the hands of a brilliant artist, the end result transcends the individual facts. The whole becomes far more than the sum of its parts. The result is a masterpiece, a Tony Award winner.
Hedi Stillman and Andrew White
Directed by David Kersnar
At Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago
Moving Holocaust love story depicts a spirited woman in her life defining moment
Told as a memory play from the 87 year old Lilith Fisher (then know as Lilka Kadison), we meet the tough-as-nails old lady living in a cluttered California apartment. Marilyn Dodds Frank gives a funny, yet poignant performance as the ghost haunted sickly Lilith. Her caregiver, Menelik Kahn, Pakistani immigrant (played with humorous aplomb by Usman Ally) tries to get Lilith to both take her meds and let him clear up her house from all the clutter. Lilith is feisty as she drifts into remembrances brought on by the ghost of her first love- Ben Ari Adler (the charmingly charismatic Chance Bone).
A folk opera by George Gershwin, DuBose
and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin
Directed by Charles Newell
Music and New Orchestrations by Doug Peck
At Court Theatre, Chicago
Brilliance of Gershwin’s score in terrific hands with Newell, Peck and a great cast with their re-imagined Porgy and Bess
It features George Gershwin’s magnum opus with stirring score that includes innovative synthesis of European orchestral techniques with American jazz and folk music idioms with elements of gospel and Jewish religious music. The 1935 American folk opera has a controversial history and was ahead of its time yet George Gershwin’s score was never scorned. Based on DuBose Heyward’s novel, Porgy, the Gershwins and the Heywards spent time in the island based Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina researching the Gullah dialect – the sense of community including their African influences and superstitions. The result is a complex storytelling fueled by the rich Gershwin score that necessitates a superb cast of actor-singers. That is exactly what Newell and Peck has achieved in their fabulous production of Porgy and Bess.
10. 42nd Street
Music by Harry Warren
Lyrics by Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble
Directed by Rachel Rockwell
Music direction by Doug Peck
Choreographed by Tammy Mader
At Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
“Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet on the Avenue I’m Taking You to -42nd Street!”
Based on the 1933 film that saved Warner Brothers studio, producer David Merrick , believing that the 1980 nostalgia craze, decided to mount 42nd Street on stage. Directed by Gower Champion with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, 42nd Street became an extravaganza not seen on Broadway in decades. From the show’s opening that featured 40 dancers to the terrific energetic show-stoppers, Merrick’ concept led to a run of 3,486 performances. People love tap shows! The 2001 revival of 42nd Street ran for 1524 performances followed by a successful national tour and several worthy regional productions at Candlelight, Drury Lane and Marriott in Chicago.
Kudos to Marriott Theatre for remounting 42nd Street! Great classical Broadway Musicals need to be produced every few years so that the next generation can enjoy the art form. Director Rachel Rockwell and choreographer Tammy Mader have mounted a slick, splashy, spirited production of the quintessential backstage musical fable. 42nd Street is a pure 1930′s style musical about how an ingenue saved a major new musical just before the first preview.
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