Below are what I consider the “best of the best” of 2012
1. The Iceman Cometh
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Robert Falls
At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago
“Honey, has the iceman come yet? “No, but he’s breathin’ real hard!” -famous vaudeville joke
Brilliant, stunning production of one of the finest American plays, The Iceman Cometh, is a major triumph for the Goodman Theatre
In one of most engaging, often funny, poignantly powerful dramas – The Iceman Cometh – proves that Eugene O ‘Neill was the finest American playwright. His 1939, drink -infested drama that found optimism and pessimism coexisting in a state of “hopeless hope,” is set in 1912 in Harry Hope’s rooming house bar – a place know as “the No Chance Saloon,” “the End of the Line Cafe ” and “the Bottom of the Sea Rathskeller!” Using an aptly dreary set (designed by Kevin Depinet) to show several views of the place, we find a group of drunken misfits thirsting for the arrival of Hickey (Nathan Lane) – the charismatic traveling salesman whose raucous presence seems to ensure a good time by all as his drinks and cash flow freely.
2. Angels in America (Parts I and II)
Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Charles Newell
At Court Theatre, Chicago
A Sweeping Epic of Grand Themes and Intimate Portraits.
(Note: This review will be a melding of two reviews for both Parts I and II of Angels in America.)
One of the most revered plays of the 20th century gets a world-class production at Court Theatre’s revival of Tony Kushner’s magnum opus Angels in America. Subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, it’s technically a diptych, “Part 1: Millenium Approaches” and “Part 2: Perestroika.” With a masterful direction and powerhouse cast, it’s a rare show that meshes on every level. No detail is overlooked—from casting to lighting to scenery—Angels maintains remarkable clarity for a work of such multilayer complexity and nuance. Exploring the peculiar zeitgeist of America in the mid-1980’s, it focuses on the seismic shifts of a country with a severe identity crisis fitfully attempting to live up to its own expectations and pulls them out into a timeless story with important lessons for any age.
Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo
Adapted by Nick Stafford
in association with handspring Puppet Company
Directed by Bijan Sheibani
Based on the original direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Awe-inspiring and technical masterpiece awaits with WarHorse
There are many ways to appreciate WarHorse, the Play. A viewing of the Spielberg film and/or reading the novel by Michael Morpugo will cover the grand spectacle of Devon, England and war-torn France in WWI. Both, especially the film, are breathtakingly real. But the genius of the wonderful staging of the play lies in the blend of fine sets (by Rae Smith), vivid sound (by Christopher Shutt), lighting (by Paule Constable) with the fabulous video projections (by 59 Productions) with the amazing use of 8 x 10 ft. life-sized puppet horses (designed by Adrain Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company). Add a terrific ensemble of actors led by Andrew Veenstra as Albert, the boy who trains and befriends Joey, the horse and WarHorse becomes a major theatrical triumph not seen on stage in Chicago since The Lion King. The horse puppets with a game goose and many birds became empathetic characters in Warhorse. It is fair to say that Joey, the horse is the lead character.
4. Show Boat at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
In a New production
Music by Jerome Kern
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the Novel Show Boat by Edna Ferber
Directed by Francesca Zambello
Conductor: John DeMain
Choreographer: Michele Lynch
At The Lyric Opera of Chicago
Show Boat is a triumph as it blends the best of opera tradition with musical theatre in a truly American songfest
I have seen several terrific productions of Show Boat including the Hal Prince production that played at the Auditorium Theatre in 1994-95. But I must say that Francesa Zambello and the creative folks at the Lyric Opera of Chicago need to be proud of their triumphant rendering of the 1927 classic. Their Show Boat has all the freshness and rich operetta tone of the original yet it still resonates today. The original orchestrations and the blending of full-voiced opera stars with the cream of “A” list Chicago musical comedy and stage actors gave depth and full character development to the classic operetta/Broadway musical.
5. A Little Night Music
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by William Brown
Music Direction by Valerie Maze
At Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe
Elegant, charming, superbly sung intimate chamber operetta – A Little Night Music – unfolds as a sumptuous celebration of romance
Writers’ Theatre’s intimate space on Tudor Court in Glencoe is the perfect venue for Stephen Sondheim’s gem of a chamber operetta, A Little Night Music. With a cast of superb actors with gorgeous voices, director William Brown’s musical soars to the heavens. It is so refreshing to hear every word enunciated and sang so fully in character exuding all the wit, cynicism of 1900 Sweden without any amplification. Yes, it is possible to mount a musical without mics – but – it takes singers who can belt and project. This cast sure does – and – they produce wonderful harmonies and coral work as needed.
6. Hank Williams: Lost Highway
By Randal Myler & Mark Harelik
Music & Lyrics by Hank Williams, Sr.
Directed by Julie Ritchey & Omen Sade
Produced by Filament Theatre Ensemble
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Hillbilly music comes alive as Peter Oyloe, in a tour de force performance, channels Hank Williams through his short but tuneful life
Filament Theatre Ensemble’s production is a fun filled fast paced that both captures the life and times of Williams and deftly presents Country & Western music in a toe-tapping musical treat.
The show hinges on Peter Oyloe who plays Hank Williams. Oyloe doesn’t disappoint. He give an amazingly truthful tour de force performance. Peter Oyloe demonstrates his vocal range as he channels Hank Willimas style – twang and yodel included. His strong voice contains all the angst and heartfelt emotion that Williams’ songs contained.
7. Sunday in the Park with George
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Gary Griffin
Music direction by Brad Haak
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
Musical connects all the dots
When a brilliant, innovative work of art inspires an equally brilliant theatrical experience, the resulting masterpiece is not to be missed.
No one who has seen Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with Georgewill ever view the Art Institute’s famous Seurat painting in quite the same way. In fact, the painting itself becomes a character in the play — reflecting time and mood as lighting plays on it, shifting shadows. Pointillist painting and pointed play come to life simultaneously as each tree and figure in that famous park emerges on the huge theater backdrop.
8. Long Days Journey Into Night
By Eugene O’ Neill
Directed by Nathaniel Swift
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Fabulous actor’s showcase production of one of the great American plays is a “Must See”
Considered by many (this writer included) as the greatest American playwright, Eugene O’ Neill (1888- 1953) was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Drama and 4 Pulitzer Prizes. His works were influenced by Chekhov, Ibsen and Strinberg moving American drama into the world of realism as they were populated by fringe characters speaking in vernacular of the time and locale. O’ Neill’s characters struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations, but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair. Using his life experiences, O’ Neill’s writing was often poetic, deeply introspective and gloomy. His only comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, was successfully mounted in the past year by Eclipse Theatre as part of their “One playwright – One Season.”
9. Faith Healer
By Brian Friel
Directed by J. R. Sullivan
At The Den Theatre, Chicago
“Faith healer–faith healing. A craft without an apprenticeship, a ministry without responsibility, a vocation without a ministry. . .occasionally it worked. . .And when it did, when I stood before a man and placed my hands on him and watched him become whole in my presence, those were nights of exultation, of consummation. . .because the questions that undermined my life then became meaningless and because I know that for those few hours I had become whole in myself, and perfect in myself. . .” — Frank Hardy, Faith Healer
Powerful memory play is a remount of of the successful 1995 production
I told everyone I knew (before I became a reviewer) about the fabulous 1995 TurnAround Theatre production of Faith Healer that moved to Steppenwolf’s upstairs theatre in another successful run. The play garnered raves and awards as it mesmerized Chicago audiences with the power of Irish storytelling. With one of the finest cast of “A” list Chicago actors, Brian Friel’s masterwork is in fine hands. Every actor should see this production to learn much about their craft from three dedicated actors. Faith Healer is one of the great Irish plays penned by the master living Irish scribe.
10. Operetta’s Greatest Hits
Conceived by Michael Kotze and Roger Bingaman
Music Direction by Marta Johnson
Stage Director/Choreographer: Rudy Hogenmiller
Produced by Light Opera Works
At Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago
Dazzling singing propels the operetta songbook
Kudos to the creatives at Light Opera Works for creating a revue of the finest songs from Viennese, Berlin, London, and American operettas. These wonderful songs can easily stand on their own devoid of plot. They range from waltzes, ballads, polkas, and marches contain lush music and fine lyrics; romance, frivolous encounters, often satirical, and sentimental tones prevail. These short, light musical pieces have spoken libretto yet feature classically trained opera singers. Beginning in the 1840′s, operetta became popular in Europe and America.