Hamilton—CIBC Theater (10/4/2017)

Before I reveal my reactions to Hamilton, I’ll share a quick anecdote. I bought my ticket in July, and the best I could manage three months in advance was a restricted-view box seat for full price. Meanwhile, a group from my school coincidentally chose the same night to attend with students. Work generally seeps into every aspect of my life, so I hold theater as my one mecca for separation. Knowing 75 students would be in the theater filled me with a bit of anxiety—but since I could not ask the students to go another day, I decided to keep a low profile. Keep my head down; arrive just a minute before the curtain. That failed! Within seconds I was spotted. I received a text which indicated, to my surprise, that the students mistook the “Lincoln seats” as being a place for minor celebrities, and their excitement in seeing me in one was “palpable.”

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Miguel Cervantes as Alexander Hamilton (with cast).

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Hamilton—CIBC Theater (10/4/2017)

Sweeney Todd—Paramount (3/3/2017)

Quentin Tarantino and Stephen Sondheim. An unlikely pairing, yet appropriate considering both artists’ pinnacle accomplishments are tales of violent, bloody revenge.

Tarantino spoke to me on the commentary track of Kill Bill when he said that revenge was the only motivation necessary for a movie—in the case of Kill Bill, two brilliant movies clocking in at over four combined hours.

This being a theater blog, my focus is Sweeney Todd, recently revived in a stellar production at Aurora’s Paramount Theater. Is Sweeney Sondheim’s best work? For most of my life I would have said Into the Woods, a soundtrack I learned by heart after my first viewing at the Marriott in 1990. Sweeney, in contrast, has never been a musical that I could sing along with, but with each successive viewing I am increasingly mesmerized by Sweeney’s plight.

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Paul-Jordan Jansen

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Sweeney Todd—Paramount (3/3/2017)

The Scene – Writer’s Theater (3/30/17)

In a four-character show like The Scene, usually each character will have his/her moment in the spotlight. That spotlight might include an extensive monologue or a critical decision which not only changes the direction of the plot but also explores his/her depth as a character. One character might start as the villain and another as the most sympathetic character, but those perceptions will shift as the show progresses. Above all else, the playwright tries to introduce us to complex, realistic people; then the playwright allows the fireworks to explode as the characters interact in different pairings.

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Deanna Myers, Mark L. Montgomery and La Shawn Banks

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The Scene – Writer’s Theater (3/30/17)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch—Oriental (3/16/17)

The fall of the Berlin Wall inspires one of the most striking images from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The stage goes black following the searing, heavy metal song “Angry Inch,” and when the lights fade in, Hedwig stares straight into space. And the audience laughs—not out of cruelty, but because, as Hedwig says, “I laugh, because I would cry if I don’t.”

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Euan Morton performs “Tear Me Down.”

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch—Oriental (3/16/17)

Love’s Labor’s Lost—Chicago Shakespeare (2/18/17)

Love’s Labor’s Lost has held a mythical place in my memory for the past 25 years—in large part because it was the first Shakespearean play I saw produced professionally.

I was 13, and my family drove to Stratford, Canada, to take in three shows at the annual theater festival. Our docket included Romeo and Juliet and HMS Pinafore, but the show I was most excited about was Love’s Labor’s Lost. The plot line (as described in festival’s brochure) was so intriguing. Four friends (including a King) swear off women and all other pleasures of life for three years so they can isolate themselves in study… only to have four women (including the Princess of France) show up at their door on the first night of their pact.

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Madison Niederhauser, Nate Burger, John Tufts & Julian Hester

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Love’s Labor’s Lost—Chicago Shakespeare (2/18/17)

Gloria—Goodman (1/25/17)

We can all scratch “Get a job in the publishing industry” off of our list of life goals.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria begins at an unnamed New York magazine, and as usual the Goodman sets tell a story of their own. A pod of four cubicles sits center stage surrounded by offices isolated by closed doors and fogged glass. The offices belong to the editors; the cubicles belong to their assistants. The message is clear—privacy is one component of status.

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(left to right) Kyle Beltran, Ryan Spahn, Catherine Combs and Jennifer Kim

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Gloria—Goodman (1/25/17)

Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth — Lookingglass (12/28/16)

Before seeing Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth at the Lookingglass, I assumed that my tendency to mourn out-of-print books was unique. Take, for example, Sweet Pickles. This series of children’s books focused on a town populated by 26 animal characters—Angry Alligator, Bashful Bear, Creative Camel, and so on—each with his/her own book. My father ordered these books through a subscription, and we received one in the mail every two months. I learned to read with Sweet Pickles. I attribute my love of maps to the hours I spent studying the town map attached to the back endpaper of each book.* What has happened to Doubtful Dog, Enormous Elephant, and Fearless Fish? They live on in my memory, but they become a little more translucent each time one of their few-remaining books is discarded. Someday, I realize, they will simply disappear.

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Samuel Taylor (in silhouette) and Lindsey Noel Whiting

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Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth — Lookingglass (12/28/16)