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‘The Audience’ at TimeLine: Enduring queen receives her ministers with rubber stamp, wit

Oct 23, 2017 – 9:09 am

Review: Janet Ulrich Brooks reigns supreme as Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s play “The Audience” at TimeLine Theatre. The poised, circumspect, droll and ever so slightly vulnerable performance by one of Chicago’s most versatile actresses provides the constant heart in an otherwise uneven enterprise. The springboard for Morgan’s sly work is the historical Tuesday meetings between the Queen and the prime minister of the moment – a succession of politicos from Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden down through the decades to Tony Blair and David Cameron. ★★★

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Role Playing: Lawrence Grimm found Lincoln first in pages of history, then within himself

Oct 20, 2017 – 1:03 pm

Even in the throes of war, Lincoln (Lawrence Grimm) keeps his family close. (Evan Hanover)

Interview: The tall actor says he needed to sharpen his wits to keep up with icon of “Heavens Are Hung in Black’ at Shattered Globe.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Lawrence Grimm stands 6 feet 4 inches tall – the same height as Abraham Lincoln. It wasn’t height that worried Grimm when he took on his nuanced and profoundly human portrayal of Lincoln in James Still’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black” at Shattered Globe Theatre. What concerned the actor were the iconic dimensions of the 16th president, the towering figure whose wisdom would guide the nation through its greatest crisis. Read the full story »

Theater as crucible: Two Arthur Miller classics bridge high peaks of Goodman, Steppenwolf

Oct 19, 2017 – 10:16 am
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Review: If you have not yet seen both “A View from the Bridge” at Goodman Theatre and “The Crucible” at Steppenwolf Theatre – well, it’s Miller time. These are mesmerizing productions of two of Arthur Miller’s finest plays, and impressive reminders of why Goodman and Steppenwolf hold such eminent places on Chicago’s – indeed, the nation’s – theater scene. Each of these parallel runs has only a handful of performances remaining. Together, they make for a stunning one-two theatrical punch. Both ★★★★★

‘Rigoletto’ at the Lyric Opera: Not for the eye, but it’s a triple treat vocally, and that’s no jest

Oct 10, 2017 – 8:31 pm
10/4/17 1:17:13 PM -- Lyric Opera Chicago Presents 
Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto 

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: Thanks to the vocally resplendent and emotionally engaged performances by baritone Quinn Kelsey as the hateful and paranoid court jester Rigoletto, soprano Rosa Feola as his sheltered and naïve daughter Gilda and tenor Matthew Polenzani as the sexually predatory Duke of Mantua, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s take on Verdi’s “Rigoletto” pays significant rewards as psychological drama. But this bleak, objectified production created 20 years ago for the San Francisco Opera with sets by Michael Yeargan – and directed here by E. Loren Meeker – all but nullifies the work as theater. ★★★

Louis Lortie keys on the virtuosity of Liszt’s vivid, peripatetic life as a Romantic artist

Oct 10, 2017 – 4:22 pm
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Review: The Symphony Center piano series opened Oct. 8 with an astounding concert by the French Canadian pianist Louis Lortie devoted entirely to Liszt’s masterful “Années de pèlerinage.” This was a rare and ravishing performance evoking Liszt’s years of pilgrimage as an itinerant virtuoso. Throughout the two halves of the concert you could hear a pin drop in Orchestra Hall.

‘Taming of the Shrew’ at Chicago Shakespeare translates romp of an era into modern comedy

Oct 8, 2017 – 6:33 pm
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Review: On the surface, the idea of an all-female cast for Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” smacks of gimmickry. Framing the story within a contrivance about the women’s campaign in 1919 for the right to vote sounds downright tormented. But “The Taming of the Shrew,” for modern audiences the most problematic entry in the Shakespeare canon, surely has not been brought to the stage with greater wit, brilliance or plausibility since – oh, since women got the right to vote. ★★★★★

‘The Heavens Are Hung in Black’: In predawn of Emancipation, Lincoln suffers war and loss

Oct 2, 2017 – 4:25 pm
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Review: Chicago’s young theater season has raised the curtain on a genuine sleeper: a gem of a play, James Still’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black,” produced by a little company, Shattered Globe Theatre, on a tiny stage at Theatre Wit. At the center of a splendid ensemble effort is Lawrence Grimm’s exquisite and wholly credible portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. ★★★★

Muti and Chicago Symphony set the bar high for new season in stellar Bruckner, Schumann

Sep 30, 2017 – 9:14 am
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Review: I caught up belatedly with the Chicago Symphony’s season-opening program under music director Riccardo Muti – a spritz of modernism in Penderecki’s “The Awakening of Jacob,” soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s spell-binding flight through the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Muti’s revelatory account of Schumann’s Second Symphony — then two nights later heard the program that continues through Oct. 1: the world premiere of CSO resident composer Elizabeth Ogonek’s alluring “All These Lighted Things” and perhaps the greatest performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony that I’ve witnessed in 50 years as a critic.

Lyric Opera, in stylish step with Joffrey Ballet, dances into new season with Gluck’s ‘Orphée’

Sep 26, 2017 – 2:48 pm

Review: My first reaction to the sublime Elysium Fields scene in “Orphée et Eurydice,” as conceived by John Neumeier for the Chicago Lyric Opera, was that I was actually looking at Gluck’s music — that I was “seeing” the sound, so perfectly twinned were the diaphanous movements of the dancers to the serene music representing spirits in afterlife. My second reaction was that Neumeier knows his Freud. With plenty of insight and practical know-how, he has crafted a brilliant contemporary scheme for this 1774 Paris version of Gluck’s opera, which draws from the ancient myth of Orphée’s rescue attempt in the underworld. ★★★★★

‘The Rembrandt’ at Steppenwolf: Ruminating on the golden linkage of art and life and love

Sep 23, 2017 – 2:45 pm
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Review: Jessica Dickey’s play “The Rembrandt” is a thing of great spiritual beauty, but Francis Guinan’s performance – you might say in the title role – at Steppenwolf Theatre bears out the imperative of another character in the play, Homer: that poetry must be spoken aloud. Guinan takes Dickey’s eloquent and insightful text to a transcendent place. ★★★★★

Chicago Shakespeare opens versatile venue with (French) accent on timeless circus gags

Sep 21, 2017 – 5:15 pm
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Review: One might have hoped for an imaginative Shakespeare production from, well, Chicago Shakespeare Theater to inaugurate its new $35 million venue. But CST opted for the entertainment of French circus veteran James Thierrée’s “The Toad Knew.” His superb company of physical comedians provided a delightful hour in a show that ran nearly twice that length, sans break. ★★★

‘Pericles’ at American Players: Through crazy accents, keeping the Bard’s rhyme and reason

Sep 18, 2017 – 9:19 am
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Review: To use Shakespeare and farce in the same sentence is almost certainly to think of “The Comedy of Errors,” and maybe patches of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Probably not, however, the late romantic adventure tale “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” But it is precisely a generous infusion of over-the-top silliness that makes such endearing stuff of “Pericles” at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★

Chicago Shakespeare set to unveil The Yard, flexible $35 million theater at Navy Pier site

Sep 15, 2017 – 3:14 pm
The Yard

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater opens its new, innovative third theater on Navy Pier, The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, …

Role Playing: Cristina Panfilio spreads wings she didn’t know she had as midsummer Puck

Sep 7, 2017 – 10:55 pm
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Interview: Cristina Panfilio, the disarmingly sly and funny – and athletic! – Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at American Players Theatre, didn’t see it coming. The role of the mischievous fairy sprite with magical powers is normally played by a male actor.  When director John Langs phoned her and cold-pitched her the part, she was flattered, of course. The Chicago-based actress was also overwhelmed by the thought.

In magical return to its birth, APT embraces human heart of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Aug 31, 2017 – 8:38 am
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Review: Is there a better way to fall under the spell of Shakespeare than through “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? Not if it’s the current production under the stars by American Players Theatre, which will get the job done for ages 7 to 97 at the least. The company is but an afternoon’s drive from Chicago into the Wisconsin woods near Madison, and the actors – more than a few of them based in Chicago – are uniformly proficient at finding the human warmth in Shakespeare’s comedy and making it clear in minute detail. ★★★★★

‘The Maids’ at American Players Theatre: Dressing up and getting down, sans laughter

Aug 26, 2017 – 2:02 pm
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Review: In Jean Genet’s bleak existential drama “The Maids,” two young women, sisters and live-in house maids to the same mistress, secretly turn the tables in an ominous fantasy life about power and subservience. A noir study in delusional role-playing and its dark consequences, “The Maids” is on fascinating display at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis.. ★★★

‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ at American Players: Rostand’s sad hero, captured in lyric depth

Aug 10, 2017 – 6:47 am
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Review: In a transcendent night under the stars in APT’s newly refurbished al fresco venue, the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago to the theater, nestled in rolling hills about 30 miles west of Madison, was repaid amply by James Ridge’s complex embodiment of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Here is Cyrano in his full flesh and spirit: lyric poet, matchless swordsman and, above all else, unrequited lover, a man whose many gifts stitched together cannot veil the defeating protuberance that is his formidable nose. ★★★★★

Under Kalmar’s command, Grand Park forces triumph in oratorio hailing end of World War II

Jul 31, 2017 – 6:48 pm
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Review: We’re well into another Grant Park Music Festival season that has demonstrated once again the value of conductor Carlos Kalmar’s artistic leadership through 18 summers. Where else but in Millennium Park, under Kalmar’s baton, might one hope to hear the likes of Swiss composer Frank Martin’s grand-scaled, inexplicably neglected oratorio “In terra pax,” a profound and moving reflection on the long-awaited end of the carnage that was World War II.

‘An American in Paris’: It’s got rhythm, it’s got cool sets – and many brilliant things more

Jul 31, 2017 – 12:57 pm
Sara Esty is Lise in An American in Paris. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Review: One might think it impossible to improve on the 1951 musical film ‘An American in Paris,’ with the inimitable Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron romancing each other to the music of George and Ira Gershwin. But in re-imagining this G.I. love story as a Broadway ballet for a cast of 25, director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has given the beloved classic a thrilling energy boost. Presented by Broadway in Chicago, the show plays at the Oriental Theatre through Aug. 13. ★★★★

‘Madagascar’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Kids give high praise to musical bestiary – silence

Jul 25, 2017 – 7:28 pm
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Review: There is currently a zoo on Navy Pier, and a jungle too, thanks to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.” This is not one of those shows that are also fun for kids. “Madagascar” exists only for kids. If you have children in your life, from toddler to 8 or so, do bring them to this colorful, toe-tapping animal extravaganza. The lack of squirming and whining in the theater indicated a mesmerized target audience. ★★★★

After rough start, Grant Park Orchestra takes Romantic turn, prize-winning violinist soars

Jul 20, 2017 – 11:20 am
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Review: Americana and Romanticism, as well as a thoughtful view of America’s shadowed past, were on display at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on July 19 when Brett Mitchell led the Grant Park Orchestra in works by Kenji Bunch and Copland as well as Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3 with soloist Angelo Xiang Yu, who had no trouble demonstrating why he won the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition in 2010.

‘Hir’ at Steppenwolf: In battle on home front, now a gender mine field, a Marine seeks cover

Jul 19, 2017 – 9:26 am
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Review: Taylor Mac’s tumultuous, off-the-wall play “Hir,” currently on stage in a bristling production at Steppenwolf, is about battles, foreign and domestic. And if the shape-changing military one in the Middle East has been going on for a long time, the societal one at the center of “Hir” is just building a good head of steam. Ex-Marine Isaac has come home to a household in chaos, and to a new sexual order – a whole new declension of genders in which “he” and “she” are but instances on a daunting new landscape. ★★★★

‘London Assurance’ at City Lit: Classic farce under full sail, by a wild Irishman before Wilde

Jul 18, 2017 – 1:34 pm
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Review: Oscar Wilde’s irresistible comedies exalting the escapades of the silly rich have never gone out of style, but City Lit theater company has done Chicago a big favor in allowing us to make the acquaintance of an all but forgotten playwright who was Wilde’s spiritual father of sorts. Now enjoying a raucous run in the Edgewater neighborhood is “London Assurance” by a fellow Irish playwright some three decades Wilde’s elder – Dion Boucicault. ★★★

‘Ragtime’ at Griffin: When America’s dream was young and promise came with an asterisk

Jul 14, 2017 – 5:58 pm
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Review: It’s hard to say which to praise first or most about Griffin Theatre’s splendidly intimate reduction of the musical “Ragtime” – the brisk, focused, wholly involved work of the 20 actors in the ensemble, the credible and affecting performances in the three central roles central or the imaginative achievement of director Scott Weinstein. Slice it however you may, Griffin’s small-scaled but high-powered “Ragtime” is a theatrical experience not to be missed. ★★★★

‘Ah, Wilderness!’ at Goodman: Young lovers, plotting a path through life’s tangled comedy

Jun 28, 2017 – 10:14 pm
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Review: Fairly late in his career, Eugene O’Neill, that great purveyor of tragedy, penned a romantic comedy worthy of his darker plays. “Ah, Wilderness!” is that now-classic lark, and it once again bursts onto the stage at Goodman Theatre in a funny and affecting production that is arguably the crown jewel of Chicago’s theater season. ★★★★★

‘Going to a Place’ with ice cream for eternity, but where dialogue and plausibility are thin

Jun 27, 2017 – 10:11 pm
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Review: There’s a native directness about veteran Kathleen Ruhl’s acting that never fails to connect the viewer to her character. Call it authenticity. But no amount of straight shooting from the stage can magically turn a weak play into something terrific. Ruhl has demonstrated that proposition in two different plays in recent weeks — currently in Bekah Brunstetter’s “Going to a Place Where You Already Are” at Redtwist Theatre. ★★

CSO’s June fare offered smart change of pace, and a swim with ‘Jaws’ live tops off the month

Jun 26, 2017 – 3:07 pm
Riccardo Muti and Chicago SO and choruses (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: Bustin’ with freshness, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s June has been almost a season unto itself. The programs have been rich, novel and imbued with summer’s ease. Packed houses have been treated to programs of considerable class, as the names of Riccardo Muti, Susanna Mälkki, John Williams and Branford Marsalis imply. And there is still a big fish in the sea.

As touring ‘King and I’ splashes across stage, keynote of cross-cultural rapport rings afresh

Jun 25, 2017 – 4:38 pm
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Review: “The King and I” holds up a revealing mirror to our better selves. The Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, now at the Oriental Theatre in an enchanting tour production run, is enormously popular for its wealth of wonderful songs and magnificent visual possibilities. But its real importance lies in its message of cultural transcendence, and we as Americans have never had greater need of that message. ★★★★

Soprano Susanna Phillips, Lyric Opera alum, returns to Chicago to sing at Grant Park fest

Jun 20, 2017 – 10:56 pm
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Interview: Despite sounding hoarse over the phone because of a cold, Susanna Phillips gushed enthusiasm about making her debut at the Grant Park Music Festival on June 21 in a concert conducted by festival music director Carlos Kalmar. She’s just as enthusiastic about the unusual repertoire she’ll be performing, Aaron Copland’s “Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson.”

Summer is icumen in: Classical concerts fill Ravinia Festival stages, alfresco and indoors

Jun 20, 2017 – 9:55 am
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Preview: A bountiful smorgasbord of classical music enriches the summer fare at the 2017 Ravinia Festival. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra puts in a stint with an array of guest conductors and soloists at the festival pavilion, while on a smaller scale indoor venues will see a parade of string quartets and pianists. We offer a comprehensive look-ahead at Ravinia’s classical presentation.

In rainy weather, Grant Park Festival shines when orchestra, chorus, soloists go seafaring

Jun 19, 2017 – 4:08 pm
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Review: Music director Carlos Kalmar’s always imaginative – and often quite bold – programming for the Grant Park Music Festival hit an early peak June 16 and 17 in his choice of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ prodigious “Sea Symphony.” This 70-minute masterpiece for orchestra, chorus, soprano and baritone uses texts from Walt Whitman’s poem “Leaves of Grass” to create an epic duality: a great paean to the sea and a metaphor for the grandeur and the possibilities of human life.

American Players set to dedicate a new stage after $8 million renovation of outdoor venue

Jun 17, 2017 – 11:55 am
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Preview: At the outset of its 38th season, American Players Theatre has the look of a company starting afresh. Its 2017 summer at Spring Green, Wis., about 30 miles west of Madison, opens on a brand-new stage, the centerpiece of an $8 million renovation of both production and public facilities. “Our theater was literally falling down,” says APT artistic director Brenda DeVita. “This renewal has given us, and our audience, a theater that is better is so many ways.”