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Sara Esty is Lise in An American in Paris. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

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

Jul 31, 2017 – 12:57 pm

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. ★★★★

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

Aug 10, 2017 – 6:47 am

Roxane (Laura Rook) seems just out of reach to the smitten Cyrano (James Ridge). (Michael Brosilow)

“Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand, adapted and directed by James DeVita, at American Players Theatre through Oct. 6. ★★★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson

SPRING GREEN, Wis. – To say a plain thing plainly, the production of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” on display this summer at American Players Theatre would be worth the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago even if you didn’t stick around for any other show – which would be a mistake.

Or to go straight to the heart of a transcendent night under the stars in APT’s newly refurbished al fresco venue, the trek is repaid amply by James Ridge’s complex embodiment of Cyrano as 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. Read the full story »

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.

‘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.”

‘Pass Over’ at Steppenwolf: Two black guys hanging out on a corner, waiting for to go

Jun 14, 2017 – 10:08 pm
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Review: We are political creatures. We all have our world-view, our personal dispositions, our social sympathies and antipathies. That applies as well to creations for the stage. It is an ineluctable truth that all theater is political, even if some plays are more specifically agenda-driven than others. That said, I have short patience with the more overt, I might say hell-bent, forms of agenda theater. They tend not to be very good drama. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s “The Exonerated” springs to mind. Antoinette Nwandu’s play “Pass Over,” in its world premiere run, is no simple rant but does come with its own set of problems. ★★

‘Relativity’ at Northlight: In pursuit of Einstein, and confronting the hard reality of genius

Jun 13, 2017 – 4:01 pm
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Review: The nature of genius, its obsession and its isolation, lies at the core of Mark St. Germain’s taut, indeed irreducible play “Relativity,” a fictional perspective on Albert Einstein that bears the resonance of reality at Northlight Theatre — thanks to a stellar turn by Mike Nussbaum as the larger-than-life theoretical physicist. ★★★★

Pianist Gerstein measures himself against pair of Olympians, and displays solid gold mettle

Jun 12, 2017 – 9:52 pm
Kirill Gerstein
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Review: As prodigious as it was unusual, pianist Kirill Gerstein’s recital June 11 at Orchestra Hall bundled the double rarity of Brahms’ ambitious early Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor and the full dozen of Liszt’s spectacular “Transcendental” Etudes. To the teenage Brahms’ brash grand sonata Gerstein, now age 37, brought a young man’s bravura spirit, and in Liszt’s monumental Etudes he showed a leonine profile of strength, agility and grace.

Concertos aplenty (world premiere for horn), star soloists await at Grant Park Music Fest

Jun 11, 2017 – 9:33 pm
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Preview: The 2017 Grant Park Music Festival begins Wednesday, June 14. Here’s a look at all that’s in store on the great lawn at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, where star-gazing, the Lake Michigan breeze and great music are free. See our highlights preview.

Pair of Mozart masters light it up with the CSO — no hurdle’s too high for Honeck or Lewis

Jun 10, 2017 – 11:35 am
6/8/17 8:02:00 PM --  Chicago, IL
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Manfred Honeck conductor
Paul Lewis piano
Regula Mühlemann soprano

 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Review: The Chicago Symphony is, at its present time in history, a Mozart orchestra of sheer delight. With Austrian guest conductor Manfred Honeck and English pianist Paul Lewis as able interlocutors, the nimble ensemble has the brightness, delicacy and tensile strength to float long lines at breakneck speeds, remaining ever lyrical while having wicked fun.

Austrians arm in arm: Manfred Honeck brings multidimensional Mozart to four CSO concerts

Jun 6, 2017 – 9:47 pm
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Preview: Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, returns to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to lead concerts June 8-13 that might be characterized as a theme with variations. The theme is Mozart; the variations are, well, comprehensive. “To celebrate Mozart in just one concert program is never easy,” says the maestro, in his ninth year with Pittsburgh at age 58. “How do you make choices among so many masterpieces?”

‘Time Stands Still’ at AstonRep: War and souls in shattered images, captured in close-up lens

Jun 2, 2017 – 10:24 pm
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Review: She’s a photojournalist maimed in battle, back home and barely on the mend. He’s a fellow correspondent torn with guilt for not being there when it happened. And their mutual editor is going through a May-December thing with a cutie in AstonRep’s excellent take on David Margulies wry tale of life’s reeling course. ★★★★

‘Harvey’ at Court: In wacky account, message of a good soul, invisible rabbit is plain to see

May 30, 2017 – 7:32 am
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Review: In these parlous times, it’s good to remember that Mary Chase’s radiant moral comedy “Harvey” won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. As Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist who pals around with a 6-foot-tall invisible white rabbit, might say: I’d like to see a prize awarded to Court Theatre for its lovely staging of the play. ★★★★★

Civitas, Gipsy Way musicians pursue cultural connections and leave digital footprints, too

May 29, 2017 – 11:17 am
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Review: Shanghai-born violinist Yuan-Qing Yu is a tenacious advocate for contemporary music and a member of the Chicago Symphony. Czech-born Pavel Šporcl is a celebrated virtuoso with a gypsy crossover streak and a bodaciously blue violin. They brought their international project “Alla Zingarese,” which involves Chicago’s Civitas and Šporcl’s Gipsy Way ensembles, to Chicago May 21 before laying down the tracks for the local Cedille label.

‘Objects in the Mirror’ at Goodman: Escaping calamity in Africa, surviving the folly of youth

May 25, 2017 – 8:55 pm
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Review: Playwright Charles Smith’s “Objects in the Mirror” is a gritty, honest and provocatively open-ended story about coming of age. Mesmerizing, if no less exasperating, it is served with resonant conviction in a world premiere production at Goodman Theatre. ★★★★

‘Linda Vista’ at Steppenwolf: Letts’ new play frames photographer who can’t get selfie right

May 21, 2017 – 5:12 pm
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Review: Wheeler, the only name he goes by, is a smart guy, a good photographer and his own worst enemy. He’s the case study in self-destruction at the center of Tracy Letts’ new play “Linda Vista,” now headed into the final week of a crackling production directed by Dexter Bullard at Steppenwolf Theatre. Wheeler – played with barbed comic timing and ruinous ferocity by Ian Barford – imagines himself astride the world, or indeed like Jupiter above it, taking the measure of all the things and people in it and finding that people mostly don’t measure up. ★★★★

In a journey across Brahms’ symphonies, Muti found both lyric dramatist, master classicist

May 16, 2017 – 7:46 am
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Review: Riccardo Muti still has one program to go in this, his seventh season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We might think of the impending finale – a mixed bag of orchestral music, choruses and arias from Italian opera in concerts June 22-25 – as a grand encore to the conductor’s roundly rewarding season of appearances with the CSO. Or perhaps as a festive postlude to his splendid traversal of Brahms’ symphonies over the last two weeks.

Muti, leading the CSO through Brahms cycle, says unsuspected sadness edges symphonies

May 12, 2017 – 12:13 pm
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Interview: Riccardo Muti has been conducting the symphonies of Brahms for 45 years, but to his current total immersion project with the Chicago Symphony he brings the excitement of a perpetual student. In a conversation with Chicago On the Aisle, after performing the First and Second Symphonies and with the Third and Fourth scheduled through May 13, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director said he was thrilled with the way things were going and conveyed the exhilaration of discoveries that have put into focus his remarkable experiences with Brahms as a young man.

In a spin at Lyric, ‘My Fair Lady’ still leaves romance in lurch, but the show’s irresistible

May 9, 2017 – 4:40 pm
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Review: For more than a century, people have been arguing about the ending of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the play behind Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical “My Fair Lady.” Now the Lyric Opera of Chicago jumps into this amusing fray, but don’t expect the matter to be cleared up. When it comes to the cockney guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle and the phonetics professor who successfully passes her off as an aristocrat, the romantic stakes are still dizzy with spin. ★★★★

Baton (and lantern) in hand, Muti commences rediscovery survey of the Brahms symphonies

May 9, 2017 – 1:52 pm
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Review: Ordinarily, the idea of hearing Brahms’ four ultra-familiar symphonies performed consecutively over two weekends might seem, well, unimaginative. Brahms in the care of CSO music director Riccardo Muti suddenly transforms the routine into a journey of discovery greatly to be anticipated. And illuminating it was when Muti led Brahms’ First and Second Symphonies on May 4 at Orchestra Hall to commence a cycle that winds up May 11-13 when the CSO turns to Symphonies 3 and 4.

Pianist Murray Perahia forges an alluring path from bright Bach through a Beethoven thicket

May 8, 2017 – 2:25 pm
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Review: Musical virtuosity is the sum of diverse parts, only the most obvious of which is great technical prowess. Pianist Murray Perahia’s recital May 7 at Orchestra Hall offered a veritable punch list of the qualities that add up to consummate musicianship. Its was a stylistic sweep from the last of Bach’s six “French” Suites through Schubert’s Four “Impromptus,” D. 935, to Beethoven’s monumental Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”).