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‘The Mutilated’ at A Red Orchid: Two lonely souls touched by Tennessee Williams’ grace

Feb 6, 2016 – 1:01 pm

Review: Life, Tennessee Williams’ plays insist again and again, is a painful passage. Bitter, sweet, paradoxical, farcical. Never mind that other business about sound and fury and nothingness. Williams views the world through a lens of dark existential comedy, and it is on display in all its sad glory in A Red Orchid Theatre’s trenchant take on “The Mutilated.” ★★★★

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‘Sunset Baby’ at TimeLine: Empty past, sordid present, fragile dreams haunt crusader’s child

Feb 2, 2016 – 8:11 pm
Nina (Anji White) and Damon (Kelvin Roston Jr.) sustain an edgy relationship in 'Sunset Baby.' (Lara Goetsch)Review: “Sunset Baby” by Dominique Morisseau, at TimeLine Theatre through April 10. ★★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Nina’s life is nowhere. She’s a twentysomething black girl with no real prospects, living in a dumpy apartment and attached – emotionally, financially, perhaps forcibly – to a tough but needy dude with great dreams and no solid plan. Then who should pop back into her tenuous world but her dad, she would say dad in name only, once a big player in the black power movement and recently released from prison. The old man wants something. Nina just wants him out.

That’s the setup for Dominique Morisseau’s taut, gritty, redemptive play “Sunset Baby,” much to be recommended in a blistering account directed by Ron OJ Parson at TimeLine Theatre. Read the full story »

‘Posh’ at Steep Theatre: Rich British boys behaving horridly, on sure path to success

Feb 1, 2016 – 11:21 pm
Posh at Steep

Review: British playwright Laura Wade’s “Posh,” now on graphic display at Steep Theatre, drives home a somber message: Great wealth rules. Anything is possible or tolerable if you can hand over a blank check to pay the freight or pay for the damage. ★★★

In Russian troupe’s ‘Measure for Measure,’ virtue and its opposite bear a close kinship

Jan 29, 2016 – 5:14 pm
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Review: One well might argue that Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” is a less than perfect play. But the neatly framed picture of hypocrisy at its core is so clear, indeed so ringingly universal in its human embrace, that it resonates in any culture. Witness the Russian-language production (with English supertitles) that officially popped the cork Jan. 27 on Shakespeare 400 Chicago, a yearlong aggregation of events dramatic and otherwise spearheaded by Chicago Shakespeare Theater. ★★★★

Chicago Shakespeare Theater lights lamps, world comes in remembrance of the Bard

Jan 27, 2016 – 5:15 pm
MEASURE FOR MEASURE by Shakespeare,             , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - Declan Donnellan, Designer - Nick Ormerod, Lighting - Sergei Skornetsky, Paris, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

Preview: This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and surely nowhere is that big round number being observed with greater zeal, diversity and, well, relentlessness than here in Chicago-Upon-Avon. Throughout 2016, the plays of Shakespeare, adaptations of the plays in various forms and creative applications of Shakespearean themes will be found across the metro area in a coordinated, nonstop festival dubbed Shakespeare 400 Chicago.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Burgundy’s range is reflected in two beauties from Leclerc, Gille

Jan 25, 2016 – 5:07 pm
Gille Chambolle

Tasting Report: The power, the finesse and the sheer intellectual engagement that stamp top-quality red Burgundy wines were amply displayed in youthful, sharply contrasting examples I recently tasted from two producers in the famed Côte d’Or, Domaine Gille and Domaine René Leclerc.

‘Nabucco’ at Lyric Opera: The youthful Verdi’s future on display in a grand night of singing

Jan 25, 2016 – 11:18 am
Nabucco (Andrew Cioffi, Lyric Opera Chicago)

Review: The best way to experience a performance of Verdi’s “Nabucco” is to think like an actor thinks. Stay in the moment completely. Don’t overthink the logic, the plot complications, the evidence of history. Avoid those traps and the musical impact of “Nabucco” — which is currently on the boards at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where several mighty singing actors are doing terrific work – will thrill you to your bones.★★★★

‘Satchmo at the Waldorf’: As Louis Armstrong nears end, he recalls a winding path to fame

Jan 22, 2016 – 9:24 am
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Review: Terry Teachout’s “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” a one-man bio-drama on the life of jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, is an affecting, often surprising and raspingly funny alchemy of brass and clay. it is a lively, engaging fiction but also a credible portrait with a human heart. ★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Sbragia’s Merlot makes a regal splash from a bargain bottle

Jan 19, 2016 – 4:58 pm
Rutherford Hill label

Tasting Report: It’s always such a smile-inducing pleasure to come upon a wine that exceeds all expectations in its price class. A terrific example is Sbragia Family Vineyards’ Dry Creek Valley Sonoma Home Ranch Merlot 2012, a wine stuffed with the goods to compete well beyond its modest price of $24.

In a grand flourish, Lyric will match Wagner ‘Ring’ launch with Berlioz spectacle ‘Troyens’

Jan 19, 2016 – 4:57 pm
'Das Rheingold'  maquette (LyricOpera.org)

Season Preview: Not many people can put a ten-year life plan on a single piece of paper. But Anthony Freud, general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, has got his drill down when it comes to the properly balanced life of a grand opera company. Merrily goaded on Jan. 14 by music director Andrew Davis, who was clearly amused, Freud pulled from his pocket, in a tantalizingly brief “reveal,” a carefully folded, well-worn document crammed with the titles of dozens of operas on a grid. Here are the highlights.

‘Bruise Easy’ at American Theater: Miserable siblings recall childhood with Mommy dearest

Jan 18, 2016 – 4:35 pm
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Review: There’s a critical difference between a play that is intensely provocative and one that is essentially an unfinished puzzle. Dan LeFranc’s “Bruise Easy,” now in its world premiere run at American Theater Company, falls into the latter category. It is a tale fraught with sex and monosyllables, signifying we know not what. ★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Santa Duc draws arc of splendor with old-vines Gigondas

Jan 15, 2016 – 4:33 pm
The stony clay soil of Santa Duc's Hautes Garrigues produces superb Gigondas

Mulling Wine: To glimpse the poor, stony soil is to wonder how it could ever produce the grapes that Domaine Santa Duc in turn translates into some of the most seductive wine in the Southern Rhône Valley appellation of Gigondas. But the proof was there in a palate-pleasing, indeed eye-opening vertical sampler of Santa Duc’s single-vineyard, old-vine Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues.

Broadening stream of virtual performances ranges from master classes to masterworks

Jan 11, 2016 – 4:14 pm
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Digital Preview: With another Artic blast on the way, it’s a good time to check out the world’s top fine arts events available live or on-demand — Joyce DiDonato’s master classes at Carnegie Hall, a “Ring” in Vienna, a new cello concerto in Detroit. And the Lyric Opera of Chicago has just finished recording its new “Bel Canto” for a future PBS broadcast.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Brancaia delivers three Tuscans that are super and then some

Jan 11, 2016 – 3:56 pm
Brancaia estate

Tasting Report: The wines of Tuscan producer Brancaia are well worth seeking out. There’s something exceptional here to meet budgets across a wide range. An array of Brancaia wines were served at an off-beat cheese party at the East Loop Chicago restaurant Tesori, when chef Danny Sweis sliced into a new 80-pound wheel of parmesan.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: With elegant 2014 Viognier, Darioush does a beauty one better

Jan 6, 2016 – 4:04 pm
Sub Viognier

Tasting Report: One of the great pleasures of a visit to France’s Northern Rhone Valley is the luscious Viognier produced in Condrieu. I would have said it was matchless – until I had the equally happy experience of the Viognier from Darioush in California’s Napa Valley. The Darioush Viognier is a recent discovery for me. I first tasted it in the 2013 vintage – a lovely expression of white wine that in its combination of buttery depth and finesse evoked not only the Viognier of Condrieu but also the plush majesty of the top Chardonnays in Burgundy. And the newly released 2014 may prove to be even better.

CSO bassist Alexander Hanna, in solo light, finds singing voice in his grand instrument

Dec 21, 2015 – 6:23 am
12/17/15 8:16:29 PM -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra 125th Year.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Conlon Conductor

Vanhal Double Bass Concerto in D Major Featuring Principal Bass Alexander Hanna


© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Review: Often forgotten but integral, the double bass is the foundation of the orchestra. Without its supportive heft, the majestic edifice of the orchestra would crumble, and the driving harmonic motion it provides would be lost. So it was satisfying and just to see this taken-for-granted but vital instrument move to the front of Orchestra Hall’s stage on Dec. 19 in the hands of Alexander Hanna, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s principal bass.

Six-fold thriller: Lincoln Center chamber group makes a grand sweep of Bach ‘Brandenburgs’

Dec 18, 2015 – 6:46 am
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Review: In a strictly transcendental sense, Bach being the quasi-divine figure that he is in the pantheon of Western art music, the traversal of his six “Brandenburg” Concertos by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, on Dec. 17 at the Harris Theater, rocked.

Theaters serve up holiday stew of 3 Scrooges filled with laughs, lessons, gravy and graves

Dec 13, 2015 – 7:46 am
Scrooge at the Goodman for Christmas Carol 2015

Review: Chicago’s holiday offerings include Three Scrooges — not a show, but a trio of shows all based on “A Christmas Carol.” And yes, there’s some slapstick in it, even ribaldry, depending on which flavor of Dickens you choose.

Two sparkling treasures to stuff a stocking: CSO’s ‘Messiah’ and Joffrey’s ‘Nutcracker’

Dec 13, 2015 – 7:04 am
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Review: ’Tis the season when the mere names of Handel and Tchaikovsky conjure two of the most beloved works for concert hall and stage in Western culture. That affection radiates through splendorous continuing productions of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Orchestra Hall and the Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at the Auditorium Theatre.

‘Bel Canto’ premiere at Lyric Opera delivers tragic image of humanity at unbridgeable gulf

Dec 9, 2015 – 8:00 am
Bel Canto Feature

Review: The true measure of Peruvian composer Jimmy López’s new opera “Bel Canto,” which received its world premiere Dec. 7 by the commissioning Lyric Opera of Chicago, transcends its check-list of merits as a skillfully wrought and thoroughly engaging work. It is a compelling tragedy expressive of humanity at its best and most aspiring, and at its most grievously imperfect. ★★★★★

Role Playing: Sandra Marquez, as Clytemnestra, sees an exceptional woman in the Greek queen

Dec 5, 2015 – 8:30 am
Sandra-Marquez

Interview: What would she, this modern woman, have done in the place of a legendary queen who has been abandoned by her warring husband, a man who also has sacrificed their daughter for the sake of his military campaign? That was the question on Sandra Marquez’s mind as she approached her complex portrayal of the vengeful Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” at Court Theatre.

‘Agamemnon’ at Court: Queen welcomes king with smile and nice bath in his own hot blood

Dec 2, 2015 – 5:52 pm
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Review: Agamemnon, king of Argos and commander of the vast Greek expeditionary force that conquered Troy after 10 years of fighting, is home from the war at last – victorious, exhausted and, not least, wreathed in guilt. That is the proposition of Aeschylus’ tragedy “Agamemnon,” which now enters its final weekend of performances in an imaginative, keen-edged production at Court Theatre directed by Charles Newell. ★★★★★

In holiday spirit, CSO sets out musical bounty, and lovers of Gershwin, Dvořák gobble it up

Nov 28, 2015 – 2:20 pm
Jon Kimura Parker feature image (Tara McMullen)

Review: “Rhapsody in Blue” is on the docket, compliments of pianist Jon Kimura Parker. And if you’re lucky, a bit of Oscar Peterson, too. Composer Anna Clyne’s five-minute lollapalooza called “Masquerade” is the all-embracing upper in Thanksgiving weekend concerts featuring Dvořák’s 7th and led by Marin Alsop in an unmistakeable party mode.

‘The Merry Widow’ at Lyric Opera: Slow start, then Pop! – bubbles and, mais oui, grisettes

Nov 23, 2015 – 2:53 pm
11/11/15 1:21:27 PM -- 
The Lyric Opera of Chicago Presents
"The Merry Widow"
Renée Fleming, 
Nicole Cabell, 
and Thomas Hampson

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Review: If it had been opening night for the Lyric Opera production of Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow,” one might have understood the stark contrast between the dismal walk-through of the first act and the sustained vivacity suddenly on display post-intermission. One might have chalked it up to a calming of collective nerves. But as this was the second performance, the first-night excuse hardly applies. I daresay the show is what it seemed to be: egregiously uneven. ★★★

Theater 2015-16: Remembering PJ Paparelli, American Theater Co. maps ‘Legacy Season’

Nov 13, 2015 – 6:23 pm
'Fulfillment' feature image AmericanTheaterCo (Michael Brosilow)

22nd in a series of season previews: Two world premieres lead off an American Theater Company season dedicated to the memory of PJ Paparelli, the ensemble’s visionary artistic director who died last May after an automobile accident in Scotland. Thomas Bradshaw’s new play “Fulfillment,” about a successful African-American lawyer whose world gets flipped on its head, opens the season. It will be followed by the premiere of “Bruise Easy,” Dan LeFranc’s play about an adult brother and sister whose meeting at their childhood home offers a chance to iron out old issues.

At Goodman’s New Stages Festival, playwrights count on sharpening assist from the audience

Nov 12, 2015 – 6:44 pm
Goodman Theatre New Stages Festival 2015

Feature: Three formative plays on the boards in Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival offer an intriguing glimpse into the process of turning a work of promise into a well-honed piece of stagecraft ready for prime time. Now in its 12th year, the 2015 edition of New Stages concludes Nov. 13-15 with final performances of those plays and a cluster of readings.

Theater 2015-16: With premieres, A Red Orchid takes pursuit of life on the edge to new realms

Nov 10, 2015 – 5:40 pm
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21st in a series of season previews: A Red Orchid Theatre opens its 23rd season with Brett Neveu’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” one of two world premieres during 2015-16. It burrows into layers of conflict within a family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. “It’s brutal and hilarious,” says artistic director Kirsten Fitzgerald, “and it’s the kind of play this company identifies with. We absolutely explore the poetry of life on the edge.”

Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Stark expressionism draped in musical riches

Nov 3, 2015 – 10:43 am
Tomasz-Konieczny-is-Wozzeck-at-the-Lyric-Opera-of-Chicago-11-2015-Andrew-Cioffi

Review: Tomasz Konieczny is Wozzeck, the low-ranking soldier who sinks into madness as he is subjected to scientific experiments, betrayed in love and persistently harrassed. As envisioned by director David McVicar and conductor Andrew Davis, the 1925 opera is as deeply unsettling visually as it is musically rich. Berg’s account of Wozzeck’s grotesque travails has a way of suddenly panning wide, as if to embrace us all in our human dissonance and complexity.★★★★

Berg’s high-intensity opera ‘Wozzeck’ dual firsts for veteran conductor Davis, director McVicar

Oct 30, 2015 – 9:54 am
Wozzeck preview feature image

Preview: He could be talking about Puccini’s “La boheme” or Verdi’s “La traviata” or Bizet’s “Carmen,” but when Anthony Freud, general director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, says, “I would encourage anyone who has never experienced opera to give it a try,” he’s referring to none of the above. Freud means Alban Berg’s harrowing Expressionist music-drama “Wozzeck.”

Theater 2015-16: The mood is electric at Writers as ‘curtain up’ takes on dramatic new meaning

Oct 28, 2015 – 9:14 am
Writers 2015-16 feature image

20th in a series of season previews: Writers Theatre artistic director Michael Halberstam sees ideal choices in the two major productions planned for the spring 2016 opening of the company’s brand new home in Glencoe – Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” and the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”

Role Playing: Brian Parry says he summoned courage before wit as George in ‘Virginia Woolf’

Oct 23, 2015 – 8:18 am
SONY DSC

Interview: In the thimble-size playing space of Redtwist Theatre, Brian Parry is reminded every night of the plain truth in playwright Edward Albee’s admonition to any actor who takes on the role of George, the battle-worn husband and semi-satisfied college professor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – that it will be the workout of a lifetime.

Musically agile maestro Davis bends to match iconoclastic Kissin’s Tchaikovsky with CSO

Oct 16, 2015 – 2:17 pm
Artistic director PJ Paparelli was killed in a car crash in May 2015. (American Theatre Company)

Review: You could feel the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s crack troop of musicians and their super-flexible maestro Andrew Davis snap to alertness when the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin ignored what he had just heard in the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and simply went his own way in a performance Oct. 15 at Orchestra Hall.