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Articles by Lawrence B. Johnson

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. ★★★

‘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 hit ‘Orphée,’ with Joffrey Ballet, will be aired on ‘Great Performances’ in 2018

Sep 29, 2017 – 11:13 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Lyric Opera of Chicago is pleased to announce that Thirteen Productions LLC for WNET New York has …

‘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. ★★★★★

Harris Theater names new president, handing reins to ex-marketing chief Patricia Barretto

Sep 22, 2017 – 12:53 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
The Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance have announced the appointment …

Joffrey Ballet will be resident dance company at Lyric Opera House beginning in 2020-21

Sep 22, 2017 – 11:06 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Joffrey Ballet announced that Joffrey will become the resident dance …

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. ★★★

Music of Sephardic Jews in Renaissance Spain leads off season for Newberry Consort

Sep 21, 2017 – 11:29 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
The Newberry Consort will present the music of the Sephardic Jews in Renaissance Spain at their …

Goodman Theatre institute for young critics will focus on role of drama in today’s world

Sep 21, 2017 – 10:32 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Goodman Theatre invites emerging theater writers and critics to apply for its new “boot camp” intensive …

Never mind women over 40: City Lit populates full cast of biblical ‘J.B.’ with women over 55

Sep 20, 2017 – 11:57 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
“J.B.,” the Pulitzer Prize and Best Play Tony Award-winner by the American playwright and poet Archibald …

Lyric Opera’s Ryan training center adds six young singers to its ensemble for 2018-19

Sep 20, 2017 – 9:18 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Dan Novak, director of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, the professional artist development program at Lyric Opera of Chicago, …

Black Ensemble Theater to produce historical retrospective ‘Living the Black Renaissance’

Sep 19, 2017 – 9:52 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Black Ensemble Theater continues the 2017 Season (The Dance Theater Season) with the World Premiere of Living The Black Renaissance (More Than …

PrivateBank Theatre renamed CIBC Theatre; new Canadian owner vows continued support

Sep 19, 2017 – 8:53 am
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Broadway In Chicago has announced the renaming of The PrivateBank Theatre, at 18 W. Monroe, as …

Chicago Latino theater group slates 11 plays for inaugural international festival ‘Destinos’

Sep 18, 2017 – 5:19 pm
Amarillo.Teatro Linea de Sombra

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) announces the full performance program for Destinos (dĕ-stee-noce), the first Chicago International Latino …

‘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. ★★★★

Muti to open Chicago Symphony season with concerts spotlighting Mutter and a premiere

Sep 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Music Director Riccardo Muti returns to Chicago in September for his first Chicago Symphony Orchestra residency …

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

Sep 15, 2017 – 3:14 pm
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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, …

Chicago Sinfonietta opens 30th-anniversary season with diverse fare touting its Trademark

Sep 15, 2017 – 2:25 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Chicago Sinfonietta, the nation’s most diverse orchestra, kicks off its 30th anniversary with concerts on the theme Trademark, showcasing unusual …

Writers announces second, final extension of musical ‘Trevor’; show must close Oct. 8

Sep 13, 2017 – 4:52 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Glencoe, IL– Writers Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma, adds another week …

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.

‘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.

‘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. ★★★