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‘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
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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, …

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.

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. ★★★★★

‘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. ★★★★

‘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. ★★

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. ★★★★

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. ★★★★

‘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. ★★★★★

‘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. ★★★★

‘Shakespeare in Love’ film-to-theater adaptation extended through June 18

May 21, 2017 – 7:31 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.
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​Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Shakespeare in Love extended by popular demand through June 18  
Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) announces today …

Chicago Shakes announces cast for family musical version of ‘Madascar,’ coming July 13

May 21, 2017 – 7:04 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 announces casting for “MADASCAR – A MUSICAL ADVENTURE”
DreamWorks animated film brought to life onstage …

‘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. ★★★★

Long-range ‘Aladdin’ tour opens in Chicago, and out pops a magical musical extravaganza

Apr 21, 2017 – 9:02 pm
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Review: How do you translate the film magic of Disney to the musical theater? In the case of “Aladdin” – which has launched a North American tour at the Cadillac Palace with future stops in Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and points further – you cram the stage with sets, people, smoke, glitter, explosions, magic tricks, gold, jokes and outsized personalities, and let nostalgia do the rest. Sometimes it dazzles, sometimes it falls flat, but mostly “Aladdin” is great fun, a magic carpet ride. ★★★★

Jeremy Piven leads intimate discussion with Kevin Spacey at Gene Siskel Film Center benefit

Apr 12, 2017 – 12:33 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.
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“Kevin Spacey: Renaissance Man,” features In-Depth Conversation with Golden Globe and Emmy Award-Winner Piven and Spacey …

In ‘Hamilton’ immersion, Chicago school kids embroider the musical with riffs of their own

Mar 31, 2017 – 6:13 am
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Report: I wish every adult attending the hit musical “Hamilton” could see it the way nearly 20,000 Chicagoans in their mid-teens will experience it over the coming months. And not just because of the $10 tickets for a show that generally costs hundreds. What each student comes away with is a personalized connection to America’s birth.

‘Venus in Fur’ – oops, ‘The Scene’ at Writers: Coulda, maybe shoulda, been the other play

Mar 29, 2017 – 3:40 pm
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Review: A ditzy girl, who turns out to be a veritable demon, brings a self-absorbed guy crashing down. He doesn’t see it coming, never has a prayer. Ah, you know that play? Right. It’s David Ives’ “Venus in Fur,” of course. Well, it’s back with us again, more or less, in Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene” at Writers Theatre. When I say more or less, I mean there’s more involved – actors, situations, sex – but the sum amounts to less of consequence or, along the way, dramatic merit. ★★

With ‘Hamilton’ gang added to cast, Concert for America brings stellar benefit to Chicago

Mar 18, 2017 – 7:20 am
Melissa Manchester will perform in Chicago's Concert for America. (Randee St. Nicholas)

Preview: Concert for America is headed to Chicago on March 20 with stars including Melissa Manchester and the cast of “Hamilton.”

‘Earthquakes in London’ at Steep: Our roiling planet may soon resemble a fractured family

Mar 15, 2017 – 9:02 am
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Review: Mike Bartlett’s “Earthquakes in London,” at Steep Theatre, is an intriguing excursion that conflates garden variety family dysfunction with nothing less than the end of days. The show closes March 18, and it’s worth catching – not for its perfection (it is imperfect), but for its rigorous melding of intricate, credible characters and a provocative foray into magical realism. ★★★