Top Story »

SONY DSC

‘Frost/Nixon’ at Redtwist: Brian Parry catches the posture and pitch of a sinner in confession

May 16, 2018 – 1:59 pm

Review: On Aug. 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the first president of the United States to resign from office, rather than face almost certain impeachment and removal after the Watergate scandal. But doggedly insisting that “I’m not a crook,” he never admitted to wrong-doing – until three years later, in a most improbable interview with British talk show host David Frost. That’s the setup of Peter Morgan’s 2006 play “Frost/Nixon,” which Redtwist Theatre has brought to its compact space with Brian Parry as Nixon, up close and amazing. ★★★★★

Read the full story »
Latest Arts News
Classical + Opera
Theater + Stage
Streaming + Disc
Chicago Wine Journal

Theater + Stage »

‘Buddy Holly’ at American Blues: Just a kid and his Stratocaster on a short, meteoric ride

May 15, 2018 – 10:01 am

 Review: “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” by Alan Janes, produced by American Blues Theater at Stage 773, extended to Sept. 15. ★★★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson

This happy news just in: “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” the supercharged jukebox bio musical that American Blues Theater had planned to unplug May 26, will rave on – after a break – through Sept. 15. This irresistible portrait of Holly’s brief but meteoric life and ground-breaking music should delight anyone with a pulse – and raise it several notches.

After closing as scheduled, “Buddy” will reopen June 29 for a lengthy encore extension at Stage 773, the current intimate setting where you can just about reach out and touch Zachary Stevenson’s true-to-life personification of the talented, determined kid from Lubbock, Tex., who rocketed to rock immortality. Read the full story »

Spaces at the Art Institute frame MusicNOW as contemporary venture observes 20th year

May 13, 2018 – 10:16 am
CSO180507_141 feature image

Review: The MusicNOW endeavor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is in the middle of a roaring spring expansion under the cultivating flair of composers-in-residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek. The latest MusicNOW shoot was an experiment within three different spaces at the rambling Art Institute of Chicago, including Chagall’s America Windows room. And that was preamble to the MusicNOW grand finale, featuring two world premieres, on May 21 at Orchestra Hall.

Schumann’s shadowed Violin Concerto finally gets CSO debut, and Saint-Saëns raises roof

May 12, 2018 – 10:32 pm
Feature 1

Review: The history of Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor is effectively brief and considerably checkered. It was composed in 1853, then put away – by devoted friends of Schumann who considered their action to be judicious – and not resuscitated for another eight decades. The work’s few advocates today include violinist Isabelle Faust, who was the soloist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s very first performance of the concerto on May 11.

‘Macbeth’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Like a hell-broth, boil and bubble – and mix this magic in

May 11, 2018 – 3:07 pm
Feature 1 Liz Lauren

Review: If ever there was a play meant for the sleight of Teller’s magicianly hand, it is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The Scottish tragedy is all about what appears to be there, but is not. Ambiguity, misdirection, illusion: This is the stuff of “Macbeth,” and it forms the clever heart of the play’s current incarnation at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I should hasten to add that Teller is only co-director; his fellow conspirator is Aaron Posner, whose invisible hand operates more on the dramatic side of events and indeed quickens both the show’s pace and the viewer’s pulse. ★★★★

Hershey Felder, face of many musical giants, takes on the genius and pain of Tchaikovsky

May 9, 2018 – 9:23 am
sub feature

Review: Give pianist-actor Hershey Felder credit. He has managed to crawl inside the skin of characters as diverse as Bernstein and Beethoven and Irving Berlin, and to give them plausible life. His latest solo turn, as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is about to wind up a brief run in the upstairs space at Steppenwolf Theatre. While musically authoritataive, as an exploration of Tchaikovsky, man and artist, Felder’s breathing sculpture left the impression of a work not yet finished. ★★★

‘Memphis’ at Porchlight: White guy, mad about black music and a girl, sends apple cart flying

May 6, 2018 – 8:51 pm
Feature 1 Michael Courier

Review: By now I have seen the gritty and electrifying musical “Memphis” – about the pre-dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, the modulation of black music into the white mainstream in the early 1950s – in three different stagings: the original Broadway production, the national tour and the current version mounted by Porchlight Music Theatre in its new home at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. This one feels, breathes, rips like the “Memphis” I’ve been waiting for. ★★★★★

‘Until the Flood’ at Goodman: A black youth falls to an officer’s gun; a community reflects

May 4, 2018 – 10:24 am
Feature 1

Review: Dael Orlandersmith’s one-woman play “Until the Flood,” now in a brief run at the Goodman Theatre, is about race and racism, but also about individual potential and personal accountability. It is an eloquent and evenhanded response to the fatal shooting of the African-American teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson the night of Aug. 9, 2014. ★★★★

With winning twin bill of Donizetti unknowns, Chicago Opera Theater reaffirms place in sun

May 2, 2018 – 8:49 am
Husbands

Review: Many opera enthusiasts, many friends of Chicago Opera Theater, must have emerged from the company’s recent double bill of Donizetti one-acters, early and late, at the Studebaker Theatre thinking what I was thinking: Who knew? Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), a prodigious composer of bel canto operas, is remembered today essentially for a handful of works: “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “La favorita,” “The Daughter of the Regiment,” and “Don Pasquale.”But who ever heard of his late one-act comedy “Rita,” written two years before “Don Pasquale,” or his student melodrama “Il Pigmalione,” the work of an obviously gifted lad of 19?

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the Lyric Opera:
Toto, I think we’ve rocked on from ‘Carousel’

May 1, 2018 – 5:20 pm
4/26/18 2:36:07 PM -- 
Lyric Opera Presents
Jesus Christ Superstar
Dress Rehearsal 
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Review: It has been coming on for a while, the increasing élan with which Chicago’s Lyric Opera presents its springtime musical productions. This year’s outsize rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” launches with the shock and the thrill of a revolution underway, as dozens of young men and women in their athletic prime charge down the aisles and leap joyfully onto the klieg-lit stage.

‘Smart People’ at Writers: A skilled playwright stirs foursome into existential comedy on race

Apr 27, 2018 – 11:08 am
Feature 2 Brosilow

Review: The smartest thing about Lydia R. Diamond’s play “Smart People,” now installed at Writers Theatre, may be the playwright herself. Diamond has a slashing wit and a ringing command of language. Whether “Smart People” adds up to all that much, or indeed whether it’s as fresh and imaginative as its high energy suggests, are other matters. ★★★

On the theater aisle in Washington, D.C.: After three plays in three nights, I was seeing stars

Apr 23, 2018 – 1:18 pm
Feature 2

Review: Call it a theatrical hat trick or a trifecta, but my recent three-night blitz of prominent stages in the nation’s capital produced impressive testimony to the quality of the theater scene there – even measured against the high regional standard of hometown Chicago. And, lo, who should appear center stage at Studio Theatre on the final night of this sweep, in Brian Friel’s luminous and heartbreaking play “Translations,” but one of Chicago’s own – Brad Armacost, as the boozy master of a so-called hedge school in rural 19th-century Ireland.

Star countertenor puts spin on taking a break: Orliński balances singing with breakdancing

Apr 22, 2018 – 8:54 am
sub feature

Interview: I first encountered the amazing 27-year-old Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński on a Youtube video. After listening to him sing Vivaldi and Cavalli and Pergolesi in a hearty falsetto with great energy and musicality, I came upon another, equally captivating Orliński video. He was breakdancing. But it will be his phenomenal voice on display with Music of the Baroque on April 22 and 23 at the Harris Theater.

Temptation is to say concert was awesome: Muti and CSO send critic deep into thesaurus

Apr 21, 2018 – 3:04 pm
sub feature

Review: The concerts one enjoys most can be the hardest to write about – to distill into verbal language the auditory and emotional experience that makes a program of Debussy and Tchaikovsky, to cite the example at hand, especially vivid or remarkable. I mean, one really should try to be a little more specific than “awesome.” The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti and spotlighting principal harp Sarah Bullen, defied description.

‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ at Northlight: Mother and daughter wage deadly war of wills

Apr 18, 2018 – 2:17 pm
sub feature

Review: If Martin McDonagh’s very dark comedy “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” is a study in passive-aggressive dominance, and its correlative misery, Northlight Theatre’s current go at it fills that pool of trouble to the drowning brim. The lifelong combatants in McDonagh’s gritty Irish tale are Mag and Maureen, mother and daughter, occupants of a shabby dwelling wherein Mum spends her days complaining of her aches and pains and making endless niggling demands of compliant Maureen, age 40. ★★★★

Role Playing: K.K. Moggie, as Scottish queen Mary Stuart, got to a royal heart layer by layer

Apr 10, 2018 – 4:26 am
Feature 4

Interview: Like the queen she plays, K.K. Moggie rules the stage in the title role of Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. But what helped her get to that place, she says, was the realization that the play was less about the fallen Scottish queen – who aspires to the English throne even as she is held prisoner by Queen Elizabeth – than what’s going on around her.

Pianist Emanuel Ax offers mosaics of Mozart and Beethoven, contrasts of Liszt and Bach

Apr 9, 2018 – 1:14 pm
sub feature

Review: Bookends of sorts embraced pianist Emanuel Ax’s imposing and indeed exhilarating recital April 8 at Orchestra Hall. That frame was made of Mozart and Beethoven, and its intriguing historical decoration consisted in how those composers shaped (or reshaped) two piano sonatas.

‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ at Court: Facing black-white world, love in intense beige

Apr 5, 2018 – 9:42 pm
Feature 1 Brosilow

Review: On the one hand, there’s something quaintly anachronistic about the film-become-play “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” now occupying the stage at Court Theatre in a production that is faintly, curiously charming. On the other hand, one might reasonably ask whether the acceptance, or perhaps novelty, of white-black marriages has changed all that much since Sidney Poitier showed up at the home of those outspoken liberal parents portrayed by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the 1967 movie. ★★★

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ is film-familiar, brimming with talent and poised for B’way

Mar 30, 2018 – 10:13 am
0855_Samantha Barks, Steve Kazee feature crop (Matthew Murphy 2018)

Review: You could hear the chuckles of recognition running through the Oriental Theatre audience when “Pretty Woman: The Musical” opened its largely delightful pre-Broadway run. It’s officially a world premiere that will play Chicago through April 15 before packing up for New York, where another round of development precedes the Broadway opening. The method of “Pretty Woman’s” transformation from the movie that half the American population has memorized line-for-line, into a staged production with entirely original music, is reliably loyal in its adaptation and solidly mainstream. ★★★★

‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Goodman: Idealism confronts the (deplorable) populace

Mar 27, 2018 – 10:03 am
sub feature

Review: When Henrik Ibsen completed his play “An Enemy of the People” in 1882, he couldn’t decide whether to declare his moralizing screed a  drama or a comedy. Indeed, in the mirror it holds up to human self-interest and moral hypocrisy, “An Enemy of the People” displays a deep strain of dark absurdist comedy. That is pointedly the case in a new adaptation by Robert Falls for Goodman Theatre that hews close to Ibsen’s cynical work. ★★★★

Musical ‘Pretty Woman’ set for Chicago debut, and cast has its emotional hooks in the show

Mar 26, 2018 – 3:20 pm
PRETTYWOMAN_Orfeh & Eric Anderson feature image

Preview: The final countdown is underway: “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” which has been taking cues from its Windy City preview audiences in adapting of one of the most popular and highest-rated romantic comedy films ever, is about to open officially March 28 at the Oriental Theatre with experienced Broadway veterans in some iconic roles, If you saw “Legally Blonde” or “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, you may recognize hooker Kit and hotel manager Mr. Thompson. With the curtain going up on Chicago’s pre-Broadway world premiere, a New York opening is set for August.

CSO violist Max Raimi steps out as composer; Muti leads orchestra, chorus in Schubert Mass

Mar 25, 2018 – 1:50 pm
055 featuredimage_mazraimi (Todd Rosenberg)

Review: A world premiere by Chicago Symphony violist-composer Max Raimi, who set to music the poetry of a 94-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning poet in the city’s midst, was part of a special showcase honoring the orchestra’s own: The Chicago Symphony Chorus, celebrating its 60th anniversary this season, sang a Schubert magnum opus not heard in Orchestra Hall since 1975.

McCarthy-era gay purge, seen through prism of a love story, ignites opera ‘Fellow Travelers’

Mar 22, 2018 – 1:23 pm
3/15/18 10:08:45 AM -- Chicago, IL, USA

Lyric Unlimited presents 
Fellow Travelers

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Review: Tenor Jonas Hacker stars as a young man experiencing the loss of innocence during the “lavender scare” of 1950s Washington, D.C. A homosexual purge in the federal government was an element of the McCarthy Era’s notorious anti-communist activities. Although “Fellow Travelers” is specific with regard to the Fifties event, its themes are universal – about one’s own irrefutable personal imperative, and the magnificence of love in bloom, as well as the soul-bruising compromises that befall at certain times of life. The opera is presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago at the Athenaeum Theatre. ★★★★

‘Six Corners’ at American Blues Theater: Murder at a train stop, seen in shifting lights

Mar 21, 2018 – 1:01 pm
subfeature

Review: Nick Moroni and Bernadette Perez are married (not to each other) mid-career Chicago cops burning late oil at the precinct shop, bantering, shuffling papers, watching the clock, waiting to check out so they can check into a motel together. This little slice of their lives provides the frame for Keith Huff’s “Six Corners,” a pulp-fiction drama at American Blues Theater that modulates from sad to sadder before it ends in the precincts of nobility. ★★★

Mozart & Haydn tumble through the orchestra in bubbly romp with Muti, Chicago Symphony

Mar 21, 2018 – 5:28 am
Mozart Haydn feature image sub

Review: As Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s irrepressibly grand 234-year-old “Linz” Symphony swept through the Chicago Symphony from stand to stand, at Orchestra Hall, one might have taken the music for yet another example of the brilliant young composer being inspired by Franz Joseph Haydn, his esteemed elder. But as music director Riccardo Muti and the CSO deftly demonstrated, the 24-year difference in their ages does not imply a one-way flow of influence from elder to younger. The influence worked both ways.

Directorship extended, Muti returns to CSO with Mozart, fresh commitment, higher goals

Mar 14, 2018 – 9:36 pm
Riccardo Muti in rehearsal, New York Carnegie Hall Feb. 2018 (Todd Rosenberg)

Interview: Italian maestro Riccardo Muti is back in town and eager for another dive into Mozart with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Chicago and Wheaton March 15-17. The program, which features Mozart, fits right into the CSO music director’s primary artistic goals. Musing on the significance of a two-year extension that prolongs his responsibility to the orchestra through August 2022, Muti made it clear the job is about more than conducting alone. He pronounced himself ready to take on the work of keeping the 127-year-old orchestra whole, fit, and facing its future.

In Bernstein centennial tribute, Lyric Opera catches the biting edge of ‘Trouble in Tahiti’

Mar 12, 2018 – 11:53 am
3/10/18 7:37:25 PM -- Chicago, IL, USA

Lyric Opera Chicago
CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF BERNSTEIN
Featuring
Kate Baldwin
Susan Graham
Nathan Gunn
Ryan Opera Center members 
Diana Newman, 
Josh Lovell, and
Emmett O’Hanlon

The Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by David Chase

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Review: Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” may have been prophetic when it first soared into living rooms via black-and-white TV in 1952, but it can hardly have felt convenient. Married couples of the time – the ones creating the babies of the postwar suburban baby boom – might have felt awkwardly alarmed by the troubles of Dinah and Sam, brought to life by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and baritone Nathan Gunn, two of opera’s finest singing actors at the height of their powers, in a wry comedy of cold clarity but also generosity of spirit.

In belated return to CSO, violinist Kavakos probes dark power of Shostakovich concerto

Mar 11, 2018 – 1:29 pm
Leonidas KavakosPhoto: Marco Borggreve

Review: It had been seven seasons since violinist Leonidas Kavakos last appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his spectacular return, as soloist in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in concerts March 9-11, came as the capstone to a double pleasure extending over two weeks. The Greek violinist, who runs a chamber music festival in his native Athens, had joined with pianist Emanuel Ax and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a memorable traversal of Brahms’ three piano trios Feb. 25 at Orchestra Hall.

‘Faust’ at Lyric Opera: The vibe is American, accent clearly French, and a stylish devil rules

Mar 8, 2018 – 11:12 pm
feature Christian Van Horn_Benjamin Bernheim_FAUST_37A0501_c.Cory Weaver

Review: The new “Faust” at the Lyric has a strong visual aesthetic and modern psychological insight, conceived by the visionary California artist John Frame and brought to the stage by a young production team led by director Kevin Newbury and set-costume designer Vita Tzykun. The impressive cast under the baton of French conductor Emmanuel Villaume stars tenor Benjamin Bernheim – in his American debut – as the doomed Faust and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Hell’s provocative emissary, bent on his destruction. And although the conductor and the impressive star tenor are French, this “Faust” has a bracing American vibe and cinematic feel. ★★★★

‘Mary Stuart’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Contest of queens for England’s throne is regal theater

Mar 4, 2018 – 1:30 pm
Feature 2

Review: Everything about Friedrich Schiller’s battle-of-the-queens historical drama “Mary Stuart,” staged at Chicago Shakespeare, proclaims compleat theater. From Peter Oswald’s adroit translation of this German-language verse play to Jenn Thompson’s fluent direction and the masterful, knowing work of a large cast, CST’s “Mary Stuart” is a many-splendored triumph. ★★★★★

‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ at Redtwist: Dodging auntie, teaching teacher, shining light

Mar 1, 2018 – 5:23 pm
SONY DSC

Review: It’s a singular experience to sit through what is essentially a feel-good play, and to reach the end with the sense that you’ve actually seen a genuine drama. Such is the rare form and substance of Chisa Hutchinson’s “Surely Goodness and Mercy,” offered by a splendid cast in the ideal intimacy of Redtwist Theatre. ★★★★

In recital ranging from opera aria to art song, tenor Beczała shows why he’s a Lyric favorite

Feb 28, 2018 – 12:03 pm
Feature 1

Review: An opportunity to savor the artistry of tenor Piotr Beczała through the intimacy of a song recital paid off in a vibrant vocal display Feb. 25 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Lyric audiences have previously relished Beczała’s appearances in the title role of Gounod’s “Faust” and as Edgardo in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” – the latter a performance in which his ravishing vocalism rivaled that of such legendary predecessors in the role as Alfredo Kraus, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.