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

Apr 18, 2018 – 2:17 pm

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. ★★★★

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

Apr 10, 2018 – 4:26 am

Interview: In title role of Schiller’s play at Chicago Shakespeare, actress found the lioness in the skin of a tender, vulnerable woman.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

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.

“That sudden understanding seemed to relieve a great deal of pressure and allow me to connect with this complex female,” says Moggie of the famously beautiful 16th-century monarch whose very life now lies in the hands of her fully empowered rival Elizabeth. “There is a softness about Mary, a vulnerability and tenderness, but she’s also a lioness with the deep quality of a survivor.” Read the full story »

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

Apr 9, 2018 – 1:14 pm
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

Brahms’ three trios for violin, cello and piano, played in perfect completeness by three stars

Feb 26, 2018 – 4:27 pm
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Review: Even if it wasn’t literally a once in a lifetime experience, it was rare enough, and it surely was special: the opportunity to hear all three of Brahms’ piano trios performed in a single concert. Violinist Leonidas Kavakos, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax converged on the Brahms trios before an overflow audience at Orchestra Hall that spilled onto stage seating. The event in the Symphony Center Presents series delivered all that one might have wished for, and then some.

‘The Wolves’ at Goodman: Girls soccer team, answering challenges sans Prince Charming

Feb 25, 2018 – 8:57 pm
The Wolves Goodman Theatre feature image (Liz Lauren)

Review: Week after week, the Wolves, a teen girls’ soccer team, coalesces into a fighting force. Meanwhile, that other towering season – adulthood – looms inevitable. Both are transformations thrilling to contemplate. An extraordinary new play by a millennial playwright depicts self-confident girls who intend to romance the world on their own terms. ★★★★

‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ at Writers: Grasping for some truth beneath a pall of lies

Feb 23, 2018 – 9:52 am
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Review: Brawny Phil Hogan and his imposing, hard-as-nails daughter Josie are poor tenant farmers in 1920s Connecticut. James Tyrone Jr., who owns the farm, is a wealthy playboy who’s always had a soft spot for Josie – and for booze and, by loud proclamation, the tarts on Broadway. The daily bread of them all, these desperate occupants of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” is mendacity. They lie to each other and they lie to themselves, until they each find some part of redemption in some measure of truth. Their rough progress toward that grail is a magical thing to witness at Writers Theatre. ★★★★

‘You Got Older’ at Steppenwolf: In a theatrical clinic, Francis Guinan lifts play to higher level

Feb 22, 2018 – 9:38 am
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Review: Clare Barron’s shadow-streaked comedy “You Got Older,” about a father’s death and a daughter’s transfiguration, is an oddly – I might even say deceptively – unsatisfying play. The real reward of Steppenwolf Theatre’s staging directed by Jonathan Berry, and the only thing that might draw me back to see it again, is the ever-luminous Francis Guinan’s performance as a loving father fighting a losing battle with cancer. ★★★

‘Hinter’ at Steep: Down on farm, bodies pile up as thriller flips narrative on its head. Go figure.

Feb 21, 2018 – 5:54 pm
Peter Moore, and Sigrid Sutter in 'Hinter' at Steep (Lee Miller)

Review: In an imaginative whodunnit, Chicago writer Calamity West proposes the hypothetical solution to an unsolved mass murder from 1922. Bavaria’s counterpart to the Lizzie Borden story (in notoriety if not in detail) involves six people on a farmstead in Munich’s remote outback. All were found hacked to death. ★★★

Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan tutte’ at the Lyric Opera: Amorous faith as farce, staged in high style

Feb 20, 2018 – 11:05 pm
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Review: It’s essentially chamber music, Mozart’s splendorous opera “Cosi fan tutte,” and it is a stellar sextet of singers that Lyric Opera of Chicago has assembled in a setting that is itself a picture of elegant intimacy. Despite its gender-specific title, “Cosi fan tutte” – or Women Are Like That – is a double-edged satire of the wobbly ways of love. Never mind that the course of true love never did run smooth; this delicious slice of musical mirth contrived by Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte declares that affection is inherently mutable: It is the very oiseau rebelle that Carmen celebrates in Bizet’s opera. ★★★★★

‘Franklinland’ at Jackalope: Ben lords it over his son, who naturally tells him to go fly a kite

Feb 17, 2018 – 1:09 pm
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Review: Imagine a delightful afternoon kite-flying with Ben Franklin: You are his young bastard son trying to keep up; he is the irrepressible achiever, inventor, visionary – a narcissist who, when he sees you at all, looks upon you as a project at best and, as he constantly reminds you, a poor copy of his matchless self. That’s the skewed but fascinating relationship played out in Lloyd Suh’s “Franklinland” at Jackalope Theatre. ★★★★

‘Elizabeth Cree’ at Chicago Opera Theater: Bloody mayhem and totally tonally winning

Feb 13, 2018 – 2:27 pm
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Review: Through the 20th and 21st centuries, composers and librettists have pushed opera in exciting and unexpected directions, proving again the flexibility and richness of this enduring art form. A fresh example is Kevin Puts’ “Elizabeth Cree,” which offers something almost never seen before – a bloody, fast-action operatic thriller with a juicy plot twist. Presented in the ideally sized, 691-seat Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building, “Elizabeth Cree” is one of the most successful offerings from Chicago Opera Theater in recent years. ★★★★

CSO’s concerts at Carnegie Hall were grand, but splendor also was writ small – in encores

Feb 11, 2018 – 10:38 pm
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Review: If the two ambitious programs delivered at New York’s Carnegie Hall on Feb. 9 and 10 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Riccardo Muti roundly summarized the nearly eight seasons of Muti’s directorship, the essence of it – and maybe the key – was articulated in the encores.

Bellini’s ‘I puritani’ at the Lyric Opera: Love, vengeance, madness borne aloft on high C’s

Feb 8, 2018 – 10:52 pm
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Review: No one doubted that Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova would be back at the Lyric Opera of Chicago after doing such a superb job of going mad the first time around. In 2016 she portrayed the innocent Scottish lass Lucia, of Lammermoor, forced into an arranged marriage despite her betrothal to someone else. She emerged from the wedding chamber armed with psychotic coloratura, compliments of Donizetti, and a knife dripping in blood. Now she’s back as the Puritan maiden Elvira, who is mentally shattered by her fiancé’s abrupt departure on her wedding day. Cue the coloratura. ★★★

Chicago Symphony opens an East Coast tour with bravura Brahms at the Kennedy Center

Feb 8, 2018 – 4:13 pm
Kennedy Center

Review: With his familiar wave to a raucous audience signaling that Elvis was leaving the building, conductor Riccardo Muti ended the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 7 – without an encore, a rarity on CSO tour concerts. But on this night there was nothing left to say musically. Surely all possible expectations of a well-filled house had been satisfied by a poetic and finely contoured performance of Brahms’ Second Symphony.

Part 3 of Wagner’s ‘Ring,’ and other treasures that glitter in the Lyric Opera’s 2018-19 season

Feb 6, 2018 – 10:13 pm
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Report: The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2018-19 season, announced Feb. 6, has a golden ring to it. While pushing on to the third installment of its four-year journey through Wagner’s “Ring” cycle with “Siegfried,” and returning to the treasury of Handel with its first ever staging of “Ariodante,” the Lyric will lay out three super-size Italian nuggets as sure-fire box office draws: Puccini’s “La bohème” and two Verdi favorites, “La traviata” and “Il trovatore.”

Of mortal frailty and monstrous transgression: Broadway in Chicago spotlights ‘The Humans’

Feb 6, 2018 – 9:02 am
The Humans

Review: In the midst of Stephen Karam’s abrasive family drama “The Humans,” presented on tour by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, the question of monsters comes up. Monsters in dreams. And someone speculates that if humans dream of monsters, perhaps what strikes terror in the imagination of horrid fantastical creatures is the image of a human. It’s a fleeting exchange, but it lies right at the core of this group portrait of people grappling with dreadful reality, hideous betrayal, terrifying truths about themselves. ★★★★

‘Blind Date’ at Goodman: The epochal meeting that changed the world – and all that glam

Feb 4, 2018 – 11:44 am
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Review: Three other plays edged into mind as I watched Rogelio Martinez’s ambitious and entertaining political drama “Blind Date” unfold on the Goodman Theatre stage. Two were more distilled slants on similar big-picture crises. But it was the third that finally lined itself up beside this glossy romp: the unpretentiously cosmetic musical “War Paint.” Martinez’s play reimagines the historical meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. ★★★