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

Feb 23, 2018 – 9:52 am

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. ★★★★

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

Feb 22, 2018 – 9:38 am

Review: “You Got Older” by Clare Barron, at Steppenwolf Theatre through March 11. ★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson

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. Read the full story »

‘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
Albina Shagimuratova_I PURITANI_feature 2 (Andrew CIoffi)

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. ★★★

CSO premieres Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto, spotlighting veteran foursome of the orchestra

Feb 2, 2018 – 4:11 pm
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Review: On the one hand, Jennifer Higdon’s solidly crafted Low Brass Concerto, which received its world premiere Feb. 1 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Riccardo Muti, enjoyed artful framing by three brilliant pieces from by a wide range of top-flight composers from the past. On the other hand, well, see above. The premiere featured four veteran members of the CSO brass section.

‘Boy’ at TimeLine: Caught in a physiological trap, lad is certain that he’s not, alack, a lass

Jan 31, 2018 – 10:37 am
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Review: Adam is a boy, age maybe 20. So you’re thinking, OK, if he’s 20, he’s more man than boy. Exactly. But for Adam, in Anna Ziegler’s play “Boy,” getting to manhood meant first establishing his boyhood – or boyness, if you like. And that is both the most engaging and the most problematic part of this drama now on the boards at TimeLine Theatre. ★★★

Muti extends CSO directorship for two years, and orchestra announces plans for 2018-19

Jan 30, 2018 – 10:06 am
4/15/11 10:06:38 PM -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti Music Director.  Maestro Muti, Aleksandrs AntonenkoOtello)
Krassimira Stoyanova (Desdemona) and the Orchestra and Chorus take final bows following Verdi's Otello at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2011

Report: Music director Riccardo Muti has extended his tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through August 2022, two years beyond his current contract, the orchestra announced Jan. 30. Muti, 75, who began his directorship in 2010, will maintain his present level of commitment to the CSO — 10 weeks of subscription concerts and community engagement plus three to four weeks of touring. The announcement of Muti’s extension coincided with release of the Chicago Symphony’s 2018-19 season.

Minnesota Orchestra is fleet, crisp, complete in ear-opening visit to Chicago with Vänskä

Jan 30, 2018 – 6:23 am
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Review: The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has been the go-to guy for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on more than one urgent occasion in recent history, valiantly saving the day on not much more than pure adrenalin. But when he visited Chicago with his own Minnesota Orchestra, the maestro and his thoroughly prepared band projected a more serene mindset entirely.

‘Five Mile Lake’ at Shattered Globe: Siblings, distant or demanding, all in the swim together

Jan 28, 2018 – 7:43 pm
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Review: Rachel Bond’s play “Five Mile Lake,” a provocative slice of life currently held up for examination by Shattered Globe Theatre, is about lives out of kilter, out of perspective, out of adjustment. Before the play even begins, Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s disorienting set tells you as much. ★★★

From ‘Great’ Schubert to revelatory Mahler, Honeck scores again with Chicago Symphony

Jan 26, 2018 – 5:00 pm
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Review: For the second time this season, conductor Manfred Honeck has ascended the podium of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to shed new light on a major work that is oh so familiar. Back in November, it was Schubert’s “Great C major” Symphony. This go-round, it’s Mahler’s Fifth Symphony that Honeck explores as if wired into the composer’s creative mind.

‘All My Sons’ at Court: The sins of a father, unatoned and brought down on two houses

Jan 25, 2018 – 5:21 pm
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Review: It’s as Greek as Aeschylus, the inexorable tragedy that infects and ultimately destroys two families in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” And in the marvelous, shattering production at Court Theatre directed by Charles Newell, a long Greek shadow falls across Miller’s characters, amid the torment and self-deception, in spectral silence. ★★★★★

Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, in heady debut with CSO, lights up Bernstein, Bartók

Jan 19, 2018 – 5:24 pm
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Review: Mark the name of 37-year-old Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, who made his subscription debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 18. My guess is that few in the audience had heard of him, that no one who was there will forget him, and that he will soon be back.

Catering to opera-goers hungry before show, Lyric’s restaurant, bistro take it up an octave

Jan 19, 2018 – 4:59 pm
Lyric opera's Pedersen Room (lyricopera.org)

Around Town: Lyric’s onsite restaurants are fiercely dedicated to the principle that Yes, you absolutely will make curtain, and Yes, you can come back to your table at intermission for coffee, dessert, and the rest of the wine.

‘Rose’ at Greenhouse: Linda Reiter reprises her grand turn as matriarch of the Kennedys

Jan 19, 2018 – 9:01 am
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Review: The steely mother in Laurence Leamer’s one-woman show “Rose” shares a view back through the prism of her privileged life that is severe, magical and mixed. Linda Reiter as Rose Kennedy, cool-hand mom to a brilliant, driven brood that includes stars John, Bobby and Teddy, spells out how so queenly a matron might be at once proud and happy, marginalized and resigned. ★★★★

Chicago native Janai Brugger joins ‘Turandot,’ another bright spot in Lyric Opera production

Jan 15, 2018 – 4:34 pm
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Second Look: It was soprano Janai Brugger’s scheduled mid-run insertion as Liù, in Puccini’s “Turandot,” that drew me back for a second look at the Lyric Opera of Chicago production. But while Brugger’s performance rewarded my reprise, the experience also underscored some important truths about this last of Puccini’s operas – and about the real merit of the Lyric’s success with it.

Sinfonietta unfurls evocative musical tapestry of a Langston Hughes African-American epic

Jan 14, 2018 – 3:14 pm
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Preview: Chicago Sinfonietta’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. tribute concert is consistently the orchestra’s best-attended event of the year, says music director Mei-Ann Chen. But this year’s MLK affair – Jan. 15 at Orchestra Hall — will also be Sinfonietta’s most ambitious enterprise: composer Laura Karpman’s musically multicultural setting of Langston Hughes’ epic poem about the African-American experience, “Ask Your Mama.”

‘The Light’ at New Colony: Lovers sparring, teasing; then the earth opens and pain erupts

Jan 11, 2018 – 10:24 am
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Review: Gen is trapped in a numbing confluence of righteousness and anger, paralyzed between the ideal of goodness and the reality of imperfection. She’s the everywoman – specifically, every black woman — of Chicago playwright Loy Webb’s stunning new work “The Light,” now in its world premiere production by The New Colony. ★★★★★

Firebrand sharpens the edgy musical ‘Lizzie’: Rough day for Mom and Dad in old Fall River

Jan 9, 2018 – 10:27 pm
Liz Chidester LIZZIE feature image, Firebrand Theatre (Marisa KM)

Review: The Firebrand Theatre’s production of “Lizzie” sides with the popular fiction that Lizzie Borden killed her dad and stepmom with axe whacks aplenty. But then this rock musical proceeds to imagine why. The answer puts Lizzie squarely in the tradition of Sweeney Todd and Hamlet and Clytemnestra and the girls of the “Cell Block Tango.” They had it comin’. ★★★★

Grant Park Festival will celebrate youth, honor composer Bolcom at 80 and roll out premiere

Jan 9, 2018 – 3:51 pm
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Report: A large-scaled world premiere for chorus and orchestra, a celebration of composer William Bolcom’s 80th birthday and a parade of stellar young soloists highlight plans for the Grant Park Music Festival’s 2018 summer, announced June 9. Centerpiece of the 10-week series of free concerts, June 13-Aug. 18 at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion and other venues throughout the city, will be the premiere of an as yet untitled work for orchestra and chorus by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds.

‘Violet’ at Griffin: When a young woman’s scar cuts to her heart, bus ride to healing beckons

Jan 5, 2018 – 4:46 pm

Review: The scar on the young woman’s face cannot be seen, but it is real – as real as the invisible wound in her soul. And so she leaves her southern farm on a bus for Tulsa to see a faith healer, in hope of once more finding beauty in the mirror. What she ultimately finds is unexpected, and far more profound, in the bittersweet musical “Violet,” offered by Griffin Theatre in a production notable for both its charm and its grit. ★★★

One, two, (maybe) three: Muti again waltzes Vienna through beloved New Year’s concert

Dec 30, 2017 – 1:49 pm
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Preview: When Riccardo Muti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concert for the fifth time in his career, it will be 11:15 a.m. in the city of Mozart, Beethoven and Johann Strauss Jr., but only 4:15 a.m. in Chicago. Worry not, there are multiple ways to enjoy this event, which epitomizes the close friendship that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director has had with the esteemed Vienna Philharmonic, dating back some 47 years.

‘Red Velvet’ at Chicago Shakespeare: A black Othello who shocked staid old Covent Garden

Dec 28, 2017 – 8:27 am
CST_RedVelvet_01_feature 550 (Liz Lauren)

Review: Covent Garden’s greatest tragedian has collapsed in the midst of his 1833 “Othello” run, requiring the theater to swap in a substitute for the traditional blackface role of the Moorish general who commits a crime of passion against his fair-skinned wife. Perhaps London might delight in the novelty of a 25-year-old “African” actor to save the day. Dion Johnstone stars in this emotionally charged drama – based on an actual event – by British playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, who likes her humor dry. ★★★★

Chamber operas tell Christmas and Hanukkah tales, with magic to capture hearts of children

Dec 20, 2017 – 3:36 pm
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Review: A joyful musical double bill by Chamber Opera Chicago was on view at the Royal George Theatre on Dec. 19 for the conclusion of a two-performance run. The traditional holiday staging of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas tale “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was paired with Victoria Bond’s modern-day Hanukkah tale, “The Miracle of Light.” ★★★

In Rachmaninoff concerto, Denis Kozhukhin embodies glittering wave of Russian pianists

Dec 19, 2017 – 4:41 pm
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Review: Pianist Denis Kozhukhin’s imposing and poetic turn through Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jaap van Zweden on Dec. 16, drove home a striking reality about today’s pianistic landscape: It is dominated by a clutch of Russians in their forties or younger.