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Articles by Lawrence B. Johnson

‘Anna Karenina’ at Joffrey Ballet: Epic tragedy, elegantly translated into masterpiece of dance

Feb 18, 2019 – 9:58 am
Feature 1 Cheryl Mann photos

Review: The Joffrey Ballet’s world premiere production of “Anna Karenina” is astonishing and thrilling on so many levels, from its concise distillation of Tolstoy’s prodigious novel, choreography that captures the story’s tragic essence and inspired multimedia effects to a superlative musical score. But this remarkable achievement is first and foremost tremendous theater. ★★★★★

‘On Clover Road’ at American Blues: Missing girl, frantic mom; only this stranger can help

Feb 13, 2019 – 9:54 pm
Feature 2 Brosilow

Review: Kate Hunter is terrified, desperate, hanging on by her fingernails. Her adolescent daughter ran away three years ago, and finally Kate has a lead to the girl’s seclusion in a cult – even a glimmer of hope that on this day, all may end well. That’s why, in Steven Dietz’s thriller “On Clover Road,” we find Kate holed up in a dilapidated motel room with a brusque, imperious de-programmer who claims he’s experienced at reeling kids back from the abyss. It’s a heart-stopping encounter at American Blues Theater. ★★★★

‘Pipeline’ at Victory Gardens: As a black teen drifts, mother strives to find meeting ground

Feb 11, 2019 – 9:55 pm
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Review: Omari is 16, maybe 17 years old and he’s in serious trouble. He’s black, a bright kid, from good people. They send O – everybody calls him O – to a private school. But the boy is deeply angry, and now he’s facing expulsion from school, and maybe much worse, for assaulting a teacher. This the perilous crux of Dominique Morisseau’s play “Pipeline,” on gripping display at Victory Gardens Theater. ★★★★

‘Cardboard Piano’ at TimeLine:  Kids in love, and the long, life-altering echo of homophobia

Feb 11, 2019 – 9:39 am
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Review: There is one great scene and another that’s at least charming in Hansol Jung’s play “Cardboard Piano,” now occupying the stage at TimeLine Theatre. But all told, this dramatic parable about the intolerance of homosexuality in Uganda limps from adolescent fantasy to a second act that is more contrived than compelling. ★★

Nina Stemme, Lyric’s high-powered Elektra, recalls her cosmic trek from the world of Mimi

Feb 8, 2019 – 3:19 pm
NinaStemme_ELEKTRA_Lyric OpChicago 2019 (Cory Weaver)

Interview: By this point in soprano Nina Stemme’s operatic journey, the high-intensity role of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” has emerged as a signature piece. Indeed, the Swedish singer and reigning Wagnerian soprano, who currently performs the distraught and vengeful Elektra in her debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, all but owns the part. She is the foremost Elektra in the world today, and she embraces the staggeringly difficult role as “the greatest joy” to sing.

Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 3: Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Chicago Shakes

Feb 7, 2019 – 2:34 pm
Feature 1 Part 3 Joel Moorman

Review: The mid-winter is far from bleak under Chicago’s theater marquees. Steppenwolf offers Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a sort of what-if sequel to Ibsen’s play. Lookingglass runs out the premiere of Kareem Bandealy’s ‘Act(s) of God,” a cosmic guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner. And Chicago Shakespeare revisits the Bard’s melancholy prince – ever perched on the existential fence between being and nothingness.

Strauss’ ‘Elektra’ at Lyric Opera: Nina Stemme triumphs as vengeful princess with a ready ax

Feb 6, 2019 – 9:30 am
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Review: The great power of Richard Strauss’ “Elektra” lies in the transmogrification of a timeless tragedy through harrowing vocal music reinforced by an orchestral score so vivid, so nearly verbal, that it might stand alone as a symphonic drama. The magnificence of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production resides in the depth of its humanity – that depth sounded by tremendous vocal performances and orchestral playing, under Donald Runnicles, that is absolutely graphic. ★★★★

‘Nina Simone: Four Women’ at Northlight: Stripes of suffering, stained in shades of black

Feb 4, 2019 – 10:37 pm
Feature 1 Brosilow

Review: If you’re a serious theater buff, go directly to the Northlight schedule of performances for Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women,” and find a night that works for you. This disarming play-with-song about the great jazz and blues singer’s conversion to black activist – but more than that, about black women in their skin – is simply not to be missed. ★★★★★

‘How to Catch Creation’ at Goodman: Babies and art and other hints that mankind was here

Feb 3, 2019 – 9:57 am
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Review: Griffin wants to have a baby. Problem is, he doesn’t even have a girlfriend. He would adopt, but that raises another problem: his criminal record. Well, not strictly a criminal record, but he did a good stretch of time. Griffin’s conundrum is the core, the tease, the red herring of Christina Anderson’s delightful and touching new play “How to Catch Creation,” now in its world premiere run at Goodman Theatre. ★★★★

‘Photograph 51’ at Court: Isolated among men, one visionary woman fixes her focus on DNA

Jan 31, 2019 – 9:47 pm
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Review: Anna Ziegler’s play “Photograph 51,” now precisely imaged on stage at Court Theatre, is a high-intensity portrait of Rosalind Franklin, the British scientist who played a key role in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA – but was omitted from the picture when the men around her received the Nobel Prize for that landmark breakthrough. It is, alas, a preachy play, narrow and agenda-driven. ★★★

‘Red Rex’ at Steep: When theater stages local story, fantasy lifts curtain on one man’s pain

Jan 28, 2019 – 3:42 pm
Feature 1 Lee Miller

Review: The latest installment in Ike Holter’s now six-play saga of the fictional Chicago neighborhood of Rightlynd is part social commentary, part inside-theater sendup. From all angles, it is smartly written – provocative, witty and taut. “Red Rex” takes its title from a Rightlynd storefront theater, a struggling enterprise that finally may get over the hump with a compelling new play devised by the company’s resident playwright Lana. Devised, as in borrowed and adapted. There’s the rub. ★★★

Theater writ small at Chicago Shakespeare: Airborne bag ballet and children under siege

Jan 25, 2019 – 6:16 pm
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Review: No small part of what makes any season at Chicago Shakespeare Theater distinctive and intriguing is its annual bundle of imported shows. The visiting productions are often diminutive and typically off-beat, not just novel but beguilingly imaginative. Two such instances of theater writ small now occupy spaces at CST: “L’après-midi d’un foehn,” literally an air ballet of plastic shopping bags set to Debussy’s music, and “Us/Them,” the perspective of two children on a terrorist invasion of their school. ★★★/★★★

‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at Redtwist:
Ex-cop, brash cop and a gritty deal on the line

Jan 22, 2019 – 9:57 am
Feature 1 Tom McGrathTCMcG Photography

Review: Pops is a retired black New York cop – retired because he got thoroughly shot up by a fellow cop (white) while Pops was off-duty at an unsavory watering hole. But he gets along well enough in his rent-controlled Riverside Drive apartment, which he shares with a son who’s into some shady business and a slow-witted, adoring young ex-con. That’s the frame, the border around the stress points, of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulizer Prize-winning play “Between Riverside and Crazy,” which enjoys a detailed, charged and mesmerizing go-round in the tiny arena that is Redtwist Theatre. ★★★★

Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 2: Ahead at Porchlight, American Blues, Raven

Jan 19, 2019 – 11:05 am
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Preview: Chicago’s turn into real winter comes with the consolation of intriguing theater just ahead. Think of it as warming countermeasures. Porchlight offers the musical farce “The Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” while Raven plots Paula Vogel’s now-classic memory play “How I Learned to Drive.” American Blues jumps into the season’s second half with Steven Dietz’s “On Clover Road.” If a play synopsis that begins “At an abandoned motel on a desolate road” sounds more like a chiller, at least it will unfold in a snug place.

‘St. Nicholas’ at Goodman: Drama critic meets vampires. Seriously. He’s bloody amazed, too.

Jan 17, 2019 – 11:32 pm
Feature 1 Helen Maybanks

Review: It turns out vampires are real. Who knew? Anyway, the veracity of vampires is the central proposition of Conor McPherson’s one-man play “St. Nicholas,” now meandering across the boards at Goodman Theatre. I suspect the greatest allure of this dubious enterprise, brought to Chicago by London’s Donmar Warehouse, is the presence of Brendan Coyle – yes, the same Mr. Bates of “Downton Abbey” – as the nameless monologist. ★★

Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 1: What’s in store at Goodman, Northlight, Steep

Jan 16, 2019 – 11:48 pm
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Preview: The Chicago theater scene enters its snow-to-blossoms segment with a flurry of highlights that we’ll glimpse in a three-part series of winter-spring previews. In early prospect are Goodman Theatre’s world premiere of Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation,” Ike Holter’s “Red Rex” at Steep and Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women” at Northlight.

Injured pianist Andsnes cancels Chicago date; Lars Vogt to sub with recital of Brahms, Bach

Jan 14, 2019 – 9:45 pm
Pianist Lars Vogt

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
The Symphony Center Presents Piano series announces that Lars Vogt will replace Leif …

‘The Lightning Thief’: An off-beat musical pits off-the-chart kids against all odds, and gods

Jan 11, 2019 – 2:50 pm
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Review: “The Lightning Thief,” a musical making a lightning pass through Chicago as the launch point of a national tour, is a charming, off-beat coming-of-age show. It’s something of a graphic novel for the stage – colorful, energetic, simpler than its busyness makes it seem. Still, in its benign fashion, “The Lightning Thief” proves agreeable enough, if a bit overwrought and underdone in the end. ★★★

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma to play complete Bach suites in free event presented by Chicago Symphony

Jan 10, 2019 – 12:29 pm
6/14/18 8:33:14 PM -- Chicago, IL USA

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, Conductor
Yo-Yo Ma Cello

Shostakovich Festive Overture
Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 2
Prokofiev Symphony No. 3

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma will perform Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello in a free …

Writers Theatre highlights 13th MLK Project with performance at Chicago History Museum

Jan 7, 2019 – 4:42 pm
Top of story

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
Writers Theatre opens its 13th annual tour of The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil …

‘Year of Chicago Theatre’ celebrates enticing array of shows on area stages large and small

Jan 7, 2019 – 3:57 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
The Chicago theatre community will ring in 2019 with major events, getting the …

TimeLine buys Uptown building for new home; $20 million project targets opening in fall 2021

Jan 4, 2019 – 3:18 pm
Top of story

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
TimeLine Theatre has announced the purchase of a new home, the first step …

Old friend MTT leads CSO in a Russian thrilla, and an impressive Brit makes podium debut

Dec 15, 2018 – 10:41 pm
MTT CSO Todd Rosenberg 2018

Review: A banner in the rotunda of Symphony Center proclaims coming concerts of “HOLIDAY CHEER,” in just such sizable letters, but the last two weeks of the Chicago Symphony’s classical subscription concerts – first under British conductor Edward Gardner and then Michael Tilson Thomas – have exuded a festive air of their own.

‘Idomeneo’ at Lyric Opera: Strike gives way to stellar Mozart and new reign of euphoria

Oct 19, 2018 – 6:35 pm
Feat IDOMENEO_0V8A6337-Cropped_c.Kyle Flubacker

Review: Neptune scowled, but grand opera is back on the boards at the Lyric Opera House, and you could all but taste relief in the torrent of applause as the curtain went up on the season’s first post-strike performance of Mozart’s early masterpiece “Idomeneo.” Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s iconic production greeted the crowd. ★★★★

In annual report, CSO notes high renewal rate for subscribers and popularity of film concerts

Oct 16, 2018 – 10:18 pm
Top of story

This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to and edited by Chicago On the Aisle.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) released the results of fiscal year 2018 …

Strike settled, Lyric Opera set to raise curtain on Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ and Part 3 of ‘Ring’

Oct 15, 2018 – 4:20 pm
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Report: After the brief, harrowing intermission of a strike by its orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago is back in business. Members of the Chicago Federation of Musicians ratified a new contract Oct. 14, ending a five-day walkout and clearing the way for the Lyric to declare Oct. 18 as the deferred opening night of Mozart’s “Idomeneo.” The Lyric Opera House actually re-opens its doors Oct. 17 with a performance of Puccini’s “La bohème,” which launched the current season.

Lyric Opera, striking orchestra reach accord, ending walkout; musicians ratify agreement

Oct 13, 2018 – 7:36 pm
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Update: Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local #10-208 (CFM) have reached a multi-year labor agreement extending through the 2020/21 season. On Oct. 14, the Chicago Federation of Musicians voted to ratify the tentative agreement reached one day earlier. No further details or comments were available. The musicians went on strike Oct. 9 in response to cuts in compensation and work weeks sought by management.

Theater 2018-19: In three philosophical plays, Shattered Globe probes issues intimate, epic

Aug 23, 2018 – 4:21 pm
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Fifth in a series of season previews: It’s easy to pick five shows for a season, says Shattered Globe Theater artistic director Sandy Shinner. But settling on just three plays, which is a full plate for this plucky little company: That, says Shinner, is tricky. The trio of plays in view at Shattered Globe this season bears a collective stamp of philosophical discourse in dramatic form.

Theater 2018-19: Redtwist celebrates 15th year by raising monument in tiny space: ‘King Lear’

Aug 22, 2018 – 3:45 pm
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Fourth in a series of season previews: Fifteen years into its venture of creating high-voltage drama in a really small space, Redtwist Theatre will roll out its first production ever by the Bard of Avon. And what else would you choose for a first leap into Shakespeare on a postage-stamp stage but “King Lear”?

Theater 2018-19: Court maps world premiere and last play in the Wilson cycle: ‘Radio Golf’

Aug 21, 2018 – 9:25 am
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Third in a series of season previews: Court Theatre will cap its 64th season – and artistic director Charles Newell’s 24th year at the helm — with the world premiere adaptation of Saul Bellow’s novel “The Adventures of Augie March,” and kick it off with August Wilson’s “Radio Golf,” the tenth and final installment in his chronicle of the African American experience.