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Articles by Lawrence B. Johnson

Bereft clowns of ‘Burning Bluebeard’ recycle pain and guilt of 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire

Nov 21, 2011 – 5:55 pm
Bluebeard feature image

Neo-Futurists riff on a tragedy. 4 stars!

Holland Taylor’s one-woman show ‘Ann’ gets down with the grit and humor of a Texas star

Nov 18, 2011 – 5:48 pm
AnnFeatured2

At Bank of America Theatre. 4 stars!

Ho-ho-ho! Best bet for giving is the 60-CD Leonard Bernstein treasury

Nov 16, 2011 – 1:59 pm
Discs for giving

In a quandary about what to give the person you dare not buy for? If that knotty assignment is a music or theater lover, we at Chicago On the Aisle have a garland of happy solutions: concert music, operas, plays and musicals on CDs, DVDs and downloadable recordings. We’ll be stringing our bright recommendations over the weeks ahead, so check back often.

Role Playing: City boy Michael Stegall ropes wild cowboy in Raven Theatre’s ‘Bus Stop’

Nov 15, 2011 – 1:12 pm
Actor Michael Stegall portrait

Interview: Michael Stegall, who looks and sounds every inch a ropin’ cowboy in the Raven Theatre production of William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” grew up in the West. No surprise there. But wait a minute. Not that West. The 6-foot-3, 23-year-old actor hails from Palm Springs, CA, where the buffalo do not roam.

French conductor Stéphane Denève scores a triumph in Chicago Symphony debut

Nov 11, 2011 – 1:40 pm
Stephane_Deneve featured image

Review: The French conductor Stéphane Denève made a thrilling debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night. Denève, who turns 40 this month, is going to be an international force, and his concert with the CSO amply demonstrated why. *****

Da capo al fine, sharply accented ‘Bernstein’ sketches life of a great American conductor

Nov 10, 2011 – 7:12 pm
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Maestro at the Royal George. 3 stars

CD Review: Invention, finesse of Mozart’s ‘Prussian’ Quartets revealed in Emerson’s hands

Nov 8, 2011 – 4:05 pm
Emerson String Quartet records Mozart's "Prussian" Quartets for Sony Classical

The last three string quartets Mozart composed, in 1789 just two years before his death, utterly belie the desperate financial straits into which he had fallen. These sunny, and technically brilliant, performances by the Emerson String Quartet reveal Mozart at the zenith of his creative powers.

Motley travelers looking to get their tickets punched at Raven’s snowbound ‘Bus Stop’

Nov 7, 2011 – 4:09 pm
Michael Stegall and Jen Short in Raven's Bus Stop credit Dean LaPrairie

Engagingly off-kilter charms. 3 stars
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Role Playing: Brent Barrett’s glad he joined ‘Follies’ as that womanizing, empty cad Ben

Nov 4, 2011 – 5:28 pm
Brent Barrett in Follies at Chicago Shakespeare featured image

Interview: At the center of Stephen Sondheim’s acerbic musical “Follies”stands Benjamin Stone, worldly, rich, the envy of his old acquaintances gathered at this reunion of theater folks. Ben is all of that, and one more thing — miserable. Veteran actor Brent Barrett offers a candid analysis of the self-centered cad and womanizer.

In Handel’s ‘Water Music,’ Labadie and Chicago Symphony provide a splash of Baroque authenticity

Nov 4, 2011 – 12:43 pm
Portrait of Handel by Edouard Jean Conrad Hamman (1819–88)

What a pleasure it was Thursday night to hear Handel’s vivacious “Water Music” in the hands of a conductor who knows it so intimately that he doesn’t require a score – and who understands what charms it possesses that induced a delighted monarch to command repeated performances at its first hearing.

Review: Pacifica Quartet pairs Shostakovich and Beethoven, showing them as peers

Oct 31, 2011 – 5:37 pm
PacificaPerformingD

Review: The Pacifica Quartet offered a stunning reminder in its concert Sunday at the University of Chicago that the quartets of Shostakovich stand shoulder to shoulder with Beethoven’s as exemplars of the form, great and deeply personal expressions. *****

Amid Beethoven and Shostakovich quartet cycles, Pacifica to glimpse both at University of Chicago

Oct 27, 2011 – 10:17 am
PacificaPortraitC

The Pacifica Quartet has been playing complete cycles of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets and Shostakovich’s 15 in international venues over the last couple of years. Violist Masumi Per Rostad talks about the enduring importance of both composers.

CD review: Guitarist David Russell’s Albeniz displays mastery of instrument, style

Oct 26, 2011 – 4:11 pm
DavidRussellCD

The American guitarist David Russell got my attention a few years back with a CD of Renaissance music that included some very fine readings of works by John Dowland. That same technical finesse and artful musicianship grace this wide-ranging collection of pieces by Isaac Albeniz.

Profiles’ ‘Behanding in Spokane’ bundles laughter and terror in the same dark bag

Oct 25, 2011 – 10:16 pm
ProfilesBehanding2

Sardonic, but clear-sighted. 3 stars

Role Playing: Sadieh Rifai zips among seven characters in one-woman ‘Amish Project’

Oct 24, 2011 – 1:25 pm
Sadieh Rifai Amish Project feature

Interview: Actor Sadieh Rifai thought Jessica’s Dickey’s play “The Amish Project,” at American Theater Company, would be a pretty straight-forward one-woman show. The plays is based on the 2006 shooting of 10 school girls in Pennsylvania. Rifai would be switching among seven characters, but she didn’t see that as a big deal. She was in for a big surprise.

Bernard Haitink charms Chicago Symphony with twin beauties from Schubert and Mahler

Oct 21, 2011 – 5:42 pm
Bernard Haitink Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Review: Conductor Bernard Haitink and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra summoned performances of exceptional clarity in Schubert’s chamber-size Fifth Symphony and Mahler’s grand-scaled Fourth Symphony. *****

The Doyle & Debbie Show: Singin’ hits that’ll warm you up like hog rasslin’ in the July sun

Oct 20, 2011 – 4:12 pm
Doyle and Debbie Show featured image

At the Royal George Theatre. 4 stars!

Role Playing: Kirsten Fitzgerald inhabits sorrow, surfs the laughs in ‘Clybourne Park’

Oct 16, 2011 – 12:23 pm
Kirsten Fitzgerald Act 1 housewife Clybourne Park Steppenwolf 2011 featured

Interview: Actor Kirsten Fitzgerald portrays two very different characters amid the hurlyburly of “Clybourne Park, the double-edged drama by Bruce Norris now playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through Nov. 13. She’s a grieving mother in 1959 and a self-interested lawyer 50 years later.
It’s a theatrical tour de force that Fitzgerald likens to acting in two different plays the same night.

Finnish conductor answers every question in CSO debut

Oct 14, 2011 – 9:33 pm
Musgrave Bloom and Malkki

Susanna Mälkki, the 42-year-old music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 13 with a program of Charles Ives and Richard Strauss that, in every way, placed her among the most important conductors of her generation.

With new honors falling like autumn leaves, Riccardo Muti reflects on the conductor’s art

Oct 13, 2011 – 12:54 am
Arturo-Toscanini

In Part 2 of an interview with Chicago On the Aisle, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director extols Italian training, calls Toscanini his hero and admits impatience with routine effort – and prima donnas.

Lyric Opera’s ‘Lucia’: New production casts a shimmering light on tale of love and madness

Oct 12, 2011 – 8:57 am
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Donizetti’s bel canto dazzler. 5 stars!

After slaughter and heartbreak, radiant grace

Oct 9, 2011 – 11:06 am
Sadieh Rifai stars in "The Amish Project" at American Theater Company 2011

Jessica Dickey’s “The Amish Project,” echoes of a massacre at ATC. 5 stars!

CD review: Back-country music, toned up with Kodaly

Oct 7, 2011 – 4:38 pm
Violinist Viktoria Mullova's album "The Peasant Girl"

This off-beat CD takes the Russian-born violin virtuoso Viktoria Mullova back to her ancestral roots in the Ukrainian outback, in the traditional music of gypsies and other rural folk. 3 stars

Chicago’s fast burn is a dramatic flame-out

Oct 6, 2011 – 5:35 pm
TheFireGreatFire-3

John Musial’s “The Great Fire” flames up at Lookingglass. 2 stars

Sidestepping Mahler, Muti points toward Bruckner and plans that will stretch the CSO

Oct 5, 2011 – 5:13 pm
Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 2011 European Tour

In an exclusive interview with Chicago On the Aisle, Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti explains his limited enthusiasm for Mahler and reflects on a lifelong struggle with the immensity of Beethoven.

A portrait of Mahler as maker of worlds and emblem of ours

Oct 4, 2011 – 3:55 pm
Mahler Biography by Jens Malte Fischer

Fischer’s landmark bio of the great symphonist is now in English. 4 stars!

TimeLine gets Theatre Wing grant as one of nation’s Top 10 emerging companies

Oct 3, 2011 – 3:29 pm
TimeLine Logo

Company to get check for $10,000.

CSO marks Liszt bicentenary with an epic and a romp

Oct 1, 2011 – 2:46 pm
Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Celebrating the bicentenary of Liszt’s birth, music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra forged a sublime performance of Liszt’s epic “Faust Symphony.”

Images of Rothko, on canvas and in the mind

Sep 30, 2011 – 3:59 pm
Red production shot at Goodman 2011

“Red” paints a master-apprentice face-off at the Goodman. 5 stars!

Role Playing: Janet Ulrich Brooks on nailing the style of a wily Russian in ‘A Walk in the Woods’

Sep 28, 2011 – 3:10 pm
Actor Janet Brooks

Portraying an experienced arms negotiator during the 1980s missile crisis for TimeLine, Brooks manages to be sly, funny and serious — in precisely accented English she learned from an interview with a Russian opera star.