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Sep 22, 2018 – 1:03 pm

Review: Music director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened their 2018-19 season Sept. 21 with an eloquent and gripping performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (“Babi Yar”) on verses of Yevgeny Yevtushenko memorializing the massacre of Jews by German soldiers near Kiev in 1941. The composer’s widow, Irina Shostakovich, joined Muti on stage at Orchestra Hall for a post-performance conversation.

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Irish troupe brings Beckett’s ‘Godot’ to CST, leaving critic with nothing to wish (or wait) for

May 25, 2018 – 12:04 pm
Feature 1 Matthew Thompson

Review: Samuel Beckett was Irish by birth but a naturalized existentialist of the French line whose most famous native son remains Jean-Paul Sartre. Watching the Irish theater company Druid perform Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” – at once vivid and bleak, its characters dithering and hobbled and resigned to their absurd circularity – I couldn’t help thinking of Sartre’s “No Exit.” ★★★★★

‘The Originalist’ at Court: High court’s Scalia, lion who loves a fight, spars with spunky clerk

May 24, 2018 – 9:58 am
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Review: Everything about John Strand’s play “The Originalist,” a philosophical profile of the conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia now on the boards at Court Theatre, recommends the enterprise as a one-man show. The positive side of that is Edward Gero’s expansive, assured and piquant performance as Scalia. On the shadowed side of “everything” I mean, well, everything else about this contrived and tormented attempt to turn what is essentially fascinating and funny stand-up into high drama. ★★

‘How to Use a Knife’ at Shattered Globe: Slicing to heart of the human, or is it a beast?

May 23, 2018 – 8:28 am
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Review: In a different setting, Steve, an anonymous immigrant from Rwanda working as a dishwasher in an ordinary New York eatery, knows well enough how to use a knife. But when a master chef, or what’s left of him after the ravages of alcoholism, takes charge of the kitchen, the quiet dishwasher is drawn out by the elegant appeal of culinary art. That’s the setup of Will Snider’s wry and unsettling play “How to Use a Knife,” offered in a savory preparation by Shattered Globe Theatre and director Sandy Shinner. ★★★★★

‘Grand Hotel’ at Kokandy Productions: Lobby teeming with life, fraught with secret regrets

May 21, 2018 – 10:37 pm
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Review: I’ve always loved “Grand Hotel,” since I first saw the 1932 film with its incredible all-star cast that only begins with Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford. In 1989, the film, based on a novel by Vicki Baum and a play by William A. Blake, was transmuted quite successfully into the musical that Kokandy Productions now offers in a concept and cast that get right at the poignant heart of the story. ★★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: WillaKenzie nets the elusive essence of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir

May 21, 2018 – 11:37 am
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Tasting Report: It is a pervasive proposition of Oregon winemakers, whose red grape of choice is generally Pinot Noir, that their wines are created on the Burgundian model. One producer whose Pinot Noir might actually be taken for Burgundy, in both style and structure, is WillaKenzie Estate.

Salonen leads Chicago Symphony on Mahler’s Ninth Symphony voyage of life, transcendence

May 20, 2018 – 9:02 pm
Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen with soloist Yo-Yo Ma.Adams, Salonen, Stravinsky

Review: Somewhere along the mountainous range of peak moments in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recent seasons stands the performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony led by Esa-Pekka Salonen on May 17 at Orchestra Hall. It was memorable in a degree commensurate with the monumentality of the work itself, and the Ninth Symphony vies only with the song-symphony “Das Lied von der Erde” as Mahler’s absolute masterwork.

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

May 16, 2018 – 1:59 pm
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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. ★★★★★

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

May 15, 2018 – 10:01 am
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Review: 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. In the intimate Stage 773, you can just about reach out and touch Zachary Stevenson’s true-to-life personification of the determined kid from Lubbock, Tex., who rocketed to rock immortality. ★★★★★

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

May 13, 2018 – 10:16 am
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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. ★★★