Monday, June 30, 2008

Phantom – The Vegas Spectacular (The Venetian) – 6/30/08

I then went to Las Vegas for a few days, where I caught some mind-boggingly spectacular stuff. First up was the $40 million souped-up, abbreviated production of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "The Phantom of the Opera" (6/30/08) at the Venetian. I've seen "Phantom seven times now, and this was the most enjoyable experience of them all. It's a show built on spectacle, and the Vegas version is an eye-popping, nicely performed machine. It's been trimmed for the better: the show runs a furious 95 minutes versus the 2.5 hours of the original, which dragged in certain spots in Act II.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Strangerer (Theater Oobleck) - 6/27/08

Before transferring to NYC, I caught a performance of Theater Oobleck's "The Strangerer" (6/27/08) by Mickle Maher at the funky Chopin Theater Mainstage. The play is an existential comedy (can you have one without the other?) with a political bent: main characters are George W, John Kerry, and Jim Lehrer, and the setting is the 2004 presidential debates. In turns hilarious and disturbing, this one defies description; just think political discourse through the prism of Second City with a touch of Beckett.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The German Requiem (Grant Park Music Festival) – 6/25/08

Brahm's The German Requiem (6/25/08) at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance was powerfully performed by the Grant Park Music Festival. More and more, I am starting to "get" live classical music and its power to enrich.

The Lady with All the Answers (Northlight Theatre) – 6/25/08

I ventured out to Skokie's Northlight Theatre to see "The Lady with All the Answers" (6/25/08), David Rambo's pedestrian one-woman play about advice columnist Ann Landers. Despite my reservations about the play, Judith Ivey gave a wonderfully charismatic performance, and I loved the elegant Lakeshore Drive apartment living room set.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jersey Boys (Bank of America Theater) – 6/24/08

I revisited "Jersey Boys" (6/24/08) at the BEAUTIFULLY restored Shubert Theater, or ahem, should I say Bank of America Theater. It's my third viewing of the smash hit musical about the careers of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (once in NYC with the original cast and twice here), and what struck me about this viewing is that, along with the music, the staging is the star. Des MacAnuff has staged an exquisitely paced storytelling machine. This is a bullet proof hit. Oh yeah, I still had a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Not a Game for Boys (A Red Orchid Theatre) – 6/22/08

"Not a Game for Boys" (6/22/08) by Simon Block at A Red Orchid Theatre features ping pong, middle age crises ... and a gun. I've long championed this tiny Equity operation (I was totally blown away by its edge-of-your-seat production of Tracy Letts' "Bug" before it made a splash in NYC), as they've consistently dished up top flight Chicago-style theater in its intimate space, which I think holds less than 100 seats. Most everything they do is extravagantly in-your-face, creating some of the most exciting theater-going memories I have in this city. This production is no different.

Gas for Less (Goodman Theatre) – 6/22/08

Goodman Theatre's world premier production of Brett Neveu's "Gas for Less" (6/22/08) on its Owen stage featured a host of authentic, well-crafted performances and a detailed set. However, the play itself lacked dramatic arc to really capture an audience.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Mark of Zorro (LifeLine Theatre) – 6/21/08

"The Mark of Zorro" (6/21/08) at the Lifeline Theatre, which specializes in stage adaptations of literary works, was great summer fun, featuring an ensemble that throws themselves with gusto into the swashbuckling, tongue-in-cheek world of Zorro. My interest piqued, I will be seeing the musical adaptation of Zorro when I am in London in September (the show got very positive reviews when it opened recently).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique) – 6/20/08

Talk about a perfect marriage between production and venue: Theo Ubique's sultry summer production of "Jacque Brel's Lonesome Losers of the Night" (6/20/08) fit hand-in-glove with its venue, the tiny and bohemian No Exit Cafe in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The passing el trains, usually a distraction, here enhanced the whole experience.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Beholder (Trap Door Theatre) – 6/19/08

I thought "Beholder" by Ken Prestininzi (6/19/08) at the tiny Trap Door in Bucktown was the best new work I have seen in Chicago thus far in the year. It's an intelligent and ardent play, with impassioned performances, about German artist Paula Modersohn-Becker and her search for fulfillment as an artist and a person. The experience was a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wicked (Oriental Theater) – 6/18/08

I saw the Chicago production of "Wicked" (6/18/08) at the outrageously ornate Oriental Theater for the fourth time, each time with different principal casting. The current production remains tight (and as opulent as its NYC counterpart); however, the current cast is a bit uninspired. The current production stars Lisa Brescia as Elphaba and Annaleigh Ashford as Glinda.

Mixed Bill (Grant Park Music Festival) – 6/18/08

That same evening (6/18/08), I attended a performance by the Grant Park Music Festival at the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, where they performed various well-known classical music selections. Concert was first class and also free, another perk of being a Chicago resident!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tony Awards Party – 6/15/08

I had a Tony Awards party (6/15/08). Of all my predictions, only ONE was off; that's a new record for me!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bloody Bess (BackStage Theatre Company) – 6/13/08

"Bloody Bess" (6/13/08) from the Backstage Theatre Company was a bloody bore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Lion in Winter (Writers’ Theatre) – 6/11/08

Writer's Theatre in Glencoe put on a pulse-racing production of "The Lion in Winter" (6/11/08) by James Goldman. The ensemble was wonderful, but special kudos to Shannon Cochran, whose performance as Eleanor of Aquitaine was a marvel: spunky, vulnerable, venomous, and altogether magnetic. Why is she not acting on Broadway?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Joseph Jefferson Non-Equity Awards Ceremony (“Jeff Awards”) – 6/9/08

I attended the Joseph Jefferson Non-Equity Awards Ceremony ("Jeff Awards"), of which I am a committee member) (6/9/08) at the Park West on Armitage. Lot's of fun!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day (Lookingglass Theatre Company) – 6/8/08

"Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day" (6/8/08) put on by Lookingglass Theatre was a moody meditation on the city that is Chicago from the viewpoint of poet Nelson Algren. The atmospheric projections and pointed percussion cast a spell on the audience.

Because They Have No Words (Piven Theatre Workshop) – 6/8/08

Piven Theatre's "Because They Have No Words" (6/8/08) was an unexpectedly moving play on the unmentioned casualties of the Katrina disasaster: animals (primarily pets).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Kid from Brooklyn (Mercury Theater) – 6/7/08

"The Kid from Brooklyn" (6/7/08), based on the life and times of Danny Kaye, at the wonderful Mercury Theater totally bombed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Gigi (Light Opera Works) – 6/6/08

Evanston's Light Opera Works' production of Lerner & Lowe's "Gigi" (6/6/08) sparkled under the 28-piece orchestra and totally charming performances. The show is all fluff and happily so.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Golda’s Balcony (Pegasus Players) – 6/5/08

William Gibson's (of "The Miracle Worker" fame) one-woman play based on Golda Meir's life, "Golda's Balcony" (6/5/08), was given a superb rendition by Pegasus Players. Janet Ulrich Brooks gave a triumphant performance as Golda, rivaling that of Tovah Feldshuh in the Broadway production (mind you, Ms. Felshuh was nominated for a Tony for her performance). I was also pleasantly surprised by the high production values here, especially given the Non-Equity status of the theater company.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The First Breeze of Summer (Court Theatre) – 6/1/08; Orlando (Chicago Opera Theater) – 6/3/08

Court Theatre's production of Leslie Lee's "First Breeze of Summer" (6/1/08) and Chicago Opera Theater's mounting of Handel's "Orlando" (6/3/08) were seriously disappointing season closers, particularly given the highs these two institutions offered over the course of their respective seasons.