October 14, 2019

Les Misérables at Cadillac Palace Theater

Les Misérables is back for a brief run at the Cadillac Palace in a lovely Cameron Mackintosh production of the now classic musical.

1980 was the year of the Paris premiere, with a French libretto and score by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Jean-Marc Natel. With the original creators, James Fenton, Trevor Nunn and John Caird adapted the book and lyrics into English for a London production in 1985. The show made its Broadway debut in 1987. Audiences have been going to the theater world-wide to watch people be miserable in song ever since.

This production boasts scenery, lighting and costumes that are inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, the author of the French literary epic. The familiar score is ably sung by the cast.

Let me add a word on the vocal style. The cast members are basically using a hybrid of classical singing and Broadway belt which can sometimes be over-amplified and harsh sounding. This is the fashion of musical theater today however. Down the road, I would love to hear a production of Les Misérables with operatic performers using a bel canto approach.

Many people wrongly assume that the musical is set during the French Revolution which started in 1789. A guy named Napoleon ruled from 1804 to 1814. The play starts in 1815 and culminates in the June Rebellion of 1832 when many of the play’s characters are killed in a street conflagration. Boublil and Schonberg actually wrote an earlier musical called La Revolution Francaise which played in Paris in the early 1970s. My French history nerd persona is showing. Pardon me!

If you like or even love Les Misérables, this production would be a worthy use of your time and money. Through July 27, 2019.

Next up at the Cadillac Palace Theater are:
Come From Away, July 30 through August 18,
followed by The Band’s Visit, September 3 through 15.

www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/les-miserables/

The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre

If you have time for just one piece of live performance this holiday season, you may want to strongly consider The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theater. Billed as a Christmas pantomime, the 60-minute almost wordless presentation is based on the famous Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the same name.

Acclaimed director Mary Zimmerman has created a gorgeous short work that depends primarily on wordless physical expression by very accomplished actors. By turns heart-wrenching and hilarious, this play should entertain both young and old alike.

The theater is located in Chicago’s iconic Pumping Station across the street from the old Water Tower and the similarly-named shopping mall. No small wonder that there were lots of out-of-towners speaking other languages the night I saw Steadfast. There were also many adults with kids and even some three generation families taking photos in the lobby.

Get there early so you can see fantastical creatures periodically open the small windows of a gigantic Advent calendar. We also see four powdered-wig musicians take up their instruments in the small pit in front of the stage.

The only point of discussion concerned a final song that for some broke the spell of the pantomime. I surmise that Lookingglass wanted to end the show on a positive note and thought an uplifting ditty would do the trick. I thought the song functioned well but my viewing partner disagreed.

Still and all, for a memorable 2018 holiday experience that may give you a rest from The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol, The Steadfast Tin Soldier might be just the ticket.
Lovely instrumental music, creative costumes, an inventive period set, brilliant physical acting and a timeless tale curated by Mary Zimmerman. Who could ask for anything more during a cold December?

Tootsie, the musical at the Cadillac Theater

You literally just have a couple of days left to see the musical, Tootsie at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago before it ends on October 14, 2018. The tag line states this is “a new comedy musical” and it fulfills that bill in spades.

Loosely based on the 1982 movie of the same name starring Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie the musical makes some savvy changes. The main character played by the amazing Santino Fontana gets cast in a Broadway musical versus the movie’s soap opera job in the movie. As in the film, he falls for the leading lady (played by a lovely Lilli Cooper) who thinks he is “a woman of a certain age,” but today’s more open attitudes about same sex couples and gender definition add more depth to the plot line.

The songs, with lyrics and music by David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Band’s Visit), are tuneful and witty with a few stand-out numbers one will be hearing at auditions. Librettist Robert Horn has fashioned a very hilarious book that gracefully links the songs while giving full comedic play to the singing actors.

Tootsie is headed for Broadway in the spring of 2019, so you will still have the chance to see this delightful production. You will just have to go a lot further for it, and perhaps pay a premium for your seat. The trip to NYC will be well worth your time and effort if you don’t catch the show this weekend in Chicago.

Magic Lounge in Chicago’s Andersonville

If you want a most unusual and fun evening, call now for tickets to see a show at the Magic Lounge, in Andersonville’s SoFo neighborhood (south of Foster).
Be forewarned that weekend tickets need to be ordered weeks in advance as the venue has exploded in popularity. And rightfully so.

The exterior has no official signage but there are some poster images of magicians to mark the 5050 N. Clark Street entrance. Upon entering the vestibule, commercial washers and dryers make one question the address. Please persist for one of the machines is actually a door leading to a delightful bar with a magician doing tricks for cocktail patrons. If you are lucky enough to secure a show ticket, you will be ushered through another trick door that leads to a surprisingly spacious cabaret-style theater replete with a red-curtained stage, a theater organist, banquette and bar seating along with a petite balcony for celebratory groups. This venue is a big draw for bachelor, bachelorette and corporate parties, but you will also see local couples, small groups of friends and people of all ages out for a good time.

While waiting for the show to start, one can order nifty cocktails and very tasteful small bites and I mean that in both senses of the word. Imagine prosciutto wrapped dates with gorgonzola cheese, pork belly or beef tenderloin sliders, potato pancakes with apple mustardo and caraway yogurt, or a sausage board with cheese, peppers, caperberries and rye bread. Then again, your sweet tooth might enjoy a Katherine Anne Confection Truffle with flavors like Creme de Menthe, Hazelnut, Sea Salt Caramel, Citrus or Vegan Raspberry Champagne.

During the pre-show, a handful of magicians go from table to table giving up close sleight-of-hand displays. To set the mood, an organist plays tunes that are so square they are hip, and dons the hat of emcee to introduce both an opening act and a featured entertainer. The night we were there, both entertainers were not only adept at magic, but laugh-out-loud funny. Selected patrons are invited to the stage to participate in several of the tricks which adds to the hilarity.

What we saw was the Signature Show, but the Magic Lounge also offers David Parr’s Cabinet of Curiosities on Wednesdays, a Family Show on Sundays, Music and Magic on Mondays and Tuesdays. For an additional charge, after the Signaure Show, you can move to a smaller theater called The 654 Club behind the Blackstone Cabaret for a more intimate magic experience.

What can I say? The Magic Lounge’s offerings would be a perfect evening for anyone who wants an extraordinary experience with comedy, music, food and magic. When can I go back?

https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com/welcome/

Louis Sullivan, architectural visionary

In the musical I co-wrote with June Finfer, “Burham’s Dream,” Louis Sullivan is Daniel Burnham’s biggest stylistic adversary. In a cruel turn of architectural fate, Sullivan’s building style was eclipsed by the renewed interest in Neo-classical designs after the 1893 fair.

Chicago architecture buffs are aware of the many lauded buildings of Louis Sullivan (The Auditorium Theater, Roosevelt University, Carson Pirie Scott facade on State Street, the Charnley House on Astor Street), but they may not know about the tragic turn his life took in his last two decades.

Sullivan’s Bayard Building in NYC’s Greenwich Village

The teens and twenties in the 20th century brought the once-revered man into penury, alcoholism and rented rooms. Two of his former students came to his aid in life and death. The Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue was not a commission for Sullivan, but for his former apprentice, William Presto who hired his old mentor to design the facade. The little jewel-box of a building currently houses Studio V Design. (4611 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625)

Sullivan Transportation Building’s Golden Arch

Although Sullivan designed memorial structures for the wealthy in Graceland (most notably the Getty tomb), he himself died penniless with a pauper’s grave to be his lot. Protege Frank Lloyd Wright (and possibly some other architects) paid for the lovely monument that marks Sullivan’s final resting place in Graceland.

Not only can we appreciate Sullivan’s distinctively American architectural style, we can also thank him for the famous phrase, “Form follows function.”

Sullivan’s Facade on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago

I will be updating an article I wrote on Graceland this month, with some emphasis on the characters from Burnham’s Dream. This is the perfect time of year to visit this most restful of Chicago venues.

Ida B. Wells in current-day news

Burnham’s Dream has several historical characters including Ida B. Wells who is in current-day news.

The great-grand-daughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster, is trying to have a Chicago memorial erected in honor of her famous writer/social activist forebear.

Ida Wells created the first black kindergarten in Chicago and worked to get Chicago’s first black alderman elected. She was a tireless journalist, a friend and contemporary of Frederick B. Douglass and travelled to England to lecture about inequality and the lynching of black Americans.

She helped start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Colored Women. She was also a strong advocate of women getting the vote.

The New York Times very belatedly printed an obituary for Ida B. Wells on International Women’s Day this year, 87 years after her death.

The Chicago City Council faces a proposal to change Balbo Drive to Ida B. Wells Drive. If this happened, it would be the first Loop street named after a woman and a person of color. The now-razed housing project that bore her name was not a fitting monument to this brave and vociferous woman.