January 19, 2021

“Her Honor Jane Byrne” presented by Lookingglass Theatre and WBEZ Radio

“Her Honor Jane Byrne” is an original play by J. Nicole Brooks, presented by Lookingglass Theatre Company and WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate.

On March 26, 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne moved into Cabrini Green, a notorious housing project on Chicago’s near west side. Did she do this as a publicity stunt or to see firsthand how people lived in this rundown complex that contained 14,000 plus residents?

The dialogue is witty and the story will be of interest even to non-Chicago residents. Listeners hear about the travails of Chicago’s first female mayor. Residents, police personnel, activists, aldermen and a crime capo all make appearances in this fascinating theater piece.

Initially a stage presentation at Lookingglass Theatre in March 2020, the production was shut down by the pandemic. In collaboration with WBEZ, the historical production was presented as a radio play on Thanksgiving Day. A live re-broadcast will occur on Saturday, Nov. 28 from 2 pm to 4 pm (91.5 FM).

You can also access the two-hour drama from the WBEZ web site. Go to wbez.org. Click on the SEARCH button and type in HER HONOR JANE BYRNE. Scroll down to a WBEZ logo with the play title and click the LISTEN button. A player bar will appear at the bottom of your screen page with the play. (I am giving you step by step directions since the site would not give me a direct link to the radio play.)

J. Nicole Brooks

Thank you WBEZ for making this engaging radio play available. I surely hope Lookingglass re-stages this fascinating work by J. Nicole Brooks in the post-pandemic era.

https://www.wbez.org/

Emma: Jane Austen musical at Chicago Shakespeare

It came as no surprise that the audience was predominantly women at last night’s performance of Emma, a musical currently playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. More’s the pity since this was full of smart dialogue and lyrics, fine acting and extremely high production values.

Lora Lee Gayer is superb as the opinionated and meddlesome Emma Woodhouse. Brad Standley as the upstanding and slightly repressed Mr. Knightley goes toe to toe with her. Their exchanges are reminiscent of the screwball film comedies of the 1930s. All of the cast members, a mix of local and out-of-town talent, turn in entertaining acting and vocal performances.

Paul Gordon is the mastermind behind this lovely musical having written the book, lyrics, music and contributed to the orchestrations. The marvelous direction is by CST artistic director Barbara Gaines.

There is a diaphanous quality to the scenic design with gauzy drapes, romantic lighting and sliding minimal sets. There is not much choreography but the ball scene absolutely delights. The pit ensemble is small but mighty with violin and cello, plus a tasteful electric keyboard and a reed person adding various colors.

This makes for an absolutely charming outing to the theater. You only have until March 15 to catch Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Emma. Limited tickets have been available at Hot Tix and Goldstar but paying full price would be worth every penny. Hey men, Jane Austen lives! Deal with it.

NAVY PIER, 800 EAST GRAND AVE, CHICAGO, IL 60611

www.chicagoshakes.com

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.

The Good Fight on CBS All Access

I finally signed up to see The Good Fight, an exclusive series shown only on CBS All Access. The network has chosen this Good Wife spin-off and a new Star Trek series to lure people to their subscription streaming service. And I bit!

The Good Fight carries on where The Good Wife left off, with many actors reprising their roles from the previous series. Margulies, Chris Noth and Alan Cumming are gone, but Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart is back, as is Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn. The show is peppered with local Chicago actors including Gary Cole as Diane Lockhart’s long distance husband.

Live theater is well represented with Audra McDonald as one of the attorneys at this predominantly black law firm, English actor and director Delroy Lindo as the lead name partner and Bernadette Peters as the wife of a Bernie Madoff-esque client.

Recurring and guest roles are filled by actors like Alan Alda, Louis Gossett Jr., Dylan Baker, Christine Lahti, Matthew Perry and Margo Martindale. Guest roles have included Bebe Neuwirth, Rob Reiner, Judith Light, Wallace Shawn, F. Murray Abraham, Megan Hilty, Christian Borle, Mamie Gummer and Denis O’Hare. Talk about a who’s who of stage, tv and film.

In fact, every episode seems to bring back characters from The Good Wife, created by Michelle and Robert King. The Kings are joined by Alden Robinson in creating this sequel that carries on the tradition of episodes that feature plot lines ripped from the current headlines.

I don’t know if The Good Fight rises to the same level as The Good Wife, but I was delighted to spend more time with these intriguing characters set in the City of Big Shoulders.

This is my girlie side showing, but I want many of the outfits worn by the law ladies of The Good Fight. Whoever chose the show’s wardrobe gets an A plus. The acting and writing are good, but those clothes…….