***RECOMMENDED*** For the fifth time in the past 14 years the play "Stop Kiss" is being presented here in Chicago, and each production has been presented by vastly different companies. Ironically, four of the five (including this one) have opened in the month of January. Do we as Midwesterners crave dark and intellectually stimulating works the most to brood over during one of our darkest and traditionally brutally coldest months? Sure seems like it! That's not to say that "Stop Kiss" is a totally heavy piece of theatre that will send you into a deep depression. On the contrary, it is an oftentimes humorous and endearing glimpse at the emerging love that is generated between two very different people. With the alarming rate of anti-Semitic acts rising in the United States and Europe, as well as the increase in hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community at large (particularly the appalling homicide rate for transgender women of color), now seems to be an opportune time to revisit playwright Diana Son's 1998 off-Broadway hit in a solidly staged co-production of Pride Films and Plays and The Arc Theatre. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
★★★★★ Recently I saw a play about Hitler’s tasters which may have been the start of Meghan Brown’s “The Tasters”, now in its World Premiere at Rivendell Theatre. Brown’s story is not about an actual leader but instead is about a Government that has four major leaders during what appears to be a people’s revolution. The fear of their food being laced with poison causes them to use tasters. The women that we meet are Bianca (Paula Ramirez), Corrine ( Daniellla Pereira) and Elyse (Shariba Rivers).
★★★★★ Marriott Theatre has brought back the true “Grease” with its book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. This is the Chicago version and is quite different that the “Hollywood”, John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. This play was written by Chicagoans about a Chicago high school ( Taft High School is Rydell) and this version if far meatier. At the helm of making this pleasurable theatrical experience take place is director Scott Weinstein who truly knows how to use the in-the-round stage at Marriott. He keeps the action moving and allows all four sides of the theater great views.
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** The holidays seem to be a time when more and more theater companies are adding seasonal programming to attract new patrons and entertain large groups or families. The slate of Christmas-themed shows this year seems to be particularly brimming with tantalizing and appealing options. With the field so chock-full of copious goodies, packed tighter than Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, it can be difficult to choose just which show to see. Instead of going to see yet another version of "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker" why not take a chance and go to see a brand new family-friendly musical that is receiving its world premiere at The Greenhouse Theater Center? "The Land of Forgotten Toys," presented by CPA Theatricals, a Chicago-based non-profit organization, is a show that covers several different genres and is loaded with a ton of heart, robust good cheer and overflowing with genuine joy. 4 HOLIDAY SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Have you ever stopped and wondered whatever happened to all of those toys that Rudolph discovered on the Island of Misfit Toys? Clearly, Larry Todd Cousineau and Cindy O'Connor have. Both of these talented folks are the creators of "America's Best Outcast Toy," with O'Connor composing the music while the book and lyrics were written by Cousineau. As it turns out, all of these outcast toys are now living in the United States and appearing on a reality competition television program, vying for the title of -- you guessed it -- America's best. This fun holiday diversion is currently enjoying its world premiere at Pride Films and Plays. 3 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** There are not very many jukebox musicals that have an actual working jukebox on the stage. "Always...Patsy Cline," which was created by Ted Swindley in 1988, is an early example of what a jukebox musical can be, long before that term was even widely used and the concept of taking well-known songs by popular recording artists and forming a narrative to build around them seemed to dominate nearly every other musical that was opening on Broadway from early 2000 until the present day. Firebrand Theatre's current production of "Always...Patsy Cline" features a vintage Wurlitzer that fits perfectly into this very charming and intimate version of the true story of one of Patsy Cline's biggest fans which has 27 of her greatest hits interwoven throughout the course of the evening's entertainment. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** If you mention "The Nutcracker" to anyone they will more than likely have visions of sugar plum fairies dancing through their head or at least the iconic music of Tchaikovsky's famous "Suite" ringing in their ears. But for those of you who may want a slightly different interpretation than what the Joffrey Ballet is offering (or any other dance company, for that matter), you should head to the Chopin Theater -- and quickly. For the tenth consecutive year, the House Theatre of Chicago is offering their ballet-free version of this family-friendly holiday classic. If you've never seen it before, you will be surprised by how emotionally raw this work can be at times. If you have been fortunate to have seen it over the recent years that have turned this into an annual holiday gem for the House Theatre, a repeat visit is in order as this adaptation has been gently refined with some key changes in casting and technical execution. With a show that is this unique and special, here's hoping that it may run for at least another ten years or more. 4 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** The political and social landscape in America has changed dramatically over the course of the past five years. So, some eyebrows may have been raised when Lyric Opera of Chicago announced that they would present Mozart's "Don Giovanni." After all, director Robert Falls' production of this work, which premiered at Lyric during the 2014/2015 season, deals very frankly with themes of privilege, rape, murder, the corrupting ability and misuse of power as well as the disturbing repeated sexual abuse of women, particularly some very young girls. In this present #MeToo moment, do we really need to have this pompous parade of treachery and immoral display of humanity thrust in our face? Based upon the merits of this stellar production, the answer is a resounding "yes." 4 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** "I lost my soul because I didn't know its worth" laments the male protagonist in Raven Theatre's production of "Hoodoo Love." Written by Katori Hall and an off-Broadway hit from 2007, this drama with music tells the tale of an aspiring blues singer living in Depression-era Memphis and the great lengths that she will go to in order to achieve success as a performer but, more importantly, to ensnare the man that she loves and guarantee that he will settle down with her to raise a family. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS