****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** Tough, rare and bloody. These three words are used by the crew members of the ship, The Pequod, to describe the act of killing and subsequently butchering a shark or a whale and the quality of its flesh. It could also be used to define the mettle that was required to be a harpooner on just such a whaling vessel, or the peerless few who could sustain the occupational hazards. But, most aptly, those three words encapsulate Chicago Opera Theater's Chicago premiere of "Moby-Dick." Tough to take Hermann Melville's 1851 sweeping epic and distill it into as gripping and poignant of a libretto as Gene Scheer has miraculously done. Rare to hear a more hauntingly beautiful and stylistically varied score in a contemporary opera than what Jake Heggie composed for this 2010 work which has already been deemed a masterpiece. Bloody? Well, let's just say that this entire production is a bloody brilliant success. The only drawback to this is that far too many people will miss the opportunity to get a chance to see it. Following last evening's opening there is only one remaining performance to experience this essential, very American classic. 4 BIG SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** Oh, those memories, how they light the corners of our minds. But, as our narrator in “Buyer & Cellar” quickly points out, the human brain is round, so how could it have any corners, unless it is warped? Well, enough about trying to parse the lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman to the theme from “The Way We Were.” Instead, let’s focus on the product of the slightly warped and wickedly creative mind of playwright Jonathan Tolins, whose 2013 off-Broadway hit “Buyer & Cellar” is getting a rousing production at Pride Films and Plays that is as thoroughly hilarious as it is genuinely heartfelt. 4 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** There is no death at Disney – at least not at any of their family-friendly amusement parks. If someone visiting Disney World should fall gravely ill or suffer a life-threatening emergency and meets the Grim Reaper instead of Snow White, the body is removed and is not officially pronounced dead until after it has physically left the property. They don’t want the pall of death to ruin the magic. Whether or not that’s actually true or just the product of the vivid imagination of playwrights Jillian Leff and Joe Lino, who share many insightful tidbits about the rules and regulations of working at the happiest place on earth, doesn’t really matter because their play “Small World” is such a thrilling joy ride to experience. This world premiere, presented by The New Colony and under the direction of Andrew Hobgood, is a darkly funny triumph. 3 and ½ SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** Upon entering the Harris Theatre, you may have felt that you were actually in a large nightclub, with DJ Prince The Game Changer spinning from a large booth that sat at stage left. This 17-year-old turntablist had the capacity crowd on the main floor moving and grooving in their seats to some pretty impressive throw-back early 1990's beats (think Robin S and Crystal Waters) and mesmerized by some trippy visuals projected onto a large movie screen. The vibe was most definitely chill and not at all what you might expect for an event titled "XQ Super School Live", which is an emerging and flourishing network of "educators, students, families and other civic-minded people who are reimagining high school education in the United States" has partnered with Pop-Up Magazine to bring this well-organized and highly entertaining multimedia storytelling experience to Chicago for just one evening. 4 BIG SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June of 2015 that legalized same-sex marriages, there have been numerous plays that have featured gay couples navigating the uncertain terrain of wedded bliss. The majority of these works were written by cisgender males and, not surprisingly, all of the main characters have been gay men, most of whom are considering adopting children, expecting their new arrivals through surrogacy or already enjoying their little bundles of joy and adapting to their unfamiliar roles as parents. One of the most well-known of these plays is S. Asher Gelman's "Afterglow," which caused quite a sensation when it opened Off-Broadway and had a successful run of nearly a year and a half. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
★★★★★ Reaching for new starts and a better life is something that almost all of us have experienced. Perhaps, this experience is yet to come. In the World Premiere of Sharyn Rothstein’s “Landladies” we meet two women, from different backgrounds, who are in their own way, moving forward. Christine ( a wonderful performance by Leah Karpel) is working on getting into her new apartment ( if one can call this an apartment). She has a bad record, including an eviction, but has lied on her application. Her new Landlady, Marti ( deftly handled by Shanesia Davis) has worked her way up the ladder of life and from her humble beginnings now owns three buildings. Yes, they are not nice buildings, but they are hers!
***RECOMMENDED*** For the two young brothers at the center of Anna Jordan's play "Yen" it may initially appear that all they need is a strong dosage of love. No offense to Lennon and McCartney, but sometimes love is not always all that you need. These adolescent ruffians could have greatly benefited from a firm regulating hand in their early family life and development; to at least have had one dependable and sober parent to always be there for them in times of turmoil and to teach them valuable life lessons and make them feel secure along the way. Sadly, left to their own devices, which include PlayStation 4 gaming and streaming pornographic videos, it's not surprising to witness the wretched and unfortunate outcome of these truly uninspired youths. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
★★★★★ There are musical productions that belong on the large stage and others that seem to fit into the scheme of things at TheoUbique Cabaret Theatre. “The Bridges of Madison County” based on the novel by Robert James Waller, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and the book by Marsha Norman was a big hit at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, but the T-U version, in their new theater on Howard Street is “AMAZING”!.
***RECOMMENDED*** There is always good reason to celebrate when new operas join the repertoire of major opera houses. "Ariodante" at the Lyric Opera is no exception. It is somewhat shocking that George Frideric Handel's 1735 masterwork has never been seen at Lyric in their 64 years of existence but the long-awaited premiere of this Baroque classic arrives containing some major surprises -- one of which was not planned by the production team. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
★★★★★ Very often, I am asked about the smaller theaters that are difficult to find. It has been a while since I have been to a play on Broadway ( yes, Virginia, we do have a Broadway in Chicago) but tonight I journeyed over to Pride Films & Plays Center’s Broadway Theater, located in yet another Chicago “storefront” at 4139 N. Broadway. They are doing the Chicago premiere of “Southern Comfort”, a musical based on a film documentary that tells the story of a transgender self-made community living life on their own terms in rural Georgia. With a book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis, this musical is filled with Blue Grass music, and while you will not be humming as you leave the theater, you will have a good feeling as the characters find some happiness.