***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.
There are two ratings for this production. Since this is one of the “lost musicals” series, I feel that we must rate the front part of the production on the merits of the work done by Michael Weber, Artistic Director. He starts the evening with the telling of the history of the show that we are about to see. In this case, “Can-Can”, and how its writer ( book by Abe Burrows) and the composer, Cole Porter, got together to create this musical from scratch.
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** If you are a fan of classic operas presented in a very traditional manner and incorporating a mostly conventional approach to the narrative, then the current production of Lyric's "La traviata" is a must-see. Giuseppe Verdi's 1853 work, which is far and away the most romantic of his numerous creations, remains one of the most beloved and frequently performed operas in the repertoire of all of the major houses throughout the world. Verdi, working with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave (the two men had an intense personal connection and are responsible for numerous successful operas) has taken the themes of disease and love and loss and forged them with a somewhat scathing critique of Parisian society's mores. The result is a timeless and powerfully beautiful achievement. 4 BIG SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** To put it quite simply, Lyric's current production of "Elektra" is electrifying! On opening night there was a pre-curtain announcement made from the stage that Swedish soprano Nina Stemme -- making her highly-anticipated Lyric debut in the title role that has earned her widespread acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera, Berlin, Munich and Vienna -- had injured her knee in a final rehearsal and that it may limit her mobility. An audible gasp rippled across the main floor. But being the consummate professional that she is, Stemme rose to the challenge and, if she was in any sort of pain, she drove it deeper into her portrayal. You never would have known the conditions she was battling, as it never once hindered her performance. As far as her voice is concerned, there is absolutely no doubt that it is in pristine condition. 4 BIG SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** Porchlight Music Theatre has been enjoying quite a sensational season thus far. Fresh on the heels of their revamped version of the classic "Gypsy" (which was by far this company's biggest box office success and could easily have run for several more months due to the high demand but limited seating within the intimate Ruth Page space) comes the highly entertaining and wickedly macabre "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." The book of this 2014 Tony Award-winning Best Musical is based upon the 1907 novel of Roy Horniman's entitled "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal" but may be most familiar to avid cinephiles who relished the 1949 British film "Kind Hearts and Coronets" starring Alec Guinness. 4 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** One of the characters in Aaron Carter's latest play "Swamp Baby" expressively states that, looking back upon one's own life, it's possible to reflect that is was all just a "convulsion of memory." This is posited by a man who, purported to be a physician yet perhaps without the credentials to prove it, seems to be more interested in the eccentricities of the human body than the pain and secrets contained within the human heart. Carter, the local writer whose work has allows been informed by his fascination with magic, sideshows and the circus, has fashioned a hauntingly poetic work detailing capitalistic gain versus scientific advancements as well as themes of miscegenation and one which allows us to embrace the sometimes unpleasant sensation of what it must feel like to be an outsider looking in. Under Lauren "LL" Lundy's sympathetic yet focused direction, this world premiere presented by MPAACT at The Greenhouse Theatre Center is radiant. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Forget about trying to keep up with the Joneses. There is no competitive spirit or rivalry between the two married couples in Will Eno's quirky yet heartfelt dramatic comedy "The Realistic Joneses." Originally produced on Broadway in 2014 with an A-list cast, this quietly reflective show is receiving its Chicago premiere in a co-production between Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit. Director Jeremy Wechsler, who has collaborated with Will Eno multiple times in the past, has assembled a great cast of actors and gives them all individual moments in which they shine. 3 ½ SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** As the first winter storm with measurable snowfall blew into Chicago one evening last week, the audience at the Pride Arts Center eagerly settled in for the Chicago storefront premiere of Black Button Eyes Productions riotously entertaining and completely hilarious production of "Evil Dead: The Musical." While there were plenty of liquids flying through the air on stage, they were neither white in color nor crystallized like the flakes swirling outdoors. This clever parody, a mash-up of sorts of all of the Sam Raimi classic films that inspired it, has an uproariously funny book by George Reinblatt, who also wrote the wacky lyrics. The lively score was composed by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris and Reinblatt. This would make a great date night for you and your bloody Valentine. 4 BIG SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** There was a time, during the middle to late 1990's, when most of the gay men living in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood became dog owners. The logic behind this was to facilitate their chances of finding a boyfriend while taking the little pup for a walk, allowing the animal to become the catalyst for starting a conversation with a cute young guy who just wanted to pet the dog or else meeting other men who just happen to be taking their own dog for a stroll around the neighborhood. It was a great way to meet someone. Now it seems that having a child, whether through adoption or surrogacy, may have replaced dogs as a means for gay men to hook-up with one another. At least that's one of a myriad of scenarios presented in Peter Parnell's inanely titled play "Dada Woof Papa Hot" at About Face Theatre. 3 SPOTLIGHTS