The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.

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West Side Story

I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America

Lyrics from eLyrics.net

Sunday, after going to the Lyric Opera’s West Side Story, I woke up with the above tune playing in my head. Throughout the day, “Maria,” “There’s a Place for Us,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Tonight” played in my head. Boy, is this show packed with great songs. With a full orchestra the music is all the more powerful.

The most beautiful sound I ever heard
(Maria, Maria, Maria)
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word
(Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria
Maria, Maria)
Maria!

Read more: Westside Story – Maria Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Lyric’s production is four star. With great singing, stellar dancing, and marvelous expansive sets, this Romeo & Juliet tale is not to be missed. Often revivals decide to “update” a story, thus ruining a show with tinkering. The Lyric trusts the original to entertain and they’re right to do so.

There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere
copyright http://elyrics.net

It was a joy to watch this tragic tale of 20th century star-crossed lovers. Funny, how one can watch a show with failed love and even murder and leave the theater uplifted, but while the story does succeed in making one consider injustice and division, West Side Story, like Romeo and Juliet, succeeds in warming the heart and making the audience think. Go figure.

Guys and Dolls

Last weekend I got to see Northwestern University’s production of Guys & Dolls. Though I knew the name and some of the big numbers like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “A Bushel ‘n’ a Peck,” I hadn’t seen the show and wasn’t clear on the storyline. First performed in 1950, Guys & Dolls is set in New York City and follows a bunch of gamblers who cross paths with some Salvation Army types. Gangster Nathan Detroit, who’s been engaged to his sweetheart Adelaide for 14 years, needs to find a site for his floating crap game, but as the cops are on to him, he’s got no takers. The Biltmore Garage is possible, but the manager wants a hefty deposit for his troubles.

Nathan is sure he can convince gambler Sky Masterson to bet that Sky can take Save-A-Soul Sergeant Sarah Brown to Cuba. That’s a sure thing as A) Sky will bet on anything and B) Sarah is far to holy to agree to a date.

What follows is a lot of toe-tapping music, unlikely romance, and the antics of small time criminals.

The Northwestern performers all had great voice and sure steps. When I saw all the steep steps on the stage, I was amazed that no one took a tumble. How the girls in their heels managed, I’ll never know. Certainly they have more grace than I do.

The casting was excellent, with one exception. I applaud them for color blind casting and having the two lead women be African American. The numbers where some men were cast as chorus girls was funny. The one thing that I found a distraction was that Sky Masterson was played by a woman. It wasn’t that they made Sky and Sarah a same sex couple, It was that they expected the audience to buy into a very feminine woman with classic long blonde hair and feminine make up, to be considered a 1940s man. My friend and I both had trouble buying that choice. I’d have done some color blind casting for Sky.

The play is a lot of fun, but hasn’t aged all that well. It’s clear that for the women, their life goal is to be a stay at home wife. Though Adelaide works as a showgirl and Sarah is a missionary, their goal is to marry and stop working. Also, it’s clear that the norm for women is to find a man and then go to work changing him for the benefit of society. Now we realize that it’s better to find someone whose character you like as is since changing someone is a difficult if not impossible job.

Nonetheless, I recommend if you’re anywhere near Evanston, IL from now till March 3, check out Guys & Dolls.

Pamplona

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I was lucky to get to see Pamplona starring Stacy Keach at the Goodman Theater. Set in a hotel room in Spain, Pamplona shows Ernest Hemingway struggle with writer’s block as the tries to write an article on bullfighting for Life magazine. As he struggles, Hemingway looks back on his life – all four of his marriages, his conflicts with his father and mother, his writing career and his love and respect for bullfighters and their sport.

Throughout the play, vintage photos are projected on the hotel walls placing the set in history. Pamplona is staged in Goodman’s smaller theater, which resembles Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater so every seat provides a good view in an intimate setting.

Keach brings Hemingway to life and is wonderful in this show. You have to be a powerful performer to captivate an audience for 90 minutes. Kudos to Keach.

I enjoyed learning more about this writer and was pleased with the surprising ending. Just masterful. The play was one of the best of this year’s season.

Blind Date

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Lucky for me my friend’s husband isn’t a theater lover. That’s how I got invited to see Blind Date at the Goodman Theater. Blind Date shows us how Ronald Reagan convinced Mikhail Gorbachev to attend a summit meeting to talk about the weapons race. My understanding of this page of history was foggy, but the performances brought clarity and interest. The play opens with a monologue by George Schultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State. Due to his education and experience in economics, Shultz was able to figure out how Russia would struggle and what the consequences would be. Thus he realized this was a key time to contact Gorbechev, Russia’s youngest General Secretary.

Next Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, shares his thinking with the audience before sharing cocktails with Shultz. (In their conversation, which begins awkwardly Shultz tells Shevardnadze about a cocktail called The Kangaroo, which most of us know as a vodka martini.

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We see a lot of negotiating and one step forward, one back action as the two governments and two men figure out whether they should meet and where. It’s quite a chess game and quite interesting. Both powerful men are married to driven women. Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev have some of the plays best scenes and lines. These women know their minds and masterfully can read situations.

The play has humor but adroitly manages not to canonize or lampoon Reagan. The playwright Rogelio Martinez was born in Cuba and lived there till he was 9 and came to the US. Hence Martinez is fascinated with the ideologies of democracy and communism and has written a series of plays about events like the ping pong competition between China and the US where communism and democracy intersected. It would be easy to make a play that bored or had the wrong tone, but with Blind Date Martinez entertains and enlightens. The play’s pace is good and I could see this show on Broadway. I could see watching this again, which I think is the ultimate goal of a good play.

Kudos to Director Robert Falls and all the performers. Bravo!

Red Velvet

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Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge, CST

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented an excellent production of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The story of the first African American to play Othello on the London state in 1833, the story explores racism. As we know, abolition was a hot issue in the mid-1800s. In England there were protests against the slave trade.

When Ian Keen, who starred as Othello, fell ill the manager of the Covent Garden Theater chose Ira Aldridge, a black actor from America to play Othello. Some in the cast were excited and supportive, but Ian’s son and another actor were strongly opposed.

Aldridge was a fine, thoughtful actor, whose goal was to work in London. He takes his art seriously and gives a passionate performance the first night. However, the critics were shocked to see an actor of African heritage on stage and their reviews were venomous. The manager, Pierre LaPorte is a good friend of Aldridge and he counsels the actor to tone down his performance. Yet we can see that Aldridge can’t rein in his perfectionism. His desire to bring Othello to life as he reads the play leads to disaster. A consummate professional, Aldridge pushes the edges of his performance.

The performances were all pitch perfect and the play was compelling as it showed a chapter of theater history, I wasn’t aware of. The play has been produced in London and New York. If it comes to your hometown, I highly recommend you check it out.

The Book of Will

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What a fun play! Written by Lauren Gunderson, The Book of Will at the Northlight Theater till December 17th tells the story of how without the effort of his friends, we wouldn’t have an authentic collection of William Shakespeare’s plays. In 1620 after Will had passed on, his friends were fed up with bad Shakespearean plays. Some were bad versions patched up with garbled versions of the plays made from copyists in the audience who tried to take down everything that was said. Some were just plays written by hacks who tried to copy Shakespeare’s style.

The play begins in a pub near The Globe theater where three of Shakespeare’s friends Richard Burbage, John Heminges, Henry Condell, actors from the King’s Men’s troupe and Condell’s daughter Elizabeth bemoan the horrible fakery that passes for Shakespeare. When Burbage dies suddenly they realize the only chance for passing these masterpiece plays down to posterity is to collect and publish a folio. It’s an expensive undertaking that is complicated by the lack of a full set of originals. A few plays are here, another bunch are with a scrivener, most actors only got their part, not the full play so some had to be carefully put together. No respectable printer wanted to touch the project so Heminges and Condell had to settle for a slimy, greedy cheat.

The play is delightful as it weaves memorable passaged of the Bard’s work throughout the story, which is well paced. The characters include Shakespeare’s wife, daughter and mistress, and Heminges’ and Condell’s wives and and so there is some female influence supporting the impossible project. The Northlight’s set and costumes were perfect. I’m tempted to go again.

What’s great about the Northlight is free parking and every seat has a clear view.