Rachel Weinberg works in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Communication and Spanish. You can find her online at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and follow her on Twitter @rachelrweinberg.
"This music is magical. My writing is stilted." So proclaims Erik Jensen as famed rock critic Lester Bangs in HOW TO BE A ROCK CRITIC, now playing as part of Steppenwolf's Lookout Series. This thought has likely crossed the mind of all art critics out there (certainly it has crossed mine), and it embodies the spirit of this 80-minute solo play as it charts Bangs's career. Jensen and co-playwright Jessica Blank (the pair are also married) give us a portrait of Bangs-who died of a drug overdose at age 33-that demonstrates the passion, creativity, and self-destructive nature that defined him. This solo play provides an overview of Bangs's trajectory and allows audiences to learn about the rock music he loved, aided by David Robbins's sound design.BWW Review: HIR at Steppenwolf Theatre Company July 10, 2017
Taylor Mac's HIR, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf under the direction of Hallie Gordon, proves itself to be a complete whirlwind from the beginning. Collette Pollard's strikingly realistic living room/kitchen set is in a tornado-like state when the curtain comes up at the top of the play, with heaps of clothes scattered around, a large tower of miscellaneous household appliances and craft supplies barring the front door, and a general lack of discernible counter and floor space anywhere. This state of disarray echoes the chaotic state of the dysfunctional family at the center of HIR: order has gone entirely to the wayside. Paige (Amy Morton, a commanding spitfire from the start) resides in this mess of a house with her transgender son Max (an earnest and likable Em Grosland) and her husband Arnold, who is deeply mentally incapacitated as a result of a severe stroke (Fran Guinan in a shocking and haunting performance). When Paige and Arnold's eldest son Isaac (Ty Olwin) arrives home from war, he finds a home and family that he no longer recognizes.BWW Interview: Autumn Hurlbert Discusses Adventures and Laughs On Tour with SOMETHING ROTTEN! June 29, 2017
Autumn Hurlbert is taking it back to the '90s (namely, 1595) in the role of Portia as part of the first national tour of SOMETHING ROTTEN! This new musical chronicles a fictitious rivalry between playwright brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom who, at the advice of a fortune teller, create the world's first musical in order to compete with William Shakespeare. Hurlbert portrays the romantic, literature-loving Portia, who becomes Nigel's love interest. In advance of the tour's Chicago engagement, Hurlbert chatted about why she loves the show, her time on MTV's reality show LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL: THE SEARCH FOR THE NEXT ELLE WOODS, and what it is like to tour the nation with her husband and two-year-old son by her side.BWW Review: MOBY DICK at Lookingglass Theatre Company June 22, 2017
Following a successful 2015 run, that great white whale MOBY DICK has returned to Lookingglass in a highly physical, inventive, and visually compelling production that's fully in keeping with the company's aesthetic. David Catlin's adaptation of Herman Meville's sprawling novel surrounds audiences in the universe of those whalers on board the Pequod in search of that elusive creature. With Courtney O'Neill's artful and hand-crafted set design, the stage and audience reside in a whale 'skeleton,' which cleverly also becomes the structure of the ship. As is common with Lookingglass productions, MOBY DICK also makes use of some talented, athletic performers who take on stunning acrobatic feats (choreography by The Actors Gymnasium's Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi). But like any voyage, Catlin's script has a number of slower, narration-heavy moments that lack much action. MOBY DICK vacillates between moments of captivating artistry combined with heightened physicality and lengthy stretches of pure narration.BWW Review: THE KING AND I at Broadway In Chicago June 18, 2017
Bartlett Sher's 2015 Tony Award winning revival of THE KING AND I has sailed into Broadway In Chicago's Oriental Theatre in a triumphant touring production.BWW Review: PASS OVER at Steppenwolf June 14, 2017
The world premiere of Karen Zacarias's NATIVE GARDENS at Victory Gardens Theater provides ample humor and wit-even if the playwright's neighborly metaphor sometimes feels too on the nose.BWW Review: RAGTIME at Griffin Theatre Company June 6, 2017
Just as Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens's 1999 musical RAGTIME traverses numerous locales on the East Coast and spans the years from 1906-1914, so too does director Scott Weinstein's dynamic staging make full use of The Den Theatre's Heath Mainstage. In Griffin Theatre Company's production, Weinstein's in-the-round staging often has actors dispersed among the audience (indeed, a handful of performers appeared right in front and me and even made eye contact during the performance). While this is an intimate production of a sweeping musical, this genius device lends RAGTIME the grand air it commands. The closeness of the action also lends pathos to this story of three American families-one white and privileged, one black, and one immigrant-as they navigate a changing country at the beginning of the twentieth century.BWW Review: PARADE at Writers Theatre June 3, 2017
PARADE is now in a blistering and beautifully minimalist production from director Gary Griffin. Though it is based off the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish pencil factory worker Leo Frank and was written by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry in 1998, this musical feels entirely of this moment. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, the musical follows Leo as he is imprisoned and put on trial after being falsely accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, a pre-teen girl found dead in the basement of the pencil factory. Georgia governor Hugh Dorsey wants to rapidly resolve the case and pins the blame on Leo-and coerces factory janitor Jim Conley to serve as an eye witness. The residents of Atlanta buy into Dorsey's false narrative, as they're distrustful of Frank and also want to see Mary's death avenged. BWW Interview: THE KING AND I's Manna Nichols Chats About The Relevance of This Classic Musical June 1, 2017
Following a Tony Award-winning Broadway run at Lincoln Center Theater in 2015 and 2016, Bartlett Sher's THE KING AND I is now hitting the road on a national tour and arrives in Chicago this month. In advance of the production's arrival, I spoke with cast member Manna Nichols. Nichols plays the role of Burmese princess Tuptim, who is presented to the titular King of Siam as a peace offering at the beginning of the show. She chatted about the relevance of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in 2017 and why she's drawn to the role of Tuptim.BWW Interview: Lisa O'Hare and Bryce Pinkham Share Why It's 'Loverly' to Reunite for MY FAIR LADY April 28, 2017
Shortly before performances began for MY FAIR LADY at Lyric Opera, I had the opportunity to sit down with Lisa O'Hare (Eliza Doolittle) and Bryce Pinkham (Freddy Eynsford-Hill) for a conversation backstage at the opera house. O'Hare and Pinkham are no strangers to working together, as they both originated roles in the 2014 Tony Award-winning musical A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER. Pinkham in fact revealed that one of the reasons he signed on to MY FAIR LADY was to have a 'front-row seat' to see O'Hare's take on Eliza, a role she has performed previously in the West End and in a 2008 U.S. national tour. While dressed in street clothes but still wearing faces full of stage makeup, O'Hare and Pinkham chatted with me about what it's been like to reunite, why they're excited to be involved in this staging of Lerner and Loewe's classic musical, and how it feels to perform on the Lyric stage. Read on for excerpts from the conversation.BWW Review: Porchlight's MARRY ME A LITTLE is a Rhapsodic Love Letter to Sondheim's Song Catalog April 26, 2017
True blue fans of Stephen Sondheim (this reviewer included) will be drooling over Porchlight's latest offering MARRY ME A LITTLE. This two-hander revue showcases a number of Sondheim's finest trunk songs-early renditions of numbers that were cut from such musicals as FOLLIES, INTO THE WOODS and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. Conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, MARRY ME A LITTLE (which has been revised for this production) introduces audiences to two lonely singles in New York City-known merely as "The Man" and "The Woman." Living just an apartment floor away, these two lament their loneliness, and it becomes up to audiences to decide if the relationship that transpires in the show is real or imagined. The details are a bit foggy as MARRY ME A LITTLE has no dialogue whatsoever, but the piece is ultimately designed to showcase Sondheim's work.BWW Review: Will Davis Casts An Imaginative, Modern Lens on William Inge's PICNIC March 27, 2017
In putting together American Theater Company's current production of William Inge's classic play PICNIC, Artistic Director Will Davis said he wanted his cast "to reflect the playwright and the powerful forces in his own psyche that kept him from happiness and fulfillment." Indeed, the actors Davis has cast certainly unlock a great deal of humanity in PICNIC's characters. As outsider Hal, Molly Brennan delivers a particularly inspired performance and bestows an
immense depth of feeling into her role. While this is the first time I've seen a staging of PICNIC, I imagine that Hal is often played more broadly and more stereotypically typecast as a "macho" man-aggressive and assertive. In Brennan's Hal, however, there is a beautiful earnestness and genuine desire for acceptance and belonging. This also makes Hal's desire for Madge (Malic White) a more powerful longing for human connection. Alongside Brennan, White's Madge also has a similar desire for understanding-though the role could be played more desperate still. White's self-assured take on the character does not allow Madge to emit as much desperation as she might.BWW Review: CIRCUS 1903 Has A Plethora of Family-Friendly Acts Up Its Sleeve March 22, 2017
Come one, come all to CIRCUS 1903-THE GOLDEN AGE OF CIRCUS that has landed in Chicago with plenty of razzle dazzle circus acts and exhilarating feats to make this show a treat for the whole family. Directed by Neil Dorward, and featuring two magnificently rendered elephant puppets from Significant Object, the artistic company that was also behind WAR HORSE, CIRCUS 1903 is a feast for the eyes and recalls the delights of a classic traveling circus.BWW Review: Ease On Down to Kokandy's Joyous THE WIZ March 13, 2017
Under the direction of Lili-Anne Brown, Kokandy Productions' staging of THE WIZ radiates joy, and at the performance I saw Saturday night, the audience was soaking up every single joyful moment. From my vantage point, I can say that the audience reaction comes from the satisfaction of watching a solid musical theater production that leans into the musical numbers and embraces this all-black version of the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ to milk it for every possible ounce of delight and vibrancy. All of the ensemble members onstage seem to be truly enjoying themselves, and that energy is undeniably infectious.BWW Interview: Puppeteer Jess Spalis on The Magic of CIRCUS 1903 March 10, 2017
I recently had the chance to chat with Jess Spalis, a UK-based artist who is currently traveling across the United States with CIRCUS 1903THE GOLDEN AGE OF CIRCUS. The circus will arrive in Chicago on March 21. In preparation for the upcoming engagement, Spalis discussed her work as part of a team of six bringing two life-size elephant puppets to life in the show, as well as her background as an actor and an aerialist. BWW Interview: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH's Hannah Corneau Chats About 'Acceptance and Love' February 24, 2017
In Kurtis Boetcher's set design for Marcus Gardley's world premiere A WONDER IN MY SOUL,
the backdrop for the South Side beauty shop where the play is set prominently displays the photographs of black female icons ranging from Diana Ross to Beyonce-and all of course have fabulous hair in the photos. And as we learn in the play, Aberdeen "Birdie" Calumet (Greta Oglesby) and Bell Grand Lake's (Jacqueline Williams) fictional beauty shop has played host to a number of these famous black women over the years. But what Gardley's play does so beautifully is take the story of these specific, everyday characters and lend a universality to them. The play takes place primarily in 2008 but shows us flashbacks of young Birdie (Camille Robinson) and young Bell (Donica Lynn) as they make their way from Mississippi to settle in Chicago and start their business. Along the way, Gardley weaves a narrative that is warm and sometimes funny but also ultimately serious and touching. And as one would expect, Johnny Jamison's hair and wig design is just superb.BWW Review: THE BODYGUARD Provides A Glitzy and Lively Evening of Whitney Houston Classics February 3, 2017
THE BODYGUARD, based on the eponymous film starring Whitney Houston as pop star Rachel Marron and Kevin Costner as her bodyguard Frank Farmer, has plenty of glitz and glamour to go around in its current engagement at Broadway In Chicago's Oriental Theatre. Throughout the night, lead Deborah Cox shines as Rachel in a never-ending array of glittery costumes from Tim Hatley (who also designed the set). And when Cox tears into one of Houston's classic numbers, it's also a joy.BWW Interview: Jasmin Richardson Discusses The 'Thrilling and Joyful' THE BODYGUARD January 27, 2017
The national tour of THE BODYGUARD-based on the eponymous film featuring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner-just launched a few weeks ago and plays a limited Broadway in Chicago run starting on January 31. For those unfamiliar, the musical focuses on Hollywood star Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) and her bodyguard Frank Farmer, who is hired to protect her from an anonymous stalker.
Cast member Jasmin Richardson plays the role of Rachel's sister, Nicki Marron. She chatted with BroadwayWorld a few days before THE BODYGUARD arrived at the Oriental Theatre to discuss life on tour, why she's excited to perform in Chicago, and of course, the classic Whitney Houston songs showcased in the musical.