Stories by Hedy Weiss

Capturing the Intersection of Classical and Jazz with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis performed at Orchestra Hall with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. (Courtesy of Eric Ryan Anderson)

The goal behind the concert at Orchestra Hall, which featured the notably “conductorless” New York-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra along with saxophone master Branford Marsalis, was to explore the intriguing early intersection of classical and jazz music. 

CSO Boldly Explores Tchaikovsky Scores Inextricably Linked to Ballet

Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform a program featuring Tchaikovsky’s Suite from “Swan Lake” on Jan. 20, 2022. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

What this glorious, superbly performed concert did prove was that listening to these works without the element of dance that ordinarily is a crucial partner of the music, you begin to hear them in a wonderfully fresh and exciting way. 

Pianist Igor Levit’s Orchestra Hall Concert Heightened the Art of Listening

(Courtesy of Symphony Center)

Pianist Igor Levit’s riveting concert at Orchestra Hall on Sunday afternoon not only displayed his technical brilliance but also raised the art of listening to a science.

A Night of Sheer Brilliance, Maestro Muti & CSO’s Bravura Musicians Prove Beethoven is Forever New

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program on January 13, 2022. (Credit Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Maestro Riccardo Muti was in stellar form during Thursday night’s concert in Orchestra Hall. He clearly is in love with the indomitable musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and they return that passion with a magnificent combination of sound and fury and absolute beauty.

National Touring Production of ‘Oklahoma!’ Wreaks Havoc on a Musical Theater Classic

Sasha Hutchings, Sean Grandillo and the company of the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “OKLAHOMA!” (Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

The production is a sad introduction for new audiences and a spirit-crushing experience for those who’ve seen “Oklahoma!” many times throughout the years.

Paying Homage to an Artistic Collaborator in Hershey Felder’s ‘Mozart and Figaro in Vienna’

(Courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents)

The “musical film” is a fascinating look at the creation of “The Marriage of Figaro,” the first of the composer’s three major operas in Italian.

While Plagued by Sound Problems, Dance Became the Most Audible Element in Music Theater Works’ ‘Billy Elliot’

 Jake Siswick, the show’s 13-year-old star - and an actor-dancer of impressive skill and a remarkably natural stage presence - was able to grab the audience’s heart from start to finish. (Credit: Brett Beiner)

From almost the very first note it was apparent that something was very wrong with the sound system and miking, and much of the dialogue and singing, all along the way, was either inaudible or garbled. In fact, the only clear sound came from the orchestra, seated in the pit and led by Michael McBride.

‘8-Track’ Brilliantly Taps Into the Emotional Heat and Exuberance of Songs From a Turbulent Era

Jasmine Lacy Young (front, left to right), Patrick O’Keefe, Wesly Anthony Clerge, Roy Samra (back, left to right) Chamaya Moody, Mia Nevarez, Alli Atkenson and Matt Patrick perform n “8-Track.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

While its score may be classic retro, the songs are performed with great authenticity by artists who came of age decades after the baby boomers and Generation Xers who grew up with them.

Imagining Santa Claus’ Childhood in a Chicago Opera Theater Production

Justin Berkowitz (left to right), Matt Boehler, Martin Bakari, Leah Dexter and Amy Owens perform in “Becoming Santa Claus.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Have you ever wondered what Santa Claus’ childhood was like? Or why he’s so driven to take off from the North Pole for an arduous worldwide trip each Christmas Eve? The answers to those questions can be found in the 90-minute opera “Becoming Santa Claus.” 

At the CSO, Bravura Turns by Violinists Ray Chen and Hilary Hahn, and Much More

CSO Artist-in-Residence Hilary Hahn performs Dvorak’s Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada. (Credit: Anne Ryan)

Two different concerts by the ever-remarkable Chicago Symphony Orchestra arrived on the Orchestra Hall stage. Each came with a fascinating CSO-commissioned new work, a superb visiting conductor, and breathtaking performances by the phenomenal virtuoso violinists.

A Tip of the Hat to ‘Mr. Dickens’ Hat’ and Its Beguiling Twist on Charles Dickens’ Legacy

Cordelia Dewdney as Kit in “Mr. Dickens’ Hat.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Every performer in this demanding show is multitalented and able to deftly shift from one character and mood to another in record time. 

The Joffrey Ballet’s Lavish ‘Nutcracker’ Lights Up the Lyric Opera House Stage

The Joffrey Ballet ensemble in “The Nutcracker.” (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Pure winter magic. The Joffrey Ballet’s altogether unique production of “The Nutcracker,” has never looked more glorious or been danced more ideally.

Unforgettable Moments in Chicago Productions of Sondheim Musicals

Gary Griffin (left), Stephen Sondheim and Chicago Shakespeare Theater Founder Barbara Gaines pose for a picture. (Courtesy of Michael Litchfield)

In the wake of Stephen Sondheim’s death, a look back at his impact on Chicago theater. 

Celebrating the Centennial of Tango Master Astor Piazzolla in Grand Style

Daniel Binelli performs Piazzolla’s Bandoneon Concerto (Aconcagua) with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Two remarkable concerts took place recently in Chicago and were designed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Astor Piazzolla – the composer who transformed the traditional tango into an irresistible classical music hybrid.

At the Marriott, a Broadway-Worthy Rendering of Cole Porter’s ‘Kiss Me, Kate’

The cast of Marriott Theatre’s production of “Kiss Me, Kate.” (Provided)

The infrequently revived 1948 musical gem boasts a brilliant score by Cole Porter of nearly 20 knockout songs, almost all of which are classics. It’s a wonderfully clever play-within-a-play book by Sam and Bella Spewack that owes a deep debt of gratitude to that guy by the name of William Shakespeare.

Hubbard Street Dancers Make a Remarkable ‘RE/TURN’

Hubbard Street Dancers Kevin J. Shannon, Alyssa Allen, Alysia Johnson, and Andrew Murdock performing “Jardi Tancat” by Nacho Duato. (Photo by Michelle Reid)

Hubbard Street’s phoenix-like rebirth was fully on display this weekend in an aptly titled program, “RE/TURN,” that featured three fascinating, superbly performed pieces.

‘Paradise Square’ Does a Fierce and Timely Dance Into a Civil War Era Racial Uprising

Sidney DuPont as Washington Henry, A.J. Shively as Owen Duignan and Ensemble in “Paradise Square” (© Kevin Berne)

What really blows this show out of the park is its knockout dancing, and the brilliant choreography by Bill T. Jones that in many ways is more potent than any spoken dialogue.

A ‘Sister Act’ Production Bound to Raise the Spirits of Musical Theater Believers

Alexis J. Roston performs in “Sister Act.” (Credit: Brett Beiner Photography)

Reneisha Jenkins’ direction, along with the wonderfully playful, hip-swiveling choreography of Christopher Chase Carter and the impeccable music direction of keyboardist Diana Lawrence, has infused the show with genuine emotional heat as well as laugh-generating irreverence and comic sparkle.

Lyric Opera Rides the Powerful Waves of Genuine Musical Magic in ‘Florencia en el Amazonas’

Ana Maria Martinez performs in “Florencia en el Amazonas.” (Photo by Cory Weaver)

“Florencia en el Amazonas” (“Florencia in the Amazon”), the first Spanish language opera to be performed on the Lyric Opera mainstage, is pure magic on every count. 

Porchlight’s Rousing Revival of ‘Pump Boys & Dinettes’ Serves Up Delicious Diner Nostalgia

Shantel Cribbs (left) and Melanie Loren in “Pump Boys & Dinettes” from Porchlight Music Theatre, now playing through Dec. 12. (Photo by Chollette)

Created by a group of six performers and musicians, the 1981 musical is now being brought back to vivid life in a terrific production devised by director Daryl Brooks, music director Robert Reddrick and choreographer Rueben D. Echoles.

E. Faye Butler Brings Civil Rights Activist Fannie Lou Hamer Roaring Back to Life

E. Faye Butler (Fannie Lou Hamer) in “Fannie (The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer)” by Cheryl L. West, directed by Henry Godinez at Goodman Theatre, Oct. 15- Nov. 21. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

The Chicago actress is giving a rip-roaring performance in playwright Cheryl L. West’s “Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer,” a 75-minute, one-woman show to which the actress brings all the grit, endurance, fiery spirit and vocal power that marked the indomitable Hamer herself.

Classical Music in a Multitude of Manifestations

The Company of “The Magic Flute” (Credit Cory Weaver)

Hedy Weiss reviews the Lyric Opera production of “The Magic Flute,” a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert, and “Homecoming,” the latest entry in the CSO’s MusicNOW series.

Music Theater Works Makes Sensational Return With Searing Production of ‘Ragtime’

(Credit: Brett Beiner)

There are many fine performances and clarion ensemble voices in this production. But it is Curtis Bannister, as ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker Jr., who steals the show.

CSO Soars on Wings of Two Brilliant Century-Spanning Modernists

Guest conductor Manfred Honeck and Denis Matsuev acknowledge the audience following a performance of Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Thursday evening’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra program opened with “Coincident Dances,” a fascinating 2017 work by Jessie Montgomery, the orchestra’s current Mead Composer-in-Residence. She never fails to enthrall with her rhythmically complex, richly orchestrated, highly original pieces.

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater Attracts Vast Audience to Its Rousing Auditorium Theatre Performance

(Photo by Ken Carl)

An estimated 2,000 people cheered the company’s superb artists as they took to the stage Saturday to perform a series of works, including a preview of “Goshen, The Story of Exodus.”

Giordano Dance Chicago Lights Up the Stage in Its Return to the Harris Theater

(Photo by Gorman Cook)

In their first major live performance since the pandemic began, members of Giordano Dance Chicago were in grand style and exceptional form.