Stories by Hedy Weiss

Ryan Opera Center Ensemble performing at “Sunday in the Park With Lyric.” (Kyle Flubacker)

Pared Down to the Singers and Orchestra, ‘Sunday in the Park With Lyric’ Soared

Lyric Opera’s free outdoor concert in Millennium Park served as an ideal introduction to the six operas to be performed during the 2023-24 season. The absence of scenery and costumes only put the focus entirely on the singers, but also made the characters come fully to life.

Alisa Weilerstein, left in gold gown, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are conducted by Joshua Weilerstein on Aug. 17, 2023, at the Ravinia Festival. (Emily Waler / Ravinia Festival)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a Stunning Ravinia Performance of Shostakovich’s ‘Symphony No. 5’ and More

For the second half of its Ravinia Festival concert this past Thursday the Chicago Symphony Orchestra delivered a bravura performance of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s extraordinary “Symphony No. 5” and it couldn’t have been more timely in subtle way.

Roman Banks as “MJ” and the cast of the “MJ: The Musical.” (Matthew Murphy / MurphyMade)

The Complex Genius of Michael Jackson Brought to Life in ‘MJ: The Musical’

Michael Jackson was an iconic singer, dancer, songwriter, producer, philanthropist and intensely complex (and controversial) figure who transformed pop culture in the second half of the 20th century.

Donovan Hoffer and the cast of “Rock of Ages.” (Liz Lauren)

‘Rock of Ages’ Captures the Music and Decadence of the US in the 1980s

“Rock of Ages” is a funky, feverish, hard-driving musical that is now storming across the stage of the Mercury Theater. A large, fearless and very talented cast, along with an exceptional band, capture the tumultuous beat of a decidedly “rocky” decade.

(left to right) Ensemble member Jeff Perry and Mark Ulrich in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s revival of “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter, directed by Les Waters, playing now through Aug. 20, 2023. (Michael Brosilow)

The Unfulfilled Lives of Four Men Intersect in ‘No Man’s Land’ at Steppenwolf Theatre

Four lost souls are the variously screwed-up men living in “No Man’s Land,” Harold Pinter’s strange, angry, status-conscious and somewhat absurdist talkathon of a play. It first opened in London in 1975 and is now on stage at Steppenwolf Theatre in a production directed by Les Waters.

“Marie and Rosetta” at Northlight Theatre. (Michael Brosilow)

Gospel Meets R&B as Two Stellar Performers Capture the Lives of ‘Marie and Rosetta’

“Marie and Rosetta” tells the tale of singers Marie Knight and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The play is a story of personal liberation as achieved through a hybrid of musical styles and the friendship of opposites.

Heather Headley performs at the Ravinia Pavilion on July 16, 2023. (Patrick Gipson / Ravinia Festival)

Heather Headley Works Magic With a Wide-Ranging Songbook Winningly Backed by the CSO and Others

Whether she is performing songs from a Broadway musical, a familiar hymn or a gospel classic, Heather Headley possesses a voice and personality that can easily mesmerize an audience. And so she did with a grand-scale performance at Ravinia Pavilion.

Music director Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program including music by Florence Price and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony at the free Concert for Chicago in Millennium Park. (Todd Rosenberg)

CSO’s ‘Concert for Chicago’ Signals a Change of Title for Maestro Riccardo Muti, But It’s by No Means a Farewell

With an audience approaching about 8,500 people, Maestro Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the “Concert for Chicago” in Millennium Park. He ended his 13-year tenure as CSO music director but will continue to conduct some performances.

Riccardo Muti and guest chorus director Donald Palumbo onstage following performance of Beethoven’s “Missa solemnis.” (Todd Rosenberg)

CSO’s Performance of Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ Marks Maestro Riccardo Muti’s Symbolic Goodbye

Maestro Riccardo Muti chose Beethoven’s “Missa solemnis” as the work he wished to conduct to mark “the official end” of his glorious 13-year tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has been named music director emeritus for life and will continue to lead occasional CSO performances.

CSO principal tuba Gene Pokorny and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Lalo Schifrin’s “Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra.” (Todd Rosenberg)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Salutes the Tuba, With Musician Gene Pokorny Performing Work by Lalo Schifrin

The tuba may be one of the largest instruments in a symphony orchestra and an important source of the brass sound, but it is rarely celebrated in a work that puts it front and center by way of a masterful composer and musician.

The South Chicago Dance Theatre performs “Memoirs of Jazz in the Alley.” (Andy Argyrakis)

Complex Relationships and Jazz-Driven Score Key to South Chicago Dance Theatre Premiere

Chicago’s dance scene is in high gear these days with formidable performances by ballet, modern, jazz, tap, Spanish and classical Indian companies on stages in and around the city. A case in point was this past Saturday’s one-night-only world premiere performance of “Memoirs of Jazz in the Alley” by South Chicago Dance Theatre.

Guest conductor Jakub Hrůša leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. (Todd Rosenberg)

A Mahler Masterwork Played Masterfully by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

If one needs any proof that calamity, whether personal and/or political, also has the power to inspire great works of art, Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 9 in D Major” can easily serve as a prime example. 

The company of “West Side Story” at the Lyric Opera. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Two Musicals, Both Focusing on Immigrant Life in America, Showcase Different Stylistic Approaches

Two very different musicals now on stage in Chicago — a revival of “West Side Story” at Lyric Opera, and a new work, “Lucy and Charlie’s Honeymoon,” at Lookingglass Theatre — are in many ways driven by the issue of immigration. 

Violinist Vadim Gluzman joins the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor David Afkhamin for a performance of Shostakovich’s “Violin Concerto No. 1.” (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

A Bravura CSO Concert Featuring Violinist Vadim Gluzman in a Shostakovich Concerto, Plus Works by Debussy and Ravel

GluzmanGuest conductor David Afkham led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Vadim Gluzman, the extraordinary guest violinist, in a riveting performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s fiendishly difficult, emotionally intense “Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor.” Perfomances of works by Ravel and Debussy rounded out the program. 

Principal timpani David Herbert makes his CSO solo debut performing Kraft’s “Timpani Concerto No. 1.” (Todd Rosenberg)

At the CSO: Knockout Timpani Concerto and Glorious Rendering of Respighi Masterworks

A recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra program juxtaposed works by three masterful yet radically different composers of classical music: Wolfgang Mozart, William Kraft and Ottorino Respighi.

Concertmaster Robert Chen in a performance of Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major.” (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Concertmaster and Performs Dazzling Works by Mozart

The latest program by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra honors Robert Chen, the orchestra’s invaluable concertmaster and masterful violinist. It also features a glimpse of a rarely revived opera. 

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs at Orchestra Hall. (Todd Rosenberg)

Maestro Riccardo Muti Still on Fire at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Something magical happens when Maestro Riccardo Muti arrives on the podium at Orchestra Hall to lead the invariably superb musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Eric Amundson and Curtis Bannister in “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin.” (Liz Lauren)

‘Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ a Stellar Musical That Grabs Hold of Mercury Theater’s Stage

The Mercury Theater production of this show, with its tragi-comic book by William Hauptman drawn straight from the Mark Twain classic and a wonderfully varied score by country music master Roger Miller, is ideally realized on every front.

Victoria Jaiani in Joffrey Ballet production of “The Little Mermaid.” (Credit: Cheryl Mann)

Bravura Ballerina Leads a Strange but Stunningly Performed Take on ‘The Little Mermaid’

The ballet, now receiving its Chicago premiere in a grand-scale production by the Joffrey Ballet on the Lyric Opera House stage, is a strange but compelling work inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s enduring classic and features impeccible dancing. 

 From left, Raven Whitley, Alejandra Escalante, Christopher Donahue, Felipe Carrasco,Kate Fry, Kareem Bandealy, Will Allan and Amanda Drinkall in Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” at Goodman Theatre. (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Chekhov’s Play About Change Also Marks a Moment of Change for Director Robert Falls

“The Cherry Orchard,” Anton Chekhov’s masterful play, is about change — social, historical, financial and emotional. And change is of the essence at the Goodman Theatre too, with this production marking the retirement of artistic director Robert Falls.

Pianist Daniil Trifonov (left) and violinist Joshua Bell (right) performed at Orchestra Hall on March 29, 2023. (Provided)

Bell and Trifonov on Fire at Orchestra Hall

Violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Daniil Trifonov dazzled an Orchestra Hall audience Wednesday night, writes WTTW News theater critic Hedy Weiss. The musicians, in top form, even treated the enthusiastic crowd to two encores.

Jonathan Michie and Taylor Raven in “The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing.” (Michael Brosilow)

‘Alan Turing’ Opera Captures the Tortured Private Life of a British Genius

Alan Turing was a genius — a brilliant English mathematician and logician who is renowned for his invaluable work as a codebreaker during World War II. But he also was a tragic figure, driven to an early death by chemical castration (and possibly by suicide) because of his homosexuality, which during his lifetime, was treated as a crime.

Thomas Wilkins conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program this weekend, his subscription concert debut. (Courtesy of Thomas Wilkins)

Advice By Way of a CSO Rehearsal: Seek Out This Weekend’s Concerts

A Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert featuring works from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Aaron Copland and  Antonin Dvorak is well worth seeking out. 

Zurin Villanueva as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” (Matthew Murphy / MurphyMade)

Dramatic Life of a Powerhouse Performer Captured in the Knockout ‘Tina Turner Musical’

Tina Turner’s fiercely dramatic, profoundly painful and wildly successful life unfolds on stage in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”

(left to right) Sally Murphy, Glenn Davis and Charence Higgins in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of “Describe The Night” by ensemble member Rajiv Joseph, directed by ensemble member Austin Pendleton, running now through April 9, 2023. (Michael Brosilow)

Capturing the Darkness of a Totalitarian State in ‘Describe the Night’

Part history, part imagination, and awash in clever verbal interplay, “Describe the Night” captures the spirit of Russian author and war correspondent Isaac Babel. The play follows certain aspects of his life and times — from his romantic attachments to his tense interaction with Soviet intelligence.

John-Mark McGaha performs in “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: A Stevie Wonder Experience.” (Ryan Bennett Photography)

Celebrating the Irresistible Songbook of Stevie Wonder at the Mercury Theater

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered: A Stevie Wonder Experience” is driven by an impressive performance from singer, actor and pianist John-Mark McGaha. The show captures the sound and sensibility of Wonder while interweaving aspects of his personal life.