Stories by Hedy Weiss

TUTA Heightens the Shock Value in ‘Hedda Gabler’ With Blasts of Music

Lauren Demerath in TUTA Theatre’s world premiere adaptation of “Hedda Gabler: A Play with Live Music.” (Photo by Austin D. Oie)

When it comes to revivals of Henrik Ibsen’s plays in this era of neo-feminism, “A Doll’s House” attracts the most attention. But it is the title character in “Hedda Gabler” who takes the cake. And in this new production, she has never been more compelling and convincing.

Days and Nights of Classical Musical Magic at Symphony Center

Pianist Daniil Trifonov (Credit: Dario Acosta)

Many of the concerts at Symphony Center are one-time-only events for which Orchestra Hall’s 2,500 seats are nearly sold out. But attention must be paid to the hours of remarkable music-making brought to the stage. Here are a few recent cases in point.

Scintillating ‘Book of Moron’ Intellectually Invigorating in an Era of Catastrophic Dumbing Down

Robert Dubac in “The Book of Moron.” (Courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)

In 90 uninterrupted minutes of altogether irresistible satire, Robert Dubac – an actor, writer, comedian and grand master of sleight-of-hand (and mind) – ingeniously nails the current regrettable state of the nation and the world at large.

‘Mlima’s Tale’ Traces Global Trail of Destruction of a Grand, Endangered Creature

David Goodloe, center, with Lewon Johns, back left, and Michael Turrentine in Griffin Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Mlima’s Tale.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Lynn Nottage’s 2018 play about the savage slaughter and potential decimation of Africa’s “big tusk” elephant population, and the illicit trade in ivory that drives it, is a stunning piece of work – equal parts poetry, ritual and an anatomy of corruption.

CSO Infuses Beethoven Classics With New Energy and Captures Ophelia’s Descent Into Madness

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program featuring Beethoven’s Second and Fifth Symphonies on Feb. 20, 2020. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

What Maestro Riccardo Muti and the orchestra have made continually clear throughout this year of celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth is how thrillingly modern the composer’s work can feel. 

Joffrey Announces Big Plans for 2020-21 Season in New Home at Lyric Opera

Joffrey Ballet artists Stefan Goncalvez and Brooke Linford. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

A coming change of venue for the Joffrey Ballet is a major shift, and its initial opening season will be of great importance, especially since it also will mark the 25th anniversary of the Joffrey as a formidable Chicago cultural institution. 

Classical Technique Meets Contemporary Mindset in Joffrey Ballet’s Fast-Moving Mixed Bill

Joffrey Ballet artists in “Commedia.” (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

Throughout its history, the Joffrey Ballet’s dancers have been renowned for their ability to create characters as well as to put their superb technical skills to work. They also are capable of carrying over their acting ability to contemporary “plotless” works.

Musical Version of ‘Emma’ Taps Into Enduring Allure of Jane Austen

Lora Lee Gayer and Brad Standley in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Emma.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

The flaws and fancies, and triumphs and comeuppances of Jane Austen’s characters continue to ring true two centuries after the publication of her books. The latest proof can be found in this utterly charming production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. 

Lyric Opera Announces 2020-2021 Season of Classics, New Works and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

“Singin’ in the Rain” (Marie-Noëlle Robert / Théâtre du Châtelet)

The formidable full schedule will feature 10 major productions, eight of which will be “new to Chicago.” The season also will mark the grand finale of Sir Andrew Davis’ tenure as music director of the Lyric Opera.

Chicago Opera Theater’s World Premiere of ‘Freedom Ride’ a Triumph of Art and History

Robert Sims and Tyrone Chambers, II in Chicago Opera Theater’s “Freedom Ride.” (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

In its airtight, fervent, emotionally riveting 90 minutes, “Freedom Ride” vividly captures a pivotal moment in American history and the civil rights movement of the early 1960s in the most sophisticated yet accessible way. 

The Music Speaks for Itself in the CSO’s Riveting Concert Version of ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’

Mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, center, performs the role of Santuzza in “Cavalleria rusticana,” conducted by music director Riccardo Muti, right, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Symphony Center on Feb. 6, 2020. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

The true magnificence of Mascagni’s 1890 opera – now focused entirely on the beauty of the music and the truthfulness of the singers, and stripped of the distractions of scenery, melodramatic acting and all the rest – was a great revelation.

Elusive Identities at the Center of 2 Whodunits Separated by Many Decades

Left: Cassidy Slaughter-Mason and Sean Parris in “How a Boy Falls.” Right: Kate Fry and Allen Gilmore in “The Mousetrap.” (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

Agatha Christie’s play, “The Mousetrap,” is now receiving a wonderfully entertaining revival at Court Theatre, while Northlight Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Steven Dietz’s “How a Boy Falls,” a compelling whodunit with very dark overtones.

Paul Lewis and CSO in Astonishing Performances of 2 Beethoven Piano Concertos

Pianist Paul Lewis performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a program that also featured Lewis as soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Fresh off a grueling but much heralded European tour, the CSO has returned to the Symphony Center stage with Sir Andrew Davis.

Porchlight Sets the Stage on Fire With Duke Ellington Revue ‘Sophisticated Ladies’

From left: Chuckie Benson, Terri K. Woodall, Joey Stone, Madison Piner and Tristan Bruns in “Rockin’ in Rhythm” from “Sophisticated Ladies” by Porchlight Music Theatre. (Photo by Michael Courier)

This knockout revival could easily be airlifted onto a New York stage without a single alteration. Come and see it if you can.

Revisiting the Power and Pain of ‘Top Girls’ in Bristling Remy Bumppo Production

Linda Gillum in “Top Girls.” (Photo by Michael Courier)

The all-female cast of Caryl Churchill’s play made a statement from the very start, and now, the eight bravura actresses in the current cast turn in a collection of blistering performances that suggest the intentional irony of using the word “girls” (rather than “women”) in the title.

Swept Away by a Hurricane of Love and Betrayal in ‘Once on This Island’

Kyle Ramar Freeman (left) as Asaka and Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune in the North American Tour of “Once On This Island.” (Photo by Joan Marcus / 2019)

The show is full of exuberant dancing and performances by strong actor-singers, but the crucial intimacy of its storytelling too often gets lost in the carnival atmosphere that has been generated to give this 90-minute gem a Broadway gloss.

In ‘Juliet,’ A Mother and Her Children in Time of Extreme Political Distress

Melissa Lorraine in András Visky’s “Juliet” directed by Kevin V. Smith at Theatre Y. (Credit: Devron Enarson)

At once haunting, sad and beautiful, Andras Visky’s “Juliet” – now in production by Theatre Y – is a work of both real life and pure poetry.

Hershey Felder to Make Goodman Debut With Portrait of French Composer Claude Debussy

Hershey Felder in “A Paris Love Story” featuring the music of Claude Debussy. (Courtesy of Christopher Ash)

The multitalented actor, pianist (and yes, composer in his own right) brings the eighth installment in his renowned “Great Composers Series” to Chicago in June and simultaneously makes his Goodman Theatre debut.

‘Whisper House’ a Haunting Musical About Love, Loneliness, Betrayal and War

From left: Kevin Webb, Mikaela Sullivan and Leo Spiegel in Black Button Eyes Productions’ Chicago premiere of “Whisper House.” (Photo by Evan Hanover)

The stylishly macabre, morally challenging show by Duncan Sheik (of “Spring Awakening” fame) and Kyle Jarrow is now receiving its Chicago premiere by Black Button Eyes Productions.

‘Dance Nation’ and ‘Mean Girls’ Offer Sad Portrait of Adolescent Girls

From left: Danielle Wade, Megan Masako Haley, Mariah Rose Faith and Jonalyn Saxer in the National Touring Company of “Mean Girls.” (Credit: © 2019 Joan Marcus)

If you were to consider the dominant feelings expressed by the adolescent girls in these two shows, the obvious conclusion would be that for all the talk, the feminist movement of the past five decades has failed to reach a whole generation or two of girls.

CSO in a Dazzling Triumvirate of Works by Stravinsky, Dvorak and Adams

Edo de Waart and Leila Josefowicz (Credit, from left: Edo de Waart, Chris Lee)

Talk about ending the year with a bang. Just a few weeks before the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is to embark on a whirlwind tour of Europe, the orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Edo de Waart, is performing an altogether thrilling program.

‘Working’ Sings of Something More Profound Than 9-to-5 Drudgery

Kiersten Frumkin (left to right), Jared David Michael Grant, Stephen Blu Allen, Michael Kingston, Loretta Rezos and Cynthia F. Carter in “Working.” Background, in band are Perry Cowdery (left to right), Jeremy Ramey and Rafe Bradford. (Photo by Austin Oie Photography)

Based on Studs Terkel’s 1974 best-selling book of oral history, this musical is now in a wonderfully realized, sweat-and-dreams production at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, where six actors portray the many and varied attitudes about work.

Deeply Rooted Dancers Set the Stage on Fire

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater company members perform “Parallel Lives.” (Photo by Michelle Reid)

Two questions invariably come to mind when I see Deeply Rooted Dance Theater: Why is this company not more famous? And why isn’t it championed as Chicago’s counterpart of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater?

‘The Light in the Piazza’ Dimmed By a Grand-Scale Venue

Solea Pfeiffer and Renée Fleming in the “The Light in the Piazza” at Lyric Opera House. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Created for Broadway, “The Light in the Piazza” is a profoundly intimate work and belongs in a space that can fully embrace that intimacy. The Lyric Opera House, where it is now being presented, is not such a place. 

The Surprising Power of 2 Plays Captured on National Theatre Live

Lindsay Duncan in “Hansard.” (Catherine Ashmore / Courtesy NT Live)

A fervent believer in the unique power of live theater, I have become quite a convert to broadcasts of live performances after seeing two superb National Theatre Live productions this past weekend. 

Taking Stock of Chicago Theater as 2019 Draws to a Close

Nondumiso Tembe in “Lindiwe,” left, Kelvin Roston Jr. in “Oedipus Rex,” center, and Christina Hall in “Always … Patsy Cline.” (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

It would be all but impossible to survey the many great, good and sometimes disappointing productions of the past 12 months. But three recent shows suggest the great variety of work produced in Chicago – and the immense amount of talent here.