Stories by Hedy Weiss

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.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs “Revelations.” (Credit: Paul Kolnik)

The Enduring Allure of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

There is a palpable electricity in the air whenever the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater arrives on stage at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. A recent performance featured pieces both old and new. 

Violinist Julia Fischer joined Riccardo Muti and the CSO for a performance of Schumann’s “Violin Concerto” on Feb. 23. (Todd Rosenberg)

Maestro Muti Leads CSO in Breathtaking Performances of Works by Schumann, Tchaikovsky

At a recent concert, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played Schumann’s “Violin Concerto in D Minor” and Tchaikovsky’s fiercely dramatic “Manfred Symphony.” The beauty and dramatic energy of both works were wholly captivating, critic Hedy Weiss writes.

Visceral Dance Chicago performs “Minor Threat.” (MREID Photography)

High Anxiety in Visceral Dance’s Expertly Performed Winter Concert

Of the four feverishly performed works that comprise Visceral Dance Chicago’s winter engagement, three were created in the wake of the pandemic years. But every one of the four might well have been given the all-embracing title of “Pandemic-Era Fever.”

Conductor Klaus Mäkelä leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 5.” (Todd Rosenberg)

A Dazzling Musical Showcase at the CSO

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was back on the stage at Orchestra Hall on Thursday. Klaus Mäkelä, the wonderfully graceful yet powerfully dynamic 27-year-old Finnish conductor, was on the podium to lead a stunning program.

Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez in the Joffrey Ballet production of “Anna Karenina” by choreographer Yuri Possokhov. (Credit: Cheryl Mann)

Love Versus Passion in the Joffrey Ballet’s Feverish Production of ‘Anna Karenina’

The performance is a fascinating hybrid of ballet technique, modern drama and evocative projection design. Bringing the show fully to life is both the technical polish of the Joffrey dancers and their exceptional gift for acting that so vividly captures the difference between love and passion.

Sarah Bockel (center, left) plays the Baker’s Wife and Stephen Schellhardt is the Baker in Paramount Theatre’s “Into the Woods.” (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Paramount Theater’s Production of ‘Into the Woods’ a Grand-Scale Homage to Stephen Sondheim

Enter Aurora’s beautiful 1,800-seat Paramount Theatre for an ideally cast production of a the grand-scale Stephen Sondheim classic "Into the Woods." This is a production that not only entertains but also pays a winning tribute to the late Sondheim

Conductor Lahav Shani and pianist Beatrice Rana perform an encore for piano four hands Rana’s CSO debut on Feb. 9, 2023. (Todd Rosenberg)

A Stellar Evening for the CSO and Two Exceptional Visiting Artists

It was an evening to remember at Orchestra Hall this Thursday with sublime and exceedingly fresh performances of works by two Russian musical geniuses: Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Rachmaninov.

Alexis J. Roston in the Mercury Theater Chicago production of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Transcendent Performance Captures the Life and Music of a Profoundly Gifted but Troubled Singer

The production is set in a South Philadelphia bar in March, 1959 — about five months before Billie Holiday died of drug and alcohol abuse at the age of 44. And the Mercury Theater’s intimate Venus Cabaret space serves as an ideal backdrop.

The cast of the “The Factotum,” which made its world premiere at the Lyric Opera. (Credit: Cory Weaver)

‘The Factotum,’ Groundbreaking Opera Set in a Chicago Barbershop, Receives Its World Premiere

The true magic of the opera “The Factotum” is rooted in its seamless interweaving of countless musical styles that take operatic voices into the realm of funk, rap, hip-hop, gospel, R&B, barbershop quartet and even electronic.

Rob Lindley and Hamid Dehghani in "Andy Warhol in Iran." (Michael Brosilow)

‘Andy Warhol in Iran’ a Blistering, Thought-Provoking Play About Art and Revolution

During the course of just 75 intensely compelling minutes that unfold entirely in a posh hotel room in Tehran in 1976, the play poses profound questions about both art and revolution and the forces that shaped two very different men.

Cast of “Albert Herring.” (Michael Brosilow)

A Repressed Mother’s Boy Breaks Free in Benjamin Britten’s Satirical Opera ‘Albert Herring’

The Chicago Opera Theater’s production of “Albert Herring” is alternately amusing and heartbreaking. To mark an early celebration of its 50th anniversary season, the ever-adventurous company has welcomed acclaimed British conductor Dame Jane Glover (DBE).

Samantha Hankey as Hansel and Heidi Stober as Gretel. (Cory Weaver)

Lyric Opera’s Production of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ Cooks Up a Winningly Imaginative Theatrical Feast

Fairy tales do come true, but sometimes they arrive on the stage in the most fantastical way. “Hansel and Gretel” at the Lyric Opera House proves to be an altogether richly imaginative dramatic, musical and visual treat.

(Left to right) Gilbert Domally (Clifford Bradshaw) and Erica Stephan (Sally Bowles) in “Cabaret” from Porchlight Music Theatre. (Liz Lauren)

Porchlight’s ‘Cabaret’ a Bravura Production of a Chillingly Timely Broadway Classic

Read the headlines these days, and the sharply sardonic edge of “Cabaret" feels more chillingly ironic and on target than ever.

A take on “Moby Dick” opened the Chicago International Puppet Festival. (Credit: Christopher Raynaud deLage)

A Whale of a Show Opens the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, which runs through Jan. 29, will unquestionably change your conception on how puppets can be used in staged productions.

Frank Maugeri addresses the possibility of going to space in his latest production, “The Icicle Picnic: Journey for the Sun.” (Liviu Pasare)

Cabinet of Curiosity’s Latest Spectacle Considers Pluses and Minuses of Earth and Outer Space

Given the current state of planet Earth, the concept of heading to outer space might not seem altogether out of the question. And leave it to Frank Maugeri to address the possibility of doing just that in his latest production, “The Icicle Picnic: Journey for the Sun.”

Conductor Marin Alsop leads the CSO and soloist Awadagin Pratt in the Orchestra’s first performance of CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery’s Rounds for Piano and String Orchestra. January 6, 2023. (Todd Rosenberg)

CSO Performs Powerhouse Works By a Triumvirate of Contemporary Female Composers

Female composers of centuries past might well have been smiling from afar Friday evening as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Marin Alsop, performed a program of three works by immensely gifted contemporary female composers.

Organist Cameron Carpenter performed Poulenc’s “Concerto in G Minor for Organ, Strings, and Timpani,” and Saint-Saëns’s “Organ Symphony” with the CSO on Dec. 15. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

When the Sound of an Organ Infuses a CSO Concert

Something intriguing happens when an organ is added to the usual assemblage of symphony orchestra instruments. It’s almost as if an opera singer with a notably distinctive voice has been added to the usual “cast.” 

The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

The Enduring Magic of the Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’

Pure, grand-scale magic. That is the only way to describe the Joffrey Ballet’s glorious production of “The Nutcracker,” which breaks the mold of the traditional version by being set against the grandeur of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair.

Violinist Mark O’Connor, bassist Xavier Foley and violinist Maggie O’Connor perform an encore at the CSO MusicNOW concert on Nov. 21, 2022. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Composing the New by Interweaving the Old at CSO MusicNOW Concert

The exhilarating program featured five works by two composers — bassist Xavier Foley and violinist Mark O’Connor. All were superbly performed by various combinations of the composers, plus musicians drawn from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and guest violinist Maggie O’Connor.

A CSO co-commission, Lera Auerbach’s cello concerto, “Diary of a Madman” receives its U.S. premiere in a performance on Nov. 17, 2022, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gautier Capuçon as soloist and guest conductor Manfred Honeck. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Concert Captured Aspects of Ukraine War (and Far More) in Remarkable Ways

Of course the performance of the concert’s three works, led with great elan and specificity by guest conductor Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, was superb. It was carried off with the kind of brilliance that only the musicians of the CSO can do.

The Berlin Philharmoniker at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall performed Mahler’s “Symphony No. 7” on Nov. 16, 2022. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Berlin Philharmoniker Performs Breathtaking Rendering of Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 7’ at Orchestra Hall

Every one of the theater’s more than 2,500 seats had been snapped up for this one-night-only performance of Gustav Mahler’s wildly innovative, emotionally stunning “Symphony No. 7.” The piece is a monumental 85-minute work of great sonic magic and innovation. 

The Joffrey Ballet performs the world premiere of the newly-commissioned “Platée” with choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa set to Rameau’s Suite from Platée performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Harry Bicket. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

A Beguiling Collaboration Between the CSO and Joffrey Ballet at Orchestra Hall

It was an evening of sheer, unadulterated delight as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra joined forces with the Joffrey Ballet on Thursday for a pair of world premieres.