Stories by Hedy Weiss

Coyotes’ Cries Herald a Ferocious New Steppenwolf Take on ‘True West’

Jon Michael Hill, left, and Namir Smallwood in Steppenwolf’s production of “True West” by Sam Shepard. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Steppenwolf’s fabled 1982 production of Sam Shepard’s darkly comic tale is a foundational part of Chicago theater history. And now, two of the company’s “next generation” of actors are bringing their own high-octane intensity to the play.

Fiercely Immersive ‘Recommendation’ Explores Privilege, Justice and Moral Relativism

Brian Keys, left, and Julian Hester in “The Recommendation” at Windy City Playhouse. (Photo credit Michael Brosilow)

With its volcanic staging of Jonathan Caren’s intensely physical play, Windy City Playhouse has carved out a unique niche for itself in Chicago with a style dubbed “immersive theater.” 

Salesmanship Cedes to Love in ‘The Music Man’

James Konicek (Olin Britt), Ayana Strutz (Townsperson), Matt Casey (Townsperson), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Tommy Djilas), Kelly Felthous (Zaneeta Shinn), Christopher Kale Jones (Jacey Squires), Geoff Packard (Harold Hill), Alejandro Fonseca (Townsperson), Laura Savage (Farmer's Wife / Townsperson), Adrienne Velasco-Storrs(Townsperson), Sophie Ackerman (Amaryllis Squires) and Ron E. Rains (Mayor Shinn) in “The Music Man” with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and a book by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, d

The overall pacing of this bear of a show can sometimes feel a bit off. At the same time, there is such a sense of jubilation about this production that its imperfections are easy to overlook.

New Musical ‘Darling Grenadine’ a Sobering Look at the Quest for Happiness

Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in “Darling Grenadine.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

It might not be a Broadway-style blockbuster, but this intimate musical very skillfully mixes romantic comedy tropes with an uncompromising look at self-destructive behavior, self-doubt, alcoholism and complex friendships.

In ‘Ada and the Engine,’ a Woman Far Ahead of Her Time

Brookelyn Hebert in “Ada and the Engine” at The Artistic Home Theatre. (Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Photography)

A wonderfully imagined riff on the Ada Lovelace story, Lauren Gunderson’s fascinating, emotionally feverish play is now receiving a vividly realized Chicago premiere production by The Artistic Home.

Preserving Musical History With a Rarely Revived Operetta

From left: Sarah Ruth Mikulski, Cydney Washington, William Roberts, Clara Imon Pedtke, Elena Avila, Rose Guccione, Ysaye McKeever and Angela Yu in “The Flower of Hawaii.” (Courtesy of Folks Operetta)

For all it’s polish and ambition I can’t say the show has turned me into a fan of the operetta style. But “The Flower of Hawaii” is unquestionably an artifact of musical theater interest, and this might just be the only chance you will ever have to experience it.

Yes, There is Still a Formidable Audience for Classical Music

Audience members enter Symphony Center on opening night of Verdi’s “Aida.” (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Despite the dire warnings about “the demise of the audience for classical music,” there is a significant audience in Chicago that values this incomparable art form. Two recent, radically different CSO concerts are prime examples.

In ‘Hedwig,’ Divided Cold War-Era Germany Gives Birth to Even More Divided Identity

Will Lidke in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” (Photo by Austin D. Oie Photography)

Arriving at Theo Ubique as the final show of the theater’s first season in its spacious new Evanston home, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” serves as definitive proof that this company can finesse anything and everything in the musical theater repertory.

A Winningly Eclectic CSO Concert Mixes Contemporary, Classic Works

CSO Piccolo Jennifer Gunn is the soloist in Ken Benshoof’s “Concerto in Three Movements” with Music Director Riccardo Muti and the CSO. (© Todd Rosenberg)

The unlikely combination of Vivaldi, Beethoven and Gershwin with two contemporary works was full of delightful surprises and unexpected revelations. 

Hubbard Street’s Summer Program a Series of Wildly Poetic Existential Adventures

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The Loss of Place” by Brian Brooks. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

The titles of the four pieces provide a telling suggestion of the psychologically probing works being performed with the company’s trademark blend of uncanny fluidity, plasticity, control and ensemble perfection.

Rarely Produced British Play a Bitter Reminder of Veterans’ Fates

Krystal Ortiz and Matt Fletcher in Griffin Theatre Company’s production of “For Services Rendered.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In some ways, “For Services Rendered” is an old-fashioned play, but it is a beauty. And coming at a moment when Britain is undergoing a different sort of social and economic upheaval, it seems ideally timed for a revival.

In ‘Ms. Blakk,’ a Raucous Campaign for a Queer Nation Candidate

Tarell Alvin McCraney in Steppenwolf’s world premiere production of “Ms. Blakk for President,” co-written by ensemble members Tina Landau and McCraney. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

This unabashedly flamboyant fantasia by Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney spins the true story of Joan Jett Blakk, who helped found the Chicago branch of the Queer Nation Party and ran for Chicago mayor in 1991.

There is True ‘Greatness’ in Firebrand’s ‘Queen of the Mist’

Barbara E. Robertson, center, with, from left, Max J. Cervantes, Neala Barron, Liz Chidester, Hannah Starr, Liz Bollar and Maryam Abdi in Firebrand Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Queen of the Mist.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

“There Is Greatness In Me” is the defining song in this riveting musical that releases the full “greatness” in its lead character by way of an electrifying performance by veteran Chicago actress Barbara E. Robertson. 

Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ a Cautionary Tale for Those Who Would Play God

Lookingglass Theatre Company Artistic Associate Walter Briggs, left, and Keith Gallagher in “Frankenstein.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

The 200th anniversary of “Frankenstein” was celebrated by a slew of Chicago theaters last year. Lookingglass’ new production has arrived a bit late in the game, but with its raw beauty and feverish emotion, it turns out to be well worth the wait.

In Knockout Musical ‘Six,’ King Henry VIII’s Wives Have Their #MeToo Moment

From left: Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack and Anna Uzele in “Six” at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Forget about spending your last dime for tickets to The Rolling Stones’ concerts at Soldier Field next month. Instead, check out the fire-breathing female royalty of this sensational musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

‘Bloomsday’ a Breathtaking Play About Time, Love, Regret and Fateful Decisions

Bryce Gangel in “Bloomsday,” presented by Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. (Photo by Michael Courier)

Steven Dietz’s hauntingly beautiful play is inspired by James Joyce’s groundbreaking novel “Ulysses,” but it is no stage adaptation. Rather, it’s a gorgeous, exquisitely imagined contemporary riff on Joyce’s essential themes.

Saul Bellow’s ‘Augie March’ Inspires a Theatrical Masterpiece at Court Theatre

The cast of “The Adventures of Augie March.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Labeling a work of art a “masterpiece” is a dangerous business, but on rare occasions there can be no doubt that such a tag is unavoidable. This is one such case.

In ‘Pygmalion Effect,’ Superb Dancers of Russia’s Eifman Ballet Undermined by Manic Choreography and Too Much Strauss

Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg in “The Pygmalion Effect.” (Photo by Michael Khoury)

Watching the company as it performed Boris Eifman’s latest work, the feeling that his dancers are not well served by his relentlessly madhouse style of movement – manic, extreme, repetitive – could not be denied.

Violinist Hilary Hahn Elicits a ‘Wow,’ and More, at CSO Concert

Hilary Hahn is soloist in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with conductor Marin Alsop and the CSO. (© Todd Rosenberg)

Hilary Hahn’s bravura handling of a fire-breathing passage in Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto in D Minor” brings forth a “Wow!” from what was certainly an adult man in the audience at Symphony Center.

In ‘Next to Normal,’ Mother’s Mental Illness Wreaks Havoc with Family’s Health

David Schlumpf and Keely Vasquez in “Next to Normal” at Writers Theatre. (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

This 2008 musical is unsettling, irritating, frustrating, relentless and more. But director David Cromer and his actors have tapped into the dark charm and moments of humor in the show with great skill.

On Chicago Stages, 2 Solo Turns About Mental Illness

Margaret Trudeau and Adam Strauss (Credit: Kirsten Miccoli, left, Michael Courier)

In what is clearly a case of pure happenstance, two autobiographical solo shows about mental illness recently arrived on Chicago stages. A look at “Certain Woman of an Age” and “The Mushroom Cure.”

Pianist Evgeny Kissin Brings Down the House at Symphony Center

Evgeny Kissin (Courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

A number of extraordinary pianists have played on the Symphony Center stage during the past season or two. Sunday’s concert brought four encores, extended standing ovations and volcanic applause.

A Week of 3 Remarkable Concerts in Chicago and Beyond

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti on the podium during the CSO’s May 9 program of works by Mozart and Stravinsky. (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

A concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra featuring the transcendent Mitsuko Uchida. A visit by Maestro Riccardo Muti and several master musicians to a juvenile detention center. And a virtuosic chamber concert.

Why One Musical Works, and Another Doesn’t

Dylis Croman in “Chicago, The Musical,” left, and George Abud and Sydney Shepherd in “August Rush: The Musical.” (Credit: Jeremy Daniel, left, Liz Lauren)

“Chicago, The Musical” holds the record as the longest-running American musical in Broadway history – and it’s a keeper. “August Rush: The Musical” is a New York-bred “tryout” production, and it just doesn’t work.

Bravura Revival of ‘West Side Story’ Marks Lyric’s Finest Broadway Venture

Mikaela Bennett “West Side Story” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg)

This electrifying revival demonstrates how, without straining to “modernize” or rework the 1957 Broadway musical – but by maintaining total respect for its vintage truth and beauty – its enduring power can be fully released.