Stories by Hedy Weiss

CSO Opens Season with Glorious Grieg, Stunning Shostakovich and More

Leif Ove Andsnes performs Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti on Sept. 19, 2019, in Orchestra Hall. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Magnificent. That is the most fitting description of Thursday evening’s program at Symphony Center that marked the start of Maestro Riccardo Muti’s 10th season as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

An Advice Columnist Taps into the Pain, Poetry and ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ of Life

Janet Ulrich Brooks in the Chicago premiere of “Tiny Beautiful Things” at Victory Gardens Theater. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

In 2010, Cheryl Strayed rather reluctantly agreed to write an unpaid online advice column under the name of “Dear Sugar.” Those columns come to life in this beauty of a show, artfully adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”).

Basketball Diplomacy Takes a Great Theatrical Leap Forward at Steppenwolf

Glenn Obrero in Steppenwolf’s production of “The Great Leap” by Lauren Yee. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Playwright Lauren Yee possesses a special gift for animating and personalizing history, and for penning exceptionally dynamic dialogue. And although not a single basketball is dropped into a hoop during “The Great Leap,” the sport comes to life.

‘Be Here Now’ a Tragicomic Gem About Seizing the Day

From left: Deanna Reed-Foster, Rebecca Jordan and Demetra Dee in Shattered Globe Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Be Here Now.” (Photo by Evan Hanover)

Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer, whose play “Be Here Now” is receiving its Chicago premiere in a bravura production by Shattered Globe Theatre, has an exceptional gift for being at once sharp-witted and compassionate.

Lyric Opera Names Its Next Music Director: Enrique Mazzola

Enrique Mazzola, music director designate at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

The Italian conductor has been named as “music director designate” at Lyric Opera Chicago, where Sir Andrew Davis will retire as music director at the end of the 2020-2021 season.

3D Ghost of Maria Callas Gives a Remarkable Performance at Lyric Opera

(Credit: BASE Hologram)

At once eerie, astonishing and altogether fascinating, “Maria Callas in Concert” recently brought the legendary diva back to life for what was a singular and wholly uncanny performance.

‘The Band’s Visit’ Captures the Special Magic of an Unexpected Encounter

A scene from “The Band’s Visit.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Expect no flashy spectacle, lavish dance numbers or any of the other standard ingredients of Broadway musicals. But be assured that “The Band’s Visit” – now making a brief stop at the Cadillac Palace Theatre as part of its national tour – comes with its very own unique magic. 

Chicago Dance Crash’s Wonderfully Fresh ‘Lil Pine Nut’ Deserves a Remount

From left: Porscha Spells, KC Bevis and Kelsey Reiter in the Chicago Dance Crash world premiere production of “Lil Pine Nut: The Learning Curve of Pinocchio.” (Photo by Ashley Deran)

As highly animated as the show might be, “Lil Pine Nut: The Learning Curve of Pinocchio” is no Disney-style version of a universally popular story. 

Jeff Award Nominations a Reminder of the Season Spotlighted as ‘Year of Chicago Theater’

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)

Porchlight Music Theatre tops this year’s list with 17 nominations while the Paramount Theatre earns 16 and Court Theatre garners 15. Here are the 2019 Jeff nominees in the major categories.

Ravinia’s Production of ‘Candide’ Brings Bernstein Celebration to a Glittering Close

Ravinia’s production of “Candide (or Optimism).” (Credit: Patrick Gipson / Ravinia Festival)

This was an exceedingly elaborate production for what was a one-night-only event, and it brought together performers fully at ease with the show’s demonically difficult score and wildly witty lyrics.

Sting: The Englishman Who Can Still Rock a Crowd With Meditations on Love

Sting performs at the Ravinia Festival Pavilion as part of his “My Songs Tour.” (Ravinia Festival / Patrick Gipson)

An impeccable set of iconic songs by the 17-time Grammy Award winner before a crowd of 16,000 at the Ravinia Festival suggested why he has remained such an enduring musical artist for more than four decades.

‘Into the Woods’ a Musical Reminder to Be Careful What You Wish For

Michael Mahler, left, Brianna Borger, center and Bethany Thomas in “Into the Woods.” (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

One of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works is now on stage at Writers Theatre in a sophisticated, powerfully sung, environmentally enveloping production directed by longtime Sondheim aficionado Gary Griffin.

A Joyful Meeting of East and West as Shanghai Symphony Makes Ravinia Debut

(Credit: Ravinia Festival / Justin Piotrowski)

In addition to the beauty of the music, there was the enduring thought that the very best way to ease the current East-West tensions would be to send the politicians on both sides packing and let the musicians take over the job.

‘Dance for Life’ Celebrates Multifaceted Brilliance of Chicago’s Dance Scene

Chicago Dance Crash

This year’s gala concert was in many ways the sharpest production to date, with bravura performances by Giordano Dance Chicago, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Chicago Dance Crash and a slew of others.

Mark Larson’s ‘Ensemble’ Captures Chicago Theater History in Creators’ Own Words

Mark Larson (Photo © Sarah Elizabeth Larson)

Mark Larson’s encyclopedic new book chronicles the development of a unique artistic movement in Chicago through the voices of more than 300 actors, directors, designers, writers, choreographers and producers. 

At Ravinia, Russian Piano Master Pays Spellbinding Homage to Another

(Ravinia Festival / Russel Jenkins)

Rachmanioff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” is awash in ravishing melodies and virtuosic thrills, and Denis Matsuev brought such volcanic power, exquisite lyricism and absolute fluidity to the fiendishly demanding work that it felt as if he himself were writing the demonic piece on the spot. 

At Teatro Zinzanni, Life is an Old-World Cabaret, Circus, Comedy and Restaurant

Frank Ferrante (Photo by Alan Alabastro)

Inside a lavish, 330-seat theater space in the Loop is the madcap escapade “Love, Chaos & Dinner” – a high energy combination of cabaret, comedy and circus, plus a four-course dinner (or brunch) – all backed by a dynamite band.

In ‘Come From Away,’ Discovering the Kindness of Strangers at a Traumatic Moment

Hit Broadway musical “Come From Away” runs through Aug. 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)

The big surprise in this hit Broadway musical is how the seemingly most unlikely material for a musical – the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – ends up feeling as if it were custom-made for the form and turns great darkness into a healing light.

At Black Ensemble, a Sensational Dance-A-Thon Set to the Beat of Funk

From left: Thera Wright, Vincent Jordan, Stewart Romeo and Dwight Neal in “You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music),” at Black Ensemble Theater. (Photo credit: Alan Davis)

Unquestionably one of the company’s most irresistible, highly polished, dance-fueled productions of recent seasons, “You Can’t Fake the Funk” will take you higher, set you on fire, and infuse you with a Superfly energy.

Ravinia Festival Pulls Out All the Stops in Celebration of Leonard Bernstein

(Credit: Ravinia Festival / Patrick Gipson)

The widely celebrated 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein is now in the midst of a grand-scale finale as the Ravinia Festival moves through its second summer of programs devoted to all aspects of his legacy.

In ‘Ghost Quartet,’ a Maze of Stories Brought to Life With Haunting Music

From left: Rachel Guth, TJ Anderson and Amanda Raquel Martinez in “Ghost Quartet.” (Photo by Cole Simon)

Dave Malloy’s time-warping web of a song cycle deals with competing sisters, strange parents, a photographer’s guilt, a subway murder, an astronomer, spirits (of the alcoholic variety), and the quest for love, revenge, stardom and truth over many centuries.

American Blues Theater Reveals Luminous Glow of ‘The Spitfire Grill’

From left: Dara Cameron, Jacqulyne Jones and Catherine Smitko in “The Spitfire Grill.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

The 2001 musical with a soaring, intensely poetic score delivers both a rare emotional punch and a winning sense of forgiveness, redemption and love. It is uncannily timely.

Thoughts on a Trio of Musical Theater Classics

The North American Tour of “Cats.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

“Cats” and “Les Miserables” have both returned to Chicago this summer, and “West Side Story” is in the throes of a renaissance. Here are some brief impressions about all three musicals as experienced in their recent incarnations.

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.”