Stories by hedy weiss

Maestro Riccardo Muti Coaches Young Musicians Via Zoom

CMPI fellow Zachary Allen participates in a coaching session with CSO Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti on March 31, 2021. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

This is not a review. It is primarily a note of appreciation to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director, who has not been able to conduct his beloved orchestra for a year but has helped guide the superb CSOtv series. This week, he also pursued one of his greatest passions via Zoom.

Porchlight’s ‘Rock & Roll Broadway’ Fundraiser Deserves a Main-Stage Future

From left: Ariana Burks, Shantel Cribbs and Melanie Loren in “Chicago Sings Rock & Roll Broadway” from Porchlight Music Theatre. (Courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre)

True to its title, this lavish production traces the evolution of Broadway scores from the 1960s until now, and explores the many ways in which pop music (as well as modern life) has expanded and altered the sound of musical theater.

Hershey Felder Captures the Life of Giacomo Puccini With Grand Operatic Flair

(Courtesy of Marco Badiani and The Florentine)

How do you tell the story of a musical genius whose operas are among the most beloved works in the Italian opera canon? If you are Hershey Felder, you create something unabashedly in the grand opera style that also manages to be hugely accessible for audiences still distanced from live performance by COVID-19.

‘The Catastrophist’: A Brilliant Play Bound to Go Viral

William DeMeritt in “The Catastrophist.” (Photo courtesy of Marin Theatre Company and Round House Theatre)

Lauren Gunderson’s new 75-minute play about her husband, acclaimed virologist Nathan Daniel Wolfe, is a riveting one-man meditation about life and death and the nature of viruses. It’s now being streamed by Northlight Theatre.

CSO’s Irresistible Streaming Series Pays Homage to Florence Price and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Florence Price (Courtesy of the CSO)

Programs framed by Bach and Beethoven are streaming now as part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s virtual series, CSOtv. Here’s a look at Episode #13 and #14.

Chicago Opera Theater’s Scorching ‘Taking Up Serpents’ Captures America’s Pentecostal Fervor

Leah Dexter and Michael Mayes in “Taking Up Serpents.” (Sean Su / Chicago Opera Theater)

While most of this country’s major opera companies are suffering the painful slings and arrows of the pandemic scourge, Chicago Opera Theater continues to soldier on. And its latest production is another example of its musical, theatrical and thematic daring.

Pandemic Exorcisms as Finessed by the Joffrey Ballet and Cabinet of Curiosity

Anais Bueno with Brooke Linford and Christine Roca (Courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet)

Two thrillingly dramatic works — one by way of dance and another by way of radio theater — now serve as vivid evocations marking the one-year “anniversary” of the pandemic, and all the physical and psychological dislocations it has engendered. 

Lyric Opera’s New Music Director Has Prepared a Virtual Vocal Antipasto

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

“Sole e Amore,” Enrique Mazzola’s newest project, will include two dozen songs by seven of the most beloved Italian opera composers of the 19th century, performed by 11 members of the Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s renowned artist development program.

Hershey Felder Creates a Grand Celebration of Sholem Aleichem and a Seductive Fiddler

A scene from “Before Fiddler: Hershey Felder as Sholem Aleichem.” (Courtesy of Hershey Felder)

Streaming through Sunday, “Before Fiddler” is the latest of the many remarkable feats of musical storytelling from Hershey Felder, the multitalented writer, actor, pianist and producer renowned for his solo shows about composers.

‘Red Folder’ Spins a Story of Self-Healing

(Illustration by Rajiv Joseph)

Any description of Rajiv Joseph’s mini-play — the newest entry in Steppenwolf Theatre’s NOW series of virtual programming that runs about 11 minutes — might make it sound like just a quick virtual doodle. But it is much more than that.

New CSOtv Episodes an Ideal Tonic for Locked-Down World

Associate Concertmaster Stephanie Jeong. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s CSOtv Sessions series is, without question, the finest virtual music treasure created in response to the COVID-19 plague year. Those who have yet to revel in its delights are encouraged to catch its two newest entries: Episodes #11 and #12.

Scott Silven Casts Poetic, Mystical Spell in ‘The Journey’ at Chicago Shakespeare

Illusionist, mentalist and performance artist Scott Silven in “The Journey,” streaming live at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo: David Wilkinson, Empirical Photography)

Created and performed by Scott Silven, a young actor, writer, illusionist, mentalist and masterful storyteller, “The Journey” is a mesmerizing riff on time, space, memory, human connection, and the tricks that our very own existence can play on us.

Charles Dickens’ ‘The Chimes’ Rings In A New Year Rife With Economic Despair (And Hope)

(Courtesy Remy Bumppo Theatre Company)

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has long been the standard-bearer of the December theater season. But a subsequent and far less familiar novella is now receiving a bravura solo rendition courtesy of Remy Bumppo Theatre.

Hershey Felder’s Dive Into the Music of Debussy Is A Fervent Elegy For His Mother

Hershey Felder in “A Paris Love Story.” (Credit: Christopher Ash)

For several decades, Hershey Felder has created a series of richly theatrical biographies of great composers. His latest work, “A Paris Love Story,” follows that essential pattern but adds a heartbreaking layer of autobiography.

Chicago Opera Theater Makes Flexibility the Operative Principle of Its Season

Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen in “Rimsky Rebooted.” (Credit: Sean Su for Chicago Opera Theater)

With the coronavirus pandemic foiling plans for a trio of live performances, Chicago Opera Theater has adapted its 2020-2021 season to be a primarily virtual one. 

CSOtv’s Sessions an Ideal Musical Diversion for Pandemic Times

Assistant Concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

The doors of Chicago’s Symphony Center may be closed to its audiences until the pandemic has been conquered. But its stage is still very much alive.

Tapping Into the Intimate Potential of Virtual Performance With ‘What is Left, Burns’

Pictured (from left): Steppenwolf ensemble members K. Todd Freeman and Jon Michael Hill in Steppenwolf’s virtual production of “What Is Left, Burns” by James Ijames, directed by Whitney White. (Photography and design by Lowell Thomas)

James Ijames’ 20-minute play marks the opening salvo in Steppenwolf Now — a series of six virtual productions designed to serve as placeholders until there is a return to live theater — a return that seems ever more elusive.

2020 Jeff Awards a Remembrance of Things Past in Chicago’s Theater World

“Spamalot.” (Credit: Brett Beiner)

This year’s announcement of the 2020 Jeff Awards, which honor excellence in Chicago’s Equity contract theaters, took the form of a virtual event. Here is a list of the top award winners.

Chronicling the Unhappy Lives of America’s First Ladies

Hilary Asare in a play about Lady Bird Johnson, in the world premiere of “45 Plays for America’s First Ladies.” (Courtesy of The Neo-Futurists)

The Neo-Futurists go virtual with “45 Plays for America’s First Ladies,” a 100-minute world premiere collage created by the company of writer-directors that was established in Chicago in 1988.

CSO’s New Virtual Concert Series a Sheer Delight

CSO Flute and Piccolo Jennifer Gunn. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s newly devised CSO Sessions programming provides ample proof that “adversity is the mother of invention.” And its initial series of five on-demand, beautifully filmed video recordings is a sheer delight.

Porchlight Puts a Distinctive Virtual Spin on Broadway

Neala Barron (left) and Lucy Godinez perform “My Own Best Friend” from “Chicago” in “Broadway By the Decade” from Porchlight Music Theatre. (Courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre)

The 45-minute “Broadway By the Decade,” performed by a gifted six-person cast, features representative songs from musicals spanning 10 decades.

CSO Announces Innovative Fall Programming Plans

The CSO’s Lincoln Quartet composed of violinists Qing and Lei Hou, Lawrence Neuman on the viola and cellist Kenneth Olsen perform in a virtual recital in August. (Clay Baker / Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

For now, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be focused on intimate, virtual experiences for its fall 2020 season, which includes the launch of a new digital series of performances. 

Joffrey Ballet and Lyric Opera Cancel Their Fall Seasons

Cara Marie Gary in “The Nutcracker.” (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

This fall was to mark the Joffrey’s first season in its new home on the Lyric Opera stage after many years of residence at the Auditorium Theatre.

Dance for Life’s 2020 Benefit Rechoreographed For the Times

Dance for Life (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Dancers, perhaps more than any other group of performing artists, have been hit hardest, both artistically and financially, by the fallout from the coronavirus. So this year’s Dance for Life 2020 event will feature a new virtual format.

Writers Theatre Devises a Flexible Plan for 2020-21 Season

(Courtesy of Writers Theatre)

How do you design a pandemic-era theater season? The Glencoe-based theater has devised a multifaceted plan that combines a degree of certainty with the option of built-in flexibility, with the ultimate goal of keeping live theater alive.

Chicago Opera Theater Signals Return of Live Music Before Thanksgiving

A promotional image for “Il Postino (The Postman).” (Credit: Joe Mazza)

Amid all the dire warnings that live performances might not start up again until 2021, the news that the richly creative company plans to begin its three-production season in November comes as an enormous spirit-raiser.