Stories by Hedy Weiss

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.

After an Agonizing Strike, the CSO is Back – and in Glorious Form

Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the CSO in Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” (Photo © Todd Rosenberg)

At the Symphony Center, a palpable sense of relief and joy as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra marked its return to the stage after a bruising seven-week strike.

Perlman and Kissin Bring the Music Back to Symphony Center

Violinist Itzhak Perlman, left, and pianist Evgeny Kissin. (Credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco, left, Bette Marshall)

How do you bring the music back to the stage of Symphony Center in the wake of an agonizing seven-week strike by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra? With two of the world’s most formidable virtuosos.

A Tragicomic Reckoning With the Past, Present and Future in ‘The Children’

Janet Ulrich Brooks and Yasen Peyankov in Steppenwolf’s Chicago premiere production of “The Children” by Lucy Kirkwood. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Now receiving its Chicago premiere by Steppenwolf Theatre, British playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s quirky tragicomedy tackles aging, sexual competition, parenting and the catastrophic result of certain scientific and engineering “advances.”

Riding the Waves of Madness and Sanity in Opera Version of ‘Moby-Dick’

Andrew Bidlack (Greenhorn) and Vince Wallace (Queequeg) in the play “Moby-Dick.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Transforming Herman Melville’s 1851 classic is no easy feat. This opera not only captures the pivotal characters in the novel, but also illuminates its major themes with impressive emotional directness.

‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Traces a Musical Line Back to Genocide of 1970s

Cast of “Cambodian Rock Band.”  (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Lauren Yee thrillingly fuses her writing with music that links two cultures and two eras in the richly theatrical “Cambodian Rock Band.” 

Trio of Superb Chicago Productions Highlight Language of Dance

The cast of “A Chorus Line” at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Credit: Michael Courier)

Three very different productions that recently opened on Chicago stages serve as a powerful reminder of the dramatically varied ways in which the language of dance can be spoken.

Instantly Joyful ‘Djembe!’ Encourages Everyone to Bang on a Drum

“Djembe!” (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Prepare to head home from “Djembe!” – the irresistibly engaging interactive music show now at the Apollo Theater – with callouses on the palms of your hands and a giant grin on your face.

ABT’s ‘Whipped Cream’ Designed to Feed Ballet Audience’s Sweet Tooth

Now receiving its Chicago debut, this full-length fairy tale production created for American Ballet Theatre is a frothy, visually lavish confection sure to generate either a light-headed sugar rush or a serious sugar coma. 

Softhearted Detective Delves into Life of Boy Who Was ‘Too Much’

Joe Foust in “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey”  (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is a wildly creative story about a familiar message brought to life by Chicago actor Joe Foust’s effortless storytelling skills, comic sensibility and emotional range. 

Gauthier’s ‘Mega Israel’ a Thrilling Dance Trifecta of Originality, Technique and Endurance

Fearsome choreography, dazzling dancers and innovative sound and music marked the Chicago debut of Gauthier Dance in a stunning program at the Harris Theater.

In Search of Shelter and Security in ‘Landladies’

Leah Karpel, left, and Shanesia Davis in Sharyn Rothstein’s “Landladies” at Northlight Theatre. (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

This edgy new play by Sharyn Rothstein, making its world premiere at Northlight Theatre, deals with the most primal human needs – for shelter, security, a sense of self-worth and love.

‘Little Shop’ Grows Deep Roots at Mercury Theater

And: Composer Alan Menken charms Auditorium audience

Sam Woods (puppet) and Christopher Kale Jones in “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Photo credit: Brett Beiner)

Alan Menken performs his delightful one-man show to a packed house in the Loop as his first hit musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” receives a terrific production on the North Side.

‘Anastasia’ a Big Budget Mess of a Musical That Makes History

Lila Coogan and Stephen Brower in “Anastasia.” (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

Here is the looming question: How could three great talents (Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and Terrence McNally) go so completely wrong with this Broadway musical “inspired by” the 1997 animated musical film?

Court’s Soul-Baring Revival of ‘For Colored Girls’ Finds New Power in Classic Work

AnJi White in Court Theatre’s production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Was Enuf.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In this electrifying revival directed by Seret Scott, Ntozake Shange’s groundbreaking work has never been so sharply defined in terms of character, language and overall narrative drive.

Black Ensemble Shines Light on Gospel Great Mahalia Jackson

Robin DaSilva as Mahalia Jackson (Credit: Michael Courier)

For years now, Jackie Taylor has reminded Black Ensemble audiences that “going to the theater is like to going to church.” In her latest production, this sentiment takes on a decidedly literal meaning.

Israel’s Mayumana Puts an Electrified High-Tech Spin on Percussive ‘Stomp!’

(Courtesy of Mayumana)

“Stomp!” based its show on the notion that you can make a joyful noise with everything from brooms to kitchen sinks. Mayumana builds on that concept with some great bolts of 21st century electrification.