Stories by Hedy Weiss

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. 

Fathers and Sons at the Heart of New Musical Take on ‘A Bronx Tale’

Joe Barbara, left, Frankie Leoni and company of “A Bronx Tale.” (Photo: Joan Marcus)

This unapologetically old-fashioned coming-of-age story – with a creative team that includes Chazz Palminteri, Alan Menken, Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks – is a poignant and insightful look at the complex relationship between fathers (whether real or “surrogate”) and sons.

Irishmen Bring Music, Meditation to Chicago Stages in ‘Choir of Man,’ ‘Two Pints’

From left: Tom Brandon, John Sheehy, Connor Going (at piano), Andrew Carter, Denis Grinden (seated) and Mark Loveday in “The Choir of Man.” (Credit: Brian Wright)

Lift a glass and make a toast to the musical and verbal talents of some Emerald Islanders who have arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan for brief stays.

Theo Ubique Unleashes the Italian Opera Soul in ‘Bridges of Madison County’

Kelli Harrington and Tommy Thurston in “The Bridges of Madison County” at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. (Photo by Cody Jolly Photography)

This is one of those productions that makes you wish the show’s composer and writer would make a quick trip to Chicago to see their work in what might just be its ideal incarnation.

Joffrey Academy’s ‘Winning Works’ Program More Than Justifies its Title

“Vessels Bearing” by Xiang Xu (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

From the performers’ dazzling technical skill and emotional conviction to the sophistication and complexity of each choreographer’s work, this program of four world premiere works was remarkable on many levels.

In Rennie Harris’ ‘Lazarus,’ the Spirit of Alvin Ailey Rises to Freedom

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to Chicago with three different lineups, including an opening program that captures its illustrious history with an absolutely fascinating, generation-shifting juxtaposition of two pieces.

Chicago’s Hubbard Street Meets Cuba’s Malpaso for Ingenious Mashup

Hubbard Street Dancer Alicia Delgadillo and Malpaso Dance Company Artistic Director Osnel Delgado in “Ocaso” by Osnel Delgado. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

A stunning program interlaced the formidable talents of dancers and choreographers from each company, suggesting that the two, if not quite identical twins, are the very closest of kissing cousins, different only in some distinctive rhythmic impulses.

Director Batters the Baroque in Lyric Opera Production of Handel’s ‘Ariodante’

Front, from left: Eric Ferring, Alice Coote, Brenda Rae and Kyle Ketelsen in Lyric Opera’s production of “Ariodante.” (Credit: Cory Weaver)

British director Richard Jones has attempted to yank Handel’s rarely mounted Baroque opera into a more modern era by devising a wholly gratuitous, meaningless and needlessly coarse vision of the work. I just didn’t buy it.

Akram Khan’s Transformational ‘Giselle’ Casts Hypnotic Spell

English National Ballet. Alina Cojocaru in Akram Khan’s Giselle © Laurent Liotardo

Akram Khan’s “Giselle” is a hypnotic stunner that injects a primal scream into a story of romantic betrayal and class warfare whose mystical element has long captivated audiences.

Chicago Flamenco Festival Kicks Off Season Full of Dance

Flamenco dancer Jesus Ortega in the opening program of Instituto Cervantes’ Chicago Flamenco Festival. (Photo by John Boehm)

From flamenco to contemporary to ballet, dance takes over Chicago area stages this month. 

A Contentious Family Dinner Morphs Into an Absurdist Black Comedy in ‘Act(s) of God’

This feverishly verbal play, now receiving its world premiere at Lookingglass Theatre, poses some epic, cosmic questions while capturing the more familiar aspects of family relationships and identity crises. But it supplies no answers. 

CSO Concert Moves from Earthly Horror to Heavenly Yearning

Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the Orchestra’s first performance of Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer William Schuman’s “Symphony No. 9” (Le fosse Ardeatine) in a year that marks the 75th anniversary of this World War II tragedy in Italy. (Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

The CSO’s current program features two radically different pieces: American composer William Schuman’s haunting “Symphony No. 9” and Mozart’s glorious “Requiem in D Minor.”

Six Girls Negotiate Difficult Road to Adulthood in ‘Twilight Bowl’

Anne Thompson (Sharlene), Heather Chrisler (Jaycee), Hayley Burgess (Clarice) and Becca Savoy (Sam) in the world premiere of “Twilight Bowl” by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Erica. (Credit: Liz Lauren)

“Twilight Bowl” is a telling depiction of a crucial transitional period in the lives of a cross-section of young women who are at once lost and found in the American heartland.

In ‘The Abuelas,’ a Chilling Episode in Argentina’s History Washes Up on Lake Shore Drive

Esteban Schemberg and Cruz Gonzalez Cadel in in Teatro Vista’s world premiere of Stephanie Allen Walker’s “The Abuelas.” (Photo credit: Joel Maisonet)

Stephanie Alison Walker’s new play serves as a chilling reminder of a particularly horrific period in Argentina’s history when, from 1976 to 1983, that nation was under the thumb of a brutal military dictatorship.

At Lyric, a ‘La Traviata’ of Great Intimacy Amid the Social Whirl of Paris

Giorgio Berrugi and Albina Shagimuratova in “La Traviata” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Credit: Lyric Opera of Chicago)

The beauty of this production goes beyond the absolute glory of Giuseppe Verdi’s impassioned, vocally demanding score. And while the voices are uniformly superb, so is the almost conversational style of acting.

Actors Play the Music of August Wilson’s Dialogue in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

From left: David Alan Anderson, Kelvin Roston, Jr. and A.C. Smith in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Writers Theatre. (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

The harmonies, dissonances and inflections of the conversations among the four men who form Ma Rainey’s fractious band are something of a spoken-word blues opera in this Writers Theatre revival.