Stories by Hedy Weiss

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.

Joffrey Ballet’s World Premiere ‘Anna Karenina’ Fit for the Silver Screen

Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in the Joffrey Ballet’s “Anna Karenina.” (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

This haunting, visually fascinating interpretation of Leo Tolstoy’s massive 1877 novel serves as the latest evidence of the unique ability of the Joffrey to turn dance into riveting, multi-dimensional theater.

In ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2,’ a Provocative He Said/She Said Twist on an Ibsen Classic

Sandra Marquez and Yasen Peyankov in Steppenwolf’s Chicago premiere production of “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

This sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s groundbreaking play – now receiving its Chicago debut at Steppenwolf Theatre – arrives at a moment when a whole new tsunami-like wave of feminist rebellion has gathered force.

A Brilliantly Subversive Take on ‘The Producers’ at the Paramount

Blake Hammond, left, and Jake Morrissy in “The Producers” at Paramount Theatre. (Photo credit: Liz Lauren)

For all its retrograde tropes, Jim Corti’s envelope-pushing (yet entirely faithful) take on Mel Brooks’ 2001 musical feels more contemporary, necessary and dangerously funny than ever before.

At Lyric, an Electrifying ‘Elektra’ With a Rip-Roaring Female Cast

Nina Stemme in Lyric Opera’s production of “Elektra.” (Credit: Cory Weaver)

Lyric Opera’s production of “Elektra,” last seen here in 2012, has found its ideal cast this time around with singers whose spectacular, powerhouse voices are matched by superb acting skills.

‘The Father’ Captures Fractured Reality of Dementia to Blistering Effect

David Darlow in “The Father” (Photo by Michael Courier)

The harrowing realism of “The Father” finesses a remarkable feat of imagination that makes the audience experience the same disorientation, confusion and anger that accompany the protagonist’s own loss of clarity and memory. 

How Nina Simone Tapped Into the Pain of African-American Women

Ariel Richardson, left, and Sydney Charles in Christina Ham’s play “Nina Simone: Four Women” at Northlight Theatre. (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Christina Ham’s play, “Nina Simone: Four Women,” is the anatomy of a song. And by extension, it is the anatomy of the angry, emotionally wounded singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist who wrote it.

‘Gentleman’s Guide’ Musical Chronicles Wild, Wacky Road to Inheritance

Matt Crowle and Rachel Klippel in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” (Photo by Michael Courier)

Not even the polar vortex could deter the performers and audience as Porchlight Music Theatre opened its altogether bravura production this week. This brilliantly conceived and equally brilliantly performed show was meant to defy the odds on every count.

CSO’s 2019-20 Season Celebrates Beethoven’s 250th Birthday

Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the CSO in Mozart’s “Symphony No. 36” on March 15, 2018. (Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

A wide array of concerts designed “to explore (Ludwig van Beethoven’s) individuality, power and genius” highlight the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-2020 season.