Stories by Hedy Weiss

The Surprising Power of 2 Plays Captured on National Theatre Live

Lindsay Duncan in “Hansard.” (Catherine Ashmore / Courtesy NT Live)

A fervent believer in the unique power of live theater, I have become quite a convert to broadcasts of live performances after seeing two superb National Theatre Live productions this past weekend. 

Taking Stock of Chicago Theater as 2019 Draws to a Close

Nondumiso Tembe in “Lindiwe,” left, Kelvin Roston Jr. in “Oedipus Rex,” center, and Christina Hall in “Always … Patsy Cline.” (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

It would be all but impossible to survey the many great, good and sometimes disappointing productions of the past 12 months. But three recent shows suggest the great variety of work produced in Chicago – and the immense amount of talent here.

A Radiant Moment in Chicago History Key to Magic of Joffrey’s ‘Nutcracker’

Yoshihisa Arai and Amanda Assucena of the Joffrey Ballet perform Christopher Wheeldon’s Chicago-themed reinvention of “The Nutcracker.” (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

This highly original reimagining of the classic holiday tale is a monumental production both in its storytelling and its design, yet it manages to beautifully interweave its grand scale elements with human scale emotions. 

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky Vividly Conjures ‘Three Queens’ Betrayed

Sondra Radvanovsky in “The Three Queens.” (© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019)

In “The Three Queens,” the trilogy of semi-staged excerpts about the lives of Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I now in a brief run at Lyric Opera, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky captures their essence to sublime vocal and dramatic effect.

Revisiting the Unique Poetry of Simon & Garfunkel’s Soundtrack

Ben Cooley (left) and Taylor Bloom perform in “The Simon & Garfunkel Story.” (Photo by Lane Peters)

Listening to the richly faithful performances by Taylor Bloom and Ben Cooley was in many ways like stepping into a time machine. As I left the theater awash in memories, I wondered whether Simon and Garfunkel have seen the show in which they are so winningly captured.

Chicago Opera Theater Captures Extreme Passions in Pair of Life-and-Death One-Acts

Michelle Johnson and Andrew Bidlack in Chicago Opera Theater’s productions of “Aleko” and “Everest.” (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

As Robert Frost famously wrote: “Some say the world will end in fire, / Some in ice.” And in a very real sense it was those two opposing endgame scenarios that Chicago Opera Theater conjured this past weekend as it opened its 2019-2020 season.

‘The Wickhams’ Puts a Beguiling Twist on a Jane Austen Sequel

Netta Walker (left) and Luigi Sottile in “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Northlight Theatre’s production of “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” has a playfully feminist spirit that Jane Austen surely would have appreciated, but it also remains true to its Regency era mentality. 

‘The Niceties’ Captures Contemporary University Turmoil

Ayanna Bria Bakari and Mary Beth Fisher in “The Niceties.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

“The Niceties” is a brief and telling chronicle of the temper of our times, and actors Mary Beth Fisher and Ayanna Bria Bakari sustain the necessary tension and subterfuge required to keep things at the boiling point. 

Stunning ‘Don Giovanni’ a Surprisingly Ideal Fit for the #MeToo Era

Amanda Majeski and Lucas Meachem in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Don Giovanni.” (Photo by Kyle Flubacker)

The production, directed by Robert Falls (artistic director of the Goodman Theatre) is the finest work he has done on any stage since “The Iceman Cometh,” and it has been cast with glorious singers who also are exceptional actors.

Muti and CSO Bring a Touch of Italian Heat to Works of 3 German Romantics

What happens when a conductor steeped in the Italian tradition takes hold of three works by quite different 19th century German Romantic composers? The answer could be heard as Maestro Riccardo Muti led the CSO in works by Wagner, Brahms and Schumann.

A Breathtaking Rendering of Beethoven, and a Richly Sonic New ‘Dream’

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti performs with violin soloist Leonidas Kavakos. ©2019 Anne Ryan

Together with the brilliant musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Riccardo Muti and violinist Leonidas Kavakos launched into an absolutely spellbinding performance of Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto in D Major.”

Leguizamo Blazes His Way into an Often Unexplored Cultural Inheritance

John Leguizamo in “Latin History for Morons.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

There is no denying the ferocity of John Leguizamo’s tragicomic jeremiad, his bravura gifts as a terrific physical performer, or his ability to improvise in “Latin History for Morons.”

Tapping Into the Blistering Tragedy of ‘I’m Lenny Bruce’

Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce. (Photo by Doren Sorell)

Directed with just the right balance of the sacred and the profane by Joe Mantegna, Ronnie Marmo’s show, “I’m Not a Comedian ... I’m Lenny Bruce,” is a seamless weave of excerpts from Bruce’s acts along with original material that deftly takes us inside the man’s psyche.

‘Andares’ a Powerfully Imagined Homage to Mexico’s Indigenous Cultures

Josué Maychi (from left), Lupe de la Cruz, and Alexis Orozco (who was unable to join the Chicago production and has been replaced by Domingo Mijangos) perform in “Andares.” (Photo by Raúl Kigra)

The show’s three exceptionally graceful, expressive actors – each of them powerful solo players – form a seamless bond that is beautiful to behold. They are at once passionate artists and fierce cultural warriors.

2019 Jeff Award Winners Capture Richness of Chicago Theater Scene

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

The exceptional breadth, depth and variety of Chicago theater was on full display Monday night as the winners of the 2019 Jeff Equity Awards were announced. Here are the highlights.

Sensational Actress Works Her Magic in Writers Theatre’s ‘A Doll’s House’

Cher Álvarez (Nora) in “A Doll’s House.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Writers Theatre’s production of “A Doll’s House,” cannily but faithfully adapted by Sandra Delgado and Michael Halberstam, and featuring a bravura performance by Cher Alvarez, brought the play back to life in the most unexpected ways.

Joffrey Dancers’ Dramatic Powers Soar in Hypnotic ‘Jane Eyre’

Greig Matthews and Amanda Assucena in Joffrey Ballet’s production of “Jane Eyre.” (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

British choreographer Cathy Marston’s enthralling production of “Jane Eyre,” is now being performed with stellar artistry and deep emotional insight by the Joffrey Ballet even though not a single word is spoken throughout the performance.

Stardom and Mortality Battle It Out in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” from Porchlight Music Theatre. (Photo by Michael Courier)

A musical-opera hybrid, “Sunset Boulevard” captures the dual face of Hollywood as a dream factory and a dream destroyer. And it spins the haunting tale of Norma Desmond, an aging, once fabled star.

Art Is Love in Endearing ‘Man of No Importance’

Tommy Bullington and Sarah Beth Tanner in “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)

“A Man of No Importance,” now receiving an altogether beautiful, heartrending production by Pride Films and Plays, features exceptionally fluid, comedy-meets-tragedy direction by Donterrio Johnson and an ideal cast.

A Smashing Debut by Pianist Sunwook Kim at Thrilling CSO Concert

Pianist Sunwook Kim plays Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in his CSO debut at Symphony Center on Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo by Anne Ryan)

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was at its rip-roaring best Friday as award-winning pianist Sunwook Kim made a simply smashing debut with the orchestra. 

It’s Time to Declare a ‘Year of Chicago Dance’

“Synapse” by Nick Pupillo (Photo by MREID Photography)

The City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theaters declared 2019 “The Year of Chicago Theatre.” But anyone who has been following dance in Chicago in recent years will attest to the fact that it is now time to declare a “Year of Chicago Dance.”

‘A Man of Good Hope’ Captures Immigrant’s Plight with Stunning Artistry

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents Isango Ensemble’s “A Man of Good Hope,” based on the book by Jonny Steinberg and adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May, in the Courtyard Theater, Oct. 4–13, 2019. (Photo by Keith Pattinson)

Based on the book by Jonny Steinberg, “A Good Man of Hope,” is a heart-wrenching, fiercely honest, staggeringly beautiful production by South Africa’s extraordinary Isango Ensemble now on stage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

‘Oslo’ An Enthralling Exploration of How Personal Diplomacy (Almost) Worked

From left: Scott Parkinson, Stef Tovar, David Parkes, Jed Feder and Bri Sudia in TimeLine Theatre Company’s “Oslo.” (Photo by Brett Beiner Photography)

J.T. Rogers’ superbly crafted, whip-smart, at times fancifully (and farcically) imagined 2017 Tony Award-winning play captures the efforts of a Norwegian husband-and-wife team to forge a peace process between the Israeli government and the PLO.

In ‘Every Brilliant Thing,’ A List Becomes a Reminder of Why Life is Worth Living

Rebecca Spence in “Every Brilliant Thing.” (Photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Ingeniously conceived and cleverly directed, this immersive show features a not-to-be-missed solo turn by Rebecca Spence, a captivating actress of extraordinary skill, charm and improvisational brilliance.

CSO’s Opening Salvo in Beethoven 250th Birthday Celebration Proves Composer Forever Young

Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti leads the CSO in an all-Beethoven program on Sept. 26, 2019 in Orchestra Hall. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

When thinking about Beethoven, the emphasis should not be on the fact that he was born two and a half centuries ago. Rather, it should be on the fact that his music remains uncannily timeless – vividly alive and fully connected to the moment.