Stories by Hedy Weiss

Mark Larson’s ‘Ensemble’ Captures Chicago Theater History in Creators’ Own Words

Mark Larson (Photo © Sarah Elizabeth Larson)

Mark Larson’s encyclopedic new book chronicles the development of a unique artistic movement in Chicago through the voices of more than 300 actors, directors, designers, writers, choreographers and producers. 

At Ravinia, Russian Piano Master Pays Spellbinding Homage to Another

(Ravinia Festival / Russel Jenkins)

Rachmanioff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” is awash in ravishing melodies and virtuosic thrills, and Denis Matsuev brought such volcanic power, exquisite lyricism and absolute fluidity to the fiendishly demanding work that it felt as if he himself were writing the demonic piece on the spot. 

At Teatro Zinzanni, Life is an Old-World Cabaret, Circus, Comedy and Restaurant

Frank Ferrante (Photo by Alan Alabastro)

Inside a lavish, 330-seat theater space in the Loop is the madcap escapade “Love, Chaos & Dinner” – a high energy combination of cabaret, comedy and circus, plus a four-course dinner (or brunch) – all backed by a dynamite band.

In ‘Come From Away,’ Discovering the Kindness of Strangers at a Traumatic Moment

Hit Broadway musical “Come From Away” runs through Aug. 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)

The big surprise in this hit Broadway musical is how the seemingly most unlikely material for a musical – the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – ends up feeling as if it were custom-made for the form and turns great darkness into a healing light.

At Black Ensemble, a Sensational Dance-A-Thon Set to the Beat of Funk

From left: Thera Wright, Vincent Jordan, Stewart Romeo and Dwight Neal in “You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music),” at Black Ensemble Theater. (Photo credit: Alan Davis)

Unquestionably one of the company’s most irresistible, highly polished, dance-fueled productions of recent seasons, “You Can’t Fake the Funk” will take you higher, set you on fire, and infuse you with a Superfly energy.

Ravinia Festival Pulls Out All the Stops in Celebration of Leonard Bernstein

(Credit: Ravinia Festival / Patrick Gipson)

The widely celebrated 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein is now in the midst of a grand-scale finale as the Ravinia Festival moves through its second summer of programs devoted to all aspects of his legacy.

In ‘Ghost Quartet,’ a Maze of Stories Brought to Life With Haunting Music

From left: Rachel Guth, TJ Anderson and Amanda Raquel Martinez in “Ghost Quartet.” (Photo by Cole Simon)

Dave Malloy’s time-warping web of a song cycle deals with competing sisters, strange parents, a photographer’s guilt, a subway murder, an astronomer, spirits (of the alcoholic variety), and the quest for love, revenge, stardom and truth over many centuries.

American Blues Theater Reveals Luminous Glow of ‘The Spitfire Grill’

From left: Dara Cameron, Jacqulyne Jones and Catherine Smitko in “The Spitfire Grill.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

The 2001 musical with a soaring, intensely poetic score delivers both a rare emotional punch and a winning sense of forgiveness, redemption and love. It is uncannily timely.

Thoughts on a Trio of Musical Theater Classics

The North American Tour of “Cats.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

“Cats” and “Les Miserables” have both returned to Chicago this summer, and “West Side Story” is in the throes of a renaissance. Here are some brief impressions about all three musicals as experienced in their recent incarnations.

Coyotes’ Cries Herald a Ferocious New Steppenwolf Take on ‘True West’

Jon Michael Hill, left, and Namir Smallwood in Steppenwolf’s production of “True West” by Sam Shepard. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Steppenwolf’s fabled 1982 production of Sam Shepard’s darkly comic tale is a foundational part of Chicago theater history. And now, two of the company’s “next generation” of actors are bringing their own high-octane intensity to the play.

Fiercely Immersive ‘Recommendation’ Explores Privilege, Justice and Moral Relativism

Brian Keys, left, and Julian Hester in “The Recommendation” at Windy City Playhouse. (Photo credit Michael Brosilow)

With its volcanic staging of Jonathan Caren’s intensely physical play, Windy City Playhouse has carved out a unique niche for itself in Chicago with a style dubbed “immersive theater.” 

Salesmanship Cedes to Love in ‘The Music Man’

James Konicek (Olin Britt), Ayana Strutz (Townsperson), Matt Casey (Townsperson), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Tommy Djilas), Kelly Felthous (Zaneeta Shinn), Christopher Kale Jones (Jacey Squires), Geoff Packard (Harold Hill), Alejandro Fonseca (Townsperson), Laura Savage (Farmer's Wife / Townsperson), Adrienne Velasco-Storrs(Townsperson), Sophie Ackerman (Amaryllis Squires) and Ron E. Rains (Mayor Shinn) in “The Music Man” with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and a book by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, d

The overall pacing of this bear of a show can sometimes feel a bit off. At the same time, there is such a sense of jubilation about this production that its imperfections are easy to overlook.

New Musical ‘Darling Grenadine’ a Sobering Look at the Quest for Happiness

Katherine Thomas and Heath Saunders in “Darling Grenadine.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

It might not be a Broadway-style blockbuster, but this intimate musical very skillfully mixes romantic comedy tropes with an uncompromising look at self-destructive behavior, self-doubt, alcoholism and complex friendships.

In ‘Ada and the Engine,’ a Woman Far Ahead of Her Time

Brookelyn Hebert in “Ada and the Engine” at The Artistic Home Theatre. (Photo by Joe Mazza, Brave Lux Photography)

A wonderfully imagined riff on the Ada Lovelace story, Lauren Gunderson’s fascinating, emotionally feverish play is now receiving a vividly realized Chicago premiere production by The Artistic Home.

Preserving Musical History With a Rarely Revived Operetta

From left: Sarah Ruth Mikulski, Cydney Washington, William Roberts, Clara Imon Pedtke, Elena Avila, Rose Guccione, Ysaye McKeever and Angela Yu in “The Flower of Hawaii.” (Courtesy of Folks Operetta)

For all it’s polish and ambition I can’t say the show has turned me into a fan of the operetta style. But “The Flower of Hawaii” is unquestionably an artifact of musical theater interest, and this might just be the only chance you will ever have to experience it.

Yes, There is Still a Formidable Audience for Classical Music

Audience members enter Symphony Center on opening night of Verdi’s “Aida.” (Credit: Todd Rosenberg)

Despite the dire warnings about “the demise of the audience for classical music,” there is a significant audience in Chicago that values this incomparable art form. Two recent, radically different CSO concerts are prime examples.

In ‘Hedwig,’ Divided Cold War-Era Germany Gives Birth to Even More Divided Identity

Will Lidke in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” (Photo by Austin D. Oie Photography)

Arriving at Theo Ubique as the final show of the theater’s first season in its spacious new Evanston home, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” serves as definitive proof that this company can finesse anything and everything in the musical theater repertory.

A Winningly Eclectic CSO Concert Mixes Contemporary, Classic Works

CSO Piccolo Jennifer Gunn is the soloist in Ken Benshoof’s “Concerto in Three Movements” with Music Director Riccardo Muti and the CSO. (© Todd Rosenberg)

The unlikely combination of Vivaldi, Beethoven and Gershwin with two contemporary works was full of delightful surprises and unexpected revelations. 

Hubbard Street’s Summer Program a Series of Wildly Poetic Existential Adventures

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The Loss of Place” by Brian Brooks. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

The titles of the four pieces provide a telling suggestion of the psychologically probing works being performed with the company’s trademark blend of uncanny fluidity, plasticity, control and ensemble perfection.

Rarely Produced British Play a Bitter Reminder of Veterans’ Fates

Krystal Ortiz and Matt Fletcher in Griffin Theatre Company’s production of “For Services Rendered.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

In some ways, “For Services Rendered” is an old-fashioned play, but it is a beauty. And coming at a moment when Britain is undergoing a different sort of social and economic upheaval, it seems ideally timed for a revival.

In ‘Ms. Blakk,’ a Raucous Campaign for a Queer Nation Candidate

Tarell Alvin McCraney in Steppenwolf’s world premiere production of “Ms. Blakk for President,” co-written by ensemble members Tina Landau and McCraney. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

This unabashedly flamboyant fantasia by Tina Landau and Tarell Alvin McCraney spins the true story of Joan Jett Blakk, who helped found the Chicago branch of the Queer Nation Party and ran for Chicago mayor in 1991.

There is True ‘Greatness’ in Firebrand’s ‘Queen of the Mist’

Barbara E. Robertson, center, with, from left, Max J. Cervantes, Neala Barron, Liz Chidester, Hannah Starr, Liz Bollar and Maryam Abdi in Firebrand Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Queen of the Mist.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

“There Is Greatness In Me” is the defining song in this riveting musical that releases the full “greatness” in its lead character by way of an electrifying performance by veteran Chicago actress Barbara E. Robertson. 

Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ a Cautionary Tale for Those Who Would Play God

Lookingglass Theatre Company Artistic Associate Walter Briggs, left, and Keith Gallagher in “Frankenstein.” (Photo by Liz Lauren)

The 200th anniversary of “Frankenstein” was celebrated by a slew of Chicago theaters last year. Lookingglass’ new production has arrived a bit late in the game, but with its raw beauty and feverish emotion, it turns out to be well worth the wait.

In Knockout Musical ‘Six,’ King Henry VIII’s Wives Have Their #MeToo Moment

From left: Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet, Brittney Mack and Anna Uzele in “Six” at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. (Photo by Liz Lauren)

Forget about spending your last dime for tickets to The Rolling Stones’ concerts at Soldier Field next month. Instead, check out the fire-breathing female royalty of this sensational musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

‘Bloomsday’ a Breathtaking Play About Time, Love, Regret and Fateful Decisions

Bryce Gangel in “Bloomsday,” presented by Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. (Photo by Michael Courier)

Steven Dietz’s hauntingly beautiful play is inspired by James Joyce’s groundbreaking novel “Ulysses,” but it is no stage adaptation. Rather, it’s a gorgeous, exquisitely imagined contemporary riff on Joyce’s essential themes.