★★★★★ Marriott Theatre has brought back the true “Grease” with its book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. This is the Chicago version and is quite different that the “Hollywood”, John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. This play was written by Chicagoans about a Chicago high school ( Taft High School is Rydell) and this version if far meatier. At the helm of making this pleasurable theatrical experience take place is director Scott Weinstein who truly knows how to use the in-the-round stage at Marriott. He keeps the action moving and allows all four sides of the theater great views.
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** The holidays seem to be a time when more and more theater companies are adding seasonal programming to attract new patrons and entertain large groups or families. The slate of Christmas-themed shows this year seems to be particularly brimming with tantalizing and appealing options. With the field so chock-full of copious goodies, packed tighter than Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, it can be difficult to choose just which show to see. Instead of going to see yet another version of "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker" why not take a chance and go to see a brand new family-friendly musical that is receiving its world premiere at The Greenhouse Theater Center? "The Land of Forgotten Toys," presented by CPA Theatricals, a Chicago-based non-profit organization, is a show that covers several different genres and is loaded with a ton of heart, robust good cheer and overflowing with genuine joy. 4 HOLIDAY SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Have you ever stopped and wondered whatever happened to all of those toys that Rudolph discovered on the Island of Misfit Toys? Clearly, Larry Todd Cousineau and Cindy O'Connor have. Both of these talented folks are the creators of "America's Best Outcast Toy," with O'Connor composing the music while the book and lyrics were written by Cousineau. As it turns out, all of these outcast toys are now living in the United States and appearing on a reality competition television program, vying for the title of -- you guessed it -- America's best. This fun holiday diversion is currently enjoying its world premiere at Pride Films and Plays. 3 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS
This can’t be! I am in a small neighborhood theater (Citadel), seeing on a school stage, one of the best productions of “Annie”, that I have ever seen! I saw the original in NYC in 1977, the Chicago production, and at least two of the film versions and…this is right up there!
***RECOMMENDED*** There are not very many jukebox musicals that have an actual working jukebox on the stage. "Always...Patsy Cline," which was created by Ted Swindley in 1988, is an early example of what a jukebox musical can be, long before that term was even widely used and the concept of taking well-known songs by popular recording artists and forming a narrative to build around them seemed to dominate nearly every other musical that was opening on Broadway from early 2000 until the present day. Firebrand Theatre's current production of "Always...Patsy Cline" features a vintage Wurlitzer that fits perfectly into this very charming and intimate version of the true story of one of Patsy Cline's biggest fans which has 27 of her greatest hits interwoven throughout the course of the evening's entertainment. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** If you mention "The Nutcracker" to anyone they will more than likely have visions of sugar plum fairies dancing through their head or at least the iconic music of Tchaikovsky's famous "Suite" ringing in their ears. But for those of you who may want a slightly different interpretation than what the Joffrey Ballet is offering (or any other dance company, for that matter), you should head to the Chopin Theater -- and quickly. For the tenth consecutive year, the House Theatre of Chicago is offering their ballet-free version of this family-friendly holiday classic. If you've never seen it before, you will be surprised by how emotionally raw this work can be at times. If you have been fortunate to have seen it over the recent years that have turned this into an annual holiday gem for the House Theatre, a repeat visit is in order as this adaptation has been gently refined with some key changes in casting and technical execution. With a show that is this unique and special, here's hoping that it may run for at least another ten years or more. 4 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** "I lost my soul because I didn't know its worth" laments the male protagonist in Raven Theatre's production of "Hoodoo Love." Written by Katori Hall and an off-Broadway hit from 2007, this drama with music tells the tale of an aspiring blues singer living in Depression-era Memphis and the great lengths that she will go to in order to achieve success as a performer but, more importantly, to ensnare the man that she loves and guarantee that he will settle down with her to raise a family. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Pretty soon the artistic and executive directors of Porchlight Music Theatre may have to add a newly minted moniker to the list of credits printed in the Playbill that they distribute at each performance: casting by Divas Central Management. Last autumn, Porchlight presented a highly-lauded production of "Gypsy" starring E. Faye Butler -- a performance which saw a very busy Butler finally return to a Chicago stage after quite a lengthy absence. She was greeted with open arms by critics and Porchlight audiences alike and won a coveted Jeff Award for her efforts. Now the elusive local star returning to the stage is Hollis Resnik in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard," which is the first Webber show that Porchlight has ever produced as they enter their Silver Anniversary season. To keep the diva trend going, avid musical theatre lovers can only dream that next October Porchlight will launch their season with Paula Scrofano as Aurora in "Kiss of the Spider Woman". Or, how about Barbara E. Robertson in the title role of "Mame"? They both would be sensational. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** When life seems to be a constant struggle and every turn is met with heartache, finding a true friend to talk with to make yourself feel better can be a mighty big challenge. At those times, you are forced to examine nearly every detail of your situation and identify a singular passion which will successfully reconnect you to the land of the living and keep your unhappiness at bay. For the main character in the musical "A Man of No Importance" that joy can only be found while engaged in the theatrical arts -- specifically as a director presenting the works of his favorite playwright, Oscar Wilde, to entertain the Irish urbanites via the scrappy community theatre troupe known as the St. Imelda Players of which he's a long-standing member. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
**SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED** For the past 36 years, Raven Theatre has built a solid reputation by presenting season after season of well-balanced programming. Known primarily for producing classic works written by many of the legendary American playwrights, Raven has also mixed in amongst those heavy hitters' work some wonderful contemporary writer's plays to expose Chicago audiences to exciting new voices in the theatre world. However, recently-appointed Artistic Director Cody Estle, only in his second full season in command, has taken a slight misstep with "Sundown, Yellow Moon" by Rachel Bonds. 2 SPOTLIGHTS