Make It Better, January-February 2018 — Read my recommendations for Chicago-area plays.
Make It Better, November-December 2017 — Read my recommendations for Chicago-area plays.
Playbill, November 2017 — The first time Jimmy Buffett saw a rehearsal of Escape to Margaritaville, the new musical based on his songs, it was pretty obvious that he was having a good time. “He was smiling and laughing,” recalls Greg Garcia, co-writer of the musical’s book, who was sitting just in front of Buffett. “I kept looking back at him, and he was just loving it. Afterward, I go, ‘That’s the first Jimmy Buffett concert that you’ve ever been to, isn’t it?’ And he looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Yeah, man! I see what the fuss is all about!’” …
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Playbill, October 2017 — People love to root for the underdog. And who’s more of an underdog than a ragtag kid shouting “Extra!, Extra!” as he sells newspapers on the crowded streets of a big, dirty city? That’s a big part of the appeal of Newsies.
“It is an immigrant story,” says Aaron Thielen, artistic director of the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, which is producing the regional premiere of Disney’s Newsies, the stage adaptation of the 1992 Disney film. “You root for those kids because you see yourself—or your grandparents. There was a time when every family that came here had to fight to survive.” …
Photo: Amy Boyle
Make It Better, September-October 2017 — Read my recommendations for Chicago-area plays.
Playbill, September 2017 — On December 4, 1956, Sam Phillips—the record producer famed as the father of rock ’n’ roll—telephoned the Memphis Press-Scimitar with a hot tip. Acting quickly, the newspaper rushed a reporter and photographer over to Phillips’ little storefront recording studio, Sun Records.
The photo caption in the next day’s paper set the scene: “The only thing predictable about Elvis is that he’s unpredictable. Yesterday, Carl “Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins was cutting some new records at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio. … Elvis dropped in. So did Johnny Cash. Jerry Lee Lewis was already there.” The Press-Scimitar’s reporter remarked, “It was what you might call a barrel-house of fun.” …
Photo: Memphis Press-Scimitar
Playbill, July 2017 — Arts agencies consume a microscopic fraction of the $4 trillion U.S. budget. And yet government funding for the arts is controversial; calls to eliminate it never fully subside. But there was a time when the government did more than just provide grants. For a few years, the government actually had its own theatrical troupes, with Uncle Sam paying actors, directors, and playwrights to put on shows in New York, Chicago, and other cities. …
Photo: NYPL for the Performing Arts
Playbill, June 2017 — A fence divides two backyards in Native Gardens, a new play at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater. A white couple has lived for a long time on one side of the fence. On the other side, a Latino couple has just moved in. When you see that fence, it’s hard not to think of Donald Trump’s wall.
But playwright Karen Zacarias wrote her script a couple of years ago, when few people expected Trump to become president. By the time Native Gardens made its world premiere—in January 2016 at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park—Trump was leading polls in the Republican primaries, but he still seemed like a long shot to end up in the White House.
Now that Trump actually is president, will that change the way audiences perceive Zacarias’ comedy, as it receives its second production? Zacarias, an immigrant from Mexico who lives in Washington, D.C., pondered that question as she considered how much to revise Native Gardens for its Chicago run. …
Photo: Liz Lauren
Make It Better, May-June 2017 — Read my recommendations for Chicago-area plays.
Photo of Mike Nussbaum: Michael Brosilow
Make It Better, May-June 2017 — When David Catlin was creating Lookingglass Theatre’s stage version of “Moby Dick,” a sentence in the first chapter of Herman Melville’s novel jumped out at him. The narrator (that fellow who introduces himself by saying, “Call me Ishmael”) remarks: “I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage…”
Those stage managers, the Fates.
These words made Catlin think about the role that fate plays in Melville’s classic story. How much is Captain Ahab, that manically obsessed whaler, in control of himself? “How much do we control? How much is fate present?” asks Catlin, a founding Lookingglass Ensemble member who teaches at Northwestern University in Evanston. …