Tag Archives: playbill

Tony-Winning Once Makes Music in Illinois

Playbill, May 2018 — Done on a tiny budget of $150,000, the independent Irish film Once barely made it into theaters. And it easily could have disappeared without a trace, but audiences were captivated by its simple story about two musicians writing songs together and falling in love. After it screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2007, Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips became one of its earliest and most enthusiastic champions, calling it “the best music film of any stripe” anyone had made in decades.

But was director John Carney’s film a musical? Not exactly. It certainly wasn’t one of those spectacles where characters suddenly burst into song while fantasy dance numbers break out around them. In fact, it felt more like a documentary, with cameras capturing intimate moments from the real lives of people struggling to make a living with their music. Read the rest of my story about Once at the Paramount Aurora.

Photo by  Liz Lauren

Lorin Latarro’s A Taste of Things to Come Captures the Inception of Feminism

Playbill, March 2018 — Cooking contests are an American pastime. After a long history of local bake-offs at county fairs and churches around the country, competitions hit the big time in 1949, when Pillsbury held its first national recipe contest. During that prosperous post-World War II era, Americans were watching television for the first time and buying new gadgets for their kitchens. And hundreds of thousands of people were hoping to strike it rich by concocting a tasty dish no one had ever sampled before.

Most of those contestants were women. This was the 1950s, after all, a time when the kitchen was still seen as the traditional domain of housewives. The lives of those women—and their kitchen conversations—are captured in the new musical, A Taste of Things to Come, which runs March 20 to April 29 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
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Photo by Carol Rosegg

Why This Chicago Theatre Put a Modern Spin on The Emperor’s New Clothes—With the Help of Ahrens and Flaherty

Playbill, March 4, 2018 — Imagine you’re a child watching a live theatrical performance for the first time. You’ve seen plenty of movies and television shows, but this is something new and exciting — actual people walking, talking, dancing and singing on a stage, conjuring the illusion of a story right in front of your eyes. Read the rest of my story about The Emperor’s New Clothes at the Marriott Theatre.

Why Escape to Margaritaville Won’t Be Just Another Juke-Box Musical

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!’” …

Read my story at Playbill.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Why Newsies’ Regional Premiere Is Unlike Any Other Staging of the Tony-Winning Musical

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.” …

Read my story at Playbill.

Photo: Amy Boyle

What to Expect from Paramount Theatre’s Million Dollar Quartet

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.” …

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Photo: Memphis Press-Scimitar

Why Machinal Should Be Revived More Often

Playbill, August 2017 — Plot spoilers aren’t a big worry with Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal. Just about every description of the expressionist drama says it was inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder, a Queens housewife who murdered her husband and was executed at New York’s Sing Sing. Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater, which is currently reviving the play through September 24, doesn’t bother hiding any of these facts. The theatre’s poster for Machinal shows an electric chair.

So, there isn’t really much suspense about how Machinal ends. It isn’t that kind of true-crime entertainment. “It is more about how she got there than what she did,” says Greenhouse’s artistic director, Jacob Harvey, who is directing the play. …

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Photo: Evan Hanover

How a Government Agency Ended Up Responsible for Swing Mikado, Among Others

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. …

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Photo: NYPL for the Performing Arts

Good Fences Don’t Necessarily Make Good Neighbors in Native Gardens

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. …

Read my story at Playbill.

Photo: Liz Lauren

Ike Holter and ‘The Wolf at the End of the Block’

Playbill, January 2017 — For a playwright who has received the highest praise from critics, Ike Holter is disarmingly modest. “I’m pretty dumb,” the 30-year-old Chicagoan says, struggling to explain how he writes his riveting dialogue. “I have no way of saying how it comes out.” Dumb? Really? That’s just about the last thing you’d say after watching one of Holter’s plays. To read the rest of the article about Ike Holter and his play The Wolf at the End of the Block at Teatro Vista, visit Playbill.