Skylight Music Theatre Stages A Heartwarming & Rousing “ANNIE”

Reviewed by: Matthew Perta

Some theatergoers may cringe at hearing that yet another theatrical group is staging yet another production of Annie, a musical that first opened on Broadway back in 1977, and may cringe yet again at being reminded of yet another adorable little actress in red curls belting out “Tomorrow.”  Set during the darkest days of the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Annie is the story of an 11-year-old orphan who manages to inspire President Franklin Delano Roosevelt into launching his New Deal.  The theme is worn out, some might say.  The story is too far fetched for today’s audiences.  Well, think again.

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JIMMY BUFFETT’S BROADWAY-BOUND “ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE” IS A MUSICAL MADE IN PARADISE

Reviewed by: Justin Williams

Highly Recommended

Entering the Oriental Theatre for the opening of Jimmy Buffett’s pre-Broadway bound Escape to Margaritaville, I was unsure of what to expect. It is not always a guarantee that taking a singer/songwriters songbook and making it into a musical is going to be a success. Often times it ends up being more of a concert than a show, where the lyrics to really add to the story and don’t progress or develop characters. Read more

Milwaukee Rep’s Raucous “Murder For Two” Brings Down The House

Reviewed By: Matthew Perta

Highly Recommended

Whoever would’ve thought murder mysteries – you know, those quiet little whodunits penned by Agatha Christie and the like, could be connected to music and laughter?  Well, somebody did – a guy from Milwaukee with a passion for theater, Joe Kinosian, who, along with Kellen Blair, wrote a two-character musical homage to the genre called Murder for Two that recently brought down the house with raucous laughter opening night in the Stackner Cabaret of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Read more

Porchlight’s “Billy Elliot” Is Pure Electricity

R.P. Alberto

Highly Recommended

About 15 minutes after walking out of Porchlight Music Theatre’s sold out performance of Billy Elliot, a friend turned to me because we both had not spoken a word since leaving the theatre.  Sitting over a glass of wine at a nearby bistro, I told my friend that all I feel right now is grace.  A tear formed in his eye as he agreed.   What director/choreographer Brenda Didier has created for Porchlight’s robust move downtown to the Ruth Page Center For The Arts will live in the history books as one of the great works of Chicago theatre.

Ms. Didier takes Billy Elliot back to its roots where the musical now feels closer to its 2000 origin film than any of the stage versions.   With music by Sir Elton John and book/lyrics by Lee Hall, Billy Elliot tells the story of a family living in working class Northern England whose matriarch dies leaving the men of the family struggling to find connection while dealing with a national coal miners strike with threatens to leave many bankrupt.  As the play starts we find eleven year old boxer-Billy finding by happenchance that he drawn to the grace of ballet and more importantly, he is a natural.  The stereotyping of dance in a blue collar neighborhood and family take hold as the play brilliantly deals with how art can heal a broken soul and family.

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The success of Billy Elliot rests squarely on the shoulders of the young lead and in casting, Lincoln Seymour (and alternate Jacob Kaiser), Ms. Didier has almost insured the shows greatness.  Mr. Seymour is by far the finest Billy I’ve seen, be it on Broadway or several national tours.  He exudes everything one would expect in the character, including a vast blackness of hurt that would come from the loss of a mother (beautifully portrayed by Nicole Cready).  When it’s time for his big number number, Electricity, which he explains what dance feels like in his soul, it his truth as no other Billy has been able to convey to an audience.  This exposes Billy’s core also explains his love his best friend, Michael (a spot on performance by Peyton Owen).

The supporting cast of this phenomenal production (totaling thirty) is also something to behold, with groundbreaking performances from some of Chicago’s most seen actors. Sean Fortunato is otherworldly as Billy’s dad, with a dark, sad, one step away from self-injury quality that makes the audience weep for his position.  Adam Fane (whose performance as Rob in Avenue Q is still one of this website’s greatest memories) knocks it out of the park as Billy’s older brother, and is, at its surface,  atypical casting that is a gift that keeps giving.  Iris Lieberman’s lovingly portrayal of Grandma crystallizes the bridge between family and dance.

And if there is ever an award winning performance, than Shanésia Davis as Billy’s ballet mentor, Mrs. Wilkinson will walk away with all available.    

Much credit must also be given to musical director Linda Madonia who has nicely augmented John’s score for the Ruth Page, while Christopher Rhoton’s minimal, industrialist set proves the perfect backdrop for the story while co-choreographer Craig V. Miller mirrored Didier’s vision.

Billy Elliot marks a new era for Porchlight Music Theatre as it embarks its quest in the Gold Coast.  If this show is any indication of what is to follow, then downtown Chicago has just added a game changer.

Billy Elliot: The Musical plays through November 26 at the Ruth Page Center For  The Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Pkwy, Chicago.  Box Office: 773-777-9884   www.porchlightmusictheatre.org

Visit Theatre In Chicago for detailed show information and review round up.

“SCHOOL OF ROCK” PROVES THE IMPORTANCE OF ARTS IN SCHOOLS

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by: R.P. Alberto

It is great to see a composer getting back to his or her roots.  Though Andrew Lloyd Webber has spent the last quarter of a century writing some of the most romantic scores for musical theater, including The Phantom of The Opera, Sunset Blvd, The Woman In White and Aspects of Love, it is rock and roll that shaped this composer’s soul.   Read more

BATSU! Is a Fresh Take On An Old-Town Favorite

By: Stacey Crawley

Highly Recommended

Even with its impressive theatre shows, world-renowned museums and restaurants, Chicago has always been, at its core, an improv town.  Maybe you’ve been to Second City or Improv Olympic, or perhaps you’ve attended your roomies’ free show even though it wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. All in all, you feel that you’ve experienced all of the sights and sounds that the improv world has to offer. But you’d be wrong. Read more

Milwaukee Rep Stages an Electrifying “GUYS AND DOLLS”

Reviewed by: Matthew Perta

Highly Recommended

You have to hand it to Mark Clements, the rightfully acclaimed artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, for his impeccable timing and good judgment.  At a time when our country is deeply divided on a myriad of key issues ranging from immigration to health care, and when the news is inundated with horrific images of people suffering from the ravages of hurricanes and earthquakes, Clements resurrects a piece of theater dubbed the “Greatest musical of all time” by Entertainment Weekly.  That musical is Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls, which opened The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 64th season in its intimate Quadracci Powerhouse Sept. 23. Read more

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