Author Archives: Alli Doubek

Goodman Theatre’s “Ah, Wilderness” Leaves You Thoughtful

While we are all born into a family of sorts, I think we are all looking for where we belong from the beginning. Who are we without our mother, father, siblings or guardian? Who are we when we meet someone and feel that pull towards them? Will they accept us for who we are? And who is that really? That is what young Richard Miller is trying to figure out in Goodman Theatre’s Ah, Wilderness.

Eugene O’Neill’s slice-of-life comedy takes place in the Miller family home throughout the day of July 4th, 1906. Set in New England, surrounded by sand and water, two generations of family members are doing their best to support each other for who they are. Uncle Sid, the classic funny drunk uncle, is hilarious to all, except for his love of many years, who can’t marry him because of this behavior. Little Tommy, Mildred, and Arthur Miller each want to be treated as older than they are and both Essie and Nat Miller just want to keep their family happy, courteous, and healthy. As for 16-year-old poet, Richard, all he wants is to show this world who he is – and marry his love, Muriel McComber.

The sets, props, and costumes of Ah, Wilderness are top notch. Complete with both wet and dry sand, boats, and seaside paraphernalia surrounding the house, the cast is dressed to the hilt in period garb. The ceiling of the home is open, leaving one to feel like the sky is something that can be seen at any time, from anywhere, and that the world is your oyster. Fourth of July fireworks crack in the background throughout poignant scenes and we watch the sky move from day to evening to night throughout the show. The feel of all of this together is spectacular.

The cast of Ah, Wilderness is full of talent, and a true ensemble. While Richard (an endearing Niall Cunningham) is the driving force of the show, there isn’t a character that doesn’t make their mark and express their personality. There are actually several characters that are on stage for a single scene, and even they make just as large an impression.

Which brings me to the one nagging feeling I had after watching the production. There are fifteen characters in Ah, Wilderness, seven of whom are in a single scene or two. All of the actors are talented and well cast, but when the show was over, I felt myself wondering why some of these roles weren’t combined. What were the actors doing during the entire first or second act while waiting for their single scene? This is surely not a pressing matter, but because I find myself still lingering on the question, you may as well. And while I truly don’t have a commentary in terms of talent about which roles should be combined, it still strikes me as odd that so many skilled actors spent so much of their time off stage.

Ah, Wilderness is well cast, well directed, and well produced. A rare comedic piece by Eugene O’Neill, you will find that there is no tragedy to be found. This coming-of-age story is one that so many of us have experienced in our own way that you may find yourself identifying with the naiveté, good intentions, and life surprises. We’ve all been there.

Goodman Theatre: Ah, Wilderness Chicago ReviewAh, Wilderness is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 7/23/17. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (312) 443-3800. Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago.

Marriott Theatre’s ‘She Loves Me’ Is Feisty Fun

If you are a fan of the 1990s charmer You’ve Got Mail, it’s time you see the musical that inspired it! Playing at the Marriott Theatre, She Loves Me is a fun and lighthearted show that will take you back to a simpler time; a time where pen pals used paper and pencil rather than electronics, and newspapers listed Lonely Hearts ads for people looking for love.

She Loves Me is the story of Georg and Amalia, employees at a Parfumerie, who do not get along. Amalia has a finesse with the customers and Georg is on his way to managing the store. While the employees at the shop all appear to work in perfect harmony (both figuratively and literally through song), behind the scenes, they are all but getting along. Luckily for both Georg and Amalia, they have their pen pals to correspond with at the end of each day. As each writes to “Dear Friend,” they slowly find that their differences aren’t so different after all.

The Marriott Theatre cast of She Loves Me makes this feel like a true ensemble performance. Although there are distinct parts, there is a feeling of unity, particularly during the group scenes. The cast gels together and really comes alive during numbers like “Twelve Days to Christmas” and “A Romantic Atmosphere.” Leads Alex Goodrich and Elizabeth Telford (Georg and Amalia respectively) crackle with sarcasm and wit, making their scenes particularly charming. Songs like “Tonight at Eight,” “She Loves Me,” and “Vanilla Ice Cream” are standouts. The supporting cast (Terry Hamilton, James Earl Jones II, Grant Kilian, Jessica Naimy, David Schlumpf, and Steven Strafford) bring sassy, clever, and outrageous fun to the show. All in all, it is a feisty, fun and modern take on a classic. You are going to love She Loves Me.

Marriott Theatre: She Loves Me Chicago Review – She Loves Me is playing at Marriott Theatre through 6/18/17. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Goodman Theatre’s ‘Destiny Of Desire’ Is A Romp

Whether you have watched your share of telenovelas or have only been exposed to spoofs of them during episodes of Ugly Betty, Goodman Theatre’s Destiny of Desire is about to open your eyes to a whole new kind of production. Destiny of Desire is a telenovela that is set on stage, complete with touches that you may not have seen before. The triple-threat cast is lively and entertaining to watch, making this production a unique experience.

The show actually begins before the curtain, as the actors are on stage “warming up” while others mingle with the audience. The actors shake hands and chat with the patrons, making the audience feel more included in the upcoming experience. The actors on stage are doing everything from vocal exercises to stretches to having a chat with another member of the cast. As the beginning of the show approaches, and instead of the usual pre-recorded taping asking people to turn off their cell phones, one of the actors gives the instructions – complete with telling you that you can unwrap your candy anytime.

Destiny of Desire is about two couples (one wealthy and famous, the other very poor) who both give birth to babies at the same hospital and – for various reasons – the doctor switches the children so that they are raised by the opposite families. The only person aware of the switch – other than the doctor and a nun – is Fabiola Castillo (played by Ruth Livier, a standout), one of the new mothers and rich wife of a casino owner. Having a strong baby to present to her husband is all that matters to her and she will do whatever it takes to make that happen, even switch her baby with another at birth.

As the baby girls grow up, our poor mother, Hortencia, goes to work for the rich couple and mothers their child (neither of whom know that this is her biological child) while at work. Fabiola has come to despise her daughter and wants nothing more than for her to appreciate all that she has been given. Hortencia’s daughter, on the other hand, (who is the biological daughter of the rich couple) wants to be a doctor, but has no money with which to go to school. When Hortencia is put in jail for killing Dr. Mendoza (the doctor who secretly switched the babies and was also in love with Hortencia), her daughter goes to work for the Castillo household. The girls meet and – let’s just say that some secrets shouldn’t be kept!

Destiny of Desire has moments of hilarity and such utter goofiness that one can’t help but laugh throughout. As this is supposed to be a show on an empty Chicago stage, the cast members do all of the scene changes themselves, all the while flitting and dancing like pretend angels. Each scene is defined by a new title that is displayed on a hand-held blackboard and read by a cast member. Mid-scene, the action will often stop and a cast member (who had been in the wings) will speak a fact into a microphone (“About 28,000 babies get switched in hospitals every year, temporarily or permanently”) or a scene will “rewind” and you will watch the characters replay what you just watched. In short, silliness abounds.

The one major weakness in the show is that it felt uneven. While much of the show is silly, lighthearted, and fun, there are scenes and songs that are much more serious. And while I believe that these were well-intended plot points, it makes those moments in the show fall flat. After enjoying the outrageousness of a woman giving birth in a gold dress, dying on the table and being brought back only to switch her baby with another and have her hair done before her husband arrives (all in about 8 minutes), it is a tough transition to then be listening to a heartfelt song about a father wanting his now-adult child to live after fainting in the desert.

Destiny of Desire is a fun show with a very talented cast. There are a few hiccups in the play itself, but the singing, dancing and joyousness of the performances will have you laughing right up though the very last scene. This telenovela will take you on a journey like no other.

Goodman Theatre: Destiny of Desire Chicago ReviewDestiny of Desire is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 4/16/17. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (312) 443-3800. Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago.

Marriott Theatre’s ‘Mamma Mia!’ Is A Hit

As you walk into the Marriott Theatre’s in-the round venue for a performance of Mamma Mia!, you immediately know that you are going to experience something interesting. You are greeted with a stage encompassed by water, and about a dozen shuttered windows on the walls surrounding the audience. But when the show begins and the energy ignites, the sparks start flying.

Mamma Mia! is both a concert masquerading as a musical and a touching coming of age story – for most of the characters involved. We first meet Sophie, who is sending three letters to three men that she’s never met, inviting them to her wedding. We quickly learn that her mother, Donna, had a love-affair with each of these men over a short period of time twenty-one years ago. Without letting her mom in on the news that her three potential fathers are attending her wedding, hilarity and heartbreak ensues – in the best way.

Led by the fantastically talented Danni Smith and Tiffany Tatreau, this ensemble of Mamma Mia! is second to none. Exhibited during numbers like “Does Your Mother Know,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” and “Voulez-Vous,” the intensity of their spirit is palpable. The actors are having a blast on stage and that positive energy washes over the audience for the duration of the show. The electric energy put forth by the Marriott Theatre cast makes the experience of the “up numbers” so much fun that no one can control their bobbing heads, lip syncing, and dancing in the seats, while the dramatic moments and songs are met with tears and shallow breaths. In short, this production is a wonder.

From the first moments of the Overture, as the house lights go down and the concert stage-lighting begins, a faint glow of color begins to increase at the walls around the gallery. The effect is to put the audience in silhouette – so as you’re looking around the room, you feel the excitement of the concert beginning. By the end of this show, you will find yourself happily exhausted from the wild ride.

Everything from the lighting to the costumes are spot on for this production. Taking place on a Greek island, most of the costumes – everything from puka shell necklaces to shirtless men to bikinis and beachwear – give you the feel of the warm weather. And then Donna, Tanya and Rosie appear in their 70’s disco garb and sing their hearts out, to the lively reaction of the cast and audience.

One warning that I will leave you with before you go off to buy tickets: you may lose your voice. You will be shouting and hooting and having a fabulous time, so it might be a shock that next day when your voice is hoarse. It is 100% worth it, believe me! And as the lovely patron sitting in front of me exclaimed after the encore (which you MUST stay for!!), “That was great!! Woo hoo!!” I couldn’t agree more.

Marriott Theatre: Mamma Mia! Chicago ReviewMamma Mia! is playing at Marriott Theatre through 4/16/17. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Marriott Theatre’s ‘The Nutcracker’ Dances Us Into Winter

The Nutcracker Marriott ReviewThe Marriott Theatre’s children’s production of The Nutcracker is a fantastic experience for young theatergoers. While The Nutcracker that many of us grew up with is the ballet composed by Tchaikovsky, this play is an ideal mix of adventure, entertaining characters, music and dance – the perfect combination for keeping the little ones engaged while introducing them to this classic story.

In this production, we meet Marie and her brother Fritz on Christmas, where they are waiting for dinner with their parents. When their Uncle Drosselmeyer arrives, they are each given a very special gift. These gifts, which Marie cares for, lead us into a fantasy world on an adventure. With her friends Clara, the Soldier and the Nutcracker, Marie must try to reach the Sugar Plum Fairy before the evil Mouse King gets there first. This fun fantasy land is full of glittery penguins, a beautiful snow queen, toys that come to life and a grand performance where we see Clara’s friends perform beautiful dance numbers to classic Tchaikovsky’s music.

The Nutcracker Marriott ReviewOne of the things that I have always enjoyed most about the children’s productions at the Marriott Theatre is how they truly play to the youngest audience while continuing to provide a superior quality production. The costumes, lighting, and sets are always on-par with something that they would do on the main stage. The cast is always extremely talented, full of professional singers and actors, but also personalities that naturally look to engage and entertain the children. When you have a love of the theatre and want to help your kids to develop that love as well, this is the kind of performance that will encourage it to blossom. And to top everything off, the actors spend ten minutes after each show having a question and answer session with the kids. This is one to see!

Marriott Theatre: The Nutcracker Chicago ReviewThe Nutcracker is playing at Marriott Theatre through 12/30/16. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Goodman Theatre’s ‘Wonderful Town’ Will Put A Swing In Your Step

wonderful-town2Fun, vibrant and full of life, Goodman Theatre opens it’s brand new show Wonderful Town with lots of personality. This musical – composed by Leonard Bernstein and based on the play My Sister Eileen – is about two starry-eyed sisters who move from small-town Ohio to the big city of New York. Ruth is shy, straight-forward and has always dreamed of being a writer and Eileen – an aspiring actress – can’t walk down the block without attracting the attention of men and women alike. Pair these ladies with the reality of city life and a great score and you have and winning experience.

As always, Goodman’s spectacular sets immediately catch your eye. Made up of people-sized buildings that roll as needed, the audience is met with a bright and miniature Greenwich Village. This city is alive with people, airplanes, clouds and more (cockroaches anyone?) and you feel the vibe pulsing throughout the town. Cleverly, once Ruth and Eileen are escorted into their apartment, the stage rises as they walk down the stairs to show the (not so) exquisite apartment. Simply fantastic.
wonderful-townAll of the characters that we meet are quirky and interesting, including both Ruth and Eileen. Bri Sudia’s wry delivery as Ruth makes you relate to her, feel for her and laugh with her. Lauren Molina’s Eileen is feisty, fun and a bit frivolous, but also warm and enjoyable. Karl Hamilton’s Robert Baker is someone you spend the first few scenes sizing up, but his concern and authenticity towards the women and about Ruth’s talent make way for a very likeable man. The supporting players (including Jordan Brown as the daft Wreck and his adorable bride Helen, played by Kristin Villanueva) are all entertaining and help to propel the story forward.

Some of the choices that director Mary Zimmerman made with this show are priceless. I won’t share too much so as not to ruin your experience, but let’s just say that when Leonard Bernstein was composing this score and Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov were writing the book, these aren’t things that had ever occurred to them. My favorite instance was a scene change that involved a crate full of items for the next scene which was lowered down to above the middle of the floor – and the crash of all of it’s contents onto the stage. The cast proceeded to set up the stage accordingly and continue on with the show. Hilarious, unusual and absolutely entertaining.


The score of Wonderful Town is extremely witty. The writing is top notch and the acting choices push the words even farther. When the sisters sing the famous “Ohio” and then the reprise, you can’t help but laugh at their pain. Ms. Sudia’s delivery of “One Hundred Easy Ways” is hilariously on point and “Swing!” loosens our main character in the perfect way.

Wonderful Town is energetic, extremely bright and a really good time. The characters are entertaining and the actors are engaging. The sets are beyond amazing and there is always something new to look at. This is a great show that you should make the time to see.

Goodman Theatre: Wonderful Town Chicago ReviewWonderful Town is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 10/23/16. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (312) 443-3800. Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago.

Marriott Theatre’s ‘Man Of La Mancha’ Achieves The Impossible Dream

Man Of Lamancha Review ChicagoIf you only have time to see one show this summer, make it Marriott Theatre’s Man of La Mancha. This modern retelling of the classic story will reach into your heart and have you leaping to your feet by the last note. The ensemble cast (led by Nathaniel Stampley as Cervantes/Don Quixote) performs brilliantly and at the same time fractures between scenes. It is a very deliberate choice that takes the audience on an emotional, uplifting and gut wrenching ride.

Man of La Mancha is the story of Cervantes and his companion Sancho who have been throw into prison during the Inquisition for foreclosing on a monastery. In this rendition, the prison is a modern day hell hole filled with dirty, seemingly dangerous prisoners – all attempting to steal the small number of possessions with which the men enter. Put on trial within the prison (by the prisoners – before that of the actual Inquisition), Cervantes begins a defense for keeping his belongings by performing his most prized piece – a manuscript of Don Quixote. He slowly casts different inhabitants of the prison as characters and the play within a play unfolds before us.

Man Of Lamancha Lincolnshire MarriottNathaniel Stampley’s Don Quixote is a man who creates magic where there was none before. The performance is pure and truthful to the point where you feel it radiating from the stage. His eyes display a commitment and intention that carries the authenticity of the character, whether he be the soul of Don Quixote or that of Cervantes himself. Richard Ruiz’s Sancho is loyal, funny and kind, always there for this Don Quixote. Why? Because he really likes him. Danni Smith’s Aldonza (and Don Quixote’s Dulcinea) is tough as nails from the first moment. This woman who has been raised to believe she is worth nothing and is horribly victimized in front of our eyes, begins to crack just a bit to let in the belief of something more.

Man Of Lamancha Chicago ReviewA show that is just as relevant in this day and age, Marriott Theatre’s Man of La Mancha is different from those you may have seen. There is nothing pretty or glamorous about this production. The one light in this pit of dejection is that of Don Quixote and his impossible dream. By the end of the show though, it won’t seem so impossible anymore.

Marriott Theatre: Man Of La Mancha Chicago ReviewMan Of La Mancha is playing at Marriott Theatre through 8/14/16. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Lake Forest Theatre’s ‘The Secret Garden’ Is In Bloom

Secret Garden Chicago ReviewThe Lake Forest Theatre’s new show The Secret Garden is the inaugural production for both this company as well as their newly renovated space (in the Nancy Hughes Theater in downtown Lake Forest.) With a new company and a new space comes a huge responsibility of starting off on the right foot and choosing the right show. In my opinion, they did just that.

The Secret Garden (a classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett turned into a musical by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon) is the story of Mary Lennox, a young and spoiled girl who is sent to live with her uncle after her parents die from a cholera outbreak in India. Uncle Archibald Craven is a shut-in who is stricken with both a hunchback as well as a grieving heart and has no room left within to offer any love. With the help of a secret garden and some enchanting other characters, they each find their way to a happier ending.

While this cast is full of talent, there are a few standout performances that are noteworthy. Edward Fraim’s Archibald Craven is full of passion and loss with every note he sings, every bit of eye contact on the stage. Dustin Rothbart’s Dickon embodies the heart of the Moors of Yorkshire and the central connection to nature, all with a knowing smile. Kailey Albus, Zachary Fewkes, Michelle Jasso, Elizabeth Mazur and Edward MacLennan each had moments where they enchanted the audience and the ensemble gave several goosebump-inducing turns.

All in all, The Secret Garden is an entertaining musical for adults and kids alike. Rediscover the magic with this classic of a show.

Lake Forest Theatre: The Secret Garden Chicago ReviewThe Secret Garden is playing at Lake Forest Theatre through 7/2/16. Tickets can be purchased by calling (847) 604-4975. Lake Forest Theatre is located at 400 E. Illinois Road in Lake Forest.

Goodman Theatre’s ‘The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window’ Is A Piece Of Work

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window Chicago ReviewThe Goodman Theatre’s new show The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window is not only their new production, but the centerpiece of a citywide celebration for Lorraine Hansberry. The playwright – famous for A Raisin In The Sun – was able to see Sign premiere on Broadway three months before her untimely death at age 34. It was her final work and is not often produced.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window GoodmanGoodman’s willingness to showcase this piece is a bold move, as much of the audience will be unfamiliar. That said, they attempt to dive in with vigor. The set for this production is nothing short of spectacular. With it’s construction-like, Escher-esque design surrounding the apartment of our main characters, the audience is wowed with everything that there is to see. The colors stand out, all pieces of the set are utilized (often representing different floors and fire escapes of the apartment building) and the details of the apartment itself help you to understand the couple who lives there. Unfortunately, the rest of the experience isn’t as attractive.

While some might feel that The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window comes at a time in our society where we are also experiencing heightened change and intolerance, it was tough to connect with the script. The story is about a mostly unhappy couple (with moments of wanting to love each other) who host a handful of friends and family throughout the show. The 2 hour 45 minute three-act play (two are before a 15 minute intermission, one follows) introduces you to three sisters (one of whom is a high-class prostitute, the second is our female main character and the third serves as the conservative). You also meet an activist (who is in love with the sister that he doesn’t know is a prostitute – he also happens to be African American, something that is not approved of by the conservative sister) and a writer (who also happens to be gay, and not approved of by the conservative sister) among others. And while there are a few amusing moments, it is very tough to care about any of them.

The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window Goodman ReviewTo be clear, it seems that the actors do the best that they can with what they are given, but I find the script to be very dry and bulky – so much so that you eventually give up trying. There are some poignant moments between characters, but these are moments to savor because there aren’t many of them. The sound, lighting and costumes also provide moments of interest, but I found myself desperately wanting more just to be able to connect with the show. With anything.

It is an honor for the Goodman Theatre to be hosting the centerpiece of the celebration for Lorraine Hansberry, so I can recommend this production if you want to try to connect with a piece of her glory. I hope you are able to find more of a connection than I was.

Goodman Theatre: The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window Chicago ReviewThe Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 4/10/16. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (312) 443-3800. Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago.

Chicago Dramatists Theatre’s ‘American Beauty Shop’ Is A Win

American Beauty Shop Chicago ReviewWhen I go to the theatre, I want to feel. I want to laugh, to cry, be moved, be angry – I want to feel. With the World Premiere of American Beauty Shop currently playing at the Chicago Dramatists Theatre, there is one thing that I can assure you of. You will feel.

Written by Resident Playwright Dana Lynn Formby and directed by Megan Shuchman, American Beauty Shop is the story of five women, each suffering their own personal heartbreak and each trying desperately to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. To have more. To be more. And while that may not sound like the lightest comedy you’ve ever seen, this is a witty, hilarious and tragic play that will have you both holding your sides with laughter and holding your breath with emotion. All five of this entirely female cast had moments that made you laugh and made you want to cry.

American Beauty Shop Chicago DramatistsKatherine Keberlein plays Sue, the owner of the beauty shop, sister to Doll (played by Allie Long) and single mother of Judy (played by Allison Torem). Her friend and coworker Meg (played by Melissa DuPrey) serve entertaining clients like Helen (played by Barbara Roeder Harris), but business is waning and making ends meet has become increasingly difficult for all. At the beginning of the show we learn that Sue and Meg are hoping to become successful entrepreneurs by selling a line of hair thickener, Judy is waiting to find out if she’s been accepted into MIT, Doll has just broken up with her boyfriend and is fighting a hangover and Helen (a senior citizen and the one consistent client at the beauty shop) can no longer afford to continue her weekly visits to Sue. How to overcome the next hurdle becomes the central theme.

American Beauty Shop Review Chicago DramatistsThe writing and pacing of this show is spectacular. All of the players have golden moments that have you so invested that you can hear a pin drop in the audience. The set and music fill in all of the gaps and encourage you to truly know these women. Everything gels just the way that you would hope it will. If you plan to go see one play during the month, I highly encourage you to go see American Beauty Shop. I promise, it will make you feel.

Chicago Dramatists Theatre: American Beauty Shop Chicago ReviewAmerican Beauty Shop is playing at Chicago Dramatists Theatre through 6/5/16. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar or by calling (312) 633-0630. Chicago Dramatists Theatre is located at 1105 W. Chicago Avenue in Chicago.