Category Archives: Chicago Theater

The company of 'In The Heights' at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire Illinois

Marriott Theatre’s ‘In The Heights’ Is A Bevy Of Energy And Joy

Experience the vibrant energy and captivating storytelling of In The Heights at The Marriott Theatre while you can! This Tony Award-winning musical celebrates the dreams and struggles of a diverse community in New York in an unforgettable theatrical experience.

The company of 'In The Heights' at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire Illinois

If you are looking for an evening full of music, laughter, passion, energy, ache, and joy, look no further than the Marriott Theatre’s new production of In The Heights. Having won four Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical, this Lin-Manuel Miranda vehicle has something for absolutely everyone.

Joseph Morales and Jordan Arredondo in 'In The Heights' at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire IllinoisYou may be familiar with the musical sensation that is Hamilton, the most talked about Lin-Manuel Miranda piece. It has been dominating the stage since 2015 and most people are familiar with it, at least in passing. But In The Heights was Mr. Miranda’s debut piece and – while this might get me into a little bit of trouble – in my opinion, in various ways, it’s even better than Hamilton.

Being the musical nerd that I am, I would argue that Lin-Manuel’s ability to layer voices and tones within the same song is at its peak with In The Heights. In particular, during songs like “Fireworks,” “96,000,” and “Finale,” the Marriott ensemble is able to do every single note justice and bring out the beauty that can be found by just the right artists loving a piece just the right way.

The company of 'In The Heights' at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire IllinoisIn The Heights is the story of a colorful collective of people in Washington Heights, New York over a few very hot summer days. Narrated by Usnavi, a bodega owner whose wish is to go back to the Dominican Republic, we meet his cousin Sonny, his grandmother Abuela, his love interest Vanessa, his friends Benny and Nina, as well as various other characters – all of whom have deep hopes and desires of their own. Each morning, while scraping by, most characters play the lottery to see if they can turn those dreams into a reality, and at some point, someone wins.

The voices in this ensemble are stunning. I could easily discuss each and every performer and what they bring to their role vocally, emotionally, and physically, but I encourage you to see the show and experience exactly what I mean. You will be floored by the talent on this stage.

Andres J. DeLeon in 'In The Heights' at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire IllinoisA few people who had moments that I can’t help but talk about are Paola V. Hernández (as Vanessa) whose vocal range pierced through the calm such that you felt it in your body, Jordan Arredondo (as Sonny), whose deep emotions about his future made you feel it in your gut, and Andres J. DeLeon (as the Piragüero), whose voice was so soothing and beautiful that I’d love to buy any lullaby album that he produces. Also, the passion and dancing from Wesley J. Barnes and Kiana Rodriguez will blow your mind.

Joseph Morales and Crissy Guerrero in 'In The Heights' at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire IllinoisThere were some excellent choices with lighting, staging, and prop usage as well. During the song, “Breathe,” there was a heartbeat lighting effect that brought additional depth to the message, and it is always impressive to watch how the Marriott directors are able to make full use of the stage and walkways with the cast during performances. It allows for a richness of voices and energy that is never lacking and fully surrounds the audience.

In The Heights is a production that you won’t want to miss. Chock full of talent, stellar music, and upbeat and touching lyrics – make the time to see this. By the end of the show, you can be sure that your neck will be sore from all of the grooving you’ll be doing in your seat.

Marriott Theatre: In The Heights ReviewIn The Heights is playing at Marriott Theatre through 3/17/2024. Tickets can be purchased through the Marriott Theatre website or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire, IL.

Kaitlyn Davis as Carole King in Beautiful at Marriott Lincolnshire

Marriott Theatre’s ‘Beautiful’ Hits The Top Of The Charts

The Marriott Theatre’s new production of Beautiful combines the intriguing story of Carole King’s extraordinary life with a captivating soundtrack and dazzling performances. A must-see!

Kaitlyn Davis as Carole King in Beautiful at Marriott LincolnshireI absolutely love musicals. When I attend any show, I am subconsciously hoping for the moment or the voice that gives me goosebumps. It doesn’t happen during every piece that I enjoy, but when it does happen, it’s something I’ll never forget. In Marriott Theatre’s new production of Beautiful, Kaitlyn Davis’ connection with Carole King’s music along with some specific songs and notes made the hair on my arms raise right up.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is a jukebox musical that centers around the music and life of Carole King (formerly Carole Klein, who took the former as her stage name at 16 years old). Along with music written with co-writers and friends, this show compiles a great many songs that are performed by both these characters as well as the performers they wrote them for.

Beautiful Andrew Mueller and Kaitlyn Davis sitting at a piano at Marriott TheatreWe first meet teenage Carole as an insecure young woman and aspiring songwriter who skipped two grades and had already started college. Living with her mother, Carole convinces her that she needs to go to Times Square to meet with Don Kirshner, a music publisher, to sell her latest song. No one else has been interested and this will be her final shot at being able to do what she loves. With the agreement that if she doesn’t succeed at this meeting, she will continue her education to become a school teacher, she sets off on her way.

Beautiful Erica Stephan and Justin Albinder at Marriott TheatreAlong with love interest (and later husband) Gerry Goffin (played by Andrew Mueller), Carole King writes and sells many of the hits of the 60s. In competition with friends and writing duo, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (Erica Stephan and Justin Albinder respectively), the music and lyrics continue to churn themselves out.

As her marriage becomes turbulent and she works towards a new path, Carole begins to write songs on her own again. By the end, with some encouragement from others and catharsis with Gerry, a freer Carole ultimately comes into her own strength and power.

Beautiful Alexis J Roston and Ensemble dancing on a record at Marriott TheatreThis production of Beautiful is full of emotion regarding Carole’s life and challenges, but it is also chock full of music and vibey performances. Some songs are a bit less well known (although well-performed and engaging) and others are staples on the radio like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “The Loco-Motion,” and “It’s Too Late.”

One of the most entertaining things about this show is getting to see different musical groups sing the written songs themselves. The Drifters, The Righteous Brothers, The Shirelles, Little Eva – all wearing jazzy outfits and allowing you to experience them like they’re on American Bandstand.

Beautiful The Drifters on a turntable at Marriott TheatreWhat’s even better is that they perform it on a record. The center of the Marriott stage has been designed as a genuine record on a turntable. Much of the time while the artists are performing their hit songs, they are singing and dancing on what is seemingly their own moving record. It is an excellent addition to an already charming musical show.

Beautiful Kaitlyn Davis and Ensemble at Marriott TheatreBut the standout in this production is Kaitlyn Davis as Carole King. Having previously played the role in the national tour of Beautiful as well as Broadway at Music Circus, Ms. Davis falls into Carole King’s essence and voice effortlessly. With soul-penetrating musical moments, this star-making performance will leave you with goosebumps just as it did with me.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical runs for approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. It is the perfect show to see in the final months of 2023 and will leave you with the hope and internal peace that Carole finally got to experience at the end of her own journey in this production. You’ll be glad you went!

Marriott Theatre: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ReviewBeautiful: The Carole King Musical is playing at Marriott Theatre through 12/31/2023. Tickets can be purchased through the Marriott Theatre website or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Momma Rose in Gypsy at Lincolnshire Marriott

Marriott Theatre’s ‘Gypsy: A Musical Fable’ Truly Entertains You

Gypsy is a classic musical that takes audiences on a captivating journey through the tumultuous life of Momma Rose and her two daughters, Baby June and Louise. Set against the backdrop of the vaudeville era, this show is a collection of famous songs, tricky family dynamics, and an ultimately uplifting story.

Momma Rose in Gypsy at Lincolnshire Marriott

If you think you have an overbearing mom, it’s time that you meet Momma Rose. The brash, in-your-face stage mom who was “born too soon and started too late” is the kind of woman that you may want on your side, but clings so tightly to her children and her dreams that there is no letting go.

The Marriott Theatre’s new production of Gypsy: A Musical Fable is colorful, funny, and chock full of talent. Produced on their in-the-round stage, this heartfelt show is a great evening of entertainment.

The young ensemble of Gypsy at Marriott Lincolnshire

Gypsy is the story of Momma Rose and her daughters, June and Louise. Rose, in all of her hardcore ambition, is determined to make June a star. June has the blonde ringlets, the personality, and the singing and dancing prowess to potentially go places, but this is going to happen whether anyone likes it or not.

Louise, who has been told her whole life that she has no talent, performs in the background and dreams of a stable life with a stable family on a farm full of animals.

Herbie and Rose in Gypsy at Marriott LincolnshireWith the assistance of Herbie, the kind and loving agent who gets swept up into the family, Rose does anything she can – at any cost – to see her baby’s name in lights. And “baby” is the key word in this situation, as the girls have no idea how old they are. Rose continues to treat them as if they are children and they will tell anyone that they are 10 years old – every single year – if asked.

Gypsy looking in the mirror at Marriott LincolnshireThe fun twist of this story is that although Rose is the highlighted character, and certainly has the most timeless and memorable songs, in the end, it is Louise’s story. Gypsy is the semi-biographical story of Gypsy Rose Lee, one of the most famous and most successful burlesque entertainers who became popular for her quick wit and striptease.

It is important to mention that while Gypsy is a story of Louise’s experience with her mother, her sister, and various other characters, it is called “A Musical Fable” because there were many stories told by the real Gypsy Rose Lee (born Rose Louise Hovick) that can’t be fully substantiated. Could they be true? Of course. But could they have been embellished? Well, that’s showbiz. So take the story for what it is and enjoy it!

Tori Heinlein and ensemble in Gypsy at Marriott LincolnshireThe Marriott Theatre’s production is headlined by a stellar cast. Lucia Spina’s Rose is fierce and sassy, Nathaniel Stampley’s Herbie is gentle and wanting, Lauren Maria Medina’s Louise is hopeful and hurting, and Tori Heinlein’s June is a bundle of humor. Along with an adorably talented Baby June and Baby Louise (Elin Joy Seiler and Milla Liss) and an incredibly entertaining performance of “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” with Sawyer Smith, Leeanna Rubin, and Emily Rohm, it was hard to stop smiling.

While the story does have a fabulously directed scene where Gypsy perfects her burlesque stripping (complete with on-stage quick changes), there is nothing gratuitous or overly provocative. Burlesque at this time was more about the art of the tease, not nudity. Along with a short discussion about what burlesque is, I would be comfortable recommending this show to kids 12 and older.

Gypsy: A Musical Fable runs for approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. With classic songs like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Let Me Entertain You,” and “Together Wherever We Go,” you’re going to love getting wrapped up in Gypsy!

Marriott Theatre: Gypsy: A Musical Fable Chicago ReviewGypsy: A Musical Fable is playing at Marriott Theatre through 10/15/2023. Tickets can be purchased through the Marriott Theatre website or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Anania Williams, Ben Frankart and company in Kinky Boots

Highland Park Players’ ‘Kinky Boots’ Has A Lot Of Heart

The Highland Park Players’ Kinky Boots is a captivating musical production that celebrates acceptance, diversity, and friendship. You will walk out of the theater with a smile on your face!

Kinky Boots Highland Park Players company

Kinky Boots is one of my favorite movies. I watch it multiple times per year and love every moment. With a beautiful message of acceptance and inclusion (both of others and yourself), it’s a show that I was excited to see brought to the Broadway stage by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper in 2013.

With a busy schedule, I hadn’t had the opportunity to see it on stage when it toured through Chicago, although I watched the filmed stage version. It was fun and the songs were engaging, but I never felt the magic while watching it. Thankfully, the Highland Park Players’ new production of Kinky Boots had the magic I’d been looking for.

Anania Williams, Ben Frankart and company in Kinky BootsKinky Boots is the story of two people trying to figure out their place in the world. Charlie, born into a family of generations of shoemakers, wants to move to London and do anything else with his life. Lola, a drag queen who was raised by an unaccepting father, feels her power when she is dressed as herself in all of her glory, but not as Simon, the uncertain man underneath.

With Charlie’s sudden inheritance of the shoe company and his observation of Lola’s ineffective and broken boots – built for a woman’s stature instead of a man’s – they develop the idea of creating Kinky Boots footwear for the underserved drag community.

Anania Williams and the Angels in Kinky BootsIn this new production of Kinky Boots, the warmth comes across from the stage. The sets are open and welcoming, the costumes (particularly the gorgeous frocks that Lola and her Angel dancers wear) are connected and lively, and the through-line of red high-heeled boots and shoes add a level of entertainment.

Ben Frankart’s Charlie is passionate and committed (with a beautifully crisp singing voice), Anania Williams’ Lola is magnetic while in performance mode, and Hannah Kipp’s Lauren is hilarious and entertaining.

Hannah Kipp in Kinky BootsAlong with the rest of the talented company (including an adorable Campbell Hinsley as a young Lola/Simon), the audience was rooting for these people. The characters were committed to their respective paths and the actors had a fantastic time performing it – which is often the best experience an audience member can have.

The company of Kinky Boots Highland Park PlayersThe Highland Park Players’ production of Kinky Boots runs for 2 hours 15 minutes including a 15 minute intermission. It is a limited run, so grab your tickets while you can!

Highland Park Players Kinky Boots Chicago ReviewKinky Boots is playing at McGrath Family Performing Arts Center through 8/27/2023. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling (224) 212-0477. The McGrath Family Performing Arts Center is located at 1100 Laramie Ave in Wilmette.

Kieran McCabe jumping off the ground, Jed Feder on drums, and Shaun Whitley on bass In The Buddy Holly Story at Marriott Lincolnshire

Marriott Theatre’s ‘Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story’ Brings The Man To Life

“Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” is an electrifying musical that tells the inspiring and tragic true story of Buddy Holly, the rock ‘n’ roll icon. With classic songs and stellar performances, this show is a great time!

Kieran McCabe jumping off the ground, Jed Feder on drums, and Shaun Whitley on bass In The Buddy Holly Story at Marriott Lincolnshire

We all know that I love a good musical. I was raised on musicals, I continue to listen to them in my daily life, and my children have never known a world without musical theater.

But while I am a musical fanatic, I am a pretty typical Gen Xer, so the information that I knew about Buddy Holly I could count on two fingers. First, I was pretty sure he’d sung the classic “Peggy Sue,” which I was mostly familiar with because of the movie Peggy Sue Got Married.

Second, I knew that he tragically died in the same plane crash as Ritchie Valens, which I learned from the movie La Bamba. That was it. So, going into the Marriott Theatre’s new production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, I had no specific expectations.

Molly Hernández and Keiran McCabe as Maria Elena and Buddy Holly playing guitar in the Buddy Holly Story at Marriott TheatreBuddy – The Buddy Holly Story is the story of Buddy Holly’s rise to fame and marriage over approximately 3 years, but really, it’s a Buddy Holly concert. This fast paced-musical includes 25 songs and runs a continuous 95 minutes with no intermission.

Between various hits like, “That’ll Be The Day,” “Oh Boy, “Shout,” “La Bamba,” and “Chantilly Lace,” the show covers moments of Buddy signing a large contract, his relationship with his bandmates (The Crickets), his whirlwind love story and marriage, and his death at only 22 years old.

The entire cast and crew are excellent in this production. From the voices to the energy to the fact that the vast majority of the cast play their own instruments, your attention is captured throughout the show.

Jordan Arredondo, Kieran McCabe, and Teddy Gales in The Buddy Holly Story at Marriott Lincolnshire TheatreBut the magic in this particular production lives in Kieran McCabe’s portrayal of Buddy Holly. This star-making turn as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer is sincere, magnetic, and swoon-worthy. Mr. McCabe’s Holly sang, played the guitar, drums, and piano, and lived to play and create music. You rarely see an actor fall into a role such that you can’t find the actor at all, but this was one of those times. This is a performance not to be missed.

I will admit that during the first half an hour of the show, I enjoyed it, but I hadn’t connected. I found myself liking the music, but also looking around at the audience to see their reactions. There were so many people clapping to themselves, bopping their heads, and mouthing the lyrics that it made me happy to see their joy.

And then something happened to me. During an appearance at the Apollo Theater, where Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the first white act to play the venue, the band got “on stage.” Buddy turns to the audience, vulnerably takes the microphone in hand, and says, “I hope you like my music. I hope my music is enough.” That was the moment I fell in love with and understood Buddy Holly.

The Cast of Buddy Holly Marriott Lincolnshire on stage playing instrumentsBy the end, audience members of all ages were up on their feet – including me – because the last part of the show is legitimately a rock concert and an incredible amount of fun.

If you aren’t familiar with Buddy Holly’s music or his life, don’t let that stop you from seeing this entertaining show. It moves quickly, the performers are fun, engaged, and multi-talented, and you will be able to appreciate this icon who died far too young.

Marriott Theatre: Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story Chicago ReviewBuddy – The Buddy Holly Story is playing at Marriott Theatre through 8/13/2023. Tickets can be purchased through Goldstar or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Ali Louis Bourzgui as Tommy Walker (center) joined by the company of The Who’s Tommy,with (far right) Tommy’s parents, Captain Walker (Adam Jacobs) and Mrs. Walker (Alison Luff) in The Who's Tommy Goodman Theatre

“The Who’s Tommy” Makes The Rock Gods Proud

The Who’s Tommy is a marvel that everyone needs to see! A thrilling theatrical production that is playing at The Goodman Theatre for a limited time!

Ali Louis Bourzgui as Tommy Walker (center) joined by the company of The Who’s Tommy,with (far right) Tommy’s parents, Captain Walker (Adam Jacobs) and Mrs. Walker (Alison Luff) in The Who's Tommy Goodman TheatreMy stomach was in knots and my adrenaline was pumping as I walked into the Goodman Theatre to watch the new production of The Who’s Tommy.

Full disclosure – Tommy is one of my very favorite musicals. A Broadway show that I first saw in 1994, it has left an indelible mark on my heart that can never be erased.

Tommy is the story of a boy named Tommy Walker. After his father is assumed dead while at war, Mrs. Walker moves on with a new man. One night, while 4-year-old Tommy is in bed, his father returns from where he has been held captive and encounters his wife with her boyfriend. A fight ensues, Tommy walks out of his room, and while facing the mirror, witnesses his father murder the other man.

His parents’ reaction is to cover up the crime, and in doing so, further traumatize Tommy by telling him to completely erase the memories of hearing it, seeing it, and never to speak about it ever in his life. This leaves him – in The Who’s words – deaf, dumb, and blind.

Christina Sajous as the Acid Queen in The Who's TommyThroughout the show, Tommy is further traumatized by his Uncle Ernie, Cousin Kevin, and various other characters – many of whom have nefarious motives. Captain Walker also pushes the boundaries of parenthood by being willing to do almost anything to “cure” his son.

During this time, it is discovered that Tommy has an inhuman knack for playing pinball and eventually – after he is awakened and free from his unresponsive state – becomes a celebrity. He then follows the rise and fall that comes with fame, ending in a resolution with much of his family.

All of this is framed within a magnificent, striking, and soul-captivating rock opera with music that grabs hold of you in the best way possible. So when I got to the theater, I was very excited and worried. I had high hopes and lots of trepidation. When you are attached to a piece of art in any form, you have expectations, ideas, and dreams for what you want from the production. In the end, what I experienced was even better than what I’d wished for.

This production of The Who’s Tommy has been done with the blessing and involvement of The Who’s Pete Townshend, who originally wrote the music and lyrics for the show. He also wrote the original book along with Tony Award winner Des McAnuff, who is the director of this production. And with choreography by Lorin Latarro, you couldn’t ask for a better dream team.

The staging of the show is engaging and exciting, with pops of the color yellow in a nod to Tommy’s signature color from the 1990s production. It is set both in the past and the future, often at the same time, as we meet 4-year-old Tommy, 10-year-old Tommy, and adult Tommy.

Alison Luff, Adam Jacobs, Annabel Finch and Ali Louis Bourzgui in The Who's Tommy at Goodman TheatreWhile the set is somewhat stark, it is met with a timeless feel that enables the audience to exist in the mirror-world with Tommy as well as able to grasp what is going on around him. Projections of different locations, photographs, documents, and a video feed from a news camera include the audience on an additional level.

The music is loud, as it should be. This is not music that you want in the background – it is rock music that should surround you and draw you into the experience. It could not have been any better and was played flawlessly by a 9-person orchestra.

Ali Louis Bourzgui and the company of The Who’s TommyThe energy on the stage is palpable, particularly in the larger ensemble scenes. It would be impossible to choose the best number or the best performer (because they are all that good), so let me identify two songs that stood out to me in this production.

First, “Eyesight to the Blind,” a song that involves two pimps trying to coerce Captain Walker into bringing Tommy to meet their woman. The song itself (performed dazzlingly by Sheldon Henry and Daniel Quadrino) has a harmony of the two voices that is possibly unrivaled by any other harmonies in the show.

Second, “Pinball Wizard,” which is easily the most well-known song from Tommy, is a performance piece that I would buy tickets to see all by itself. With almost all of the cast on stage, dancing and moving at full capacity, singing their hearts out to the rhythm of the incredible band, it is unmatched in its impressiveness.

li Louis Bourzgui joined by the company of The Who’s TommyAll of the performers – from principal roles to the ensemble – are brilliant vocalists. Ali Louis Bourzgui’s Tommy is a magnetic and welcoming narrator, Alison Luff and Adam Jacobs (Mrs. and Captain Walker) let their voices shine even further in the second act, John Ambrosino’s Uncle Ernie is an antagonist with more layers than I remember having seen in the 1990s production, and Bobby Conte’s Cousin Kevin draws the eye whenever he’s on stage.

This is a show that is not to be missed. At the end of the performance, one only wishes that it would start again so that you could be back in the world of The Who’s Tommy. Get your tickets quickly, as it will sell out!

Content Advisory: This show includes depictions of child abuse, bullying, suggested sexual and substance abuse, and scenes of war. This production includes loud music, multiple gunshots, theatrical haze, as well as strobe and flashing light effects.

Goodman Theatre: The Who’s Tommy Chicago ReviewThe Who’s Tommy is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 8/6/23. Tickets can be purchased at a discount through Goldstar, on the Goodman website, or by calling (312) 443-3800. Goodman Theatre is located at 170 North Dearborn in Chicago.

The cast of Big Fish at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire IL

Marriott Theatre’s ‘Big Fish’ Is A Must-See

The cast of Big Fish at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire ILI have a personal rule when it comes to giving a standing ovation. While it has become a gesture that is incredibly common at the end of most productions, I believe that one shouldn’t stand unless they have enjoyed the show so much that they just can’t sit any longer.

If you ask my family, they can tell you that it is a rare occurrence to see me stand during a curtain call. I will hoot and clap as loudly as possible, but standing is only reserved for those shows that either give me goosebumps or make me cry. And the new production of Big Fish at the Marriott Theatre – which did both – got a huge standing ovation from me.

Edward Bloom and Sandra Bloom sitting on a wooden floor in Big Fish from Marriott Lincolnshire TheatreBased on the movie of Big Fish, which was released in 2003, this musical tells the story of Edward Bloom, a larger-than-life traveling salesman with fantastical stories, his son Will, who is expecting his first son and trying to find a way to connect with his father, and Sandra, Edward’s faithful wife and Will’s loving mother.

The Big Fish mermaid with Edward and Sandra looking on at the Lincolnshire Marriott TheatreThroughout the story, the audience learns of various characters and happenings that include Edward’s first kiss with a mermaid, a witch telling him when he is going to die, and a giant that is scaring the whole town. Where does the truth lie and who is the man really? Those are the questions that Will wants to answer while his father is still around to be asked.

Edward Bloom giving Sandra Bloom a daffodil field in Big Fish Marriott TheatreWhile the show introduces you to the story and the multitude of characters during the first act, the second act is where it digs in deep. With captivating songs like “The River Between Us” and “What’s Next,” you not only feel for Edward, Sandra, and Will, but you begin to think about the relationships in your own life.

Will Bloom and Edward Bloom standing on either side of the blue ribbon river in Big Fish Marriott TheatreWe’ve all had times in our lives when we couldn’t connect with a loved one and the lyrics from Big Fish hit home. “He’s standing beside me, but not really there” from “The River Between Us” and “My father is a stranger I know very well” from “Stranger” are just a few of those moments where I wanted to congratulate the lyricist.

While the show itself is entertaining, has fun costumes, enjoyable songs, and a captivating story, the highlight of this production is the voices. Alexander Gemignani’s Edward Bloom, Heidi Kettenring’s Sandra, and Michael Kurowski’s Will make this version of Big Fish what it is. The supporting cast is excellent, and these three standouts are the real deal.

Jenny Hill and Edward Bloom in Big Fish Marriott TheatreI am a sucker for powerful voices that are not only beautiful, but emotional and resonating, and each of these three performers had multiple moments where they deeply touched the audience. Between the silences, chuckles, sniffles, and energy in the theater, these performers are the kinds of actors and vocalists that one hopes to see.

This is my second time seeing Big Fish, and the first time was over 10 years ago before it went to Broadway. I remember enjoying the show but had decided that I didn’t need to see it again. Boy, was I wrong!

The witch and Edward Bloom in Big Fish Marriott Theatre LincolnshireThe Marriott production of Big Fish is packed with wondrous characters, a fun score, and incredible vocals. It’s a must-see that shouldn’t be missed!

Marriott Theatre: Big Fish Chicago ReviewBig Fish is playing at Marriott Theatre through 3/19/2023. Tickets can be purchased through Goldstar or by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.

Paul Alexander Nolan and Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Goodman Theatre’s “Life After” Is An Exhilarating New Musical

The Goodman Theatre’s production of Life After is a new musical with heart. With a strong ensemble and engaging story, this is a must-see!

Paul Alexander Nolan and Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Paul Alexander Nolan and Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

On Alice Carter’s 16th birthday, her self-help author father, Frank, tragically dies in a car accident. This sounds like the beginning of a dire tale, but in Goodman’s production of Life After, a new musical written by Britta Johnson, that isn’t the case.

Life After is the story of Alice’s quest to investigate why her father was where he was during the car accident that ended his life. Surrounded by her mother, older sister, best friend, favorite teacher, and a Greek chorus-like trio who reflect Alice’s inner thoughts and feelings, Alice learns that the father whom she adored as a child was more human and multi-faceted than she ever knew.

Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Lauryn Hobbs, Chelsea Williams, Jen Sese, Skyler Volpe, Bryonha Marie Parham, Lucy Panush and Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Lauryn Hobbs, Chelsea Williams, Jen Sese, Skyler Volpe, Bryonha Marie Parham, Lucy Panush and Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Running for one hour and 35 minutes with no intermission, Life After is bursting with talent, great music, fun costumes, and a large number of incredible sets that keep the show fresh and engaging.

With an extraordinarily tight ensemble, every single actor was a standout. While many of us are used to watching a show and proclaiming things like, “The pirate was my favorite,” I can honestly say that throughout this show, I had that moment with every single actor and role.

Samantha Williams and Skyler Volpe in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Samantha Williams and Skyler Volpe in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Samantha Williams’ Alice is a passionately hurting 16-year-old with all of the loving, but self-focused normality of a teenager.

As Kate, Alice’s older sister, Skyler Volpe is a hilariously crunchy vegan with all of the righteousness of a 20-year-old who is discovering where she fits in this world.

Jen Sese and Bryonha Marie Parham in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Jen Sese and Bryonha Marie Parham in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Bryonha Marie Parham plays Alice’s mother, who is just trying to keep her world together in the wake of her husband’s sudden death. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the number “Wallpaper.” With an incredible feat of a song, Ms. Parham first led me to feel her pain so much that my full-body goosebumps overflowed into tears. It was magical.

 Lauryn Hobbs, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Lucy Panush, Chelsea Williams, Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Lauryn Hobbs, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Lucy Panush, Chelsea Williams, Samantha Williams in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Lucy Panush, as Alice’s best friend Hannah, is a joy in her hilariously innocent and sweet demeanor that is a slight callback to the character of Tai in Clueless.

Paul Alexander Nolan, Jen Sese, Ashley Perez Flanagan, Lauryn Hobbs, and Chelsea Williams each have delightful moments that drive the story and engage the audience. It’s truly a pleasure to watch whatever – and whoever – comes next.

 Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Samantha Williams, Chelsea Williams, Paul Alexander Nolan and Lauryn Hobbs in Britta Johnson’s Life After

Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Samantha Williams, Chelsea Williams, Paul Alexander Nolan and Lauryn Hobbs in Britta Johnson’s Life After

With sets that range from a two-story home to a local restaurant to a high school and costume changes that happen in seconds, Life After allows you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the music – both literally and figuratively. I look forward to seeing where this show goes, but while it’s in Chicago, make the time to see it.

Goodman Theatre: Life After Chicago ReviewLife After is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 7/17/22. 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.

Ben Rappaport and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Goodman Theatre’s “Good Night, Oscar” Is A Must-See

Ben Rappaport and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Ben Rappaport and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

In 1958, actor, pianist, and all around “character” Oscar Levant was one of Jack Paar’s favorite guests to have on his late-night talk show. They chatted, smoked cigarettes, and bantered about topics that would regularly have the NBC executives raising their eyebrows.

In the brand new play Good Night, Oscar, Doug Wright gives us a slice of life from this very time. The dramedy brings us to a specific night where Oscar Levant is set to be a guest on Jack Paar’s show. When Jack is informed by Oscar’s wife that Oscar is currently in a psychiatric facility receiving treatment, a debate ensues. She proceeds to get Oscar a four-hour pass, and regardless of his current mental state – because a professional is a professional – he appears on the Jack Paar show.

 Ben Rappaport, Sean Hayes and Peter Grosz in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Ben Rappaport, Sean Hayes and Peter Grosz in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

This show is a marvel. Every member of the seven-person cast brought their A-game, and every moment was choreographed beautifully. The timing was sharp, the cast was engaged, and the talent was palpable.

Sean Hayes and Tramell Tillman in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Sean Hayes and Tramell Tillman in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

I was particularly drawn to Tramell Tillman’s Alvin Finney, the orderly who accompanies Oscar from the hospital. There was a steadiness and peace in his being that elegantly offset the energy of the frenetic Oscar.

 Emily Bergl and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Emily Bergl and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

The costumes stole the show during the first 10 minutes of the production. June Levant (played by an unyielding Emily Bergl) wore a yellow and silver flowered dress with a matching overcoat that one couldn’t help but gape at. It made you wonder back to a time when people dressed like that. Did that ever really happen? It should happen again. And the green and white striped sweater that Jack Paar (played by a congenial Ben Rappaport) wore made this reviewer wish she had found it first.

The sets moved smoothly and efficiently, as interesting to watch as one of the characters. The transitions between scenes, as couches and backdrops slid seamlessly offstage while another began to move forward or descend from the sky, was hugely enjoyable. Plus, in the end, as much as you were on the sound stage with Jack Paar and Oscar Levant, you were also in the same padded room.

Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

And then there was Sean Hayes as Oscar Levant. To say that Mr. Hayes’ performance was extraordinary is an understatement. I cannot remember the last time I watched an actor only to have to lift my jaw off the floor. From the moment that he entered the stage, not only was he Oscar Levant, but he was a pained, conflicted, and tortured man who knew who he was and who he was expected to be.

Everything from the way that he carried himself to the slouchy clothing (that he wore as much as it wore him) to the constant ticks and movements brought on by both mental illness, previous treatments (such as electroshock therapy), and side effects from the medication, Mr. Hayes was a revelation. And by the time you get to the emotional climax of the show, you are experiencing every movement and intensity right along with him.

Let’s just say plainly – if Mr. Hayes doesn’t receive a Tony nomination and/or win for this remarkable portrayal of Oscar Levant, something has gone terribly wrong.

John Zdrojeski and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

John Zdrojeski and Sean Hayes in Doug Wright’s Good Night, Oscar

Luckily for us theatergoers, there are many great shows with which to spend our time – but this is on a whole other level. Magic on the stage should not be taken for granted.

With a six-show extension already, and while it is in Chicago (surely destined for Broadway), make sure that you purchase your tickets now. You will thank me.

Goodman Theatre: Good Night, Oscar Chicago ReviewGood Night, Oscar is playing at The Goodman Theatre through 4/24/22. 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.

Tony and Maria kneeling on the floor in the Marriott Lincolnshire production of West Side Story

Marriott Theatre’s ‘West Side Story’ Is A Modern Dream

Tony and Maria kneeling on the floor in the Marriott Lincolnshire production of West Side StoryI have to admit, I am a West Side Story loyalist. I was raised on the 1961 classic and wouldn’t be shocked to find out it was in my DNA. When I completed my graduate degree, West Side Story was the DVD that I played on repeat, needing something in the background to keep me company on those long nights of work and papers. I think it’s safe to say that I have watched the movie hundreds of times.

All of this being said, I couldn’t see the new Steven Spielberg version. I have incredible respect for the vision and talent of all of the players in the new film, but it feels wrong to me. The new interpretation could never live up to the classic in my mind, as much as I appreciate how many people enjoyed it. No one will be hurt by my excusing myself, so I’m sure it’ll continue to be a success without me.

The Sharks dancing in the Marriott version of West Side StoryThe stage, however, is a little different. Still the modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet with the same music as the movie, there are interesting alterations that can be done in the theatre.

The Marriott Theatre production of West Side Story is chock full of energy and talent. An in-the-round stage is never an easy place to set a production with over 25 cast members, but they did it flawlessly.

Riff and Bernardo having a knife fight on stageWest Side Story is a modern ballet full of passion, anger, and energy, all of which were communicated from the stage. And as much as one wants to discuss the acting, the costumes, the sets, and the voices, if this show doesn’t have a stellar orchestra and seamless dancing, it can’t succeed.

The Marriott orchestra was on-point. Every note was beautiful and you easily forgot what a gift it was to have talented musicians performing this intricate piece because you were in it.

The cast excelled at dance, bodies and lines moving with articulate choreography (by Alex Sanchez), making the most of every inch on the stage. Watching the cast perform during the “Dance at the Gym” was a true marvel.

Maria on the balcony and Tony climbing down the ladder in West Side StoryJake David Smith and Lauren Maria Medina (a passionate Tony and lovable Maria respectively) carried the show well as leads. I’m hoping Mr. Smith will record his version of “Something’s Coming” so that we can all listen to it on repeat.

Anita and the female Sharks dancingA few additional standouts were Marisa Fee as Anybodys (a scene stealer in the best of ways – the eye was drawn to her), Bret Tuomi as Glad Hand (absolutely hilarious, making me wish for the first time ever that the part was longer and had more lines), and Vanessa Aurora Sierra as Anita (feisty and affecting).

The Marriott production of West Side Story is an entertaining creation of gorgeous voices, incredible dancing, and an unbeatable score. Go out and enjoy seeing some theatre in person again with this show.

Marriott Theatre: West Side Story Chicago ReviewWest Side Story is playing at Marriott Theatre through 3/27/2022. Tickets can be purchased by calling (847) 634-0200. Marriott Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire.