The Mercury Theatre announced today that they are closing permanently at the end of June due to the pandemic. This is a major loss to the Chicago theatre scene. In tribute to Mercury Theatre, here is a list of shows we reviewed ranked by quality:
Ana Popović is on tour promoting her latest album, Like It On Top. It was released in 2018 and features Keb’ Mo’, Robben Ford, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Tonight she shows why those are her peers with her virtuosic guitar playing.
Early on she plays “Lasting Kind of Love”. “It’s not a lasting kind of love, it’s temporary.” “And baby, I don’t mind”. It’s a groovy track about casual relationships.
A highlight of her set is “Johnnie Ray”. It is a fantastic blues song that really showcases her vocal talent as well as her guitar skills.
Fans of the performance should definitely not miss Chicago Blues Fest in June!
The evening begins with all the actors coming out to greet the audience. They are shaking hands and walking up and down the aisles. It is more like a concert beginning than a play. This production is being presented as a staged reading. The four actors are positioned at stands with the script in front of them from which they will read. This technique is usually used a step in the development process to see how an audience responds early on. In this case, it is presented as the final product. The playwright wanted to keep it simple that way.
Middletown is the story of two couple’s lives together. The couples are looking back of their lives together as friends. It starts with how they met, got married, and had kids. It continues through the kids growing older as they also age and face medical issues. There are great highs and tragic lows in their roller coaster lives.
The actors have great chemistry with each other and convey the friendship well. The cast includes Sandy Duncan, Adrian Zmed, Kate Buddeke, and Danny Most. This play will appeal mostly an older audience.
Get tickets now for Middletown through March 22nd!
Cost of a ticket: $72
PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Half Price –
Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother
Three sisters are living in Dallas. One of these sisters (Elizabeth Birnkrant) is dating a man named Juan who she calls John (Christopher Acevedo). He is oddly always heading off to Plano. One of the sisters (Ashley Neal) is married to Steve (Andrew Cutler). It turns out there are multiple Steves. This leads to some really funny scenes where the actor leaves the stage in one spot and then reappears in another. The last sister (Amanda Fink) is seeing a man with no face (Andrew Lund). It is a very artistic piece that is open to the audience’s interpretation.
A possible interpretation is that the characters are dealing with mental illness. For example, the multiple Steves could represent a multiple personality disorder. It’s also clear that none of the sister’s is having good luck with men
The entire cast does a great job with this fast paced and funny play. The dialog is quick and the time changes rapidly. A character will say “I’ll see you later. It is later.” In an instant, a few days has passed. It can be a bit disorientating but in a good way. The audience is fully engaged trying to figure out just exactly what is happening. It’s the kind of play you’ll want to see twice!
A pair of hair stylists are working at a salon named Shear Madness. One of them is comically bad at his job. They often complain about the woman who lives upstairs. Two policemen arrive and announce that the woman upstairs was murdered. They have been casing the place and know that the killer must be either of one of the hair stylists or one of their customers. In the second half of the show, the audience must question the suspect to determine what happened.
The Mercury Theatre is best known for doing big Broadway worth shows such as Avenue Q and Spamalot. So, this is a little bit out of their style and it shows. The Chicago references come off as corny and touristy. The jokes feel old fashioned. Perhaps it was because the audience was small, but the energy level was very low. It felt more like a small iO show than a big great production that Mercury Theatre is capable of making.
Phil Connors is not happy that he has to go to the small town of Punxsutawney, PA to cover Groundhog Day. He thinks he is too important to have to cover such a small story. He spends the day being terrible to everyone. The next day he wakes up and discovers that it is Groundhog’s Day again. He is forced to live the same day over and over again. It’s a journey of self discovery mixed with a love story and a comedy.
This musical is based on the 1993 film of the same name starring Bill Murray. It truly captures the heart of the movie and so many of the great comedic moments. It also adds to the movie with the songs that really get at the emotions of the characters. The idea of a musical version of this movie sounds like a cheesy improv theatre show, but they have created a fantastic Broadway quality show.
This production by Slow Burn Theatre is very impressive. It’s a must see! The sets are very professional and the crew does a great job swapping them in and out rapidly. The cast is excellent. Clay Cartland playing Phil Connors does a fantastic job. Also, the actor who plays Ned is great and looks just like him!
Michael has invited a bunch of his friends over to celebrate Harold’s 32nd birthday. They are all having a grand time until an old friend of Michael’s, Alan, calls and announces that he will be swinging by. It’s 1968 the guests are gay. So, they must hide this fact from Alan in order to avoid being outed in a society that doesn’t accept them.
The emotions get really big in this production. This is amplified by the immersive staging. The audience is seated within Harold’s large apartment. (Insider tip: The best seats are in the corner to left of the entrance. From there, you have a clear view of the kitchen and the upstairs bedroom.) This really makes you feel like part of the action, instead of just watching it up on the stage. It is worth the extra cost of the ticket for this immersive experience.
The game that they play really racks up the drama. Each member of the party must use the landline to call the person that they love and tell them that they love them over the phone. For most of them, this is something they have never said to anyone.
Jackson Evans (Avenue Q, Bunny Bunny) is great as the host, Michael. He shows some really strong emotions as he bares his soul. Christian Edwin Cook is excellent as Alan, who has a few secrets of his own. James Lee is superb as Larry, who is very intelligent and up front about his needs. In fact, the entire cast is solid in this ensemble piece.
Amina and Ryan are two young police officers. They fall in love and move in together. Everything is going great until Ryan, a white male, shoots a young black man to death. He says the young man drew a knife and stepped towards him. A knife was found on the young man. Amina, a black female, questions the course of events. She starts an investigation to find out the truth.
The play is narrated by Amina. She describes the events taking place and then steps into the scene she has created. It’s a bit too much narrating. It’s better to show rather than tell. By adding one more actor to the play, a lot of the narration could be removed. Still, the story is gripping as she digs deeply into the events of that night. She questions if Ryan is racist and if he planted the knife. This puts a huge dramatic toll on their relationship.
Leslie Ann Sheppard is excellent as Amina. It’s an impressive feat to narrate the entire story and act in it as well. Drew Schad (Crime and Punishment, Born Yesterday) is great as Ryan. He is so fun and caring with Amina and then very intense when he is on the job. The audience doesn’t know whether to root for him or against him.
Get tickets now for Sheepdog through Febuary 29th!
Cost of a ticket: $42
PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It
Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother
A waitress is living alone in an Oklahoma motel room. One day her friend introduces her to a drifter. They get along so she invites him to sleep on the floor. Slowly, they develop a relationship and get to know each other. One night, the man exclaims that he has been bitten by a bug. He kicks her out of the bed as he very carefully searches everywhere for bugs. Later on he tells her that the bugs are in his blood and that he is infected. The drama builds from there.
(Trailer from the 2006 film adaptation)
The first half of the play is a slow build. And then in the second half, things really pick up as they dive into conspiracy theories. This is truly live theatre at it’s best. The acting and production are at such a high level that the audience completely loses themselves in the story. It is very cinematic and it’s no surprise that they made it into a movie in 2006.
Carrie Coon (Mary Page Marlowe, The Leftovers) is fantastic as the waitress. She completely becomes this lonely character searching for connection. Namir Smallwood (True West, BLKS) is superb as the drifter. He expertly transforms from mostly normal to a paranoid schizophrenic. Randall Arney, Jennifer Engstrom, and Steve Key are all great in their supporting roles. Tracy Letts (The Minutes, Linda Vista, Mary Page Marlowe) is a master writer. Every play he writes is a must see. He wrote this one in 1995 and it still feel completely fresh.
If/Then opened on March 30, 2014 on Broadway. It ran for a year on Broadway before it began a national tour on October 13, 2015. Idina Menzel played Liz on Broadway and for the first three months of the tour. And now in 2020, this big Broadway musical opens in the small Studio Three at the Athenaeum Theatre.
In the story, Elizabeth divorces her husband and moves back to New York City. She doesn’t have a job lined up yet. Thus, she has a lot of different possibilities of what she could do with her life. On one afternoon, two of her friends invite her to different events. The story splits into two stories, based on which event she chooses. These two paths diverge in many ways. She ends up with different jobs, different boyfriends, and so much more. It’s practically two plays in one!
The style of this musical is very similar to Rent and Spring Awakening. They are all fast paced with a strong focus on relationships. Also, the music is really good with strong lyrics.
Amanda Giles is impressive as Elizabeth. She is on stage for nearly the full 3 hours. Bridget Adams-King is powerful as one of her best friends. Parker Guidry is hilarious as the other best friend. Michael Peters is solid as a main love interest. Matthew Fayfer is charming as her coworker. Lastly, the rest of this 12 person cast plus 4 person band are great!