Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

World Class! Bug at Steppenwolf Theatre (Through March 15, 2020)

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.

Get tickets now for Bug through March 15th!

Cost of a ticket: $58 and up

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

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Quinn Delaney

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Exceptional Value! Brown Paper Box Co. Presents If/Then at Athenaeum Theatre (Through February 16, 2020)

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.

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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!

IFTHENCast (2)

Get tickets now for If/Then through February 16!

Cost of a ticket: $34

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

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Quinn Delaney

Fantastic Jazz and Dancing! Porchlight Musical Theatre Presents Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies at Ruth Page Center for the Arts (Through March 6, 2020)

This show is a tribute to the late great Duke Ellington. It features Duke’s biggest hits including “Mood Indigo,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce,” “Perdido,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” and “In a Sentimental Mood”. The set designed by Angela Weber Miller is opulent. It perfectly sets the stage for the fantastic singing by the entire cast. Lorenzo Rush Jr. (Memphis), Donica Lynn, and Lydia Burke are especially impressive. The dancing is also outstanding ranging from tap to jazz to swing. Giordano Dance Company would even be impressed. Lastly, the band plays Ellington’s music fantastically. The music draws you into a trance and then suddenly it is two hours later!

Get tickets now for Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies through March 6!

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Cost of a ticket: $72

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

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Excellent! Victory Gardens and Actors Theatre of Louisville Present How to Defend Yourself at Victory Gardens Theatre (Through February 23, 2020)

A pair of undergrad women are waiting in a gym to take a self-defense class. They are also rushing a sorority together. The two teachers enter, who are members of the sorority. The class was started because one of their sisters was the victim of sexual abuse. They are all determined to learn how to defend themselves. Later on, a quiet and shy girl awkwardly joins. At last, two fraternity brothers show up. They immediately state that they don’t support the masculine culture that lead to the abuse as they try to keep their cool being the only men. 

The group really comes together and supports each other. There is a great moment when the music is cranked up for a great training scene. There is also a lot of funny dialog as they discuss their experiences with college. This leads to them building strong relationships which they then rely on to tackle the bigger issues. 

Walker, Lee, Crivelli, Mahallati, McBride. Liz Lauren Photo

Isa Arciniegas (Fun Home, The Wolves) is excellent as Diana, the strong girl who is really looking forward to learning self-defense and working with guns. Ariana Mahallati is great as the innocent and cheery friend of Diana. Andrew San Miguel is so good as the awkward girl nervously making her way through class. Anna Crivelli is strong as the main teacher, who has something to hide. Netta Walker is complicated as the secondary teacher, who has a lot to say about her sexual preferences. Jayson Lee is very funny as the fraternity brother who is having a lot of trouble finding a girlfriend. Lastly, Ryan McBride is hilarious as the Andy Sandberg type fraternity brother who is naturally charismatic and good with the ladies. 

The entire play is great except for the ending. It kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really fit the tone of the play and they should consider changing it.

Get tickets now for How to Defend Yourself through February 23!

Cost of a ticket: $51

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

The cast of How to Defend Yourself. Liz Lauren Photo

Quinn Delaney

Passionate! Broadway in Chicago Presents Once On This Island at the Cadillac Palace (Through February 2, 2020)

There’s always a worry when a show tours that it will lose its energy once it leaves New York. The original cast is gone, the set is simpler and the venues are much larger. Certainly, for the revival of “Once On This Island” which played at the very intimate Circle in the Square in Manhattan and is now playing at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago, this last concern is no trifling matter. Compare a capacity of 840 to 2,344!

 

And so while it is inescapable that the tour is a different production in many ways, it was a delight to discover that the passion is the same.

 

 

“Once On This Island” tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel, a descendant of the French aristocracy. They meet when Daniel is injured in a car accident. Ti Moune nurses him back to health and when he returns to his side of the island, she follows him and enters his world. While Ti Moune and Daniel are learning about each other, the gods of earth, water, love and death are watching and intervening. They are challenging each other to see if love is stronger than death, based on what happens to the two lovers.

 

The highlights of the show are Courtnee Carter in the role of Ti Moune and Cassondra James as Erzulie (Goddess of Love). Carter brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role that allows you to sympathize with the character, rather than roll your eyes about a modern retelling of “The Little Mermaid” where once again, a girl makes grand sacrifices for a boy she has just met. But for a hint of her strength and defiance, preview her vocals on “Waiting For Life”:

Once on This Island

Once on This Island

 

James also had big shoes to fill, stepping into a role played by Lea Salonga on Broadway. But her gentle “The Human Heart” was exquisite.And perhaps the one moment that truly makes you forget that you’re seeing the show in a large theater as opposed to a small theater in the round is during “Ti Moune’s Dance,” a pivotal (and lively!) moment of the show that the cast handles deftly.

 

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The show is one act, 90 minutes with no intermission and once it’s over, you just might want to buy a ticket to see it again.

 

Get tickets now for Once on This Island through February 2!

Edward Boyle

Hilariously Stupid Characters! Open Fist Theatre Company Presents Neil Simon’s Musical Fools at Atwater Village Theatre featuring James Byous and Parvesh Cheena (Through January 26, 2020)

A schoolteacher travels to a new town for a new job. However, this is no ordinary town. Everyone here is an absolute fool. They are comically stupid. A curse was put on the town to make everyone dumb. The only way to break the curse is for a young woman to marry the strange older man who lives up on the hill. To complicate things further, the schoolteacher is falling in love with this woman. Hilarity ensues.

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James Byous (Westside) is charming and hilarious as the schoolteacher. His facial reactions when confronted with idiocy are priceless. Parvesh Cheena (OutsourcedCrazy Ex-Girlfriend, Chicago Sketchfest) is so funny as the shepherd who can’t keep track of his sheep, except for in his dreams. Jason Paige is a major highlight as the strange older man. In his solo, he singing about wanting people to like him has the whole audience laughing. Bruce Green is excellent as the young woman’s father. He acts so proud of her for doing the simplest things!

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Ron West and Phil Swann did an excellent job turning Neil Simon’s play into a musical. They truly have a hit on their hands.

Get tickets now for Musical Fools through January 26th!

Cost of a ticket: $35

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It +

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

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Quinn Delaney

 

Excellent! Theatre Planners Present Salvage at Lounge Theatre (Through January 19, 2020)

A middle aged man named Preacher is playing an acoustic guitar in a rundown bar. He is singing and drinking as the bartender, Johnson, looks on. A young man, Harley, enters the bar with excitement in his eyes. He exclaims that this is the bar where one of his musical heroes killed himself. He can’t believe that he found it. Preacher is annoyed by the interruption.

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Harley goes on to say that he is planning to sell his guitar at the pawn shop across the street. His wife is pregnant and it is time for him to give up on his dream. He needs to get a steady job and support his family. Preacher sees a bit of his younger self in Harley. He tells him that this plan will never work. He may try to let go of his dream, but it will never let go of him. As the afternoon goes on, they discover they have a lot more in common than they could have ever expected.

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David Atkinson is excellent as the preacher, who is similar to Jeff Bridges’ character in Crazy Heart. Both of them are older musicians full of heartache who never found success. Christopher Fordinal is great as Harley, the young musician ready to give up on his dream. They are both good guitar players and singers. Nina Herzog is solid as Destiny, Harley’s wife. However, the one weakness of this play is that her reactions to the situations in the play seem a bit unrealistic. Lastly, Leonard Earl Howze is golden as Johnson, the bartender. He’s a great listener who sees the big picture and then shares this wisdom.

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The music in this play is excellent. It’s singer songwriter style acoustic rock. Hopefully they will record a cast album!

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Get tickets for Salvage now through January 19th!

Cost of a ticket: $35
PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It +
Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney