Hit List, Part Two: Titanic

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Griffin Titanic musicalContinuing my musical theater queen recertification process (not that I ever lost my designation as beloved BFFs and theater buddies can attest), the third musical I saw this past week was Griffin Theatre’s staging of a new, minimalist take on Maury Yeston’s Titanic, the 1997 winner of the Tony for Best Musical, a version that was widely acclaimed in London last year when it was staged by Southwark Playhouse. Interestingly, I was actually planning to see a planned North American premiere of this version in Toronto last summer, billed as a pre-Broadway tryout, which was then subsequently cancelled due to the lack of an available Broadway theater for the 2014-2015 season (looks like this pre-Broadway Toronto run has been re-started for spring 2015 though with opera superstar Ben Heppner headlining as reported here).  So I was beyond thrilled when I heard that Griffin Theatre was going to go ahead and stage the North American premiere (hooray for Chicago theater!) though a very small part of me couldn’t help but wonder: could a Chicago storefront theater, even one such as Griffin with a highly-regarded track record of artistic success, match the aspirations and vision of a production that was being primed for Broadway? Well, that little nagging voice could go bury itself back inside that skeptical second-city insecurity box it sprung from, because this surprising, superb, stirring production of Titanic, elegantly and richly directed by Scott Weinstein and performed to heart-breaking perfection by 20 of Chicago’s best actors is one of the can’t-miss shows of the fall. I don’t think the Toronto production could have done any better.

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Hit List, Part One: The Wild Party and Parade

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bailiwick the wild partyWhen I first started seriously going to the theater in Chicago way back when in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, full-blooded musical productions outside of the avowed musical theater specialists such as Drury Lane, Marriott, and Porchlight were as rare as intelligence and attractiveness on Fox News. Chicago’s theater companies loved (and continue to love) their sweaty, gritty, chair-breaking, nerve-popping dramatic plays that defined the supposed “Chicago-style” of theater acting. Over the years though, things have evolved, so much so that some of the best shows I saw this year were musicals – a happy development for this self-identified musical theater diva who will belt out “Cabaret” at the least provocation (if you want to hear my killer karaoke version, invite me out to the Korean karaoke bars on Lincoln some evening). Interestingly, there’s been a bevy of musical productions this fall theater season; I saw three of them consecutively in the past week. In this two part blog post, I talk about the first two: Bailiwick Chicago’s generally successful take on Michael John LaChuisa’s The Wild Party, based on Joseph Moncure March’s long narrative poem about lusting, boozing, fighting among sexually-ambiguous boys and girls in 1920s New York City, and BoHo Theatre’s less successful staging of Jason Robert Brown’s gorgeously-scored Parade, based on the real-life story of Leo Frank, a Jewish pencil superintendent accused of murder in early twentieth-century Atlanta.

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2014 Chicago International Film Festival, Final Entry

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chi film fest dust on the tongueThe 50th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival ended last night with the screening of Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar hopeful, Wild. With the marked improvement in both audience experience and programming over the years since I first started attending in 1999, I think we can happily expect another 50 years of this essential Chicago cultural event. Here are my thoughts on the final set of films I saw this year.

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2014 Chicago International Film Festival, Part Two

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chi film fest next to herI’ve been derailed from posting on the films I’ve seen at the Chicago International Film Festival by a major customer proposal I’ve been working on in my day job. But rest assured though that nothing has stopped me from spending my evenings and the past weekend at AMC River East 21. It’s been a smooth, uneventful festival experience for me; I think both the festival and I are growing old gracefully together (and nope, I don’t miss the whacka-doodle logistics when screenings were spread out all over the city in the early ‘naughts). And what a treat it has been to see my idols Kathleen Turner and German director Margarethe von Trotta, and the rest of the 50th film festival jury sitting with us the audience in the movie theaters, hopefully as awestruck or as frustrated as us depending on the film, something I’ve not seen other festival juries do all these years I’ve been attending. Here are my thoughts on several more films I saw during the fest:

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2014 Chicago International Film Festival, Part One

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chi film fest midnight afterI just got through the first weekend of the 50th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival and I’m pleased to report that everything is running like a well-oiled, gently-humming machine. Volunteers are everywhere, lines are orderly, and everyone is just excited to see the films (and after talking to several folks in line, I was surprised at the number of people this year seeing two to four films a day). The most excitement I had was when I was small-talking with a cute volunteer and told him that I’ve been going to the film festival since 1999, to which he casually replied, oh yeah, I was four years old then. Oy! Actually, that deserved another  Oy! Here are my thoughts on the first set of films I saw.

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Mad Men

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timeline danny casolaroActually, I’m probably the mad man as I try to fit in as many theater and arts events before all of my waking time (well outside of working and eating) is taken up by the exciting 50th edition of the Chicago International Film Festival which begins today (read blog posts about it in the next couple of weeks!).  It’s been a busy fall theater season; although I wouldn’t say it’s been an extremely striking or memorable one. Many of the season openers I’ve seen so far have been lackluster, to put it mildly.  The trend continues with two shows I saw over the past couple of weeks, both, surprisingly, with all-male casts: Timeline Theatre’s Danny Casolaro Died For You has an intriguing true-to-life premise but is bogged down by  Dominic Orlando’s perplexing, inconsistent writing; the production of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, one of my favorite plays of the ‘naughts, from a new storefront theater called Eclectic Full Contact Theatre is saddled by tepid, unbelievable performances, and by my old age realization that Greenberg’s writing, which I loved back in the play’s Public Theater and Broadway productions, has a discomfiting whiff of condescension.

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