Yo-Yo Ma To Play Three Dates At Chicago Symphony Orchestra   Leave a comment

Even people who don’t consider themselves classical music aficionados are familiar with Yo-Yo Ma. The virtuoso cellist has been entertaining fans for more than 30 years, and he’s also known for being an ambassador  for peace and his generous philanthropy.

Ma is also known for collaborating with other musicians, among them the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The CSO appointed Ma creative consultant in 2009, and this February, he’ll be performing with the CSO, under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen, artistic adviser for the Philharmonia Orchestra, in London.

Salonen will lead the CSO in performances of Jean Sibelius’ “Pohjola’s Daughter,” and “Symphony No. 7.” The performances will run Feb. 28 through March 2. Ma will perform Witold Lutoslawki’s “Cello Concerto,” and the program concludes with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini.”

Worldwide influence

Salonen is enjoying his fifth season as conductor and adviser with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. In addition to many impressive international appointments as a conductor, Salonen’s compositions have been recorded and performed worldwide. His most well-known compositions include “Violin Concerto,” “Nyx,” “Dona Nobis Pacem” and “Homunculus.”

Ma’s career as a cellist is multi-faceted and versatile. His recordings are sometimes impossible to categorize, such as “Appalachian Journey,” with Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Conner, “Hush,” with Bobby McFerrin and his newest folk music album entitled, “Goat Rodeo Sessions.” Ma seeks to maintain balance between solo and group engagements and philanthropy. One way he achieves this is by frequently offering master classes and informal music classes to students while on tour.

A prime goal for Ma is “the exploration of music as a means of communication and as a vehicle for the migrations of ideas across a range of cultures throughout the world.” In 1998 he founded the Silk Road Project, which promoted the study of intellectual, artistic and cultural traditions along the trade route that once stretched from the Mediterranean Basin to the Pacific Ocean. A pilot program of the Silk Road Project, called Silk Road Connect, brings creativity and collaboration into middle school classrooms to enhance learning in English language arts, sciences, arts and social studies.

Ma has received shelves full of awards and honors in his illustrious career, including 16 Grammys, the National Medal of the Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is not only dedicated to music, but to bringing peace and cultural awareness through the power of music. He’s a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and currently serves the United Nations as a Messenger of Peace.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1891 and is one of the premier orchestras in the United States. It’s also known for being the best orchestra, in terms of pay for musicians.

What better way to spend a weekend than visiting the Windy City for a world-class dinner, followed by a great classical performance and a stay in one of the nearby Chicago hotels? Tickets will likely go fast, so don’t wait too long to get yours.

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ Brings Pivotal Moment In Music To The Stage   Leave a comment

Chicago is home to more than 200 acclaimed theater troupes and venues. So whether you’re planning a Chicago getaway or vacation, right now, the hottest show in town is “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Apollo Theatre.

This rocking, rolling musical pays homage to four of the biggest legends in music history, and tells the true story of how they all got together for a single jam session that only lasted for an hour or two, but birthed a movement that still influences rock music today.

The legend begins

It was a sleepy Tuesday afternoon in December, when the biggest singer in the world dropped by Sun Records’ Memphis studio for a chat with owner Sam Phillips. The year was 1956 and former Sun Records artist Elvis Presley’s career was skyrocketing. Presley had just appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, drawing the largest TV audience in history to that point.

Phillips asked Presley to listen to a session that Carl Perkins of “Blue Suede Shoes” fame had just recorded. Elvis liked the recording so much he went into the studio for an impromptu jam session with Perkins. And on the piano? A certain Jerry Lee Lewis who was – at the time – only marginally famous in Memphis.

After a few songs, the original Man in Black – Johnny Cash – joined in the jam. Luckily, Phillips left the tapes recording during the session. The four icons played and sang a variety of genres, from gospel to rockabilly to bluegrass. The next day, the local paper ran a story about the jam, calling it the “Million Dollar Quartet,” and the group was born.

The musical

“Million Dollar Quartet” tells the story of that fateful afternoon in Memphis, through a series of exuberantly performed musical numbers that recreate the famed 90-minute jam session. You’ll have a hard time staying still through rocking renditions of favorites such as “Hound Dog,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Walk the Line.”

Since the show began in Chicago in 2008, critics have issued glowing reviews for “Million Dollar Quartet.” The Chicago Tribune describes the performances as ”virtuoso,” and Time Out Chicago calls “Million Dollar Quartet” authentic and acoustically expert, with actors who portray their characters in a manner “so dead-on, it’s ridiculous.”

But newspaper critics aren’t the only ones who love the musical; the Tony Awards honored “Million Dollar Quartet” with three nominations in 2010, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Actor Levi Kreis took home the Best Performance Tony for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

The cast

Speaking of actors, along with singing, cast members must also be proficient instrumental musicians. Actors in the Apollo Theatre production include bluegrass, folk and jazz guitarist Christopher Damiano in the role of Johnny Cash, rockabilly pianist Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis, and bass and mandolin player Shaun Whitley as Carl Perkins.

Several celebrities have even joined the cast over the years, including Melissa Etheridge, Lesley Gore, Ray Benson, and Jerry Lee Lewis himself.

For a toe-tapping, rollicking show that’s sure to get you moving in your seat, don’t miss “Million Dollar Quartet.” After all, you wouldn’t want to miss the night that changed rock ‘n’ roll forever. For more information on the Chicago show, visit the Apollo Theatre’s website for more information about times and pricing.


Circle Mirror Transformation [Toledo Theatre - Glacity Theatre Collective]   Leave a comment

Glacity Theatre Collective is excited to be offering the Toledo area premiere of Annie Baker’s Obie award winning play, Circle Mirror Transformation.In the tiny town of Shirley, Vermont, Marty has always wanted to teach a creative dramatics class for adults at the local community center, and this summer she gets her chance. The class does end up learning a lot – but it’s not necessarily anything that anyone expected to learn.

Marty's class tries to act out Schultz' childhood bedroom

 Marty and class attempt to act out Schultz’ childhood bedroom.

Come join us at a new, for us, venue - St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Toledo’s UpTown district – and see what kinds of transformations are in store for Marty and her students!
Holly Monsos, Exec. Director
Glacity Theatre Collective


Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie BakerThis 2010 Best New American Play Obie award-winning play looks at a group of strangers who come together in a creative dramatics class, not realizing the transformations that are in store.All performances at 8 p.m.

at St. Paul’s Methodist Church
1201 Madison in Toledo’s UpTown district

Tickets are $20*

*except for Thursday, January 24th,
which is a Pay-What-You-Can performance.


Parking is available for free on the street, in the lot directly across Madison from the church, and, for those needing good physical accessibility, in a small lot immediately adjacent to the church on the north side (access from 13th).

‘Potted Potter’ Chicago run extended through Jan. 6   Leave a comment

The “Harry Potter” franchise has been a smash hit in the literary and cinematic worlds. But if you’re one of the many people who hasn’t had time to read all seven books in the series, you’re in luck – you can catch “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience,” a stage production that crams all of those stories into 70 hilarious minutes.

Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse bids goodbye to “Potted Potter” on Dec. 23, but the play will then move to The Harris Theatre for an extended run through Jan. 6, due to overwhelming acclaim from critics and fans. If you’re heading to the Windy City soon, “Potted Potter” is one of those Chicago events you won’t want to miss.

The history

“Potted Potter” began as a 5-minute, 2-man street sketch that its writers, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, performed to entertain the crowds of people waiting for the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” As the film franchise grew, so did the play’s popularity. The full-length version drew significant attention at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Scotland. Since then, “Potted Potter” has played in London’s West End, Toronto and New York City, and will soon debut in South Africa.

The performances

The playwrights also play all roles in “Potted Potter.” Clarkson plays Harry Potter. Turner plays nearly everyone else, including Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Draco, Snape and Voldemort, among others. The action is both high-speed and pleasantly zany. Turner and Clarkson race across the stage and indulge the audience in a non-stop barrage of constant, energetic acting, complete with hilarious vocal impersonations of each character.

With only two leading actors, audience participation in the play becomes crucial. Theater-goers in the first few rows are fair targets for squirt guns. Silly string also makes an appearance. Trivia, video clips and games draw spectators into the show. The audience is even invited to participate in a form of live Quidditch match, complete with a golden snitch.

The set and costuming for “Potted Potter” continue the production’s intentionally hodgepodge, slapped-together feel. As Harry Potter, Clarkson has it a bit easy in the costume department, relying mainly on Harry’s trademark glasses. Turner’s costuming, however, proves that there truly is no rest for the weary. He changes in and out of several accessories – an impossibly cheap red wig, devil’s horns and a spangled wizard’s hat.

The set is an exercise in the pleasantly ludicrous. A train that appears to be made out of plywood and painted in primary colors represents the Hogwarts Express. The set also includes a hat tree, a coffin bedecked with the word “spooky,” a bookshelf and a white screen used to project video clips. The set is static and isn’t necessarily tied to the action in each scene, which makes perfect sense for a performance that covers so much material in so little time. Set changes would be a distraction in a play as rapidly paced as “Potted Potter.”

Critical reception and audience reviews

Reviews of the play have emphasized that “Potted Potter” isn’t only for the dedicated Harry Potter fan; anyone who is at all familiar with the series will enjoy the show. The New York Times writes that Clarkson and Turner “cast … the perfect spell over the audience.” The London Daily Telegraph describes “Potted Potter” as “a fabulously funny parody” and claims that it “will tickle the funny bone of every age group.”

“Potted Potter” is an example of the best type of parody; it’s buoyant, active and charmingly under-produced. For the dedicated Potter fan, the show is a chance to enter the world of wizards once again. For everyone else, it’s 70 minutes of side-splitting laughter. “Potted Potter” is definitely worth the price of admission.


Chicago’s Premier Ballet Troupe Marks A Quarter Century Of “The Nutcracker” Performances   Leave a comment

This year, The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago celebrates 25 years of performing “The Nutcracker” – a perennial holiday favorite for ballet troupes around the nation. But the Joffrey company’s interpretation of this classic story is beyond what most audiences would expect, combining stunning skill with elaborate staging to create an awe-inspiring experience. And since 2007, when Ashley Wheater joined Joffrey as artistic director, the troupe’s production of “The Nutcracker” has drawn ever more accolades.

Putting a new spin on an old story

The storyline of “The Nutcracker” is simple: Girl receives toy, brother breaks toy, strange, whimsical things happen, and no one is certain whether the girl dreamed these events, or they actually happened. But the storyline has always been secondary to the dancers’ interpretation of it – the performances are what distinguish a good production from a great production.

In 2010, under Wheater’s leadership, Joffrey took the production on the road, performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Writing for The Washington PostPamela Squires remarked on the audience’s “collective gasp” after an artful bit of choreography that involved a ballerina being tossed high into the air, caught and transitioned into a swan dive. “She is one Sugar Plum Fairy who will continue to dance in your head,” Squires wrote.

Wheater’s influence

Wheater has made ballet his life, beginning when he was 10 years old and moved from his family’s home to London, to study at the Royal Ballet School. There, he learned from ballet great Rudolf Nureyev and went on to perform with the Australian Ballet, and later, the San Francisco Ballet. Wheater suffered a severe neck injury in 1996, ending his career as a dancer, but he was able to continue his ballet career when the Joffrey Ballet offered him the role of artistic director.

World-class entertainment in the Midwest

The Joffrey Ballet, founded in 1956 by instructor Robert Joffrey, was the first company to perform at the White House, at the invitation of then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The troupe was also the first to appear on the cover of Time magazine, and to visit Russia.

People tend to associate excellence in ballet with Russia, New York or Paris. But the Joffrey company proves that quality relies not so much on location, but on the expertise of its directors and performers. And the backgrounds and credentials of the Joffrey company are impressive:

The Joffrey’s dancers come from all over the world – the Philippines, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, the United States and other countries. Music director Scott Speck brings a wealth of knowledge to the Joffrey, conducting the Chicago Philharmonic to accompany the troupe. The Yale-educated Fulbright scholar has conducted at opera houses in London, Paris and San Francisco and led symphonies in Moscow, Beijing and Slovakia. Executive director Christopher Clinton Conway served as counsel to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the late California vintner Robert Mondavi.

All of this talent combines to create outstanding productions that one might not typically expect in a Midwestern city.

Planning a trip to the ballet

Chicago is an easy drive from many points in the Midwest, and many events in the month of December attract visitors – concerts, plays, exhibitions and more. It’s well worth the drive to see The Joffrey Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker,” which the troupe puts on for the Windy City 22 times in December. Ticket prices range from about $40 to about $140, with many matinee showings available.

Don’t miss an opportunity to see what is arguably one of the finest renditions of “The Nutcracker” in the United States.

“The Book of Mormon”: A Religious Experience Coming to Chicago (Review by Grady Winston)   Leave a comment

The idea of a visit to Chicago brings many images to mind: the lights of the Navy Pier shining out over Lake Michigan in the evening, the extraordinary shopping opportunities available along the Magnificent Mile, the view of the city from atop the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). One’s mind does not, however, go straight to thoughts of Broadway theater, an institution associated more with New York City than the Windy City. That may all soon change, however, with the impending arrival in December 2012 of a Broadway production of “The Book of Mormon.” This musical, which garnered a staggering nine Tony Awards in 2011, was penned by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the long-running Comedy Central show “South Park.”

Chicago has played host to numerous Broadway shows in the past, including “Mamma Mia!” and “Wicked.” Broadway in Chicago, the organization responsible for bringing such performances to the Windy City, consists of a slew of venues in the downtown theater district, including the Cadillac Palace, the Auditorium Theatre and the aptly named Broadway Playhouse. “The Book of Mormon” will make its Chicago debut at the Bank of America Theatre (originally the Majestic Theatre), which has previously hosted many well-known shows such as “Jersey Boys.”

“The Book of Mormon” is a musical comedy about two optimistic Mormon missionaries who travel to a Ugandan village to spread the message of their religion. The lead characters’ naiveté and the African natives’ disdain for them add up to a series of humorous interactions. A highlight of the play is when one of the missionaries, Elder Price, sings “I Believe,” a song that exemplifies the musical’s irreverent humor and satirical portrayal of Mormonism.

The show is currently slated to run for 12 weeks in Chicago, although there’s a chance it could stick around for longer. The performance dates as they stand now are scheduled for Dec. 11, 2012, through March 16, 2013. Tickets, which went on sale in March, are still available in a wide range of prices and seats throughout the theater. A separate national tour of the show is planned to kick off in Denver this August.

Visitors who make the pilgrimage to Chicago to see “The Book of Mormon” can anticipate great entertainment options outside the theater, as well. The city is a playground of museums, restaurants and scenic locales to keep any would-be tourist busy for the duration of the trip. Families will enjoy a trip to the Science and Industry Museum, with its numerous exhibits on weather, genetics and other scientific phenomena; or the Chicago Children’s Museum, where kids can take part in any number of interactive exhibits targeted directly to them.

Other attractions in the Windy City include the afore-mentioned Navy Pier, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the John Hancock Observatory. Take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field or, for a more personalized experience, consider a guided tour to learn about the stadium’s 90-year history. Foodies will want to make sure to grab some deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, and lovers of architecture can sign up for a tour—on land or by boat—with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. And speaking of boats, visitors who love the water can take advantage of Seadog speedboat cruises, which offer breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

In short, a visit to Chicago offers a lot to a tourist looking for a multifaceted vacation experience. The prospect of viewing a popular Broadway play like “The Book of Mormon” is an excellent draw for the city, but there are sufficient attractions, activities and events to make a journey to the Windy City worthwhile for any traveler.

Grady Winston (Chicago, IL)



Posted August 21, 2012 by elingan in Chicago Theatre

Audition Announcement: Best Little Whore House in Texas (Toledo Repertoire Theatre)   Leave a comment

Toledo Repertoire Theatre's "Best Little Whorehouse" audition announcement.


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