Aladdin, Marry Me a Little, and ten more stage shows to see now | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

Aladdin, Marry Me a Little, and ten more stage shows to see now

A top-notch touring Broadway show and an intimate Sondheim concept revue are among this week's notable new productions.

comment

Aladdin Not that it matters, but this live touring version of the Broadway musical based on a 1992 Disney animation is shrill, bombastic, and almost hysterically chipper. Everything the cast and designers bring to the tale of Aladdin—a petty thief who becomes a mensch and then a sultan—is top-notch, from Jonathan Weir and Reggie de Leon's comic villains to Anthony Murphy's outsize Genie to the glinting, golden Cave of Wonders created by set designer Bob Crowley. But the tempo is so manic, the tone so ingratiating, the Alan Menken score so antiseptically good-natured that you end up feeling like you've been assaulted by the world's best party clown. Still, as I say, none of that matters: the decision on whether to see the show isn't yours to make. It's in the hands of your ten-year-old daughter, because you want her to remember you fondly when you're dead. —Tony Adler

Surena Pridgen in Dundee: A Hip-Hopera - TYLER CORE
  • Tyler Core
  • Surena Pridgen in Dundee: A Hip-Hopera

Dundee: A Hip-Hopera From practically the first scene, Gabe Caruso's "hip-hopera" sets up like a Hamilton clone gone berserk. A group of college friends reunites after ten years for what turns out to be an elaborate kidnapping. A group of college friends reunites after ten years for what turns out to be an elaborate kidnapping in which the kidnapees find themselves at the mercy of a former classmate wielding a samurai sword. Ridiculously, the caper stems from petty jealousies reminiscent of a high school crying game. It’s hard to believe that a group of thirtysomethings can’t come to grips with life at this stage, but there’s a silver lining throughout: Caruso’s rhymes can be surprisingly poetic, even if they’re also a bit tone deaf in cases, and there’s an occasional blip of humor that hints at a deeper understanding of the form. —Matt de la Peña

Eclipse Theatre's Force Continuum - SCOTT DRAY
  • Scott Dray
  • Eclipse Theatre's Force Continuum

Force Continuum Kia Corthron's painstakingly unsuccessful 2001 drama focuses on Dece, a third-generation African-American New York City cop caught between supporting the brotherhood and betraying his race. Given the current tattered relations between police and minority communities, it might have ripped-from-the-headline urgency like Ike Holter's recent marvel The Wolf at the End of the Block. But Corthron rips mostly from sociological treatises and Law & Order, cobbling together faux street-smart disquisitions ("With cops, societal attitudes get codified," says one officer) and overorchestrated violence. With a broad scope but little attention to narrative cohesion or psychological development, it's a nearly two-hour pile of important issues that haven't been sorted into a play. First-time director Michael Aaron Pogue understandably struggles to keep the action moving, and the jumble of questionable New York accents appreciably diminishes intelligibility. —Justin Hayford

Steep Theatre's Hookman - LEE MILLER
  • Lee Miller
  • Steep Theatre's Hookman

Hookman In the aftermath of trauma, especially one you might have caused, you're likely to feel anxious, fearful, vulnerable, and debilitatingly guilty. This isn't news, and it's not much to hang a play on. But in the few moments when playwright Lauren Yee lets her protagonist, college freshman Lexi, live through quotidian moments after her childhood friend's violent death, she at least portrays obvious truths convincingly. Most of the time, however, she feeds Lexi through an elaborate slasher film parody, creating murky allegorical overkill. It's all quite entertaining, especially in director Vanessa Stalling's crafty, well-paced production for Steep Theatre. But if Yee had half as much interest in creating meaningful dramatic complications as she does in amusing an audience, she might have written something with real teeth. —Justin Hayford

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas in Porchlight Music Theatre's Marry Me a Little - BRANDON DAHLQUIST
  • Brandon Dahlquist
  • Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas in Porchlight Music Theatre's Marry Me a Little

[Recommended] Marry Me a Little Porchlight Music Theatre's captivating two-person concept revue weaves a collection of little-known Stephen Sondheim songs—many of them cut from the musicals they were originally written for—into a poignant vignette about a sweet romance that goes sadly sour. Stellar singer-actors Bethany Thomas and Austin Cook (a superb keyboardist who also serves as the production's musical director) play high-rise neighbors who meet when she complains about his loud piano playing. Cleverly staged by Jess McLeod, the show features "trunk songs" trimmed from Company, A Little Night Music, and Into the Woods, as well as tunes from early Sondheim efforts including Saturday Night. Thomas, whose extraordinary voice ranges from silvery soprano heights to volcanic contralto depths, never lets her vocal prowess overshadow the all-important text, whether she's bawdily belting "Can That Boy Foxtrot" (a Follies outtake) or spinning out a delicate, spine-tingling rendition of "I Remember Spring," from the 1966 TV special Evening Primrose. —Albert Williams

MPAACT"s Never the Milk & Honey - SHEPSU AAKHU
  • Shepsu Aakhu
  • MPAACT"s Never the Milk & Honey

[Recommended] Never the Milk & Honey Shepsu Aakhu casts a sympathetic and compassionate gaze on one of society's biggest collective punch lines: doomsday preachers. When the sun rises on the day after what was supposed to be the end of the world and the eye-rolling public moves on, it's easy to forget that fellow human beings, however misguided, have just had their understanding of the universe obliterated. Carla Stillwell's MPAACT production makes the gravity of that situation feel true in an isolated, claustrophobic Mississippi home. Unable to face his congregation or provide comfort to an ailing parishioner, a deeply shamed pastor (Darren Jones) cedes responsibilities to his wife (Renee Lockett). Lockett's performance resonates with pain and pity, then explodes with the sort of grief known only to those hurt by the ones they love the most. —Dan Jakes

Chicago Opera Theater's The Perfect American - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Chicago Opera Theater's The Perfect American

The Perfect American This Chicago Opera Theater production about Walt Disney's final days is based not on a biography but on a novel, Der König von Amerika, by Peter Stephan Jungk. An attempt to get inside Disney's head as he's about to expire, it has a richly expressive score by Philip Glass, pulsing with tension but also often lyrical. Unfortunately, Rudolph Wurlitzer's superficial libretto—overpopulated and underdeveloped—is mostly dead on arrival, emphasizing Disney's exploitive capitalism and purported racism (even playing the sick kid card) without ever getting close to the magic. Busily directed by Kevin Newbury, it's set in the ultimate anti-Disneyland: a menacing hospital room where Disney (baritone Justin Ryan) receives real and imaginary visitors, including Andy Warhol (tenor Kyle Knapp in a welcome comedic turn) and a disgruntled fictional former employee (memorably sung by tenor Scott Ramsay). Departing COT artistic director Andreas Mitisek conducts a 40-piece orchestra and the Apollo Chorus. —Deanna Isaacs

Red Theater's Prince Max's Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior - AARON SAWYER
  • Aaron Sawyer
  • Red Theater's Prince Max's Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior

Prince Max's Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior A prince of Prussia paddles the uncharted Missouri River collecting specimens in Ellen Struve's odd play at Red Theater. The historical Maximilian (1782-1867) was a pioneering naturalist and early visitor to Native American tribes the Mandan and the Hidatsa. His companion, the artist Karl Bodmer, painted some of the most vivid, exacting watercolors of his age. Struve invents a Prince Max (Heather Riordan) who's a tourist, a dandy, and a true believer in scientific progress—but also a precursor to the bad old days of head-measuring anthropology, and Struve never lets us forget it. Bodmer (Charlee Cotton) mopes around the virgin landscape, wishing he could go home. Taking a principled stance against the racism of 19th-century explorers isn't a hard or very interesting thing to do, but the play, a revisionist fiasco, barters its whimsy for armchair sociology early on and never recovers. —Max Maller

Adam Poss and Priya Mohanty in Victory Gardens' Queen - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Adam Poss and Priya Mohanty in Victory Gardens' Queen

Queen "Would you choose friendship over truth?" The tagline of Madhuri Shekar's world premiere may sound like a conundrum to graduates of the Mike Daisey School of Ethics—wherein lies are encouraged so long as they feel true—but for statisticians and field researchers, the answer is clear: Is that some kind of joke? Two PhD candidates studying colony collapse disorder (Priya Mohanty and Darci Nalepa) grapple with it in earnest after they discover that serious mathematical discrepancies may compromise their years-in-the-making conclusions set to be published soon in a high-profile journal. Mohanty and Adam Poss enjoy some amusing sitcom relationship antics, and somewhere in Joanie Schultz's Victory Gardens production are the ingredients for a satire about how wildly intelligent people can make wildly stupid choices, but as presented, it's a lesson in stating the obvious. —Dan Jakes

The New Colony's Scapegoat - EVAN HANOVER
  • Evan Hanover
  • The New Colony's Scapegoat

[Recommended] Scapegoat What if your congressional representative was literally an agent of Satan? Would it surprise anyone at this point? Such is the premise of the New Colony's world-premiere production of Connor McNamara's political comedy/thriller. The set, split between the devil-worshipping senator's country home and the Washington office of his Bible-thumping rival, is presided over by a sinister portrait of Teddy Roosevelt. This parody of our political system sadly doesn't seem very farfetched, and the dark humor is bolstered by the cast's not playing it for laughs. One wishes the play would pause once in a while to take a breath, but it's hard to argue with much of what it's saying. Kristina Valada-Viers directs. —Dmitry Samarov

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Shakespeare in Love - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Shakespeare in Love

[Recommended] Shakespeare in Love Hard to believe there was ever a time before Romeo and Juliet. But there was, and the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love posited a delightful, painful set of circumstances leading to its creation. Will Shakespeare is a budding London playwright, failing to get anywhere with his new comedy (working title Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter) until he meets Viola de Lesseps, who not only admires his work but dreams of performing it on the boys-only English stage. Ethel's nonsense deepens into Juliet's dark romance as Will tumbles into his own tragic love. The big question is whether Lee Hall's 2014 stage adaptation makes you long for the movie, and the answer is no: I never felt I was watching a pale rehash, especially given the talent assembled for Rachel Rockwell's staging for Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Supporting performances are particularly strong, including Linda Reiter's Queen Elizabeth, Luigi Sottile's Ned Alleyn, and Nathaniel Braga's Sam.) Known for musicals, Rockwell brings musicality to the play. —Tony Adler

The Other Theatre Company's Threesome - CARIN SILKAITIS
  • Carin Silkaitis
  • The Other Theatre Company's Threesome

[Recommended] Threesome There's one raucously funny act and one heartbreaking one in this extraordinary play from Yussef El Guindi, here given its Chicago premiere by the Other Theatre Company. The title refers to an ill-considered liaison between Leila (Suzan Faycurry), an Egyptian-born author; her struggling photographer boyfriend, Rashid (Demetrios Troy); and an oblivious white guy named Doug (Mike Tepeli, an outrageous talent who, it must be said, is naked for almost a whole act). Even as her hair can luxuriate over her shoulders now without a veil, Leila is to Rashid a more inscrutable mystery than ever in this new country—he's convinced that a menacing secret lurks behind her silences. Director Jason Gerace lets the hurt unfold slowly, with irony and grace. —Max Maller

Add a comment