The Phantom of the Opera and four more new stage shows | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

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The Phantom of the Opera and four more new stage shows

The longest-running musical on Broadway returns to Chicago as impressive as ever.

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[Recommended] Honky Tonk Angels In performance style and attitude, the heroines of 20th-century American country music are about as theatrical as they come. Here, under the music direction of Jeremy Ramey, a trio of crystalline voices at Theo Ubique brilliantly capitalize on the live, unplugged, raucous energy of the western repertoire. Ted Swindley, author of the tribute show Always . . . . Patsy Cline, loosely ties together more than two dozen singles with some zero-sum plotting surrounding the formation of a girl group with characterizations and speeches that don't add much but are harmless. The real draw, of course, is the songs themselves, from transfixing renditions of the Tanya Tucker staple "Delta Dawn" and to a shiver-inducing surround-sound cover of Dolly Parton's original "I Will Always Love You." —Dan Jakes

Pigpen Theatre Co.'s The Hunter and the Bear, at Writers Theatre - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Pigpen Theatre Co.'s The Hunter and the Bear, at Writers Theatre

The Hunter and the Bear More appropriate to Halloween than the winter holidays but welcome all the same, this "musical folktale" from New York-based Pigpen Theatre Co. presents a ghost story that takes Beowulf, M. Night Shyamalan, and Mumford & Sons on a trek through the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Last time Pigpen came to Writers Theatre, in 2013, they brought a fable called The Old Man and the Old Moon, in which treacle fought it out with fuzzy thinking to see which could be most annoying. (Too close to call.) Though the current piece suffers from some of the same issues—lots of things don't make sense, and even hard-bitten loggers get mighty cute—the problems are held in check by a narrative that keeps you guessing, shivery effects, and seven musician/actor/puppeteers working at a high level of skill. —Tony Adler

Lookingglass Theatre's Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Lookingglass Theatre's Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth

Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth From the beginning—or at least since Mary Zimmerman's epic 1992 version of The Arabian Nights—stories that tells stories about storytelling have been central to the Lookingglass experience. The company's current production returns to the theme, albeit in a smaller, quieter, more restrained, almost passionless version. Written and directed by longtime ensemble member Doug Hara, Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth concerns a well-dressed, polite and proper husband-and-wife team of itinerate storytellers (played with panache by Samuel Taylor and Lindsey Noel Whiting) who find themselves enmeshed in the very tales they tell. The play is diverting enough, if thin, but what really brings the show to life are John Musial's virtuosic set design and a dazzling array of puppets (designed by Blair Thomas), projections, and shadow animations. —Jack Helbig

The Phantom of the Opera - MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Matthew Murphy
  • The Phantom of the Opera

[Recommended] The Phantom of the Opera The longest-running show on Broadway returns to Chicago with a splashy new production from original producer Cameron Mackintosh. And for those familiar with and fond of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic, the cast and orchestra of 52 (which makes Phantom one of the largest productions on tour in North America) delivers as many sparks as the iconic chandelier. While the biggest showstopper is Paul Brown's larger-than-life, highly mechanized set, lead performances from Derrick Davis as the Phantom and Katie Travis as Christine Daaé share the spotlight with strong, operatic vocals and nuanced stage presence. Throughout the development of the love triangle between the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul, songs from "Angel of Music" to "Music of the Night" to "All I Ask of You" are saccharine, catchy reminders of why this romantic musical retains global, cross-generational appeal. —Marissa Oberlander

Irish Theatre Company of Chicago's The Weir - EMILY SCHWARTZ
  • Emily Schwartz
  • Irish Theatre Company of Chicago's The Weir

[Recommended] The Weir Here's a real knife in the heart from the Irish Theatre of Chicago. In Conor McPherson's The Weir, a night of serious drinking is under way at Brendan's pub in Northern Ireland. With a cold wind blowing off the sea, two regulars, Jack and Jim, plop down at the bar to wet their whistles, and these are men who know every old house in the area down to the last floorboard, who can recall from memory the entire history of every clan in Sligo. In walks the tycoon Finbar, a married man, with a Dublin woman named Valerie on his arm. What follows might be called a seance; beginning with a few ghost stories, the night finally concludes at the outer limits of emotional beauty and honesty. I've never seen anything like Brad Armacost as Jack, but really each actor's performance is a triumph. —Max Maller

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