World Premiere Plays Start Bright and Early in Chicago

It might have been the mild snows in the last few years that finally persuaded theater companies to acknowledge winter as a time for people to go out, or maybe more artists willing to rehearse through the holidays. Whatever the reasons, what is undeniable is the number of world premieres in evidence during the months when playgoers were formerly presumed to be hibernating.

Here's what you can see before the vernal equinox:

Critical Condition: Thoughts on the American Theater Critics Association's San Francisco Conference

Some of my colleagues started covering Broadway as teenagers. Nowadays with social media everyone, more or less, is a critic. Some enthusiasts text reviews and post illicit iPhone shots before the curtain comes down. In the case of the ill-fated Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, for example, bloggers had the word out on a show that couldn't be fixed, while producers extended previews delaying the official press opening. That unchecked tsunami of blogs and posting has blurred the boundaries of criticism as a profession.

A Theatrical Whirlwind in San Francisco

For members of the American Theatre Critics Association (, their recent national conference was a late-spring week overflowing with the delights of the San Francisco theater scene.

Shakespeare on the Hot Seat

It seems that Shakespeare is yet again pissing off a lot of red blooded Americans. Hey, who knew?


 updated May 2, 2017

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Diversity at the Berkies

With formidable sweat equity, the First Annual Berkshire Theater Awards has been launched. The winners were announced, and two of the four major Berkshire companies, Barrington Stage Company and Shakespeare & Company, dominated.

While 17 critics have voted, not all of them saw most of the nominated productions. This is particularly true for companies on the fringes of the Berkshires. It is likely that the majority of critics, however, saw most of the productions of the four major companies which were well represented in nominations.

Another Breakfast with Mark St. Germain

Shortly after Mark St. Germain premiered Freud’s Last Session at Barrington Stage Company, in 2009, we met for breakfast at Dottie’s in Pittsfield. Since then there have been some 200 plus global productions of the play. Currently he is working on a movie script for the drama.

The Dottie's meetings continue as he presents new work in the Berkshires. Barrington's St. Germain Stage honors his long association with the company. Meanwhile, our meetings and e mail correspondence have developed into a personal and professional relationship.

Gender Change Distinguishes Good Person

The Good Person of Szechwan — Bertolt Brecht's fable of a kind-hearted hooker forced to disguise herself as a hard-hearted pimp in order to survive the predations of her underclass peers — has been approved for college curricula since the 1960s at least, making Die Gute Mensch von Sezuan one of the prolific author's most-produced plays. (Formerly known as “The Good Woman of Setzuan,” the gender-neutral "mensch" is nowadays more often translated as "Good Person.")

Queer as Folk Trans Actress, Alexia Jasmene, Stars in New Colony Play

William Glick's play, Kin Folk, proposes a trio of sisters on the brink of major change. Following the death of their parents, the plan is to sell the family house in the suburbs and follow their respective blisses in glamorous Chicago.

Chicago Summer Theater Preview: Treats in the City

"Summer theater" usually suggests Shakespeare-under-the-stars, song-and-dance spectacles in a barn, or retro-cabaret on the patio. The city offers some of these citronella-circuit treats, but you can also find plenty of serious warm-weather thrills, too—and you don't need to wear bug repellent or sunscreen to the theater.

Light and sweet:

Marcus Gardley's ”House” Shows Hidden Corners of Our Nation's History

For theatergoers whose impressions of New Orleans circa 1830 derive from Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January detective series, it might be easy to picture the women in Marcus Gardley's new play, The House That Will Not Stand, as courtesans like those found in Dumas's La Dame Aux Camellias, and the intricacies of the cultural phenomenon called "placage" as a New World equivalent to the career mapped out for Collette's Gigi.

The Tragedy of Eugene O'Neill

Over the past two nights we watched the 1962 “Long Day's Journey into Night,” directed by Sidney Lumet, on Turner Classic Movies. The film stars Katherine Hepburn as Mary Tyrone, Ralph Richardson as her husband, James, and Jason Robards, Jr. as their son Jamie, Dean Stockwell as Edmund, and with Jeanne Barr as Cathleen.

On the 70th Anniversary of the Tony Awards: A Look Back

The 70th annual Tony Awards, named in honor of the 30s and 40s actress/producer/director Antoinette Perry and co-presented by the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League, will telecast live from the Beacon Theater on CBS from 8–11 PM. There’ll be the traditional red carpet arrivals, and an additional hour, not telecast, for honorary and design awards.

At Home with Lindsay Crouse: Reflecting on a Remarkable Life in Theater

Lindsay Ann Crouse, the daughter of playwright Russell Crouse and his theater activist wife Anna, was born in 1948. During summers when her father was writing with his partner Howard Lindsay and others, she and her brother Timothy, a critic and author, grew up in Annisquam a village in a cul de sac near Gloucester. My sister Pip was Lindsay's age, and I was a few years older than Tim. Through his effort, I repCROUSE:ed him as rock critic for the Herald Traveler when he left for Boston After Dark and then Rolling Stone.

It's Hillbilly Music, British Style as Skiffle Fills Court Theater's One Man, Two Guvnors

In the United States—particularly in the Southern mountain regions—it's known as "gutbucket" music, based in Appalachian string-band harmonies (guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica), but frequently augmented by instruments improvised from implements indigenous to the immediate environment. These may encompass spoons, saw blade, cowbell, duck call, bottle-neck tuba, comb-and-tissue kazoo, washboard-and-thimble percussion, coffee-can drum or just about anything that makes a noise when struck, shaken, rubbed or aspirated.

From Rent to Revolution Draws Theatergoers into the World of Creating Buzz

On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution (Rizzolli; 8x12 Hardcover; Color and B&W designs, photos, and posters; Credits; 224 pages; SRP $45), written by Drew Hodges with a Foreword by designer/author Chip Kidd, Introduction by author David Sedaris, and a Cast section, is a history of the past 20 years of razzle-dazzle window-card design from the SpotCo ad agency that brought shows visually alive and helped create the buzz that helped fill theater seats.

The Actors Home Celebrates Bard’s Birthday and Edwin Forrest Day with Len Cariou

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances…” wrote the Bard of Avon in As You Like It.

The End of Adolescence: Ike Holter looks at aging hipsters in 'Sender'

Late in Ike Holter's play Sender, 20-going-on-30 Jordan, in a burst of pantheistic zeal, hurls his cigarettes off the third-floor back porch to the street below. Almost immediately, he regrets his action, lamenting, "I just threw my addiction off the roof!"—to which his companions reply, "The only addiction you need now is us."

From Berlin to Tinseltown

"Three-named people are like three-legged dogs — stubborn and scrappy!" an Englishman declares upon meeting Ruth Alice Bennett.

His assessment is correct. After the young photographer's proper Yankee family and fiance disapprove of her nude self-portraits — this is 1930, by the way — her quest for a freer environment takes her to the international artists' colony centered in Berlin. There she earns acclaim for her films, and falls in love.

Off-Broadway's Ruthless! Extends as Two of Its Stars Take to the Cabaret Stage

A new block of seats for the Off Broadway revival of Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s musical romp, Ruthless!, are on sale for the announced extension of the show through June 18, 2016.

New Oxford Companion to Shakespeare is a Must

Shakespeare lovers, want to impress with your knowledge of the Bard of Avon? Declaim lines from Othello? Be a Cleopatterer rapper? Learn more about Much Ado about Nothing? To be or not to be with Hamlet? Know when all’s well that ends well in dozens of comedies, tragedies, and sonnets?

Liza Minnelli, Celebrating a Milestone: Turning 70 and Still Doing What Comes Naturally

Who in the world had the clout to have the immortal George and Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn song, "Liza," introduced by Ruby Keeler in a 1929 Ziegfeld show, pulled out of mothballs and sung by none other than Judy Garland to her newborn? None other than Miss Liza Minnelli. The tune not only became a Garland classic, but has been forever connected to Liza with a Z.

Hello Again Dolly! Jerry Herman's Classic to Return with Bette Midler

It’ll be so nice to have Bette back where she belongs! Legendary composer Jerry Herman and prodigious theater and film producer Scott Rudin have announced Bette Midler will return to Broadway in one of our most cherished musicals when she takes on the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! The revival—the fifth since the original’s January 1964 opening—will be directed by four-time Tony and five-time Drama Desk winner Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony and DD winner Warren Carlyle.

The Fiddler Story - as Told in Tradition

L’Chaim! To life! And what a life Fiddler on the Roof has had. Since its 1964 Broadway debut, more than a half-century of sunrises and sunsets have set on the musical by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), with book by Joseph Stein, based on Czarist Russia stories by Sholom Aleichem. It’s become one the most beloved musicals of all time, with its timeless score winning the hearts of millions the world over.

Winter Theater in Chicago 2016

Arrchie Theater Company at Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan Rd. For its swan-song season, the 30-year-old company returns to its roots with a David Mamet play assembling the dream-team cast of Richard Cotovsky, Rudy Galvan and Stephen Walker. (Jan. 22-March 6;

Star Tar Trivia: Facts About Dames at Sea

With the 1969 musical Dames at Sea making its Broadway debut in fall 2015, let’s take a fun look at some facts about the original staging:

The musical was originally a short sketch, based on the Warner Bros. Gold Diggers movies and the lavish production numbers staged by Busby Berkley—only on a tiny budget.

The part of Ruby was modeled—in a steal of a deal—after Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street and was suggested by the Ruby Keeler-type from those early movies.

The musical was lengthened to 50 minutes with Robert Dahdah directing.

Remembering Robin Miller, Co-Creator of Dames at Sea

“While in London in 1992, I had the great fortune to meet Robin Miller, then in his mid-60s. We struck up a friendship because of our mutual love of musical theater,” said West Coast-based writer/producer Ken Jillson. “When I discovered he'd written Dames at Sea, my jaw dropped because that tight little gem is one of my all-time favorite musicals since I first saw it at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood in the early 70s.”

Dames at Sea Dances Back to Broadway

As soon as you enter the auditorium of the Helen Hayes Theater and see that stunning art deco red curtain, you know you're in for something fun. The curtain rises on a movie-theater screen, and the credits roll as if you're about to see a B&W RKO or Warner Bros. classic, starring the likes of Fred and Ginger and Ruby Keeler and directed by Busby Berkeley.

Wise Moves: Tony-Winning Dancer Comes Back to Broadway

Scott Wise, three-time nominee and 1989 Tony winner as Featured Actor, Musical, two-time Drama Desk nominee, and winner of a coveted Astaire Award, had been absent from Broadway for nine years. He's back and playing a featured role and in the ensemble of Allegiance.Following a recent Saturday matinee, he instinctively knows what the first question will be: "What took so long?"

George Takei Pledges his Allegiance to America's Shameful History

Allegiance, the new musical by Marc Acitom with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and which is inspired by stories of Japanese-Americans uprooted from their homes after the Pearl Harbor attack and sent to internment camps, finally arrives on Broadway Sunday. In development for seven years, the show has undergone numerous changes since its 2012 San Diego premiere. Shepherding it to the stage is Olivier Award nominee Stafford Arima (London's Ragtime, Off-Broadway's Bare, Carrie, Altar Boyz).

The New Razzle Dazzle

You know that famous Boston TV bar, Cheers, where everybody knows your name? In theater, that would be true of New York Post's theater gossip maven Michael Riedel. Everyone who's anyone and then some know his name. Some have praise for his gotcha journalism as long as it's in praise of them. Others -well, you know. Riedel wields enormous power - as much as and maybe more than top critics. Producers take his calls and have his ear for any morsel of an exclusive.

The Prime of Miss (er, Dame) Maggie Smith

"With a face like that," stated Meg, Margaret Smith's mom, no less, "how could you hope to be an actress? Go to secretarial school." Nat, her dad, didn't agree. Not that it mattered. Meg was stagestruck and the flames of desire to make a career there never extinguished.

A drama teacher, sensing something special, accepted her into her school and, with her instructor as Svengali, Meg, no surprise, soon was playing leads—and, at Oxford, as Maggie Smith won over audiences in several revues. The seed was not only planted but grew like the bean in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Hamilton's Burr, Leslie Odom, Discusses Lin Manuel Miranda's Hip Hopera

Leslie Odom plays Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton. Giuliano photos. Our California colleague, theater critic and friend Jack Lyons, managed to score impossible-to-find tickets to Hamiltonby Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical is sold out for the next year and likely beyond.

Sandy and Gerry on Broadway

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade evoked our recent visit to New York City for an American Theater Critics Association (ATCA) mini-meeting. Most enjoyable is the hour before giant balloons, super bands, fancy dance groups, and singers adorning fancy floats march down the parade route. It's when we get glimpses of the best of Broadway musicals.

The musical Something Rotten! was one of the best musicals we have seen in ages. It is so refreshing and original! It was thrilling to have a second chance to enjoy the singing and dancing of such talented performers.

The American Theater Critics Association at Sardi's

When the American Theater Critics Association meets in New York, a highlight of the conference tends to be lunch at Sardi’s restaurant with a stunning array of Broadway celebrities. This year, yet again co-organizers Sherry Eaker and Ira Bilowit drew upon a spectrum of actors, playwrights and directors who are currently active with Broadway productions. In several instances actors had to race from the restaurant to theaters in time for their 2 PM matinees.

ATCA in New York

The American Theater Critics Association, a national organization, hosts annual conferences in a rotation of cities. Since joining the organization, we have attended meetings in Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville (Humana Festival), Shepherdstown, West Virginia (Contemporary American Theater Festival) and most recently in New Orleans. We are looking forward to April in Philadelphia. The following year we meet in San Francisco.

Creative Team Discusses the Comedy, A Confederacy of Dunces

From November 11 through December 13, 2015, Huntington Theatre Company will present a new play, A Confederacy of Dunces,adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by John Kennedy Toole. It stars Nick Offerman as Ignatius and is directed by David Esbjornson.

Boston Theater: More Bad News

Days after the Huntington Theater Company severed ties with Boston University, the other shoe has dropped. As part of its expansion, Emerson College--in recent years a major presence in the Boston theater district—bought the historic Colonial Theater on Boylston Street. The performing-arts-based college manages the Majestic Theater.

The venerable Colonial thrived during an era of out-of-town tryouts for Broadway bound productions. The most successful of these shows returned to Boston during regional tours. Only the latter part of that formula remains, with ever more attrition.

Chicago Fall Theater Preview 2015

For the last two decades, I could boast seven theaters located within three blocks of my front door. After the end of this coming season, however, that number will be considerably reduced.

A massive makeover of the Ettleson building at Broadway and Sheridan is displacing a pair of loft spaces housing two of Chicago's foremost pioneering companies: the 28-year-old Strawdog Theater Company will move to as-yet-undecided new quarters in the summer of 2016, while its neighbor around the corner, the Mary-Arrchie Theater Company, will strike its sets after 30 years of operation.