REVIEW: The Nutcracker (Joffrey Ballet)

     
     

Sugar plums in your tutu stocking

     
     

Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet 2010

   
Joffrey Ballet presents
   
The Nutcracker
  
Written by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Directed by Robert Joffrey
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway (map)
through Dec 26  |  tickets: $25-$145  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Scrooge requires four ghosts to save his dark soul from excess personal savings. George Bailey gets help from an angel desperate to make good and to do it too. But Clara, the heroine of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Christmas ballet, earns her fantasy when she knocks out the Mouse King and frees her adored Nutcracker from his wooden curse. That’s the perfect excuse to dance up a storm—or a blizzard. Yes, it’s that time of year when six “Nutcrackers” hit the Chicago boards, none more splendid or popular than the Joffrey Ballet’s annual confection, a gift from the late Robert Joffrey that keeps on giving.

Miguel Angel Blanco and Victoria Jaiani in The Nutcracker - Joffrey BalletThis year’s spectacle—the 15th since its 1996 Chicago debut–was gloriously unwrapped and heartily cheered at the Auditorium Theatre on Friday night, as it definitely and annually deserves. Oliver Smith’s storybook set design is the perfect backdrop for the Victorian parlor from the 1850s, a magical battleground (against the Mice menace) and Land of Snow for the first half (choreographed by the late Gerald Arpino) and the spring-like Kingdom of Sweet for the second. (There’s enough snow by the end of the first act to satisfy a dozen Chicago blizzards, with some to spare for Minneapolis. That’s why we need the second act to sweeten the scene.)

The communal opening ball is, of course, a showcase for dancers, young and older. These depict the delighted guests at Clara’s beautiful American manse who marvel at Dr. Drosselmeyer’s cavorting automatons. Those mechanical dolls, rigidly presenting their preset terpsichorean displays, are a prelude to the real magic of the enchanted Nutcracker who, under a now-huge Christmas tree, helps Clara to free him from wooden bondage. That of course allows Drosselmeyer and the now humanly handsome Nutcracker to celebrate the victory with the Snow monarchs and their Snowflake corps de ballet, after which the Sugar Plum Fairy and her divertissements continue the fete in the hypoglycemic realm of sugary confections galore.

Anastacia Holden is the delighted Clara who serves as a lucky surrogate for all the kids in the crowd, with slim and elegant Mauro Villanueva as her dashing Nutcracker Prince. (His pas de deux with Yumelia Garcia’s ravishing Sugar Plum Fairy was perfect, precise and even passionate.) The second act’s novelty candy dances from Spain, Arabia, China, Russia and France amounted to a vaudevillian extravaganza in its own right. If the kids were any cuter, they’d explode.

      
Amber Neumann as Chocolate from Spain - Joffrey Ballet Chicago - Photo by Herbert Migdoll Fabrice Calmels and Kara Zimmerman in The Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet
Anastacia Holden in The Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet 2010

The Chicago Sinfonietta bring Tchaikovsky’s evergreen and everwhite score to generous life, a musical outpouring that ranges from 19th century quadrilles and polkas to waltzes that deserve their own perpetual motion. Hearing it makes you regret his suicide all the more. What marvels would he have composed after 53! That’s a fantasy we can’t indulge.

Speaking of homage, this year’s performance is nobly dedicated to the late Richard Ellis, who danced the role of Drosselmeyer for 27 years in Ruth Page’s Tribune Charities’ production at the Arie Crown Theater.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
  

Children cast in The Nutracker - Joffrey Ballet Chicago - photo by Herbert Migdoll

     
     

REVIEW: Candida (ShawChicago)

 

Shaw explores love by choice rather than passion

 

shawchicago logo

    
ShawChicago presents
    
Candida
  
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
at
Ruth Page Theater, 1016 N. Dearborn (map)
through November 8  |  tickets: $10-$22   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Everyone loves the Morells but nobody wants to talk about it! ShawChicago presents Candida, George Bernard Shaw’s play about love in and outside the marriage. In 1894 London, Reverend James Morell is in demand on the lecture circuit. His social reform stance has made him a celebrity. His idolizing fans place him on a pedestal. The Reverend enjoys the adoration of his followers including his favorite admirer, Candida –his wife. Life for the Reverend is worship as usual until a young man declares his own love for Candida. Not just that, the young man proposes he’s better suited for her because he’s totally focused on HER happiness. Over a hundred years later, Shaw’s deconstruction of love is timeless humor. In the formalized culture of the time period, love is and isn’t discussed with apologies and controlled emotion. Shaw scrutinizes a marriage to a husband, who has a healthy sense of self. When one confession leads to another, love happens. Candida is a humorous debate of the meaning of love without feelings.

George_bernard_shaw As is ShawChicago’s style, Candida is performed as a staged reading. No sets. No costumes. Under the direction of Robert Scogin, it’s all about Shaw’s words interpreted by a talented cast. Matt Penn (Morell) has controlled intensity as the Reverend. His bursts of rage are a surprising contrast to his confident public self. The target of the anger, Christian Gray (Eugene) plays the young confessor of love with nervous energy and a hint of evil intent. Gray provides a complex version of the love opponent with poetic horrors. Barbara Zahora (Candida) is coarsed-grain. She lives in her husband’s world but maintains her own identity. Zahora charms with a strong sensibility. Lydia Berger (Garnett) is hysterical as the uptight typist. A victim of a secret love, Berger is sharp-tongued with delicious bitterness.

Jack Hickey (Mr. Burgess) assesses the ‘madness’ around him with humor and a strong working class English accent. Sparring with Berger, Kaelen Strouse (Lexy) is also crushing on the Reverend with a sweet devotion. This cast magnificently flirts with all the aspects of unrequited love.

Undoubtedly, Candida shocked the turn-of-the-century audiences. Today, it still surprises for its ageless topic, love. In 2010, love is expressed with emotion. Uncontrollable passion drives people together and apart. It’s not so much a decision to love, as the fated outcome of animalistic urges. Perhaps we should all channel our inner Shaw for lively intellectual debates on love before going heels over head.

Critics, like other people, see what they look for, not what is actually before them. –George Bernard Shaw

   
   
Rating: ★★★
    
   

Running Time: Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

   
   

Review: ShawChicago’s “Votes for Women!”

We’ve come a long way, baby

 shawchicago-logo

ShawChicago presents:

Votes for Women!

by Elizabeth Robins
directed by Robert Scogin
thru November 9, 2009 (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Inadequate health care coverage, conservatives versus liberals, rumors of a politician’s past sexual indiscretion? No, Votes for Women! isn’t the story of Hillary Clinton’s rise to power. In fact, actress and playwright Elizabeth Robins wrote the work over a hundred years ago. Set in England in 1907, Votes for Women is about a naïve heiress introduced to the Suffragettes’ movement by the former lover of her political fiancé. ShawChicago’s production is a 100-year anniversary replication of Votes for Women! being introduced to Chicago.

Before the show even commences, the lack of scenery on stage is a bit perplexing. Chairs, music stands, and bottles of water suggest a reading – not a play.

Initially, the authenticity to the time period is appreciated. Later, after a series of monologues, a craving for visual stimulation and modern-day editing defeat any nostalgic notions. Distractive music and pounding offstage vie for attention during particularly long lectures. The stellar cast tries to overcome the lack of action with facial expressions and limited gesturing. Joseph Bowen (narrator/various voices) is fascinating playing characters with a variety of accents. In Act II, the juxtaposition between Suffragette’s speeches was intriguing. Melinda Moonahan (Working Woman) uses a lower class dialect bluntness to rally support. Lydia Berger (Ernestine Blunt) addresses with an educated and amplified oration. And Suzanne Lang (Vida Levering) delivers a personal and passionate plea. As the heiress, Barbara Zahora’s (Jean Dunbarton) love struck innocence engages compassion for the “poor little rich girl.”

Ironically, throughout the performance, one is torn between “we’ve come a long way baby” and “we got the vote, so what?” Yes, women can vote, own property, and run for President. On the other hand, the harsh and superior judgment of single mothers, welfare recipients and average-looking women continues to be prevalent. Regardless, however, Votes for Women is an important illustration of the evolution of thought regarding women’s rights. Hopefully by the 200th-anniversary production, women will have secured equality to men and each other.

 

Rating: ««

 

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