Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Broadway In Chicago: The Addams Family up to old wicked post-Holiday tricks


Broadway In Chicago: The Addams Family

By Dwight Casimere

Photo courtesy Broadway In Chicago

The Addams family onstage at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago

While you’re out and about in the Loop, returning unwanted Christmas gifts, making exchanges and scooping up the myriad bargains, you might want to take a side trip to he Cadillac Palace Theatre on West Randolph and drop into the macabre world of The Addams Family. The weird, yet enchanting musical continues there for this weekend only, through January 1st. If you want to ring in the New Year on a bizarre note, this is the place to do it.

Hi-jinks kick off almost immediately when a disembodied curtain tassel scurries across the stage and the blood red curtain opens and the Company, in the guise of ashen graveyard denizens embark on a lively, high-stepping musical description of the plot scenario in “When You’re and Addams.” If you’re familiar with the multiple TV shows, movies or the original cartoon series by humorist and cartoonist Charles Addams for the New Yorker magazine, then you’re aware of the whacky events that will unfold. A scene change reveals the family patriarch Gomez Addams (an elegant, silver-voiced Douglas Sills) pondering his fate as the husband of Morticia (the sultry, darkly humorous Sara Gettelfinger) as he ponders the Byzantine ins and outs of his marriage in the humorous musical soliloquy “Trapped.”

By happenstance, the plot turns on an almost identical scenario as Broadway In Chicago’s La Cage Aux Folle, running concurrently at the Bank of America Theatre. In both musicals, a young adult offspring from an unorthodox family situation, plans to get married to someone outside their offbeat ‘culture.’ In La Cage, the parents are a gay male couple, in The Addams Family, they’re ghouls. In both cases, the offspring tries to convince the parents to masquerade as ‘normal’ for just one night, when they bring their fiancé’s parents home for dinner. In both musicals, the ensuing events are uproarious!

Patricia D. Kennedy is golden-voiced and beguiling as the plucky, rebellious daughter Wednesday, who is determined to get married a gushing Lucas Beineke (the valiant Brian Justin Crum). The one-liners and double entendres hinging on the macabre are gut-splitting. Some of the best lines are delivered by Uncle Fester (a disarming Blake Hammond) and Grandma (Pippa Pearthree). Victoria Huston-Elem uses her super-sonic voice and over-reaching physical comedy to deliver a scene-stealing number in the family ‘game’ scene, “Full Disclosure” during the comically disastrous family dinner at the end of Act One.

Sets & Costumes designed by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott do an effective job of conveying the dark, off beat world of the Addams family. The lively orchestra of local musicians Steve Leinheiser and Sean McNeely on Reeds, Andy Baker, Trumpet, Joe Sonnefeldt, percussion, Steve Roberts on Guitars, Scott Rosenthal, Bass and Steve Wnkler, Violin and Jocelyn Davis-Beck Cello, keeps the frantic action moving under the able conducting of Valerie Gebert. The Music & Lyrics and Arrangements by Andrew Lippa gives them plenty of lush material to work with.

Choreography by Sergio Trujillo and the superb dancing by the Company make this a visually stunning production.

The Addams Family makes the Kardashians seem like the Cleavers! There are only a few days left to catch all the blood-curdling shenanigans of the Addams clan. Visit for show times.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

La Cage Aux Folles a polished Broadway in Chicago gem

Broadway In Chicago La Cage Aux Folles:

“I Am What I Am,” A Polished Broadway Gem

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Paul Kolnikstud for Broadway In Chicago

-George Hamilton as Georges with “Les Cagelles”

-George Hamilton (Georges) and Christopher Sieber (Albin) in the finale

Broadway in Chicago’s current production of La Cage Aux Folles has the look and feel of a polished Broadway show, and with good reason. The majority of the cast are veterans of at least one of its several Broadway incarnations, including one of its stars, Christopher Sieber, who plays the centerpiece character, Albin, the self-described “one transvestite homosexual,” who provides the dramatic fulcrum for the musical. Indeed, it is Sieber, in the person of Albin, who delivers the show-stopping anthem, “I Am What I Am” at the end of Act 1, which serves as the emotional heartbeat of La Cage Aux Folles, at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre, through Jan. 1, 2012.

La Cage aux Folles is the only Broadway musical that has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice, and the only show that has won a Best Production Tony Award (Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical) for each of its Broadway productions.

Christopher Sieber starred in La Cage on Broadway as the character Georges, who is played in Chicago by the venerable actor George Hamilton.

A 50 -year veteran of film and television, Hamilton, is a living monument to his profession. He plays Albin’s “male” partner, with dignity and aplomb. In addition to his encyclopedic film and television credits, he has distinguished himself on Broadway, playing the starring role of Billy Flynn three times in the smash hit Chicago. There are key moments in La Cage that offer a window into the inner genius of his skills as a performer. Hamilton employs a dramatic pause in several scenes that allows his character’s ‘voice’ to speak volumes. He achieves in silence, an eloquence equal to the words of Harvey Fierstein’s often poignant script.

Georges (Hamilton) is the proprietor of the French Riviera nightclub of the title, which is the setting for the racy transvestite revue that stars his life-partner, Albin (Sieber). The two have raised a son, Jean-Michel (Billy Harrigan Tighe), whom Georges sired in a drunken one-night stand with a chorus girl at the Lido in Paris, where Georges once starred. Georges and Albin’s sequin-covered world is suddenly rent asunder when Jean-Michel announces that he is about to be married and wants to bring his fiancé, Anne (an ebullient Doris-Day-ish Allison Blair McDowell) and her arch-conservative parents, the Dindons (an irascible Bernard Burak Sheredy and a comically inept Cathy Newman) home.

M. Dindon is a right-wing politician, running for office on a platform based on his crusade against the libertine elements that run rampant in the south of France. His avowed mission is to eradicate transvestite clubs and their ilk from the face of the earth. With a substantial dowry at risk, Jean-Michel wants Albin gone from the premises, so that he can bring the girl’s parents into a seemingly ‘normal’ home. (Albin later delivers one of the great, standout lines of the entire evening, when he tongue-in-cheek (pardon the pun) mangles Dindon’s name, calling him “Ding-dong.”)

Albin, who raised Jean-Michel, is understandably crushed. Hamilton reprimands his son and shames him through the moving song “Look Over There.”

Georges attempts to smooth things over with Albin over a rare lunch at an outdoor café on the Promenade, and sings the lovely “Song on the Sand.” It’s hard not to hear the great Gene Barry’s voice in the back of your mind on that one, but Hamilton comports himself ably. Although his voice wavers at time, he sings with conviction and delivers the lyric with authority. He’s a master at ‘selling’ a song, as evidenced in the comic scene that incorporates the song, “Masculinity,” in which Georges attempts to teach the effeminate Albin to adopt the mannerisms and ungainly walk of John Wayne, with hilarious results!

The club’s male chorus dancers, “Les Cagelles” are a consistent delight throughout the performance. We hear them singing, in cabaret cadence, “I Am What I Am, and what I Am is an illusion,” although we can see the pecs and biceps under all the pasties and sequins and a distinct “package” under the g-strings. Their athleticism particularly comes into focus in the “Birdcage” dance that opens the second act. Jeigh Madjus as the “butler (maid)” Jacob is a sassy bundle of comic energy throughout.

If you’ve tired of the marathon of Holiday treacle and commercialism, La Cage Aux Folles is a welcome tonic, which treats a sensitive subject with humanity and humor. It gives the Holiday chestnut “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men” a deeper and more universal meaning.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Robert Joffrey's Nutcracker celebrates 25 years of Holiday Magic

Joffrey Ballet an annual Holiday delight

By Dwight Casimere

Photo by Herbert Migdoll

Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker, now underway at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre through December 27, is the quintessential incarnation of the renowned Holiday staple, now celebrating 25 years. What sets it apart from the other myriad productions around the Chicagoland area, indeed, around the country, is the company’s meticulous attention to detail. Every eleve, pirouette, plie and arabesque is a monument to perfection, thanks to the leadership of Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, a Royal Ballet alum, hand-picked to helm the Joffrey by its co-founder, Gerald Arpino, in 2007. Under Wheater’s direction, he has brought in world-class choreographers to create new full-length works for the company and has worked diligently to hone the already exceptional skills of the company’s superlative dancers. The results, as evidenced by a recent performance of The Nutcracker, are nothing short of astonishing.

Robert Joffrey and Co-Founder Gerald Arpino set out to create a different kind of Nutcracker from the very beginning, jettisoning the traditional Victorian European setting and replacing it with a nostalgia-laden 19th century American one. The set was populated with toys and costumes that might be familiar to many from old family portraits. Today’s production retains the original choreography, costumes and sets, including the beloved giant Mother Ginger puppet by Kermit Love. An intermission interlude of Christmas Carols sung by the British School of Chicago Choir was the icing on the cake. If there are any little one’s (or even some big ones) in the family who have yet to experience this Holiday treasure, there are a handful of performances left to experience this wonder unfolding. Visit or for show times.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Met Live HD: Gounod’s Faust a “Magnificent ride”

Met Live HD: Gounod’s Faust a “Magnificent ride”

By Dwight Casimere

Photos: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

-Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite

-Jonas Kaufmann as Faust

-Rene Pape as Mephistopheles

-Faust and Mephistopheles dress to the nines before sealing their deal

-A fallen Valentin (Russell Braun) is comforted by Marguerite (Marina Poplavskaya)

A “magnificent ride!” is how two-time Tony Award Director Des McAnuff described his Metropolitan Opera production of Gounod’s Faust, seen by audiences in movie theatres worldwide in Met Live HD. McAnuff, winner of the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical in 1985 for The Big River and again in 1993 for The Who’s Tommy and who was nominated for Jersey Boys in 2006 (which won the Tony Award for Best Musical that same year), and conductor Yannick Nezet-Sequin, helmed a stellar cast of actor/singers, led by the charismatic German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Musical America’s 2011 Vocalist of the Year, in the title role and Dresden doll beauty, Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya as the idealized object of his headlong affection, Marguerite. Seguin revealed to backstage host, Met soprano Joyce DiDonato, that he would be driving to Philadelphia immediately after that afternoon’s performance to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he is Music Director Designate, taking up the full title of Music Director in the New Year.

McAnuff, in his Met Debut, takes the story from its original setting of the ancient world of author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and updates it to the Atomic Age of 1945. The sparse sets and military garb (brilliant costumes by Paul Tazewell) of the Met Opera Chorus and dancers (who are an intricate part of this superlative production, under Chorus Master Donald Polumbo), with striking use of looming video segments, provide the stark backdrop for the gripping action onstage. Large, full-faced portraits of the principles alternate with gigantic red roses and Georgia O’Keefe clouds to create a moving video subtext to the melodramatic story of Faust’s descent into moral bankruptcy as a result of his deal-with-the-devil.

In one powerful scene, the male chorus is dressed as war wounded, fresh from the battlefront. Their distressed look and forceful vocalizations make a powerful statement on the horrific human cost of war.

“I was struck by the writings of Rita Bronowski, the widow of the great anthropologist, (as well as scientist and philosopher) Jacob Bronowski, and her account of his visit to Nagasaki, Japan, where he witnessed the destruction caused by the atomic bomb and he pronounced to himself and the world ‘never again.’ I thought this was a quintessential moment. So, when Peter Gelb approached me about doing the opera, I thought I would use this as a framing device to present this magnificent opera. I thought I would have more of a secular take on the story, and give it a more contemporary context which I feel is more relevant to modern day audiences, yet is also true to Gounod.”

Faust begins with him alone in his lab contemplating suicide. A parade of dark shrouded choristers crosses in the background and a large video close up of Marguerite soon looms in the background. Faust curses God. Enter Mephistopheles (German bass Rene Pape), in all his white suited Dandyism) who offers Faust riches, power and glory. Faust will have none of it. He instead wants the “desire, enchantment and innocence of youth.” Mephistopheles agrees, but at a price-Faust’s soul. The duet between Kaufmann and Pape at the end of Act I, after the deal is signed, is one of the sublime moments of the entire opera.

Marina Poplavskaya’s voice and her vivid portrayal of the maddened Marguerite is one of the great tragic portrayals of this Met Opera season. Her voice seemed to gain intensity as she turned up the emotional heat, leading to her psychological unraveling, her horrific crime and eventual punishment and redemption. Canadian lyric baritone Russell Braun was spirited as the swashbuckling Valentin. The well-choreographed sword fight between he and Kaufmann/Faust, by Fight Director Stephen Rankin, seemed all too real, and served to heighten the dramatic tension of the opera.

Fifty countries participate in the Met’s Live in HD transmissions, which gave members of the international cast a unique opportunity to address their home audiences in their native language during their backstage interviews with Joyce DiDonato. Backstage interviews and video segments and behind-the-scenes glimpses of rehearsals and the creative process surrounding Met Opera productions are a feature exclusive to Live in HD patrons, and a great reason to revisit Faust, which will be shown in an Encore Presentation Wednesday, January 11 at 6:30pm. Check your local listings for theatre locations. The next Met Live HD presentation is The Enchanted Island, Saturday, January 21, 12:55pm Eastern Time, 11:55 am Central. Visit or for details.

Music of Italian Innovators sparkles during Art Basel Miami

by Dwight Casimere

Art Basel photos by Dwight Casimere

-Projected art images outside New World Symphony Center during Art Basel Miami

-Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and his New World Symphony

-New World Symphony Fellow Melanie Lancon

-Artchitect Frank Gehry in the audience at the New World Symphony Center, which he designed

-Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas at the Design Center Audi salon on Opening Night of Art Basel Miami

-Miami—Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Frank Gehry was personally on-hand, in the audience of the New World Symphony Center that he designed as Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas struck the downbeat for his program of Italian Innovators. The concert, held during Art Basel Miami weekend, would see the soaring 7,000 foot outside wall turned into a giant screen upon which the evening’s performance would be shown live to the picnic dinner audience on the lawn. After the concert, the wall would be turned into a video art canvas, projecting images from new and emerging artists presented at Art Basel. The concert program featured solo, ensemble and orchestral works by avant-garde Italian composers, which Maestro Thomas referred to in pre-concert remarks as “my kind of music.”

New World Symphony fellow, the beauteous Melanie Lancon performed on Luciano Berio’s Sequenza I for Solo Flute. Written in 1958, it is a piece that, in the composer’s own words, allows the artist to stretch out and explore the sonic and spatial limitations of their instrument, and the piece. The work at times reaches breakneck speeds and dramatic shifts in register, which Lancon accomplished with ease. She made the work appear as if it were tailor made for her, exemplifying the composer’s wish that the performer “wear the music as a dress.” It was a dazzling performance infused with depth of both technique and interpretation.

David Del Tredici is one of the All-Stars of American music, with a career spanning nearly 50 years. Beginning with his solo debut with the San Francisco Symphony (where Maestro Thomas has been Music Director since 1995) at age 17, he went on to create stark compositions in the 1960s, which employed the twelve-tone method and other avant guard techniques. Maestro Thomas, long a champion of Del Tredici’s music, as well as a personal friend, conducted Syzygy with gusto. Composed in 1966 and based on texts by James Joyce, the work dazzles with its exuberance. Thomas brought out its dramatic qualities with stylish flair with American soprano Kiera Duffy and second year Fellow Alexander Kienle on horn, creating the contrast between their solo unit and the chamber orchestra. The performance not only showed the strength of Del Tredici’s work, but the intricate attention to detail of Maestro Thomas and his accomplished young musicians.

American mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider sings Maurice Ravel’s Songs of Madagascar with Musicians of the New World Symphony in a matinee performance, Sunday, December 18 at 2pm, entitled Out of Africa. For ticket information, visit

Sunday, December 11, 2011

86 year-old drummer Roy Haynes "Snap, Crackles" at Chicago Symphony Center Jazz

by Dwight Casimere


-Roy Haynes-drums

-Roy Hargrove-Trumpet, Flugelhorn

-Martin Bejerano-Piano

-Jaleel Shaw-Saxophone

-Reginald Robinson-solo pianist/composer and early jazz historian

Roy Haynes “Snap, Crackles” at Symphony Center Presents Jazz Series

It’s easy to see why legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes earned the nickname “Snap, Crackle” from his fellow jazz mates of the 1950s. From the moment he walked onstage at Chicago Symphony Center, his entire body became a rhythm instrument even before he sat behind his drum kit. He was tapping his feet on the hardwood floor, “playing” it as an instrument, before proceeding to apply his sticks to the perimeter of his drums, the stands and the outer edges of his cymbals, before launching into his hard-driving set.

Haynes has been the pulse of modern jazz for nearly 70 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Leading his Fountain of Youth Band, composed of accomplished players nearly half his age, Haynes showed why he was the winner of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards. At one point during his wide-ranging hour and a half long set, Haynes stepped back from the drums and broke into another mock tap dance that ended with a leap and a flurry of footwork upon landing. Hardly the work of an octogenarian!

Featuring mostly tunes from his new disc Roy-Alty (Dreyfus Jazz), Haynes, along with Saxophone Jaleel Shaw, Trumpet and Flugelhorn Roy Hargrove, David Wong on Bass and an explosive Martin Bejerano on piano, led a mesmerizing journey through the deepest recesses of his genre. This was modern jazz as seen through the eyes of a seasoned master who is one of its few remaining creators.

Satchmo, Diz, Miles, Trane, Monk, 'Bird-Haynes played with them all. Fortunately, he is one of the few remaining of their esteemed number to survive and continue to tell their story through music.

“Passion Dance,” McCoy Tyner’s signature declarations of the “new jazz standards” best defined and delineated Haynes and his Fountain of Youth. Bejerano brought his own unique flare to the keyboard, mounting inventive runs and arpeggios that rivaled any heard on the Classical stage. He clearly knows his instrument and makes it resound like a full orchestra.

Similarly, Roy Hargrove showed his mastery of the art, playing with depth and clarity, particularly on the Flugelhorn. Saxophonist Jaleel Shaw took the entire proceeding to jazz “church” with a series of roof-raising runs that set the audience on fire. This was modern jazz at its finest. Hearing it in the august setting of Symphony Center under ideal acoustical conditions gave it the context and the respect that it deserved.

Chicago-born pianist/composer and historian Reginald Robinson, a product of the South Side, kicked off the evening with an intimate view of the creative process, explaining the emotion-laden stories behind each of his piano compositions. His deeply personal music, evoked art songs of a bygone era. Emulating the stride piano and ragtime stylings of Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson, with a side tour to the Habanero/Tango stylings of 1950s Havana, his poignant explanations brought his compositions to life. “I grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. A lot of these songs were written against the backdrop of the sounds of gunfire outside.” Considering the fact that the stories behind his music spoke of unrequited love and longing, Robinson showed, indelibly, the saving grace and spiritual power of music.

The incomparable Dee Dee Bridgewater presents “To Billie With Love: A Celebration of Lady Day, Friday, January 13 at 8pm. For tickets and information, visit

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Met Live HD Rodelinda a showcase for great singers

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere
Photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

-Renee Fleming as Rodelinda
-Moritz Linn as son Flavio, Renee Fleming as his mother Rodelinda under house arrest
-Renee Fleming as Rodelinda and Counter-tenor Andreas Scholls as Bertarido
-Grimoaldo (Joseph Kaiser) makes a marriage offer-you-can't-refuse to Rodelinda (Renee Fleming)
-Renee Fleming is radiant in the title role

New York-Metropolitan Opera’s strongest roster of singers took to the stage and to movie screens around the world this past weekend in George Frideric Handel’s Rodelinda. Matthew Diamond was Director for Live Cinema in this sterling production. An Encore Performance is scheduled January 4, 2012 at 6:30pm local time. This Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm Eastern, 11:55am Central Time, the Met Live HD presents Gounod’s Faust, starring Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, Rene Pape as the devil and Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite.

Stephen Wadsworth reprises his original 2004 Met premiere production as Director as does Renee Fleming in the title role. A luminous Stephanie Blythe as Eduige and Counter Tenors Andreas Scholl, as the deposed king Bertarido and Iestyn Davies as his loyal friend Unolfo, tenor Joseph Kaiser as the vain-glorious usurper Grimoaldo and Chinese Bass-baritone Shenyang as the villainous Garibaldo round out the gold medal cast.

Rodelinda, first performed in London in 1725, is considered one of Handel’s greatest works, right up there with Messiah. At its heart, it possesses a striking similarity to the Met’s preceding Live HD presentation of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha. Both operas, although separated by nearly 300 years, require exceptional singers with tremendous vocal stamina and range. There is a great deal of repetition in the vocal line, requiring detailed interpretation and subtlety of dramatic nuance. The score is also demanding because of its wide chromatic leaps that require a great deal of vocal athleticism. Only the most agile and preeminent of vocalists need apply.

Baroque specialist Harry Bicket conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, reducing it to a Baroque ensemble for the occasion and doing double duty, playing the harpsichord while conducting.

“The challenge to singers,” conductor Harry Bicket told backstage interviewer, Met Super soprano Deborah Voigt, “is to invest the music with real feeling and real emotions and for directors, like Stephen Wadsworth, to give a real sense of immediacy to what might seem like quite a static form and really make it into something quite gripping.”

Regarding the skill set required of singers that is unique to Handel, Bicket responded, “Technique. Technique. This is the most exposing music that anyone really has to sing. You are out there just singing a line, often with just a bass line, maybe with a few strings and violins. There are no trombones, no Wagnerian horns or tubas, no nice cushion of sound.

“It’s truly the most exposing thing. You really need a great technique. You have to have a great kind of musical intelligence too, along with fearlessness, and imagination! A lot of the words are being sung over and over again, so you have to find a way to find a reason as to why you’re saying it again, to give it new meaning.”

Conducting a scaled down version of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra was also a challenge. “I think when you’re playing with modern instruments, it’s difficult anyway, and because, after all, these are not the instruments that Handel wrote for. We’ve augmented the standard strings and woodwinds with period instruments. We’ve added some Recorders, which were traditional in Handel’s operas. We’ve added the Theoboe, which is a long-necked, giraffe-like lute and we’ve added two harpsichords, one of which I’m playing, which adds a bit of Handel authenticity to the orchestra.”

Further authenticity is achieved through the use of male Counter-tenors rather than female sopranos or castrati in two of the lead roles. Counter-tenors Andreas Scholl and Iestyn Davies both made startling revelations in their backstage intermission interviews with Voigt. Both singers, surprisingly, speak in normal male baritone voices, although Scholl jokingly began his interview speaking in falsetto.

“Countertenor is not something you choose,” Scholl said, after transitioning into his normal speaking voice. “ There has to be a natural disposition to keep the head voice flexible throughout this vocal mutation. I grew up singing in a boys choir and when my voice started changing, I decided to make a change as well. When I was 16, I was actually planning on going into training to become part of a Counter-terrorism police unit in Germany. But my choir director marveled at my ability to continue to sing in the high tenor range well past puberty and persuaded me to pursue a singing career as a counter-tenor. So I went from Counter-terrorism to Counter-tenorism!” That play on words brought guffaws from both Voigt and the Live HD theatre audience at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square.

Davies revealed that he actually began his career as a baritone, and sometimes worked his way up to being a tenor for certain roles. “Actually, I was a rather terrible tenor. You can hear from my natural speaking voice that it’s quite bass, sometimes lower! I never thought I’d be a counter-tenor, but when I tried it, it felt quite good. It's not something you can do though, if you're exhausted after a night of hard partying.”

The story of Rodelinda is based loosely on the history of the Lombards, a powerful migrant Germanic European people that invaded northern Italy in the late sixth century and ruled there for 200 years. In the opera, Bertarido (Scholl) is driven from the Milanese throne by the vain usurper, Duke Grimoaldo (tenor Joseph Kaiser), who keeps Rodelinda (Fleming) and her young son under house arrest. Roselinda believes her husband has been killed and is pressured into marrying the duke, but the exiled king has, in fact, survived and returns in disguise with the aid of his close friend and Man Friday, Unolfo.

Handel’s music is hypnotically beautiful and Fleming and the rest of the vocal cast invest their roles with depth of emotion. Their singing is flawless throughout. Collectively they provide one of the most dazzling displays of vocal artistry in recent memory. Its four hours long, but your attention won't drift for a moment. It's that engrossing. The Encore Performance Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 6:30pm is truly a must-see, even if you've already viewed the original moviecast. For tickets and theatre information, visit and

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Goodman A Christmas Carol delivers lean, poignant Holiday "punch"

Goodman A Christmas Carol a lean, poignant Holiday “punch”

By Dwight Casimere

Photos: Dean LaPraire/ Goodman Theatre

Larry Yando is back as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre’s 34th annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and all is right with the world. Or, as the character Tiny Tim (played charmingly by nine-year-old Roni Akurati), would say, “God Bless Us. Everyone!”

As conceived by Goodman Theatre Associate Producer Steve Scott, who makes his fourth turn at the helm since 2007, this is a leaner and more poignant “Carol” than years past. The set is minimal, with a bleak, snow-covered forest serving as the backdrop rather than the traditional hustle and bustle of a village square. The actors, fulcromed by Yando’s spot-on, eloquent performance, hone in on the sociological and psychological underpinnings of Dickens’s timeless preachments on self-righteous selfishness and the saving grace of love, kindness and goodwill toward all mankind.

The premise for “A Christmas Carol” is set out from the opening line. “Marley was dead,” the story begins, spoken from the mouth of a member of the street chorus at the opening curtain and repeated by Ebenezer Scrooge in the establishing scene between he and the hapless Bob Cratchit (Ron Rains, returning in his fifth year in the role). It is Marley’s Ghost (a nimble and frightful Nathan Hosner) that haunts Scrooge from the face of his doorknocker to the sanctity of his bedchamber. He is warned that he will be visited by three ghosts- the specters of his Christmases past, present and future. Of the three, it is Christmas Present (Penelope Walker) who proves to be the most luminous and telling in her portrayal. She is absolutely brilliant!

There are sterling performances throughout. Joe Minoso, with his eloquent manner and stentorian voice is compelling as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. Ora Jones is effusive as Mrs. Fezziwig and Karen Janes Woditsch gives emotional depth to the long-suffering character of Mrs. Cratchit. Ron Rains is an expert at comedic timing in the role of Bob Cratchit.

The onstage musicians, particularly the nimble-fingered “fiddle” player, add a sparkle to the proceedings early on. One gem of a scene is the dance at Fezziwig’s warehouse. Production Stage Manager Alden Vasquez and Stage Manager Jamie Wolfe get deserved credit for the execution of this exceptional production with Set Design by Todd Rosenthal and excellent Costume Design by Heidi Sue McMath, who captured the taciturn look of the Dickens era exactly. Sound Design by Richard Woodbury and Lighting Design by Robert Christen worked hand-in-hand to emphasize the dramatic arc of the story with precision. Original Music Composed by Andrew Hansen told the story in concert with the superb dialogue in the story Adapted by Tom Creamer for the Goodman stage. This is a top-flight production that brings the social message of the Christmas Holiday home in an entertaining, yet truthful manner. In light of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that are sweeping the country and the uncertainty of the economy this Holiday Season, A Christmas Carol presents a sobering message in a wholly entertaining and delightful manner that has become a staple among Holiday family experiences. For tickets and information, visit

Broadway In Chicago: Memphis-a hi energy look at racism and good ol' Rock 'N Roll

Broadway in Chicago: Memphis-a look at race, sex through lens of good ol’ Rock N’ Roll

by Dwight Casimere

Photos courtesy Broadway In Chicago

Memphis is a high-stepping, high octane look at the Fabulous ‘50s world of Rock ‘N Roll and Race Music through the eyes of a hard-charging, take no prisoners white DJ, Huey (Bryan Fenkart), who becomes the host of a local Dick Clark American Bandstand-like dance show, only his show features primarily black dancers and “Race Music,” the moniker given to black rhythm and blues which white artists, such as Elvis, exploited to national prominence.

Huey falls in love with Felicia (Felicia Boswell), one of the singer/dancers on his show, and therein lies the heavy subtext to this otherwise light-hearted look at the seminal music of the”Memphis Sound” Rhythm and Blues era.

Memphis garnered a Tony Award for Best Musical last year, and it’s easy to see why. The music is infectious. It has you dancing in your seat and wishing you could kick your feet in the air and do cartwheels, just like the high-spirited Marge and Gower Champion-styled dancers.

Felicia Boswell is a tsunami of vocal talent. She begs the question, “why haven’t I heard of her before!?” Her voice is extraordinary. Her sensuality and earthiness make her an irresistible talent.

The Ensemble is electrifying as is the Memphis Band under Conductor/Keyboardist Alvin Hough, Jr. whose musicians sounds just like the legendary Stax Records studio (originally Satellite Records) band of old.

The show gets a little heavy with the melodrama at times, but the high-spirited music and dancing save the day. Through December 4 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago. Visit for tickets and show times.

Met Live HD Satyagraha a dazzling, epic spectacle


By Dwight Casimere
Photos: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Richard Croft as Gandhi with image of Dr. King in background
Mary Phillips as Mrs. Alexander
Satyagraha sets and puppets by Julian Crouch
Met Opera bass/baritone star Eric Owens as backstage host/interviewer
The Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

New York-Giant puppets that dwarf singers onstage. A mesmerizing score by a groundbreaking composer. Lyrics in an often-untranslatable “dead language,” with limited subtitles. Dazzling visuals that include flying Hindu gods and shadowy representations of historic icons such as Leo Tolstoy all played against the sweeping panorama of the fight against racial injustice in South Africa. That, in a paragraph is the synopsis of Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s epic recitative of Mohandas KJ. Gandhi’s, the Father of the Indian nation, and his fight against South Africa’s policies of racialism.

“This answers the question of ‘why do we do new productions?’” creator Philip Glass told backstage interviewer, rising Met star, bass/baritone Eric Owens, during the intermission of the Met’s recent Live in HD transmission in movie theatres around the globe. Owens will portray Alberich in Wagner’s Gotterdammerung in the Met Live HD transmission Saturday, February 11 at 12 noon Eastern Time. The performance runs 6 hours, 24 minutes. Many theatres are offering lunch/theatre ticket packages, so please check your local theatre listings or online for details.

An Encore Performance of Satyagraha will be shown in select theatres on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:30pm in all time zones. Please note that not all theatres that show Met Live HD transmissions will present an encore showing. Check local theatre listings or visit or

“The answer is that new productions give an existing opera new life,” Glass said emphatically.

"The last time we did a "new" production was in 1991, before the official end of apartheid. Now it's almost 2012, and a far different time altogether. We had to do something that not only looked at Gandhi's life through the long lens of history, but also in a way that would make it relevant to audiences today who may not have an immediate memory or familiarity with any of the events that transpired before."

Visually, Satyagraha is opulent. Sanskrit supertitles are projected onto the rear of the stage as the orchestra plays Glass’s hypnotic score, expertly conducted by Dante Anzolini. Supertitles and back-of-the-seat subtitles translations are discarded for Satyagraha. Instead, the text by Constance DeJong, as adapted from the Bhagavad-Gita -Gita, is sung entirely in Sanskrit, an ancient language that precedes Biblical times. Subtitles are projected only occasionally on the wood and corrugated iron sets, more as thematic punctuations rather than actual translations. Staging, as directed by Phelim McDermott with stunning sets and puppet designs by Julian Crouch underscore the opera’s setting as more an extension of Gandhi’s mind during prolonged meditation, rather than a recounting of historical fact.

Dazzling visual components, augmented by giant puppets, wall-sized video projections and streams of properties representing reams of newsprint and the undulating waves of water were all created by the Skills Ensemble team members Phil Eddolls, Carlie Folorunsho, Alex Harvey, Nick Haverson, Tina Koch, Charlie Llewllyn-Smith, Vic Llewellyn, Charlotte Mooney, Kumar Muniandy, Caroline Partridge, Rajha Shakiry and Rob Thirtle. Team mebers Rob Thrtle and Philip Eddolls discussed their efforts with backstage host Owens. "What we created, visually, were the touchstones of Ghandi's life, which are not necessarily referred to in the text of the opera, but are integral to the story of his life," Eddolls said. "We see representations of the major influences of Gandhi’s life, including his past present and future in terms of the god’s, as represented in the Bhagavad-Gita, Leo Tolstoy, the philosophical leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who channeled Gandhi’s theory of non-violent resistance into the marches of Civil Rights Movement."

These and other points were well brought out by Mr. Owens in his backstage interviews and commentary. Owens distinguished himself as a host and interviewer by his ability to think nimbly on his feet, not having to scramble through note cards or look over his subject’s shoulder for a teleprompter. He was able to ask insightful questions because of his innate knowledge of opera and he was also able to elicit illuminating responses from the singers due to his empathy toward his fellow Met opera artists.

All of the singers performed spectacularly, particularly tenor Richard Croft as Gandhi, who performed Glass’s demanding score with elegance and precision throughout. His feat was further magnified by the fact that he is virtually onstage throughout the opera. Maestro McDermott similarly distinguished himself along with the Met Opera Orchestra with their ability to navigate the shifting tempi and kaleidoscopic tonality and moods of Glass’s mesmerizing score.

An illuminating historical perspective on Gandhi’s life and work and the historical facts behind his struggle for racial equality and equitable treatment of Indian mine workers in South Africa, further sets the factual background of Glass’s epic work. The producers of the segment were Elena Park, Kathy Doughty and Doug Graves, who addressed the audience in a videotaped interview. These and other video segments and interviews are the exclusive purvey or Met Live in HD audiences and further amplify the value of the price of admission.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Haitink in impeccable performance of Haydn and Bruckner at NY Phil

Bernard Haitink brings dignity, restraint to Haydn and Bruckner at NY Philharmonic

By Dwight Casimere

Photo 1 Matthew Dine for the New York Philharmonic

New York-Guest Conductor Bernard Haitink received a rousing ovation as he approached the podium at Avery Fisher Hall to conduct a program of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 in D major and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Maestro Haitink had not conducted the orchestra since 1978, so the pent up enthusiasm was warranted. Those who expressed it were certainly rewarded by a program that showed both dignity and restraint in a very polished performance. This was Haitink at his best; conducting a seasoned, world-class orchestra in works that have become cornerstones of his repertory.

Haydn was the Jay Zee of London when he presented his Symphony No. 96. It was nicknamed the “Miracle Symphony” because, supposedly, a chandelier crashed in the concert hall at the premiere and, miraculously, no one was injured. His arrival in London was associated with the kind of celebrity we see recorded on TMZ today. His publicist took him on rounds of the London newspapers for interviews and he was the toast of an endless string of parties and dinners. London’s megatropolis atmosphere, even in the 1790s, was a long way from the gentility of the Esterhazy court of Vienna. Even in those days, the court’s arts programs were subject to economic cutbacks caused by a budget crunch due to political successions, leaving Haydn footloose and fancy-free to explore other climes. Vienna’s loss was London’s gain!

Maestro Haitink showed this gem of a symphony in all its multi-faceted glory. A slimmed down “Classical” Philharmonic played the music under his direction as if it were intuitive. His every move elicited just the right tempo or shading of orchestral color. A lightness of being evinced from the Menuetto and Trio. The Finale: Vivace (assai) was a showcase for the sylvan strings and burnished cellos and violas.

It all came to a refreshing, precise conclusion that affirmed the intellectual crispness of thinking that went into Haitink’s measured interpretation of this beautifully conceived work.

The last time I heard Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, it was under Mr. Haitink’s baton, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a work he recently recorded with that esteemed body. (Haitink and the CSO won a Grammy Award in 2009 for Best Orchestral Performances for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4, while serving as the body’s Principal Conductor) To call his rendition of the Bruckner with the New York Philharmonic mesmerizing is an understatement.

His approach was transfixing from beginning to end. The Adagio, in particular, showed his unique ability to approach weighty subject matter with restraint. His precision elicited the type of dramatic buildup that made the ensuing Scherzo appear to dazzle like a shooting star. There were some exquisite solos from the flutes and oboes as well. The strings shimmered with intensity as the timpani rang mightily leading to the rapturous Finale.