Wednesday, February 12, 2020

GIVEAWAY and REVIEW: WIN a Pair of Tickets to Grease at Marriott Theatre Now Playing Through March 15, 2020

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar
It's the energetic and electric musical comedy tribute 
to the age of rock ‘n roll!

Terry James, Executive Producer
Andy Hite, Lead Artistic Director
Aaron Thielen, Artistic Director


WIN a Pair of Tickets to Grease 
(Up to $120 value/2 winners) 
at Marriott Theatre
Enter Below 
(Winners' choice of dates pending availability.)

Photo Credit for all: Liz Lauren
Unless Otherwise Noted

by Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Rydell High may be a fond figment of the imagination of author, Jim Jacobs, but the actual inspiration is William Howard Taft High School on Chicago's north west side, where he attended. I was amused to see that Marriott gives props to Taft with a Bryn Mawr street sign, and an Eagles mascot banner, both of which are true, though their real school colors are blue and white. I'm quite familiar with this high school, as my daughter, Sage, tested in to their junior high Academic Center IB program as a 7th grader. She's now a Taft High Junior, where she's been a cheerleader, on poms squad, and in numerous plays. 

Much has changed since the 1950's, era of the fictional fav, Grease, that first opened at Chicago's Kingston Mines in 1971, yet much remains the same. There are still school dances, cliques, drama, dropouts, cheerleaders, gear heads, partiers, sleep overs and summer love. 

Hopefully, though, in 2020, girls aren't quite so quick to change their entire look and persona for a guy, like the cringeworthy climax of Grease. At least the show has fully fleshed out women characters with hopes, dreams, disasters, failures, unexpected pregnancies, and friendships/rivalries with one another, apart from the men they're dating. That's not always a given, especially in musicals. 

Marriott's period piece is sure to be a fan favorite, with big dance numbers, a talented ensemble, and plenty of eye candy. The Beauty School Dropout number is a particular standout with 
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (“Teen Angel”). We also love that Greased Lightening, the beater/ race car wannabe, is actually drivable, and enters and exits the theatre in the round stage during scenes. 

On the down side, we're not crazy about Sandy (Leryn Turlington). Most of the women characters' dialogue and songs, with the exception of Rizzo's (excellently played by Jacquelyne Jones), tend toward a stylized, squeaky register which grates after a while. 

The only one who pulls it off exceedingly well is Landree Fleming as “Frenchy”. She's a joy to see in action. 

We were also a bit let down that Sandy is the only one doing the big transformation to "greaser gal". In other versions, Danny simultaneously alters his look and lifestyle to "square" to please  her, and that doesn't happen in Marriott's production.

On the up side, the costumes, choreography and casting are overall excellent, especially the men, headed up by charmer, Danny Zuko (Jimmy Nicholas). This retro romp makes for a fun filled evening. The set design, while not as elaborate as many of Marriott's past productions, is clever and provides a perfectly fine playground for this fifties reverie, complete with neon signs. All signs point to a great run and another hit for this stellar, suburban theatre. Recommended.

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

Marriott Theatre is proud to present the electrifying smash hit GREASE
now playing through Sunday, March 15th.

The Tony Award-nominated musical is directed by four-time Jeff Award winner, Scott Weinstein (Something Rotten!, Murder for Two, Shrek), with musical direction by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson and choreography by Jeff Award winner William Carlos Angulo. 

“I grew up on GREASE and getting to direct it for the first time and at the Marriott Theatre is a real thrill,” said director Scott Weinstein. “It premiered here in Chicago nearly 50 years ago and still has so much to say about growing up, teenage rebellion, pop culture and of course, rock and roll. I can't wait to explore this timeless rock musical in the city for which it was meant."

GREASE follows the story of Sandy Dumbrowski, the new girl in town, and Danny Zuko, the school’s coolest greaser, who have a secret romance over summer break away from school. However, when the pair find themselves face to face upon returning to school, everything is different. Sandy attempts to navigate the tricky social circles of Rydell High School and reignite her summer romance, but bad boy Danny is more concerned with maintaining his tough-guy reputation. 

Join in the fun of the hilarious antics of Rydell High's class of '59 and rock to songs like “Beauty School Dropout,” “Summer Nights,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “You’re the One That I Want.”

GREASE stars Jimmy Nicholas in his Marriott Theatre debut as “Danny” (Broadway: The Book of Mormon) and Leryn Turlington as “Sandy” (Chicago Shakespeare Theater: The Wizard of Oz, Writers Theatre: Parade). The cast also features Curt Bouril (“Vince Fontaine”), Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (“Teen Angel”), Jack Cahill-Lemme (“Sonny”), Kelly Anne Clark (“Mrs. Lynch”), Kevin Corbett (“Kenickie”), Jake Elkins (“Roger”), Landree Fleming  (“Frenchy”), Jacquelyne Jones (“Rizzo”), Michael Kurowski (“Doody”), Michelle Lauto (“Marty”), Garrett Lutz (“Eugene”), Jessica Palkovic (“Cha Cha”), Billy Rude (“Johnny Casino”), Tiffany T. Taylor  (“Jan”), and Alaina Wis (“Patty”), with ensemble members Nicholas Haas, Allison Sill and Kyra Sorce. 

GREASE will showcase set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, costume design by Amanda Vander Byl, lighting design by Jesse Klug, sound design by Sarah Ortiz, wig design by Miguel A. Armstrong, and properties design by Sally Zack; with intimacy director Tonia Sina, stage manager Maegan Burnell and musical supervisor Patti Garwood.

The performance is scheduled to run most Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Ticket prices range from $50 to $60, excluding tax and handling fees. Call for student, senior, and military discounts. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings there are a limited number of dinner-theatre packages available for purchase through the Marriott Theatre Box Office. To make a restaurant reservation, please call 847.634.0100. Reservations strongly recommended. Free parking is available at all performances. 

To reserve tickets, please call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or go to Visit for more information.

WIN a Pair of Tickets to Grease 
(Up to $120 value/2 winners) 
at Marriott Theatre
(Winners' choice of dates pending availability.)
*winners will be asked to share their phone #, address, and e-mail privately with Marriott Theatre's box office in order to redeem their $120 winning ticket voucher. Enter early and often through midnight 2/23/20. Winner will be announced here, on our social media channels and by private e-mail on 2/24/20.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


ChiIL Live Shows on our radar 
satellites, songs and cerealat Links Hall for 12 Shows Only!

Conceived and directed by Frank Maugeri 
Text by Seth Bockley
“Whale Tale” by Lindsey Noel Whiting

 The Farewell Fables: 
satellites, songs and cereal 
will be performed March 12th- 29th @7pm
Tickets $25 Students $15

The Farewell Fables: satellites, songs and cereal is Cabinet of Curiosity’s latest stage celebration—an interactive world of dream and mythology. This ingenious and psychedelic production reaches across the fourth wall to embrace the audience and draw them into an uncanny and maniac celebration of the Divine. Wild objects that have been transformed from the mundane into extraordinary mechanisms; a toilet into a bicycle, a table into the garden of Eden, a suitcase into the cosmos, a pizza box into a drive-in movie theater... This event is a delightful and frightening evening hosted by four galactic gods, as they proclaim their retirement, exhausted by mankind’s wrong-headed ambitions and unnecessary sufferings. 

The gods choose to pack their bags and demand a celebratory departure party prior to leaving humankind to their own devices. Cabinet of Curiosity’s mission is to create celebrations on and off stage. In this spirit, The Farewell Fables requires human participation and a steadfast commitment to hope and humor. The audience will enjoy four puppet shows, transforming sets, virtuosic songs, and thrilling tales of the meaningful and absurd, each examining universal human experiences: Life, Death, Faith, Fear. And cereal and milk.

Performer Bios
Starring Time Brickey, Kasey Foster, Diane Mair, John MacGaffey and Lindsey Noel Whiting
Puppets by Jesse Mooney Bullock and Kass Copeland
Devices by Milam Smith
Music by Jefferey Thomas
Music for Laika’s Return by Kevin O’Donnell
Lighting by David Goodman-Edberg
Costumes by Gillian Gryzlak and Susan Haas
Stage Management by Jamie Kreppein
Spring Apprentices include Rebecca Husk, Fletcher Wolfe, Connor Konz, Cy Pak

Kasey Foster is a performer, producer, choreographer, creator, and puppeteer based in Chicago. She is an Ensemble Member at Lookingglass Theatre, and was last seen on stage in The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass. Recent on camera credits include: Chicago Med and IFC’s Documentary Now!. Kasey sings with bands Babe-alon 5, Grood, Old Timey, This Must be the Band, and Nasty Buoy. She has created over fifty original works, and produces two annual series called Dance Tribute and The ACTual Show. Website -

Lindsey Noel Whiting is a Chicago-based physical theatre performer, acrobat, teaching artist, and puppeteer. She has performed with Lookingglass Theatre, The Actors Gymnasium, Redmoon, Victory Gardens, and Chicago Children's Theatre as well as at various regional theaters throughout the country. She has also performed with Mucca Pazza (a punk rock marching band) and Barrel of Monkeys (an arts education theatre ensemble working in Chicago Public Schools.) Her writing and original musical compositions have been performed by the Lookingglass Young Ensemble and on stage at The Actors Gymnasium.

Time Brickey a tap dancer, musician, and performing artist from Chicago. He is a company member of M.A.D.D. Rhythms, a collaborator with the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Stone Soup Rhythms, and a frequent collaborator with Cabinet of Curiosity. Time has performed in Dance for Life Chicago, the Stomping Grounds Festival, JUBA!, and as a soloist at the Billy Strayhorn Centennial, where the Chicago Tribune described him as a "Literal Loose Cannon." He has been featured tap dancing on 91.1 Vocalo with DJ Ayana Contreras for Reclaimed Soul in The Parks, and in that one Jeff award winning production of 42nd St. at Drury Lane Oakbrook. He's enormously thankful to have shared stages and rehearsal rooms with his own heroes, and some of Chicago's greatest performers.

Diane Mair is a Chicago-based actress, circus artist and puppeteer. She is delighted to be working with the wonderful artists of Cabinet of Curiosity. Past credits include: Off Broadway: H20 with Ground Up Productions; Regional: H2O with the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, Sense and Sensibility with the Repertory Theatre St. Louis, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Chicago’s Northlight Theatre, as well as work with The Long Wharf, Michigan Opera Theater and Victory Gardens Theatre; Chicago: productions with Manual Cinema, Mucca Pazza, First Folio Shakespeare, The Gift, Remy Bumppo, Dog &
Pony, Redmoon, The Actors’ Gymnasium, Light Opera Works, and TASK Clown Theatre. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and a proud member of Actors’ Equity. 

John MacGaffey is a performer and theatre admin serving as the Marketing and Operations Manager for The Actors Gymnasium. His trick fiddling has been featured on season 2 of ABC’s The Gong Show and in physical variety shows around Chicago. John has performed in the NY and Chicago Fringe festivals and holds a BA in Theatre from Northwestern University.

Designer Bios
Kass Copeland is an artist, designer, and illustrator who has worked in Chicago since 1995. She earned her BFA from The Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Prior to that, she studied and apprenticed with her father, a theatrical prop designer and craftsperson. In addition to her studio work, she does freelance art and design work for clients.

Jesse Mooney-Bullock is delighted to be filling the Cabinet of Curiosity with more hand-carved movable sculptures. His puppets were last featured here in Tabletop Tragedies. Other Chicago-area projects include The Little Mermaid (Paramount Theatre), The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, Mister
Punch (House Theatre), The Selfish Giant (CCT), The Feast (CST), and several Redmoon Theater productions. He has received two Jeff Awards and been nominated for several others, and a puppet design award from San Francisco Theatre Critics Circle for The Oldest Boy (Marin Theatre.) He lives in Cincinnati and works at MoonBull Studio, his puppet design company.

Jefferey Thomas is a Composer, Guitarist, and Music Director. He is a founding member of Mucca Pazza, co-creator of the multi-media art group The Fruit Stare, and is the creator and music director for The Hideout’s annual Make-Out Party: An Evening of Aural Intercourse. He currently performs with Relevant Hairstyles, Dr. Atop’s Journey to the Polygon of Suffering, and The Old FNG’s; he has worked with Greek composer Michael Karras, punk singer Excene Cervenka, recovering groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster, Chinese guzheng virtuoso Xu YuYen, St. Louis’ The Honkeys, Bobby Conn, and Marvin Tate. He has written incidental music for Redmoon Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Neo-Futurists, as
well as dozens of independent films. His first symphony, “Rumour”, premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in February 2014. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons.

Milam Smith is a mechanical engineer. After his university studies, he worked as a construction engineer and a toy designer.

David Goodman-Edberg is delighted to be working with Cabinet of Curiosity again after lighting Tabletop Tragedies. Working primarily in the words of dance and theatre, David has collaborated with such companies including Adventure Stage Chicago, Akvavit Theatre, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Repertory Ballet, Chicago Tap Theatre, Eisenhower Dance Detroit, Factory Theatre, The Gift Theatre, Joel Hall Dancers, Manual Cinema, Mudlark Theatre, Organic Theatre, Red Tape Theater, Rough House Theater, The Syndicate, Thodos Dance Chicago, Trap Door Theatre, Visceral Dance Chicago, Water Street Dance Milwaukee, and Wildclaw Theatre. / @festivepterodactyls

Kevin O’Donnell has sound designed and/or composed for Steppenwolf Theatre, Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Children's Theatre, The Hypocrites, The House Theatre of Chicago (where he is a company member), Raven
Theatre, TimeLine Theatre and many others; and has received 20 Jeff Nominations (10 award wins). Recent regional credits include Olney Theatre Center, Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre, The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival, The Pasadena Playhouse and The Skirball Center (NYC). He is also a drummer, and has recorded and performed with Andrew Bird, Kelly Hogan, Jimbo Mathus and Ani DeFranco, among others.

Writer and Director Bios
Seth Bockley is a playwright and theater director specializing in literary adaptation, design-driven production, and new play development. As a writer his works include Gilgamesh & Enkidu, Tabletop Tragedies, Charisma! with Minneapolis rock band Greycoats, Rip Van Winkle; or, Cut The Old Moon Into Stars, the first commission by Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Cold Spring NY, 2666 (adapted with Robert Falls from the novel by Roberto Bolaño, Goodman Theater), CRISPR Kids, Laika’s Coffin, Journey For The Sun, Wilderness, February House (with Gabriel Kahane, The Public Theater, NYC), and adaptations from stories by George Saunders: Jon and CommComm, plus the “Cool Dads of America” sketch from A Prairie Home Companion. Directing credits include Gilgamesh & Enkidu; the multimedia documentary theater works Wilderness and Basetrack Live with En Garde Arts (Abrons Arts Center, NYC), 2666 (with Robert Falls, Goodman Theater), Lauren Yee’s Samsara and Philip Dawkins’ Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens, Chicago); Jason Grote’s Civilization (all you can eat) and 1001; the clown play Guerra, with Mexico City-based troupe La Piara (toured Mexico, Colombia, and U.S.) He teaches at the University of Chicago.

Frank Maugeri is a designer of community, art, education, and events. Maugeri’s life revolves around leading the contemporary wave of participatory arts and how the participatory arts brings people together, creates dialogue, and crosses differences. As an artist, his work is visual and interactive,
 ranging from intimate productions to mammoth spectacles. When he’s not bringing art to life, he’s bringing art to lives through his work as an expert collaborator, community builder, ritual maker, educator, and innovator of curriculum and artistic programming. Frank guides Cabinet of Curiosity’s
 event experiences, ritual apprenticeship program, theater productions and ceremony activities. In Cabinets short 2 years he has created an enterprise that has developed 4 large collaborative productions, trained apprentices from across the nation, executed 2 large scale outdoor ceremonies with Chicago’s Blu Rhythm Collective and The Park District, and designed events for The Shedd
 Aquarium, Navy Pier, The City of Chicago, The Mayors Inaugural Team, University of Chicago, The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, The Merchandise Mart, and many more. He concurrently makes his additional artistic home at Clayco, where he directs the businesses art salons, guides the community inspired civic art projects, develops the visual art’s community, and produces, designs and directs it’s grand fundraising event, Illumination. In 2016, Frank was named Community Programs Artistic Director at Chicago Children’s Theatre. There, he developed the brand of a once local police station into an arts hub, devised multiple education courses for families, created a teaching force and trained them in innovative curriculum and developed civic events, while performing as the community liaison between the neighborhood and the hub. Prior, he spent two decades as Producing Artistic Director at Redmoon
Theater, where he mentored hundreds of young designers, artists, performers and educators from across the nation, while simultaneously helping to guide the institution’s art, education, and community engagement. Maugeri proudly created art and experiences for The White House, The City of Chicago,
 Los Angeles Music Center and other cultural institutions. In his time at Redmoon Theater, Frank authored, designed, and created Redmoon's longest running production, The Cabinet, and conceived and led Redmoon’s celebrated annual events Boneshaker and New Year’s Revolution, employing objects
of his own creation, including his inventions The Momentary Opera, Nickelodeon’s, Mechanical Scrolls, The Libation Machine, The Bubble Man, Cake Hats, Redmoon’s interactive installations, and collaborative objects like The Drum Cart. Collaborative credits include directing productions which toured to Charleville-Mézières, Brazil, Japan, and Amsterdam as well as original works developed for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Maugeri is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and trained in Animation and American History. He currently makes his teaching home at The University of Chicago.

Cabinet of Curiosity is composed of diverse project-by-project collectives who authentically collaborate on original celebrations and productions. Cabinet uses sophisticated puppetry and handmade devices to develop unique interactive experiences, productions and events. We focus on creating new types of gatherings, ceremonies, and rituals which promote community and interactivity
amongst people who may not normally mix. Our intention is to support multi-cultural professionals in the field of theatre, visual arts, dance, sculpture and music, while mindfully training high school and college age apprentices to become the future creators of new meaningful rituals. All of the objects and devices created by cabinet are engineered to expose their mechanical operations so they are simultaneously educational, informative, and magical. We embrace commissions which require unique elements of ritual, ceremony, procession, and pageantry. These commissions create funding that establishes an innovative revenue stream, reduce the responsibility of sustainability from the board, audience, and foundations, trains apprentices through a unique scholarship apparatus, builds community, funds our free and greatly discounted public work. We are committed to social engagement — both grand and intimate. Our purpose is to promote curiosity, community and culture. For us, the world is a Cabinet of Curiosity.
Instagram: @cabocuriosity

About Links Hall
Links Hall encourages artistic innovation and public engagement by maintaining a facility that provides flexible programming for the research, development and presentation of new work in the performing arts. Links Hall shares a building with Constellation at 3111 N. Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618, convenient to the Belmont/Clybourn & Western CTA Bus Stop in Chicago's Roscoe Village neighborhood. For more information call 773.281.0824 or visit Links Hall programming is made possible by artists, audiences and generous supporters including: Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development, The Chicago Community Trust, a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Heather Beth Henson Fund, Illinois Arts Council Agency, Joyce Foundation, Links Hall Commissioning Collective, The MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture at Prince, The Martha Struthers Farley & Donald C. Farley, Jr. Family Foundation, National Performance Network, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Tickets can be purchased at

Thursday, February 6, 2020



New Summer Performance Times at the Historic Palmer House Hilton Feature Expanded Encore Room Availability

It's hard to think summer when February snow is blanketing Chicago, but anticipation is strong magic. Celebrated Chicago magician Dennis Watkins today announced ticket availability for his top-rated show The Magic Parlour this May through July, featuring special summer performance times and expanded Encore Room performances at the historic Palmer House Hilton Hotel (17 E Monroe St.). We've caught the incomparable Dennis Watkins' mind boggling magic many times over the years, and he remains our family favorite. 

A third-generation magician who specializes in classic magic and mind reading, Watkins offers world-class, one-of-a-kind magical entertainment. His long-running, critically-acclaimed one-man show, The Magic Parlour, is now in its ninth year and is rated the number one show in Chicago on TripAdvisor.

Guests looking for an even more intimate experience are invited to attend The Encore Room, following the final showtime on Friday and all shows on Saturday. The special additional performance for up to twelve guests offers an up close and personal magic experience and Q&A with Watkins.

“One of my favorite parts of performing is the opportunity to interact with audience members one-on-one in the Encore Room following select shows,” said Watkins. “I’m thrilled to be able to offer our special summer hours, allowing me to expand the Encore Room to follow the later performance on Friday and every performance on Saturday.”

Tickets for the new summer performance schedule are now on sale through July 2020 and include:
Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., with a performance of the Encore Room following the 9:30 show and
Saturdays at 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., with Encore Room performances after each show.

Tickets to The Magic Parlour and its full summer schedule are now available at or by calling the box office at 312.300.6803. Tickets for all performances are $79-$89 each and include wine, beer and soft drinks. Encore Room performances are available for an additional $30.

Guests interested in an even more immersive experience are invited to take part in The Magic Parlour and Lockwood Restaurant and Bar’s exclusive prix fixe Magic Menu, curated by Dennis Watkins and Lockwood chefs. Open exclusively for performance guests before or after attending The Magic Parlour, the Magic Menu is available for $41 inclusive of tax and gratuity and can be added to The Magic Parlour ticket price.

The Magic Parlour is an intimate evening of classic magic and mind-reading featuring the work of third-generation magician Dennis Watkins. Guests to this intimate, magic-packed evening gather at Potter's in The Palmer House lobby before Watkins personally escorts them to the performance space. Once inside, the audience participates in much of the performance as Watkins wows the room with classic sleight of hand, unbelievable mind-reading and magical wisdom passed down from his grandfather.

Since opening at The Palmer House on New Year’s Eve of 2011, The Magic Parlour has enjoyed phenomenal success and unimagined growth.  With fewer than 50 seats available per show, The Magic Parlour has entertained over 45,000 guests in its nine-year run.  Additionally, it has hosted more than 1,300 ticketed audiences and dozens of private groups, facilitated three truly magical wedding proposals, and has been featured in two books (Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle and 100 Things to do in Chicago Before You Die).

REVIEW: Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Musical Version of Emma Now Playing Through March 15, 2020

A New Musical
January 28–March 15, 2020
in CST’s Courtyard Theater

book, music & lyrics by Paul Gordon
adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
directed by Barbara Gaines

Artistic Director Barbara Gaines stages enchanting musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, 
Through March 15, 2020

*Run time is 2 hours and 15 minutes*

Party guests revel at a ball in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Emma, 
a new musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel
All Photos by Liz Lauren.

By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Chicago Shakespeare Theater has been transformed into an elegant playground for the gentry of the early 1800s, complete with chandeliers, copious amounts of billowing bunting, and an on stage quartet. The whirling center of this scene is Jane Austen's infamous Emma, a girl who has charmed readers and audiences across genres, despite her arrogance, classism, and a bit of a mean streak. Her goodnatured, yet misguided, attempts at matchmaking are conducive to a musical, and it's fun to experience the old, familiar story with the addition of song. Like most musicals, humor abounds and love wins out in the end on multiple fronts.

 Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer, at right) meets her match in Mr. Knightley (Brad Standley)

CST's production of Emma is well cast, and the rapport between Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) and Mr. Knightley (Brad Standley) is a joy to see. Their snarky banter and love/hate relationship is adorable and enticing as it evolves on stage. Harriet Smith (Ephie Aardema) is also utterly endearing as lovelorn orphan and Emma's favorite side project, that almost went horribly awry. 

Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) takes the impressionable Harriet Smith (Ephie Aardema) under her wing. 

Harriet Smith (Ephie Aardema) joyfully dances with Mr. Knightley (Brad Standley) as the ball guests look on 

Chicago favorite, Larry Yando elicits laughs with every line, as the dower, change-hating father, Mr. Woodhouse. 

Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) comforts her father, Mr. Woodhouse (Larry Yando)

As usual for Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the costumes, staging, lighting, and clever set design are top notch. Jane Austin's brilliance shines through, as her iconic plots and schemes remain true to the original, even as her characters burst into song. If there's a weakness, it's the score. In an otherwise likable adaptation, Paul Gordon's music is thirty one songs that blend into one another, with few peaks and variations. Eight of the songs actually are reprise numbers, but most of the songs in the first act felt too similar to one another to be as engaging as I'd hoped. 

There were some exceptions. Second act solos by Mr Knightley and Frank Churchill (Devin DeSantis) were standouts, and Harriet Smith's pining for Mr. Robert Martin had its charm. Emma's piano solo and rivalry with Jane Fairfax (Erica Stephan) were playful and funny. 

This twisted tale of romantic entanglements, secrets, misdirection, mistakes and matrimony makes for an enjoyable evening of good old fashioned fun. Emma is a good bet for multigenerational appeal and creating family memories together. Recommended.

Follow along on social media and add your own experiences with #cstEMMA

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) flatters Frank Churchill, as the residents of Highbury enjoy a picnic 

Now playing, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s highly anticipated production of Emma—a musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Book, music, and lyrics are by Tony Award-nominated composer Paul Gordon, whose world premiere production of Sense and Sensibility captivated Chicago Shakespeare audiences in 2015. Directed by Artistic Director Barbara Gaines, this lush period production features one of literature’s most fiercely independent heroines in an enchanting new musical. Jane Austen’s Emma is presented in the Theater’s uniquely intimate Courtyard Theater, January 28–March 15, 2020.

Privileged, pampered, and preoccupied with romance, Emma Woodhouse indulges in her pastime of misguided matchmaking, but is clueless when it comes to her own feelings, especially toward a gentleman named Mr. Knightley. As this imperfect heroine learns that love cannot be predicted or channeled, audiences will be swept away by Paul Gordon’s lyrical melodies in this deliciously charming romantic comedy.

A multi-talented composer, lyricist, and book writer, Gordon has been inspired by classic texts to great success. The Broadway musical Jane Eyre, which he co-wrote, was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score, and Chicago Shakespeare’s world premiere of Sense and Sensibility garnered the Jeff Award for Best New Musical. Gordon’s Daddy Long Legs, written with director John Caird, has enjoyed productions around the world. Of Emma, Gordon shared, “There is a lyricism to the way Jane Austen writes—great melodies within the soul of the piece. The poetic language of the novel makes for a wonderful foundation of a musical and the music triggers your emotions in a profound way.”

Starring as Emma Woodhouse is Lora Lee Gayer. On Broadway, Gayer notably appeared as Linda Mason in the acclaimed 2016 revival of Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical. Additional Broadway highlights include portraying Tonia in Doctor Zhivago and Young Sally in the Drama Desk Award-winning revival of Follies starring Bernadette Peters. Regionally, she has made celebrated appearances at Alliance Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and The Muny.

Brad Standley takes on the role of Mr. Knightley, a well-mannered voice of reason that tempers Emma’s impulsive nature. Standley comes to Chicago fresh off the National Tour of Waitress. His regional credits include productions with Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and the Weston Playhouse. An accomplished singer/songwriter, Standley headlines the alternative pop band The Foxflies.

Portraying Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, is Larry Yando. The five-time Jeff Award-winner—named “Best Actor in Chicago” by Chicago Magazine—is a mainstay on Chicago stages and has appeared in more than thirty Chicago Shakespeare productions. Ephie Aardema is Emma’s impressionable young protégé, Harriet Smith. Aardema premiered on Broadway in the original cast of The Bridges of Madison County and has also appeared in Parade at Lincoln Center, Off-Broadway productions of Songbird and Clueless, the Musical, and the first National Tour of Waitress.

Devin DeSantis portrays Frank Churchill, one of Emma’s suitors. DeSantis’ notable roles include Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid and Tommy in The Who’s Tommy at Paramount Theatre, Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein at Drury Lane Theatre, and Judas in Godspell at Marriott Theatre. Erica Stephan is the charming and accomplished Jane Fairfax, who must find her way in the world without a fortune of her own. Stephan’s major Chicago credits include portraying Betty Haynes in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at Theatre at the Center, Belle in Drury Lane Theatre’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Cosette in Les Misérables at Paramount Theatre.

The Emma company also includes Michael Milligan and Kelli Harrington as Mr. and Mrs. Weston, and Dennis William Grimes and Bri Sudia as Mr. and Mrs. Elton. Rounding out the cast are Ian Geers (Mr. Robert Martin), Emily Goldberg (Ensemble), Marya Grandy (Miss Bates), and Brandy Cheyenne Miller (Elizabeth Martin).

Joining Gaines on the Emma creative team is Music Director Roberta Duchak—a two-time Jeff Award-winner who returns to Chicago Shakespeare after collaborating on the Theater’s hit North American Premiere musical SIX and its subsequent transfer productions—as well as Choreographer Jane Lanier, Dialect Coach Kate DeVore, Assistant Director Erin Kraft, and Assistant Music Director Kory Danielson.

Jane Austen’s nineteenth-century England comes to the Courtyard stage with sumptuous designs by Scenic Designer Scott Davis, Costume Designer Mariann Verheyen, Lighting Designer Donald Holder, Associate Lighting Designer Rachel Levy, Sound Designer Chad Parsley, and Wig and Make-up Designer Richard Jarvie. Also serving on the creative team is Alex Hare, the recipient of Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Charles Abbott Fellowship.

For more information, visit or on social media at #cstEMMA.

Chicago Shakespeare strives to make its facility and performances accessible to all patrons through its Access Shakespeare programs. 

Accessible performances for Emma include:

Open-captioned Performances – Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
A text display of the words and sounds heard during a play, synced live with the action onstage.
ASL Duo-interpreted Performance – Friday, March 6, 2020 at 7:30 p.m.
All dialogue and lyrics are translated into American Sign Language by two certified interpreters.
Audio-described Performance – Sunday, March 8, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. with optional touch tour at 12:00 p.m. A program that enables patrons who are blind or have low vision to more fully experience live performances by providing spoken narration of a play’s key visual elements. Touch Tours provide patrons who are blind or have low vision the opportunity to experience, firsthand, a production’s design elements.

Emma will be presented January 28–March 15, 2020 in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater. Single tickets ($49–$90) are on sale now. Special discounts will be available for groups of 10 or more. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Box Office at 312.595.5600 or visit the Theater’s website at

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson, Chicago Shakespeare has redefined what a great American Shakespeare theater can be—a company that defies theatrical category. This Regional Tony Award-winning theater’s year-round season features as many as twenty productions and 650 performances—including plays, musicals, world premieres, family programming, and presentations from around the globe. Chicago Shakespeare is the city’s leading presenter of international work, and has toured its own productions across five continents. The Theater’s nationally acclaimed arts in literacy programs support the work of teachers, and bring Shakespeare to life on stage for tens of thousands of students annually. Each summer, the company tours a free professional production to neighborhood parks across Chicago. In 2017 the Theater unveiled The Yard, which, together with the Jentes Family Courtyard Theater and the Thoma Theater Upstairs, positions Chicago Shakespeare as Chicago’s most versatile performing arts center.

Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer) indulges in her pastime of misguided matchmaking

Lora Lee Gayer takes on the title role in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Emma, a new musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and directed by Barbara Gaines, in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater, January 28–March 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

ChiIL Out With Cool Discounts For Chicago Theatre Week 2020 February 13-23, 2020

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

Celebrate Valentine’s Day, honor Black History Month, 
and more during 
Chicago Theatre Week 2020
February 13-23, 2020
Discount tickets to more than 120 productions now on sale

Here at ChiIL Live Shows and ChiIL Mama, we live, eat and breath Chicago's theatre scene, catching upwards of 25 productions a month. We've been thrilled to promote Chicago Theatre Week every year since its inception. This February, come out of hibernation and ChiIL out with Chi, IL's hottest theatre at cool discounts!

Daunted by the selection of shows? Want to find a good fit for your taste? Check out (adult) & (family friendly) like we vote in Chi, IL... early and often. We have ticket giveaways, entertainment news, original photo features, reviews, and more. 

Audiences can celebrate Valentine’s Day, honor Black History Month, and more during Chicago Theatre Week (#CTW20).  With over 120 participating productions, there is something for everyone during Chicago Theatre Week, running February 13-23, 2020. Value-priced tickets, priced at $30, $15, or less, are now available at

Now entering its eighth year, Chicago Theatre Week is a highly anticipated event that allows visitors and locals to sample the extraordinary range of theatrical offerings throughout Chicago. As a program of the League of Chicago Theatres, in partnership with Choose Chicago, more than 120 theatre productions are participating in neighborhoods throughout the city and suburbs. 

From joy to heartache and every feeling in between, Chicago theatre tells stories that evoke big emotions. Stories that take risks, inspire awe, ask tough questions – and dare audiences to do the same. From musicals to plays to comedy, theatre is for everyone in Chicago. Chicago Theatre Week is a celebration of the stories we share.

A selection of romantic musicals, plays and comedy productions for Valentine’s Day includes:

Jane Austen’s beloved novel Emma is now a deliciously charming musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater! Privileged, pampered, and preoccupied with romance, Emma Woodhouse indulges in her pastime of misguided matchmaking, but remains quite clueless when it comes to her own feelings—and a gentleman named Mr. Knightley. This blissfully entertaining production promises to light a spark in your heart that will warm up even the coldest Chicago winter. 

Drury Lane Theatre presents the regional premiere of the beautifully captivating Gershwin musical An American in Paris. Based on the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, An American in Paris brings breathtaking moments of dance and song to the stage. The storied streets of the City of Light become the dancefloor to a ravishing and passionate voyage into art, friendship, and love, set to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Men Are From Mars – Women Are From Venus LIVE!, the Off-Broadway hit comedy based on The New York Times #1 best-selling book of the last decade by John Gray, comes to the Broadway Playhouse by popular demand. Moving swiftly through a series of vignettes, the show covers everything from dating and marriage to the bedroom. This hysterical show will have couples elbowing each other all evening as they see themselves on stage. Sexy and fast-paced, this show is definitely for adults, but will leave audiences laughing and giggling like little kids.

Happy Valen-TINAS Day at The iO Theater. Celebrate the month of love with Las Tinas, Chicago’s only improvised telenovela. These Latinx comedians create never-before-seen soap opera. Enter the telenovela world by being part of the drama, laugh at spicy comedy, and be showered with love (and tequila shots).

The iO Theater also presents Improvised Jane Austen. The long-running, all-female comedy team will conjure a tale on the spot in the style of the beloved 19th-century British novelist, Jane Austen.

Dances from the Heart at the Athenaeum Theatre showcases the most romantic works from Dance Chicago performers featuring an amazing array of dance styles such as aerial, tap, urban fusion, jazz, contemporary, Irish, Mexican folkloric, hip-hop and more.

A selection of anti-Valentine’s Day productions includes:

Tracy Letts' cult classic BUG— a luridly funny tale of love, paranoia and government conspiracy--makes its Steppenwolf Theatre debut with ensemble members Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood. In a seedy Oklahoma motel room, a lonely waitress begins an unexpected love affair with a young drifter. And then they see the first bugs.

Steven Dietz’s world premiere psychological thriller How A Boy Falls plays at Northlight Theatre. A newly hired au pair named Chelle is thrust into the midst of a mystery when the sudden disappearance of a young boy casts suspicion on her and the boy's wealthy parents. The parents are seeking answers—and possibly revenge—while Chelle is hatching a dangerous scheme of her own.

How to Defend Yourself, a new play by Liliana Padilla at Victory Gardens Theater, circles around seven college students who gather for a DIY self-defense workshop after a sorority sister is raped. They learn how to “not be a victim”, how to use their bodies as weapons, how to fend off attackers. The form of self-defense becomes a channel for their rage, trauma, confusion, anxiety and desire–lots of desire.

Raven Theatre presents a vibrant and progressive new adaptation of A Doll’s House. Life with her husband, Torvald, is comfortable, if uninteresting. But when an old acquaintance reappears, threatening to bring Nora’s secrets to light, everything changes. As her marriage, her relationships, and her world crumble, she begins to speak her mind and question what she really wants for herself.

Relevant shows to honor Black History Month include:

Lifeline Theatre Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan and David Barr III revisit Charles Johnson’s epic tale, Middle Passage. A newly freed Illinois slave eking out a living in 1830 New Orleans stows away aboard an outbound rigger, to evade debtors enforcing marriage. But his clever escape backfires as the clipper turns out to be a slave ship bound for Africa. He must choose between a fanatical captain, a mutinous crew, and the Africans seeking escape. Building on a tradition of African American storytelling, this tale challenges perceptions of American identity using a Black aesthetic.

TimeLine Theatre presents James Ijames’ Kill Move Paradise, a powerful and provocative reflection on recent events, illustrating the possibilities of collective transformation and radical acts of joy. Inspired by the ever-growing list of slain unarmed black men and women, Kill Move Paradise is a portrait of those lost—not as statistics, but as heroes who deserve to be seen for the splendid beings they are.

Voice of Good Hope at City Lit Theater is a dramatic portrait of Barbara Jordan, the first African American congresswoman to be elected from the Deep South.

MPAACT presents the world premiere of Spoken Word at Greenhouse Theater Center. Written by Shepsu Aakhu and directed by Lauren "LL" Lundy, Spoken Word takes place in a small community dominated by hearsay, fear, outrage, and over-reaching authority figures. On the isolated campus of a Midwest university - sex, race, and gender collide in an epic culture war.

Writers Theatre presents Stick Fly, written by Lydia R. Diamond and directed by WT Resident Director Ron OJ Parson. Sibling rivalries and parental expectations come to a head as family secrets emerge during a weekend away that becomes more “interrogation” than “relaxation” in this witty and moving rollercoaster of a family comedy-drama. 

Dominican University Performing Arts Center presents We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a joyful celebration of music from across the African American that electrified generations of Civil Rights activists and defenders, interwoven with spoken word from Dr. King’s recorded speeches.

Broadway In Chicago presents SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical at the James M. Nederlander Theatre. She was a girl from Boston with a voice from heaven, who shot through the stars from gospel choir to dance floor diva. But what the world didn’t know was how Donna Summer risked it all to break through barriers, becoming the icon of an era and the inspiration for every music diva who followed. With a score featuring more than 20 of Summer’s classic hits including “Love to Love You Baby,” “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff,” this electric experience is a moving tribute to the voice of a generation.

Re-imagined for 2020 and infused with a contemporary comedic spin, The Second City’s Black History Month Show sets the stage for an uproarious night of laughter delivered by a new generation of rising comedians in a celebratory showcase of the incredible history and work artists of color have brought to The Second City’s stages.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents The Piano Soul of Nat King Cole featuring Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra with special guests Kenny Barron, Benny Green & Russell Malone.

Before Nat King Cole emerged as one of America’s most popular singers, he was making waves as an influential jazz pianist and expert arranger in his adopted hometown of Chicago. Marking the 2019 centennial of Cole’s birth, this unique concert will celebrate his instrumental roots in a program created specifically for the Symphony Center Presents Jazz series.

Additional productions for musical lovers include:

Firebrand Theatre presents Always...Patsy Cline at The Den Theatre. This moving musical, complete with laughs, down home country charm, and sisterhood, includes many of Patsy’s unforgettable hits such as “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walking After Midnight”… 27 songs in all!  The show’s title was inspired by Patsy’s letters to Louise, which were consistently signed “Love ALWAYS… Patsy Cline.”

In The House Theatre of Chicago’s Verböten at the Chopin Theatre, a Chicago band made up of outsider teens with seriously complex home lives gears up for a show at The Cubby Bear that is sure to change their lives forever, can they keep their parents from destroying the fabric of their self-made punk rock family?

Brown Paper Box Co. presents If/Then at the Athenaeum Theatre, a new musical with unforgettable songs and a deeply moving story by the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning creators of Next to Normal, If/Then paints a moving portrait of the lives we lead, as well as the lives we might have led.

Underscore Theatre presents its 6th annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival (CMTF), created to showcase and support the growing field of musical theatre creators from Chicago and beyond. After receiving more than 35 submissions, Underscore chose eight new musicals for this year’s Festival to be presented in full productions.

A selection of other notable works includes:

For its winter engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents The Times Are Racing, a mixed repertory program featuring choreography from four of the most influential artists working today, including the Chicago premiere of Justin Peck's 2017 ballet for which the program gets its name, two pieces by Israeli choreographer and former Batsheva Dance Company member Itzik Galili, a Christopher Wheeldon classic, and a new work from Chicago's Stephanie Martinez, 2015 winner of the Joffrey's Winning Works choreographic competition.

Puccini's timeless Madama Butterfly returns to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Experience love, betrayal, & sacrifice with this love story that reaches across cultures, oceans, and time. A wonderful first opera experience, Madama Butterfly epitomizes the best of this multifaceted art form, beautifully incorporating romantic tragedy with sublime musical storytelling.

16th Street Theater in Berwyn presents Alabaster, a darkly comic southern drama about love, art and the power of women. After a tornado barrels through North Alabama leaving nothing but death and destruction, only June and her wisecracking pet goat Weezy live to tell the tale.  When Alice, a prominent photographer, arrives to take pictures of June’s scars, all are tipped to the breaking point in this beautiful story of life after death.

A complete list of participating productions is at Chicago Theatre Week is presented by the League of Chicago Theatres in partnership with Choose Chicago. The official hashtag for Chicago Theatre Week 2020 is #CTW20.

Last year, in February 2019, 139 participating productions offered value-priced tickets to 593 individual performances during Chicago Theatre Week. The initiative continues to see increased sales year over year, with 12,700 Theatre Week tickets sold in 2019. Chicago Theatre Week brings in new audiences to area theatres with an average of 63% of attendees visiting their chosen theatre for the first time. Theatre Week also proved to be a draw for visitors from outside Chicago with 17% of patrons coming from beyond 50 miles of the city, spanning 36 states and several countries.

About Chicago theatre
Chicago theatre is the leader in the U.S. with more than 250 theatres throughout Chicagoland, comprising a rich and varied community ranging from storefront, non-union theatres to the most renowned resident theatres in the country, including 5 which have been honored with Regional Tony Awards, and the largest touring Broadway organization in the nation. Chicago’s theatres serve 5 million audience members annually and have a combined budget of more than $250 million. Chicago produces and/or presents more world premieres annually than any other city in the nation. Last year alone Chicago theatre companies produced more than 100 world premiere productions and adaptations. Each year Chicago theatres send new work to resident theatres across the country, to Broadway, and around the world. 

League of Chicago Theatres’ Mission Statement
Theatre is essential to the life of a great city and to its citizens. The League of Chicago Theatres is an alliance of theatres which leverages its collective strength to support, promote, and advocate for Chicago’s theatre industry. Through our work, we ensure that theatre continues to thrive in our city.

For a comprehensive list of Chicago productions, visit the League of Chicago Theatres website, Half-price tickets to the current week’s performances as well as future performances are available at and at the two Hot Tix half-price ticket locations: across from the Chicago Cultural Center at Expo72 (72 E. Randolph) and Block Thirty Seven (108 N. State).

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