Saturday, January 28, 2023

OPENING: Into the Woods Via Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Series February 1-March 19, 2023


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(from left) Paramount’s Into the Woods is co-directed by multi-Jeff Award-winner and Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti, and Trent Stork, Paramount’s Associate Artistic Producer, Casting Director, and 2021-22 winner of the Jeff Award for Director-Musical-Large for Paramount’s Kinky Boots

Note: Into the Woods is suggested for ages 12 and up for violence and loud noises. 

Once upon a time…it all started with a wish. 

And sometimes, wishes do come true, because up next in Paramount Theatre’s 2022-23 Broadway Series is Into the WoodsStephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s brilliant reimagining of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales, February 1-March 19, 2023. I'll be out for opening night February 10th, so check back shortly after for my full review.

Venture into the woods with the Baker and his wife on a mystical journey to collect a red cape, a strand of yellow hair, a golden shoe and a white cow to break the spell cast by the Witch. Encounter Little Red Ridinghood searching for bread to feed her grandmother. Join Jack on his adventure up the beanstalk to save his cow Milky White. Attend the King’s festival with Cinderella and her stepsisters. Discover Rapunzel locked away in a high tower. Come experience Into the Woods, but be aware, ever after isn’t always happy. 
Paramount’s staging of one of the most astounding and original fairytale retellings theatre has ever seen will be co-directed by Artistic Director, Jim Corti, and Associate Artistic Producer and Casting Director, Trent Stork. Corti, responsible for Paramount hits like NewsiesThe ProducersSweeney Todd and Les Misérables, remains Chicago’s only theater artist to have won Jeff Awards as an actor, choreographer and director. Stork is still riding high after earning their first Jeff Award for Director-Musical-Large for mega-staging last season of Paramount’s Kinky Boots

It was my great pleasure to sit next to Trent Stork by chance, at the Equity Jeff Awards (AKA: Theatre Prom) in October. It was a highlight of the evening to watch Stork balance on his own pair of Kinky Boots without a stumble, on repeat trips to the stage to accept their accolades. Storks may be traditionally associated with dropping bundles of babies down the chimneys of expectant parents, but this Stork is dropping some seriously stellar talent for Paramount Theatre's Broadway Series and BOLD series. 

If you’ve seen The Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast or Cinderella on Paramount’s stage, then you know the spectacle and extravagance that awaits audiences who come to downtown Aurora for an unforgettable adventure Into the Woods. Paramount Aurora is now the largest subscription based theatre in the nation

Previews start February 1, 2023. Opening Night is Friday, February 10, at 
8 p.m. Performances run through March 19: Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and 
7 p.m.; Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (exception: No 1:30 p.m. matinee on Wednesday, February 1). 

Single tickets are $28 to $79. Three-show 2022-23 subscriptions including Paramount’s current production, The Sound of Music, Into the Woods and School of Rock are still on sale, starting at just $51. For group discounts, contact Melissa Striedl, or 
(630) 723-2461.

Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. For tickets and information, visit, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Lucy Panush plays Little Red Ridinghood in Into the Woods
February 1-March 19 at Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora. 
Photo credit for all advance character portraits: Amy Nelson
Paramount’s Into the Woods: Behind the scenes

“Paramount consistently delivers on what is loved about the great shows we select each season and Into the Woods will be no different. We also seem to have a knack for the unexpected – rediscovering what has always been there with a new relevance and emotional impact,” said Jim Corti, co-director, Into the Woods. “For as fantastical as this storytelling is, and however stunning its aesthetic, it’s the humanity of this piece that will linger with you as you travel home. That’s the thing about Sondheim. He’s telling the story of our lives and always beautifully. “

Stephen Schellhardt plays the Baker in Into the Woods

Hannah Fernandes plays Cinderella
Will Koski plays Jack
“This production is packed cover to cover with world class talent. These actors are simply the perfect cast to bring Sondheim’s profound words to life on our stage for our audience,” added Trent Stork, who is co-directing Into the Woods with Corti. “Like our story, however, the opportunity to see them ‘is not a lengthy visitor.’”

Paramount's cast for Into the Woods includes (top, from left) Natalie Weiss (Witch), Larry Yando (Narrator/Mysterious Man), Sarah Bockel (Baker’s Wife), Stephen Schellhardt (Baker), Hannah Fernandes (Cinderella), Will Koski (Jack), (middle) Alex Syiek (Cinderella's Prince/Wolf), Devin DeSantis (Rapunzel's Prince), Lucy Panush (Little Red Ridinghood), Molly Hernández (Rapunzel), Christine Bunuan (Jack's Mother), Stephanie Diaz (Milky White), (bottom) Kelli Harrington (Cinderella’s Stepmother), Landree Fleming (Lucinda), Ann Delaney (Florinda), Dana Tretta (Granny/Cinderella’s Mother/Giant), Dakota Hughes (Steward) and Nnamdi K. Nwankwo (Cinderella’s Father).  

The cast features Natalie Weiss as the Witch. Weiss made her Broadway debut understudying the Menonettes in Everyday Rapture. Other career highlights include swinging the National Tour of Les Misérables and performing in the second National Tour of Wicked (Ensemble, Elphaba u/s). She is featured on the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman and can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording of Dear Evan Hansen. Weiss was also an American Idol Season 4 Semi-Finalist. 
Stephen Schellhardt plays the Baker
Lucy Panush plays Little Red Ridinghood

Will Koski (left) plays Jack and Lucy Panush is 
Little Red Ridinghood 

The cast also features Larry Yando (Narrator/Mysterious Man), Sarah Bockel(Baker’s Wife), Stephen Schellhardt (Baker), Hannah Fernandes (Cinderella), Will Koski (Jack), Alex Syiek (Cinderella's Prince/Wolf), Devin DeSantis(Rapunzel's Prince), Lucy Panush (Little Red Ridinghood), Molly Hernández(Rapunzel), Christine Bunuan (Jack's Mother), Stephanie Diaz (Milky White), Kelli Harrington (Cinderella’s Stepmother), Landree Fleming (Lucinda), Ann Delaney (Florinda), Dana Tretta (Granny/Cinderella’s Mother/Giant), Dakota Hughes (Steward) and Nnamdi K. Nwankwo (Cinderella’s Father). Ensemble members are Grace BobberMarta BadyAlanna ChavezAdam FaneDarian GouldingSophie Grimm and Ryan Stajmiger.

Hannah Fernandes plays Cinderella

Hannah Fernandes (left) plays Cinderella and Stephen Schellhardt 
is the Baker

Will Koski (left) plays Jack and Stephen Schellhardt
is the Baker 

The full production team is Jim Corti and Trent Stork, co-directors; Kasey Alfonso, choreographer; Kory Danielson, music director, supervisor and conductor; Jeffrey D. Kmiec, scenic designer; Jordan Ross, costume designer; José Santiago, lighting designer; Adam Rosenthalsound designer; Paul Deziel, projection designer; Jesse Mooney-Bullock, Puppet Designer; Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup designerJesse Gaffney, properties designer; Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer; Cameron Tragesser, associate music director and associate conductor; Jinni Pike, stage manager; Maegan Burnell, assistant stage manager; and Lanita VanderSchaaf, assistant stage manager. 

Rendering of Paramount’s Into the Woods set courtesy set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec.

Costume renderings for (top, from left) The Baker, Little Red Ridinghood, The Wolf, Jack,
(bottom), Rapunzel, Cinderella and the two Princes by costume designer Jordan Ross.

REVIEW: Manual Cinema's Frankenstein Through January 29th, 2023

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Manual Cinema (U.S./Chicago)

Presented by the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

January 27-29

Family Friendly - 12 and up

ADA accessible

66 minutes

by Dugan Kenaz-Mara, Guest Critic

Note: This puppet show involves childbirth, violence, murder, and grief. Some parts are scary, so it may not be suitable for children. (The festival recommends 12 and up)

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein is definitely a sight to behold! The show tells a beautiful story, starting with Mary Shelley’s life and contextualizing her idea for writing the book. From there it seamlessly transitions into the monster story everyone knows so well, all while tying back to her real life through visual and auditory motifs. They are able to tell a very emotional tale, causing the audience to laugh, cry, and gasp, all without speaking a single word. You even get your pick of characters to connect to emotionally, from a mother to a child, or even the creature himself.  

The puppeteers are very clearly experts in their craft, easily combining live-action performance, overhead projection, and standard puppetry to make a cohesive story that unites different styles. Mary Shelley’s life is mainly told through shadow puppetry, with the actors becoming silhouettes on a projected background. The Creature’s story is acted out with a puppet, filmed up close, and Victor’s side is performed live, shot in black and white with captions like a silent movie. And throughout all of the style-hopping, the puppeteers blend in their famous overhead projections to develop the setting and add in characters. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a silhouette on screen is an actor or a puppet, that’s how good it is!

Like any Manual Cinema performance, it is always a joy to watch the performers as they work. Getting a glimpse into the background of the work is fascinating. For example, learning how they move the puppets or how objects that look real on camera may be 2D in real life. And watching movie-quality transitions happen in real time is crazy as well. If you see the show keep an eye out for the part where Victor shares his research paper with other scientists.

While the puppetry was amazing, it is also necessary to applaud the rest of the design. The lighting, though subtle throughout the show, was incredibly impactful. The live accompaniment was also stunning, bringing the entire show to life. Overall, it is a very well-put-together performance and I would highly recommend seeing it. ★★★★ Four out of four stars. 

**Every time we talk about Manual Cinema my mom loves to point out how brilliant their overhead-projected rain is. This particular show features their rain frequently, so it’s almost worth seeing just for that…**

Dugan is an actor, designer, and photographer studying theatre and psychology at Northwestern University. Contrary to popular belief, he is not a time traveler.

The Chicago run is sold out, but you can come down to the Studebaker Theatre at least a half hour before showtime to get on the waitlist.

Three performances: Friday, January 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, January 29 at 3 p.m.

Tickets: $45/$35 students and seniors

Love, loss, and creation merge in unexpected ways when Manual Cinema presents its thrilling version of the classic Gothic tale, “Frankenstein.” This Chicago-based performance collective imaginatively combines shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, sound effects, and live music in haunting shows like nothing else you’ve ever seen. With Frankenstein, Manual Cinema stitches together the original gothic novel with the biography of its author, Mary Shelley, to create an unexpected story about the beauty and horror of creation. 

Manual Cinema is an Emmy award winning performance collective, design studio, and film/ video production company founded in 2010 by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter. Manual Cinema tours internationally, combining handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive stories for stage and screen. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality. Their shadow puppet animations were featured in the 2021 film remake of Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions. Recent productions include Leonardo! A Wonderful Show about a Terrible Monster, based on books by Mo Willems, and a new live version of Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol, based on the acclaimed virtual production in 2020.

Manual Cinema's 'Frankenstein'- Official Trailer (Long)