Tuesday, February 20, 2024

EXTENDED AGAIN: Mary Zimmerman’s world-premiere of THE MATCHBOX MAGIC FLUTE at Goodman Theatre February 10 – March 24, 2024

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 Recommended for audiences aged 8+

Goodman Theatre Manilow Resident Director Mary Zimmerman’s newest production, The Matchbox Magic Flute, has extended its run before performances begin. The Tony Award-winning director’s world-premiere-in-miniature adaptation of Mozart’s magical family-friendly opera features a 15-member company (10 actors and five musicians) and marks Zimmerman’s 18th production over a three-decade Goodman artistic affiliation. With dragons, a man who is a bird, trials by fire and water and more, Day and Night do battle in this playful and imaginative hero’s quest—following the adventures of Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina, and revealing that things are not always as they seem. Recommended for audiences aged 8+, The Matchbox Magic Flute appears February 10 – March 24th. Tickets ($25 - $90; subject to change) are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Flute or by phone at 312.443.3800. Goodman Theatre is grateful for the support of Mayer Brown, LLP (Corporate Sponsor), PAXXUS Inc. (Contributing Sponsor) and Russell Reynolds Associates (Contributing Sponsor).

Rehearsals for The Matchbox Magic Flute, Mary Zimmerman’s world-premiere-in-miniature adaptation of Mozart’s magical, family-friendly opera, are underway with a 21-member company of 16 actors and five musicians. Zimmerman celebrates three decades as Goodman Theatre’s Manilow Resident Director directing her theatrical adaptation of the beloved opera, where Prince Tamino (Billy Rude) embarks on a journey to rescue Princess Pamina (Marlene Fernandez)—the daughter of the Queen of the Night (Emily Rohm)—all with the help of a magical flute. Audiences aged 8+ will enjoy the fantastical characters coming to life in this hero’s quest, revealing that things are not always as they seem. A complete cast list appears below. The Matchbox Magic Flute appears February 10 – March 10 (opening night is Monday, February 19 at 7pm). Tickets ($25 - $90; subject to change) are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Flute or by phone at 312.443.3800. Goodman Theatre is grateful for the support of Mayer Brown, LLP (Corporate Sponsor), PAXXUS Inc. (Contributing Sponsor) and Russell Reynolds Associates (Contributing Sponsor).

“We’re making something that is a bit of old, and a bit of new,” said Mary Zimmerman, the Tony Award-winning adaptor/director whose first Goodman opera was Galileo Galilei with Philip Glass (2002), and who more recently directed Lucia de Lammermoor (Metropolitan Opera, La Scala) and Armida, la Sonnambula, Rusalka (Metropolitan Opera). “Our process relies on the playful, creative collaboration of everyone involved, and I know I will be inspired by this beautiful, eclectic cast of musical theater artists, opera singers and musicians from different genres. I’m extremely excited to get into the room with this bunch of people.”

Playful and imaginative, it’s big music in a small space. This “matchbox” presentation of The Matchbox Magic follows the adventures of Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina. With dragons, a man who is a bird, trials by fire and water and underground corridors, Day and Night do battle in Mary Zimmerman’s brand-new adaptation.

Full Company of The Matchbox Magic Flute (in alphabetical order)

Adapted and Directed by Mary Zimmerman

Marlene Fernandez…..Pamina

Keanon Kyles……Sarastro

Russell Mernagh…..Monostatos

Lauren Molina……Papagena/Lady

Tina Muñoz Pandya……Lady

Reese Parish…….The Spirit

Shawn Pfautsch…...Papageno

Emily Rohm…..Queen of the Night

Billy Rude….Tamino

Monica West…..Lady

Creative Team

Assistant Director….Nora Geffen

Music Adaptor and Arranger…Amanda Dehnert and Andre Pluess

Music Director….Amanda Dehnert

Sound Designer ….Andre Pluess

Associate Music Director/Conductor….Paul Mutzabaugh

Set Designer…..Todd Rosenthal

Costume Designer ……Ana Kuzmanic

Lighting Designer…..T.J. Gerckens

Wig & Hair Designer….Charles “Chuck” LaPointe

Understudies for this production include Dario Amador-Lage (Tamino), Ann Delaney (Papagena/Lady), Devin DeSantis (Papageno/Monostatos), Holly Hinchliffe (Pamina/Spirit), Nathan Karnik (Sarastro) and Emilie Lynn (Queen of the Night/Lady).

Casting is by Lauren Port, CSA. Patrick Fries is the Production Stage Manager and Beth Koehler is the Stage Manager.


Touch Tour* and Audio-Described Performance: Sunday, March 3, 12:30pm Touch Tour; 2pm performance – The action/text is audibly enhanced for patrons via headset.

ASL-Interpreted Performance: Saturday, March 9 at 2pm – Professional ASL interpreter signs the action/text as played.

Spanish-Subtitled Performance: Saturday, March 9 at 7:30pm – An LED sign presents Spanish-translated dialogue in sync with the performance.

Open-Captioned Performance: Sunday, March 10 at 2pm – An LED sign presents dialogue in sync with the performance.

Visit Goodman theatre.org/Access for more information about Goodman Theatre’s accessibility efforts.


Tuesday, March 12 at 7:30pm

Wednesday, March 13 @ 7:30pm

Thursday, March 14 @ 2pm

Thursday, March 14 @ 7:30pm

Friday, March 15 @ 7:30pm

Saturday, March 16 @ 2pm and 7:30pm

Sunday, March 17 @ 2pm


Tuesday, March 19 @ 7:30pm
Wednesday, March 20 @ 7:30pm
Thursday, March 21 @ 2pm and 7:30pm
Friday, March 22 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, March 23 @ 2pm and 7:30pm
Sunday, March 24 @ 2pm


Chicago’s theater since 1925, Goodman Theatre is a not-for-profit arts and community organization in the heart of the Loop, distinguished by the excellence and scope of its artistic programming and community engagement. Led by Artistic Director Susan V. Booth and Executive Director/CEO Roche Schulfer, the theater’s artistic priorities include new play development (more than 150 world or American premieres), large scale musical theater works and reimagined classics. Artists and productions have earned two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards and more than 160 Jeff Awards, among other accolades.

The Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle.” Its longtime annual holiday tradition A Christmas Carol, now in its fifth decade, has created a new generation of theatergoers in Chicago. The Goodman also frequently serves as a production and program partner with national and international companies and Chicago’s Off-Loop theaters.

Using the tools of theatrical practice, the Goodman’s Education and Engagement programs aim to develop generations of citizens who understand and empathize with cultures and stories of diverse voices. The Goodman’s Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement is the home of these programs, which are offered for Chicago youth—85% of whom come from underserved communities—schools and life-long learners.

Goodman Theatre was built on the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi Nations. We recognize that many other Nations consider the area we now call Chicago as their traditional homeland—including the Myaamia, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, Kickapoo and Mascouten—and remains home to many Native peoples today. While we believe that our city’s vast diversity should be reflected on the stages of its largest theater, we acknowledge that our efforts have largely overlooked the voices of our Native peoples. This omission has added to the isolation, erasure and harm that Indigenous communities have faced for hundreds of years. We have begun a more deliberate journey towards celebrating Native American stories and welcoming Indigenous communities.

Goodman Theatre was founded by William O. Goodman and his family in honor of their son Kenneth, an important figure in Chicago’s cultural renaissance in the early 1900s. The Goodman family’s legacy lives on through the continued work and dedication of Kenneth’s family, including Albert Ivar Goodman, who with his late mother, Edith-Marie Appleton, contributed the necessary funds for the creation on the new Goodman center in 2000.

Julie Danis is Chair of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Lorrayne Weiss is Women’s Board President and Kelli Garcia is President of the Scenemakers Board for young professionals.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

REVIEW of Paramount Theatre’s Striking Billy Elliot: The Musical Now Playing Through March 24, 2024

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Paramount Theatre's 
Billy Elliot: The Musical 
Michelle Aravena (right, with cigarette) plays Mrs. Wilkinson, a ballet teacher who sees unusual talent in a young British boy named Billy (Neo Del Corral, center). 
All production photos by Liz Lauren.

Inspired new production of the coming-of-age tale 

directed by Trent Stork

February 7-March 24, 2024


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Before miners or dancers ever step foot on the stage, the sheer magnitude of Paramount Theatre’s Billy Elliot set is sure to impress. With its towering iron scaffolding, towers and wheels, this gritty landscape provides the perfect backdrop for Paramount's blue collar Cinderella story. Billy Elliot comes from generations of overworked, underpaid English coal miners with few options. These hard headed brawlers are often the stereotype of toxic masculinity, but under those hard hats, there's fierce loyalty and community pride. When a year long strike creates financial woes, clashes with the police turn violent and neighbors are pitted against one another as some cross the picket line as scabs. 

Ron E. Rains (center, left) is Dad and Spencer Milford (right) is his son, Tony, leading coal miners on strike in a rural town in 1984 England in 
Billy Elliot: The Musical

In the midst of this stress and upheaval, young Billy Elliot, who has recently lost his mom, accidently discovers a passion for ballet. It's a hard sell to his family and friends, but his raw talent is recognized, and finally even the skeptics are willing to pitch in to help him follow his dreams, get trained, and rise above a dying town, where fossil fuel mining is going the way of the dinosaurs.  
Sam Duncan (aloft) plays Billy and Christopher Kelley is Older Billy in Billy Elliot: The Musical. Note: Sam shares the role of Billy with Neo Del Corral. 
Billy (Neo Del Corral, center) rehearses with his ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Michelle Aravena, right) and Mr. Braithwaite, accompanist for Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class, (Dakota Hughes, left). 

Here at ChiIL Mama, we couldn't love Paramount's production more. The casting is world class, and the entire confluence of creativity in choreography, lighting, sound, costumes, and set design is superb. This cast just kills it, and there isn't a weak link in the bunch. By the closing number there were few dry eyes in the place, and a rousing standing ovation erupted without coaxing. 

Billy (Sam Duncan, right) and Michael (Gabriel Lafazan) perform “Expressing Yourself” in Billy Elliot: The MusicalNote: Sam shares the role with Neo Del Corral. 

ChiIL Tips: Come early and grab dinner in Aurora. Free street parking is easier to find if you're early and great restaurants are plentiful. We've tried at least 5 different places for pre-show food and drinks so far, and would happily return to any one of them.

As you leave Billy Elliot: The Musical, you may find yourself singing earworm "Solidarity" for days after, but this show's excellent message of inclusion, community, support, and transcending differences is one worth remembering. Paramount's Billy Elliot: The Musical is not just memorable but remarkable.  Don't miss this.  

★★★★ Four out of four stars. Highly Recommended. 

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, artist, and Mama to 2 amazing adults. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: ChiILLiveShows.com (adult) & ChiILMama.com (family friendly). 

Combating prejudice with dance: Paramount Theatre 
rings in the new year with 
Billy Elliot: The Musical

Sam Duncan (center, back to camera) plays the title role in Billy Elliot: The MusicalNote: Sam shares the role with Neo Del Corral. 

February 7-March 24, 2024

Do what you love no matter what other people think. That’s the message that leaps from the stage in Billy Elliot: The Musical, originally nominated for 15 Tony Awards and a winner of ten, including Best Musical. 

Meet Billy Elliot, an 11-year-old English boy who stumbles upon a ballet class during his weekly boxing lesson. His surprise love for dance must be hidden at all costs, especially from his coal miner father. With help from his sharp-tongued teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy gets the chance to attend a prestigious ballet school and must decide what is most important: doing what he loves or doing what other people want. 

Paramount Theatre rings in 2024 with an inspired new production of this popular coming-of-age tale, set to the music of Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, directed by Trent Stork. Performances are February 7-March 24, 2024. 

Trent Stork

Director Trent Stork, Paramount’s Artistic Producer and Casting Director, won their first Jeff Award, Director-Musical-Large, in 2022 for Paramount’s Kinky Boots. Stork also helmed Paramount’s current holiday season blockbuster, the Chicago Regional Premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, along with last season’s School of Rock, and Into the Woods with co-director Jim Corti. 

Stork has assembled another stellar design and production team, on point to create a dazzling night of theater: Isaiah Silvia-Chandley, choreographer; Kory Danielson, music director, conductor and music supervisor; Michelle Lilly, scenic designer; Izumi Inaba, costume designer and wig, hair and makeup designer; Greg Hofmann, lighting designer; Adam Rosenthal, sound designer; Mike Tutaj, projection designer; Jesse Gaffney, properties designer; Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer; Susan Gosdick, dialect coach; John A. Tovar, fight director; Max Fabian, intimacy director; Devon Hayakawa, dramaturg; Amanda Raquel Martinez, associate director; Alex Mitchell, associate choreographer; Cameron Tragesser, associate music director and associate conductor; Jinni Pike, stage manager; Maegan Burnell and Lanita VanderSchaaf, assistant stage managers; and Bailey O’Neil and Madeline Scott, young performer supervisors.

Neo Del Corral performs the title role in Billy Elliot: The Musical

Billy Elliot: The Musical, based on the 2000 film, features music by Elton John. Book and lyrics are by Lee Hall, who also wrote the film's screenplay, inspired in part by A. J. Cronin's 1935 novel about a miners' strike in North East England, “The Stars Look Down.” The musical premiered at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London's West End in 2005 and was nominated for nine Laurence Olivier Awards, winning four, including Best New Musical. The production ran through April 2016. Its success led to productions in Australia, Broadway, and numerous other countries. In New York, it won ten Tony Awards and ten Drama Desk Awards, including, in each case, Best Musical. It was originally directed by Stephen Daldry. Orchestrations are by Martin Koch.

Sam Duncan (left) plays Billy and Christopher Kelley is Older Billy

Times, dates and ticket information

Previews start Wednesday, February 7, 2024 at 7 p.m. Opening Night is Friday, February 16 at 8 p.m. Performances run through March 24: 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. Run time is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes with intermission.

Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. For tickets and information, visit paramountaurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and until show time on show days. For group discounts, contact Melissa Striedl, melissas@paramountarts.com or (630) 723-2461. 

Pay What You Can Performances

Paramount will offer two Pay What You Can performances of Billy Elliot: Thursday, February 8 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, February 10 at 3 p.m. Both days, starting at 10 a.m., visit the Paramount box office in-person to request tickets. Limit four per person. Subject to availability. See paramountaurora.com/pay-what-you-can for details. 

Access Services

Paramount offers assistive listening devices free of charge at all performances. Check in at the coat room before the show to borrow a listening device.

Paramount will offer open captioning on Thursday, March 21 at 7 p.m., and American Sign Language interpretation on Friday, March 22 at 8 p.m.

If you require wheelchair or special seating or other assistance, please contact the box office at (630) 896-6666 or boxoffice@paramountarts.com in advance.


Billy Elliot: The Musical is sponsored by Clear Perspective Advisors. Paramount Theatre Broadway Season sponsors are the Dunham Foundation, the City of Aurora, BMO, ComEd and the Illinois Arts Council. 

Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. Single tickets are $28-$79. For tickets and information, visit paramountaurora.com or call (630) 896-6666. For the latest updates, follow @paramountaurora on Facebook and Instagram, and Paramount Theatre on LinkedIn. 

Michelle Aravena (center) plays Mrs. Wilkinson, a ballet teacher who sees unusual talent in a young boy named Billy, (Sam Duncan, right) in Billy Elliot: The MusicalNote: Sam shares the role of Billy with Neo Del Corral. 

I'll always hold a soft spot for Billy Elliott, since it was the first Broadway touring production I ever reviewed reviewed for ChiILMama.com, back in 2010. My family was invited behind the scenes, to meet the four boys playing Billy on the national tour, and I got to bring my children to their first Broadway musical, at the ripe old ages of 7 and 9. I've been reviewing theatre ever since and couldn't love it more. 

      My daughter Sage, Daniel, my son Dugan, and Billy Elliot -- AKA:  J.P. Viernes

Speaking of coming of age stories... Fourteen years later, these littles are now 20-22 year olds and my son has a theatre degree from Northwestern University! You never know how early exposure to theatre arts will grow. 

Places please: 

Behind the scenes of Paramount’s Billy Elliot: The Musical 

Performing the title role requires a “triple-threat” young performer who can act, sing and is a highly-trained ballet dancer. Paramount has found their Billy, two of them in fact, Neo Del Corral and Sam Duncan, who will alternate in the role. 

Paramount's Billy Elliot: The Musical will feature “triple-threat” actors/singers/dancers Neo Del Corral (left) and Sam Duncan alternating in the role of Billy.

Jennie Sophia (right, standing) plays Billy’s late Mum, Michelle Aravena(center) is Billy’s ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, and Neo Del Corral (left) plays Billy. 

Neo Del Corral performs the title role in Billy Elliot: The Musical

Jennie Sophia (left) plays Billy’s Mum, and Neo Del Corral plays Billy in Billy Elliot: The Musical. Note: Neo shares the role with Sam Duncan.

Del Corral, a veteran dancer at Miami City Ballet, has played Billy in productions in Florida and California. Duncan, from Connecticut, making his Billy debut, has many credits including John in Fun Home, the young prince in Public Theatre’s Richard III, plus TV appearances on Saturday Night Live and What We Do in the Shadows.

Sam Duncan (center, back to camera) plays the title role in Billy Elliot: The MusicalNote: Sam shares the role with Neo Del Corral. 

Sam Duncan (aloft) plays Billy and Christopher Kelley is Older Billy

Sam Duncan (center) plays Billy 

Sam Duncan (right) plays Billy and Ron E. Rains is Dad

Billy (Sam Duncan, right) spins Michael (Gabriel Lafazan) upside down in 
“Expressing Yourself” 

Principal cast members include (top, from left) Michelle Aravena (Mrs. Wilkinson), Ron E. Rains (Dad), (bottom) Barbara Robertson (Grandma) and Spencer Milford (Tony).

Michelle Aravena (center) plays Mrs. Wilkinson, a ballet teacher who sees unusual talent in a boy named Billy in Billy Elliot: The Musicalplaying now through March 24 at Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora. Photo credit: Liz Lauren

Youth performers are Gabriel Lafazan (Michael), Omi Lichtenstein and Elin Joy Seiler (rotating as Debbie), Charlie Long and Archer Geye (rotating as Tall Boy/Posh Boy), Levi Merlo and Eli Vander Griend (rotating as Small Boy), Ava Barabasz and Nina Poulimas (rotating as Angela Robson), Maya Keane and Meena Sood (rotating as Julie Hope), Avelyn Choi and Asha Dale Hopman (rotating as Keeley Gibson), Jojo Nabwangu and Willa Zatzenbloom (rotating as Margaret Gormley), Annabel Finch and Katie Romanski (rotating as Sharon Percy), Alexandria Rose Bell and Kavia Suri Kakodkar (rotating as Susan Parks), and Jordyn Helvie and Piper Sobel (rotating as Tracey Atkinson).

The ensemble (at press time) features Brian Bandura, Lydia Burke, Joe Foust, Neil Friedman, Nathan Gallop, Jared David Michael Grant, Dakota Hughes, Brian Hupp, Conor Jordan, Christopher Kelley, Chris Khoshaba, Kevin Kuska, Michael Earvin Martin, Matt Miles, Liz Pazik, Concetta Russo, Jennie Sophia and Matthew Weidenbener. 

It’s 1984 in rural England, and coal miners are on strike in Billy Elliot: The Musical
playing now through March 24 at Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora.