Don't-Miss List November 29-December 5: Two Gilbert & Sullivans, a family drama and a first-rate 'Annie'
The Gilbert & Sullivan Reperatory, The Hypocrites at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division; 773-989-7352; $28; runs through Jan. 13.
Wildly challenging and sometimes pig-headedly wrong, The Hypocrites are never dull in their reinvention of the classics. Sometimes, however, the great works merely need to be presented and not reinvented. Ya' pays yer money, ya' takes yer choice. They had a super big hit last year with a version of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance and so they're repeating it this year along with The Mikado, staged in rotating repertory. Company co-founder Sean Graney is the director and skilled musician/composer Kevin O'Donnell has "re-imagined" the music. Both shows are presented in promenade style, meaning the audience and cast both move about the performance space, a presentation style which Mr. Graney often has favored. Accommodations are made for audience members with mobility issues. Also, in both shows the cast members double as musicians and performers (a trick also on display currently in Failure: A Love Story at Victory Gardens Theater). Fair warning: As brilliant as he can be, Mr. Graney's interpretations of the classics often are much more about Sean Graney than they are about the classic. –JA
The Feast, Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, 773-539-7838; $20; runs through December 16
This world premiere skillfully weaves a family drama set at that most family-dramatic of times, Thanksgiving day, with an examination of the way health care is meted out (or not) in this country. Though the play has a strong political view, it's never pedantic; we see politics through the eyes of the characters, whose family business is running a for-profit HMO. Director Brian Bell wrings every ounce of tension, meaning and humor out of Tony Fiorentino's script, which deserves as many productions as he can find for it. Any subsequent version would be hard-pressed, though, to match the stark beauty and eerie intensity of Joseph Lark-Riley's sets, Nevena Todorovic's costumes and Katherine Campbell's props. The Feast plays only for a few more weekends; get yourself to Elston and Addison (cati-corner from Chief O'Neill's Pub) before it disappears. –KK
Annie, Paramount Theatre, 8 East Galena Boulevard in Aurora 630-896-6666; $34.90-$46.90; through December 30
If Rachel Rockwell were a man, she would long since have been recognized as a genius of musical theater. However belatedly, let me hail her as one now. Certainly it would be hard to beat her range: After directing last year's extraordinary production of Sweeney Todd at Drury Lane, she's turned her hand to Annie. I'm a certified curmudgeon and was accompanied by another, and we both loved it. Gene Weygandt is such a perfect Daddy Warbucks that his abundance of hair doesn't even seem strange, and Christine Sherrill is a riotous Miss Hannigan; but when every performer is this good, credit rightly goes to the director. Rockwell gets particular kudos for directing a troupe of children (led by the able 12-year-old Caroline Heffernan in the title role) AND a dog while keeping the show wonderfully lively and treacle-free. This perfect family production even contains just enough Christmas to remind you of the season without drowning you in it. Brava, Madame Director! –KK