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Working for the Weekend: Critics picks for 4/29-5/1

Kelly Kleiman

According to legend, when The Madness of George III was made into a movie, Hollywood suits insisted on a name change because they feared the audience would skip it, thinking they'd missed The Madness of George and The Madness of George II. Happily, Chicago Shakespeare has more faith in its audiences, so Alan Bennett's play about the demented King of England appears there under its original title.

While the movie focuses on the king's illness (a sudden descent into insanity later thought to be caused by porphyria), the play concerns itself largely with the machinations of the Prince of Wales and his allies in the Whig Party, who see--and exploit--an opportunity to push the king aside in favor of his son. This is why The Madness . . . belongs on the Chicago Shakespeare stage: because Bennett has taken this historical incident and created his own Shakespeare history play, complete with tragic flaws, evil conspirators, factions, and a distraught queen. If you get all the references to Hamlet and Lear, it's an extra fillip of fun; if you don't, Bennett's own writing will grip you and not let you go.

And Harry Groener as George III gives the performance of a career. Madness plays through June 12; if you're under 35, you can get $20 tickets.

(Photo by Bob Knuth)

And speaking of elaborate period costumes: Stephen Sondheim's waltz musical A Little Night Music opened last night at Circle Theatre in Oak Park. This beautiful show, based on Bergman's only comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, is just a little bit beyond the reach of the company: most but not all of their voices are up to it; several cast members are adapting to Circle's enlarged space by making their performances bigger than the still-intimate 1010 West Madison requires; and the two leads are significantly older than the characters they portray. It's nonetheless a delightful evening, highlighted by Jeremy Rill's turn as the pea-brained dragoon Karl-Magnus and by Anita Hoffman's absolutely perfect rendition of "Send in the Clowns." Through June 5, with tickets $22-$26.

It seems the Dueling Critics agree on some things, because this week, they're both vouching for A Little Night Music...

Jonathan Abarbanel

What do you get when you take Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night and combine it with 16 Stephen Sondheim tunes, all of them variations on ¾ time? The answer, of course, is the splendid pseudo-belle époque musical A Little Night Music, which has just opened at Circle Theatre in Oak Park, a reliable veteran theater troupe which knows how to do these things well. The surroundings are nothin’ fancy, but street parking is easy to find and Oak Park abounds in good restaurants. A Little Night Music runs through June 5.

Also just opened is Rantoul and Die, a comedy by Mark Roberts, presented by American Blues Theater at Victory Gardens on Lincoln Avenue. One presumes it will be funny but facile, as Roberts is one of creators of TV’s Big Bang Theory and Two-and-a-Half Men. What it REALLY has going for it is a dream cast featuring American Blues ensemble members Kate Buddeke and Cheryl Graeff, plus two guest artists from the Steppenwolf ensemble, workhorse actor Francis Guinan and Tony Award winner Rondi Reed. Rantoul and Die runs through May 22.

Laura Molzahn

James Gregg

Coming up quickly, like tomorrow: DanceWorks Chicago’s free Dance Bytes program, Friday at 12:30 PM. You get a glimpse of a DWC premiere by James Gregg, followed by munchies and jawing over the raisons d’etre of the piece. Gregg has danced for some heavy-hitting choreographers (Frank Chaves, Aszure Barton, Crystal Pite, Danny Ezralow…), and the piece he choreographed for River North a few years ago, “Redlight,” riffed ingeniously on the tango. The new work for DWC, “S 5,” riffs on Vivaldi arias. “The feeling I envision is very sensitive and sensual,” Gregg says.

If you miss that event, DanceWorks Chicago—definitely a group worth watching—also has a Dance Chance affair coming up Monday at 6, for the amazing sum of $3, featuring the choreography of newcomers Sarah Strackany, Lizzie Leopold, and Dayton Castleman; it’s moderated by Surinder Martignetti of the MCA. Basically a dance incubator, DWC provides training to a select troupe of young dancers, choreographic opportunities to fledgling and established artists alike, and behind-the-scenes info about dance to audiences.

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