Showing posts with label annual holiday top picks list. Show all posts
Showing posts with label annual holiday top picks list. Show all posts

Sunday, November 26, 2017

REVIEW: Acclaimed It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! Now in 16th Year at American Blues Theater

American Blues Theater Presents
16th Annual Production of
It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!
From Frank Capra’s film
Directed by Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside

Through January 6, 2018 

Photo credit for all: Michael Brosilow

**Holiday Events: Children 12 & under receive keepsakes on December 16 (Hanukkah) and December 24 (Santa visits)**

Guest Post by Lori Morrison-Contreras

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favorite Christmas movies. It was one of my Grandma’s too and I have so many wonderful memories of watching it with her that it now has much deeper meaning for me. The live radio version of It’s a Wonderful Life by American Blues Theater is a wonderful old fashioned treat to kick off the holiday season! The stage was gorgeously set, in deep red with lots of light and many, fully decorated Christmas trees. As you walk in, the actors are singing your favorite classic holiday songs. 

It is definitely the full 40’s small town Beford Falls experience with the actors greeting everyone as they walk in and passing out cookies and milk as you leave. They even kept the commercials and all references within the theme of old time 40’s language and charm.

As it is a radio play, there is no physical action on stage. Yet, you are able to see each actor change the tone and expression of their voice to truly become so many different characters that it keeps audience members of all ages engaged and entertained. My son and I loved being able to see the sound booth and how ordinary items like glasses and crinkled paper are used to do all the sound effects and add so much to the telling of the story.

In these times of huge special effects, it is a welcome change to go back to a more minimalist, basic approach with this classic. Some of my favorite, more visual scenes (like falling into the pool during the dance contest) are left out of the radio telling, but all the classic elements of George Bailey’s life are there and at the end you will still have a tear in your eye as Clarence earns his wings and George realized that he truly is the richest man in town.

About the Show:
American Blues Theater continues its 2017-2018 Season with its 16th Annual Production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from Frank Capra’s film and directed by Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside with musical direction by Ensemble Member Michael Mahler. It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! runs through January 6, 2018 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago.

Wednesdays:  7:30pm
Thursdays:  7:30pm
Fridays:  7:30pm
Saturdays:  4:30pm & 7:30pm
Sundays:  2:30pm

Additional performances on November 29 at 2:30pm; December 20 at 2:30pm; and January 2 at 4:30pm and 7:30pm

No performances on December 13 at 7:30pm; December 25 (Christmas Day); or January 6 at 7:30pm

Arrive 10 min early for prizes and audiograms

Ticket prices: $19 - $49

Box Office: Buy online at or by calling 773.327.5252.

For 16 years, the American Blues Ensemble has treated Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast of holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life. The incredible cast recreates the entire town of Bedford Falls with Foley sound effects, an original score and holiday carols. The Bedford Falls “residents” extend their hospitality after every performance treating audiences to milk and cookies served by the cast.

“This story is a staple of our mission: American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves,” notes Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “This story reminds us of the fragility of life. Frank Capra’s line – “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – resonates throughout the year. During the holidays, it becomes a poignant reminder as we gather with our loved ones.”

The cast of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! includes Blues artists Dara Cameron (Violet), Ian Paul Custer (Harry), Shawn Goudie (Foley), James Joseph (Uncle Billy), Zach Kenney (George Bailey), Michael Mahler (Announcer), John Mohrlein (Clarence/Mr. Potter), Camille Robinson (Mary Bailey – 12/20-1/6) and Gwendolyn Whiteside (Mary Bailey – 11/16-12/17). 

The creative team includes Austin Cook (score composer), Grant Sabin (scenic), Christopher J. Neville (costumes), Katy Peterson (lighting), Elyse Dolan (properties) and Paul Deziel (projection design). The stage manager is Kathryn Lochert.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! has received Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for Best Midsize Production and Best Ensemble. 

About the Artists
GWENDOLYN WHITESIDE (Director, Mary Bailey Nov. 16 – Dec. 17) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater and has served as Producing Artistic Director since 2010. Under her leadership, American Blues has nearly doubled the size of its Ensemble, added 28 Artistic Affiliates, and diversified its base of artists. She created the nationally-recognized annual Blue Ink Playwriting Award, Blueprint Development for new work, implemented community service into the company’s mission, and adapted the arts education program The Lincoln Project for Chicago Public Schools which serves over 1,500 students annually. She led American Blues through its 2009 rebirth and built the operational budget from zero to $825,000 in six (6) years. Whiteside served numerous panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and sat on the national Board of Directors for Network of Ensemble Theaters. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University (cum laude), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Nonprofit management (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University). She was nominated for “Chicagoan of the Year” in Chicago Magazine and twice listed in Newcity’s annual Players list. In six years, six American Blues’ productions won or were nominated for best production by the Joseph Jefferson Award committee. She’s received 11 Joseph Jefferson Awards, Citations, and nominations as an actress and Producing Artistic Director. Her favorite performances include Jeff Award for Solo Performance (Grounded), Jeff Award nomination for Solo Performance (the K of D), Mary’s Wedding (Top 5 performances in Indianapolis), Collected Stories (Best Actress Broadway World Chicago Award), and 6 years as “Mary Bailey” (It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!). She’s the recipient of two (2) After Dark Awards and numerous Broadway World Chicago Awards and nominations.

DARA CAMERON (Violet) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. She so happy to be back with her American Blues family for her fifth It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago. Other favorite credits include Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors (American Blues Theater); Jovie in Elf, October Sky, Sister Act, City of Angels, Hero, The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Fiddler on the Roof, and Little Women (Marriott Theatre); Old Jews Telling Jokes (Off-Broadway and at the Royal George); Wednesday in The Addams Family (Mercury Theatre); Sunset Boulevard, Seussical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Drury Lane). She is a proud member of Actors’ Equity and a graduate of Northwestern University. As always, she’s delighted to share the stage with her husband, Michael Mahler, and even more delighted that this year they get to share their favorite holiday tradition with their son-to-be, due to arrive in March. 

IAN PAUL CUSTER (Harry) is a proud ensemble member of American Blues Theater.  Recent American Blues credits: The Columnist (David Halberstam, Jeff Nomination for Best Production – Midsize), It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! (Jeff Nomination for Best Ensemble and Best Production – Midsize), Little Shop of Horrors (Orin Skrivello, Jeff Nomination for Best Production of a Musical – Midsize), and Yankee Tavern.  Recent Chicago theatrical credits: Bad Jews (Theatre Wit, North Shore Center, Royal George), 33 Variations (TimeLine Theatre, Jeff Award for Best Production – Midsize), Annie Bosh is Missing (Steppenwolf Theatre), High Holidays (Goodman Theatre), To Master the Art (Broadway Playhouse/TimeLine Theatre), Strangers, Babies (Steep Theatre), and Fiddler on the Roof (Paramount Theatre).  Regional theatrical credits: Hero: The Musical (Asolo Rep Theatre), Cymbeline (Notre Dame Shakespeare), Romeo and Juliet (Cardinal Stage), Peter Pan (360 Entertainment - London, England).  Television credits: APB, Empire, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD.  Love to Shannon, my friends, and my family for all the support.  

SHAWN J. GOUDIE (Foley) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He excited to be returning for his 9th season of It's A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago. It is a joy for him to share the magic of old time radio with so many wonderful folks year after year. He would like to thank his amazing wife, their endlessly curious children and his loving parents.

ZACH KENNEY (George Bailey) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He is thrilled to return as “George”, and to return to It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago for a third time. Previous work with American Blues also includes Waiting for Lefty, directed by Kimberly Senior. Chicago credits include: Hit the Wall (The Inconvenience); Hair (American Theater Company); The March (u/s, Steppenwolf Theatre); Chicago Boys (Goodman Theatre New Stages); The Gospel According to James (Victory Gardens Theater); and The Farnsworth Invention and Not Enough Air (TimeLine Theatre). Regional: The Great Gatsby, Red, Mary’s Wedding (opposite Gwendolyn Whiteside), and Who Am I This Time? (Indiana Rep); A Little Night Music (u/s) and 1776 (A.C.T.); 1776 (Asolo Rep); and An Immaculate Misconception (Eureka Theatre Co.). Television/film: Chicago Fire, LifeSteps…, and Schizo Cool. A San Francisco native, Zach trained at A.C.T.'s Young Conservatory (originating the title role in Horton Foote's The Actor in 2002) before attending The Theatre School at DePaul University. Zach resides in Los Angeles and thanks Alli, GTG, and this exceptional company.

JAMES JOSEPH (Uncle Billy) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. He returns for his eighth season of It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!  Also at American Blues he appeared in Tobacco Road, performed voiceovers for Hank Williams: Lost Highway and American Myth, and has written for the Ripped festival.  He has performed on Chicago stages for twenty years, including at Steppenwolf Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, and TimeLine Theatre.  He is your audio guide for the permanent Chicago Authored exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, and was nominated for a Non-Equity Jeff Award (Supporting Actor) for his role in Faith Healer with UMA Productions.  

MICHAEL MAHLER (Announcer/Pianist) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. He happily returns for a seventh season in Bedford Falls. American Blues credits include Little Shop of Horrors, Side Man, and Hank Williams: Lost Highway. Other Chicagoland credits include: Honeymoon in Vegas, City of Angels, and The 25th Annual… Spelling Bee (Marriott Theatre); The March (Steppenwolf Theatre); Working (Broadway in Chicago); and The Fox on the Fairway, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Jeff nomination), and The Producers (Theatre at the Center). Michael is the Jeff award-winning composer/lyricist of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, October Sky, The Man who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure, and Hero. He also contributed additional lyrics to the new Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Up next, Michael will music direct and appear in Blues’ production of Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story. He is proud to share the stage with his wife, Dara Cameron, who is full of the joy of the season (and also a baby).

JOHN MOHRLEIN (Clarence/Mr. Potter) is a proud Ensemble member of American Blues Theater. 16 years as “Clarence/Mr. Potter”, and he loves getting to revisit and reinvent these characters year after year.  At American Blues, he’s appeared in Half of Plenty, It’s a Wonderful Life, A View from the Bridge, Strictly Dishonorable, American Dead, The Hairy Ape, A Lie of the Mind, Endgame, American Buffalo, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Threepenny Opera, A Stone Carver (Jeff nomination for Best Actor, After Dark Award for Outstanding Performance), and directed Catch-22. Other credits: The Glass House at the Art Institute of Chicago; nine productions at Goodman Theatre; and Cripple of Inishmaan, Heart of a Dog, and Murder of Cardinal Tosca at Northlight Theatre. His extensive television and film work includes Golden Boy, Good Night Sweet Wife, Dillinger, Killing Floor, Early Edition, Crime Story (recurring role), Untouchables, Devil’s Dominoes, Stranger Than Fiction, No Place to be Somebody, Hellcab, Hero, and Cold Justice.  Now he’s developing “Star Crossed Lovers”, “Pope Frank in Venice”, while continuing to install his art works.

CAMILLE ROBINSON (Mary Bailey, Dec. 20 – Jan. 6) is a proud Artistic Affiliate of American Blues Theater. She is thrilled to be returning to this lovely, timeless show! She owes everything to her family for she would be nothing without their love and support. Recent Chicago theater credits include: Lizzie (Firebrand Theatre), Big River (Theatre at the Center), Jesus Christ Superstar (Paramount Theatre), A Wonder in My Soul (Victory Gardens Theater), Wonderful Town (Goodman Theatre), and Little Shop of Horrors (American Blues Theater). Recent TV/Film credits include: Chicago Med and Chicago PD (NBC). Represented by Gray Talent Group.

Community Service
For this production, American Blues Theater will support and partner with the USO and U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs, and Misericordia. American Blues also continues its “Pink Previews” to donate proceeds from all preview performances to The Lynn Sage Foundation for breast cancer research.

Soldier Spotlight
During each performance, American Blues Theater honors one serviceman or servicewoman with a short personal tribute, a projected photo, and two (2) complimentary tickets. Submissions should be sent to American Blues Theater. There are limited spots available for the 2017 production. Neither you nor the nominee must be present to receive the spotlight.  For more information, contact Elyse Dolan at 

About American Blues Theater
Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious 2016 National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home.  American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.

The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago.  The 36-member Ensemble has 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2017, the theater and artists received 195 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 35 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.  

American Blues Theater programs and activities are made possible, in part by funding by The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at Prince, the Shubert Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, SMART Growth Grant, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Anixter Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, and the Chip Pringle Fund. ComEd is the Season Lighting Sponsor.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Theatre Tickets Make Great Gifts


League of Chicago Theatres’ annual Holiday Guide highlights seasonal productions

Cut the clutter and give an unforgettable experience instead!

ChiIL Mama will be there... will YOU?!

The holidays mean a virtual avalanche of great theatre and it can be daunting to dig through all the openings and seasonal short runs. Check back with ChiIL Live Shows and ChiIL Mama like we vote in Chi, IL... early and often. We'll have loads of original reviews, theatre news, interviews and even ticket giveaways. Still, we're a small outlet and can't be everywhere. So, for a comprehensive listing of holiday hits easily split by genre, The League of Chicago Theatres’ is your best bet. **We've added asterisks to our favorites that we will be reviewing or covering on our outlets as well.

The Chicago theater community will present a wide variety of festive plays and musicals, as well as dance and concert offerings this Holiday season.  In support, the League of Chicago Theatres will once again create a comprehensive Holiday Theater Guide that will be available beginning in November at hotels, theaters, events, and destinations across the Chicago area.  An updated list of holiday shows with additional details about each production will be available throughout the season at  Additionally, many holiday shows will be available at Hot Tix, Chicago’s local, half-price ticketing service.

The following is a selection of Holiday-themed work playing in Chicago this season.

Classic Chicago favorites include:

**Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of hope and redemption A CHRISTMAS CAROL, returns to the Goodman Theatre for the 38th year. Through December 27, 2015.

**Capra’s holiday staple gets the 1940’s radio treatment with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE IN CHICAGO! presented by American Blues Theater at the Greenhouse Theater Center, November 20 – December 27, 2015.

**The House Theatre presents its wholly original, ballet-free, fast paced and family friendly version of THE NUTCRACKER at the Chopin Theatre, weaving dance, text, and songs to tell a story of magic and mystery. Runs through December 31, 2015.

**The Joffrey Ballet’s lavish and beloved THE NUTCRACKER returns to the Auditorium Theatre, featuring Robert Joffrey’s version for one last time, December 4 – 27, 2015.

Holiday-themed musicals include:

**The classic Chicago musical THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER sets sail again at The Mercury Theater featuring a powerful, moving story, an exquisite score of original music and traditional holiday favorites, and a company of 25 actors and musicians. November 25 – December 27, 2015.

**Drury Lane Theatre presents WHITE CHRISTMAS: THE MUSICAL, a merry and bright stage production based on the classic silver screen romantic comedy. Through January 3, 2016,

A KOKANDY CHRISTMAS premieres at Theater Wit, featuring new musical arrangements of favorites old and new performed by five of Chicago’s brightest musical theater talents. Runs December 3 – 23, 2015.

Holiday comedies include:

**The Second City and Goodman Theatre’s TWIST YOUR DICKENS returns for a second smash year. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, three ridiculous ghosts and a cast of The Second City’s funniest members take the Goodman by storm, as wicked parody, daring improve and a host of guest celebs run rampant. December 4 – 27, 2015.

**David Sedaris’ classic comedy SANTALAND DIARIES returns to Theater Wit November 20 – December 27, 2015.

Other notable works include:

**A Q BROTHERS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL, a hip-hop holiday treat set to a bangin’ beat returns to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. November 28 – January 3, 2016.

Strawdog Theatre presents Paula Vogel’s hauntingly beautiful A LONG CHRISTMAS RIDE HOME. Through December 12.

**The Hypocrites bring back BURNING BLUEBEARD to The Den Theatre, inspired by the true story of Chicago’s 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire, six singed clown performers perform their spectacular Christmas pantomime once and for all. Runs November 19 – January 10, 2016.

**HELLCAB portrays the story of a cab driver in for the longest night of his life as he transports a bizarre and mysterious array of customers through the gritty streets of Chicago on Christmas Eve, at Profiles Theatre, through January 10, 2016.

Hot Tix
Celebrating 35 years this month, Hot Tix offers half-price tickets to a wide variety of theatre productions for the current week, as well as future performances, including many holiday selections for the whole family. Hot Tix has three convenient downtown walk-up locations and half-price tickets are also available online at, easily searchable by date, show, theatre, or genre.

Hours and Locations

Expo 72: 72 E. Randolph (across from the Chicago Cultural Center)
Tues – Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-4pm

Water Works: 163 E. Pearson (along the Magnificent Mile)
Tues – Sat: 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-4pm

Block Thirty Seven: 108 N. State (at the first floor Guest Services desk)
Mon – Sat: 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm

Follow Hot Tix on social media:

Subscribe to the Hot Tix email list at

About Chicago theater
Chicago theater is the leader in the U.S. with more than 250 theaters throughout Chicagoland, comprising a rich and varied community ranging from storefront, non-union theaters to the most renowned resident theaters in the country, including 5 which have been honored with Regional Tony Awards, and the largest touring Broadway organization in the nation. Chicago’s theaters 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. In 2009-10 alone Chicago theater companies produced more than 130 world premiere productions and adaptations. Each year Chicago theaters send new work to resident theaters across the country, to Broadway, and around the world. 

The League of Chicago Theatres’ Mission Statement
The League of Chicago Theatres is an alliance of theaters which leverages its collective strength to promote, support and advocate for Chicago's theater industry locally, nationally and internationally. The League of Chicago Theatres Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the art of theater in the Chicago area through audience development and support services for theaters and theater professionals.

For a comprehensive list of Chicago productions, visit the League of Chicago website,  Discounted tickets are available at

Friday, November 28, 2014

OPENING: Burning Bluebeard is Back at Theater Wit For 2014 #ChiILPicksList

Act Out:  Chicago Theatre openings, closings, reviews, giveaways, ticket sale dates and more. 

Chi, IL Live Shows on stage and on our radar.

Ode to Burning Bluebeard: How do we love thee... let me count the ways. How can a show about the most deadly single building fire in HISTORY be a family friendly holiday show?! How can we return year after year, like a moth to the flame, strangely drawn to this crispy cast of castaways, to look into their soot smudged faces and hear their stories? 

**Click here & scroll down to check out 5+ of our past Burning Bluebeard features.** 

There are many of our all time favs returning for the 2014 holiday season. Burning Bluebeard tops our list of must see remounts. It's too good to just see once, or even once a season. Highly recommended! ChiIL Live Shows/ChiILMama's ChiIL Picks List for best holiday theatre.

Burning Bluebeard won't break the bank and is an amazing dark comedy, with thought provoking dialogue and amusing physical play. We thoroughly enjoyed it the past two years, I took both kids the first year, at The Futurarium, because Anthony Courser (Bluebeard) had been their circus instructor for a while and they love to see their instructors in creative projects. But there's one intense scene (blackout/audio only recap of the fire) sensitive kids may have a tough time with. 

We'd give it a PG13/mature tweens and up rating, because of the macabre subject matter (600 people-primarily women & children trampled, burned & dying in a theatre fire!), though handled tastefully. Of course, every kid is different, and since mine are fairly theatre savvy and unflappable, they were 9 & 11 when we first saw it. If in doubt, do your research. 

Burning Bluebeard is based on a true slice of history that should be seen and remembered, especially if you frequently see shows at The Oriental Theatre. 110+ years after this tragedy, Burning Bluebeard depicts this horrific event many are completely unaware even happened, in a poignant and creative way. It's a moving tribute.  


With Chi-town favs Jay Torrence, as writer, and Halena Kays directing, this is an absolute must see. Much of the original cast is back again as well, and a true joy to watch in action. They all do a stellar job with the grim subject matter, evoking not only empathy and emotion but laughs as well. They had to drop the fire escape rap (one of our fav parts of the first show-though specific to the TMLMTBGB space they began in). Please please put it on YouTube for me or let us run it here on the blogs for posterity! Otherwise, we imagine the remount this year will be quite similar and every bit as effective for the 2nd time around at Theater Wit.

BURNING BLUEBEARD 2014 will also add Pam Chermansky to the cast, another of our friends and favorites here at ChiIL Mama/ ChiIL Live Shows. My kids studied circus arts with both Pam and Anthony for several years. We also adore Molly Plunk, Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski Courser and Ryan Walters and have enjoyed their work in many places around town including 500 Clown, The Hypocrites, Actors Gym, Barrel of Monkeys and more.


"Burning Bluebeard"

Written by Jay Torrence

and Directed by Halena Kays 
Returns for Three Weeks Only

Tickets on sale NOW!
December 13, 2014 through January 04, 2015
Burning Bluebeard
Theater Wit/Theater Three
The Ruffians
Visiting Company

The critically acclaimed holiday hit BURNING BLUEBEARD returns for its third Chicago production. Don't miss your chance to see this limited engagement three week run of this audience favorite show that has the entire city reliving a piece of Chicago history. 

Inspired by the true story of Chicago's 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire, BURNING BLUEBEARD is the story of six singed clown performers who emerge from the burnt remains of history attempting to perform their spectacular 1903 Christmas Pantomime once and for all. But this time they hope to finally reach the true happy ending of their second act and avoid the fateful fire that killed 600 of its audience members. Don't miss your chance to see the whimsical delight, the poignant drama and stunning visual beauty that is BURNING BLUEBEARD.

"The entire show is gripping in its originality, intensity and boundary-crossing audacity."

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune.


4 STARS - Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago

"Whip smart and feverishly emotional."

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED -Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times

"Hilarious, Horrific and Holy."

-Chicago Reader

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission

There is no late seating available for this production.

The Ruffians are an artistic collective of theater makers (clowns, daredevils, acrobats, dancers, writers, performers, designers, directors). The Ruffians have all honed their craft working over a decade in Chicago’s various and thriving experimental, clown and storefront theater communities. A Ruffians objective is to make beautiful things with rough edges. A Ruffians motto: Breathe. Dare. Live.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ACT OUT CLOSING: The Other Cinderella at Black Ensemble Theatre #ChiILpicks #review #holidaytheatrefavs

Must close January 13



If you haven't seen this show yet, go already!   The Other Cinderella is highly recommended and makes our ChiILpicks list for Holiday Theatre Favorites.  My nine year old daughter, Sage, and I caught opening night of this rockin' remake of the fairytale classic and were blown away by the talented cast and creative script.  

Sage is all about grrrrl power and has a low tolerance for the typical Cinderella fairy tale genre, so we happily skipped the more traditional Emerald City Cinderella for The Other Cinderella this year.   Sage found great role models in tiny but mighty Alyssa Zopp (Peanut Butter), a girl from the hood who's "one of the boys", and in Ta-Tynisa Wilson's entirely endearing Cinderella portrayal. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the impressive talent of the vocalists, and the soul, Motown vibe of the musical numbers was a welcome break from more traditional, seasonal musical fare.  Sage did grumble that there were too many songs and not enough dialogue, but she's not a huge fan of musicals, to begin with.  Otherwise she was quite enthusiastic about recommending the show.   There's a bit of mellowly mature language, but overall, this is a great, family friendly piece with hilarious characters and and excellent message of empowerment, made modern, yet retaining fun fairy tale elements.   

We sincerely hope The Other Cinderella continues to make a reappearance as a holiday classic for years to come.   The Other Cinderella has returned every other year since 1976.   Sure, the famous coach driver has changed over the years, and cell phones and other updated trappings have appeared and become woven into the ever evolving and changing piece.    But the core message remains as timely and relevant as it was 26 years ago. 

The Other Cinderella

Written & directed by:    Black Ensemble Theater Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor
Choreographer:             Rueben Echoles
Musical Director:           Robert Reddrick
Dates:                          November 23 – January 13, 2012 
Location:                      Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street.
Ticket prices:                $55 - $65
Box Office:                   Buy online at or call (773) 769-4451

The most successful of all of the Black Ensemble Theater productions, The Other Cinderella returns every other year since 1976.  It is now a Black Ensemble classic that always features some new twist, turns, and surprises.  The Other Cinderella joyously retells the familiar fairy tale with an Afro-centric twist.  There’s a “Stepmama” who works at the post office, two stepsisters who “don’t do nuthin’,” the brothers are from the ‘hood, Cinderella was born in the projects and the “fairy Godmama” is from Jamaica.  Just as in the “traditional” Cinderella, there is a King, a Queen, and a Prince, but in this kingdom, everybody has soul.  The Other Cinderella is appropriate for all ages, featuring original music, exciting dances and a heartwarming story that reminds audiences of the greatness of the human spirit.

The mission of the Black Ensemble Theater Company is to eradicate racism and its devastating effects upon society through the theater arts. For more information on the Black Ensemble Theater Company, please visit or call 773-769-4451.

“We are thrilled to bring back our bi-annual hit The Other Cinderella,” says Jackie Taylor. “It’s amazing to witness the many generations that keep returning year after year. The audience is a rainbow of colors, cultures and ages which testifies to how The Other Cinderella delivers a message of love, hope and the importance of believing in yourself that really speaks to the masses.” As with every production there is always something new and exciting coming from the Kingdom of Other.

As with all Black Ensemble Theater productions, Robert Reddrick will serve as musical director charged with making the beautiful original music written by Jackie Taylor and Michael Ward an unforgettable and transformational experience. The Black Ensemble Musicians include Robert Reddrick on drums, Tracy Baker on bass, Herbert Walker on guitar, and Mark Moultrup and Andrea Moore on piano.

The cast includes: Ta-Tynisa Wilson (Cinderella), A’rese Emokpae (The Fairy God Mama), Dawn Bless (Stepmama), Lisa Beasley (Margarite), Jessica Moore (Geneva), Dwight Neal (King), Rhonda Preston (Queen), Lawrence Williams (Prince), Raymond Wise (Page), David Simmons (Attendant), Mandy Lewis (Lady in Waiting), Brandon Holmes (Ground Hog), Alyssa Zopp (Peanut Butter), Malcolm Thompson (Pee Wee) Rueben Echoles (A.B.) and Erin O’Shea (Dorothy.)

The outstanding production team tasked with making this the most magical of all The Other Cinderella’s in the past 35 years includes Dave Ferguson (Set Design), June Saito (Costumes), Denise Karczewski (Lights), Rueben Echoles (Choreography and Wigs), and Sarah Helt (Props). Bekki Lambrecht is the Technical Director, Emily Wall is the production stage manager and Vickie Spires is the company Equity stage manager.

Black Ensemble Theater's world premiere production of
will be featured during Chicago Theater Week.

From Doo Wop to Hip Hop
Written by Jackie Taylor and Rueben Echoles
Directed by Jackie Taylor
February 7, 2013-March 31, 2013
Opening: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.

This melodic look at the Doo Wop era celebrates such iconic groups as The Platters, The Drifters and the Chantels (just to name a few). Since it first premiered in 1995 it has had several revivals because it is indeed a Black Ensemble Theater Treasure. You can't help but snap your fingers to the beat as we take a stroll down memory lane hearing those beautiful songs like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, This Magic Moment and Maybe while exploring how the successful music of today is related to the magical era of Doo Wop. With the emphasis on Doo Wop music this is a production that brings the '50s into the 21st Century.

Chicago Theater Week

The Black Ensemble Theater
Founded in 1976, by the phenomenal producer, playwright and actress Jackie Taylor, Black Ensemble Theater is the only African American theater located in the culturally, racially and ethnically diverse north side Uptown community. Through its Five Play Season of Excellence, The Black Ensemble Theater dazzles audiences locally, nationally and internationally with outstanding original musicals that are entertaining, educational and uplifting. The Black Ensemble Theater has produced more than 100 productions and employed over 5,000 artists.

On November 18, 2011, The Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center opened and is able to accommodate larger-scale productions, bigger audiences and a wider range of educational programming. The new facility includes amenities such as a 299-seat main stage theater (double the capacity of the original venue); 14 offices, classroom space; rehearsal hall, dance studio, scene shop, costume shop, and wardrobe rooms; seven dressing rooms; rehearsal room for musicians; front lobby space with concession areas; and an indoor parking garage. The completion of a 150-seat theater, which will serve as an experimental stage for the work of the Black Playwright Initiative (BPI), is expected in 2013

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