The Wickham’s

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Building on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Wickham’s: Pemberley at Christmas is a cute, clever play. Impetuous, silly Lydia is still head over heels for her her heel of a husband George Wickham, who’s still philandering and gambling, though she doesn’t see it. She believes her husband really is away working hard to earn a fortune for her.

Ha! Wake up, Lydia.

Set in the kitchen of Pemberly, Darcy’s family estate, the story revolves around poor Lydia’s awful marriage with a subplot about a new kitchen maid and her old friend, Brian who aspires to be an inventor. Modern themes of women working and innovation flavor the story.

Elizabeth is in a tizzy because her silly relatives may spoil a well-ordered Christmas, which has been the norm at Pemberly. Things take a turn for the worse when George Wickham, cad extraordinaire surprises  the family when he shows up drunk and disorderly after a bar brawl. The housekeeper, staff and Elizabeth try in vain to keep him under wrap, which never works out in a holiday tale.

What’s worse is minutes later the maid discovers an incriminating letter in Wickham’s pocket. Secrets are revealed and scandal must be avoided — if it can.

This play is the second in a trilogy, but you can follow the plot if you missed the first one and perhaps if you haven’t read or seen Pride and Prejudice, but if you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, you certainly should. It’s a favorite of mine.

The costumes and setting were spot on. The acting was good, though Wickham and Darcy seemed too stiff. Jane Austen’s wit is perfect and I can’t say the writing measured up to Austen, but it was fun. The characters were modernized to appeal to current playgoers, which I didn’t need. Still the show as clever and charmed me.

From Music Man

I’m still waking up with tunes from The Music Man. So I’ll share one of the big number “Seventy-Six Trombones,” one of the songs that’s sure to spread cheer.

The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.

West Side Story

I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America

Lyrics from eLyrics.net

Sunday, after going to the Lyric Opera’s West Side Story, I woke up with the above tune playing in my head. Throughout the day, “Maria,” “There’s a Place for Us,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Tonight” played in my head. Boy, is this show packed with great songs. With a full orchestra the music is all the more powerful.

The most beautiful sound I ever heard
(Maria, Maria, Maria)
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word
(Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria
Maria, Maria)
Maria!

Read more: Westside Story – Maria Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Lyric’s production is four star. With great singing, stellar dancing, and marvelous expansive sets, this Romeo & Juliet tale is not to be missed. Often revivals decide to “update” a story, thus ruining a show with tinkering. The Lyric trusts the original to entertain and they’re right to do so.

There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere
copyright http://elyrics.net

It was a joy to watch this tragic tale of 20th century star-crossed lovers. Funny, how one can watch a show with failed love and even murder and leave the theater uplifted, but while the story does succeed in making one consider injustice and division, West Side Story, like Romeo and Juliet, succeeds in warming the heart and making the audience think. Go figure.

Waa-Mu

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I’d never gone to a Waa-Mu show at Northwestern, but my friend saw that this year it would be a musical about forgotten female historical figures and I agreed to go. An 88 year old tradition, Waa-Mu was a variety show, but is now a musical project. For the last few years rather than a variety show, the students have written a full musical.

For the Record was this year’s play. It centered on mild-mannered Millenial Andi who works as a reporter at a Chicago newspaper. She’s hungry to write an article worthy of note, but she keeps getting dull assignments like reporting on street name changes. The street name task takes her down an interesting alley-way and she decides to investigate the lives of three forgotten women in history. The play shifts from the present to the past as we see the glorious work of Ida B. Wells, Gene Graebeel and Julie d’Aubigny.

The performances were terrific and the story flowed, though I thought it could sue some trimming. The sets were innovative. I enjoyed about learning about these noteworthy women, but I don’t think Ida B. Wells is an unknown. There are schools and streets with her name in these parts.

While the students write the story and songs, there’s a faculty member who makes the final decisions. I wish that person had kept the story simple. There’s enough drama with a young reporter struggling to make her way and survive at a paper that’s just been bought my a millionaire cum politician and the stories of three historic figures who faced great challenges in their days. We didn’t also need a helicopter mom who had an insatiable need for attention and devotion from her daughter. Then there’s a twist that pours on the guilt and it just added melodrama. Nonetheless, the play entertained and informed. The singing and music were a delight.

Back of the Yards

Saturday I went to the Newberry Library, which graciously presented a free reading of the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman’s one-act play, Back of the Yards. 

Set in the 19th century, the didactic Back of the Yards’ dramatizes the question of “What should we do to help poor kids who’re getting into trouble with the law?” It’s a moralistic story which reminded me of Medieval morality plays. The acting was compelling even though it was a reading so they had the script in their hands.

Plot: A priest and policeman meet on the street and discuss what to do with troubled youth. The priest, who believes in training and offering services to the youth,  challenges the officer because the cops go easy on kids guilty of petty crimes. The kids then ignore any warnings and increase their offenses. A neighborhood woman then joins their conversation.

The play then goes to illustrate this argument when a neighborhood hoodlum is shot and dies in the hospital. After the woman goes off to console the vicim’s mother. The priest and cop continue their discussion when the woman’s son arrives with a bloody arm. Soon we learn that he was part of this incident and he plans to leave town to avoid arrest.

My Take: The play hasn’t lost its relevance — and sadly may never. The script was rather heavy-handed and plodding, but the acting rescued the story. While they performed the reading with the scripts in hand, they put a lot of emotion and professionalism into their work, thus keeping the audience interested.

Prior to the play, there were three speakers, long-winded all, who provided background. I’d say they all praised the playwright too much. If this was an example of his work, he’s not on par with the greats of his era.

Still who can criticize a free play with professional actors? Certainly, not me. I’m glad I went.