Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wynton Wynton Wynton at Symphony Center! Jan. 22 & 23, 2016

Wynton Marsalis and his world renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are in residence this weekend at Symphony Center.  They'll perform three concerts, including a Jazz for Young People concert on Saturday Jan. 23 at 1 pm called "Who Is Duke Ellington?"  We caught last year's concert about Dave Brubeck, and I am sure that this will be equally amazing.  Wynton Marsalis is half jazz genius, half musical shaman, and his passion, humor, and desire to educate are so evident in his repartee with the audience.

The other two concerts look to be especially awesome, especially the Saturday Night classic "Battle of the Bands" between Marsalis and his troupe playing Ellington, and the Count Basie orchestra playing (guess who?) Count Basie!

If you like jazz and/or want your kids to like jazz, these are don't-miss concerts (especially the Jazz for Young People concert)


The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  Photo by Frank Stewart.
Jazz in the Key of Life (Jan. 22, 8 p.m.),Created by longtime JLCO member and trombonist Vincent Gardner.  Gardner’s inspiration and set list comes from iconic pop music of the 1970’s including selections by Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Donny Hathaway and more.  

Wynton Marsalis.
photo by Todd Rosenberg.
Jazz for Young People,®: Who Is Duke Ellington? (Jan. 23, 1 p.m.)Celebrating the American composer, pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington, this program highlights his unique contributions to jazz including the landmark tune “It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing). ” There will be a 30 minute Q&A led by Wynton Marsalis, immediately following the performance. 
Battle Royale Also Featuring the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra led by
Scotty Barnhart (Jan. 23, 8 p.m.)This raucous and joyous celebration of big band traditions will include the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performing Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn classics and the Count Basie Orchestra, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2015, performing signature Basie standards.

Tickets for all SCP Jazz series concerts can be purchased by phone at 800-223-7114 or 312-294-3000; online at, or at the Symphony Center box office: 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60604.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Working out- 2016 Edition

I'm trying not to freak out, but I need to exercise more.

I know, I know, it's the New Year, and just about everybody and their mother is saying the same thing.  I usually try to avoid the gym this time of year for just that reason.  (Although, if truth be told, which it must be, I've been avoiding the gym for the last few months)

I'd been biking quite a bit when it was warmer, but now that it's reached the single digits, I'm less intrepid about it.  And between that and the holiday pecan pie I indulged myself in, I need to move.

We recently got a recumbent bike donated to us from my father-in-law, and I've dutifully ensconsed it downstairs in the basement.   It's been sitting there, taunting me, saying something along the lines of "Hey Fatso! Betcha can't ride me!"

Day 1:  Beginner workout. 30 minutes Intensity
I have a long and storied history of working out, and have been sporadic in my attempts over the years.  When I have gotten going, I've been religious about it.  At one point I would do cardio for an hour, then play basketball or swim.

But life kind of got in the way, and once I stopped, I ended  taking that as my religion also.  (what can I say I'm religious!)

My latest in a series of plans is to wake up, take my son to school, then come back and get on the exercise bike for 30 minutes.  I can listen to music or a podcast and work out.  After that, shower, breakfast etc.  And once I get going, maybe even go to the gym.  My hope is that 30 minutes on the bike will be a baseline from which I can build.

Today is Day 2 of 2.  On day 1 (yesterday) I did the beginner's workout using  the Intensity setting. Day 2 I did the intermediate intervals workout,which I liked a little bit better.  I'm going to play around with the settings, and continue to grow.

I'll probably record these here for my edification, so if you are uninterested, please feel free to skip over.

Let's see how long this religious streak lasts.

Day 2: Intermediate workout Intervals 30 minutes

Thursday, December 31, 2015

REVIEW: Guys & Dolls at the Light Opera Works CLOSES 1/3/2016

We went yesterday afternoon to see the Light Opera Works show of Guys and Dolls (I previewed the show earlier on the blog).  The show is great, and sadly ends this week, so by all means, if you have the opportunity, you should go!

Light Opera Works is a professional theatre in residence at the Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern's campus.  They produce 4 main shows a year, starting in the summer, and ending in December.  They specialize in musical theater works.  This year their holiday show is Guys and Dolls, next year it will be Die FleiderMaus.  Other shows for next year include My Fair Lady and Mame.  (On a side note, at the curtain speech the executive director said they are looking for a new name for the theatre, and are soliciting suggestions from the public.  If you've got an idea, send it their way!)

Steve Silver (left) as Nathan Detroit betting with Justin Adair
(Sky Masterson)  Nathan couldn't remember the color of his tie.
photo by Mona Luan.
Guys and Dolls is a great and classic musical, with lots of great songs and characters.  I explained the show to my 7 year old son (who saw the show with us) like this:

 Nathan Detroit is a gambler who doesn't have the money to rent a space for his illegal gambling game.  To get the money, he bets his friend Sky Masterson that he can't get a lady who works at a church (Sergeant Sarah) to kiss him.  While Sky is trying to win the bet, he and the lady fall in love.  (It misses a lot of the plot points, but gets the gist across! And manages to avoid the sexual-political mine pits of taking a doll to Havana!)

The show, which featured a full orchestra, was very well-done.  The cast were all in fine form, and all of the main characters had excellent singing voices.  I was particularly enamored of some of the bit players, especially Cary Lovett who played Nicely Nicely Johnson.

Jim Heatherly and Cary Lovett as Benny and Nicely.
 photo by Mona Luan
He had a great stage presence, a wonderful voice, and seemed to be channeling Buddy Hackett.  His revival showstopping piece Sit Down Your Rocking The Boat was great, as was the Fugue for Tin Horns and Guys and Dolls with partner Jim Heatherly as Benny Southstreet.  I also thought that the chorus of dancers and swings did a great job of making 1930's Time Square come to life.

Both of the actors that played Sky and Sarah Brown also did a great job.  Their scenes in Havana and the songs If I were a bell/ My Time of Night both rang true, as did Sky's song "Luck Be A Lady"  One song that was well sung, but is now a little dated was the denouement song "Marry The Man Today"  In it, Adelaide and Sarah get the idea to marry today, and change their husbands tomorrow.

Here's some of the lyrics:
The two sets of lovers:
Sarah & Sky above (Elizabeth Telford/Justin Adair)
Nathan & Adelaide below. (Steve Silver/Sarah Larson)
photo by Mona Luan

Marry the man today.
Trouble though he may be
Much as he likes to play
Crazy and wild and free
Marry the man today
Rather than sigh in sorrow
Marry the man today
And change his ways tomorrow.
Marry the man today.
Marry the man today
Maybe he's leaving town
Don't let him get away
Hurry and track him down
Counterattack him and
Marry the man today
Give him the girlish laughter
Give him your hand today

And save the fist for after.

As I said to my wife at the end of the show, "How'd that work out for you?"  My point being that getting married with the expectation that your partner will change is a 1940's concept.   Now you need to accept your partner for who they are.  And if you don't, divorce is in your future. But that's a quibble.

In short this is a great production of a classic musical, and you will leave humming the classic songs, just like we did.

Go if you can, it closes January 3!

Sunday, December 27 at 2 pm
Wednesday, December 30 at 2 pm
(Family matinee -- meet the cast after the show)
Thursday, December 31 at 8 pm (New Year's Eve)
Friday, January 1, 2016 at 8 pm
Saturday, January 2 at 8 pm
Sunday, January 3 at 2 pm

Tickets start at $34.  (Ages 21 and younger are 1/2 price!)  They suggest that this show is suitable for kids ages 8 and older.

Production is at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street in Evanston.

You can purchase tickets by calling (847) 920-5360 or by visiting their website.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Guys and Dolls in Evanston- NOW-January 3

This is late notice, but I just discovered an upcoming show that sounds fabulous, perfect for families, and might fit into your holiday plans:

The Light Opera Works company is performing Broadway classic Guys and Dolls at the Cahn Auditorium now through January 3.

This story, based on iconic Broadway journalist, writer and raconteur Damon Runyon's fantastic set of stories set in Times Square, has lots of classic songs, including "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," "My Time of Night" and "If I Were A Bell."  Like all of their mainstage productions, the show is being produced with a full orchestra.

Light Opera Works is an Evanston-based professional theatre company that specializes in producing musical theater from a variety of world traditions, including opera, Broadway, and revues.  Founded in 1980, they've presented over 100 mainstage productions, many second stage productions, and taught thousands of workshops and classes.  They've also been recognized for excellence many times in local media and press.

This production is directed by the Light Opera Works artistic director.

Sky Masterson & Company.  Photo by Mona Luan.
Sunday, December 27 at 2 pm
Wednesday, December 30 at 2 pm
(Family matinee -- meet the cast after the show)
Thursday, December 31 at 8 pm (New Year's Eve)
Friday, January 1, 2016 at 8 pm
Saturday, January 2 at 8 pm
Sunday, January 3 at 2 pm

Tickets start at $34.  (Ages 21 and younger are 1/2 price!)  They suggest that this show is suitable for kids ages 8 and older.

Production is at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street in Evanston.

You can purchase tickets by calling (847) 920-5360 or by visiting their website.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

EAR WORM: The Jimmie's Nothin' For Christmas

Photo of the Jimmies from their Facebook Page
I was listening to the radio this morning, and I heard what may be my new favorite holiday song:  The Jimmies Nothin' For Christmas.  It's a great song that features a non-recalcitrant girl/torch singer who is getting nothing for Christmas because she's been bad.  She then lists her multiple sins, which are funny and hilarious.  The background music is piano and a little punky, like a lot of the Jimmie's work.

 Here are the lyrics of the opening.

I'm getting nothin' for Christmas
Mommy and Daddy are mad
I'm getting nothin' for Christmas
Cuz I ain't been nothin' but bad.
 I cut my sister's long blond hair (somebody snitched on me)
I bacon wrapped my teddy bear (somebody snitched on me) 
I dared my friend to lick my shoe
I tried to brush my teeth with glue
I died the family cat dark blue
Somebody snitched on me.
It turns out that it's not an original song, I just hadn't heard it before.  I did a little research and found a lot of other people had covered it, including Eartha Kitt, Spike Jones, Shirley Temple, Reliant K, Smash Mouth, and a lot more.  According to Wikipedia, in 1955 it was a million seller and was on the Billboard charts by 6 different artists!  I don't know how I missed this song, but somehow I did.

I've listened to a few of the versions now, and what I really like about the Jimmies version is that it's not cutesy.  It's about this girl who has accepted the fact that she has been bad, and she kind of likes it.  (Probably because I don't have a daughter!)

The song is off of a holiday album of the Jimmies called "Mama Said Nog You Out" which features lots of traditional and untraditional holiday tunes.

Enjoy it, and Happy Holidays everybody!)

Find more versions of the song on Amazon.

Friday, December 11, 2015

World Premiere Opera: Bel Canto at the Lyric

Sometimes art imitates life. That is the case at the Lyric Opera, where the world premiere of Bel Canto has been going on (we attended the show last night.)

The opera is based on the novel by Ann Patchett, which in turn is based on real life happenings in Peru in 1996, when a group of left-wing terrorists held the guests at a high-profile embassy party hostage for nearly four months in the Peruvian capital Lima.  In the novel (and thus the opera) music plays a unifying force-- one of the captives was an opera diva, and it is her music that helps the captives bear their time together.  There's also romance, as the diva, the Japanese industrialist, one of the terrorists, and the industrialists translator end up as couples in a strange and compelling time.  There's also tragedy, triumph, and even a little bit of comedy. (As the terrorists settle in, they want to play soccer, but the diva asks them to keep it down)

Read Bel Canto on Amazon
"It’s been exciting to collaborate in bringing this new work from a bestselling novel to a multifaceted  performing arts experience,” says Sir Andrew Davis, conductor of the opera. “The story is an ideal subject for opera – people in an adverse situation brought together and transformed by music. There are some beautiful arias, including one sung in Japanese. It’s a powerful drama.”

It's also quite timely.  While they were rehearsing Bel Canto,  Paris was attacked and there was a question of whether to continue.

The first act is more like a play with music than an opera.  It sets the scene, and there are a number of plot points that need to be set up.  The sets are beautiful, and there's a stunning transition scene that nearly blew my mind when it happened, as they bring you into the bedrooms/storage closets of the star-crossed lovers.  The second act has more music, although surprisingly less music from the opera diva.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg, provided by Lyric Opera.
I have a couple of bones to pick with the libretto, which goes out of its way to be formal and opaque.  The poetry of the words sung rarely have an amazing turn of phrase or an idea that resounds.  Too often, the story becomes "opera-ish" rather than moving this rather amazing story forward.  As a result, I had a hard time personalizing the story and really making the story come alive.

But there are some stunning theatrical moments to make up for this, including the first few notes of the opera, which feature a blaring tuba (or perhaps a French horn) as the guests are greeted into the party room for what will be the worst disaster of their lives.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg, provided by Lyric Opera.
All of that action takes place behind a hazy screen and projection, giving it a dreamlike feel.  It was very exciting.  If the entire opera had had those kind of visual ideas behind it, I would have absolutely loved it.

The performances were all pretty strong.  There were a number of languages being sung in (including Russian, Japanese, English, Spanish, and a Peruvian dialect)  I was especially impressed with the number of young opera singers of color that were in the show.

Overall it was exciting to see this world premiere (which was the first world premiere by the Lyric in over 10 years)  It was also the composer's first opera.  I'd recommend seeing it.

Photo by Todd Rosenberg, provided by Lyric Opera.
Performance dates are December 7, 10, 12, January 5 and 13 at 7:30 pm; and January 8 and 17 at 2 pm.   Tickets range from $20-$349.

For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to

Read other reviews of the show:




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holiday shows: The Joffrey's Nutcracker (through Dec 27)

If it's December, it's holiday show time.  Holiday shows are a substantial portion of a non-profit arts budget.  They are something you do every year, and your patrons come every year, as a tradition.

If you are a theatre, you are probably performing some version of Christmas Carol. (Or Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales) If you are a chorus, you are probably performing some version of Handel's Messiah.  And if you are the ballet, you are probably doing the Nutcracker.  Which means it should come as no surprise that we attended the opening night of the Joffrey Ballet's excellent Nutcracker last week.  I can highly recommend it.

It is exactly what you want in a holiday show like this.  It was full of genius dancers in amazing costumes, music by the Chicago Philharmonic, large and beautiful sets, falling snow that could be out of a snow globe, and a corps of dancers that includes 118 school children from all over Chicago-Land getting to dance in the big leagues.  Everything was marvelous.

Robert Joffrey
The Joffrey  has been doing this ballet year in and year out with Robert Joffrey's choreography since 1987.  The choreography is stellar, and gives the dancers plenty of room to strut their virtuosity while telling the story of Clara, Dr. Drosselmeyer, and the legion of sugar plum fairies, toy soldiers, and mice that make up this classic ballet.  I am sure that each year the sets and costumes get tweaked and made even more fabulous.  And if you are a young dancer, this is the plume in your cap-- to get to perform in the Nutcracker with the Joffrey on the big stage of the sumptuous Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University.

Here's a great video done a couple of years ago showing kid's reactions to this Nutcracker:

But doing the same thing every year gets old, and while recognizing tradition, (and undoubtedly the box office benefits) the Joffrey isn't afraid to change it up a little either.  This year is the last year of the classic choreography.  Next year, they've commissioned a brand new choreography from master dance director (and winner of the Tony Award for his stunning production of An American In Paris) Christopher Wheeldon.  Which is exciting on a number of levels, not least of which is that it is now the LAST time you'll be able to see the classic Robert Joffrey choreography of this essential ballet.  (And of course, next year, you'll be able to see the World Premiere of a master artist's take on the stalwart classic)  

Any which way you slice it, it should translate into boffo (and well-deserved) box office for the Joffrey.

If you haven't been to the Nutcracker for a while, this is your last chance to see the classic.  Next year it will be all new, (and having seen An American In Paris on Broadway) equally wonderful.


The Joffrey Ballet performs The Nutcracker at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre Friday, December 4 through  Sunday, December 27.  The full schedule is:  Friday, Dec. 4, 7 pm; Saturday, Dec. 5, 2 pm and 7 pm; Sunday, Dec. 6, 2 pm; Thursday, Dec. 10, 7 pm; Friday, Dec. 11, 7 pm; Saturday, Dec. 12, 2 pm and 7 pm; Sunday, Dec. 13, 1 pm and 6 pm; Thursday, Dec. 17, 7 pm; Friday, Dec. 18, 7 pm; Saturday, Dec. 19, 2 pm and 7 pm; Sunday, Dec. 20, 2 pm and 7 pm; Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2 pm and 7 pm; Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2 pm and 7 pm; Thursday, Dec. 24, 2 pm; Saturday, Dec. 26, 2 pm and 7 pm; and Sunday Dec. 27, 2 pm.


Tickets range from $32-$136 and are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the  lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787 or online at