Friday, May 17, 2019

Review: The Lyric's West Side Story is Amazing.

We saw West Side Story at a matinee production last week at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and it was very well done.  It was well worth seeing.

The musical is itself a re-telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet, set in New York in the 1930's, and adding a Latino/whites race war element.

It's one of the top musicals ever, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Steven Sondheim and the book by Arthur Laurents.

This production is extra special, as it is a revival of the direction and choreography of Jerome Robbins, classic ballet and musical director.

Here's the promo reel.

As can be expected from the Lyric the voices were rich, the sets were well done, and the music was exceedingly well-played.  The choreography was great (although my 10 year old son complained that the fight scenes were too dancy, but that was exactly Robbins point-- to use ballet in the fight scenes and to make them graceful.)  Our modern sensibility demands realism, but when this production was first created in the late 1950's that was not the case.

Mikaela Bennet as Maria and Corey Cott as Tony. Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera website.
The thing that blew me away about this production was the acting.  While I do expect the sets to be sumptuously designed and the voices to be great, the acting at the Lyric is not always up to snuff.  And of course the songs are all great and recognizable.  GET THE SOUNDTRACK ON AMAZON.

The beautiful voices often carry the acting.  In this case, the acting is phenomenal, especially of the four main characters (Tony and Maria, the star crossed lovers (played by Corey Cott and Mikaela Bennett), and her brother Bernardo (Manual Stark-Santos)and his lover Anita (Amanda Castro.)

Usually when I've seen either this play or R and J (or really, any star-crossed lovers play) the lovers are seen as tragic figures, and their love is usually solemn.  When Tony and Maria meet at the dress shop where she works, they are both positively giddy with love.  They are loopy-- you can see the effect that their love has on them, and it shows.  I 100% bought their love, (and when they start pretending that the dress forms are their parents, and what they'll say about each other, it's magical.)  This sets up the whole set of strange optimistic bad decisions that they make.

Likewise, when Anita storms into Maria's room looking for Tony (he has just left) she immediately goes to the window to find him.  When she turns around, she is angry and sad and she sings:

A boy like that who'd kill your brother
Forget that boy and find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
A boy like that wants one thing only
And when he's done he'll leave you lonely
He'll murder your love, he murdered mine, just wait and see
Just wait, Maria, just wait and see

I had chills.

Bernardo didn't have a stand out scene per se, but he commanded every scene that he was in, and embodied that young male rage and sense of injustice.  He sings, he dances, he acts.  He is great! 

In this production, it is clear that the cops and the Jets have it in for him and his gang, and his outrage and anger are palpable throughout.  

That leads me to the other point about this musical, is that its themes of racism, antagonism, and xenophobia still ring true 70 years later.  Not sure if that points out that people haven't changed that much or that we just still have a long way to go as a society before "Justice For All" becomes a reality.

For all these reasons, I highly recommend seeing the show before it closes on June 2.

Performances run through June 2, 2019 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets are on sale now starting at $29 and can be purchased at or by calling 312-827-5600.

West Side Story is a coproduction with Houston Grand Opera and Glimmerglass Festival.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Hamilton closing in Chicago on January 5

Just got the official press release. Hamilton will close in Chicago on January 5, 2020. Tickets for the final block will go on sale this Friday. It's not clear from the press release if Hamilton the Exhibition will close at the same time.

From the press release:

JANUARY 5, 2020

CHICAGO (May 15, 2019) – The musical HAMILTON will conclude its more than three (3) year run in Chicago at Broadway In Chicago’s CIBC Theatre (18 W. Monroe St.) on January 5, 2020, it has been announced by producer Jeffrey Seller.  Chicago was the first city outside New York where HAMILTON opened; the production began performances on September 27, 2016 at what was then The PrivateBank Theatre. 

Tickets for the final block will go on sale on Friday, May 17 at 10:00 a.m. and will be available at CIBC Theatre Box Office, the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line (800-775-2000) and online at  The CIBC Theatre Box Office will be open for advance sales from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

“More people have seen HAMILTON in Chicago than any other city, including New York,” said producer Jeffrey Seller.  “Chicago has been a cornerstone of our mission to make Hamilton as accessible to as many people as possible.  We’ve loved our time here, and you can bet that ‘we’ll be back’.”

During its Chicago engagement, from September 2016 to January 2020, HAMILTON will have been attended by more than 2.6 million people, a number nearly equal to the population (2.7 million) of the city.  More than 32,000 Chicago public school students and teachers have participated in HAMILTON’s singular, nationwide American history education program – popularly known as EduHam – since the musical arrived in Chicago.

During its 171-week run in Chicago, HAMILTON will have played a total of 1341 performances.

For information on HAMILTON, visit and, and the official app for HAMILTON is available for download at, which offers an app-based show lottery, stickers, camera filters, a merchandise store, music, news, tickets and exclusive content with Lin-Manuel and the Hamilton companies.
Tickets for the final block will go on sale on Friday, May 17 at 10:00 a.m. CST and will be available at CIBC Theatre Box Office, the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line (800-775-2000) and online at  There is a maximum purchase limit of 12 tickets per household for performances between September 8, 2019 – January 5, 2020.  Tickets for the final block range from $75.50 – $205.50 with select number of premium seats available for all performances.  There will continue to be an online lottery for forty-four (44) $10 seats for all performances.  Lottery seat locations vary per performance but will always include seats in the first row.  Visit or download the official Hamilton app at for more lottery information. 

There are many sites and people that are selling overpriced, and in some cases, fraudulent tickets.   For the best seats, the best prices and to eliminate the risk of counterfeit tickets, all purchases should be made through authorized Broadway In Chicago outlets.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The GFAF Expo is now called Nourished!

Over the past few years I've been attending the Gluten-Free Allergy Free Expo, which is a great showcase for allergy conscious manufacturers and a great learning tool for allergy-conscious consumers. Although I'm not gluten free, my wife is gluten, dairy, soy sensitive, and so we are super aware of what's in food at our house.

I missed the event last year due to being out of town, and was wondering when or if I would get invited back to it.  (I think the last time it was in April)

Well, I have been invited back, but the name has changed!

It's now called Nourished: The Gluten Free, Allergy & Special Diet Festival. (aka The Nourished Festival).   It's happening June 1-2 in Schaumburg.

While all of the foods at the festival will continue to be gluten free, and in previous incarnations there has also been a nut-free section, this year they are adding a vegan section and a paleo/keto section as well.   The booths will be color coded (Blue booths are gluten free; red booths are nut-free and gluten free; purple booths are paleo or keto and gluten-free; green booths are plant-based and gluten free. )

The festival will take place in Schaumburg at the  Schaumburg Convention Center on June 1 and 2 2019 from 10 am-4pm each day.

In addition to booths with opportunities to try products, there will also be classes, book signings, community building, and lots more.

We are offering a 20% discount on tickets(see below), and also giving away some tickets via #rafflecopter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tickets for a day pass are typically $5 for kids and $15 for adults (and if you want a Sunday family pass, you can get one for  $35 which includes up to two adults and up to 6 kids!)

And if you purchase your ticket before 5/31/19 using the code ADVANCE, you will get 20% off your order, which is a pretty great deal. BUY TICKETS ON EVENTBRITE


WHEN: April 22 & 23, 2017
10:00-4:00 pm on Saturday the 22nd
10:00-3:00 pm on Sunday the 23rd

WHERE: Schaumburg Convention Center
1551 Thoreau Drive North  Schaumburg, IL 60173
Click HERE for directions.
Free Parking!

Note: If the Convention Center parking lot is full when you arrive, there is additional free parking in the lots of the adjacent office buildings.

COST: Tickets range from $5-$35 depending on age, cost, and how many days you want to attend. You can get an additional 20% off by using the code "ADVANCE" when purchasing between now and MAY 31.  BUY TICKETS NOW.

Concessions will be open for beverages and gluten-free salads.

PLEASE NOTE: The show is not 100% gluten free, or allergy free.  It is in a mixed use environment, and everybody is different.  You know yourself best.  If you can not tolerate certain things, DON'T TRY THEM!
Answers to all your questions about the festival can be found on the Nourished Festival website.

Also, please note, I have received free tickets to promote and attend this event.  I am also an affiliate of Nourished, and if you purchase tickets through the above links, I may make an affiliate credit. My thoughts about the event are my own.

Here's a list of the classes by day:


10:30-11:30 AM

Roadmap to Healing Autoimmune Diseases

Functional medicine and nutrition management of autoimmune diseases is more than just a gluten-free or Autoimmune Protocol diet. The body has a priority list that must be addressed in sequence in order to build a foundation that will lead to fast results and true healing. At this workshop, learn the triggers for autoimmune disease, how leaky gut syndrome leads to loss of immune tolerance and autoimmune disease, and how to use The Ultimate Autoimmune Roadmap to heal autoimmune diseases without frustration.

12:00-1:00 PM

Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection

An integrative approach to health is critical to digestive wellness. Join Desiree Nielsen, RD to learn more about the gut-brain connection and the role of gut bacteria transforming digestive health, fighting inflammation and supporting mental wellbeing. Learn how to create a self-care routine that encompasses anti-inflammatory nutrition, intelligent supplementation, and wellness practices that fit into real life. Desiree will be available at Booth (# coming) after her presentation for nine, free 1-1 one consultations. Come by early to sign up!

1:30-2:30 PM

Restaurant and Travel Essentials for Gluten and Allergy Free Living

Dream of eating safe meals free from gluten and other allergens in restaurants? Want to travel gluten free or with food allergies across the US and the globe? Kim Koeller, world traveler with celiac disease and multiple food allergies, shares her travel insights from visiting all 50 States and flying almost 3 million miles to six continents. Learn tips for ordering safe meals in ethnic restaurants including hidden ingredients, food preparation and cross-contact considerations. Empower yourself with proven tricks for snacks, airlines, hotels, foreign speaking countries and more from Kim Koeller, the award-winning author and creator of the Let's Eat Out Around the World Gluten Free and Allergy Free travel series by GlutenFree Passport.

3:00-4:00 PM

Breaking the Cycle of Stress, Anxiety and Depression

The stress we live with today can be overwhelming. Not only do we have more on our to-do lists than time available, but financial, relational and other concerns compound our stress levels. In addition, our bodies are under a significant amount of stress due to toxins in our environment and food lacking in proper nutrients. Stacey Littlefield will address the problem and present solutions that everyone can follow to restore hope and ultimately a fuller and more vibrant life.


10:30-11:30 AM

Bone Broth - SO Much More Than a Pot of Bones!

A pot of healing soup has been “medicine” for centuries. Learn why a daily dose of Bone Broth may help nourish, heal, reduce inflammation in the gut and body. Many experience healthier skin and shiny hair. Best of all, she will guide you on how to accomplish all this affordably – how to eat healthy AND maintain your budget!

12:00-1:00 PM

How to Shift Your Metabolism on a Gluten Free Diet

Going on a gluten-free diet is very often only the beginning of your healing journey. Discovering what your body needs to heal and balance your systems is a process that requires knowledge, experimentation, and diligence. Chen Ben Asher will present the science behind an elimination diet, removing gluten and other foods, and how it challenges our six bodily systems. With the right direction, you too CAN achieve BALANCE, VITALITY and WEIGHT LOSS.

1:30-2:30 PM

New Flavors and Ideas for Plant-Based, Gluten Free & Vegan Baking

Join Chef Einat Mazor as she teaches us how to make delicious pizza, waffles and breads. These recipes are fast, easy, delicious and plant-based!

3:00-4:00 PM

Gluten Cross-Reactivity: 10 Foods You May Be Eating That Your Body Thinks Is Gluten

You've gone gluten free and follow a strict gluten-free diet. You are beginning to feel better, but not quite what you expected? There are a number of naturally gluten-free foods which contain proteins so similar to gluten that your body confuses them with gluten. Learn more about what gluten cross-reactivity is, how to tell if it’s causing your symptoms, and what you can do about it.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Review: Chicago The Musical at the Cadillac Palace

Chicago is a great musical- it's got juicy roles for women, avante-garde choreography, memorable songs, three great roles for men , and everything seems to fit together perfectly, like a well-designed puzzle.

It's also been properly acknowledged. It's the #1 Longest Running American Musical and the winner of six 1997 Tony Awards® including Best Musical Revival and won the Grammy award for Best Musical Cast Recording.

The current Broadway tour, which is in Chicago now through May 12, is a fun production that puts the music center stage- literally.  There's a 13 piece orchestra featuring trumpets, trombones, and a tuba right in the center of the stage and visible for almost the entire show.

The performers are all great, especially Lana Gordon as Velma and Dylis Croman as Roxie, who both managed to sell their sexiness as actors without seeming cheap or insulting.

Sexy is definitely part of the allure of the musical.  I took my 10 year old to the show, and was a little glad that he fell asleep during a couple of the scenes that were a little more risque than I remembered.   There's nothing X-rated or even R-rated, but PG-15 is more like it.  There's a lot of sexual talk.

I also really appreciated former NFL standout Eddie George as razzle dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn.  He exceeded all expectations (which, to be fair, were not particularly high)  I assumed he was a celebrity casting, put in as a concession to men who might not want to go to a musical.. He was really good, with a great voice, good comedy instincts, and hit every mark.

The  song "We Both Reached For The Gun" in which he puts Roxie Hart on his knee and operates her like a ventriloquist doll, was particularly well done.  I was hoping for a little more, well, Razzle Dazzle in the song Razzle Dazzle, and while it wasn't quite there, overall he did a great job.

I left the place humming the songs and feeling great, which is EXACTLY how you should leave a Broadway Musical.

Performances continue today through May 12.   Individual tickets are currently on sale and range in price from $30-$100 with a select number of premium tickets available.  For more information, visit

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hamilton The Exhibition

Hamilton the Exhibition is now open at Northerly Island
on a peninsula near the Adler Planetarium.  It's not Weehawken
NJ, but it will have to do!\.
I had a great time attending the opening day of Hamilton the Exhibition, even though by the time I left the exhibit it was snowing in April.  Welcome to Chicago, Hamilton the Exhibition!

As you all know, I have been a big supporter of Hamilton since I first heard the soundtrack three years ago, and have chronicled on this page and on Facebook my obsession with Hamilton (I've seen it three times, and was so thrilled to meet the director Tommy Kail (and later Lin-Manuel Miranda) the creator at various events.  So I was excited to attend a press conference with Lin-Manuel and Exhibiton Creative director David Korins (who also did the scenic design for Hamilton)  And I surprised my son by picking him up at school to take him to the press conference!

A model of New York during Hamilton's time.
I thought he would be thrilled, and maybe secretly he was, but he was also upset, because we were cutting into his valuable screen time.  He had a couple of near crying experiences at the press conference, and I felt like an idiot for bringing him and expecting more from him.  Really, that's the problem with ten year olds-- they seem like they've got it together, but they are really hanging on by a very tenuous thread.  I also made the mistake of not having sweets for him, (I ran out of time) and that didn't help the situation.

We muddled through, and I got to hear Lin-Manuel and David Korins talk about the exhibition.

Here's just a sample of what they talked about.

Later, we walked around the gift shop and they've really plussed-up some of the merch.  They had a beach towel that said "Run Away With Us For the Summer" and shot glasses that said "Do Not Throw Away Your Shot."  They also have glasses to raise to freedom, and a lot more.

The next day we drove back to the exhibition, well-rested, relatively well fed, and amply supplied with snacks (although I think my son would disagree with that last point, as he ate his snacks and mine about 2/3 the way through.  Ah, 10 year old metabolism!)  My son was better behaved then, and suitably impressed.  I think he even liked having been in the same room as Lin.  (although we didn't get to trip a little light fantastic!)

The exhibition was fantastic, and may be one of the most dramatic and well-designed exhibitions I've ever seen.  Part of it is my affinity to the subject matter to be sure, but a lot must be attributed to David Korins, whose design and thinking this exhibit reflects.

My feelings about Hamilton The Exhibition in a nutshell!

One of the things that makes this interesting is that it is an exhibit about Hamilton the person, but it is seen through the lens of Hamilton the Musical. 

Throughout the exhibition, there are little places where they tell how the musical changed facts or combined people for dramatic effect (for example, it wasn't Jefferson, Madison and Burr that confronted Hamilton about his payments to Mr. Reynolds-- it was three members of Congress.  But in the musical, it didn't make sense to introduce three new characters to disappear. 

Or the fact that Burr didn't actually attend Hamilton's wedding.  Or that Angelica was actually married BEFORE she met Hamilton, and therefore was never available.

 It's fascinating to see all those things in reference to the musical that wouldn't make any sense in a typical exhibit.

Here are some of my favorite parts of the exhibit.

Every guest gets a headset that has a geolocator, so as you walk into each room of the gallery, that triggers an introduction, or explanation.  My son's didn't quite fit, but he was able to make it work.

So now you have Lin-Manual Miranda and Phillipa Soo (who played Eliza) guiding you through each room.  Commentaries by other people, including Yale Historian Joanne B. Freeman and Christopher Jackson, who played George Washington, are also included.  There are also various exhibits where you can point your headset at something and hear a more thorough explanation.  This does two things-- it gives people a natural certain amount of time to take in the exhibition, and keeps people moving along through the exhibition.  There are a few rooms that are stops along the way-- little experiences that only a few people can do at a time.
More importantly, it now gives us the opportunity to really personalize the experience at the hands of two fantastic actors, and that makes the experience come to life even further.

Each room that you enter in the gallery tells a story of the musical and thus of Hamilton's life.  Many of them are beautifully designed, and have a theme that is relevant to the musical, but are not handled very dryly.

For example, there is a hurricane room, in which they talk about the hurricane that devastated the Caribbean island that Hamilton was born on, and which you wrote so eloquently about that the island people took up a collection to get him educated in the United States.  This is a slow stairway up into the next set of galleries, that features two turntables slowly turning debris.  Creating a hurricane of sorts.  The turntables also echo the turntables in the production.

Another room that was pretty amazing was the tent/war room for the battle of Cornwallis  This is a tent that you walk into and there is a giant map in the center.  You sit or stand around it, while Christopher Jackson as Washington tells you his plan.  Meanwhile, as they explain what happens, mysteriously, 3 dimensional sculptures of ships, and figures representing Cornwallis, or Rochambeau, or Lafayette all move as if my magic across the map.  It's pretty remarkable.  (I wanted to videotape it, but the proctor said no videotaping, and she was standing right next to me.  You'll have to see it for yourself!
The map, with the figures

One of the last rooms is the most dramatic.  You enter into it and see two lifesize sculptures of Burr and Hamilton about to duel.

The details are great, down to the pistols used and the glasses on Hamilton (which are mentioned in the musical)

In this room, there is also a dual timeline (see what I did there?) which shows Hamilton's last 32 hours on the top and Burr's last 32 years on the bottom.  One of the fascinating ironies is that Alexander Hamilton Jr.  presided over Burr's divorce as he was dying.  These guys were intertwined!

Timeline:  Hamilton's last 32 hours vs. Burr's last 32 years.

The last couple of rooms are dedicated to the legacy of Hamilton and to Eliza.

Replica of Hamilton's desk

Hamilton family tree

One of my favorite parts was seeing what people over history had said about Hamilton.  He was a divisive figure for sure.  (And Balloon of Malice has to be one of the best insults ever!  Thank you William Carlos Williams!)

And at the very end, you the viewer got to have your say.

The very last room was both intriguing and circular.  It featured the first song about Hamilton (What's Your Name), as performed by the current(?) cast of Hamilton.

 It was great, and I think promises that the inevitable movie of Hamilton the Musical will also be great, but it's a little weird that we didn't start with that song.

I love how it made the circle complete- we are talking about Hamilton, and here's a reminder of the musical.  But I think that if you were going to really make it circular, you should start the whole shebang with this video, which is the video of Lin-Manuel Miranda performing a new song that might be part of a concept album he was making called Hamilton The MixTape.

To get tickets to Hamilton the Exhibition, visit